St. John's Lutheran -- Morgan

Maundy Thursday 1992 - C

Text: Luke 22:7-20

Subject: Preparing to bear the cross

Predicate: is best accomplished by receiving communion and praying for the strength and faith to face what ever comes our way.

 

A few weeks ago I had what we pastors call, "A Preachers Nightmare."
I dreamt that I was supposed to be the guest preacher at a special service at a big church someplace down in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, everything that could possibly go wrong did go wrong. I arrived late. I forgot my pastoral vestments. My sermon wasn't done and I lost half of the notes of the part that was finished. But suddenly it was time for me to preach. Even though everything was in complete disarray I stepped into the pulpit anyway. And then I proceeded to do the absolute worst job I was capable of.
Fortunately, it was just a dream.
But it was a dream rooted in a potential reality. For if I, or any preacher, fail to adequately PREPARE for worship, we can be sure that at best, out of all the things that could go wrong, only a few will go wrong. And at worst, we could end up presiding over a complete disaster!
This isn't only a preacher's dilemma. The same is true for all of us, no matter what we are trying to do.
If a teacher hasn't prepared the day's lesson the class will disintegrate to chaos. If lawyers don't prepare to go to court they will lose their cases. If farmers don't prepare the earth their crops won't grow the way they should.
No matter what we do, to do it right requires preparation. //
Now as you know, today is Maundy Thursday. It is the day of the church year that we turn our attention to the events of the last 24 hours of Jesus' life.
The events that took place on Maundy Thursday started with preparations for the Passover meal that Jesus planned to eat with his disciples. Then, when evening came there was the meal itself. It began with Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Then he instructed them in the new commandment, "Love one another even as I have loved you. After that they sang hymns and ate the traditional foods of the Passover. At the end of the meal Jesus instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion. And after that, Jesus and his disciples left the upper room to spend a couple of hours praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.
These are all interesting and important events. Whole sermons could be focused on any single thing that happened on the day before Good Friday.
But tonight I want us to look at all of these events together. I want us to see all these events as a process of PREPARATION.
For you see, Jesus was not hung on the cross UNTIL he was ready. Jesus prepared for his crucifixion. He prepared himself. And he prepared his followers. //
The first thing that Jesus did to get ready for the climax of his mission was to offer some final instructions to his disciples.
This final lesson began with a ceremony of foot washing.
The whole idea of foot washing seems strange to us today. That is because we wear shoes and socks and travel in cars.
But in Jesus' day, the best foot wear available was a pair of open sandals that were tied to a person's feet with leather thongs. And the customary way of traveling from one place to another was by foot, walking from town to town, on unpaved roads made of sand and gravel.
When people arrived at their destination it was customary to wash the all the road dirt off their feet. But the people who did the foot washing were always the slaves and servants of the household. The master of the house NEVER washed his guest's feet.
And a teacher NEVER washed his student's feet.
Except for Jesus. He washed his disciple's feet. He even washed Peter's feet despite Peter's vociferous objection about the impropriety of it.
Now Jesus was teaching the disciples a final lesson when he washed their feet.
He was showing them what it means for a Christian to be a servant to all. And he was modeling the new commandment that he had been preaching about for the last three years. He wanted to be sure his disciples understood the gospel before he went on to his death.
From the first sermon Jesus preached, to all the miracles that Jesus performed, he proclaimed the love of God for all people. And he also taught that people who are loved by God should love one another too!
After all, we are all children of the same heavenly father. We are family. Hostility, war, crime, abuse, oppression and hatred are all contrary to God's will.
In a world infected by sin people DO fall short of what God intended. But sin is not an excuse for maintaining the status quo.
Everyone is called by God to love their neighbor to the best of their ability. Jesus probably did not expect to see perfection from his followers, but he did need to make sure that the message was getting through and that his followers would work on conforming their lives to his teachings. //
The next thing that Jesus did to prepare for his crucifixion was to share the meal we now call communion with his disciples for the very first time.
A couple of things happened when he did this.
