Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Dorr, Michigan

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.    

    

Saturday, July 05, 2014

In Memoriam +Norma Ruth TerAvest+

In Memoriam +Norma Ruth TerAvest+

July 5, 2014
Text: John 20:11-18

            Norma is one of the matriarchs of this congregation.  If I know my Epiphany history, one of the inaugural (if not THE inaugural) meeting of the congregation-to-be was held in the farm house living room, Norma and Bob serving as hosts.  God has given us many gifts through this dear saint.  Many of the members here learned the faith in her Sunday School class at St. Paul’s.  Many more learned the faith from her confession of Christ and her Christian example.  And many learned the best that human wisdom has to offer at her feet in the schoolhouse and classrooms in which she taught for so many years.  Norma is a teacher at heart.  And this morning she continues to teach us in Scripture and hymn and liturgy as through this service she confesses her risen Lord Jesus Christ.
            This is, after all, what her Lord called her to do in her Baptism into Christ on February 9, 1920, when the Lord Jesus called her by name and put the very Name of God on her, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  She was called to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus, one who learns of Him, and then passes on what she has learned, that others may come to believe in the Lord Jesus and be strengthened in their faith.  Susan mentioned that Mary Magdalene was a hero of Norma’s in this regard.  Mary, as we heard in the Holy Gospel, was the first to see the risen Lord Jesus on Easter morning (and touch Him – Matt. 28), and she was charged to go and proclaim the Resurrection to the Apostles.  She to whom the Lord Jesus had shown great mercy by casting out seven demons (Mark 16:11), she who had followed the Lord and cared for Him in His earthly ministry (Luke 8:2-3), who stood at the foot off the cross and wept for her Teacher (John 19:25), who served Jesus even in His death, coming to His tomb early that morning to anoint His body with spices (Mark 16:1), she was given to see Him, risen and living.  She did not recognize Him at first.  In her grief, she could not see Him clearly, though there He was, with her in her grief, with her to comfort and impart faith.  She supposed Him to be the gardener.  Until He spoke her name.  “Mary,” He said, and that was all it took.  “Rabboni!” she replied, “(which means Teacher)” (John 20:16; ESV).  For she recognized Him when He called her by name. 
            And this is the pattern of Norma’s life, is it not?  He first called her by name in her Baptism into Him, into His death and resurrection.  She learned to recognize Him at the font.  In great mercy, the Lord Jesus made her His own, forgiving all her sins, bestowing on her eternal life and salvation, teaching her Divine wisdom in His holy Word, feeding her with His Body and Blood at the altar, providing for her every need of body and soul.  And He opened her lips by His Spirit to teach God’s people His own Word.  She taught what Jesus first taught her.  She gave what she had first received.  She loved, because He first loved her (1 John 4:19).  She loved and she served in the love of Christ.  She followed her Lord and cared for Him by caring for His people.  She served Him by serving His people, serving His Church, even planting this congregation with her brothers and sisters in those exciting early days with Pastor Lach.  For the love of God poured out upon Norma in Jesus Christ flowed through her to others, to us, and to so many.  And she confessed Him.  She confessed her Teacher, her Savior, her Lord.  “Christ is risen!” she would say.  “He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!”    
            And so she could face death with peace, with hope, even with joy.  Because Christ conquered death in His death and in His resurrection from the dead.  And He has promised to raise Norma and all of us, bodily, on the Last Day. 
            It was a really beautiful experience Susan and I had in Norma’s final moments on earth.  I had stopped in, made small talk with Susan for a bit, Norma was sleeping soundly.  Moving to her bedside, we began to pray the Commendation of the Dying, portions of which we had already prayed a number of times.  This time we prayed it in full.  There was the Holy Absolution, the forgiveness of all Norma’s sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  There were Scripture readings and prayers, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, a commendation of our dear sister to the Lord, and His three-fold benediction.  Among the Scripture readings which were the last Norma heard were these words from the Holy Gospel coming up tomorrow, the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the eleventh Chapter: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).  Jesus said, “Norma, come to me and rest.”  And Norma did.  By the time we finished the prayers, the holy angels had taken her to behold the face of her Savior in heaven.  He called her by name.  And for the first time she saw Him clearly.  He in whom she had believed, He whom she had confessed, she saw Him now for herself, sees Him now, just as Mary Magdalene did, her risen and living Savior.
            It is hard for us to see Him, though, in our grief.  In our sadness because we miss Norma.  In the other things that weigh us down in this earthly life.  Our sins, our heartaches, our sicknesses and pain.  But He is here with us.  Just because you can’t see something with your eyes, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  Just because you can’t see Jesus with your eyes, that doesn’t mean He isn’t with you.  He’s hidden, for sure.  But when someone is hidden, that necessarily means that person is present.  Jesus is here with you.  And just like Norma and Mary Magdalene, you recognize Him when He calls you by name.  You see Him by faith when He calls you in His Word and in Holy Baptism.  You’ll see Him for yourself when He calls you to come to Him at the end of your earthly life.  Learn from Norma.  She’s teaching you, here.  Come to Jesus and lay your labors and burdens at His pierced feet.  Take His yoke upon you, which is to say, the confession of His holy Name, as Norma did throughout her life.  And learn from Him, as Norma did, learning His Word, and then teaching it to others. 

            And be comforted.  All the things the Lord Jesus has done for Norma, He does for you.  He calls you to be His own.  In great mercy, He forgives all your sins and bestows on you eternal life and salvation.  He provides for your every need of body and soul.  He teaches you.  He gives you His Holy Spirit.  And He consoles you, even in your grief.  And His Words aren’t just empty sentiments.  For He has conquered death.  He is risen.  He will raise Norma on the Last Day.  And He will raise you, too.  That’s what Norma taught.  This congregation exists because she and Bob and their fellow founders believed it.  And now, she and Bob together, they see it.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Third Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 8)

June 29, 2014
Text: Matt. 10:34-42

            “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34; ESV).  Those are Jesus’ Words about Himself.  And how different our Lord’s self-description is than the way many in our culture would describe Him.  Isn’t Jesus all about bringing peace and reconciliation and love?  Well, He is, but not the way so many in our culture think He is.  Jesus is not about everybody accepting everybody else for who they are and whatever they want to do and whatever they want to believe so that we can all have a big group hug.  Jesus is not about tolerance when the thing we’re supposed to tolerate is physically or spiritually harmful, sinful, and destructive to people.  And as far as diversity, yes, Jesus is all about people from all over the earth, from many nations, with many backgrounds and many skin colors, coming together under the standard of His cross in one holy, Christian, and apostolic Church.  But not all diversity is good, and it isn’t all blessed by Jesus.  For example, our Lord is pretty insistent that there is only one way to heaven, and He is it.  He’s not very tolerant about diversity in religions.  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” says the Lord.  “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  So Jesus does not live up to the culture’s politically correct expectations.  Turns out He is not about rainbow unicorns and cuddly kittens.  He’s the Lord who enters the Temple to overturn tables and drive out the merchants and money-changers with a whip of chords.  You can read it for yourself.  It’s right there in John Chapter 2 (vv. 13-17).  The Jesus of Scripture is a Jesus with hard edges. 
            Jesus comes packing heat.  He’s wielding a sword.  As you can see from the picture on the front of your bulletin, He wields the sword with His mouth.  The sword, of course, is His Word.  “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).  And this sword does exactly what our Lord says it will in our text.  The Word of Christ becomes a source of division even between family members.  And you know what I mean.  What are the two topics you’re never supposed to bring up at the dinner table?  Religion and politics, right?  Well, just bring up Jesus and see how it goes.  Because you either believe in Jesus (the Jesus in Scripture, not the one made up by the culture), or you don’t.  You’re either with Him, or you’re not.  You either believe His Word, or you reject it.  And feelings are strong on both sides because there is so much at stake.  Those of us who believe in Jesus are devoted to Him, because we know what He’s done for us, saving us from our sin and death, from hell, by His suffering and death on the cross.   He gives us peace of heart, peace of conscience, peace with God, and eternal life, and we want others to have that peace and eternal life, so we witness.  We speak of Jesus and urge others to believe in Him.  But those who don’t believe in Him, have strong feelings, too, because again, there is so much at stake.  If Jesus is God, and if Jesus is the only way to eternal life, and I don’t believe in Jesus, well then, what does that mean for me?  That means I’m lost.  My sins aren’t forgiven.  I have no peace.  And instead of eternal life, I have eternal death, which is to say, hell.  And so, if you’re having this discussion around the family dinner table, it’s easy to see how the sword of Jesus’ Word sets a man against His father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  Passions run high.  And in times of persecution, like I warned you last week I think are coming, well… It has happened and it will happen again until our Lord returns that family members deliver up their own family members unto death.  Again, just think of Miriam Ibrahim (who has been freed, thank God, and for whom we continue to pray that God would grant her safety).  Her own Islamic father’s family, it is reported, are the ones who asked Sudanese authorities to take action against her.  So peace in the family might not be an option for those who believe in Jesus Christ.  Remember, dear Christians, that Jesus comes first, before family, and that’s what Jesus means when He says that “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37-38).  Confess Christ, speak His Word with gentleness and respect, but firmly and faithfully.  And then take what comes to you, whether from friend or foe.  That’s what you’re called to do. 
            The sword of Jesus’ Word, though, is double edged.  It is both Law and Gospel.  And here is the beautiful thing about our Lord’s wielding of the sword.  He comes among us with that sword, and we expect Him to mow us all down with His righteous Law, to slay us for our sins.  But He doesn’t.  Instead, He submits Himself to the sword.  He who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21), took our sin into Himself, and bore it to Calvary.  He suffered under God’s justice, that in Him God would justify the world.  He died, that we might live.  He was mowed down, that He might raise us out of sin and death to righteousness and life in Him.  That’s the Gospel.  And that is why, beloved, we can bear persecution.  Because, as we learned last week, all any earthly persecutor can do to us is kill our body.  They cannot kill our soul.  And on the Last Day, Jesus will raise our body from the grave to eternal life with Him.  That means the persecutors can’t really kill us.  When you die you go to heaven.  Then Jesus raises you.  There is a happy ending.  And that is also true about any lesser persecution you may have to endure.  So you are mocked.  Jesus will set the record straight on Judgment Day when He confesses you before the Father.  So friends and family speak ill of you, maybe even refuse to speak to you.  On the Last Day, they will confess your faithfulness before the throne of Jesus Himself.  So they take your home and your possessions.  Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you in the Father’s House.  So they imprison you.  Jesus will give you perfect freedom on the Day of Resurrection.
            Of course, as Christians, it is not our aim to be pests.  We don’t want to cause divisions, and we won’t so far as it depends on us.  But we will speak the Word of Christ faithfully.  We will confess Him.  Like Jeremiah in our Old Testament reading.  He didn’t want to be divided from Hananiah and the King in Jerusalem.  But the LORD had given him a Word to speak, and he had to speak it, even though it brought him suffering and the cross.  Jesus tells you, also, to take up your cross and follow Him.  And what that means is, don’t be afraid to suffer for His Name and for the Gospel.  Trust that He’ll preserve you, because that’s what He has promised.  To take up your cross simply means to take up your Baptism.  You already died.  You are baptized into the death of Christ.  You already have eternal life.  You are baptized into the resurrection of Christ.  So take they your life, goods, fame, child, or wife, let these all be gone.  They yet have nothing won!  The Kingdom yours remaineth! (LSB 656:4).  Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39).  What that means is you have the world offering you life on its terms, and you have Jesus offering you life on His.  The life the world has to give you, with all its pleasures and charms, ends in death.  Finding your life, you lose it.  Deny Jesus and the world will let you alone, but in the end, you die.  The life Jesus has to give you starts with your death in Him and your continual losing your life for His sake in this earthly life as you bear the holy cross.  But in the end, you live, and that eternally.  Losing your life, you find it.  Confess Jesus and you may be flogged and hanged, as Miriam Ibrahim was threatened.  But then comes the reward, a reward Jesus Himself won for you on His cross, eternal life and the martyr’s crown.

            Jesus is not a politically correct Savior, and to whatever degree you’ve been influenced by political correctness (and we all have), repent.  Because this is about deeper things than having people like you, peace in the family, honor in the world’s estimation, money, possessions, and fleeting pleasures.  This is about deeper things than your home, your family, even your bodily life.  This is about things eternal, the holy things, the things of Jesus who died for you, the Jesus who is risen from the dead and lives for you, that you might live eternally in Him.  The Word of Jesus is sharp and it is deadly.  It will kill you, and it will hurt.  Don’t think believing that Word comes without a cost.  But it also raises you to life again, for it comes with this reward: Jesus, your life and your salvation, your God in the flesh.  It comes with Jesus saying to you in the end: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).  And now you’ve found it, your life in Jesus Christ, the Crucified.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Second Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 7)

June 22, 2014
Text: Matt. 10:5a, 21-33

            Miriam Ibrahim sits on death row in a Sudanese prison, as we speak, awaiting punishment by flogging followed by her execution by hanging.  Her crime?  She is a Christian.  The formal charge is apostasy.  The Islamic Sudanese government claims that Miriam converted to Christianity, which is illegal, and punishable by death.  In reality, her Christian mother raised her in the faith of Jesus after her Islamic father abandoned her.  Miriam grew up, became a doctor, married a Christian who is also a United States citizen.  They had a son.  She became pregnant with a daughter.  Then the Sudanese government arrested her and convicted her, first of adultery, because they do not recognize marriage to a Christian man (thus the flogging), and again, of apostasy, because Miriam confesses Jesus Christ.  She can renounce her Christian faith at any time and she will be released.  But she will not do it.  She believes what Jesus says in our Holy Gospel: “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33; ESV).  Miriam recently gave birth to her daughter in her prison cell, her legs chained together through the labor.  She has been forced to keep her children with her in prison until she is executed.  The infant mortality rate in this prison is one per day in the summer, according to the U.N.
            If you think it can’t happen here, you haven’t been paying attention.  There are things you cannot say as a Christian without being called a hater and a bigot.  In this country where we value our religious freedom, Christians are forced to pay for things that violate the deepest principles of our faith.  Our own courts have forced Christian business people to provide services that violate their conscience.  This is not a Democrat verses Republican thing.  This is just the reality.  Christianity is being officially censured.  Now, we have not yet been called upon to suffer as our sister Miriam has.  We have not yet been imprisoned.  We have not yet had to shed our blood or give our lives.  But if you don’t think it’s coming, I’d love to hear your theory about how that will all work out.  And when it does come, what will you do?  There will be an easy way out of the persecution.  It is the same option open to Miriam.  Just renounce Jesus and all the trouble goes away.  Just compromise your convictions.  Just waffle on Christian teaching.  Don’t be so stubborn about holding to what the Bible teaches.  Shut up, pay up, and you can go your merry way.
            But that is not an option for you, dear Christian.  No, like our sister Miriam, you believe what Jesus says to you this morning: “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  Our Lord has told us ahead of time that we will have to suffer.  Do not think that you are immune.  Jesus says our own family members will persecute us: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death” (v. 21).  You’ve probably been to family dinners where the tension is high because of disagreements about abortion or gay marriage or something like that, and you may have kept your Christian mouth shut because you didn’t want to add to the conflict.  Jesus says, though, you’ll be hated by all for His Name’s sake (v. 22), which is to say, because you bear His Name (Christian), because you’re Baptized into the Name He gives you, the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And because you speak in His Name, when the Lord opens your lips in confession, confession of a Christ the world despises.  You can’t avoid it, beloved.  A disciple is not above his Teacher, nor a servant above his Master (v. 24).  If they hated Jesus, they will hate you.  If they crucified Jesus, they will persecute you.  But there is the Promise: “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (v. 22).
            Endurance is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is given by grace.  It is free to you, a gift of your Baptism.  We always talk about how we don’t know what we’ll do or what we’ll say until we’re in the moment, until we’re actually suffering persecution, and I suppose that is true in some sense.  The old sinful flesh will always want to take the easy way out.  There are Christians who have messed up on this.  They renounced their faith in time of peril.  Some abandoned Christ forever.  Others repented and came back to take up their cross.  But you are baptized.  You do have the Holy Spirit.  And Jesus did promise that you don’t have to worry ahead of time what you will say because the Holy Spirit will teach you what you should say and give you the words (Matt. 10:19; Luke 12:12).  In fact, He’s already taught you the words.  You know the Creed.  That’s the confession.  Just confess it, and confess it unto death. 
            After all, you know that your persecutors can only kill your body, and as Jesus says, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).  That’s God.  Fear God.  Do not fear man.  And trust God.  He’s your Father.  He will not let you perish.  He has numbered your every hair follicle (v. 30).  If not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from your Father, surely you, who are of more value than many sparrows (v. 31), can trust in the protection and providence of the God who loves you so deeply that He gave His only Son, Jesus, into death for you, to make you His own child.  If that’s true (and it is), you have nothing to fear.  Jesus says to go and proclaim His Word from the housetops.  Confess Christ.  Speak the truth in love.  Be like the Prophet Jeremiah and speak the Lord’s Word to those who hate you.  And then take it, whatever it is the unbelieving world has to dish out.  Because all they can do is what they are doing to our sister Miriam.  That’s the worst that can happen.  It sounds really bad to our lazy, apathetic flesh.  But think about it.  Because you are in Jesus, who died for you and is risen from the dead, when you die, you go on living.  They can’t really kill you.  You go to heaven.  And even the death of your body is only temporary.  Jesus will raise it up again, and then you can’t be flogged.  Then you can’t be hanged.  Then you can’t be persecuted, because then the old order of things has passed away and the new has come in Christ.
            In the meantime, practice what you’re going to do.  Practice the choice you will make under persecution.  We American Christians have been lulled into apathy and complacency.  We just don’t realize what is at stake when we compromise with the world.  Opportunities to practice faithfulness abound.  You just don’t recognize them.  You’re not going to like this, but it needs to be said.  When you have to choose between Church and inconsequential things (like sleeping in, or the lake, or sports, or whatever), and you choose those inconsequential things over Church, I want you to think about something.  If that’s what you do when the stakes are low, what are you going to do when the stakes are high?  When you have to choose between Church and your life on this earth?  What happens when you are in prison with Miriam?  And what about your children and grandchildren?  What priorities are you teaching them?  It is summer and these things have to be considered.  Practice what you’re going to do now, while the stakes are low.  If you can’t make it on Sunday, come on Wednesday.  Just come.  If you’re on vacation, find a Church.  Look on the Missouri Synod’s website.  There’s a congregation locator.  Or ask me.  I’ll help you find one.  But you need to go to Church.  After all, this is where the Holy Spirit teaches you what you shall say in that hour, when the persecution comes.  This is where the Holy Spirit teaches you the faith and keeps you in Jesus.  He keeps you steadfast.  He keeps you so that you endure to the end and are saved.  That’s the Promise. 

            Our sister Miriam will be released, of that I have absolutely no doubt.  I pray for her release daily, and I ask you to do the same, and to pray for the millions of Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering active persecution for the faith.  Miriam will either be released from prison because of the intense international pressure on the Sudanese government (and really, God’s mercy and your prayers), or she will be released when the holy angels carry her to the arms of the Savior in heaven.  Then Jesus will acknowledge her before the Father: “This one is mine, dear Father.  This one is Yours, dear Father.  She endured to the end.  She has won the martyr’s crown.”  So also you.  You will endure to the end, because that is the promise.  You may escape imprisonment, bloodshed, and death here on earth.  Or you may not.  Maybe the worst you’ll have to suffer is the tension around the family table.  That’s up to God.  But just confess.  Confess Christ and trust it all to Him.  Because you will be released from your suffering, too, should it come upon you.  God will keep you.  “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost (A)

June 8, 2014
Text: John 7:37-39

            “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.  Alleluia” (Alleluia verse for Pentecost).  Amen.
            It is the eighth day of the Hebrew Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, and our Lord stands up and cries out.  He cries out in compassion for those He has come to save.  He cries out in grief over the hardened hearts of those who reject His love and saving presence.  “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37; ESV).  Now, it was the custom at the Feast of Tabernacles that “On each of the seven festal days, the officiating priest took a golden vessel at the morning service, and filled it with water from the fountain of Siloam in the Kidron valley, mixed the water with the wine of the drink offering, and poured it into two perforated silver bowls on the west of the altar for the burnt offering, while the trumpets were sounded and praise was sung. The people chanted Isaiah 12:3”[1]: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  Salvation would come out of Zion.  The faithful should slake their thirst with joy and singing.  And here our Lord declares that He is the Fountain of Salvation, the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, the fulfillment of the great Feast, our true pool of Siloam (which means “Peace”), and our well of salvation.  “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters,” Isaiah bids us (Is. 55:1).  “If anyone thirsts,” cries the Lord, “let him come to me and drink.”
            Do you even know you are thirsty?  It is said that by the time you feel thirst, your body has already needed water for quite some time.  If we are so easily unaware of our physical thirst, how much more so is this true of our spiritual thirst?  We are parched.  We are empty.  Do you know this about yourself?  That is why God has given His holy Law.  Like a mighty, rushing wind, like a thunderbolt from heaven, the holy and righteous Law of God exposes and illuminates the barren, fruitless, and dead state of your soul outside of Christ.  You have been faithless toward God and heartless toward others.  You are full of lust and covetousness.  You have gossiped and lied and cheated.  You have lived as if you mattered most, as if God and your neighbor mattered not at all.  And yet, you have deluded yourself into believing that you are a living fountain of good.  Everyone should love you.  Everyone should admire you.  Everyone should respect you and thank God for you.  And our Lord cries out in grief, for in your delusion of self-fulfillment, you reject Him and His living water.  Repent.  The Ten Commandments are relentless in exposing your failure.  The Law of God shows you how parched and dead you are.  If you don’t know you are thirsty, just look into the mirror of the Law.  You’ll see.  And you’ll realize the Lord Jesus is crying out for you.
            “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”  Or as He says to the Samaritan woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10).  What is this water?  It is the Holy Spirit, whom those who believe in Jesus receive (John 7:39) as His free gift.  The Lord Jesus poured out the Spirit on His Church first at Pentecost, when the mighty rushing wind came through the Holy City and the tongues of fire rested on the heads of the disciples in the Upper Room.  Then the Apostles were filled with the Spirit and were given to preach the Gospel in other tongues, languages they had never known or studied, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).  Now, it is not as though the Spirit had not been present up to that point.  The Spirit was there in the beginning, when the earth was without form and void, hovering over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2).  The Spirit was there behind all of the events in the history of God’s people, giving faith to the patriarchs, inspiring the prophets to preach and to write God’s own Word, pointing to Messiah who would come to crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15) and save His people from their sins.  He came upon the Virgin Mary to conceive the Father’s Son in the flesh of her womb.  He descended as a dove upon our Lord at His Baptism in the Jordan (Matt. 3:16).  He was present with the Twelve when Jesus called them to Himself, as He taught them and the crowds, performed miracles and signs.  He was there creating faith in the thief on the cross when our Lord promised him, “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).  “Christ… through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God” for our purification and redemption by His blood (Heb. 9:14).  The Spirit was there when the Savior bowed His head and gave up the ghost (John 19:30).  And the Father raised Jesus from the dead in the Spirit (Rom. 8:11) who is the Lord and Giver of Life.  The risen Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (John 20:22-23).  The Spirit was present with and in the Apostles when Jesus ordained them to forgive and retain sins.  So when St. John writes in our text that “as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (7:39), he does not mean that the Spirit had been absent, but that He had not yet come in His fullness.  But now, at Pentecost, Jesus has poured out His Spirit in His fullness, as living water, slaking the thirst of parched and dead sinners by bringing them to faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior. 
            Jesus poured out the Spirit on you in your Baptism.  Talk about living water!  There, at the font, you feel the splash of it all over your head as Jesus cleanses you from your sin, puts God’s Name on you, and makes you God’s own child.  Baptism is also an exorcism.  It isn’t pleasant to think about, but man, by nature, is born in the spiritual possession of the evil one.  But here the devil is renounced with all his evil works and ways.  The evil spirits are cast out.  And the Holy Spirit takes possession of you for Himself.  Confirmation, which we also celebrate today, is not a Sacrament, but it is a good tradition of the Church wherein our confirmands once again renounce the devil and his works and ways.  And they confess the faith of their Baptism, a confession made for them by their parents and sponsors at the font, today made with their own mouths now that they have been instructed.  In that instruction, by the way, Jesus has continued to pour out His Spirit upon them, just as He continues to pour out His Spirit on all of us in our every encounter with His Holy Word, here in the Divine Service, in Bible Study and Sunday School, in Catechesis, and home devotions.  And, of course, don’t think that the risen Body and Blood of Christ touches your lips without the Spirit present to give you life and strengthen your faith.  Today we celebrate our confirmands’ First Communion and we rejoice as they join  us at the Lord’s Table.  Another gift for them by which Jesus gives Krista and Olivia His Spirit.  And so He does for you.  Pentecost is still going on.  Jesus is continually pouring out His Spirit upon you in His gifts.
            Well, why does He have to continually pour out His Spirit?  Isn’t once enough?  Beloved, if you have to ask that question, you don’t even know how thirsty you are.  And our Lord cries out for you.  When Jesus pours His Spirit on you, you do not possess the Spirit in such a way that He is contained.  You do not trap Him and cage Him.  No.  He flows to you and through you in Jesus’ gifts.  He flows to you in Jesus’ Word and in His Sacraments.  He flows through you in faith toward God and love toward one another.  He is a never failing fountain of good.  He never dries up.  He never stops giving you life and faith.  He never stops giving you Jesus.  And so, as He flows to you and in you, as Jesus says, He also flows from you, “rivers of living water” flowing out of your heart (v. 38), faith spilling over in Spirit-given works of love.  You are not a bucket to be filled with this water so as to keep it all to yourself.  You are a pipe through which this water flows as it is connected to the source of this water, Jesus Christ and His means of grace (illustration by the Rev. Mark Love).  The expression “living water” means flowing water.  The Spirit flows from the Father and the Son to you, and through you to your neighbor.
            And as the Spirit flow through you and to others, you don’t lose Him.  You never lack.  Just as the LORD took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and put Him on the seventy elders of Israel, yet the Spirit upon Moses was not diminished (Num. 11:25), so you.  When the Spirit flows from you to others, you are both full.  What was once empty is filled with the very Spirit of God.  What was once dry and dead is now lush and full of life with the living water of Jesus Christ.  Drink deeply of Jesus.  He cries out for you.  He is your Fountain of Peace.  He is your well of salvation.  In Him, by His Spirit, you live and grow and bear the fruit of faith. You, O sinner, God has declared righteous on account of Christ.  Your sins are forgiven.  You have eternal life.  And the Holy Spirit now fills your heart and kindles in you the fire of His love.  Alleluia.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           






[1] Ylvisaker, quoted in Buls’ Notes: http://pericope.org/buls-notes/john/john_7_37_39.htm