Monday, September 18, 2017

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Pentecost 15 (September 17-23, 2017)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Luke 10:20 - “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #522 “Lord God, to Thee We Give All Praise”
Hymns for Sunday: 521, 522, 619, 520, 812, 533

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

Monday:  Psalm 91
Is this psalm true? If so, why do bad things happen to Christians? What is God talking about here?

Paul was in prison. Why was he joyful? What was his confidence? How can we have that same faith?

Wednesday:  Matthew 20:1-16
How do we often see things differently than God? Why? How can we begin to see like Him? What is the key?

There will be trouble, but God promises to deliver His own. What confidence does that give you? 

The angels fight for us, but how is our victory finally won? What power do we have to overcome satan?

Saturday:  Luke 10:17-20
In what are we to rejoice? Do you? Why or why not? 

The Catechism - The Lord Prayer: The Second Petition [part 1]: Thy kingdom come. What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ repairs to our church to be done soon.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational president, Peter Brondos.
+ the Lutheran Church of Mexico, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and provision for Lutheran for Life.
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 15 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“165,000 . . . 2,000 . . . 77 . . . and Zero”
Text: Matthew 18:21-35; Genesis 50:15-21

[Some of the thoughts and figures in this sermon taken from the study for this text in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 27, Part 4, p 31-33.]

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

I’m going to do something today I’ve never done before and probably will never do again: I’m going to give you permission to leave and not listen to the sermon. Or, to at least fall asleep and not pay attention. But only on this condition: this offer is good only for those of you who forgive perfectly, always, completely, and abundantly. Who hold no grudges, plot no revenge, have no bitterness in your heart, never withhold anything good from someone else, and never make anyone earn their way back into your good graces. If that’s you, you may go now, fall asleep now, or turn me off now. You don’t need to hear this sermon.

But the rest of us . . .

Did the end of that parable frighten you today? So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. It should have. It’s supposed to. 

How often must we forgive? How much must we forgive? How much is too much? That’s what Peter wanted to know. And Jesus’ answer in this parable is simple: forgive as you have been forgiven

But simple answers are often the hardest to do. 

First, recognize the contrast between the master and the servant - not only with regard to the debt owed, but also in their attitude. Their attitude which shows what’s in their hearts. 

Ten thousand talents is an absurd debt. One talent was equal to about 17-20 years worth of labor. To work off such a debt would mean working something like 165,000 years. I don’t even know how you could amass a debt like that! But maybe that ’s the point. The debt of sin we owe God isn’t just what we accumulate in our lifetimes, by what we do - it’s greater than that. It’s debt that we have inherited, that has been passed down to us from our ancestors. Like a snowball rolling down the hill, it keeps getting larger and larger. There’s no possibility of paying it back.

One hundred denarii, however - that’s pretty standard. A denarius was about a day’s wage, so one hundred denarii would be three to four months salary. And this is the debt we accumulate against one another, by what we do. And while three to four months of salary sounds pretty big, it’s nothing compared with the debt we owe God; the debt we could never possibly repay even if we lived some 2,000 lifetimes of 80 years each.

But “I’ll pay you back!” the servant says. One of my children - I won’t tell you which one - once began saving their allowance to build us a church. I appreciated the desire; it was cute that they thought they could actually do that. And maybe the master smiled at his servant in that way; it was cute to think he could actually pay back his debt when it was so obviously impossible. So that master had pity, compassion, on him, and forgave the debt. 165,000 years to zero in the blink of an eye! Or, maybe better to say, in the simple utterance of a word.

But cute didn’t last long. That servant quickly turned ugly. Some think it’s because he didn’t really believe the master, that his debt really was cancelled. You can’t do business that way; it was too good to be true. He thought that at best, he just bought some time, delayed the punishment just a bit. So he went out and went after someone who owed him - I need this money! Pay me! Pay what you owe! And when this servant speaks the same words to him that he had spoken to his master, there is no pity, no compassion, no mercy. The attitude is quite different. This servant who perhaps did not believe his master also did not believe his fellow servant. He had in his heart only violence, anger, and perhaps we could say, murder.

Why is it so hard to forgive? What makes Peter think seven times is enough? Why is it sometimes the little things, the little debts, that we hold against each other the most, or the longest? 

Jesus told Peter not . . . seven times, but seventy times seven. Or that could also be translated - and sometimes is translated - as seventy-seven times. And I like that better. Not because it’s a smaller number, so I have to forgive less! But because St. Augustine noticed something about that number. Seventy-seven was the number of generations from Jesus back to Adam in Luke’s geneaology (Luke 3). Now remember what I said before: that the debt we owe God is so massive it’s not just what we’ve done, what we’ve accumulated - it’s also what we inherited; the debt that has been passed down to us, from Adam. All that debt is forgiven. The forgiveness of our master is not just for the debt of sin we have done (our actual sins), but for the debt of sin we have inherited (our original sin). All of it, from the beginning of time, all seventy-seven generations, has been wiped out - not in the blink of an eye, but in the simple utterance of a word: Father, forgive them (Luke 23:34). That’s what Christ has done for you and gives to you. 

Which is pretty amazing. And only possible because He is the eternal one, whose life spans more than 2,000 lifetimes, and whose payment for our debt, for our sins, on the cross, is even greater than we need. And now for us is His merciful and compassionate word of forgiveness, spoken here by the called and ordained servant He put here just to speak these words: I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And His word does what it says. Go, you are free.

Do you believe that? 

I know that you do. But satan keeps telling us and wanting us to believe that you can’t do business like that; especially not spiritual business. You need something else. And if we think that, then the joy of our Lord’s forgiveness is taken away from us. And the forgiveness we don’t have is the forgiveness we don’t give.

Only when we realize that forgiveness really is ours, that it really is true, that it really is that abundant, that our hearts begin to change. The Spirit working in us what we need to forgive others.

Like Joseph. We heard about him in the Old Testament reading, and most of you know his story. His brothers were jealous of him and wanted to kill him. But instead they just - just! - sold him into slavery. He was taken to Egypt and lived as a slave there for awhile, but then languished in prison because of false charges brought against him. He was robbed of his family, robbed of his childhood, robbed of his freedom. His brothers pretty much took everything away from him. 

And yet in time, God remembered Joseph and raised him up to second in command of all Egypt, second only to Pharoah himself. So when his brothers came down to Egypt, looking for food because there was a severe famine, Joseph could have had his revenge. He could have done as much or worse to them as they had done to him. It would have been quite easy and, humanly speaking, he would have been completely justified in doing so.

But instead, he gives us a picture of Jesus. He speaks forgiveness. They meant evil, and they did lots of evil! And they buried Joseph under their evil. But God raised him up and used what they did for good. The Jewish leaders meant evil against Jesus too, and they buried Him, literally. But God raised Him up and now He speaks to us that same word of forgiveness. 

And it’s true. It really is true. You are absolved. You are washed. And you will receive again today the Body and Blood of the one whose death for you paid the debt you owe, now and forever. 165,000 years to zero, condemned to saved, in the utterance of a word, the splash of some water, and the eating and drinking of the Body and Blood that hung on the cross for you. For your heavenly Father does not have patience with you - He has mercy on you, and therefore forgiveness for you. 

And now says: forgive as you have been forgiven

We pray for that very thing in the Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our trespasses - sometimes that’s translated, making the connection even clearer, as forgive us our debts - forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us. With those words, we’re not bargaining with God; that would be pretty foolish. We’re asking that He work this very thing in us. That by His Spirit He give us the joy of forgiveness - joy in the forgiveness we receive, and joy in the forgiveness we give. And that as we cannot receive it enough, so we also not be able to give it enough. And that this really is how God’s spiritual business is done. 

So when you get the urge to hold a grudge, the next time you’re plotting revenge, when you think you’re going to make someone earn their way back into your good graces, or withhold good from someone . . . remember these numbers: 165,000 years, 2,000 lifetimes, 77 generations, and zero

And whatever it was that seemed so important and seemed so big, let that little drop of resentment be drowned in that really big flood of love and forgiveness.

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Holy Cross Day Sermon

Jesu Juva

“We Preach Christ Crucified”
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 12:20-33

We preach Christ crucified.

You can almost hear the complaints that caused Paul to write these words and the verses that we heard today to the folks in the Corinthian church. 

