Sunday, July 24, 2016

Pentecost 10 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Learning to Pray, Learning of Christ”
Text: Genesis 18:17-33; Luke 11:1-13; Colossians 2:6-15

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

Abraham’s life had just changed. As we heard last week, God came to him and had just told him that by this time next year, he and Sarah would have a son. The son that God had promised to give them. The son from whom the Savior of the world would descend. Abraham had waited almost 25 years for this day. And many, or most, or perhaps all of those days, he prayed for this day. 

Now, right after he had received this news - this joyous news! - he would pray again. But this time, a very different prayer. A prayer for Sodom and Gomorrah. For that day, God told Abraham not just what He was about to do for him, but also what He was about to do against Sodom and Gomorrah. For their sin was very grave.

Now you know what sin that was. The names Sodom and Gomorrah have become synonymous with homosexuality, which is one of the ways sinful human beings take God’s good gift of sexuality and twist it into something it was never meant to be. And the word for this practice, sodomy, even came from the name of this city. And I have no doubt that were God to come today and state that He was going to exercise His judgment against people living like that today, that sadly, sadly there would be great joy and celebration among many Christians. 

But not Abraham. He didn’t rejoice at this news. He prayed. His joy over the announcement of the birth of his son, quickly turned to concern. Partly, I’m sure, because his nephew Lot lived there. But notice: he isn’t just praying for Lot. He doesn’t ask God to rescue Lot and his family. He could have. He could have prayed: Wait for Lot to leave, O Lord. Or: Let me first go get Lot, and then . . . But he doesn’t pray that. He prays for the cities and all in them. Not just for God to spare the righteous, but for God to spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous.

You see, Abraham knew what we often forget: that the real enemy and who we are fighting against are not the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, not flesh and blood. The battle is against satan and his minions, who are seeking to undermine and overthrow the church in any way and at all times. That is why the weapon to use in this battle is prayer. Otherwise, what a useless weapon that would be. How foolish it would be to pray. Maybe that’s why we falter in our prayers. Many are criticizing our president these days for not naming the enemy and as a result not fighting in the right way. Yet perhaps we have done the same thing. 

So Lord, teach us to pray.

That’s not just our prayer, it’s what the disciples also asked Jesus. But what are they asking? Not just how to pray, the mechanics of it - but how to think; how to look at things rightly and see them rightly and so know how to pray. In the Epistle today, St. Paul said: See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. Let no one take you captive by wrong thinking, worldly thinking.

So Lord, teach us to pray. Help us see as You see, think as You think, do as You do.

Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.

That’s what the disciples asked Jesus. Now we have no record of how John did this, but this we know: John preached repentance and forgiveness of sins. So it seems to make sense that he would teach his disciples: that’s how you pray. In repentance, and for the forgiveness of sins. That is prayer against the true enemy - the sin within and the sin without. 

And Luther thought that also is what the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus gave and taught His disciples to pray, was all about. Luther said:

In the Lord’s Prayer . . . we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and so on. In fact, the entire Lord’s Prayer is nothing else than such a confession. For what are our petitions other than a confession that we neither have nor do what we ought, as well as a plea for grace and a cheerful conscience? Confession of this sort should and must continue without letup as long as we live. For the Christian life essentially consists in acknowledging ourselves to be sinners and in praying for grace.

Acknowledging ourselves to be sinners and praying for grace. Grace for you, me, and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord’s Prayer is filled with plural pronouns: we, us, our - not I, me, my. We’re praying for grace and forgiveness, for ourselves, and for others too.

But that’s not all Jesus teaches His disciples about prayer. He says a lot more, in fact. For He also teaches them that when you have a need, when God brings into your life someone in need, go to the One who can help. For why did the man go to his friend in the middle of the night? He knew that he could help. So too in our fight against the real enemy, we have the One who not only can help, but who wants to help, has promised to help, and who wants us to come to Him at all times - for He neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121). Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you, Jesus says. He will not deny our prayers. As His baptized sons and daughters, He will not give you a snake or scorpion in return for your prayer - He gives good gifts. Always. Though we may not always see them that way.

But remember? That’s why part of asking teach us to pray is asking that we may see right, and think right, and believe. Perhaps an example here would be the difference between a corn snake and a coral snake. You see it - which is it? They look quite similar. But the coral snake is poisonous, the corn snake helpful to have around. Sometimes we don’t see what God provides rightly and think it a coral snake rather than a corn snake; a harmful thing instead of a helpful thing. But Jesus assures us: Your Father does not give harmful snakes and scorpions. If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! 

He will give the Holy Spirit. Why the Holy Spirit? To see rightly. To know the real enemy. To strengthen us in the true fight. To teach us to pray. To strengthen us in faith toward God and love toward one another. And especially to point us to Christ and see that in Him the victory has already been won. That’s what St. Paul was talking about today in the Epistle: Christ’s victory, given us in baptism. Christ’s victory through His death and resurrection. 

But again, it’s hard to see that sometimes, isn’t it? Hard to see the victory when Christians here and all around the world are being persecuted for their belief, fired for not violating their conscience, and even beheaded. Lord, teach us to pray! Teach us to believe that they can kill us, but they can’t take our life. That the victory has already been won. That our sin is forgiven, and death has been disarmed. That life isn’t just about the things here and now. In fact, if we are clinging to the things of here and now, we are clinging to false gods. And so God is helping us by prying our fingers off these false gods! He is helping, though it may seem like hurting. Though it may seem like a coral snake, not a corn snake. Teach us these things. Teach us to pray.

And Abraham needed to learn too. As great and as bold as his prayer was, as much an example as he is for us, he still had more to learn. For he didn’t go low enough. He underestimated the mercy of God. 50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10. But God wants no one to perish, but for all to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). So, in fact, God would not destroy the world for the sake of even ONE. And that one is His Son. His Son, the only righteous one. His Son who prays for us. His Son who took our place under the wrath of God against our sin, so that we who are not righteous would not be swept away, but made righteous in Him. That was true of Abraham, in fact. Abraham who was an idolater before God called him (Joshua 24:2). And Abraham believed God’s promised of a Savior, and it was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

So God did give Abraham the son He had promised. And God has given us, too, the son that He has promised. His Son. Who was born for us, died for us, and whose Body and Blood are here given to us, that Jesus’ righteousness be credited to us too. By grace, through faith. For whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: forgiveness of sins (Small Catechism: The Sacrament of the Altar).

And after being given the righteousness of God and then being given a son, Abraham prayed. And so do we. Just as Abraham interceded for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and just as Jesus intercedes for us, so now we can intercede for others.

Lord, teach us to pray. Teach us to do that. Teach us how, to see the enemy aright. Teach us to see, and think, and do. Teach us Your mercy. Teach us Jesus. Given to us, given for all.

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

Monday, July 18, 2016

Pentecost 9 Sermon

No Audio File
Jesu Juva

“Come, Sit For a Spell”
Text: Luke 10:38-42; Genesis 18:1-10a

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

The world seems to be going faster and faster every day. Everyone is in a hurry. There’s never enough time. Technology is quickly changing, morals are quickly changing, nations are quickly changing. What used to take days takes mere minutes, or even seconds, nowadays. And sometimes we don’t want to wait even that long.

Come, sit at my feet, Jesus says.

The world seems to be in flames. The coup attempt in Turkey. The Islamic State and its tentacles. Snipers firing at police. Orlando, San Bernadino, Nice, Brussels.

Come, sit at my feet for a spell, Jesus says.

There are troubles in your own lives. Difficulties at work, or finding work. Your beliefs are being assailed more and more. Persecution for going against popular opinion. Disease, uncertainty. You’re tired and worn.

Come, sit at my feet and rest, Jesus says.

There is unrest in your own heart. Sin, guilt, struggle, dismay, wishes, longings, fear, anxiety.

Come to me and sit at my feet, Jesus says.

It has been observed that Americans seem to be terribly mixed up. Instead of keeping things where and how they belong, many worship their work, work at their play, and play at their worship. 

Come, sit at my feet and set things straight, Jesus says.

Do you get the picture?

Our first reaction to many things is often to do something; take action. Work on it, try to fix it. Take matters into our own hands. 

Jesus says: Come, sit at my feet.

Our second reaction is to say: Jesus, you’ve got to do something about this! Don’t you know what’s going on? Don’t you see? The danger, the decay, the distress? 

And Jesus says: Come, sit for a while. Sit? Yes. Sit. Do you get the picture, Martha?

There’s a time for doing, a time for action, a time for prayer. But first, come, sit at Jesus’ feet for a while. Listen to Him. To His Word. For One thing’s needful; Lord, this treasure Teach me highly to regard (LSB #536 v.1)

So two things here:

First, Jesus knows what’s going on. He knows better than you. And He’s in control. He’s on the throne. And He’s working. So to come and sit for a while is an expression of faith in that. Confidence. For while from our perspective, our experience, our feeling, everything is going wrong, and to hell in a handbasket, our view of things is far too limited to make right judgments. There is a bigger picture, and whether we know it or not, or whether it feels like it or not, Jesus is ruling all things for the good of His Church; for the good of His children.

And we know that, we learn that, by sitting at His feet and listening. The stories in the Old Testament in particular teach us that truth. For there we hear how God worked and how He kept His promises, over and over again. How He saved His people from Egypt, saved His people from the Philistines, saved His people from the Assyrians, saved His people from the Babylonians, and many others. We hear how He sometimes had to discipline His children, but always in love, always for just a time, and always for His good purpose. That’s why St. Paul exhorts us all the time to learn from the past. Come, sit, and listen. Rest and relax. Hear. For the God of the past is the God of the future. What He did in the past He will do in the future. How hopeless did Israel feel and often seem? Yet God’s plan for them never failed.

Come, sit for a while, and listen.

But not just do we know this from the Old Testament, but also - and even more - from the cross. The cross, where it seemed like everything was going horribly wrong, but where everything in reality was made right. Where God used even death to accomplish His good and gracious will. The horror of Good Friday made the marvel of Easter that much greater for the disciples. So perhaps the horrors of today will cause us to marvel even more, as perhaps we will see the hand of God at work, working good and using these things for His kingdom.

Come, sit at my feet at the foot of the cross, Jesus says. I’ve got it covered. Your sin is forgiven, your death is defeated, and satan - well, he roars loud. Come and listen to all that I’ve done. All that I’ve done for you.

And then second, come and listen, because when we act first and act apart from the Word of God, we act wrong. And the example of that we heard today was Abraham. 

God had made a promise to Abraham: you will have an heir, a son. And from this son will come the promised Saviour. Abraham waited for a while, but things didn’t seem to be working out. He waited some more, but he and Sarah were just getting older. The old biological clock was ticking! Until finally they decided they’d better do something to make this promise happen. So Abraham took Sarah’s advice and had a child with her servant. There!

But then a little later, God came to Abraham and said to him - nope! That’s not the child I promised. I told you I was going to give you a child, and I am. You think it’s too late. You think you’re too old. You think wrong. I will come back this time next year and Sarah will have a son.

Come, sit for a while, Abraham. Listen. 
And you, come sit for a while. Listen.

Or are you too troubled by many things? Serving that needs to be done, preparations that need to be made. Work, home, school, family. And God’s Word? No time? Oh, I meant to . . .  I forgot. I got too tired. I thought I’d get to it later . . .

If that sounds like you, you’re in good company. Luther had that problem, too. He said that if he didn’t take the time to sit and listen first thing in the day, he never seemed to get back to it. One thing always leads to another. Jesus gets squeezed out of the day. 

It’s not that serving is bad. It’s not. Serving your neighbor, your family, doing your work to the best of your ability, is fulfilling the callings God has given you. And that’s good. But as Jesus told Martha, one thing is necessary; one thing’s needful. To receive from Jesus. To receive Him.

Come, sit for a while.

For you will hear marvelous things. You will hear of His love. You will hear of His forgiveness. You will hear of His care. His Spirit will work through that Word and strengthen you. If all you ever hear and fill your brain with is the bad news on the nightly news casts or from the internet, how do you think you will think? How do you think you will see things? How do you think you will be? But there’s another Word, a greater Word, a greater truth, to give you hope in the midst of a world of trouble.

Come, sit for a while, and listen to Him. His Word. For Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

His Word given and applied to you in Holy Baptism lights the way for your feet, to move into the future with confidence, knowing that joined to Christ in His death and resurrection, you have a future that is safe and secure, that cannot be taken from you. A promise He will fulfill. Just like with Abraham. You don’t do it. He’s doing it.

And then there is His Word given and proclaimed to you in the Gospel which shines the light of His forgiveness into your heart, to scatter the darkness of sin and fear, for you to walk in the light of His truth and promises. You hear how Jesus took your place in sin and death, that you have His place in light and life. 

And then also His Word which makes the bread and wine His Body and Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. That He who washed His disciples’ feet, still is. That He who came not to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28), still is. That He who gave the manna in the wilderness to eat, fed the 5,000, and provided a passover lamb, still is. For here is the Bread of Life for you. The Passover Lamb for you. 

For you in the wilderness of this world. For you perplexed and worried. For you oppressed and beaten down. For you troubled by many things. Your Saviour came to be the least for the least, to exalt you to the seat of honor, a seat at His Table, a seat of rest, forever.

Come, sit for a spell, and listen. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. Nor from you.

And when the time then comes to act, God will use you, and you will be ready. For you will be equipped with His Word. You will forgive, for you have been forgiven. You will speak the truth, for you will know the truth. You will have mercy, for you have been mercied. You will act in confidence, for you know the end of the story and how it all turns out. The Lamb fights the dragon, and the Lamb wins. For you

So whatever happens today, tomorrow, or the next day - who knows? Things are changing so much and so fast. But one thing does not change: the one thing needful. And He has you, and has given Himself to you. 

And so whatever happens today, tomorrow, or the next day - how mighty the dragon seems, how loudly the lion roars, how deep the darkness gets - you are safe. Safe in His hands. Safe at His feet.

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

Pentecost 8 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Our Great Redeemer”
Text: Ruth 2:-13, 8-11; 4:13-17; Matthew 22:41-46

God does not look at people as we do. He does not judge value or worth as we do. In fact, we all look the same to Him: sinners. But sinners for whom He sent His Son to be Saviour. 

And so it is with Ruth. Ruth the Moabitess. You may not know who the people of Moab were, so I shall tell you. Moab was the name of a son of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. But not just any son. Moab was the son of Lot and his elder daughter, conceived after they fled the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. His daughters thought there would be no husbands for them - they all got killed in the fire and brimstone, after all. So they got their father drunk to have children by him, and hence Moab was born.

So imagine what the Jews thought of the Moabites. A nation of people that started with incest. Great sinners. Impure and unworthy. 

But it was exactly a Moabitess that God chose to be an ancestor of His Son. Incestuous, Moabite blood would flow through Jesus’ veins. For Ruth was the mother of Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David. Yes, that David. King of Israel, from whom would come Christ Jesus. David’s Lord become David’s son. True God become true man.

But that is the point. Jesus didn’t come to be above sinners or avoid sinners, but to become a sinner. To take our sinful blood, our sinful flesh, into Himself, and pay the price for it all. And not just the little sins and little sinners, but the really big ones, like incest. And He’s not just descended from Jews for Jews, but from Jews, Moabites, and all sorts of people, to save all people. 

Which means no matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you’ve done, you’re in Jesus and Jesus puts Himself in you. For in addition to taking our sinful flesh and blood into Himself, He gives His perfect flesh and righteous blood to you, in His Supper. He becomes the sinner, that we become sons. He becomes the outcast, the foreigner, that we be citizens of heaven. The story of Ruth teaches us how great a Saviour we have.

But there’s another person in this story that we heard tonight - a man named Boaz. He was an Israelite, of the clan of Elimelech, from the tribe of Judah. He became Ruth’s redeemer - meaning a male relative who had the privilege or responsibility to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need. And Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi were in trouble, danger, and need. They were widows with no means of support. And even though Ruth was a Moabitess, Boaz takes care of her, takes her in, and takes her as his wife. For, he tells her, word of all that she has done for Naomi has gotten around.

And Boaz, as a redeemer, gives us a picture of Jesus, our redeemer. But he is a mere shadow of Jesus, who is a much greater redeemer. For while we are foreigners like Ruth, word of all that we have done has gotten around also. But all that we have done is not good. There is nothing in us that would make Jesus choose us, redeem us. It is what is in Jesus that makes Him choose us - His love, His mercy, and His compassion. He sees us who are in trouble, danger, and need because of sin, death, and the devil, and He redeems us. He pays the price for us, for our forgiveness, and takes us to be His Bride. Brides of a Redeemer who conquered death and cannot die again, and so Brides who will never be widows. Til death us do part doesn’t apply here. For not even death can separate Christ and His Bride, the Church.

So now Jesus, who is ascended and at the right hand of the Father, is waiting, as we are, for the marriage feast which will have no end. When all enemies will be put under His feet, the dead will be raised, and we will live with Him forever. When that day will come we know not. But we know that it is coming. As sure as the sun rises and sets, as sure as the seasons come and go, so is Jesus coming back for His Bride. For you. 

Until then, maybe we can be like the third person in the story of Ruth that we heard tonight - Naomi. When the child was born to Boaz and Ruth, she took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And we can do the same for others. Having been taken care of, protected, and provided for by our Redeemer, we can now do the same for others. We can lift them up, hold them up, and provide for them. In joy. 

For just as this child was God’s gift to Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi, so the people in our lives are God’s gifts to us. They may not always feel like it or seem like it, but faith says yes. For all that God does is good, and all that He gives is good. Naomi and Ruth had been through a lot, but in the end it led to great joy and to a Saviour. You may have been through a lot - maybe are in deep right now. That’s okay. Do not despair. You have a Redeemer, a Saviour, who has joined Himself to you and is not letting go. 

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

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Pentecost 8 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Like Jesus”
Text: Luke 10:25-37
(Leviticus 18:1-5; 19:9-18; Colossians 1:1-14)

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

If you put Jesus to the test, you will be the one who ends up failing. Jesus has a way of turning the tables, and so instead of justifying ourselves (as the lawyer we heard about today tried to do) or getting a pat on the back (which we all want) - when you put Jesus to the test, you are instead shown just how deep our sin runs and how ugly it really is. 

That’s what Jesus does today with the this lawyer. A lawyer puts Him to the test. And by lawyer here is meant not a lawyer like we have today, lawyers like the ones sitting in our congregation, experts in civil law, but an expert in the Mosaic Law, in the Old Testament laws, in the laws like we heard from Leviticus earlier. A religious lawyer. And this lawyer was a good one. He answers Jesus’ question perfectly. What is written in the Law? You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.

Very good, Jesus says. Do this, and you will live. Jesus doesn’t say that by doing this you will earn eternal life. He says: do this, and you will be living. Do this, for this is what it means to be living the life God has given you.

Now, we should pause here for a moment and not rush on too fast to the story Jesus tells next. For first of all, how many of us think this way? That loving God and loving your neighbor is living? That it is living the life God has given you? Or do we not start with a different view of life, a more self-centered view of life? That this is my life, to live how I want, and so think that loving God and loving others is not my life but an intrusion into my life? That if I get interrupted, if I have to stop what I’m doing, if I need to go out of my way to help someone - that’s getting in the way of my life and my living of it. That’s not fulfilling my life, but taking something away from it. So right off the bat, we may have a whole different way of looking at life than God does.

But then there’s this too: when I do actually help my neighbor, am I loving him as myself? Or even as I do it, am I resenting her for needing my help? Am I bitter toward others for not helping and making me do it? Do I begrudge the expense and the inconvenience? And does that then corrupt my love for God by questioning Him and His ways and His love for me and not wanting the life or the people He has given me? To love them and to receive love from them. And so then we wind up asking: Why me, Lord? Why so long, Lord? Why this, Lord? Why so much, O Lord?

Now the lawyer probably wasn’t thinking of all that at this point, but He did want to live; he did want eternal life. But what’s that? Is it a life that comes after this life? Or is it this life that we have already here and now that will last forever and into eternity? How you answer that is important too. 

But for now, the lawyer continues his examination. He knows the Law - what about life? How does the Law translate to life, Jesus? Who is my neighbor? And Jesus tells his famous story. 

But I wonder if this is just a story, or if this hadn’t just happened to the lawyer? If he himself hadn’t just passed by someone by the side of the road who had been robbed and needed help? What a thunderbolt that would be if he had! Who is my neighbor? You just passed your neighbor, Jesus would be saying! And don’t bother trying to go back now. It’s too late. Someone else stopped. A Samaritan. Yes, someone you as a Jew look down on and consider a half-breed at best, and someone the world would be a better place without at worst. Someone you don’t consider your neighbor. Well guess what? He stopped. He helped. And He didn’t just do the minimum required, but even more than that. He had compassion. He was, in fact, filled with mercy. So you tell me, Mr. Big-shot-lawyer, putting me to the test. You who knows the Law, you tell me: Who lived the Law? You or the Samaritan? 

If you put Jesus to the test, you will be the one who ends up failing. The lawyer, and us. 

But now, O Christian, look up and see your Good Samaritan. The One who did not pass by you in your need, but came to you as much more than a neighbor - as a Saviour. And He’s the only one who could. For everyone else in this world is in the same situation as we. For we all have been assaulted by sin, assaulted by death, assaulted by satan, thrown into the ditch and not just left for dead, but dead. Spiritually. Robbed of the life, of the living, our good and gracious God created for us, and created us for. And without a Good Samaritan, that would be our end. Buried in the ditch, one great mass grave for all humanity, eternally dead and eternally dying. 

But the One who knows life, created life, is life, and gives life, has come into this ditch of death. And sin, death, and satan did not spare Him, nor did He want to be spared. He had compassion. He was filled with mercy. To do not the least or even the most - but all that was required to give us life again. Which meant taking our sin upon Himself, dying our death, and then rising to life again - that the Law we don’t live be lived, and the life we don’t have be given. That forgiven and raised and credited with all that He is and all that He has done, we have life again.

So what shall I do to inherit eternal life? You’ve already done it! You laid in the ditch, dead. 

Well that’s means I didn’t do anything. Exactly. Life is what Jesus does, and gives. It is what your Good Samaritan did when He stopped for you in the waters of Holy Baptism, washed you clean of all your sins, and raised you to a new life. It is what your Good Samaritan does when He stops here in Holy Absolution, binds your wounds and gives you the oil of gladness in the forgiveness of your sins. It is what your Good Samaritan does as He stops here and feeds you, placing into your mouth His holy Body and pouring over your lips His holy Blood. And He never gives just once, or just a little, but all that you need and as often as you need. A supply that never ends. A Good Samaritan to make you good again, alive again, living again, with the life He created us to have.

So what shall I do to inherit eternal life? You already have it! For as St. Paul told the Colossians (and us!) today: [He] has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness [i.e., the ditch] and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son [i.e., to life], in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Notice that all the verbs in those verses are all past tense verbs. Jesus has already done it. He has qualified you. You have been delivered. You have been transferred. You have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. And as the Catechism tells us, where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is living, a life to live now and that will last forever. 

Which answers the question I asked earlier but never answered: Is eternal life a life that just comes after this life? Or is it this life that we have already here and now that will last forever and into eternity? It is the life, the living, that you’ve already begun. In Christ. In Your Good Samaritan. A new life, with a new heart. A life not yours, but His, and given to you.

But do you have to live this new life? Well, no. I suppose you can crawl back into the ditch - or take a flying leap into it! - and die again. Crawl back under your rock and try to make the best of it. Many do. But do you really want to do that? Can you imagine the man in the story doing that? 

So instead, now, the question isn’t: What must I do to inherit eternal life? But rather: how do I live the eternal life, the out-of-the-ditch life I have been given, I already have, now? That’s quite a different perspective, and so quite a different question, and hearing Jesus answer in quite a different way. You go, and do likewise. That’s how. But not because you have to, but because you can. Because you’ve been mercied. Because you been enlivened. Because that’s living like someone who’s been raised from death to life again. Like Jesus.

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

Monday, July 4, 2016

Pentecost 7 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Rejoice In This”
Text: Luke 10:1-20 (Isaiah 66:10-14; Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18)

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

Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

There are many reasons to rejoice. Let me tell you a few from this past week, as the youth and I went to the Higher Things conference in Nashville. 
I rejoiced when we got back home yesterday and I could finally get out of the car.
We rejoiced when we finally got to the hotel Friday night after midnight.
We rejoiced whenever someone had to eat a nasty Mike & Ike candy as we drove last night as part of a game we play in the van
We rejoiced when we finally got to the dining hall our first evening on campus after following people who thought they knew where they were going but in reality were wandering aimlessly through the labyrinth of walkways that make no earthly sense on the Vanderbilt campus.
And we rejoiced when Rob got the nasty nectarine out of our car on Friday after it had baked in the heat for four days in a hot, closed up car and got all squishy, disgusting, and foul.
If you don’t quite get or understand all those references, ask one of our youth later.

And that’s all good. God wants you to rejoice. He doesn’t want mopey Christians, trudging around this world and life in bitterness, sadness, and fear. No, He would have us be joyful Christians, living in confidence and faith. Confidence in His love and faith in His goodness. God wants you to rejoice. Joy is the second gift of the Spirit.

So what happens? Why don’t we? Because sometimes we rejoice, or look for joy, or think we find joy, in the wrong things. In sin. In having or getting what God has not given to us, but we’ve taken anyway. Or, we rejoice at the right thing for the wrong reason. That’s what the disciples did in the reading we heard today. They rejoiced that the demons were subject to them because of the authority Jesus had given to them when He sent them out ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. (Some of us know kind of what it feels like to walk to every town and place now, after all the walking we did last week!) But anyway, the disciples thought, that was cool. They were powerful. They could boss demons around! Right thing, wrong reason. Jesus had given them authorty not so they would be powerful, but so their neighbor would be set free. So their neighbor would rejoice with them. So their neighbor would have their name written in heaven too. . . . Oh yeah. That too. No, that first and foremost.

But that’s what sin is, isn’t it? Relegating what really matters to second-tier status, and making what doesn’t really matter first. Making higher things lower, and lower things higher. Taking a good gift from God - because everything from God is a good gift - and using it wrongly; rejoicing in it wrongly. And sadly, we do. Satan can’t create, but he can pervert, and so tempts us to do the same. To take the people God has given us and use (or abuse) them for our own purposes. To take the good gift of sexuality God has given to a man and woman united in holy marriage and instead pervert it in countless ways. To make money and possessions our gods, our idols. Using the gift of speech to tear down and not build up; to justify ourselves and excuse ourselves instead of repenting.

But there is no joy in any of that. Sin is like a drug that creates addicts who just want more and more. So there is no joy in justifying yourself, or in making excuses. Try it. . . . Well, I don’t need to tell you that - you already have. And so you get away with it; you avoid punishment. Happy? Not really. There is no joy in that. But repent, and then hear this: I forgive you. No just getting away with it. No condemnation. No guilty conscience or self-loathing following you around - just joy. The sin is gone. No skeleton in the closet to reappear later. That’s better. There is joy.

And to use what God has given for the good of others, to set our neighbor free, that your name may be written in heaven - is what Jesus did for you. And it brought Him great joy. When He forgave sinners, when He called and ate with tax collectors, when He rescued those trapped in sin, when He accepted the outcast - it wasn’t just them rejoicing, He did, too. For now, in Him, their names are written in heaven.

Now, sometimes that joy doesn’t come right away. Sometimes there’s some pain and suffering first. Parents know this. So do kids. The joy of graduation is preceded by years of hard work. The joy of the dining hall is preceded by half an hour of aimless wandering.

For Jesus, the joy of your names written in heaven meant first being accused of being demon-possessed. It meant rejection by the people He grew up with. It meant nails. It meant whipping. It meant crucifixion and death. But the joy . . . the joy that your name would be written in heaven made it worth every taunt, every mock, every stroke of the whip, every hammer upon nails penetrating through skin and flesh, and every moment in the cold, dark grave. The joy that you would be with Him. And not just now, but forever.

And when the joy does come now . . . sometimes that means sadness later. The sin that entices and promises joy may not be so good after all. Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! Woe to you Capernaum! You are rejoicing wrongly. In what will not last and what is not good. Repent, Jesus says, before it is worse for you than Tyre and Sidon; worse than Sodom. Strong words. Those are strong words that should make us sit up and take stock. That’s why Jesus spoke them, then and now.

So the demons subject to you in My name? I saw satan fall like lightning from heaven, Jesus tells the disciples. And maybe the disciples were thinking: aw, man, we want to see that! But Jesus wasn’t one-upping them - or maybe He was. But if He was, then just for this reason: that they realize there’s a better reason to rejoice. To rejoice that their names are written in heaven, where there are no demons that need subduing. 

And you, all of you, here’s another reason to rejoice: not just that your names are written in heaven, but that heaven’s name is written on you. The name of the triune God written upon you when you were baptized, marking you as His. And you know what happened when that happened? The demons fled and the angels rejoiced. Depart unclean spirit and make way for the Holy Spirit. Good news. Great joy. The same joy the angels had when Jesus was born into this world is the same joy they have when you are born again, born from above, into their world.

But satan isn’t one to give up and we are still lambs in the midst of wolves who want to devour your joy and give you sadness and regret. Look around. But the joy Jesus gives isn’t just in the absence of the wolves but even in the midst of them. For He is in the midst of them, with us. In His Word, His forgiveness freely and joyfully given. In His Body, the Bread of Life, and in His Blood to give us life. The joy of heaven come down to earth to take away all sorrow and sighing, all sadness and regret, and provide us with confidence and hope.

Isaiah put it this way, in the Old Testament reading today: rejoice with Jerusalem - that’s you. You are the new Jerusalem, the Church of God, His people, where He now dwells with His mercy and His gifts. And to you He has given these gifts. You have drunk deeply of His Word and been refreshed by His food. When times were good and especially when they were tough. That you have His joy. A joy far deeper than mere happiness. The joy of your Saviour with you, and you not alone. Ever. Always with His good, working for you and working in you and working through you. That Joy to the World not be just a Christmas song.

So we do not despair when the demons seem to be winning, and we don’t rejoice when we seem to be either. For our joy is in Jesus only. For our victory and life is only in Him. And always in Him.

Which means we rejoice when we finally get to the dining hall for there is our daily bread.
We rejoice when we get home because there are the people God has given us.
We rejoice in nasty Mike & Ike candies because in them we are laughing together.
And we even rejoice in the nasty nectarine, because God gave us someone willing to actually pick it up and throw it away for us.
And in all these ways, we ARE rejoicing that our names are written in heaven and we are forgiven. The joy of forgiveness. The joy of our life together. The joy of our Lord’s gifts. The joy of his life given to us. 

That’s why Jesus sent his disciples out ahead of Him - to give that joy. 
The joy that satan and his demons will never know, for they have no joy. Ever. 
But it is yours. Forever.

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