Thursday, March 4, 2021

Lent 2 Midweek Sermon

LISTEN


Jesu Juva


“Covered”

Text: Genesis 3:1-21; Galatians 3:23-29; John 19:1-5, 23-24

Psalm 32


In the Name of Jesus. Amen.


As we hold the church’s jewel of forgiveness up this week to consider its beauty, the facet of forgiveness that strikes our eyes and ears tonight is covered. Last week, the forgiveness of our sins was their cleansing, or washing. Tonight, it is that they are covered.


Which, maybe, sounds odd. For if your sins are cleansed, if they are washed away, why do they also need to be covered? 


Well, because while God really and truly has washed away your sin, and that baptismal washing, as we noted last week, is real and true and 100% . . . the fact is that it is not quite so in our hearts and minds. God doesn’t see the sin, but we still do. We believe the forgiveness, but we know what we’ve done. And very often, along with that, comes feelings of shame and unworthiness and fear. Even if the people around you know nothing about what you’ve done, the depths to which you’ve fallen, and you look like such a fine Christian . . . you know. And fear that they might know . . . And if they find out, what then? 


So your sin - even though you know it’s forgiven by God, and you believe that; even though you’ve been washed and God doesn’t see it anymore - it can still seem like a scarlet letter on you. And all you want to do, like Adam and Eve, is cover it up. They used fig leaves. But what do you use? 


If it was a stain on our shirt, we could cover it up with a sweater or a jacket. If it was a stain on the carpet, cover it with an throw rug, or a piece of furniture. But the stain of sin on us . . . we cover it with excuses, or denials. Nothing to see here! But whenever someone says that, you know that there IS, in fact, something to see! If there really is nothing to see, then let everyone look. But if you don’t want people to look behind the curtain, why not? What are you covering up? And the faster we deny, the more certain you can be that there’s something there. Like, when you walk into the room and the laptop slams shut! What were you looking at? Nothing. Uh huh.


Satan loves to keep bringing your sin back to your mind, that you live in such fear and uncertainty and shame. And maybe even begin to doubt God’s washing and cleansing. That’s why God continues to dump your baptismal water on you with His Absolution. Maybe you’ve seen this scene: the Fire Department has put out a house fire, but keeps pumping water on it. Why? Because they know there is still fire you cannot see, smoldering in the wreakage. So, too, with our sin. We’ve been washed and cleansed in baptism, we might look good on the outside, but what’s smoldering inside? What shame do you still feel? What unworthiness is gnawing away at you? What sin that you fear could ignite again? 


So God continues to dump His water on us. That we not doubt, but have peace and relief. And we need that every day. 


But not only that. Our good and gracious Lord also covers us. Not because His washing isn’t 100%, but because He knows us. He knows our doubts and fears and worries. He understands what we need. And He provides. That we be both clean AND covered. For as David said, and as we sang tonight: Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.


Now, there’s a great difference between OUR covering the stains of our sins and GOD covering us. Maybe we succeed on our own for a while. Maybe we get away with something. But consider Adam and Eve again, who clothed themselves with fig leaves. What happens to a leaf after you pick it? It very quickly dries up and crumbles. And then you have to do it over and over and over again. Always uncertain, always in dread that you’ll be uncovered and revealed.


So God clothed His children. He didn’t make them live like that. He covered them with garments of skin. Which was both a reminder of their sin, but also a relief from their sin. A reminder of forgiveness, that their Father had not rejected them, and a reminder of His love in continuing to care for them. But a reminder, too, of the wages of sin. That because of their sin, something had to die. It wasn’t them. Not yet, anyway. Their Father had provided a substitute.


And for you. Because of your sin, to cover you, not an animal, but the very Son of God would die. And so Scripture says that not only that you are washed and forgiven in the blood of Christ, but as we heard tonight, that as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. You are clothed with Christ. God no longer sees you as the sinner; when He look at you, He sees Christ. He sees a dearly loved child. Your sin is forgiven AND your shame is covered. 


So for us, it is not the death of an animal, but the death of Jesus on the cross that is both a reminder of our sin and also a relief from our sin. A reminder of our forgiveness, that our Father has not rejected us, and also a reminder of His love in continuing to care for us. That our Father has provided a substitute for us. To cover our shame.


And we heard tonight that when that happened, when Jesus was crucified for us, He was clothed first with a crown of thorns and a purple robe. The thorns that grew because of our sin, and the purple robe mocking Him as a pretend king - just as Adam and Eve tried to be like God. But then they took these off of Jesus, along with all His other clothing, dividing them up, casting lots for the tunic. And when Jesus was crucified, He hung there naked.


That’s worthy of some consideration by us tonight . . . how Jesus has traded places with us. The Father covering His children’s sin, but how Jesus is not really unclothed, but rather clothed with our sin and nakedness. The Romans did that for humiliation and shame, yet Jesus is not ashamed. If we are uncovered . . . yes, shame; sin. But Jesus is uncovered in love. And covers us with that love. With Himself. So that we have a new identity. Not sinner, but son. Child of God.


Think about all the places in Scripture where this is spoken. Jesus covers and protects of all kinds of sinners from the wrath of others with His forgiveness and love. Christians are spoken of as those clothed in white robes. Or, as we sang in the opening hymn tonight: Comfort, comfort my people. How? Tell her that her sins I cover And her warfare now is over (LSB #347 v. 1). Maybe it seemed a little strange to sing an Advent hymn in Lent. But Lent is the fulfillment of Advent. The adventing one, the coming one, here, and ascending the cross for us. To fulfill all His words and promises. To cover us with His forgiveness and love.


Or, this is how another hymn puts it, which we will sing a few weeks from now:

Lord, when Your glory I shall see And taste Your kingdom’s pleasure,

Your blood my royal robe shall be, My joy beyond all measure!

When I appear before Your throne, Your righteousness shall be my crown;

With these I need not hide me. And there, in garments richly wrought, 

As Your own bride we shall be brought To stand in joy beside You (LSB #438 v. 4).


Royal robes. Garments richly wrought. No hiding. Covered. By Christ. With Christ. Just what we need. Another beautiful facet of forgiveness. 


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


Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sermon for Lent 2

LISTEN


Jesu Juva


“Words to Remember”

Text: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; 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.


Some words you do not soon forget.


The first time your future spouse says I love you. Or when they spoke their wedding vow to you. The first word your child utters. A cutting remark that really hurt. A word of encouragement when you needed it most.


Abram received such a word from God, that he would have a son. He remembered that word, though he seems to have begun to doubt it. It was taking so long. So many years had passed and still he had no son. But just as there are some words that we do not soon forget, so for God, there are words HE does not forget: His promises. We may get impatient, we may wonder and doubt, they may take a long time to fulfill, but fulfilled they will be. 


So today we heard God repeat His promise to Abram; He had not forgotten. In fact, though it had not yet happened on earth, it had happened already as far as God was concerned. For, He says, I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. Past tense. Done. Even though this son of the promise had not yet been born. 


We heard another such word today, a word not soon forgotten, spoken to Peter. When Jesus said to him, Get behind me, Satan! How that word must have stung Peter. How it must have echoed around in his head for some time after that. How he must have kicked himself and wished he could take back what he said. And then not too long after that, when Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times . . .  Think those words came back to haunt him? Yes, Jesus was right. I am a lousy friend. I am evil. I am worthless. I am nothing.


Yes Peter, Jesus was right. So listen to Him! He said that this MUST happen - this suffering, rejection, and death. You know what that means? That even if you did all the right things, and said everything right, Peter, Jesus still would have been crucified. Even if you had confessed Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest that night and were arrested for it - Jesus still would have been crucified. Even if when you drew your sword in the Garden of Gethsemane and had successfully warded off all those soldiers and guards single-handedly and were awarded the medal of honor - Jesus still would have been crucified. This MUST be, Jesus said. Because God had promised. And He does not forget. He had promised to send a Saviour, a son of Abraham. He had promised that He would lay your sins on this Saviour, that He would be stricken, smitten and afflicted for you, and that He would be crushed for your iniquities. But also this: that by those wounds, you would be healed (Isaiah 53:4-6), Peter. Those were words from the Old Testament that Peter should have known, should have remembered, but didn’t. But God did. And He was now fulfilling them. In Jesus.


But isn’t that the way of it? There are words you do not soon forget, but they’re oftentimes not the words we want to remember! It’s the words we wish would get out of our heads, the words we don’t want up there, that keep coming back, that we can’t seem to get rid of. Satan likes to keep reminding us of those words. Those words that hurt, so we’ll hate and plot revenge. Those words that remind us of our failures, that make us ashamed, so that we’ll despair and think ourselves unworthy of God. 


But as with Peter, there are other words for us, too. Like we heard today in the reading from Romans: that God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That is, Jesus didn’t die for you because you are good or worthy, but because you’re not. Because you need to hear these words: I forgive you all your sins. All that you’re ashamed of, all your failures and shortcomings, all your rebellion and mistakes, all of it - I forgive. Those are words we should not soon forget! But how often we do. So they are spoken to you, given to you, here, every week. To remind you. To sink them into your brain and your heart. To raise you to a new life to live again this week.


For that ultimately is why, as Jesus said, the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. Jesus had to die because the wages of your sin is death. So He died your death. And then He rose that just as He died your death with you, you would rise with Him in His resurrection. That you not live a life full of regrets, or shame, or despair, or shouldas, wouldas, and couldas, but live a new life. And so this too - He pours the Holy Spirit into your heart. To strengthen you, to keep you, and to holy you. To remind you of the words of Jesus. That His words be ones you do not soon forget. His words of promise and forgiveness and life.


And the cross was the means God used to accomplish all this for you. There was no other way. Only through the cross of Christ, Paul says, is there justification, reconciliation, peace, and joy.


And yes, the cross also IS the means God uses to accomplish this for you. It both WAS and IS. That’s what Jesus goes on to say. For not only does He say this about His own cross, but yours, too. So after speaking with His disciples about the necessity of His own crucifixion, He calls the whole crowd to Him and says to them: If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. The cross MUST be for Jesus and it MUST be for you, too.


Which means - like with Peter - that even if you do all the right things, you will still have the cross in your life. Even if you say all the right things, you will still have the cross in your life. Even if you are a Christian of Christians, the most faithful, the most steadfast, the most dedicated, in Church every week, never missing a service or a Bible Study, giving generously, praying always, fasting regularly, serving others, humble, someone no one - Christian or non-Christian - has anything bad to say about at all . . . still you will have the cross in your life. It MUST be for Jesus and it MUST be for you. Because the cross is God’s means of help and strength.


Whaaaaat?


It’s true. The cross is God’s means of help and strength. Without the cross in your life, you will rely on yourself and what you are able to do and accomplish and so you will be lost. For whoever would save his life - whoever would do it himself - will lose it, Jesus said. Even if you have really good intentions. 


So to take up your cross means to not rely on yourself; to not rely on what you can do and accomplish; to not rely on human help, thinking, wisdom, or strength, but to find your life in the death and resurrection of Jesus alone. You might be successful. Many people are. But that is not the source of your life. You might be a Christian of Christians. But that is not the source of your life. Only Jesus is. And His words of promise. When you have those, then whether you have much or little, are successful or not, have the life you always dreamed of or one a bit different, you have what nothing in this world can give OR take away: a life that will not end


Now, it is true that the cross doesn’t look or feel like that! When Peter and the others looked at the cross and saw Jesus hanging on it, they didn’t see life - they saw death! And when you bear the cross, it doesn’t feel good! Enduring the sins of others, the attacks and assaults of satan, the nails and spears of the world, hurt. It seems like your life is being taken away! And if you’re like me, you’d rather not bear those things. We pray for them to go away. Paul did. Uh, I’d like one of those easy lives, please! With no hard decisions, no persecution, no times when it is difficult to confess my faith.


But at just a such time, the Lord said to Paul: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). For the weakness of the cross reveals the power of God. The power of His love for you. That He would do that for you. While you were still weak. While you were still sinners. While you were an enemy. 


And the cross in your life is the same. The Lord gives you the cross not to hurt you but to help you. Not to punish you but to save you. That you rely not on yourself, but on Him. That you rely on His strength, not your own. That not your wisdom but His, be your guide. To put your old, sinful man down, and raise up a new man. To set your mind on the things of God. To set your minds of the Word of God.


As for Peter, I would say this was another word he would not soon forget! Get behind me, Satan! was a tough word. Hearing of Jesus’ cross, another. But having to bear the cross ourselves as well? I’m sure he did not understand. Yet. But he would. And, in fact, this new life he was given changed him from a man who was afraid to even say he knew Jesus to one who bore a cross quite literally and was crucified himself because he would not deny Jesus. 


We need that work of Jesus in our lives as well. That life-giving work, even though it may, at times, feel like our lives are being taken away, or that Jesus has forgotten or forsaken us. But He has not. He does not forget His Word. Like, the word He spoke to your in your baptism when He made you His child. Like, the word of forgiveness that He speaks to you. He does not forget these, or you. He is saving you. By the cross He bore for you. By the cross He gives to you. 


So it really is true, that the cross is God’s means of help and strength. And that help and strength is here for you now. For the challenges you are facing. For your doubts and fears. For your wrong decisions and regrets. For the words and deeds you wish you could take back. For the accusations of satan still echoing around your head. Jesus says: Take and eat and drink; My Body, My Blood, for you. For your forgiveness. For new life and strength and hope. Which means that even though you may not soon forget your sins and failures and regrets, Jesus remembers them no more (Jeremiah 31:34). He doesn’t forget them - He wiped them out. Which means they’re not there anymore. There’s nothing to forget! And they’re not coming back. They got buried with Jesus in the tomb. And there they stayed when Jesus rose without them, victorious over them. He rose alive. They stayed dead. 


Jesus MUST do this, Peter. For you. Jesus MUST do this, Christian. For you. And it is what He wants to do. For you. For all people. No matter who you are or what you have done. His love is greater than your shame, His forgiveness is greater than your sin, and His life is greater than your death. And these gifts are here, for you.


Hear these words. Rejoice in them. And may they be the words you never forget. For Jesus never forgets them. For He never forgets you.


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


Thursday, February 25, 2021

Lent 1 Midweek Sermon

LISTEN


Jesu Juva


“Cleansed”

Text: 2 Kings 5:1-14; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; John 12:1-8

Psalm 51:1-12


In the Name of Jesus. Amen.


Hold a diamond up to the light and turn it around, and it refracts the light into many colors. It’s quite astonishing to behold, and the best of diamonds produce the most amazing array of colors. This Lenten season, we’re holding forgiveness up to the light and seeing its many colors; its beauty. It’s good to do so. Forgiveness is mentioned so often in the church, that perhaps we forget its beauty, how astonishing it is, and that it really is the most precious jewel the church has.


Tonight, the facet of forgiveness we will consider is perhaps the most natural image, and certainly one of the most well-known: that of cleansing, or washing.


It is one of the most natural images because it is, for us, an everyday thing - especially now, in these COVID days. There are signs and reminders everywhere to wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, use bleach wipes, wipe everything down. Advertisements lure people with claims that its product kills 99.9% of germs. We’ve become obsessed with cleansing.


But even before this past year filth and the need for cleansing has been no stranger to us. And from our earliest days. Babies soil their diapers, children play in the mud, we spill on our carpets and stain our clothes, we touch something dirty or step in something, and then transfer that dirt with us wherever we go. Our teeth need cleaning, even whitening to get out the stains.


And so you know, too, there’s a right way to clean something, and a wrong way. If you spill something on your shirt or on the carpet and try to rub it out, it doesn’t go away - it spreads and, in fact, get bigger. When something gets dirty, you also know not to wait. The longer you wait, the harder the stain sets in and it becomes much more difficult to get out. 


So it is with sin. Sin that is like Naaman’s leprosy on our bodies and souls. Sin that is often described as filth in the Scriptures. Like babies, we’ve soiled ourselves with sin. Like children, we’ve played in the mud puddles of sin. Like adults, we step in it and spread it around our lives and to others. And we need cleansing; we need washing. Trying to rub out our sins with our explanations, excuses, and promises to do better doesn’t work. In fact, that just makes them bigger and worse. Ignoring them doesn’t work either. That just sets them deeper in our souls. That’s what happened to David after his sin with Bathsheba. The longer it went on, the more he tried to explain, excuse, and deal with it himself, the more he put it off, the worse it got. The worse he got. Sin added to sin. Accomplices dirtied with him. His sin spread around.


Finally the prophet Nathan got him to look in the spiritual mirror and see how dirty and disgusting he had become. And so he prayed, he begged, as we sang earlier: Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God! For that’s the only way he could be, would be, cleansed. 


And God did. And when God washes, you do not get 99.99% clean - you get 100% clean. Like Naaman, when he came up out of the water of the Jordan, his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child. That is, perfect. No scars, no blemishes, no scrapes, no blots. Perfect. Like new.


Which is also how St. Paul describes the washing we receive from Christ. He says that Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27). That’s you when you come up out of the waters of baptism. That’s you after the washing of Absolution. That’s you after the Gospel applied to you. Like new. Like your sin never happened at all. 


That’s how powerful the blood of Christ to cleanse. Blood, which normally stains. Except when it’s Christ’s blood. God using what normally stains to cleanse. And so the sins which stain us He puts on Jesus, soiling Him, staining Him, filthying Him, and then His blood poured out cleansing us; washing away our stains. Thoroughly, as David prayed, and as happened to Naaman. Even if you once were all those things we heard in the reading from Corinthians - the worst of the worst, a sinner of sinners, hard-boiled, marinated in sin. But, Paul says, you were washed, you were sanctified (made holy), you were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Water and the Word, brought together, washing, cleansing. Perfect. Like new.


Now, maybe that all sounds familiar to you. I hope it does. But I also hope that it gives you a little greater appreciation for the cleansing we have, that maybe we take for granted at times. 


But there is one more part of this to mention that perhaps you haven’t considered before, and that is that clean isn’t just a matter of the eye, but of the nose. You can also smell filthy. The first indication a diaper needs changing isn’t by sight! Walk into a room that hasn’t been cleaned in a while, and it stinks! And when the prodigal son returned to his father after wallowing first in his sin and then with pigs, I’m sure you could smell him coming a long way off! 


But you can smell clean, too. Cleansing takes away the filth and leaves behind a new smell. What does clean smell like for you? Maybe lemony or pine, like many household cleaners smell. Maybe like the fresh clean clothes right off the line on a bright sunny day. Or maybe like your house when you get to open up the windows and a fresh spring breeze pushes out all the old, stale, cooped up air of winter. 


The Scriptures speak in this way as well. That clean isn’t just the absence of stain but the presence of a wonderful fragrance that comes with clean. Forgiveness takes away the old, but also brings something new.


And so tonight we also heard a story of smell - of the fragrant aroma that filled the house when Mary anointed the feet of Jesus. This is one of the few stories told in all four Gospels - so it must have significance. Judas raised a stink (not sorry for the pun there!) about such a waste of money. But what does Jesus say? He points to His burial, which was about to take place. He points to the cleansing that was now about to take place by His death and resurrection. Death stinks. But Jesus’ cleansing death has a fragrant aroma. Because it is bringing in the new. Or as Paul said in Ephesians (5:2): Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.


So not only is there washing here for you, cleansing, but the fragrance of forgiveness, of the new, of clean, as well. That you now take with you out into a world that stinks with sin. Your lives as Christians like a breath of fresh air, of Christ and His truth, the Spirit and His holiness, blowing through your homes and schools and workplaces and neighborhoods. And don’t think others don’t notice. They do. Some, like Judas, will raise a stink, won’t like it at all. But others will rejoice. That there is something else in this world besides sin and its stink. That there is hope. That there is cleansing. In Christ.


Spend some time appreciating that facet of forgiveness this week. For we can become eye blind and nose blind to our sin. So repent, but also spin the diamond around. Marvel at this color of forgiveness. Marvel at the fragrance. The brillance, the newness, the freshness of being cleansed. Of forgiveness. This wonderful gift of God.

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


The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Lent 2 (March 1-6, 2021)

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


Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 


Verse: 1 Corinthians 1:31 – “Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”


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

Hymns for Sunday: 908, 824, 637, 581, 707, 585


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


Monday: Psalm 19

How does nature reveal God’s glory? How does God’s Word reveal His glory? What does the Word reveal that nature cannot?


Tuesday: Jeremiah 26:1-15

How are people today like the people of Jeremiah’s day? How are you? Do we always like what God’s Word says to us?


Wednesday: Luke 11:14-28

How do we “keep” God’s Word? What does this mean? How are we blessed when we do?


Thursday: Exodus 20:1-17

Which came first: the exodus or the commandments? Why is that important? Who acts first: us or God?


Friday: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

How are the ways of the world and the ways of God opposite?


Saturday: John 2:13-25

How does Jesus really cleanse – with a whip or with His cross? Why is this good news for us?!


The Catechism - Baptism: How can water do such great things? [Part 2] Certainly not just water . . . as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” Titus 3:5-8


The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .

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

+ perseverance in this Lenten season, with your Lenten discipline, and for the joy of the Lord.

+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Board of Elders.

+ the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.

+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for Lutherans for Life.

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!


Sunday, February 21, 2021

Sermon for Lent 1

LISTEN


Jesu Juva


“The Battle to Repent and Believe”

Text: Mark 9:2-9; James 1:12-18; Genesis 22:1-18


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


If Mark was writing his Gospel today, he would have put it this way: The Spirit immediately threw Jesus to the wolves. Or, to use an even more modern saying: The Spirit immediately threw Jesus under the bus. The giant bus, that is, driven by satan, seeking to run us over and take away our spiritual lives. Or, the satanic wolf, with his foul death-breath and his large fangs seeking to grab hold of you and not let you go.


That’s what Mark wants you to know. Unlike Matthew and Luke, he doesn’t give us any details about Jesus’ temptations while out there in the wilderness. But he does use that much more violent-sounding verb. Matthew and Luke say that Jesus was “led out” into the wilderness. Sacrificial language. Maybe from Isaiah. Like a lamb led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). Not Mark. For him it is a fight. A fight to the finish. Our English translation said that the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness. The Greek actually says that Jesus was thrown out there. Thrown out there to fight. For you.


Mark doesn’t even tell us how it ended. Jesus got angels in His corner, though, Mark tells us. But they’re not fighting like we hear on All Saints Day - Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon and his angels (Revelation 12:7). No, this is no heavenly battle, but an earthly one. And one that Jesus must fight alone. The angels are ministering to Him, but this is Jesus thrown to the wolf, thrown under the bus, thrown into the wilderness to be tempted. For you.


He must have won, though. Because next Mark tells us that Jesus shows up in Galilee, preaching. Proclaiming that the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. The time has come. The King is here. We no longer hear of satan, though we will. He’s not done yet. But for now, the King emerges from the wilderness in tact. Victorious. So repent and believe in the gospel. Repent and believe this good news. That Jesus has come to fight for us, and wins.


Perhaps Mark doesn’t give us more details because this isn’t the feature presentation in His Gospel. This episode is more like the movie trailer - just giving you enough details to whet your appetite. To read on for the main event, as the battle continues, Jesus casting out demons and unclean spirits, until the climactic battle that takes place on Golgotha. Interestingly, the shorter ending of Mark’s Gospel doesn’t tell us who won that battle either. Only that the tomb is empty. But we already know, don’t we? And Jesus shows up in Galilee again. Victorious.


But here, at the beginning of this Lenten season, we focus on the beginning of the battle. Not so much that Jesus is tempted as we are. But that Jesus is victorious. That He comes out of the wilderness in tact. This is what Mark wants you to know. And believe. And rejoice in.


Because we don’t, right? Emerge from our temptations in tact and victorious. At least, I know, I don’t! And I’m not even in the wilderness! But in my cushy house with my cushy life and really, having it pretty easy, having all I need. And yet how often do I succumb to satan’s temptations? How often do I put me first, above God and others? How often do I do what pleases me, not God? How often do I cave to pride, anger, or jealousy? And how quickly! Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days being tempted, but how often does satan not even need 40 hours, or 40 minutes, or 40 seconds with me! And I suspect you, too. To get you to disobey your parents, or rebel against or disrespect authority. To get you to hate and lash out in anger. To get you to lust and blow your chaste and decent life out of the water. Or to not love your spouse as you should. To take what is not yours, or to resent your neighbor getting more than you. To use your tongue to gossip, to tear down others, to hurl barbs of criticism, to speak what is not helpful or good. To put what you want first and let others fend for themselves. And all the while calling yourself a Christian. Having Christ’s name on you but not praying as you should, not speaking of Him as you should, not spending as much time in His Word as you should. Putting yourself first, that is, making yourself God and expecting others to serve you and do your bidding. 


Sound about right?


So it really is pretty good news - very good news! - that what Adam could not do and what we cannot do, Jesus did. He was thrown to the wolf, thrown under the bus, thrown out into the wilderness, and came out in tact. Victorious. So repent and believe in the gospel.


This Gospel, as James put it for us today: that Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.


But wait a second, Pastor! You just said that’s not you and that’s not us! That we don’t remain steadfast. So why is this good news for us?


Because while you are not the man, Jesus is. He is the blessed one. He remained steadfast under trial. He withstood the test. And He received the crown of life . . . which God has promised to those who love him! Did you hear that? It didn’t say: which God has promised to those who win, but to those who love Him; to those who love, who believe in, Jesus. The crown of life that Jesus won is promised to those who love, who believe in, Him


That’s how we receive it! James goes on to say where sin and death comes from for us. From our own sinful, disordered desires, our own sinful inclinations that we are born with. And he’s right. So, he says, do not be deceived. Do not be deceived into thinking you can do it, or that it comes from you. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. From your Father. Who brought you forth - that’s birth language - by the word of truth. By your baptism. For that’s where you were born from above to be a child of your heavenly Father and receiving then and there the crown of life that Jesus won for you when the Spirit threw Him to the wolf, threw Him under the bus, for you. Jesus, another good and perfect gift that came down from heaven, that came from the Father, for you. So repent and believe in the gospel. Repent of all that you have done, and believe in all that Jesus has done, for you. And then you too have life. A new life. A victorious life.


A . . . could we say . . . Abraham life? 


The story that we heard about him and Isaac today is astounding. And is, to be honest, a story we do not understand. Why God would tell him to do that. How Abraham could do that! This is a test the magnitude of which I hope neither you nor I ever have to endure. I mean, being a martyr, offering yourself, is one thing. But a loved one? Someone holds a knife to your neck and asks if you are a Christian is one thing. But hold that same knife to my son’s neck, or my spouse’s neck, or my Mom or Dad’s neck, and ask me if I’m a Christian . . . ?! It’s a First Commandment test, isn’t it? Do I fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Or do I love my child more? Do I fear losing a loved one more? Do I trust in myself and what I can do to get out of this situation more? 


Some people do lose children. Maybe not in this way, but to violence, mass shootings, drugs, cancer, suicide. And it causes some to lose faith. To turn away from God rather than to Him for help. Satan using things like these - and more - to convince us that God is not a good Father. That He is, in fact, not good at all. Because satan doesn’t want God to be your Father. He wants to be your daddy.

 

But Abraham didn’t listen to those doubts and fears, those temptations to turn against God. Against the God who miraculously gave him this son (another good and perfect gift from above), even though he thought it impossible - that he and Sarah were just too old. God had done the impossible. And Abraham believed he would now, too. The book of Hebrews tells us that. That even if he had to go through with it, that he believed that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back (Hebrews 11:19). For Abraham had already give up Isaac in his heart, even though God did not make his hand go through with it.


But today we heard that God’s did. God did not stop His own hand, did not spare His own Son, but threw Him to the wolf, threw Him under the bus, threw Him onto the cross, for you. And then not figuratively, but really and truly, received Him back in the resurrection. Victorious. All for you. To give you that crown of life that only Jesus could win.


That you too begin to live an Abraham life. Not that Abraham was perfect. He had his share of failures. But a life that believes the words and promises of God. That what God says and promises, He will do. Even if it doesn’t make sense to us. Even if it seems impossible. For as the Scriptures also tell us, nothing is impossible with God (Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37). And when we think so, or doubt, or fear, to repent and believe in the Gospel. To turn to Jesus and not to our own efforts or strength, for only He can give us the forgiveness, faith, strength, and life we need.


So this First Sunday in Lent reminds us once again of the battle in our hearts and for our hearts. A real battle, and yet one we need not fear. For we know how it turned out, and how it will turn out for us. Because we know the Blessed one. The one who remained steadfast for us. The one who won the crown of life for us. The one crucified for us, risen from the dead for us, and now given to us here in His Body and Blood. Satan wants to be your daddy, but you already have a Father, who gives you always - and only - good and perfect gifts. The Father who gave His only-begotten Son for you. The Son who gave His life, laid down His life, for you. And the Spirit who threw Him and His life to the wolf for you, and yet was also with Him every step of the way.


The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. And if Mark were writing his Gospel today, he’d say the exact say thing. For then and now, it is the same. Turn to Him, believe His words and promises, and live. It’s not easy. It’s a battle every day. But the Spirit, a good and perfect gift from above, given you in your Baptism, is with you too. To fight with you. To fight for you. Every step of the way.


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


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Ash Wednesday Sermon

LISTEN


Jesu Juva


“Dust You Were, and to Life You have Returned”

Text: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; Joel 2:12-19

Gradual: Hebrews 12:2


Ash Wednesday puts us in our place. Dust you are and to dust you will return. Adam was created from such dust. But he wasn’t meant to return to it. That came because he decided to be his own creator, create his own reality, a better reality than that which God gave him. It didn’t take him long. God created all things in six days, but Adam in an instant. He ate, along with Eve, and there was a new reality: death. And from this new reality there is no rest, no reprieve. In God’s creation, there was a seventh day, a day of rest for us. Not so in Adam’s. Death’s tyranny takes no days off. This past year has driven that home as each day we are told of more deaths. Every day the number increasing. That’s not new, of course. But it has been brought to the fore.


Dust you are and to dust you will return


And none of us knows when. This past year has shown us that as well. Just when you think everything is fine, suddenly it’s not. We all think we’re going to live a long life, but death is a tyrant here, too. Taking not just the old but the young. Not just the weak but the strong. Not just the sick but the well. And like as with Adam, at times in an instant. No preparation, no warning. Jesus knows it. Be ready always is His admonition to us. We think: I’ll do it tomorrow. Ash Wednesday says: there may not be a tomorrow.


Dust you are and to dust you will return.


In this COVID year, some churches will skip giving ashes, some will be sprinkling them instead of pressing them into foreheads. But there’s something about putting a cross of dust and ashes on the same place where the sign of the cross was first placed upon you in the waters of baptism. It’s very Adamic. For not from dust we you and I created, but in the water of baptism we were born from above as children of God. But sin has subjected us, imposed upon us, the dust and ashes of death. The sin we do, thinking, like Adam, that we know better than God; that we can do better than God. His Word just one among many. His commands mere suggestions. Yet still we die. 


Dust you are and to dust you will return.

But this too: Dust you are and to life you will return.


For just as one man brought sin and death into the world, so one man also brings life into the world. The one who was made sin for our sake, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Right with God again. No longer cast into death but risen to life with Him. With Jesus. For where Jesus is, sin does not have the last word. Where Jesus is, death does not have the last word. For where Jesus is, there are the words of forgiveness and life. For Jesus is our creator, creating a new reality for us through His death and resurrection. All our sin was dumped on Him, and all His righteousness poured on us. That we who are dust might rise to life.


And we do know when and we do know where. Right here. Where Jesus has promised to be for us. Washing the dust of death off us. Feeding us with food not of this world. And filling our ears with words of promise, words of forgiveness, words that lift us up from the dust because they are words filled with the power and Spirit of God. And we live again. The death of the first Adam overcome by the life of the second.


Dust you are and to life you will return.


Ash Wednesday preaches that, too, turning us in the right direction again: not towards ourselves and what we can do, but toward the cross and what Jesus has done for us. O come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, we sang (Gradual). For only in His righteousnsess is the life we need.


So beware, Jesus says, of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them. Because then both your eyes and their eyes are in the wrong place - not on Jesus. And your heart isn’t in the right place. And then your righteousness falls short because, well, it’s your righteousness, not Jesus’. Because of what you did, not because of what Jesus did and then gave to you.


Beware, Jesus says, because that’s the kind of righteousness your old Adam likes. Because it looks good. It feels good. Adam’s tree was good for food, and a delight to the eyes, and was to be desired to make one wise (Genesis 3:6), but it was a Trojan Horse of sin and death. So, too, our righteousness - our prayers done to be seen, our alms given to be praised, and our struggle to be pious for the admiration and exaltation of others. It’s good to do those things. We’re commanded to do those things. When you do those things, Jesus says, assuming that we will.


But don’t do them for righteousness, but from righteousness. Do them because your righteousness comes from above. Do them because that is the new life you have been given in Christ. Because dust you were, and to life you have returned. Yes, past tense. Done. It is yours in Christ Jesus. You are risen already in Him. You may have one foot in the grave, but the other is in heaven. For while Ash Wednesday puts us in our place here and now, in this life, Jesus puts us in His place, with Him, for eternal life. 


Dust you were, and to life you have returned.


That’s the truth of this day. That our Creator is our re-creator. That the founder of our faith is the perfecter of our faith (Gradual). That the one who is only life, dies, that we who die might live. That the one who knew no sin became sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. That a cross designed to deal a horrible death becomes the means to a wonderful and eternal life.


So today we fast and weep and mourn, as the prophet Joel said, because we are dust and to dust we will return. But we do so not wondering whether our Lord will turn to us and relent and leave a blessing behind Him. He already has. He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. He has turned to us in His Son, we have heard His Absolution, and He has left us here the feast of His Body and Blood; the feast of salvation. 


So come, O men and women of the dust. For dust you are, but life is here, for you.

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

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Transfiguration of Our Lord Sermon

LISTEN


Jesu Juva


“Just Jesus”

Text: Mark 9:2-9; 2 Corinthians 3:18-4:6; 2 Kings 2:1-12


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


And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.


What a bummer, right? No more glory. No more Moses. No more Elijah. No more celestial conversation. No more cloud. No more voice. No more chance that maybe, just maybe, they could stay there. Back to Jesus. Just Jesus. Only Jesus. Plain old Jesus.


But this scene, the Transfiguration, as we call it, shows us that Jesus is never plain old Jesus. Looks can be deceiving. Sure, He looked like any other first century Jew. But as we have heard this Epiphany season, He was anything but. He spoke with authority - unlike the other teachers. He cast out demons. He healed diseases. This ordinary looking man was really quite extraordinary. Peter, James, and John, they knew it before. But now they got to see it. And the sight of it terrified them.


So maybe it was a relief when they looked up and looked around and no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. But this scene, they would remember. How could they not?


And I’m sure they wished for it back, from time to time. Like, when the Scribes and Pharisees began plotting against Jesus again. When in the Garden of Gethsemane the soldiers and guards came out to arrest Him. When Pilate scourged Him so brutally, and then when He was hanging on the cross. . . . Maybe with a tear running down their cheeks they thought: Show ‘em, Jesus! Show them who you really are. God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. Terrify them with Your glory. Jesus even reminded them, no doubt, in Gethsemane, when Peter drew His sword and Jesus said to him: Peter, don’t you remember? Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53)?


So why don’t you, Jesus? Why are you letting them treat You like this? Everytime they looked, they still no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.


And what a blessing that was! Not a bummer at all. Though it would take them a little while to understand that. 


For seeing Jesus in His glory, seeing the majesty, that’s awesome! But it doesn’t really do anything for you. In fact, like it did that day to Peter, James, and John, it only terrifies and causes questions. It terrifies because we are sinners who have no business being in the presence of a holy and sinless God. And it causes questions, like . . . If you’re such an awesome and powerful God, how come you’re not doing something about . . .  the situation I’m in right now? My troubles? My pain? My suffering? Or the troubles in the world, which seems more and more everyday to be going to hell in a handbasket? Why don’t You do something, Jesus? Show Your glory! Make things right.


But we look up and look around . . . no glory, no intervention, no transfigurations today . . .


Except there is. For those with ears to hear. This is my beloved Son; listen to him. Faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17). Hearing the Word of God. This God. The crucified God. For the transfiguration shows you the awesome glory and power of God, but it is the crucifixion that shows you the awesome love of God. His love for you. What He came to do for you.


So Moses and Elijah don’t stay. They had their day. The Law and the prophets were now being fulfilled. The Old Testament talked about the coming Saviour, pointed to Him. The Law of Moses showing us our sin and our need for a Saviour - but now the one greater than the Law, greater than our sin, greater than Moses, was here. So Moses doesn’t stay. And the prophets like Elijah, their words thundered as they called the people to repentance and proclaimed the one who would come to save. That one was now here. So Elijah doesn’t stay.


But Jesus does. Not glorious, shining, awesome Jesus. Just Jesus. Plain old Jesus. Listen to him. Listen to what He tells you so that you can see rightly. That Jesus is never plain old Jesus. Because that one being arrested, that one being scourged, that one trading places with sinners like Barabbas, that one being crucified, that one dead in the tomb is the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world. And only by listening to Him can you see that that scene on Mount Calvary is even greater than the scene on Mount Transfiguration. That the glory of His bloody cross is even greater than the glory of His shining power. That that’s really how He would have us see Him. A holy and sinless God not reigning in greatness and fear, but serving in humility and love.


So that’s the glory He has left here for us. The glory not of His power but of His forgiveness. The glory not of His awesomeness but of His humility. The glory not that terrifies and causes questions, but that comforts us and gives us hope. The glory that we need.


But the speed of light is faster than the speed of sound. You see the flash of lightning before you hear the roll of thunder. So, too, do our thoughts and desires more quickly follow our eyes, what we can see, rather than what we hear. Signs and wonders, please; glory and miracles we can see, please; evidence, please; not just words. Not mere words. 


No, Jesus says. He wants greater glory than that for you. Not what the world thinks is glorious, tells us is glorious, and what our old sinful self so often believes and wants. Not a glory that comes and goes, that doesn’t last. But the glory of Jesus. A glory that perhaps doesn’t look glorious or feel glorious, but is. The glory of the cross, that comes from the cross.


So we need to be changed. Like Peter, James, and John, our hearts and minds need a transfiguration. And we have it, according to Saint Paul. For we heard today, And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. What is interesting about that sentence is that the word translated transformed there, is the same word that Mark used, which was translated as transfigured. So we are being transfigured, too. Into the image of Christ. That His glory might shine through us. The love, the forgiveness, the serving. The Spirit is working that in you, Paul says.


To which our old sinful self objects! We want that other glory! The more impressive stuff, we think. Loving, forgiving, serving, that’s killing us! Especially to people who don’t appreciate it, who are just taking advantage of us. Well, yes, old chap, that’s quite the point. That old, sinful, glory-seeking, self-exalting you needs to be killed, and a new man raised with Christ. For that is how you are transformed, transfigured, into His image. By dying and rising with Him. Which is what baptism does, if you listen. What you see isn’t much, but what you hear is Jesus, new life, forgiveness, adoption, and sonship. That when we look to the Font, we see Jesus only.


And in the same way when we look to the Altar, when we look to the Pulpit, we see Jesus only. God in human flesh Jesus. Glorious Jesus, forgiving Jesus, Body and Blood Jesus, serving Jesus, dying Jesus. Here for us. Not for a show, but to save. To kill us and transform us. To slay that old sinful you and raise the new you. So, I am a poor, miserable sinner we say. And I forgive you all your sins, He says. Jesus only.


Is that a bummer? Maybe to some. Maybe even at times to us. In the midst of a pandemic. When you’re unemployed. When your family is falling apart. When your kids are rebelling. When life seems to be one disappointment after another. When nothing seems to be going your way. When you’re sick. When you’re beaten up and beaten down by the world. When it seems like just Jesus, plain old Jesus, isn’t enough . . .


Maybe that’s how Elisha felt. When Elijah was leaving. I know! Shut up! he said. I don’t want to think about it. And then Elijah was gone, and Elisha was alone. Except he wasn’t. That double-portion of Elijah’s spirit he asked for? Yeah, he got it. 


But you didn’t, right? No, you got even more. For you is the fullness of the Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord poured out on Pentecost and still being poured out today in the Word. And while some think this Spirit is all about signs and wonders, what we can see, He is really all about Jesus. Just Jesus. To point you to Jesus. To set your eyes on the cross. To give you forgiveness. To transform you. From sinner to saint. That you always have hope. No matter what is happening in the world or in your life, that you always have hope. Because you have Jesus. Because you have His forgiveness. Because you have His life. His risen-from-the-dead life. His eternal life. 


The disciples were about to experience things that would shake them to their core. Such hatred against Jesus. Peter buckling to his fear and denying his friend, his Lord. Then seeing the once-transfigured-Jesus hanging, dying, on a cross.


Why don’t you show them, Jesus? Show them who you really are! Why are you letting them treat you like this? And then they heard: Father, forgive them (Luke 23:34). And they knew. They knew! He was! He was showing them who He really is. And He was giving them not what they thought they wanted, but what they really needed. 


And so we enter the season of Lent to hear it, too. To listen to Him. We’ll set aside our alleluias for a while, but know we’ll sing them again. We’ll set aside the whites for awhile, but know we’ll see them again. In a few weeks we’ll veil our crosses and stop our music . . . is that what dying is like? Little-by-little, things taken away? If so, then we know that Easter awaits, too. At the end of Lent is resurrection, and at the end of our life, too. And then we’ll see. Moses and Elijah? Maybe. But Jesus, most definitely. And almost just like that day on Mount Transfiguration. Almost. But there’ll be one important difference, one important change: the holes. In His hands, in His feet, in His side. And we’ll know. We’ll know! For me


Might that change how you live now, under the cross? That suddenly, looking around, we no longer see anyone but Jesus only. Jesus only, loving and serving us. Jesus only, as we love and serve our neighbor. Jesus only, hidden in a sin-filled, hell-bent world. But here. With us. 


What a bummer? No. Just a different kind of glory . . .


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