Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Seventeenth Week after Pentecost (September 17-22, 2018)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: James 4:10 - “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #851 “Lord of Glory, You Have Bought Us”
Hymns for Sunday: 904, 851, 634, 581 (1-2, 6, 11-12), 857, 821

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Psalm 54
David was fleeing for his life, but he does not blame God but trusts Him. Do you ever blame God for troubles? Why?

Ezekiel ate God’s Word to speak God’s Word. How about you? Why might it be hard for us to speak God’s Word?

Wednesday:  Matthew 9:9-13
Commemoration of St. Matthew (Friday).Why did Jesus choose Matthew? Why did He choose you?

Thursday:  Jeremiah 11:18-20
Who are these words about? Jeremiah? Jesus? Both? How can you now confidently “commit your cause to the Lord”?

How are a worldly life and a godly life different? Why?

Saturday: Mark 9:30-37
What two things does Jesus teach His disciples here? How do they go together?

The Catechism - The Creed: The Third Article (part 3) – I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church . . . What does this mean? I believe that . . .  in the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers . . . (Next week: What does this mean? concluded.)

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ physical help and strength of faith for all recovering from Hurricane Florence.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, guidance, and strength for Pastor Douthwaite.
+ the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and provision for the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.


Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Pentecost 17 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Raising a Son, a Father, and You”
Text: Mark 9:14-29; James 3:1-12

(An oldie, but hopefully goodie, today. After a week with my wife away at a conference, a root canal, dental crown, and a few other extra demands thrown my way, time got away from me. So a gently reworked sermon from yesteryear this week . . . )

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!

I cannot think of a better description of a Christian and of the Christian life than that. Six little words that encapsulate our lives so perfectly.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First we need to consider the story we heard those words in today that led up to this marvelous confession.

So first, Jesus, Peter, James, and John had just come down from Jesus’ Transfiguration to rejoin the other nine disciples. Which means that while Jesus was showing His divine nature and glory to Peter, James, and John by shining like the sun and conversing with Moses and Elijah about the fact that He, God in the flesh, had come to die for the sin of the world . . . at about the same time that was happening on top of the mountain, the story we heard today was taking place at the foot of the mountain.

Now picture the scene. It had started off well. A father, concerned for his son who is in desperate need, brings his son to Jesus. Which is actually the first interesting thing to note in this story: the father says to Jesus, “I brought him to you” even though, technically and literally speaking, he didn’t. Jesus wasn’t there. But in asking the disciples to cast out the spirit who was possessing his son, he recognizes the disciples as those authorized and sent by Jesus to do these things, and so really the same as bringing his son to Jesus.

So he asks the disciples to cast out the spirit, but they are not able. And as a result an argument breaks out. An argument that apparently is drawing a great crowd. You know the kind - as voices raise to yelling and accusations start flying back and forth. But here’s the next interesting part: the boy and his father are still there! The father still worried and concerned and the son still possessed and in desperate need while the scribes and disciples - and others? - are standing around arguing. Did not! Did too! You can’t! We can! Frauds! Hypocrites!

And you can imagine Jesus, when He gets there, planting His face in His hand and sighing: “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”

And in the embarrassed silence that settles over the crowd, Jesus puts the focus back on the child, back on his desperate need. And back to the real problem here - the faith problem, which showed itself in the scribes, the disciples, and the father. The father, the honest one here, who in confusion, in desperation, in faith, and probably on the verge of tears and at the end of his rope, finally cries out to Jesus: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

He really did believe. That’s why he came. That’s why he brought his son to Jesus in the first place. And what does he believe? That Jesus can help. That Jesus wants to help. That Jesus has come to help. And yet at the same time there’s something else in him that he wrestles with - those doubts . . . that maybe he’s not worthy of Jesus help; that maybe Jesus doesn’t want to help him; that maybe he’s beyond Jesus’ help. He’s this mixed up jumble of belief and unbelief, of saint and sinner.

Just like us.

For this is really what we’re saying every time we confess our sins: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. I believe that you are the Son of God who came to die for my sins on the cross. I believe that you have given me my faith and new life. I believe in your promise of forgiveness and that I am your child. I believe that you are blessing me and working all things for my good; that you are merciful and gracious. Yes, I believe all this.

And yet . . . I have lived this day, this week, as if I didn’t. As if everything were up to me instead of living as a child of God and trusting in my heavenly Father. As if I were in competition with others instead of seeing them as ones you have put here for me to help and care for. When trouble came I doubted your love and when it stayed I doubted your mercy. And when things were going good, I didn’t even think of you much of that time, as the one who was giving me that good.

That’s why I’ve complained and failed to thank you. That’s why my tongue which blesses you here on Sunday spoke harsh and unloving things this week. That’s why I’ve been quick to accuse and slow to forgive. That’s why I’ve rejoiced in others failures and was jealous at their success and good fortune. I believe, and yet . . . what a jumbled, mixed-up sack of belief and unbelief I am. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. Forgive me, restore me, help me, strengthen me.

Yes, that’s what we say every time we come to Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer and pray for forgiveness. And also what we say at the beginning of every Divine Service here, when we come to Jesus through the one He authorized and sent here to speak His word of forgiveness to us. And your sins are forgiven. Not because your prayer is so good, or your pastor can do so, but because of the promise of your Saviour when after His resurrection from the dead He said to His disciples, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.  . . .  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them . . .” (John 20:21-23).

So don’t overlook this fact in this story: the first person Jesus helped here was the father, who had been bruised and battered over the difficulties with his son, with the arguing of those who should have been helping him, and with his own struggles of faith. Jesus addresses him first, exposing his unbelief in order to help him, too. As He now does for you and me.

Then Jesus turns to the boy - this boy whom an unclean spirit has been trying to destroy since childhood, the father says. Or, that is to say: ever since he has been my son. You can almost hear the weariness in the father’s voice . . .

This is a picture of our situation as well - before we were the jumbled, mixed-up sack of belief and unbelief that we are. For just as Jesus spoke to that boy and gave him life, so Jesus has done for us. For in baptism, through water and the Word, Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit in each of us and raises us from being dead in sin to a new life in Him (Romans 6).

So both father and son were cleansed, released, renewed, and restored. As usual, Jesus gives even more than is asked or expected. And not by two miracles, but really by one and the same miracle: the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness is the key. For that is the help that we need at all times and in all places - the cleanness and new life of baptism, the release from our bondage - to sin, and the return to that cleanness and new life in forgiveness. And, like the father, because our sinful nature often gets the best of us, this washing and cleansing and raising of forgiveness is not just a one time, or a weekly, or even a daily, but a continual promise. That wherever we are and whatever situation we find ourselves in, Lord, I believe; help my unbelief! is exactly what Jesus has come to do. To forgive our sin. To strengthen our faith. To give us new life.

Which is why Jesus came down from His Transfiguration and did not stay there. The transfiguration shows us that the one who hung on the cross for us was no mere man, but God Himself - the divine and glorious Son of God in human flesh. And that Son of God in human flesh would be the Son destroyed by our uncleanness. Not because it was more powerful than He, but because He put Himself there, in our place, to bear our uncleanness and so be the unclean one forsaken by His Father, and die our death. And those who were there at the cross that day - disciples, soldiers, and onlookers alike - all said (like they did in our story today), He is dead. And then this Son who raised the dead rose from the dead Himself, that joined to Him there may be new life for us too.

And that new life has been given to you, for baptism and forgiveness - like we saw with the son and his father - are like little resurrections. Both were given new life. And now Jesus comes to us and takes us by the hand and sayes arise. Arise from your unbelief; arise from your uncleanness; arise and live a new life. And rising, He now bids us come to His table to be fed by Him. That the resurrection to faith and new life given by Him be now strengthened by Him - with His own Body and Blood. That sin and uncleanness not have free reign or dominion in our lives, but that Christ now live and reign in us.