Paul, all you talk about is Jesus on the cross. All you talk about is forgiveness. All you talk about is Jesus dying, Jesus in the tomb, Jesus rising. Blah, blah, blah. We’ve heard it. How about some real wisdom talk, like the Greeks in town do. They talk about all kinds of interesting things and supernatural possibilities. They discuss all the latest spiritual books that come out, and you should see the crowds they get! Or, do some signs to attrack some people, Paul. That’ll bring ‘em in! You know, give the people what they want, Paul. Especially the Jews. They keep talking about all the signs God gave them - you know, the manna and the plagues and the bronze serpent on a pole and all that. Some signs now would go a long way. So how ‘bout it, Paul? A little more wisdom, a few more signs! 

Paul could have done that. As far as wisdom goes, Paul was a student second to none. He learned from the best. He was a Pharisees’ Pharisee. Ask him a question and he knew the answer. He could debate with anyone. And signs? Paul could do those too. Luke reports in the book of Acts some of the signs he did.

And yet here, he would not. In Corinth, a very culturally and religiously diverse city, he would not rely on rhetoric, he would not satisfy the desire for signs, he would not indulge in the spiritual topic and fascination of the day. We preach Christ crucified, he insisted. In fact, just a few verses after what we read today, he said it even stronger: For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). This is all you will hear from me. That may be a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but this is the wisdom of God for the salvation of all people. Wisdom cannot save. Signs cannot save. But Christ crucified can. This message is greater than anything else I could say or do.

Though it doesn’t seem like it, right? Then, or now. People would rather discuss the latest best-selling book about someone’s spiritual speculations, even if they contradict the Scriptures. Or, see some cool and spectacular signs - healing, speaking in tongues, or even the sign of having a big church with lots of followers. But talk about Jesus on the cross? Sin? Forgiveness? Blah, blah, blah. We’ve heard it. We want something else.

But as Paul would say: there is nothing else. We preach Christ crucified. If that is not our message, we are not being the church. If that is not our message, then you are not hearing what you need to hear. If that is not our message, then we are giving you nothing but false hope. 

For you’re a sinner. You may not like to hear that, but you need to. You’re not a good person. Even if you look good on the outside, inside you’re filled with all kinds of deep, dark, I-hope-no-one-finds-out-about-these sins. Me, too.

And you need forgiveness. Not the easy kind, where you let yourself off the hook with excuses, explanations, and self-justifications, but the real kind. Someone to die the death your sins require, so that you don’t have to die for them; so that you be set free. That kind of forgiveness. Signs can’t do that. Wisdom can’t do that. Only Christ crucified can.

So we preach Christ crucified, Paul said. Because Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For Jesus on the cross wasn’t Jesus being weak - it Jesus showing His strength! The strength of His love for you, and the strength of bearing all the sin of all the world. And Jesus on the cross isn’t foolishness - it is the highest wisdom of God. For who in this world would have thought of that as the solution to the world’s sin? Who would have come up with God sending His only-begotten, perfect, dearly loved Son to be our substitute? To trade places with us? To be condemned so the condemned could be forgiven? Sounds foolish, until you know He did that for you. Not just for the world, but for you. For your sin, your guilt, your rebellion, your anger, your grudges, your lust, your pride, your temper, your ingratitude, your selfishness, your failures, your hatred, and more. A wise God knew there was no way for you to deal with all that yourself. Actually, you can’t even deal with one of them! So He sent His Son. For you. And you need to know that.

So we preach Christ crucified. And for this reason too: it is the glory of God. Monday was the 16th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. And not only were the civilian victims of the attack remembered, but so were the first responders who gave their lives trying to save others. They are remembered for their glorious self-sacrifice. How much more our heavenly Father who gave His Son. And the Son who came and laid down His life for all people. Who would not ask His Father - as we heard - to save Him from this hour, but who came to do this very thing. To die so that many could live. To die and be buried like a seed in the ground, from which He would rise and grow into a church that would last through the ages and live forever. 

And He did. That’s the kind of God you have. A glorious one. Not one who sits up in heaven, issuing demands and seeing who can be good enough to make it to Him. But one who comes here to you, does what you cannot, and takes you with Him to life again. 

So we preach Christ crucified. As the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus that day learned, if you want to see Jesus, you must see Him there. On the cross. You won’t understand Him otherwise. Who Jesus is and what He came to do always go together. If you have a Jesus without the cross or the cross without Jesus, you have nothing. But if you have Jesus Christ crucified for you, risen for you, living for you, forgiving you, washing you, feeding you, teaching you, and returning for you, you have a Saviour. And you have hope and life.

We preach Christ crucified. We Lift High the Cross (LSB #837). Our Tongues Sing the Glorious Battle (LSB #454). And satan will rage and some will desire something more interesting or spectacular. But through this message the Spirit will work. The Spirit who points us to our Saviour. The Spirit who is working to conform us to the image of our Saviour. That the message we proclaim in word be also the message we live in our deeds. Loving and laying down our lives for others, as Christ did for us.

We preach Christ crucified. Paul, you, and I. And may it always be so.

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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Pentecost 14 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Storm Shelter of Forgiveness”
Text: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Matthew 18:1-20

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

Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock or in a monastery without electricity, you’ve heard the warnings. Two weeks ago Harvey was coming. This week it was Irma. These storms have captured the attention and concern of the nation, have filled the newscasts, and are the topic of many conversations. For those in Florida, evacuations were ordered and all kinds of special precautions were taken ahead of these storms. All to one end: to protect and preserve life. 

But not just these past couple of weeks. Warnings are issued all the time. If you live in the midwest, you get tornado warnings. Here, in the summer time, we get severe thunderstorm warnings. We’ve had blizzard warnings in the winter. The weather service and the authorities don’t do these things just to scare us they do it so we will live. So that we don’t lose our life when the loss could have been prevented.All so that we will live and not die. 

That’s what God wants, too. Give them warning from me, God told the prophet Ezekiel. Give them warning from me of their sin, of their iniquity. Not because God and the prophets - or the Church today - just want people to obey and do what they say and be good, but so we will live. So that we will live and not die. 

This week, satellites have shown us amazing pictures of Irma and how big and threatening that storm is. Without those pictures it would be hard for us to imagine the magnitude of the storm and the havoc it could cause. Yet even with those pictures, some people choose to ignore the warnings. Some because they think they have no choice. Some because they don’t believe the warnings. Some because they think they can beat it - they think they’re strong enough and smart enough to ride out the storm. And sometimes those people do make it through; but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, sadly, they lose their lives.

Give them warning from me, God says. From where we are, perhaps we don’t see the destructive power of sin. But God does. From His throne on high He sees the magnitude of the problem and the threat to our life. The day before a storm hits may be sunny and nice. And maybe your life too. But then one day the sin comes lashing out from you against your neighbor or your neighbor against you. But even if it doesn’t, the sin in you and in your heart is doing its destructive work. Eating away at your faith toward God and eroding your love toward others. So give them warning from me, God says. So they know. That even if you can’t see it, the sin is already there; the danger is real. Give them warning from me, God says. So they will live and not die. 

Yet just as with the weather, many don’t listen. Some don’t believe the warnings. Some think there’s more important things to worry about in life than this. Some think they have no choice but to sin. Others may think the threat exaggerated, or that they’re strong enough to overcome it. But unlike with the weather, sin has a 100% success rate, a 100% casualty rate. 100% of the people in this world die because of sin. Some sooner, some later. Some younger, some older. Some suddenly, some slowly. So give them warning from me, God says. Of what I see. Of the danger they’re in. So that they live.

Warn them, Jesus would later tell His disciples, that, in fact, the danger is so real that it’s better, it’s preferable, to lose your hand, your foot, or your eye now than to lose your life for eternity. It’s better, it’s preferable, to have a great millstone fastened around [your] neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea, than to cause one of God’s little ones to sin. Clearly, if those things are better, preferable, then sin - no matter how it seems to us, no matter how many other things seem more important in our lives right now - is no small, harmless thing.

So give them warning from me, God says. So they can receive my forgiveness, be rescued from the danger, and have life.

You see, that’s what God wants. And perhaps we could even say that all God wants. He wants to keep you safe and protect you. He wants to forgive you and rescue you. He wants to give you life and have you live with Him forever. Everything that God does is for this. The commandments? For this. The apostles and prophets? For this. Church? For this. Discipline? For this. That your sin be washed in His forgiveness and your death overcome by His life. That you live.

That’s the kind of God you have. He sends angels to guard and protect you. He leaves the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one who has gone astray. He even put the millstone of your sin around the neck of His Son, who then gave His hands and feet and eyes and His very life on the cross - in your place - so that you can live. For it is not the will of God that any should perish. That’s the kind of God you have.

If you or someone that you know doesn’t know that, or doesn’t think that’s true, or doubts that or forgets that, or at times thinks of God in some other way - even long-time and life-long Christians - that’s evidence of the power and danger of sin in your heart and life. That gets you to think of God not as a life-giving Father, but whose rules and commandments are taking your life away from you. That gets you to think of God as unreasonable and demanding. Or, that gets you to think that you have to do x, y, and z to earn God’s love and and make you worthy of His forgiveness. That makes you think you have defend your life against God rather than find your life in Him.

No. More than anything else in the world, God wants to forgive you and give you His life. Everything He does is for that. That forgiveness be a way of life for you. Forgiveness received and forgiveness given. Forgiveness washed upon you, spoken to you, and eaten by you. That you live and not die. That you live not in fear of death, but that, as one of our hymns puts it: Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed (LSB #883 v.3). To live confident and secure no matter what comes in this world and life. To live confident and secure that as a child of God, you are great in the kingdom of heaven. You already are. You are great in your Father’s eyes. Or as it says elsewhere in the Scriptures, the apple of His eye (cf. Deut 32:10; Psalm 17:8).

Do you think of yourself that way? Do you think of others that way? If you did, how would that change how you think of yourself and how you think of others? Would it change how you live? Would it change how you treat others? I would say: how could it not? 

So for this reason, God made Ezekiel a watchman for the house of Israel. A watchman was someone who would stand on top of the wall of a city and cry out when an enemy was approaching, warning and sounding the alarm. But not only that - a watchman would also announce the return of the army from battle, to call the city to rejoice in a victory won. And so would Ezekiel do both, and be a watchman for forgiveness. To warn Israel of their sin, but also teach them of and point them to their forgiving God - their God who wins the victory for them and more than anything in the world wants to give that victory - His forgiveness and life - to them. Tell them that, Ezekiel! Warn them and joy them!

And in the same way has God has made pastors watchmen for their congregations. Watchmen for forgiveness. To warn against sin and point to our forgiving God - our God who more than anything in the world wants to forgive you and give you life. Who wants to wash you and feed you and speak to you and care for you. To announce His cross of life for the world. 

And so has God made you watchmen, too - in your places. In your home, among friends, wherever you are. Watchmen of forgiveness, for our God who wants more than anything in the world to forgive all people and give them His life. That might mean warning them of the enemy, the life-stealing sin in our lives; but always to give them life-giving forgiveness. To point to them to Jesus and give them Jesus. To give them their Saviour. To give them His love. To give them the joy of living as His children, the apple of His eye.

This is forgiveness as a way of life. Not something that is in our lives sometimes and not sometimes, but defines who we are, how we think, and how we live. That neither our problems nor our successes define us or change us; that neither hurricanes and stormy weather nor fair weather dictate how we live - but that we live always confident and secure in Christ. In His love and forgiveness and life. That whatever comes and goes - including hurricanes - we know He does not. He is the constant in our lives and in an ever-changing world. 

And so we live in Him and His love. And then when help is needed, we help. When warning is needed, we warn. When love is needed, we love. When prayer is needed, we pray. And when forgiveness is needed, we forgive. That’s who you are. Confident. Secure. In Christ.

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

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Pentecost 13 Sermon

[Note: This sermon didn't feel like it preached well. Maybe it is the difficulty of preaching in our temporary location, or maybe I just had an off week . . . ]

Jesu Juva

“Crosses of Love”
Text: Matthew 16:21-28 (Romans 12:9-21; Jeremiah 15:15-21)

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

Jesus must go to the cross, as He said. It must be this way. Not because it is a law or a decree from His Father on high, but because His love will allow Him to do nothing less. His love for you. In order to save you, He must go to the cross. For your forgiveness, He must go to the cross. That you have eternal life, He must go to the cross. That you have hope, He must go to the cross.

And yes, this is His doing. Although it was the Jewish leaders - the elders and chief priests and scribes - who rebelled against Him and caused Him to suffer many things and be killed; to be arrested and tried and flogged and crucified by the Romans, this is His doing. Although others bound Him and pounded Him, hammered the nails and hoisted Him up, it would not have been so had He not allowed it. Had He not willed it to be so. For, as Jesus told His disciples in another place, regarding His life: No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord (John 10:17). This is what the Good Shepherd does. He lays down His life for the sheep. It must be so. For the sheep’s sake.

So when Peter says no; when Peter rejects the cross, He is rejecting Jesus’ love for Him. He doesn’t know that, of course. He doesn’t understand. There are a great many things the disciples wouldn’t understand until after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit. 

So perhaps Jesus’ rebuke - Get behind me, Satan! - is too strong. But He is right. It is satan who wants to stifle God’s love. It is satan who wants to stifle the cross. It is satan who wants to stop Jesus. But Jesus will not allow it to be so. He must go, and He will go. That’s how great His love for you and for all people. Even for those who put Him there. Even for the one who betrayed Him. Even for those who mocked Him. Even for those who divided His garments. He wanted to save them too. He was there for them - all of them - though they did not know it. Father, forgive them (Luke 23:34), He asked from the cross. And He meant it.

And if there is forgiveness for them, there is forgiveness for you. There is life for you and hope for you. Jesus has done it. He gives you that forgiveness here every Sunday in the Absolution. He baptized you into His death and resurrection so that you would not live a life that ends in death, but die a death that ends in resurrection and life. And He feeds you here with that life, with His very own Body and Blood. And His Word is proclaimed to you and lives in you, and with His Word, His Spirit. There is nothing you need that He has not provided and given. All this, for you. Like those in Jesus’ day, no matter who you are or what you have done. His gift of love. From heaven, through the cross, to you.

Peter would finally get it. It did click in his mind. He finally understood. How do we know? Because he, too, would go to the cross. The words of Jesus that come next became a reality in his life. If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me

Perhaps here is where we would speak Peter’s words! We wouldn’t tell Jesus to avoid His cross. No, we know better. We know the story. We know how it ends and why Jesus did this and had to do this for us. The Gospel!  . . .  It’s here, with these words, that we might be tempted to say no! To reject the cross in our life. To say: No Lord! This shall never happen to ME!

But just as with Peter, those too are satan-prompted words. They are the words of the old sinner that lives in us. That wants to indulge myself, not deny myself. That wants what I want, and tries to make what God wants match up with that. That wants to lead, not follow. That wants to be in charge and not let go. That’s why kids rebel against their parents, workers against their bosses, pastors against their District Presidents, and all of us against God. It is to love myself first, and then others and God after that, if at all. And a cross? No thank you, God. That just doesn’t fit my picture, my plans.

But what Jesus is saying today is that the cross is God’s picture. It is His plan. It is how He saves us. And to say no to the cross in our lives is, like Peter, to say no to His love. His love which only wants to give us life. 

And like for Peter, that’s hard for us to understand, right? Because crosses seem about the farthest thing from love and life. For crosses represent hate and suffering and hardship and forsakenness and death.  . . .  But maybe that’s the point. Maybe we need to die. Maybe that self-indulgent, prideful, rebellious, I know best, I want to be in charge, mind set on the things of man sinner in us needs to die, so that a new man can emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever (Small Catechism, explanation to Baptism, part 3). So that a new man can emerge and arise with a mind set on the things of God. And if so, wouldn’t a loving God do nothing less?

So that’s why Jesus speaks of our crosses right after speaking of His cross. They are connected. They must be connected. If not, then our crosses really have no meaning. They are just the burdens of an angry or fickle God toying with us, punishing us, or just mad at us. And sadly, that’s exactly what some folks think. Maybe even us at times. Because we either forget the cross of Jesus or it gets buried under the thousand other things going on in this world and in your life. And then maybe we lose sight of God’s love for us there. We lose sight of the fact that our sins were already punished there and God’s anger poured out in full there. And if it’s all on Jesus then it’s not on you. And the noise of this world drowns out those loving and life-filled words of Jesus spoken from the cross: Father, forgive them.

That’s why those words are so important. Those words of forgiveness that teach us about the cross. Those words of forgiveness spoken from the cross, spoken here, and spoken by you. That Jesus’ cross not get buried under the troubles or joys of this world, but shine through the gloom of this world, and shine even brighter than the joys of this world. That Jesus and His cross be the light of the world. 

And so the crosses a loving God gives you are to save your life, not take it. To cause you to turn to Jesus and His cross in your sin, in your weakness, with your burdens, with your shame, and find the life and love and joy and strength and forgiveness you need. And then to give what you have received to others. That’s what Peter did. He went to the cross - literally - and gave his life there, but not for God - God didn’t need him to do that - but for others. That the words that he spoke be the words that he lived. His witness of love to the world of the love and forgiveness and life of God for him. Of the love and forgiveness and life that he had received and would continue to receive; and that not even death could stop.

And you too. Just as Jesus bore His cross in love for you, so you, like Peter, can bear your cross in love for others. Because Christ and His Spirit live in you and are transforming you to be like Him. 

And what does that look like for you? Think of all those things Paul wrote that we heard today from Romans. About loving one another, bless those who persecute you, overcome evil with good, and more - we don’t do those things to save ourselves! Jesus and His cross has already done that. We do those things because we have been saved. Because we have been set free from having to save ourselves, we can now serve others. Showing them the life of Christ. Laying down our lives for them. Not because it’s easy, because it’s often hard. And not because it’s pleasant, because it’s often not. But because that’s Jesus living in you. And then Jesus added this too: that when you lose yourself, your life, like that, you actually find it. That doesn’t mean you save yourself - again, Jesus already did that! It means you actually find what you’ve been looking for all along. You’ve just maybe been looking in the wrong places. So Jesus shows us the right place.

And so that we might find that life and live that life, our loving God gives us crosses to bear. And I know many of you have some pretty heavy ones right now! But when they seem too heavy, when the world seems too much, remember the words God spoke to Jeremiah that we also heard today: they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you

Those words are just as true for you today as they were for Jeremiah back then. For Jesus is with you to save you and deliver you. In fact, He’s going to place Himself into you in just a moment - His Body and Blood, to forgive your sins and give you the life that you need, and the strength to live that life. His strength. For what is too much for you is not too much for Him. 

So do not be afraid to give yourself for others. That’s Christ in you. That’s Christ for you. And you won’t run out of life - you have Christ’s life! And you cannot out-give Him. And you’ll find the life you need, and have. Yes, Lord. Let this be. For me.

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

Monday, August 28, 2017

Pentecost 12 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“An Offensive Confession”
Text: Matthew 16:13-20 (Romans 11:33-12:8; Isaiah 51:1-6)

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

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas yesterday. It went from a “I think I see some kind of storm in the Gulf of Mexico” to a category four hurricane in just a few days. And when the track of this storm pointed toward Texas, the people started to prepare; to play defense, if you will, against the attack of this storm. The people got supplies, protected their homes and businesses as best they could, and then many got out of town, knowing that even our best defense provided little hope against such a powerful storm. 

But what if instead of just defense, we could go on offense? What if there was a way, when a storm like this forms, instead of waiting for it to attack us, we could attack it? And weaken it or even defeat it before it gets to us? That would be pretty awesome.

Now what about the Church? The Church has a long history, of course, in the Old Testament and now also in New Testament times. But at least these days, it seems to me at least, that the Church mostly plays defense. Storms like the storms of secularism and unbelief swirl about in our culture and get stronger, and the Church seems to be like Texas. We hunker down and prepare for the onslaught. We focus on survival.

But what if instead of just defense, we go on offense? 

That is, in fact, what we heard today from the lips of Jesus. When Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus responded: on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Take notice of that. Jesus did not say: the gates of the Church shall prevail, but the gates of hell shall not prevail. The gates of hell will not be able to stand against Christ and the confession of Him as the Son of God and Saviour of the world. 

You see, back in those days cities - like Jerusalem - were built with walls around them to protect them, and in the walls were gates to allow the people of the city to come and go. If you were to attack the city, the walls were difficult to breach and more easily defended. On the top of the wall you had the high ground and could shoot down or throw rocks down on the people trying to get up and in. But if you could get through the gates, and your army could stream in en masse through that opening, the city was yours.

So when Jesus says here that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Him and the confession of Him as Son of God and Saviour of the world, that’s an offensive statement. That Christ and His Word are the battering ram against which the gates of hell - and so hell itself - is not able to stand. 

And that’s exactly what we see in Jesus. He is sent into this world, into the battle. And He attacks. He heals diseases, demons flee, and when the storm of opposition strengthens and blasts against Him, putting Him on the cross, even there He emerges victorious, rising from the dead and leaving His enemies stuttering and regrouping, trying to figure out and explain how that so heavily guarded and sealed tomb could now be empty. 

But even more than that - not more important than that, but in addition to that - is that phrase we speak in the Apostles’ Creed about what Jesus did: that He descended into hell. And that not to suffer or be under the thumb of satan for a while. Because when Jesus said on the cross it is finished (John 19:30), it was. And so Jesus descended into hell not to suffer, but to attack and fulfill this promise - to defeat the gates of hell itself. Jesus is all about offense.

And so now apply that to the Collect for the Day which we prayed today earlier: Almighty God, whom to know is everlasting life . . .  When you know God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; when you know Him as your Father and you His child because you’ve been baptized into His Son, Jesus, and therefore you are also a son of God; when you know Jesus’ victory has been given to you in those waters by the Holy Spirit who gives you such faith to know and believe - you have everlasting life. A life that will last forever and cannot end. And so you can go on the offensive. Imagine a soldier who knew that: that He could go into war, He could go into battle, and not die! He (or she!) couldn’t be stopped. 

That’s you. Baptized into Jesus, into His death and resurrection, into His victory, into Him who is the way, the truth, and the life, that’s you. To be bold and steadfast. To boldly confess Him to be the Christ and steadfastly walk in [His] way. Because in Christ, you have a life that cannot end.

And so then Jesus sends His disciples out to go on the offensive, too. To wield the sword of the Spirit, the sword of God’s Word. In the reading from Matthew that we heard today, Jesus at that time strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. Because He had to be the Christ, He had to go through His death and resurrection, before they could go out and proclaim Him as Christ. But once He does, He tells them to go out and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). To go on the offensive. To go out and fight with His Word. To attack. And the gates of hell would not prevail. Even when the storms of martyrdom and persecution swirled up to category five strength, they couldn’t be stopped. Yes, they, and many after them, were killed, but they live on in that life that cannot end. In the victory of Christ.

But what about today? Why are we today so often, it seems, on defense instead of offense? Well, there really can be only one answer: our own unbelief. The things of this world seem stronger. Death seems so final. The Word of God and the confession of Christ seem so weak. And we want to be liked. Maybe we don’t go on the offensive because we don’t want to be offensive, and so we just wind up being defensive. And maybe we’re just afraid of what will happen. And maybe we think all that because, well, quite frankly, things seem to be different today. All that stuff that happened at the time of Jesus and the disciples doesn’t happen today.

But how do you know that? Just because you haven’t witnessed it? Or maybe it’s not as fast or spectacular as you want it to be? Maybe we just don’t have the eyes to see what God is doing and how He is working . . .

But the promise made to Peter and the other disciples is just as true for us today. And His victory is just as true and sure for us today. And the weapon they wielded is the same weapon we have, and just as powerful. 

Truth is, we don’t know what God is doing. Paul said as much today: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” God doesn’t need us to tell Him what is good or not, or to tell Him what He should be doing. If we were God’s counselors, we would have told Him not to send His Son, and we would have been like we’re going to hear Peter say next week, that Jesus should not to go to the cross! But God knew what He was doing. He knew how to fight, and He knew how to win. And He did.

And even though we may not see it, and even though it may not seem it, He still is. The gates of hell still cannot prevail against the Church built on Christ and built by Christ and on the confession of Him. If it depended on us, we should doubt and we should be afraid. But it doesn’t. It’s all on Him. 

And so we go with Him and He with us, offensively, into this world. We baptize, and demons flee. We pray, and our Father hears us and answers us. We speak, and the Spirit works and attacks through that Word. We forgive, and the chains of sin and guilt satan would imprison us with really are loosed. And we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus, to attack that old sinner in us and put him (or her) down; and that we be what we eat. To be transformed into the image of Christ, to give ourselves - on offense - for others, as Christ gave Himself - on offense - for us. Bold and confident that we cannot out-give God, and that the life He has given us cannot end.

So go out, speak up, attack the storms of secularism and unbelief, and do not be afraid. Make your bold confession along with Peter. Who do you say I am? You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. The crucified and risen one. The victorious one. Who fights not with the weapons of this world, because as Isaiah said, this world is passing away. So He fights with weapons even stronger - with forgiveness and truth and life. And what He opens no one can close. What He looses no one can bind. What He gives no one can take away.

So while lots of people say lots of things about Jesus, the gates of hell fear only one: you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And blessed are you - both now and forever - who know and confess that truth.

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