Thursday, February 27, 2020

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Fix Your Eyes on Jesus”
Text: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10;
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; Joel 2:12-19

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

From Transfiguration white to Ash Wednesday black.
From Lord, it is good to be here to Lord, have mercy.
From Glory to God in the highest to Dust you are and to dust you will return.

No more glorias, no more alleluias. Not for a while. Not until we shout them out again when we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord.

But now it is not the triumph of the resurrection that is our focus, although we always have that in mind, for without the resurrection, no Christian Church, no Christian faith, no Christ, no Christians, no forgiveness, no life, no Supper, no hope. So we always have the resurrection in sight.

But this season we focus not so much on the triumph of the resurrection but on the triumph of the cross. The triumph that looked like anything but triumph. That looked like defeat. But was, in fact, the triumph of God’s Word and promises fulfilled. All that we need, Jesus did. As we heard, He became sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. His life given that you might live.

Satan, of course, doesn’t want you to see that, or know that, or worst of all, believe that. Look anywhere but there. So sometimes he’ll fill your eyes with a million distractions. All kinds of things in your life to take your mind and eyes and hearts off of Christ crucified for you. And especially these days, it seems, he is particularly good at doing just that.

But there’s one thing in particular he wants you to look at. One thing in particular to focus on, and that honestly, we like to focus on. We really like it. ME. Make yourself the center and measure of all things. Of all that you do. Look out for number 1.

We just sang: All mankind fell in Adam’s fall; One common sins infects us all (LSB #562). And that common sin is this: that I am at the center. curvatus in se, is how the theologians put it. Satan has curved us in on ourselves.

But since this Lenten season we are considering vision problem that we have - spiritual vision problems - we could perhaps call this astygmatism. Spiritual astygmatism. For astygmatism is when the curvature of your eye isn’t right, and so you don’t see as you should. Everything is blurry. Being curvatus in se - curved in on ourselves - has done that to us. Our curvature is wrong. Instead of looking out we’re looking in and so everything is blurry. Unsure and uncertain.

God’s love for me is blurry. Does He really love me? 

My sin is blurry. Is what I’m doing really sinful? It feels right to me. It seems right to me. 

God Word becomes blurry. It can’t mean that. That’s not what people today think. Our world is different now.

The future becomes blurry. Will I be saved? How can I know? 

And curvatus in se, we begin to answer those questions, that blurryness, by looking to ourselves for the answers; what seems right to me. By what I think, what I like, what I get out of it, by my rights. Right and wrong, good and bad, true and false is what I think it is. Everything is subjective, curvatus in se. Even prayer and fasting and giving, as Jesus talked about, become about ME. That I may be praised by others as good, holy, dedicated, righteous. And if praised by others, then praised by God, too. Loved by Him, approved by Him, saved by Him, because of what I am doing. curvatus in se.

So this Lenten season, the call goes out to fix your eyes on Jesus. We just sang that in the Gradual earlier. Stop looking at yourself. Stop curvatus in se. Fix your eyes where they belong. On Jesus. Or as the prophet Joel put it: Return to the Lord your God. curvatus in se is to make yourself god. Return to the Lord your God. Repent. Fix your eyes on Him.

And as you do, things will not be so blurry anymore. There will always be some blurryness as long as we live in this sinful world and in our sinful flesh. But the Spirit enables us to focus again. To see things more clearly again. With eyes on Jesus. With eyes on Christ crucified.

For there is God’s love for you. Does He really love me? Look at how much He loves you! Each drop of blood, each agonizing breath, with each mocking taunt hurled into His ears, with each nail, each lash, each thorn piercing His head proclaiming to you, shouting to you, His love for you. For this is all for you. Does God love you? Fix your eyes on Jesus. Clearly, that much.

And what about your sin? There’s your sin [on the cross]. It’s not blurry at all. And it isn’t little and it isn’t harmless. There are no “victimless sins” when every sin is on Christ on the cross. What feels right to you feels like that to Him. What about your sin? Fix your eyes on Jesus and see your sin and its consequences clearly.

And what about God’s Word - is God’s Word blurry? Fix your eyes on Jesus. The wages of sin is death. He dies to pay your wages. And He dies because He promised He would. Every Word He speaks - whether we like them or not - is true and fulfilled in Him. Especially these words He spoke from the cross: Father, forgive them. Fix your eyes on Jesus and hear Him. Clearly.