And He does. So even though Lord, I believe; help my unbelief! is our prayer and will always be our prayer as long as we live on this side of eternity, it is no longer a prayer of despair, but of confidence and hope. For as we live simultaneously as saints declared righteous and sinners who fall, it is always as dear children of God in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Our Saviour who came down from heaven to be born in our flesh, who came down from His Transfiguration to die our death, and now resurrected and ascended still comes down to you and me to help and to heal, to restore and renew, to favor and to forgive.

So do not despair, do not doubt, do not fear. Pray. Pray Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. And as He did for this father and his son, so Jesus comes to do for you.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Pentecost 16 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“O Lord, Ephphatha Us!”
Text: Mark 7:31-37 (James 2:1-10, 14-18; Isaiah 35:4-7a)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Did you ever wonder how Jesus could see and hear so much better than us? And I don’t mean just that He didn’t need glasses or hearing aids. How could Jesus see the needs of others better than we? How could Jesus hear the cries of the poor and needy better than we? How could Jesus have compassion so much better than we?

I think the answer we often give, how we often think, is that it’s because He’s God. And so as God, He will be and just be able to do things we will never be able to be and do.

Well, yes. And no.

The Bible is clear that Jesus is God. True God, as we confessed once again in the Creed this morning: God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God

But He is the true God in human flesh. Incarnate. Or to use the words of the Creed we spoke this morning again: who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man. And Jesus is a man, a human being, the Scriptures say, who is just like us in every way. He isn’t some new kind of super-being, half-man, half-god; some kind of science fiction type of being. He is the 100% true God and a 100% true man in one person. Or as the Athanasian Creed says: perfect God and perfect man

And that, in fact, is the only distinction between Jesus’ manhood and ours - He is in every way just like us, except without sin. Jesus is perfect man.

And that, I think, is the reason why He could see what we cannot see, and hear what we cannot hear, and feel what we cannot feel - not just because He was God. For although that’s true, an important point in theology is that although He is God, Jesus willingly didn’t use His power as God for Himself. He always had that power, as we heard today. He healed a man who was deaf, and you and I cannot do that. So He always had that power. But He didn’t use it for Himself. For although He could heal, He also got hungry. He also got tired. He wept. He didn’t teleport Himself or zap Himself to where He wanted to go, He walked. So He really is a true man just like you and me in every way, except without sin. 

And I think that’s important and what I want to think about a little today. Because if Jesus could see and hear and feel better than we simply because He’s God, then these are things I will never be able to do. These are God things, so, oh well, why bother? Why try? 

But if Jesus can see and hear and feel better than we not because He’s God but because He’s a true and perfect-without-sin MAN, then we see how we who are born with sin aren’t what we should be. How sin has infected us and effected us far more than we realize. That it is the sin in us that makes us blind to the needs of others. It is the sin in us that makes us deaf to the cries for help of the poor and needy. It is the sin in us that when we do see and hear them and their cries, we are . . .   sometimes? oftentimes? . . . so cold and heartless and uncompassionate toward them - looking away, pretending not to see, assuming something bad about them. That’s not an excuse, to let us of the hook; but the reality of who we are.

And so Jesus is not what we can never be - He is what we used to be! Before sin entered the world and brought us down into the depths of sin and death, corrupting our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits.

And this sin has not just effected our relationships with each other, but with God, too. We have become blind to His working, deaf to His Word, and so utterly confused about His love and compassion for us. Not understanding His Word. Not realizing what love really is and what His love is really all about.

And so what I’ve taken a really long time here to say is this: that deaf man in the story today? That’s not just a cool story. That’s us

And that’s why - if you were here for the Sunday School opening today, when we sang Matins together - that’s why we sang the words from the psalmist that says: O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise. And it’s why we need to pray in the same way: O Lord, ephphatha me! O Lord, open my eyes, that I may see the needs of others. O Lord, open my ears, that I may hear their cries for help. O Lord, open my heart, that I may be compassionate.

But this, too: O Lord, ephphatha my eyes, that I may see my sin. O Lord, open my ears, that I may hear the truth of Your Word. O Lord, open my mouth, that I confess my sin.

And then this, too: O Lord, ephphatha my ears to hear Your Word of forgiveness. O Lord, open my eyes to see You on the cross where my sin was atoned for and my death was put to death. O Lord, open my heart to believe that You did all this for me. And then open my mouth to declare Your forgiveness to others - both speak of the forgiveness I have received, and also to forgive those who sin against me.

And then how great would it be for what we heard at the end of the story in the Holy Gospel to be true today - that we could not stop talking about Jesus. That it would be said of us: those Christians won’t stop talking about Jesus and all that He has done for them!

This is what Isaiah said would happen when God comes. When God comes, Isaiah said, with vengeance and recompense - pay back! Not against you, but to save you. Not against you, but against sin and all the way it has ravaged us. God is on your side.

But sometimes it doesn’t seem like it, does it? It seems as if the God who in Jesus saw and heard and had compassion isn’t that God anymore. We pray and it seems as if God is deaf to us. We pray and it seems like nothing happens. It seemed that way to David sometimes too, and led him to write what we sang today in the Introit: O Lord, be not deaf to me. Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy.

But then he also writes: Blessed be the Lord! For He has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. What we sometimes think or feel isn’t the reality. Yes, He hears. The God we know in Jesus is still our God. He has not changed. He hears.

And He speaks. God is not silent either. The God who spoke ephphatha to the deaf man, opened His ears, and loosed His tongue, is the God who speaks to us still today. Not in a booming voice from heaven or words that we hear when we’re lying on our beds at night. More reliable and consistent words that those.

He speaks to us here and says: I forgive you all your sins. And they really are. Because Jesus told those He sends out to speak these words: He who hears you hears me (Luke 10:16). And while in many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets, He now in these last days has spoken to us by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2a). And we have those words. The Scriptures. And the preaching of them. Telling us who are our Lord is and all that He has done for us and for our salvation. And teaching us who we are - who we once were, who we are now, and who we will be again.

Who we will be when sin is finally and fully removed from us. That will be in the resurrection. But started now. Started now by the Holy Spirit given you in your baptism. The Holy Spirit whose job is to make you holy. And by the words of absolution cleansing your hearts. And by the Body and Blood of Jesus placed into your mouths here at the altar. All this to make you again what you once were. To conform you to the image of the Son, of Jesus. That you begin to be like Him. On this side of the grave and eternity, you won’t be perfect man as He was. But you will begin to be like Him. To see as He saw. To hear as He hear. To have compassion as He did. And maybe even laying down your life for others as He did. Not because you have to; because it’s a rule. And not to save yourself; Jesus already did that. But because that’s who you now are, in Him. Because you are a son of God, too.

No matter who you are. For as we heard from James today, God shows no partiality. Jesus died for the sins of every person. From the guy who sleeps under the bridge at night to the guy who sleeps in the White House at night. From the woman who makes millions to the one who works at Chik-Fil-A. From the one who lives in the 21st century to the one who lived before Jesus was born. From the eskimo to the aborigine to the barbarian to the anglo-saxon. Makes no difference. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23b-24).

Thats how you know Jesus is for you, and what He has done is for you. If the Word of God said some people or even most people but not all people, then you couldn’t be sure which group you fell into - that this word is for you. But it says all people. And so that’s you. Jesus died for you. His forgiveness is for you. His life and salvation is for you. His Baptism and Supper are for you. And through all these He ephphathas you. And most importantly, ephphathas the grave for you. That won’t be your end. For his life is for you, too.

And that you have received. Now. That you see and hear and speak. Now. That though you are not what you once were, you be again. Even now. In Jesus. The Word made flesh. For you. The Word who speaks for you and to you. The Word who ephphathas you. Now. And you are. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Pentecost 15 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Put on the Armor of God”
Text: Ephesians 6:10-20 (Mark 7:14-23)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Put on the whole armor of God.

So said St. Paul. So I started thinking about armor.

In Paul’s day, the word armor would have invoked thoughts of Roman soldiers in their protective vesture - helmets, breastplates, and shields. Well-prepared for battle.

Later, in medieval times, there were suits of armor, covering a person from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. An impenetrable covering to protect them.

Now days we have armor-plating on our tanks and warships, and the presidential limousine is armor-plated all around, providing a protective cocoon for the president wherever he goes.

Armor has a long history. To protect us against the enemies trying to hurt us.

But what if the enemy isn’t outside of you but inside of you? Then what? The armor does you no good. It could, in fact, hurt you. Trapping you inside, or giving you a false sense of security - thinking that you’re safe and so letting your guard down and making yourself, really, more vulnerable than ever.

So not just armor is needed, but the right armor. And to know the right armor, you have to know the enemy rightly. To know how to defend. To know what to defend.

And so for us, as Christians, the right armor is the armor of God, because the enemy, Paul goes on to say, is not one that any armor of this world can defend against. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. The armor of this world can protect the body, but only the armor of God can protect the heart. 

That was the point Jesus was making in the Holy Gospel we heard today. Those words are a continuation of the Holy Gospel we heard last week, when the Pharisees were accusing the disciples of Jesus of not keeping the rules and traditions of the elders. Wrong armor, Jesus is saying. Rules and traditions - how to wash, when to wash, what to eat, and things like that - they’re not necessarily bad and maybe serve a purpose. But if you’re depending on them or others kinds of good works to protect you or save you . . . wrong armor

Because the truth is, you’re being attacked from within. It is the unclean thoughts and desires that are lurking in your heart and in your mind - evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness - that are hurting you. Whether they come out in words and actions or not, they are doing their awful work. They are consuming you, corrupting you, corroding you, from the inside out.

So something else is needed. A different kind of armor.

But before we move onto that, consider how we do this, too - put on the wrong kind of armor - not just the Pharisees. The Pharisees did it with their rules and regulations and traditions, thinking this was the armor they needed that would protect them. How do we do it? How do you do it? Try to protect yourself. What barriers or wrong armor do we put up around us to keep those we think are hurting us out? Physical barriers, maybe. But more often, I think, emotional ones, walls around our hearts - excuses to protect our hurting conscience, attacking others to defend our pride, justifications to keep out accusations or condemnation. And what about denial? Or maybe we just separate ourselves and go into our own little cocoons. 

But it doesn’t work, does it? And then what? The barriers and wrong armor we’ve put up and put on then trap us instead of protect us. Our cocoon becomes our prison. Trapping us in despair, in doubt, in unbelief, in the very sin we were trying to protect ourselves from.

No, this kind of armor doesn’t work. Romans soldiers were eventually defeated. There’s a reason suits of armor aren’t used anymore. Armor-plating cannot protect against electronic warfare. And presidents and other public figures have often been brought down how? From the sin within. From what has come from their own hearts.

So time, maybe, to try something new? 

Put on the armor of God.

So I was thinking about armor, and this kind of armor, and a story popped into my head. The story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Do you remember that story? David went out to fight the Philistine giant Goliath who seemed invincible. (And who, by the way, had his own armor to protect him.) Yet David defeated him with just a stone and a sling. Goliath had mocked him for coming out with such weak weapons, but David knew what Goliath didn’t know: the right armor.

For you see, that’s not the whole story. Because something happened earlier in that story that is not a small detail, but actually pretty important in this context. When Saul finally decided to let David go out and fight Goliath, the first thing he did was tell David to put on his armor - Saul’s armor, the king’s armor, which was the best armor - to protect himself. And David tried, but it didn’t fit. David was still a boy and Saul was a man of war. So David took it off. He wouldn’t go into battle with this kind of armor, but with the armor of faith and truth. The armor of trusting in the Lord and His promises, rather than trusting in the strength of man.

It seemed stupid. It seemed foolish. It seemed like David was going to his death.

But David knew the battle wasn’t really a physical one, but a spiritual one. Would they trust God and His promises to them? Would God fight for them? Only by taking OFF Saul’s armor could David’s put ON God’s armor. For the armor that looked strong would, in truth, make David weak. But the armor that looked weak, made David strong.

So what about you and your life? 

Put on the armor of God.

The truth is, the Good News is, you already have this armor! It was given you in your baptism when you were clothed - armored! - with Christ and His righteousness, His truth, His life, His forgiveness. The devil has nothing that can pierce that armor. He tried. He unleashed everything he had against Jesus, in His life and in His death . . . and so on that third day when the seal on the grave was broken and the tomb empty, he had nothing left. He was defeated. He was left empty-handed. His prey had gotten away.

And clothed - armored! - with Christ and His righteousness, His truth, His life, and His forgiveness, the devil has no hold on you either. 

So to put on the armor of God, as Paul says here, is to put on Christ. To live in the promises of Christ given you in your baptism. 

Which means not to deny your sin, or deny that what you’re doing is sin, or try to justify your sin - wrong armor! But confess your sin, because you have the promise of forgiveness. Right armor.

Which means not to go along with the opinions of others or what the world or culture today says is good and right - wrong armor! That might seem safer for the moment, but the opinions and thoughts and things of this world come and go, change, and will finally leave you wondering if there’s any truth at all! But the Word of the Lord and the truth of His Word last forever (1 Peter 1:24-25; Isaiah 40:6-8). Right armor.

To put on the armor of God means not to rely on yourself and what you can do - wrong armor! But rely on Christ and what He has done for you. Right armor.

It means not to hide or separate yourself from others - wrong armor! That’s armor that just causes fear and despair and bitterness to be locked up in your heart. But do good to those who persecute you, forgive them, pray for those who hurt you, love those who hate you. Right armor

It means not to try to clean yourself up and come before God as somebody He should love - wrong armor! But rather come as the sinner you are and pray (as we did in the Introit today): Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10). For whenever God creates, it is always from nothing. In the beginning, God spoke and it came to be. And now, too, God speaks and it is. The Word preached, proclaimed, washed, and fed to us. Making us new creations. Right armor.

You get it?

It’s not easy. Paul was in chains as he wrote these words. But clothed with Christ, armored with Christ, he knew he was safe. He knew he was secure. He knew he was in the right armor. Even when the sword came down upon his neck and his now bodyless head fell to the ground, His armor - the righteousness, truth, life, and forgiveness of Christ - protected him and saved him. Death just took him from this life to the next.

That’s pretty good armor!

So what do you think? Want that kind of armor? You already have it! You are a baptized child of God. So do not be afraid, even if you’re staring down a Goliath of a problem or issue in your life! Take off the armor you’ve been relying on, that’s weighing you down and not really working anyway. And put on the armor of God. The armor of Christ - His Word, His forgiveness, His life. That’s the right armor. Maybe it looks weaker and you think it weaker. But if so, then remember these words, also from the apostle Paul: when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Pentecost 14 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Changing to Word, or the Word Changing You?”
Text: Mark 7:1-13; Isaiah 29:11-19; Ephesians 5:22-33

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We all do it. We all think we know better. We know what’s right. We know what’s good. At least, good for us.

We all do it. We’re all experts in our own lives. What we want, what we need, and how to get what we want and what we need.

We all do it. Children think they know better than their parents. Employees think they know better than their bosses or managers. Players think they know better than their coaches. Pastors think they know better than their District President. Drivers think they know better than the traffic laws. And where else? How do you do it? ‘Cause we all do it. 

And then this too, of course: we think we know better than God. That’s why we sin, after all. Doing what we want, not what God wants. That’s why we disagree with certain things in the Bible. Questioning God and His ways and His love. We know better, and, well, I think He should do things my way and agree with me. Just like my boss should, and my parents should, and my coach should, and the laws should. Do it my way, and then this world would be a better place.

Right.

We don’t put it like that, though. So crassly. We make what we think, what we want, sound good, not rebellious. We call it fairness, freedom, reason, love. And maybe, when it comes to people in the world, maybe sometimes we do know better. But when it comes to God, good and pious sounding names and rationalizations don’t change the fact of what we’re doing: going our own way, and expecting God to bless us in it.

That’s what the Pharisees had done at the time of Jesus. They had lots of rules and traditions that they made sound pious and holy and made them look pious and holy, but that weren’t good at all. One of them was this thing Jesus mentioned in the Holy Gospel today, something called “corban.” To explain what that was in a modern way of thinking . . . it was as if I made out my will and said in it that all my earthly possessions I give to God. And so after I die, all I have is His. So really, it’s all His now. But until I die, I get to use it. But - and here’s the kicker - I can use it, but I can’t use any of it for, like, you know, taking care of other people, like my parents. For then I would be robbing God of what’s His. So mom, dad, I’m sorry. You’re on your own. I promised, I “corban-ed,” everything I have to God.

Oh, what a holy person, that Pharisee! He’s giving all that he has to God!

But Jesus thinks otherwise. That’s not what God wants. That’s not what He commanded. That’s not good or holy or pious at all. God said: Honor your father and your mother. Honor them as God’s representatives for you, to take care of you and provide for you. And you, in turn, obey them, love them, serve them, cherish them. Take care of them. That’s God’s good order. And this corban thing? No. You are making void the word of God by your tradition. By what you think is good. By what you think is better than the Word of God.

So, stick to God’s Word. Okay, that’s pretty clear. Maybe obvious. Especially to Christians. So let’s dig a little deeper. Here’s really what I what to think about a bit today: why? Why should we stick to God’s Word? Why should we do what He says? Why does it matter?

Some would simply say because that’s the rules, that’s the commandments. Like when children ask: why do I have to? And parents respond: because I said so! All you kids out there . . . that doesn’t really fly, does it? That’s not a good answer. And you parents, it might be right, but it’s not a good answer. And it’s not really why we should stick to God’s Word and do what He says, either. 

Because what that does is make the Bible a rule book. Just a book of dos and don’ts because God said so. But the Bible is not a rule book. It has rules and command-ments in it, yes, but it’s not a rule book. There’s an old acronym you may have heard, that the Bible is Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth . . . ugh! No! That’s not it at all. The Bible is a Jesus book. It is the book that teaches us about Jesus and who He is and what He has done for us, and so it is a book that teaches us about God and all that He is and does for us. Because that’s what we need to know. He - not rules - is what saves us.

So what happens when we change God’s Word? When we change a book that is all about Jesus? What happens when we substitute something else for what He said? Then we also change the way we think of God. And not for the better.

So take, for example, the Pharisee’s “corban.” How would that tradition change the way people thought about God? Well, it is basically saying that God doesn’t want you to take care of your parents - He wants your money instead. So what kind of God is that? 

Or, how about some modern day examples - if we can be whoever we think we are, and that doesn’t have to have anything to do with how we were born or any objective, physical reality . . . then that influences how we think about God. That God made a mistake when I was created. Or if what I think determines reality, then God is whoever or whatever I think God is or should be.

Think also about marriage, which Paul is talking about in the Epistle today. Marriage has undergone a lot of changes lately. Redefinition. Does it matter? . . . besides God simply wagging His finger at us and saying: because I said so! Well according to Paul, yes! Because, he says, our earthly marriages reflect a greater reality. Because this one flesh thing, this submission thing, this laying down your life thing, this faithfulness thing - Paul says, I’m talking about Christ and His Bride, the church. So mess up marriage and we mess up how we think about God. 

And we have messed up marriage, haven’t we? And I’m not even talking about anything that has happened lately - it goes way back before that. How many think marriage is optional, just a piece of paper? That divorce is normal, natural, and acceptable? That marriage has nothing to do with sexuality and children - you can have those and not be married! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the many changes we have seen in our culture have gone hand-in-hand with many changes in how people think about God. You can argue which one came first, but they most certainly go together.

And so what has happened is this: we’ve lost our faithful unto death, loving, giving, merciful, gracious God. Because we thought we knew better. Better than His loving, giving, mercy, and faithfulness. And though we didn’t perhaps set out to do it, by this thinking that we know better, we’ve remade Him into our image. And that’s most certainly not better.

That’s why Jesus is upset in the Holy Gospel we heard today. It’s not just about rules and sin. Jesus knew the Pharisees were sinners, and the people around them were sinners, and that you and I are sinners. Rule breakers. Transgressors. That’s not a surprise. That’s why He came. Precisely to forgive our sins. To deal with our sin by taking it upon Himself and dying on the cross with it. To take our place in death so that we might live. That’s who God is! That’s what He has come to do! But the Pharisees, by their rules and traditions, were making God into something else - a law enforcement God. A punisher. A taskmaster. A because-I-told-you-so God.

And we need to think about that today as well. The creation reflects its creator. It is good and orderly. But if we change it because we think it’s not good and we know better . . . how are we also changing how we think about God? That’s He is also not good? That we know better than Him? Isn’t this to do what Isaiah said today: to honor God with our lips, but our hearts are far from Him? It is the pot accusing the potter of not making us (or not making us right!), and having no understanding. That is a dangerous game to play . . . that is really no game at all.

So, as God said through the prophet Isaiah, because of all this, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men - and maybe we could translate that their “so called” wise men - shall perish . . . 

Now what does that mean? What will God do? A wonder-ful, or a wonder-filled, work could be either good or bad - just a work that causes wonder or awe. So what does He mean here? Is He going to wonder us with His wrath against our sin and rebellion? Or wonder us in some other way?

Well, Isaiah goes on to say what he is talking about; what that wonder will be: In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. And that is, of course, what happened when Jesus came. When the Word of God wasn’t: because I said so, but came in flesh and blood. When because we keep messing up God, Jesus came to show us who God really is and what God is really like and what God really wants: to heal us and save us from sin and death. And not just to show us, but to do it. To be God for us. The God who is a faithful husband to His Bride. The God merciful and gracious. The God who gives Himself for His people, for His creation. That our sins be forgiven and our life be restored.

And yes, even the rules and commandments of God are for this purpose. They are to protect us and to protect the gifts God has given us. His gift of parents and family, His gift of life, His gift of marriage and sexuality, His gift of possessions, His gift of a good name, His gift of a peaceful and quiet heart, His gift of Himself and His Name and His Word. That as His Bride we have all that we need and rejoice in our heavenly Bridegroom and His goodness. Not looking to ourselves and what we can do or the name we can make for ourselves, but look to our Saviour and rejoice in what He has done for us and the name He has given to us.

So to keep God’s Word, to do what He says, isn’t to try to get something from God - He’s already given you everything. You belong to Him and all that He has is yours. 

And don’t keep His Word and do what He says simply because He said so and so you have to! That’s what slaves do, not sons and daughters.

Rather, keep His Word and treasure it and follow it, because we’re treasuring and following not just words or a book, but Jesus - the Word enfleshed. Because He is my Saviour. Because He gives me life and a future. I don’t want to change the Word because I don’t want to change Jesus or lose what He has done for me. For when you look at Jesus, you see not a because-I-said-so God, but an I-died-for-you God. Not a taskmaster God, but a serving God. Not a law enforcement God, but a forgiving God. Not a God you have to be unsure of, but a God who is faithful to His Bride - to you! - even to death. 

And now this faithful Bridegroom, who (in the words of St. Paul) has washed you clean, that you be without spot of sin or wrinkle of death, that you be holy and without blemish, just as He is, now feeds you with Himself. As we heard the last few weeks, the Bread of Life, to give you life. His life. Life that will never end. Your great sin overwhelmed by His even greater forgiveness. Your fearsome death overcome by His even more wonderful resurrection. Because as His Bride, all that is His is yours. That as Isaiah said, your eyes will see and your ears will hear and your heart will exult.

That’s who God is. That’s who God is for you. And when we fill our ears and eyes and hearts and minds with what is not His Word, we miss all that. And we are less, not better, for it. 

Because better, far better, than changing the Word, is for the Word to change you. From death to life. From uncertain to confident. From sinner to saint. From alone to family, a child of God in His family. And He has. You have His Word on it.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.