First Lesson: Acts 4: 5-12
Responsive Reading: Psalm 23
Second Lesson: 1 John 3: 16-24
Gospel Lesson: John 10: 11-18
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin this morning with a story. In 2011, I was going to take a vacation to Las Vegas like most winters, the only difference was this time I was going to side junket to see my Aunt Carol in California. Carol calls me up and says that she is going to invite Grandma to join us for the festivities. You figure a thirty-one-year-old Lutheran minister, his fifty-one-year-old aunt, and eighty-seven-year-old grandma getting together would make for a boring story, you would be wrong.
I leave peaceful Las Vegas to drive to California. Driving rush hour in Los Angeles was going to be the most peaceful part of the rest of the day. I’m supposed to pick Grandma up curbside at LAX with her having no cell-phone. When I finally track her down, she needs help to getting to the bathroom. The following scenario isn’t ideal when you’re curbside at LAX. I help Grandma to the bathroom, rush back to the car hoping it’s not stolen or towed, and then go meet Grandma again to push her out to the car. The only problem was in the franticness of trying to park the car in a large foreign airport, I forgot my way back to the car. I have to spend the next ninety minutes walking parking lots at LAX to try to find a rental car. Once I finally get Grandma into the car, I enter in Aunt Carol’s address into the GPS. The thing about Grandma is she isn’t real good with directions; the problem with this is that she gets agitated when you don’t listen to her. Grandma insists Carol lives north of the airport, rather than south.
So the entire car trip consists of Grandma yelling at the GPS “shut up”, shouting some words that would be defined as “cuss words” and proclaiming how we’re going to end up dead in Mexico before the night is over.
Finally, I try getting Aunt Carol on the phone to calm Grandma down. The following conversation would only agitate the situation. Soon, I’m driving on the 405 San Diego Expressway listening to Aunt Carol and Grandma yelling at each other over my cell phone at the top of each other’s lungs over directions. A few hours in California have turned into the least peaceful vacation of my entire life. Finally, we get to Orange County about ten West Coast time.
I go to bed sometime about two am; I get woken up at four by Aunt Carol and Grandma screaming at each other at the top of their lungs. I don’t even think about getting out of bed. I didn’t care to know the nature of the argument at this point. I just hope it stops soon enough that I can some sleep. When I wake up the next morning, no one acts at all like any of this is outside of normal.
The thing about Grandma and Aunt Carol is this is their relationship. My Aunt and Grandma think nothing of calling each other at 2 AM as Grandma stays in the nursing home with a roommate. They’ll yell at each other, and then think nothing of it five minutes later. They are as close to each other as any mother and daughter could be. What their relationship does though is showcase the myth that all Swedes are afraid to express themselves.
Their relationship like all human relationships it is unique. They have a weird give and take, but it works for them. It seems like whatever comes their way the relationship is never in flux even as the world around them might be pulling them every direction imaginable. These bedrock relationships in the midst of chaos are what we desire in life.
My Aunt and Grandma’ story brings us to today’s Gospel lesson from John 10 where Jesus proclaims to be the Good Shepherd. This proclamation ties into our Psalm for today that we all know for its famous beginning “The Lord is my shepherd”.
What’s noteworthy about this passage is the audience for this passage. Jesus is speaking to the very disciples, who are about to abandon him upon his arrest. Jesus is saying to his disciples that our relationship is not going to be like a normal relationship. You’re going to run away from me, you’re going to ignore my call, and I’m still going to chase after you. Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd because sheep are animals that will inevitability disappoint you. The thing about a good shepherd is that his priority is never on the sheep that stay where they’re supposed to stay; the shepherd’s priority is always to the lost sheep. A shepherd will always put his lost sheep first.
What does this passage have to do with us today? I’ll often hear people talk about their relationship with Jesus being the most important thing in their lives. Such language always sounds good, but I do wonder if it misses the point.
Think of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep, this is a one sided relationship. The shepherd is the one who gives all good things; the shepherd watches over his sheep as a father watches over his children. The shepherd is ultimately the sheep’s savior once harm comes their way; the sheep are merely the heirs to all the good things that a shepherd may deliver.
Michael Horton a few years ago wrote a book called Christless Christianity in this book; Horton describes the Christian’s relationship with the shepherd.
Horton says, “Everyone has a personal relationship with God already: either as a condemned criminal standing before a righteous judge or as a justified coheir with Christ and adopted child of the Father.”
We stand before God either as a guilty sinner or forgiven saint. There is no potential state of flux. Our relationship with Jesus was not defined within the last week; nor will it be defined within the upcoming week, our relationship was made on a cross.
What makes our relationship with Jesus different than all voluntary human relationships is it is defined by a promise. The observable measure of our faith is what God gives to us in word and sacrament.
The thing that stands out so much about this passage is the contrasts that it portrays
“He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who doesn't own the sheep, sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep, and flees,”-John 10:12
This week I was watching a TV show on former LSU Basketball Coach Dale Brown and Shaquille O’Neil. Their story begins with O’Neil living in Germany as a 13-year-old boy. O’Neil stood 6’9 but was unable to dunk a basketball. O’Neil was too weak in the legs. O’ Neil is ready to give up basketball. O’Neil hears that LSU Coach Dale Brown is coming to visit his stepfather’s Army base. O’Neil decides to try to approach Brown for advice. O’Neil despite his size was just as timid and awkward as your average thirteen old. Brown promises O’Neil that once he’s back in Louisiana, he was going to send Shaquille strength drills to get bigger. Brown keeps his word. Brown stays in touch with this uncoordinated thirteen-year-old in Germany. Brown stays in touch throughout O’Neil’s high school career before O’Neil decides to play for Coach Brown at LSU. Brown’s relationship with O’Neil was about much more than just winning games. When O’Neil misses a class, Brown forces him out of bed to run sprints at the track. When O’Neil thinks that he is going to bomb in speech class, Brown helps him by listening to his speech. Years go by; O’Neil leaves LSU becomes the biggest Basketball star in the world. O’Neil makes hundreds of millions of dollars, yet Dale Brown never asks for a thing. O'Neil is still contacted by Dale Brown every week, no different then when he was an awkward thirteen-year-old living in Germany. The shepherd and the sheep’s relationship will not change because of the sheep’s success or lack of success.
‘Shepherds do not come and go willy-nilly out of a sheep’s life. Think of the most important of relationships in your life. Do these people leave you when your hair is either leaving you or going gray? Do these people leave you if you’re carrying a few extra pounds around the midsection? Do these people abandon you after hearing you tell the same boring story time and time again? 
The difference between a hired hand and a shepherd is the difference between one looking to collect a paycheck and someone whose vow to you extends way beyond what you can ever give them in return. The good shepherd promises to stand alongside us during the storms of our life when others go running for shelter.
Let me tell another story. I start to work in Lamberton. I get a call from Pastor Warren Baker in Estherville, Iowa saying that his congregation prayer team is praying for me and that he is going to watch over me in the months ahead. I go meet Warren for lunch at the Embers off I-90 in Jackson, Minnesota a bunch of times over my time down there. Warren’s a colorful character. Warren’s the type of guy that if he meets ten new people, the sheer bluntness of his words will have no one leaving the room unsure how they feel about him for better or worse.
The thing that I admire about Warren is once a person comes into his life there is not one thing that he wouldn’t do for them. He would think nothing of driving 1500 miles to help a small house church in the middle of nowhere Montana figure out their next steps. Warren would think nothing of being on the phone at seven in the morning or eleven at night. Warren would think nothing of driving a hundred miles for a hospital visit. Warren would think nothing of giving money out of his pocket to help someone else down on their luck. Warren has dedication to shepherding his congregation and those outside his congregation like no minister that I’ve ever met.
One day, Warren is sitting down with me when he makes one of the boldest statements that he’ll ever make.
He says, “Stew you’re really lucky if, in life, you have five people that will always be close to you. People that will stand beside you whether you’re successful or a failure. People that will be close to you wherever your ministry will take you. Stew, you have your Father, you have Carl, one day you’ll maybe have a wife that falls into this category, and the last person you have is Warren Baker”.
The brashness of this statement caught me off. Who is this guy to talk to me in such a way? How can he make such a bold promise? I would never say anything like that in return. What Warren was saying is no different than what the good shepherd is saying to the sheep.
The definition of a good shepherd is someone who will go farther for the sheep then makes any real sense. The relationship between a shepherd and a sheep is never one of like for like or trade off for trade off. The relationship between a shepherd and a sheep is one where the shepherd promises to walk alongside side the sheep, sustain the sheep with the gifts of life, while the sheep merely stare at the shepherd confused by it all.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep, and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”- John 10:14-15
The point of our passage from today where Jesus promises to be our good shepherd is we do not control our relationship. What we must always do is contrast the relationship between Jesus and Us with every other relationship that we hold in our life.
What the Christian ultimately does or does not do is not where the Christian hope resides. The great hope of the Christian faith is dying to our self; the great hope of the Christian faith is the day that the shepherd returns once again to make all things new. He is the shepherd; we are the sheep. Amen
 Psalm 23:1
 McDavid, Will. “Old Persuasive Words: Seven Common Theology Phrases That Should Be Used More Precisely”. Mockingbird Ministries (MBIRD). 28.Oct.2014. Web. Apr.21.2015
 Kalnajs, Dawn. “It’s Not a Religion, It’s a Relationship”. Real Reality Zone. 18.Jul.2009. Web. Apr.21.2015. Taken from the comments section by Tom made on Oct.3.2009.
 This was an episode of ESPN’s SEC Storied entitled “Shaq&Dale”. 13. Apr. 2015. TV. Apr.24.2015
 Inspired by McLarty, Dr. Phillip. W. “Good Shepherds and Hired Hands”. 2003. Lectionary.org. Web. Apr.21.2015
First Lesson: Acts 4: 32-35
Responsive Reading: Psalm 133
Second Lesson: 1 John 1: 1-2:2
Gospel Lesson: John 20: 19-31
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story of ten men locked in a room. These men’s lives were about to have an encounter that was going to change their lives’ forever. Only one man was left out. Our story for today is the story of the week after Holy Week. Our lesson tells how a man named Thomas was at the center of the story.
Our lesson begins the Sunday night of Easter in a locked room at the same house in Jerusalem where the Disciples had shared their final supper with their savior a few nights before. The Disciples were terrified. They were witnesses to Jesus’ arrest. John had been a witness to his crucifixion and death. Peter was so scared at being recognized by the mob that he denied knowing Jesus on three separate occasions. The Disciples feared that the same Chief Priests who had Jesus killed were coming for them next.
So the Disciples that Sunday sat and sat some more. They were thinking about how to escape town without being recognized. They were living like outlaws. Then one disciple saw him. Then another disciple’s eye became open. Another disciple started shaking his head like he was living in a dream. There standing before them was what appeared to be “Jesus”. The same “Jesus” who they thought was dead was now standing before them.
The first words out of Jesus’ mouth upon seeing the Disciples were “Peace be with you”. Jesus knew what the Disciples reaction was going to be. Sure they had seen Jesus perform miracles, even raise Lazarus from the dead, yet seeing Jesus coming back from Roman Crucifixion that’s just going to freak people out. Was Jesus a ghost? Jesus knew what the Disciples were going to think. So Jesus sets out to prove that he’s all flesh and bone to the Disciples at this moment. Jesus shows the Disciples his hands and his side. Jesus extends unto his disciples the very hands that were pierced by nails and the very side that had been whipped. The Disciples were convinced that they were dealing with the same guy; they had supper with a few days prior. The Disciples started yelling like you would upon seeing a long lost family member. A few disciples even busted out dance moves in celebration.
Only one of the eleven remaining disciples wasn’t there for Jesus’ appearance, a man known as Thomas. Why was Thomas not there on Sunday evening? Thomas was sick of being in a locked room. Thomas was sick of being asked the same few questions again and again. Thomas was tired of hearing other people crying. Thomas would rather be alone. Think of all the people that you know in your life that have just lost someone close to them. We all know how people grieve differently. Some people grieve by always needing to be around people. Other people might not show up to church for a little while. They might not want to spend a lot of time doing things with friends. We all know people who would rather grieve alone. Thomas was this type of griever. Thomas’ grief explains why Thomas wasn’t there at the Lord’s first appearance.
Thomas finally comes back to where the Disciples were staying. Thomas knocks a special code so that they know he’s safe to let in.
Thomas comes back that Sunday night to hear a tale. “We have seen the Lord” “He was just here” “Thomas, you totally missed him.”
Now imagine Thomas’ reaction to hearing the Disciples story.
Thomas when you left, and we had the doors locked real tight, Jesus just showed up here, and Jesus then left.
We have no idea where he went, we don’t know when he might return, and He didn’t really stay all that long. But Thomas, you need to believe us that he was here.
Thomas was probably thinking, wait a minute, we spent the last three years together with Jesus, he then just shows up and leaves again.”
Let me tell a story, When I was a freshman in college, I worked as a Bible camp counselor. 8th and 9th grade week was the toughest week all summer. The kids were at just the age, where causing mischief for authority figures was the most exciting thing in life. One day the heavens opened up over Pine County. The kids were supposed to stay inside. Kids being kids they kept threatening to bolt out the door. I was started to freak out whenever anyone would make a quick step towards the door. Finally an old maintenance guy named Phil who had worked at the camp for decades, comes up to me, tells me not to worry about it because “Where exactly are they going to go”.
Even if Thomas thought Jesus might be alive, the idea that he would be staying somewhere else in Jerusalem or out traveling by himself, after all, that went down in the past week seems kind of far-fetched. Where exactly would Jesus go without the Disciples? Thomas had good reason to believe the Disciples’ story was fishy. Thomas wasn’t the type of guy that was going to fall for a story. Thomas wasn’t going to have people laughing at him behind his back. To Thomas, what the other disciples were saying seemed to be as believable as saying that someone saw Elvis Presley down at Bri-Esa’s.
So Thomas did what nearly anyone would do. Thomas came up with a series of demands, proofs, or prerequisites that he needed to have met before he would finally declare himself to be a believer.
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe. “
Whenever I preach on this text, my reaction is always the same. Thomas is the most misunderstood character in the Bible. Peter is never called “Denying Peter,” none of the other disciples have the nickname “cowardly” attached to them for abandoning Jesus upon his arrest. Despite all this, Thomas is the one with the negative sounding nickname “Doubting Thomas”. Whenever we attach a nickname like this to Thomas, we are failing to admit that he was just as human and flawed as any of Jesus’ other disciples. Nor does Thomas ask for more proof of belief that the other disciples had already received.
Let’s be honest about a second point. Monday passes, no Jesus. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, no signs to see of Jesus and no reports to hear of Jesus. Every day in the week after Jesus’ death, Thomas is probably feeling more and more convinced the Disciples had just been drinking a little too much wine with their Sunday evening supper. As for the other Disciples, they have what would seem to be the definition of a life-changing encounter with Jesus. Though they still sit around the same room acting like nothing has ever changed.
Let me tell another story, when I was sixteen years old, I didn’t have a driver’s license, and my parents were going away on vacation. My parents decided that in case my sister, and I needed to go anywhere they would give my friend Ben the keys to their new Mitsubishi Galant. Ben was the friend whose wedding ceremony I performed last month in Mexico. Giving a sixteen-year-old keys to a car like that is a terrible idea. This case was no exception. Ben drove everywhere that we could think of with this thing. Ben drove to eat in Hinckley. Ben drove to the Mall of America. Ben drove to Minneapolis multiple times. Ben drove miles backward through the streets of Lindstrom trying to get the odometer to reverse. Ben drove around back-country Chisago County roads at way above the speed limit. This thing handled so smooth that it could take corners at well over a hundred miles per hour. If boldness were ever going to get me killed any week of my high school life, this would have been the week. I’ll just say there is some good luck involved with that week and me speaking to you today.
The thing about Ben and I is we had been given a new lease on life, we weren’t just going to sit around watching T.V. Yet in the wake of encountering Jesus, the Disciples just sat around and did nothing. The Disciples didn’t seem really all that interested in convincing Thomas that the Resurrection was for real. Doubting Thomas is only a creation of the Disciples not being the most effective evangelists themselves.
The following Sunday night though Thomas would have his moment. It was almost as if God was saying “Thomas, you think you can run away, no, you can’t.” He’s back. The long hair guy who the Swedes think had blond hair and blue eyes. Thomas was now like the guy saying “There is no way anybody can beat Kentucky in Basketball”, yet you shut up pretty quickly when Kentucky losses.
Here was Jesus standing before Thomas. The script played out the same as last Sunday’s visit. Peace be with you, See my hands, Touch my side, Stop doubting and believe. Thomas from this point forward in life was going to confess Jesus to every person that he was going to meet.
Interestingly enough, Jesus never dwells on Thomas’ doubt. Jesus is much more interested in extending Thomas peace and forgiveness so that he can move forward with life.
So the story of Thomas brings us to this morning. We reflect on the meaning of Thomas’s story for our story.
Fredrick Buechner says, “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep.”
So might doubt have a spiritual purpose? Doubt isn’t good or bad. Doubt is merely a reality of faith. When people say prove that Jesus rose from the dead. Perhaps you can make the case that without some sort of spiritual intervention that there is no way that eleven men hiding scared in a room would one day be the founders of a religion with over one billion followers at every corner of the Earth. Perhaps you could give a testimonial of how your faith led you through a particularly dark moment in your life. The truth is that none of these things can convince an unbeliever unless God decides to touch them just like he touched Thomas. The reality of faith is that there will always be open questions or things that we won’t know this side of heaven. We can do one of two things with our doubts. We can either drown in our doubts, embrace our excuses, stand on the street corner pointing out all the hypocritical Christians who give someone a nickname like “Doubting Thomas”. The other option is we can admit that we will have doubts as Christian people that will never smooth over, and that’s O.K.
Why would God allow this? Why was my friend put to death? Thomas is not a raging skeptic; Thomas is an everyman for the Christian faith. Thomas is a hero whose life story takes him all the way to India way farther than any of the other disciples to start a church.
You actually believe that when you die that you’ll eventually wake up? Sure, do. I’ll take Thomas’ word for it. Amen
 The following sermon is a semi-creative retelling of Thomas’ story based on John 20:19-29.
 John 20:19
 John 20:19
 John 20:20
 John 20:20
 These are not reasons from any sort of academic speculation. This serves merely as a way to imagine Thomas’ story.
 John 20:25
 This part of the sermon along with the section pointing out Thomas’ reasons for being skeptical of the Disciples claims were inspired by an article entitled “Correcting Saint John” written by Russell Saltzmann (NALC) published at First Things on 9.Apr.2015. Web. Apr.9.2015
 John 20:27
 The Buechner quote appears in a sermon by Reverend Tim Zingale entitled “? Thomas” published at Sermon Central in March 2008.
 Ed Markquart gives a really powerful testimonial in a Series B sermon entitled “Thomas, an Honest Doubter” that can be found at Sermons from Seattle. Markquart’s testimony inspired the last section on the importance of just letting doubts eventually go.
 Church Tradition
First Lesson: Isaiah 25: 6-9
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
Gospel: Mark 16: 1-8
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you a story about my Great Grandpa Arvid. Arvid was in his nineties. Arvid’s eyesight was at the point that he probably shouldn’t have been driving, yet he was. One day, Arvid is backing out of his driveway when he backs all the way across the street hitting Duane Arnold’s apple tree. Arvid hit this apple tree hard. The back end of Arvid’s car was not going to be easily fixed. Apples and branches were scattered all over the car’s roof. Arvid felt nothing, so he drove uptown. Arvid stopped in at Russ Johnson’s local service station. Russ Johnson’s was the last service station in Lindstrom where they still had attendants fill up your car. Arvid asks for a fill up because he was going to drive to Wisconsin. The attendant had no idea what to say at this point as he looked at the banged up car with the old man oblivious to it all. Arvid would never drive a car again after this incident. Life was never going to be the same again. Why was Arvid going to drive to Wisconsin? We can merely speculate in the years after he left us. Back to Arvid and the apple tree in a bit.
Today’s Easter lesson comes from the Gospel of Mark. The story begins with three women Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome wishing to get up early on a Sunday morning to see Jesus. These women probably hadn’t been able to sleep really well as they dealt with all the emotions of the past few days witnessing one of the closest people in their life to die in such a fashion as crucifixion. They get up early that Sunday morning so that they may anoint his body. Give Jesus as proper a send off as they could before moving onto the next chapter in their life. Their concern going to the tomb that day was the stone guarding it was so large that they would be unable to move it.
When they arrive at the tomb, they see the stone rolled away, and an angelic messenger sitting in the place where Jesus body previously lay. The messenger proclaims “The Jesus that you are looking for, he is not here; he is on his way to Galilee”.
The trip back to Galilee seems like an odd move for Jesus. Here Jesus was in the cosmopolitan city of Jerusalem, the religious capital of the world. Jesus could have returned to stand before his captors and crucifiers with the taunts of “na, na, na, boo, boo, you can’t kill me”. Jesus instead decides that he wants to go back to Galilee.
The one thing that many people don’t know about Jesus after the resurrection is that he wasn’t all that visible. He appeared to the disciples twice in Jerseleum, he encountered a couple travelers on the Road to Emmaus, he appeared before the Disciples at the Lake of Tiberias for the miraculous catch of fish, and he appeared to the eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee to give them the Great Commission. Jesus made five appearances in forty days between his Resurrection and Ascension. What was Jesus doing the rest of that time? Nobody knows? The thing worth noting about all these appearances is that none of them had much fanfare. Jesus throughout the Gospels seems to be not one to revel in his fifteen minutes of fame. Jesus doesn’t go back to the Temple in Jerusalem so that all the eyes of the world may be upon him. Instead, Jesus goes somewhere where his motives are less evident in a post- Resurrection world.
So why go back to Galilee? Why primarily spend his extra days on Earth off the grid? To understand this question, you need to know the whole story of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is returning to the place where he spends the majority of his life and ministry. Jesus is returning to the sites of his teaching and miracles.
There are many things about Jesus’ life within in Mark’s Gospel that shall always be a mystery. Like when Jesus would perform healing miracles, why would he want people to keep his mighty deeds a secret? Why when Peter recognizes Jesus as “the Christ” does Jesus want Peter to keep his mouth shut.
The reason for this is because the only way that we know anything about Jesus is through the Resurrection. We can only understand every story within the Christian Gospels in light of the story’s ending. The history of Galilee is perhaps why Jesus wanted to return to the site of his ministry. It’s almost as if Jesus is saying to those who think they know his story, to go read it again.
One of the most common encounters that I have in the ministry is dealing with people in the midst of their grief. People often wonder why so and so had to leave them. For many people, there are no right words to say.
I had a Great Uncle named Sunny. Sunny was a nice guy. Sunny was a Unitarian, who held no belief in eternal life. My Dad went to Sunny’s funeral where all they talked about was Sunny and things he loved such as nature. Sunny’s funeral served as an example of depressing ways that people can often think about death. There was not one word said that gave any hope for those that mourn beyond their memories of Sunny. We’re here today, but gone tomorrow. Non-religious funerals are the most empty events in the world. To believe that there is nothing out there seems to crush the soul.
Our Resurrection story tells us something different.
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead.”-1st Corinthians 15:12
Today, we see a Jesus, who has risen from the dead, yet is still hiding out there in the world. What we also see is a Jesus, who refuses to stay exactly where he is supposed to stay. What Easter reminds us is that God doesn’t sit still or even play dead, Our Lord does what he pleases. Our Lord will even save “sinners”. The secret behind God’s motives is why even those closest to Jesus would misunderstand him throughout the course of his life.
Tom Long says it best “The saving action of God in the world is always hidden, ambiguous, sealed off from obvious explanation”.
Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb that day expecting God to act one way only to be proven wrong. The women flee the tomb in terror because this story was going to play out so differently than they could have previously envisioned.
We often expect God in our lives to zig one way, only to be surprised when he zags the other way. Jesus came into this world all-powerful, yet he was going to suffer and die still. Where God most ultimately surprises us is when he stands alongside us when we are at our weakest, the very moment of our death.
Jesus goes back to Galilee to return to the beginning. Bring us back to Eden. Today, we return to the promises given to us in our Baptism.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.-Romans 6:3-5
My hope is that you see you every event that you are having to move forward from this day in the context of the resurrection that you reappraise the whole story of your life through its ending. That as we leave this place you head back into the world, we remember that our Lord has promised to go ahead of us. We encounter on this day a God that we cannot capture or catch. We encounter a God whose whereabouts are often so nonsensical that he ends up on the Cross only to end up walking back to Galilee three days later.
Let me close with the conclusion of my Great Grandpa and the apple tree. The car gets cleaned up. No one is quite sure what to do with the apples. The Arnolds from across the street didn’t want them. Many of the apples were smashed and appeared to be inedible. While my Grandma Buena May, who was my Great Grandpa’s caretaker, takes all the smashed apples and makes a pie. I remember this pie like no other apple pie that I’ve ever eaten because the story behind it was so unique. The apple story ties into the story of Easter because this is what Our Lord does on this day. Our God takes on our weakness (our smashed apples), our imperfections in the form of death, only to use it to usher in forgiveness and eternal life. He is risen! He is risen indeed!
 Mark 16:3
 This is a slight paraphrase of Mark 16:5-7.
 John 20:19-29, Luke 24:36-49
 Luke 24:13-35,
 John 21:1-10
 Matthew 28:16-20.
 Mark 1:43-45, Mark 5:43-44, Mark 7:36, Mark 8:26
 Mark 8:30
 1st Corinthians 15:12
 This was inspired by Duke Professor Will Willemon’s explanation for the Resurrection.
 Long, Thomas G. “Dangling Gospel: Mark 16:1-8”. The Christian Century. 4.Apr.2006. Web. Mar.30.2015 taken from Religion Online prepared by Ted and Winnie Brock.
 Romans 6:3-5
Responsive Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
Gospel Lesson: Mark 11: 1-11
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story of a man named Joshua. Joshua was no extraordinary man. Joshua was merely a laborer at a farm a few miles outside Jerusalem. Joshua was nothing more than a modern day grunt. Joshua’s life didn’t seem to be very much about living, merely about surviving.
Joshua got up one Sunday morning that was going to be different. The last few days of Joshua’s life had been different. People had been traveling from all over: Persia, Greece, Rome, Syria, and Egypt passing right by Joshua’s front door. Jews were coming to Jerusalem for the annual Passover celebration from all over. Passover was the biggest religious event of the year, a celebration of God sparing the people of Israel from death in the Land of Egypt, many generations ago.
Joshua didn’t get excited for Passover like some people. Think of that Uncle of yours that doesn’t get excited about Christmas. It wasn’t that Joshua didn’t believe in God. Joshua prayed his prayers every morning. Joshua would make an appearance at Synagogue every once a while. The thing though for Joshua is that he just didn’t expect God to do much in his life. It would be fair to call Joshua a skeptic. Joshua didn’t think much of religious folks. All the leaders at the Temple seemed only to be in it for themselves. Perhaps, Joshua would be more faithful if there could be a reformation within his religion. If only there could be a new way to understanding God interacting with the world.
Joshua’s had his curiosity recently piqued though. Joshua heard of a man that was coming to Jerusalem for Passover that was unlike any man that Joshua had ever met or ever heard. Rumors were spreading that this man had recently healed a certain Lazarus of Bethany from the dead. There was something that Joshua couldn’t figure out though about this Jesus, how come if he wanted to make a difference in his religion, why was he never in Jerusalem. Everything that he heard about Jesus was that he spent his life living in small towns in fishing villages in the remote area of Galilee. Joshua couldn’t figure why Jesus wouldn’t spend more time in Jerusalem. Joshua wanted to know more about this man. Joshua had nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon, so he began walking towards Jerusalem to hopefully see Jesus.
Joshua finally sees a crowd gathering alongside the road. Joshua noticed something about this crowd. The crowd was made up of people like Joshua: laborers, merchants, slaves, and miserable looking persons with drab clothes. A parade was about to start. The parade was going to be a different type of celebration though there would be no confetti, no streamers, or no celebratory music. The parade was just going to be thirteen men and one donkey.
The scene on some levels didn’t make much sense. Here was an ordinary looking man, riding an ordinary animal. The shouts seemed to belong to people witnessing one of the most exciting moments of their life.
People rallied around Jesus because he was one of them. Jesus could have dined with kings and queens. Instead, he ate with peasants. Jesus could have hung out with the rich and powerful. Instead, he hung out with lepers. Jesus could have sat in the Temple debating issues talking way over the common man’s head. Instead, Jesus taught those uneducated who were unable to read by telling parables.
On the other side of Jerusalem on that Sunday coming in from the Western coast would be a different kind of parade. The Roman Governor Pontius Pilate was traveling into Jerusalem from his home in Caesarea Maritima. Pilate’s parade was going to be the type of parade that every little kid would want to see: cavalry, soldiers, big, white horses, trumpets, pomp, and circumstance. Pilate’s parade was an awesome display of power. Pilate was surrounded by soldiers. Pilate seemed almost larger than life unable for the ordinary person to touch.
Here just a few miles away was another parade. Here came Jesus riding on a donkey. Why a donkey was something that Joshua couldn’t figure out. It wasn’t even a particularly good donkey, a young one, in fact.
You see there was a very good reason that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. You see about 600 years prior, the Prophet Zechariah predicted that a great king would come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey.
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king, is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”- Zechariah 9:9
You see the people of Jerusalem were longing for a king. They had longed for a king since the days of Samuel over one thousand years before. Everyone standing alongside the road in Jerusalem had heard stories about the glory days with a king. The high point in Israel’s history was one thousand years prior during the reign of David and Solomon. Everything was going according to plan. The people were united like never before. Israel was powerful and strong. King Solomon had built a fabulous temple.
The shouts were clear: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father, David.”
The David chants had deep meaning. David was not only Israel’s greatest king but also David had previously done the unthinkable. David had won the most improbable of battles. David had taken down the greatest warrior from the greatest army in the world in a man named Goliath with just a stone and a slingshot. David was embraced by Jewish people because he was the ultimate underdog. Jesus was marching into the city of Jerusalem getting ready to stare down the most overwhelming of favorites directly into their eyes.
The crowd of onlookers saw this as David marching into the city proclaiming that he was going to take down Goliath.
“And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
These people gathered around Jesus because they had nowhere else to turn. Hosanna means “Save us now”. Hosanna is the cry of the powerless. Hosanna is the cry that people would shout after being let down by their families and communities from the previous generation. The crowds on that day were loud and kept getting louder. The shouts were memorable enough that the exact words that Mark remembered them when writing his Gospel nearly a generation later.
We might think of Neil Armstrong’s words “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” as words that will live forever. The words shouted by the crowd of “Hosanna” would ultimately live forever.
The crowd was shouting for salvation. Salvation for what would quickly become the issue. People like Joshua had plenty of grievances. They had grievances with the Romans. They had grievances with their religious leaders. They walked through life with plenty of fear. They figured one misstep would result in a cruel death. The thing about “Hosanna’s” meaning is the story of salvation would play out differently than anyone could imagine.
“And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields.”
Garments were thrown on the road that day as a sign of adoration. People would wave palms in the air like Homer Hankies. Every wave of a palm branch was a wish of hope, a wish that Passover was going to end according to the people’s dreams.
What was Jesus going to do when he came face to face with the people on Palm Sunday? Perhaps he would make a deaf man hear, perhaps he would give a blind man sight, and perhaps he would give a Leper clear skin. People were hoping to hear Jesus give a fiery sermon against the Romans. Jesus chooses to stay silent though on Sunday. The moment was ultimately not about making converts. Jesus’ destiny was not for the Jewish people; rather it was for all people. Jesus was staying silent because he knew as he got ready for the week ahead that he would march towards the cross. Jesus was going to be not only on a path for death, but also a path to resurrection.
Jesus was going to be critical of the Jerusalem that he marched into that Sunday. The crowds would quickly get on his side. The authorities would arrest Jesus at night for fear of a riot breaking out. The trial would have to take place at night with only certain people in the know.
On one side of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the shouts were defining “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna to the King”. Reports of this parade would quickly make their way across town. Whispers would soon begin of “crucify him” as people began to fear a man who would ultimately go forth to his death without any resistance.
Joshua woke up Friday morning to some startling news. Jesus was under arrest. This news didn’t faze Joshua all that much. Joshua had seen plenty of people come that had promised hope and change only to end up crucified. Joshua went to work, only slightly disenchanted that this Jesus fellow would make things different. Joshua figured that he would never hear about Jesus again. Only the following Sunday, a new buzz arose. Rumors were spreading about Jesus again. These rumors were even more unbelievable than the previous rumors about raising a man from the dead. People were now saying that Jesus’ tomb was empty and that he was alive.
Joshua, the religious skeptic, could not believe this tale. Forty days later though Joshua gathered with the Church in Jerusalem to watch Jesus ascend into heaven. Joshua’s life had been completely changed in just a little less than seven weeks. Joshua came to realize something about Jesus’ death that there could be no other way. Jesus wouldn’t have marched to Jerusalem if there were any other path to man’s own salvation. The following realization was what ultimately broke Joshua down. Christ Jesus died for “Him”. Christ Jesus rose again so that he may “live”. The following is the story of a man named Joshua and a day that we call “Palm Sunday”. Amen
 Probably not the most creative of character names that I’ve ever used. I wanted a name that sounded like it could have belonged to a first century Jew that would be easy to remember.
 Exodus 12
 John 11:1-43
 A lot of the motivation for this story comes from Marcus Borg’s and John Dominic Crossan’s The Last Week published by Harper Collins in 2006. This book served as a motivation for a previous Lenten series of mine.
 This comes from John 12:14 as Ed Markquart points out in his commentary on “The Palm Story” at Sermons in Seattle this is kind of a quirky detail to add unless it’s actually true.
 Zechariah 9:9
 1 Samuel 8
 Mark 11:10
 1 Samuel 17
 Mark 11:9
 Mark 11:12 to the end of chapter 13 details the political realities of Holy Week better than any other Gospel. This is the basis for the Borg and Crossan book on the Last Week.
 Mark 14:1-2
 Ed Markquart has a fascinating historical commentary called “The Riots of Pilate” over at Sermons from Seattle. This sets background to Pilate’s presence at Passover.
 The post-resurrection appearance in front of the biggest crowd in Acts 1.
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Tonight we come to the final lesson on Luther’s Small Catechism dealing with Holy Communion.
The question that I want to look at is the issue of who should take Holy Communion?
Recently, I had some friends from Luther Seminary that were all kinds of mad. The church body to which they belong was considering the question of “Whether to give Communion to the unbaptized?”. I kept coming across all sorts of emotional Facebook posts surrounding this very issue.
The question made me think of a story from within my ministry. When I was working down in Lamberton, I knew a girl named Connor. Connor starts attending the church because a lot of her friends were going to Our Savior’s. So Connor comes to me in Seventh Grade wanting to take First Communion Class. So Connor and I get together a few different days after school and go through a study guide on the Lord’s Supper no different than I’ve done with kids here. I assumed that Connor had been previously baptized. We were living in Southwest Minnesota farm country, even those who never had any intention of going to church would get their kids baptized. Connor was a unique child. Connor would go to church nearly every Sunday by herself without a parent, I’ve never seen this in a 7th grader. Connor would help with VBS. Connor was the type of kid that any church would love to have been active within their youth group.
I leave Lamberton to move up to Silver Bay. I had Connor for the first quarter of her confirmation. When Connor gets confirmed, it comes out that she had never been baptized. Many people would assume that I made a great error in not exploring this situation formerly. The revelation though didn’t bother me at all because I just figured that God worked through Connor’s life in a unique way.
There is not a one size fits all approach to the Holy Spirit. We are a church of Word and Sacrament. We believe that God reaches people through the Gospel given both orally through preaching and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins along with reaching people physically through Water, Wine, and Wheat. While Baptism is often the first means that God reaches us, this is not the only possible means by which God can create faith.
When I think of the question of “Whether to commune the unbaptized?”. I tend to think of hypothetical situations. What if a guy attends church on Christmas Eve, who has never been baptized? What if this guy hears the preacher invite the congregation up to Holy Communion? What if this guy is curious about what is happening and wants to partake in the Lord’s Supper?
The preacher has two possible solutions at this point. You can either take the guy explain that God might only possibly work in your life after you’ve conducted an exhaustive study of the Small Catechism. I could perhaps even throw in a small, boring Church history lesson.
The fellow would then go home thinking about Communion in entirely wrong terms of being something earned out of our worthiness. The person probably never thinks about going back to the church ever again. I can’t imagine that this is really how I should be proclaiming the Gospel to strangers within our midst.
The more daring possible solution is to take Jesus’ words “ This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. “ You could give Communion under the premise that it is predicated on God’s ability to act, rather than our ability to comprehend.
There have been times in my ministry, when I’ve had to go to the nursing home to visit with congregational members whose minds have slipped to the point that you can’t carry out a coherent conversation. Situations like this have never been an issue of whether to bring my Communion kit. I believe the promises given in Baptism are still relevant after one’s mind might be gone, the promises given in Holy Communion would be no different. Did these people comprehend the sacrament? No. Did these people decide they needed to take the sacrament in a legal binding fashion? No. Did they receive the Lord’s Supper to their benefit? Yes.
Plenty of Pastors don’t feel the way that I do. I know the verses from 1st Corinthians 11
‘Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”- 1st Corinthians 11:27-29
What we can say is that these are some of the most misused verses in all the scriptures. The 1st Corinthians passage has been used to argue against everything from Infant Communion to not communing Non-Lutherans to refusing to commune the unbaptized. These verses were never written to speak to any of these issues.
The thing about 1st Corinthians 11 though is there is a very precise context in which Paul wrote the passage. Let me repeat 1st Corinthians 11:21-22 the key verses from this passage:
“For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”
What was happening in the Corinthian Church is well-off members were drinking all the Wine and eating all the Bread before other members could partake in the meal. Paul’s whole basic point was if you want to eat two loaves of bread by yourself, eat them at home. The Lord’s Supper is different. The Lord’s Supper belongs to all of God’s people. We cannot try to read Bible passages as addressing every possible hypothetical situation that they were never written to address. Some situations are ulitmately left up to pastoral discretion and congregational policy.
I have a friend whose name is Natalie. Natalie is a pastor out in Pennsylvania. Natalie had a confirmation student who will tell everyone at school that “She didn’t believe in God”. Natalie wondered does this mean that she shouldn’t receive the sacrament. When Natalie asks me this, I didn’t know any more than her. I decided to ask the smartest guy that I know in Joe Burgess. Joe was a part of the International Lutheran-Catholic dialogs. Joe has received audiences at the Vatican.
Joe’s response to Natalie’s question was so good that I read it here tonight
“Teens are teens. They pose. One will claim to be a communist. Another will color her hair pink and so on. Pastoral care requires that we take care. Presumably the teen has been baptized. Does she come forward to receive the sacrament? Is her atheism merely a pose? No one is to be compelled, to be sure, but if someone comes forward, we cannot demand in that person a level of theological knowledge lacking in most pastors.”
People might wonder what about taking Holy Communion in other churches that aren’t Lutheran.
When I was in Seminary, there was this large Baptist church in Minneapolis that I would occasionally attend on Saturday nights. The way that these Baptists did Communion was interesting. The minister would first of all get up there and say “If you had any unresolved sin in your life than you shouldn’t commune”. I would never be worthy according to that standard, and I’m sure few people in that room would be. The reason that we take Communion is because we are sinners. Sinners need forgiveness. Remember that Jesus gave Judas communion right before he sold him out, and he also gave Peter communion before denying to know him on three separate occasions.
The Church then proceeded not to have people walk up to the front to receive Communion, but rather they passed the communion cup and trays down the aisle where everybody served themselves. Self-service Communion would seem to defeat the purpose of the Lord’s Supper that one hears the words “This is my body, which is given for you.” We don’t give words of promise and forgiveness to ourselves; this is why it's so important to have someone else give Communion to us. I did not take Communion that night. My reasons had nothing to do with not acknowledging the believers in this congregation as my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. My reasons always have to do with not receiving an explicit proclamation regarding the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.
What I would do is extend Communion though to any members of that church or any church if they came here if they believed that Christ is indeed present in the Bread and Wine for the forgiveness of sins. We believe the Lord’s Supper is not a mere metaphor or a vague spiritual presence. We believe that Christ comes to us in his Supper. For in the words of Paul from 1st Corinthians 10 “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”
Holy Communion was at the center of the worship life of the Early Church because of its unique role in sustaining people’s faith.
As we reflect on the Lord’s Supper tonight, a few points need to be made.
1. What makes the Lord’s Supper effective? The Lord’s Supper is effective because, within it, we receive a Word of promise. Both sacraments Baptism and Communion produce faith; they do not depend on faith. Taking the Lord’s Supper doesn’t prove that you are a Christian. What the Lord’s Supper does point out is how God gives us the Supper so that we may be sustained and strengthened in our faith.
2. The main problem that people have in understanding the Lord’s Supper has to do with how they use the Bible. Our initial instincts are always to use the Bible to judge rather than to proclaim. The Bible seems to be the means that we judge the faith of others and even ourselves. We must always seek to avoid this tendency. The Lord’s Supper is not something that God commands us to do; it is rather something that God does for us. Faith is not something that we sustain or decide upon; it is rather what God keeps through the promises of Word and Sacrament.
Tonight, we close our study of Luther’s Small Catechism. In a little less than two months, we will confirm six youth into this congregation. I should close with a few words on what makes us Lutheran.
I am a Lutheran because I believe Luther’s words: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” I am a Lutheran because I am a no good, broken sinner. I am a Lutheran because I believe that God sustains the Church, in spite of our own effort. I am a Lutheran because Jesus and his Gospel is at the center of all that I hope and believe. Amen
 Luke 22:19
 This section was influenced by an email exchange that I had with Joe Burgess in March 2011. I get into the reasons for that email later in the sermon. Joe was recalling giving Communion at a mental insistution. My experiences have been primarily with Alheizmer’s patients. FYI- I have made Communion visits at mental wards.
 I had a discussion with Joe Burgess about this in my March 2011 email exchange. The context was my recalling a professor at Luther Seminary saying that “We shouldn’t commune Infants because they can’t examine themselves”.
 The following excerpt is from a March 20, 2011 email between Dr. Joe Burgess and Myself.
 1st Corinthians 10:16. It’s really hard to argue the Apostle Paul saw the Lord’s Supper as a mere symbol.
 This is a paraphrase of Joe Burgess’ words to mean on the misunderstanding of Communion present even within Reformation churches.
 This is a quote from The Third Article of The Creed in Luther’s Small Cathecism.
First Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Responsive Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12
Second Lesson: Hebrews 5: 5-10
Gospel Lesson: John 12: 20-33
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Last Saturday, I was down in Lindstrom, so I went to see my Grandma Buena May in the nursing home. Buena May has been in the nursing home a little over fifteen months now, shortly after she turned “ninety”. Whenever I go see Buena May or talk to her on the phone, her message is always the same. As soon as she is able, she is going to walk out of the nursing home and move to California. She’ll generally sprinkle in some non-church appropriate language, whenever making this announcement.
The problem with Buena May moving to California isn’t that the nurses aids aren’t incompetent like she claims. The problem is rather that it’s difficult to walk when you haven’t been walking, you’re “ninety-one” years old, and a hundred pounds overweight.
I understand Buena May’s frustration. Her mind is the same as ever, her hearing is good, and I don’t know that she owns a pair of glasses which is incredible considering her age. She looks at the nursing home and figures that she shouldn’t be in there. She thinks life is only lived eating at 10 PM then cruising down the San Diego Expressway at ninety miles per hour.
While my Grandma is indeed a colorful character, plenty of people are like her trying to discern meaning from the most seemingly meaningless of situations in life. One of the great dilemmas that I face as a minister is walking into people’s lives at moments when there are seemingly no right words to say.
What do you say to the man who has just received a diagnosis of cancer and knows that his body will never be what it was once?
What do you say to the high school kid who feels that no one in the world stands alongside him and his future is meaningless?
What words do you say to the worker who goes day in and day out to the seemingly dead-end job as the only means to try scrape up a living? Where is God’s plan in all this?
I want to get back to these situations in a little bit.
Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from John the 12th chapter. We’re fast-forwarding a bit in the Lenten season. Today’s lesson takes place right after Jesus marches into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We remember that Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Jewish Passover. What is worth noting is that people came from all over the world for the Passover. During the Passover, a small group of Jews from Greece appears before the Disciples expressing a wish to Jesus.
Jesus reputation had spread. These Greeks knew of Jesus’ teaching, and they had heard of Jesus’ miracles. Natural human curiosity has them wanting to see Jesus (face to face).
Now curiosity is often an excellent thing. Curiosity can often lead to some of the most positive and beneficial changes in our lives.
These Greeks wanted to know more. As soon as the Disciples inform Jesus of their request, Jesus starts talking all kinds of strange.
“Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
There can be truth in the saying that curiosity killed the Cat. Curiosity killed the Cat means to stop asking unwanted questions. Stop asking questions where we may be unable to make sense of the answers.
The Greeks had built up an unbelievable anticipation about meeting Jesus, yet Jesus knew the answers they were looking that he was not going to give.
I’ve also had a soft spot for the movie, The Wizard of Oz. My parents have always owned Cairn Terriers just like Toto. Think of the journey undertaken by Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin-Man, and the Cowardly Lion to see the Wizard. They had spent their whole time traveling to Oz hearing all sorts of things about the Wizard being the sole solution to fixing all their problems. The group has to go through the Haunted Forest, be attacked by flying monkeys, fight the Witch’s guards, see Scarecrow set on fire, before finally defeating the Wicked Witch of the West to bring her shoes to the Wizard.
By the time the foursome was finally standing in the Wizard’s presence, what happened next was bound to be a letdown. Perhaps the greatest scene in The Wizard of Oz is when Toto accidentally pulls back the Wizard’s curtain. The Wizard it turned out was nothing more than an ordinary man who happened to be a lousy wizard. A reaction like this was going to belong to the Greeks from seeing Palm Sunday days before Good Friday.
“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
Jesus is wanting to see this group of Greeks set straight before they celebrated Passover Week. Holy Week was going to be just like March Madness nothing was going to go according to script.
Jesus knew these Greeks were not going to know what to make of him in just a few short days as he hung upon the cross.
Jesus knew the Greeks were plenty devout in their faith, yet they were not going to be able to shake the image of what they thought about God merely by meeting him. The whole world would see God’s Will in just a few days.
So what does the story of Jesus and the Greeks have to do with us?
Let me tell another story. In Lindstrom, where I grew up, my Great- Grandpa started an insurance agency named the Victor Agency. My Grandpa worked there, and My Dad has run the agency for over thirty years. When I was growing up, I figured the thing that I was supposed to do was take over the family business. What I will remember is a conversation I had with my Dad one night as I was considering whether the ministry was the best path for me.
Dad said, “I would not have the earning potential within the ministry that he did selling insurance (I’ll skip the Televangelist joke), yet there is much more to life than just making money and living in Lindstrom.”
There is nothing wrong with making money. What might be wrong is thinking that everyone’s calling in this life is going to be the same.
Mike Rowe is a TV host best known for hosting the Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs. Rowe is known for taking on every type of job imaginable that other people wouldn’t dare to undertake: sewer inspector, garbage collector, shrimper, coal miner, logger, pig farmer, exterminator, and reptile handler. Rowe sees meaning in each and every one of these jobs precisely because they are what is needed to keep the world working right. Regardless of if other people think that they should be doing something like saving the planet instead.
As we consider the meaning of life, we remember that the purpose of your life isn’t just Jesus and You, walking around like lovers on a Spring day without a concern in the world. The purpose of a Christian’s life is not to earn salvation or even embrace some grandiose religious mission; rather the goal of the Christian’s life is to take care of the world around us. When people wonder “How do you live the Christian Life?” The answer is simple “Be the best father, the best husband, the best employee, and the best neighbor that you can be.” Your purpose as a Christian might not be to be Billy Graham and save a hundred thousand souls, your purpose might just be to be a devoted husband and father. You do not necessarily advance God’s kingdom anymore as preacher as you might by cleaning out septic tanks like Mike Rowe.
Jesus knew that the hour for his work was soon to come. Jesus knew that this work would not be glamorous according to anyone’s definition.
Today, we look towards our own callings. Your calling probably will not be easy. Callings never are. We will often want to run from these callings. Jeremiah didn’t want to accept his calling because he believed people would ignore him because of his youth. Isaiah didn't want to accept his calling, because he thought people could hold every bad word that he ever said against him. Our excuses though will ultimately not stop God’s purposes.
What is the meaning of the Christian’s life? The meaning of your life will inexplicably not be set on your own terms.
What do I say when people ask me questions about life and its meaning. I admit that it’s easy to talk about the historical context and possible interpretations of any Bible passage. What is much tougher is to try to put someone’s situation into perspective.
Why does one man live to one-hundred-five while another man lives only to forty-five? It’s not a matter of life being fair or unfair. It’s a matter of God’s purpose for them.
“Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken, and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one left.”-Matthew 24:40-41
Life is ultimately a matter of purpose. I think to my Great- Grandpa Arvid perhaps he lived till ninety-five, so he could influence me long after he left the earth behind. I doubt I’m comfortable in a room full of old people without his presence in my life at a very young age. Yet on this side of Heaven, I will never know for sure.
I think of widows who lose their spouses way too young, perhaps God uses such tragedies to develop personal character within themselves and those around them. We just don’t know. It’s ok to admit these things would be easier to accept, if only the answers we clearer.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.”
The thing about life is your defeats probably do have meaning. Your losses in fact probably have more meaning than your victories. Back to our Gospel for today, Jesus was going to hold off on meeting the Greeks until they were going to know everything that they needed to know about him.
Everything that we know about God, we know through Jesus. Everything we need to know about God’s will in regard to our life, we know from the cross. Every bit of guidance that we need for our existence comes to us in the boring, mundane, and often seemingly depressing ways that we live our life.
“Anyone who loves their life will lose it while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
As we conclude our Lenten season, always keep your eyes on Jesus even if he seems directly not to be in your presence. For this is life, yet for the Greeks who Jesus encounters today, they would come to see the presence of Jesus in their life would soon have a much different meaning than they could ever imagine. Amen
 John 12:20-33
 John 12:21
 This point how it ties into the rest of the sermon was made by Dr. Phillip W. McLarty in a sermon entitled “We Wish to See Jesus” published over at Lectionary.org.
 John 12:25
 John 12:24
 I probably have this point stuck in my head from some old Pastor Gretchen Person sermons when I attended Concordia.
 Jeremiah 1:4-10
 Isaiah 6:1-8
 Isaiah 55:8
 Luther’s Theology of the Cross
 John 12:25
Text: Titus 3:3-8
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
When I was in seminary, my professor Micheal Rogness said, “One thing that we need to accept as Lutheran pastors is that our kids will always lose arguments to Baptist kids regarding the age of Baptism.”
The case is simple and appears to be convincing “There are never any babies baptized within the Bible”.
For if you can’t provide evidence that Baby John was baptized at three months, then this means that Jesus’ followers wouldn’t baptize babies.
The problem with this argument is that it completely ignores what the Bible actually does say about Baptism.
Point number #1- There seems only to be one passage in the entire New Testament, which ties Baptism to a particular age.
The passage of note is Colossians 2:11-12 which says “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
The reason that this verse is so important is because it connects Baptism to the Old Testament act of Circumcision. We know from the days of Abraham that Circumcision took place at eight days old (there is no argument from anyone regarding that matter). Circumcision was the means throughout the Old Testament by which God made children recipients of the promises of his kingdom. So the connection between Circumcision and Baptism points us towards the truth that God’s promises can be received by those even at eight days old.
We must also note that the history of the earliest followers of Jesus takes place in the Book of Acts. On three separate occasions within Acts, whole households were baptized: Acts 16:15- Lydia and members of her household , Acts 16:33- The family of Phillipian jailer, and Acts 18:8- the entire family of the synagogue leader Crispus. It stands to reason that very, young children or even babies would have been included in these entire households.
What is noteworthy about the tales from Acts as described my friend Cliff Hanson is “The only people who demonstrate faith are the heads of households—they have faith and are baptized, but the rest of the members of the household (presumably children) are baptized with not one word mentioned about their belief or lack thereof.”
Point number #2- There is never one example given from within the pages of the New Testament telling someone not to baptize someone else (nada, zip, zilch).
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit,”-Matthew 28:19.
“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call.’”-Acts 2:38-39
Using phrases like “all nations” which presumably would include children and “every one of you” would seem to speak to the audience of God’s promise.
So the simplest response when someone says “There are no babies baptized in the Bible” is to only reply that “There is not one example from within the entire scriptures where someone is said to be too “young” or some other discriminating factor to not receive Baptism. Ulitmately, the burden of proof rests on those who wish to withhold God’s grace from the entire world ,not on those who wish to extend it.
So this Biblical background on Infant Baptism leads into an important question of “Why is Infant Baptism so important?”
One of the great teachers in Church history is Saint Augustine of Hippo. You know a church father has made it big when the TV show The Simpsons references him.
Augustine’s most famous work is Confessions. One of the main things that Augustine writes about within Confessions is his behavior as a baby. Augustine recalled his life as a baby, by looking out onto other babies that he encountered. Augustine says the defining trait of “infancy” is how one views the world. As an infant, everything in the world is centers around seeing your “needs” and your “wants” met. When Augustine would not get something that he wanted as an infant, he would “cry”. Augustine’s attitude as an infant was no different than the attitude of Adam and Eve within The Garden as his individual desires become placed at the center of creation. People tend to only think of babies as “cute” or “ignorant”, yet what Augustine realizes is that a baby is just as selfish as the most wretched of adults.
Augustine understood the spiritual truth that human nature does not become sinful over time (due to bad influences), human nature is born sinful. To which we recall King David’s words in the 51st Psalm “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me”.
The excuse that many people make to not baptize infants is that one needs to be aware or posess knowledge about their sins to be guilty of them. These people tend to think about God’s judgment like the legal system does in doling out sentences for children and adults differently depending on their level of age or understanding. The Bible never distinguishes though some being more guilty than others. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”-Romans 3:23
So if infants sin then infants need forgiveness of sins. This is precisely why infants need Baptism. Yet we often cannot grasp how Baptism actually works, where mere water brings forth God’s grace.
We might wonder how can water do such great things? Plenty of people wondered such a thing when Luther wrote his Catechism.
The crucial thing though is not the water; water is just water. When water becomes connected with the promises of God’s word only then does it become life-giving water.
A famous conversation takes place between Jesus and Nicodemus within the 3rdchapter of John’s Gospel regarding the meaning of being “born-again”. Nicodemus could not understand the discussion. Nicodemus couldn’t grasp how he could be “born-again”, when he was old. The best translation of this passage is “born from above”. The promises of Baptism are such that they serve as a reminder that we participate about as much in our spiritual birth as we do within our natural birth.
The other question is can infants possess Faith (especially if Baptism requires faith)?
We believe that Faith is required for salvation. The scriptures say so in numerous places. The scriptures in Matthew 18 also cite “very young children” as examples of Faith. Many people can’t grasp the disconnect, as they think of Faith as being purely “What we know”.
For if Faith is dependent on our knowledge to be valid then the mentally handicapped along with those who have lost their mental capacities cannot possess it. We cannot separate the way we think about Baptism from the way that we understand salvation.
People misunderstand Baptism when it’s thought to be something that we do. The important thing from within the scriptures is that they never describe Baptism as our personal confession of Faith.
Baptism is “The act of being buried with Christ into his death”- Romans 6.
Baptism is “The washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit”- Titus 3
Baptism is the act which “now saves you”- 1 Peter 3.
The scriptures describe Baptism continually as something that God does for us, not the other way around. The scriptures describe Baptism in such a way that God is always the actor, and we are always the audience. If Baptism is God’s activity rather than our own than age or mental status is irrelevant.
I have a friend whose name is Ben. Ben grew up in a church that would have never baptized someone less than say six years old. Ben goes off to Bethel College where he hears perhaps the best argument for Infant Baptism that “Infant Baptism is the purest expression of the Gospel”. An infant can do nothing to receive the Gospel. Ben was forced to rethink his position after hearing this argument.
The truth about all baptisms, whether they take place at the hospital right after birth or on one's deathbed at age 110, is that all Baptisms are Infant Baptisms. Baptism is a reception of a promise. The promise is given to forgiveness after you spend years of your life astray. The promise of Baptism is such that it assures us that God sustains our faith even if we cannot begin to explain it.
Tonight we reflect on the meaning of Baptism as given by Luther’s Catechism.
What is Baptism?
Baptism is not merely the act of getting a baby wet. Baptism is the act of giving everlasting salvation to all who believe what Christ has promised.
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved;” - Mark 16:16
Baptism is the great Christian hope. Luther saw one’s Baptism as being the very central event in the Christian’s life. Luther saw Baptism’s meaning as being the act by which God draws us back to his arms after we run off every conceivable way in the other direction. Baptism is the ulitmate expression of God’s relationship to his children. Amen
 Hanson is the Pastor at Faith Lutheran in Isanti, Minnesota. Hanson’s article is from the March 2015 newsletter entitled “Lutherans Anonymous #2: Why does your church baptize babies?”
 The Simpsons episode is from season 7 entitled “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doddily”.
 Psalm 51:5
 The section of Luther’s Small Catechism for tonight is part four on Baptism. Luther addresses this issue by considering four questions surrounding Baptism including “How can water do such great things?” Augsburg Publishing House/Fortress Press. 1979.
 h/t to Saint Martin on this one.
 John 3:1-15.
 The Greek term for “again” would be the same as the Greek term for “above”. Considering that the person with whom Jesus was having this conversation in Nicodemus was known as one of the most spiritual men in all of Israel, it would seem the phrasing has more to do with justification( above) rather than sanctification (again).
 John 3:18, and John 3:36 just to cite a couple examples.
 Matthew 18:2-5
 This is so important.
 Point is made by Hanson which I expand a bit.
 Luther’s first question from the Baptism portion of Small Catechism
First Lesson: Numbers 21: 4-9
Responsive Reading: Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-22
Second Lesson: Ephesians 2: 1-10
Gospel Lesson: John 3: 14-21
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”- Ephesians 2:8-9
We live in a world that loves competition. I’m guilty of this. I’ve been running five or six days a week throughout the winter. I ran ten miles last week when it was fifteen below zero. My eyebrows were totally frosted upon getting back home. What motivates me is not a love of running. What motivates me instead is a love of competition. I don’t want to say I finished in the top 10% of a race; I would rather finish in the top 2%. I realize that perhaps what I lack in talent, I can make up in effort. I figure my competitors would never want to push themselves on a sub-zero morning as I do.
My mindset though is not unique.
When a guy meets a pretty new girl, he is quick to show off her picture to all of his friends. The image serves as evidence of him being “the man”.
High school kids will compare their grades to the grades of their friends. These children see their grades as their only means of advancing in the world.
I know a guy named Adam. Adam’s doing quite well working for UPS. Adam came to the realization that he would be able to afford any car that he wanted. Adam decided upon a decked out, new BWM. Adam then decides to start calling up everyone he could think of to tell them the details of his new car.
When I was down in Cancun, I was visiting with a group of people around my age that went to Augsburg where the groom attended college. The thing about hanging around the beach is it leads to some pretty honest reflection of body image. Men bulk up and not in a good way once they’re no longer 21, you can’t keep drinking beer forever without any effects, women no longer look the same after childbirth. Everything people began to put in their body becomes either an obsession or an admission of defeat. Comparisons can often be cruel.
Competition is the way of the world. The most popular TV shows from The Bachelor to American Idol to live sports center on competition.
Many Christians think of their life in similar ways. We often think of God demanding the same type of perfection within us that is required to win a TV singing competition.
Today’s lesson comes to us from the Book of Ephesians the 2nd Chapter. Ephesians is a book that the Apostle Paul wrote pastorally to people with whom; he had some very close relationships. Paul writes Ephesians as a story of salvation.
The Church in Ephesus like most of the earliest Christian churches lives with competition. A competition between rigid, disciplined former Jews would have been around religious settings their whole life and knew all God’s rules versus the happy-go-lucky new Gentile converts.
I knew a guy at Concordia named Robert. Robert stood out at Concordia because every single day, he always wore a buttoned up shirt while always buttoning the top button, there were no exceptions to Robert not buttoning the top button. Robert would never even leave his room without a buttoned up shirt.
Robert had a roommate named Jason. Picture the type of big, fat, happy go lucky guy who would always wear Hawaiian shirts. Jason one day hatched a plan to cut off the top buttons all of Robert’s shirts. Robert was horrified at the idea, because it was so different because of how he lived his life every day to that point in time. Robert like all people liked to maintain a certain amount of control of his habits when interacting with others. The dispute button Robert and Jason over the top button was similar to what was the taking place within the Ephesian church.
There were going to be Christians that didn’t want “Grace” to be too easy, cheap, or even “free”. People within the Ephesian church believed if there weren’t restriction on grace that the whole world would fall apart. Dealing with the meaning of “Grace” in the wake of Christ’s resurrection was always going to be an issue for the believers in Ephesus for this reason. Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians to help define “Grace” as a gift.
The meaning of “Grace” was one of the main ideas discussed during the life of Martin Luther. Let me give an example that I’ve probably have used before. Imagine a man setting out to try to swim across the Atlantic Ocean.
The first definition of grace would have this man swim across the Atlantic Ocean both day and night. The first definition of grace provides this man with a lifeboat to rest on during the middle of the night. The first definition of grace has this man given a little extra push or motivation whenever his arms or legs get tired. Plenty of people and churches think about grace this way.
The second way to think about “Grace” is how Luther thought about it. Luther would have stared out at the Atlantic Ocean seen swimming across it to be a hopeless venture in his mortal body. Sure Luther could run into the Atlantic Ocean with enthusiasm and begin to kick for a little while, yet this wouldn’t do much good. Grace for Luther is God’s ability to carry us from one side of the ocean to the other, apart from any efforts that we make.
Let me propose an interesting question for this morning “What if seeking to grow spiritually can often be the Christian enemy?” “What if pursuits of spiritual growth set up a false view of life and human relationships? What if the ways of Grace we should contrast with the ways of the world?
Let me tell a story this morning. The tale comes from a sermon given by a guy named John Zahl. Zahl is a pastor at Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Zahl recalls a few years prior, having a member of the congregation who owned a high-end department store like Macy’s. The member decided as an act of grace decided to give Zahl a gift certificate for Christmas. Zahl goes to use the certificate at The Owner’s store. Zahl picks out a new sports coat, dress shirt, and a pair of loafers. Zahl was pretty happy with the generosity. Zahl had a plan though; he would carefully study and add together each price when choosing these items. Zahl had one goal with the gift certificate though; he wanted to spend more money within the department store than the gift certificate was worth. Zahl believes that if he puts a little money back in The Owner’s pocket, then The Owner would understand Zahl’s gratitude. Zahl walks up to the cash register, placed down his selections, and The Owner begins to ring up the purchases. Zahl begins to get nervous when The Owner says that he had only managed to use up half of his gift certificate. Zahl quickly realizes that The Owner was only charging him half of the purchase price. Zahl wanted nothing more to make amends with the generous owner on his terms. Zahl once again sets out to rectify the situation.
Zahl goes home to talk to his wife. Zahl and his wife hatch a phase two to the plan. They were going to return to the store in a couple weeks, and buy so many clothes that it would go way over the value of the gift certificate. They were determined to make The Owner desperate to accept their money in return. So Zahl and his wife go to the store. They pick out as many clothes as they can carry to the counter. The Owner takes the gift certificate and begins to stuff two huge bags full of clothes. Zahl and his wife are feeling pretty confident that The Owner will finally demand they get out their credit cards. The Owner had to make some money from them! The Owner as he finishes ringing up their purchases looks at the Zahls then says something that shocks them, “You’re not going to believe this, but I’ve rung everything up, and the total comes to exactly zero”. The Zahls began to protest “That can’t be right. The total should be well above what was left of our store credit, etc…”
Finally, the owner turns deadly serious as he says “I don’t think you understand how this gift certificate works. No matter what you throw at it, the total will always continue to come up reading zero.”
The Zahls jaws seemed to drop to the floor at this very moment. The Owner was giving the Preacher a sermon about grace. We cannot buy our way out of grace. We cannot say the right words of gratitude or appreciation for grace. Grace has no limits! The Zahls then get the same gift certificate for Christmas the very next year.
Our gift certificate is the cross. Our gift certificate is receiving the promise that God seeks to make peace with an unbelieving world.
How do we grow as Christian people? How do we become the Christian idol, the Christian LeBron James? Quite simply, we don’t because we can’t.
What the story of the Gift Certificate illustrates is the nature of the Christian Life. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”-Romans 3:23. It’s not a matter of whether you need to be a better person. It’s not a matter of playing the odds or even giving back your fair share. The Bible is clear, all people fail, yet all people can be saved through God’s grace and mercy.
Ed Markquart and John Zahl describe the Christian Life beautifully “God gives gifts, God doesn’t pay your wages.” Gifts, not wages is not just the point of one sermon; this should be the point of every sermon.
I remember one time in seminary a girl asking “Whether Grace or Faith save us?” Are we saved by God’s generosity or our belief? The way to answer this question is that this isn’t an either-or proposition.
Faith is beyond what we can even confess. Faith is more than being confirmed or being able to explain the Apostles Creed. Faith is instead an assurance deep in your soul that God shall one day make the world right, even if you can’t explain how. How do you explain how parents loved you from the time that you were a young child? Your parents were just always around you; you were able to grasp that your parents were watching over you and wanted what was best for you. You can’t explain this, nor did you come to this place after years of considering the options. The definition of faith is that which you can’t prove, yet still exists. We possess no ability to boast about our faith because it does not belong to us. As we look out into our lives, we remember that God is the painter, and we are the picture, God is the creator, and we are the creation.
The thing about grace is we don’t earn it, we don’t deserve it. Our God is a gracious God, who keeps giving to us without limits.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”- John 14:27
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see. Amen
 Fever, Kyle. “Commentary on Ephesians 2:1-10”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, Minnesota. 15. March.2015. Web. Mar.12.2015. Working Preacher dates articles to the Sunday of the upcoming (RCL) Revised Common Lectionary.
 The backstory for the Church in Epeshus would be similar to the back story to previous sermons on 1st Corinthians.
 McDavid, Will. “The Gift (Certificate) Which Never Expires: A Sermon by John Zahl”. MBird (Mockingbird). 23. Feb.2015. Web. Mar.12.2015
 The website for Grace Church is gracechurchcharleston.org.
 This comes from a selection of sermons written by Zahl called Sermons of Grace. The book can be purchased on Amazon.
 Ed Markquart’s commentary is found at Sermons From Seattle.com. Markquart’s commentary is found under Books of the Bible-Ephesians for Ephesians 2:8-10.
 I give both Markquart and Zahl credit. Markquart gets credit for the line, whereas Zahl gets credit for explaining the idea.
 Markquart makes this analogy in his Reformation day sermon from Romans 3:19-28. This is one of my favorite Markquart sermons.
 Markquart, Ed. “Mother Theresa, Saved by Grace”. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Mar.12.2015. Sermons from Seattle doesn’t’ list dates for delivery.
 Opening verse from John Newton “Amazing Grace” published in 1779. Newton’s life story is as strong testimony of Grace.
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to begin tonight by telling you the story of two pastors named Pastor Phil and Pastor Tom. Pastor Phil worked as a hospital chaplain, and Pastor Tom was the associate minister at the church where Pastor Phil attended.
Pastor Tom’s wife Shirley was very sick. The prognosis for Shirley didn’t look very good at all. So Pastor Tom and Shirley pursued every medical course imaginable as a way to bring healing.
Around the same time, Pastor Phil’s wife Kate also had become very ill. Kate was a bit different from Shirley though in that she didn’t seek to pursue traditional medical healing. Kate believed instead that the power of prayer would lead to her survival. In other words, Kate believed that if she trusted in God enough then she would be healed of her ailment. As the months passed, Kate grew well against all odds, whereas Shirley would pass away.
Soon after Shirley’s death, Kate was talking to a grieving Pastor Tom. Pastor Tom had taken Shirley’s loss especially hard because she was his one constant support throughout years of the ministry. Kate is hoping to be helpful when she informs Pastor Tom that the reason she lived and Shirley died was because Shirley had relied on traditional medicine, instead of the power of prayer. Kate’s statement outraged Pastor Tom because Tom and Shirley had prayed, they had visited doctors, they were devout in their faith, and yet in the end no healing had come Shirley’s way. All Pastor Tom got to hear afterward is that his lonely nights were taking place because his faith wasn’t strong enough. Bad feelings existed between Pastor Phil’s and Pastor Tom’s family from that day forward over the power of prayer.
So we ask on this evening “Why did God heal Kate but not Shirley?” The simple answer to this question is that God willed to bring Shirley into his presence, before Kate’s work on Earth was done.
The story of Kate and Shirley though points how we often misunderstand healing as Christian people. Kate was healed this much was true; Kate also died a very painful death nearly a decade after Shirley. Kate’s belief in faith healing only worked for so long. For whether one believes in faith healing or not, everyone must admit that faith healing is merely a temporary solution. The true healing work of God takes place within Resurrection where the body is born again free of the decays that corrupt it within this world.
For when Jesus engages in healing miracles through the Bible. The overall point of these miracles was not to verify the faith of the individual recipients, who often came more diverse variety of faith backgrounds than Lutherans and snake-handlers. The point of healing miracles was the point toward God’s ability to restore life when it was thought to be impossible. The context of any healing miracles within the Bible’s pages is to point towards Christ’s Resurrection.
God’s pouring out of physical healing is a rare occurrence even throughout the Christian scriptures. For example in the 12th chapter of 2 Corinthians, The Apostle Paul pleads to take away a physical ailment (often assumed to be epilepsy) on three separate occasions to the Lord. Paul kept hearing a “no” from God in response. The Apostle Paul eventually comes to terms with God’s response by citing one of the most important lines in the New Testament in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 saying
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
For Paul’s point is that God’s plan for our lives doesn’t consist of serving as our personal genie. God’s will can only be made known at the moment of our salvation. It is in our own unique struggles and hardships that the need for God’s grace is made known.
We can be comfortable with prayer and advocate for prayer while acknowledging that it does have limits. In 1 Timothy 5, Timothy had been suffering from common medical ailment of an upset stomach. Paul’s advice to Timothy is not to rely on faith healing/prayer, but rather to use the traditional medicine of wine.
For nowhere in the scriptures does God give a promise of healing if you have a certain amount of faith. The one great spiritual truth is everyone dies. The twelve disciples all often died in brutal fashion, the Apostle Paul died, and Kate even died after thinking that she possessed the ability to overcome death.
So the question comes then “Why do we pray?” We don’t get the answer to this question.
As we reflect, we remember that throughout the New Testament, Jesus warns against certain types of prayer. Jesus warns against making massive public displays of your prayer-Matthew 6:5. Jesus warns against babbling on like Pagans, who think God will hear them because of their many words- Matthew 6:7. Jesus condemned the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18 for using his prayer as means to demean the sinfulness of others.
So when Jesus condemns prayer throughout the scripture. Jesus is saying that one has a misunderstanding of prayer if they make it about themselves. We misunderstand prayer if it’s about how much you can do for God. Prayer is not a saving work.
Within Confirmation, we’ve talked about the question of praying at school lunchrooms. Bowing your head for a moment of silent reflection and gratitude would be an appropriate use of prayer. Standing on the table and praying to smite the heathens in your math class would be an inappropriate use of prayer.
As we reflect on prayer tonight, we remember that Jesus openly speaks of the power of prayer throughout the New Testament.
“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer”-Matthew 21:22
Jesus isn’t promising you a million dollars or that you will never get sick as long as you pray within this verse. What Jesus is promising instead is that those who call on his name shall receive the Kingdom of Heaven.
For our prayers are answered when we turn from our sinful ways of trusting in ourselves and seeking to run the world in our image and instead place the focus on seeing God’s Kingdom built instead.
With these things in mind, Jesus tonight gives us an example of how to pray in his Lord’s Prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer is a terrific prayer for a couple reasons. Number one, It’s simple, it says all that we need to say in any prayer. The Lord’s Prayer serves as our prayer when we don’t even know the words that we should pray. Number two and most important is the Lord’s Prayer teaches us a proper understanding of prayer by placing the focus on God’s work rather than our rewards.
For the power of prayer in the scriptures is revealed perhaps best through the story of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah’s story like the story of many people is a story of hard times. Decades before Nehemiah’s birth his homeland of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians. Nehemiah’s ancestors were forced into exile and scattered from their friends and the family for decades. Eventually though the Babylonians fall at the hands of the Persians. Persian rule would begin to allow the Jewish people to return home. The Jews were returning home to a land that was in shambles. The Jews were returned home to a land that gates burned down, and the walls had been broken down as a result of war. Nehemiah upon hearing this news is devastated. Nehemiah began to weep for his people. In a final act of desperation, Nehemiah turns to prayer calling out for help.
God soon answered Nehemiah's prayer but not in the way he expected. The Persian King Artaxerxes decided to send Nehemiah back to Jerusalem as its governor upon hearing of Nehemiah’s sadness.
Nehemiah’s move was not going to be easy. Nehemiah was enjoying a good life as cupbearer to the Persian king. Nehemiah was walking into a situation like the new football coach whose team hasn’t won a game in three years. Nehemiah upon entering Jerusalem faced opposition from his people. Nehemiah saw people tired of being beaten down by years of losing, who didn’t think anyone could rebuild the wall. The People of Judah didn’t believe that God was watching out for them after years of suffering. Soon with God’s help, Nehemiah completed the seemingly impossible task of rebuilding the broken wall within 52 days. Nehemiah’s story points to how God answers Prayers, even if we can’t necessarily envision how he answers them.
The essential point that Luther makes about prayer in the Small Catechism and the central belief of the Lutheran faith is God’s will cannot be stopped, even in the seemingly most impossible of circumstances.
For when we call on the Lord in prayer, his answer may not always be clear. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says as Christian people that “We live by faith and not be sight”. These words serve as an excellent description of our prayer life. The answers to prayer might not always come to us in dramatic or visual ways, yet God promises to hear our prayer. For in the words of James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”.
So to “Live by faith” means the proof of God’s work in the world isn’t always to be obvious. To “Live by faith”, we take hope that God’s ways can only be made known through his Gospel. The Gospel promises assure us of the words of Romans 8:28 “God works all things for good of those who love him”. What we remember tonight is that the ultimate sign of God’s grace takes place not in extending our stay in this world, rather God’s grace will be revealed in the world that is to come. Inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven is how God ultimately answers our prayers. Amen.
 The following tale is based on a true story involving pastors and people that I know. I used different names to protect animosity.
 1 Timothy 5:23
 The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector from Luke 18:9-14.
 The following is a historical overview of the Book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah is the last written book of the Old Testament composed about 400 years before the Birth of Christ.
First Lesson: Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
Responsive Reading: Psalm 22: 23-31
Second Lesson: Romans 4: 13-25
Gospel Lesson: Mark 8: 31-38
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin with a story. I have a friend who worked for a while as a preacher in North Dakota. Her congregation was in the midst of some hard times. One day, she is giving a sermon when she says something that the Council President doesn’t like. The Council President proceeds to get out of his seat, walk down from the balcony, and walk up the center aisle. The Council President interrupts the middle of her sermon to openly criticize all that she was saying. A lot of the stoic Icelanders within the congregation had no idea what to make of this scene. Finally, the sheer uncomfortableness of it all put the scene to rest, and the North Dakotans resumed their daily lives. My friend and her husband shortly afterwards left this call.
Gracia Grindal who was a preaching professor of mine at Luther Seminary tells stories of when her father was a preacher those occurrences were common place. Pietistic congregants would openly disrespect the minister’s authority by interrupting the sermon with shouts of lines like “If you keep preaching like that then we’re all going to Hell”.
Just like a football coach, people often think they know better than a preacher, even if this preacher is God’s own son. We all know of the twelve disciples. Jesus a few years back had given a really unpopular sermon where he said “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”- John 6:53.
Many of Jesus other disciples left him until only twelve stuck around. Some might say that Jesus’ initial beginnings into the ministry weren’t all that successful.
Fast forward a few years into Jesus’ ministry. Jesus built up his reputation once again. Jesus had just fed thousands of people; he had just recently healed a blind man outside Bethsaida. The Disciples seemed to be finally grasping the meaning of Jesus’ message to be the Messiah.
I remember one of the most traumatic moments of my adulthood was watching the Vikings play the Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship game.
I went into the game thinking there was no way that the Vikings would be able to win in New Orleans. The game goes back and forth. Vikings get the ball back with 4:00 left in regulation in a tie game. Chester Taylor catches a screen pass and rumbles down to the New Orleans 33’ yard line. I finally leap out of my seat. I figure I’m minutes away from watching my Vikings play in the Super Bowl after investing a quarter century of my life waiting for that moment. I’m getting ready to scream for joy at the top of my lungs. Knots are in my stomach. I figure one of the happiest moments of my life is around the corner. Everyone who knows the Vikings knows how this story plays out: twelve men on the field, interception, lost coin flip, Saints win the Super Bowl. There is no more painful feeling than watching hope fade before your very eyes.
The Sermon that Jesus was to give was going to be a punch directly to the guts of the Disciples. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”-Mark 8:31
Jesus predicting his crucifixion would have stung the Disciples. The Disciples probably felt misled upon hearing these words. They felt like the kid who believes his parents are taking him out for ice cream, only to end up at the dentist. The Disciples had been following him for years, even when others had abandoned him. The reason that they followed Jesus had to do with the hope that he would be different that the people of Israel would finally be set free from their cruel Roman oppressors.
Tired of being beaten down by the powers above them is why people would have followed Jesus in the earliest stages. Jesus was the number one pick for the sports team whose fandom rests solely on hopes and dreams for generations. Jesus was the good looking, charismatic, articulate candidate for the political party that dreams of winning an election. Jesus’ whole ministry for many people wasn’t so much about what he said or did, but rather that he sold “hope” and “change”.
Now Jesus is telling the disciples that he is going to flame out. We can imagine the scenario; imagine the girl who thinks that she has finally met the guy of her dreams, only to hear that she’s never going to get the ring. Imagine waiting all day to eat the perfect steak, only to see it charred to the point where it’s barely edible.
Jesus in this lesson is describing the end-game to an audience that wanted to hear anything but it. Jesus was about to die with the Disciples looking on from the stands.
Peter comes into the scene at this point. Peter is the leader of the disciples. Peter is the Church Council President. Peter knew he was going to hear grumblings about this message. Peter didn’t want to have conflict, yet Peter didn’t desire to see another incident where a congregation of twelve became a congregation of two. Peter decides to take Jesus aside. Peter was probably telling Jesus that the disciples had given a lot of time, money, and nights away from home for him. Peter had to let Jesus know that what he was preaching was not what they had signed up.
Jesus was stubborn though in the face of Peter. The Kingdom of God would not be made known in Jesus’ life, but rather in Jesus’ death. “To save your life you must lose it.” Peter had his opinion, but it was merely his opinion.
It was at this point that words of Isaiah rang true “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The way of the cross would be Jesus’ way.
When Jesus says “Take up your cross and follow me”, it is a saying about how we view success.
Just like the disciples we probably evaluate success very differently then Jesus did. If I was to ask people in this room to evaluate success the answers you might hear include the person with the biggest house, the person who drives the nicest car, the person who wears the best clothes, and the person that is able to afford any dinner that they desire from the local supermarket.
Last Saturday, I was having lunch with my dad where we ran into a lady who serves on the city council with him. This woman helps out as a youth leader at her church in the cities. Everyone knows this church’s name, even up in Lindstrom thirty miles away. She said that they got seven hundred kids on Wednesday night. These numbers are what many people would deem to be a prosperous church in they never have to worry about paying the pastor or being able to afford the heat. If one person out of twelve gets mad, they can ignore them then move on. Her church would seem to be the definition of a successful church. Staring at a powerful church was Europe throughout the life of Luther, yet it was this church that had lost something important.
What our lesson reminds us though is how power isn’t always a good thing. When we have power, we have control. We always leap to the question of “What can we do?” “Whom can we control?” or “How can we control it?”
Tullian Tchavadian tells the following story.
There was a young woman one night browsing on Match.com whose eyes notice a gentleman named John Fitzgerald Page. The woman expresses a token of interest in Fitzgerald Page. Fitzgerald Page would seem to be a great catch: Ivy League educated, great shape, MBA degree, drove a BWM and a sharp dresser. John Fitzgerald Page believed his hype and believed himself to be the biggest catch in the city of Atlanta. So when this lady tries engaging with John Fitzgerald Page, he wanted to know that she demanded excellence for herself. He needed to know that she had a top-notch education, that she kept herself in impressive shape. When Fitzgerald Page’s admirer responds “no thanks” upon hearing his series of expectations for a mate “he lost it”. “How dare she”, she was a fool to not try to prove herself to him. She was never going to find another guy like John Fitzgerald Page. Fitzgerald Page’s angry email quickly spread across the internet exposing his pride for the whole world to see.
There are plenty of Christians who think this way. They think only in terms of their resume. Jim Nestingen tells the most common thing he encounters in the church is hearing people talk about all the great things that they’re doing in the name of the Lord. The way many Christians talk you’d think Jesus Christ will soon be out of a job as there are no sinners to save.
John Fitzgerald Page couldn’t grasp the meaning of love. Love is not accepting someone who meets our standards; Love is standing by someone even as they fail to meet our standards. The Love of God would soon be fully known on a cross.
As Jesus predicts his coming demise, Peter begs him not to go. We all know Peter. Peter thought he was the nice guy. Peter assumed his leadership was being productive. Peter wanted everyone to get along. The trouble though with the self is that it gets into the way. There is nothing that we can do. Jesus’ sermon probably wasn’t all that good. Call committees probably wouldn’t have been clamoring to hear more. He didn’t tell funny stories, he didn’t deliver brilliant analogies, and he didn’t bring the audience to tears with control of their emotions. The thing about salvation is that it isn’t even the result of effective preaching versus ineffective preaching. Salvation only comes through death.
The Disciples were never going to be able to grasp this. A few months later upon Jesus arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane they brandish swords trying to fight death off.
This morning, we confront the harshest of spiritual truths best expressed by Gerhard Forde. We die; death is not something that we do. As we look towards Christ’s death, we see a preview of our death. The cross is a preview of our funeral. The only thing we can do to get ready is do what Jesus did upon the cross. We can climb Calvary’s mountain unto the brink of death, and then stand with helpless arms at our side. Coming to terms with the powerlessness within our spiritual existence is the meaning of the words “Take up your cross and follow me”.
The thing about death is that it is not the end, death is rather the beginning.
Peter identifies something crucial in our Gospel lesson for today. Peter recognizes that there are only two ways to view God. Peter sees God the first way as the ultimate power, as the greatest good in the universe. God is the entity that we can’t grasp. God above us, yet Jesus proclaim God to us today in an entirely different way.
Jesus proclaims God’s way as he is “crucified under Pontius Pilate”. Jesus proclaims God’s way as “he journeys to his own grave”. Jesus proclaims God’s way as he stands alongside The Girl that Mr. Atlanta John Fitzgerald Page rejected.
A few years ago, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was jilted by the loss of his best player LeBron James. Gilbert gave an off the cuff rant in the midst of his pain. Within Gilbert’s rant though he spoke a profound spiritual truth when he said “Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there. Sorry, but that’s simply not how it works.”
What we hear today is that Heaven comes only after Death. We can’t get to heaven without having to die. We can’t have a resurrection without a cross. “Take up your cross and follow me” Amen
 John 6:66
 Mark 8:1-10
 Mark 8:22-26
 Mark 8:27-30
 My old preaching professor Michael Rogness wrote a terrific commentary on this passage (Mark 8:31-38) over at Working Preacher. Rogness’s commentary was accessed on February 23rd, 2015 for March 1st, 2015 services.
 Mark 8:32
 Mark 8:35
 Tying in this passage to Isaiah 55:8-9 is a connection made by Rogness.
 Mark 8:34
 Rogness draws this passage into connection with one of Luther’s most important bits of theology in the distinction between the “theology of the cross” and the “theology of glory”. The theology of the cross means that God’s connection to human beings is most revealed in weakness (sin) rather than strength (sanctification).
 The Cross Alone website has an old sermon by Gerhard Forde “On Death to Self”. This sermon tends to put a different spin on the verse “Take up your cross and follow me” than how people often grasp it.
 Tchavadian, Tullian. “Grace and Personal Identity”. Liberate.org. 2.Sept.2013. Web. Feb. 24.2015
 This insight was made by Nestingen when I had him for Lutheran Confessions in 2005 at Luther Seminary.
 Forde makes this connection.
 Forde, Gerhard. “Dying to Self”.
 Mark 8:34
 Lannon, Nick. “Billionaire Dan Gilbert: Theologian of the Cross”. Mockingbird. 15.July.2010. Web. Feb.24.2015.
 Mark 8:34
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.