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the sermon for

The Fourth Sunday of Easter

07 May 2017

John 10:1-10
God is who god is! And because of that, we believe!

04302017Fortunately, it's only happened a time or two, over the years. When I've written a sermon and, at the last minute, realized it just wasn't worth preaching! Well, this morning, at exactly 7:15, I dotted the last i, crossed the final t, leaned back in my chair, put my hands behind my head, and realized it wasn't worth preaching! It would be a waste of time! Mine and yours! Luther called preaching "wrestling with the angel" and, this week, it seems the angel got the better! And so, at 7:30, I started writing this one!

The problem was, since Ash Wednesday, for over a month, we had a focus to our journey together. A direction. A destination. One Sunday – one sermon – just naturally led into the one that followed. They were all connected, somehow. That goal is three weeks behind us, now. And I need to pick a new objective, to set a new course. Another challenge, this week, is the gospel reading itself. John 10:1-10 , Jesus the Good Shepherd. Here we are on the fourth sunday of Easter and there's nothing uniquely Easter about it! In fact, it's from the other side of Easter! The before side! It's, even, from the other side of the cross! Next year, at least, when we get to this day and read from the tenth chapter of John, we have the part about the good shepherd dying for the sheep! But for now, it's all about bandits and strangers and thieves! And, frankly, I don't find that all too inspiring...

You see, the gospel – the good news – isn't anchored in who Jesus isn't. It's rooted in who Jesus IS! And we can spend sermon after sermon, Sunday upon Sunday, dealing just with this handful of verses and never mention Jesus once! The one climbing in by another way! The one the sheep refuse to follow, who they run away from! The stealing! The killing! The destroying! Somehow, that's the stuff that attracts our interest! And yet, when all is said, that's not what gets us any closer to believing, to real, true believing! Because faith doesn't come from whom Jesus isn't. It comes from who he is. Let me repeat that. Faith doesn't come from who Jesus isn't. It comes from who he is.

I was looking back over something we'd been taught wa-a-a-a-ay back in seminary. Something by the psychologist Erik Erikson. He's the one that wrote about the stages of life. About the first stage – trust vs. mistrust – he said infants needed to know that their parents were reliable and dependable. If their parents' care for them was consistent and responsive, they trusted. If unpredictable and indifferent, they didn't trust. It was either one or the other. And it didn't matter which they weren't! Only what they were!

Faithfulness engenders faith! Trustworthiness creates trust! Believable causes believing! It's a gift! Not in the sense that something is given – like an offering, a present. It's a gift in the sense that it's not something we choose! God is god. . . and because god is god, we believe! And it doesn't really matter what else happens! Are there strangers? Sure there are! Are there bandits? Thieves? Absolutely! But that's not what produces faith! Only Jesus matters! Only Jesus and the love that comes to us through him! The only thing important is the Shepherd's commitment! The only thing meaningful is the Shepherd's devotion!

Think about it! Why do you think sheep – the real, honest-to-god, baa bas kind... Why do you think sheep know the shepherd's voice? Why do you think they know to follow? That it's safe? It's because the shepherd came to them, lived with them, and cared! He loved them! And because of that love, has given them everything they needed. Not out of expectation and demand, but out of the goodness of the Shepherd's heart! Life, he says! I came that they – that you – might have life! Packed down! Shaken together! Overflowing! And I will do anything, everything, to make sure that happens!

Again, are there strangers... and bandits... and thieves... Of course, there are! But that isn't what makes us a flock! That isn't what makes us the Shepherd's flock? And that, certainly, isn't what "makes" us trust! It's the shepherd's trust-worthiness that does that! It's not our will, our choices, our decisions that have done that! It's never been our will, our choices, or our decisions! It's what we have seen... and heard... and felt... It's coming to know the Shepherd that calls out our believing! And faith is never a prerequisite, a requirement, a condition. It simply happens because of who the Shepherd is!

It might be fun to talk about all the others. The strangers... and the bandits... the thieves... At some level, it might, even, serve a purpose. But know this... We can talk about all the false teachers in the world... We can talk about satan, about the antichrist, until we're blue in the face and nothing would ever change! That isn't what saves us! That isn't what redeems! Only the Shepherd – only Jesus – does that! Only Jesus and Jesus' love for us all!

I think that's why we feel like we do about the Twenty-Third Psalm! It sings about the things that really matter! About the things that are truly important! Not wanting! Lying down in green pastures! Being led beside still waters! Being restored! Guided! Not afraid! It's all about a shepherd who can be trusted! In whom we can trust and believe! Not threats! No ultimatums! No expectations or demands! Only love! Faith, simply, happens! Happens because of whom god is! Because of what Jesus did! Of what Jesus does! I came that they may have life! I came that they may live! Live extravagantly! Live excessively! Live abundantly!

I came that they may be loved! Loved totally and completely! Loved without limit and without measure! And I came that they may do the same! I came so that – through them, like through me – those others may believe, as well!

So, maybe this passage wasn't my problem, after all... or the fact that Easter is behind us... or that my sermons are lacking a common thread... Maybe, truth is, even preachers – now and again – get distracted by shiny objects! And just maybe, even the best of us – at times – end up chasing after squirrels! But when that happens, the best thing for all of us to do is set aside what we've prepared and go back to the basics! Actually, go back to the basic... to Christ and to Christ crucified! Because you see, my friends, for us here in this place... for us here at this time... there is nothing else that matters! There is nothing more important!

"In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us and for his sake..." For his sake god forgives us one and all! That's our origin and our goal! Our heaven and our earth! I came that they may live! That once and for all, they may really live! Dotted i! Crossed t! End of sentence!

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the sermon for

The Third Sunday of Easter

30 April 2017

Luke 24:13-35
We don't find Jesus; Jesus finds us!

by Todd Wise

04302017Earlier that morning the group of women — Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James — had found the stone rolled away, the tomb empty, and received the amazing news that Jesus is alive, he is risen. Of course, this was not your typical Sunday morning — not a normal start to the week — and this news traveled fast to the eleven.

And later that day is when our gospel reading from Luke begins. It begins with Cleopas, who was Jesus' uncle, and his son Simon solemnly traveling to the town of Emmaus. Now being an avid hiker and engineer, I quickly did the math. It's seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, traveling at a casual pace of 2 miles per hour would mean that this journey takes somewhere between 3-4hrs. To put this in perspective, it is about the same distance as walking from our church to the Wagner Noel (minus the traffic lights and drilling rigs, of course). Now, I'm sure most of us have enjoyed a pleasant walk with a friend. Good conversation, scenic views, a relaxing way to unwind or get from one place to the next.

But, as these two are on their way and engaging in somber conversation, they happen to gain an unexpected visitor. Someone they do not recognize. Someone they had not sought out. Someone that found them and joined them on their journey.

And it seems that this 'visitor' was somehow unaware of the incredible events that had just unfolded in Jerusalem. In fact, the disciples explained to their visitor these events and what had happened to Jesus of Nazareth. They also relayed what the women had seen and heard at the tomb, and that Peter had gone to the tomb and also found it empty. But still, none of the disciples had seen the living Jesus. Where was he? Would you have been nervous if you were a disciple? In the disciples' eyes, things must not have appeared to be going to plan. The disciples expected the Messiah to usher in God's rule, but not that He would suffer, die, and rise again.

It's at this point that the visitor begins to open the disciples' hearts to understanding what had really happened. To interpret the old testament scriptures so that they might understand all of the recent and significant events.

And as their journey comes to a close, the disciples reach their destination and coax the visitor to stay with them — to join them for dinner as the day is getting late. The disciples are gracious hosts, yet the 'visitor' takes on the host's role. He took the bread, blessed, and broke it and gave it to them. And it was at this moment, the moment that the bread was broken, that the visitor was revealed. No longer a visitor, but Jesus Christ, living, risen from the dead.

And, as quickly as the disciples had met the visitor, he disappeared from their sight. They were left to ponder the situation. They had felt a burning in their heart when Jesus had explained the scriptures. The text had been there all along, but they now see it in a new and profound way. And even though it was evening, the disciples got back on the road. This time, heading right back to Jerusalem where they had been earlier that day. On their way to find the eleven and tell them that the Lord is risen indeed; and they had seen it first hand in the breaking of the bread. That they now understand what the plan had been all along.

What an exciting story.

You see this story is about Jesus. Jesus seeks us out. Jesus joins us on our journeys. No matter how easy or difficult that journey is, Jesus takes the first step even if we're not expecting him to. Even if we don't recognize Him because of our preconceptions, Jesus makes the connection. In fact, Jesus opens our hearts to the scriptures so that we might see them in new ways. Jesus opens our eyes, he reveals himself to us after revealing the truths of His word. Jesus gives us the bread of life.

We have all traveled the road to Emmaus. Perhaps you are on that road right now. Perhaps you've been down that road before, Or perhaps you've just returned from Emmaus. We have all had challenges and had our hopes shattered, but Jesus was there. Already walking beside us. We may not have recognized Him even though he was there beside us. We may not have known his voice even though he was talking to us throughout that journey, but it was Him. We may only have come to recognize him at the end of the journey, when he revealed himself to us through the breaking of the bread and forgiveness of our sins.

That day, Christ made a tremendous difference in the lives of Cleopas and Simon. Before meeting Jesus on the road, their heads were low, their eyes pointed at the ground, their hopes receding. But after meeting Jesus, they turned around and walked another 7 miles right back to where they had just been earlier that day. That's fourteen miles in a single afternoon and evening. However, during the return trip, I'm sure that their heads were held high, their pace was quickened, and their hearts were uplifted. That is the difference that Christ makes when He is the center of our heart instead of doubts, uncertainties, and difficulties. Jesus opens our eyes and fulfills his plan whether we had doubt or not. He is already here with us.

It's Jesus that took the first step, It's Jesus that seeks us out, It's Jesus that opens our hearts to scripture and it's Jesus that opens our eyes to the Truth. And it's because it's Jesus that loves us unconditionally - unearned, undeserved.

"Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide, For round us falls the eventide. O let Your Word, that saving light, Shine forth undimmed into the night" Amen (LSB 585:1)

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