The Water Belongs to God


In our lessons for the third Sunday in Easter plays a part in each text.

After Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit and the scaly like things blocking his sight fell away, he was baptized.  In the Gospel lesson from John 21, the disciples, who in their call were to become “fishers of men,” now return to fishing for fish. However, they spend all night on the water and catch nothing.  Through the morning mists they hear a voice, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”  Yeah right, just what they need, some guy giving them advice from shore.  Oh well, guess it couldn’t hurt.  The “some fish,” turned into a net straining 153 large ones.  It was then that John knew it had to be Jesus.  They had experienced too many signs while on those same waters to not know who was behind the super large haul.

In Revelation 4 and 5 John’s vision of heaven includes a sea of glass, like crystal.  The waters are under God’s control.  On earth the water is filled with bounty, but also is dangerous when storms suddenly hit, roiling the once placid surface with mountainous waves.  Yet the Psalmist writes in 104:25-26.

Here is the sea, great and wide

which teems with creatures great and innumerable,

living things both small and great.

There go the ships,

And Leviathan which you

Formed to play with it.

Prayer: God almighty, Lord of the waters, we give you thanks that in the water of baptism, placed us into the ship of the church that within its hold we might safely pass through the dangerous waters of life.

When the Scales Come Off


After getting knocked to the ground by the bright light from heaven Saul (Paul) was blinded and did not eat or drink anything for three days. (Acts 9:9).  A Christian named Ananias had his own vision problems.  Jesus directed him to find Saul and lay his hands on him so that he could see again.  Ananias was reluctant; after all, Saul had been arresting Christians. At last, at Jesus direction, Ananias risked his life and went to meet Saul and laid his hands on him.  Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit and “something like scales fell from his eyes.”  Then Saul was baptized and ate a meal and was strengthened.  He was also strengthened in spirit and began to proclaim “Jesus is the Son of God.”

In a very real way, the scales had to come off the fish that Jesus grilled for his disciples by the lake shore.  Jesus was also strengthening his disciples who had spent the night fishing and had been skunked until someone called from shore telling them to try the right side of the boat.  When the net was filled to the point of breaking, John figured out it was Jesus. Peter who jumped into the water and rushed to shore. He left the other disciples to struggle with the net full of fish.  However, when Jesus asked them to bring him some of the fish Peter went back out and hauled the net in by himself.  Is this related to Jesus saying that if one has faith you can move mountains or at least a net full of fish?

Jesus had breakfast waiting for the hungry disciples. He “took the bread and gave it to them and so with the fish.”

Jesus, thank you for my daily bread and for your daily word that I might be strengthened in body and in faith.

Worthy is the Lamb

Easter 3, 2016, Bunker Hill, Rev. 5:8-14

5:13 “To…the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and forever and ever!”

We’re only two weeks past celebrating Jesus’ resurrection, but what images of our Savior we still have.  It was on Easter Sunday that our Lord broke out of a stone covered tomb, taking back his life and giving us the hope of resurrection.    It was last Sunday that we heard of Jesus coming through wood and stone to stand in the midst of his frightened disciples. “Peace be with you,” he told them three times. This morning we read of Jesus encounter with Paul.  Light flashed from heaven, knocking him to the ground.  Jesus turned his chief opponent into his chief proponent of the Gospel.  In the Gospel lesson, Jesus appeared on a lakeshore and invited them to a breakfast of grilled fish and freshly baked bread.  But there is more, much more.

This morning our risen Lord entered the life of Dawson Hubbard in baptism.  We sang of that event, “See this wonder in the making.  Here we bring a child of nature; Home we take a newborn creature…born again by Word and water.”

But when we turn to today’s second reading from Revelation 5 we enter into a vision beyond wonder and marveling.  We see Jesus standing in the very center of glory in the eternity of heaven, beyond the confines of space and time.    One day we will be a part of that scene and along with every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea saying, “To the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.”

Allow me to set the scene.   Direct your attention, if you would, to the chancel.  See there a throne and sitting on the throne is one who appears to shine with the red hued light of precious stones.  Take note of a rainbow of bright green emerald arching over the scene.   And encircling the thrones are the thrones of twenty- four elders, dressed in white robes; wearing crowns of gold.  Lightning flashes, thunder crashes and earthquake like rumblings pulse from the throne.  Seven torches of fire, the Sevenfold Spirit of God, the fullness of the Holy Spirit, blaze in front of the throne.  Moving around the throne are four living creatures covered with eyes seeing all round without and within.  The first of the creatures has a face of a lion, the second the face of an ox, a third a human face and the fourth the face like an eagle in flight. They address God with unceasing praise, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty who was and is and is to come.”  And the elders fall down before the eternal God proclaiming, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God…for you created all things and by your will they were created.”

Empires come and empires go, politicians come and politicians go, nations rise and nations fall, but God is forever.  Edicts are proclaimed, and laws are enacted, humans opine endlessly, words are written without end; all these will pass away, but the Word of the Lord remains forever.  There is nothing a person can handle which God has not given us.  Think of that when we work in our gardens and fields.  Think of that when we cash our checks or set our spending priorities or fill our church envelopes.  Consider that when we take a vacation, or go for a walk around the block or sing our songs in church.  Think of it, the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen is made out things which are not seen.  Consider that God through Jesus “upholds the universe by his word of power.”  No wonder the elders threw down their crowns and worshipped the Lord as worthy to receive glory and power and honor.

Now that was a dangerous thing to do for Jesus’ followers in the first century.  Domitian, the Roman Emperor was acclaimed as “Lord and God.”  To fail to make that confession could mean arrest and imprisonment and perhaps death.  It was because Christians refused to acknowledge that claim that they were persecuted and killed.  Simply to call God, Lord and God was a triumphant confession of faith.  Yes, God holds first place in the universe.  God is king of the universe.  Not Domitian or any other power.

Suddenly John witnesses a crisis developing in his heavenly vision.  The one on the throne holds a scroll in his right hand.  The scroll contains information as to what will happen to humanity and to the church in the future.  But no one in all creation, neither the elders, nor angels, nor the living creatures, nor anyone on earth or under the earth is worthy to break the seven seals and read what is the complete plan for the future.

John’s revelation is addressed to the seven churches in what is now Turkey.  And like all churches, these churches were not perfect, since churches are made up of imperfect people, living in a world which is by nature hostile to God.  The question was what would become of the churches to whom John’s vision was addressed?  Every congregation wonders about that from time to time, when we face adversity, when the future is clouded.  What lies ahead?  What will become of us?

John is so upset he begins to weep, until one of the elders says, “Look, there in front of the throne is a Lamb, who appears to have been slain, but now is alive.  He has conquered.  He is worthy to open and read the scroll.”

This is not just any lamb, but the one whom John the Baptist proclaimed as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This is the Lamb who, because we all have gone astray, was wounded for our transgressions; This is the lamb who was crushed for our iniquities; the chastisement that brought us peace was upon him; by his stripes we are healed.  This is the lamb upon whom all our iniquities were laid.  This is the Lamb who was sacrificed for our sins on the cross and rose the third day for our salvation.  This is Jesus.

By his blood he has conquered death on our behalf.  He has done this for everyone, regardless of blood relationships, language, history and political relations.  When we are in Christ, we are part of a greater kingdom than one of race or nationality.

Suddenly the worshippers around the throne multiplies, our chancel is getting crowded as angels, ten thousand times ten thousand in number, loudly join their voices to those already worshipping, praising the Lamb, the resurrected and ascended Jesus, who has been given all power and authority and exaltation.  However, it doesn’t stop there.  Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea join in the song of praise.  The worshippers include not only you and me, but the greening woodland and bounding deer, gobbling turkeys and scampering squirrels; redbuds, dogwoods, and purple lilacs; soaring hawks and hooting owls; growing lettuce and leafing rhubarb, wheat and corn and soybeans as well; creatures who burrow, moles and earthworms, Goldfish in aquariums and whales in the oceans and the silent song of the universe.  That is the future of all creation which groans while waiting with eager longing for Jesus to return. St. Paul writes that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Let us then come to our holy, almighty God and worship him with all the honor, glory and gifts due to him.  And may God be with our worship that it might be worthy of the one who is worthy of our praise and prayers.


More from Luther on John 20

Luther on John 20: 19-23

Luther, in his 1521 sermon comments on Jesus going through the locked doors.

This is going through closed doors, when he comes into the heart through the Word, not breaking nor displacing anything.  For when the Word of God comes, it neither injures the conscience, nor deranges the understanding of the heart and the external senses…Such is the power of the Word of God.  Thus we have two parts, preaching and believing.  His coming to us is preaching; his standing in our hearts in our hearts is faith.  For it is not sufficient that he stands before our eyes and ears; he must stand in the midst of us in our hearts, and offer and impart to us peace.

In the above paragraph Luther was comparing how God works through the Word and Faith in comparison to the radicals whom he refers to “as the false teachers…who break all the doors and windows, breaking through like thieves, leaving nothing whole and undamaged, and perverting, falsifying and injuring life, conscience, reason and the sense.  Christ does not do this.

New Birth in Baptism


I’m having a hand in a new birth on Sunday.  An infant will be brought to the font and after some liturgical back and forthing, we’ll get down to the business at hand.  I’ll dip my hand into the water of the font and pour water over the head of the baby three times while saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit.”  The congregation will add their assent, “Amen.” Then, just in case the infant, and anyone else, doesn’t realize what has just happened, I’ll say, “Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and of the Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life everlasting.”

I’ll complete the instruction with the same words that Jesus spoke to his disciples three times in the locked up room after Easter, “Peace be with you.”

It’s a great privilege to be God’s spokesman, for that is what the pastor is.  It’s also a privilege to have a hand in the new birth of a person.  Because in reality the recipient of the cascading water is already in their first birth, one of the “works of his hands,” that is God’s hands forming the person in its mother’s womb.

Might we also add on the occasion of a baptism that there is rejoicing heaven over one more sinner repenting and being turned to Christ?  May the one baptized in turn commend the Lord’s works to another generation.


Psalm Choices for Easter 2


At times I wonder about the choice of lessons for a given Sunday.  All three Lutheran church bodies, ELCA, LCMS, and Wels (Wis. Synod) have the same lessons, but diverge when it comes to the psalms

ELCA chose Psalm 118:14-29.  Verse 14 reflects the celebration of God’s salvation found in Exodus 15:2. “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”  Therefore, in verse 15 the psalmist notes that, “Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous.”  There were no glad songs of salvation among the group of disciples fearfully hiding behind locked doors, until Jesus appeared and showed them his scars.  “Then the disciples were glad…”

Psalm 16, makes me think of Thomas.  On the second Sunday evening after the resurrection He is present when Jesus and finally sees his Lord, his God.  The psalm concludes, “You made known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Psalm 148 is a Psalm of Praise, calling all creation to praise God.  Actually I think this psalm would fit better with the Epistle for Easter 3, Rev. 5:8-14 in which John hears every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea,” praising Jesus, “The Lamb” with “blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.”

Whichever psalm may have been used on Sunday, we can say along with the four living creatures and the elders, “Amen.”

Almighty God, grant that we who have celebrated the Lord’s resurrection may by Your grace confess in our life and conversation that Jesus is Lord and God; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Jesus Breaks in and Enters

Easter 2, John 20:19-23  Conant/Pinckneyville

20:19, On the first evening…the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

We call it breaking and entering.   Well what would you call it when you’ve locked the doors against intruders and suddenly, there he is standing in your living room?  Break and enter is what Jesus did to his fear filled disciples that first evening of the resurrection.  Although Martin Luther pointed out in a sermon on our text in 1521, “The Lord… (went) through barred doors, going through wood and stone, and still leaving everything whole, breaking nothing, yet getting in among his disciples.”

But I’m sticking with my charge that on that first Easter evening, Jesus did break and enter.  For what purpose?  To rob his disciples and you and me.    Yes, robbery was Jesus motive.   What could the disciples and you and me have that He could want? After all, He has it all, all creation, all kingship, all life and all truth.  We sing the reason for his breaking and entering, during the Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord.  “I know that my Redeemer Lives, He lives to silence all my fears.”

He has come to rob us of our fears.  To “silence all my fears.” In this political season we have been told that we have many people to fear.   Enemies real or supposed. Beyond that, just turning on the news can multiply our fears.  Fear of who might be on the prowl out there, fear viruses, fear neighbors, fear family members, fear losing our health, fear the side effects of our medication that’s supposed to keep us healthy, fear what we eat, fear of falling into the Medicare donut hole, fear of things that go bump in the night.  Not the least of our fears is of what goes on inside ourselves that we keep shut and locked away.  We fear that God knows all about us, and that isn’t good. Robbing us of the fears that the haunt our hearts is Jesus’ intent.  It’s into our hearts the Jesus seeks to break and enter.

God doesn’t lock himself up in the heavenly realms and build a wall to keep out the riff raff like you and me.  God doesn’t allow the wall of sin, which we have built, to keep him out.  God craves and seeks our company.   God has done so since that first evangelism call in the Garden of Eden.  “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden…and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God…but the Lord God called to the man…” Where are you?’”  From their hiding place among the trees, the man answered, “I was afraid.”   “Where are you?”  He asks still today, because God knows we are still afraid, though we make a good show of our bravado.   Though we won’t let God into the places of our lives where we really need Him; Christ comes with His Holy Spirit good news breaking and entering through the doors we have locked against his barging in.

It was in the little town of Bethlehem that, “the hopes and fears of all the years” met the night of Jesus’ birth.  That is the answer to our Advent cry, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.”  So the Lord did, he barged in garbed in baby-soft skin and dwelled among us, full of grace and truth.  He broke through the barrier between eternity and time, heaven and earth in our baptism and continues to do so through his word and in Holy Communion.  Someone wrote, “I am never sure how or why, Jesus has come to me and stood in that hidden place of fear and forgetfulness, but he has again and again.”  In our epistle lesson God laid a right hand on the fearful St. John, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last and the living one.  I died and behold I am alive forevermore.”

When Jesus breaks into our lives to rob us of our fear, He leaves behind something of great and lasting value, Peace.  Three times in our gospel lesson Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”  He who is the King of Peace gives the gift of Peace.  This isn’t just the ordinary greeting like, “Hi.”  Jesus greeting carries with it all the gifts which God had for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and added, for our benefit, the gift of salvation.

When Jesus was born, the heavenly chorus praised God for bringing “on earth peace.”  On Palm Sunday the crowds cried out, “Peace in heaven.”  Through his life, suffering, death and resurrection, sin was defeated on earth and our warfare with God was ended.  We await Jesus return to deliver a deathblow to death and put it out of its misery and end the misery it causes. For in Jesus resurrection death is mortally wounded.

As proof of that, Jesus showed the disciples the marks of the cross on his hands and side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus, who has completed in his suffering, death and resurrection the reason the heavenly Father sent him, now says “Even so I am sending you.”  Jesus having robbed us of fear and given the gift of peace now commissions you and me to an ongoing mission to go in peace with the good news that releases people from their sins, just as we have been released from ours.

Someone might say, “Sin, who me? I have no sin.  That’s an old fashioned idea that you have no business foisting upon me.”   But as St.  John reminds us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Preaching in 1521 Luther said, “It is not sufficient simply to believe Christ rose from the dead…But you must believe that he rose for your sake, for your benefit, and was not glorified for his own sake; but that he might help you and all who believe in him, and that through his resurrection sin, death and hell are vanquished and the victory given to you.”  He continued, “This is the true peace that satisfies and quiets the heart; not in times when no adversity is at hand, but the midst of adversity, when…there is nothing but strife before the eyes.”

That’s why Jesus broke in and entered the world at Bethlehem garbed in human flesh.  That’s why Jesus barged in on the disciples garbed in a resurrected body.  That’s why he breaks into and enters our life with peace and forgiveness through his word and sacrament.  That’s why he will one day break back into our world and garb us in bodies fit for eternal life.  May those who are so clothed be many.  In the meantime, “The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”



Jesus enters through wood and stone

In 1521 Martin Luther preached a sermon on Sunday’s gospel lesson, John 20:19-31.

 Faith, as we have often said, is of the nature, that every one appropriates to himself the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, of which we have already said enough; namely, that it is not sufficient simply to believe Christ rose from the dead, for this produces neither peace nor joy, neither power nor authority; but you must believe that he rose for your sake, for your benefit, and was not glorified for his own sake; but that he might help you and all who believe in him, and that through his resurrection sin, death and hell are vanquished and the victory given to you. 

 This is signified by Christ entering through closed doors, and standing in the midst of his disciples. For this standing denotes nothing else than that he is standing in our hearts; there he is in the midst of us, so that he is ours, as he stands there and they have him among them. And when he thus stands within our hearts, we at once hear his loving voice saying to the troubled consciences: Peace, there is no danger; your sins are forgiven and blotted out, and they shall harm you no more.

Prayer of the Day – Evangelical Worship hymnal:

O God of life, you reach out to us amid our fears with the wounded hands of your risen Son.  By your Spirit’s breath revive our faith in your mercy and strengthen us to be the body of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.