Monday, February 27, 2017

Transfiguration of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Transfigured by the Cross”
Text: Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21

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

John looked up. He never thought he’d see Jesus like this. Never in a million years. And the two people with Him . . . incredible. What were they saying? It was hard to hear, to make out the words. The vision, what they were seeing, overwhelmed the words. It was almost too much. Sensory overload. And the fear. They were terrified. And then John made out some of the words, what was being said. He would never forget those amazing words: Father, forgive them. Today, you will be with me in Paradise. It is finished. And then it was. Finished. Over. Jesus was gone. He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit.

Um, Pastor? It’s not Good Friday - it’s the Feast of the Transfiguration! It’s not the day of Jesus dead but the day of Jesus in His glory. I think maybe you pulled out the wrong sermon! 

But here’s the thing: the two are not so different. A Mount of Transfiguration, a Mount of Calvary. Two people with Jesus in both. And in fact, you cannot understand the one without the other. That’s why Jesus said to Peter, James, and John as they were coming down the mountain after His transfiguration: Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead. For until then, people wouldn’t understand. Just like Peter, James, and John didn’t understand. They wanted to make three tents and stay there. Peter is the one who suggested it, but you could imagine James and John silently nodding their heads in agreement at this good idea.

But no. This is not why Jesus came. He would not stay here. He would go to and stay on the cross. That’s the glory He wanted. Not the glory of the Transfiguration. Not the glorious spectacle of jumping down from the cross, as His opponents challenged Him to do and so prove who He was. The glory we want and want to see. Not Jesus. His glory would be in suffering and dying. His glory would be to be bathed in His own blood. His glory would be for the glorious one to die for sinners, that inglorious sinners might live in His glory forever.

So it’s important that we celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus on the eve of entering the Lenten season. It is good that we will put away our Alleluias now until our celebration of the Son of Man rising from the dead on Easter. For it is important for us to know that the real transfiguration of Jesus isn’t really what happened with Moses and Elijah on the mountain that day - that’s who Jesus is and has been all along. God of God and Light of Light (Nicene Creed and LSB #810) in human flesh. He just showed it, revealed it, for a moment there. No, His real transfiguration was what happened when Jesus was hanging around not with Moses and Elijah, but with two criminals on either side of Him. When He who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). When the glorious, sinless Son of God became sin for us. When He became the worst and most inglorious sinner of all time for us. So that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God. So that in Him, our sins be forgiven, and we be transfigured too - from shame to glory. From sinner to saint. From death to life.

You see, Peter, James, and John’s mistake wasn’t that they wanted to stay with Jesus in His glory - Jesus wanted that too! And that’s why He came. For that very thing. For that very life. It’s just that they wanted it too soon. And they didn’t understand that it would come only through the cross, only through blood, only through death. Only through those things that are the very opposite of glory.

And that’s the mistake, honestly, that we often make as well. For if given the choice of the Mount of Transfiguration or Mount Calvary, the Mount of glory or the Mount of suffering and death, which would you choose? It sounds silly even asking the question. For what do we want our lives to be more like: Transfiguration or Calvary? What do we want our homes to be more like? What do we want our church to be more like? We want Transfiguration! But we get Calvary. 

And just like with Peter, James, and John, wanting transfiguration, that’s not wrong. It’s okay to want that. The danger, though, is if we then think that because our life is more like Calvary than Transfiguration - more suffering than glory, more sickness than health, more blood than ease, more struggle than victory - that we then begin to question God, question His goodness, question His ways, question His love, question His promises. That we then begin to doubt and fear and wonder if God is really my God, and for me, at all? 

That’s what satan wants, after all. To use the cross God used to save us to destroy us and our faith. That’s why when satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness (as we’ll hear next week), he kept saying: If you are the Son of God . . . IF. And why when Jesus was on the cross satan kept saying through Jesus’ opponents: If you are the Son of God . . . IF. And why satan keeps suggesting to us: If you are a child of God . . . IF . . . then why so much trouble in your life? Why so much struggle? Why so much sin? Where is Jesus and His glory for you?

Satan wants to blind us with glory, with this kind of glory, promised glory, future glory, now, to take our eyes off the glory of the cross. 

But against that, to protect us from that, we have the Word of God. The Word which Peter said is more sure than the glory and majesty that they saw that day. The Word which, he says, we would do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place. In those dark places and dark times of our lives that satan uses to try to pull us away from Christ, to try to pull our faith down, to try to ensnare us in doubt and fear. To convince us that a God on a cross isn’t much of a God at all. 

That more sure Word sounded forth that day from the bright cloud that overshadowed them all and said: This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. We began this Epiphany season hearing those same words at Jesus’ Baptism - now the Father says them again. No matter what happens, no matter what you see, this is the truth. But now, these words are added too: Listen to Him. Listen to Him, not satan, who is trying to deceive you. Listen to Him, not the world, which thinks it knows better. Listen to Him, and not your doubts and fears. Listen to Him. And when you do, this is what you will hear:

Rise, and have no fear.
Father, forgive them.
Today, you will be with me in Paradise.
It is finished.
I baptize you.
I forgive you.
This is My Body, this is My Blood.

Those are the glorious words that come only through the cross. Outside the cross we should fear, for our sins are still on us. Outside the cross we have no forgiveness. Outside the cross Paradise is locked. Outside the cross your salvation is not finished, but up to you. Outside the cross Baptism is just plain water, the Absolution just wishful thinking, and the Supper just bread and wine. Outside the cross, these things are not glorious. Outside the cross, Jesus’ Transfiguration is His but not for you. 

But with the cross, with the glorious one on the cross and then risen from the dead, these things are glorious, and give us glory. The glory of Jesus. The glory He came to provide not just for three select disciples, but for you and me and every person in the world. The glory He created us to have, that we lost in sin, but is given to us again. A glory to live in forever.

Which is what John saw when he looked up a few years later, when he was an old man living in exile on the island of Patmos. He wrote that vision down in the book of Revelation. When he saw a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Revelation 7:9). A multitude which included Moses and Elijah, Peter and James, and that criminal that once hung on a cross next to Jesus. And which includes you and me. For that picture John saw was not a snapshot of a moment in time, but of all time. The vision of what Jesus came to provide through His cross. The glorious future that includes you. You who are baptized. You who do not just die, but die and rise with Christ. You who are absolved. You who here feast on the crucified and risen Body and Blood of your glorious Saviour. 

So when things are not all glorious for you here and now, when the struggle is long and battle get tough, look up. Look up and see your Saviour on the cross for you. Look up and see what a glorious God you have, who would do that for you. Who would take your sin from you. Who would take the curse for you. Who would die for you, to pull you up and out of the grave with Him to life. And to glory. To glory He has come to prepare for you and prepare you for.

And as we enter the season of Lent on Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, that is what we’ll do. We’ll look up and we’ll listen. We’ll see the cross and hear of its glory. We’ll look at the cross and see our salvation. We’ll look up from the dust and ashes of our sin and see the hope, the glory, and the future that awaits us. We’ll hear and rejoice. Rejoice that we have a Saviour who didn’t stay in His glory, but came down for us. That He who was transfigured transfigure us. And not just for a moment, but forever.

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

Monday, February 20, 2017

Epiphany 7 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Merciful, Like Your Father”
Text: Matthew 5:38-48
(Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; 1 Corinthians 3:10-23)

After spending most of the week in the hospital with my father, a gentle re-working of a preachment from yesteryear . . .

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

What Jesus is talking about today is mercy. For mercy is what our Father in heaven is all about. If you’re going to be like Him in any way, shape, or form, it will be in showing mercy.

In mercy, He sends rain on the just and the unjust, and makes the sun to shine on both the evil and the good.

In mercy, He did more than “go the extra mile” - He came down to earth from heaven, into time from eternity. And when He did so, He gave much more than the clothes off His back (though He did that); He gave His very flesh and bones to death on the cross for the life of the world.

In mercy, He did not resist, but turned His cheeks to those who struck Him and mocked Him.
In mercy, He gave to all who begged Him, and still is.
In mercy, He loved sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, and those for whom society has no room, and still does.
And in the midst of all that, most of all, in mercy He utters those words not one of us could be here without: Father, forgive them (Luke 23:34).

That’s mercy. Jesus showed us that’s the kind of God and Father we have. And this is how our Father wants us to be. Like Father, like sons.

But He didn’t just command us to do these things (though He did) - He has done even more: He has given you His very Spirit. St. Paul told the Corinthians, “You are temples of God’s Spirit.” Living, mobile temples. Given new life and the Spirit of God in Holy Baptism. That you live not according to the spirit and wisdom of the world, but have the mind of Jesus. That you live in mercy and so show yourselves to be sons of God. Sons of the merciful one.

Or, to put that in other words that we heard today, that you be holy. For holiness is not just that you don’t do anything wrong - it’s to be set apart for something right. It’s to be set apart to be different. To be set apart for mercy. That as living, mobile temples of the Spirit of God, you take God’s mercy to others - both in the church and out into the world.

So what’s the problem? Why aren’t you and I holy? Why aren’t we merciful? Why are we so quick to accuse and slow to forgive? So ready to criticize and demand and so often reluctant to help? So suspicious of others and so slow to be merciful? Why instead of being different, do we so blend in with the world and its spirit and not look more like Jesus? Why aren’t we: like Father, like sons?

Yeah, we’re sinners. That’s true, but too general.

Yeah, there’s a lot of bad people out there, that just might want to take advantage of you and put you up on a cross. That’s true, too. And maybe you’ve felt crucified lately.

But really, let’s cut to the chase. If Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect” - the Old Testament reading from Leviticus said holy, and Luke uses the word merciful (Luke 6:36), but the point is the same . . . If Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect (or holy or merciful), as your heavenly Father is perfect and holy and merciful . . . there’s the answer: we’re not holy and perfect, because we don’t believe that our Father is holy and perfect and merciful.

Oh, we do but we don’t. We say it. We confess it. But we don’t believe it. 
We struggle to believe it. 
We struggle to believe that what our Father is doing and giving is perfect and right for us, and so we go after what we think is.
We struggle to believe He will really provide, and so we keep and hold back from others.
We’re afraid and struggle to believe He will protect, and so we strike out at others.
We don’t believe He is leading and guiding and directing, that His Word is enough, and so we follow the wisdom of the world instead.
We struggle to believe that everything our Father is doing - everything - is good. Some, sure, yes. But all? You’ve got to be kidding!
Have you seen my life lately? Have you taken a look at the world lately?

You see, this is the very nature of sin, Luther rightly said. That we don’t fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We believe what we see and trust what we feel instead of believing and trusting the words and promises of God.

This is the real reason we need to repent. Not just of our wrong actions and words, which is normally our focus, although that would keep us busy enough the rest of our lives! But of our wrong belief. That we have doubted our Father’s love. That we have questioned His goodness. That we have denied His mercy. We need to repent and begin to think differently, with hearts and minds shaped not by what the world says is the way things should be; but with hearts and minds shaped by the Word and Spirit of God. To believe that He has given me the spouse and family (or the singleness) that is perfect for me, and the house and job that is perfect for me, and has led me to the church and community that is perfect for me. We see the imperfections in these things and want better, not realizing (or believing) that our Father has given us what is not only good for us, but perfect for us. Exactly what you need.

Maybe you don’t understand that all right now. I don’t either. That’s why we must believe it. That our Father, who is merciful, always, and who knows a bit more than we do, is doing what is perfect for you and me. And that He will continue to do so - not because we deserve it, because we don’t. But because that’s who He is. Our merciful God: Creator and Redeemer and Sanctifier.

I saw a commercial the other day for a car company who said that they were the relentless pursuit of perfection. I think we could say, that’s who our God is, too . . . but here’s the difference: He doesn’t just demand it - He doesn’t just say: Be perfect, or else! The perfection He demands, He gives. For He gave His Son that we be perfect. He gave His Son that we be forgiven - every imperfection, every sin, every failure, every misbelief - forgiven. He gave His Son that we have life. He gave His Son! What we could never do, He did, for you. You want to know God? That’s God. As we sang in the Introit: A God Merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 103:8).

And, you know, sometimes that love is going to come through fire. Through trials and troubles, hurts and pains, great difficulties. You have these. But these are not signs that God does not love you. On the contrary, they are signs that He does. For as St. Paul said, through these we see that what He builds is truly precious - of gold and silver; and that He burns off anything we, of our own, have built, which really isn’t worth very much. And while that’s hard and not very much fun, it is merciful. For where would you be without it? How lost would you be? How far away would you be? Where would your faith be?

Your Father, in His love, wants you. More than you know. And so He is building. And what is built by His Word and Spirit lasts not just for this life, but for eternal life. And then also in those times of difficulty, we are given opportunities - not only to receive His mercy and forgiveness from others, but to give them to others. To turn the other cheek. To go the extra mile. To love and pray for those who hate us. And more. To be the blessing He would have us be for others. That’s not easy. But it is good. And merciful. Like Father, like sons.

And so today, your Saviour has come, once again, to do what He always does - to mercy you, to forgive you, to Spirit you, to Body and Blood you. So that the word He spoke from the cross - “It is finished” - that it be finished in you. That you be perfect. For those two words - finished and perfect - are, in fact, the same word in the Greek. What Jesus completed, finished, on the cross, is your perfection. What you need. And what He gives to you here. Mercy, forgiveness, life, salvation. All that you need. It is finished, for you. It is finished, that you may live. It is finished, that you may now mercy others.

For, as St. Paul wrote, you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. And so in Christ, God is your Father, and you are His sons. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to be different. Do not be afraid to be who you are.

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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Epiphany 6 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Choose Life!”
Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Matthew 5:21-37 

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

Forty years. For forty years they had no place to call home. For forty years they lived in tents. For forty years they wandered in the harsh and barren wilderness. For forty years they ate the manna which God provided and they collected each morning. Some 14,600 days ago they had left Egypt, and now they were on the border of the Promised Land - on the cusp of everything changing. Of having a place to settle and call their home. A time to rest.

They had been here before. It was not God’s plan that they spend forty years in the wilderness. That had come about because they disbelieved and mistrusted their God. The first time they got to the border of the Promised Land they looked in, at the people already living there, and did not believe that God could give them that land. The people were too big. They were too strong. Or to put that another way: God wasn’t big or strong enough. Their hearts wavered in fear and doubt.

So God spent the next forty years proving that He was. Big enough and strong enough. Those who would not believe Him or trust Him would not enter the Land - they died in the wilderness. But their children would go in. Their children who ate the manna, the bread of God, all their lives. Their children for whom God provided water from rocks. Their children whose clothes and shoes did not wear out even after forty years of wear and tear. Their children whom God had protected and watched over and led in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar fire by night for some 14,600 days.

Those children now gathered around Moses by the Jordan, across from the Land they would very soon now enter and receive. And Moses preached the Word of God to them. They would hear the same words their parents heard and rejected. And so, Moses says, don’t do what they did. Don’t make the same mistake they did. He said, as we heard today: Choose life. Love the Lord your God and walk in His ways . . . and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Choose life.

Choose life. It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But it’s not so easy, is it? When our troubles are so big and so right here, and God seems so far away. When what the world is telling us about life and where to find it and how to get it is quite different than what God says. When it seems like by all appearances, maybe the world is right and God is maybe wrong. And then maybe there are those times when we think we are choosing life and start down that tunnel, only to find the oncoming train of death.

That’s what happened to the parents of those now gathered around Moses on the border of the Promised Land. They thought they were choosing life by not entering that Land filled with big, powerful people and nations. They thought they were choosing life by weighing what they saw against the Word of God and choosing to believe what they saw and felt over what they heard. They thought they were choosing life by not going into that land and sure and certain death. But they were wrong.

And sometimes, so are we. We make the same mistake. If we rely on our own wisdom, our own thinking; what we see with our eyes and what feels right in our hearts. We can so easily be drawn away . . .

And it starts so little. The words of Jesus in the Holy Gospel today spoke of big sins - murder and adultery and divorce and sexual immorality and false oaths. But no one starts out to do those things. They start little, and grow . . . They start in the heart and what our hearts are drawn to; what they desire and crave and thirst for. And maybe some of those desires are good, but some not so good. But even the good ones can become not good, if they begin to take on a life of their own and begin to take over our lives.

For then desires of our hearts then make their way to our minds, where we begin to think about them and turn them over and consider them, and after a while maybe move on to how we can get what our heart desires. And maybe how we can get it and make the getting look harmless, or even good and right. Thinking that this is going to give me life or make my life better and more satisfying. We begin then to plot and plan, we excuse and justify. The seed of sin, planted in the mind by the heart, begins to grow. 

Then the desires and thoughts are put into words and actions, and the sinful fruit is plucked. And what started as a small desire ended up not so small at all. 

And so, Jesus says, you’ve heard about murder, but murder starts with a little seed of hate and anger and bitterness of heart. You’ve heard about adultery and divorce, but those things start with the little seed of lust and grow. You’ve heard about false oaths, but those great, big, vehement, insistent swearings start out as little lies. The sin is here [heart] first. 

So how do you stop it? Well, you could deal with the words and deeds. Jesus talks about that. Better, He says, to reconcile than to be thrown into prison. Better to cut off your hands and pluck out your eyes than to be thrown into hell. Better to rely on God’s promises to you rather than your swearing on Him. Those are all better, and the magnitude of what Jesus is saying there should make us stop and consider what we are doing each day. 

But they’re not the answer. Because if you followed through on what Jesus said, there wouldn’t be any you left! And still, too, the sinful thoughts of the mind and the desires of heart remain. Life-stealing sin isn’t so easily tamed. If sin starts here [heart], then the answer starts here, too.

Choose life, Moses had said. Don’t do what your parents did. Don’t make the same mistake they did. For, Moses said, if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them . . . you shall surely perish. For Moses, too, you see, sin starts in the turning of the heart and grows out from there. On the border of the Promised Land before, a little bit of fear first grew into a lot of mistrust and disbelief, and then into wrong deeds. And so choosing life doesn’t just mean following the commandments and doing all the right things. It is deeper than that. The answer is in the heart. And if it’s in the heart, then the answer is in the Word of God and the worship of God. To remain in them.

So if your heart turns away, if your heart keeps turning to the things of this world; if you find yourself listening more to the word of the world than the word of God; 
if your heart turns away and you are being drawn away to worship other gods and serve them - and those other gods are anything or anyone in your life that takes priority over the one true God; if you find yourself doubting whether God is big enough or strong enough or caring enough for your problems, like Israel - don’t perish, Moses is saying! Don’t keep down that path. Choose life. Choose life by repenting of all that, of turning away from God - and instead turn away from all that, and receiving the heart-cleansing forgiveness of God. For that’s what the Word and worship of God are all about.

That’s why God gave Israel the Tabernacle while they were wandering for forty years in the wilderness. There He would speak and they would receive. There He would give and they would receive. There were the sacrifices that pointed to the sacrifice that would cleanse their hearts and take away their sin. And so there was life even in the wilderness. Whatever they needed, He provided, physically and spiritually. They needed life and He gave life.

And that’s why God gave you not a Tabernacle, but a Church. For your life, however wilderness-y or not it may be. That just as He brought Israel through the waters of the Red Sea, so He brings you through the waters of Holy Baptism. That just as He fed Israel with manna, so He feeds you with the Body and Blood of His Son. That just as He gave Israel water from a rock, so He give you the living water of His Spirit. That He speak to you through His Word and preaching, and no more sacrifices - that was done on the altar of the cross. There the blood of Jesus shed there to cleanse you, wash you, forgive you. Life you and your heart. Jesus come to die in our wilderness so that you might live in His Promised Land. Jesus come to descend with you into your grave, so that you might rise and ascend with Him into His kingdom. The life you need, the life He gives. That you not perish, but have life.

And then from that cleansing of the heart grows new desires, new thoughts, and then new words and deeds. A new life. For Jesus reconciled you, so no hell for you. That’s off the table. Jesus gave His body parts on the cross so that you could keep yours. And you are His Bride whom He will never divorce. He kept His promise - made right after Adam and Eve made their very bad mistrustful and disbelieving decision - a promise repeated down through the ages, finally fulfilled in Jesus, and now given to you. A promise of life. A new life to live.

So choose life, Moses says, to you, the new Israel. Repent of the old, live in the new. The new desires, new thoughts, new words, and new deeds of the Spirit who lives in you. That may not always be easy - the problems in your life, the troubles in the world, the responsibilities that you have pulling in you all sorts of different directions, things never slowing down, always getting more complicated, news reports always predicting the worst - maybe you find yourself like old Israel, looking at what looks too many, too big, too much, and too strong. . . . Well it is! It was for Israel, and it is for you. But not for Christ.

So at just such moments, look at the cross, and see your Saviour there. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, when you’re feeling overburdened, when you’re feeling hopeless and despair. And then look at the empty tomb. And see His victory. That it wasn’t too many, too big, too much, and too strong for Him. The enemy couldn’t win. Death couldn’t win. Life won. And He won for you. 

So to choose life, as Moses said, means not to choose yourself, what you can do, what you can accomplish, your strength, but to look to the author of life, the giver of life, the Redeemer of life - to look to Jesus and rely on Him. When the doubts and fears come, don’t let them grow - look at Him. When the anger and hate and bitterness begin to rise up in your hearts - look at Him. When the lust begins to tug - look at Him. When the despair - look to Him. Look to Him, the giver of life. Given and shed for you. Given to you. For life. 

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Commemoration of Silas Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A Greater Life”
Text: Acts 16:19b-34; Mark 8:34-38

It was a jailer’s worst nightmare. He was in charge of securing the prisoners. How long had he dozed off for? It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that while he slept, the prisoners had escaped. The prison doors were open. Surely the prison was empty. According to Roman law, there was only one punishment now for the jailer: death. He would be killed, or he could honorably kill himself. The jailer chose the latter. His sword was drawn, he was about to plunge it into his body.

But just as his muscles were tightening for the fatal thrust, a voice came from inside the prison. A prisoner who could perhaps see what the jailer was about to do. Don’t do it, he said. Your prison is not empty, but full. We are all here. Do not harm yourself

The jailer was a hard man; not much got to him. He had seen horrible things. He had seen the worst of the worst come through his prison. But this he had never seen! He called for light and rushed into the prison. He went right to where the Jewish prisoners were - the ones around whose feet he had fastened the stocks just a few hours earlier. The stocks that were now lying on the ground. He went to them because he recognized the voice that had called out to him. It was the same voice he had heard praying and singing earlier. Maybe it was the singing that had put him to sleep! Anyway, he had heard a lot of sounds coming from his prison in all his years - but until that night, singing had not been one of them. 

Who were these men? Really? He knew the charges against them, but this wasn’t normal! He was afraid of no man, yet he found himself trembling before them. They were something he was not. They had something he did not have. He didn’t know what it was, but this he knew: he wanted it. He needed it. He wanted their joy. He wanted their confidence. He wanted their faithfulness. He needed their life. So he knelt down before them and asked: Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

It sounded funny even as he spoke it. He, a free man, asking them, prisoners who had been beaten and locked up, how to be saved! Yet he knew it was the right question. They were really the ones who were free. He was the one locked up in fear. Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household. 

He had heard reports of this Jesus, who had lived in Judea and had been crucified, but who some were saying had come back to life. But here were men who said they had seen it with their own eyes. And one of them, the one named Paul, was once like the jailer, a man who imprisoned followers of Jesus, but who Jesus had changed and set free. And Jesus, he said, wanted to do the same for him. And the more they spoke, the more the jailer wanted to hear. He was like a thirsty man whose thirst could not be quenched. He drank up every word. Words that were like living water to his soul.

He got some water and began washing the wounds they had received from the beating. And with every wound he washed, it felt as if his own were also being cleansed. And so when Paul mentioned baptism, he couldn’t wait. He didn’t even want clean water! He wanted to use the water tinted pink with the blood of his prisoners-turned-friends. Not that their blood added anything. But it reminded him of whose blood would be washing him in this water. And then when his wife and children were baptized too, he was so filled with joy. 

This night that had begun like a nightmare had turned into a dream come true. This night when he thought he was going to lose his life, ended up with him gaining life. Paul and Silas had their days of resurrection. This one was his.

And you too have your day of resurrection, for you have been raised. You too have been given this life. You too have been washed with blood - the blood of the Lamb of God - in Baptism. You too believe in the Lord Jesus. This Jesus who is the Lord, the great I AM, the God of creation in human flesh, who laid down His life that you might live. This Jesus who sets prisoners free - and even the problems and prisons of this world and life cannot lock up what Jesus has set free. 

And Silas is a powerful testimony of that to us tonight. We don’t know much about him. He didn’t get his own verse in the hymn we sang tonight, and the church cannot even agree on a day to commemorate him - he has five different days, depending on which denomination you are! But this he knew and this he lived - the words we heard from Jesus tonight: that whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. That statement that seems exactly backwards to a world which will do whatever it takes to keep and preserve our life here and now. But Silas knew there was a life greater than this one. A life that not even death can end. A life that only the one who rose to life from death could give.

He spoke of that life while sitting in the stocks. He sang of that life in the darkness of prison. He believed in that life as Roman rods came crashing down on him. He traveled with Paul to proclaim that life. He would later sit as Peter’s secretary and write about that life. But above all, he was living that life. It didn’t matter where he was - in Judea, in Macedonia, in Rome, or any place in between. His life wasn’t in a place, it was in a person. In Jesus. And so where He was, Jesus was, and where Jesus is, He would be. And no one could take that away from Him. Not Roman rods, Roman prison, or a Roman sword. He could deny himself because he knew that Jesus never would.

And that is your life, too. You don’t have to worry about Roman persecution - you have other worries. Maybe other persecutions. But the life given you by Jesus is greater than all of it. His forgiveness and resurrection giving you a life that nothing in this world can take away from you. For you are baptized. You are in Jesus and Jesus is in you. And one day you’ll take your place beside that Macedonian jailer, and Paul and Silas, too. Rejoicing in Jesus, and Jesus rejoicing in you.

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

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Epiphany 5 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“No Rotten Hamburgers in Heaven”
Text: Matthew 5:13-20 (Isaiah 58:3-9a; 1 Cor 2:1-12)

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

Last summer we were cooking out on my deck. This day it was one of our usual cookout fare - hamburgers. But unbeknownst to me, on this day, one of the hamburgers never made it onto the grill, but instead fell onto the deck.

So after we were done cooking and eating and the grill had cooled off, I put the cover back on the grill . . . still not seeing the hamburger that remained on the deck, and now hidden by the cover. 

Well, it so happens that we didn’t grill again for a week or two. But even before then, I knew something was wrong . . . for everytime I went on the back deck, I could smell it. I didn’t know what “it” was, but something wasn’t right. It was foul and getting fouler. 

And so when we finally went out to grill again and I took the cover off and the smell became ten times worse, assaulting my nostrils, I saw the guilty party. And it was not a pretty sight. And there was no redeeming that hamburger - there was only one thing to do with it, of course. Throw it away.

That’s what happens to meat without refrigeration. And in the ancient world, a world without refrigeration, that’s what happened to meat without the preservative of salt. And that’s what happened to our world because of sin. We stink. We’re beyond rotten. We’re foul and getting fouler.

God sent the prophet Isaiah to point out that fact to the people of his day. That they were fasting and being religious outwardly, but inwardly they were rotten. Yes, they were fasting but then seeking their own pleasure, and they were quarreling and fighting and oppressing. 

And if Isaiah were here today, perhaps he would say it to us like this: You come to church in the morning, but then you go home and act as if you were never here. You speak the creed one moment and then gossip and lie the next. You confess your sins even while planning your next one. You listen with your ears but not with your heart. You eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus and then feast on the pleasures of the world. And the good you should be doing, where is that? Are you not rotten?

And of that, Jesus said, it is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. Because you can’t make that hamburger good again. And unless your righteousness goes from rottenness to exceeding that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. There are no rotten hamburgers in heaven.

And there is no darkness in heaven either. The book of Revelation says that there is no sun and moon in heaven because God is the only light needed. In fact, if there were sun and moon you wouldn’t know it, because the light of His glory would eclipse and far outshine them. They would be as nothing.

But there is darkness here. We just hide it. We hide the darkness with our artificial lights. And not just the physical darkness, but even more the spiritual darkness that surrounds us. 

And so technology, we say, will light the way to a better future. Science will scatter the darkness and give us a better life. Tolerance will help us see. But the darkness keeps getting deeper. The preaching of tolerance is making us more intolerant. Science kills in the name of life. And the technology that connects us is also separating us - real friends replaced with virtual friends, and social media making us more unsocial than ever before.

I remember a few years ago going down into an old mine, deep below the ground, and for a moment they turned off all the lights and left us in the complete darkness. And the guide said that a human being could only be in darkness that deep for a brief time before starting to go mad.

I think that’s why God wasted no time coming to Adam and Eve when they plunged themselves and the world into the darkness of sin. They were not only hiding from Him and from each other, they were going mad. They needed light. A light of hope. A light to save them.

And our world gone mad, and getting madder - in both senses of that word: mad crazy and mad angry - needs the light, too.

And God gave it to us in the Garden that day. The light of a promise - the promise of a Redeemer. Who would come and do away with the darkness. Who would come and redeem the rotten. And that one was the one now speaking to the disciples. The Light, the Redeemer, come to do what God had so long ago promised.

Only His words were perhaps not exactly as you might expect. He says YOU ARE the salt of the earth. YOU ARE the light of the world. He doesn’t say I AM these things, but YOU ARE. And notice that’s not a command Jesus is giving to them, but a statement; a reality. This is who YOU now ARE, He says to His disciples.

Which I’m sure raised the eyebrows of the disciples more than a bit. As it should yours. If we know ourselves. If we know the rottenness in us. But it is teaching us something. That we are not salt and light because we are so good, or better than others. It is not because of our righteousness. A quick look in your heart will reveal that. Something will happen. Something will change. In them. Because they are with the one who IS their righteousness and saltiness and light. He who came not just for the world, but for them. He would make them what they were not. We would be what He said. 

And that would happen - they would become what He is - because He became what they were. Jesus became rotten for the rotten to redeem the rotten. He entered this world of darkness to enlighten us. What we could never do, He did. 

For His was the righteousness that exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees. He didn’t say of the Law: Oh, that? No, don’t worry about that! Because the Law is God’s Word. It is good. It is important. Instead, He did the Law. All of it. He fulfilled it. Not so that we could now ignore it. But so that we could now do it, too.

So Jesus did two things. First, He fulfilled every iota and dot of the Law, doing it all. And then He also took every iota and dot of its condemnation in our place - every bit of rottenness we are Jesus took, was consumed by it, and was thrown out and trampled underfoot for it. So that in then rising from the grave and the stench of death, He would bring us with Him, to life again. No longer rotten. No longer in darkness. But raised and alive in Him, and now citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

And that’s why St. Paul said that in His preaching, he decided to know nothing . . .  except Jesus Christ and him crucified. For that’s what made the difference in him and his hearers. Not our work, but Jesus’. Not our own righteousness, not our own saltiness, not our own light, but His.

And then what is His given to us. He puts us into Himself, that we go with Him through death to life again. And He puts Himself into us, that He now live in us.

And in Baptism, Absolution, and Supper, doing just that. His Strong Word Forgiving us, enlightening us, salting us. Putting us into Jesus and Jesus into us. That we be what He makes us and says we are: salt and light. It’s not really us. It’s Him in us.

And so you really ARE salt and light in a dark and rotten world. To preserve a rotting world. To enlighten a dark world. Wherever Jesus puts you and sends you. Doing good works - which is not just doing good things. Good works are Jesus works, salt works. For He is the good one, who makes you good and does good in you. And through you for others. And so what He did, you do. And what you do, He does. He uses for His good. 

It may not seem like much, what you do. It may even seem as impossible task, just as I could not redeem that rotten hamburger. But don’t worry about that. Let Jesus worry about that. You do what is given you to do. You be who Jesus has made you to be.

For as St. Paul also said today:

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

So you just might be surprised at what a little salt and light can do. What a little salt and light in the hands of Jesus can do.

So no rotten hamburgers in heaven doesn’t mean you will not be there! It means that what you could not do - make yourself unrotten - Jesus did for you. So you’ll be there, too. In fact, you already are, in Him. For there is no rottenness in Him. And so your righteousness is off the charts in Him. 

So you can now be who you are. For others. Sharing, feeding, clothing, giving, lighting, gooding, praying, serving. For, again as St. Paul said, you have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. His righteousness and forgiveness freely given to us, to live in them. Now, and forever. 

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