Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Pentecost 14 (September 15-20, 2014)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed.

Verse: Isaiah 55:7 - “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #730  “What Is the World to Me”
Hymns for Sunday: 914, 730, 640 (tune: 637), 518 (v. 25), 689, 798

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

Monday:  Isaiah 55:6-9
What promise does God make to those who return to Him? Why do we need such a promise?

Tuesday:  Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30
What does Paul mean when he says “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain?” How is this true for you also?

Wednesday:  Matthew 20:1-16
Is God “fair?” or is God merciful? What’s the difference? Which is better?

Thursday:  Ezekiel 2:8 – 3:11
How do we today “eat” the Word of God? How does this “eating” help and strength us? Against what?

Friday:  Ephesians 4:7-16
What gifts has Christ given to His Church? Why?

Saturday:  Matthew 9:9-13
How would you answer the Pharisees question: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

The Catechism: The Sacrament of the Altar: What is the benefit of this eating and drinking? These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ the love of Christ to control us in all we say and do.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational vice president, Gene Veith.
+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, guidance, and provision for Hope for the Destitute.
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!

Holy Cross Day Sermon

Jesu Juva

“More Than a Relic”
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 12:20-33 (Numbers 21:4-9)

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

Holy Cross Day is one of the oldest special commemorations we have in the Church, reaching all the way back to the 4th century. It was established by the Emperor Constantine to commemorate the day his mother Helena found - it is said - the cross of Jesus in Jerusalem. 

Now, did Helena really find the cross of Jesus? Was this an authentic discovery? Or is it just wishful thinking or an outright hoax? You’ll find people on both sides of that argument. Luther railed against relics like this, which had multiplied in his day, reportedly saying that there are so many who claim to have a piece of Jesus’ true cross that if you put them all together you could build an ark! (Or something like that.)

But I didn’t answer the question. Did Helena really find the true cross of Jesus? Are there pieces of that cross floating around out there? Well, here’s the answer: It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because as St. Paul told us today: Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified. We preach not having the cross - something only for a select few - but what happened on the cross - something for all people. That the very Son of God came down from heaven, was incarnate as a man, and died with your sin, your death, your condemnation. And after atoning for your sin and dying your death as the perfect Lamb of God, He rose from the dead, defeating sin, satan, death, hell, grave, and all enemies that would separate us from God. And so we sing, as we did right before the sermon, of the ending of the fray,  and how Christ, the world’s redeemer, as a victim won the day (LSB #454, v. 1).

So in truth, it doesn’t matter whether we have that actual cross or not, for we have Christ! We have the fruits of that cross, the benefits of that cross - what came from that cross and was given to us from that cross - signified by the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side while on the cross (John 19:34). The water of baptism which joins us to Jesus’ death and resurrection and makes it ours. The body and blood of the Lord’s Supper which feeds us with the real Passover Lamb and gives us the forgiveness and strength we need in our journey through this world and life to our Promised Land. The cross is where that took place, but here, in these things, these means, is where it is given, where it is heard, where it is applied, where it is for you. And that’s better. A piece of the cross cannot save, but the forgiveness won there does. And that’s what we need.

But still . . . wouldn’t it be cool? You know . . . to have the true cross. Maybe with a little bit of Jesus’ blood on it. We could have a traveling exhibition, like they do with the dredged up artifacts of the Titanic, or the uncovered treasures from King Tut’s tomb. Wouldn’t it be cool . . . show people it’s real, not just a story. The Greeks wanted to see Jesus, as we heard in the Gospel - let’s show the world His cross! And some other stuff, too! Then they’d believe, right?

But it’s not just them, is it? It’s us. Baptism, Absolution, Preaching, Supper . . . it all seems so ordinary, so plain, so unimpressive, so weak. We’d like to have signs, to disprove our doubts. If not relics, cool artifacts, or undeniable proof, then maybe healing or success. And a little wisdom too please. Maybe something philosophical or scientific, but something deeper and more convincing and more impressive sounding to the world than just a condemned criminal, a bloody and dead man on a cross. Something to make it all more relevant, more stimulating, more credible. 

Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom. So do we. Which are you? A Jew or a Greek? A sign-demanding guy or a wisdom-seeking gal? Paul said it over 20 centuries ago and it’s still true today. Just some preaching, a little splash of water and a morsel of bread and wine? That’s it? We stumble over the cross, too. Over having just a dying, gory, bloody, yucky, Jesus. 

What an ungrateful wretch you are! No, we are. All that Jesus has done for us on the cross and we want more? That’s not good enough? We’re not satisfied with that? Embarrassed? If so, wretches is too mild a word for us, who want not a crucified God who laid down His life for us, but an impressive God who will make us equally as impressive in the eyes of the world.

No. And as we heard: the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. A crucified God is not only what we have, it is what we need. 

For as Jesus told those Greeks who wanted to see Him: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Jesus knew that death is the only way to life. And that He is the seed that must be dead and buried in order to grow the Church and make Christians, including those Greeks who wanted to see Him. They may have been seeking some impressive words or philosophy or sign from Jesus, but He instead would give them what they needed - seeing Him on the cross.

And then Jesus goes on: For whoever loves his life loses it. Or in other words, whoever seeks for life in this world and the things that we men like and come up with, our signs and wisdom and philosophy, loses it. Loses the very thing you were searching for. Because it’s not in those things. But whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Hate there doesn’t mean an emotion, but a turning away from and a turning to - to a life greater than this, more than this. Not of man.

And where is such a life that is eternal? If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. And where Jesus was going when He spoke those words was the holy cross. If we want to see Him, He wants us to follow Him to the cross and know Him there. And if we want to be with Him, it must be through where He is - His death and resurrection. There simply is no other way. Just as bitten-by-serpents-Old Testament Israel had to look to the foolishness of a bronze serpent on the pole for life, so we bitten-by-satan-New Testament Israel must look to the foolishness of a dying man on a cross for life.

For the life we yearn for. For that life that death cannot end. For a life where we can mock the grave. For life when our life seems to be falling apart. For life when our sins make life seem hopeless and when the sins of others make life miserable. For life when you don’t think you can go on. For life when deadly sin seems so attractive and alluring. For life when you feel completely alone. For life wherever and however you find yourself right now. 

Yes, the world says that’s foolishness, to find hope in such a weak and wretched man. But when that weak and wretched man is more than just a man, but the very Son of God, then it’s the foolishness of God which, as St. Paul said, is wiser and stronger than men. It is the wisdom and strength that gets us out of the mess our wisdom and weakness keeps getting us into, time and time again. The wisdom and strength of life-restoring forgiveness. 

But you may have one more question floating around in your mind: that if we don’t really know whether Helena actually found the true cross of Christ, and we don’t do relics anyway, why celebrate this day? Well, perhaps we could say, to gospelize it. So that not Helena, but you, find the true cross of Christ. The true cross in the proclamation of forgiveness for you. The true cross in the adoption of baptism for you. The true cross in the Body and Blood for you. For here is where the true cross is, for you. Not in a piece of wood, but in the preaching of Christ crucified and the giving of His gifts, to you

And with such gifts, we sinful wretches are wretches no more, but forgiven and raised sons and daughters of God. And with such gifts, not just one day when we get that piece of wood out and marvel at it - but every day is then Holy Cross Day. That is, Jesus-for-me-day.

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Pentecost 13 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“It’s His Forgiveness to Give, Not Yours to Withhold”
Text: Matthew 18:21-35; Genesis 50:15-21

Joseph nailed it. He got it exactly right. 100%. A-plus. 

His brothers were worried that now that their father Jacob was dead, Joseph would get his revenge on them. His revenge for their hating him and wanting to kill him. His revenge for their selling him into slavery. He had already forgiven them . . . or so he said. Maybe he was just biding his time. Waiting. That’s what they had done, after all - waited for a good time to get rid of him. So they sent a message to him: Dad said to forgive us.

But Joseph doesn’t listen to them. He doesn’t forgive because “Dad said so” - he forgives because of their other father, their heavenly one. And so he says to his brothers: Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?

And with that, right there, joseph hits the nail on the head. That, right there, is the problem with not forgiving those who sin against us: we are putting ourselves in the place of God. When we do not forgive, we are saying that I get to decide who gets forgiven and who does not. And what criteria do you then use? If they’re really sorry? If they haven’t sinned against you too many times? If they’re worthy? And you aren’t consistent - choosing to forgive some more than others; judging some more harshly than others. We all do it though, don’t we?

But turn the tables and apply the criteria you use for others to yourself. How pure, how sincere, is your repentance? Do you not sin too many times? Are you worthy? And you quickly see the problem. We like to play God, our sinful natures pull us to put ourselves in the place of God, yet we are the ones who do not deserve forgiveness; we are the ones whose debt is much, much larger than those we don’t want to forgive. And yet you would decide? Who gets your forgiveness and who doesn’t?

No you don’t! That’s putting yourself in the place of God. And that’s faith-destroying idolatry. 

For here’s the truth: you don’t get to decide who gets forgiveness and who doesn’t. Jesus decided that, and He decided it on the cross. And you know what He decided there? Everyone is forgiven. On the cross He was loaded with all the sin of all people of all time, from the sin of Adam and Eve, to the sin of those who put him on the cross, to your sin and mine, to the sins of those who haven’t even been born yet. For time isn’t a problem for God. All the guilt of all the world, heaped on Jesus on the cross. None excluded. That all be atoned for; all forgiven. He did it, once and for all.

And so now you’re going to withhold the forgiveness He won of the cross from someone? Someone who really needs it? Really?

You hear how ridiculous that sounds, and how ridiculous Peter’s question to Jesus then sounds! Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? 

And so Jesus tells the parable we heard to help Peter - and us - understand. It is a worrisome parable for many because who among us doesn’t have trouble forgiving? But it’s not having trouble forgiving that Jesus is talking about here, but the refusal to forgive; the judging someone not worthy of forgiveness; the putting ourselves in the place of God. That is something altogether different and such idolatry, left unchecked and left to grow, will result in unbelief and condemnation. For it is a heart set not in faith toward God, but in judgment and pride and power.

Instead, daily crawl back to your master, to your Saviour, and beg for forgiveness. And you know what? You have it! So merciful and gracious is the Lord of all. For this parable we heard tonight is not a one-time event - it’s repeated over and over. Every Sunday we come crawling back and confess: I’m a poor miserable sinner. And the Lord says: I forgive you all that debt. And every day you pray the Lord’s Prayer: and forgive us our trespasses. Done. Our Lord never tires of forgiving you. Not seven times, or seventy-seven times, or even seventy times seven times. Our Lord doesn’t count. He forgives.

So don’t try to do forgiveness better than God. Don’t put yourself in His place. Don’t try to parcel it out based on your own thoughts and feelings and desires and judgments. Receive the forgiveness of Christ and give it joyfully. And if you’re having trouble forgiving, receive His forgiveness more! For that’s the fruit of the forgiveness you receive - more forgiveness for others. Overflowing. That all the world be filled with the forgiveness of Christ, and with His forgiveness, peace and joy. That the joy of the master be the joy of the servant. Both in this life, and in that life where there is no more forgiveness, for there is no more sin. That life where forgiveness reaches its fulfillment in heaven.

And that evil perpetrated against you that you maybe have trouble forgiving? Like Joseph, you might just be surprised at how God is able to use that for your good . . . and even for the good of those who sinned against you. For that’s the kind of God He is: merciful and gracious . . . and abounding in steadfast love.

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

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Pentecost 13 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Two Hands, One Goal”
Text: Romans 13:1-10; Matthew 18:1-20 (Ezekiel 33:7-9)

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

Is God right-handed or left-handed?

Perhaps you think that a silly question. First of all, because God is spirit and doesn’t have hands like we do. And secondly, because even if He had hands it wouldn’t matter. Except, perhaps, for the bad joke you might have heard that God must be left-handed because, as we confess in the Creed, when Jesus ascended into heaven He sat on His right-hand!

But I ask that question in all seriousness because our readings today teach us that the answer is: both. Theology calls the civil government and authorities, as talked about in Romans today, as the kingdom of God’s left-hand, and the Church, as we hard in the reading from Matthew, as the kingdom of God’s right-hand. Both are His, He exercises rule and authority in both, and He blesses us in both - just in different ways. 

The kingdom of the left, the civil government and authorities, rule and bless by the Law. They exist to protect us and punish evildoers. They exist to restrain sin by enforcing the Law, so that there is not anarchy and chaos and we can live in order and peace. Now, they don’t do it perfectly. They are sinners too. But murderers and thieves and the like are still brought to justice, we turn to the police and the courts when we have been wronged or are in need of protection, and we are punished when we break the Law. And this is a great blessing from God and how He is mercifully restraining the sin and evil that seeks to tear our world - and us - apart.

The kingdom of the right, the Church, is concerned about sin too, but in a much different way. For it is not by Law and punishment and coercion that the Church is ruled, but by grace and forgiveness. The Church calls sinners not to justice, but to repentance; she exercises not vengeance but love; and she does not punish but forgives. You could say that the government deals with sin from the outside in, but the Church deals with sin from the inside out - God restraining sin by healing our hearts and minds with the medicine of His Word and Sacraments. And, of course, this is a great blessing, too. The greatest blessing, in fact. To have in Jesus a Saviour from the sin and evil that seeks always to tear us away from God.

So God is both right-handed and left-handed, dealing with sin in both kingdoms, for our good. Because contrary to what is often our attitude, God takes sin quite seriously. Like when He impressed upon the prophet Ezekiel how important this was - that this was no joke or optional matter to Him. But us? Oh, we’re sorry when we get caught - when the policeman pulls us over, when the IRS audit letter arrives in the mail, when our lies don’t hold up anymore, when our teachers catch us cheating or when your parents find out that you really didn’t clean your room, you just shoved everything under the bed! But if we don’t get caught . . . that just emboldens us to do it some more, and some more, and some more. Which is dangerous because the evil one is never satisfied with you just getting away with it - he wants to rule you, to dominate you, to take you over with sin, severing you from others and from God.

So not only has God established the kingdom of the left to restrain and punish our outward sins, even more is He concerned with our hearts and the dominion of sin and satan there. 

So while we maybe think it’s funny to get someone to sin, poking at them and provoking them and tempting them with our words and deeds, Jesus says if that’s you, better for you to have cement shoes and be cast into the depth of the sea! 

Or that sin that we think is harmless - our hands doing what they should not do, our feet taking us where we should not be, our eyes seeing what we should not see - and today we could say whether that’s physically or going places or doing those things virtually, on the internet - if that’s you, Jesus says, it’s better for you to hack off your hands and feet and gouge out your eyes!  . . .  

That’s just not how we think of sin, is it? Which should be an indication to you of just how sick we really are, that we consider rebellion and disobedience so lightly. An indication that the disease of sin has been festering and growing in our bodies and souls and we didn’t even realize how bad it was. Just like you felt fine until something burst in you, or until the doctor walked into the room and said, I have bad news . . .  Yes, our condition really is that bad.

And it would be terminal, we would have no hope, if getting better were up to us. But surrounding these terrifying and sobering words of Jesus are words quite different, words of hope for us. 

For greatness in the kingdom of heaven? As we heard, that’s not something you do, but something that is given to you, like to a child, like to little Eva when she was baptized at only a week old. She, born and brought to those waters a sinner, received God’s name, adoption into His family, the gift of faith, the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, and the promise of everlasting life. And she is dear to her Father in heaven. As you are. These gifts of baptism for you, too. Not to earn but to receive, free. From Jesus to you. To exalt and forgive you. To take your place with Eva. For the Church, the kingdom of God’s right-hand is not about growing up, but about going down, in repentance, remembering and returning to your baptism and receiving like a little child from your good and gracious Father in heaven. Being drown in those waters of life, instead of the sea with a millstone around your neck.

And then as we heard, your Father has angels to care for you, and when you wander off and go astray, your Good Shepherd searches for you. Even if you’re just one in a hundred, He notices and He cares. He wants no one to perish. So when you’re called to repentance, caught red-handed in your sin, called out as the sinner you are, don’t get angry or defiant or defensive, give thanks to God for His Word, proclaimed in love to you, to call you back from your sin and sinful ways, to repent and receive His Absolution. As you heard again this morning: I forgive you all your sins. And it really is His Absolution, spoken here. For as we heard Jesus say to His Church: Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

And when we return and are gathered with our brothers and sisters in Christ - even if it’s just two or three, for greatness in this kingdom is not measured by achievement or age or size - we heard this: where two or three are gathered in my name, Jesus says, there am I among them. And He really is. And not just in some mystical, untouchable, unknowable way, but in a real way, for real you. Here in His Body and Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins

Given and shed - those are important words. For remember those terrifying, sobering words that should happen to you and should be yours - millstones and hacking and gouging and all that? Here’s your answer: Given and shed for ME. The hands and feet and eyes of Jesus given for you, in place of yours. The millstone you deserve hung around His neck instead of yours. And the fire of hell He endured on the cross so that you never will. Given for you - Jesus, The Son of God. And His blood shed for you - divine blood, precious blood, cleansing blood.

For it is He, now, in the midst of us disciples. Did you notice that? These words put us back where we started! Except the child in the midst of us now is the very Son of God Himself. Here, in our midst, for you. Here in our midst not as an example, but to forgive sin and give life to the dead. That you have all you need, and more. That as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, His kingdom come, even now. His kingdom of grace and forgiveness, His Church, now, and His kingdom of glory when He comes again in glory. 

And for that end, God uses both His hands, left and right. Ruling all things for the good of His Church, for this one goal: to deal with sin and give you life. Life now, protected from sin, but even more, life forever, free from sin. But both with your God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He with us now, and we with Him forever.

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

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pentecost 12 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Back to Kindergarten”
Text: Matthew 16:21-28 (Romans 12:9-21)

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

Peter thought he had it all figured out. Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah, the Saviour. It seemed like everything was coming together nicely. Everywhere Jesus went, the crowds were getting larger. And the signs Jesus was doing just kept increasing His celebrity and popularity - healing the sick, cleansing lepers, making the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, and the mute speak, casting out demons, raising the dead, calming the seas, feeding the multitudes, and preaching the kingdom - that in Him, the kingdom of heaven had come near. And it sure seemed like heaven on earth when you were with this Jesus.

Oh sure, there were some bumps along the way. Jesus had His naysayers and those who opposed and challenged Him. But He always one-upped the religious types at their games; He was always able to put them down and put them back in their place. No one knew God’s Word better than Jesus. No one ever won an argument with Jesus. Yes, life was good with Jesus.

And Peter was feeling pretty good about himself as well. In the verses right before those we heard today in the Holy Gospel, Peter had just made the great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And for this, Jesus had called him blessed! Yes, things were on the right track, and Peter could only be excited about the future and what Jesus would do next. Peter thought he had it all figured out.

So how unexpected, then, how completely out of left field, how absolutely, utterly, 100% wrong were the next words Jesus then said. From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

Now, if Peter had been one of our modern day GPS systems, the words coming out of his mouth next would have been: recalculating! recalculating! Jesus was making a wrong turn here, speaking nonsense! And Peter - Peter the blessed; Peter to whom Jesus as the Christ had been revealed to him by the Father in heaven Himself! as Jesus had said - Peter had to get Him back on the right track. So out it comes - the rebuke: Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never, no way, not in a million years, happen to you

And how stinging those next words of Jesus must have sounded to Peter, as they burned into his ears and cut into his heart: Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.  . . .  And Peter the blessed, becomes Peter the goat. Peter who thought he had everything figured out, Peter the Ph.D., becomes Peter who couldn’t be more wrong and who needs to go back to Kindergarten again.

But do you remember a few years ago, there was a book that came out with the title: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? So don’t despair Peter, but learn again this basic truth: this is what it means for Jesus to be the Saviour, not what you think. That Jesus must go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of His enemies, be killed, and on the third day be raised. He must. There is no other way and no other kind of Saviour. He must do this and go this way. The cross was the plan, the destination. It would not be an accident, but intentional. It would not be a tragedy, but using a great miscarriage of justice in an act of brutality, He would lay down His life, for no one could take it from Him (John 10:18). He would endure the worst of deaths and look like a loser. A great fall from the heydey of His popularity.

But the result of all this would be life. On the third day He would rise from the dead. And what looked like defeat would be victory. Victory not just over His earthly opponents and naysayers - that is a victory far too small and really of no consequence. No, this would be victory over His real enemies - our enemies - sin, death, and the devil. He took our side against them and succumbs to them in order to defeat them. He must, for us. For those are enemies too powerful for us.

Now, many of you probably learned that in Kindergarten. It is the first and basic truth we learn as we grow up in Church - that the man we see on the cross is Jesus, and He’s dying there for me and for you, for the forgiveness of our sins. That’s what we deserve, because of our sins. But Jesus took it in our place, and then rose to life to give us life. That’s what it means that Jesus is Saviour.

Basic, right? And so maybe you’ve been sitting there this morning thinking: Pastor, we know this.

OK. Then how come you act like Peter?  . . .  Oh yes you do! And here’s how: for in response to Jesus’ next statement - If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. - you think: Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to ME.

Because like Peter, you think you’ve got it all figured out too. Your plans, your life. Spouse, family, job, home, success, achievement, retirement. You’re a baptized child of God and your Father promised He’d take care of you and all your needs. You come to church, your sins are forgiven, sometimes you even like the hymns, so it’s full steam ahead! Life is good with Jesus. 

But then, like Peter, the cross comes and intrudes on all you think you knew, all you planned, all you thought was good and right. So you try to recalculate - figure out how you can throw off that cross and get back on the road to your plans. Or if that’s not possible, maybe you rebuke God too, like Peter. God, why are you doing this to me? This isn’t right! This is not how it’s supposed to go . . .

Oh, but it is, you Peters. This must happen. For your good. For your life. You can cling to your plans, you can cling to your life, you can cling to the way you think things should be and throw off God and His cross and His work in your life - you can do that. And many do. A baby? Not in the plans. And so a little boy or girl is aborted. A spouse of the opposite sex? Not what I want. Obey my parents? But they’re stupid! (So are my teachers, my boss . . .) Give up my golf game or the football game on TV for my family? Not gonna happen. Forgive? Not after what they did to me . . . again! Help my neighbor? Maybe if he’d do something for me once in a while! Repent? But Pastor, you just don’t get it, and everyone’s doing it! You can do that, in those and lots of other ways. But know this too: whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?

So back to Kindergarten for all of us. If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. It is common to think that means that Christians have to suffer. It doesn’t mean that at all. You might, maybe even you will. But to take up the cross means more than that. A lot more than that. For Jesus doesn’t want you to suffer, He wants you dead. Jesus doesn’t want you “dead or alive,” He wants you dead and then alive. Dead and then alive in Him. Dead and then alive in His cross and resurrection. Dead and then alive in your baptism, and then to live in your baptism each day. Dying to your “I got it all figured out;” dying to your “my way or the highway;” dying to your clinging to the things of this world and life . . . and living in Jesus and clinging to Him, and His forgiveness, and His victory, which is much bigger than what we see and know here and now. A life and a victory that will never end, no matter what happens to you here and now. 

And so to pry your cold, stony fingers and your hard, calloused hearts off the things of this world, to humble your proud mind and your “I got it all figured out” attitude, the Lord sends the cross into your life. Not to hurt you or harm you or just to make you suffer, but to help you. To save you. That you die and rise with Jesus and in Him every day, and so live. Really live. Not just a life filled with stuff here. That would be like Jesus just gaining victory over His earthly opponents and naysayers - that is a life far too small and really of no consequence. Jesus has more for you than that. And so His cross and so your cross. Jesus for you and you in Him. 

And what does such a life look like? Go back and read the words we heard from St. Paul in Romans today. Don’t do it now! Listen now. But later, read those verses again. There are some whoppers in there, and maybe you’ll be tempted to react like Peter did. But that’s your calling as a Christian. To do those things as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1) in your home, your school, your workplace, your church, your neighborhood, everywhere. And sometimes, it’s going to be pretty heavy, the crosses you will bear in those things. But you will see this too - the work of God your Saviour in you and through you and for you.

For to follow Jesus doesn’t just mean to suffer and it doesn’t just mean to obey - it means to follow Him to the cross. To die and rise with Him. The death and resurrection begun in baptism, when the sign of His cross was placed upon you and given to you in the water with the Word. That’s now yours to live in, because Jesus is yours to live in, and He in you. His forgiveness, His life, His salvation, all yours. And strengthened in you now as you come to receive the Body and Blood He gave into death and raised to life for you. That you rise too, to life with Him even now, but finally and fully when the Son of Man comes with all his angels in the glory of his Father.

And when He does, Jesus then said, he will repay each person according to what he has done. Which sounds ominous, but don’t be afraid of that! For that doesn’t so much mean all the good things you have done - or not! - but rather this: that those who die and rise with Christ here, in baptism, in repentance and faith, in forgiveness, in the cross, have the promise that will on the Last Day you will live even though you die. For as St. Paul said earlier in his letter to the Romans: For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:5). A resurrection to joy, to peace, to glory, to angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. To live there, in that, forever.

So remember that, all you Peters, what your learned in the Kindergarten of your faith. It is still true today, and will be always. Rejoice and be glad! The cross is the way to life.

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Saint Bartholomew Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Greatest Saviour for the Greatest Sinners”
Text: Luke 22:24-30; 2 Corinthians 4:7-10; Proverbs 3:1-8

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

We don’t know much about the apostle Bartholomew, who we commemorate today. Not many of his words or deeds are recorded for us in Holy Scripture. Tradition says that after our Lord’s death, resurrection, and ascension, Bartholomew went up into the region of Armenia and proclaimed the Gospel there. And that for that he was rewarded with “flaying,” which is being whipped until you basically have no more skin, and then he was perhaps crucified after that. 

But Bartholomew had come to know and believe that though the enemies of Christ could kill him, they could not take his life. Though they take his skin, he could say with Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold” (Job 19:25-27a). Like his fellow apostles, he testified in both word and deed that death had been defeated by Jesus. For him, for you, and for all.

And when that’s true, then so are the words we heard from St. Paul today: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Death and life so close together, for those in Jesus. Our bodies are dying, wearing out, decaying each day, and yet we know that at the same time we have already begun to live in the gift of everlasting life. Life that will last forever, beyond the reach and grip of death. For that gift, that life, was already given to you in your baptism and so you have it already now, not just some time in the future. And so the death you will die is His death, the death of Jesus, as Paul said. That’s the death you are carrying around - a death that has already been defeated. And the life you live is His life, the life of Jesus. That’s the life you have - and so a life that will have no end. So it is not one or the other - are you living or are you dying? For the Christian on this side of eternity, the answer is simply yes. And that’s the great confession we have, and get to proclaim to the world. In word and deed. In how we speak, and in how we live - and die - in that faith. As Bartholomew did.

But Bartholomew did not always speak and live that way, just as we do not. He had to learn, or perhaps better to say: to have that faith worked in him by the Holy Spirit. For while we do not know many of his words and deeds from Holy Scripture, this we do know, from the Holy Gospel we heard today - that he was involved, with the others, in a dispute as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. Or in other words, they didn’t want to be jars of clay, as St. Paul described us, but jars of gold.

Now, we’re not told if Bartholomew was arguing for himself or if he was politicking in the cause of one of the others, perhaps Peter or James or John, but in any case, greatness talk is not faith talk. The desire for greatness and faith do not go together. For faith clings to Jesus. Faith points to Jesus. Faith lives in Jesus. The desire for greatness is living not in Jesus and finding life in Him, but living in the world, finding life in the world, and clinging to the world. The desire for greatness points to and is all about me

Which doesn’t mean a Christian cannot be great in the eyes of the world. They can and have been. You can probably name some. But that is greatness borne of service and not of fame sought. For Christians know that all talk of “the greatest” starts and ends with one name: Jesus. And that any greatness that may be attributed to a man comes from Him and leads back to Him. 

But that’s hard - no, really, impossible for us, who are saint and sinner, believer and unbeliever, at the same time, to be all about Jesus and live in Him all the time. Especially when greatness and praise does come your way. For just when you think you got it, that you’re doing okay, that you’ve learned something and are making progress, the devil comes along and knows exactly what lure to use to lead you astray, what wire to use to trip you up, or what burden to use to beat you down.

Or if he doesn’t do that, he’ll instead pat you on the back and whisper in your ear that you really are the greatest - or should be. Just look at how good you’re doing! And you’ll believe it. You want to believe it. You want to be praised and known, too. To be not clay but gold . . . or at least silver or bronze.

So, for example, take some of the words we heard from Proverbs earlier. There is a very well known verse there: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. And if you’re like me, you often think: I can do that. I should be able to do that. I just need to try a little harder.

But the problem is that little word “all.” 100%. And we who are both saint and sinner, believer and unbeliever, cannot do anything 100%. So here’s the reality. Listen to this little poem written by a friend of mine who used to be a pastor, and tell me if it’s not spot on. If it doesn’t so astutely capture the greatness-disputing of the disciples. If it doesn’t so frightfully reveal what’s so often lurking right under the surface of our hearts . . .

Lord, Thee I love with half my heart.
The world has claimed the other part.
I pray Thy name be hallowed, Lord,
But want my name to be adored.
Thy kingdom come, Thy reign extend,
And rain on me wealth without end.
Thy will be done, my lips shall pray
And curse when I don’t get my way.
I thank Thee for my daily bread,
But cakes and steaks I crave instead.
My million sins forgive, forget,
While I collect a one-cent debt.
From tempting evils keep us free
Unless I find they pleasure me.
Lord, Thee I love with
half my heart.
My greatness I want with the other part (See end of sermon for attribution).

True? So, instead Lord, Destroy, reclaim, the other part. Destroy my desire for my greatness and give me faith, instead, in your greatness. Faith not in my all, but in your “all.” For you did all for me. 

For Jesus was the one - the only one - who trusted and loved the Lord with all His heart; with every thought and every word and every desire and every deed. And so He came down from heaven to love and mercy us with all His heart, all the way to the cross. The greatest become the least. The perfect one become the sinner with our sin to die our death. The one who deserves to be served come to serve us. That we who are great sinners know this only: that it’s not the greatest Christians, but the greatest sinners, who have the greatest Saviour. 

Which does not mean that we can go out and sin and become the greatest sinners so that we can get more forgiveness! St. Paul’s answer for that (Romans 6:1) is “By no means!” It means the recognition that we already are the greatest sinners (or as St. Paul puts it: the chief of sinners), and that for the very reason, we have the Jesus who comes to us still today and proclaims to us Himself and His life and His forgiveness. His greatness, for you, for me, and for all. 

Bartholomew and the others would learn that as they saw Jesus on the cross and as they saw Him risen from the dead, but most of all when they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit whose job it is to sanctify us. That is, to make us holy by pointing out the greatness of our sin, and then pointing us to the greatness of our Saviour. That we begin to believe rightly. Dying with Jesus to sin even now, including dying to our schemes and desires for greatness, that we may also live with Jesus, even now, in His greatness and life. 

For still today, for us, death and life are so close together. We talked about this a bit last week in the adult Bible class, there hearing how Luther so vividly described it. For Adam, he said, was living, but with death so close - just an arm’s length away; the fruit God had said not to eat. But we, he said, are dying, but with life so close - just an arm’s length away; the fruit of the cross given to us to eat and live. The arm of the Pastor reaching out to us with the life and forgiveness found in the Body and Blood of Jesus. Right there. For you. True greatness. That as Job confessed and Jesus accomplished, you live even though you die. Even if flayed, or crucified, or beheaded, or whatever other grisly and gruesome way our satan-inspired world comes up with. You have what is greater. You have the greatest. You have Jesus. 

And having Him, then nothing else really matters. Not really. Having Him, we too can be Bartholomews - the later version, not the earlier one! The one counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41). And if you are found so worthy, rejoice! For whether or not anyone ever finds out about your life, your words or deeds, whether or not you receive any greatness in this world, this is promised you: life in a kingdom that will never end

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

(From: The Infant Priest by Chad Bird [p. 60]. The last line of the poem in the text above is my own addition - his final line being the “Destroy, reclaim, the other part” that was included just after.)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pentecost 10 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Cling to the Word”
Text: Matthew 15:21-28 (Romans 11:32; Psalm 28:6)

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

What do you do when what you experience in life does not seem to line up or agree with the Word of God? When what is happening to you even seems to contradict the Word of God?

The Word which says that God will provide for you (Matthew 6:25-33), but you’ve been in need for so long? The Word which proclaims that God will be with you always (Matthew 28:20), yet you’ve never felt so alone? The Word which teaches that you are a child of God (Galatians 4:4-7), baptized into Him, and that He will never leave you as an orphan (John 14:18), yet your Father has never felt so far away? The Word which trumpets that you are forgiven (Acts 10:43), yet you look at yourself and inside yourself and see nothing but a miserable, wretched sinner, and feel so unworthy and dirty and unclean? The Word which promises you every good (Romans 8:28), yet so much of what you receive seems anything but good?

How do you reconcile the Word which says God will always hear and answer every prayer (John 16:23), yet when you pray you seem to be like this woman we heard about today, whose prayers are met only with silence and rejection? 

What do you do? Such times are hard, when Word and world conflict. But that is the reality we live in. This woman’s reality. So by considering her, we see ourselves.

So first of all consider: why was she there? Well, because her daughter was severely oppressed by a demon. Maybe for some time now. And how do you fight against a demon? She needed help.  . . .  You know how it is, for demons are pressing hard, attacking, luring, and tempting you too. Into all manner of sins. What are they for you, that you wrestle with? Maybe severely. And your strength is not enough. You’ve tried, and failed. Fallen back into the old ways, the old sins, the old bad habits and despair. You need help too.

But do not overlook this fact: why was she there? Because first Jesus had come to her. The Son of God had come down from heaven in the flesh, and then Jesus went to her, to her area, to the district of Tyre and Sidon. First, the Lord of all invaded the enemy’s territory to help, to rescue, and to save.  . . .  And again this is true for you as well. We have not a God who is far off, but a God who is near, who comes to us in our own flesh and blood, that we come to Him. 

But still there is more, for why was she there? Because not only was Jesus there for her, but she heard about Jesus. Someone told her. Someone preached to her. Just as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds and John the Baptist pointed the crowds to Jesus, so she had been told this good news. Or maybe she heard Jesus herself - His preaching with an authority not of this world.  . . .  You’ve heard that word, that preaching, too. That here is hope for the hopeless, help for the helpless, and freedom for the possessed. And so you’ve come too.

And so with great boldness and in great desperation and with great hope, she comes to Jesus. And she gets . . . not what we expect. Not, I’m sure, what she expected. Not what Jesus’ track record indicates she would get. She gets . . . this. The silent treatment, rejection, insult. Sand kicked in her face. Shoved to the back of the room. Acknowledged only to be rejected. 

For this woman, the Word she had heard and what she was now experiencing were two vastly different - and seemingly even contradictory - things. 

But she does not believe her experience. She does believe whatever emotions are surging from her heart. She does not believe the demons whispering to her to go away, that see? Jesus does not want to help you. No, she clings to Jesus. She clings to the Word and promises of God about Him. That Jesus is the Lord. That Jesus is the promised Son of David. That as Paul would later proclaim, Jesus has come to have mercy on all people. Including Gentiles. Including Canaanites. Including her.

And because of that, Jesus holds her up as an example of great faith. For this is what faith does - it clings to the Word and promises of God. Even when our emotions and experiences and other people in this world - even disciples - tell us otherwise. Because everything else is unreliable. Everything else in us and in this world has been tainted with sin. For sin isn’t just the bad things we do, it is the disease that infects our minds and our emotions so they don’t work as they should. That we think wrongly and interpret our emotions incorrectly and when left on our own, will think wrong things of God, too. And you can be sure the devil and his demons take full advantage of that, to deceive us and mislead us in false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice (Small Catechism, explanation to the Sixth Petition). Which means that any sentence that begins with “it seems to ME” or “it feels like to ME” frankly cannot be trusted.

Only sentences which begin with: Thus saith the Lord - only these are pure truth. Only these are to be relied on and trusted. Only these will give us the firm and certain foundation we need in a world full of trouble and strife, changes and chances, danger and need. Especially when our experiences and emotions are telling us one thing today and something else tomorrow. God doesn’t change and His Word doesn’t change, and so we have something outside of our infected, sinful selves to rely on.

That’s what this woman did that day. She clung to the Word of God and would not let go. And not only the Word of God she heard that brought her there to Jesus that day, but also the words that Jesus spoke too. The words that sounded so harsh, yet in which this woman finds hope. For when Jesus says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” the woman responds: “You say that I am a dog. Let it be. I will gladly be a dog; now give me the consideration that you give a dog. I ask no more than a dog’s rights. Give the children what is the children’s; I don’t ask for that. Give me the crumbs and I will be content with that” (Luther, House Postils, Vol. 1, p. 325).

How different is that from what we hear in our world today - where so many are demanding rights and privileges and what they want from God? And when He doesn’t deliver, see ya’! 

No, it is not to those who think they are deserving or worthy that Jesus gives, but to the undeserving and the unworthy. Not to the Pharisees and Sadducees, but to the tax collectors and sinners. Not to those who think Jesus owes them something simply because they are physically descended children of Abraham, but to the true children of Abraham - those not according to the flesh, but according to the promise. Children by faith. Like this Canaanite woman. Like you.

And so she receives. The mercy she has come for. The mercy Jesus has come to give. Was it a crumb, was it more? It didn’t matter! Faith doesn’t measure the gift, but receives what God gives with thanksgiving. Believing that it is good and exactly what we need.

Faith doesn’t measure the gift; it is the sin in us that measures gifts. Comparing what God has given to others and what He has given to me. Judging what God has given to me compared to what I asked for. But just as we cannot trust our emotions and experiences, so too we cannot trust our judgments here. What we think are mere crumbs might be much, much more. Like children rushing downstairs on Christmas morning, one child receiving a small box and one receiving a very large box, and immediately the jealousy begins - not even knowing what those bosex contain! Do we judge God that way? His gifts that way? His works that way? His love that way? Lots to repent of there.

Instead, believe the Word. What the world considers treasure - wealth and power and honors and glory - these are of little worth, really. They come and go and do not last. But what the world considers of little worth - the Church, the Word of God, the water of baptism, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, these are treasures containing far more than mere crumbs. They contain the death and resurrection of Jesus for you. They give you the fruits of His cross. They give you those gifts that will never end - His forgiveness, His life, His salvation, His Sonship, His Body and Blood. And that’s true no matter what you feel or experience here - you have His Word and promise. For thus saith the Lord: I baptize you. I forgive you. This is My Body, My Blood. I am coming back. You will be with Me in Paradise. Sure and certain, these words. Words of life. Words to cling to.

For no matter what the devil, the world, or your own sinful nature with its emotions and experiences wants you to believe, your Father in heaven, your Saviour Jesus, and His Spirit will not let you down. The struggles will continue, of that you can be sure. Those hours of deep need, darkness, and hurt. Such is life in this sinful world. But as we sang in the Introit earlier: The Lord is my strength - when I am weak - and my shield - when I am attacked; in Him my heart trusts - not my emotions or experiences - and I am helped. And not just given a helping hand, but rescued, saved. For you are forgiven. It is finished (John 19:30). The Lord has mercied you. Cling to that When in the Hour of Deepest Need (Office Hymn, LSB #615). And every other hour too.

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