Reformation Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018
Today we celebrate the Reformation. The Reformation though itself isn’t really one event that stands alone by itself like Christmas or Easter. The Reformation is not a celebration of an event that happened and then was over. The Reformation was a recognition of something that continually happens. We are set free from our sins and made righteous before God by faith in Christ.
When we celebrate something like the 4th of July or Christmas we are celebrating a historical event. It is the recognition that something happened that has great significance for us. The Reformation though is different. It is a celebration but it is a celebration that never ends. You see the Reformation was nothing new but the preaching of the freedom that Christ brings to us despite the fact that we continue to sin.
The Reformation isn’t an event, a point in history, but a recognition that the events that defined the Reformation should still occur among us today.
It might be an odd sentence to hear, the events that marked the Reformation should still occur among us today but it is really what the Reformation was about. When I speak of the events of the reformation I’m not speaking about the breaking of statues and stained glass windows or rebelling against authroity that some of the radical reformers were doing. When I speak of the events that marked the Reformation I am speaking about calling sinners to repentance and then giving the forgiveness of sins through word and sacrament.
But can you imagine if the Reformation would’ve been sparked in our day? Would the 24hr news cycle even care? Would it make the headlines? Not likely. There would be calls for Luther to, “Just get along! Why be so mean spirited? Those Christians can’t agree on anything.” Or even other Christians within the church, “Luther do you know how many people the Roman Catholic Church has brought into the Christian faith? Have you seen how packed their parking lots are on Sundays? What’s a little false teaching? What do you mean I shouldn’t commune with the pope? Luther you are really making a big deal out of nothing. Luther, you are speaking like there is only one truth, don’t you know there are many ways to interpret the bible, your truth is different.
But you see how Jesus speaks today in our Gospel reading. The critics of Christianity are wrong, there is indeed truth and you can know the truth. Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will dknow the truth, and the truth ewill set you free.”
Jesus teaches us the source of truth, his word. Jesus teaches us we can know the truth and the effect of the truth is freedom.
The source of truth is important. At the time of the Reformation God’s word was not considered to the be utmost authority on truth. The pope was. The truth of God’s word was decided by the pope. This is not necessarily wrong. Having someone teach God’s word to you is very important. Your parents should have done this with you. You fathers are especially given the responsibility to do this for your families. Even we pastors continue to learn from others who have studied God’s word in depth and have been blessed by the Holy Spirit with wisdom. That wisdom comes from the word. Jesus says abide in my word and you will know the truth. The problem in Luther’s day was that the teachers strayed from the source. Church The same challenge Jesus was facing in John 8. The Jews that Jesus was speaking to they had God’s word too. They had the Old Testament. The same scriptures that brought faith to all the OT saints but they strayed because they followed false teachers. It is good to have good faithful teachers, but false teachers, Jesus calls them wolves in sheeps clothing, are dangerous.
The Pharisees and scribes began to teach contrary to God’s word. They began to look to other sources of truth rather than God’s word. They made up their own laws and began to teach that it wasn’t so important what God did for you, but your comfort came from what you did for God.
In Luther’s day it was the same. The people were taught that you had something to contribute to your salvation. Sure, Jesus died on the cross but you had to do something to complete your salvation. Yes baptism was fine, but it was just a beginning. The Lord’s Supper was good but it was not primarily for your forgiveness but was primarily an offering to God.
Sound a little familiar? This is also how many churches still view the sacraments today, that they are our work or something we do. This is one reason why we must take the scripture at face value when we hear this is my body, for the forgiveness of sins. Baptism now saves you. When Christ’s words are our source of truth the devil himself cannot lead us astray. False teachers will expose themselves as frauds. However we must abide, we must remain, you must continually learn and be in Christ’s word and the Holy Spirit will teach you.
The second thing we learn from our gospel reading is that there is truth and we can know it. This is probably more applicable to our time than Luther’s or Jesus’. In our day there is the false belief that finally we can’t really be sure of what the scriptures teach. You are quick though if you notice these two are intimately related. When the scriptures are no longer the source of truth then the peddlers of this manure then try to themselves be the source of truth. The first step is to say we can’t really know the truth. How completely backward and contrary to the plain words of Jesus. You will know the truth.
And how does Jesus continue, “and the truth will set you free.” This is the greatest threat to false teachers and the devil. That we would find true freedom. We are told the US is all about freedom. That you can do what you want, be free. This is true to some extent but Jesus is speaking about true freedom. Freedom in truth is freedom even from your own desires and wants. Freedom is following God’s will without doubting him. True freedom is living without selfishness, anger, impatience and doubt. True freedom is loving your neighbor as yourself. Can you imagine the freedom from selfishness? How about freedom from laziness? This is the freedom Christ gives for your conscience before God. Forgiveness of your sins as if they had never happened!
The Jews when they hear Jesus talking about freedom then show us exactly what I have been talking about. They answer not from the source, they don’t reference the scriptures but they actually argue contrary to the scriptures. “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’
We might wonder, "How did these Jews forget about Egypt?"
The answer is they didn't! They knew Jesus wasn't speaking of a political freedom but a spiritual freedom. There was no confusion, nor did these people forget their basic history.
The Jews didn’t believe they needed to be freed spiritually. That is the worst kind of slavery. And that is the trap we can fall into too. To think that we don’t need to be freed from our sins or that we can free ourselves. Not just on Reformation Sunday, but every day of our lives. We sin because we are still in the flesh. We are still fighting against the desires of our flesh and so it many times feels as though we are slaves and it is true. Too often we follow the desires of our flesh and think this is real freedom. Freedom to skip church or not study and teach the scriptures at home or to pray to God. Freedom to follow false teaching or even thinking that there is no truth or one teaching is as truthful as another even though they are incompatible.
The Reformation was about the freeing of people from their sins by the gospel. That we indeed gather here in the presence of Christ for him to free us in real time. He frees our consciences. Not by anything we have done but solely through the work of the son. The son who died for your sins. Jesus has given his life in exchange for yours. The freedom we have is that by faith the merits of Christ are credited to you. In baptism Christ washes your sins away and gives you salvation. That in his supper he frees you in his body and blood. These sacraments are meant to free you. Not freedom to do what you want, but freedom from what you have done. Freedom from your past so that your sins would not haunt you. Freedom to follow God's will, not your own. That’s what we celebrate. This Sunday we recognize that this happens every time we gather here around our Savior. If the Reformation is a celebration of an event, one point in history, it would be the death and resurrection of Jesus. Not that we go back and recreate the even like civil war reenactments, but that the victory at the cross is given to you again today. Even though it may feel like you are losing and have confessed just a few minutes ago that you lost and committed sins this week, Jesus gives you his victory. The victory over sin and death and the grave. Victory over your past, victory over the future that you may be worried about. Jesus wins! That is a celebration. That is what the Reformation is about.
The source of your freedom today and into all eternity is the word of Christ who teaches us the truth, if the son sets you free, you are free indeed.Amen
Oct 7, 2018 - Mark 10:2-16; Hebrews 2:1-18
Jesus defends marriage because marriage has its origins in the nature and love of Christ for his church.
We must pay careful attention lest we drift away from it…
It is no secret that the church has historically seen much benefit from seeing herself in nautical terms. In ancient Old Testament art found all throughout the Middle East the two most popular stories portrayed are Jonah and Noah and the ark. Very early on even in the Old Testament people began to see the comfort given in God’s word when it seems the storms in life begin to roar. In fact a lot of the terms we have for the church, even our architecture comes from nautical phrases. The place where all of you are sitting is called the “nave” which comes from the Latin term “navis” meaning ship. If you can picture in your mind an old ship. A ship like the Nina, Pinta or Santa Maria. A ship that has a mast with a grand sail hanging from it. The nave is the middle area of the ship where the passengers stayed. Also this is called the pulpit that I am preaching from which shares the name pulpit with the spot that the ship is steered from. Quite appropriate because God’s word guides our ship.
The nautical terms were probably thought appropriate because of the close connection between God’s word and boats, the ocean and various seas. And let’s not forget one of the most widely known boat stories in the scriptures Noah and the ark. From very early on the the Christian church began to refer to herself as an ark. When Noah was saved in the ark it was he and his family saved because of his faithfulness to God that gave the people reason to hope, they are in a safe place that will weather all the storms and rough seas in life. No matter how vicious and dangerous the storms in life my seem, in Christ’s church he seals us in his ark.
What about though, when the seas are calm? You probably have seen a calm lake at sunrise or when there was no breeze, no waves and the water looked like glass. There is no threat of capsizing. The ship is moored to a dock or mooring in the sheltered bay. No storms. Nothing scary but under the calm water the water is always moving. There are currents under the water. If you aren’t anchored or moored to an anchored point you can drift away even in calm seas.
Well our reading from Hebrews today calls us to reflect on the aspect of being a ship and being anchored to Christ. In verse 1 the author of Hebrews says “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” It’s one thing to know when a hurricane is coming. Everyone knows what is coming. All the moorings are made stable. The boats are anchored down. Ropes tight. Hatches battened down, rough seas are coming. It is expected. The author of Hebrews though is sounding an alarm in the harbor that may seem a little odd. Like Noah telling everyone to repent and believe that God would provide a way of rescue. They looked at the sky and laughed at him. Not even a cloud and this guy says God’s punishment for sin is coming. What a joke.
But isn’t that the time often we begin to drift? When the seas are calm. When life is easy and there are no storms on the horizon. We get comfortable. We begin to trust our current setting in life and begin to drift from God’s word that calls us to repent and not trust the comforts of this world. How easy it is for our sinful nature to not believe there is danger even in calm seas. There are currents waiting to drift us away.
We need to be taught today that it is certainly possible to drift away. This is taught in many parts of the Bible. Jesus teaches about drifting away from him in the parable of the sower of the seeds. There were some whose faith is like a seed spout that grows very quickly but then they fall away because of the cares of this world. Then too St. paul warns the Galatians that they can fall from grace. To the Corinthians he says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” And pastors are even warned, “Take heed to yourselves and the flock that the holy spirit has called you to.”
The author to the Hebrews is warning us to not become unmoored, don’t pick up your anchor, you will drift. And it is a good warning because it is sometimes so slow we don’t notice it. This last year have you grown in your faith in Christ? Have you learned more scripture? Have you learned a new perspective on baptism or the Lord’s Supper? Have you attended a new bible study or increased your attendance at Sunday School? Read a new book about the Christian faith? Have you increased your works of mercy? It is possible to slowly drift away from Christ during a calm time in life, just as possible as it is to let go when the waves seem too high.
In our gospel reading the Pharisees had drifted away from what God had intended in marriage. They had a way of finding legal loopholes in God’s law and even adding their own when it fit their need to get a divorce. They knew the marriage law established by God in Eden was not meant to be toyed with. Yet they would edit and change the laws as they saw fit. Moses indeed gave certificates for divorce but this had nothing to do with a weakness in the gift of marriage as if marriage is flawed, the problem is our hard hearts.
Hearts that won’t forgive. Hearts that won’t reconcile. Not just husbands and wives, but all of us. An unwillingness to forgive is a way to drift away from Christ. The Pharisees loved using rules and laws to get their way. They couldn’t wait to find the fault in their neighbor, even when that neighbor was their spouse. Any reason to show others where they had fallen short so they could lift themselves up. How would you like to be married to someone like that? No mercy. Always pointing out your faults. Always bringing up your mistakes. What kind of marriage is that? What bride or groom would endure this backstabbing, scornful vengeance. Never being satisfied. Always doubting your faithfulness after you had shown time and time again of your faithfulness? You have even forgiven them for their unfaithfulness and they have the gall to blame your cold heart, your weak love. What kind of marriage is this?
It is a true story. This marriage does exist. The Pharisees would look for any reason to divorce and so Jesus calls them out on this. Divorce is never good. You see the Pharisees knew God’s laws. They knew what Moses said, they were trying to test Jesus. To catch him in a misstep, to drift Jesus and Moses. To say look, this Jesus guy isn’t so reliable after all, he doesn’t know Moses gives permission for divorce. He doesn’t even agree with Moses. But Jesus turns the table on them.
Jesus shows that the Pharisees mistaken understanding of marriage is because they have a mistaken understanding of God’s mercy. They had drifted away from God’s word to build their own pride and had become hard hearted and we do this too. They wanted to use the Law as a way of righteousness but the Law always condemns without Christ.
The marriage that I described is a true story, it is the story of us and God. God has chosen us and spoken a vow to us. Married us in Christ to himself. He has been faithful despite our unfaithfulness. We have been unfaithful to him. And even blame him for when our lives don’t go how we think they should when he is just giving us what we need. We are the ones who drift. But take heart. When you think you have drifted too far from Christ, do not fear. Christ will not divorce you. He will not leave you, the danger is us leaving him.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, when Jesus defends the nature of marriage he is teaching the Pharisees and us about the absolute "undissolveable" marriage he has with us. Who would not desire this kind of marriage? Jesus has no hard heart. His heart is tender and full of mercy. His forgiveness never runs out for you.
Though we are the unfaithful spouse he has spoken a vow to us in baptism where he calls us his own. He joins us to himself making us one flesh in him. The flesh that was crucified on the cross for all our cheating on him. Our death deserving sin. Yes our sin that has caused the divorce of body and soul upon death, in Christ we are joined back to eternal life. As it was in the beginning before sin and death, there was no divorce between man and God. And now since Christ was crucified for your sins and raised to make us his bride adorned in glory, God has promised you salvation. So don’t drift away from Christ. Confess your sins to him and to one another. Husbands, wives, children, friends. Do not drift away from one another, do not drift from Christ but knowing the depth and breadth of his merciful and tender heart, grasp onto him all the more, for he is a sure anchor. His ropes are strong, his harbors safe. His cross is a mast that holds your sails true in forgiveness leading you to the calm waters of eternal life. What a glorious marriage! Grace, forgiveness, tender hearted, he never drifts from you! Amen.
September 16, 2018
Proper 19B final - I believe help my unbelief.
We Christians are not immune to tragedy. Our lives have just as many difficulties as unbelievers and wicked people do. In our gospel reading today we see this reality. A man’s son is demon possessed. We can kind of piece together a normal day for this father. There was no such thing as a peaceful stroll by a pond or a nice afternoon at the beach. Anytime water was near the demon would drive the son drown himself. The father could never let his guard down. The demon would not give up until he would finally destroy the life of the child.
A fire to cook with, the boy would be driven by the demon to jump in the fire. Not only was the father a lifeguard who never took a break but also fireman constantly jumping into the fire to pull his son out of the fire. Do you think this man’s faith was challenged? Do you think this man was wearied day by day wondering what in the world God was doing? It seemed like the demon would have the victory.
I know some of you have personally had battles like this with your own children. God why is my child sick? What a test of faith. When tragedy comes many people are faced with what seem insurmountable difficulties. One thing that many people credit for getting them through difficult times is their faith. “I don’t know what I would do without my faith.” “My faith gets me through each day.” "I'm glad I have a strong faith."
Unfortunately, these well meaning people have a misunderstanding of faith. Faith is not something to believe in. Faith itself is only as good as the object to which it looks. Faith is not in and of itself anything to believe in. Faith receives. Faith is like a basket or a container. That which you believe in makes your faith either good or not so good. You can make the mistake of believing in your faith, but that is a house of cards.
Let’s say you want a house built. You have the perfect design. The house of your dreams. Your uncle Phil is not a builder, he is a dentist, but he has a nice personality and makes you laugh. Phil says he can build your home. Oh wonderful. You put your faith in Uncle Phil. You are certain he will do a great job.
Uncle Fred is a builder. He doesn’t always give you the family deal. Fred isn’t so nice, in fact he’s a curmudgeon. You have little to no faith in Fred to build you your home. Which of the two will build a better home? It will certainly be Fred. Phil’s house fell before it was even completed even though you had great faith in Phil. You had a lot of faith in Uncle Phil but your faith was worthless in the end.
Faith is only as good as it’s object. Faith always has an object. When people say, “I don’t know what I would do without my faith” they are placing their faith in their faith. That is a circle. An endless proposition that has no substance to it. There is a word for this, it is called fideism. Fide is Latin for faith. Fideism is faith that your faith is going to help you.
It would be like going to your neighbor and asking for a gallon of milk and they gave you a gallon jug. Faith is the jug, milk is the object which you needed. Faith receives it’s object.
So we can understand why the man speaks about his faith the way he does. “I believe, help my unbelief.” What a great confession and way to speak of our faith! We ebb and flow in our faith. Some days we are encouraged and it seems like we could withstand any temptation of the devil. We have such a distaste for sin, we love life and want to sing God’s praises. But other days we are like the father.
All we see in life is our failed attempts to be faithful in our vocations and wonder if God hears us. The father wonders since the disciples were rather helpless against this demon, would Jesus even care. “If you are able have compassion on us.”
Jesus answers, “If I am able?!!!” Do you know who I am? If I am able?
Isn’t this sometimes the difficulty of relying on our faith? The question is more to us, if you are able. Can you really trust your faith? As shaky as it is and unreliable, up one day, down the next. And what about when you do sin? How strong is your faith to stop your tongue?
Have you gossiped lately? Yes it’s easy to trust our faith when life is going well, but what about when you talk about the person who is causing you trouble? It's always their fault.
James points out the tongue, perhaps one of the smallest parts of the body but the sin and angst and warfare in the church the tongue can begin and feed. Try and try as you might, we can tame and ride a mighty horse, but you fail to even keep your tongue. Instead of building up, we are skilled at tearing down. Deadly poison is how James describes your sin. Poison for you, poison for others. This isn’t just impolite, it is full on murder. If our tongues are so mighty we should use them for good. But no we’re more like the demon possessed boy sometimes aren’t we? And when we gossip with someone else we are inviting them to jump in the fire with us.
Saying uncontrollable things, never mind what plays out in your head. Maybe we have more in common with the demon possessed boy than the father. But you see you too have a father that never lets his guard down. You too have a father that will do anything to save you. God the heavenly father knows you fits of rage, the fires you start with your tongues and the trouble you get yourself into. You have a father that is a firefighter, lifeguard and whatever else he needs to be. He sends his son Jesus Christ to be your Savior. He jumps into the fire of your sin and brings you safely home.
In our reading Jesus shows why he has come. He has come to save us from what seems like the possession of the devil. It isn’t just a feeling though, it’s true. Our sinful nature is in bondage to itself. To please itself. Your sinful nature cares for no one but itself. This is what the devil won in the fall to sin. The devil has possessed our race and he will not stop until a child dies. So the father comes to our aid. Not just temporary aid though. The father sends his perfect son, our brother Jesus. The one not possessed, not taken by the devil, nor sinful nature and he goes into the fires. He goes under the water to give himself so that we would be saved.
And what does he do, he invites you into the waters with him. Yes Christ brought you to the water and you indeed were drowned. But it wasn’t a drowning to death, but a drowning to life. Your sinful nature’s hold on you was broken at baptism. Your father does this because he knows we tend to flounder. Jesus washes you clean and gives you new life so that you can trust his promise of forgiveness. This is what we put our faith in. The not guilty judgment of God. This is strong. This is worthy of every ounce of praise. Let everything else fall this one thing stands true, you are for Christ's sake forgiven.
Jesus Christ was crucified for you transgressions and raised for your justification. Jesus has declared you his possession at baptism and his promise is what we place our faith in. God has declared you clean. So even when you do think your faith is strong, God’s forgiveness is stronger. When you think your faith is weak, Jesus’ promise still stands. Your sins are forgiven.
Our faith is only as good as its object. With Christ as the object of your faith, Christ the one who fills you up with forgiveness and holiness, with Christ even the demons fear you. Although you may be weak, Jesus is strong. I believe help my unbelief.
A confession that recognizes the truth that if our faith is our work it is never good enough. But the one who cries out to Christ, I believe, help my unbelief, confessing our weaknesses and needs, he hears and will give to you what you need to stay faithful. Staying faithful means he will keep you faithful. Jesus is called the perfector of our faith in Hebrews.
You have a father that does not sleep but constantly watches over you pulling you out of your sins where we sometimes go when we follow our sinful nature and fall for temptations. He pulls you out with forgiveness. This is why we celebrate the gift of the Lord's Supper, because here Christ himself, body and blood, bread and wine, rescues you from all the fires and floods you've caused by sin. Because one day you will answer for your sins when your body dies and everyone stands around and maybe thinks Jesus has failed you saying, "He is dead." but do not fear, Christ has defeated death. Like the boy in the story, He once again will pull you to safety and pick you up by the hand out of your grave and you will live. Amen.
September 2, 2018
Proper 17 B - The spirit of the law and a merciful God.
Last week the scribes and Pharisees, experts in the Laws not only of God but also manmade traditions, asked Jesus why his disciples did not follow the laws set forth by the elders. Jesus answered, "You teach as doctrine the commandments of men." They tried to catch Jesus sinning against the word of God. They tried to catch Jesus defiling himself. Jesus though, the author of God's word, the very word made flesh knew exactly what they were trying to do and he shows them how they, even though they outwardly keep the law perfectly, inwardly they are rotting dead carcasses.
Today's gospel is this same conversation. What is the purpose of God's law? Why does God tell us what to do and what not to do? The purpose of God's law is to point us to trust in Jesus. Today's reading teaches us the spirit of God's law.
Children are great lawyers. We are all natural born lawyers. I would say around the age of 15 or 16 we would ace the bar exam of life. Whenever we are instructed by our parents to obey some law, say like being home by 10pm on Friday night what is the first thing we do? Well we ask, "What exactly do you mean by 10pm? What if I give a friend a ride? What if I am not feeling well enough to drive? What if I get a flat tire?" When we are given a law we are verrrrry interested in it. We want to know every little detail that could possibly come up. "Honey would you wash the dishes?"
Like all the dishes or just the 1st pile of dishes from today?
Darling would you mow the yard? The front and the back or just the front?
We are very much concerned about laws. We want to not just know a law or a rule but often times we want to know a little more. We want more detail. We want to know as much as possible about said law because to be honest, deep down we don't really want to follow the law. Our sinful nature does not like to be told what to do. So we take laws and we study them. We research. We look for precedent. We are very concerned with the law, but in doing so we betray our sinful nature that knows the law but wants to get around the law. Not only do we desire to get around the law but we want to do so using the law itself. This is called knowing the law but not the spirit of the law.
We know our mom and dad want us home by 10pm, but really the spirit of the law is that we would obey them no matter what they say. Whether it is 10, 9 or 8, the spirit of the law is trusting in your parents as the ones who love and care for you. But we object to such law.
We all want to be lawyers, but only because deep down we know, we are guilty. Just as guilty as the next criminal sitting next to you in the pew. Yes, even the law breaker standing in the pulpit. We are all by nature law breakers, sinful and unclean. We have sinned against God but so often we try to weasel out. This is knowing the law, but not believing the spirit of the law.
A lawyer is a blessed vocation. Using the law of our land to defend people from unlawful prosecution by the authorities in our country is a good thing. The vocation of lawyer is a wonderful blessing, but what about bad lawyers? What about lawyers who study the law, know it backward and forward but only use it to get away with crime? Or worse, to get criminals off free?
The injustice! What do we say, "That's not fair." And this is the conundrum of conundrums isn't it? Even from when you were three or four, "that's not fair, billy has a bigger scoop of ice cream than me." We would like to think we grow out of this "expert lawyer" phase but you can't can you? We are always looking for ways that life is not fair, we want to plead our case and even if we are guilty we like to stand on the mountain top and brag to the whole world how we are innocent. Just look at us, we uphold the law. Yes, you may follow the law, but not the spirit of the law.
This was the case with the pharisees and scribes in dealing with God's law. In Leviticus God gave food laws about what foods you may eat and what foods you cannot eat. If you eat the wrong food you became unclean. Like bats, mole rats, geckos, mice…yes all sounds so delightful don't they? But these lists also included pork, shrimp, things I love to eat. They were declared by God, unclean.
Now there are many religious traditions and religious hucksters looking to make a buck that try to tell you why these were declared unclean by God. "They eat mud." "They were thought of as gods by foreigners." Or "God gave them the healthiest foods." Go to your local Christian Book store and you can find a whole section on "Christian Dieting." Some even continue to have a spiritual dynamic to it, "The Christian Diet." When reading these I don't get hungry but feel like I'm going to lose my lunch.
So what was it about the food that made it unclean in the Old Testament? We know the law but what was the spirit of God's laws in the OT?
These foods were unclean because God said they were. So is Jesus now in our reading when he says, Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart jbut his stomach, and is expelled?”6 (kThus he declared all foods clean, was Jesus disagreeing with God in the OT? Was Jesus saying, "Gotcha! Just kidding. Your thousands of years of dietary laws were not really all that a big deal."
No quite the opposite. Jesus is not disagreeing with the OT food laws but was teaching the spirit of the OT food laws. That the food was never the unclean thing it was the heart that decided to rebel against God's word. The food in the OT was never that which made a person unclean before God, it was the heart that said God was not worth listening to. The food laws exposed an already sinful heart.
This is how unclean we are. We are so dirty with sin we can't even see how sinful we are. The Psalmist writes in ch 19, "Declare me innocent from my hidden sins.. Jeremiah 17 "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: Who can know it?" Our sinful nature says, "Oh no not me. Look at how good I am." And we point to some outward behavior as proof God's word is falsifiable. We know the law but we neglect the spirit of the law. God's law is meant to show us our sin, and he's very good at that.
The food laws, the 10 commandments the spirit of the laws of God are not there to make us righteous but to lead us to Christ. The spirit of God's law is to show us how Christ has come to rescue us not just from deceitful things but your own deceitful heart. Your heart which knows God's laws but as soon as we learn them we look for ways around them, even using God's word. We as lawyers look to the law for our protection. How weak is that? Laws change, but God does not. God demands perfect obedience outwardly but also of the heart. The spirit of God's law is that you repent even when you think you have done all things right. Jesus says in Luke 17, even when you have done all that is necessary say, "We are unworthy servants."
Lawyers we are who have violated the vary laws we use as our defense. Who is our advocate? Who is a good lawyer? Who has not violated God's law? Jesus. He is the pure one. His heart was always inclined toward his neighbor and God. His heart is not deceitful nor is it hidden but revealed. The cross of Christ is where he stood before God, judge, jury and executioner and said, "I am guilty for the sins of these people." Who would do that? Who, instead of pleading his innocence, would take the guilty charge for the ones who claim to be innocent? God would. That is his gospel. His good news. Your sins are not held against you but Jesus. You are declared clean.
This is a judgment. This is the law of the gospel. Believe and you will live. Be baptized and your sins are washed away. Eat my body, drink my blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus knew the law and knew his innocence, yet wanted to make us right not just with outward righteousness, but Jesus also honored and upheld the spirit of the law of God. To trust in his father. To pray to him. To love neighbor more than self and so he gave himself up.
The law which demands death for sin could not keep the sinless one. The law says, "In Adam's sin we all died." God says, "If I take away sin, all will live." This is the spirit of God, that all would live. This is not deceitful. God cannot lie. God is merciful. He takes all your sins and the sins committed against you. The guilty judgment when indeed you were innocent. The deceitful things others have done against you. All the dirty things perpetrated on you, and the dirty things you've done, all in Jesus gone. Never to be brought up. The devil's accusations have been silenced.
God has spoken. Not guilty. Not only outwardly, but also your heart. Fear not the law of God. It is good. It is healthy. God's law is not meant to make you righteous but to teach you repentance and where life among one another is found. The law of God is not your enemy but it does sting sometimes. But like medicine it is also a glorious teaching of how to love our neighbor and love God.
Christians love the law of God. We love the law of God because it gives us an opportunity to point others to Christ. True to the spirit of the law when we are told to go out and speak of the glories of Christ to all around us we are following the spirit of the law. As self absorbed as we might be, even using the law for our pride, God will still use you to help and love all who you come into contact with. So use God's law, not for your benefit, but the benefit of your neighbor. That's what Jesus did and still does for you.
Proper 15B - August 19, 2018
John 6:51-69 - Though we starve ourselves Jesus has come to fill us completely with his body and blood.
If there is one thing we have an abundance of it is restaurants. I'm not complaining, I love to eat. I love to eat a variety. No one can argue that Sundays are especially a day that people dine-out. I think I remember waiting 30, maybe 45 minutes to eat at restaurant that I was really looking forward to trying. Rarely do they disappoint.
There are some meals I really remember. I'm sure you have those too. A food shack on the beach, a downtown elegant restaurant, and we all love to tell the story of how we stopped at some hole in the wall place and the food was superb. "Have you seen that place down by the vacant lot with the car on cinder blocks? You know the place by the sewage treatment plant? Their chicken piccata and smoked salmon benedict is to die for! You should go." And yes, for you in the late service I am intentionally causing your minds to tell your stomach, it's almost lunch time.
We eat at most big events. Baptisms, weddings, confirmations, all are generally celebrated with a meal. With all the restaurants all the happy occasions we celebrate with food, the unfortunate thing about these great meals is that well, a few hours later we're hungry again. It was a great meal, but you need to find more. You need to find another meal or, to be honest, you will die.
Jesus knows the impact that food has on our lives but Jesus isn’t just using the food as an analogy in his preaching. Jesus is saying that food pales in comparison to the importance of Him.
Last week I preached on how Jesus spoke of himself as THE bread from heaven, that he had come from heaven to bring sinners back into fellowship with God. They Jews hated him for saying this because that meant that they could not earn God’s favor. They had to live by faith in Jesus. This is the 3rd week we’ve spent in John 6. This is how important Jesus’ teaching on him being the bread of life is. Beginning with the feeding of the 5000 and now ending today John 6 is 70 verses long. Jesus starts out like opening night of a famous restaurant. Packed to the gills. Celebrities show up. A miracle takes place and everyone is in awe, everyone is fed, and there is then leftovers for all. They eat their fill. The people can’t get enough but today chapter 6 ends in a strange way. We see that Jesus maybe missed his marketing class or business 101- “How to Retain Customers”.
From a restaurant, I mean from a church of over 5000 people to only 12 in less than 60 verses. Even then one of the 12 will betray him, so a church of 11 people. Jesus would not get a good report from his district president. “Pastor Jesus had a great start but he doesn’t know how to keep members. He keeps talking about himself and doesn’t give the people what they want to hear. Not good at scratching ears and if you want to be seen as a successful pastor you need to watch what you say.
But that’s the beauty of this reading today, Jesus wants the truth to be preached, even for our benefit today, even if people are not hungry for him. It is a curious sermon though is it not? After feeding the people and giving them the most basic food on earth bread he raises the stakes. Jesus cooks up the main course, a promise. A food that will never leave people hungry again.
I am the living bread ethat came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give ffor the life of the world is gmy flesh.”
Well that escalated quickly. And look how John says the religious leaders of the day reacted. The smart, the educated, the well thought of, the upper echelon of society replied, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
These educated, rich, well to do experts in the Old Testament asked a question that is not very hard to answer. How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Well you kill him and cook him up. It’s called cannibalism, but the Jews knew that Jesus was not speaking of cannibalism. They too have been intently listening to Jesus. They knew Jesus was speaking figuratively. Jesus is fulfilling all the Old Testament sacrifices and is saying that he is the only way to have true fellowship with God. That Jesus is indeed offering himself as the only way of salvation.
Just as bread is necessary for life, faith in Jesus is necessary for eternal life. They knew exactly what Jesus was saying. So it makes sense that chapter 7 in just a few verses begins with Jesus avoiding the Jews because after Jesus says he is the bread from heaven, the only way of salvation, they want to kill him. Jesus is teaching that he himself is actually God in the flesh. For only God can give himself for others. They weren’t so perplexed at Jesus saying they need to eat his flesh, but they were scandalized that Jesus said HE was the bread from heaven. Eating was intimately tied to faith all through the OT.
The temple was a slaughterhouse but it was also a grill where the sacrifice after it was offered for sins was eaten and the forgiven Israelite was once again welcomed to God’s table. Eating was the way in which God assured his forgiveness was real. So when Jesus speaks of himself as being food for salvation it is not that far of a jump. It may sound strange to our ears, but the Jews and people of Jesus’ day were more in tuned to this idea of eating being a figurative way of saying faith.
Also when Jesus says drink his blood that too is not foreign to them because God forbid the drinking of the blood of the sacrifice because the life is in the blood. So when Jesus says drink his blood he says his blood is for giving life. The shedding of his blood brings life.
So why was it so hard for the people to hear it? Why did they want to walk away? Two reasons, they were guilty of chasing the wrong breads and because Jesus was just as human as they were. The hearers certainly wanted to be with God. They wanted to be delivered into the promised land but they wanted the bread of their pride. They were chasing and hungering for bread that may fill them up but the bread they loved was a temporary high.
They thought Jesus was the equivalent of a "hole in the wall". A nobody. A nothing. He wasn't up to their standards. THeir standard was works righteousness. Why would they trust their eternal salvation to this backwoods hillbilly Jesus? This was their offense when Jesus says he is the bread from heaven. "How can this man say he is from heaven?
They were not looking for God to serve them, but they wanted to fill themselves on their own pride and the pleasures of this life. So busy were they with eating and filling themselves on their own righteousness. They thought they were food palaces. A nice restaurant that looks, as they say, hoity toity, but on the inside rotten hotdogs and hamburgers with worms inside. Ecoli everywhere and death is one bite away. This may be our sin as well too. There are restaurants a plenty to distract us from Jesus, aren’t there?
Places we fill ourselves, the flashy things of this life. The cars, the holidays, the traveling, maybe alcohol or drugs. Dangerous breads like anger and pride. These are empty breads that maybe give a little pleasure but are empty. And isn’t it the case that after you’ve had your fill you are looking for the next filler? We work to make life comfortable but what happens when the comforts disappear? These breads will fail you. Or you will get hooked on these breads and then Jesus doesn’t look so appetizing.
This is why 4,989 men left Jesus' church in a matter of a few verses. But you, the hungry, the repentant, the baptized, Jesus doesn’t leave. The whole point of this text today is the promise of Jesus to not leave you. Jesus didn’t walk away from the people they left him. Jesus doesn’t leave the faithful and he will not go back on his word. He will give his life and blood on the cross. Even when everything looks lost, when people turn their backs on him Jesus will not be swayed. He does this because he wants to be here to forgive you for all the times you’ve doubted him or you, in the face of great challenges think its hopeless. He is not. He loves you and promises that his flesh is for you. He will not turn away from the cross because when we see that we are not as strong as him and we sin, he says come back. I forgive you.
That is the food he offers and gives. Food that fills. Food that has all the necessary ingredients for you to get through the most difficult times in life. Food that destroys the most difficult challenge for us which is our sin. Forgiveness of sins that is complete. You washed in his blood, sealed in baptism. He brings you to his table for a meal of forgiveness that will always feed you all you need. He is the old restaurant that never changes always cooks everything the same and hits the spot. There is no calorie, sugar or fat counting, the forgiveness of Jesus is all good, no bad. And after hearing this reading today who cannot see the promises Jesus will make when he institutes the sacrament of the altar? Today’s reading is figurative, Jesus speaks of faith as eating, but now that we have the full revelation of Jesus we can see the importance in the Lord’s supper of believing Jesus’ words for the forgiveness of your sins.
An altar, a grill that Jesus himself was offered, a cross that was never about us giving to God, but God first giving to us. To strengthen us. To give us food, his body, his blood under bread and wine to fill you up to eternal life. God’s house may not look like much, we may not look like much to the outside world, but God is offering up the finest cuisine. The dress code is perfection given by faith in Jesus Christ and you are always welcomed here. So don't walk away, but return to your merciful God, he always forgives. Amen.
Proper 14B - August 12, 2018
John 6:35-51 Proper 14 Bread from heaven
Well I guess it is campaign season again. Yard signs are beginning to pop-up. Commercials…oh joy. There’s going to be a blue wave. Or there’s going to be a Red wall. This party will have power or that party will. Each candidate trying to tell you that they are the best for the job. They are if you will the candidate from heaven. God has so blessed us with their being here among us that we would be foolish not to vote for them. It is as if they fell from heaven and will bring us up to heaven. we will rise above the common fray, the nobodies. Which by the way you will be if you vote for the other candidate.
Today in our gospel reading Jesus is doing a little campaigning or perhaps I should use the word preaching. The two sometimes sound similar. Jesus is not campaining in order to build himself up, he doesn’t need to worry about that. Jesus is preaching to tell us who we are and how we are sinners in need. Despite our pocketbooks, portfolios and real estate values, we still need the most basic element, bread from heaven. Jesus is preaching about who he is. He is truly from heaven, but Jesus says more than that really. He says, “I am the bread from heaven.” “I am the bread of life.” The Jews like us when we think we are getting a campaign speech grumbled. They tried to change the channel when hearing this commercial. “Yeah right. We’ve heard it before Jesus.” Your mother claimed to be pregnate from God, but we know who your mother and father are. You are a commoner. Nothing special. In fact if you keep claiming to be of God we will bring down the law of God upon you and kill you for blaspheme.
CHRIST WAS DESPISED EVEN killed SO YOU COULD HAVE ETERNAL LIFE EATING THE BREAD FROM HEAVEN.
The Jews were angry at Jesus not just because he claimed to be from heaven but because he claims to be THE bread from heaven. Jesus is their only need. The only thing they needed, which implies….they didn't have him, or they were neglecting his good gift.
This had such an effect on the Jews in our reading because this statement of Jesus took them back to their history. This beacons back to when the Israelites wandered in the desert. They had no food no way to stay alive but God sent bread from heaven, the manna. Now Jesus is telling them there is a need. They lack something, like their relatives they needed bread. But they thought Jesus stupid for suggesting this. Bread? Who needs bread? We are doing just fine.
Perhaps we would react the same, who hungers for bread? Who desires bread from heaven? Well for one we are not really good examples of those who hunger. Us needy? No way. Look at yourself. What need do you have? We are in one of the most affluent areas of the country. Too often we mistake the plentifulness in our life for our spiritual condition. Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness.
This makes the Jews mad for several reasons, one - they had established a very influential place in society. Like us, they had very little true need. They had established the religion whereby man, when he obeyed certain laws, made God happy and they were rewarded. There was really no need for bread from heaven. That’s for people who are needy. Second, the Jews didn't like the fact that Jesus burped. They didn’t like the fact that Jesus’ diaper had to be changed! Really, they didn't like the fact that Jesus was flesh and blood as they are and yet he says he came from heaven. This is one thing they got right when they scorned Jesus, Jesus was indeed as human as human gets. This makes the Jews upset because the Messiah should be above the flesh and blood parts of life. He should be cleaner than anyone! He should be the perfect candidate. He shouldn't lower himself to eat with sinners. He should be just like them…above all the poor and those troubled with sin.
This is the Messiah that the grumbling Jews were looking for. They wanted a Messiah like this because they wanted to learn themselves how to live a life worthy to please God. Bread from heaven doesn’t do that. Bread doesn’t teach you anything. Bread is a disappointment. Bread feeds and gives life to those who are hungry, yes bread gives life to the poor, those who can’t buy food themselves. For the empty, bread is life.
The Jews, like all of us, were full of themselves. This however is why Christ came to empty himself. Christ emptied himself so that he might take your pride and sin upon himself and feed you his righteousness. In order to empty himself he had to be born of woman, as the Jews even say in our reading, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?
Jesus is as human as you and me. This should scare us a little because we know ourselves. We know what it means to be human, it means you like Jesus, burp too. Not just burp, but we’re jealous. We lie. We think bad about others. This Jesus did not do of course, he knew no sin. He was really human. Sin is not essential to being a human, it is like a disease. A virus and it effects us all. IT starves us of true humanity yet this is why Jesus has come as the bread from heaven, to fill us with his righteousness. TO draw us to himself.
CHRIST WAS DESPISED EVEN HATED SO YOU COULD HAVE ETERNAL LIFE EATING THE BREAD FROM HEAVEN.
We have a little bit of the same distaste for humanity like the Jews did don’t we? You have folks that you don’t think so highly of. Remember though as we look at one another even those we might not like so much and remember that Jesus loves them. And when you hate and scorn another person that person is precious to God. Turn from your slander of others. Don’t speak ill against anyone, even your enemies, but speak well of them and put the best construction on everything. “you must no longer walk as the gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” Therefore having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”
Repent of your distaste for the bread of life, Christ, who actually dwells in his children: your spouse who isn’t as perfect as you, your children who anger you, your parents who just don't understand, your enemies who leave a bitter taste in your mouth. Repent of your slandering others especially in this political season. Repent of your hate for the people Jesus died for. For Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Not only did Jesus die for your enemies, he also died for you.
Yes it is true Jesus is here for you. Jesus died for you to take away your very sin of being like the Jews in our reading from John. This is no campaign promise. IT is true. He is not here on Sunday mornings to campaign but to forgive you. Your distaste for the bread of life is not held against you, but Jesus took that hatred, that anger, that slander and he took your sins upon his back. The bread of life was incinerated, baked in on the two stone tablets of the father’s wrath that you deserved. Christ the bread of life, his body was kneaded, beat with club and fist, struck with rod and spit upon. Jesus took your sin to the cross even hell where they belong so they may not haunt you. You cannot have hate and eternal life together so Christ took your hate upon himself. Christ has washed you in his word of forgiveness even today. Christ died so that you may live. Christ lives in you and that is good news. For even though our sins are many and great the mercy of God in Christ is greater. The death of Jesus is greater.
Jesus lives in you, you no longer live as if you are a separate person. St. Paul also writes, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Not that you have come to Jesus, but “No one can come to Jesus unless the Father who sent him draws him.” You see that perfectly spells out that we really don’t hunger for Jesus, but He hungers for you. The father hungers to have you for eternity and he has done all that is necessary for you to be fed for eternity. Even though it may seem death will starve you of everything, you have already died. You can’t die again. Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” You were buried in death when you were baptized. Your baptism connects you to the cross of Christ. And if you have died a death like Jesus, you certainly have been raised to new life and will be raised with a resurrection like his.
Those who grumbled against Jesus today in our reading didn’t believe they needed nourishment from heaven. They believed themselves to be greater than even Christ. They considered themselves the perfect candidate to impress God. They weren’t hungry for a righteousness outside themselves. But for you who see your need and hunger, Christ is here for you. He has promised to always feed you and water you.
Christ has drawn you into his father’s house today he has brought you home, washed your sins in baptism and he still daily drowns your old Adam reminding you who your bread winner is, it is Christ the Son of the living God. You have been sealed for the day of redemption. What does true humanity look like? Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Feed on Jesus. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. For when God looks at you he doesn’t see your sin, he sees Jesus’ life covering you, him, true human flesh and blood who has taken your place. CHRIST WAS DESPISED EVEN HATED SO YOU COULD HAVE ETERNAL LIFE EATING THE BREAD FROM HEAVEN.
Proper 9B - July 8, 2018 - Mark 6:1-13
We aren't always so glad to welcome Jesus into our lives, but He still comes to give us forgiveness in his mercy by his preached word.
This last week we celebrated the 4th of July. Parades, picnics and the recognition that our freedom in this world is a fragile gift that we should appreciate and give thanks to God for. One way we show our appreciation is by honoring those who served in the military. We have holidays for them and we give special benefits to those who are willing to give their life for our freedom. Unfortunately, when the political climate isn’t so great, soldiers are not welcomed home.
Today our reading from Mark is Jesus’ homecoming. Jesus comes to own hometown, his own family and yet he is not welcomed. They were astonished at his preaching. This is not a good astonished but a bad who does this guy think he is? What the hometown hero preached wasn’t believed. The main thing that Jesus wanted people to hear was rejected. This is why Jesus says he is a prophet with no honor in his own hometown. Yes they heard. Yes they were impressed but they did not believe the main message that Jesus desired people to believe, that he was the very Son of God come to save them from their sins.
Like soldiers returning home, they aren’t always looking for hero parades or holidays in their honor. Most returning soldiers just want to be respected as any other person would who has done a good job. Jesus too isn’t looking for an earthly throne or riches but that people would believe who he is and what he has come to do. Instead though of receiving him as the one who would fight for their eternal wellbeing Jesus is rejected. A soldier come to fight for the very people who reject him.
This is no surprise to Jesus. He is not blindsided by his rejection. This is the very reason Jesus is in the synagogue preaching, even though he is rejected, even hated, this is why he still returns to us. To call us back! For his word to go out, To forgive you and give you strength for the battle.
Look and see where Jesus goes and what Jesus is doing. Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath and he began to teach at the synagogue. This is the day the people are to rest. Jesus though is not here to rest, he is here to work. He is here to do battle. What is he battling with? The very forces of sin and death that have invaded his creation. This is one front of the war, the preached word must go out. And so this soldier using the weapon of God goes forth and begins the pushing back against sin and sickness and demons.
You would think this soldier would be welcomed but he is not. You would think the people would rally behind him, “Yes! Go Jesus! We love your word. We rejoice with your teachings.” But they didn’t. They despised him because he dared to call them to repentance. We all love a "God" who gives us what we want when we want it.
It is fine for Jesus to do miracles and heal people, that’s a battle we can all get behind but what did Jesus say to make him enemy number one even in his own hometown? He pointed out that his own people were fighting on the side of the enemy, the devil. Jesus dared to call them to repent.
That was too far! Jesus is welcome to be part of our world as long as he does what we want him to do, just don’t call upon me to repent of my favorite sins. The most glaring sin that we are faced with in the reading is that of pride. Isn’t it the case that most people realize when it comes to bodily healing we realize how hopeless we are at healing ourselves? What I mean is that when it comes to healings and when we become sick this is when we realize how much we need help from outside ourselves. We gladly will submit to a doctor when we realize we are sick. “Just tell me what I need doc!” And we submit ourselves to being treated even at great expense to our pocketbooks. However, when Jesus desires people to realize how spiritually sick they are and how much they need outside help, there is not just silence and deaf ears but down right hostitlity. Why? Because we sinners are proud.
Jesus was calling his own townspeople to confess they are sick inside. Yes they saw him heal people and do miracles but we do not want to acknowledge we are dead spiritually to God. That we need spiritual healing as well. Without his life giving word which battles against our sinful nature we are done. Finished. Dead forever. And we close our ears to his word so often. Imagine if someone closed the hospitals in our city? There would be riots. We should regard the preaching of God's word with as much passion, He is bringing us healing.
Imagine you come down with a fever and decide to go to the Bahamas. How foolish is that? How foolish we are when we decide to skip over God's divine serice to us.
This is the importance of God’s word entering your ears and taking root in your heart. It is a battle. An antidote to your fighting alongside with the devil. Whether it was losing your temper this week. The not so innocent thoughts you had about the woman or the cute guy. Your willingness to quickly point out the faults of the other political party yet you are also not willing to help others with a kind word of encouragement. Do we take offense at Jesus’ word?
Would Jesus be without honor among us? Is your house a place where his word is read and taught? Do you pray his word together with your spouse? Do you open your home to spend time with your neighbors that they too might hear this word? Do we take offense at Jesus' word? The right answer is yes.
Yes Jesus would be without honor among us because we are all sinners. Jesus would stand among us here today and call us to repent and we would react just like the townspeople. Who do you think you are Jesus? We have, each and every one of us rejected Jesus as our hometown hero. He is our brother and yet we treat his word as something to be bored with. Something for when we have time. We aren’t always willing to suffer embarrassment for the truth of his word. But you see who Jesus came to. You see the nature of God's mercy, he calls us by his word. He reaches out to us to heal us spiritually. Today he calls you.
This is the mercy of God that he comes to those who don’t deserve him and his word is preached. Even in your ears among you this morning. The mercy of God is that he sends his word to be preached to even the most undeserving. This is what this text of Mark is teaching us, Jesus comes among those who don’t deserve him and he brings his word to win the battle. Yet there is still an urgency to not keep turning away from his word. Turn from sin! Turn from unbelief.
The call is to not end up like his own hometown who rejected this warrior’s return home. For Jesus has gone to the cross. He has ended the battle with the devil, he has removed all our sins from us as if we had never even sinned. He has descended to hell. He has been raised, the victory is his. He has returned to his heavenly father and he comes to you. His word still is among us and you are still here this morning hearing his word. Today, do not neglect to repent and believe that for his sake you are forgiven. In his victory you have life. In your baptism you are given his victory. He is healing you through the Lord’s Supper. These aren’t just nice things to do on a Sunday morning, these are the very gifts of God that he gave his only son to die that you would receive them in faith!
Sure some people think we’re stupid for believing that Jesus can do what his word says. They are astonished at Jesus' teaching that the Word and Sacraments are the true antidote for our sins! Instead of these the world looks for an emotional high. Another activity to "Feel alive and really connect with God!" all of this apart from the body and blood of Jesus. Just as people rejected Jesus, even when he did miracles, so too we will be rejected for the sake of the gospel. But this is only the last desperate gasps of a defeated devil trying to convince you the battle is lost. But Jesus has won and continues to win for you. Even when the battle seems far gone and there is no hope. There is hope, you have Jesus.
Luther said the Gospel is like a rain shower that pours God's forgiveness and word in an area. However, when that shower is not appreciated it moves. This is the warning in the second part of our reading when the disciples are to shake the dust off their feet. Consider your life and how you show appreciation for receiving God's word. Are you studying it more? Do you pray more than you did last year? Are you speaking the Gospel to others? We should show our appreciation for this healing shower of forgiveness.
Jesus went into the synagogue to teach. Jesus still comes among us as a soldier returning from war. We see how he continues the battle for us by sending preachers. He comes here every time his word is preached and his sacraments are given to give us the spoils of his victory, eternal life for you and me. Don’t miss the hometown hero’s parade he’s come to bring you with him. Amen
The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her…The great mercy is that God interrupted Elizabeth and Zechariah’s life to show his great mercy in Jesus. The mercy that God showed this barren old couple was not just that they had a son, but they saw and believed that God was faithful to his promises of old and had sent Jesus to rescue everyone.
Today we do something we don’t have the opportunity to do very often. Today is June 24th and this is the day that the historic church has set aside to remember John the Baptist. John was according to Luke 6 months older than Jesus. So yes that means you only have 6 months left to do your Christmas shopping. We only have 5 months to get started on our Children’s Program and husbands you have 5 months and 30 days until you buy the last minute gift for your wife. It seems far away but I know my kids have already been speaking of what they want on their lists.
It seems odd this time of year to be thinking about Christmas, we just hit 100 degrees. The trees are in full bloom. The cicadas are chirping or whatever you call what they do, they’re doing loudly. It’s mostly green all around, warm and the wildflowers are in full bloom. Seems an odd time of year to begin reflecting on Christmas. But John the Baptist really gets us to remember that although we may have the great tan, the water in the lakes and rivers feel great, we’ve got our regular spot at the pool and the steering wheel bakes your hands when you touch it, this will not always be the case.
John the Baptist kind of interrupts life. His story is not one that is typical of prophets or men in general. In addition, John is the only other person besides Jesus that the church stops to celebrate his birth. We remember John on his birthday which is odd because the church usually honors people of great importance on the day of their heavenly birth..the day they die. But John we remember on his birthday, 6 months before Christmas because John means God is gracious and God graciously interrupts our lives.
It isn’t wrong to remember faithful saints and commemorate people who’ve walked the way of the faith before us as examples. Jesus even tells us that this will happen. In Matthew 26 when a woman anoints Jesus’ head with expensive oil for his burial the disciples told her she should have donated the money for the oil to the poor. Jesus said she did a faithful thing and that when the gospel is preached what she had done would be told in her memory. So we can have days, even Sundays where we tell of the acts of faith that people did as long as we remember these deeds always point us to Jesus. And if we were to sum up John’s life that would be the title, the one who interrupts regular life and points us to Jesus.
So while we may just be getting settled into summer we hear about the birth of John. He was born to Elizabeth who was well past child bearing years. She and her husband Zechariah had not been blessed with children. They had gotten use to the regular life of where they were. I think they say now they were in their golden years. Everyone was settled in and they had long given up hope for a child. Zechariah was a priest. They had their patterns of life down, but then an angel appeared. The angel Gabriel was sent to Zechariah to inform him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son and his name would be John which means God is gracious.
Well Zechariah reacted like I think most old men would, “No way. Not only are we old but this will really put a damper on the 8am 18 hole men’s golf group I’m in.” Not really but because of Zechariah’s doubts he was made to be silent and wouldn’t be given voice until the birth of this promised child. This is a bad deal for Zechariah because he was a priest. His job was to bless the people with the benediction and now he couldn’t speak. Life interrupted by the mercy of God.
Zechariah was now mute for 9 months. Our gospel reading picks up on John’s birthday. Zechariah was made mute but now he sings. Zechariah saw the faithfulness of God, John is his name, God is gracious. God gave voice to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s suffering.
God gives voice to our suffering. IT all has a purpose. A difficult as it is, as hard as it is, your suffering has a reason. To grow your faith and the faith of those that you walk through life with. Whether directly affected by a tradgedy sickness or very sad news, you and those who you share life with will all be strengthened.
But your faith isn’t like a muscle that you can then go look in the mirror and see the progress. Your faith is never strengthened by looking into the mirror. Your faith is strengthened by looking to Jesus and God’s faithfulness to see you through all circumstances. The more you look to Jesus the greater he becomes. The more you forsake what you thought was normal life according to your plan, the more you will trust God’s good and gracious will. Ask Zechariah and Elizabeth.
And what a priviledge it was for them. To have their life interrupted. This is how the way of the Lord is prepared, a holy interruption. A cold-front in the middle of the summer and you have no jacket for comfort. You must call out to God for mercy. A holy interruption, a severe interruption, but this is when God does his best work because so often it is only then we really stop starring in the mirror and look to Jesus.
God interrupts. Nine months maybe of time where we maybe aren’t mute like Zechariah, but we just don’t know what to say. Life interrupted by the mercy of God.
John interrupted the lives of the people. There had not been a prophet for hundreds of years. It seemed God was the mute one. Had he left his people without hope? Was he done? Had he finally had enough of their sinning? Where is God? Then God interrupts the life of his people. John is born, God is gracious.
John’s whole purpose in life was to point people to Jesus, “Look the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” God is gracious. John interrupted people’s lives, the scribes, the Pharisees, the religious Jews. John came calling people into the wilderness, to leave their comfortable lives of pride and self assurance in their good deeds and to repent.
To leave the comfortable places of doubt and sadness. To leave places of pride. To leave places where life is uninterrupted, where everyday is summer and the weather is warm, John brings that reminder of reality, repent. Come to the Jordan, remember you baptism.
Turn to Jesus. Not just once in your life, but always. Everyday. God is gracious. John. Life is interrupted.
So whether you are like Zechariah and Elizabeth and your life is interrupted, or you are like the nation of Israel, being called out to the Jordan river to repent. Perhaps you are speechless, or maybe life is summer for you and everything seems to be great, hear God’s call to you, life will not always be this way. Do not neglect God’s gracious forgiveness.
So John came, wearing camel hair preaching in the desert and pointing to Jesus. Jesus the one who gave Zechariah and Elizabeth’s waiting purpose and meaning. John, God is gracious and they saw. Jesus the one who gives your suffering, your waiting purpose, that he would show his mercy and faithfulness. For God showed his mercy once when he sent Jesus. Without Jesus none of it works. Without the cross Zechariah’s song is just an old man mumbling along. Without the death of Jesus our sins would have us in an eternal winter. Without Jesus rising from the dead we would have reason to not speak we would have reason to give up and think life is out of control. But Jesus was raised!
The death and resurrection of Jesus gave hope and meaning to Zechariah, Elizabeth and all the old testament saints faithfulness. All that they went through, standing steadfast, they looked forward almost daring God to show their suffering and faithfulness was not in vain and on Easter God proved it.
God is gracious to you too. He sends you his word in John. We hear how God kept his promise again, and God will keep his promise to you to guide your feet into the way of peace. To bring you a sunrise to bring you out of the darkness of your sin and interrupted life. We remember John today, that God is gracious. Sometimes that graciousness is hard but that’s because sometimes we hold onto this life too tight and John invites us to remember our baptism. That God holds onto us. That God has rescued us and we too will one day see this with our eyes when we have our birth into heaven and we walk the way of peace with Jesus and one another forever.
Your suffering will come to an end and when you look back, you will see that it was really all worth it. For you will see with your own eyes the full glory of Jesus and rejoice that he considered you worthy to suffer. Amen.
4th Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 4:26-34
Perhaps one of the shortest parables that Jesus tells about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. I consider this parable, if I were to Americanize it because that’s what we proud red blooded americans do. If I were to Americanize this I would call this the Johnny Appleseed parable.
The kingdom of God is according to Jesus as Johnny Appleseed. Now if you don’t know about Jonny Appleseed it’s main premise is that a man from the Northeast, Massachusets to be exact named John Chapmann had a love for apple trees. He started out as an apprentice to an orchardist and looked to go west around the 1792. As he traveled he planted trees, particularily apple trees as he traveled. Johnny Chapmann became know as Johnny Appleseed. He planted trees randomly wherever he went. Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, as well as the northern counties of present-day West Virginia. I always had the image of a man, who apparently wore a tin pot as his hat just walking spreading seed everywhere and orchards of apple trees sprouted forth. A traveler who didn’t stay in one place too long but in good American fashion he traveled free as the wind and was only concerned with planting trees.
Well the image is mostly correct except that Johnny wasn’t so random as it sounds. According to legend he also built fences around his little orchards where ever he planted. I mean, you can’t just plant seeds and they take off and grow. Well maybe if you are my mom or sainted grandfather Papa Harold, you can grow anything anywhere. But really this is where the Johnny Appleseed folklore is somewhat inaccurate because, well we all know you can’t just scatter seed and expect it to be successful.
You have to water. You have to watch. You have to protect, build fences, keep rabbits out. It is a constant battle against nature to protect that which you have planted. In fact, if you neglect your plants the plants will shrivel up and die. You and I don’t make our living by farming and we know this simple fact, seeds don’t just succeed without much effort, time, money and stress. We know it, your relatives who are farmers know it. Johnny Appleseed knows this too. But even more, how about Jesus’ audience who hear this parable? Certainly they know it as well.
What do you mean Jesus, the kingdom of God is as a man who scatters seeds goes to sleep, rises, and doesn’t know how it sprouts.” We know how seeds sprout. What do you mean the kingdom of God is like a man who is an idiot?
We find this parable today in Mark among the Parable of the Sower who scatters seeds carelessly among all different soils. Foolishness, you don’t scatter seeds where you don’t have good ground. Jesus speaks about putting a lamp under a basket. We hear Jesus preaching and speaking about the power of his word. How it goes out and will do what he sends it out to do. But we, know how plants sprout and how they grow. It takes work. We like to get our hands on God’s word and think we know how it should work because God’s word needs our help.
Who wouldn’t think this though as they stand and look around at the condition of Christianity in the united States? This last week I with Dick and Mary Lou Schminke were at the Texas District Convention. We heard reports on the condition of the church through the last few generations. We heard from the Synodical President, Matt Harrison a few statistics. How in the next generation we are forecasted by secular sociologists to lose another 500k members of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Out of every three confirmands the last 20 years only one remains in the church into adulthood. One in three. Sounds like we have a problem to solve.
So now we have folks who will be glad to help you figure out the problem. We have those who claim to be a modern day Johnny Appleseed. Invite them to analyze your church like some business, change your approach. They will come and give your church a business makeover. Get your pastor a new haircut, add some more gel to his hair. Get him a tanning salon frequent flyer card. Get him a Porsche a mountain side cabin for retreats. Hey this doesn’t sound so bad…maybe these guys know something! Wait, no… Change this, update that. Your church is shrinking because of closed communion. Your church is dying because you don’t ordain women. Your church is dying because you make people study their catechism. You tell them to come every Sunday. You are the problem. If you would just get with the program.
And so the song and dance goes. This way, that way. It’s obvious to anyone who takes a look at the numbers of the Christian church in the USA we could sure use a Johnny Appleseed to help us out. The world calls us to forsake that which we have believed in from the scriptures. The future for the church looks bleak, we certainly appear to be an underdog.
I was watching a World Cup Soccer match this week, it was Iceland and Argentina. I was certainly going to root for Argentina because that’s where my mom was born. I want to be a good son so I root for Argentina. Argentina has won 2 Cups and is one of the most successful teams ever. Iceland, well, they’ve never even placed in the tournament. But as the game was progressing I found myself, don’t tell my mom, I found myself cheering for the underdog. I began to cheer for Iceland. Everyone likes an underdog story. It may appear to us that the church is an underdog, that we’ve got an uphill climb. But that’s not true!
We are not the underdog. Jesus has defeated death! What more is there to fear? It may look like we are underdogs but what do we have? We have the word of God! We have the seed. We have that which will grow without our great ideas. We’ve been given the Word of God that is more powerful than the dead dirt you see all around you. The dirt that will cover your casket when you die. The dirt all around us makes us think that the church is getting buried. However did you hear the parable?
When everything looks as if it is dead. When the seed is buried, no matter how deep it is covered, no matter how dark things look to our eyes, listen to Jesus’ word, “It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
Dear brothers and sisters, only don’t neglect this seed! Don’t pull the seed out of the soil. Don’t close your ears to God’s word. Don’t keep the seed from your kids. Don’t let the dirt remain lifeless! We’ve all done our fair share of neglecting the seed of God’s word and thought the church is maybe a waste of time. Or perhaps there were greener pastures in the pleasures of this world. We’ve all done a fine job every once in while of even trying to bury the seed as it sprouts. We’ve maybe doubted God’s promises to take care of us. To protect us even in our times of illness. We’ve looked with our eyes seen the decay around us in the soil we’ve done opposite of what St. Paul says, “We’ve walked by sight and not by faith!”
Turn from unbelief and repent. Live by faith in Jesus. Your sins are forgiven. Sins of doubt and anguish. Sins where we think life is apart from the seed of God’s word. For Jesus was buried. Jesus was crucified, dead. He was considered the least. He was considered as good as dead. He was cast away from God’s sight and upon him our sins were placed. He is that which is planted in the ground and from his resurrection there is life for all of us. In his tree we rest. From his burial and resurrection our life is now one of constant death to what we see around us and a resurrection being raised in our baptismal promises.
The parable today isn’t about finding the right solution to stop or change the direction of the church according to measurable practices, that’s up to God. The parable is about the power in the word of God for his people to find rest in. The parable is about the seemingly small and insignificant ways that God brings his life to us. What a joy to be a part of the church! To be given this seed of hope and assurance.
Mark Twain was in London in 1897 and someone who read a report that he had died came to him and asked him what he thought of the announcement of his death. Twain replied, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Anytime anyone says the church is dead or dying or needs to change to get with the time, I’m reminded of this quote. President Harrison ended his report on the state of the church with these words, “It is a great time to be in the church because Jesus is here for you. His word is for you. His promises of forgiveness for you. Baptism, for you. The Lord’s Supper for you. All for you.” Jesus is no respecter of man, he gives out his forgiveness, he spreads his love indiscriminately. Jesus with his word like a modern day Johnny Appleseed only don’t let him pass you by without receiving his life.
Christ Our Lord invites us to come along side of him, he planting the seeds of his work, us not anxious about performance but trusting in his forgiveness. We cannot lose! Jesus has already won! The life of the church, your life as well. The life of Christ Jesus sprouts and grows in you and even though you die, buried by dirt, yet shall you live.
God has not divorced us but comes to us in truly miraculous ways forgiving our sins and restoring us to his royal family.
- it is easy to get caught up in the miracle of the disciples speaking in langugaes they didn't know. However to get caught up in the miracle of moment is to miss the bigger miracle, the content of what they were saying. That all people's sins have been forgiven, Jews and Gentile alike and God has not left us.
One of the ways God showed his presence in the OT is by fire. You can remember the fire that came down from heaven called down by Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Remember God leading the people of Israel by fire in the night. Also recall how God came to Moses as fire in the burning bush. Moses was perplexed and thought he should go check that miracle out. The bush is on fire but doesn't burn. God shows his presence many times by fire. Perhaps it is the uncontrollable nature of fire that God likes us to see in relation to his power. This might make sense as to why people think "speaking in tongues" is some uncontrollable utterances by people. God is some uncontrollable force that we cannot limit or grasp. That is true but is that what Pentecost is about? That the speaking of the Holy Spirit is an uncontrollable force that our earthly languages can't contain?
This is wrong because God has always spoken to us in languages that we can understand. Even in creation before there were humans God spoke in intelligible sentences and words that make sense. Let there be light. God is above our language and intelligence but that doesn't mean he wouldn't humble himself to come to us in languages we can understand. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control. So anytime someone says they have lost control and are speaking in tongues, you can be sure it is not of the Holy Spirit. One characteristic of God is he desires us to know what he is saying. And the witnesses at Pentecost tell us they understood what was being spoken, verse 11 we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.
God wants us to know what he is saying but the miracle is not that he can speak to us in intelligible ways. The true miracle is what God actually says to us, "Your sins are forgiven." This is the miracle. This is the mercy of God. This is the mighty work of God, that your sins would be wiped away. This is more glorious than any fire that might come down from heaven. The content of what God says far surpasses the glory of men speaking in languages they have not been taught.
In case you've been living under a rock, there was a royal wedding taking place this weekend. Prince Harry is marrying an American celebrity of some sort. I don't know what Megan Markle is known for or why she is a celebrity, but a royal wedding always gets a lot of attention. I heard that the royal family plans to spend 40 million on the wedding. 17k on the cake alone. It is easy to get caught up in the details. The dress, the family situation, the fact that a commoner, an American commoner with no royal lineage is marrying into royalty. There is a lot of fireworks going on. However what seems to get lost in the mix is the fact that two people are being joined together in a holy union. If marriage has been treated as a holy thing by the two engaged is another question. All the pomp and circumstance is to reinforce what is taking place before God and all those present. Too often though the important and main reason for marriage gets lost in all the fanfare. The fact that two sinners can stand before the altar of God and not be cast out, thrown into hell for their sins, but instead be blessed by God in faith in Christ is more of a miracle than a dress that cost more than many people's first home.
So too on Pentecost. Many times we too are preoccupied with the fireworks. The flames resting on the disciples, the speaking in languages they don't know, the great wind. These are important, just like the wedding vows are important, but what do all these things point us to?
These miraculous things are to get our attention that we would hear what is being said by the apostles. The apostles are pointing us to Jesus. The holy spirit is pointing us to Jesus. Just as on the day of Pentecost Peter quickly turned everyone's attention from what was happening to the word of God. Peter goes straight to the promises of God! That God has not left his church without a husband.
God who has every right to divorce us for our failing to keep our end of the deal. For our sins against a holy and righteous God who has proposed to us, has brought us into his house. Who has put a ring on you in baptism. Who has given us his name, we have not kept his name holy. We have chased and pursued so many other suitors, particularily that enemy who seems to work against us at every turn. That one who just seems to enjoy cheating on God. The one who promises to lead us to a greener grass. The one who makes sin sound so easy even no strings attached. Or even not to see all our sins against Jesus. The one who's words sound so inviting, calling us, tempting us.
That one you might think I am describing is the devil and you would be half right. But how often does the devil stand before you and push you into sin? He doesn't need to. You may think im just describing the devil, but I am indeed only putting a mirror up before you and describing your own sinful nature.
Yes it is as if we work against ourselves. Who needs an enemy like the devil when our sinful nature follows his footsteps without need to be pushed?
Jesus has ascended into heaven. He left the disciples visibly. It makes sense. A husband who has been mistreated, cheated on, lied about, even murdered and killed by the ones he was courting. He promised salvation. He promises forgiveness. Like a royal husband proposing to commoners, promising a wedding of a lifetime and a dwelling place with the king. Yet they murdered him desiring their own way. Don't desire your own way. Jesus still calls us to repent and believe that for his sake your sins are forgiven.
Easter he was raised! Our greatest sins, our most unholy and wicked desires, thoughts words and deeds were not enough to keep him from loving us. Jesus raised from the dead, ascended to the Father. He was brought back to the heavenly court. Jesus became a commoner, became us, became our sin to bring us back into a holy and royal family. This is what Pentecost is!
The preaching of Jesus crucified for your sins and raised for your justification . You are forgiven. Your baptism a royal name. His body and blood, a royal feast he does not turn the broken hearted away. Those who's hearts haven't been broken by an unfaithful king, but those who have broken their own heart by their sins. A table set by servants calling you to repent and leave your sinful garments at the door and by faith be dressed in Jesus' holy name. Receive the forgiveness of your sins, his body, his blood, bread and wine. A wedding feast.
This is Pentecost, the risen and ascended Lord has not left us but sends the Holy Spirit. The kingdom of God has not been defeated. God has kept his promise to not leave us but defend us from all foreign invaders including your sinful nature that still pulls at you and will until you die. Don't listen! Turn from your own desires to sin. Fight against sin as you would for a king who has already given you the victory and says go. You cannot lose. God says, I will not forsake you.
Pentecost is the recognition by faith that the Holy Spirit through the preached word and sacrament bestow upon us the royal gifts of God. The forgiveness of your sins. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Can you imagine being brought into a royal family and the gifts you would receive?! The royal gifts of God far surpass anything that lures your eyes in this life. So look with your ears. Follow the Holy SPirit leading who leads you by God's word and the holy sacraments, the true and enduring fireworks of God. The gifts of a royal Father, joining us to his son by the holy spirit. Amen.
Easter 6B - John 15:9-17 - God gives in Christ Jesus that which he demands.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
These things I command you, so that you will love one another. Jesus commands us to repent and believe in him, from this faith flows love. God gives that which he demands from us. So if we are to love one another, we must first believe that for the sake of Jesus we are loved by God. We are saved by faith.
Perhaps if we were to ask Jesus to edit some of the bible this verse might be at the top of the list. Sure maybe the one about cutting off your hands or poking out your eyes if they cause you to sin to be pretty high on that list. But today I think we just might wish that I stopped reading at verse 16 in our Gospel reading. So that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give it to you. Yes that’s a much better way to end the reading. But no Jesus goes on to say, These things I command you so that you will love one another.
But Jesus you’ve never been to a church council meeting. Jesus you’ve never had to deal with a church construction project. Jesus you’ve never had to sit across the table from them. You haven’t had to clean up their mess. You haven’t had to deal with their embarrassing habits. Jesus my wife always argues…my husband is unbearable. You Jesus don’t know what it’s like.
Jesus doesn’t say like. Jesus doesn’t say tolerate. Jesus doesn’t say go along to get along. Jesus says love one another. That’s quite different than like. Ask any college age sweetheart whose boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with them by saying, “I like you but I don’t love you.” And they will tell you love is worlds apart from like. Jesus says, These things I command you so that you love one another.
Jesus is speaking to the disciples, to you and to me. The world can tolerate liking one another, although our political discourse is making this more difficult each day. But Jesus’ teaching is far away much greater than anything the world would teach us about love. The world can teach us to like, but knows nothing of the love of God. This is what is different here in this room, yes even through the whole Christian church, we don’t like one another, we love.
Or maybe we change it from a command to a suggestion, “These things I suggest to you, that you love one another.” Like a waiter would suggest the soup de jour. But no, Jesus’ word doesn’t change on a daily basis, the grass withers and flowers fade but the word of the Lord endures forever.
Notice how Jesus starts off in v9. The love that Jesus is speaking about is the love that the father has for him. In this love there is no compromise. In this love there is no one-upmanship. In this love there is no jealousy. In this love there is no pride. In this love there is no looking and pointing out the other’s weaknesses. There is no taking advantage of the other. So what does that look like for us?
If you notice we don’t have an old testament reading for these Sunday’s after Easter. The reason for this is that the church uses the Easter season to reflect on the events immediately after the resurrection and how this focused the church on life together. What does the life of the church look like since Jesus is risen from the dead? These things I command you, so you will love one another.
Up until this point the sermon was pretty easy to hear. The love of the father. Ask whatever you want. You didn’t choose me, I chose you. This is all well and good but love one another?
Last week Jesus told us to abide in him. He is the vine we are the branches. We are to receive everything from him. He gives us all we need. Abide in him. Keep his commandments. What does he command?
Believe in me. Repent of your sins. Trust in me. Forsake yourself. I am the vine, I will give you forgiveness and righteousness just as the father anointed me and gave me all things so too I will give to you. Abide in me. Then what does Jesus say? These things I have spoken to you because I want you to be miserable. No. Jesus speaks these things so that his joy may be in us and our joy full. Why are we full of joy?
We are full of joy because by faith we receive all love and joy from Jesus. Forgiveness we know that in Jesus we can love one another.
We are to love others as he loved us. He says abide
When Jesus shed his blood on the cross he was the fount of all Christian love. Jesus picked up his cross and the love of God was shown. Every single one of your sins is forgiven already. Jesus became the very source of love. The cross was the headwaters of a love that flows to you and me. Forgiveness for all your embarrassing habits. Forgiveness for all your sins. For God knows all your sins and imperfections more than you, more than anyone and he does not cast you away. He does not excuse your sins, “Oh she doesn’t know any better.” He doesn’t huff off and say, “Oh well I’ll just put up with his awkwardness.” Jesus doesn’t see you in his church and go the other way or put on a nice face while inwardly despising you, that's what Judas does. He wants to forgive you, not make excuses.
Jesus is the vine. Forgiveness flows from him. Life itself flows from him. Abide in the cross and you know you are forgiven. Do not look to your own strength but hear his word.
These things I command you. Jesus points us to faith in his promise of forgiveness of sins so that we may have joy. So that we may love one another. So there is someone you have difficulty liking. Liking someone requires you to find something in them that brings you happiness. Sometimes that is very hard. Loving someone may seem impossible but with God all things are possible. Loving someone requires you to look to Jesus and from him the Holy Spirit gives you love. That is what Jesus commands us to do. Not so that we chaff and burn under his commandments. His commands are not hard nor are they to hurt us but to show us true joy.
Yes Jesus says that when we abide in him we will love one another. God gives that which he demands, perfect righteousness. Perfect forgiveness.
Is the church perfect? No it’s not. But after Easter we hear how the church’s life is to be centered around the forgiveness of sins. This was what Jesus died for and why he was raised from the dead, for us to come together around forgiveness. To love one another. Not excuse sins. Not to just get along. Not to tolerate one another. But in the cross together, repenting of the same sins receiving the same forgiveness. Yes we who have chosen to wander. We have chosen to ignore one another. We have chosen to gossip. We have chosen to build ourselves up instead of repenting. We have chosen to neglect to abide in Christ. Christ says, I have chosen you. I have chosen to abide in you. I have chosen to call you friend and lay down my life for you. Before you even understood what was happening to you I chose you in the waters of baptism and when you chose to sin and be lost, I sought you out. I came to you. Even now as you have worried this week. As you have forgotten all that Christ has said he bids the repentant, not the strong, to come. To come to his altar. To dine with him, to abide in him as his very body and blood abides in us. To sit with all those we love. And when you find it hard to love or even like don’t run from Jesus but repent and run to him.
It is impossible to love without faith in Christ. He who knows not God knows not love. It is impossible to love when we think we will eventually be strong enough to love one another. It is impossible to love when we think someone else will eventually be good enough for us to love them. However with our eyes of faith focused on Christ and the love that comes from his cross, the unlikeable become loved and the imperfect perfected in Christ Jesus loved by the father.
The Resurrection of Our Lord - 2018
Easter2018 - God always keeps his word. This is good because we, like Peter, do not.
Just as he told you.
I like this angel. I kind of like his sense of humor. He had the appearance of a young man dressed in a white robe and they were alarmed. He was a young man. Usually you look at Hallmark or on valentine cards and angels are young babies. Fat little chubby kids with a bow and arrow. Nothing intimidating or scary about them at all. This angel was young, but a young man and he caused the ladies to be alarmed. But this young man is a likeable guy. Why? Because like any typical young man he loves to correct the adults in the story. I can almost hear the teenage sarcasm in his voice, “Go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him just as he told you.” I’m not saying, I’m just saying. Like dugh, don’t you remember?
And the angel was right. How many times had jesus told them that he would be raised after three days? God always keeps his word. But you see the ladies who went to the tomb didn’t believe Jesus was going to be alive. They didn’t believe that Jesus would keep his word. How easy it is to doubt God’s word. How easy it is to think that death would have the last say. That’s what we’re use to. Death having the last say is what makes sense because that’s what we see with our eyes and experience in our lives.
It seems death has the last say in our experience. Friend after friend, loved one after loved one, God forbid a child. Death kind of has a way of getting us to listen to him. If you are anything like me you don’t like to be told what to do. I don’t like changing my plans, I don’t like being told where to be at what time. Death though is able to enter our calendar and force us to change our plans. I was at a funeral yesterday, a beautiful Spring Saturday day in Texas. As I sat in the pew I couldn’t help but look around and realize none of us would’ve been there except for that one unwelcomed visitor death told us all to leave our plans for the day behind. You will leave the boat in the garage, you will cancel the out of town plans. Death commanded us, you will all sit side by side. You will all remain quiet, you will wear death’s favorite color black, for death has spoken and we were all at attention, just as he told you. And we are the ones who invited him in! The wages of sin is death and we have all sinned.
In our lives it is a sad reality we really only listen and are wrangled by death. People who would hardly be caught driving the speed limit fall in line behind the hearse and drive like perfect citizens not going above the speed limit, just as he told you.
It’s kind of hard to not listen and remember what death says. His lessons are hard and they are heavy on our hearts.
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, they knew death demanded them come to the tomb. We know how the ladies and the apostles felt those three days, just as death had spoken in the past and kept his word, so he spoke that Friday when they saw Jesus die. Who could argue with death’s sentence.
But you see on Good Friday there was one small difference that makes all the difference in the world, Jesus wasn’t told what to do. Pilate tried, “speak up, don’t you know I can free you?” The Sandhedrin tried. They all tried to tell Jesus what to do, don’t face death. They tried to make a claim on him but Jesus wasn’t being held contrary to his desires. This plan for Jesus to die had been from all eternity, God always keeps his word. It wasn’t as if the men in the Jewish councils and the people in the crowd were somehow the ones in control. Well they were in a sense but only because God had laid himself bare before them and placed himself in their hands and death did what he normally does, he steals away life. God makes himself vulnerable and this world is not kind to the weak and vulnerable.
But this man Jesus is a little different. We begin to hear of some suspicious happenings. He healed sick people. He walked on water. Then on Good Friday death didn’t tell him when he would breathe his last but Jesus said, It is finished and he gave up his spirit. It is finished. Death’s regular story was changed. Death’s demands and hold on humanity had been broken.
As Jesus breathed his last, death thought, same ole same ole. Another one on the tally board. Notify the family. Get everyone together. But not this time. Death creeped and Jesus’ body became cold. However, as we heard today in our Gospel reading it wasn’t death that would have the last say. As Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days Jesus would be dead three days. But then like the great fish, death spit Jonah out. As death made it’s demands on Jesus, Jesus said no and the grave spit him out.
When death though he had one more victim Jesus turned death on itself. By dying God tricked death into defeating itself. When death claims a person we can do nothing against him, but when God lays aside his majesty and becomes human so that he can die death’s hold on humanity is broken. It is no longer just like death told you, but now the smart-alic angel reminds us, “He is not here he is risen, just as Jesus told you he would but that’s none of my buisness.” IT was no surprise to Jesus that he would keep his word.
So now death is not the one who preaches the loudest. Now death does not have the last word. All the graves you’ve stood at. The late night phone calls you’ve received. The long years of suffering where it seems death is just waiting, no, it is not as it appears nor is it as your feelings and broken heart tell you. Not since that first Easter morning but really Christmas day death began it’s death rattle. When God became human he was inviting death to take the bait and he did. Jesus took your sins upon himself and claimed them as his. Jesus became your sin and he died with them but he was raised. Jesus did this to show you your sins will not hold you either. The sins you’ve committed singing the song of death, those many times you promised to be a better Christian. Those times you said, like Peter, Lord I will always follow you. But then you don't keep your word. You fail. You sin. Jesus breaks that stranglehold we call death, just as he told you. What you think your sins are so bad? Well they are, but look at our second reading, St. Paul said that Jesus died for our sins. St. Paul included himself, a persecutor of the church, he included himself with us and our sins. That means that no matter what you’ve done, even worked for death. That even if you have teamed up with the devil, Jesus has broken deaths grip on you.
So yeah, now when a friend or love one dies we clear our schedule and go to funerals. Not because death demands our attention but because we know we need to hear Jesus and he has promised to be in his word. WE can clear our schedules to carry one another’s burdens in our time of need but not as if we have no hope. We have eternal life. We go to funerals but it isn’t death that demands our presence but the voice of Jesus calls us to listen to him.
Death does not force us to go to church, death did not force you to come here this morning, maybe mom or dad said you better come and yeah sometimes mom and dad threaten you with death, but this Easter Sunday is no different than every other Sunday. Jesus is here bringing life to people who know they’ve acted as though they are ruled by death and the devil. But Jesus is here, just as he told you, to forgive your sins. To remind you, you are baptized. You’ve been buried with Christ and raised with him. And when we gather here on Sunday mornings there is a little funeral. Every Sunday we gather and we bring our death, we bring our sins and we confess them. Jesus takes our sins, he takes our death and gives us life. Even his very body and blood. When death swallowed Jesus it could not hold him. Now Jesus now gives himself for us to eat his body and drink his blood and death cannot hold us either for Christ lives in us. You, like Jesus our Jonah, actually taste bad to death and as the grave vomitted Jesus from the grave, so to you will be spit out. Just as he told you.
Jesus’ burden is light. And yeah maybe there is a relatively young guy standing here wearing white, who's kind of a smart-alec, reminding you, "Jesus always keeps his word." Jesus doesn’t demand us to follow him and then force us to obey, but he invites us to see what life to its fullest is like. To follow him. Come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest. When you are with Jesus death cannot demand anything of you. So cast your cares on him. Jesus will keep his word to give you what you need in this life. When death seems to shout the loudest, when it seems like death is everywhere you look, look to Jesus’ word, There you will see him just as he told you. Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Palm Sunday 2018 - Psalm 118
I love irony and sarcasm. One of my favorite movie scenes reflecting my kind of irony is from the movie Fury. This is one of my favorite movies. It has Brad Pitt cast as a tank commander in WWII who is stone cold in his leadership and battle tactics. The tank crew he commands face impossible situations but somehow manages to escape multiple battles. They see death, feel fire and the inside of a tank is never comfortable. They are in a rolling death trap. After numerous battles whenever the crew would make it through an intense situation where they thought they would certainly die they would exhale and say, “Best job I ever had.” The men didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when they cheated death but they went to their possible deaths each battle with full confidence with minds focused and set on their objective, kill the enemy before the enemy kills you and they trusted their commander.
The approach to death is one place where irony can be appreciated the most. Last meals requested from death row to be delivered from McDonald’s. Irony at death can either show a person is confident or also when a person has given up all hope. As one goes to death an appreciation for irony can only be received when one has a firm and confident grasp of the situation. Best job I ever had.
Today’s reading from Psalm 118 was penned by King David. David wasn’t facing death when he wrote this psalm but as we reflect on this Psalm on Palm Sunday it brings to light some of the irony of Jesus’ ride through Jerusalem. Although David does know what it feels like to be pursued and people hungry for your death, David wrote this Psalm to invite all those who went up to the Lord’s Temple to rejoice with him, “Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.20 This is the gate of the Lord;
bthe righteous shall enter through it.” David was giving thanks that he was to enter into Jerusalem into the courts of the Lord’s house. David was giving thanks for the bringing of the ark into the city. The ark, the presence of God coming into the city of David and David says rejoice.
Open to me the gates of righteousness, I will go through them and I will praise the Lord. As David enters the gates of the temple he knows that only the righteous were allowed in the temple courts. The uncircumcised, the unclean, the foreigners were not permitted to enter. David can demand for the gates to be opened not because he hasn’t sinned, but because he comes in faith trusting in the mercy of God, that God is his salvation. He sees the presence of God in the ark and rejoices that God invites his people into his presence.
The ark was God’s presence for the Israelites. God said he would be located in the ark for his people to find him. The reason this psalm is used on Palm Sunday is because there is a hint of irony in it. As David describes the ark coming into Jerusalem he says this is the day the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it. We hear this psalm read as Jesus enters Jerusalem on his way to his death. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Irony of the best kind.
The people wave palm branches. They say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." They say it as if it is a good thing to come in the name of the Lord and it is. However, the irony is that coming in the name of the Lord for Jesus ultimately means he will be crucified. And this psalm is about Jesus. David pens it but the psalm is preaching Jesus and how he will be the fulfillment of David coming to Jerusalem. Palm Sunday will be the presence of God coming to his people. Yes this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice. However for Jesus, the day the Lord has made means he will be beat, mocked and crucified.
In Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, Ephesians and 1 Peter, verse 22 of Psalm 118 is quoted in relation to Jesus. One of the most often quoted psalm verses I regards to Jesus. Jesus is the cornerstone that has been rejected but ironically enough this rejected stone is the chief cornerstone. A turn of events. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords up to the horns of the altar.
A sacrifice must be made because God’s law has been transgressed. A people that God rescued and called his own has committed treason against him. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the altar. David rejoices in this psalm because God has provided the sacrifice for the people. So too Jesus will be bound. He is the final festal sacrifice. He will be led to the altar/cross but first he must come on the donkey. As the rest of the city is rejoicing, waving palms and thinking how glorious it is that the king of Israel has come, Jesus knows what is coming. Jesus knows what happens to the festal sacrifice. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Jesus knows what awaits the sacrifice, death. And yet he goes to Jerusalem, he rides the donkey without wavering. Jesus will not flinch.
Jesus comes into Jerusalem knowing full well what it means for him to come in the name of the Lord. He is troubled, but not in the sense that he isn’t going to complete his task. When you and I are troubled it is from unbelief and doubt. Jesus is troubled because of the pain and suffering he is to endure and for what? For us to be wish wash in our faith? Does Jesus endure this to give us reason to doubt him? Absolutely not.
Jesus doesn’t flinch because he trusts his father to save him. Jesus knows he has not sinned and that he will not be left in the grave, but more Jesus goes confidently because he knows that at the completion of his task you and I will not be left in our graves. Jesus is the gate of righteousness.
So like a warrior who fearlessly faces his enemies Jesus comes to face the devil. Except in the irony of all ironies Jesus wins by dying, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.
Jesus says, best job I ever had. To die so that we would win with him. Jesus dies to forgive you for not following your king. Jesus’ dies to forgive you for not going into each battle you face fearlessly but sometimes scared. Jesus goes so your sins are not held against you and for God to be glorified. He comes like King David, but he is not here to kill and take prisoner. He has not come to take people hostage and to conscript us in war. Jesus is coming as a king but not to put us under his finger, nor has he come to be served as a normal king demands. Jesus comes to serve us. Jesus comes to give his life.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Jesus bearing the name of the Lord means certain death for him but for you and I wearing the name of the Father, Son and Holy Sprit in baptism means certain life. The reason irony is such a powerful tool in movies and literature is because at its core it teaches the gospel. The ones who should lose win and the powerful in the end lose. Be careful though, once the Gospel loses its irony you are in danger of losing your faith. You either think you deserve the forgiveness of sins or you begin to think it is not so valuable. Jesus wins, he is raised but let us this week as we approach Maundy Thurs and Good Friday slowly and intentionally reflect on what our freedom cost our Lord. For in seeing the lengths to which he will go you will see that he will not abandon you now in your time of need. Do not fear, you can trust your king. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
One criteria that makes a movie good is that it has a really good bad guy. A good…bad guy makes for a good movie. The worse the bad guy is, the better the hero is for stopping him. Emily and I saw the movie 15:17 to Paris. Seemingly ordinary men skyrocketed to fame for defeating a very bad terrorist bent on murdering many people. How about Heath Ledger as the Joker in Batman. Hanibal lector Silence of the Lambs. Cruella Deville in 101 dalmations. Lex Luther. There is no shortage of good enemies. A good enemy makes for a good plot.
Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. Consider the enemies that have been at the top of the headlines these last few weeks. The murderer in Parkland Florida who murdered 17 people at a school.
Or how about the man who murdered the Richardson police officer two weeks ago? Well today our readings teach us who it is that is the enemy of God and what he does about it.
First consider our Gospel reading. Here we have someone who we might not consider such a good villain. It is Peter. At first Peter is seen as a hero! Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do yall say that I am?” Peter steps up, answers for all the disciples, he’s not afraid to play the part of spokesman for the apostles, Peter stands up, “You are the Christ.”
This is true. Even the devil confesses this. It is an accurate answer But Jesus takes it further. Jesus begins to teach. Jesus begins to answer the question that I drill in my confirmand's heads, “What does this mean?”
The disciples knew who Jesus was, but what does that mean?
Jesus begins to teach them “that vthe Son of Man must wsuffer many things and xbe rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and yafter three days rise again. 32 And he said this zplainly.”
There he is. There is the enemy. The elders, chief priest and scribes! They must be the enemy.
Peter speaks up again. Matthew tells us Peter says, “No Lord this shall not happen to you.” Peter rebukes Jesus. The enemy cannot win Jesus! They cannot kill you. You are too good. You are the hero not the villain. You are the Christ! The chosen one. The anointed one. We just saw it at the Transfiguration. We heard it. We know you were baptized by John. Not possible Jesus. You don’t know what you are saying, death is for the villain not for you.
In Peter’s opinion, Jesus makes for a pretty poor villain. No one would cast him for such a role. Yet this is what he is to do before his father in heaven. Jesus becomes your sin. Jesus, one who is no villain, in fact he is perfect, tells us and the whole world what it is he has come to do. Jesus becomes the worst villain in order to save you.
But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, a“Get behind me, Satan! For you bare not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” The brave Peter is now called Satan by Jesus. Peter was teaching the wrong doctrine. Peter was misusing God's word. Peter was breaking the 2nd commandment.
You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man. Now consider what Jesus is saying is the mind of God. The mind of God is for Jesus to die. To die, not for himself, but to die for the sins of the world. The sins of the elders, chief priests and the scribes. This is the mind of God. In death is victory.
If you could take the lethal injection for Nicholas Cruz to be spared would you do it? Would you take his place and die for your enemy?
No you wouldn’t. Neither would I. We do not have the mind of God.
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him cdeny himself and dtake up his cross and follow me. 35 For dwhoever would save his life4 will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake eand the gospel’s will save it. 36 fFor what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For gwhat can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For hwhoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this iadulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed jwhen he comes in the glory of his Father with kthe holy angels.”
We do not have the mind of God. The cross, our crosses are not our joys. Jesus went to the cross and it was his joy to endure the cross. To die for his enemies, for while we were enemies we were reconciled to Go dby the death of his son.
Son dead. Enemies saved. The perfect movie. The perfect director. The perfect writer, but this show won’t ever win an Oscar. The one who would be the worst choice for a villain in the history of the world turns out to be the best one cast for roll of Savior. For he comes to rid himself of all his glory so he could take your sin. All the times you have not desired to die to your selfish wants and would rather other people cater to your whims.
Jesus came to play your part as enemy of God, taking your sin of not having the things of God on your mind. Instead your mind is more content to think of how bad everyone else is. Perhaps you’re more content to whisper and gossip rather than speak openly with a fellow Christian. Maybe it is easier to not have devotions at home as you teach one another and bring your children up in God's word, but it certainly isn't faithful to Christ. Yes those sins of thoughts, words and deeds. Our villainous past laid upon the back of Christ. Yes we would be the better choice for villain, enemy number one. So we repent. For that is when we do not role play. That is when we speak the truth. When the Holy Spirit opens our lips. When we confess our sins. When is a liar telling the truth and not playing a part? When he says, “I am a liar.”
When are enemies of God no longer enemies? When God declares us forgiven for the sake of his son Jesus. You. You my dear friends are forgiven. Sins gone.
Are you an enemy of God? Yes my fellow sinners we are. But thanks be to God we are precisely the ones Jesus has come for. In his cross we are declared forgiven. In baptism that declaration of God’s forgiveness becomes personal. Do you still sin? You want more forgiveness? Good. For here in his supper he forgives you again. Personally. Again and again. Jesus’ body and blood seals his promise to you every time you eat and drink. In that declaration of God you receive a promise that you sins are forgiven and he will always take care of you.
This is where our OT lesson comes into play. Consider Abraham. God promised him a son in today’s reading but Abraham didn’t see this promise come true for 24 years. 24 years. It didn’t look good while Abraham was waiting, our crosses never do look good. So we too the church. The same position as Abraham. We trust in God’s promises. Even though it looks as if villains and enemies will win the day. Even those crosses that seem like enemies, crosses of sickness, cancer, bodies failing. Crosses of taking care of kids, taking care of parents, taking care of spouses, working at a dead end job, not finding a spouse, these crosses are crosses that God has put upon you. The cross is the enemy of our sinful flesh. He brings these crosses and he knows for how long they will weigh you down for it is only in these times we begin to die to our selfish desires and call out to him for forgiveness.
In the midst of your suffering and crosses you have peace with God. He gave his son up for you so that he would not give you up. The villains will not win. The enemy within your own heart won’t win, your sins have no claim on you. Jesus doesn’t just play your part, he has become your sin, taking your crosses and shown you how he is victorious. He becomes you in order for you to be sinless child before the father. What a script! What a show, but this is no movie. It is real. Real enemies. Real sinners, a real Savior, for you. It turns out that Jesus is the perfect villain, for he becomes our sin before God. He takes our place and we who were former villains, enemies of God are made perfect children by faith in Christ. Amen.
Lent 1B Genesis 22:1-18; Mark 1:9-15; James 1:12-18
Suffering is God pleasing when it points us to the promises of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ Jesus.
To many people, including ourselves, too often the greatest problem in life in our eyes is suffering. IF you want to convince someone to buy a product or pass legislation appeal to a part of their life where they are suffering in some way. Euthanasia and Dr assisted suicide is growing in popularity faster than any time in history. Just stop my suffering. Death even begins to look like a friend. People who suffer from chronic pain of some sort have a special cross to carry in this life. It’s hard to just function in life. Something just doesn’t look right.
Now consider Abraham. God called him to seemingly inflict one of the worst kinds of suffering in this life upon himself. Sacrifice your son. This was a dreadful command not because it caused so much suffering but because we can imagine Abraham saw the suffering that was to come for the rest of his life. But Abraham goes and he takes Isaac.
(We must first immediately address the question of whether God speaks to people telling them to murder their children. The answer is no. God does not speak to us apart from his word. Hebrews teaches that God spoke to his prophets of old in many and various ways, but now he speaks to us by his son. This is especially true when it comes to how we live our life in regards to our neighbor. God does not and will not ask us to murder anyone. In Isaac's case, God had attached a promise to this child. That from this child will come the Savior of the world. The temptation for Abraham was to worship this child. Not only that, but remember Abraham and Sarah pleaded with God for a child but they were barren. Then God came and told them they would have a son by his hand. So we can imagine the temptation to turn this child Isaac into a false idol. God tested Abraham because of the promise attached to Isaac. God does not attach promises to our children. Therefore this instance will never happen again. But Abraham even trusted in this instance. He knew God would raise Isaac. Abraham lived by faith. God does not ask us to take our children's lives but commands us to give our life for his children.)
Isaac’s name means he will laugh, there was not much laughing going on those few days between when God came to Abraham and they arrived at Moriah. Abraham was steadfast, not a time for grins and giggles. Neither did Isaac laugh. Isaac was a young man, he was not a toddler, he was not a boy. The youngest most commentators think he was is around 20. We many times just consider Abraham in this story but today let us also reflect on Isaac, he will laugh. Something just doesn’t look right.
Abraham was tested as was Isaac. I am always reminded when I hear this reading of Jesus’ haunting words Matthew 10:37, “If you love mother or father, son or daughter more than me you are not worthy to follow me.” Isaac didn’t need to be bound to follow his father. The young man at the peak of his physical stature Isaac followed. Abraham was no spring chicken either at over 100yrs old. He commanded his son and he followed. We think of trying to convince 20 yr olds to finish school work or not waste their lives. It would've been no contest with the old man and the young buck.
Isaac carried the wood up the mountain. Not only did he carry the fire for his sacrifice but he also willingly let his father Abraham bind him up when the time came. Isaac was silent as a sheep before the slaughter. Both men were being tested. It was a prayer, a petition that Isaac asked his father for clarification, or perhaps it was to confirm what he had already realized in his own mind as he saw it unfold, “Where is the lamb?” If it possible father take this cup from me. Something just doesn’t look right.
There is no easy answer for this story and I believe that is part of it’s purpose. God’s word doesn’t explain this story as much as we would like. All we know is that Abraham did this by faith in God’s promise. How does this make sense? But isn’t that precisely what we say when we face such a situation in our own life when we are tested? Why am I suffering so much? Why do I see my loved one suffering? We are tempted because we forget God’s promises to get us through.
God’s word is plain and simple, however it doesn’t always seem that way to us. Abraham could have certainly said, “Well God must just be speaking figuratively.” But no, Abraham trusted and believed what God had clearly called him to do. It seems wrong to us, but Abraham knew by faith it was right to obey God. Abraham did not doubt God in this instance. Abraham was willing to trust in God despite the suffering he saw coming. Isaac was willing to trust in face of suffering. Abraham knew that God would raise his son because he had a promise that from Isaac would come the Savior, Jesus. We though too often think our suffering is unjust. We do doubt. That we should for some reason be sparred suffering. That we don’t deserve it. That it is God who is wrong. That God has shorted us. It just doesn’t look right from our side of heaven. We demand some sort of perverted justice, we shake our fist at God and demand to be treated as we deserve. Thank God he doesn’t listen when we tempt him.
Contrast this with our Gospel reading that reminds us that Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. What had he done to deserve this? Jesus was true man. He could be tempted but it wasn’t as if he doubted. He went out to the wilderness to be tempted. To be brought low. To hunger. To be left alone but not to fend for himself but so that all he had was the promise of the Father spoken to him at his baptism, You are my beloved son. This was all he needed because there is nothing greater to have than to be promised to by God. He was satisfied to only have the promise. We desire when we are tempted because sin in us creates desire for more than God’s promises. We demand proof.
If you are on a diet rice cakes smothered in dirt and sewage is not all that appetizing. We aren’t tempted by that gourmet offering because we know it is disgusting. In past times this analogy would work, but today we are seeing people eating Tidepods so I don’t know what to say. I guess it is beyond any reasonable explanation…I think my parents said that about me once or twice but I digress. But we have no desire for things that are disgusting. Jesus was without sin and so he knows how disgusting sin is. Jesus suffers in his temptation. He is hungry. He is weak and yet even in this weakened state he does not desire to sin. Jesus does not desire to sin when tempted because he sees sin for what it truly is, rebellion and unbelief in God. Every sin is the middle finger to God. It is disgusting. It is vulgar. Yet when we are tempted, sin begins to look desirable because we doubt God and temptation turns to sin. We don’t think sin is disgusting. We are blinded by sin itself. We somehow legitimize sin, we explain it away.
Some animals will eat their own. Fish and other species somehow see fit to eat one another, it is strange and disgusting to us. However we humans in our fallen condition think it acceptable to eat one another in gossip and speaking ill of one another so we don't have to confess or repent to one another. "But pastor, It’s a dog eat dog world." but let it not be so among you Christians. Contrast this with Jesus going to the cross. Who considered it joy to endure his cross so that we would live. He gives up his life, willingly that we would live.
Consider this in light of Isaac who carried the wood. He bore his cross as did Abraham but Isaac is more of the Christ figure. Both Isaac and Abraham trusted God when things did not look right but knew that God would keep his promise. It was a promise that Jesus would come. Jesus tells us in John that Abraham saw him and here is where Abraham saw Christ’s day when he saw the lamb caught in the thicket.
Even in this instance Abraham never bragged about his willingness to sacrifice Isaac because he wasn’t doing it to earn God’s favor. Abraham did it because he knew God was faithful. Abraham didn’t fear suffering, he feared, loved and trusted in God above all things. And yet Abraham’s faith was still tainted by his flesh. Abraham still yet faltered in his perfect trust of God. This example dwarfs any victories in our own life we might be tempted to lift up before God. We are humbled by Abraham’s example and yet it was still not without sin.
So Abraham looked forward to Jesus’ day and he saw it. Abraham called the mountain, “the Lord will provide.” It is future. Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. Jesus is led to this mountain to be sacrificed. He carries the wood for the fueling of the fire of God’s wrath and on his altar with the wood he carried he was slain.
The one who avoided all sin even in the face of temptation takes our sin upon himself. We demand justice, we demand God give an answer for all the wrong things in this life and he does. He gives his son to end all suffering and the son willingly is bound, nailed, crucified. Jesus answers for all the times you have doubted. Jesus stands up and quietly goes to the cross carrying your sins. On his back he receives the just reward for your sins. Isaac was spared but Jesus is not. You are spared because Jesus was caught up in the bush of God’s wrath. Jesus endures your death for your rebellion. The father does not hold back his hand and his son dies for you to be spared. Jesus knew the suffering he would endure. The physical side of it was only half the pain. There was also the injustice of an innocent man suffering and dying for sins he did not commit. You are forgiven all your sins.
Suffering is not our worst enemy, unbelief is. Like Abraham and Isaac we see suffering coming but we do not lose heart. We’ve seen God’s faithfulness so we have no reason to doubt. So we willingly suffer if that means our faith is strengthened. We suffer scorn for believing that in baptism we are forgiven our sins. We are laughed at for believing that the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ body and blood. We suffer for being faithful. We suffer now during Lent as we avoid certain pleasures so we can spend more time praying. Perhaps you avoid sweet treats but do so not for the smaller waste line but to tame your desires so when you are tempted you can withstand the attacks of the devil. Our lives are not lived with the goal of minimizing suffering but our lives are lived with the goal of faithfulness. we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been poured out upon us generously in baptism.
4th Sunday after the Epiphany - Mark 1:21-28
- Today God is revealed to us as a God who is not out to get us but desires to proclaim his forgiving word to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God desires his word to be proclaimed. He spoke at Sinai, he told the Israelites that he would be on the mountain and speak to them from there. Today he speaks in the Gospel. He goes to the synagogue, a new Sinai where God speaks to his people and he taught. The location was right. The people expected to go to the synagogue to hear God's word. They gathered on the Sabbath to hear and God would speak from his word. This was common. However, as Jesus comes something uncommon happens in what should have been a common Sabbath. He teaches as one with authority. A new type of teaching.
It is always nice when a preacher can bring something new. I too, even as a pastor am always interested when a preacher teaches something new. It's exciting. However, new doesn't always mean good. Today's new is tomorrow's old. There is a part of us that is always looking for the newest and greatest. The newest iPhone, newest home, car or even church. "Have you tried that new restaurant?" You don't need to read a lot of reviews of a restaurant before your interest is peaked. The fact that the restaurant is new is enough to get you a little excited. IN our gospel reading people expected to hear God's word and receive teaching, it is also why you are here today. It should be anyway.
However, our text tells us something is new and different in the synagogue. A new teacher. A new message that will never become old. One who teaches with authority. Not exactly a kind of new teaching we in the good ole United States really like to hear about. We have a certain bias against authority. Speed limit 55, I'll go 59. Authority? No thanks. We’re the land of the free. James Dean, tattoos, rebels without a cause. We don't like authority because authority implies accountability.
We want to be left to be our own authority. To be the one responsible for our own well being. Therefore, Christianity that neglects the church and talks about me and Jesus only, is so popular. We don't need any authority thank you very much. Can't you hear in the demon's question that little voice in your head, "Who do you think you are God, meddling in our business?" Who do you think you are God causing my life to not go as I planned? Delaying surgery. The Flu. Slow healing. Why don't you make my kids listen? Why am I stressed at work? Why is the building project not going as we had hoped? What God do you have to do with us? Have you come to destroy us? To toy with us? To play with our feelings? To torture us? To lift us up just to let us down?
Why yes as a matter of fact that is what he has come to do. To mess our lives up. To cause us to stop. To cause us grief in this life. For you see this is precisely what he did to the man with the unclean spirit. He interrupted his day. And how ironic it was at the synagogue! And so, Jesus comes.
Jesus does come to afflict us with suffering. He has come exactly to mess up what we think are our perfect lives so that we do cry out to him. For you see it is only in these times that we realize, we need someone who has authority. That we do realize that we are indeed sinners in rebellion even when life seems to be going just fine. God comes and intervenes. He stirs our life up. He visits us in his mercy.
The demon was just fine without Jesus coming. But here comes an outsider. A visitor. And the demon is right. "Have you come to destroy us?"
Jesus, the holy one of God has every right to destroy. To destroy all evil. To destroy us. To sweep us away as in a flood. This is why we fear so much in this world. Why at night when there is a sound and immediately we think, "Someone is here to do me harm." How often when you hear a strange, unusual sound do you think, "Huh. Someone is here to give me some Blue Bell ice cream." No. We know deep down that we deserve destruction. Like Adam and Eve, we hear God and hide. Like the Israelites at Sinai, "Don't speak to us God."
But you see we need God to speak. We need the creative ordering authoritative word of God to come to us because we are in chaos. The devil has his way. Demons run rampant. Death seems to be victorious all around us. Evil seems to be winning the day and too often we are the ones going right along with it in our sin. But a foreigner comes. A prophet like Moses. A Hebrew among Egyptians. A holy man among sinners such as us. He comes as a stranger and does not come to destroy us, but to destroy sin and the devil. He by his word casts out demons. Defeats the devil.
Jesus comes and teaches his word. He speaks again and a new creation comes. A prophet is one who speaks. Who brings God's word. God will not stay silent. For he will come and be the authority he is. He will be held accountable, but not for any sin he committed, he doesn't sin. God comes to be held accountable for your sin.
Jesus doesn't come to the synagogue and offer a new way to God. Jesus doesn't come with new techniques to avoid sin. Jesus doesn't come to dazzle with miracles that are only there to get your attention and impress. Jesus doesn't come just to itch the ears of people who are just looking for the newest thing. Jesus comes and teaches with authority. He speaks and breaks the darkness.
Besides the same old song and dance, he brings a new song. A song of deliverance. A song of forgiveness. A song of authority. A song of the father's love for his fallen creation where he comes not to destroy but to save. He saves by giving himself for you. That God is not coming to destroy you. God does not afflict you to destroy you but to save you. To turn you from unbelief that God is angry and ready to kill you to see his Son Jesus dying in your place on the cross.
The people heard Jesus teach as one with authority. With authority comes accountability and he holds his son accountable for your sin.
God comes to us not to put us to death but to put to death your sins. Your guilt is gone. God comes in the night, the middle of our dark, silent night and brings the light of his forgiveness and promise of eternal life.
God is not out to get us. We see from our reading today. The man overcome by the demon is not destroyed by Jesus but rescued. No word of rebuke from Jesus to the man. No, it’s too bad you really should get your act together. Jesus doesn’t come to destroy the man but to save him. Jesus knows how powerless we are against sin and death so he comes to save us. And he comes among us here, a new Sabbath, in his father’s house just as he came that Sabbath day. He is here not to scare you into submission but to free you from your demons. Those sins that seem to have authority over you. Though you try and try and try he speaks and you are clean. Forgiven. It turns our sin and death does not have authority over you.
The new thing today is that because of Jesus’ death on the cross you are considered as new before God and that never wears out. That Jesus’ death on the cross was for you, for you to be baptized into. This is what our ears should be itching to hear and receive from God. Your old sins are gone. Our ears should itch to hear and our tongues pant to receive in his body and blood shed on the cross. Because of Jesus’ authority over sin and death he comes to free you from your guilt that you would live by faith, to live without fear of the devil nor of the evil in the world and our own flesh.
We have a right fear of God. The Psalmist today echoes that passage we all remember from Proverbs, "The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."We are not afraid of him as the demons are, but we do fear him rightly. The difference is like this, being afraid is fear that God will come to us. True fear of God is fear that he will leave. It is not enough to know God, even the demons do that. Faith is trusting that since Jesus’ death was for our sins, that in all things God works for the good of those who believe.
3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
Jonah 3:1-5; 10 Mark 1:14-20
Growing up on the playground, at a time when we got together with our friends at recess to play sports and not sitting in front of computer screens, there was always the liturgy of picking teams. You had team captians who would choose according to who was the best at whatever sport the playground mob chose at the time. Skills became the basis for choice because you always wanted to win. Our readings today reveal to us that God desires above all things to save us. To forgive us. To teach us his truth. For us to hear, because faith comes by hearing. God's goal is not to win but to give his life as a ransome for all and teach us so that we would endure to eternal life. God desires all to be saved. So one might wonder if God is so set on saving us why is he so backwards sometimes?
Take for example our Gospel reading. Jesus is choosing his team of apostles. His representatives. His first shepherds. Jesus who had his choice of all people chose today Peter, Andrew, James and John. Fishermen who were just doing their jobs. They weren't that great at fishing anyway, remember they were skunked a number of times fishing having empty nets. Their fathers perhaps were good fishermen, they had fishing buisnesses, but we have reason to believe the apostles weren't that special. So why did Jesus choose them?
These men weren't always so personable. Peter when questioned by a little girl at Jesus’ trial cursed her in front of people when she asked if he was part of Jesus' band of rebels. James and John argued over who was the greatest. None of these men we would probably choose to be part of our team however our Lord is not interested in the same things we, nor the disciples often are. If anything our Gospel reading starts out quite appropriately to warn us to not make too many assumptions about being someone who follows Jesus, "After John was arrested."
John the Baptist, the greatest one born of women, arrested. The one who had the priviledge of announcing that the Lord is nigh, arrested. Imprisoned. Probably scorned by passers by when they see him in the jail, parents telling their kids, "Don't be like him.” I think there is a song somewhere in Jerusalem, Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be prophets.”
John was arrested and what does Jesus say, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” The kingdom of God is at hand and the number two guy is thrown in jail. Some kingdom. Is this what it looks like when the kingdom of God comes? Even John the Baptist sends an entourage to ask Jesus, “Are you the one because it doesn’t look like it?”
Our OT lesson is from Jonah. Jonah was of such fine upstanding character when God spoke to him and told him to go to Nineveh he said, No thanks. I'll go this way. Jonah would rather be thrown into the ocean in the middle of a storm than go to Nineveh. Why did Jonah not want to go to Nineveh? Because he knew God's word works. God is no respecter of men. When GOd's word is preached people repent and believe and Jonah hated the Ninevites. He hated them because they were vicious people. They tortured people they conquored. Jonah didn't want them to hear God's word, not exactly a team player.
From our readings today it almost seems as if Jesus looks for the worst candidates for his team, the worst team players and says, “Yes these will do.” AS if Jesus asks us, “Who would you not choose?” and then he chooses those. And this is precisely why our Lord can choose as it were, losers, because it is not how good or how bad we are that gets us into God’s kingdom, but how great is his love for us.
And yet if we rightly reflect on our own lives we can see Jesus working this way in our own lives. We aren’t directly called by Jesus. Jesus doesn’t appear to us in the flesh and call us directly, but he does call us indirectly through the word. Jesus calls us to follow him through means indirectly. This is one reason we don’t throw the term apostle around. We consider the title apostle to be very special, a term reserved for those sent directly by Jesus. Apostle is a specific office of being sent directly by Jesus, but we too retain some of this office. We are sent. We are called by the Gospel. The Holy Spirit calls us into the faith and then we go to live our lives according to our callings. We are called to go forward and follow our Lord in faithfulness wherever he calls us.
And it’s never as bad as Jonah is it?
We wouldn’t be so brave as to neglect God’s instructions for our life would we? The fact of the matter is we’re pretty stubborn ourselves when it comes to getting along with people we don’t like. Jonah had the Ninevites, the scourge of humanity in his opinion and you have, them. You have that coworker, that relative, that neighbor. No thanks God I would rather not and we walk to the harbor of our own heart, board that boat pride and sail into anger and resentment for a three hour tour. And that itinerary is certain to end in a drowning of unrepentance. Do not bury your anger with one another, neither try to swallow it, repent. Confess.
The apostles this morning don’t question Jesus. Follow me. They drop their nets and go. Jesus calls us to forsake the ways of this world. To leave behind the desire to be first in all things and even to not desire to be second but to consider yourself least in all situatuations. Jesus hasn’t called us to be apostles but he does call us to come along side of him. To cooperate with the Holy Spirit and lead godly lives. To turn from temptations. To not be so angry. The men Jesus called to be apostles, they weren’t perhaps what we consider the best representatives but they did want to serve the Lord in faithfulness and they ultimately were willing to give their lives for the gospel. They could’ve given up. They could’ve given in to sin, but they didn’t and we should follow their example. To not become saddened where God has called us even if we don’t like where God has put us. Repent, for the kingdom of God is here.
“Yes pastor we’ve heard it all before. Repent, confess believe” But you see this is how Jesus says his kingdom comes. Die to your self righteousness and pride and hear the Gospel that Jesus forgives you. Again. Yes as often as you sin Jesus desires to claim you as his again and again. Calling you to die in repentance, remembering your death in baptism and being raised to life again in his kingdom.
God's word accomplishes what he desires and brings his kingdom. Faith comes by hearing. It isn't "faith came by hearing" but faith comes, continually to you. God's kingdom comes to us through his word and the visible word, his sacraments. God's kingdom continually comes to you to bring you back.
The OT lesson begins, “And God’s word came to Jonah a second time.” A second time. You see Jonah ran but God caught him by the whale and brought him back. The disciples over and over again doubted, didn’t trust and yet our Lord still called them and kept them in his possession. He forgave them and he forgives you, a second time, third and even more. For as sure as you sin, Jesus Christ has died for those sins, crucified for you, raised for you to see his kingdom cannot be shaken. For Christ did not come to win as we would consider winning. He came to die for sinners. When we would choose only winners so our enemies would die, Christ chose to die that we would all win. And yes we run to wrong way too often. Yes we sometimes refuse to leave the comforts of the life we know, but Christ has forgiven all you Jonah’s, all you Peter’s, James and Johns. Christ’s kingdom is victorious when sinners are forgiven.
Jesus can choose unimpressive apostles because it is his word that cannot be defeated. His word that even though you may feel beat down, lost, perhaps even beyond God’s forgiveness, he will not forsake you for he has already placed you in his kingdom by the word and the waters of baptism. A call to follow him in his kingdom trusting in his mercy. A kingdom not of struggling and fighting to win, but a kingdom that already has the victory and now we enjoy the spoils of his love, his protection. His promise that everything will be just fine. You are safe in his net of forgiveness caught by his apostles preaching passed down even into your ears this morning. For this is how his kingdom comes, repent and believe even as we pray, thy kingdom come.