Today it is the end of our church year. It is New Year’s Eve in the church calendar. So it is appropriate, like the evening of Dec 31, that the reading has a historical perspective. Today as the sheep and goats appear before Jesus in all his glory it is a time to reflect back on what each sheep or goat has done.
Each New Year’s Eve in between the champagne corks popping and the fireworks going off you can’t help but think back at how the last year went. Some years bring out a few more emotions than others and perhaps sometimes there are whole years we wish we could forget. Jesus though when he appears in his glory includes a glorious memory that doesn’t forget even the most intimate details of your life. And so everyone will appear before the Lord as he sits on his throne with his angels flanking him seated like at a movie screening ready to play your life on the big screen. And no you cannot do any last minute editing.
So what does it show?
For vI was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you wgave me drink, xI was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 vI was naked and you clothed me, yI was sick and you zvisited me, aI was in prison and you came to me.’
What? There must be some mistake.
As you watch this life being played out in front of you which you swear looks like you but the events, well you just don’t remember them. Let’s be honest…you just don’t think you were that great. When did this happen Lord?
The righteous answer, “Lord when did we see you and do all this?” Sure you recognize yourself, you see many of things you recall doing but one main character is there in all the scenes where you, instead of selfishly caring for your own desires or wants, well look closely. The one you are serving, it’s the same person in every scene. In every scene the person receiving your good deeds is Jesus!
How could it be? When was this?
You see the righteous, the sheep, they didn’t keep track of all their good deeds. The sheep, who were blessed by the Father were busy doing good deeds, yet they didn’t let their right hand know what their left was doing. The sheep were acting in faith not considering their own good deeds as any worth before God. The sheep are shocked!
What script is this, what movie, who did all the editing? How is it my life looks so great?
Well, the sheep are doing good deeds because they have been blessed by the father and do not consider their good deeds to be of any benefit to them. They live by faith in the goodness of the Father. “When did we see you Jesus and do this for you?” It isn’t that the sheep did good deeds and the goats didn’t but who considers their good deeds to earn them any standing before Christ in his judgement.
The sheep had nothing to offer to Christ in his glory. They understand where they stand, unworthy of the gracious goodness of the father. ‘Come, you qwho are blessed by my Father, rinherit sthe kingdom tprepared for you ufrom the foundation of the world.
The father blessed them. Or in the Greek, the father eulogized them. Come you who are eulogized by my father. You know what a eulogy is, it is a blessing, or saying something good about someone. The father in Christ has spoken a good word over all humanity. Little Violet has been baptized today. She has been eulogized by God. He has spoken to her in her baptism. He says to her, “Your sins are forgiven and you are given a new birth from above.”
You have had a good word said about you by God too. Baptism is God’s promise to you, you are his. He calls you by name and gives you his name. Adopts you into a new life, a life where your sins are not held against you. A life where you don’t even act. Your success in this movie of your life has nothing to do with your actions. You have a stand in, Jesus.
Jesus is our substitute. In soccer when you get hurt and are taken out of the game a sub comes in for you. The sub scores the game winning goal and that victory is yours as much as it is the substitute. Jesus is our substitute. He comes in where we have failed and does it perfect. This perfect life is yours by faith. St. Paul even says, “As many of you who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.” You are given a life that has earned God’s approval. A movie he cherishes because he loves a movie with a happy ending.
What about the goats? Their ending isn’t so great. Well it’s not the Father’s fault. IT wasn’t as if he didn’t love the folks who in the end wanted to be goats. And look at who hell was prepared for. Hell isn’t made for people. Hell was made for the devil and his angels. No one is made to go to hell. The goats didn’t want a good word said about them from the father they wanted their deeds to speak for them.
I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
The goats want to defend themselves. They want their deeds to stand and not receive the good word of the father. They want their own eulogy. They speak up too, “When did we see you Jesus and NOT serve you?” The goats want everyone to know, “Every time we saw you Jesus we served you. You are wrong Jesus, we are better than you say.” And so it is for those who want to justify themselves by their actions and not by faith. They want to eulogize themselves and so they will. Their movie will have no stand in, no substitute and they will get what their works deserve no matter how plentiful they were. Their good deeds were done for selfish motivation because they thought they were earning God’s love and approval. And this is truly how wicked unbelief is, it uses other people for its own salvation. People are no longer just in need but they become just something to help us get to heaven. People are not just there for us to use for our own goals.
And yet doesn’t it feel like we are both sometimes? We want recognition for our good deeds, we want some credit. Like the older son of the prodigal father we want to remind God just how great we are. But too often we forget just how wicked sin is. How our sin convinces us to only serve someone else when we think it will score us some points with God. OR we think we are sheep but then can live a life of self service and not love as we have been loved. Yes it is true sometimes we act like goats, we are still sinners, but Christ forgives you all your sins and reminds you, “You are my sheep. Don’t give up on my love for you. My life is for you.”
The joy of the sheep is that they have been blessed by God in Jesus and they have no need for their good works. Jesus provides all that is needed. The works of Jesus are like a great movie that you can’t wait to tell others about. A director doesn’t need to come in at the end of the movie and say, “A word from the director…Please tell your friends about this movie.” No the director let’s his work stand. So too, Jesus’ work for you, standing in your place for your life story is a flawless, perfect movie. He plays your part and God says to you, “Well done good and faithful servant. inherit sthe kingdom tprepared for you ufrom the foundation of the world. You cannot act your way into an inheritance. You are adopted and so it is, you are a sheep. So pop a cork, light fireworks, sing good Lutheran hymns so the neighbors report you tonight at midnight, every day is a new day in Christ. drink the finest wine, his blood, celebrate that the blood of Christ covers all your sins. Celebrate by fighting the urge to be a goat. Faithful sheep will serve their neighbor, how can we not? It is not we who live but Christ who lives in us!
Reformation Sunday, Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
There isn’t much that we celebrate that is at the age of 500. We’ve only been celebrating 4th of July since 1776 give or take a year or two. There isn’t much celebrated around the world that can match a celebration that spans 500 yrs, save for Easter, Christmas and Ascension Day and many of the Saints days. Perhaps the reason the Reformation has been celebrated for 500yrs is because it is a celebration of all those church holidays wrapped up into one. The Reformation is not about Lutheranism nor being anti-Roman catholic. The Reformation is a celebration of the forgiveness of sins and righteousness of Christ given to us through faith alone in Christ alone. The Reformation is a celebration of the true freedom given by Christ to all who believe. That our freedom is given to us on a regular basis. The Reformation is not about something that happened 500yrs ago, but something that happened 2000yrs ago and how the benefits of Christ's cross are given to us now.
And that is part of the reason it has been celebrated for so long so faithfully because unlike celebrating the 4th of July the Reformation is a releasing a freedom given to sinners over and over again. What we celebrate today is not just a commemoration but a real-time giving of Christ's precious freedom. It is also a reminder that the precious freedom we have by faith alone through Christ alone is always in danger of being lost because we believe our sinful nature is always in open rebellion against God. Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” This is a thundering condemnation that tends to bring us back down to earth when we seem to fly so high on the Reformation. Even though it is a damning and heartbreaking condemnation, it is none the less true. And this is one of the central teachings of the reformation that drove Luther in his persistence: that he himself knew he was a sinner, a slave to sin and if he is a slave, then he cannot free himself. Slaves do not free themselves. So where is true freedom found?
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Jesus says he is the only true freedom. In a few chapters Jesus will fill in the blanks a little more for us before Pilate “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Knowing Jesus is true freedom. But don’t we try to find freedom in so many other places?
In our reading Jesus was trying to correct the false teachings that the Jews who opposed him believed. Jesus was trying to show those who were listening to them that they too were looking for freedom in the wrong places. So much for making friends the traditional way and not talking politics nor religion. Last week Jesus spoke about rendering unto Cesear, politics if I’ve ever heard them. This Sunday he gets all religious. Despite all the books and his mother probably telling him, “If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.” Well Jesus says it. And Jesus doesn’t just kind of warm the crowd up either. He comes right out and says, “If you sin, You are a slave to sin.” And we take our sin so lightly. Your sins are worse than you think they are.
God does not grade on a curve. There is no e for effort. There is no “well you gave it your best.” No, the law accuses everyone. There is no difference all have fallen short. The law stops your mouth when you think you might have a leg to stand on and think you aren’t as bad as another. We do not have the will power to stop ourselves from sinning. Nor do we have the strength to keep ourselves from desiring to sin. The law stops your mouth when you think you have a reason to boast. Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, Muslim. The law shows you a depth of sin that you cannot bear to see. The law stops your mouth.
“But we have Abraham as our father, we’ve never been enslaved to anyone, how is it that you say you will become free?” They opened their mouth. They boasted in the presence of God himself. This is not going to end well. It was their family lineage that brought their freedom, their sin wasn't so bad. It seems odd to us perhaps to hear an answer such as this. However these Jews knew their Old Testament. They knew that God spoke of Abraham’s children as being his treasured possession, that because they were born from Abraham they had a leg up on the competition. Lutherans can do this too. Well any denomination can do it to be honest with you but a little self reflection is always in order.
Thinking that because we bear the name of Luther we are the true church of the Reformation. That if we just show up every once in a while, if we are nice to people, throw a few bucks in the plate our ticket to heaven is stamped. We are members of the right church. Many of us were baptized in the Lutheran church days after birth. It is not your birthright to be Lutheran. If you know Lutheran teaching this is foundational. Like St. Paul who said he considers all his work, his being born a Jew, his following the law better than anyone else, he considered it all rubbish. That’s a polite way to translate it. We sinners are so addicted to the law we can’t help but run to the law and we can even use our church to do just that. We can measure the law, or so we think. Outward improvement. Efficiency. Good order. Our church is better because we do more outreach. Our church is faithful because we have great programs. Our church is better because our building programs go off without a hitch. If everyone would just do things my way. I have my catechism memorized. The law.
The law is not to be used as a measure between you and your neighbor. The law is a measuring stick between you and God. So be very careful when you use the law to measure your neighbor because it will end up cutting you down too. The same way you judge others is the way in which you will be judged. It isn’t that we don’t judge, but by what standard do we judge ourselves? Who is it that measures up? This is why Jesus measures between the son and the slave.
The son is born in the home. The slave is not. The son has claim to be in the home as long as he is alive, the slave is only in the home as long as he performs his duties. The son’s status as a member of the house is a promise given by birth. The slave’s status is based on performance.The slave has no freedom to leave. We by our sin are slaves to sin and therefore cannot free ourselves to come into the house of God. We cannot free ourselves by our work we must be born again, we must be given a new identity.
This is the heart of the gospel. This is the heart of the reformation and should be the heart of our teachings here, in our homes and lives as a witness to Christ's freedom. Like the Jews in Jesus’ day, there were theologians who taught in Luther’s day that you could contribute to your salvation. That by birth we humans had a part to play in salvation and with the help of God you collaborated in your salvation. Luther said no, for by no works will any human be justified in his sight. It is all the work of the Son. Your salvation, the certainty of eternal life has nothing to do with you and your dedication. You can't dedicate your life to Christ. You think giving Jesus your heart will move him to save you? Jesus said the heart is the seat of evil and you want to give that to him?
The son who was begotten before all worlds, had a place with the father and the holy spirit. He came down was born as a slave. He didn’t sin so he was not a slave to sin but was born under the law. He came as one of us. The free one became a slave, he stood as a slave even taken our sins upon himself and he freed us. Slaves cannot free themselves but a freed man can. The son can set us free because he makes us his brothers and sisters by birthing us in the waters of baptism. He gives you a new identity, a new birth certificate, you are free. He gives his life to God on your behalf!
Why are we free? Because he was crucified for our rebellion. Crushed for our sins. He was whipped as a slave, yet he was a son. He was judged under the law of God in our place so that we are freed from the accusations of the law. The law’s ultimate condemnation is death.
Jesus took our death and makes us slaves into sons of God. Death has no hold on us. Though death may seem to win the day, it does not. We are not slaves to death and sin any longer. Christ has the victory for he has risen from the dead. It is not our collaboration with the Son, it is not our decision to let Jesus in our heart. It is all the work of God. This is the reformation. This is the gospel. Your freedom in Christ is not anchored in anything you do, it is the work of a freed man, the son, Jesus.
This is why we say the church is always in need of reformation because the reformation is a celebration of Jesus’ forgiveness life and salvation being given to us apart from the law. He gives us gifts that bring us back home. The supper of his body and blood that is not a work of law, but of forgiveness. He reminds us of his promise he made to you in your baptism, you are a child of God. No matter what the law says, you are not a slave of God but a child. You have a birthright in Christ.
So why are we Lutheran? We are Lutheran because what Luther said in the 95 these, "When our Lord said repent, he meant that every day we live lives of repentance. Repentace is not a one time thing. But even more, so our freedom is not a one time thing. Unlike the 4th of July which is a celebration of an event, the celebration of the Reformation is a reminder that the gifts of Christ are given our continually and we are constantly being freed from our sins of slavery. That here today in real time freedom is being given to you. You are freed from your sins in real tangible ways. The word declares you free. The sacrament feeds you a meal of freedom. That's why we are Lutheran because the reformation, easter, christmas are celebrated every time we gather together to receive forgiveness from Jesus. We sin in real tangible slavish ways, but even more we have a Savior who forgives us in real tangible ways, his word, his body, his blood and a birth of water and Spirit. Amen.
Proper 20A - Matthew 20:1-16
You get what you get and you don't throw a fit.
Last Sunday the danger of not living by faith manifest itself in how we treat one another. If you do not believe that God declares us all forgiven on account of Christ's death then you will be a score keeper. You will wonder, how much do I forgive, 7 times? This is a danger of not living by faith among one another. Today Jesus teaches us that if we do not live by faith then we will not only be a score keeper among each other but we will begrudge God's generosity. There are many wicked sides to the coin of unbelief. One is the side with one another, where we are stingy with forgiveness. The other side of unbelief is that you will hate God.
The context of this reading today finds Jesus and the disciples after the Rich young man comes to Jesus to ask what he must do to inherit eternal life. As if you could earn an inheritance! Jesus says if you want to earn eternal life, give up everything and you will earn eternal life. The rich man turned away sad because he loved his stuff more than Christ. He did not confess. He turned away because he did not want to be justified, made right with God by faith. He did not repent of his love of his money and the security it brought him.
The disciples shocked said, "Lord who can do this?" Jesus says, "Now you are getting somewhere. No one can. It is impossible with man, but with God doing the work, if God is doing the justifying then all things are possible."
Peter speaks up as he is apt to do, "Lord what will we get? We have left everything, jobs, homes, family, what will we get?" Peter sees himself and his fellow disciples as doing what the rich man could not. Peter is falling into the same trap. He thinks they will get some special level of holiness for following the law. The parable is Jesus' answer.
The Laborers in the vineyard or I think more accurately, the parable should be named, The Generous Land Owner.
One might look at today's parable and say the theme is, "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit." Usually this is spoken when a child believes they have been short changed and they complain. You get what you get and you don't throw a fit. Now this saying is pretty good for teaching us to be happy with what we receive as a gift. An acceptable allowance. Christmas gifts. A kind person gives you a birthday card…with no money in it. You complain and the answer from some all knowing adult is, you get what you get and you don't throw a fit.
Yes we are graced with this deep philosophical gem dropped down from on high. However, this statement has buried in it an acknowledgement that there could be something better or worse. Be grateful for what you have and shut up.
Today's parable may have that sound to it however the parable is much deeper than a saying a parent might tell an ungrateful child. The parent acknowledges, yes I probably could've given you more but this is what you get. The child knows there is more and so it is a stand still ending with the adult using whatever power they have and finally agreeing with the child in some way that yes there are better gifts but this is what you have. Our parable doesn't end that way. God says, "Friend, I have done you no wrong." There is nothing greater than what I am giving you. And this is the point, God spares nothing for us. He gives his only Son, Jesus Christ and there is nothing greater. He does us no wrong.
Our parable begins with a landowner. A master of the house who goes out to find workers. Notice first it is all the prerogative of the master. He goes out. He finds. He calls. He gathers the workers. The first group of workers he finds he hires and works a deal. The workers agree. They can trust the landowner to pay. Perhaps he has a good reputation. No one would work for someone who has a reputation for shortchanging their employees.
The third hour he went and found workers and said, "I will pay you what is right." They trust his word.
The master does this three more times and the workers all go out. Even to the eleventh hour he brings in workers promising them a just paycheck.
Next the master does what is normal in the business world, after the workers work, he pays the employees. However there is something odd, he pays the workers all the same. Foolishness. No one would work for this master if this word gets out. He paid the last, those who only worked 1hr the same as the guy who worked 8hrs. No one would do this. A foolish master he is. He will not get any more employees at this rate. Has he never heard of minimum wage? Fair pay is only…fair. But God's mercy is not fair!
The workers rebel and tell the master how stupid he is. How he has sold them short. The grumbled at the master. They bit the hand that fed them. They looked a gift horse in the mouth. They were ungrateful. No matter how you word it they did not trust the master. They did not live by faith in what the master said, “Friend I have done you no wrong.” but they wanted justice.
Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Yes at the beginning the denarius was great. It was fit. It was acceptable. It was fair. They could trust the master. However, after looking at others, instead trusting the master, they perceived an injustice.
Was it unfair? Perhaps if you measure by worldly standards because you see in worldly standards we are never satisfied. There is always more. More money. More success. More popularity. Better health. A bigger house and we believe the solution is to work harder. To be more moral and maybe God will award us. But the master does not work according to worldly standards and neither should we.
We should not give only to those we think are worthy. We should not just apply ourselves and put effort into things we perceive only worth our time. We should work for heavenly things. We should focus on higher things trusting the master. Will you demand of God a just reward? Should life go exactly as you plan? Does God owe you?
When here standing before God, even here at church do you demand of God to give you something worth your time? Do you measure each week, well I could go to church but I could also get a lot done around the house. Do God’s gifts to you in his word and sacrament not measure up to all that glitters in this world? Is his word and the workers gathered here not quite up to the denarius offered by the world? The parable today is that God’s kingdom is about grace, grace for the unworthy. And if you do not turn and become an unworthy one by repentance God will throw you out with the ones who desire a just reward. For what would we get if we demanded justice?
What is a just reward for the thoughts of your mind and the weakness of your flesh? Is this what you desire to be paid for? What are the wages of sin? It is death. The devil says, You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. Can the devil offer you better pay? He will certainly give you what you are owed.
Is it better to work, to strive under the heat of the devil’s endless perseverance tempting you? Is it more lovely to face the demands of the law and work to demand something from God? To give an answer every time God demands one? Would you rather work under the microscope of God’s law and demand he give you what you deserve? I would say no.
But you see Jesus didn’t say no but he said yes. Yes I will work under the law. I will labor. The law had to be satisfied. Work had to be done. Perfect work. Jesus did not give up when the devil had his way with him. Even when Jesus left in the desert alone. Even on the cross, left to die he did not demand justice for himself but for you.
Jesus received that which wasn't fair. He received your wages, death. We have not worked for our salvation but it is given to us freely. We have not labored under the hard sun, Jesus has. Jesus worked, labored for us who are brought in, in the last times, the 12th hour. It is not fair. It is generosity. It is mercy.
The problem isn't the denarius, nor the master, but the desire of the workers to be paid according to their works. We want it to be fair. But it is not fair, thank God. We receive more than what we deserve. But really how can you measure numerically the difference between life and death as pay? He has chosen you. He has brought us into the vineyard. He is trustworthy to give. He doesn't consider our righteousness nor our unrighteousness. He brought you to the baptismal font. There he gave you Jesus’ pay. He gives you Jesus in all his glory.
He gives you that which is more glorious than any reward you could possibly imagine. Right now this denarius is not polished, we do not see it for all it’s glory because we see through the glass dimly. Bu We receive Jesus, the denarius. Your forgiveness. Your true life, eternal and when the master returns you will see how glorious this denarius truly is. This not anything you can earn and that is the good news. That those who live by faith in the generosity of the master are invited not to work more, but to remain in the kingdom forever. That is the wonderful pay of God, that he is generous, he is merciful.
The firstborn of all men, Jesus Christ becomes the last so that we who were born dead may be first. The kingdom of God is not run like a business because in our world there is always a shortage. There are only so many denarii and there is always someone with more. But with your eyes firmly fixed on the denarius of Jesus the master’s pay is never ending and his forgiveness never runs out. He says to you, “I have done you no wrong.” And it is true. Amen.
Aug 27, 2017 Proper 16A - Matthew 16:13-20 - "The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it."- Baptism of Grayson Monroe Abshire
Many people have tried to describe or figure out what Jesus meant when he spoke about the gates of hell. Some try to say it is an actual physical place that people thought was the gate to hell or at least local custom said it was. Like the old haunted house you ran past as a kid. Some think Jesus is just painting a picture to get an idea across. No matter if the gates were a made up place in the Middle East somewhere or not, the gates of hell gets the point across rather well. A force that is stronger than any human could possible defend against.
The movie Avengers finds the superheroes battling to close a portal that evil machines are coming through to destroy the world. There is a gate that needs to be closed. The humans are pretty helpless. It takes someone who is more than human to close it by giving himself up as a sacrifice.
As close to the storyline of the scriptures the Avengers movie is, the gates of hell is more than an imaginary portal thought up in a comic book. The gates of hell were opened up when sin was brought into the world through one man Adam. Sin is what comes through the gates of hell. And sin isn’t alone, sin brings death. And this unfortunately is what is missing when people try to explain away Jesus’ reference of gates of hell as some geographical place, you lose the reality of the gates of hell.
Who wouldn’t acknowledge that a gate has been left open somewhere? Growing up in Texas whenever you drive through the pasture and you come to a gate, you always close the gate after going through. This is the 11th commandment in Texas. Never leave a gate open. Mass confussion will ensue, Jim Bobs bulls will fratenize with Ol man Smiths hefers and then all hell will break lose. This is precisely what sin does, all hell breaks lose. Who left the gate open?
It was my worst nightmare. Leaving the gate open or unlocked. If it ever happened I would certainly blame my brother. We were always hunting and running around the backwoods of Texas together. Yes blame him. Isn’t that how we treat the gates of hell. Not my fault. I’m sorry you were offended. Yes it is all too easy to find the fault with others when things don’t go our way.
What about the gate of your mouth? Does that gate sometimes swing a little too wide? Jesus cares about what comes out of your mouth.
Words of mocking others. The tongue is small but oh how it rules over us. But it isn’t just the gate of your lips. Where does it all originate from? You may be able to guard your mouth pretty well. That gate gets closed everytime, but your heart is a different matter isn’t it?
When you get upset, lose patience. Or the thoughts of anger or even when you see people who are so wrong. Yes that frustrated sigh, all gates of hell. It isn’t that we are the Avengers fighting evil, but all too often we’re opening the gate and saying come on in to sin that causes nothing but pain and embarrassment. Friendships lost. Churches in disunity, all because you could not keep your mouth shut. But even if we kept our lose lips from sinking ships our hearts betray us.
Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” Jesus wants to know what people are saying about him. Not just like gossip. This isn’t the equivalent of Jesus Googling his name, it isn’t as if Jesus doesn’t know. Jesus knows what is in the heart of man but he wants the disciples to see that God will not leave us with nothing to say. Jesus knows what others are saying, but he wants the disciples to know and consider the difference between when God opens your lips and when you open your lips. Jesus desires to show the disciples that they will be given something to say.
Who do people say the Son of Man is? Now if you are going to be confused with someone else Elijah, John the Baptist and Jeremiah are not bad guys to be confused with. Generally every one thought Jesus was a pretty likeable guy. For quite some time the scribes and Pharisees liked Jesus. Jesus was one of them. However, none of them thought Jesus to be more than a prophet. A good man. A smart man. He could get upset if you were at church for the wrong reasons, he flipped tables at the temple you know, but he did it because the people were saying the wrong things at God’s house. Everywhere Christ went he was working against the gates of hell. Perhaps we should follow his lead?
You don’t have to gossip. You don’t have to speak ill, you can use your mouth against the gates of hell and that is precisely what Jesus teaches the disciples and us today. To open our mouths and confess who we are, but then also to confess who Jesus is according to the scriptures. When we open our lips it is bad news, but when we ask God to open our lips like how we started our service, God gives us his word.
The gates of hell are fought against using the weapons of truth. Who is Jesus? Peter speaks up, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Blessed are you Simon!” Jesus answers. This is not opening the gates of hell but the very weapon against sin and death. What is it that Jesus says Peter is blessed by? That he confesses who Jesus is correctly. Peter confesses true doctrine. This was a bomb exploding in the midst of all the sin and false doctrine of who Jesus was thought to be.
The right speaking of who Jesus is, is the closing off of anger, hate and jealousy. Confessing who Jesus is an acknowledgement that God is not stuck in heaven, but that he has come to his people to die that we would live. He has come to shut the door of death and sin. He has come to close the gates of hell by dying on the cross. Then to seal the gates of death he rose on Easter morning because he never sinned, never opened that gate of hell.
Jesus truly did not sin. He could get angry and not sin. He was angry at the right things, we are not. The gate of Jesus’ mouth and heart was open at the right times yet closed air tight when necessary. We will always sin. He spoke only truth, yet let his wrath out at the right times against sin. Angry at the misuse of God’s house. Anger that people would keep children from him, Let the children come to me he said, don’t forbid them. And so we see Grayson today being brought to Jesus.
The gates of God’s love opened up and Grayson now brought through by the forgiveness of his sins in baptism. Today Christ has put his name on Grayson. Christ has closed the door of death. And that is what Christ’s cross was and still is for us today. The closing of the gates of hell. By his blood, by his sacrifice. By his death he closed the door on our sins and opened the kingdom of heaven to all.
“You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” The truth of who Jesus is should always be on our lips. When this is the case the church will weather any storm any battle that rages. When true doctrine is taught and the people treasure it there the church is. When we give up these things then we are no longer part of the church.
Many people say “The church needs to change this or that or it will die.” They are wrong and they are of the devil. They are trying to open the gates of doubt. Christ says his church will never die. You can trust him. The church needs to keep confessing the truth of who Jesus is and what his word teaches. The church will be fine no matter how bad it might look. The same is the case for you. No matter how many gates you’ve opened, no matter the number of times you’ve brought death and sin with your mouth. Turn to Christ for forgiveness, he will not turn you away. Christ comes to unlock your sins from you and open heaven. To forgive your sins, lock them away in himself and give you forgiveness through humble means like baptism.
He gives this authority to his pastors to speak to you. To unlock your sins from a burdened conscience. For even though Jesus never opened the gates of hell by sinning, the father opened the gate of his wrath upon Jesus on the cross. There the gates of God's wrath for your sin were opened up and Jesus received the full brunt. Jesus stood, rather he hung there and by his stripes we are healed. The gates of hell shut.
It seems too easy right? We saw Grayson baptized today. It seems so uneventful. But it only seems that way if we look with our eyes instead of our ears of faith. The same could be said about Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” Stars didn’t fall from the sky. There were no fireworks. There was just the voice of Jesus saying to Peter, “You didn’t just figure this out Peter. This was given to you by God.” It was a miracle. You see Peter’s confession is very much like baptism in the sense that both are the work of God. Peter was given his confession and Grayson was given the forgiveness of his sins. Even though it was my hands it was God doing the work. Even though it was Peter’s lips, it was God doing the work.
What is offensive to many people about baptism is that God would grant faith to little children. That God would not consider one’s intellectual ability or good deeds before giving them faith is considered foolish by the world. God uses what is foolish to shame the wise. Amen.
A few weeks ago the news headlines were all a buzz with what many enemies of Christianity thought was the nail in the coffin for the Bible. Doctors, believe it or not found Canaanite DNA in a person’s body. It was the end of reliability for the Bible because God told the Israelites in the OT to destroy the Canaanites. To wipe them from the earth. Well they found this Canaanite DNA and said, “Look! We found proof that the OT is not trustworthy. God said to wipe out the Canaanites and we found proof that they were not terminated. Ha! You stupid Christians.”
Well if these enemies of God’s word would stop their incessant attacks at straw men they would hear today’s Gospel reading they would know that the OT does not lie. The OT is reliable. They didn’t need to look at modern DNA to know that the Israelites didn’t do as God commanded. The Israelites didn’t wipe out the Canaanites. In fact our Gospel reading points out that the Canaanites were alive and well, even in Jesus’ day. The scriptures clearly point out our rebellion against God's Word but repeatedly show how God is faithful even when we distrust his word.
Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus goes into Gentile land to get away from the Pharisees who were becoming more and more hostile toward him. The very people Jesus was descended from did not want him to teach and preach. His own flesh and blood did not want him. So he goes to Tyre and Sidon. A land that was not given the promise like Jerusalem. A land at odds with God’s people in the OT. Jezebel was from Sidon. Israel was told to conquer Sidon, but obviously they did not.
Jesus goes to Sidon. Will he finish the job the Israelites would not? Will he go to condemn these cities? Jesus goes to conquer the real enemy, the devil. Jesus goes to fight in a new way.
A Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, i“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
No kidding. This woman points out something very obvious. If you mess around with neglecting God’s promises and spend your time in forbidden lands, the devil will have a hay day with you. We don’t know the condition of this poor woman’s daughter however, we are told she is suffering because of a demon. What kind of demon we do not know but it is bad. This is why you should flee anything that smells of the devil. Anything that is contrary to God’s word can certainly leave the window open for the devil to oppress you. Do you get stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of sadness and worry? Have the current debates and riots in our country got you worried? Forget the country, is your own house in shambles?
Worry is a sin. Worry is unbelief. Worry is of the devil. There is nothing more that the devil would love for you to think than our lives are spinning out of control. But what do we learn from this Canaanite woman?
Well we worry too much and we don’t pray as we should. We doubt God’s provision. We have wandered into foreign lands, lands of gossip. Lands of pride and jealousy. Lands where we consider our own desires before our neighbor. But learn from this woman, she calls out to Christ. In time of need she confesses the truth of who Christ is and repents of who she is.
And that’s it…Jesus answers her prayers and life goes on great she never prays again…No not really. Look at this woman’s example of perseverance in prayer and worship of Christ. She petitions to God and God answers…But he did not answer her a word.
No, you get what you deserve.
No, you should’ve been a better Christian.
No, not today.
No, be patient.
Nothing. He answers her not a word. At least an answer Lord! Tell me something. Isn’t that how it is sometimes with prayer. A no is better than a nothing. Thanks for nothing Lord.
But look at how she cries out, “O Lord, Son of David.” This Canaanite woman whose ancestors are more at home with the name of Sidonian gods addresses Christ as only a Jew would. She calls out to Jesus as a king. A true king. The one. The Messiah. The one promised of old. She uses a name she is not suppose to know much less use. She is a foreigner. The DNA of an enemy.
How it is for us. Do we have any rite to call God our father when we pray? Can we address this king we have rebelled against? Do we have a birthright to address him as if he is to take responsibility for our wellbeing?
No. We like this woman have no history, no ancestral claim to call ourselves children of God. No one does, except for the true Son of David.
The disciples try to help. Send her away. The disciples are implying by saying this, “Give her what she wants Jesus. Why not?” Jesus’ answer tells us what the disciples wanted Jesus to do, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus doesn’t even answer her, but his disciples.
The woman took it a step further, she fell down, the word here for worship means face down, prostrate before Christ. On the ground she could not get any lower. On the ground her body position reflecting what she believed. This too is why when we come to Christ’s presence here in the church service we too come in a position of respect. This is why we aren’t so concerned with others’ postures but our own. When you are here in the presence of God what does your body language say? Do you recognize your DNA?
Lord help me. She has accepted the silence. She stays at her Lord’s feet. She will not be moved. She knows whose feet she is at and she will not let him go.
Lord help me. A prayer born out of much suffering. A most theological prayer. A prayer that Peter prayed last week as he sunk beneath the waves, Lord save me. A rich prayer coming from someone who has suffered much under the breaking waves of sleepless nights and the wind blown rain of tears for her suffering child.
And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
What an odd way he answers. There is no sugar coating this response. You pray and pray and pray and it seems like Jesus treats you as a dog. Sometimes not even a treat. You bark and pant for the Lord to answer your prayer but it seems you are left out in the cold like a forgotten animal.
The woman agrees with Jesus. She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat nthe crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.
She knows she has no place at the table. It’s not just that she isn’t a Jew, she and her daughter are sinners and so are we. No one has a seat at the table of God. Sure the Jews were invited but they did not come. But the master has plenty of sustenance for all. Not just the children but even the animals have enough. She agrees with her status but calls out for the benefit of her daughter. You Lord have enough. You Lord provide. And how our Lord drew out her last petition pointing out the faithfulness of Christ for all people. How he is enough. She doesn’t need a family lineage. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but she was birthed by the Holy Spirit and given faith.
How odd this woman is! A foreigner in the kingdom of God. Much like you and me born of sin under the kingdom of the devil and how often we act like it. However Christ comes to our foreign dead heart and rescues us from outer darkness. We like the Canaanites should be destroyed but no, he comes to forgive you all your sins.
Like the daughter we are incapable of even calling out to Christ. We are possessed yes even by sin, dead as we are in our sinful nature. But we have someone like the mother who calls out to God on our behalf. We have one who will not leave us behind with no voice, Christ. Yes Christ goes before the father and lays himself prostrate on the cross. Down into the dirt he goes, dead so that we sick ones would be healed. Rescued from the devil by simple water born of the Spirit given life by the word and water. People once dead to God but made alive in Christ the one who comes arguing on our behalf. Father forgive them, and he does.
The one who does have righteous and holy DNA, perfect son of the father gives up his place at the table so you would be made sons of God through faith. A place at the table. Given new DNA even as your body is being perfected unto the resurrection.
So now we learn from this woman and Christ to pray. To pray that God would forgive our sins. To not give up. To ask him for what our heart desires and our heart desires his will be done. For Christ has shown you in his resurrection that he is faithful to his word and promise. He has shown you your whole life and has not let you down. And he is yet faithful. He does answer you in his word. He promised you that you are his. No longer are you a foreigner. Yes you call him father a rite granted to you through the blood of Christ that calls out to his Father. He will answer you. Not because your prayer but because he is faithful to his promises to you, to provide and give what you need. Wait and see, the Lord is indeed good. Oh give thanks unto the Lord for his steadfast love. Do not worry but call out to him in repentance and faith. Amen.
Proper 14A - Matthew 144:22-33
Like a Peter.
This summer one of my favorite musicians took his own life. Chris Cornell of the band Soundgarden and Audioslave. He sang a song called Like a Stone. It is one of my favorite secular songs, but it has in it a recognition that we are all looking for a solid place to be. A stone under our feet, a longing for a home. Something reliable. Chris Cornell was a confessing Orthodox Christian who needed a stone.
Chevrolet had an add for many years running on television, “Chevy, like a rock.” Being a fan of Ford vehicles I laughed and said yes Chevys move like a rock. The add was very powerful though pointing to the characteristic of rocks that bring us comfort. Their reliability. Their steadfastness. Their immovability. Like a rock. Like a stone. A firm foundation.
There are always times in life when we wish we had a stone, a rock, a foundation a refuge. Many times in life the unpredictability of ourselves, the pettiness of those we once thought we could trust, the unreliability of our health, there are times we wish we had something like a rock.
Though in our sin we have hearts of stone, Christ comes as the true rock. God who forgives us and will be our true rock of refuge.
We are unpredictable. One day to the next. Things that once brought us joy become boring. One day we are zealous for our Lord, the next we wonder if we will be able to trust his words. We are not like a stone. Sin makes us unpredictable.
Our OT lesson is from Job. Job knew the unpredictability of himself. At the beginning of the book he says, “The Lord gives and takes away. The name of the Lord is to be praised.” However as the book progresses and God uses the devil to strip away the things Job thinks are his foundation, Job begins to turn. He uses stone potshards to scrape the boils off his skin. In the end, it’s all too much for him and he says, “ Why me God? If I have done wrong, God show me. It is not me who is the problem, I am steadfast like a rock, it is you God who is fickle and unreliable.”
God answers Job, “Where were you when I created rocks Job?” Tell me Job? Do you know my name Job? I am. Yahweh. I am, in the Greek, Ego eimi. Do you see the rocks. They marvel at my steadfastness. My reliability. My unmoveableness. Rocks bow to me. I am. Ego eimi. I am.
I am who sent Moses. I am who was in the burning bush. I am who created the earth and all the heavens. I am who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, into the promise land. I am. I am the rock that Moses struck instead of speaking to. I am the rock that went with the people all the days of their wandering. Though they were lost, I was not. I am. Ego eimi, Yahweh.
We are like Job. Like a rock stubborn in our unbelief and sin. Like a rock we are predictable in our rebellion, trusting in our good days, trusting the highs and being disappointed with the lows. Being glad in our good days, but being wicked in our bad days. We are all over the map spiritually, we sway like the wind like Job we want to give people what they deserve, thinking we don’t deserve one bit of God’s rebuke when in reality, God would be right to let us sink.
In our reading Jesus puts the disciples in a boat and sends them onto the water. Our text today says the disciples were battling the waves on their boat and the wind was against them. The disciples are not really fearful here. They are comfortable on the water. They know what they are doing. No mention by Matthew of fear. We should be so faithful. Jesus put them on the boat and sent them on their way. They did just as Jesus commanded. So too we should be put in our boats, our jobs, our vocations in our families and trust Jesus. Get into your boat and row.
But how often do we stand on the shore and not heed Jesus’ call to faithfully go forward? To go where he directs our ways. He will put you in the boat and you can trust him, do not fear.
The disciples go. They are not afraid until, “…when the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified and said, “It is a ghost” and they cried out in fear. They saw a man defying the unmovable untransgressable laws of physics and they were afraid. They just saw Jesus feed 5k with 5 loaves and 2 fish, the laws of physics and matter are not so rock steady as they perhaps thought. But now they are afraid. Like us they see that which they once believed to be like a rock not being so reliable. They are afraid. Jesus though reminds them. He tells them, “It is I.” or more accurately “Ego eimi.”
Take courage, it is I. The I who carried the Israelites though they rebelled. It is I, ego eimi, who even though Job accused of unrighteousness, I rescued him. Ego eimi, the God who comes not to destroy you, but whose steadfast love endures forever. Take courage, I am.
Peter though still doubting, “If it is ego eimi” “If you are God of the OT” tell me to come to you. God said I AM. Peter says, “If you are I AM.” Peter, like Job, doesn’t take Jesus at his word. Peter doubted. Peter spoke from doubt. Peter doesn’t believe but puts God on trial. Getting out of the boat is not Jesus’ idea, it is Peter’s. It is from unbelief. I will not trust your word. Give me something more. Give me more than your word, “If you are I AM.” Peter demands more. Like the world, Peter does not believe God’s word. Peter does not live by faith but is drowning in doubt before he even steps foot out of the boat.
Come Jesus says.
Peter steps out. He is not looking at Christ. He does not remember his word. Peter sees with his eyes, he does not listen. He sees the wind and begins to sink. Peter then when he has no other choice calls out, “Lord save me!”
When Peter sees how steadfast he is, how fickle his faith is he finally calls out. Notice he doesn’t say, “Lord if it is you save me.” No he calls out in faith. Who is the rock? Who can save him?
And we too, when we do not take Jesus at his word. When we look all around us and instead of listening and hearing Jesus we listen to our own thoughts. We think we are such strong Christians that we too can test God, that is precisely when you become a petros, a peter and will sink in doubt.
I am should let Peter drown. Ego eimi, if he were to treat us as we treat him, should not reach out. Yahweh would be justified in letting Peter sink to his watery grave, but the great I am is not concerned with justifying himself but us. Ego eimi is not worried about keeping himself above water but you. So how does he bring us up out of our sinful grave? By drowning our sins in baptism but lifting us up. Yes we do drown, but not a drowning to death but a drowning to life.
Peter’s name means rock and how he sank like a rock. How we sink like rocks when we lose our focus when we do not fix our eyes on the author and perfector of our faith Jesus. We focus our eyes all around us and we forget who Jesus is. For it is Jesus who is not rescued. It is Jesus who goes down to the grave to sink into the wrath of God for your sins, for your doubts. It is Jesus who becomes the rock and is not rescued but give up so that God the great I am may reach down and raise you up. The sins of your past. The sins of this past week. The sinking feeling in your gut when you compare yourself to the almighty holiness of God. The great I am, ego eimi, Yahweh was recognizable finally by the disciples because they saw him as he truly is, reaching down to us to lift us. What god can do that? What God of yours can save you when you are drowning? Your money? Your good health? Your great personality? Your family? None of them are the great I AM. None of them are Ego eimi. None of them can lift you up from sin and death. Jesus, who pulls you by forgiveness from a watery grave. To bring you to himself. He is not here to put his hand down on our head and hold us under but to reach out and pull us from certain death. Lord save me!
