Sunday, September 28, 2014

St. Michael and All Angels Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Satan’s Name Out; Yours In”
Text: Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3; Revelation 12:7-12;
Luke 10:17-20

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

It is strange to think of war in heaven. For heaven is the place of God, the place of perfection and goodness and peace. But war there was, when satan and those with him rebelled against God. But this was not a war fought by God - not yet, at least. This war, we heard today, was fought by Michael and his angels at the command of God. They defeated the great dragon, the ancient serpent, called the devil and satan, cast him and his angels out of heaven and down to the earth. There was no longer any place for them in heaven. For no evil can be in the place of all goodness. No rebellion in the place of all peace. 

We would like to know more about this strange war, what exactly happened, what it was all about. Many have speculated about it, some saying that satan’s rebellion was his pride in wanting to be God and dethrone Him. The creature rebelling against his Creator. We rebellious creatures know something about that. Others think that satan was appalled at the thought of the incarnation, at the thought of God becoming man to save men, and so loathed and despised God and His love. We know something about that too, when we get angry at God or even hate God for the goodness and blessings He gives to others and not to us; when He seems quick to help others and slow to help us; others maybe we consider unworthy of such grace. From our perspective, anyhow, these seem like possibilities for what started this rebellion and war.

But we are not told exactly what happened. Like with the question: If God knows everything and therefore knew this rebellion would take place, whey did He create these angels in the first place? these are not things given us to know; these are answers not provided. It is simply for us to know that these things - however strange they may be - took place. 

And to know this too: that these evil, rebellious angels who lost the war in heaven, are now here, and they are full of wrath. They have not love, for love is of God. They are full of wrath - still against God, but now also against you. You who belong to God, his enemy. You, whose names are written in the book; whose names are written in heaven. Satan’s name has been removed from that heavenly guest book. He no longer has a place there nor can get in. But not so you. Your name is written there, by the hand of God himself. By the hand of your Saviour, once attached to the cross. His hand that baptized you into His Name, into His family, and gave you of His Spirit. You have a place in heaven, a mansion prepared for you (John 14:2-3). You will receive a royal welcome. And for that, satan hates you. More than you know or could imagine. And so he is still fighting - fighting the war against God by fighting against you. Trying to take you captive. Trying to remove you too from that heavenly guest book. 

Do not underestimate him. Like any good commander, he fights against you on multiple fronts - some you can see and some you cannot; some you know and some you know not. Not only with force but also with deception will he strike, and you might even find yourself agreeing with him from time to time. Though if you knew it was him, you surely wouldn’t, right? But when you think God illogical, when you think God’s not really doing things right, when you think this sin or that won’t hurt you and really doesn’t matter, when you rebel against your parents and other authorities, when you find yourself disagreeing with God’s Word, when those feelings of pride over and against others rise up in you, when God or belief in God seems unreasonable compared to the words and wisdom you hear all around you at work or in school or on the television - is that not to agree with the enemy? You’re on the battlefield, my friends. On the front lines.

But you are not alone. The angels that fought against satan and his army in heaven are fighting against him still, at God’s command. Now here and fighting for you. Though you may not see them or know how, they are here. The Scriptures give us many glimpses of them and their wonderful activity. For example, rescuing Lot and his family from Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19). Filling the hills around Elisha and Israel, a larger force than the Syrians who had come to attack them (2 Kings 6). The ministered to Jesus after His temptation in the wilderness (Matt 4:11), and in His agony in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43). They also announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds (Luke 2) and His resurrection to the women (Matthew 28; John 20:12), just to name a few. They are never at rest and always at the ready (Matt 18:10), for satan will not rest, and your Father in heaven knows you need them.

We would like to know more about this too, though, this ongoing war raging unseen all around us. And so many become fascinated with the angels, wanting to see them and speak to them and find out things that are beyond our realm of knowledge and sight. But will the angels appear to us today and speak to us today? We are not told that they will and satan is more than happy to step in here and deceive us in this way, too. Like a double agent, pretending to be good and for us, while working all the while against us, luring us and earning our trust. It is dangerous to dabble in the unknown while you’re on the battlefield. Things are known to blow up in your face.

Perhaps this is why Jesus tempers the enthusiasm of His disciples when they return from their mission as we heard in the Holy Gospel today. You can’t blame them for being excited! They had been sent out on the battlefield as lambs in the midst of wolves (Luke 10:3). A very frightening thing indeed! But the wolf did not win, for they had a weapon that caused even the demons to be subject to them in [Jesus’] name - the Word of God. 

But it is not good to be overconfident on the battlefield. And so Jesus says to them, Yes, I was watching satan fall like lightning from heaven. The victory of God over satan and his army, begun by Michael and his angels in heaven, is continuing on earth. And Jesus had given them a great authority. But then, He says, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Like the disciples, maybe we too rejoice in the wrong things. Earthly possessions and popularity and power, and rejoicing in these perhaps fall into their sinful clutches. But here is the joy that is ours now and will be forever: that your name is written in heaven

I mentioned that earlier, that satan’s name is no longer written where yours now is, and that by your baptism. To rejoice in this is to rejoice in the fact that while God did not fight in that initial fray when satan was tossed from heaven - that was Michael and his angels - God did come and enter the fight, at just the right time, in that manger in Bethlehem. And from the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross, to do more than conquer satan - for just throwing satan out of heaven does not get us in. That would take the blood of God, poured out for us for the forgiveness of our sins. For as always, no evil can be in the place of all goodness; no rebellion in the place of all peace. And so Jesus came to take all of our evil and rebellion and uncleanness upon Himself, to wash us clean, and give us His place in heaven.

Rejoice in that, Jesus says. And we do everytime we repent, knowing the promise of His forgiveness and life. It’s never pleasant to repent and acknowledge our sin, but it is joyful, knowing that by this satan is being cast down and out by the Word of forgiveness. Here, the Lamb is conquering the dragon.

And we do so as we come to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus in His Supper. Here is our battlefield MRE - Meal Ready to Eat - as Jesus provides the food that will feed and sustain us with His forgiveness and life. The Lamb of God that we eat; the Lamb that conquered the dragon, and still does.

And in these ways we are fighting - not in our strength, but in His. For our strength is as nothing against the dragon, but His strength overcomes sin, death, grave, satan, and hell. His strength overcomes the enemies visible and invisible, within and without, both now and forever. And so we join with that crowd in heaven, who as we heard, conquered by the blood of the Lamb and His Word. For these are the weapons the dragon cannot withstand. His kryptonite, if you will.

And is that not a reason to rejoice? Which is another one of those things satan does not do, for just as love, joy too is of God. Satan is too full of hate and rage to rejoice, ever. 

But you rejoice! For you are of God. And what joy is ours. For the angels are fighting for us and our Lord has fought for us and we have His gifts that forgive our sins and He Himself has written our names in heaven. Which means that no matter what comes upon us in this world and life, no matter how the dragon rages and attacks, no matter how weak and unable we may seem, even when death and the grave appear on your doorstep - you and your future are safe in Christ. The fiery grave (LSB #521 v. 6) is not your destination, but the halls of heaven; the goodness, peace, and perfection created for you, and you redeemed for them. 

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

Sunday, September 21, 2014

St. Matthew Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Amazing and Outrageous Mercy”
Text: Matthew 9:9-13 (Ephesians 4:7-16; Ezekiel 2:8 - 3:11)

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

It’s a good thing Matthew was not an NFL football player. If he had been, it seems he wouldn’t have had any chance of being an apostle or evangelist. We don’t like the IRS, the tax collectors, in our day and age either, but what is happening with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, those football players in the news so much recently, seems to be taking things to a whole new level. Some sins, it seems, are forgiveable; but what these men did is not. The hue and cry that is going up wants not only to banish them from football, but it seems, from humanity. And anyone who does not join in with the chorus of outrage and no punishment is punishment enough for what they did, is just as bad as they are. They too must be gotten rid of so we can purify our society of people like this. Self-righteous indignation is running amok. 

Now certainly, what Ray Rice did in punching his fiance in that elevator is wrong. What Adrian Peterson did in disciplining his son seems, from the reports that have come out, too much. And when laws are broken, there is calling to account and punishment. That is right and what the authorities are for. But the public outcry and the bandwagon of blame and condemnation is now so crowded it makes the Metro at rush hour seem spacious! There is no room for mercy or forgiveness - we simply cannot have these men anymore in football, in public, or in our midst.

Now imagine if Jesus had come up to one of them, as He did to Matthew that day, and said “Follow me.” I want you to be My disciple, and then apostle and even one of My four evangelists. Imagine the outcry then!

Well that’s why the Pharisees were so outraged and indignant at Jesus. They were the good guys, not Matthew. They weren’t the ones turning on their own people and collecting taxes for the occupying power in Rome. They were the ones going to church every Sunday and trying their best and teaching others to be good and upright . . . but Jesus keeps hanging out not with them, but with the wrong crowd! “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Or, to modernize that a little: Why does He eat with wife beaters, child abusers, prostitutes, pornographers, murderers, abortionists, and all the people we know - we KNOW! - are really bad sinners and this planet would be better off without. Those people that should be disqualified from the human race.

Ever thought that? Played the Pharisee? Sure you have. The “there are sinners and then there are the really bad sinners” game. And we know what side you’re on, right? But what if a secret video came out later today for all the world to see, showing all those things you’ve done, you’ve thought, you’ve desired, you’ve spoken. Opening your heart, your closet, for all the world to see. The words that hurt more than any fist could. The murderous anger and bitterness and hatred you use like a club, not just a switch. The impurity of your thoughts and deeds. The forgiveness you are so quick to desire and so reluctant to give. The vile impulses you condemn in others but that keep living on in your heart. So while we’re disqualifying people from the human race . . .

And yet Jesus is here today, with us, still eating with tax collectors and sinners. He’s seen your video, from first to last, beginning to end, every last second of it. But He didn’t shun you - your physician is here for you. Your Saviour is here, to have mercy. To call sinners like you and me not to a righteousness you better start doing and achieving for yourself, and here’s how - but to His righteousness, done by Him and given to you. To forgive your sin and raise you to a new life. 

For Jesus knew what the Pharisees didn’t - that He hung out with tax collectors and sinners because on this earth, there is no one else to hang out with! The Pharisees didn’t think they were, and so didn’t go to the doctor. And even more than that, didn’t even want to be in the waiting room filled with icky sick people.

But just as God sent prophets like Ezekiel to call people to repentance, to preach to them of their terminal sickness, so He always does, giving (as St. Paul said) apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. And calling to fill these offices not “the good people” but folks who know something about the need for mercy and forgiveness, because they’re sinners too. People like Paul and Matthew. To say: There’s healing here, for you. There’s mercy here; forgiveness. For you. Hear it in your ears, feel it on your head, eat it and drink it. The Great Physician knows what you need to live, and He’s here giving it.

Maybe the mental picture you have in your head of this is like those doctors who go to Africa to help those people stricken with Ebola, but then wind up catching the disease themselves. But that’s not what happened to Jesus. Jesus did much more than that, for it was no acident. He came and said: I will switch places with you. I will be the sick one and you the healthy one. I will be the outcast and you be the son. I will be the they rage against and you be the good one. I will be the condemned and you be set free. 

And that’s what happened on the cross. He was gotten rid of, banished, disqualified from the human race. And not just by man, but by God. Yes, for as Isaiah put it in those words we hear every Good Friday: He was despised and rejected by men, yes, but also, Isaiah continues: we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. [For] he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. For the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:3-6). Or as Luther would put it, and I am paraphrasing: Jesus became Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson and Matthew and Paul and the Pharisees and you and every other vile and outrageous sinner on the cross, to die for your life, to be banished for your acceptance, to be shamed to cover your shame. Or, maybe we should say today, erase your video. 

Which is pretty amazing mercy. Which is not to minimize the seriousness of sin or to excuse sinners - no woman or child should be abused. But in the same way no spouse should be left, no child murdered in the womb, no friend betrayed, no journalists beheaded, no refugees forced from their homes, or no any other heinous sin we see in our world today and which should be outraged against just as much, not just a select few sins that are in vogue to rail against. No, sin is sin in all its ugliness and seriousness. But knowing that exalts even more our Saviour, whose outrageous mercy, we are seeing again, is not of this world, but a mercy that has come into this world and is for you. 

And that mercy uttered those two little words that completely changed Matthew’s world that day: Follow me. Matthew saw some pretty amazing things after that, and then was given the gift of being an apostle - one of the twelve specially authorized and sent out to proclaim Jesus’ death and resurrection to all sinners great and small; and then of being an evangelist - one of the four to write a Gospel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, a word of mercy still sounding around the world today; a word still read in churches and homes everywhere. Matthew the tax collector, went from recording and keeping records of taxes owed and paid to writing of sins forgiven and remitted and off the books. 

What a gift that was for Matthew, for he surely didn’t deserve it. A gift so precious that he would later not fear giving up his life for it, killed, it is said, on this day by the sword. For Matthew knew that though the world kill him, they could not take his life. That was safe in Christ. Forever. 

And so it is for you. Called to follow Christ. Called to live His mercy and forgiveness, for yourself and for others - those Rays and Adrians in your life, maybe who have even hurt you. And called to repent for when you don’t. Given the amazing gift of being a child of God - a gift completely and utterly undeserved.

And you know, it is not too hard to imagine the world turning against us - for the crime of being Christians - in the not too distant future (if it’s not happening already), for our preaching against those sins the world loves and preaching forgiveness for those it hates - the world considering us either unloving and intolerant and bigoted or too loving, too tolerant, or too forgiving, and who must, therefore, be purged from this earth and disqualified from the human race. Making us the next Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson. If so, Matthew - who knew a bit about that himself - has a word for you: Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the [apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers] who were before you (Matthew 5:11-12)

For like Matthew, they can shun you, they can persecute you, they can mock you, they can kill you . . . but they cannot take your life. That is safe in Christ. Forever. And baptized into Christ, absolved by Christ, and fed by and with Christ, His words to Matthew are now His promise to you: you will follow Him, through death to life everlasting, and take your seat with those tax collectors and sinners of every shape and size and kind, healed and forgiven, at His feast which has no end. For those are the people with Christ. On earth and in heaven. Not those who have no need of a physician, but those who are sick, infected by sin, and who need - and have - a Saviour. Like you. A Saviour with amazing and outrageous mercy. 

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Holy Cross Day Sermon

Jesu Juva

“More Than a Relic”
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 12:20-33 (Numbers 21:4-9)

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

Holy Cross Day is one of the oldest special commemorations we have in the Church, reaching all the way back to the 4th century. It was established by the Emperor Constantine to commemorate the day his mother Helena found - it is said - the cross of Jesus in Jerusalem. 

Now, did Helena really find the cross of Jesus? Was this an authentic discovery? Or is it just wishful thinking or an outright hoax? You’ll find people on both sides of that argument. Luther railed against relics like this, which had multiplied in his day, reportedly saying that there are so many who claim to have a piece of Jesus’ true cross that if you put them all together you could build an ark! (Or something like that.)

But I didn’t answer the question. Did Helena really find the true cross of Jesus? Are there pieces of that cross floating around out there? Well, here’s the answer: It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because as St. Paul told us today: Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified. We preach not having the cross - something only for a select few - but what happened on the cross - something for all people. That the very Son of God came down from heaven, was incarnate as a man, and died with your sin, your death, your condemnation. And after atoning for your sin and dying your death as the perfect Lamb of God, He rose from the dead, defeating sin, satan, death, hell, grave, and all enemies that would separate us from God. And so we sing, as we did right before the sermon, of the ending of the fray,  and how Christ, the world’s redeemer, as a victim won the day (LSB #454, v. 1).

So in truth, it doesn’t matter whether we have that actual cross or not, for we have Christ! We have the fruits of that cross, the benefits of that cross - what came from that cross and was given to us from that cross - signified by the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side while on the cross (John 19:34). The water of baptism which joins us to Jesus’ death and resurrection and makes it ours. The body and blood of the Lord’s Supper which feeds us with the real Passover Lamb and gives us the forgiveness and strength we need in our journey through this world and life to our Promised Land. The cross is where that took place, but here, in these things, these means, is where it is given, where it is heard, where it is applied, where it is for you. And that’s better. A piece of the cross cannot save, but the forgiveness won there does. And that’s what we need.

But still . . . wouldn’t it be cool? You know . . . to have the true cross. Maybe with a little bit of Jesus’ blood on it. We could have a traveling exhibition, like they do with the dredged up artifacts of the Titanic, or the uncovered treasures from King Tut’s tomb. Wouldn’t it be cool . . . show people it’s real, not just a story. The Greeks wanted to see Jesus, as we heard in the Gospel - let’s show the world His cross! And some other stuff, too! Then they’d believe, right?

But it’s not just them, is it? It’s us. Baptism, Absolution, Preaching, Supper . . . it all seems so ordinary, so plain, so unimpressive, so weak. We’d like to have signs, to disprove our doubts. If not relics, cool artifacts, or undeniable proof, then maybe healing or success. And a little wisdom too please. Maybe something philosophical or scientific, but something deeper and more convincing and more impressive sounding to the world than just a condemned criminal, a bloody and dead man on a cross. Something to make it all more relevant, more stimulating, more credible. 

Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom. So do we. Which are you? A Jew or a Greek? A sign-demanding guy or a wisdom-seeking gal? Paul said it over 20 centuries ago and it’s still true today. Just some preaching, a little splash of water and a morsel of bread and wine? That’s it? We stumble over the cross, too. Over having just a dying, gory, bloody, yucky, Jesus. 

What an ungrateful wretch you are! No, we are. All that Jesus has done for us on the cross and we want more? That’s not good enough? We’re not satisfied with that? Embarrassed? If so, wretches is too mild a word for us, who want not a crucified God who laid down His life for us, but an impressive God who will make us equally as impressive in the eyes of the world.

No. And as we heard: the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. A crucified God is not only what we have, it is what we need. 

For as Jesus told those Greeks who wanted to see Him: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Jesus knew that death is the only way to life. And that He is the seed that must be dead and buried in order to grow the Church and make Christians, including those Greeks who wanted to see Him. They may have been seeking some impressive words or philosophy or sign from Jesus, but He instead would give them what they needed - seeing Him on the cross.

And then Jesus goes on: For whoever loves his life loses it. Or in other words, whoever seeks for life in this world and the things that we men like and come up with, our signs and wisdom and philosophy, loses it. Loses the very thing you were searching for. Because it’s not in those things. But whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Hate there doesn’t mean an emotion, but a turning away from and a turning to - to a life greater than this, more than this. Not of man.

And where is such a life that is eternal? If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. And where Jesus was going when He spoke those words was the holy cross. If we want to see Him, He wants us to follow Him to the cross and know Him there. And if we want to be with Him, it must be through where He is - His death and resurrection. There simply is no other way. Just as bitten-by-serpents-Old Testament Israel had to look to the foolishness of a bronze serpent on the pole for life, so we bitten-by-satan-New Testament Israel must look to the foolishness of a dying man on a cross for life.

For the life we yearn for. For that life that death cannot end. For a life where we can mock the grave. For life when our life seems to be falling apart. For life when our sins make life seem hopeless and when the sins of others make life miserable. For life when you don’t think you can go on. For life when deadly sin seems so attractive and alluring. For life when you feel completely alone. For life wherever and however you find yourself right now. 

Yes, the world says that’s foolishness, to find hope in such a weak and wretched man. But when that weak and wretched man is more than just a man, but the very Son of God, then it’s the foolishness of God which, as St. Paul said, is wiser and stronger than men. It is the wisdom and strength that gets us out of the mess our wisdom and weakness keeps getting us into, time and time again. The wisdom and strength of life-restoring forgiveness. 

But you may have one more question floating around in your mind: that if we don’t really know whether Helena actually found the true cross of Christ, and we don’t do relics anyway, why celebrate this day? Well, perhaps we could say, to gospelize it. So that not Helena, but you, find the true cross of Christ. The true cross in the proclamation of forgiveness for you. The true cross in the adoption of baptism for you. The true cross in the Body and Blood for you. For here is where the true cross is, for you. Not in a piece of wood, but in the preaching of Christ crucified and the giving of His gifts, to you

And with such gifts, we sinful wretches are wretches no more, but forgiven and raised sons and daughters of God. And with such gifts, not just one day when we get that piece of wood out and marvel at it - but every day is then Holy Cross Day. That is, Jesus-for-me-day.

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Pentecost 13 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“It’s His Forgiveness to Give, Not Yours to Withhold”
Text: Matthew 18:21-35; Genesis 50:15-21

Joseph nailed it. He got it exactly right. 100%. A-plus. 

His brothers were worried that now that their father Jacob was dead, Joseph would get his revenge on them. His revenge for their hating him and wanting to kill him. His revenge for their selling him into slavery. He had already forgiven them . . . or so he said. Maybe he was just biding his time. Waiting. That’s what they had done, after all - waited for a good time to get rid of him. So they sent a message to him: Dad said to forgive us.

But Joseph doesn’t listen to them. He doesn’t forgive because “Dad said so” - he forgives because of their other father, their heavenly one. And so he says to his brothers: Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?

And with that, right there, joseph hits the nail on the head. That, right there, is the problem with not forgiving those who sin against us: we are putting ourselves in the place of God. When we do not forgive, we are saying that I get to decide who gets forgiven and who does not. And what criteria do you then use? If they’re really sorry? If they haven’t sinned against you too many times? If they’re worthy? And you aren’t consistent - choosing to forgive some more than others; judging some more harshly than others. We all do it though, don’t we?

But turn the tables and apply the criteria you use for others to yourself. How pure, how sincere, is your repentance? Do you not sin too many times? Are you worthy? And you quickly see the problem. We like to play God, our sinful natures pull us to put ourselves in the place of God, yet we are the ones who do not deserve forgiveness; we are the ones whose debt is much, much larger than those we don’t want to forgive. And yet you would decide? Who gets your forgiveness and who doesn’t?

No you don’t! That’s putting yourself in the place of God. And that’s faith-destroying idolatry. 

For here’s the truth: you don’t get to decide who gets forgiveness and who doesn’t. Jesus decided that, and He decided it on the cross. And you know what He decided there? Everyone is forgiven. On the cross He was loaded with all the sin of all people of all time, from the sin of Adam and Eve, to the sin of those who put him on the cross, to your sin and mine, to the sins of those who haven’t even been born yet. For time isn’t a problem for God. All the guilt of all the world, heaped on Jesus on the cross. None excluded. That all be atoned for; all forgiven. He did it, once and for all.

And so now you’re going to withhold the forgiveness He won of the cross from someone? Someone who really needs it? Really?

You hear how ridiculous that sounds, and how ridiculous Peter’s question to Jesus then sounds! Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? 

And so Jesus tells the parable we heard to help Peter - and us - understand. It is a worrisome parable for many because who among us doesn’t have trouble forgiving? But it’s not having trouble forgiving that Jesus is talking about here, but the refusal to forgive; the judging someone not worthy of forgiveness; the putting ourselves in the place of God. That is something altogether different and such idolatry, left unchecked and left to grow, will result in unbelief and condemnation. For it is a heart set not in faith toward God, but in judgment and pride and power.

Instead, daily crawl back to your master, to your Saviour, and beg for forgiveness. And you know what? You have it! So merciful and gracious is the Lord of all. For this parable we heard tonight is not a one-time event - it’s repeated over and over. Every Sunday we come crawling back and confess: I’m a poor miserable sinner. And the Lord says: I forgive you all that debt. And every day you pray the Lord’s Prayer: and forgive us our trespasses. Done. Our Lord never tires of forgiving you. Not seven times, or seventy-seven times, or even seventy times seven times. Our Lord doesn’t count. He forgives.

So don’t try to do forgiveness better than God. Don’t put yourself in His place. Don’t try to parcel it out based on your own thoughts and feelings and desires and judgments. Receive the forgiveness of Christ and give it joyfully. And if you’re having trouble forgiving, receive His forgiveness more! For that’s the fruit of the forgiveness you receive - more forgiveness for others. Overflowing. That all the world be filled with the forgiveness of Christ, and with His forgiveness, peace and joy. That the joy of the master be the joy of the servant. Both in this life, and in that life where there is no more forgiveness, for there is no more sin. That life where forgiveness reaches its fulfillment in heaven.

And that evil perpetrated against you that you maybe have trouble forgiving? Like Joseph, you might just be surprised at how God is able to use that for your good . . . and even for the good of those who sinned against you. For that’s the kind of God He is: merciful and gracious . . . and abounding in steadfast love.

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

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Pentecost 13 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Two Hands, One Goal”
Text: Romans 13:1-10; Matthew 18:1-20 (Ezekiel 33:7-9)

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

Is God right-handed or left-handed?

Perhaps you think that a silly question. First of all, because God is spirit and doesn’t have hands like we do. And secondly, because even if He had hands it wouldn’t matter. Except, perhaps, for the bad joke you might have heard that God must be left-handed because, as we confess in the Creed, when Jesus ascended into heaven He sat on His right-hand!

But I ask that question in all seriousness because our readings today teach us that the answer is: both. Theology calls the civil government and authorities, as talked about in Romans today, as the kingdom of God’s left-hand, and the Church, as we hard in the reading from Matthew, as the kingdom of God’s right-hand. Both are His, He exercises rule and authority in both, and He blesses us in both - just in different ways. 

The kingdom of the left, the civil government and authorities, rule and bless by the Law. They exist to protect us and punish evildoers. They exist to restrain sin by enforcing the Law, so that there is not anarchy and chaos and we can live in order and peace. Now, they don’t do it perfectly. They are sinners too. But murderers and thieves and the like are still brought to justice, we turn to the police and the courts when we have been wronged or are in need of protection, and we are punished when we break the Law. And this is a great blessing from God and how He is mercifully restraining the sin and evil that seeks to tear our world - and us - apart.

The kingdom of the right, the Church, is concerned about sin too, but in a much different way. For it is not by Law and punishment and coercion that the Church is ruled, but by grace and forgiveness. The Church calls sinners not to justice, but to repentance; she exercises not vengeance but love; and she does not punish but forgives. You could say that the government deals with sin from the outside in, but the Church deals with sin from the inside out - God restraining sin by healing our hearts and minds with the medicine of His Word and Sacraments. And, of course, this is a great blessing, too. The greatest blessing, in fact. To have in Jesus a Saviour from the sin and evil that seeks always to tear us away from God.

So God is both right-handed and left-handed, dealing with sin in both kingdoms, for our good. Because contrary to what is often our attitude, God takes sin quite seriously. Like when He impressed upon the prophet Ezekiel how important this was - that this was no joke or optional matter to Him. But us? Oh, we’re sorry when we get caught - when the policeman pulls us over, when the IRS audit letter arrives in the mail, when our lies don’t hold up anymore, when our teachers catch us cheating or when your parents find out that you really didn’t clean your room, you just shoved everything under the bed! But if we don’t get caught . . . that just emboldens us to do it some more, and some more, and some more. Which is dangerous because the evil one is never satisfied with you just getting away with it - he wants to rule you, to dominate you, to take you over with sin, severing you from others and from God.

So not only has God established the kingdom of the left to restrain and punish our outward sins, even more is He concerned with our hearts and the dominion of sin and satan there. 

So while we maybe think it’s funny to get someone to sin, poking at them and provoking them and tempting them with our words and deeds, Jesus says if that’s you, better for you to have cement shoes and be cast into the depth of the sea! 

Or that sin that we think is harmless - our hands doing what they should not do, our feet taking us where we should not be, our eyes seeing what we should not see - and today we could say whether that’s physically or going places or doing those things virtually, on the internet - if that’s you, Jesus says, it’s better for you to hack off your hands and feet and gouge out your eyes!  . . .  

That’s just not how we think of sin, is it? Which should be an indication to you of just how sick we really are, that we consider rebellion and disobedience so lightly. An indication that the disease of sin has been festering and growing in our bodies and souls and we didn’t even realize how bad it was. Just like you felt fine until something burst in you, or until the doctor walked into the room and said, I have bad news . . .  Yes, our condition really is that bad.

And it would be terminal, we would have no hope, if getting better were up to us. But surrounding these terrifying and sobering words of Jesus are words quite different, words of hope for us. 

For greatness in the kingdom of heaven? As we heard, that’s not something you do, but something that is given to you, like to a child, like to little Eva when she was baptized at only a week old. She, born and brought to those waters a sinner, received God’s name, adoption into His family, the gift of faith, the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, and the promise of everlasting life. And she is dear to her Father in heaven. As you are. These gifts of baptism for you, too. Not to earn but to receive, free. From Jesus to you. To exalt and forgive you. To take your place with Eva. For the Church, the kingdom of God’s right-hand is not about growing up, but about going down, in repentance, remembering and returning to your baptism and receiving like a little child from your good and gracious Father in heaven. Being drown in those waters of life, instead of the sea with a millstone around your neck.

And then as we heard, your Father has angels to care for you, and when you wander off and go astray, your Good Shepherd searches for you. Even if you’re just one in a hundred, He notices and He cares. He wants no one to perish. So when you’re called to repentance, caught red-handed in your sin, called out as the sinner you are, don’t get angry or defiant or defensive, give thanks to God for His Word, proclaimed in love to you, to call you back from your sin and sinful ways, to repent and receive His Absolution. As you heard again this morning: I forgive you all your sins. And it really is His Absolution, spoken here. For as we heard Jesus say to His Church: Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

And when we return and are gathered with our brothers and sisters in Christ - even if it’s just two or three, for greatness in this kingdom is not measured by achievement or age or size - we heard this: where two or three are gathered in my name, Jesus says, there am I among them. And He really is. And not just in some mystical, untouchable, unknowable way, but in a real way, for real you. Here in His Body and Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins

Given and shed - those are important words. For remember those terrifying, sobering words that should happen to you and should be yours - millstones and hacking and gouging and all that? Here’s your answer: Given and shed for ME. The hands and feet and eyes of Jesus given for you, in place of yours. The millstone you deserve hung around His neck instead of yours. And the fire of hell He endured on the cross so that you never will. Given for you - Jesus, The Son of God. And His blood shed for you - divine blood, precious blood, cleansing blood.

For it is He, now, in the midst of us disciples. Did you notice that? These words put us back where we started! Except the child in the midst of us now is the very Son of God Himself. Here, in our midst, for you. Here in our midst not as an example, but to forgive sin and give life to the dead. That you have all you need, and more. That as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, His kingdom come, even now. His kingdom of grace and forgiveness, His Church, now, and His kingdom of glory when He comes again in glory. 

And for that end, God uses both His hands, left and right. Ruling all things for the good of His Church, for this one goal: to deal with sin and give you life. Life now, protected from sin, but even more, life forever, free from sin. But both with your God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He with us now, and we with Him forever.

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