St. John's Lutheran- Morgan

Easter - 10:30

Text: John 20:1-18

Subject: The Resurrection

Predicate: Marks the beginning of the next journey - the journey of evangelism.

Previously on "The Journey to Jerusalem" --

Jesus said, "It is necessary for me to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."

The disciple Peter responded, "God forbid Lord, this shall NEVER happen to you!"

And Jesus replied, "Get behind me Satan!" //

A couple of weeks later, Jesus stood before the tomb of his friend Lazarus who died four days earlier and called out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, COME OUT!"

The dead man rose to new life and stumbled out of the tomb still wrapped in burial cloths.

The chief priests felt threatened by Jesus and his awesome power. Ciaphas said to his colleagues, "Can't you see - it is better for this one man to be killed than for the whole nation to be destroyed!" And from that time on they plotted to kill Jesus. //

Soon after that, Jesus arrived at the city of Jerusalem. He was greeted by hundreds of people waving palm branches and singing "Hosanna," which means "save us now!"

The very next day Jesus tore through the temple courtyard, driving out the moneychangers and vendors.

On Thursday night Jesus was arrested by a mob from the chief priest's house.

Friday morning the crowds outside Pilate's palace cried "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

At noon Jesus was nailed to the cross.

At three he died.

By sunset he was buried. //

Today's episode begins very early on the first day of the week, Sunday morning, while it was still dark.

Mary Magdelene went to the tomb where Jesus was buried. She intended to wash and anoint Jesus' body with burial spices, and then neatly wrap it in appropriate burial clothes. Since Jesus died just an hour or so before the start of the Sabbath, (and burying the dead was forbidden work on the Sabbath) there was barely enough time to claim the body, take it to the tomb, and close the door.

But Mary's plans didn't work out quite like she expected. We all know what happened.

She got to the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled away. She apparently looked inside and saw that the body of Christ was gone. Not knowing what else to do, she immediately ran back to the place where Peter and the other disciples were staying to tell them that someone had taken Jesus' body and she doesn't have any idea where they put it.

Upon hearing this, two of the disciples then raced out to the cemetery to see for themselves.

The un-named disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. When he got there he stood by the door looking in at the folded linens. When Peter jogged up a moment later he boldly went right into the tomb itself and also beheld the empty grave where Jesus was buried on Friday afternoon.

But none of them knew quite what to make of this startling discovery. The Bible tells us that at that time they "still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead."

So the disciples simply turned around and went back to their homes, leaving Mary standing all alone outside the tomb, crying her heart out.

She loved Jesus dearly. And Jesus loved her too. Many people think that if Jesus had chosen to get married, Mary Magdelene would have been his bride.

However, even though Mary would never be the wife of Jesus, she, of all people, was chosen for an even more important task.

Now many students of the Bible and the history of the Christian Church will argue that Peter is the foundation member and leader of the Christian Church. We remember how Jesus once told Peter that he is the rock upon which he will build my church.

Well there is no doubt that Peter would become a rock solid leader of the church after Jesus had ascended and the Holy Spirit arrived on Pentecost.

But the VERY FIRST member of the church, and the very first preacher in the church was in fact Mary Magdelene!

On Easter Sunday, Peter just took a look at the empty tomb, and when he couldn't figure out what really happened, he went back to his house.

But while Mary remained at the grave, she had two encounters that changed her life forever.

The first encounter was with two angels.

When the disciples went into the tomb it was empty. But after they left, suddenly and mysteriously, two angels appeared inside the tomb.

In her grief, Mary looked into the tomb one more time, still wondering where the body could be. Imagine her surprise upon seeing the angels!

The angels asked her, "Why are you crying?" and she told them.

Then she turned around and saw a man standing behind her. He also asked her why she was crying and who she was looking for?

Mary figured that the man was the caretaker of the graveyard and asked him if he had taken the body. "Tell me where it is and I'll get it," she said.

Then the man simply said her name. "Mary!"

And instantly, the clouds of grief gave way to the vision of faith. Mary recognized that the man she who was talking to was Jesus.

At first she didn't know who he was, probably because his body had changed into a glorified, eternal being when he was resurrected. But the wonderful truth of the resurrection is that even though our bodies "shall be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," the inner core of who we are, and our relationships with God, and with Jesus, and with each other shall remain intact.

When the resurrected Jesus recognized her and called out Mary's name, she recognized him because not even "death can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Then Jesus gave Mary a job to do. He told her to go and spread the good news of his resurrection. He sent her back to where the disciples were hiding to tell them what happened. He called her to preach the very first Easter sermon.

And that is exactly what Mary did. She went to the disciples and proclaimed the good news.

"I have seen the Lord!" she said. And she told them that he had personally said these things to her. //

For the last several weeks, our Lenten theme has been "The Journey To Jerusalem." As I indicated in the introduction to this sermon, the events we talked about during Lent depicted Jesus moving closer and closer to the holy city, and to the cross upon which he would die.

If we were to diagram the Journey to Jerusalem that we took during Lent, I think a funnel or cone shape would be a good image for us to use.

The events we heard about steadily increased the contact and conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders and moved him closer and closer to the day when the only thing the leaders could do was to have Jesus executed.

But if we diagram the journey as only moving toward and focusing in on the cross and then abruptly stopping when Jesus dies, we will have missed the most important part of the message. And we will have failed to continue on the Journey God has planed for us.

For you see, on the first Easter Sunday, the second leg of the journey began.

And that is the journey that leads from the empty tomb, out into the world, to proclaim Jesus' resurrection and his victory over sin, death and the grave.

Mary Magdelene was the very first person to take the very first step of the new journey. The moment she turned from the resurrected Christ to return to tell the disciples what happened, the gospel message of Easter began a journey that has continued on and on and on.

By the power of the Holy Spirit most of the disciples believed Mary. And lest there be any lingering doubts, Jesus appeared to his disciples several times over the next 40 days.

After this, from the rooms in which they were hiding, the disciples boldly went forth into the city and shared the good news. On the day of Pentecost over 3000 people believed and were baptized when the disciples proclaimed the Easter message.

And from that time on, from day to day, and from year to year, the Word spread and spread. Within 20 years of Jesus' resurrection there were churches forming in Turkey and Greece and Italy. Within several hundred years the whole Mediterranean region and all of Europe believed in Jesus.

Today, there are Christians on every continent and in every nation. By 1990 over 1.5 billion people, or about 32% of the world's population were counted as members of the universal Christian church.

And to think it all started when Mary took the first step on the Journey FROM Jerusalem!

Today, this journey continues.

Today, we are gathered for ONE purpose and one purpose only.

And that is to hear the good news. The news that Jesus has risen. The news that he has defeated death. The news that our sins are forgiven. The news that as Jesus lives, we shall live also. And -- to rejoice and give thanks to God for this great gift.

We don't have to explain how the resurrection happened. We don't even have to try to prove that it happened. For ultimately it is a matter of faith and faith alone. By the power of the Holy Spirit we can simply accept the witness of Mary, and the other followers to whom Jesus personally appeared.

And then, once this faith has taken root in or hearts, we can join with Mary and the Disciples, and millions of others on the final leg of the Journey

We can go forth from this place of worship and spread the news to others who have yet to hear it.

Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!

And as Jesus lives, we shall too! AMEN!


St. John's - Morgan

3rd Sunday of Easter - B

Text:

Subject: After the resurrection

Predicate: we are to get about the ministry of proclaiming it.

 

 

In the aftermath of a disaster, or sudden accident, or unexpected death, and in the numbness of grief, a frequent response of the survivors is uncertainty about what is going to happen next.

Perhaps some of you have experienced this in your lives. Others of you may have heard it and felt it in the words and presence of those most touched by the loss.

We've seen news reports on the TV showing a person standing near the smoldering ruins of their home or business saying, "I'm not sure what I'm going to do now."

We've heard people respond to the death of a loved one saying, "I don't know how I'll be able to live without him, or her."

And many of us have personally known the lack of direction caused by the depth of loss when a parent, or spouse, or child dies.

After the death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday, this lack of direction and uncertainty about the future was experienced by all of the disciples and other close followers and friends of Jesus.

They had all committed their lives to following Jesus and working with him to establish the "Kingdom of Heaven." Many of them had turned their backs on their family and livelihood to be with Jesus.

Remember the story of how Jesus called Peter and Andrew, and James and John to come with him?

According to Matthew, Peter and Andrew simply left their nets and went with Jesus. In other words they turned their backs on their business and everything they had invested in it to go with Jesus.

James and John's decision to follow was even more dramatic. Not only did they leave behind their business and livelihood, but they turned their backs on their father!

Now to us this doesn't seem like such a big deal since today, kids are expected to grow up and leave home and strike out on their own. But in those days, extended families lived together and worked together and sons in particular NEVER left home. Even when a son got married, the new wife would come to live with the son in his father's house.

This means that James and John literally left ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING to work with Jesus. And it also means that it is 99% certain that their father disinherited them, so they had nothing to fall back on when Jesus died. Thus the question of what was going to happen next was a very real, and very pressing problem for them.

Since James and John and Peter and Andrew were four of the most prominent of the disciples, we know a little bit more about them and their lives. But I am certain that what was true for them was true for all the rest of the disciples.

I am certain that as the disciples cowered in fear in their hideout somewhere in Jerusalem, not only were they troubled by the immediate concern of survival, but they also were struggling to figure out what to do next to get on with the rest of their lives.

For when Jesus died, the future that they envisioned seemed to die with Jesus. When Jesus died it seemed as if there would be NO Kingdom of Heaven.

No one else had Jesus intelligence and charisma. No one else could inspire people to follow like he did. No one else had the relationship and guidance from God that Jesus did.

