“Ascended and Still Present” (Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 21, 2020

“Ascended and Still Present” (Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23)

Where is Jesus, and what is he doing? That’s a good question to ask on this Ascension Day. Where did Jesus go when he ascended, and what is he doing now? Alright, you say, I know the answer to that; we just confessed it in the Creed: “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” OK, fine, but what’s the big deal about that? Is that enough to have a whole special festival service, to come out and have church on a Thursday? Well, I would say, yes. But I want you to be able to say yes, too. I want you to know why the church historically makes a big deal about this day–more than just, “Well, it’s forty days past Easter and that’s when Ascension falls on the calendar.” Today then, let’s find out where Jesus is, what he’s doing, and what this means for us, under the theme: “Ascended and Still Present.”

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Published in: on May 20, 2020 at 10:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Making Known the Unknown God” (Acts 17:16-31)

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 17, 2020

“Making Known the Unknown God” (Acts 17:16-31)

The reading today from the Book of Acts is the story of Paul preaching at the Areopagus in Athens. There Paul was preaching not in a Jewish synagogue where he could assume some biblical literacy. Rather, he was speaking in a Gentile, pluralistic marketplace of ideas. And so this text has great relevance for us today, for this is the world we live in. Thus our theme this morning: “Making Known the Unknown God.”

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Published in: on May 16, 2020 at 10:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“But Joy Comes with the Morning” (Psalm 30:5)

Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 10, 2020

“But Joy Comes with the Morning” (Psalm 30:5)

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

This is our traditional Easter greeting. But this year has been anything but traditional. When last we met here, eight weeks ago today, it was still Lent. Easter Day was four weeks ago, so we didn’t get to say it then. But today we are still in the Easter season, and this is our first opportunity to say it together, so let’s do it again with gusto:

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Amen! And this reality is what gives us hope and joy, in the midst of any sadness. The resurrection of Christ on Easter morning tells us that what Jesus did on the cross for us really works! His sacrifice for our sins has been accepted by God, and the resurrection is the big “Amen!” affirming our forgiveness. The resurrection of our Lord gives us the sure hope that we who have been baptized into Christ will likewise share in his resurrection. What hope, what joy, this gives us!

This joy is greater than, and overcomes, any sadness we experience. Think of the sadness, the overwhelming sadness and gloom that gripped Jesus’ disciples after his crucifixion. The Emmaus disciples, for instance. Their faces were downcast, it says. Their hopes were crushed. Everything they were hoping for with Jesus–gone, thinking that the death of their master meant it was all over. But Jesus surprised them, didn’t he? Or the women at the tomb that Easter morning. They went there sorrowful, expecting to find a dead body. But God had a surprise in store for them. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” That’s the verse that sets the tone for us this morning. It’s Psalm 30:5, a verse from the Introit we sang earlier. And I just love this verse. It tells me that whatever bad stuff I’m going through at the moment, God has something beautiful in store for me to follow. This promise from God’s word gives me hope for the future and joy in the here and now. And today I pray it does the same for you also. Weeping may tarry for the night, “But Joy Comes with the Morning.”

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Published in: on May 9, 2020 at 9:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Real Normal” (Acts 2:42-47)

Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 3, 2020

“The Real Normal” (Acts 2:42-47)

We’re hearing a lot of talk these days about “the new normal.” “The new normal”: It means that the way we’ve been living these last seven weeks is how we’re going to have to continue to live for the indefinite future. Depending on the state you live in and who your governor is, you’re going to have to stay at home, self-isolating, and not do any unessential travel. If you do go out for anything deemed essential, you’re going to have to practice social distancing–stay six feet apart from anybody. You’re going to have to wear a mask–or not wear a mask, depending on who you listen to. You should wash your hands every twenty minutes and not touch your face. You need to stay shut in and locked down. Flatten the curve, slow the spread, and wait a year or two for a possible vaccine, which may or may not come. And this is supposed to be “the new normal.”

And for churches, this has been especially rough. Religion was deemed “non-essential.” We were told not to hold public services. In some places, you could have services, but only for ten people or fewer. In other places, you couldn’t have services at all. They even sent police around to give tickets to people attending drive-in services, people staying in their cars in parking lots. The police would write down license plate numbers to keep track of violators. And again, depending on your state and your governor and the local officials, they may be telling you, “Get used to it. Do your services online. This is ‘the new normal.’”

For our congregation, St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Bonne Terre, Missouri, we voluntarily decided not to have services temporarily, out of concern for public health and safety. This is now the seventh straight Sunday we’ve missed, plus services on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. We’ve tried to do the best we can in the meantime, doing these live mini-services on Facebook. You’re still getting the Word of God, the gospel of Christ, proclaimed in this way, and that’s good! But in some respects, it’s not the same. Virtual church is not the same as real church, full-bodied church, the church gathered as the people of God.

Right now, we are still in exile. As the psalmist wrote about a previous time when God’s people were in exile: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.” Their exile lasted seventy years. Our exile has lasted seven weeks. But it still stinks. It’s not normal. The new normal is not “The Real Normal.”

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Published in: on May 2, 2020 at 7:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“A Walk to Emmaus” (Luke 24:13-35)

Third Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2020

“A Walk to Emmaus” (Luke 24:13-35)

I hope you can see the painting I posted on my Facebook page to go with today’s Gospel reading. It’s called “Gang nach Emmaus,” “The Road to Emmaus,” and it was painted by a 19th-century Swiss artist, Robert Zünd. It’s one of my favorite paintings. It’s like I want to put myself into the picture and get up there and walk alongside Jesus as he opens up the Scriptures. What a Bible study that must have been! Well, maybe today we can zoom in (no pun intended) and hear what Jesus has to say. Yeah, come on, let’s take “A Walk to Emmaus.”

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Published in: on April 25, 2020 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“What You Don’t See Is What You Get” (John 20:19-31)

Second Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2020

“What You Don’t See Is What You Get” (John 20:19-31)

The doors were locked. They were in lockdown mode. They had quarantined themselves. They were self-isolating. Why? Because they were afraid.

Who is it that I’m talking about? Americans in 2020? No, I’m talking about Jesus’ disciples, around the year 30. Those disciples had locked themselves in. They were in self-quarantine. They were isolating and keeping their social distance. And the reason was, they were afraid. They were afraid of the Jewish authorities, who had just had their master killed a couple of days earlier. Now, since they were known to be Jesus’ disciples, if it became known where they were, the authorities might come after them, too. So the disciples were afraid. They self-isolated, and they were keeping their distance, behind closed doors.

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Published in: on April 19, 2020 at 12:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Alleluia! Christ Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!” (Matthew 28:1-10)

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Day
April 12, 2020

“Alleluia! Christ Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!” (Matthew 28:1-10)

“Alleluia! Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

“He is risen indeed!” Over many centuries, this is how the church has joyfully responded to the great Easter proclamation. Why such an exuberant response? Because of the glorious good news that precedes it, the news that Christ is risen. This good news of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ brings reassurance and restoration to troubled, weary hearts. His resurrection calls forth our joyous response. On this Easter Day, then, on this most glorious of mornings, the whole church in heaven and the church on earth–all across the earth–hears the good news, “Christ is risen,” and we rejoice to respond, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

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Published in: on April 11, 2020 at 9:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Hand-Washing Won’t Do–Blood Is Needed” (Matthew 27:11-50)

Good Friday
April 10, 2020

“Hand-Washing Won’t Do–Blood Is Needed” (Matthew 27:11-50)

Right now in the news we’re hearing about governors making life-or-death decisions. Should we be open? Should we be closed? How far can I go to protect people’s health? What about the loss of freedom? What about the loss of jobs? Governors are feeling pressure from all sides to make a decision one way or the other. And these decisions do affect people’s lives and their livelihood.

No governor has ever made a more momentous life-or-death decision than the one we read about in today’s text, on this Good Friday. And that governor was Pontius Pilate. He had to make a life-or-death decision about one man who was brought before him, Jesus of Nazareth. How did Pontius Pilate do on this decision? Let’s find out. And let’s find out what this means for us.

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Published in: on April 10, 2020 at 9:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Washed and Clean, We Have Life Together with Christ” (John 13:1-17, 31b-35)

Holy Thursday
April 9, 2020

“Washed and Clean, We Have Life Together with Christ” (John 13:1-17, 31b-35)

Right now, everybody is concerned about washing their hands, washing their face, and keeping clean. Yesterday I went to the grocery store, and at the entrance they had some Purell wipes. So I wiped my hands and the grocery cart handle, and afterwards, when I had loaded the groceries in my car, I wiped my hands again. Then when I got home, I made sure to wash my hands and my face and so on. Earlier today I saw this comment on the internet: “I just Clorox-wiped a bottle of Purell and Purelled my hands cuz I touched the Clorox canister.” Everybody, it seems, wants to have their hands washed, their face washed—all their body parts washed–so they can be clean.

Everybody, that is, except Peter. Yeah, Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples. He objected to having his feet washed. Jesus wanted to wash his feet, but Peter objected. “Lord, do you wash my feet?” he asked Jesus. You see, Peter thought it was beneath Jesus’ dignity to stoop down and do such a menial task, a task normally reserved for a servant. But Jesus was his master, so Peter objected.

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Published in: on April 9, 2020 at 9:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Fear Not, Daughter of Zion; Behold, Your King Is Coming!” (John 12:12-19)

Palm Sunday
April 5, 2020

“Fear Not, Daughter of Zion; Behold, Your King Is Coming!” (John 12:12-19)

I don’t know about you, but these last couple of weeks I’ve been watching the daily briefings from the White House Coronavirus Task Force. I find these briefings fascinating. Not only do they provide information on the virus itself and how to slow the spread–I’ve become familiar with terms like “mitigation,” “models,” “flattening the curve,”; “granular” is the latest one–not only do I find that part fascinating, but it’s also interesting to see how the government responds to calls for help from around the country. “New York, you need 2,000 ventilators? Don’t worry; help is on the way.” “Los Angeles, we’re sending you a hospital ship to help with relieving the stress on your system.” Much-needed supplies are being sent out, like N95 masks for health-care workers. And then there’s the financial assistance. The Treasury Secretary reports on the emergency money that’s coming your way. The Small Business Administrator tells businesses how to apply for the Payroll Protection Program, so that they can keep paying their employees. So you’ve got the President, the Vice President, the Treasury Secretary, the SBA, an assortment of admirals and private-sector business leaders–they’re all delivering the same message: “Don’t worry; help is on the way.”

Well, in a way, this reminds me of what we find in today’s Palm Sunday Gospel reading. The main message is likewise, “Don’t worry; help is on the way.” Only in this case, it doesn’t take a whole White House task force to do the job. No, here the much-needed help comes in a task force of one, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ. And so God is saying to us today, in the words of our text: “Fear Not, Daughter of Zion; Behold, Your King Is Coming!”

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Published in: on April 4, 2020 at 6:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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