Monday, July 28, 2014

Pentecost 7 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Me? A Treasure? Yes You Are!”
Text: Matthew 13:44-52 (Romans 8:28-39)

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

Today we heard two of my favorite parables of Jesus. Parables that I do not think we can ever hear enough. Parables that teach how valuable you are, how much you are worth to your Saviour. That you are His treasure, you are His prized pearl, for whom He gave everything. 

We can never hear that enough, because if there’s one thing, one truth, satan does not want you to hear, it’s that one. If there’s one thing, one truth, satan does not want you to believe, it’s that’s one. 

And so he is fighting. Against you, against the church. To get you to disbelieve or doubt your Father’s love for you. And so, he says: A loving God? A God who treasures you? Really? Take a look around. The world is a mess. The Church is a mess. You are a mess. Look at what happened in the world just this past week. Look at the continuing divisions and scandals in the Church. Look at yourself! You’re no treasure! You’re a dirty, rotten sinner. 

And he’s right, you know. There is always a kernal of truth to satan’s lies, which is what makes them so effective. The world, the Church, and yes, you, are a mess. And satan’s working very hard to keep it all that way, sowing his weeds - as we heard last week - not only of hatred and division, but also of pride and glory, to keep us in sin, to keep us selfish, to keep us a mess. 

And then in addition, he says, you have to fix this mess you’ve created. He is not content with messing things up, he also wants us to keep chasing our tails to try to fix it. Because we’re not very good at that. The world that preaches tolerance as the way to peace just keeps getting more intolerant and unpeaceful. The Church that preaches compromise as the way to unity is just compromising itself into irrelevance. And ourselves? You know the answer to that. Like New Year’s resolutions, we might do good for a couple of weeks, and then we fall again. Pull one weed and another pops up in its place. 

And he even uses Jesus’ own parable against us. This parable, which Jesus meant to comfort us and reassure us, satan turns on its head and says: You are the man in the parable. Or at least you’re supposed to be. God and His kingdom are supposed to be this precious and valuable to you. And you say they are, Christian. But you don’t act like it. You are willing to give up everything, are you? I know better. I know your heart. You’d rather deny, you’d rather compromise, you’d rather keep quiet than lose your job, lose face, or lose your precious things. And I don’t even need to try very hard to get you to fall! You’re so weak and pathetic. A little name calling, a little pressure, and you crumble like a stale old cookie. So treasure? You’re no treasure! You’re an old, obsolete, broken down piece of junk that God is burying not in love, but in a landfill.

But here’s the thing satan: If you want to talk about burying and you want to talk about a landfill, well what about Jesus? You see, He was crucified on a garbage heap, yes, thrown out like the garbage by an ungrateful world, and then buried, dead, in the ground. That’s all true.

But satan: why was he there? Why was the Son of God there at all? Was it not because He loved us? Was it not because He was giving up everything for us? 

He came down from heaven and was incarnated as a man. He willing gave up His prerogatives as God, willingly not using His divine power to help Himself or save Himself. He left his throne in heaven and the unending song of the angels to be born in a stable. He became obedient to His parents, lived in this fallen creation, and He who feeds all knew hunger, He who provides rain for all thirsted, and He who is joy sorrowed. You tempted Him satan, but He didn’t fall for it, did He? He knew rejection, even in His hometown, even by His “framily" - His family and friends. And then He allowed Himself to be arrest and beaten and whipped and spit on and punched. His head was crowned with thorns and He experienced the utter rejection of the cross - yes, thrown out and buried like garbage.

And you call Him weak, satan. But isn’t that strength to do all that? And you call Him a failure, satan. For having such indignity done to Him. But why, then, is His grave empty? Why, then, is there still a Church - as imperfect as it may be? And why, satan, are you still fighting so hard if you’ve won? Where is your victory?  . . .  Unless you haven’t really won at all! Unless all you can do is mess things up and try to make us believe you won.

Yes! It’s true isn’t it, satan? We are God’s treasures. If we look at ourselves, as you want us to, we’ll never see that. But if we look at the cross, and all that Jesus gave for us, then that’s how much I’m worth! Then there’s what cleans up my mess. There’s my forgiveness, my life, my salvation, my food. There’s the answer. We confess it every week in the Creed, those words that mean that Jesus purchased and won us from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death (Small Catechism, explanation of the Second Article). Purchased! I belong to Him. And dear friends, so do you.

Because Jesus took that holy precious blood poured out on the cross and poured it over you in Holy Baptism, to cleanse you and make you His. 

And He takes that Body and Blood that hung on the cross and was buried in the grave but now risen from the dead and puts it into you, into your mouth, feeding you with Himself and His life and His victory.

And He takes the Word of His cross, that message of how valuable you are to Him and all that He gave to purchase you, and fills your ears with it. That you may know, and by the working of His Spirit, believe it.

Because it’s hard to believe it sometimes. When we’ve had a particularly bad week. When our own sins have erupted from us and the sins of others have crushed us. When we look in us and around us and see nothing but dirt.

But in the dirt is where Jesus is! When He came down to earth, He was born in a dirty stable, not an immaculate palace. He hung out with dirty sinners, not the high and mighty and those who thought themselves deserving. 

And so as He was hidden, so now He hides us in the ground, in the dirt. But don’t be dismayed by that. It is, as St. Paul said, good. First of all because once we get a taste of glory, we always want more. That’s the way of our sinful nature. Get a little, want a lot. So Jesus buries us, His treasures, under the sufferings and pains and trials of this world - not because He hates us, but because He loves us. To keep us with Him and relying on Him, and hungering and thirsting after Him and His glory, not the glory of this world and life.

And secondly, He hides us in the ground, in the dirt, that we may be a blessing to others in the dirt, those with us under the suffering and pains and trials of this world and life. That they not be alone. That they may see and hear the love of their Saviour from us - that they, too, are pearls of great price their Saviour is searching for.

He hides us in the ground for hiddenness is the way of it with God. In the end, on the Last Day, all will be revealed. The net will be hauled ashore and the fish separated - the righteous and the evil. Those in Christ and those who are not. But not until then. Now we live by faith and not sight. Now we live by His Word and promises. Now we receive Him hidden in water and words and bread and wine. Now we live in the dirt, but knowing that the resurrection to eternal life is coming. For He who was raised from the dirt and dust of death, is coming back to do the same for us. And then will be the kingdom, the power, and glory.

Yet not that even then you will see the treasure that you are. For then you won’t care about that. You will only see your Saviour and the treasure that He is. 

And so until then, we confess with St. Paul: No, in all these things - in all this dirty world and life - we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. From our Saviour who came into the dirt for us, to raise us to Him in His glory.

So it is as we sang just before the sermon: I am baptized into Christ (LSB #594). Into His death and resurrection. And so sin, satan, and death have all lost. And there is nothing worth comparing to this comfort sure. We don’t even have to fear the grave - we’re already buried, with Christ. Treasures, pearls of great price, resting and sleeping secure, awaiting the day of our raising. Children of paradise, being kept by our Saviour. 

That’s who you are. And if you are still doubting it, come and receive the Body and Blood of the One who says you are. Yes, you are worth it - every crumb, every drop, every splash, every Word. Yes, you are worth it, so He is here for you - His treasure, His child.

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

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Pentecost 6 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Why? Because God Is Merciful”
Text: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; Romans 8:18-27

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

Last week we heard the Parable of the Sower. How graciously, generously, abundantly, and constantly God is sowing the seed of His Word in this world, to build His Church, to produce good plants, believers, who yield a harvest of faith and love. This week we hear that Jesus isn’t the only one sowing seed. The devil is too. The seeds of sin and evil in God’s good world. 

And so there is evil in the world. No surprise there. You know it. It’s all around you. The news is full of it. And it seems that not a day goes by where you don’t shake your head at all that happens in our world that shouldn’t. And the question many are asking is: why? Why doesn’t God do something about it?

Well, there are two answers that are often given. One is that God doesn’t care enough to do anything about it. Or, God doesn’t care enough about you to do anything about it. Either He is detached and uninterested, or you are too sinful, too unworthy, for Him to intervene. So obviously, He is not a God you can count on when the going gets tough. 

Or, another answer often given - in derision against Christians - is that your God can’t do anything about it. He wants to, He cares for you, but look at all that is happening! If God could do something about it, don’t you think He would? So your God is not as strong as you think. He is weak.

And even Christians can fall into the trap of thinking these things. When things are going bad, when thing are going wrong in our lives, we sometimes wonder whether God really does care about me and what’s going on in my life; why He’s not doing anything about it. At least that I can see and feel. Or, we give the devil too much credit, thinking him more powerful than he really is and foiling God and His plans. That God is not strong enough to do anything about him. And that’s exactly the way the devil wants it, the temptations he plants in our minds. To think too highly of him and to think too lowly of God. 

But today, in this parable, God gives us His answer to the “why?” question. An answer that is quite different than those we often hear. And quite surprising. And it is this: God allows the evil to stay, He doesn’t pull all the weeds now, Jesus says, not because He is weak or uncaring, unable or uninterested, but because He is merciful. Which is also what we sang in the Introit this morning: But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

You see, we think like the servants of the master in the parable. We are the servants of the master in the parable. We want the weeds pulled now and the garden, the world, to be pristine and pure, like it was in the beginning, before sin. So, weeds? Pull ‘em out! Get rid of them. 

But there are a number of problems with that thinking. The first being the asumption that we actually know the difference between the good plants and the weeds. I know that around my house, in my gardens, some plants that I think are weeds are really good plants, and some I thought were good plants were really weeds. So by my judgment, what seems to me, I’d often be pulling the wrong plants. But God is merciful. No good plants will be pulled.

A second problem is when the weeds and plants are growing so closely together their roots and branches get intertwined. And as Jesus said, uprooting the weeds would uproot the good plants, or hurt them by breaking off good branches. So now think: who are the people in your life who are not believers, not sons of God - do you want them pulled right now? Family, friends, neighbors, people you count on for help, for protection, for what you need. If they were pulled right now, what would that mean for you? No, God is merciful. No good plants will be hurt.

Another problem is that while in the world weeds cannot become plants, the same is not true with God. You are an example of that. You were born a weed by nature, but are now a good, fruitful plant, grafted into Christ by baptism and forgiven for your weedy ways. So pull the weeds now? No, God is merciful. No weeds will be given up on too soon.

God is merciful. Not wanting any to perish. Which is why Jesus was there telling parables, and why He is here today. That by His Word, by His cross and atonement, by His forgiveness, by His Baptism and Absolution and Supper, He continue to graft weeds into Himself, making good what was evil, and producing a harvest of faith and love. And He is. You and I may not always understand how that is and how certain things that happen in our world are merciful, but we trust not in what we understand or know or feel, but in our God who is merciful. And who showed His great mercy in Christ and His cross. That He would come to be uprooted from this life, that He would die for us weedy sinners, that by His blood we might be good plants in His garden and sons in His kingdom. So if that was His plan from the beginning, and then what He accomplished in time, do you not think He is working that for you now?

There will be a time for harvest - not now, but at the close of the age. And we won’t be the reapers - that will be His angels. That day has not yet come because God is merciful, and patient (2 Peter 3:9). Not wanting any to perish. It is for us now to be who we are, good plants, sons of God, and grow where He has put us, trusting, and growing in faith toward God and love toward one another. 

Until that time, Paul says, be like creation and wait with eager longing for that day of harvest. When all will be revealed. Maybe the weeds and the evil one are causing you suffering right now, and maybe even your fellow believers who are acting weedy! And when we suffer, when things are going bad, it is easy to get self-absorbed and filled with self-pity. It is easy to focus so much on the here and now, and the problems and pain now, that we cannot see anything else. That we lose hope. And so life can become quite overwhelming.

So take a cue from creation, Paul says. Creation didn’t do anything wrong - it was man who sinned. But glorious creation was subjected to bondage and decay and death, and now waits for its Creator to set it free. To restore it, renew it, and recreate it. Perfect again, with no more death, no more weeds, no more evil. Creation is waiting with eager longing, he says - like a child up on tip-toes trying to catch a glimpse of the coming parade, or waiting for Christmas morning. The joy is coming, and it can’t come quickly enough.

And so too for us. We are subjected to bondage and decay, to suffering and death. Your own sins weighing you down, the sins of others erupting upon you, and the attacks of the evil one relentless in this weedy world.

But God is merciful! And so we are not hopeless now, just waiting for the end to come and end our suffering - what kind of life would that be? In that case, why not just end it now and get it over with?

God is merciful. So while all that creation can do is wait with eager longing for the end, our merciful God has brought the end to us already, here and now. For He is coming to us already here and now - we don’t have to wait for the end. He is coming to us in His Spirit, giving us the joy and beginning the renewal and re-creation of the end already here in the midst of the suffering, decay, and death. 

And so in Baptism the end comes to you as you get the end - death - over with, dying with Christ in His and rising grafted onto Christ in a new life. He is the Vine, you are the branches, in this garden, in this new life. 

And in the Lord’s Supper the end comes to you as you get a taste of the end, of what is coming, a foretaste of the feast to come - like a great cook giving you a taste of her delights before they are even served. But for you it’s even better, for you are not just getting a taste or a preview, but actually already joining in with those who have gone before us, who have been set free, joining in with them already now in the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which will have no end. 

And in the Absolution the end comes to you as not only is your weediness forgiven now but you hear the verdict that will be spoken upon you in the end, on the Last Day. All this so that there be no doubt, no question, no fear in your mind about that day, or about your Lord’s caring for you, but that you live now - even in the midst of suffering and trouble - not in resignation or despair, but with confidence and joy. 

And this breaking in of the end already in the here and now, is what we prayed about earlier in the Collect of the Day. We prayed there, if you remember: O God, so rule and govern our hearts and minds by Your Holy Spirit - Your Holy Spirit who comes to us and breaks into our here and now in Your Word and Sacraments - that, ever mindful of - the end - of Your final judgment - or in other words, help us to live not in fear of that day but mindful of the joy and freedom that is coming! - that we maybe stirred up to holiness of living here - holiness of living, not giving up - and dwell with You in perfect joy hereafter - perfect joy, for our joy here is not yet perfect. 

And know this too, Paul says, that the sufferings of this present time? They’re not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us

So do not lose hope in this weedy world, even when the weeds grow tall and plentifully and strong. They will not win. They cannot win. As was said last week: God will have His harvest. And that’s still true. For Christ is risen and your hope is secure. He has given you His Spirit to be with you now and help you as you wait. As God does His patient, merciful work - for you and for all.
In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pentecost 5 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“God Will Have His Harvest”
Text: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Isaiah 55:10-13

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

Ever have a really good week? Things at work or school went really well. You finished a project or aced a test. You didn’t fight with your family or lose your temper or kick the dog, maybe you were even helpful around the house. You did your devotions every day and prayed every day. Your pet sins? Resisted those temptations this week! And even a few more on top of that. And so overall, feelin’ pretty good! Doin’ pretty good. Makin’ progress.

So you come to church that Sunday, pretty proud, pretty optimistic. Confession of sins? Um, really can’t think of anything to confess! You just mouth the words. Been a good week. And Pastor’s preaching? Yup, I remember when I was like that, did those things. Lots still doin’ them, still need to hear that word. And the Sacrament? Finally feel like I’m worthy to receive it. And maybe this week I’ll do even better!

A man went out to sow some seed, but some fell on the path - the hard, self-righteous, self-centered, proud, unrepentant and unbelieving heart. It didn’t grow; it bounced right off. And the evil one is more than happy to come and snatch it away.

Or maybe that’s not you. Maybe you had a particularly bad week, but the service today was great! It really picked me up. Pastor finally picked my favorite hymns and the congregation sang them so well. The church was pretty full, I got to see my friends, the food after the service was tasty and the fellowship enjoyable. And that last hymn was a real toe-tapper! Good service, pastor!

But how come that feeling doesn’t last? Monday comes and its back to the grind. Tuesday means lunch with that friend who is always bad-mouthing Christianity and saying how backward and behind the times we are. Wednesday my boss tells me I’m going to have to start working Sundays or he’ll find someone else who will. Thursday I feel like crap because I missed my devotions all week and haven’t prayed. Friday the doctor said . . . 

A man went out to sow some seed, but some fell on rocky ground - and it sprang up with joy, but it was all emotion - it had no root. So when tribulation and persecution came, it withered away.

Well, that’s not me either, pastor. I wish life were that simple! My life - it’s one thing after another. I have too much to do at work (or school), I have too much to do at home. But I still don’t know if my job is secure or not, or if I’ll get into the school I want. My house is underwater, I don’t get enough sleep, and my investments are going to pot. My doctor said I need to quit worrying and exercise more and sleep more, but who has time for that? I thought that new big screen TV and DVR where I can record 12 shows at once would help me get my mind off of things, but all I can think about is how I’m going to pay for it and all the things I should be doing instead of watching it. Why does life have to be so complicated? Why I can’t have a little peace?  . . .  

A man went out to sow some seed, but some fell among thorns - and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choked it, and it bore no fruit.

Well, oh-for-three so far, Mr. Farmer-man. But at least there’s one more kind of soil, right? One more chance . . .

How is it with you? How is the Word with you? In your heart and mind and life? What it should be? Why not? What is keeping that seed, that Word that you here receive from taking root and growing and producing fruit throughout the week? And what’s a God to do so that His Word, so graciously and generously and abundantly sown, might find good soil and take root and grow and produce a harvest?

Well, how about plow? You see, good ground doesn’t just appear out of nowhere - it is the result of the farmer’s preparation and plow. For hard ground cannot loosen itself, rocks do not automatically clear themselves or jump out of the ground, and weeds will not go silently into that good night. Truth is, if it were up to us, there would be no plants, no growth, no fruit, no nothing. We’d be forever o-fer, as they say in baseball. Like Adam and Eve who swung and missed and turned a garden that produced nothing but fruit into a world of thorns and thistles and sin and death.

But the God who planted that Garden in the beginning, and now sows His seed so graciously and generously and abundantly, will not have that. So He plows. You. In mercy. Your pride and self-righteousness, your desire for good feelings, your false gods that cause so much care and anxiety, must be plowed under and buried. Six feet under. You must be buried six feet under. Dead. Dead to sin, that the seed of God’s Word then grow in you. 

The good news is that God has already done that for you. Your six feet under happened here, at the font, where the old, sinful you was crucified and buried with Christ, that a new, good soil you be also raised with Christ. To live a new life. But that’s not all, for when those weeds return, when that hardness returns, when those wrong desires return - as they always do - God continues to work, plowing you under with His Word of Law, and with trials and struggles and maybe even suffering, to root out of you and your heart and life all that gets in the way of His Word, that His Word grow in you. And produce a harvest, and abundant harvest, the fruits of faith and the good works of love in your life.

But now, God’s merciful spade or rototiller doesn’t feel so good. It doesn’t make you happy, or feel good about yourself, or give you anyone to blame but yourself. You won’t like it one bit when you come to the realization of how poor and miserable and wretched a sinner you really are. All the Word you got that bounced off, got eaten or choked or scorched over the years. You heard it, but what happened? Where the fruit? So, God be merciful to me, a sinner. We prayed it again this morning. And it is good so to confess.

And then to hear that He is. God is merciful. Forgiving your barrenness and continuing to plow, and continuing to sow His seed in you - graciously, generously, and abundantly. You don’t deserve it - what you deserve is for Him to have given up on your hard, weedy, thorn-infested heart a long time ago. But He doesn’t give up. Still He continues to work and sow. In you. For you. And He won’t give up. He will have His harvest.

That’s why Isaiah could write the words he did, that we heard today: 
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
    making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
    but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

When you hear those words, think first and foremost of the Word that went out from God and came into this world - the Word of God made flesh. He is the seed that the satanic foe tried to devour, the sinful thorns of men tried to choke, and the heat of persecution tried to whither. He is the seed that was planted in the ground after His death on the cross, and then rose, accomplishing all the Father sent Him to do. And now producing an abundant harvest. A Church. Because the seed that is now sown in you is the seed, the Word, packed full with Him.

Which is why it is attacked so! Any other seed, no way! This seed must continue to be attacked. So satan continues to plant his weeds, the world continues to tramp you down, but God continues His work, too. Plowing and planting, never ceasing. Baptizing, preaching, feeding, forgiving, that the Word, that He, grow in you, and produce a harvest. For your sin that caused the Word of God made flesh to die your divine death penalty on the cross for you, is now the sin that is forgiven by the Word of God spoken from the cross for you, and forgiven by the water and blood of the Word of God that poured from that cross - from Him, for you. 

And as you are the blessed recipient of those cross-won gifts, as you are washed, as you are fed, as you are absolved, you grow. In Him. For He grows in you. And you shall, as Isaiah said, not only produce fruit, but also go out in joy and be led forth in peace. The joy of the Lord, which doesn’t just come when things are going your way, but even when they’re not. And the peace of the Lord, which comes with His forgiveness and His promise of everlasting life. 

So be patient. We’re usually not so good at that in our world today, but seeds take time to grow. Don’t worry. God will have His harvest. Repent, receive, and trust that He is working. In you and in others. You may not see it now, but in the end, at the final harvest, all will be revealed. God will have His harvest, and will it be 30-, 60-, 100-fold in you? You just might be surprised . . .

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.

(Thanks to the Rev. William Cwirla and Chad Bird for some of the thoughts used in this sermon.)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Pentecost 4 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The God Who Comes For Sinners”
Text: Luke 15:1-10; Micah 7:18-20

Whenever I’ve seen a “lost and found” anywhere, there’s always something in it. And most of that stuff is there because either the person didn’t notice it was gone, didn’t care, or didn’t think it worth the effort to get it back.

It is not so with God. We heard tonight that He notices each and every one that is missing. Even one out of a hundred, so easy to overlook, He notices. 

And He cares. He is not content to still have nine coins out of ten, or ninety-nine sheep out of a hundred. No, He will search diligently, carefully, thoroughly, until He finds it.

And with what effort? He will search among the thorns and thickets, the rocks and caves, the heights and depths, for that sheep. He will move the furniture, sweep the corners, turn over everything in the house, to find that coin. And for you, even more. He is relentless, single-minded, focused, determined. There is no “give up” in your Saviour.

And worth the effort? Not only is it worth the effort, but He rejoices. And not only rejoices, but wants all of heaven and earth, all of creation to rejoice with him! Think Times Square on New Year’s Eve, only bigger. And this whenever a sinner repents. Whenever a sinner is forgiven. Whenever a sinner in found and saved. That’s the joy of the Lord over each and every one.

That’s the picture of Himself that Jesus gives us today. A picture that caused the prophet Micah to marvel: Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression?

But there is another picture here too. An opposite one. Of forgiveness not so gladly given or joyfully received. It is of the Pharisees and scribes who grumbled against Jesus, saying: This man receives sinners and eats with them. This was not how they thought it should be. Love so lavishly given and forgiveness so free.

It is a picture we are so often in. When we mutter an insincere “I forgive you” when someone hurts us. When we resent and doubt deathbed conversions. When we think some too far gone, too sinful, too evil for forgiveness. When we hold grudges and plot revenge, because we want people to pay for what they have done to us, and not let them off the hook too easy. Like the Pharisees and scribes, how often do we not want love so lavishly given or forgiveness so free . . . for them

But know when you think and act that way, there is also rejoicing taking place. But it too is as opposite as this picture. Or to paraphrase the words of Jesus: Just so, I tell you, there is more joy in hell and before the angels of satan over one sinner who refuses to forgive or to repent

So don’t give satan and his crew the satisfaction. Repent, and forgive. But more than just to spite them, do so because this is the love and forgiveness given you. Lost you. Wandering you. Sinful you. This is the love of Jesus who took your sins upon Himself and bore them on the cross, enduring the wrath and condemnation of God against them in your place. That you never know what that’s like. That you know only the lavish love and free forgiveness of your Saviour - free because He paid for it with His own blood. And that you rejoice in Him. 

For you are the one Jesus came for and is still coming for and searching for. You are the one worth it in His eyes. You are the one He will not give up on. You are the one He rejoices over. Rejoicing as He makes you His own in baptism. Rejoicing when you confess your sins and receive His absolution. Rejoicing when He feeds you with His Body and Blood. These are not obligations, but gifts, from Him, to you. These are Him lifting you up on His shoulders and keeping you in His care.

This man receives sinners and eats with them. The Pharisees and scribes meant that as an accusation and condemnation of Jesus. But it was in reality spot on theology, a perfect confession of Jesus and what He had come to do. That He is a God of compassion and mercy. A God who does not distance Himself from us but comes to be with us. A God who forgives, removing our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west. Removing them, instead of us, from His presence. That we may live with Him in His kingdom, rejoicing, forever. 

For yes, you’re worth it.

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

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Pentecost 4 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Peace and Rest You Need - in Christ”
Text: Matthew 11:25-30 (Romans 7:14-25a; Zechariah 9:9-12)

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

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

That’s sounds good. In fact, that’s sounding particularly good to me today, because I’m tired. Being away with our youth at the Higher Things conference in Gainesville, Florida was a great week, but it’s a long, tiring week. All the driving down and back, all the things going on there, teaching and preaching, and staying up past my usual early bedtime . . . yeah, I’m tired. I could use a little rest. 

So . . . I came here. To church. To rest.

Now, maybe you’re thinking: Wait a minute, Pastor. This isn’t rest for you. You have to teach and preach and do your Pastor things here, too. This isn’t rest - you’re working. I suppose it seems that way, and I guess I even think of it that way sometimes. But what about those words of Jesus? Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. This is where Jesus is, in His Word, in His Sacrament. So when I’m tired, here is where I need to be, don’t you think?

But we don’t think that way, do we? That’s why when you’re tired you’ve skipped church - whether it’s a Sunday after a long week, or a midweek service after a long day. Is it because we, perhaps, think of church as more work, as a duty, a responsibility, another thing I have to do? And you have so much of that already, the other five or six days of the week. So you need rest? Better stay home.

But it’s not that way at all. The devil has deceived us! Come to me, Jesus says, when you labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Here, then, is rest for you, from Him. The rest you really need. 

And it really is. And an example of that for me is Holy Week. A lot of folks think Holy Week is the toughest week of the year for pastors, with all the special services each day and all the extra sermons to write. And it’s busy, no doubt about it. But Holy Week is also a week that refreshes me like no other. I spend so much time in the Word and prayer that by the end of the week, I am revitalized and well rested. The very thing Jesus has promised to do.

It was that way in the Old Testament too. The day on which the people were to gather together for church was called - not by accident - the Sabbath day - the day to rest. But just doing nothing didn’t fulfill the meaning of the day. It was the day of rest when God served them and gave them what they needed. Six days they were to labor and the seventh day they were to rest . . . by going to church.

You see, we get it wrong when we think the rest that we need is just physical rest. The Pharisees and Sadducees kept getting that wrong too, accusing Jesus over and over again of breaking the Sabbath by working on it. Their version of work. But we shouldn’t be so quick to absolutely divide things physical from things spiritual. Though that’s drummed into our heads these days by the world, this division, this absolute separation of the physical and the spiritual. 

For example there is the well-worn drumbeat of the separation of church and state, and the mindset that the one must have absolutely nothing to do with the other. Or the thinking of many that spiritual things are only mystical things and have nothing to do with the physical - with things like liturgy, and Sacraments, and Absolution. Or that you have a body and you have a soul but they don’t really have anything to do with each other. Separation.

No. As a Christian you are 100% sinner and 100% saint. You we born 100% sinner and reborn from above in your Baptism 100% saint. But you are not one or the other. You are not 50-50, or even 51-49 on a good day. As long as you live in this world as a Baptized Christian you are both. Which means that you consist of both a sinful and rebellious body and mind, and a righteous and obedient body and mind. It’s not that you have a good mind in a bad body, so if you could just escape this body everything would be alright. That’s actually part of an ancient heresy called gnosticism. But you know that’s not true. It’s not that easy. Just think of all the impure and shameful thoughts and desires you have in your heart and mind. They’re sinful too.

So when St. Paul uses terms like “flesh” and “spirit” in the Epistle that we heard today, he doesn’t mean “body bad” and “spirit good” - he means the part of you you were born with and the part of you that was given to you. Your sinful human nature and your righteous new man. And, he says, they don’t get along. Like quarreling siblings or bad neighbors, they fight, each wanting what they want and trying to force the other in you to knuckle under. And it has worn him out, this battle taking place within him. Doesn’t he sound tired by the end of the reading? Tired when he says, finally: Who will deliver me from this body of death? And here’s the answer: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Thanks be to God - who gives us rest - through Jesus Christ our Lord.

One of the things that has always amazed me in the Bible are those stories of when, for example, Moses goes up on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights and, it says, “He neither ate bread nor drank water for forty day and forty nights” (Exodus 34:28). Or when the prophet Elijah eats a couple of cakes and drinks some water an angel brings him and with that he can travel 40 days and 40 nights to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:8). Or when the disciples one day urge Jesus to eat and He says to them: “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32).“Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)

Or how about the story of when some friends brought to Jesus a man who was paralyzed, and Jesus said to him: Son, your sins are forgiven (Mark 2:5).

Maybe there’s a connection then, between the physical and the spiritual, that we shouldn’t be so quick to divide and separate. 

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

What’s wearing you out? What struggle, what worry, what concern, what striving, what busyness, what burden? What keeps you up at night or distracts during the day? Are you just trying to do your best or is there more to it than that? Are you really trying to prove your worth, trying to fit in, trying to convince yourself and the world that you matter? What is it for you that is weighing heavy on your mind and wearing you out more than any exercise ever could? 

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

I’ll take a nap this afternoon, and if you know me you know I love naps! But the rest I need is here. The rest St. Paul needed is here. The rest you need is here. The rest that is found in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In Him who came for you and fought for you (Zechariah 9) and now to give you what you need: rest from the labor and burdens and worries of this world, whatever they are for you. 

Rest in the forgiveness of your sins - that you don’t have to make good for all your mistakes, they are forgiven in Jesus.

Rest in His resurrection from the dead - that you don’t have to worry about death because Jesus defeated that enemy for you and promised you everlasting life.

Rest in your Baptism - that you don’t have to prove yourself and earn your worth; that your value does not come just from what you can do and how much you achieve or how useful you are. You are a child of God. That makes you worth more than any of that other stuff ever could.

Rest in His Supper - that just as God fed Moses and Elijah, so He is feeding you, with Himself. Is this food for the body or food for the soul? Yes. Jesus doesn’t just feed part of you but all of you, just as He will raise all of you to everlasting life. 

And finally, rest in His blessing and peace - that’s what the angels announced at Jesus’ birth, what Jesus won for you in His death and resurrection, and what is here given to you. Did you ever notice those are the last words you hear here every week, the final words of the Benediction? “And give you peace.” And you say “Amen” - gift received.

Those were also the last words we heard at Higher Things on Friday afternoon. Those words capped off a week where the youth and I went to two Divine Services, three Matins, three Vespers, three Evening Prayers, and four plenary gatherings and six smaller breakout sessions to hear and learn of God and His Word and love for us. And though we left tired, we also left well rested and well fed. And we can’t wait to do it all again next year.

I pray that’s what you will realize the Dvine Service here is for you. Not work, not a burden, not an obligation, not something else you have to do in a world where you already have more than enough to do - but your oasis. In a world that takes more than it gives, in a body at war with itself, and with an enemy that’s constantly attacking and wearing you down, here - as we say in one of our prayers - is that peace which the world cannot give. Here is the forgiveness and life and strength and rest you need. Here is your Saviour - not to take from you but give to you.

So tired? Worn out? You’ve come to the right place. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

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

Higher Things 2014 Sermon: Crucified

Jesu Juva

“Feasting on the Lamb”
Text: Exodus 12:1-14

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Slaughter a lamb, a year old and without blemish. Smear it’s blood on the doorposts and lintel of the house. Then roast it and eat it. The blood of this lamb will protect you from death, and the flesh of this lamb with give you strength for the journey. For Egypt is not your home, nor your destiny. The Lord has a home for you, and the journey begins this night. So eat it in haste, looking forward not back, and in anticipation. See what your God is about to do. It is the Lord’s Passover. 

And this is a statute forever, God says. This feast, this memorial day. Every year you and your descendants shall keep it - but only, only on this night. And by it not only remember what your God has done, but become participants in it. Generations to come, even those not yet born, who weren’t even there, will say on this night: This is the night our Lord brought us up out of Egypt. It will be as if they were there. The work of God for them, too, in this feast. But miss it, fail to celebrate the Passover, think it only a relic from the past, an old Egyptian liturgy that’s not as much fun as the contemporary Canaanite liturgies, and you are cut off from God’s people (Numbers 9:13). No blood of the lamb, no eating the lamb . . . you bear your own guilt.

And then some 1500 years later, it happened again. A new lamb, new blood, a new Passover, and a new meal. This is My Body. This is My Blood, the Lamb of God says. Blood to protect you from death, and flesh to give you strength for the journey. For this world is not your home, nor your destiny. The Lord has a home for you, and is paving the way for you through His own death, His own roasting on the cross under the fire of divine condemnation for sin - your sin. Crucified! See what your God has done for you!

And with this new feast, the statute forever indeed continues anew. Only better. For not just one night a year, but as often as you do this, Jesus says. As often as you eat and drink in remembrance of Him, your Lord, your Passover lamb, no mere mental exercise is this - you too become participants in what your God has done . . . though you weren’t there, though you weren’t even born. No matter. This Body and Blood is a koinonia, a participation, in Christ, in Him crucified, in His Passover from death to life. And so here you receive life from His roasting; life from His cross; life in the forgiveness of your sins. Here you receive strength for the journey to your home, His home, the Father’s home.

So don’t get too comfortable, here in this world, in your Egypt. You’re not staying. If that makes you sad or uncomfortable, then you have gods that need executing too. Just as the Lord said on that first Passover: and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord - so for you too. What are they for you, those false gods you fear, love, and trust more than Him? That you don’t want to leave? Those sins whose liturgies we so often follow - of bitterness, of lust, of greed, of rebellion, and more. Repent. Their execution is a good thing. 

I am the Lord, your Saviour says. I deliver from death; they lead to it. I satisfy; they only leave you ashamed, yet wanting more. So don’t partake of their feasts. Take eat, take drink. This is My Body, This is My Blood. My feast. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your every sin. Every sin. For that, you see - forgiveness, you see - is your food and strength for this journey.

A better Passover, then, is yours. The Blood of Christ marking the door of your heart. The Body of Christ feeding you unto everlasting life. The old was a shadow, the new the fulfillment. And no longer in haste do you eat it, but in peace - for the battle is over, the victory won. By Him. For you.
In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.