Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lent 3 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Tough Times. Tough Words. A Faithful God”
Text: Luke 13:1-9 (Ezekiel 33:7-20; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13)

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

It was a sudden and unfair tragedy. They weren’t hurting anyone; in fact, they were doing what was proper and right - offering sacrifices - when Pilate’s henchmen came in and cut them down in cold blood. They slaughtered them, so that their blood was mixed with the blood of their sacrifices. It was awful; a sad day for all good Jews. And women who came to Jerusalem as wives left as widows, and children as orphans.

And so they came to Jesus and told Him. Perhaps they wanted to know why. Perhaps they wanted Jesus to denounce Pilate and this Roman brutality. Perhaps they wanted Jesus to cry out, “How long, O Lord? Hear the cries of your people and destroy those evil Romans!” But above all, they wanted sympathy. To know that God was on their side. Affirmation that they were right, and Pilate and the Romans wrong.

But Jesus does not respond as expected. Instead, He tells them: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” It is a marvel that He wasn’t attacked on the spot! For after all that we Jews have suffered, how dare you, Jesus! How dare you inflict more wounds on us by your criticism! By telling us to repent! What about Pilate, huh? Tell him to repent!

[Jesus:] Oh, you want me to condemn Pilate, but I am not talking to Pilate. He is not here. I am talking to you. Evil is also at work in you that will destroy you, Pilate or no Pilate. And so you must repent, or you will likewise perish. For you tell me of Pilate, but what about the tower in Siloam that fell? Were they worse sinners than you? Is Pilate a worse sinner than you? Were those slaughtered worse sinners than you? Do you think you are innocent? No, repent, lest you likewise perish.

This is a hard Word of God - not just for those people then, but for us today. Jesus sounds so cold and callous. For imagine speaking those words today. After Paris, after San Bernadino. Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. We would be brutally attacked! An unrelenting media and an indignant public crying out: How dare you! After all that we have suffered, telling us to repent! What about the terrorists? Are you one of them? Tell them to repent!

How would Jesus have responded? But I am are not talking to the terrorists. They are not here. I am talking to you. For you tell me of terrorists, but what of the tornados in the Midwest, the earthquakes in Taiwan, the tsunami in the Philippines, or hurricanes or wildfires or floods? Are they to whom these things happen worse sinners than you? Do you think you are innocent? Are you so self-righteous that you think God is punishing them for their sin, while you are good enough to be spared? No, repent, lest you likewise perish.

To speak that way is a dangerous thing. Just ask Ezekiel, Jeremiah, or any of the prophets. Just ask those who have been taken to task for speaking the truth by our politically correct culture. Such talk makes it sound as if we deserve to have such suffering and tragedies befall us. But whether or not that is true, it’s not the point Jesus is making here. Rather, the point He is making is that He wants us to understand that we are fallen and sinful people, living in a fallen and sinful world, and that these fallen and sinful things happen to and effect us all. They happen to good people and bad people, to rich and poor, to young and old, and to people of all religions and nationalities. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). If you’re afflicted it doesn’t mean you’re worse, and if you’re not it doesn’t mean you’re better. All means all. So what happens to you when they do happen? When either suddenly or slowly, from old age or tragedy, your life is taken? There is a far worse disaster awaiting those who fall short of the glory of God. An eternal one.

And so we are not to look to ourselves or to others for an answer or a reason - who is a worse sinner or not. We like to do that. We like to be the judge and think we got it all figured out. And when we’re involved, we usually come out on top when we do. But such comparisons are not reliable, and often times - maybe always - not true. So Jesus is clear: this is not the answer. To think that way is only fooling and deceiving ourselves. Rather, in times like this, turn to Jesus - to God our Saviour - and repent and take refuge in Him. For only He can deliver us not only from this fallen and sinful world, but from the fallenness and sinfulness that is at work in each of us.

Jesus then gives us a picture of that as well, in the parable of the fruitless fig tree. That is what sinners, those who fall short of the glory of God, us, look like. It is not that we don’t have enough fruit - it’s that, on our own, we have no fruit. None. And what we deserve is to be dug up or cut down. But there is One who has come to have mercy on us. That we be let alone (or literally: forgiven) for our unfruitfulness, and be given extra care, that we might live and bear fruit.

And notice, this is all despite the tree. It’s not that the tree shows promise, or used to be good, or anything in the tree itself. It is all apart from the tree, or outside the tree - purely from the grace and mercy of its vinedresser, who is now its Saviour.

This is the picture of the care Jesus provides for you and me. Digging around in our lives, that He might feed us with His manure. And what is His manure? It is He Himself, His Body and Blood. For Jesus was the One thrown out with the trash; thrown out and hung on the cross on the garbage heap named Golgotha. His blood poured out for us there. But the fruit of His tree - the tree of the cross - now given to us is the food and drink we need to produce the fruits of faith; to be no longer unfruitful trees, but trees transformed by the love and forgiveness of our Saviour.

So when faced with tragedy, with our own mortality, with fearsome things in the world and in our lives, or just the annoyances and challenges that come everyday that cause us to judge and criticize or feel sorry for ourselves . . . the best thing to do is to turn to the One who is our refuge at all such times . . . and repent. For to repent is to take refuge not in ourselves, but in Him. It is to acknowledge not only our sin, it is to turn away from ourselves, from our strength, and from our wisdom and however we think things should be, and trust in the love and mercy of God, who has promised to help and be our strength in times of trouble and to find our life and assurance in Him. It is to not put our trust in the people and things of this world that - sooner or later - all crumble and fall and let us down, but to put our trust in the One who never will.

And so when disasters strike and we are shaken and feel vulnerable, it is a reminder to us that perhaps we have been trusting the wrong things, and so it is we who need to repent. To turn again to our true hope and confidence. To heed again those words we heard from St. Paul: Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. And it’s not really a question of if, but when. 

So when we fall - whether knocked down by the sin of others, by the sin and tragedy present in creation, or felled by the sin within - we not only turn to the Lord in repentance, but remember that we are baptized. And not baptized into Moses, like Paul wrote of Israel, but baptized into Christ! Baptized into the One greater than Moses, the One with a greater exodus. For Moses taught but could not fulfill. Moses led but could not save. But through His death and resurrection, Christ has delivered us from our slavery not to Egypt but to sin, and given us the promise not just of a long earthly life but an eternal one. That life given in baptism, fed by the bread of His own Body, satisfied with the drink of His own Blood, and sustained with His forgiveness. And baptized into Christ, this is true whether things are going smoothly, or when our world is rocked. 

For when things are going well, it is a gift from our gracious Lord’s hand. And when things are not going so well, our Lord is with us through it. But the constant there is not us or the things that happen to us, but the goodness of the Lord. To know that whether we live or die -  whether Pilate spills our blood or not, whether we are caught in the next building collapse or 9-11, whether natural disasters and disease strike, whether sorrow or joy or challenge is our bread this day, to know that whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8).

And so we repent. We turn to the Lord to be the Lord’s, to look to the Lord, to rely on the Lord, to expect good from the Lord. It is the very opposite of grumbling and complaining, for to repent is the ultimate praise. For when we repent, we confess the One who has promised to forgive, and who sealed that promise in His own blood. And so we can say how great God is ‘til we’re blue in the face - but to both speak and live a life of repentance and forgiveness is to truly praise His name. For that is how He wants to be known: as the God of the cross. The God of forgiveness. The God who got down on His hands and knees with us in our dirt, that we might stand with Him in His glory. And that’s a God worth trusting.

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

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lent 2 Midweek Sermon

Note: No audio of this sermon as I was attending an award ceremony for my daughter in an art competition. [Click here to see details] The Vespers was led by one of my laymen, who read this sermon for me. Thank you to my Elders for allowing me to have the night off to be with my family.

Jesu Juva

“The Little (or BIG!) Peter in Each of Us: Complacency”
Text: Matthew 26:36-46; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Fresh off Peter’s confident statements that he would never fall away from Jesus, even if all the others did; and, that he would never deny Jesus, even if it meant death, Peter now finds himself . . . asleep. He is not overcome when the shepherd is struck. He is not overcome with fear or threats. He is overcome with sleep. He is worn down. He is drained. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. His spirit is willing but his flesh is weak.

That’s how it is, isn’t it? With us, too. We get tired. We let our guard down. And before you know it, we have drifted off into sin.

Jesus and His eleven disciples had eaten the Passover and had gone to the Mount of Olives. Now the hour of evil, the hour of darkness, is almost here. Jesus knows it; the eleven do not. He singles out His special three - Peter, James, and John. The three who saw Him in the glory of His Transfiguration would now be with Him in the agony of His prayer. They should have known something was up, as Jesus began to be sorrowful and troubled. Something which, according to the Gospel accounts, they had not seen before. And Jesus voices it to them: My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me. He then goes a little farther and falls on His face in prayer.

How long did it take? 15 minutes? 30 minutes? before their eyes closed in sleep, so that when Jesus came back in one hour, He found them sleeping. And notice: Jesus addresses Peter. All three fell asleep, but Peter is singled out. For Peter had confidently and pridefully singled himself out: Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away. Peter is not as strong as he thinks. If the shepherd was going to be struck and that shepherd is now sorrowful and troubled, why wasn’t Peter on the alert and watching and ready? 

And so Jesus warns them. Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The danger is not just to Jesus. There is danger for them as well. But Peter is oblivious to the threats that might be out there. So off to sleep again he goes. Sleep well, Peter, while your Saviour wrestles in prayer. Sleep well, Peter, while your Saviour agonizes for you. Sleep well, Peter, for your Saviour will not sleep again until He sleeps the sleep of death and is laid in the tomb.

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. Those are words for us tonight as well, for whether you are aware of it or not, the tempter wants you. And while he may at times come at us with a full frontal assault, more often than not, I think, he wears us down, tires us out, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, until we let our guard down. A day without prayer quickly becomes three. A week without God’s Word becomes two or more. Coveting replaces contentment. Grudges become firmer and forgiveness becomes harder. Disobedience grows into disrespect and bears the fruit of bitterness. Fear increases and faith decreases. And how else? For you? You didn’t even see it coming. It just happens . . . like sleep in a garden.

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The tempter wants you, and he is patient and persistent.

But here is the good news for us tonight. As much as the tempter wants you, Jesus wants you even more. And so the agony of Gethsemane is just the prelude to the suffering of the cross. Jesus would drink the bitter cup of God’s wrath - every last drop of it - so there’s none left for you. He saw what was in that cup, the horror of sin and evil and the crushing weight that awaited Him. Your sin, your death, your hell, on Him, in Him. That is why He asked if there was any other way. But there wasn’t. So Thy will be done, He prays. And with that prayer, the Father’s will is His will. He drinks it. He goes to the cross, so you never will.

Thy will be done we also pray, with Jesus. But now it is quite different. For God’s will is that we now drink a different cup - not a bitter cup, but a cup of blessing; not a cup filled with wrath, but filled with forgiveness; not a cup of horror, but the blood of our loving Saviour, poured out for you. That’s your Father’s will for you now. 

And with that cup comes life - a new life. A life of forgiveness, not grudges. Of contentment, not coveting. Of joyful obedience and good works. Of faith and peace. And a life of prayer. Of knowing the danger that lurks around us everyday, and so praying: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Deliver us from the evil one. Make the fruits of Your cross grow in us, that we not fall asleep, that we not be unaware, that we not grow complacent, but live in Christ and His life, and He in us.

Maybe the current direction of our culture will help wake us up. The wrestlings of Christians being persecuted in our own country, the agony of Christians being beheaded in others, and the sorrow of the general movement away from the truth of God’s Word. Paul told the Thessalonian Christians to be ready, good words for us as well, and to encourage one another and build one another up, which sounds very much like Jesus’ watch with me. And it is. For whatever you do to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you have done it unto me (Matt 25:40)

So let us watch and pray with our brothers and sisters and so - even today - watch with Christ. But even more important than watching with Christ is to watch Christ. To watch His love. To watch His struggle in the garden. To watch Him on the cross. To watch Him rise. To watch Him come to us and for us now in His Word and Sacrament. And one day to watch Him come again in glory, when all who sleep in death will rise, and live where no temptation or sin or evil will ever come again. 

So to watch with Christ is what we should do. Lord, help us to do that! But to watch Christ is to see what He has done for me. And seeing, believe. And believing, have life. A new life that starts now and lasts forever. And that you have that life is the Father’s will for you.

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

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Lent 2 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Lord Who Loves YOU with All HIS Heart”
Text: Luke 13:31-35; Jeremiah 26:8-15; Philippians 3:17-4:1

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

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

When you read through the Scriptures, the thing that jumps out at you is how utterly consistent everything is. How consistently rebellious and sinful we people are, and how consistently long-suffering and loving God is. 

Exhibit A are the prophets God sends to His people . . . and sends and sends and sends. Not just a few. He is constantly sending them, calling His people to repent of their way and turn back to Him. Men like Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, and more. And what do His people do? It’s not just that they don’t listen - that’s bad enough. ut they heap sin upon sin - they stone the prophets God sends. Like we heard about Jeremiah today - don’t like the message? Kill the messenger.

And when they act that way, they are acting as those described by Paul - those who walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. Yet their loving God wants them back. He won’t give up. He won’t give in.

But it’s worth asking: why were the people like that? Why wouldn’t they listen to God and His prophets? Well, there are a couple of reasons, I think. First of all, because they weren’t the only prophets in town. There were false ones, too. Luther is reported to have said: Whenever God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel right next door. Perhaps we could modify that a bit here to say: Whenever God sends a prophet, the devil sends one to contradict him. And what the false prophets say is easier on the ear. So, for example, in Jeremiah’s time. Jeremiah said: repent! The false prophets said: you’re fine! Jeremiah said: destruction is coming! The false prophets said: you’re God’s people! He’ll take care of you. Don’t worry. Who would you rather listen to?

And so it continues today. For every pastor or preacher who speaks God’s Word, there is at least one to contradict him, saying: That sin is no sin. You don’t need to repent. You’re doing fine. God loves you. Relax. Peace. Don’t worry, be happy. And we’d rather listen to that too. I know I would! It’s easier on the ear and easier for the life. I don’t have to repent. I don’t have to resist temptation. I don’t have to turn from my sinful ways. I can just keep on, secure in my sin, doing whatever I want . . .

But do we really want a God like that? Well, yes! As I just said, part of us does! The sinner in us. Just like when we’re children we want parents who will let us eat whatever we want and do whatever we want and be free from any kinds of rules or chores or responsibilities. And we envy the kids who have parents like that . . . But loving parents make their kids eats vegetables, so they’ll be healthy. Loving parents teach their children so they’ll be safe. Loving parents discipline their children to know right from wrong, what is good from what is not. And if loving parents, how much more a loving God?

The second reason the people wouldn’t listen to God’s prophets, I think, is because they had a short memory. When things were going well, they forgot about God and took Him for granted. When things were falling apart, they doubted His love and care and thought He had forgotten about them. And at both times, the last thing you want is a prophet coming around, telling you to repent! When things are going well you don’t think you need to, and when things are falling apart you don’t want to. And it’s easy to stay away from church at both times, isn’t it? Rejoicing, relaxing, in our good fortune or wallowing, despairing, in our trouble. Go away, Jeremiah. Go away, God. Leave me alone . . .

That’s what the Pharisees were telling Jesus, today. Go away. Leave us alone. Herod wants to kill you, you know. Don’t cause trouble. Things were fine till you came around. Go away, Jesus. Go away. 

But what kind of God do you want? One who will leave you alone, or one who will save you? 

Last week we heard of our God who came to fight satan for us and win. Jesus fighting in the wilderness. We like that. Ooh-rah! 

But today the readings cut a bit closer to home, with a God who didn’t just come to save us from satan, but who came to save us from ourselves; from our own sinful nature, our rebellious inclinations, our destructive desires. Which is a bit less comfortable . . . to admit: those chicks, the brood that would not stay under the hen’s wings? That’s not just Israel. That’s not just the Pharisees. That’s me. I don’t want to repent. I don’t want to give up those sins I like. I don’t want God’s discipline. I don’t want to hear that I’m thinking wrong, doing wrong, speaking wrong, desiring wrong. I like those false prophets out there, who promise the world and say my sin isn’t sin and I’m doing just fine . . . But is it true? There’s a lot riding on the answer.

So what did Jesus say? What was His answer? Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’

Or in other words, He’s not going away. He going to finish His course, which ends at the cross. He’s going to finish His course, which on the third day ends in His resurrection. He’s going to fulfill the Scriptures and what all the prophets, like Jeremiah, talked about. He’s going to be that God who loves us enough to do what is best for us - even when that means laying down His life for us. Many parents do that for their children, giving up sleep, riches, time, energy, and much more. And if loving parents, how much more a loving God?

So no, Pharisees. Jesus isn’t going away. Because He didn’t come to save His own skin; He came to save yours. He didn’t come to avoid sin and death, but to face it head on and defeat it. The sin and death not just in the world, but in you. To save you. To call us back under His wings when we stray. To cover us when danger is near. To comfort us when doubts and fears arise. To be our refuge at all times. Or, as we pray in one of our prayers, in all time of our tribulation, and in all time of our prosperity. He came to be the God not that we may want, but that we need. The God who makes us not citizens of hell but of heaven, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body. Our sinful, dying body, to be like His sinless, resurrected body.

Isn’t that the kind of God worth having? 

And it is a transformation that begins now. Though it will not be completed until the Last Day, when our bodies rise like His, sinless and perfected - we are not just stuck waiting. He begins now. His cross, His death and resurrection, working in you, producing fruit. His Word calling you to repentance and teaching you the truth. His Absolution comforting you when you are struck down and terrified by your sin. His Baptism your refuge when satan tries to convince you that you’re no child of God, that you’re not worth anything, that God doesn’t care. His Body and Blood feeding your body and blood, His life giving you life, to strengthen and preserve you through the trials and struggles, as well as the deceits and pleasures, of this life. He is not going away.

And we will sing that truth again in just a moment. We will sing the words that Jesus said at the end of the reading today, when He said: you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ We’ll sing that as part of the communion liturgy . . . our confession that He has not gone away, but is here for us. To gather this brood called Saint Athanasius under His wings. That with His forgiveness, we be protected. 

The troubles will still come. Satan will not rest. And they may be quite heavy and difficult at times. He is vicious. But the refuge of our Saviour is not of a trouble-free life, but the confidence of knowing that we are safe and secure in the midst of such troubles. That not sin, satan, death, hell or anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:38-39). He has defeated them all, for you.

So the hymn we just sang, right before the sermon: Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart (LSB #708) . . . I wish I could say that was true for me. Oh, it is of the saint in me. He loves God with all his heart. But not that old sinner in me. That old pleasure-seeking, God-doubting, world-loving sinner in me, whose head keeps popping up and leading me astray; who’s like the Whack-a-Mole arcade game and needs God’s Law to keep hammering it down.

So this is my comfort: NOT that I love God with all MY heart, but that HE loves ME with all HIS heart. And you. So He calls you to repentance. He calls you to His cross, to see that love, there. He calls you to His altar now, to receive it. And He will call you home on the Last Day, to glory in it - in Him - forever. So that no matter what hand you’re dealt, no matter what troubles or pleasures come, no matter what your heart tells you - you have something more sure. A promise and a Saviour. Who will not back down and not go away. Who will finish His course for you. That the joy of His third day be the joy and confidence of your everyday

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

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Lent 1 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Little (or BIG!) Peter in Each of Us: Pride”
Text: Matthew 26:30-35; 1 Corinthians 10:1-12

It was Thursday night. Jesus had just eaten the Passover with His disciples in the upper room. Even more than that, He had just transformed it - giving them the new Passover meal of His Body and Blood. He had washed their feet. He had spoken of betrayal. It was a night unlike any other, and would take a while to digest it all. 

After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. A familiar journey to a familiar place. But on the way, more surprise. Jesus speaks of what is going to happen, and with an ominous warning: You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But Peter, not realizing yet the full significance and meaning of what Jesus said, confidently replies: No! It shall not be! Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.

You have to marvel at, maybe even admire, such confidence; such a “can do” attitude. The problem is, it is not a confidence born of faith. It is overconfidence. Spiritual pride. For what is Peter saying with his words? Not just that he will remain steadfast, but that Jesus’ “It is written” is wrong. Or Jesus’ interpretation of it is wrong. To Peter, it seems very possible that the rest of the disciples might fall away, but not him. You’re wrong, Jesus. Not me.

To which Jesus replies, Oh yes, you Peter. In fact, maybe it could even be said that his falling away would be worse than the others. For not only would he fall away with them, but truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times. 

No! You’re wrong again, Jesus, Peter insists. Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!

So, Peter is saying: God’s Word is wrong. Jesus is wrong. Peter alone is right. Yes, all the other disciples said the same thing, went along with him, suddenly found their courage, too. But it’s Peter who leads the way. Peter, whose spiritual pride is leading him down a wrong and dangerous path.

Could the same be said for you and me? 

First, a distinction needs to be made. Pride is not necessarily wrong. You can be proud of your children, you can be proud of your accomplishments and the hard work you put in to achieve them. You can have that kind of pride and still thank the Lord for His gifts and the abilities He has given you. 

But such pride in spiritual matters is different. Spiritual pride leads away from our Lord and His gifts and exalts me and my strength. And that’s what makes it dangerous and deadly. That’s why the Scriptures are filled with warnings against such pride. Such pride, which in full growth, can lead us to say, like Peter: God’s Word is wrong. Jesus is wrong. I am right. We see that, actually, in no small way in our world today.

But is it in us? You and me? It is, and here’s how you know it: because even as you were hearing those words, you were thinking, that will never happen to me! I would never say that. I would never do that. Others? Maybe. Sure. But not me. . . . Yet isn’t that exactly what Peter said?

As Paul warned the Corinthians: These things took place as examples for us . . . they were written down for our instruction . . . let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

But there’s good news for us in the reading tonight - it isn’t all bad news. For after the shepherd is struck - struck for all of our sins, including our misplaced, overconfident, spiritual pride - after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee, He says. After the shepherd is struck on the cross and the sheep are scattered and all looks hopeless and lost, the Shepherd will rise from the dead and go and find His sheep again. He will gather them to Himself in forgiveness and love. He will go before them and care for them. Yes, they would leave Him, but He will never leave them. Not even death will be able to stop Him. Chief of [prideful] sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me (LSB #611).

Peter would soon know that. God’s Word is right. Jesus is right. I am . . . a poor, miserable sinner. And he would weep bitterly. And in this Lenten season, we confess - we same the same thing - as Peter. When I survey the wondrous cross, On which the Prince of Glory died, My richest gain I count but loss And pour contempt on all my pride (LSB #425 v. 1)

Because the only thing worth anything is not who I am or what I am able to do, but what Jesus has done for me. His atonement for my sin. His defeating of my death. His victory over my hell. His Baptism giving me new life. His Body and Blood feeding me. His life giving me life. So that we can say with Paul: far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 6:14)

That kind of boasting, that kind of pride, may be dangerous, too - we are right around the one year anniversary of the beheading of those 21 Christian martyrs by the Mediterranean Sea - but it is not deadly. Quite the contrary! It is, in fact, life-giving, life-preserving. For it is confidence in the one who not only rose from the dead to life again, but has promised the same for us. It is to confess the one who has gone before us not just to Galilee, but to heaven, to prepare a place for us. It is to know that whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8).

For thus saith God’s Word. Thus has Jesus promised. And God’s Word is right. Jesus is right. And I . . . I am His.

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

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lent 1 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Love of God For You”
Text: Luke 4:1-13 (Romans 10:8b-13)

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

On this Valentine’s Day, it is good to consider the question: How does God show His love for you? Don’t expect flowers or chocolates or anything else of this world . . . For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16)

This past week, in Morning Prayer, we read what an early church theologian named Hilary of Poitiers said about this. Hilary said:

God, who loved the world, gave His only-begotten Son as a manifest token of His love. If the evidence of His love is this, that He bestowed a creature upon creatures, gave a worldly being on the world’s behalf, granted one raised up from nothing for the redemption of objects equally raised up from nothing, this cheap and petty sacrifice is a poor assurance of His favor toward us. Gifts of price are the evidence of affection, the greatness of the surrender of the greatness of the love. God, who loved the world, gave not an adopted Son, but His own, His only-begotten Son. . . . Herein is the proof of His love and affection . . .

So it is not things of this world and life that are signs of God’s favor. It is not wealth or health or whatever of this world you’ve been praying for, that, if God really loves you, you’ll receive. No. You have been given something far greater than any of that which so easily comes and goes. The Father gave His only Son for you. The Son left His Father and became flesh for you. For poor you, sinful you, rebellious you. Because He loves you. Simply because He wants you to be with Him forever.

And today, we hear of that Son, Jesus, here for you, and in love, fighting for you. He is in the wilderness, where there is no food, no flowers, no nothing. It is the anti-Eden, the place of barrenness, dryness, and death. It is our place. God did not create the wilderness. The wilderness is the place we have made . . . because of our sin. The stripping away of God’s good gifts and creation. The place of hunger and thirst . . . and evil.

So that’s where Jesus is for you. He does not happen there by chance. He was led there, by the Spirit. Still - literally! - wet behind the ears from the water of His baptism, He is led out to begin what He has come to do. He enters the battlefield, to confront the evil one; to be tempted. He fasts 40 days and 40 nights and - as Luke so casually remarks - he was hungry. And so satan pounces . . .

If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.

It seems like such a little thing, doesn’t it? But maybe it is the littlest things that are the largest temptations and the greatest dangers. The things that seem inconsequential. The things no one else notices. The things we can so easily do and get away with. The things that aren’t the really big sins at all . . . that are just, well, like this. Little words, little disobedience, little taking, little glances, little forays to forbidden fruit . . .

But satan knows how deadly all sin is, even the sins we think just a part of life. And Jesus knows it, too. There are no little sins with God. No “it doesn’t matter” sins. No harmless sins. The things of this world that we hunger and thirst for lead us away from God. And so as deadly as that forbidden fruit was in the Garden to Adam and Eve, so deadly is this to Jesus. And if Jesus, then to us. For if He falls, we fall. If He fails, there is no hope for us. Such a little thing . . . but with such big consequences. 

But Jesus hungers and thirsts not for the things of this world, as we. He hungers and thirsts for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). The righteousness of God and your righteousness. So this little temptation is met by a strong rejection. It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’ Life is given and sustained by God.

Well, undaunted - for satan does not easily daunt - he takes Jesus and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. What does that mean? What exactly did he show Jesus? The magnificent palaces of old? The glory of Rome? But maybe all the kingdoms of the world also include the big cities of today, the advances of technology, the seven wonders of both the ancient and modern worlds . . . 

Actually, I don’t think it was any of that. For none of that matters to Jesus. None of that impresses the one who came down from the glory of heaven, where the streets are paved with gold and the foundations are precious stones and there are myriad upon myriad of angels. All that would simply bring a yawn to Jesus. 

But what would grab Jesus’ attention are all the people in all the kingdoms of the world. All the people He came to save. All those poor people out there, oppressed by sin and evil, bent low under heavy burdens, struggling, crying, suffering. It’s you, satan shows Jesus. . . . So trade. You worship me and I’ll let them go.

He’s lying, of course. If satan can take down Jesus, take down God in the flesh, all will be his! . . . There’s a kernal of truth, though. Jesus did come to trade - but not by giving Himself into satan’s hands and plans, but by giving Himself into His Father’s hands, on the cross. By taking your sin and giving you His forgiveness. By taking your death and giving you His life. By taking your hell and giving you His kingdom. And by doing so, winning all for His Father. 

You see, the freedom satan promises is just slavery to sin in disguise. Better is to be a child of God and under His care. So no, satan; no deal. You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.

Well played, Jesus! Seeing through those temptations . . . but let’s see if your so-called Father has the same dedication to you as you seem to have to Him. Throw yourself down from here, from the pinnacle of the Temple. Show me this Father you trust. Show me this God you serve. Show me how much He loves you . . . if He’ll really send His angels . . . if He’ll really protect you. As I look around, I don’t see so much of that. I see so much misery and pain and suffering. Some God! Show me! . . .  Or are you afraid? Maybe He’ll let you down . . . maybe you have some doubts after all, hmm?

Show me. How often have those same words come from our lips, our hearts, our minds? God, your Word isn’t good enough - show me. God, I’m not sure - show me. God, all I see is . . . show me that you love me.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son . . .

Jesus in the manger. Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus under the whip. Jesus on the cross. Jesus in the tomb. There’s your proof. And then His resurrection, Jesus’ ascension, the proof that He has defeated sin, satan, death, and hell for you. And now Jesus in His Word, His Baptism, His Absolution, His Body and Blood, where He is, here and now, to give that victory to you. He has shown you . . . He is showing you . . . 

That He is the Bridegroom who with perfect love, laid down His life for you, His Bride. That He is the one who fights for you - not against you; who fights for you, and won. And as Paul said: everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame . . . everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Will receive His victory.

You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. Jesus’ rebuke to satan is our assurance. You don’t need to put God to the test! He has already done it all for you.

And Jesus is victorious. And the devil departed from him until an opportune time. Satan’s not done. This isn’t over, Jesus. I’ll be back, he says. And he was, when Jesus was in another wilderness, or sorts - hanging on the cross, there forsaken and alone. And satan hissed at Him again the same questioning words, this time through the very people He came to save; through the people mocking Him: if you are the Son of God . . . save yourself . . . prove it . . . But there, too, Jesus is faithful and dedicated, strong and steadfast. Resisting every last temptation, and winning. He would come down from the cross. He would stay and die to atone for your sin, rise to conquer the death that conquers you, and with both, strip satan of his weapons against you.

Yet still satan’s not done. For if he cannot have Jesus, he wants you. So now, he’s after you. Lying, deceiving, tempting, luring, making evil look good and good look evil, trying to get you to doubt God’s love for you . . . And as you know, he’s good at his job. Just look around, at the havoc in the world. Just look at the trouble in your own heart.

How will you respond? How do you? Is it with God’s Word, as Jesus did? That’s certainly a good thing, and as Christians you do. You resist temptations. You try to do what’s right and best. I’ve seen you.

But you’ve also fallen. Lots. You know it. Failing to do what you should. Doing what you know you should not. Questioning God, doubting His love. Satan has won battles against you, hasn’t he? As you sometimes sin deliberately, sometimes impulsively, sometimes accidentally, sometimes unknowingly, and sometimes quite viciously. The struggle goes on, in the wilderness of this world and life. 

So how good to know, as we heard today, that we’re not alone. And that we don’t just have fellow sinners to huddle together with and commiserate with. But that we have the victorious Son of God with us. There He is. Here He is. For you. To fight for you even today, putting down sin and satan with His forgiveness and Spirit. Giving to you here the medicine and life you need. Putting His very Body and Blood into you to cleanse you and strengthen you for the fight. And how angry that makes satan! How unfair, he says! That he can’t just fight you on his own terms, and you with your own strength. You can try if you want. It’s what he wants. But the outcome won’t be good. On earth is not his equal.

Better is to take refuge in the Mighty Fortress. The Valiant One who came to fight for us. The One whose by our side upon the plain, with His good gifts and Spirit. And then, though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill, they cannot overpower us. For in Him, our victory has been won (LSB #656).

That’s the love Jesus has for you. The greatest valentine of all time, and the best you’ll ever receive. And He’s here to give to you today. So come, let’s tick off satan a bit more now, as our Lord turns not stones into bread, as satan wanted, but bread and wine into His Body and Blood, as satan hates! That as we continue in the struggle, we receive Him, His victory, and His satan-putting-down life. For here, with Jesus, we win.

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

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Turning to the Gifts”
Text: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; Joel 2:12-19; 2 Cor. 5:20b-6:10

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

I realize that was not a usual Ash Wednesday hymn (LSB #602)! Not a usual hymn for a day when the paraments are black, the atmosphere is solemn, and the focus is on repentance. Not a usual hymn for a day when ashes are ground into our foreheads with the words: Dust you are, and to dust you shall return. To sing of gifts . . . it doesn’t quite seem to fit.

And yet, I submit to you for your consideration this night, that is exactly what this day is all about. For we have come here not only to begin this season of Lent by repenting of our sin, but to then receive the gifts Christ freely gives. His Absolution, His Word, and His Supper, wherein He gives His forgiveness, His life, and His salvation. We are here tonight to receive these gifts we need.

And we do because they are the gifts we have refused; turned away from. For that’s what sin really is: a turning away from God and His gifts, to a self-reliance on me and what I can get or do for myself. Repentance, then, is turning away from myself, my self-absorption, my self-centeredness, my wants and desires and what I think is best, and receiving our Father’s gifts again. For then we are in the right place. God gives and we receive; and thus receiving, we live in the image of God by giving to others.

So it was in the beginning. God made everything. He created a perfect world for His children - the man and woman He would create to live in it in His image. But they turned away from His gifts - His gifts of life, of good and abundant food, of each other in marriage, of being in His image, of relationship with Him - they turned away from all that to the allure of getting something for themselves. And the result of turning away from God and His gifts was death. Dust you are and to dust you shall return.

God’s answer to them, His response to their turning away, was twofold. First, He gave again. He gave them the promise of a Saviour. But secondly came the Law. For the Law comes when the gifts are refused. The Law which is now needed to protect the gifts of God from us who turned from receivers into takers. And also to show us our sin, that we turn away from ourselves and back to the gifts; turn away from taking and go back to receiving.

So consider the Holy Gospel that we heard tonight. Consider how it speaks of taking the gifts of God and turning them into something they were never intended to be. Righteousness is a gift of God. Prayer is a gift of God. Helping others is living in the gift of His giving image. And yet what happened? The Pharisees took these gifts and use them as opportunities for themselves - to be seen, to be praised, to get the admiration of others. Repentance was needed. 

It had happened in Joel’s day as well. God had brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and given them a land and a place for their own - all gift. And they turned away from Him. They believed in themselves, not Him. They began to worship the Baals, not the true God. They made much of themselves and little of God. Repentance was needed. Return, turn back to me and my gifts again, God called out through Joel. 

So what about us today? Do we fall into the same trap? Do we turn away from the gifts of God to something else? We want to say no; that’s not us. But the truth? We do.

We turn away from God’s gift of Absolution when instead of repenting and confessing, we try to justify ourselves, or explain and excuse our actions, or blame others for our sin.

We turn away from the gift of God’s Word when we believe what the world says and thinks and not what God has said is true; when we judge things by what seems to me rather than on what God has said.

We turn away from the gift of Baptism when our identity is no longer child of God, born again, born from above, by water and the Word, but instead is what I do, how much I make, how busy and important I am; and measuring our value by those parameters instead of my value coming from my Saviour.

We turn away from the gift of our Lord’s Body and Blood when instead of living as the Body of Christ that the Body of Christ makes us - the communion of saints! - Church instead becomes not who we are in Christ, but what we do for one or two hours on a Sunday morning. When the people who gather with us here are no more to us than the neighbor down the street, or the co-worker in the next cubicle, or the student in the desk across the room. 

And what of the other gifts our Lord has given? How have we used the gift of life He has given? The gift of family? The gift of prayer? The gift of our callings and work? And so many other gifts too numerous to list here. Have we turned away from these gifts? Or selfishly used them for me? Taking, not receiving. Taking, not giving. 

So tonight the cry goes out once again: Be reconciled to God. Repent and turn back to receive His gifts again. Receive Christ again, the one who for our sake He made sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God

Christ made sin for you. Christ made your sin, your turning away. And so when He cried out from the cross: My God, My God, why have You forsaken me? . . . Why have you turned away from me? . . . that’s the turning away we have done; that’s our situation in turning away from God, though we’re too dumb to know it. That’s what such turning away gets you; what it got Jesus in our place. Death. Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.

Except something extraordinary happened after Jesus was forsaken in our place and died - He did not turn to dust. He rose to life again. Just as the Spirit turned Adam from a lifeless lump of earth to a living being, so the lifeless body of the Second Adam was spirited to life, rose to life, from the dust of death, too. Never to die again. 

Which means that the forsakenness is over. There is none left for you. Though we turn away from God, He will never turn away from you. Satan wants you to think God has forsaken you, that the struggles you are going through are signs that He has forgotten you, or turned away from you, or will no longer help. But it is not so. Consider all the struggles of the apostles listed by Paul in the Epistle we heard: beatings, hunger, imprisonment, and much more. Yet Paul said this too - that they are: sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything. That is what it means to have the gifts of God in the midst of a world of sin and death. Our trouble and weakness and sorrow and death do not win, but are conquered by the gifts and strength of our Saviour.

Ash Wednesday and Lent, then, is not a time for us to buckle down, buck up, and conquer our sin. We can’t. You’ve tried. I’ve tried. We can’t. It’s too strong and we’re too weak. 

But these 40 days of Lent plus 6 Sundays in Lent is the time when we focus again on the One who did. That Jesus conquered the sin that we cannot in His death and resurrection, and conquers it in us now by applying to us the forgiveness and fruits of His cross through His gifts. So this is the time for us to turn - to turn back to the sin-conquering gifts of Jesus. To receive again from Him all that He has for us. That as we live in this world of sorrows and struggles, of pain and fear, of worry and uncertainty, of sin and death, we have hope . . . and the promise that we are not forsaken, not alone. The Son of God came to us; He came to us with life. He came to give us hope.

Tonight . . . starting tonight . . .  turn back. Turn back to the gifts, back to Christ. Receive the love, the forgiveness, the life, the hope, the strength, the comfort, the promises, and the joy you need. Receive Him. For He is here. With them. For you.

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