The Sun of Righteousness

Malachi 4:1-6

Malachi means “my messenger.” Malachi’s message, together with Genesis, forms the bookends of the Old Testament. Malachi’s is the last prophet’s voice we hear until John the Baptist. As the Old Testament began with a promise of a Savior to crush the serpent head, so it closes with Malachi’s promise of the Messiah to come, the Sun of Righteousness, who would bring peace between God and man and between men. For four hundred years, then, while the Word was still preached in the temple and in synagogues, the voice of the prophets fell silent. God’s people were left to wait for Elijah, as Malachi says—not Elijah the great prophet of the Old Testament himself, but a new Elijah, one who would point to the Messiah in a more direct way, yes, in person. John the Baptist, this new Elijah, would with his own finger, and not merely with his words, direct his hearers to Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Continue reading “The Sun of Righteousness”

Pay Attention to the Signs

Luke 21:25-36 (Romans 15:4-13)

Luke and Beth were ecstatic. The doctor had just told them the news. They were pregnant. Soon, he said, they’d be able to listen to the heartbeat. Soon, he said, they’d even be able to see Junior on the ultrasound screen. Luke and Beth were ecstatic. Their first child was on the way. Luke was sure he’d be a football star. Beth was sure she’d be a ballerina.
Continue reading “Pay Attention to the Signs”

He is risen! Alleluia!

Thank you to Pastor Tyler Peil, a guest and friend of the show, for sharing one of his Easter sermons with us. This sermon was for a sunrise service. 

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.+

Alleluia! He is risen!

The unthinkable has happened: the dead came to life!

He died.  And He came back.

I love Easter. It’s a day of trumpets and singing “I know that my redeemer lives” and flowers and brunches and chocolate and fine wines and egg hunts and baskets.  These are the kind of things we were made for. And all of these things are fitting because this is the day that Jesus rose from the dead.  I love Easter…more now than I did before.  Let me tell you why.

Because we Christians ignore our evil and pretend it away.  We hurt someone we love and…”well, maybe he’ll just get over it.  Then I don’t have to admit I was wrong and go asking for forgiveness.”

We talk about ourselves, we go out of our way to talk about ourselves, we carefully fashion our story so that we look good.  We don’t tell our 10,000 failures.  What if everyone saw what you’ve really got hiding deep in your heart? What if we all knew exactly how you spend all of your money and your time?

We blame it on someone else.  If my boss weren’t such a…  If my wife didn’t constantly…  If my kids would only…    No one made you lose your temper.  No one made you think evil thoughts.  No one made you jealous or greedy or hate-filled.  No one made you dishonor your parents and your teachers.  No one made you skip out on church.  No one made you get drunk.  No one made you gossip about your relatives. No one made you think that you have more common sense than everyone else.  Not even the devil made you.  

Jesus flat out took the walk to the cross and no one made Him.  Just His love.  He did it by choice.  He went through hell.  And how do we love Him in return?  This pathetic life of sin is how I thank Him?

Just come to this conclusion: it’s impossible.  Even if I’ve wanted to serve Him, I’m a failure.  Admit it. You already feel that, you live it, you know it.  I sure do.

A pastor knows it more and more as he serves the people of God.  And that is why I love Easter even more now.

The pastor looks at the faces God has given him to serve and he sees one that is struggling not to drown the sorrows in a bottle, he sees another that is praying everyday for a change in his child, and another who is suffering something but she doesn’t want to say what it is, and another who is so afraid that his shame is going to be exposed, and another who is trying to hold together the marriage that has gone so wrong, and the one who has seen such darkness that they’ve thought of it just ending it all. And the pastor sees a bit of himself in all of them. 

And there is nothing he can do to fix it.  Nothing.  But he has something to show them.  In the darkness, with their pain and doubt and shame, they walk to see something unthinkable: the stone has been rolled away.  He’s not in there.  Their Savior is alive! Brother, sister, Jesus lives and if He lives then there is hope, there is always hope, there is a light in the deepest darkness.  

Very early on that first day of the week, as the sun rose, two angels shining as brightly as the sun had a new story to tell: the Son is risen.  The Light of the World is alive.  Jesus lives.  Early on the first day of every week, we bring our broken selves in here and His light shines, God’s face smiles down.  

And that is what has to stun us on Easter morning: He is not angry.  He comes back with salvation.  He is alive to forgive you. Jesus lives and so you are clean, holy and a delight to your God and Father.  Jesus lives and He holds nothing against you.  Just His loving face turned toward you.  

If Jesus is risen, then everyday is worth living.  Then there is hope even in dark days, then even in our broken and wounded lives, there is an Alleluia to march on with, because He marches with you.

And He is risen!  

The Christian people in the city of Corinth had this sad misunderstanding: Jesus is a great strength for us in life here on earth, but when you die it’s all done.  St. Paul, wrote: If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

I love Easter. Let me tell you why: because I bury people. People that I know, people I pray for.  I learn about their lives and their families.  And they die.  And I go and sit at the dining room table with their families and talk about how God worked in their lives and the promises God gave them.  And I preside over their funeral, speaking the words of Jesus to that family.  And we go to a cemetery, and once more the sign of the cross over their body.  Rest in peace, goodbye, one last time.

And sooner or later, it’ll be me.  We’re all living on borrowed time.  How long have I got?  How about you? 20 years, 20 months, 20 days, 20 minutes?  

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  No cemetery can bury this hope.  The only reason I can stand there with a family in that darkness and yet rejoice is because the unthinkable happened.  Jesus Christ borrowed our place on the cross and was dead in our tomb and He woke up and broke up the devil and hell and stood up alive with the door to heaven open.  He returned the linens and so we’ll return our graves; they are temporary.  Easter has changed it all. We will rise!

Oh the devil can’t stand it, so we keep saying it, Easter after Easter, Sunday after Sunday, funeral after funeral – I believe in the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead.  

In Christ all will be made alive.  Christ first; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.  All of His baptized.

I know that my redeemer lives and so I will see God with this body.  Death is not the end, it is the beginning.  And even our bodies will be raised to live forever.  I will rise, in English.  EGERO! in Greek, Resurgam! in Latin, Ich werde auferstehen! in German. I will rise.  Death is the one living on borrowed time.  

The unthinkable is going to happen again: YOU’RE gonna rise.  You’re gonna RISE.  He’ll call your name.  Just like He did right here with baptismal water.

The trumpet is preaching to us this morning: it’s coming! He’s coming again!  Let the majestic sound take your mind to the day when the last trumpet sounds.  The day when Christ comes to gather up His Church – and we’re all gonna rise.  

How much time do you have left to live?  FOREVER.  He lives and I shall conquer death.  Jesus died and now He lives and rules and reigns over this whole world for us.

Rejoice.  Believe it.  Live it.  You can.  There is that much power in the resurrection.  

My life is now holy.  I am baptized into the risen Lord!  Brand spanking new shoes today, literally.  I read about a family that gets new shoes during Holy Week and they put them on for the first time Easter morning and say, “Today I walk in newness of life.”  I like that.  New shoes or not, set those baptized feet to follow your risen Lord Jesus anew today.

A pastor sees the faces on Easter and gets giddy to tell them: You’re holy friends!  You’re gonna rise, cause Jesus lives.  The peace of God is yours!

I love Easter…even more now than before.

Soak it in and sing alleluia like it’s going out of style.  He is risen! Alleluia and Amen!

April’s Fools: Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday can be an odd day. For many Lutherans, it seems like a break from the services of Maundy (Holy) Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. It’s a day away from church. Thankfully, I think this is becoming less the case with the resurgence of the Easter Vigil among Lutherans. The truth is that Holy Saturday, and the Vigil, have a long, rich, and powerful history in the Christian Church.

Christ calls His Church to be a waiting Body. The Church is an expectant Bride. We have all of God’s promises now, and what God promises is as good as done—so much so that He sometimes promises them in the perfect (past) tense. In many ways, when God promises like this, we might picture Him fading away like an NBA player confident of his jumper.

On Holy Saturday the disciples waited, if we can call it that. They weren’t necessarily waiting for the resurrection—at least not with any seeming conviction. They waited frightened, confused, stung, weighted with the guilt of having abandoned a Master and Friend they had thought was the Messiah. They were reeling, their world spinning. To return to sports metaphors, they were like a boxer trying to regain his footing and his senses, backpedaling drunkenly.

Holy Saturday was a dark day for the disciples. All seemed lost, three years down the drain for the apostles. The women would be brave enough to head to the tomb Easter dawn, but even they expected to find nothing more than a dead body to anoint. They still loved Jesus, but the Jesus they loved was now. He had left them. He, like all those who rested in such tombs, was a memory, which, sadly, would become foggier by the week and month and year. He had taught and done much, but that had come to an end, and terribly so, and in the most hopeless way, or so they thought.

In Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, the main character at one point is abducted by aliens who teach him that time isn’t one big connected thing, as we so often think of it. Rather, there are a bunch of events that need not be considered (or even be) in chronological order. They say it’s like looking at the Rocky Mountains. I don’t know about all that, and Kurt Vonnegut is certainly after his own thing with it, but there is something useful here for considering Holy Saturday. The aliens tell Billy, the main character, to focus on the best stuff, that each moment is but a moment, even death. And so, even when someone dies, we know he or she is also happy in another moment. Once again, I don’t know about all that, but hear me out.

We have an edge on the disciples on that first Holy Saturday, so to speak. We know the other moments. In fact, we’re even freed from chronology in a certain sense. As we mark Lent, proceed through Holy Week, take in Good Friday, and wait on Holy Saturday, we also know that there are better moments, that this Jesus who died is more than dead. This, thankfully, very thankfully, however, is no literary device. It’s also not sentimental and wishful thinking. This is gospel truth—the gospel truth.

Holy Saturday is a day of waiting, but joyful waiting. Dark as that day was for Peter and the women and all their stunned and shaken companions, we still have light. We light candles, torches, even, perhaps, if your Vigil has a bonfire. We expect. We know what’s coming—Who is coming! Jesus isn’t someone who was. Jesus is, and He is, as He died, and as He will rise, for us.

The resurrection seemed a foolish thing to most at the time it occurred. It was foolish religiously, philosophically, medically, well, in just about every way for the disciples’ contemporaries. The message of those who had seen Jesus raised, the message of the Church, of Christ crucified and risen, was a stumbling block and silliness right out of the gates. And yet, those who waited, even those who waited plagued by doubt, tongue-tied, and unable to string together coherent thoughts, didn’t wait in vain, even if they weren’t entirely sure what they were waiting for at all. Even Thomas, who got extra time to wait and wrestle, eventually was moved to make the good confession with most marvelous clarity.

Today we wait. If we are blessed to participate in the Vigil, we wait in a darkness peppered with the light, yes, of candles, but even more, with the promises of God, from first to last, and a strong invitation to relive our Baptisms, where we were buried and raised with Christ, who was buried and raised for our forgiveness and justification. Does it seem foolish, at least a little, even to those of us who know the Word well? Perhaps it does at times. We still wrestle with the flesh. Does it seem to foolish to those who don’t even know they’re waiting, or what they’re waiting for? Probably. But that message, our message, the message for them, is the message of foolishness, of Christ crucified and risen, the celebration of whose resurrection we now await. This is our hope, their hope, and the only lasting hope in a world riddled with despair. In Him, the risen Savior, God is yes, true promise, promise fulfilled, among a human race drowning in false promises, expert in peddling empty, fading hope.

It’s Holy Saturday, April’s fools! Delight in God’s foolishness. Even if you’ve been reeling, perplexed, guilt-ridden, speechless, or unable to think straight, here is your hope; here is peace, forgiveness, your song, and something to ponder and yet never quite fathom entirely, because it’s a love unknown and a fact beyond belief, though received through God-gifted faith. Kurt Vonnegut is no theologian, and Slaughterhouse-Five isn’t Scripture—far from it!—but perhaps we can indulge our foolishness a little bit today and steal a trick from the novel all the same. Let’s step outside of this moment. Let’s cheat chronology. Even though we wait—and whisper it if you don’t want to seem too foolish—let’s be April fools and rejoice, even as we wait, “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!”

Written by Wade Johnston, co-host of the podcast.

Good Friday

+In the name of Jesus.+

John 19:1-42

One word. One word in the Greek language that sums it all up, tetelestai. It means “it is finished.” It is the word Jesus spoke on the cross announcing to the world, to His people, and to His devilish enemies that His mission was accomplished. One word that means everything to us weary souls. It is finished. It is paid for. Heaven is secure. Now hope can reign. One word, tetelestai. Continue reading “Good Friday”

Maundy Thursday

Thank you to Pastor John Bortulin, a frequent guest and friend of the show, for letting us share this Maundy Thursday sermon. This was adapted from a preaching outline, so please forgive anything we missed in converting it.

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. +

John 13:1-17; 34-35

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

A pastor once offered this pastoral advice: “Tell God where you are lacking.” Tell God where you are lacking. On this night of his betrayal, this night where Jesus does what his disciples surely wouldn’t do, this menial task of a Gentile servant, washing feet, on this night of all nights, tell God where you are lacking. Continue reading “Maundy Thursday”

Advent: New Year, New Life

Happy New Year, people! That’s right, the Christian Church doesn’t wait for the rest of the world to celebrate the new. We live in the new. We are new people. We await a new heaven and a new earth. We walk in newness of life. We have been given new birth into a living hope. I could go on, but once in a while I should try to keep these blog posts short.

We at Let the Bird Fly! are all about new life. We are about living freely in a world given back to us. Sometimes we get the point across better than others. Sometimes that focus frames what we do better than others. For all the times we’ve failed to get out of the way of that message, forgive us. For the times we’ve managed to help bring it home, we give thanks and glory to God. At the end of the day, we want to be and are about letting the bird fly, about freedom in Christ, about sinners learning to fly as saints—and we are chief of those. As the psalmist sang, so we podcast, “We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped! Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:7,8 ESV).

As we discussed in our last episode, Advent is about Christ’s coming, His arrivals. Christ came at the Annunciation and Christmas as God in the flesh, one of us for us. From the virgin womb He went to the virgin tomb, from the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross, from the Gloria of angels to the Alleluias of fear-fraught disciples, slow to believe, yet moved by angelic “Don not be afraid”s. Just as importantly, Christ will come again, and He will come, not in terrors for us, for we are His and He is ours, but with healing in His wings, with a new home, now long prepared, our baptismal birthright. And so we pray a hopeful prayer this new season, this first season of the church year. We pray, indeed, we plead, insist, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

Advent marks a new year—no need to wait for the world to catch up to us. Happy New Year! And this new year means new life. Washed daily in the waters of your baptism, relived through contrition and absolution, through daily repentance, go forth as a child of God into a world you can recognize and enjoy for what it is: filled with gifts, marvelous gifts, and yet penultimate. And in the freedom that provides such perspective, there’s no need to search desperately for a way to thank God, to serve Him. He’s already set you in such stations, plopped you on such paths. You have vocations. He has prepared in advance works for you to walk in, in newness of life, even with all the stumbling of a sinner-saint.

We don’t always get it right on the podcast. We don’t always say things as well as we’d like, or as charitably, or as clearly, or, well, a lot of things. Ultimately, though, we pray you’ll jump into this new year with us (and season two of the podcast, which starts now), into this new year in and with Christ, who is all for us. Live freely in a world given back to you, friends. Live free in Christ, crucified for sinners—and we qualify! Christ has come. Christ still comes. Christ will come again, all for you and for me, and for Ben, and for Mike, and even for Peter. Happy New Year! Let the bird fly!

Wade Johnston

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What’s It Gonna Take to Make You Happy?

I spent a lot of time working in restaurants before I went to seminary. I liked it, too, for the most part. There was one time, though, that really got under my skin. I was in college, nearing the end. There was a guy who used to come in where I worked almost every day when I was there. He was almost always unbearable. Morning after morning it was the same routine. He’d come in, berate one of the girls working up front (high school girls on the weekend, most working their first job), and complain no matter how quickly he was served. One day I lost it. Continue reading “What’s It Gonna Take to Make You Happy?”