Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lent 4 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The End of the Blame Game”
Text: John 9:1-41 (Isaiah 42:14-21; Ephesians 5:8-14)

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

As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

On a certain level, that question is legitimate. For the only reason there is any disease or handicap in the world today is because of sin. And more specifically, it is because our parents - our first parents, Adam and Eve - sinned and with their sin plunged the world into sin. And all people ever since are born in sin and with sin.

But it can also be true in other ways. Sometimes it is our own actions - sinful or not - bring about problems and have consequences. If we stay out in the sun too long we can get skin cancer. Those who drink too much can have liver problems, and smoking often causes lung cancer or other breathing problems. Adultery causes marriages to fall apart. Yes, sometimes we can say that our own sins have caused our problems. 

But not just that - sometimes it is the sins of the parents that do cause problems for their children. Babies are born with AIDS because of the promiscuity of their fathers. Mothers who use drugs while pregnant can cause their children to be born with handicaps. Babies are born addicted to drugs. 

Yet while these things happen, we do not always know why they happen. Some mothers who abuse drugs have healthy babies, while other mothers who take great care during their pregnancies have babies born with problems or handicaps. Smoking doesn’t always cause cancer. All these things happen because of sin in the world, but there’s not always a direct cause and effect relationship. Sometimes we just don’t know why things happen as they do.

But still we want to know! Maybe to assign blame. Perhaps to make ourselves feel better or feel superior. Isn’t that why many are so fascinated when the sins of others are revealed on television on in the media? How could they? What were they thinking? I would never . . .

So what’s the dirt here, Jesus? Who gets the blame?

But you know what? Blame doesn’t help. It didn’t help our first parents when Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent and they both blamed God! All blame did was pit them against one another and against God. But it couldn’t get them out of the mess they were in, the sin they were in, the death they were in. Us either. It doesn’t do any good to tell the smoker dying of cancer or the mother mourning over her baby: I told you so! 

So Jesus doesn’t play that game. For while blame doesn’t help, there is someone who can. Someone who came not to be against us but to be for us. And that someone is the one who came to that blind man that day. 

And so Jesus says: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Or in other words, Jesus says, it was a set up! 

This man is going to be used for something special. God is going to work in him and through him. His years of darkness are going to be replaced with the joy of light. And not just physical light, but the joy of seeing the light of the world. The joy of seeing the Messiah. The one who has come to break the power of sin and death, for this man and for all people. Everyone could see the result of sin - Jesus wanted them to see Him and in Him, the cure and solution to sin.

Which is why I think Jesus heals this man as He does. Jesus could have just healed him with a word - He’d healed that way before. But instead, He creates, He anoints. He makes mud - breaking one of the Pharisees’ man-made-but-elevated-to-God-status-rules about what counted as work on the Sabbath or not, and then sends the man to wash it off. It’s almost as if Jesus does it this way on purpose, to get the attention of the Pharisees, that they too may see and have their own darkness broken and so Jesus be the light of the world for them too.

And it works . . . sort of. He does get their attention. There’s an investigation. But they are torn, divided. He has to be a sinner, for He broke the Sabbath rules, but a sinner couldn’t do this! It’s almost as if they have to blame somebody, but they don’t know who to blame. Blame again. So finally they blame him, this poor man who only knows that he used to be blind but can now see, and they cast him out of the synagogue, out of fellowship with them.

They are a living example of what the prophet Isaiah said: Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the Lord? He sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear. Their rules, their religion, had blinded them and deafened them. They saw so much the sin and need in others that they became blind to the sin and need in themselves. They stared so long and hard at their own piety that they became blind to the good in others. They knew the words of their Bibles so much that they forgot what those words meant. And so when Jesus came along – the very fulfillment of those Scriptures, and the One they should have been waiting for and excited to see – they were blind. They could not see what was standing right before their faces.

But it’s not just them - there’s a warning for us here too, lest we do the same thing and fall into the same trap. That we so see the sin and need in others that we’re blind to the sin and need in ourselves. That we become so proud of our own piety that no one else can measure up. That we know the words of Scripture but forget what they mean. Or maybe the biggest and most popular one today: that we seek only to blame and not to repent. Stop it. Drop the pride, and humble yourself in repentance. For who’s the sinner? Yes, you’re the sinner!

So this man - talk about an up and down day! But Jesus isn’t done with him yet. Hearing that those who should have helped him instead tossed him, Jesus searches him out. This man couldn’t come to Jesus - he still hadn’t seen Jesus; didn’t know who Jesus was, what He looked like. So Jesus finds him. And He opens the man’s eyes once again and enlightens His soul. The man sees Jesus, he sees His Saviour, and he believes and worships Him.

And so too now for you. Jesus comes for you too. For this is what Jesus told His disciples at the beginning of this account, when they first asked Him about this man. He went on to say: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

There are two significant things there. First, He says WE, not I. WE must work the works of him who sent me. Jesus AND the disciples. And then He also says: as long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. 

This is the good news for you and me! For even though Jesus is no longer walking on the earth in the flesh as He did that day with the blind man, He is still in the world - only now it is in His Word and Sacraments, and working through the ones that He sends. And through these He is still coming to people locked in sin, locked in darkness, locked in blame - to people like us! - and shining the light of His forgiveness and love. 

And so He is still washing and giving spiritual eyes, now to those who are baptized. That we may not only see our sin and need, but more than that and more important than that, see Him. See Him as He wants to be seen - as your Saviour. As your sin- and blame-bearer, as your death-taker, on the cross. That in answer to the question: Who’s the sinner? We say: Yes, I’m the sinner, but my sin is on Him. And if it’s on Him it’s no longer on me. And if it’s no longer on me, then I am forgiven. I am redeemed. I am set free. And those are the words we continue to hear from Jesus today in the Absolution - you are forgiven, you are free - and to which we say in response, like the man-formerly-blind: Amen! Or yes, I believe.

And believing, then, as St. Paul said, walk as children of light. Walk no longer like men born blind and still blind, but as men born blind now able to see. Now enlightened by the light of Christ, by the light of the world. Walking no longer in the darkness of sin and indulging in those things we hope never come to light, which would shame both us and our Lord - and then blaming others. But doing and saying those things that are good and right and true; what is pleasing to the Lord. 

And chief among those things to do and say are what you have come here today to do and say: to repent and receive the gift of your Saviour’s forgiveness; to repent and receive the gift of your Saviour’s Body and Blood. For this is to see yourself rightly, and your Saviour rightly, and to speak rightly - no blame, just truth. 

And then, thus forgiven and fed, enlightened and set free, you are strengthened and free to live this life for others, walking as children of light in a very dark world. A world which very much needs the light. As more and more sin arises and more and more darkness descends, and as more and more blame gets passed around, your word, your life, speaks something different. Another way, a right and true way. A way not of blame, but of a Saviour; of the one who came to overcome the darkness . . . and did.

And so whatever is happening now, whatever joy or sorrow, whatever trouble or trial, whatever triumph or tragedy, you live in the light of His promise: that as these could not overcome Him, so they will not overcome you. You have His promise of life, which is as true and sure as His empty tomb. For in Him, that is the future of your tomb as well. 

So ask not: Lord, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? but ask instead: Lord, who died, that this man and his parents may live? That I may live. For that’s the question and the answer that makes all the difference in the world.

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

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Lent 3 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Learn and Live!”
Text: Isaiah 50:4-9 (with Third Passion Reading)

There has never been a time when the Christian faith and life has been without opposition. From the moment our first parents were created and placed into the Garden of Eden, satan was there. And you know what he was doing? Teaching. He was teaching lies. Satan taught Adam and Eve to not trust their good and kind Father who had created them and given them everything they could ever want. He filled their ears with what was not good and not true and led them in the way of death and down the highway to hell. And when they believed the father of lies instead of the Father of truth, the result was shame. They were ashamed of themselves, ashamed before their good and gracious Father-Creator, and consumed with the pangs of hell. For their sin had indeed separated them from God.

But we heard tonight something very different than all of that. The Servant of the Lord that Isaiah has been teaching us about was taught not by satan but by God. His ears drink in the Word of the Lord. He learns the truth. And with that Word that has entered His ears and found a home in His heart, the Servant is also able to teach. And so we later hear of a twelve year old Jesus in the Temple, surrounded by those who were the teachers, teaching them. And they were amazed.

So what, we might ask, did He learn? This Servant, this Jesus. The Word of God, the word of truth, yes. But more than that - He learned what all the Word of God is about: the promises of God and the faithfulness of God. Against the lies of satan and the lies of the world and the lies of the well-intentioned but misguided religious leaders of His day, Jesus learned that His Father is trustworthy and true, that His Father provides and protects,that His Father is gracious and merciful. Always. 

And that learning He put into action. The Servant-Jesus commits Himself completely to His Father. And so when He is arrested, when He is put on trial, when they begin striking His back and pulling out His beard and spitting in His face, He turns not back. His face is set like a flint - not because He is so strong and determined, but because of the Word of truth He has learned and the faith it has given. That no matter what this world may bring upon Him - even death - He will not be put to shame; He will be vindicated. So adversaries? Contenders? They are nothing. Behold, the Lord God helps me, the Servant says. And that is enough. More than enough.

In contrast to that, then, is you and me. You and me and Peter and Judas and the Jewish leaders and all men. For not in the footsteps of Jesus do we walk, hearing and learning and believing the truth, but in the footsteps of our first parents. That is why we sin - we do not believe. We do not believe our Father will provide, will protect, will sustain, will love, will help, will do good to us in any and every time of our lives. We believe the lie. And so Israel turned back. Peter turned back. We turn back. We’re not resolute, but get blown and buffeted about by the troubles of this world. And not really sure how things will turn out we look to make our own way. But that’s really just looking for life on a road that leads only to death.

So repent . . . and listen . . . to the Servant. For, Isaiah tells us of the Servant, The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Him who is weary - that’s us. Weary, exhausted, beat up and beat down by sin and the challenges of this life and this world and its lies. Weary. 

But the Servant gives us His Word to teach and sustain us. His Word of forgiveness, His Word of promise, His Word of assurance, His Word of truth. His Word which says Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matt 11:28). That you may rest in Him who battled the devil and won. Rest in Him who bore your sin and failure for you. Rest in Him who took on hell and rose triumphant and victorious. He was shamed by man but vindicated by God, and now through His Word does the same for you and gives you all that you need. That you believe. Believe that there is nothing that can separate you from His love (Romans 8:37-39). Believe that all things are working together for your good (Romans 8:28). Believe that all the promises of your Father are trustworthy and true. For you. So much so that even a cross of shame can be turned into a throne of glory. 

And so we see in the Servant not just an example, but proof of God’s faithfulness. He is the One who relied on God’s promises,fulfilled God’s promises for you, and now gives God’s promises to you. That you not wear out like a garment, like those who oppose the Servant, but receive that garment that will never wear out, the robe of Christ’s righteousness, and the life that will never end. 

So there’s a saying in the world that goes: Live and learn. But the Servant shows us tonight something better than that: to learn and live. Learn of Him and His Word, and then you can live, and will live, forever.

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

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lent 3 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Who’s Really the Thirsty One?”
Text: John 4:5-26 (Romans 5:1-8; Exodus 17:1-7)

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

She had been chewed up and spit out, the Samaritan woman we met in the Holy Gospel today. And not just once or twice. That would’ve been bad enough. But five times. Or maybe she chewed up and spit out those five men who had been her husbands. In either case, you don’t come out of that unaffected. She has scars, deep ones. The man she was now with didn’t trust her, or she didn’t trust him. She wasn’t welcome with the other women - she had to come to the well when the sun was at its highest and hottest and hauling water was the hardest. So even in the middle of the day, it was dark for this woman. The darkness of sin and loneliness. The darkness of love lost and hope gone. The darkness of closing your heart to others, not wanting to be hurt again.

Perhaps you know what that’s like. Being an outsider. Having a handful of hurts and a pocketful of mistakes. Regrets? Yeah, you’ve had a few. And life not turning out quite as you expected. And that thirst you feel? A cup of cold water can’t touch it. It’s much deeper than that. And what hope for the future? What hope for change is there when you lock not only your door but also your heart?

So the Healer comes to her. 

They probably hadn’t seen a Jew in those parts for quite some time. At least, not a respectable one. For you see, Jews didn’t go into Samaria - they went around. They went a good distance out of their way to make sure they didn’t have to walk a single step among people they considered unclean. So if they were going from Judea to Galilee, they would travel East, cross the Jordan, head North past Samaria, and then cross the Jordan again. And a well-worn path, that. So a Jew there, then? This was unusual. This man was either lost or crazy or up to no good. 

But soon she finds out it’s none of the above. Yes, someone greater than Jacob is there. Not just a patriarch. Not just a prophet who speaks the Word of God, but the Word of God in the flesh. A Messiah. A Saviour. There for her. To give to her. What she needs. What she is thirsting for.

For this Samaritan woman was thirsting. For love - the men she’d been with weren’t giving it to her. For acceptance - so she’d have someone to talk to besides herself. But most of all for forgiveness. You see, that’s why her question about worship, once Jesus tears open the wound of her failed marriages and current promiscuity. OK! You want to go there, Mr. Prophet? Let’s go! Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship. You see, that was more than a question about the current religious controversy of the day, it was a matter of life and death for her. Her sin and hurt exposed she wants to know: Where is God? Where is forgiveness? Where is mercy? Where can I go, Mr. Prophet? Me, who can’t even come out to this well with the others, never mind to the Temple in Jerusalem. Where is the life and love and cleansing I so desperately want and need? 

And you can almost imagine the tears in her eyes as she asks. And the smile on Jesus’ face as she asks. This is the moment He was working for and waiting for. Now the Healer will heal.

For the hour is coming, and is now here, Jesus says, when the Temple - the place of forgiveness - will be not a building, but a person. And receiving the gifts of God will not be just in a certain place, but in spirit and in truth. For as Jesus said when He started this conversation: If you knew the gift of God, and - not what or where, but - who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. Now she was asking! And He was giving. A drink for her parched and thirsty soul. For the gift of God, His place of mercy, the giver of the Spirit, forgiveness, and life, was sitting right before her. She didn’t have to go to the Temple - the Temple (and its forgiveness) had come to her. For yes, Jesus tells her, I am greater than Jacob. I AM the Messiah. I AM the Christ. I AM the one who will not only tell you all things but give you all things. 

For yes, Jacob may have worked 14 years for his beautiful bride Rachel, and he may have dug this well, but your Jacob, Ms. Samaritan, and our Jacob, did much more and greater than that. He lays down His life for you and me. And He dug not a well with His hands, but a grave, digging all the way to hell and back again, to rescue us and provide living water. The Spirit that will quench your deepest thirst and provide for your deepest need. And He did so not for a beautiful and faithful bride, like Rachel, but rather, as St. Paul told us today: not for beautiful and righteous and good people, but God showed his love for us in that while we were still ugly - while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Our Jacob came to make the sinner clean. To make the ugly beautiful. To make the outcast His bride.

For that day in Samaria, John tells us, when all this happened, it was about the sixth hour. That’s more than just John telling us what time it was: that’s the very same hour when Jesus, hanging on the cross, entered the darkness. It was the sixth hour when the sun stopped giving its light. A darkness even deeper than this Samaritan woman’s. The darkness in which Jesus, the giver of living water, said “I thirst.” And the darkness in which finally, when bowing his head in death, Jesus hands over the Spirit. That is the time when Jesus was loaded with the sin and shame of Ms. Samaritan and you and me to take it all away. 

And now, as we approach the sixth hour of the day here, Jesus is still giving, still quenching, still forgiving. The water that flowed from the rock in the wilderness and satisfied Israel’s thirst just a trickle compared to the living water given by Jesus in the Word of forgiveness He spoke from the cross - and still speaks; just a trickle compared to the water and blood that flowed from His side on the cross, filling every font and every chalice with His forgiveness and life. That what flowed from Him now flow to us. That every sin be forgiven, every hurt be healed, and every need provided. 

That’s what happened to Ms. Samaritan. For after Jesus has come to her, in the verses right after the ones we heard today, she rushes back to town to gush about her Saviour. Her shame, her hurt, her sin was all gone. She was loved, and she now loved. Not like before, but new. For the living water she had received was now, as Jesus had said, a spring of water, flowing from her.

And so it is now, for you. You are loved, and you now love. The chains of sin and regret and shame that hold you back have been broken by His love and forgiveness and set you free. And so His living water is now a spring of water, flowing from you. To any and all around you whose souls are parched and thirsting - you have the living water they need: the Word and Spirit of truth. To be there for them at those sixth hour of the days. To be there for them who come to wells alone. To be there for them with the love and forgiveness and life that you have received.

And best of all, when the sun comes out again and life gets rough, when the demons return and try to drag all those skeletons out of your closet, when you find yourself hungry and thirsty and tired once again, when the sin in us and around us seem to be getting the upper hand again, when the darkness is threatening to overcome again, your Jacob is here for you, as He promised. Not by chance, but by grace. Your Saviour, your Jesus, comes for you still and is giving still, embracing you with His forgiveness, pledging you His love, and feeding you with His own Body and Blood. For His love for you, His bride, never changes. 

Turns out Jesus never did get His drink that day. Did you notice that? But by now you understand: He wasn’t really asking for a drink of water. He had much more than that in mind. He thirsted for much more, as He did on the cross – His thirst is for you and me. To make you His bride. To give you His drink. That you know how precious you are, how valuable. That you know the gift of God. So that instead of hanging onto the things of this world and life that we think will give us what we need and quench our thirst, we repent of all that, let go of all that, and cling to Him alone. To Him who clung to the cross. To Him who clings to you in love. For nothing else really matters. Not really. For the things of this world, the people of this world,the admiration and adulation of this world come and go, but the Word of the Lord stands forever. The Word of the Lord made flesh for you. Your Saviour, who gives you Himself and His living water. Only He can satisfy your thirsty soul, which is the very thing He has come to do.

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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lent 2 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Successful Failure”
Text: Isaiah 49:1-13 (with Second Passion Reading)

We learn a little bit more about God’s Servant this week in the Second Servant song of Isaiah. We hear some of the same themes as last week, but also more. And one of the first things we heard tonight was that the Lord called [the servant] from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. Last week the Servant was identified as that one who was anointed by the Spirit to do this work - a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus’ baptism - but this week we find out that this Servant was chosen long before that. That from the moment of His conception, while He was still in His mother’s womb, He had received His name. And with His name, His task, His work. Or as Matthew (1:21) tells us: His name is Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. And of this one, Isaiah tells us: His weapon will be His Word, and God will be glorified in Him.

So far, so good. Except . . . the Servant’s work seems like failure. I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity, we heard. And that’s the way it was, isn’t it? The Jewish leaders rejected Jesus. The folks of His own hometown wanted to throw Him off a cliff. Many who followed Him at the beginning left when His teachings got tough. And in the end, even though He was welcomed into Jerusalem by crowds on Palm Sunday, He dies on the cross virtually alone. Forsaken by God and abandoned by men. 

By all appearances, the Word that is His weapon, that He sowed for three years, all either fell on rocky ground where it sprang up by had no root and so was scorched by the sun of trouble and tribulation, or among thorns where it was choked by the cares and worries of life, or on the path where it was snatched away by satan (Matt 13).

And still today it often looks that way. The Word of God looks weak compared with the powerful wisdom of the world. The Word of God is rejected and ridiculed. Christians are mocked and belittled. And the crowds are not in churches, but at football games, rock concerts, and beaches. By all appearances then, it seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same. I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity. And maybe it seems that way in your life as well. The Word of God hasn’t been able to solve my problems, give me what I need, or fix my life. 

But although that may be what things look like, what God says next is completely different! For not only is the Servant not a failure, but, God says: It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up [just] the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. Now, that may sound a little like saying: I can’t lift a pound so instead I’ll lift a hundred! But it’s not. Rather, it’s God asserting that there is seed that falls on good ground. That what looks like failure is, in fact, so successful, that it’s not just for the salvation of Israel, but for the life of the world. And that, of course, as we know, is the reality of the cross, where the Servant dies that all might live; where the Servant is condemned that all might be justified; where the Servant is forsaken that no one need be forsaken again. And so what looks like utter failure and abject defeat is in reality the greatest victory and the most glorious triumph.

And this Servant then, will shepherd His flock. That’s what Isaiah says next. That though He die, yet shall He live. And living, to those He brings in His exodus out of sin and death He says: They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. 

And so is the Servant, your Jesus, doing for you. In the Passion reading tonight we heard: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. And then He was struck, the flock was scattered, and three days later He did rise again. And so He is a living Shepherd, who will never die again. Your Shepherd, who is still going before you and fulfilling and keeping all His promises to you.

Which doesn’t mean a care-free and trouble-free life. If that were so, we wouldn’t need a Shepherd! But it is exactly because we live in a world filled with cares and troubles that it is so important and precious that we have a Shepherd, a Saviour. 

And so Isaiah concludes this Servant song with the words: Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. Or in other words, sing and exult not because the troubles have gone away, but because you have the comfort and compassion of your Good Shepherd, Jesus, in the midst of them. The one who went through it all with us and for us, and so knows what it’s like and knows what you need. And don’t judge by appearance or feelings whether He is successful or not, whether He is giving you what you need or not - judge rather, by the cross. The cross which shows us that what looks like defeat is really victory.

For there is the Servant, for you. There is the forgiveness you need, the life you need, the salvation you need. There He is covering you in the shade of his love. There protecting you from the evil one. Come eat and drink of Him and you will never hunger or thirst again.

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

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lent 2 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Back to the Basics”
Text: John 3:1-17 (Romans 4:1-8, 13-17; Genesis 12:1-9)

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

Nicodemus comes to Jesus and calls Him a rabbi, or teacher. High praise from a Pharisee who was himself a teacher of Israel. We know that Jesus is much more than that, but that night, that is what Nicodemus is going to learn. Nicodemus the teacher becomes Nicodemus the student. And since he calls Jesus teacher, Jesus begins teaching him. He doesn’t even wait for Nicodemus to ask Him a question (did you notice that?) - Jesus just starts right in. Because good teachers know you have to start at the beginning. So Jesus does.

Because if you don’t start at the beginning, if you don’t have the fundamentals, you won’t get the rest. So when you learn to read you don’t start with War and Peace but with ABC. When you learn math you don’t start with Calculus but with 1+1. You have to learn the fundamentals, and without them the rest will be wrong. So if you know Calculus and are doing a really advanced problem, but get some simple math wrong, it doesn’t matter how much else you know, your answer will be wrong. Or if you’re building a road or trying to draw a long straight line, if you’re just a little off at the beginning, you’re going to be a lot off at the end. You need to get the beginning right, the fundamentals rights, the foundation right, or all the rest will be wrong.

So Jesus starts where good teachers start - at the beginning, with Nicodemus. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (or born from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Everything starts with birth, the new birth, and goes from there. But Nicodemus doesn’t get it.

So then, like a good teacher, Jesus repeats His answer, but with a little more information, an explanation for Nicodemus’ question, the second time. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” So this new birth is not a physical re-birth, but one that is done by water and the Spirit. The same Spirit that hovered over the face of the waters at the beginning of physical life in the creation (Genesis 1:1-2), is the same Spirit that works through water at the beginning of spiritual life in its creation. Or in other words, this is all the work of God. Life in all its forms is all the work of God. Not our work. So in the beginning: His Word + His water + His Spirit = life and creation. And still it is His Word + His water + His Spirit = new life and new creation. 

But Nicodemus still doesn’t get it. He’s almost dumbfounded. This all sounds so strange to him! How can these things be? he asks Jesus. For you see, what started out as perhaps small errors in his theology had resulted in him being so far off and being on such a different page than Jesus that not only does He not understand what Jesus is talking about, but he doesn’t even recognize the Messiah sitting right before him! The Messiah who was talked about all through the Scriptures he knew so well and was teaching to others. So he’s asking questions that really don’t even make sense. Can a man enter a second time into his mother’s womb? Really, Nicodemus? That’s the best you got?

It’s all about the beginning. Nicodemus is thinking about what man does or can do; Jesus is talking about what God does, and what God has promised. Nicodemus was thinking of how man can get to God; Jesus is talking about God coming to man. Nicodemus is thinking works; Jesus is talking grace, or gift.

And so Nicodemus is, understandably, confused. This is a whole different way of thinking. And it’s why so many in our world today are confused. For still today, when it comes to religion and spirituality many first think it is about what we do, or can do, or have to do. It’s about man’s free will, or man’s works, or man’s decision. But if that’s the starting point, and even near the starting point, then the end is going to be very far away from the truth. 

Because that’s not the beginning at all. The beginning is God. Whether it’s things physical or things spiritual, the beginning is God. It’s all about God descending to man. It’s all about God’s promises. And so in the beginning after Adam and Eve fell into sin and were afraid of God, God came to them and called them and made a promise, of a Saviour. And then this coming and calling and promise were repeated through the Old Testament. As we heard in the other readings, God came to a man named Abram (or Abraham) who did not know Him but worshiped false gods - and God called him and made a promise to him, of a land and of a Saviour. And then down through the generations, to Isaac and Jacob and Moses and Joshua and David and Solomon, God kept coming and calling and promising. Not that they do, but that they believe. There is doing, but the believing must come first.

And one of the best examples, Nicodemus - which surely you, a teacher of Israel, remember, Nicodemus - is the bronze serpent on a pole in the wilderness. What did the people do then, Nicodemus? All they were doing was getting bit by serpents. All they were doing was dying. But what happened, Nicodemus? God came to them and called them to faith and promised them healing and life. Wasn’t that wonderful, Nicodemus? 

Well that’s what happening now, Nicodemus! Because just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so now a man is going to be lifted up - the Son of Man - that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. This is the fulfillment of all that coming and calling and promising of God.“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” So that man who will be lifted up for the life of the world, Nicodemus, that Son of Man, is the Son of God. God coming and calling and fulfilling His promise. Look to Him and not to yourself for your life.

For that is the temptation we have and the problem we face: to look to ourselves and not to God for our life. That’s easy to do especially during Lent, when many people focus on spiritual disciplines this time of the year. But it’s not Lent’s fault or the discipline’s fault - it’s sin’s fault. Sin which has made us think that what WE do is the foundation, the beginning. Sin which has curved us in on ourselves and away from God. Sin which has separated us from God and so we try to make the best of it, trying to get life and find life by our own strength. And satan is our biggest cheerleader and fan in that! He doesn’t mind anyone having religion or spirituality, as long as you are trying to do it by yourself, with your own strength, and relying on what you can do. Because he knows that when you rely on yourself, you are his

But we prayed earlier: O God, You see - He sees and knows. We may not always know and acknowledge it, but He knows - You see that of ourselves we have no strength (Collect of the Day). That right there is the beginning of true spirituality. The foundation. This repentance. Whatever you are going through in this life, you need help. You need forgiveness. You cannot do it. So by Your might power, we then pray, defend us, protect us, save us. By Your mighty power, which is the cross. Just as Israel looked to the snake on the pole in faith and lived, so look to the man on the cross in faith and live. And look to where that man on the cross has promised to be for us today - in the Word and the Sacraments.

Now many today, like Nicodemus then, will ask: How can that be? How can baptism and absolution and communion be that? Which will be your question if your faith has started on the wrong trajectory. They will make as little sense as Jesus’ words to Nicodemus. 

But go back to the basics: it’s all God’s doing. God coming, God calling, God promising, God giving. Giving faith, giving forgiveness, giving new life. From above. That we be born again from above. And fed from above. And it’s not that we have to go up and go get these things that are above - God, as usual, as always, brings them down to us. All the way down into the most simplest things, so we who are simple can receive them - in water and words and bread and wine. Not very sophisticated, maybe. But even better than a snake on a pole.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Just as God did not send the snakes in the wilderness to condemn His people but to save them, so Jesus did not come to condemn but to save. For the world is already that - condemned. If God did nothing, that would be the result. Sin has cast us all out of the Father’s kingdom. 

But God didn’t do nothing - He sent His Son. Jesus came to save and to give life. He came into the world and was lifted up on the tree of the cross for one purpose only - that we might live. To give life from above. To be that connection between God and man, between heaven and earth. That using the things of earth He give us the life of heaven. Yes, even the water and Spirit of Holy Baptism, the word of absolution, and the bread and wine that carries His Body and Blood. That looking to these in faith, and receiving them, we be blessed. We be children of Abraham. And more than that: children of God.

That’s the ABCs and 1-2-3s of the faith. And even if you’re a Christian well versed in the Scriptures and into the “calculus” of the faith, don’t forget the basics. Or as Luther called it: the catechism. You can never know it well enough, Luther said. It is what God is always teaching us, ever new. Get it wrong and your calculus will be wrong. But get it right, and even if you never go on to Calculus, that’s okay. Because eternal life is not a graduation, but a gift. To you. From Him.

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

Lent 1 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Behold, the Servant!”
Text: Isaiah 42:1-9 (with First Passion Reading)

Behold, my servant! Isaiah begins his first Servant Song with those words - those words which are really what this season of Lent is all about. That we behold Jesus. That we fix our eyes on Him. That in the midst of our struggles, in the face of our sins, in the mire of our doubts and fears, behold, your Saviour! The servant of the Lord who has come to serve and to save you.

This saving is the work of the triune God for you. Isaiah’s very first verse tonight spelled that out: there is the Father, the Servant, and the Spirit put upon the Servant. All working together. All in harmony. And when Jesus was baptized, this Word of God was fulfilled. For there, in the Jordan, the Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father called out from heaven: this is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Or as Isaiah put it, the one in whom my soul delights

But the Father delights in you too, and so sends His beloved to serve and to save you. To bring forth and establish justice. Three times that was said in this reading from Isaiah. Justice. Judgment. That’s what this Servant will do. Which, actually, when you know you’re a sinner, doesn’t sound particularly good.

Except notice how the Servant will do His work. It’s not what you might expect. He’s not going to shout and argue, trying to be right by being the loudest guy in the room (like we do!). He’s not going to break a bruised reed, nor quench a faintly burning wick - He’s going to heal, not break; and give life, not put it out. He’s going to open the eyes of the blind - and not just the physically blind, but the spiritually blind, the ignorant, and give us the eyes of faith. And He’s going to bring the prisoners from the dungeon - literally, again, yes, but He will also rescue those who are powerless and locked in sin and death. 

This is how the Servant will establish justice on the earth - not a judgment of condemnation, but in helping and raising and saving - and He will not grow faint or be discouraged until He does so. Because, Isaiah tells us, the God who created all things and gives breath and life to all people, is doing this. He is with the Servant. He is in the Servant. He is the Servant.

Behold, my servant! How good for us, then, to hear these words tonight. We who are often that broken reed - broken by the sin and harshness of this life and the condemnation of the world. We who are often that faintly burning wick - the fire of faith smothered by the pressures and fears of life. We who often grow faint and discouraged. We who perhaps even feel like we’re in that dungeon of sin and death, in which there is no hope and from which there is no escape. 

Behold, my servant! Behold, you have a Saviour.

That is Isaiah’s message to Israel then and to us tonight. No matter how heavy and tough and hopeless life seems, no matter how weak and powerless and struggling you are, and no matter how sinful and lost and ugly you may be, behold, you have a Saviour! You are loved. And you have hope.

I am the Lord, God said through Isaiah. Three times that name is in these verses, which is surely no accident. I am the Lord. That was the name God first revealed to Moses in the burning bush, right before rescuing His people from their slavery in Egypt. That, therefore, is the name He proclaims here, in this promise that He will rescue all people from a slavery which is much worse than Egypt’s - our slavery to sin, death, and hell.

And so, He says then at the end of this section, the former things have come to pass. The first and old exodus is done. New things I now declare. A new thing, a new exodus, by a new way . . .

And that’s all Isaiah says for now! He’ll explain more later, in the coming Servants Songs that we’ll look at in the coming weeks. But for now, in these verses, he leaves it at that. A tantalizing teaser . . .

But we know the rest. We know how God would do this. And Isaiah does give us a hint as well, when God says of the Servant: I will give you as a covenant for the people. That’s an important word - covenant - and we heard it from the lips of Jesus in the Passion reading, when Jesus said: Drink of it, all of you; this is my blood of the new testament (or new covenant - same word), which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is the new covenant. Jesus is the Servant. Jesus is the one who rescues us from sin, death, and hell. Jesus is the one who is our strength and hope and life. Jesus is the new thing who will accomplish the new thing in a new way: the way of the cross.

And so not with strength but in weakness, not with shouting but in silence, not with vengeance but with compassion, Jesus brings forth and establishes justice. On the cross He bears in Himself the justice and judgment of God against sin, that our life not be broken or quenched, but we be raised to life and given hope in the forgiveness of our sins. 

And not only giving Himself for us, Jesus now also gives Himself to us. The Spirit given to Him in His baptism He now gives to us in our baptism. He is taken captive to free us captives, and the Body and Blood of the Servant on the cross is now the Body and Blood of the Servant on the altar, that what He gave for us He now gives to us. And eating and drinking the Body and Blood of our Passover Lamb, we pass over in Him from sin to righteousness, from death to life, from hell to heaven. A new exodus to live in even now. A new exodus that will be completed in the resurrection, when we enter the Promised Land of heaven.

That’s what Isaiah wanted Israel to know. When Isaiah proclaimed these words, Israel was in a bad way, a way of rebellion and idolatry. But though they had turned from their God, their God had not turned from them. And the same message is for you tonight. The season of Lent is a season of repentance, recognizing our sin and rebellion, our idolatry and faithless, rebellious, lives. But God has not turned away from you. So no matter what you have done, no matter where you are, no matter how weak or powerless or a failure you feel, behold! Look! Something new. Something wonderful. A Saviour and His love for you.

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

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lent 1 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“True Good vs. False Good”
Text: Matthew 4:1-11; Genesis 3:1-21; Romans 5:12-19

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

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

This was no accidental meeting. Right after Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, immediately after the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father sounds forth from heaven, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Matt 3:17), immediately after this awesome scene which Jesus could have taken advantage of and (seems to me) gathered a lot of followers, instead the Spirit leads Jesus away from the scene, away from the crowds, away from everyone and everything, and out into the wilderness by Himself for this sole purpose: to be tempted by the devil. Jesus has come to be our Saviour from sin, death, and the devil, and so goes to the battle right away. 

But, it seems, this is going to take some time. According to Matthew, the devil doesn’t pounce immediately, but waits for the opportune time. And so after Jesus had been fasting forty days and forty nights - so this was no sunrise to sunset fasting and then you get to eat after the sun goes down, as we hear of some doing in our day and age; Jesus fasted day and night - after 40 days and nights, when he was hungry (ya think?), then the tempter comes. And it’s battle: on.

And here, I think, is a good first point for you to know: satan is not going to ask you if this is a good time to be tempted. And though he’ll strike at any time and seek to take advantage of any situation, he often strikes (like here, with Jesus) at the very worst times - when you’re at your weakest, when you’re most alone, when you’re at your lowest and struggling, when it seems as if nothing is going right, when you’re at that point where just one more thing is going to push you over the edge . . .  At just such times you can expect satan to be there with a friendly push. Because he is not interested in a fair fight; only in winning. He is interested only in turning you away from God, in turning you against your Heavenly Father, and so devouring you and your faith in sin and fear and doubt.

And so here. . . . Have some bread Jesus. Forty days and forty night is long enough. You’re the Son of God, aren’t you? Aren’t you? The one who created everything in the first place and made all food. So make some food for yourself. This is no way for God to treat His Son! And you’re going to need your strength to do what you came to do; to do what your Father wants you to do! And you do want to be a good Son, don’t you Jesus? If you are the Son of God. This just makes good sense . . .

But Mr. Tempter, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Oh, you’re right of course, Son of God. Well played. Okay then, here’s a Word of God to live by: throw yourself down from the top of the temple here, because the Word that came from the mouth of God said that the angels - wait, no, I’m sorry! Your angels, right Son of God? - will make sure you don’t get hurt. So, throw yourself down and show me this Word of God is really a Word to live by, that God will do what He says here. That would be good . . .

But Mr. Devil, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test . . . to get God to prove that He is God. That’s . . . that’s not faith. 

Now, I think it safe to say at this point that satan is not used to having to work quite so hard in his temptations. People usually crumble far quicker and easier than this! A quick read through the Bible reveals countless examples of that, beginning with Adam and Eve, as we heard in the first reading. And you know it from your own life. But you also know that satan is not one to give up. So he pulls out his big gun . . .

You are a worthy adversary, Son of God. I can’t beat you! So I will give you what you came for: all the kingdoms of this world and their glory. Your Father would be proud at your success! All I ask in return is a little appreciation. Just fall down and worship me. Just one little quick prostration . . . in thanksgiving for my generosity and admitting my defeat. And then it’s all yours. I give up. That would be good . . .

Then Jesus said to him, Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” You see, that’s good. For He is good. His ways are good. His Word is good. The only good.

So here is the second point for you to know today: satan rarely tempts us directly to obvious and explicit evil, but more often to a false good. And so he dresses up sin and evil to look good, and makes it sound good, and convinces you it is good, and so leads you into sin. That’s what he did to Adam and Eve and the tree they were not to eat from. That’s how I portrayed his temptations to Jesus in the wilderness. And how does he do it in your life? 

Well, there are surely many ways, but some of the most popular today are the ideas that God would want you to have this (whatever this is). God wants you to be happy (whatever happy is). God would not want you to do without. God does not want you to suffer (whatever you think your suffering is). And in the name of those so-called “truths” have come all manner of sins dressed up to look good. 

But what all those so-called “truths” have in common is this: they have no word of God to back them up. And that’s why they’re all false goods. For God doesn’t want you to be happy - not necessarily. He wants you rather, and more importantly, to be His child and have eternal life. Those things may go together, but then again, they may not. And God may want you to do without something if He knows it’s not good for you, and He often uses suffering to work good in us. But satan is very good at what he does. He is not called deceiver for nothing. And he deceives us, luring us away from the Word of God to believe something else. But nothing else is good. Nothing else can give us life. Anything else may give us that false good that we think is good, but that in the end leads only to sin and death. 

That’s why Jesus uses the Word of God against satan. It is true good against false good. And while the story of Jesus and His temptation is certainly an example for us in how to fight the lies and false goods of satan with the Word of God, even more than that and more important than that - and this is the third and most important truth for you to take away today - this story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness shows you Jesus fighting for you. And that’s more important because I could stand up here all day and tell you to fight against satan with the Word of God until I’m blue in the face and you know what? You’ll still sin. Satan will still get the better of you. You’ll still fall for and believe his lies and false goods, especially when he attacks you in your weaknesses and at the worst possible times. You know it’s true. Jesus as your example cannot save you.

But Jesus as the one who came to fight satan for you and win can. And does. We sang it earlier: But for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected. Ask ye who is this? Jesus Christ it is! (LSB #656 v. 2) And so right after Jesus stands with sinners in the Jordan and is baptized for us, He is led out into the wilderness to begin the battle - the battle that will culminate at the cross. And there satan’s “if you are the Son of God” will ring in His ears yet again, coming this time from the mockers, taunting Him to come down from the cross and show that He really is who He claimed to be. That would be good . . .  To show everyone that He is the Son of God . . . right?

No! Jesus didn’t come to just be the Son of God on earth, but to be your Saviour. That as Paul said in Romans, just as in Adam you have died, so in Christ you are made alive. And that’s good. And so Jesus does not come down from the cross, but joins Himself to you in your sin and death,that you be joined with Him in His resurrection and life. And so He is baptized for you and you are baptized into Him. He gets your death and you get His life. He gets your sin and you get His forgiveness. That just as by the one man’s (Adam’s) disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s (Jesus’) obedience the many will be made righteous. That the many have life. That you have life. That the many be sons of God. That you be a son of God.

That’s what’s happening in the wilderness that day - that good fight. That’s what’s happening on the cross - that good fight. And that’s what’s happening here, still today - that good fight. For in the wilderness of this world (as the Collect for the Day put it), satan is filling our ears and hearts and minds with his false goods, tempting us to believe him and not God. And again, if it were up to us, if we were on our own, that’s exactly what would happen. And we’d be lost. If it happened to Adam and Eve in Paradise and without the burden of original sin, you can be sure it would happen to you. 

But that’s why this account is so valuable and so important for you. Because it shows you that it’s not up to you and you’re not on your own. Jesus is here and fighting for you. And He is still today speaking true good. And everytime you hear the words “I baptize you,” everytime you hear the words “I forgive you,” everytime you hear the words “This is My Body, this is My Blood,” you hear Jesus still saying “Be gone, satan!” Be gone from this, My child. Be gone with your lies and false goods. Be gone with your sin and death. Here is My good. Here is true good: life and forgiveness and salvation. For you, My child. For you. And so Jesus’ victory is yours. As often as satan tempts you. As often as you fall. Here is the forgiveness you need. Here is the strength you need. Here is the victory you need.

And so this account of Jesus’ temptation is always read on the First Sunday in Lent - that we begin this season not by focusing on what we can do and our strength, but by fixing our eyes on Jesus (Gradual for Lent). And by fixing our eyes on Him, fight, yes! But even more, repent and rely on Him. For He is the founder and perfecter of our faith, who in true goodness will, as we prayed, lead us through the wilderness of this world to the glory of the world to come (Collect of the Day). When the angels who ministered to Jesus and who minister to us sons of God as well, we will join in praise and joy, no longer in the wilderness of this world, but in Paradise restored.

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