Acts 5:12-20, Revelation 1:4-18, John 20:19-31
Focus: God changes us through the death and resurrection of his son.
Function: that the hearers pray to see the ways that Christ is already working.
Many times when one thinks of churchly success, numbers come to mind -- packed pews, generous bankrolls, and growing membership, or, looking back at the early Church, one might think about miracles and speaking in tongues. However, we see in our readings in the coming weeks that these are only effects of a deeper change. What makes Christianity so extraordinary is how in the midst of hundreds and thousands coming to faith in the book of Acts, it’s the Holy Spirit working in each and every individual life that brought about lives changed.
What changes lives? What do changed lives look like? What is the Gospel, and what does it look like when gospel comes in and does its work?
Two thoughts on the first question and one on the second question.
What changes lives? First, it’s a “Who,” not a “What.” Jesus changes lives. For the Christian, the peculiar and particular answer is that Jesus is the one who changes lives. In the book of John’s Revelation, Jesus speaks to John saying, “I hold the keys of Death and Hades. I have died and behold I am alive forevermore. I am the first and the last.” It’s his work, not yours. It’s his plan, not ours.
In these days, the most often-repeated advice that I hear is, “Enjoy every moment with your son, because those moments go way too fast.” And the second most often repeated is, “Don’t push him to start walking, because once he starts, he’s not going to stop.
And when I think of that, I think of tummy time. Itty bitty Benjamin enjoys tummy time far more now than he did a few months ago, but that’s not really saying much. Just the other day, I put him on his stomach and he was trying to flip onto his back, and he just wasn’t getting his legs around – I mean he knows how to do it, and I’ve seen him get it right before, but he just didn’t want to do it – and he started to cry, because even though he had his arms in the right places, but his legs just kind of didn’t do what they needed to, I told Laura that it was so hard not to just do it for him. I just wanted to push him over the rest of the way, but I couldn’t. It was his task to do. He didn’t need me to figure it out for him; he needed to figure it out for himself. In fact if I had done that, I wouldn’t have helped Benjamin; I would have kept him from what he needed. My role wasn’t to do his task for him; my role was to be there while he figured it out himself.
I tell you that to tell you this: every time a messed up marriage comes through my office, I have the temptation to think that I can fix it. I am tempted to think I can save their marriage for them. It’s easy to start thinking that I’m the fixer, and the survival of their marriage is on me. That’s not true.
Jesus Christ is the only one who can fix them. Jesus Christ is the only one who can pay for their sin. Jesus Christ is the only one who can bear their burdens for them, and he did that already, before they were born, when he exchanged his righteousness for their sin, when he died a sinner’s death, when he did all of this without our approval, without our knowledge, for the sole purpose so that he could keep on holding out this grace won for us.
He is the only one who holds the keys to death and Hades. There is only one way of salvation, and that’s through Jesus Christ. And, for the Christian, every solution in the world must work forward from this fundamental truth.
The kingdom of God is like a mom and a dad wondering where they went wrong, why their kid wandered so far. They wish they could go in and take away all the pain, right all the wrongs, fight all the battle, but they can’t. No, their task is to watch and pray, to love and to trust with eyes that look for the way Jesus is working.
Second thought on the question, “What changes lives?”, and this has to do with the “where.”
Where does Jesus change lives? Jesus changes lives in community. Our Gospel reading finds the disciples with their doors and their hearts shut tight with fear. They huddle together, except for Thomas. He had been out on his lonesome, and so had missed when Jesus appeared to the disciples.
I read an article recently on addiction and its affect on lab rats, and it referenced an experiment where rats were isolated in cages and given a choice between water and heroin-laced water. Nine out of ten would succumb to addiction and overdose.
Another scientist saw this experiment and added an element – what if the rat wasn’t in a cage by itself with nothing to do except eat and drink? What if they changed the environment and gave it a community? They created what they called “Rat Park” – complete with exercise wheels, toys, tunnels, and most of all community. “The rats obviously tried both water bottles,… [but] the rats with the good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it.”
Now, the Christian knows that his addiction to sin goes deeper than the physical, than even the emotional – it’s a problem with the relationship of our whole self to our God. But if community matters so much in this earthly problem, how much more does this allow us to see the reality that our faith put us in community with one another – a community called the Body of Christ?
William Barclay, in commenting on Thomas in John 20, puts it so well that I quote him at length: “[Thomas] made one mistake. He withdrew from the Christian fellowship. He sought loneliness rather than togetherness. And because he was not there with his fellow Christians he missed the first coming of Jesus. We miss a great deal when we separate ourselves from the Christian fellowship and try to be alone. Things can happen to us within the fellowship of Christ’s Church which will not happen when we are alone. When sorrow comes and sadness envelops us, we often tend to shut ourselves up and refuse to meet people. That is the very time when, in spite of our sorrow, we should seek the fellowship of Christ’s people, for it is there that we are likeliest of all to meet him face to face.”
It was precisely “where two or three or more were gathered in [his] name” that the risen Jesus shows up. It was precisely when two walked down the road to Emmaus that Christ accompanied them. It was precisely when the people of God gathered that Jesus shows up among them. It is precisely when the people of God gather around to receive the sacraments and hear the Word that the God comes in his might and in his mercy.
