The Bride of Christ

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Easter 5 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
May 15, 2022
Acts 11:1-8, Revelation 21:1-7, John 16:12-22

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            A woman stands in the back of church dressed all in white with a veil over her face and a bouquet of flowers in her hands.  The organist is playing Canon in D and the pews are full of family and friends.  Who is this woman?  What is she doing?  It appears that she is a bride on her wedding day preparing to get married, but there is one more thing that is essential to her being a bride.  She needs a groom.  To be a bride she needs a man waiting at the front of the church for her to come down the aisle and the two be united as one.  A woman cannot make herself a bride.  She needs a man to ask her to be his bride.

            The Church is the bride of Christ.  The followers of God are united with God and are to be faithful to God.  In a marriage you pledge to forsake all others and be united to one person alone. With God you must be faithful to God, and God alone.  The first commandment is, “You shall have no other Gods.” 

The Church is the bride of Christ.  This idea of God’s people being in a marriage relationship with God runs throughout the Bible.  In the Old Testament there is much talk about the rebellious children of Israel being an adulterous people.  This isn’t talking about them cheating on their spouses; instead it is the accusation that they are cheating on God by following after other gods — foreign gods, false gods, detestable gods.  An interesting and under-read book of the Bible is the book of Hosea.  The Lord has the prophet Hosea marry a prostitute named Gomer as a warning to the people of Israel that they are prostituting themselves with other gods.  Two of Hosea and Gomer’s children are called, “No Mercy” and “Not my People.”

            In the New Testament we see this concept continue and increase.  Jesus comes for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and then His ministry expands also to the Gentiles; the nations.  We see in our reading from Acts God clearly showing that Christ has come for all people; Jew and Gentile. 

The Church consists of the baptized followers of Jesus.  The Church is the bride of Christ.  In Ephesians 5 we see St. Paul offer teachings about marriage based on the relationship of Christ and the Church.  Ephesians 5:22–27 (ESV) 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

            The marriage relationship of husband and wife is modeled after Christ and the Church; the Bridegroom and the bride of Christ.  It is a relationship of submission and protection and cleansing.  You all, as the Church, are the bride of Christ, not because you have declared yourself to be such, but because Jesus has made you His bride and washed you clean by the washing of water with the word and He presents you to Himself in splendor.  Jesus presents you without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.  He presents you holy and without blemish.  Jesus chose you to be His bride.  You all are the bride of Christ. 

            The Church is the Bride of Christ.  The Church belongs to Christ.  Therefore the Church is not something you can use to build up your self-esteem.  The Church does not exist for you to use it to network and increase your business.  The Church is not yours to be used to pursue the American dream of wealth and success.  The Church is not to be used to exercise authority over people.  The Church is not yours to be molded and shaped to fit your desires.  The Church is not yours to adjust so it evolves with the world.  The Church belongs to Christ. 

What is the Church?  The Augsburg Confession is the first basic summary of the teachings of the Lutheran Church presented to Emperor Charles V on June 25, 1530.  In Article VII defines the Church: “[Our churches] teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.” 

Together, united in Christ, you are the Church, but you did not create the Church.  You do not get to define the Church because the Church belongs to Christ. 

There is an entire industry that markets and sells programs to save the Church. There is a false yet very attractive idea that, if we can just do this…or if we can just do that…then we can save the church.  But the Church is not yours to save, it is not mine to save, the Church is Christ’s Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.  Congregations are planted and congregations close. Membership numbers go up and down. There is a great temptation to take control.  “We’ve got to do something!  Anything!” But the Church is not a product to be marketed.  The church is where the Gospel is rightly taught and the sacraments are rightly administered.  The Church is for preaching and teaching and baptizing and receiving Holy Communion. The Church is for distributing God’s gift of forgiveness in Jesus.

            The Church weeps and laments and yet is filled with the joy of Easter because you all know that the Church will endure to the Last Day. This age will end.  This World will pass away.  And despite how things may look at times, in the end Jesus wins. 

We go through life as the Church, struggling with conflict and sin, fighting off temptation, resisting the devil, suffering the slings and arrows of evil, injury, sickness and death.  The Church battles against the devil’s desires to divide and destroy, but we do it together as the Church.  We do it together, remembering our baptism.  We do it together, hearing again and again that our sins are forgiven. We do it together, receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.  We live together knowing that Jesus took all our sins into the grave and left them there when He rose from the dead. 

            You are right now the Church, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ and yet, for now, the Church struggles mightily in this world and life.  Jesus warns of this in the Gospel lesson, John 16:20 (ESV) 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”  Jesus is speaking of His death and resurrection and also of His ascension and return in glory on the Last Day.  The Church lives in the joy of Easter even as she weeps and laments the evil in this life; even as the world rejoices. 

            The Church weeps and laments and yet is filled with the joy of Easter because you all know that the Church will endure to the Last Day. This age will end.  This World will pass away.  And despite how things may look at times, in the end Jesus wins. 

            In the midst of all the conflict and confusion and hardships of this life we get glimpses of what the future holds.  In today’s lesson from Revelation we hear John’s vision of last day and it is a glorious vision.  This earth and this life is all we know and yet all this is only temporary.  A new heaven and a new earth are coming.  The holy city, New Jerusalem, will descend out of heaven from God as a Bride adorned for her husband.  God will dwell with His people.  The bride of Christ will be with her Bridegroom and we will celebrate at the wedding feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom.

            You live now as a saint of God in this time between Jesus’ ascension into heaven and His return on the Last Day.  It is the time of now you are saved, but you are not yet in the full presence of the Lord.  It is a time when you have been declared righteous, innocent and blessed because Jesus died for you and rose for you.  You are, right now, a saint made perfect in the blood of Jesus, a saint perfected by the blood of Jesus and yet you still live in this fallen world full of sin and trouble.  You are a saint who is, at the same time, a natural born sinner struggling to act like who you already are in Jesus.  Life as a follower of Jesus is hard.  It is a life of bearing your cross.  It can seem, at times, like there is no hope, but in the midst of the struggle and temptation and failure — remember who you are.  You are a baptized child of God washed clean in the blood of Jesus.  Together, you are the Bride of Christ.  Together, you are His Church.  Together, look forward to the last day when, Revelation 21:3–4 (ESV) 3 … “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

            You are the bride of Christ washed clean by Jesus.  He presents you without blemish.  Come, Lord Jesus!  Come quickly!  Amen. 

Mixed Metaphors

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Easter 4 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
May 8, 2022
Acts 20:17-35, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30, Psalm 23

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            The Shepherd sits with His back to the fire so His eyes will stay adjusted to the darkness.  Wolves are howling and at least one is getting closer and closer.  The sheep are nervous and restless and they crowd together for support near the Shepherd who rises and takes hold of His staff.  He stares out into the darkness straining to see or hear any movement.  It is a dark, moonless night and the Shepherd hears the wolf before He sees him as the wolf slinks in from the woods towards the sheep.  The Shepherd goes to confront the wolf.  You expect that the Shepherd will violently attack the wolf.  But the Shepherd does not pound on the wolf’s head with His staff; he does not hit the wolf with a club.  The Shepherd drops his staff and lets the wolf attack him.  The Shepherd kneels before the wolf.  Then the Shepherd goes down on all fours and transforms into a helpless little Lamb.

            The wolf cannot believe his eyes.  The Shepherd is acting so strangely.  The Shepherd is allowing Himself to be attacked.  He does not defend Himself but instead He becomes a Lamb and the wolf greedily sinks his teeth into the silent Lamb and kills Him. The Shepherd becomes a Lamb and offers Himself to the wolf.  Having killed the Shepherd the wolf now turns to the unprotected sheep thinking, “Now they will be easy pickings, the Shepherd is dead.  I will get them all.”  As the wolf crouches to pounce on a lamb, suddenly a big heavy club crashes onto his head.  The wolf whimpers and rolls on his back to see what happened.  The Shepherd has risen from the dead and is protecting the sheep. The sacrificial Lamb is alive and in triumph guards the sheep.  The Lamb who was slain has begun to reign over His sheep as the Good Shepherd.  His sheep listen to his voice. 

            In language, similes are figures of speech using “as”, “like”, or “than”.  Bob is strong as an ox.  A metaphor is a comparison not using, “as”, “like” or “than”.  Bob is an ox.

When learning to write you are taught to avoid mixed metaphors.  Mixed metaphors are confusing.  “We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.”  “Don’t beat a dead horse in the mouth.”  “Trying to thread a needle with a haystack.”  “That will be opening a can of beans.”  It is confusing.  You shouldn’t mix metaphors.

