Monday, March 19, 2018

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Lent 5 (March 19-24, 2018)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: John 12:13b - “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!“

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #438 “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth”
Hymns for Sunday: 442, 438, 454 (1-4), 634, 441, 443, 420

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Monday-Tuesday are the Scriptures for Wednesday’s Lenten Vespers. The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Amos 4:6-13
How badly did God want His people back? What did He do? How is God working in your life to call you back to Him?

Tuesday:  Luke 20:9-18
How patient and persistent is God? Why? 

Wednesday:  Zechariah 9:9-12
Why would God’s people rejoice? How would God come to them? What would He do?

Thursday:  Philippians 2:5-11
Do you have this mind of Christ? Why not? Can we? How?

Friday:  John 12:12-19
The people called Jesus their king – was He? Where? How? What kind of king would He be?

Saturday:  Mark 14:1 – 15:47
The Passion according to St. Mark.

The Catechism - The Sacrament of the Altar: Who receives this Sacrament worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ God to bless and protect all marriages.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational president, Peter Brondos.
+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and provision for the Luther Academy.
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!

Lent 5 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Priests in the Order of Jesus”
Text: Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:32-45; Jeremiah 31:31-34

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

Today we enter Passiontide. The last two weeks of the Lenten season. When we began this Lenten season, our alleluias were taken away, as was the Gloria in Excelsis, the hymn of praise we sing toward the beginning of the service. Today, even more is taken away. No more Gloria Patris - Glory be to the Father . . . either. And our cross is veiled. For soon, now, very soon, we will remember when our Lord was taken away from us. When He was arrested, tortured, and then crucified. Things are getting serious now.

And you hear it in Jesus’ voice today, as He tells His disciples on their way up to Jerusalem, now it is all to take place. He had told them about all this before, but then it was all in the future. Now, it was going to happen. Now, the time was at hand. This was the last trip to Jerusalem. Perhaps you know a little how the disciples felt on hearing this news. When something you dread is coming, you can put it out of your mind while it is still months away and not think about it much. But when the day draws near, when the day comes, that knot in your stomach forms. It’s different now. 

Now, Jesus was going to lay down His life as our great High Priest. Now, He was going to be the sacrifice for the sin of the world on the altar of the cross. Both offering and offerer. The only one to do both. The only one who could. 

Except there’s a problem. And the author of the book of Hebrews recognizes it. And the problem is this: Jesus is not qualified to be a priest. He is descended from David, which means that He is of the tribe of Judah. But all priests had to come from the tribe of Levi, and in addition to that, and more specifically than that, be sons of Aaron. Jesus was neither. So how could He be our great High Priest? 

Well, the author of Hebrews solves that riddle and answers that question by referring to something He found in the book of Psalms. Psalm 110, to be exact. From there, he quotes, that Jesus is a priest - but not the kind that came from Aaron. but a different kind of priest - after the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek, whose priesthood was greater than Aaron’s. Both because it came before Aaron’s, and because it would last longer.

For Melchizedek was a priest long before God gave instructions for a Temple and gave the priesthood of that Temple to Aaron and his sons. Melchizedek was a priest before the people of Israel even got to Mount Sinai where God gave them the Commandments and the instructions for the Temple. He was before the people had passed through the Red Sea, before their 400 years of slavery in Egypt, before they had gone to Egypt, before there were twelve sons of Jacob, before Jacob was even born to Isaac, and before Isaac was even born to Abraham. Long before all that, there was Melchizedek, who was also greater than Abraham. For he blessed Abraham, gave Abraham bread and wine, and received from Abraham a tenth of all he had (Genesis 14:17-20).

Now, the mention of those last few things should set off bells in your mind! For from whom do we receive blessing? Who feeds us with bread and wine? And to whom to we give our offerings? God Himself, of course. So Melchizedek is a foreshadowing, a prophecy, of Jesus, the Son of God who would come to bless us and feed us as our great High Priest. To bless us and feed us to eternal life. For as we heard, being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.

