Sunday, September 13, 2020

Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Trinity

Trinity 14 (September 13, 2020)

“Jesus, Master, Have Mercy on Us” (Luke 17:11-19)

Shared pain can bring people together.  There are support groups for all kinds of people … those with addictions, those dealing with grief, those with various health issues.  You name it, there’s probably a support group out there for it.  And people from all walks of life, all different backgrounds, all ethnicities, are drawn together to find strength to work through whatever they are experiencing.

Shared pain brought together the men in our Gospel reading for today.  They were lepers.  In the Bible, “leprosy” is a generic name for some type of obvious skin disorder which made people unclean in the eyes of their community.  The Law of Moses declared that they were supposed to live outside the city walls and wear torn clothes, let the hair of their head hang loose, cover their mouth with a mustache or their hand, all of which were external signs of grief.  When anyone approached, they were to cry out “Unclean! Unclean!”  It was a miserable existence, isolated, alienated from their families and friends, and unable to participate in the worship life of the community unless they underwent certain cleansing rituals after their disease cleared up.

In this group that Luke describes, most were apparently Jews, but there was one Samaritan.  And you may remember from last week’s sermon their history and how Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  But for these lepers, their ethnic differences didn’t matter any longer.  Barriers were broken down.  Their alienation from their communities, their loneliness, their brokenness, their pain brought them together.  And with one voice, they cry out as they see the Savior approaching, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”

If only people today would recognize their shared pain.  That would go a long way toward solving so many of the ills in our world today.  I don’t mean the pain that is shared in a support group.  The brokenness in our bodies and our lives is evidence of a greater brokenness … the brokenness in our souls.  It’s the leprosy of sin, the disease that mars our human nature.  And more than mars.  It utterly corrupts.  The uncleanness inside of us leads to all the rotten works of the flesh that Paul enumerates in Galatians 5:  “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”  And he adds this stern warning: “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  You probably figured some of those things deserved condemnation.  That’s a pretty nasty list.  But even things like jealousy and rivalries and divisions and envy will keep you from the kingdom of God.  Is that really what you want?

You, see, Paul lays out the symptoms of our problem here, which reveals the diagnosis that we are all desperately broken, desperately in need of healing.  Too often, though, we ignore it, like a proud, stubborn man who refuses to go to the doctor and just decides to suck it up.  You might even brag to yourself about how together you have it, how much better you are than the rest of the common rabble.  You don’t think you need help.  You can handle this on your own.  And so, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on me,” is not naturally your first cry.

It’s obvious that something is seriously wrong with our world.  Look around.  Listen to the news.  We see what Solomon observed:  “For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.  For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.”  But we also need to recognize the problems in our own hearts … our own sin, too … and cry out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”

And he does.  Jesus came and shared our pain in order to reconcile us to the Father.  As the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus knew suffering his entire life.  He was chased out of town several times, even once before he reached the age of two by King Herod who sought to kill him.  Jesus knew temptation and hunger.  Jesus knew what it is like to grow tired and weary.  Jesus knew grief and sadness, evidenced by the tears he shed for his dead friend Lazarus.  Jesus felt compassion for all who endured the consequences of Adam’s Fall … the blind, the lame, the deaf, the demon possessed.  Jesus knew the hurt of being falsely accused and mercilessly mocked.  And Jesus knew the pain of being tortured with whips and thorns and nails and a cross.  All to bear the punishment of the sin of the world … your sins and mine … and to shed his blood so that we could be forgiven and brought back into a relationship with God. 

            As the living Word of God, Jesus brings the Word of God to our hearts and souls.  And his healing word works.  The lepers obeyed the word of Jesus even before they were healed … that in itself is an act of faith.  They departed and discovered along the way that they were healed.  But only one returned to give thanks … the Samaritan, of all people … the one who was originally one of the outsiders, outcast, doubly despised because he was a foreigner.  He fell at Jesus’ feet in reverence and awe and gratitude.  And Jesus says to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well,” which literally is “your faith has saved you.”  It’s not that faith in itself has any saving power.  Faith is simply receiving and trusting in the saving gifts that come from God.  And along with those saving gifts comes the promise of wholeness … shalom, as it is in Hebrew … peace, as it is sometimes translated.  All things were new again for this man.  All the things that once made him whole were restored to him.  He was clean before God and could now return to his family and friends.  No longer would he be lonely and isolated and looked down upon.  No longer would he feel as if he was cursed by God.  He knew God’s compassionate care.  And he demonstrated the presence of true faith in his heart through his grateful return to Jesus.

