Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lent 4 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

Where in the World Is God? On Trial”
Text: Numbers 14:1-23; Luke 22:66-23:25

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

On trial. That’s where in the world God is for our consideration tonight. From the back of a donkey, to His knees in prayer, to His hands bound and under arrest, now He is on trial. And of all the places we have considered God to be thus far this Lenten season, while under arrest may have sounded and been the strangest, on trial, I would say, is the most common.

Yes, the most common, because in truth, the world has been putting God on trial from the very beginning and does so everyday. Submitting God to our questioning. Demanding that God explain His actions. Wanting God to justify what He is doing and why He is doing it. Why are you doing this God? Why did you write that God? Why is this happening God? Wouldn’t something else be better God? And the result of such questions is that people find God guilty - guilty of injustice, guilty of favoritism, guilty of inequality, guilty of hate and prejudice, guilty of intolerance, guilty of not being the loving God we think He should be. 

So God must go. His Word (or at least parts of it) must go, His ways must go, His truth must go, so that we can move on to something better. The world doesn’t want that God anymore. That God just isn’t acceptable anymore. Crucify Him!

It really is the same thing, isn’t it? What the Jews and Pilate and Herod and the people did to Jesus while He was walking among them in the flesh, and what many are still doing today. It really is the same thing, isn’t it?

As we heard tonight in the Holy Gospel, Jesus said He was God, but that claim offended them as it does many people today. Jesus spoke the truth and was accused of either lying to or misleading the people - as His Word is accused of today when it speaks against sins people like and cherish and don’t want to be sin. Jesus claimed to be King, but people then and now don’t want to be under His rule. They heard what He said and saw what He did and said no. He is guilty of breaking our laws, what we think is right and good and acceptable behaviour. So He must go. Crucify Him!

The people of Israel did it too. As we heard in the first reading, ten times they put God to the test and did not listen to Him. And they would do so more after this. They put God on trial and didn’t believe Him, didn’t trust Him. Even though He had proved His goodness and faithfulness to His promises. Even though He brought them out of Egypt, divided the Red Sea, gave them water from a rock and manna to eat, protected them from their foes, and as He would later say, if that wasn’t enough, if that were too little, He would have done so much more! No. Crucify Him! This God must go. We’ll go back to Egypt, they said. That would be better, they thought. Had they forgotten had bad it was? Had they forgotten that they were slaves in Egypt? Did they really want to be slaves again?

Crucify Him! This God deserves the death penalty.

O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken (LSB #439)?

No law, of course. Pilate knew it. Three times he said to those who brought Jesus to him: He is not guilty. But sinful men aren’t interested in justice or truth, only in getting what we want. So Pilate delivered Jesus over to their will - their sinful will. And Jesus - in His good and perfect will - willingly goes . . . to die. He becomes the guilty one, He suffers the death penalty, to set free the very ones who judged and sentenced Him. 

But think about it this way too. In putting God on trial and submitting Him and His ways to our judgment, we are judging the Judge. We are judging the One who on the Last Day will judge the living and the dead, as we confess in the Creed. We should be held in contempt for that. Any human judge would do that. 

But for this sin, too, Jesus was judged in our place. And not only judged, but punished and condemned. He took our place as the accused, as the condemned, as the punished, and as the executed. That all these things we deserve and all that we are truly guilty of, be forgiven. Given to Him and forgiven to us. The Judge is judged. The innocent one is declared guilty. The Life-giver is sentenced to death. Crucify Him!

So what about you? Have you put God on trial? Most certainly. We all have. It is quite easy to doubt God’s love for us and accuse Him of wrong doing. Of that we need to repent.

But also what about you when others put you on trial? When you try to speak the truth and do the right thing, but are accused of being a bigot, of being a hater, of being a -phobe, of being prejudiced? Judges censured for doing just that. Business people put out of business for that. Churches sued for that. What then? Where is the world is God?

Well, at just such times, He is with you. The one put under trial for you is with you in your trial. And if this happens to you, He said: Blessed are you (Matthew 5:10-12)! Though you won’t feel blessed. In fact, you’ll feel cursed. You’ll feel alone and forsaken and forgotten by God. But you’re not. Because Jesus is right there with you. He stands before the Church authorities and the worldly authorities, He is mocked and abused, and He is alone and forsaken. For you. With you. And that’s why you’re blessed. Because you’re where He is. And where He is, is blessing. Even when that place is on trial. Even when that place is a cross.

So great comfort is ours tonight, as we consider God on trial. The comfort of His being there for us, for our forgiveness. And the comfort of His being with us here, still, for our salvation. Until the day He comes again, seated at the right hand of the power of God, and takes us to be with Him. When on that day the word that Pilate truly spoke of Jesus will be truly spoken of us: I find no guilt in this man, in this woman. And it will be true. Not because of you, but because of Him. Because the Judge who was crucified and then raised from the dead has pronounced His verdict: you are forgiven.

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

Lent 4 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Having Room for Jesus”
Text: John 9:1-41 (Ephesians 5:8-14)

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

A man blind from birth. He’s the next one to walk, after the Pharisee and the Samaritan woman, not into a bar, but into Jesus. He’s the next one to have his thinking changed and his life turned upside down. The Pharisee, Nicodemus, learned about the gift of God. The Samaritan woman received a new and greater Bridegroom and His love. And this man today, born blind, receives his sight. And much more.

Like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, this man, too, had been schooled to think in a certain way. That because of some particular sin, some particularly heinous sin, some really, really bad sin committed by either him or his parents, this man deserved and received the wrath and punishment of God and so was born blind. 

Imagine living your whole life thinking that. That God is punishing you. No mercy. No compassion. Just punishment. For your whole life.

But it wasn’t only the blind man who thought that way. Notice who asked Jesus that question: His disciples. It was how people thought. It was the common way of thinking. Blindness, deafness, leprosy, paralysis, some other disease . . . what did you do? Why is God punishing you?

But that wasn’t just how people thought then. It’s the way people think today as well. When something bad happens, when tragedy strikes, when you get bad news, what’s very often the first thought, the first words, out of someone’s mouth? Why is God punishing me?

That’s how we’ve been taught to think. If you do good you’ll be rewarded. If you do bad, you’ll be punished. So if something bad happens to you, you must have done something bad to deserve it. And if something good happens to you, you must have done something good to deserve that, as well. All very tidy. All very logical. We’ve got it all figured out.

But in such a system, there is no room for mercy, no room for compassion . . . no room for Jesus

So Jesus wants to help us see things differently. To see not just according to the Law, but to see as He sees, and think as He thinks, and so maybe even act and He acts.

And so, He says, It was not that this man sinned, or his parents. Well, of course they did, for no one’s perfect. This man and his parents sinned plenty, as do we. But it was no particular sin. There is no one-to-one correspondence. 

Sometimes there is. Sometimes our sins cause bad things to happen - adultery causes marriages to fall apart, promiscuity can lead to disease, mothers who use drugs while pregnant can cause their children to be born with handicaps. 

But not always. People who eat right and exercise can still get cancer. Mothers who take great care during pregnancy still have babies born with problems or handicaps. All this, we can say, is a result of sin - but not sin in a micro sense: this sin, that consequence; but because of sin in a macro sense: because there is sin in the world and sin in us, these things happen.

So while sometimes we may know why things happen, often times we don’t. But today Jesus gives a whole new reason, an additional reason, for why these things might happen; a new way of thinking: that sometimes these things happen because He wants to use them for His glory. And if for His glory, then for our good.

So for this man, He was born blind that the works of God might be displayed in him. That in healing him, Jesus be not just the light of the world, but the light for him. Light in his eyes. Light in his mind. Light in his heart. Light in all his life. And light for all who witnessed what happened that day, and even for us who would hear about it later. That we might know Him as gift-giver, sight giver, and life giver.

Though not all want these gifts or even see them as gifts. A controversy breaks out. And this man gets to see something else - the ugly side of sinful men. Accusing eyes. Faces twisted into anger. Fists clenched in rage. Tongues lashing. And then he is thrown out of the synagogue. When he was blind he was welcome, but now that he can see, he is not. How can that be? They called the man who healed him a sinner. But how could he be, if he healed a man born blind? Could they be the real blind ones? Not able to see who is standing right before their eyes?

Now realize, the blind man hadn’t yet seen Jesus. For Jesus had anointed his eyes with mud and told him to go and wash. . . . And when he came back to the crowd, the throng of people, who had done it? He didn’t know. But then he heard the voice. The voice that had spoken to him. The voice of the one who had healed him. Living so long without his eyes had made his sense of hearing very good. 

Do you believe in the Son of Man? Jesus asked him. He wanted to. Who is he? he asked. You have seen him . . . now there’s a line the blind man never thought he would ever hear! You have seen him and it is he who is speaking to you, Jesus replied. And this man, who just a short time ago had never seen anything, now saw his Saviour. And he fell down and worshiped Him

Like the Samaritan woman last week, we don’t hear any more about this man. But I wonder if this man who was healed in Jerusalem, might also have been in Jerusalem a short time later . . . and saw Jesus again . . . this time, not standing before him, but now hanging before him. On a cross. They said He was a sinner, and now they got Him executed as one. And I wonder if he wished his eyes had never been healed . . . had never seen that.

But seeing that made the news that spread like wildfire through Jerusalem three days later that much sweeter. News that Jesus’ tomb was empty. Rumors that He was alive; that He had risen from the dead. St. Paul tells us in Corinthians that after Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time (1 Cor 15:6). How cool would it be if this blind man was one of them . . . Or maybe the blind man never did get to see Jesus alive again. Perhaps - ironically! - he remained one of those who, as Jesus told Thomas that night of His resurrection: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29).

But either way, blessed was He. And blessed are you. For his story really is your story. You were born blind spiritually, but Jesus anointed you and washed you in the waters of Holy Baptism and gave you eyes to see Him by faith, to know Him as your Saviour, and to worship Him. Or as Paul put it when he wrote to the Ephesians: at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.

Yet like this blind man, perhaps now that we can see, we don’t like what we see. The sin and evil in the world. The sin and evil in us. That how often we do not walk as the children of light we are, but still indulge in those things we hope never come to light, but we know God sees anyway. Things that are not good and right and true and pleasing to the Lord. And then see Jesus hanging on a cross, and know: I am the sinner, but He is executed as one.

At that moment (or those moments), what is good and right and true and pleasing to the Lord . . . is to do and say what you have come here today to do and say: to repent and once again receive the healing washing of your Saviour’s forgiveness; to repent and receive the gift of His Body and Blood. For here is Christ shining on you. Shining in your eyes, in your hearts, in your minds, and in your lives. As He did for the blind man, so He does here for you. Raising you from the death of sin to life - a new life - in Him. 

A new life you now get to live. Perhaps, like the blind man, you will be met with rejection and accusation. Maybe you will get thrown out of people’s lives for your faith. Maybe. Jesus said if it happened to Him it will happen to you. But this, then, too: if they couldn’t overcome Him, they will not be able to overcome you. For the risen one who raised you is with you still, no matter what happens. And that’s not just a rumor, but promise; the reality we now live in. The reality that because His grave is empty, He is with us and heaven is full. Full of the dead who are raised, the blind who can see, the deaf who can hear - full of sinners for whom Jesus hung to forgive, and rose to take with Him to Paradise, where there is no darkness or night, only light (Revelation 22:5).

So this blind man learned quite a lesson that day. But received an even greater gift. He learned a new way of thinking, and received a new way to live. He knew what he deserved, but rejoiced in what God had come to give Him. And that sometimes what seems like the absolute worst things to see are the best things that could happen. Talk about getting your life turned upside down! 

But this too: he learned the importance of asking the right questions. For the wrong question was: Lord, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? The right question is: Lord, who died, that this man and his parents may live? That I may live. That’s a new way of thinking. In the way of the Gospel, not the way of the Law. The way of Jesus. The way of forgiveness. The way of gift. The way of life. That we may see right, think right, believe right, and live right.

That’s what the blind man learned that day. The best news of all. That was he born in sin? Yes, as we all are. But it’s not how you start, it’s how you end. With eyes of faith to see the light. With eyes of faith to see your Jesus. 

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Lent 3 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

Where in the World Is God? Under Arrest”
Text: Acts 5:17-32; John 18:1-12

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

Where in the world is God? As we’ve been considering, it’s not where one might expect. It’s not in power and causing others to fear. It’s not in glory and victory. It’s not in those places we would think to look. He’s on a donkey, He’s in a garden, praying. And tonight, He’s under arrest.

Even saying that sounds funny, doesn’t it? As if we puny little creatures could place the God of the universe, the God who rules the universe and provides all that we need; the God of creation, the God who created us and without whom we would not be alive; the God who will come again to judge the living and the dead, to judge us - as if we could place Him under arrest. And how foolish! To place under arrest the One who cares for and provides for us. But that is exactly what happens. Jesus is bound with ropes and hauled off for trial.

Of course, it would not have happened, could not have happened, had He not allowed it to be so. How easy it would have been for Jesus to snap those puny ropes off His arms - like Samson when they tried to bind him. Only easier. How easy for the One who calmed the winds and waves with just His Word to cause all who came to take Him to fall to the ground, helpless. How easily He could have called twelve legions of angels to His defense (Matthew 26:53) - even one angel, actually, would have been more than enough. It is like a father playing with his child and allowing himself to be subdued. But this is no game. It is the father’s will. It is Jesus’ will. He will drink the cup His Father has given Him. He would lose His life so that not one of those His Father has given Him will be lost. Not one then, not one now.

And so Jesus freely allows Himself to be arrested - bound and hauled off for trial. For true freedom is not to act in fear, not to act for self, but to freely follow the Word and will of God. That is the freedom sin has robbed us of. Those who arrested Jesus that night were not the free ones - they were captives of their fears and bound by sin. And how often do we do the same? When not in freedom but in fear, in sin, in selfishness, we lash out at others, insist on our own way, and do whatever it takes to get what we want. Half truths, deceit, betrayal, force - and not just against others, but even against our good and gracious God? We are the ones bound, not free.

And so Jesus allows Himself to be bound with us. The Son of God freely enters our world of captivity and fear, of sin and death, in order to free us from those things. To set us truly free, as He created us to be.

And He has. And we see that He has, we see this freedom, in the apostles. Before Jesus’ resurrection, the apostles are scared and in bondage to their fears, hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews (John 20). But now they are fearless! They preach and then are imprisoned, but their fear is gone. They are released are immediately begin to preach again. And when they are confronted for this, they give the reason for their confidence and freedom. It is not because an angel got them out of jail! It is because the God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

So here’s the reason: not just that Jesus has been raised from the dead, but that He has also been exalted “as Leader and Savior” - the word “leader” there meaning the one who is the first, leading the beginning of many to follow; of many who He will save in the same way, as their Saviour. The Old Testament word often used is firstfruits. He is the first of the harvest that is still to come, the harvest He is leading.

For Jesus being raised from the dead isn’t necessarily good news for us. Good for Him, yes, but what does it mean for us? Peter and the apostles make it clear: As the one who has died and risen to life again, He now has the power over life and death. The Jewish council doesn’t. The high priest doesn’t. They can kill Peter and the rest, but they cannot take their life. For their life is safe and secure in Jesus’ resurrected hands. So they must obey God rather than men. Not because God demands it, but because that is where their life is. They will confess Jesus before the world until Jesus confesses them before His Father in heaven.

That’s true freedom! Many think freedom means I can do whatever I want. But when what you want to do is sin, that’s not freedom - that’s slavery to sin. And sin is what we are all born with. Sin that has corrupted us into something we were never meant to be. But the forgiveness of sins has set us free from that. The new life of Jesus, given to us in Baptism when we die and rise with Him, sets us free from that. We are no longer slaves of sin, to follow our urges and desires. We are free to overcome them and to obey God rather than men - even when that man is myself and what I think is best. 

That’s what Jesus did that night in the Garden. He freely allowed Himself to be arrested. He freely would lay down His life on the cross. No one could do that to Him. He did that. For you and me. To set us free. And so free we are, in Him. Not free to sin, but to rise above sin and follow in the way that leads to eternal life.

So where in the world is God? With us in our captivity, sin, and death, that we can live with Him in the freedom of His forgiveness and life. So when you are hard pressed, afraid, or even arrested, you are not alone. And you are not captive. Even in prison, your Saviour is with you. And you are free.

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lent 3 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Brides of Christ, the Greater Jacob”
Text: John 4:5-26 (Romans 5:1-8)

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

So a Pharisee, a Samaritan woman, a blind man, and a dead man walk not into a bar, but into Jesus. That’s our focus for this Lenten season. How these four very different people encountered Jesus and how He changed their lives. And how He changes our lives in the same way.

So last week we heard the Pharisee’s story. Nicodemus. And how being a Pharisee, Nicodemus had been schooled to think in a certain way: to think of the kingdom of God in terms of himself and what he did. And then we saw how Jesus turned that thinking completely upside down, and taught him that the kingdom of God is all grace, all gift, all Jesus.

Today we meet the Samaritan woman. She too had been schooled to think in a certain way. But her teachers weren’t schoolmasters or rabbis, but the Jews, her fellow Samaritans, and the people she rubbed elbows with everyday. And what she had been taught to think was this: You’re trash. You’re garbage. You’re not welcome with the respectable folks.

Now, why do I say that? Well, there are three reasons, three strikes, perhaps. First, she was a Samaritan. A native, as we heard, of Sychar, Samaria. The Jews considered the Samaritans as half-breeds; Jews who long ago had intermarried with those who were not Jews, and so now unclean and unworthy. People to be avoided. A good Jew wouldn’t even enter Samaritan airspace. If he had to get from Jerusalem to Galilee, since Samaria was in the middle he would purposefully go out of his way to head east, cross the Jordan, travel north on that side of the river, and then recross the Jordan into Galilee, once he got clear of Samaria. Now, you could argue that Samaritans could just ignore that steroetype imposed upon them by the Jews, but it still makes it mark. It is still demeaning. Its hard to hear that all your life and not believe it, at least somewhat. And so easy to think that you are worth less than others simply because of who you are. That’s strike one.

Strike two is the fact that this woman had five husbands, and the man she now has is not her husband. We’re not told why that happened; what the history there was. Was it her fault? Did she use up and spit out husbands? Or was it the fault of the men she had married? Had they taken advantage of her time and time again, and so now she was afraid to marry again? It really doesn’t matter, does it? She was used goods. Not marriage material. 

And then finally, we learn that not only were the men rejecting her, but so were the women of Sychar. For she goes out to the well about the sixth hour - or 12 Noon. That time when the sun is high in the sky and its hot out. That’s not the usual time for carrying heavy loads like water. For that you go early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when it’s not so hot, when the sun is just coming up or about to go down. That’s when all the other women would go to draw. So that tells us something. That she wasn’t welcome at those times. She had to go when no one else was there. Strike three. She was Samaritan trash. She was used up garbage. She was an outcast among outcasts.

You can imagine how lonely she was. And how she had been trained to think about herself. This was who she was. And there was no going back.

Do you know people like that? Perhaps have even felt that way yourself? An outcast. Not welcome. Taught to think that you’re not worth anything or that you’ll never amount to nuthin’? 

So now you can imagine how Jesus, like with Nicodemus, turned her life and thinking completely upside-down. Because He didn’t reject her. He didn’t just use her or want something from her. He wanted to give to her. And give to her He did. Living water. Water of forgiveness. Water of life. Water of hope. Water that would not run out or disappoint, but would give her what no one else or no thing else could. Water that would raise her from her life of living death to a real life and love. This is what Jesus wanted for her.

This Jesus who knew who she was and didn’t run away! That was the first clue something different was going on here. The second was that He obviously was a prophet. But the third was this: He claimed to be greater than their father Jacob, who had given them this very well so many years ago, and drank from it himself. This place was like a shrine. 

But I think you need to realize someting else about Jacob - a well was where, when he first came to that place, Jacob met his wife Rachel. That story would have been well known to the Samaritans who so revered Jacob and his well . . . and . . . and now, it was like it was now happening again, only greater! For this man who claimed to be greater than Jacob, and she who was no Rachel, who was no beautiful young maiden, but had been through so much. But He’s talking to her! And giving to her. And claims to be the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour. Her Saviour! 

And from that moment on, her thinking is changed. She isn’t trash, she isn’t garbage, she isn’t an outcast. She isn’t all that at all. Here was something none of those other six men could give her. Real love. Pure love. Life-changing love. And so excited is she that in the verses right after our reading today, she rushes back to town to tell everyone what just happened. To tell everyone about her Saviour.

That’s a good story. But it doesn’t end there, of course. For while we do not know anything else about this woman, we do know more about Jesus. That from that well He would eventually go to the cross. He would be thrown out onto the trash heap of Golgotha as an outcast Himself, just like her. And at the sixth hour, the same hour when the light of Jesus’ love shown upon that woman, is when the sun stopped shining that day, when Jesus was crucified. And then in a little while, Jesus Himself would say: I thirst. It’s almost like He took her place! Everything she was He became.

And that’s exactly right. That’s exactly what happened. And not just for her, but for you and me. Everything we are He became. Jesus became the sinner we are so that we become the son of God He is. 

Like with this woman, Jesus knows you. He knows everything about you. He knows all your sins, even the deepest and darkest and most shameful ones. But He wants you all the same. That’s why He came to earth, that why He came to the Samaritan well, and its why He comes here. For you. To give you His living water. Water of forgiveness. Water of life. Water of hope. And to lay down His life for you; to give His blood for you. Blood of forgiveness. Blood of life. Blood of hope. 

But this too: to make you His Bride. That just as Jacob met his bride by a well, and just as Jesus wanted that Samaritan woman to be His - not physical but spiritual - bride, so too He wants you to be His bride. The blood and water that flowed from His side on the cross washing you clean and giving you drink so that you never thirst again, but have within you a faith and love that wells up to eternal life. That as His bride, the Church, all that is yours become His, and all that is His become yours. He takes all your sin, all your unrighteousness, all your punishment and condemnation, and you get all His perfection, all His righteousness, all His forgiveness and life. A great exchange, Luther would call it. 

Imagine if that Samaritan woman had been there that day some time later and saw Jesus on the cross. We don’t know that she was, or that she was even welcome in Jerusalem. But imagine if she looked up and saw that man who loved her like no one else ever did, the love she had been looking for and yearning for all her life, now taken away from her. It was happening again! Just like it had all those times before, only this time worse. 

But then imagine the joy on the third day! When risen from the dead, Jesus can no longer die. His love never be taken away. His life and love eternal. And if all that is His is ours, then this is too - His resurrection. That what He has for us now is not just for now, but forever. 

So yes, this woman learned, this man really is greater than their father Jacob. His water greater, but also His love. For while Jacob’s bride Rachel was very beautiful, what did we hear from St. Paul today? That not for the beautiful and righteous and good people, but God showed his love for us in that while we were still ugly - while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Our Jacob came to make the sinner clean. To make the ugly beautiful. To make the outcast His bride.

That was life-changing to the Samaritan woman, and it is life-changing for us. I who speak to you am he, he said to her. And He is still speaking to us. Those same words of forgiveness and life. I baptize you, I forgive you, I give you My Body and Blood. He comes to us here at the high noon of our sin and sinfulness, and makes us His own. That just as this woman, you too learn: you are not trash, you are not garbage - you are a child of God. Dearly loved. Forgiven. Raised. 

And do you think that, then, will effect how we look at others as well? Both those the world honors and those the world would seek to throw away? Both those the world say are valuable and those the world thinks will never amount to nuthin’? Both those obviously trapped in sin and those who pretend not to be? How could it not? And we who have received such life from Jesus - His living water, His forgiveness, His love - how could we not give that now to others?

Our new and greater Jacob is here. That’s what that Samaritan woman learned that day. The best news of all. That when it comes to God, it’s not your beauty that makes the difference, but His love for the outcast, His forgiveness for the sinner, and His life for the dead. That God bestows on us His grace (LSB #824) to make us brides of Christ.

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Lent 2 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

Where in the World Is God? In a Garden, Praying”
Text: Genesis 18:16-33; Matthew 26:36-46

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

Where in the world is God? Last week, we saw Him on a donkey. Tonight, we see Him in a garden, praying. Jesus, the God-man, praying to His Father in heaven.

That’s what we do, when we’re in trouble, or when we’re troubled by something happening in our lives or in the world. We pray. God, don’t you see what’s happening? God, please do something about it. Maybe we even try to tell Him what to do.

And we do that because we know who God is. He is not just a ruler. He is not just a powerful force. He is not just the almighty. He is our Father. He is merciful and gracious. He is loving and working all things together for our good. He is a promise making God. A God who has promised to save us, and has done it. To such a God, then, a Father God, we can come with any request, any petition, any trouble, as the catechism says: as dear children ask their dear father. Because as a dear Father, He loves to hear from His children.

And so we heard the Father listening to Abraham’s prayer tonight. Abraham was concerned not for himself, but for his neighbors, including his nephew Lot and his family. God had determined to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sin. But what about the righteous people living in those cities? Abraham wondered. Would God destroy the righteous with the wicked? That’s not the God He knew. The God of Eden, the God of Noah, or the God who had promised him a son through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). A God who takes sin seriously, but is a God not of death but of life; a God who wants not condemnation but salvation.

So he prays. What if there are 50 righteous? Or 45 . . . 40 . . . 30 . . . 20 . . . 10? And through it all the Lord is not angry with Abraham for his prayer, but patiently teaching him. And Abraham learning, step by step, how gracious and merciful the Lord is. 

For God knew what He would do. He planned to rescue Lot and his family. And that through Lot He would give the men of Sodom one more chance to repent and change their ways. (Imagine if ten had repented, how different the story would have turned out!) And just as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah troubled Abraham, so it did not please God. For God desires not the death of any sinner, but that all would turn from their evil ways and live (Ezekiel 33:11). But for those who persist in their evil ways, their godless ways, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Which, in the end, is what we deserve too. But God knew what He would do. He planned to rescue us. And to do so, He didn’t send angels (as He sent to Lot [Genesis 19:1]), He sent His Son. That for the sake of one righteous man, the Son of God born a son of man, the world might be saved.

And so just like with Abraham, the night before that destruction was to take place, Jesus prayed. Just like Abraham, He was troubled. For the wrath against sin that was about to poured out was far greater than what was poured out on Sodom and Gomorrah. The wrath about to be poured out was for every Sodom and Gomorrah of all times and all places. A concentrated and consolidated wrath many, many times greater was about to poured out upon that one righteous man instead of upon all the wicked, that the wicked might live. Live in the forgiveness He was about to provide for them. For the sake of one, who would be Stricken, Smitten, and Afflcited (LSB #451).

Under that burden, then, Jesus prays. To His Father. What took place that night is shrouded in mystery to us. The Son pouring out His prayer to His Father. The Father hearing the sorrow and struggle of His Son. Yet both knowing what was going to happen the next day. This was the will of God. The will of the Father AND the will of the Son. So great the love of God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - for all people. There was no other way. Jesus’ prayer doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t want to do this. He did. From eternity. But it shows us the magnitude of what was about to take place. To magnitude of our sin, of God’s wrath against sin, and the sacrifice Jesus was about to make for you and me.

Maybe you’ve struggled in prayer like this. Or maybe you’ve been more like Peter and the two sons of Zebedee - James and John. Weak and unable to stay awake. Unable to pray as we ought. Unable to persevere. I’m sure they wanted to, just as I’m sure you want to. But as Jesus said, the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

So how good then to see this night that God is here and praying for us and praying with us. Praying for us when our prayers fail. Praying for us when our prayers are inadequate. Praying for us when we don’t know what to pray. Pulling us into His prayers to teach us how to pray. Carrying our burdens and sorrows, being strong when we are weak, and faithful when we are faithless. 

There is no trouble or trial, struggle or sorrow that you have that Jesus does not know. Yet while they are too much for us, they are not too much for Him. And so when we wonder Where in the world is God? when these things happen . . . the truth is that when these things happen, He is not far from us, but close to us. Helping us and praying for us. 

Three times Jesus went and prayed. And after the third time, it was time - time to be betrayed, time to be glorified, time to die. Time to be the righteous one to save the unrighteous. Which He did. When after three days, it was time - time to rise, time to be glorified, time to live. And because Jesus did, so will you. You made righteous by Him, by grace through faith. For now, the struggle continues. But the third day is coming. And Where in the world God is is with you in the struggle, that you be with Him in Paradise (Luke 23:43).

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lent 2 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“All Grace. All Gift. All Jesus.”
Text: John 3:1-17 (Genesis 12:1-9; Romans 4:1-8, 13-17)

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

It could be the start of a bad joke: a Pharisee, a Samaritan woman, a blind man, and a dead man walk into a bar . . .

But its not a joke. These are the four people we are going to meet this Lenten season, today and the next three Sundays. We’re going to hear their stories. Not of walking into a bar, but of walking into Jesus. We’re going to hear of their encounters with Him and how He changed their lives. And the first one, today, is the Pharisee. Nicodemus.

You just heard the story. How Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Perhaps he was afraid to come in the day; afraid of what his fellow Pharisees would think of him or say about him. They didn’t like Jesus very much, after all. But Nicodemus was curious, and maybe a bit confused. For his fellow Pharisees were saying that Jesus was a lawbreaker at best, and demon-possessed at worst, but Nicodemus saw the signs that Jesus was doing and knew: no one could be doing these signs unless God was with him. So he comes to Jesus at night, looking for some light. 

But the conversation doesn’t get very far. Instead of clarity, Nicodemus just gets more confused. It’s like they’re using the same words but speaking different languages. You’ve been in conversations like that. You say one thing, but the person you’re talking to hears it in a very different way, with a very different meaning. That can be quite frustrating, as it was here, I think, for Nicodemus.

For Nicodemus, as a Pharisee, had been trained to think in a certain way: to think of the kingdom of God in terms of himself and what he did. Good works. Keeping the Law. Zealousness for always doing the right thing. Sabbath observance. Tithing. Washing. And because of this, the people looked up to the Pharisees. They were serious, they were godly, they were holy.

So what Jesus says doesn’t compute with him. He understands the words, but whatever Jesus says, Nicodemus hears as something that he must do. So: unless one is born again, Jesus says. And Nicodemus wonders: How can I do that? How can I do that?

But Jesus is not trying to teach Nicodemus what to do. Jesus is speaking grace and gift. Jesus is speaking of birth, which (as you mothers out there well know) the baby really has nothing to do with! He is just pushed out into the world. The mother does all the work. And the baby, once out, just opens her eyes and begins to see. No more darkness. She sees her mother. She sees a whole new world. 

That’s what the kingdom of God is like, Jesus says. But gift language spoken to a Law mind confuses Nicodemus. How can these things be? he asks. Did he ask that defiantly, or despairingly? Mocking, or imploring? To argue, or on the verge of tears? For if what Jesus said was right . . . Jesus, who did signs no one could do unless God was with him . . . and Nicodemus couldn’t do what He said . . . what did that mean for him? Could Nicodemus see the kingdom of God? Could Nicodemus be saved? He didn’t know. He really didn’t know . . .

Jesus knew this was a new way of thinking for him, as it is for us. We’re used to thinking in earthly terms, worldly ways. Earning what you get and getting what you deserve. But heavenly thinking is quite different than that; this heavenly testimony that Jesus has come to bring. Not to confuse us, but to correct us. And as usual, what works better to do that is not just words, but pictures. Images. And so Jesus gives him an image of this: as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life

As a Pharisee, Nicodemus knew that story well. In fact, he had probably first heard it as a child growing up, in Sunday School. How the people of Israel were being bitten by poisonous snakes in the wilderness, and were in great danger and desperation. So God told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole, with the promise that whenever anyone had been bitten but then looked at the bronze snake, he would not die but live. It was a great story. Was Jesus saying it was going to happen again?

Well, we don’t hear anymore from Nicodemus that night. I wonder if he lay awake in bed later that night, all these thoughts running again and again through his mind, robbing him of sleep. Trying to make sense of it all . . .

Until, one day, the light he was seeking that night finally came. When like that newborn baby, he opened his eyes and began to see. And what did he see? He saw what Jesus had told him about: the Son of Man lifted up on the cross

We know Nicodemus was there, when Jesus was crucified. John tells us that he helped Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus down after he died and put him in the tomb. But how long had he been there? What did he see? What did he think? I wonder if, looking up at Jesus, those words Jesus had spoken went racing through his mind again . . . How had God saved Israel? What was God doing now? And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him

It was almost like Jesus had planted those words there, in the womb of his mind, and now they had given birth. Nicodemus opened his eyes and could see for the very first time. That’s what the kingdom of God is all about! God coming to us, not we to God. God saving us, not telling us what to do. God taking the poison of our sin, so that we could be saved. That whoever believes in him should not perish in the wilderness of this world and its sin, but have life. Eternal life.

What Moses had done did happen again! Or, maybe better to say, what Moses had done was a picture, a foreshadowing, an image of the even greater work God was going to do later. The Exodus was great, but this exodus, led by Jesus, was even greater. 

If that’s what Nicodemus saw, Nicodemus had indeed been born again. But he hadn’t done it. Jesus had done it.

And Jesus has done it for you. You who have been born of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. Jesus has planted His Word and Spirit into you to give you the eyes of faith to see. To see Jesus on the cross for you. To see your salvation. To see that it is not you who do the kingdom of God - the kingdom of God comes to you. It is not your work but His work. It is not your activity but His activity. You are passive. You are born. And then you live. You live the life you have been given. Life as a child of God.

But what if we don’t? What if we don’t live that life very well? What if we sin? 

Well you know what? Not if . . . You will mess that life up. You will sin. Maybe spectacularly. We heard of Abraham in the first two readings today, and how the kingdom of God came to him as grace, as a gift. Not through works but through God’s promise. Through Abraham being born again. And Abraham messed it up. He was afraid of the local kings and instead of trusting God and His promises, told Sarah to say she was his sister instead of his wife - and he did this not once, but twice! Later he got tired of waiting for God to fulfill His promise and decided to take matters into his own hands, and had a son with a maidservant instead of with his wife, Sarah.

So the kingdom of God coming to you and you being born again doesn’t mean the end of sinning - it means the beginning of your forgiveness. Of the forgiveness Jesus won for you on the cross given to you by faith alone. Not faith plus what you do, but by faith alone. That whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life

I like to think that’s what happened to Nicodemus, though we’re not told definitively. And I think it interesting that just as Nicodemus had come to Jesus that first time at night, so when he saw the Son of Man lifted up on the cross, it was dark then, too. Not because it was night time, but because, we are told, the sun had stopped shining. But there, in that darkness (I like to think), Nicodemus saw the light he had been looking for all along.

And I don’t think Nicodemus stopped doing what he had been doing before - his tithing and Sabbath observance and good works. He just did them in a new way, with a new freedom. Not to earn the kingdom of God, as an outsider trying to get in - but as a citizen of the kingdom; a son of God - an insider now able to bless others.

So you too. You citizens of the kingdom, born again into the kingdom by water and the Spirit, sons and daughters of God, you now live a new life with a new freedom, seeing and thinking in a new way. For the Son of Man was lifted up on the cross for you. To cure you of the poison of your sin with His forgiveness, and to feed you with the fruit from His tree - His very body and blood. That as a newborn child is fed by its mother, so you, too, be fed by the one who has given you new birth - your God and Saviour. That you look to Him for your life and for all that you need.

For the Son of Man was lifted up to throw the serpent down. Jesus was lifted up to lift you up. To lift you up from death to life. From relying on what you do (which leads only to death) to relying on what He did (which leads to life). That you be born again. 

That’s what Nicodemus learned. The best news of all. That when it comes to the kingdom of God . . . it’s all grace. All gift. All Jesus.

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