Now that sounds a little funny, doesn’t it? In two ways. First, that Jesus was made perfect. We know that He was perfect, for He is the Son of God. Yes, but . . . Jesus is also a man. And so as a man, as one of us, He is perfected. Which means not only does He not sin, but that He perfectly fulfills every law, every prophecy, every commandment, every requirement, every thou shalt and thou shalt not, every jot and every tittle, every last little bit of God’s Word. He is perfect, so that His death be not for his own sins - for He had none - but for ours. To pay for ours. To set us free.

And so Jesus dies, just as He told the twelve He would. He does His High Priestly work and offers His life for the life of the world. Before that, though, they heard the rest of that strange sentence; they heard Him pray in the Garden, to His Father, the one who was able to save Him from death. And He was heard, we are told. But it sure didn’t seem like it! It sure didn’t seem like it to those who saw His lifeless corpse being lowered from the cross, wrapped up, and laid in a tomb. It sure didn’t seem like it that Friday night and that Saturday, when they would have said: Well, He prayed to the one who was able to save Him from death, but He wasn’t heard. He died. He wasn’t saved.

Except we know that He was. He was saved from death the same way you and I will be saved from death - not by avoiding death, but by being raised from the dead! Jesus, because He conquered sin and death; you and I because Jesus gives that victory to us. He went through it first so that we could go with Him. So yes, He is made perfect, He fulfills everything, perfectly, for us.

But here’s the other thing, that second thing, that should have sounded funny to you in what we heard from Hebrews. For later in that same sentence it says that He was made perfect, and so became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. Now, to your Lutheran ears, that shouldn’t sound quite right. We’re saved by grace through faith, not by our works; not because we obey. We heard that last week in the reading from Ephesians as well (Ephesians 2:8-9)

So how do we understand that? Well, the key to understanding that is that the word obey is formed from the word to listen. Jesus is the source of salvation to all who listen to Him, to His Word. For by the Word comes faith. From the Word comes the Spirit. From the Word comes forgiveness. From the Word comes our life. Jesus comes to us through the Word, and then with Jesus and His Word and Spirit, comes a new life. A new life of doing Jesus stuff. Of serving. Of laying down your life. James and John didn’t get that yet. They wanted honor and the places of honor. The rest of the disciples didn’t get it either, for they were indignant at James and John for asking for the places they wanted! They needed to listen to Jesus. That the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

So going back to Abraham . . . you know, he did pretty well when he listened. The Word and promises of God giving him faith and strengthening him, even to the point where he was ready to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering! But when he wasn’t so good at listening, then came the troubles, doubts, fears, and He didn’t do so well. 

And isn’t that the way of it for us as well? When we listen to the Word of God, hear it, take it to heart, rejoice in the promises given to us, remember the Word of our baptism, that we are children of God, dearly loved, that the forgiveness of sins is ours, and more, we do pretty well. But when we’re not so good at listening, when the Word of God doesn’t fill our ears and hearts and minds, how easy it is to go astray. Especially when times of suffering or trouble come upon us. It’s easy to turn inward and not listen. It’s easy to feel abandoned and alone, when we’re not. We’re not, because Jesus did that for you, too. He was forsaken that you never be.

So He is the source of your salvation, to all who hear, to all who listen, to all who are formed by the Word and live the Word. For He was perfected for you, that you be perfected in Him. Perfected because of the New Testament in Jesus’ blood, by which God, as Jeremiah said, remembers your sins no more. And how awesome is that! He doesn’t forget them - as if He forgets like we forget stuff. No. Your sins have not just been forgotten - because sometimes what we forget comes back again, right? No, He doesn’t remember your sins. That’s something very purposeful and intentional. He doesn’t remember your sins, your failures, your ugliness, your wretchedness, all in your past that you as so ashamed of and hope no one ever finds out - He doesn’t remember them because He dealt with them. He wiped them out by your High Priest’s blood. And thus wiped out, they won’t come back. 

