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Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost: June 18, 2017

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
† sdg †

Green Altar Parament

Green Altar Parament

Jesus could have taught the message of His kingdom in so many other ways. What if He sent out legions of angels to declare it to multitudes? He could’ve used a loudspeaker from heaven for all to hear at the same time. He could just sit in the temple and summon all nations to come to Himself. He could do whatever He wants: He’s the Son of God. But instead, we see Him picking twelve men to go and tell.

They go, and they know two things at this early time in their education: they’ve been given a Word, and they’ve been sent. There’s no making up the message as they go along, but they proclaim the message that has been generously given to them. They don’t perform wonders and healings out of their own magic hat of powers. Instead, they’re going to work wonders because Jesus has given them the power to do so. They’re not even going out on their own, but they’re going because they’ve been sent. Freely all this has been given to them. Now they may go and give the Gospel for free.

Imagine the crowds that gather around them. They gather in order to see the Savior, but here they get the understudies instead. Perhaps some leave disappointed or disgusted before the disciples open their mouths. Perhaps they feel like Jesus has let them down by not coming personally, or because the student is never better than the master. Those are typical human reactions, but humans are typically wrong with God’s things. The Lord is not unfaithful. This is His way. This is His order. Jews first, Gentiles soon to come. When the disciples heal the sick, the sick are healed. When they cleanse the lepers, the lepers are cleansed. They raise the dead; the dead are raised. They cast out demons; demons flee.

Why? Because it’s not them doing it. Thaddaeus isn’t saying to the sick, “In the name of Thaddaeus, be healed.” Bartholomew isn’t saying, “In the name of Bart, come out of them.” Demons aren’t afraid of Bartholomew. But they are afraid of Jesus, and the disciples speak in Jesus’ name. He’s sent them; and by His Word, He is there with them. When they preach, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” it’s true because the King is there by His authority and Word. And, when the disciples tell the people that their sins are forgiven, their sins are forgiven. Not because the disciples are forgiving them, but because really, Jesus is. That’s what He sent them to do. That’s what He gave them to do. Freely they have received. Now they freely give.

One of the favorite Sunday School and Vacation Bible School stories to tell is the one about the prophet Balaam in Numbers 22. As you may recall, the unbelieving King Balak sent the prophet Balaam to curse the people of Israel. However, as Balaam rides his donkey toward the people, God opens the mouth of his donkey and the donkey talks. The donkey rebukes the prophet Balaam, and Balaam blesses God’s people instead of cursing them. Pastors like to say this:

“If God can speak through Balaam’s donkey, then He can speak through me, too.”

Beyond the laugh, there’s an important point. In His wisdom, with a world full of lost and wandering sheep, God has chosen to spread His kingdom in a most curious way: He wants sinful human beings to speak His Word. He calls pastors in the Holy Ministry to preach that Word publicly, on behalf of His Church; and pastors can be quite a strange bunch. Despite the quirks and personality failings, however, the Lord still uses them as His instruments. Not just them, though: every Christian, tempted though they may be by sin and weakness, every believer has the privilege of telling that Word about Jesus to others. That is how the kingdom of God spreads.

Why is that? It is not the people. It’s the Word. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is present by His Word: the kingdom of heaven is at hand because our King is at hand. The same Savior who went to the cross to die for the sins of the world, now comes in His Word to give that forgiveness to individual people—to you and me and all who will hear. Jesus is present where His Word is. Add that Word to water, and He’s there in Baptism. Add that Word to bread and wine, and He’s present in His Supper.

It’s the Word that’s powerful—not the person speaking it. It’s the same Word with the same power that heals the sick, cleanses the leper and casts out demons in the Lord’s time. By that Word, Jesus comes to give forgiveness and faith and life, to turn wandering sinners into the people of His pasture, the sheep of His hand. It’s that simple.

Can the people who are sent get into trouble and stand in the way of God’s Word? Of course, they can; even though the Lord is faithful, sinners are sometimes not. Sometimes though, people place their hope in the preacher’s great charisma. If his style is engaging and holds interest, then that must make the Word powerful. If he is less interesting or has a bad day, then the Word maybe isn’t so powerful. If this is true, that means that God is only as faithful and powerful as the sinful man who is preaching the sermon. It means that God’s power varies based upon how much sleep the pastor got the night before. This is an extremely seductive temptation in our culture and society, because image is emphasized so much. People judge books by covers, and companies spend millions of dollars to make sure that their products have the right packaging and an exciting ad campaign.

We are easily tempted to judge the quality of anything by how well it holds our attention. Old Adam inside you and me makes sure that we judge the power of God’s Word on the same criteria. Pastors suffer this temptation, too; they can believe that their personality or style make the Word more effective. It’s simply not true. However, repent and rejoice! The Word’s power is not bound by the personality of the speaker. Where the Word is, Jesus is. Where Jesus is, there is forgiveness and life.

Crown with Chi-Rho

Crown with Chi-Rho

Some may fall for the opinion that only pastors have the ability to share God’s Word. Sure, only a pastor is given God’s holy orders to preach in a setting like this, for the benefit of God’s congregation in the Divine Service, but the misconception is that if a layman shares the Word with someone in their daily life, it’s just information but nothing more, like a recipe or a news broadcast. It tells about salvation, but it doesn’t save the person hearing the good news. If this is true, then God would have made a mistake when He told us to forgive those who trespass against us! No, you give forgiveness with the same power that the pastor has been given.

In fact, Christians meet and spend time daily with all sorts of people whom the pastor will never meet, and each believer has the joy of telling of the hope they have in Christ. Sadly, many believers balk at the thought of doing so. “I don’t know what to say,” is one excuse, well, why not? With Bibles to read and sermons to hear and classes to attend, what prevents you from not knowing? Simply tell other people about Jesus—about His ministry and miracles, His death on the cross and resurrection; about forgiveness and the hope of eternal life. “Oh, but I’m not a very good speaker.” Neither were Moses or Paul, and I suspect that Balaam’s donkey wasn’t usually eloquent either; yet God used each of them. “People won’t listen to me.” Careful, now; because that’s like saying that the power of the Word depends on you, not on Christ. I can assure you that people don’t always listen to pastors more than anyone else. Once again, it’s the Word—not the person who speaks it. “I don’t like talking to strangers.” That’s okay. Talk about Jesus to each other. To your kids. Your grandkids and other family members. A good friend who’s curious about your faith. The Lord will provide opportunities.

That’s how the Lord spreads His kingdom on earth: He sends out His Word. He gives His people, you and me, the privilege of telling it to others. He gives us the honor, despite our sins and weaknesses, of being His instruments to tell others of Jesus; and He promises that His Word will not return to Him void, but will accomplish what He sends it forth to do, whether or not there’s a huge crowd coming to hear it. Where people do listen to us and rejoice with us, that’s when we give thanks and glory to God. Where people reject the Gospel we proclaim, we remember that people rejected Jesus, too, and we give thanks that He counts us worthy to suffer for His name’s sake.

But as you speak His Word, rejoice most of all in this: Jesus first speaks that Word to you. Freely you have received; only then do you freely give. Your salvation this day is not based upon how well you evangelize, how many people you tell about Jesus, or how well you tell the great story. God’s gifts are already yours because Jesus has already died on the cross to save you. By the mouths of people in your life—parents, pastors, friends, and others—the Lord has told you of forgiveness; and whenever you’ve heard that Word, He has given it to you. He could have done it any way He wanted; this is what He wants.

So it is this day, as we gather here. It has all been about God’s saving Word. As the Gospel is spoken, it speaks and delivers forgiveness. So on this day you rejoice: you have not just heard about forgiveness today. You have not just been told you have to go and spread the kingdom by telling others. But most importantly, by that Word that you have heard today, you have been made a part of that kingdom, you have been healed by Jesus the merciful Savior, you have been forgiven of all of your sins.

Cross and Crown

Cross and Crown

In the Name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sermon for the First Sunday after Pentecost; Holy Trinity: June 11, 2017

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
† sdg †

White Parament

White Parament

The celebration of Trinity Sunday is unique. Unlike Christmas, Easter and Ascension Day, there appears to be no historical event that has taken place upon which this church festival can build. The Trinity didn’t happen; the Trinity…just is. If a church happens to have been named Trinity Lutheran, like many are in the Missouri Synod, then this day can be a special namesake celebration for them, just like Good Shepherd Sunday last month was special for us. But we have all heard the true statement that is often pointed out- the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. No that term is not there, but the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet at the same time one true God, most certainly is professed all over in Scripture. The name, which was constructed out of the words three and one, describes succinctly what our Triune God revealed to us His Church through centuries of prophets, apostles, and most importantly, the Son of God Himself who came to our world clothed in perfect, untainted human flesh.

Since the Trinity is a confession of doctrine more so than an event that occurred, and since our congregation does not go by the name of Trinity Lutheran, it may be difficult for us to find a clear reason why we should celebrate Trinity Sunday, other than, it shows up on our Church Year calendar. The Athanasian Creed goes on and on about three persons, one God, not three Lords, nor three Uncreateds nor three Infinites, but One Uncreated and one Infinite. Then, this third creed that we don’t see as often shocks us with the statement that we will have to believe this unwieldy, confusing, complex statement called the “catholic faith,” believe it perfectly or else we cannot be saved. Based on everything else you’ve heard preached in a Lutheran Church, it would be very likely that you might hesitate a second: just what is the purpose of celebrating Trinity Sunday, anyway?

Thankfully, the Bible, which is God’s Word from God’s mouth, produced by the work of God’s Holy Spirit, does not speak to us using lots of difficult terms like we read in the Athanasian Creed. The Bible, rather, unfolds for us a story, our true history, and little by little our Lord reveals more and more of Himself as He speaks His Word to us. We read about the Creation this morning—here’s the Trinity: God the Father, spoke forth His eternal Word with His Spirit fluttering over lifeless waters and then there was light, there was Earth, there was Sky, there were seas, birds, fish, land animals, creepy crawlers and, finally, Man in God’s image, created to be male and female, and it was all good! In that momentous event, the very beginning of our universe, God showed us a little of who He is, but the entire picture of Father, Son and Holy Spirit was not yet fully disclosed.

Jesus had called His disciples and said simply, Follow Me. At first, that’s all they had to go on. As He taught them, these students understood more about who Jesus really is and what He came to do for the redemption of the world. There was no complex doctrinal statement with legal jargon that they had to grasp perfectly and

then sign on the dotted line. They simply trusted that Jesus was teaching them the truth, beginning from the basics. These students of the faith needed to witness our Lord’s brutal crucifixion and death. They needed to meet face-to-resurrected face with Christ who conquered death. Jesus lovingly reminded them that all these things that they experienced came true because their Lord perfectly fulfilled His Word. And then something wonderful happened.

Finally, with all of those lessons learned, all of those precious gifts received from the great Teacher, then it was time to reveal the greatest mystery behind it all. Then, after all was completed, Jesus spoke of the Trinity. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have handed on to you.” As we read today in the last chapter of Matthew. Only then did Jesus speak this full, majestic and excellent Name to the disciples. It was like the entire story from Creation up to that very minute had come to fulfillment, and then it was time for these apostles to spread out into the created world and make more students, more disciples just like they were.

Yet we read that they doubted, even while they were worshiping Jesus! Actually, it was more of a hesitation than it was a hardened, I won’t believe at all, kind of doubt. Sure, I believe, they must have thought, but something is just in the way at the moment. I need help. That’s what was troubling these disciples as they were coming closer to the moment when they will not see Jesus any longer.

Where has been your moment of hesitation? For some I would guess it might have come from a significant change in your life. For others, it has been a gradual gnawing at your spirit—sure I believe, but there seems to be some little thing in the way. I don’t feel it’s important to give a portion of my time or my treasure to the Lord. I’m confused about why the church teaches against living together before marriage or against homosexuality or transgenderism. I have questions that seem too tricky to resolve in my mind. I have friends or loved ones who challenge me and what I should think is right as I deal with them—I don’t want to lose them just because something they’re doing is going against God’s Word.

You are not alone with those hesitations and questions. You are not in danger of condemnation to hell if they pop into your mind. Jesus’ own disciples worshiped Him in those last days that they saw Him, but also they hesitated. It was a problem that they could not fix or resolve for themselves by their own reason or strength. Jesus Himself knew that about His disciples, and He knows that about you, His own dear children. That’s why even while His students were hesitating, Jesus came to them! He had said earlier that No one comes to Me…unless… unless God the Father draws him to me. He also said I am sending you the Comforter, the Holy Spirit who will guide you into all the truth. See, there’s the Trinity again! We confess that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit precisely to save you, and to help you in your doubts, questions and even slight hesitations. You didn’t have to grasp it perfectly and completely in your head, but your Lord made it possible for you to believe it with all your heart.

There was even an event that happened for you, an event in which the Holy Trinity actually came into your life and changed you forever! That was the moment of your Baptism; the moment when water was combined with God’s Word and administered with God’s Command- the Command to make disciples by baptizing in My Name, as Jesus said. So, when you celebrate the Church Festival of the Holy Trinity, you are celebrating again your own baptism. Every day you remember your baptism when you admit your sins to God in confession and believe that you have received forgiveness from the pastor as from God Himself in the Absolution.

White Parament on the Pulpit

White Parament on the Pulpit

Take a look at that Baptismal font as you leave today. There in Baptism the Father begets you anew. There the Son cleanses you from all sin and delivers you from every death. And there, in the waters of Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit gives and delivers you into your Lord’s very own Body so that you also become true sons of God and are born of God. He is your only peace in all time of adversity and prosperity, during life and in death, when things go well and when things get scary. Remember your Holy Trinity event in your baptism when you leave this sanctuary after the Divine Service and pass by the baptismal font. Dip your finger in the water if you like—it’s not special holy water, but the water you touch can help you clearly recall to your mind and heart the powerful words that were once spoken with a similar splash: I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Your own personal Trinity historical event happened and you have never been the same since. On this Holy Trinity Sunday and every day of your life, confess with conviction along with the rest of us that God is indeed Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the Bible teaches; insist as a forgiven sinner that Jesus is true God at the same time as He is true Man, because that’s how your baptism truly does save you. Strap on the great Triune Name of God as your breastplate and armor, just like St. Patrick of Ireland did even as he faced the deadly evils of persecution. He sang this song about the Trinity which you can find in our hymnal:

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

The strong Name of the Trinity has saved you also this day, it fills your heart with joy over your forgiveness and everlasting salvation in heaven, and it will energize you to live for God and sacrifice yourself for the sake of your neighbor’s needs. To this Holy Trinity alone belongs all glory, honor, worship and praise, now and forever.

In the Name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sermon for the Day of Pentecost: June 4, 2017

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
† sdg †
Acts 2:1-21

What an exciting day this is! On this day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost was first a Jewish holiday, called the “feast of weeks;” that was the shadow. Now Jesus stands up in the midst of that feast to declare He’s the real thing that all the shadows have led to. He’s the source of the living water that was prophesied to flow from the Temple. The Christian festival of Pentecost has been named the birthday of the Church, the beginning of the Gospel’s spread throughout all nations, as noted by the many languages that instantly appeared on the tongues of Jesus’ disciples, who are now apostles. At Pentecost, we are thankful that Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit, the promise of our Heavenly Father, and rejoice that by His help, our church will thrive in this evil world. Thus we pray that God will continue to work among us for many more years to come until the return of Christ.

Red Parament

Red Parament

Now I hate to rain on your Pentecost parade, but I must. If the most important thing for you as a Christian is to believe in Jesus Christ your Lord, then perhaps the second most important thing is to acknowledge that it is impossible to believe by your own reason or strength. To say it another way: I believe that I cannot believe. But boy is that a hard thing to confess! These days you see people giving personal testimonials and people trying (with good intentions of course, but) trying to make church no more than just a fun and exciting place to be. Free hamburgers might get them in the door! Then, once you’ve lured them in, perhaps they’ll commit their lives to the Lord, thanks to you. That makes you feel good, it feels like God is using you and you made a difference, and that good feeling you tend to translate into a stronger faith. Why? Because you feel that your own commitment got stronger, and your heavenly Father has no choice but to be pleased with you for what you’ve done for the good of the kingdom.

Isn’t that what having the Holy Spirit is all about? Jesus Himself said after all that the rivers of living water (meaning the Spirit) would flow right out from the believer’s heart. And isn’t the Holy Spirit supposed to come with some spectacular special-effects like we read about in the book of Acts? Miracles and tongues and prophecies and so on. Your human nature would crave a little more of this visible, tangible proof that God is acting mightily—it would do our world some good. Just like those Jews were looking for Jesus to overthrow the Roman Empire’s rule and establish a kingdom right then and there. And then you suddenly find yourself tempted to write the agenda for the work of the Holy Spirit, rather than believing that He works when and where He pleases. When that happens, then your ideas of success in the church take over God’s plan and mission.

Which is why you cannot get anywhere as a priest of God and worker in the Lord’s vineyard unless you first admit that you cannot make a difference. In fact, your own efforts that flow out of your own sinful purposes, those could actually bring harm and hindrance to the work of the

Church, if it weren’t for Christ’s forgiveness. Whether you like it or not, the Holy Spirit convicts you because in the eyes of God’s law in the Ten Commandments, you stand condemned. You have not loved the Lord your God with all your heart. You have not loved your neighbor as yourself. And when it appeared to others like you were fulfilling these things, still your sinful thoughts, which are known only to you and your Lord, dragged you into sin despite any good that might have resulted.

You must face the truth. All your righteous, spiritual-looking acts are in God’s eyes no better than filthy rags, as Isaiah says. Your ear has bent more readily to nasty rumors than your mouth has spoken up for the truth. You have insisted in many and various ways that the Holy Spirit works in ways that you determine, rather than through the Word of the Lord. It’s a common misperception that doctrine is dead, cold and lifeless—just a book on a shelf that does nothing unless you dress it up and add the Holy Spirit to it as though the Holy Spirit came from somewhere else besides the Bible. But really, doctrine, that is God’s teaching, is the only thing that gives true life and it’s the source of the Holy Spirit. No wonder the devil attacks doctrine in the church, in his effort to destroy it.

Don’t think that you’re immune to this, that you can ignore it, be nice, and it’ll all go away. Satan doesn’t want you to live from the Word, but rather to use it as a weapon like he tried to do with Jesus in the wilderness. He leads others to ridicule you, even in petty ways, like what happened when outsiders accused the apostles of being drunk at 9 o’clock in the morning. You could find yourself with a lust for peace despite the sufferings of the cross of Christ that has pushed you to give mere lip service to your confirmation vow: the promise that you would suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from your confession of faith. But for you to live renewed each day with the Holy Spirit’s power within you, the sinner that you are must die—drowned each day in the waters of your baptism. Your spiritual thirst can only be quenched in one way.

This is why it is so important to believe that you cannot believe. You need to receive the Holy Spirit from outside of you in the Word of Christ’s forgiveness. For the rivers of living water wouldn’t have had a chance to come out from your heart, had it not been the case that the same river streamed out first from the pierced heart of Jesus as He hung on the cross. After all, it is Jesus Himself who says to you who are thirsty, Come to Me. The Holy Spirit comes from no other source than from Christ. Forgiveness and eternal peace comes from nothing else besides His death for you and His resurrection from the dead. Your Savior doesn’t want you to be uncertain of the future; His plan is not to have you scrambling around looking for comfort for your distressed soul. He wants you to call on His name and be saved, each and every day. Believe in Him. Don’t trust in your commitment to Him. Instead, latch on to His rock-solid promise to you. Feed on His flesh just as He told the 5,000 whom He miraculously fed out there in the remote field.

Yes, all this comforting Gospel may be offensive to your selfish human nature. I may be raining on your parade, as long as your parade makes you the Grand Marshal, or the center of attention. But you know, the prophet Joel speaks of rain as God is moving him to write in his book of prophecy about the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Peter quoted from Joel as he was speaking to the gathering people on Pentecost, and just before that quoted part, Joel writes this: “Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication; he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before.” (2:23) This kind of rain from the Lord your God is what you need for your faith in Christ to grow. God the Holy Spirit comes and goes as it pleases Him, but He always comes to give you faith when you hear the Gospel of your forgiveness. This is not the same as to say if you don’t feel loved by God, wait 10 minutes and the weather will change, but it does say that you are not in control of the Holy Spirit no more than you are in control of where it rains in Southern California, and that is a good thing for you. He’s the one who calls you by the Gospel, enlightens and sanctifies you and keeps you in the true faith. Your Savior gave you the ability to trust in Him, you didn’t have it by yourself. And His Body and Blood will strengthen that faith until He comes again in fully visible glory.

And that is the answer to your nagging question on a day like Pentecost? What is the future of this particular church that was founded decades ago? Jesus answers: Come to Me. Drink of the living water that comes straight from the heart of Jesus. Hear My Word and trust Me when My called and ordained servant of the Word says your sins are forgiven. Eat My Body and Drink My Blood and you will have forgiveness, life and salvation through yet another means. When it comes to the mercy, grace and blessing of God for you, His people, when it rains it pours! Then in turn, He automatically directs your heart to serve your neighbor, that they may also partake of the living waters of grace. And though you may or may not see the visible, special-effects of the Holy Spirit among you, like the fire and wind and language-abilities, you still have God’s promise that as long as there is the preaching of the Word, there the Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh. May He bring you to Jesus until you see God the Father face-to-face in the heavenly Zion of His kingdom.

In the Name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter: May 28, 2017

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
† sdg †
I Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11

You’ll have to excuse the disciples for being a little confused. They had just witnessed Jesus’ ascension into heaven, which happened forty days after He rose from the dead. There they were on that Mount of Olives, staring upward as the Teacher and Friend who said He would be with them always, even to the end of the age… then He suddenly disappeared out of sight. That would be the opposite that someone would expect, right? He had also told them, “Go and make disciples of all nations… Preach the Gospel to the whole creation.” And yet, the Lord also commanded, “Stay right where you are in Jerusalem.” Don’t you think that would make it hard to understand what it was He had in mind? And then we hear from St. Peter in the epistle he wrote, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Wouldn’t you think that would be strange? We are now beginning our seventh week of the Easter season, and Pentecost is knocking on our doorstep. God has been proclaiming His great power right and left. Jesus died on the cross, then rose from the dead on the third day. Sin and death have been undone; the debt to God that we could never have paid—Jesus paid it! Nothing more needs to be accomplished for our salvation. Fiery trials, we figure, come as a result of sin, so it perplexes our minds that sin continually makes this great comeback against us, everywhere we turn, especially when we have the promise that Jesus is our Lord and our Savior forever. So why isn’t He using His power to hold it back?

Codex Sinaiticus

Codex Sinaiticus – I Peter 5:8 “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil like a lion roaring”

And then you have the Apostle Peter’s words about the devil: “Be sober-minded, be vigilant, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.” Well, who let him loose? Why is Satan seemingly so free to assault and trouble us? I thought that on the cross, Jesus defeated the devil too! He descended into hell in His exalted human flesh to proclaim His victory over Satan. Why do we now have to watch out, always looking back over our shoulders, lest the evil foe’s lion-like attacks pounce upon us unawares? You can understand now why the disciples were very confused in the moments right up to our Lord’s ascension into heaven. They looked at each other in confused disbelief over this apparent contradiction. It had seemed like His grand triumph did not make a single difference as we find ourselves still in the difficulties and problems of this world. Wouldn’t we still suffer, Jesus or no Jesus? That’s what it feels like. So for us to rejoice simply because we are suffering these problems, there has to be something more that leads us beyond the simple facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Those events happened long ago in the past. What good are they for us today? What message is still there in those ancient Bible books for real people in the 21st Century?

Codex Sinaiticus

Codex Sinaiticus – I Peter 4:17 “For it is time to begin judgement at the household of God”

The first message we need is the message of judgment, since Peter himself told us: It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God. We must repent, because we wrap ourselves up in everything that concerns us today. Our

schedules are crazy, the demands for us to get stuff done, it is outrageous. If we can put off anything that we don’t need to treat right now as an emergency, we feel we can get away with setting it out of sight, and hopefully it will become out of mind. Guess what usually is set aside because it never seems like an immediate emergency? It’s this: You have sinned against the Lord. He has given you commandments, and you keep breaking them. You are a sinner. All of those don’t have any alarms or reminders or past due notices clamoring for your attention. So you ignore them, as do I.

This message of judgment gets a little tricky for us, though, because it is possible to hear condemning words not only from God, but from the devil, too. I’ll explain. God says in His total, perfect justice: You deserve to die; turn away from your sin and believe in Jesus, and you will live. I, however, will bear you up as you suffer, and I promise you full deliverance, just repent and believe that forgiveness is yours, no matter what your feelings tell you.

The devil then steps up to say his piece, and tries with all his might to scramble that message: Did you just hear God tear you down? I heard it myself! You have no chance with Him! No matter what you do, you’re just going to keep suffering because you are a sinner. Your sin must be too big for Jesus, if we’re going to face facts. Simply put, you have sinned too much, and you haven’t demonstrated that you’re ready to change your life to sufficiently please God. You know I’m right, he says, because you are still hurting more than others around you.

Lies. All lies, through and through. But as you hear them, and feel the way you do sometimes, you can’t help but fall for those lies. You get confused, and the message of judgment that we all need to hear, starts sounding like the blessings of life with Christ are faraway, unattainable dreams. For a little while, your ears start to itch for more law, for more ways to make yourself feel better, for a less condemning and more inspirational, do-it-yourself message, but eventually you realize that the devil’s discouraging voice in your conscience has won out and you get convinced that judgment is the last word.

Codex Sinaiticus

Codex Sinaiticus – I Peter 4:13 “But insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, rejoice”

But it is not. There is an all-important second message. The Apostle says rejoice, even in suffering, and that too is God’s Word. Peter doesn’t say try to rejoice, not, reach deep inside yourself and make a believable effort at faking happiness. No, he says, rejoice—you really are sharing in Christ’s sufferings. This is not a mental exercise or trick—Jesus, the risen and ascended Jesus, He really is suffering, the same way He was when He once told Paul: Why are you persecuting Me? He is to this very day identifying with us in all that we are going through. He’s linked you together with Him because you are baptized into His Name. And when Christ is suffering, you can know for absolutely certain, that you are being saved, delivered from evil just like you pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. All Divine judgment landed on Him on the cross. Do you suffer insults? Then you are being blessed because all those insults fall on Jesus, and He turns them into blessings. Have you been shamed, that is, someone has forced you to accept their sin because they claim that
would be the “loving thing” to do, but you wouldn’t? Then be ashamed no longer. Glorify God because He rejoices with the truth. Without Jesus on the cross it would have been impossible for you to hate the sin and love the sinner.

This is going to be tough—most of you already know that it is. The righteous is “scarcely saved,” Peter says. That means it looks like it would all go the way of judgment against us, as if the devil’s lies would turn out to be reality. You and I need God’s help every day—there is absolutely no way we could simply read our Bible and Catechism once through and then think, All right; I’m done. I’ve graduated from learning the faith. There’s nothing more I need to know. I believe in Jesus and I know I’m forgiven. That’s not humbling yourself, waiting for the Lord to exalt you. That’s exalting yourself! That’s when you become ripe for the lion to pounce on you and pin you to the ground. Do not let a complacent, vague, forget-about-it style of forgiveness keep you from taking God’s Word of judgment seriously. But also, at the same time, do not fall for the devil’s scheme that makes the precious Gospel seem like it’s too far out of your reach. Both the word of judgment and the word of rejoicing are necessary, and they are yours for your eternal good.

How did Jesus make sure that both those words would be yours for certain? He promised you the Holy Spirit. The gift that we will celebrate next Sunday at Pentecost was actually the answer to Jesus’ prayer to the Father, as recorded in our Gospel today. By the Holy Spirit and not by any other way, believers know that Jesus is the Son of God, and that they belong to the Father thanks to Him and what He has done. By the Holy Spirit you have the glory of Jesus that He always had as God, but as man that glory was given to Him upon completion of His salvation mission. Now that Jesus has been glorified—He suffered, died, was buried, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven—now that He has this glory, He lavishes forgiveness upon you and grants you the only reason you need to rejoice in the midst of suffering, hardship, and the conflict of this world, even the conflict you face from time to time with fellow believers. The Son and the Father are perfectly one with the Holy Spirit in the mystery of the Holy Trinity, so that unity is bequeathed to you. Now you are one with God and with one another in Christ.

Codex Sinaiticus

Codex Sinaiticus – John 17:11 “that they may be one, even as we are one.”

Jesus prayed for you! And His prayer was certainly answered in your case when you were baptized, and the Holy Spirit made His home with you. This is not a fairy tale or make-believe catch-phrase. This is really happening because you are not just hearing my mouth speak; you are receiving the blessed words of judgment and rejoicing sent to you straight from God Himself.

Your Lord continually prays to His Father even now, that you may be one with one another, but most importantly, one with God. And as you are joined together with Him, you are made bold to confess the truth, even to the point of death as the confirmation vows require, for in fact you have already died to yourself that you may live to God. He will bring you to Himself whenever He serves you with His Holy Word and the Blessed Body and Blood of

Christ, and give you the hope of eternal life in perfect bliss and happiness.

In the mean time, rather than be puzzled at the apparent contradictions that you see, trying to make human sense of what our Lord is teaching you, may you continually pray that when you are attacked by any evils of body or soul—pray that the Lord would yet accomplish His Will among us His Church on earth until He comes again. And God who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

Codex Sinaiticus

Codex Sinaiticus – I Peter 5:13 “will himself restore, confirm, strength and establish you”

In the Name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter: May 21, 2017

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
† sdg †
Acts 17:16-31

The second half of the month of May is very solemn in America, you could even say it’s spiritual. It urges us to dip down deep into our nation’s religious roots and our reliance on God our Creator. This past week was National Police Week, a memorial for those cops who died in the line of duty. Today is Armed Forces Sunday, and we thank God for our loved ones past and present who have served in uniform. And of course at the end of this month our Nation will observe that most somber national holiday, Memorial Day. At these seemingly spiritual occasions it just feels right to say a prayer with all our fellow citizens, regardless of denomination, thanking God for His abundant blessings and including a prayer for those who are still out there, hard at work defending our liberties and promoting the well-being of our allies. You have often seen students in the past holding hands in a moment of prayer standing around the flag pole. Churches often make a patriotic tug at the heart strings, even going so far as to force the pledge of allegiance into the liturgy and manufacture a new creed exalting the Christian virtues of certain founding Fathers.

Of course, if feeling is the only thing you go on when you consider the spiritual work of prayer, then you run the risk of straying from God’s Word and what our Lord Jesus Christ gives us in the gift of prayer. I can give you an example from Kansas City, where they absolutely love President Truman. I know some people there terribly miss him in the White House! But a few years ago, on the occasion of Truman’s birthday (also in May) a Catholic priest offered a so-called “prayer” that really was a collection of Truman’s pithy quotes arranged like a litany so that one of them went like this: “If you want to have a friend in Washington, get a dog.” And everybody was supposed to respond, “Amen.” As cute as that was, and well-intended to honor one of our presidents, I’m sure, it said to me at least that American Christians can sometimes get a little lost when they think about prayer. It’s like they are wandering around in the dark, and can’t find their way.

In our reading from Acts 17, the Apostle Paul visited the eminent city of Athens—it was already an ancient city in his day! Athens was constantly buzzing with philosophers, thinkers, theologians and religious experts from all over the known world. Following the tradition of Alexander the Great, leading thinkers at Athens were constantly pursuing all possible philosophies and religions in order to arrive at a deeper, more profound truth.

Our world around us may look like it is doing the very same thing as those educated people did in Athens. Always learning, but never coming to a full understanding. What I would say is the most profound difference, however, between then and now was that the men of Athens gathered more and more information so that they would better understand those things that were already true in the world around them. Today, on the other hand, there is no more search for information, really! The information bombards you constantly, and it practically demands that you must throw out the window anything that you currently consider true, and make up for yourself whatever is true for you. Nobody is confident anymore, including many Christians. They question truth; in fact, it can be considered quite rude and arrogant for you to say one religion is better than another. Instead, it’s popular to believe that you just have to find what works for your own purposes. You can use religion, philosophy, values, politics, anything. You just can’t say in today’s world that whatever you have found to be true for you is really the one, profound, all-encompassing truth that’s good for everyone. And with just the right amount of boldness, you could respond, “Who says you can’t say that?”

1534 Luther Bible

1534 Luther Bible – Acts 17 “and found an altar on which was written To The Unknown God. Now I proclaim to you this same, which you unknowingly”

Paul’s tactic was not to condemn the Athenians, to be sure. That wasn’t his apostolic and missionary call. But it is important to note that he did not affirm their scatter-shot belief in all those false gods, either. Instead, he preached the Gospel to these people, saying, “I know you are nobly diligent in searching for the truth and if you will hear me out, I will present to you the Good News that your search is over!” Then Paul preached to them following an outline that’s very similar to the Creed. He said: “The God who created you and has sustained your earthly life, is the one and only true God. He sent His Son as His appointed Savior, who died and rose from the dead, and will come again to judge the world in righteousness.” Rather than condemning them, Paul, out of Christian love for all people lost in sin, delivered to them God’s own command that everyone should repent. He let God remain the judge, and He informed the ignorant so they would know the one and only Gospel truth.

1534 Luther Bible

1534 Luther Bible – Acts 17 “God, who made the world and everything that is in it, since He is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made with hands”

We have the blessing of the freedom of religion, for which we should daily thank and praise the Lord. In general, it holds true that all citizens ought to be free to worship according to their conscience. Still, that does not accurately translate into a conclusion that all religions are true. Nor does it mandate that religions be mixed together or treated as equal attempts to approach our Creator. There’s a lot of “try us, see if you like what we have to offer,” out there, and that is especially tempting in American society. But it wasn’t easy for St. Paul, either. He needed great courage to confess the one, true faith. And he had the sincere love for the lost brothers and sisters of Athens and other mission fields to tell them what God wanted them to hear. He did not have to change or modify what he said in order to help the Word out or give the Holy Spirit a helping hand.

Note also that Paul did not ask them to continue their ignorant spiritual groping, saying something like, that’s OK, one day you may possibly stumble on Jesus Christ the crucified. He did not invite them to pray until they were brought into the Holy Christian Church through baptism. Prayer was certainly not Paul’s instrument by which a person accepted Jesus into his heart. Instead, prayer is described in the Bible as the response of a faith already given. It, too, is a precious gift of God, thanks to Christ. Prayer is a privilege bestowed upon us by the Holy Spirit, along with all of His gifts, about which we will hear again soon on the Day of Pentecost.

Today, we heard the promise that Jesus gave to His disciples just before His suffering and death. Yet a little while, Jesus says, and you will see Me. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. If you ask anything in My Name, I will do it. But how can it be that those great blessings and promises often have such a tough time breaking through to your heart? Why are you at times concerned about only your own well-being, and not about that of your neighbor? What kind of grip does worry or anxiety have over your spiritual life? Perhaps it’s difficult for you at times to see your faith as having any impact on the rest of your life out there in the so-called “real world.” Or, in order to search for something more relevant, you start to fall for the “pick and choose” temptations of our culture.

Our merciful Lord is not an unknown God, after all. In fact, as St. Paul said to the people of Athens, He is very near to us. He had every right to condemn you for your sin and for your sluggishness in putting your faith into practice. He deserves to refuse your prayers. But he doesn’t. Not because you said you were really sorry this time. Not because you made a handsome deal with the Lord. It’s because Christ your Savior pleaded for you. He followed through on His promises to you, and granted you the forgiveness that was bought and paid for by His blood on the cross. Your experience and your feelings may tell you in certain times of your life that you might be an abandoned orphan in this cold, cruel world. You feel as though you have no one to rely on but yourself. No one will understand you, and the politically correct society will inevitably find some way to refuse a place for you and for what you confess to be true. But Jesus says, I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you. Because I live, you also will live. My resurrection is yours. You may pray with certainty in my Name because I have already given you everything for free.

As we enter the week of Christ’s Ascension in the Church Year calendar, prayer is highly emphasized. Prayer and keeping the commandments both express one and the same love for Jesus. That’s because they also flow from His great love for us. He comforts us with the assurance that we need not grope around for truth in the darkness of our sin. We need not fear the antagonism that comes at us from every corner of our society, from people claiming to be smarter, from those followers of Hollywood debauchery, from anyone more interested in self-preservation (whether it’s in politics or in the school and workplace). Yes, we might even get friction from wholesome American spirituality in this solemn part of May and feel forced to focus only on our feelings of love for God and of brotherhood with each other, and forget about all our different doctrine talk.

No, you are not a slave to the cute and the current. Those things of this world don’t make prayer any more effective even though they may feel good. You don’t have to pray to satisfy some innate feeling or urge to get closer to God. You rather have the privilege to pray because Jesus Christ gave that privilege to you before He ascended to the Father’s right hand. He died and rose to forgive you and claim you as His own. You have the Savior’s own sworn promise that the Father loves you. Thanks to His Holy Word, He is not an unknown God, like He was in ancient Athens. During this month of May leading up to Memorial Day, when you set aside a holy day and remember those who are now gone, remember also your living Savior, who is with you as He promised, and make use of the precious gift of prayer that He has granted you.

In the Name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter: May 14, 2017

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
†   sdg   †
John 14:1-14

It’s a scary world out there. Lots of trouble and worry. Violence is ever-present in our world. Are you actually informed or entertained when you watch the news? Aren’t you more often disgusted or angered when you see the news on TV or your computer screen? Have you ever had your mother call you with anxiety in her voice, telling you she hopes you’ll be safe amidst all that danger out there? Everything that used to be loved and preserved for the good of our society seems now to be ridiculed and condemned as false, superstitious, or bigoted, racist and unloving. That’s what people say about us, about you. All around us we see evil, and it does not want to share any space in peace with us. We cannot avoid problems, persecution, misunderstanding, and conflict. Even something as utterly wholesome as Mother’s Day cannot escape the taint of evil that threatens to ruin it all.

German: And He said to His disciples: Your hearts be not frightened. Believe in God, so also believe in Me.  In My Father's house are many rooms.

German: And He said to His disciples: “Your hearts be not frightened. Believe in God, so also believe in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms.”

No matter what your age, you know what it’s like to live with uncertainty, under pressure and stress with all that is demanded of you every day. As a member of this Lutheran Church you affirm that you have been taught the faith as summarized for us in the Catechism and taught in the Bible. You have made a public confession of the faith in full unity with this congregation. You say by your presence here, Yes, I believe this Christian faith, I make it my own, and I promise to stay in the faith for the rest of my life. I am here to grow in this faith and make it strong in my heart all the way to life everlasting. That very confession of yours puts you right in the middle of this evil, difficult world that has painted a target on all our backs. Yet, in the midst of the “gloom and doom”, for us as publicly confessing Christians, there is still a bright spot to lift and cheer you all.

You can see that bright spot in the very first words of this reading – where we hear our Lord Christ tell His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled.” These words mean a whole lot more to you than simply “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” especially when they come from Jesus. He doesn’t stop with simply making you feel better; He is doing something real for your eternal destiny. He adds: “You believe in God, believe also in Me.” And that last part, “believe in Me” is the real answer for all of us who live here in this valley of sorrow. John wrote that Jesus came from God and was now returning to the Father, that is a short expression meaning the entire mission that He accomplished for the salvation of the world, all that we say together in the Creed about what Jesus did. Jesus explained to His disciples that soon it will be time for Him to go. He was going to the cross, then He would rise from the dead, and ascend back to His Father all so that by accomplishing this entire mission He would prepare a place for them – and for us, then He would return.

Think about that and recall it to your mind whenever you face rejection and trial in this evil world. When anything in the news frightens you or repulses you, do not be discouraged. Remember that you will always belong to the Lord. And you know that where He’s gone, there also is an eternal home reserved for you. Our Lord’s return to heavenly glory, which we will celebrate on Ascension Day, should remind us every day: we are not of this world – you live here for a very short time. Jesus raised up our sights away from all this evil around us and every day He gives us an eternal perspective – your ultimate goal in life is not to be found in grabbing for yourself all the valuable things of this world, but rather seek out the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life with our Father in heaven. The only way you will have any real peace or tranquility as you endure the troubles of your life, is by looking at it the way Jesus speaks about it, and the way the Catechism teaches it. For many of you, it was one of the most important things your mother taught you.

The Jesus who ascended, will certainly also one day return for all those who are His own. He’ll raise our bodies from the dust of the ground, from the depths of the oceans, or wherever else they might be. Jesus promised you a room in His Father’s house, a spot in His eternal kingdom, and you didn’t have to do anything to earn that privilege. The door is open to your mansion! You may sometimes feel abandoned, but you haven’t been. Jesus is coming back for you – let not your heart be troubled. Jesus gave His disciples – and you as well – three important foundations for your faith to remain constant, just as you vowed to do when you joined – even in the midst of the greatest of troubles that you have to face in life. Those three foundations are: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Jesus said to him "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father, except through Me."

Jesus said to him “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me.”

It might be hard to predict when will be the next time you ask the question: “Why me?” But it will probably happen sometime. Well, in light of what we’ve just heard from our Lord – does it not seem crazy that any strong Christian would be so filled with doubt and confusion regarding the future? Has there ever been a time when you’ve played the role of Thomas and thought: “Lord, I don’t even know where You’re going next in my life… how can I know the way?” We know the answer, of course, we all learned it from the Bible and Catechism. But it is so easy still to fail to realize this and make it apply in our daily life. We prefer to search in some vain hope that we’ll uncover some new insight, some new truth, or some better slant on life to help us through yet another day. I can make myself a better me, so I’m told. Still our Lord’s Word and Promise for us stand. His answer is there even when we refuse to see it. As Christians, we not only know where our Lord Christ has gone, but we also know how to get there.

Jesus responded to Thomas’ desperate-sounding question and lays it out quite simply. He alone is the Way to heaven – the way of the cross with all its death and shame – the Way of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – the Way of the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His wayward, wandering sheep – the Way of the Door of the sheepfold who lifts us over the threshold of heaven. He is the Way – and He becomes our Way when the old man of sin who lives inside us is put to death through Baptism – the “rebirth of water and the Holy Spirit.”
But not only is Jesus the Way, He’s also the Truth. He’s not simply one of many who claim to have found some truth that we were searching for, but He Himself is the Truth, whether we wanted it or not. In Him Truth has its beginning and end. In Him – the One who existed from all eternity, created all things and set it all in motion with the Word of His mouth – Truth had its beginning and its fulfillment. When you and I are tempted to doubt and wonder like Pontius Pilate did, saying what is Truth, we need look nowhere else than this One who is the Truth – to Him who was condemned to death by lying witnesses – and who often wasn’t believed even by His own followers or family. He’s our Truth, we confess Him boldly – He’s the Word of God through whom we have been forever set free from the power of sin, death, and the devil.

Finally, He’s not only the Way and the Truth, but – perhaps greatest of all – He’s the Life. Even though He would soon be handed over to the darkness death on the cross, He achieved something magnificent. Even in that moment of deep darkness He was still the Life and the Light of men. As we sometimes hear in the Liturgy, He’s the One through whom our Lord has given us the “power to become the children of God.” His death is our Life, and the one who trusts in Him – even though he die – yet shall he live. For God’s promise is that whoever places their trust in Jesus shall never die. He is the Life.

To fight those battles that will some day or another come your way, to stay true to the promises you made in your confirmation, you need those strong words of Jesus: let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. When you have faith which can sustain you through any deeply troubling time, your complete trust is in Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – He who came from the Father, suffered, died, rose again, and then returned to the Father to prepare a place for you – He who is God Himself in the flesh of man – He who comes to His people even today in Word, water, bread and wine. He is the One in whom alone is all your trust and confidence. For He is coming back on the Last Day to bring into His heavenly Paradise all who belong to Him by faith. He has prepared for you and me a place in His, and our Father’s house. He is the One to whom we can confidently listen, for it’s in His Word that you admit to others is true, and in His Word alone, that true peace may – and, indeed, will be found. Let not your heart be troubled.

In the Name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter: May 7, 2017

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California

† sdg †

John 1:1-10

John 10:1  KJV 1611

John 10:1 KJV 1611

There’s a famous old painting of Jesus where he’s standing outside a door knocking, not banging like He’s in a rush or rage, but patiently, calmly, with a peaceful, yet intent gaze on His face. It was inspired from Revelation chapter 3 where Jesus says, Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him. But in the Gospel from John for today, Jesus says in this instance that He is the door. And this is Good Shepherd Sunday, so He is the door for the sheep. That’s why some Bibles translate the word “gate” instead of “door.” You may think it silly for me to point this out, but I must. Jesus is not like a door, as if there were something greater than He called a door and that He is patterned after it. No, He is the Door.

Thinking of Jesus as the Door is very important for Christians. After all, your Lord went through the door of His Father’s “house” of heaven in order to come to this earth and be born in a stable-manger and take on your frail human flesh. He came to live, suffer, die and rise again for your sake, in your place, and for your salvation. He came to us through that door which leads from heaven to earth, then He had that same door slammed in His face at the moment of His death on the cross. That is to say, God put His own Son there in place of those who rejected Him, He was counted as the one who rebelled against God, and so your sins required the Father to slam the door of heaven in His Son’s face – on top of all His agony and bloody suffering. Think instead of Jesus in that tranquil painting pounding on that door until His knuckles were bloody and raw, but there would be no answer – He would have to die, rejected at God the Father’s door. Christ was to be alone in the fire and the forsakenness of eternal punishment for you to have forgiveness. In the midst of torment, He would cry out from the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Our Savior would endure that torture so that you and I might be able to look forward with certainty to all the blessings of heaven.

After the door to heaven was slammed in His face, Christ then went through another door, the door of death as His torture came to an end late on Good Friday. He passed through that door to Hell and He proclaimed His victory there over Satan and his forces of darkness. Then, on Easter morning, He came back out through the door of death, with the stone rolled away from the door of the tomb, so that by going through and coming out again He would become the Door. Through Him sinners could now pass from the sheepfold of His Church out into the heavenly pastures of God’s kingdom of glory.

And here is where you see the connection between Jesus calling Himself both the Door for the Sheep, and the Good Shepherd at the same time. For He says that He who enters by the door is the Shepherd, and the sheep hear His voice. Using His voice, that is, the pastor preaching the Word of God to you and washing your sins away in the water of Baptism, that is how Christ calls you His sheep by name. Although most of the time these days you are treated as if you were nothing more than a number, but the way God sees it you are so much more than that. You are personally known to our Shepherd, and He calls you out of this desolate wasteland of sin into good, safe, grazing pasture – filled with the sweet, succulent nourishment of His Word of Life. He doesn’t just round you up and turn you loose to wander aimlessly around the countryside like sheep tend to do. He’s always there with you, calling out to you using the Voice of the called servant of the Word.

Even in the face of death, says the Psalm, your Shepherd will be there beside you. And you don’t have to fear anything because He has already gone on before you through that fearful valley of the shadow of death, when He paid for your salvation. He’s at your side no matter what you face, and He has His rod and staff to comfort and protect you – even when it would seem as if there could be no help at all. This is the promise of your Good Shepherd that cannot be taken back, and on this promise you can base all your trust and hope. You have a Good Shepherd who has come to you to give, not get. There are many thieves and robbers in this world, and their only motive is to get something from us – to milk us for all we’re worth. Not so the Good Shepherd. He hasn’t come to get, but only to give – to give His life as the purchase price for your pardon – and to give you every blessing in His name.

Jesus the Door is also Jesus the Good Shepherd because He lays down His own life for His sheep. Rather than beating you down with condemnation for your many straying ways, instead He takes the beating Himself by dying the death of the cross in your place. He’s the Good Shepherd because He takes up in resurrection the life that He laid down. In fact, the only reason you can call Him the Good Shepherd is because of Easter – for that was when He forever pulled Himself out from the mighty grip of death so that you would never have to experience what He had to go through. Now to you – His sheep – He says, “Because I live, you will live also.” No other Shepherd is out there that can match that promise. Only Christ, the Good Shepherd, can say: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

So, as sheep there are only two things that you must now do. First of all, you must hear and listen to the Shepherd’s voice. Whenever you come to the Divine Service – whenever you sing a hymn – whenever you hear a sermon – whenever you pick up and read God’s Word – you are hearing His Voice speaking. He’s saying: “I died for you” – “I rose from the dead for you” – “Because I died and rose, your sins are gone, and you will live forever.”

But it goes even farther than that. The Shepherd’s voice invites those of you who are communicants to this Altar and partake of the Holy Supper of Christ’s body and blood that is given and shed for sinners to eat and to drink. The Lord who stands at the door and knocks is He who wishes to come and eat with you in a miraculous way. Listen when He says to you: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” The more often you “remember” Jesus by partaking of this Holy Meal, the more your sins, and the sins of those who have offended you, are placed on Jesus and cast into the depths of the sea and forgotten. You are reconciled to God and to one another, because you both heard the Shepherd’s voice, and entered forgiveness and life through the Door.

Secondly, as sheep you then follow Him – which means you go where He’s gone and do what He’s done. It happens automatically, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It isn’t something you set out to do yourself. He went to a cross, and you will go to yours. As Luther loved to point out, in all believers there must be a daily crucifixion – a daily death, if you will – of the sinful nature inside you, which he called the Old Adam. And this is what happens every time you recall your Baptism, when you remember your sins and trust that Jesus has washed them away. In Baptism the old man of sin is already drowning under the water and the Word. And although it’s hard – even impossible at times – for you to hold that sinful nature down under that water, it’s something you must daily be prepared to do. The power of God in your Baptism is there for you every day. In that flood of forgiveness every day is like Good Friday for you as your Old Adam is put to death once more. Even though sin is an ever-present reality, you still daily put that sin to death in Baptism. Because you know that on the day when you pass through your door of death into the glory of God’s eternal heavenly kingdom – you’ll be completely and permanently dead to sin, but alive in Christ.

Finally, as Jesus came out of His grave, so shall you also come out of yours. Even as you daily crucify and put to death your sin in you, you also rise anew each day to live in righteousness and holiness forever. Hear what St. Peter had to say in the Epistle: “(Christ) himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness . . . for you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” For you sheep who belong to Jesus the Good Shepherd, every day is Easter. For the present think of your Baptism as your first Easter resurrection, that is renewed each day as you rise again to forgiveness and new life. But the ultimate Easter will take place on the Last Day – the day of the Resurrection of All Flesh. On that day, dear friends, you will rise to eternal righteousness. In the meantime, you’ll continue as sheep following the voice of the Good Shepherd, who is also Christ the Door, and His voice speaks through the pastor He gave you. Also in your daily life and personal calling you submit yourself to Christ’s leading, living, dying, and rising as you sacrifice yourself for the good of your neighbor. For you know God will freely grant you all of this since Jesus already promised. In fact, all that goodness is in His hands ready to give you for housewarming, you could say, as He stands there and knocks on the door of your heart.

In the Name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.

SERMON for the Third Sunday of Easter April 30, 2017

Luke 24:35  KJV 1611

Luke 24:35 KJV 1611

Luke 24:13-35

In Nomine Iesu

Thomas (remember from last Sunday) had fear and doubt. Yet even Thomas knew that all He needed from Jesus was His nail-pierced hands and spear-gashed side. He knew that Jesus died for him and that would remove his doubt and his fear. I said just last week that was true also for you. Jesus removes your fear and gives you a more confident faith in its place. Today we hear from St. Peter, though, and it’s starting to sound contradictory, if not just plain confusing when he writes something like this: “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Peter 1:17).

Why would this courageous leader among the apostles, speaking to newly-baptized infants in the faith, why would he tell them that they need to have fear? I thought that the good news of Easter was that there was no need for fear anymore! Why should a Christian’s journey be one of fear, especially since we know Jesus our risen Lord and in Him we have no more reason to fear those things we used to fear? To be sure, fear isn’t all of the story.

The Ten Commandments remind us that not only should we fear God, but also love and trust in Him above all things. As we read and hear the Gospels, we witness everything our merciful Savior did and said so that we may believe in Him through His Word. Yet the Gospels also have other people in the story. There are people who talk to Jesus, who respond to His Word, and we would miss out if we ignore them. These other people in the Gospels, like Thomas in the Gospel last week, are showing us pictures of ourselves as we do our spiritual traveling in this world that is not our final home.

What happens with people when God breaks in, enters their world and their lives? Sometimes we see in the Bible’s historical accounts the way things are supposed to be. Other times we see the opposite. Think about the detailed description of the two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, about seven miles away. It took place on the very day that Jesus had risen, many were overjoyed at this point, yet these two men were sad. This is not what we would think to be a good example of the church that proclaims the resurrection. They should be glad. They should rejoice. They had already been told by the others that Jesus had risen. But like Thomas, who wasn’t in the room when the Lord appeared, these two men were not yet convinced.

That shows us a picture of ourselves. We’re traveling on a journey in this world, we have been baptized and are clothed with Christ. We hear the preaching that Jesus is risen, and we respond He is risen indeed. But still we question. Can it really be? Is it possible? Could it be true that God took on flesh, died and rose on the third day? Even so, would it matter anymore? Does all this church-talk have any benefit for me today with all that I’m going through, two thousand years later?

As we learned from Thomas, part of the sinful baggage that we carry with us as we travel is that we doubt. We grow weary on the journey. We risk losing our hope. Sin threatens to tear us and those we love away from Jesus. This is why St. Peter says in his epistle to pass the time of your exile journey here on earth in fear. The disciples would rather have had Jesus stay with them, keep on teaching and reassuring them, but Jesus told them in his last sermon to them in St. John’s gospel that he had to go away for their sake, for their good. A little while, you will not see Me, and then again, after another little while, you will see Me.

Think of yourself walking down that Emmaus road. A Stranger catches up to you, and speaks something that is at one and the same time frightening and encouraging. Law that condemns you. Gospel that forgives and strengthens you. This is the journey of the church, until the Day when our Lord Jesus will return as He promised in glorified, visible form. This is the life that Christ wants for the church to live after He ascends to heaven and sends the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We cannot help but wonder, why did Jesus hide His true appearance from them as they walked on the road? If we look at the church and its life today, however we can give a good guess as to the reason.

They still don’t recognize Him, yet Jesus nevertheless asks a few questions and then begins to turn the table as He preaches, all from the books of the Old Testament, remember, about the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of the Messiah. What a sermon, a Bible study, an education that must have been! When you hear God’s Word in church and also read it from the Bible, that’s when Jesus is catching up with you on your journey. He comes to you hidden, shrouded in the words you hear, but He’s still there, ready to stay with you and walk with you. He has promised to be with us here today, and He most certainly is here! How often it is that when God’s Word is preached, though, we grow tired and restless. When the Gospel is read and we hear of Jesus in those words entering our ears, our slow hearts fail to see Him. Though we hear the proclamation that Jesus is risen, we still grow weary and dull even while we’re hearing that joyful good news.

We have been given such a precious gift, yet we cannot seem to fully comprehend or appreciate what it means for us as we journey in Christian life today. It is for all sins, even our sins of weariness, that Jesus died. Jesus came to suffer and die so that we may have Him with us in these hidden ways, which are called means of grace. His death poured a never-ending flood of mercy for you into simple words, water, bread and wine.

The Easter story about the two men walking to the village of Emmaus tells us a lot about how Jesus loves us and helps us. Those two disciples arrive at their destination with this supposed “stranger,” then they ask Him to come in with them and rest and have a meal. They thought they would serve Him, but instead, Jesus would end up serving them, giving them something that would greatly help them. Even though this is an ordinary meal, the words Luke wrote are the same words that are used to describe the Lord’s Supper: “He took bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them.” Sound familiar, right?

Just as Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper in the upper room the night before his arrest, it is as though He is reminding them of this. “Do this in remembrance of me.” He had said. The amazing thing is that their eyes were opened at the moment when He broke bread and then they saw Jesus. They even told the eleven disciples that Jesus was “known to them in the breaking of bread.” This is an important detail for us to keep in our minds with this Gospel story. It’s important because we know Jesus not by something that we feel or by some truth or principle that we tell ourselves in our minds. We know Jesus when He actually comes to us and opens our minds to understand Him, to hear His Word that forgives your sins, and to eat and drink His Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. In your journey, here is where Jesus walks with you, not in your mind nor is it something you will always feel in your heart. He comes to us. He is not far away. We should be here in God’s house often so we can meet Him!

Jesus took two sad, confused, and worried men and gave them the gospel Word–He gave them Himself. They knew all the facts about what happened to Jesus. They said it back to Him accurately when this Stranger asked them what things happened in Jerusalem. But they needed Jesus to help them see, from the Bible and from His teaching from the Bible, that yes, Jesus did redeem Israel, He did pay the price for your salvation to come true. He gives you the forgiveness that you know you didn’t deserve, and the eternal life that for you had been impossible to achieve. Like those two men walking to Emmaus, God’s Word opened up to you what Jesus did for you, and He makes it clear what the whole point of your journey is—it’s to be with Him.

The whole church is on a journey. Jesus is going with us, and you’ll hear Him and receive His gifts and forgiveness. This is how you know His love is for certain. Jesus takes away our sins, our sorrows and worries, right now at this moment, and gives Himself to us. Peter reminds us in his epistle that the Word of the Lord endures forever. Yes, He does! Jesus is our victor over death because He didn’t stay dead. His victory is our victory, and when we drink the Communion cup we see Jesus. He said it’s His blood, so that’s what it is. Our eyes are opened unto Him in the bread that we eat, since He has already said, it is His body. We eat and drink and we receive Jesus; His love; His forgiveness.

He is making the journey with us, ever abiding and leading us. We still conduct our lives, and as Peter wrote we proceed in this earthly land of exile with fear, yes, there is a new kind of fear that is thankful and reverent to our Lord who loves us, but since we have Christ walking with us all the way, we need never be fearful. When the road we walk seems dark and sometimes without direction, it is Jesus who forgives us and helps us. He journeys with us through the Word that He is, through the Word that we hear in faith, even when we do not always detect that He is there. He cares for and nurtures His church along the road, as the psalm says: “For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness” (Psalm 18:28).

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

The Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant sdg

Rev. Mark Stirdivant was installed as Pastor, April 2, 2017

Pastor Mark Stirdivant was born and raised in Hemet, California, where his parents still reside. He attended college at Concordia University, Irvine, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude, and then attended Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He sang and toured with the 16-voice men’s choir, the Seminary Kantorei. He served his vicarage year at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Norwalk, Connecticut, under the tutelage of Rev. Robert Beinke.
After a long-distance courtship and engagement, he married his wife Krika in 2000.
In 2002, he was ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry and installed at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Kansas City, Missouri.
In 2008 Pastor Stirdivant joined the Gladstone Public Safety department as a volunteer chaplain. He went on ride-alongs with the officers, attended roll-call meetings and occasionally attended to severely traumatic police calls. In June of this year, he will have completed 15 years in the Office of the Holy Ministry.
Pastor and Krika have a Boston Terrier named Poppy, and all of them are very excited to be “back home” in California, and they look forward very much to getting to know you better!

Pastor Mark Stirdivant

Pastor Mark Stirdivant

Pr. Mark and Krika Stirdivant

Pr. Mark and Krika Stirdivant

April 2, 2017

From Pr. Hendry’s sermon:

Our reading is Ezekiel 37:1-14
The Dry Bones prophesy is appointed
to be read during Lent
it is about the days of
the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
The Dry Bones describe us,
the believers,
who have no hope of our own,
but are
rescued through
Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Cliff Dwelling, Canyon de Chelly, AZ

Cliff Dwelling, Canyon de Chelly, AZ