Sunday, April 24, 2011

Let's Get This Party Started!

Pastor: What did the women see when they looked into the tomb?
Child: There was no one there!
--from the children's sermon on Easter Sunday

A member of our church died yesterday. He had been fighting cancer for the last four years, or so. I didn't know him, but I knew he who he was. I'd seen him a few Sundays back. He was a regular church goer. He, by his regular attendance and worship was a faith-role model for me. His name was Jack Fix. He died yesterday afternoon after being in hospice care for a week, or so. When his death was announced in church today the first thing I thought of, and it might be silly, but I could almost see St. Peter at the Gates seeing Jack coming along and saying to him "Oh, good! You're just in time! There's a heckuva party getting ready to start, and you're invited!"

Indeed, there is.

Today's Gospel reading in the lectionary came from Matthew 28:1-10. I found the second verse to be a wonderful image: "And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it." (ESV) For some reason, the image of an Angel of the Lord sitting on the stone that was just rolled away makes me smile. I can almost see the Angel swinging his feet back and forth sitting on top of the stone waiting for the women to come having a hard time containing the greatest news of all!

The tomb was empty! Empty!

It is because of that empty tomb that Mr. Fix in his glory. His glory, neither earned or deserved, but given freely. Given to us through Jesus Christ's death on the cross and his resurrection from the tomb, because 'death is swallowed up in victory, oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?" (1 Cor 15:54,55). Indeed, death has no victory, there is no sting. Death is the loser, death gets stung, and Mr. Fix gets the gift of eternal life, his party has just begun.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Winning? Won!

Sometimes we Lutherans are accused of being a little bit Cross-obsessed. I remember the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians: "I was determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" and Galatians 3: "before your eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified" and think about the joy of the Easter morning message the angel gave to women was: "You seek Jesus who was crucified. He, the crucified one, is not here. He is Risen!

The Cross is very much the heart, core, center, and focus of the sacred scripture because it is what He came to do; into our own flesh and blood in order the he might offer it up as this fully sufficient ransom for us, so that we could be set free!

It is the heart, core, center; true, it would leave us dead in our sin if He had not been raised, no question there. But it's the fact that He raised the one who bore the sin of the world that makes his resurrection the absolution of the entire world..." -- Rev. Will Weedon on Issues,Etc April 22, 2011

How does one truly wrap their brain around this fact: our true punishment for sin was taken on by one man. Who allowed himself to be nailed to a cross so that we might have the blessing of eternal life? I'm not really sure its possible. Jesus allowed himself to be beaten, whipped, mocked, debased, humiliated, for all of us. He went willing to take our place. Yours, mine, and even, believe it or not Charlie Sheen's.

We did nothing to deserve this gift and can do nothing to repay it, don't even try. Its more than us. More than me. More than you. Or, as Propaganda says in this video: "its above your pay grade..."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Made Strong Through Weakness and Grace

As many were astonished at you--
his appearance was so marred, beyond
human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of
mankind --Isaiah 52:14 (ESV)

From the little research I have done crucifiction was a horrible way to die. Until just recenlty when I would read the lines "and they crucified him" I didn't honestly know what that I meant. I mean I knew it meant Jesus was nailed to a cross with spikes, or large nails, but for some reason "crucified" meant "died instantly," and yet, if you read the scriptures you see that Jesus lingered for hours. I read, recently, that someone crucified could linger for a day or more and they was to hasten death was to break the legs of the condemmed. We see that the Gospels, Pilate is surprised to hear the Jesus has already died when Roman soldiers go out to "finish the job." If I understand correctly, someone who was crucified died of exhaustion and asphyxiation. In short, their legs couldn't support them and they wouldn't be able to breath because of the deadweight resting on their diaphram.

One question I have heard asked more than any other is this: "why did Jesus die so quickly?" I'm not a medical doctor, but considering that he was flogged, beaten, not to mention hadn't had anything to drink, or eat in at least 24 hours might have something to do with it. There are any variety of medical reasons, I would think, that Jesus died quickly: blood loss. When Romans flogged someone they didn't play around. They played for keeps. Why do you think that Roman citizens couldn't be flogged?

Not only was Jesus flogged, but he was clothed in a purple robe. Probably something akin a velvety material. In short, almost a bandage. You know what happens when you pull off a bandage over a fresh finger cut? It rips and scab and the finger starts to bleed, again. Imagine that with the robe, but on a bigger scale, let's say a flayed back made raw and bloody with a cat-o-nine tails that probably had small bits of bone, or stone in the straps. The Romans played for keeps.

I can't truly imagine what Jesus went through, but the above passage from Isaiah certainly does give a mental visual: "his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance..." Jesus must of been a pulp.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governors's headquarters, and they gathered a whole battalion before him. And they stipped him adn put a scarlet robe on him and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head adn put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him saying "Hail, King of the Jews...

Isaiah goes on in chapter 53:3,5
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with
and as one from whom men hid their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not....
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought
us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.

And here's the thing, ready? He did it for you and me. Willingly. Willingly. He allowed himself to be taken to slaughter. He allowed himself to be flogged. He allowed himself to be nailed to a tree and become the cursed one (Gal 3:13). Why? Who would do such a thing?

I'll tell you why he did it. He did it for this reason: so that we can "with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). He did it so that we didn't have to. He did it so that we can take comfort in knowing that his grace is sufficient for us and his power is made perfect in our weakness(2Cor 12:8).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail..." -- Luke 23:31-32(a) ESV

Its funny. I've read and re-read the description of the Jesus' betrayal and trial as well as his death and resurrection many, many times. I can't count how many times I've read about it. And I don't think I've really read that verse. I went back and looked at my NIV and it was underlined so it must of made an impression somewhere along the line. I had written a little note next to it, too: John 17.

I've been following the lectionary series that is printed in the front of my Lutheran Study Bible (LSB). The series I'm following is the "Three-Year Lectionary: Series A." That's just a fancy way of saying "these are the readings that are assigned" for such and such a day. There are three readings: one from the Old Testement, one from the Epistles, and one from the Gospels. They build on each other. The Gospel reading being the cherry on the top. The reading for today, Wednesday of Holy Week is Luke 22:1-23:56.

I wrote the above paragraphs a few days ago. I didn't post this originally because I ran out of time. Since then, I have continued the readings. I am actually a day behind. I read Maundy Thursday's readings a little earlier. I'll read Good Friday's, the one that are appointed for today, later on this evening. I'm letting the Mauny Thurday kind of settle in and take root. Here is the verse that struck me today, It comes from Hebrews 9:22 "Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood tehre is no forgiveness of sins." That's the verse that is working its way through my conscience and unconscience.

When I was working Camp Lone Star, in La Grange, TX I had a camper who was very smart. He was from a good, stong Lutheran family. I can't remember his name, but he was about 8 or so. One morning we were walking back to our cabin after morning song time. We were just chatting about whatever it was when he stopped and looked at me quite ernestly and said "Pnut, if Jesus and I were the only two people on earth, who would kill him?" It stopped me in my tracks. I knew the answer immediately, but how do you tell an 8 year old that he, in fact, would be the one to nail Jesus to the cross? That question has stayed with me ever since. It was a tough question.

The two verses that have been working on me for a variety of reasons and I'm not really sure I can truly quantify them. Or even explain why they seem to have stopped me in my tracks. Maybe, the first one, Luke 22:31 makes me realize that Satan, or "the adversary" as it can be translated in the Greek (I looked it up the other day as I did some very ameteaur exegesis) is demanding me so that I can me "sifted like wheat." Of course, I immediately thought of Matthew 3:11-12

"I Baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but that chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" ESV

By rights, I should be in the chaff that is going into the fire. I am sinful by nature, unclean, soiled. I am a sinner through and through, from top to bottom. Satan is demanding me. He is damanding all of us and yet, because of God's Grace and Love, those who "believe and are baptized" are saved.
I have heard the story of W.C. Fields on his death bed. He was sitting up in bed with a Bible open on his lap, one his friends came in, he was shocked to Fields with a Bible. He asked W.C. what he was doing and, as the story goes, W.C. repsonded "looking for the loophole..." Except its not a loophole, not really. What Jesus did for us this day 2,000 years ago is much more than a loophole! And that's where Hebrews 9 seems to come in. My salvation comes through the blood-sacrafice that God demanded. There had to be atonement. God, in his infinite wisdom, knew that I could never atone for my sinful nature. It is so deeprooted, what we Lutherans call the "old Adam" I am sinful by nature, born into it, and to some degree I revel in it. And yet, because "God so loved the world (me/us/you)He sent his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life." That is the loophole. Right there.

That faith that Jesus prayed Peter would have, I'd like to think he prayed I would have, too. If Peter, the Rock upon which Christ built his church was in need of special faith-prayer, then rest assured I am, too. I will sing my hosannas in the highest on Sunday. I will thank God for his love and Grace. And revel, not in sin, but in the great knowledge that I am in the Grace and that I am well blessed. Satan has demanded me, but as it says in the Apostle's Creed "He descended into hell and on the third day rose again! Yeah, I'll take the loophole. I'll take that loophole all day long.