So -- what WERE the disciples going to do now that Jesus was gone.

Some decided to give up and return home.

In the passage immediately preceding today's gospel lesson you'll find the story of Cleopas and his companion. As soon as the Sabbath was over and it was permissible to travel, they packed up and left Jerusalem, heading for their home in Emmaus where it seems that they intended to try to pick up where they left off before following Jesus.

Another disciple, Judas Iscariot, decided life wasn't worth living any more, especially since he was partially responsible for Jesus death. Though there are differing traditions about what happened to Judas after the betrayal and crucifixion, the most widely believed is that he took his own life by hanging.

And, I suspect that the rest of the disciples would have done their best to return to the same towns where they lived and the same trades that they practiced before they met Jesus.

BUT, suddenly, reports started filtering. Jesus was no longer dead and buried. He HAD RISEN from the grave.

Some of the women saw him first. But the disciples said, "That's nonsense! He can't be alive."

Cleopas and his companion saw him next. Jesus walked with them and talked with them on the road to Emmaus and when they broke bread together, their eyes were opened and they recognized him. Immediately they returned to Jerusalem to tell the rest of the disciples.

Not long after that, somewhere in the city, Jesus also appeared to Simon.

One by one, reports of the resurrection started coming in to the disciples.

Now you might think that news of the resurrection would be sufficient to deal with the uncertainty of the disciples. But at first, it actually complicated matters.

For even though one might not know exactly what to do next, at least there are prescribed ways to deal with death and dying.

There are rites and rituals to follow. The feelings of grief, though painful and depressing, are at the same time predictable and understandable. No matter how deeply we feel the loss, we know that in time (even though it may be years) we will learn to accept the loss and continue with our living.

But what do you do when there is a resurrection? There are no rules or rites or rituals or predictable and understandable emotions. The resurrection forced the followers of Jesus into uncharted waters, a final frontier, a place where no one has gone before.

And then, while the disciples were still talking about all this, discussing the reports and the implications among themselves, Jesus appeared and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you."

The disciples thought they wee seeing a ghost.

But Jesus was no ghost. He had risen in the flesh. He told them to touch him and feel that his body was real. And he asked for food and they gave him a piece of broiled fish and he ate it while they watched.

The most important part of this encounter is not that Jesus has been raised in the flesh, (though this is important to set straight those who promoted the heresy that Jesus was only a spirit and not truly human).

Instead the most important thing is that the resurrection has fulfilled the promises and prophecies of scripture, AND that the disciples are witnesses to their fulfillment, who are soon to go forth and share this good news with ALL the people of the world.

In other words, Jesus is answering the question, "What are we going to do now?"

He is saying to the disciples, and to ALL of us, that in his resurrection he is with us and will be with us always.

And he is further saying that we are called to be witnesses of his resurrection to the ends of the earth.

We have been called to worship him in all of our living, and we have been called to a mission and ministry in his name and on his behalf.

Jesus is saying and showing us that the power of the gospel is that in our living, and especially at those times when grief and despair have immobilized us, when we literally do not know what we are going to do next, God comes to us through the power of the Spirit and in the presence of Christ.

God does not and God will not leave us without direction, comfort or hope, not matter how deep the trouble we are in.

And God will send us his power to believe in the resurrection and what it means for us in our living.

And this same power will energize us and motivate us to share the good news with others.

This call comes to us daily. This call comes to us both in the midst of celebration and the depths of despair.

As we hear the good news and the call to follow, may we all respond with joy and thanksgiving for opportunity to worship, witness and serve in the name of our resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ. AMEN!


St. John's Lutheran - Morgan

2nd Sunday of Easter

Text: John 20:19-31

Subject: Fear and Doubts

Predicate: are laid to rest by the resurrected Christ paving the way to spread the good news.

 

What are you afraid of?

We may not be quick to admit it, but the truth is, "We are all afraid of something."

Our fears start when we are very young and even though our specific fears change over the years, fear in the general sense never really goes away. Life seems to be a process where we out grow one fear and learn to face another fear, only to discover that there is still something else that we are afraid of.

For example: Little kids are often afraid when their parents leave them for a while. We see this frequently when a new 3 year old starts Sunday school. As soon as mom or dad walks out of the Sunday school classroom, panic strikes!

Thoughts race through the child's mind. "Where's my mom? Where's my dad? Will they EVER come back to get me?! And who are all these strange people?" And then the tears and screaming and clawing at the door starts while the teacher gently tries to calm and reassure the child that everything will be OK.

After a few weeks or so, the child realizes that Mom and Dad always come back, and the teacher's nice, and the other kids are fun to be with. One day, instead of the usual panic, the child happily joins in the class and eagerly looks forward to going to Sunday School each week.

But then, all of a sudden, it's Christmas time! Time for the Sunday school program. Time to get up in front of 300 or more people to recite part of the Christmas story. In an instant, the child who talks the teacher's arm off in class can turn into the quietest, shyest person on earth, afraid to talk into the microphone, afraid to speak to ALL those people.

And so it goes through out life. Our childhood fears recede and fade away only to be replaced by the new fears of adulthood.

And though the panic reaction caused by our childhood fears may have been dramatic and intense, compared to our internalized and concealed reactions as adults, the fears of adult life are big ones - in most cases dealing with life and death issues.

At times we have financial fears! When economic hard times hit we wonder if we will we be able to pay the bills, and feed our family and keep a roof over our heads?

When international tensions rise we fear what might happen if war breaks out. Will us or our loved ones be called to serve and possibly killed or injured? Will battle spill over to where we live, with bombs dropping on our homes or terrorists randomly attacking us?

We also fear disease. Especially the diseases that can disable us or kill us. Cancer-phobia runs rampant because we've all known someone, frequently someone very close to us, who was the picture of health one day, only to waste away to skin and bones as the disease ravages through their body.

Unfortunately, the list of fears we may have goes on and on. We fear being the victim of a crime. We fear the spread of gangs. We fear our cities. We fear people who are different from us. We fear the future.

And the ultimate fear, the fear which in some way is connected to and/or at the root of all our other fears, is our fear of death.

Nothing is more terrifying than the thought of breathing closing our eyes, taking our last breath, and drifting off into a state of non-existence.

Now all these fears, and especially our fear of dying, can lead to a variety of problems.

I'd like to talk about two of them this morning. Both of them are apparent in the behavior of the disciples of Jesus shortly after Jesus' death on the cross. Both of them are addressed in our gospel lesson for this morning.

The first problem is the inability to do anything. At least 10 of the disciples were clearly affected by this problem.

After Jesus died, the disciples thought for sure that they were next on the chief priest's hit list.

After all, everyone knew that Jesus had disciples. And Peter knew first hand that even though he tried to deny being a disciple, there were people out there who knew exactly who the disciples were and that these people could identify the disciples to the authorities.

So, to save their own lives, the disciples thought it prudent to hide out and lock themselves up in their house until things settled down a bit. For they were convinced that they would be the next ones hanging on the cross if they dared to go out to the streets of Jerusalem.

That may have been true. The risk of going out was great.

But it also meant that the disciples were disobeying orders from their Lord. The disciples were NOT doing the things that they should have been doing.

For it was about 12 hours earlier that the disciples heard the good news from Mary. Mary had seen Jesus with her own eyes. And Jesus was alive. Jesus had been resurrected from the dead!

When Mary saw and talked with Jesus, he instructed her to tell the disciples that he had risen, and to tell then to go to Gallilee where he would meet them and they could see him and talk to him in person.

We know that Mary did her part.

But when evening came where were the disciples? They were still in Jerusalem, still locked up in their hide out, afraid to go out because of the Jews.

They had not shared the good news of Jesus' resurrection with anyone else either. In fact, according to Luke's gospel they didn't even believe that Jesus was raised. When Mary and the other women told the disciples that Jesus was alive, the disciples rejected the news as an idle tale, or pure gossip.

So, in short, we can say that the disciple's fear paralyzed them into inactivity. They didn't go where Jesus wanted them to go. And they didn't share the news that Jesus wanted them to share.

Until Jesus came to them. Until Jesus mysteriously entered into the room with them despite the locked and bolted door. Until Jesus shattered the locked door of the disciple's fear. //

Another problem that can arise due to our fears is doubt.

Unlike the other 10 disciples, Thomas was not afraid to go out and about the city.

We don't know exactly where he was on the night when Jesus appeared in the locked room, but we know he wasn't there. He could have been in another house, out on the streets, even in another town. Who knows, maybe he was heading off for Galilee like Jesus told the through Mary.

But in any case, he wasn't with the disciples and he didn't see the resurrected person of Jesus.

And since he didn't see Jesus, he didn't believe it! He doubted the reality of the resurrection. And he doubted the validity of the disciple's eye witness account of their encounter with the Lord.

Now we may find it easy to look down on Thomas and find fault with him for doubting the Easter story.

But as I've said just about every time that I've preached on this text, we shouldn't be too hard on Thomas. His reaction was perfectly normal. All you have to do is put yourself into a similar position.

We know that our friends and loved ones who died don't suddenly come back from the grave.

We may wish they could. We may even have the utmost in faith that they will rise on the last day. But as for now, in this world, during this life, we know they are dead and gone.

And so I think Thomas was being very reasonable and rational when he said that he wouldn't believe it unless he saw Jesus with his own two eyes, AND touched Jesus with his own two hands.

Now please note this: Thomas' doubt is NOT worse than the other disciples' hiding.

In both cases, their reaction stands in the way of accomplish the ministry that God wants done. Neither the disciples nor Thomas are out there spreading the news of Jesus victory over the grave.

Both the disciples and Thomas have ignored what Jesus commanded them to do because of their personal fears.

Until Jesus came to them. Until Jesus allowed Thomas to touch his hands and side. Until Jesus said "Peace be with you." Until Jesus said, "Stop doubting and believe." //

In the end, to understand the story of the disciples in the locked room and the doubts of Thomas, we must direct all of our attention to the central character in the story, Jesus Christ himself.

For even though the disciples were failing in their mission because of their fear, Jesus takes the initiative to come to them, and to be with them, and to fill them with the Holy Spirit who motivates them to believe, and to go forth to proclaim the resurrection.

In the same way, the Easter story is intended to free us from our fears. Especially our fear of death.

For if the good news is that we shall be raised to live with Christ forever, then there are things that we can do now because we do not fear the grave.

We can proclaim the good news that Jesus is alive.

We can work for peace and justice throughout the world.

We can take a stand against things like alcohol and drugs and crime that are evil and harmful to people in our families and communities.

We can stand up to those who would persecute and torture others.

We may even offer our lives for the sake of the gospel.

For in the resurrection we see death differently. It is not the end of a person forever. It is instead the doorway to heaven. It is instead the day we will be born to eternal life.

By the power and grace of God, may the resurrected Lord appear to us through Word and Sacrament, releasing us from our fears and doubts and inactivity, just as he appeared to the disciples many years ago. AMEN!


St. John's Lutheran - Morgan

3rd Sunday of Easter

Text: Luke 24:13-35

Subject: The resurrected Christ

Predicate: appears to people on his terms and gives us what we need the most, namely: FAITH!

In the wake of the terrible carnage at the Branch - Davidian compound in Waco, Texas this past Monday, everyone in the nation has been asking questions like, "What went wrong?" And "What could have been done to avoid such a tragic outcome?"

Everyone from the FBI to the congress and all the way up to the White House is investigating and reviewing every little detail in an attempt to find out if they should have acted earlier or later, and to try to see if there were any clues that should have prepared them for the disaster that ultimately unfolded.

Now I have to admit that like everyone else, I was shocked by the outcome. And like just about everyone else, I have my opinions about the tactics used by the authorities. Yet at the same time, from my perspective as a pastor, I see no point in spending a lot of time reviewing and analyzing the tactical details.

But I do think that the question, "What went wrong?" needs to be addressed in the church. Because the root cause of the stand-off and its fatal ending was in fact a theological, or religious problem.

So to wrestle with what went wrong in Waco means that we must ask questions like, "What went wrong spiritually for the people who became followers of David Koresh?" And even more importantly, "What went wrong for David Koresh that led to his deluded messianic complex?"

We may never be able to pin-point a specific event or turning point in Koresh's life, (nor those of his followers either), that actually marked their first step on the road to their destruction. But by turning to Holy Scripture we can easily discover both the root cause, and a solution to help face the temptation to follow a false messiah.

There are many passages that can help us with this undertaking, but it just so happens that a very useful one is also our gospel lesson for this morning.

It is the story of two Jesus' disciples and their unexpected encounter as they walked down the road to their home in Emmaus on the third day after Jesus was crucified.

Their encounter was with the resurrected Christ, but for a long time, perhaps as long as two to four hours, they had no idea who he was.

Now that may seem strange to us. After all, when we see people that we know we usually recognize them. Or when some one who we've met walks up to us and starts talking with us we instinctively look at their face as we listen to their voice. Even if we have trouble remembering their name, 99 times out of 100 we will know if it someone we've met before.

That didn't happen with Cleopas and his companion. But it should have.

The Bible describes these two travelers as "disciples of Christ," so we can be sure that they spent a fair amount of time with Jesus listening to his sermons and teachings. It is true that they were not among the 12 disciples who were Jesus' closest followers, but it has to be true that they spent time with Jesus and that Jesus knew them for that is what it means to be a disciple. The master teacher knows his followers, and his followers know him.

Now this raises a big question.

If Cleopas and the other person were disciples who knew Jesus by face, by voice, and by his teachings, the why didn't they recognize him on the road to Emmaus?

Unfortunately there is no simple and definitive answer that tells us why these disciples failed to recognize their master.

But there is a strong clue in the text.

In verses 20 and 21 we read that the disciples were disappointed because they "had hoped that Jesus was going to be the one to redeem Israel."

However, their personal dreams and hopes were not fulfilled in Jesus. Instead of redeeming Israel, Jesus was arrested, mocked, tortured and executed like a common criminal. Instead of redeeming Israel, Jesus died as a failed leader.

This means that the disciple's selfish hopes, and their personal interpretation and expectation of what the Messiah should be, kept them from recognizing Jesus.

It would actually be appropriate for us to say that these two disciples had been blinded.

They were blinded by broken hopes and shattered dreams. They were blinded by grief. They were blinded by personal expectations that Jesus did not fulfill.

The blindness afflicting these disciples was nothing new. It was the same blindness that plagued the Pharisees and other religious authorities. It was the blindness that Jesus really wanted to heal people of when he "restored sight to the blind." It was the blindness of unbelief. It was the blindness of sin. //

Every time I read this story I am tempted to think poorly of these two disciples. "How could they be so blind? What a couple of dummies! Why didn't they see it was Jesus right away?"

And I'd like to think that if I was there I would have known the stranger walking with us was Jesus right away.

But I'm afraid to say that if we were there on the road to Emmaus, we would have responded the same way. We would have been just as blind.

One of the lessons that Luke is trying to teach in this Gospel text is that all people are prisoners of their sin and as such, their vision is clouded over by the sin of personal, selfish, expectations.

You see, all people are tempted to develop their own vision of who Jesus should be and what he should be like and what he should do.

Many people are looking for a Jesus who they can manipulate and use to get things to happen their way. Like the pastor who told the church council, "I've prayed about this decision and I know FOR SURE that Jesus wants us to vote, 'No.'"

Other people are looking for a Jesus who can be their security blanket. A Jesus who will protect them from our fast changing world.

Still others are looking for a "Santa Claus" Jesus who will answer every prayer by giving them exactly what they want.

Some are looking for a sweet Jesus with no moral sting to his words. Others want a "social action Jesus" who spurs everyone to work for radical political reform.

Some want a quiet Jesus who teaches nice, simple, little lessons for life. Others prefer an intellectual Jesus who values understanding and knowledge more than faith.

Others are looking for a super hero! Some seek a friend. And some just want Jesus to be someone who can help them survive one more day.

At one time or another Jesus displays all the characteristics I just listed.

But one thing that can be said with total certainly is that what Jesus does, he does so on his terms, and not our terms.

Or to say it a little differently, the nature of Jesus is appear to us and meet us in a different manner than our sinful self is looking for.

So, to those who are looking for a powerful earthly ruler or king, Jesus appears broken and humiliated, suffering an embarrassing death on the cross.

But to those who thought Jesus was a mere human and who crucified him and mocked him saying, "If you are the Son of God why don't you save yourself?" Jesus said, "Hereafter you will see the son of man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven."

What we can say with total confidence is that Jesus does not want to remain hidden and inaccessible. Nor does Jesus want us to persist in our selfish expectations of who and what he should be.

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus patiently explained to the two disciple how it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and die. Though such an outcome was contrary to their hopes, the power of the spirit began to open their blinded eyes and the seeds of faith began to sprout.

And then, when the threesome reached Emmaus and sat down together for the evening meal. Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them to eat.

When he did, their eyes of faith were finally opened. Their sight was restored. They recognized that the man with them was in fact, Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.

Now we probably all wish that we could have a personal encounter with the Christ someday. Such a wish is (in my opinion) at the root of why people are attracted to messianic pretenders like David Koresh.

And exploiting this wish for personal glory, or sexual gratification, or simply to wield power over others, is (in my opinion) at the root of why people like Koresh delude themselves into thinking that they are divine.

This is why it is very important for preachers everywhere to proclaim exactly how it is that we meet our risen Lord today, in this world, in our lives.

And the way we encounter Jesus is in fact, the same way that the disciples from Emmaus did.

It starts with Holy Scripture.

Week after week we read our Bibles and listen to lessons in church and in Sunday school and hear the pastor preach the Word from the pulpit. In the Word we hear, we encounter Jesus.

But scripture isn't the only way in which we encounter Christ. Jesus also comes directly into the midst of our community of faith, and our personal lives through the Holy Sacraments.

When we are baptized we are adopted into the family of God which is the church.

And when we gather around the table for communion Jesus is really present among us, giving us his body and blood in the bread and the cup of communion.

A drop of water, a bite of bread, and a sip of wine are not the what our sinful side really wants to partake of in order to meet the Lord. They seem so insignificant. So powerless. So common.

But these are the means of grace. The way Jesus comes to us, to forgive us, to ignite our faith, to equip us for service and to bless us with salvation.

When we witness the awful destruction that a false preacher can bring upon his flock, we are reminded of the urgency and importance of the ministry of the Holy, catholic and apostolic church. The place were, (as Martin Luther wrote) the Word is preached in purity and the sacraments are administered in accordance with the Holy Scriptures. AMEN!


Sermon Given at the Funeral of Daniel Koehne
Tuesday Evening, March 9, 1993
St. John's Lutheran Church - Morgan, WI
The Rev. Paul F. Heykes

Dear Alice, Family and Friends,

Anyone who has ever planted a garden, and anyone who has run a farm as Dan did during his lifetime, knows full well that there is an appropriate time for everything. . .

* You cannot plow and prepare a field for planting until the frost is out, nor until the moisture has dried sufficiently - or the tractor will get stuck!

* You cannot plant too early - or the seed won't sprout, or if it does sprout it may freeze.

* You cannot plant too late either - or the crop will never mature.

* You cannot mile the cows any time you feel like it - but only when the cows are ready, not too soon and not too late.

* You cannot harvest too soon - or the crop will not be ripe, nor too late - or it will be rotten and moldy and have no value.

Now this idea that there is a time for everything is not limited to the world of agriculture. It actually applies to every area of life.

This evening I shared a text from the book of Ecclesiastes with you that describes life by telling us that there is a time and a season for everything under heaven.

The text is in the form of a poem, and in the very first line of this poem the poet tells us that the principle of there being a time for everything applies to life from its beginning and continues to its end as he wrote, "There is a time to be born and a time to die. . ."

And in subsequent lines of the poem he links pairs of life experiences together to help us see that there IS in fact, "A TIME FOR EVERYTHING"

This is a very realistic poem. The author has included both the good and the bad things of life in his writing. (And please note - he is not condoning the bad, nor is he suggesting that there is a time to sin when he wrote that, "there is a time to hate, and a time to kill and a time for war." Rather, he recognizes that life includes both the "good and bad," and, "faith and doubt," and, "keeping God's law and sinning.")

But for now, I want to focus on verse two of the text, line one of the poem, where it says there is "A time to be born and a time to die."

With these few words, in the simplest of terms, the author tells us what life is all about.

We are conceived and born, we live, and the day comes when we get old, or sick or injured, and we die.

Now most of us have no problems with the first part. A birth of a new baby is a joyous celebration.

But we sure wish we could be rid of the second part. No one wants to die. No one wants a loved one to die.

We try our hardest to avoid death; by eating right, by exercising, by being careful, and through the latest developments in medicine.

And we also try our hardest to avoid thinking about death. Some people even go so far as to avoid visiting the hospital, or funeral homes, and even the church at a time like tonight.

But the WISE person realized the truth of this text, and accepts the truth of this statement, "There IS a time to die!"

I believe that the reason this passage is in the Bible, is because God wants us to accept the reality of life AND death.

To you who are members of Dan's family, I have to say that from what I've seen and experienced with you over the last several days indicates that you have this wisdom. You see the truth in this text and you believe it.

You have the faith to trust that "A time to live and a time to die" means that we are in God's hands ALL the way!

Sunday you faced a difficult decision, whether or not to continue with life support equipment. Many people cannot handle such a decision.

But I firmly believe that people of faith can - because people of faith know that it is God's plan for there to be a time for everything.

Now, we may not like the fact that there is a time to die.

When death comes it hurts. We mourn. We cry. We will miss Dan. We may say, "What if. . .?" We may regret that we never had the opportunity for on last hug, one last kiss, or on last, "I love you!"

Yet through faith we accept the inevitable. And we trust that even death cannot separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And not only that, but though faith we can look ahead, to a new time that is steadily drawing near.

Since this poem is an Old Testament poem there is no mention of Jesus and the gift that he brings.

But since we are a New Testament people, we can boldly and confidently add a new line to the poem. A line that says. . .

"THERE IS A TIME TO BE BORN AGAIN!"

For in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have seen the future. We have been promised that to all who die in Christ there will be a time of resurrection. A time to be born to eternal life. A time to be accepted into the kingdom of God. A time to live with God. A time to live with Christ. And a time to live with our loved ones who have gone before us and who will come after us.

Today we mourn the death and loss of Dan.

Tomorrow we can rejoice together in the presence of the Lord. AMEN!


St. John's - Morgan

The Martyrdom of St. Stephan

Text: Acts 6:8--7:2a, 51-60

Subject: The martyrdom of Stephan

Predicate:

 

Some people call the day after Christmas, "Boxing Day." Personally, I'm not sure why they do, or what it means, but my dictionary says that a Boxing Day tradition in some cultures is the presentation of employee gifts or bonuses.

In the Church, the first Sunday after Christmas is simply called "The First Sunday after Christmas." The traditional lessons for today include the Simeon and Anna story that we heard for our Gospel today, or the story of the flight to Egypt, or the story of the young boy Jesus in the temple.

But there are many special days in the church too, and it just so happens that December 26, the day after Christmas, is the day assigned for the remembrance of Stephan, a deacon and martyr in the first generation of the church.

You can read all about Stephan and the extraordinary sermon he preached in the 6th and 7th chapters of the book of Acts. But let me share a few of the highlights with you today.

Within a year after Jesus' resurrection and ascension, the Christian church was growing by leaps and bounds. According to the book of Acts, on the day of Pentecost, at least "3000 people were baptized and added to the number being saved."

Now, the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church is the mandated ministry of ALL Christians. Whether it occurs by leaps and bounds, or at a slow and steady pace over the years, it MUST be our goal.

And if our entire ministry is not focused on evangelism and outreach, doing whatever we can to reach more and more people, then we are being unfaithful to our Lord and our calling.

But as any growing congregation knows, growth means change. It means different ways of doing things. It means that the more people you have in the church the more ministry activities and options you must provide. And it means that more workers are needed to get everything done.

