Monday, July 15, 2019

Easter Sunrise 2019 “Christ is Risen! That’s it!”

Easter Sunrise 2019                         “Christ is Risen! That’s it!”

Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!]

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Christ is risen. That seems like such a small thing to say in the midst of a world and life that can be most difficult.

Christ is risen seems so small when we think back 20 years ago this week to the Columbine massacre.

Christ is risen seems so small when we hear of the resurgence of the Taliban.

Christ is risen seems so small when we watch the body of a loved one being lowered into a grave and covered with dirt.

Christ is risen seems so small against all the evil we see in our world, all the hatred, all the bad news that never seems to stop.

Christ is risen seems so small as we watch our own bodies and their inevitable march to death, whether than comes for you in old age, by accident or violence, or from disease.

Christ is risen. Is that all the church has to say?

Well, yes! And that is enough. Because those are no mere words, but words that express the truth that on this day, in Christ, everything has changed. That though sin and evil oppress us, that though the devil roar and bear his teeth at us, and though the grave opens wide its mouth to swallow us up - these have all been defeated! Sin, Satan, death, and hell all did their worst to Christ, and lost. And because Christ won, so do we.

This is the message the angel was given to proclaim to the women. This is the message the women were given to proclaim to the disciples. This is the message the apostles were given to proclaim. And this is the message we are given to proclaim - in every time, in every place, in every circumstance of life. Christ is risen! For it is the message no one else has. It is the hope no one else has.

The world, without Christ, cannot handle death. It has no words to say. Therefore, many try to ignore death, or wish it away. Many turn to medicine to look for a cure, others try to turn it into a friend. And when all else fails, we try to dress it up with fancy caskets, make-up, loads of flowers, and pious sounding clichés. But the 800 pound elephant is still in the room! And it is monstrous and threatening.

The church does none of these things. Instead, we look death and hell straight in the face and say: Christ is risen! And you, O death, are defeated. Christ is risen! And you, O Satan, are a toothless foe. Christ is risen! And you, O grave, are just our resting place. For as with Jesus, so for us. On the last day, your jaws will be forced to open and release our bodies. He is raised, and so we will be raised.

So rest well, we say to those who die in Christ. Rest well, until our Lord comes again and finishes His victory, and we appear with Him in glory. For Christ is risen.

As St. Paul said (1 Cor 15:14-19), this is the truth on which the Christian faith depends. If Christ did not rise, if His body is still in some tomb somewhere, our faith is dead. Oh, we could still piece together some interesting ideas about God and men, about man’s being and his obligation, and create some kind of religious worldview - like all the other religions of the world. But the Christian faith would be dead. Jesus would be a failed religious leader; a Savior of no one.

For only if Jesus is risen is there something that has changed the world and the situation of mankind. Only then is He a Savior on which we can rely. For though He was not the first to rise from the dead, His resurrection was different. Others, we are told in the Scriptures, were resuscitated from death - the widow of Zeraphath’s son (1 Kings 17:17-24), the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:22-24, 35-43), and Lazarus (John 11:1-44), to name a few. These people all returned to their normal lives and then died again.

But Jesus was not merely resuscitated, but resurrected, and now no longer subject to death. He did not just come back from death, but defeated death. The Spirit that gave life to all things in the beginning now gives life to His body - and thus begins a new reality, a new creation, a new dimension of human existence, and a new future for us. Not the same old life dressed up in a new way, but a new life that will never end. A new life where the grave will provide a temporary resting place for our bodies, but no more than that. Christ in His death and resurrection has transformed it from a place of horror to a bed, from which He will call us from the sleep of death to eternal life. For Christ is risen! And we too will rise.

This is what we confess in the baptismal Creed, when we say: I believe in the resurrection of the body. Whose body? Christ’s? Yours? Yes! For Christ’s resurrection is your resurrection. For He took your humanity to redeem it, to raise it. When He rose from the dead, it wasn’t for Himself - it was for you. And in Holy Baptism you were joined with Him in His death and resurrection. Therefore, today is not just a remembrance of the past, but a glimpse of the future. Your future and mine. A future that has, in fact, already begun.

