Saturday, February 16, 2019

Septuagesima Sunday

Septuagesima – February 16th and 17th, 2019 – Matthew 20:1-16

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Today we begin the part of Epiphany that is known as Pre-lent. We have seen our Lord’s transfiguration, we know that He is God become Man, and in just a few weeks the season of Lent will be upon us. And so now our readings shift; they move from showing us that Christ Jesus is true God to teaching us and reminding us of truths that will shape how we approach Lent, how we approach that season of repentance, how we view our Lord’s death and resurrection. And to begin this week, we get the story of the laborers in the vineyard.

“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them out into his vineyard.” Now, here is the situation. You have unemployed workers. Laborers. Folks who don’t have any specific skill that would be in vast demand, folks who simply had to hope that someone would put them to work. And there they are, without employment, with no income. And there's no reason to think that this would be changing anytime soon, but then up comes this master, and he offers them a job. A good job. A Denarius a day – that’s a good, full wage. He’s not going to use their poverty against them, he’s not going to drive a hard bargain – no, he offers a full wage. And not just for today – it’s on going. Come, I’ll pay you a good wage a day, every day. It would be like the dream job falling into your lap, and so off they go to the vineyard with joy.

The master continues. “And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right, I will give you.’” More folks, and they are now without much hope for that day. Three hours have passed, a quarter of the working day, and, well, nothing. It's too late, the jobs are filled. But then the master comes up, and he says, go – whatever is right, I will give you. They’ll have enough to eat, enough to live today. And the master keeps gathering more. “Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’” The master does this all day. And with this last group you get the full sense of hopelessness, of despondency. Why are you standing around here – because no one has hired us, because we can’t do anything. If there’s no jobs, there’s no jobs, and we simply go hungry. And eventually we starve and die because that’s how this lousy town works. And the master says, “Eh, go into the vineyard as well.” Over and over the master pulls people away from this hopelessness and gives them hope, purpose, and the promise of life, of being able to live.

And the master is generous. “And when the evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the 11th hour came, each of them received a denarius.” What generosity! What care! Here, have the full day’s wages, even though you worked only a sliver. And why? Because you are now my workers, you work for me, and I am going to care for you and treat you well. The owner is good and gracious and supports people well. But, not everyone sees it that way. “Now, when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’” The grumbling starts. How come, if they get this, we don’t get more? We’ve worked harder, we’ve done more, we’ve been more useful than them! Do you see how sad this is? The joy that was theirs when first hired, when first called to work in the vineyard is gone, replaced by bitterness and anger over what others have received. Look at me, look at what I’ve done, I should get more! 12 hours earlier they were wondering where their next meal would come from, and now they are cursing the hand that feeds them.
Yet the master is gentle with them even in their folly. “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’” Be calm my friend, do not be angry. Do you not see and understand how kind and good I am? I have never done you wrong – you are getting exactly what I have told you that you would receive. As for the others, I choose to be generous – have I not also been generous with you? Indeed, you yourself have benefited from my own generosity – rejoice that I am generous.

So then, what does this mean? Here is the warning that we must remember. When Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven, when He describes what life in His church is like, He doesn’t paint an artificially rosy picture. It’s a vineyard. It is full of hard and difficult labor. Likewise, life as a Christian in this fallen world is difficult. Let no one tell you differently. In other places Jesus tells us that the world will hate us, that our own sinful flesh will tempt us, that often we will be set against friend and even family for Christ’s sake. To be a Christian in a sinful world is a hard and difficult task. But again, we remember why we are Christians. We were those with no hope, we were those stuck in sin and sorrow and death. Just waste our lives away and that’s it. And yet Christ Jesus has gone to the Cross, and suffered, died and risen again. And now that same Jesus Christ comes to us, while we were yet sinners, and out of His own great love and generosity He calls us out of darkness into His Church, and He says, “I have forgiven you, and yes, in this life there will be struggles and trials and heartache, but when this life is done, you will rise forgiven and inherit eternal life.”

And this is the promise He makes to all He calls into His church, whether we are called as infants, baptized before we can even speak, or whether we are called into His Church even on our deathbed. The promise is the same. Jesus says, “I forgive you your sins, I give you life everlasting and all that is Mine is now yours.” And this is simply wondrous – such great generosity, such great love. But here is the problem – while we are still in this world, our old sinful flesh still clings to us, and instead of being content to simply look at God’s great love which He showers upon us undeservedly, our flesh wants to make everything be about us and what we have done. We want to make the same move that the workers did – look at us, look at what we’ve done, surely we deserve “more”. And that is how Satan attacks Christians. He slithers up to you and says, “You know, here you are, and you’ve been a good, faithful Christian, and what has it gotten you? Nothing. Your life is still full of problems, while that guy over there, he’s on easy street compared to you – and he’s no where near as nice or hard working as you are. Shouldn’t God give you more, since you’ve been such a good person? Isn’t that the deal? Be a good Christian and get blessed? And what do you have – all these troubles that you work so hard to hide from everyone else… oh, this is all a waste, isn’t it!” And the grumblings and the doubts come in – because we forget the Word of God and instead focus upon ourselves.

Friend, God is doing you no wrong. The deal NEVER was “be good and get blessed.” God never promised you a life of ease, a life free of heartache and pain. You’re a sinner in a sinful world, there is just going to be pain and heartache. And if another has it better than you, easier than you – rejoice for them, be glad in their good things. Help them to enjoy them – that’s what we are instructed in the commandments over and over. But as for you, remember what God has promised you. You are His baptized child, and all that is Christ’s is now yours. Yes, this means life everlasting, but it also means in this world you will receive what Christ received – hardship and trial. The Christian faith is not some ponzi scheme to set you up on easy street. No, in this life you will be put to work loving your neighbors, serving them, giving of yourself for them, even dying for them, little by little. But in the midst of this, even as you live out your life here in this world, even as you remain a sinner who grumbles and rebels, Jesus is faithful and just, and He continues to come to you and say, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. You know what life in this world is really like – for I have told you it is hard. But I am generous. You are forgiven of all of your sin. You will have My own strength to endure through the scorching days, the long and lonely nights, the times of trouble and pain, for I am with you even until the end of the age. And then, I will raise you from the dead, and you will see life everlasting beyond all pain and sorrow, for you are My own, and nothing can separate you from the love that I have for you.”
Lent is coming, and one of the dangers of Lent, as it is a time of repentance, a time of reflection upon our own lives, is that Satan will try to use that reflection to stoke our pride and our ego, will try to tell us that we deserve more and more, especially compared to that person over there. Ignore these temptations, and rather remember who you are. While you are a sinner, powerless to do anything for yourself, Christ Jesus has come to you, and He has given you life now. He has promised to support and sustain you through the trials of this life. He forgives you richly so that come the last day you will stand gladly and joyously by His side for all eternity. Jesus goes boldly to the Cross to win this for you – it is His salvation to do with as He pleases, and He is pleased to give it to you simply out of His great generosity. You are saved by grace. It all depends upon Him, and He will never fail you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Transfiguration Sermon

Transfiguration – February 9th and 10th, 2019 – Matthew 17:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
What is the first commandment? Oh, come on, Pastor a quiz already? Yep, but we'll do it together – what is the first commandment? [You shall have no other gods.] And what does this mean? [We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.] Fear, love, and trust. Those are the three things that define and shape how we act towards God. And Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, God incarnate, God veiled in human flesh, takes Peter, James, and John, and He leads them up on a mountain by themselves. We don't know quite which mountain, and there's speculation, but that's not the point. The point is this: the awesome events of the Old Testament happened on mountains. You had Moses at Sinai, you had Elijah fighting the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Noah on Mt. Ararat, and of course, the greatest of all the mountains – Mt. Zion – where the Temple was built. And so when Jesus asks Peter and James and John to come up on the mountain with Him, they are expecting something wonderful.

And they do see something wonderful... and terrifying. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. We can hear that and think, “Oh, how wonderful! How fantastic! Oh, I wish I would have been there.” Nope. It was terrifying. Jesus is true God and true Man, and one of the things with that is His humanity hides, shields us from the jaw-dropping awesomeness of His divinity. Sinful folks can't handle the unbridled and unshielded presence of God. Not even Moses and Elijah could. Moses was in the presence of God long enough that He glowed and terrified the children of Israel. And so think about what is happening there. Jesus... starts glowing. If any one of us started glowing – we'd be at least a bit freaked out. And then Moses and Elijah start talking to Him – the dead show up, or maybe it's just that time and space are rent asunder and the events of the Old Testament unfold before the disciples eyes. Either way, it's freaky. And Jesus has brought them up here to see this, to witness it, to listen in.

And Peter chimes up - Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah. This is a dodge. It sounds nice and polite, but it's a dodge. You know what this is – a completely plausible dodge and excuse to get away and not be there. This is your mother-in-law showing up unexpectedly and you saying, “Oh, it's great that you're here – um, let me go run to the store and get some stuff for dinner”... and then you go on the longest and slowest shopping trip of your life. Oh, I'm doing something for you... but in reality you're making an excuse to be off doing something else. And this was a great excuse from Peter. They were around the festival of booths, when the children of Israel would camp out and remember their time in the wilderness. So, Peter would run and get tents – not looking at Jesus - and then busy himself in setting them up – still not looking at glowing Jesus – and then, of course, once the tents are set up, Jesus and Moses and Elijah can go in and talk in privacy and I won't have to look at glowing, shining Jesus.

It's an excuse, and God knows an excuse when He hears one. “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them....” Poor Peter. We miss this – we hear “bright cloud” and we think a sunny day with a nice, white fluffy cloud. No – this is the pillar of cloud by day cloud – this is the glory cloud of the Old Testament covering the tabernacle cloud. And Peter's in the middle of it... trying to make an excuse to leave, and suddenly he's surrounded. He can't get away. And it gets worse; he can't cover his ears - “and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.'” The voice of God thunders forth – and it thunders forth the greatest news ever proclaimed. This Jesus is the Messiah, He is the Son of God, He is God Incarnate come to win salvation – and the Father is well pleased with Him. It is Good again, this is creation restored and being fixed, this is the fall undone.

When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. No more escape plans, no where to run. Just hit the dirt and wait to die. It's too much. Too much for sinful man to bear. It's too much for the angels to bear – the angels cover their eyes in the face of this. The glory of God that man had fallen short of is right there – and it's all Peter and James and John can do to hit the dirt, duck and cover, duck and cover.

We deal with some mighty amazing things in the Church. We confess that we come into the presence of God Almighty. We confess that His Spirit comes upon us and makes us to hear and believe. We confess that God Himself gives us His own Body and Blood to eat and drink. These are heady things. And yet – by in large we are comfortable here. I don't think we've ever had to hit the dirt in the middle of service – we've never had the lintels and beams shake in the middle of service because of the might of God. Yet here in this place the mystery of the ages is received – life and salvation and forgiveness that undoes death and raises the dead and endures past the end of the world is here. A Baptism is a mind-boggling miracle – a child is pulled by God away from Satan's kingdom and made a child of God, and heir of everlasting life... and we sit and smile and maybe snap a few pictures as long as there's no flash because we don't want Pastor Brown grousing at us. The Supper is profound – God gives Himself to you. And we just line on up and go about it utterly routinely, line on up, come on up, you know the drill.

Now – I'm going to say that this is not a bad thing. Oh, be aware of what's going on, marvel and delight in it – but do you know why we are able to handle these mighty things of God so regularly, in such a commonplace manner? But Jesus came and touched them, saying, 'Rise and have no fear.' And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. We can worship this way, this freely, this comfortably, because of Jesus. Because in Jesus everything is done, everything is good – but more than that, in Jesus all the goodness and righteousness and holiness of God and salvation and forgiveness come to us in a way that we can handle. The disciples couldn't handle what they were seeing – until it was just Jesus. Just normal, old Jesus touching them and speaking to them normally. And actually – that's what the goal was all along. Listen to Jesus. Focus upon Him. And that doesn't have to be done in a terrifying way – it is to be done simply. His Word read from the lectern and proclaimed from the pulpit – so routine. The Words of Jesus spoken and sung back and forth to each other in the liturgy – so comfortable. The Words of Jesus attached to water at Baptism – so cute and gentle enough for a babe. The Words of Jesus attached to bread and wine – so touchable and accessible. The whole point of Jesus coming, the whole point of the Church or the Sacraments is to make it easier and possible for sinful man to be forgiven and restored to God's presence, both now in time and there in eternity.

So the question to ponder now is this. When and why do you fear to come to this place? When do you not want to be here? It happens to us all – that's how Satan attacks us. He wants us to not be here. Okay, sometimes it's the weather – if there's ice stay home old people, no breaking hips – but that's not really what I'm talking about. What makes you nervous to be here? Sometimes there's shame – and maybe people will know what I've done, or maybe the readings or sermon will touch too close to it. Sometimes there's hurt, waters not quite under the bridge yet. Sometimes it's just general anxieties and life. Sometimes it's boredom – yes, you can admit that sometimes you find church boring. I get bored sometimes. Whatever else, peer pressures, health issues and embarrassments, family issues, whatever – today I want you to understand what those all are spiritually speaking. Those are all just some of the many ways in which the Devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh try to pull our eyes off of Jesus. Those are all just situations where we are tempted and pulled away from seeing Christ the Crucified, from seeing the Son of Man who was raised from the dead. Because that's Satan's goal – to separate you from Jesus, to make you stop looking at Him.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, 'Rise, and have no fear.” Over and against that, Jesus comes and touches people. Touches us in tangible ways. You realize sound is actually touch – the air vibrates and touches your ears... and Jesus touches you by His Word and says have no fear, you will rise. We definitely get the touch of Jesus in Baptism. In the Supper, Jesus touches us – take and eat, take and drink – touch and taste and see that the Lord is good and you are forgiven and you will rise. And this week, out there through those doors, Jesus will touch people through you. Through the kindness you show as you live out your vocations, through the words that you speak that check up sin and the words that forgive sin, through the comfort that you speak. All that is Christ coming to you and coming to others through you and the Holy Spirit working and living in you. And it's not technicolor and amazing – this working of God doesn't come with thunderclaps or miracles or anything like that. That sort of stuff just terrifies sinful man. No – Jesus comes to us simply and gently in a way that we can handle.

So here He is. Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ – True God who in His unbridled glory would terrify us, but who comes and remains True Man so that He can be with us and redeem us and save us. This is the God who forgives us, the God whom we worship, the God who fights down the powers of sin and death and hell for us. He is strong against our foes, but gentle with us. God grant us that we might ever more see only Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Epiphany 4

Epiphany 4 – February 2nd and 3rd, 2019 – Matthew 8:23-27

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
One of the problems with just having readings in the Church is that we miss what comes before the reading, the context, how the stage is set. Last week the healing of the leper and the Centurion's servant was set up by the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. This week we're still in chapter 8 of Matthew, and Jesus has been healing a bunch of people, including Peter's mother-in-law, but finally, it is so much that Jesus wants to cross the sea to get some rest, to get away from the crowd for a bit. Jesus even laments, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Jesus is true man, and He is just worn out. And then we hear this: “Another of the disciples said to Him, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' And Jesus said to him, ' Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'” That's a heavy, hefty saying. Following Jesus means sacrifice, it means sometimes no longer having a home, it means being made weary in service and love to the neighbor. But think on this – the last thing we hear before our Gospel is Jesus talking about death.

And then Jesus gets into the boat, and the disciples follow Him. Good. But then we hear this: And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep. Jesus was plum tuckered out. He was out like a light. Again, True God but also True Man. And while He is sleeping in the boat, a storm whips up. And this is an unusual storm – we know this from the “and behold” and the word “great.” Do you know how bad a storm this was, how unusual? Many of Jesus' disciples are seasoned fishermen, folks who lived and worked on the Sea of Galilee, who knew how to handle boats well and knew this sea in particular. And they panic – And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, LORD, we are perishing.” If you're on an airplane and is hits some turbulence, and the passenger next to you is nervous, that's one thing. If the flight attendants start running up and down the aisle screaming, “We're all going to die!” that's something else. This is a BAD situation.

And He said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. If you want to understand how this plays out, think about kids trying to wake up a parent from a nap – where they crack their eyes for a moment, grumble, and then shout out orders, expecting to be obeyed, and then go back to sleep. That's what this is. That “rose” isn't waking up bright eyed and bushy-tailed – it's being shook awake a bit. It's being “roused.” And then Jesus rebukes winds. That word rebuke implies that He acted as though He had authority over them and told them what to do and they did it. Remember the Centurion from last week talking about being under authority – well, Jesus speaks and acts as though the winds and the sea are under His authority. And... they are. They stop. The great storm, the unbelievably big storm suddenly becomes a great calm. This too would have been really eerie to the disciples. You didn't normally have a calm on that sea – in fact, as you were using sails, you generally didn't want a total calm. And Jesus probably falls right back asleep, because He doesn't say another thing. Maybe with a great calm, He can rest.

Think for a moment how intimidating this would be. You've been up on the ship fighting the weather, trying to pull lines and rigging and bailing water and working your hardest to stay alive, and you can't, it is beyond your strength and you are dying... but then Jesus rolls over and just casually fixes everything. Boom – it's still. The boat stops rocking and rolling in the waves. The sails stop rippling and raging in the wind. The lines go slack – and all that your strength had been fighting against is gone. And Jesus goes back to sleep. This is why they marvel, this is why they say What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?” Well, let's answer their question. He is the Man who is also True God. This man Jesus is the LORD who told Jonah to go to Nineveh and who whipped up a storm and shut it down. This man Jesus is the LORD who put the land and the sea in their own places at Creation and fixed their bounds. This man is the Creator of all things. True God. Yet, think on what else you see. He is true man. The Creator there is sleeping exhausted. The Almighty God is there, frail and worn. God has taken up human frailty and human weakness. It's such an astonishing contrast of strength and weakness that would have been and still is mind boggling. True God and True Man.

There was another question in this text that we would do well to ponder. Before He rebuked the waves, Jesus asked the disciples a question: “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” I mean, the simple answer is, “there's a great storm.” That's a pretty good reason to fear, right? But Jesus is asking something a bit deeper than that. Why are they afraid when Jesus is there? This is why He calls them “little faith.” He's been preaching and teaching, He's shown that He is the Messiah... and don't they know, don't they believe that the Messiah has come to win salvation? Don't they know that He's not going to die in boat on a lake? He's taught, He's preached. They've heard that He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, they've heard Him tell His mom that His hour had not yet come... but they weren't thinking about Christ winning salvation with His death and resurrection, as He taught them over and over. In fact, until it actually happened, the disciples excelled in ignoring prospect of the Crucifixion. Why are you afraid – this isn't the Cross, it's nothing. And even the Cross isn't really to be feared, for I'm going to defeat that. I'm going to rise and the dead will be raised, the sea will give up the bodies that perished there in and they will live because of Me – so why are you afraid, o ye of little faith?

Quiz time. I am going to ask a question, and I expect you all to answer it... (why are you afraid, o ye of little faith.) What is the First Commandment? - Thou shalt have no other gods before Me/ You shall have no other gods. Very good – now a second question. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Seriously – memorize that. I'd love it if you had the whole small catechism memorized like Sauer and Royer and the other pastors before me tried to get you to, but at least have the first commandment and its meaning down pat. Because it is profound and explains how every single temptation works. Every temptation that you will face in this life is an attempt to get you to fear something more than God, or to love something more than God, or to trust something more than God. And we could have sermons on each of these – but let's ponder this idea of fearing God. It's a common phrase throughout the Scriptures – fear the Lord. Why? The point is this – you and I are often driven by fear. And fear can make us do some very stupid things. We fear what our friends might say, and we either remain silent or even join in with wickedness. We fear how things in the world are going, and we become despondent and desperate. We fear our neighbors, and we stop loving and serving them. We should fear God above all these things. We should remember that this man, Jesus Christ, who suffered and died and rose again, is indeed stronger and more powerful than our friends' opinions, or the troubles and violence of the world, or even our mean and wicked neighbors. When we see all these things that we are fearful of, we ought to see Christ Jesus instead – come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. “But pastor, what if things are really bad – what if we lose our money or they decide to outlaw Christianity or we get killed?” So what – that's not bigger than Christ Crucified. And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife – though these all be gone, these scary things that we become fearful of can in truth, in Christ, harm us none. Our victory has been won. The kingdom ours remaineth, because Christ Jesus says so. Because He died and He rose, and it doesn't matter what the world does to you – you will rise in Him, and you will rise forgiven and redeemed and glorified and rise to life everlasting.

And in the moment, we tend to forget that. We forget that whenever we sin – sin is forgetting the reality of Christ's strength and what He has done for you. That's why we pray that God would create a clean heart in us, and take not away His Holy Spirit from us. Why we ask that we would see the joy of His salvation. Satan and the world and sin all want to distract you from Christ Jesus and His love and forgiveness. They want to scare you out of receiving it, they want to terrify you out of showing it and proclaiming Christ's love and forgiveness. But Christ Jesus is indeed stronger than the world, and even His weakness, weakness that leads to His death upon the Cross is nothing but His means of delivering you. And the fearful things we see in life – our own frailty and even our death, or the hatred and wickedness of others, or the raging of the winds and sea and snow – these are not stronger than God. No, indeed, in Christ they simply become opportunities to proclaim the wonders of His love. All the fraility and weakness and trouble in the world is swallowed up by Christ Jesus – and He rebukes it all – He calls out “Father forgive them” and He cries out, “It is Finished” and you, my friends, are redeemed and forgiven and more than conquerors in Him. This is what H e gives you to.

What is the first commandment? And what does this mean? Indeed, you have nothing to fear from anyone, for Christ Jesus is your Lord, and He has redeemed you and loves no matter what comes down the pike. Rest secure in Him. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Epiphany 3 (a bit late)

Epiphany 3 – January 26th and 27th, 2019 – Matthew 8:1-13

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Who do you hate? Who do you just hate? Okay, maybe that's too strong of a question to start off a sermon because well, we're good people and we aren't hateful. Okay, so who do you dislike? Who makes you uncomfortable – is that better? What sort of person if you see them gives you a bit of an – ewwwww – feeling, or what sort of person makes you a bit nervous and worried and angry, even? Picture them in your head, think about them for a moment, alright? Because if you want to understand what is going on in our text, you need to have that image in your head – the image of someone who gives you an ewww feeling, someone who makes you nervous and makes you fearful a bit. Because what Jesus does in this text is an abrupt and sudden turn, a shocking and surprising shift. Listen.

When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed Him. Jesus has just finished the famous Sermon on the Mount. Matthew Chapters 5-7 are the Sermon on the Mount – the beatitudes, teaching the Lord's Prayer, consider the lillies of the field, judge not lest ye be judged, seek ye first the kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount is our wheel house – we love it. It's got some hard teaching in it, but it's comfortable – 5 times a year we get something from it. But the thing with teaching, the thing with a sermon or a bible class is that we tend to think of it happening here – in our heads. It's abstracted. Okay, Jesus – yeah, yeah, yeah – love your enemies, do unto others as you'd have done to you, don't be anxious about anything – got it. Got the idea in my head And the crowds were listening then, and they follow Jesus all excited – and what happens?

And behold, a leper came to Him and knelt before Him, saying, “LORD, if You will, you can make me clean.” Now, this leper is fantastic – he kneels before Jesus, but this isn't just any kneeling, this is assuming a posture of worship, of prayer. This leper calls Jesus LORD – worships Him. He nails the Lord's Prayer – Thy Will be done – if YOU WILL, you can make me clean. This is one of the most excellent confessions of faith and trust in Jesus that you will hear... but if you were in that crowd, you wouldn't have heard it. Oh, the sound might have entered your ears, but you wouldn't have been paying attention. Why not? HE'S A LEPER! AND HE'S HERE, RIGHT HERE IN FRONT OF ME! Remember that person that gives you that “ewww” feeling; well, if they suddenly pop up right in front of you, you're not quite ready to calmly and rationally evaluate what they are saying, or the merits of their argument – it's get them away from me. That's how our sinful, selfish fears work. Protect me, and get this dirty, nasty, evil thing away from me!

Jesus is not sinful. He is the Son of God, True God and True Man come to deal with sin, to redeem and rescue people who are in bondage to sin and suffering from it's impact. And so hear what He does, and know how shocking this is. “And Jesus stretched out His hand and touched Him, saying, 'I will; be clean.'” Jesus touches the leper – touches the person who by definition was untouchable. You did not do what Jesus does. Jesus just reaches His hand right on in – and personally, in a hands on way, without a hint of disgust or disdain, heals the guy. Then Jesus says, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded for a proof to them.” Alright fella, go on, get out of here – you're freaking out the crowd... get yourself cleared with the priestly health officials, get everything squared away legally with your offering/sacrifice, and then go enjoy your life and the gifts that I have provided you. And off this fellow goes – all done and finished before our heads would have cleared from the shock.

But it gets worse. “When He entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to Him, 'Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” Things have settled down, a nice calm walk home – and then a Centurion shows up. Remember that person you hate – okay, strongly dislike? The person whom the thought of just makes your blood boil a bit – well, that's what this Centurion is. Filthy Roman dog, vile oppressor, the MAN – every epithet you can think of – there he is, personified. And again, if you were there you'd miss it, but this Centurion does things so well. That word “appealing” there – that's parakalo – that's the very word that gets used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete. Take it to the Lord in prayer? Lay your burdens on Jesus – this is it, textbook. Not a one of us in here could do better – but, but, but he's a filthy Roman dog. You grimace and sneer when you think of him – yet by the power of the Spirit he prays rightly. By the power of the Spirit – oh, surely not him!

Jesus responds. “I will come and heal him.” WHAT? Jesus, don't You dare go into that dirty gentile's house, that would be horrible and just utterly shocking... and before we can even grouse at Jesus and tell Him not to do this, that Roman Dog speaks up - “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'go,' and he goes, and to another, 'come,' and he comes, and to my servant, 'do this,' and he does it.” The Roman Dog gets it. Submitting doesn't seem like a dirty word to him – he understands authority. He knows that authority is to be used for the good and benefit of those under your command, who are subordinate to you. And Jesus is going to do good to those under Jesus' authority – like this Centurion and his servant. Whereas the crowd, where we, would see division and distinction and anger and fights – Jew vs. Gentile, slave vs. free, or all the divisions we manufacture today, so on and so forth – no, we are all under Your authority Lord, and You are good, and Your Word is the way it is.

And then marveling, Jesus says to that crowd that had spent months and years hating this Centurion - “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” Yeah, crowd – faith. I told you that “parakalo” word was a Holy Spirit and faith word – and this Roman Dog – no, not a dog, but a brother and an heir and one sitting at the table – this Roman has faith... and if you don't like that, well, you might be the one ending up in the outer darkness gnashing your teeth. “Go; let it be done for you as you believe.” Did you hear it – Jesus said “Let it be” - or as we normally think of it, “Let there be...” just like at creation. The Word of God speaks, and it is, and it is good. The servant is healed.

Do you want to know who Jesus is, what it means that He is true God and true Man? He is the God who created all things, who loves all His creation, and who comes down to forgive and redeem that creation, to save and deliver the people therein – even the people we don't like. Even then people, dare I say it, that we hate. Cause if you hate someone, that is a you problem. That's you opposing God, because that person you are disgusted with or angry with – that is precisely the person Jesus comes down from heaven and goes to the cross for, to die and redeem. And that is a tough and hard and bitter pill to swallow – it shows the reality of that do unto others and love your enemies and forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us. And frankly that's why a lot of people rejected Jesus – His love and goodness showed them their hate and disdain, and instead of receiving and living in mercy that He gives, they chose their own hatred.

We live in a day and age where we are quick to hate and condemn. We are quick to blame. We are quick to take sides. That's how we “prove” that we are better – and that's the goal of the game today – to prove that you are better than everyone else and that it's their fault. And that's the game our sinful flesh likes to play. And the reason this temptation towards hatred is so hard is because so often it is... true. It is true, that leper was gross. And potentially dangerous, could infect everyone – all true. And that Centurion was an oppressor – when Rome would crack the whip he'd be the guy cracking it – all true. And you know what – the people you hate, sometimes it's for a silly reason, but sometimes you hate them for a really good reason because they have done you wrong, or are a pain and a threat to the people you care about. That's true. And you know what's an even scarier truth – the people who hate you, because let's face it, we all have people who don't like us or are mad at us – the scarier truth is this. Often they've got a good reason to be mad at you. And it's not abstract and distant or theoretical – but it's real and up close. Your neighbors, the people at work, at school. Your family. Legitimate, real and reasonable bad blood. Even in here – I'm sure I've done stupid, hurtful, wicked and evil things to folks here in this room, where if you wanted to complain your anger would be completely reasonable. That's the reality of sin.

And over and against that very real sin, over and against our hatreds and fears and disdains – be they silly or spot on accurate – comes Christ Jesus. True God. The Word of God who created all things, and it was good – and He says, “Enough of this. Enough of this pain, enough of this anger, enough of this fear, enough of this death, enough of this sin. I will go to the Cross and I will die and rise, and it will be good again. You will be good again, because I have said so. And even that other person – they will be good again.” And so Christ Jesus, in His wisdom and love for you, wisdom and love that seems like utter stupidity to the reckless rage and anger of the world, washed you in Holy Baptism. He cleansed you from all your sin, and He made you an heir of eternal life. And you do realize what this is for – this is not just for your good. You are an heir of eternal life, eternal life is your possession. It is yours to give out. And as Christ simply gave you forgiveness, forgiveness is yours to give out freely. Even to the people who don't deserve it – what do I mean, especially to the people who don't deserve it. That common saying is silly – you and I, we are the ones who don't deserve forgiveness, we are the ones who are rightfully hated and disdained, we in our sin make others go “eww” or “err” - and yet Christ Jesus comes to you – take and eat, take and drink. You are forgiven – let this gift grow your faith in Me and grow your love toward one another – and it is so and it is good.

My dear friends, when we say that Jesus is True God and True Man, that isn't just some theological mumbo jumbo. No, we are confessing that Jesus is Real, and He deals with reality. And the reality of our situation is this – we are real sinners dealing with real sins and real hatreds, things we have caused and things we have suffered under – things we have done and things that have been done to us. And this Jesus Christ is no play-time pretend God – He takes that very real and terrible junk, and He puts it to death with His own Body upon the cross, and He rises to give you His life, real life, a life more real that anyone can know apart from Christ. And the world and Satan and our flesh keep pulling us to just stay “happily” in our hatred and grievances and wickedness – but over and against that, Christ Jesus comes to forgive, redeem, and save. And this is what He has done for you and to you and what He brings about for others through you. Oh Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise. In the Name Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +