Sermon Proper 12 2018
July 29, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The lesson for our meditation this morning is the portion of the Gospel reading of Jesus walking on the water, which was previously read.
As I was reading the story of Jesus walking on water again this week, something struck me. This isn’t just about Jesus. Now don’t get me wrong, of course it is about Jesus. It’s always about Jesus. This is about Jesus walking on the water and showing that He’s God in the very flesh of man, who has control of the elements. But what I mean is that especially as we read this in Matthew and Mark, it’s about the disciples. We’re supposed to take note of them.
Look at the details of what we see. It says that Jesus “made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side.” Now, we can’t say for sure, but there’s an element that could appear as though the disciples don’t want to go but Jesus makes them. Then we hear that they were “making headway painfully, for the wind was against them.” Then what do we see? Jesus comes and they think He’s some kind of ghost. And how do they respond? Understandably, they’re “terrified.” Now what I’ve said so far we see in both Matthew and Mark, but Mark makes it even more interesting. He says that when Jesus comes, He means to pass by them. Imagine the anguish, imagine how their hearts sank. They look out on the water and there’s their salvation and He means to pass by them. They already had more than they could handle and the Lord put one more thing on their shoulders.
As I say this, something I mentioned a fair amount when I preached on Mark three years ago was the fact that many scholars think that Mark was written to a congregation undergoing persecution. When you see little details like this, you can see why. Persecution, I can imagine would feel like that. I can imagine it would feel like the Lord has already put you into a position you don’t necessarily want to be in, like He did with the disciples being in the boat. Then He makes it that much harder for you. Life’s already hard, then you’re persecuted? I can imagine it would feel like Jesus is meaning to pass you by.
In fact, as I say that, I think you all know this sensation without persecution. You know that trial. You know that tribulation. You know that feeling of having the world on your shoulders only to have to have the moon placed on top too. And it’s hard. You want to cry out to God and say, “What are you doing?!’
In times like that, I love to point people to the Psalms. The Psalms are beautiful in that you see in God’s own word these emotions reflected. Have you ever noticed that? The Psalms ask those questions. “Why God? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? How long O God? When will this end O Lord? Why do my enemies revel over me?” It’s really beautiful to see how God gives us words to wrestle with Him—just like we saw Jacob literally wrestle with Him in Genesis. Of course to match that there is the beauty of the words in the psalms which give praise to God, words which enable us to praise Him in our renewed nature even when our old nature is kicking and prodding against Him because we don’t like what’s happening. The psalms really are such a gift for this.
But coming back to Mark, we see that he says something else that Matthew doesn’t. When he concludes that story, he says, “they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” In other words, he says there’s this whole trial, there is the beating they are taking. He says there is this whole thing with Jesus passing right by them, and in the end, they’re astounded. Why? Because their hearts are hard and they don’t trust God.
This is still us isn’t it? We still don’t trust God, do we? We still think that He doesn’t really want what’s best for us. We still think that we deserve something better than what we’ve got. Especially, when we’re enduring suffering of some kind. We look at God and think He’s given us the short end of the stick. In other words in the hardness of our hearts, we don’t get it. Sure, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean, but we don’t think about what that really means. Yes, we put our amen to prayers like we did last week that speak of us not deserving God’s goodness, and yet we get upset when He gives us so much good, but there is bad mixed in with it. Think about that for yourself. When you’re the one who’s in the boat that you didn’t want to be in, when you’re in that boat and the waves are beating on you, do you think that you really deserve it? Do you think that when you’re in those moments and Jesus looks like He’s wanting to pass you by, do you think in those moments that this is exactly how it should be, in reality, that it should be worse?
In fact, as I speak in these terms, I’ve mentioned this not too long ago, but what we see from Scripture when it comes to suffering isn’t satisfying. This dissatisfaction is in part because we are spoiled in our day to think that we don’t deserve any of this. It’s also because this just doesn’t seem fair. In particular what I mean is to look at this in relation to the case of Job. Talk about hard. Do you remember that? Job endures the loss of his ten children, all of his livelihood, and his health. And at the end of this awful suffering, what does God come and say? Does He say, “Oh Job, I’m really sorry I did this to you?” No. That’s what’s hard. He comes to Job and says, “Are you God? Do you have my wisdom?” Job, “were you there when I created the world. Do you have understanding?” And the point is no. We don’t, do we? We don’t know why God does what He does, and it seems like it’s not fair.
And this crushes us doesn’t it? And it should. It should crush us. Your hard heart needs just that. Your unbelief needs to be crushed under the hammer of this Law that God speaks. Your sinful old Adam needs to be drowned and die. And that’s exactly what God does with this. However, as I say that, I was reading my previous sermons on this and I was reminded of an amazing quote that Luther spoke in his commentary on Zechariah. Luther’s words are so apt, “When God begins to comfort, he always makes things seem terrible.” When we’re on the verge of throwing in the towel, and the Lord seems to driving us to that—which to be clear sometimes He does because it forces us to have to trust in Him. But when we’re at that point, it’s precisely then that He begins to comfort.
Look at the lesson. Jesus does come and comfort. He comes and He says to the disciples, these beaten and bruised, these exhausted and terrified disciples, He comes to them and says, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” He says, “You’re so worried, but it’s OK. Here I am, don’t be afraid.” In fact, I think that this has even a bit more depth to it.
Now to be fair, “It is I,” is not a wrong translation. The words are certainly correctly translated that way. But I don’t think that’s right in this context. You see in the Greek, Jesus says here, “EGO EIMI.” Literally, He says, “I AM.” Now as I say that, do you remember the name that God revealed to Moses on the mountain when He was sending Moses to rescue His people from Egypt? He tells Moses it’s going to be his job to go before Pharaoh and to bring the Israel out of their bondage. And Moses isn’t really willing, but says he’ll do it. But he says, “Who should I tell the people has sent me?” And what does the Lord say? He says, “I AM who I AM. Tell them I AM sent you.” So when Jesus comes to the disciples, He’s saying, “Look, I AM. I AM the LORD. I am here to save you. I am here to rescue you. I am here to care for you and protect you.”
In fact, as we’re looking at words in the context of the Old Testament, we should look at something else in that light too: Jesus passing by. On the surface it sounds like He’s trying to get by without being seen. But I don’t think so. I think He’s showing His glory. I say that because to come back to Moses, you might remember how right after the people made the golden calf and Moses destroyed the tablets of the commandments, He went up on the mountain, and the Lord said He would write on new tablets for Moses. Then Moses asks the Lord to show him His glory, to which the Lord responds that He will put Moses in a cleft in the rock and make His glory, “pass by.”
That’s the passing by Jesus is doing. He’s not hiding, He’s showing His glory. And where is that glory the clearest? It’s clearest on the cross. It’s clearest where His love shines through for you. Yes we deserve the trials and the beatings of the waves. We deserve for Jesus to walk on by us. We deserve all of this and nothing good because of our sin. But Christians, Jesus willingly took up that sin upon Himself, willingly gave up the comforts, the glories, the joys, the beauty of heaven to bear your sin upon Himself on the cross. He bore your sin that you would be freed from suffering eternally in His Kingdom through His resurrection. In fact, properly speaking, we have no concept of suffering compared to the suffering our Lord endured when He was forsaken by the Father. We have no concept of loss like our Heavenly Father does in relation to the loss of His Son.
Does it still hurt us? Of course, but Jesus comes and says, take heart it is I. I love you. Believe it or not, I love you. I have loved you when you pushed and kicked against me. I have loved you when you denied what I have done for you. I have loved you when you were my enemy, and I took all of your sin upon my shoulders, and bore them on the cross that you would know that you live in my resurrection. That you would know that just like Job lost in his suffering, yet was made whole twofold in the restoration the Lord gave, you will be made whole and infinitely more my Kingdom. Take heart of Christian. Let not your heart be hardened and your neck be stiffened. For I am with you unto the end of the age. I promise you that this tempest won’t beat you forever, that I won’t always send you where you don’t want to go, that it won’t always look like I am against you. No, I have baptized you into my death, that you would rise in my resurrection. My word has spoken you righteous even though you didn’t deserve it. My holy meal has fed you in the desert of the wilderness of sin. And through that I have carried you and will carry you to the place where you will be with me and I will come to you and wipe away your every tear. I the One who suffered in your place, will comfort you from the experience of your suffering in this life. And there it will be gone. Gone because I love you so much I don’t want you to have to experience it eternally. So Christian, why is your heart hard? Why are you so afraid? Take heart. It is I. Take heart, I AM. Amen.
Text: Jonah 3:1-5,10
Title: God’s Grace for Niniveh
(NKJ) Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh,
that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh,
according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey
in extent. 4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
Dear Friends in Christ, Jesus Christ is the most bountiful expression of God’s overwhelming grace and mercy for us. We know that God so loved the world because He sent His one and only Son to be our savior and the sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 2:2 says He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. Jesus came for the whole world, including the people of Israel and the people of Niniveh and you and I.
You may think of Jonah primarily in terms of the first two chapters of his book, which deal with God calling him to go be a prophet to Niniveh and he tries to run away on a ship, gets tossed in the sea and swallowed by a great fish and God finally delivers him from that. The passage we examine today deals with what happened after that. God again calls for Jonah to go a prophesy to the people of Nineveh. Jonah learned from the first time that it is not a good idea to try to run away from God. He sees us no matter where we are or what we do.
Nineveh was a large city, possibly about 200,000 in population. It was spread out so that it would take three days to walk from one boundary to the other. It was the capital of the Assyrian people. Later, in about 100 years, they became a powerful empire. In fact, God raised them up to punish the people of the Northern Kingdom of Irsrael. They conquerored that kingdom and hauled the people off in exile. In the time of Jonah the empire was not active, but the city was still quite large.
Jonah entered the city and proclaimed the message God had given him. What is recorded is a quite simple message: Forty days and Nineveh would be destroyed. We don’t know if there was more to the message, but only that short statement is reported for us in the text. Upon hearing of Jonah’s proclamation, the people turned from evil and following other gods to be believers in the one true God, the same God we worship. Now, to whom shall we give the credit for this dramatic change?
Was it the people of Nineveh who all made their decision to turn away from evil and toward God? No, we can’t give them credit for that. They, like you and I and all people, are lost if left on our own. Ephesians 2:4-5 says: But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We are dead people who are unable to make ourselves alive. Rather, by grace you have been saved. This means it was God’s action to save us and it was God’s action to save the people of Nineveh. God gets allthe credit. It is not that we contribute some part to it. No, it is all God. That is true whether it is one person who is made to believe in the true God or 200,000. However, it was indeed a mighty miracle that God performed in bringing all the people of Nineveh to believe in Him.
The people responded to their turn from evil toward God by showing their sorrow over their sins. They clothed themselves in the most humble garments made of gunny sacks. They stopped eating. In the end, God had converted all the people to be believers and so He did not deliver the destruction of Nineveh as the prophecy had warned.
This miraculous change in Nineveh is later held up by Jesus in Matthew 12. After mentioning how He will be like Jonah three days in the fish, because He will be three days in the grave. Then Jesus criticizes the people for not hearing His message: (Mat 12:41) The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.
I pray we all hear that message of Jesus, speaking of God’s grace and mercy for all people. We can sit in awe of what happened in Nineveh. We can know the same God came to us as our savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sermon Proper 11 2018
July 22, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson which was previously read.
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture.” When the Lord gave that word to Jeremiah to speak, the conditions in Israel were bad. The people were rebellious. The kings didn’t help this much. There was no desire on the part of either to follow the worship ordained by the Lord. There was no desire to maintain that Israel was the chosen people of the Lord. Rather, there was vast idolatry. There was vast unrepentance. There was vast rebellion against the revelation of God given to Moses in the Torah, in the Law. And what did the priests do about it? They told everybody it was all going to be just fine. They told them that God loved them for who they were. They told them that God wanted them to find Him through sexual experiences. Ok, so they didn’t use those words, but you can see in the prophets that there were those who certainly made no effort to call people to repentance. You can see through the large number of “high places” that people were not worshipping the Lord alone—the people chosen by God and given this land by Him—they weren’t worshipping Him, but were having other gods. And you can see by the widespread inclusion of things as Asherah poles, that they were glad to find sexuality a part of ritual fertility worship, something explicitly contrary to true worship.
It was in this context then, that the Lord made it clear: these priests were failing, and they were not shepherding His people as they were called. So what do we see then? We see this promise: I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” It’s in that context that we see the promise fulfilled in our Gospel Lesson; the promise of Jesus. And what do we see about Him?
Well, specifically, we see in our lesson, Jesus feeding the five thousand. But within that what we see is that Jesus fulfills the promise to be the Good Shepherd. We see that Jesus is the compassionate shepherd who satisfies His sheep. Jesus is the Compassionate Shepherd who satisfies His sheep.
As I make that statement I’d like to unpack it. First, Jesus’ compassion. In the Gospel lesson, there is a mob of people who gather around Jesus to hear His teaching. Mark tells us, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd.” But then what? Then Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.”
So, like I said, first we see Jesus’ compassion. I’ve mentioned this word before, but when we hear that Jesus had compassion on the people, what this means is that He felt it in His guts. His guts ached for these people. Why? Because they were like sheep without a shepherd. These people had been led by those who were not faithful shepherds. Sure maybe the shepherds of Jesus’ day were not as blatantly sinful as the priests at the time of Jeremiah. Maybe they appeared to be upright and righteous. In fact, they even appeared to show dedication to the Lord and the Lord alone, but when Jesus sees the people as sheep without a shepherd, what does it tell us? These leaders at His time still fell far short. They still were misleading the people. In particular from Jesus’ interaction with the leaders of His day, what do we see? We see Him calling them whitewashed tombs. They were in it for the glory and the praise of men. They were teaching the people right morality, but their hearts were not turned toward the glory of God. They were not pointing people to the Lord, but to a self-righteous interpretation of the Law. So what did Jesus do? He shepherded them. And how? Look at what it says: they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.”
So how did He shepherd them? He taught them. He taught them that the Law wasn’t about their own righteousness, but the righteousness manifest in this Shepherd standing before them. It was about the righteousness that God Himself would provide for them. He taught them that they were to crucify their own lives, die to themselves, and rise again to life in the One who is the Resurrection and the Life.
And as I say this, I think we can draw such a great parallel today. As we look around at the state of the Church today, what do we see? Do we see that people are being taught to die to themselves? Do we see shepherds who are encouraging their flocks toward repentance, toward self-denial, toward picking up their cross and dying to themselves? I was listening to a book called The Benedict Option this week, and while my jury is still out on the book, the author, Rod Dreher, made a great point in his assessment of the modern day church. He said that there has been a dramatic paradigmatic shift in the church beginning in the late 19th century and blossoming to this day. He said historically the church taught a message of self-denial. Now the church is broadly teaching a message of self-fulfillment. In others words, the church in our day and place is telling people that the role of the church is to help them to fulfill their greatest desires, to find their true selves, their true happiness. We can hear this even in churches teaching people that God wants them to get that promotion, that pay increase, that material blessing. Or we can hear it in churches telling people that God loves them for who they are.
Christians, as we hear this being taught, what we see there is not what Jesus taught. We can sympathize with Him then as He looked at them and had compassion on them. He looked at them and felt sorry for them in His guts, and He taught them. And what did He teach them? In His compassion He taught them the truth. The truth that we still have to hear. The truth that we are lost and utterly dead sinners without our Lord coming to us and giving His Spirit to us to enliven us and grant us the holiness that we lack completely of ourselves. That is what the Compassionate Shepherd does.
And what did we say? Jesus is the Compassionate Shepherd who satisfies His sheep. We’ve explained how Jesus is compassionate, how He shepherds, but what do we see then about this satisfaction? Coming back to the lesson, look what our Lord tells us through the words of Mark. “And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.”
Now as we see this we have to make the obvious point that the people who are fed by Jesus are fed literal, physical food. We have to acknowledge that this points to the fact that Jesus made sure the bodily needs of these people were cared for. But we also have to acknowledge that the leftovers filling twelve baskets is more than a little convenient. While we would certainly believe that was what actually happened, we also see the Lord’s providence in this. Twelve is the number of the Church. Twelve apostles, twelve tribes. Five thousand satisfied, and twelve baskets left over. That’s enough for the Church. This satisfaction of Jesus is enough for you. But what is that satisfaction? Is it just food? Well, of course there’s the Lord’s Supper we can’t help but thinking of, but is Jesus feeding you fish and loaves? No. So this isn’t just about the filling of your belly. No it’s about real satisfaction.
And as I say this, there’s a fitting connection to the Prodigal Son—fitting because we’re meeting to discuss The Prodigal God this week. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the son is working feeding the pigs, and he’s hungry. It says that he looks at the food that he’s giving the swine and he wants to be satisfied himself. In fact he longs for it. In a sense we can see that the son’s literal hunger reflected the insatiability he found in the things of this world. Yes he had gone out, indulged in reckless living and sin, but what did this ultimately lead to? It led to emptiness. To hunger. It led to dissatisfaction. And Timothy Keller makes this point, where is the satisfaction found? In the beauty of the cross. The satisfaction is found in being drawn outside of our selfishness, outside of our self-indulgence. I know I’ve mentioned this self-indulgence and seeking of self-fulfillment, turning in toward ourselves or even seeking the divine within us, that we call this navel gazing. What we see in this Compassionate Shepherd is that navel gazing is dissatisfying. What is satisfying is His righteousness, His goodness. What is unsatisfying is our lives, but what is satisfying is picking up our cross and finding life in the blood He has shed for us on the cross. The perfect blood which pays for all of our sin, all of your sin. And which gives life to you in His resurrection. In this we see that Jesus is this Compassionate Shepherd who satisfies His sheep.
And to conclude, we see also how He sends His under-shepherds to do this work in His stead and by His command. Look at the apostles in this lesson. First they come back from their exploits in preaching, and we see that they “returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught”—and just like with Jesus note the teaching there. They were sent and taught just like we see this Compassionate Shepherd doing. And then we hear Jesus instructing them to take care of these sheep without a shepherd. He says, “You give them something to eat.” In other words, just as Jesus is the Compassionate Shepherd who satisfies His sheep, He still sends under-shepherds to bring that satisfying teaching, that satisfying word, to you. And Christians, this satisfaction doesn’t come from the things of this world. It doesn’t come from comfort, or money, and certainly from sinful and reckless living. In fact, this true satisfaction doesn’t come even in looking at our own faith. It comes from looking at the word, at the promises of that word, at what He has done through your pastor outside of you: baptizing you, absolving you, and feeding you. In fact, I referenced the Lord’s Supper before, and there we see the most satisfying meal of all, that body and blood and blood of Jesus. Look at the promise of the Word and see it, Christians. Jesus is the Compassionate Shepherd who satisfies His sheep. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Sermon Proper 10 2018
July 15, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read.
Sin always recoils under the light of God’s Word. We see it once again in our lessons this morning. To start look at the prophet Amos. Now here is Amos, a shepherd, as he tells us, a man of no particular note apart from the fact that the Lord came to him and told, “Amos, you will be a prophet.” He said to him, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” And what was he to prophesy? He was to tell them of their sin. He was to tell them that this Promised Land in which they lived, this Promised Land would be the land from which they would be exiled. And think about how serious that was. After all, who had promised the land to them? The Lord Himself. He had promised to Abraham as we talked about a couple of weeks ago, that this land would be the land of inheritance for his descendants. This was the land which they were given after they had been freed from the bondage of Pharaoh, the land that God led them toward in the midst of the forty years in the wilderness, the land that Joshua led them into as they crossed through the waters of the Jordan River. This wasn’t just the land that their dads had obtained in a good land barter. No. This was the gift from God Himself. And so when Amos is telling Jeroboam the news, what happens? Amaziah tells Jeroboam what Amos is saying, and tells Amos he better get out. In other words we see the push against the prophet for the word that he spoke, the word from God, the Word that is a light to the world. And yet what happened? Sin recoiled under that light. The darkness of that sin reviled the light that would expose it.
And we see it with John too, don’t we? Here John, the prophet, comes to Herod and he tells him that this sin he’s committed is unacceptable. He comes with the light of God’s Word, and what happens to him? Sin recoils under it. And consider what fortitude it took on John’s part to do this. There is the king, the king partaking in the very visible and public act—because marriage is just that visible and public—but partaking in marriage with his brother’s wife. His brother, by the way, who must still have been living. So this public act got the public rebuke. And think about that. Yes John certainly had clout in God’s eyes. Here John was the prophet. The Eschatological Prophet, the prophet bringing in the end of time and introducing the Messiah. John knew that. The Lord knew that, and we see that Herod even in knew it in a sense. But in worldly terms, who was John? Just a weird guy who preached in the wilderness in his wild outfit of camel’s hair and his less than trendy diet of locusts and wild honey. And yet, in the boldness and authority of God’s Word, what did John do? The lowly man preached to the king. And what happened? Sin recoiled under the light of God’s Word.
Sure Herod liked John alright. He was perplexed by him, but liked to keep him around for entertainment. But there was Herodias. She couldn’t handle it. This Word hit her heart like a knife. It pricked her conscience like a balloon stretched to its limit. She hated to hear of her sin, and she wanted to silence the one speaking it. As Mark tells us, “Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death.” And when push came to shove, who did Herod side with? Herodias, because sin recoils at the light of God’s Word.
We see the same thing in our day, don’t we? Thankfully, we don’t have to worry a great deal right now that as the Church speaks the light of God’s Words, the piercing scalpel of the law to this world, we don’t have to worry that we’ll be cast into prison. Our kings are still protecting our freedom. But sin recoils doesn’t it? When we talk about what God’s law says there is backlash. When a Christian defends marriage as God has defined it, there are people losing their livelihoods for such social faux pas. Or look at the defense of the unborn. There are so many not wanting to hear that either. In particular, look at the backlash of people at the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. And I don’t bring this up to be political. I bring it up strictly in relation to defending the life of the unborn against abortion. To that point I have read articles stating that Brett Kavanaugh should give us hope that Roe v. Wade will be overturned, and I have read articles that say that Brett Kavanaugh will not overturn Roe v. Wade because he cares too much for precedent that is already set. In others words, it is not clear what Kavanaugh is actually going to do about abortion. And yet there are those clamoring and protesting because they are terrified that Kavanaugh is going to take away abortion, or even access to birth control. Doth they protest too much? It seems to me that as we see these reactions to the protection God gives to life, or to the honor God gives to marriage and there is the reaction that we are seeing in our lessons. Sin recoils under the light of God’s Word. The consciences of people are pricked at this word and they don’t like it, so they push and kick against it.
Of course, as I say this, we always have to be careful as the Church. Certainly, we should understand that we have a duty to confess this word to our world. Certainly we have the duty to speak the light into the darkness. But we also have the duty to recognize the darkness within our own hearts. We have the duty make sure that we turn that light around and point it at ourselves just as intensely. We have to look at ourselves and say, “Yes, I have to defend the unborn, but where am I not upholding life as I should. Yes, I am called to confess that God has made us male and female that a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his one wife such that the two will become one flesh, but where do I dishonor marriage.” We have to make sure that as we look at the eyes of the world, we are acknowledging and removing the planks in our own. And just as the case is with the world, our sin will recoil at the light of God’s Word.
In fact, look at how Herod responds to hearing Jesus’ preaching. Maybe I’m reading something into this that isn’t there, but I think we get some insight in Herod with his response when news comes to him about Jesus preaching and healing those around him. Look at what he says: “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” I read that and I picture the guilty murderer of a horror movie haunted by the ghost of the man he has killed. I picture his face turning white and his blood running cold. He’s scared. “I did this to John, and what’s going to happen to me? My sin is going to come back and I’ll pay for what I’ve done.” That is how our sin always responds. It’s scared. It’s like a cockroach that flees from the light when you turn it on.
Of course, in this case we know that John wasn’t raised from the dead. We know that this isn’t the ghost of the Baptist back from the netherworld to haunt his unjust murderer. No. We know who this One preaching is. This One is greater than the Baptist. This One is God in the flesh of Man. This One is not only the perfect Prophet, but the perfect Priest, and the True King. And why is that important?
It’s important because as that perfect Prophet, He receives the treatment of the prophets, but not just murdered like the prophets before Him. No, He is mocked, tortured, jarred, and crucified, dying for the very sins of those murdering Him. He is nailed to the cross for the sins of the whole world. Then He is raised from the dead, not to avenge His death, but to bring the greatest light of all: victory over death, victory in the forgiveness of sins, victory over the captor, the devil.
Yes, just as John was seized and imprisoned by Herod, we are all seized and imprisoned under the darkness of sin, the darkness of that sin that recoils under the light of God’s Word. And yet Jesus’ resurrection has broken that bondage, and now we are free. Now we liberated to dwell in the light.
And as I say that I think there are two important things for us to draw from that. First of all, we should know this for sure. In the epistle lesson, Paul speaks some wonderful words of comfort to us. To summarize, it says that it’s God’s purpose for us to receive that joy of life in His forgiveness. And we know this because the Holy Spirit is given to us as a deposit when we believe. By faith, the Holy Spirit dwells in you and is your deposit guaranteeing what God will give you eternally. Like earnest money, you know that the rest is coming. The One who gave you the deposit doesn’t lie and has infinite credit in His account. And how do you know you have that deposit? Well, where does He give you faith? In the Gospel. In the Word of what Jesus has done for you, dying and rising again. In the waters of baptism, where you received the promised Spirit, as Peter said on the day of Pentecost. And in the Supper where Jesus gives you His very own body and blood. In those faith is given, faith is nourished, faith is increased. And in that faith the Holy Spirit dwells in you, giving you freedom. That’s the first thing, you can know this.
Second this liberation gives us freedom from that darkness, freedom to know that we can confess this light in this dark world, and even if people around us persecute us, as Luther says in a Mighty Fortress, ultimately the devil and the world “can harm us none.” Even if they take our lives “the victory has been won, the Kingdom ours remaineth.” They can’t take away our joy of eternity with our Lord Jesus, our Lord Jesus who will wipe away our every tear. As perilous as this life is, His victory is eternal security for us. Furthermore, this gives us a freedom to acknowledge our own darkness. Sin recoils at the light of God’s Word, but in the light of the resurrection it disappears. As we bring our own sin to light, it is given the treatment of being forgiven in the blood of the Lamb. And in that it loses its power. The devil loses his ability to bind us, to seize us, to keep us captive. Now, we live in that light in joy.
So Christians, does sin recoil at the light of God’s Word? Yes, but Jesus’ resurrection has brought you into that light, so that you no longer recoil, but live in the freedom and the joy of that light. Just like John, you live in the comfort that even should you be arrested and die, you have the One whose healing has come and freed you for an eternity of joy in His Kingdom. Amen.
Sermon Proper 9 2018
July 8, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our meditation this morning focuses on the Gospel Lesson previously read, especially these words: “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent.”
In this Gospel lesson, we hear the disciples sent out with the message of Jesus, the message of John the Baptist before him, the message of the Church in His stead after His ascension: the message of repentance. Now in this call to repent, we often think about this as a “change of mind.” And that’s true. That’s exactly what the disciples were calling people to. That’s exactly what we call people to still today, exactly what you are called to. But as I was studying this week, I found something interesting: this call to repent not only can be understood as a change of mind, but in a subtle nuance can also have the connotation of being a change in purpose. In other words, when the disciples “went out and proclaimed that people should repent” this call said that people needed to shift what they understood as the reason for their existence. Specifically, they needed to shift their purpose from being their own God to being the beloved of the true God. What does that mean?
Well to start, we like to be our own God, don’t we? I’ve talked about this a lot. We like what we like. We like to think it’s up to us to do it. Ultimately, we think it’s about us.
We see this in our culture. “I don’t care what your belief is, I’m going to trample on you.” “I don’t care that you have this need or that need, I’m going to do this and you can’t stop me.” “I don’t care that if I take a step back and look at things logically what I am doing is obviously harmful to myself and others, I am entitled to my rights.” It’s about me.
And we see this in the church too. As an example, look around, there’s the millennial service, the contemporary service, the praise band service, the polka service, the jazz service, the Taize service, the acoustic service, the cowboy service, the seeker service, and that’s just what I thought of off of the top of my head. If you don’t like one service pick another. Is that what church is about? Is that why we’re here? And as I say this, this is something we see across denominations. I hear of Catholics who go to contemporary services because they “don’t like” the repetition of the liturgy. I hear of Lutherans who go Eastern Orthodox because they “like” the unity of their church around a high liturgy, better than the diversity they see amongst Lutherans. And even as Lutherans I often hear of how one hymn’s music is too much of an upper, or how this music is too much of a downer, or too simple or too complicated. Do we come to church to satisfy our tastes for how we worship God? Of course, that betrays something doesn’t it? To take a second and reorient ourselves, do we first come to church to give something to God?
No. God doesn’t need our worship, instead, it’s first about God giving to us. That’s why you’ll hear me criticize things like this in the church. It’s not that I just don’t like contemporary worship because I don’t like the music. I listen to a lot of music that’s “contemporary” outside of church. It’s not even about the music per se—although I do think that there is a lack of reverence stylistically in a lot of that. I don’t think it reflects the picture we see in Scripture when people are the presence of God, as we find ourselves in the service. No it’s more about the word. The music is there to support what is being said. And what should that be? The work of Jesus for you. There is a lot of music that focuses on me, on what I’m going to do, even how God makes me feel. And a little of that is OK, you see some of that in the Psalms: “I will praise you o Lord…” but then what do you see? Praising of God. Confession of what He has done. Proclamation of His salvation. That the Lord is the One who has rescued us, redeemed us. Made us His beloved. In fact, I’ll admit something. I am a Lutheran pastor who does not really like the tune for A Mighty Fortress. I can’t tell you why, it just doesn’t fit my tastes. But you know what? I wouldn’t change it. First of all to be clear, the biblical nature of the words, the Christian confession of the lyrics is superb. So that’s part of the reason I love the hymn. But you know why I wouldn’t change the tune? Not because Luther wrote it. Not because it’s old. No, first of all because it supports the words so well. It carries them. It exalts them. It puts the focus on what’s being said and reflects it at the same time. I don’t get distracted and caught up in the music in itself. Sure I maybe sometimes think I don’t like it, but it’s not about me. It’s about the Word of God confessed in the song. And so often we don’t think like this.
But you know what this reflects? It reflects our desire to have what we want and how we want it. It reflects that we are more concerned about our tastes, about how something makes us feel, or not feel than we are about God’s word. In other words we’re more concerned about our preferences than what is really biblical. And I think we can see the sinful divisiveness in this when we look at the mass of differing kinds of services. Has the Church always reflected such fracturing? To be sure, there has been some measure of difference in local practice. And that tells us that this doesn’t have to be done according to only the old red hymnal page 15 in every time and every place. But what we see now, shows a consumerism that thinks that Church is just another product that should be tailored to my tastes. In short we want to dictate this, we want to be God. That’s what we see our underlying purpose to be.
But what does the call to repent tell me? It tells me that my purpose is not to be God, instead it tells me that it is to be beloved by God. It tells me that my sin and my self-centeredness pushes me from God. It pushes me to hide from God like we’ve been referencing with the fall a number of times lately. It pushes me to hide from God and to think it’s about my own tastes, my own preferences. Even that it’s about my ability to sustain myself, to be good enough myself. But it’s not about me. It’s about the goodness of God given to me. It’s about me being moved from the state of being God’s enemy, to being beloved by Him, to being the object of His affection.
If I understand correctly, you all read “The Purpose Drive Life” a few years ago. I’ll admit I haven’t read it. But I have to ask did it say that it’s not about you, but it’s about being beloved by God? From what I understand it did say it’s not about you. But then it proceeded to talk about how you had to do all of these things. But what does that say to hear that your purpose is to be beloved by God?
When I phrase it like this it sounds like perhaps I’m shifting something because I’m not focusing on sin, or rather toward good works. But look at this being beloved by God from the beginning. Look at the state of Adam and Eve in the beginning. What did they do? Well we don’t get a lot of insight, but we know that they lived in a state of dominion. But what did that mean? Interestingly, it appears to mean that the plants of the garden provided for all that they needed. The animals served their enjoyment. Did they have to do anything? It doesn’t specify. It’s clear though, that they were sustained utterly by God. Does that mean I’m advocating a leisurely life only full of hedonistic pleasures? Not in the least. We can’t assume that our life in this broken and fallen world would be a perfect reflection of the goodness we saw in Eden. But all of this does tell us something about God caring for us.
In fact, in a way it says what the Lord said to Paul in our Epistle lesson: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Think about that. Isn’t that statement another way of saying, “I have done it and will do it all for you?” Isn’t it another way of saying that your purpose it that you be beloved by God? Isn’t that grace being sufficient is another way of saying, “stop thinking it’s about what you do, but that God has done is enough?” To be clear, does that mean there isn’t a calling from God for you to love? Does that mean that you aren’t supposed to do good works? No, if you ignore that call you’re returning to wanting to be your own God. In other words if you hear the commandments and do what you would want to do instead, that’s wanting to be your own God, to rebel against God. That is the Old Adam, the sinner and He needs to be drowned and die, through daily contrition and repentance as Luther says. But in the end it tells you that God created you that He could love you. You were created in His image to reflect that love, so we don’t ignore that. But what we see is that it comes from Him.
To put this in the context of what we see in the Gospel Lesson, we see the disciples going out. We see them proclaiming this message of repentance, and we see them healing, right? In other words, they are going out to tell people how they are to change their mind, change their purpose with regard to their sin. They are to hear what God commands, and to heed that command knowing that they are wrong, knowing that God calls them away from their sinful self-centeredness to a new life, to life in Christ. To the life centered around God, around His will, around His desires, around His love. The life where His grace is sufficient for them because their sin has been crucified with Jesus, declared forgiven in His resurrection.
And Christians that same call comes to you. Repent. Repent of your sinfulness. Repent of your self-centered desires to ignore God’s Word, to ignore His commands. Repent of your delusion that you are good enough to deserve His grace. Repent of your desire to make even worship of Him about your tastes rather than His promises to come to you in His Word and serve you with forgiveness and with Jesus’ body and blood. Repent and cling to that cross of Jesus. That cross with His blood spoken into your ears. That cross with its death into which baptism buried you. That cross with Jesus’ body which He gives you in His supper. And as I say all of that, do you hear it? Do you hear who’s doing the doing? He is. He’s calling you to repent of thinking it’s about you, to instead trusting that He has done it all for you. That it’s about Him loving you, caring for you, providing for you now and eternally. It’s about His purpose for you not being something you do, but first and foremost about His grace which is eternally sufficient for you. It always has been and will be forever. Amen.
Sermon Proper 8 2018
July 1, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read.
Affliction creates desperation, doesn’t it? I am sure you have seen it in your own lives and experiences. You have seen it when you have been most afflicted, when those you know have suffered the greatest losses. In those times desperation reaches its zenith. And we see it in our lesson this morning.
First there is Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue: apparently a faithful and pious man; a loving father. And you can hear the desperation, as “he fell at [Jesus] feet and implored him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.’” Any parent can hear that and relate. If you’ve ever had child that was on death’s door, I’m sure you know it all the more: “Lord please you can heal my child! Just grant my daughter, so that she won’t die!”
And then there’s the desperation of the woman. Twelve years she has lived with this ailment. Bleeding that hasn’t stopped. And this bleeding would be bad enough, but as a Jew this meant not only all of the difficulty and pain that would come with the particular affliction. It meant not only the apparently exorbitant doctors’ bills she had to pay—giving up her livelihood for them. It meant not only the apparent varied and contradictory treatments she had undergone. No it meant all of this challenge, plus the fact that she was considered unclean. She was not a part of the community. She was not allowed a place in regular life. For twelve years, under the Law, she was required to live away from regular interaction. And worst of all, she was not allowed to participate in the regular worship of the Temple. How many people bemoan being in church, and here this woman wanted to be there, and wasn’t permitted by virtue of her ailment? And you hear the desperation: “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” “If I can just put my fingers on the hem of his cloak, just grasp onto to that robe, His power will bring relief! Will bring respite and new life!” Oh the hope!
But like I said, I am sure you all know that to some extent or another. Or you have seen it. And there’s the part of us that asks why, isn’t there? There is the wondering of why things have to be so difficult. Why do we have to know such struggle, such sorrow? I am sure you’ve heard me say it ad nauseam, of course this is the result of sin. Our rebellion against God coming to roost. In fact, we are reminded of that in the Old Testament reading this morning. “The Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” The Lord doesn’t do this willingly. This isn’t what He would have chosen for us. Like a loving Father, He knew exactly the path that would bring about the greatest prosperity for us. He knew that our faithfulness to Him would keep us safe, keep us living, keep us well. And yet what did we choose? We chose rebellion. We chose sin. We chose the mystery behind door number two, where we thought God was certainly hiding something, rather than door number one: the promise of His certain care and provision. We chose it then and we choose it now.
And so this affliction is that consequence. It is the Law, being spoken to us that we can’t earn our way back. Sure we can try but it won’t work. If you remember a few weeks ago we read the story of the Fall into sin. We didn’t read it in that passage, but do you remember what Adam and Eve did when they fell? They ate of that fruit. They realized they were naked, and do you remember how they tried to clothe themselves? They put on fig leaves. They realized they had done something wrong, and they tried to make it right. And think about that from God’s perspective. How ridiculous, right? How irrational: I was created naked, I have been walking in fellowship with the One who created me, and now I have done this thing He told me not to do. I know! I’ll hide from Him, and if He finds me, He’ll find me with clothing! That won’t be obvious!
And yet this is us. We seek to earn our way into His graces. We seek to win back His pleasure with our own efforts. Is that even possible? No! Trying to be good enough to get to heaven is just another silly attempt at fig leaves. And so this affliction comes and it reminds us of how far we have fallen. In fact, just after the portion from Lamentations for our lesson this morning, it makes a point about this. It says, “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” What right do we have to complain about affliction? Yes God doesn’t want to send this affliction, but it’s the punishment for our sins. That suffering that the woman experiences is ours. That death that Jairus’ daughter suffers is ours. The despair Jairus knows is ours.
And what does Jesus say in the midst of all of this. Look at it. Here Jairus has heard that His daughter is dead. It’s too late right? His worst fear is realized. And Jesus was so close. Yet what happened? There’s this crowd, there’s this desperate woman. This woman who got what she wanted, yes, but now Jairus has to live with the consequences. And what does Jesus say? “Do not fear, only believe.” Don’t be afraid Jairus. I can take care of this. Don’t be afraid Christian. Do not fear. Only believe.
Easy to say, right? When we’re in the midst of the trial, it’s a lot harder to deal with. By that I mean, not in those times when there’s a glimmer of hope. For example, I was so thankful this week to hear the ruling of the Supreme Court on the abortion law in California. Did you hear that? The Supreme Court ruled that the State of California could not require pro-life women’s health clinics to advertise for low-cost abortions. We see those, and we still have hope for the protection of God’s people in our day. And it’s good for us to give thanks for that. It’s good for us to give thanks as we see these things in the midst of all of the ways it appears that our culture is going to become increasingly opposed to the views of Christians in relation to so many things. It’s good for us to give thanks in a time like this for the hope that things will not be that much harder for us. But then there are those times when that hope seems all but lost. Those times like these two in our story. Those times where there appears no light.
This week I was studying Romans Chapter Four and Abraham, and was reminded of what Paul says about Abraham there. If you remember Abraham, he’s the one who is the Father in the Faith for Christians, and for Jews before us. He is the one to whom the Lord promised that His people would be given a Promised Land—something we see given to them after the Exodus and crossing over into the Jordan in the book of Joshua. And then there’s the more difficult promise. The promise that connects to our conversation this morning: the promise that through Abraham’s Offspring all nations would be blest. Not just the Jews, not just Abraham’s descendants by blood, but all people, Jews and Gentiles. But what does this have to do with what we’re talking about today?
Well, look at Abraham’s circumstances. God said Abraham would have offspring, not only offspring, but an offspring with his wife Sarah. Paul says of this that Abraham hoped against hope. Why does Paul say that? Abraham was almost a hundred and Sarah was ninety. One hundred year old men don’t have children, all the more with ninety year-old women. It doesn’t happen, does it? Post-menopausal women don’t have children, let alone with centenarians. But what’s the point? They couldn’t do it. Their circumstances pointed them to every impossibility of this happening. And yet what do we see? Well, first we see Isaac, the literal offspring of Abraham. And through Isaac ultimately we see Jesus, the Offspring through whom all nations were blessed, not just Jews, but Jews and gentiles.
And Christians, this tells you just what this offspring of Abraham said Jairus. Christian, hope against hope. Don’t be afraid, just believe. When all hope is lost, trust. In fact, in his commentary on Jonah, Luther said this, “the heart finds solace when it hastens to the angry God with the aid of the Holy Spirit and seeks mercy amid the wrath, lets God punish and at the same time dares to find comfort in His goodness.” The heart finds solace when it dares to find comfort in His goodness. In other words, even when you know this affliction is punishment that you deserve, even when you see the desperation that it brings, dare to find comfort in the goodness of this God. Don’t be afraid, but believe. Believe in this Jesus who saves. Believe that just as He said to Jairus’ daughter, “Little Girl I say to you arise,” He will say the same to your body on the last day because He has been raised from the dead. Believe that just as He told that woman, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease,”—literally, “Your faith has saved you”—believe that just as He told her that, He says to you, your affliction will come to an end, your faith has made you well, be healed of your sin. Believe that this Jesus is the One who heals, the physician who doesn’t suffer that you be drained of your life-savings like they did for this woman, but that He is the Physician who by His suffering heals you. The Healer whose affliction—far worse than yours now—relieves your affliction. And believe that He gives you His medicine of His body and blood. Believe that He speaks that healing into your ear, “Be it done for you as you have believed. According to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Go in peace.”
Yes Christian, go in peace. Go in peace, falling at His feet knowing that no matter what the world around you shows you, no matter the affliction that comes, no matter the desperation you see and feel, He is there to heal you. He is there as the One who even brings affliction to you that your affliction would ultimately come to an end. That is, that You would be healed by Him, the One who will care for you. Even when you try to clothe yourself and fool Him, He’ll know better, He’ll clothe you. Clothe you with His goodness, His righteousness and purity forever—freed from all desperation eternally. Amen.