And the future? Fix your eyes on Jesus there, too. Today, you will be with me in Paradise He says. Clear words to that thief, of hope and a future. And that thief departed in peace. And so can you. 

That’s why satan doesn’t want you to look there, to the cross - to see that, know that, and worst of all believe that. So look here! Look there! See that shiny thing! Look at that success! Look at that awful person you can’t possibly forgive! Look at that injustice, look at that unfairness. You deserve better! You deserve a better god! 

No. Today fix your eyes on Jesus. No more curvatus in se. No more spiritual astygmatism. No more blurryness. No more uncertainty. 

Fix your eyes on Jesus. Christ crucified. For you.
Fix your eyes on Jesus. Your sins are forgiven. Every. Single. One.
Fix your eyes on Jesus. His Body and Blood given for you.
Fix your eyes on Jesus. And see clearly again.

See clearly when Ash Wednesday black becomes Easter white.
When Lord, have mercy becomes Peace be with you.
And when Dust you are and to dust you will return becomes He is risen indeed!
That’s your now and your future.
When your eyes are fixed on Jesus.

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

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Last Week of Epiphany - Beginning of Lententide (February 24 - 29, 2020)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Romans 5:19 - “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #561 “The Tree of Life”
Hymns for Ash Wednesday: 606, 616, 562, 611
Hymns for Sunday: 668, 561, 618, 424, 718, 656

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

Monday: Joel 2:12-19
How is sin turning away from God? How is repentance turning back to Him? Who is to do this? How?

When should we repent? Why? 

How does self-obsession turn into sin? Why are we so prone to this? How do we stop?

Thursday: Genesis 3:1-21
What did the serpent/satan promise Eve? What did she get instead? So what do we need? How does Jesus provide it?

Why is Jesus called the “second Adam?” How are Adam and Jesus alike? How are they different?

Saturday: Matthew 4:1-11
What was satan really trying to do with all his temptations? How is this true for you and me today as well?

The Catechism - Confession: What is Confession? Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ a blessed Lenten season for all.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Sunday School teachers
+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for The Lutheran Haven.
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!

Transfiguration of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Glory Seen, Glory Done”
Text: Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Exodus 24:8-18

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

This is a side of you I haven’t seen before. We say that sometimes. When someone who is usually kind acts mean; or when someone who is normally mean acts in a kind way. When someone who is usually generous is all of a sudden stingy; or when stingy person is unusually generous. When someone who is generally quiet and shy speaks out; or when the loud mouth has nothing to say. When the procrastinator gets something done early; or when the early bird has to pull an all nighter. You get the idea. We don’t always act in character. But which is the real you? Is it the person you usually show, or the person that only occasionally slips out? Is the side of you that slips out a mistake, or what’s always there but you’ve gotten really good at hiding it? What you see may not always be what you get.

Well today, in His Transfiguration, Jesus shows Peter, James, and John a side of Him they haven’t seen before. Or have they?

At Christmas, we hear from the same John who saw Jesus’ Transfiguration that the Word became flesh and [tabernacled] among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14)

The tabernacle was the place where God dwelled with His people. It was a holy place, and at its center was what was called the most holy place - where the Ark of the Covenant, the throne of God, was. But nobody got to go in there and see that glorious throne and place - only the High Priest, and he only once a year. And when he did, he didn’t stay long - just long enough, really, to splash blood on it. The blood of atonement. 

But though that inner most holy place was something that most people would never see, the tabernacle was still a glorious place. Because God’s mercy was there. Because it was the place of forgiveness. It was the place where a holy God came to holy His people. Most people never got to see the Ark, but they did see sacrifices, and they received forgiveness. And when the mobile tabernacle later turned into the permanent Temple, it was the same way.

Which should tell us something. That the glory God wanted His people to know was not the kind you see but the kind you hear. Not an impressive, awe-inspiring show to dazzle the eyes, but the proclamation and giving of forgiveness to soften our hearts. The reality that this glorious God is not just being glorious but doing glorious. Lowering Himself, giving of Himself, having mercy, forgiving sins, to raise us up from death to a new life.

So when Jesus is transfigured on the mountain that day, it’s as if Peter, James, and John are allowed into the most holy place - the holy of holies. To see the glory that is normally hidden, but always there.

So in a sense, Jesus was showing them a side of Himself they had never seen before. But in a sense, He wasn’t. Because Jesus had been showing His glory all along, just in a different way. He wasn’t being glorious but doing glorious. Lowering Himself, giving of himself, having mercy, forgiving sins. Lowering Himself to the lepers, the prostitutes, the demon possessed, the outcasts, the unwanted, the blind, the deaf, the lame, the widows and orphans. And He raised them to a new life. He loved, He healed, He forgave. And it was glorious.

And then Jesus did glory most of all when He ascended the cross and splashed His blood, the blood of atonement, for the sin of the world. For every sin of every sinner that has ever lived and ever will live. No sinner excluded, no sin that wasn’t on Him. To holy us. To be the sacrifice for all to see. 

So when John would later write and we have seen His glory - was He talking about the Transfiguration or the cross? Glory seen or glory done?

Maybe a way to think about this is with the president. There’s a lot of glorious looking stuff with the president. He gets to live in the White House, ride on Air Force One and in the presidential limousine, meet foreign dignitaries, host and go to State dinners, have special ceremonies in the Rose Garden, have Secret Service protection, and lots more. But if you were to ask any president, of whichever party, what was the most glorious part of being president, I don’t think he would say any of those things - but rather what he did, what he accomplished while in office. Not the glory seen but the glory done. A lot of which we probably never get to see.

Peter, James, and John got to see the glory of the Son of God that day. But it really was a side of Jesus that He had been showing them all along by the glorious things His glory did. The glorious things He did for the least and the lowest - not for Himself.

Peter wanted to stay there, in this glory he could see. Of course he did! Maybe the others did too. Get away from the constant flow of people coming to Jesus and crying out to Him. Get away from the demons who were shouting at Him. Get away from the Scribes and Pharisees who were always arguing with Him. Get away from all the hassles and interruptions and troubles and busyness. And stay here. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Nice, maybe. But not what Jesus was all about. Not what Jesus had come to do. It was important for those three to see Jesus like this - otherwise Jesus would not have shown them. It was important for them to know that the man who would soon be hanging on the cross, bloodied and beaten and dying, was this same Son of God. It was important so that they would know the glory of the cross - that the cross was not just a man being crucified but God laying down His life for the life of the world. All the other mercy shown and glory done culminating here, with this. The most glorious act ever and of all: the Creator dying for His creatures.

Listen to Him! the voice told them from the cloud. They fell on their faces, terrified. Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. The glory was gone. Or was it? Or was it just beginning?

And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

How hard that must have been for Peter, James, and John! It’s hard to keep secrets and not blab. And I wonder if they did or not? Or if they told the others? All the disciples messed up a lot. We shouldn’t assume they actually did what Jesus said here.

But the point is clear: this is not how Jesus wants to be seen or known. Not yet. That day is coming. But first, we must see Him on the cross. First, we must know Him as the crucified one. We must have His blood sprinkled on us - the blood of atonement. He must die . . . so that we can be glorious too.

For that’s why He came. Not just to be glorious but to do glorious. For you. To holy you. That you be sons of God too.

And you are. You may not look it. After you were baptized there was no glorious transfiguration for you. Or was there? Maybe not that you could see, but as Peter would later write, and as we heard earlier, we have something more sure [than what we see], the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns - until the Last Day. So you may not have looked any different before and after baptism, but the Word says you are. Now you are a child of God. You are holy. You are forgiven. You have an inheritance in heaven. And one day you will see all that. When you are raised from the dead. But for now, the light we live by is the Word of God. Not glory seen but glory heard.

And glory done. Lived. For like Peter said, it is good to be here. Good to be in the glory. And it would be nice to stay. Nice to get away from the all the problems of life, all the annoying people, all the pestering and interruptions, all the busyness and responsibilities and burdens we have. But that’s not why Jesus shared His holiness and glory with you. Not for limos and glamour and riches and pomp -  though we do have angels protecting us. Not glory seen but glory done. Lived. Where God put you. To be glorious for others. To use your glorious standing as child of God to help and serve others. Which may look and feel about as glorious as the cross! But don’t let the appearance fool you. Listen to Him! And you’ll see. And you’ll know.

