Monthly Archives: March 2016

“What is Easter anyway?” Easter Sermon 03.27.2016

John 20:1-18 • March 27, 2016

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

First…I need to offer a word of thanksgiving to my colleagues in pastoral ministry here at Good Shepherd – Pastor Bob and Pastor Pam. And thanksgiving to the staff of this holy place. They consistently go above and beyond, including working on Christmas and Easter, in order for all of us to have an opportunity to grow in relationship with each other and with our God. And, finally, thanksgiving to the dozens of people who volunteer their time and talent in service during Holy Week and Easter worship. I am forever grateful for the many ways that the risen savior Jesus Christ is alive and working through each one of you. Please join me in showing our appreciation for the work that God is doing through these fine brothers and sisters in Christ.

In his book, Wounded Lord: Reading John Through the Eyes of Thomas, theologian Robert Smith claims that “from the beginning, the Fourth Evangelist has been mulling over the meanings of Jesus’ dying.” (pg. 128)

Smith’s claim that the writer of John’s gospel is in search of meaning in Jesus’ death beautifully lifts up one of the challenges that Holy Week and Easter present for those of us who are followers of Jesus in post-resurrection time. We claim to follow someone whom we believe was crucified, died, was buried but is now alive – risen from the dead. And even 2,000 years after the resurrection, the powers of the world around us continue to say that Jesus is dead and that God doesn’t even exist. It’s one of the reasons why I believe so strongly that Good Friday and Easter are the two most significant days in the faith life as Christians.

If Good Friday and Easter do not happen, if these events are only a figment of our imagination or a really good idea for a Hollywood blockbuster movie script, then our worship together today – or on any other day of the year for that matter – is really quite pointless. Jesus was just an ordinary dude in the ancient world who was killed by crucifixion. End of story. Who cares.

The first printed words in your bulletin today ask the question “What is Easter anyway?”

I would be willing to bet that if you and I walk around town today and took a poll of people who claim to follow Jesus with that question – nearly everyone we ask would say something like “the day Jesus rose from dead” or “the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.”

But, I’m also willing to bet that many of those same people – which does include all of us by the way – will have a more difficult time trying to explain the importance of Jesus’ death or what the resurrection actually is or what this ancient story has to do with our life and faith today. If you and I do truly believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and that the cross and tomb are still empty today, then the resurrection is the single most significant event in the history of creation.

The resurrection of Jesus is difficult to explain and equally difficult for some to believe. But rather than throwing a bunch theological jargon and resurrection theories at you today, let’s simply take a look at the resurrection story again. From the first people to actually witness it as it happened. What does this ancient story of Jesus’ resurrection in the gospel of Saint John and the experiences of the three disciples in this story, have to do with our life of faith today?

In a lot of ways, even though around 2,000 years have passed since that first Easter morning, you and I are still among the first witnesses. And in so many ways, you and I are just like the 3 disciples who find the tomb empty and can’t quite make sense of it.

Three disciples.

One who sees the grave clothes neatly folded and believes.

One who sees the same thing, yet isn’t quite sure if he believes anything that he has seen.

One who in a way is surprised into believing by hearing the sound of her name from someone she didn’t recognize even though she knew him well.

The writer of John’s gospel could have written a less complicated story. Something like – “Mary Magdalene, Peter and the other disciple went to the tomb. They saw the linen wrappings lying there and believed Jesus had risen from the dead.” Period. End of story.

But you and I know that faith and belief in the resurrection in such a simplistic way is not reality for followers of Jesus. Especially as we live in a post-resurrection and ever increasing post-Christian and post-religious world. That’s why I think it’s important for us to see John’s story of the resurrection as one that leaves room. It leaves room for each of us as we sort out our own response to the question “What is Easter anyway?” That’s what’s happening with the three disciples.

John’s gospel leaves room for when you and I see and believe. Room for when you and I see and are still not sure. Room for when you and I hear Jesus call our name and only then will we see Jesus and believe. (this section is inspired by a commentary written by Barbara Lundblad)

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, here’s the good news for all of us today regardless of where you find yourself. I quote from a sermon preached in 1987 by Pastor Bruce Laverman that rings just as true today as it did nearly 30 years ago. “Today,” Pastor Bruce said, “even though we may have missed him, he comes looking for us right where we are. If we have slipped and fallen – ignored him, missed him – he comes looking for us this morning in the cemetery of our human experience, in a Good Friday-Holy Saturday mood – to find us in the garden on Easter morning!” (excerpt from Rev. Bruce Laverman’s sermon at Christ’s Community Church, April 19, 1987)

A young dad walked in on his children playing one afternoon. He thought his kids were just playing house because that was one of their favorite things to do. Much to his surprise, it turned out they were playing church. And they happened to be at the end of the worship service when he walked in. He witnessed the giving and receiving of the benediction in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The dad was impressed. He shared his enthusiasm with his children and asked them if they knew what the cross meant when the pastor gave the benediction at the end of worship. Here’s what they said. “When the pastor makes the sign of the cross at the end of church it means that…some of us should go out this way, some of us should go out this way, and the rest of us should go out over there.”

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, whichever way you go out from this sacred time of worship and into the world today, go knowing and believing that Easter is for you. And the next time someone asks you “What is Easter anyway?” Share with them the good news that God has raised Jesus Christ the Savior of the world from the dead and because that happened, God has conquered every death that you and I will ever experience. In the resurrected Christ, there is time after the end, life after death, restoration of what was broken, the brightening of what had gone dark. That’s what Easter is today, tomorrow, and for all eternity. Thanks be to God. Amen.


“Jesus is Greater Than Our Sacrifice” 03.09.2016 Sermon

Hebrews 8:1-13, 9:11-15

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.

How are you doing so far in our Lenten journey through the book of Hebrews? Hopefully you’ve been able to participate beyond our times together in worship. And hopefully you have grown in your relationship with each other and with God through our time in this challenging book of the New Testament. Today, our worship theme is Jesus is Greater Than Our Sacrifice.

Sacrifice – it’s kind of tough word, isn’t it? Sacrifice. It just sounds tough. But sacrifice is a fairly normal part of our language and life in many ways.


A great athlete might sacrifice to be the best athlete in their sport – even at a cost of destroying their body.





A brilliant business person might sacrifice in order to stay on top of the business world – even at a cost of destroying other people or making unethical decisions in the quest for profit and power.



A successful salesperson might sacrifice in order to build enormous wealth – even at a cost of healthy relationships with their family or friends.





The challenge with the idea of sacrifice, whether it’s as we think about our relationship with God or our general understanding of relationship with others is that it’s never enough. One theologian said that “The idea of sacrifice is always a spiral and cycle that does not end with us ever giving or sacrificing enough” (Pastor Rob Bell, The Gods Aren’t Angry).

There are no less than 200 references to sacrifice in one way or another in the bible. The book of Leviticus – which if you have ever studied and read in its entirety, well…first of all – good for you! That’s not an easy thing to do! “Leviticus claims to contain the ‘statutes and ordinances and laws’ that God gives to Israel through Moses” (Lutheran Study Bible, pg. 189).

So, if you’ve read the book of Leviticus, you may have noticed that in the first 7 chapters, the writers lift up 5 different kinds of sacrifices or offerings that were important to the people of Israel. The burnt offering. The grain offering. The peace offering. The sin offering. And the guilt offering. If you own the Lutheran Study Bible you can learn more about these offerings and the sacrifices that relate to each of them on page 197.

In relation to that, I am quite certain that I’ve never received a male sheep or goat without blemish as an offering during worship. An offering that would then involve me killing the animal and burning it on the altar for the forgiveness of sin. Which would have to happen if we are staying true to the instructions from God found in Leviticus. This sacrifice supposedly creates an odor in the tent of meeting that is pleasing and honoring to God. If you think burning the palms on Ash Wednesday stinks a little, imagine what burning a goat on the altar during worship might smell like.

It’s said that during the festival of Passover there would be 100’s of thousands of people bringing something to be sacrificed on the temple’s altar. So much so that the streets of Jerusalem and rivers around it would be red with the blood of sacrifices being made throughout the festival.

For literally thousands of years, the altar was not an artistic piece of fine furniture in a holy space dedicated to worship. The altar was a place of great brutality and blood with sacrifices and offerings that ranged from grain to animals to even first-born children. And in spite of the altar’s extreme brutality, it was also big business for people like the Sadducees who ran the temple and collected the sacrifices that people brought.

Into this story of brutality and profiteering in the temple steps Jesus. It happens near the end in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and near the beginning in John. Upon entering the temple, turning over tables, and chasing out the money changers Jesus proclaims, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:12-17).

In one fail swoop, Jesus forever destroyed the idea that blood thirsty sacrifices in the temple were needed in order to keep God happy. Of course this was incredibly confusing to those who saw sacrifice as a way of faithful living. In many ways, I think it still confuses us today as we continue to think we have to sacrifice something in order to be successful or feel like we are loved. After all, the idea of sacrifice was something that God had commanded God’s people to do in the first place! Why wouldn’t this still be true today. But as God comes to us in Jesus – the temple is now to be a place of healing and prayer. Peace. Not blood.

In every instance of Jesus being challenged by anyone – he responds with non-violence. Maybe this is first and foremost because the altar in the temple was seen as a place of violence. And rulers controlled everyday people with violence for centuries in order to keep control. And in many ways, that is still true today.

Jesus doesn’t come swinging swords and leaving a trail of blood in his path. Jesus, came as an infant in a manger. Jesus came in peace. And Jesus changed the idea of sacrifice as it connects to our relationship with God – forever.

If you’d like to dig a little deeper into our theme today of Jesus is Greater Than Our Sacrifice, I can’t recommend to you strongly enough a DVD lecture by Pastor Rob Bell called The Gods Aren’t Angry. You can find it on YouTube or on Pastor Rob’s website. I think it is just fantastic.

During this lecture, Pastor Rob references the writer of the book of Hebrews many times. He says that one of the most difficult questions that has plagued humankind since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is, “What do I have to sacrifice or offer so God will love me and look upon me with favor? The reality is that God loves you and looks upon you with favor because of what God has done for you, and for me, through Jesus.”

It’s no longer possible for us to think that the blood of bulls and goats will take away sin.

Only Jesus Christ, the savior of the world – who lived, died, and rose from the dead can forgive sin.

God has made peace with all things in heaven and on earth through Jesus.

And maybe that will cause you and I to sacrifice a few hours this week in order to spend a few precious extra minutes with family or friends. That’s a sacrifice that may even bring you closer to your savior. And for the change that kind of sacrifice can bring to our faith journey and the crazy world in which we live today, I give God thanks and praise. Amen.