This certainly was the case with the church during it's first year or so in Jerusalem way back in the year 34 A.D.

Now from the beginning days of the church there were two main thrusts in its ministry.

First, and foremost, there was the ministry of the Word.

This included the preaching of the Good News about Jesus Christ to everyone possible, the baptism of new converts to the faith, and the sharing of the Lord's Supper among the baptized when they gathered for worship.

And second, there was the ministry of social services which included the sharing of food, clothing and shelter with those who were needy, in particular the widows and orphans of the country.

For the first year or so, the 12 apostles took care of everything. And that worked fine for a while. Imagine if we had 12 pastors here at St. John's. You can run a pretty big church with 12 pastors.

But the day came when the church grew beyond what even 12 pastors could effectively serve.

The realized that they simply did not have enough time and energy to devote to both the preaching ministry, and the social service ministry of the church. In the 6th chapter of Acts the 12 apostles called a congregational meeting and said, "It isn't right that the preaching of the word is neglected in order to serve tables."

Yet they knew that it was important to keep serving the needy, so at the congregational meeting the church chose 7 people who were full of wisdom and the Spirit who could serve as deacons, devoting all their time and effort to the needy.

One of the 7 deacons was the same Stephan who we remember today. He is described as a man "full of faith and the Spirit," and "full of grace and power."

He fulfilled the ministry to which he was called in an exemplary fashion. Luke tells us that he did "great wonders and signs among the people."

But even though the church was growing daily, and serving many needy people, not everyone was happy about it.

The established leaders of the Jewish faith felt threatened. Their beliefs about God and the way that they practiced their religion were called into question, first by Jesus, and then after his ascension, by the leaders of his church.

The same strong feelings that lead to the crucifixion of Jesus were ignited in the authorities against all the apostles and deacons.

One day, one of these authorities began to argue with Stephan.

Now the easy thing for Stephan to do would have been to ignore the accusations hurled at him.

Instead, Stephan did what the Holy Spirit compelled him to do. He stood firmly upon what he believed, even though it pitted him against the religious authorities, and even though it put him in grave danger.

After all, he knew full well what happened to Jesus. And he knew full well that those who were opposed to Jesus and his teachings will stop at nothing in their efforts to stamp out the church and all its members.

But despite the danger, Stephan truly believed in Jesus. He truly believed what Jesus taught. He truly believed in what Jesus did. And most of all, he truly believed that Jesus conquered death in his resurrection, and because of this none of Jesus' followers need fear death because they too will be resurrected to eternal life.

And so Stephan did not waiver in his faith. He recounted the whole story of God's gift of salvation.

And he prophesied bluntly against those who did not believe. "You stiff necked people!" he said. "You always resist the Holy Spirit. You have betrayed and murdered the Christ! You have not obeyed the Lord!"

When the authorities heard this they were furious. They covered their ears. They yelled at Stephan at the top of their voices. Then they grabbed him and dragged him out of the city.

When they were outside the city gates they stoned him. They pummeled him with rocks the size of baseballs.

As the stones battered his body, Stephan cried out, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit," and, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."

Then, as the hail of stones continued he died.

The timing of this day of commemoration for St. Stephan seems really odd. The story of his death is an awful gruesome story for what we want to be a happy and joyous holiday season.

It would seem at first that there is no connection, but only a glaring contrast between Christmas and St. Stephan's day.

And yet, upon closer reflection, there is the closest connection.

For even though we celebrate the day of Christmas with parties and family gatherings and scrumptious dinners and brightly wrapped presents, we must never forget, that from the moment of conception, and from the day of his birth, Jesus was on a one way road to the cross.

We must never forget that the birth of Christ is really the beginning of a ferocious battle against the forces of evil.

When we push this fact out of our Christmas celebration and gather sentimentally around the manger saying, "Oh how cute!" or, if we think that everything revolves around the "fun" stuff of Christmas, then we've missed the point of what is really going on.

And we run the risk of being damned for all eternity.

A few years ago I preached that you cannot have Christmas without Good Friday and Easter. For if Christ had not suffered and died and been resurrected then his birth would mean nothing more than the birth of any of the other billions of people born on this earth.

So, Easter gives Christmas its true meaning.

But since Easter is a few months down the road, the placement of the day of St. Stephan right after Christmas serves to bring the real meaning of Christ's birth back to the prominent place where it belongs.

Sure it may seem shocking and gruesome. Sure it may cast a pall over the happiness of the day.

But that is what our faith is all about. "God so loved the world that he sent his only son to DIE for us," so that we might be saved.

As I told the children in their children's sermon, even when the baby Jesus is in the manger, we should be able to see the welts on his back, and the cuts in his scalp, and the nail holes in his hands and feet, and spear wound in his side.

However, if this is too hard for us to do, then let the day after Christmas, December 26, the day of St. Stephan, pull us back to reality. AMEN!