God shows up where God has promised he’ll show up, and when he does, we see him do what he’s promised to do. We see the Father showing up to act like a Heavenly Father that gives all that we need to support this body and life only out of his divine fatherly goodness and mercy; we see the Son distributing the salvation he purchased and won on the cross through the body and blood bread and wine; we see the Holy Spirit blowing a fresh wind of forgiveness and life whenever the called gathered enlightened and sanctified Christian church daily and richly forgives sins.
The kingdom of God is like a bunch of young people putting down their phones and looking each other in the face. It’s like a bunch of older folks taking the time to enjoy, really enjoy some teenagers, and even when they don’t enjoy them, to learn about whom they are. It’s like a party thrown in someone’s honor where the honored guest suddenly shows up and starts serving everyone their punch. It is a risen Savior appearing among his gathered guests and saying “Peace be with you.”
Now we turn to our second question: what do changed lives look like? We turn to our reading from Acts. Do you see this in the lives of the apostles? They are being blown along by the Spirit of God. They are setting their minds to the tasks laid before them. They are seeing something bigger than themselves – the working of the Holy Spirit – move them along into God’s grand story. The lives of the apostles and disciples were like this: the extraordinary mingled with the ordinary. The unbelievable mingled with the mundane. Joy mingled with sorrow. Success mingled with suffering. Jesus changes lives and we are along for the ride.
In other words, divine Appointments, or as Greg Finke puts it, “How is God messing with you?” You see, it presupposes that God is in control and that you are not. Finke tells a story from his time working on an oilrig with an angry, mean man named Joe. “I got to spend 12 hours every night with Joe drinking coffee and hearing what he was angry about. At first I just tried to endure it. Then, I started listening more carefully… Eventually, I figured something out. Joe was a person… over time, Joe found out I was someone who followed Jesus… early on I realized that I couldn’t fix Joe…” but he could listen and pray and befriend. At the end of that summer he saw that Joe had made progress becoming less bitter, but he ends this story by saying, “I never saw Joe again after that summer. I don’t know if he ever came to trust Jesus or not… The work wasn’t complete, but the stone was thrown. The yeast was inserted. The kingdom had come to him and started him on his journey of redemption and restoration.”
Joe was in Jesus’ hands long before Finke met him, and he will be in his hands long after Finke left him. It’s not our place to inform God about what’s happening but rather to suss out how God has prepared the ground, how he is working in the present, and pray that his kingdom which already comes and his will which already being done, might come and be done through us and among us also.
Can we take a moment to appreciate how remarkably mundane the exchange between Finke and Joe was? On Finke’s part, it isn’t anything extraordinary. It isn’t anything incredible, and yet, when you think of this one thread in Joe’s life, you see how God’s work in our world is a tapestry of interactions, of little moments, of nudges of the Spirit, where God’s word works and it works through his people in ways they know and in ways they don’t. And all we are to do is ask, “God, what are you doing and how can I join?”
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town that has stopped asking the question, “How do we get more butts in the pews?” or “How do I fix all the stuff that’s wrong in my community?” and increasingly asks the question, “What is the Spirit of God already doing? How can I join in?” And as they ask this question together, they start to see the great bounty of good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do.
How are lives changed? First, we remember that Jesus is the one who changes lives. Jesus, not us. Second, that Jesus shows up with his power where he promises to – and he promises to do so in the sacraments, in the preaching, and in the gathering of his people. What do changed lives look like? It looks like a bunch of Christians praying that they get in on what God is doing in their community. It looks like a church searching for Christ behind the faces of all who are needy, longing to be along for the ride. Amen and amen.
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. 28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
Confirmation Verse – Romans 5:1 – Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I read a story about a fellow who one day went to visit an old musician. He knocked on the musician’s door and said, “What’s the good word today?” The old musician didn’t say a word. He turned around and went back across the room to where a tuning fork was hanging. He took a hammer and struck the tuning fork so that the note resounded through the room. The musician said, “That, my friend is an ‘A’. It was ‘A’ yesterday. It was ‘A’ five thousand years ago, and it will be ‘A’ 5000 years from now.” Then he added, “The tenor across the hall sings off key. The soprano upstairs is flat on her high notes. And the piano in the next room is out of tune. He struck the tuning fork again and said, “That is ‘A” and that my friend is the good word for today.”
In the few conversations I had with Ruth, it seems as though her good word for most days was “blessed.” She felt blessed by her children, she felt blessed by her grandchildren, she felt blessed by her church, and if you were to get at the heart of her feeling and being blessed, you would quickly have gotten to the truths of God’s Word. Truths that were, are, and always will be the same. Specifically the truth that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. The truth that Jesus Christ lived the perfect life Ruth could never begin to live, He suffered all that she deserved to suffer, and He died the death on a Friday that she needed him to die. For her, He rose up on the third day, and for her He ascended into heaven on the 40th day, and for her He sent His Spirit in generous fashion on the 50th day, for her He is ruling all of heaven and earth, and just a few days ago, early on the second day of Easter, He sent His angels to carry her soul, to carry her spirit into the very presence of Jesus Christ. That, my friends, is the good word for today, and you shouldn’t be surprised that it took this preacher over 150 words to tell you what is the one good word!
Our sermon text for today is the basis for the hymn that we just sang, “My Hope is Built On Nothing Less”, a song which includes the refrain, “on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Our sermon theme today is “The Solid Rock”, and the first of two parts is this, A house built on shifting sands may stand through a variety of storms, but eventually that house will fall, and it will fall hard.
In Jesus’ day, a sensible man would have built his house not so much on a boulder, but on a cliff, on a ridge, or on a mountain, in a place that would be able to weather the worst of storms. Not so sensible people would build their homes on sandy soils which would prove eventually to be a disaster. In our text for today, in Matthew 7, Jesus had just revealed Himself as the Judge who would be turning away impenitent sinners on the last day. He said that many would be saying in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? Cast out demons in your name? In thy name done wonderful works?” At which point Jesus would say “I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Speaking of lawlessness, just a couple of days ago, three young men from Adult and Teen Challenge spoke to our youth group. They told stories of how drug and alcohol abuse had turned their lives into disasters. The first young fellow, Corey, had grown up in the inner city, he enjoyed none of the advantages many of us have enjoyed, he had been given no solid foundation in life, his life was a train wreck right up until Jesus Christ got ahold of him and turned him around. The second fellow, Alex, had been baptized into the name of the Triune God, he was raised with strong Christian values, but as life went on, his hopes were built on human achievement, he was all about succeeding for himself and making a name for himself, and after years of chasing all these other things in life, he came up empty. The third fellow admitted that he led a double life based first on playing football and second on using drugs, and at a young age, his house fell, and it fell hard.
To try and live life apart from Christ or even to keep him at a distance is like building a house without a firm foundation. To use the language of Ruth’s family, it’s like a bed without a quilt. A bed without a quilt, some would say, is like a sky without stars. Lesson #1 today, is to know the foolishness of hearing God’s Word, but not holding on tight to that Word. The foolishness of being baptized into the Christian family and then straying from that baptism. The foolishness of being handed the kingdom of God on a silver platter, and then not seeking first that kingdom. It’s been my experience in ministry that children and grandchildren and cousins and nephews and nieces tend to listen to God’s Word at funerals in a way they don’t normally listen. Which is why, I urge you this very day ask yourself the same three questions the pastors have asked Ruth over the years and even in her dying days, 1) Are you sorry for your sins? 2)Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior? 3) Will you amend your sinful life?
What a joy it has been for her pastors over the years to say to her again and again that God was her refuge and strength, that He was a very present help in trouble, that in the waters of Holy Baptism, her name was written in the book of life….that as often as she listened to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit was working faith in her heart……….that as often as she cried out for the mercy of God, the mercy of God was hers…………that as often as she ate and drank at the Holy Supper, her sins were forgiven, heaven was hers, the peace that surpasses all human understanding and circumstances would be ruling in her heart and soul and mind.
Lesson #1 was this, A house built on shifting sands may stand through a variety of storms, but eventually that house will fall, and it will fall hard. Lesson #2 is this, The house built on the solid rock will stand through every storm, even the final one. One truth we learned about Ruth in the past two months is that she appreciated not only the congregations that have been home for her over the years, but also Trinity Lutheran School. Our principal tells me that she had recently written a check out to TLS for school supplies, her obituary indicates what many of the families did years ago, they made a particular effort to send their kids to TLS in7th and 8th grade years, even if that meant kids boarding at grandparents or other relatives. No doubt, Ruth’s parents had this one great desire – that she be instructed in the six chief parts of the Catechism by their pastor, that she would build her life on Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that her house would be founded on the solid rock and therefore never fall.
No doubt Hattie and Fritz Guse would be comforted in knowing that Ruth’s faith in her crucified and risen and coming back again some day Savior grew over the years and remained strong in her final days. A pastor older than I told me one time that his favorite question in the catechism was question #152. I’m talking the 1943 edition now, the English version where there are 331 questions, and the habit of pastors years ago was that kids would memorize all 331 questions, not to mention 703 Bible verses.
Question 152 asks, “Why is the resurrection of Christ of such importance and comfort to us?” As you take in the fragrance of all of these Easter lilies and flowers, as you notice one more time that the resurrection candle, the baptism candle, the Easter candle is burning brightly today, as you think one more time about what is most important in life and what is not so important, let these four answers to that question soak into your hearts and souls.
Christ’s resurrection definitely proves first of all that Christ is the Son of God. He is who he said he was. He is the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. It’s very comforting to know that Ruth Guse Schoenfeld held on in a strong way to her Savior’s hand, it’s even more comforting to know that He’s been holding her in his arms all this time. (Story of a father and son walking on a slippery sidewalk).
Christ’s resurrection definitely proves secondly that His doctrine is the truth. It’s pretty comforting to think back on all of those years Ruth spent teaching Sunday School, all of those quilts she tied, all of those duties as wife and mother and grandma she fulfilled in good fashion, and it’s even more comforting to think about her getting blessed every time she heard and kept the Word of God. The church she attended for so many years, Trinity Lutheran in Wilton, is famous in this corner of the Kingdom for preaching and teaching the Word of God in a faithful way. It’s very comforting to know that Jesus loves us because the Bible tells us so. It’s even more comforting to know that the Bible is proven to be true by the resurrection of Christ.
Christ’s resurrection definitely proves, in the third place, that God the Father has accepted the sacrifice of His Son for the reconciliation of the world. It’s very comforting to know that Ruth has finished the list of good works ordained by God for her to do, that she has finished her course believing in her Savior, it’s even more comforting to know that when Jesus said on the cross, it is finished, that he meant what he said and said what he meant. All that needed to be suffered was suffered, salvation was accomplished, spiritual debt was cancelled, sins forgiven.
Christ’s resurrection definitely proves, finally, that all believers shall rise unto eternal life. It’s very comforting to know that at the moment of death, Ruth’s soul and spirit went into the very presence of Jesus Christ. It’s even more comforting to look forward to the resurrection of her body. We praise God today that every house built on the solid rock will in fact stand through every storm, even the final one. We sing to the Lord in joyful fashion today, knowing that Ruth and her husband heeded the warnings not to build their house on shifting sand, knowing that when the final rains fell and the floods came and the winds beat against their house, it did not fall, we sing alleluias to a Risen Christ knowing in a definitive way that she is resting from her labors and that her works will be following her and multiplying into this world for generations to come. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
(In Lent, we studies Christ’s last words from the cross. This morning, the first recorded words, Easter Words)
Dear Friends in Christ,
Logic vs. emotion A few years ago, Debi and I were having a bit of an argument, nothing really serious, but in retrospect, it seems as though we were speaking two different languages. Not English vs. Spanish nor German vs. French, but rather the languages of logic vs. emotion. I was using the widely accepted rules of logic, and if my memory serves me correctly, she was pretty much dead wrong and I was right. At a certain point, she began to cry. Which I felt was unfair of her to do. I asked her why she was crying. She said “it’s just sad.” I asked her what was sad. She answered, “it’s just really sad.” I asked her again what was so sad. She answered, “it’s just really sad that you don’t even know what I need.” At which time a little bit of emotion started to creep up inside of me, I said, “If I knew what you needed, I would give it to you. What do you need me to do, sweetheart? “A hug.” I said, “Why didn’t you tell me that 10 minutes ago, and we could have avoided all these tears!”
Every family is unique, it seems to me, in terms of on the one hand, letting their tears flow in a regular kind of a way or on the other hand avoiding them at all cost. Some folks cry when they are angry, some when they are sad, some when they are happy, still others when they afraid, still others all of the above, and a few none of the above. Some of us prefer to use the language of logic at all times, others regularly flood with emotion, and the rest of us are somewhere in between. In the original language of our text, the Greek word for crying shows up four times. And so our focus is on the question first asked by the two angels, and secondly by Jesus Himself, “Why Are You Crying? That is our sermon theme, with two parts. Part 1 is to learn again that the way through your tears is always near, and part 2 is that Easter tears are the best kind of tears.
1. The way through your tears is always (near). Whether your tears rise up inside of you out of anger or sadness or hopelessness or nervousness or a combination of two or more, Jesus Christ is the way through every bit of it. He is the way, the truth, the life….In this place, we have always believed and we believe it this morning that the resurrection of our Savior proves everything that needs to be proved. The resurrection of Christ proves that Jesus is Who He said He is, Son of God, Lord of lords, king of kings. It proves that our sins have been forgiven, it proves our spiritual debts have been cancelled, and it proves that our names are written in the book of heaven. It proves the Father has accepted the sacrifice offered by His Son at the cross, and that every word of Holy Scripture is true. In this place, we believe that because Jesus Christ rose up from the grave on the third day, so also shall every believing and baptized person in every generation rise up from their grave on the Last Day. There are still all kinds of reasons to cry here and now, but as often as our tears are directed to our Good Shepherd, that often He takes us by the hand, holds on tight, and leads us through. Four real life examples of how He does exactly that.
Story #1 is the story of Jesus and Mary. Of how in 50 words or less, (40 Greek words to be exact) Jesus leads Mary out of her (distress). Mary Magdalene is one of at least five different women named Mary in the New Testament. We don’t know too much about her, but we do know she came from the village of Magdala on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We know that before she met Jesus she was totally enslaved by demonic powers. How she got into this sad condition the Bible doesn’t say, and it really doesn’t do any good to speculate. But we may be certain that if one demon is terrible, seven demons must be seven times terrible. We know that when Jesus was hanging on the cross, she stood nearby with Mary his mother. When they took his body down from the cross, she watched the whole bloody mess. Matthew tells us that when Joseph of Arimithea wrapped the body in linen, laid it in a tomb, and rolled the heavy stone in place, Mary Magdalene and another Mary were sitting nearby and watching. We know that on Saturday evening, she purchased all kinds of spices hoping to anoint the body and that early on Sunday morning, before the sun came up, she and other women ventured through the darkness, expecting to finish the process.
By the time, the women arrived, Jesus had already risen. Already there had been an earthquake, the seal was broken, the stone rolled away by angels, and Christ had come out of the tomb. Already the soldiers had been knocked unconscious, woke up, and ran away in fear. Already the women had found the tomb empty, the anels had told them that Christ had risen from the dead, already they had told the disciples the good news, already the disciples thought they were talking nonsense, already John and Peter had investigated, already at least two disciples were believing in the resurrection. At that point Mary Magdalene came back. In this moment, she’s a mess. She’s afraid, she’s upset, she’s in shock, her whole system is shutting down. Her brain is having a hard time thinking, her heart is having a hard time breathing, and so does what she feels most like doing. She cries like she’s never cried before.
The angels ask her why she is crying, she answers they have taken away her Lord and she doesn’t know where they put him. Jesus appears, His first two words of Easter are questions. Why are you crying? He adds another, “Who is it you are looking for?” She thinks he is the gardener, she pleads with him to tell her where is the body, Jesus calls her by name, “Mary”. Mary just wants to hold onto him and never let go, Jesus says don’t do that, he needs to ascend to his father, she has good news to tell. She just wants to be safe and for the good old days to be back again, but Jesus gently leads her out of distress and reminds her that a new day has dawned. Lesson #1 today, The way through your tears is always near.
Story #2 is the story of Ida and me. A story of how in ten words or less, a neighbor sets a pastor (straight). Story of Ida our next door neighbor back in Lewiston, in her 40’s maybe early 50’s, dying of cancer. Her husband Marlo indicates that if I want to say goodbye to Ida, I should come over. I went over, and after a little bit of small talk, I asked her if I could read Scripture and pray with her and she agreed. As I started to read, I began to cry, and she said, “Pastor Griffin, why are you crying?” I choked out the answer, “because you’re dying.” She scolded me for crying, she comforted me by saying she was going to be with Jesus soon in heaven, she insisted that I eat some cookies and drink some coffee. And so it happened that in ten words of less, with words proven true by the resurrection of her Lord, Ida set me straight, yes she did.
Story #3 is a story of my mom and me. A story of how in three, maybe four words, she sent away (tears) It was about this time of year three years ago, and I’m sitting by my mom’s bedside in Rosewood Memory Care Unit on Broadway Ave. in Fargo, ND. A combination of old age, parkinsons disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, and dementia have worn her down. She’s in hospice care, and on this particular day, I showed up with intentions of comforting her and being with her. We have all kinds of conversations, all kinds of Bible readings, all kinds of prayer, one last time she has received her Lord’s Supper. In late afternoon, she is sleeping, and I’m just sitting there holding her hand, thinking back to days gone by where she took care of me, she prayed for me, she fed me, she cleaned up after me, and not surprisingly at all to any of you who know me well, I started to cry. She opened her eyes, she said to me, “you’re crying.” I said, “yes, mom I’m crying.” She asked why. I said because you’re dying. She said, “I’ll be fine.” In three words, with words proven true by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, mom simply pointed me towards the promises of resurrection, she sent away my tears, yes she did.
Story #4 is the story of a pastor who after 30 years of ministry you would think of good questions to ask a dying man..With one word, an old German Lutheran gets it (right) This story took place right here in the Janesville Nursing Home. One of the patriarchs of our Trinity Lutheran congregation was in his dying days (perhaps his dying hours), the family asked me to visit, and I did. His body was frail and tired, his bones were aching and his strength had gone away. I came near, he looked me in the eyes, and I said what I say20-30 times on average every day to healthy people, “Luke, how are you doing today?” He said in his Luke sort of a way, “ok.” With one word, a word proven true by the resurrection of Christ, old and frail and German and Lutheran Luke got it right, yes he did.
Luke was one of those good old men of the faith who was not famous at all for crying. And maybe you’re one of those people that would rather do just about anything other than let other people see you cry. And that’s fine. To each his own. But if ever you were going to shed a few tears, if ever you were going to let your emotions get the best of you, if ever there was going to be a day where you were swept off your feet by the Good and Certain news of Christianity, today would be the day. Which leads us to our second and final and briefer than the first less I invite you to learn today. (Easter) tears are the best kind. I say that for three reasons that parallel the three questions we urge you to ask before you step forward for your Lord’s Supper today. 1) Am I sorry for my sins? 2) Do I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior? 3) Do I promise to amend my sinful life?
Easter tears are tears of (regret) For Mary Magdalene, she no doubt regretted the ugly chapters of life she had traveled through, she regretted the bad habits she had fallen into, she regretted the opportunities she had missed to show love to her Savior. This morning, I invite not to cry over spilled milk, not to cry over that which you cannot control in life, but rather to cry tears of contrition over the ugly chapters of life you’ve already traveled through, to cry tears of repentance over the bad habits you have fallen into, to cry out for mercy for the opportunities to serve which you have been missing.
Easter tears are tears of (faith) Of Mary Magdalene, we can say she saw she believed, with joy in her heart and by the Holy Spirit she confessed that Jesus was Lord. Let it be said of us, in this very place, that we have seen, that we believe, and that we know where to go with our tears.
Easter tears are tears of (determination) Of Mary Magdalene, we can say that she went from a mourner to a missionary in short order. She went from a woman wondering what happened to one resolved to tell people exactly what happened. She went from a woman sobbing so hard she thought she was going to die to a woman determined to live and move and have her being in Jesus.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people who have all kinds of reasons to cry, but they know exactly where to go with all of those tears. Some days their emotions are all over the map, but as often as they hear the Easter bells ringing, as often as they pay attention to what their Good Shepherd is promising, that often they find themselves looking forward to that place where all their tears will be wiped away. Amen.
Ephesians 2 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
John 19 28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Dear Friends in Christ,
It’s been quite the race that the Rux family has been running in the last few years. And nobody runs their race quite like the Rux family! About a week before Jan passed away, on a Thursday afternoon, we gathered around her bedside and we prayed and we cried and we laughed, and then we did some more praying, crying, and laughing, not necessarily in that order, as is the custom of this family. We were pretty sure that day would be the finish line. The next day I stopped in and you had wheeled her out for a smoke, perhaps her last smoke? On Sunday morning, I texted Tara and asked her how her mom was doing, and she replied, “She is done with her wild side. She was down and sleeping all day yesterday…temp on and off…some confusion.”
Fast forward to Wednesday morning, and surrounded by sons and daughters and husband and a pastor, not to mention angels and archangels and the full company of saints, she finished her race. This afternoon, we want to talk first of all about the race Jan Rux ran and finished in a little nursing home on the outskirts of Janesville, secondly about the race Jesus Christ ran and finished on a little hill outside of Jerusalem, and third about the race you are running and will finish only God knows when and where.
First of all, we can say about Jan Rux as of this past Wednesday morning, “mission accomplished.” The Epistle Lesson chosen for today teaches us first that Jan was saved by the grace of God alone through faith alone. In the waters of Holy Baptism, the Triune God claimed her as child, and from that day forward, her Good Shepherd followed her around with goodness and mercy. In every one of her days, she sinned and fell short of the glory of God, as do we all, but every morning the mercies of her God were fresh like the morning dew. She had a hard time sitting still, oh my, did she have a hard time sitting still, but when she did, she knew that God was God and that He loved her.
Her assignments in life were God-given, and as of this past Wednesday, they were completed. One of her main assignments in life was to be married to Loren Rux. There were good times and not so good times, there was thick and there was thin, there were waves of tears thoroughly mixed in with the kind of laughter that would make your stomach hurt. She had promised to love and to honor and to nourish and to cherish Loren, and so she did, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in good health and in sickness. Throw in a bit of scolding, lots of cleaning up after, plenty of falling short, an abundance of forgiveness, and after all the dust had settled, mission was accomplished. Until death do us part, the two of you promised, and so it did.
A second main assignment for Jan was to be mom, grandma, and soon to be great grandma.
Again there were smooth sailing days and those where the winds blew and the waves dashed people to pieces. There were the best of days and there were the worst of days, and frequently they come one right after another. This family has a habit of talking sweet, talking smart, and talking straight, enough to make your head swim some days. But, if I can stay with the metaphor of swimming, all of it was done in the context of Baptismal waters. For this family, and for every one of our families, every day is not only a race to be run, but a battle to be fought. In our baptismal liturgy, congregations and parents and godparents swear to help these little ones spend their days renouncing the devil and all of his works and all of his ways. In the Rite of Confirmation, which we celebrated today here at Trinity, our confirmands wear their white robes and they swear to God and to anybody listening that they are now grasping their baptismal faith for themselves, they are vowing to fight their own battles with the help of God, they are promising to run their own races and to do battle against the devil and all of his nasty demons.
(Footsteps story with twist ending) In Jan’s final weeks and months of life, her main assignment was to receive. It was to be taken care of by you rather than to be taking care of you. Now she pretty much went through that stage kicking and screaming, but I will tell you of at least once a month where she did sit still and receive. (Story of her confessing sins and receiving Holy Communion, and then washing my communion cups in thorough fashion.)
It was when she ate and drank at her Lord’s Supper, that the Spirit of God was accomplishing His mission in her heart and mind. As often as she received the good gifts God was wanting to give her, that often what Christ finished at the cross was getting delivered right into her heart and soul and mind.
At the cross, objectively speaking, Almighty God accomplished His mission. There on Calvary’s holy mountain the Son suffered everything his father asked him to suffer. He endured all that he was assigned to endure. Every last drop in the cup of a righteous God’s wrath towards sin he drank. Every bit of punishment that every sinner in every generation in every corner of the world should have received, he accepted. Every one of our sorrows he carried, every one of our infirmities he took up, every last one of our iniquities he let them lay on him, every debt that needed to be paid, he paid. And when he cried out in his closing breaths that it is finished, he meant what he said and said what he meant. With his wounds we are healed, at the moment of his death, our salvation is purchased, and by rising again from the dead on the third day, he lives to look you in the eyes today, and say, Because I live, so also will Jan Rux live! We believe that at the moment of death, her soul was carried by the angels into the very presence of Jesus Christ, and that on the last day this body which is now dust and ashes will be raised up to be reunited with her soul and live in a place which is far better than the grandest places we could live in here and now.
Now that the story of Jan Rux here and now has been written, now that she has been saved by the grace of God through faith alone in Jesus Christ, now that her good works ordained by God for her do have been completed, your eyes may turn back towards your own stations in life. In closing, I say to you that your assignments are two fold.
Your second most important assignment in these next chapters of life is to spend your days thanking and praising, serving and obeying. Thanking and praising, serving and obeying. Most of you don’t really have to wonder what your duties are every day when your jump out of bed, or maybe you sort of roll out of bed, and maybe a couple of you get kicked out of bed! If you’re married, your assignment is to stay married and not just to survive marriage, but for you husbands to lay down your lives with a sacrificial love, and for you wives to receive all of that love and give it right back to him in the form of respect. Perhaps you have children to bring up to know their Savior, or perhaps you’re a grandma or grandpa, or maybe you’re an employer or an employee, or maybe you have a broken hearted person in your life that needs to be befriended, or a lonely friend that needs you to spend some time, or maybe an aging parent that needs to be served…….your second most important assignment is simply to love as you have been loved, forgive as you have been forgiven, serve as you have been served first by Jesus Christ.
Your #1 assignment, which you may be wondering about by now, is to receive all that your God wants to you to have. It’s that simple, what Jesus Christ finished at the cross, His great desire is for you to have the full benefit package in every one of your days. I’ve been reading some of your FB posts, and I know there are a few of you daughters and sons who are wondering how you’re going to get through this, you’re wondering who is going to be your refuge now that your mom is gone, you’re wondering who will be the glue that holds this family together.
The answer, of course, is Jesus Christ. He is the glue that will hold your family together as well as the entire and worldwide family of God, the Holy Christian Church. He is the refuge upon which you may lean and the strength you may hold onto in every one of your days, especially the stormy ones. He is the one who has chosen you in baptism, he has redeemed you with his very blood, he has his race in perfect fashion, and invites you to follow him as closely as you possibly can.
Your first assignment each day is to be loved by God, and secondly go looking for people to love.
Your first assignment is to be forgiven by God, and secondly to go looking for someone to forgive.
First assignment is to be comforted by your God, and secondly go looking for someone to comfort. First is to be taken care of by your Savior, and then go looking for someone to take care of. May God bless you, Loren and Lonna and Kiki and Tara and Jadi and Jake and Jordy and all you who called her mother in law or grandma or friend or day care lady or neighbor, may Jesus Christ and His angels watch over you that the wicked foe may have no power over you, may you do all the good works assigned by God for you to do, and may Jan Rux rest in peace, that she may rest from her labors, and her works do follow her. Amen.
Deuteronomy 32, Philippians 2:5-11, John 12:12-19
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Today is confirmation day, and that means we have 23 young people looking to stand up in front of our congregation. They’re looking to grasp their baptismal faith like adults. They’re looking to say words that matter today.
I’ve told some of you this before, but it’s worth repeating. My wedding day was one of the scariest days of my life, but I wasn’t afraid because I doubts about marrying my beautiful bride Laura. I was afraid because I read the vows: “To have and to hold... for better, for worse… for richer, for poorer… in sickness and in health…” I was afraid because I realized there aren’t excuses or exceptions to those vows. I don’t get to opt out of having and holding if I’m having a really bad day, or if Laura is getting on my nerves. I don’t get to opt out of providing for Laura if I lose my job or if I lose my ability to work. I’m taking an oath whether Laura lives out her days in health or they are fraught with sickness.
It’s a promise bigger than I. It was a day when I got to participate in something bigger than myself, and I said words that mattered.
There are very few days in your life when you get to speak words that matter. This is one of them.
We celebrate Confirmation on Palm Sunday, the first day of the holiest week of the Christian’s year. It’s extraordinary. Every year, this week, the church takes over the entire week. It’s the 7 days of Jesus’ life set in slow motion, as we retrace his last days, his final steps, as we listen to his every word. We watch him ride into Jerusalem not as a conquering king on a warhorse but as the rightful ruler, on a donkey. We watch him trash the temple court saying, “My Father’s house is a house of prayer.” We sit with him as he takes his last meal with his disciples. We see him pray in agony, at Gethsemane as Judas betrays him. We know his hours on the cross, his death, and his rest in the tomb.
Our story gets taken over by his story. Today, you get to speak words that matter. Did you read the vows? They start out baptismal. I renounce the devil. I believe in a God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe in him because he came to earth and made himself a man. I will regularly come to the Lord’s Table. I will be faithful to my vows to my dying day, and I would rather face death than fall away from these vows.
We are asking you, some of you for the first time in your lives, to be an adult.
So then, what does it mean to be an adult? You think about how you get a driver’s license at 16, how you can vote at 18, or drink at 21, or the final milestone, you can drive a rental car at 25. Or you might think about living on your own, making your own rules, starting a career or a long-term relationship. But, what does it mean to grasp your faith as an adult? Three answers for today: first, it means bowing your head to that which matters; second, it means taking up your cross and following Christ; third, it means resting in your baptismal grace.
First, it means bowing your head and bending your knee to that which matters.
A story has been told of a man who loved his boat and liked to make sure it looked good. He waxed it every week. He cleaned off the propeller every time he got it out the water. He made sure the carpet was vacuumed and the cover was put on every winter. But he never changed the oil. It always seemed to work well, so he never thought of it. But one day after waxing it, he went to start it up and… there was nothing. You see, he was making sure it looked good, and he neglected the heart. He was after the little matters, and he missed that which actually mattered.
Waxing and washing, vacuuming and covering – they’re all good and important in their own way, but they don’t get to the heart of the matter. What’s like that in your life? Grasping your faith as an adult is figuring out what matters little and what matters most.
Because the heart of the matter is this: that in the end faith, hope and love remain, but the greatest of these is love, and if you want to see the love of God – love more perfect than any other’s, if you want to see the peculiar picture of what it means to love as a Christian – if you want to see how this was made full, look no further than Jesus Christ being made the payment for your sin. Look no further than Jesus who speaks hard truths in love to those who really needed to hear it. Look no further than Jesus sitting down in the dust to forgive those who really screwed up. Look no further than Jesus doing all that Jesus does, and know that every act of God in the Old and New Testaments is an act of love incarnate.
This is makes you weird. This is what makes you peculiar; it’s what makes the Christian a Christian. The heart of your life is a knowledge that Jesus Christ was dead but is now alive, and in the mysterious way of Baptism, because he lives, now you live also. You grasp your faith firmly when you confess this before men. Nothing matters more than Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Today I invite you to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. I invite you to look toward what actually matters. One of my favorite bands put it this way: “You know you are as small as the things you let annoy; you know you are gigantic as the things that you adore.” Or in a better way, hear how Paul says it later in Philippians 4: Whatever is true… Whatever is honorable… whatever is just… whatever is lovely… whatever is commendable… if there is anything excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.
Second, grasping your faith like an adult means picking up your cross and dying. It’s not a mistake that we examine our confirmands a week before Jesus is crucified. It’s not just random that you’re confirmed on Palm Sunday as thousands and hundreds of thousands cried out “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” or that you’ll take the Lord’s Supper on the night when Jesus was betrayed. You start your adult life in the faith this week because your faith follows the form of your savior.
And when I think of form, I think of how I just started playing some Thursday night basketball and how bad my shot looks these days, and I remember Rick Riehl my high school basketball coach. He was a fiery kind of guy who’d slam his hand down on chairs and yell Judas Priest whenever we messed up, and I remember one thing he’d say pretty often as we shot hundreds of free throws that we shot at the end of practices: he’d say, “Practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent… perfect practice makes perfect.” It doesn’t matter how many thousand free throws you shoot… the only way to improve is to correct your form.
And I tell you that to tell you this: your faith follows the form of your savior.
That’s what “Take up your cross” means – it means that your life is cruciform: you follow a savior who was crucified, died and was buried, and we should expect the same. It means that you follow a savior that was raised to eternal life, and because he lives, so you shall live. It means that suffering comes upon the just and the unjust, and still, blessed be the name of the Lord. It means to embrace the Christian life as a way of suffering, of strangeness, of sin, of leaving yourself open for hurt so that you can show mercy and forgiveness especially to those who don’t deserve it.
Or, like Moses says it in Deuteronomy, close to the last word in a 34 chapter sermon, “He’s the one who kills and makes alive. He’s the one who would and the one who heals. No one can deliver you out of his hand.”
Today, I invite you to remember that the whole process of confirmation revolves around the idea that this week – Holy Week – and Good Friday and Easter Sunday is the most important week of your life. It’s the most important week that’s ever been a week. It’s the week when the fate of the world changed from death to life. It’s a week when God the Father, maker of heaven and earth, did the justice of our sin to his Son, so that Jesus might become sin for us.
Finally, it means resting in your baptismal grace. This week, I had the privilege of being at the bedside of Janice Rux as she passed away. I was there as she breathed her last breaths, with her family all around, with tears streaming down our faces after months wondering when the Lord would take her home. They say in the end that, although you may not be able to respond, many times you can still hear. So, I took her by the hand and spoke to her the same words I’ve spoken many times now, “Jan, you know that your family and your pastor are here with you and we love you. And more than that, we know that your Savior is with you even when you are beyond us.”
Our God promises in your baptism. He promises that he will be your God and you will be his people. He brings you out of darkness into his marvelous light. He nails every single one of your transgressions on his cross. He pays for your sins. He promises that he is your good shepherd and no one can snatch you out of his hand. He promises that your worth is not based on your performance. He promises that he held you in your salvation even before you knew right from left, and he will hold you in his hand even when you are beyond reason.
Our God promises in the Lord’s Supper. He promises that like food and drink make your body strong, so the forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper makes your soul strong. He promises that just as food and drink become part of your being, so forgiveness becomes a part of your soul. He shows you that he is the Strong One, and if you want strength, you will find it at his altar.
Today, I don’t invite you to stop being a child. You are a child of your parents, and you’ll always be a child of your parents. In your baptism, you are a child of God, and you’ll always be a child of God. The difference now is, I do invite you to be an adult child that knows you’re resting in the promises you’ve been given.
In conclusion, this day is about grasping your faith as adults. It’s about bowing your head to what really matters. It’s about taking up your cross and following your Savior. It’s about resting in your baptismal grace.
My wedding day was one of the scariest days of my life, yes, but it was also one of the best. On these days when we make promises, we remember that life is about living each day in good times and in bad grasping the enormity of the promises we make to God today, and about resting each night in the sure forgiveness that comes because he is our true father and we are his true children.
May the God who knit you together in your mother’s womb, who claimed you as his own in baptism, and who began this good work in you, bring it to completion in the day of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen and amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther