Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sermon Easter 2 - Apr 8, 2018


The Rev. Maurice Frontz
St Stephen Lutheran Church
Easter 2 Year B
Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1 – 2:2, John 20:19-31

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jesus says to the apostles,
‘If you forgive the sins of any,
they are forgiven them.
If you retain the sins of any,
they are retained.’
This seems to give a lot of power to the apostles.
If this power were used capriciously,
at the whim of the apostles,
if they could simply use this word at their own will
or for their own personal gain,
then it is a terrible thing that Jesus is doing.

But what is Jesus really doing?
Remember the man who was paralyzed,
whose friends couldn’t bring him to Jesus
because there was a big crowd around Jesus’ house,
and so they lowered him through the roof of the house
to where Jesus was?
When Jesus saw their faith (and those words their faith themselves are very interesting)
he said to  the man, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’
asked the scribes and Pharisees,
and to show that he had authority to do the greater thing, forgive sins in God’s name,
he healed the paralyzed man so that he walks away,
From years of hearing that God forgives sins,
we think the physical healing is more impressive,
but actually it is the lesser act of power.
The lesser thing, healing a body,
testifies to the greater thing,
which is that Jesus heals the relationship between God and a human being,
by speaking God’s word of acceptance.

But now Christ has died, and Christ is risen.
He will no longer walk amongst us in body,
but his living presence must be discerned by faith,
must be clung to in faith.
How then will he forgive sins, as he did for the paralyzed man and so many others?
By putting his Word of forgiveness in the mouth of the apostles,
he ensures that his work of forgiveness and acceptance
will continue on earth.
So the apostles do not forgive sins on their own.
It is not their word that they speak,
but Jesus’ word.
They forgive sins by the command of Jesus
and the authority of Jesus.  

Why is it important that the apostles themselves are to forgive sins?
Shouldn’t we be able to confess our sins before God alone,
and believe in our forgiveness without another person?
This is indeed true, that we are able to do this.
Each time we pray, ‘Forgive us our trespasses’
we both confess that we have trespasses to be forgiven,
and can be certain that God forgives them,
for Jesus would not teach us to pray for something
that his Father does not delight to give.

But remember,
when Jesus spoke these words to the apostles,
no written Lord’s Prayer for us to memorize,
no New Testament to tell us of Christ’s forgiveness of sins,
no liturgy where we could make a corporate confession
and receive a corporate word of forgiveness.
It was all up to the apostles to spread the word.
And the word was spread,
so that people were forgiven and believed in Christ
and the good news was proclaimed
and eventually written down.

But I can think of a few reasons
that it remains important that we hear another person
proclaim the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name to us.
Firstly, in the book of James it says this:
‘Confess your sins to one another,
and pray for one another,
so that you may be healed.’
The written Word itself testifies that the spoken Word
both of confession to another person
and absolution from that other person
is still salutary.

It can be much more a sign of humility
to confess out loud that we are sinners,
and to confess out loud before another human being that we have sinned,
rather than just to keep it quiet.
And it can be much more liberating to hear another human being
say that God forgives our sins
than if we simply say it to ourselves.

There is another reason.
Some people are so afflicted by the knowledge of their sin
that on their own they cannot believe in their forgiveness.
Even those who know their Bible well
sometimes cannot make that leap.
Maybe none of us are in that situation.
But for those that are,
it is important for us to hear and trust the Word
that God indeed does forgive not only sin in general,
but our sin as well.
When the pastor or any Christian forgives us,
we are called to put our trust not that we have been good,
but that God has been good.
And that word that is spoken aloud
may have the power to break down barriers
that in themselves good thoughts alone cannot break down.

Why is it important that the pastor does it?
Luther said that any Christian can speak the forgiveness to another Christian,
but that so everything was done in order,
the pastor of the church was ordinarily the one who spoke the words.
The pastor speaks for the Church,
and the Church speaks for Christ.
But it’s never a matter of a special power of the pastor,
but simply the word of Christ given to the Church that does it.

On our own we all too easily forget
that God is not only a friendly God,
but a just God.
This is why God gives the apostles authority not simply to forgive,
but to retain sins.
We see this in the apostle John’s letter,
words that we say often
‘If we say that we have no sin,
we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
But if we confess our sins,
God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins
and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’
To those who say they have no sin,
or perhaps even no sin to speak of,
the word must be that we are in debt to a just God.
But to those who confess their sin,
that same just God justifies,
accepts, is friendly towards them,
welcoming them back into fellowship,
always calling them back to God’s justice.


Remember the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector.
The Pharisee who fasted twice a week and tithed believed that he was just,
the tax collector acknowledged that he was not just, but that God was just.
To one was shown God’s friendliness,
to the other it was not.
We must hear that we are the ones in need of the just God’s mercy,
and often simply our own thoughts deceive us,
that we are righteous.

Sometimes we even believe that because we are not like that condemned Pharisee,
that we don’t fast and we don’t give,
that this makes us worthy in God’s sight!
There is a story of a dying Lutheran pastor
who as point of pride said that he lived so much by faith
that he had never done a good work in his life.

