Sunday, October 26, 2014

Reformation Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Set Free By the Son”
Text: John 8:31-36; Romans 3:19-28

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

It can be a dangerous thing not to know the situation you’re in. For example, if you’re in the path of a flood or a tornado and don’t know it - that’s a dangerous thing. If you have cancer growing inside you but don’t know it - that’s a dangerous thing. If you are on a flight with a person who has Ebola but don’t know it - that’s a dangerous thing. To not know these things can be a matter of life and death.

Well that was the situation of the Pharisees in the Holy Gospel that we heard today. And it is, in fact, the situation of many people in our world still today. And this really is a matter of life and death - your eternal life and death. For the Pharisees, as we heard, thought they were free. They told Jesus: We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. (I guess those 400 years in Egypt and those 70 years in Babylon really didn’t count.) But setting those aside, the Pharisees themselves, in their lifetime, though subject to the occupying Roman authority, weren’t slaves. They could come and go as they wanted, and do what they wanted . . . um, mostly.

And many people today believe the same thing. We are free. We sing it in our national anthem. We abolished slavery in our country 150 years ago. We work against it around the world. But even more than that, we are not only free in that institutional sense, most would assert that we each personally and individually have free will. That we are in control of our lives. We are the masters of our domain. We are enslaved, we are bound, to no one or no thing. 

But to think that is a dangerous place to be. For while it’s true on a certain level, like: you can freely choose what clothes you’re going to wear today, that cereal you’re going to eat for breakfast, or what car you’re going to buy - you do have free will in all of those things - you do not have free will when it comes to spiritual matters. Not by nature. Not since that day Adam and Eve fell and plunged not only themselves but the whole world into bondage to sin. You’re not the exception - as St. Paul said: there is no distinction, there is no difference. There are not some born this way and some born that way. Some born good and some born bad and some born neutral. No, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And if that’s you, if you sin, Jesus said, you are a slave - a slave to sin. And that is true whether your name is Abraham or you are a first century Pharisee, a twenty-first century American, or a little sixteenth century monk named Martin.

You see, that’s what Luther first realized - the situation he was in: that he was a slave to sin. That all those things he was being told to do and told that he should do, and could do, if he just tried hard enough, he couldn’t do. And the harder he tried, the worse it got. The more he looked at himself, the more he confessed, the more he saw his sin. He couldn’t stop it and he couldn’t get around it. It was a tornado tossing him about that he couldn’t get away from. It was a cancer growing within him that he couldn’t cut out. They told him he was free, but he knew the truth was far different than that. He was in bondage, a slave to sin.

And so are you. And the person next to you. That’s why you sin. You’re not a sinner because you do sins, you do sins because you’re a sinner. That’s why you sin even though you don’t want to. You want to do what’s right, but don’t. You make promises and want to keep them, but then you don’t. You lash out and then hate yourself for it. You doubt and worry when you know you shouldn’t, you covet and lust, and you have this weird paradox within yourself that those things you’re proud of about yourself you know are lies! You want to believe you’re a good Christian and you want others to think it . . . but you know it’s not true. That underneath your proper, button-downed, good looking appearance is a filthy, rotten, putrid, maggot-infested cesspool of a sinner. Yes, you stink. (And yes, the stench wafting forth from the pulpit is pretty bad too.)

Now, it may not be pleasant to know that and acknowledge that, but it a dangerous not to know that. To be so fooled and deceived and blind and so die in your sin . . . physically and spiritually, and so be that slave forever.

And so while it may not be pleasant, it is good to know that, and then to hear this too: there is freedom for you. Slavery is your beginning, but it need not be your end. For, St. Paul said, the righteousness of God - or, the freedom from sin that God wants for you - has been manifested - it happened and is for the whole world - apart from the law - apart from what you do or can do - the righteousness of God - or again, the freedom of God - through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Or Jesus said it this way: if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

That’s what the Reformation was all about. Telling the truth about the situation we are in, and then pointing to the solution. Pointing you not to yourself and your efforts and your doing, but pointing you outside of yourself, away from yourself, to Jesus. For if you are to be free, He’s the only one who can set you free. Free from slavery to sin, free from fear of death, free from the bond of the grave, free from the oppression of the devil, free to live as the child of God you are. For if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

And so the Reformation was not about doing, but receiving - receiving this work of Jesus as a gift. That here it is, for you! 

Baptism is the Son setting you free, washing you clean from your sin, breaking those bonds you were born with, and raising you in Jesus’ resurrection to a new life. Here it is, for you! 

Absolution is the Son setting you free, proclaiming and promising to you the forgiveness Jesus earned for you in His death and resurrection and beating back the enemy seeking to enslave you again. Here it is, for you! 

The Gospel is the Son setting you free - all those stories you hear in Scripture, they’re about you! You the leper who is cleansed, you the blind who can see, you the deaf who can hear, you the dead who is raised. Here it is, for you! 

And the Supper is the Son setting you free, feeding you with the medicine of immortality, the Body and Blood that died and rose and cannot die again, given to you, that though you die, you too live forever. Here it is, for you! Here is Jesus, for you. Here is life and freedom for you. Here, for you. Here!

That’s what the Reformation was about. And so the baptismal liturgy proclaimed that again and all that had been added to it over the years that obscured what was really happening was stripped away. 

The Absolution was again joyously announced as the good news it is and all talk of merits and satisfactions and your having to do it exactly the right way or it wouldn’t work or wouldn’t work as well as it should, silenced. 

The Gospel was preached - Jesus was preached, not saints; and not as example, but as Saviour. 

And the Supper was given to sinners. Yes, to sinners! You didn’t have to make yourself worthy to receive it - it made you worthy, for here is the forgiveness and life you need. Take and eat and drink. It is for you. 

These gifts. For you. And they’re still for you. Unworthy you. Sinner you. Whatever you’ve done. It’s really that simple.

But it’s also that important. For now as always, the devil is constantly tempting us to believe that religion is about what we do. That yes, Jesus died for you, but that’s in the past - what matters now is what you do. That you change, that you be better, that you be the Christian God wants you to be. Because if the devil can get you to focus on that, on yourself and what you do, then he’s well on the way to driving you away from your past-tense-Jesus - either in despair, that you will never measure up and do it and so you just give up, or in pride, thinking that you have done it and don’t really need Jesus anymore! 

Don’t fall for it. Know the situation you’re in. Yes you are a sinner, but you have a Saviour. That’s such a simple message, isn’t it? Yet we keep messing it up! Thinking there must be something more to it. It can’t be that easy, or that good. 

Well, it wasn’t easy - it took a cross and death! But it is good - for all God does is good. And perfect. And for you. He’s not doing all this for Himself. He doesn’t need it. He’s doing it for you, because you do. You need His love, you need His gift, you need Him. And here He is, for you.

Now that will have an effect on your life and how you live and what you do and what’s important to you and what you invest your time and energy in. But not because it’s what you’re doing - that you are changing, that you are doing better, that you’re being the Christian God wants you to be! But because Jesus and His forgiveness and His life are living in you (Galatians 2). Because you’ve been set free from that old, horrible master of sin, and now live under a new, better, good, and loving master - a saving one. And how can that not change things? Change everything? And everything in your life? Indeed it does.

And that little sixteenth century monk just wanted everyone to know that. That freedom, that life, that love, that gift. He didn’t try to start a movement, never wanted a church named after him, and didn’t really think of himself as anything other than a beggar before God with everyone else. He just preached the forgiveness of Jesus. But it’s that forgiveness that makes all the difference in the world. It started a Reformation. Not just one that happened some 500 years ago . . . but a Reformation every time that message is proclaimed. Starting from when Adam and Eve heard it, to when Jesus did it, to the Absolution, Gospel, and Supper today. That forgiveness changes things. For that Word is strong and powerful, still today making sinful beggars like you and me children of God.

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Jennings-Killian Wedding Sermon

(Note: The couple wanted to use Divine Service Setting Three as the liturgy within which their wedding would take place. Hence the references below to the liturgy.)

Jesu Juva

“Built on the Rock”
Text: Luke 6:46-49; Ephesians 5:20-33; Proverbs 31:10-31

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

Grace and Scott,

You’ve set quite a tone for your marriage today. You invited all these people here to celebrate this joyous day, this day your mothers (and maybe your fathers) have been waiting for a long time now, your being joined as one as husband and wife, you Grace all beautiful and radiant, and you Scott all handsome and debonair, and a big party planned afterward . . . and so you wanted this day, this joy, this service started out with these words: Let us confess our sins.  . . .  I, a poor, miserable sinner. Who does that?

But I cannot think of more appropriate words. Because these are words that are not just for the beginning of your lives together,but for every day of your lives together. For if there is one thing you will need every day of your lives as husband and wife, it is not love - it is more than that - it is forgiveness. Love is what most people think is the foundation of marriage, and that’s why so many marriages crumble and fall apart. For trying to hold onto the feelings of love that you feel today - the thumping in your chest when you first saw Grace in her dress, or when you speak your vows to one another - trying to hold onto those feelings is like trying to hold onto sand; it just runs through your fingers. But when your marriage is built on forgiveness, then you are built on that rock we heard of today in St. Luke. The rock of Christ. And then your marriage is about His love, not your love. Then it’s about what He does, not what you do. For what you do will not last, but what He does will.

Let us confess our sins.  . . .  I, a poor, miserable sinner.

When you said those words today, you were agreeing with the words of Jesus we heard from St. Luke, when Jesus said: Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I tell you? And since today is about marriage, we’ll focus on what Jesus told you in the reading from Ephesians: Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. In just a few moments you will, in fact, promise to do those very things. Before all these people and before your Lord you’re going to say: Yes, I will! And I do not doubt your sincerity at all. Not one little bit. But I know this too: you won’t. For you can’t. Oh, there will be good times and times when you do. But there will also be those times when your selfish, sinful nature drags you down and as much as you want to, you’re going to lash out instead. You’ll let each other down. You’ll expect too much from the other and want to give too little of yourself. You will be that poor, miserable sinner.

But these verses in Ephesians speak something else for you today, too. Another reality. For what Paul is really talking about there is not “Marriage 101,” but forgiveness. For why did Christ come and give Himself for His bride? To forgive her. Or in Paul’s words: To sanctify her, to wash and cleanse her, that she might be without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. And why does the church submit to Christ? To receive that forgiveness. For when we all spoke those words together earlier: I, a poor, miserable sinner, what were we doing? Submitting to Christ. And what did we hear in return? I forgive you all your sins

Just as we as Christians cannot hear that enough, so you too, as husband and wife, cannot speak that enough and cannot hear that enough. And so here is true headship in the family for you Scott. To be the first to repent and the first to forgive, and Grace submits by following your lead in repenting and forgiving. No lordship here. You have a Lord, who laid down His life for you on the cross. Now it is submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. That as we just sang (LSB #575), the hope for your marriage is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

And in talking about that, the house built upon the rock of Christ, St. Luke used the word flood - when a flood arose against that house. And even if you’ve never been in or experienced a flood, our televisions are often filled with pictures of them and their devastation. And sometimes marriages get flooded - when richer becomes poorer, when health turns to sickness, and when struggles and trials and difficulties make for a whole lotta worse and not a whole lotta better.

But at just such times, remember that other flood that claimed you each first - the flood of your baptism. That day when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit gave you a life that nothing in this world can take away. When Christ took you as His bride and washed you clean in His blood and forgiveness and said you are mine. That heavenly flood is more powerful than any flood this world can bring against you or your marriage. And so it is appropriate that in this place where the new life of baptism is given, your new life as husband and wife also begin here - on that rock that no flood can wash away.

But not only begin here, but your new life as husband and wife be sustained here, receiving again and again that forgiveness of Christ you so desperately need, and that you will give to each other; and receiving again and again, side by side, the Body and Blood of Christ. That you be not alone in this. That it be not up to you. But that your marriage be built on nothing less that Jesus’ blood and righteousness

And so today we rejoice that the God who baptized you into His Son is the God who has brought you together and is uniting you as one flesh, to stand on that rock together. Gift after gift after wonderful gift. 

And while I know a lot of women who do not want those verses from Proverbs read in their wedding because they seem like an impossible standard to live up to, you Grace are and will be such a wife to Scott. Not because you’re perfect or will do all those things spoken of there, but because the Lord gave you to him and you are his bride, cleansed by Christ and radiant, without any spot or wrinkle. Perfect for Him and He for you. Built on the rock of Christ and His forgiveness. And on that foundation, you cannot be moved.

Let us confess our sins.  . . .  I, a poor, miserable sinner. 

Say those words to each other every night before you go to bed, and you’ll remember not only this day and its joy, and speak the joy of forgiveness to one another, you’ll remember the even greater joy that awaits both of you - the marriage feast of your Saviour, in heaven, which will never end. The vows you will speak today are until death parts you. But the vow your Saviour made to you was to smash death under His feet, for you. And He did, rising from the dead. That not even death be able to part you from Him. Ever.

That’s the confidence and life you have as Christians. That’s the confidence and life you have as husband and wife. That confidence and life of that Rock that cannot be moved. 

So I guess we should get on with it! But know this: that joy that is yours today is nothing compared to the joy Christ your Saviour has in you as His Bride. That joy He gives and shares with you now, and has stored up for you forever. So God bless you now as you begin your life together in Christ, on Christ, and with Christ.

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pentecost 19 Sermon

No sermon to post here this week as Pastor was out of town for a wedding. Will post his wedding sermon here soon.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pentecost 18 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A Wonderful Wedding Feast For You
Text: Matthew 22:1-14 (Isaiah 25:6-9; Philippians 4:4-13)

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

Weddings were quite different in Jesus’ day than in our day and age - especially royal ones. They were not just a one day affair, but could last a whole week. The focus was not on the bride, but on the groom. You didn’t bring gifts and you didn’t have to go buy special clothes - they were provided for you. And so to be invited to such a occasion was quite a honor and not something to be taken lightly.

So the parable of Jesus we heard today should perhaps be updated a bit, so that we who hear it today might properly understand it and the shock value it would have had for those who heard it back then. So allow me to do that for you, just a bit . . .

A king bought a new cruise ship for his son’s wedding feast. It was the top of the line, had all the latest technology, and was specially decked out for this occasion. And he wanted it filled. No small celebration would this be, but an entire ship full of joy! But even so, the king’s joy would be even more, so pleased and happy he was for his son. He was excited just thinking about it and planning it.

So as the preparations were being made he sent out the invitations. And if you’re a king, you don’t send them out by mail with a little envelope to RSVP, you send your royal servants to give a personal invitation. And he invited everyone who was anyone. All the A-listers would be there. For ten days and nine nights of all expenses paid, no-holds-barred, celebration. And no gifts, please. What could you bring for such a king anyway? And don’t pack anything - everything is provided. The ship is stocked with everything that is needed so that when you board, you change into your new cruise wear and just begin to celebrate. No worries, no needs, no cell phones, no computers, no distractions - just come, feast, celebrate, and rejoice.

That’s a pretty sweet deal, wouldn’t you say?

So the day comes, all is ready, and the king sends his private jets out all over the world to pick up the guests and bring them to the ship. You see, your travel, too, is included; there is simply no expense for you to come.  . . .  But when the jets return to the royal airfield - the ones that actually return, anyway - come back empty! Those invited do not, will not, come! Why? Well, the reports are, quite frankly, unbelievable. One said he had to mow his grass. Another had to go to work and balance the books. One had a tee time. There was the one who didn’t want to miss the next episode of Dancing With the Stars. Another had to take his dog to the dog groomer. And then there were the ones who didn’t give an excuse - they answered with violence! Seizing the servants, mistreating them, and even killing some.

Stunned would not even begin to describe the king. He was stunned-times-a-thousand! Of course he got justice for those who mistreated and killed his servants - that was the easy part. Issue the order and it’s done. But there was still the matter of the cruise, the celebration. As stunned as he was, he was still full of joy for his son and had to share that joy. So he sends his servants to go round up people to celebrate with him. I don’t care who it is, he says. If they’re breathing and they can eat and drink, bring ‘em! So they did. Both folks the world would consider good and upstanding people, and those the world would consider, well, less than desireable. The king didn’t care! He just wanted to give.

So the hard-working deck hands came on, along with the guy who had been living under the bridge. The teacher followed by some ladies-of-the-night. Some old, retired folks came next, followed by the guy who stands in the middle of the street every day with a cardboard sign asking for money. The carpenter, the guy who makes shoes, the landscaper, and one servant even brought all the folks from the local homeless shelter. You name it, they all came. They couldn’t believe their good fortune. They rushed to their state rooms, showered and changed into the new cruise wear that awaited them, and joyfully threw whatever they wore onto the ship overboard. And the ship cast off and the party started. 

And the king was overjoyed. It was a dream come true for him. The ship was filled with joy, but his the greatest of all.

But as he was rejoicing, he passed by one fellow who wasn’t wearing his cruise wear . . . in fact, he kind of stunk. He was wearing his old work clothes and had somehow slipped past the secret service. Well that didn’t make sense . . . so the king asked him: Buddy, what’s up? How did you get on and why aren’t you wearing your new duds? The king wasn’t mad - just curious why this man wouldn’t receive his gifts and generosity. A simple “I’m sorry” and a quick dash off to change would have fixed everything.

But the man wouldn’t even give him an answer. He just gave him one of those looks, like: What? Aren’t I good enough for you? My clothes not good enough for your royal highness? You got a problem with me?

And once again, stunned isn’t a strong enough word to describe the king, who just wanted to give and give and give and celebrate. So the man was removed. This ship is only for those who rejoice and receive the free and gracious gifts and generosity of the king.

That, my friends, is what the kingdom of heaven is like, Jesus says.

And told in this somewhat-more-modern-way, several things, I think, stand out. 

First is the incredible, unbelievable, graciousness and generosity of the King, of our heavenly Father. 

Second is the stunning rejection of His gifts, and so the winners wind up as losers. 

But this cannot stop the King from giving, and so He keeps sending out invitations, simply so that He can give. All He wants to do is give, give gifts, give joy. And so losers wind up as winners.

And the ship is big enough for ALL - like we heard from the prophet Isaiah five times in those verses. This is a feast for ALL people. There is room for everyone, for the King wants to give to everyone.

And then there is the one who wanted to come on his own terms, the way he wanted. Like he was good enough. Like he deserved it. Like he was doing the King a favor by being there.

The Kingdom of heaven is like a King who wants to give to you. A King who loves to give. He created this world and gave it to you. He gave you your life. And He wants to give you the joy of celebrating in His kingdom forever. That as St. Paul said: You rejoice in the Lord, always.

And He has no ulterior motives. He doesn’t give just to get something out of you, to secretly obligate you. Perhaps that is what those who don’t come think - that God wants something, demands something, and we’ve got enough to do and worry about already. But really, what could you give Him that He needs? Puny, needy, little you, giving to the King who not only has everything but gave you everything you think is yours?! No, He just wants you. Wants you there, with Him, in His joy, forever.

And so for that, He gave something else too. His Son. And the Son, the Bridegroom, Jesus, gave His life for His Bride - you - at three o’clock on a Friday afternoon, when laden with your sin and uncleanness He died your death, was thrown overboard for you, that you - and all people, no one excluded - have a place in that celebration. He simply says: come!

And He has provided the clothing - the garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness (as we sang in the Introit) that He puts on you in Holy Baptism. Your own clothes, your own righteousness and deeds and good works are filthy rags. No matter who you are, how accomplished or revered in this world and life, you cannot come on your own terms. You need to be clothed with Christ, with His forgiveness and life. 

And He has provided a little feast here for you - in His Supper - as a prelude to the big and never-ending feast. Nothing you can do here, either. This meal is to keep and sustain you in His forgiveness and faith until the final call goes out - when the angels are sent at the final harvest. And this really is a picture of the ship. For here, it doesn’t matter who you are - how old or young, how educated or uneducated, white collar or blue collar worker, new to the faith or a long-timer, healthy or sick, really good or really bad in the eyes of the world. Here, you all come to this Table the same - sinners coming with nothing to give but our sins, and receiving the gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

But maybe that’s the rub, too . . . if we don’t want to be just one of the hoi polloi, one of the crowd, no better than the next guy. If we think we’re better than that . . .

And maybe we too sometimes think we have something better to do and take what happens here and is given here and in the Word lightly - it’s not just others, is it? 

And maybe we don’t think of our righteousness in terms of being baptized, but instead that it’s because I’m doing alright, not sinning so much, getting better and so my own clothes aren’t so bad . . .

Or we think of God as a demanding God instead of a giving God. A boss instead of a King who wants us simply to come to His feast.

If that’s you - and here’s a news flash: it’s all of us at one time or another! -repent, and change your thinking. That’s why Jesus told this parable, after all. To change your thinking. That you realize who He is and what He’s like. That you know all that’s He’s done for you and wants for you. And that you come. 

As one pastor I heard on this text said once: Coming to church isn’t supposed to be like getting a colonoscopy! Though some treat it that way. No, it’s coming to receive gifts, and getting ready to get on the ship. That by remembering our baptism, being absolved, and eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Jesus, we be ready for the call to come, whenever it comes, and rejoice in the Lord always. And forever.

And once you know that, you’ll live like it. You’ll know the value of the things of this world and life compared to the gifts your Father has waiting for you. And you’ll use them in that way. And you’ll not only rejoice, but live also, as Paul said, in peace. No matter what happens or comes upon you in this world and life. For the things of this world and life come and go, sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly. But the promise of your Father and His gifts are safe and waiting for you. 

That is what the kingdom of heaven is like. So rejoice and come. Come and rejoice. It is for you.

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

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pentecost 17 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“More Than a Prophet - The Life of the World”
Text: Luke 7:11-17; 1 Kings 17:17-24

The story that we just heard not only took place a long time ago, it is happening every day. For with each passing day, there are countless processions to graveyards all over the world. Parents burying children, children burying parents. Mass graves due to disease or genocide, or solitary graves with few mourners. We see the images on TV of crowds carrying a casket on their shoulders, or in our country the long line of cars making their slow and winding procession. But wherever or however, the conclusion is unmistakeable - death is the reality in our world. And one day its going to be you or me at the head of that procession, our lifeless body being carried to our resting place.

So it was that day in Nain. What had happened to this son, the only son of this widow? He had died, but how had he died? Had it been sudden and expected? The result of an accident or murder? Or had it been a long, slow, drawn out agony, knowing that death was coming but not knowing when? Watching and waiting. It doesn’t really matter though, does it? The pain was the same for that mother. The pain she had felt before when her husband died. And how long ago was that? Maybe that pain was still recent, that wound still open and sore. Her life now, it seemed, as empty and lifeless as her son that was being carried out.

So how fortunate for her that just as the body of her lifeless son was drawing near to the gate of the city, that the One who is the life of the world was too. The One who had breathed into Adam’s lifeless body and brought it to life. The One who answered Elijah’s prayer and brought that other widow’s son back to life. The One who was life and the one who was dead now met head on in the city gate. 

Do not weep, Jesus said to the grieving mother. How many others had told her the same thing? It’s what we say when we don’t know what else to say. It’ll be alright. Don’t cry. You’ll get through this. Little comfort, really, in those words. But whereas the other mourners and friends could do little for this mother, just as we can do nothing in the face of death, Jesus could. In fact, for this very reason He had come. His words no empty comfort. So after speaking to the mother, He speaks to the dead one: “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And creation obeys its Creator. Death flees the one it possessed, and his heart starts beating, his lungs start breathing, his eyes open, and he sits up and begins speaking. We don’t know what he said - his words are not recorded and he didn’t write a book about his experience with death. But it’s not his words that are important, but Jesus’. For not his words, but Jesus’ words, brought life to that son and comfort and joy to that mother and that crowd of mourners that day. 

For a while, at least, But one day, that young man - maybe by then an old man - would be carried out again, as would his mother, and all the rest in the crowd that day. Just as we see in our world so much today. The wages of sin is still death. That day in Nain was but a temporary reprieve for that young man and his mother.

But Jesus had come to provide us with much more than just a temporary reprieve from death - He had come to provide a life that is eternal. A life beyond the reach of death and the grave. And so shortly after this day in Nain (which was near Nazareth, where Jesus grew up), Jesus would begin His own funeral procession to Jerusalem, where He would be put to death on the cross. Paying the wages of sin owed by us, that with sin forgiven, we could be like this young man and rise from death. 

And you will. That’s exactly what’s going to happen. For after dying our death and paying the wages of our sin, Jesus Himself rose from the dead. And so one day, the living Jesus is going to say to you, too: Young man, or young woman, I say to you, arise! And though you may have lived long on this earth, you will still be a young man or a young woman, for you still have an eternity to live with your Saviour. And on hearing those words, just as that young man in Nain, you too will begin to live again. You will sit up and speak - the never-ending praises of Him who saved you and is your life. 

In fact, that has already happened to you in your baptism. For there, in those waters, Jesus spoke to you and raised you from the death of sin to live a new life. There, in those waters, Jesus gave you the forgiveness of your sins and breathed into you, like Adam, His Spirit of life. There, in those waters, you were given the promise that one day Jesus would call your dead body to life again. A promise! Not a fortunate or accidental crossing of paths at the gate of a city. A promise! That Jesus will not forget you, will not leave you or forsake you, but that you will live with Him forever. Where death is no more and where there are no graveyards - only life and peace and joy.

And so we have received a much greater gift than this son and mother. For them, they had been given life as a temporary reprieve from death. But for us, in Jesus, death is but a temporary interruption in our life. For while death is the end for all sinners who walk this earth, so life is the end for all who are in Jesus. Because more than just a great prophet has arisen among us - a Saviour has arisen from the dead. And therefore in Him, so will you. And therefore we know that the Word of the Lord from His mouth is truth. His word that said: I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die (John 11:25-26).

Lord, I believe. 

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

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pentecost 17 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Who Does That? God Does. For You.”
Text: Matthew 21:33-46 (Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 3:4b-14)

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

They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

That’s what we would do. And for a lot less than the owner of the vineyard. We have, in fact. Someone wrongs us, we wrong them. You hurt me, I hurt you. Revenge. Tit for tat. An eye for an eye. And if not outwardly, then in our hearts. Silently stewing over the wrong inflicted on us. Plotting a payback that we might never do, but delight in planning and dreaming of anyway. Maybe someone at work or at school takes credit for something you did. Someone cuts you off in traffic. Or, you let someone in and you don’t get your wave! Or that time you went out of your way for someone and you didn’t even get a thank you - like, their royal highness was entitled to your service! What is it for you? That causes all that self-righteous indignation to swell up in your heart and make you want to lash out at such ungrateful wretches?

So, for what these tenants did? Yeah, that’s what they deserve. The owner gave them so many chances. Too many, maybe we would say. Sending servant after servant after servant, and then finally his son. And those tenants just kept getting worse. They finally pushed him too far. They can go to hell. That’s what we would do . . . and so we think that’s what God would do too. Or should do. It even said that in the prophet Isaiah - all wild grapes and no good grapes? You’re out.

So there is a word of warning for us here, if we think our sin doesn’t matter. If we think we can produce all the wild and sinful grapes we want in God’s vineyard. Israel is the example - when they pushed God too far, what Isaiah prophecied happened: the armies of the enemies of Israel came up against them, defeated them in battle, and hauled them off as prisoners of war; they were exiled from the land God had promised to give them. For it was not their walls of stone and weapons of war that was their strength and protection - God was their wall, their hedge, their fortress. And without Him, all wild grapes and no good grapes, they went down.

So yeah, that’s what they deserve. And truth be told, it is what we deserve too.

But here’s where this dialogue - between Jesus and the chief priests and the Pharisees - takes a surprising turn, with Jesus’ answer. For He doesn’t agree with the chief priests and the Pharisees and their answer and evaluation of the situation. It’s not that their answer was wrong - we’ve seen already what happened to Old Testament Israel - it’s just that their answer was incomplete. So it’s almost like after their answer, Jesus pauses for a moment, a dramatic silence, and then speaks: But . . . have you never read in the Scriptures: 
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

You see, like us, the Pharisees knew their Law. The Law is our native language. It is written in our hearts. It’s the atmosphere we grow up in. It’s what we know - that it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Like us, they knew what should happen to sinful, ungrateful, self-righteous wretches. What they didn’t know and needed to learn was the Gospel. Passages like this one. That God is so utterly unlike us that we need to rethink everything we thought we knew, and realize how marvelous our Father in heaven is. 

So Jesus quotes these words from Psalm 118. That the stone the builders rejected, the stone that was not good enough and so was rejected and thrown out into the scrap heap, God not only takes and uses, but has made the cornerstone - the most important stone in the whole building; the stone off of which the rest of the building depends and is built off of. It is a new life, a resurrection of sorts, for that stone. And this was the plan all along. What was written in the Psalms was happening now. Jesus is going to be rejected and thrown out with the trash, onto the scrap heap of humanity, on the cross, but would then become the cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, the Psalm said. The plan all along.

Except that doesn’t seem to agree with the parable, where the owner sends his son thinking that “they will respect my son.” But here is exactly where the parable surprises us and begins to change our thinking. For the word Jesus uses here, for respect, actually has two meanings. It is like our English word cleave - what does that word mean? Well, it has two opposite meanings, actually. It can mean to cut apart and separate, like a meat cleaver. Or, it can mean to join together, like when a man cleaves to his wife. Jesus’ word here, in Greek, is like that - it can mean either respect or shame. But which do we pick? Does the owner of the vineyard really think they will respect his son after all they had done to the servants he had sent before? Unlikely. They will shame my son is much more probable, and is, in fact, exactly what happens.

But who does that? Who sends their son knowing he will be shamed, or worse?  . . . God does. That’s exactly what God did. He sent His Son to be rejected, to be shamed, to be thrown out with the trash, in order to take Him from the scrap heap, from the grave, and raise Him back to life as the cornerstone - the stone upon which His whole Church is built. God doesn’t do what we would do or think He should do - He does this! This marvelous, wonderful, work instead.

And so Old Testament Israel was defeated in battle and hauled off and exiled - yes - but our marvelous, wonderful God brought them back again. A new life, a resurrection, of sorts. 

And this is why we read words from Psalm 118 at the graveside of a Christian - this body that has been defeated in death is not without hope! For in Christ Jesus there is life from the dead. Resurrection. Hope. The forgiveness of sins.

But it’s not just for when you die - Jesus is holding this out to the chief priests and Pharisees and you and me even now. For, He goes on to explain: The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him. The time for crushing, the Last Day, is coming. That’s what we think should happen now - to ungrateful, self-righteous wretches. We want to crush them! Make them pay. But not Jesus. He paid. For us. Now is the time to fall and be broken. To fall down in repentance for our wild grapes, for our judgmental hearts, for our taking Jesus’ cross-won-forgiveness for granted. To be broken in seeing that we are, in fact, the very ones we judge! And its not pleasant to be broken. I remember when I was lying on the ground with a concussion and a broken collarbone after crashing my bike. It wasn’t pleasant. And you and me, with our sins, are broken much worse than that.

But to those who fall and are broken by the Law, there is resurrection and new life in Jesus. The forgiveness of your sins. But again, who does that? Who forgives ungrateful, selfish, greedy tenants after they sin and kill the son? God does. Now, in this time of grace. Washing us and our children with the waters of baptismal forgiveness and new life. Announcing to us the new life and resurrection of forgiveness every time we broken sinners gather here after another week of wild grapes . . . and we are absolved. And then even more, not just grudgingly sending us back out as servants into His vineyard to make up for what we’ve done, but giving us a seat at His Table, and serving and feeding us with the Body and Blood of His Son. To build you and me on that cornerstone. The One we shamed honoring us.

Who does that? Your Father does. Once the apostle Paul realized that, it changed his life. As we heard in the Epistle, he thought he was somebody. He had out-achieved everybody. He was the top dog in Judaism. He had accomplished so much. No one could boast more than he could. But once he fell over Jesus and learned the truth, nothing else mattered anymore. Everything else is rubbish, Paul said! Everything else is rubbish once Christ makes you His own.

For that’s what God does, and what He has done for you. Giving you His Son, giving You His Spirit, that you be His own. Not to go on sinning and producing more wild grapes! Who does that? Yes, that’s what we do. But as wretched as we are, we have an even more amazing, marvelous, wonderful Father, who shamed his Son to honor us. Who breaks us in order to raise us. That’s what He does. That we not be crushed in the end, but live in His kingdom, His vineyard, forever. 

The chief priests and Pharisees wanted to arrest Jesus for speaking such things. Jesus was the broken one, not them! Well, once again, they were half right. Jesus was broken, for them. And for you. To heal the broken, forgive the sinner, and raise the dead. So come now and receive all that at His Table, here. That amazing, marvelous love of God for you. That receiving the fruit of the vine here, the very Blood and forgiveness of your Saviour, you now go with a new life and produce good fruits too.

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.

(I am indebted to the Rev. Bruce Keseman for his insight into the respect/shame turn of this parable.)