Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sermon: Easter 2014



20 April 2014

Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Job 19:23-27, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

There is a theme we see in the movies in which there is to be a wedding, and the bride or the groom is stood up at the altar.  Often such films are romantic comedies, even though when such things happen in real life, as they rarely, but sometimes do, they are a source of great pain and hurt to those left standing at the altar.

And so maybe we turn such darkness into comedy as a way of sort-of whistling in the graveyard.  It is a common human fear to be left alone, to be deserted by our loved ones, to be abandoned.  And so by making a bit of fun, maybe that is our way of dealing with our deepest, darkest fears.

But there is a fear that is even worse than abandonment: the fear of death.  For we can recover from all sorts of physical and psychological pain, but death is not something we can heal from and get up and just walk away from.

Or is it?

For the events of the first Easter morning are a comedy of a sort, a joyful turn of events that makes us cheer and sing for joy!  It is something that is even more out of place and remarkable than being left standing at the altar.  For at the first Easter, “very early on the first day of the week,” people came to a tomb to ceremonially anoint a body, a funeral service of sorts, but the guest of honor was not there.  He didn’t show up.  In the ultimate comedic twist in the plot, the one to be embalmed had gotten up and walked away from His own funeral.  He stood up His own funeral guests.  He left them standing at the grave.

Jesus has done more than whistle in the graveyard – He got up and went for a walk, exiting the tomb that was unable to contain Him.  He overcame man’s greatest fear and overpowered man’s greatest enemy.  The victorious Jesus openly mocked sin, death, and the devil by destroying them at the cross, and then by triumphing over them at the tomb, the very location that Satan hoped would become a monument to the power of evil.  Satan’s hopes are all in vain, dear friends.  Instead, the empty tomb is a monument of love, a real physical place where Christians visit every day, it is today a church where the risen Christ is proclaimed to the entire world, a holy altar where the guest of honor has caused the whole Church on earth and in heaven to join His feast of victory, saying with St. Paul:  “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” 

And though our Lord was abandoned by nearly everyone during the most horrific week in the life of anyone: being betrayed by Judas, being denied by Peter, being left standing by the other disciples – as well as being beaten, scourged, mocked, and crucified by the very people He came to save – He did not abandon us.  No, dear friends.  He died for us, He rose for us, He comes back to us to rescue us, and He forgives us.  He has promised never to forsake us.

“For I know that my Redeemer lives!”

And as part and parcel of dying to forgive us, and rising for our justification, He has also disarmed death, so that we shall “put on the imperishable” and “put on immortality.”  Jesus has taken away the sting by suffering the pain for us.  Jesus has taken away our guilt by bearing the punishment for us.  Jesus has taken away death by dying for us.  And He has done so out of love for us poor, miserable sinners who have been redeemed, though we most certainly do not deserve it.

That is the message of hope the Church has for the world.  It is a message of rebirth and restoration, of rejuvenation and renewal.  It is the triumph of peace over war, of life over death, of joy over sadness, and good over evil.  It is the victory given to us as a gift, and it has been signed, sealed, and delivered by the cross, received by baptism, and made our very own by faith. 

And maybe the world’s current fascination with stories of the walking dead, with zombies, and other comical depictions of death is just another way of whistling in the graveyard.  But the Church of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, especially on this day, celebrates the only one to truly walk out of His tomb by His own power, not as a grotesque dead man walking, but as a gloriously living man who is God, graciously forgiving sins and gloriously giving life.

And unlike the poor bride who has been stood up at the altar, the Church is the Bride of Christ, whose Bridegroom has instead stood up death at the tomb, who stands up and appears to the world arisen and glorified, and who promises that nothing shall ever separate Bride and Groom at His holy altar.  He will never leave nor abandon His people.  Death no more has dominion over Him, and death can frighten us no more.

And what’s more, He is here with His Bride at the altar week in and week out, in His Word, in the Gospel, in His body, and in His blood.  He continues to live not merely at the right hand of God in heaven, but wherever two or three are gathered in His name.  He lives not in some kind of figurative way of speaking, not in some kind of fuzzy spiritual way, and not as a warm memory in our hearts, but, dear brothers and sisters, He lives literally, in the flesh, gathering with us in a glorious and victorious bodily way in Holy Communion, in a way that confounds the devil and declares victory every time the Church gathers in His name.  “And He will come again to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”

And like the story of a bride left standing at the altar causes us to cringe with awkwardness, so too does the Lord Jesus perplex His followers when He left behind an empty tomb.  “Do not be alarmed,” says the mysterious young man in the white robe.  “He has risen.”  Against all expectation, and in defiance of any script that anyone would ever write, the angel invites the stunned women to look around the empty tomb.  And then he gives them a job: “But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

The situation of being stood up at the funeral is awkward, joyful, frightening, and surreal for these women, these unlikely first messengers of the resurrection, who had come for a funeral, but who left with remarkable and world-changing good news to tell.  “Trembling and astonishment had seized them…. For they were afraid.”

But their shock was soon to yield to unspeakable happiness, and the awkwardness of being left at the tomb is to be replaced by the joy that has filled the Church with faith and hope for nearly twenty centuries.  The soon-to-be-apostles, who received word of this good news from the women, would themselves see the risen Lord many times, and would fan out around the known world, bearing witness to the resurrection, baptizing and preaching in His name and by His command, making disciples and spreading this good news that death is done for, that sin has been forgiven, that Satan has been conquered, and that the fallen world as we know it has been turned upside down by our Lord who has redeemed us.

“I know that my redeemer lives!”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

His

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sermon: Good Friday – 2014



18 April 2014

Text: John 18:1-19:42 (Isa 52:13-53:12, 2 Cor 5:14-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” we sing that when it comes to the devil, “one little word can fell him.”  Dr. Luther doesn’t tell us what word he had in mind, but a good candidate for such a single word appears in St. John’s detailed and agonizing account of our Lord’s crucifixion.  It is a single Greek word: Τετέλεσται.  It is one little word, but we need three English words to translate it: “It is finished.”

“It is finished!”

The English doesn’t really capture the meaning of the original language.  It’s really a daring and gutsy word, approaching what we might even call “trash talk.”  It is a declaration of conquest over a vanquished foe.  It is a fist raised triumphantly.  It is the war cry of the survivor.  It is a celebration that one’s mission has been accomplished.  It is the ticker-tape parade.  It is a shout of joy and of happiness.  It is victory.

“It is finished!”

And here, in the account of our Lord’s death, it seems so out of place – at least when said by Jesus as He bows His head and gives up His spirit.  It is not what we would expect at all.

Judas might have said: “It is finished” when his plan to betray Jesus bore fruit (as well as a payday).  But Judas ended up hanging himself.  Peter might have shouted “It is finished” after playing the hero and slicing off Malchus’s ear, but instead he took a scolding from Jesus and then turned into a sniveling coward.  The soldiers who arrested Jesus, mocked him, beat him, flogged him, and crucified him might have claimed victory by saying: “It is finished,” a term they knew from their military careers, but they ended up with a few pieces of cloth and wringing their hands in fear of the day’s events, proclaimed Jesus to have been righteous.  The high priest and the Sanhedrin might have proclaimed, “It is finished,” after illegally putting Jesus on trial and successfully getting him crucified by the Romans, but in fact they became shameful collaborators with their occupiers, murderers of one of their own.  Pilate might have claimed the right to boast, “It is finished,” when he asserted Rome’s power, but all he did was put an innocent man to death because of cowardice, unmanly fear of those over whom he ruled. 

Finally, Satan ought to have been able to claim “It is finished,” because of the crucifixion of Jesus, having murdered God in the flesh, having placed Him in unspeakable agony, and having wrought cosmic havoc on the earth and seemingly making chaos among the Godhead.  But, the crucifixion of Jesus was the very crushing of the serpent’s head prophesied in the Garden of Eden.  For in paying for our sins at the cross, our Lord Jesus Christ freed us from Satan’s power, liberated us from the curse of death, and redeemed us from our rightfully earned place in hell.  The hateful Satan has been thoroughly defeated by the greatest act of love in all of history.

And so, contrary to what reason may tell us, against all expectation, and beyond every expression of love ever imagined, our Lord Jesus Christ truly won this greatest battle ever in the history of the universe.  He has conquered the old evil foe, the serpent, Satan, our accuser, the tempter, the father of lies, the destroyer, the one whose rebellion inflicted sin upon God’s good creation.  With this one word, “It is finished,” his power was broken.  With this one word, he has been reduced to being of less worth than the lowliest one celled animal.  With this one word, he has become not merely impotent, but mortal.  With this one word, Jesus has signed the death warrant of the devil.  Such is the power of the Word.

“It is finished!”

To a world that admires Satan, that hates God and His commandments, that revels in sin, that worships raw power, that calls evil good, and good evil, that places a premium on selfish gain and holds love in contempt, to a world that loves to mock, that thrills at the spectacle of human beings suffering and being put to death, that cozies up to injustice if it appears to be beneficial, that lives only for the moment without regard to eternity – our Lord’s crucifixion appears to be the ultimate victory of evil over good.

Jesus was utterly overpowered, humiliated, inflicted with pain, robbed of all respect – and this was the master-stroke, the genius of the plan.  For in dying, Jesus destroyed death; in His obedience, Jesus overcame our disobedience; in suffering for us, His act of supreme love trumped all hatred.  And on this Friday nearly two thousand years ago, good triumphed eternally over evil.

“It is finished!”

The prophet Isaiah, who lived seven centuries before these events, who was likewise saved by our Lord’s sacrifice upon the cross, whom we joined in the liturgy singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” before the Triune God, and who suffered in his earthly life for the sake of his preaching about the coming Messiah, calling his countrymen to repent, whose preaching was largely ignored, Isaiah likewise joins with our Lord in crying out: “It is finished!”  For he prophesied about the cross, and indeed, it came to pass.

“It is finished!”

St. Paul, who suffered beatings and stonings and imprisonments for the name of Christ, whose preaching was attacked and whose confession of Christ earned him reproach in the community, and who was finally beheaded for the sake of His Lord by a tyrannical Caesar – likewise joins in unison with our Lord: “It is finished!”  “For,” St. Paul confesses, “the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all.” 

“It is finished!”

And we, with blessed Isaiah, with St. Paul, with our Lord and Savior, the crucified One, Jesus Christ, with all the saints of every time and place, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, cry out on this day that so baffles the world, the day of our Master’s death, a day for which we have the audacity to call “good,” celebrating the cross – a symbol of death, singing in a voice so united and so victorious that it causes Satan and his demons to cringe in terror, and rocks the very foundations of hell itself: “It is finished!”

For we confess with St. Paul: “For our sake, He made Him to be sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Our sins are no more, dear friends.  They are forgiven.  They have been expunged by the blood of the Lamb Victorious.  Our death is no longer something to be feared.  It has been ransomed for life – the life of our Lord given to us on the cross and shared with us in His holy body and blood.  Satan is no more a foe to be feared, for he was defeated by his own plot, luring Judas to deliver Jesus over to the very cross upon which He would defeat the forces of evil and finally deal the prophetic mortal blow to the devil.

It is finished, dear brothers and sisters.  That one little word makes all the difference in the world, in the cosmos, in the heavens themselves.  That one little word transforms our lives and the lives of all who are baptized and believe.  That one little word fells the devil and brings immortality and eternal joy to us.  Τετέλεσται!

“It is finished!”  Amen.

His

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sermon: Maundy Thursday – 2014

17 April 2014

Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35 (Ex 12:1-14, 1 Cor 11:23-32)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Christian faith has always been misunderstood. 

Even on the night before He was betrayed, even the day before His crucifixion, our Lord Jesus Christ is clearing up misunderstandings about Christianity – not with the Pharisees and the chief priests and the scribes, not with the Romans and the Pagans, not even with his rank and file followers – but with the very ones who will be sent out to preach as ordained ministers of the Word within a few weeks.

The soon-to-be apostles still do not understand the essence of what their Master is teaching them.

For all religions – Christianity included – make a common observation that the world is messed up.  There is injustice, pain, ugliness, and death.  All religions teach that such things are off-script, unintended consequences of something gone haywire in creation.  And so the natural inclination of man is to fix the problem using brainpower, reason, and maybe a little duct tape.

We think we can fix the world’s brokenness by following a few simple rules.  And even Christians sometimes fall into the trap of believing that Christianity teaches that we can restore this paradise (usually described incompletely as “going to heaven when we die”) by simply obeying the Ten Commandments.  We apply worldly reason to the problem of the corruption of sin, and this is what all of the religions of the world come up with: “Follow the rules.”

Except for the religion of Jesus Christ.  Except for the only religion that is actually true.

For if we could fix the problem using reason and rules, we would not need a Savior.  And so the Savior saves us by correcting us.  Our corruption is so great that we cannot save ourselves by willpower, by resolving to follow rules.  We need to be cleansed.  We need a bath.  And it is a kind of bath that doesn’t merely remove dirt from the surface of the body.  We need washed from embedded sin and corruption in a way that transcends nature and reason and human limitation.

And in order to teach this radical truth called “Christianity”, Jesus “laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist.  Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.” 

Our Lord is not interpreting the Ten Commandments with clever loopholes to make them accessible as the Pharisees did.  Our Lord is not interpreting the scriptures as mythology the way the Sadducees did.  He doesn’t say that everything is meaningless the way some of the Greek philosophers did.  He doesn’t teach that the body is bad and the spirit is good the way the Greeks and Romans did and the way Eastern religions continue to do.  He doesn’t condemn the drinking of alcohol and dancing and other joyful acts that can and are done innocently and responsibly, the way some Christian groups do.  Instead, He gives a lesson on the need to be cleansed from our sins, and He points us to Holy Baptism – which in a few weeks after His resurrection, He will send the eleven out to do as the means of making disciples.  He is about to give them the Lord’s Supper, which He will ordain the eleven to celebrate and consecrate.  And He teaches us about the very thing that overcomes our sinful nature, and that is love.

Peter’s rational and worldly side initially rejects this new religion in which the Savior serves and the saved are served.  But Jesus converts Peter to the true faith by means of His Word, saying, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.”  Peter’s conversion is complete, as He confesses: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head.”

Cleanliness, indeed, is next to godliness, but Jesus is pointing to a genuine and complete cleansing, not merely of grease and dirt and paint and sweat under the fingernails, but rather of the total corruption of sin that soils us in body and spirit.  That cannot be removed by water alone, but rather by water administered by Jesus according to His Word and promise.

Our Lord commands the eleven to “love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.”  “For I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you.”  He does not command them to love and to follow His example because it will save them, as the false religions teach.  But rather for the advance of the kingdom: “By this,” He says, “all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Dear friends, this is not an eleventh commandment, it is the essence of all the commandments – which we fail so miserably at keeping.  But it is also the essence of Jesus as Savior, as the incarnate love of God, as the mercy of the Father in the flesh, as the head, heart, and hands through which the Holy Spirit calls us and cleanses us.  The love of Jesus is manifested in the washing of Holy Baptism, in which the promise of salvation is given.  Our Lord asks all of us, “Do you understand what I have done to you?”

He has cleansed us, forgiven us, redeemed us, saved us, restored us, and given us the free gift of eternal life – by means of the promise of God, the covenant, the New Testament in His body and blood.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for His friends.  And even when we were yet His enemies, Christ loved us by shedding His blood for us, by cleansing us through water and the Word, and by offering, that is sacrificing, Himself for us men and for our salvation in sharing with us the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves of His body and of the miracle of changing mere wine into a wine that is also His blood: blood that cleanses the spirit by being taken bodily, blood that cleanses the body for everlasting life by renewing the spirit. 

For this cleansing is our Passover.  The Lord shares it with the church of every time and place, and calls men to administer these Holy Sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist.  The Lord calls all men and women to partake of this cleansing, to become disciples, to be baptized and eat and drink of this sacrifice, and to participate in the one thing that bears the promise to fix us and recreate the world.  And what fixes us, dear friends, is not reason, know-how, will power, or duct tape.  It is the love of God made manifest in the flesh, offered at the cross, shared by means of the Word, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and all of the promises given thereunder. 

The only solution is love.  What fixes us is love.  What recreates the world is love.  And that, dear brothers and sisters, is the Christian faith.  It is Christ’s love.  Amen.

His

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sermon: Palmarum (Lent 6) – 2014

13 April 2014

Text: John 12:12-19 (Matt 26:1-27:66, Zech 9:9-12, Phil 2:5-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Today is a both/and day in the church year.  It is both Lent and a celebration.  It is both Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion.  It is a day of two Gospels, the first of which welcomes the King with royal palms and cheers, and the other which crucifies the King with criminals nails in his hands and jeers.

And yet, these are not two accounts of two different men, but one account in one week in the life of the greatest Man who ever lived, who lives yet, and who has not just changed the world but who has remade the entire universe.  And He did so while dying on a cross.

Moreover, dear friends, He did not do it for glory or money, nor even to win the favor of God and man.  Rather He did it for us, He “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men,” and yet who is God.  He did not carry out this mission to serve Himself but to rescue us – from sin, from death, and from the devil.  He did it not motivated by the adoring crowds, but rather in spite of the hateful crowds.  He did it motivated by love: obedient love for His Father and in saving love toward us “poor miserable sinners.”

And just as the crowds waved palms and sang “Hosanna,” crying out to the King for salvation, so do we, dear friends, waving branches and singing our Hosannas, we thank and praise Him for the salvation He won for us at the cross, salvation earned by blood and given to us in our baptism, delivered to us through our faith which He Himself gives us as a gracious gift, and presented to us in the flesh every time we partake of His body and blood.

And in the midst of the joyful paradox, we are saddened by the spectacle of it all: the cheering crowds who would turn deadly, the betrayal with a kiss, the hypocritical religious leaders, the police and soldiers who betray the public trust in their service by becoming thugs, the government that was there to protect and to serve becoming shameless murderers and purveyors of injustice, the crowds whom Jesus came to save becoming a lynch mob.  The cowardly disciples who scattered.  Peter who denied, repeatedly.  The abuse heaped upon Him in His dying woes.  The mockery of the true criminals.  The thorns.  The nails.  The spear.  The bitter gall to drink.  The frightening darkness.  The tearing of the temple curtain.  The death of God Himself.

And amid all of this confusing and disturbing turn of events, dear friends, this is how we have been redeemed and how creation is being renewed.  For the lifeless body of Jesus was borne to a tomb that could not contain Him.  The ones who fled gathered anew.  The cursed serpent who cleverly asked Eve: “Did God actually say?” has heard the sentence of death from the lips of the human body of God.  Death itself was forced to yield to the author of life. 

And out of death came life.  Out of darkness came light.  Out of betrayal came love.  Out of the cross came redemption.  Out of the side of Jesus flowed water and blood, out of which Christians are born of water and the blood and the Word.  And once more, the children of God sing Hosannas and wave palms.  The king no more wears a crown of thorns, but the crown of righteousness.  He is no more knelt to in mockery, for “at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

We kneel before our Lord, we worship the crucified One, we eat and drink His blood shed for us for the forgiveness of sins, we pray, praise and give thanks, we acknowledge our King for His substitutionary death for us, we celebrate with joy and humility our place in His kingdom though we are the ones who deserve to have been crucified.  We celebrate the Lord’s victory over death and the grave, and we glory in the triumph of the evil one whose lies in the Garden of Eden brought about destruction and death in the first place.

Dear friends, even as the Book of Revelation tells of the saints in heaven dressed in white robes, waving palms, and singing the praises of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, so too do we join Christians around the world in taking up our own palms, knowing that this most Holy Week will see Passion Sunday lead us to Good Friday and to Easter Sunday.  The purple and black will yield to white, celebration will return to our liturgy, and we will be unable to contain our joy any more than the gloomy grave could contain the beaming countenance of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us wave these branches and hail our King, knowing that His mission is not to create a worldly kingdom, but to create a kingdom of a new world.  Let us sing Hosanna to our King, knowing that He is not a ruler like Caesar to whom we are forced to bow, but that He is a ruler like King David, the man after God’s heart, before whom we gladly kneel, and to whom He gives crowns, making us kings and priests with Him for all eternity.

Moreover, this king exacts no taxes, but pays us the dividend of the forgiveness of sins.  This king does not conscript and send us to war, but has won the war for us.  This king does not seize our possessions, but shares all good things with us.  This king does not restrict our liberty, but gives us true liberty that the world cannot give, that is, freedom from the bondage of sin and from the tyranny of Satan.  And unlike other kings in history, this King did not build a tomb to glorify Himself, but was placed into a borrowed grave, from which He departed, an edifice which became a church, that is, a place from which the Gospel of His word and sacrament flow to His grateful subjects.

And this church is where we gather, dear friends, to receive the gifts of our king, where we are given anew the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.  Today is a both/and day for us who are both sinners and saints!  Let us sing for joy even amid Lent.  Let us give thanks for both the cross and the empty tomb, looking forward to both Good Friday and Easter.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey.”

Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Hosanna in the highest!  Amen.

His

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Sermon: Wednesday of Judica (Lent 5) – 2014

9 April 2014

Text: Ps 43

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The world has a message for the church: “Don’t judge me!”  And the world often reminds the church of our Lord’s words: “Judge not.”  And so the church is often bullied into silence.  For according to the world, the church is to have nothing to say to matters of good and evil, of ethics and morality, as though there is no difference between the ethical systems of Adolph Hitler and Mother Teresa.

“Don’t judge me!” we are told.  And sometimes we are told such things by judges in black robes.

But here we are in the church’s week of “Judica” – from the first words of the Psalm in Latin: “Judica me (judge me).”  Indeed, the church has a very different command than the world’s “Don’t judge me!”

And yet, dear friends, in our sins, we are like the world.  For we are all poor miserable sinners in thought, word, and deed.  How can we cry out to a righteous God: “Judica me!”?  It sounds foolhardy and presumptuous.  For let’s take a brief tour through the Ten Commandments.

Do we fear, love, and trust in other things above God?  Do we misuse the Lord’s name by vulgarity or by failing to call upon Him in every trouble?  Do we do violence to the Sabbath by despising preaching and the Word?  Do we dishonor our parents and other authorities?  Do we kill, commit adultery, and steal in thought, word, or deed?  Do we gossip and fail to explain our neighbor’s actions in the kindest possible way?  Do we mope and daydream about our neighbor’s lifestyle, his spouse or job or circumstances or possessions?

Are we in the position to chant the antiphon: “Judica me” or should we join the world’s chorus of “Don’t judge me!”?  Do the guilty normally seek out a judge to have his case heard, or is it the innocent that seek judicial vindication?

You’ll note that our English translations don’t say “Judge me,” but are actually more bold to say: “Vindicate me.”  For we Christians are boldly, if not recklessly, demanding a verdict of “Not guilty” – and so we do not cry out “Don’t judge me.”

How can this be, dear friends, dear fellow sinners?  It can only be through Christ that we can pray this Psalm, for it is only through Christ, by Christ, and in Christ, that we poor miserable sinners are indeed vindicated, and judged to be innocent, adjudicated to be saints, and rewarded with eternal life – only
by Christ’s atoning blood sacrificed on the cross.  And this is why the church gathers around the Lamb that “takest away the sin of the world,” and this is why we sing together: “Lord, have mercy upon us.”  This is why we assemble here in this holy house to hear the words authorized by our judge: “I forgive you all your sins.”  It is in this gospel, this good news, this forgiveness, that we, the church, voice our “Judica me” and cry out for vindication from Him who judges all.

We are vindicated because of the “holy hill” spoken of in the Psalm: “Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!  Let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill.”  That holy hill is Calvary, the place of the skull, the very plot of sacred ground that became the final altar of blood sacrifice, once for all, not by the blood of bulls and goats, but the blood of Christ Himself, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  “Then” sings the church, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy.”  For this is where we see God, even our Judge, with joy, knowing that by the Lord’s sacrificial and atoning blood, we have been vindicated, joyfully declared “not guilty” by our judge in the very presence of our vicious enemies, in the face of a hostile world, even in the very jaws of the devil.  We go to the altar with exceeding joy in our vindication, participating in that body and blood, wrapped in the white robe of baptism, having put all need for self-justification and fear of being judged behind us.

And so dear brothers and sisters, even as the Lord has a message for the church, the church has a message for the world: “Judica me!”  Let us all examine ourselves according to the Ten Commandments and to the reality of our sin and inability to vindicate ourselves.  Let us throw ourselves upon the mercy of the court, upon the mercy of God, “God my exceeding joy.”  Let us be judged, let us be vindicated according to the blood of Christ shed upon the holy hill, blood  distributed to those who are baptized and who believe, at joyful altars of God here and all around the world.  Let the church not be bullied into silence, but let her joyfully and boldly proclaim right and wrong, law and gospel, and especially Christ’s vindication to a world that fears judgment more than anything.

And let the world join the church in being vindicated, in being forgiven, in having the courage to confess clearly right and wrong, and in spite of our sins, to remain steadfast and assured by the vindication that has come to us by grace, through faith, as revealed in the scriptures, in Christ alone!

Vindicate me, O God…. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy!”  Amen.

His

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Sermon: Judica (Lent 5) – 2014

6 April 2014

Text: John 8:42-59 (Gen 22:1-14, Heb 9:11-15)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We live in an age in which we are all encouraged to have opinions about anything and everything, and we can express these opinions publicly in many ways and formats.  And people become passionate about their opinions, from current events and politics, sports and leisure, what kinds of foods they like, what is the best kind of weather, to fashion and music.  People will argue with one another, and in many cases, will pay to watch others argue about differing opinions.

But if you really think about it, none of these things matter.  At the end of the day, and the end of a life, at the end of the age, what difference does it make whether Joe Smith or Mary Jones won a congressional seat, whether Victor Newman got married for the 54th time, or if the Saints ever won another Super Bowl?  Is it really all that important what kind of chocolate you like or how baggy your jeans are?

What does matter, dear friends, is what you confess about Jesus.  And this question, “Who is Jesus?” has been asked by mankind in some form or other dating back to the Garden of Eden, when God promised a Savior to vindicate us by crushing the serpent’s head.

Our Lord Himself gets into a discussion about who He is with people who think they know Him better than He knows Himself.  As Jesus preaches to them first concerning who they are – namely obstinate sinners who refuse to hear the Word of God – they in turn confess that Jesus is a “Samaritan” and “[has] a demon.”

This is how the sinful man responds to a call to repentance.  In our pride, we lash out at the messenger.  We kill the prophets.  We spread rumors about others.  We engage in personal destruction as a means of propping up our wounded pride.  We plug up our ears to the life-saving Word of God, as our Lord asks: “Why do you not understand what I say?” and answers his own question: “It is because you cannot bear to hear my Word.”

For when the Lord speaks the Law, it stings.  And yet, like applying medicine to a wound, the sting is necessary for healing.  We must humble ourselves, dear friends, to hear the Lord’s Word, lest we bear the Lord’s rebuke: “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

And just as we may or may not receive the preached Word of God, we may or may not receive the Word Made Flesh who has come to save us.

So we are back to the question: “Who is Jesus?” What do we confess about Him?

Our Lord Himself plainly tells His hearers, including us, just who He is.  “I came from God and I am here.  I came not of My own accord, He sent Me.”  “I do not have a demon, but I honor My Father….  I do not seek My own glory; there is one who seeks it, and He is the judge.  Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.”

And finally, the Lord Jesus Christ confesses and reveals Himself to us when He says: “Before Abraham was, I am.”  Jesus is eternal.  Jesus is the “I am” who revealed Himself to Moses by that very name, that most sacred of names, in the burning bush: the name that is above every name, the name before which every knee shall bow, the name of the Word through which all things came to be, the Word Made Flesh who dwelt among us. 

Just as when Jesus was in this discussion nearly 2,000 years ago, there is still a burning controversy about who Jesus is today.  Some say He is a fictional character.  Some say He was a preacher whose followers created a myth.  Some say He was a delusional madman with a messiah complex.  Some say He was a good man who was killed because He was a good man.  Some say He was a prophet but not God.  Most simply don’t care as they pursue the illusory and temporary things of this fallen and crumbling world.  Many mock.  Some persecute those who confess Christ as Lord.  Some are still accusing Jesus as being evil.

But, dear friends, we, the Church, the bearers of the Word of God, we who have the revelation of Jesus Christ by faith, have a different confession than the world.  And thanks be to God!  With our Lord, we confess that Jesus is the great “I am,” that He is eternal, that He is God, that He came into our crumbling world to save us, to rescue us, dying to defeat death, crushing the serpent’s head at the cross, shedding His own precious blood for us men and for our salvation, restoring us to Paradise in righteousness and peace!

Jesus is previewed for us in the account of Isaac, the only son of his father, whom his father loved, offered up as a sacrifice according to the command and will of God, bearing the wood upon his own back, climbing the hill to his own sacrifice, and stretched out upon a wood-covered altar.

God the Father is revealed to us in His mercy, when He sends the angel to intervene and stop the sacrifice of Isaac, as God would provide a substitute. 

Jesus is previewed as that substitute, the ram caught with his gory head encrusted by the thorns that first came to the world at the garden of Eden after the fall as a result of sin.  Jesus is previewed in the name: “The Lord will provide.”  Jesus is the world’s substitute.

We confess Jesus to be a “high priest of the good things to come” as is revealed to us in the Book of Hebrews.  “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

An eternal redemption, dear friends!  An eternal redemption!  Our struggle with the serpent is over!  Our subjugation to death is ended!  Our prideful sinful nature that kills the prophets and calls the Son evil has been defeated along with hell and the grave!

By His blood sacrifice we are forgiven all our sins!  By His bloody death we are all released from eternal death.  By His body and blood sacrament we partake of His eternal redemption, eating and drinking unto forgiveness, life, and salvation!  And in Holy Baptism, the blood of this once-for-all sacrifice was sprinkled upon us, dear brothers and sisters, “that our inheritance in light has been secured.”

Indeed, we have our opinions about everything, and we have more ways than ever before of expressing those opinions.  But only one opinion matters, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, only one opinion means anything at all.  And that is our confession about Christ, who is truly the “mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.”

Then let us now draw near,
Washed in that precious flood
And enter the Most Holy Place
By Jesus’ blood.
From hearts that are sincere,
Let tongues our hope profess,
And trust anew God’s faithful grace
That we confess. 

Amen.

His
on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Am

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Sermon: Wednesday of Laetare (Lent 4) – 2014

2 April 2014

Text: Isa 66:10-11, Ps 122

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

This week in Lent is known as Laetare, that is “Rejoice!” –
which is one of the last messages the prophet Isaiah has for us in the sixty-six chapters of His book.  “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her.”  For Isaiah has written prophetically, proclaiming good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Isaiah informs the children of Israel of the promise that their time in exile will end, and the blessings of eternity, as conceived as a New Jerusalem, an Eternal Zion, the City of God, is coming upon the Lord’s beloved chosen people as the Messiah is coming.  And He comes not to punish sin, but rather to forgive transgression. Not to seek justice against Israel, but to atone for her.

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her.”

In this week of Laetare, the prophet’s call to rejoice is woven together as an antiphon with King David’s great hymn to the New Jerusalem, the Eternal Zion, the City of God – the 122nd Psalm, which was sung as the people of God ascended higher and higher as they walked to the House of God to worship.

“I was glad when they said to me,” says King David, says the people of Israel, say the Church of every time and place and age, singing with great rejoicing: “Let us go into the house of the Lord.”  For here, dear friends, in this holy house, we experience this New Jerusalem, this city of peace where God and man have been reconciled, where our sins have been forgiven, where God Himself has given us hope, joy, and a reason to live.  God Himself has poured out upon us His grace, His mercy, His peace – through the atoning blood of our Lord upon the cross.  And what’s more, dear friends, this peace, this atonement, this life itself is here fed to you, as a mother satisfies her children “with the consolation of her bosom” in a holy meal of the Lord’s body and blood.

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her.”

For the name Jerusalem, symbolic of our New Jerusalem, our Eternal City, our City of God is embedded in the name of our own congregation, Salem, chosen by our forbears as a reminder that we are part of this New Creation undertaken by God in Christ, a city not built on a river but on a baptismal flood, a city not protected with walls, but shielded by angels, a city not governed by a mayor, but overseen in love by the King Himself.  Salem is Shalom, Salem is peace, Salem is that reconciliation between our righteous God and us poor, miserable sinners, a reconciliation based solely upon Christ, given to us by grace, through faith, and secured by the Word of God and His holy sacraments.

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her.”

King David implores us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” not only the earthly city of brick and mortar, but the eternal city of the living stones of the people of God.  We wish to have peace among those here in this sanctuary, peace between all those who are members of this congregation, peace between all of our brothers and sisters in Christ across the globe, peace between all people of every land and language, and peace between God and man in the cross of Christ.  “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you.  For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say, ‘Peace be within you.’”

That peace, dear friends, that reconciliation, the ending of the war that we started with God in the Garden of Eden, the endless bloodshed between brethren of the human race, the interminable squabbles between brothers and sisters within the Christian Church, that peace that passes all understanding, is indeed what our Lord won for us at the cross, and what He has given us at the font, at the altar, and at the pulpit.  It is that Word of reconciliation that makes Jerusalem not only the great city, but the very city of peace, a peace which has no end.

So let us rejoice, dear friends.  Even in the midst of our sorrows, even as we still live in a world riddled by sin, a church torn by schisms, a planet ablaze in conflict, a body still plagued by death, and a life on this side of the grave still suffering the effects of sin.  Even in the penitential season of Lent, let us rejoice, dear friends.  Let us rejoice because we know where we are headed – to the cross and to the empty tomb.  Let us rejoice like the ancient Jewish pilgrims making their way with gladness to the City of Jerusalem, knowing that they were going to the house of the Lord to find eternal peace.  Indeed, let us rejoice in the New Jerusalem, the Eternal Zion, the City of God.

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her.”  Amen.

His

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sermon: Laetare (Lent 4) – 2014

30 March 2014

Text: John 6:1-15 (Ex 16:2-21, Gal 4:21-31)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The cause of all human dissatisfaction and unhappiness is not the want of food, but the want of faith.  For without faith, we are left to depend upon ourselves.  And so we use all of our supposed superior intellect to plan our lives, to pass laws and rules and regulations to ensure fairness, and then convinced of how smart we are, we see every human attempt to end poverty fall into total failure. 

It’s not that we lack enough bread.  For Jesus has already proven that this is no obstacle to Almighty God.  Rather we lack faith.  We would rather grumble that God is not feeding us our way than to submit to His way and to be filled with all that we need according to His will and ways.

It all began at Eden when superabundance of all the perfect food for mankind was freely available with no labor needed – and that was still not good enough for Adam and Eve, who were talked into grumbling by the serpent, who then talked them into taking matters into their own hands.  For again, they did not lack food, nor anything material at all, they lacked faith in the promise of God to provide for them.

When Moses had miraculously led the children of Israel out of Egyptian slavery, when they saw God repeatedly strike Egypt with plagues while sparing His people, when they experienced the hand of God delivering them across the Red Sea while drowning Pharaoh’s army, instead of praising God with faithful hearts, eagerly awaiting His next blessing, rather “the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron.”  They lamented that they didn’t die in Egypt with bellies full of meat and bread.  And they blamed Moses and Aaron and accused them of bringing them out “into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

And in the face of their rebellion, grumbling, and desire to take matters into their own hands, the Lord continued to bless them and provide for them, giving them the miraculous bread of the manna in the wilderness.  And if that weren’t enough, the Lord provided huge quantities of meat for them in the form of quail.  And even then, some of the people tried to hoard the manna in direct violation of the Lord’s instructions.

Again, even when they were loaded up with meat and bread, they were still not satisfied, because they lacked faith.

Our Lord Jesus Christ directly addressed the problem of scarcity and want, of poverty and hunger, when He challenged His apostles to provide food for the five thousand men (not counting the women and children) who gathered to hear Him speak.  For the essence of the problem is not a lack of food, but a lack of faith.  Reason itself cried out that one boy with five loaves and two fish could not feed thousands of hungry people.

And yet, in the face of all that our minds tell us to the contrary, in opposition to what reason said to the disciples, and even over and against the expectations of His thousands of listeners, Jesus did what reason says is impossible, but which faith says the Creator in the flesh can do with nothing other than His will, using nothing but His Word, and motivated by nothing except His compassion.  Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, and not only fed the multitudes, but even arranged for twelve baskets of leftovers to be carried away.

For the problem was not a lack of loaves and fishes, but rather a lack of faith.

And even after eating this miraculous meal, dear friends, the crowds sought to take matters into their own hands, and instead of submitting to His will, sought to “take Him by force to make Him king.”  Again and again, dear friends, this is our problem.  It is not a lack of food, not a lack of money, not a lack of fortune or luck or a job or education or circumstances or wealthy relatives or natural resources.  Our problem is a lack of faith!

And our Lord is calling us to repent of this!  We need to stop trying to micromanage our lives, trying to manipulate God, trying to use force to get our way with Jesus.  Dear brother, dear sister, you are not in control.  You are not God.  You cannot multiply loaves and fishes.  You cannot force God to do what you want.  You cannot control the circumstances of your lives, your boss, your grown children, your aging parents, your desires, nor even your own bodies.  And grumbling about it doesn’t help either.  Jesus calls upon us to hear His Word and allow that Word to build faith in us, the faith that comes by hearing, by hearing the Word of Christ, by hearing because you have someone preaching, and by hearing that preaching because a preacher has been sent to you.

Our problem, dear friends, in case I have been unclear to this point, is not our lack of material goods; our problem is our lack of faith.  Our problem is our lack of faith.  Our problem is our lack of faith.

For when we trust ourselves to achieve our goals, when we impede our own faith by shutting out, distorting, ignoring, or misinterpreting God’s will, we act like we are the slave children of Hagar, in bondage to sin, by the flesh, by the stubbornness of the will, enslaved by the law, rather than claiming our heritage as being the free children of promise, the sons and daughters of Sarah, not only hearing the Word, but rejoicing in the liberating forgiveness of that Word, the Word that went to the cross for us, the Word that declares us forgiven, the Word whose body and blood satisfy us with superabundance by faith in the promise given to us to eat and to drink in another miraculous Passover meal presided over by our Lord Jesus Christ!

In Christ, this food never runs out.  The bread and wine are joined to the Lord’s Word, and we are fed by the millions over thousands of years, by grace, through faith, according to His promise and testament, and multiplied by nothing other than His Word spoken over the elements – which are in turn received by us in faith, the true body and blood of the Lord.

And in this holy meal, dear friends, there is no dissatisfaction, no unhappiness, no want, no poverty, and no lack – because there is no sin!  The root cause of all poverty and want and hunger is done away with, and it is done so not by force but by faith.

Dear friends, we have been invited to “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her.”  This is because we bear the promise, we hear the Word, we partake of the fleshly bread of Christ’s body, and drink of the atoning wine of the Lord’s blood, we receive these miraculous and satisfying gifts by faith.  For “this is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  We do not have to force Him to be king, for He is also our King and Priest, the host and the victim, our very life in the midst of death.  He is the source and the object of our faith.  Although reason itself cries out that one Man nailed to a cross cannot forgive the sins of billions of sinful people, faith confesses that this is so!  Indeed, dear friends, through this faith, satisfied by the bread of life, let us “rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her” – now and even unto eternity.  Amen.

His

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sermon: Wednesday of Oculi (Lent 3) – 2014

26 March 2014

Text: Psalm 25

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net.  Turn Yourself to me, and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted.”
 
This week is known by the Latin name “Oculi,” which means “eyes” – our eyes which are “toward the Lord” according to Psalm 25. 

So what does it mean to have our eyes “toward the Lord”?  Can we see God?  God is a Spirit, and moreover, God’s presence was withdrawn from us at the fall.  We are warned over and over in the Holy Scriptures that if we see God’s face, we will die.  Our Sanctus hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy” was sung first by the prophet Isaiah, as he lay in terror on His belly before the presence of Almighty God.  “Woe is me,” he bellowed, “I am undone.”  Isaiah would never have dared raise his eyes “toward the Lord.” 

And we today can look up, down, left, and right, and we do not see God.  We do not have the beatific vision, we do not gaze upon the face of the Almighty as Adam and Eve did.  We don’t even get a brief glimpse of the Lord’s back, as Moses was allowed to do.

And yet, dear friends, as I entered the chancel in a priestly way on your behalf, we all sang together that our eyes are indeed “toward the Lord.”

In the beautiful poetry of King David’s Hebrew, our gaze is a symbolic one.  We are not able to see God, but we are able to look toward Him, as a sheep looks to his master, as a child looks to his parents, as the friends and foes of our Blessed Lord Himself were able to look to Him to address the charges that He was a demon.

We look toward that which is important.  Our eyes flit to what draws our attention.  We gaze upon that which we consider worthy of our time and notice.  And the Psalmist understands that it is the Lord who has rescued him, like someone releasing an animal from a trap, it is the Lord who is worthy of his attention and gratitude.

For we live in a broken, fallen world.  We are surrounded by traps and snares of demons and devils, by temptations and distractions, by the glitter and glamour of the world’s illusory and counterfeit glory.  The devil will not save us, but would rather destroy us; the world will not redeem us, but would have us weak and distracted; our sinful nature will not release us, but would see us curved in upon our sinful selves.  And any and all of these false gods would ensnare us in the net and drag us into the pit.

Dear friends, with King David, we confess that we are “desolate and afflicted.”  We know our condition.  We know that we have failed to keep the law.  We know that we are turned this way and that from focusing on the Lord who saves us.  We know that we are mortal.  We are as good as dead.

And we pray with David: “To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  O my God, I trust in You; let me not be ashamed…. Bring me out of my distresses!  Look on my afflicted and my pain, and forgive all my sins.”

“And forgive all my sins.”

This, dear friends, is why our eyes are ever “toward the Lord.”  For who else can forgive our sins, cleanse our guilt, restore our souls, redeem our sinful flesh, and release us from the net of sin, selfishness, suffering, and death itself?

And we have an advantage that King David lacked, dear brothers and sisters.  For we can lift our eyes toward the Lord.  The Lord Jesus has come in human form, to live among us, to preach and teach, and to die and rise again.  We can look to Him in the way that He has promised to be with us, in the most holy sacrament of His very body and blood.  When the holy elements are lifted high, we gaze toward Him in His royal majesty, which is at the same time, in His humble nearness.  For our eyes are ever toward the Lord in His Word and in His sacraments, releasing us from the net, and liberating us to serve Him without fear.  We look to the cross, the atoning blood, the sacred iron-clad declaration of absolution from the Lord Himself.  We lift up our eyes and our ears, and He takes away our desolation and our affliction.

Dear friends, there is no other place to focus our eyes, no other presence in this universe worthy of our gaze.  For there is only one hope of being released from the net, and that is Him who filled the nets of St. Peter with fish and promised that he would catch men in those nets. 

The Psalmist concludes confidently: “Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.”  Amen, Amen, may it ever be so!

“My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net.  Turn Yourself to me, and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted.”  Amen.

His

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sermon: Oculi (Lent 3) – 2014

23 March 2014

Text: Luke 11:14-28

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord Jesus makes it clear that it does matter what you think about Him. 

Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it matters what you believe about Him.  Opinions about Jesus today run the full gamut from those on the one hand who believe He is God in the flesh, to those on the other hand who believe He is a historical fabrication - and all points in between.  Some believe He is a fraud that was perpetrated by the early church (a very weird theory that meant that the people telling such a tale were willing to die under torture for the sake of it), others believe that He was a great rabbi (which doesn’t explain His betrayal to the hated Romans), a self-delusional Messiah (which doesn’t explain His miracles – including the empty tomb), and as our Gospel lesson reports, even as He was casting out demons, He was accused of being Satan.

From the moment of His miraculous conception, Jesus has been a lightning rod of the devil.  That is still true today.

However, even as Jesus is viciously attacked, He continues to teach and preach and cast our demons and heal.  He continues on the path set before Him by the Father.  He continues to reveal divine truths, to save those in need, to heal every manner of human sickness, and to entrap the devil in his lies.  Our blessed Lord continues to forgive sins and perform signs and wonders and beat back against the attacks of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, priests, scribes, the Sanhedrin, even as He will continue to defy and baffle Pilate, Herod, the high priest and his associates, and the mobs during His passion – and even on the cross, right up until the second of His blessed death.  And even there, dear friends, even on the cross, suffering unspeakable agony, bleeding, drowning in His own fluid, He continues to forgive, to heal, to carry out the sentence against the devil, and to preach and teach.

Today’s Gospel can only be understood in light of human sin.  And I don’t mean individual acts of sin, but the entire corrupted nature of mankind – which includes all of us in this room and on the planet!  For how out-of-reality must one be to look into the merciful face of God in the flesh, even as He works marvels and amazes people with public displays of mastery over the demonic and asserting dominion over them, all the while demonstrating love and compassion to all men in a way that the scribes and Pharisees do not – and then conclude that this must be the work of the devil?  How perverse must one be to see the work of divine power, of love, of mercy, of healing – and then call it evil?

Even in the face of their blasphemy, Jesus calmly shows them their error and bids them to repent.  Jesus is reaching out to them even after being insulted in this terrible way.  And “knowing their thoughts,” He shows the logical fallacy in their thinking. 

And He continues to proclaim the Good News to a world so jaded by sin and so demoralized by death that it can only seem to be skeptical and hardened, for even here is the proclamation: “the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

And He puts the whole matter into perspective simply and in a way that no reasonable person could misunderstand without wanting to misunderstand. He says: “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”

So what does Jesus mean for us today when He says, “with Me” and what does He mean by “gather”?

Jesus promised His Church that He would be with us always, even until the end of the age.  He is with us when and where His Word is proclaimed and His sacraments are administered, where preaching and Baptism and Holy Communion are given and shared, where “two or three gather” in His name.  And what higher privilege does the Church have but gather around the Lamb, in thanksgiving, in praise, in prayer, and in participation in the Holy Supper?  What is more glorious and transcendent, what is more truly human and complete than to be at the Divine Service?  This, dear friends, is how the Lord continues to beat back the attacks of the evil one among us today.  For as our Lord Himself demonstrated, Satan cannot withstand the “It is written,” of Holy Scripture, for “man does not live by bread alone,” but indeed by every Word from the mouth of God.

To be with Jesus, to gather, is to join the resistance, to fight back against Satan, to reclaim your compromised humanity.  And now, just as then, the world will often call evil good, and good evil.  The Church is cast as evil, as followers of Beelzebub, as intolerant, hateful, and outcasts, typically mocked, sometimes persecuted, never accepted.  But in fact, it is the Church that defends the very weakest, the bedraggled institution of the family; it is the Church that opposes slavery and every form of human degradation, upholding the dignity of each and every person, whom she confesses was created in the very image of God. 

By contrast, today’s worldly heroes are wisecracking, self-obsessed purveyors of hatred, seeking court injunctions and restrictions upon the rights and freedoms of Christians and the public confession of what we believe.  Or more to the point, against whom we believe in!

And that is really it, dear friends.  It all boils down to Jesus.  What do we believe about Him?  What do we confess about Him?  Do we gather with Him or scatter from Him?  Do we desire to be with Him or to be independent of Him?  Are we going to serve the world’s “strong man” Satan, or are we going to serve the Stronger Man, the truly and fully Human One, the Man who is God, the Man who has paid the price of the sins of all men at the cross?  Are we going to serve His blessed mother, or are we going to serve her Blessed Son who is the Word in the flesh which she birthed?  Are we going to serve a world that calls evil good and good evil, or are we going to serve our fellow Christians in the name of Him who is the Bridegroom of the Church?  Are we going to serve ourselves by choosing other activities instead of gathering with Him in our eternal fight against Satan, the world, and our sinful nature, or are we going to serve the only One who has ultimate dominion over every manner of evil, every demon, and over the devil himself?

Our confession matters.  Our proclamation matters.  Whether we are with Him or not with Him, whether we gather or whether we scatter – matters!  And it matters eternally, dear friends.  It matters eternally.

Blessed indeed, brothers in sisters in Christ, covered by His blood and sealed by His baptism, redeemed by His cross and promised a resurrection by virtue of His resurrection, yes, blessed are we, when we “hear the Word of God and keep it.” Amen.

His

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

No Sermon: Wednesday of Reminiscere (Lent 2) – 2014

No sermon on account of illness.  

Rick Iverson led Responsive Prayer with readings from Treasury of Daily Prayer.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sermon: Reminiscere (Lent 2) – 2014

16 March 2014

Text: Matt 15:21-28

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

St. Paul has famously linked faith and hope and love – while reserving to love the greatest honor.  And indeed, it is only by the creation of a God who is Love Himself that explains a world and a people capable of such abstract concepts which are also very concrete realities in the Garden of Eden.

Adam and Eve were created to not merely have faith, but to be defined by faith.  They believe in God because they trust in God.  There is no room in their innocent minds to doubt God or to doubt what He actually said.  And so they exist with hope, because they know with all certainty (thanks to their faith) that tomorrow will be just as perfect as today, even unto eternity.  And they live in perfect love, for the God who created them, for one another, and for the creation that fits together so harmoniously.  This triad of faith, hope, and love are man’s destiny according to the plan of our good and gracious Creator.

But of course, faith was to yield to doubt, as the serpent tempted our first parents into surrendering their faith.  Hope was shattered as uncertainty entered our existence after the fall.  And love diminishes as mankind falls into a kind of savage existence competing with one another for limited resources, which decays into theft and conquest and war and rebellion.

And this, dear friends, is our world.  And it is getting worse: doubt, despair, and hatred.  These are the rotten fruits of sin: that of Adam and Eve, that of our original sin into which we are born, as well as the damage we ourselves cause by our own sins in thought, word, and deed.

This world of doubt, despair, and hatred, this world of darkness and death, this world of the hellish separation between what God meant for us and what we have corrupted, is the broken world into which Jesus comes in His flesh. 

And on the occasion of our Gospel lesson, our Lord is wandering out into enemy territory, the land of the Gentiles.  For unlike the Sons of Jacob, the Gentiles lack the faith of the covenant, the hope of a Messiah, and are ignorant of the prophetic love of God made known through the temple sacrifices.  The diabolical stronghold of Tyre and Sidon are places one would least expect to find the Shepherd of Israel. 

And yet, He chooses to go there.  For the Sons of Jacob are not the only ones destined to receive the faith, hope, and love of Christ, but rather all of the Sons of Adam. 

And so Jesus finds someone who is as far away from the promises made to Jacob as you can get.  She has many strikes against her.  First, she is a woman – and by virtue of her sex, lacks even standing to meet with Jesus.  Second, she is a Canaanite – a Gentile of very low degree, for it was the Canaanites that the Israelites were told to eradicate from the promised land.  Her very existence is a reminder of the failure of the children of Israel to obey God’s Word.  She is despised by the Israelites.  And owing to her faithless, hopeless, and loveless state, her family has been made open to the realm of the demonic.  Her daughter is possessed by an evil spirit, a demon.

But something motivates her to take a chance, to risk making a long journey for nothing, to leave her distressed daughter behind and to look for help from her apparent enemy, from the Israelite preacher named Jesus.  She has obviously heard His Word through others proclaiming what He has done.  And in her dark world of doubt, despair, and hatred there is just a little glimmer of hope, like a tiny spark glowing faintly as it hits the straw.  Motivated by this little faith, she comes to Jesus and prays: “Lord, have mercy.”  She invokes Him as Son of David.  She knows who He is, as does the demon who oppressed her household.  And she knows what the Son of David can do.  And so in faith and hope she prays persistently for Him to hear her prayer and to grant her petition.

And Jesus ignores her.  Or that’s what it seems anyway.  He tests her faith and allows her to exercise it.  And in doing so, we have a record left behind that teaches us about faith and hope and love.  The disciples even offer a competing prayer to Jesus that He would abandon this woman in her need.  At first, Jesus seems to answer their arrogant prayer and seems intent on refusing to answer her humble prayer of “Lord, have mercy.”  Jesus points out that He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  He says that it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.

And here, dear friends, is the turning point.  The Canaanite woman could have retreated into the darkness and bitterness of doubt, despair, and hatred.  She could easily have become cynical and turned aside from Jesus and fixed her eyes on the world of the demons.  But she doesn’t.  For the frail spark of her faith and the ever-so-slight glimmer of her hope are enough.  They are enough to ignite a flame that will consume the demons in hell.  And they are enough to create warmth where there was formerly cold, and light where there was formerly darkness.

She said, “Yes, Lord.”  She does not argue with our Lord’s assessment.  She yields to Him, confesses her unworthiness, and then and only then, does her great faith become visible to all – even in her desperate condition.

Then Jesus answered her, “O woman. Great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”  And her daughter was healed instantly.

The darkness has been dispelled by light.  Sickness has been replaced by health.  The demonic has been upended by the good.  The excluded and marginalized have been included and embraced.  The devil’s curse of doubt has been exchanged for faith in the Word.  The despair that results from sin has been replaced by the hope of forgiveness.  And the hatred of sinful man for the God who is perfect has been replaced by love: love manifested by a sinless Man who is perfect and who is God.

This is St. Paul’s vision of faith, hope, and love, and especially of the triumph of love: the love of Christ.  The fall in Eden has been reversed, dear friends, reversed at the cross, where faith, hope, and love are on display before all the world, visible and invisible, to Jew and Gentile, to angel and demon, to Adam and Eve and to children yet unborn.  The Canaanite woman’s faith, hope, and love abide.  And the greatest of these is love, Christ’s love, dripping with the blood of the cross: the love of God for us poor miserable sinners, a perfect love that gives us faith and restores our hope, now and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

His
on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sermon: Wednesday of Invocabit (Lent 1) Midweek – 2014


12 March 2014
Text: Ps 91

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

This week in the church year takes its name, “Invocabit”, from the first word of our Introit in the original Latin. 

And as this is the first full week of Lent, we not only begin our journey to Calvary with Christ, we begin our skirmish with Satan as we make our way to the resurrection.

Our Introit comes from Psalm 91, which has traditionally been used in exorcisms and house blessings, and in other situations in which it is necessary to confront Satan and his minions.  And it makes sense that this Psalm should be paired up with our Gospel lesson, in which Jesus defeats the devil by quoting Scripture.  Ironically, the devil quoted this Psalm to try to trick Jesus into killing Himself.

Dear friends, here are two truths which are unpopular in today’s world.  First, Satan exists and tempts us to sin and wants to see us severed from our God, bereft of faith, repudiating our baptism, scorning the cross, denying Jesus, and he seeks to see us dead and eternally condemned.  Second, as Shakespeare said, the devil can indeed quote Scripture.

Dear brothers and sisters, our Lord Jesus has set a pattern for us to follow.  We must be willing to do battle with Satan.  We must not fear him, nor ignore him, but fix our eyes firmly on Jesus and wield the sword of His Word.  Psalm 91 is irksome to the devil and comforting to us.  Listen to these promises:

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.”

We cannot trust the devil.  We cannot trust the world.  We cannot trust our fallen nature.  But we can trust the Word of God.  We can trust the God who loves us, created us, redeemed us, sanctifies us, and promises us everlasting life.

“For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.  He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler.”

A mighty fortress is our God, dear friends!

“He will cover you with His pinons, and under His wings you will find refuge, His faithfulness is a shield and buckler.  You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”

Listen to the comfort in this passage!  We are surrounded by demons and devils and evil and corruption and temptation and sin and death.  And yet, dear brothers and sisters, and yet, we need not fear because we have a shield to defend us against the fiery darts of the evil one, against the long knives that come out to stab us in the back, against the venom of the ancient viper that would paralyze us and kill us.  The cross is our shield!

For “no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.”  As Luther teaches us, Satan is like a raving dog on a leash.  He can growl and snarl and slobber and put on a big show, but the Lord God Himself has this beast tethered.

“For He (the Lord) will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.  On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.  You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.”

Satan taunted our Lord with this promise, and encouraged Him to put His Father to the test, to attempt to commit suicide.  But, dear friends, our Lord resisted the devil with God’s Word.  He would not take the bait.  And indeed, the Lord promised to protect Him from all harm.  And that promise is made to all of us in Christ, dear friends!  Angels are dispatched for our protection.  Even when we are baffled and beaten down, war weary and ready to give up, our Lord does not give up, dear friends.  Jesus Himself continues to wage war against the devil for us.  And just as our Lord fulfills the prophecy by crushing the head of the devil at the cross, we who are baptized into the death and resurrection of our Lord, we who share His human nature, we whose flesh has been renewed in baptism, who are quickened with the Holy Spirit and called out of our graves by our Lord Himself, we unite with Him to trample the vile serpent underfoot.

The Lord continues: “I will deliver him… I will protect him… I will answer him… I will be with him in trouble… I will rescue him and honor him…. I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

All of these ironclad promises have been made, dear friends, and they are invoked by our Lord, made manifest by the Holy Spirit, honored by the Father, and given to comfort us in our daily battle with the devil. 

And we can hurl this Word back into the malicious face of the vile devil, and we can speak as our Lord taught us to speak: “Be gone, Satan, for it is written!”  Amen.

His

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.