Jesus Prepares Us
Confirmation Day 2018
Acts 3:11-21 // 1 John 3:1-7 // Luke 24:36-49
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text is the Gospel lesson, “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace to you!” Our text thus far.
Dear friends in Christ,
We’re taking a look at all that Christ does on our behalf in these days past Easter.
In our sermon series this Easter, we are focused on Jesus building His Kingdom near and far. We have said it again and again in this school year that Jesus is on a mission to seek and to save lost sinners, and He has invited every local congregation big and small to join Him on that mission. The last two Sundays we focused on Jesus living for us and Jesus persuading Thomas, in the next five weeks, we will focus on Jesus shepherding, Jesus abiding, Jesus choosing, and Jesus praying. This morning, we see Jesus preparing us.
A story of preparing. I was making a pizza the other day for friends to come over… I had the dough all made up. I had the chicken all cooked. I had everything ready except for the sauce… but I didn’t have tomato sauce for a base. So I think I’ll make a white sauce. I don’t have ranch dressing. So I think I’ll make some, but I don’t have mayonnaise, so I think I’ll make some, and it doesn’t go well, and my friends come over. And they get me my sauce.
The point is, there was preparing to do, but I hadn’t done it. There was a future to be ready for but I was not ready.
Not too far away from here is an older gentleman, one that has had to take steps back, and not a one has been willingly. I tell him that he’s in his eighties, doesn’t he think he’ll need to think about it sometime? To which he says, “Well, I don’t want to think about that today.”
Not too far away from him is a set of confirmands that are just excited to be done with memorizing and speaking into microphones. The knowledge that came in one ear can start to go out the other ear, and life can move forward.
And not too far away from them is a young mom that had kids before she expected and has felt like the last 5 years has been living by the seat of her pants. Everything seems to be last minute. Everything is a surprise. Nothing seems to go as planned or to have enough time for thought.
Today’s sermon theme is on Jesus Christ preparing. Two points to make on this question: What does it mean that Jesus is preparing? First, Jesus is taking away the sting of our past. Second, Jesus is going ahead to prepare for us.
First, we see the disciples in a room together, hearing first how Jesus appeared to Peter, when Cleopas and another disciple burst into the room to tell them that Christ was made known to them in the breaking of the bread and in prayer, when Christ himself stands among them.
The Scriptures record that they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. To which, when I think on it, I imagine them asking the same question that my wife asked over and over again when I proposed to her: Are you serious?
We see in his presence Jesus is taking away the sting of their past. He is incarnating a living hope into their being. He is undoing the power of sin which is the law, and thanks be to God for the Victory in Jesus Christ. Mark who ran away needs no longer to be ashamed. Peter who denied needs no longer to be ashamed. Thomas who doubted needs no longer to be ashamed. Jesus comes and his presence takes away the sting of sin.
Can you believe that? When Christ is present, there is no reason to hold onto our shame. Now, note in all the examples above, there was a real and legitimate shame and failure. These weren’t throw-away sins. But in the presence of Jesus, their power is gone.
When was the last time that you considered what the presence of Jesus could do to your shame and to others? The sin of others has no effect on you. The hurt of others has no effect on you, because the presence of Jesus means that new and other things are important to you: death is not the end of your life, so there is no reason to fear death.
Second, Jesus is preparing for us. Once or twice a week, early in the morning, before anyone else is up, I’ll get up and run and come on back. By the time I’m back, some amount of people are up in our house, and we are getting the days started. But what I will do, about once or twice a week, instead of coming up immediately, I’ll stay downstairs, get the coffee going, get the breakfast going, and bring up breakfast and hot coffee for Laura.
She might hear me, or she might not. She might suspect what I’m doing or she might not. She might just be wondering why it’s taking so long for me to get up the stairs, but the point is that when I am away from her, I am preparing for her.
In our text, Jesus indicates that he is sending the promise of the Father upon them. He is preparing to clothe them in power. He will be leading them out into Bethany. He will be leaving them, ascending into heaven and preparing a place for them.
He is with them, whether in his active presence, or in his absence. One pastor type talked about it this way: we think often about a ministry of being present with people. We don’t often think about the ministry of our absence. What does he mean by that? He doesn’t mean to make sure people “Thank God” that you’re gone. Don’t do that. But yet, he was urging pastors to not only think about the time you get to spend with people, but think about what your last words are, what lasting action you can take, think about how you can influence someone even when you’re far away.
