Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Dorr, Michigan

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 19)

September 14, 2014
Text: Matt. 18:21-35

            It is pretty outrageous.  In fact, it’s downright infuriating.  Here this wicked servant has been forgiven all his debt, ten thousand talents, whether of gold or silver, an unimaginable amount that he could never pay off if he worked his whole life.  And he turns around and demands that his fellow-servant pay back what is, relatively speaking, a rather minor debt, a hundred denarii.  And when the fellow servant can’t pay, the first servant has him thrown into debtor’s prison.  Having been forgiven much, the servant failed to forgive even a little.  Now, the other servants were obviously disturbed.  They went and told the master everything.  “Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!  I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’” (Matt. 18:32-33; ESV).  The moral of the story is clear.  Having been forgiven, you should forgive.  Having received mercy, you should have mercy on your neighbor.  And keep in mind what God has forgiven you.  He has forgiven you so much more than you’ll ever have to forgive your neighbor.  Like the ten thousand talents, roughly the wages for 60 million days of work, forgiven by the master as if there never was a debt.  Verses 100 denarii, roughly 100 days of work, significant, but not in comparison with the 60 million days.  Yet the wicked servant will not forgive this.  You see the absurdity and downright wickedness of it in the illustration.  And yet, is this not a picture of what you do when you fail to forgive your neighbor?  Here you’ve been forgiven all your sins: your rejection of God, your adulterous addiction to other gods (the people and things you fear, love, and trust above Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the hatred you harbor toward your neighbor, your wandering eyes and your heart full of lust and covetousness, your loose tongue, not to mention every skeleton that you know would fall out of your closet if we opened the door to take a peek.  All the secrets you’ve hidden in the darkness.  God knows them all.  And He forgives you.  For all of it.  Because of Christ.  Because of His saving work for you.  But your neighbor said something mean.  Or disagreed with your politics.  Or betrayed a confidence.  Whatever it was, he hurt you.  And one thing is certain: You’ll never forgive him for it.
            Repent.  You are the wicked servant.  You’ve been forgiven a debt you could never possibly repay, not even with 60 million days of hard labor.  That’s the point.  It is impossible to pay for your own sins.  It took the death of God to pay for your sins.  It took the blood and death of Jesus on the cross.  And He willingly paid it.  He willingly suffered all of this for you.  You don’t deserve it.  You aren’t worthy of it.  But He did it anyway.  Because He loves you.  Because He’s just that good.  So now, on the basis of His forgiving your unimaginable debt, you are to forgiven your neighbor’s minor (and even not so minor) infractions.  And as bad as your neighbor’s sins against you may be (and there are some pretty horrendous sins we humans perpetrate against one another), recognize that they pale in comparison with your own sins against God.  Christ died for you.  Christ died for your neighbor.  Your sins are forgiven by God in Christ.  Your neighbor’s sins are forgiven by God in Christ.  God loves you.  God loves your neighbor.  If God forgives your neighbor, who are you to hold his sin against him?  If God loves your neighbor, who are you to despise him?  If God forgives even you, who are you to withhold forgiveness from another? 
            Now, what is forgiveness?  First of all, this is what it is not.  It is not a feeling in your heart.  Forgiving your neighbor doesn’t mean you feel all warm and fuzzy about him.  Of course, bitter feelings are sinful, and you should repent of them.  But forgiveness is not a feeling.  Forgiveness is a decision.  It is a decision not to hold your neighbor’s sin against him.  It is a decision to pray for your neighbor’s welfare, pray that God would bless him, pray that God would forgive him and give him faith in Christ.  And it is a decision not to seek the retribution your neighbor’s sin deserves.  On the other hand, forgiveness does not mean there aren’t temporal consequences for sin.  If, God forbid, I drive drunk and kill someone in an accident, that person’s family may forgive me, but I still have to go to jail.  If, God forbid, someone does something to harm your children, you may forgive them, but you won’t ask them to babysit.  And yet, in spite of those temporal consequences, you pray God would spare the offender the eternal consequences of his sin.  Nor is forgiveness an act, a good face.  It is not sweeping something under the rug where no one can see it, but secretly holding on to it so that it festers inside of you into anger and hatred.  If you need to forgive your neighbor, and especially if you are struggling with it, here is what you do: Every day you thank God for that person, and you pray that God would bless him.  It well may disgust you to do it.  That’s okay.  Repent of your disgust.  And then do it anyway.  Forgiveness is something you practice.  Jesus tells you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44), do good to those who hate you and bless those who curse you (Luke 6:27-28).  That is what it means to live in forgiveness, God’s for you, and yours for your neighbor.   
            Forgiveness is to loose from the bondage of guilt.  It is to set your neighbor free.  It is to release him.  It is to untie him, let him go, send his sin away, like God did for the Israelites with the scapegoat.  The priest would lay his hands on the goat, confess the sins of the people over it, and then send it out into the wilderness.  The sins of the people were literally sent away.  This, of course, was a type of Christ.  This is what our Lord Jesus did for us, taking our sins upon Himself as the Scapegoat, bearing them out of the city, up the hill, onto the wood, lifted up before God as the Bearer of all our sins.  To forgive is to have mercy, as Joseph does for his brothers in our Old Testament (Gen. 50:15-21).  These brothers had thrown Joseph into a pit and ignored his cries for help as they sat down for lunch to consider what to do with him.  They thought about murdering him.  But instead, they sold him to Midianite slave traders, sold their own flesh and blood into Egyptian slavery.  Well, things worked out well in the end for Joseph, because God took care of him.  But they only worked out well after false accusations of rape and hard labor in prison.  Still, Joseph does the Christian thing.  He forgives his brothers.  He feeds them.  He provides for them.  He looses them from the chains of their guilt.  “‘As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’  Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Gen. 50:20-21). 
            Now, there is something in Joseph’s story that clues you in to why you can freely forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you.  You can do so because you know that promise that God will work all things, even evil perpetrated against you, for your good.  That is what St. Paul writes: “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).  So even if your neighbor means evil against you, God means it for your good.  And He will take care of you.  He may not make you the ruler of a country, and you may not know how He has worked everything out for your good until you get to heaven, but you’ll see it then.  Then you’ll know.  That’s just what He does.  That’s the promise.
            But there is an even greater reason you can forgive.  You can forgive because Christ, who died for you, and who is risen from the dead for you, lives in you.  More importantly, you live in Him.  He gives you His resurrection life in your Baptism into Him, the life that He won.  And how did He win it?  By forgiving you.  By dying for your forgiveness.  That’s how He won it.  So with that life in you, you can forgive.  You can be merciful.  You can love those who have sinned against you.  Because even your lack of love and your inability to forgive has been covered in the blood of the Savior.  Don’t miss the order, here.  God doesn’t forgive you because you’ve first forgiven your neighbor.  You forgive your neighbor because God has first forgiven you.  The servant could have forgiven the debt of his neighbor because the master had first forgiven him.  You forgive because God has first forgiven you.  You forgive your neighbor for the sake of Christ who died to win that forgiveness.

            How often?  As many as seven times?  (Peter thinks he’s being rather generous, by the way, and by human standards, he is!)  Not seven times, but seventy times seven.  And even more.  Don’t keep track.  Because the beautiful Good News is that God doesn’t keep track of your sins.  He doesn’t put a limit on the forgiveness He extends to you.  Every time you sin, you are forgiven.  Every time you repent, you are absolved.  Every time.  No exceptions.  Not because you deserve it.  Not because your repentance is “really sincere.”  Not because you’ve proven yourself worthy of a second, third, or four billionth chance.  Because of Christ.  Always and only because of Christ.  In fact, let’s put it this way.  Whatever your neighbor has done to you, charge it all to Christ’s account.  That’s what God has done.  That’s what He does for you.  Jesus has paid for it all, all of your neighbor’s sins against you, all of your sins against your neighbor, paid for it all right there on the cross.  So it is done.  You are forgiven.  Your neighbor is forgiven.  You are both loosed.  You are free.  As our Lord said from the cross about your sin and your neighbor’s: “It is finished” (John 19:30).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.     

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 18)

September 7, 2014
Text: Matt. 18:1-20

            This morning our Lord Jesus teaches us about faith toward God and love toward one another.  Or, we might say, He teaches us about faith and the fruits of faith, for though we are saved by faith alone, faith is never alone.  Faith always produces the fruits of love, of repentance for our own sins and forgiveness for the brother or sister who sins against us.  As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer (the prayer of faith!): “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  This is also a prayer in which we call upon God as “Our Father.”  Because that is the posture of faith, that of a child to his Father.  So what does Jesus say?  “(U)nless you turn [repent!]  and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3; ESV).  That means you’ve gotta stop trying to be adults!  Repent of trying to be in charge of your own faith and Christian life.  Repent of your failed attempts to determine what is right and what is wrong for yourself.  And repent of your failed attempts to judge yourself righteous over against your neighbor whom you have judged to be wicked.  Repent of your endless quest to justify yourself.  Repent of your ceaseless striving to save yourself.  Recognize yourself for who you are:  A mere child! Helpless!  Trapped!  Trapped in a mess of your own making, that of sin and death and condemnation.  But then remember that you are not an orphan.  Your Father has claimed you for Himself by the blood of Christ.  You are God’s child.  He helps you.  He saves you.  He declares you righteous, not because of anything you have done, and certainly not because you’re better than your neighbor, but because of Christ, His righteous Son.  God is the Judge, not you.  He determines what is right and what is wrong for you, because He knows what is good, and desires that good for you.  And so also, He is the Judge of your neighbor, not you.  Just as He has pronounced you righteous in Christ, so also has He pronounced your neighbor righteous in Christ.  And His verdict trumps yours.  So turn.  Repent.  Believe what God says.  Trust Him to save you.  Trust Him to provide what is good.  Receive His gifts freely given without any merit or worthiness on your part.  Be a child before your Father in heaven.
            That is what we all are: Children of God.  God has made us so in our Baptism into Christ.  Jesus purchased us with His own blood and death for this very purpose.  And so now our Lord teaches us what we are to do for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, to help each other through our sojourning in the wilderness of this fallen world.  We are to receive each other.  “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me” (v. 5).  That is, we are to love one another, care for one another, provide for one another’s needs, encourage each other, console each other, admonish one another, and most especially we are to speak Christ to one another.  In other words, we are to edify one another with the Gospel.  And we are to bring each other, especially our children and family members, to Christ’s Church.  Woe to us if we cause a fellow Christian to sin, to stumble, to fall from faith in Christ.  It would be better to have a great millstone hung around our neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea than to cause one of these little ones who believe in Jesus, a fellow brother or sister in Christ, to sin (v. 6).  Temptations will come.  That’s just life in this fallen world, a world full of sin and unbelief.  But woe to the one through whom it comes (v. 7)!  Beloved, let it not come from you.  Though you are not the Judge, you are to watch over your brothers and sisters and yourself, that you not fall away from Christ through some temptation of the flesh.  Watch over the members of your body: Your hands, your feet, your eyes.  Let them not lead you into transgression.  When they do, cut them off.  Well, don’t literally mutilate yourself.  But die to yourself.  Crucify the flesh.  Deny yourself the sinful pleasure.  Turn from it.  Repent!  And then ask God not only to sanctify your hands, your feet, your eyes, but your mind and your heart.  Ask Him to transform your mind and your heart into the mind and heart of Christ.  And plead the same thing for your neighbor.  And know that that is precisely what God does for you in your Baptism, and in His Word and Supper, as He gives you Christ to wash away your sins of hand, foot, eye, mind, and heart; as He bespeaks you righteous and fills you with His living Word and Spirit; and then feeds you the risen and living Body and Blood of Jesus so that His new life is in you. 
            It is vital, though, in your dealings with your brothers and sisters, that you also recognize your own sin and weakness, your own need for Christ to transform your heart and mind.  Otherwise you will despise one of these little ones, your fellow Christian, which Christ warns you not to do (v. 10).  Yes, your neighbor is weak.  Yes, your brother is a sinner.  Sure, your sister is a gossip.  Indeed, your brother is full of anger and lust.  So are you.  Repent.  And then be patient with your fellow Christians.  God certainly is.  So patient with them that He continues to look upon them through the lens of Jesus’ Blood and righteousness.  So patient with them that He continues to care for them by the ministrations of the holy angels who simultaneously see the face of our Father in heaven.  So patient is He, that when your neighbor strays, He does not do what you think He should do.  He does not abandon your neighbor to the wolves and the robbers and the perils of the wilderness.  He does not give them what they deserve.  He goes after them.  He always goes after His lost sheep.  He leaves the ninety-nine on the mountain to go and find the single stray, the sinner who has fallen to temptation, the sinner who has been wounded by unbelief, the sinner who perhaps even has sinned against you, but who has sinned against God infinitely more and worse.  Still, God forgives.  Jesus forgives.  Jesus died for your neighbor.  Jesus, our Good Shepherd, goes after His sheep and brings it home.  And He and the angels rejoice (v. 13), for “it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (v. 14). 
            What God has done for your neighbor, He has done for you.  You are the sheep that has gone astray.  You wandered off on your own path, thinking you could take care of yourself, thinking there were greener pastures that the Lord was withholding from you.  You forgot your utter dependence on God.  You forgot you were His helpless child.  But He finds you.  He always finds you.  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up into death for you, how could He possibly let you go without seeking you out and bringing you back to the fold?  That is grace!  You don’t deserve it.  But Jesus deserves it.  And His deserving counts for you.  That is what He wants for you.  And that is the will of His Father in heaven. 
            And so now God would use you whom He has made His own, not to judge and condemn your neighbor in his sin, but to win him out of it and be Christ’s hands in bringing him back to God.  This is such an important teaching for the Church, what our Lord here tells us about dealing with our neighbor who has sinned.  “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (v. 15).  You don’t trumpet it in the streets.  You don’t go and tell your friends the latest juicy details.  You don’t “just have to vent,” “confidentially, of course,” about your neighbor’s sins and weaknesses.  And you don’t hold it all in and let it boil up in anger and hatred in your heart.  If a brother or sister in Christ sins against you, or if you know about a sin they have committed, you go directly to that person.  Show them the error.  Work it out.  Do it gently, respectfully, in love, in humility, recognizing that the whole thing begins with your own self-examination and repentance, removing the log from your own eye so that you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your neighbor’s (Matt. 7:1-5).  The goal of this, of course, is to win your brother or sister, to forgive them, to restore the relationship to yourself and to God, that the offender not perish in his sin.  Who knows?  He might repent!  That’s what we want!  It may be, of course, that he does not listen to you.  In that case, you are to take one or two others, trusted Christian brothers or sisters who have likewise examined themselves and confessed their sins.  Perhaps the pastor and the elders, or some other mature Christians.  The goal, again, is repentance, restoration, and forgiveness.  That is what God has called us to do for one another.  If, even then, the brother will not listen, will not repent, then you tell it to the Church.  And the Church begs the brother to repent.  But if he will not listen to the Church, Jesus says, you are to “let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector,” an unbeliever (Matt. 18:17).  Not that you are to shun him or abuse him.  Not at all.  How is the Church to treat an unbeliever?  As the object of her mission.  As one to whom she is to proclaim Jesus and His forgiveness.  To be sure, the brother in this case can no longer be considered a member of the congregation.  He can no longer commune.  By his refusal to repent, he has removed himself from the fellowship of the Christian Church.  But notice that the excommunication of which Jesus speaks is done always in love, never in anger, never out of spite or revenge, always with the one goal of our brother’s repentance and restoration, always to win him back to Christ.

            And if he repents, you forgive him.  You forgive him immediately and unconditionally in the Name of Christ.  At whatever point in the process your brother recognizes his sin and repents, you forgive and you rejoice.  No matter what he’s done to you or said to you.  No matter how hurt you were.  That’s what you do.  Forgiveness is a fruit of faith.  It hurts, because you have to die to yourself.  But you can do it, and you should do it.  Because that’s what Jesus has done for you!  He died for you!  He died for your neighbor!  Forgiveness requires death, and Jesus fulfilled the obligation. Jesus paid the price in full.  For you.  For your neighbor.  For all sins.  For all sinners.  The handwriting against us has been wiped away in the blood of Jesus Christ.  And what God has declared forgiven, you don’t get to bind to your neighbor’s charge.  But more on that next week.  In the meantime, rejoice!  For God has freely forgiven all your sins, even your failures with regard to your neighbor, the stumbling blocks you’ve placed before him, your failure to call him to repentance, your grudges and your failure to forgive.  All of that, even that, is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.  You are forgiven.  You are loosed.  You are free.  Like a child in the house of your Father who loves you.  And He gives you the very Kingdom of Heaven.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 17)

August 31, 2014
Text: Matt. 16:21-28

            Your mind is a battle-ground in which God and the devil fight for possession.  St. Paul makes reference to this battle in our Epistle lesson from this past Sunday when he writes: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2; ESV).  That is to say, don’t surrender to Satan, who has the mind of this world transfixed by his demonic deception, but surrender to God, who transforms your mind from its spell-bound satanic hypnosis to the mind of Christ, that you may know the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect.  Now, everyone of us is in need of such a transformation of our mind.  Because we’re born into the satanic deception, born into the worldly state of mind.  That is our natural state: minds captivated by the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature.  In Holy Baptism, however, our mind is transformed, the shape of it is changed, from this worldly state of mind, to the mind of Christ.  But because we are still in the flesh, and because we are still in the world, our mind must continually undergo this divine transformation.  It is not the case that it happened once, and now it’s done.  No, as with our Baptism, this transformation is an event that happened at a specific point in history, and that now continues to be our present and ongoing reality.  It is not simply that our minds were transformed into the mind of Christ, but our minds are continually being transformed into the mind of Christ.  And note the passive voice here.  You are not transforming your mind.  God is transforming your mind.  The Holy Spirit is transforming your mind into the mind of Christ as you hear and read and meditate upon Holy Scripture and preaching, and as you eat and drink the Body and Blood of the Savior, with whose mind the Holy Spirit desires to make you one. 
            St. Peter needed a transformation of his mind.  Fast on the heels of his confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, a truth revealed to him, not by flesh and blood, but by our heavenly Father (Matt. 16:16-17), now he is trying to dissuade Jesus from completing His saving mission.  He does not want Jesus to submit Himself to the cross and suffering.  “Far be it from you, Lord!  This shall never happen to you” (v. 22).  But Peter is not setting his mind on the things of God, but on the things of man (v. 23).  He has been caught once again by the Satanic deception.  He’s been duped!  He’s been deluded!  And Jesus calls it like it is: “Get behind me, Satan!” (v. 23).  Peter, you’re speaking for Satan, not God.  You have the mind of Satan, not God.  Your mind has been conformed to this world, Peter, and you need Jesus to transform your mind so that you see in the cross of Christ the very will of God.  The cross, Peter, is what is good and acceptable and perfect.  For Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross redeems your mind and your whole body and soul from Satan, indeed, the whole world from death and hell.
            Now, this is completely contrary to our fallen, fleshly minds, that God should redeem us by sending His Son into the flesh to die a gruesome, accursed death by Roman execution.  Surely God could do it another way, a more glorious way, a way befitting His majesty.  I mean, He’s God!  He could snap His fingers, or even just pronounce it so by a sheer act of His divine will.  And as for His enemies, they should be toast.  Like James and John, we think Jesus should call down fire from heaven to devour those wicked people.  Of course, we fail to recognize that the wicked people are us!  And so the battle between the fleshly mind and the mind of Christ.  We do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.  St. Paul says that the natural, unconverted person “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).  We just can’t wrap our fallen minds around it.  We don’t think Jesus should go to the cross, either!  It gets Jesus’ hands too dirty, too bloody.  And when you get right down to it, it is offensive that it would take the death of God to save us.  Yes, we really are that bad.  There really is no other way, for if God is just, He must punish our sin.  He cannot ignore it, pretend it never happened, or leave it undealt with.  That would make Him unjust.  But God is love, and He loves His creation, loves us, in spite of our rejection of Him.  He wants to save us.  He wants us to be His own.  So what is He to do?  He sends His Son.  He sends Him to be our Substitute, to take our place, to receive the just punishment for our sins.  The cross is the intersection of God’s justice and His love.  There our sin is punished.  There we are redeemed.  There in the pierced flesh of Jesus Christ.  We can’t understand it by nature.  God must reveal it to us.  And to receive that revelation, to believe it and hold on to it for dear life, our mind must be transformed by the Holy Spirit.
            So that is what God does in Baptism and in His gifts in Word and Supper.  We actually believe this incomprehensible Gospel that Jesus died on the cross and rose again to forgive our sins and give us eternal life.  It’s a miracle, this faith.  Only God could accomplish such a thing.  But now the fight is really on.  Satan wants us back.  So he uses every weapon in his arsenal.  He shoots his fiery darts of temptation.  He entices us with the allurements of pleasure, power, and wealth.  He introduces doubt about God’s Word (“Did God really say?...), helps us justify in our minds the changing of God’s Word or the willful ignoring of it.  He uses the media and the entertainment industry, the trend setters and the powers that be in the world, and even our friends and family members, to catechize us into his deception.  He plays on our impressionable nature so that we imitate the world, and he uses the laziness of our sinful flesh so that we are anything but fervent in spirit, so that we leave ourselves vulnerable and open to his attacks.  And then, when we’ve fallen to temptation, when we’ve sinned, he changes tactics.  He accuses us, as is his nature.  He is THE accuser.  He lies.  He is the father of lies.  He tells us that we are unredeemable, that Jesus didn’t die for sinners like us, that what we’ve done is beyond the pale of forgiveness.  Beloved, he’s a liar!  Tell him to get behind you!  Tell him where he can go! 
            But know his tactics.  Recognize them for what they are.  Recognize that there is no neutral ground.  You will be catechized, taught, molded, shaped, either by the world, and ultimately the devil, or by the Holy Spirit.  You will either be conformed to this world, or be transformed by the renewal of your mind.  You will either have in mind the things of God, or the things of men.  You will either have the mind of Christ, taught by Him, or a deluded mind that is finally lost.  As they say, “you are what you eat.”  In this case, you are the voice you listen to.  There is the voice of Christ here in His Word.  Or there are all the other voices that are not Christ.  Christ has tuned you in to His voice in your Baptism, and He speaks to you in preaching and Scripture.  But the other voices are clamoring for your attention, and Jesus will not force you to stay here and listen to Him.  So be on your guard.  “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

            Resist him.  That is to say, take up your cross and follow Jesus.  Talk about contrary to our fallen nature.  Crucify your flesh.  Deny yourself.  Die to yourself.  Lose your life.  Repent!  Repent of your selfishness.  Repent of your idolatry.  Repent of listening to the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature.  It will hurt, this repentance.  Because it will be the death of you.  But that is how our Lord works.  He deals in death and resurrection.  For there to be resurrection, there must be death.  Your old Adam must die!  But whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake will find it (Matt. 16:25).  That’s the promise.  If you stop listening to the world, I guarantee the world will hate you.  It will hate you, because it hates Jesus.  The world will mock you.  It may persecute you.  It may even kill you.  That is the cross you are called to bear.  But you can bear it, because you have been transformed by the renewal of your mind.  You have the mind of Christ.  So you know that as you bear the holy cross, Christ bears you.  He who was crucified and is risen from the dead, bears you in His pierced hands, and He will raise you up.  He will rescue you.  He will deliver you.  He will heal you with His eternal healing.  And you know, you who have the mind of Christ, that this light momentary affliction is preparing you for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as you look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:17-18).  The battle for your mind is won by Christ as He sustains you by His Spirit in your Baptism.  Beloved, listen to the voice of your Good Shepherd.  In Christ, you persevere.  In Christ, the risen Savior with the mortal wounds, your mind is given the things of God.  In Christ, you’ve found your life.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 16)

August 24, 2014
Text: Matt. 16:13-20

            The holy Christian Church is an article of faith.  We confess in the Creed that we believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church.  The articles of the Creed are all a confession of what we cannot see, but only know by faith, because our Lord says so by His Word.  And so the Church.  Sure, we can see the building and the people gathered together.  We see the appropriate furnishings with which we are surrounded, hear the organ and the distinctly “Church” music appropriate to this place.  It looks like the Church.  It feels like the Church.  It smells like the Church.  The Word is proclaimed and we sing it and speak it together in liturgy and hymn.  The Sacrament is on the altar.  We gather around the font.  But how do we know the Church is here?  We only know it because Jesus says so.  He says that wherever two or three are gathered together in His Name, there is He among them (Matt. 18:20), and so there is the Church.  He says that upon the rock of Peter’s confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, He will build His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:16-18).  He says that where His Church is, the binding and loosing of sin will be going on; the binding of the sins of the unrepentant as long as they do not repent; the loosing, the forgiving, of the sins of those who repent of their sins and want to do better, who look to Christ alone for forgiveness of sins and strength for their Christian life.  Where that is going on, there is the Church, for the Lord has given the Church the keys of the kingdom of heaven (v. 19), the Office of the Keys as we call it in the Catechism.  And that is the whole purpose of the Church, the only reason we exist, that here, in the Church, Christ may gather us and open heaven to us by the distribution of His saving gifts. 
            So we know where the Church is by the visible marks: The Word, the Sacraments, Confession and Absolution, prayer, the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren, suffering and the cross.  These marks are clear evidence that the Church is here.  But the Church itself we cannot see.  It is an article of faith.  It is invisible, because the Church is simply this: holy believers in Christ, sheep who hear the voice of their Good Shepherd, Jesus, and who know Him and follow Him (Cf. SA XII:2).  But you can’t see faith.  You can’t say for certain who believes and who doesn’t.  You can only go by what a person says, what a person confesses.  We know the Church is here because of the marks.  We know the Church is here because the people here confess the faith.  We confess the Creed.  We confess with St. Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus says that on this rock, this confession, He will build His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 
            But it sure looks like the gates of hell are prevailing against it.  We fight among ourselves over the silliest things, like who is responsible for what, how this or that should be done, and how to pay for it all… And we fight over thing that are not at all silly, like, for example, the authority of the Bible, creation and evolution, the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament… you name it, we can fight over it.  The Church appears to be shrinking.  We live in a culture that has come to mock Christ and His Church, that rejects what the Bible has to say about the social issues of the day, that denies that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that He is the only way to heaven.  So less people come to Church.  And by the way, Christians aren’t having as many babies as they used to, so I suppose we shouldn’t be all that surprised when older people outnumber younger people in the Church.  We suffer mockery and pressure to conform to the culture here at home.  And then we look at the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in other places in the world, and we cringe to realize that what is happening to them there could just as easily happen to us here: kidnappings and imprisonment, beatings and torture, crucifixions and beheadings and every other cruelty imaginable, all because of the Christian’s confession: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
            So are You sure the gates of hell are not prevailing, Jesus?  The holy Christian Church is an article of faith, not sight.  That is to say, things are not as they appear.  We do fight amongst ourselves, much like the disciples fought over who was the greatest.  It shows our sin and unbelief.  Yet God graciously forgives our pettiness and lack of faith, and calls us nonetheless to be His own in Christ and to make our good confession with St. Peter.  Sure, the Church appears to be shrinking.  There are less people in the pews today than there were in the 1950s.  But you have to take the long view of history.  Of course we always want more to come hear about Jesus, but we don’t count the population of the Church by the number here on Sunday morning.  The Church grows with every Baptism, and the Church doesn’t shrink when one of us dies.  The dead in Christ live!  They’re still members of the Church.  Now they can never leave.  They’re in heaven, members of the Church triumphant.  And as for the suffering and persecution… that is actually a mark of the Church.  That is one of the ways that we know the Church exists, that Christ is present with His people and the Church is persevering.  For what did Jesus promise? “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:9-14; ESV).  And so Jesus says to His disciples, to you, beloved: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12).  Where persecution is going on, there you know Jesus is, strengthening and keeping His saints by His Spirit.  And so there you know is the Church, because the people there confess Christ even to their death.  They endure to the end.  And Jesus saves them.  The gates of hell throw their worst at the Church.  But hell never prevails.  Because Jesus has defeated hell.  He has done so in His death and resurrection.
            And so you confess that this crucified and risen Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, is the Christ, Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of the living God, the Savior.  And as with Peter, flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.  No, all flesh and blood can reveal is what the naked eye can see, and that doesn’t look good.  But our Father in heaven reveals to you that things are not as they appear.  He reveals that, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, our Lord Jesus has won the battle, snatched you out of hell, purchased you to be His own by His precious blood, defeated your death in His death, given you eternal life by the life-giving power of His resurrection.  And He has gathered you together here, as His Church, to loose you from your sin, to forgive you, to cover you with His blood, to teach you, to feed you, to make you His own, to strengthen you for perseverance.  Here the Father reveals Jesus to you as the Christ, His beloved Son, your Savior.  And He does this by His Spirit, working in the holy Word of God and the Sacraments, your Baptism into Christ, and the Lord’s Body and Blood in the Supper.  And you are blessed.  You are blessed to confess the holy faith of Christ.  You are blessed to persevere therein, come what may.  You are blessed to live as God’s own child.

            Now, someday you may be called upon, as St. Peter was, as St. Bartholomew was, whom we commemorate today, and as our brothers and sisters in the Middle East are now, to confess Jesus unto your death.  Peter was crucified upside down in Rome.  Bartholomew was skinned alive in Armenia.  Our brothers and sisters are shot and buried in the desert sand, crucified in the public square, or suffer the public display of their severed heads.  That they confess Christ anyway, in the face of such atrocities, is a miracle, a God-given gift.  Beloved, the same Lord Jesus Christ who feeds you here at this Altar, the same God and Father who declared you His own child in your Baptism, the same Holy Spirit who dwells in you by His life-giving Word, will give you the same gift of perseverance should that day come.  He will keep you in your confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  He will keep you in your Baptism.  And your persecutors will think they win as they snuff out your earthly life, for that is what flesh and blood has revealed to them.  But in that same moment, you will see for yourself what your Father has revealed to you, that the gates of hell can never prevail.  For you will see Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.  You will see the holy Church gathered around Him.  You will see that yours is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 15)

August 17, 2014
Text: Matt. 15:21-28

            Jesus just ignores her.  He does not answer her a word (Matt. 15:23).  Just keeps on walking.  And she keeps begging.  “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David” (v. 22; ESV).  Her daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.  If anyone can help, it is Jesus.  The woman must know something of Him.  Though she’s a Canaanite and not a Jew, she must have heard of Him, and she must know the Promise given to God’s people of the coming Messiah.  She calls Him “Son of David,” a messianic title.  In other words, she believes He’s the Savior.  And the Savior is in the business of crushing the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15), casting out demons and conquering Satan.  So the woman cries to Him, pleads with Him, will not let Him go.  The disciples are getting annoyed.  “Lord, just help her out so she’ll leave us alone.”  I am not sure they are moved by compassion so much as the desire to be rid of her, escape her with a clean conscience.  But Jesus answers the disciples: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24).  Now, wait a second… Isn’t Jesus the Savior of all people?  Isn’t that the Promise we trace through the whole Old Testament, that He’ll be the Savior of the nations, that He’s for everybody?  Yes, of course.  That is the case now that His saving work has been fulfilled.  But in His earthly ministry, He was sent to preach and do miracles for the Israelites.  And, to be sure, it took guts for this Canaanite woman, a Syrophoenician, to address Jesus in the first place.  The Canaanites were the previous inhabitants of the Promised Land, the pagans, the antagonists of Israel.  There is some racial tension here, and Jesus highlights it in His answer.  He essentially tells her, “no!”  But she won’t let go.  If Jesus is the Messiah, He is here for her, and she is holding Him to it.  She throws herself in front of Him, stopping Him in His tracks.  Begging now on her knees, she prays simply and directly: “Lord, help me” (v. 25). 
            And that is your prayer, is it not?  In times of desperation?  In times of great distress, illness, or grief?  “Lord, help me.”  Sometimes there are no other words.  Now, sometimes the help is quick in coming.  Recovery.  Resolution.  Encouragement.  Comfort.  But sometimes the help seems not to come at all.  You’ve been there with the Canaanite woman, haven’t you?  And it’s not just racial tension between Jews and Gentiles that separate you from Jesus.  It is your sin.  You have separated yourself from God by your rejection of Him in your every sin.  So you know that you are not worthy for Jesus to hear you.  And often, He seems to ignore you.  It seems He does not answer you a word.  You beg Him, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David,” and He just keeps on walking.  He seems to reject you.  In the case of the Canaanite woman, He even calls her a dog: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (v. 26).  It is not right to take what belongs to the Jews and throw it to the pagan Gentiles.  In your case, he calls you what you are, a sinner.  It is not right to take what belongs to the righteous and throw it to sinners. 
            Ah, but just there He’s given you something to hold on to.  For Jesus came precisely to take what belongs to the righteous and give it to sinners.  Just as He came precisely to take what belongs to the Jews, namely, salvation in the Messiah, and give it to the whole world.  In calling the woman a dog, Jesus gives her a place in the house (Rev. Mark Love).  And she knows it.  She has caught Him in His Words, right where He desires to be caught.  “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (v. 27).  And so you.  In naming you a sinner, Jesus has given you your place in God’s house.  “Yes, Lord, yet you came precisely to save the sinner from His sin.  You came precisely to save me, to have mercy, to help me.”  You see, Jesus wants to be caught in His Word.  Hold Him to His Word!  Hold on to Him in His Word, and never let Him go.  That is faith.  And so, what does He say to the Canaanite?  “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire” (v. 28).  And her daughter was healed from that hour.  The demon was cast out.  Satan was conquered.  The serpent felt the weight of Messiah on his head.
            Why does Jesus make the woman, make you, jump through so many hoops?  Why doesn’t He just deliver immediately when you ask?  We talked about that last week and we ultimately had to content ourselves with God’s answer to Job: “I’m God and you’re not, so just trust me that I know what I’m doing.”  In other words, we don’t know.  God hasn’t told us.  But we do know that in these situations Jesus, far from having abandoned you, is exercising your faith.  He wants you to hold Him to His Word.  He wants you to believe in spite of the evidence, because you have heard what He says in His Word.  He wants you to know your place in God’s house, as a sinner graciously given His salvation and His righteousness, without any merit or worthiness in yourself.  Jesus wants you to catch Him in His Word.
            So in those times when you are not immediately relieved of your suffering, when the sickness lingers, when the relationship ends, when the loved one dies, when you face your own death… It is then that Jesus wants you to catch Him in His Word.  He wants you to cling to His Promise.  Do you really think He is ignoring you, He who has purchased you to be His own by shedding His precious blood and dying for you on the cross?  Do you really think He refuses to answer to you a word, He who has given you the Holy Scriptures as the revelation of Himself in His grace and mercy?  Do you really think He has rejected you, He who has place God’s own holy Name on you in Baptism as we saw with little John this morning?  No, no.  He wants you to cling to precisely those things.  He wants you to throw yourself in front of Him and stop Him in His tracks, and, recognizing your complete helplessness and unworthiness, cling to Him for mercy: “Lord, help me.”  “Lord, I am a dog.  I am a poor, miserable sinner.  I confess it.  But You brought me into God’s House, made me His own.  You promised there is a place for me.  Just let me eat the crumbs.  Just let me sit at your feet at Your Table.  That’s why you came.  To have mercy on me.”  And then, like a dog sitting by the Master’s Table, wait expectantly for what He has to give you.
            He will help you.  But He will help you perfectly.  He will help you in the way He knows to be best, though it be a cross.  Maybe He will immediately relieve you.  He often does.  Then again, maybe He won’t relieve you until you close your eyes in death and open them in heaven.  That is actually a better help and healing than anything you can prescribe to Him.  And you have to remember that the perfect help and healing only come in the end, when Jesus raises you from the dead.  God may cure your cancer now, but you will still die.  God may restore your loved one to health now, but eventually you will have mourn a loss.  That is the reality of life in this sin-fallen world.  The Lord does have mercy.  The Lord does help.  But we often mistake His mercy and help for neglect.  Because we fail to see what Jesus Christ has finally done for the help of the Canaanite woman and her daughter, for you and me, and for the whole world.

            It is His death on the cross, where He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, where He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God for our sins and the sins of the whole world (Is. 53:4-5).  You know why Jesus kept walking as the woman was begging?  He was walking on to complete His earthly ministry, walking on finally to Golgotha to help her, to save her, to save her precious little daughter, to cast out the demons forever.  He was walking on to save you.  And so in His death and in His resurrection, He provides for your help and healing in full measure.  He dies that you might live.  He lives that you might never die.  He is risen, and He will raise you, too, to live with Him, with all the saints, with the Canaanite woman and her daughter, in paradise restored, in the healthful creation of the new heavens and the new earth.  Jesus is not ignoring you, and His answer to you isn’t really “no.”  It is a bigger “yes” than your request.  It is the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 14)

August 10, 2014
Text: Matt. 14:22-33

            Why does Jesus make His disciples set sail without Him into a storm that by any human standard should cause all on board to be lost?  Why does He make them endure the storm all night long?  While He’s there on the shore praying, the storm arises.  He knows they are in peril.  He knows they are there in the middle of the sea, beaten by the waves, the wind against them, fearing for their lives.  But He doesn’t go out to them until the fourth watch of the night, sometime between 3 and 6 am.  When He does finally walk out to them on the water, our text tells us “they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear” (Matt. 14:26; ESV).  Well, maybe “Ghost” is not the best translation.  They said, “It is a φάντασμά (a phantasm).”  The Jews believed that when they died, an angel would come and carry them to heaven.  Jesus teaches that, too, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:22).  The Jews also believed that when someone died and went to hell, a demon, a phantasm, would come and carry them there.  You know why the disciples were crying out in fear?  They believed they were about to die and go to hell, because a phantasm had come to cart them off to Hades.  Maybe they had Jesus all wrong, after all.  They certainly knew they were sinners.  They feared the storm.  They feared God’s Judgment.  And they had forgotten Jesus’ Word. 
            Back on the shore, Jesus had told them to get into the boat and go before Him to the other side (Matt. 14:22).  We aren’t given the exact quotation, but there is a promise implicit in Jesus’ command.  You will get into the boat and you will cross to the other side.  It’s not just a command, it’s a Gospel guarantee.  You will get to the other side.  Jesus does not promise the weather will be good and the water peaceful.  He knows full well there is a storm brewing.  But when Jesus sends His disciples out in the boat without His visible presence, He wants them to remember and trust in His Word.  That’s what all of us are to do.  We are to get in the boat of the Holy Christian Church and cross through this earthly life to the other side of heaven and the resurrection.  Jesus is with us.  We know that by faith.  But we forget, because He is not visibly present with us.  In reality, He’s present with us in His Word, in His Gospel Promise.  You will cross over.  You will get to the other side.  But there will be storms.  There will be perils.  You will be beaten by the waves.  The wind will be against you.  You will fear the storm.  You will fear for your life, because death is all around you in this life.  You will fear God’s Judgment because you know your sins.  And you, like the disciples, will forget Jesus’ Word. 
            That is why He comes to you.  He comes to you on the water.  Baptism!  He comes to you in His real flesh and blood.  He comes to you and He speaks: “Take heart; it is I” (v. 27).  Well, actually, the words He uses are even stronger than that: “Take heart… I AM.”  YHWH, right here, guys!  “Do not be afraid.”  Because you don’t have to.  Jesus has it all under control.  He is the Lord of wind and wave, the Creator of heaven and earth.  Things are not always as they appear.  The disciples think Jesus has left them to face the storm alone.  In fact, He has done nothing of the sort.  He knows right where they are, precisely what is happening to them.  He sent them there to face it! They think it is a phantasm coming to drag them down to hell.  In fact, it is Jesus coming to save them from death and from hell.  So also you.  Things are not always as they appear.  Jesus sends you into the storm for your good.  You think that He has abandoned you.  In fact, He has done nothing of the sort.  He knows right where you are, precisely what you are going through.  And this is something that you cannot understand now, with your fallen and finite mind, but He is sending you through it, for your good.  That is what He has promised through the Apostle Paul, that He works all things together for your good, for your salvation, for you have been called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).  You may not know now why He does it.  You may not ever know in this life why He does it.  We’re always asking what lesson we’re supposed to learn from something we’ve had to endure.  You may not be given the answer.  Nor does God owe you an answer.  Often His answer is that which He gave to Job in our Old Testament reading (Job 34:4-8): “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.  Who determined its measurements—surely you know!” (vv. 4-5).  In other words, “I’m God and you’re not, so just trust me that I know what I’m doing and stop trying to tell me how to be God!” 
            Just trust Him.  Believe His Word.  Believe His Promise.  You will get to the other side.  Because He will get you there.  That is one thing we learn from the storm.  We can’t do it on our own.  Really, we can’t do it at all.  We need Jesus, or we perish.  When Jesus sent the disciples away on the boat, the water was calm.  They thought they had it handled.  After all, they were professional fishermen.  And this is their lake.  They are perfectly capable of getting to the other side.  That is how we act when life is smooth.  We have it handled.  We know what we’re doing.  Sure, we need a little help and direction from Jesus, but ultimately, we’re good on our own.  Then a storm arises that blows that myth out of the water.  It exposes us in our weakness and utter helplessness.  The disciples thought that every other time they’d been on the lake and come to the other side safely, it was by their own skill.  They didn’t see that God had been the One to keep them safe every time they had pushed the boat off from shore.  So also you and I.  We know what we’re doing.  We have it under control.  We take it for granted that we’ll be safe.  Until we’re not.  We don’t see that every time we have been kept safe, every success we’ve ever enjoyed, every storm we’ve weathered, and every storm we haven’t had to endure, is from God.  We need Him always, when the lake is smooth, and when the waves beat against us.  But when we recognize that we need Jesus every moment, we can also take comfort in His Word of Promise.  He will get us to the other side.  He will keep us safe.  Because He has already done everything to guarantee our safety in His saving work on the cross and in His resurrection from the dead.  Stay in the boat and let the storm rage.  Stay in the Church and let the devil and the world assault you.  They cannot finally harm you.  Jesus comes to you.  “Take heart,” He says to you.  “I AM.” 
            There is also this matter of Peter getting out of the boat and walking to Jesus on the water.  There is a lesson for us here, as well.  It is not that you can walk on water if you just believe enough.  You can try it at the Church picnic next week.  It will never work.  Because you don’t have a word from Jesus.  He hasn’t told you to walk on water.  It was to Peter, and Peter alone, that Jesus said, “Come” (v. 29).  And that is why Peter can walk on the water.  It is not because of his faith.  It is because of the Word.  The sinking happens for the same reason Jesus sent the disciples out into the storm.  To show Peter that he isn’t walking on water because he is a great hero of faith, because he has supernatural abilities, because he is talented, or even because he believes enough.  He is walking on water for one reason only: Jesus’ Word.  On your own, you drown.  With Jesus, you’re safe.  The minute Peter loses sight of the Word, when he looks at the wind and the waves and realizes he is unable by nature to do what he’s doing, that is when he begins to go under.  But as Christians do, in the moment we’re sinking, the moment we are in peril, we call upon the Lord for help: “Lord, save me” (v. 30).  And He does.  He always does, because He is faithful.  Even though we are not, He is.  “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (v. 31).  O Peter, O Christian, beloved in the Lord, why do you doubt?  Why do you ever doubt?  Jesus will never let you perish.  Never.  He does send storms and He does let you sink.  But He always saves you, because that is who He is.  It is right there in His Name: Jesus, “the LORD saves.” 
Why doesn’t Jesus just appear and make everything better for us right now?  Why does He make us get into the boat and suffer storms with wind and waves?  Disease?  Injury?  Loneliness?  Brokenness?  Death?  Whatever it is, why doesn’t Jesus just get rid of it?  He does, but not the way you tell Him to.  He takes it into Himself and bears it to the cross.  That is why He dies.  He dies for your sins, that you be forgiven.  He dies for your hurt, that you be healed.  He dies for your death, that you live forever with Him.  And He is risen, and lives, and reigns, so that nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God for you in Christ.  You have His Word on it.  And that is the Word that will carry you across, here in the boat, the holy Church.  In spite of the storms, in spite of all that this fallen world can throw at you, you will get to the other side.  Because Jesus has spoken.  He cannot lie.  Do not be afraid.  He has promised.  He will save you.  The wind and the waves will cease.  And you will bow before His throne, safe on the other side, and confess with the disciples: “Truly you are the Son of God” (v. 33).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  H     

Saturday, August 09, 2014

In Memoriam +Henry Louis Pfauth+

In Memoriam +Henry Louis Pfauth+

August 9, 2014
Text: John 10:11-15

            Hank Pfauth walked in danger all the way, whether it be the earthly perils he faced in his time in service to our country during World War II, or the physical ailments that plagued him, particularly the last few years of his life.  He also knew that he walked amidst spiritual dangers, the flaming arrows of the evil one, temptation, sin, and death.  But just as Hank bravely served our nation, confident that the Lord would take care of him, so he bravely walked in this life in the midst of spiritual dangers confident that his walk was with Jesus Christ all the way, who would, as our Psalm declares, keep him from all evil, keep his life, keep his going out and his coming in from this time forth and forevermore (Ps. 121:7-8).  Hank trusted in Jesus, his Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep, for Hank, for you and me, that we might forever live in the safety of the Lord.
            That Jesus is our Good Shepherd means that He leads us, as the beloved Psalm 23 sings, through the valley of the shadow of death and out the other side again.  So that’s what He’s done for Hank.  Our Good Shepherd Jesus led our brother Hank through death and to Himself in heaven, to safety, to joy, to eternal life.  Jesus can lead us through that valley because He’s been there Himself.  That is what He did on the cross for us.  He conquered death by dying.  Dying in our place.  Dying for us, for Hank, for our sin, to pay our debt to God and to purchase us to be His own.  And what He purchases with His own blood He does not leave behind in the valley.  He does not leave Hank in death.  Hank lives.  He lives with Jesus.  He sees now for himself what we can only know by faith, as he stands before the throne of God and of the Lamb with the saints adorned in their white robes.  And the Lamb in the center of the throne, Jesus Christ, who is risen and living… this is His promise: He will raise Hank and all of us from the dead when He comes again on the Last Day.
            Until that Day, or until we join Hank with Jesus in heaven, we, too, walk in danger all the way.  Jesus tells us about those dangers in our Holy Gospel.  He talks about the hired hands who flee at the first sign of danger and the wolves who snatch and scatter the sheep (John 10:12).  Those would be the people and things that we fear, love, and trust more than God.  Those are the people and things we follow instead of listening for the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, to follow Him.  They also include our three main enemies who are always out to devour us like a wolf: the devil, the unbelieving world, and our own sinful flesh.  If you don’t believe you walk in danger all the way, just consider why we’re here today.  Death is the certain reality of life in this fallen world.  We try to ignore it, shield our eyes and ears from it, but eventually a loved one dies and we have to go to the funeral.  We have to confront it, this sad reality.  And we grieve.  It looks like the wolf won.  It looks like the Good Shepherd wasn’t so good after all, like He fell asleep on the job, as though He failed.
            But things are not as they appear.  The Good Shepherd wins the victory over death by, of all things, submitting to it.  What does He say?  “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11; ESV).  The Good Shepherd, Jesus, allows the wolf, death, to swallow Him whole.  And the devil rejoices.  The demons dance for joy.  The enemies of Christ sing their triumph song.  Until the wolf’s tummy starts to rumble.  And ache.  And writhe.  And then Christ, the crucified Savior, punches a hole right through death’s belly so that it can never hold another sheep captive in the tomb again. That’s what happened on Good Friday and Easter, in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
            So the same Jesus came to Hank on Wednesday morning, in the wee small hours, and said to him, “Henry…” He says Henry because He calls us by our baptismal names.  “Henry,” Jesus said.  “The time for walking in danger is over.  Walk with me where it is safe, through the valley of the shadow to the bright eternal day of heaven.”  And for the first time in a long time, Hank walked without trouble, better, in fact, than He’d ever walked before, with Jesus, with the holy angels, to the place Jesus has prepared for him in His Father’s house.  He now enjoys God’s good healing that we sang about in the 6th verse of the hymn (LSB 716), the good healing that allays all suffering, sin, and sorrow, because those things are at an end in Christ.  The sorrow is ours today, not Hank’s.  He is in perfect joy and bliss in the presence of the Savior.  He wouldn’t have it any other way, again, as we sang in the verse: “For all the world I would not stay; My walk is heav’nward all the way.”  For all the world, Hank would not have stayed.  Not because he doesn’t love you.  But because he is where he belongs.  He is healed.  He is with Jesus.  And you’ll see him again.  You’ll see him when you are there with him, with Jesus, because of Jesus, who gives you eternal life. 
            Death is always sad.  Even for Christians.  Because we miss our loved one.  We miss Hank.  But there is also a note of joy at every Christian funeral.  Because we know what Jesus has done about death, Hank’s and ours, in His own death on the cross and in His resurrection.  We know what happens for every believer who walks with Jesus through the valley of the shadow, that He brings them into the light and life of heaven.  And we know what happens at the end, when Jesus returns, and tells us to come out of the grave in our bodies.  Beloved in the Lord, this body will rise from the dead!  So the Christian funeral is a celebration and a confession of the Lord Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come.  We know the end of the story.  We know the Good Shepherd wins.  And death lays dying at the foot of His cross.
            The joy of it all is that we, like Hank, can walk with Jesus all the way.  He never walks away from us.  He never leaves us nor forsakes us.  Not in life.  Not in death.  He walks with us because we are baptized into Him, united to Him by water and the Word.  He walks with us, speaking His Word of life to us.  And here at the altar, He feeds us with Himself, His true body and blood, given and shed for us, for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He spreads a Feast before us.  And not just us, but those who have gone before, Hank and all the saints, who continue to join us “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.”  The hymn we just sang preaches Hank’s confidence in Christ.  That confidence is ours, as well.  “I walk with Jesus all the way, His guidance never fails me; Within His wounds I find a stay When Satan’s pow’r assails me; And by His footsteps led, My path I safely tread.  No evil leads my soul astray; I walk with Jesus all the way” (LSB 716:5).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
           


Sunday, August 03, 2014

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 13)

August 3, 2014
Text: Is. 55:1-5; Matt. 14:13-21

            “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Is. 55:1; ESV).  Our Lord bids us through the Prophet Isaiah to come to Him and be satisfied, to purchase from Him water, food, wine, and milk, a feast which we, who have nothing of ourselves, could never afford.  But our Lord bids us come and buy that which is priceless without money and without price.  Because He gives it freely.  And what is this water, food, wine, and milk?  It is His salvation, eternal life, forgiveness of sins, mercy, providence, faith, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  It is all that Christ pours out on us in His Word and Sacraments.  What else is the water but Baptism?  What else is the food but the Bread of Life that is our Lord’s Body given into death for us and distributed to us?  What else is the wine but the Lord’s Blood in the Supper?  What else is the milk but the precious Word of God by which He nourishes us as infants in the faith?  And it’s free to you and to me here in the Lord’s Church.
            The Lord Jesus feeds His people.  Certainly He gives us each day our daily bread.  At the very least we ought to take that lesson to heart as we hear the Holy Gospel.  The people are hungry.  The Lord provides.  Bread in the wilderness.  Five loaves and two fish, miraculous multiplication, twelve baskets left over.  He’ll provide for you, too.  But that’s not really the point.  You have yet to starve to death because your heavenly Father knows what you need and has graciously given it.  “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).  We’re always laboring for that which does not satisfy, as the Prophet Isaiah points out to us (Is. 55:2).  We’re always so narrowly focused on this life and the concerns of this life, that we look for satisfaction in possessions and money or pleasure, what this world has to offer.  And though we know better as Christians, for all practical purposes, we often act as if this life is all there is.  Live it up now.  Get what you can now.  It’s all over when you die.  You know that’s not true!  In reality, it is only Jesus who satisfies.  He is the Bread of Life from heaven, the true Manna who sustains us in this wilderness of sin and death, with His Word and His Body and His Blood.  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).  The Word imparts Jesus, gives Him to us with all His saving benefits, to nourish us and bring us to eternal life, heaven, and the resurrection of our bodies.
            Don’t miss the point of the feeding of the 5,000.  Yes, Jesus miraculously multiplied real bread and fish.  Yes, hungry people ate real food and were satisfied because their bellies were full.  St. John tells us in his account that bread is all the people cared about (John 6:26).  They wanted to make Jesus King so that they would always have something to eat (v. 15).  Jesus chides them for it.  “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (v. 27).  The people had missed the point of the miracle.  Jesus’ providence for the bodily needs of the people is a sign of His providence for our spiritual needs. 
            After all, Jesus could have provided for the people’s hunger in another way.  Clearly there were villages nearby to which the people could go and buy bread for themselves, as they undoubtedly planned to do anyway, and this was the suggestion of the disciples (Matt. 14:15).  But what does Jesus say to His disciples?  “(Y)ou give them something to eat” (v. 16).  Jesus isn’t giving this command to just anybody.  He’s giving it to the Twelve.  He’s giving it to the Apostles, the first Christian pastors, and He’s charging to them to feed the people.  Not with their own resources, mind you.  They are to take what God has already given them, five loaves of bread and two fish, and bring it to Jesus, for it is He, through them, who will feed the people.  And what does He do?  He takes the food, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to His disciples.  Now, that ought to sound familiar.  Let me repeat that.  He takes the bread and fish, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to the disciples.  And the disciples are to give it to the people. 
            This is how the Lord feeds His Church.  He feeds His Church by distributing His gifts in the Apostolic Ministry.  He gives the Church pastors who are to take what God has already given to satisfy our bodily needs, bread and wine in the case of the Lord’s Supper, and bring them to Jesus, for it is He who feeds His Church by the mouths and hands of His ministers.  Jesus, by the mouth of His called and ordained servant, speaks His Word over the bread and wine, the Words of Institution: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples…” (LSB 197).  You know how it goes.  He says of the bread, “this is My + body,” and it is.  And He says of the wine, “this is My + blood,” and it is.  And then the pastor is to take what Jesus has given and feed the people.  It is free.  It is for you.  You who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  For that which is priceless is here given to you without price, for Jesus has paid the price in full in His innocent suffering and death on the cross for you.
            No, the meal in the wilderness was not the Lord’s Supper.  That would not happen until the night of our Lord’s betrayal in the Upper Room where He had gathered with His disciples.  They were to take what happened there and give it to the Church.  This meal in the wilderness is a dry run of sorts, a practice, to teach the Church how the Lord feeds us.  He gives pastors.  And He gives the pastors that which they are to feed the people.  And in this way Jesus Himself feeds you.  And there is another lesson here.  Everyone is satisfied.  And there are even leftovers.  What seems like it could never be enough: five loaves and two fish, is sufficient to fill everyone and so also fill twelve baskets full of leftovers.  There is a basket for each disciple to take up, for when the Lord gives, He gives in abundance. 
            And we look at the little wafer and the sip of wine in the Supper and say, How can that possibly satisfy?  How can that do anything about my need, physically or spiritually?  What can that possibly do about my sin?  What can that possibly do about my death?  Beloved, do not look at the appearance of things.  When you do that, you labor for that which does not satisfy.  Remember what the Lord did with the five loaves and two fish.  Look what the Lord does with the bread and wine of the Supper.  He takes it.  He blesses it.  He gives to you, His true body and blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.  And you are satisfied.  You are healed of your iniquity.  You are healed of death.  You are nourished for eternal life.  For when the crucified and risen Body and Blood of Jesus touches your lips and flows down your throat, the Bread of Life and the Medicine of Immortality has taken possession of you.  It flows in you and through you.  And it overflows to your neighbor, because remember, there are always leftovers, baskets to pick up, the Bread of Life (Jesus) to distribute, the grace and mercy of God poured into you in Jesus so that there is more than enough for you to give to your neighbor.

            Jesus feeds His Church.  Jesus feeds you.  He feeds you with Himself.  And it is enough.  You are satisfied.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 9)

July 6, 2014
Text: Matthew 11:25-30

            We are children of the heavenly Father.  That is our posture toward Him.  Little children.  That means that we are utterly helpless apart from His care and providence.  We can do nothing for ourselves.  We need Him to feed us, cloth us, put a roof over our heads, keep us safe, comfort us when we are hurting or in distress, nurse us back to health when we are sick.  We need Him for everything.  And most especially we need Him to rescue us when we are in mortal danger, for we cannot save ourselves from sin and death any more than an infant can rescue himself from the clutches of a violent predator.  God must do everything for us.  So that’s what He does.  He created the world and everything in it, the universe and all that exists, created it all out of nothing, by His almighty Word.  And in this world He provides for all our needs of body and soul.  He gives us, as every Catechism student learns to recite: “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all I have.  He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.  He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil” (Luther’s Small Catechism [St. Louis: Concordia, 1986]).  He rescues us from that violent predator, the old evil foe, from sin, and from the very jaws of death.  For He sends His Son, Jesus, who (again, as we learn in the Catechism), “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”  And that we may receive all of this, know that it comes from our gracious God, and believe in Him and trust Him for help and salvation and every need, He gives us His Holy Spirit, who “has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” 
            As is often the case with children, we take for ourselves much of the credit that properly belongs to our heavenly Father.  We’ve earned this.  This stuff is ours.  We can provide for ourselves.  We can protect ourselvesWe know what is good for us and what is bad for us.  And so we get a little too big for our britches.  Children always point out the stuff that belongs to them as if it weren’t Mom and Dad who actually paid for it.  They act as if they own the house, the food magically appears in the refrigerator, and the money for all their stuff grows on trees.  They think they can do just fine without Mom and Dad’s wisdom, Mom and Dad’s protection, Mom and Dad’s rules, but even when they go off to college, they’re more than happy to have Mom and Dad buy some groceries, do some laundry, take them out to a nice restaurant.  But you know what, Mom and Dad are happy to do that, because they’re Mom and Dad.  That’s their job.  That’s their office.  Whether the kids recognize it or not.  And so God our Father in His dealing with us.  We think we don’t need Him.  Except when we do.  And it is in those moments that we realize we always need Him.  And He always provides.  He always helps.  He is always God for us.  He is always our Father.  He reveals this not to the wise and learned, those who think they know enough on their own and don’t need Him.  He reveals it to little children, you, when your labors and burdens bring you to the end of yourself and you realize how utterly dependent you are upon God for every moment, every breath, every beat of your heart.
            God must do everything for you, as a Father for His infant.  And He does it through His only-begotten Son, Jesus.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who took on our flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  He became a little baby for us.  He was utterly dependent on His mom, for us, who are utterly dependent on His Father.  He is the Word through whom the Father created all things (John 1:1-3).  He is the Word by which the Father sustains all things (Heb. 1:3).  He is the Word by which the Father cares for you, the Divine Wisdom by which the Father teaches you (Prov. 2:6, etc.), and it is He who became flesh, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, to redeem you, to pay for your sins by His death, to give you eternal life.  Now He is risen in that same flesh, and has ascended to the right hand of the Father.  And the Father has handed over to Him all things.  He rules all things for us and for our salvation.  And He reveals His Father to us by sending His Spirit, who works right here in His Church, in the preaching of the Word and in the holy Sacraments.  The Son reveals God to us, not as a God of wrath, not as a God far removed, but as “Our Father who art in heaven.”  Our God, for us.
            And that takes all the burdens off of us.  I think about this sometimes, how there were times when I was a child when I was literally without a care in the world.  Because Mom and Dad took care of everything.  Those were great times, if only I had recognized it then.  For example, when we would go on a family vacation, Mom and Dad paid for everything.  I had no idea it even cost anything.  They just took care of it.  They drove.  They made sure we got where we were going safely and efficiently.  They made sure we were well fed.  They made sure we had a place to sleep.  None of this was ever of any concern for me.  I wish my kids knew how wonderful this whole thing is they’re about to experience.  Now I’m the dad, and I have to worry about all of it.  Except I don’t.  Not ultimately.  Sure God has called me to be responsible for all of this for my family, humanly speaking.  But ultimately, who is responsible for all of this, right down to the last detail?  God is.  Our Father is.  He takes care of it.  I suppose as a kid I thought I had a few things to worry about.  Would we get to go to my favorite restaurant?  Would I get the souvenir I really wanted?  But when we grow up, we realize those aren’t really cares.  In those moments when we realize God, our heavenly Father, has it all covered, we also recognize that we don’t really have any cares.  We don’t really have anything to worry about.  He’s got it.  Just trust Him.  He’s in the driver’s seat.  We just buckle up, and go for the ride.
            This is what Jesus means when He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28; ESV).  You can rest knowing that it is ultimately Jesus who bears your labors and your burdens, that He bore them already to the cross where they have been baptized by His blood, sanctified, made holy, all sin having been washed away. He would have you take up His yoke, which is His Name given to you in Baptism.  We’ve been talking about that yoke the last couple weeks in terms of persecution.  I suppose that is burdensome.  He would have you learn from Him, learn His Word, come to know it by heart so that it just becomes a part of you.  I suppose that is laborious.  But His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  Because He is the one who ultimately does the labor and bears the burden.  He does that on the cross.  And He gives you rest.  Rest in Him.  Rest in His Father.  Rest as a little child who simply trusts in your God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
            It has been a tough week for our congregation, and I can tell you one very important thing about our two dear sisters as they lay on their death beds.  There it became clear to them that they are little children of the heavenly Father.  They could do nothing.  But that’s okay.  Because Jesus has done everything.  And He continues to do everything, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit.  All they could do is trust in Him and rest.  And so you.  Trust your Father.  Trust Jesus.  Come to your Savior with all your labors and burdens.  Come here to His Table.  For here He gives you rest.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.