Sermon Proper 16 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning we meditate on the Epistle Lesson from Hebrews, previously read.
In the history of Lutheranism, it’s often been said that the doctrine of justification is the doctrine, the teaching—after all, that’s all that the word doctrine means, is teaching—but that the teaching of justification is the one upon which the church stands or falls. And as I say that on the one hand I can imagine you’re thinking, “Wow, that’s one way to start a sermon,” or maybe you’re thinking “I’ve heard of this, but what does it even mean? What does it mean when we talk about justification?” Well, when we speak of it as Lutherans, it means we are so sinful that the only way we can be made right with God is through the forgiveness of sins which Jesus won for us on the cross. In more common parlance, we can’t get to heaven by doing good things, instead we get there because Jesus died for all of our sins, and the benefit of what He’s done is given to us through faith in Him. And as the Church, if we don’t teach that correctly, we’ll fall.
Now, as I say that, this is one of those things that you hear week in and week out. Perhaps to the point where you wonder if we have to hear it again. And if you feel that way, it proves the point. We are so sinful that we forget just how sinful we are and how desperately we need that forgiveness. Like I’ve said a lot recently, we always, always, always underestimate the effect of the fall into sin. And because of that, we don’t realize how much that sin is showing when react in that way. And what does that show? It shows that just like with the rest of the world, we don’t like this teaching.
To this point, a couple of weeks ago, I was in Indianapolis for my brother’s wedding. While I was there I ran into some friends from High School. As we were bemoaning our aging bodies, one of them said to me, “You’ve got connections in your job, can you figure out what this is about?” And I said, “Well, from a theological perspective, I can tell you: our sin has cut us off from God who is the source of our life, and so we die.” And her response was, “I’d like to think my sin isn’t so bad.” That’s us, isn’t it? We’d like to think our sin isn’t so bad. We think that just like in the world, where we pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and we can succeed, the same must be true before God.
And on the flip side of that, if it’s not the case, that’s scary. If God isn’t happy with me because I’m so good, then He’s angry with me, and that’s terrifying. Of course, that’s what the author for the letter to the Hebrews is referring to. He’s referring to the terror at Mt. Sinai. If you remember that, you remember that the Israelites were brought out of their slavery in Egypt, they were carried through the wilderness, and at a point, God gave them the Law, and in particular, He gave them the Ten Commandments, and when He did that, they were scared. The author even says that Moses himself was terrified. This was an extremely scary experience. Think about it. The voice of God speaking from the mountain. The threat that should an animal even touch that mountain, it should die. There is something jarring in that, isn’t there?
And so that weighs on us. It weighs on us to always try to be good enough. Which we see manifest in so many fashions. I was listening to a podcast making the point that our trying to prove our own worth can even be seen in how we treat food. “Oh I was so bad this week. I ate terribly.” “Oh I was really good this week, I had salad every day for lunch.” You can hear it, there’s a moral quality to it. Or it also pointed out parenting things, like vaccines. “You vaccinate your children, oh that’s terrible.” “You don’t vaccinate your children, oh that’s terrible.” We’re all looking at the world and justifying ourselves, making ourselves out to be right that we can feel good over and against the jabs we take constantly; over and against what we as Lutherans call the Law—the Law spoken by God in the Commandments, but even the law as it manifests in our interactions with the world and others in the world. It all weighs on us.
And this is where this justification comes in. This is where we need justification from God, where we need the forgiveness of Christ. Listen again to what the author to the Hebrews says about that. Here he’s just been talking about Mount Sinai, like I said, and then he comes to a shift. He says, you haven’t been to Mount Sinai. No, where have you been? But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Do you hear justification there? You’ve come to Mount Zion, and who’s there? Well there’s God, there’s the heavenly Jerusalem, there’s the angels, the assembly, the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and there’s Jesus. There’s Jesus. There’s the One whose blood speaks a better word than that of Abel. I’m guessing you remember the story of Cain and Abel, how Cain and Abel offer their sacrifices and God is pleased with Abel’s which is the first fruits, the best stuff because He trusts that God will give Him enough, then there’s Cain’s which is there but not the best. And so God isn’t as pleased, and Cain gets jealous and he kills Abel. But what does God say? “Where’s Abel? I know something happened to him. Where is he? His blood cries out to me from the ground.” Abel’s blood cried out. And to what end? For justice. But there’s this blood of Jesus. This blood poured out to satisfy the justice our sin deserves. The blood that was poured out to fulfill all sacrifices. The blood that was poured out crying out for you before God saying, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” There’s that blood and it’s where these Hebrews have been, it’s at Mount Zion.
