Sermon for Easter Monday

Sermon for Easter Monday, April 13, 2020
Preacher: Rev. Prof. Adam Koontz

Dearly beloved of God, our Lord Jesus Christ has arisen in great power and might, and what a change has come to pass in the world. Death is defeated now, the grave is open, and heaven indeed is open, not only to our Lord Christ but also to all who love His appearing. All these things have changed now because of His mighty resurrection. Everything is new, this is THE day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

But that change is not always apparent in our lives as it was not apparent in the lives of the two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, heads down, perplexed. Not necessarily so fearful as the disciples, the twelve, who would be locked in an upper room for fear of the Jews, but like them, too, in not understanding what it means that Easter has come to pass; what it means that Jesus has defeated death; what it means that your grave, and heaven – God’s heaven – are open now. That they will yield to Christ’s mighty Word and He will not let His beloved see corruption forever.

They did not understand. And we can sympathize. This was probably the strangest Easter that you have ever celebrated, if “celebrate” is the right verb for what happened yesterday. You prayed, you read the Lord’s Word, you trusted in His promises, but even if you were able to go to church, you did not do it with all the faithful. Even if you were able to go to church, strange things were going on in the world and you knew it. And you knew that the world had become very odd, very strange, and you know that will not end.

There are no promises given on the way to Emmaus or anywhere else that everything will always be alright. This is not what Jesus did for His disciples, and it is not what He does for us today. He does not promise them the future will be richer than the past—that the future will be better or more enjoyable or more comfortable for the past. Instead, when he prepares us for the future, for all the things that are in His mighty heart to do and to accomplish through His disciples, through His Church on which He will send his Holy Spirit in a few short days.

When He considers those things which will come to pass through the growth of His mighty Word, He does not consider and does not teach us that that growth – that change – will be easy. But He does promise us that it shall change; that the change that has begun in the cosmos, because of His mighty resurrection from the dead, must also take place in us, dear friends. For on the way to Emmaus He does not miraculously change the weather or something equally strange that would’ve got their attention.

There is indeed something strange about how He keeps them from recognizing Him, how He puts them in a place of strangeness themselves, so that they realize how much they don’t know. Let us, therefore, not be fearful now. Let us accept that right now we are walking in a strange and dark time and place, and let us consider it a good thing, a profitable thing, a wholesome thing, an upbuilding thing for His Church that, for now, we have open to us only the Scriptures. Let us consider it a good thing that we should now understand more deeply what our Lord Christ would teach us.

For he teaches us this, most of all: that change must begin with His Church. There is an attitude which is fine before change occurs, of having known everything and knowing everything and you hear it in the words that the disciples say to the man (what we called in our hymn we sang just now, “unknown stranger”) how they speak to this man whom they do not recognize. They talk to Him like he’s a kind of idiot. And you can image that later on, having known to whom they were actually speaking, they thought back (as you do after you say something you regret) and they thought “what an idiot, instead, I was, for how I spoke to Him.” Because when He asked what’s going on, they say, “Are you the only person who doesn’t know?”

We can also, here, sympathize, for if our Lord Christ came to us right now and said, “What are you so afraid of? Are you afraid of illness? Are you afraid of economic collapse? What are you so afraid of?” And we said, “Are you the only person who hasn’t seen these things? Are you the only person who hasn’t been inundated with news reports (true, partly true, false, who knows?) about what is going on—are you the only person who has not heard?”

We could say this to Him and we could act like we knew everything that was going to happen, and we would be at least as foolish, if not more, than these two disciples. They say, “Are you the only one who hasn’t heard what’s going on?” And then they recite what you could summarize as most of the Apostle’s Creed, a short summary of what’s happened in the Gospels, up to and including the crucifixion of Jesus. They know His death; but they do not know that the world has changed because of His mighty resurrection. They know everything up to death. They know everything up to misery and fear and the darkness of the Friday past. They know all of that; they do not know His resurrection.

So what has to change? What has to change about us as we go through darkness? As we are well acquainted with sadness, whether now or in years to come—what must change in us so that Easter makes a change not only in the world but also in us, in His own believers.

I love how patient Jesus is with us. In answer to their arrogance, to the fact that they know it all already, He does not rebuke them at length. He says, very simply – very simply – that they are foolish and they are slow of heart. This means that, prior to Easter, the human heart is not big enough to contain the amazing joy and love that Easter brings. This means that what has to happen now is not that the way has to be made safe for us or everything made secure for us or everything comfortable in life promised to us, it means that our hearts must grow, more than they have ever before to understand all the love and the joy that the Lord has promised in the Scriptures and fulfilled in His Christ.

It means that the only thing wrong with yesterday is that our hearts were too small to understand how mighty and how joyous and how loving He is, and has been, and shall ever be for our sake. It means that the only problem in the world is not the world or the Christ who reigns over all things for the good of His body the Church, it means that the only problem in the world was those who could not believe or did not believe or were too foolish to believe all that God has prepared for them beforehand. So he opens up the Bible so that their hearts may grow. He opens up the Bible so that their minds may be opened.

Friends, we are not called to fear, but to hope. And our hope is not based on wishful thinking, or statistical projections about what the future might contain for us. It is founded on God’s Word, which has come true time and time and time again, which promised that the Christ would die for our sins according to the Scriptures, would be buried and would rise again on the third day, according to the Scriptures.

And has not all this come to pass? Was the man not walking with them resurrected? Did He not have the marks in His hands and His feet and His side to show His love, and that the Scriptures had been fulfilled? Are not all these things true? Is not the Bible so chock-full of Christ that I can’t turn a single page without finding Him upon it, showing His hands and His side and His feet, scarred for me forever?

What must change is me and my heart. Not Him and His plans. And what is the effect of all this? Where is he going with all this, as he explains the Scriptures, as we are opened up more and more and more, our minds and our hearts growing day by day in His love? What is changing? What is He preparing us for?

I will not tell you this morning things I, nor any other mortal man, knows. I will not tell you everything will be wonderful or easy or that when we go back to normal, normal will be normal. I cannot tell you any of that, and I don’t need to, even if I knew (even if I could know), because I know Christ. And I know what He has in store for His Church: they are not promises of ease and promises of riches forever and prosperity, such that our hearts should grow cold and our minds small for lack of exercise, for lack of knowledge of the Scriptures, that His people should become malnourished because they are enduring a famine of the Word.

Rather, we can feast now, friends. We can open the Scriptures now, and we can find in them riches that will stuff us more than we can imagine. Rather than getting sick or fat because we’re eating too much Easter candy, let us grow fat and contented and joyous and happy in His will, through knowing Him in His Word. For He prepares you, not for ease, but for fire.

There is a little preview of Pentecost here on the way to Emmaus. He reserves the right, at any time after His glorious resurrection, to hide Himself. To be a man who is hard to understand at times, to be a man who keeps His own counsel. And that is good. That is as it should be. Let the King rule in His might. Let Him rule according to His good will. For when have His promises ever failed us? When has He ever sent us anything that was not ultimately to our blessing? But let it be clear that He prepares us for fire.

For when He opens the Scriptures, fire begins. The disciples say it so clearly. Listen to the change that they undergo. After He has vanished, they wonder to one another – instead of wondering what should have happened but didn’t according to what they think – they now begin to wonder something else. They think, “Did not our hearts burn within us when He opened to us the Scriptures? Were our hearts not changed? Did we not become altogether new men?”

Is it not true that, if anyone is in Christ, behold, there is a new creation and all things begin now to change? The world begins now to change from the Church outward where the fire starts, spreading always. It cannot be stopped. The Word of the Lord must grow and grow and grow. Behold, our God is a consuming fire and He would have all the heavens and all the earth. And here it begins, friends, the day after Easter, with us.

Do not be afraid of His fire. Do not shrink back from what He prepares for you. It is a joyous and a blessed thing. Let the fire spread now, from heart to tongue. Let the tongue speak of Christ, more and more and more. Let it be stopped by nothing. When the Sanhedrin forbid you to speak in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, speak anyway. You must obey God rather than men.

And as the fire spreads, marvel only at this – not that you couldn’t have predicted this, not that you did not have the life that you had prepared for or thought you would’ve had – marvel rather at this: that the Christ is mighty and the whole world must change and the fire must spread until He is all in all. Until every knee bows. And until every tongue confesses what we know to be true—what His resurrection has proved to be true. What the world must change to show, that Christ is Lord. And to Him, both now and in days to come, and in the life everlasting, shall be and is, all glory, now and forever. Amen.

Please note: this is a transcription, typed up on the fly. If you notice any typos/errors, let us know in the comments and we’ll fix them here. Prof. Koontz doesn’t write up his sermons in full but rather has on hand several points that he refers to as he preaches, to make sure he’s staying on track.

Chapel Sermon

From chapel this morning, sermon preached by Dr. Peter Scaer, Professor and Chairman of Exegetical Theology

“Mystic Lamb” panel of the Ghent Altarpiece, Jan van Eyck, 1432.

Dear Friends in Christ,

I’ve never seen anything like it. Not in my life, or in this land. Overnight, the world has become a strange place. The abnormal has become the new normal. In the blink of an eye, the world has turned upside down. We can no longer take anything for granted. Schools closed, workers sent home, along with libraries, museums—just about everything. When they shut down the NCAA tournament, we figured it was real. Even more so when they shut down restaurants and bars. Churches, too. All are told to practice social distancing, some are under complete quarantine. Still others are self-sheltering, and will have to deal with cabin fever, which will have its own challenges and opportunities. It’s a mix of trivial and tragic.

I went to the grocery story yesterday. Something I’ve tried to avoid as much as possible. But people are nervous, on edge. And what’s happened to our retirement nest egg? Will we still have jobs? What about those who have already been laid off, or whose businesses are already in jeopardy? And who’d have thought that toilet paper would somehow become currency?

My prayer is that we will all get through this soon enough. In fact, I have every reason to think so.

So, what do we do in the meantime? Well, medical workers are doing their jobs. Truck drivers are doing theirs, as are the cashiers at the grocery store. Firefighters must be on the ready, policemen on patrol. Researchers are busy in their labs, and we pray and give thanks for them all. So also teachers, factory workers, farmers—the list goes on and on. It’s funny how you see things differently when the chips are down. The evil of the day is sufficient, and while the sun shines, we will do what the Lord has given us to do. And that includes us here at the Seminary.

Don’t visit our Seminary now. It’s shut down to the public. But we are not really shut down, at least in our mission and the carrying out of our vision. Our classrooms have no students, yet students are in class. We do not gather together for prayer here at the chapel, and yet we still pray together. This is a time for courage, but not foolishness. A time to move forward, but not recklessly, always mindful of our neighbor. So some of us old dogs learn new tricks, and we thank God for the technology that allows us to teach and learn.

Our heart goes out to all who are suffering, all who are struggling. All who will have trouble to make ends meet. All who are alone, and lonely. All those who work in businesses where work is not an option. All who wonder how they will pay the bills. Anxiety spreads in, with, and under the virus. But so also the opportunity, the need to see things as they truly are.

And we know that whatever may be happening, the fundamentals have not changed one bit. One common sin infects us all. The virus reminds us not only of our frailty, but of our faults and failings. The world is under the curse of sin, our sin. Good time to remember that. But it is an even better time to remember that God’s grace is greater than our sin. Love, grace, and mercy endure. Our mighty God has a cure for what ails us; Christ’s blood washes us clean, and takes away the leprosy of sin that keeps us apart from God and each other.

Perhaps we’re living in the end times. Five hundred years ago, Luther thought the same. St. Paul warned about it, as did Christ. So we do well to consider the signs. Our Lord told us of false prophets. Check. He warned that lawlessness would increase, and that the love of many would grow cold. Check and check. He told us to expect persecution, famines, and pestilence. Check, check, and check. When will our Lord come? On what day or hour? God only knows. But as every day passes, our Lord’s return draws nearer. But that is a good thing, a very good thing. So prepare your hearts, for he comes to save us. And we are a people in need of saving.

In this world of fallen men, we see distress and perplexity, people fainting with fear and with the foreboding. For those who feel faint of heart, for those who feel overwhelmed, place your burdens upon the Lord. Say a prayer and give your trouble to the Lord. Sing a hymn, and let your heart live in joy and hope. For Christ is still Lord. And He is with us, and He shall return with all His angels. Redemption draws near.

So, what do we do in the meantime? Be of good courage and joy, such that your neighbor will ask you the reason for your hope.

And at the Seminary, we will continue to preach like sowers who go out to sow. Broadcasting the gospel over the internet, offering encouragement when we have the opportunity. And this Word will not return empty. We will not worry about tomorrow, but we will plan tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and the summer, when, we pray, this crisis will have passed. So also we will continue to teach our seminarians, so that they might reach the lost, and continue to teach our deaconess students, that they might care for all.

Yes, this season of Lent seems more Lenten than any I can remember. But if it is a time to remember our mortality, then well and good. “All flesh is like grass and all [of man’s] glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord [endures] forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25).

If it is a time for repentance, then let it be for repentance. A time to reflect on the sin that infects us all; a time to consider those sins which especially beset us; a time to remind ourselves about the emptiness of the world, its many false idols; a time to read Genesis, about the basics of male and female, man and wife, and the value of children; a time to tune out the voice of the scoffers who have little to offer in this age, and nothing for the next.

If it is a time to draw closer to the Lord, to remember our first love, then let it be that as well. Let the Words of the Scriptures resound sweetly in our ears.

And if a hard rain is gonna fall, if the waves rise higher, don’t jump ship. Every faithful little church is an ark of salvation. With Christ on board, we will get safely to the other side. And don’t think that our Lord is sleeping, or that He has abandoned us. Far from it. Be of good courage.

Take care of your families, and all who are in the family of faith, the body of Christ. Read good books, talk to one another. Be kind to your neighbors. Let your kindness and patience give opportunity for them to ask concerning the hope that is within you.

And if you have more time on your hands, pray. Pray that our Lord will deliver us from all evil. Pray for doctors and nurses, for those who are struggling, or struggling to make ends meet. Pray for those who are alone, or those who feel alone. For leaders, that they might have wisdom. And also for those of the household of the faithful. Pray especially for our faithful pastors and congregations, that their work might continue. Even as we give thanks for so many faithful pastors and lay leaders, whose stories inspire us with their courage and kindness, ingenuity and fidelity.

And we pray all the more fervently that whatever happens, good or bad, that it would draw us closer to our Lord. That we would use this time to remember what really matters.

Whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we hear the words “Do this in remembrance of me.”

So remember that His body has been given for you, His blood has been shed as a sacrifice for our sins, to propitiate the wrath of God.

And remember that our Lord lives among us. And where two or three are gathered in His name, there shall He be.

And remember, just as surely as Christ was raised from the dead, we too shall be raised to live with him eternally. So the basics are covered.

And on that great day of resurrection, pestilence will be cured, and death will have been put to death. And social distancing will give way to the great communion, where in Christ we have communion with God and fellowship with one another.

And in a world of bad news, that’s good news indeed. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


From the Field

Preached from the field this past Sunday, March 15, 2020:

Martin Luther wrote the following, titled, “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague”:

“What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: ‘Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, He will surely find me and I have done what He has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt [or test] God.”

Luther lived amidst a plague that, when it came to town, didn’t send 5% of the population to the hospital, it sent 60% to the grave. Yet here he offers a reasoned response in the face of death. It is, on the one hand, to not despair – our days are in the Lord’s hands, every one of them, and each hair on our head is in His care – but on the other hand, to not put the Lord to the test by high-fiving everyone in town as if the Lord only works outside of His normal means. And so, when the plague came to town, he stayed behind to serve as pastor. We, likewise, exercise Christian freedom and charity as people make their decisions to come to church or stay home.

Regardless, let us be of good courage. Most of us are aware of Martin Luther’s Hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” It was written in 1529 during, you guessed it, the plague. It was a hymn based on Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (vv. 1-3).

And Luther writes in the final verse that, though we lose everything, “goods, home, child, and wife,” he reminds us that the “Kingdom ours remaineth.” So in Luther we see a pastor who thought about the risk but bravely faced the plague confident of God’s salvation. He stood in the middle, between foolhardiness and panic.

May we do the same. May we stand in the middle, on brave but reasoned ground. We know this isn’t as dire as the plague, but at the same time recognize there are people at risk. We are confident God is still the King and in control, but we lift up the fourth commandment to honor the authorities. We are confident of our Lord’s salvation, but lift up the fifth commandment that says we ought to care for those around us. We know God’s truth in His word, but want to be aware of some of the, albeit imperfect, reporting on the subject. We walk the middle ground, brave and reasoned.

So perhaps in this crazy time, when we try to walk this middle road, we can put things in perspective. Our Lord has told us in Mathew 6:25-33:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

What do you NEED? What do you HAVE to have? The Kingdom of God and His righteousness! If you have that, given in Jesus, you have all you need. Because then you have eternal life! And let us not forget the startling reality that we all, unless the Lord comes back first, will die someday—Coronavirus or not. So, why should this virus, one of a million other ways we might die in this broken world, cause us to panic? When the fear of death grips us, it is we, the Christians, who, being reasonable and cautious, can ultimately say, “We need not be afraid.” Because we know the One who conquers the grave.

We have the Kingdom, brothers and sisters. What’s the worst case scenario for us? St. Paul says, “To live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). We either recover and continue in the ways God has given us to serve, or we die and go to the feast! We win either way, because our Lord is victorious. So what do we really need? The toilet paper, for some crazy reason? No. We need Jesus.

In our Gospel lesson [John 4:5-30, 39-42] there is a woman in need. She needs water, so she is at a well. She needs love, because she sure doesn’t have it at home as she has been burned by so many husbands before while her current man will sleep with her but not marry her—what a gentleman! But then she finds what she really needs: the Savior. The One who will die to wash her clean, who, in that same death, will show her unconditional love, and who will, as He promises, give her the water of life—sustenance forever.

In a world that looks for love in all the wrong places, that looks for security in Walmart or WinCo, we are reminded today of where we find love, value, security, and sustenance: in Jesus. You find it in His Word, in the Sacraments, which we cling to at home or away, and are distributed here. Which is why we will continue to offer it as long as it reasonable.

And we will stand and confess the First Article of the Creed. “I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” God gives us the blessings of His creations. We have brains, we have elbows to cough in, we have soap. Diligent use of such things is a blessing and a blessing to your neighbor. And so as long as those gifts give us good reason to gather, we will do so. Acknowledging, like Luther did in his letter, that some who are at risk may reasonably withdraw.

But in either case, may we uplift the message of what is needful, what is confessed in that Second and Third Article of the Creed about Jesus and His gifts: forgiveness from a cross, resurrection from a tomb, and the Good News of a resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. And with those certain promises we can be confident and brave whether here, at home, or even in the hospital.

One more quote from Luther: he describes an idol as something you “fear and trust in” more than God. And there is a whole lot of fear out there these days. Let us repent, for we know something bigger, stronger, and scarier than this virus. Our Lord is holy and mighty. But He has used His power to save us, in that He came to this broken world that we might be forgiven, washed clean, and receive His Kingdom and righteousness. So we need not fear Him at all. What hope is ours!

Yes, we see in these wild days that creation groans. There are plagues, pestilences, wars, and rumors of war. These should not surprise us, as our Lord said Himself they will come. It is an evil, broken world, riling, rebelling and being judged by a holy God. And here we are caught in the middle of it. May we use our reason, but not be overcome with fear, because we know the One who has overcome the world and death itself. Let us trust that the Lord has seen His Church and people through worse; truly the gates of hell will not overcome us, because we have the one thing needful: a Savior. That is our confidence.

Rev. Garen Pay
Hope Lutheran Church, Idaho Falls, ID

[The full letter from Martin Luther to Rev. Dr. Johann Hess on “Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague” can be found by clicking here. ]

“The Good Shepherd” by Bernhard Plockhorst, 1878.