Monday, March 26, 2012

Sermon for 3/25/12--Lent V (LSB 1-year)



Redemption and Opposition

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

John’s Gospel is distinct from the other three. All of them, of course, present the truth. But John's Gospel is not a chronology; it does not give us a blow-by-blow account of the various events in the life of Jesus as the others do. John’s Gospel is a presentation of the person and the saving work of Jesus Christ. John shines his light on those words and works of Jesus which reveal Him to be the eternal Son of the heavenly Father, and our Savior from sin, death, and hell. And he also shows us the opposition that rises against Jesus with its evil, even demonic, roots.

Earlier in this same chapter, Jesus had spared the woman caught in adultery. Her accusers would have stoned her to death had Jesus not intervened. But, He challenged her accusers by saying to them, “He who is without sin among you cast the first stone.” Of course, no one there could lift a stone without proving himself to be a hypocrite. But there was another implication in Jesus’ words. The divine wisdom and insight that enabled Him to say what He did implied that He, in fact, was without sin, and would have had every right to cast a stone at the adulteress. The fact that He did not spoke a message that would not have been missed. Jesus then went on to say, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” The Pharisees who heard Him understood that He was staking out a claim for Himself as the Son of God. The battle lines were drawn. The positions were laid out. And that is what our reading presents to us.

There is tremendous drama in this encounter between Jesus and His opponents. Jesus began with a remarkable question. “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” You know they wanted to; but search as they may, none of them could formulate a charge against Him. When He had given them plenty of opportunity, Jesus spoke again. “I tell the truth; why do you not believe me?” Again, there was probably an uncomfortable silence. How could they answer Him? Then, Jesus answered His own question. “You do not hear, because you are not of God.” What did He mean by this? Think of it this way: a man who is tone deaf cannot experience the thrill of music; all he hears is sound that makes little or no sense to him. A man who is color-blind cannot fully appreciate a picture or painting; the colors that distinguish one thing from another are unknown to Him. Even so, without the Spirit, God’s Word means nothing to the man who hears it.

To be told that they were strangers to God stung the Jews, and they reacted as one would expect. “Are we not right in saying that You are a Samaritan, and that You have a devil?” To be called a Samaritan was to be branded as an eternal enemy of the Jews, a heretic, one whose sole purpose was to lead the people of God away from the truth. This was the state to which they had fallen. The Messiah, the Redeemer of the world, stood before them. But every redeeming word He spoke, every redeeming action He undertook, was met with hateful opposition.

The remarkable thing about this event in the life of Jesus was that He was actually prepared to accept the accusation of sin. That was what His redemptive work was about; bearing the sins of the world upon Himself. As St. Paul said, Jesus was made, literally, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Of course, He had no sin of His own. All that He did and endured, including the abuse heaped on Him on this occasion, was done for sinners; it was in their place. And this is where we enter the story. We may not think that we are opponents of Jesus. We may not be prepared to call Him an enemy of the faith, a deceiver who would lead us astray from the truth of God. And yet, every sin of thought, word, and deed hammers at His redemptive work.

And so, it is only through repentance that we can approach Jesus, our Redeemer. Repentance was the farthest thing from the mind of the Jews. Instead of falling before their Redeemer in sorrow for the way they had abused Him, their opposition grew more fervent and more demonic. They said to Him: “Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Whom do You make Yourself out to be?” And when the whole discussion was concluded they even took up stones to throw at Him. They would treat Him as their fathers had treated prophets before them. They were not of God, nor would they hear His Word.

Repentance must be our approach to Jesus. Even as He has honored the Father in all that He has said and done, we dishonor Him with our sin and the opposition we raise against Him. We can only come to Him in repentance. And then He says to us: “Most assuredly I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word he shall never see death.” What does He mean here? What does it mean to “keep” His Word? To be sure, it means more than obedience which, I suspect, is how most would understand it. To keep His Word means to treasure it, to hold on to it for dear life, to place a value on it that sets it above everything in this life. It means to love His Word because His Word is Truth and Life. And especially here, He bids us keep those words that speak of His redemption, that He has come to give His life as the “ransom for many,” that He truly is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And His promise to us as we keep His Word is that we will never see death.

Not too long after this encounter with the Jews, Jesus was called to the graveside of His dear friend, Lazarus. Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, were troubled by the fact that Jesus had not arrived in time to spare their brother; they were convinced He would have done that. But as it turned out, there was an even greater and more glorious purpose in allowing Lazarus to die. Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” And then He raised Lazarus from the grave as proof that those who keep His Word will, indeed, never really die. And by raising Lazarus He was also pointing to His own resurrection. He who kept the Word of His Father would live forever. He made you His own and placed His Word in you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and in those waters He has raised you with Him to eternal life. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sermon for 3/18/12--Lent IV



“Hail, Jesus, King of Our Tummies”
John 6:1-15

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Once again, the crowds had gathered. It was as if the circus had come to town. John tells us that “a great multitude followed [Jesus], because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased.” This was not the first time that the crowds had come looking for a spectacle from Jesus. Early in His earthly ministry, the people of His own hometown of Nazareth wanted to witness Jesus doing His thing. And it would not be the last time, either. Herod, too, expected Jesus to perform on demand, even while Jesus stood before him on trial for His life. Before all of them stood the greatest Teacher of all time, teaching about the most important subject ever devised by the mind of God or man. All they wanted was the circus.

It wasn’t necessarily a lack of faith. After all, no one doubted that Jesus had the power to do what they expected Him to do. Jesus had given proof numerous times. He proved it by changing water into wine. He proved it by bringing sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, mobility to the cripple. He proved it in shining splendor on the mountain, appearing in robes that shone with the light of the sun with Moses and Elijah. And He proved it once again in the Gospel for today, feeding the multitude with five loaves of bread and two small fish, with twelve baskets left over.

The sign had been given. The crowd had seen the wonder they had come to see. All it took was for Jesus to fill their stomachs. That was enough for them. They made ready to declare Jesus their king. “Hail, Jesus, King of our tummies! Blessed is He who comes in the name of our appetite!” They had missed the point. They had no idea of what it really meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, even if some of them were inclined to believe that He was the Christ. Jesus had no interest in being an earthly king. He already had a task set before Him. He left the crowd and made His way to the mountain alone.

What is it about Jesus that makes Him the subject of our adoration? For the crowd that day, it was the promise of spectacle and that promise fulfilled in the temporary end of their hunger. And we certainly like to have our bellies filled, too. We know that God gives us “all that we need to support this body and life.” For some, that is enough reason to worship God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And it’s certainly not a bad reason to praise God. But if that’s all God is good for in our eyes, then we, too, have missed the point. As I said, it’s not necessarily a lack of faith. After all, we trust that God will provide.

But what happens when our cups don’t “runneth over”? What happens when our bellies are not fat with cheese and chips and meat and gravy and cream and beer and everything else we desire? What happens when we are blinded against the goodness of God by our own greed and selfishness? When help doesn’t come according to our schedules, we feel as though God has failed us, that He doesn’t love us, that we now have to fend for ourselves somehow. Our ideas concerning Jesus are as hazy as were those of the multitude in the crowd that day on the mountain. We, too, want the Jesus who takes away our hunger. We, too, want the Jesus who heals the sick and gives sight to the blind. We, too, want the Jesus who will work great deeds and wonders.

We don’t realize what kind of Lord we have in Jesus Christ. Jesus is not interested in being just a helper in the things of the body. He is not merely a servant who caters to the desires of the flesh. He knew the hearts and minds of His audience on the mountain that day; He knows the thoughts and desires of our hearts today. He knows exactly what we think of Him. He knows that the Old Adam in us would settle for a Messiah that fulfilled our earthly needs. Sinners that we are, when He tells us why He comes to us, we drive Him away, comfortable in our sinfulness.

He also knows that our needs run deeper than the needs and desires of the flesh. If our needs consisted only in having full plates at dinner, a house, gainful employment, or whatever else it is that we consider needs in our earthly existence, we wouldn’t necessarily need miraculous, divine intervention to have those needs filled. After all, God makes the sun to shine on both the righteous and the unrighteous. We don’t have to believe in God to have a full stomach or a place to lay our heads at night or clothes to cover us.

The real miracle in our text is that the Word does exactly what Jesus says it’s supposed to do. When Jesus speaks, His Word has the power to do exactly what He says. When He tells the eyes of the blind man to open, the man is no longer blind. When He takes up five loaves and two fish to feed the throng, those five loaves and two fish are made to be enough to feed every last person, with food to spare. When He tells us our sins are forgiven, all the iniquity is wiped away. As God says to us through the prophet Isaiah: “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

In knowing that your needs are greater than just the things of your bodies, Jesus came to bring relief and healing to your soul. He came to bring deliverance from your slavery to sin, speaking to you the Word of Holy Absolution. He came to make light the heavy burden of sin which stoops your shoulders and hunches your back, doing so by bearing those sins for you to the cross. He came to earn for you a new life, rising from the grave on the third day so that you would rise with him to newness of life in the waters of Holy Baptism. He came to nourish your soul with His own body and blood.

Jesus did not come to fulfill our earthly desires; He came to deliver us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. He fulfills the needs of our souls, feeding us with another feast in bread and wine that seems inadequate in the eyes of the world. Like the feeding of the five thousand, the miracle here is that Jesus makes perfect for its purpose something which would seem to be lacking. In and under that bread and wine of this Supper is the very body and blood of Jesus Himself, a wedding banquet feast rich and filling and more than merely adequate to do what it is supposed to do. Our souls are satisfied, groaning with the delight of being filled with Jesus. We are made righteous before God, and all because Jesus said He would—for His Word will not return void.

All that, and He graciously fills our bellies, too. God grant us faith to believe and to thank Him for all the riches He provides for our bodies and our souls! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sermon for 3/11/12--Lent III (LSB 1-year)

No audio this week because of a recording snafu. My apologies.

With Me or Against Me?

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus is headed to Jerusalem for one reason: to save sinners. Where Jesus and His Word appear, the devil is driven away. The devil thinks he's got this world right where he wants it. Satan is no pushover. His army of evil demons and men will do everything it can to stop our salvation from happening. He went after Jesus in the wilderness, but Jesus didn't budge. Jesus is the stronger man in our text who comes and wrestles Satan into submission and takes what is His: and what belongs to Him is you and me!

You have had the devil thrown out of you. It was the day of your baptism. At that moment when you were born from above by water and the word, the devil was cast out of you. At the instant of your being washed with water and the name of the Triune God, the finger of God cast out Satan and the kingdom of God came upon you. Baptism is the Lord Himself at work doing what He did for this man--casting out the devil. Baptism is the Lord Himself shoving the Evil One aside and claiming you as His own. Your old evil foe is kicked out and replaced by the Lord who made you and provides for you, who saves you and who makes you holy for eternal life.

The devil could not stop the coming of God's kingdom when Christ appeared. He could not stop the Lord from snatching you away from him at your baptism. So now he will try everything he can to steal you back. As Jesus says, when an evil spirit is cast out, he wanders around and them comes back with seven more to try to take back the one he possessed. The devil is prowling like a roaring lion seeking to devour you. He has no end of tricks up his sleeve to use to drag you away from Christ. He sneaks his agents into the Church, preaching what is false. He seeks for you to believe that baptism is not a rescue from the devil but a good work you do to show your faith. He sends preachers to tell you that the Christian faith is about prosperity and happiness instead of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. The devil works hard to keep you away from hearing God's Word, from remembering what your Catechism teaches, from growing in your knowledge of the Scriptures. But his goal is not simply false preaching. He will use anything in your life to drag you away from the Word. He'll try to ruin your marriage. He'll stir up anger and hatred and hurt feelings that will keep people away from God's house. He'll try any trick to get your attention back onto yourself and away from the Word of God. He'll use your secret sins and lusts and fears and work them all into a big mess that wears you down and wears you out and causes you to give up on the Lord.

But one thing will drive all this away. One thing can destroy these temptations and these powers. One thing can remove the accusations of the devil and the weight of your sins. That one thing is the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. When your sins are forgiven, then the Devil's got nothing on you! So often, your sins cause you to avoid the Lord and His Church. But that’s precisely when you should march up to your pastor with your sins and say, “Pastor, get rid of these for me!” The words of absolution do this. The body and blood of Christ do this. The preaching of Jesus crucified for your sins does this. Whatever sins you have, whatever accuses you before God, Jesus has washed it away. The devil's got nothing on you. He has no leverage. He has no chains around you. He wants to you believe he does, but he doesn't! He's been defeated. You've had the devil cast out before. Make the sign of the cross to remind you of your baptism, and Satan will have no choice but to flee. When the devil brings your sins back to haunt you and trouble you and make you question whether you really are a child of God, then come and receive absolution. When the devil tries to wear you down in your body by throwing diseases and the prospect of death at you, then come and eat Jesus' body and drink His blood. If you have Jesus in you, then there's no way the devil can have you. If Satan wants you, he's got to go through the Christ within you. With these gifts the devil can't touch you.

As long as you are in Christ Jesus, you are safe from the devil. In Christ, your sins can't accuse you. In Christ, death itself cannot harm you. The Pharisees mocked that Jesus cast out demons by the prince of demons. Let them say what they want. He casts out demons by the finger of God. That same finger has touched you and cast out the devil. The kingdom of God has come upon you, and you are safe now in Christ Jesus. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Sermon for 3/4/12--Lent II (LSB 1-year)



When Faith is Frustrated

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The willingness with which Jesus performed miracles is one of the most comforting truths in the Gospels. We see His gracious power in all of those frustrations that enter human life. Nothing holds back His healing and restoring hand when He chooses to use it. He did not even have to be physically present. The centurion’s servant, as you may recall, was healed by a Word of Jesus spoken some distance from where the servant actually was. Jesus never went out of His way to show off His ability to perform miracles, but He was usually quite ready to answer any sincere request made of Him.

Then comes today’s Gospel reading. A mother comes to Him on behalf of her daughter and, much to our surprise, Jesus has nothing to say to her! In addition to His silence, the disciples even try to send her away. She might well have been ready to add faith to the list of her own frustrations. Certainly, in her life at this point she knew the frustration that, at times, comes with faith. What makes this text frustrating to us is that it seems out of character for Jesus. When Mary asked how it could be that she could bear a Son without a husband, the angel told her that nothing was impossible for God. The disciples were told the same thing time and again when talking about salvation: “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” And when you stop to think of it, isn’t that message of vital importance to our life of faith? What would be the basis for prayer if God were limited in His ability to answer us? If one is going to have faith in God, isn’t it because we expect God to be almighty? This woman, crying out to Jesus, was looking at just such a God. He was almighty. And yet, this God seemed to turn a deaf ear to her. Could there be a greater frustration than having the One who is able to do something not willing to even listen? It would be like knowing about a great scientist who has a cure for cancer, and then finding that he is not willing to share that cure.

What does one do in frustration? Some would be soon convinced that it is all fake. There is nothing to this thing called faith. What is the use of having a God who won’t do anything? Maybe there is another god out there who better fits what a god should be. But the real frustration is that the evidence is so overwhelming. God is God! He is an almighty God! And that is the God to which this woman makes her plea. The very title she uses to address Him makes this clear: “Lord, Son of David.” Even though she was not a descendant of Abraham, still she knew about a Savior who was to come into this world. Here was faith in the true God, the One who could take care of her problem, if He only would. But He didn’t seem to be listening.

What was the reason for the silence? Some would turn away, convinced that there was something wrong with their faith; they would find the cause of Jesus’ silence in themselves. This thought nags at the heart of many more than we may know. Whatever the problem has been, the bottom line is always this: “I deserve to get a cold shoulder, and that is why God is not listening.” And then, often, it is quietly added: “That is why I don’t pray any longer.” When that happens, we have lost sight of the example of this woman. Not only did she know who Jesus was, she knew who she was. She didn’t deserve to come to Him. His mission was not to heal every disease in the world. He had come as the Savior of the world. His death would be for the forgiveness of sins for the entire world, Jew and Gentile alike. But Jesus was sent first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The fact that they refused Him was quite beside the point. God’s decree was going to be accomplished; that had not changed because the Jews had rejected Jesus. This woman was not one of the chosen people. She had no claim on Jesus, either by birth or by blood. Still, she would not be silenced. She was convinced that Jesus could and would do what she asked of Him.

How does one dare to approach God? When we cannot argue on the grounds of what we have deserved, we make our plea on the mercy of God alone. That was exactly what she did. “Have mercy upon me;” those were her very words. When one comes into the presence of God, it is never from a position of strength or advantage to make demands. If we demand justice from Him, then we must be willing to submit ourselves to His completely impartial and righteous justice. Who could stand that? But, if we are willing to seek His mercy, then we find God to be a merciful God. And such was the plea of this woman: mercy—totally undeserved; mercy—asking not for riches, but only for crumbs; mercy—knowing that even crumbs from the hand of God are treasures for those who receive them. And because we know the value of God’s mercy, just as she knew it, we keep on repeating our pleas, even as the Lord waits for the right time to answer. Hearing the words of Jesus, her faith was confirmed. He indeed does what is best for His children. She was certain her case had been heard. The anxious moments of waiting were past; her request was granted.

But should we take her example and make it our own? Yes! That is what “Amen” means; “it shall be so.” That was the assurance offered by St. Paul, when he wrote: “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also freely give us all things?” If we want to know whether God is merciful, then let us look at the measure of grace He offers us at Calvary. Let the blood shed there wash away any doubt you may have. A God who is willing to go to such lengths to care for the needs of your soul is not going to be unconcerned about your physical needs. He may, at first, seem silent, but continue to bring your requests to Him; bring them to Him frequently and fervently in prayer, and do not doubt. He will grant what is best for you, and at the right time, what you requested or something even better. The apostle James knew he was writing a timeless truth when he said: “You have not because you have asked not.” Far too often we are ready to say, “I have asked God, but He is silent; I’ll not bother Him again.” But that is to lose out on the treasures of His mercy. Take the example of one who knew of whom she asked—and asked again and again, and then, at the right time, she received. You, too, have a God who wants to show you His great mercy! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.