Monday, October 31, 2016

The Festival of the Reformation Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Eternal Gospel of an Eternal Saviour”
Text: Revelation 14:6-7; John 8:31-36

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

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.

Think about those words that St. John proclaimed to you this morning from the book of Revelation. For they are what the Reformation is all about. For this day is not about Luther, though it includes him; and it is not about the events that happened some 500 years ago, though we remember them. Today is about the Gospel that is eternal. It is about this Gospel that has been proclaimed through the ages, from the very first person to the very last person. The Gospel that is for every nation and tribe and language and people. The Gospel that is happening here and now, for you. For this Gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins that we have in Him. And so it is eternal for He is eternal. It is eternal for His love is eternal.

Think about that. And that in this Gospel, as we just sang in the chief hymn, you stand in a very long line of hearers, of patriarchs, prophets, saints, fathers, and martyrs.

For to Adam and Eve this Gospel was proclaimed, to give them hope even as they were exiled from Paradise. To Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob this Gospel was proclaimed, to set their eyes on their true home even as they wandered this earth with no home. To Moses and Israel this Gospel was proclaimed, that they might see that their great deliverance from slavery in Egypt was just the beginning. To Joshua this Gospel was proclaimed that he fear not the powers and kingdoms of this earth, no matter how enormous and fearsome they looked and seemed. To David and Solomon this Gospel was proclaimed, that they would see that their great and glorious kingdoms were just a pale foreshadowing of the great and glorious kingdom that is to come. To God’s people in exile this Gospel was proclaimed through the prophets, that they might know that though they seemed forgotten they were not, and that God’s loving discipline lasts only a time.

And then, after all that proclamation . . . then this Gospel, this good news, came to earth. All God’s promises were fulfilled as this Word was made flesh, and in Jesus, the hopes of all God’s people were fulfilled. For in Jesus, the Son of God had come to set us free. And - as St. John also told us today, in His Gospel - if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.

Free from the condemnation your sin deserves, for Jesus took that condemnation on the cross in your place. Free from the slavery of having to build your own kingdom and future, for Jesus has provided one for you. And better than you could ever build yourself. Free to love and serve others, for you don’t have to serve yourself. Jesus has promised to provide all that you need. And does. Free from the fear and grip of death and hell, for Jesus passed through death and the grave and broke it open. It could not hold Him and it will not hold you. Free from the oppression of satan and his world of lies, for Jesus has told you the truth. Free from having to be something or someone here and now in this world and life. For in Jesus, you already are. The least in the kingdom of God is greater than the greatest here. And what else burdens you, is oppressing you, is worrying you, is robbing you of life, that Jesus cannot provide? 

No, you are free! Free to live, free to love. For Jesus is the Son of God who has come to make us free sons of God.

That’s what we celebrate today. The fact that now risen and ascended, Jesus’ freeing work has not ceased, but continues. His eternal Gospel continues to be proclaimed, and through it He is calling His people and building His Church. For though this Gospel has been and is still proclaimed by many, the Church is built only by One: by Christ Himself. Or as one Lutheran theologian, following in the footsteps of Luther, put it:

It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess - he builds. We must proclaim - he builds. We must pray to him - that he may build (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Treasury of Daily Prayer, p. 840-1).

And that’s exactly what happened. The Church was built by Christ in the apostles, who proclaimed this Gospel before governors and kings and were not ashamed. The Church was built by Christ through martyrs, who proclaimed this Gospel with their blood; that He who held the power of life and death was not the one bringing down the sword, releasing the lions, or kindling the fire beneath their feet. The Church was built by Christ in early church fathers, who proclaimed this Gospel though exiled and persecuted. The Church was built by Christ in the dark ages, when the light of the Gospel could not be snuffed out. The Church was built by Christ in the Reformation, when an insignificant monk who had some questions proclaimed a Gospel he so desperately needed himself. The Church was built by Christ in the midst of wars, under the oppression of communism, in the midst of secular humanism, through the skepticism of modernism, and in all the changes and challenges we are witnessing today.

And now the Church is built by Christ also in you. And this last is not the least, but may, in fact, be the greatest.

For this eternal Gospel has come to you in your fears, your doubts, your sins; in your questions, your wanderings, your despair; in your rebellion, your persecutions, and in your little kingdoms that you think are so great, and has rescued you and set you free.

But not only in times of trouble and distress, the eternal Gospel has come to you also in the times of your prosperity - when lack of troubles make us fat and lazy, when ease makes us presume on the favor of God, when good times make us think we’re good, and we turn not to God but to ourselves for what we need. And perhaps it is in our prosperity that the work of God is all the more amazing. Which is why we pray in the great litany: “in all time of our tribulation, [and] in all time of our prosperity . . . help us, good Lord” (LSB p. 288).

And He does. For His Gospel is eternal. And the Lord “who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). He is not like us. He does not start and then not finish. He does not start and then leave us on our own. He is the beginning and the ending, the Alpha and the Omega (Revelation 22:13). He is faithful.

And so His work begun in you in your baptism, making you a son of God in Christ, continues. He is a faithful Father who raises His children in perfect love - not sugary love, and not overbearing love, but perfect love.

And though your mind be filled with many words and many wisdoms of this world, seeking to lead you astray; though your life be filled with riches seeking to capture your heart and love, or filled with troubles seeking to rob you of your hope, the work of Christ continues in you with His Word of life, to lead you in His way of truth. The way of repentance and reliance on Him.

And though satan wants to kill you and constantly holds the guillotine of your sin and guilt over you, the work of Christ continues in you by continually raising you to life in Absolution: proclaiming the truth that your sins are not held against you - they were held against Christ on the cross. And if they are on Him then they are not on you, and so you are forgiven.

And though your sinful flesh wants to gorge you with the things of this world that do not satisfy, the work of Christ continues in you to fill you with what does truly satisfy the longings and desires of your heart as He fills you with Himself, feeding you with His own Body and Blood, given and shed for you.

Apart from all this, apart from Him and His work, we would lose, and lose big. Both the pleasures and persecutions of this world would quickly destroy us. But as this eternal Gospel has lasted through so many generations, so many challenges, so many temptations, so many assaults, so many persecutions, so it will last in you. Not because of you; because of Him. The One who is faithful, the One who is true, the One who is your Lord and Saviour.

And so you need not wonder: is this for me? Yes, it is for you. For it is for every nation and tribe and language and people. It is for all who are stuck in sin and death and cannot set themselves free. For the Son has come and set you free. And if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. And not just now, but forever. 

For though the day of judgment is coming, for you it has, in fact, already come. Your Saviour has spoken His “not guilty” upon you, already here and now. What then remains for you now is forgiveness and life. Life in Him. Which is true life. The life of the Gospel. An eternal Gospel which gives eternal life.

Now, it may not always look like the Gospel is winning, or that it’s even working at all. A world gone mad in sin. A church shrinking in size and wilting in courage. Persecution increasing and tolerance decreasing. Love of sin and hatred of truth. Confusion. Wrong proclaimed as right and right as wrong. And more . . .  That’s okay. We do not know the plan of God, how He is building, and how He is pulling down so that He may build, as He did in days of old. But that He is working and building, have no doubt. On this you have His Word, and the witness of generations past. And most of all, you have the witness of the cross - the place above all places where it looked like satan had won; but which was, in fact, the place of his defeat and God’s victory. For there, death did not win - life won.

So come now and receive again that life. Come in confidence in our Mighty Fortress. Receive Him who has done - and continues to do - such great things for you. Come and join the “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” - all those who have gone before us - at the feast of our Lord. Come and feast on Him who loved you then, who loves you now, and who will love you forever

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

St. James of Jerusalem Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Raised to a New Life”
Text: Matthew 13:54-58; Acts 15:12-22a; James 1:1-12

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

James was a most unlikely candidate to be head of the church in Jerusalem. He wasn’t one of the twelve. He didn’t hear all of Jesus’ teaching and wasn’t there for all His miracles. In fact, he didn’t believe his brother (or half-brother) was anything but that - his brother (John 7:5). The guy he grew up with. Even when Jesus began teaching with an astonishing wisdom and authority and doing mighty works that could not be explained (as we heard in the Gospel today), even then He was without honor in his hometown and in his own household. Mark even tells us that after Jesus began doing these things, when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:21).

Yet as we heard in the first reading from Acts, there he is, in the very first church council - gathered to decide what to do with the Gentiles, whether they needed to become Jews in order to be Christians - it is not Barnabas or Paul or Peter (who were all there) making the final judgment and decision, it is James. James, who after hearing all the testimony, points to the prophet Amos who said all this was going to happen. When God said: After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.

For James had come to understand that, you see, those verses were not just about the Gentiles, but about his brother. For how had God come and rebuilt the tent of David? How had He come and rebuilt its ruins and restored it? It wasn’t a physical or political reality. The Romans were still ruling over them. Israel was not its own kingdom. And the glory days of David certainly hadn’t returned. But the restoring and the rebuilding had happened when his brother rose from the dead. That changed everything. The kingdom of God was greater than a nation, it was for all nations. And it was for all people. For Gentiles - people not born of Jewish descent - too. That they too have a place in the kingdom of God. 

Yes, God had come and done it. God had come in the person of his brother! And for so long, he didn’t even know it. He didn’t believe it. For so long he thought his brother was more than a few cards short of a full deck. And I wonder whether James hadn’t been the most stubborn in the family in his opposition and unbelief. For that’s how God often works. Saul the great persecutor becomes Paul the great missionary. And in the same way perhaps James the great skeptic becomes James the head of the church. And we see the power of God’s Word and resurrection.

Yes, James struggled to believe it. And maybe he had a lot of guilt about his past - for thinking his brother crazy, not believing him for so long, and even trying to stop him. And so the struggle to believe was not just that his brother was who He said He was - the promised Messiah, God in the flesh - but then also to believe that there was room in His kingdom not just for Gentiles, but for someone like him. A sinner like him with a past like his.

And maybe that’s your struggle too. The skeletons in your closet, the sins that still haunt your mind, the past that seems to follow you around, all of which the devil is more than happy to use to try to convince you that you are too sinful, your past is too sordid, that you’re accepted here only because no one knows your past and the really nasty and sinful stuff you did. It’s all just too much.

Or maybe your struggle isn’t with your past but with your present. The sins that you’re stuck in now, the sin you can’t seem to shake. The anger and bitterness, the doubts, the immorality, your love of the things of this world, your weakness, your failure to pray, to spend time in God’s Word, to care for others. You come here and confess and then do it all again the next week. And you’re so afraid others will find out the fraud you really are, that your good Sunday appearance is just that, and that’ll be it. Game over. No room in the kingdom for someone like you.

Which would be true . . . if there were still bones in Jesus’ grave. If sin had overcome Him. If the power of the grave had been too much for Him. But when Jesus said “It is finished” (John 19:30), it wasn’t His life that was finished, it was game over for your sin and guilt. For death and the grave. For any doubt that there is room in the kingdom of God for someone like you. He struck down all those things when He became a worse sinner than James or Paul or you on the cross because He made all the sin and guilt of James and Paul and you and all people His own on the cross, died the stinging death for it all, and then rose from the grave. Your sin and death couldn’t hold Him, couldn’t defeat Him. Then or now. And so there really is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

And that means for you. For you are in Christ Jesus for you have been baptized into Him. Baptized into His all-encompassing death and resurrection so that your past - no matter how nasty and sordid and sinful - is His past (and so dealt with and forgiven), and His future is your future - a place in the kingdom of God. James may have been Jesus’ brother then, but you are His brothers and sister now (Matthew 12:49-50)

And with that, while the struggle may not go away, it takes on a different dimension. For while you still struggle with sin and with the temptations of satan to disbelieve the Word of God and all its promises to you - that what He says is good really is good, and what He says is bad we really should avoid, and that He really does know better than us - we know this too, as James learned and then wrote in his epistle that we heard today:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials - or when you have struggles - of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

In other words, when you are in Christ Jesus, the struggle is good and for good. Just as Jesus’ struggle with sin and death on the cross was good and for good, so too the trials and crosses that you bear and the struggles that you face. They have a purpose: are to produce steadfastness in you. 

But what does that mean? It is a word that means patient endurance, patient waiting. It is a faith word. It does not mean that you’ll become so steadfast that you’ll stop sinning, and it does not mean that you’ll become so steadfast that you’ll not feel temptation anymore. Satan’s not giving up and your sinful nature will do what sinful nature does - and that is to be drawn to sin. That struggle will only end when - in death - you pass from this life to the next. 

What it means is steadfastness in Jesus. A steadfast faith, reliance, on what He has done and not on who you are and what you can do. Steadfastness in His forgiveness and life. Not that what you do doesn’t matter and that you’re free to sin - that would be being the double-minded, unstable man that James speaks of. No, it is rather the steadfastness of knowing what you do matters, and the confidence that your sin, your falling and failing is forgiven, swallowed up by Jesus. It is the joy of having a place in the kingdom even now as Jesus invites you to His banquet, to feast on His Body and Blood. For you are perfect and complete, lacking in nothing only when you are in Jesus and He in you. When you die with Him and rise in Him. When you repent and are filled with His love and His forgiveness. That’s why He came and is still coming. To so perfect and complete you; to give all that He is and all that He has to you.

And then whether you are the lowly brother exalted to the head of the church, like James, under the trial of leadership with all its problems and temptations to pride and power, or if you are the rich who is lowered, and under the trial of loss and shame, or somewhere in between with other trials and struggles, you are blessed. For through it all God is working in you to make you perfect and complete in His forgiveness, lacking nothing in His love, and working through you to bless others. If you are exalted, it is to be a blessing. It you are humbled, it is to be a blessing there too. Steadfast not in your own abilities or strength, but steadfast in Jesus, in His Word and promises, in His life and love. 

Now, that is quite a different way of thinking, you must admit! Much different than how the world, and we, usually think. That our strength comes not from within us but from outside us. That life comes from dying. That trials are not a punishment but lead to joy and blessing. But that is what the resurrection is all about. A new life, a new way of thinking, a new James, a new you. 

And then, James says, a crown of life. That is God’s promise for those who remain steadfast; for those who remain, by faith, in Christ Jesus. Who really, when you think about it, was an even more unlikely head of the church than James. Born under questionable circumstances, a king who tried to kill Him before He could even walk, His parent fleeing to Egypt, growing up in a little backwater town, hated and opposed by all the religious leaders of His day, with only a ragtag little band of not very capable misfits following Him, and then killed not just as an ordinary criminal, but tossed out with the garbage to a humiliating crucifixion as a really bad one. Yet there He is, risen from the dead, on the throne at His Father’s right hand.

And what happened to Him He wants to do for you. As He did for Peter and Paul and His brother James. You may not think you’re anything. You might think you’re unworthy. You might think someone else is better qualified. If so, good. You’re exactly right. And you’re exactly right for Jesus to raise you to a new life. And like James, you just might be surprised where He puts you.

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

Pentecost 22 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Heart of Prayer”
Text: Luke 18:1-8; Genesis 32:22-30; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

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

I have a confession to make.

You may have noticed that a few weeks ago we started a new regular feature in the bulletin called “Opportunities for Service.” If you hadn’t noticed that, it’s at the bottom of the announcements page each week. So what I did for that is that I sat down one day and wrote a list of short blurbs of things that people do in the church, or things that could be done, or things that need to be done. I sent it off to our secretary and told her to rotate through the list throughout the year.

So here’s my confession: I forgot one. Actually I probably forgot a bunch, but one in particular I forgot. One in particular that’s very important. And that is to pray. For the truth is that there is no greater service you could do than pray.

I often ask you to pray for me in the video announcements that I send out each week. Pray for help in my preaching and teaching, pray for my study of the Word, pray for safe travel, wisdom and guidance, for faith, for strength to overcome temptation. I need those prayers. For as Paul wrote to Timothy in the Epistle, words that sound so much as if they could have been written today: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. Pray that your pastor not be such a teacher, but boldly proclaim the truth of God’s Word, no matter what.

But not just that. To pray for your fellow Athanasians is a great service to them. Get a church directory and go through it. If you don’t have one I’ll give you one. For all of you have doubts, fears, struggles, troubles, trials, temptations, and all sorts of things going on in your life. You need help. You need our help. And if there’s a name in the directory you don’t know, try to find out who that person is - perhaps they especially need your prayers.

And then pray for our country and our leaders - especially now in election season, and with the cultural wars going on that threaten so many and so much, and with so much confusion and false teaching in the world, misleading many in false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice (Small Catechism).

And praying is a service you can do no matter how young or old, no matter how able or disabled you are. And you can do it most anywhere. But like me, we forget. We forget how important this is, and the service it is. I talk to people who think they are too old or too weak to do anything anymore. I tell them they can pray. And the answer I get is: Oh, well, yeah, but . . . No! No but! Your prayers matter.

And it’s not just that we’re sinning if we do not pray, though that’s true. The Second Commandment tells us that one of the ways we are to use God’s Name properly is to pray, and so to not pray is a sin of omission. But it’s not just that - it’s that how foolish we are if we do not pray! How foolish we are if we do not ask our Father in heaven, who can do anything we ask, to help us and those for whom we pray. 

Jesus gave us an example of that in the Gospel today, telling a parable to the effect that [we] ought always to pray and not lose heart. And the parable was of a widow who kept coming to a judge, demanding justice. A judge who didn’t care about anyone but himself, and so really was of no mind to help this widow. There was nothing in it for him. But he was the one able to help this widow, and so the widow would not leave him alone until he did what she needed. Still he did it for selfish reasons, but the example here is not the judge, but the widow. She had a need and he was the one who could help, even if he really didn’t want to be bothered.

Our situation is so much better than that! For it is not to a selfish, unrighteous judge that we pray, but to our Father in heaven. Our Father who isn’t bothered by our prayers - for, in fact, as I said, He has commanded them. He wants to hear our prayers more than we want to pray. And He wants to help and give all that we need. Yet, Jesus asks at the end, in a haunting question: when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? Will He find those so praying, so faithful, so believing as this widow?

Because it’s not easy, is it? Praying is easy . . . but it’s not easy. Sometimes it’s like wrestling with God, when God seems against you. You pray but nothing happens. You pray but it seems like things just get worse. You pray and wonder if God really does hear, and if He really does care after all. Like Jacob. But God wasn’t against Jacob. He wanted to bless him. And I can’t help but think that after wrestling with God all night, when finally Jacob said “I won’t let you go unless you bless me,” that a smile came to God’s lips. God wanted to be overcome. He wanted to bless. He wanted Jacob to ask. 

That’s a picture of Jesus, really. For just as God came down to wrestle with Jacob and be overcome by him in order to bless him, so too Jesus came to be overcome on the cross, in order to bless us. To give the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation. To give us a new name like He did with Jacob, that we no longer be known just as the sons and daughters of our earthly fathers, but as sons and daughters of God. And so He puts His name on us in Holy Baptism. He adopts us into His family there. In those waters, He applies Jesus’ wrestling to us - His Son who joined us in our death, so that we join Him in His resurrection. Who was overcome for us, that we might overcome with Him. On the cross, Jesus strove with God and with men, and prevailed. Passing through death to life again.

And just as with Jacob, God wants to bless you. And all people. Which doesn’t mean He’ll give us everything we ask for, because some things we ask for may not be blessings to us at all, but really curses. Things that will prove to be not good for us. But what Jesus does promise in these verses we heard today is justice. Four times that word is repeated here, and with Jesus finally saying: Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.

So what does that mean, justice? In our world today, that word is associated with the Law - that those who do the crime do the time. They get caught and pay the price. And if the crime is really bad, a life sentence. 

But in the Scriptures, the justice of God isn’t just about punishment - it is how He saves sinners. The justice of God is the forgiveness of sins given to us because Jesus strove with God and with men and prevailed. Because Jesus, the innocent one, took the punishment and paid the price. Because Jesus gave His life to give us life. And so the justice of God is a life sentence - but not a sentence of life in prison, in hell (as we deserve), but a sentence of life - with Him and with our Saviour - in heaven. 

And so we pray - for ourselves and for others - not for what we deserve, but for what has been promised to us on account of Jesus. For life. Sometimes that will mean ease and sometimes hardship, sometimes joy and sometimes sorrow. But as Jesus told this parable so that we would always pray and not lose heart, so Paul wrote to the Corinthians: We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

And that’s not just a promise for the future, but - as it seems I’ve been saying a lot the past few weeks - knowing that the future is secure enables you to live now. Perhaps it would be like knowing that you will receive $5,000 a week for the rest of your life. Knowing that, being confident of that, enables you to do things now. A secure future sets you free to do now what otherwise you may not have been able to do.

So is your life in Christ. Your future is secure. You have been baptized. You have been blessed. You have a life sentence. You heard again this morning that your sins are forgiven - God does not and will not hold them against you. You are free. You will in a moment again receive the Body and Blood of Jesus - the Body and Blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins; that paid the price for your sins and so now gives you the life that conquers death. All that is yours. So now what will you do?

How about pray? You have the ear of Your Father in heaven. There are a great many people in need. 

And do not lose heart. Do not lose heart if you don’t see results. That’s not up to you. Your righteous Father will do what is right, and He’ll do it perfectly. Entrust yourself and all for whom you pray to Him. 

There may be wrestling for a while, for you or for them. But if so, it’s only to bless. That we rely on our Father and not on ourselves. That we trust Him and not ourselves. That when Jesus comes again there will be faith on earth. Those who cling to the Word and promises of God. Those who know their Father and are known by Him. 

For He loves the prayers of His children. You simply cannot pray too much. He will give you His justice, His forgiveness, and much more. For He has much more for you. Much more than you can imagine. 

So cry out to the Lord, in good times and bad. Entrust your days and burdens (LSB #754), as we just sang, to Him. Beat on His door and on His ears. He will hear, He will answer, and He will come. For you.

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

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Commemoration of St. Luke Sermon

Jesu Juva

“No Empty Promises with God”
Text: Isaiah 35:5-8; Luke 10:1-9

We’re in the hot and heavy of the political season again, and so as usual, lots of promises are being made. I will do this. You will get that. But you and I know they won’t do and we won’t get all that is promised. Much of it is just words.

Well we heard words from God tonight. Promises. From Isaiah. The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. And more. But with these words God wasn’t trolling for votes. He doesn’t need your vote. He is God whether you believe in Him or not. There are no competitors. No real ones, anyway. And while some people in this world wouldn’t vote for God even if they could, because they don’t like His Word or His morality, He’s still God. And that’s not going to change.

So perhaps it is surprising that still He makes these promises. He doesn’t need to. But it’s what God does. In His Word He tells us what He has done in the past, and He tells us what He will do in the future. All so that we may know Him and His goodness, and that we may know and believe in Him.

Which is why St. Luke, who we are commemorating tonight, wrote His Gospel. It is said, speaking of politicians and elections, that the United States Senate is the most exclusive club in the world - there are only 100 senators. But there are only four Evangelists, four Gospel writers. And God chose Luke to be one of them.

And what Luke does in His Gospel is show how God did all that He had promised to do. That when God says He will do something, you can take that to the bank. You can believe it as if it has already happened. That’s how sure and true his Word is, unlike many of the promises we hear today. And Luke starts at the beginning (a very good place to start) with the fulfillment of the very first promise God made - the promise of a Saviour. He tells us how Jesus was born and then what Jesus did, His miracles, fulfilling all those words and promises we heard in Isaiah. And then He finishes with the highest and hardest fulfillment of all - with God doing what He had promised with Jesus dying on the cross. Isaiah reported that promise too. That Jesus would be stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4). That Jesus would be so abused and disfigured that He wouldn’t even be able to be recognized (Isaiah 52:14). And that because He did all this, by His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

Luke reported how those promised healings began, how Jesus did those things. And then, as we heard tonight, how Jesus sent His disciples out to do those things, too. They went out and not only preached His Word but also healed with His authority. They were really extensions of Him. To give His gifts.

But . . . where is that healing today? You have problems, so do I, so do many. There are blind, deaf, and lame people today. Where is that healing today? Maybe God really is just like our politicians, making promises that are just words, that we can’t really rely on or count on . . .

No, Luke tells us. He did keep them. He fulfilled them. The accounts are true. But there is more to it than that. Those physical healings weren’t just goodies God was doling out, they had a purpose - they were signs, pointers, to the fulfillment of an even greater promise and a more important healing. The healing not just of the body but the healing of the soul. A healing that will last not just for a time, but forever. The healing that would come only, as Isaiah said, by the wounds of Jesus. By Jesus’ death and resurrection. That we have hope not just for this world and life, but for eternal life.

So while the promises of healing spoken by Isaiah were fulfilled by Jesus, we are not then without promises of our own. He has given us new promises, of new healing. The healing of forgiveness. And He is still fulfilling those words, sending His servants, pastors, to do that as well. To preach His Gospel, to baptize, to absolve, to feed. With His authority, as extensions of Himself. To give His gifts. That the kingdom of God come near to you, still today.

But again, not to get elected. The Church is not a popularity contest. Rather, as always, from the very first day of creation until the Last Day, God simply wants to give to you. Sometimes we reject His gifts and think we want something else, something better, something more fun, something that will benefit us more - but those things we chase after are the real empty promises. For while we may get something in the short term, it will not last. The world and its promises are fickle and fleeting. But what God gives is lasting: adoption into His family and the promise of His kingdom.

That’s what Luke wants you to know and why He wrote His Gospel. So that when we doubt, when we wonder, when we don’t see God keeping His promises, when we think God is not loving and not loving me, when satan whispers into our ears that our sins are bigger than God’s forgiveness . . . Luke says: hear this. God is faithful and His words are true. Jesus came. Jesus died. Jesus rose. For you. All His promises fulfilled.

Well, no, not all. There is still another promise that hasn’t yet been fulfilled, when Jesus will come back again, to raise all the dead and take us home. To His home and our home. The home that He promised He was going to prepare for us (John 14:3). Will He fulfill that?

Well Luke would ask: Did He fulfill His promises of the past? Is He fulfilling His promises now? So He keep this one too. You can be sure. You can stake not your vote, but your life on it. Luke says that, in fact, in the first few verses of His Gospel:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).

That you may have certainty, be sure. These promises have been fulfilled. These promises are true. And yes, these promises are for you.

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

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Pentecost 21 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Leper’s Prayer, the Children’s Thanks”
Text: Luke 17:11-17 (2 Timothy 2:1-13)

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

The good thing about having leprosy is that you knew you had leprosy. Or maybe that’s the bad part. Leprosy is a disease that doesn’t hide. When you have it, you know it. And so you know you need help.

There are disease not like that. Diseases that grow in your body silently, stealthily, and continuously. Gradually getting bigger and stronger and spreading, that when the diagnosis comes, it may be too late. That happens sometimes with cancer. A person can have no idea anything is wrong, until a symptom shows up one day and a stage four, nothing-we-can-do-about-it cancer is found.

Sin can be like that. The disease that infects our souls can grow silently, stealthily, and continuously. Causing bitterness, hatred, and despair; callousness, coldness, and indifference; covetousness, greed, and lust; dissatisfaction, apathy, and hopelessness; idolatry and selfishness. Sometimes there are symptoms of these things, sometimes they burst out of us. But sometimes it goes undetected and eats away at us from the inside out.

And why sin is so bad and such a dangerous disease is that while not everyone gets leprosy or cancer, everyone has sin. You have it. You inherited it from your parents. It is passed down from generation to generation, from Adam and Eve to us today. That is the diagnosis God has given us in His Word. And there’s no question about this either: it is terminal. You are going to die because of this disease.

The ten lepers we heard about today knew they were dying. They could see it, they could feel it, every day. And maybe they didn’t have many days left. So when the great physician came to them, when He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee, this no-man’s-land where the lepers lived, they had a chance not just for healing, but for life. So they lifted up their voices, they cried out as loud as they could: Jesus, Master - master of all creation, ruler, doctor - have mercy - pity, compassion - on us. On us who are dying. Who have no hope but you.

Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. That prayer was going up a lot this week also because of Hurricane Matthew. As it roared across the Carribbean, ripped apart homes and lives on many islands there, and then scraped the coast of Florida and Georgia, it served as a reminder that not only have we been infected by the disease of sin, but so has creation. A creation that often turns against us in chaotic, deadly ways. A creation gone wild, which prompted the governor of South Carolina to say: Now is the time we ask for prayer

That’s the good thing about having leprosy, or seeing a hurricane come your way, if it drives you to pray. If it turns you to God. But not just to any old god, or to gods which cannot help, but to the master of all creation, the ruler and doctor - to Jesus. The God who came to us in our flesh and blood for this very purpose: to have mercy on us. To have mercy on us who have no hope apart from Him.

For the reason why Jesus was in that no-man’s-land between Samaria and Galilee is because He was on His way to Jerusalem to have mercy on us, to die for us. To die the death of sinners and so provide the cure for our disease - the forgiveness of our sins. That whether our bodies are healed right now or not, or whether a hurricane crashes into us here or not, or whether any other sin-caused trouble or catastrophe in man or creation descends upon us or not, we have hope. Hope that in the end, no matter what happens to us here and now, in this world and life, whether we die young or old, suddenly or slowly, tragically or (as they say) naturally, that we will be raised from the death of sin to a new life. A life greater than this life. A life peacefully beyond the reach of sin, disease, chaos, and death. A life forever with the Master of life.

Jesus, Master, have mercy on us, they cried out. And Jesus does. Even though when He says Go and show yourselves to the priests it might sound as if Jesus is giving them the brush off. Not my job. go show yourselves to the priests. But no, He wasn’t brushing them off with those words - those were words filled with promise. Because you only went to the priests if you were no longer a leper, to get a clean bill of health. And sure enough, as they go to the priests, believing that they will have something to show them - or nothing to show them because their leprosy was gone! - they are healed. 

And some this week received the mercy for which they asked as Hurricane Matthew stayed far enough off shore that the damage wasn’t worse. But some, like my brother, did not have their prayers answered in such a way. For while my brother’s house was not damaged and he and his wife are safe, their flight leaving Florida was delayed, meaning that they could not make their connecting flight to go to Madagascar with our Lydia, to help the people there. Their trip is over before it even began.

So did Jesus have mercy? Perhaps we would say yes and no. But the answer is yes . . . it’s just that His mercy is different than expected. Mercy that maybe doesn’t look like mercy now, but is, and maybe will be revealed as such later.

You see, that’s the thing about Jesus’ mercy - it’s bigger than what we ask for; it’s bigger than we know. Maybe we ask for mercy for one thing, or one area, but Jesus knows we need a whole lot more mercy than that. And so maybe His mercy looks different and is given differently than we expect . . . maybe it even looks like a cross. No one ever imagined than our prayer Lord, have mercy would be answered by the Son of God dying on a Roman instrument of unspeakable torture and death. And yet it was. For no where was God so merciful than when He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

So the lepers we heard about today received their healing, but that gift is but the sign of something bigger - a greater gift, a greater life, a greater mercy, that Jesus has for us. For while those ten lepers would all die, eventually, of something, sometime - maybe even leprosy again - the gift of forgiveness gives a life that will never end. 

Which is the gift the Samaritan leper received. For not only cleansed on the outside, but with a heart filled with faith and joy He falls on His face before Jesus in thanks and praise. And Jesus says to Him: Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well. But wasn’t he healed with the other nine and already well? Well, yes and no. Now He received a bigger mercy than what he asked, a greater healing. He was now a foreigner no more, but a child of God.

And so it is for you and me as well. What mercy is right now on your lips and in your prayers? What have you been praying, for yourself and for others? What hardship, tragedy, catastrophe, or chaos has caused you to cry out, Lord, have mercy? We did, in fact, pray that very prayer - the leper’s prayer, the sinner’s prayer - four times this morning in our liturgy. For all kinds of needs.

Will Jesus answer? Will He have mercy? Yes. It may not be exactly in the way we think or expect or hope, but He will mercy you. For you are no foreigner, but His child, made so in Holy Baptism. He has spoken to you His Absolution, the forgiveness of your sins. He feeds you with His very own Body and Blood - hung on the cross for you, now on the altar for you. 

And we heard this from God today, too - from God through the pen of St. Paul to Timothy: if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. If we are faithless - unsure, shaky, worried, fearful, forgetful of His promises and blind to all the ways He is working in our lives - He is faithful. Dependable, sure, reliable, steadfast, true. For He cannot deny Himself. For to deny you and the promises He has made to you would be to deny Himself, for you are His and He dwells in you.

So if the good thing about having leprosy is that you knew you have leprosy, then this too: when you are healed, you know you are healed. You can see it. You can feel it. But the healing of our sins, the forgiveness of our merciful Lord . . . though perhaps you cannot see it or feel it, you have heard it. And just as Jesus’ words to the lepers to show themselves to the priests were words of promise, so too are these words a sure promise to us. That you are healed. That your disease is not terminal. That though we will all one day die because of our sin, we will not die in our sin, with the guilt of our sin. We too, like the Samaritan leper, will rise from the grave and go our way. Alive. With a whole life to live before us. An eternity of life. 

But that’s not the only mercy our Lord has for you. His mercy is bigger than that, and yours even now. Mercy not just for eternal life, but for this life, too. For if He’s done the big thing, the big life, eternal life, He’ll take care of this life too. In mercy. Mercy for the big stuff and for the small stuff. Mercy that we receive, and mercy that we give. Mercy that we know, and mercy that we know not. Mercy that we ask for, and mercy that we didn’t even think to ask for. Mercy that sometimes we can see and feel, and sometimes not. 

So every Sunday we come together and pray for such mercy, for ourselves and for all people. And every Sunday we come together and give thanks for that mercy given. The leper’s prayer, the children’s thanks. And we learn how to pray. We learn how to believe. We learn mercy. The mercy of our Master, our Father, our Saviour. 

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