Monday, June 29, 2015

Pentecost 5 Sermon

We were privileged to have one of our seminarians George Fields proclaim the Word of God to us this week before he leaves for his vicarage in Jackson, MS. AUDIO of sermon.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pentecost 4 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Always Someplace to Go”
Text: Mark 4:35-41 (Job 38:1-11; 2 Cor 6:1-13)

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

When you’re on a boat out in the middle of the sea, there’s no place to go if something goes wrong. Think of all the cruise ship horror stories that have been in the news the past couple of years. When there’s a fire on board, there’s no place to go to get away from it. If the engines die or there’s a power failure, you can’t just call the repairman. When sickness starts to spread and overtake the ship, there’s no place to avoid it. All around you is just water, maybe for as far as the eye can see, dividing you from land, separating you from others, and threatening to swallow you up.

On land, it’s different. There’s usually someplace you can go if something goes wrong. If a tornado threatens, the folks in tornado alley have shelters they can take refuge in and be protected. If a hurricane nears the coast, or flooding threatens, you can evacuate inland and get away from the worst of it. Or if there’s fire or power problems, there are people you can call for help and who are ready to come quickly. But when you’re out on the water, there’s no place to go. When you’re out on the water and all you can see is water on all four sides, then what?

Well then you are exactly where Jesus wants you. That when you have no place to go, you go to Him.

And so we heard in the Holy Gospel today of the disciples in a boat, out on the Sea of Galilee. Some of them, at least, were experienced fishermen; experienced on being out on the water and how to handle it. But the storm that arose that day was a doozy! Even more than they could handle. We’re not told everything that happened and the exact sequence of things, but undoubtedly they tried their best to handle the situation, doing what they had always done when storms arose, and what they knew needed to be done. But still they found themselves in danger, against a storm - or maybe it was a superstorm, like what devastated New Jersey and New York a couple years ago. And it was too much for them. There was nothing they could do and they had no place to go.

So finally they go to Jesus. Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? they ask. It’s a plea for help disguised under an accusation. And so it’s a plea for help without having to humble themselves or admit their weakness.‘Cause we don’t like to humble ourselves or admit we need help or cannot do something. That’s why if you ask a child to help you move something, they will always try to carry the biggest thing. Or why men (usually men) in pre-GPS days would rather drive around lost for half an hour before stopping and asking directions. It’s a pride thing; a self-sufficieny thing; an “I can do it” thing. Which in worldly matters, maybe yes, maybe no. But in spiritual matters, a definite no. And in spiritual matters, a deadly thing.

And so a spiritual stubbornness in us that needs to be killed. So that we have no place to go but to Jesus. 

And you don’t have to be on a boat - God did it to Job. Job truly had no place to go. All his possessions got wiped out. All his children were killed. His wife turned against him, and his friends were no help. For they got together with Job and their attitude was: Okay, let’s figure this out. Let’s get a handle on it, get our minds around it, and fix it. But they couldn’t. Every attempt failed. I’ve been there. You?

So finally the disciples go to Jesus, who is the anti-disciple. They are in a tizzy, He is sleeping. They are worried, He is calm. So they wake Him up, and you can just imagine the scene . . . Jesus looks at them, shakes His head a little, and calls to the wind and the sea: Okay, that’s enough. Thank you. Be still. And then He asks those disciples: Have you still no faith?

Oh, they had faith, they did - just in the wrong place. They had faith in themselves. They needed to learn there’s a better place to put your faith. The only place, really. A better One to rely on instead of yourself. The only One, really. The One who even the wind and sea obey. The storm humbled them, and Jesus strengthened them. 

For the very reason Jesus was in the boat with them was that He cared that we were perishing. His very presence was the answer to their question, Don’t you care? But I don’t mean the fact that He was in the boat instead of somewhere on shore - I mean the fact that the very Son of God had become flesh and was dwelling with us, living with us, in our sin and weakness and stubbornness and sinfulness; in our peril and danger. His presence in our world proved that He cared, and that He would do everything necessary to save us who are perishing . . . even be swallowed up for us, by death.

Don’t you care that we are perishing? What a question! Jesus does nothing but care. His teaching, His miracles, His compassion, and His rebuking, His discipline, and the troubles and crosses He sends - all are because He cares. To kill our pride so that we repent. To humble us so He may lift us up. To expose how foolish our pride and our ideas of self-sufficiency so that we rely on Him. That when we have no place to go (and when it is God who maybe puts us there), we know we always have someplace to go - to Him. For He is the One who is able to help, who wants to help, who will help, and has come to help. For who is this? the disciples asked. The very Son of God, in human flesh, to save you.

For it’s easy to go cruising through this life (yes, pun intended!) when the waters are calm and the livin’ is easy. It’s when trouble hits that faith is revealed . . . and who your faith is in. And that’s true for you as an individual Christian, or when we’re all together in the boat, as the Church. So when the troubles come, when the storms hit, and they show your weakness or that you’ve been going along really with faith in yourself, thanks be to God! That we turn to Him now and rely on Him now

Or as St. Paul put it: Folks, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. And so we humble ourselves now and repent of our sin now, and receive His forgiveness and life now. We remember our baptism now, and know that those waters aren’t meant to make us good swimmers, but to kill the old sinner in us and give us a new life. We hear the Word of God proclaimed now, calling us to faith in Him and not in ourselves. And we feed now on the food our Lord gives us, His answer for all time to the question: Don’t you care that we are perishing? He replies: This is My Body, This is My Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins - that’s how much I care. Give and shed for your wrong faith, for your pride, for your vain self-sufficiency. This is My Body, This is My Blood, given and shed for you because I do care. So, now, depart in peace.

Peace. The same Word spoken to the wind and the sea, now spoken to you and your heart. Whatever troubles you, whatever is frightening you, whatever is threatening you, whatever is haunting you, whatever worries you, your past, your present, or your future . . . peace. You have the One who is greater than all. Or perhaps better to say, He has you. He has you in His hands, in His eye, in His heart. 

Is sin the problem? Jesus died for your sin on the cross. It has been paid for, atoned for. You are forgiven. Peace.

Is death the problem? Jesus died your death and then broke it’s power in His resurrection. It cannot hold you anymore. When you die your life will continue, new, in Jesus. You will rise with Him. Peace.

Or is life the problem? ‘Cause no matter how hard you try, you just can’t do it? You keep falling into the same traps and temptations? You keep messing up and failing and kicking yourself? Peace. 

It’s not up to you. Jesus has done it. All that is necessary for you and your salvation. And He’s in the boat with you. Though ascended into heaven, He has not left, but is here, as He promised. And He sent His Spirit, as He promised. And He is coming again, as He promised. Because He does care. Always. And He’s not stopping. Ever.

Sometimes it takes a storm to teach us that again, and to expose us again. If so, how fortunate we are to have a God who sends us not just nice weather, but those storms that we need. And who even more, is with us Himself in them. To see us through. To give us peace. To save. That we never have no place to go, but at all times and in all places go to Him who came to us and is working all things for your good.

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

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pentecost 3 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Seeds of the Kingdom”
Text: Mark 4:26-34; 2 Cor. 5:1-10; Ezekiel 17:22-24

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

I don’t think it a stretch to say that every one of us here today knows someone who does not believe that we wish would believe. A friend, a neighbor, a family member . . .  We want them to know their Saviour. We want them to know how much Jesus loves them and that He died for them. We want them to know and have the assurance with us, as St. Paul said today, that if [or more probably when] the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. We want them to be part of the family of faith, part of the Church, with us. 

And it’s frustrating and sad when they’re not. If it were up to us, they would be. At least, that’s how we imagine it. We’d tell them about Jesus, they would rejoice in this message, and believe - right then and there, on the spot. Maybe sometimes that happens; but more often not. More often our words about Jesus and the Church are met with indifference, ridicule, hostility, or that we have some sort of mental defect for believing such a preposterous tale. That has been the opinion of some about Christians from the days of the twelve all the way down our day today. So maybe it is more accurate to say that if it were up to us, no one would believe! Or at least, far fewer. 

But the good news we heard today is that it is not up to us. The Church is God’s and only He makes it grow. Only He can. Which is to say that it is a miracle. The Church is the creation of God, the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not scientific, not something we can control. That may be frustrating at times, but it is better. For what God does is always better than what we do. And His ways always better than ours. 

Now that’s not an obvious statement to make, for as has been reported much in the news recently, and as it’s not hard to see, the Church seems to have been in decline for a while. There are less people in the pews every Sunday, less identifying themselves as Christians, and less believing and living by God’s Word. It seems as if God and His ways aren’t working . . . or aren’t working very well anymore.

But Jesus tells us today how it is. That the kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.

Think about that for a moment. How seeds grow. When I plant seeds, sometimes they grow and sometimes not. Sometimes they take a long time to come up and sometimes they come up fast. And sometimes in my zeal to help things along I actually mess everything up and kill the very seeds and plants I was trying to make grow. Truth is, they don’t need my help. Like the 50,000 little maple trees growing all over my yard this year because for some reason there was a bumper crop of those little helicopters descending from the trees this year! I didn’t plant them; in fact, I couldn’t stop them! Or to use Jesus’ words, I just slept and rose, night and day, and the seeds did the rest.

And so the Church scatters seed. The Church - and when I say the Church I mean pastors and people, in the church building and outside of here - the Church proclaims the Word of God. Ideally like all those little helicopters coming down, all over the place. And then we live by faith and not by sight. That just as God causes seeds to grow in nature, so He will cause the seed of His Word to grow in the hearts of those who hear. That you and I are here today are proof that He does. You’re not here because you got it all figured out, that you broke the code, that you somehow worked faith up in your heart - no. You’re here because the seed of God’s Word was planted in your heart and it grew through the power and work of the Holy Spirit. For some maybe it was quick, for others maybe it took a long time. We don’t know what is happening under the ground when seeds are planted; or how the Word is working in hearts that we cannot see. But we trust that it is, for Jesus said that it is. And that He is producing a harvest. A harvest that in the end, we just may be surprised by.

The other thing we cannot judge by is the size of the seed. That’s the second parable Jesus told today - that the kingdom of God . . . is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade

Big seeds do not always produce big plants and little seeds do not always produce little plants. And so maybe it looks like the word that the pastor speaks, the sermons and such, are big seeds, impressive seeds, that would grow the biggest plants and produce the most fruit. And maybe the Word that you speak seems little and unimpressive. But don’t judge by that. You just might be surprised at what God is able to do, what God is able to grow, through the little seeds that you sow, through the Word that you speak, to friends and family and neighbors. Maybe you can’t see it right now; maybe all the growth right now is underground. But the Word of God is working; the Spirit of God is working; the kingdom of God is growing

My parents didn’t think they were doing anything special in our family, but God grew two pastors from the Word that they planted. I remember a few years ago speaking with a now sainted man who was struggling with some theology and whether he could join our congregation. I spent many hours with him, but it was one of you who spoke to him and through whom God worked the growth. As we heard from the prophet Ezekiel: I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.

Maybe it’s not as fast as we want, maybe not the way we want, but the Word of God is working; the Spirit of God is working; the kingdom of God is growing. The Church scatters the seed, proclaims the Word, but the growth and the harvest belong to the Lord.

And His methods are not the same as ours. We may not even agree with them. Consider what He said through Ezekiel: I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. That’s probably the exact opposite of what we would do. Yet God knows what is necessary to grow His kingdom. When we’re high and full of ourselves, He might bring us low; and then the low and weak and meek grow high and strong. And maybe He’ll dry us up to give us life; to kill whatever in us is hindering the growth of His Word. That we have strong, deep roots not here in this world and life, but in Him and His life. To grow up in Him to eternal life.

And God is doing it. Through all times and ages, movements and philosophies and the attacks of false religions, though satan never rests, the Word of God is working; the Spirit of God is working; the kingdom of God is growing

For, in fact, God has done it. He planted a seed even smaller than a mustard seed - the seed that caused His Son to become man in the womb of Mary. Nobody but a handful of people even noticed - or cared. Then His birth in Bethlehem - just another boy born into the world among how many that day? He grew up - we don’t even know much about that; no one took much notice and so didn’t write anything down. And then even when He was crucified -just one of thousands executed by the Romans that brutal way. But unlike every other one in this way: that was no mere man on that one cross, but God’s Son. And He was not crucified for His own wrongs, but for yours. And He was not crucified against His will, but He laid down His life there for you, in your place. And then He was planted into the ground . . . and then the Word of God made flesh was raised by the Spirit of God and the kingdom of God grew. A plant so large that it has filled the earth. Believers, Christians, on every continent find rest in Him. And so the dry, dead tree of the cross God has made the lush green tree - the tree of life for all the world. 

You’ll hear that truth spoken in our liturgy in just a few moments - just before we receive the fruits of His cross, His tree of life, the Body and Blood of Jesus that hung there, and then sprung from the ground. He spoke it, and He has done it. 

For God always does what He speaks. His Spirit works through the Word that is proclaimed and scattered throughout the world. Those baptized by water and His Word really are made His sons and daughters - even if they reject that gift later and walk away from their Father and their Church family. His Word of absolution really does give the forgiveness it proclaims. And that’s really His Body and Blood that His Word makes so on the altar, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, to feed you the life that you need. The Word of God is working; the Spirit of God is working; the kingdom of God is growing.

And so those friends, neighbors, family members . . . be patient. Don’t doubt, and don’t worry. Keep sowing the seed, speaking the Word. That Word. About Jesus. About what He has done. The cross. For you. For all. For them. Not because we’re good, but because we’re not. Not to make you good, but to you His child. Not to put you to work, but to give you rest, in His tree, in His kingdom. And maybe one day you’ll wake up and see a whole lot of little trees growing all over your yard! 

And know that His Word is working in you too. Growing repentance, growing faith, growing His children. The Word of God is working; the Spirit of God is working. And rejoice that He is - not as you see, but as He has promised. 

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

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Pentecost 2 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Mercy, Not Sacrifice”
Text: Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13

Go and learn what this means . . .

Jesus saying that to the Pharisees was like waving a red cape in front of an angry bull. Go and learn! That’s exactly what the Pharisees had done and committed their lives to. Learning. Learning the Word of God and Law of God and doing it better than most. Go and learn. That was a pretty insulting thing for Jesus to say and made their blood boil.

Especially because of where He said it! Reclining at table, eating and drinking and celebrating with tax collectors and various other kinds of sinners. Go and learn, the Pharisees probably thought, is what He should be saying to those people who either didn’t know the Word and Law of God, or they knew it and weren’t doing it. And in fact, go and learn is what Jesus Himself should be doing, they probably thought, too. You go and learn, Jesus, how unclean those people are. You go and learn, Jesus, that yucking it up with them is no place for a respectable Jew to be. You go and learn, Jesus, what it means to be a “man of God” Jesus!

But Jesus was doing this, He said, because those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. And to that the Pharisees would have heartily agreed. Yes, those people are sick - sick with sin, and yes, they do need a physician to heal them of that sickness. So tell them to go to the Temple where the physicians are. Tell them to go make the sacrifices. Tell them Jesus, these raging bulls snorted, to get up, shape up, and clean up, and stop their carousing.

But here’s the thing the Pharisees didn’t realize: the Physician was making a house call. The Pharisees wanted those tax collectors and sinners to go to God in the Temple; but God had come to them in His Temple of flesh and bone. The Physician was going into the homes of all people to give them the medicine they needed: the mercy and forgiveness of God. He went to the tax booth where Matthew was sitting. He was in that house filled with tax collectors and sinners. He went into Samaria to meet the people there. He went to Tyre and Sidon, He went to Jews and Gentiles, He even went into Pharisees houses - because He wanted to give all people the mercy and forgiveness of God. 

And when He did, and wherever He did, there was great joy and rejoicing. The same joy you feel when the pain you’ve been suffering with for a long time is suddenly gone. When your fever breaks and you feel better. At such times, you’re like a new person. And that’s what Matthew and his friends were: new people. Like they had been born again . . . which, in fact, they had. Through the forgiveness of the Great Physician, who had come to them and mercied them.

This is what the Pharisees needed to learn, and perhaps what their great learning had actually made them blind to. That God is a God of mercy. And so Jesus quotes from the Old Testament prophet Hosea: Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. Sacrifice was necessary, but never what God really wanted. He wanted mercy. To be a God of mercy and for His people to be a people of mercy with His mercy. 

For when it came to sacrifice, all those sacrifices weren’t really what it was all about. All those sacrifices were simply faith-pointers to the real sacrifice that not man, but God was going to do. That Jesus had come to do. He came to take care of the sacrifice, the shedding of His own blood on the cross, so that we could be all about mercy. Or as Paul told the Romans: He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. 

Now when the Pharisees saw that mercy in action, they didn’t like it. They wanted the tax collectors and sinners to earn their place because that’s what they thought they had done. Sometimes we make that mistake too, thinking some people more worthy, more deserving of God’s mercy than others because of what they have done. But that’s not the way it is. Mercy is never deserved, only given. Mercy comes from the heart of the giver. And with Jesus’ great mercy, we see the heart of God for us. That He would lay down His life for us. For us who may not be tax collectors, but who certainly are sinners. But like Matthew and his friends, Jesus has mercied us, made us new, and gave us a new life. That receiving such mercy we might give that same mercy to others.

Go and learn what this means . . .

It’s not an easy lesson to learn! To learn to see ourselves as sinners. To realize that we deserve nothing from God. To confess that all that we have is an undeserved gift from Him and that we are totally dependent upon Him. That rubs us the wrong way. We want there to be something, anything in us that sets us apart from others, that would make God sit up and take notice of us. But if there is, in Abraham, in Paul, in Matthew, or in us, it is only this: that we are more needy than others. More lowly, more desperate, more sinful. And then to learn this good news too: that God regards the lowly, has compassion on the desperate, and dwells with sinners. Coming to the likes of us in mercy, to die for us and then raise us with Himself to a new and everlasting life.

But once that lesson starts to sink in - and I say starts because our sinful nature keeps trying to get us to think the other way! - then we become like Matthew and his friends. Joyful! Joyful in the forgiveness, mercy, and life we have so graciously received. And then givers of that same mercy and joy to others. 

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

Monday, June 8, 2015

Pentecost 2 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Binding and Bruising the Evil One”
Text: Mark 3:20-35; 2 Cor. 4:13-5:1; Genesis 3:8-15

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

We’re starting the second half of the church year today, the long green Pentecost season with its focus on the life of the church. The first half of the year we focus on the life of Jesus - His birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension in the seasons of Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter. Now we focus on the church in the world after the ascension of Jesus. The Holy Spirit going out into the all the world through the preaching of the Word and the giving of the Sacraments. 

And with that as our focus, the Gospel that we heard today is a good place to start - where we find Jesus opposed and spoken against. As you heard, His family thought He was out of His mind, and some Jewish leaders accused Him of being demon-possessed. The things He said were revolutionary, and so the good He did, well that must be evil too. Or perhaps we could put it this way: For God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son (John 3:16) . . . and the world thought Him crazy at best, and dangerous at worst. 

Now as I said, I think that’s a good place to start this half of the church year because that’s the direction our world seems - in many ways - to be going right now. Christians and churches that hold to traditional, orthodox Christian doctrine are more and more being considered wrong and behind the times as best, and dangerous at worst. Yet this is nothing new. Though history changes and the church has been more acceptable at certain times in history, there have been times like this too - when the world thinks the church so dangerous that it must be eliminated. The first few centuries after Jesus saw the church under intense persecution. That changed when the emperor Constantine made Christianity the religion of the empire and protected and advanced it. But then there was the rise of Islam and the dark ages, the advancement of Christianity again in the renaissance, and then the attacks of rationalism, scientism, communism, and now secularism. Just to name a few.

But no matter what the tide of history, in times good for the church and bad, from the time of Adam and Eve to time still to come, this has been a constant: satan is at work. Sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious. When times are good, tempting us to be complacent and satisfied. When times are bad, trying to get us to hide and be silent in fear. When times are easy, luring us into getting fat and lazy. When times are tough, discouraging us into hunkering down and separating ourselves from the world. And its not just the world and its history - I’ll bet most of you can identify all of those times in your own lives. Times when you’ve grown complacent with your faith and satisfied with your knowledge of God’s Word. Times when you wouldn’t speak about Jesus or the truth because you were afraid of what others would think if they knew you were one of “them.” Times when fat and lazy, the Bible didn’t get opened for a while, your prayers faltered, and church was just going through the motions. And times when you thought: To hell with the world, and you decide to fight evil with evil instead of with love and forgiveness. And maybe you’re in one of those times right now.

Satan working, in good times and bad, in the world and in each of us, trying to weaken and destroy our faith and snatch us from our Father in heaven. 

So how good to hear, then, these words from Jesus today, in response to those who oppose Him. That He is not demon-possessed nor fighting evil with evil, and He is not against them either. In fact, He has come to save them, by binding satan and plundering him. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. And so what happened at the time of Jesus, what was truly so incredible and revolutionary, was that God entered the strong man’s house in the person of Jesus, to bind him and plunder him. 

Now you may be thinking: it sure doesn’t look like He did so! Just look at all the evil and false teaching and godlessness in our world today. Satan sure doesn’t seem bound, and Jesus doesn’t look very victorious. And perhaps that is true if you are thinking of the world as satan’s house. But is it? Consider what we heard from the apostle Paul today: We do not lose heart. Even in a world that seems intent on marching toward evil. Why? Because though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Now that’s quite the opposite of how many tend to think, thinking that it’s what I can see and feel that’s real, that’s lasting, and what I cannot see, the spiritual, is uncertain and transient. But the truth is just the opposite. And so it’s not this world that satan is battling for, it’s you - your heart and your mind. If he can use the things of this world, great. But it’s not the world he wants, it’s you. What we see in the world are the symptoms of the larger problem - the corruption and enslavement of hearts and minds that he has been able to accomplish.

And so it is precisely there that Jesus has come to bind the strong man and plunder him. To free hearts and minds enamored with sin and captivated by evil, and turn them to Him in repentance and faith. And that’s why the weapon Jesus used looked so senseless and stupid to the world: For how can a captive crucifixion set free? How can death give life? How can shame give honor? In the world it can’t. Jesus is out of His mind. But on the battleground of your heart and mind, the word of the cross is the power of God to set people free. It is the forgiveness of sins that binds satan and strips him of his power. It is the truth that sets our minds on the things that are eternal. For on the cross, satan looked powerful, but in the resurrection, He is exposed. God’s love and life is more powerful than sin and death. And so for those bound in sin and death - you and me - Jesus’ resurrection binds the one who has bound us, and so sets us free.

And that binding and freedom is now accomplished where His cross and resurrection is for us now - in the preaching of the Word and the giving of the Sacraments. Those weapons look senseless and stupid in worldly terms too. Water, words, bread, and wine aren’t weapons! Oh, but they are when the Holy Spirit is in them, making them the very means through which satan is bound still today. For through them the Holy Spirit is working, cleansing hearts, freeing minds, and feeding souls. Neglect these and despise the Spirit who works through them and gives forgiveness through them, and so let satan loose in your heart and mind and face a dangerous eternal reality. But remain in these and satan is muzzled, bound, weakened, and plundered. Your heart and mind claimed by the Spirit for Christ, for life, and for eternity. 

An eternity that’s not just some far distant, dreamy, future hope that we’ll get to enjoy someday, but an eternity that has begun already now. A new reality, a new family, a new life that Jesus has provided for you even now. For Jesus looked about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” That is how He looks at you and how we can now look at each other. That doesn’t dimish our earthly relationship but adds to them. And it doesn’t mean we’ll have no problems - as you know, families have plenty of problems and often fight and disagree. Churches too. But it does mean there’s something else that defines us now - not just the family we’re physically born into, but also the family we’re spiritually born into, through water and the word. The family we have Sunday dinner with. The family we sorrow with, rejoice with, and live with in forgiveness and faith.

And as we do, this happens too: Jesus continues bruising the serpent’s head. As you know, He is the offspring of the woman spoken of to Eve in Genesis, who would bruise the serpent-satan’s head through His cross. But know this too: He still is. Everytime a person is baptized into this family, everytime you hear the word of God and keep it, everytime you repent and receive forgiveness, everytime you give forgiveness instead of holding a grudge, everytime you pray, everytime you do good works instead of lashing out, everytime you speak the truth, everytime you help and love and live as the child of God you are . . . you know why satan is so mad? Because it’s his head continuing to be bruised! Like a multitude, a myriad, of little Christ’s little heels being banged onto his head. A constant drumbeat, a constant bruising. The triumph of Jesus on the cross continuing on through the Spirit in those who belong to Him. Which puts a little different spin on things, on your life and what you do, doesn’t it? Even makes it kinds of fun!

And if satan flips out and goes crazy against us because of it? Which, really, is what we should expect, isn’t it? And if the whole world turn against the church? No worries. For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens

That’s the confidence we have in Jesus, through His Spirit given to us, making us sons of the Father. So as we sang, satan may have designed our fall (LSB #668), but Jesus has accomplished our salvation. And He is greater. The strong man is bound by the stronger man, and you belong to Him.

That’s a good note to start this half of the church year on, don’t you think? But not only today - to remember and believe and rejoice and live everyday.

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

Monday, June 1, 2015

Holy Trinity Sermon

Jesu Juva

“An Incomprehensible Truth”
Text: Isaiah 6:1-8; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; John 3:1-17

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

Today we celebrate a mystery. The mystery of the Holy Trinity. That the only God, the one true God, is three persons but only one God, one essence, and that this one essence is three distinct persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each 100% God, and yet there are not three gods, but one God. A mystery. A mystery we try to verbalize in the words of the Athanasian Creed, which we’ll soon speak. But though we verbalize it, speak it, we cannot explain it. It is a mystery. Beyond our ability to comprehend or understand. Too large for our small minds to wrap around, too holy for our sinful minds to grasp. We can simply speak the truth as the One who is truth has revealed it - and Himself - to us. This is who God is.

And so one of the essential and foundational truths of Christianity we cannot explain - we can only confess. This is the truth. That has led some to mock us. How can you believe in a God you cannot even really explain? But perhaps the question really should be: How can anyone believe in a god they can? For if we could fully understand and explain God, figure Him out and contain Him in our minds, that would make us greater than God and, in fact, make us god. That’s what satan wants and so mocks the idea of the Trinity and the mystery. That’s what our sinful natures want as well, not content to humbly rest in the mystery, but to master it; to master God and put Him in our debt and so turn everything upside-down. For that’s what sin does - it makes good evil and evil good; it makes the truth a lie and lies the truth; it makes man his own god, master of his own destiny and shaper of his own fate. And then most to be pitied. For you are a dying god and one whose kingdom is falling apart and does not last. You are a god who cannot even save yourself.

So today we confess the truth - that God is (to use some of the words of the creed) uncreated, infinite, eternal, almighty, incomprehensible, holy. Everything we are not, He is. All that we have is from Him, and all that we have He does not need. And so we are here in the presence of this great and awesome God not to give but to receive; not to do but to rest; not to get answers and information but to worship. For the true worship of God is not primarily an intellectual or moral exercise, a thinking or doing - it is to receive life from Him in the forgiveness of our sins. For when you have forgiveness you have life, whether you live or die.

And our model of that today is Isaiah. Isaiah got it exactly right. In the presence of this almighty, infinite, incomprehensible God, he was toast. And he knew it. He was unclean. And not just his lips, but all of him. His heart, his mind, his eyes - all unholy and corrupted by sin. And therefore his coming into the presence of a holy God was like gasoline coming into the presence of fire. And so he is undone and filled with fear. Woe is me, he cries out. I am dead.

Yet something most wonderful happens. He does not die. There is something Isaiah has not taken into account. There is an altar. An altar for sacrifice. And when something from that altar touches his uncleanness, he is not toasted! Rather, his guilt is taken away and his sin atoned for. Or in other words, he is made clean; he is made holy; he is forgiven. He is born again, raised from the death of his sin to a new life. Nothing he did. He just died, so to speak. It’s what God did. And with that his dread and fear are gone, replaced by faith and hope and confidence. So that when the voice of the Lord then says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” - us: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - Isaiah hesitates not one moment! Here am I, your child. Here am I, the one you have made alive and rescued from death. Here am I! Send me.

It is what happens here and wherever God gives His gifts. You, lost and condemned sinners, are made alive and rescued from death. You cry out “Woe is me!” in confession and death, and the Lord answers with forgiveness and life. You are born again and raised when the sacrifice of God from the altar of the cross - the Father’s own Son! - touches you and your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. The uncleanness of your lips and hands and minds and hearts made clean when the water from the sacrifice touches your head, when the word of the sacrifice touches your ears and heart, when the body and blood of the sacrifice touches your lips. And you are made new. A gift just as incomprehensible, powerful, infinite, and eternal as the God who gives it - and keeps giving it - to you.

And with this gift the Lord is now sending you. But where? This too may be incomprehensible. It may not be where you think and not where you want, but where He needs. Maybe He will send you into suffering, or to suffer with a loved one. Maybe you will be sent into grief or hardship, into pain or sadness. Maybe into joy, maybe into the unknown. But wherever or however it is, you are not alone and never will be. For the God who sends you is with you. The Father, who gave His Son for you and gives His Spirit to you, won’t stop giving what you need . . . including Himself. And maybe that will be through others who He sends to be with you. That, too, is often incomprehensible, isn’t it? How God brings Himself and others into our lives and gives His good to us.

But most incomprehensible of all is how this awesome, holy, infinite, almighty, eternal God became small - became a man. That too is in the Athanasian Creed. That the Son of God in person, but all of God in essence, became man in the one single fertilized egg of His mother Mary, and was born and grew for us. How can the God who created all things become a creature? How can the God who feeds all creation Himself need to be fed? How can the all-powerful God become weak and lowly? Yet this too we confess. And His death on the cross in our place - not because He couldn’t save Himself (like us), but because He wouldn’t - to provide the atonement, the forgiveness, we need and cannot live without. That dying and rising, we who are dead might rise too, with Him, to this new life. That’s the truth Peter was preaching on Pentecost, when the Lord sent him after raising him from the death of his denials. 

And that’s what Jesus was trying to teach Nicodemus, who seems to me like a very modern man. He wants to learn and get things figured out. He wants to wrap his mind around God and the things of God, like so many today. But he can’t. Jesus is telling him incomprehensible mysteries. About God and what God is doing; about being born again and born from above. Nicodemus wants to be in the classroom, but before Jesus he is in church. Jesus has come to give him what he needs - not understanding, but Himself.

Nicodemus doesn’t get it . . . not at first. That he needed to be like Isaiah. But it seems like he did later, being one of the two men who cared for Jesus after He died, taking His body down and laying it in the tomb. Maybe it was that very day that connected the dots for Nicodemus, when the sacrifice from the altar touched him and raised him, when he saw Jesus on the cross and remembered those words spoken to him a few years before in the darkness of night: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. And his guilt was taken away and his sin atoned for.

So whether it is Isaiah, Nicodemus, Peter, or you, the story is the same. Our incomprehensible God does incomprehensible things. His love, His forgiveness, His life, His incarnation, His death and resurrection, His Spirit, Word, and Sacraments now in all the world - we might ask today with Nicodemus: How can these things be? And even if we cannot explain it, we confess it. This is the truth. That God [the Father] so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him [through the working of the Spirit] should not perish but [be born again, born anew, and] have eternal life. And so we worship - we come and receive forgiveness and life from - this God and no other. For there is no other. 

Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. 
Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us (Introit Antiphon).

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