The word of Jesus comes to us today and fills us and forgives us.  Baptized into Christ’s death, the desires and passions of our sinful flesh are crucified.  And we are raised up to new life.  “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”  Rise.  That’s a resurrection word.  We rise up from the waters of baptism to live a new life, united to Christ’s resurrection, and we enter into God’s Shalom … God’s wholeness.  We have a restored relationship with God.  The Spirit gives us a desire to restore our relationships with others.  We have a life of community with the Church, peace of mind and heart, and hope for eternity.  And among the baptized, the barriers which once stood between us are broken down, as St. Paul writes in Galatians 3, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

Having been raised up, we can fall again at the feet of Jesus in reverence and awe and gratitude.  The faith that we are given and the faith that saves us is demonstrated in the fruit that the Spirit produces in us: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  Instead of craving the bread of wickedness and the wine of violence, we crave the bread of righteousness and the wine of peace … the body of Jesus that earned the verdict of “not guilty” for us, and the blood of Jesus that covers our sin so that we can be at peace with God.  From this table, we rise and go our way.  Jesus, our Master, has had mercy on us.  For that, we give him thanks.       INI

Saturday, September 12, 2020

No Sermons Since April?

For those of you out there who may check this blog regularly, I apologize for not being very diligent in posting my sermons regularly. Yes, I have preached sermons since April. In the midst of sermon writing, sermon preaching, and all the other things that go along with pastoral ministry and family life, I simply forget to post them here. In addition, I haven't had anyone ever say, "Hey, Pastor, how come you aren't posting your sermons to your blog?" That would probably give me some more motivation to do so. That being said, I will continue to post the occasional sermon here. My blog has ceased to be a place where I post all sorts of things, but rather has become an online repository for my sermons. I lost the "oomph" to be a regular blogger some time ago. There are many other people who have way more interesting thoughts and insights to post than I have.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter (April 19, 2020)

Easter 2 – Quasimodo Geniti (April 19, 2020)
“Fear, Doubt, and Closed Doors Can’t Stop Jesus from Breaking In” (John 20:19-31)