Like a stone, a flint, Jesus had his face toward Jerusalem going to his cross. His certain death where he would go down beneath the waves. He would sink for three days to death. The righteous one who could walk on water. The one holy God, Jesus, became Peter’s sins, he became your sin, and sink he did. What a most disturbing drowning it was. A holy child. A child laying at the bottom of the pool of God's wrath for you to kept above the waves of sin. A perfect child. One who floats above all sin. One who rides on the waves by his majesty allowed himself to go down. For you. He was lifted up on the cross and by being lifted up he sank to the depths of our sins to bring you up. For he was raised from the grave and you will be too.
It is not about our faith or our ability to get out of the boat. This account of Jesus walking on water is about who Jesus is. Cling to his word. Grab onto his promises. Fix your eyes and your ears on him, for his hand and eye is fixed on you. Amen.
9th Sunday After Pentecost - Matt. 14:13-21
For those of you who don't know, I have five aunts. My grandparents have Six daughters. I have one and two sons. I can't really imagine feeding 6 mouths, the clothes and shoes 6 girls go through. I'm not just speaking financially. Our schedules get so busy, there's never time for anything much less a meal together. I could go on and talk about how today's gospel reading is about a successful life of finding time to eat together as a family or how Jesus teaches us to share, but I'll leave that for Oprah or Beth Moore.
Like all of scripture, today's Gospel is about Christ and what he has done for you. Today's miracle in the gospel of Matthew is about our sin of doubting Christ's promise to always provide, to always forgive our sins and show us he will not leave us in our desolate places alone.
The opening verse today says that Jesus heard something that caused him to withdraw by boat to a solitary place. Doesn't this sound familiar? Each of us has a solitary place we go when faced with bad news. Jesus had just heard that Herod beheaded John the Baptist. What had John done to deserve this? What did John do to deserve death? He was faithful to the Word of God. John was faithful and the world hated him for this. So the world took everything from John. John the Baptist Jesus’ cousin was arrested, put in jail and everything taken from him. But John lacked nothing, for he had the bread from heaven. John lost his life, but he had already been given eternal life through forgiveness of those very sins that starved him of comfort.
This is the place we find Jesus. We find him going off to a desolate place. A place where it seems as if God has forgotten both Jesus and all the hungry people. You know, imagine a desert or a ghost town, not even a wireless signal for your cell phone, much less a Starbucks or 7-11 offering a nice cool slurpee. Matthew is dropping us a little clue here that the disciples are correct in saying, “This is a desolate place and the day is now over, send the crowds away to go to the villages to buy food for themselves.” It is no coincidence that Matthew repeats the word “desolate” reminding us just how deserted this place is.
Jesus going to a desolate place is not new. Jesus did this too after his baptism by John the Baptist when the Spirit led him to a desolate place to be tempted by Satan. This is what happens when one is in a desolate place, Satan jumps at the opportunity. This desolate place we all know.
We too go to a desolate place when faced with bad news or hard news. We lose our jobs, our health deteriorates and our faith and trust in God begins to waver. We have places we retreat to in these times and they are places we really shouldn't go. We go into doubt. We go into anger. We retreat into temptation. Sometimes we withdraw into laziness where we no longer look to serve our neighbors and we desire only to serve ourselves. These are not places for the children of God to go. You have no need to go into these desolate places.
Like the apostles in today’s gospel, we look around and see no possible way out, the apostles knew they didn't have enough food and things looked bleak. When we no longer trust God we too worry. We think the answer is to retreat and leave Jesus and his word as the apostles said, "Let the crowds go." Let the people loose Jesus for it is late and this is certainly a deserted place. Even the disciples know that when the evening is at hand and the day is far past, there is little hope for us to survive.
That’s what we do by our fallen nature, we doubt the plentiful promises of Christ.
This is why we must see and hear Jesus' words. This is why the miracle story is important, because someone has been in the most desolate places for you and not doubted God’s promise to provide in all times of doubt.
The miracle is that Jesus has withstood all temptation even when he was in the most desolate place of all time, the cross. The cross is the pinnacle of this story because that is where Jesus will “bring home the bacon” since we’re using food words, well I guess I should say, there on the cross and at his resurrection, Christ is the real bread winner for you. The bread that Christ has won for you is life, eternal life with Him in the resurrection. Then at your baptism he has declared you a child of Abraham. Christ has starved your sinful nature to death by taking away all of the sin your Old Adam feeds on. You are now a new person, one who only feeds on the bread from heaven. We get this bread even here at his table. What else would God serve but his only Son. God isn’t just going to give you bread for your belly, or bread for you only to think about Jesus. This is the true body and blood of Christ despite the impossibility of our logic to grasp it. We eat by faith.
We see today that Jesus is able to use earthly elements and produce a miracle. This happens all the time before our eyes in our world. That’s why the miraculous aspect of today’s gospel isn’t that Jesus fed more than 5K, the miracle is that God is standing there providing for sinners who will turn on him.
Maybe we have left Christ in the desolate place? Maybe too often we have taken the disciples advice and gone to find our sustenance and trust in ourselves and fellow man to provide and for this we must repent. Not just once and awhile, we must daily turn away from Satan who desires you to take the fruit of this world and eat it. We must daily resist the urge to feed on what the villages of this world offer us and find ourselves already fulfilled in the forgiveness and promises of Christ. We must regularly eat his body, drink his blood to fight the spiritual hunger we have, or are you full of yourself?
Sometimes we do look like Jesus in a desolate place. Sometimes it does seem as if God has forgotten us and left us to starve. I don’t think any of us are in danger of starving, but in what ways do you question God’s faithfulness to provide? A job. Good health. A spouse. Good friends? Are you tempted to think you are alone?
Despite how desolate you think things are, you are not alone, God has had mercy on us poor sinners and sent his Son, to be the forgotten one, for all the times you would rather starve spiritually than returning to his word to feed on his bountiful promise to always provide. Christ has died for your sin of hungering after the things of this world. Like the crowd who was just looking to fill their bellies, Jesus has mercy on all.
How can Jesus have mercy on this crowd that he is looking at? He knows why they are there, in a few verses Jesus will say, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” yet he has mercy on them. Sounds like the Isrealites in the desert doesn’t it? Time and time again they grumbled, yet God was merciful. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be save through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned.
The last time Jesus was in a desolate place Satan asked him to make bread for himself. Jesus doesn't, trusting his Father. Now Jesus does make bread while in the desert, yet not for himself, but out of mercy he creates bread and fish for those who deserve to starve to death.
Five loaves and Two fish, the young boy who was the richest of all those gathered, he was the only one who had food, yet he gives all so that the many may be fed. Christ too was the richest, he had all things and yet he gave up his own life and he draws you out of your desolate places in the forgiveness of sins, that you might be there with him and all the saints sitting at his feet feeding on his word, the very bread of life. Christ gives and gives not serving himself but giving you all you need to live here and in eternity with him forever. Christ sees the need of his fellow man and has mercy.
5th Sunday of Easter - 1 Peter 3:13-22; JOhn 14:15-21
Planning ahead is not one of my spiritual gifts. I grew up on the beach and beach bums are notoriously live by the moment types. Some people call it lazy but I prefer the term living in the moment. Every Sunday we have readings that have been chosen by an ecumenical gathering of major church denominations so that at any given church you and your friends or family would hear the same readings. Even though you might attend different churches you would have something in common, some common ground to share. The readings focus on the major teachings of Jesus. The readings cover the basics of the Christian faith. If you attend church every Sunday, you will hear the basics of the teachings of Christianity.
So planning for the baptisms today a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea what the readings would be, I just picked a Sunday that would work for me and the Stubblefield family. So much to my joyous surprise, I couldn't have asked for a better reading then Peter's sermon where he says, "Baptism now saves you." As an appeal for a good conscience to God. Now why would we need that? Why didn't Peter just say, "Hey turn that frown upside down in your conscience, Jesus died on the cross." Peter doesn't say that, he does in a way, but more on that later. But first, why would Peter tell us our baptism saves us as an answer for a clean or healthy conscience? Who has a not good conscience?
Well I suppose the Gospel reading would help us out a little bit. It is from John 14, a continuation of our reading from last week. Maundy Thursday in the upper room Jesus says, "If you love me you will keep my commandments." I can see myself like the rich young ruler who asked who is my neighbor, raise my hand and say "Jesus, a point of clarification please. Um, which commandments?" If you love me you will keep my commandments.
Well that doesn't help so much. Usually when someone says, "If you love me you will, fill in the blank." It is manipulation. If you love me you will do the dishes. If you love me you will sleep with me. If you love me you will not annoy me. If you love me, add whatever you like, whenever someone says this it is meant to manipulate. Surely Jesus isn't manipulating us, is he?
"Yes, yes, yes. Ok ok, I love you. I will do whatever you want." Then things tend to not go so well. Pretty soon love is more like slavery and how much we love being master. And so often that is how we use love or how society defines love, that which brings me pleasure I love. Does Jesus need our obedience to bring him pleasure? Will he only love us if we first love him?
Is Jesus a slave driver? "If you love me you will keep my commandments." How is that working for you?
Does Jesus use this so that we can throw it up in someone else's face, "If you loved Jesus you wouldn't say that about me." "If you loved Jesus you would let me go fishing." If you loved Jesus…
Usually it is used by others to question your love for Jesus. But really they don't care if you love Jesus but do you love them or their cause. And thank God we would never do anything to manipulate others. Thank God we never question other people's love for Jesus. If you love me you will keep my commandments. If you love Jesus, first how about you ask yourself, do I even love my neighbor? Because if you don't love your neighbor who is right in front of you, how can you say you love God who is not seen? But surely Jesus wouldn't be questioning our love for him?
No not really, Jesus isn't questioning our love for him for his own sake. Jesus knows where your heart is. Jesus knows the answer. Jesus is asking you to question your love for him. Jesus is asking his disciples to really examine their lives and see if they love him as much as they say they do. "We will never leave you Lord! We will always do your commands." If that's the case they don't need Jesus. If we can answer, yes Lord I love you and do all your commands, then we don't need Jesus to die for our sins. So we should all have at times an unclean conscience before God because no one has loved God.
Like a great physician Jesus diagnosis the problem, we do not follow God's commands. We do not love him as we should. Like a dentist asked me, "Do you floss every day?" The dentist always knows the answer. I've learned the best way to answer is "You tell me. You're the professional." So too it is best we let God's word answer for us, "If you loved me you would do what I command." You tell me Jesus.
Romans 3 says, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We all love the Psalms right? Psalm 14:2, There is no one who does good. 2The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. 3They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one, doesn't exactly make it into too many praise songs in local mega church does it? But it is true. "If you loved me you would do what I command."
We have not loved you with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. This is why we cannot trust our love to move us to do Jesus commands. Our love is of ourselves. We only love what we benefit from. We confess our love is shallow. Our love is manipulative. Our love only goes so far as we gain pleasure.
This is why Jesus says, "If you love me you will do what I command." IT is not meant to bring us comfort in our love. It is meant to take away our trust in ourselves. Jesus wants to take away our false faith we camouflage by calling love and he will show us true love. And love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us andsent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins " Jesus speaks these verses today on the night he is betrayed to show his disciples and us not to trust our love above his. Jesus alone follows God's command. Not to manipulate you. Not to enslave you, You are no longer slaves but sons of the father. Jesus dies on the cross not because he needs our love but because we need his. And so he dies, loving God and loving his neighbor more than himself. Jesus is raised because death and sin no longer rules us.
You can have a clean conscience, an answer before God because that love is given to you personally in baptism. When you see your love fail. When your love for other things in this life surpasses your love of neighbor and your love of Jesus, repent and remember, you are baptized. He joins you to himself rescues you with his promise attached to the water as he did for Noah and his family. The water lifted up the ark and they were alive. Was it because their love? No but God's love for his people and he used water.
So Peter points people who are struggling with their sins and their struggles with following Jesus’ commands to a promise of God, as Noah and his family was saved by water from death, so too you are. And do you struggle to follow Jesus’ commands? Welcome to the baptized life. And he doesn’t leave us, “If you love me you will keep my commands.” This isn’t Jesus driving us as slaves but it is a promise, If you love me you will do what I command. He will send the Holy Spirit to work in you his commands. You will do my commands. It is a promise! We may not always see it. Our live might look rather plain, but give thanks that you don’t always see your good works but know for sure your father in heaven knows.
Jesus doesn’t need to manipulate you. Jesus doesn’t need to slave drive you, he and his holy spirit live in you. Baptism connects you to Jesus death on the cross. Baptism connects you to his resurrection. Baptism gives you the Holy Spirit. The baptized life is a new life and how could we not love a promise, “If you love me, you will do what I command” I promise you!
4th Sunday of Easter - Good Shepherd Sunday - "Break on through to the other side."
John 10:1-10; Acts 2:42
Doors play a regular part in our lives. Both in history and culture. There was that gameshow Let’s Make a Deal where you picked a door and whatever was behind it you won the prize. Could be a new car or could be a goat. Unopened doors have a mystery about them.
A saying that people repeat but isn’t in scripture, when God closes a window he opens another door. Not in the Bible.
Opportunity knocks on doors. Or the movie Monsters which was centered around different doors around the world that monsters would use to enter rooms to scare people.
Doors or gates are famous, the gates at Thermopylae, The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. And of course, since we’re Lutheran the door on All Saints church Wittenberg where Luther nailed his 95 Theses. Doors also have a bit of mystery involved. You don’t know what is coming. It could be good, it could be bad. It is a point of uncertainty that has met its end once you open it. A point of changed course. A point of uncertainty, once it’s opened you cannot close it.
Jesus says he is the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. There is no uncertainty. There is no surprise. Enter through Jesus and you will find what you need, life. The problem is that’s not always what we want. Opportunity knocks and we gladly answer other doors that don’t bring life but sin.
Think about your life and the many doors you’ve stood in front of. Job offers. Major purchases. Choosing a major in school. That fateful moment you made a decision that impacted the rest of your life. Often they are doors we wish we could close. The devil also likes doors, he can hide behind them.
And they are painful. I know I wish I could look back at life and put a closed for business sign on some of the doors I have opened. Lock it and throw away the key. Do not touch. Move on, but alas we listen not to our shepherd but our selfish desire. We sin.
It is the 4th Sunday after Easter. The 4th Sunday after Easter is when we hear from the gospel according to John where Jesus teaches us about himself and says he is the good pastor. Pastor is Latin for shepherd. Jesus is the good pastor and today before he says he is the good pastor he says I am the door. So this Sunday could also be called the door Sunday. We do not celebrate the iconic rock band the doors, but the door, Jesus. Now we might be more comfortable considering Jesus as the good shepherd but he also says he is the door because his sheep need to be taken care of. Jesus’ sheep need to be fed and pastured.
So what did a shepherd do? At night the shepherd brings his sheep, along with other shepherds in a pen at night. The shepherd would then sleep at the entrance of the pen. He himself would guard the sheep. With his own body he would be the door. Then in the morning he would call his sheep out and they would recognize his voice and they would be led to pastures to find good food. They would follow their pastor. A stranger they did not follow. A strange door they would not open. And that is what sin is, it is a strange door. A door out of place. A door that has all the warning signs. Do not enter and what is it we want to do? Walk right through it.
Our shepherd has told us not to lie, not to cheat. He has told us to mind our selves but we can’t help but open the door of gossip. This is especially dangerous in a church like ours. James says the tongue can set a forest ablaze. The tongue is like the rudder of a ship, small but when used can steer a whole ship into wreckage.
Jesus is the door to feed us and give us life, but we like other doors. We are happy to let thieves and robbers in. Theives that steal our time from family, instead of studying God’s word together, instead of being led to pasture by our shepherd our society, even us Christians have been shepherded by those who do not love Jesus. Electronic gadgets, televisions that steal our time from one another as families or as a Christian. When so much time could be used to serve your neighbor or you could buy someone lunch who is having some struggles in life. Jesus says his sheep do not listen to them, but I know I have and I’m not alone am I?
Yes the thieves and robbers are all around us with our affluence. Technology and science was suppose to give us our time back, make life more efficient, but that door was a lie. People now are more hurried than they ever have been. Openning doors that shouls stay shut. Misusing God's gift of technology. Spending more time in isolation than in serving each other. Repent.
The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want, but we want other doors. He makes me to lie down in green pastures, but I would rather lie down amongst my money and busy life.
He leads me beside still waters, but I wander to find the angry rapids of sin, I jump right in and drown when losing my patience.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear. I will fear getting sick, I will fear poverty. I will fear the devil. I will fear that my friends won’t like me. I will fear a boring church service. I will fear anything more than God and following his word. For is God really with me we ask.
Your rod and staff I will use against others to comfort myself. Repent.
Your good shepherd calls you back to His pen. After wandering in the night of the shadow of death he says, “Come back, my little lamb. Your wool is dirty. Your legs are cut. You have neglected my voice. Enter my pen through me and I will make your wool white as snow. For although you look bruised. Although you have opened doors that cannot be closed, I have forgiven you already. Feed on me. I have found you my stray lamb.
Though you have preferred to feed and let strange voices in. Though you have entered and gone out through doors that have brought death and sin, I bring you through a new door that is always open to you.
Hear my voice, I myself bore your sins in my body on the tree so that your sins would not stick to you. Your sinful doors of your past have been locked, destroyed even, never to harm you. So when it seems that the door of death is the end, I am the door. I have brought you through me. I have brought you through the gates of water unto eternal life. I have brought you to me. I have washed you through the door of death and opened eternal life through the door of my blood. The water door, baptism. For there you were brought through the Red Sea. There you were brought through me and all your sins were left standing at the door not to follow you through.
I am the door, I let none of your sins through for I have died with them and shut the graves door. Jesus rose from the grave. The stone door rolled away and everything has changed for the world. Our sins crushed. The door to eternal life opened for us.
So to what does our shepherd lead us to now? To faith and the forgiveness of sins. He still feeds and pastures us. The reading from Acts, they devoted themselves to the door, the apostles teachings and the breaking of the bread. Word and sacrament. This is our pasture. This is where Christ the door opens us to, for forgiveness of sins. For at the word of absolution, your shepherd says, I forgive all your sins. At the word of baptism, your wool was made white. At the word of this is my body, this is my blood, eat, drink be pastured. This is Jesus’ voice. Do you listen? Or do you listen to those who would steal this promise from you? The Lord’s Supper is symbolic they complain or they lie and say it doesn’t matter what you believe. They steal and rob by saying, "Baptism is our work and does not give eternal life." What kind of shepherd would trick you with symbols? They are thieves who would rob you of Christ’s comfort. Who else gives you of himself? Who else pastures you in this way? Your money? Your ego? Your safe and secure world? What door do you hide behind? God is not so impotent he will not shut that door in your face to save you from unbelief. Repent and believe in Christ. Open him for his treasures and pasture will never leave you in want. Even when you suffer, endure. His word and sacrament are your food along this journey. His green pastures are eternal life with your loved ones. His still waters will quiet all your worries. Call upon Christ Jesus your good pastor for his door is always open. Jesus is your shepherd but he is also the door through which he feeds and nourishes you his sheep.
Good Friday - "The Tent Peg at Golgatha"
When the Roman soldiers dug the hole for Jesus' cross to be placed in so that Jesus may be lifted up, they did not know they were helping to fulfill prophecy. "And I when I am lifted up will draw all men to myself." In trying their best to persuade people to not follow Jesus to his cross by using him as an example, they were for all time and space bringing all humanity to Jesus.
In Judge's 4 there is the strange story of a woman named Jael tricking one of the Israelite's enemies whose name was Sisera, into coming into her tent to hide during a battle. Jael, a meek woman, takes a hammer and tent peg while the enemy Sisera sleeps and drives it through his skull thus winning victory for God's people. This, like all scriptures preaches Christ. The Roman soldiers did not know they were placing the spike at the temple of Sisera's head. For here on the mountain called skull, Golgatha, the cross was being decisively driven into the skull of the devil.
The soldiers did not know they were bruising the heal of God but yet this seed of Eve, son of Jael, was driving the tent peg into the head of that great deciever, the devil. God was fooling the devil. The devil and death are used by God to rescue us.
The devil brings death into our world, God uses that which the devil brought to defeat him.
The Roman gov't, the soldiers, Pilate and the death squad had one job, make an example. No one can defeat the Roman gods. When the Jews bring Jesus to Pilate to be killed we generally think of Pilate as trying to save Jesus. I do thing that is accurate but there is also in Pilate the snob arrogance that was common to all Roman officials, we are Rome. No one transgresses us. So when the Jews bring Jesus, Pilate is not only trying to save Jesus but he also realizes that he has an opportunity to mock the religious establishment, kill two birds with one stone. So when he realizes he cannot free Jesus, the mocking begins.
Jesus becomes the play toy of the government. The soldiers beat him at Pilate's request. If he is a god he will break free. If he is a king his loyal army will fight. He's beaten, given a robe and a crown of thorns. They mock him. See where religion gets you?
Pilate wants to mock not only Jesus but anyone who thinks the Roman government is not in control. Even the Jews Pilate is making fun of. Pilate doesn't so much see Jesus as separate from the Jews, for Jesus is a Jew. Pilate sees Jesus just as another religious zealot, but he will now show the Jews what religion gets you.
That's what power does to us sinners. It corrupts us. Not because there is anything wrong with power, but that we sinners when we think we have the upper hand, when we think we are God, we end up mocking God. When we think we are smart, when we think we have things figured out. When we have the advantage we use it to satisfy our sinful desires. Tonight we see how powerful men mock God. Most especially how government uses power to think it controls the actions of man but God is not mocked. Even when we drop the Mother of all bombs, God laughs at what our government and news media outlets have been fawning over. We sinful, death loving ingrates prefer to kill and mock God than to have mercy and we think we hold the power. But it is God who laughs in heaven. But tonight God does not laugh. God does not destroy us. God is in control but he will take the punishment.
In this entire episode Christ JEsus has the upper hand. He is not being held against his will. He is God. He is no imposter, but both Pilate and the Jews believe he is.
Pilate says, "Behold the man." He says, "Look he is no God. He is just a man. Look how pitiful. This man is no threat to Rome. He is no threat to you religious people. Just a man. If he were a problem we would've already killed him." Behold, just a man. Rome is god.
The Jews are angry. They cannot take the mocking but even more they are all too eager to see Caesar as their king rather than God. Rather than have mercy they are so hungry for blood, so blinded by anger they cannot show love. Pilate takes another jab. He writes, "Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews" in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. 3 Languages so no one misses the joke. Here is religion. Worship Caesar for only he can save you from this. You Jews and any atheist, look here and see who has power. Is it the so called God of the Jews, or is it Ceasar?
So God draws the devil into his tent. The hammer is held high. The tent peg placed firmly in the temple of Israel's enemy the devil.
Crucify him! Jesus dies. He bows his head. Tetelestai. It is finished.
One word. Tetelestai, it is finished. The battle won. Jesus is faithful. Jesus wins by dying, the devil loses.
Pilate said behold the man to mock Jesus and all who follow him. We rejoice that Jesus was but a man. In what the world and all governments see weakness, God shows his strength. Where death thinks it reigns as king, Jesus comes and brings life eternal. This is who you are baptized into. This is who your loved ones are baptized into. We cannot be taken from Jesus' nail pierced hands. This is who invites you to his table to eat and drink the feast of victory. In 3 days he will show you and you will taste and see the Lord is good. It is good Friday. All things are used for your good, even your crosses for in your sufferings and death God is driving the peg into the devil purifying your soul by refining you with fire. We hold our alleluia's yet until Sunday. Tonight we ponder the magnitude of our sin yet the even greater magnitude of God's love.
April 9, 2017 - Palm Sunday, John 12:1-43
Our Palm Sunday reading presents to us a picture of two different ways in which people respond to Jesus’ preaching. First there is the person of Mary and the person of Judas. Mary is again on the scene after seeing her brother raised in our reading from last Sunday. Judas too had witnessed the resurrection. Two folks who had seen an amazing miracle. Two folks who were following Jesus but how different their hearts toward Jesus.
Many people will follow Jesus into Jerusalem raising their palms and quoting Psalm 118 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. They sang of Jesus coming as a king, but there will also be voices who cry crucify him. The two crowds were probably not the same people but I’m sure some spoke out of both sides of their mouths in this week of Jesus’ passion. One day they are glad to follow like Mary, the next day like Judas they are not so sure all the effort to praise Jesus is worth it, like Thomas last week said let us go to Jerusalem to die, perhaps they somehow see the writing on the wall, Jesus is just going to die anyway.
But this week beginning with Palm Sunday begins Jesus flint-like approach to the cross. We call this week the Passion week. When we have a passion it is something we love. Jesus’ passion is to go to the cross and die for you. He will not be moved. He will accomplish his passion. Sometimes you hear the term crime of passion, a person committed a crime because they were in love. This week the love of God is shown to us that he would give up his son so that men would crucify him. It is not a crime, for God did not force Jesus, God did not force the people to crucify him but God simply let the people have their way. This is Jesus’ passion. There is nothing else he would do. Nothing will stop him.
Mary desires to honor her Lord with material goods. We too desire this but too often like Judas our unbelief speaks up with a rational more practical voice, “No these goods can be used in a better way.” Judas was not lying, the money could be used for the poor and it probably would’ve helped more people, but unlike Mary his motives were from unbelief. The sin was not what Mary did or did not do with the perfume but the unbelief of Judas. Unbelief can be shown when we are concerned not with our own motivation but the splinter in someone else’s eye. There was nothing wrong with Mary adoring her Lord by building a large beautiful building of good works filled with art and statues stained glass windows because her actions were preaching the works of Christ. There is nothing wrong with Christians sacrificing their money for beautiful sanctuaries like ours, even paying for beautiful art. There is nothing wrong with adorning our worship space with crucifixes, beautiful bibles, stained glass, for these all teach and point our world to Jesus. So too our lives are also to be beautiful acts of love for our neighbor that teach the love of Jesus.
But as I sit here and reflect on Mary and Judas, the crowd with palm branches and the crowd who yells crucify, what we should learn about ourselves is that we are both of these. Building projects, playgrounds, parking lots, bathrooms, mission projects. Each of us is very much like Mary but we are also Judas. We want to show our love to Jesus but not so much we don’t get a say in how things go. We want a hold onto the purse, it is true in faith we want to let go so we are not led away into anger and hate that in the end will hang us if we do not repent. We want to serve our Lord, we want to be wise with the gifts he gives, yet we also want to receive praise for “being right.” We want to give all our money and talents to Jesus, but we also want that new house, great vacation or car. In all of this though let us not impugn the desires of one another but walk together in repentance. Repent, for it is not one or the other, we are both.
And that’s the dangerous part of sin, that Jesus went to the cross despite the people’s motivations, despite their faith or lack there of. Despite their flimsy faith and talking out of both sides of their mouth, praising Jesus and worshipping the devil with the same mouth, Jesus did not hit them or yell at them or threaten to take away their blessings. Jesus will let his actions speak. Jesus did not stop in his parade and say, “where will you be in a few days?” Jesus didn’t tell Judas, “oh judas stop what you are doing! Do you realize your sin? Do you realize where this leads you?” No. God will not come in thunder and lightening and interrupt your sinful life.
God will not beg you to follow him on Palm Sunday to the cross but he gently invites you to die with him. Jesus will not always call a voice from heaven to interrupt your sinful habits where you are tying a noose to hang youself. He already has instructed us in his word in the scriptures handed down to us but too often like Judas we have other things on our mind like pride or anger. But I invite you this special week, a week the church has honored for 2,00yrs, to intentionally focus in prayer and meditation upon God’s word so that you might turn from your sins and look to Jesus.
For Jesus died for Judas and Mary. Jesus died for the Hosana crowd and the crucify him crowd. Jesus died for you and we are both. We are saint and sinner. Jesus died for the sins of the world that our sins would not have power over us. Sure we at times consider Judas a better role model but do not let sin rule over you. Do not be like the Pharisees who wanted to follow Jesus but loved the glory of man more than the glory of God, for Jesus will ride right past you. Repent. This is how serious our sin is. This is why during Lent we make a practice of disciplining our bodies so that we remember it is all too easy to be concerned with the cares of this world, and the glory of man and we are blown about like grass in the wind. But God’s word is a sure and certain stronghold for those who know they cannot, nor do we always want to, follow Christ.
So he is the faithful one for us. He does not punish us but places our sins on Jesus. God spares us by not changing his mind about Jesus’ death and resurrection. You sins are forgiven. God is not moving from yes to no. God is not like us, he is not tainted by sin so he is resolute. Jesus has set himself not like grass, but he is a rock. He has forgiven you and he will not change his mind. He has put our sins on Jesus. This does not excuse our behavior, this does not free us to sin, but all the more move us to repentance and living our lives turning to Jesus in faith and loving our neighbor. For it is only through faith in Christ and the joy of being forgiven our sins will we gladly die to ourselves pick up our palm branches and follow him. Your faith is nurtured through the practice of knowing God’s word. Your faith is strengthened by hearing his word. Your faith is strengthened by receiving holy communion. Your faith is strengthened by remembering the promise God gave you when he baptized you.
Do you desire to see Jesus as the people asked Philip? Then behold him on the cross. Behold him in your hands for his body and blood are here for you. In the end it is not whether you are Mary or Judas, the hosanna crowd or the crucify crowd. This side of heaven you are both. In the end it is, who is Jesus? And he is God who died for your sins and was raised for you to be made right with God.
But as we live by faith on this side we pray our lives would show what we believe, that we are indeed forgiven saints in God’s eyes. He has judged Jesus for your sins and declared you righteous. There is only one other time in scripture where people are waving palm branches and it is also authored by the hand of St John. In Revelation 7 the people are waving palm branches at the throne of the lamb. So today let it not just be children who desire to live their lives in practice waving palm branches echoing the lives of the saints in heaven. Let us adults too take up our palm branches praising Jesus. Let us too pour out good works of expensive perfume that is pleasing to your Lord. Let us too sing at the throne-altar. Let us gather around the lamb’s altar for forgiveness together. Let us go out showing all those around that God works through us by our actions and pointing others to where they too may pick up palm branches and follow Christ.
March 19, 2017 - Exodus 17:1-7, John 4:5-42
The Israelites complaint didn't seem too wicked. All they wanted was water. "Give us water to drink." They said. Moses' answer seems a little harsh, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?" All they wanted was a little water.
Moses though is a better pastor for his people than we are. Moses knows his congregation as verse 1 calls them, the people he was to shepherd to the promise land and he knows there is more to their request than just a little thirst. It wasn’t just water they wanted, but they had a deeper thirst, they longed for the comforts of Egypt. They wanted comfort. Perhaps the name Rephidim can clue us. Rephidim means to give support or to give refreshment. They had come to the place called Refreshment and their God had no water for them. They were angry. They wanted comfort and God had not jumped to their aid as they thought he should.
It wasn’t just a request for water, it was a question accusing God of not being a true God. Moses told the people his name, I AM, the name God had told Moses to use when he came to him in the bush. Now I AM is nothing to the people. He had let them down. He apparently is no better than Egypt where they had Rephidim, refreshment. “Have you brought us and our children, and our livestock out here to die?” Of course they have to throw in the kids. Pour on the guilt. Accuse God of not caring and WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN! God you don’t even care about our cows. We’re all going to die because of you I AM. Some god you are. Quick get your smart phones and record this injustice!
All they wanted was water. And that's how it always starts isn’t it. Just a little water. That's all they wanted but there was something far more sinister laying under the surface of this seemingly basic need, doubt of God and trust in a false god, Egypt. Where were they looking for comfort, Egypt, they tried to quench their insatiable thirst for righteousness by bowing down and becoming slaves again. It is a wonder God didn’t just give them what they wanted, send them back.
The woman came to the well, all she wanted was a little water but her desires had already drowned her in sin. Like the Israelites she too had a deep desire to be taken care of. While Israel had thoughts of finding satisfaction in Egypt, this woman tried finding satisfaction in multiple husbands. Their sin the same, turning from God, the great I AM, and looking to things or people in this life rather than fearing and trusting in God alone.
Jesus came to the well, all he wanted was a little water. There was the woman. She is of course suspicious, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?
God appeared to Moses in the bush when Moses was not looking for him. This woman too running from her sin perhaps not even knowing it is also surprised by the great I AM. The woman however is not impressed as Moses was by the burning bush.
“ Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you hliving water.”
If you knew, but she doesn’t know. So she, still not giving Jesus water points out the obvious, “You have nothing to draw the water with! Are you better than our father Jacob who drank and watered his cows?” Again with the water for the cows. For being a Samaritan she sure sounds like an Israelite, but it really isn’t surprising for they are both sinners.
Little does she know this Jew is better than Jacob, the one who put out Jacob’s hip. The one who gave Jacob the name Israel. Little does she know that this Jew knows HER better than she realizes.
At this well is just plain water. Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but kwhoever drinks of the water that I will give him lwill never be thirsty again.2 The water that I will give him will become min him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, ngive me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
Wouldn’t that be nice? And too often that was the people’s response to Jesus when he gave them blessings. The 5K that Jesus gave bread and fish to, they wanted to make him an earthly king. They did not care about the deeper need of forgiveness. The people that witnessed his miracles wnaated him to do more, like a freak show. So too this woman still doesn’t know what Jesus is there to give her.
Jesus though now makes it evident that even though she doesn’t know him, He knows her. Even more, and perhaps a little scary, Jesus knows her better than she knows herself and Jesus knows you too. Jesus knows us. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. Jesus knows what it is that she needs even if she doesn’t. Jesus even knows how this woman has attempted to quench her thirst and he knows how you have attempted to quench your thirst.
This Samaritan woman tried to quench the same thirst the Israelites had yet instead of Egypt it was a husband. Go call your husband and come here. The woman answered I have no husband. Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
How unloving Jesus! But Jesus is a better pastor than we are.
This woman had tried, time and time again to find something to quench her heart and soul. Perhaps she was satisfied for a while but finally she realizes that even trying to quench her deepest thirst with a gift of God is futile. It must be quenched by God himself. And so we too run around. We too long for Egypts. We too settle not for Mr. right but Mr. Right now.
There is no shortage of places that you run to, to quench your most deep thirst. Perhaps you are more pious than the Samaritan woman and you bed down with your pride. Anger is a good one night stand. Gossip is so anonymous and you can forget you even broke the eighth commandment. Pornography, alcohol, your work, sports, popularity at school, moralism, your favorite hobby, we thirst for so much but in the end you will never be satisfied. No sooner that you have drank your fill you are thirsty again. Repent.
Jesus knows your thirst and he knows exactly what you need and he is here giving to you today as you are weary. You come to a well that does not give you what you deserve but gives you forgiveness. Jesus is the one who shows mercy to the thirsty. He knows what you need and at the font of your baptism he made a promise deeper than any marriage vow, a vow that continues so that death may never part you from him.
If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is speaking to you today you would ask him to nourish your thirst with his body and blood crucified for you. And so he does. For he did not raise Moses’ rod against his people but instead struck the rock.
And so yes God takes the blame for the lack of refreshment at Rephidim. Moses strikes the rock not the people, and that rock St Paul tells us was Christ. Not literally, but not just figuratively either. For ultimately the Lord would be struck and water would flow from his side for all people. For Israel, for you. Yes, Christ takes the blame for the Israelites accusing God of not taking care of them. Christ takes the blame for your grumbling. Christ takes the sin of the world upon his body on the cross and is struck by His father that you would find Rephidim. Today hear his absolution, your sins are forgiven. Drink from his well.
And when your sinful flesh gets you thirsting for things in this world, when your eyes wander, when you begin to grumble against the great I AM, return to him, he will not strike you with his rod, his rod and his staff they comfort you. Confess your sin, for his well never runs out of forgives. His body and blood always ready to quench. He knows what you face. The journey is too hard to go it alone so he will meet you here at his well. He will give you what you need and quench your deepest thirst as we wander through this desert and are shepherded into the promised land. Amen.
March 5, 2017 - Lent 1
I don’t know about you, but when I was in school and soccer practice I was a pretty good kid. Now I’m not just saying that to earn brownie points with you guys. Nor am I saying it this Sunday since my mom isn’t in attendance to disagree. But I’m saying this to bring out a reaction to our 2nd reading today. From Romans we hear, “Since Adam sinned, all of us are guilty.” I remembered being in class and there being some other kid who just didn’t respect the teacher’s rules. The teacher would then, in order to punish the misbehaving student, punish all of us. Since so and so misbehaved and isn’t listening, you all have to add 2 more pages to your research papers. The class would groan.
In soccer it was worse, Two more miles after practice. During those two miles we would usually let our misbehaving teammate know how we felt. A punch, a shoulder check, an accidental tripping.
This is how we feel today for our first father, Adam. Wouldn’t we just love to give Adam a piece of our mind! Thanks a lot! Adam had everything going for him, a sinless wife, organic food, a good job, no income tax, no doctor bills, no traffic, nothing…yet sin enters the world. What a contrast to the second Adam, Christ.
IN ADAM ALL FELL DOWN, IN CHRIST we are lifted up and HAVE ETERNAL LIFE.
What an interesting way for a text to begin, “The spirit, the holy spirit that is, led Christ into the wilderness to be tempted, to be tempted by Satan.” There’s no doubt who is doing the tempting. There’s no doubt where all temptation comes from. So Jesus is out in the wilderness, big whoop. That’s where a lot of people go to find God instead of coming to church. So maybe Jesus is just going out to be closer to his Father? Not hardly. The wilderness here is a desolate place. A place forgotten and left behind. A place where no one would go to find God because there is nothing but stones and sand. This is the very opposite of paradise. The opposite of Eden.
This is important because here is where Christ has no support. No help. No aid. No food, no water. No crowd to cheer him on. No helper to aid him. No network. No mutual consolation. THis is important because this really is the opposite of Eden. Adam had everything, Christ now has nothing. Christ has nothing but his hunger and the promise that he heard forty days earlier, “You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Christ only has the promise of his father.
So Satan sees an opportunity to pounce. Armed with the word of God, Satan goes. Maybe this will be as easy as the last time he thinks. All I have to do is get him to doubt.
You see though Satan really isn’t attacking Christ so much as he is attacking the word of God in order to plant doubt. Satan is attacking Our father who has made a promise to Christ that he is his son. Satan knows this promise is there and he is going to call it into question. “If you are the son of God…God wouldn’t make you suffer.”
“If God really cared, he would’ve given you everything you needed and now look, you’re hungry. You’re alone. Some father you have.”
“If God really was your father you would have treasures, popularity, you could just look past all these difficulties of being true man and make for yourself food. Pretty good food at that.”
This is exactly how Satan tempted Adam and Eve, he called into question God’s fatherly love. God didn’t give you everything he has…eat this fruit, be like him. The devil sowed doubt.
We face this too. Satan takes advantage of your most difficult times. He wants you to doubt God’s declaration, “I will not give you more than you can handle.”
Wow…What a promise!
No temptation comes from God.
Wow…What a statement!
It should be so easy for us. Just those two declarations from your Father in heaven and we have everything! Like Adam, we have everything in God’s promises. Not only that, but look around you. You are surrounded by loving people who are here to support you. You have friends here at Immanuel that aren’t perfect but I am willing to bet they would help you with anything.
We have family.
We have money.
We have a safe country.
We have food.
We have water.
We have all we could need. Yet we are Adam…over and over again. Repent.
Sometimes it is falling into obvious temptation, greed, gossip, anger. Sometimes it is a temptation to just look beyond sin and not think it so bad. Sometimes it’s thinking there aren’t real consequences to our sin. Sometimes it’s thinking we aren’t falling into temptation. But that thought is really revealing.
Reflect on your life. You don’t see temptation, that should be a red flag. If you don’t see temptation, you are probably falling into it without even knowing it. How? Satan knows what you hunger for the most! This is why Christ became man…to know exactly what tempts you the most.
Jesus faced everything Satan could throw at him. Yet he didn’t doubt. Imagine that! Imagine going through life every day knowing that Satan can’t touch you because you are the Son of God! Imagine knowing that God promises to never leave you. My friends you have that! Jesus himself tells you…when you pray say “Our Father”! So simple! So perfect. So much absolution in his word.
Your identity is Christ’s perfect life. Jesus didn’t avoid every temptation to win himself the victory, but he did it to give you his perfect life. Everything Jesus did was so that your life would be perfect in him. He does it all…then gives that perfect new life in baptism.
Your baptism washes you clean even now. When you do fall into temptation, your father forgives you, freely! We believe our sin to be what it is, a rebellion against God and his word. Yet we are turned from our sins and by faith we grasp onto that promise that we are forgiven. We are washed clean. We are children, not of Adam, but of God. You are no longer brothers of Adam, but brother with Christ.
Sure like in school it seems as though it’s not fair to inherit Adam’s sins. But by our own sins we participate in Adam’s sin. It might seem unfair but it’s not. Death is certainly what we deserve. However God is not really fair, he is forgiving. The Gospel isn’t fair…it is free. Free for you. Simply from your father, won by Christ. Even in the bread and word that comes from God in the Lord’s Supper he feeds and forgives you. A reminder of his promise to always forgive you and always give you daily bread.
He doesn’t doubt your forgiveness. He doesn’t second guess it. For Christ became what you and I are, sinner. Hebrews 2 sums it up, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16For surely it is not angels that he helps, but hehelps the offspring of Abraham. 17Therefore he hadto be made like his brothers in every respect,so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priestin the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
This isn’t just a motivational verse, it is reality. Christ doesn’t just help you, he was tempted so he could die for you. The help here is not aid in overcoming temptation although that is part of it, you should fight temptation, do not give in. The help of Christ is the forgiveness he gives you when you do sin. Christ was tempted to defeat all temptation for you. That’s not just motivation, that’s life for you in time of need. So when you are tempted, pray.
Christ was driven by the Holy Spirit to the desert and then to the cross. At the cross Satan struck the foot of Christ. Yet Christ had to become man to draw Satan out to bite. Only then could Christ crush the head of Satan for you and for me.
Feb 5, 2017 - 5th Sunday after The Epiphany
Matt 5:13-20 - Baptism of Ford Elliott Zinn
Epiphany is about remembering that Jesus is a light who shines in the darkness of this world. Jesus shines his light in this world through his Holy Spirit working through you. It is Christ who places you in your vocations for all to see his light. Even when it looks dark know that Jesus is the light the darkness cannot overcome.
If you're like me you've had some various possessions in your life that were very precious. A possession that you thought was so special or so expensive you wanted to keep it pristine. You wanted to protect it so you hid it away. Maybe a nice watch or something you inherited from a loved one. For me it has been everything from t-shirts(if you ask my wife), to boots to fishing lures. I had a fishing lure that when you casted it out into the water it had a string on it that was pulled out by the force of casting. When the lure landed on top of the water it floated there and when there was no more tension on the string the tail flapped and made noise like a wounded fish. That's what it looked and sounded like, a wounded baitfish. When I first saw this lure in the store I thought wow, where have you been all my life! I bought the lure and put it in my tackle box and I never caught one fish with it! On the other hand I never lost a fish with it either. In fact, I was never skunked with the lure. Why, because I never used the lure. It was too precious too cool, too amazing to use and there it sat in my tackle box for years. My uncle laughed every time he saw it and said, "That lure looks like its more for catching fishermen than fish." He was right.
My point in this is that you are precious to God and he doesn't forgive you just put you away but places you in your vocations so his light may shine. During Epiphany we hear how Jesus’ love shines through us as the Son of God come down to die for us that we would be forgiven all our sins. Last week in the Beattitudes or blessings, Jesus taught us how all the blessings of God are yours through faith, not through the law or being a good person. That's how the world works. Having faith and trust in Jesus gives you all the blessings of being meek, poor in spirit, a peacemaker, all these are yours through faith. What a treasure! You can't buy these blessings. You can't accomplish them, they are all a gift of God. You are made a child of God possessing all his blessings through faith. So now what? Well today's reading is a continuation of that sermon on the mount. With all these gifts you are given, now what?
As we Christians walk in this life there are two ways we can neglect the gifts of God and live a life of unbelief. We can think our sins so great that God will not forgive them or we can think our sins too little and that they don't matter all that much. These are two sides of the same coin of unbelief. Today Jesus teaches on the former, "don't think I have come to abolish the law but to fulfill it." The law of God stands as firm and strong as it has in the past. Many people think that now that Jesus has died for our sins there's no need to worry or turn from sin. That there is no more prohibition against sins. That getting drunk is ok. That losing your temper is just an accident. That men and women have no differences. That men can marry men or women can be pastors, or children can decide for themselves what is right and wrong. The error that Jesus is correcting is thinking that the gospel has freed us to sin or to at least not be bothered with trying to avoid sin and strive to do good works.
For many Christians the temptation is to say, "I'm forgiven so I don't need to do good works. I'm forgiven I can do whatever I want!" This is blasphemous! This is unbelief. Everyone should be concerned with good works and hearing God’s instruction for true life found in his word. You are light and light is never light for it’s own sake but so that others may see or be warmed by it. Love and serving your neighbor should be your chief goal. Using forgiveness as an excuse to sin or as an excuse to be lazy is unbelief and mocks God. It is a trampling down of Christ's promises to bless you.
Some may think, I can get drunk because I'm forgiven. That person is as much of the devil as someone who gets drunk because they think there is no God. The person who says I don’t need to learn and hear God’s word because I’m already a Christian is no different than the unbeliever who thinks God is a liar and so they don’t want to hear God’s word and worship.
And so we sin when we think that we are not Christ’s light. We sin when we think God hasn’t given us what we need to let his light shine through us. We sin when we think we shouldn’t be looking for opportunities to let the light of Christ shine through our lives. Don’t be mistaken though. The light of Christ is sometimes hidden in the mundane tasks in life. Christ’s light doesn’t always shine like a spot light, or fancy fishing lure or the gold everyone is looking for. Many times the world will not see your light or think you’re pretty dim. The world does not know spiritual matters and so when you are being faithful to God’s calling in your life sometimes it will look the opposite. When we stand up and defend God’s word in regards to marriage or drunkenness or avoiding adultery we will suffer. The temptation is to think suffering causes our light to dim but it does not. Sometimes you may feel your light is dim because you are tired. Return to Christ. Repent and hear his word, Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. He will not put out a faintly burning wick. There is light in trusting Christ
Look at how gracious and grace-full Jesus is. He says you ARE salt…YOU ARE light, not you must be or you better be. God himself says what you are. Why not believe him? Don’t get too caught up looking at your own life, that can be dangerous. It can lead you to pride, “yep look at me” or despair, “all I see are my mistakes.” Look at Jesus. Hear him. You are salt. You are light. That’s who you are. Fix your eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.
So the treasures of God, forgiveness, life and salvation are given to you. And then what? God sets you in the middle of the room for his light to shine. God places you right where you are for his reasons. He makes his light to shine from you and he doesn't hide you. He puts you up on a pedestal. He makes you salty. He puts you exactly where he wants you. God doesn't put us in the tackle box because we are too precious to him. You see we live from the perspective of things getting ruined or rusty because we know nothing lasts forever so we try to preserve things. We work from a place of unbelief. God though doesn't hide you. God knows his love and shinning light will sustain you no matter what you face forgiving you.
Christ Jesus has given you himself and he's not worried about shortage. Even in times when you may feel desperate, don’t give up! Don’t despair! He seals us with the Holy Spirit in baptism. That Holy Spirit shines from you in good works and forgiveness to others. Sometimes though you might be called to suffer. Suffering patiently as Christ did is a good work. Sometimes you may be called to a life of prayer as you sit in your bed not able to move. Your light may shine as a young person who has energy to run around and help others. Or you may have a sizeable amount of money and God is calling you to one who provides money to fund his causes. Christ’s light may shine through you as others serve you, like little Ford this morning. His calling is to be served. His calling is to let others take care of him. This is often the most difficult of all, letting others serve you. When we age or when we are sick sometimes our pride gets the better of us. I don’t want to be a burden. Well don’t say that. Christ let people serve him because that is the life of faith. When you let others take care of you you are fulfilling a faithful calling of letting others exercise their faith. St. Paul says it like this, "it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me." Sometimes Christ served but he was also served, like the woman who wiped his feet with her hair and perfume or when Nicodemus and Joseph or Arimathea…. Took care of Jesus’ dead body.
So often when I've read this Gospel light passage I thought I was the one who shines, but no! That gives me too much credit. I don’t' want to be the one who does the shining, I can't even use a piece of fishing tackle rightly! It is Christ who lights the light and keeps it burning. So now our most valuable posessions are his word and sacrament, for it is through these that Christ forgives us and strengthens our faith. It is Christ who places you in your vocations for all to see his love. Even when it looks dark know that your sins are forgiven, everlasting life is yours, for Jesus is the light the darkness cannot overcome. Amen.
Jan 22, 2017
Epiphany 3A - Matt. 4:12-25 - 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
Repentance is not just a one time event but is the life of the Christian trusting in the mercy of God that for Jesus' sake our sins are forgiven.
God sent John the Baptist ahead of Jesus to prepare the way of the Lord. When we hear this we often consider how God used John just before Jesus steps out into the public light and begin his ministry. John prepared the way.
That’s how it is when we prepare for someone's arrival, when someone visits our houses. When we have visitors things get a little tense around our house. I don’t exactly have a great record when it comes to keeping the floors clean. I always somehow track mud, dirt or car oil into the house. So when we are expecting visitors, well I really try to keep my feet clean. However once the company has left, once we have prepared the way of our company, after that, well things kind of go back to normal.
Today our readings teach us that when John is sent to prepare the way of the Lord it isn’t just a one time event. It isn’t like Jesus has come and now John’s message of repentance isn’t relevant anymore. Perhaps the people were looking forward to a new message besides John's call to repent and believe. John’s message of repentance is not just a one time event but a pattern of life. Repent for the kingdom is at hand was not just a one time event. It wasn’t as if repentance was a one time visitor coming for a short stay. When our Lord says repent, he is giving us words of life. Repentance is the way of life for the Christian believing for Jesus sake we are forgiven.
It can often seem though that Jesus is just a visitor who came for a short 33yrs as he walked among the people in Galilee. What is 33 yrs when considering all that that area of the world had gone through?
Zebulun, the land of Naphtali they had a rather checkered past. They had been hoping to make Galilee great again for 720yrs. They had had one bad king after another. God called those in the Northern kingdom to repent for their sins. What sin was God calling them to repent of? Unbelief certainly, but specifically the people were mixing with the pagan world. God’s people were to be set apart by faith, but the people neglected God’s word. They had no faith. God called them to turn from disbelief, to repent. To believe that God had called them to a life of faith, a life of repentance. To believe that God would forgive them but, sadly they did not heed his call from the prophets. The people were comfortable with their false gods of wealth. They thought their country to be to strong that if they had the right people in places of power nothing could go wrong. They had good schools, good bank accounts, they had a good king. But the people began to trust the comforts of this life. God used the Assyrians to destroy the Northern Kingdom. God showed his people how well their false gods would care for them. Zebulun, Naphtali, two tribes who were made to be nothing. The Assyrians came as visitors to kill, and kill they did. They killed and scattered the Northern Kingdom.
Even unto the day of Jesus these areas had no relief. Bad ruler after bad ruler. Galilee was a no nothing area. The hills. The ghetto. The backwoods, the uneducated. Even the disciple Nathanial when he heard where Jesus came from said, can anything good come from there? The land of Zebulun and Naphtali had no hope. It seemed as if even God had forsaken them, but God will not forsake those who call upon him, forsake themselves and their false gods.
If you’re like me you have a checkered past too? Like Zebulun, like Naphtali… I’m not just talking about walking on clean floors with dirty boots, I’m talking about dirty hearts. I’m talking about sins that you wish you would’ve just listened to parents, or just listened to God’s word calling out to you. Too often we think our sins are just like dirty floors and it’s nothing to get to upset about. That sin is just a mistake. God didn’t destroy his own people for you to think sin is just a matter of making better decisions. Your gossip is deadly. Your doubt of God’s provision in your life is a cancer that no chemo can cure. The Assyrians were a fierce warrior people but nothing compared to your anger when you lose your temper and kill a brother or sister with thoughts of hate. Repent.
John the Baptist preached the same message all the prophets did, repent. So now that the one who John prepared the way for, now that he is here what will he say? Will he say, continue in your sin. Live life as if you are an unbeliever. Go ahead, do what you want. Worry about life. Don’t pray. Wring your hands. Panic when you get sick with deadly diseases. Compromise God's word when it all looks hopeless. No. Jesus preaches the same thing, “Repent.” For in repentance there is faith.
In repentance is a recognition we need the true light of God. In repentance we say, Yes, we are just like sinners in the past, we have lived in darkness. But that’s the glorious good news for us, that the light of God, Jesus has come for those who are in the dark. Jesus doesn’t come for those in the light. The healthy, the enlightened don’t need a physician. So Jesus comes.
Jesus isn’t just a visitor. Jesus came and accomplished your salvation. Jesus takes worse than the Assyrian armies. Jesus takes more than the Babylonian army. Jesus takes upon himself that which is stronger and more deadly than ISIS or even the United States Armed Forces, Jesus takes the very wrath of God at your sins upon himself. Jesus claims your sin as his own. In the light bringing waters of baptism he brought you up from darkness and joined you with him forgiving you. He has washed you. You are not dirty with sin. Whatever your past, your future is secure in Jesus.
Jesus has won the battle and now how does he encourage us? How does his ministry continue to us, healing us, bringing us light even now? He calls men to bring his words of life to us. Jesus as he sees his cross and resurrection and ascension into heaven in full view calls his disciples because that’s how his message will continue. Jesus speaks through them. Jesus gives us men in the pastoral office that he works through with his words, with his sacrament to bring us light. To give us hope. To call us to repentance.
If you were to do things the way of the world you may not introduce yourself as Jesus did. He didn’t use celebrities to endorse his product. He used John the Baptist. He didn’t seek the high places and influential people. He came to the dark places. Jesus didn’t come to those living in palaces and those having control of the high places like Jerusalem or Rome, but he came to Galilee. He brought light to the downtrodden. Conventional wisdom tells you to do all the right things, don’t offend people. Don’t say anything bad and what does Jesus do? He hires fishermen and he teaches them to preach as he did, as the prophets did, repent for the kingdom of God is among you. He taught them to preach this because he would never leave his people. Jesus is not just a visitor.
Jesus taught his disciples and the pastors that would follow to preach repentance and forgiveness in the cross because that is how he continues to bring light. To heal us of our diseases. To heal us of our depressions. To give you his holy spirit. To encourage you. To forgive you every one of your dark dirty sins. You are clean in Christ, for you are in his kingdom. You may be walking through dark times. Things may look bleak and they may have looked bad for a long time. Jesus is here for you. Jesus is with you. He will uphold and keep you. He will not forsake you.
The world teaches us how to do things right. Gonna start a movement? You need market research. You need the right people. Who of us is right? Who of us is fit for bringing this word of light to this dark world? You are. For we are not bringing a product. It is not you that is winning the world for Jesus, he already did that on the cross. It is Jesus who is working through you. It is Jesus who brings light through your hands even when it looks like you do everything the wrong way. Like the disciples, you didn’t pick Jesus, he chose you. He is not calling you to give up you jobs and vocations like he does for pastors, but calling you to serve right where he has placed you so you too can bring his light to those around you. Mothers, fathers, friends, kids, even those you don’t like. So do not fear to lay yourself on the line. Do not fear to be decreased as John was. Do not fear to look backwards or out of place in this world. St. Paul says it like this, For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Repentance is not just a one time event, but is the daily life of the Christian believing that for Jesus sake we are forgiven.Amen
Baptism of Our Lord
OUR SINFUL NATURE LOVES our old SIN, BUT CHRIST HAS BAPTIZED YOU INTO new LIFE THROUGH his DEATH.
Today Jesus is epiphanied, Jesus is revealed as the one worthy to carry our sins to the cross.
In my years at FedEx I experienced being both a worker at entry level and I was also a manager of personnel. In my time there as a personnel manager I learned there are a lot of people that try to act sick while not actually being sick to get out of work. Mind you I of course never did this. One word I learned while being a manager was the word hypochondriac. A hypochondriac is a person who thinks they are sick when they are not. A hypochondriac needs a lot of time off from work. A hypochondriac goes to the doctor even when they aren’t sick to get that coveted doctor’s excuse note. Sorry I can’t work, cough cough, I’m sick.
All four accounts of the gospel mention Jesus’ baptism. When this happens we should take notice. The baptism of Jesus is a big deal. Jesus’ baptism is when God answers Isaiah 42 for us, where we see the Spirit descend upon Jesus. Where he who is not sick with sin stands at the Jordan river to be counted as one of us. Jesus is shown to be the one who will take your sin upon himself and die your death so that you would have eternal life, even now, forgiven all your sick sin.
What other event in the Bible gives us such a clear picture of the Trinity? God considers baptism so important the Three are present to give witness. The early Christian church understood this. So much so that we have historical accounts of the church celebrating the baptism of Jesus longer than Christmas! But there are no stores closed today like Christmas. No baptism wreaths hanging on Macy’s or JcPenny’s doors. No baptism sales. No vacation for weary workers. If you want this holiday off you will have to call in sick, take a vacation day. The world has no use for baptism but for us it is a treasure. Imagine remembering your baptismal date where God poured out upon you eternal gifts, healing waters with more passion than your birthday where you receive gifts that moth and rust destroy. It seems as if we have our priorities reversed, but this is why Paul reminds us of this great treasure today, You are baptized. You are new. Baptism is not an empty tradition. And what a treasure today for little Wyatt, baptized on the same day we remember Jesus’ baptism. But before Jesus gives us the baptism we witnessed earlier in our service where we are baptized into his name, we must be taught what his name means. He will save his people from their sins. In Hebrew it is Joshua. Befroe we can be baptized into Jesus’ death, he must first die.
John has been preaching living in the wilderness eating locust and telling people how sick they are with sin and how the one who is to come will be the answer to their sins. SO when Jesus comes to John to be baptized John thinks Jesus is the ultimate hypochondriac. One who is not sick with sin stands as if he is a sinner!
John is baffled because the sinless one comes to be baptized with sinners. Imagine a perfectly healthy person going to the hospital asking for chemotherapy. Foolishness. This is how John responds to Jesus when he shows up at the Jordan river, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” A very good question. But John and we must be shown that Jesus has come to take all of our sickness upon himself. Jesus has come to stand shoulder to shoulder with us. Jesus has come to work for us, to die for our sins and today God shows all people who it is that is not sick with sin, Jesus, yet he takes your sins and he takes your punishment for that which you cannot seem to stop doing and sometimes enjoy.
John had it right. John knew who Jesus was. John knew what his baptism was for, it was a baptism of repentance for forgiveness. This baptism was not for Jesus…or so John thought. John’s baptism was not intended for perfect people, but this is precisely the gospel, the righteous for the unrighteous.
Today Jesus is publicly, for all to see publicly labeled as the one who will carry the sick sins of the world.
How appropriate then that Jesus meets John at the Jordan. The Jordan was the place where the old passes to the new. The Isrealites were kept in the wilderness by God making them wander until an entire generation passed away for their unbelief. They preferred the sickness of unbelief. God had freed them but they preferred slavery but God was faithful. Through the Jordan the Isrealites pass into the promise land. The wilderness gives way to promise. So it is appropriate that Jesus too would come to John in the Jordan for the old must give way to the new. John must decrease that Christ would increase. The Jordan stands as the line between the old giving way to the new. The old unrepentant Egypt desireing Isrealites were left to die for they loved slavery for slavery allows you to be in your sin without repentance. Slavery to sin is easy. Too often we are content with our old sins. We are too easily swayed by temptations to sin.
Now as we travel through the wilderness of our lives like the Isrealites we too hunger for a life of ease. We too fall prey to the temptation to grumble at God as we desire a life of serving ourselves instead of others. We are sick when we don’t want to serve those around us.
Jesus born under the law in our flesh is today revealed as one who can stand in your place. The healthy one to take our sickness of sin upon himself. Jesus stands and is baptized in the Jordan to save us from our sins, to be our Joshua, to not just lead us to the promise land but to himself be the promise fulfilled. To fulfill all righteousness. Fulfilling all righteousness is God showing us that he will be true to his promise to deliver his people from their sins. And this is what Jesus has come to do. Jesus the hypochondriac. The one who is not sick counts himself as the sickest of all. Jesus who knew no sin became sin for us that we would become the righteousness of God. Yes you who are truly sick with sin have been healed as if you were never sick! For at your baptism you too were baptized in a Jordan. An old gave way to new. From Egypt to promised land. Your old wandering self was killed, drowned. A new healed person was birthed by God.
We are new but we must yet confess that we still sin, that we are yet in the flesh battling the effects of sin. We still have a desire in us not to be healthy. To call in sick when we should work serving each other. Our sinful nature still clings to us and desires us to return to our old dead sicknesses. And so our Lord calls us to come back to him in faith to be forgiven. When a person is sick yet doesn’t believe themselves to be it is called anosognosia, they don’t acknowledge they are sick. This was the Pharisees who came to John to be baptized but they did it because they wanted to be part of the in crowd. They saw people going to John and they wanted credit with God for being a good person. They didn’t think they needed forgiveness. So we too fall victim to thinking we no longer need forgiveness we can fall into the trap of a anosognosia, or thinking we don’t need to be in church with jesus. We can think we are not sick with sin and continue to do the same sinful behavior without repentance and then we will be judged with the scribes and Pharisees. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we are led to repentance and the Holy Spirit works through the word being preached to us and we receive the Lord’s Supper. The word and sacrament is our medicine of immortality because that is how the Holy Spirit works. Medicine of forgiveness healing us to serve others in mercy because we are made healthy by Christ’s forgiveness. You are baptized into Christ and the father says of you, “My son, my daughter, because of Jesus, in you I am well pleased.” and heaven is opened to you.
Advent 2A - Matthew 3:1-12
There isn’t much about him that would cause you to want to be his friend. John was interested in one thing and making friends and influencing people was not his top priority.
You would probably second guess your daughters ability to choose a good spouse if she brought someone like John the Baptist home to meet mom and dad.
IF you happened to be with John in a public place you would probably not make eye contact hoping people would not think you brought him to the party, dressed in camel hair and eating locust. John doesn’t exactly score high in an emotional IQ test. There is no other way to put it, John the Baptist is awkward in social situations. Its not that he doesn’t talk, he’s not shy. It’s just when he opens his mouth he is always saying the wrong thing. He makes people feel awkward. He’s always calling people to repent, day in and day out, every Advent we hear his sermons. And when he is among the most notable in society he calls them a brood of vipers. The people you had hoped to impress and perhaps get an inside track to, John calls them a brood a vipers. The scribes and Pharisees. The celebrities among the Jews. The movers and shakers. They are the admirable ones among the people. A brood of vipers!??
John you’ve crossed the line.
Perhaps John knows exactly what he is doing. Perhaps it is we who are out of touch that believe being connected to the right people and finding comfort in the things of this world is what life is all about. Perhaps it is we who first care about how we will look to others before we consider what God’s word says, perhaps it is we who need to hear him the most. Perhaps it is we who are so in touch with society need to change, need a change of mind, a reorienting of our life. It is we who should repent for being too in touch with society.
Oh we’re not out of touch with society, sometimes we are right at home, and that is the point. We are right at home telling John to shut up. He is attacking everything we hold dear. He is leveling that which we build up in our pride. He is filling in the holes we try to dig in to hide with our sin and not repent but blame others for our sin. John is exactly the wrong man for us, but for God, John is perfect. Well he’s not perfect, he is yet a sinner but John is paving the way for the perfect man, Jesus. Someone greater than John, and this man is looking for sinners to forgive. John calls sinners out to be forgiven. Only sinners are welcome at the baptismal waters that flow from the Jordan. So it still is today. Not the Jordan, it doesn't matter where the water comes from, the baptismal font is for the washing of sins.
Maybe John does know what he is doing. He does get a crowd at the Jordan river. So what gives? How is it that this awkward outspoken odd looking crass no manners man gets such a following? Many have asked that about our president elect! But with John the following is not political maneuvering nor saving jobs. The going out to hear this man John preach is nothing other than an act of God and that was precisely what was happening. God was working.
God was preparing the way for Jesus by calling people to repent. To forsake all that they find comfort in and believe that Jesus is the only true comfort for sinners. God was crushing everything they thought was too big to fail. God was invading their safe space and violating every protocol we are too afraid to approach. The people were listening. The Holy Spirit calling them to repent. Are you listening?
That repent word is also not too welcome in our in touch with the world society. Repent fits with John, does it fit with you? Repentance for maybe an outward sin. You were angry and let your tempter go. John says repent.
A secret sin, perhaps you think you know of someone who should repent more than you. That you are better than. John calls to you, repent.
Maybe you are just not quite ready to love your enemies. Repent. This isn't just a lesson in manners. Our awkwardness is the stench of death from our sin. When confronted with the presence of God our sin is more than awkward or uneasy it is death.
And this is why advent is so important, it teaches us the reality that if we fit too comfortably with our sin in this world neglecting repentance, we will be sifted with the chaff. This is why we hear John’s sermons as if he were preaching to us today because God’s word is still to be listened to. We need to prepare for Christ’s coming to us over and over again. Advent is not just about a few weeks before Christmas, it is an essential part of being a child of Abraham. Advent is about dying to your sin and this world and being raised with Christ as his kingdom comes to you.
Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. This is what John said and what he still says to us. And so Jesus does come, his kingdom is at hand. Jesus has not left us in opposition to God. Jesus did advent in John’s day and he advents to us. Another one despised by men. There was nothing about him that men admired. He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. Jesus came as John had because he was truly not of this world. He was the creator of this world. He was the light of the world, but the world preferred the darkness. But Christ is not happy to let you stay in the dark recesses of shame and doubt. When death comes into the presence of the God of light, the Lord of Life sin cannot remain. He take it away.
Christ came to find us as unfit as we are to cleanse us with the waters of the Jordan from his side. Christ goes to the cross to change us. He takes your sin upon himself. He becomes the outsider with God. The son becomes the one who is cast out for your sins. All that seperates you from God. All that your sinful nature loves, your pride, fitting in in this world, being too comfortable apart from God. The only sinless one becomes your sin. This was truly the most awkward of situations that God himself would take all our most shameful dark sin upon himself. He would exchange glory for shame. That he would be mocked by all those around him and yet he was steadfast in his resolve to die for you. He was not afraid of public scorn but first considered what it was that his father sent him to do. He loved you more than his own life and so he is raised.
This is exactly who Christ calls us to be. Ready to suffer scorn for being faithful. To suffer for others. He dresses you in attire that is not perhaps on everyone’s chirstmas list but none the less he dresses you in his righteousness. He takes your embarrassing sins and gives you a life free from shame.
We may be embarrassed by John, perhaps even by Jesus, but he is not embarrassed to claim you as his own, he chooses you. Christ will keep you and preserve you. It may look like a losing battle but do not judge with your eyes focused on the things of this world. The kingdom of God is at hand for those hurt and scarred by this world. The kingdom of God is at hand for the humble, the repentant, those who believe. The kingdom of God is at hand to feed you his body and blood, to give you hope, to give you rest from worry. The kingdom of God in Christ is here to forgive every one of your sins. Christ is here to make his home in you. He will not neglect you. Whatever cross he brings he brings gentle. Sickness, sadness, weariness he does this not to push you away but that you would forsake yourself and draw ever closer to him through his holy spirit.