Archives - May 2020

All Along

May 31, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this Pentecost weekend comes from our Gospel text, wherein Luke records the crowd’s amazement as they say, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? … we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

This had been the plan all along, and nobody had seen it coming. Of course, in hindsight, the plan was obvious, but before the events that occurred in our reading from Acts, no one had the slightest idea of what to expect. Then, on that fateful day of Pentecost, as the apostles were gathered and suddenly began speaking in languages they had never been schooled in, things started to click. They began to make sense, and as Peter got up to preach his infamous Pentecost sermon, things became very clear, indeed. This had been God’s plan all along.

And it wasn’t a new plan; even as the tower of Babel toppled, and the peoples were dispersed across the face of the earth in a haze of confusion and misunderstanding, God knew what He was going to do. Actually, the plan stretched back even further than that, all the way back to a garden, once free of corruption. Even before God spoke all of creation into existence, He knew what would happen. He knew how the Woman would be beguiled by the smooth-talking, fork-tongued serpent. He knew how the Man, like a dope, would stand by, not fulfilling his duty as a husband to protect his wife and, instead, went with the flow and ate the fruit his wife offered him. He knew how all of this would transpire, and He already knew how He would restore the creation that was, in that moment, broken by Man’s rebellion and sin. He pronounces His intention to the snake in the aftermath of mankind’s fall: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

This plan included a people, descendants of a man and woman who, for all intents and purposes, shouldn’t have had children, as they were well into their 70s. Nevertheless, God made a promise to the man Abram (later named Abraham) that he would become a “great nation” and that he would have offspring as numerous as the stars. True to His word, God opened the womb of Abraham’s wife Sarah, and she gave birth to a bouncing baby boy, the child of promise, Isaac, when she was nearly a century old.

Isaac and his descendants would become a great people, Israel by name, with twelve different tribes and millions of members, and it was from one of these tribes that the promised offspring of woman would come to crush the seed of the serpent. What’s more, the people knew this. They were the chosen people, elected by God to be the people from whom the Messiah would come, but throughout time, they would often forget that fact. They weren’t chosen because there was something inherently special about them, nor did their special designation make them any better than the peoples around them. They were chosen and special because God chose them, and for no other reason. They were part of His plan to redeem the entire world.

The promise had always been that, though the one special Son, the one seed of woman who would come from this people, God would bless all nations of the world! “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’” This had always been the plan! God’s plan to send One born from the tribe of Judah, descended from David and Abraham and Adam would be the reason all the nations of the world would come to the house of the Lord!

And by the time of our text, His work was accomplished. Jesus of Nazareth, who is rightly called the Christ, had done His earthly ministry, healing the sick and deformed, casting out demons, raising the dead, and proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God to the poor. He’d been welcomed into the city of Jerusalem as a conquering king, and by the end of that week, the same crowds who had lauded Him as the “son of David” would call for His execution by crucifixion. The religious and political authorities assented, and He was marched up to a hill outside the city walls. There, bleeding and weak, His hands and feet were nailed to a cross and He was lifted up, put on display for all to see. He died, uttering His final words, “It is finished.” Rocks split, the earth quaked, the temple curtain was torn asunder. Dead saints were raised from their graves, and a Roman centurion – not a descendent of Abraham – cried out, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” That was God’s plan all along – to send His only-begotten Son to die in our place … to pay for our sin with His own life … to put to death sin in His own body. This was the His plan.

But that wasn’t the end of the plan! That Sunday morning, He who is both fully God and fully man showed His lordship over all things, even death, by rising from the dead! Not merely surviving His crucifixion ordeal, but having once been dead, was now alive again! He appeared to His disciples numerous times over the subsequent 40 days, reminding them of His promise to send them a Helper who would help them recall all things He had told them and to give them power from on high. Now, in our text, that time has finally come. The Helper – the Holy Spirit – came, doing precisely what Jesus had said He would do. As the sound like a mighty rushing wind filled the house … as the tongues as of fire separated and rested on the disciples … as they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in foreign languages as He gave them utterance, proclaiming the mighty deeds of God … it had been the plan all along.