And with that, God has now made you His priests. That qualifies you to be His priests. The pastors are not the priests in the church, you are. You are the royal priesthood, as Peter calls you (1 Peter 2:9). The priesthood of the baptized. For again, as the author to the Hebrews said, no one can make themselves a priest - only God can do that. And He made you His priest when He baptized you. And your role as priest is now to do Jesus stuff. To lay down your life for others, as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). For your spouse, your children, your parents, your co-workers, your friends, your neighbors. To lay down your life for others not because it’s a rule or a law, but because that’s what Jesus in you does. 

And so you are priest. But what kind of priest? Not after the order of Aaron - we don’t do those sacrifices anymore. Not after the order of Melchizedek. You are a priest in the order of Jesus. And that’s a priesthood even greater than Melchizedek.

So we don’t have to worry about the places of honor; Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you, and it will be just right for you. And you have been baptized with His baptism, and He does give you His cup here to drink - His, though at the same time they’ve been transformed for you. He took the baptism of fire, that He baptize you with the baptism of forgiveness. He drank the cup of wrath, that He give you His cup of blessing. And He comes to give them to you and serve you. That you be great ones. Listening to Him, learning from Him, and living in Him.

So now we go up to Jerusalem, these last two weeks of Lent, and hear again of our Saviour’s death, and hear again what kind of God we have. A God willing to die for you. So our song is not a song of greatness. At least, not worldly greatness. Greatness as we usually think of it.
My Song Is Love Unknown, 
My Saviour’s love for me, 
love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be. 
Oh who am I? That for my sake, 
my Lord should take frail flesh and die (LSB #430)?

So, What do you want me to do for you? Jesus asked James and John. I think that’s enough! But how would you answer? What would you ask for? How do you answer? What do you ask Jesus for in your prayers? How about simply this: O Lord, who remembers not our sins, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Because you know who said that? One of those given a place beside Jesus, on His right or on his left, in His glory, on the cross. And you do pray that, in the Lord’s Prayer: Thy kingdom come.

Jeremiah told us the day is coming, and it is now here. Now, Jesus tells his disciples, it is all to take place. Now it is going to happen. Now the time is at hand. This is the last trip to Jerusalem.

Will it be your last trip? Your last Lent? Well, none of us knows if this is our last Lent or not, but this we do know: this is not our last trip to Jerusalem. For the day coming for us is not Jeremiah’s day, but Jesus’ day, the Last Day, the Day when He will raise us from the dead and take us with Himself to the heavenly Jerusalem. And just like for the disciples, that day may seem fearsome for you when it is no longer far away; when it actually comes - but it need not be. For you have a great High Priest, an eternal High Priest, a risen High Priest, who is the source of eternal salvation. Yours.

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

Lent 4 Midweek Sermon

[No audio]
Jesu Juva

“Return to the Lord . . . Who Does Not Change”
Text: Malachi 3:6-12; Matthew 6:25-33

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

Return to the Lord your God, who is gracious and merciful, who redeems you, who restores you, and who will raise you up. That’s what we have considered so far in our Lenten midweek meditations. Our Lord’s faithfulness, our Lord’s promises, our Lord’s work for us, and His desire that we return to Him and receive these gifts from His hand. Good stuff.

But all these words and promises, all this work, all of this would be of no use and no value to us, were it not for this next Word of God, the one we are considering tonight and that we heard from the prophet Malachi: Return to the Lord your God, who does not change.

For what good would be a God who speaks a word to us, but later takes it back; who does something for us, but later changes His mind. That is a God you cannot count on. That is a God you cannot even know. A God who is one way today, but tomorrow may be quite different. A God who says one thing today, but tomorrow may speak something completely different. Which is real? Which is true? You could not know.

The good news for us tonight is that God is not like that. He does not change. When He speaks, it is true and sure. What He promises, He will do. You can count on Him and know Him. Which is exactly what we need. Someone we can depend on living in an undependable world. Something steadfast in a world of change. So good words from Malachi tonight.

Malachi, who was the next-to-last of the Old Testament prophets. John the Baptist was officially the last of the Old Testament prophets, even though his story is in the New Testament. But John was the last of the Old Testament prophets because he was the last prophet leading up to Jesus; the last prophet before Jesus would make all things new. But Malachi is the last before him, and after Malachi there would be silence from God for some 400 years. Until God would speak again through John, but even more importantly, through His Son (Hebrews 1:1).

That fact makes these words of Malachi even more important; words that the people would cling to in that 400 year time of silence. That God doesn’t change. That His word and promises don’t change. That this word of His won’t change, this word that said: Return to me, and I will return to you

Specifically, at the time of Malachi, the issue was the tithes and contributions of Israel. They were no longer giving them. It’s not that God needs what we give Him - He’s God! Everything is His anyway! - it’s that we need to give to God. Tithes and contributions are for our benefit. Not in a quid pro quo sense - we give so that God will give more - no! We give to acknowledge that our Father in heaven has given us everything first, and this is our response. We give because we believe this. We give because we believe that God will provide for our every need. And we give to lessen our grip on the things of this world, that we cling not to them, but only to Him. And so failing to give is an indication that not all is right with us in our hearts. That we do not believe. That we are clinging to the wrong things. That what we have is not a gift from God, but what we’ve earned and deserve. Malachi is pointing out not just a behaviour problem in Israel, but a heart problem. A faith problem.

And so with these words from Malachi, God is calling and inviting Israel back to faith. To believe in Him. To believe in His goodness. To believe in Him as their loving Father.

So test me, God says. Test me and see if I will not provide. Again, not as a reward for their giving, but because this is who God is. If they give they will not lack.

Because God does not change. This is what He had done before. Think of the people of Israel in the wilderness. God had brought them out of Egypt, He had led them through the Red Sea, He provided manna for them to eat, and their clothes and shoes did not wear out - for forty years! And all this He did not because Israel was so faithful and good, for they weren’t. They grumbled against Him all the time. So as their loving Father He disciplined them, but He also never stopped providing for them. Not because of who they were, but because of who He is. 

But satan is always tempting us to unbelief. To doubt the goodness and love of our Father in heaven and so turn away from Him. So return, God calls out. Return, Malachi calls out. Return is our theme this Lenten season. Return to your Father in repentance for your unbelief and faith in His promises. 

This is what Jesus was really talking about as well in the reading from Matthew we heard tonight. Why do you worry about what you will eat and what you will wear? Look at how God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers. They are preaching to you of the goodness and love of your Father. And if He cares for them, will He not much more care for you? Of course He will. He has, and He will.

So as it was for Israel, so it is for us. It is a faith problem. We do not believe as we should. That is why we grow anxious, that is why we don’t give more, that is why we turn away from God. Oh, some days, some times, our faith is strong! But then there are those others days when we are quite weak, we our faith flounders. Or in others words, we change. Day to day, sometimes hour to hour.

So, again, how good to hear these words from God our Father tonight: I the Lord do not change. Therefore we are not consumed. God made us promises and He’s sticking to them. He promised to send a Saviour, and He did. He promised us forgiveness, and He is. And He promised us life, and He is giving that, too - life now, and life forever.

Which doesn’t mean life will be easy. Sin is still in this world, wreaking its havoc. As it did in the Garden, is now, and will in the future. But it has an end. When our Lord returns and sets us free from sin and death. When our bodies are transformed and fit for everlasting life. We have that promise, too, which God will not change.

So in the midst of a world of change, of bodies that change, and people that change, we have a God who does not change. A faithful Father you can count on. Return to Him, and receive this too: the joy of being His child.

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

Monday, March 12, 2018

Lent 4 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“What Are You Looking At?”
Text: Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21; Ephesians 2:1-10

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

There was a video going around on the internet a little bit ago; an experiment on seeing. Maybe some of you saw it. If you didn’t you can Google it and find it. It was a rather simple test. On the video there were two teams, one dressed in black and one dress in white. They were throwing a ball around. And the challenge was this: just count how many times the ball was passed by the team in white. Simple.

So this group of people did. They watched the video and counted. At the end, most of the people had counted fifteen, and they were right. They patted themselves on the back. This was way too easy. And they were right again. For then the researcher asked them: Did you see the gorilla? And many of them said: What gorilla? So they watched the video again and about a minute into the game, a man dressed in a gorilla suit walks right into the middle of the game, stands there for a few seconds, beats his chest, and then walks out. Something like half of all people who watch that video, watching on the ball being passed by the white team, miss the gorilla. They’re blind to it, focusing too much on the ball being passed around. Scientists call it selective vision. Something, it turns out, we do all the time.

Which maybe we need in this life. Maybe if we saw and noticed everything, our minds couldn’t handle it. I’m certainly no expert at that so I don’t know. But here’s the thing for us to consider today: If this is something we do, selective vision, what are we selecting to look at? What are we focusing on? And is it the right thing, or the wrong thing? And what are we missing?

It seems to me this was a problem for the people of Israel we heard about in the Old Testament reading today. They saw the manna, the food God was giving them, but they weren’t seeing God’s love, God’s care, God’s faithfulness - they saw only the food they had grown tired of and now loathed. And because that’s all they saw, they loathed God as well. They forgot about what He had done to the Egyptians, the plagues, the dividing of the Red Sea, and how He took care of them and gave them life in the midst of all kinds of dangers, and so they now could do nothing but complain, against God and against Moses: Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? If only they had stayed in Egypt, they selectively thought, things would be so much better . . .

So God wanted to help them see again, to focus their eyes on Him again. He was the gorilla, if you will, in the midst of them, with His heart and arms wide open . . . but all they could see was the manna they loathed. He had to get their attention back on Him. So He sent fiery serpents among the people - serpents that when they bit a person caused their flesh to swell and burn, like it was on fire. Think of it - every time they went out and every time they bent over to pick up a piece of the manna they loathed, yet needed to live, there was potentially a serpent where you were going to step, a serpent under the piece of manna you were ready to pick-up, ready to strike. And that did strike.

So as you can imagine, this caused the people to change their tune pretty quickly! We have sinned, they cried out to Moses, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. So Moses did, but we’re not told that the Lord took the serpents away. Instead, the Lord gave them something to look at; something to focus their eyes and their faith on: a bronze serpent on a pole. So that when they got bit, they could look at what God gave them and remember His promise: everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live. The bronze serpent itself didn’t have any special power - in fact, when the people later turned it into an idol, God commanded that it be destroyed (2 Kings 18:4). Because it was the Word and promise of God that gave it the power. The Word and promise of God that directed the people to Him, to see Him and His goodness and life again. 

Nicodemus surely knew that story, as He talked to Jesus that night He had gone to Him with so many questions. So imagine His surprise when Jesus says that story was not just a nice story from the past, but meant something for them - both for Him and for Nicodemus. That just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. So that meant that for Jesus, He, the Son of Man, must be lifted up - which meant lifted up onto a cross. And for Nicodemus, it meant he was to look at that gift of God lifted up on the cross, and remember this promise: that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For Jesus on the cross was showing God’s love for him and for the world. For God so loved the world that He did this - put His Son on the pole of the cross for the life of the world. That a world of people bitten by the satanic serpent not perish in the fires of hell, but have life.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Just as He did not send the fiery serpents in the wilderness to condemn the people, but to save them; to refocus their eyes and their faith on Him, His love, His goodness, His faithfulness. That they know and trust Him again as their Father, Saviour, and Redeemer.

So I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but all this Lenten season the Gradual that I chant between the Old Testament reading and the Epistle has said this: O come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus. My question for you today is a simple one: Have you? Do you? Or are you like the people of Israel in the wilderness, with selective vision? Seeing but not seeing? Focusing on something in your life, be it something good or something bad, something you have or something you desire, something in the past or something in the future, something right or something wrong, a challenge or a pleasure . . . whatever it is, but focusing on it so much that you’re missing the gorilla? You’re missing your Saviour, who is with you, caring for you, strengthening you, forgiving you, saving you? It’s easy to do, right?

And not seeing our Saviour - not because He’s not there, but because we’re selectively seeing - do we maybe not loathe Him, but question Him and His love? Wonder what He’s doing? Get impatient and begin to grumble against Him, and maybe also against the people He’s given to help us?

You see, when we take our eyes off of Jesus, the devil can fill our eyes and our hearts and minds with all kinds of stuff. You can be sure He will try to deceive us and mislead us - and not necessarily with lies! Maybe even with the truth. Remember, the people watching the video got the question right: the white team passed the ball 15 times. It’s what they didn’t see . . . because their eyes were filled with something else . . .

So come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus. That’s what this season of Lent is all about: learning to see again. And Lent comes every year because we need it every year, don’t we? To point out to us what we should have been seeing all along - that our Saviour is with us in the wilderness. Remember? We started Lent by hearing that story, of Jesus in the wilderness, for us, being tempted by the devil, just like we are. Except He was victorious. Because He saw what we so often fail to see, what satan so wants to cause us to doubt - the goodness and faithfulness of our Father in heaven.

And then the next week we heard of that goodness and faithfulness again, this time as Jesus taught about His cross, that He must go, that He must lay down His life for us and there was no way anyone or anything was going to stop Him. So much He loves you. And the crosses we bear in this world and life, they’re from His love too. They crush and kill us, the old sinner in us, in order to save us.

And then last week Jesus cleansed the Temple, overturning and driving out all that was filling the eyes of the people, that they were selectively seeing, so they would fix their eyes on Him. The religious leaders of the day did, and killed Him. But it had to be that way. The Son of Man had to be lifted up, for all the world to see, that whoever see Him there remember the Word and promise of God, and have eternal life.

That’s what it’s all about, Nicodemus. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world - we did that ourselves, and to ourselves, with our sin. We don’t need Jesus for that. He came to do something about it. Which means showing us our sin - which maybe seems like He’s condemning us when He’s really just pointing out the reality and helping us see rightly - and then showing us Himself, on the cross, that we see Him and live. That we see our sin there, on Him, and hear the Word and promise of God proclaimed to us: I forgive you all your sin. The gift of God, to you.

And this seeing rightly . . . it’s really what those things we do during Lent are for, too; our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Not that we’re doing something for God; those things are to help us. We fast to take our eyes off the things of this world, that we might focus on Jesus and pray, and see our neighbor in need and give. By grace you have been saved, Paul wrote to the Ephesians. This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, so no boasting. But once you see that, fix your eyes on Jesus, then this too: good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Good works, which are for my neighbor works; which are not so obsessed about me works; which are seeing rightly works. So come let us fix our eyes on Jesus on the pole. And live.

And finally this too: eat the manna that has been given to us here, the bread from heaven that is here for us every Sunday. Just as Israel came through the waters of the Red Sea, so have you come through the waters of Baptism. And now, on your way, God has provided food; food that is not worthless, but the Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Immeasurable riches, Paul calls them. Gifts that you may see rightly. Gifts for you. Gifts which show us God in the midst of us, God with His heart and arms wide open, embracing you with His love.

So what are you looking at? O come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus. 

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

Lent 3 Midweek Sermon

[No audio]
Jesu Juva

“Return to the Lord . . . Who Will Raise You Up”
Text: Hosea 6:1-6; Matthew 15:21-28

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

The past two Wednesdays we have heard the call to “return to the Lord.” And so far it’s been a no-brainer. We return to the Lord because He is the one who has redeemed us, and has promised to restore us. But tonight we heard something a bit different; something that might make it a bit harder to return to the Lord - that the Lord is the one who has brought discipline upon you. He is the one, Hosea says, who has torn us and has struck us down. Even though His intentions are good . . . Hosea says that He has done these things that he may heal us and that he will bind us up . . . but still. Discipline is hard. Discipline isn’t pleasant. It is hard to return to the Lord who tears you and strikes you down. How do you do that?

Well, Hosea says, because you know the Lord. And that little word “know” there doesn’t just mean mental knowledge - it is a relationship word. To know the Lord is to know Him as a husband and wife know one another. It is a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual union that joins us together, that forms a bond between the two, making them one. To know the Lord isn’t to know Him as a God far away and distant, but to know Him as your Father, and you as His dear child. A God who has united Himself to you and you to Him.

So what do we know about this Lord? Well, Hosea says two things: first, that his going out is as sure as the dawn; and second, that he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth

Or in other words, first, that he is reliable. He is as reliable as the dawn; as the sun coming up in the morning. I don’t think many of us go to bed at night wondering if the sun will come up in the morning - we know that it will! It has every morning of your life so far, and it will tomorrow, too. And God, your Father, will come to you too. You don’t have to wonder whether He will or not. He is faithful, steadfast, and reliable. There may be a lot of things you cannot count on in this world and life, but He is not one of them. Even if He disciplines you, He will come and help you.

And then Hosea gives us that second example as well: that your Father is as reliable as the spring rains. Soon we will say: April showers bring May flowers, for we know they will. The spring rains come and produce growth . . . and so does your Father come and produce growth in you. 

So if we know that about God our Father, why does His discipline make it hard or challenging to return? Well, Hosea goes on to say that as well - it’s not because of Him; it’s because of us. For our love, Hosea says, isn’t steadfast and reliable like the Lord’s. Our love, he says, is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. Like a morning cloud that quickly vanishes. Like the dew that quickly evaporates. That’s our love. Sometimes great, sometimes small. At times steadfast, at times weak. At first longsuffering, but after a while, grows tired and impatient. 

Love is hard to sustain - toward our neighbor and also toward God. Our prayers, our devotions, our obedience, our confidence, comes and goes, right? Good one day and then weak the next. Like a morning cloud or dew that goes early away. And so maybe since that’s how our love is, we think that how God’s love is, too. And so we make it hard to return. We make it hard to return when we forget and do not know; when we forget who God really is.

And so He disciplines us. Not only to show us ourselves and our little faith, but also to love us and show us His love. He has torn us, that he may heal us! He has struck us down, and he will bind us up. It’s as if He wants to prove Himself again and again. Until, like the sun, we stop doubting whether He will arise and shine upon us - we know that He will. For we know Him.

And where we know Him best is when our Lord was hanging on the cross for us. For you and me. For your unreliability and mine. For your failures and mine. For your unbelief and mine. But as Hosea says: after two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.

The Lord has a way with the third day. And just as He raised Jesus on the third day, so too will He raise us. He actually already has. For in Holy Baptism we’ve been crucified and raised with Christ. In Baptism we’ve been joined to Christ and have already passed through death to life with Him, and so have already begun to live in that day and life that cannot be ended. Your sins have been atoned for and forgiven, and so for you there is life. Discipline now, maybe. But discipline that serves life.

We heard of that a bit in the reading from Matthew tonight as well. Talk about a time when it would have been hard to return to the Lord! That poor Canaanite woman comes to Jesus and wants only His mercy on her daughter, and yet it seems as if Jesus doesn’t want to help at all. But somehow, she knows Jesus. She knows He is the Lord. She knows He is the Son of David. She knows He will have mercy. The Word of God has worked such faith in her heart, and so she returns to the Lord again and again and again. She will not leave. She knows He will rise like the sun and come like the spring rains. She knows Him. 

It was the disciples who weren’t so sure. The disciples who had been with Jesus for some time and really ought to have known better! But it is they who don’t know Him. They ask Jesus to send her away . . . really? Haven’t they been paying attention? 

What about you? Are you more like the disciples, not so sure of your Lord’s love, especially in those times of discipline, when it seems that He doesn’t want to help and won’t help? Or are you more like the Canaanite woman, who won’t let Him go? Maybe both. 

So come, let us return to the Lord. To the Lord who is as reliable as the sun and the spring rains. To the Lord who disciplines in order to raise us up. To the Lord who helped Israel, who helped a Canaanite woman and her daughter, and who will help you. And even more, saves you. For Christ’s third day is your day as well. That’s your Lord. He will do it.

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