First, he linked his death with the Passover that occurred over 1000 years earlier.
At the first Passover, each family of the Israelites slaughtered a perfect, one year old, male lamb. They smeared the blood of the lamb on the doors of their houses and when the angel of death passed over, the first born was spared. After the angel passed over the Pharaoh set the Israelites free from slavery and allowed them to travel to the promised land. By the blood of the lamb the Israelites were saved.
In the same way, by the blood of the "Lamb of God" that would soon be shed from the cross, all of God's children would be set free from the bondage of sin and death. In the institution of Holy Communion, Jesus actually told his disciples that this is what was going to happen when he died the next day.
Secondly, in the institution of Holy Communion, Jesus united all of his followers to one another and to himself in the sharing of the meal.
The word communion literally means "together as one."
When we consume the body and blood of our Lord Jesus we are united with him as one body which we call the church. And since we are united with him we share in his life, in his sufferings, in his death, and ultimately, in his resurrection too!
When we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ in communion we also are united with each other. This provides us with another way of thinking about Jesus command to love one another.
If we hate or hurt someone who has stood with us at the altar to eat the holy sacrament, it is as if we hate or hurt a part of our own body.
If you get angry with your hand because you clumsily dropped something, would you cut it off! Of course not! But isn't that how we sometimes treat our fellow members of the Christian church when we get angry with them?
Every time we come to the altar we must remember what it means. We are one with Christ and one with each other under the lordship of Jesus. To forget this or to live as if it were not so, is to make a mockery out of His holy supper. //
When the meal drew to a close Jesus was just about prepared for what was to come. There was only one thing that he still had to do. And that was to take time to speak to God. In other words, to take time to pray.
He went with his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane and for the next couple of hours he fervently prayed to his Heavenly Father.
His prayer is interesting, and very human. For contrary to what you might believe, Jesus actually DID NOT WANT TO DIE.
Remember, Jesus was fully human. He was a part of a family. He had many close friends. He lived an interesting life, traveling from place to place teaching huge crowds of people who adored him. Jesus enjoyed the same kinds of things we do. . .Watching the sunrise or set. Sharing a meal with special people, playing with children.
When Jesus was in the garden there was an intense struggle going on within him. There was decision to be made.
Would he remain obedient to the will of God and follow the path that God set before him, even if it led to the cross? Or would he go his own way? Would he pack up and leave Jerusalem for Nazareth where he could open up the carpentry shop again and maybe even get married and settle down to raise a family?
Jesus prayed, "Father, remove this cup from me." In other words, "God, save me because I don't want to suffer and die." We see the full humanity of Christ in these words.
But we also see his divinity when he prayed, "God, not my will, but your will be done. I may not want to die. I may not understand why it is necessary, but whatever it is that you command me to do. . .I WILL DO IT!"
At the moment he prayed that prayer Jesus' preparations were complete.
For in the words of that prayer he expressed the faith in God and obedience to God's will that was necessary for him to complete his mission.
And almost immediately after he uttered these words, the mob arrived to seize him and take him prisoner. Twelve hours later he would be dead! //
During Lent we hear that we are called to take up our cross and follow in the footsteps of our Lord.
Exactly what this means will vary for each of us. God has planned a different life and different mission for every one of his servants. We may find our Christian path to be an easy one to follow. But it is also possible that some of us will be called to lay down our lives for the sake of the gospel.
Yet no matter where the road before us leads, we must prepare for the journey. And there is no better way to prepare than to follow the lead of our Lord Jesus.
And so we first of all receive and share instruction in the faith. We learn what the gospel is all about. We hear that God loves us and that we should love each other too.
Then we eat the meal. We unite ourselves to Jesus and to each other. Our sins are forgiven. Our faith is nourished. And we leave the table strengthened for living our faith and using our bodies and minds to serve in the name of Christ.
And all along the way we can pray. We ask for God's guidance. We ask for God's grace. We can even complain to God about the path set before us. But in the end, just as Jesus did, we can pray, not our will be done, but thy will be done, O God .
AMEN!


St. John's Lutheran -- Morgan

Good Friday 1992 - C

Text: 7 different passages.

Subject: 1-2 minute reflections on each passage.

 

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Ps. 22:1

Have you ever been angry with God?

And when I say angry, I mean REALLY ANGRY! So angry that you feel like shouting and screaming, "GOD, WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU! WHY ARE YOU LETTING ME SUFFER LIKE THIS! I THOUGHT YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO LOVE EVERYONE? WHERE ARE YOU GOD, IN MY TIME OF NEED?

If you've never felt such an intense anger toward God, perhaps it is because you were brought up thinking that it is sinful to be angry with God.

I can certainly testify that this is true in my life. My pastor, and my Sunday school teachers, and even my parents, clearly told me through their words, AND through their actions, that I should fear, love and trust in God above all things, AND that I should do it in a calm and gentle manner.

Because of their "lessons" it never occurred to me that a person could even become angry with God, let alone reach the point of shouting out at God in anger. //

And then too, if you've never felt such an intense anger toward God, perhaps it is because you've not really suffered in your life.

One of the most common responses when a person gets bad news is to lash out at God.

When a doctor informs a person, "The tumor is malignant. . .," or when a law enforcement officers reports that, "There's been a terrible accident and your child has died. . .," the anguish that wells up inside is almost universally directed toward God.

Every chaplain and most pastors have experienced being with someone at a time like this. We've heard the bitter words. We've even been yelled at and attacked because the suffering person sees us as the presence of God in their midst. And we've had to minister to people who feel guilty when the anger subsides and they begin wondering if God still loves them and if God will forgive them after all the nasty things that were said.

Psalm 22:1, a verse that was quoted by Jesus as he hung dying on the cross, is one that we frequently use when ministering in such situations.

For it is an angry cry to God. It is a bitter complaint. It is the classic question of the suffering person. "GOD WHERE ARE YOU? WHY DO I FEEL SO ALL ALONE AT THE TIME I NEED YOU THE MOST?

And, because of the fact that Jesus himself uttered these words from the cross, we learn that it is an appropriate and effective thing to say.

It is appropriate and effective because it accurately reflects the inner-most feelings of one who is truly suffering.

It is appropriate and effective because out of all the prayers a suffering person could pray it is the most honest one we can pray.

And it is appropriate and effective because, despite the feeling of abandonment, the fact that the prayer complains TO GOD, means that it is prayed from a faithful heart.

From Jesus we learn that in the midst of suffering it is NEVER sinful to complain to God. Rather, it is a truly human reaction to the crisis. God fully understands what it means to suffer. In the person of his son, Jesus Christ, God actually suffered and died himself. And in the person of God the Father, he experienced a parent's grief.

And from Jesus we learn that such a prayer is a prayer of faith. In the hour of deepest need who did Jesus call to, even though it was a complaint? He called to God.

In the same way, our laments and angry prayers are expressions of a deep and enduring faith. From the pits of suffering, our prayers, even if they are prayers of yelling and screaming at God, reveal what is in the deepest part of our hearts.

The very fact that we address God, is the assurance that no matter how bad things may seem, God IS STILL with us.

Jesus felt abandoned on the cross. He complained about it. But God listened. And despite the way things seemed, God never left his son. On the third day he raised him up.

Likewise we will feel abandoned in our suffering. But know that it is OK to complain. God will listen. God will never leave us, even after we die. For on the last day he will raise US up. AMEN.

 


"He was pierced for our transgressions. . .and by his wounds we are healed."

One of the hardest things for us to understand about the whole business of Holy Week is why did Jesus have to suffer and die?

Couldn't God have figured out some other way?

It may be interesting to speculate about what else God could have done. But the fact is that God worked out a plan, and put it into action when Jesus was born. It culminated on Easter morning when Jesus was raised from the dead.

Today, we simply have to accept the fact that this is what God decided to do. And we must trust that God accomplished his purpose of reconciling us to him through Christ.

As far as explaining it, I think the best explanation is one of simple justice.

In the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, God set some rules and decreed a punishment if the rules were broken.

Unfortunately, Adam and Eve broke the rules. They sinned.

And, because Adam and Eve sinned, all people have been infected by the stain of sin in such a away that whether we like it or not, we sin against God in our lives and stand under the same judgment that Adam and Eve stood under. Or as St. Paul put it, "The wages of sin is death."

And yet, if someone would volunteer to die for us, then God could spare us, despite our sin.

When Jesus was crucified, that is exactly what happened.

He was innocent, he was sinless, he was righteous in the eyes of God, and yet he suffered and died.

When Jesus was pierced he was pierced for our transgressions, for our sins. And by his wounds we are healed.

Can it be explained? Sort of but not really.

But can it be believed? By the power of the Spirit we can believe, and rejoice in the fact that we are saved -- now and forever! AMEN!


"Pilate handed him over to be crucified."

Have you ever imagined what it would have been like to be present at the crucifixion of Jesus?

I suspect a lot of people have. I know I have. I even recall reading a science fiction book where a whole bunch of people with the ability to travel in time were so curious that they traveled back to see the events of Holy Week for themselves.

There is just one problem with using our imagination to think about what it would have been like to be there on Good Friday 2000 years ago.

I don't think too may of us imagine ourselves where we really belonged if we were there.

More likely than not we see ourselves as observers, standing at distance. Or, if you see yourself in a more active role, perhaps you can imagine being with Mary the Mother of Jesus and some of the others who followed Jesus to Golgatha and stood there, weeping and lamenting his crucifixion and death.

But if you and I were actually there, alive, in person, you know where the most likely place for us to be would be?

The most likely place would be to be a part of the crowd, standing outside Pilate's palace shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

Though we'd like to think otherwise, we are the sinners who clamored for his death.

As the hymn write put it so well in "Ah Holy Jesus,"

"'Twas I, Lord Jesus. . .I crucified thee." AMEN!


"Then Peter remembered. . ."

Have you denied Jesus lately?

We may think the answer is, "NO!"

Perhaps because the story of Peter and his denials makes us think about the word deny in
too literal of a sense.

But denying that we know Christ is much more than answering a direct question like
Peter did.

More often than not we deny Christ in very subtle, and at the same time, very practical
ways.

Perhaps the best example I can give is the passage from Matthew where Jesus describes
the separation of the sheep from the goats at the last judgment. To all people, Jesus
asks, "Did you feed me when I was hungry, and did you give me a drink when I was
thirsty, and did you clothe me when I was naked, and did you visit me when I was sick
or in prison, and did you welcome me when I was a stranger?"

Both the righteous and unrighteous will respond, "Lord, when did we ever do these
things for you? We never even saw you, so how can we have helped you?"

And Jesus will respond, "When you have done these things to the least of your brothers
and sisters on the earth, you have done them to me.

"And when you have not done these things, when you have ignored the needs of your
brothers and sisters on the earth, then you have done the same to me"

Or, to put it in the terms of the text we are meditating on at this moment, if we have
ignored the needs of the needy, then we have "denied Christ."

When the cock crowed, Peter remembered the prophecy and realized what he had done.

When is the cock going to crow for us? when are we going to realize all the ways in
which we have denied Christ? AMEN!


"This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ,
whom you have sent."

The events we are meditating on today are all about Eternal life.

When we talk about eternal life I'm sure all kinds of images pop into our heads. We may
see a heavenly city floating in the clouds. We may see those who died flying around in
white robes with wings on their backs. We may see streets paved with gold or a world similar to ours only with every blemish and imperfection eliminated or ever.

I suppose these are all acceptable visions of eternal life. Most of them even have some basis in the Bible.

But in it's most elementary sense, eternal life is really quite simple.

Eternal life is nothing more than knowing God and Jesus Christ , the one whom God sent to save us.

That might not seem like much, but it makes all the difference in the world. Because when you know God and when you know Christ, that is when you believe in them and trust in them, then you are privileged to share in everything that they posses.

And out of all the things that we will share when we know them, none is more important than the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Now the resurrection of the body is the future experience of eternal life. For the moment, it is beyond our experience.

But in the present, our faith in God and Christ IS our eternal life. If you know God, and if you know Christ, then YOU HAVE ETERNAL LIFE, RIGHT NOW!

May the power of the Spirit open our hearts, to place our trust in the Lord, so that we might live forever. AMEN!


"This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel. . ."

A word of judgment is hard to swallow.

But from time to time it must be spoken.

When Jesus was just a little baby, Simeon saw him in the temple and knew that Jesus was the Messiah, born to defeat sin, death and the devil, born to bring salvation to all.

And though Simeon proclaimed that this was an incredible piece of good news, he also noted that it was something to beware of.

For you see, Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness, the light that no darkness can overcome. In other words, Jesus' righteousness turns the spotlight on sin and evil and reveals it for what it really is.

There is no escape. There is no excuse. In the light of Christ, the grimy reality of our lives stand exposed to all, especially to God.

With our sin thus revealed, Jesus offers us the gift of forgiveness.

By the power of the spirit we can accept it.

Or, we can deny our sin, and resist the grace of our Lord. But be forewarned. If we do, we do so to our own peril.

The light of Christ WILL reveal the inmost thoughts of our hearts. Then we can be forgiven and rise, or we can resist and fall. AMEN!

"Surely this man was the Son of God!"

St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, telling them that "at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."

When Jesus died, one unlikely person reached this conclusion. A Roman centurion, a commander of 100 men, and most likely the commander of the soldiers that executed Jesus, "saw that Jesus had breathed his last and said, 'Truly, this man was the son of God.'"

How did he come to this conclusion?

We'll never know for sure. But somehow, by the grace of God and power of the Spirit, he did.

And now, as this time of worship on this Good Friday comes to and end, we are standing before the lifeless body of Christ.

What do we see?

Who is this man?

Can it be true? Is he the son of God?