“Ascension Day, the Forgotten Festival” (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 25, 2017

“Ascension Day, the Forgotten Festival” (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11)

Welcome to the Forgotten Festival! Today is Ascension Day, or, as it’s more properly called, the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. But there is reason to call it, as I say, the “Forgotten” Festival. Because even though Ascension Day is classed in the church year as a major festival, which means it’s a day for all churches to hold the Divine Service of Word and Sacrament, the sad fact is that in recent decades many congregations and many Christians have forgotten all about celebrating this important festival.

It used to be that you could go to any Lutheran church–or any liturgical church, for that matter, Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran–and they would have Ascension service on this day. But with the decline of Christian culture in our country, it’s pretty hard to find churches that are having service today. And where you do, it’s usually only the hardy few who turn out. You see, by definition the Ascension of Our Lord always comes forty days after Easter, which means it always falls on a Thursday. And it’s hard enough these days to get people to come to church on a Sunday, let alone on a Thursday.

By the way, there is another major festival in the church year that likewise has fallen on hard times, and that is the Epiphany of Our Lord. Epiphany is twelve days after Christmas, thus it always falls on January 6, which means it almost always falls on a day other than Sunday. Besides which, early January is cold and dark, and that cuts down even further on attendance. So I guess we could say that Epiphany and Ascension are the two Forgotten Festivals.

But happily, we do not forget these festivals here at St. Matthew’s! And today, being Ascension Day, I want you to know why we do not forget this day. For the Ascension of Our Lord is a wonderful, marvelous event, deserving of a day all its own. My goodness, the fact that Christ “ascended into heaven” even rates a line in all three of the ecumenical creeds! Tonight, then, I want to tell you why we remember and rejoice in the Ascension of Our Lord.

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Published in: on May 25, 2017 at 8:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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“A Living, Loving Family” (John 14:15-21)

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 21, 2017

“A Living, Loving Family” (John 14:15-21)

Christ establishes his church to be “A Living, Loving Family.” And you are a part of it. A living, loving family. Now how do you hear that? Do you hear it as heavy demand, something we cannot possibly do? Or do you hear it as gift, something that Christ has graciously made us part of? Does Christ’s call for us to be a living, loving family–do you hear this as burden or gift? As pressure or joy? And besides how we hear it, there is also the question of how we do it. How do we do it? How do we manage to live together as a living, loving family? These are the questions we will explore now this morning.

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Published in: on May 20, 2017 at 9:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Hope for the Future and a Present Priesthood” (John 14:1-14; 1 Peter 2:2-10)

Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 14, 2017

“Hope for the Future and a Present Priesthood” (John 14:1-14; 1 Peter 2:2-10)

You gotta have hope. Hope is faith facing the future. You and I, we need something to look forward to. Otherwise, we lose heart, we get depressed, and our hopelessness paralyzes us. So we need hope, hope for the future, in order to function well in the present. And really, we need hope for the big future, the eternal future. Because the reality is, at some point, we’re going to depart this life. At some point, something is going to do us in, and death is going to carry us away. Do you have a hope that can deal with that? A sure hope, a certain hope? Do you have a hope for the future that strengthens you to carry out your calling in the present? In our lessons today, we hear about both: “Hope for the Future and a Present Priesthood.”

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Published in: on May 14, 2017 at 1:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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“The Good Shepherd Gives Gifts to His Sheep” (John 10:1-18, 22-30)

Funeral service
Wednesday, May 10, 2017

“The Good Shepherd Gives Gifts to His Sheep” (John 10:1-18, 22-30)

“The forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” So we just said we believe when we confessed the Apostles’ Creed. This is the faith all Christians believe. This is the faith Dorothy believed. It’s the faith into which she was baptized. “The forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” These are gifts given us by the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. They are gifts given to Dorothy. They are gifts given to you. The good news today is “The Good Shepherd Gives Gifts to His Sheep.”

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Published in: on May 10, 2017 at 11:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Good Shepherd for Straying and Suffering Sheep” (1 Peter 2:19-25)

Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 7, 2017

“The Good Shepherd for Straying and Suffering Sheep” (1 Peter 2:19-25)

I’m guessing by now you’ve picked up on the theme of the day. You’ve heard it throughout the service so far. For example, in the Introit, the words of Jesus: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, and I lay down my life for the sheep.” In the Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd.” In the Holy Gospel, where Jesus calls himself “the shepherd of the sheep.” In the Hymn of the Day, “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.” Yes, no doubt, today is the Sunday in the Easter season we call “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The readings and the hymns and the prayers all revolve around the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd.

And it’s a good thing he is! It’s a good thing that Jesus is our Good Shepherd, isn’t it? For without him, where would we be? Not in a good place, I can tell you! We sheep would be lost and vulnerable and easy prey for predators. We would have no one to find us and bring us back when we stray. We would have no one to rescue us and save us when we suffer. But with our Good Shepherd to guide and guard and protect us, we are safe and sound and able to graze in green pastures. That’s the big difference that having Jesus as our Shepherd makes. And so our theme for this message: “The Good Shepherd for Straying and Suffering Sheep.”

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Published in: on May 6, 2017 at 9:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Opening the Scriptures, Breaking the Bread” (Luke 24:13-35)

Third Sunday of Easter
April 30, 2017

“Opening the Scriptures, Breaking the Bread” (Luke 24:13-35)

One of my favorite paintings is one we happen to have hanging in the hallway here at St. Matthew’s. I’ve brought it forward this morning, because it goes with the Gospel reading for today. The painting is called, in German, “Gang nach Emmaus,” “The Road to Emmaus,” by a 19th-century Swiss artist, Robert Zünd. I love this painting, because it really activates my imagination. You’re looking from a distance at Jesus walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, while Jesus is opening the Scriptures to them. You wish you could zoom yourself into the picture and listen in and walk along. What a Bible study that must have been!

And then, if you know the story from Luke 24, your mind goes ahead to when they arrive at Emmaus, and they ask Jesus, whom they do not yet recognize–they ask him to stay, and he breaks bread with them at table. Then their eyes are opened, and they recognize him as Jesus, risen from the dead, and they marvel at what had just happened.

What a day, what an experience that must have been! To have Jesus opening the Scriptures to you. To have Jesus present with you, breaking the bread at table. Imagine that! No, don’t just imagine it. Experience it! Because that is exactly what Jesus is doing here today, right here among us: “Opening the Scriptures, Breaking the Bread.”

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Published in: on April 29, 2017 at 4:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Easter Joy Continues!” (John 20:19-31; Acts 5:29-42; 1 Peter 1:3-9)

Second Sunday of Easter
April 23, 2017

“Easter Joy Continues!” (John 20:19-31; Acts 5:29-42; 1 Peter 1:3-9)

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

Yes, he is risen indeed! And guess what? He is still risen! Christ didn’t stop being risen once Easter Day was over. And so the Easter season continues–and with it, our Easter joy. It’s the Second Sunday “of” Easter! Thus our theme for this morning: “Easter Joy Continues!”

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Published in: on April 22, 2017 at 9:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Raised with Our Risen Lord” (Colossians 3:1-4)

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Day
Sunday, April 16, 2017

“Raised with Our Risen Lord” (Colossians 3:1-4)

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

Yes, indeed Christ is risen! And because he is, guess what? You are risen too! That’s our message this morning on this beautiful Easter Day: “Raised with Our Risen Lord.”

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Published in: on April 15, 2017 at 8:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Suffering, Sacrificing, Saving Servant” (Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12)

Good Friday
April 14, 2017

“The Suffering, Sacrificing, Saving Servant” (Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12)

“Behold, my servant,” says the Lord. Yes, behold him today. Behold the servant of the Lord serving in a most unexpected way: serving by suffering. Today on this Good Friday we behold Jesus Christ, the Lord’s faithful, righteous servant, suffering a death he doesn’t deserve. But because he does, you will receive what you don’t deserve. And that is good news on this Good Friday. So now behold Jesus Christ, “The Suffering, Sacrificing, Saving Servant.”

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Published in: on April 14, 2017 at 10:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Catechism in Six Parts: The Sacrament of the Altar”

Holy Thursday
April 13, 2017

“The Catechism in Six Parts: The Sacrament of the Altar”

Tonight we conclude our series on “The Catechism in Six Parts.” So far in the Catechism we’ve looked at the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and Confession. That brings us tonight to the Sacrament of the Altar–and fittingly enough, on Holy Thursday, the night in which this sacrament was instituted.

Everything we want to say about the Sacrament tonight we find in the words with which Christ institutes this holy meal. These words: “Take eat; this is my body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me.” “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

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