Saturday, March 28, 2020

Lent 5 Sermon

Lent 5 (Viral Week 2) – John 8 – March 29th, 2020

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
And here it is. This is the text, the conversation that gets Jesus killed. If you read John's Gospel (which is my favorite, by the by), you'll see that John 8 is basically the point where the scales are fully and finally tipped against Jesus, the writing is on the wall, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will see Him dead, one way or another. And to set up what we hear in our text, I want to back up just a bit earlier in John 8 – back to verse 31, where we hear: So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” A familiar passage – the truth will set you free is one of the lines from the bible that even non-believers are familiar with, even though they might not know it's a Jesus quote. And this doesn't shock us, it doesn't seem to be anything all that upsetting.

But here is the reaction in verse 33: They answered Him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free.'” Do you hear the pride, the indignation? But what we also ought to hear is fear and denial. At that moment, Jerusalem was a conquered city – Romans ran the place. When they do finally Crucify Jesus, they have to get Pilate's permission precisely because they are not free. And moreover, the whole story of salvation for the Jewish people is based, is set upon the idea of the children of Abraham having been stuck in slavery in Egypt. In Exodus 20 the Ten Commandments begin – I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You cannot tell the story of the children of Israel without it being the story of being enslaved and then freed by God. This is the whole theme of deliverance that permeates the Old Testament – everyone is constantly needing deliverance.

And yet, they don't want to hear any talk of deliverance. So, that is why Jesus is blunt with them. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. Wow, that seems harsh – but in reality it is just cutting straight to the point. The LORD God is the God who delivers His people. If you are saying that you don't need to be delivered, to be rescued – you're really saying that you're not of the people of God. You're saying that you are perfectly fine and happy in Satan's kingdom of pride and sin and power and anger.

Pride and our love of sin is a strong, powerful thing. Sin is no trifle, even though we today try to laugh it off, excuse it, justify it. Of course, that's what sinful man has done in every generation – we have cultural pet sins that we excuse and revel in. And Jesus here speaks to what this attitude toward sin is – it is bondage. It is slavery. We are stuck – sinful people with sinful hearts in a sinful world. And yes, as those who have heard the Word and believed, we fight against our sin... but it's still a fight. And it shouldn't surprise us when we see people we know and love don't fight against sin and instead just ride with it – because that's what sinners want to do. We want to humor our fears, our lusts, our idols we call out to in anger and rage. I'm guessing you've seen and felt fear and desire and frustration in a strangely clear and new way this past week. This is what bondage to sin looks like – and it is a struggle we face until we reach the wages of sin – until we die.

It's a lousy situation, and so often we'd rather live in denial. Jesus' Word brooks no denial – it speaks blunt reality. Verse 34: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” And yet, Jesus tells us precisely what He is here to do. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Or here: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.” This is what Jesus has come to do, to destroy sin and death. To rip apart the power of Satan and his kingdom by going to the Cross and dying and rising. Jesus solves the problem of sin. Sin is to be punished – Jesus takes that up upon Himself, freeing us from it. Now there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Jesus dies and rises, bursting apart death – you don't see death. If the LORD tarries, you will die, but you won't see death, because Jesus died and rose and that's what you see. When you die, you don't see death, you see your resurrection because of Jesus. This is what His Word proclaims, the great rescue that He has come to win for you.

And how do you participate in this rescue? What's your role, your job? If anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death. If I might give my own translation here: - Whenever anyone clings to My Word, he will not, no how, see death. We simply hear the Word, receive it, cling to it, pay attention to it. That word “keep” is the word that is describing what a guard does, or someone paying attention to something. Keep in the Word, and you have everything that it brings, you are rescued from death.

And you don't receive this salvation, you aren't a part of this rescue because of what you do – it's a pretty lousy rescue if you have to pull it off yourself, and God isn't in the habit of doing lousy rescues. Rather by the power of His Word and the Holy Spirit, everything that Christ Jesus has done is given and applied to you. And the Power of the Word and Spirit is not merely a Sunday morning thing – it is an every moment of your life sort of thing, for you are Baptized. You are washed in Water and the Word. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit. Wherever you go, the Word of God and the Spirit with you go with you – wherever you stay, the Word and Spirit stay with you. Because Christ has begun your rescue, He has accomplished it already – we are merely waiting to see it in full, see it face to face.
It's ironic. The world is always full of sin and death. Some sins we love, some little forms and strains of death we even long for – like that person over there getting it. That's just longing for a little death. But with all this Coronavirus stuff going on, we actually are seeing death and this reality of sin in the world a bit more clearly. But death alone is not Christ's goal, it's not the only, the final thing He wants you to see. If anyone keeps My word, He will never see death.” In the Word, you see Christ Jesus take the fight against sin and death for you, and in Him you see forgiveness and life. And see this all the time, my friends, day in and day out, for you are people of the Word, Baptized, forgiven, children of the Father and heirs of all that is His. Do not let anything distract you from the Word of God that proclaims your forgiveness and life. Read it, learn it, speak it to each other – and when we can, we will speak it together with each other face to face again.

But if you were wondering why this all works – well, towards the end of our text Jesus spells it out – Truly, Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus is the LORD, God Almighty. Jesus is the One who spoke the promises to Abraham. Jesus is the One who rescued the people of Israel out of Bondage in Egypt. Jesus is the Word who spoke the Ten Commandments. Jesus is the great I AM. Of Sabaoth Lord, and there's none other God – Jesus holds the field forever.

Do not forget that this Jesus who loves you, who acts for you, who wins you forgiveness is God, is the Word by Whom all things were made. He doesn't come up short. Jesus doesn't swing and miss. And you are in Christ, you are in His Word, Baptized and forgiven, dead to sin and alive to Christ. And all the raging of the world and sin and satan and death can in truth do nothing to you, for the Son sets you free, and you will never see death, and you will see the Day of Christ when He comes again and you will be with Him and rejoicing with Him and with all the saints of God from every age and from every land and every tongue.

So enjoy your redemption. Revel in it, for it is as true today as it has ever been. And when perhaps the trials of this day and age loom heavy, and they are heavy, remember the Word of Promise that Christ has made to you, remember your Baptism whereby Jesus Himself said that you were part of His salvation. Remember that you are a royal priest in Christ, part of the chosen nation, and as such read the Word and pray. God's Word in, God's Word breathed out in prayer. It is who you are in Christ, and Satan is powerless to change that, and the World cannot stop that, and even sin and death do not stand a chance against Christ Jesus – and He is for you, now and always.

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Lent 4 Sermon

Lent 4 – John 6:1-15 – March 22nd, 2020 (Viral Week 1)

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Phillip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. With the feeding of the 5000, we see our Lord Jesus Christ doing two things that He constantly and continually does – He cares for people, and He teaches. And of course, the feeding of the 5000 is a wonderful, miraculous demonstration of God's care for people – between this feeding and the Manna in the wilderness, we've heard two really fantastic ways of God doing the whole “give us this day our daily bread” thing. But Jesus is also always teaching, and right here Jesus is teaching Phillip. Jesus teaches Phillip by asking Phillip a question from left field.

Consider – Jesus has been preaching and teaching before – and Phillip has seen this and is used to this. Perhaps on that day the crowd was a bit bigger than normal, or maybe they were further out of town than usual – but Jesus does something new. How are we going to see that these people eat? That hadn't been part of the deal before hand, that hadn't been the way things were done. The Sermon on the Mount hadn't been catered, what are we supposed to do now?

Phillip has no clue. Why should he have any clue – it's a new experience for him. If you or I had been there instead of Phillip, we'd be lost. In fact, Phillip's answer is actually not that bad - “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” At least Phillip identifies the problem – we have limited means, we can't achieve the goal using the straight forward, typical approach. Andrew tries to help out, a little despondently – “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many.” One boy, one little kid had a packed lunch that a thoughtful mom had sent him off with – but option two, crowd sourcing, raising donations – even that will fall short.

So Jesus teaches who He is. Have the people sit down – and John notes, “now there was much grass in that place.” Of course there is – this is The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pasture. And then the LORD feeds – man may not live by bread alone, but God did so create man that they need to eat, and so the Lord opens His hand and satisfies the mouth of every living creature. This Jesus is the LORD, the God who has created everyone and still cares for and preserves them. Most of the time this is done in completely normal and typical ways – sometimes, like in the wilderness of the Exodus or on that grassy mountainside, in extraordinary ways.

But let's go back to Jesus' initial question to Phillip – how do we feed these people. How do we care for these people. It's a good question for us to ponder in these extraordinary days that we ourselves are facing. This is a time unlike any we ourselves have come across. I'm not used to preaching on Sunday morning to a nearly empty room hoping that you are watching at home and praying along. And even as an introvert and a home body, these government recommendations and regulations and restrictions chaffe me – I'm sorry for all you extroverts out there. But likewise we today are faced with a similar challenge of how best to love our neighbor. I would submit, my friends, that you've been better trained and prepared for this day than you know.

Let's think back on Catechism class and the Small Catechism, especially the 10 commandments. What is the fifth commandment – You shall not murder. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need. Now, we all can think of ways that this has played out in our lives before – we bring things to the sick, giving the grieving a hug if they need it, we support folks with our generosity, we are kind. And this idea, this care still plays out. It's just that in this situation, on this day, that support of our neighbor's body means to stay away from them more. The way that we care for our neighbor's body, for their health, needs to shift a bit at the moment – and that's okay. That's fine. And it is annoying – but this is what we do. We bear things, we give up things for the good of our neighbor and their health. This is especially true for us young folk. I could catch this coronavirus and probably not bat an eye – same with my family. Might not even notice – in fact, that's the great danger – that I could be sick and not notice because it is so mild for me, yet I could spread it to the older folk and harm them without even knowing it. And as for those of you who are older than me – yes, you're old. Deal with it. I know you're still only 30 in your head, but a lot of you ain't so young anymore, so tough. No one likes this, young or old, healthy or frail, introvert or extrovert. We are sad, we are angry and annoyed, we mourn – but we deal with the day that we are in and we show love to our neighbor.

Likewise, I would have you ponder the seventh commandment for a bit. What is the seventh commandment? You shall not steal. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor's money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income. Frankly, we are going to get a jolt to our economic system with this. We are going to go from one of if not the lowest unemployment rates in our nations' history to right around 20% unemployment – depression era rates – at least temporarily – as businesses are temporarily closed. People you know are going to be hurting – you yourself may be hurting. So I encourage you to help your neighbor protect and improve their possessions and income. Be generous with your neighbors who will need your generosity to get through this. And if you are one who is hurting, whose income has dried up, don't be too stubborn to receive help. This is why God has given you neighbors, so they can help you. This is why God has put us together and keeps us still here – to love and support each other – to make sure that we all keep getting our daily bread.

And this is new for all of us. This is strange stuff that we've not had to deal with before. Be patient with others, be patient with yourselves. Don't be upset if you don't have all the answers right away – Phillip and Andrew struggled with answering Jesus' challenge in the Gospel lesson, but Jesus still knew what He was going to do. And Jesus already knew what He would have Phillip and Andrew do – Jesus already knew that they were going to be picking up baskets of leftovers. Jesus already knows how He will have you show love and care to your neighbor in the weeks to come – it's all under control and in His care, and it will just be a new time of learning for us.

Because even as so many things are changing, even as March 22nd seems so different from February 22nd, most things are still the same. The love of Christ Jesus for you is still the same. The forgiveness of sins which He won with His death and resurrection is still the same. The eternal life that is yours in Christ is still the same. It remained the same centuries before in plagues much worse than this – it remained the same in the midst of wars and depressions and times of social chaos. It remained the same even when kings and princes were persecuting Christians. As daunting as this day is to us – it is as nothing to Jesus, who is still your Lord.

So receive the challenges, the questions, the learning, the opportunities that He gives to you this week as a gift. We will get to see His love and care given to us and given through us in strange and wondrous ways. It is all good in Christ Jesus. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Lent 3 Sermon

Lent 3 – March 14th and 15th, 2020 – Luke 11:14-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
So there Jesus is, and He is doing what He is normally doing – healing. This time casting out a demon that was mute. Here you have this man who is attacked by one of Satan’s minions, made to be silent. Can’t speak. Can’t talk. Cut off from his family and friends. Given by the powers of Satan over to loneliness and despair. And Jesus steps in, heals the man – and suddenly the man can speak. The man can open his mouth and speak words of love and joy. Oh Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise. But I guess some people would have just rather not have heard any of it. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” What an excuse. Um – maybe this Jesus is demonic – um, that way we don’t have to listen to Him. They would rather have this man remain mute, they would rather hear a preacher preaching something more appealing to their ears than Satan being fought. And as for others – well – while others, to test Him, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven. Oh, sure Jesus, we’ll believe, but you’ve got to do better than that! We want something more miraculous, something more wondrous! How about something with thunder and lightning – something that lights up the sky, that would be good! So just what in the world is going on here?
We've talked about Satan, we've talked about the world fighting Christ, but here it hits home. The sinful flesh kicks in. This is what the problem is – people are making excuses not to believe, not to trust in Christ Jesus. You see, there’s this pesky little problem – if you believe in Jesus, you really sort of need to believe everything He says. You don’t get to pick and choose – Jesus isn’t a buffet, He isn’t some fast food restaurant where you get to tell Him to hold the pickles – what He says goes. And our Lord teaches bluntly – He speaks to our sin, to our need for a Savior – He points out that we of ourselves are not righteous and that we need to receive mercy from God – we need the forgiveness which He wins. Jesus teaches that we are in need – and in our pride and arrogance we can dislike that and make excuses.
So then Jesus engages in what is called “Apologetics”. Apologetics is what happens when you break down the excuses people give against the Word. But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand.” Point one – is Satan dumb? If Satan divided his forces, he’d be weak. Is he weak – ask that man who was struck deaf if Satan is powerless and weak. “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.” Point two – other people had been casting out demons in the Name of Jesus. If you accuse Jesus, you accuse them too. Do you really want to do that? The thought that Jesus is in league with Satan is looking worse all the time. And then the kicker, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” Point three – as for you who want a sign from heaven – well here it is. You are seeing God’s own power at work against the forces of darkness. Quit playing like you need something more. This is what God does, God fights Satan, God destroys him. Your excuses are foolish. You need to quit making them and instead repent, for you too need a Savior.
Do you see how Christ just sort of systematically poked holes in all their excuses that they had thrown up, that they had given for why they couldn’t listen? This is the same thing that He does towards us. The simple fact is that we are sinners, and sinners make excuses. We make excuses not to do the things we should, and excuses to do things that are wrong. So – what are your excuses? Now, I’m not Jesus, I don’t get to know your thoughts – but what excuses about the Christian life are you making? What excuses about love? What excuses about stewardship? What excuses about time, about worship, about petty grudges, about your pet sin that you enjoy – what excuses are you making? When you consider what Christ Jesus has taught about sin, about His love and the power of His Word – do any of these excuses really hold water? Really? Are the excuses you put forward any better than those we heard in the text? I know mine haven’t been. And yet, even we Christians who know better will sit around dreaming up excuse after excuse – we think we can feed Jesus a line of B.S. about why we aren’t showing love, why we aren’t studying His Word, why we blow off Church, why we ignore this person, why we play favorites with this one, why we hold on to bad habits. Sometimes I wonder just how stupid we can be. God’s Word not only fights the power of Satan – it breaks our excuses.
So why? Why is Jesus so interested in breaking down the excuses we make, even the excuses for the so-called little things – why does He want to break them down? Because the Christian life is to be one of repentance – to be one where we are constantly brought to the repentance of our sin and constantly focus upon Christ. And should we abandon repentance, should we move from being those who confess their sin to those who instead make excuse after excuse – it goes poorly for us. ‘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 my 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 that person is worse than the first.” Little sins never stay little. They always grow, they always get bigger, they always get worse. You can’t appease sin, you can’t let it have just a bit of your life, you can’t lay out the welcome mat for it and say, “Oh sure, come on in, just stay in that bedroom over there.” That simply opens the floodgates, and more and more temptation and sin will flood into your life, until you are worse than you were before. This is a warning against falling away, and if you make excuses – you are playing with fire – and not just a little fire but eternal, unquenchable hell fire. And so our Lord warns us against this – quit your excuses and cling to the Word of life! And our Lord brings this about in you. At your baptism, you were given over by God to a life of repentance – a life that is to be lived out by daily contrition, daily struggle against sin, continual confession of that sin. We are to fight against Satan, not accommodate him with foolhardy excuses to ignore the Word. To be in the waters of Baptism is to be one who fights temptation – and in that water, in that Christian life, there is safety for Christ Himself is with you. We are safer fighting Satan than we are bowing before him. This is the life to which you have been called.
This is also why our Lord admonishes us to listen to His Word. But He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” As Christians, we are those who hear the Word of God, we are those who are to strive to keep it. God’s Word isn’t designed to just go in one ear and out the other. It isn’t something to be brush aside, to have lip service paid to. We are to pay attention. And why? Because it is by the Word of God that we are blessed – and we remain in those blessings of God as long as we remain in the Word.
Consider the example of the Stronger Man that the Lord gives us today. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards 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.” This is what Christ Jesus does for you. You were Satan’s possession, fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay, as Luther would have us sing. You were part of Satan’s kingdom, in bondage to sin – but into this fallen world burst Christ Jesus, the Stronger Man, who defeats Satan and claims you as His own. Christ our Lord defeated Satan by His holy life, by His precious death, by His glorious resurrection – these things all defeat, destroy Satan, and break His power over you. And these things that Jesus did, that He accomplished nearly 2000 years ago are made real in your life today by the power of His Word. The Word of God takes what Christ accomplished then and brings it to you here and now. Christ defeated the old foe, and by His Word, He claims you as His own prize.
When you continually hear the Word, when you live out your baptismal life of repentance and forgiveness, of confession and absolution, when you receive our Lord’s Body and Blood in His Supper, you are being forgiven and strengthened and kept safe from Satan, kept in God’s Kingdom. God keeps you in His Word and thereby keeps you safe from the power of the Devil. And the thing is, Satan is going to do everything he can to make you ignore the Word, spurn God’s Law and despise the Gospel of Christ Jesus – because then, you abandon God, you leave the Mighty Fortress behind and are defenseless. So Christ continually preaches His Word – He doesn’t abandon you to your foolish excuses, He doesn’t leave you trapped in the sins with which Satan binds you, but over and over again, His Word of life comes to you, He preaches life and forgiveness, the Finger of God touches you, so that you might open your lips and declare His praises as well. Christ desires you to reap the benefits of His fight against Satan, and He will make these real in your life through His Word, through His Baptism, through His Supper. God grant us faith that we might cling to His Word and keep it ever more sacred all our days. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Lent 2 Sermon

Lent 2 – March 7th and 8th, 2020 – Matthew 15:21-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
One old saying of the Church is that we Christians must be on guard against our three old foes – Satan, the World, and our Sinful Flesh. Last week, with the temptation in the wilderness, we saw Jesus handle Satan handily – demonstrate that He is far more powerful than Satan. And I would submit that today, in our Gospel lesson we see Jesus deal handily with the world and it's temptations. So, let us begin.

This text is odd. It really is – Jesus behaves strangely in it. Consider: And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have Mercy on me, O LORD, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But He did not answer her a word. Do you see how odd this is? When does Jesus give people in need the silent treatment? I mean, Jesus is typically more than agreeable to go and help people. Hi there, Centurion – I'll come to your house. Zacchaeus, come down out of that tree, I'm coming over to your house today. Jesus is always up and at 'em, ready to go. And He preaches, and teaches – the silent treatment isn't normally His thing. Do you get how odd this is? What in the world is going on?

I skipped a verse – And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus went away from... where? So in Chapter 14, Jesus had fed the 5000, He's walked on water, He is teaching and healing in Gennesret, just south of Capernaum, His home territory in Galilee, surrounded by lots of good little Jewish boys and girls. And then, the nagging starts. Chapter 15 begins with the Scribes and Pharisees coming up to Jesus – who has just performed miracles – and they complain. “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” Yes handwashing is sanitary and all that – but that's not what they are talking about. There had arisen a custom, a tradition, a cultural way of doing things that the good folks in Jewish society just did – including a specific hand washing ritual before eating. And what happens? Nagging. You're not doing this the way we like it. Consider the contrast – healing, feeding the 5000. Well, it's not that you fed the 5000 in the wilderness, but did you remember to make them wash their hands first, hmmm? And keep in mind, these Scribes and Pharisees are really looking down upon Jesus, they are chastising Him – Jesus in their books is no longer acting like a good, Jewish Man! And what follows is a nice discussion on the difference between human, worldly traditions and what God has commanded. What follows is a look at where wickedness really dwells – in the heart of man. More on that next week. But for the moment, Jesus is pestered so much about how a “good Jew should do this and this” that He gets up and leaves Jewish territory all together and goes on up near Tyre and Sidon.

Now, before we go on. I don't want to harp on the Pharisees too much here – I mean, it is a silly complaint. But what's the old saying – you point a finger at someone and the rest point back at you. This should be an example of how the world works. The world and society and culture love to create new rules that you just have to follow or else you are a lousy, terrible person. And I'm not talking about speed limits or things like that – but just how groups and cliques work. In this fallen world, we love to divide ourselves, separate out into little groups, and we have ways we dress, act, and talk, and woe be unto anyone who doesn't toe the line. The old, classic ones are school aged ones – are you a jock or a nerd? Back in the day did you wear a black leather jacket or a letter jacket? Ah ha ha, how silly – but fights and hurt and disdain all over that. And it caries on to today, it permeates all of society today. Need I talk about social pressure in an election year? I feel bad for my Democrat friends – this primary season is brutal for them – you say the wrong thing about one of the candidates and people jump all over you. Or what about the various hot button issues all across the board – the mob will keep you in line or you will be canceled! And even closer to home, we all have our own little groups that we try to fit in, family or friends, and there are lines to be toed because those are the lines, and you don't question them or you are out.

But let's question them – don't worry, I'm not going to call out anything about any one here in particular – rather, let's learn how to question them. Is that better? We are instructed by God to love our neighbor. We know what the fruits of the Spirit are – gentleness, kindness. We heard about holiness and honor in the Epistle. We know the ten commandments and their meanings – and if we can't recite the meanings we know enough to review them. There's your guide from the Word on how we are to love our neighbors. And sometimes we need to consider whether or not our actions, our customs, our traditions are actually doing that. But the danger is this – we can be driven by the world, we can be so concerned about impressing our peers, our social group, that instead of doing what is right, we just go with the flow. Or we even assume that going with the flow must in and of itself be good. Pop Quiz time – what is the First Commandment? (You shall have no other gods) – and what does this mean? (We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.) This is what happens. Instead of fearing God, instead of wanting to make sure we do what God wants and don't get on His bad side, we can become more worried about not getting on the world's bad side. Or our family's bad side. Or our friends' bad side. And then we slide away from God and what is good.

And I would say that this is precisely where the disciples are in this text. They have just been complained about. The Pharisees attacked Jesus through them – why don't your disciples follow the traditions, Jesus? And so, when this Canaanite woman comes up to Jesus, crying for mercy, Jesus does something. He goes silent. Now, let's talk about good old fashioned Jewish culture. If you were a good, proper, dignified fellow, you didn't talk to women. (Hmmmph) And you didn't talk to foreigners. (Hmmph) And you certainly wouldn't talk to some crying, hysterical foreign trollop. (Hmmph) You would just ignore them, pretend they weren't there. So, disciples – is this how Jesus should act, just giving people the silent treatment?

The disciples finally say, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” We miss this in English – that word for “send” could mean simply kick her out, but it's also a word for forgive – when you forgive someone you send their sins away. So are they asking Jesus to heal her or asking Jesus to just get rid of her.... Meh. It's debatable either way. They punt. Just do something Jesus.

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Surely you've had a parent pull this one. And I'm not saying I enjoy getting to pull it, but when you did something foolish, and you were starting to see how foolish it was, and you go to mom or dad, and they back away, hands off, oh no, no, no – mister big shot wanted to do it his way. Same thing here. Me? Do something? Oh no, I'm not suppose to deal with the likes of her. This is teaching the disciples a lesson – and they are flummoxed.

But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “LORD, help me.” And He answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” So, ever insulted someone to fit in with other people? Ever tried to be one of the boys, one the gals and been mean or cruel to show you fit in? Jesus hams that up here. And all of this – right in the disciples face – is this what you disciples want Me to be? Because it's horrific – just as horrific as what the world tries to drive us to be.

You may have noted that I haven't spent much time dealing with the Canaanite woman. Let's consider her for a moment. She's identified as a Canaanite woman – she's one of the ancient enemies of Israel – Israel did wars of conquest to defeat her people. By the standards of the world she should hate Jesus with a passion. And she doesn't. She comes to Him. And in fact, she calls Him LORD, and Son of David – she understands that Jesus is the promised Messiah better than Jesus' own people do! And even though Jesus is the King of people who are her enemy, she still comes before Him and prays for healing. And even when Jesus gives her the cold shoulder, even when He insults her, she knows who Jesus truly is. She said, “Yes, LORD.” Yes, LORD, I am not worthy of anything from you. Yes Lord, I am but a little dog. But... “Yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” But I know who You are, Jesus. You are the Master who will see that even the little dogs get their crumbs. And then you have that wondrous turn – Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith. Be it done for you as you desire!” You got it! You understand who Jesus is, lady! He's the God who does not care for all the stupid games the sinful world plays, who does not take bribes or worry about social pressure – He is the God who cares for His creatures. That's her faith, that's what she believes in – and she is right. Jesus is for her.

This week, my friends, you will be thrown into a wide variety of social circumstances and interactions. You will be pulled in a multitude of directions, sometimes for good (because sometimes we do need our friends and neighbors to give our sinful backside a kick), and sometimes for bad. And the temptation, the trouble is that we can be so overwhelmed by what the world wants and expects that we forget who Jesus is. Jesus is the God who loves you and cares for you, regardless of what the world says or thinks about you. Jesus is the God who will remind you with His law to actually love and serve your neighbor, but not by the world's rules, or not only the ones the world approves of, rather to love all the people He has placed in your life according to His instruction. But more than just that, Jesus is the God who is determined to win you forgiveness and life with His death and resurrection. Jesus is the God who feeds you not with mere crumbs on the side, but who calls you to His feast of eternal life and gives you Himself to eat and drink for the remission of all of your sins. In Christ you are forgiven. The world is weak and silly compared to Jesus, and Jesus always acts for your good. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Lent 1 Sermon

Lent 1 – February 29th and March 1st, 2020 – Matthew 4:1-11

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
If you want to have a good story, a good action adventure, you've got to have a strong villain. I mean, what would Star Wars be without Darth Vader, or what would would a Western be with out the desperado in his black hat. That's what makes the story a story – where there's a strong, powerful villain, and somehow, someway, the hero just barely manages to save the day by the skin of his teeth. That's how we like our adventure stories. Or even think about David and Goliath – there's a contest with a mighty villain. That's part of the reason why that story is still told and known even by people who couldn't care two licks about the Church. We love battles against mighty villains. And as such, our Gospel Lesson, the temptation of Jesus, is an utterly boring and disappointing story. If you want action and drama and tension, our Gospel lesson is an utter snooze fest. I mean, don't get me wrong – you can indeed look at this text like it is a battle, but it's never a battle in doubt. It's not a fair fight between equals. There stands Jesus, God Almighty, the Word of God by whom all things were made – and against Him stands merely Satan. Sure, Satan is strong by our standards, but all of his might, all his fierce scowling is as absolutely nothing compared to Jesus. Listen.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. First things first – did you note that this confrontation is something that God seeks out? The Son of God goes forth to war. He goes to seek out Satan. But Satan knows he cannot stand against God Himself, so Jesus lures the devil out. Normally, one would expect an army going to battle to be well prepared – supply lines are vital, and as a former Army cook loved to tell me, an Army fights on its stomach. Jesus tosses that out the window. He goes out into the wilderness, to the dried out ruins of what should have been garden except for sin, and Jesus goes as a Man. He hungers. He suffers. He is physically weak – as weak as a kitten. It is as though Jesus is saying, “Here Devil, Devil, Devil, come out and play.” A tempting target for the Tempter.

Satan takes the bait. While the Devil may be stronger than any of us in this room, while he may be cunning and crafty, his rebellion against God is utterly doomed. He should have left Jesus alone, but instead, Satan makes his first attack. “And the Tempter came and said to Him, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.'” Now, Satan's attack here is a cunning one, and one that we can mishear. We hear “If you are the Son of God” as a call to prove it – like a put up or shut up sort of challenge. Let's see some power, let's see you flex your muscles. No – that's not the point here. We might hear this better this way – Since you are the Son of God. Jesus, you're standing there hungry and suffering. That's just silly – since you are the Son of God, go make some bread. You can, so go do it. And there, my friends, is a temptation that is so familiar to us. Now, none of us are the Word of God incarnate – but how often does temptation come at you this way? You don't deserve this – don't these people know who you are? Don't you know the power that you have, the opportunities that you could take advantage of? Why should you put up with all this stuff – why should you just let this stuff happen? Do you hear the temptation now? If you can, you ought! Jesus – you have power, use it. Use it to do whatever you think is best and make yourself happy. Not do what is right, or good – but just make yourself happy.

Jesus casually bats Satan's temptation aside. But He answered, “It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Around 1500 years earlier, Jesus had spoken these very words through Moses in this very same wilderness to the children of Israel just before they were to enter the land of Canaan. The temptation to serve yourself is not where there is life, Satan. Oh, sure, you tell sinful man that there's all sorts of things that they need to really have life – but there's only one thing that actually gives life. Me. The Word. And that's what I'm doing Satan, I'm here to rescue these people out of sin and death and give them life. And you still don't realize the world of hurt that you're in.

Satan tries again. Then the 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 their will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” Oh, there's another good one from Satan. Twisting scripture to make it serve yourself – why that's a common one that He lays upon us all the time. You know, where we cherry-pick the Scriptures and try to use God's Word against Him? Where we think we can go before God and act as though He owes us something, trying to catch God in some verbal trap? Oh, we do this one all the time – this is the one that Satan uses all the time to trip up the pious, church going folks.

Again, Jesus casually bats it aside. Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written, 'You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.'” Yeah, no – that's not how the Bible works, Satan. That's not how God works. You don't presume upon God, you don't try to force God's hand. You don't need to, for God will give what is good. Okay – pause for a moment. Do you see what is going on? Satan is giving a good temptation here – I mean, this is a strong move... and Jesus just blows it off. Like it's nothing. Do you see how lopsided this is? Jesus isn't hard in thought, trying to find a way out of Satan's traps – Jesus is basically facepalming at how wrong Satan is. And this is a starved, worn out, and tied Jesus. This isn't a fair fight.

One last toss for Satan. Satan knows that he has met his match, more than his match. So what do you do when you are facing an enemy who is more powerful that you? You try to cut a deal. 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 you, if you fall down and worship me.” So there's the deal. There's the offer. And understand, my friends, it is a serious offer. There's a reason we just called Satan “This world's prince” in the hymn we just sang. The true reality of sin is this – that we are born in bondage to sin and Satan and death. That's just how it is. That's how every life since Adam had gone – all those genealogies in the Old Testament that you don't like to read – well, part of the point to all of them is that they all died. My wife does stuff on – and not a one of my Great-great-grandparents is running around alive. That's the power of sin and death and the Devil. And so Satan decides to cut a deal – let's not fight over mankind Jesus, because that will be uncomfortable. You can take them, just let me be in charge. Understand that it is a perfectly valid offer.

So there's Jesus – and there's the offer. He could have you without going to the cross, without suffering and dying, without Good Friday. Such an offer might give us something to ponder – but not Christ Jesus, God of Power and Might! 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.'” We know how this plays out, Satan. I've already said so. Oh, you'll bruise My heel, but I will crush your head underneath My heal – and I will give My people life everlasting and they shall worship Me alone for all eternity in the new heavens and the new earth that I shall make. You don't get to keep a thing, Satan.

And Satan has no choice but to flee. It's not even close. Jesus at His weakest still has power leaps and bounds beyond Satan, This isn't some epic contest of good versus evil – this is a heavyweight champ boxing an unruly toddler, this is shooting fish in a barrel. This is no contest. And not because Satan is weak, but because Jesus is God Almighty come to win your salvation, and nothing is going to stop Him.

You and I, we feel Satan's temptations all too often. You can I, we give in. You and I, we feel that bondage to sin still, we know that fear of death still, and it drives us. And when we see that, and know that, and it can cause us to despair. With might of ours could naught be done, soon were our loss effected. But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected. Jesus does with ease what you cannot – and He does so for your good. Nothing is going to stop Jesus from being your Savior. Not even Satan – look, even with one arm and a forty day fast tied behind His back, Jesus doesn't even break a sweat against Satan. And this is what we will see Jesus do this Lent – we will see Him just tear apart the power of sin and death and Satan – it may be hard on Jesus, but it is never in doubt. And Jesus will go to the Cross, and He will die, He will dive on into Satan's kingdom and rip it apart from the inside, and He Himself will care for you, and forgive you and He will give you Bread with His Word to forgive you your sins and Him Himself will raise you up even after you're six feet under the ground. Because He said so. Because it is written. Because He has promised. And we don't need to haggle with Him, we don't need to try to find loopholes to make sure we make it. Christ Jesus has claimed you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and He has given you all that is His, His life and Salvation. And there's not a stinking thing Satan can do about it. The temptation shows you just how weak Satan is compared to Jesus, and Jesus always acts for your good. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Quiquagesima Sermon

(A few days late...)

Quiquagesima Sunday – February 22nd and 23rd, 2020 – Matthew 18 and 1 Cor 13

In the Name of Christ Jesus the Light of the World +
“But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Three times. Three times Jesus had told the disciples that He was going to go to Jerusalem and be crucified and die and rise. Three times. Even we today should get the importance of telling someone something three times – it means it's serious. I've told you once, I've told you twice, don't make me tell you again. Well, Jesus did, and the disciples still did not see. It was hidden from them, they couldn't wrap their heads around the idea that Jesus, True God, the Messiah... would die. They couldn't, they wouldn't see the Cross.

Alright, slight confession time. The other week I had a throw away line about that being a big cross up there and not a big lightning bolt – I was hoping it would get a good laugh and it fell flat. Yes, I'll mope even in mid sermon if people don't like my jokes. But I do like having that big old cross up there – and I try to make sure that I point to it at least once a sermon. A dear old elder I knew told me this when I was young – Bill said, “I like the fact that you point to the cross when you preach. It means you pointed to Jesus.” And not just a Jesus of power and might, but a Jesus who goes to the cross. That's part of why I love the Crucifix on the altar. I get to stand and have Christ the Crucified right in front of my face whenever I'm there doing stuff. I love the crosses all over the place in this building – on our hymnals, our pews, our lights. All over. Because we're called to see the cross. Because every sermon preached from this pulpit should proclaim Christ and Him Crucified. Because the danger for the Church in every generation is that we get to a point where we just don't care about seeing Christ and Him Crucified anymore.

The disciples showed that danger, how it played out. They were well meaning, they were devoted – they were disciples. And yet – they understood none of these things. They didn't want the cross, they didn't want a Jesus dying for them. They wanted some other Jesus. They wanted a Jesus calling down fire and brimstone on their enemies. General Patton is supposed to have said, “It's not the job of the soldier to die for his country, it's the job of the soldier to make some other sap die for his country.” That was the sort of Jesus wanted. And they wanted a magic trick, go on, give us another one sort of Jesus. Miracles and awesome stuff. And they wanted coat-tail Jesus, where they'd ride right on up the popularity ladder with Him. You can get pretty high up there when Jesus is your co-pilot, or something like that. And we too can want all those same sorts of things – and to be honest, they aren't necessarily bad to want. I mean, it's not bad to want success, or even to see wickedness punished. These can all be quite good, quite important. But they aren't the center, they aren't the need.

So Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to Jerusalem and that there He will be crucified, and the disciples don't get it. Don't want it. But Jesus starts walking – and He gets to the town of Jericho – on the way to Jerusalem. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan – he's on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. Well, Jesus gets to Jericho, and word gets around, and a blind man hears that Jesus is coming, and He starts calling out to Jesus. Making a racket, a fuss. And people want him to shush, to be silent, but he keeps calling out. And so Jesus stops, and He has the blind man brought to Him, and Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, 'Lord, let me recover my sight.” I don't like that translation – it sounds too formal. Kurie, hina anablepso – Lord, that I would see again. That's what I would like, I would see again. My eyes, they used to work, and then they stopped. They went kaput. They died. Let them see again, let them live again.

It's by no means a bad thing to want healing, to want a miracle. And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” See again – your faith has saved you. Those eyes that had died live again, they see again, because I am here to save, to raise to the dead, to restore and fix and make things new again. That's what I'm going to Jerusalem to do. That's what it all points to, that's been the point and purpose of every healing, of every teaching, of every demonstration of power. Death shall be undone and give way to resurrection. And not just for a day on a road passing through Jericho – Jesus will go to Jerusalem and die and rise so that the words of Job will be true – I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold. You'll see today, blind beggar – and you'll see Jesus again even after you have died, because this Jesus who goes to the Cross and died for you and rises for you is going to raise to you new life where you will die no more, and your eyes will die no more, and things will not fall apart because sin will have been destroyed and death will have been undone and your Savior will have made all things new.

That's where we're going. That's what God is doing. He is setting up and preparing the New Heavens and the New Earth, the life of the world to come – but it's doesn't happen without the Cross. It can't happen without the Cross. Death must be destroyed. Sin must be atoned for and dealt with. The Law must be fulfilled – and the Law says that the sinner must die, that the wages of sin is death – and so He who knew no sin, the spotless Lamb of God, must become sin for us. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Worker must take up the wage that we could not bear apart from Him. The Seed must fall into the earth and die, so that it will not remain alone but yield a hundredfold. It all hinges, it all starts, it all hangs there – Christ and Him Crucified.

That, Christ Crucified is love. To give, to serve another. That is love. And if we lose the Cross, if we lose Jesus loving us and giving us forgiveness and life and salvation – we are nothing. It doesn't matter how well we talk or how witty we are, it doesn't matter how much we know, or how powerful we are – it doesn't matter how generous we are or the sacrifices we make. If we are any of these things, all of these things, “but have not love, I gain nothing. Without the Cross, without Jesus dying and rising, without Jesus forgiving us and promising to raise us, we gain nothing.

The Cross, Christ Crucified for you is how the Scriptures define love. For God so loved the world – this is how God loved the world – that He gave His only Son – gave, upon the Cross, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. The Cross is love. I actually like Romans 5:8 a bit better than John 3:16 – But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That's love. Christ Crucified is patient and kind, Christ crucified does not envy or boast, Christ Crucified is not arrogant or rude – even to the mockers, even to the soldiers crucifying Him. Christ Crucified does not insist on His own way – not My will but Thine be done. Christ Crucified is nor irritable or resentful, nor does He rejoice at wronging, but rejoices with the truth – for He is the way, the truth, and the life – and this Cross is the way that you have life. Christ Crucified bears all things for you, He believes all things for you, hopes all things for you, endures even the shame of the Cross for you.

And you will be tempted, my friends, to not want this love. To want power or wealth or fame or whatever more than this Jesus dying and rising sort of love. You'll be tempted to redefine love into all sorts of things – pleasures, wish fulfillment, approval – all the sorts of thing that a world without Jesus flails about after. There will be times when you are more worried about what other people are getting rather than the love that Christ Jesus shows you. And there will be times where you see, where you know your need for Christ intensely and powerfully – normally moments of tragedy and pain and loss. Like the blind man being wanting to see again. Then you see love, the love that is Christ better. But there's something even more than that. There will come the time when you are breathing your last, when you close your eyes and are pretty sure they might not open again. And the temptation, the lie of Satan will be to say that this is it, this is all she wrote. No – for Christ the Crucified is love – and He Himself gave up His Spirit and Jesus breathed His last, precisely for that day, that moment for you. And He rose so that you would rise, see again, breath again, live again – eternally with Him.

That's the point. That's the faith we confess – the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. That's the point of Baptism. May God our Father who has begotten you of water and the word keep you in your baptismal grace unto life everlasting. That's why we have the Supper. Now may the true Body and Blood of Christ Jesus – the very Body that died and rose, the blood shed for you upon the cross – strengthen and keep you in the one true faith until the life of the world to come. Jesus loves you, and He gives Himself to you – even when you do not see, even when you do not fully understand. Jesus comes to you, and He makes you to see again, to live again – and He shall do so forever. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully even as I have been fully known. This is Christ's love for you. This is what He makes your darkened and blinded eyes to see. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Septuagesima 2020

Septuagesima Sunday – Matthew 20:1-16 – February 8th and 9th, 2020

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
I am an unabashed fan of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special – and not just for the fact that it's about the one time a year Scripture actually gets read on TV. No, I actually like how dark and cutting some of the humor is. And my favorite part is where Sally has Charlie write out her Christmas Letter and asks Santa to send her tens and twenties – fifties and hundreds today. And when Charlie Brown gives his “good grief” Sally says, “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.” That is fantastic social commentary, and it should remind us today that the more things change, the more they stay the same – all I want is what is coming to me, all I want is my “fair” share.

One could easily imagine the workers in the vineyard, the ones who had come early in the morning and had worked all day saying the same thing. There they were, and they saw the Vineyard owner toss out money to these Johnny come latelies – these lazy bums who had only worked half a day, or barely an hour. Surely, surely when we who have worked the hardest get paid, we will get a just reward! And on receiving [a denarius] they grumbled at the master of the house saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” Where's the money? Pony up the cash? Deniarii in at least 2 and 3s! All we want is what we have coming to us! All we want is our fair share. The story of the workers in the Vineyard is such an interesting story because on the face of it, it does seem quite unfair. We like people to get what they work for. We don't like people to be simply given something when we have to work for it – whether the narrative is how you hate the lazy rich who are just given everything by their parents and never have to work or whether the narrative is grousing at the lazy poor who just get government handouts – even to this day someone getting something for free when we have worked for it always irritates us.

So listen careful when I say this. If you start to think in any what that your salvation is by works, if you think your relationship with God is based upon all that you have done for Him, you will be eternally angry and irate, bitter and mad. Simple as that.

Consider again the story. At first glance we can understand why the laborers who worked all day might be angry and annoyed – why they are so upset at the end of the day. But that happens only when they and we don't understand, don't remember where they were at the beginning of the day.
For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. We hear that and we can just skim on by it, but this is important. Where are the laborers when we start? What's the situation of the laborers before we come across them? They are unemployed. In a day and age when there are no social agencies, when there is no unemployment insurance, when the Law is “If a man does not work, then he shall not eat.” And these laborers, whom the master finds, are people who have no job. Ponder that – they are there, standing, and they literally do not know where their next meal will come from. That's their situation. They wake up and don't know if they will be able to buy bread for their family. And frankly, there's every reason to think that they might not be able to – but then the master comes. Here, come to my vineyard, and I'll give you a good salary – a Denarius – a living wage! He doesn't undercut their pay, he doesn't lowball them – he doesn't minimum wage them, or give them a bit of cash all off the books like migrant workers. This is solid, like a union job falling into their laps. And they were happy – as they ought to have been – this is Kingdom of Heaven stuff, this is how things ought to be.

At that point they knew how generous the master was – because he dealt with them generously in hiring them. No shenanigans, no funny business – just dealing with them generously straight from go. And unsurprisingly, the master continues to be generous. He hires more and more workers throughout the day – finds more and more people who are becoming ever increasingly desperate and despondent, who see more and more doom and gloom and hunger and poverty enveloping them, and over and over the master calls them – here, come, I'll give you what is right. And he does – he takes care of all of them. Everyone gets treated well – a Denarius – a full wage, enough for life and the joys and comforts there of.

But by the end of the day, some of the workers aren't seeing the masters' generosity towards them anymore. Instead, they only see how others took short cuts, got off easy. I had to sweat it out – how come they get the same as me? Greed and envy cloud everything, and their joy and peace is turned to anger and discontent. But what had changed? The master hadn't changed – he was still his same old generous self. Their situation hadn't changed – they got exactly as they were promised – the good that they were promised. No, the only thing that had changed was their idea of what was “fair” - of what they should have coming to them. They forgot that when they woke up that morning it would have been fair for them to go hungry, that poverty and death was what they had coming to them, all except for the fact that this master went out and found them and called them to the vineyard. They forgot, and so they were miserable.

The Kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of grace – that is, it is a kingdom of God's free forgiveness and favor, given not because of what we do or will do but simply because it is God's good and gracious will to redeem sinful man. And that's what we are – sinful men and women – and we must remember that by rights, our “fair share” is death and hell. But to see that we do not get death and hell as our only share, Christ Jesus comes, God Himself becomes man, and He Himself goes to the Cross – He bears the true burden of the day, the true scorching heat in our place so that we do not have to – and He rises, and in His grace and mercy, by the Gospel He gives us life eternal and salvation. He gives it to us – to some of us who have been faithful since childhood, to some of us who have often wandered off but have been called back, to some of us who lived idle lives not knowing Christ until lately – but to all of us the same, incredible gift of life and salvation.

This is wondrous and profound and beautiful. Here we have a congregation – people from various walks of life with different stories, all of whom God has called into His kingdom, and here we receive the same forgiveness and life in Christ. I speak the same absolution to you all, the same Scriptures are read to you, the same sermon is proclaimed to you – the same Holy Supper for you – the same blessing upon you. And we are brought to stand before God forgiven and righteous in Christ and prepared for life everlasting. But know that you will be tempted to despise this. That Satan wants you to hate this. That your sinful flesh wants to fight against this. Oh, it's nice that I get forgiveness – but how can so-and-so just get forgiveness. Why, I'm surprised that lightning doesn't strike them. There's a reason there's a big giant Cross on that wall and not a big giant lightning bolt. We all live under the Cross, all equally forgiven.

But in somethings we are not equal. Not all have the same life, the same story of how God called us here. We don't all have the same talents or gifts or opportunities. We don't all have the same burdens and temptations. We don't all have the same failures, and frankly we don't all have the same opportunity to fail. And so how do we see those differences? Do we see them in light of God's generosity – see how gracious God is in how He has richly blessed my neighbor – see how generous God is in how He has kept me from that harm, that danger – see how generous God is in that He has rescued that person from that trial. Or do we see these differences sinfully with a wicked and jealous eye – why don't I have what they have, why are they here when they've failed so and I haven't, why can't everything just be my way? One way of looking and seeing is by faith, and there is joy and wonder, and always more of it. The other way is of sin and death, and then there is no end to your discontent and sourness. If you start to think in any what that your salvation is by works, if you think your relationship with God is based upon all that you have done for Him, you will be eternally angry and irate, bitter and mad. Simple as that.

Yet once again, this day, the Master calls us unworthy sinners into His Kingdom, and He gives us precisely what He has promised us. He Himself will come and be our God, be with us. He will treat us as His children and the heirs that He has declared us to be in Holy Baptism, and He will give us His rich feast – now, this day as well as eternally in the life of the world to come. And this is for you. This is His generous goodness for you. God grant us His Spirit to strengthen our faith so that we receive it as such. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Presentation of Our Lord

Presentation of our Lord – February 1st and 2nd, 2020 – Luke 2:22-33
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
And I bet you didn't know that Groundhog's Day was a Church holiday. It is – the Presentation of our LORD – 40 days after Christmas, when Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple to offer the sacrifice for a first born son – two turtledoves. The Groundhog stuff isn't in the bible – that's just crazy German folklore, but this date remembers the first time Jesus, our true High Priest, entered the temple to be our Savior.

But when He gets to the temple, before the sacrifice, something happens – a beautiful, wonderful event – so wonderful and beautiful that we will sing it again today in just a few moments. There was an old man named Simeon, an old fellow who lived in Jerusalem. And somehow the Holy Spirit had revealed to this pious old man that he would not die, he would not see death until he saw the promised Messiah – the Messiah who would be the consolation of Israel. Can you think what it would be like? Oh, there is old, faithful Simeon, just waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the Messiah. Would that we believed the Word as he did and show such diligence as he did! But at any rate, as Jesus and Mary and Joseph are at the temple, Simeon comes up, and he sees Jesus, he sees this Child – and he takes Him up in his old aged arms, takes Him out of Mary’s hands into his own and starts giving thanks to God, blesses God, extols God and sings His praises – uses words which are familiar to us all – Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel. We know these words – they are the Nunc Dimittis – Latin for “Now Let Depart” the first phrase of this in Latin. We sing them, even to this day after communion.

Let’s ponder them today, for they teach us much, and we learn much from them. Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word. Such an interesting reaction. I can die now. That’s what he’s saying – when he uses the phrase “depart in peace” he’s not hoping for short lines at the airport for his trip to Florida – Simeon is saying, “Alright Lord, I can die now – You can take me.” Is that not a marvelous faith, a wonder to think on and behold? To be that confident, to be that sure – I can die now. That is a wonderful gift – Simeon has no more fear. Now, the world likes to keep us full of doubt, full of fear – oh no, what will the future hold. The world thrives on fear, fear sells. Fear keeps you on the edge of your seat. Fear keeps you in bondage. Sadly, politics this election year will probably just end up being competing ways of spinning fear. Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word. For Simeon, there is no fear – and why? According to Your Word. Simeon has heard the Word, and Simeon believes. Because Simeon believes the Word, trusts that God will be true and will provide Salvation, indeed, Simeon now holds salvation in his hands – what is there for Simeon to fear? Eh, I can die now, the grave holds no more fear for me – I hold the One who will call me forth from the grave. This is the peace that Christ gives, this is the peace and release from fear that is ours – that we know we have and receive every time we receive our Lord’s Supper. Think on this – you have communed – Christ Jesus has given you His own Body and Blood for your forgiveness – what else is there to fear? What tops that, what is bigger or more powerful than Christ Himself given for you? Like Simeon, you too see and hold and indeed even taste your salvation, and are bold like him. You are right to sing his words, make them your own as well – because you have what he had – you likewise trust in the Word. This is the peace of the Lord that is with you always, because in Him you have an eternal peace, and peace that nothing in this world can take away.

Simeon’s song continues – For my eyes have seen Your salvation, that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples. We know the old adage – seeing is believing. We can hear things, even from good, reliable sources – and we can even know that something is true – but until we see it for ourselves it doesn’t quite hit home. Our eyes are a useful tool – a wonderful gift given to us by God, even if now a days our eyes can all too often be wandering eyes, looking where they ought not, casting covetous glances all around. Old Simeon knew that the Lord’s Word was true – that when the Lord spoke it was as good as done, you can take it to the bank. And Simeon believed – and yet, when this old man sees the Christ Child, he breaks forth into joyous song. He has seen it – He has held the Christ Child in his own hands – he knows it to be true.

Simeon’s response doesn’t surprise God – because God knows how Simeon, how we, how our minds work. We like having tangible things to hold on to – and God deals with us in this way. Think on the Old Testament. God would give the children of Abraham, the children of Israel signs of His covenant. There was the sign of Circumcision – think on how tangible a sign that was – proof that you were part of God’s salvation. You had Passover – you had the glory of the Lord in the pillar of Cloud and Pillar of Fire. God gave the people of the Old Testament things to hold onto, things to grasp.

And now, even today, He prepares salvation in the face of all people in a way that we can grasp. Consider your baptism. We know what it is – it is not plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word – the old comforting words of the Catechism. Have you ever though how kind and loving God is just in how Baptism works? God takes His Word and attaches it, combines it with something that we can see and touch – water. And since those waters of Holy Baptism have been applied to us, we know that God’s Word has been forever well and truly applied to us. Let doubt be done away with, and as for Satan with his accusations that God wouldn’t love one as you, he can take a long walk off of a short pier, for you are baptized, and you have the physical proof that God loves you. It is a historical fact, you are baptized. Period.

Same wonder with the Supper. It is the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and the wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink. Just as Simeon held in his hands the Body of his Savior, the Body of his God made flesh – so shall you in the gift of Holy Communion. What David prophesied in the 34th Psalm you will receive today – Taste and see that the Lord is Good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. Christ Jesus Himself will give you salvation, the highest refuge, in His Supper. Again, something tangible, something that we can wrap not just our minds but our hands around – something that we can taste, can smell, can see – God overwhelms us with His love and forgiveness through all our senses – so that we see and taste and smell and believe.

Simeon’s song concludes A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel. And with Christ, the old testament came to a close. Israel’s job was done, they had produced the Messiah. No longer would they need to be separated off from the other peoples of the world – God tells Peter he can eat pig now, Paul shows that the ceremonies of the law aren’t required. The whole reason for all these things – the dietary laws, the sacrifices, was so that the people of Israel would be separate and distinct from the rest of the world – they would be God’s reminder to all people that He would send a Messiah, a Savior. The people of Nineveh knew this – they repented of their sin and looked to God. The wise men from the East knew that God was sending a king – but they didn’t quite know how or who. God fearing Gentiles from all over knew that God was going to act in and through the people of Israel – and now that is fully revealed. Behold Christ, the Savior of the Nations. Behold Jesus, the Lord is Salvation for all. And Israel is glorified in Him. Luther in the 1520s writes a book entitled “That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew” – and in this he points out that God did not choose to be born of 'pigheaded, crude, drunken Germans' – but He deigned to be born of a Jewish mother – indeed, a glory for that line and heritage and race that no other can claim. Behold, this little Jewish Boy is the God and Creator of all things – the God and Creator who restores His Creation and brings the gifts of heaven to earth.

This is the Child the Simeon holds in his arms, this is the child who grows and goes to the Cross and suffers and dies and rises again to win us salvation. This is the very Body that our Lord gives to us this day for forgiveness. With this in mind, seeing this, we rejoice with Simeon, and with all the saints of every age who are with the Lord now, this day. This is the salvation Christ Jesus has won, and He brings it here to you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World. Amen.