Saturday, September 29, 2018

Trinity 18 Sermon

Trinity 18 – September 29th and 30th, 2018 – Matthew 22:36-44

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
What are you hoping to see? When you open up your bible and read, what are you hoping to see? When you come here to this place and hear the Scriptures read, hear a sermon preached, what are you hoping to see? What do you want to get out of all of this? What are you expecting and hoping to get out of all this religious stuff that you are here for? I ask, I bring this up because that is really the setting and context for our Gospel lesson. It is Holy Week – just days before Jesus is crucified, and Jesus has been in the temple preaching. And we hear this: “When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him.”

Why had the Pharisees come to the temple that day? Apparently it was for political power and posturing, networking and social gain. That's why Matthew notes that they came after the Sadducees had been silenced. Think of the Sadducees as the crazy liberals of the day and the Pharisees as the stalwart conservatives. There's blood in the water, as it were – and maybe we should see what is going on. So they have one of their heavy hitters, a laywer, a master of Jewish custom, ask Jesus a question... not to learn, but to test Him. Is this enemy of my enemy going to be my friend, or is He going to fail the test?

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” You learn a lot from the questions a person asks – it says a lot about them. It shows what their priority is. The disciples kept asking Jesus when the kingdom was going to be restored to Jerusalem – that was because they wanted power. James and John even jockeyed to be seated at His right hand. If you go travel anywhere interesting, I'll probably ask you about the food. Food's a priority for me. But as for our Pharisees in the text, they asked a question about the law – what is the greatest, most important thing that I am supposed to do? It shows their priority – their own action. How well they acted was everything to them – it gave them status and prestige – it was their source of pride. Knowing the Law and doing the Law, that was where it was at, and the Scriptures were simply a tool towards that goal.

So, which is the great commandment in the Law? Matthew lets us know that this is more than a question, it is also a test. It's not just a question of interest, but it is a weapon. It is a question asked not to get an answer, but a question this lawyer asks to get a weapon to use against Jesus, to elevate himself above Him. And it's a classic trap – ask for a person to pick one thing out of a list, and lambaste them for not picking something else. But Jesus doesn't play that game. He is a teacher, and so He teaches.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment, but a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and Prophets. Well, since you asked, I can't really just answer that with one – because while the commandment is that you should love God, in reality that means you love your neighbor. That's the reality. The way in which we should and do demonstrate our love for God isn't anything abstract, it isn't going through certain rituals or going through some pious motions – we love God by loving the neighbors that God has placed into our lives. Loving the neighbor is like it, it's tied up with it – the old King James says “like unto it.” To love God is to love your neighbor – or as John puts it in his epistle - “If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

This leads to a pretty big question. So, laywer – did you ask this question out of love for your neighbor, or to put him in his place? Oh, it was to test your neighbor, to embarrass Him and wreck Him. Oh, and you thought that this was going to impress God? Oh. Well, you were wrong. As Jesus told Satan at the beginning of His ministry during the temptation, Thou shall not put the Lord Thy God to the test. And this is where we here must examine ourselves. We have to consider Jesus' answer – who are the neighbors that we disdain, the ones we get annoyed with, the ones we'd rather be angry and annoyed with instead of love and serve? That's danger, that's sin crouching at the door like a lion ready to devour you. But even bigger than just that – when we read the Scriptures, when we look at God's Word, is it so that we can put Him to the test? Is it so that we can saunter up to God and say, “See, I've done X, Y, and Z, and so now you owe me.” Well, maybe we're not as brazen as that – maybe just the thoughts of I don't deserve this, why do bad things happen to good people like me, how can I make sure God blesses me. The temptation is this – we want to use God's Law as a lever against Him. That's what sinful man does, that's how this world operates. And we can get caught up in that too.

Back to the text. Jesus' answer dumbfounded the Pharisees. They we all a flutter over it – Now while the Pharisees were gathered together – do you see them, gathering together, going back and forth over what Jesus said, trying to figure out how it would impact their own personal power dynamics? While they are busy doing that, Jesus decides to ask them a question. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?” Now, this is very skillful on Christ's part. There are the Pharisees, all stuck in the Law, all focused on what they do and what they don't do and who is better than who – that's what they thought was the point. But Jesus asks a question – not about what you or I do, but about the Christ. The Messiah. Let's talk about Him. “They said to Him, 'The son of David.' He said to them, 'How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying – The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet. - If then David calls Him Lord, how is He his Son?” Now, this is some heavy duty sledding for us today who aren't Pharisees. The Pharisees noted that the promised Messiah, the Christ, would be the son of David, a descendant of David. And then Jesus quotes for them Psalm 110 – one of the great Messianic Psalms. And He points out something – the Messiah will be David's Son, but also David's Lord. That's not the way it works, normally – you honor your father and your mother – you don't get to out rank them. My dad will be my dad as long as we both shall live. And yet, with the Messiah, there's something else. Now, we know what that something else – Jesus is not just the son of David but He is also the Son of God, He is Christ the LORD. And this is something that David pointed forward to – it is part of the great mystery of Salvation, that God Himself would come down to be the Messiah.

Why, O Pharisees, are you so focused on trying to elevate yourselves, when the Scriptures tell the mystery of God becoming Man for your salvation? That's the point, that's where your focus should be. The Bible is not just a mere handbook for right living, it isn't “basic instructions before leaving earth” - even though that's a witty acronym. It is the story of God's salvation – it is the story of Christ Jesus who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. The Old Testament all points forward to this and promises it; the New points back to it and proclaims it. That is where our focus should be – upon the mystery of the ages, Christ Jesus becoming man to win you eternal life.

So, I will ask again. What are you hoping to see? When you open up your bible,when you come here to this place, what are you hoping to see? Sometimes we are focused upon the Law – maybe for our good and improvement, or maybe to use it as a weapon against our enemy. The thing is, when we get a full dose of the law, we get reminded that we do not follow it as we ought and are driven to confess our sin. But there is One who does, who actually fulfilled the Law. And actually, in truth, the Bible is His story. It is the story of Christ Jesus, who demonstrated His love for the Father through His love for you, and His love for you by His obedience to the Father. It is the story of Christ, who in the Garden before His crucifixion prayed, “Not My will, but Thine be done” - and went to the Cross and died to rescue you. That is how He loved you, His neighbor. Of course, it's not just a past love – that is how Christ Jesus loves you now. Over and against this rat race of a world, He loves you now. He has joined Himself to you in Baptism, so that He is with you now and you are His and nothing, not heights nor depths can separate you from His love. He has His love proclaimed to you in His Word, He pours His Spirit upon you so that you see Him in the Scriptures, so that you are continually renewed. He comes to you in Bread and Wine with His Body and Blood, to forgive you, to strength your faith and make your love towards neighbor more fervent. This is His delight – to have you know that you are loved by God, redeemed and forgiven and holy in His sight on account of Christ Jesus.

And should the time come when we get a bit uppity with the Word, when we start to want to put on airs about how we are such good Christians, He comes to us again and makes us to see Him again. He reminded the Pharisees that He was the promised Messiah even as they were planning on killing Him; how much more so will proclaim His salvation and victory to you who are joined to Him in Baptism, you who are His beloved bride whom He could never forsake. Sometimes we wander, sometimes we get proud. Our flesh tries to drive us there always, but Christ Jesus is always faithful to you. You are forgiven and redeemed in Him. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Trinity 14 Sermon

(Back after some technical problems with the blog)

Trinity 14 – September 1st and 2nd, 2018 – Luke 17:11-19

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
This lesson should be quite familiar to you, since you hear it twice a year. You hear it right around the Labor Day (give or take a few weeks), and then you hear it again at Thanksgiving. It is the story of the 10 lepers. Isn’t that how we normally think of it – 10 are healed, but only 1 is thankful. And yes, on Thanksgiving Day that will probably be the angle we look at this text from. However, really, this text isn’t primarily about the lepers, and it isn’t first and foremost about thankfulness or our lack thereof – it’s about Jesus – who Jesus is, what He does. So, let’s look at this text and watch with care our Lord and see what we learn about Him here today.

On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. This is actually important – when Luke in his Gospel says that Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, this means Jesus is getting ready for Palm Sunday and Holy Week, that our Lord’s passion is coming closer and closer. This happens but days before Palm Sunday – and so Christ’s focus would be on winning us salvation – He’s on that task, on target and focused – He is on His way to Jerusalem. And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’” So, Jesus is focused on salvation. He’s journeying, He’s probably tired and worn out from the road – He’s just entering a village to get some rest – and what happens? Lepers show up – lepers. Dirty, filthy, unclean, nasty looking lepers. And they cry out for mercy. Have mercy on us.

Now, consider for a moment your own life. It is the end of a long day, and you have things to do tomorrow, you have big, important things on your mind – and then, just as you are ready to rest, someone comes up and wants something. What is your reaction? How quick and ready to love the neighbor in that situation are you? The old sinful flesh likes to rise up then and there, doesn’t it, to grumble and complain? But, what does Christ do? These people are calling out to Him when He most certainly is tired and has other things on His mind. Does He brush them off? Does He say come back tomorrow? No – He cares for them.

Now, we learn from this. Of course, we learn that Christ’s attitude is to be our attitude as well. We learn what we ought to do – and in reality, we see how often we fail. Whenever we compare ourselves to Jesus we are simply going to see how we don’t measure up. If anything, when we compare ourselves to Christ we realize we look more like those scrubby lepers, disgusting and wretched. So, consider this. Have you felt worn and weary? Have you looked at your life and been disgusted by what you see? Do you know that you are unclean – an utter mess? You are – if you aren’t sure if you are, compare yourself to Jesus. Are you as holy and good and righteous as He is? Then you’re a mess – and don’t try denying it, ain’t none of us here going to buy it. Each of those 10 lepers knew every other one was a leper, and every one of us knows we all are sinners right along with all the other sinners. And we know that we need Christ, that we need His healing, His forgiveness, His mercy.

But here is where Satan can creep in. Do you ever feel as though – well, you know, you really shouldn’t bother Jesus with that. Well, ought you really pray about this AGAIN, I mean, come on, Jesus has to have other things on His mind? Are you going to bring yet another problem and burden to God – sheesh! We can be so ashamed of our problems, of our sin, that Satan tries to isolate us, tries to separate us from God. The Devil is a liar and a murderer, and when he stirs up these thoughts, he is lying to you so he can try to murder you. In our text, does Jesus ever hesitate in helping these lepers? Does our Lord cop an attitude? Does He throw up His arms, make a big sigh, come on people I was just getting ready to have dinner and wash my feet, why are you bugging me now? No. Simple as that. There’s no bad reaction from Christ – He’s not bothered or annoyed by this in the slightest – having mercy is what He came to do, so He delights in getting to deal with these lepers. Learn this, know this – Christ delights in dealing with you. Christ Jesus delights in having you pray to Him and bring your burdens to Him. Christ Jesus delights in having His Word proclaimed to you, enjoys having you receive His Body and Blood in His Supper for your forgiveness, for the strengthening of your weary faith, for your healing. That’s why He had the Apostles and prophets write down the Scriptures, why He has sent you a called and ordained Pastor, and has had one here for over 100 years. This is what He delights in.

And as our Lord delights in mercy, He heals these lepers. “When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’” When you were a leper, you were banished from the community until your disease cleared up – and when it cleared up, you could present yourself to the priests, who would then declare you fit for returning to the community. So when Jesus says, “Go show yourselves to the priests”, He is making them a promise that they will be healed. And so, they go. And the wondrous thing is, they aren’t healed yet when they start walking, but they start heading to the priests anyway, and then what happens? “And as they went, they were cleansed.” Simple as that. As they are going, they get healed. No big production – simply Jesus says it, promises it, and it happens.

Now, consider how our Lord deals with you. He has promised you forgiveness. He has washed you in Holy Baptism, so you are clean. He has spoken life and salvation unto you in His Word, He has given you His Body and Blood as the promise and token that you will rise again on the last day and have eternal life. Now, note two things. First – none of this is showy. God works through simple means. When He healed the Lepers there was no song and dance – when He heals you, it’s not that spectacular to look at. In baptism, you are joined to Christ, adopted by the Father to be His own redeemed child, made an heir of heaven and eternal life – and what do we see? Eh, a splash of water. In the Supper, Christ Jesus gives you His own Body and Blood, joins you together with all the saints of all ages, we participate for a moment in the joys of heaven and are prepared for eternal life – and what do we see? Eh, a small wafer, a sip of wine. In preaching, in absolution, I as your pastor get to declare to you that you sin is forgiven, that Satan’s power and hold over you is completely broken because of Christ’s death and resurrection, that you are now holy and blameless in God’s sight on account of Christ, that you will rise to life everlasting – and what do we see? Eh, a short half-bald guy with a lisp. Jesus doesn’t make a big production of things. Why? Because that way they are repeatable. Is there someone new to the faith, does a baptism need to be done – we don’t need some weird, precious substance – look, here is water, what hinders us from baptism now? Nothing. Simple. Or do we need to be refreshed by Christ, forgiven and prepared for life now and for all eternity, could we use His supper? Eh, look here, Pastor’s got some bread and wine – let’s have the Supper. I even have a portable kit for it. Or even with a pastor preaching – God keeps raising up new ones – so that if something happens to me, God will send you someone else – simple things. God gives His mercy to you in simple things. He doesn’t make stupid demands of you – He didn’t tell the lepers to do 100 pushups first, or to go travel 1000s of miles – simply go, and I will heal you. Likewise, in your life, simply come, hear His Word, receive His Supper, and you have God’s forgiveness in full.

Which leads to the second thing. When those lepers started walking, they looked down at themselves, and they saw their scabs, their sores, their illness. Yet their Lord Christ Jesus had told them to walk, and so they walked to go see the priest, and on the way they were healed. Likewise, dear Christians, when you look at your life now, when you see the problems and temptations that you face – they seem to stick around. You know, I expect that the burdens and trials you faced yesterday are still going to be there tomorrow. If you are struggling against a temptation now, probably you will still be struggling with it tomorrow. This healing of Christ’s, the forgiveness we receive – we don’t always see it right away. We don’t always see the life we have in Christ – and Satan wants to have us see our sin and say, “Eh, guess it didn’t take for you – give up, despair, curse God and die.” In contrast to Satan, I say to you – when service is done, head on out those doors and live your life – but live your life remembering the promises of God to you. Christ Jesus has given you His promise of life and salvation, and you shall have it. You have forgiveness now, and you will grow, you will see that life creep out in part now, but you will have it in full for all eternity. Now, you’re in your sinful flesh, and one burden, one temptation gets licked, well, another one pops up. That’s the burden of life in this sinful world – the problems of a decade ago, well, they might be gone, eh, then you'll have new ones. Or even if these old burdens linger on – yes it’s horrid, it’s difficult, it’s annoying. And we are called to struggle against these desires of the flesh, but Christ’s promise to you still stands. You are forgiven. You have life in Him. He works in you now, and He will on the last day call you forth to new life, and then you will see yourself healed, fully clean, fully redeemed and ready and prepared to spend eternity with Him and the family of God, an eternity where your praises will not be lacking, where you will be joined with all the saints of all ages in rejoicing before God and delighting in whatever it is that you’ll be doing in the new heavens and new earth, putting your restored and sanctified talents to good work there.

Christ Jesus is good. He is never too busy for you, for He is eager to save, eager to forgive. His promise of life and salvation is yours, and He wants you to know this always, to remember it always, to receive it often so that you might be always confident in Him. Satan will do his damnedest to make you forget this, but the love of Christ for you is more powerful than Satan, and His promises hold true now and forever more. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit+