Thursday, February 26, 2015

Prayers for the Persecuted Church

Our Commission on Worship published some prayers For the Persecuted Church. I thank them for these and reproduce them here for your use.

For all the baptized, that by the power of the Holy Spirit they would remain steadfast in the faith, clinging to Christ alone for their salvation as long as they dwell in the wilderness of this vale of tears, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy. 

For the nations of the world and their leaders, that all who receive the sword as Your servants may bear it according to Your command, and that war, hate, and bloodshed may be overcome by peace, justice, and mercy, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy. 

For our Christian brothers and sisters around the world facing persecution and martyrdom [especially in __________], that they may, by grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, confess the saving name of Jesus Christ in the face of their persecutors, remembering that He will confess them before His Father in heaven, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy. 

For our brothers and sisters who have already been slain for bearing the name of Jesus [including ___________], let us offer God our praise and thanks, rejoicing that they were faithful unto death and have received the crown of everlasting life; and asking our gracious God that their witness would be remembered in His Church and serve to encourage and strengthen our own faith, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy. 

For compassionate, gracious, and humble hearts, that all Christians would keep their persecuted brothers around the world in their prayers, remembering also our Lord’s commands to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who persecute us, so that petitions would also rise for our enemies to be led to repentance and faith in the One who has overcome the world, even Jesus Christ, our Savior, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy. 

For a generous, giving spirit in the Church, that the baptized would support the ministry and mission of our Lord in their local congregations, church bodies, and throughout the world; and that Christian organizations established to assist those in harm’s way for bearing the name of Jesus would be emboldened by the Spirit to continue their merciful work and supported by the whole Church in prayer and with alms, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy. 

Lent 1 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Christians in an Unchristian World: Holiness”
Text: 1 Peter 1:1-25

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

Who are you? Some people would answer that with their name - I’m a Douthwaite. That identifies my ancestry, my nationality, where I’m from. You can take that information onto an ancestry web site and find out all kinds of things. Some, though, might answer with what they do - their job defining who they are, their level of education, their skills and abilities. Others might answer that question by saying that they’re a work in progress, that who they are is not yet finished. They’re still working on that, defining that, shaping that. And, for some people, the answer changes. One such example that has been in the news is those who claim to change their gender - that I grew up a man but now believe myself to be a woman. 

As we begin our examination of First Peter tonight, Peter starts out by giving quite a different answer than all that. He starts out by saying that who you are is one who has been born again. That is the identity that is above all other identities: that you are a born again, baptized, child of God.

Now to us who hold baptism in high regard, that may not sound surprising. But to the folks Peter was writing to, first century Christians under persecution and scattered throughout the region, forced from home and work,whose future was uncertain and for whom life was quite difficult, this was critical. For as a Christian, you do not define who you are, and the world does not define who you are - Jesus does. And His definition and identity is a reality far greater than your name, your nationality, your work, or any other way you think of yourself. Who are you? You are baptized. You are a child of your Father who art in heaven.

And that means a number of things. First of all, Peter says, it means that even if you are homeless here on earth, you have a home, an inheritance, that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. And you, by God’s power are being guarded through faith for life in that home. As Jesus told His disciples just before His crucifixion: I will not leave you orphans (John 14:18). Those who are born again as children of God are cared for by their Father, through Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. You’re not on your own. God does not leave or forsake His children.

Part of that care, however, Peter goes on to say, is trial or testing. Precious metals are put into the fire to burn off their impurities and make them even more pure and valuable. And so you, more precious than anything in this world, as the crown of God’s creation, will be proved in the same way. Not as punishment, but in love, to loose our grip and hold on the things of this world, that we cling to God alone. That when He comes again, we not be holding on to our false gods and idols, but rejoice in Him and, as Peter says, obtain the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. You will not understand God unless you realize how important that is - how important you are - to Him.

Therefore, Peter says, think this way, that this is who you are. Not defining yourself as the world does, nor living as you used to live, but living a life of holiness

Now that needs some explanation, for usually when we think of holiness we think of sinlessness and perfection. And certainly we should be like that - but as you know, we cannot. Not on our own, at least. Peter knew that well. Peter the denier. Peter who was known for putting his foot in his mouth and messing up. Peter knew quite well that if we are sinless it is only because our sins have been washed away in the flood of Jesus’ blood and forgiveness from Calvary’s Holy Mountain (LSB #435). And if we are perfect, it is only because His perfection has been imputed to us. And as that is true, it is the reason for our rejoicing.

But to be holy means to be set apart. And as we have been set apart from sin and death by Jesus, by baptism, by our being united to Him in His death and resurrection; as we have been set apart from the world by being called into the church; as we have been set apart from our former ignorance by the enlightening of the Holy Spirit - be who you are, Peter says. Wherever you are and however you are. For even in times of persecution, in times of dispersion, in times of trouble, this reality does not change. This is the reality and foundation that will carry you through all trials and temptations, and even through death itself, to life forever with God. For the things of this world are passing away, Peter says, but the word of the Lord remains forever.

His word of promise, His word of grace, His word of forgiveness, His word which is living and active and working in you. His word that named you as His son or His daughter. 

So to be holy is to live as one who has been set apart. To think differently, live differently, speak differently, act differently, value differently, and even die differently than the world. It is what we see in Christ Jesus, and what got Him opposed all the way to the cross. And some of that was then happening to the apostles and the Christians that Peter was writing to. And some is happening to Christians today. 

But if you know who you are, then none of that really matters. For you, your future, and your home are safe in Christ. Guarded by Him. Or as Luther would later write: And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won; the kingdom our remaineth (LSB #656 v. 4)

That doesn’t make it easy! Far from it. Satan is going to hound you every step of the way. And that’s why Peter is writing to his dear Christians, his flock that has been driven out and scattered. He wants them to know: there is a greater reality than what is seen and felt. Yes, you are Christians living in an unchristian world, but you are also living in Christ and Christ in you. Therefore no matter what this world brings upon you, you have confidence and hope. You are children of God, holy and precious to Him, and this is the good news that was preached to you. Do not be afraid to live in that truth, that reality. Be holy, just as Christ is holy, for you.

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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lent 1 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The One in the We, and We in the One”
Text: James 1:12-18; Mark 1:9-15 (Genesis 22:1-18)

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

We heard today in the epistle from James: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, - or under temptation - for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. And that man is . . . not you.

You confessed that fact earlier, if you meant it when you said: I, a poor, miserable sinner. For when you said those words, you were saying: the trials came, the temptations came, and I was not steadfast and immovable. I caved. I sinned. I did not fear, love, and trust God above all things. 

That’s also what we recognized on Ash Wednesday, when those ashes were ground into our foreheads, but more importantly when God’s Word was ground into our hearts, marking us as sinners returning to dust in death.

And it’s what you confess everyday as you say the Lord’s Prayer, when you pray: And forgive us our trespasses. You are saying: I ignored God’s “No Trespassing” signs again. I did not remain steadfast. I went where I should not have gone, with my hands and feet and eyes, with my tongue and mind and heart.

So that crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him?  . . .  We’ll get back to that.

First, take note of what else we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, right after we pray for forgiveness. We then say: And lead us not into temptation. And the Small Catechism tells us that we’re praying for God to guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, or other great shame and vice.  . . .  That we may finally overcome them and win the victory.

I want to think about those things for a moment, those things of satan . . .

False belief - because the world makes some pretty good sounding arguments sometimes, you know? That God didn’t really say that, or that was true then but not now, or how unreasonable is that . . . we know better now. It’s easy to be seduced into false belief.

Despair - because things in life are tough, the world is scary and seems to be falling apart, there’s so much evil, and some days, you know, you just feel like giving up. It all seems pointless, nothing’s getting better, the worries, the pain, the weariness . . .

And other great shame and vice - what are the vices in your life that you wrestle with? That you’re ashamed to even voice? The Church at one point categorized them as seven deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. It’s hard to pick from that list, isn’t it? I’m guilty of them all.

So guard and keep us, we pray! We implore! ‘Cause I’m such an easy target! Remember how when you were young (or for those of you who still are), you know just how to poke your brother or sister to get a rise out of them and get them in trouble? And how fun that is? That’s how satan is with you. He knows you and he knows just where to poke, he knows just how to tempt, he knows when you’re weak and vulnerable and how to take advantage of those times. So guard and keep us, dear Father in heaven

But there’s something else in the explanation to that petition - something one of my adult confirmands pointed out to me one time.(That’s one of the great things about always teaching the catechism - I’m always learning too!) She (I think it was a she) asked about that line: that we may finally overcome them and win the victory. She asked: why do we say that? We? Overcome them? When we just went through the fact that we can’t.  . . .  It’s a pretty good question! Seems silly to pray it . . .

Unless included in that “we” is someone who can. Unless there is someone praying these words with us who can . . . who could . . . and who did. 

And that’s what we heard in the Holy Gospel. We pray “and lead us not into temptation,” but there we heard that Jesus IS led into temptation. Very purposefully and deliberately. By the Spirit who descended upon Him in His baptism. Immediately after He is baptized, the Spirit does to Jesus what we ask Him not to do to us - leads Him out into the wilderness, for the express purpose of being tempted by the devil. Now Mark doesn’t give us as many details about what happened out there like Matthew and Luke do, but still he wants you to know: there is Jesus, on the front lines of the battle against satan. There Jesus is with us, for us - there is the one in the “we” who can!

And not only can, but did, as His resurrection from the dead on Easter proved. The one who bore our sins and trespasses on the cross and died with them - all of our false belief, despair, and other great shames and vices - overcomes them. With our sin and the curse of our sin upon Him He dies, and dying is placed in the grave. But His breaking the bonds of the grave and rising from the dead means not only are those two things overcome and defeated, but so is the sin that caused them. And the victory is won.

And so the man who is blessed, the man who remained steadfast under trial and received the crown of life, is Jesus. Just like the better-known Beatitudes from Matthew, this Beatitude from James is about Him, Jesus. He is the One. He is the man. He is the one in the “we.”

And so here’s the good news for you, what James wrote next about the crown of life that Jesus won: which God has promised to those who love him. “Those” - the many, us - who love “Him” - the One, Jesus - have the promise of the crown of life that He won for us. 

Jesus overcame. Jesus won the victory. And just as He gave us the words of His prayer that we may pray it with Him and He with us, so He gives us the victory that He won that we may share it with Him. It’s a little like when a small child comes home from the store with her father and excitedly goes up to mom and says: we bought you something! We? Right? The father did all the buying, but is happy to include his daughter (or son!) in the “we.” 

Jesus is happy to include you in the “we.” And so after He returns from His time in the wilderness being tempted, Jesus (Mark tells us): came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; - the victory is at hand - repent and believe in the gospel.”  Which is exactly (but in a lot fewer words!) what I’ve been saying today. We repent that we don’t and can’t, and believe in the One who can and did.

Believe in the One who can. That’s what Abraham did. I have to say at least something about that powerful story that we heard today. I’m always amazed by it - and not just by what Abraham did, but Isaac too! We’re not told anything about him in this story, but do you think a 100+ year old Abraham could have tied up a strong young Isaac if Isaac did not allow him to? That was a test! Which puts me to shame everytime I hear it, because I know I would never - could never - do that. I cave so easily to temptations a lot less - a LOT less - than that!

Abraham believed in the One who can. Who could fulfill His promise even if the promised one was killed. 

Is that an example for us? An inspiration for us? Maybe. A little. We should have such faith in the One who can. But even more and mostly, it is a picture for us of the One who did - of the Son, Jesus, who willingly went to His death, and the Father who did not spare His only Son, but gave Him up for us all. The promised one was killed, in our place, that in His resurrection, we too might have a new life. 

And that new life is yours. Begun in baptism, sustained by the Word, and fed by His Supper, His Body and Blood. And so He who brought you forth by the word of truth, He will bless you and keep you and give you that crown of life that we could never win on our own. For connected to and in the One who can and did, it is yours.

Which is not, then, a license for us to sin, since the victory is already ours. Quite to opposite, actually. For if satan wants to lead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice, our Lord is leading us into their opposites - true belief, joy, and great and virtuous works. For you see, that’s part of the victory too - doing the opposite of what satan wants us to do and rubbing his nose in his defeat! So everytime you repent, everytime you believe in the gospel, everytime you rejoice in your sufferings, everytime you do a good work, help those in need, resist temptations to sin, speak up for the low, give of yourself, pray, and all those good things our Lord would have us do? That’s your victory dance! That’s living your new and triumphant life - ruling the ruler of this world with the crown on you and not on him. That’s you telling your Father, “We did it!” And He, smiling at Jesus, saying, “Yes, yes you did. Well done.”

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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Double Lives”
Text: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21;
Joel 2:12-19; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

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

Hi, I’m Pastor Douthwaite, and I lead a double life. I suspect you do too.

Because there’s the outward part of my life, the part people see. And then there’s the inward, the part you can’t see. Sometimes they’re on the same page, in agreement. But often times they’re not. Probably more often, if I could see as God sees. In fact, the two are often as different as night and day.

So on the outside, you see a good work. You don’t see how grudgingly it’s done.
You see a smile. You don’t know the pain.
You see dedication. You’re not aware of the indignation at having to do what someone else should have done.
You see a teacher. You don’t know the reluctant, stubborn student.
You hear good words. You don’t hear the grumbling of my heart.
You see hands that help. You don’t perceive the bitterness brewing deep down. 
You see generosity. You don’t realize the covetous desires.
You see a well-dressed, clean-cut, fellow. You don’t fathom the ugliness, the darkness, the cesspool of sin in my heart.
You see what I want you to see. I hide the rest. 
You too? You too.

Is that not what Jesus was talking about, when He said beware? He’s speaking to us who lead a double life. That it’s not only not good to do so, but dangerous. No, I may not be sounding the trumpet when I give to the needy, I may not be on the street corners praying, and I may not disfigure my face while fasting . . . but am I not doing the same thing? Am I not as bad? A hypocrite, as Jesus calls them. Me. You too? You too.

Beware. Don’t be fooled. You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, and maybe you’re so good you can fool all the people all the time, including yourself - but the Word today is: you can’t fool God. Ever. Your Father sees what is in secret and rewards accordingly. Which isn’t good news for me. 

But we’re not alone, and this is nothing new. The people in the prophet Joel’s day were doing it too. And so the Lord said to them: rend your hearts and not your garments. Enough of the hypocrisy. Enough of the outward show. Tear open your heart, that filthy, horrible, sin-infected heart. Why? To return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Because God doesn’t want the disaster for you, the danger for you. He wants to clean out your heart with His mercy and love and gracious forgiveness. All hearts, in fact. All the people, the congregation, the elders, the children, the nursing infants, the brides and bridegrooms, He says through Joel. 

So that’s why we’re here tonight. To return. To repent. That’s why Ash Wednesday. That’s why Lent. Not only these times, but especially these times. 

And the ashes on our foreheads? Oh, we can be hypocritical about them too, if we wear and receive them as a show. But really, that’s my outward beginning to look like my inward. But only beginning, because my inward’s a lot worse than just a little smudge. You too? You too.

But there is One for whom this wasn’t true. One whose inward perfectly matched His outward. One who did not lead a double life and was no hypocrite. And we heard what happened to Him. God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of GodSo on the cross, on Jesus, there’s your sin, there’s the danger, there’s the curse, there’s what you deserve, there is your Father seeing in secret and repaying openly. But it’s on Jesus and not on you! That’s why Christmas. That’s why Good Friday. So that in Him, in His taking our place, our hearts may be made right again with God.

Renew me, O eternal Light, and let my heart and soul be bright,
Illumined with the light of grace That issues from Your holy face (LSB #704 v. 1).

That grace issues from His holy face for He does not turn away from us in anger and indignation, but turns to us in the face of His Son, who came for us and for our salvation, and who comes now for the same - His water washing us, His Word forgiving us, His food feeding us. That we be right with God. That our outward match our inward - not in blackness, but in cleanness; not in filth, but in holiness.

But actually, it’s much more than that - our outward matching our inward. It is God joining together again what sin has rent asunder. For earlier we heard those horrible words, first spoken to Adam after his fall into sin: Dust you are, and to dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19). What that means is that sin causes things to fall apart, come apart at the seams. And so man, created to live and not die, will die. Our inward and outward have come apart. Our bodies will fall apart at the seams and become dust. Our world is falling apart, coming apart at the seams. Relationships fall apart. Everything is coming apart.

But in Christ, everything is brought back together again. The dust into which we’ll turn will be reunited into our bodies again in the resurrection. And even more, we will be reunited into that perfect fellowship with God that was the reality in the beginning, that we were created for. That has begun already now with the cleansing of our hearts in forgiveness and our adoption as sons and daughters of God in Jesus. 

So on this day when we recognize the reality and seriousness of our sin, this first day of Lent, we also look forward to the last day of Lent, when our Lord says from the cross, It is finished (John 19:30), and the joy of Easter begins. The joy which will reach its fulfillment on the Last Day, when our Lord returns in glory. The day of the final Easter, which will never end. 

Until that day we discipline our bodies. Until that day we strive and wrestle with our doubles lives. Until that day we repent and receive our true treasure - the Body and Blood of Jesus. The Body and Blood born for you, died for you, risen for you, given to you, and returning for you. Beware of everything else, for only in Him your hope and your life.

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

Monday, February 16, 2015

Transfiguration of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet!”
Text: Mark 9:2-9; 2 Corinthians 3:12 - 4:6

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

Hang on! Buckle up. It’s going to be a wild ride today as we consider the Transfiguration of our Lord. We’re going to go from Genesis to Revelation, from the tabernacle to the transfiguration, from sin to glory, all in about 15 minutes or so. So here we go. Hang on.

In six days, God created the heavens and the earth. And it was all good. In fact, it couldn’t be any better. It is good to be here, Adam and Eve would have said.

And then sin. And the good was changed, and not for the better, as they had been promised. They had the best and they gave it up. Adam and Eve - could we say? - were transfigured. Innocence lost, the perfect image of God lost, paradise lost. And they knew they were naked and were ashamed.

Then their Father came to them, in mercy. Yes, there were consequences for their sin, but also mercy. And one of the merciful things He did was clothe them. Cover their shame. Yet at the same time, these clothes would be a constant reminder to them of their fall, their sin. How uncomfortable they must have been, at first. It was like this, in the beginning.

Fast forward, now, to that mountain where Jesus takes Peter, James, and John. That too - did you notice? - was after six days. And on that mountain the clothes that Jesus is wearing - clothes only necessary because of sin - are now quite different. In fact, Mark uses a word for them that is used only here in the entire New Testament, saying that Jesus’ clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. They were otherworldly, we could say . . . because of the one wearing them. The clothes that were a reminder of sin and uncomfortable on Adam are clothes brilliant and radiant on the second Adam, the Son of God.

So what were they supposed to think, Peter, James, and John? Jesus hadn’t prepared them for this! It just happened, without warning. Their world, it seems, invaded - not only with this vision of radiance, but then also with visitors from heaven: Moses and Elijah. The Law and the prophets. The hymn we just sang spoke of them, and the second verse, which spoke of them, intrigued me. It said: Trembling at His feet we saw Moses and Elijah speaking. All the prophets and the law Shout through them their joyous greeting (LSB #415 v. 2). Joyous greeting. I had never imagined it that way before. Moses and Elijah happy and joyful with Jesus - not all serious and theological!

But that would help make sense of Peter’s response. They’re terrified, Mark tells us. He doesn’t know what to say . . . so why say anything? But Moses and Elijah are rejoicing, so this is good. Good, yes. So we’ll make three tents. Maybe, Peter thought, so he can go down and get the others and they can see it too. And maybe then bring all the world to see this sight. The Law and the prophets rejoicing in this One about whom they had been talking and pointing to and awaiting. All could see Jesus as they knew Him and knew He was - the Son of God, radiant, brilliant. It would be almost like a theme park. A spectacle. Because that’s what we like in this world. Like rattling shiny keys in front of a baby.

But that idea doesn’t last long, for then comes the cloud. Uh oh. When clouds move in you know the storm is on the way. But these are not storm clouds - this is the God cloud. The cloud of Mount Sinai, the cloud that led the people through the wilderness, the cloud that filled the tabernacle and the temple - the cloud that signals God is here, hiding, so He can be with you. Because if He didn’t hide, then the terrified Peter, James, and John felt before? You ain’t see nothin’ yet! We cannot stand in God’s direct and glorious presence and live. So God hides Himself, cloaks Himself, to be with us, for us; for our good. That cloud is for our protection.

And it overshadows them. That’s a significant word, too - not used many time in the Bible. In fact, it is used in only two other places when not talking of this event. And one of those was when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her she was going to be a mother and have a son; that there’s going to be a Jesus. And now His Father says: this is My beloved Son, Jesus - listen to Him. Stop blathering on about holy theme parks and open your ears.

And then it was over.  . . .  Or was it?

Fast forward now to St. Paul and his letter to the Corinthians. One thing Paul can always do is pack a whole lot of theology into just a few verses, and these are no exeption. But there are two significant things he says here that I want to point out today. First, he talks about Moses. He says Moses would put a veil over his face so the Israelites could not see what was coming to an end. What was happening was that everytime Moses would go into the tabernacle, or the tent of meeting, to meet with God and speak to Him face-to-face, he would come out with his face glowing. But it wouldn’t last. The glory of God glowing on him would fade. So he would put the veil over his face when he came out. Moses was the messenger, bringing the Word of God and its glory to the people.

But here’s the important point - what Paul then goes on to say: And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.

Okay, unveiled faces - that’s Moses going into the tent. WE now, Paul says, not just Moses - WE now have access to the tent, to God, in Jesus. For remember when Jesus was crucified? The what in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom? The veil. Because of Jesus’ atonement, His blood, we have access to God. We don’t have to have a Moses go in there for us and come out - we have access to God and His glory in Jesus. Just as Peter, James, and John witnessed on the mountain that day.

But what’s the result of that? And here’s what all this has been leading up to: WE all, Paul says, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. And that word transformed - it’s the same word used of what happened to Jesus. He was transformed, and now we are being transformed, transfigured.

Adam was transformed, too, remember? From glory into sin, from life to death, from paradise to toil, from fellowship to separation. Now we are being transfigured, transformed, back. In Jesus.

And transformed into what? The same image. The image of God Adam was created in but then fell from, we are being transformed back into - the image of Christ, who is the image of God. Jesus restoring to us what we lost in sin. Through His death and resurrection. Through the forgiveness of our sin.

That’s why God doesn’t want a holy theme park set up on the top of that mountain. It’s not good enough for Jesus to be transfigured! He wants us to be transfigured too. He wants you to have that glory too. He wants us with Him like Moses and Elijah. And for that He came. To go to the cross. To take the fall with Adam and with us, that we get the glory with Him. 

Mark said that Jesus led them up the mountain that day. That could also be translated that Jesus bore them up the mountain that day. Carried them. I like that. Because it’s a picture of what Jesus did at that other mountain, called Calvary, where He bore, He carried, our sins on the cross, and will bear us to heaven with Him also. 

So then, Paul goes on to say, having this ministry - this service of transformation for you - by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. In fact, quite the opposite! For this is not a ministry to the worthy and perfect who need no transfiguration. The purpose of this ministry, of the Church, of the Word and Sacraments, is the transfiguration of you and I from death to life, from falling to rising, from sin to glory. And that’s what’s happening here. In Baptism, new life, resurrection. In Absolution, forgiveness, cleansing, washing. In the Supper, Christ in us, His life in us, Body and Blood. In the Word, listening to Him. Transforming us into the image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another.

Even if we don’t always live like it. ‘Cause we don’t. ‘Cause we too often conform to this world instead of being transformed by Christ (Romans 12:2 - same word!). ‘Cause like Eve, we fall for satan’s lies and deception. Like Adam, we remain silent when we should speak and listen - not to Christ - but to those who lure us into sin. We grab for what is forbidden ‘cause we think we know better than God. Like Peter, we blather on instead of listening. We like the shiny and spectacular, the feel good more than the work, and grow dissatisfied and covet when our lives aren’t turning out as we want. We doubt and we grumble, we judge but don’t like to be judged, and about a million other ways we’ve invented to sin.

So take God’s advice: listen to Jesus. Listen. And you know what you’ll hear? I forgive you all your sins. This is My Body, This is My Blood. The Lord bless you and keep you. Depart in peace. And you do. For in Jesus you are at peace with God.

And so today we’ve come to the end of the Epiphany season. In Christmas we’ve seen God come in the flesh. During Epiphany we’ve seen this man, this flesh, is God. And on Wednesday we’ll enter the season of Lent and see this God-man on the cross, taking our place, that we may be transfigured, changed, transformed. That we be sons of God with Him and in Him.

So today at the end of the service, we’ll sing our good-bye to Alleluia (LSB #417). We’ll mourn our sins - that’s part of our transformation: dying to sin. And then we’ll rejoice on Easter, when we break out in our Alleluias again, and look forward to the Day when it will be Easter for us all and once and for all. When we will rise and as Paul said in his first epistle to the Corinthians, we will be changed (1 Cor 15:52). The transfiguration complete. And Moses and Elijah will not come here - we’ll go there. To that great multitude of Revelation, which no one can number, and clad in what? White robes, of course (Rev 7:9, 13)! And we’ll never leave.

For as St. Paul concludes: For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” - in the beginning, in creation - has shone in our hearts - now! - to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God - not on the mount of Transfiguration, but here, now, - in the face of Jesus Christ.

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

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Epiphany 5 Sermon

Jesu Juva

Text: Mark 1:29-39; Isaiah 40:21-31
(1 Corinthians 9:16-27)

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

Jesus was at church on the Sabbath Day. No surprise there. It’s what comes next that is surprising: He goes to Simon’s house. Lowly, little, Simon’s house. A humble fisherman’s house. And it probably smelled like it, too. And with Andrew, James, and John. There probably weren’t enough seats for all of them. But there He is. The One who proclaims His coming as the coming of the kingdom of God. The One who calls men from their work to be about His work. The One who is mightier than unclean spirits and strikes fear into them. Surely He has important work to do. Things for the Messiah to do! Places to go, people to see. Indeed He does. And that place is Simon’s house, and that person Simon’s mother-in-law. There is nothing more important to Him at that time, no place He’d rather be, than there, in this humble home, with this sick old woman in her need.

Is that not remarkable? And until we learn to know God that way, we will not know Him. For He is not just God who has come to save the world - Jesus is God who has come to save you

This is what Isaiah was talking about. Yes, compared to the Creator we are like grasshoppers. Yes, He is the Lord of the seasons. He raises up nations and brings princes to nothing. The sun and stars and planets He keeps in their places, and their number - beyond our knowing - He knows. And compared to that, maybe you have thought: who am I? Or as Isaiah put it, it may seem that My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God. For with all that going on, why should God even know about me, let alone care about me? And if our starting point is the vastness of creation and the infinite greatness and power and knowledge of God, then that seems like an appropriate question with a self-evident answer. He has more important work to do than anything for me.

And yet, Isaiah says, that is not the case. That’s what satan would like us to believe. He doesn’t mind you believing in a God like that, who doesn’t really care for you and to whom you are nothing more than a bug. But Jesus is that infinite, powerful God become flesh, for you. That infinite, powerful God who, Isaiah says, gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. That’s what Jesus did for Simon’s mother-in-law. And so in Him, we learn who God is and how God is. 

And once that word got out, when the sabbath rest was over at sundown, the people brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And He did for them as He had done for Simon’s mother-in-law. Men, women, young, old. Or to finish Isaiah’s thought: Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted. Even those in the prime and strength of life are not unaffected by the struggles and burdens and troubles of this world and life. You know that. But here’s the good news: they who wait for the Lord - those who hope in the Lord - shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint

Or in other words, there is a restoration, a new life, for those who hope in the Lord. Jesus gives a glimpse of that with His healing. But the healing itself was not the goal, the end-all. If it was, then those who came looking for Him the next day should rightly have been mad that He didn’t stay and heal them. And we could be rightly mad when He doesn’t heal us or our loved ones. But the healing was not the point. In fact, all those healed that day would succumb again - sooner or later - to illness and death. The healing was a sign, a pointer, to the greater restoration Jesus had come to provide, in the mounting up of the resurrection. When all weakness, all illness, all faintness and weariness, and then even death itself will finally be ended. In Jesus, the God of all life has come to provide that life. For you

And that’s why just like the folks of Capernaum that day, Anthony and Hillary brought little Liana to Jesus today. Because He has what she needs. And so her parents brought her where they heard Jesus was; even more, where He has promised to be. Here, for her. Just for her. In these waters, where He has put His Word, His Name, and His Spirit. And so He is there. To wash away her sin. To make her His. For truly, today, like Simon’s mother-in-law, Liana cannot do anything for Jesus. Liana did not make Jesus hers - Jesus made her His.

And that’s why you also have come to this place. You who are weary and faint from another week in the world, another week under the assaults of the evil one, another week of weakness and failure. You have come because you heard Jesus is here - for you! - and so have come to reclaim those promises He made to you in your baptism. To receive the strength and raising up of Isaiah. And so you confessed your sin and weakness and failure to make Christ and His forgiveness yours. And then you heard again the Word of Christ’s forgiveness, by which you are His. And then shortly now you will come to His Table, where the almighty, powerful, infinite God will serve you with His Body and Blood. For that’s who God is and how God is. The Lord and Giver of life. Here, as He promised, for you.

Here, as He promised, because Jesus’ sabbath is now over. His sabbath rest in the tomb after His work on the cross was finished. And now He is risen and working. For Liana, for you, for each and every person. For as Isaiah would put it a little bit later, by His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). By His wounds. By the blood poured out on the cross, and now poured out upon you in baptism and absolution, and poured into you in His Supper. There is your healing from sin and death. There is your strength against temptation and your power when faint - when the burdens and struggles and trials of this life weigh you down. Male, female, young, old. You come where you have heard Jesus is. You come where He has promised to be for you. 

And when you have thus been raised and lifted up from your sin and death by your Saviour . . . Simon’s mother-in-law got up and began to serve them. She put a kettle on. Made some bread. Served the Sabbath brunch. Big deal? Yes! Big deal. Not because of what she did, but because of who she was. This was her epiphany - that she - she! - was precious. And she knew to whom she was precious. Her. Little old her. The kingdom of God had come to her. In Jesus.

It’s the same with St. Paul. The kingdom of God had come to Him in Jesus. Turned him, changed him, raised him. That was his epiphany - that he was precious, but not the way he thought he was before. He, the persecutor, was precious to the one whom he had been persecuting! Him. Awful, sinful, misguided him. But Jesus came just for him. And after he got up, Paul writes to the Corinthians (as we heard): I have to preach this. I have to live this. To all people. Whoever they are, however they are. Jews, Greeks, weak, strong. They too need this epiphany - that they are precious. To Jesus. That He cares for them. That’s the who and how of God.

And now you too, raised and lifted up from your sin and death by your Saviour. You are precious. And you know to whom you are precious. Like Simon’s mother-in-law and St. Paul and now Liana, you are not the same. You have been made new, for the kingdom of God has come to you. And so new you now serves, too. And here’s the thing - and this is really important and really the point when we talk about serving - the question is not how, but who?

So don’t get hung up on the how, or on the what. You see, I think that’s the problem most of the time. When we think of helping or serving we think of the what and the how and then get caught up in the time, the effort, the energy, the cost and think we cannot do it. And then we do not do it. But as we’ve been hearing today, it’s not the what - it’s the who. The what may be simply putting on a kettle. The what may be big and impressive like St. Paul. The what may be bringing a child to be baptized. The what may be going to a desolate place and praying. The what may be a myriad of things, small or great. But the what will work itself out when the who is the focus. The one who is precious, as you are precious. Each and every life precious, and worth the life of the Son of God. Who is here, for you. Who is here for them. And you there . . . for who?

That’s the way of our good and gracious God. And what the season of Epiphany is all about - the who of Christmas. That’s what we see that day in Capernaum. That’s what we saw here this morning. Precious Jesus. Precious you. And there’s no place He’d rather be. And there’s nothing more important for Him than you.

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

[A few of the words and thoughts for this sermon from Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel, CPH (c) 2004, p 56-58.]

Monday, February 2, 2015

Epiphany 4 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Cleansing Voice of Christ”
Text: Mark 1:21-28
(Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13)

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

Jesus speaks and the unclean spirit obeys. Unclean spirit: 1. Us: 0.

Okay, I admit, that’s not a fair comparison - but do you get the point? The unclean spirit obeys the authoritative voice of the Lord, but what do we do What do you do?

Now the unclean spirit doesn’t have any choice in the matter. Like it or not - and it most certainly did not, as the unclean spirit came out but not without convulsing and crying like a spoiled child - this creature had to obey the voice of the almighty God, even when that voice was cloaked in human flesh.

But it is not so with us. Mankind, the crown of God’s creation, is different than the rest of creation. Unlike every other created thing, man and woman are made in God’s image and likeness not simply to obey, but to fear, love, and trust in Him. To know Him not just as God the Almighty, but as our Father. And we not subjects, but His children. Adam carefully formed from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7), Eve lovingly built from the rib and flesh and Adam (Genesis 2:22), and we intricately knit together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).

And to this man and woman God spoke, too. An authoritative word. One command. Do not eat from that tree. Just that one in the midst of hundreds or thousands of others. Fear, love, and trust Me just by that. No forced obedience. They would either keep His word . . . or not. And you know how that turned out. 

Fast forward in time, now, to you. You have been given new life in Christ by the Holy Spirit. For Jesus had a word for you and your unclean spirit, too. In your baptism - as we’ll hear next week in Liana’s baptism - the unclean spirit is told to depart, and just as in Jesus’ day, it obeys. It must. It is exorcised. And in the waters of baptism, a new and Holy Spirit is given, that works faith and gives the forgiveness of sins. All your sin and uncleanness - gone. That you again fear, love, and trust your Father who art in heaven.

So how’s that going for you? 

You don’t have to answer that. I already know. From my own life. When temptations come and we so weakly resist. When we do not what God has commanded but go our own way, thinking that is better. When we don’t care about our neighbor as Paul was talking about in the Epistle today, but instead think: You got a problem with that? Tough! But fear, love, and trust in God shouldn’t just be a Sunday thing, when you go to Church. 

But how often it is, because the unclean spirits are speaking too, to you. Oh, not in Jesus’ presence. He silences them. They know who He is and are afraid of Him. But they also know who you are and they’re not afraid of you. And so they speak: listen to this, see this, do this. Let me come in for just a little bit. It’ll be fun! I won’t stay long, promise! I’ll just visit for a little while . . . once in a while. But then the visits come more frequently, last longer and longer, and the unclean starts taking over, starts bossing you around, acting like it’s the boss.

And then there are the other voices in our world speaking, too. Some then tell you to clean yourself up! That’s the voice of Moses, the voice of the Law, a terrifying voice, because we can’t. We try and we fail. 

And so there are other voices to help us with that, too. Because if you can’t be clean, then redefine what clean is. Because everyone has different ideas of what clean is. What’s clean for me may not be what’s clean for you, but hey, to each his own, right? 

One of my favorite comics is about this very thing. There was a mother telling her children to clean their rooms, so they ask: How clean? Dad clean? No, the mother says, cleaner than that. Mom clean? the children ask, slightly concerned. No, cleaner than that. Operating room clean? the children ask with more concern. Nope, the mother says. And the children gasp and ask in horror: You mean Grandma clean?!

The people in Jesus’ day were used to hearing such voices too. They were tempted as we are tempted. The scribes and Pharisees were telling them to clean themselves up but they couldn’t do enough. And what clean meant was a matter of opinion, too, based not just upon God’s Word but the traditions that had mushroomed into an enormous and burdensome heap of laws . . . and exceptions too, of course.

But then Jesus came along. The Word of God made flesh. And as we heard, He spoke differently - quite differently! And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. Teachings not based on opinion or what the majority thinks or an ever changing standard, and speaking a greater word than Moses. A word with the power that created all things and with the authority that forces unclean spirits to submit. 

And yet this word - as powerful and authoritative as it was - did not cause the people to be afraid. They did not convulse and cry out as the unclean spirit did. Because Jesus word was not against them, but for them. His word of forgiveness, which is the only way to the cleanness standard even greater than Grandma clean! God clean. Perfect. Holy.

And that’s why you’re here. Because you’ve let the unclean spirit back in. You listened to him instead of to God because he promised to make things better, to help you get what you want, to satisfy your desires and curiosity, to be your friend. It’s all good.  . . .  And maybe it felt good at first, but then you find out it’s not. And now you can’t get him out. He’s the squatter of despair who won’t leave; the tenant of regrets who won’t pay his rent. 

And so just as that day in Capernaum, Jesus enters the church here. This church filled with us who have unclean spirits, and he says: Shut up and get out! That’s what the unclean spirits hear anyway. You hear it this way: I forgive you all your sins. And it is so. And He teaches you - of His love. For He doesn’t tell you to get out, and He never will. For you are His child. Instead, He washes you again in His baptismal grace, cleaning you again to His standard. He rescues you from the evil, unclean foe too powerful for you. For His word is still authoritative and powerful and does what it says.

And He does not get tired of this, of forgiving. Ever! You’d think He would. As often as we keep messing up and coming back, but no. He delights in your coming back, your confession, and to wash you again and again. For to do so is to apply His cross to you. It’s why He did that for you. For Jesus died not for the clean but for the unclean; not for the strong but for the weak; not for those who stand but for those who fall; not to be stingy with His forgiveness, but to be lavish with it, John said (1 John 3:1); to pour it out upon us generously, as Paul put it (Titus 3:6).

And now that the cross is done, Jesus’ death and resurrection done, that’s what He does. He applies the cross and it’s power to you. All the time. Forgiving and cleansing and raising. Now, of course, that doesn’t mean He loves our sin or that our sin doesn’t matter and we can do whatever we want! By no means! to borrow one of Paul’s favorite phrases. Our Father still wants us to fear, love, and trust in Him alone. But He knows, as we prayed in the collect earlier, that we live in the midst of so many dangers that in our frailty we cannot stand upright. He knows how weak we are - in body and in mind. He knows how slick the unclean spirits are. And so He comes to die and He comes to forgive. And He loves to forgive because He loves you.

And so as the psalmist said, and as we sang in the Introit: Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. And you are so blessed. Your sin covered by His blood, your iniquity forgiven, and His Spirit of truth living in you. And even more! The Body and Blood of Christ feeding you, strengthening you in the ongoing struggle, and establishing you firm in Christ and Christ in you. To grant us what we prayed for earlier: strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations.

Which we need, because the unclean spirits are not giving up. You know that as well as I do. And their assaults will continue until that day the unclean spirit feared - that day when the Lord will come to destroy all the unclean and create a new heavens and a new earth. That day when all who are unclean - be they spirits or people - will then be told to get out and will be banished from the Lord and His kingdom forever. The Last Day. The unclean spirit knew that to be a fearsome day for all who are not clean in Christ.

But the good news is that day is not yet. Now is the time of our Lord’s patience; now is the time of His forgiveness; now is the time for preaching and feeding and washing and absolving, that you and I and all receive the cleansing our Saviour died to give all people. That cleansing He is here to give, in mercy and grace, to you. For you too have heard His authoritative voice, not against you but for you. That the battle which started in defeat, end in victory.

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