Consider: If these were the last words someone said to this person before they died, would that be ok? If this was the last thing I would say to this person in 10 years, is it a good statement?
The kingdom of heaven is like a young man that is more thoughtful now than he was 10 years ago. He cringes to think what he would say without thinking, but he is glad to know that his Lord has been leading him deeper.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town, one where the Lord has appeared and proclaimed he is risen. The Presence of their Lord is always on their minds, especially as they pray for those who have conflict, especially as they seek to act in peace and love, especially as they consider not only the active ministry they do, but also the way that their God is working in their absence.
Amen and Amen.
Second Sunday of Easter / April 8, 2018
Second in a Series “Jesus Building His Kingdom”
John 20:19-31 / Acts 4:32-35 / I John 1:1-2:2
Dear Friends in Christ,
About 25 years ago or so, a Lutheran pastor was arrested in the small town where my parents lived. He was a highly respected preacher and family man right up until he was arrested for window peeping. Some time later, I was chatting a neighbor and friend of my parents who happened to be a member of that congregation, and she spoke to me about how devastating it was for their little church. It was even more awful for her family, she said, because her husband hadn’t been brought up a Lutheran, he didn’t belong to any church, but in fact, he was almost ready to join the (Church). Of course this scandal put a stop to any interest he had in joining a Lutheran church, or any church for that matter. I haven’t talked to her for many years, and I have no idea if she and the Holy Spirit were ever able to persuade him to change his mind, but this we know in this Easter season, while it’s of first importance that we preach Jesus Christ crucified and risen, it matters that we pastors and people practice what we preach. While on the one hand, our good behavior can be part of a witness that helps attract others to the Church, the opposite of that is true as well – bad behavior can be a major obstacle to the spread of the Gospel.
In our sermon series this Easter, we are focused on Jesus building His Kingdom near and far. We have said it again and again in this school year that Jesus is on a mission to seek and to save lost sinners, and He has invited every local congregation big and small to join Him on that mission. Last Sunday we focused on Jesus living for us, in the next five weeks, we will focus on Jesus preparing, Jesus shepherding, Jesus abiding, Jesus choosing, and Jesus praying. This morning, we see Jesus persuading Thomas and us that He is in fact risen from the dead.
Statistics these days suggest that few and fewer Americans are believing that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, fewer and fewer are holding on to the believe that Jesus is the only way to be saved, fewer and fewer folks are joining and attending Christian churches these days. While 40% of Americans say they attend church regularly, churches report that less 20% do so. Whatever the statistics are, we can see that the Holy Spirit has a lot of persuading to do. Paul writes that “no man can say that Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit.” Luther explains the Third Article, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, etc.
The Holy Spirit is the great persuader. In John 16, Jesus said that he would send a helper and that when he comes he would convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment In these days, the Holy Spirit persuades and convicts primarily through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. In our text for today, we see Jesus persuading Thomas face to face. We would learn three lessons about the work of the Holy Spirit. First, we see Jesus reaching out and being patient with Thomas. Secondly, we see Jesus inviting Thomas to examine the evidence for His resurrection. Third, we hear Jesus hinting at a grand plan for his resurrection good new and peace to spread.
First, See Jesus (reaching out) to and being patient with Thomas. For whatever reason Thomas was absent the previous Sunday evening, he missed out on Jesus standing in their midst and declaring with his familiar and reassuring voice, “Peace be unto you.” For seven long and miserable days, Thomas missed out on the gladness that came along with Jesus showing his wounded but now healed hands and side. He missed out on Jesus commissioning the other ten disciples, as the Father had commissioned him, to be witnesses and messengers of Easter peace. For seven restless and distressing days and nights, Thomas resisted, he wondered, he doubted that in fact Jesus had risen from the dead, as promised.
This morning we see the Holy Spirit at work as Jesus reaches out and is patient with Thomas. Jesus draws near, and I’d like to think with a smile on his face, he gives Thomas a second chance. Jesus takes his time, he listens, he makes a special effort to help Thomas think more clearly about the events of the past ten days. One more time, we see how patient is our God, we see how determined is our God for us to be on the same page as Jesus and these early disciples, “As the Father sends me, so I am sending you.”
The kingdom of God is like a grandma who reaches out on a Sunday afternoon to her grandson who has drifted away from the church. With tears in her eyes, she asks him why he doesn’t go to church anymore. With a heart that is breaking, she listens to him say he’s not really sure why. With her familiar and reassuring voice, she tells him one more time how much she loves him, she mentions how her daily devotions and church involvement have blessed her over the years. In that very moment the Spirit of God is stirring in this grandson’s heart. Silently, invisibly, and almost imperceptibly, to be sure, but the Spirit of God is stirring. Jesus building His Kingdom in His time and in His way.
If step #1 in the art of persuasion was for Jesus to be reaching out and be patient with Thomas, step #2 is to See Jesus (inviting) Thomas to examine the evidence for resurrection. In this conversation, Jesus had an advantage we don’t often have. He knew exactly what Thomas had been thinking and saying. He knew that Thomas had been saying that unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, I will not believe. Unless I am able to thrust my fingers into the mark of that nail, I will not believe. Unless I am able to thrust my hand into the wound of his side, I will not believe. Notice, dear friends, how Jesus patiently invites Thomas to examine the evidence. Go ahead, Thomas, and see my hands, draw close and put your finger here where the nails went through, step on up and put out your hand and place it in my side. Please Thomas, no more doubting, no more disbelieving, it’s time for you to believe.
Unbelief always has been, is today, and will always be picking away at the faith of God’s people. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the weeds /tares. Jesus pictures Satan as the enemy who goes out while the farmers are sleeping and sows weeds among the wheat, and then he slithers away in the darkness of night.
So also in the hearts of those of us who have been baptized and instructed in basic Bible teaching, Satan is constantly finding ways to plant seeds of doubt. In times of tragedy,we find ourselves struggling to be certain there is a good and a gracious God ruling all of heaven and earth. In times of failure, we find ourselves doubting that God is answering our prayers in the way that is best for us. We find high school aged believers doubting that church attendance is important, we find college age Christians doubting that the traditional teachings of the Church are still relevant, we find Christian parents doubting that the spiritual disciplines still need to be insisted on, we find middle aged folks doubting that you really have to choose between the kingdom of God and all these other things, we find the elderly doubting that God still has important work for them to do.
The kingdom of God is like a middle aged believer who sees all that is wrong in this world, but he can’t really see God being present in the midst of it all. As the years go on, he finds the Easter message ringing more and more hollow. He is pleased when a confirmation classmate of his reaches out and takes the time to listen to his story. Together they remember what they learned at the knees of their dear mothers, together they reminisce about what old pastor so and so taught them years ago, together they examine the evidence of nature, the evidence of Scripture, and the evidence of the witnesses and messengers in their lives. In those very moments, the Spirit of God is stirring in their hearts. Silently, invisibly, and almost imperceptibly, to be sure, but the Spirit of God is stirring. Jesus building His kingdom in his time and in his way.
If step #1 in the art of persuasion was for Jesus to be reaching out and being patient, and if step #2 was for Jesus to be (inviting) Thomas to examine the evidence for resurrection., then step #3 is to Hear Jesus (hinting) at a grand plan for His resurrection peace to spread.
Whether or not Thomas actually did touch his Savior’s hands or thrust his hands into his side, we don’t know. What we do know is that Thomas saw, he sank to his knees, his doubts gave way to a clear confession of faith. Jesus accepted this confession, but he didn’t really commend it. Not the way he had commended the Canaanite woman whose daughter was healed of demon possession (Woman, you have a great faith!”), not the way he praised the faith of the centurion whose servant was healed of paralysis. (I tell you the truth, not in all of Israel have I found such a faith!”)
To Thomas, Jesus speaks, and I’d like to think with a smile on his face, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus knew what He wants all of us to know this morning- Blessed are they in every generation who hear the Word of God and believe it.
This is the grand plan our Easter season sermons would lay before us today and in the five weeks to come, that as the Father commissioned His Son to seek and to save lost sinners, so as Jesus commissioned us to spend our days spreading God’s resurrection peace and strength, near and far. Tradition tells us that Thomas was martyred in India for proclaiming the Christian message. There is a church in today’s India that attributes its beginnings to the work of Thomas. Proving once again that the Spirit of God is stirring wherever and whenever the seeds of God’s Word are sown. Silently, invisibly, and almost imperceptibly, to be sure, but the Spirit of God is stirring. Jesus Himself building the kingdom in his way and in his time.
Our sermon series in this Easter season is focused on Jesus Building His Kingdom. I read an article this past week that suggested that as many as (10,000) Chinese become Christians each day. A Professor of Sociology at Purdue University, who is a published author on the subject of religion in China, writes that according to his calculations China is destined to become the country with the largest population of Christians in the near future. He writes that China’s Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949 and which has been subject to a government trying to eliminate Christianity, has grown to 58 million in 2010, and is predicted to swell to 160 million by 2025. By 2030, China’s total Christian population would exceed 247 million. We don’t have time to explain in depth the secrets of church growth there in China, but we may be sure there areallkinds of little home churches living out their life together in the spirit of our first reading today- Christians taking care of each other, Christians confessing their faults to one another, Christians walking in the light and in fellowship with one another, and the grace of God getting poured out in rich measure.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks getting down on their knees tonight along with Thomas as all kinds of new believers in far away lands. They are quietly rejoicing that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, they are taking their doubts and questions to Jesus Christ in prayer, they have not seen, and yet they believe on the basis of testimony of those who have gone on before them. Even as they pray, the Spirit of God is stirring. Silently, invisibly,and almost imperceptibly, to be sure, the Spirit of God is stirring, and the Kingdom of God is advancing.
Jesus Lives For Us
Easter Sunday 2018
Isaiah 25: 6-9, I Corinthians 15: 1-11, Mark 16:1-8
Mark 16: And the angel said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Just a couple of days ago, I was talking smart with one of our elderly members, who is over 90 years old, he’s all crippled up, his wife passed away years ago and he misses her more than ever. He often wonders why the Lord doesn’t just let him die and go to heaven. Somehow our conversation weaved and wandered around to the subject of coffee. In the news recently were two different articles, one suggesting that the state of California would be requiring Starbucks to put a label on their coffee warning that it could cause cancer, and the second article suggesting that good strong coffee in fact would clean out your arteries and prevent heart attacks. Both of us prefer the second bit of research, and Bill looked me in the eyes and declared, “If I can’t have my three cups of coffee every day, you may as well shoot me!”
Which reminded me of Judy, one of our members in a nursing home going through all kinds of health troubles and frustrations. Not yet 70 years old, she is unable to walk, restricted from doing the simplest of tasks in life, when I asked her how I could be helpful, she looked me in the eyes and said, “just shoot me, Pastor Griffin.”
Which reminded me of Lyle, his friends called him “Hammer,” who used to live where our church parking lot is now. Hammer could talk smart with the best of them, and on one of my last visits with him, as he struggled with all kinds of cancer and seemed to be approaching death, I prayed with him, he received his Lord’s Supper, and as I was about to leave, I asked if there was anything I could do for him, he looked me in the eyes, and you guessed it, he said, “yes you can take me out back and shoot me.” To which I said, “That wouldn’t really be a very good career move for me, Lyle.” He replied, “I suppose you’re right.”
It is when pain and suffering are overwhelming us that we have a hard time standing strong and saying proud, “If God is for us, who can be against us!” It is when the days drag on with boredom and purposelessness that we forget about the promise that “If God spared not his only Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? It is when our prayers seem to be going unanswered and the world around us seems to be going to hell in a hand basket that we hear Easter preachers going on and on and on about Jesus being alive and Jesus being with us always and God being on our side, we say to ourselves, “blah, blah, blah, I’ve heard it all before, why doesn’t the preacher tell me something new and exciting?”
I don’t have anything new to tell you today, and folks don’t very often tell me that my messages are exciting, but I do have for you three Easter truths that have the potential to in increase your level of patience, to re-order your priorities, and to leave here today with a renewed sense of purpose. Easter truth #1 is that Jesus is worth waiting for. Easter truth#2 is that Jesus is of first importance. Easter truth #3 is that Jesus goes on before us.
Easter truth#1 is that Jesus is worth waiting for. In today’s Old Testament lesson, the nation of Israel is speaking. Actually they are singing in response to their God doing marvelous things in their history. They are singing praise to a God who had proven himself to be a refuge to the poor, he had proven himself to be a stronghold to the needy, he had proven himself to be a shelter from the storm, and he had proven himself to be a shade from the heat of the desert.
They looked forward to the day when their God would swallow up death forever, and even beyond to a heavenly banquet where the bacon cheeseburgers would be well done, the beer would be ice cold, the French fries would be the best ever, and fellowship would be hilarious, the conversations will be free from pettiness and all conflict. Or to use Isaiah’s language, the delicacies would be nutritious, the wine would at its peak of flavor, their tears would be wiped away from all their faces, their disgrace would be taken away.
