Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Lent 3 (March 20-25, 2017)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Psalm 142:5 - “I cry to you, O Lord . . . “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #545 “Word of God, Come Down on Earth”
Hymns for Wednesday: 888, 451, 718
Hymns for Sunday: 914, 545, 637, 687, 666, 527

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Tuesday-Wednesday are the Scriptures for Wednesday’s Lenten Vespers. The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Psalm 142
What is David’s complaint? What is his confidence?

Tuesday:  Acts 5:17-32
How did God provide for the preaching of His Word? What gave the apostles confidence to preach?

Wednesday:  John 18:1-12
How did Jesus show His power? Who was in control of everything that was happening? What does this mean?

Thursday:  Isaiah 42:14-21
Why does Israel (and we!) need to hear Law like this? What does God want us to do? Why?

Friday:  Ephesians 5:8-14
Why is light good? How is God’s Word the light we need?

Saturday:  John 9:1-41
What was the real gift Jesus gave the blind man? How does Jesus also give you this gift?

The Catechism: Daily Prayers: Returning Thanks (after meals) – Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever. He gives food to every creature. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call. His pleasure is not in the strength of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love. We thank You, Lord God, heavenly Father, for all Your benefits, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ all people to be good and faithful stewards of creation and all that God has given to us.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s keyboardists and choir.
+ the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for the Lutheran Heritage Foundation.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

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.

Lent 1 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

Where in the World Is God? On a Donkey”
Text: Numbers 22:21-35; Matthew 21:1-11

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? That’s the theme for our midweek meditations this year. Where in the world is God? Who among us hasn’t wondered that when we see the things happening in our world - the sin, the destruction, the hate, the division, the persecution, the evil, the death - all this that causes us to wonder: Where in the world is God? Why isn’t God doing something about all this? Or maybe its because of something much smaller than all that; something that’s happening to you. Difficulties that won’t go away. Pains that endure. Questions and doubts that nag. Sin that seems so powerful. Where in the world is God? Where is God when you need Him?

This Lenten season, we’re going to go through the story of our Lord’s Passion, the story of Jesus’ last week of life on earth before His crucifixion, and see where God is - where God is for you. And that while these may be unusual and unexpected places, they are where you need Him to be. And that these show that He is with you when you find yourself in just such places.

So tonight, we begin with how that last week of Jesus’ pre-crucified life begins, with His entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Where is God? He is seated on a donkey.

That might seem unspectacular to us, and it is. And that’s the point. When God comes to us, He doesn’t come separate from us, but as one of us. Jesus is born in a manger, not a palace. He lives in Nazareth, not Rome. He spends His time with the common folk, not the intelligentsia. And when He arrives in Jerusalem, it is not on a swift and powerful horse, not in a strong and safe chariot, but on a donkey. A humble beast of burden, as the prophet Zechariah said. And all this is exactly where He wants to be. Because this is where we are.

But there’s something else about donkeys too - they are not known for being very smart. But maybe that’s not fair. After all, we heard about one very smart little donkey tonight, the one that was carrying a man named Balaam. The king of Moab had summoned him to pronouce a curse from God upon the people of Israel who were traveling to the Promised Land. But God was not going to permit that. 

So as we heard, God sent the angel of the Lord to block the way and to slay the one who would curse His people. Balaam didn’t know it. Balaam couldn’t see the angel of the Lord. But the donkey could. And the donkey, his faithful donkey, served Balaam, even though he beat her for doing so. It was the donkey who was the smart one; Balaam was the one who was not very smart. Balaam wasn’t even taken aback when the donkey started talking to him! He just talked right back.

The donkey Jesus was riding didn’t turn back, though she too was carrying her cargo to his death. Jesus riding into Jerusalem not to curse God’s people, but to take their curse. To have the sword of God’s justice against the sin of all the world slay Him on the cross, so that we might have life. What an honor, then, for this donkey, a beast of burden, to be carrying God’s beast of burden - the Lamb of God, who would bear the sin of the world. Who Himself would carry the sin of the world to the cross and be crushed for it.

And so the donkey plods on. Up to Jerusalem. Up through the throngs of people. But I wonder if it, like Balaam’s donkey, saw what the crowds could not see. If the donkey could see the angels of God who were certainly there. And I wonder what the donkey would have said, if she had been given the chance.

But the words that would be heard were not from the donkey this time, but from Jesus, the Word of God, Himself. The words that He would speak from the cross. Words of forgiveness and life. Words of grace and mercy. Words that fill us with faith and hope. That there is hope for us. Hope for us in this faithful one, our faithful Saviour, who would not stop until He laid down his life for you and me. 

And so there is hope for you. Whatever situation you are in, wherever you are. God is not far from you, but with you, as close as His Word and Sacrament. He will seem far away, maybe even absent, if you are looking for Him in power, in glory, and in greatness; if you are looking for Him as a swift and powerful conqueror. He will come that way on the Last Day, but until then, like on a donkey. In the common water of baptism. In the simple words of absolution. And in the plain bread and wine of the Supper. 

But just as a humble donkey is not a humble donkey when the King of Creation is riding on her back, so these things are not so common, simple, or plain when our Saviour is coming to us in them. Coming to us in them with His forgiveness, life, and salvation. Then, like a talking donkey, they are quite extraordinary, though we may not realize it. They are God coming to save us. To save us from sin, death, and the devil. To save us from ourselves. To save us, so that we get to our destination - our heavenly destination - safely.

So where in the world is God? Exactly where He promised to be, and doing exactly what He promised to do. For, after all, He didn’t come to give us heaven on earth, but to take us to heaven from earth. Or as the catechism puts it: To take us from this valley of sorrows to Himself in heaven (Seventh Petition). And He will. Even if, like Balaam, we might not be able to see it right now.

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

Monday, March 6, 2017

Lent 1 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Comfortable with Sin?”
Text: Matthew 4:1-11; Romans 5:12-19; Genesis 3:1-21

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

It’s okay. No problem. Don’t worry about it. That is what we often say to those who sin against us. It has become a way of saying I forgive you. That I will not hold the sin against you. That it will not divide us any further. 

But perhaps we are belittling sin with those words. Perhaps those words have become so common these days because we’ve gotten so used to the reality of sin and its division and hurt that we cannot see its seriousness anymore. We take the reality of sin - both in the world and in our lives - for granted.

And so we begin this Lenten season - and every Lenten season - by taking another look at sin; by reconsidering its seriousness; and to stop taking it for granted in our lives. To stop assuming that this is just the way things are and will always be. Oh well. 

For God does not think thus about sin. He would set us free from sin. He doesn’t want us to get comfortable with sin - with our own sin or the sins of others - but to be uncomfortable with them. To want things to be different. To want ourselves to be different. To want to stop the sinning and our resignation to it, and begin to live in a new way, with a new life.

Adam and Eve were the first to begin to live in a new way and with a new life - though it was not a better way and life. They went from life to death, from perfection to sin. The change was noticable and severe. And they would not get used to it. I’m sure they would always remember the way things used to be, before they were so stupid, and long every day to have it back that way. But there was no going back.

For God had said: The day you eat of that one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will surely die (Genesis 2:17). One rule, God had given them. One Law. One little thing. And they couldn’t even do that. And from the moment their teeth sank into that fruit, they began to live on death row. As we heard, there would be strife in the world. There would be strife between them. Childbearing would still be joyful but now also painful. Adam’s pleasing work would now be toil. And one day they would return to the dust of the ground from which they came. Or, as we considered Wednesday night, Ash Wednesday, the process of turning them back to dust had already begun.

And then, when their children started killing each other, they found out how destructive sin was. It wasn’t okay. It was a problem. They should worry about it.

So have you grown comfortable with sin?

To think about that, let’s consider the temptation of Jesus that we heard about today. We’re told about three temptations in particular, though there may have been more. But let’s hold these temptations up to our own lives and see how we do . . . Actually, today, I want to hold up Jesus’ responses to the temptations, hold them up to our lives, and see how we do . . . Maybe they will help us see all this in a slightly different way.

So first, satan suggests that Jesus turn stones into bread. A reasonable suggestion, we might say, for someone who has been fasting for 40 days and 40 nights. And to us who have grown used to the reality of sin, not a very big deal. 

But how does Jesus respond? It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ When is the last time you hungered for God’s Word like you hunger for your breakfast, lunch, or dinner? When was the last time you even thought God’s Word was as important as those meals? When was the last time you “ate” God’s Word three times in a day? (Three times!? How often do we fail to eat even once?) And have you ever thought that without God’s Word you could not live? That you would die? And that every word of God is important? 

It’s not okay, is it? It is a problem, isn’t it? We should worry about it, shouldn’t we?

The next temptation is for Jesus to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the Temple. Don’t live in weakness and lowliness. Show the world the power and love of God for you when His angels come swooping in to save you. 

But how does Jesus respond? Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ When is the last time you did just that - put God to the test? Not wanting what He has given you and so testing Him to show His love for you by giving you something better? Not satisfied with weakness or lowliness but wanting power? Wanting something more glorious? Wanting God to act how we think He should or we want Him to, rather than believing and trusting that all things are already working for our good?

It’s not okay, is it? It is a problem, isn’t it? We should worry about it, shouldn’t we?

And then there is the third temptation, which doesn’t really, honestly, make a whole lot of sense to us - satan asking Jesus to fall down and worship him. For who would do that? But again, Jesus’ answer helps us understand . . . that we do. ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ 

But do you worship and serve other gods? Think of it this way: think of your heart as a Temple. Who’s on the altar in there? Who or what do you make sacrifices for? Who or what do you give things up for? God, certainly! But He’s not the only one, is He? And while we do serve God by serving others and sacrificing for others that He has given to us, serving them in our callings, in our vocations - and that’s good and right - we do get it wrong too, don’t we? Lowering God and raising other people, other things, other wants, other desires. Being less concerned with God and what He thinks of us than what others think of us. Wanting others (including ourselves) to be pleased more than for God to be pleased. 

And that’s not okay, is it? It is a problem, isn’t it? We should worry about that, shouldn’t we? Jesus’ responses to these temptations show that perhaps He sees something in these that we do not see. That maybe we’ve gotten too comfortable with the way things are . . .

So this Lenten season calls to us to repent. To get uncomfortable with life here and now and the sin in us and in the world, and look to Jesus for something else. A life maybe not easier, but better. A life where sin doesn’t rule so much. A new life that reverses the way that Adam and Eve went, and goes from death to life, from sin to righteousness.

On our own, we do not know such a life. On our own, we follow Adam and Eve down the path of sin and death. And get used to it. Make the best of it. Think nothing of it. 

But then Jesus came along. And into this “it’s okay, no problem, don’t worry about it” world, we see something else, someone different, better, not the same old, same old, but someone who lives and breathes freedom and forgiveness. And so He sticks out like a sore thumb. He doesn’t fall for the temptations of satan, like Adam, like Eve, like you and me. He doesn’t see things as we do. He isn’t comfortable with sin and the way things are. He fights. But not against you, as satan wants you to think. But for you. That you may have the better, the new, the different.

But here’s the thing: He can’t give that to you through miracles. He can’t give that to you through a show of power. He can’t give that to you with a new worship and service. There’s only one way: you have to die and rise. Old sinner you, old comfortable-with-sin you, old it’s okay-no problem-don’t worry about it you, has to die, and a new man be raised to a new life.

But here’s the next thing: while you can die, you can’t raise yourself. You can pummel yourself, discipline yourself, and kill yourself by working yourself to the bone to try to beat your sin, and maybe you’ll even get somewhere with that. But you can’t rise to that new life, that different life, that holy and sinless life that is better. All you can do is kill the old.

So Jesus came to raise you to that life. So to do so, He enters your life, your sin, your death, He joins you and all that you are to Himself, so that when He rises from the dead, you rise with Him. You rise to that new life, that different life, that better life, with Him. That as Paul said in the Epistle today: that just as in Adam all die, so in Christ Jesus all might be made alive. In Adam we sin; in Christ we are made righteous. One man got us into this mess, and one man gets us out.

And so by faith you are joined to Christ Jesus. What’s yours is His and what’s His is yours. You are baptized into His death and resurrection. He forgives you all your sins. You eat His resurrected Body and drink His resurrected Blood, that your body and blood be resurrected, too. With a resurrection that will happen fully and finally on the Last Day, but has begun already now. For just as your turning to dust isn’t just the day you die but has begun already now, so your new life isn’t just on the day you rise, but has begun already now. As Christ lives in you and you in Him.

And so you are different. Not the same. Not the same old, same old sinner, comfortable with the way things are. That’s not who you are anymore. That’s who your old sinner and his ally, satan, want you to be - but that’s not who you really and truly are anymore. You have a new master, a new Lord - a better one - for a new you, righteous you, child of God you. Not satisfied you, but looking to Jesus you, to receive His gifts you, and to live for Him you. That’s who you are. That’s the new life He has given you.

For Jesus fought for you, and won. He fought for you in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. He fought for you on the cross. And He is still fighting for you and sending His angels to swoop in and minister to you. The battle goes on, and we fight, but knowing that the outcome is not in doubt. Our Saviour has risen victorious, and so will you.

So no need to make yourself uncomfortable with hairshirts, deprivation, and all those things people in the past have tried to use to overcome their sin. You already have someone who has done that for you. Instead, be uncomfortable and unsatisfied with your sin by looking to Him and the more He has for you. And receive that more often - His Word, His forgiveness, His Body and Blood, which give you so much more than just it’s okay, no problem, don’t worry about it. But give you His life, and give you His victory. And with them, you have all you need. With them, you are made new. With them, you rise. And with them, you are indeed, as we prayed, walking through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come (Collect of the Day).

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