Thursday, February 29, 2024

Sermon for Lent 2 Midweek Vespers


Jesu Juva

“40 for Life - Moses: God’s Presence for Life”

Text: Exodus 24:9-18; John 6:66-69


In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

40 days and 40 nights. For 40 days and 40 nights Moses was on Mount Sinai. For 40 days and 40 nights the presence of the Lord and the glory of the Lord appeared like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain. For 40 days and 40 nights Moses was in the presence of God, in the cloud, listening. God had much to say.

Like with the flood, this was no small thing! The people of Israel were terrified at the sights and sounds they saw. The presence of God among them was at the same time both awe-inspiringly wonderful and frightening. And into His presence God called Moses. For 40 days and 40 nights. So long that after a while, the people assumed Moses was dead and wasn’t coming back. So they made plans to go on without him, and with gods of their own making.

Again, like with the flood, God could have chosen to do this whole thing more quickly. It surely didn’t have to be 40 days and 40 nights. But 40 days and 40 nights He chose, because this, too, was a significant event - to journey from death to life. 

Israel was on a journey at this time, from their slavery in Egypt, from which they were now free, to the Promised Land. But there was a journey even more significant than that: not from slavery to freedom, but from death to life. And the only way to life, true life, real and eternal life, is the presence of God and Word of God. Israel’s golden calf and their own words about it couldn’t do it. In fact, that robbed them of life. Only God and His Word give life. 

So I could have titled tonight’s service: God’s Word for Life instead of God’s Presence for Life, but it’s really the same thing. Where God is, there is His Word; and where His Word is, there is He. He comes to us through His Word, and most notably, His Word made flesh. The flesh and blood of Jesus.

So in our 40 days of this Lententide, what brings us life is the Word of God. What brings us life is not what we give to God or give up for God, but the Word God gives to us. That’s why the first of the Lenten disciplines is prayer. Prayer that doesn’t start with us, but starts with the Word of God. We learn to speak to God by God speaking to us. We hear, then we speak. Israel’s mistake at Mount Sinai, when they made that golden calf, was that they did and spoke before first listening to God speak and do. They decided what to do. They decided how they wanted to worship. They decided what was good for them. And it turned out not very good at all! What was in their heart and what came out of their heart was idolatry. Life-destroying idolatry. No Word of God, no presence of God, no life of God.

The Word of God is what Moses went up on Mount Sinai to hear and bring to the people. What is sometimes forgotten, though, is all that Moses heard. It wasn’t just the Ten Commandments. God didn’t need 40 days and 40 nights to speak them, or even 40 minutes - closer would be 40 seconds! Yes, God spoke the Ten Commandments to Moses. Yes, this is how my people live. Yes, this is to be the way of their life. But for Israel, as for us, this is a condemning Word of God. For we do not live this way. We don’t fear, love, and trust in God above all things. ALL things. We do not use His Name as we should. We do not treasure His Word as we should. We do not love our neighbor as ourselves. I do for me, and if I have time (and usually if there’s something in it for me!), then I’ll do for you. The Law of God shows me how sinful I am. 

But God spoke more than that on Mount Sinai. Much more. Not only Law, but also Gospel. God gave Moses the instructions for the Tabernacle, the priesthood, and the sacrifices. For God wants to dwell with His people, in love. Not just lead them through the wilderness in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, but be with them to bless them, and forgive them. But when God came down in His glory on Mount Sinai, the people couldn’t handle it. They were terrified. So God would dwell with His people in a different way, a way that would not terrify them, a way where He could still speak forgiveness and life to them. The Tabernacle. The construction, the service of the priests, the sacrifices - it wasn’t easy. But it would be good. And for the good of His people.

So God spoke both Law and Gospel to Moses. Words of life. The Word of Law, that we turn away from our life-stealing sin, and then the Word of Gospel, so that we turn to the One who can give us life, and receive that life from Him. 

And so it is today, for us. For us who are also on a journey from death to life. If left to ourselves, without the Word of God, we would be like the people of Israel, because what’s in our hearts and comes out of our hearts is idolatry. The Law of God exposes that, and that should terrify us. He has told us the way of life and we have chosen the way of death. 

But the Word of God Tabernacled among us. The Word of God became flesh. The Word of God brought life into our world. Healing the sick, restoring the afflicted, casting out demons, forgiving the sinner. He called people into His presence and welcomed them, to bless them. And even when the people built not a golden calf but a wooden cross and sacrificed Him on it, Jesus gave life. He spoke. Words of life. Words that gave life. Father, forgive them. Today, you will be with Me in Paradise. And when swallowed up by death, He then swallowed up death! Forever. Completing the journey from death to life in His resurrection and ascension. Life that He gives and is still giving, and wants to give, to all people.

And so Jesus calls us into His presence here, where He has promised to be for us today, to hear Him speak His life-giving Word to us. Some, sadly, don’t want to hear it. They want to speak, not listen. They think they know the way of life, but it is not life at the end of that road. So as we heard, some turned back and no longer walked with him

But Jesus then asked His disciples, and the question is for us today, too: Do you want to go away as well? And Peter answered: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. You have the words that not just speak of eternal life, but give eternal life. Here He speaks and here we are healed, here we are restored, here we are cleansed, here we are forgiven, here we are blessed. Until we complete the journey from death to life. When we who received and lived in Jesus and His Word and died with Him, then rise with Him to life. 

He speaks, and we hear. He speaks, and is present for us. He speaks, and we have life. The presence of God for life. That’s what these 40 days of Lent are all about.

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

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent


Jesu Juva

“The Lot, not the Little”

Text: Mark 8:27-38; Romans 5:1-11


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

Who do people say that I am?

But who do you say that I am?

I think that is usually the contrast that catches the attention of most people from the Holy Gospel we heard this morning. The difference between what the crowds are saying about Jesus and what the disciples are confessing about Jesus. The crowds clearly hold Jesus in high regard. John the Baptist and Elijah are pretty good company! He’s a prophet, a man of God who speaks the Word of God. And no small one at that. But the disciples know Jesus is even more than that. He is the Christ. The Saviour promised to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to Moses, Joshua, and Samuel, to David and Solomon, and more. Jesus is the very Son of God in human flesh. In a category all His own. 

I think that is usually the contrast that catches our attention because it is still the case in our day and age. People think different things about Jesus. And while we, following in the footsteps of Peter and the other disciples, confess Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16), many today do not. Prophet, good man, teacher, charlatan, are some of the answers today.

But I wonder if that’s really the right contrast for us to consider today, and especially in this season of Lent - this season of self-examination and repentance. Perhaps better for us to think about today is a different contrast we heard: the contrast between the two statements of Peter, when Peter first confessed Jesus to be the Christ, but then denied that Jesus would go to the cross. That might be a better place for us to look today, and instead of patting ourselves on the back for not being like the world and giving their answers, consider how we might be like Peter. One moment confessing and the next denying. Wanting a cross-less Christ.

Jesus was pretty tough on Peter for that! Calling him satan and wrong-headed for what he said. But strong love demands strong words. And this was no small objection Peter raised, but one that cut right to the heart of what it means for Jesus to be the Christ. For no cross, no Christ. No cross, no Saviour. No cross, only hell in your future. So the cross is not just something Jesus could do or not do; it is bound up with who He is. For without the cross, Jesus is reduced to what the crowds thought of Him; He is just another prophet, great as that may be. The cross is what separates Jesus from all others. He is not just the greatest prophet or the mightiest prophet, but the dying and rising prophet. This is what must happen, Jesus says. And that’s a strong word: must. It means there is no other way, no other alternative. It has to be this way. For Jesus to be the Christ, for Jesus to save us, He must be killed. So Peter’s rebuke needs to be rebuked. Strongly.

And then Jesus doubles down. Just as there is no cross-less Christ, so there are no cross-less Christians. Anyone who would come after Jesus, be a disciple of Jesus or a follower of Jesus, for you, too, there is a cross. For whoever would save his life (by being cross-less) will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it

Now, what does that mean? Some think that to take up your cross means that you will suffer. And maybe you will. There’s a lot of suffering in our world - for Christians and non-Christians alike. So suffering doesn’t separate us from others, though maybe the reason for suffering does. Maybe you will suffer exactly because you confess Jesus as your Saviour, and the only Saviour of the world. Maybe that suffering will be mild, like ridicule, or being made fun of. Maybe it will be a little more intense, like losing your job or being sued. Or maybe it will be as a martyr, actually losing your life because of your faith. That has happened in every century, and isn’t going to stop. 

That’s closer to the meaning of the cross than just suffering. Because if you were carrying a cross in Jesus’ day, when Jesus spoke those words, that meant only one thing: that cross you were carrying was soon going to be carrying you! You were soon going to be dead. That’s what crosses were for. Pain, yes. Suffering, yes. But death, finally.

So . . . Jesus wants you to die? I thought Jesus came to suffer so we wouldn’t have to! That Jesus came to die so we wouldn’t have to! Right? 

Do you see? That’s the trap Peter was falling into. He wanted a cross-less Christ and we want to be cross-less Christians. Now, that needs unpacking. Because Jesus on the cross, we get. Unlike Peter when Jesus spoke those words, we know that part. Check. We won’t be rebuking Jesus for that. But do we rebuke . . . or complain or grumble . . . at God when things don’t go right in our own lives? When there are crosses we have to bear? Rare, indeed, is the Christian who has never done that. So rare, I would say, that they do not exist.

So yes, Jesus wants you to die. In order to save you. But again, what does that mean? Well, Jesus helps us out as He goes on to explain, contrasting our life in this world (which doesn’t last) with the life of eternity, saying: what does it profit a man to gain the whole world (have everything you want here and now) and forfeit his life (his eternal life)? Of course, that sounds silly. Who would take a little bit of life when you could have a lot? Who would take only one dollar if you were offered millions? But is that exactly what we do? When we live for this life, and the things of this world, and forget or neglect the things that give eternal life? When what I want comes before what God wants? When what makes me happy becomes the measure of all things? When my wisdom and thinking take the place of God’s Word as the guide to my life? Rare, indeed, is the Christian who could deny that . . .

To do those things puts us in a dangerous place, turning away from God and His Word and setting our hearts on a person, thing, accomplishment, or status in this world. A person, thing, accomplishment, or status that will not last, that cannot last, just as we are dust, and to dust we shall return

We need a loving God to rebuke us for that, for not just wanting to be but trying to be cross-less Christians. We need to be rebuked like Peter, so that we will repent and turn back to Jesus and His Word and His ways. 

So to that end, our loving God gives us crosses to bear. Crosses not just to make us suffer, but to kill that old, sinful, selfish, rebellious, foolish man or woman in us that grabs for the little instead of the lot. The cross is to kill that old man in me so that a new man can arise and live. A Jesus man. With eyes fixed on Jesus and on the lot, on the eternal, on that life not even death can end. And such crosses are not few, but in every vocation, every calling in life you have. The husband laying down his life for his bride. I don’t want to do that! I want what I want! But I am called to give up my selfishness, to kill it, for my wife, to put her before me. Or the child obeying her parents. She doesn’t want to do that! She wants to be free and do what she wants! But her parents are there for her good. So that rebellion needs to be crucified and slain, for her good. Maybe your co-worker or classmate or brother or sister drives you crazy and you want to lash out at them - don’t. Love your neighbor. And I could go, and maybe you have your own ideas and examples of crosses bouncing around in your mind. 

And what makes this so hard is that those people we are called to love and serve are sinners! Husbands, wives, parents, children, family - they’re sinners! They’re wrong! They sin against me! So I need to do what I need to do! How else am I going to get what’s I deserve? How else am I going to get ahead? How else am I going to . . . save . . . my life? Oh. 

Here’s the good news: you already have someone who saved your life! Jesus. You don’t need to. And He promised to provide all you need. He didn’t promise it would be easy, but He did promise to provide. And what Jesus provides is never a little, but always the whole lot. So why turn away from that to save a little now? A little pleasure, a little pride, a little satisfaction, a little life? Is it really worth it?

And here’s more good news: you not only have someone who already saved your life, but saved your life while you were the sinner - the one who didn’t deserve it. For, Saint Paul said, as we heard earlier, maybe someone would lay down their life for a righteous person or a good person. Like, if my husband, if my wife, if my brother or sister was perfect (or, at least, not so much of a sinner!), they’d be so much easier to love! I’d be willing to sacrifice then, right? But, Paul says, God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That means while we were enemies of God, Paul goes on to say. Christ died to make enemies, friends; to make strangers, family; to make sinners, saints. 

That’s what Jesus - the Christ of the cross - has done for you. He took up His cross to save you, Peter, and to save you, O Christian. And when you were baptized, that’s the new life you received as you were joined to Jesus in His death and resurrection. Slaying the old sinner and raising up a new man or woman, a Christ-man or woman. In baptism, Jesus made you friend, family, saint. Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit in you (just like Peter!), and you renounced the devil and all his works and all his ways, confessing Jesus to be the Christ. But as we continue to sin, that needs to continue. Each day. As Christians of the cross. Each day repenting. Each day putting that old man or woman back on the cross. Each day rising in forgiveness and living a new life. Setting our minds on the things of God, not the things of man, of this world. Setting our minds on the lot (of eternity), not the little (of this world).

And this Supper here helps us do that as well. Lift up your hearts! we are told. We sing with the angels and archangels and all the company not just of earth but of heaven. We eat and drink the Body and Blood of the Lamb of God. Your sins are forgiven. You are friend, family, saint. So what looks so little is really the lot. Here is the Body and Blood of the cross, to enable you to bear your cross as well. That losing your life you gain your life, the life of Christ.

A cross-less Christ can’t do that. A cross-less Christian won’t do that. But with the cross, there is life. What a sentence that is! With the cross, an object of death, there is life! Because of Jesus. Who transformed it. Who by His death destroyed death, and by His glorious resurrection, opened the kingdom of heaven to us. 

So who do you say Jesus is? It’s an important question. He is the Christ. He is the crucified. He is, as John says, the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). He is the lot. So don’t let satan get you to settle for less.

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

Friday, February 23, 2024

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Lent 2 (February 26 - March 2, 2024)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Psalm 19:9b-10a – ”The just decrees of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #824 “May God Bestow on Us His Grace”

Hymns for Sunday: 523, 824, 637, 581, 431, 707

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday: Psalm 19

What does this psalm say about God’s Word? How valuable and precious is it? Do we always regard it that way? Why or why not?

Tuesday: Jeremiah 26:1-15

Jeremiah called the people to repentance. Why didn’t they like that? Why don’t we? But why is this important?

Wednesday: Luke 11:14-28

The Word of God made Jesus strong! How is this true also for us?

Thursday: Exodus 20:1–17

What is the basis for the commandments (v. 2)? Why is this important? What comes first – God’s acts or ours? Why?

Friday: 1 Corinthians 1:18–31

What is the focus of all Paul’s preaching? Why? What, therefore, is not? Why? How is the message of the cross foolishness to many? How is it the wisdom of God to us!?

Saturday: John 2:13–25

Why was Jesus upset? What did He do? What was He going to do? How do these two things go together?

The Catechism - The Commandments: The Close of the Commandments [Part 2] What does this mean? God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.

Collect for the Week:  O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy, be gracious to all who have gone astray from Your ways and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of Your Word; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .

+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).

+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Sunday School teachers.

+ the Gutnius Lutheran Church (Papua New Guinea), for God’s wisdom, blessing, guidance, and provision.

+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO.

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!

Collect for the Week © 2018 Concordia Publishing House.

Lutheran Service Book Hymn License: 110019268

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Sermon for Lent 1 Midweek Vespers


Jesu Juva

“40 for Life - Noah: Cleansed for Life”

Text: Genesis 6:11-22; 7:11-12; 8:1-4, 13, 20-22; Titus 3:1-8


In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

40 days and 40 nights. For 40 days and 40 nights the rains fell upon the earth. For 40 days and 40 nights all the fountains of the great deep burst forth. For 40 days and 40 nights the windows of the heavens were opened. And the earth as Noah knew it, was no more. In 40 days and 40 nights, God brought to an end all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven

This was no small thing. No cutesy children’s book story of a floating zoo. This was a cleansing. The earth was filled with violence. The earth was corrupt; all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And it could not go on. 

So what had taken God 6 days to create, He destroyed in 40. A creation once with no violence had become filled with violence. A creation once without corruption or death had become completely corrupted and subject to death. The sin of Adam and Eve had metastasized into every part of creation. But in the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the fourth month, on the first day of the month, it was all gone. 

40 days of death so that there could be new life.

This is the first mention of the number 40 in the Scriptures. It didn’t have to be 40. The God who created all things in 6 days could have ended them just as fast, or faster. But 40 days He chose. And the number 40 will become a significant number in the Scriptures. 40 will be a journeying number, a passage number, from death to life. That’s why the church chose 40 days for this Lenten season, this season of the death of Jesus to the life of Easter.

40 days is a long time for us. If you’re like me, it’s hard to keep up your Lenten discipline for 40 days. It sounds not that long. It sounds like we should be able. Yet how often I fail; can’t quite make it all those days. Because like the earth in Noah’s day, the sin of Adam and Eve has metastasized in me, too. Into my mind, my will, and my heart. Corrupting all my thoughts, words, deeds, and desires. Try as I might to keep it out. I am the one who needs cleansing.

But if 40 days is a long time for us, imagine how long those days were for Noah! As he listened to the rain pelting down, as he heard the roar of the waters coming from the great deep. Perhaps such noise was good, drowning out the cries of the people . . . Cries that had no doubt mocked him before for building a boat where there was no water, that had now become cries of distress and pleas for saving. 

But Noah and his family were safe in the ark. Not because they were better, but because they were righteous. Because Noah and his family had also cried out in distress and with pleas for saving, and by such repentance and faith had received the righteousness of God in the forgiveness of their sins. That is what it means to be righteous in the Scriptures. It is not a righteousness that comes from us or that we can achieve. It is the righteousness that comes from above, the gift of God. The sin of Adam and Eve had corrupted Noah and his family as well, but they were saved by grace through faith

So at the end of those 40 days and 40 nights, God remembered Noah and his family. Not that He forgotten them and suddenly remembered! No, it means that He acted for them. Having cleansed the world with the waters of the flood, He now began new life for the world. So how appropriate that when Noah came out of the ark, the first thing he did was build an altar and offered burnt offerings. And the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma - the aroma of faith. Faith that makes one righteous. Faith that God would remember an even greater promise - the one He had made to Adam and Eve to send a Saviour. To provide the cleansing from sin even greater than the great flood.

And in the fullness of time, God remembered that promise, too. And sent His Son. And upon Jesus on the cross was all the wrath against all the sin, violence, and corruption of all the world poured out. And just as at the time of Noah, there was mocking. And just as at the time of Noah, there was a cry for saving. And just as at the time of Noah, there was death. Death for the life and cleansing of the world, by the blood of God’s sacrifice, God’s burnt offering. To give life to the world.

So now for us it is through another flood, the saving flood of Baptism, that we are saved. By Baptism we are placed into the ark of the Church to be kept safe through the storm and trials of life. For as we heard from Paul’s letter to Titus tonight, we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. Or in other words, we were like the people outside the ark in the days of Noah! But! when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, - when God remembered and acted for us - he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, - not because we’re good or better than anyone else - but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace - like Noah, cleansed, justified, made righteous, by grace through faith - we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The hope of a new life that will be eternal.

Now, we are still in the ark; the ark of the Church. The cleansing water of God’s new flood now cleansing one sinner at a time, as in Baptism we are drowned and die with Jesus, that we may also rise with Him to a new life. It is the washing of regeneration, the washing of renewal. We are the ones who now cry out to God in repentance and faith, and receive His righteousness. So that one day, when God remembers His promise - His promise to come again in glory for His Bride, the Church - the door not of the ark but of heaven will be opened, and we will enter into the new life of a new heavens and a new earth. 

So are we cleansed for life. The cleansing begun in Noah’s day brought to completion by Jesus in our day. That dying to sin and rising to life, we live a new and righteous life. Which is what these 40 days of Lent are all about.

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