Of course, what’s actually being said here? Did these Hebrews get to have a special trip? Did the golden chariot that took Elijah up to heaven swoop down and carry them up? What’s the author talking about? He’s talking about worship. He’s talking about the Divine Service. I’ve made this point before, but it’s worth repeating. When you’re here in the Divine Service, when you gather around this Word of Jesus, when you gather around His body and blood, He’s here. Heaven opens up and Jesus is here. You’re with the angels, with archangels, and all of the company of heaven—that’s why we say that in the prayer. And you’re around the throne of Jesus in a particular way. In fact, I make this point in the Narrative Service where I explain the parts of the liturgy, but that’s why we sing what we sing in the service. These are songs given in Scripture, some of them in glimpses we see in heaven. The Gloria, “Glory be to God on High,” the words sung by the angels at the birth of Jesus. “Holy, Holy, Holy,” the words sung by the angels around the throne of God. God, there, with the whole company of heaven. That’s why the Church picked the songs so long ago.
Now of course, this isn’t something we grasp easily in our sin, is it? We can’t see, and so it’s not true. And this is all the more influenced by the Enlightenment, isn’t it? By the philosophies that have become so prevalent since the 1600’s or so? If you can’t see it, it’s not so. Heaven can have no bearing on earth. That’s the underlying assumption of so much of science—and as I say that, I’m not against the study of science or the world around us, but the academic world of science says it is required to interpret the world solely naturally. So in view of that, there’s no awe.
But what do we see in the Scriptures when they talk about being in God’s presence? We see reverence, awe, we see, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Think about what that means. Reverence, awe. God is a consuming fire. Think about it, when it comes to our worship, how should we gather? In that reverence. In that awe, in that fear. This should affect our attitude—the joy with which we should come to church. We get to come in the presence of God!!! The manner of how we come. Think about coming in that fear, in that reverence. Not just like you’re meeting your buddy, but the almighty God. Think about how you approach the service, the altar. How you carry yourself, how you dress even. Think about this. And think about what we come for.
What do I mean by that? Well, I started this whole thing talking about justification, and I alluded to it, but to hone the point with worship a bit, first ask yourself why you’re here. Why are you in that pew today? Just because it’s the right thing to do? Just because God commands it? Are you here to give something to God? You know that’s all common stuff. Does God just want you to do this because it’s right? Does God need you to come? But does God need your gifts? These are a start, but are they the end? I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Do you hear it there? God has all that He needs. He doesn’t need your gifts. So what’s the point of coming here? Well, He speaks of offering thanksgiving. But thanksgiving for what? For forgiveness. You see, you’re here, and God brought you here to meet with you, to give you His forgiveness. To absolve you, give you Jesus’ body and blood. He’s dwelling with you that you might be His people. He did all of this first. It’s only after all that that you can give Him thanks. And you need all of that stuff first. You need it constantly. You need it week in and week out. Does that mean if you miss a Sunday you’re going to hell? That’s the wrong question!! Why would you be anywhere else? Why would you want to put yourself somewhere where you’re not meeting with this God, not hearing the joy and the promise that He has justified you?!
And in that, then you hopefully see why the Church stands or falls on justification. The Church is the only institution that has this justification, and justification is the only unique gift the Church has for the world. You can get classes on self-improvement, on being a better person, on picking yourself up by the bootstraps anywhere, but it’s only here that you can meet with God and He’ll tell you “it’s done. It’s forgiven. I have baptized you and made you my own.” That’s what the Church stands and falls on, and as we live in such a mess of a world, that’s what we stand and fall on too. Amen.
Sermon Proper 15 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Old Testament Lesson from the Prophet Jeremiah, previously read.
Jeremiah is often called the weeping prophet. As you read him, sometimes you could think it’s because he sounds like he’s whining about his calling from God to be His mouthpiece. And to be fair, Jeremiah was beaten and left for dead, abused in horrible fashion, such that we would likely whine as much or more. But the reason he’s called that is because of the sadness he conveys in view of what’s coming to Jerusalem. You see the Lord had revealed to Jeremiah that the people were unrepentant. He revealed that they would not repent, and because of that Babylon was going to come and the Babylonians were going to destroy Israel. They were going to come and take the Israelites from their homes and lead them into this captivity in a foreign land. There they would be captives, there they would be slaves, and worst of all, there they would have no access to the Temple. You see, as a whole, the people had rejected the Lord and His Word, so He gave them what they wanted, and Jeremiah knew all of this was coming.
He also knew that plenty of “prophets” weren’t warning the people of the truth of what was to come. He knew, as we can see in the lesson, that people were telling them all would be OK. They were telling them that Israel was strong and wouldn’t fall to Babylon, couldn’t fall to Babylon. They said that God would never let that happen. In other words they made promises that they hadn’t gotten from God saying that it was going to be OK. But it wasn’t going to be OK. God was going to let them fall. God was strong enough to save them, but they had rejected God and His Word, and so He was angry with Israel. You can hear it in our reading. Behold, the storm of the Lord! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart.
Yes God was angry. In fact, that word for anger there has connections to the word for nostrils. You can get the picture then. God is so angry at their sin, at their rejection, at the rebellion that, His nostrils are flaring, and like when we get angry, or even more so like when a bull gets angry, He’s expressing that anger in the air that’s coming out of those nostrils. God was angry. And Jeremiah was one of the few who understood this and was telling the people so.
But how did the people respond? Who did they listen to? Did they listen to Jeremiah? No. They didn’t like his negative attitude. He was too much of a downer, so they beat him. They cast him down in a cistern. They threw him out of the city. They didn’t like what he had to say and so they kicked him out. And instead who did they listen to? They listened to the other “prophets.” They listened to those about whom God said, ““I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds…. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart.’”
No the people listened to those false prophets because it didn’t rile them up so much. It didn’t make them cringe or hurt their feelings.
And there’s nothing new under the sun, is there? Look at today. Turn on the television and what do you see? When you have people talking about God what are they saying? Look at us. Look at our people with spiritual notoriety, the people on TV who are the experts. We have our Oprahs, and we have our fads. We have those who speak about how we can all find God in our own way, that no matter our spirituality it all points to the same thing. We have the notoriety and reverence that someone like the Dalai Lama receives. Or closer to the Church, we have our Joel Osteens, who makes sure to tell us that if we just trust in God enough we can have our best life now. We can actualize all of the potential that’s in us, and bring a slice of heaven into our lives. Did Jeremiah not believe enough? Where was his heaven?
Or look at what we have in the people on what I call “Jesus TV.” Maybe they’re not saying it’s just going to be OK, but they profess to be giving words, prophecies, and visions from God. But are they? Watch someone on there, and if they give some kind of prophesy “from the Lord,” look up their name and false prophecy on the internet. Usually you can find someone who has recorded a word that person has spoken “from the Lord” that was shown to be false—something contradictory to the Scriptures, or a promise that something was going to happen that came to be proven untrue. And do you know what Scripture tells us to do with false prophets? With one who presupposes to speak a word from the Lord yet is proven false? Well in short we to utterly ignore them. In the Old Testament, the call was to stone them, but that’s something given for Israel as a theocracy, not for us as individual Christians. With that in mind we can hear the severity. Don’t listen to those who claim to be speaking for God, but aren’t. Don’t listen to those who don’t speak what His Word does.
Instead listen to His Word. Listen to the call to repentance. Hear what He says to you. For example in the epistle reading, the call that Moses lived by: By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. Hear that call. In fact know what Jesus said, that as you choose to be mistreated with the people of God rather than enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin, this will sadly even divide you within your families: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.”
Hear that Word. Hear the Word that tells you of the anger of God at sin: Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. Yes, Christians, hear that Word. And know it.
As I was reading this week, I read something that made the point about this anger, that God’s anger requires satisfaction. That’s a terrifying thought, isn’t it? If God is angry at sin, and His Word tells me of my sin that I should repent, and that Word tells me that His anger requires satisfaction, where should that satisfaction lie? Upon me, right? I’m the sinner. I’m the guilty one. I am the one who should bear that punishment.
When you think about that, when you think about all of this, you can see why The Lord in Jeremiah says that His Word is like fire, like a hammer that breaks rocks into pieces.
Let that Word, that hammer crush you. Why? So that once you have been crushed, once you have been brought to nothing, you may see the refuge given to the lowly in the One who bore that satisfaction. In the Gospel Lesson, Jesus speaks of His own anxiety with regard to the baptism with which He was to be baptized. Yet He had already been baptized? Why this fear? Because the completion of His baptism was His death. His death on the cross where all of the anger of God was poured out. All of the sins of the Israelites, all of your sin, your rejection, your rebellion, all of it poured out on Him.
And now He has been raised, and as the completion of His baptism was His death, the completion of His death is His resurrection so that the completion of your baptism might be your resurrection in Him. But your resurrection comes in the burial of your sin in His tomb. In view of that, repentance brings to your realization just how terrible your sin is. It brings to your realization that the wretchedness of that sin shows the depth of His love, and that in that love, you can see the joy of the God whose anger is now satisfied, whose nose no longer flares and fumes at you. You can see the joy of the fulfillment of the One who is faithful.
Continue, then to hear that Word. Continue to hear that Word where you know it will be: in the Holy Scriptures. Don’t seek for it in fancy places, in TV spirituality experts, in the sinfulness of your own heart, seek it there, and know what it promises. It doesn’t promise it will be OK. Sometimes it won’t. Often it won. But in the end, there will be the fulfillment of all it. The eternal joy and freedom of the eschatological kingdom of our Lord Jesus, where everything will be way better than OK, it will be all right. Amen.
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.
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 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.
Sermon Proper 7 2018
June 24, 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.
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” It seems like a fair question, doesn’t it? Apparently, these windstorms, these squalls with hurricane force winds can appear on the sea quite suddenly. And it seems this was such an occasion where one did. The ship with the Lord on it, and others with them, vessels about 25 feet long, 7 ½ wide, and 4 ½ tall, these boats would certainly shrink in comparison to the waves which were pouring in over their sides. Such conditions can seemingly rightly induce panic. And that’s what the disciples did. They panicked. They freaked out.
And so do we, don’t we? Don’t we look around us and freak out? Don’t we look at the demise of our culture and assume the world is going to hell and in a hand basket? Don’t we watch the news and see shootings in schools, shootings in the city, hear of robberies in our own neighborhoods? Don’t we see the sadness of children separated from their families, or famous people committing suicide, and worry? We do, don’t we? We look at all of this, and we see sadness, the injustice and the brokenness of all of this, and it weighs on us to the point that we cry out, “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Just personally, I find myself tempted toward this as I look around at how much our society has lost its sense of rationality. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we see all kinds of division in our society which can be tied to the influence of Marx and those who came as students of his after him. Well, sort of in that same vein, I read an article that someone I knew posted on Facebook. The article said that the younger generations in our country are expressing a real interest in the possibility of adopting communism. I read that and it freaked me out. How can these people have an interest in communism? Do they not see the oppression that communism brought to the people of the Soviet Union, to China, to North Korea? Do they see how in the sinfulness of man when you create a collective a small group will take charge? And then what’s going to happen? They’re going to make sure they take care of themselves and their friends. And they’re also going to make sure that they keep anyone else from dissenting their rule. Which is exactly what we have witnessed. We witnessed it with the deaths of millions, millions of people, in particular millions of Christians in those places. This is what happens, and we have a generation of kids who are considering this? “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?”
And as I speak in my own life, I am sure you all have many other examples you can think of in your own. Perhaps cultural too. Or perhaps more individual. The diagnosis of a loved one with a terminal illness, ““Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” The loss of a loved one suddenly: “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” The anxiety of losing a job, or fear that our needs will not be provided for: “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” The loneliness that comes without a spouse or without children nearby: “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” ”
There are so many storms that appear. These squalls that come up and they bring great fear to us. Fear for our lives. Fear for the lives of our children. Fear that things are bringing peril to us, and we might not survive.
And coming back to the disciples, what made it that much worse when the storm came? What made it that much worse when they turned and looked at Jesus? Where was He? Well, He was there on His comfy cushion calm as can be. In fact, He was so calm, He wasn’t even awake.
And that’s something you can probably relate to also, isn’t it? You can probably relate to those times when you are being overcome by these storms, when you are afraid you’re going to be cast off the ship, or worse that the ship is going down with you in it, and you cry out to God and it feels like this. It feels like you’re calling out to Him and He’s asleep at the wheel. You don’t get any notable response. You don’t hear comfort, you don’t see relief. You don’t get a reprieve. Instead, what do you get? The sense that you’re crying out and God’s just asleep at the wheel. But still it gets worse doesn’t it?
When Jesus does wake up, how does He respond? Well, to be sure He takes care of the problem. He demonstrates just how much power He has. He demonstrates that just as God spoke at the beginning and the heavens and the earth were created, so now He speaks, “Peace! Be still!” and His word does just that. It silences the winds, puts a muzzle on this storm. In fact, when it says that the wind ceased there’s a connotation there that the wind demurs from Jesus in fear. So, sure, Jesus demonstrates this great power which keeps the disciples safe. But how comforting is that really? Obviously not that much, because thy all talk amongst themselves “filled with great fear,” and say, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
And if all of this isn’t bad enough, how did Jesus respond to all of this? Does He gently say to them, “Wow guys, thanks for waking me up, that was getting really bad! You must have been so scared!”? No. He says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” He says to them, “I am God, I’ve got this well in hand. Why would you think I didn’t?” In fact as we look at this response, you can see why it’s paired with the reading from Job, can’t you?
In fact, I always think that passage is hard to hear. It’s one of those where if we as people were writing this, is that how we would make God out to be as appealing as possible? And I say that using that wording intentionally. After all, in our day with the Church in decline I think we have this mentality that we have to be as appealing as possible as the Church. As Christians, we have to make the faith look as attractive as we can. As believers, we feel like we have to defend God and His commands in as winsome a way as possible. Not to say that we shouldn’t strive for winsomeness, but is that God’s approach with Job? Look at that. Job, if you recall lost his ten children in one fell swoop. If that wasn’t enough he lost the livelihood of his animals. He lost his health, he was ill and had boils all over his body. And in the midst of all of that, his wife and friends all tell him how rotten he must be that God would curse him like this, and so he should just curse God back, die, and be done with it. And yet Job remains faithful. Sure, He tells God it doesn’t seem fair, but he never curses God. And what does God come to Job and say? Does He say, “Well Job, you sure did a good job!” To be fair, He does tell Job’s friends they were wrong for what they said, that Job was right, it wasn’t as though there was something in particular he had done. But in response to Job’s claims of unfairness, what does God say? “Sorry?” No. He says, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.’” In other words, He comes to Job and He says, “Are you God? No. I am God. I have the wisdom and the knowledge of having created this whole universe. Don’t you tell me what you think is right. Don’t you tell me what you think is fair. I am the LORD the God of Sabaoth. I will say what is right and fair.” In other words, He is telling Job what Jesus, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
And Christians in your trials and your fears, He says the same to you. He confronts your question of “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” with His own question: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” He says to you, “Look at me. Look at my nail scarred hands and feet. Look at my spear-lanced side. Look at what I have done for you, dying for your sin. Look at that. If have done that, would I not certainly care for you in all things? Will I certainly not abide with you, remain with you in every trial and storm? Haven’t I told you, never will I leave you never will I forsake you? Haven’t I been raised from them dead to show you the victory that is yours? And if you were afraid this wasn’t meant for you, haven’t I baptized you, haven’t I fed you even my own body and blood? I have. I have done all of this for you. Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
So Christians, why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? You must ask yourselves that. I must ask myself that. We all must ask ourselves what inhibits us, why the storms draw us to doubt. Why it upsets us so when it seems like Jesus is asleep on the pillow in the boat. Hasn’t He proven that this isn’t arbitrary; that it isn’t by happenstance? Hasn’t He proven that this is all under His care? And more importantly, hasn’t He proven that you are under His care? Hasn’t He even proven as He died for the sins of the whole world that He loves even those who reject Him far more than any of us ever could? So where is our understanding? Where is our wisdom? It’s all for naught. Rather, we are in the hands of the God who has spoken the whole creation into existence, who speaks silence to it. And He speaks silence to you as well in your worry, the silence and peace of His promise to care for you, His promise to work all things to your good. He is the God who sent His own Son for us, so He will surely do this in Him. As the Psalm says, “Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” It certainly is. It is our help now and eternally. Amen.
Sermon Proper 6 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. Especially these words: “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade
You have maybe noticed that I’m not usually one to make a big hullabaloo regarding secular holidays in my sermons. When we are gathered here as the Lord’s people, yes we are still citizens of the United Sates in 2018, but there’s an aspect where we need leave the world at the door, and enter the Lord’s house strictly with our Heavenly citizenship in mind. That being said, today I want to start with something relating to Father’s Day.
If you saw the most recent Lutheran Witness you saw that it was about fatherhood. Actually more specifically, it was about “Men at Church.” It was about the trends that we see in our culture in relation to higher proportions of women connected with the Church than men. In fact it not only pointed to statistics which show that women are significantly more likely to be connected to the Church than men, it also pointed out how other statistics relating to men are affected as well. For example, the life expectancy of men is decreasing. Men are much more likely to die from causes related to drugs, alcohol, or self-harm than women. Men are 96.2% of the shooters in active shooter situations.
So we should ask ourselves, why is this happening? Why is this a problem? Well, the magazine made the point as to how so many fathers are not fulfilling their primary role. Quoting Luther, one of the authors said that fathers are “first to bring up their children in the fear and knowledge of God, and then, if they are so gifted also to have them engage in formal study and learn so that they may be of service wherever they are needed.” So according to Luther, the first and most important thing for fathers to do is to teach their children the faith. And as a note, I would say Scripture agrees because Paul tells fathers, “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” That’s the first and most important thing. Earthly education is important, but secondary to that. Is this how fathers think, though? Unfortunately, in my generation and younger many fathers are still teenagers more concerned about how to make sure they have time to access the leisure activities they want to access than they have been concerned about things like marrying their children’s mother and providing the stability of that home, let alone providing long term for the child. In other words, there are a lot of fathers now who don’t even get the secondary portion let alone the first. Sadly, though, even for those who do understand the need to provide – and there are many—a high number of them are more concerned with making sure their children get into a top school system than that they take the time to pray with their children and teach them the Scriptures and catechism. Why? Because the goal is to get ahead in the world.
Now as a note, fathers if you feel accused by this, know I do too. Know that I know there is always more we could be doing to teach children faithfully, which is yet another reminder of our only hope being the cross of Christ. And our dependence on that is the greatest lesson we can teach our children.
But what is the issue really at the heart of all of this? What does all of this really reflect? Well it reflects something that isn’t unique to fathers. I mentioned fathers not only because it’s Fathers’ Day, but also because there are so many statistics that demonstrate how important faithful fathers are to children remaining in the faith. Even beyond this, the reality is, this problem we see manifested in fathers is something that is true for all of us. What’s that? We think the Kingdom of God is too little. Like Jesus said, the kingdom of God is “like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth.” The problem is that we think that since we can’t see the greatness of the Kingdom of God, the things we can see are more important. We think that because we see things seemingly more pressing, the Kingdom of God isn’t pressing.
And how does this reflect itself? In the priorities we make: not taking time to hear and learn the Lord’s Word. Not taking time to pray. Not taking time to dedicate our efforts to knowing and confessing the faith. Even beyond this in our day we hear it in the things people say, or imply. After all, what good is Jesus’ sacrifice, when all I have to do is “try hard and be sincere to get to heaven?” What does going to church matter when I have a god who’s a fluffy marshmallow love god that never considers anything we do that bad? What does anything about God matter when I see the needs at the end of my nose and they are all consuming?
And let’s not assume that as Christians we are any less guilty. How often would we rather come in to church and hear a sermon that entertains me than teaches me? Or one that tells me how to make my life better, even how I can be better if I try harder, than yet another sermon about how Jesus died for me? I can imagine it happens to you, because as a Pastor I am even tempted by the desire to produce something strictly about these things, rather than my usual Law Gospel sermon. But is there really more to the Christian life than Law and Gospel? Is there more than these commands which God has given to me, which He calls me to follow, and I don’t? Is there more than the fact that Jesus has kept those commands perfectly because I couldn’t? In these two things is the whole of the Christian life. In these two things, we have all we need. Why do we need something else? Why do we need riches to provide our security, when we have the God who promises that if we seek His Kingdom and His righteousness all these things will be provided for me? Why do we need earthly pleasures to satisfy our passions now, when the Lord promises an eternity of pleasure and joy in His presence? Why do we need castles that will fall when we have rooms in an eternal mansion? Why do we need these temporal things, when we have the eternal promise which is far greater, the promise that is given, not because we deserve it, not because we have earned it, but because Jesus has purchased it and given it to us by His grace and His grace alone?
The short answer is we don’t. Of course, many earthly things are fine in and of themselves. In and of itself it’s not wrong to have a bank account with money in it to provide for my needs and the foreseen needs of my children. It’s not wrong to want to try to put funds in place to provide and education for my children. But what’s the most important thing? To paraphrase a friend of mine, “I would rather my child grow up and make a meager living as a Christian than have all the wealth he could want and lose his faith.” Do the two have to be mutually exclusive? No. But let’s not presume that we can serve both God and money.
And our draw to serve earthly things just proves it. To our earthly eyes, the Kingdom of God appears small. It appears like that Mustard Seed. But Christians, it is that Kingdom, that “when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Christians, this Kingdom of God doesn’t look like much, but it is your shelter. It is the cover of the tree so that the sun doesn’t strike you by day. It is the cover of the blood of Jesus over your sins. The cover of His blood shed for you on the cross, and won for you in His resurrection. The cover over your unrighteousness with the perfect righteousness in Him.
And how does this come? It is that seed that is cast. It is that seed produced by the earth automatically, by itself. It comes to you by the Word. That Strong Word, comes to you and brings God’s Kingdom, it brings Jesus. It brings His blood shed for you covering your sin. It bespeaks you righteous like the hymn says. It seems such a meager word. A word preached by a jar of clay. It seems so lowly as it was copied by broken fallible human being over millennia. It seems so incomplete, not answering so many questions we have. It seems so worthless when it comes to putting food on my table and a roof over my head. But it is that greatest of all plants. It is the greatest of words, “Your sin is forgiven.” “I baptize you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” “This is my body given into death for you.”
Yes, as we hear that word, it doesn’t seem like much; that seed that’s cast. But it is great, doing magnificent things. It’s something that we take for granted, but we can see what this is from the existence of the Church on earth. Think about it. The Church started so small, twelve lowly men preaching. And now it covers the nations of the earth. We can’t see it growing, we can only trust that what it says is true and it really is the greatest thing. Yes it is the greatest thing, and that is true whether we are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, or brothers and sisters. Amen.
Sermon Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 4, 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, especially these words: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”
As people, we like glory, don’t we? We make it our life’s end to strive for glory. For proof look no further than the event that many of us will be observing today: the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is all about the glory of being the best team in the most popular pro sport in our nation at this moment. Talk about glory. But of course, we’re no different. We like the glory that comes when the Church looks good publicly, like when the comfort dogs get on Good Morning America. We like the glory that comes when we find out a famous popular person expresses Christian faith. Or we like it when our country shows its strength or mettle and we can glorify these things. In fact, some of you may remember reading the book “The Rage Against God” by Peter Hitchens, a book read in the Summer Book Reading before I came. He describes some of this in relation to even confusing the Christian Faith with the English Patriotism surrounding Churchill, something we could perhaps relate to if we examine words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, which in its lesser known verses describes a self-righteous satisfaction at the death of the enemies of our nation, a consideration made irrespective of the people’s religious beliefs. In short, the reality is there. We like glory. We’re drawn to it. In fact, this even influences how we see God and His glory. What do I mean?
Well, to start let’s look at what the readings for this morning describe. First of all the Old Testament, listen again to what we hear there: “Do you not know? Do you not hear?…. It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.” What do you hear there? You hear of power, right? The Glory of God in His Power! The Glory of the God who creates, who created the world out of nothing! You can hear it in those words, in the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth, and then what? He sits above it and stretches out the heavens like a curtain. You can picture it, the earth, and then the heavens opening up.
In fact, I knew a member at my vicarage congregation, a gentleman who is now doing post doctorate work in astrophysics who said this explains how these objects so far away can have light that’s here without the earth being billions of years old. He said we could understand the light as starting here and being stretched out. And as we think about that, there is the glory of God in His power!
And as we look at the gospel lesson, we see this in Jesus too. There He is, God in the flesh, as we keep pointing out in Epiphany. God in the flesh, coming with that power to overcome these demons. Listen to that again, “And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” And you can see it again, can’t you? The God through whom the world was created, the strong Word, incarnate and in that strength and in that power crushing demons into submission, crushing illness with His miraculous healing. Jesus flexing His might, showing off His guns. In fact, listen even to what Mark tells us about the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law: “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her.” Now it doesn’t come through quite as much in the English, but this word for taking her by the hand has an image of seizing her. He grabs her by the hand. Jesus in His might picks her up and pulls her out of the pit of her sickness. Again, the power that is here! The Glory of God in His power!
This is what we like as people, we like that power! We’re like Tim “the Toolman” Taylor, we want more power! We want our God to be this God with more power! We want to know God works. We want to see it evidenced, and if we don’t then there’s trouble!
Think about it, if I was here performing miracles week in and week out, what would happen? Do you think you all would be able to find a place to sit? No! The pews would be packed, this would be standing room only. We’d have to open the overflow seating and we’d have to expand the sound system into the parish hall. It would be stuffed in here, because this is the kind of stuff that draws a crowd, isn’t it? In fact, we see that in Jesus doing it because the whole town came to bring people to be healed. Mark tells us that “the whole city was gathered together at the door.” This is what we want as people. That’s why we like the stories about how God saved me from my drug addiction, or how God rescued me from my life of crime. How I prayed and God made my last dollar work in my new business so that now I’m a millionaire. We love this story, because it shows God’s power and His might!
But as I say all of this, you might be confused. You might be confused because you can sense the tone that I am using as I say all of this. You heard me say that we get God’s glory wrong, you can hear me saying how we like all of this stuff, and you might be confused because it maybe sounds like I’m saying we shouldn’t like Jesus healing people, like we shouldn’t thank God when He spares people from horrible lives of addiction, poverty, and ruin. Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with thanking God for those things. There is absolutely nothing wrong with us being thankful for God’s power and His might and His miraculous help for people in this life. There is nothing wrong with that. We must thank God for these things, we must also understand them properly. What do I mean?
Well, think about this: when you look at God’s power, at His glory in creation, what does it tell you about God? It tells you that He’s strong, right? It tells you that He is capable of doing all things. But what does it tell you about how God views you? What happens when we see this power demonstrated in earthquakes, in tornados, in Hurricane Harveys and Irmas? What happens then?
Or what about when it comes to healing? And this happens, I have heard multiple stories from my parishioners over the course of time where they have a cousin, or a sibling, or a parent who was miraculously healed. Thanks be to God, right? Yes, thanks be God! Thanks be to God even when the healing occurs through medical treatments, through surgery, radiation, chemo. Thanks be to God! But what about when the healing doesn’t come? What happens then? What does that tell you about God, about how God looks at you? Where is the joy in that glory? Where is the comfort in that power?
As we think about this, then we see why Jesus said what He said: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” How often do we think about that? That Jesus came out into His ministry to preach? We think about the healings, the exorcisms, the flexing of the muscles, but how often do we think about His preaching? I just made the point that if I performed miracles then the doors would be bursting at the seams, and it goes for Jesus too. He could have had the whole world after Him. But what did He come for? He came to preach. He came to speak His message. He came to preach the Gospel, as Mark tells us earlier in Chapter One. In fact, as we look at this word for preaching, from what I read, in the Greek this is the heralding of an event. Just like a herald would go from town to town heralding the end of a war, or heralding the coronation of a new king, Jesus was heralding an event. What event? The event of this God entering into human flesh. The event of the Kingdom of God being at hand. The event of time being fulfilled. Finally, the event of the cross.
In fact as we say this, something Luther said as he was commenting on the Psalms was this: “The cross alone is our theology.” In other words, the cross alone is how we know God. The cross is how God is revealed. Sure we might like to get an idea of God from the power of creation and from the miracles, but in the cross we see what it really all means. It means that God isn’t mad at you any more for your sin. Yes you deserve His wrath, but it’s been paid. It means you don’t have to worry that God is punishing you for something when things go wrong. You don’t have to worry that He’s going to crush you in His power and anger. Jesus did it all for you. That’s what He was preaching. He was preaching the cross. And that’s what He calls me to preach: the cross: the event of the cross for you. He wants the cross preached. Not just read in your Bible—yes read your Bible. But hear the cross preached in His House. For you. The cross on which your sins died, your sins; something you know because of baptism. The cross on which Jesus’ body and blood were hanged, the body and blood given and shed for you for forgiveness and now fed to you that you would know this is for you. This is that preaching! The preaching of the cross, for you!
In fact, as I brought up Luther, I don’t know if you know this, but Luther even encouraged making the sign of the cross as a reminder of this and it’s connection to our baptism. We often associate the sign of the cross with Roman Catholicism, but it’s a Lutheran thing too. If you look in your Catechism to where Luther gives instruction for prayer, He says, “In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross, and say: ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the T Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The reminder that as God baptized us into His Holy Name, as He put His Name on us, He joined us to Christ’s death on the cross, so that we would be raised in His resurrection. The cross is our theology, and the cross is what we preach, just as Paul says, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” And as I say that, what then do we see in this preaching? What do we see in this cross that is preached? We see the glory of God in His love for you.
So yes, we as people love glory. We love the glory of this world. We love the glory of might and power. We love the glory Jesus showed and shows when He healed. But in the end, where do we see the greatest glory? In what Jesus came out to do: in the preaching of the cross. You see, it’s in the preaching of the cross that the power and majesty isn’t just something good abstractly, it’s not just good for Peter’s mother-in-law and that man healed in the synagogue, it’s good for you, because there on the cross is the death of your sin, the atonement for all that you’ve done. There on the cross is the proof that God loves you, because He promises eternal life for you in the resurrection. Yes, what a gift this preaching is, because in that you know that this glory belongs to you. You don’t have to guess about it, you don’t have to worry about it. You only hear and receive it, because it is the glory of God’s promise to you. Amen.