Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Maundy Thursday – John 13 – March 29th, 2018
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
The hour approaches – the hour approaches where our Lord will be betrayed, where He will be handed over to be beaten, and scourged, and crucified. The hour is getting late, and He knows that His time of teaching His disciples is short. There are all these things that they don’t understand. Sin keeps popping up in them, and temptations will continue to hound them. What teaching do they need to hear – now - when time is short?

Jesus washes their feet. Jesus shows Himself to be humble, to be a servant. Why? For I have given you an example. Jesus knows, Jesus sees, Jesus understands. Jesus gets what sin is. To sin is fundamentally to love yourself and hate the neighbor. To sin is to make demands of your neighbor, to expect them to serve you. To paraphrase a former President, to sin is to ask what your neighbor can do for you, rather than asking what you can do for your neighbor. And Jesus realizes that this will be a lingering problem, and so this is where He focuses a great deal of His teaching this night.

He sums it all up. He gives us a nice little phrase that we can understand. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. It’s not really that new of a commandment. Honor Your Parents. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. That’s all covered in the commandments. But Jesus knows how we can abuse those – how we can look simply at what we are supposed to not do, and build ourselves up as hypocrites. I haven’t insulted mom and dad, I haven't stolen, I’ve not robbed a bank, see how wonderful I am. We try to find loopholes in the law, and Jesus slams them shut. Love one another. No, people, don’t think that you can deftly avoid the law, don’t think that you can use it to prove yourself to be a good person. Here is the standard, here is the commandment. Love one another.

Think about that. That’s a deep law, that’s a deep commandment. When you are doing something, pause, stop and think, “How am I loving my neighbor by doing this?” That is a high standard. But this is nothing new. The Law always has high demands – but Jesus isn’t going to let us fool ourselves into thinking otherwise. He gives us in the Church our marching orders, and they are rough. And even as He speaks this Law to us, even as He gives us this new commandment – He doesn’t just let us stew. He doesn’t just let us fret. Rather, hear what He says, Just as I have loved you.” Although our eyes are shown our own lack, they are also focused on Christ and His love for us.

Christ’s focus is always upon the neighbor. Christ’s concern is always shown for those around Him. Think on the times where Jesus shows compassion upon people, where He heals, where He feeds, where He shows love and concern. Indeed, involving the love of the neighbor, He is our highest example. But think on this. Jesus has loved you. This is His great focus – showing love to you. This is His great focus as this Thursday gives way to Good Friday. Christ’s eyes are upon showing love to you as He goes to the garden; His love for you is shown as He is led like a lamb, silent to the slaughter, during the accusations and kangaroo court of the Night. His love for you is shown as He allows Himself to be whipped, to be beaten, to be nailed to the tree. All this is done because Jesus has loved you. All this is done because Jesus would have your sins be forgiven, because He would rather pay the penalty for your sin than let you bear it. For Jesus, saying that He has loved us is not just some empty words, a trite phrase used to manipulate or seduce. He puts His love into action as He strides towards the shame and suffering of the Cross.

This is the very same love that Christ gives to you. This is the very same love that Christ fills you with, this is the love that is the fruit of His Spirit, which He has given you. As Christians, you do love each other just as Christ has loved you, for the love you bear and share and show forth to each other is in fact Christ’s love, Christ’s love welling up and in and through you. Christ’s command this night is also a declaration of what He is doing with your lives. Christ takes sinful people, and washing you clean He shapes you with His Word – the Potter remolds the clay into His Holy vessels, and now Christ fills you with His own love, and He pours out that love upon your neighbor through you. When you show love to your neighbor, that is Christ working through you. It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me. This is how Paul describes this miracle. Christ fills you to bursting with His love, so that you can’t but help to show forth His love, in spite of yourself. This is our lives as Christians, where Christ overwhelms our sinfulness with His forgiveness and with His love.

