Saturday, March 30, 2019

Lent 4

Lent 4 – March 30th and 31st, 2019 – John 6:1-15

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
The fourth week of Lent is known sometimes known as “Refreshment Sunday”. It’s a week where we ease up a bit on the intensity of our self-examination and penance in Lent – where we take a slight breather. If we wanted to be really prim and proper, and if we actually had them – we’d have the pink, the rose colored altar cloths on the altar, just like the 3rd week of Advent. It is the final rest stop, the final breather before Lent takes us through its intense push towards Golgotha, towards Good Friday. This is a relaxing, refreshing day. And so, our Gospel text is the feeding of the 5000. It’s a familiar text, a great text, a refreshing text. So, let us look at the text, and see what we learn about how God refreshes us.

After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberius. And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples. So that is the setting. People following Christ, people wishing to hear His Word, listening to Him, all gathered. They’ve been there all day. They are tired. They are worn out. They are hungry. Imagine yourself there. If I go over 15 minutes on the sermon, how many of your eyelids get heavy? Now imagine a sermon that lasted all day. By the end of our hour here, how many of you are sore from sitting in the pew? Now imagine 12 hours walking after Jesus, or at best sitting on the ground looking up hill. We can imagine how sore and tired those people must have been.

But we also see and understand how tired we ourselves are. It is hard to be a Christian, isn’t it? It is tiring work. All around us we see people taking the easy way, the wide path that leads to hell. We see people backbite and stab each other – but we strive to show respect as instructed in the 4th Commandment. We see everyone else simply look out for themselves, but we strive to support our neighbor in his bodily needs, as instructed in the 5th Commandment. We see people jump from person to person in pursuit of pleasure, but we strive to be faithful, to show love to our spouses even when that can be quite difficult, as instructed in the 6th Commandment. We see people get ahead by hook or by crook – but we strive to do things honestly, as instructed in the 7th Commandment. We see people attack and speak cruelly of others, but we strive to defend them, speak well of them, put the best construction on everything, as instructed in the 8th Commandment. And all this we do – while trying not to covet, while trying not to look over the fence and see what our neighbor has and think, “Boy, they’ve got it so good.” Dear friends, I would suggest that our lives as Christians are more wearying than simply sitting, more painful than the hunger after a day without food. The Christian life is hard – God sets a high standard for us and we strive to do His Will – we strive – it is hard work, hard and tiring work.

Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Phillip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Phillip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a boy here who has five barely loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” We strive to do God’s will – and it’s hard, and oftentimes we stumble. Look at poor Phillip. Jesus lays out the Commandments to him – ah – how are we to care for these people’s bodies and lives, Phillip? And Phillip draws a complete blank. Um, I don’t know Jesus, I hadn’t really thought about it. Phillip falls flat on his face. And Andrew, well, he’s a little bit better. Uh, here’s what we have Jesus – but it won’t do any good. Do you hear the despair, the resignation in Andrew’s voice? Well, it can’t get done. The life of a disciple was hard, and Phillip and Andrew, with this task before them, fail.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? How often at the end of the day, when thinking back on something from the day, do you look at it and think, “I messed that up royally. I completely blew it”? One of the most amusing things in the catechism is what Luther writes after the evening prayer – “Then go to sleep at once and in good cheer.” I find that hard to do quite often. The folly, the wickedness I have done this day gnaws at me, and the burdens of the morrow hang in front of me. It’s hard, seeing your sin. It’s hard when you've got to do something and afterwards you realize you handled it completely poorly. Often times we don’t handle the challenges in our life the right way. We stay silent when we should speak up and defend our neighbor – or we speak up and gossip when we should stay silent. We work and work when we should be paying attention to the Word – or we see our neighbor, the stranger in need, and we sit back and lift nary a finger. We look with disdain upon the blessings we have and look with lust at what our neighbor has. And then we kick ourselves. I knew better than that! We see our lives for what they so often are – chances to do good where we do wickedness instead – chances to show the love of God where we simply show our own hate and indifference. Sometimes, we even despair, like Andrew here. Oh well, what good it is – no matter what I do I will mess up. We are beaten and broken down quite often.

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about 5000 in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, He told His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barely loaves, left by those who had eaten. It’s not a problem for Jesus. Phillip – he doesn’t know what to do. Andrew – eh, what good are these few loaves, these two fish? It’s not a problem for Jesus. He takes care of things. He sees that people need to be fed – and so He feeds them. He sees that Phillip and Andrew cannot, so He does it for them and through them. It’s not a problem for Jesus.

This is what we are to remember in our lives as well. It’s not a problem for Jesus. Do you see your own sin – does it weigh heavily upon you? It’s not a problem for Jesus. He stretches His arms out upon the Cross and says, “Let me take that for you.” Your sin isn’t your own any more – Christ Jesus has taken it from you. The burden of it – He has taken it. Yes, your sin is great. It’s horrible and wicked. There are probably things you are still kicking yourself for from long ago. Christ died for that sin, and He has taken it from you. It’s not a problem for Jesus. And when Satan and your flesh stir up guilt, flee to Jesus for refuge, confess your sin, for your Lord is faithful and just, and will cleanse you from all, all your unrighteousness – even the big, dark, scary skeleton in the closet ones. That is why He calls you to His house, week after week – to give you forgiveness – so that you know that the flaws and follies of the past week are done away with – put to death upon the Cross. So that you receive His forgiveness and the confidence in His love that comes from forgiveness.

It’s not a problem for Jesus. This is what we are to remember when we think about the things that will come – the challenges that we will face, the seemingly insurmountable difficulties that will come. It’s not a problem for Jesus. He has claimed you in the waters of Baptism, He has joined Himself to you, you are His now. Do you see and understand what this means? You’ve sung it since you were little. Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong. It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The Holy Spirit has made you His dwelling place – do you see what that means? Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. It’s not a problem for God. He knows our lack, better than we do, in fact – and He is the one who provides us strength. Consider what God gives to us in the Supper. This meal isn’t just symbolic play time – it’s not just us sitting back wistfully and thinking about good old Jesus. Christ supports and sustains us in this life – He strengthens our weak, tired bodies with His own Holy Body and precious Blood. In this sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given. We are forgiven. We are given life – life for today, life for tomorrow – Christ’s own strength to thrive. All these things in our life that cause us consternation – they aren’t problems for Jesus.

Jesus looked upon the 5000 with compassion and fed them. Likewise, Christ looks upon you with compassion, and He takes up your burden and gives you His forgiveness. “Hence all fear and sadness! For the Lord of gladness, Jesus enters in. . . . Thou art still my purest pleasure, Jesus, priceless treasure.” In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Lent 3

Lent 3 – March 23rd and 24th, 2019 – Luke 11:14-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the season of Lent, we see Jesus tackle problem after problem. The first week in Lent, Jesus took on Satan in the desert and toppled his temptations. Last week, Jesus took on sinful and arrogant pride that would have us look down upon others. And today Jesus tackles another major problem – the problem of self-justification. And self-justification is a bigger issue than we normally think, it's a more pernicious problem than we normally give it credit for. As an example – just for a moment, think back on this past week and an argument or disagreement that stands out in your mind – and imagine you're going to tell someone how things played out, how things happened. Got the rough shape of your story? Alright – is that a story of how you messed up, or is it a story of how someone else messed up and did you wrong and its not your fault? I'd wager that for most of us it's one where “there I was, just minding my own business when so-and-so suddenly went and did blah blah blah.” We like to spin the story so that the fault, the blame, rests upon someone else – or even if we have our bit of wrong doing, the real heel or villain of the piece is them. In fact, if we do end up going a bit too far, well, it's because they made me do it. Think for a moment of all the ways you've spun the stories so that your fault is minimized and it's really the other person's fault, it's really what they did, not you. That is self-justification, and as we are sinners my friends, there is always an ever present temptation and desire to self-justify. And when self-justification is left unchecked and unfought and uncalled out, it leads to rank stupidity.

Listen. Now [Jesus] was casting out a demon that was mute. 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 from Him a sign from heaven. Here we have two examples of utterly stupid self-justification. You have people who want to reject Jesus, to ignore Him – and this is not mere foolishness. My friend Thomas, who I do my podcast with, mentioned last week that he had read the first 11 chapters of Matthew out loud while he was on a trip – and he was dumbfounded at just how blunt and heavy the Law of God is – how the standard is beyond us. Jesus' ministry isn't all just healings and miracles; it is often blunt teaching on the law. And these complainers are hearing that, and they need a reason to ignore Jesus, they need to justify themselves apart from and without Jesus – they need a reason to spin it where He's the villain and they are the righteous hero. And they find the flimsiest excuses, they grasp at the weakest of straws. Oh – this Guy casts out demons, um, He's probably in league with demons. Oh, um, we need a sign from heaven, something in the sky – down here in front of us with a demon just isn't enough. These are all excuses tossed out to keep themselves the hero and cast Jesus as the bad guy.

But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them.... Note first – Jesus knows what they are thinking. He knows that this isn't an actual logical bit of confusion on their part, or a simple misplaced expectation – Jesus knows self-justification when He hears it. So He calls them on it – Every Kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan is also divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. Boy, seems like Satan's been really powerful and effective for someone whose kingdom is as poorly run as you are asserting. That sounds kind of dumb. But it gets worse – And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. Oh, yeah, that's right – people all over Judea are casting out demons in My name (this sort of annoys the disciples a bit, because the disciples want to be the heroes of this story) – if I'm wicked I guess that means your son is wicked too. You wanna try running that one by him, hmm? But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. You can't admit that this is divine, because then you'd have to admit that this is the Kingdom of God – but you don't want to be justified and rescued, you want to self-justify your dislike of Me and what I say – and you know you can't.

No, you want to know and understand what Jesus is doing in His healings, in His preaching – 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 pretty tough. Well, I'm bigger than Satan, and I have come kicking down the doors of his house and am beating the tar out of his demons and I'm rescuing My people. Oh, and by the by - you in your sin think you are pretty tough too, pretty righteous. Well, I have come preaching the Law of God in its full sternness, showing you your sin, taking away that armor of self-righteousness that you trusted in – and I'm actually doing it to rescue you. Be rescued, because Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. You can be rescued – or you can be the problem. You don't get to be the hero of this story. You can be My friend and sidekick whom I have rescued, but you don't get to be the hero, because I know your sin, and you're in a world of hurt.

My friends in Christ Jesus, be on guard against the sin of self-justification, because it is subtle and it worms its way in and it will grow and grow and taint everything. There is nothing more dangerous to your faith than self-justification. Think about it – is Satan going to tempt you successfully to rob a bank. Probably not today – and if you are actually tempted to knock off the bank – don't. That's a far, far hill. But can Satan tempt you, even successfully, to start thinking of yourself as the innocent victim, to start seeing more and more how it is all their fault? That's one's easy... the thing is, it grows and grows, and the more and the more villainous you see them, the less and less you love them – you remember that whole love your neighbor thing – in fact, love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you? But when the seed of self-justification grows and grows – there's just anger and disdain. When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of the person is worse than the first. Do you see how that works, how that story plays out? I used to be really bad, but then I got my act together, started going to Church. I am so much better now than I used to be. But I tell you what, Bob over there, oh, he is terrible. Why, just this past week, do you know what he did – why I never thought that someone could do that.... and the last state of the person is worse than the first.

This the the temptation that Satan will lay upon you – to make you stop seeing your sin, to try to sweetly and quietly put sin as a thing of the past. Satan will make you think that you are a good person, that you are just fine. I know we in the LCMS will often rail against the liberal churches that go on and on about accepting all sorts of sexual sin – but do we not do the same thing with ourselves all... the... time? Do we not do the same thing every time we tell the story where they are wrong and I'm just here as innocent as a dove? If we say we have no sin – we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Jesus will not let your self-righteous and your self-justifying lies stand. Jesus will not let it be about how great you are. 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!” But He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” Oh, but can it be about how great Your mom is at least, Jesus? No. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and – don't mishear that Word keep. “Keep” does not mean “do”. This isn't you're blessed if and only if you do all the things the bible says and see how I'm such a good person and better than Bob over there – and that leads you to being a hell bound unrepentant sinner yourself. “Keep” means to cling to, to protect, to keep on hearing it over and over, even when it says things about you that your sinful flesh doesn't like.

Because that's what the law of God will do. It will show you your sin. Over and over again. And there's never going to be a day in your life when you'll come to service here and you won't have sin to confess – that is just the simple reality of it. You will always, always need Jesus. And what Satan is trying to do with all of his temptations towards self-justification is to tell you that you really don't need Jesus, that you can make perfectly valid excuses to ignore His word and not hear it.

But Jesus brings the Word to you again. The Holy Spirit brings to your mind the Word again. You are His Baptized child, and Jesus came to be your Redeemer. He came to justify you – you don't justify yourself, Jesus justifies you – that is what He did with His death and resurrection. And He doesn't meekly let Satan have you. He doesn't meekly let your sinful flesh have you. No, Jesus will show you your sin – that's part of what we need here in this place, to see our sin. But Jesus does not stop there – isn't that how our terrible self-justifying stories go? I spin it so that Bob is a jerk and I leave it there and feel smug and good about myself? Not what Jesus does. Jesus shows you your sin, and then He forgives you. He rescues you from that sin. He frees you from it. He declares that you are not defined by your sin or your pretend lack of sin but rather defined by the fact that He has suffered and died for you. Your life is not about, centered, or defined by you – it's defined by the blood of Christ Jesus shed for you and for the remission of all your sins. That's the old term – remission - and I like it. It's not just that Jesus forgives you, it's that He keeps driving down your sin – whatever that sin is. Whether it's something big and obvious to everyone, or whether it's that subtle self-justification – Jesus gives you His Supper to forgive that sin and drive it down into the ground. He washes you in Baptism to drown that sin, so that a new man might emerge.

Forgiveness is not a gentle thing, my friends. It's simple and easy – the Word, maybe attached to water or to bread and wine – but it is not gentle. It declares war on your sinful flesh, and the Son of God fully armed and dangerous declares war on your sin to rescue you from it. And He does so in His Word. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Lent 2

Lent 2 – March 16th and 17th, 2019 – Mathew 15, Especially verses 21-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Many pastors, maybe even most, take our Gospel text as an opportunity to preach upon the topic of prayer. And this is certainly something that is quite fine and reasonable – the Canaanite woman is certainly a fine example of steadfast faith flowing forth in constant and persistent prayer – and I most certainly hope that you would be constant and persistent in your prayer too. And the point will be made that she keeps on praying even when things seem against her and you should be like her and this is how you should behave. That never quite sat well with me for a simple reason. What else is she going to do? This isn't a situation of “I want you to remember to pray before every meal, just like this woman did.” A demon is messing with her daughter; of course she's going to be persistent in prayer. So it's not struck me as odd that she prays. What is odd in this text is how Jesus treats her.

Consider – we have very few texts where Jesus comes off as rude. He might be blunt – Woe to you Pharisees! He might be angry in the face of wickedness – flipping over the money changer's tables. But when is Jesus rude? When does He turn someone the cold shoulder? That doesn't seem like a very Jesus-y thing to do, now does it? I'd argue that a bit of context would help. The very first verse of our text is Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus has just left – He has withdrawn. That word “withdraw” is the same word in Greek used for leaving a battle field. Jesus has just been in the middle of a fight in the beginning of Matthew 15. Jesus had been perfectly happy teaching and preaching up north by the Sea of Galilee, when we hear in Matthew 15:1-2 - “Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem, 'Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.'” Oh, and here come the respectable busybodies, trying to make everything just so. Think about this – Jesus had just fed the 5000, and walked on water, and was healing the sick – oh, oh, oh – wait a second. Did everyone wash their hands first? And a big conversation about what actually defiles a person ensues – verse 11: “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Your man made niceties and traditions don't do a thing to fix or prevent sin – they just give you a reason to bad mouth people stupidly and show yourselves to be wicked.

So that is what Jesus withdraws from. He is so sick of “good Jewish folk” that He goes up to Tyre and Sidon to just hang out among the gentiles a bit and get a break. And Jesus gets up there, and there's this woman. Matthew calls her a Canaanite woman – Luke calls her Syrio-Phoenician as that's how the Gentiles would understand her race, but Matthew uses the word “Canaanite”. Okay – who were the Canaanites? They were the pagan, wicked folks who dwelt in the promised land before Joshua started clearing them out. And the children of Israel balked at doing that, and so there were some still there, and they were wicked and evil, and if your son married a Canaanite woman he was going to get into all sorts of stupidity and you had centuries of false worship that lead to Israel and Judah being destroyed by foreign armies – and there she is, right there. A Canaanite woman. The example of what gets a good Jewish boy into trouble. And do you know what the tradition of the elders said you should do, what the Pharisees and Scribes in Jerusalem would be proud of? Behold a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, 'Have mercy on me, O LORD, son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.' But He did not answer her a word. Jesus there follows the Jewish custom to a T. You didn't speak to, you didn't even acknowledge that a foreign woman existed. She might lead you into sin, she would defile you if you dealt with her.

So, disciples – is this what Jesus is supposed to be? Is this how you want the Messiah to act? You got all bashful and ashamed when the Pharisees and Scribes from Jerusalem came... is this how you want Jesus to act? Because frankly, what the woman says is amazing. She calls Jesus the Son of David – you know, David, Jewish king who conquered all that region. She calls Jesus LORD – she's using Divine, Messianic language – but, oh no, we mustn't talk to her, what would the people in Jerusalem say?

I'm guessing that this went on for a while, because we hear, And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, 'Send her away, for she is crying out after us.' Um, Jesus, do something. Did you note – none of the disciples want to address her – they are the ones who really have the hangup. They don't know what to do. It's interesting, that “send her away” can either mean get rid of her or it can mean free, forgive her. It's “cut her loose” - whether it's loose from this demon or just loose from us either way. This is awkward Jesus, do something with her. And then Jesus hams it up – He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Oh no, I'm supposed to only be here for the good little boys and girls – right? Isn't that what the Pharisees you are so worried about impressing want? I guess my hands are tied.
Do you see what Jesus is doing? He is hoisting the disciples on their own prideful petard. It's the parent looking at the teen and going, “Oh, no no no, this is how you wanted things, right?” But the woman doesn't care about any of that. She gets bold. But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” Hear that knelt rightly – she got down in the posture of prayer, of worship – she worshiped Him – that's how the old King James translated it. And Jesus keeps playing up to the disciples: And He answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” Alright, disciples – are you back clapping and high fiving yet? I'm acting like some sort of haughty religious frat boy who thinks we “lawful” Jews are too cool for everyone else – isn't that what you wanted? Because this isn't said directly to the gal – it's just a response tossed back to the boys.

And there is the woman, still worshiping. Remember how temptation works – did God really say? Disagree with God. You know better. Get angry and huffy when things don't go your way. I don't deserve this. How dare you. But there's the woman, still worshiping, and instead of saying no, instead of yelling or getting angry, what does she say? “Yes, LORD.” Yes – You're right. This isn't a matter of me having a right to demand anything of You, this isn't a matter of my will must be done. You're the master and I'm the dog – I'm not going to fight you on that – that's utterly accurate. But You are the master, and I know something about You, I have heard what Your Word proclaims about You - “Yes, LORD, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” It's fine that I'm a little dog – in fact, it is good, right, and salutary that I am a little dog, because I'm Your little dog, and You take care of Your little dogs – You make sure there are crumbs and scraps enough to satisfy the desires of all living creatures. She doesn't defend her worth, her value at all. She doesn't talk about what she's done – she simply points to Christ Jesus and who He actually is.

And then, and only then, finally, Jesus speaks to her. Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Yep. You nailed it. You get it better than all those scribes and pharisees, you get it better than the disciples. You weren't focused upon yourself, your dignity, your importance – you kept your eyes on Jesus. And Jesus heals the daughter – of course He does, because that's who He is. He just kicked the tar out of Satan last week – a piddly little demon ain't going to be no problem. No, my friends, the demon's not the problem in the text. We are.

When you look at Jesus, who do you see? What do you want to see? Do you want the Jesus proclaimed in the Scriptures, or is there some other Jesus you want? The Scribes and the Pharisees wanted a prim and proper Jesus who would tell everyone how great they were and their customs were. Frankly, that's still what we can be tempted to want – a Good Housekeeping Jesus that makes things just so. Or maybe a Jesus who respects how great we are here and how much we've done for Him – who lauds and praises us for all our hard work – maybe One who will even give us an award with with plaque on it. OoooOOOooo. Or if you look around Christendom, you'll see all sorts of the things. The Jesus who will give me money, the Jesus who will validate and affirm every stupid and/or wicked idea I have. The Jesus who just happens to agree with every single political opinion I have. A pastor I know wrote a book entitled: “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up: 12 False Christs” - it goes all over various fake Jesuses that we are tempted to seek after.

But no. You know who Jesus is? He is the kind and loving Lord who still takes care of you even when you are a miserable and mangy dog. He is the LORD who redeems you, even when you have nothing to give to Him, no good works to lever or manipulate Him with. Especially then, actually. Do you know who Jesus is – While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Your relationship to Jesus, it's not defined by what you can do. It's not defined by where you come from or who your parents were. It's not a matter of all the ways that we are so used to acquiring power and privilege in this world, no buying your way into a heavenly scholarship here. And your sinful flesh will fight against this – which is why you were washed in the waters of Holy Baptism. It's why this baptism means that daily your Old Adam is to be drowned with contrition and repentance. Because your sinful flesh will always want to make things be about, hinge upon, rest upon you. But it doesn't. It rests upon Christ Jesus and who He is. And do you know who Jesus is? He is the LORD who not only defeats Satan, but He is the LORD who fights down your sinful flesh, and calls forth a new man to daily arise. He is the LORD who feeds you not with mere crumbs from His table, but with His own Body and Blood so that you are freed, loosed, released from your sinful pride and ego and freed and strengthened in faith towards God and love toward your neighbor – even the neighbors the hoity toity and prim and proper would turn their noses up at. That's who Jesus is, and that is who you are in Christ. A lowly dog, yet well fed and well cared for. A sinner, yet forgiven. Dying, yet living in Christ and awaiting the resurrection. All because of Jesus. Come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the real Jesus – the Jesus who is the author and perfector of our faith. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Lent 1 Sermon

Lent 1 – March 9th and 10th, 2019 – Genesis 3 and Matthew 4:1-11

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
“... and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And there it is. There's the clincher – the final twist of Satan's temptation in the Garden. When you eat the fruit and strike off on your own, you'll get to do what you want, you will get to say what is right and what is wrong, you will know – you will experience to the fullest – good and evil. And Adam and Eve ate, and ever since then, sinful man has been foolishly telling God how to do His job. Think of the endless amount of complaining we do about God. Think about how often our friends come sauntering up to us, “How come God would let this happen”. Think about how often we ourselves complain and think that we ourselves would know better than God. And thus we knew, we experienced evil – thinking we know better than God. That's what evil is, and all the misfortune that spins out in the world since stems from and flows from man thinking he knows better than God. And Garden falls apart, and life turns into death, and the ground begins to bring up thorns and thistles, and pain increases. This isn't the punishment of a mean or capricious God – it's just how our sin broke things. That's just how evil works, and we choose evil.

Yet even as God spells out in blunt terms how things are broken, even as we are tempted to grouse at Him and blame Him, the LORD makes a promise. The LORD looks at Satan who had messed with His good creation, and the LORD says to Satan, “I will put emnity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” I'm coming for you Satan. I'm coming for you, and I am going to fix this mess that you've tempted Adam and Eve into. I'm coming for you and for death and this little wicked kingdom you've ruined for yourself. And yes, it will hurt Me, but I will crush you, and I will win.

And many, many years later, the LORD God stepped forth into the wilderness. You realize that this is who Jesus is, right? The same LORD God who would walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, who dressed down Satan after the fall, who promised salvation – that same LORD became Man, and He took upon Himself all the junk and dreck that the fall had unleashed on His creation – His beautiful garden that was good now turned into desert and wilderness where there's nothing but thorns and thistles. And why does Jesus go there? Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. To be tempted by Satan. To do battle with the Devil. To succeed where Adam and Eve failed.

And so Satan comes on up, and he says, “If you are the son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Hear the temptation rightly. Satan doesn't doubt that Jesus is who He is. The demons all recognize Jesus all the time. Satan knows Jesus is God – that “if” isn't doubt. Jesus, you are God – why would you do something as stupid as fast for forty days? Why, you can just whip up bread on a whim. Why suffer – don't be so stupid God. So why is Jesus fasting – why is He suffering? But He answered, “It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Do you remember the Garden, Satan – where I spoke and things were – I called forth trees and there were trees and I gave them to Adam and Eve and they ate? They ate because My Word gave them food – but then they listened to you and ignored My Word, and they would be given to hunger and driven by their appetites. They would work and sweat for their bread. And so, I will suffer with them. I will share in their suffering – but even more than that, I will be the Man who lives by the Word of God. I will not serve My Belly. That's not who God is – the LORD God is not ever self serving. So no, I will not serve Myself – I will obey the will of the Father and grind you under my heel, Satan.

Do you see, my friends? To be sinful is to be selfish. It is to do what seems immediately good in your best interest regardless of the cost, regardless of what God says. And that is how we are tempted even to this day – to do what we want when we want, regardless of what God says and regardless of how it impacts our neighbor. And there in the wilderness, Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, resists that temptation.

So Satan tries again. Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written, 'He will command His angels concerning You,' and 'On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike your foot against a stone.'” Well, fine Jesus – but You're God. What good is a scrawny God suffering out in the desert? Tell you what – here's what a “god” should be like – tossing around power and might. Picture it – right here in the middle of the services while everyone is here, You jump, the angels show up, every one sees it, everyone knows that You are God and awesome. Why not, since you are the Son of God after all?

Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written, 'You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.'” Did you think that was the point of Divine protection – so man can go and do any crackpot stupid idea and then grouse at God about how there shouldn't be any consequences? Really? You think it's good to play chicken with God? Is that what you think God is – some Andrenaline Junkie who needs to go skydiving with an angelic parachute? That has nothing to do with loving God. That has nothing to do with the Word. That has nothing to do with serving the neighbor. That's utterly selfish and dumb. Why would I call something that dumb “good”?

Again, my friends – Jesus resists. It's not about acquiring human glory. It's not about fame. It's not about our ideas of what a god should be like or how god should be treated. We don't get to make those decisions – that's up to God. He speaks and we are to listen. And we aren't to use His Word as a cover for our own stupidity or wickedness. But that is something that we have excelled at since the fall – how much wickedness and stupidity goes on in the name of God? But right there Jesus resists that temptation.

One final card left to play in Satan's hand – the one that always would win for him. Again, the devil took Him up to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me.” Did you note the shift? No longer is there a “if you are the Son of God” - now it's just time for Satan to cut a deal. You want sinful man, you want this world – fine – you can have them. Just let me be in charge big J. Worship me. And the thing to realize, dear friends: this is a serious offer from Satan. Sin had made us Satan's property – his to do with as he pleased. Here you go Jesus – you can have your humankind without suffering, without fasting in a desert, without any heads getting crush or heels getting bruised. I'll let you be the king of this dying world – just let me be it's god.

Did you hear it, from Satan? He wants to be god. He wants to be worshiped. And you know what – our sin means we want to be god, we want to be worshiped, we want our word to be law. Sin drives us down that same path as Satan – that path that cries out, “I'll give you anything and everything, just let my will be done.” Oh, think of all the stupid bargains and trades that sinful man will make, that you yourself have made. Just to get that something that you thought you would want, and you get it and it's empty and not all it's cracked up to be. That's sin spilling forth.

And Jesus says, “No.” Jesus chooses the cross. Jesus chooses to suffer and die – Be gone, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only shall you serve.'” The Word of God is fulfilled. It happens. And Jesus will make sure that it does. Because here's something you may have missed or not noticed in what Jesus says. Man shall not live by bread alone. You shall not put the LORD your God to the test. You shall worship the LORD your God. We hear those phrases as commands – these are what I am supposed to do so I better get cracking and do it otherwise God will be angry.

Too late. “Oh, I better do it” – that ship's already sailed. We've already confessed our sin, our fault. You and I, we've lived ignoring God's word, and we put Him to the test, and we fear and love and trust in other things above Him all the time. That's what sin is. But you know what? Jesus is God, and His Word is how it is. And what did He say? Man shall not live by bread alone. Shall not. That's future tense – the day is coming when man is not going to live by bread alone – the day is coming when they will no longer fight for scraps but I will take away their sin and they will see Me and know that they live by My Word. I will fix things, I will make a new heavens and a new earth and it will be good again. And do you know what it will be like for you, dear Christian, in the life of the world to come? You shall not put the LORD your God to the test. You will never end up wanting to do something stupid or push the boundaries, because you will know that all that He gives you is good. And you know what else? You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only shall you serve. The day will come, when you will rise to new life, and you'll no longer serve your belly or your whims or your fears or your passions, but you will simply and only serve God, and once again, as it was in the beginning, it will be good.

Because that's what Jesus is going to do. Because that's why God becomes Man. Jesus comes to wreck havoc and destruction upon Satan and Sin and Death – He strides on into the middle of sin and death and rips it apart from the inside, obliterates it, with His own death upon the cross and His resurrection. And why? Because He's God. And He promised. Because He loves you and there's no way He's going to let Satan have you. He has crushed Satan's head for you, and because of this, because of His love for you, you shall live by His Word free from sin and all evil. Because that's who God actually is. God is not some thing of our own devising and desiring – rather, He is the Creator who is determined to do good to you and for you. And there He stands – having defeated Satan and His temptations for you. And there He will go, fighting down demons and sin and even death for you. And He does this now in you – for you are His baptized child, for you receive His own Body and Blood to strengthen and forgive you. And He shall do this for you forever, you shall see it in full in the resurrection – and that is His promise to you. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Ash Wednesday – March 6th, 2019 – Jonah 3

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Jonah is a terrible prophet. He is the worst prophet in the bible – might be part of the reason why I love him. In Jonah chapter 1, God tells Jonah to go preach to Nineveh, to warn them of their impending doom. And Nineveh was a wicked, brutal place, the enemy of the Kingdom of Israel – the country that would eventually wreck and ruin Israel in 722 BC. God tells Jonah to go east to Nineveh, and Jonah hops a boat going west towards Tarshish. That is a lousy prophet.

And we know the next part of the story. A mighty storm comes up while Jonah sleeps in the boat, and all the sailors are terrified, and Jonah admits that he is running from God... and finally they toss Jonah overboard and the sea calms, and they worship the LORD. But that's not the end for Jonah. God appoints a giant fish – and Jonah spends three days in the belly of the giant fish express which swims him up close to Nineveh and spits him out onto the shore. And in those three days, confronted with a watery grave and saved by the stinking belly of a fish, Jonah reconsiders his opposition to God. He will go and preach.

Our Old Testament lesson tonight starts off with his preaching. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” That's it. Okay, I'm sure he repeated himself and expanded upon it, but that was the gist of his preaching. In 40 days, you are going to get it. You suckers are going to pay. You've been lousy jerks, and your uppance will come! Think how harsh and terrifying that preaching would sound. And the thing of it is, that's what Jonah wants. Chapter 4 of Jonah has Jonah sitting outside the city waiting for God to destroy it, wanting God to smite. This preacher wants Nineveh dead. He wants them gone. And there he goes, walking through Nineveh, proclaiming its doom.

The King of Nineveh knows a proper warning when he hears one. And the king of Nineveh knows that if God wanted to punish his city, well, they'd have it coming. Nineveh was known for being brutal – earlier this year I found a history channel show from when they actually showed history, and it was about ancient armies, and the first army they showed, the emblem of despicable power and wickedness was Nineveh. Brutal, evil stuff. The king knows they've been terrible, the people know that they've been terrible. So the King calls upon them to put on ashes and sackcloth, to fast. Everyone. Why? “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

Who knows. These are some of the saddest words in the entirety of the bible. They are words of doubt and desperation and fear. Imagine this – imagine this weekend we go through confession, and having said Amen, I stand up, turn around, look at you, and go – eh, who knows? The people of Nineveh knew wickedness, but they had no knowledge, no understanding of a merciful God. Of course they didn't – they themselves certainly weren't merciful, so the best that they could hope for was the best that Nineveh's victims could hope for – maybe the bloodlust will be sated before they get here – maybe the army will turn and get bored and go home. Maybe if we look miserable enough we won't be worth destroying.

Do you see? Jonah hadn't taught them of who God is. He hadn't proclaimed the steadfast mercies of God, how God is faithful. Jonah did not proclaim that the Messiah would come, the descendant of Abraham in Whom all nations would be blessed. To use the Lutheran term, Jonah preached not a drop of Gospel – it was nothing but law. And the people of Nineveh were left with no specific or concrete hope – and when God does spare them, they never hear why.

Who knows. What a horrible thing. The point of the Scriptures, the point of preaching today is so that we are focused upon the sure and solid promises of God to us! We know, because God has said so. That is who knows. And this year, in our Lenten services, we are going to look at some of the promises of the Messiah that God proclaimed through Isaiah – things where God let us know through His prophets what exactly He would be doing for us.

You know, my dear friends, how the story goes. You know that happens at the end of these forty days. Christ Jesus Himself goes to the cross and wins salvation and forgiveness and life for you. Your repentance is not one of doubt, the ashes are not ashes of ignorance – we do not repent in ignorance nor do we confess in fearful desperation. God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, because He Himself wins salvation, He Himself goes to the cross. We do not heap piles of ashes upon ourselves hoping to get His pity – this little dusting of ash is a reminder for us, not for God. It reminds us that repentance leads and goes to and is completed and finished by Christ upon the Cross. Yes, dust you are, and to dust you shall return. But because Christ Jesus goes to the cross, dust you will not stay. The same LORD who in the beginning took dust from the ground and breathed into it the breath of life has purged away your sin, and His life shall undo your death. Your dust is forever changed by the Cross. Because Jesus lives, so shall you – and you shall rise to new and everlasting life, righteous and holy with Him, as He is.

And this is not a “who knows” sort of thing. It is the promise of God, accomplished for you by Christ Jesus. It is sure and certain and true, long after the ashes are washed off our foreheads. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Monday, March 4, 2019

Quinquagesima Sunday Sermon

Quinquagesima – March 2nd and 3rd, 2019 – Luke 19:31-43

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
I'm sorry folks, but this is going to be a hard sermon. It's going to be an uncomfortable one to hear, but needed. Think of how our Gospel lesson starts off – Jesus is walking with the disciples to Jerusalem – ah, Jerusalem, the city of God, the place of the temple, the place where the King will reign and here we are, Jesus' disciples and He's the Messiah and He's going to reign and it will be awesome and wonderful and all my wildest dreams are coming true... and then Jesus speaks. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” Oh good, power and might and I'll get to be in charge and... “For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.” Wait, Jesus – what about that glory and power and might that I get to share in? What about... “And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.”

This is a record scratch moment. This is a drop the punch bowl moment. The disciples don't get it, they can't fathom what Jesus is saying here. The words make no sense to them. Surely He's joking. We've seen all this power and might and the miracles and Peter and James and John have even seen glowing Jesus – how is He going to be killed? How is He going to lose? What's with the suffering talk, what's with this death talk – we don't want any of that. And the biggest thing – this is the third time Jesus has told them point blank He's going to die and rise. And it's been a big thing when He's told them this before – one of the previous times after telling them He was going to die and rise Peter tried to talk Him out of it and Jesus dropped a “Get thee behind Me, Satan,” on poor Pete. You would think that after three years they would have gotten the point. But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

Why not? Why couldn't they grasp it? Now, some of you might recall that I said in the Gesima weekends we deal with the three great Solas, the three great Alones of the Church – Sola Gratia – by Grace alone, and Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone... and what's the third? Sola Fide, by faith alone. There's a faith problem here – they don't see, they aren't hearing in faith. They are looking for and longing for the wrong thing. They want nothing to do with this idea of suffering or death, but my friends, faith is all about suffering and death.

Consider what happens next with the blind man outside of Jericho. As He drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this might mean. Remember, Jesus is popular – He's a popular fad, everyone wants something from Him, so it's not just the disciples following Jesus towards Jerusalem to see what He'll do – it's a bunch of people. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Now, don't be too quick to be harsh on these folks in the crowd here. I mean, it's lousy what they do – they ought to be eager to help this fellow to Jesus and all – but, let's be honest. How quick are we to lambaste someone else when they bother or annoy us? How often are we quick to assume that what we want is good and so much better than what someone else wants? After all, they just wanted to see Jesus in peace – wasn't that a good thing? Unless you've never gotten annoyed with anyone else in Church you can understand the crowd perfectly well. Don't make the crowd right, and it doesn't make us in our annoyances right – but we can understand.

The problem is crowd didn't get it. It wasn't just about seeing Jesus – faith isn't a spectator sport or a pastime. You don't just watch Jesus and the flip over to some other channel if you get bored. They missed the bigger picture... but that bigger picture was seen by this blind man. So, “Jesus stopped and commanded Him to be brought to Him. And when he came near, He asked him, 'What do you want Me to do for you?'” Now, keep this question in the back of your mind – Jesus asking “What do you want me to do for you?” “He said, 'LORD, let me recover my sight.' And Jesus said to him, 'Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.'” Ah ha! There it is! Faith! Sola Fide! The man has faith and He is healed. See – easy peasy, lemon squeezy – just have faith in Jesus and He will give you what you want and we can march on into Jerusalem in a most triumphant manner, we'll get some palms, and then we'll go to the temple and celebrate and then we'll kick out the Romans, and maybe cast out the lousy leaders, and maybe get some revenge on that fellow over there who annoyed me and then I'll have everything my way... [record scratch noise]. That's not faith. That's wish fulfillment. That's not what the Christian faith is – that's not what Jesus has come to do.

The disciples didn't understand what Jesus was talking about. The crowd, though they were happy once they saw the miracle, was so foolish and stupid that when they heard a blind man crying for mercy instead of saying, “Oh, oh, Jesus, Jesus, come here – heal this guy,” they go about shushing him. In this entire text, in our entire Gospel lesson it is only this blind man who acts in faith. Why?

Because this blind man is the only one thinking about death. Oops. There, I said it. Death. Let's be honest – we can be quite often tempted to want to push death off into a corner. Jesus mentions His death and the disciples' eyes glaze over – we don't know what You're talking about, Jesus. Jesus mentions sorrow and suffering – which is simply death being accelerated and coming more quickly in your life – no, no Jesus that's not what You are supposed to be here for. The disciples weren't wanting death and pain – they wanted glory. The crowd wanted glory and might. But what about the blind man? You know what the blind man sees? He sees death. He sees dead eyes. His eyes are dead. They've stopped working. He knows death and loss, so He knows Jesus by faith. You hear it in what he says – Mercy! That is help, save, do good to me. You hear it in his request – let me RE-cover my sight. RE. Let me re-see, let me see again – re... just like that re in resurrection. Make my eyes live again because sin and death have killed them. And that, my dear friends, is Jesus' wheel house. That is His expertise. Raising the dead. Taking things that were dead, that were broken, were nothing and making them alive and whole and new. Jesus is the Word of God by whom all things were made – He is the Life of the world – of course He specializes in making alive.

Jesus works now by death and resurrection. Ever since sin hit the world, ever since we were trapped in sin and our bodies were consigned to death and decay, Jesus Christ would have to work by death and resurrection. He would come down from heaven and turn Satan's vile attack of death upon its head. He would swallow up death with His own death, and in its place give Life, His Life, His resurrected and resurrecting life. That's who Jesus is – that is the faith – I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Satan can attack us by pride – so that we get all huffy about how great we are. Satan can attack us with despair – so that we are miserable and frozen and paralyzed. Do you see how else he attacks us? Satan wants us to hate and ignore Jesus' death and resurrection. Satan wants us to ignore our own death and resurrection in Christ. Satan wants us to focus on anything or everything but this death and resurrection for us. Satan wants us to ignore Christ's love. You do realize that Death and Resurrection is what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 13, right? That's what Jesus' love is – for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son who died and rose. The Christian faith isn't about having power or might or moving mountains or ruling things. Love is Christ patiently suffering and dying for you. Love is Christ in kindness calling out, “Father, forgive them.” Love is Christ neither boasting nor complaining about how He didn't deserve this death. Love is Christ saying, “Not My will, but Thine be done” and drinking to the dregs the cup of wrath and woe upon the cross. Love is Jesus not begruding you the Cross, by dying for you, for your good. Love is Christ Jesus bearing all things upon the Cross, enduring all things. Love is Jesus rising to establish hope. This is the love that never ends – Jesus dying and rising for you.

Everything in the Church revolves around death and resurrection. “We were buried with Him through baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” There, at the font – death and resurrection. Christ's death and resurrection – and your death and resurrection as well. The preaching – like Paul, I'm determined to know nothing among you, to focus you and make you to know only Christ and Him Crucified. Not Jesus the divine sugar daddy of wish fulfillment – but Christ Jesus the Lamb of God who comes with the vengeance and recompense of God to save you mightily with His death and resurrection. The Supper is all about Christ's death and resurrection – take and eat, this is My Body, given for you, take and drink, this cup is the New Testament in My blood, shed for you for the remission of your sins. As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup ye do show forth the Lord's death till He come. Death and resurrection.

We are coming up on Lent. The season where we see Jesus take the fight to Satan, where we see Jesus take on sin and death by death and resurrection. And Satan will do his damnedest to try to focus you on anything but this – he will try to distract you away from the idea of death with all sorts of vainglorious dreams and your wants and wishes, or he will try to make your own sin and death loom so largely in front of you that you don't see Jesus. But over and against that, you have been given the gift of faith, so that you see the real Jesus – the Jesus who dies and rises, who dies and rises for you, you who dies and rises with you and you with Him.

And this is often uncomfortable. It makes our old sinful nature quake in its boots. And this Lent, we might squirm a bit, because our sinful flesh wants nothing do to with death or resurrection. But Christ Jesus came to win you salvation with His death and resurrection, and He will come here to give you the salvation won by His death and resurrection even until the day He comes again and you are raised from the dead. “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Weekly Meditation - Quinquagesima

Greetings in the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Our final Introit before we enter the season of Lent throws us to Good Friday, to the end of Lent.  The introit consists of selections from Psalm 31, but I would like to key in on verse 5, which reads: "Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God."

Here at Trinity we generally read our Psalms "half verse by half verse" - that is, I'll read the first part (Into Your hand I commit my spirit) and the congregation will respond with the second part (You have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God).  This works because most verses for the Psalms are built off of two ideas - there's an A part and a B part.  "The Lord is my shepherd"... which means "I shall not want."  Part of the art of Hebrew poetry is in putting those two phrases together.

What that means, though, is that the Psalms almost work like common phrases, or the punch line to well known jokes.  "If you can't stand the heat..." ... "then get out of the kitchen."  "Why did the chicken cross the road?"  "To get to the other side."  The point is that if you say the first part of the Psalm, other people should be able to finish off the phrase.

And then we have the last thing that Jesus says upon the Cross.  Luke records Jesus saying, "Father, into your hands I commit My Spirit."  Jesus dying quotes Psalm 31:5... and why?  Because since Jesus dies on the cross, we are able to respond, "You have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God."

It is there on the Cross where God redeems us.  It is there on the Cross where God shows that He has remained faithful to us, though we have often sinned and gone astray.  It is there on the Cross where our sin is defeated and our life is won.

Lent can be an intense season, but remember what it is.  It isn't primarily as season about how we suffer or how we give something up - rather it is the season where we see God's faithfulness to us played out in the life and death (and resurrection) of Jesus Christ our Lord. 

And that same Jesus Christ is faithful to you, today, this week, and even unto the life of the world to come.  Have a great week in Him.