The plan was that the Gospel of Jesus would be told in every nation to every tribe in every tongue. The plan was to make the redemption found only in Christ Jesus known near and far, from Argentina to Zimbabwe. The apostles, the “sent ones,” proclaimed this Jesus, crucified and resurrected for our salvation, to all Jerusalem that day, and would go on from there to proclaim it to all of Judea and Samaria. Some would cross the seas and proclaim it in the Gentile strongholds of Greece and Rome and Hispania. Some would go east, making it through modern-day Iraq and Iran, all the way to India and perhaps beyond. Through the centuries, those who received this Word have likewise taken the message to further places like the New World and Oceania. It was all part of His plan, that various tribes and tongues would hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, and thanks be to God, many believed … and that includes us.

We’re part of this plan, too. God gave us the gift of faith in the waters of Holy Baptism! He has included us in His story, to bring His gospel message of Christ, the crucified and resurrected Lord, to those around us, and what better time to do so than on the heels of a pandemic that drove home our frail and mortal nature? Your friends, your neighbors, your loved ones … they need the Seed of Woman! They need the descendant of David and Abraham and Adam! They need to hear that, in Christ Jesus, their sins are forgiven, just as we need to hear that message every week, as well! God will use us to spread this Word, and He will rescue those who hear His voice, and nothing in all creation will be able to snatch them from His hand. After all … that was, and is, His plan!

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

Tags: Acts 2:1-21

Bearing Witness about Christ

May 24, 2020
By Rev. James Barton

Let us pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen. The text for our meditation today is the Gospel lesson, along with some thoughts from the other readings for the day.

Maybe you saw, about a week ago, a report of a recent survey, a poll, with the headline, “The coronavirus has prompted almost two-thirds of American believers of all faiths to feel that God is telling humanity to change, a new poll finds.” One person is quoted, who says that he believes in God but isn’t religious (probably meaning that he is not connected to any church or organized religious group). Notice how vague his response is. He said, “It could be a sign, like 'Hey, get your act together.' I don’t know .... It just seems like everything was going in an OK direction and all of a sudden you get this coronavirus thing that happens, pops out of nowhere.” (AP Story)

There's not much clarity in that response, is there? Even if we have the feeling that God wants us to change in some way, the answers are never in polls or human opinions or in human feelings or in looking at the world around us. As Christians, we know that we always need to go to where we know that God Himself has spoken clearly, through His prophets and apostles and through Jesus Himself - and that is in the Bible.

In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is speaking of the coming of the Holy Spirit, that great day we will celebrate next Sunday, on Pentecost. Jesus does say, a little after our text, that when the Spirit comes, “He will convict (or “convince”) the world of sin” (John 16:8). That is the reality. We are all sinful people in a sinful world (and we need to know that, so that we know that we do need a Savior). Even the creation has fallen and is corrupted, too; and in a general sense, all human troubles, including illness and physical problems and even a virus that gets out of control, come because of sin and a broken world.

And sin is not a problem we can solve on our own, the Bible says, even if we feel that we ought to change. Think about all the New Year's resolutions you make and so quickly fail to keep. As a sincere Christian, you have very good intentions about good things you want to do, but how many of those things do you really follow through with?

In this time of the coronavirus and social distancing, we know that we ought to call or email or send a note to check up on and encourage others, even friends in the church, but how often do we do that? That is why, if we are honest with ourselves, we do need to admit, day after day, and week after week, as we did this morning (not just in Covid time), that we are poor, miserable sinners who need forgiveness and the help of God, even to try to do better.

The really Good News of our Gospel lesson is that Jesus did not say, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness” (John 15:26) to you about how terrible you are and how you need to straighten up and change yourselves, and get your act together - or else!  Instead, we actually hear Jesus saying, “But when the Helper comes, the Spirit of Truth, He will bear witness about Me” - about Jesus Himself. (John 15:26). For Jesus had been sent into the world to do the work we could not do for ourselves and could never change enough to do. Already, Jesus was living the perfect life we ought to live, but do not and cannot do. And in less than 24 hours after Jesus spoke these words, He would be arrested and put on trial and unjustly be condemned to die, and suffer and die on the cross, for the disciples who deserted Him and for all humanity, which does not change as it should, and for us poor miserable sinners, still today, too, you and me.

As Jesus rose in victory on Easter and 40 days later ascended into heaven, He gave proof that He had won the victory for us, and that we have forgiveness of every sin and hope for our future always, in life and in death, in Jesus. No wonder, then, that the Holy Spirit would bear witness to Jesus. Jesus is the Savior - and the work of the Holy Spirit is now to bring people to faith in Jesus and keep them confident in Him.

Remember what was said in the Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 36:22-28) for today? People of Israel were captives in Babylon, and they could not free themselves. Their hearts were hard, like stone. So God says, “it is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy Name, which you have profaned (despised) among the nations” (v. 22). The people did not deserve it, but out of His mercy, God brought His people back to the land of Israel, and eventually, He sent the Savior Jesus to be one of them and do His saving work among them and for the whole world, under the New Covenant (the New Testament). He does not first wait for people to change, and then He will help and save them. He changes them and us, through the promise of His Spirit, working through the Word of God, and through the Word connected with water, in the gift of baptism.

Listen to this Word of God, a prophecy that describes what God does for us, too, through His Word and baptism: “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will be put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules... You shall be My people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:25-28). This is what we really are now, because of the saving work of Jesus, completed for us, and the work of the Holy Spirit, who has witnessed to us and brought us to faith and keeps us in faith, through the Word and our baptism and the Lord's Supper, when we are able to receive it, too.

We just confessed, moments ago, the Apostles' Creed; and in a certain sense, you could say that we are now living in the time of the Third Article of the Creed. We believe in God the Father, who created all things and loved us, even after the fall into sin, and sent His Son, in whom we also believe, into this sinful, broken world to do all the work necessary to rescue and save us.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, too, who has been and still today is creating “the Holy Christian Church", which consists of “the communion of saints”, the fellowship of all believers in Christ and the Christian faith, who are saints, not by what they have done but by what Christ and the Holy Spirit have done for them. This “communion of saints” includes each of us and those 3,000 people who were baptized and came to faith on Pentecost, as we will hear next week, and all other believers. It also includes every single baby and child and adult who is baptized and believes, in our own congregation - and anyone else in the future. For this is Good News for all, and these are gifts available to all, and for anyone listening today who has not yet been baptized and come to faith, too; for Christ died for all, the Holy Spirit tells us in the Scriptures (1 Timothy 2:1-6). And the Holy Spirit daily and richly promises and provides for us “the forgiveness for our sins” as we continually come to Him for cleansing - and he even promises to us “the resurrection of our bodies” and “the life everlasting” with our Lord. How important and comforting these gifts of God are for us, too!

Remember the words of Peter in our Epistle lesson (1 Peter 4:7-11) for today? “The end of all things has drawn near” (v. 7). The Scriptures often remind us that Jesus will come back, any day or any year, and we always need to be prepared for that. And we are prepared, by continuing faith in Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God and the Sacraments.

Our own personal end in this life may come at any time, too, as the Covid pandemic reminds us. We pray that Covid will not affect us; but something else will, at some point; and we will all die, unless Jesus comes back first. Jesus even predicts, in our Gospel lesson, that the hour is coming (for some) “when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). Think of all those who died on 9/11, and just a number of months ago, the shootings at the Naval Air Base in Pensacola, Florida, and another shooting at another Naval Air Base, just a few days ago, when Islamic terrorists mistakenly thought they were serving God by killing Christians. But even in the midst of Covid and all these other terrible things, we have hope and confidence in Christ - and the certainty of “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,“ for us, too.

And in the meantime, as we wait for the end of all things, Peter says we can try to do some things that say “thank you” to God for all His gifts to us and that can help others and be a witness to them of the love of God for them, too (1 Peter 4:8-11). Jesus did say to His disciples: “Your also will bear witness” about Me (John 15:27). As an example of this and to close our sermon, I’d like to speak to any children still listening - and to grown-up children, too. This is for all of us.

I brought a big rock, a stone, with me today. If I talked to this stone all day and asked it to do various things, what would it do? Absolutely nothing! It is not alive, and it cannot hear or do anything. That is the way we were born, we heard earlier in our sermon - physically alive but spiritually dead, with hearts of stone. But God loved us enough to send Jesus to be our Savior, and sent the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God and our baptism, to wash away our sins and make us spiritually alive and take away our hearts of stone and give us new hearts, which can hear and say “thank you” to Jesus. Peter gives us several examples of what we could do.

Since Jesus ascended to heaven, the Bible says He has been praying for us, that we stay in faith and not fall away (John 16:1, John 17:14-15, John 22:32, Romans 8:34, etc.). We can pray for others, too, that God would help them (1 Peter 4:7). Jesus loved us, while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). So, instead of grumbling and complaining and pointing out the faults of our brothers and sisters and others, we could try to be more patient and loving and forgiving to them, as we have already been forgiven by Jesus. Everything we can do flows first from what Jesus already has done for us (1 Peter 4:8-10). As we speak to others, we can try to be a good witness for Jesus to them, as the Holy Spirit has already told us about Jesus, through His Word, and his been a good witness to us, bringing us to faith (1 Peter 4:11).

In all this, we are not trying to earn the favor of God in any way. He has already done everything we need, in Christ, and through the Holy Spirit and our baptism. Any good we can do, we do by the power of God anyway, not our own (1 Peter 4:11), as we are now alive in Christ. “We serve,” Peter says, “as one who serves by the strength God supplies.”  God gets the credit, by His grace for us. And so Peter ends by saying something very similar to what we say, at the end of the Lord's Prayer: “In order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11).

Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep us safe, where we can be safe, now and forever, in Christ Jesus. Amen (Philippians 4:7).

Now What?

May 21, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation this evening is from our second reading, where Luke records, “And when [Jesus] had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

Enamored. Awestruck. The disciples were all following Jesus with their eyes. They had heard of His crucifixion and His death – only one or two had actually seen it happen. They’d kept hidden on that fateful Sabbath, fearing that the same fate that befell their rabbi would come for them as well. They had heard the fantastical message from a few of their female companions – how this Jesus, once dead, was now alive again! Such incredible and wonderful news was verified when they themselves saw Him in the flesh, literally! Not merely “alive,” as though He’d been the first (and only) person in the history of the world to survive crucifixion. No, He was (and is) risen from the dead! Unlike most things that seem too good to be true, this truly was true AND good, truly!

Now, 40 days and numerous appearances of the risen Christ later, the disciples receive His blessing and the promise of a helper to them whom the Father would send. Then suddenly, in the same body that rose from the dead 40 days prior, Jesus rose up from the earth. Without the assistance of anything, Jesus literally wholly rose into the air, rising higher and higher until “a cloud took Him out of their sight.”

We can’t blame the disciples for really gawking after Jesus as He ascended and left their sight. It had to be a fantastic thing to see. However, this gazing was cut short by the sudden appearance of “two men … in white robes.” We know who and what they are: angels, แผ„γγελοι! Messengers from the Father who had just received back His Son to His rightful place! And these messengers bore this message: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Translation: Yes, it’s amazing and wonderful that the Lord of all creation, who was once in your midst, has now returned to His rightful place at the Father’s right hand, where He will remain until He comes back – and He WILL come back! Now, given that you don’t know just WHEN that’s going to be, it might be a good idea for you to be about the business that He gave for you to do, so go back to Jerusalem, wait for the promised Helper and what He will give you, and follow where Christ leads!

It’s a message that the disciples really take to heart, as they do return to Jerusalem. They do stay there until the Feast of Pentecost ten days later, when the promised Helper was given, as they start to boldly proclaim the Gospel message to all who would hear it! With their hearts and minds opened to the truth of the Scriptures, to the truth of who this Jesus of Nazareth really is, they no longer had anything to fear! Men could do nothing to them; like Paul told the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Satan could not do anything to them, since Jesus Himself gave the promise, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.” Their own sinful flesh couldn’t deny the promises; they knew they were sinners, but they trusted the Word that God had given to them – a word of promise like the one found in 1st John: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

They were set. Salvation was assured. They needn’t any longer worry about earning their way to God’s presence. Now … they could focus on the work that they had been given to do. That was what they were called to do: to spread the Gospel far and wide to every nation, every tongue, every tribe, until Christ the Lord would return – even if He didn’t return in their lifetime.

Sound familiar? It should, because that is the charge that is given to all Christians: to continue this good work that God has prepared in advance for us to do, to spread the seed of His Word to every corner of the earth, to every tribe of people. It’s not something that we do to merit more grace, to curry God’s favor, or get a closer seat to Him in heaven. No, my friends. We spread this Gospel message for the same reason that we feed the poor and help the needy: people need it.

They need the message of the Gospel, just like we do. They may not like it, they may not want it, but they need to hear it, and time is running short. The angels told the gazing disciples, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” From the moment that Jesus was taken out of the sight of the disciples gathered in that place and time, His return has always been only a breath away. He could return literally at any moment – perhaps even before I even finish this sentence! That would be wonderful. Our time to tell others is short, so by the Helper’s promptings, we want the seed of God’s Word to be spread as far and wide as possible. We want all to have the opportunity to hear the Good News: that their sins are forgiven on account of Jesus’s sacrifice, and that eternal life is promised to them who believe.

It’s what we’re called to do, and no, we know that we don’t always do it for a bevy of many lame excuses and reasons. But the good news is, in spite of our weakness, we take comfort in knowing that God can and does use us, nevertheless, as His vessels of His message. We know that our failures to proclaim Christ, and Him crucified and resurrected, are also forgiven through the all-atoning sacrifice that Jesus did make for all people. While we hope and pray that more would come to saving faith, we do also rightly pray that the blessed day of Jesus’s return on the clouds of heaven would come, and that it would come quickly. Grant this, O Lord, unto us all.

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

Tags: Acts 1:1-11


May 17, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this sixth Sunday of Easter comes from our Gospel text, where John records Jesus’s words, “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

It doesn’t feel that way, does it? It doesn’t feel like Jesus has overcome the world. Just in this present time alone, when all the world has locked down, when both lives and livelihoods are at significant risk, when we can’t even meet together as friends and family, much less as a congregation … it doesn’t seem like Jesus has overcome. It feels like we have been overcome, doesn’t it?

Of course, this is not an isolated incident, and SARS-COV-2 is not the only threat to life and livelihood. Frankly, this outbreak seems to be just another issue (albeit a rather debilitating one) that our community, nation, and world has had to face. Political division. Racial tensions. Persecution of Christians here and abroad. Deep distrust of the media, regardless of their political leanings. Farming issues. Meteorological events like tornadoes and hail. Geological issues like earthquakes and volcanoes. International tensions flaring up. Diseases like cancer and AIDS still running rampant. Crash of the stock market worldwide. Jobs being lost left and right for many and varied reasons. Heightened rates of depression and depression-related fatalities. Broken homes and bitter familial relations. People being so … ugly to each other! My friends, beautiful as this world is, it’s a mess! It sure seems like the world is out to get us, and boy … does it seem like it’s succeeding in that endeavor.

So, Jesus tells His disciples and us to “take heart; I have overcome the world.” Really? Is He whistling past the graveyard? We’re dealing with some really heavy issues here! How can He say that He has overcome the world, when we ourselves are being so overcome by the world? Well, maybe a little context would help us better understand how Jesus can say this with a straight face … and perhaps give us a little perspective.

See, these are the last words of many in which Jesus was preparing His disciples for what was about to happen. He’d told them that He was going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house. He’d promised them a helper who would come and be with them forever, teaching them all things and bringing to remembrance everything their rabbi had told them. He’d proclaimed that He was the true vine, and that whoever abides in Him, and He in them, would bear much fruit. He’d warned them that the world would hate them, but only because it hated Him first. He said they’d be put out of the synagogues, that they’d killed by people who would think that they were serving God. He promised … that they would have sorrow … but that their sorrow would become joy.

Then comes our text, the culmination of this discourse. Jesus tells them that the Father loves them, and that He was leaving the world. The disciples think that they understand, that they believe, but Jesus informs them that they would all scatter, leaving Him alone. Nevertheless, He’s not alone because the Father is with Him, and He’s told them these things so that, in Him, they may have peace. He finishes by promising them, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

What immediately follows our text is Jesus’s high priestly prayer on behalf of all who believe in Him … moments before He and His disciples cross the Kidron valley … to the Garden of Gethsemane, wherein He would be betrayed and arrested. From there, He would be brought before politicians who would decide His fate. He’d be beaten, flogged, and have a crown of thorns pressed into the tender flesh of His scalp. He’d be paraded through the streets of Jerusalem, nearly naked, carrying the very device with which He would be executed in a matter of hours. He would have nails driven through His hands and feet, die the worst form of death imaginable among wicked men, and His body would be placed in the tomb of a rich man. … And Jesus says, “take heart; I have overcome the world.”

I don’t say this as if to say, “You think YOU’VE got problems?” True, what Christ Jesus endured in the final hours before His death would make our problems pale by comparison, but that’s not the point. I say this … because Jesus knew all of this would happen, and He still said to the disciples, “take heart; I have overcome the world!” Either He’s crazy … or He knows something that, in that moment, the disciples don’t.

Obviously, it’s the latter, and by the gracious gift of faith, we have been made privy to what the disciples didn’t understand at that time. We know that Jesus’s death on the cross was His overcoming the enemy of sin that we humans introduced into the world. The sinless One became sin incarnate and put it to death in His own flesh, making satisfaction for all our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds forever. … But we also know that the story doesn’t end there! The grave could not hold Him, and death could not keep Him! He overcame the old evil foe by rising again that following Sunday morning! Now, His promise to those who are His … is that His victory is now theirs! Those who believe it … receive it! Faith! Righteousness! Eternal life! Our sin is atoned for, and eternal life is ours in Christ Jesus! “Take heart! I have overcome the world!”

Yes, we have tribulations. Yes, we have real problems and issues that we face here. Yes, there is wanton suffering and sin and death in the world. But Jesus promised it would happen. This is a good creation, but it is broken by sin. Jesus told His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” But followed that truth with another: “take heart; I have overcome the world.”  He’s not whistling past the graveyard; He sees the bigger picture, knowing that the graveyard will be emptied one day, because His grave was emptied that first Easter Sunday! These times are trying, make no mistake about it, but we are not being overcome by the world. The world has been overcome by the crucified and resurrected Lord of creation, so take heart! His victory is yours! Alleluia! Christ is risen!

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

Surprised by Joy

May 10, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this fifth Sunday of Easter comes from our Old Testament text, where Isaiah prophesies, “You will say in that day: … Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Throughout these first few chapters of Isaiah’s lengthy prophecy, the prophet goes back and forth with the people of Israel. It almost sounds like the “good cop, bad cop” routine you that see on TV; there are scathing words of condemnation followed by sweet words of promise and rest and restoration. Back and forth … and our text comes on the heels of a rather brutal conviction of the people of Israel for their arrogance and oppression.

“The Lord has sent a word against Jacob,” Isaiah writes in chapter 9, “and it will fall on Israel; and all the people will know, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, who say in pride and in arrogance of heart: “The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.” But the Lord raises the adversaries of Rezin against him, and stirs up his enemies. The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.”

This had been Israel’s and Judah’s problem very early on – certainly from the time of Solomon’s death to this point. Kings and rulers lord their power over those whom they are called to serve, and lest we think it’s only the rich and famous who are held to the fire, those under their rule apparently follow their example, oppressing those weaker and even more disenfranchised than themselves in order to get ahead. “[E]veryone is godless and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly. … They slice meat on the right, but are still hungry, and they devour on the left, but are not satisfied. … For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.” By the time of Isaiah’s ministry and beyond, their oppression and sin are a blight, a cancer in the land that should be flowing with milk and honey. God’s people act like they are not, and the rod of God’s righteous punishment is near at hand, and when it strikes … it strikes hard.

But this is not the end. As Isaiah is wont to do, in this grim and dismal context, he offers words of hope and comfort. He mentions … a day. A day in which the rod of God’s punishment will itself be punished, a day in which His people will no longer languish, a day when a righteous shoot from the stump of Jesse will rule wisely over His people. This is the same day that Isaiah is speaking of in our text.

This chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy is a hymn, a song to God of thanksgiving and praise and adoration, because in the midst of Zion, freshly destroyed, “is the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah tells faithless Jacob, “You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.’” You may not realize it, but here, Isaiah is quoting Moses’s song of thanksgiving, as they stood on the far shore of the Red Sea, having just witnessed Pharaoh’s hosts be consumed and drowned. Just as YHWH had dealt with the enemies of Israel then, He would do so again, and it is because of this Israel would joyfully “draw water from the wells of salvation.”

In the course of history, Israel’s and Judah’s temporal afflictions would end. Assyria would fall, as would Babylon, and even the Seleucid oppression that caused the Maccabean revolt. But Israel remained in her sin, as did all other nations. YHWH’s anger still burned hotly against sin, so when would that Day come, when Israel and all other nations would say, “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted”? When would they sing praises to Him, knowing that He has done gloriously, and that this would be made known in all the earth? It came in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Just as there was joy and beauty in the midst of the terror seen on the day that Pharaoh’s hosts were drowned in that prefiguring of baptism … just as there was joy and comfort to be had that a remnant would remain even as Israel and Judah were punished for their arrogance and oppression … joy and hope and comfort and beauty are seen in the grisly sight on Calvary’s tree. Isaiah’s song belongs to those who believe that YHWH’s anger is no longer kindled against us for our sin, our oppression, our arrogance. His anger … was all poured out on Jesus, the innocent and holy victim who became the embodiment of sin for us. All those who trust His promise – that all sin was paid for in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Golgotha – now joyfully draw from the well of living water, which will then in turn become “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Isaiah’s song is ours to sing joyfully this blessed Eastertide – yes, even in the midst of the terror we face in our day. The paranoia, the pestilence, the rebellion – even in this, we are able to say this day, “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.” Because we know Jesus is risen from the dead, and believe that we are united with Him in His death and resurrection through holy baptism, we are able to sing, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” We who trust a better Day is yet coming, when all the dead are raised and those in Christ will be united with Him forever in the life of the world to come, will sing all the louder in these grey and latter days, “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” THIS is our Easter joy, and it’s no surprise!

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


May 03, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this fourth Sunday of Easter comes from our Gospel text where John records Jesus’s words, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Who doesn’t love a game of “peek-a-boo” with a baby? Not only is it downright adorable to see their reactions, including smiles and little giggles, but it’s actually mentally stimulating for them. Developmental psychologists have suggested that the game is actually important for the development of an infant, helping teach them about object permanence – the idea that an object continues to exist even if it is not seen, heard, touched, or sensed in any way. I’ve never been to Katmandu, but I know that it’s a place that exists. Right now, I’m not seeing all of your faces, but I know you’re there, listening (hopefully) to this sermon. So, there is much to love about a good ol’ fashioned game of peek-a-boo … but I wonder if the disciples were fans.

I say that because of the context of our Gospel text for today. It sounds like Jesus is playing a serious game of peekaboo! He tells His disciples, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” We’re not exactly told about how they were feeling about this, we can say they were rather confused. “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” they ask one another. I’m sure this was disconcerting, but perhaps even alarming. After all, this comes in the wake of Jesus revealing that one of their number would betray Him, that another would thrice deny Him, and that the world was going to hate them. Though they should have known what was about to happen (given that Jesus told them numerous times what He was going to endure); they simply didn’t understand.

So, Jesus has to explain it to them: “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 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. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

This is a crash-course in object permanence. Mere moments after Jesus said these things to the disciples, He would be betrayed into the hands of sinful men. He would be tried by the religious and secular authorities and condemned to death. He would be mocked, scourged, marched through the streets of Jerusalem up a hill to be crucified. And He would die. And they would see Him no longer. And they thought that was it. Their sorrow was genuine, their guilt for abandoning Him, no doubt, was all too real. Their fear of suffering the same fate was certainly palpable, enough to make them hide away in the upper room, thinking the Jewish authorities were coming for them, too. They thought He was gone for good. They wept and lamented as the world and the prince of this world laughed and rejoiced and made merry, thinking that they had won because the Son of God lay lifeless in a tomb.

But just as surely as a mother reveals her face with a gleeful, “peekaboo!” to the amazement and joy of her baby, so too was the joy and amazement of Jesus’s disciples as He showed up in their midst on that Easter evening with His words of comfort, “Peace be with you.” Their sorrow had turned to joy! Their hearts rejoiced, and no one could – or would – take that joy away from them!

Here’s the thing, though: this promise given to the disciples by Jesus … was unique to them. They had the honor and privilege of being with Jesus during His earthly ministry. They suffered the sorrow of actually seeing, with their own eyes, their Master crucified and killed. They knew that joy unfathomable of seeing Him risen from the dead, in the flesh, several times from that first Easter evening until His ascension 40 days later. That’s not for us. Does this text apply to us Christians today? Not really; contrary to the teachings of some, the Scriptures aren’t really supposed to be read as a self-help book.

That said, the Easter joy that belonged to the disciples does belong to us, as well! The same Lord who walked out of His tomb, risen, is still alive! This is the present reality, my friends – Jesus died once, is now raised from the dead, and will never die again! The world and its prince, who once laughed in gleeful perception of triumph, now cower in terror, knowing that Christ has won the battle and they are laid low in defeat forever! What’s more, our baptisms in His death and resurrection give us the assurance that that fate awaits us, as well! How incredible will our Easter joy be on the Last Day, when we, and all those who have gone before us (and after us), will be physically reunited in the presence of our crucified and resurrected King?! To live with Him and one another forever in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness!

It’s peekaboo, my friends! We may not see Jesus face to face right now, but we certainly see Him claim His own in the waters of holy baptism! We may not hear His exact voice, His tone or pitch, but we hear Him as He speaks His life-giving absolution! We may not be able to feel Him with us always, but when we gather together in person, we are able to taste our salvation in His Body and Blood in, under, and with the bread and wine! It’s object permanence; He’s present, even if we don’t see Him! And we have the promise that, at His return, we will see Him face-to-face! Peekaboo! That’s our Easter joy, our hope, until hope becomes sight in the life of the world to come!

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

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