Thursday, February 28, 2008
I love the liturgy - I freely admit it. I'd love to do all the services in the LSB - they all are wonderful. But the question becomes, why is the liturgy wonderful. I think sometimes even we who are liturgical can fall into the Contemporary trap - we do things because we think they are pretty or beautiful, or dare I say, make us "feel like we are at Church."
Perhaps this is because we confuse the "conduct" of the liturgy and the liturgy itself. The liturgy is the Word of God - it is confession and absolution - it is forgiveness given over and over again. And that's what it is whether it is spoken or chanted, whether it is with a choir or just a few people singing some hymns off key. The conduct of the liturgy doesn't define it - it is defined by the Word of God.
The conduct should point to the beauty of that Word - just like makeup should highlight the beauty of the wearer. If you notice the makeup, it's been poorly applied. Same thing with the conduct of the liturgy - does it serve the Word or does it serve itself?
This is not a post against a high liturgical approach. I actually prefer it (there's nothing wrong with Church sounding different - Church should be obviously different from the world) - but I'm not compelled to start chanting here. It would be a distraction here. At least for the near future. At other places, I'm certain that if the pastor didn't chant, it would be a horrid distraction.
Maybe this is the wisdom of the Lutheran Fathers - rites and ceremonies need not be the same in all places - for not all places are the same. What remains the same is the Word - let everything point to the Word.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Lent 3 – Feb 24th, 2007 – Luke 11:14-28
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
And they were no longer impressed. That’s what we see to start our Gospel lesson. Christ casts out a demon, and while some marveled, others were no longer impressed. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons,” while others, to test Him, kept seeking a sign from heaven. Here we have Christ cast out a demon, a fantastic miracle, shows His power, helps the poor guy who had been possessed – and it doesn’t ring as very impressive. Eh, He’s probably just working with Satan. Eh, that’s just a demon, let’s see a sign from heaven. They were no longer impressed – what Christ did and does no longer satisfies them.
In response to this, there is a long discussion on the casting out of demons, and there is the famous “a house divided” phrase, also the warning that wickedness will return stronger than ever if we don’t keep on guard. But Jesus puts all these ideas into perspective by what He says at the very end. As He said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” There becomes the focus, the key to understanding everything that goes on in our Gospel lesson this morning. The Word is to be heard, and the Word of God is to be kept.
Dear friends, we know the importance of God’s Word. We know Genesis – how does God create? He speaks – the Word goes forth and all things are made. We know the power of God’s Word – I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel. Called. Spoke out the Gospel to me. Attached the Word of God to water and brought me into the Kingdom of God in Baptism, spoke the Law and Gospel into my ears so that I might grow in wisdom and faith. The Word is even attached to simple bread and wine – and then we are given a feast of forgiveness and life in our Lord’s Body and Blood in the Supper. We here of all people know that our focus is to be on God’s Word – and that those who are opposed to God are those who as Luther writes in A Mighty Fortress “let the Word remain nor any thanks have for it”. We know, we celebrate, we rejoice in the power of the Word.
But are we always content with it? Here is the danger. We know that we ought to respect God’s Word, it’s ingrained – and sometimes, we can just sort of assume that we keep it, that we respect it and do it like we ought. We can become complacent, and it’s in that moment that Satan attacks us – and we aren’t even aware of it, because we “just know” that we respect the Word, and Satan sneaks past our guard. How often is it easy not to remember God’s Word, how often do little parts slink on by? To minimize or even water the Word down some? Love your neighbor. . . always? Support your neighbor in every physical need. . . every? Speak well of him, defend him, put the best construction on everything. . . everything? This is the danger, this is the subtlety of Satan our old foe – he doesn’t try to blow up your faith in a huge, dramatic display – but to undercut it, weaken it, slowly wash away the foundations, to where the Word isn’t given the importance it ought to be given, where we don’t strive to keep it like we ought. Instead of being experts at showing love, we become experts at making excuses, instead of speaking God’s Word of encouragement, we speak words of blame. . . and we fall, flat on our faces.
No, the Word of God is to be heard and to be kept – for we as Christian are to strive not just to hear the Word and the let it go in one ear and out the other, to think about it for an hour on Sunday and then be done with it, but we are to strive to keep it – to shape our lives according to the Word – to strive to be like Christ in all things, to be imitators of God, as our Epistle lesson said. And this is terrible hard. Being a Christian is a hard, hard thing, and whenever we start to think otherwise, whenever we forget this, we wander and open ourselves up to all sorts of assaults and attacks from Satan.
This is part of what Christ is referring to when He speaks of the return of an unclean spirit. When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, “I will return to the house from which I came.” And when it comes it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of the person is worse than the first. Rather than tying this directly to demon possession, let’s think about it for a moment in terms of demon oppression, of being oppressed, of being tempted by Satan and his ilk. How many times in your life has there been something that you’ve struggled against, a temptation you’ve had to fight – and by the help of God it gets knocked down. And then you start to feel smug and good – and little by little some new bad, wicked habit comes in that ends up being worse than what you had been doing? Our struggle against sin is a constant one, dear friends. But in this struggle, what we are to always remember is that Truth that we focus on and yet often over look. God’s Word is Powerful. Listen to how Christ describes this.
When a strong man, fully armed, guard his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. That is the picture of Christ – for He is the Stronger Man who overcomes Satan. That is the picture of what God’s Word does to us – for by the Word of God is temptation overcome. When we rightly use the Word of God – when it is applied to us – it is God’s own power for salvation.
This, dear friends, is the point of our observation of the season of Lent. The time of Lent is a time of repentance, a time of reflection – a time where we pause and examine ourselves to find places where we have been lax, where we have wandered off from the Word of God. Where we examine whether or not we have kept the Word of God as we ought to have. Yet in the midst of this time of reflection what do we see – we hear Gospel lesson after Gospel lesson of Christ using His power for our benefit against Satan and all his demons, against all the workers of the devil. In the midst of our repentance our eyes are drawn to Christ Jesus, who sees that we are sorely pressed by Satan, who sees that we are tempted – and so, for us men and for our salvation, came down heaven – and took the battle to Satan – came busting into the world full of sin and showed Himself to be the Stronger Man who can defeat and overcome Satan. Christ goes to the Cross, He suffers and dies – Satan unleashes his worst at our Lord, but ultimately our Lord is not conquered. Christ rises victorious and Satan is defeated. That is our hope, that is what we are to see at all times and in all places – that Christ defeats Satan through His death and resurrection.
This is not just an event of the past dear friends, for this is what Christ does whenever He comes to you by the power of His Word. Christ’s death and resurrection is the central reality of your life. Hear again the Word of the Lord about this truth from Romans chapter 6 – Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore, with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. You are Baptized, and so the Cross, what happened there is the reality of your life. You, as a Christian, are defined by, are attached to the death and resurrection of Christ – that is who you are, that is whom God has made you to be by the power of His Word. Now sometimes we stray from this, we wander away from this life He gave us at Baptism – and so Christ the Crucified comes to us in His Word calling out Repent and be forgiven – repent and wander no more, rather simply delight in My forgiveness! All preaching, all teaching, is nothing less than a crying out from God for you to remember who you were made to be in your baptism and to return to your baptism – to remember and live in the newness of life that is yours in the forgiveness that comes from Christ Jesus. This is the power of God’s Word. This is the power that He uses to give us His own Body and Blood in the Supper. Again, listen to 1 Corinthians 10 – The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ? Did you hear that? A participation – a present reality. God is present for us through His Word and Sacraments – He takes all that is His and He gives it unto us – the Stronger Man comes and claims us as His own whenever we hear His Word and receive His Sacraments. Through these gifts given to us, the same Victory that Christ won over Satan upon the Cross is made real in our lives.
Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. This is what Christ gives to you – for he continually and always comes to you, again and again with His Word – so that you might learn to keep it, that you might learn ever more to fend off Satan and hold on to that Word – but in that same Word He comes to you as the Stronger Man who wins you away from the temptations of Satan, who breaks the chains of sin that held you captive by the power of His forgiveness – and indeed, He gives you His own strength and trains you to be more and more like Him. Christ constantly holds the Word before our eyes, so that we might not stray, but that we might be kept close to Him, for Christ our Lord has the victory over sin and death, and this He gives to us. Amen.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Lent 2 – Matthew 15:21-28 – February 17th, 2008
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
And his disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” Chilling, chilling words. Here we have a Canaanite woman, a foreigner, a stranger who has heard of Christ, calling out to Jesus for mercy. Her daughter is demon possessed, Satan is sorely and directly attacking her family. She is in dire need of help – and at first Jesus is silent – He waits, Jesus looks to see how the disciples are going to handle this one. What will you do, oh disciples, when one comes to you who is different, who is a stranger, whom you have prejudices against? What will you do? Send her away, for she is crying out after us. The disciples fail miserably, they show no love, no compassion. Their hearts are hard. Tell this woman to go suffer and quit bothering us. I have a hard time thinking of anything more cruel.
So what of in your own life? Do you, dear friends, often feel as though you are in the position of the Canaanite woman – where you cries for help are met with – indifference, disdain? I’d wager so. In fact, it’s a common saying, “Oh, I don’t want to be a burden.” We give people an excuse not to help before we even ask them for it. We are so conditioned, so used to being scorned, that we are oftentimes even afraid to ask for help, even when we need it. The words die on our lips, they go unsaid. We can’t be bold and ask for help – we think we should rather be timid, that we should just suffer in silence and not bother anyone. How often do we ourselves feel isolated and alone, as though there is no help, no support available for us – and we struggle along in silence? But there is the other side of this coin as well. How often, dear friends, do you yourself end up behaving like the disciples? How often when someone needs help, needs something of you, would you rather they just go away. Again? Why now? Can’t they get it together? How easy it is for us to become frustrated when there are demands made of our time – when people want more and more from us And the amazing thing is that there’s probably been times where you’ve felt both of these ideas – I need help, why doesn’t any help me – right along side of why does everyone keep asking me for help.
This is part of the struggle of the sinful life. As Christians, we know what God has commanded. Love God, love your Neighbor. We know that we are to love our neighbor – yet we live in a sinful world – and this has consequences. We know that our neighbor should love us – but we can be afraid to ask, afraid to talk, afraid of rejection. We know that we are to love our neighbor, but we can be afraid of burdens, afraid of difficulty, afraid of the struggles and the commitments that will be asked of us. And we become isolated and alone. In this sinful world, the fact is that we are sinners as well. We receive cruelness and we can dish it out – and all the while in all things sinking deeper and deeper into the mire. That is no way to live.
The Canaanite woman, though, she lives by faith. Christ commends her faith – calls it great. And so we should learn from her. Note how persistent she is. She keeps crying out, she keeps calling out to God for mercy. Dear friends, that the picture of faith. I like the words of the old hymn – Faith clings to Jesus Christ alone. That’s what this woman does. Even when it doesn’t appear that Christ is focused on her – even when Jesus is testing the disciples – she still cries to Jesus for mercy. And note something – even while the disciples give their wicked request – Jesus doesn’t send her away. He doesn’t answer her right away – that He will do in His own time and His own way – but Jesus doesn’t say “Get out of here.” The rejection that we can fear so often, the rejection that we can dish out to our neighbor – we never get that from Christ. God always hears, and God always answers in His own way.
And He answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. It seems as though Jesus is harsh, is cruel, is mean to her. That can be our first reaction when we hear this. That’s just mean. But the woman, in faith – she doesn’t think it’s cruel. She doesn’t get indignant – she doesn’t say, “I didn’t come all this way just to have you throw this in my face.” The woman doesn’t stomp off – rather, most amazingly – she agrees. Yes, I am a dog. Yes, I indeed am unworthy of any of these things which I ask of you. Yet I know that You will provide for me, even though I am lowly.” That, dear friends, is faith. To approach God in faith is not to approach God confident of your own strength. To approach God in faith is not to be sure that your plans are the best and the right way. To approach God in faith is to admit that you are a sinner struggling in a sinful world – and to be confident not in yourself but in God – to be confident that He will have mercy upon you and do what is best for you – that He will give you rich and free forgiveness of your sins and support you through all trials you face. That is the Gospel – that while I am weak, He is strong, He is strong for me, He desires my salvation and will stop at nothing, that He will suffer even death upon the Cross to win me forgiveness. That is where our confidence lies. That is the Gospel – that Christ Jesus has died for us and gives us forgiveness. Christ does not send you away – rather He yearns to come to you, to give you His forgiveness, to strengthen your faith through His Word, to give you His own life giving Body and Blood in His Supper. You know that your cries for help to God never fall on deaf ears – and that He is always quick to save.
But what we must remember is that Christ’s salvation – it isn’t always what we might want. Well, what do you mean by that, Pastor? You know, if I were that Canaanite woman, and the disciples had told Jesus to send me away – I might have wanted a little direct vindication – maybe Jesus turning and saying, “How dare you disciples be so wicked – bad disciples, bad!” Maybe even a good wag of the finger for good measure. In fact, maybe I’d even hope that I’d get more respect. Women, and especially Canaanite women were looked down upon – maybe this will give me more respect. But this isn’t what Jesus does – instead He gives healing to her daughter. He shows mercy.
Sometimes I think we can misunderstand the Gospel – what it is supposed to do. The Gospel doesn’t mean that everything in life will be perfect. It doesn’t mean that everything will go your way. Things won’t go any more smoothly for you in this life because you are a Christian – other than to the extent where by listening to God’s Word you don’t go and cause trouble for yourself. In this life, we are wounded. Every one of us here in this room has heartaches – some that other people know about – some that are hidden. For our days here, the Gospel doesn’t mean those instantaneously disappear. Rather this – how do we approach them, how do we deal with them – how do we deal with the very people that give us more and more heartache? Listen to our epistle lesson again. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith [that is forgiven, we know that Christ has forgiven us and we have received over and over again His forgiveness] we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand [we have access to forgiveness – because of Christ we know that God will never turn His back upon us] and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. [And now the profound part that we can overlook and shoot right on by. Listen to this.] More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and that endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Did you catch the wonder of that? The Gospel doesn’t mean that life will always be wonderful – but it shapes our lives and sees us through our days here in this sinful world. Yes – we suffer, we have horrid days and heartaches – but by the strength of God and His mercy – we endure. We endure and learn to focus more and more upon Christ’s love, to rely on Him. This is what a Christian Character is – to rely upon God. And when we rely upon God, when we look to Him – we have hope – in the face of any trial or terror we have hope - for we know that God is faithful and just and cleanses us from all unrighteousness, that He supports us all our days.
Dear friends in Christ. Life in this world is rough. We are hounded by the assaults of the Devil – we can feel isolated and alone – and even we ourselves can become tired and cruel and indifferent. But behold Christ Jesus – He is tireless for you, and He always works for you – always gives you the forgiveness He won for you upon the cross. With this forgiveness you have life, you have strength and endurance and hope – and by faith you live in Christ’s forgiveness until that day when you join Him in heaven and need never worry about sin again. This is the victory He wins for you by going to the cross. Amen.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Lent 1 – February 10th, 2008. Matthew 4:1-11
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. Those are the words of Satan the tempter to Eve in the Garden. There it is, the first temptation, the first time Satan flicked out his forked tongue. Oftentimes we’ll focus on the “apple” – or whatever fruit that they ate – they ate the forbidden fruit. And we skip over what the real temptation was. “You will be like God.” That is what the Serpent says. Do you hear what he is really saying? “Why, O Eve, are you content to be a lowly human being? Why should you be something as lowly as that, a creation placed in a garden to tend it? You can be more – you can be like God Himself – you can be the master of your own destiny. You can be a God yourself – and you will know what is good and what is evil – you will say what is right and what is wrong – not listen to what God says. No more being simple humans, no more being just a woman and just a man, but you could be gods! What about it Eve, what about it Adam, how would you two like to be in charge?” That was the temptation – why should mankind settle for just being men – why shouldn’t we be in charge? Why should we be content to serve God, serve in this garden, when we could make things the way we want them to be?
And so Adam and Eve fall. The temptation they give into should be a familiar one. We love force, we love imposing our wills upon others, we love being the masters of our own destiny and I’ll do what I want and who is to gain say me. What war isn’t a result of someone trying to rule over someone else, to bring terror and force them to one’s will? That’s the temptation of the garden. Indeed, we see the wicked fruit of this sin all over culture. Satan promised that we would set for ourselves right and wrong, that we wouldn’t need God’s Word to say “Thou Shall Not” anymore. We live in a culture today where the focus is upon our desires, how we would like things to be. It doesn’t matter what the Word says, but what do I think is right. It is the same as what the Scripture says, “And each did what was right in his own eyes” – not what was right according to God, but in his own eyes. And death is the result. Death, and war, and chaos, brother versus brother, child against parent and parent against child, all in this never-ending desire to be the ruler, to be in control, to have things done my way. . . or in other words – to be like God! All starts at the garden.
But we missed the point. We like to think of God in terms of power, in terms of might, look at all God can do, He can make everything the way He wants it to be, how awesome is that. We miss what God actually is like. Let us go and look at our Gospel and see and understand Who God is, what He really is like. Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the Wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The very first thing to note – and it should be obvious, as we’ve been celebrating it since Christmas – is that God becomes Man. Jesus Christ is both God and Man. Adam and Eve weren’t content to be human beings – they looked down on it. We want to be gods! Yet God becomes Man. Jesus doesn’t think it is anything beneath Him to take on human flesh – and He does, He becomes Man. What we spurn, our simple lives of service that we think aren’t much, our lives that we so often are unsatisfied with – Christ willingly takes up. It is no small thing to be a human being, and we often forget that.
And after fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry. Christ even has His own lent. This is why Lent lasts 40 days, this is why we too fast, give something up, reign in our desires – in preparation for the celebration of passion week– when Christ will once again tangle with Satan. And to Christ, in this weakened, tired, hungry state, comes Satan. And the Tempter came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Now, Satan isn’t questioning whether or not Jesus is God here – that’s not the point. Satan simply points out the confusion. Jesus – You are the Son of God – You can do anything. Why do You sit here hungry – turn these stones to bread and eat something, satisfy Your wants. But [Jesus] answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.’ “ Where we missed the point, Jesus shows it. We live by our stomachs, we live by our desires, our first thought is often what do we want. That’s how sinful folk work. Jesus’ first concern isn’t His desire – rather, what is it? The Word of God. As humans we live by the Word of God. Literally. Why are we here – because God created us by His Word. Why did Adam and Eve still exist after the Garden – because God chose not to speak a Word of destruction and blot them, and all of us out. And even more than just physical life – how do we live? By God’s Word of forgiveness – because God says, “I forgive you, you shall live.” That is the Word we live by. The Word of God is no harsh tyrant, but it is the very source of life – and Christ not only resists temptation, but draws our eyes to the very goodness of God.
Satan tries again. The then devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.” Well, what’s so tempting about that? After all, Scripture is quoted – must be all right. Christ’s response shows us what is wrong. Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Don’t put God to the test. Think about the approach Satan is taking. “You better help me God, even though I’m going to do something incredibly stupid – You promised.” Satan is trying to make God jump through hoops – have the angels do tricks. Satan is trying to use God’s own Word against Him, Satan is wanting Jesus to try and boss the Father around. Even we can fall into this – how often do we not ask God, but make demands of Him? How often can our prayers be orders to God, rather than requests. I love the Lord’s Prayer – Thy Will Be Done. This is what I would like, but do what is best for me, for You know better than I do, O God. This is what Christ teaches us, points us to here. God does know what is best – He does love and protects us – and so we are to trust in Him, not test Him. Would that we simply trusted in God – would that we believed that God would give us our daily bread – and a lot of angst and worry would go away. Learn of Christ to trust God.
One final shot by Satan. Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these I will give to You, if You will fall down and worship me.” This one strikes us as odd. How can Satan give away the kingdoms of the world? Because of Adam and Eve. In the Garden, Adam and Eve jumped ship – they rejected God and allied themselves with Satan in rebellion – became Satan’s. Tied their lot to him. That’s where we are by nature – that’s what it means when Scripture says that we are born sinful – we are born not on God’s side – but on Satan’s side. And so Satan tries to bargain with Jesus. I know Jesus, that you want these people back – but I tell you what. Instead of obeying the Father’s will and winning them however He wants You to, let’s do my plan. Side up with me – obey me instead of the Father, and I’ll let you take them all. They will be Yours – just be my number 2. Worship me. There’s the temptation – Christ, You can have it all without the Cross. Why hang upon the Cross, why suffer, why be mocked and spit upon, why die? Satan offers a Christianity without the Cross – but Jesus doesn’t bite.
Then Jesus said to Him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord Your God and Him only shall you serve.” Jesus avoids the very mistake, the very temptation that felled Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve wanted things done their way – but Christ obeys the Father’s will, and will not take short cuts in your salvation. He will bear the scorn of the Cross for your sake. That is why Paul is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him. . . Crucified. Because it is on Good Friday, it is upon the Cross that we see and understand what God is truly like. We do not have a God who enjoys tossing around power and might like we do. We have a God who, when He sees us fall, sees us suffer and die – takes up Human Flesh of His own, and joins us in our suffering surpasses our own suffering. He even joins us in death – He will be the servant who in love tastes of our death – and why? So that He can give us life – so that He can redeem us, buy us back from Satan on God’s terms. We deserved death – but Christ doesn’t. When Satan gives Christ death, Satan oversteps his bounds – and the blessed exchange takes place. Since death took Christ, God says, “Nope death, you don’t get to keep My people, to take them, for they have been redeemed, bought back from death.” This is what God is like. God would, indeed, God has suffered in your place, in your stead. What is God like? He willingly and gladly, out of His love for you, takes your punishment – so that you might be restored to Him, that you might be with Him forever.
We see this, we get a taste of this all the time when we hear God’s Word of forgiveness spoken to us – we know, we receive God’s love. In the Supper, we get a taste of what Heaven will be like – gathered together in the presence of God for the eternal feast of joy and life. God grants us forgiveness – and while we still struggle against our sin – let’s face it, each one of us is going to go out those doors, and this week we will struggle, we will struggle against sinful desires – but we face those struggles no longer on our own – but as the forgiven. We face them knowing that Christ Jesus is at our side – and you heard the text – Christ conquered those same temptations we will face. So we know that we have victory in Christ. Oh yes, we will see setbacks, indeed, it will always be fitting for us to confess our sins here in God’s House, to receive His forgiveness again, to be have our weak, sinful flesh strengthened by His Holy, Precious Body and Blood in the Supper – but we know what God has accomplished – we know that at the end we will be raised to perfect, incorruptible bodies like His, and we will rejoice in the joys of heaven. Struggle against your sins, cling to Christ’s forgiveness, and await patiently the joys of heaven. Amen.
Saturday, February 2, 2008
February 3rd – Matthew 18:31-43 – Quiquagesima Sunday
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
And so, the disciples are walking with Jesus – and Jesus is approaching Jerusalem, approaching His own crucifixion – and Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “See”. See. Be aware, pay attention, look – see what is going to happen, for I am going to tell you what will happen. See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the gentles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise. Seems pretty straightforward. Clear cut. Not only does Jesus tell them what is about to occur, but He even points out, hey, this is what Scripture prophesies – that whole suffering servant, that whole crush Satan’s head but getting a bruised heel thing. It’s all pointing to this – Crucifixion and resurrection.
And then comes what seems to be a completely confusing verse. But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. What do you mean they didn’t grasp what was said? Didn’t Jesus just spell it out for them all nice and blunt? How more clear could it be? How more plain and blunt could Christ’s Words be? We can’t even ask Him to spell it out for them because He just did. And yet, we are told that the disciples didn’t get it – went right over their heads.
Why? We hear this verse, and we are shocked and perplexed – we don’t get how the disciples could have not gotten it. Let’s look at why they don’t get it. Let’s figure out where they were, what they were thinking – and that might give us a clue to why they are so clueless. Now, who are these disciples? They are people who have dedicated their lives to following Jesus – they are with Him all the time, they are learning at His feet. They have seen His miracles, His might, His power. They have seen the crowds become angry at His teaching, pick up stones to stone Him – and yet He walks through unscathed. They have seen Him halt an angry mob about ready to stone an adultress. They have seen all that Jesus can do – His power, His Might, His Strength.
For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. Delivered? Handed over like a captive? Not our Jesus! Who is going to bind Him? And will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. What? You mean Jesus, who with ease turns aside every taunting, mocking question asked Him by the Pharisees and Scribes, He’s going to be mocked and spit upon? What are you talking about? And after flogging Him, they will kill Him. No, no, not this Jesus, He isn’t the type to be captured, to be put to death. He’ll be able to escape – no earthly power can stop Him! That part about that third day rising – eh, who cares about that – it’s not even going to get to that because there’s no way Jesus would be so soundly defeated like that!
The disciples had their eyes fixed solely upon Christ’s power and might – they love their own idea of whom Jesus was supposed to be. They liked Him as a Superhero – as someone who could leap tall buildings in a single bound. And they didn’t like anything that said otherwise. Okay, that’s all very well and nice pastor, but Jesus told them these things were going to happen – why didn’t they believe Him?
Let me ask you a question. How often have you refused to believe something was true? How often have you gone into denial? How often when someone has spoken the hard, harsh truth to you, have you stopped up your ears and not listened? How many of you know how to run so quickly and easily to dreams of better days, and ignore the cold hard reality – ignore the writing on the wall? I’m sure if we sat down, had a group discussion, every one of us could give dozens of examples where we were just sure that something was going to happen – although with distance and hindsight, we know we were just fooling our selves. That’s what the disciples were doing here. But note something very, very important. This text is not a warning about false hopes concerning elections or sporting events or work or romance – what were the disciples’ false hopes on?
The disciples had false hopes of earthly glory, glory spilling out into public view – where all would see and say, “Wow, these guys are following the right Guy, look at all they have.” In reality, they sought their own glory – they saw Christ primarily as the person who would make their lives great and wonderful – and so they miss the point. Now, oh member of Zion – what of you? Does this desire for earthly glory sometimes impact you? Is it a way Satan seeks to move your eyes off of Christ? Yes it is, isn’t it? We can be more worried that we have a good reputation so that people will think we are great – more than we worry about a poor reputation driving people away. And this is no new thing, this is nothing uncommon to the Church. Hear now the Words of Martin Luther from his commentary on Galatians, which is apt to this whole discussion. “No one is so firm in repelling the most deadly vice of vainglory that he does not need constant prayer in order to be able to do so. For who, even when he is pious [that is good, decent], does not delight in the praise people accord him? The Holy Spirit alone is able to keep us from being infected with this pest.” This is why every Sunday before I step in this pulpit, I myself pray a prayer Luther writes, which asks God that I myself not seek glory or praise for my preaching – but rather that it point solely to Christ and that I too would learn. The sinful human heart loves nothing more than receiving glory and praise – and this takes our eyes off of Christ – indeed, turns Christ into nothing but tool, a source of glory for us.
All too often, just like the disciples, we too don’t see, we too don’t understand. And so it is fitting for us that right after the disciples are unable to see – they come across a man who is blind. And what does this blind man do once he hears that Jesus of Nazareth is coming? He cries out – “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He calls out rightly – not give me glory, not give me stuff – have mercy on me. I am afflicted, relieve my afflictions. Have mercy on me – the very same cry we utter over and over here in our worship – if in our vain glory we don’t decide to cut that out, decide that it’s too much of a downer. It is also interesting to note, dear friends, what people’s reaction to this is. And those who were in front of him rebuked him, telling him to be silent. Be quiet with this mercy thing! You are annoying. You aren’t what we want – we want glory, we want power! Away with you, you blind beggar – shut up and suffer in silence – we want nothing to do with you. And the one in need is scorned. Yet the same thing could easily happen here, couldn’t it? Someone dirty and crusty walks through those doors – shock and horror, what is he doing here? The sinner seeking mercy shunned.
The blind man, though, is persistent. He continues to cry out – have mercy on me. And Jesus stopped, and commanded him to be brought to Him. Bring him to me – don’t let this person grope darkly – bring him. And when he came near, He asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight, your faith has made you well.” The man is healed – and he gives thanks to God, gives praise and glorifies, not himself, but God. The blind man, though He couldn’t see physically – he saw rightly, he understood who Jesus was – not the giver of glory – but the one who has mercy, the one who has compassion, the one who shows love and care, no matter what the cost – even at the cost of His own suffering and death.
Dear friends – this Wednesday we begin another Lenten season. Services on Wednesday at 7. What we do in Lent is we pause, we focus, we stop behaving like the clueless, glory seeking disciples here – and we see Christ for who He is – the One who gives mercy. We see ourselves for who we are – the ones in need of mercy, always in need of mercy, always having sin to struggle against, always having sins in need of forgiveness. We need Lent, for we, especially we in America, have been filled with vain hopes and glory – we view God through our pocketbooks and our stomachs and from our nice comfy chairs. The old German word for Lent – what this season was referred to right here in this place not a century ago – is “fastenzeit” – Fasting time. The time where we fast to remember that God isn’t about our stomach, our wants, our passions, our glory. Rather, we remember that He is the God who suffers and dies for us – who lives not to have a rich life Himself, a God who doesn’t seek His best life now – but a God who willingly endures the shame of the Cross, who allows His Body to be beaten and broken and given to death, that we might have life.
Dear friends, be not blind – but see that God is merciful – that He desires, that His greatest joy is to give you mercy and forgiveness. Take and Eat, take and drink – do this often. God desires you to be forgiven, to receive His forgiveness – He delights in giving you mercy whenever you cry for it. For the next seven weeks as we progress towards Good Friday – let our eyes no longer be focused on the vain pleasures of the world, but rather let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith – that faith by which we receive and hold onto forgiveness and life everlasting. This is my constant prayer for you – that you would more and more seek God’s mercy and delight in His forgiveness – and I would that it be your prayer for me and for each other in this Lenten season as well. The Lord be with you in the weeks to come. Amen.