“Words of Spirit and Life” (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-53)

Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 29, 2020

“Words of Spirit and Life” (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-53)

Have you been starting to feel like you’re Lazarus? I mean, you’ve been cooped up in your quarantine “tomb,” not just for four days, but now going on fourteen days. You’ve been stuck inside so long, maybe skipping showers, maybe skipping laundry–“Lord, by this time there will be an odor!” You’re stuck inside, and you’re waiting for someone to speak the word, “Lazarus, come out!” But for now, it looks like you’re going to have to wait a little longer. The President’s hope that we will be able to go back to church on Easter–well, we’ll have to wait and see if that can come to pass.

And so we wait. Inside. Virtual reality. But what is very real, and what is very powerful–indeed, what is creative and life-living–is the word of God. The word of God gives us hope and joy, in the midst of economic uncertainty and social isolation, even in the midst of disease and death. The words that God speaks to us–even today, now as you hear them–these are “Words of Spirit and Life.”

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Published in: on March 28, 2020 at 10:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Quarantine of Lent” (John 9:1-3; Hebrews 12:2; Psalm 27:5)

Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 22, 2020

“The Quarantine of Lent” (John 9:1-3; Hebrews 12:2; Psalm 27:5)

“Quarantine”: That’s a word we’re hearing a lot of these days. It means “a period of forced isolation,” and it is done in the interest of the public health. But do you know the origin of the term “quarantine”? It comes from the practice in medieval Italy of keeping ships suspected of carrying disease–of keeping those ships in isolation for a period of forty days. You see, the term “quarantina” literally means “forty days.”

Well, the church has its own period of forty days, during which we are to self-isolate, in a way, in the interest of our spiritual health. This time, this season of the church year, is called Lent, and we’re in it right now. Lent is a penitential season, in which we are to inspect ourselves, to see the symptoms of the underlying deadly disease we all are carrying–namely, sin–to repent of our sins, and to turn to God for forgiveness and renewed life.

It just so happens that this year the forty days of Lent coincide almost exactly with our national health crisis. Lent began at the end of February, which is just about the time concern over the coronavirus began to grow. We’re in the midst of the pandemic panic right now. Businesses are shutting down. Churches are canceling services. Governors are issuing “shelter in place” orders. People are “self-isolating” and doing “social distancing.” People are scared, both of the virus itself and of the impact it’s having on the economy–and your own personal economy.

Dear friends, while this pandemic is real, and people’s fears over it are real, today I want to invite you to use these forty days of Lent to good purpose. See this time as a quarantine, a time in which you come to grips with your sins and your fears, a time to trust in God to forgive and sustain you, and a time to look with hope to your long-range–yea, eternal–future. And so our theme this morning: “The Quarantine of Lent.”

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Published in: on March 22, 2020 at 2:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Happy Rebirthday!” (John 3:1-17)

Second Sunday in Lent
March 8, 2020

“Happy Rebirthday!” (John 3:1-17)

Yesterday, March 7, was my birthday. Or was it? Oh yeah, sure, March 7 was the day I was born–so many years ago now. But that’s not my only birthday. I’ve got another one, too, and it’s even more important. And that’s September 10. You see, that’s the day I was baptized–again, so many years ago, but that’s my re-birthday. For on that day I was born again, born from above, born of water and the Spirit. And all of you who have been baptized in the name of the triune God–the day of your baptism, likewise, is your “Happy Rebirthday!”

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Published in: on March 7, 2020 at 8:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Three Evangelism Pointers: Point, Invite, and Find” (John 1:29-42a)

Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 19, 2020

“Three Evangelism Pointers: Point, Invite, and Find” (John 1:29-42a)

The Epiphany season traditionally is a time for emphasizing the church’s work of evangelism and missions. Why is that? Well, think of what happened at the Epiphany itself: Wise men from the east were led by a star to find the Christ child. This was the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles. Or think of the word, “Epiphany.” It means “manifestation,” “appearing,” a “shining forth.” In the Gospel readings for the Epiphany season, we see Jesus shining forth into a sin-darkened world. And now Christ uses his church to do that shining forth into the world. What Isaiah prophesied about Christ applies also to his church: “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Today we’ll see how Christ will use us to be that light shining forth. Only we’re not going to talk about bringing salvation to the end of the earth. We’ll talk about bringing it to places right nearby. Local evangelism, personal witnessing–that’s our focus today. In today’s reading from John, there are several examples of personal witnessing. Of course, we need to first receive the good news for ourselves. Then, with our faith and forgiveness firmly established in Christ, we can hear God’s word for what it says about witnessing to others. But the gospel is powerful enough to do both, to bring the good news to us and to help us bring the good news to others. Today, then, we’ll pick up “Three Evangelism Pointers: Point, Invite, and Find.”

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Published in: on January 18, 2020 at 10:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt among Us” (John 1:1-18)

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
Wednesday, December 25, 2019

“The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt among Us” (John 1:1-18)

In the Holy Gospel for today, the apostle John tells us the unfathomable mystery and the joyous wonder of the baby born on Christmas Day. John writes: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

No greater words were ever written. John 1:14 is one of the most profound verses in the whole Bible, in one of the most profound passages, the prologue of John’s gospel. We could spend hours exploring the depths of this majestic prologue, there’s so much here. But even for a few minutes now, let’s ponder and treasure this great mystery known as the incarnation.

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Published in: on December 25, 2019 at 10:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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“The Peace of Pentecost” (John 14:23-31)

The Day of Pentecost
Sunday, June 9, 2019

“The Peace of Pentecost” (John 14:23-31)

Jesus tells his disciples: “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.”

How can you say that, Jesus? How can you tell your disciples to be at peace? You’ve just told them that you’re going away! And now they’re supposed to be OK with that? They’re just supposed to take it easy? Come on, Jesus, get real!

And how about us? Yeah, we here today. How are we supposed to be at peace? “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Yeah, right. You don’t know what I’m going through. And I’m supposed to have peace in all of this?

Well, yes. That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Even when Jesus tells his disciples that he’s going away, and even in the midst of all our troubles, Jesus promises us the peace we need to sustain us and carry us through. And so this morning, on this day full of grace, we will be blessed to hear how we have “The Peace of Pentecost.”

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Published in: on June 8, 2019 at 5:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“My Sheep Hear My Voice” (John 10:22-30)

Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 12, 2019

“My Sheep Hear My Voice” (John 10:22-30)

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, Jesus says to us: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” This is our text.

“My Sheep Hear My Voice.” I should certainly hope so! But how closely are we listening? And when we hear the voice of our Shepherd, do we follow where he is leading? Today we will hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us, and by God’s grace we will follow where he leads.

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Published in: on May 11, 2019 at 11:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Jesus Is in the Restoration Business” (John 21:1-19)

Third Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2019

“Jesus Is in the Restoration Business” (John 21:1-19)

So far this Easter season we’ve heard about Jesus appearing to his disciples two times, on Easter Day and then a week later. Today we hear about a third appearance to a group of his disciples. Why does Jesus do this? Why does he manifest himself to his disciples repeatedly during these forty days from his resurrection to his ascension? The most obvious answer is to show that he is indeed alive, risen from the dead, physically, bodily. Christ’s resurrection shows that he who died on the cross now is risen from the dead. These resurrection appearances demonstrate that the sacrifice for sin Jesus made on the cross was sufficient to remove the curse of death. Showing himself to his disciples, with the marks of his wounds in his risen body, makes the connection that the crucifixion was not a defeat but rather a victory. Christ’s death was God’s plan for solving the sin-and-death problem. These resurrection appearances underline the centrality of the death and resurrection of Christ in the good news the apostles are being sent out to preach.

So far, so good. But there’s also another dynamic at work in these resurrection appearances. And that is, in a word, restoration. Jesus has some restoration work to do, and it has to do with these disciples. But why? What had they done that they need restoring? All the disciples, really, needed to be restored. They all had deserted Jesus in his hour of need. They all had fled, fearing for their safety. Then they all failed to believe in Jesus’ promise that he would be raised on the third day. So they all were in need of restoration, forgiveness, absolution. And the good news is, for them and for us: “Jesus Is in the Restoration Business.”

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Published in: on May 4, 2019 at 10:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Behold the Man: A God Who Rises” (John 20:1-18)

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Day
Sunday, April 21, 2019

“Behold the Man: A God Who Rises” (John 20:1-18)

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

Behold the man who is risen, who died and now lives. His heart was stopped, but now it pulses with renewed rhythm and vigor. His blood was spilled on Golgotha, but now his veins course with a fresh supply. His lungs were stilled after that loud cry with which he breathed his last, but now the breath of life has returned. His eyes were shut in death, but now they are open and see the light of life. His hands had been nailed to the cross, but now they pick up the grave cloths and fold them neatly in place. His legs were limp as his body was placed in the tomb, but now he stands upright. His body was cold and lifeless, but now he lives. He still bears the marks of the nails and the spear: those are Christ’s holy wounds by which he always wishes to be known. Behold the man, Jesus Christ, true God and true man–he lives. He rises triumphant from the dead and strolls out of the tomb into his green creation.

And Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener. It’s an honest mistake, really. She was understandably confused. She showed up first, while it was still dark and the disciples were asleep. And she probably hadn’t gotten much sleep these last couple of days, so distraught she must have been. As soon as day began to break after the Sabbath, she went to the tomb. When she saw that the stone had been rolled away, dislodged from its fixed location, she ran and told the disciples. She found Peter and John, and her words came crashing out so quickly, it’s a wonder they understood her at all: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

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Published in: on April 20, 2019 at 9:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Behold the Man: A God Who Bleeds, a God Who Dies” (John 18:1 – 19:42)

Good Friday
April 19, 2019

“Behold the Man: A God Who Bleeds, a God Who Dies” (John 18:1 – 19:42)

“Behold the man!” So Pilate said as Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. “Behold the man!” “Ecce homo” in the Latin. “See, I find no guilt in him.” Nevertheless, Pilate delivered Jesus over to be crucified.

So now: Behold the man on the cross! This is his purpose. This is why God became man. This is why the eternal Second Person of the Trinity has taken human flesh. This is the reason. Behold the man on the cross, bleeding, gasping, suffering, dying.

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Published in: on April 19, 2019 at 7:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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