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Grace Worship

Friday of Easter II – John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31

1On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

2Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

2Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

3Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Do you envy Thomas his empirical knowledge of the resurrection? He touched the living Christ. He traced the nail marks with his fingers, touched the place in Jesus’ side where the spear had pierced him. Were the wounds still raw? Had they healed? Were they scarred? How did they appear to Thomas and the rest of the disciples that night? John tells us none of this, only that it was clearly Jesus. That must have been an amazing evening in that upper room, both the first and second week when Jesus came among them.

Thomas, stunned and overwhelmed by the evidence, confesses that Christ is Lord and God. Read again carefully the words which Jesus and John say next. Thomas believes because he has seen. But Jesus has a blessing for those who do not see and yet believe. That would be every reader of this Gospel who makes that same confession of Christ. The disciples had come to Thomas and told him that Jesus had risen. But he did not believe them. Those same apostles have written of their encounters with the risen Jesus. You read them in the letters of Paul, John, and Peter, and in the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  You are probably reading these words of mine because you believed the testimony of those apostles. Jesus just called you blessed in a way which did not apply to Thomas. He believed. He is not condemned. But Jesus says that you are blessed for your faith. John rather nonchalantly tells us that Jesus did a bunch of other miracles. He did not tell us about those. He told us what he told us, however, so that you and me, the readers of this book, may believe that Jesus is the Christ. Carefully notice the tense of the verb there. Jesus is, not was, He is the Son of God. Confessing this Lord and God is life itself. Enjoy the blessing of Jesus today. He is glad you believe.

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Grace Worship

Thursday of Easter II – I John 1:1-2:2

I John 1:1-2:2

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

She wanted to run away. Again. She had run before. It was not her first university to attend. It was always someone else’s fault that she had left. They had treated her unfairly. She had been discriminated against. That boss of hers was a jerk so she left. It is hard to run away and start over, but what else could she do? This time, however, she was not able to run. She had a responsibility. There was a young life which depended upon her. She could not pick up and leave so easily. She needed to finish this degree and get the job which waited for her on the other side. Leaving would mean starting over again. She could not really do it.

There are many ways to deny Christ and there are many ways to confess Him. It would be so much simpler if people would just be nice and good. But they are not and confessing Christ is to look at human wretchedness and wickedness and to say that Christ died for that. I will not run away but that means I also must confront the wretched wickedness which lives in my own heart. It is the only way that we can possibly get along together. John writes these things so that we do not sin, but if we do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, the Lord Jesus who has died for our sins and the sins of that other person too. It will not be easy to live that confession, but Jesus is the light and his blood cleanses us from all sin. We cannot keep our righteousness. If we say we have no sin, we are not being honest. That means we will have to own up to it, be vulnerable and admit our own weakness. But His blood does indeed cleanse us from all sin. It is the only way, really. Now I can forgive the other. I do not have to run away to start over in some vain hope that it will be different next time. Jesus makes it different right here, right now.

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Martin Luther and the Diet of Worms Uncut

The following was written by Professor Erik Hermann of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis:

“FREEDOM!!” Thus roared the cobalt-faced, blue-eyed Braveheart that is Mel Gibson, neck straining both to bellow and to hold up a noggin that remarkably dwarfed the majestic highlands of Scotland. The real William Wallace was a relatively important figure in the 13th century Wars for Scottish Independence, but the image as a champion of the commoner and noble freedom fighter is largely the stuff of myth and movies.

Legends have swirled around Martin Luther as well. Luther’s contemporaries were struck by his epoch-making significance even while he was yet alive—friends believed he was a prophetic vessel of God; enemies feared him as an instrument of the devil. Generations later, Luther continued to stride across the pages of history—a giant in the German and European imagination. In particular, modernity wanted Luther to be one of their own—to be an enlightened modern, a harbinger of independence, autonomy, and freedom. And nothing was more emblematic of this than Luther’s defiant stance at the Diet of Worms in 1521. There, standing before the most powerful institutions in the world, the Holy Roman Empire and the Church—the emperor and the papacy, Luther declared that he could not act against his conscience and that he would not recant even if it meant his death: “Here I stand, I can do no other!” The moment has been immortalized in numerous paintings and movie scenes, with Luther—standing with Braveheart-like boldness—in the midst of the world’s potentates, a lone, triumphant individual.

It’s a powerful image but there are some problems with it. For almost a century, historians have known that it is highly unlikely that Luther ever said the words, “Here I stand,” in his speech at Worms. But more importantly, Luther’s moment before the emperor was not the triumphant declaration of individual freedom and autonomy. Luther did write about freedom, but it was the freedom of the conscience in the Gospel which liberated the heart from the tyranny of our sins and the fear of death. The duty and obligation to give up one’s own freedoms to serve one another in love was also part of the same message. But at Worms, Luther’s speech was not about freedom, but about captivity. “My conscience is captive to the Word of God,” he said, “I cannot and will not recant.… Deus adjuvet me—God help me.” This was not the speech of a freedom fighter, a defiant rebel who sought to cast off the shackles of every authority and institution. This was a speech of a monk—perhaps a very frightened monk—who nevertheless discovered that he had no choice but to cling to “the one thing needful,” the Word and promise of Jesus Christ. Maybe he got some things wrong in his writings. Maybe he said some things about others that he ought not to have. But in the end, he could not escape the Scriptures. He had been captured by the Word of God—only that would save him, only that would reform the church, only that could bring true freedom (John 8:36—“if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”).

This weekend is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s speech at the Diet of Worms on April 18, 1521. In anticipation we have included the video below. Several years ago, I had the privilege of advising the PBS documentary Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World. The producers, Steve Boettcher and Mike Trinklein, have put together a “directors’ cut” of Luther’s speech and graciously gave us access to it. It includes a more complete version of his speech than what we normally hear (though even here it does not include everything), and I think the actor (Pádraic Delaney) captures well the mood and the import of the moment. Enjoy and feel free to share it and show it.

I was in Worms in 2018 and stood in what was purported to be the “shoes” of Luther as he addressed the assembly. Now I have a more complete understanding of what took place that day.
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Grace Worship

Wednesday of Easter II – Psalm 148

Psalm 148

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his hosts!

Praise him, sun and moon,
    praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
    and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord!
    For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
    he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.

7 Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
    stormy wind fulfilling his word!

Mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Beasts and all livestock,
    creeping things and flying birds!

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
    princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and maidens together,
    old men and children!

1Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his majesty is above earth and heaven.
14 He has raised up a horn for his people,
    praise for all his saints,
    for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the Lord!

The story is told and bears retelling of an incident which transpired about 100 years ago. In the Soviet Union the powerful Minister of Education, Anatoly Lunacharsky, convened a large gathering of people into a great hall in Moscow. For over an hour he railed against the evils of religion. Held captive in the hall by their fear of what would happen to them if they did not attend, the people listened to what he said. At the end he challenged anyone to disagree with him.

A frail and solitary figure stood up and approached the stage. It was an elderly Russian Orthodox priest with his long beard and black robe. He approached the microphone under the glower of Lunacharsky. He leaned into the microphone and simply said, “He is Risen.” With one voice the assembly responded with “He is risen, indeed, Alleluia!” The first and last words of this Psalm in Hebrew are “Hallelujah” or as we usually write it Alleluia. David sang those same syllables some three thousand years ago. They have echoed out in the communities of God’s people ever since. They will never cease. Jesus tells us the Church will never pass away until He returns and then a great “Alleluia!” will usher in His righteous kingdom on the last day. This week as you greet your fellow Christians, keep saying, “He is risen!” Respond with “He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!” Join angels and celestial objects, join forces of nature and great sea creatures, join people of every time and place, and join all creation in praising this Lord who has conquered sin, death, and devil for us.

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Grace Worship

Tuesday of Easter II – Acts 4:32-35

Acts 4:32-35

3Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

When I was newly in the ministry, my parish participated in founding a small food bank along with several other Christian churches in town. One of my parishioners, Marley, was newly retired at that point and he jumped into this ministry with both feet. I was serving in Bountiful, Utah at the time, a community which was over 90% LDS. Marley had been raised Mormon and was in fact related to a significant portion of the community. This gave him an access which most Lutherans did not have in that town. Soon our little foodbank was getting contributions from all the grocery stores in town. Marley had talked to his friends and opened doors for us.  

Yesterday we prayed that our lives would confess that Jesus is Lord and God. When He rose from the dead, He rose as a human being. That fact renders all things human terribly important. You might wonder why this passage from Acts is included on this day. But it belongs here. The early Christian community was confessing the lordship and divinity of Jesus this way. He is human, therefore human needs belong to Him too. When we feed the hungry or care for the needy, we are caring for the singular humanity in which Jesus participates. As Jesus says, when you give a cup of cold water to a child in His name, you give it to Him. There are many “isms” which would dominate and order our lives today. Some appeal to socialism. Others appeal to capitalism. This little event in Acts 4 looks a little socialist to some. Was it a sort of commune? I do not think so. It was Christian people looking out for the needy and poor among them. It was neither capitalist nor socialist. It was confessing Christ as Lord and God. Christ continues to call us to such confession. He participates in this humanity. That fact has not changed. I look over my city today, another community, and I see hundreds of homeless people living in temporary shelters along the roads and in open lots. To what confession of Christ’s lordship and divinity are we being called today?

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Grace Worship

Monday of Easter II – Prayer of the Week

I didn’t forget–just a few days of vacation. Our devotions are from Dr. Phil Brandt of Portland OR.

Prayer of the Week

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

In the course of my pastoral ministry, I have come to hear some very sad stories. Sin can wield a terrible lordship over lives. That dominion often continues long after the actual moment of the violence or hurt. Perpetrators often continue to own their victims through fear and memories which cannot die. One of the most wonderful confessions of Christ in life and conversation I have ever experienced was a woman who had been terribly hurt. There were some who knew about this. She did not keep it as some shameful secret, but it was also something which did not own her. It was possible to know her well and never suspect what had happened.

She confessed that Jesus is Lord and Christ this way. It was not a splashy or dramatic thing. It was the daily ritual of confronting the memories and past with the stronger truth that Jesus had died and risen again to conquer death and that sin which had hurt her so. He had risen to dry her tears and had even died for the one who had hurt her, so she was liberated from needing to bear grudges. She simply and quietly bore witness with every smile and every moment of selfless love for others that Jesus, His cross, His resurrection, His gracious reign, were all bigger than what had been done to her. Her tormentor’s power was broken.  I often think of this woman’s confession when the desire to get even rises yet again in my mind or when I feel the need to focus on my own small hurts. One does not need to be on the receiving end of some terrible sin to be enslaved to self-centered victimhood. Any sin will do, even petty ones. We have celebrated the resurrection and that resurrection makes a difference in lives today. It made a difference in this woman’s life as, by the grace of Jesus, she was able to let go of a hurtful past and live in the blessing of this moment. It continues to make a difference in my life. Praise Him today, We may confess Christ as God and Lord in life and conversation.

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Grace Worship

Easter Friday – Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

There was something wrong, I could tell. She never told me. Her papers were off, her test scores down, and her work was suffering. I heard from another friend sometime later. I regret that I was not more astute or that I was not more approachable so that she could have talked to me about it. She was afraid. Someone had threatened her. It distorted every part of her life. She eventually dropped out of school.

Mark ends this account with the women fleeing the tomb, telling no one because they were afraid. It was hard to speak about Jesus in the first century. It is hard to do so in the 21st century. Fear of ridicule, rejection, and persecution are just a few of the fears you may have. The Spirit inspired Mark to speak to your fear today. Did you notice the other character in this story: the young man, clothed in white? Pointedly, this is not an angel but a young man. And what is up with the mention of his clothes? This is not a random fact and Mark is not making a statement about the man’s fashion sense here. He is giving us a key to understanding something. There are two other young men whose clothing is mentioned in this Gospel. He wants you to think about them as you hear the news of the Resurrection. The first you probably heard about within the last two weeks. A young man who followed Jesus and was in the garden. The soldiers who arrested Jesus tried to seize him too, but he ran out of his simple garment and fled naked (Mk 14:51-52). For a Jewish person in the ancient world, being naked was akin to losing your humanity. He was unmanned by his fear.

The other young man is not so well known. It is all the way back in chapter 5. There Jesus heals a demoniac with a legion of demons. They are sent into a herd of pigs who immediately jump off a cliff into the sea and drown. When the townspeople come out to see what is going on, they see the young man wearing clothes. This makes them very afraid, so much so that they ask Jesus to leave. The young man wants to go along. But Jesus sends him to tell what God has done for him. He does and all are amazed by what he says.  

Mark ends his Gospel account in such a strange way. Will the women tell the good news or not? Is he asking us the same question? Will you tell the good news, or will Easter’s message remain hidden by your fear? One young man lost his clothing. He was unmanned by his fear. The other was given his clothing and humanity back by the love, power, and mercy of Christ. He went on to tell and many were amazed at what he said. I heard later that that the young woman I had failed to help earlier was in fact doing much better. She returned to school. Somehow, she had overcome her fear. I believe Jesus was behind that. He is still helping people through their fears today and by the miracle of faith He opens our mouths to speak this good news, having given us our humanity back after fear takes it away.

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Grace Worship

Easter Thursday – I Corinthians 15:1-11

I Corinthians 15:1-11

 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

We have no account of the resurrection moment of Jesus. I remember the Mel Gibson film of a few years ago tried to portray it. I thought it was cheesy at the time. What we have are the eye-witness accounts of those who met the risen Christ. As we will hear this coming Sunday, that was not always easy to believe in the first century and it remains sometimes difficult for us. Thomas was not doubting Thomas, not really. He was disbelieving Thomas. His friends told him that they had seen the risen Christ, and he did not believe them.

The same story, the same outlandish news has come to us. This Saul of Tarsus, now called Paul, who wrote these words in the letter to the Corinthians, was on a road to Damascus with angry, wicked intent. Jesus met him on that road. It was the appearance of the resurrected Christ that altered his path. He still went to Damascus, but now to be baptized and to preach this same Jesus whom he had once persecuted. Saul tells you today that he has met the risen Jesus. He says this is of the first importance.

Paul preached and you believed. There were a few generations between, but thanks to the letters of Paul, we still have his own witness in written words. The Christian movement hangs on this fact. Christ has risen from the dead. If that is true, all other human knowledge is incomplete. If it is not true, we are kidding ourselves and should sleep in on Sunday mornings. But it is true. Jesus is risen from the dead. Paul has told me and you. He saw Him, spoke to Him, and was changed by that experience of the Living Word. Toward the end of this passage, he tells us something more. It is not Paul who is really at work in all this, but it is Jesus’ grace working in Paul. Have you heard and believed? You too have witnessed the living Christ. You too are a witness now of resurrection.

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Grace Worship

Easter Wednesday – Psalm 16

Psalm 16

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you.”

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
    in whom is all my delight.

4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
    their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
    or take their names on my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
    my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
    or let your holy one see corruption.

11 You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Many years ago, when we were much younger, I took my family on a vacation which involved several nights in a hotel with a pool. We did not have a pool at our house, so this was a much-appreciated amenity for my children, especially my daughter, who was about three. She had not taken any swimming lessons yet but loved the water. I would stand in the pool, deeper than she was tall, and she would jump into my arms. It was a game we played until I was exhausted.

The truth is that the water into which she jumped was a deadly peril for her. She could not swim. It was deeper than she could stand. And yet, she hurled herself off the edge with squeals of delight. She trusted me. She trusted that I would catch her again. And I did. She is on the verge of jumping into a much deeper and more complex pool in a few months as she graduates from college. I will not be able to catch her there, but God will catch her time and again. He promised to do so in her baptism. I know it to be so; I was there.

David trusts God. He commits himself to God, even in death. This is the vital core of faith. Faith trusts God. I think this is why Jesus starts the Lord’s prayer with “Our Father…” He will rescue me from my foes and no where is this more evident than the implacable foe called Death. With David we can say that our heart is glad and our whole being rejoices and our flesh rests secure. God will not abandon us to Sheol. We know this because God has not abandoned his Holy One to corruption, who died in our place. Because he lives, we rest in God’s hands.

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Grace Worship

Lessons and Hymns for Easter 2 B

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Acts 4:32-35

1 John 1:1-2:2

John 20:19-31

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for the day.

The Risen Christ Breathes His Peace in the Holy Absolution

The crucified and risen Lord Jesus appeared to His apostles on the first Easter Sunday. He “came and stood among them,” and with His Word and the wounds in “his hands and his side,” He granted them His peace (John 20:19–20). He sent them as ministers of the Gospel in His name to bestow the life-giving Holy Spirit for us and for His whole Church through the forgiveness of sins (John 20:21–23). Through this apostolic ministry, He calls us to believe that He “is the Christ, the Son of God,” so that by such faith we “may have life in his name” (John 20:31). The apostles “have seen and heard” this divine life manifested in the flesh of Christ, and those who succeed them in this apostolic ministry now proclaim that same Absolution to us, so that we “too may have fellowship” with the risen Christ, with the apostles and “with one another” (1 John 1:1–7). The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church lives by “their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,” and all who believe this Word are “of one heart and soul,” because in Him they truly have “everything in common” (Acts 4:32–33).

These are the hymns you will sing:

The Strife is O’er, the Battle Done (LSB 464)

O Sons and Daughters of the King (LSB 470)

Awake, My Heart, with Gladness (LSB 467)

Good Christian Friends, Rejoice and Sing (LSB 475)

I Leave All Things to God’s Direction (LSB 719)