Sunday, June 29, 2014

Saints Peter and Paul Sermon

[Service included the confirmation of Teresa Broaddus]

Jesu Juva

“Confession, Unity, and Fellowship”
Text: Matthew 16:13-19 (Acts 15:1-12; Galatians 2:1-10)

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

Jesus said to them, “Who do you say that I am?”

That’s the question. There are many questions you have to answer in this life: What will I do? Who will I marry? Where will I go to school? Where will I live? Just to name a few. But none more important than this one. For this is the only one that will make a difference both now and forever.

Who do you say that I am?

Like in Jesus’ day, in our day and age there are many answers to that question, some that think highly of Jesus and some that do not. But Peter gets it right. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. That sounds like such a simple response, maybe because we’re so used to it. But its simplicity betrays its depth of meaning. So we should take a moment to unpack Peter’s answer and appreciate again his confession, and ours - we who confess the same thing.

You are the Christ. You, Jesus of Nazareth. A true man, born of the virgin Mary. A true man, like every other man except without sin, who grew up in Nazareth and was obedient to His parents. 

You, Jesus of Nazareth, are the Christ. Or in Hebrew, the Messiah. The one whom God promised long ago. The seed of the woman promised to Adam and Eve who would bruise the serpent’s head. The son of Abraham who would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. The prophet greater than Moses, and the son of David who would sit on his throne forever. You, Jesus of Nazareth, are the one: planned from eternity, promised in time, and now here as the one anointed to save us.

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Yes, you are not only true man but also true God. God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, as we confess it in the Creed. You are more than a prophet - you are the one who sends and speaks through the prophets. You are more than a man - you are the creator of men. That is who you are. God incarnate in human flesh. That’s a meaty confession.

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!” Blessed, for whoever confesses this is blessed. Blessed to know God and His love. Blessed, for to know and believe this is to have a Saviour, the promise of God fulfilled. 

But notice, Peter gets this right not on his own, not because he is so smart and gets it all figured out, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, Jesus says, but my Father who is in heaven. The Father who sent His Son into the world to save it, also sends the Holy Spirit to point us to Jesus and work in us the faith to confess Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. This confession is not from us or from any man - for who could think this up or imagine this? It is of God and from God to you. 

Which is exactly what it means to confess: to speak back to God what He has spoken to us. He reveals Himself to us, and we say the same thing: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

And on this confession, Jesus says, I will build my church. It is His Church, not ours. Just as He reveals Himself so that we know and believe, so He builds His Church, not us. And because He does, not even the gates of hell shall prevail against it. Because the Church is built not by the work or sweat or ingenuity of men, which are no match for the powers of hell - but by the blood and forgiveness of Jesus. The blood and forgiveness of Jesus that opens the kingdom of heaven to all who believe. This is The Church’s One Foundation (LSB #644).

And so we heard of the building of the Church in the readings from Acts and Galatians. We heard of both Peter and Paul, who we commemorate together today. But it was not them but their united confession that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus through which the Holy Spirit worked to spread and build the Church. What Peter confessed to Jesus he continued to confess to both Jews and Gentiles, peasants and kings. Paul too, until their lives were taken from them by those who rejected this confession, this truth. 

But their loss did not stamp out the Church. For as those today who oppose the Church are discovering, death and threats of death cannot destroy the Church. Or as the 2nd-century Church Father Tertullian wrote: "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” The Church created not in defiance and strength, but by the water and blood that flowed from the side of the crucified Jesus. She is His new creation - you are His new creation - by water and the Word, and fed by His Body and Blood. 

This is the faith that Teresa will confess in just a few moments. It is not her faith, as if she came up with it - it is the faith, revealed to her and believed and confessed by her. Just as for Peter and Paul and each of us. Who do you say that I am? You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And with this confession Teresa will also make this bold and weighty claim as well, as you did: that she is ready to join Peter and Paul in shedding her blood rather than recant this confession. 

Perhaps it is easy to make such a confession when the danger of death is not imminent for us as it is for other Christians around the world. But we say this not because we are so confident in our own ability and strength - we who, like Peter, so often fail and so quickly fold; and we under much smaller and lesser reasons than death. For often do we remain silent when we should speak simply because we are afraid of ridicule? How often are we afraid to be known as a Christian simply because it is uncool? How often do the people and things of this world dictate what we do rather than our faith, hope, and love of God? 

But this bold claim still we make - not because we are confident in ourselves, but because we are confident of Christ’s victory over death, confident of Christ’s forgiveness, confident in Christ’s promises. We will fail as all human flesh fails, but, we confess, Christ will not. Or as Luther famously penned, “And take they our life, good, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won, the kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB #656 v.4). So they can kill us if they want. Baptized into Christ, we’ve already gotten death over with, dying and rising with Him who laid down His life for us. And so, we confess, our life is now safe, hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3).

St. Paul knew it too. That’s why he would say: For me to live is Christ, to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). That’s a pretty good summary of life under the cross. Peter and Paul struggled against a lot of things; you struggle. Being a Christian means having a bulls eye on your back, that satan and the world love to shoot at. And the sinful nature you are born with is no friend either. But to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God is to believe that your life is built on a cornerstone that cannot be moved, and that to die is gain, not loss. That while you live there is forgiveness, and when you die there is life. In Him. In Christ. The only one who can provide these gifts for you. For He is the one who died for your sin and rose for your life.

And thus built on this confession, we are built together; we are united. One Church, one body, here. Nothing else could do that. In Peter and Paul’s day that union was the miraculous union of Jews and Gentiles, and even of Peter and Paul themselves, fisherman and Pharisee - and some of us here today are as different as that. For really, what do we all have in common? We are from all parts of the country and even the globe, and now from Stafford in the south to Purcellville in the west to Cockeysville in the north to DC in the east. We are young and old, with different tastes and styles, different education and jobs, different political views, families and singles - I even root for Philadelphia teams! And yet here we are, united. One. For we have something that transcends all that, all worldly differences, and unites us as one. This confession: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. That confession, embodied in our liturgy, makes us one. 

And so as we heard in the Epistle from Galatians, when this unity, this oneness, was recognized in the early church, James and John and Peter gave the right hand of fellowship - or of koinonia, of communion - to Barnabas and Paul. They were one in all things. Today, it is Teresa. United in our confession she will unite with us at the Table also. One Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph 4:5). One confession, one Body, one Supper. And the prayer of Jesus, to make us one (John 17:11), is answered again. 

So perhaps today we should say: Blessed are you, Teresa Bar-Bearchell,* for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but [your] Father who is in heaven. And remember that we have been similarly blessed. And if our vows are demanded of us, if our lives are demanded of us, know that will be a blessing too. For whether we are martyrs, die of old age, or Jesus comes again first, the promise is the same: that we like saints before us, will see [our Saviour] face to face (LSB #644, v. 5). For yes, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And to confess this makes all the difference in the world.

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

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

* - For you grammar sticklers, yes, I know that “Bar-“ is grammatically incorrect in this context. However, I wanted to maintain the aural connection with the Gospel reading rather than be grammatically correct. Forgive me!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Pentecost 2 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Worth It? Worth It!”
Text: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Matthew 10:5a, 21-33; Romans 6:12-23

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

Ever feel like just throwing up your hands and giving up?

It’s too hard. It’s taking too long. It’s too much trouble. They’re too ungrateful, too stubborn, too rebellious. It’s not worth it. He’s too stuck in his ways. She’ll never change. I’m done. No more. That’s it.

That’s the lament we heard from Jeremiah this morning. God sent him as a prophet to Judah, but they aren’t listening. He warns them of God’s coming judgment and destruction and calls them to repent before it is too late, but all they do is mock him. And they’re after him too. Trying to deceive him and waiting for him to fall so they can overcome him and take revenge on him for his words. For how dare he call us to repentance! How dare he call us wrong! How dare he warn us, God’s chosen people! 

So Jeremiah’s done. Or he wants to be, at least. It’s not worth it. They’re not worth it. This prophet gig is not all it’s cracked up to be . . .

I’m sure the disciples had days like that too. Jesus tells them in the Holy Gospel we heard today that, basically, what happened to Jeremiah is going to happen to them. They will be hated, they will be persecuted, they will be called demons, because they are speaking and doing God’s Word. For sin doesn’t like to be uncovered or corrected. It wants to be left alone and hidden and reign in the darkness. So expose it, poke it, or speak to it, and you will feel its wrath. 

So I imagine the disciples had their Jeremiah moments. This is the thanks we get for giving up everything? For walking away from our businesses and jobs and families and homes and going out and trying to help these people? Fine! Done. You couldn’t blame them if they thought: This disciple gig isn’t what we thought it would be . . .

You ever feel that way? As a parent, a child, a spouse, a friend, as a Christian in an ever-increasingly un-Christian and anti-Christian world? This gig’s not what I thought it would be; not how I thought it was going to turn out . . .  Or maybe you’ve been on the other side of that and been the one causing someone else to throw up their hands in despair and just want to give up, because of your sin, your stubbornness, your pride.

Well . . . not maybe, right? We have. If not to others in the world, then certainly we’ve acted this way toward God. Not only by continuing to sin, but continuing to sin and thinking nothing of it. That’s why Paul asked the Roman Christians in his letter to them: Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? Let me tell you: we do this all the time. What Paul is describing here is the attitude, so common, that I can sin because I know Jesus will forgive me! Or, I love to sin and Jesus loves to forgive - what a system! So, I know I shouldn’t do this, I know I shouldn’t say this, but I really want to, so . . . what the heck! God will forgive me!

Paul calls that being a slave to sin. The world calls it freedom - being able to do whatever you want and follow your lusts and urges, whatever they may be. And that must be good because freedom is good, right? But the world gets it wrong. That’s not freedom when you are controlled by your lusts and urges, temper and pride, your despair and moods. That’s not freedom when something else controls you - that’s slavery, masking itself as freedom and deceiving you into thinking this is a good thing. That you continue in its grip and control and not see the danger. And to which Paul then adds: What good was that doing? What were you getting out of doing those things that lead only to death? Perhaps we would answer: a moment of pleasure, a little satisfaction. But is it worth it?

So given the long history of the rebellion and stubbornness of God’s people, beginning with Adam and Eve down to you and me today, you could hardly blame God if He threw His hands up and gave up on us. That’s the way you want to be? Fine. I’m done.

But He didn’t. He didn’t leave us to our slavery to sin. Instead He threw up His hands onto the cross. His cross proclaiming: You are worth it! But not so we can go on sinning and continue to be slaves and sin as much as we want -only now not have anything to worry about! But to set us free from that slavery, for something better. That we not continue down the road of bitterness and division that leads to death and hell, but walk on the road of faith and love that leads to eternal life. 

And so Jesus - the One who really was free - becomes the slave in our place. Though born as we are, He was not born in slavery to sin as we are, but freely put Himself there for you. A perfect life lived and a sacrificial death died, to set you free from sin. To slay that which enslaves us, that sin not reign in our bodies; that sin not control us; that we do not just what our bodily urges tell us to do, but freely resist such sin and keep instead the Word of God. Walk in the way of righteousness. Even describing ourselves - as Paul did - as slaves of righteousness - or slaves of the right, not of sin; slaves of good, not of evil; slaves of God unto holiness and eternal life.

Now you may at this point be thinking: slavery is slavery and I don’t want to be a slave to anyone or anything. I want to be free. But can you see? Your desire to be free, to be your own master, is itself a form a slavery and idolatry? For it is not really a question of either being free or being a slave. That’s really a false distinction or understanding. In the world that might be true, but in spiritual matters it’s not. For spiritually, the question is not whether or not you will have a master, but who is your master? Is it sin or is it God? Is it the taskmaster leading you to death, or the Saviour leading you to life?

Holy Baptism is where you are given a new master. Holy Baptism is where this divine re-yoking takes place. The words we heard from St. Paul today are from his famous baptism chapter, and so we need to hear them in that light. And so what he says here happens in baptism. When you are baptized, Jesus throws off the yoke of sin that we are not strong enough to throw off, and re-yokes us to Himself. To Him whose yoke is easy and His burden light (Matt 11:30). A much better master, indeed. A Good Shepherd, who forgives our sin, binds our wounds, and feeds us with Himself - His Body and Blood. And who does not give up, even leaving the 99 to go in search of that one who rebelled and wandered (Matt 18:12). Not willing that any - not a single one - should perish.

Which is why he sent Jeremiah to Judah, why He sent the disciples out, and why He is still calling and sending pastors and missionaries today. To call you and all people to repent - to confess that I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most, that I have lived as a slave to sin, that I have followed my own urges and desires - to repent and receive His unburdening forgiveness and life. For as Paul so clearly put it: the wages of sin - the wages of living as your own master, the wages of your so-called freedom - is death, but the free gift of God - to those who are yoked to Him, who are baptized into Him - is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So live in Christ, O baptized ones! That’s who you are. And those people we are tempted to throw up our hands about and give up on . . . well, maybe not so fast. Maybe your Lord is sending you to speak a good word, to give His freeing forgiveness and loving care. Maybe to someone no one else will. 

And if that’s hard and even a bit frightening - for who knows what will happen, right? If your head will get bit off, you’ll be taken advantage of, you’ll be mocked and ridiculed and maybe even persecuted - well, remember these words of our Lord too: have no fear of them. Do not be afraid. I see every sparrow that falls to the ground and you’re worth more than them. I know exactly how many hairs are on your head - you don’t even know that. And while this world can kill you, no one can take your life. That’s mine. I got you. You’re my baptized child. And they can’t change that. 

And though there are many things hidden in this world and life, things that we cannot see and do not know, it will one day be made known, Jesus says. In the end, all will be revealed. So while we may not know why things are happening the way things are, and maybe they even seem to be turning out for the worse and that evil is winning, it is not so. The cross looked that way too, but it was in reality the greatest good. For on the cross Jesus was, to use the words of Jeremiah, with us as a dread warrior. Fighting this world’s prince in a fight to the finish, and then rising triumphant.

So fear not, child of God. His triumph is for you. His triumph is your triumph. Things in this life may not be easy, but with Jesus, they are good and working good, for you. He promised.

So Jeremiah, though starting in lament and despair, can end in joy, saying: Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For the victory is his even now, even in the midst of troubles, by faith. You too. For He who bought you at the price of His own blood, is even now confessing you before the Father in heaven. That even while the trials and troubles still rage, even while the burdens are heavy and sin seems so strong, even though you cannot see the victory now, it is yours. In Christ. And if it is in Christ, then it is beyond the reach of sin, satan, death, and hell. And so it is safe - you are safe - in Him. To sing to the Lord and praise the Lord with Jeremiah, with the disciples, and with all who have gone before us. For He who has delivered the life of Jesus from the hand of evildoers, delivers you too.

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

Monday, June 16, 2014

Holy Trinity Sermon

Jesu Juva

“As It Was in the Beginning, Is Now, and Will Be Forever”
Text: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; Matthew 28:16-20

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

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. God the Father, God the Son or God the Word, and God the Spirit, created. The Holy Trinity - three divine persons but only one God, created. All active in bringing forth from nothing, ex nihilo, all that is.

But in the beginning, the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. Without form and void, or tohu wabohu, is how the Hebrew goes. Tohu wabohu - without form and void, wild and wooly, null and void, chaos, without order. And dark. 

But then into this darkness and chaos, God brings light and life. Not by letting this tohu wabohu and darkness gradually evolve over millions of years into a well-ordered universe, but by speaking. Or preaching, perhaps we could say. God preaches order and order happens, according to His good and gracious will, according to His careful and purposeful plan. No accidents here, but gift. The gift of creation from God to you.

And it was good. After God is done with it, no more tohu wabohu and darkness. God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. Pefect. All in total harmony with each other and with God. Exactly as planned. The planets and stars and universes, the land and the water, the plants and birds and fish, the creatures of every kind, and finally man. Good.

But as you look around in our world today, in your life today, do you see good? Or do you see tohu wabohu and darkness? 

Oh it’s not one or the other is it? There is still good in our world today, because of the mercy of God. But also much that is not good, because of our sin. I don’t need to go through the usual litany of all the problems in our world today - the tragedies and terror, the hatred and division - you know it well. And the news casts are happy to remind us and report it to us every night. 

But since it’s Father’s Day weekend, let’s just pick on that as an example. The tohu wabohu in our families, where fathers fail to care and children fail to honor, serve and obey, love and cherish. The tohu wabohu of men fathering children but then not being fathers to them. The tohu wabohu of abuse and abandonment. The tohu wabohu of rebellion and grudges and thanklessness for the gift of family God has given us. 

For in the beginning, God created that too - family. He didn’t just create a million human beings all at the same time to populate the earth, though He could have. Easily. Just as easily as He created everything else. Instead, He created families. In the beginning a man and a woman, to have children, to be fruitful and multiply, to love and care and teach in the image of God.

But how far, far away that sometimes seems these days. How far, far away God sometimes seems these days. And how much tohu wabohu and darkness.

For that’s what sin is: tohu wabohu and darkness. Not that God created sin in the beginning. To borrow a phrase from St. Paul: By no means! But the sin that has infected us and our world, and satan, the author of it, seeks to disorder God’s good order and tohu wabohu creation again. Plunge us into darkness again. That we not ascend with God in faith, but descend into division, despair, and death, and finally into the tohu wabohu and darkness that is the unordered chaos of hell.

And perhaps there was no greater darkness and disorder than when creation killed its Creator. When man, created to love, instead in hatred silenced the Word of God made flesh in death. Tohu wabohu.

But just as in the beginning God brought light and life out of the tohu wabohu and darkness, so here too. For this Jesus, Peter preached as we heard in Acts, the Creator who was crucified and killed, was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. Or in other words, no accidents here either! Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, descended into the depths of our darkness and tohu wabohu to bring light into the darkness and order out of the chaos again. A re-creation. A new creation. To dethrone the tohu wabohu and darkness that has falsely claimed the rule of this world and the rule of our lives, and make these enemies of God His footstool.

And that was accomplished, Peter says, because Jesus rose from the dead. Of that we are all witnesses, he says. Eye witnesses. Legal testimony of this great reversal. That in Jesus, sin and death and grave are toppled, the trending tohu wabohu is stopped, and light shines in the darkness. Which is to say, in Jesus, everything is good again. 

So, Peter says, let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. Know for certain - no doubt or question - that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is the true God who has accomplished such a great salvation. He is the LORD, the bearer of the divine name, and the Christ, the Saviour of the world.

And now . . . now this tohu wabohu-ordering, darkness-enlightening, death-defeating, sin-forgiving, grave-popping Saviour says: this is for you. Go and make disciples of all nations. Or: go and give my good to all the world. You - go into the tohu wabohu and order it, go into the darkness and enlighten it. By baptizing, by preaching, by teaching, by forgiving. All that I have done, you give. And I am with you always. You won’t be alone. I am with you always, to the end of the age.

You know those words of Matthew by their common name, the Great Commission. And most of the time they’re preached as what you now, as a Christian, have to do. And I’ll get to that . . . kind of. But realize and remember this first: that first this is for you; that before you do the Great Commission, the Great Commission did you. Jesus has come to you in your tohu wabohu and stopped it. For you are baptized. You are a child of God. You are forgiven. You are raised to a new and re-created life in Christ. You have been given the Spirit. You! You who have not only an earthly father but a heavenly Father. You who are sons of God in the Son of God. You who have not the spirit of this world but the Spirit of God. You who have this triune God with you always. That the tohu wabohu and darkness of this world and life not drag you down to hell, but instead you be raised to the throne of God in Jesus.

That’s for you. All God’s doing, just as in the beginning when God made all things out of nothing, ex nihilo. So He has given you this new life out of nothing in you. All His gift. All for you.

And now you do it too, this Great Commission. (I told you I’d get to that!) And it’s really very simple. Too often I think we think of this as such a really BIG thing, with programs and organization and manuals, and so it becomes just a “church thing.” And it is - baptizing and preaching and teaching and evangelism and all that! But it’s not just that. It’s little too. Personal. And while again I could go through the usual litany of all the places, all the vocations, all the stations in life where you bring Christ and His forgiveness in little ways and by so doing order the tohu wabohu and enlighten the darkness, let’s just pick on Father’s Day as an example again.

I’ll start with the kids . . . and when I say kids I don’t just mean under the age of eighteen. I’m still a son, even though I haven’t seen eighteen in the rear view mirror for quite some time! Kids, forgive you parents when they mess up, ‘cause they do, a lot! And obey them, even if you think what they said is stupid! Maybe it was. But don’t add to the tohu wabohu, don’t make the darkness deeper. Bring Jesus and His light and forgiveness into your family and to your parents. 

And Dads, parents, forgive you kids when they mess up, ‘cause they do, a lot! And teach them, even if it’s, like, for the thousandth time! Sometimes it takes us that many times, too. Bring them to be baptized, like little Grace this morning, and celebrate their baptismal birthday every year, and help them to remember it every day. When they were made a child of their heavenly Father. And give them the Word. Pray with them. Pray for them. Shine the light of Christ into your family, that He (as the old prayer says) order our days and our deeds in His peace. Order our tohu wabohu and give us peace.

And then eat together. I don’t mean at home - though that’s good and important. Eat together here, the Body and Blood of your Saviour. I don’t get to do it very often, but to stand side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, with your kids, with your parents, with all your brothers and sisters in Christ here in this place, and receive the forgiveness, life, and salvation of Jesus here, together . . . there’s nothing better than that. Together in Christ. Together against the darkness. Together in the midst of this world’s tohu wabohu. And leaving restored, renewed, and refreshed in Christ, and taking Christ back out into the chaos and darkness, into your families and wherever you go, that He continue to break it in His order and peace. What a blessing you are then to them, and they to you. What a gift, from God to you.

And so that little phrase we sing so often in the liturgy is true. We sang it again this morning in the Introit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. In the beginning God created and brought order and light into the tohu wabohu and darkness. Is now for God is still bringing order and light into the tohu wabohu and darkness of sin and death through His Word and Sacraments, His mercy and forgiveness; through His Church, through you. And will be forever when our Lord comes again in glory to take us to that place where tohu wabohu and darkness will never be again, where all is good and right and light again, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, where God, your God - the Father most holy, merciful and tender, the Son our Saviour, with the Father reigning, and the Holy Spirit of comfort, advocate, defender (LSB #504 v.1), lives and reigns, one God, now and forever.

Let us give glory to him because he has shown this mercy to us.

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

Thursday, June 12, 2014

St. Barnabas Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Joy of Receiving”
Text: Mark 6:7-13; Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3

I don’t know about you, but whenever I travel, I always take something along. If it’s a long drive, I take at least a bottle of water and something to snack on. If I’m going to be staying overnight, it’s a bag with a change of clothes, sleeping clothes, and a toothbrush. And no matter how long or short the trip is, always either cash or a credit card. Don’t leave home without it American Express used to always remind us.

So for the Lord’s disciples . . . this must have been quite an unnerving moment for them. Take nothing, Jesus says. No food, no drink, no bag, no money, don’t even wear extra clothes. Just go. Don’t be concerned with those things; be concerned only with the Gospel. Go and give. Give what I have given you to give: the Gospel. Give the Gospel in word - calling people to repentance and giving them forgiveness. And give the Gospel in deed - giving freedom to those oppressed by demons and healing to the sick. And they did, Mark reports.

Now, going out to do these things was probably difficult enough. Ever try to knock on doors or talk to others about Jesus? Then you know how hard it can be, and what those twelve must have been going through. But to go with nothing? Are you serious Jesus?

But we find out later that they had everything they needed. Right before He is arrested, Jesus asks them: “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing” (Luke 22:35). And so not only was the faith of those who received the Gospel strengthened, so was the faith of the twelve. That God would provide.

But I think more was going on here as well. For as important as it was for the disciples to receive, just as important was it for those who received the Gospel to give. For God to provide through them. To give the twelve the food, the drink, the clothing, the shelter they needed. To respond to the generosity of the Lord with a generosity of their own. And so be as blessed in their giving as the disciples were in their receiving. 

And so Jesus sends the disciples out with nothing, forcing them to receive. For if they had taken all the supplies they needed, it would have been easy to turn down the generosity of those they served, and so rob them of the opportunity to give. No, that’s okay, we have everything we need right here. Not receiving can be just as much a spiritual disease as the greed of not giving, and a trap easy to fall into. To not only be self-sufficient but to want to be self-sufficient. To not want to need or depend on anyone else. To be pridefully strong and independent. Which is a pride that can even dangerously extend into our relationship with God, where even in things spiritual we want to rely on ourselves and what we can get and do, rather than having to rely on Him and what He gives and has done. 

That can manifest itself in a number of ways. Maybe we are hesitant to ask for prayers. Maybe we are reluctant to receive the gifts of others. Maybe we can’t even remember the last time we asked for help. And maybe some are so used to going it on their own that they don’t even come to church anymore. If so, maybe the Lord will see fit to take some things away from us and humble us or cause some other need to force us to receive too. That others may give.

For the essence of faith is receiving and giving. Receiving from God and giving to others. The believers in Antioch that we heard of in the reading from Acts are an example of that. Having received the Gospel from the believers that came to them from Jerusalem, when they heard of the famine that was to happen, they couldn’t wait to give, sending relief back in the hands of Barnabas and Saul. And then later they sent Barnabas and Saul out again, this time as missionaries. That just as others had been a blessing to them, so now they were a blessing to others. Receiving and giving. A fellowship, a sharing, of riches both spiritual and physical.

For we were not created to be independent or self-sufficient. That is not the way of God but of satan. As God is a Trinity, so we created in His image were created to be in community with others. And especially in relationship with God. And when sin broke that fellowship, God the Father gave. He gave His only-begotten Son, that we be restored as sons and daughters of Godand receive from Him the forgiveness and life we need. And so instead of independent and self-sufficient, a Christian is marked by humble repentance and receiving - receiving the Word and gifts of God. Both from God and from those God has given us.

And then giving. Barnabas is known for his generous giving in support of the Church. But he gave not only from his wealth, but also of his time, his effort, his strength, and ultimately his life. And many were blessed through him. But as Barnabas would tell you, you cannot out-give God. As generous as he was, Barnabas had received far more, and is enjoying even now the gift of everlasting life.

And so it is with you. No matter how young or old you are, no matter how rich or poor, in your Baptism you have received adoption as sons and daughters of God, the gifts of faith and forgiveness and His Spirit and His kingdom. There is nothing greater you could ever receive. So rejoice in what you have been given, and rejoice in giving. And when you are given to, humbly receive and give thanks, knowing that the one giving is being blessed as much as you. It is the way of our Lord.

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

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Easter 7 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Chosen and Kept in Christ”
Text: Acts 1:12-26; 1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

Alleluia! Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

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

I wonder if Joseph [called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus] was relieved when that lot with Matthias’ name came out of the jar! Did you ever think about that? Whenever I’ve read this story before - about choosing the man who would replace Judas - I’ve always just taken it for granted that Joseph and Matthias wanted to be apostles; that they were both vying for this position - like politicians do in elections today. But maybe it wasn’t that way at all. Maybe they were reluctant. Maybe they were filled with fear. Maybe they were both secretly hoping the other guy’s name would come out. But someone had to do it. The Lord would have His twelve.

And I wonder why they cast lots to pick between them? Yes, maybe that was the common practice of the day and just the way they did things back then, but maybe there was more to it than that. Maybe after they whittled the list down to two - Joseph and Matthias - maybe at that point they were split, like we often are: the eleven split six for one and five for the other, or maybe the larger group of disciples split 60-60. And so to decide, they cast lots. Lord . . . show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place. And the lot fell to Matthias who (tradition tells us) was eventually rewarded and thanked for his service of preaching the Gospel by being stoned and then beheaded.

Now I bring up that alternative way of thinking about that story because it was not only Matthias that was chosen to fill an office - you are too. All of you have offices, or callings, or places in life where God has chosen you to serve, and there are offices, callings, and places where God has not chosen you to serve. Sometimes you are a Matthias, and sometimes you are a Joseph. And maybe sometimes you want those callings you don’t have and maybe sometimes you don’t want the ones you do have and maybe sometimes it changes - at times you are happy with them and at other times it is just tough and you really wish the lot would have fallen to someone else. But it is you the Lord has chosen. And His choice is always the right choice.

But that’s sometimes, frankly, hard to believe. It’s easy to believe when things are going well. It’s hard to believe when - like Matthias - the stones start flying because of where God put you and the calling He chose you for. 

But don’t be surprised at that, Peter says in the Epistle we heard today. Don’t be surprised when fiery trials come upon you from a sinful and hell bent world. Don’t be surprised when the devil is prowling around you like a roaring lion, sizing you up as his next tasty morsel. Don’t be surprised that in all your offices and callings and places in life - as a parent or a child or both; a care giver or a care receiver (and yes, that’s a calling too); as a worker or student; married or single; healthy or sick; rich or poor; lots of friends or few friends; old or young; confirmand or member of the executive board - don’t be surprised if there is cross and suffering. If it happened to the Shepherd, it’ll happen to the sheep.

And when it does, do this (to paraphrase and interpret Peter here): If it comes because of your sin, repent and stop doing that. If it comes because of the sins of others, forgive and keep forgiving. And if it comes because of the name of Christ, rejoice, and know that you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Now, to be honest, that’s quite a different way of thinking than we’re used to. We’re used to thinking that the Spirit of glory and of God resting upon us should mean that bad things don’t happen, that life would be easy, and that I would always be happy and content. And that’s what we want it to mean, isn’t it? And there is a glory like that - the eternal glory in Christ, the glory of the Son in the Father before the world existed. And that glory is coming. But it is not yet. That glory will come, Peter says, after you have suffered a little while, when the God of all grace . . . will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

But in the mean time, as we wait for our Lord to come again in that glory and take us to that glory - in the mean time, the Spirit of glory and of God still rests upon you. His Spirit given to you through water and the Word in Holy Baptism. But now, in this “in between” time, this time between Jesus’ ascension and His coming again, now this glory is a different kind of glory. It is the glory of which Jesus prayed when He said: Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.

That’s a different kind of glory because the hour Jesus is speaking of there is the hour of His crucifixion. Jesus prayed those words, those words from the Holy Gospel today, in the Garden of Gethsemane. Earlier He had prayed: Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me (Luke 22:42). Remove this cup of suffering, of wrath, of forsakenness. Jesus knew what awaited Him at the cross, that it wasn’t going to be easy. But to give this cup was His Father’s will, and so Jesus, the always and ever obedient Son, will take it and drink it down to its dregs. And so not my will, but yours, be done, Jesus says. And then after an angel comes and strengthens Him, His prayer changes to the words we heard today: OK. Let’s do this. Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you. 

Or in other words: the hour has come for Jesus to fulfill His office as the sin offering offered to God for the sin of the world. So bury me, He says. Bury me under the sin of the world on the cross. Bury me under all the wrath the sin of the world deserves. Bury me in death in the tomb. And then fulfill Your Word in resurrection. The hour has come; glorify the Son that the Son may glorify you

Now that doesn’t sound very glorious, but it is. For this is the glory of the Father: to send His Son to be the offering for your sin, that you might not die but live. And this is the glory of the Son: He comes not to be served, but to serve, and to lay down His life as a ransom for you (Matthew 20:28). And with this God is glorified, for the cross shows us what kind of God we have. A giving God, a loving God, a serving God. A God who would rather die for you than live without you. A God who creates, redeems, and sanctifies. A God of atonement and forgiveness. 

And so the cup of wrath and condemnation Jesus would drink for you, in your place, in order to give you another cup, a different cup: the cup of blessing; the cup of the New Testament in His blood, that gives forgiveness for your sins, life to conquer death, and salvation instead of condemnation. Take and drink this - His blood - He says, and live. Take and eat this - His body - He says, for the strength you need in this world. Strength to live in the offices and callings and places I will put you. Strength to repent and to forgive and to lay down your lives for others, and so glorify God in your lives. So Jesus prays for you, that you may do so. 

And He prays more: Father, keep them in your name. He doesn’t pray keep them in your power or in your might, but in your name. It’s the name we start every service with, the name we end every service with, the name put upon you when you were baptized: the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That name makes all the difference in the world, for it marks you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. It marks you as a child of God. It marks you as one who has received the gift of the Holy Spirit to keep you in the faith, to keep you safe from the evil one, and to keep you one with Him and in Him, no matter what this world and life brings.

Because Jesus knows it isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for Him and it’s not going to be easy for you. He’s going to put you in some tough offices and callings and places in life, just like Matthias. Not to hurt you or harm you, but to bless others through you, and to bless you through them. And that happened to the other guy, too - the guy who lost the apostle lottery - Joseph. Though he was not chosen to be numbered with the twelve, or even with the seven deacons, tradition says that he too was killed for the faith. We don’t know much about him after this, but he had his callings too and lived his Easter faith. A faith that gives a life that even death cannot take away. A faith that lives in the confidence of the empty tomb. A faith that knows that the glory of heaven is promised and coming, but that until then, there is no greater glory, no greater love, than to lay down your life for another.

That’s what Jesus did for you. And while you may not think you’re worth it, He does. He’d do it again, in fact! But He doesn’t have to. What He does instead is give you the victory and life that He won for you over and over again. That as often as you fall, as often as you doubt, as often as you waver and regret and question . . . that your every sin be wiped away with His “I forgive you.” That your every doubt be answered with His “I love you.” That your every weakness be bolstered by His strength. That your every question by quieted by His cross. That your death be overcome by His resurrection. That your life be joyful and eternal. 

For that’s what Easter is all about. The season that this week is coming to an end, but the reality and truth that never ends, that is yours everyday, to every day remember and relive your Baptism, and die and rise with Him to a new life. Whether you are a Matthias or a Joseph. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

For Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!]

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

The Ascension of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Enthroned in Power For You”
Text: Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23

Alleluia! Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed Alleluia!] Alleluia!

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

Jesus ascends into heaven and is enthroned at the right hand of God. The place that was His from eternity as the very Son of God, He now returns to as God made man, as the crucified and risen one, the work of salvation accomplished. He doesn’t leave His body behind as if He was done with it. No, Jesus ascends as God and man, so that just as He came to take man’s place on the cross, so now He gives to man His place on the throne. And with this, the story we have heard again all this church year comes to its climax.

The One promised from of old, after the very first sin, is now enthroned on high.
The One who came in the fullness of time, is now enthroned on high.
The One who was laid in a manger, is now enthroned on high.
The One circumcised on the eighth day, is now enthroned on high.
The One who fled to Egypt, is now enthroned on high.
The One who obeyed His parents, is now enthroned on high.
The One baptized by John, is now enthroned on high.

The One who laid His hands on lepers, is now enthroned on high.
The One who healed the sick, is now enthroned on high.
The One who gave sight to the blind, is now enthroned on high.
The One who gave hearing to the deaf, is now enthroned on high.
The One who forgave sinners, is now enthroned on high.
The One who welcomed and ate with the outcast, is now enthroned on high.
The One who embraced the lonely, is now enthroned on high.
The One who cast out demons, is now enthroned on high.

The One who changed water into wine, is now enthroned on high.
The One who fed the five thousand, is now enthroned on high.
The One who walked on water, is now enthroned on high.
The One who provided miraculous catches of fish, is now enthroned on high.
The One who prayed for you, is now enthroned on high.

The One who was betrayed, is now enthroned on high.
The One who was arrested and unjustly tried, is now enthroned on high.
The One who was spit upon, hit, and whipped, is now enthroned on high.
The One who was denied by his own, is now enthroned on high.
The One who carried His cross, is now enthroned on high.
The One who was stripped naked and fastened to the cross, is now enthroned on high.
The One mocked and reviled on the cross, is now enthroned on high.
The One forsaken on the cross, is now enthroned on high.
The One who forgave from the cross, is now enthroned on high.
The One who bowed His head and died, is now enthroned on high.
The One laid in a borrowed tomb, is now enthroned on high.

The One the grave could not hold, is now enthroned on high.
The One who entered through locked doors to give His disciples peace, is now enthroned on high.
The One who walked the road to Emmaus, is now enthroned on high.
The One who fulfilled all the Scriptures, is now enthroned on high.
The One who preached good news to the poor, is now enthroned on high.

And this is good news for us poor miserable sinners, for it means that the work of salvation accomplished by Jesus in His death and resurrection He is now ordering and ruling and governing from the right hand of God. From that place of honor and glory and power. He does not ascend because He is done; He ascends to continue His work for you. And for all. That He might bring all people through death to resurrection and to the Father.

That is why Luke wrote that in his first book he dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up. Did you notice that? All that Jesus did in His life and death and resurrection was only the beginning. Now, Luke says, his second book, the book of Acts, will be a description of the work of Jesus ongoing, after His ascension. Only now He will work through His Church; now through the power of the Holy Spirit He will send to His Church. But He will not stop. Jesus will not stop preaching and calling and healing and forgiving. He will just no longer do this while walking on the earth. Now He will do it from the right hand of God, enthroned on high.

The disciples understood this. There was a great many things they did not understand, but this they understood. That’s why Luke tells us that after Jesus ascended they returned to Jerusalem with great joy! They were not sad their friend had left - they were filled with joy that He was now enthroned and would be with them and working for them in a new way. A better way. For Jesus would now not only be present in Jerusalem or Palestine, Galilee or Samaria, but everyplace His Word is preached and His forgiveness given. Every font, every pulpit, every altar, every bedside, every nursing home, every hospital, every dining room or kitchen table, every school and workplace -everyplace His Word is preached and His forgiveness given, there is the power of God, there is Jesus and His Spirit and the right hand of God touching and healing and giving life. Just as truly as when He walked this earth and did all those things, so He is doing them now, for you, until He comes again in glory.

That’s why Paul prayed for the Ephesians that they too would know this; that they would know the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe. We need that prayer, too, because it is so easy to forget, so easy to doubt, so easy to disbelieve. Because it so often seems that it is the opponents of Jesus and His truth that have the greatness of power. Those who seek overthrow the Church, those who are seeking to undermine the truth, those who say that good is evil and evil is good,those who deny God and His Word . . . they are the ones who seem to be winning! Just look at our world! It doesn’t seem that the Church has much power at all. Just words and things called sacraments and sinners who so often fail in our lives, in our confession, and in our prayers.

If that sounds like you and how you sometimes think and feel, then the ascension of Jesus is especially for you! Repent and rejoice with the disciples that Jesus is enthroned for you. It’s true! He is enthroned for you who fail, you who fall short, you who are weak and powerless, to be your strength and hope and confidence and forgiveness. For at the right hand of God, there is nothing greater than He or stronger than He. Though we may not always be able to see it, He is enthroned and using this power for you. 

Yes, the One who is enthroned on high is forgiving your sins.
The One who is enthroned on high is protecting you from the evil one.
The One who is enthroned on high is disciplining you to strengthen and keep you.
The One who is enthroned on high is sending His angels to watch over you.
The One who is enthroned on high is ruling all things for His Church.
The One who is enthroned on high is feeding you and washing you.
The One who is enthroned on high is building His Church, even through persecution and hardship.
The One who is enthroned on high is answering your prayers.
The One who is enthroned on high is comforting the troubled and worried and doubtful. 
The One who is enthroned on high is loving you with a love greater than you could ever imagine.

And the love that brought Him here to die, will bring Him again to raise you to life, and to take you to be with Him and with the Father forever. And so He ascends, that you will too. He ascends, that the sins and troubles that here weigh you down in heart and mind be lifted by His forgiveness and grace. He ascends that we also may ascend even now - in heart and mind, confident of His promises and work, until that day when we too will ascend with Him bodily, to that life that has no end.

So today really is a day of great celebration. A day to rejoice and be glad. For God has ascended with shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets (Psalm 47). Yes, Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!]

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