For Jesus didn’t just come to save your soul, as so many want to say these days. As if whether Jesus actually rose physically or not really doesn’t matter! That is a satanic lie; nothing could be further from the truth. If Jesus’ body did not rise from the dead then death won, and we lost. A mere spiritual resurrection means nothing, for you are not a mere spirit. You are a person, made up of a body and a spirit. You cannot be you if you’re not both. A body without a spirit is an animal. A spirit without a body is an angel. You are neither. You are a man or a woman, a special creation of God, the crown of His creation. And He came to save not part of you, but all of you! That you live with Him forever.

And you will! For Christ is risen! Yes, He is risen indeed. And so, too, will you rise.

But as I said, it is a resurrection already begun in you, in your Baptism, in the forgiveness of your sin. You are already being made new. How new? How so? Listen to what we heard from Paul earlier: Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, death has no victory or sting through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Or as Jeremiah says: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

That’s a remarkable statement! And it is a promise for you. That you live a new life even now. A life restored in the forgiveness of your sins. No matter how many, no matter how great. You are restored as a pure and holy! You heard it again today, in fact, as you hear it every Sunday: I forgive you all your sins. That’s not me, but the voice of your Savior. The same voice that will call your body from the grave on the last day. What He speaks now, He will speak then. What He promises now, He will do then. For Christ is risen! And so will you be.

That’s one of the reasons why, in our Communion liturgy, I say: Lift up your hearts! and you respond: We lift them to the Lord. Whatever is dragging us down in this world and life, whatever sins oppress us from without or weigh heavily upon us from within, whatever doubts and fears are robbing us of this life - not here! Not here at this altar, where Christ now comes in His resurrected Body and Blood, with His forgiveness, life, and salvation. Here, we set our minds on things above, that we may live here below. That we may live in our callings. That we may live as new creations. For truly we are! How could we not be? For when we eat the Body and drink the Blood of Christ, we do not make this food into what we are - this food makes us into what it is. We are transformed into the image of Christ. Transformed even here and now to live a new life. Until when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

And so an old pastor, as he lay dying, said: If Christ is risen, then nothing else matters; and if he is not risen, then nothing else matters.

And so as we proclaim today Christ is risen, we are saying no small thing. We are proclaiming, in fact, the event that changed everything. And from this small proclamation, first spoken by an angel, then by the women, then by the apostles, then by the church for some 2,000 years now - from this small, easily overlooked proclamation, has come a new beginning. The new beginning for which the world was silently waiting. A reality so powerful that not even the gates of hell can stand against these words: Christ is risen!

Yes, that is all the church has to say! The sum and substance of our proclamation. That is our good news today and everyday, and that makes a difference today and everyday. Come what may, Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia! Amen.

“The Little (or BIG!) Peter in Each of Us: Denial”

Lent 5 Midweek
“The Little (or BIG!) Peter in Each of Us: Denial”
Luke 22:54-62; 2 Timothy 2:8-13

The first rule about trying to get out of a hole is to stop digging. But Peter doesn’t stop. Or can’t. From pride to complacency to misunderstanding to keeping his distance, today, perhaps we could say, he hits rock bottom. He denies his Lord not once, not twice, but three times. 

It had been just a few hours really, from the time this all started. Peter had heard things he never thought he would hear. He had seen things he never thought he would see. He was tired, he was worried, he was confused, he was afraid. And he had never felt so alone . . . even though he was surrounded by people. All he could feel was evil pressing in on him and choking him.

So here he was, behind enemy lines, so to speak. He was lost in the thousand thoughts that filled his mind. He wondered where Jesus was, what was happening to him at this moment . . . when all of a sudden, it seemed like everyone was looking at him, just like all those eyes had looked in the Garden. The light from the fire whose warmth he welcomed was betraying him, exposing him. And then a servant girl said: This man also was with him. Peter felt a chill run down his spine and all the blood run out of his face, and then he blurted out: Woman, I do not know him. And while he immediately regretted saying it, at the same time he felt relief that his answer seemed to have satisfied his accusers.

He put his head down as it got a little colder. Not that much time had passed, but enough to begin thinking that maybe the danger had passed . . . when it happened again: You also are one of them. Man, I am not. He said it a little louder this time; a little more defiantly. His hand felt the hard steel of his sword still under his cloak, that still had the blood of the high priest’s servant on it. It wasn’t much, but it was ready, if he needed it.

Another hour went by . . . What are they doing with Jesus? Why is it taking so long? The first hints of sunrise were beginning to appear - what would this day bring? What it brought was the third accusation against him: Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean. Peter’s nerves, so raw, almost couldn’t take it anymore. Man, I do not know what you are talking. . . and then he heard it - the rooster . . . about. And at that moment, all his fears were engulfed in a flood of shame and despair. He looked up and saw Jesus - still bound, still surrounded by soldiers. And worse: Jesus saw him. And that voice, softer and milder than any of his accusers, cut deeper than any of their words did . . . Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times. And the tears began. And they wouldn’t stop for quite some time. 

And the hole he had dug himself into suddenly felt like a grave.

The sin that lives in Peter is the same sin that lives in us. Sin that makes us timid and fearful of making a bold confession. Sin that makes us do what we know we should not and makes us not do what we know we should. Sin that makes us not want to be labeled one of “them.” Sin that makes us fear men more than God, that makes us fear death and life, ridicule and judgment. The sin that seems to engulf us and makes us say no to Jesus . . . our friend, our Lord, our Savior. For who among us cannot say that we have never denied our Savior? Either in our thoughts or desires, our words or our deeds.

At that moment, Peter felt that he had died. Good! For that is the first step for resurrection. You must first die. Die to yourself, die to your goodness, die to your faithfulness, die to what you are able to do, die . . . and be raised by Christ. For the one who rose from the dead for you first died for you, for all your sin, all your shame, all your failures, for all your pride and complacency and misunderstanding and distance, and even your denials - that on Him and not on you, He pay for them and you be forgiven. That He die with you, so that you rise with Him to a new and better life.

There was probably a rooster crowing that morning as well - that Sunday morning when the women came and told Peter that Jesus’ tomb was empty. And by that evening, Peter’s empty heart would be filled with life again.

But from that day forward, I wonder . . . could Peter ever again hear a rooster crow and not think about these things? Not think about that awful night or that wonderful resurrection morning? What a blessing, then, for Peter. Every morning being called to repentance, and every morning rejoicing in the forgiveness of Jesus. 

Luther got that, I think, for he spoke of baptism that way. That every morning when we awake, make the sign of the cross and remember that you are baptized. Repent, drown your sin, and then rise with Christ and His forgiveness to new life again. Every morning repent of the sin, but don’t dwell on it; don’t give it new life! Live in Christ as He now lives in you. 

That’s what Paul was talking about as he wrote to Timothy and said:
The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

He cannot deny Himself. To deny those joined to Him by faith would be to deny Himself. And that will never be. If we die with Him, we will live with Him

Those times when our faith is rocked, when fears shake us, when we fall and fall hard, when the Peter in us takes over - if we are faithless, he remains faithful. He will not leave us or forsake us. His promises, once given, and never reneged. There is forgiveness for you, in Him. 

There is only one exception, Paul says: those who deny Him. Meaning not those who fall in weakness, like Peter and you and me, but those who continually deny Him and deny Him on the Last Day. Those who want no part of Christ will get what they want . . . for eternity.

But until then, the Word of God is not bound! Yes, in a two-fold sense. First, the Word of God is proclaimed in all the world, to sound the rooster crow to call us to repentance and to faith in our risen Savior. Second, our Savior, the Word of God made flesh is no longer bound by the cords of death and the grave, but alive and still forgiving sinners. Alive and praying for you. Alive and preparing a place for you, to live with Him, forever. Alive for Peter, for you, and for me!

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“The Little (or BIG!) Peter in Each of Us: Keeping Your Distance”

Lent 4 Midweek
“The Little (or BIG!) Peter in Each of Us: Keeping Your Distance”
Matthew 26:57-58; 1 Peter 3:13-22

He watched them as they bound Jesus, as they cinched up those ropes tightly about His hands. Those hands that had done nothing wrong. Those hands that had so often reached out in compassion. Those hands that had touched lepers, restored sight to the blind, gave hearing to the deaf, and embraced the unloved. Those hands now tightly bound, as if they could do harm. As if they were a weapon. Those hands that had done nothing but good.

Then they shoved Him. Get going! they yelled into His ears, clearly enjoying the power they now exercised over Him. As if they had any power. Did they forget how He had just knocked them all down by just the power of His Word? But soldiers aren’t paid to remember, but to act. And so they did. Manhandling Jesus out of the Garden and to Jerusalem.

Peter just watched at first. But then slowly one foot followed the other, and he followed the hostile group . . . from a distance. Never letting them get out of his sight, but never getting too close either. Lest they turn on him. Lest they decide to let him get a taste of the steely sword he had just pulled on them. Back across the Kidron Valley, up the slope to Jerusalem, in the gate where Jesus had entered to shouts of Hosanna just a few days ago, through the sleepy streets, and into the courtyard of the High Priest. But not too far in. Near the wall, so he could blend in. Near the gate, in case he needed to make a quick getaway . . .

Perhaps Peter tried to console himself with the thought that he hadn’t left Jesus. He had said that even if all the others fell away, he never would (Matt 26:33). He was there; where were they? But even as he thought it, he knew it wasn’t true. He was trying his best, but his best wasn’t enough. He was afraid; so afraid. He was confused, he was distraught. He wanted to be with Jesus. He wanted to speak, he wanted to act, he wanted to die with his friend, his Lord. But something was holding him back. Something was keeping him away. Something was making him keep his distance.

You know how it is. So do I. For how often do we, too, keep our distance from our Savior? Afraid to speak. Failing to act. Strong when it’s easy but weak when too much is being asked of us. Hiding our faith lest we be mocked or attacked. Wanting to blend in with the world and not stand out; to be popular and not considered odd. Maybe, like Peter, we console ourselves with the way we come to Church every week and with what we give . . . but still you know in your heart how weak that excuse sounds. For faith is something to be lived not just in Church, when it’s easy, but in the world, even when it’s hard. We see Christians in other parts of the world being persecuted and killed for their faith, yet look at us! How we keep our distance, not wanting to get too close; not wanting the danger. Like Peter, we try our best, but our best isn’t good enough, is it?

So thanks be to God that in Jesus, God did not keep His distance from us. That in love for us, He didn’t just draw near to us, but became one of us. Jesus, God in human flesh and blood. You can’t get any closer than that. And in our flesh and blood He went through all that you do. He knows the fears and temptations, the worries and troubles. But where we are weak, He is strong. Where we fail, He delivers. Where we shrink back, He never does. He fights for us against all our enemies, even on the cross, and wins. Our sin is forgiven through His sacrifice, our death and grave are overcome in His resurrection, and our hell lies in ruins by His descent. For that man hauled off with His hands bound together would not remain bound for long. In just three days He would be free. To set us free.

It is the freedom now given to us in Holy Baptism, where the Lord who drew near to us now draws us to Himself. That’s what Peter wrote - yes, the same Peter. It is a changed man who could later write so differently than how he once acted, writing: But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. For after Jesus rose and restored Peter, Peter realized he was safe in the ark - the ark of Christ and His Church. For he was baptized into Christ - the Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. So what did he have to fear?

Oh, Peter still had his moments, as will we. Our sinful natures still get the better of us. But how good to know that those sins and failures cannot separate us from the love of Christ. That we, too, have forgiveness and restoration. That the promises we have received in baptism will never be taken away. Maybe Peter wrote that as much to teach and remind himself as to teach others. And we cannot be reminded too often, either. 

Peter followed at a distance because he expected the worst. But the worst, in the end, turned out to be the best. And for us too. So when you shrink back and follow from a distance, expecting the worst, the worst might happen - but the best is not far behind. For the God who raises the dead to life is able to bring good from evil even now. And He will. He promised. He promised you.

And so we sang our prayer, based on that promise, earlier:

Jesus, lead Thou on  Till our rest is won;
And although the way be cheerless,
We will follow calm and fearless.
Guide us by Thy hand  To our fatherland.

If the way be drear,  If the foe be near,
Let not faithless fears o’ertake us;
Let not faith and hope forsake us;
For through many a woe  To our home we go.

Jesus, lead Thou on  Till our rest is won;
Heav’nly leader, still direct us,
Still support, console, protect us,
Till we safely stand  In our fatherland. (LSB #718 v. 1-2, 4)

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“The Little (or BIG!) Peter in Each of Us: Misunderstanding”

Lent 3 Midweek
 “The Little (or BIG!) Peter in Each of Us: Misunderstanding”
John 18:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
 In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Well Peter wasn’t going to make the same mistake again! He wasn’t going to be caught sleeping this time. He would keep his word and promises. He would stand by Jesus. He would not shrink back. Yes, he would even die with His Lord - and for Him, if necessary. He would prove himself. Now was his hour.

So when he sees the band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, when he sees the lanterns and torches and weapons, when he hears that they’ve come for Jesus and are going to arrest Him, bind Him, and take Him away, Peter draws his sword. He’s going to go down fighting. And the first casualty of his flying sword is the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant.

Oh Peter! How can you be so misunderstanding? It’s not about you, it’s about Jesus. This is His hour, not yours. He would prove Himself and His love, not you. He would die for you, not you for Him. You will still shrink back, but He will not. He will stand by you, and He will keep His Word and promises - every single one of them. He is going as it is written of Him. Don’t you see that, Peter?

But he doesn’t. He should. Look at what had just unfolded before his very eyes. When the crowd of soldiers and officers come up to Him, Jesus cuts them down with just a few words. I am he, he says, and they all draw back and fall to the ground. Like dominoes knocked down by a giant divine hand, all those big, brave soldiers tumble to the ground. And it could have been worse. The one whose voice commands creation, rules over sicknesses and diseases, and expels demons, could have struck them all down and taken their life. But He does not. That is not what He has come for. He has come to lay down His own life - for Peter, for them, for you. So after they all get up and approach Him again, Jesus withholds His power. He allows Himself to be taken. The Creator places Himself into His creatures’ hands.

Don’t you see, Peter? Do you still not understand? Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me? But Peter hadn’t heard that. That was the struggle and those were the words he had just slept through. 

So, what about you and me? Do we understand? On the one hand we do. We know the story. We know of the crucifixion and the resurrection and how it all turns out in the end. 

But what we don’t know is the end of our own stories. How it will all turn out for us. Like Peter, sometimes we are faced with frightening situations. We see the powers and forces of this world, and their unholy alliance against Christ and His Church. We know our own past failures and want to do better, prove ourselves, not let our Lord down again. So we try to be strong and pull our swords and fight for our Lord. That’s not necessarily wrong, this side of the cross, as long as we use the right sword - the sword of God’s Word.

But isn’t that the very sword we so often leave in its sheath? Instead relying on the swords of our own strength, of human wisdom, of political influence, of earthly and worldly power. Those all have their place, but against the evil and darkness in our world, they are not just weak, they are nothing. And we, like Peter, are easily overcome.

Consider again the words we heard from St. Paul today: God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And the most foolish, weakest, lowest, and most despised thing of all is the cross, and Jesus on it. That you must be saved by a crucified criminal. That what looks like shame is really glory. That what looks like death and defeat is really victory and life. That’s stupid.
But that Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than menThat Christ now places Himself into the hands of those He came to save and allows them to crucify Him to do just that. They crucified a criminal against Rome - that’s what could be seen. But Jesus died the death of all us criminals against God - that’s what could not be seen. He took it in our place, to - as He said in the garden - let these men go. And because of Him, we have been. Let go from the guilt of our sin. Let go from the grip of death and the grave. Let go from the condemnation of the evil one. That the Word of God be fulfilled. That we have a Savior.

So, Jesus heals the ear of the servant Peter in his zeal had cut off. That he might hear the Word of God. For faith comes by hearing the Word of God and understanding by believing what it says - not what we think ought to be. For as we sang: How firm a foundation, O saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word (LSB #728 v.1)!

Peter would later understand. He would preach Christ crucified. He would boast [only] in the Lord. And he would lay down his life for Jesus; he would be martyred. But not to keep his word, but because Jesus had kept His. Not to prove himself faithful to Jesus, but because Jesus was faithful to him. And not because his love was so great, but because Jesus’ is. And so while those who crucified Peter thought they won by so doing, Peter would finally understand that he had already won. For Jesus had won the battle for him. 

For you. So that whatever troubles, whatever powers, whatever fears now come to attack you, you need not fear. You have already won, in Jesus. You are a child of God and under His care even now. And on the Last Day, Jesus will say to the grave let this one go - and it will. And you will live. For Jesus did drink the cup. He loses none that He is given. And so we rest and we hope and we boast in Him.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“The Little (or BIG!) Peter in Each of Us: Complacency”

Lent 2 Midweek
“The Little (or BIG!) Peter in Each of Us: Complacency”
Matthew 26:36-46; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fresh off Peter’s confident statements that he would never fall away from Jesus, even if all the others did; and, that he would never deny Jesus, even if it meant death, Peter now finds himself . . . asleep. He is not overcome when the shepherd is struck. He is not overcome with fear or threats. He is overcome with sleep. He is worn down. He is drained. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. His spirit is willing but his flesh is weak.

That’s how it is, isn’t it? With us, too. We get tired. We let our guard down. And before you know it, we have drifted off into sin.

Jesus and His eleven disciples had eaten the Passover and had gone to the Mount of Olives. Now the hour of evil, the hour of darkness, is almost here. Jesus knows it; the eleven do not. He singles out His special three - Peter, James, and John. The three who saw Him in the glory of His Transfiguration would now be with Him in the agony of His prayer. They should have known something was up, as Jesus began to be sorrowful and troubled. Something which, according to the Gospel accounts, they had not seen before. And Jesus voices it to them: My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me. He then goes a little farther and falls on His face in prayer.

How long did it take? 15 minutes? 30 minutes? before their eyes closed in sleep, so that when Jesus came back in one hour, He found them sleeping. And notice: Jesus addresses Peter. All three fell asleep, but Peter is singled out. For Peter had confidently and pridefully singled himself out: Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away. Peter is not as strong as he thinks. If the shepherd was going to be struck and that shepherd is now sorrowful and troubled, why wasn’t Peter on the alert and watching and ready? 

And so Jesus warns them. Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The danger is not just to Jesus. There is danger for them as well. But Peter is oblivious to the threats that might be out there. So off to sleep again he goes. Sleep well, Peter, while your Savior wrestles in prayer. Sleep well, Peter, while your Savior agonizes for you. Sleep well, Peter, for your Savior will not sleep again until He sleeps the sleep of death and is laid in the tomb.

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. Those are words for us tonight as well, for whether you are aware of it or not, the tempter wants you. And while he may at times come at us with a full-frontal assault, more often than not, I think, he wears us down, tires us out, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, until we let our guard down. A day without prayer quickly becomes three. A week without God’s Word becomes two or more. Coveting replaces contentment. Grudges become firmer and forgiveness becomes harder. Disobedience grows into disrespect and bears the fruit of bitterness. Fear increases, and faith decreases. And how else? For you? You didn’t even see it coming. It just happens . . . like sleep in a garden. Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The tempter wants you, and he is patient and persistent.

But here is the good news for us tonight. As much as the tempter wants you, Jesus wants you even more. And so the agony of Gethsemane is just the prelude to the suffering of the cross. Jesus would drink the bitter cup of God’s wrath - every last drop of it - so there’s none left for you. He saw what was in that cup, the horror of sin and evil and the crushing weight that awaited Him. Your sin, your death, your hell, on Him, in Him. That is why He asked if there was any other way. But there wasn’t. Thy will be done, He prays. And with that prayer, the Father’s will is His will. He drinks it. He goes to the cross, so you never will.

Thy will be done we also pray, with Jesus. But now it is quite different. For God’s will is that we now drink a different cup - not a bitter cup, but a cup of blessing; not a cup filled with wrath but filled with forgiveness; not a cup of horror, but the blood of our loving Savior, poured out for you. That’s your Father’s will for you now. 

With that cup comes life - a new life. A life of forgiveness, not grudges. Of contentment, not coveting. Of joyful obedience and good works. Of faith and peace. And a life of prayer. Of knowing the danger that lurks around us everyday, and so praying: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Deliver us from the evil one. Make the fruits of Your cross grow in us, that we not fall asleep, that we not be unaware, that we not grow complacent, but live in Christ and His life, and He in us.

Maybe the current direction of our culture will help wake us up. The wrestling’s of Christians being persecuted in our own country, the agony of Christians being beheaded in others, and the sorrow of the general movement away from the truth of God’s Word. Paul told the Thessalonian Christians to be ready, good words for us as well, and to encourage one another and build one another up, which sounds very much like Jesus’ watch with me. And it is. For whatever you do to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you have done it unto me (Matt 25:40). 

Let us watch and pray with our brothers and sisters and so - even today - watch with Christ. But even more important than watching with Christ is to watch Christ. To watch His love. To watch His struggle in the garden. To watch Him on the cross. To watch Him rise. To watch Him come to us and for us now in His Word and Sacrament. And one day to watch Him come again in glory, when all who sleep in death will rise, and live where no temptation or sin or evil will ever come again. 

To watch with Christ is what we should do. Lord, help us to do that! But to watch Christ is to see what He has done for me. And seeing, believe. And believing, have life. A new life that starts now and lasts forever. And that you have that life is the Father’s will for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“The Little (or BIG!) Peter in Each of Us: Pride”

Lent 1 Midweek
“The Little (or BIG!) Peter in Each of Us: Pride”
Matthew 26:30-35; 1 Corinthians 10:1-12

It was Thursday night. Jesus had just eaten the Passover with His disciples in the upper room. Even more than that, He had just transformed it - giving them the new Passover meal of His Body and Blood. He had washed their feet. He had spoken of betrayal. It was a night unlike any other, would take a while to digest it all. 

After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. A familiar journey to a familiar place. But on the way, more surprise. Jesus speaks of what is going to happen, and with an ominous warning: You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But Peter, not realizing yet the full significance and meaning of what Jesus said, confidently replies: No! It shall not be! Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.

You must marvel at, maybe even admire, such confidence; such a “can do” attitude. The problem is, it is not a confidence born of faith. It is overconfidence. Spiritual pride. For what is Peter saying with his words? Not just that he will remain steadfast, but that Jesus’ “It is written” is wrong. Or Jesus’ interpretation of it is wrong. To Peter, it seems very possible that the rest of the disciples might fall away, but not him. You’re wrong, Jesus. Not me.

To which Jesus replies, Oh yes, you Peter. In fact, maybe it could even be said that his falling away would be worse than the others. For not only would he fall away with them, but truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times. 

No! You’re wrong again, Jesus, Peter insists. Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!

So, Peter is saying: God’s Word is wrong. Jesus is wrong. Peter alone is right. Yes, all the other disciples said the same thing, went along with him, suddenly found their courage, too. But it’s Peter who leads the way. Peter, whose spiritual pride is leading him down a wrong and dangerous path.

Could the same be said for you and me? 

First, a distinction needs to be made. Pride is not necessarily wrong. You can be proud of your children, you can be proud of your accomplishments and the hard work you put in to achieve them. You can have that kind of pride and still thank the Lord for His gifts and the abilities He has given you. 

But such pride in spiritual matters is different. Spiritual pride leads away from our Lord and His gifts and exalts me and my strength. And that’s what makes it dangerous and deadly. That’s why the Scriptures are filled with warnings against such pride. Such pride, which in full growth, can lead us to say, like Peter: God’s Word is wrong. Jesus is wrong. I am right. We see that, actually, in no small way in our world today.

But is it in us? You and me? It is, and here’s how you know it: because even as you were hearing those words, you were thinking, that will never happen to me! I would never say that. I would never do that. Others? Maybe. Sure. But not me. . . Yet isn’t that exactly what Peter said?

As Paul warned the Corinthians: These things took place as examples for us . . . they were written down for our instruction . . . let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

But there’s good news for us in the reading tonight - it isn’t all bad news. For after the shepherd is struck - struck for all of our sins, including our misplaced, overconfident, spiritual pride - after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee, He says. After the shepherd is struck on the cross and the sheep are scattered, and all looks hopeless and lost, the Shepherd will rise from the dead and go and find His sheep again. He will gather them to Himself in forgiveness and love. He will go before them and care for them. Yes, they would leave Him, but He will never leave them. Not even death will be able to stop Him. Chief of [prideful] sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me (LSB #611).

Peter would soon know that. God’s Word is right. Jesus is rightI am . . . a poor, miserable sinner. And he would weep bitterly. And in this Lenten season, we confess - we say the same thing - as Peter. When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, My richest gain I count but loss And pour contempt on all my pride (LSB #425 v. 1). 

Because the only thing worth anything is not who I am or what I am able to do, but what Jesus has done for me. His atonement for my sin. His defeating of my death. His victory over my hell. His Baptism giving me new life. His Body and Blood feeding me. His life giving me life. So that we can say with Paul: far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 6:14). 

That kind of boasting, that kind of pride, may be dangerous. Quite the contrary! It is, in fact, life-giving, life-preserving. For it is confidence in the one who not only rose from the dead to life again but has promised the same for us. It is to confess the one who has gone before us not just to Galilee, but to heaven, to prepare a place for us. It is to know that whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8).

For thus saith God’s Word. Thus, has Jesus promised. And God’s Word is right. Jesus is right. And I . . . I am His.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.