Sunday, June 26, 2016

Pentecost 6 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Fit and Free”
Text: Luke 9:51-62; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; 1 Kings 19:9b-21

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

“Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

That question might be what earned James and John the nickname “sons of thunder” from Jesus. These wretched Samaritans, who would not receive Jesus as He was passing through their region, deserved to be struck down by lightning. Or so James and John thought.

Their attitude is not unique. In fact, it is quite alive and well in our day and age today. Though not exactly “fire from heaven,” if you happen to be on what someone perceives to be the wrong side of an argument - either political, social, ecological, or economic - you can expect the lightning bolts of their wrath. Businesses are shut down, reputations and finances are ruined, angry protestors and civil activists pop up in an instant, and whatever consequences you suffer will be considered justice for your transgression. Our world today is filled with James and Johns, sons of thunder. Vigilantes of justice.

And, perhaps, churches too. For how quick are we to breathe fire at those who disagree with us? Or point lightning bolts of condemnation at the latest “really bad sinners?” How eager are we to thunder at the sins of others while at the same time ignoring or burying our own? And how vicious can we be if someone dare expose our sins? And sometimes all it takes is a look of condescension or disapproval, and the point is made: you’re not one of us

That is the flesh talking. Our sinful human nature. That would divide us and them. That would bite and devour and consume one another. And the ironic thing is: how often that is done in the name of love. We should all love one another, it is proclaimed - unless you disagree with me, unless you’re on the wrong side. And then there is no love for you - only the lightning bolts of wrath.

So how did Jesus respond to James and John’s suggestion and attitude? He turned and rebuked them. We’re not told how; we’re not told what He said. But I wonder if the rebuke didn’t go something like this:

Brothers, I have set my face to go to Jerusalem. And there’s only one reason I do: to die. The Son of Man must suffer many things and be crucified. And on that cross is where the fire of God’s wrath against sin is going to come down. The sins of the Samaritans, your sins, the sins of the whole world. There will be a lightning bolt there such as has never been, and never will be again. And it will consume me. But in consuming me, it will save you and all people. My death will be your life. My condemnation will be your acquittal. My forsakenness will be your acceptance. For this I was born and nothing - nothing - is going to stop me. I love you too much not to do this.

And pardon the pun, but how thunderstruck the sons of thunder would have been to hear words like that. That God doesn’t come to us in great and strong winds, earthquakes, fire, thunder or lightning - damaging stuff - but in the mercy of a low whisper of a man from Galilee. Who spoke not of condemnation from the cross, but of forgiveness, of paradise, and of life. If ever there was anyone who could look at us and say: you’re not one of us, it was God. And yet our Lord became one of us, that we may, in fact, be one with Him. Sons of our heavenly Father and enlivened with His Spirit. That we live no longer by the spirit of this world, but walk by the Spirit of God. The life and Spirit of God given us in the new birth of Holy Baptism, where the old dies and the new lives.

It’s hard though, to leave that old way of life. I will follow you, but . . . We heard some of those “buts” today from those who would follow Jesus. And they sound reasonable, don’t they? Even right. Even honorable. And for you, what is it? What is your “but?” I will follow you, Jesus, unless it costs too much . . . too much time or reputation or money or effort. As long as I have a place to lay my head. If I can first do this or keep that. Only if it isn’t too inconvenient. As long as it fits my schedule, my goals, the way I want my life to be. And when following Jesus conflicts with your life, who wins? Honestly, sometimes one and sometimes the other, right? But is that good enough? Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

So you and I are not fit for the kingdom of God. That’s the bottom line truth. The sons of thunder aren’t either. We’ve been given a new life but fail to live that new life. We’ve been given the Spirit but fail to live by the Spirit. If eternal life were based on how well we follow, we have no hope and all is lost.

But here too the words of Jesus give hope. For He who set His face to go to Jerusalem has now set His face toward you. And as resolute as He was to go to the cross to win your forgiveness is just as resolute as He is to come here for you today with that forgiveness. To give life to the dead. To raise you who have fallen. To fulfill where you have failed. And so as you confessed this morning that you are not fit for the kingdom of God, Jesus  - whose face never looked back, but only to His Father and to you - said to you: I forgive you and make you fit, with my fitness and life. I, your pastor, spoke those words to you this morning, but Jesus was the One who gave them, filled them, fulfilled them, and did them. So in Him you are fit and you are free.

But now just as your physical fitness depends on diet and exercise, so does your spiritual fitness. That’s what Paul was talking about in the Epistle we heard today. You are, he is saying, in essence, fit and free. So do not let it go. Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery - slavery to sin, to obey it and its desires.

So you are fit and free. So do not now bite and devour one another and consume one another. Devouring your neighbor’s reputation and getting a pound of his flesh is not a healthy spirtual diet! Do not gratify that sinful craving. Rather, come here and bite and devour the flesh and blood of Jesus that He gives here for you. For this is the diet that gives you spiritual health and strength in the life and forgiveness of Jesus. And if you are what you eat, then by this meal you grow into the likeness of Christ.

And as far as exercise, as far as life, Christ did not make you fit and free for sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. And just as sitting on the couch and eating junk food is tempting, so are these. And the devil knows it, which is why he is always trying to lure us into these things with ways ever new and inventive. To rob you of the life and fitness of Christ, that has been given to you.

So, Paul says, none of that. Rather, put into practice what the Spirit is working in you: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. For that is the life of Christ living in you. In you is not the thunder of judgment and sin, but Christ and His mercy and love, given to you, living in you, and working through you. Doing these things doesn’t make you fit - one made fit does these things. For you cannot make yourself fit for the kingdom of God, one is made fit by Christ, with His fitness; His gift to you. And this is simple what that fitness, the fitness of Christ Jesus, looks like - this list of fruits that Paul gave. And if it’s not what your life looks like - and honestly, none of our lives do; at least, not enough - the answer is not for you to just try harder, but to receive more Christ. To repent - or as Paul puts it: to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires - and receive the forgiveness, life, and fitness of Christ. To devour His forgiveness, His Word, and His Body and Blood. That these work in you and make you not sons of thunder, but sons of God.

“Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Thank goodness the answer is no. And that instead, Jesus has come down from heaven to save them. And you. That you not be incinerated by the fire of His wrath but purified by the fire of His love.

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

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Pentecost 5 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Where Jesus Enters In, Satan Is Cast Out”
Text: Luke 8:26-39 (Galatians 3:23 - 4:7)

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

Just to be clear: the picture on the cover of the bulletin today was not selected for Father’s Day! Though this crazed, homeless man we heard about in the Holy Gospel today may have been someone’s father. And he was some father’s son. So the demon-possession that afflicted him didn’t just afflict him, but possibly many more people, including his father who lost a son, perhaps his own children who were being forced to grow up without a father, and maybe also his wife to live without her husband. Collateral damage in this spiritual war.

So the Good Shepherd acts. The satanic wolf has come and snatched one of His flock. And so He leaves the ninety-nine in Israel and goes after the one who was lost, who had been captured by satan. The people of that region had tried to bind this man and contain him for their own lives and self-preservation. Jesus had come to unbind him, to set him free, and give him his life back again. For this He goes to the country of the Gerasenes. For to the Good Shepherd, no place is too far, no place too lost, to go after one of His own. 

Now, this is a story that seems pretty fantastic in our day and age in which demons and demon-possession is scoffed at and regarded as ignorant, superstititious, religious mumbo-jumbo, even by many Christians. Our western, reasonable, educated minds know better. We come up with scientific reasons why things happen. Demons, possession, the supernatural, is the stuff of movies and fantasy. We’ve moved past that and don’t think that way anymore.

But maybe we should. Or at least, maybe we shouldn’t write it off so quickly. In other parts of the world, the demonic is taken much more seriously and seems to be much more visible. Is that because they don’t know as much as us? Or is it because they know more? Is it because the demons are more active there than here? Or do the demons like the fact that we don’t think about them much here and so they have more free reign to act . . . and want to keep it that way? Satan is a pragmatist: whatever works

So when it comes to demons and the demonic, there are two errors you can make: to fear them too much or to think of them too little. To fear them too much is to give them more credit than they deserve; to think of them too little is not to give them enough. We don’t want to fall into either of those ditches, but stay on the road of the truth. So this is a good story for us to consider today . . .

For if you think for one moment that what satan did to this poor man isn’t what he wants to do to you - to possess you, to drive you, to torment you, to harm you, to destroy you - you are sorely mistaken. This is exactly what he wants to do to you. The reason he does not, or cannot - the only reason - is because God does not permit him to do so.

But that doesn’t mean that satan is not active in your life. For consider for a moment: what things are you captive to? What sins controlling you, binding you, driving you? For some it is sexual sins whose appetites they cannot satisfy. For others anger, rage, and bitterness make them act how they do not want to act. For some despair and hopelessness is all they can see and feel. For others it is greed - the quest for riches and success at any cost that drives them. And the list is endless. Maybe we look more civilized and tame compared to this man, but maybe appearances are deceiving . . . maybe we are in as much danger as he . . .

So how good that the Good Shepherd has come here for you. To us who are even farther away from Israel in both time and place than the region of the Gerasenes, He doesn’t come in a boat but in the waters of Holy Baptism. Here He steps into our world to deliver you from your sin and captivity. That’s why when a person is baptized, it is said: Depart unclean spirit and make way for the Holy Spirit. And in those waters with the Word of God, God is at work. The Father adopts, the Son frees and forgives, and the Holy Spirit makes His home with you, puts you in your right mind, and clothes you with Jesus’ perfect righteousness. And then just like that once-possessed man, we sit at Jesus’ feet and learn from Him.

But satan doesn’t then give up - he just changes tactics. He’ll try to lure you away from Jesus’ feet, from Jesus’ teaching, Jesus’ life. To forget how bad his captivity can be. To bring new false gods into your life that look and seem really good and helpful and right. To distract you, blind you, fool you, scare you - again, whatever it takes. And maybe he’ll do it sooner, maybe later - makes no difference to him, as long as the end result is the same. For remember what happened to Jesus after He was baptized? He was tempted in the wilderness. And after that failed? Satan departed from him until an opportune time (Luke 4:13).

And while perhaps there were many such opportune times, ultimately that time came again when Jesus was hoisted up on the cross. When His disciples abandoned Him, His Father forsook Him, and the people He came to save were mocking and humiliating Him. You gonna die, Jesus, for folks who don’t even want you as their Saviour?

Yes! Yes He is. For just as He left the ninety-nine in Israel and went to the country of the Gerasenes to save this one man, so He left His throne in heaven to come down and save us. All of us who since the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden have been under the oppression of the evil one, captive to sin, and lost. He enters this world of sin and death and graves that we live in, to set us free and give us hope. He is the stronger man who has come to bind the strong man who has bound us (Matthew 12). And the enemy of your enemy isn’t just your friend, He is your Saviour. For Jesus didn’t just enter our world of sin and death and grave, He actually entered our sin and death and graves themselves, in order to destroy them and their grip on us in His resurrection. To set us free and give us life again.

And so after the freedom and life given to us in Baptism, there is also Absolution - the blessings and benefits and promises of Baptism applied again and again, to us who wander and fall and weaken and believe the lies of the devil and so need them again and again. Our Good Shepherd never tires of speaking those words of forgiveness to us - words also spoken from the cross - Father, forgive them (Luke 23:34). And also speaking to the evil one: Depart from my child! 

But then after this wonderful work of Jesus, the story takes a, perhaps, unexpected turn - the people are afraid and ask Jesus to leave. Was it because of the loss of the pigs and so the loss of income? Maybe they were frightened of what happened to the man, and maybe didn’t particularly like it. They were used to the way things were. What would Jesus’ presence mean, then, for them? For their lives? 

Those same fears are still with us today. For though Jesus’ freedom and forgiveness and the life He gives is better, we don’t always see it that way. We love what we love and we want what we want and we do what we do, and used to the way things are, we don’t want to change. Perhaps the things that happen make it seem as if God is taking life away from us - the only life we know. But if what we don’t want to change are false gods - people and things we love more than God - and the lives we’re living leading us away from God, or in conflict with God and His Word, we need change. We need to repent. We need those pigs in our lives to run away and be drowned. But instead, some avoid church, won’t talk with the pastor, hide in the graveyards of sin, deny, or even ask Jesus to leave . . . or at least leave that part of our lives alone.

And while Jesus’ does leave in this account, He does something else very important: He leaves the man behind. Or maybe better to say it this way: He stays there in the Word of this man. That as this man stays and tells his family and friends and all of that region what God has done for him, that the Spirit work through that Word in the hearts of those who hear. To take away their fear and give them the life and faith they need. To know that Jesus hasn’t come to take their life away from them, but to give them life. A better life, real life, eternal life. 

And so today He sends pastors to preach, and He leaves you, too, in the places He has put you, and given you folks to speak to you - to tell of all that Jesus has done for you. You might not have all the answers - I’m sure this man didn’t. But this he knew: he had been possessed, and now he was free. He was frightened but now joyful. He was an outcast, but now a child of God. And that he could tell.

And so can you. To whoever God has gathered around you and whoever He has put you in the midst of. Especially when we see satan and his demons at work. When things are frightening and the world seems to be falling apart. Like when mass shootings occur and people are looking for answers. The answers aren’t to be found in ourselves, or our wisdom, or how we can somehow make society better. The answer is only in the One who goes after the one. And not just the one, but each and every one. The One who gives freedom and life. The One who has come to be the light in our darkness, the hope in our despair, and our confidence in a world gone mad. He has gone to His throne in heaven, and yet is here for us in His Word and Sacraments. Still working, still giving, still saving.

And now here at His Table as both the host and the meal, to feed you. To give you what you need the most - Himself. Him and His life and forgiveness in His Body and Blood, given for you on the cross, and now given to you here. For where Jesus enters in, satan is cast out. So while satan is real and sin is dangerous, we have nothing to fear.

For as we heard from St. Paul earlier: when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

That’s what happened that day in the country of the Gerasenes. And that’s what Jesus done for you. Making this a very good Father’s day, indeed!

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

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Pentecost 4 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Joy of Forgiveness”
Text: Luke 7:36-8:3 (2 Samuel 11-12; Galatians 2-3)

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

Now when the Pharisee who had invited [Jesus] saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him . . .

Simon knew. He thought he knew. 

So very well, Simon, tell me about this woman. What kind of woman is she? What has she done? How do you see her?

. . . she is a sinner.”

And by that he doesn’t mean a run-of-the-mill-sinner; a sinner like the rest of us sinners. She was a SINNER. All-capital-letters sinner. Not an ordinary one, a BIG one. Notorious. The sins she had were whoppers, and the number of them . . . not just a few. And Jesus is letting a woman like that touch Him, and touch Him like that. If He were a prophet, He would have known . . .

Well, Simon is exactly right. Jesus doesn’t know. He knows none of that - this woman’s past, what she has done, how sinful she really is. He doesn’t know. But not because He is not a prophet, as Simon assumed, but because He is more than a prophet. Because He is the Most High God in human flesh. The Most High God who, as Nathan told David, has put away her sin. It is washed away, forgiven. It is no longer known. This woman, to Jesus, is not a sinner, but His child. She is not a sinner, but a saint.

So you’re right, Simon. If He were a prophet, He would know. Indeed. But if He is God, He does not know. Or maybe better to say: He no longer knows. He remembers her sins no more.

Nor yours! That’s the good news for you to take away today. We? We remember our sins. We remember sins we want to forget. Things that are burned into our minds - regrets, mistakes, words we wish we could take back, or words that we wished we had said but didn’t, times that we wish we could have a do over. But we can’t, and we remember.

Not so God! One of the amazing things about Him is that while He is omniscient, or all-knowing, knowing everything there is to know, the Scriptures also tell us that He remembers our sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34). When they are forgiven, they are forgiven. They are separated from you as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Which means they cannot get any farther away from you than that. They’re gone. And so when Jesus looks at you, He doesn’t see a sinner, He doesn’t see your sin. He sees one of His children. He sees a saint.

Yet just as we do not see ourselves that way, neither does the world. Neither do all the Simon’s out there - people all too eager and ready to point out our sins, remind us of our shortcomings, condemn us for our failures, and marry us to our past. That’s who you were and that’s who you always will be.

And we do it too. For how often do we look at one another not as children of God, but as sinners . . . and how eager are we to point it out, to use such knowledge to our advantage, to make us feel better about ourselves. Perhaps we should expect that from a self-righteous world, a world that knows nothing of Jesus’ righteousness that is given by grace, that is a gift. A world of people who must therefore justify themselves. But we should know better. When we act that way, we are not being who we are. We’re not thinking, speaking, or acting as the children of God we are, as the forgiven sinners we are, as the saints we are. Who you were is not what you always will be. Who you now are in Christ, is.

So we need to change our thinking. Change how we look at ourselves and others. Repent of our “Simonality” and instead see with the eyes of Christ and believe His Word. His Word poured over you in Holy Baptism, which says you are not who you once were, but are now a child of God. His Word proclaimed to you in the Absolution, which says that your sins really are forgiven; they have been put away - even the really big ones like this woman’s. And His Word lavished upon you in the Gospel, which points you to the One who, as St. Paul said, became cursed for you and for all the world. Cursed with your sin, your condemnation, your death. So that as Paul told the Galatians, in Christ Jesus, the blessing of Abraham might come to [you], so that [you] might receive the promised Spirit through faith. And you have.

Satan would have you think otherwise, that your sins are too big, too many; that there is something you must do. Do not listen to him. His words are empty and untrue. Jesus’ words are not only truth but do what they say. Jesus’ words create. They are reality.

For look at this woman, Simon! Look at what she is doing. You say she is a sinner, but what is she doing? While you are judging her and judging Me, she is loving - overflowing with thankfulness for the gift Jesus brings. The gift of forgiveness, acceptance, and a new life. Simon wasn’t interested in that gift; didn’t think he needed it. But she was, her debt so great. And she wasn’t earning her forgiveness, as so many misunderstand this story to teach - she was loving Jesus for it, as Jesus’ little parable makes clear. She was weeping tears not of sorrow, but of joy. Wiping the feet that had come here for her. And kissing the flesh not of a prophet, but of God, her Saviour. What a remarkable witness she was . . . yet Simon too blind to see.

Your faith has saved you, Jesus said to her. Not because her faith was so great, but because it was in the right place. In Jesus. 

For Jesus really is more than a prophet, more than a teacher - He is the promised son of David who would die for David’s sin. We heard part of that story today too, of another great sinner, all-capital-letters SINNER, named David, who took another man’s wife to be his own, and then murdered that man when he could cover it up no other way. And he thought he got away with it. And he did in the eyes of the people. They didn’t know. To them, he was exactly the opposite of the sinful woman - everyone thought David was a fine and outstanding example of a godly life! He was the kind of guy Simon would have approved and thought worthy of his table. Why, David’s even opening his house to this poor widow . . . What a good guy!

There are people like that in the world too . . . who look good on the outside, but under that good looking veneer are the most heinous sins. Maybe pastors fall into this category. They’re good and holy people, aren’t they? Maybe you too.

But whether you are someone the world looks down on, a notorious sinner like the woman, or someone the world looks up to, whose good-looking outside hides a sin-filled inside, like David - whichever you are, the Son of David died for you. For while the son Uriah’s wife conceived by David did in fact die, the ultimate fulfillment of God’s Word through Nathan happened when the Son of David descended from David through Mary died, on the cross. When He died for all of us all-capital-letters SINNERS. To put away our sins. That we not die, but live. That we be no longer sinners, but His children.

And now Jesus has come here to dine with us. He invites us to the banquet of His Body and Blood. And here we stand side-by-side, notorious sinners, Davids, His children, welcomed by Him, fed by Him, forgiven by Him. He has put away your sins - no matter how large your debt - and remembers them no more. 

And so now we can do the same. Not looking down on some and up to others, but looking instead at Jesus, the Saviour of all sinners. At His feet pierced for them and for you, His hands which embrace them and you, and His head bowed in death for them and for you. And with Jesus filling your eyes, your heart, and your mouth, there is not judgment but joy. And we depart in peace. 

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

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Pentecost 3 Sermon

We were pleased to welcome into our pulpit this morning Seminarian Daniel Broaddus. He will be installed as a Vicar next Sunday, but he stopped by to proclaim the Word of God to us. Here is his preachment from today. Enjoy!