Thursday, February 27, 2014

Memorial Service Sermon for Lorena Stiles

Jesu Juva

“Waiting No More”
Text: Isaiah 25:6-9; Romans 8:28-39; Luke 2:25-32

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

Almost twelve years ago, a lady showed up at the door of my hotel room with a big smile and an even bigger bowl of deliciousness she called banana pudding. I had just met Lorena. 

For the next number of years I would get to know her better, from the time we spent together in evangelism meetings and Bible studies, to handing out stuff at the Metro station or at our booth at Viva Vienna, to canvassing the neighborhoods around the church, to time spent in the hospital after she fell and split her head open while distributing door hangers for the church, or when she was there for some other problem. And then the past few years, as I went to visit her in her home, when her legs could no longer carry her to church, and then when her arms could no longer hold a hymnal, and then when it was a struggle to even eat and drink the Body and Blood of her Lord. But that last one was a good struggle, to feed on her Lord. That she wanted. The struggle with the disease . . . well, who would want that?

Martin Luther once said that all the trials God sends us during our lives is to strengthen our faith for the last and greatest trial of all: death. I think that must be right, for while Lorena endured a mighty trial and struggle these last few years, the Lord had provided her with a great faith. A great faith that first became evident to me about a year after I got here. By all appearances, the church wasn’t doing so great at that time. We were struggling. You had finally got a pastor and now after a year had passed, the church was smaller than when I arrived. And then when two more members told us they were leaving, moving away, it was like another kick in the gut. And it was Lorena, and her faith, that encouraged us all. I hope I was able to return the favor to her these last few years.

Lorena also struggled in other ways as well. She was blessed with a very large family, but one that had a lot of trials. I don’t think anyone added as many names to our prayer list than Lorena. She always had a brother or sister, a niece or a nephew that needed our prayers. And she attended many of their funerals. But prayer was precious to Lorena, and she was good at it. Part and parcel of her strong faith. Once, I remember, after all the pastors and chaplains in our congregation had left and moved on to other places, I told her to pray for God to send us another pastor, so I would have someone to fill in for me when I went on vacation. And the very next week, guess who showed up!

But not all Lorena’s prayers got answer in that way. They were all answered, to be sure. Our Lord promised that. But her prayers that she would one day be able to come back to church; maybe that she would be healed, or that at least her disease would lessen - to those our Lord said no. This was part of His plan - not for harm but for good. A mystery to us, to be sure. But we don’t rely on and believe what we think or see, but on God’s Word and on His promises. That Word that we heard again tonight, that God works all things together for our good. And so we believe God was able to turn even this dreaded disease called ALS to work His good.

And so these past few years, it seems to me that Lorena was a lot like Simeon. Simeon, as we heard, was waiting. Waiting for the promise of God to him to be fulfilled. He was waiting to see the Lord’s Christ. The promised Saviour. God promised Simeon that he would not die until he did. We’re not told how long Simeon waited for that promise, and how many trials and struggles he had along the way, but it might have been quite a long time.

Lorena was waiting to see the Lord’s Christ, her Saviour, as well. Not before she died - that was the promise made to Simeon - but after she died. That was the promise made to her. The promise made to her so many years ago, when she was baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That day when through the hand of a pastor, the Lord’s Christ, her Saviour, baptized her Himself and said to her: You are mine. You are my child. On that day Lorena was born from above and given faith and forgiveness and the Spirit of God, and the promise of Jesus that nothing will separate you from my love - neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation.

And for 89 years, Jesus kept that promise to her, and especially, I would say, these past few years when the joys were fewer and the sorrows were multiplied. Still Jesus strengthened her through His Word, sustained her with His forgiveness, and fed her with His Body and Blood. Until Friday morning, when Jesus let His servant Lorena depart in peace, according to His Word. For us a day of great sadness. For her a day of great joy.

But for us a day of great joy as well, knowing that another child of God has made it home, to Jerusalem the Golden (LSB #672). That another saint from her labors rests (LSB #677). That the Strife is O’er, the Battle Done (LSB #464). Yes, the battle done, for that battle was won not by Lorena, and not by us, but by the very Son of God Himself. The eternal Son of God who came down from heaven and was made man. Who came down from His throne of glory to do battle for us. To fight satan and win. To take our sin and atone for it. To die our death and conquer it. And to be laid in our tomb and break its cold, hard grip in His resurrection. And to give that victory to us. To us who feebly struggle. 

That’s what the prophet Isaiah said some 700 years before Jesus, the God-man, was born. He said that there would be a mountain upon which the Lord would swallow up forever the death that swallows us up; where the Lord would take away our reproach, our sin, our shame; where the Lord would provide a great feast for His people. And we now know that mountain was called Golgotha, or Calvary. And that Jesus did it! And that now, through His cross, through His death and resurrection, our sins are forgiven, there is life that not even death can end, and we have been provided with the feast of feasts. A feast even better than the finest of wines and the best of meats. The feast of our Lord’s Body and Blood. The food that feeds us not just for a time, but for eternity. 

And Isaiah finished up that promise with these words: It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” There’s that waiting again. Waiting for the day. Simeon’s waiting, Lorena’s waiting, our waiting.

And as surely as that day finally came for Simeon and Lorena, so surely it will come for you and for all who are in Christ Jesus. For as St. Paul said: What then shall we say to these things? To the tribulation and distresses of this world. If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Indeed He will. For in Christ Jesus, we are more than conquerers - we are sons of God. Sons of God in the Son of God. Possessors of an everlasting inheritance in heaven. For Jesus came and took all that is ours, our sin and death, and gave us all that is His, His life and His kingdom. A great exchange, so that you too can depart in peace. Whenever that time comes for you, be it sooner or later, suddenly or slowly. For your Saviour has done it all, for you.

So we sing in great joy this night, wonderful hymns containing the stong words and promises of God. And we’ll eat a little banana pudding in honor of Lorena. But best of all, we’ll feast tonight on our Lord - a foretaste of the feast to come. The feast where it’s not just us, but we join with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. One church, visible and invisible, in communion around one Lord, until our waiting is over. When the one Simeon once took up in his arms takes us up in His arms, and wipes away tears from all faces. Tears, then, no longer of sorrow, but of a joy that will have no end. 

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sermon for the Funeral of Lorena Stiles

Jesu Juva

“Atop the Mountain in Victory”
Text: Job 19:23-27a; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; Matthew 17:1-8

Scott, Lee, Max, family and friends . . .

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

The last two weeks have been filled with the glory of victory, as gold, silver, and bronze medals were given to athletes who excelled at the Olympic games. Many of them dedicated the whole lives in this one pursuit: to stand atop the mountain over all their peers. 

And yet after witnessing these last two weeks of glory, here we are today, struggling with defeat. A foe that could not be beaten, a ruthless enemy who doesn’t care who you are, where you’re from, or how much you’ve accomplished in this life. A foe that’s even going to overcome those stronger, faster, olympic medal winners one day, sooner or later. Death. The foe that sometimes strikes quickly, but sometimes takes it’s time and drags things out, like it did for Lorena. The past few years have been a mighty struggle for her, and for all you family and friends who watched her battle. In the end she could not win. And death is standing triumphant at the top of the mountain . . . again.

At least, that’s how it feels. That’s how it seems. That’s how it looks. But the Word of God we heard today tells us of a very different reality. 

We first heard it from Job. In so many ways, what Job went through - all the struggles, all the losses - reminds me of what Lorena went through. And yet it the midst of the struggle, in the midst of the pain and fear and specter of death, Job could utter those defiant words: I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. Or in other words, someone other than death is going to be the last man standing. In the end, someone other than death is going to be victorious and at the top of the mountain. A Redeemer. A Saviour. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, Job continues, yet . . . in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. These eyes, Job says, are going to see God. After my eyes close in death, these same eyes are going to open again and see again. And see God. My Redeemer, my Saviour. Job knew He couldn’t beat death. But He knew there was One who could. One who would be victorious. And One who was going to give that victory to him. Lorena knew that, and knew Him, too

And then like Job, St. Paul also spoke defiantly against death: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Death stings now, but its victory is only temporary. There is a day coming, Paul says, when we shall all be changed. And that change will be quite different than what we witnessed the past few years, as Lorena slowly lost the use of her arms and legs, her speech and then her wonderful smile and laugh, to the ravages of that horrible disease. But that will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For on that day - not slowly, but in a moment! - what was lost will be given, what was weak will be strong, what was mortal will be made immortal, and what has perished will be raised imperishable - never to perish again! And then, on that day, we will be the ones mocking death. O death, you stung so sharply and looked so strong - but look at you now! Now you’re the loser, once and for all. Because One stronger than you has come. One has come and fought for us. One, of whom Paul then says: Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

The victory foreshadowed for us with Jesus in His transfiguration. There He is atop the mountain. There He is in glory. There He is, the eternal God in human flesh. Job’s Redeemer. Paul’s defeater of death. Our Saviour. And Peter was right. He was right when he said: Lord, it is good for us to be here. It is good to be with Jesus in His glory. 

But so that this moment in time might become an eternal reality, Jesus could not stay there. Not yet. He had to leave that mountain of glory just as He had left His heavenly glory to ascend another mountain - a mountain of shame and death. A mountain called Calvary. That was the mountain that would make all the difference in the world. For there, on that mountain Jesus would take our sin and make atonement for it. There, on that mountain, He would take our death and break it. There, on that mountain He took on death and satan in a fierce battle . . . and for three days and three nights, it seemed like death and satan won. And the disciples, like us today, were stung and sad and frightened. And that glory Peter, James, and John had seen not that long ago, seemed like a very distant memory indeed.

Yet on that third day, there was only one man left standing: Jesus. His resurrection from death the final nail in satan’s coffin. His resurrection from death the beginning of a glory - for us! - that will never end. The beginning of a life - for us! - that will never end.

That life Jesus gave to Lorena when He baptized her so many years ago. She didn’t earn it or deserve it - it was a gift. Just as it is for us. She was baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and when she was, God put His Name on her and said you are mine. My little girl. And I promise, He said, to be there for you in life and in death. In life with my forgiveness and love, in death with my victory and life. And He was. Even these past few years of struggle. Lorena’s Saviour was there with her, not letting the evil foe win not letting the evil foe snatch away His child. Jesus was there with Lorena, her strength in weakness, her hope in hopelessness, her life in death. Giving her His absolution, His forgiveness for her sins, feeding her with His Body and Blood, and all the while, preparing a place for her in His home (John 14:3), until Friday morning He said to her: It’s time. And in death, she passed through the gate to everlasting life. Her Good Shepherd leading her through that dark valley that He Himself went through first (Psalm 23:4-5), that she come out victorious with Him on the other side.

We didn’t see any of that. We saw death. We saw separation. We felt pain. But don’t let your eyes deceive you. As the voice of the Father told the disciples that day on the mountaintop: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Listen. Don’t let your eyes deceive you - listen. Listen to His promises made to you too, and believe them. Listen to His forgiveness given to you too, and believe it. Listen to Him. And then you too will hear His voice on the last day, when to Lorena and all His children He says (as He did on the mountaintop that day): “Rise, and have no fear.” And we will rise from death and be on the mountaintop, with Him, in victory, in glory, forever. 

The hymns we sing today confessed these truths beautifully. Lorena loved it when I sang to her when I visited her. The first hymn we sang today, Lorena’s favorite, said: Neither life nor death shall ever From the Lord his children sever. Because we are Children of the Heavenly Father (LSB #725). And the Lord who Abides with Us (LSB #878) is the help of the helpless, and though change and decay in all around I see, the One who changest not is with us to bless. And For all the Saints (LSB #677) those made holy by the forgiveness of their sins, who feebly struggle when the fight is fierce and the warfare long, there breaks a yet more glorious day; the calm of paradise the blest. That calm and rest that Lorena now enjoys, and the songs that now fill her ears are no longer from the dried out voice of her pastor, but the glorious song of the angels.

So while Lorena has left us now after 89 years - 89 years filled with ups and downs, many joys and many struggles, now she is home, where she will never have to leave again. What joy and confidence that is for us now who mourn, and for us who do not know how many years any of us have left. But in Jesus, this we know: that we are no longer living a life that will end in death; we will now die a death that ends in life. When we too will be on the mountaintop, with Jesus, in His glory. With Moses and Elijah, Paul and Job, Peter, James, and John, and Lorena, and all who have gone before us in the faith. There in victory. The victory of our Saviour. Once and for all.

Scott, Lee, Max, family and friends, rejoice in that. And let your tears of sadness be also tears of joy.

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

Monday, February 24, 2014

Epiphany 7 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Holiness Difference”
Text: Matthew 5:38-48; Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18;
1 Corinthians 3:10-23

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

The words of Jesus we heard today is one of those texts that is both loved and hated. It is generally loved by those who are not Christian, who love to throw these words in the face of Christians, especially when they are pounding on us in one way or another. You have to turn the other cheek. Jesus told you to love your enemies. There are lots of Jesus’ words they don’t like and so ignore, but these are good ones, helpful ones, for them, so they like them.

And so also these words are generally hated by those who are Christian, especially when we’re being pounded on! Jesus can’t be serious. Turn the other cheek? Go the extra mile, give the extra cloak? Love this guy (or this girl) who is doing this to me and pray for them? There are lots of Jesus’ words we like and so keep, but these we really don’t like and so perhaps ignore.

If that’s so, then the only difference between us and those who aren’t Christian are which words of God we like and keep and so use, and those we really don’t like so much and so ignore. We’re no better. We need to repent.

But we need to understand these words too. So, what is Jesus really saying here?

Well first off, here’s what these words DON’T mean: they don’t mean you have to just sit there and let someone beat on you. They don’t mean an abused spouse has to continue to be abused. They don’t mean you have to let yourself be taken advantage of. You can defend yourself. If God gave you two legs to run and get out of there, then get out of there! It is an over-spiritualization of the text to think that we cannot do those things.

It’s like when you pray give us this day our daily bread, you still go to the supermarket, right? You don’t expect bread to fall from heaven and onto your table. That would be an over-spiritualization. God could do that if He wants - make bread fall from heaven. He did in fact, in the past, with the manna in the desert. But He also uses other means to provide what we need. That doesn’t mean we don’t trust Him - just that He is using others to provide what we need.

Or as Luther once told his class of future pastors: Don’t think that because God loves His Church and has promised to care for His Church that there’s nothing you have to do as a pastor, and you can just sit back and be all fat and lazy! No. That is an over-spiritualization. God has put you there to use you to care for His Church. You do what you’re given to do.

So then, what’s a Christian to do? What are you do to in those situations where you’re getting pounded on or taken advantage of or in all the many difficult situations you might find yourself in this world? Jesus said it: what you’re given to do as a Christian is love. That’s what the verses right before this that we heard last week were talking about. What does love look like? It looks likes that. It’s not what the world often thinks love is - an ooey gooey feeling, an emotion that comes and goes. It is much more than that. It is the will, the desire for what’s best for another. It is to be for them, not to set yourself against them. It is to turn to them, not turn yourself away from them. It is what couples promise in their wedding vows. I will love you. Even if that ooey gooey feeling isn’t there anymore, I will love you, I will be there for you, I will not turn away from you. And so for a married couple, it is no longer me and you, but now us. 

The challenge for us as Christians is to see others in the world that way too. Not as opponents, but as someone who needs my love. Someone for me not to be against, but to be for. Not to take revenge, but to forgive them and pray for them. 

The Old Testament reading said that as well: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (And even if your neighbor isn’t being very neighborly!) But it also put it this way: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. 

Now, we need to think about that for a moment. For we use that word holy a lot in Church, but what does it mean? Well it literally means to be set apart; to be set apart for a godly use. And in this context, the context of Christians living in an increasingly non-Christian world, in an increasingly anti-Christian world, perhaps we could say it like this: BE DIFFERENT. Don’t be like the world, don’t act the same, don’t go along - be different.

But we’re afraid to be different. We try to be like the world, and want to be liked by the world. We don’t want to stand out and be made fun of. But your mother was right. Your mother was right when she said: if everyone else jumps off a bridge, does that me you have to?

No, be holy. Be different. Be set apart for the Lord. For He has set you apart. He has chosen you to be His son, His daughter. He has brought you into His Church. He has forgiven your sins. He has given you His Spirit. Which makes you pretty special, pretty important. And so, He says in Leviticus, be different. Don’t be greedy and harvest everything right up to the very edges of your field - be different. Don’t try to get as much as you can by dealing falsely and lying - be different. Don’t oppress, or withhold, or be partial - be different. Don’t hate or take vengeance or hold a grudge - be different. Be holy. I am the LORD.

I am the LORD. Did you notice that is said over and over again? I am the LORD. I am the LORD. But that’s not just God saying: I’m God and so you have to do what I say . . . or else! (Like parents say sometimes!) No, that’s not who God is. I am the LORD means: I am the one who created you and gave you life. I am the one who promised you a Saviour to redeem you and give you eternal life. I am the one who provides for you and cares for you. I am the one who chose you. I am the one who brought you out of Egypt. I am the one who promised you a home. I am the one who is on your side and will always be. I am the LORD. 

And you are mine. You don’t have to worry about those things. You don’t belong to the world and its ways. You belong to me, and that makes you different. So be different. In a selfish world, be different: be selfless. In a world that more and more sees death as the answer, be different: choose life. In a world of sin, be different: be holy. 

And those differences are more and more stark, it seems, everyday. For the world is no longer content to make fun of you if you’re different - it wants to persecute you if you don’t go along with it. If you don’t agree with their agenda of abortion on demand, of 58 different gender choices now on Facebook, of not just tolerating or accepting but being proud of those who say they’re gay (which now seems like what the world wants to be the new normal!) - then you aren’t just stupid or old fashioned anymore, you’re dangerous, and so you must be marginalized, demonized, and eliminated. 

What’s a Christian to do? The answer’s the same: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Do not set yourself up against them or turn away from them. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. 

Which is the very picture of Jesus, who did not set Himself against even those who put Him on the cross, but prayed for them and even more, died for them. Yes, for Jesus didn’t just die for nice people, or good people, or church people, but for all people, including those we don’t like, those who hurt us, those we don’t think He should have died for. 

But He did, because Jesus knew it’s not us against each other - the real enemy is satan. Or as Paul put it: we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). And as we heard from Jesus today: God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. God is not the enemy of those who do not believe - He loves them and sent His Son to die for them too. Which is good because you used to be one of those folks. An unbeliever. Before God called you and set you apart and baptized you and forgave you your sins and made you His child. And so for us to set ourselves against others in this world - no matter how ornery or hurtful they may be - is to mistake the enemy and fight the wrong fight. Jesus saw what we cannot see, and so fought the right fight. On the cross. 

An early church father named Theodore of Mopsuestia said: we have eyes to see what is visible, and faith to see what is invisible. Unless something is wrong with your eyes, or with your faith. And there is something wrong with us, by nature. Sin has taken away our spiritual eyesight, to see things correctly, as they really are. We have been blinded by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) so that we cannot see things as they are; so that we cannot see evil as evil and good as good, but in fact think evil good and good evil. Which is what we see happening so much these days, as that which used to be considered evil is now touted as good and proper and BETTER. And those who speak good are vilified as phobic, as haters, as evil.

And so Jesus has come to teach us - in His Word and in His life - how to see. To restore our spiritual sight. To see our sin, to see Him as Saviour, and to see the enemy aright.

And so those who hurt us and persecute us - they’re not the enemy. They’ve been taken in by the enemy. They need us. To love them enough to pray for them. To love them enough to stand for the truth and not let them continue merrily on their way to hell. To love them enough to be different - to show them another way.

Because that’s what satan wants them to believe - there’s only one way, this way. That’s whay many, many women have abortions, that’s why many, many people give in to their sexual urges and aberrations, that’s why many hate, or oppress, or kill themselves - they think it’s the only way, the only answer they have.

But it’s not the only way. There is a different way. Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That’s the foundation of which Paul is speaking in Corinthians, writing to a Church filled with problems and struggles, in the midst of a world full of problems. That’s the foundation of the Church in which the Spirit dwells, to point us and the world to the answer to those problems: the forgiveness and life of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Only in Him is the forgiveness we need. Only in Him is the life that we seek. Only in Him is the love that we desire. And so only in Him is the perfection we require. His by nature, yours by grace. Yours to come again and receive in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. For you to live in Him and He in you. He in you wherever you go, to be holy, to be different, to be a little Christ, a Christian, in a world that needs that now as much as ever. 

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

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Epiphany 6 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Your True Love”
Text: Matthew 5:21-37 (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

[This is a gentle reworking of my sermon from three years ago on these readings and on this weekend.]

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

This past Friday was Valentine’s Day. I think the snow might have gotten more attention this year, but still, as usual, whether you did anything for Valentine’s Day or not, it was hard to look around the last couple of weeks without noticing the hearts everywhere. What started as a day to honor an early Christian martyr has been co-opted by our culture as a day to celebrate love. It is the day of the heart.

But what seems to have happened for many is that this Christian day, co-opted by the world, has been co-opted again. Because for many, Valentine’s Day has become not an expression of love, but a burden, an obligation - something that is expected; something that is required; something they have to do in order to stay in the good graces of their beloved. But if that is the case, then this day is really not a day of the heart at all. It is not a day of love, but of law.

Which is also how the readings of the Word of God that we heard today sounded - full not of love, but of Law. From the lips of Moses we heard: Obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today. And then from Jesus: You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not swear falsely, and Jesus’ explanation of how to understand those words in all their depth of meaning. And many, when they hear those words, regard them in the same way as Valentine’s Day - that these are things we have to do in order to stay in the good graces of God.

But if you listen to these words a little more closely, you discover that they’re not first and foremost about what you have to do or not do - they’re actually about your heart. Moses is warning the people about their hearts turning away from God, and Jesus is teaching that sin is, in truth, not just what you do or not do, but heart disease. For He reveals that beneath all these sins are problems of the heart - anger, hatred, pride, and lust. Problems that even if you gouged out your eyes and cut off your hands, would remain. To be rid of these sins, you’d have to cut out your heart, which is to die.

So what we need, then, are new hearts, clean hearts. Which is also what we will sing after the sermon again this morning: Create in me a clean heart, O God. Those are words that David spoke after he did all those things that Jesus talked about today - after he lusted after his neighbor’s wife, Bathsheba; after he commited adultery with her; after he murdered his neighbor to cover it up; and after he lied about it by taking his cohort to be his wife and pretending that everything was on the up and up. In fact, even more than that - pretending that he was the good guy, taking care of this poor little lamb after her husband had been killed in such an awful way. David had heart disease.

And so God sent Nathan the prophet to speak His Word to David, to reveal the sin in his heart, which caused David then to pray: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10). David needed forgiveness yes, but also a new heart. For only from a new, clean heart, could come right love.

And so David prayed: Create in me a clean heart, O God. That word create is an important one, for whenever God creates, he always does so - to put it in fancy, theological language: ex nihilo. From nothing. In the beginning, when God created all things, He did so ex nihilo: from nothing. He used no existing matter, but only His Word. He is the sole source of all things.

And so it is with the good that He gives to and works in us. To create a clean heart in us is not to use anything in us, to simply reform or improve our hearts, but to create new and clean hearts in us ex nihilo - from nothing already existing within us. By His Word of forgiveness alone He creates in us what was not there before, taking hearts that are by nature sinful and unclean, and creating in us new and clean hearts. 

And not only once, as if once were enough and now we’re good. Just as God’s work did not end after He created all things, but He continues to care for His creation, so also He continues to work in us. Which is good, and necessary, for how often do anger and hatred and lust and pride and all sorts of sins erupt in our hearts and make us unclean again! And so the Christian life, as Luther said, is a life of constant repentance. Which is to say, a life of constant reliance not on what we do, but on the life-giving forgiveness and cleansing of God. Create in me, O God. It is all from you.

But David not only prayed: Create in me a clean heart, O God - but also: and renew a right spirit within me. For along with the grace and forgiveness of God, we need a new spirit. We need our old, wrong thinking and loving to be renewed - to make them new again, as they were in the beginning, filled with and controlled by not our old, sinful spirit, but the Spirit of God. That we not think that God’s love is conditional or earned by what we do, but that we learn to see God and His love rightly.

And to learn that, the Word and Spirit of God point our eyes to the cross. For there is the unconditional love of God for you, in the person and work of Jesus. His love that did not say: clean up your act, get better, and then I’ll love you; but who came for us while we were still sinners. Who came for us while we, like David, were still mired in our sins and acting as if we are the good guys. Who came and offered up His hands and feet and eyes and all His body parts - though they did not sin - for all our body parts that do. That as our substitute in death, He provide life for us in His resurrection from the dead.

That is the life now given to you through the water of Holy Baptism. For in baptism, the Word and Spirit of God join you to Jesus in His death and resurrection so that you die and rise with Him to a new life. That all your sinful body parts be offered up and cut off with His, and you be raised in forgiveness to a new life, with a new heart, a new Spirit, and a new love.

And this new love not just a love of God our Saviour, but a new love for one another. For in truth, these are not two different loves - one for God and one for our neighbor - but one and the same love. For just as the love of God was made manifest for us in the flesh of Jesus and His self-sacrifice for us (as we just sang), so too our love for God is made manifest in our flesh and our self-sacrifice for our neighbor. That just as our outward sins reveal a diseased heart, so now our acts of love reveal a heart created new and right. The commandments not rules that we have to obey, but now how we love one another as Christ has loved us.

And so in Jesus, a great shift has taken place. The Law still shows us our sin and rightly condemns us, yes. Like David. But the life of Jesus in fulfilling the Law for us and in suffering its condemnation for us, has provided for us all the blessings of God promised to those who keep the Law. That by faith in Him, we receive not what we deserve, but the forgiveness, life, and salvation that is the gift of our Saviour.

So we now pray with David, Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. And as you do today, also rejoice that your prayer is now answered here, in the cleansing and renewing Body and Blood of Jesus in His Supper. To come here is to choose life. For here you are fed, you are strengthened, you are forgiven, you are filled with Christ - the same Jesus who served you on the cross, now serving you here with His Supper and in His Supper. Same Jesus, same forgiveness, same love, same life. On the cross given for you, on the altar given to you. That there be no shortage of love in your heart and life, but you be reconciled with your brothers and sisters, live in chastity and faithfulness, and speak with honesty and truth. That your Saviour’s life be your life. That your Saviour’s love be your love.

And that is the heart and love you now have in Christ. The heart and love of your heavenly Bridegroom poured out for you, His Bride. The heart and love that enabled Valentine to lay down his life, and you too. For friends and enemies. For those who love you back and those who don’t. The heart and love of Jesus - given for you, given to you, and now given by you.

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

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Epiphany 5 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Nothing but Jesus Christ and Him Crucified”
Text: Matthew 5:13-20; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12

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

I would have loved to see the looks on the disciples faces when Jesus said to them: You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

They hadn’t been following Jesus for that long. Not that long ago they were fishermen and tax collectors, listening to John the Baptist and sitting under fig trees. They were married, they were single, they were doing what folks did. Just a short time before this, these twelve could never have imagined all the changes that were going to take place in such a short time. And now, this group - some friends, some brothers, some strangers before this no doubt -were now “the twelve.” The twelve disciples, sitting with Jesus and listening to Him teach.

And then they hear this: You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

Uh . . . Jesus . . . isn’t that you? Not us!

Isaiah said so. Remember what we heard at Christmas? The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.  . . .  For to us a child is born (Isaiah 9). Simeon said so. We heard his words last week, that Jesus is the light that enlightens the Gentiles (Luke 2). We? We’re not really up to that . . . 

Maybe you feel the same way. Jesus first spoke those words to the twelve, to the first generation of Christians, but now also to you. You, who maybe haven’t been a Christian that long. You, who maybe don’t think you know so much. You, who (if you’re like me) have a hard time being salt and light in your own family! So . .  the salt of the earth? The light of the world? That’s not me!

But Jesus says it is. Notice that these words are not a command. Jesus is not saying you have to, must be, or should be this. So get out there and get to work! No. He says you are. This is who you are as Christians. This is what your Saviour has done. This is what your Saviour worked in you and made you by His grace. As Christians baptized into Christ and recipients of His Spirit, what He is you now are. You are sons of God. You are forgiven your sins. You are inheritors of heaven. You are His bride, the Church. You are His salt and light in a rotten and dark world. That wherever you go, He be. To preserve and enlighten a world in deep darkness and rotting in death.

Still sounds like a tall order though, doesn’t it? You may be thinking: I’m just an old man or an old lady! Or, I’m just a kid. I’m just a worker that gets up before the sun comes up and gets home after it goes down. I’m just a stay at home mom. I’m just . . .  How can I be this?

Well here, I think, is where St. Paul can help us. For when he went to the city of Corinth, remember how he described himself - what we heard earlier? He said he came not with lofty speech or wisdom. He came in weakness and fear and much trembling. His speech and message were not in plausible (or persuasive) words of wisdom. (Or in other words, he didn’t know all the rhetorical tricks and flourishes so common to the great speakers in that city.) Sounds like us! Sounds like, maybe, the twelve. Therefore, he said, I decided (or I resolved) to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. Which means everything Paul did, everything he said, everything he lived, was just this: Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

And it is all that because as I often tell my Bible classes (and they could probably finish my sentences here!) to know something - biblically - is more than just knowledge. It’s more than just what’s in your head. A lot more. For example, as Scripture tells us in Genesis, Adam KNEW his wife Eve and she conceived a bore a child. That’s not just mental, right? It’s more than that. A lot more. It’s a union. It’s a communion. It’s a life. 

And so, to adopt and adapt that biblical understanding here, we could say that to KNOW Jesus and Him crucified is for Jesus to be conceived and born in you, and for you to be born from above in Him. It is for Jesus and Him crucified to grow in you. For Jesus and Him crucified to live in you. A life of Jesus and Him crucified started in baptism, sustained by His absolution, and fed by His Body and Blood. You in Him and He in you. Jesus the salt and light, making you salt and light to a dark and rotting world.

And that is so because long before you and I or Paul or the twelve, the Son of God resolved to BE Jesus the Christ and Him crucified. To fulfill the Law and the Prophets. To accomplish that righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees. For you. For we don’t fulfill the Law . . . and our righteousness? Well, that doesn’t even exceed an anthill, or even worse, it’s a hole - a hole of sin we’ve dug ourselves into, that just keeps getting deeper and deeper with no way out. A hole that, turns out, is really a grave.

And that’s exactly why the Son of God resolved to BE Jesus the Christ and Him crucified. To go down into our graves that we’ve dug in sin and pull us out. To raise us with Him to a new life. A new life no longer defined by what we’re not or what we lack, but by what we are and what we have been given. That we are sons of God in the Son of God and given His life, a life that will never end.

Which makes us salt in a rotten world and light in a darkened world. Again, that’s not what you have to be, must be, or should be; that’s not a new Law for you to fulfill and achieve - it’s what you ARE. In Christ. So BE who you ARE. All you say, all you do, and all you live be Jesus Christ and Him crucified

Which doesn’t mean you go around beating people up with the Bible! That’s not what Jesus did. Yes, He spoke the Law, He spoke the truth, but it was always in compassion, always to save, always with an eye to forgiveness. The forgiveness He won in His crucifixion, and now risen from the dead lives to give to you. 

And so now you. Let you light shine before others, Jesus said, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. You see, light doesn’t shine because it has to, but because that’s what light does. So you too. 

For satan likes it to be dark, yes he does. And rotten. He loves for forgiveness to go unspoken, and grudges and hurts to be held fast and fester. For disagreements to turn into avoidance to turn into loneliness and separation. For love to grow cold and so for us to forget about one another and focus only on ourselves. Every man for Himself. Live and let live. 

But Jesus Christ and Him crucified is salt on that satanic slug. Jesus Christ and Him crucified is the light that scatters his demonic cockroaches. Jesus Christ and Him crucified in you is the light that shines before others and produces those good works, those Christ works, those forgiveness works, those compassion works, those mercy works, that glorify your Father who is in heaven. For Jesus Christ and Him crucified is a light that shows us what love really is and what life is meant to be. A union and communion with God. A union and communion with each other. 

And so you are who you are because Jesus is who He is. All gift. And when you succumb to the temptation to not be who you are, to sin, Jesus Christ and Him crucified is here still, to raise and restore you in the forgiveness of your sins, to salt you with His Spirit, illumine you with the light of His truth, and strengthen you with His Body and Blood. 

For in Jesus Christ and Him crucified, you are (as we sang) the Church of God, Elect and Glorious (LSB #646). The Church of God with hope and a future. The Church of God in this world but not of this world. The Church of God wherever Jesus scatters you in this world, to be His living, breathing Gospel. To be His gift to others. To be salt, to be light. To bring hope and love. To speak forgiveness and show mercy. To be who you are: a child of God. And to live the life you’ve been given: a life that will never end. And maybe like the twelve, you’ll be surprised at the difference that makes.

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

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Day It All Came Together”
Text: Luke 2:22-40; 1 Samuel 1:21-28; Hebrews 2:14-18

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

Any festival that has in its name “The Purification of Mary” is going to raise more than a few eyebrows in our day and age. For why would a woman need to be “purified” after childbirth? This seems to be something better left in the past; or better off forgotten all together. It is a dredging up of less civilized days, of the subjugation of women, of unwarranted male superiority. Why celebrate and commemorate something that seems superstitious and unnecessary at best, and chauvinistic and controlling at worst?

Well, to be sure, there are many things we read about in the Old Testament, many rituals and regulations, that don’t seem to make sense to us today, in our time, in our culture. But one of the good things this particular ritual - of purification and presentation - did was connect the birth of a child and the health of the mother with the grace of God. For contrary to the thinking of many these days, these are not things that just happen,nor things to be taken for granted. The birth of a child and the health of the mother are gifts undeserved. Gifts because ever since the day that sin entered the world, one of the consequences of sin was that childbirth would no longer be easy, but difficult and painful.

And the sad truth - then and still today - is that not all children make it to the day of delivery. Not all children make it through delivery. Not all mothers either. Sin - not a particular sin done by a particular mother - but sin as a condition, sin as the corruption of our human nature, has caused death to intrude even on this passage into life. And to death we need an answer. To death we need a solution. So connecting birth and purification with God is a vivid reminder not only that we live in a world fraught with danger and death, but even more - that another child was coming, another child was promised, who would purify us, who would defeat death, and provide life. Who would be the answer, the solution, to our biggest need and our every need.

And that day in the Temple, that day when Joseph, Mary, and Jesus came in, it all came together. The prophecy, the promise, and the fulfillment, all right there. For the things done were pointing to a Saviour no longer far away in space or time, but now nestled in His mother’s arms. That’s what Simeon was given eyes to see that day - not just the fulfillment of his own personal promise, but ALL the prophecies of God, ALL the promises of God, the past and the future, all coming together in this one, in this child. Everything that Temple was about and everything that happened in that Temple, was now being fulfilled in this child. The Promised One, the Promised Seed, had arrived. No wonder Simeon couldn’t contain himself!

That we don’t “get” that, that we don’t react like Simeon, is symptomatic of just how far we have fallen and how deep sin has been embedded into hearts, minds, and lives and corrupted us. So that we don’t think as we should, we don’t desire what we should, we don’t live as we should. That’s why we think things like: the purification of a woman? What an unnecessary law! And it’s why we’re amazed with Hannah - in the Old Testament reading -keeping her vow to give her son - the son she had so wanted and for whom she had been praying so long and so hard - actually giving her son to the service of the Lord? That’s like folks today who cry out: God, if you’ll just get me out of this mess, then I’ll . . . but we never actually do it!We didn’t really mean it. God doesn’t really expect . . . does He?

But it’s not just with God - think about how the law is regarded in general in our day and age. There is the disturbing - and growing - trend of ignoring the law. And I don’t mean just not doing it - but purposefully ignoring it; purposefully not doing it because you don’t believe it’s right or necessary. And so the putting of your mind, your opinion, your judgment, over the law that was established and given by those whose job it is to do that. Our president and his administration are doing it. Our new state Attorney General has publicly announnced that he is going to do it. And it’s why many (for example) don’t obey the traffic laws, why children often think their parents’ rules stupid and unnecessary, and employees go against what their bosses have said. And think for yourself, your own life - what rules or laws do you consider silly, not worth obeying, not worth enforcing? 

But here’s the question: Does that give us the right to break them? Yes, if they go against God’s Word. But if they don’t . . . is your opinion, then, and judgment the supreme court, the final arbiter, of right and wrong? Of what should be right and wrong for you

And that we don’t get caught, or if we do we get away with it, or that the consequences are insignificant, just makes it all worse. That just feeds our belief that these things really don’t matter. That I am the judge. That while some laws are good and right, many laws are just there to oppress, control, and rob me of getting and doing what I want. So I’m just going to ignore them.

But it is not so with God’s law. First: the God who is all-seeing and all-knowing knows all the violations. Second: you won’t get away with it. Though you may or may not see or experience the consequences now, there are consequences, and three: they are not insignificant. Keeping 51 percent, or 75 percent, or even 99.99 percent is not good enough. As God has said from the very beginning, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The soul that sins is the soul that dies (Ezekiel 18:20). In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die (Genesis 2:17). Physical death, spiritual death, eternal dying. And four: you are not the judge - He is. And His Word, His Law, matters. His Word, His Law, must be kept.

But if His Word, His Law, must be kept, but you do not keep it, you cannot keep it - if you are unwilling or unable, either out of ignorance, or weakness, or rebellion - then either you must suffer the dreadful consequences, or you need someone to keep it for you. Someone to take your place. Someone - as we heard from Hebrews - to make propitiation for your sins; or in other words, to be the sacrifice, the substitute, for you under the law, under your sentence. To do what must be done for you, to take the consequences for what you have not done, and set you free.

God had promised such a Saviour. Not just to Simeon, but all the way back to Adam. A promise then passed down to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; to Moses, Joshua, and Samuel; to David and Solomon. The rites of purification and presentation were given to point to that promise and to be done with faith in that promise. And when Jesus arrived at the Temple that day, Simeon was given the eyes to see and the faith to believe that promise now being fulfilled. That one who would fulfill all the Law and all the promises, the one who would be the consolation of Israel by purifying us from our sin, by defeating death, and by providing life, the one who is the answer to our every need, had come. And that one was God Himself in human flesh. God, so that His sacrifice be for the sin of the world - all people, of all times and all places; and man, to take man’s place under the Law and in death. 

So God becomes weak, that man may be strong. God becomes the sinner, that man may be forgiven. God suffers, that man may be consoled. God dies, that man may live. God goes to the cross, that man may have a throne. That all this be for you.

And now that Jesus is risen from the dead, having taken your sin and death and done away with it, it is for you. It is the gift given to you when you are baptized, the gift given to you when you hear the words of His absolution, and the gift given to you when you receive His resurrected Body and Blood. For in all these you receive Jesus. And when you receive Jesus, you receive His forgiveness and His life.

And that’s what Simeon got to see in the Temple that day. He probably didn’t know all the details of how it would all work out and be done, but He knew He saw the promise keeper, the purifier, the one who was presented in the Temple that day but who on the Last Day would be the One presenting us to His Father. And that’s why Simeon could say, after seeing Jesus: Lord, now I can die, in peace

And that’s why after we are given the eyes and faith to see Jesus come to us here, after taking Him up not in our arms but in our ears and mouths, we make Simeon’s song our song, which we sing right after receiving Jesus: Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. For having received Jesus’ forgiveness and life, death no longer has the power over us it once had. We’ll still die - unless Jesus comes again first! But that death, in Jesus, has now been transformed into the gate to life. To a life that will never end. 

Now that doesn’t mean that death won’t still be frightening and awful. It will be! It’s still a monster. We were not created to die. It is unnatural and unknown and never meant to be. And so it’s terrible. And you can be sure that satan will be there, taking advantage of your fear, accusing you, reminding you of your sin, your unworthiness, your failure, and adding to the burden. And yet at the same time, in the midst of all that, you can face death with a kind of peace. Not with resignation, resigned to die like everyone else and that this is the end. But the peace of knowing that death is not the end, that your sins are forgiven, and that when it comes, you will not be alone. For that while death is more powerful than you, it is not more powerful than your Good Shepherd. So that: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me (Psalm 23:4).

Yet this is true not only of death but also before death, for in life we have Jesus’ promise, too: And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). A promise to effect not only how we die, but how we live now. How we live each and every day. How we live in the midst of trials and temptations, of hurts and disappointments, of strife and division, of sadness and loneliness and despair. These aren’t going to go away, but the one who has fulfilled all of God’s Word and is with us through death is with us in these too. To be our hope in trouble, our strength in weakness, our consolation when nothing else can help. So that perhaps we can be like Anna, who had her own share of troubles, and give thanks to God in all times and places of our lives, speaking of Him to all still in need of consolation, still in need of hope, still in need of forgiveness and life. For there are many who need such hope. Sitting next to you in school, at work, at home, even in church.

So next time someone asks you what day February 2nd is, don’t say Groundhog Day or Super Bowl Sunday! Those might be good days, especially when the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow and winter is predicted to end sooner rather than later. But for us, it is an even better day. The day that points us to the end not of a season of weather or of football, but to the end of the shadow of death, the winter of our sins, and the fight against the old evil foe. The day that shows us the beginning of our victory. The day when the light of the world shone forth and the shadows flee. The day that points us to that day when that seed buried in the ground for three days and three nights would rise and grow in a Springtime of life that would never end. A good day indeed, when we - with Simeon and Anna and all who are in Christ - will be presented by the Son to the Father, purified and cleansed by His sacrifice, by His blood, a new birth, to a new life that will never end.

Promised fulfilled.

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