This is what Jesus does whenever He calls and invites you to His table. It is no accident that our Lord, on the night when He gives us this new command, on the night when He was betrayed, takes simple Bread and Wine, and uses them to give us a gift beyond the ability of our mind or reason to comprehend. Jesus knows and understands in full a truth that we are taught when we are young but can so often forget as we grow old – that we are weak, but He is strong. So He calls us to His table and says, “Take and Eat, this is My Body. Take and Drink, this is My Blood.” Of course our Lord would do this, of course our Lord would give you all that He is, all His strength and love – for this is what love is – to give of one’s own self to the neighbor. And this is what Christ does in His supper. And why? We have a great prayer after Communion which tells us the answer. “and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same, through this supper, in faith towards You and in fervent love toward one another.” Jesus sees His disciples that Maundy Thursday evening, He sees you – and He wants you to be strong and firm in the faith, to be filled with Him and His love, and so, He calls you to His table. This very day, this very hour God Himself says, “Come and receive Me, take all that I am, so that I might be your strength, and that you might cling only to me.” This is what our God does for you. He washes you clean of all sins, done by you or to you, and brings you unto Himself. He gives you every good gift; He gives you Himself.

The hour of our Lord’s Crucifixion was drawing closer and closer the first Maundy Thursday night – but as always, our Lord’s eyes are fixed on His neighbor – His eyes are fixed upon you. And He takes you, and turns your focus away from selfish desires and foolish greed, and instead focuses your eyes upon Him and teaches you to love your neighbor. He feeds you on His own Body and Blood that you will be strengthened in Him. Behold what Christ Jesus our Lord does for you. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Sermon for Richard Carpenter

Richard Carpenter – March 21st, 2018 – John 8:31-36

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Donald, Ray, Connie, family and friends of Richard our brother in Christ, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Richard was and is a free man in Christ Jesus. Richard's sudden death hit me hard, as I'm sure it hit you all hard, and I'll admit I was at a loss as to how to preach this sermon – how precisely to proclaim Christ Jesus at work for and in His servant Richard. And then it was suggested that it would be nice if our readings were the same as the readings at Richard's mother's service – and that was a wonderful suggestion. Lamentations 3 is a great text, full of comfort – proclaiming the steadfast love and mercy of God, which is something we who mourn always need to remember. And then Revelation 21 – the New Jerusalem coming as a bride – the reminder of the joy and wonder that Richard now sees and delights in – oh, that too is a rich and powerful text. Richard is in excellent hands now, and because of Christ's love for Richard and Christ's love for us, we shall be reunited and see these things together – Christ who reigns will indeed make all things new! But then, then the most wonderful one – one not always the most common for a funeral but perfect. John 8. Richard was and is a free man in Christ.

Our text starts with Jesus' famous phrase, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Oh, and this text gets used and misapplied to so many things – where basically any fact or idea is described as liberating, what have you. However, when Jesus speaks of “the truth” He's not speaking about some random facts or medical advancements or social justice or anything like that. This isn't about taking some sort of test to be set free or book-learning or anything like that. This Jesus who says that the Truth will set you free later in John says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. Jesus is the truth who sets people free, and the Son made Richard a free man. Jesus claimed Richard in the waters of Holy Baptism and kept Richard in His Word.

Richard was always eager to hear the Word of God. Whenever I'd go over to Harvest view, He'd be ready to hear again and again Jesus' love for him. If Richard didn't come to service, I knew he had to be feeling really under the weather – and even then, a time or two when he wasn't feeling that great he'd sit in the next sitting room where he could still hear the Word, still hear Jesus' love for Him. Still receive the Supper. Richard certainly did abide in the Word, and He knew the truth that Jesus Christ died for him and rose for him and that because of Jesus he was forgiven. Richard knew the Truth, and the Truth set him free.

When Jesus first said that statement, people complained. They didn't want to accept any idea of their limits or short-comings – you can hear the defiance in the text- we have never been enslaved to anyone! Hear the indignance? And so often we wish to live in denial of our own limitations, pretend they aren't there, and we just end up making them worse. Richard didn't – he was a free man in Christ. He didn't feel the need to pretend he could do everything, he didn't feel the need to downplay his limitations – rather He lived freely and joyously as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified and blessed by God richly. He didn't live to prove anything to anyone – he simply was free in Christ.

Jesus explained what that indignance really is. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. Now, please don't misunderstand, I'm not implying at all that Richard didn't sin. He could be cantankerous on occasion – even around the pastor – but again, that was something he was honest about. He didn't dwell in self-righteous bluster. He knew he didn't need to! Instead Richard dwelt in Christ. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Richard dwelt in Christ, and the love that Jesus had for Richard is what dominated and shaped the way Richard viewed his life. He could roll with things, accept them as they were – the Son set Richard free from His sin – and Richard was free indeed.

And Richard is free, right now, with His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Not to get too sappy, but I don't know if I can think of anyone I've met who would enjoy being with Christ more than Richard, who would simply delight in it all more than him. And that's where he is. He is with His Jesus, and having a grand time with Him. And while we mourn that our time with Richard was shorter than we wanted or expected it to be, we rejoice for him. Richard enjoys his freedom moreso now than we have ever seen, he delights in Christ Jesus His Savior. God grant us His Holy Spirit, so that we are comforted in our grief, and so that we too will join with Richard in his joy and freedom in Christ Jesus for all eternity. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Monday, March 19, 2018

Sermon for Wes Bode

Sermon for Wes Bode – March 19th, 2018 – John 12:20-26

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Sue, Brenda, Denise, and Karen, family and friends of our brother in Christ Wes, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Right here on this pulpit there is a little plaque, one that I see every time I preach or work on a sermon. It simply says, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” We wish to see Jesus. It is a reminder to me and to anyone else given by God the task of preaching in this pulpit that the people who are gathered here in this place need to see Jesus. Wes Bode is a man who wished to see Jesus. He was baptized into Christ Jesus, and He longed to hear Jesus' Word proclaimed, to receive Christ's Body and Blood in the Supper. Wes would see Jesus.

That phrase “we would see Jesus” comes from our Gospel lesson in John. And during holy week, hearing that some Greeks wished to see Him, Jesus responds with these words: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” They would see Jesus, they would be around later on that week and see Jesus lifted up on the Cross. Jesus' glory wouldn't be shown in another healing or turning water to wine or feeding a bunch of people, but Jesus' glory would be shown in dying, dying for their sins and for our sins, dying to cleanse us and to restore us to God the Father. That is the Jesus the Wes longed to see. That crucified Jesus who forgave Wes, and not only that, but the Jesus who gave Wes His own life, filled Wes with love and faith and hope, gave Wes blessing after blessing. And in faith, united to that Jesus – tied to Jesus by the waters of Holy Baptism, Wes had confidence all His earthly days, and even confidence to appear before the judgment seat of Christ – because Christ Jesus had already done it all for Wes and through Wes and in Wes, and Wes longed to see Him.

Jesus continues, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Wes exemplified this, but I want you to hear Jesus' words correctly, because Jesus here uses a Hebrew turn of phrase that we can misunderstand. In this Hebrew phrase love and hate aren't used to describe emotions, but rather priority and choice. In the Hebrew way of speaking, at a restaurant you would say, “The Chicken noodle soup I have loved, the salad I have hated.” That doesn't mean you're on a rampage against lettuce, it means when the waitress asked you picked, you choose, you placed a greater value and priority on the soup. You might really enjoy salad, but now the soup. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. All of his days, not just these last few years which were so physically rough on Wes, but all of his days Wes loved Christ Jesus moreso than just the trappings of his earthly life. And in fact, because Wes loved Christ, because his focus was upon Christ Jesus Wes could receive and enjoy the blessings God had given him. Wes greatly enjoyed and delighted in what God had given him. Wes delighted in you – Wes saw you rightly as a gift from God to him. He was free in Christ to simply enjoy being with you and serving and loving you.

See, there are two ways that we can handle and receive gifts from God – be they our life, our family and friends, jobs, what have you. We can be focused primarily on the gift, or we can be focused primarily on the God who gives the gift. If we focus on the gift, if we “love our life” we end up losing it. We grasp on to it, we become jealous and fearful and worried and we don't enjoy it. We turn the blessings in idols, and everything sours and gets dominated by fear and anger and sin. However, when by the gift of faith you love the Giver, love God first rather than your life, then you have that life forever, because you are always in and with God who loves to give you blessings. And that's why Wes had such peace – because His focus was upon Christ Jesus who had given Him all these blessings, the Jesus who had given Wes you – and nothing would change Christ's love for Wes. Not sin, not death, not even a body falling apart. Jesus knew all of this was coming, and Jesus faced all this down in His own body precisely because He loved Wes and would not dream of letting His Wes face that alone. Christ Jesus was and is with Wes.

And Jesus continues to bless Wes. Right now, this instant, Wes is with Christ Jesus, doing better than any of us have seen Him. And the day will come when Wes will rise – on his own two feet, I might note – and Wes and Job and you and me and all the faithful will behold our Redeemer face to face, in our own resurrected bodies with our own eyes. Do you see – Jesus continues to give blessing after blessing to His people. There was no need for Wes to turn (say) age 84 into some idol to strive after – for His Lord Jesus is a wonderful Savior and a giver of great and mighty gifts – gifts not just for a day or a few years or even an earthly life time, but a giver of gifts that last for eternity. Jesus is your Redeemer as well, who forgives your sins and gives you life and salvation by His word of forgiveness, and who gives you life everlasting with Himself and Wes and all the saints. And when we see Christ Jesus, when our eyes are fixed upon Him, we get a taste, an experience of that lasting peace even now.

If anyone serves Me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. Wes was given the gift of faith, and he served and followed Christ Jesus. And having died, Wes will follow His Lord and Master Christ Jesus into the Resurrection. Our brother Wes is well taken care of, well honored by God right this moment. So while we mourn, we know that in Christ Jesus our loss is only a temporary one, and that because of Christ Jesus and in Christ Jesus, we have the certain hope of resurrection and reunion. God grant us His Word and Spirit, that we ever more love God until we see that day. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Lent 5 Sermon

Lent 5 – John 8 and Genesis 22 – March 17th and 18th, 2018

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
The world today tends to treat Jesus as though He were just some kind teacher, almost like a 1st century hippy telling everyone to chill and be cool to each other. And because of that, most folks don't understand why Jesus gets killed, why He was so hated and despised. You might brush Him off, but hate Him? Why would you want to kill Jesus? 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. The Word of God 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 has given you life and 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 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. And we live now in Christ's life, with His love, His righteousness, His holiness flowing forth from us into our neighbor's lives, and come the day when we have fully and finally died to sin and risen to Christ - come the Last Day – Christ Jesus will truly be our all in all, and we will show forth nothing but Christ and His love.
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 +

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Cannot and Try

I think I have finally figured out what it is that ultimately gets someone labelled a "soft-antinomian" today.  It is the assertion that one cannot fulfill the Law of God perfectly and completely.  This is the teaching that is so offensive that it must be denigrated and derided.

Unfortunately, it's the truth.

You're not going to be perfect in this life.  You will remain sinful as long as you are in the sinful flesh.  And everything you do will be tainted and tinged and flawed.  Even your righteous deeds as filthy rags.  And you will never be able to address God as one who is unlike all these other people - you will always be the sinner who needs mercy... which is okay because Jesus comes to the sinners and washes, cleans, forgives, and raises them.

But here is where the complaint about obedience comes in.  Since we are now in Christ, shouldn't we obey?  Of course we should.  In fact, we are bound to bring forth good works - God will work His good through you.  Yet, we still in this life remain unprofitable servants. (AC 6)  This is not a matter of perfection.

And this is where the matters hinge.  Some people are afraid that if we don't assert that we CAN, that means that we won't even TRY when it comes to the realm of good works.  This is because these folks do not understand warfare.

We are engaged in spiritual warfare.  We are engaged in a battle against ourselves, the world, and Satan.  And it's a doozy - with might of ours could naught be done.  This is why we need Christ to be our champion, to win for us salvation.

Day by day, as we live in this warfare, we will come up across things against which we will lose - but in warfare that doesn't mean you stop.  It means you fight all the more desperately.  Consider an image: Let us say that five armed men break into my house attempting to murder my wife and family.  I would not be able to stop them - I could not do so.  The command to protect my family given to me by God in my vocation as father and husband would be impossible to do... but I'd sure try.  And I'd try hard.  And I'd fail hard. 

We are fighting a constant battle against sin and death in our own lives, and we are going to go down hard.  We are going to die.  Our strength will fail.  That's just the way it is.

"But what of Christ and His strength!  Don't we get His victory?"  Yes, it is ours now, but now only dimly as though a mirror.  It is only later, at that happy then that we will see it face to face.  Strangely, when my attacks failed and one of my home invaders ended my life, that would be when I'd see the Victory of Christ - not in my earthly victory, but in the life of the world to come, where my wife and children would be safe as well.  Doesn't mean I'd fight less here and now - but Christ's good for me far surpasses even my failed.  For all the saints, who from their labors rest!

Too often we want to make Jesus a tool for life here rather than life itself, and life everlasting with Him.  We want to live by possible theory tossed out by Jules in Pulp Fiction - that we are just in an evil world and Mr. 9mm is the Shepherd protecting our righteous backside -- where Jesus is a tool that we in our righteousness use for our own benefit.

That's not the truth.  We are sinners, we are tyranny, but we do try hard to be the Shepherd.

And we fail.  Often.  Never going to come a service where I won't need the confession and absolution before the service -- well, at least until I'm at the eternal service. 

And that's okay.  That's actually for my good.  God's Word will show me my sin and then show me my Savior, and rather than fretting over what I can and can't do, my failures and my so-called success, I learn to live in what He has done for me and what He will bring me to.

We have victory now - but we will experience it and see it and know it in full only in the Last Day.  Let no one rob you of that hope my tricking you into expecting perfect obedience now!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Lent 3 Sermon

Lent 3 – March 3rd and 4th, 2018 – Luke 11:14-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Another day, another demon. So there Jesus is, just doing His normal Jesus-y stuff of preaching, teaching, healing, and casting out demons. And we get something interesting – When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test Him, kept seeking a sign from heaven.” Okay, so what in the world is going on? What sort of logical leaps do you have to make to go from Jesus casting out a demon to thinking that Jesus must be a hit man for Satan? What rationale is there for saying, “Well, casting out a demon is pretty good, but, um, you know, can you just make some sort of comet appear in the sky or something so we really, really know”? Do you see how foolish this all is? And we'll get to Jesus' response in a moment, but let's ponder the foolishness first. You know what this foolishness is? It's self-defense. It is the old sinful flesh trying anything to defend itself against Jesus and His righteousness. This lent we've seen Jesus defeat Satan's temptations, we've seen Him call out our sinful and and selfish pride. And what's left, what's the flesh's only option? Deny, deny, deny. Stick your head in the sand, scream out “fake news”, ignore reality. All in an attempt to avoid Jesus.

And so what does Jesus do? As He sees, as He hears this foolishness, what is His response to the crowd? Well, He's not going to let it go unchecked; instead, He is going to expose the foolishness, and then explain precisely what is happening. To start: 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?” Alright – let's consider the idea that I am casting out demons by Beelzebul. That is basically an assertion that suddenly old Satan's just gone all sorts of senile and stupid and his kingdom is just falling apart. So that's your argument – that the old Serpent, who is more crafty than anyone... just became an idiot. Eh, Satan's just having a brain freeze at the moment! That's not it and you know it. Moreover – And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. Um, you've noticed how there are a bunch of people who are casting out demons, including many sons of Israel – and they're casting them out in the Name of Jesus. You realize that if you pin the “he must be evil” tail on Me, you've got to pin it on them too, right? Is that a move you want to make – because you can be mad at Me and want to ignore Me, but you say this in front of your kid who is casting out demons and He might tear you a new one.

Do you see what Jesus does? The excuses are just simply and kindly pulled apart. The bad logic, the implications of the snap, desperate arguments are laid out. You really don't want to assert that Jesus isn't sent from heaven, because you won't like where that argument leads. So Jesus just bulldozes their arguments – and then He lays out the truth. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. Quick question – what does it mean if a Kingdom comes upon you? That's sort of a strange phrase, and we often don't think much about it. But what is it when a Kingdom comes upon someone? These are fighting words. Jesus is saying that it is D-Day. What was D-Day – congratulations Germany, the Allied forces have come upon you; they are here and they're going to keep on coming until you are defeated and destroyed. Know what this is, people – these times when I cast out demons, when I heal, when I preach – these are the opening battles where God invades Satan's kingdom and goes to destroy Him.

Which is why Jesus gives another military example next. 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. Satan thought he was sitting pretty. He'd been running the show down here on earth for quite some time, and things were running wild. He had his power, he'd toss it around willy-nilly. He thought you, O hearer, were safely in his clutches. But then Christ Jesus, the stronger man comes – and what does Jesus do? He bursts right on into Satan's domain, the heart of Satan's stronghold – Jesus kicks down the doors of death and dives into hell, smacks Satan around, and says, “all these folks you thought were yours, Satan? Well, they're mine now. You gave them death; I will give them life. You trapped them in sin; I bring forgiveness and mercy. They're not yours anymore, Satan, they are mine. This is the program – Jesus is fighting Satan, and this fight is going to be a doozy, and it's going to end with Satan battered and bruised, but Christ Victorious.

However, having laid out His plan, having stated what He is doing, Jesus turns back to the folks who are pestering and complaining, and He speaks a warning. Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters. This is the battle I'm fighting, this is what I am going to accomplish. I am winning you life and salvation – it's right here with Me. Come with Me if you want to live; I'm busting open the doors of this prison and I will carry you out. However, if you say, “I'm going to stay right here,” if you are hell bent on staying with Satan, if you are just so anti-Jesus that you'd rather stay in Satan's kingdom... well, you can do that if you want. But let Me warn you, that won't go well. 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 clean and 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. You can reject salvation, you can just hang out and wait for the Devil, but it's going to be bad. Jesus warns that Satan's going to be in a really foul mood because Jesus has defeated him, and he's going to want to take it out on someone, and if you aren't with Jesus, if you aren't living safely in Christ's life and Christ's mercy – guess who Satan's going to take it out on? You. So don't ignore the salvation Christ wins, don't stubbornly cling to Satan, because that way of going is only going to get much, much worse.

Do you hear the warnings that Jesus gives? Jesus died for all; He has won forgiveness for all. All are going to be raised from the dead – the gates of heaven are open, and the only folks who will not draw the benefit of this are the folks who have no faith, who say, “No thanks, I'll just stay right here with Satan.” And that's really, really dumb. Incredibly dumb. And you know what – often our sinful flesh wants things that are really, really dumb. That's the reality. So then, how to handle this, how to keep focused upon Christ and not my own sinful stupidity? Well, there's two more verses to the text.

As He said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” Oh, Your mom is awesome! Suddenly there's a 70 year old Roman Catholic nun in the crowd telling us all to pray to Mary to keep safe. No.... But He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” No, while Mary is cool, the way of safety, the way to remain in Christ and the blessings He gives is this – hear the Word of God and keep it, cling to that Word, hold it fast and don't let it go. Even when it says things you don't like. Even when it says things about you that you don't want to hear – even when it tells you that the things your flesh wants are foolish and deadly. Because that Word of God will also give you Christ Jesus and His love and His mercy and His forgiveness. That Word of God was attached to water in Holy Baptism, and it makes fountains of living water spring up in you that Satan and his minions cannot bear to see. That Word of God gives life – the same tool by which Jesus fended off Satan in the wilderness is the same tool by which we live. We have life from Christ in the Word.

So, what does this all mean? Jesus here lays out His battle plan, lays out what He is doing. He is going to defeat Satan and win you back from Him – and the way that you benefit from what Jesus has done, the way you remain in His victory is through the Word of God, is by hearing again His promise, His victory, His life. And Satan will toss up stupid and arrogant idea after stupid and arrogant idea, all trying to get you to ignore the Word of God. So, examine yourself. Seek out the places where the Devil is encouraging your own Christless stupidity – and repent of it. Confess with Christ that your sinful desires and thoughts and actions are absurd and evil and bad – and instead receive Christ and His love, His care, His compassion. “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the LORD.” In the LORD. In Christ Jesus. In His Word, which does not leave you empty but fills you with the Holy Spirit who makes you to be fruitful and to walk as a baptized child of the light. Avoid the empty words of Satan, even the empty words and thoughts of your own mind, your own preferences – and rather be in the Word of God, for that is how the Holy Spirit takes all that Christ has done for you, all that Christ has won for you – and how He pours it all into you. All by the Word – the Word preached and proclaimed, the Word tied to water in Baptism, the Word tied to bread and wine in His Supper. This is where Christ's Victory which was won 2000 years ago is brought to you in your life right now. Continue to give us Your gifts, O Lord – in the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.