Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pentecost 14 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Be Striving”
Text: Luke 13:22-30; Hebrews 12:4-24; Isaiah 66:18-23

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

Strive to enter through the narrow door.

When this verse is read, it is (I believe) the narrow door that is often the focus. How narrow is it? the folks who asked Jesus wondered. What is it? we often wonder. And, why did God make it so narrow and not nice and wide?

We’ll answer those in time. But first, there’s another word in that verse, in that sentence, I want to focus your attention on this morning, and that is the word strive. Be striving to enter through the narrow door. The Greek word used there brings out even more the sense of the word: agonizomai. Agony. Be in agony to enter through the narrow door. The Christian life is a life of striving.

I’m not sure we usually think of it that way. After all, Jesus did the striving for us, didn’t He? On the cross. He took our sins and paid the price. He fought the devil and won. He was forsaken by His Father and suffered the torments of hell. Right, right, and right. Jesus knew all that was coming, too, when He said these words. Yet still He said them. Still, He says, you be striving.

The Christian life is one of striving. 

And actually, that’s not God’s doing - we’re responsible for that. God’s doing was a life of perfection, peace, and fellowship with Him. In the beginning there was work, Adam was charged with taking care of the Garden, but it was pleasant, and all that was needed was provided. It was, in fact, the life we all want. But it is the life we gave up. The life given up by sin to sin. And ever since, not only the Christian life but all of life has been one of striving.

The question is: what are we striving for? And if we are striving for the same things as those who are not Christian, what does that say? What does that mean? 

Be striving, Jesus says, to enter through the narrow door.

So what does that striving - what does that agonizomai, that agony - look like? We’ve seen worldly pictures of it. I’ve seen people caught up in flash floods and tornadoes striving for life - hanging on to whatever they can to not be swept away. I’ve seen men agonizing over every last detail of what they’re going to say and how they’re going to propose, striving for the woman who they hope will be their wife. I’ve seen pictures of athletes in agony, hobbling, crawling, injured over the finish line. Striving for victory. Sometimes just striving to finish.

Is the Christian life like that? Is your Christian life like that? Maybe it is at times, and maybe not so much at other times. 

But think in terms of those examples I just mentioned. Are you striving to hang onto Christ and not be swept away by the flood of sin in our world? The devil sometimes sends torrents of temptations and the winds of political correctness and worldly opinion can be awfully strong and destructive. 

And the details - are we paying attention to and in agony over every word our Lord has said to us, over all the doctrine and teaching, wanting to get it just right? Or do we fall into the trap of thinking it really doesn’t matter? 

Or what about the athlete? Paul uses that analogy for Christians, too, in First Corinthians. And then we heard from the letter to the Hebrew Christians this morning: In your struggle against sin - and actually, it’s the same Greek word used there: in your striving, your agony against sin - you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. How often have you shed your blood in your struggle against sin? In striving to enter through the narrow door? Or do you cave long before that?

And the words from Hebrews go on, speaking about the Lord’s discipline to help us in the struggle. Strive to be at peace with everyone. Strive for holiness. 

The Christian life is a life of striving, of struggle, of agony. And when you cross through those doors back there again this morning and leave this place, the torrents, the trials, the temptations, the troubles will all return. 

And it will be like the words we heard from Hebrews: For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”

That’s a description of what life was like at Mt. Sinai. When the Lord came down and spoke of this struggle against sin. The people couldn’t take it. It was all too much for them. Even Moses trembled with fear. It’s you, too, when hearing of the struggle, the striving of the Christian life and thinking: I don’t do that! I’m so worldly, I’m so unholy, and I don’t even agonize that I am! And it’s true. 

But notice what Hebrews said: you have not come to that . . . here. Out there, yes. All that is frightening. The struggle of the Christian life. The torrents of sin and death that swirl all around. The temptations to settle for less than perfect; to get tired of the struggle and striving.

But you have not come to that . . . here. Instead, he says . . .

you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

That’s quite a different picture! And interesting because he says: you have come to Mount Zion. Folks usually think of Jerusalem and specifically the Mount the Temple was on when they hear “Mount Zion.” But it’s possible that by the time Hebrews was written the Temple was already gone, destroyed; and even if it wasn’t, this letter was written to the Hebrew Christians living in Rome a good distance away from Jerusalem and the Temple. And yet still, he says, you have come to Mount Zion

And he does because Mount Zion is no longer in Jerusalem and no longer where  the Temple was - Mount Zion has now gone out into all the world. Mount Zion is wherever the gracious presence of God is - where our Lord is with His promises of forgiveness and life. And so Mount Zion is in Rome, Mount Zion is here, and in every pulpit, every font, every altar, every chancel, every church where Jesus and His forgiveness is given.

So get the picture: the Christian life is a striving, a struggle. Out there your life is a striving, a struggle. An agonizomai; agony. But not in here. Because into this world of struggle, right in the midst of enemy territory, all over the world, are havens of rescue and peace. Where tired, beat up, bloody Christians come. Where there is the blood of the new covenant, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins

And that is the narrow door: Jesus and His forgiveness. For that is the only door in the wall of sin, the wall of death, the wall of separation between us and God. And rather than wish there were more doors, thanks be to God that there is a door at all! And while it is as narrow as Jesus and His forgiveness, it is also that wide - for Jesus and His forgiveness is for all people. For you

And that is the door that is open from the first day of sin when God promised a Saviour, until the last day when that Saviour comes again. That day when Jesus will take His own through Himself to His Father. That day when this old, sinful world finally comes to an end, and the new heaven and the new earth of which Isaiah speaks will come. When all struggle, all striving, all agony will finally be over.

Will those who are saved be few? Jesus doesn’t answer that question, directly. But He does say that people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. A truth which is, in fact, already happening. For you have come. And you, today, will recline - will rest and relax and receive the service of your Lord - here at His Table, in the midst of this turbulent world, in the midst of the struggle and striving. And receive his forgiveness, His life, His strength.

And go in peace will be the words ringing in your ears, the word given you as you depart, for this is a place of peace, that you might take that peace out into the world, out into the agony. To struggle on. Not uncertain, but certain. Not in despair but in hope. Not in doubt but in confidence.

So struggle on! Strive to enter! Agonize! But don’t rely on your striving, rely on Jesus. That might make you last in the world. Shoved aside and pushed down by others. Beat up and ridiculed. Maybe even bloody. It’s happening in other places, and more and more. 

But if you are, you’re in good company. That’s where Jesus was too. His holy body tossed out in the garbage. But only for a time, for three days. And so it is with your struggle, your striving, your agony.  It is only for a time. Your resurrection is coming too, and your new life has in fact already begun as you live in Christ and He in you. Even now.

So strive to enter through the narrow door. And do not be afraid of the struggle, for it is a good one. Struggle, and rely on Jesus and His Word. His promises. For He is faithful and He will see you through. Through the door. Through himself. To everlasting life.

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

Monday, August 19, 2013

Pentecost 13 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Peace in Christ”
Text: Jeremiah 23:16-29; Luke 12:49-56; Hebrews 11:17-12:3

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

Peace and prosperity preachers are not a new phenomenon. They fill pulpits and the airwaves and the shelves of bookstores in our day and age but were around at the time of Jeremiah too. And what do they preach? Jeremiah tells us: They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’ ” These are preachers who do not preach against sin, who do not call people to repentance, who want people to feel good about themselves and proclaim the lie that God loves you just the way you are.

Well, to put it kind of crassly, and as you heard from Jeremiah this morning, nothing “burns God’s butt” more than that. For God wants the truth proclaimed: that sin is sin, that judgment is coming, that you’re not okay just the way you are, and that you need to give up your false gods and your sinful ways and trust in Him alone. That’s the word Jeremiah proclaimed. But - then as now - it’s the other message that’s more popular. It’s easier on the ears and what people want to believe, even you and me. Truth or not.

But is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? 

Or in other words, God’s Word is not a self-help book or a book to affirm you and build your self-esteem. It is challenging and convicting. A fire to burn off the sins and impurities in your life. A hammer to break your hard and stoney heart. So that the water of baptism, the word of forgiveness, and the Body and Blood of the Lord raise you to and keep you in a new life, a right life, as a child of God. That’s what God wants. That’s what matters. For if churches are full but the Word is not preached, what good is that? But if the Word is preached, then even (Jesus says) where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them (Matt 18:20).

Well that’s the background for the words we heard from Jesus today in the Holy Gospel. Some very difficult words from Jesus. Words that bother a lot of people when they hear them. Words that make Jesus sound like a home wrecker and a fourth commandment breaker. Dividing homes and families. But with Jeremiah in the background, when Jesus says that He has not come to bring peace on earth, He is saying: I did not come to be one of those kind of preachers. You’ve had them and have them still, but I’m not one of them. I did not come to tell you you’re okay just the way you are. I did not come to make you feel good about yourselves and resolve your family disputes. I did not come to make you comfortable in your sin and sinful ways. I came to tell you the truth. To cast the fire of God’s Word on the earth. A fire to purify and strengthen and save.

Because the truth is, you’re not okay . . .

It’s not okay that you fear love and trust other people and things more than your Father in heaven.
It’s not okay that you give God a bad name by calling yourself a Christian and not living as one, that you don’t call upon Him in prayer enough, and so often fail to thank Him for His goodness to you.
It’s not okay that you do not keep His Word or hear or read or know it as you should. 
It’s not okay that you listen to the wisdom and opinions of the world and believe and follow them more than God’s truth.

It’s not okay that you disobey your parents, despise your authorities, and speak unkindly of them, or that you will sin in order to please your family and friends.
It’s not okay that you harbor angry thoughts, hold on to bitterness and resentment, and speak harshly toward others. 
It’s not okay that babies keep being murdered before they are born and you remain silent.
It’s not okay that you look at those pictures, fantasize in your mind, fail to speak out for God’s design for marriage, and think that how you use your sexuality - and with who, and with how many - is up to you.

It’s not okay when you take what is not yours - legally or not, or when you take advantage of others, and when you fail to help your neighbor in need, either because you are too busy, don’t want to be inconvenienced, or just don’t care.
It’s not okay when you gossip, betray, slander and assume bad things about others. And those little white lies - they’re not okay either.
It’s not okay that you’re not content with what you have, but want more and want what others have, even at their expense, and want God to give it to you . . . now.
It’s not okay that not only do you not love your neighbor as yourself, you don’t even know half your neighbor’s names.
And it’s not okay that you think all that really doesn’t matter, that God will understand, that everybody does it.

It’s not okay, and you’re not okay.
It’s uh . . . getting kind hot in here, isn’t it?

A lot of people didn’t like Jeremiah for preaching that word. A lot of people didn’t like Jesus for preaching that word. And maybe you don’t like hearing that word. You shouldn’t like it, actually. God’s Word, as we heard from Jeremiah, is like a hammer - so it should feel like you just hit your thumb with a hammer. It should hurt. That’s good.

That’s good, because if you think you can find your goodness in yourself and think you’re doing okay, what will happen when that bubble bursts? (And it will burst.) What then?

Bo Giertz wrote a great story about that - about a man whom everyone considered holy. It was unanimous - if there was such a thing as a “good Christian,” this guy was it. But then he got sick - very sick - and on his death bed, delirious, all sorts of vile, evil things began coming out of his mouth. Awful things he thought about other people, sinful things he had done but no one had known about, and desires so wicked they would have made satan blush. And people were horrified. Not only at him, at this man they thought holy but wasn’t . . . but also for themselves. Was there hope then for them?And would this also happen to them? Would everyone one day find out who they really were? Underneath the good, holy looking appearance? Underneath the appearance of peace and prosperity?

You see, that right there is the difference between the false prophets and Jeremiah; between those who would today preach peace and prosperity and those who preach Christ. The former produce good feelings and appearances that are deceptive at best, and also temporary and fleeting; the latter a faith and hope that is true and solid and lasting. For it is a faith and hope not in yourself and what you can do and your goodness, but in the One who came to provide for you a righteousness you could never achieve, a goodness that doesn’t depend on you. A righteous one who became unrighteous for you, so that you who are unrighteous might be righteous in Him.

And so, Jesus preached, He is that one. To hope in. I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished. He’s not talking there about His baptism in the Jordan at the hand of John the Baptist. That has already taken place. He is talking, rather, about His baptism still to come, His baptism of fire, His cross, when He will put Himself under the fire of judgment for you - judgment against your sin, suffering the torment of your hell, being forsaken by His Father, and dying the cursed death you deserve. To trade places with you - the righteous for the unrighteous - so that you who are not okay be rescued from all that, and instead be healed and forgiven. And not just in appearance but in truth. And in that forgiveness put your hope. Not in yourself but in Him. Not in what you do but in what He did, and what He is still doing for you.

For as we heard from Hebrews this morning: look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter - or, the start to finish - of our faith. That’s what all those people in that chapter we heard about again this morning did. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, David, Samuel, those who were stoned, those who were sawn in two, those killed with the sword. God promised them a Saviour, and though they did not receive that promise - Jesus did not come in their lifetimes - they put their hope in Him who was to come. In His goodness, in His rescue, in His healing, in His forgiveness. And they received all that, by faith. The one in whom they hoped did not let them down. And He will not let you down.

Therefore, Hebrews then tells us, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus as they did. Looking not to yourself, not to your family, not to your deeds, but looking to Jesus. Looking to Jesus in the water of baptism which quenches the fire of hell. Looking to Jesus in His Supper which feeds and satisfies those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Looking to Jesus in the healing word of forgiveness, that word which heals the hammer blows of sin and death, and gives us confidence and hope. In Him. That what He has promised He has done and delivered. For them, for us, and for all who put their hope in Him. 

And then, only then, there is peace. True peace. No matter what divisions or troubles happen in this world and life.For it is the peace of knowing that it is not my holy living that wins the race, but that the sin that disqualifies us has been taken away. And so you and I can now run, can now live, in joy and freedom and confidence. Not keeping up appearances, but repenting and washing and eating, receiving the holiness of our brother, Jesus, and being a member of His family. For that is the true peace and prosperity. For when you have Him, then you have everything. 

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

Thursday, August 15, 2013

St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“He Remembered!”
Text: Luke 1:39-55; Galatians 4:4-7; Isaiah 61:7-11

Did anyone ever forget your birthday? How about your anniversary, or some other special day? It’s no fun to be forgotten.

Or, did anyone ever just forget to do what they said they were going to do for you, when you were really counting on them? Or forget to show up where they said they were going to meet you, and you were really looking forward to being with them? Forgetting can really mess things up.

This evening we heard Mary exclaim: He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

To many in Israel, it probably seemed like the Lord was taking forever to fulfill His promise. How long had it been since that promise had first been uttered to Eve? That promise of a Saviour. And then repeated to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to David, and repeatedly spoken down through the years by the prophets? Well, it was so long that David often cries out in the psalms “How long, O Lord, how long?” (Psalm 13:1) and the people of Israel often thought “The Lord has forsaken us; our Lord has forgotten us” (Isaiah 49:14).

But the Lord did not forget His people or His promise. And so St. Paul told the Galatians: when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son. When just the right time had come, God sprang into action, sent the angel Gabriel to a young virgin in Nazareth, announced that she was going to be the mother of the Lord, and that virgin bowed her head and said: Let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38). And, I would say, not just the word then spoken, but according to the word that had been spoken ever since the beginning. According to that word first spoken as promise to Eve and now spoken in fulfillment to Mary.

And yet actually God had already begun to fulfill His word, for six months before the angel came to Mary, Gabriel first made a stop to see Zechariah and announce that he and his wife Elizabeth - who had been barren up until that time - were going to have a son. And not just any son, but the son who would go before the Lord to prepare his way. The promised forerunner. The plan was already in progress. So when Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, the house is filled with joy! Elizabeth bursts out in blessing, six month old John leaps in her womb, and Mary cries out with joy, He remembered! 

You probably know how Israel felt. It is easy still today to think that the Lord has forgotten you. When struggles are hard and long, when you feel dried up and empty, when prayers seem to go unanswered and the joy you once had seems like an old, faded memory. 

But what Mary reminds us today is that He remembers! God does not forget you or the promises He made to you when He baptized you. He remembers and maybe the plans He has for you have already been set in motion six months ago and you just don’t know it yet. But even if not, you are not forgotten. Rather it is as Isaiah said: For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. 

Or in other words, the working of God is like a seed planted in the ground. If you didn’t know it was there, you might think there was nothing there and that ground was useless and barren. But that seed is going to sprout and grow in the fullness of time. And when it does, it is going to produce a harvest of righteousness and praise. Of righteousness, which is forgiveness; and of praise, which is our confession of our faithful God who remembers His promises. Who remembers His children.

And maybe the reason we think the Lord has forgotten us, or we miss His working, is because we were looking in the wrong place. God doesn’t always act how we expect. And so a Son is born to a virgin, and not in the place of kings, Jerusalem, but in a manger in Bethlehem. And then Mary tells us more about how God works - the mighty are brought down from their thrones, and the humble are exalted. The hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty. Not the way of the world, to be sure. But even better, for it is the way of God.

And it is His way for you. For you who are His children - not by nature, but by adoption, through the water and Word of Holy Baptism. His child, dearly loved, whom He will never forget. For you, all His promises are yes. For you, all His work is good. For you, is the joy of Mary’s He remembered! An everlasting joy, Isaiah says. For it is the joy of God’s blessing. The blessing of His presence, His forgiveness, and His life. That’s what changed a young virgin named Mary into St. Mary, and one whom all generations [now] call blessed

And you are so blessed. For the mighty one has done great things for you as well. The “great things” of His death and resurrection, that He be yours and you be His forever, in a unity and life that not even death can end. For this one born of Mary not only gives life but conquered death; He makes promises and keeps them; He remembers and does not forget. 

And so tonight we join Mary in magnifying the Lord and rejoicing in God our Saviour. For He has looked on your humble estate, and did great things for you. 

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

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pentecost 12 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“No Worries, Mate!”
Text: Luke 12:22-34; Hebrews 11:1-16; Genesis 15:1-6

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

Australians (as we know from our friend Adam) have a saying - if you are concerned about something, or apologize for something, or need to ask for something, what you’ll most often hear back is: No worries, mate! which means: don’t concern yourself with that. No big deal. I’ve got it covered. 

Which is really what Jesus is saying to us today in the Holy Gospel. What you will eat, what you will drink, what you have or what you don’t have, what you need to live - no worries, mate! Don’t get over anxious with that. No big deal. You’re Father in heaven got it covered. Those words are intended to give us confidence and faith. Those words are good news. 

The problem is: I don’t think most of us hear these words of Jesus today as good news. I think we mostly hear them not as Jesus speaking kindly to us and reassuring us, but as Jesus barking at us, wagging His divine finger at us who have fallen short in the “do not worry” department, and commanding us not to be anxious, not to worry. And so we wind up not confident of the love of our Father for us, but convicted - once again - of our shortcomings and sin. 

I know you want to do this - not worry; you want to do what Jesus says and be a good Christian, and so hearing these words of Jesus you (once again) tell yourself to stop worrying and trust more. But it doesn’t work. For what happens when you tell yourself not to worry is that you start to worry more, because you start worrying about the fact that you’re worrying, and your burden becomes heavier and heavier. 

But that’s not what your Father in heaven wants. And it’s not why Jesus said this. Jesus has come not to add to your burden, but to carry it for you, make your burden light, and give you rest (Matt 11:28). So do not hear these words today as a command for you to fix yourself, but instead as Jesus’ no worries, mate! Your Father’s got it covered. He knows what you need. He created all things and is caring for all things, even the ravens, the lilies, and the grass. So you, too, who are greater and worth more than all these things. For you’re not here today and gone tomorrow like them - you’re His child, dearly loved.

And you were like that at one time - without worry - when you were young. Young children don’t worry a whole lot. They know that Dad’s got things under control. They know Mom’s got it covered. Food, clothing, shelter, protection - they’re worrying about these things so I don’t have to. So children are free and care free. And even when parents don’t come through or even hurt their children, those children often still look to their parents and rely on their parents for what they need. There’s a connection there. A confidence there. A trust there.

It’s when we grow up and get a little older that things change. We move on from childhood and become adults, and increased responsibilities and obligations and the sin so prevalent in the world cause us to be anxious and worry. The care free days vanish like smoke. And it’s not a change for the better, is it? When our untroubled childhood is exchanged for hypertension, ulcers, and sleepless nights.

And so Jesus is inviting you back. To be children again. Children of a heavenly Father who got it covered for you - no matter what “it” is. For the biggest “it” of all - sin, death, devil, hell, grave, and eternal life, He has already taken care of for you. Covered by Jesus blood in your baptism, you’re more than a “mate,” you’re a child, adopted into the family of God and under the constant care of a Father who won’t let you down and would never hurt you. A Father who won’t spoil you by being a sugar daddy, who will discipline you when necessary, and love you enough to tell you the truth. Or in other words, a Father you can count on. 

My mother used to tell me that as a father, when you draw the line for your children, when you enforce the rules and discipline them and do what you say and they see you as strict, they may not like it, but they will also know you will be the same way for them when the chips are down. A father they can count on. How much more can you count on your heavenly Father who is perfect, who loves you with a perfect love, and does not change.

And Jesus too. His no worries, mate! was never thundered so loudly as it was as He hung on the cross for you. For not for lilies, ravens or grass did He die, but for you. He came as your brother, to take care of the big deal of sin, death, devil, hell, and grave for you. He battled them all so that you wouldn’t have to. That you not worry about these, but live in the freedom from them that Jesus has won for you. That while these things are realities in the world and in our lives, they not be worries. They were overcome by Jesus for you. His resurrection proof of His victory and His promise of eternal life.

So no worries, mate! Your heavenly Father got it covered. That is also the word for you today from Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah. We often make the same mistake with these words, about these folks, as we did with Jesus’ words earlier and think: I have to be like that. I need to have a stronger faith. I need to be more steadfast. Like them. And while that maybe true, what Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah would all say to you today is this: this chapter is about God’s faithfulness, not ours. This is about His steadfast love, not ours. We simply believed His Word, that He would do what He said. And He did. And He does the same for you. 

This chapter puts the meat on the bones of Jesus’ no worries mate! For all these people had plenty to worry about. Abel had his brother Cain who wanted to kill Him - and finally did. Death rose up at the time of Enoch too, when they all frightfully witnessed their father Adam’s death and perhaps wondered what would happen next? Noah had the sin in the world and God’s Word of a destroying flood. And Abraham and Sarah - going from place to place, living in tents, among some people who were friendly and some who were hostile, and too old to have the children that God promised . . .

But God provided. He is a God who gives life after death, who protects and preserves, who saves from a sinful world, who watches over His children and keeps His promises. All of them. Sure they had their share of troubles. You will, too, as long as you live in this sin-filled world. But it’s not you against the world. It’s not even us, the Church, against the world. It’s God for the world. God giving His Word and keeping His Word in the midst of a world, of people, intent on destroying themselves.

You see, the question really isn’t: why is there so much sin and death in the world? So much to worry about? There’s so much sin and death in the world because sinners do sin and sin does death and that’s who we are. And if God hadn’t stepped in . . . that’d be the end of the story, and a story that would have ended long ago. Long before you and I ever came along.

But God did step in. He stepped into the Garden on that frightful day of sin and gave Adam and Eve His Word, His promise, of a Saviour. And then He stepped into the world at Bethlehem to be that Saviour. To be destroyed by His own to save His own. To take all the blows that a sinful, dying, and hell-bent world could give, and in His resurrection say to His disciples: no worries, mates! That’s all done now. Your Father has kept His Word. 

And [Abram] believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

And so you too. Believe the Lord, your righteousness. When the Lord says to you: you are my child, I will take care of you. When the Lord says to you: I forgive you all your sins. When the Lord says to you: this is My Body, this is My Blood, given and shed for you. Believe the Lord, believe his Word and promise, and it is given to you. Forgiveness in a world of sin. Life in a world of death. Confidence in a world of worry. 

For nothing pleases God more than when you believe His Word. Nothing. We sang it in the Introit earlier: the Lord’s delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man - or in other words: not in anything you can do - but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love

So what are you worried about, dear child of God? Is it something your Father cannot provide? Is it something He cannot see you through? Is it something greater than He? Then no worries, mate! Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. You have His Word. You have His promise. You have a Saviour. 

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

Monday, August 5, 2013

Pentecost 11 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Revealing Word”
Text: Luke 12:13-21; Colossians 3:1-11;
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-26

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

Children like playing hide and seek. At least, for a while. If you don’t hide too well. But if you hide in a really good spot, in a place they don’t know about and so wouldn’t think to look, they don’t know what to do. And instead of being fun, the game becomes frustrating. So at that point, the hider will often begin to call out: I’m over here! Look over here. And they keep calling out until, following the voice, the child finds them.

St. Paul said today: For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. “For you have died” is baptismal language. In Holy Baptism you were united to Christ Jesus in His death and resurrection. Your old, sinful self is put to death and a new Christian is raised and given life. In baptism your sins are forgiven. In baptism you are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. In baptism you are given a life that not even death will be able to end. A life that is everlasting. That is the wonderful gift, the wonderful inheritance, Christ has for you and has given to you.

But as long as you live here in this world, on this side of eternity, that life is hidden with Christ in God. You cannot see this wonderful life. What you see are earthly things. We see poverty and struggle and homelessness, wars and terrorism and hate. We see fights and hurts and division. We see sickness, disease, and death. And seeing all this - and especially when it happens to you - it may seem as if your life is very far away or slipping away, and that your heavenly Father has forgotten about you or stopped caring about you.

What happens then is that we may begin to look for our life in the wrong places. Like a child in a game of hide and seek, we children of God begin to look in those places we know about, those places we see and where life seems to be. For some it is money, for some it is sexuality, for some it is power or popularity, or their work and career. What is it for you? What is it that in your mind you think: if I only had that, if I only got there, if I only achieved this, then I’d have it made. Then I’d be happy. Then I’d have life. Is it marrying the person of your dreams? Winning the lottery? Getting that job? What is it for you?

Solomon found out that none of those places are the right places. He had all that. King of Israel, the wisest man on earth and the wealthiest, and not just one woman of his dreams, but around a thousand! And he was miserable. It’s all vanity, he said. It’s all meaningless. It’s all like trying to capture the wind and put it in a box - an always striving but never attaining. And then you die and you got nothin’. And so Solomon was frustrated. He was a child playing hide and seek for his life and he couldn’t find it.

The man in the parable Jesus told had the same problem, though he thought he had found his life. It was like he won the lottery - he had such a good harvest that he was set for many years to come. He was going to relax, eat, drink, and be merry. Now, just being rich isn’t wrong - but here was his fatal mistake: it seems that he equated worldly wealth with spiritual wealth. He thought that if all was well physically, then all was also well spiritually. For he not only pats himself on the back for his good fortune, he also speaks to his soul. All is well, he says. Soul, we have it made. This is a sign that God is well-pleased with me, soul. But to put it in “hide and seek terms,“ that is like seeing a pair of shoes behind a curtain and thinking you have found the person, only to pull the curtain back . . . and see nothing but shoes.

It’s easy for us to make that mistake as well. To think that if I have what I want, if I have a good and easy life, then God must be pleased with me. But if I don’t have what I want, if life is not so good and pretty tough, then God must be angry at me. To that kind of thinking, however, Jesus says: Fool! And that’s a much stronger word in the Bible than how we use it today. It means to live without reason. It means to live without faith, not in the image of God. It is to live like an animal who only thinks of where the next meal is coming from and that’s all that really matters.

For, Jesus says, one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. Or in other words: one’s life is not hidden in possessions, or anything else in this world for that matter. You cannot find it there. You’re looking in the wrong place.

You may have heard about a man named Sam Simon recently. He is the co-creator of the Simpsons and has been in the news lately because he decided to give his fortune away to charity because he has terminal colon cancer and the doctors have given him only a short time to live. Now, I don’t know his motivation, but there is a danger here as well - to try to find life in giving what you have away. What he’s doing isn’t bad, maybe actually good. But if he’s looking for life, or looking to make his life meaningful in this way, or think that he will be right with God by doing this, he’s just as wrong as Solomon and the rich man. There’s no life here either.

And really . . . why wait? The truth is that we’re all diseased with that terminal illness called sin. If God has made you wealthy, do you think it’s so you can sit there being rich in your richness while others go around in need of even the most basic food and clothing and shelter? Or has God made you rich to be His blessing to others? That He may provide for them through you? That you can be a giver, being like your heavenly Father, and living in His image? Wealth isn’t wrong, but what we do with it may be. When it - or its pursuit - becomes an idol and where we think our life is to be found, instead of being rich toward God by being rich toward our neighbor.

So repent of that. Of all that. Put away all the old ways, as Paul said. Just as you died in your baptism so die again in repentance and hear where your life is found. For just as that frustrated child losing at hide and seek needs to hear the voice of the hider to know where to look, so we sinners who are losing at life because we’re dying need to hear the voice of our Saviour to know where our life is. Our Saviour who calls out to us by His Word, by the Gospel, and says Here I am! Here is my life, my forgiveness, my Spirit, for you. 

For the Son of God, you see, didn’t come to divide our worldly inheritances and make sure we all get our fair share here on earth, but to give you His whole inheritance! To give you a throne in heaven and a life and a kingdom that will never end. And so He came, hidden in human flesh, hidden as a sinner on a cross, not to fight for His life but to lay down His life, that dying with you, you may rise with Him and live with Him. To call out to you and to all where your life is . . . and to give you that life. 

And so Jesus calls out in baptism to die and rise with Him to a new life. And Jesus calls out to receive His forgiveness that overcomes sin and death and gives life. And Jesus calls out to eat His Body and drink His Blood - the food that feeds you not only for this life, but for a life that never ends. You can’t see Him in these things that look so plain and ordinary, for He’s hidden. But His voice is calling out: Here I am! Here is my life, my forgiveness, my Spirit, for you. Here is where I can be found. In these things that are not out of the reach of anyone, but are here and available for all.

So set your mind on things above. That’s how Paul put it. The hidden things from above that have been put here in these visible things for you. And find life. Your life hidden with Christ in God. And live that life in whatever form it may take. For while the outward appearance of your life changes, your life in Christ remains the same. For He is the same. Always the same - yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). And so do not judge by what you can see, like the rich man, and do not judge by what you feel or think, like Solomon - but believe. Believe the Words and promises of Jesus. Believe the one who is now hidden, but calls out to you where He is. And when He appears, on the last day, then your life will appear also. The life you had all along but was hidden, will appear for all to see.

So if God seems to be hiding from you, for things just don’t seem to be going so good . . . or if God is absent from your life because things are going too well . . . or if you’re somewhere in between, you’ve come to the right place. For this is the place for sinners. This is the place for those in need of life. This is the place where our Lord comes and speaks and gives. To give you the treasure of heaven.

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