Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Holy Tuesday Meditation

Jesu Juva
Text: Isaiah 49:1-7

God ways are not our ways. The mind of God cannot be fathomed by human reason. That is no where as evident as in this prophecy of Isaiah about the Messiah today. For the less successful the Messiah seems, the more successful He really is.

Isaiah starts out with a call to all people near and far to listen, and He says some impressive things of the Messiah. He was specifically born for this, from His mother’s womb, and named by the Lord Himself. His Word is His weapon, His sharp sword and polished arrow, and the hand of the Lord protects Him. For He is the chosen servant of the Lord and in whom God will be glorified. He is named Israel because He comes to be one with her, with us. He is Israel’s king, Israel’s Lord, and takes all Israel into Himself to save her.

All of which makes the next line from Isaiah that much more unexpected. Instead of hearing of the Messiah’s success he says: I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity. And this week we see just that. The Messiah is rejected by His own people. The leaders line up against Him, the crowds yell crucify and trade Him for a criminal. His disciples run away in fear after one betrays Him and another denies even knowing Him. He is strung up on a cross as a common criminal. By all appearance it seems that all is lost. All is defeat. All has been for naught.

But words of faith we hear as well. Yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God. The future, the work, the outcome is the Lord’s. It is a good lesson for us to learn. How often we rely on our own strength. How often we judge by what we see and feel. How often we despair when things seem not to be going so well. Stop. Repent. The Lord does much with little. The Lord who created all that is from nothing, is able to do great things for us, even when all seems lost. All the Scriptures bear witness to this: He is the strength of the weak, the hope of the hopeless, and the life of the dead. And so faith clings to the Lord who is able.

And then we hear not only that the Lord is able, but the greater the failure, the greater His work and victory! And so through a Messiah rejected and crucified, the Lord says: it’s not enough to just save Israel! This crucified Messiah will save the world. It is too light [too little] a thing that you should be my servant [just] to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. And this too: Kings and princes will prostrate themselves before Him.

Because, Isaiah says, the Lord is faithful. What He says, He does. What He promises, He fulfills. Always. And what good news that is for us! Our Saviour is not limited by our weaknesses and failures, our doubts and despair. He is able to work great and amazing things even when everything seems worse than lost. Can you imagine the disciples slapping each other on the back when Jesus was hanging on the cross and saying: This is great! We won! That’s preposterous, isn’t it? Yet that’s exactly what happened. The suffering and death of Jesus is our life, our light, our salvation and forgiveness. What seems to be is not all there is. 

So at all times of life, no matter how things are going, faith has a firm and sure confidence and foundation. Your Lord is at work - for you, in you, and through you. And is working great things that are beyond our wildest dreams and imaginings. 

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

Holy Monday Meditation

Jesu Juva
Text: Isaiah 50:5-10

These words from the prophet Isaiah contain one of his many prophecies about what would happen to the promised Messiah. It is not what one would expect. A Messiah, a Saviour, is one who rises up and leads men. A larger-than-life figure who triumphs over all odds and all foes. A valiant warrior.

So these are very strange words indeed. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. Those are words that describe the vanquished, not the victor. 

But there is something else strange about those words, something different and not quite right according to this way of thinking. These words are not just describing what was done to the Messiah, but what He does. He gives His back to those who would strike it. He gives His cheek to those who would pull out the beard. He offers and does not hide His face from the mocking, the taunts, and the spitting. This is His doing, not what is done to Him unwillingly. This is what this Messiah will do and how He will conquer. This is clearly a Messiah unlike any other.

And in all this, He says, the Lord God helps me, though it looks like the Lord God has either left Him or is punishing Him. That is not the case.

Therefore, He says, I have not been disgraced . . . I shall not be put to shame. Though that was exactly the aim of those who did this - to shame and disgrace - and they thought they had done so and were quite satisfied with their work, no. This is the Messiah’s glory. For He is doing this for you. He will be vindicated. It will be shown that those who looked like they vanquished Him were vanquished themselves, and that He who looked defeated is actually victorious.

And then some questions from the mouth of the Messiah: Who will contend with me? Who is my adversary? Who will declare me guilty? It is not only those who did those things, is it? It is you and me, as I pit my will against His will, as I sin against Him, as I think Him guilty of failing to keep His promises to me and so take matters into my own hands. Repent. We gain nothing with all that. We still, as Isaiah so descriptively put it, wear out like a garment and the moth still eat us up. That’s the real defeat. Death.

But not so for the Messiah. Though He dies, yet shall He live. He is the way to life. 

So the Lord opened your ear to hear this word. To repent and not rebel, to trust and not turn back. For the Lord is faithful, your Messiah is faithful. What looks like shame and defeat in this world and life may not be as it seems. The path we fear may just be the way to life.

Who among you fears the Lord
    and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
    and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on his God.

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

Monday, March 30, 2015

Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion Sermon

[No audio today - sorry!]

Jesu Juva

“Grace Big Enough For You”
Text: Mark 14-15

Jesus is betrayed with a kiss. An action of intimate union, of friendship, used to betray. Judas didn’t have to choose that. He could have said: the one I speak to, or the one I will point to, or the one I embrace. But no - it was a kiss.

And as if that weren’t bad enough, consider the timing. Jesus had just spent how long in the agony of prayer to His Father. He knew what was coming - not just the crucifixion, but the weight of the world’s sin upon Him, the wrath and condemnation against that sin, and His Father forsaking Him who became sin for us. And so take this cup from me, if possible, Jesus prayed. But it was not possible. And Jesus would not betray His Father. He goes as it is written. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.

And immediately, while He was still speaking those words, Mark tells us, Judas and his crowd appears and His betrayer kisses Him. How Jesus’ heart must have ached for him at that moment. He knew it would be Judas. He knew it would have been better for him had he not been born (Matthew 26:24-25). But still we know that God desires all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). And that includes Judas. How Jesus’ heart must have ached for Judas when his lips touched Him. That sin of betrayal would be upon Him on the cross too, for all sins - from the biggest to the smallest - would be upon Him. If not, how could we ever be sure that all of our sins were upon Him? But Judas would not believe, he could not believe, God’s grace could be that big, and so not receive that forgiveness by faith. His kiss of betrayal, he thought, was too great, too much to be forgiven.

But there is no sin too great or too much to be forgiven. For that would mean that sin is greater than God Himself. And so that cannot be. If Jesus had been a mere man, then yes. But since it is the Son of God Himself that hangs on that cross for you, that bears your sins for you, then all sin is done, atoned for. Your sin is done. And so your sin, no matter how big or how frequent, is forgiven. God’s grace IS that big.

Which is a very good thing, because what do you do with your lips? Judas used his to betray Jesus. Do you do the same? Your lips confess the name of Jesus and call Him teacher and friend, and your lips touch His Body and Blood in the Supper. And then what do they do? Do they then lie and gossip?Do they confess falsehood through failing to speak the truth? Do they curse and not bless? And then go through the rest of your bodily members, too, so graciously given to you by your Creator and sustained by Him. What do you do with them, or fail to do with them? Your mind, your hands, your feet, your heart . . .  Are you betraying the One who gave these to you and redeemed these for you and desires that you use them for His service and life? How often do your actions - or inactions - confess the exact opposite of what Jesus prayed in the garden? How often do our lives confess: not Thy will but mine be done?

This season of Lent is about recognizing that reality of sin in our lives, but even more also learning once again how BIG the grace of God is, and that even our vilest sins, our most oft-repeated sins, our little sins and big sins, yes even our Judas sins, Jesus took upon Himself so they wouldn’t be on you. Yes, it was hard. Yes, the burden was more enormous than we can imagine. Yes, it was a most difficult cup to drink. But Jesus would not stop until He did it, and nothing could stop Him. He would not betray His Father and He will not betray you. He came for your sins and He was not leaving without them.

Do you believe that? Judas couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Many today cannot either, thinking they are too bad to come to church; thinking they have to do something in addition to Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross. But this week, this Holy Week, speaks a most emphatic NO to that. Jesus did it all. He drank the cup, He died the death, and He rose from the dead. It is finished (John 19:30)

That’s how BIG the grace of God is. That’s why satan doesn’t want you to see it or believe it. So he’ll try to minimize your sin, that you think it not so bad and that you can deal with it. You’re doing better than most. Or he’ll get you to deny that you’re a sinner at all - and think that all that stuff the Bible says doesn’t apply to you. That’s pretty popular today, it seems. Or if that fails he will try to minimize that grace and magnify your sin. He try to get you to despair of your unworthiness instead of rejoicing in Jesus your Saviour’s worthiness. That’s what he did to Judas. What kind of disciple are you, you worthless sack of . . . manure! You betrayed with a kiss! Look at you! Look at your heart! There’s no way you could ever be forgiven for that! 

But satan is a liar. Always. The truth is just the opposite of all that. Yes, you are a sinner, and no, you’re not better than most. But this too: there is no sin and no sinner greater than our Saviour. Was God’s grace big enough for Judas? Absolutely. And it’s big enough for you and me and all the world. 

And so today we heard and we’ll hear again that that very body Judas handed over in betrayal to death, Jesus hands over to us, in love, for life. Take and eat, take and drink, He says. This is the new covenant, the new testament, My promise of forgiveness and life for you. All your sins forgiven, and a new life given you. A new life, that you confess and not deny, that you love and not betray, that you forgive and not withhold this greatest gift you could ever give another. That you, as Paul said, have and live not the lies of satan, but have the mind of Christ.

And so just as Jesus rode into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey to accomplish that forgiveness and life, so now He comes here to this humble place in the same humble way, in water, in words, in bread and wine, to give Himself and His gifts of forgiveness and life to you. It is not beneath Him, for the King of all to come here and be with you, with sinners. It is His joy, for you are His joy. He will not betray you. For where you are is where He wants to be, and where He is is where He wants you to be. Forever.

So dear children of God, rejoice! Rejoice! This week we will again remember the awful events that took place - the mocking and stripping, the whipping and beating, the humiliation and death of the cross. But we do so with a solemn joy, for we know Jesus underwent all this for you and me. This is His love for you. 

The apostle John put it this way, in His Gospel, saying right before those last few hours of Jesus’ life: having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (John 13:1b). This is the week we see the end and we see that love. Sadly, Judas died with his sin. Thankfully, Jesus died for your sin. This is His love for you. This is the grace of God for you. This is the week of His victory for you.

So let us too cry out our Hosanna! 
Lord, save! 

And hear again: My Body, My Blood, for you.
I forgive you.

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

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lent 5 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Christians in an Unchristian World: Glory”
Text: 1 Peter 5:1-14

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

As we arrive at the final chapter of First Peter, Peter directs the attention of his flock, these Christians scattered far and wide and living in an unchristian world, to the glory promised by Christ. Which is important. For it is quite easy, when you are in the midst of trials and suffering of sometimes great magnitiude, to focus only on them; to see nothing but the problems weighing quite heavily right now, and not look beyond them, or even be able to. When there seems to be no end in sight. When you do not even know how you’re going to make it to tomorrow. At such times its easy to wallow in self-pity and resignation and think about nothing else.

Peter knew it. He’d been there. In spades. He was, as he says, a witness of the sufferings of Christ. Yes, he saw Jesus arrested while he was still wiping the sleep from his eyes. He saw Jesus on trial and condemned while he was busy denying that he even knew the man. Three times. And then he saw Jesus hung on the cross and then dead while he was too scared to even help take his friend down and bury him. He knew the terror of hiding behind locked doors with his friends and thinking that every noise you hear outside is the sound of the Jews coming to lift you up next. He knew what it was like to be arrested and abused for following Jesus, and to be on death row, mere days or hours from having your head removed from your shoulders. If anyone knew what those scattered Christians were going through, it was their shepherd Peter.

And so He reassures them. That though they are suffering now, when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Now, that is talking about when Jesus comes again in glory at the end of time. But there’s more to it than that, I think. Another layer that can help us now. For think about how Peter was on that Easter Sunday night, after he had witnessed the sufferings of Christ and was living with his own cowardice and failure and guilt. And then the chief Shepherd appeared. Locked doors couldn’t stop Him. He came right to them and said: Peace be with you (John 20:19). Peace, not fear. Forgiveness, not punishment. Hope, not despair. Joy, not sorrow. Everything Peter needed right then, Jesus came and provided. Because the chief Shepherd is alive and caring for His flock.

And how He does that, one of the ways He does that now, after His ascension, is through His elders, which is a biblical word for pastors. Peter wants those pastors, those undershepherds, to do what Jesus, the chief Shepherd, had done for him that night. Go to and be with them with the Word of peace, forgiveness, hope, and joy. Go to them and remind them of the glory of which we are now partakers, yet the fullness of which still awaits us. Go to them and preach to them that the victory has already been won! And that there will be an end to the suffering, to the sin, to the scattering. For when the chief Shepherd appears, it will be for them just as it was for Peter that night. So I exhort the elders among you, Peter says, as a fellow elder . . . shepherd the flock of God that is among you. Wherever that is, however that is. Be there for them, that they not be alone.

And then Peter adds this admonition: Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility. I think that too is a word to the pastors, but applicable also to all. Clothe yourselves with humility (or self-forgetfulness), because humility’s opposite, pride (or self-focus), is the great enemy of faith. For there are two dangers lurking with pride: thinking too much of self and too little of others, and looking too much to your own abilities and strength. Those are the opposites and enemies of faith because faith always looks out, not in; faith always looks to God in faith and to others in love, not at ourselves. 

So if we are proud or looking at ourselves or relying on ourselves, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, Peter says. God humbles the proud so that we will instead turn to Him in repentance for thinking too much of or only of ourselves, and turn to Him in faith to rely on Him and His strength and forgiveness alone. For only in Him are we anything, and only in Him is our strength and our deliverance.

But while God opposes the proud, He gives grace to the humble. So, Peter continues, humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you. For His hand is mighty, not yours. He will exalt, not you. And at the proper time. So do not oppose or resist Him, or even doubt Him or despair of Him, but humble yourself under Him in faith and trust. And cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you. He truly does care for you. Do you need more proof than the cross? He cares for you. The devil certainly doesn’t, He is looking to divide and devour you. Many in the world do not, and are the cause of your suffering and anxiety. But He does, your God and chief Shepherd does. And at the proper time, He Himself will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you

Because He has called you to His eternal glory in Christ. Notice that’s past tense. He has called you. It’s already done. He called you by the Gospel, baptized you into His Son, and has promised you eternal glory. That’s all past tense, yours now, though not yet in all its fulness. But that day is coming. And it is as sure and certain for you as the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Just as locked doors could not stop Him from appearing to Peter and his frightened friends, so no grave will be able to stop Him either. What He has promised, He will do. For to Him belongs all dominion - all power and authority and rule and strength - forever and ever. Amen.

And thus Peter ends his letter. A letter which began with the certainty of baptism, and ends with its fulfillment. A letter to the scattered, yet who are united in Christ. A letter to the suffering that they have the mind of Christ. A letter of hope, when the flock seems small and the struggles loom large. A letter of encouragement, for it will never be easy to live as Christians in an unchristian world, and even moreso when that world is not just unchristian but turns anti-christian and anti-truth. 

Does it seem so for you? In your life? In the world? Can you relate to some of what Peter was talking about? You would be a rare Christian indeed who would say no. For satan is an equal opportunity attacker, the world you will always have around you, and your own sinful flesh will constantly battle against the new man in you. 

But in the midst of all that is Christ. Who like a conquering king staking his claim to the land he has won by sticking his flag in the ground, so Christ our King has stuck His cross into this earth and claimed the victory for you. A victory that continues to go forth into the world through the Word preached, the water of baptism poured out, and the Body and Blood of Christ given, giving the victory of the forgiveness of your sins. For the Head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now (LSB #532)

And your head, too. Now a glory we believe, then a glory we will see. And so until that time we pray, as we will in the final hymn:

O Christ, do Thou my soul prepare
For that bright home of love
That I may see Thee and adore
With all Thy saints above (LSB #673 v. 6).

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

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Lent 5 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“What Would You Ask For?”
Text: Mark 10:32-45; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:1-10

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

If you could ask Jesus for one thing, just one thing, what would it be? If Jesus came here to you today and asked: What do you want me to do for you? what would you say? I’m sure many things are going through your minds. Maybe healing for you or a loved one you are worried about. Maybe peace in this crazy, murderous world. Less stress at school or at work. More time to spend with loved ones. Some, I suppose, would ask for riches. 

Well James and John get that opportunity, we heard today. They get to ask Jesus for whatever they want . . . and they already had what they wanted in mind. They wanted to sit at Jesus’ right and left in His glory. They wanted the greatness, power, honor, and authority of those two places.

Now before we scoff too much, perhaps their request made some sense. They were, after all, two of the three disciples that made up Jesus’ inner circle, along with Peter. They were the three Jesus had taken up the mountain to see Him in His transfiguration. They were the three Jesus was going to take farther into the Garden of Gethsemane with Him to pray. And Peter had already screwed up. Maybe they thought that disqualified him. For the first time Jesus spoke of His death to His disciples (which we heard a couple weeks ago), Peter rebuked Him, to which Jesus had to say: Get behind me, Satan (Mark 8:33)! The second time Jesus brings it up, the twelve begin to argue about which of them is the greatest (Mark 9:34). So now when Jesus brings it up again a third time, James and John seek to settle the matter. In a way, it just makes sense that they should have those two places. Worldly sense, anyway.

Well, thankfully, God does not ask such a question to us. Thankfully, I say, because I’m sure I would screw it up. What I would ask for would probably depend on the time of the day, the day of the week, what was going on right at that time, whether I was feeling good or bad, angry or sad, and a whole host of other things. I would probably blurt out something and then regret it later. 

So, thankfully, God does not ask such a question to us, and that’s good for two other reasons as well.

First, because He tells us to pray for anything and everything - not just one thing. Ask! Jesus says (Matthew 7:7). Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). If you have a need, come to the one who can help (Luke 11). Don’t give up (Luke 18:1). Pray like dear children ask their dear father (Small Catechism). We have been given such a great gift in prayer, and the promise of our Lord that He will hear. And so we don’t get just one chance. We don’t have to worry about screwing it up.

And notice that Jesus does not rebuke James and John for asking. He rebuked Peter, when Peter denied the cross, but not James and John. He corrects them, He teaches them, and He doesn’t give them what they asked for - and we’ll get to why in a moment. But it’s okay to ask. Your Father loves it when you pray . . . even if we sometimes ask for the wrong things and He has to say no.

But here’s the second reason - and this is really the point, of the readings today, and of Lent and Passiontide: God gives us what we should have asked for.

The Old Testament reading from Jeremiah spoke of this first. The people of Israel had screwed up. They had turned away from God and were worshipping idols. Though God sent prophet after prophet, culminating in Jeremiah, to preach to them and turn them to Him in repentance and faith, they would not listen. So finally, God was about to send them into exile from their home. For 70 years. A hard but necessary discipline. Because they had broken the covenant. And during those 70 years, if God had asked them what do you want me to do for you? they probably would have said: we want to go home.

So God didn’t ask. Instead, He proclaimed through Jeremiah that He would give them what they needed. The Father being a true father. Giving His children a new covenant, where He will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

That’s the answer, you see. If we have only one thing to ask, that’s what it should be. Forgive me, O Lord. Forgive me, a poor miserable sinner. That’s our greatest need.

Did you think of that at the beginning of this sermon? If you did, good for you! I don’t think many do. But that is the gift above all other gifts. That is the forever gift. Everything else will go the way of the world, of decay and death, but forgiveness lasts forever. Forgiveness is why the Son of God came into our world to be, as the Epistle said, our high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. The forever priest who would sacrifice Himself for the life of the world. For all people, no matter when they lived. Who would give His life to ransom you from sin and death. That is why Jesus and that is His glory.

So when James and John ask for the places next to Jesus in His glory, they really don’t know what they are asking for. They are thinking of the greatness and glory they know, but Jesus is going to show them the greatness and glory they do not yet know: of the cross

Right now, that cross is veiled in our sanctuary - but not so that we don’t have to look at it, but symbolic of our Lord being taken away from us. And to increase our joy when we can view it unveiled again, and see once again the glory and the love of God for us, who would do that for you and me. For truly it is His love that makes His cross glorious. His love that would rather He die than we die. His love that would take our sins and hold them against Himself rather than hold them against us. To take our condemnation and death and give us His forgiveness and life.

Now too, the world knows something of this, praising those who heroically lay down their lives or give greatly of themselves for others. And the world will even praise Jesus as an example of this, who laid down His life for a cause. To teach us, to show us. But Jesus is much more than that. For He didn’t lay down His life for a cause, He laid it down for you. To be more than an example - to be your Saviour. Not to show you how to do it, but to give you what you need the most: the forgiveness of your sins.

Which, if you think about it, is the only thing Jesus asked for while on the cross. Now, some scholars think that the words recorded for us that Jesus spoke while on the cross are indications of much longer prayers; of Jesus praying the psalms, since many of them are snippets of psalms. And that may be true. But if you consider just the seven last words as they are recorded in the Gospels for us, of what Jesus spoke while on the cross, there is one question and five statements, but just one request: Father, forgive them (Luke 23:34)

That’s what Jesus is all about. The healings, the miracles, even the resurrection, are all about forgiveness - undoing sin and giving life. For when you are forgiven, you have everything, and all that you need. Now and forever. That we do not think of forgiveness that way is an indication that we too, like James and John, have something still to learn. 

So, Jesus asks them a question, to teach them. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? How would you answer that? It’s not really a fair question, since we know a bit more than James and John did at that point, when they eagerly answered yes! We know that Jesus was baptized into our death. We know that cup Jesus was about to drink was so dreadful that He would shortly ask His Father to take it from Him, if possible. 

But we know especially that we don’t have to, that Jesus transformed those things through the glory of the cross. He who is life is baptized into our death, so that we who die are baptized into His resurrection. He who is sinless drinks the cup of wrath against our sin, so that we who are sinners drink now the cup of blessing, of forgiveness. And so in every baptism and in every Supper, Jesus’ one request from the cross is fulfilled: we are forgiven

And so James and John and you and I are, in fact, baptized with Jesus’ baptism and drink of His cup - but only after He transforms them from death to life for us. For that is His glory and why He came. That not just James and John, but all of us have seat around Him when He comes again in glory. 

But those seats at Jesus right and left in His glory, that James and John asked for? Turns out there were two criminals they were prepared for. James and John really didn’t know what they were asking. And so it was good Jesus did not give those places to them. He gave them places even greater. Places He has prepared for you too. And if Jesus has done all that and provided all that for you, you are free now to serve and forgive others. To be great and glorious for others. For in Jesus, you already are.

So this Passiontide, these last two weeks of Lent, we learn again the glory of your Saviour, the glory of his love, the glory of His cross. We learn again the glory of His service and the glory of ours. And we learn again the glory of His forgiveness. And so we learn to pray: Father, forgive me. Father, forgive them. And culminating on Good Friday and Easter, we will hear His glorious answer: Done.

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

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lent 4 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Christians in an Unchristian World: Suffering”
Text: 1 Peter 4:1-19

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

Tonight, the rubber meets the road for Peter. The first three chapters of Peter’s first letter were important - to know who we are as baptized Christians, that we’re being built as living stones into the living temple of the Church, and that we live in love in the places and under the authorities God has placed over us. But Peter’s words to us tonight are what all that was leading up to: suffering. Or, when the rubber meets the road and leaves a skid mark on us.

Sadly, this is sometimes the speed bump that causes some to veer off the road of Christianity, and some to veer off the road of life altogether. It is why assisted suicide and so-called mercy killing continues to grow in popularity and public acceptance. We don’t want to suffer. For Christians and non-Christians alike, the ideal life would be a smooth, straight road, all downhill, and always with the wind at your back. And many are looking for a God or a god who will give them just that.

But man’s ideal is not man’s reality. It was, in the beginning, but then sin took care of that. Adam’s work became toil, Eve’s childbearing became painful, and brother turned against brother. And though many things have changed and progressed across the centuries, that reality has not. Suffering became the new normal, quite contrary to what the serpent had promised.

But when the Son of God came into our world in the flesh, the ideal became reality again. A perfect man unstained by sin once again trod this earth. And through His suffering, death, and resurrection, He paved the way to eternal life, though the way will still not be smooth, straight, all downhill, and with the wind always at your back. It will still be hard and it will still involve suffering. 

Because you will have to wrestle with your sinful flesh and its passions which oppose the way of Christ. You will have to endure both the enticements and the attacks of the sinful world, which wants you to go its way and will hate you when you don’t. You will be under seige from satan, who wants to wear you down and wear you out so that you give in. And you will even have crosses sent from your Father in heaven for your good, though you will be tempted to see them as not good, and sent not in your Father’s love but in His anger. Which is all to say: suffering is not an abberation; suffering is the norm for the Christian Church. Which is why Peter says: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

And so also Peter began this chapter: Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking

Arm yourselves, which means to be ready. Soldiers arm themselves when expecting attack. So you, too, expect to be attacked, and so be ready for it. 

Arm yourselves with the same way of thinking. Or, with the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ who came to help the helpless, to love the loveless, to serve the lowly and outcast, to forgive the sinner, to suffer for the suffering, and to die for the dying. The mind of Christ which is not me first, but you first. The mind of Christ which seeks not to hold your sins against you, but to cover your sins. To cover them with His blood, that they be washed away in His forgiveness. That is the mind of Christ given to you and each Christian in baptism.But think that, do that, and like Christ, you will suffer for it.

But when you do, Peter also says, rejoice! Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. Which doesn’t mean that our sufferings atone for our sins, as Christ’s did - that could never be. And it doesn’t need to be - Christ has done it all. He atoned for all the sin of all the world, yours and mind included. It is finished, He said on the cross (John 19:30), and it was. 100% complete. Nothing more need be done. But when you suffer for being a Christian, when you suffer for the truth, when you suffer for doing good, when you suffer because you are a baptized child of God, you are being treated just as Jesus was and in that way sharing in His suffering. And when that happens, Peter goes on to say, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. The Holy Spirit, who is making you holy now, and will glorify you in the end.

And the end of all things is at hand, Peter also says. You know, whenever I hear that or something like that, I always think of the cartoonish characters who stand on street corners with a sign that says: The end is near! Which I think satan likes because when we think that way we then dismiss the thought, just like we dismiss the crazy carrying the sign as a kook.

And yet it’s true. Man knows not his time. How often are we surprised when we hear of someone dying suddenly, having a heart attack, random acts of violence taking someone, sometimes in what is called the prime of life. The end always is at hand. And the closer the end gets, the more satan will rage against the Church and the truth.

But do not fear or fear him. Instead, Peter says, go on serving one another to the glory of God. For satan cannot harm those who are in Christ. And if the end is at hand, that also means this: your salvation is at hand - the end of your suffering and your rest and peace with Christ Jesus. For at the end of Jesus’ baptizing hand, His absolving hand, and His feeding hand, is the end of your sin and thus the beginning of your life. Jesus leading us on till our rest is won (LSB #718).

Which we will always need, for as long as we live in this world and life, our thoughts, words, deeds, and desires will not be pure and without sin. While the new man in us ceases from sin because in baptism He has died to sin, the old Adam in us will continue to rebel. We’ll never like suffering and seek to avoid it. But as Christians living in an unchristian world, Peter concludes with this: Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good

Trust the Word of God. Trust His promises. Trust His faithfulness. Don’t give up doing good for He who created you also re-creates you, and He who gave you life will give you new and eternal life when He raises you up on the last day. Until then, it won’t be easy. The righteous are scarcely saved, Peter writes - the dangers of false belief and false gods abound. The attacks and the suffering will continue. Of that you can be sure. But of this you can be sure as well: in Christ you are safe

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lent 4 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Mean? No, Merciful”
Text: Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21; Ephesians 2:1-10

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

Meanie! Ever hear that? You’re a meanie! Parents, you hear it from your kids. Kids, you hear it from your friends. And if you’re older, you hear it too - just in more sophisticated ways and with more sophisticated words, like: you’re intolerant, you’re a hater, you’re a bigot. Now, we may be those things and as sinners we do things that are mean and inappropriate. But usually when you hear those things, it’s simply because you’re doing something someone else doesn’t happen to like. And, in fact, what you’re doing may be good, it may be right, it may even be loving and helpful. But they don’t like it, so you’re a meanie.

Well today, look how seemingly mean God is! We heard that He sent fiery serpents to attack His people in the wilderness and bite them. Well, many don’t like that. It doesn’t sound very nice. A loving God wouldn’t do that. God’s a meanie.

But here’s the thing and here’s the truth that God knew: His people had already been bitten, and by a serpent far more deadly than the ones He sent. For they had not just turned away from God but against God. They told Moses: God’s not good. You and Him, you just brought us up out of Egypt to be even more mean to us than the Egyptians were, and to die in this wilderness. There’s no food and no water and, oh yeah, this so-called food, this manna, you say God is giving us? We hate it.

Now, it hadn’t been too long before this that God had sent the plagues upon the Egyptians, including the Passover. He got the Egyptians to release them from their slavery and even give them gold and silver on their way out. He led them through the Red Sea and closed it back up on the pursuing Pharaoh and his army. He gave them the manna to eat and water from a rock to drink. Whatever they needed, God provided for them. So how could they turn against such a God? Because they got bit. And that’s also the only reason they were still in the wilderness, because they got bit and wouldn’t believe God and go into the land He led them to, that He had promised to give them. They got bit, and it was killing them. Turning them against the God that gave them - and was still giving them - life.

They got bit by the same serpent that bit Adam and Eve in the Garden and did the same thing to them. Look at all that God had given them! A perfect and wonderful place to live, all the food you could ever want, peace and harmony with all of creation, and a perfect spouse, specially created just for them. So how could they turn against such a God? Because they got bit. And it killed them. It turned them against the God that gave them - and was still giving them - life.

Now how is it with you? Why aren’t you more steadfast and constant in God’s Word and prayer? Why is it sometimes so hard to come to church? Why do you have such a hard time believing God’s Word? Why do you find it so hard to keep His commandments, or even believe that keeping them is good? Why do the opinions of the world that disagree with God’s Word sound so good? Why do you doubt and worry about God’s love for you and think you have to earn His favor? Why do you fear the world more than God? Why do you love things in the world more then God? Why do you trust the world more than God? Because you got bit too. 

And just like those folks in the wilderness, the poison of sin now courses through our veins, turning us away from God and against God. And it’s deadly. Physically and spiritually. Which is bad enough, but its actually even worse than that, for in turning away from and against God, what are we turning to? What are we turning to when we like our sin and choose it? And so roll up our sleeves and say to the serpent: bite me again and again and again and so get our sin fix, whatever that is for you, that makes you feel good: the satisfaction of temper, of sexual satisfaction you’re not meant to have outside of marriage, of gossip, of greed, of rebellion, of hate . . . what is it for you? What are we turning to when we think that sin can solve our problems and that following God’s ways can’t? What are we turning to when we are turning away from the God who has given us our life and everything we have? What we are doing?

Thankfully, God is not the kind of Father to let us just wander off, to go wherever we want and do whatever we want. He calls us back. He comes after us to bring us back. 

And so in the wilderness He sent fiery serpents. Mean? No, merciful. His people were dying and He needed them to realize what they were doing and to turn back to Him in repentance and faith. Hard? You bet. But would anything less have turned His people back to Him? And when they did, God provided a cure, a way out, by faith. He didn’t just wave His hand and make all the serpents go away. He didn’t just speak and make everyone better again. He could have. But instead He told Moses to make a serpent and put it on a pole. And Moses did so. And then He attached His Word and promise to that serpent - that if a serpent bit anyone . . . look at the bronze serpent and live. They would live by faith in that promise of God.

That’s what God had done with Adam and Eve as well. After they sinned and rebelled against Him He expelled them from the Garden and from that point on life was going to be most difficult for them. Mean? No, merciful. Because at the same time He gave them a Word and promise attached to the physical reality of child-bearing. That one day, one of the children born from Eve, descended from her, would defeat that serpent that bit them and crush his head. And from that day on, they would live by faith in that promise of God.

And then God did it. He fulfilled His promise. We heard it today from John - that just like it was in the time of Moses, when the people got bit and Moses lifted up that serpent in the wilderness, God sent His Son to be that for us. God sent His Son, descended from Eve, so that we and all who are bit and dying look at Him up on that pole of the cross, and live. Looking not just with physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith, believing the Word and promise of God that because of Jesus we will live and not die. For, Jesus said, His Father didn’t send Him to condemn them world - we were already that. We were already dying. We were already bit. The default is not that if God would just back off a bit I’d be alright or we’d be better off. The default is if God does nothing, if God doesn’t act, then the world is a lot worse place than it already is; than sin has made it. And we’re hopeless, lost, dead men walking. So no, He didn’t come to condemn the world; He came that we may live. That the world might be saved through Him; through the anti-venin of the forgiveness of our sins.

Paul said the same thing in the Epistle. He said while you were dead in your trespasses and sins - spiritually dead after you were bit and had the poison of sin running through your veins - God stepped in and did something about it. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us . . .  Great love, not small love or changing love, like we have. Great love, immoveable love, immeasureable love. Because of the great love with which He loved us, sent His only-begotten Son and made us alive together with Christ.

That is a love with which, quite frankly, we are unfamiliar for it is unlike any love on this earth. That God would give His Son for us, for sinners, for rebels, for garbage, when what we deserved was condemnation and death. And so the Scriptures call it grace, this love so completely and totally undeserved. By grace, Paul says - by this totally immeasureable and unimaginable love of God for you who do not deserve anything from Him - by grace you have been saved through faith. And then just to make sure you get it he adds: and this is not your own doing. Ya think? It is the gift of God.

It is the gift of God that He put His Son Jesus on the cross for you, and then attached to Him a Word and promise - that all who have been bitten by the satanic serpent, look at Him and live and not die. Believe that there is your sin and there is your forgiveness. There the Son of God takes the poison of all your bites. There is your future, if not for Him. But He took it to give you a real future. Life, not death.

Now, the people in the wilderness could have said to Moses: That’s stupid! How can looking at your little snake on a pole help? How come you didn’t pray harder? How come He didn’t just kill all these serpents? How can you think that thing is going to help us - we have real needs here! That would have been sad, no? Yet that’s exactly what some do today with Jesus and His cross. That’s stupid. We have real needs here! We need more than that. How can you think that is going to help us?

Because it does. Because that’s where God put His Word and promise, and where His Word and promise are, there is life and every good. And so when we look to the word and promise of the cross in Baptism, we live. We die and rise there with Christ to a new life. When we look to the word and promise of the cross in the Absolution, we live. We receive the anti-venin of Christ’s forgiveness. When we look to the word and promise of the cross in the Word, we live. We hear again of all that Jesus has done for us and all that our Father has promised us; we hear of His grace and inestimable love. And when we look to the word and promise of the cross in the Lord’s Supper, we live. We eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour who gave Himself for us. And we live. For satan cannot have you when Jesus does. Satan cannot harm you when you are in Jesus.

Which doesn’t mean he won’t try to have you, he will. And that doesn’t mean we won’t wander too close and get bit again, we will. And that doesn’t mean your Father in heaven won’t send things into your life to keep you close to Him and focused on the cross, He will. He knows that you need them. Just like a parent disciplining their child, or a policeman pulling you over for speeding. Mean? No, merciful. The love that caused Him to send his only-begotten Son for you will let Him do no less.

And then He’ll use you like a Moses. For as Paul concluded: for by this grace which has saved us, we are [also] his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Which means that once the anti-venin of forgiveness is coursing through your veins, things change. You change. Like when you’re sick and then the fever breaks, you get up and do things again, you live again, things get back to normal. So it is in Christ. With His forgiveness. It’s back to normal, which is back to the way things were before sin. Not all the way to be sure, as long as we live in this life before Jesus comes again. But one day all the way. But still now different. Getting up and doing those good things we’ve been created for and to those whom God has given us. Not because we have to, but because we now can. Because of His healing, His forgiveness, His life. Being merciful, as our Father in heaven is merciful (Luke 6:36).

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

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lent 3 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Christians in an Unchristian World: Love”
Text: 1 Peter 3:1-22

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

The chapter of First Peter that we are considering tonight, chapter three, is very much a continuation of chapter two. In fact, if I were the one in charge of deciding where the chapter break would be, I would not have put it here. For after emphasizing who we are in chapter one - that we are baptized children of God, and that this is our first and foremost identity - Peter continued in chapter two to stress our life together - how God is building us together as His Church, like living stones in a living Temple in which His Spirit is dwelling. And he then began to spell out in some very practical ways how we then live this life together in holiness - set apart from the ways and thinking of the world; set apart for godliness. We submit to those in authority over us - the government, our bosses, teachers, and others - even if we suffer for doing so. For we have a Good Shepherd who went through the same thing, and is caring for us.

And so tonight Peter continues with our life together in speaking of husbands and wives - verses that always cause no small amount of controversy when read in our world today as being demeaning to women. And if taken out of the context of the rest of the Scriptures, perhaps they are. But whenever one speaks of husbands and wives according to the Scriptures, always lurking in the background is Christ and His Bride, the Church. And that our marriages are not only defined by that, but are to be images of that. Of a husband who loves His bride so much that He willingly lays down his life for her, and of a bride who in return, willingly submits herself - never forceably - to her husband. And that with such a relationship, both are raised up and exalted. 

And so for an example, Peter points to Abraham and Sarah - an example which has no small amount of irony for us. For first of all, we know that Sarah was a very beautiful woman. That is why Abraham seemed to be always afraid that someone else was going to kill him and take her for a wife. And yet, Peter says, she is an example not of outward beauty but of inward, the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, whose hope was in God. And because of her trust in God, she submitted herself to Abraham and obeyed him, even calling him lord. Which doesn’t mean she never spoke up or stood up for herself - indeed she did, telling Abraham to send Hagar and her son Ishmael away. And the Lord told Abraham to listen to her and do what she said (Genesis 21)! But in calling Abraham lord and submitting to him, there is the acknowledgement and belief that the Lord had given her to Abraham and Abraham to her and that her true Lord was working good for her through her husband. And so she sees the Lord in her husband, working through him in that calling, for her. And here again is a picture of Christ and His Bride, the Church, who calls Him Lord and Saviour, and from whom we expect every good.

But here then is also some irony with Abraham, for, Peter continues, husbands are to live with their wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, and yet Abraham did not seem to do this when not once, but twice, he allows Sarah to be taken and almost made the wife of the Pharaoh (Genesis 12) or Abimelech, the king of Gerar (Genesis 20) because he was fearful for his own life! Abraham was a sinner too. And while many get upset at these verses that call the woman the weaker vessel, it first says that they should be shown honor. And so the picture here is this: I have lots of things in my house and I do not treat them all the same. For example, I have a pair of work boots and I have some very old and delicate books. The books I take special care of because they are not as strong and sturdy as the boots and are precious and valuable. I do not throw them on the floor or take them out into the mud and snow. That is how husbands are to treat their wives - as valuable and precious and worthy of being shown such honor. These verses have nothing to do with power and physical strength, and everything to do with how we regard one another. And again, consider how valuable and precious Christ considered His Bride, and how He has honored us. 

And so in all our life together, Peter continues, all of you have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

That is what we should do, that is how our life together should be, in all our relationships. But as I pointed out with Abraham, and as you know from your own life, it isn’t always so. We are sinners and sometimes big and spectacular sinners. And that is why, at the end of this chapter, Peter points us again to Jesus. There is our hope. The righeous one who died for the unrighteous ones, that he might bring us to God. And He did that, as Peter spells out, through His death, His descent in hell, His resurrection, and His ascension. He took the punishment for our sins and died for them. He then descended into hell and conquered it too. He broke open the grave in His resurrection. And He who submitted Himself perfectly here in this life, has now ascended and all powers have been subjected to Him.

And all this has been given to you in your baptism, which now saves you. Not because it removes dirt from the body, but because it removes sin from the soul. Because that water is your union with Christ in His death and resurrection and His gifting to you all that He did for you. It is where you become His Bride and receive Him and all that He has. Like Noah safe in the ark and saved through water, you are safe in Christ and saved through that water. 

And thus safe and secure, forgiven and protected, in your heavenly Bridegroom, we are now enabled to live a new life. The baptized, united in Christ, as Christians in an unchristian world. That life is going to look quite different than those in the world and what they’re used to, and so, Peter says, always be prepared to make a defense - to give an explanation - to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Tell them of Christ and His forgiveness and the new life He has given you. And, Peter says, have no fear of them - of any enemy - for what Christ has given to you they cannot take away. And if you suffer for this life and faith, Peter says, you will be blessed. Which doesn’t mean it will be easy, but it does give us confidence that our Saviour who has all powers subjected to Him, can and will use everything in this world and life for our good; for our blessing. We may not always see it or understand how, but faith simply says: yes! Amen. It is so.

Now, you may have noticed, I haven’t really mentioned “love,” which I listed as the theme for this chapter tonight. But though I haven’t mentioned the word, I really have been talking about it all along. For while the world thinks of love primarily as an emotion, the Scriptures speak of love as something that is done; a part of our will that then expresses itself in our lives. We see it in Christ Jesus and what He has done for us. He didn’t just say “I love you,” He did love, especially on the cross. And that love He has now given to us, that in all our relationships in this world and life, living as Christians in an unchristian world, we can do the same. Not fearing anything that is frightening, Peter said, for perfect love drives out fear. The perfect love which is Christ, His forgiveness, His promises, and His victory.

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