Dear friends in Christ, no matter what is trying your patience these days, know that Jesus is not only risen, he is alive and well and living for you. He is in these very days sitting at the right hand of his Father interceding for you and wanting good things for you, He’s pulling for you to be patiently enduring every one of your challenges. Listen to the entire nation of Israel singing, “Behold this is our God, we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord, we have waited for him, let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
The kingdom of God is like a woman not too far away from here reeling from weeks and weeks of chemotherapy, she’s cold and she’s sick and she’s frail, but this morning you’ll find her being glad and rejoicing in her Lord’s resurrection!
If Easter truth #1 is that Jesus is worth waiting for, Easter truth #2 is that Jesus is of first importance. In our Lenten midweek series, we studied the dangerous distractions of the Passion Story, even as we rejoiced in the simple truth that Jesus Christ would be not be distracted from his mission of going the way of the cross, suffering under Pontius Pilate, enduring crucifixion until he was dying, dead, and buried for us.
We saw Jewish leaders and mobs distracted by their own false views of the Messiah, we saw Judas distracted by a love of money and power, we saw Peter distracted by his own pride, distracted as he followed at a distance and in the wrong company, we saw Herod distracted by his own desire to be amused, we saw the sophisticated and full of himself Pontius Pilate distracted by his own unbelief and scoffing at the idea of absolute truth.
There is perhaps no more dangerous distraction from the Easter message than the death of our loved ones. If my counting is correct, there are over 165 names of departed loved ones, italicized in our bulletin, and remembered with all kinds of flowers and plants. All kinds of death beds, all kinds of caskets and urns, all kinds of trips to the cemetery and crying in the night are flooding through our memory banks this morning. Memories which threaten to distract us from what we believe that if God is for us, who can be against us?
#62 italicized name in our bulletin today is our grandson Gabriel Erickson. Gabriel, as many of you know, is the son of our daughter and son in law, Michelle and Brandon. In her second trimester, he was diagnosed with renal agenesis, which meant that his kidneys did not form, which meant he had no bladder, which meant he produced no urine, which meant there was no amniotic fluid, which meant that his lungs did not develop, which meant that if he was born alive, he would likely live only an hour or two. Which is exactly what happened. And so in our memory banks this Easter Sunday is this nightmare vision of Michelle holding onto her breathing little boy and then he wasn’t breathing anymore, our distraction includes a funeral ending with Brandon carrying out of church the tiniest casket we ever saw, distraction includes our son in law getting down into a cold and dark cemetery hole, gently placing that tiny casket, family members covering him with soil, singing songs of hopefulness, certain of resurrection and at the same time wondering what kind of God lets this happen.
Listen to St. Paul, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
The kingdom of God is like a dozen, maybe two or ten dozen people sitting in this very sanctuary this morning, realizing they have been distracted away from the kingdom of God and His righteousness in these days. They have in fact been chasing after so much that is secondary, they are wondering how their days would be different if they were to receive into their hearts anew that which is of first importance. Quietly they pray, “Change my heart O Lord, make it ever true.”
If Easter truth #1 is that Jesus is worth waiting for, and Easter truth #2 is that Jesus is of first importance, then Easter truth#3 is that Jesus goes on before us. In our Gospel lesson for today, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger, and Salome, mother of James and John, had been crying harder than they had ever cried before. One could speculate so many tears had fallen there were no more tears to fall. In any case, they were focused on giving their loved one a proper burial. They were wondering who might roll away the stone for them.
For the rest of their lives, their memory banks would include an angel scaring the you know what out of them, no doubt they relived this dream come true a thousand times, Jesus had risen. He was not there. The grave was empty. Their assignment was to go tell the disciples and especially Peter that Jesus was going on before them to Galilee. No doubt all kinds of questions began to arise, but this one truth they would begin to process – Jesus was alive and He would still be leading the way.
A few weeks ago, a young lady came into the church office on a Sunday morning looking for a pastor. She was crying as hard as anybody I have ever seen cry. It was a hyperventilating kind of a cry. Slowly the words stumbled out. Her boyfriend, the love of her life, had been killed the night before in a snowmobile accident. Her two pastors tag teamed, we cried, we prayed, we listened, and one question kept on recurring, “What am I going to do?” The best answer I could offer was this, “Jamie, today is your day to cry. That’s your assignment, spend your day crying, your family and friends will cry with you. One hour at a time.”
Fast forward to yesterday, when I reached out to this young Christian lady who confirmed her faith at this very altar twenty years or so ago. She tells me she still struggles, Some days are easier, others it’s a battle. She’s reading and she’s praying and she is thankful for the time she had. She concludes, “Now there is nothing the world can throw at me that I can’t get through.”
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who know that if they can make it through the valley of the shadow of death of a loved one, they can make it through any valley this world might throw their way. They know that Jesus Christ is alive and He is well, He has gone on before them, and He is leading the way. They know that the Easter message is of first importance, and they bring to their Lord’s Table today hearts that are sorry for so many bad habits, they are sorry for falling prey to so many enemies of their faith, they are sorry for so many good intentions gone astray.
And one more time, right on schedule, just as promised, Jesus Christ delivers, as Pastor Muther likes to say, the good stuff. Christ holds them close. He loves them without condition. He forgives every one of their sins, he takes away the shame of every one of their secrets, He invites them to go in peace. Alleluia Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Jesus, Broken and Poured Out For You
“Jesus on the Way to the Cross”
Maundy Thursday, Holy Week 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We meditate on the readings read, as well as Matthew 11, Jesus saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
Dear friends in Christ,
Just today, we laid a dear, dear saint to rest. Martha Kintzel. In the year that Martha was born, Hitler’s party was coming into power, when she was 5 Hitler was named chancellor, as a school-aged girl she remembers shaking the hand of Adolph Hitler, when she was 17 the war was just ending, in her late teens and early 20’s the Russians were swooping through the countryside raping and ravaging, when she was 27 she and her husband Ludwig were getting married, in the 1950’s he was a coal miner and the coal mines were in their hey day, they were blessed with three children, living in new housing in a new town, at age 33 the Berlin wall was getting built, at age 41 she and her family were moving to Minnesota.
Martha for the most part didn’t seem to want to talk about years of war and death and despair, but one author wrote about how Berlin was divided, people were living amidst the destruction, and everyone was hungry all the time, nine million German men killed, and women and children suffering atrocities worse than death.
So much that Martha wouldn't talk about or didn’t want to talk about. But perhaps it is her silence on the troubling chapters that makes what she did say so much more powerful. She didn't volunteer much about her past, but she did want people to know the love of Jesus gets us through all the tough days. She didn't spread around the story of her hard life, but she was very bold to say where she found her strength and her hope. She was very bold to say in times of tiredness, she knew where she could find rest.
Which makes me to thing of Christ’s words… “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” He’s looking for the weary and the burdened. He’s looking for the exhausted. He’s looking for those who need rest.
Which makes me to think of how Christ is looking for us to be the right kind of tired. One of the favorite memories of my life are my summers at camp during my college days. I would get done with the college semester exhausted. Tests, papers, long nights, lots of caffeine, little sleep, bad food, reading, typing, and sitting. It was exhausting. But then, I would go to camp.
I remember that our days would start at 6:30am and we would be watching children until 10:30pm, when you would get an hour or so off from them if you weren’t on night patrol. Your days were full of canoeing and bow and arrow, full of silly games and Bible study, full of walking miles and miles and miles through the woods and making breakfast, lunch and dinner over the fire.
It was exhausting, but it was a different kind of exhausted. Not so much of late nights and caffeine but full days and tasks well done, what at least one wise mom would call “good tired.” Not so much of writing papers and taking tests, but the rigorous questions of campers dealing with real life.
We ponder the last days of Jesus. In his early ministry, he frequently went off alone to pray. He was ministered to by angels and took time to rest. But you see him in his last days, and you can’t help but thing about him as tired. Tired from betrayal. Burdened by the weight of the world’s sin. Drug down by the actions of the disciples. Absolutely exhausted, but exhausted by the weight of the whole world’s sin. Tired to the bone, yet pressing on. Pressed to the breaking point, yet still gentle and lowly of heart.
And I tell you that to tell you this: it seems in our American context, as we walk through life, we will all be exhausted and tired, but it seems, that it’s easy to be the wrong kind of tired. Tired from working too many hours, too tired to take time for our Savior. Tired from keeping up our image, too tired to cultivate real relationships. Tired from consuming our media, too tired to listen well to what our neighbor is saying. Tired of defending our honor, too tired to confess our sins.
Dear friends in Christ,
Tonight, I would invite you, come to this table with the good kind of tired. Be exhausted, exhausted because of how difficult and rewarding it is to love others in their lives, and how much struggle it takes to love them well. Come to this table frustrated, frustrated because of the honest struggle and care you have for all kinds of people in your life that you know are in God’s hand even when they don’t do what you told them to do. Come to this table tired and worn out and weak. Come to this table hungry and thirsty for righteousness.
Come to this table after living a life that makes you tired in the right way, because then you shall see what true rest is. Come to this table frustrated, because then you will find what great patience your God feeds into you mouth. Come to this table restless, because then you will find what a peace Christ gives, a peace that passes understanding.
Come the right kind of tired, because as often as you come, you receive the right kind of strength. It’s not a strength of muscle, or even a strength of mind. It’s not a strength of individualism, or a strength of solidarity. It’s the strength that a Savior, looking down the barrel of his betrayal, crucifixion and death. It’s a strength that emptied itself to the point of death, even death on a cross. It’s a strength that was exalted to the highest places, so that every knee will bow and tongue confess. It’s the strength that only our Savior can give.
It’s the strength that can come only in the miracle of our God’s heavenly banquet delivered into your mouth and into your heart. It’s a strength that brings an unearthly peace, the kind of peace that makes all the tension in the world slide away. It’s the kind of strength that has no words to it, because it doesn’t need any words.
There’s a woman that I remember well. I think of her often when I come to the Lord’s Table. She was going into life-threatening surgery, the kind of surgery that she had only a 50% chance of surviving. They were having to fuse her spine from the front. They would have to take all of her organs out, come in from the front and do what they had to do. So, she called and asked for communion and I came out to her and we celebrated the Lord’s Supper together, and after that, with tears in her eyes, she said to me, something that I’ll remember for a good long time, she said,
“Pastor, don’t get me wrong, your sermons are fine…. But there is something unspeakably good about the Lord’s Supper. It has a meaning that I don’t understand. Every time I take it, it means more.”
Come, let us join our Savior in something unspeakably good tonight. Come, let us see our Savior, at the hour of his betrayal, fulfill the Passover will new meaning. Come, let us eat and drink the forgiveness bought and paid for on the cross. Come, let your burdens down at the foot of the cross, for his yoke is easy, and his burden light. Amen and Amen.
Martha Kintzel Funeral Sermon
Maundy Thursday, 2018
In The Shadow of God’s Wings, Singing For Joy
Psalm 63: 5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
Dear Christian Friends,
There are one of two ways we can cry as we lay this sweet and spunky Christian woman to rest today. We can cry as people with no hope or we can cry as people with hope. We can cry as if caskets and cemeteries have the last word, or we can cry as if our risen Savior has the last word. We can cry as if our souls are crushed never to be quite the same again or we can cry with souls that are satisfied and focused on the promises of our Good Shepherd to be following us around with goodness and mercy and for us to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In today’s sermon, we would focus on the now and not yet nature of Christianity. Already in this present life our souls are satisfied as often as we rest in God’s strength and in His grace, and the day is coming when our souls will be satisfied in the very presence of Jesus Christ in paradise. Already now we live by the grace of God as we behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the guilt of our sins, he takes away the consequences of our sins, he takes away the power of our sins, and the day is coming when we will live face to face with Jesus Christ, all of our tears will be wiped away, death itself will be swallowed up forever.
This morning I invite you first of all to reflect on how God was Martha’s helper through all the dangers and despairs of her life, and secondly to think through with me what it means to live through all the ups and downs of life, in the words of the Psalmist, in the shadow of God’s wings, singing for joy.
I thought of Martha when I read these words of King David in Psalm 63, 6 when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
In the year that Martha was born, Hitler’s party was coming into power, when she was 5 Hitler was named chancellor, as a school aged girl she remembers shaking the hand of Adolph Hitler, when she was 17 the war was just ending, in her late teens and early 20’s the Russians were swooping through the countryside raping and ravaging, when she was 27 she and Ludwig were getting married, in the 1950’s he was a coal miner and the coal mines were in their hey day, they were blessed with three children, living in new housing in a new town, at age 33 the Berlin wall was getting built, at age 41 she and her family were moving to Minnesota.
While Martha for the most part didn’t seem to want to talk about years of war and death and despair, I found it necessary to read up a bit on the harsh realities of those post war years. One author wrote about how Berlin was divided, people were living amidst the destruction, and everyone was hungry all the time. He spoke of children and orphans running wild, disease rampant, money was worthless, a thriving black market, displaced people everywhere, nine million German men killed, and women and children suffering atrocities worse than death.