Alleluia!  Christ is risen! [pause]
I assume you said “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”  That is the appropriate liturgical response, but I can’t hear you through the internet.
You would have also assumed that the disciples were full of joy and excitement that first night of the day that Jesus rose from the dead.  Instead, they were afraid, shut up behind closed doors.
Why was this the case?  The Gospel writer tells us it was “For fear of the Jews.”  They were afraid of the Jewish leaders who had arrested and crucified Jesus.  The disciples fully expected the same thing to happen to them since they were the well-known inner circle of disciples whom Jesus had called to follow him and learn from him for about three years.
Do you find this fear a bit strange?  Out of order?  Misplaced?  They had just heard the news that Jesus is alive.  Mary Magdalene saw him and announced to the disciples “I have seen the Lord.”  Peter and “the other disciple” (probably John) saw the empty tomb.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke record that the women who had gone to the tomb saw and heard the angels announce the resurrection with the words, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said” (Matt. 28:6; cf. Mark 16:6; Luke 24:6).  Matthew adds that soon after their angelic encounter, the women saw the risen Jesus (Matt. 28:9).  Did no one believe their testimony?  When they told the disciples what they had seen, it seemed to them “an idle tale” as Luke describes it (Luke 24:11).  In that first century world, the testimony of women was deemed unreliable … which also gives Luke’s account more credibility since he included this detail that women were the first eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus.  But no matter who was the first to see Jesus alive … well, it did seem too good to be true.  I mean, Jesus had told them several times that he would rise again.  They had seen him raise some people from the dead.  But for him to do it on his own?  Well, that seemed incredible.  So on that first Easter night, even the news of the resurrection didn’t seem to steel the disciples yet; they were still a bit dazed and confused … and afraid.
The following week there was a similar scene.  Now there is someone there who was not around that first night when Jesus appeared to them.  Why Thomas was not there we’re not told.  Maybe he was afraid, too, and figured that it would be better to hide out somewhere else rather than with the rest of the gang.  Whatever his reason was, it’s clear that Thomas was full of doubt.  When the other disciples found him during the week and told him they had seen the Lord, Thomas’ reply was “I have to see it to believe it.”  Actually, it was even more than that.  Even seeing was not good enough for him.  He wanted to physically put his hands into the wounds of Jesus.  If not, “I will never believe,” he said.
Thomas sounds very modern, doesn’t he?  Scientific.  Needing concrete, empirical proof.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with healthy skepticism.  I imagine you’ve probably given this advice to your children, “Don’t believe everything you read or hear…especially on the internet.”  But Thomas’ doubt here is more than just struggling and grappling with truth vs. untruth.  His doubt is abject unbelief.  “I will never believe.”  His trusted friends with whom he had spent three years give him their testimony of having seen the risen Jesus, and he thinks they’re either lying or nuts.
You and I are not much different than the disciples.  We have heard the good news that Jesus is alive.  We have been fed and nourished by his Word.  We are baptized.  And yet there are still things that make us afraid.
We have heard learned the Scriptures.  We have heard the Apostolic testimony that Jesus rose from the dead.  We have been given the testimony of the Holy Spirit working faith in our hearts.  And yet there are times when we doubt.  Our sinful nature, as a matter of fact, is an absolute unbeliever.  The new creation that we are in Christ constantly fights with that Old Adam inside us who is afraid, who refuses to forgive those who have sinned against us, and who cannot believe “by [his] own reason or strength” or come to Jesus in faith.
And right now, we are shut up behind closed doors (for the most part).  Why? Well, for one thing, we’ve been instructed to do so to avoid getting sick or getting others sick.  But there is a measure of fear and anxiety that goes along with this.  What’s going to happen?  How long is this going to last?  Will we ever get over this?  How will we get over this?  What does this mean for our near future?  For the far-off future?  We’ve heard the story of the risen Christ, but are we bold and brave in believing in his resurrection power in the face of disease and death?  Will we be afraid to step forward in faith when the restrictions for gathering are lifted?  More important than the physical ramifications is this dilemma:  Have we locked the proverbial doors of our hearts toward someone?  Have we put barriers between us and them, in spite of the fact that God has broken down the barrier between us and him through the death of Jesus who paid the price for our sins with his blood?
But fear, doubt, and even closed doors do not stop Jesus from breaking into our lives with his peace.  Locked doors are not enough to keep the risen Christ away from his Church.  He has always been with the disciples.  He never left them.  As God, he is present everywhere.  He was with them even before he appeared to them in the Upper Room.  But then, he graciously appears to them bodily and beyond a shadow of a doubt proves his resurrection from the dead.  He appears to them on that first Sunday … and he shows up again a week later for Thomas’ sake.  He could have left Thomas in the dark as a punishment for his unbelief.  Instead, Jesus graciously appears again the next Sunday, because it was his will that Thomas’ faith be restored and that he, along with the rest of the apostles, give their eyewitness testimony to the world … to us, for our sake, so that we can be those who are blessed and believe, even though we have not seen.
Jesus is with us always … but he shows up in a very personal way every resurrection day, every Sunday.  It’s his day.  It’s the Lord’s Day, as we gather together as the Body of Christ … and when we are able to gather together to eat and drink his true Body and Blood together.  Jesus shows up … not visibly, but sacramentally.  And he breaks into our lives to break down the walls of fear and doubt and unbelief that would separate us from him. We are at peace with God because of the cross.  Notice how Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” and displayed the wounds he gained, his medals of honor, the means by which he gained peace between us and God the Father.  Today, he announces his peace to us through the Word of the Gospel and the Word of Holy Absolution which he gave to his disciples when he breathed on them … and without a mask!  Jesus breathes on them, speaks his Word, and the Spirit accompanies his Word … creating new life just like the word of the prophet in the valley of dry bones.  “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he says, and gives his Church the authority to forgive the sins of those who repent and to withhold forgiveness from those who refuse to repent and remain in their unbelief.
So today – on this Sunday, this Lord’s day, this day of resurrection – you have heard the Good News of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus.  Through his Word, Jesus breaks into your lives to dispel all fear and doubt.  Your sins of fear and doubt and unbelief are forgiven … and the Spirit moves us to forgive those to whom we’ve closed our doors and with whom we’ve put up walls.  He breathes his Spirit upon us and gives us new life and courage to go forth in faith, to forgive one another, and to “confess in our life and conversation that Jesus is Lord and God.”
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Sermon for Holy Saturday (April 11, 2020)

Holy Saturday (April 11, 2020)
“Behold the Man: God Buried”

Behold the Man, dead.  Behold the One mocked as an impostor king, crucified under the sentence of making Himself to be a King, whose reign is rejected by all people, whose closest disciples have deserted Him, who was betrayed by one of the twelve, who died a criminal’s cursed death.  Behold His dead, lifeless body.
Behold two unlikely candidates to carry out the Jewish burial rites for this true King, not just of Jews but of Gentiles, too.  Joseph of Arimathea is a wealthy member of the Jewish Sanhedrin and a secret disciple of Jesus, presumably afraid of what a public confession of Jesus as the true Messiah would mean for his position and standing in the community.  Nicodemus is a Pharisee, who came to Jesus by night and was told that he must be born again by water and the Spirit if he is to see and enter the kingdom of God. It’s Joseph who has the political clout, as he asks Pilate for the body of Jesus and has his request granted.  Nicodemus brings the exorbitant amount—seventy-five pounds—of myrrh and aloes.  And Joseph offers his own new tomb in which to bury Jesus.
So with the perfuming ointment, linen to wrap the body, a freshly-cut tomb in which no one had ever been laid, and the body of their crucified Lord, they come to do what’s meet, right, and salutary.  Behold the Man whom they had followed, albeit secretly.  Behold the care they demonstrate for His body, which stands in sharp contrast with the way in which Jesus’ torturers treated His body just days before.
His work finished, on the seventh day of the week, God rested from His work of redeeming man, restoring creation, removing the effects of the curse.  This is the final Sabbath.  On Thursday, Jesus observed the last Passover, replacing the Seder with His new covenant, with the Supper.  On Friday, Jesus was the last sacrifice, fulfilling the promise made by every innocent animal slain for the sins of men.  On Saturday, Jesus fulfills the Sabbath.  Even in the sleep of death, He keeps the Law perfectly.  Not since God rested on the seventh day of creation has the Sabbath been so perfectly observed.
So may you rest in Him.
Behold the Man, who while Joseph and Nicodemus were caring for His body, in the sleep of death He was caring for theirs, too.  And yours.  Jesus isn’t buried for His sake any more than He died or rose for His sake.  All of what He does, He does for you. He rests, He Sabbaths, because you do not.  Who regards the hearing of God’s Word a holy obligation and a blessed opportunity to rest in the finished work of Jesus, as the Catechism instructs?  If there is work to be done, games to be played, or pillows that are too comfy to abandon, the Sunday morning resting in the Word is the first thing to go. Or if the preacher is boring, the sermon too long, or the kickoff to early, even while your ears may be hearing the Word, you aren’t resting in it, receiving it gladly, and learning it. But Sabbath rest in the Word is not just for Sunday mornings (which have replaced Saturdays as days to hear the Word because Sunday is the day of resurrection).  Sabbath rest is for your whole life.  Sabbath is the opposite of American busy-ness, always striving, working, and rushing, but never being finished.  The Psalmist declares, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Ps. 127:2).  Sleep is good.  Rest is good.  Receptivity to the Word of God is not just to be your Sunday morning posture, but your daily habit.  Behold the Man who rests, who sleeps the sleep of death for you.  Behold the Man who invites you to rest in Him.
On this Holy Saturday, Jesus rests.  And while He rests in His grave, He, in His perfect stillness, secures for you a rest like His.  When someday we take your dead body to its resting place—the word “cemetery” comes from a Greek word that means a “sleeping place”—your pastor will bless the piece of ground where you will sleep in the little sleep of death for a short while, saying, “O Lord Jesus Christ, by Your three-day rest in the tomb You hallowed the graves of all who believe in You, promising resurrection to our mortal bodies.  Bless this grave, that the body of our brother may sleep here in peace until you awaken him to glory, when he will see You face to face and know the splendor of the eternal God, for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.” (LSB Agenda, Committal)
Behold the Man, who, while resting in His grave is also blessing yours.  Behold the Man who by His death has broken death’s power over His creation.  Behold the Man whose Sabbath sleep of death guarantees that death is nothing more than a little sleep. So Luther said that a Christian should “despise death and to regard it as a deep, strong, and sweet sleep, to regard the coffin as nothing but paradise and the very bosom of our Lord Christ, and the grave as nothing but a soft couch or sofa,” (LW 53, 326) … a place for a little nap.
So tonight, we gather wherever we are knowing what the morning holds.  I’m not talking about tomorrow morning.  I’m talking about the other one … the eternal Morning … the great Easter of our own resurrections, when the Lord who woke from the slumber of death, left the grave toothless behind Him, and who will do the same for you on the Day of His return.
Behold the Man who woke from the sleep of death and will wake you with a word on that eternal Easter morning.  His rest in death reduces death to just a light sleep for you.  His body resting in the grave has made holy the resting places of all the blessed dead who die with faith in Him, who in death rest with Him.  Though He makes cemeteries and graves places of serene rest now, He will completely wreck them and make them the busiest nosiest places when He returns to wake the dead. Behold the Man who was dead for you and who rose for you. Behold the Man who alone gives you comfort in the face of death.
Based on a sermon series by the Rev. Jeff Hemmer

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Sermon for Maundy Thursday (April 9, 2020)

Maundy Thursday (April 9, 2020)
“Behold the Man: A God Who Loves”

Children know the song: “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”  Every power is at His disposal.  Every authority under heaven and earth is His.  He has created everything.  And He holds everything in His eternal hands.  And now, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.  He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
            Jesus holds the whole world in His hands.  And what will He do with those hands?  He will remove the garments with which He, the eternal God, is clothed.  Lay them aside, take up a bowl of water, untie the sandal straps of his disciples, and take into His divine hands their scummy, dirty, travel-worn feet.  And wash them.  He’s got the whole world in His hands.  And He knows that the Father has given all things into His hands.  So He takes into His hands the filthy feet of the men who have walked with Him day after day.
            God has hands.  This is not metaphorical language.  In the Person of Jesus – the Body of the God who has joined Himself to human flesh – God has hands.  And feet.  And eyes, ears, fingers, lungs, nostrils, teeth, legs, fingernails, and cuticles.  And with these, He descends to take up the feet of sinful men into His hands.
            You can understand Peter’s protest.  His God should not wash his feet.  This is unbecoming of a proper God.  Gods should be far removed from their creations, distant from the creatures they created, especially if their creatures have rebelled and set themselves against the goodness and graciousness of the god.  Gods should not become men, should not unite themselves with sinful humans, should not have human flesh – nor hands – and use those hands to take up the sweaty, sandal-shod feet of the men who follow such an incarnate God and presume to wash the grime from between those toes. “You shall never wash my feet!”  You would protest, too, given the opportunity.
            But then, Jesus’ reply – “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” – frustrates Peter’s pious pretensions.  He relented, but his gut reaction was that this was all wrong.  Washing feet is not what the Christ should do … not what a god should do.  This is slave labor, a servant’s task.  If God descends to take human flesh and then stoops to the lowest position, the foot-washing place, the whole arrangement of the relationship between God and Man is turned upside down.
            As if that weren’t enough then, Jesus continues, “Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”  And, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
            Good grief.  As if Christianity weren’t hard enough to buy in to.  Now “Do as I have done to you.”  And “as I have done” is taking the lowest, most servile position of the foot-washing servant?  Love one another like that?
This is painful.  You might put up with the command to love others … to a certain point.  “Love one another any way you wish,” is the creed of American popular religion. But, “Love as I have loved you?”  With a foot-washing, self-deprecating kind of love?  No thanks.  That’s too much for me.
You know what it means to love others as you wish to be loved.  But to love as Jesus loves you?  To love selflessly and sacrificially?  That’s a tall order.  But Jesus gives this new commandment – this mandatum novum (as it is in Latin), the reason we call today “Maundy Thursday” or “Mandate Thursday” – he gives this new commandment on the night when He is betrayed, given into the hands of sinful men.  “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  Simple.  Do this, Jesus says.  Love like this.  Like I do.  Love those who can never deserve it, those who hate you, who reject you, who betray you, who deny you, who are inclined toward your destruction.  Wash their feet.  Assume the posture of a servant.  Or worse, absolve their sins.  Give them forgiveness for sins they could never deserve.  Love like that.  Okay?  “By this all people will know that you are my disciples,” if you have love for one another like this.
This new commandment He gives you: love like this.  Love incarnationally.  Love as flesh among flesh.  Love as sinners among sinners.  Love those who cannot and will not ever deserve your love.  Love to forgive those who are completely unforgiveable.  Love with your hands.  Love in order to remove the filth, the guilt, the shame of your brothers and sisters.  Love in order to get the dirt of your fellow man onto your own hands so that he might be clean.  Love because your love will never be repaid.  Love sacrificially.  Love and never expect anything in return.  Love as I have loved you, Jesus commands.
Ok, then.  Who does that?  No one.  And yet, “As I have loved you,” is pretty absolute.  Jesus loves perfectly and doesn’t wait for your love toward others to show His love for you.  He loves.  If foot washing were the extent of Jesus’ love, that would be difficult enough to emulate.  But He doesn’t have hands just to take up His disciples’ grimy feet.  He doesn’t have fingers merely as instruments to scrub between their toes.  He has the whole world in His hands.  And He intends those hands to be nailed to the cross.  This is His love.
Behold the Man who loves those who are completely unlovable.  Behold the Man who loves those who, in just a short time, will abandon Him, who will flee to save their own lives.  Behold the Man who loves the unlovable, the rebellious, the sinful.  Behold the Man who loves those who could never deserve it.  Behold the Man who is God who, in order to love His creatures perfectly and completely, has become Man.  Behold the Man who loves the world completely and perfectly in His death on the cross.
If you want to love like this, like Jesus did, like He commands His disciples to love, you will never get there relying on your own, deficient, selfish love.  If you want to love like this, you’ve got to BE loved like this.  And you are.  And to show his love even further, Jesus gave the fruits of his sacrificial love in His Holy Supper for you to eat and to drink … not tonight because of this blasted virus, but as soon as we can gather together again.  You are loved and forgiven now and empowered to love one another.  And in an even more personal and real way, the feast of love that Jesus gave to His Church fulfills Jesus’ command to love one another.  As you are fed and nourished with the Body and Blood of the only One to ever love like this, you are strengthened, as the liturgy says, in fervent love toward one another.  Disciples who feed together on the same loving Lord are united together in love.  “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
You have fed on his Word tonight.  Behold the Man, Christ for you in the Scriptures.  At some point in the near future, we will be able to feed on his Body and Blood again where you will behold the Man, Christ for you on this altar.  In Word and Sacrament, behold the Man who loves you enough to forgive you freely, fully, week-after-week.
Based on a sermon series by the Rev. Jeff Hemmer

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Sermon for Palm Sunday (April 5, 2020)

Palm Sunday (April 5, 2020) 
“Save Us Now” (Matthew 21:1-11) 

Browsing the news on the internet this week, I ran across a series of videos with images of cities shot with drones flying over them during the “stay at home” orders we have received.  The images were haunting, especially with the ethereal music that was also being played.  Empty streets and downtown hubs which would normally be bustling with cars and people.  Cavernous baseball stadiums void of exuberant fans.  Little playgrounds void of laughing children.  A lone carousel sits silent, still, and unridden.  A solitary figure strolls across an otherwise empty plaza, which even the pigeons and seagulls seem to have abandoned because there are no humans to leave crumbs behind for the birds to scavenge. 
This is quite the opposite of the scene near Jerusalem we heard described a few moments ago.  You can be sure that they knew nothing about “shelter at home” or “social distancing” and the question of whether to wear facemasks or not.  The narrow alleyways and streets and courtyards of Jerusalem were jam-packed with travelers arriving for the Passover to celebrate with their families who lived in and around the city.  Many of these folks had also witnessed or heard about the fact that Jesus of Nazareth had raised Lazarus from the dead in the village of Bethany, just to the east of Jerusalem (although Matthew doesn’t record this for us, only John does).  Even the opponents of Jesus who had been plotting to kill him were crowding around to witness his arrival.  They were the Jewish leaders:  the religious Pharisees, the aristocratic Sadducees, and anyone else who thought that Jesus was a threat to their social, political, and religious position in the community.  They were looking for an opportune time to seize him but held back for fear of the crowds who were crying out to him, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” 
The crowd echoes the words of Psalm 118part of which we prayed together today.  Psalm 118 is one of the great “Hallel” psalms, called such because of their frequent use of the word “Hallelujah” … oops … not supposed to say that until Easter.  Sorry.  Translated, “hallelujah” means “Praise the Lord.”  These psalms were used in festival processions as people went up to Jerusalem, especially for the Passover festival which commemorated God’s rescue of Israel from their slavery in Egypt.  Once again, the people sing these words as Jesus approaches Jerusalem on the back of a donkey’s colt. 
“Hosanna to the Son of David!” they cry out.  Calling him the Son of David shows that they acknowledged him to be the promised Messiah who would be the greatest descendent of King David.  “Hosanna” means “Save us now!”  What did they want saving from?  Centuries ago, they had been enslaved by the Egyptians.  That rescue was complete.  But they had also suffered at the hands of the Babylonians when their ancestors were exiled in Babylon for seventy years until God restored a remnant in the Promised Land.  Now, they were under the thumb once again of a foreign empire, the Romans, and the people fully expected the Messiah to come as their conquering king.  It was time for Jerusalem to be the capital not only of Judea but of the world and for all nations to flock to Zion in praise and worship of Yahweh and for the wicked to be destroyed.  “Hosanna to the Son of David” were politically charged words.  Now the Romans had a reason to get rid of Jesus, too.  Was he coming to start an insurrection?  A revolution?  Was he about to enlist this crowd to join his army of 12 in order to attempt a coup like the Maccabees did against the Greeks before Rome came to power? 
Save us.  Now.  Fast forward a few days later and it sure doesn’t look like Jesus is capable of saving us.  Not now.  He didn’t look much like a conquering king, not with a crown of thorns and a bloodstained scarlet robe the soldiers had placed on him.  Not with his back torn to shreds by their whips.  Not with their spittle dripping down his beard that they had spewed upon him in mockery.  Not with him hanging in shame and agony, naked and nailed on a cross.  Nope, it looked like Rome was still in charge.  Even his little army of 12 abandoned him and ran off, hiding in fear, except for one who stayed with Mary at the foot of the cross, and another who betrayed him and ran off to hang himself with a noose. 
Save us.  Now.  Fast forward to our day.  Does it look like Jesus is capable of saving us?  Now?  Does he seem distant and uninterested?  Silent?  Is he too weak to conquer all the problems we are facing right now?  Are we making demands upon God about the way in which we want him to save us and how and when?  We are often not satisfied with the way God chooses to work among us.  Who of us are satisfied with our predicament right now?  And yet what is God teaching us in these moments? 
He is teaching us to look to him for all our good, even in these days of uncertainty, these days of fear, yes and even these days of boredom.  Jesus does save us. 
He saved us then.  Hfirst came in all humility as the Baby in the Manger, God in the Flesh.  In all humility, Jesus lived as the Perfect Man for us, fully obeying his Father as a trusting child, and doing so in our place because we have not perfectly obeyed our Heavenly Father.  And in all humility, Jesus allowed himself to be nailed to a cross where he bled and died bearing the burden of our sins and the sins of all humanity. 
He saves us now.  He is not distant and uninterested.  Jesus is our Immanuel.  God with us.  He is present among his people, the Body of Christ.  He comes to us now with his forgiving love and mercy in Word and Sacrament, calling us to faith and keeping us in the faith by the power of the Holy Spirit, giving us strength and courage to face the days ahead and to humbly care for each other in this present time of need. 
And he will save us later when he comes again.  But this time, it will not be in humility as on Palm Sunday.  Then it will be in exaltation, with all his divine glory, as our Resurrected and Ascended Lord, and the Church will sing, “Hosanna! Save us now!”  Then he will be our conquering King, once and for all doing away with all evil, all sin, all wickedness, all injustice, and all disease that brings death and all that would distance us and keeps us isolated and fearful.  And the dead in Christ will rise to live before him in eternity because the image of his death and resurrection were already imprinted on them in their baptism. 
Before we close, I want to see if you remember when you last heard this Palm Sunday account.  It wasn’t a year ago last Palm Sunday.  We actually hear this reading about the Triumphal Entry of Jesus riding into Jerusalem twice in the Church Year.  We first hear it on the First Sunday in Advent.  Why would we hear about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey in Advent?  Because Advent is about God coming into this world on his rescue mission which culminated not at the manger but at the cross with an eye on his Second Advent, his Second Coming.  Advent is also about anticipation and hope.  We need that message today.  We need to lift up our eyes to the Lord in anticipation and hope, because we know that with every passing day … and when we are confronted with signs of the times that Jesus said would occur until he comes again – wars and rumors of war, famines, earthquakes, and yes, pestilences – we are told to “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).  And on that great and final day, believers of all nations will be gathered together again, streaming into the gates of Zion, the heavenly Jerusalemand those streets paved with gold will be jam-packed with saints and angels singing praises to Jesus, our Crucified and Risen Savior, our Paschal Lamb. 
But lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day: 
The saints triumphant rise in bright array; 
The King of Glory passes on His way. 

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, 
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, 
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. (LSB 677 stanzas 7, 8) 

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!