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BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz

Nov 20, 2016  SERMON ARCHIVE

Sunday Sermon - Pastor Lavrenz Stained Glass - Communion

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, AMEN

The text for our meditation today is the Gospel Lesson for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, Luke 23:27-43. There we read these words:

And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?" 32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" 38 There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews." 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." 42 And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43 And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

We begin in the Name of Jesus, AMEN

Have you ever had an argument with someone you loved - a spouse, a parent, a child, perhaps an employer, or good a friend? That's kind of a stupid question, isn't it? Of course you have - because, sadly, arguments and disagreements are part and parcel of who we are as sinful human beings.

The funny thing to me, though, is how two people can so often disagree over facts and situations that apparently neither party is able to properly recount. When either of the parties involved in a disagreement try to recall the exact circumstances which brought the quarrel about in the first place - neither of them can agree on what happened!

One will say something like, "I told you not to do that." Then the other person replies, "I wasn't doing that." Then the first one responds, "Yes you were, I saw you. It was just as plain as the nose on your face."

Picking up the gauntlet the partner chimes in, saying: "I wasn't doing that at all! You don't know what you're talking about." "Do too!" "Do not!" "Do too!" "Do not!" Well, you get the picture. All of you have been there before.

But what is it that brings about this kind of situation? I suspect, that either one - or both - of the parties involved is so busy pursuing his or her own agenda that they can't see past the reality of their circumstance - they certainly aren't able to see how their own involvement might have been the very thing that escalated the problem to the heated level it finally attained.

As a prime example, I call your attention to the two robbers who were crucified on either side of our Lord that first, fateful Good Friday morning. The first two Gospel writers - that is, Matthew and Mark - tell us that both thieves were spitefully reviling our Lord as He hung there on the cross between them.

Stained Glass Baptism Window

And, here in this morning's Gospel text, St. Luke is even more precise. His words indicate that by the time we're brought into the scene one of the thieves had become so brash he was actually hurling insults at Jesus, saying to Him: "Aren't You the Christ? Then how about saving both Yourself and us!"

But as the second thief watched our Lord hanging patiently on the cross - not saying a thing, not moaning, not groaning, not crying out, and certainly not cursing either of the two thieves or the ones responsible for hanging Him on that cursed tree in the first place - even though no one would have faulted Him if He had - the one thief apparently started to change his opinion of who this Man was.

He rebuked his fellow criminal, admitted his own sentence had been justly handed down, and likewise saw also in that moment that Jesus' sentence hadn't been deserved at all.

He alone had been the one to read aright the inscription which hung on Jesus' cross right above His head, saying: "This is the King of the Jews." Looking forward to Jesus' coming again in kingly power and glory, this misguided fellow then asked Christ only that He remember him when He came into His kingdom.

Jesus then turned to him with the blessed assurance that not only would he be remembered on that day, but that even before night had fallen he would be with Him in Paradise - that place where the souls of the righteous find a blessed, eternal home after death has separated them from their bodies here on Earth.

And so here we have before us two men - actually, two men who were thieves - two men who, in a manner of speaking, are representative of the entire human race. Now that idea might not sit too well with you, but consider the facts.

Does the Bible not say that you are all sinful and unclean from birth - even from the moment of conception - that there are none who are righteous, no, not even one - that each and every one of you, like sheep, have gone astray - and that the entire human race, together as one, has become unprofitable before God?

Does Jesus not say that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees you'll never enter into the kingdom of heaven - that you must be perfect even as your Heavenly Father is perfect - and many other similar sayings which leave no doubt as to your real spiritual condition?

I think if you're going to be honest - and certainly in this case honesty ought to be the best and the only policy to follow - you really have no choice other than to admit - sad though it may be - that this is all undeniably true - namely, that the two robbers who were crucified on either side of our Lord that day could have easily been any one of you! Or me.

But there's another similarity you dare not miss. That is, one of the robbers saw the error of his ways and turned to Christ in repentance and faith- while the other chose to die in his sins rather than humble himself before God and man in the admission that he rightly deserved the punishment he was receiving

Which of these two are you? When you think about it, God must have imparted to this thief an incredible faith. There he was - in the midst of being crucified - and he turns to another Man - a Man who's also being crucified - a Man who's obviously in the throes of great pain and suffering Himself, perhaps even near death by this time - and he says to Him, "Jesus, remember me!"

This man was able to look beyond what he saw with his eyes to another reality which was hidden to almost everyone else standing there. He knew in his heart of hearts that this Man hanging next to him was no ordinary criminal - as his sight and eyes had informed him - but rather, here was a King who could do anything He wanted.

Stained Glass Confirmation Window

In humble faith this thief willingly threw himself at the mercy of this One whose kingdom was not of this world - and trusted Him to be gracious to him in his anguish and pain. Considering the circumstances under which these few short words were uttered, could there ever been any greater words spoken in the entire history of the world?

What about you? Obviously you're not hanging on a cross - nor is it likely you ever will be - but I have no doubt that there have been many times during the course of your life when you probably felt just as badly as if you had been hanging on a cross.

What did you see during those times of distress and anguish? Did you see only pain, sorrow and distress? Did you feel only estrangement from God and your fellow brothers and sisters in the faith? Did you feel as if everyone else was enjoying the benefits of belonging to God's family while you were over there in the corner by yourself - just waiting until you could get your life "back together" again?

Or, were you enjoying what only the eyes of faith can see - namely, that even in the midst of this dying world you could still have joy and forgiveness in the shed blood of our Savior who alone has made us truly alive through His own suffering, death and resurrection?

Do you remember King David who sinned with Bathsheeba and had Uriah her husband killed. Remember how the son born from that sinful episode got sick and was near death? And how David put on sack cloth and ashes and was in mourning for the life of his son?

We read in 2 Samuel 12:19-23 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, "Is the child dead?" They said, "He is dead." Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, "What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food." He said, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me."

Even though you may not be able to see with human eyes the reality of what God has prepared for you in Christ, that fact can in no way set aside God's grace and mercy. For while the grace and mercy of others may fail - and often does fail - the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ will never let you down.

Though each and every one of you may indeed deserve the punishment which God promises for all who sin - through faith in our Savior - which has been bestowed on you in Holy Baptism - God now enables you - with that thief on the cross - to cry out "Jesus, remember me!"

And in His Word He now calls back to you, "You also will be with Me in Paradise."

Until that day arrives, dear friends, know for absolute certain that your Lord will sustain you in His forgiveness and life through the ministry of His Bride, the Church - where He has given you the privilege of eating and drinking His medicine of immortality - the holy Supper of His Son's true body and blood - and joyfully declaring His death and resurrection to all the world until He comes in glory to bring you home to Himself in heaven.

Today is the last Sunday of the Church Year. Again we rejoice to look to Advent and the Savior’s coming.

Again, we remember, Christ is Risen!! Amen.

Luther Rose


Christ Is Risen
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