            Apparently no one told the apostle John who writes, Revelation 7:17 (ESV) 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd…”  Upon seeing Jesus, John the Baptist declares, John 1:29 (ESV) 29 … “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  Jesus declares. John 10:11 (ESV) 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  About being the Shepherd Jesus declares, John 10:27–28 (ESV) 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 

Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep.  Jesus holds His sheep in His hand.  The Church, the flock of the Good Shepherd who listen to His voice, resides in the hand of God.  As a baptized, redeemed child of God, bought by the blood of the Lamb of God, you are a sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd and you safely dwell in Jesus’ hand; in God the Father’s hand.  And no one can snatch you out of God’s hand.  There is great depth to God’s love and care for you; unfathomable depth.  God’s love is too deep for you to comprehend.  It is far too deep for one metaphor.  The Lamb takes away your sin.  The Good Shepherd guides and guards you.  Jesus holds you in His hand.  In Jesus’ hand you are safe.  The devil cannot grab you out of God’s hand and drag you away.  You are safe in the hand of God.

            You are safe in the hand of God, but the devil does not want you to stay safely there.  There is still danger as Peter tells us.  1 Peter 5:8 (ESV) 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  

            In our reading from Acts, Paul is warning the elders, the pastors, of the church in Ephesus to be good under-shepherds of the Good Shepherd and care for the church of God obtained by the blood of Christ. While the devil and his henchmen cannot snatch you out of God’s hand they will try to lure you out.  They will try to convince you that freedom means that you do not need Jesus to guide and guard you.  That you are independent and capable and do not need the Lamb to pay for your sins.  They will lure you into complacency about worship and the Word of God.  Then they will lure you into ongoing sinful situations so you will reject God.  They will tempt you to demand of God, “Who do you think you are to tell me what to do?” Paul warns the Ephesian pastors, Acts 20:29–30 (ESV) 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”\

            You are safe in Jesus, but be aware each day of the dangers and temptations that are lurking, trying to get you to turn your back on your baptismal inheritance, to reject Jesus’ death and resurrection for you, and to climb out of Jesus’ hand to reside in and of the world.  Stay alert and listen to Jesus.  Listen to Jesus. 

            Fierce wolves will try to lure the sheep out of the hand of the Good Shepherd who is the Lamb of God sacrificed for the sin of the world.  To remain on guard against this danger, remember what Jesus’ sheep do.  John 10:27 (ESV) 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”  Jesus’ sheep listen to Jesus.  Listening to Jesus is getting increasingly difficult in our media saturated lives.  It was not so many years ago that the only news from the outside world to reach rural areas was a weekly newspaper arriving in the mail.  The church and the Bible had greater potential for influence.  Today there is a constant cacophony of voices coming from the television and the radio and podcasts and tiktok and teachers and family and friends and so many other places all competing for your attention. Be aware of who you are listening to. Are these voices speaking for the Good Shepherd or are these voice trying to lure you away from Him?  Are these voices encouraging you to remain in God’s hand or drawing you away to eternal destruction?  Listen to Jesus because you are a sheep safely in the hand of the Good Shepherd.  Remain in Christ. 

            You are safe in Jesus, but be aware each day of the dangers and temptations that are lurking, trying to get you to turn your back on your baptismal inheritance, to reject Jesus’ death and resurrection for you, and to climb out of Jesus’ hand to reside in and of the world.  Stay alert and listen to Jesus.  Listen to Jesus. 

            There is an old children’s finger play that goes, “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.”  The people are the church.  God’s hand holds the church.  God’s hand holds all of His children.  God holds you in His hand and He will not let you go.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd defending you from the assaults of the devil with His rod and His staff.  As you struggle each day against temptations to sin.  As you fail to resist the temptations.  As you realize again that you are not good enough.  As you are heartsick by all the evil in you and in the world, remember you are forgiven by the blood of the Lamb.  Remember God’s hand holding you and all the followers of Jesus.  Through all the struggles of life you are safe for eternity.  Listen to Jesus.

Dwelling in the hand of the Good Shepherd, listen to Jesus every day.  Spend time each day in prayer.  Spend time each day reading or hearing the word of God.  Spend time meditating on God’s Word.  Come to worship each week to hear God’s word in the liturgy, lessons and sermon.  Abide in Christ.  Listen to Jesus.  He is your Good Shepherd who is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world and holds you in the palm of His hand.  Amen. 

Not a Comforting Image

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Easter 3 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
May 1, 2022

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            When you think about images of Jesus there are certain comforting images that come to mind maybe from the wall of a Sunday school room, or grandma’s house.  A favorite is Jesus as the Good Shepherd holding an injured lamb in His arms bringing the lamb safely and gently back home.  We like the image of Jesus knocking at the door.  Jesus teaching His disciples.  Also comforting in their own way are images of Jesus suffering on the cross because you know Jesus is suffering for you.  But I do not recall too many pictures of the conversion of St. Paul.  There is nothing comforting about this scene. Paul, then called Saul, is on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest followers of Jesus and bring them back to be tried and imprisoned — or worse.  Saul hates Christians.  Saul is present and supports the stoning to death of Stephen, an early deacon of the Christian Church.  Saul is zealous about stopping Christians by whatever means necessary.  He is breathing threats and murder and on his way north to Damascus.

            Saul is an important person on a mission for the high priest.  It is 150 miles give or take to get to Damascus so Saul is likely riding a horse along with armed guards from the high priest to ensure the success of his mission.  Saul is riding high – bold and confident, convinced he is on the right path, doing God’s work, getting rid of those foolish followers of Jesus.  Saul is riding high.  But it all changes in an instant.

            Acts 9:3–6 (ESV) 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 

            This is not the gentle Good Shepherd carrying a wounded lamb.  This is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  This is Jesus demonstrating that His is the kingdom, His is the power, His is the glory, forever and ever.  Jesus knocks Saul to the ground and leaves him lying there, a broken man, blinded and bewildered unable to eat and drink.  This is not a comforting scene — but it is a valuable scene.

            Saul is zealous about religion.  He is a firm believer, but he believes the wrong thing. Saul is fully committed to the cause and Saul is wrong, and Jesus tells him he is wrong.

There is a powerful temptation to never want to believe someone else is wrong, and an even greater temptation to never want to believe that you are wrong.  It is so easy to follow after the wrong things in this life and be led astray by the ways of the devil, the world and your own sinful nature.  It is an easy thing to firmly believe false teachings, as shown by the billions of people following false religions.  How do you know what is right and what is wrong?  Do you go with your gut?  Do you trust your feelings?  That is what Saul is doing and he finds out he is wrong.  How did Saul find out he is wrong?  Through the Word of God.  Jesus spoke directly to Saul.  How do you find out when you are wrong?  God speaks to you through Holy Scripture.  That is your rule and norm of what is right and wrong.

Jesus knocks Saul to the ground and tells him he is wrong and leaves him there dazed and blind with instructions to go to the city.  This is not a comforting image because, in this image, you can see a picture of God’s law working on you and knocking you down from your high horse and leaving you convicted and guilty knowing you are wrong. 

There is a great temptation for pastors to teach that if you become a Christian, life will get better and everything will be easier and you will have no more problems.  Join our church and your family troubles, money troubles, life troubles will all go away. But it is a lie.  For Saul, and for you, being a follower of Jesus can bring suffering.

Blind Saul is led into Damascus where he is three days without sight, food or drink, a shell of his former bold, confident self.  The Lord sends a follower of Jesus named Ananias to go to Saul. Ananias is hesitant since Saul is known to be hunting for Christians.  We hear the Lord’s final instructions to Ananias and they are more discomforting than Saul being left on the ground blind.  The Lord tells Ananias, Acts 9:16 (ESV) 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 

            Acts 9:16 (ESV) 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  I have not ever had someone choose this as their confirmation verse.  I have never seen this written on a wall hanging at Hobby Lobby.  Nobody has this on a bracelet.  This is not a comforting verse.  This is not what people want to hear. 

There is a great temptation for pastors to teach that if you become a Christian, life will get better and everything will be easier and you will have no more problems.  Join our church and your family troubles, money troubles, life troubles will all go away. But it is a lie.  For Saul, and for you, being a follower of Jesus can bring suffering. 

            Your suffering for the sake of Jesus will likely not be as dramatic as Saul who becomes known as Paul.  I pray you will not be stoned and beaten and imprisoned and executed because of Jesus.  But you will suffer. 

            You will suffer for simply speaking the truth in love to those who do not want to hear the truth.  Many do not want to hear that Jesus is the way, the truth and life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him.  Many do want to hear that the 10 commandments are still God’s commandments and not just antiquated, outdated suggestions.  Many do not want to hear that their feelings are not authoritative, but rather God’s word is.  Many do not want to hear that marriage is a man leaving his father and mother and being united to his wife and the two becoming one flesh.  Speaking the truth in love can bring the quiet suffering of being ostracized from family and friends and work and society because you are not constantly conforming your beliefs and practices to whatever the latest and greatest new thing you are told you must believe and celebrate or face the consequences. School and work can become very stressful.  Family gatherings become strained. 

            You may suffer quietly because you do the right thing when doing the right thing is not popular.  You speak up for the weak and vulnerable to protect them from the powerful. You defend the defenseless.  You reach out to the outcast. 

You will quietly suffer all of the big and little struggles as you faithfully do what you have been given to do as father, mother, child, grandparent, sister, brother, friend, worker.  You endure quietly as you get up early and fight traffic and do your job well because it is what you have been given to do to support your family.  You endure quietly as you patiently change endless diapers, and hold and rock your screaming infant even when it feels like such a lonely, difficult, thankless vocation.  You quietly struggle to keep Sunday morning set apart for worship and diligently fight the temptations to give up meeting together.  You suffer quietly as you struggle against that secret, sinful desire instead of giving in to the desire and embracing the sin. 

            Jesus does not promise you a comfortable life.  He promises you eternal life.  And with that promise you can live each day in the joy of the Lord and in the peace of the Lord even as you struggle through life.  Being a follower of Jesus is not a ticket to a life of ease.  Jesus does not promise that you will achieve the American dream.  Having a great job and a fancy house and expensive cars and health and wealth is not a sign that you are a faithful follower of Jesus.  Jesus does not give guarantees for physical abundance in this life, but He gives certain, wonderful guarantees for eternity. This is the great good news. Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!  And because Christ has risen, it is proof certain that Jesus is the Son of God.  Jesus’ death and resurrection are credited to you in baptism.  Your sins are forgiven.  You have eternal life. 

            Saul getting knocked down and blinded is not comforting.  It reminds you of God’s law working on you.  The Lord showing Saul how much he is to suffer for Jesus’ name is not comforting. The King of kings and Lord of lords shows His power to Saul, but the Lord does not leave Saul in his broken blindness.  Acts 9:17–18 (ESV) 17 …Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized;”

The Lord does not leave you in your sins.  He does not leave you knocked down and broken by God’s law.  He announces to you that your sins are forgiven.  He feeds you with His very Body and Blood.  He cleanses you and sends you to speak the truth in love to your neighbor and spread the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus. 

            Jesus knocks Saul down and then lifts him up giving him the Holy Spirit in baptism.  Saul was lost and Jesus found him.  Saul was blind, but now he sees.  He sees the truth about Jesus and he spends the rest of his life proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ, and Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!” This enemy of Christians is changed by the Word of God into the greatest missionary of all times and the author of 13 books of the Bible.  The conversion of St. Paul may not be comforting but it clearly shows the power of God’s Word to save sinners.  Maybe alongside pictures of Jesus as the gentle Good Shepherd we should add a few pictures of the conversion of Paul to remember the power of God’s Word to save sinners, including you and me.  Amen. 

Promises, promises

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Easter Sunday 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
April 17, 2022

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            It is almost a cliché of broken promises.  A boy wants a dog and will say anything in order to convince his parents that this is a good idea.  “I will take care of everything.  I will walk the dog, feed it, give it a bath.  I will pick up after the dog in the yard.  I will do everything.  I promise. I promise, promise, promise.” 

            “Promise, promise, promise,” Dad mumbles as a cold rain runs down his neck at 5:30 in the morning while he is taking the dog for its morning walk so it doesn’t make another puddle in the house.

            Someone says, “I promise.”  Is this a valuable statement or empty, worthless words?  Depends who is saying it. 

I promise.  How many times have you used these words with every intention of following through, but instead you failed to fulfil your promise.  How often have you said to God, “I promise I will never do that again.”? How many times when you hear someone else promise you something, you doubt them and say sarcastically, “Promises…Promises.”  Promises, far too often, are a waste of breath.  And so, at first, it seems understandable that people doubted Jesus’ promise that He would rise from the dead. 

Right after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ of God Jesus tells them, Luke 9:22 (ESV) 22 … “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  Jesus spoke clearly and yet the disciples and others do not believe Him or remember what He said. 

            Jesus makes a promise to his disciples but they are not paying attention.  They are so wrapped up in their own ideas and their own expectations that they don’t understand what is happening and what will happen.

Jesus tells them again as they near Jerusalem, Luke 18:31–34 (ESV) 31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”

            Jesus makes a promise to his disciples but they are not paying attention.  They are so wrapped up in their own ideas and their own expectations that they don’t understand what is happening and what will happen.

            And while you often have good reason to doubts someone’s promise due to past experience, Jesus’ disciples have no reason to doubt His word.  The disciples have seen Jesus teach with authority and, with His words, take authority over demons, disease, disability, food, weather and even death.  Three of the disciples have seen Jesus transfigured and shine with heavenly light and hear God the Father say, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him.”  And yet…they do not listen. 

            Jesus made promises.  He has declared things to be true.  He promised to rise from the dead.  Over and over Jesus shows that His word is good and true and can be trusted and yet that first Easter morning where are the disciples?  They are hiding in fear.  The women go to the tomb, but what are they bringing with them?  Spices, to anoint Jesus’ dead, decaying body so it does not smell so awful.

            When the women arrive at the tomb they find that the stone has been rolled away and they go inside but Jesus’ body is not there. And they still do not understand that “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia.” The women are confused and then two angels in dazzling clothing appear and ask the frightened women, “Luke 24:5–8 (ESV) 5 … “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words,”

            The women now understand.  They remember Jesus’ promise and they believe, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!  Alleluia.”  They go to tell the apostles, the ones sent by Jesus to proclaim the good news.  The women tell the good news to the disciples Luke 24:11 (ESV) 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”  The disciples, who saw firsthand the authority of Jesus’ words still do not believe He rose from the dead. 

            Curiosity, however, gets to Peter and he goes to the tomb and sees the burial clothes neatly folded up by themselves.  Peter knows the tomb was guarded and if someone stole the body they would not fold up the burial clothes.  Peter marvels at what has happened.  Peter believes.  Later that first Easter Sunday Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and then to the eleven.  They touch Jesus, and Jesus eats with them, and then they still do not want to believe. So Jesus teaches them again and promises them power from on high; the Holy Spirit.  Then the disciples believe and spend the rest of their lives proclaiming repentance for the forgiveness of sins to all nations beginning in Jerusalem. Finally, they believe Jesus. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

            The value of a promise depends on who is making the promise.  Jesus’ promise to rise from the dead is a solid promise because He is the one who makes the promise.  While our promises can be pretty iffy, Jesus’ promises are rock solid.  Jesus said He would rise from the dead and Jesus rises from the dead.  “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia.”

            When the devil confronts you with your sins and accuses you of not being worthy of forgiveness, he wants you to look to your own faith, your own promises to do better, your own actions.  The devil wants you to rely on yourself, but there is no comfort there because your promises are iffy.  When the devil accuses you, stand on the solid rock of Jesus’ promises because, in Christ, there is true comfort.

            Stand on Jesus’ promise to forgive your sins. Jesus died on the cross to pay for the sin of the world and He rose from the dead to show that He has conquered sin and death forever.  Stand on the solid rock of Jesus’ word that declares, “I forgive you all your sins.” Stand on the solid rock of Jesus’ promise to you in your baptism; that you are His child for eternity. Stand on Jesus’ rock solid promise that in Holy Communion you receive His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  When buffeted by the storms of life do not try to live on the shifting sands of your own strength, your own promises, your own good intentions.  Stand on the promises of Jesus. 

            The devil’s first lie is still so very useful to him. “Did God really say?”  There is a great temptation to not want to trust Jesus. It is too easy to think of Jesus as one of us and want to think about His promises like our promises.  The devil wants you to doubt Jesus’ promises and look to yourself for forgiveness.  The devil wants you to despair because of your broken promises. But the devil is a liar.  Salvation is not found in your promises; it is found in Jesus.  The devil is a liar and Jesus tells the truth.  Today we celebrate the truth that Jesus conquers sin and death for you. 

            This bright and festive morning filled with flowers and bells and joyful music is a great celebration.  We celebrate with gusto the resurrection of Jesus from the dead because it changes everything.  Today, and every Sunday, we remember and celebrate that Jesus keeps His promises. Jesus says your sins are forgiven and your sins are forgiven.  Jesus keeps His promises.  You do not need to doubt God’s love for you.  You do not need to doubt God’s promise to you as His baptized child.  You need not doubt your salvation.

            Today, bask in God’s love.  Rejoice in the forgiveness of your sins.  Celebrate Jesus’ promise of eternal life.  Know Jesus drowns your sin so each day you can live a new life in Christ.  In your struggle against sin and guilt know that Jesus has already won the victory. Bask in God’s love and forgiveness for you in Christ and let that love and forgiveness flow out from you into a troubled world bringing the light of Christ into the darkness.

In this life, death is your constant companion…stalking you from the moment of your birth.  This life is indeed lived in the valley of the shadow of death and yet you need not fear; the Lord is with you.  The devil and the world want you to be in constant, crippling fear of death, but you do not need to fear because Jesus has conquered death for you.  Jesus promises, John 11:25–26 (ESV)  25 … “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”…  Then Jesus asks, “do you believe this?”  Whoever believes in Jesus, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who believes in Jesus will never die.  Do you believe this?  It sounds too good to be true but you know it is true because… Jesus keeps His promises. “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

            Live in the promise of the resurrection.  Through all the troubles and struggles, live your life in love and joy knowing that you have eternal life.  “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!” Amen.

Dad, aren’t you dead yet?

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The Fourth Sunday in Lent 2022
March 27, 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
Luke 15:1-3a, 11-32

            Can you walk into a bank where you don’t have an account, go to the teller and demand that the teller give you money?  I suppose you can, but they call that bank robbery.

            Can you go to your boss and demand that she give you a $10,000 bonus?  No?              Why not?  Because it doesn’t belong to you; it is not owed to you. 

            Can you go to your parents and demand your inheritance? “Mom, Dad, I just can’t wait until you die, I want my share now.”  Can you do this?  Of course not, people would talk.

            The audacity!  The scandal!  How dare he think that he can just waltz in to speak to his parents and demand his inheritance? 

            But this is what the younger son does in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal; the wasteful, the free-spending, son.  He goes to his father and demands his inheritance as if the father owes this to him; as if it is the father’s debt to the son.

            Now in Jesus’ parables we need to examine who’s who. The father is God.  The sons represent us humans.  The younger son goes to the father and demands an inheritance as if it is owed to him.  How often is this the way that people treat God?  We go to God and demand our inheritance from him as if he owes us. 

            How many view salvation from God as their “right?” Folks will say, “I believe in God,” and yet their lives are unaffected by this “belief”.  They say, “Sure, I’ll get to heaven, why wouldn’t I?”  Salvation is viewed as a heritage; a birthright and it is just demanded from God and then they leave home and live a life apart from, and unaffected by the Father.

            I am afraid that this may be the case for many of those who have distanced themselves from the church; from the body of Christ. Without even being aware, folks demand their inheritance from God; the forgiveness of their sins — and then drift away from the church and head off to a foreign land, and squander that inheritance.

            Folks claim forgiveness as their right, but you don’t deserve forgiveness.  It is not owed to you.  It is not God’s debt to you.  Rather, it is a gift that he freely offers in His Word and His Sacraments.  This forgiveness was won through Jesus’ holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.  You cannot purchase it, you cannot earn it, you cannot demand it — it is a gift which you receive here each week as you gather as the body of Christ, as you kneel before the Lord in confession, and at the communion rail as you eat and drink from the fountain and source of all goodness.

            For those who are members here at Immanuel or becoming members, this is your home, your spiritual home.  There is a great spiritual danger in leaving home to live in the world and forsake the fountain of forgiveness found here.  It is dangerous to leave home.

            But this happens all too frequently.  The worries of this world, the busyness of life choke out your connection with the Body of Christ.

            Our confirmands and their families too often, it seems, take their inheritance and depart for a foreign land.  Our precious young people stand here in their white robes and promise to remain faithful to this church and suffer all, even death rather than fall away; and then they disappear into the foreign land to squander their inheritance.

The college years are a great danger.  Our young people leave home and head off to the university where there is an abundance of options of worldliness in which to get entrapped.  They are away from us and many do not find a local congregation to serve as a spiritual home-away-from-home while at college.  We have been that home for a number of students at Miami University, but there are so many who live their college years spiritually away from home, like the younger son, off in a foreign land squandering his inheritance. 

Young families can become busy with sports and activities; they claim their inheritance and drift off into a foreign land. 

Folks can wander away to the latest and greatest new community church that has a great band and a great video system and a charismatic, likable pastor, but instead of teaching about sin and forgiveness, they teach you how to live well in the foreign land and feel good about yourself while living there.

            Folks of any age can have a crisis in their life and this can be used by the devil to separate you from the body.  It could be a divorce, an illness, or a move to a new area that causes people to drift into a foreign land.

            It is a danger as you grow older and weaker that you allow this to separate you from the body.  Don’t give the devil a foothold.  For those who are too ill and too weak to come here to receive the forgiveness of sins we will bring it to you at home.

            Most folks have allowed themselves to drift at one time or another.  Often this is not so much a conscious decision but rather that they have allowed other things to overwhelm life.

When you find yourself alone and separated from the Body of Christ, what do you do?

            If you find yourself in a foreign land like the younger son, what do you do?  When you find that you have squandered the gift of forgiveness in wild living, what do you do?  When you find yourself in the spiritual pig pen starving for some real food, what do you do?

What do you do when you find yourself empty after chasing fulfillment through intimacy without commitment? 

What do you do when you find that the alcohol and the pot and the pills can’t numb the pain anymore? 

            The younger son realizes that his father’s servants have a better life than living with the pigs in the mud of the foreign land and the son returns home humble and repentant saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”

When you find yourself alone and separated from the Body of Christ, what do you do?

            You come home.  You humble yourself before God and you come home to where you belong.  You come home and get on your knees and confess that you are by nature sinful and unclean.  You come home and get on your knees and confess that you have sinned in thought, word and deed.  You come home and get on your knees and beg for the gift of forgiveness that previously you demanded as if it were something you were owed. 

            And God the Father will lift you up; He will surround you with His love, wash you clean, and clothe you with the best robe; the robe of Jesus’ righteousness.  He will restore you to your place as His son; as His daughter.

            He will invite you to the feast and there he will feed you with the very body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

            What do you do when you find yourself in mud?  Come home.  Come home and be welcomed with open arms by God the Father and by your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now, this parable is not just about the younger son, but also the older, loyal son; the one that has been consistently devoted to the father.  He too forgets his place.  He too demands from the father what is only offered as a gift. He thinks he has earned it by his years of hard work and faithfulness.  Be on guard also against “older son syndrome” in which you start to think that God owes you forgiveness because you have been faithful to him and his Church for so many years.  Guard against “older son syndrome” in looking down upon those who have lived for a while in the foreign land and found themselves in the mud and humbly came back to our midst.  Those returning are your brothers and sisters redeemed by the blood of Jesus.  You kneel with them at the altar of the Lord and this unites you with those who have wandered and returned.  It is not for you to be bitter that the younger son is welcomed back.  It is a time for rejoicing. 

You do not have the right to think that another is less deserving of Christ’s forgiveness.  You cannot kneel at the rail with a fellow Christian and wonder, “Who does she think she is coming here to the altar.”

Those who are loyal and faithful, be aware.  In this parable, which son is in the better spiritual place?  It is the younger son, broken down by knowing what the world truly has to offer, who realizes he is owed nothing and who comes to his father in humility and penitence.  The older son is in great danger because, although he is with the father, he still thinks that his father owes him.  The father owes him nothing, but all that he has is for the son.  The father owes you nothing, but offers you everything as a gift. 

No matter if you have been a faithful disciple for 90 minutes or 90 years, you still approach God the same way.  You come with empty hands, in humility and repentance to receive His great and abundant gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation. 

You can’t demand forgiveness; it is not God’s debt to you.  The Good News is that forgiveness is already yours; a gift from God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  You are not owed forgiveness, but you have been given forgiveness, life and salvation by your loving heavenly Father.  Amen.

O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken

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Lent 3 2020
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
March 20, 2022

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            I enjoy word puzzles.  My daughter Heather got me started on Wordle a month or so ago and now I work it every morning.  It is a once-a-day puzzle website that gives you six chances to find a five letter word. I had 100% streak going until the other day when I had found __ATCH.  Problem is that there are too many words that can fit; batch, hatch, latch, match, catch, patch, and I ran out of options and missed the correct word, watch.  Normally I can use my reasoning skills to eliminate certain combinations and find the answer.  That’s the fun of the puzzle; using your reason to try to figure out the answer.

            Reason is good to use for puzzles, but it does not work so well with Jesus.  Jesus does not act reasonably.  Reasonable people give you what you deserve.  Your boss is a reasonable person and pays you what you earn.  Your teacher is a reasonable person who gives you the grade you deserve.  Jesus is not reasonable; He suffers what you deserve and gives you what you don’t deserve. Your reason wants to make God an angry, judgmental God.  A God who you need to appease or He will send you to hell.  Your reason desperately wants you to be a part of saving yourself.  But Jesus is not reasonable.

            The hymn, “O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken”, is a wonderfully poignant hymn which delves into the depths of God’s love for you in Jesus.  It was first published in German in 1630 written by a Lutheran pastor Johann Heerman. It is based on Augustine’s Meditations, Chapter VII, entitled, “An Acknowledgment that sinful Man was the Cause of Christ’s Sufferings.” 

Born in 1585, Heerman himself knew suffering.  All of his siblings died in childhood.  Heerman was a sickly child and his mother prayed that if he survived she would pay for him to study at the university.  Over the years Heerman had reoccurring, significant illnesses.  Once, while fairly ill, he was ordained and appointed as assistant pastor in Köben in modern day Poland.  The senior pastor died a few days later leaving the church to be served by sickly Heerman.  The plague came to Köben in 1613, a terrible fire in 1616 and then Heerman’s first wife died childless in 1617.  Heerman fell into a long-term illness and infection in 1623.  After writing this hymn in 1630 came the 30 years’ war.  Köben was plundered in 1632, 1633, 1634 and 1642; Heerman lost everything several times.  He died in 1647.

            Heerman was not a strong, independent, man.  He suffered from many illness and tragedies and plagues and war.  He was often weak and needy.  His poetic rendering of this hymn reflects a deep trust in Jesus whose love is beyond comprehension.  This hymn, entitled Herzliebster Jesu in German was translated into our English version by Catherine Winkworth in 1863.  Let us examine it, verse by verse.

Verse 1. If you happened upon Jesus on the cross, your first logical question would be, “What did this man do to deserve crucifixion?  What law did he break?  Crucifixion is such a cruel way to put someone to death it begs the question, “What did this man do to deserve to die in such a horrible way?”

            Crucifixion is horrible to observe by design.  The pain is disfiguring as one hangs naked, impaled on nails praying to die so the excruciating agony and humiliation ends. But death may not come for two or three days after your body is completely exhausted.  The Romans really knew what they are doing when it came to executions.  Hanging you from your wrists nailed to the cross forces you have to breathe backwards, laboring to exhale.  Hanging like that, you would fairly quickly suffocate from exhaustion.  But the Romans wanted to make an example of those being crucified so they would nail your feet to the cross also and maybe put a small seat under your backside so you could push up on your nailed feet to catch another painful breath and extend the slow, horrifying process.  The idea being, that if you saw a person being crucified you would say to yourself, “however I die, please don’t let it be like that.” 

Verse 2 Jesus was not just crucified, but first they beat Him and whipped Him and crowned Him with thorns and made him carry His cross out of the city to Calvary.  They offered Him an awful mix of vinegar and gall to drink.  It is a horror to observe. 

            Verse 3 Encountering Jesus on the cross you ponder what is the cause of such plagues on this Jesus?  Why is He suffering here?  But then it hits you like a brutal punch in the gut.  You know what this is about.  The Holy Spirit enlightens you through the Word of God and then the horror of the “Why?” dawns on you with a storm of guilt.  Literally from the German, Ah, my sins have struck you; I, my Lord Jesus, have caused what you are suffering. 

            This is profoundly convicting.  What did Jesus do to deserve this kind of suffering and death? Nothing.  You deserve this kind of death because of your sins.  It is horrible that Jesus is dying because of your sins but it is also quite marvelous that Jesus dies for your sins. 

            Verse 4 How wonderful is this punishment!  The good shepherd suffers for the sheep.  The lord, the righteous, pays the debt for his servants.

            Verse 5 Jesus, the pious one dies, who walks right and true, the wicked live who rebel against God

Man deserves death and has escaped.  God is caught. 

The horror that you experience because of what is happening to Jesus on account of your sin now turns to stunning marvel as you ponder the unbelievable, amazing depth of Jesus’ love for you. 

Verse 6 Your sin is total and complete.  There was no spot in me by sin untainted.  Nothing good could be found in me.  I should have gone to hell to atone for my sin.

            Verse 7 Jesus’ love is so marvelous, so wonderful, so deep as to be unfathomable. This love brings Him to the cross to suffer and die.  I live in the world with pleasure and delights and Jesus must suffer.  It is beyond reason.  It does not make sense.  Jesus is the servant king who pays the price of your sin. 

            Verse 8 You are the great King, O Jesus, how can I spread your faithfulness.  No human heart can think of what to give you. 

Verse 9 I cannot comprehend the height, depth and breadth of your mercy.  I have nothing with which to compare it.  How can I pay you back for your loving work?

               Verse 10 I cannot pay you back, but there is something else that pleases you:  when I subdue and tame the lusts of the flesh; lest they kindle my heart again with old sins.                 Verse 11 That would please the Lord, but I cannot do it.  So I fasten my desires to the cross.  Give me your spirit to govern me, to lead me to good.  Awash in the love and mercy of Christ I want to do better.  I want to be faithful — but I am so weak.                 Verse 12 So then Jesus I ponder your mercy, what you have done for me.  I count the world for nothing.  I will strive to do your will.

            Verse 13 Living in your mercy, O Lord, with the power of the Holy Spirit I will dare everything in your honor; disregarding any cross, or disgrace or plagues, or persecution.  I will not worry about the pangs of death.  This is what St. Paul calls for you to do in Romans 12:1 (ESV)  1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 

               But who am I kidding.  For all my good intentions I can accomplish nothing of real value.  For as much as I promise to be good I am still tainted by sin.  And yet…               Verse 14 All my feeble efforts. Lord, you accept because of your mercy.  You will not put me to shame.  This life is a struggle against sin and I will not be able to defeat it.  But you, Lord Jesus, have already defeated it.  In your unfathomable love you have paid for my sin and set me free.  You have promised me eternal life.                 Verse 15 One day I will be before your throne in heaven.  The crown of honor will be on my head.  The great multitude of the Saints will sing to you and I will be with them, singing your praises.                Jesus’ mercy and love overwhelm any sense of logic and reason that you might have.  Jesus does not make sense.  He is not rational.  He is not reasonable.  He is not logical.  Jesus is not a puzzle for you to figure out.  Jesus does not act like a regular person because He is not a regular person.  He is God in flesh, and He is a God of love, and God’s love is beyond comprehension.  This can make people uncomfortable.  You are used to the ways of the world where you get what you deserve but God does things in ways that you cannot understand.  God gives you what you can never deserve.                 You want to pretend that you are strong and independent.  You want to project the image that you are tough and free.  It hurts your heart to admit that you are weak and needy.  It is humiliating to admit that you are in bondage to sin and cannot free yourself.  It is crushing to admit that you cannot break free from your sinful nature.  It is so tempting to redefine sin and justify yourself.               Over the years many things have changed, but the horrifying truth that Jesus was crucified because of your sins is still true.  Also, the marvel that Jesus did it for you, in love, to forgive your sins still remains the truth.  And the end of the story remains the same.  As a forgiven follower of Jesus, baptized into the Kingdom of God, you are destined to spend eternity with the Lord Jesus in the Heavenly City of New Jerusalem.  Jesus paid the price for you.  Amen. 

Speak the truth in love, no matter what

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2nd Sunday in Lent
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
March 13, 2022
Jeremiah 26:8-15, Philippians 3:17:4:1, Luke 13:31-35

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            Have you ever had this happen to you?  Someone tells you about their problems and you have the perfect solution, but they do not take your advice.  I have an Immanuel school student that I greet in the morning as she is dropped off in car line who, when I ask how she is doing, tells me, “I’m so tired.”  To which I reply, “You probably need to get to bed earlier.”  I am a master at giving advice.  She has a problem, I have a solution, and yet, it seems, she does not follow my advice and she continues to tell me that she is tired in the morning. 

            Teachers certainly have his issue.  You have a student that consistently makes poor choices and it leads them into trouble and gets in the way of their education.  You tell them how they can do better but they do not heed your advice.  It gets frustrating.  You just want to give them a hug and protect them from themselves and make it all better.

            Parents can relate when one of your children is having troubles.  Your beloved child makes the same poor decisions over and over and it is causing them no end of trouble.  You talk with them and counsel them but to no avail.  They refuse to listen to your guidance.  You just want to give them a hug and protect them from themselves and make it all better.

            You are offering advice in love to help them, to warn them, but unfortunately people are not always happy about someone telling them the truth about their situation, it can make them angry at you and drive them away. So what do you do?  You want to help, but they do not want your help.  Do you change your advice?  Do you lie and tell them that everything is okay?  Or, do you lament their rejection of your advice and continue to tell the truth?

            The prophets of God during Old Testament times have a rough job.  They are not just giving good advice.  They are called by the Lord to speak the truth of God to the people and their leaders. The prophets are called to go the people in power; religious leaders and political leaders and even kings to speak the truth in love.  A prophet’s job is difficult and dangerous.  There is great pressure when dealing with powerful people to simply tell them what they want to hear.  Kings have the power to execute you on the spot.  There is great temptation to not speak the truth in love but rather, in fear, tell them lies to make them feel good. 

            Jeremiah is feeling this pressure in our Old Testament lesson today.  Jeremiah 26:8–9 (ESV) 

8 And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! 9 Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.  

            The power brokers are bringing pressure to bear against Jeremiah.  They surround him and seize him and threaten him with death.  They want to continue in their vices and idolatry without having Jeremiah tell them that God condemns what they are doing and will send the Babylonians to bring God’s judgement and conquer Jerusalem.  They gather the king’s officials and the religious leaders and declare, Jeremiah 26:11 (ESV) 11 … “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.” 

            Jeremiah 26:12–15 (ESV)  12 Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. 13 Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you. 14 But as for me, behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. 15 Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”  

            In our Gospel reading from Luke Jesus finds Himself in a similar situation.  Jesus has been teaching in Galilee.  He has been speaking the truth in love, but the religious leaders do not love the truth. Jesus told them, Luke 11:39–42 (ESV) 39 … “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. 42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” 

            Jesus is warning the Pharisees to repent but they do not want to hear it.  They want Jesus to shut up and leave.  They come and tell Him that Herod wants to kill Jesus so He better leave.  We are not sure if Herod is really on the hunt for Jesus or if the Pharisees are just making up this threat.  Herod did, reluctantly, have John the Baptist killed, but on the morning of Good Friday Pilate sends Jesus to Herod and we are told, Luke 23:8 (ESV) 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him.” 

In any case, the Pharisees are using whatever they can to pressure Jesus to shut up, but, like Jeremiah and many other Old Testament prophets, Jesus resists the pressure.  He has to. If Jesus flees from this threat and stops speaking the truth of God He will be abandoning His mission.  He will become a false prophet.  It is better to die than to give up the truth. 

            The interesting thing is that Jesus has already set His face toward Jerusalem and the cross and He is already on His journey south to Jerusalem when the Pharisees confront him.  So Jesus tells the Pharisees how to respond to Herod.  Luke 13:32–33 (ESV) 32 … “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ 

            If Herod really does want to kill Jesus he will not get the chance because Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die.  Jesus will continue to speak the truth in love in Jerusalem to call the people and their leaders to repentance, but they will reject him.  These are the children of Israel.  These are God’s chosen people that He delivered from slavery in Egypt.  These are Jesus’ own people, He loves them and wants to save them, but they will reject Jesus and kill Him. 

            Despite knowing that this will happen, Jesus expresses great compassion for the people of Jerusalem, Luke 13:34 (ESV) 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”  Jesus wants the people of Jerusalem to listen to Him; to repent; to believe the Good News. He wants to hug them and make it all better, but he knows that will not happen.  Jesus laments over the people of Jerusalem but then He continues on to finish His course at the cross on Calvary. 

            Before the Babylonian exile the people of Judah do not want to hear Jeremiah’s warnings about their sins and their worship of false gods.  They just want Jeremiah to shut up and threaten to kill him so they can continue in their vice and idolatry.

            Jesus is preaching and teaching the truth of God and calling people to repentance.  The Pharisees and others want Him to shut up.  They pressure Him by threatening His life so they can continue to make money exploiting the people using their religious positions.  But Jesus will not keep silent.  Jesus loves his people too much to stop telling them the truth

            These days there are many people who still want Jesus to be silent.  They do not want to hear what Jesus has to say about their own vices and idolatry.  Speaking Jesus’ truth in love is met with resistance and pressure to give up the truth and give in to the whims of society. 

            There is great societal pressure to not speak the truth in love but rather to lie to people to make them feel better.  When confronted with Satan’s old question, “Did God really say?” the easy answer is that God says whatever you want Him to say. The easy answer is that God does not care about sin.  That God is not going to judge you.  That the Ten Commandments no longer apply.  That God has no instructions for life beyond whatever you think will make you happy. 

            There is a lot of pressure for churches to adjust their preaching and teaching to fit the ways of the world and not offend anyone. There is great societal pressure instructing that if speaking the truth in love offends someone then you need to give up the truth.  The world says that it is better to be a false prophet than to offend someone caught up in unrepentant sin.  The pressure is quite real to eliminate the concept of judgment and hell and instead teach that any way is a good way to God.  The world believes that the idea that Jesus is the only savior from sin is offensive and anyone teaching that needs to be silenced. 

            These days there are many people who still want Jesus to be silent.  They do not want to hear what Jesus has to say about their own vices and idolatry.  Speaking Jesus’ truth in love is met with resistance and pressure to give up the truth and give in to the whims of society. 

            People have left Immanuel because of our teachings about marriage and abortion.  It is tempting to want to adjust our teachings so that they won’t leave, but we cannot.  So we lament their leaving and continue to speak the truth in love. 

            The pressure is real to get along with the world.  In some countries those speaking God’s truth in love are threatened with imprisonment and death.  In this nation there is social and economic pressure in families, schools and workplaces.  There are no threats of death, but it seems that, even so, many are giving into the pressure and becoming false prophets; wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Jeremiah felt the pressure and remained faithful to God’s truth.  Jesus was pressured to stop speaking the truth in love and just “be nice” and get in line with the Pharisee’s program.  Jesus did not concede, but continued to speak the truth. We feel pressure today to give up the truth of God but we cannot.  In love, we must continue the work of bringing the truth of God’s Law and the truth of the Good News of forgiveness of sins through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to a world that doesn’t want to hear it and thinks it doesn’t need it.  But they are wrong.  They really do need Jesus. 

We preach and teach what God has given us.  We baptize and celebrate the Holy Supper as Jesus tells us to do.  We do what Jesus has given us to do to bring forgiveness of sins to hurting sinners.  In Jesus’ truth there is eternal life.  Without it there is eternal death and hell. 

            Pray for me that I have the courage to speak God’s truth in love despite opposition and offense.  Pray that this congregation and school continue to preach and teach the truth of God in love.  Pray that you can resist the pressure to just tell people what they want to hear, and instead speak the truth in love to those in your life.  We do not have a choice.  We need Jesus.  John 6:68 (ESV)  68 … “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 

Amen. 

Jesus is the Christ. What should we do?

BULLETIN

SERMON TEXT BELOW

Transfiguration 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
February 27, 2022
Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Hebrews 3:1-6, Luke 9:28-36

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            The season of Epiphany began on January 6.  This is the day we remember the magi coming from the East to seek the newborn king of the Jews.  Jesus’ identity is being revealed not only to the children of Israel, but also to the nations.  The big question that gets answered during Epiphany is, “Who is Jesus?”  But the answer doesn’t start with the magi, it starts with the angel visiting Mary and announcing to her, Luke 1:31–32 (ESV) 31 …behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,”  An angel visits Mary’s fiancé in a dream and tells him, Matthew 1:20–21 (ESV) 20 … “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 

            Angels appear on the night of Jesus’ birth to shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem and proclaim Luke 2:11 (ESV)  11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The shepherds go to Bethlehem and find the Baby and tell everyone what was told them by the angels. 

            Simeon is waiting at the temple for the Lord’s Christ. Seeing baby Jesus he takes Him in his arms and exclaims, Luke 2:29–32 (ESV)  29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” The question, “Who is Jesus?” continues to be answered. 

            Then Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “The Christ of God.” Jesus explains to the disciples, what this mean.  What does this mean to be the Christ?” 

            At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan 30 years later Luke 3:22 (ESV)  22 … the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  God the Father answers the question, “Who is Jesus?”

            In his ministry, Jesus drives out demons, and heals many of their diseases and ailments.  Jesus brings Peter, Andrew, James and John a miraculous catch of fish. Jesus raises a widow’s son from the dead.  He teaches as one with authority.  Jesus feeds 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.  He continues to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” 

            Then Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “The Christ of God.” Jesus explains to the disciples, what this mean.  What does this mean to be the Christ?” 

            Luke 9:21–22 (ESV) 21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And then, Luke 9:23 (ESV)  23 …he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  Jesus is the Christ of God, but what kind of Christ is this?  What is all the talk about suffering and rejection and dying and rising?

            Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the end of the season of Epiphany.  Today we see Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on the mountain and be transfigured. His face and clothing shine like lightening.  Moses and Elijah appear and are talking with Jesus. 

            The scene on the mountain is rich with imagery; signs, reminders and revelation looking back and pointing forward.  In salvation history, important things happen on mountains. Looking back, Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah, but God provides a substitute ram.  Moses was up on Mt. Sinai enveloped by a cloud talking to God and receiving the Ten Commandments.  When he came down his face glowed with God’s glory.  On Mt. Carmel, Elijah defeated and slaughtered the prophets of Baal.  Looking forward, Jesus, our sacrificial substitute, the Lamb of God, is put to death on a cross on Mt. Calvary with a sign above His head announcing this is Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.  On a mountain in Galilee Jesus gives the disciples the great commission.  Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV)  18 …“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Back in Jerusalem, atop the Mt. of Olives, Jesus ascends into heaven.  Big things happen on mountains in the Bible. 

            Here on the Mt. of Transfiguration Jesus is getting His disciples ready for what comes next.  Jesus is revealing His true divine self as His glory shines forth.  He truly is God in flesh.  Jesus is talking with Moses and Elijah about His departure, his exodus.  Jesus’ exodus will be accomplished in Jerusalem. 

In the exodus from Egypt, Moses leads the people of Israel out of slavery.  He does this after the final plague of the death of the first born.  Moses leads the people through the waters of the Red Sea into the wilderness and eventually to the Promised Land.

            Jesus calls for all to follow Him.  He calls on His disciples and the crowds and all people and He says them, and He says to you, “follow me,” as he leads the way out of slavery to sin.  He does this after the death of the first born son of Mary, the only Son of God, on the cross at Mt. Calvary.  Jesus leads the way from His cross, to His tomb, to His resurrection, through the waters of your baptism into the wilderness.  He leads you through the wilderness of bearing your cross in this life and following Jesus.  Jesus leads you on the straight and narrow path to the Promised Land.  Jesus feeds you the living bread from heaven and gives you living water to drink in the forgiveness and eternal life of Holy Communion. 

            The Epiphany question is, “Who is Jesus?” This is answered; Jesus is the Christ of God.  What does this mean?  Jesus tells the disciples.  It means Jesus will die on the cross and rise from the dead.  So what should you do?  Peter, James and John offer to build booths for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  But that is not what they are supposed to do.  That is not what we are supposed to do.  We get the answer to this question from God the Father himself.  Jesus is the Christ, what should I do?  Luke 9:35 (ESV) 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 

            Listen to Jesus.  In a world awash with voices calling you to follow them away from Jesus — leading you to question the truth — causing you to pursue a life of sin, God the Father’s voice rings out, “Listen to Jesus.”  When Jesus teaches that salvation comes through His cross and the resurrection, listen to Him.  When Jesus teaches that life under the reign of God is different than normal life in the world, listen to Him.  When Jesus tells you that you are to live following the Ten Commandments, loving God and loving your neighbor, listen to Him.

            Take time each day to listen to Jesus.  Read the Bible each day.  Listen to Jesus.  Download an audio Bible app and listen to scripture each day in the car or on the bus or when out for a walk.  Listen to Jesus.  Be faithful in worship to hear the Word of God.  Listen to Jesus.  Listen to Jesus when He teaches difficult things; when He tells you to love your enemy and pray for those who abuse you.  Listen to Jesus when He promises that you belong to Him and all your sins are forgiven. Listen to Jesus when He says that He died on the cross for your sins.  Listen to Jesus when He says He rose from the dead and that you will also rise from the dead.

            In baptism you have been transformed by Jesus.  You were lost, now you are found.  You were blind, now you see.  You were a slave to sin, you have been set free.  You were a condemned sinner, you have been redeemed. Jesus died for you and rose from the dead for you.  Jesus is the Christ.  Listen to Jesus.  Amen. 

Unclog the Pipeline of Love and Forgiveness

BULLETIN

SERMON TEXT BELOW

Epiphany 7 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
February 20, 2022

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            Imagine for a moment a pipe running from up high to down low. There is a hose pouring water into the top of the pipe, but the water is not going anywhere — it is just backing up at the top.  The pipe is full and no more water can go in.  What’s going on?  There must be a clog in the pipe.  Maybe mud, or rocks or a hairball, or maybe someone has screwed a cap on the end. Once you find the clog and remove it, the water will flow freely through the pipe.

            As a baptized child of God, as a citizen in the Kingdom of Heaven, you are the pipeline of God’s love and forgiveness to the world.  When all is working well, God’s love and forgiveness flows into you from the Lord in abundance and then flows out of you to those around you.  But, like a pipe, there can be clogs which prevent love and forgiveness from flowing.  The pipe gets clogged with anger, hatred, envy, pride. 

            Jesus addresses this in today’s Gospel reading with an incredibly difficult teaching.  It is not difficult because it is asking you do the impossible, but the opposite.  This teaching is difficult to hear because it is actually very doable.  You can do this.  You can unclog the pipe and let God’s love and forgiveness flow through you. But living this way is agonizingly counter cultural.  The world extols ideas such as “Don’t get mad, get even”, and “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”  The world teaches that you should dig up dirt on your enemy in order to get them cancelled. Hate those who hate you.  Fight back against those who abuse you.  Jesus disagrees.  In the Sermon on the Plain from Luke 6 Jesus teaches, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” 

Now the devil wants hatred to increase because hatred brings chaos and damage in society.  Hatred tears people apart.  It damages people.  Hate hurts the one who is being hated, but it also, very much, maybe even more so, damages the hater.  To hold onto hate is like holding on to corrosive acid which slowly eats you away and destroys you.

            The devil wants hate to increase and so when someone hates you the devil wants you to hate right back and then some.  Someone insults you, give it right back, only stronger and more vicious.  Two guys get into argument.  Voices are raised.  Words become nasty.  One pushes the other.  The other punches back, the one grabs a stick, the other pulls a knife, the one pulls a gun and fires.  The devil wins.  One family buries their loved one, the other visits their loved one in prison. 

People hate in person and hate remotely on social media as they trade written barbs and escalate the hate.  The devil wants hate to escalate, Jesus wants to eliminate hate. 

Now, it is so natural to believe that wrongdoing must be punished.  You do wrong; you get what is coming to you.  You sin.  God hates sin.  God should hate you.  But Jesus turns this on its head.  Jesus loves you in your sin.  He loves you and calls you out of your sin.  Jesus loves you.  He is punished in your place.  He pays the penalty for your sins on the cross so that you can be declared holy and righteous.  John 3:17 (ESV) 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 

If someone slaps you on the cheek your natural response is to slap back or push or punch.  Your natural response is to escalate the hate.  Your natural response is to be a mirror for hatred and reflect it back. Not just a regular mirror, but a convex mirror that not only reflects the hatred but amplifies it.  When you respond hate for hate, hate grows.  The pipe gets clogged with hate.  Jesus teaches Luke 6:29 (ESV) 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 

            Jesus calls you to not be a mirror for hatred, but rather a sponge.  A sponge absorbs hatred, and returns love for hate.  You are called to love like God.  Luke 6:36 (ESV) 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”  God has mercy on you even though you do not deserve it.  As someone living in the Kingdom of God, as a recipient of God’s mercy, you are called to have mercy on others even though they don’t deserve it. 

            This is a clear call for how to live in the Kingdom of God, and it is very achievable.  You can do this.  With the power of the Gospel through the Holy Spirit, you can be the stronger person and absorb hatred in the world instead of spreading it.  Do not let hatred, anger, envy and pride clog up the pipe bringing forgiveness and love to the world through you. 

As a sinner that Jesus has embraced, and cleansed, and clothed in His righteousness, be the one who does not engage in conflict; the one who does not respond to an attack.  You be the one to humbly turn the other cheek.  Be the one to Luke 6:27–28 (ESV) 27 “… Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  Keep the pipe clear and let the love and forgiveness flow.  

Because Jesus has forgiven you your sins, you can forgive.  I worry that we misunderstand forgiveness.  Often when you apologize to someone they will say, “That’s okay.  No big deal.” And sometimes, for minor matters, it is okay.  But forgiveness in no way says that what you are forgiving was okay.  It says that you will not hold it against them.  When God forgives your sin He does not say “your sin is okay,” or “your sin is no big deal.”  He does say, “I will not hold your sin against you.”

If you get into an argument with a family member and lose your temper and storm away, be the strong one who humbly goes to your loved one and gives them a hug and says, “I’m sorry.  I should not have lost my temper.  I should not have raised my voice.”

            And not just for family members, but also your enemies. Love your enemy.  When you live life in the Kingdom of God and respond to a hateful enemy with love it will befuddle them.  If someone steals from you and you give them more, it will baffle them.  When someone is being hateful toward you, do something good for them.  Living like this will change the world.  Eliminate the hate and elevate love.

When you feel anger toward another immediately lift them up in prayer. Praying for an enemy changes your attitude.  When you respond in a heavenly way to earthly issues it changes people’s lives because you are responding with Jesus’ love and forgiveness flowing through you. 

You pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  You are praying to keep the pipeline of love and forgiveness flowing freely.  You are praying to keep Jesus’ love and forgiveness flowing into the world through you.  Eliminate the hate.  Elevate the love.

            Love your enemy.  The great thing and the terribly challenging thing is that you can do this. This is not some impossible task; this is little adjustments in your day-to-day interactions.  And this is also not something that has to be done in some huge, complicated way, but rather in small acts in your daily interactions.  Someone is abrupt with you, smile and reply in a calm voice.  Someone on the highway flips you the one finger salute, make the sign of the cross over them.  Someone makes a mistake, let it go, or gently help them to fix it. 

            You are not the judge of the world; that is well above your pay grade.  Jesus did not come to condemn, so you are not to condemn others.  This is not to say you should never warn someone about sin, but do it gently and lovingly, as a fellow sinner who also needs forgiveness. You come alongside a fellow sinner and speak the truth in love with the goal of bringing them to repentance and faith in Jesus and the forgiveness of sins.

            Jesus is serious about keeping the pipeline of love and forgiveness flowing freely.  He warns about it after teaching the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:14–15 (ESV) 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  Also in the parable of the unforgiving servant after Peter asked Jesus how many times should Peter forgive and, Matthew 18:22 (ESV) 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” And warns that the unforgiving will be treated like the unforgiving servant.    Matthew 18:34–35 (ESV) 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” 

            We all have plenty to repent of for clogging up the pipeline with hatred, anger, envy and pride.  We all desperately need Jesus’ love and forgiveness.  Each day remember who you are.  You are a baptized child of God.  You are a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  You are loved and forgiven.  Let that love and forgiveness flow.

            In His Word and His Sacraments Jesus pours out His love and forgiveness on you in abundance.  He has forgiven you all your sins.  Let that love and forgiveness flow through you and out to others.  Humbly rid yourself of any hatred or anger or envy or pride that may be blocking the pipeline from letting love and forgiveness flow out to others.  Because you are loved by Jesus, because your sins are forgiven, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  Amen.

An Empty Tomb

BULLETIN

SERMON TEXT BELOW

Epiphany 6 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
February 13, 2022

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            What do these places have in common?  Cambridge, Massachusetts, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Pingliang, China, Nauvoo, Illinios, Medina, Saudi Arabia?  In each of these places you can visit the graves of dead religious leaders.  Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science in Cambridge, Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Pittsburgh, the cremated remains of Siddhārtha Gautsama, the Buddha, in Pingliang, Joseph Smith the founder of Mormonism in Nauvoo,  and Muhammed’s body in Medina at the Islamic Green Dome.  You could make a pilgrimage to any and all of these places and visit the graves containing the dead remains of the founders of various religions. 

            There is another grave of the founder of a religion in Jerusalem in Israel.  It is the grave of Jesus of Nazareth who founded the religion of Christianity.  I got to visit this grave in July of 1991. This grave is different from all the others I listed.  What is the difference?  Jesus’ grave is empty.  Jesus rose from the dead.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia!

            And because Jesus rose from the dead, you will rise from the dead.  You confess this each Sunday in the creed — I believe…in the resurrection of the body. This confession refers to your body. In the end, death will not be victorious.

            This is what you confess together each week here at church even though you live in a world that denies the resurrection of Jesus’ body and denies the resurrection of your body because resurrection flies in the face of experience.  Folks know birth, they know life, they know death, they know dead is dead.  They have seen it. 

            But that is not true.  Dead is not dead.  Jesus of Nazareth was executed on a Roman cross in Jerusalem.  Before dying He cried out, “It is finished.”  The Romans soldiers overseeing the crucifixion were death experts, they made sure Jesus was dead by spearing Him in the side.  Blood and water flowed forth from the wound.  Jesus of Nazareth was certainly dead.  He was taken down from the cross and wrapped in a linen shroud with spices and laid in a nearby tomb.  Jesus died in public at Calvary, also called Golgotha, just outside the walls of Jerusalem.  Two prominent men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, took Jesus’ dead body and buried Him in an unused tomb.  Jesus death and burial on that Friday were done in a very public way; no one doubted what just happened.  Jesus’ disciple John was present at the cross, the other disciples, likely watched in fear from a distance.  A group of women that followed Jesus from Galilee were at the cross and went to the tomb and watched as Jesus’ body was place in the tomb, the tomb was sealed with a stone, and a guard was set to make sure no one steals the body.  It is over.  Jesus was dead and buried. 

            Come Sunday morning the women went back to the tomb to bring spices and discovered that Jesus has risen from the dead.  They reported it to the disciples who came to see the empty tomb with the grave clothes neatly folded.  Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  That night Jesus appeared to the disciples who were hiding in a locked room.  A week later He appeared again when Thomas was back with them and he touched Jesus’ wounds. The disciples touched Jesus.  Jesus ate with them. 

            Jesus really did die.  Jesus really did rise from the dead.  These are both true even though it does not make sense. 

            In our Epistle lesson today St. Paul is writing to the Christians in Corinth near Athens in Greece.  Greek society did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. In the Greek city of Corinth, everyone would have known that once you die, only your soul makes the trip across the River Styx into the underworld: No bodies are allowed. And it is likely that the culture of Corinth would have been very skeptical of the idea of resurrection. One famous Greek playwright wrote: “When the dust hath drained the blood of a man, once he is slain, there is no resurrection” (Aeschylus, Eumenides, 647-48; ca. 458 B.C.).  The Greeks believed dead is dead. Period. End of the story.

            Not much has changed in our times.  There is a strong sense that death is the end; there is nothing after death, dead bodies have no future.  We tend to imagine our souls after death like the life force of Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda after they die; a kind of glowing version of our physical selves. Remember how neither Obi-Wan nor Yoda left an embarrassing corpse behind when they died? Neither did Master Oogway, from Kung-Fu Panda. In fact, in entertainment for young and old, we Americans seem to be content with the soul living on without a body (if it is a family movie), or souls living on in dead bodies (if it is a zombie movie). But we do not imagine that something as vulgar as a corpse has much of a future.

            Jesus really did die.  Jesus really did rise from the dead.  These are both true even though it does not make sense. 

            Even in the Church there can be a strong sense that our bodies are just a shell and once the spirit leaves the body it is a useless husk with no future.  This way of thinking is what St. Paul is confronting in our Epistle lesson today. 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 (ESV) 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” 

            You will one day die and return to the earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  But this will not stop your resurrection.  God created Adam from the dust of the ground and He tells Adam, Genesis 3:19 (ESV)  19 …you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Jesus teaches, John 5:28–29 (ESV)  28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.  

Jesus tells Lazarus’ sister Martha, John 11:25–26 (ESV)  25 … “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die…”  

There is resurrection of the dead.  Jesus was raised from the dead, and you will be raised from the dead.  Paul calls people out for not believing in the resurrection of the dead.  1 Corinthians 15:12–16 (ESV) 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.”  Paul is adamant.  If there is no resurrection of the dead then your faith is in vain.

            Paul Maier, a Lutheran historian and son of the first Lutheran Hour speaker Walter Maier, wrote a book called, “A Skeleton in God’s Closet.”  The basic premise of the novel is that archaeologists have found the bones of Jesus of Nazareth.  The book explores what effect this has on Christians around the world.

            Ponder this for a moment.  If Jesus’ body is found how would that affect your life?  Would you still come to Church?  If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then Christianity is nothing.  If Jesus is not raised, this would all just be foolishness and we would be fools to keep on hoping in Christ.  1 Corinthians 15:19 (ESV)  19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 

            I fear that for many church bodies, finding the body of Jesus would not change what they do.  Many liberal church bodies already teach that Jesus’ resurrection may have just been a spiritual resurrection to show the disciples’ faith, but that Jesus did not really rise from the dead.  Churches have become just a group of nice people doing nice things.  But the true Church is so much more.  The true Church will be destroyed if they find the body of Jesus.  If they find the body of Jesus then this is all worthless. 

            But, the truth is, Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia!

            We know this to be true.  There were eyewitnesses to the resurrection and they recorded what they witnessed and we have that testimony.  This is not some vision that a writer received while sitting in a cave, this is eyewitness testimony recorded for all time.  And not just one eyewitness; many eyewitnesses.  Paul writes, 1 Corinthians 15:5–8 (ESV) 5 … he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 

            We have the eyewitness accounts of Matthew, Mark, John, Peter and Paul.  Luke records others’ eyewitness accounts.  And you know that you can trust these accounts because of what the eyewitnesses did for the rest of their lives after witnessing Jesus’ resurrection. Church history tells us that these eyewitnesses of the resurrection spent the rest of their lives witnessing about what they had seen.  They did not get rich or powerful.  They endured abuse and torture and imprisonment because of their testimony.  They were whipped and beaten and stoned and driven out of towns and cities.  10 out of the 11 disciples plus Paul were executed for telling people that Jesus rose from the dead.  These eyewitnesses absolutely know the truth about Jesus rising from the dead and they never stopped telling others no matter the consequences. 

            Jesus is the first fruits of the grave.  He is the first one out of the grave, but He will not be the last.  Unless Jesus returns while you are still alive, you will follow Him out of the grave on the last day as your body will be raised up imperishable and your spirit and body reunited, clothed in the robe of Jesus’ righteousness, together with the communion of saints, will march into the Heavenly City of New Jerusalem, your new, eternal home. 

            Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia! This is not just some Easter proclamation; this is your confession of the truth.  And because Jesus has risen you will also rise from the dead. 

Amen.