Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Bible, Stories, and Sunday School

The Adult Bible Class is just finishing up 1 Samuel.  1 Samuel is one of those books of the bible that folks know quite a few of the stories from - they are Sunday School stories.  You have David and Goliath.  You have David being anointed King.  You might even get little Samuel saying, "Here am I, Lord!"  Great stories!

But in reading the book in detail (and also having gone over Genesis a while ago), I'm becoming more and more dissatisfied with how Sunday School is set up - what is covered.  I had been taught in my youth (both in Sunday School and even in parochial school) so much of the Scriptures by way of moral example -- see here, David is a good little boy, now you be a good little boy and trust in God too!  Be ready to serve like Samuel.

It always was something where you could end with "and the moral of the story is..."

As regards our youth, we've turned "Bible Stories" into tales of "here's how good Christians were well behaved."

Go read 1 Samuel.  It starts off with the priest assuming Samuel's mom was just another one of the drunken trollops his sons were partying with.  You see failure and heartache and stumbling -- everyone.  The heroes, the villains -- all of them sinners, all of them flawed.  And the difference is repentance.

We seem to lose the fact that the point of the stories (the moral of the stories, if you will) isn't "You Can!" -- it's rather, "You're a sinner, even the greatest heroes of the faith were... and you need to repent." 

1 Samuel 25 is fantastic for this - David's rage... and the thanks he gives to God when Abigail gets in his way and keeps him from doing something stupid.  "And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand!"  (But read it in the King James - because that's where you actually see David's anger -- he doesn't say he's going to kill "the men" of Nabal... )

We have sanitized the sin out of the stories we tell our kids -- but the whole point is that our entire lives will have to be ones of repentance, where we never trust our own strength but rather rely upon God's mercy, rely upon the forgiveness won by Christ Jesus.  

If it's not driving and pointing to Christ and His redemption, you've simply neutered the bible.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I still don't like boycotts

I just don't like boycotts.

Yes, I know, this has been the tried and true method of protest - I don't like what business X or State Y is doing - let's organize a boycott.  Right and Left, both sides do it.  That will learn them!

Yet, here's the thing.  Just think on the 10 commandments from your catechism days.  What's the meaning to the 7th Commandment?  "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."

So someone's doing something *I* don't like.  Isn't he still my neighbor?  Am I somehow excused from showing him love and helping him?  That's convenient - if I don't *like* what someone does, I can stop loving him and feel all good about it... um... or something.

And it just doesn't even make sense.  How am I going to convince someone to change her mind if I utterly ignore her - if I castigate her and wish her harm.  That's not going to convince anyone of anything.

But lest you think I'm just not dedicated enough to your cause (whatever cause it is), consider what Paul writes in Romans 12:   "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

So - alright - if someone bothers you so much that you just can't do business with them... okay.  So be it... but leading the glorious boycott revolution against your neighbor... you aren't going to overcome evil with doing harm yourself.

But - if this strikes too much of a nerve, you can always organize a boycott of my blog =o)

You can also check out another post on Boycotting I wrote if you haven't determined I am thus evil incarnate.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Lent 5 Sermon

Lent 5 – March 22nd, 2015 – John 8

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          We got rid of our DirecTV last Summer, and while I will admit, I missed being able to watch 15 college football games, or flip through NCAA tournament games this week, there’s been a great benefit.  I haven’t seen a single commercial for whatever horrid “Learn about the “REAL Jesus” shows that are coming out now, like they do every year at this time.  Every year it’s some schlock about getting to the heart of the matter, trying to figure out why such a nice fellow like Jesus would be killed.  Do you wish to know why Jesus is put to death – why people are set against Him?  John records for us the heart of the matter.  What does our Lord say to these folks in our Gospel lesson today?  “Why do you not understand what I say?  It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word.  Plain and simple – the only reason anyone has a problem with Christ, with Christianity, when it all boils down to it – they cannot bear to hear the Word of God.  It is distasteful, it is unpleasing, it doesn’t tell folks what they want to hear.

          I think sometimes we can forget just how distasteful the unbridled law of God is.  See, people in general like watered down law – they like law that says, “Oh, just play nice.”  Be kind – oh, that’s sweet.  But that isn’t God’s law, not in its fullness.  God’s law is firm and direct.  Love your neighbor – not just give him polite indifference. Love him – actively serve him.  Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect – not just try hard and we’ll give you a ribbon for participation.  The simple fact is we as sinful human beings do not keep the law like we ought – we are sinful.  That’s just how it goes – and we need to admit that and recognize that – and that is hard for our pride, that is hard for our ego to accept.  Some things we will confess easily, but other sins, we like to downplay, brush off.  And when we slough off our sin, when we minimize it, when we pretend that it, all of it, isn’t that big of a deal, that is a horrible thing.  Jesus’ Word describes what that minimizing of our sin actually is, what we are doing when we attempt to justify our own sin.  He says, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.”

          When you deny the Word of God – when you hear the Scriptures speak of your sin, and you want to brush it aside, blow it off – that is your sinful nature kicking in – that is you sounding like Satan.  Harsh words, aren’t they – but Jesus calls a spade a spade – and sin, your sin, whatever it is, however little and small you like to pretend it is, is truly nasty and vile.  Sin murders.  When you do not show the love to your neighbor that God has called you to show them – that kills them, little by little.  It harms them, it robs them of the blessings and joy God intended them to receive through you – and that is huge.  Sin lies and has nothing to do with the truth.  When you dither, when you make excuses – that’s the same stuff that Satan does.  When you do not believe what the Word of God says about you and your sin – about your failings and your weakness, you are as bad as Satan, no ifs, ands, or buts – no excuses.

          God’s Word of law is blunt and shows us the full depth, the full impact of our sin – the stuff we like to brush over, ignore, sweep under the rug.  God’s Word of Law calls us to repent – to confess our sins, all our sins.  The Word “confess” literally means to speak with, to speak together.  We are called to speak with Christ His Word declaring our sins, every last one, to be horrid and vile.  That is part of God’s Word.

          Now, there is more to God’s Word – Christ Jesus also speaks Words that are lovely beyond all measure, beyond all beauty.  He tells us of a truth that is profound, that is the mystery of the ages – and indeed, for our benefit.  At the end of our text for this day, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”  These are some profound words.  In the Old Testament, when Moses asks God how He should be called, God tells Moses to call Him – I AM.  God – the One who *is*, who exists in and of Himself – the God who creates us, and without Whom we would not exist – the Maker of Heaven and Earth.  This truth of God, that He IS, was so profound to the Jews that in the Hebrew language, you never said, “I am” – you would never say I am a Jew – you would simply say, “I Jew.”  You would never say “I am a guy” – you would say “I a guy”.  God is the One who IS.  And what does our Lord Jesus say – I AM.  Here Jesus states and says that He is God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

          Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, comes into this world to deal with, to address and handle our sin.  To do what is necessary to fight it, to destroy it, to forgive it.  And this too, dear friends, can be distasteful.  Christ coming to help and save us from our sins means that we need help, that we need saving.  Let me ask you the question – how many of you recently have spurned help, gotten annoyed when someone offers help?  “I can do it myself” – those words familiar?  Again, words of pride, words of denial.  And when it comes to handling our sin, removing its taint, being restored to life – we are helpless, we need a Savior.  If you are lying upon the hospital bed with your heart stopped, you can’t go get the paddles yourself – the doctors and nurses must tend to that.  Likewise – people who are dead in their trespasses – for that is what Scripture says we were, dead in trespasses – must be restored to life by the Good Physician, Christ Jesus.  And the sinful nature rebels against this, fights this tooth and nail – and so many do not believe.

          But to you, dear friends, it has been given to hear and know and understand these Words that Christ speaks – He has opened your ears to hear, He has opened your eyes to see.  He is the light of the World, He has set you free – so that you can know the beauty of these words.  God Almighty does not abandon you to a dying life of sin, He does not abandon you to the grave and destruction – but rather, Christ Jesus, the great I AM, enters into this world, and He saves you.  That’s what our Lord’s Word proclaims, and that gives joy to those who have been made children of the Heavenly Father by the wondrous gift of Baptism – we hear and rejoice at God’s salvation – we even hear and rejoice when He breaks our sinful hearts, because we know that He will create in us new and clean hearts.

          Our Lord speaks to this wonder in this text – He says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day – he saw it and was glad.”  Abraham was a man of faith – and as such, he knew that he was sinful, and that sin had consequences.  In our Old Testament lesson, the Lord laid out for Abraham the consequences of sin – sin means there must be death.  Sin means you must die – that even your son, Isaac, he too must die.  And yet, even as Abraham takes Isaac and binds him, ties him to the wood, raises the knife to sacrifice him, knowing that death is what both he and Isaac deserve – what does he hear, what does he see?  The Angel of the Lord – Christ Jesus Himself before His incarnation steps in, stops Abraham – Jesus keeps Abraham from sacrificing Isaac.  Jesus says to Abraham – let us find a replacement – and then there, in the thicket – a ram caught by its horns.  Today, this day Abraham – your son lives this day because of this ram.  Abraham saw this was glad.  But there was more to it, it is as though Christ said to Abraham – “This Ram is for today, but the day will come Abraham, when I Myself will be the one who is sacrificed, not only for Isaac, but for all, for you, and not only to give life for a day, but to give everlasting life, to defeat and conquer death.”  That is the day that Abraham rejoiced that He would see – that He longed for above all others.

            Now, the Jews had pointed out that Abraham had died – treated him as though he were gone.  Our Lord’s Words show us the mystery, the wonder of the ages.  No, Abraham was not gone – he doesn’t see death – rather He beholds Christ and so He sees life – He from the presence of God beholds with utter joy what Christ does as He strides to earth and takes on Human Flesh, and goes to the Cross and dies to atone for sin, rises to defeat death and ensure our resurrection.  There is no final death for Abraham, for Christ won Him salvation by His own death and resurrection – and likewise, Christ Jesus has won this salvation, this promise of resurrection for you.  And this is given to you, this is provided to you by His Word.  Our Lord says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.”  The word here for “keep” means to hold onto to, to observe, to cling to, to cherish.  In Christ’s Word, there is life and salvation – His Words are indeed the Words of eternal life – and when you receive this Word – When you hear it, when you are baptized into it, when that Word of God is placed upon Your tongue in our Lord’s most Holy Supper, it brings life everlasting – life beyond death and the grave.  It means you will not see death – that even death becomes merely the doorway to life everlasting, that the separation of body and spirit at death will be not be permanent, for our Lord will raise you on the last day and make you perfect and truly living in Him.  This is what God’s Word gives you, this is what the Word accomplishes and brings about in you.  This is the effect of the preaching of the Word, this is the effect of Baptism, this is the effect of the Supper – that you receive from Christ life.

          In this way, Christ ultimately defeats Satan.  With His death and resurrection, our Lord defeats Satan, and with His Word and Sacraments, Christ pulls you out of Satan’s kingdom of death and restores you unto life.  This is what He accomplishes, this is what Abraham sees and rejoices, this is why all the hosts of heaven give thanks and praise to God.  Let us with prayer then prepare to join them in their songs of celebration, and let us then join in the heavenly feast in our Lord’s Supper.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lent 4 Sermon

Lent 5 – John 6:1-15 – March 15th, 2015

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          Lent can be a hard and rough time, an intense time in the Church.  I always get a little nervous writing Lenten sermons, because they deal so bluntly with sin and temptation.  But that’s what happens in Lent.  And I think that the intensity of Lent, the intensity of a focus on repentance can be a bit shocking to us today in America because we have forgotten that there is a cost of discipleship, that there is a weight and burden attached to being a Christian.  It shows up in the old hymns.  We sing in A Mighty Fortress - “And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife”.  Jesus, Priceless Treasure cries out defiance against a sinful world that constantly hounds us.  These are hymns that are describing the burden, the true burden in this life of being a Christian, of turning your back upon the world. . . and letting the world kick you in the backside.  This is something that Christ though is blunt and honest about – we hear Him teach this, but somehow in America our mindset has gotten twisted.  We think that because we are Christians we should have things easier, that if we are good little Christian boys and girls that we should get more toys.  The stories from the middle East with ISIS shock us – when Christ told us such things would come.  Take up your cross and follow Me, not sit back in your BMW and follow Me.

          In America we’ve sort of lost the expectation that the Christian life is hard and difficult – and as such, Lent seems insanely burdensome – the concept of giving something seems strange – and as such, we don’t understand what Christ our Lord teaches in the Gospel today – Refreshment Sunday – the pink Sunday of Lent.  What we are going to do today is look at the feeding of the 5000, but in terms of burden and relief, in terms of trials in this life and being rescued.  It fits well, and it is something we need to hear, need to be rightly focused on.

          After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.  And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick.  Jesus went up on the mountain and there He sat down with His disciples.  Now, the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.  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 that these people may eat?”  Here is the familiar set up.  Jesus has been doing miracles, He has been preaching, and large crowds begin to follow Him.  And Jesus sees the crowds, and Jesus asks the disciples a simple question.  Where are we going to buy bread to feed these folks?  Now, consider this.  You’ve been walking all day, following after a person.  Jesus had gone onto the other side of the Sea of Galilee, so you may have gone many, many miles following Jesus, eager to hear Him, eager to see Him in action.  In a hot, dusty, rugged area.  All the day long.

          What would these people following Jesus here look like?  They would be a mess, they would be tired, they would be hungry.  There is a cost, a burden associated with these people following Jesus.  Their bodies are worn.  They’ve probably missed lunch, if not more meals than that.  The money they would have earned that day – never gotten by them.  They have made a sacrifice, their life is harder right now because they are in that crowd.  Things of this life, they gave up, simply to follow Christ.

Now, as we observed a few weeks ago, Jesus knows quite well what it is like to be out in the desert, tired and hungry.  And so we know that Christ will have compassion, that He will seek to alleviate their hunger.  However, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t hungry.  That doesn’t mean that there was no cost, no burden to the people.  It is rough following Christ.  Christ doesn’t make things easier, He doesn’t keep burdens away – rather this – He will refresh and strengthen these people, so that they can recover from this day, so that they can be prepared for the next. 

The same is true in your life.  Christ knows your life is hard, and He knows that the more you try to live as a Christian, the more you turn away from sin, the more you say no to the people of the world who want to do wickedness, the more you give of yourself so that others can have and rejoice – the more you do these Christ-like things the harder your life is.  And so Christ will refresh you.  He will bolster you on His Word, He will feed you on His Supper, He will encourage you, He will let you see joys in simple things, simple acts of compassion, joys that the world will never understand.  But still, we can ask the question.  Why the hard stuff in the first place?  If Jesus was gonna feed these people, why’d He let them follow Him out around a lake in the first place?  If God is going to give us peace and rest, why is there a burden in the first place?  This text gives us two reasons, which we will see shortly.

First, listen to what Jesus says to Phillip.  Where are we going to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”  He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.  Jesus knew what He was going to do – but here is the question.  Did the disciples know?  And the answer is no.  Phillip mutters that a mound of cash wouldn’t do much good.  Even Peter, top of the class Peter says, “Eh, a boy has five loaves and two fish, but that doesn’t amount to much.”  The disciples didn’t know, they didn’t understand.  If they didn’t know what Christ would do, how would they be able to be Christ-like, to do things like Christ?  One of the things that we forget is that the Christian life is often compared to training, to learning, to preparing for a race.  And that is hard.  If you want to be a better runner you don’t sit on the couch eating fritos – you must run and often.  If you want to be a better basketball player you don’t play XBOX or playstation, your Coach is going to send you through drills until you are worn out.  If you want to be a better reader, you can’t just read nothing but Clifford the Big Red Dog books, you have to pick up harder and more difficult books, learn words you hadn’t known before.  Learning math means you’ve got to do harder and harder homework.  Even in the things of this world, we grow in the face of struggle.

The same thing holds true in our lives as Christians.  If we are to grow to be like Christ, we have to be put in places, be given opportunities to do Christ-like things.  And that means difficulty.  That means showing love even to your enemies, that means praying even for those who persecute you, that means making the care of others your top priority, even if it means you don’t get everything you wanted.  Our Lord says in Luke that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.  Recognize the trials in your life for what they are – for they are not simply burdens, but they are opportunities which Christ gives you in order for you to grow, to grow in love, to know in knowledge and wisdom, to grow in understanding of Christ’s love for you.  In this world which is full of sin, we will always need growth in Christ, learning how to struggle against sin, and it will remain a struggle, that is the way things must be here.

Then we know what happens in the text.  Christ provides, and He provides abundantly.  12 baskets of leftovers are gathered.  Christ does provide us with all that we need, the difficulties are endured and conquered, and we rejoice and give thanks.  However, there is that verse at the end of the section that is also of note this morning.  Perceiving that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.  The people have just been fed, have just received this wonderful blessing from Christ – and what do they want to do?  They want to do the exact opposite of what Christ wants them to.  They want to make Him King, they want more and more blessings, let’s just focus on our bellies and the here and now.

Let me ask a question.  Do children who are provided every thing they wish, receive every whim that they desire grow in maturity – or do they become spoiled, miserable brats?  The same thing holds true spiritually. You know yourself.  If you never had any struggle, any toil, any difficulties, would you grow in your faith?  Would you learn to trust God more, or would you rather end up putting your trust in stuff, in blessings?  Would you want to see Jesus heal more sick people, show more love to others, or give you more and more stuff? 

Here is the wonder.  Christ provides for us – but he provides what is good for us, what is proper for us, blessings to sustain us, but not blessings to make us lazy and lethargic.  He acts in a way that is best for us.  Don’t you think that in the text it is best for the people that Jesus withdraws from them there?  He didn’t come ultimately to make them tasty bread, He came to win them life and salvation by going to the Cross.  But at the moment, the crowd doesn’t see that, they are just focused on their bellies.  Christ withdraws because His focus is right.  Same thing in our lives now – Christ doesn’t want you focused simply on the pleasures and stuff of this life, this world.  This life will never be the end-all be-all of your life, but rather you are being prepared and preserved for the joys of the life of the world to come – that’s the goal.  Christ will bless you, He will sustain you – but He isn’t going to spoil you and He isn’t make you lazy.  Rather this – He will sustain you and support you throughout your struggles, indeed He will join with you in your struggles so that you will conquer them in Him.

This is what we receive in the Word, this is what we receive in Christ’s Supper.  Forgiveness strengthens us for life, strengthens us so that we might go out and live.  We close this service with the benediction, so that our life in the world this week might be blessed.  This is God’s care for us.  And it is more than enough, more than we need, and it is given to us simply because He cares for us – but it is the right care, the good care, the proper amount of care, so that we are provided for and so that we also have opportunity to grow.  Christ refreshes us, and then He sustains us in our time here in this life, so that we might ever more understand His love for us.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Lent 3 Sermon

Lent 3, March 8th, 2015 – Luke 11:14-28

 In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          In the face of an unpleasant truth, we like to make excuses.  That’s our sinful nature.  We mess up at work – and we can then tell you all sorts of reasons why it’s not our fault.  We upset a friend, and well, they just took things completely out of context and blew everything out of proportion.  The harsh and cruel words come out – and well, we were just having a bad day.  This or that just got to me.  So often, when we get caught with our hand in the proverbial cookie jar, we say “It’s not my fault.”  When confronted with an unpleasant truth, especially when confronted with our sin, we like to stop up our ears, we like to make excuses, we like to cast blame. And we’ve been doing it since Genesis 3 – it was the woman You gave me, it was the serpent’s fault. This, dear friends, is what happens again in our Gospel text today.  People make excuses, refuse to see what is actually going on – and Christ calls them on it.

          Now, [Jesus] was casting out a demon that was mute.  When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled.  As the text starts we see Christ going about His business – taking the battle to Satan, breaking down Satan’s kingdom bit by bit.  This is fantastic stuff.  Look, a demon, let’s take care of him.  This is a wondrous thing – this shows that it is God at work for our benefit, God come to rescue us from sin and death and damnation.  Surely, that is a joyous thing, surely all will rejoice over that!

          But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test Him, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven.  But some people don’t rejoice over this.  They make excuses.  Duh, no, He’s not sent by God – He’s casting out demons by demons!  Duh, no, He’s not from God, we’d need a sign from heaven to prove that. . . not just this.  Excuses.  Why?  Why these excuses, why these false and idiotic reasons not to believe?  Jesus calls them on their stupid arguments – But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.  And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?  For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul.  And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?  Therefore they will be your judges.”  Jesus calls them to the carpet.  We all know Satan is powerful, that Satan isn’t dumb, that his kingdom is doing fine and wicked right now.  If he were divided, it would have crumbled of itself long ago.  Besides, it’s sort of dangerous to say that I’m casting out demon in the name of Satan, because your own sons are casting out demons in My Name – attack Jesus, you attack your own sons.  Quit holding onto the idiotic ideas. 

          But why are they there in the first place?  A key point to note – Jesus knew their thoughts – Jesus knew what they were thinking.  There was something that made Jesus doing these miracles leave a bad taste in their mouth.  And then Jesus hits the nail upon the head.  But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  There it is.  There’s the problem.  Whose kingdom?  God’s Kingdom.  You see, there is no neutrality spiritually, there are no undecided – the people who checked off no religion on that big survey that came out this past week aren’t really undecided – “Whoever is not with Me is against Me.”  We are not morally neutral – we are either with Christ, or we are against Him.

          That says something, doesn’t it?  It says something about sin.  We like to slough off sin, we like to make excuses for sin, we like to pretend that it doesn’t matter much.  It does.  Sin is wicked and vile and gross.  Your sin is wicked and vile and gross.  It’s not just Hitler, it’s not just Stalin who were sinners – you are as well.  That is something that Christ comes and shows – because all sin is against the will of God, because all sin pleases Satan.  When you sin, you make Satan rejoice and cackle with glee.

          And this is where too often our defense mechanisms kick in.  How dare you say that about me!  Why, I’m a good person!  How dare you accuse my little angel of doing something!  How dare you say it is my fault!  We don’t like hearing that.  We are like the people of Jeremiah’s time, hearing the Law preached in it’s full bluntness, hearing that we are sinners who by our sin bring folly upon our own head, and all too often we don’t like that.  We fuss, we fight against it, we blame the messenger as it were, we cry out kill the preacher, we cry out “that’s just your interpretation”, we cry out “don’t be so negative, we just need to think happy thoughts.” 

          Know this for what it is.  This is your old, sinful nature kicking in.  This is the Old Adam, this is your flesh wanting it’s own way – which since the fall is actually Satan’s way.  And Christ knows this – He knows the truth that since the fall you, along with every other naturally born human, have been stuck in Satan’s kingdom, fast bound in Satan’s chains.  And we hear the Law, and we are terrified, so terrified we try to deny it and avoid it.  The Law means by rights we should be destroyed, that we should be cast out, cast down, just like Satan.  It means by nature we are on the wrong side and God would be within His rights to smite us, and so our old sinful nature wants to find any reason, however lousy it is, to duck and dodge Jesus.  But Jesus has something else in mind, because He is good and loving.  Listen – “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.”  Christ doesn’t come to smite you – He comes to smite Satan and claim you, you who were fast bound in Satan’s chains; He comes to take you back from Satan. 

          Don’t you realize that Satan with his temptations, with his urging you to sin, is just trying to keep you trapped?  Satan is trying to keep you bound to sin, wrapped up in petty thoughts and jealousies, wrapped up in doubt and fear and misery, wrapped up in trying to pretend you’re perfect when you know you are anything but.  That’s his kingdom, where the best you can hope for is a vain, smug, false self-righteousness.  But Christ our Lord is not content to let mankind linger there in Satan’s clutches.  Instead, He bursts in – for He is the Stronger Man, and He takes up the contest against Satan, and He defeats Satan.  And you, dear friends, are the prize He seeks, the treasure our Lord would fight to reclaim – and He finds you, dented and bruised and dirty as you are, for being kept in Satan’s kingdom is a harsh thing, and He washes you clean – claims you as His own – takes you and brings you unto His own house. 

          That is what your Baptism is.  It is where the struggle that Christ fought against Satan upon the cross is made real in your life – it is where it is applied to you – where you are washed clean.  And dear friends, the life of Repentance, Confessing your sins, is nothing else than saying, “There, at the font, in my Baptism, is where I live.  I am Baptized, I am one whom Christ has claimed and washed clean and forgiven.”  As part of the baptismal rite, we ask the person being baptized if they renounce Satan and all his works and all his ways.  What is confessing your sin but merely once again renouncing Satan and all his works and all his ways, even the works and ways that pop up again and again in your sinful flesh in this life?  Confession is a return to baptism – and we need to return to our Baptism, we need to remember what Christ gave us there all of our days.  Christ tells us why.

          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 the person is worse than the first.  The idea of “once saved, always saved” just isn’t Scriptural.  People can fall away – people can renounce their baptism – and then things are worse than before.  When we abandon our Baptism, when we refuse to repent, when that font is no longer the Truth of our life, of who we are – we open ourselves up to great shame and vice and wickedness.  We say, Satan, have your way with me.

          Therefore, we are to repent, to see that we continually strive to live out our lives as the Baptized.  That is why Christ calls us to the Supper.  The house in the passage was empty – but Christ calls you to the Supper and He fills you with His own Body and Blood so that you are full, so that you are never empty – so that you are always ready to resist the lure of Satan.  This is the reality of life on this earth.  If we are not with Christ, we are against Him – but see that He calls you unto Himself, He fought to claim you as His own, and He provides His Word to keep you as His own – that is why those who hear the Word of God and keep it, who remain in the Word and in the blessings of life and salvation and forgiveness that the Word gives are indeed well and truly blessed.

          Dear friends, turn away from the false excuses you would raise for yourself.  They are false, and they only give Satan joy.  Rather this, call out to God for mercy, cry out that you know your sin and need rescue, and our Gracious and Loving God will create a clean heart in you, He will renew a right Spirit with you.  He does not desire to cast you away, but our Lord’s delight is in casting out and thrusting down Satan, so that you belong to Christ alone, so that He can restore you and uphold you.  This is what Christ does – He defeats sin, including your sin.  Do not fear to face down your sin, for Christ faces it down with you, indeed, for you.  This is the promise He made you at your baptism – this is His promise to you for life.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Lent 2 Sermon

Lent 2 – March 1st, 2015 – Matthew 15

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

          Our Lord’s attack against Satan takes place on an interesting battle ground today.  It’s not in the wilderness, it’s not out in public.  It’s in here, inside of us, and I’m not talking about possession. Just prior to our Gospel lesson, our Lord had been teaching, and our Lord had pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and their laws.  He says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person.”  What we say, what we speak, shows our hearts.  And quite often the human heart can be a dark, wicked place.  Quite often our own hearts can be dark and wicked, quite often we are in need of repentance. 

          As an example of this, in our Gospel lesson our Lord shows His disciples their need to repent.  The disciples know why our Lord has come – that He has come to fight evil, that He has come to heal, to cast out demons, to take the battle to Satan.  And they rejoice in this, they delight in this.  They are the people who are following the Messiah!  How wondrous!  How glorious!  What great people these disciples are!  And then, what happens?  And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  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.”  Do you know how fantastic the words are that flow from this woman’s mouth?  First of all – she’s not from Israel – she’s a Canaanite woman.  And what did the children of Israel do when they entered the holy land?  Took land from the Canaanites.  Fought them, warred with them, killed them.  And so here you have this woman approach Someone who should be her enemy, someone whom her own people should despise – and what does she do?  She calls out for mercy.  I need Your help, Jesus.  And more than just calling out for mercy, she calls Him LORD.  You are God, Jesus, I recognize that You are the LORD, God Almighty.  It’s fantastic.  Yes, Jesus is the Son of God!  Well spoken, Canaanite woman!  But even one more.  She calls Jesus Son of David.  I know, Jesus, that You are the King of my enemies – that You are by rights King of the people who have warred with mine for 1500 years.  But still, I humble myself before you – have mercy on me, for my daughter is being attacked by a demon.  Do you hear how wondrous this is – such a beautiful confession of faith and trust in Christ?  Excellence and beauty flow forth from this woman’s heart.

          But then we hear this – “But He did not answer her a  word.”  Well, this seems odd.  Or maybe it doesn’t seem so odd – perhaps you’ve offered up a prayer to God, and it seemed as though He was silent, that His answer was a long time in coming.  But why is Jesus silent here?  Our Lord is silent here for the disciples sake.  Our Lord is going to test the disciples, see what they have learned, see if they have grown.  So our Lord is silent – He doesn’t speak to this woman yet – first He is going to let the disciples speak first.  Now, this can be a lesson to us as well.  Sometimes our Lord doesn’t answer our prayers on our timetable, sometimes His answers don’t come in sudden spectacular displays of might – and in these situations we must remember that everything isn’t about us.  There is a time and a place for God to answer us, and if He delays, we can be sure that it is for our good, and especially for the good of the neighbor – that God has plans for us and for the lives of our neighbors that we, stuck in the moment, cannot see, won’t see until later in hindsight, or maybe we will never see.  Whatever the case, we are simply to continue in prayer and in trust of God, placing all things in His Hands; because, that is what Christians do – they place things in God’s hands – let Him do what He knows to be best.

          And then the disciples speak.  And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”  Oops.  Well, that’s a big old F in the gradebook if I’ve ever seen one.  Here you have this woman, continually crying out to the Lord, continually praying to God for mercy.  And what are the disciples thinking?  They beg – did you hear that?  They beg Jesus to send her away.  Not to heal her, not to please tend to her needs quickly. Just . . . send her away.  She’s loud and annoying, just get her out of here.  Why such contempt?  Because that is what the typical Jewish man of that time had for Canaanite women.  The Jews then grumbled about Canaanite women the way folks here might grumble about people of a different skin tone, or poorer folk, or what have you.  They couldn’t be bothered with her. So let me ask the question – and again, I want you to consider this carefully.  Consider your own life – are there times when you sound like the Disciples here?  Where you disparage someone?  Where you treat another human being, created in the image and likeness of God, as though they were beneath you, as though they were not worth your time?  Where you really cannot be bothered by someone with the likes of them?  That is the wickedness of the heart that our Lord speaks of, and we ought to repent of it.

          And yet, did you note one other thing?  Even as the disciples tell Jesus to send the woman away – she is still crying.  She is persistent – she is faithful.  She knows where to go for mercy, and so she goes there.  And then, Jesus will use her as a teaching example to put the disciples to shame.  He answered her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”  He throws her race in her face.  This would be good training for the Disciples, for they too would be despised by many for their race.  But it does not stop this woman.  But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.”  I’m not here because I am of a good race, I’m not here because I’m from the good family and I deserve it.  I’m here because I need help.  What faithful words!  So Jesus will use her as an example again.  And He answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  Jesus insults her – for the disciples would be insulted for the Name of Christ.  Calls her a female dog.  Says that she is lowly and despised.  But this doesn’t rattle the woman at all.  She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  You are right – there is nothing in me that is worthy, nothing!  And yet, I know, Jesus, that You will care for me – that this great love that You will show me is easy for You – that for You healing my daughter would be as easy as brushing table scraps onto the floor.

          And then our Lord says it – “O woman, great is your faith!”  There, disciples!  Do you see this?   This is the right answer, this is how you should behave!  Not prideful, not begging Me to send people in need away.  But in the face of hatred and scorn you too should be tenacious, you too should continually cry for mercy – and not only for yourselves, but for others!  This woman seeks compassion for her daughter, why did you not likewise seek compassion!  You showed forth wickedness – she showed forth faith.  And the woman was right – handling this demon would be as simple for Jesus as brushing crumbs off a table.  “Be it done for you as you desire.”  And her daughter was healed instantly.  The time was right and proper for her prayer to be answered, and so Christ acts, and the daughter is healed.

          So, what do we learn from this text this Lenten Sunday?  Namely this.  We know that our Lord comes to battle wickedness, that He comes to defeat Satan, to cast down the prince of this world.  What we need to remember, though, is that evil and wickedness isn’t just out there – too often it is here, in our own hearts.  We are sinful people – and even though we know better, even though we are like the disciples and follow Jesus and strive to learn from Him, too often we let the wickedness of our hearts control what we say, what we do.  It is not just Satan that our Lord needs to break – He needs to break the sin of our hearts daily.  And do you know how He does this?  Imagine a piece of glass cookware, or a glass mug that has been heated to where it is hot and inflamed.  What happens when you poor cold water upon it?  It breaks, it cracks, it shatters.  This is what our Lord did to your sinful heart at Baptism.  Your heart was enflamed, enraged with wickedness and sin, and our Lord took water and His Word and poured it upon you to break your wicked heart.  Listen again to the catechism.  “What does such baptizing with water indicate?  It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”  God breaks your sinfulness, makes you contrite – that’s what contrite means, it means broken – God breaks your desire to sin.  And why?  So that the New Man, so that Christ’s own love might shine forth through you.  And so friends, I encourage you, do not be afraid to hear the Word of God which points out your sin.  Yes, it hurts, but when that sin is shattered, Christ’s love appears all the more in you.  And our Lord does not leave you then – He does not discard you or leave you to fend for yourself.  The sins of your heart will not drive Him away from you – for indeed, He came down from heaven precisely to win you salvation from those sins.  Rather, He will always care for you – He takes you who by rights are no better than a mangy, flea bitten dog, and He washes you clean, takes you and makes you His brother, His sister, calls you to the His own table and says, “This is what is yours, what belongs to you.  Take and eat, this is My Body, take and drink, this is My Blood, for the forgiveness of your sins.”  No scraps for you, you get the feast!  Do you see now the shape of the Christian life – that we are washed clean in Baptism, that the Word is applied to us to break our sin, that the Word is given to us to give us life, that the Supper is given to us to forgive, to give strength – all so that the words that come from our mouths would be Words of faith and life – and this not only for our sake and for our salvation, but so that by the Word of faith and life that flows from our lips others might be made to receive this love of Christ Jesus as well.

          This is the faith that Christ has called you to – a faith where insults and scorn may come, but where you are focused upon Christ, where you call out to Him to show love to your neighbors who are suffering, and where you delight in all that He gives to you, for He is generous, and He is gracious, and He is merciful.  He has come to break the power of Satan and to win salvation, and by His Word, by His Baptism, by His Supper, He gives this all to you in your life, to Him alone be the glory.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +