Sunday, June 30, 2013

Higher Things Friday Matins Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Life and Forgiveness From Above”
Text: 1 Kings 17:17-24

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Where there’s sin, there’s death. Where there’s death, there’s sin. The two always go together. Of that you can be sure. This widow’s theology was spot on. She sees death, she thinks sin.

Oh, we often believe otherwise. That’s what satan wants us to believe. That’s the lie he whispers into our ears or these days even trumpets into our faces via the media or social media. That our sin won’t cause death - oh no, no! - but give us life. That if you only do this, if you only take that, if only you indulge a little, your life will improve. So a few tasty words spoken, a little lust satisfied, a bit of “do unto others because they’ve done unto me” . . .

No. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The widow was right about that.

So she blasts Elijah: You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!

What sin, I wonder. What sin was weighing heavily on her mind? What sin had she so buried, so locked away, so explained away with a thousand excuses, that was now coming back to haunt her? Because she couldn’t deal with it, she couldn’t make it go away, she couldn’t make it okay no matter how hard she tried. All she had done with her efforts was make it fester and grow . . . and now it was back again. Haunting her. Crushing her.

That’s you again, isn’t it? For what sins are weighing heavy on your mind? What words you wish you had never spoken, deeds you wish you could take back, what friend you wish you had never betrayed - those thoughts and desires that keep slithering back into your hearts and minds . . .

Indeed, this is our life “from below.” Sin and death. The death of friends, of family, of loved ones - your death. Sin and death, from which we cannot set ourselves free.

But as right and spot on as the widow was, she was also wrong - dead wrong. Elijah was not there to cause the death of her son - but to bring life to the widow! Life in the forgiveness of her sins. Life in the God of life who brings life “from above.”

And so Elijah takes her son - her only son - and prays to the God of life for life, and life is given from above. And the widow confesses: Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.

And again I wonder: what word? Seems that Elijah wasn’t just staying with this widow but preaching to her. And the word she now knew is truth was the word she doubted before; the word that her son’s death caused her to disbelieve. For if where there’s death, there’s sin, and where there’s sin, there’s death - then also now she knows and believes this too: where there’s life, there’s forgiveness, and where there’s forgiveness, there’s life. The word of the Lord from Elijah of a forgiving God was indeed the truth! And so not only her son, but the widow too, is given life from above.

And you too. For you, hounded by sin and surrounded by death. For you who doubt and worry and fear. For you who have tried to manage and deal with your sin, only to have those skeletons explode out of the closet at the worst times . . .  This forgiveness is for you too.

For Elijah is still preaching forgiveness and pointing to the God of forgiveness for us sinners today. For he points us to Jesus - God come down from above to us here below. For the Elijah who was to come, the second Elijah, John the Baptist, points us to Jesus with the confession: Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)! And then Elijah shows up again on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus and talks about what? Jesus’ exodus. His death and resurrection. His victory over sin and death for us.

Elijah points us to Jesus, as all good and faithful prophets do.

To Jesus, who laid in our tomb three days, laying not just on one young man, but in the place of all humanity, to give life to all in His resurrection.

To Jesus, who was poured upon you three times in water and the Word in Holy Baptism, to give life to you in the forgiveness of your sins.

To Jesus, conquering death, conquering sin; conquering sin, conquering death. For the two always go together.

And this Word is truth. The Word of the Lord that proclaims to you I forgive you all your sins. Those not your pastor’s words, but your Lord’s words. Truthful words. Words that do what they say. For Jesus’ tomb is empty. And so will yours be. For where there’s forgiveness, there’s life, and where there’s life, there’s forgiveness. For you. 

The widow saw and believed. Blessed are you who have not seen, yet have believed (John 20:29).

The widow then magnified the Lord who had done great things for her. And so do you, using the words of that other widow whose only son was raised from the dead for the life of the world.

The widow praised the Lord of life. And so will you now sing your Te Deum Laudamus: “We praise you, O Lord, we acknowledge you to be the Lord.” Good theology. Spot on.

And the widow and her son then - like they had for so many days already - ate and drank. They continued to eat the food that God provided for them: the flour and oil that never ran out. And so too you and I who have been raised from the death of our trespasses and sins to a new life of faith and forgiveness. We too will now eat and drink the food that never runs out. Not the flour and oil, but the Body and Blood that our Lord provides for us. The food from above that gives us life from above. Life now and life forever. Te Deum Laudamus!

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

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pentecost 5 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Your Bacon or Your Jesus?”
Text: Luke 7:36-8:3 (Galatians 3:23-4:7)

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

They wanted Jesus to leave, the people in the country of the Gerasenes. Why? They were afraid, Luke tells us. But why were they afraid? Jesus had not hurt them. Jesus only helped this man who had been tormented for such a long time, so many years. Jesus only helped them by expelling all those dangerous demons that were living so close by. Jesus only protected them from this wild man who could break chains - and so also bones and lives - with his great, demonic, strength. Why in the world would they then tell Jesus to get out and go away? Did they really like bacon that much?

Yes, the pig farmer lost his herd. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wouldn’t like this reading today very much. Better to sacrifice one man for the sake of a herd of pigs than to sacrifice a herd of pigs for the sake of one man! they would say. Which would be true, all things being equal; if men and pigs were equal, just different kinds of animals. But they’re not. God loves His creation, yes, but He loves you even more. For you are a man, a woman, not just created but specially created. Created in God’s image. 

So in that love, Jesus came. Not just to the country of the Gerasenes, but in love came to earth from heaven. And He came not just for a man possessed, but in love for a mankind enslaved to sin. And He came not just for the herd of Israel living like swine in sin, but for the whole world living like swine in sin. That all be set free. Free from our bondage to sin. Free from our possession by satan. Free from the evil that seeks to do us not only temporal but also eternal harm.

And in Holy Baptism, that’s exactly what happens. Freedom. For still today through water and the Word, our Lord comes and commands unclean spirits to come out His sons and daughters, out of you. To give you a right mind and give you His Holy Spirit. In those waters not just drowning you but raising you and giving you your life back again. Your life stolen by sin and satan. Like that man. And all that uncleanness, all that legion of sin and evil expelled from you went rushing onto Jesus on the cross, where it cast Him headlong into death and hell. For you. Yes, one man dying for the herd of us swinish sinners. That we be spared and saved.

Then that formerly-possessed man returned home. I wonder how long he had been away? Luke tells us only that it had been “a long time.” Were his parents still alive? What of his childhood friends? His brothers and sisters? Now, he went back home, cleansed and free. He wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus wanted him to stay. To stay and tell his country how much Jesus had done for him. How he had been given his life back. How he had been give hope and a future.

And there, in those words, is perhaps a clue to the reason why the people of that region were so afraid of Jesus and asked Him to leave; why they would choose their bacon over Jesus: perhaps they were afraid what it would mean for their lives. This man’s life changed, and of course, for the better! That change was clear. But what about them who weren’t so possessed? What would Jesus staying mean for them and their lives? What other “pigs” of theirs would go rushing into the sea?

That’s a fear that still exists today - in many in the world . . . even in us. When you’re comfortable with your life, comfortable with your sin, comfortable with how things are, do you really want Jesus coming and upsetting everything?

Maybe you’re comfortable with the hate or anger or bitterness or resentment that has possessed your heart, and you like not forgiving that person who really hurt you, and you don’t want to let go and lose the upper hand, and lose the satisfaction of revenge and the power you feel over them.

Maybe you’re comfortable with the greed that has possessed your heart, loving the things you have in this world and not wanting to let go of them. You read more facebook posts each week than Bible verses. You spend more time with the computer than with your family. You’re more upset when you miss your favorite TV show than when you miss church. For church will be there next week, but I really need to know what happened this week on . . . ?

Or maybe you’re comfortable being comfortable! And Jesus is good and nice and all that, as long as nothing changes in my life; as long as He just takes His place alongside all the things I love, all my false gods and idols, and stays there . . . in His place.

What is it for you? Where is it that you have asked Jesus - politely, of course! - to leave that area of your life, that region of your heart, that part of your mind . . . because you’re afraid of what His staying might mean? What “pigs” of yours would have to go rushing into the sea?

But here’s the thing: neither sin nor Jesus will just stay so nicely in the place you want them to stay in your heart and in your life. Jesus loves you too much for that, and satan hates you too much for that! They both want you all to themselves. Sin wants to be legion in you. Jesus wants His forgiveness in you. And you cannot serve both God and mammon (Luke 16:13)

So Jesus has come for you. That you repent of your fears, repent of your many loves and idols, and be filled with His forgiveness and life. Just as He sailed to the country of the Gerasenes for that man, so He has become incarnate and born for you. Or as St. Paul put it today: when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. That we might be like that man - clean and free and right again. No longer slaves to sin, satan, and death, but children of God, heirs of heaven and eternal life, and calling out to God - not asking Him to leave - but calling out to God: “Abba! Father!”

So that’s what we prayed for this morning. We prayed to our Father: O God, You have prepared for those who love You such good things as surpass our understanding. Cast out all sins and evil desires from us, and pour into our hearts Your Holy Spirit to guide us into all blessedness (Collect of the Day).

Guide us into all blessedness, for we don’t always know which way to go, and we often make wrong and rebellious turns. And so we need the Holy Spirit to guide us. Not just to guide us to do the right thing, but even more, guiding us here . . . to Jesus. For in Jesus is all blessedness. In Jesus is all life. In Jesus is all hope. That’s what that man found out that day, and what his fellow Gerasenes still needed to learn. Which is it for you? A bit of both, if you’re like me. The saint in me like that man, the sinner in me like his fellow Gerasenes. But Jesus here for all of me and all of you. To strengthen the saint, forgive the sinner, and guide you to everlasting life.

And so today, our Lord - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - will also pour into us the Body and Blood of the One who came for us. The Son of God who became a sinner with all our sin heaped upon Him, that we who are sinners be sons of God with all His righteousness, all His forgiveness, all His blessedness heaped upon us. That baptized into Christ and fed by Christ, we live as Christ and live in Christ and Christ in us. 

And live that way where our Lord has put us - like that man set free. Until our Lord takes us to be with Him, you stay and declare how much God has done for you

And today, perhaps, for us, that “where” would be in the Public Square. For that is where, in our world today, Jesus has been asked to leave. And so on a whole host of issues, a whole host of sins, a whole host of captivity that Jesus has come to set us free from, Jesus is not welcome. Please leave Jesus. The world saying: we don’t want to give up those pigs, those sins, we love so much. And sometimes, honestly, it can seem pretty hopeless to even try to speak against such a big, powerful, machine of modernity and post-modernity and the religious pluralism and apostacy in our world today. But you know what? That’s what the Gerasenes thought too, about that man. So long had he been possessed. So powerfully had he been possessed. So hopeless his case seemed. But with just a word, Jesus changed all that. And maybe, just maybe, Jesus is going to change all that for a person through His Word that is going to come from your mouth. 

So do not be afraid. The one in you is more powerful than the ones in the world (1 John 4:4). Yes, they are legion, but you have the One who by His Strong Word (LSB #578) sends legions fleeing, declares sins forgiven, raises the dead, and makes you His own. Like that man.

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

Monday, June 17, 2013

Pentecost 4 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Such Great Mercy!”
Text: Luke 7:36-8:3; 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-14
(Galatians 2:15-21; 3:10-14)

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

In our world today, mercy is a funny thing. On the one hand, people are sometimes very merciful. Think of the outpourings of mercy we see after disasters these days - people are eager to help and open their hearts and their wallets and often give of their time to do so. But on the other hand, mercy is sometimes in short supply. When someone comes back looking for help one time too many, or if they make the same mistake again, or when we think: they’ve made their bed, now they can sleep in it. So it seems that mercy is for those who’ve had something happen to them they didn’t deserve - like a tornado, or a bombing; but not for those who are getting what they deserve - like after they’ve sinned, or just been plain stupid.

I think that’s maybe why folks (even Christians) sometimes have a problem with God’s mercy - it’s bigger than ours. We want God to be merciful to those we think deserve it, and we like it when He is, but when He is merciful to those who we think don’t deserve it . . . that’s when our britches start getting in a bind, isn’t it? Especially if you think you’re being slighted in the mercy department and things aren’t going so well for you, but God is being so good to . . . to her? To that sinful woman? 

Welcome to God’s kind of mercy, Simon! And all you Simons. Mercy for all. Mercy without limit. Mercy that is bigger than we can imagine. For it is mercy not linked to deserving, but true mercy. Mercy that makes no distinction between deserving and undeserving, between big sinners and little sinners, but is true mercy. Here for all mercy. Here for you mercy. For if Nathan were here today, his finger would be pointing at you. You are the man, he would say. You are the woman. For he would want you to know and receive God’s mercy, too.

For to understand God’s mercy we must first understand how deep our sin. How deep, deep. All the way down deep. Hopeless deep. Sinful woman deep. And confess not only that you have made some mistakes in your life, for we all make mistakes, after all. That’s too easy. The truth is: we haven’t just made mistakes, we’ve rebelled. We haven’t merely tripped up, we’ve committed treason. For we haven’t just sinner against others, we’ve sinned against God. Enthroning ourselves and our wants and our desires and our thoughts of what should and shouldn’t be, and dethroning God in our hearts. And not just once, but over and over again. Like David, one sin leading to another leading to another, and how often we too, instead of repenting, try to cover it up and get away with it. 

And yes, we do that. You do that. One way is to make excuses for our sin. Another way is to try and hide it, like David. But maybe the biggest way today we try to deal with our sin is called the religion of self-improvement. This is the church of: I just need a little help, a boost of spiritual strength, some good advice or coaching on how to live . . . and then I’ll be able to do it! To turn myself around. To do better. And that kind of religion is very popular in our day and age. The airwaves are full of that kind of spirituality. But to paraphrase what St. Paul was telling us today: if I glue back together the mug that I broke, it still isn’t much good, is it? It may be improved and look a little better, but it’s still broke. And I am still a breaker . . . a law breaker.

No, coaching and advice is not what we need. We know how we should live. The problem is: we don’t. The problem is: we’re broken. And we don’t need gluing, we need forgiveness. We need to be made new. We need mercy.

Simon was a gluer. David was a gluer. The sinful woman, on the other hand, knew there wasn’t enough glue in all the world for her. How about you?

Enter Jesus, the merciful. His presence in the world was for mercy. His presence in Simon’s house that day was for mercy. His presence here today is for mercy. To show mercy in exposing our sin and bringing us to our knees in repentance. To show mercy in forgiving - especially those no one else would forgive. To show mercy to us all. True mercy. Mercy undeserved. Mercy that does not stop.

That’s King David mercy. For how deep was his sin! Yet in mercy, God not only sent Nathan to expose the sin, bring David to his knees, and give forgiveness, but to mercifully keep David in His mercy. For if David fell so deeply into sin when things were good, then God, in mercy, sends strife to keep David in His mercy. The sword shall not depart from David’s house, and the son born to him shall die. Those are not punishments for David’s sin. When Nathan spoke the Word of the Lord to David and said, “God has put away your sin” - he meant it. David’s sin is forgiven. Done. Gone. The rest is mercy. To keep David from sin. To keep David in repentance. To keep David relying on God. To keep David in God. Earthly hardship for eternal gain. A trade worth making.

But not only that. For in these words to David, we hear of an even bigger mercy of God. Because the son of David who would die for David’s sin was not ultimately the son of David born to Bathsheba, but the Son of David born to Mary. For remember all those folks we hear about in the Bible crying out to Jesus for help - what did they often cry out? Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us (Luke 18:38). For Jesus is not only the promised Son of David who will rule His people and help His people and sit on the throne forever. Jesus is also the promised Son of David who would die not just for David’s sin, but for the sin of the world. For sinful men and sinful women of all times and places. For your sin and mine.

So while Nathan spoke the Word of God to David which said: You are the man, the sinner, the one deserving death . . . Jesus speaks the Word of God to all which says: I am the man. I am the man who came down from Heaven and became the man. I am the man who takes your sin off of you and puts it on myself. I am the man who came to be broken and die in your place. To take the curse of sin for you on the cross. To die for you, that you rise with Me. That you be not just an improved sinner but a new creation. That you not just be stronger but set free from sin and death and devil. That you be set free to live, and to love.

And in your baptism, that’s exactly what happened. All that Jesus did for you became yours, given to you. God put away your sin by putting it on the Son of David on the cross. And those words spoken to David, and those words spoken to the sinful woman are spoken to you: Your sin is put away . . . Your sins are forgiven . . . go in peace. And we go - mercied, forgiven, new. To live a new life. A new life, for what do you think that sinful woman did next? Continue in her sin? Go on as if nothing had happened at all? Or love and mercy and forgive others as she had been? That’s a new life set free. The burden of her reputation, which undoubtedly stuck with her, now but a merciful opportunity to speak of Jesus and His mercy, forgiveness, and love.

And so now for you. For you too have been forgiven much. And as we, in turn, care for others, as Jesus said (Mt 25), we are doing it unto Him. Not separating ourselves from sinners, like Simon, but taking our place with them, like Jesus. And while that may not get us invited to the dinner parties of today’s high and rich and powerful who have other opinions of such mercy, that’s okay – for you have been invited to another feast. An even greater feast. A mercy feast. Where you don’t have to sneak in. You have the seat of honor. And you’re not the one washing the feet, it is your feet that are being washed! By your host. Your Saviour. Serving you. And washing you not with water, but with the blood that flowed from Him. And with tears in His eyes, so happy is He that you are here! To eat His body and drink His blood. To receive His forgiveness and be given His life.

That’s the mercy of Jesus, the Son of David, the Son of God. That’s mercy that never ends. Mercy bigger and greater than we can imagine. The mercy of God who lowers Himself to us to raise us. Us sinners. Us Davids. Us sinful women. Us Simons. Today His Mercy Call Us (LSB #915) to wash away our sins. Yes, for He has come to our house, our church, here. To mercy us. That we be sinful no more. That we now go filled with His peace. That we now go filled with His mercy. 

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

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pentecost 3 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Come to the Feast!”
Text: Luke 14:15-24 (Proverbs 9:1-10; Ephesians 2:13-22)

It is easy to criticize the excuse makers in the Holy Gospel we just heard. Too easy. Yes, their excuses are lame. I have to go see the field I just bought. I have to examine the oxen I just bought. I just got married and have to . . . well, you know. 

But what of the excuses that often come out of our mouths? Excuses not to come and spend time with our good and gracious Lord and the feast that He provides? I won’t go through a litany of all the ones I’ve heard in my years as a pastor, but I also don’t need to. You know them. You’ve spoken them. So have I. And you know how lame and inadequate they are too. So we shouldn’t criticize the excuses of others, but repent of our own.

But here’s the thing: the man giving the banquet will not be denied. The man who is our Lord. He wants only to give. He wants to celebrate. He wants to be generous. And so He will be. He sends His servants out to gather more guests. And then He sends them again to compel people to come in. And it doesn’t matter who they are - that they aren’t the cream of society, that they aren’t the rich and powerful, that they aren’t those who can repay Him. None of that matters. Our Lord simply wants to give. He has joy in giving, and joy when His gifts are received. So the banquet will go on - with or without those who were at first invited.

“Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” Those words from Proverbs are the invitation that is going out even now. The banquet is not yet full. There still is room. Room for you. Room for the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Room for the sinner and for the saint. Room at the Table where the Lord serves and gives. Where the Lord serves the slave, the Creator serves the creature, and finds His joy in doing so. For to give is what our Lord does. He gives us life. He gives us His care. He gives us forgiveness. He gives us His Son to be our Saviour.

And that giving, of Jesus, is the greatest of all. No excuses from Jesus, just love and obedience. The Son obeyed His Father’s will, was born of virgin mother, came as our flesh and blood brother, became a servant of the Law (to fulfill it), bore our sins on the cross, was placed into a tomb, and then burst the bonds of our prison-grave that not us, but the devil, be held captive in it forever. 

So before, while there was (as Paul put it in Ephesians) a “dividing wall of hostility” between God and man because of sin, that wall has been broken down and abolished by Jesus. Where before there was separation, now there is unity. Where before there was hostility, now there is peace. Where before we were strangers and aliens, now we are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. Members of the household as baptized children of God, blood brothers of Jesus, taking our place alongside the apostles and prophets on Christ, the cornerstone.

All of that is what is being given at this banquet! No mere ordinary food, but a feast of the Word of God which gives life, a feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus, which give salvation. A feast of forgiveness. A feast unlike any other. A feast that is given for us each day in the words of Holy Scripture, and every Sunday in the holy meal, that not a day go by that our Lord does not give and we do not receive. That not a day go by for us to be without our Lord’s good things, and to be filled by them. For He loves so to give.

And so the call is still going out: Come to the feast! Don’t let the day go by while your soul hungers. Don’t let the day be so filled with busyness that you go unfilled by your Saviour. Don’t let a day go by where your mind is set only on earthly things and not on things above. Come to the feast. Oxen, fields, spouses, and the things of this world are important, but do not let them separate you from the feast. Come to the feast. Or as a verse just before those we sang in the Psalm today puts it: Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him (Psalm 34:8)!

Blessed indeed are all who receive from the Lord. Blessed indeed are all upon whom God has bestowed His grace. Blessed are you for you have received His grace, His forgiveness, His Spirit, and His life. Do not stop. Do not let the excuses return. Come to the feast now, and He will take you to the feast which never ends.

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

Monday, June 10, 2013

Pentecost 3 Sermon

NOTE: No audio of the sermon this week. Sorry!

Jesu Juva

“Jesus Finds Death and Gives Life”
Text: Luke 7:11-17; 1 Kings 17:17-24; Galatians 1:11-24

[This is a gentle reworking of a sermon preached three years ago, after a particularly long and arduous week.]

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

A favorite Christmas hymn of many people in O Little Town of Bethlehem. Today, however, it is the little town of Nain that is ground zero on the battlefield between God and anti-god. Between the Lord of life, and the death-dealing, life-robbing anti-god of this world, satan.

For this day in Nain, life and death meet. Neither willing to give an inch. Jesus in compassion, death in its cold finality. The procession stops and the battle commences. And with only a touch and a Word, life wins. Death, which looks so big and bad and powerful, is forced to flee and relinquish its grip on this young man. And suddenly where there was sorrow, there is now joy. Where there was mourning, there is now faith. “God has visited his people!” they cry. He has come to give life from the dead.

It is a preview, a prologue, of what will take place at Calvary, where on the cross the battle will be taken up again, between God and anti-god, between life and death. And there, on the cross, just as at Nain, the only son of a widow will die. For Him there will be no great crowd of mourners - only a few faithful disciples who take His body down, and a few faithful women who follow to the tomb to see where He is laid. And death again, will look very big and bad and powerful indeed.

But the victory of life here with Jesus will be even greater! For when death is defeated in the resurrection of Jesus, it is not just the resurrection of a single son, like at Nain - Jesus’ resurrection is the resurrection of all. For not just the son of Mary, but the Son of God has passed through death to life, and left the power of death defeated once and for all. God has visited his people, and there is life from the dead.

And this, too, is what happened in the case of the apostle Paul, who we heard from in the reading from Galatians. Yes, Paul. For though Paul was very much alive physically when Jesus came to him on the road to Damascus, he was spiritually dead. He was born that way, spiritually dead in his trespasses and sins, just as we. And no matter what he did, he could not give himself spiritual life. And he tried! He really tried. He tried harder than any other person. He was doing everything he could to make sure he was going to have spiritual life and eternal life - persecuting the church, advancing in Judaism, being extremely zealous for the traditions of his fathers. The early Christians perhaps looked at him as we look at radical Islamists today. And if anybody - anybody! - could have done it, could have saved themselves, it was Paul. But only when he was visited by Jesus on the road to Damascus was Paul raised from the death of his sin to life.

But . . . was it really a resurrection that happened to Paul? A new life? You tell me - Paul went from focusing on what he did, his own efforts and his own advancement, to preaching Christ and what He had done. And, in fact, so great was this change, this new life given to Paul, that the people were utterly, jaw-droppingly, amazed. All they could say was: “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they didn’t glorify Paul because of the change he was able to make in his life; because he was able to turn over a new leaf. No! They glorified God because of [Paul]. They glorified God because of the resurrection and new life that only God can give, when He visits His people.

And this is what has happened to you as well. God has visited you and given you life from the dead - not immediately, as He did with the widow at Nain and the apostle Paul, but more like He did with Elijah and the son of the widow at Zarephath. There we heard that Elijah took the widow’s dead son, stretched himself out on the boy three times, and prayed to the God of life for life. And God gave life, so that the widow then confessed, “the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

That is a preview, a prologue, of what takes place here at the Font, when the battle between life and death is again taken up by God in Holy Baptism. For here, sons and daughters are brought dead in trespasses and sins - but they are taken up in the arms of the pastor, have water applied to them three times, and the Word of God spoken upon them. And the Word of the Lord spoken here is truth. Like at Nain, with simply a touch and a Word, death is forced to flee and sin is forced to relinquish its grip on you - and you are raised and given a new life. For here, in these waters, God visits His people and gives life. Here in these waters, you were joined to Jesus and raised in His resurrection. Here in these waters, your spiritual resurrection is the prelude and promise of your physical resurrection, when in the end your body, too, will be raised from death to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

We sang in the Office Hymn, right before the sermon, “When in the hour of deepest need, we know not where to look for aid . . .” (LSB #615 v. 1) That sounds like the widows we heard about today, and Paul, who was looking but in the wrong place - in what he could do. And how often does that describe us? For all the needs that arise in our lives, the trials and troubles that never seem to stop coming, the stresses and challenges that are ever new. And when we are faced with death - either our own, or of a friend or loved one. Deep needs . . . and how often we know not where to look for aid. It all seems so overwhelming. So final. Or maybe we know, but still feel lost, or unworthy, or think that since we got ourselves into this mess we have to get ourselves out of this mess, or even think that God won’t help. For all of that is what satan wants you to believe. That you have no place to go; that you have to do it yourself.

We know not where to look for aid. As I was thinking about that I thought of the recent tornados in Oklahoma and the people standing around and looking around and wondering where to go for aid. Or the pictures we see from Syria of the innocent people caught up in the fighting there. Or maybe for you its a smaller thing but just as damaging - the sin-wrought devastation in your life. What others have done, what you have done. Sin and death continue their assault - they’re not going to stop. And how often we know not where to look for aid. Or we know, but we doubt, or we forget, or our minds get so clouded with fear or hurt or pain . . .

But did you notice in our readings today - the widows and Paul, who didn’t know where to look for aid? God found them. 

He positioned Elijah to be with that widow in her grief; Jesus came to that widow burying her only son; and Jesus came to Paul while he was on the way to get more Christians. We may not know what to do, but Jesus knows and comes to us. Maybe this week’s building collapse in Philadelphia is a good picture of that. Trapped under the rubble of sin, Jesus comes and finds us. And through the power of His own death and burial and resurrection, He now raises us and washes us clean from the filth of sin that has covered us, and sets us free with a new life to live.

And so just as the little town of Nain became ground zero for Jesus in the battle of life and death, so for us ground zero is here, where Jesus is still coming and visiting His people to give us life. First at the font, but now also at the altar, as the very body and blood of Jesus are placed into your mouth and poured over your tongue. Here, as you hear those sin-cleansing words: I forgive you all your sins. Here, where in your deepest need, your compassionate Saviour comes to you and says: Fear not. I am with you. And where I am, the jaws of sin, death, grave, and hell cannot harm you. For I have defeated them all. I have won. And in me you have life.

And living that new life given to you, ground zero for the Lord’s visitation also then becomes wherever the Word of the Lord goes with you; wherever God positions you for others - in your home, in your workplace, at your school. For where you speak His Word of truth, there our Lord is, and there He is working. Working in the hearts of those who hear. Working to give life from the dead. Doing battle against sin and death, that all may have life.

For when God visits His people, there is life. For widows, for apostles, for you. Not a life that means the end of troubles, but one that endures through them. For the life that your Saviour gives is no mere life, but His life. The life of the cross, of love, of suffering, of service, of victory. That life is yours in Him. That life you now live. That life we now live together. A new life, a good life, a good works life, a forgiven life, a resurrection life, a Christ life. 

O Little Town of Nain . . . It doesn’t quite have the ring to it that O Little Town of Bethlehem does! But how blessed are you, O little Nain, and little towns just like you, like here, where God visits His people. Blessed indeed, where God finds death, and gives life.

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

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Pentecost 2 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Right Faith”
Text: Luke 7:1-10; Galatians 1:1-12; 1 Kings 8:22–43

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

A centurion was a Roman military officer in charge of a cohort of 100 soldiers. This particular centurion seemed to be doing his job well. Normally, a military force occupying another country is not well liked. But the Jews liked this man. It seems he didn’t just rule over them with an iron fist and a stern authority - which was certainly within his power. Instead, he kept the peace by befriending and helping the people, even building a synagogue for the people of Capernaum. And so they got along. So much so that, the Jews concluded, he loves our nation. He’s a good guy.

So when this centurion’s servant - one of his best and most highly valued servants - got sick, the Jews were concerned for their friend. When the servant didn’t get better but instead grew even sicker, they worried with their friend. And when still the servant grew worse and was at the point of death, they would do anything to help their friend. They wanted to help this one who was so good and had done so much for them. And so when the centurion asked the elders of the Jews to go ask Jesus for help, they quickly went. They gladly went. It was the least they could do for their friend.

So they go, and when they find Jesus, they tell him all about this centurion. He is worthy to have you do this for him. He’s a good guy. He’s not like the others. He doesn’t deserve to have his servant die. He doesn’t deserve this sadness. He doesn’t deserve to have this happen to him. Come and help him. 

Interestingly, we are not told what Jesus said or thought about this - just that He went with them

Perhaps then, what happened next was that a servant of the Jewish elders ran ahead with the good news that Jesus was coming, He was on the way - for the centurion seems to have a change of heart. Indeed, he has a conflicted heart. On the one hand, he wants Jesus to come and heal his servant. But on the other hand, he realizes he is not worthy for Jesus to come under his roof. So instead, he says to Jesus, just use your authority. Don’t come to me - simply command it to be done. Command the sickness to leave. Command death to withdraw. Command this body to heal. And it will be done. Just as the centurion commands his soldiers, so Jesus can command these forces and they will obey.

Now, if the centurion had just considered Jesus a miracle worker or a healer or just someone who had some kind of supernatural powers, this kind of talk wouldn’t make sense. Why wouldn’t the centurion be worthy to have that kind of person come under his roof?   . . .  But by his words, the centurion reveals that he knows Jesus is more than just all that. He is one who has authority - authority over nature; authority over sickness; authority over even matters of life and death. Or in other words: no mere man! For who has such authority but God alone?

Jesus heard this faith in the centurion’s words as well, for: when Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And that faith - not his worthiness - received the gift of God. For when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.

This is a perfect story for us to begin the long, green, Pentecost season - to remind us that true worthiness before God is not to be found in what we do but in what we believe. And that is a truth that bears repeating and which we need to hear over and over again. Because the world bombards us with the opposite message - that if you’re a good person, if you go to church, if you love God, if you give a lot and help a lot, then you deserve good things from God. Or, at the very least, you don’t deserve bad things from God.  . . .  And it’s easy to believe. It makes perfect worldly sense. And it slithers its way into us sometimes, when hardships come which we think we don’t deserve, or when others get what we think we deserve. And maybe we then even accuse God of wrongdoing, shake the fist at Him, and think we’re getting gypped. 

This is, in fact, the “different Gospel” that St. Paul was railing against in his letter to the Galatian Christians. This distortion of the good news of Jesus that the Galatians were beginning to believe, which said there is something you not only can do, but must do, to be worthy of and deserve God’s favor. 

But the centurion had it right. Right faith comes empty-handed. Right faith confesses that we are not worthy and will never be worthy. Right faith acknowledges that we do not deserve for Jesus to come under our roof; we do not deserve Jesus’ forgiveness. And to such right faith Jesus gives His gifts. That, in fact, is what makes them gifts - that they are not deserved, but they are given, freely. And so the truth is this: if we come to Christ with anything in our hands we will leave empty-handed. But when we come empty-handed, we leave with full hearts and hands and lives, for we will be filled with His good things, with His gifts freely given, with His healing forgiveness, life, and salvation.

For in Jesus we see the answer to Solomon’s prayer. Those verses from First Kings that we heard earlier were Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the new Jerusalem Temple. It was big. It was impressive. It was magnificent. It was the culmination of so many years work. It had the best of the best - there was nothing like it in all the world. But even it was not worthy as a dwelling place for the most high God, for the God whom even the highest heaven cannot contain. And Solomon knew it. Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Will He come and dwell with us? Will He come and listen to us?

Well, He did, for so He had promised. But then He did even more. For He didn’t just come to dwell with us and listen to us, He came and died for us. God came and dwelled not in a magnificent Temple of stone, but in a humble Temple of flesh and bone. And He listened to and hung out with not only the good, but to the sinners, the outcasts, the dregs. He fought false teaching, false doctrine, false ideas about God, but not other men. Instead, He took their abuse, their ridicule, and the worst hatred they could dish out - the cross! - in order to show them how much God loves them. He came as God’s gift. He died as God’s gift. And now He gives God’s gifts. And He gives to all. Not only to Israel, but as Solomon prayed, to the foreigner, the sojourner, to all who call on Him in faith . . . like the centurion.

And like you. Undeserving you. Unworthy you. For this one who has authority over matters of life and death now uses that authority and Word to raise you from the death of unbelief to the new life of faith in baptism, to raise you from the death of sin to the new life of freedom in absolution, and to give you the Body and Blood He raised from death to life as a pledge that He will raise your body from death to life, too. On the last day. For you are not just a servant highly valued by God, but even more - you are His child, dearly loved.

So what you deserve He has taken - that’s the cross. And what you don’t deserve He has given - that the gifts. And right faith says: yes. This is most certainly true. And this right faith then goes and does the same. Like Father, like Son. Like Christ, like Christian. The crosses that we bear in this world and life but opportunities to give and to receive. That it be as we sung just a bit a go: Why should cross and trial grieve me (LSB #756)? Why indeed, when we have what is greater! When we have the one who conquered by the cross, and still does. 

So as it happened that day in Capernaum, so it is here today as well. We will leave this place today and return to our homes made well: healed, forgiven, and free. For so Jesus has spoken, and so it is done.

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