But you do get a seat at the banquet. Not a State dinner at the White House or like on the top of Mount Sinai, when Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, Joshua, and 70 of the elders of Israel got to behold God and eat and drink with Him. But a seat at this rather inglorious looking table where the food isn’t that much, doesn’t taste that good, and you actually don’t even get to sit or kneel but have to stand! But this is glory done, glory heard, not seen. Listen to Him! And you’ll hear. And you’ll know. And you’ll see. The Body of Christ, the Lamb of God. The Blood of Christ, the blood of the atonement. The glory of Jesus giving Himself to you, the forgiveness of sin to you, His life and salvation to you. Here. That you lead transfigured lives. Truly glorious lives. 

So on Wednesday we enter the season of Lent. The season of Jesus’ glory and its culmination on the cross. Like Peter, James, and John, it is important for us to stop here first, on the Mount of Transfiguration, before the cross, that we see it rightly. That we see the glory of God there for us. The glory of His love. The glory of His death. That when you rise and go from this place, that come what may in your life, you know that glory, even in rather inglorious times and places. And in them, know that when Jesus is there, they are glorious. And so now, like Peter, James, and John, we rise and go and have no fear. No fear to love. No fear to serve. No fear to forgive. No fear of life. No fear of death. For the Word of God goes with us. Jesus goes with us. That we live glorious lives. Now and forever.

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

Monday, February 17, 2020

Epiphany 6 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Choose Life = Choose Jesus”
Text: Matthew 5:21-37; Deuteronomy 30:15-20

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

It’s ugly, isn’t it? This epiphany today, of your sin. When Jesus holds up the mirror of His Law, as He did today . . . it’s not a pretty face looking back, is it? And it’s more than skin deep, our ugliness. It goes to the very core of your being. And mine. To every deep recess of your mind. To every dark corner, behind every door, hidden in every closet of your heart and mind and life. We’re not good. We’re not right. We’re not high. We’re not moral. We’re not better than most. We’re. Just. Sinners.

These are tough words today. Revealing. 

For anger, hatred, insults, who hasn’t? But it’s not just that, is it? It’s the anger that I won’t let go of, that blossoms into a grudge, and finally bears the fruit of revenge. 

Hatred. Not just withholding my love, but deeming that person not worthy of my love, or even care, or any charitable thought. Just wishing they weren’t even there. Not in this world and life. Not in my world and life. Their life not worth anything.

And the internet . . . the internet has ramped all this up to a new level! Now there’s a whole world of people to hate and insult virtually! And anonymously. Tear them down with no repercussions. Opportunities too good to pass up.

Lust. In our hyper-sexualized society, how do you avoid it? How often is the spirit willing but the flesh too weak? Faithfulness is mocked; a quaint relic from the past. Purity in marriage? Heck, why even get married anymore?

And truth? Telling the truth doesn’t mean anything anymore because truth is what you make it, or so we’re told. Oaths are routinely broken. Lies are only bad if they don’t work. So we don’t believe others anymore. You can’t trust your emails for the scams and phishing, you can’t trust your telephone for the fake caller IDs, you can’t trust the person knocking at your door, trying to scam you or break in . . . why should I trust you? Even God and His Word. Truth? Well, maybe then, but not anymore . . .

It’s ugly. Our sin. I’m ugly. My sin. The depths to which we have fallen. And I don’t want to look in that mirror and see that. Take it away, Jesus! Take it away!

And that . . . that’s just from a couple commandments! Jesus sets a pretty high bar here, for what we’re supposed to do, how we’re supposed to be . . . and we fall far short. Ugly short. It is a bar, really, impossible for us to get over.

Which makes me think of pole vaulters. You get to see them about once every four years in the Olympics. The best pole vaulters in the world can clear about twenty feet or so. But what if the bar was at 100 feet? There’s no way. They’re not even close. But heck, if a marathoner can break the unbreakable 2 hour mark, why not? Who’s to say we can’t? So someone tries. They work harder than ever, get stronger than ever, invent a super pole that can hurl them higher, and finally one day, someone gets up to 100 feet. But just when they get up that high, and try to clear the bar . . . they find out the bar is right against the roof of the stadium! There’s no way over. There’s no room.

So perhaps you’ve tried, to keep the Law. Really hard. Harder than most. To get over that bar. But it’s right against the roof. You could cut off your hands and feet and pluck out your eyes and remove every part of your sinful flesh, but there’s still not enough room for you to get over. You could starve yourself and fast and you still can’t get thin enough to get over. And it’s not a glass ceiling we’re bumping up against, that you could smash through if you just try hard enough - but a wall of solid rock. Like a tomb. And you ain’t gettin’ over, you ain’t gettin’ through, you ain’t gettin’ out.

It’s ugly. I don’t want to look at it anymore. I don’t want to look at me anymore! Take it away, Jesus! Take it away!

And He does! Not the Law. But your sin, your death, your failure. He came to take it all away.

The Law stays. It is truth. As we heard last week, in the verses right before the ones we heard today from Matthew, Jesus came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. Every last jot and tittle. Every iota. Crossing every “t” and dotting every “i.” 

So Jesus is the one who clears the bar of the Law with His perfect, Law-keeping, Law-fulfilling, life.

And all your ugliness - it’s mine, He says. You see that in sports, too. A team messes up, but one of the players steps up and says: my fault. My bad. It’s on me. That’s Jesus. He says: it’s on me. All of it. All the sin, all the failure, all the ugliness. And it’s no lie. He actually takes it and makes it His. He becomes the ugly one, the one who crashes and burns, the one who falls short. Your sin becomes His and He pays the price for it. 

So Jesus clears the bar of the Law for you with His life, and then pays the price for your failure with His death.

And then He saves the best for last . . . He rolls away the stone of the tomb with His resurrection. That solid rock holding us down and holding us in and crushing us under it’s weight, is gone. Now heaven is open again. For you. There is life and hope again for you. In Him. In Jesus. The one who cleared the bar with His life, paid the price with His death, and opened the grave with His resurrection. Take it away, Jesus! Take it away! And He did.

So after having looked into the mirror and seeing our sin and ugliness, Jesus says: Look at ME now, on the cross, in the same way. What do you see? What do you see in that epiphany?

Is Jesus angry? Angry with you? Hate you? No, no, and no. Even those who put Him on that cross. Father, forgive them, He prays (Luke 23:34).

And lust? None of that there. Jesus shows true love for His Bride. For you. He gives Himself completely. Lays down His life. Faithful all the way to death. For there is Jesus giving His body and His body parts for you. The hands and feet and eyes that you have used to sin, He gives to the executioner for you. 

And you see truth. Promise made, promise kept. A Saviour. Even when it meant a cross. He is who He says. No scam or faking here. For He not only speaks the truth, He is the truth. And He will always speak the truth. His yes is yes, and His no, no. When He says you’re forgiven, you are. When He says My Body and Blood hanging here I give to you to eat and drink - truth

So we have hope. Because He did take it away. What we don’t want to look at. Not the Law, but our sin. To give us life.

Life like He gave to Israel as they found themselves - for the second time - on the border of the Promised Land in the reading from Deuteronomy we heard today. The first time they got to this point, they said the people of the land were too big, too strong, too powerful, too this, too that - it is too much for us. And that’s how we can be with life in the world at times. We look around and think the people too sinful, too bad, too disgusting, too far gone. I can’t love them, help them, forgive them. It’s too much. 

But Israel could, because the Lord was with them. Choose life, He said to them. Which meant Him. Choose Him. Not false gods, not fear, not self-reliance. Him. Rely on Him, who can do what we cannot do. For this land He swore, He promised to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He would give. Promise made, promise kept.

And so it is for us. He promised to send a Saviour. Promise made, promise kept.

He promised to open the grave and heaven to us. Promise made, promise kept.

He promised to send His Spirit. Promise made, promise kept.

And when He baptized you, He promised you all that He has done for you: the forgiveness of sin, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. Promise made, promise kept.

All that you need, He will see to it, and He will give.

And so is set before us today life and good, death and evil. Life in Christ, life in the world. Life in His promises or life on your own. It really isn’t much of a choice, is it? Your way, your truth, and your life? Or Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life? The way over the bar, the truth of promises kept, and the rolled-away-stone-life that never ends. Choose life, He says to us. Life in Him.

Life in Him in this broken, ugly, sinful world. Life as a baptized child of God. Which, maybe we can think of like this . . .

Paul tells us that in baptism you’ve been crucified with Christ, but also raised with Him to a new life (Romans 6). That’s what we’ve been talking about. So, imagine yourself there . . . with Jesus . . . crucified with Him . . . on the cross. See others through His eyes. Even yourself.

If you’re on the cross . . . why lie? It won’t do you any good. Instead repent, confess. 

If you’re on the cross . . . why hate? Is that going to make things better for you? Wasn’t there enough of that that led to this? Instead, forgive.

If you’re on the cross . . . what about the lust and the sexuality in our world that seems like the be all end all, that permeates everything, that defines people, controls people, and wraps itself around them like a python that won’t let go? If you’re on the cross, that’s all pretty meaningless, don’t you think?

So all these things, all these people, all these troubles and fears, the cross puts them all in perspective. And puts all our sins to death. That they die and we die to them and rise with Jesus to a new life. A better life. A real life.

And though when you look at yourself in the mirror of the Law, the person looking back is desperately ugly - remember, that’s what you look like in the mirror of the Law, NOT what you look like from the cross. From the cross, you look quite different than that. From the cross you are beautiful, the picture of perfection. Forgiven! From the cross, there in no ugliness in you because it’s all on Him. From the cross, Jesus sees you not as you have made you, but as He has made you. A child of God. A bride of the Bridegroom. Beautiful! Glorious! Radiant! An inheritor of eternal life. Even if you can’t see it, believe the Word of God which speaks it to you.

And if we can learn to see ourselves or believe of ourselves that way, maybe we can begin to see others that way, too. As Jesus sees them. And love them, too.

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

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Epiphany 5 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“You are His Salt and Light”
Text: Matthew 5:13-20; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Isaiah 58:3-9a

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

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

That is your Christian vocation. This is how Jesus uses His Christians. This is not what you have to be, but who you are. This is not what you do, but how Jesus is using you. And lest you think you’re not those things, you are. Jesus says you are. And you are who God says you are. His Strong Word does what it says. His Word brings into being that which was not. His Word speaks reality into existence. So if He says you are, you are. And this is what you are. Salt and light. His salt and His light.

So Jesus sprinkles you where He needs you to preserve a rotting world. For that’s what salt does. And so in the midst of sin, the Lord sprinkles His Christians. In the midst of death, God sprinkles His Christians. In the midst of evil, Jesus sprinkles His Christians. That in the midst of all these things, there be His forgiveness, life, and love. That truth be spoken. That these things not run rampant in the world, that sin not gain the upper hand, but that God be present in them, in you. And maybe you are not even aware of it, Jesus using you in this way. But consider where you are in your life and the people God has gathered around you. Coincidence? Chance? Accident? No. Because in you, the Lord is present in those places. To bless.

And so has Jesus put you to be His light as well. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, Jesus says. You put it on a stand, so that it gives light to all the house. So you. Jesus has given you His Spirit and His Spirit has enlightened you with His gifts. So God is putting you in the darkness - and maybe in some really deep, dark places! - to light them up. That the darkness not overwhelm, but people can see in it. So that people can see the light of hope in the midst of despair. The light of life when confronted with death. The light of forgiveness when all they know and hear is the darkness of condemnation. And the light of love in the dungeon of hate and fear. You bring these things with you because you bring God and His Spirit with you wherever you go. And again, maybe you are not even aware of it, Jesus using you in this way. But this is who you are, Jesus says. Not what you have to be (that’s Law), but who you are (that’s Gospel). How Jesus is using you.

Which doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s not easy being in the midst of sin and death and evil and darkness. But maybe it’s a little easier to live in those places and be who you are knowing that this is God’s plan. That Jesus hasn’t forgotten about you and He’s not punishing you. Rather, He needs you there. To be His salt. To be His light. To preserve and enlighten a very dark and rotting world.

And this, honestly, flummoxes me! I can’t really figure out why God chooses to do things this way when it seems to me there are a lot of better and easier and more effective ways He could do it than me! Because salt and light? Really? Me? And maybe you’re thinking the same thing. That you’re not very salty and not very bright and not very much use to God. But the God who can work all things for good, can even use us this way.

And at the same time I think this shows God’s fatherly heart. Some of you have heard me talk before about how children want to help their parents and parents like to have their children help them. When you’re little, for example, you may want to help vacuum, even if you’re too little to do it. And even though Mom could do it better and faster and easier if she just said no - she loves the help, because she loves her child. And fathers too. Building, digging, fixing. Little hands don’t do it as well, go slower, and tire faster. But he loves the help, because he loves his child. So maybe think about it that way . . .

The Apostle Paul wondered at this, too. Marveled. We heard him say today: What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him. What our Lord has in mind for us. Not only in heaven, but already here and now. Or in another place (Romans 11:33) Paul writes that God’s ways are inscrutable. There’s a good word for you! Beyond our figuring out. He’s just not like us. And that’s a good thing.

And speaking of Paul, of course you know how God used him as His salt and light in the world - greatest missionary of all time! But a couple of things about that. First, it wasn’t Paul’s decision, or doing. Jesus made Paul who he was. Jesus put Paul where He did. Jesus said you are, and Paul was. 

But this, too: Paul, it seems, didn’t think himself very salty or very bright. At least, not among the Corinthians. Did you hear what he said today: he came to them (or God put him there) in weakness and fear and with much trembling! And he says, he didn’t have lofty speech or wisdom. No great “I have a dream” speech from Paul. No great new paradigm-shifting philosophical system that all were amazed at. Just Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Just forgiveness of sin, life from death, good in the midst of evil, love in the midst of intolerance and hate. Christ was present there in Paul and through Paul. His salt and light.

Now think about this too: who has Jesus used as salt and light for you? When you were stuck in sin, overwhelmed by the darkness, surrounded by evil, in need of forgiveness, craving hope, confused, uncertain, lost, alone. Who did Jesus sprinkle into your life? Through whom did He give you a ray of hope? If you think about it long enough, I’ll bet the list is long and somewhat surprising. And you realize that with God, there’s always more going on than meets the eye. Much more than you know. Like on the cross. The Christ crucified that Paul proclaimed. An innocent man hanging with your sin. For you. A condemned criminal who is really the Son of God. Defeat that is really victory. A dead man who is really the life of the world.

But perhaps you’re still thinking about how all this doesn’t seem quite possible. Because really! You’re not very salty salt. That on any saltiness scale, you’re that salt that only deserves to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. And light? Not very bright, and blown out far too often by sin. And honestly, looking at yourself, that’s what you should think. You’re not good enough. You’re not bright enough. You’re not strong enough. If Jesus had said: You have to go out there and be my salt in the world! You have to go out there and shine as brightly as you can! And if you don’t . . . Well, we don’t. Not as we should. We are like what Isaiah said today. Not only do we fail to do the good we should, but the good we do we often do for the wrong reason. Our righteousness certainly does not exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, those most scrupulous keepers of the Law. And it’s not even close. So salt and light . . . Yeah, we’re not qualified. We’re not good enough.

But that’s exactly why we shouldn’t look at ourselves but look to Jesus. And why we shouldn’t listen to the accusing voice of the Law and satan and our conscience, but listen to Jesus. Because you’re not what you do; you are what Jesus does and says you are. His Strong Word does what it says. His Word brings into being that which was not. His Word speaks reality into existence. On your own, you are lost, not good enough. 

But you’re not on your own! God’s Word - and God’s Word made flesh! - speak a different reality and bring a new reality and a new life. For He not only says you are His salt and light (and so you are!), He calls you His child. A member of His heavenly family. He calls you forgiven and righteous (and so you are!), for He gives His forgiveness and rightousness to you. He calls you His, and you are; and your life eternal, and it is. The waters of Baptism did all that for you. The Word of God in that water took you from darkness to light, from sinner to saint, from death to life, from hell to heaven. The Christ crucified that Paul proclaimed, your Saviour, did that for you.

And this: it is quite true, as Jesus said, that we cannot make unsalty salt salty again, just as we cannot make the dead alive again. We can’t. But Jesus can. A death and resurrection Jesus can. The Word of God can. In fact, that is His specialty! And He does. For you. I forgive you all your sins, He says. That is, you are salty again. Do not fear. Take eat, take drink, He says. That is, I am yours and you are mine. You are alive in Me and I in you. So where you are, where I put you, I am. Being salt. Being light. In you. Through you. In ways you can perhaps see, and ways you certainly cannot. You are not alone. Lo, I am with you always (Matthew 20:28). And you will be with me.

So maybe these words today put a new spin on your life. Help you see things in a new way. A mind of Christ way, as Paul says today. And maybe even give you joy and confidence when you’re in those dark places in life. That maybe you’re there to be salt and light for someone else. Or did Jesus put them there to be that for you? We may not know why everything happens as it does . . . but how good to know that your Saviour is working for you and through you. That He has plans for you and that you’re important. Important enough to go to the cross for. To make you His child. His child. His Christian. His saint. Forgiven. Justified. Sanctified. Glorified. Baptized. Absolved. Bodied and Blooded. Cleansed. Salted. Lighted. Put. His work, not yours. His Word, working in you. So look to Him. Listen to Him. He said so. And what He says is so. 

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