Perhaps this was a long sermon, a boring sermon,
a didactic sermon,
a lecture full of declarative sentences.
So I’ll end with a word directly to you.
Because Jesus is living,
he can still forgive sins.
He reaches out in friendliness to you,
to accept you, warts and all.
to lead you into the path of justice.
He has given the Word of forgiveness to his Church,
to the people he has sent to be his hands and feet,
and yes, his ears and mouth in the world.
You can trust this word,
that the just God justifies unjust people,
that the just God justifies unjust you.
And if that’s boring,
then I don’t know what to do for you,
for it’s exciting news,
good news,
the kingdom’s ours forever.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!



Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Sermon Easter Sunday 2018


April 1, 2018 - Pr. Maurice Frontz

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

And Happy April Fool’s Day, too.

We are used to thinking of the Bible as a very serious book.
But among the stories of terrible rebellion against God
and the proverbs to make you wise and the songs of endless praise
are some quite funny stories.
The Bible has a sense of humor.

Consider in the very first chapter of the Gospel of John –
Andrew tells his friend Nathaniel that he has found the Messiah,
and his name is Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.
Nathaniel can’t help himself.
‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ he chortles,
and from the distance of two thousand years
we hear the derisive laughter of a slick urbanite
making a wisecrack at the expense of a hick town,
much as we might if a friend told us that the next President
was going to be Hank from deepest darkest West by-God Virginia.
It was too funny for even a serious guy like John the Evangelist to leave out of his Gospel.

But it’s not just regional jokes which are part of the Bible’s act.
Some of the parables of Jesus are great stuff.
I absolutely love Luke 16 and the story of the dishonest manager,
who knew he was going to get fired and got his revenge
(and also made some much-needed friends)
by telling all his boss’s debtors that the boss was feeling generous
and there was suddenly a discount.
In the end even the boss had to admit he’d been had.
Jesus gets you with the sense of humor, see.
The kicker is then he tells you
to use your money where it really matters,
to make friends with the poor people,
the people whose prayers God listens to,
so when you don’t have any money anymore,
(and you know when that is)
you’ve got a place to live – in heaven with them.
Sometimes, you know, comics have got a point.

If you were not at the Easter Vigil last night,
you missed some great funny stories.
You missed the great story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
which I love every year.
The self-importance of Nebuchadnezzar,
the ridiculousness of his officials and courtiers,
all those satraps, prefects and governors,
and all the officials of the provinces,
bowing down to a golden statue
at the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble.
And then the great reversal,
where the three men who refuse to worship the idols
are joined in the furnace of blazing fire by a fourth who has the appearance of the god,
and they come forth, unharmed.
The great reversal when Nebuchadnezzar, the idolater, becomes a god-fearer.

There is one story which I think is hilarious
which isn’t in the Easter Vigil,
but should be.
That is the story of Queen Esther,
the Jewish wife of the King of Persia
who saves her people.
The grand Vizier Haman hates the Jews,
and conspires to have them killed
and Esther’s cousin Mordecai,
who has Haman’s number and whom Haman hates,
hanged on a gallows on Haman’s property.

But Haman gets what’s coming to him.
The king is told by others of a time that Mordecai the Jew
saved him from traitors in his midst.
The king asks ‘What has been done to honor him?’
Nothing, comes the reply.
And so he calls his counsellor Haman,
and asks, ‘What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?’
Haman, self-important blowhard that he is, thinks it’s all about him.
‘Whom would the king delight to honor other than me?’
And he suggests that the king’s robes and the king’s horse and the king’s crown be brought,
and the honored one to be paraded around the city,
as he is acclaimed with the proclamation:
‘Thus shall it ever be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!’
Of course, what happens next?
The king tells the flabbergasted grand Vizier to bestow this honor upon Mordecai,
and to lead him around the city, acclaiming him as he goes.
April Fool!

And Haman gets worse, too;
he is hanged on the gallows he has set up for Mordecai.
Mordecai is honored, Esther is honored,
the Jews win, and everyone lives happily ever after.
A charming comedy indeed.

Isn’t this supposed to be an Easter sermon?
Why all the jokes?
Certainly Easter is serious!
But it is God’s greatest joke of all.

In all of the stories of God’s deliverance,
there is always a bit of humor in there.
And theologically at least, God saves his greatest gotcha for the third day,
the day after the Sabbath was over,
when the evil one, who thought he had gotten rid of Jesus once at for all,
is hoisted on his own petard.
His greatest weapon, death itself,
is used against him,
and it is the death of him.
Just like that grand Vizier Haman,
who thought he had the perfect plot
to wreak vengeance on Mordecai and destroy the Jews,
and who is double-crossed and forced to honor his enemy
and is hung on the gallows he had intended for him,
so is the evil one finished on that same cross
which he has intended to destroy God and humanity.
and death has become not his greatest weapon,
but the salvation of God.

The devil is pictured all too often as a powerful force,
but to our eyes, he should be a ridiculous figure,
a dupe, an ape, a punchline,
truly a fool.
For Jesus is the one whom the king delights to honor,
and through him, God has acted to save  us.
And so sin is forgiven, hope is restored, death is destroyed,
and it’s time for a feast.
The feast of victory for our God!
‘When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
and our tongues with shouts of joy’

The worship that the devil thought was owed to him,
is given to Jesus.
‘Thus shall it ever be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.’

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!