I don’t know about you, but I’m certain that if I were in Martha’s shoes, I would have wondered what kind of a good and gracious God would allow for this hell to happen here on earth, what kind of angels were watching over me in the middle of the night, was it really true that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead, sitting at the right hand of his father, ruling all of heaven and earth for the benefit of His Church?
So much that we don’t know, I suppose that Martha wouldn’t want us to know, but this we do know. The Triune God had claimed her as His own in the waters of Baptism, her Good Shepherd was following her around with goodness and mercy, the angels of God were able to guard and protect her over the years, and by the time I was privileged to be one of her pastors, the Holy Spirit had worked in her heart a strong and a steady faith that would not be moved by the winds and the waves of life.
The stories we are privileged to share today are wonderful stories! Stories of Martha being the life of the party, stories of Martha making venison sausage with a cheerful heart and a contagious laughter, stories of a wedding reception where a friend suggested the music was too loud, but Martha suggesting that no, turn the music up, this is supposed to be a party!
My favorite memories of Martha include her sitting still and hearing and holding onto God’s Word, they include her searching her Scriptures, holding onto His promises, watching over and taking care of her family, and eating and drinking at her Lord’s Supper. Favorite memories include her walking around town, talking smart, crying at the suffering and death of her dear daughter, hurting along with loved ones going through all kinds of hell here on earth.
In part #1 of this message we reflected on how God was Martha’s helper in all the stages of life, both smooth sailing and stormy waters, and in part #2 we think through what it means to live through all the ups and downs of life, in the words of the Psalmist, in the shadow of God’s wings, singing for joy.
We noted first of all how there are two ways to grieve the loss of a loved one –we can cry as people without hope or we can cry as people with hope. So also it seems to me there are two ways to live in every one of our days, we can go through life grumbling and moaning and groaning about what is wrong in life, or we can go through life singing for joy about what is right in life.
Amazing Grace is the first song we sang, and it is a song Martha wanted us to sing. It includes these lyrics, Through many dangers, toils and snare, I have already come.T'was grace that brought us safe thus far And grace will lead us home. On the one hand, how tempting it is to fuss and to fume about all that is unfair and hurtful in life, and yet on the other hand, how sweet life can be when God’s Spirit works inside of us the kind of faith that is able to keep on rejoicing in the forgiveness of our sins, to keep on singing for joy in being the apple of God’s eye, as we keep on taking refuge in the shadow of His wings, come what may.
What a Friend We Have in Jesus is a second song Martha wanted us to sing. How tempting it is to slug our own way through life bearing our own sins, carrying our own griefs, forfeiting God’s peace, stumbling again into discouragement and even despair. How sweet life can be when God’s Spirit works inside of us the kind of faith that is able to wake up every morning making the sign of the cross, rejoicing in the privilege of prayer, finding refuge and solace in the arms of Jesus, ending each night with a prayer, Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord my soul to keep. Guard me through the starry night, waken me at morning’s light, if I should die before I wake, I pray thee Lord my soul to take.
Precious Lord, take my hand, is a song Martha specifically wanted us to sing. How tempting it is to take our Savior’s hand only when we feel the need to do so, how sweet life can be when we admit to God and to one another the reality that we are tired, we are weak, and we are worn. How sweet it is when we develop those habits, by God’s grace, where we put ourselves in a position every day to be still and to know that God is God, in position to be encouraged and yes, corrected, in a position where we can be held by the one who holds the whole world in his hand.
Finally, we sing, I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home. (Story of two high school boys getting into the motel room before me and using both drawers to unpack their suitcases. They thought they had pulled one over me, until I told them how silly I thought it was to unpack a suitcase for a four night stay.) You can live here and now as if this is your permanent address or as if you are just passing through.
Dear friends in Christ, in closing, we praise God that somehow and in some way, God had worked in Martha’s heart a faith that knew she was just passing through, she knew the bad times could be survived and the good times could be enjoyed, and that better days were yet to come.I pray that as we lay dear Martha to rest today, the Spirit of God would work inside of you a faith that is strong, a heart that is calm, and a soul that is satisfied every morning with the mercies of God. I pray that your faith would be bearing all kinds of fruit in good times and especially in bad, that your cheerfulness would be contagious, that the love of Martha would live on through you, and that she would rest in peace. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther