Sunday, October 25, 2015

Reformation Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Pointing to Jesus”
Text: Matthew 11:12-19; Romans 3:19-29; Revelation 14:6-7

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

John the Baptist! That’s who we heard about in the Holy Gospel today. What’s he go to do with the Reformation? Well, perhaps more than you think . . .

For if I had to pick one person in the Scriptures that Martin Luther was the most like, I think I would pick John the Baptist.

Both spoke the truth to authority: John to the Jewish leaders and King Herod, and Luther to the Pope and the Emperor.

Both were pretty fiery preachers who didn’t mince words, but told it to you straight.

Both were imprisoned for doing so: John was in Herod’s prison; Luther’s imprisonment was of a more friendly kind - protective custody, in the Castle Wartburg. But it was still a kind of imprisonment for him. Luther didn’t want to be there, and was taken there by force.

And then John was beheaded. Luther wasn’t, but he legally could have been, were it not for his protector. The emperor declared him an enemy of the empire, and with such a designation, anyone who killed him would not only not be punished, but would be praised for doing a service for the empire. But others in Luther’s day were martyred, including two young men who were burned alive for refusing to recant the evangelical faith. Luther wrote a hymn about them to spread their story.

John and Luther had a lot in common. But none of that is really why I think these two are alike. Rather, all those similarities come from the main reason why they are so alike: they both proclaimed the same message. Both John and Luther were all about one thing: pointing to Jesus and proclaiming “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Artwork depicting them often shows this, too, as you can see on the cover of your bulletin today. 

If you look at the cover, you see first John, who is often shown beside the cross of Jesus with a lamb at his feet and the Scriptures in his hand, and pointing to Jesus with an abnormally large pointer finger, telling you: there’s the one the Scriptures speak of; there’s the Lamb of God! 

And Luther, too, is often shown in a similar way, in his pulpit, with the Scriptures open and pointing to Jesus on the cross, preaching to his congregation: there’s the one the Scriptures speak of; there’s the Lamb of God!

So they are very much the same, John and Martin. Both were all about Jesus. Both wanted all the world to know the Lamb of God. Both were all about the forgiveness of sins. 

And that’s what the Reformation is all about. It’s not about Luther, it’s about Jesus. It’s about the forgiveness of sins that we have by grace through faith in Him. That this forgiveness is not something you can earn or deserve, it is a gift. That’s the good news God preached to Adam and Eve, that was preached all through the Old Testament and all it’s sacrifices, all those lambs, that was accomplished by Jesus, and now goes into all the world. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world

And for that, John and Luther were opposed. For that, they suffered violence. For as we heard: From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.

The violent take it by force. The picture you can imagine with those words is of an army storming a castle, a fortress, not entering by the gate, but trying to take it by force; overcome it with the sheer force of their power and effort and strength.

Well the gate, the door, to the kingdom of heaven, the Scriptures tell us, is Jesus (John 10:7-10). His sacrifice on the cross, His blood poured out as the Lamb of God, opens the kingdom of heaven to all who believe. His gift, received by faith. Yet there are those who try to take the kingdom of heaven by force, which is to say, storm it and try to enter not by the door of Jesus’ forgiveness, but on their own, with their own efforts and strength, by virtue of their virtue, because of their good works. 

In John’s day it was the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders who were focused on the Law and their fulfilling of it, to please God and earn your salvation. In Luther’s day it was the teaching that your merits, your good works, your pilgrimages, your monastic life of poverty, obedience, and chastity, your efforts, could get you into the kingdom of heaven. And in our day there continue to be many who believe that, too: that heaven is for good people. I heard it again in a conversation at the airport just a few weeks ago.

But we heard something very different from the Scriptures today. From Romans we heard that by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight. No human being is good in the sight of God. You might be in your own eyes, you might be in the eyes of your fellow human beings, but no one measures up to God’s standards. I don’t care who you are or what you have done. 

For, Paul continues, all have sinned . . . but then he adds this: and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Your justification, your being right with God, your entry into the kingdom of heaven, is a gift, through the redemption, through the blood, of Jesus. Jesus, the one of whom they said: Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!

Those who said that meant it as an accusation, something to accuse Jesus with and discredit Him, like we see so much in politics today - that Jesus hangs out not with the good, respectable folks, but with the lowlifes, so He must be one, too. But those words, right there, that were meant as an accusation, are exactly the good news that John and Luther preached. Jesus is a friend of tax collectors and sinners

So are you a sinner? Are you an outcast? Do you look in the mirror and not like the person looking back at you? Are you someone not as good as the next guy? Do you have sins that no matter how hard you try to cannot overcome? Have you let others down? Have you let God down? Do you struggle with doubts and fears and worries? 

If that’s you, you have a friend. Someone on your side, who came to do what you could not; who came to do what you would not. Who came to give you a holiness and righteousness you could never achieve on your own, and with that the gift of the kingdom of heaven and eternal life. And there He is, your friend, on the cross; on your cross, with all your sins, paying for them for you. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world

Now those who think heaven is just for good people and who think they are pretty good, who think they can get in on their own, who don’t want the kingdom of heaven as a gift but as a reward, who don’t want to be a sinner but who try to justify themselves and their actions by excuses or circumstances or comparisons, don’t want to hear all that, don’t want to hear a call to repentance, don’t want to be told they can’t do it. And so they respond with violence. John is silenced by beheading. Jesus was crucified. All but one of the apostles were martyred, many in the early church too. They tried to silence and kill Luther. And now they are executing Christians in the Middle East, on our college campuses, and in the media. And maybe you’ve felt it, too. Still today, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.

And you hear all this, you see all this, and it’s frightening. But do not despair. There’s something else about your friend we heard today. A Mighty Fortress is our God (LSB #656). Or in the words of Psalm 46, Luther’s inspiration for writing that hymn: God is our refuge and strength . . . the God of Jacob is our fortress. That is also what John and Luther had in common - that faith. That as Luther wrote, no matter what the violence, no matter if they take our life, goods, fame, child, and wife . . . our victory has been won. We are safe in fortress Jesus. John was in prison, yet he was safe. John was beheaded, yet he lives. Luther continued to preach the eternal Gospel because he knew that, even as an outlaw, he was safe. Until Jesus comes again, there is and always will be violence in our world and against the Gospel - satan will see to that. But through it all, we are safe in fortress Jesus. In Him, your sins cannot condemn you. In Him, satan cannot have you. In Him, death cannot hold you. In Him, death cannot end your life - the kingdom and eternal life yours remaineth.

That is the Rock on which the Church is built and stands, even when steeples are falling and spires have crumbled in every land (LSB #645 v. 1). And when the violence increases, when the opposition ramps up, the Church of Jesus does not shrink and hide. For at just such times, it is more important than ever for the Church bells to be chiming and calling the young and old to rest. To rest in fortress Jesus. Rest even in the midst of trouble and violence. Rest in the forgiveness of sins and the promise of everlasting life. Rest that is found no where else. Rest in the promise given in Baptism that you are God’s child, dearly loved. Rest in the promise given in Absolution, that your sins are forgiven and cannot separate you from your heavenly Father. Rest in the Supper, where Jesus gives you His Body and Blood - His pledge that your Body and Blood are going to rise and live after death, too. Whenever, however it comes. Rest, because all this is yours, your Saviour’s gift to you. You don’t have to do it; you can’t do it. But He did it, the Lamb of God. For you.

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We’ll sing that again today, as we do every Sunday. It is what the Reformation is all about. Pointing to Jesus. Pointing to His cross. Pointing to His gifts. Pointing to His forgiveness. Pointing to His promises. Pointing all the world to Him. Just like John and Luther, who worked their pointer fingers to the bone. That all people - that you - may know Jesus: your friend, brother, your fortress, and your Saviour.

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

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Commemoration of St. Luke Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Luke’s Gospel of Peace”
Text: Luke 10:1-9 (Isaiah 35:5-8; 2 Timothy 4:5-18)

Note: Today we were privileged to have John Wolf and his family with us, new missionaries to Africa. That is why the play on the word “wolf” later in the sermon. It was such a happy coincidence that they were with us on this day of the Commemoration of St. Luke, for I cannot imagine a more apt Gospel for the day than the one we had!

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

The commemorations of the saints in the church is like getting an old photo album out at home and remembering your ancestors. It is to look back at those who have gone before us and remember them, and give thanks for them and how they were an important part of your life.

Today we do that with Saint Luke the Evangelist, the Gospel-writer. And yes, as Christians, he is an important part of each of our lives. For his is the Gospel which tells us so many things that the others do not. It is Luke that gives us the fullest and richest account of Jesus’ birth, of Bethlehem, the angels and the shepherds, and no room in the Inn. Luke alone includes the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, and only he records those words of Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon that would become the great hymns of the Church called the Benedictus, the Magnificat, and the Nunc Dimittis. Only Luke teaches us about the rich man and Lazarus, the “wee little man” named Zacchaeus, and the penitent thief on the cross. Luke’s Gospel singly tells us that one of the things Jesus said while hanging on the cross is: Father, forgive them (Luke 23:34). Words I know I can never hear enough. Without Luke, our ancestor in the faith, we would be without all this, and we would be poorer, indeed.

What we also know about Luke is that he was a physician (Colossians 4:14). We heard that in the collect prayed earlier, how Jesus called Luke the physician to be an evangelist and physician of the soul. Yet that seems to spiritualize it a bit too much for me; makes it too abstract. Rather, I would say that Luke was changed from being a physician of bodies, plural, to a physician of the body, singular - the Body of Christ, His Church. That was Luke’s patient now, and who he would tend to, as he is still doing today through his Gospel and the second volume of his writing, the book of Acts. And the medicine for this Body is the Word of peace he proclaims, which heals this Body from the disease of sin. Because peace with God comes only in the forgiveness of sins.

That Word of peace is what we heard today as we heard from Luke. Jesus sends out seventy-two of His disciples, two-by-two, to go into the towns and villages ahead of Him. And they take nothing but what Jesus gives them. They take nothing of their own: no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals. They take only the Word of peace Jesus gives them. This Word of peace which brings healing because with it, the kingdom of God has come near to you. The kingdom because the King, Jesus, is present and working in His Word. And, Jesus tells them, while some will rejoice it that Word of peace and welcome it, sadly, some also will reject it. And it seems as if more rejected than welcomed it, for Luke tells us in the first chapter of Acts that when the Church got together to determine a replacement for Judas, the company of persons was in all about 120 (Acts 1:15). That’s only 48 more than the 72. Not even 1.5 per team. Luke later tells us, though, in Acts, that the results got better after Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit came upon the Church, when on that day the twelve baptized some 3,000 people (Acts 2:41)

But it wasn’t going to be easy. I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves, Jesus told those 72. And so it was not only then, but even after Pentecost as the Church was persecuted, all but John among the twelve martyred in some horrific way. Luke, too, is believed to have been a martyr, which is why our parament color today is red, for blood. And we heard that from Paul today too, writing to Timothy while in prison, that his life, he wrote, poured out as a drink offering

For this Word of peace, this Word of Jesus, this Word of Jesus’ death on the cross for the sin of the world, for the life of the world, will be opposed. At every turn. In every way. The satanic wolf trying to silence it. And it seems by Jesus’ own words that it’s not much of a contest, for a lamb that goes up against a wolf doesn’t stand much of a chance. To my knowledge, in all those contests, the wolf is undefeated.

The tradition of the Church tells us that Luke was one of those 72 Jesus sent out that day. That he was one of the ones that heard that - that they would be like lambs in the midst of wolves. 

And so when Luke wrote his Gospel, he includes not only that account, but wrote so that you would know this above all else: that in this contest of lambs and wolves, this contest that doesn’t seem very much like a contest at all, but more like a slaughter! There was, actually, one time when a lamb won. One time the wolf sunk his sharp and deadly teeth into a delectible lamb, pouring out its blood, and taking its life . . . only to have that lamb come back triumphant and victorious over the wolf. And that was, of course, the Lamb of God. The One Luke’s Gospel, from first to last, from His story of Jesus’ birth to His death and resurrection, is all about. The Lamb of God who took on the wolf, and won. So when Jesus sent out those 72, Luke came to realize, it was a picture of what He Himself had come to do. And He would be with them. That’s why they needed nothing else. 

And so it is still today - the Lamb is with us, taking on the wolf and winning. For He has won each of us. Baptism washes us in the blood of the Lamb poured out from the cross. Absolution gives us peace with God in the forgiveness of our sins. And the Body and Blood of that Lamb is given to us, to make us what He is: victorious. That our wolfish ways be put away, and we be healed, by the One great, heavenly and eternal, physician. That as Isaiah said, our blind eyes be opened to see our Lord with the eyes of faith; our deaf ears be unstopped to hear His Word; our mute tongue be loosed to confess both our sins and our Saviour; and the Highway of Holiness be the way that we walk. Our homes and lives no longer sand burning with sin, ground thirsty for forgiveness, and wildernesses lacking love, but places of peace, of refuge, and of rest. Places where the Lamb is victorious over the wolf, still today. 

And then so that this Word of peace, this Word of Jesus’ victory and triumph, continue to go out into all the world today, that as we sang in the Introit, repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, Jesus said: pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. It is our privilege to do that, and to rejoice when we see those prayers answered and fulfilled. Answered and fulfilled as Chris and George and Brodi have gone to the seminary to be laborers in the harvest, and answered and fulfilled with Chris and his family now in China, and answered and fulfilled with the Wolf family - here with us today - accepting that call as well, to go, hopefully soon, to Africa.

And notice this too: how powerful is this Word of God, this Word of peace, that we proclaim? Well, Jesus sent the 72 out as lambs in the midst of wolves, but yet today we have Wolfs in the midst of lambs and yet we are not afraid. For this Word of God - in the flesh and in His Word proclaimed and Sacraments given - takes wolves and makes them lambs; makes them His. Born again from above. New creations. All of us beastly offspring made into divine children, by Jesus. To live new lives, victorious-lamb-lives,even in the midst of a lot of worldly wolves. So while Paul bore in his body the marks of Jesus (Galatians 6:17), you, John, bear the mark of Jesus it in your name! You are a Wolf made a lamb through the Word and peace of Jesus. 

And so it is for us all, and that’s what Luke wants you to know above all: the powerful and transforming forgiveness and love of the Lamb of God for you. The forgiveness and love that changed his life, changed the lives of those he wrote about, and now also changes you. From sinner to saint. From devourer of one another, to devourer of His Body and Blood. From someone whose life will end in death, to someone whose death will end in life. That where Jesus is, there you will be as well. That as the kingdom of God has come near to you here and now, so you will live in that kingdom forever. 

Until that day, repent when you act the wolf you no longer are and receive Jesus’ lamb-making forgiveness. Here in His Supper especially. And pray for laborers, pray for the wolves out there, and even speak that forgiveness yourself - you never know when those words will open blind eyes or deaf ears. And rejoice, for even in the midst of wolves as the 72 or in prison like Paul, Luke, your ancestor in the faith, wants you to know: you are not alone. You are a lamb of God in the Lamb of God. The kingdom of God has come to you and He will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). So as he went that day, so Luke is still announcing today: Peace be to this house! And there is. In Jesus. Now, and forever.

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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Pentecost 20 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The True God Gives”
Text: Ecclesiastes 5:10-20; Mark 10:23-31

Solomon, the man who wrote Ecclesiastes, knew something about wealth. He was one of the wealthiest people who ever lived. One writer I looked at estimated that between the taxes he levied on his own people, the tribute that was paid by the nations around him, and the gifts he received, that Solomon probably had an annual income that in today’s dollars would be over a billion dollars a year. Not too shabby.

But with all that wealth, Solomon was not happy. In fact, as we heard tonight, the longer he was king and the wealthier he got, the more unhappy he grew. The more money he had, the less content he grew. The more money he had, the less sleep he got worrying about it. The more money he had, the more he saw people eating up his wealth, taking advantage of him. And then he realized this, too: it was all only temporary. You can’t take it with you.

We should learn something from Solomon’s words here. Yet in the thousands of years that have gone by since the time Solomon lived, it seems we haven’t. Money remains one of the chief focuses and problems of people today. 

Jesus, too, talked a lot about wealth and money. We heard it in the Gospel tonight. And in fact, if you add up all the times Jesus talked about various topics which we have recorded in the Gospels, money is at - or very near - the top of the list. 

And today as well money continues to be an obsession. People continue to think if they just had a little more money, they’d be happier. If they just had a little more money they’d have fewer problems. And as a result, the economy is usually one of the most influential factors in our elections. Yet is it so? Money continues to be among the most-cited causes of divorce. And then there are arguments over taxes, the minimum wage, and income equality, car title loan places have popped up seemingly everywhere, many have maxed-out their credit cards, and some now face bankruptcy.

Solomon was right: money is a consumer. It consumes the attention and the life of those who have it and worry about it, as well as those who don’t but continue to strive after it and be jealous of those who do. 

But here’s the thing: that’s not just true about money - that’s true of every false god. Money is a big one, but it’s not the only one. False gods consume. They consume time, they consume happiness, they consume marriages. False gods take. They take people away from each other and pit them against one another. False gods demand. They demand more and more. They are not content with part of you, they want all of you. And they will hound you to the grave. So if you are worried, if you are unhappy, if you are afraid, if you are jealous, if you are angry, if you are anxious, or if you are anything like that, here’s why: you’re being consumed . . . by a false god.

Because the true God, the one true God, doesn’t consume, take, or demand - He gives. He gives life, He gives peace, He gives faith. He gives work to enjoy, people to love, and contentment in doing so. He gives patience in the midst of trouble, forgiveness for our sin, and the promise of a life after this one has ended. A life free from sin and trouble and which will last forever. And to provide that, He gave the greatest gift of all: His Son. His Son who came and gave. Who gave health to the sick, hope to the hopeless, kindness to the outcast, good news to the poor, and life to the dead. And then He gave His own life too, on the altar of the cross. That dying for our sins and then rising from the dead, we might rise too - from sin to a new life now, and to a life that is eternal. 

And that’s what Solomon grew to realize: what is good and fitting is to enjoy what God gives. When you are being consumed - by whatever it is - it’s time to repent, time to turn away from that false god, and receive again from our giving God. For He wants only to give. To give us His forgiveness and love, and these through the people He has given to us. They’re not the enemy.  They’re not against us. They’re the ones God has given us to bless us. At home, at work, at school, at church. When we are divided, satan is using false gods to rob us of these gifts, to deprive us, to consume us, to cause all kinds pain and lack in us, to make us concerned about only one thing: me and mine. Repentance is giving up me and mine, and receiving His. His forgiveness and life and love.

And you won’t run out. The more you give up the more you will receive. You cannot out give God! We heard that tonight, too, from Jesus, in response to Peter who said: See, we have left everything and followed you. And Jesus replied: Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

With persecutions, for satan isn’t going to leave you alone. If he can’t consume you from within, with false gods, he will try to consume you from without, with presecutions. And usually he gives you both barrels at the same time. He is ruthless.

But your heavenly Father is ruthless, too. But for you. And Jesus, too. And His Spirit. The God who gives has a kingdom for you. The same one that Solomon finally realized was better and richer than the one God had given him here. The one that will give joy beyond compare. For that’s the way of it with your giving God. He cares for widows and orphans, He welcomes the unloved. He raises the low, He fills the hungry . . . and this too: in His kingdom, He makes the last first. 

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

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pentecost 20 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The One Thing”
Text: Mark 10:17-22

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

Let me clear one thing up for you right at the start of this sermon, before we get too far into thinking about the Word of God we heard today:

Jesus is not giving a general rule for all Christians today.
He is not commanding poverty for all Christians.
And you do not have to leave Church today and sell your house, your car, and all your belongings if you want to have eternal life.

OK? You can exhale now!

In fact, not only is Jesus not making a general rule here, but maybe you exactly shouldn’t do that very thing! For if you have a wife and children to shelter and feed and care for, if you are providing for parents or siblings, then to sell your house and all your belongings would be to neglect your calling as husband and father, as brother or sister, as son or daughter. And that wouldn’t be a good thing, but, in fact, an irresponsible thing.

You see, that was the mistake some in the Church made in medieval times, and why monks began taking vows of poverty: they thought they were doing what Jesus said to do here, and in becoming poor, becoming godly. But the two don’t necessarily go together, and to think that is to miss half of what Jesus said to this man who came up to Him that day and asked such an important question: Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

For what was Jesus’ answer? Ultimately it was this: You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.

So what was the one thing this man was lacking? What was the one thing he didn’t have to inherit eternal life? He didn’t have Jesus. That’s the key phrase here, when Jesus says: Come, follow me. Jesus knew this man’s wealth was the one thing preventing him from following; the one thing getting in the way of him having Jesus. For it isn’t wrong or sinful to be wealthy. God makes some people very wealthy, people like Abraham, David, and Solomon, just to name a few. And really, you and me, too. Even though in our country, in our context, we may not consider ourselves wealthy, compared to most people in the rest of the world, we are fabulously rich! And that’s not necessarily bad. But it can be, if it prevents you from having Jesus.

And so it was with this man. If what he said was true, that he kept all the commandments from his youth, he was an exemplary man; someone everyone in the community would have looked up to and admired. So much so that people, and maybe even this man himself, may have viewed his wealth as a reward from God for doing so well in the rest of his life. 

So in his conversation with Jesus, when Jesus said that he was lacking only one thing, how excited he must have gotten! Only one thing! How close he was to the kingdom of God! So imagine his shock when he heard what it was. That one thing? It was a doozie . . . he had to let go of his wealth and follow Jesus. 

So why could he not do it? Why could he not let go of his wealth? 

Did he love it more than Jesus? Maybe. Maybe he had just gotten his dream home, or he didn’t want to give up his nice clothes, delicious food, and all you can get when you have money.

Or did he trust his wealth more than Jesus? Maybe. Maybe he couldn’t imagine how he would have what he needed for day-to-day life if he sold it all and followed Jesus. For what would he eat? What would he wear? Where would he live? How could Jesus - who didn’t have anything Himself - provide all that? 

Or did he think his wealth could give him what Jesus could not? Maybe that too. Maybe his self-esteem was tied to his riches and he was afraid of being a nobody. Or perhaps it was security or comfort that he was afraid of no longer having.

Only one thing, Jesus had said. Oh, how good that sounded! And he was ready to do anything . . . except that. 

So now, what is it for you? What is your one thing?

‘Cause we all have it. One thing. At least one. That we’re not willing to let go of. That we hang onto. That we fear, love, and trust more than Jesus.

What’s your one thing?

Maybe it’s wealth. Lots of people are consumed with that, getting as much as you can, while you can.

But maybe that’s not it for you. Maybe for you it’s something quite different, like a grudge. That bitterness in your heart because of something someone did to you a long time ago and you’re not willing to let it go; you’re not willing to forgive it; you’re not willing to reconcile. Is that your one thing?

Or maybe it’s fear of suffering. Or maybe not even suffering, but inconvenience. Fear of what loving and helping others would really mean for your life. Fear of the backlash you would suffer for speaking the truth. Fear of where living this Christian life might lead . . . and so you’re not willing to really let go and walk down that road.

Or maybe for you it’s pride, and so you’re unwilling to say you’re sorry and ask forgiveness. Or you’re unwilling to obey your parents, because what they said is dumb; or if you do, only just enough to get what you want, ‘cause that’s what you’re hanging onto. 

What’s your one thing? That one thing that hardens your heart, like we heard in the reading from Hebrews, that makes you like the rebellious people of Israel in the wilderness. What is that one thing - or maybe many things - you’re hanging onto and not letting go? Is it worth trading for eternal life? Is it that important, that valuable? Can it really give you what you need? Is it worth taking to the grave?

Thought you could exhale at the beginning of the sermon, huh? Now you know how that man felt! Letting go is not so easy. What Jesus asks here is a doozie . . . for us, too, when He says: Come, follow me. In fact, it’s more than a doozie - it’s the knife plunged into our hopes . . . because no matter how hard we try, there will always be one more thing we don’t do, one more thing we can’t let go of, one more thing that makes you getting on the list of those inheriting eternal life out of your reach. 

For actually, there’s only one name on that list. Only one person who was truly worthy of eternal life. Who was truly good, who did everything perfectly, and clung to nothing - not even His own life - and that was Jesus. What did He do? He clung to us instead of His own life. He clung to our sins to free us from them. And then He clung to the cross to pay the price for those sins of ours that He took from us, to win life for us. That was Jesus’ one thing, that He was not willing to let go of: you.

And because He did, there is now a way for you and I to be on that list and enter eternal life: to have His name on us and to enter under His name. To be joined to Him and have His inheritance given to us. And in baptism, that’s what Jesus does - He puts His name on you and gives you a new identity: son of God. Christian. Inheritor of life with Him. And so because of Jesus, you’re on the list.

And when those “one things” pop up, when the things and people of this world grab your heart and love and desire, instead of going away sorrowful and disheartened like that rich man, repent. Repent and be filled again with Jesus’ forgiveness; be filled again with His love. For Jesus isn’t here for people who don’t fail, He’s here for those who do. For you and me. To give us the clean hearts and right love that we need. To keep us on the list. To give us Himself and His life.

And so He gives us Himself and His life, giving us His Body and Blood here, that you lack nothing; that His life be in you and thus your life be eternal. All your “one things” are swallowed up by His one thing - your sins swallowed up by His forgiveness; your death swallowed up by His life. And all that based not on what you do to get your name on the list for eternal life, but what He has done for you and now gives to you. For eternal life in Him is the gift He has come to give to you and all people. That we lack nothing; no good thing.

And lack no good thing already here and now. For when we speak of eternal life, that is not something that is coming some time in the far, far away future, that is irrelevant to our life now, our problems now, our concerns now. No. Christianity is no pie-in-the-sky, head-in-the-clouds, spiritualist movement. No. Christianity is about life now. Christianity is Jesus becoming a man in this world. But it is exactly such confidence and assurance in the future that impacts our life now. For if you know your future is secure, if you know you have nothing to fear - even from death - then you are free to live now! To live now in peace and joy and confidence. And free to love. For there is nothing to hold you down, nothing to hold you back, nothing you lack. For you have Jesus. And when you have Jesus you have the Father, you are a child of God, and so your name is on the list.

And so you are free then to follow Him. Free from the entanglements of sin, the world, and our own sinful natures. Free at home, at work, at school. Wherever you are, in all your callings. The gifts we have are the gifts we give, not hoard. And we lose nothing by doing so. In fact, just the opposite - we grow wealthier. For we grow in love and joy and peace and life. For the truth is this: there is no man so poor as the one who holds onto his wealth. And no man so rich as the one who doesn’t. Which are you? Which do you want to be? Come, follow me, Jesus says. To the cross. I have life. For you.

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

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pentecost 19 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Safe in Jesus”
Text: Mark 10:2-16; Genesis 2:18-25; Hebrews 2:1-18

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

For a little while this week, there was a flurry of concern over Hurricane Joaquin - whether it would hit the United States mainland, and where. Including potentially here. Warnings started going out so that people could make preparations and be safe. Safe from the flooding, safe from the winds, safe from the potential power outages.

Also this week we heard of another shooting on a college campus, this one in a small, quiet town in Oregon. What was supposed to be a safe place, and a safe place for learning, turned out not to be so safe. But we’ve seen it before - evil bursting into a place we thought was safe.

We want to be safe. So we lock our doors at night. We teach our children not to trust strangers. We buy cars with the latest and greatest safety features. We put our money in the bank or what we think are safe investments. We build a strong national defense. And we make laws - laws to protect us; laws so that we can protect ourselves. And we keep making laws and changing laws, strengthening some, weakening others, all so that we can be safe. Safe from evil.

But it hasn’t worked. Evil still comes upon us, and it doesn’t care who you are. The evil one simply wants to devour, consume, and destroy you and everything and everyone you have and hold dear. Last week we considered how much worse it would be if the angels were not protecting us. And yet while they defend us from evil, they cannot deliver us from evil. There is only one who can: our Saviour Jesus Christ. 

The readings today continue that theme, applying it to the most intimate relationship God has established: marriage. The one flesh union of a man and a woman. Every person is a self-contained living being, eating, digesting, breathing, and moving on your own, capable by yourself of everything . . . except for one thing: procreation. You cannot do that by yourself. Men and women were each given half of what is needed, and marriage then given to bring them together as one flesh, to produce and raise children. To be fruitful and multiply, is how the Scriptures put it. 

And so we heard of the first marriage in the world today; how God formed a woman from the flesh and bone of Adam’s side and then brought her to him in the first marriage ceremony. And what joy there was for them that day as God gave them to one another. A joy we see on wedding days still today.

And God desired to protect that union and the families it produces, that it be a safe place. Safe from division, safe from evil. What God has joined together, let not man separate.

But separate is exactly what has happened. This first gift of God after the creation of all that exists, is and has been under attack. It didn’t take long for satan to divide what God had joined together, as Adam blamed his wife for all the trouble they had gotten into, and even blamed God for giving him such a helper. Their joy and unity was gone in a puff of satan-breathed smoke. It didn’t take long after that for their children to follow in the footsteps of their parents, for brother to turn against brother as Cain murdered his brother Abel, and then also in those first chapters of Genesis we read of rape, incest, multiple wives, and divorce. In a world infected and affected by evil, even marriages and families were not safe places anymore.

And we see it today. And it didn’t take a Supreme Court ruling to do it. As I just outlined, the erosion of marriage and family has been going on for a very long time. You know the litany: the wide-spread acceptance of sexual activity outside of marriage has made marriage, to many, an unnecessary option - except to get desired tax breaks and rights afforded by the government. No fault, easy-to-get divorce has made marriage more like a temporary partnership than a lifelong, one flesh, union. Children are affected as many are raised without their biological moms and dads, if they are lucky enough not to have been ripped from their mother’s wombs - the place that should be the safest place of all. And that doesn’t even mention spousal and child abuse, cheating websites, fights, harsh words, cold shoulders, blame, lack of affection, and families divided even while living under the same roof. Marriages, families, relationships, can be a mess. Even Christian ones. Even maybe yours.

As it was in the beginning, is now . . . and also was at the time of Jesus. They, too, turned to the law just as we often turn to the law to fix the problems of sin. The Pharisees came up to Jesus and asked Him: Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? Well, Moses allowed it, Jesus replies, but that was not part of God’s plan.

Take note of that answer. Usually we think of the Law, and especially the Old Testament laws, as harsh, unyielding, and hopelessly rigid. But here the Law was relaxed a bit, softened. God did not just bring His giant foot down from heaven and bellow: NO! An allowance was made. For the truth is, it’s not the Law that is unyielding and hopelessly rigid, it is man’s heart that is. Man’s heart that won’t yield. Man’s heart that won’t forgive. Man’s heart hardened to pursue it’s own, selfish path at the expense of any that would get in its way. And so God, in mercy, made an allowance. Because God knew what we so often forget: that the Law is not the answer. The Law cannot make us better. The Law cannot create that safe place we desire and need. The Law is good, but sometimes the Law can be an idol, too, if we look to it instead of to Jesus for the good, for the refuge, we need.

And so when asked about marriage and divorce, Jesus doesn’t go back to Moses, back to the Law, He goes back to the beginning, to the Gospel, to marriage as the joyful, one flesh gift God created and gave. And then He protects the children too, taking them in His arms and blessing them. Because if there is going to be a safe place for our marriages, our families, and our friendships, it is in Jesus.

In Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels.
In Jesus, who came to be our brother and shared our flesh and blood.
In Jesus, who suffered when we turned against our brother, and He suffered the division of our world and the hardness of our hearts by being hung on the cross and forsaken by His Father for our sins that He bore.
In Jesus, who became like us and was tempted like us in every way.
In Jesus, who came to provide the forgiveness of our sins.
For how can we expect any place to be safe if our own hearts aren’t even safe? If our own hearts are hard, still spewing evil, still pursuing our own selfish paths?

So Jesus came and took us as His Bride - as hard, sinful, and unclean as we are - that we first have a safe place in Him and His love and forgiveness. He came to give us new and clean hearts (Psalm 51); to give us hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone (Ezekiel 36). He does that in Baptism, washing us not outwardly but inwardly, through water and the Word. 

And then from within that love and forgiveness and safety, we begin to live a new life - not because of the Law, but because of the Gospel. Because Jesus has restored the life that we lost and given us a place of safety and refuge. So that we be no longer afraid to love and forgive, but be free to. For His answer to our sin is not to divorce us, but to forgive us. Forgiveness which will never run out, and for which you can never be too sinful. He puts His forgiveness into your ears in the Absolution; He puts it into your mouths in the Supper. He wants to fill you with it, for it is His love for you. That you know that no matter what you have done, how sinful you have been, how hard, how shameful, here, in Him, is a safe place for you.

And thus filled, thus safe and secure, you now take that love and forgiveness into a world of sin; a world perhaps hostile to us and the life that we proclaim. That’s okay. Don’t be afraid to be counter-cultural. For it’s not us against them, it’s us for them. The Church is here, we are here, for the world. To benefit others; to help them. For Jesus is not against them, but for them, too. For all need a safe place from the sin without and from the sin within. A place where we can again live in joy, not fear, in the relationships that God has so graciously given to us - be they marriage, family, or friendship. Without Him, no place is safe. Without Him, silence does not make us safe; going along does not make us safe; separation does not make us safe. Evil will find you wherever you go. 

But with Him, you are safe wherever you are, wherever you go, even if a hard and hateful world strings you up like it crucified Him. Even then and there, in death, you are safe. For He is the one who has conquered death and the grave.

So the laws today may allow a lot of things, from divorce to same-sex marriage to who knows what else in the next few years. Don’t despair, don’t hide, and don’t remain silent. We have a better way to show the world and give to the world. Not the way of the Law, but the way of the Gospel, the way of Jesus. The answer is not to divorce ourselves from the world, but to live in this world with the truth and forgiveness we have been given. To risk it all, for really, we have nothing to lose. We are safe in Jesus. Children safe in His arms. For in Him, the Shattered Bliss of Eden (LSB #572) is healed and recreated, our shame covered, and our safe place restored. 

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