Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Dorr, Michigan

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Last Sunday in the Church Year

Last Sunday in the Church Year (B—Proper 29)

November 22, 2015
Text: Mark 13:24-37

            Stay awake!  Jesus is coming soon, visibly, to judge the living and the dead!  He will come suddenly, when He is least expected, like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2).  You do not know the day or hour.  It could be any moment.  “(I)f the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into” (Matt. 24:43; ESV).  So stay awake.  Watch.  Be prepared.  What will happen on that Day is that in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised, and we will all be changed (1 Cor. 15:52).  The Lord will open the scroll.  He will divide those who believed in Him from those who did not believe in Him (cf. Matt 25:31-45).  Those who believe He will give eternal life, in the flesh, in a new heaven and a new earth.  Those who do not believe He will cast into the Lake of Fire (hell) prepared, not for them… Christ died for them, for the forgiveness of all their sins, so that they could have eternal life… but prepared for the devil and his evil angels.  The reason unbelievers go to hell isn’t that their sins aren’t paid for.  It is that they have refused the payment, refused the cross, refused Jesus.  It’s a great tragedy.  We don’t like talk like this, and it is a slap in the face every time we hear it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true: hell is real and real people go there.  And if we fall asleep, if we do not stay awake, there is a very real danger that we could lose our faith and be numbered among the unbelievers.  God forbid it.  Christ help us.
            The truth is, we’re not very vigilant, are we?  It is so easy to fall asleep.  What we mean by “fall asleep” is to take our eyes off of Jesus, to take our ears off of His Word, to miss out on His gifts here in the Divine Service, to pay attention to other voices over and above the living voice of Jesus.  That is why last Sunday the writer to the Hebrews reminded us that we must not neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some,” but rather we should “encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25).  The clearer it is that Judgment Day is coming, the more important it is to be in Church.  And of course, we should always remember that even if Judgment Day is a long way off, you don’t know when you will die, when God will call you personally before His Judgment throne.  So it is so important to stay awake and keep our eyes on Jesus.  Jesus is our only hope in the Day of Judgment.  He alone is our righteousness and salvation.  But we are so distracted, you and I.  It has been said that when the Lord returns with the holy angels and the heavens are rolled up like a scroll, we’ll miss it because our heads will be down and our eyes attached to the little plastic screens on our phones.  That’s silly, of course.  Every eye will see Him when He comes (Rev. 1:7).  But the point is, in a world where very serious things are happening… violence, war, famine, disease, beheadings of our brothers and sisters in Christ, little babies chopped up in their mother’s womb and sold for spare parts… well, we’re all too involved in our social media to notice.  Or perhaps social media is the only way we participate.  It’s amazing how much time we spend staring at screens: television screens, computer screens, tablets, smart phones, and now even watches!  Google has a pair of glasses you can wear and see the screen all day long as you go about the rest of your business.  Now, I love all these gadgets, and they can be a great blessing.  I also realize that some of you have very little to do with this kind of thing, and good for you.  But that doesn’t get you off the hook.  The point is not the prevalence of technology, the point is how easily amused we are, and, as one of my favorite writers put it in the title of his book, we are Amusing Ourselves to Death (Neil Postman).  Perhaps to our eternal death.  Because, in a world where we’ve never been more plugged in, more connected to the ether, we’ve never been more disconnected from Jesus, and frankly, from our neighbor. 
            The kids in the congregation know this, but it was news to me and probably will be to many of you.  There is a social-networking site called Snapchat where what you write disappears into the ether like it never existed.  Now, I have my doubts about whether it is or isn’t out there somewhere, but be that as it may, think about what that says about our culture and the value we place on words.  Words that disappear are meaningless, or at least of very limited value.  You can’t hold someone to a word that isn’t there.  Is that really what you want?  Words that disappear?  Words that are unreliable?  Words that, by definition, cannot be kept?  Or perhaps the other amusements offered by our information age.  Pleasures that are fleeting?  Two-dimensional digital images, shallow relationships, at the expense of relationship with real, flesh and blood people?  Connecting online so we don’t have to connect in person?  Our culture puts a premium on that which does not last.  And so does our flesh.  We prefer Facebook to the Church.  We prefer Google to the Scriptures, or for those of you who aren’t online, the newspaper to the precious and holy Word of God.  We prefer our favorite smooth-talking candidate, or glittery entertainer, to the Lord Jesus Christ, the crucified One, who saves us from our sins.  Repent. 
            This is actually an indication of what is happening to the whole world.  “(F)or the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner” (Is. 51:6).  “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus says (Mark 13:31), but there is, nevertheless, something you can cling to: “my words will not pass away” (v. 31).  No Snapchat with Jesus.  You can count on His Word.  He always keeps it.  The Word of the LORD endures forever (1 Peter 1:25).  And listen to these Promises from our Old Testament lesson: “my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed” (Is. 51:6).  You are saved, you are justified (made righteous), because Jesus has spoken it so by the power of His suffering and death and resurrection for you.  Things temporal can lull us into sleep, but all these temporal things are passing away.  Nevertheless, take heart.  Jesus is making all things new.  “We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13b; NIV).  We are looking forward to a risen and glorified body, made in the image of Jesus’ risen and glorified Body.  We are looking forward to that Day when our Lord comes back to get us and take us to Himself, that Day when He delivers us from our trials and tribulations and tears, from our meaningless and broken words, from our sins and our body of death, and gives us life with Him in the Kingdom of our Father, a life that will not pass away. 
            The Day is coming.  Our Lord has spoken, and His Word cannot be erased.  And this is a Day of great joy for you.  Look up.  Lift up your head.  Your redemption is drawing near.  Jesus soon will send His angels to gather you, His chosen ones, from the four winds, to bring you to Himself.  Days of great joy require preparation.  We are preparing for the Thanksgiving feast this week, and hopefully for you that will include the Feast that takes place here at the altar the night before.  And we are already preparing for Christmas.  We will do that spiritually through the Season of Advent, as a new Church Year begins.  Advent is a time of preparation for the Lord’s coming.  How do we prepare?  St. Jude tells us.  Be edified, he says, built up in your most holy faith (v. 20).  That happens at Church, by the Word preached and the Sacrament distributed to you and received by you.  Pray in the Holy Spirit (v. 20).  That is, gather together here to pray the liturgy, and carry that prayer with you into the week.  Pray for the Church.  Pray for the world.  Pray for one another.  Pray for your own needs and those of your family and loved ones.  That is your offering, your sacrifice as priests in the world.  Give thanks and praise to God.  Pray for the proclamation of the Word.  And don’t forget to pray for your pastor.  Have mercy on those who doubt, Jude says (v. 22).  Have mercy on those who sin by snatching them out of the fire, turning them from sin to Jesus.  Show mercy with fear… watch yourself, lest you, too, be drawn into temptation. 
            It is a tall order.  But Jude tells us it really doesn’t depend on us, thank God.  It is really Jesus who does this for us, keeping us awake, prepared, and watchful.  He is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the Father, in the presence of His glory (v. 24).  He keeps you steadfast, awake, by His Spirit, in His Word.  He prepares you by repenting you.  He keeps you in the one true faith.  By His grace.  It is His work.  Rejoice, dear Christian!  Your Lord Jesus is coming.  He is coming soon.  He is coming for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 28)

November 15, 2015
Text: Mark 13:1-13

            Texts like our Holy Gospel, with all the talk of conflict and destruction and “the End,” can be scary for us.  There is something that is right about this.  We should fear God.  We are sinners.  God cannot abide sin.  Therefore we should fear His wrath, which is a real thing.  Hell is real, and real people go there.  So also, the conflict and destruction our Lord speaks of in our text is real.  And the End is coming when our Lord will return visibly to judge the living and the dead, to separate the sheep from the goats, to give eternal life to all believers in Christ, and send unbelievers to the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his evil angels.  Daniel tells us about this in our Old Testament, that the dead will be raised on that Day, and judged: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2; ESV).  But the End our Lord speaks of in our Holy Gospel isn’t just THAT End, the big one at the End of all time.  It is first of all about an end that has already taken place in history.  That is to say, the sack of Jerusalem by future Roman emperor Titus, and the utter destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD 70.  The disciples, remember, are pointing out to Jesus the marvelous architecture of the Temple, one of the wonders of the ancient world.  They wanted Jesus to be impressed by this triumph of human ingenuity and spectacular display of piety.  And Jesus takes the opportunity to teach where human ingenuity and outward piety will inevitably lead.  Destruction.  Not one stone will be left upon another.  They will all be thrown down (Mark 13:2).
            The Old Law is at an end.  Jesus has fulfilled it.  There is no more need for this Temple.  Jesus is the new and better Temple, the dwelling place of God with man, God in the flesh.  And there are consequences for the Jews having rejected Jesus.  What was it the chief priests and Pharisees said?  Because of Jesus, “the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48).  It happened, about 40 years later, not because the Jews accepted Jesus, but because they rejected Him.  Our Lord wept over Jerusalem, longing to gather her to Himself, but they would not (Matt. 23:37).  So this is the end of which Jesus speaks this morning, the end of Jerusalem as the Jews knew it, and the end of the Old Testament Temple and sacrifices.  But to be sure, this end points to THE End, and Jesus teaches us about both this morning.  The end of Jerusalem and the Temple is a sign that points to the End of time and the return of Jesus Christ to judge.  So are all other kinds of conflict and catastrophe.  The signs are apparent through the whole history of the world, from the fall of our first parents into sin to the present day: false christs… those claiming to be Jesus or at least to be some sort of savior; wars and rumors of wars… the Middle Eastern crisis isn’t going to end any time soon, nor will the threat of nuclear holocaust; earthquakes in various places; famines; genocide; abortion; human exploitation; and your own sin and suffering.  These are all a sign that the End is near.  Jesus is coming soon.
            And the point is what Jesus tells the disciples: “Be on your guard” (Mark 13:9).  Be vigilant.  Be watchful.  Because these things are happening all around you.  Now, the devil would lull you to sleep with shallow comforts and a false sense of security.  He sweetly sings his lullaby, just waiting for the opportunity to plunge his dagger into your heart.  In this case, the hand that rocks the cradle really does rule the world.  He is the prince of it.  And he wants you for his kingdom.  It’s a sham.  You are not safe.  Not with him.  Not with his followers, most of whom don’t even know they’re following him.  But understand what will happen to you in these gray and latter days if you are watchful, if you expose the devil’s lies for what they are, if you follow Christ and confess him.  You will suffer trials and persecution.  Why would the devil keep up the illusion of comfort and security if you’re on to his scheme?  The veil will be removed.  And they will deliver you up, Jesus says, to authorities religious and secular who will accuse you and beat you and rob you and kill you.  Has that not happened to you, my dear Americans?  You’re the few lucky ones.  Our brothers and sisters throughout the world suffer and confess Christ on pain of death.  There is still time for you.  If you escape it, praise be to God.  If you don’t escape it, thanks and praise be to Christ who counted you worthy to suffer for His Name.  Jesus says, “You will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness,” to martyr unto them, the Greek says (v. 9).  Understand, Jesus leaves you in the world to do this very thing.  Because “the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations” (v. 10).  You suffer for the sake of the Gospel.  Your suffering is a witness.  It is a martyrdom.  And it is a sign.  Jesus is coming soon.  Therefore repent and believe the Good News.  All your sins are covered by His Blood.  He died for you.  He is risen and lives for you.  He wants you for His own Kingdom.  He snatches you from Satan’s claws and declares you His beloved.  He writes His Name on you and defends you from all evil.  He is your true comfort and security.  And on the Last Day He will raise you from the dead, in your body, and pronounce you righteous with His own righteousness.  He has already done it in Holy Baptism.  You are justified.  Eternal life is yours. 
            Now, even when they bring you to trial for your confession of Christ, do not be afraid.  On that day, “do not be anxious,” Jesus tells you, “what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour,” for you see, “it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (v. 11).  What a precious promise.  If you’re anything like me, you worry about what you’ll say when it comes down to it and you are the one on trial, with your very livelihood or maybe even your life in the balance.  Will I be faithful?  Will I say what I should?  Will I confess Jesus Christ and entrust myself fully to Him?  Don’t worry about it, Jesus says.  The burden is on Him, not on you.  Perseverance under trial is His work and His gift of grace.  First of all, you already have the words.  You know the Creed.  And if you know the Creed, you know the Scriptures.  You know the teaching of the Lord, for the Holy Spirit has taught you by bringing you to Church.  And as far as speaking it when and as you should, that, too, is the Holy Spirit’s work.  He will put the courage into you.  I don’t know where he got it, but our Synod President, Matt Harrison, is fond of saying “Courage is fear that has been baptized.”  I like that a lot.  Of course you’re afraid.  You’re a sinner.  But you are baptized.  The Holy Spirit is in you.  You are clothed with Christ and all His righteousness.  And God is your Father.  He won’t desert you when the going gets tough.  You will confess, not because you are faithful, but because He is faithful.  And He has promised. 
            So, you know what is coming.  Family members against family members.  Brother delivering brother over to death, and a father his child, and children their father, and on and on it goes.  They’ll think they’re doing God a favor.  “Let’s get those hateful Christians.  Let’s expose them for the ignorant bigots that they are and outlaw their hate speech.”  Have you ever noticed how those who call us haters are full of vile hatred?  “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (v. 13).  Why?  Most of them don’t know why.  Love them, beloved in the Lord.  Speak Christ to them.  Forgive them.  Pray for them.  Serve them.  Do not compromise the Lord’s Word, but bend over backwards wherever you can to establish peace.  And recognize that the source of their hatred is the evil one, who is absolutely desperate.  Because he knows he has lost.  And he knows Jesus is coming to cast him out. 

            Hold on to the Lord’s Promise: “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (v. 13).  The one who remains in Christ, who clings to His Word, the one who is baptized and nourished by the Supper of the Savior’s Body and Blood, the one who believes and confesses the Lord Jesus… you… will be saved.  So, in the midst of all these signs, in the midst of the conflict and destruction and persecution, be of good cheer.  Look up.  Stand up straight and tall.  For your redemption is drawing near.  God’s wrath is not for you, you who are in Christ.  God’s wrath has been poured out on Jesus for you.  All your sins are forgiven.  And you know the judgment, which Jesus will announce publicly on the Last Day: You are righteous!  You shall not die!  You will live, forever and ever, with God, with Christ.  And your joy will be full.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

Saturday, October 31, 2015

In Memoriam +Robert Stanley Kaniewski+

In Memoriam +Robert Stanley Kaniewski+

October 31, 2015
Text: Rev. 7:9-17

            “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17; ESV).  It’s probably safe to say that most of us have never before witnessed sustained suffering like that which Bob suffered over the last several years.  For that reason, this promise, now a reality for Bob, is so comforting.  Bob is with Jesus.  He sees for himself the Savior, the Lamb of God who has taken away his sin and the sin of the world.  He drinks freely of the water of life.  And God dries his tears.  Bob no longer suffers.  He is comforted in heaven, and he awaits the resurrection of his body, cancer and pain free, on the Last Day.  And in this we also rejoice, though we shed our tears.  We’re happy for Bob, though we miss him terribly.  We’re happy for him, for his rest is won, his pain is at an end, and he now knows by sight what we only know by faith: He sees Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.  And that is enough.
            We don’t know why Bob had to suffer so intensely.  Bob is a strong man, but we saw him weakened by the merciless, unseen enemy that is cancer.  To ask why is to be frustrated.  We could say some general things about the “why” of suffering: This is a fallen world and we are fallen people.  God wants us to realize how helpless we are apart from Him, and drive us to Himself for help and salvation.  He would, through our suffering, drive us to Christ, drive us to prayer, drive us to the cross.  All of these things are true, but as far as answering our burning question… why Bob? … well, we’re simply left unsatisfied.  I don’t know why.  And neither do you.  It is fruitless to speculate.  But there are some things we do know.  We do know what God has done about Bob’s suffering, and the suffering of the whole world.  He sent His Son.  He sent Jesus.  “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” writes the Prophet Isaiah (53:4).  “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (v. 5).  God sent His Son in the flesh to suffer what is ours, to shed His blood on the cross for the forgiveness of all of our sins, to redeem us for Himself, to be God’s beloved children, to bring us healing and life.  And Christ is risen from the dead.  It is all true.  Bob knew that by faith.  He died in that confession.  And he lives to see it for himself.  He knows what God has done about his suffering.  And he wants you to know it, too.  God gave His Son, crucified and risen, for Bob, and for you.
            The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is not just some sort of spiritual resurrection, or that Christ lives in your heart, or some such nonsense.  A resurrection of that sort is utterly meaningless.  So is talk of Bob living on in our memories or in our hearts.  Of course, our hearts are filled with wonderful memories of Bob, and we’ll share those in the fellowship hall this afternoon.  We treasure these.  But you have to understand, that is not what we mean when we say that Christ is risen and that Bob lives.  When we say Christ is risen, we mean in a flesh and blood body.  It is the same body that was nailed to the cross.  He still has His wounds.  He invited St. Thomas to go ahead and poke around in there. “Go ahead.  Touch them, Thomas.  Poke your finger in the holes of the nails.  Thrust your hand in my side.  Be no longer doubting, but believing.”  The body of Jesus, who had been dead, but is now risen, was witnessed by the Apostles, by His brother James, by over 500 men on one occasion, and on the Damascus road by the blessed Apostle Paul.  That’s pretty good eyewitness evidence.  And the point is, this is a real, bodily resurrection.  It has to be, or it doesn’t do us any good.  Any other kind of resurrection is no resurrection at all.  “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).  And that makes all the difference on this occasion.  If Christ is really risen from the dead, in His body, then Bob really lives, in Christ, into whom he has been baptized.  Not just in our hearts.  Not just in our memories or in the legacy he leaves.  But really.  Consciously.  In Christ.  In heaven.  And because Christ is risen in His body, the firstfruits of those who have “fallen asleep,” who have died, Bob will rise, too.  In his body.  You can count on it.  You’ll see it for yourself.  No cancer.  No pain.  No weakness.  Bob Kaniewski, son of the Father.  Jesus will call him out of the grave, on that Day.  Yes, beloved, this body will rise from the dead.  And so will you.  Jesus Christ has made it so. 
            That made all the difference for Bob as he suffered in this earthly life.  And it makes all the difference for you.  For you know there is an end to suffering.  There is a Promise that will be fulfilled.  Christ Jesus will raise you from the dead.  And He will comfort you eternally.  That is the picture we have in our text.  Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?  These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, out of the suffering and sorrow of this fallen world.  In other words, these are the Christians who have died.  But they live.  They are continuously coming out, a great parade of saints, believers in Christ Jesus.  There is Bob.  There are all our loved ones who died in Christ.  They march with palm branches of victory in their hands.  They are robed in the righteousness of Christ.  That is to say, they are baptized into His death and resurrection.  Their robes are washed white in His blood.  And they gather around the throne of God and of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, and they sing their praises.  They are sheltered by His presence.  They no longer hunger or thirst.  The sun does not strike them nor any scorching heat.  And the Lamb, Jesus, shepherds them.  He slakes their thirst with living water.  And the Father Himself, our Father who art in heaven, wipes away their tears, wipes away Bob’s tears, comforts Bob and gives him joy.

            That is why we sing hymns of praise today.  It may seem odd at a funeral, but that is what we Christians do.  We rejoice, even through our tears, because we know that Christ has won the victory for us over death.  Christ lives.  Bob lives.  And we live.  Praise the Lord.  And we join Bob and all the saints around the throne of the Lamb, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, every time we gather for the Supper of our Lord’s Body and Blood.  For now, for a little while, Bob has been removed from our sight, but he has not been removed from our presence.  He joins us here at the altar, only now from the other side of the veil.  And on account of Christ, soon we will join him there.  We will see Jesus.  We will see Bob.  This is our comfort.  This is our joy.  Christ is risen.  Bob lives.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Reformation Day (Observed)

Reformation Day (Observed)

October 25, 2015
Text: Matt. 11:12-19

            “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:12; ESV).  Well, that’s good news, isn’t it?  But we should have seen this coming.  After all, the Kingdom of God comes by the cross, by the crucifixion of the Son of God born of Mary, by the sacred Blood of Jesus and the holy water that pours from His pierced side.  John the Baptist prepared the way.  He announced that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matt. 3:2).  The reward for his prophetic preaching?  His head served up on a silver platter (Matt. 14:10-11).  So it goes for the heralds of the King.  The Apostles and the early Christians were persecuted and martyred.  Martin Luther was under constant threat of burning as a heretic.  His crime was preaching salvation by the work of Jesus Christ alone, and not by our works.  It’s simply the Gospel Paul proclaims in our Epistle (Rom. 3:19-28).  Paul, by the way, was beheaded for that Gospel in Rome, probably the same day Peter was crucified upside down for that Gospel.  And in fact, the first two Reformation martyrs, Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes were burned at the stake in Brussels in 1523 for their Lutheran confession of the everlasting Gospel.  Luther wrote his first hymn about them, “A New Song Here Shall Be Begun.”  It didn’t make the hymnal.  Go figure.  Now we have images right on our television and computer screens of Christians shot or beheaded by ISIS because they will not deny the Savior, whose precious Name is often the last word they speak on earth.  Jesus speaks the unvarnished truth to us this morning.  The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.  The cross cannot be avoided by disciples of the Crucified.
            Why does the world hate Christians?  Why does it bother them so much, what we believe, teach, and confess?  Jesus tells us in our Holy Gospel.  The world calls the tune, and we don’t dance.  “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn” (Matt. 11:17).  When the world rejoices, we Christians often cry out in grief.  When the world mourns, we Christians sing our praises to God.  Because we recognize that the unbelieving worldview is upside down.  The Spirit has given us ears to hear the Word of Jesus and eyes to see the world lost in sin and the delusions of the evil one.  So, for example, the world rejoices when a world renowned athlete decides he is a woman, and we Christians grieve for a man who has lost his way.  The world shames bakers who will not participate in a gay wedding, grieving over their intolerance and perceived hatred.  Christians rejoice that this brother and sister are not ashamed of the Savior, and confess Him no matter the cost, even when it means losing their business and their home.  Great is their reward in heaven.  But the world just can’t figure us out.  What they call good, we call evil, and vice versa.  It reminds us of what Martin Luther famously said at the Heidelberg Disputation: “A theology of glory,” i.e. the theology of the world, “calls evil good and good evil.  A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.”[1]  And so the lie exposed, the lie of the evil one by which he holds the world entranced in captivity.  Understand what is at stake for the world if Christianity is true.  It means the world is fatally wrong.  Eternal life and death is in the balance.  And the evil one has convinced the world that if it can stamp out Christianity by persecution and violence, then Christianity must not be true.  The only way to keep Christians from calling a thing what it is, is to silence them, by law or by force.
            Jesus points out there is actually a two-fold rejection of His Word.  On the one hand, John comes preaching repentance and they say he has a demon (Matt. 11:18).  On the other, Jesus comes preaching forgiveness, eating and drinking with all the wrong people, and they say “Look at him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (v. 19).  So the world rejects God’s Law as preached by John, because John calls evil what the world considers good.  And the world rejects God’s Gospel as preached and enacted and won by Jesus, because Jesus calls good those whom the world has condemned as evil.  But this is what the cross of Jesus does.  In the midst of a world that calls evil good and good evil, the cross exposes a thing for what it actually is.  Sin is sin.  Sinners are sinners.  And Christ is the Savior of sinners.  He hangs out with gluttons and drunkards and tax collectors and prostitutes.  You know, those people.  And he even hangs out with you.  And He eats with you.  And He drinks with you.  His Body.  His Blood.  For the forgiveness of your very real sins, all of which have been paid for by His very real death on a very real cross in a very real place: Golgotha, the place of the skull.  Jesus is the Kingdom of Heaven in the flesh.  And He suffers violence, and the violent take Him by force to Calvary, for you, that you may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom.
            We know the end of the story.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  He wins.  We win, in Him.  But what about now?  What do we do in the meantime?  Because there is very real suffering to be borne for the Kingdom here and now.  The Kingdom still suffers violence and the violent still take it by force.  We have been spared much of this suffering here in the United States.  But there is no guarantee that this will go on forever.  And when the gun is pointed at your head, when the knife is at your throat, what do you do?  Your sinful flesh will be screaming at you to do whatever it takes to save your earthly life.  Don’t listen to him.  Repent.  Crucify Old Adam.  We don’t make compromises with the world just because that is the easy thing to do.  We don’t do what is easy.  We do what is right.  We confess.  We confess Jesus.  We confess His Word.  No matter the consequences.  We suffer them with rejoicing, giving thanks to God that we are counted worthy to suffer for His Name (Acts 5:41).  And thanks be to God, you don’t have to worry about what you’ll say and do on that day.  You should be prepared, to be sure.  But you don’t have to worry.  Because the perseverance of the saints, too, is a gift of God’s grace in Christ.  The Spirit will teach you what to speak.  In fact, He already has.  He’s given you the Creed.  You’ll say it again in a few minutes.  And He will give you the courage and strength to speak what you must in that day.  And He will give you the faith to know that even if they kill you here, you will not die.  You are in Christ, who is your life.  He is risen from the dead.  He wins.  So it’s a miracle of the Holy Spirit, but still we sing, “take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB 656:4).  The violent can’t take it after all.
            The Lord keeps us steadfast in His Word.  Apart from Him, we would fall.  But He defends us.  He defends His holy Church against all the crafts and assaults of the evil one, the persecution and violence of the world, and even the deceptions and desires of our own sinful flesh.  He keeps these at bay.  He supports us in our final strife.  He brings us out of death to life (LSB 655).  Martin Luther didn’t want to suffer violence when, in 1517, 498 years ago, he nailed his 95 Theses against indulgences to the Church door in Wittenberg.  In fact, while he knew there had to be a Reformation, he was hoping it would be a quiet one.  The last thing he wanted was a revolution and the sundering of Church unity.  He wrote the theses in Latin, not the language of the common people.  He just wanted a debate with the academics of the university, to hash it out with his fellow professors.  God had other plans.  Confessing Christ and His Gospel always comes with a cost.  But God keeps us steadfast in His grace and truth by His Holy Spirit, in His Word, by His Sacraments.  He protects and delivers us in times of temptation, and He defends us against all enemies.  He opens our lips, that our mouth might declare His praise.  He looses our tongues to speak Christ into the ear of our neighbor.  “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Ps. 46:11).  So we speak.  So we confess.  And we suffer.  Always remembering the Promise: Whoever “shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32; KJV).  The Kingdom is yours.  The Kingdom is Jesus.  And because He suffered violence for you, you will see Him with your own eyes in heaven.  Praise be to Christ.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

[1] Thesis 21, Luther’s Works, American Edition (55 vols.; ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann; Philadelphia: Muehlenberg and Fortress, and St. Louis: Concordia, 1955-86), 31:53.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 24)

October 18, 2015
Text: Mark 10:23-31

            “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’” (Mark 10:23; ESV).  Our Lord is commenting on the rich young man who walked away sad after Jesus told him to go and sell all his possessions, give it all away to the poor, and come follow Him.  We heard about that last week.  In the case of the rich young man, his wealth had become an impediment to his faith in Jesus.  Wealth became and idol.  And so it goes.  Such is the danger for those who have wealth.  This is an important warning to us as we live in the most affluent nation in the world and in history.  We call ourselves consumers, but the truth is, we are consumed by our money and our stuff.  We are never satisfied, as the Preacher points out in our Old Testament reading (Ecc. 5:10-20).  “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money” (v. 10).  “When goods increase, they increase who eat them” (v. 11).  It’s never enough.  The more you have, the bigger you get, and the more you “need” to sustain your “standard of living”.  And so, as the Preacher points out, you can keep riches to your hurt (v. 13).  Best to enjoy them now, because, as the common proverb goes based on our Old Testament reading, “you can’t take it with you when you go.”  And Jesus teaches us that the best way to enjoy it now, the godly way, is to give it away, to give it to those who need it, be generous, help your neighbor, invest in him, and in this way store up treasure for yourself in heaven.  But when we hear that kind of talk, we go away sad, because we have great possessions.  And we need them.  We need the money to take care of ourselves.  We need the money to provide for ourselves.  Now… who, or what, are you trusting to take care of you and provide for you?  Idolatry, that is.  Repent.  How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God.
            But in general, it’s just difficult.  Because we all have our idols, be it wealth, or something else.  First Jesus says it is difficult for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:23).  Then, when His disciples are “amazed at his words,” He makes it more general: “Children, how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom of God!” (v. 24).  Period.  Because you can’t enter it with your other gods.  It’s the very First Commandment: You shall have no other Gods besides Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And that actually makes it not just difficult, but impossible.  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 25).  Now, I don’t know about you, but I think it’s fairly safe to say there has never, in the whole history of the world, been a camel who could fit through a needle’s eye.  So the disciples are right to ask: “Then who can be saved?” (v. 26).  And the only reasonable answer is: Nobody!  Nobody can be saved.  Not by any amount of human ingenuity.  Not by wealth or great possessions.  Not by being “basically a good person,” as we all think about ourselves.  It is impossible for the rich.  It is impossible for anyone.  It is impossible for you.
            But “not with God.  For all things are possible with God” (v. 27).  Salvation is God’s business, not yours.  It is monergistic, as we say in theology: God’s work alone.  Salvation must come from outside of you, for it is impossible for you to attain.  You’ll see camels marching through the eyes of needles before you could ever gain salvation for yourself.  Because you are a child of Adam.  You are born with his disease, original sin.  And therefore you are born spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God.  You cannot see the light of God’s salvation.  In fact, you are spiritually dead, so you have all the ability of a dead man to see, to decide, to believe, to bring yourself back to life.  This is what we call the bondage of the will in spiritual matters.  And you hate God.  By nature.  Yes, you do.  Because you want to be your own god, deciding good and evil for yourself, and you simultaneously submit to all sorts of other gods, like wealth or sex or alcohol or whatever it is.  So all that being true, how can you be saved?  You can’t do it for yourself.  Dead men can’t bring themselves back to life.  But God is in the very business of bringing the dead back to life.  And that is extraordinarily good news.  So serious is God about bringing the dead back to life, He became a man and died for the dead, for you, and rose again to conquer death for you, that you may have life… real life, abundant life, eternal life, in Him.  It’s not possible with you.  But all things are possible with God.  Even the likes of you coming to faith in Christ Jesus, the Son of God.
            He does it by the Word, for the Spirit is in the Word, preached for your salvation and written down for your learning.  The Word is the swaddling cloths of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In the Word you will find Him, crucified for your sins and raised for your justification.  He does it by the water of Holy Baptism.  It is your new birth.  Since you were born of your mother spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God, you must be born anew of water and the Spirit if you are to see the things of God, be alive with the life of God, and love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  He does it in the Supper, feeding you with the Food that does not perish, the true Body and Blood of Christ for your forgiveness, life, and salvation.  This is what keeps you alive in Christ and strengthens you to stand in the midst of this world’s idols, rejecting them and clinging to Christ alone.  The altar is the manger from which you feed on the Lord Jesus who is our Bread of Life.
            And what of all our stuff: our wealth and our possessions and the things of this earthly life?  What about the danger these things can present?  We prayed in the Collect that God would “Put away from us all things hurtful,” that He would take away whatever stands between us and our salvation, whatever stands between us and Jesus.  And St. Peter points out that this is the cost of discipleship: “See, we have left everything and followed you” (v. 28).  We prayed for it, and it’s in the Bible, so we shouldn’t be all that surprised when our gracious heavenly Father takes some things away from us, particularly things that have become idols to us, whether we know it or not.  Sometimes He takes these things away from us by force.  The economy tanks and you lose your retirement savings.  And sometimes He gives us, as a gift, the will to give it away, even though the Old Adam fights against this will tooth and nail.  If wealth is your idol, it’s time to dethrone it.  Put it to work in service of the one true God.  If you’re struggling with money, the best thing you can do is put a little extra in the offering plate or give it to someone else who needs it. It is a confession of faith, like the widow who gave her mites, all she had.  It is a confession that God will take care of you, that He who gave His only Son into death to redeem you will not forsake you over a few measly dollars.  And it is a rejection of wealth as your god.  Dethrone that idol.  Mammon makes empty promises.  It cannot satisfy you.  It can’t even sustain you.  And you can’t take it with you.  Mammon cannot endure. 
            But Jesus does.  He does all of these things.  And He promises He will more than make up for whatever you lose for His sake.  “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time… and in the age to come eternal life” (vv. 29-30).  Now, Jesus is not telling you to leave your family.  He is telling you that your house and family and lands may be taken away from you as part of the cost of discipleship.  Maybe your family will despise you or reject you because of Christ or His Word.  Maybe they will be taken by force in a time of persecution.  That hurts.  But these good gifts of God, too, can become idols when they get between you and Jesus.  But here is the Promise: Jesus will always give you more than has been taken away from you.  That is again what we prayed in the Collect: “give us those things that are beneficial for us,” the things that prosper our salvation.  And Jesus promises He will.  He will give us wonderful things in this life: He will give us the Church as our house full of brothers and sisters and mothers and children.  He will give it in every land (v. 30).  We prayed for it.  It’s in the Bible.  It shouldn’t surprise us when it happens.  He will also give us persecutions.  He will give us the cross.  Because that is also what is best for us.  But the greatest reward is at the end.  It is eternal life.  It is heaven.  It is the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.  And these gifts of Jesus are the things that last.  They endure.  The treasures of this world are destroyed by moth and rust, and robbers break in and steal them.  But our Joy cannot be taken away.  For our Joy is Jesus.  He was handed over for our sakes, but He is risen from the dead.  And He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit eternally.

            Who then can be saved?  With man this is impossible.  We cannot do it by our own reason or strength.  But all things are possible with God.  And our salvation is not just possible, it’s a done deal.  The proof is the crucifix, where the Lamb of God is slain, and the empty tomb that could not hold Him.  He lives.  And because He lives, you live, in Him.  And He will raise you from the dead.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 23)

October 11, 2015
Text: Mark 10:17-22

            Is it wrong to have wealth?  Is it wrong to enjoy the good things that money can buy, to enjoy luxuries, even count them as blessings of God and give thanks for them?  No.  That is not what our text says.  And there is this verse from St. Paul that is misquoted all the time: Paul doesn’t say “money is the root of all evils,” as it is all too often the proverb.  Paul says “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10; ESV; emphasis added), and so the writer to the Hebrews exhorts us, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).  Some Christians suffer great pangs of conscience when they hear our Holy Gospel, because they think Jesus is telling them to sell everything they have and give it to the poor.  Well, you’ll be relieved to know that is not the case, either.  Jesus doesn’t give this commandment to you.  He gives it to the young man.  Our Confessions make this clear for the sake of tortured consciences: “Because not all callings are the same, this calling does not belong to everyone, but only to that person with whom Christ speaks.  In the same way we are not to imitate the call of David to the kingdom [1 Samuel 16] or of Abraham to slay his son [Genesis 22].  Callings are personal, just as business matters themselves vary with times and persons.  However, the example of obedience is general” (Apol. XXVII (XIII): 49 [McCain, p. 244]).  So you aren’t called to sell all your possessions and give to the poor.  You are called to obedience to God in your own vocations and station in life.  Whew!  We can keep our stuff.  What a load off!
            But not so fast!  This episode wouldn’t appear in the Holy Gospel if it weren’t in some sense addressed to you.  As it happens, it appears in all three Synoptic Gospels, which would seem to indicate Jesus wants you to take it to heart.  So what does this mean… for you?  Notice that the account is left open ended.  We don’t know what happens to the rich young man.  He goes away sad, because he has great possessions (Mark 10:22).  Does that mean he keeps his stuff and turns his back on Jesus?  Or does he go away and think it over and decide to follow Jesus and His command after all?  Why aren’t we given the end of the story?  One reason is, I think this rich young man is our Gospel writer, John Mark himself.  That isn’t “Thus saith the LORD,” that’s just my own humble speculation on the basis of a well-developed theory by some seminary professors.  John Mark is traditionally thought to be a man of means, the son of a well-to-do woman who provides the upper room for Jesus and His disciples on the night He was betrayed.  John Mark is probably the naked youth who runs away when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus.  Ancient writers have a way of writing themselves into the story in this way, not unlike an artist painting himself into his picture.  And in Acts 15, we find out Paul doesn’t want to take John Mark on his Second Missionary Journey, because during the First Journey, Mark chose safety and comfort over the perils and hardship of missionary work for Jesus, a situation that sounds remarkably similar to this account of the rich young man.  But be that as it may, the real reason this account is left open ended is that your Lord wants you to think about some very hard questions.  What if this command to sell all your possessions and give it all away to the poor was addressed to you?  Would you do it?  Could you do it?  Joyfully?  Or begrudgingly?  Paul tells us “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7), but what about a giver who only gives because God commands it?  Who gives half-heartedly, or resentfully, or reluctantly, because that is what is expected?
            Repent.  You have the same problem the young man has!  And that is the point of this whole text.  You would be disheartened, too.  You would walk away sorrowful, too.  Because, while you may be generous (and I know many of you are), Jesus is talking about a total handing over of everything; a complete giving of the self; faith that rejects mammon entirely and trusts that Jesus will always take care of you, always provide your daily bread, always give you what you need for this body and life, and so much more.  This is a First Commandment issue.  Who or what do you fear, love, and trust the most?  That person or that thing is your god.  It’s easy to say “Jesus” when He isn’t commanding to you to give everything away.  But what about when He does?  Then it isn’t so easy, is it?  The young man has a fear, love, and trust conflict between his riches and Jesus.  He has to choose between them, and he’s not sure which one he should choose in spite of the fact that the answer is obvious to us.  But his conflict exposes your own.  What do you fear, love, and trust above Jesus?  Money?  Your spouse?  Your kids?  Your job?  How about your life?  Think about those Christian martyrs in Oregon who saw their brothers and sisters slain for the faith, and still stood up and in the face of the shooter and confessed, “I am a Christian.”  Those were the last words they spoke on earth.  That doesn’t happen naturally.  That takes the Holy Spirit.  It’s a miracle, the miracle of faith.  Blessed are they.  What would you do?  I ask myself that question constantly.  And I pray the Holy Spirit would give me (and you!) the courage to follow the example of these dear saints. 
            The problem for the rich young man isn’t just his riches, it’s the question he asks.  The man asks a Law question: “what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:17; emphasis added).  So Jesus gives a Law answer.  You know the Commandments.  Just do them perfectly, and you’ll live.  It is true that if you could keep the Law perfectly, you would earn eternal life.  The amazing thing is, the rich young man thinks he has.  “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth” (v. 20).  That is why Jesus goes for the jugular.  You may have kept these Commandments outwardly.  If so, good for you.  But that doesn’t get you anywhere with God.  God looks at the heart.  God wants you to keep them inwardly.  And that is impossible for sinners like you and the rich young man.  The man goes away sorrowful.  Even if he sold all his possessions and gave the proceeds to the poor, he hasn’t fulfilled the Law.  His sorrow gives him away.  He is full of greed and covetousness, and he fears, loves, and trusts in wealth as his god.  Ask a Law question, get a Law answer.  But the way of the Law always ends in despair for sinners, for you.
            This text exposes our hopeless idolatry.  But thank God, this text is also filled with beautiful Gospel.  To begin with, Jesus asks this puzzling question of the young man: “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone” (v. 18).  Our Lord wants the young man and you to connect the dots here.  If Jesus is good, and no one is good except God alone, then Jesus is God.  And this God, Jesus Christ, reveals Himself as a God who is consumed with the matter of your salvation.  He takes the time to patiently teach the young man… and you.  He does a Catechism lesson with the young man… and you, taking you through the Ten Commandments and the Creed, teaching you Law and Gospel, showing you that you cannot do anything to inherit eternal life, as if you earn an inheritance in the first place.  You cannot fulfill the Law, but Jesus can, and He does, for you.  And the amazing and comforting thing is, though the rich young man boasts that He has kept the Law from his youth, though He is self-righteous and arrogant, and flubs up his whole theology, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (v. 21; emphasis added).  In spite of it all.  Jesus loves sinners.  Jesus loves the rich, self-righteous young man.  Jesus loves you, O sinner, O greedy and covetous, O idolater.  He loves you as His own.  He loves you to the end.
            This is how He loves you: “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).  You see, what He told the young man he would have to do if He wanted to become righteous by the Law, Jesus Himself did on behalf of the young man and on behalf of us all.  He who is very God of very God, became Man.  He humbled Himself, literally “emptied” Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  He gave it all.  He gave everything.  He gave His very life.  And He gave it to the poor.  Which is to say, He gave it to you.  And now you are rich in Him.  You possess as His gift to you all of His righteousness, all of His perfect keeping of the Commandments, His death which forgives your sins, His resurrection life which means that you will live eternally and He will raise you bodily from the dead, and the very Kingdom of heaven.  And as if all that were not enough, He makes you God’s own child in Holy Baptism, so that you can call upon Jesus’ Father as “Our Father.”  He preaches His Gospel to you.  He gives you a home and a family here in the Church.  He gathers you around His altar to feast on His Body and Blood with your brothers and sisters in Christ, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  And He serves you as gracious Host, as loving Brother, as your Lord and as your Savior. 

            And this sets you free: Free to enjoy the blessings the Lord has bestowed upon you by His goodness, free to enjoy creation, love, friendship, food and drink, house and home, music, art, electronic gizmos, and everything else.  And it frees you up to give it all away, to be generous for the sake of your neighbor in need, to sacrifice, as Christ sacrificed Himself for you, because you know Jesus Christ will never forsake you.  He is your God.  Money isn’t.  Your stuff isn’t.  Wealth always fails as a god.  Jesus never does.  He is an unfailing fountain of good.  His gifts never dry up.  He love for you never runs out.  He looks at you in your sin and loves you.  And thanks be to God, eternal life doesn’t depend on you and what you do.  It depends on Jesus and what He has done.  Salvation is not the result of your faithfulness to Christ.  It is the result of His faithfulness to you.  So let’s ask the Gospel question.  Let’s get the question right: Good Teacher (God in the flesh), what have You done that I inherit eternal life?  And He answers: “I love you, I died for you, I am risen for you, and I live for you.  And I give you my Word and Spirit, my Washing of Regeneration, my Body and my Blood, for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and that you inherit eternal life.”  He has spoken.  There you have it.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 22)

October 4, 2015
Text: Mark 10:2-16

            “The LORD GOD said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’” (Gen. 2:18; ESV).  “God settles the solitary in a home” (Psalm 68:6).  “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1).  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).  “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9).  “And God blessed them.  And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28).  “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them” (Ps. 127:3-4).  This morning our Lord teaches us about marriage and family.  All the Bible verses I just read to you are only the beginning of the theology of marriage and family our Lord gives to us in Holy Scripture.  Family is foundational for life.  It is the most basic unit of society where individuals live together in relationship.  Everyone has a place.  Everyone has a role.  Husband and wife, mother and father, parent and child, brother and sister, grandparent and grandchild, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, the household and its relationship to the extended family.  Society as a whole is made up of these little units of society.  And God did this on purpose.  Because man is created to live in fellowship.  Life is lived in relationship to others.  Not everyone gets married.  Not everyone has kids.  But we all have a place by God’s design, or at least that is how He would have it.  And in the family, when it works how it is supposed to, we get a little picture of the inner-relationship of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, three Persons, living in continuous and harmonious relation to one another.  And we get a little picture of how that inner-relationship turns outward to create a new object of love: man, who is to live in relationship to God and to his fellow man.  God loves within Himself, which love creates man to be a receiver of that love.  Husband and wife love within their one flesh union, which love begets children to be receivers of their love.  That’s the ideal.  That is how God originally created it to be. 
            So marriage is to be the lifelong union of one man and one woman in love and fidelity.  Sexuality is to be kept holy, reserving this expression of love for marriage alone.  The marriage bed it to be kept pure (Heb. 13:4).  No adultery, which is to say, no mixing in of another by sexual activity outside the marriage.  And from this expression of love, husband and wife beget children, who are loved and provided for and protected by a father and a mother, and raised by them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).  Again, not everyone has to get married.  Not everyone has kids.  But this is the family blueprint God gives us as a gift in the Holy Scriptures.  This is how we order our relationships among one another.  God gives us this blueprint for our good.  This is how we can all thrive in our life together.  These are holy vocations to which God calls us, to give and receive, and together, to flourish.
            But we also know we’ve messed this all up.  Christians are not excluded from this indictment.  Husbands and wives are unfaithful to one another.  Spouses are abandoned.  There are messy divorces.  Evil words are spoken.  Spouses and children are threatened and hurt by violence.  Our culture would have us believe that sex outside of the loving and safe commitment of marriage is normal, to be expected at a younger and younger age, and can be consequence free.  That’s how our children and all of us are catechized by the television set and the internet and every other form of mass media.  And we who regard sexuality as holy are looked upon as prudes, stuck in the past, as judgmental, as hateful.  Meanwhile, porn use is at an all-time high.  Easy access, right there on all your electronic devices.  It is destroying homes.  It is destroying lives.  It has reduced especially our young women, but also our young men, to a commodity, a thing to be used and abused for our own enjoyment. It is demonic.  Lord, have mercy.  Then there is homosexuality and so-called same-sex marriage, which is entirely opposed to the natural law (two people of the same gender cannot beget a third), and to God’s Law, His gracious plan for us as revealed in Holy Scripture.  So we mess up our marriages.  We make marriage meaningless.  And then we butcher our children in abortions and sell their body parts for research.  We guilt the elderly and the terminally ill into hastening their own death, lest they become a burden to us.  We call it “death with dignity.”  A theologian of the cross should call a thing what it actually is: Suicide.  Murder.  Christ, help us. 
            He does.  The sadness you feel as you hear these things, and the guilt you suffer as you come face to face with your own role in them… this is the Holy Spirit working repentance in your heart.  This is God calling His people, His dear children, to Himself for forgiveness and healing, to be made whole in the wholeness of Christ and His redemption.  Are you divorced?  Have you been abandoned?  Have you been unfaithful?  Repent.  And rejoice.  Christ Jesus will never leave you or forsake you.  He is faithful.  He keeps His Promises.  And He holds you in the pierced palm of His hand.  Nothing can snatch you away from Him.  Have you been abused, or are you an abuser?  Have you abused your own body by uniting it with others, becoming one flesh with those to whom you have no intention of committing?  Have you lived together outside of marriage?  Are your eyes and your heart full of lust and dissatisfaction with what and who God has given you?  Have your eyes looked upon things they should not, things that are evil, things that are demonic?  Have you used the flesh of others like meat to be consumed, rather than as precious bodies and souls for whom Christ died?  Repnt.  And rejoice.  The blood of Jesus washes away your sins.  Let him who is without sin cast the first stone at the one caught in the sins of the flesh (John 8:7).  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).  Have you failed to speak up for the defenseless: the unborn, the elderly, the weak, the vulnerable?  Have you supported an abortion, advised an abortion, had an abortion?  Have you failed to care for your elderly or ill parents and loved ones?  Have you sought to hasten their death with a lethal dose of drugs?  Repent.  And rejoice.  Our Lord survived the womb of His mother for the sake of those who did not, to die for them and for all of us who have blood on our hands, to wash our hands and our hearts and our whole being clean in His Blood.  The Lord Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph, He honored them, served and obeyed them, loved and cherished them, for us and in our place.  He cared for His dear mother, placing her in the care of the Apostle John even as He was dying on the cross.  In Jesus, every life is sacred, from conception to grave, because He gave that life in the first place, and He has redeemed it by His death on the cross. 
            Jesus forgives.  Jesus restores.  And Jesus blesses.  Oh, how He loves the children.  He is indignant with His disciples when they turn the children away.  “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belong the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).  And He takes the little ones up in His arms and He blesses them.  This is what He does for our precious children and for each one of us in Baptism.  That is where He takes us into Himself and blesses us with the very Name of God.  That is where He makes us children of the Heavenly Father.  Beloved, do not hinder your children.  Bring them to Jesus.  Bring them to Baptism.  Bring them to hear His Word in Church.  Every Sunday.  This is part of being a parent, guys.  Bring them to Sunday School where they can learn more about His Word.  Bring them to Catechism instruction so they can join us at the Table of Jesus’ Body and Blood.  That is what this text is about.  And do not hinder yourself.  Because all of this is for you, too.  You are a child of God.  You belong to Him.  Jesus has made it so.  Rejoice.  Because here you have a home.  And here there is always a place for you at the Family Table.  And that frees you up to live joyfully in the relationships in which God has placed you.  Love your spouse.  Delight in your spouse, and be faithful.  If you’re living in sin, repent and make it right.  Believe in Christ’s forgiveness.  Love your children.  Delight in them, and bring them to Jesus.  Love your parents.  Honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.  Love your extended family and your circle of friends, your neighborhood, your community, your nation, and the people of the earth.  Love your Church and, as you do so well, love your pastor. 
            Things are messed up in this fallen world.  There is no such thing as the ideal family.  None of us perfectly follows the blueprint our Lord has given us.  And for this, we repent.  But though we be unfaithful, the Lord doesn’t stop being faithful to us.  He sets us in a family.  He gives us a home.  He brings us to His Church.  This is great comfort for all of us, but especially for those who are single, who long to share their life with someone, but it just hasn’t happened yet… Or those who long to have children, but for whatever reason, can’t… or those who suffer loneliness and isolation, those who mourn a spouse or a parent or a sibling or a child they have lost…  This is comfort for you.  Look around you, brothers and sisters.  This is your family.  This is your home.  These are your parents and your siblings and your children.  Now, we’re not perfect.  To be sure, we fail and we fight and we have to forgive.  Love takes work.  It is not an emotion, this love.  It is a decision and an action.  But here you are, and you are loved.  Warts and all.  And you are called to love the person next to you, warts and all.  Because in this family, we live by grace.  In this family, we live in the forgiveness of sins.  In this family, we live by the cross and empty tomb, by the death and resurrection of Jesus, by the cleansing water of Baptism and the life-giving food of His Body and Blood.  And we live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  Here in this family, beloved, you are never alone.  You are always in the bosom of your mother, the Church, with your brothers and sisters in Christ, attended by the holy Angels.  And always, always, wherever two or three are gathered in His Name (in His Baptism!), there is Jesus.  And wherever Jesus is, there is your Father, and there is the Spirit.  In Jesus, God brings you into the inner-relationship of the Trinity.  In Jesus, God begets you as His beloved child.  In Jesus, you are home.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.               

Saturday, October 03, 2015

In Memoriam +Audrey Jean Pfauth+

In Memoriam +Audrey Jean Pfauth+

October 3, 2015
Text: Matt. 11:25-30

            It may sound strange at first, but on September 25, 2015, our dear sister Audrey received the best birthday present anyone could ever get.  With one nurse and any number of angels in attendance, Audrey met her Savior, Jesus Christ, face to face.  And He took her home to Himself in heaven.  Audrey Jean Pfauth was born into this world on September 25, 1933.  She was born into heaven to await the resurrection with Jesus on September 25, 2015.  This year, more so than any other, September 25th was a day for rejoicing.  And that is true, not just for Audrey, but for the holy angels and all the company of heaven.  And it is true for you, even in the midst of your tears.  Because for Audrey, the race has been won.  The strife is over, the battle done.  She has died, and yet she lives.  She lives with Christ.  She is with Christ, who is risen from the dead.  And she knows that the Day is coming, coming soon, when the risen Christ will raise her from the dead.  Yes, beloved, let there be no misunderstanding: This body will rise from the dead!  Cancer free, free of sadness, free of pain, risen in the image of the risen Lord Jesus.  And as for her tears, well, to God they are precious, and He is even now wiping them from her eyes (Rev. 7:17).
            Audrey was tired.  She was weary and burdened.  It had been a year since she had let her beloved husband, Hank, go to his rest in Jesus.  And as she told some of us, there were a number of deaths and anniversaries that were troubling her soul in recent days.  Then, of course, there was the cancer she didn’t even know she had, making her tired physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  The faithful Christian is not immune from the griefs of this earthly life.  They are not a punishment.  They are simply the reality of life in this sin-fallen world.  And our gracious God uses them, precious, holy crosses that they are, to drive us to Himself for comfort and relief, for help in every time of need.  The point was not lost on Audrey.  She believed what our Lord says to us in the Holy Gospel: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28; ESV).  She came to Jesus here at His house, with His people, here in the holy Church, where Jesus Himself, week after week, day after day, spoke to her the consoling, forgiving, life-giving Word of the Gospel, and fed her with His Body and Blood.
            I wonder if this is the verse Jesus spoke to her as she leapt into His arms on September 25th.  “Audrey, come to me.  It’s time to rest.  It’s time to rejoice.”  This is one of the last verses I spoke to her in the room at hospice.  And then we sang the beautiful hymn we sang again just moments ago, the bedtime prayer which, if I understood her right, is one of the first her mother taught her when she was a little girl: “Now the light has gone away; Father, listen while I pray, Asking Thee to watch and keep And to send me quiet sleep” (LSB 887:1).  What a beautiful prayer to sing in your last days.  And even though she wasn’t speaking much toward the end, she did sing the first verse with me, from memory, with tears in her eyes.  And then there is the third verse: “Let my near and dear ones be Always near and dear to Thee; O bring me and all I love To Thy happy home above.”  She was ready, and she prayed that the dear Lord Jesus would come and take her to Himself.  But also (and never forget this), she prayed for you in her last hours, that you would know Jesus, believe in Him, and so be reunited with her and with Hank and with the Lord in heaven.
            Audrey has her rest in Jesus.  But she wants you to know that you can rest in Him even now.  He speaks these words to you today: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  You are weary, too, aren’t you?  Burdened with grief (today especially), burdened with sadness in a world that doesn’t work the way it should, burdened with your sins and the weakness of your flesh, with your own aches and pains, injuries and disease.  Perhaps things are not going well at work, or at home, with your children, with your marriage.  Perhaps you struggle with depression, or addiction, or loneliness, or anxiety.  There is war in the world.  There is war in your soul.  You are broken.  It’s okay to admit it.  We’re all in the same boat.  We’re all broken.  This doesn’t mean God is against you.  This doesn’t mean He does not love you.  Remember all that our beloved Audrey suffered in this life.  Remember that in all these things that weary and burden us, Christ Jesus holds out His pierced hands and calls to us: “Come to me… Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” 
            Audrey, and Jesus, would have you do what she did: Come here to Jesus at His house, with His people, and hear Jesus Himself speak His consoling, forgiving, life-giving Word of Gospel.  Be fed by the Bread of Life, the Bread of Heaven, the Savior who was crucified for your sins and who is now risen from the dead.  He is risen, and He will raise you, with Audrey and Hank and all people, and give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ.  There are any number of ways we seek rest in this life, whether it be a weekend at the Lake, or a round of golf, or a bottle of booze.  The truth is, none of them work.  Not really, not permanently.  Do you need rest?  Rest like Audrey needed rest?  The only rest that is real and true and permanent, rest for body and soul, rest that is enduring and eternal, is the rest Jesus gives.  Because Jesus’ rest makes you who are broken, whole again.  Whole spiritually now.  Whole and complete, in your body, on that Day when Christ comes again in glory.

            God put His Name on Audrey in Holy Baptism, the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  He marked her with the holy cross, as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified.  Which is to say, He set her apart to be made whole eternally on the Day of Resurrection.  Are you baptized into Christ?  This Promise is for you.  Cling to it with rejoicing, even in the midst of your tears.  Are you not baptized?  Let’s talk about getting baptized and coming to Christ for rest and for life.  For this Promise is for you, too.  This rest is for you.  Jesus speaks to you, and Audrey wants you to clean out your ears and listen up.  Jesus says to you: “Come to me.  Lay down your burdens and your cares.  Lay down your sins.  I take them into myself and nail them to the cross.  Come to me.  Hear my Word.  Trust my Promise.  I will be your rest.  Because when you are with me, you are home.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 20)

September 20, 2015
Text: Mark 9:30-37

            Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God?  Actually, here the Sunday School answer works pretty well.  Jesus, of course!  And notice that the greatest, Jesus, makes Himself last of all and servant of all, giving His life as a ransom for all.  Which makes it all the more silly that the disciples are arguing about which of them is the greatest.  The very fact that they’re arguing about it disqualifies them.  There are undoubtedly a few favorite candidates among the Twelve.  There is Peter, of course, but then again, James and John, the “Sons of Thunder,” are also in Jesus’ inner circle.  And you can never count Andrew out.  Andrew, after all, is the one who first witnessed to his brother Peter: “‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ).  He brought him to Jesus” (John 1:41-42; ESV).  The rest of the disciples probably picked sides with one candidate or another.  Perhaps Peter blushed as his devotees argued for his supremacy.  Perhaps those who would be the greatest feigned humility during the discussion, making them all the more attractive to potential supporters.  Though maybe not.  Certainly James and John did not blush to have their Mommy ask Jesus to exalt them to His right hand and His left as He comes into His Kingdom (Matt. 20:21).  Little did they understand what that meant, or how it is Jesus would come into His Kingdom.
            Jesus comes into His Kingdom on the cross.  Just read the sign above His head: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19).  He is surrounded on His right and on His left by thieves, one of whom hurls insults and derides Him, the other of whom prays for mercy: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).  None of this should surprise the disciples.  Jesus had been teaching them about this all the way through Galilee: “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him.  And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31).  It is the heart and soul of the Gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This is precisely what the apostles are called to preach.  But they don’t understand any of it.  They are afraid to ask.  Because they don’t know if they want the answer.  What does this all mean?  You can’t win a Kingdom by submitting to your enemies!  You can’t win a Kingdom by dying!  That’s just not the way it works in the world.
            Jesus turns everything on its head.  Jesus’ Kingdom, remember, is not of this world (John 18:36).  So He reminds Pilate.  This is how it works in Jesus’ Kingdom: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).  The greatest of these in Jesus’ Kingdom is the least of these in ours.  Our Lord illustrates the point.  He takes a child, a paidivon, a little wobbly toddler just learning to pull himself up on things… Jesus loves the little children… He stands him up in the midst of this rugged group of fishermen and tax collectors and zealots and whatever else they were, and He says this is an example of a great one, a foremost citizen in Jesus’ Kingdom.  He takes Him in His arms and says this is what you should be like.  A toddler.  A babe.  Simply trusting in Jesus.  For everything.  For the salvation of your soul and for every bodily need.  Believing His every Word, even if you don’t understand it and can’t give voice to it.  Adults have trouble believing.  We get in the way of our faith.  A little child serves as an example to us: Loved and safe in the arms of Jesus.
            Be like a child before God.  Not childish, but childlike.  God is your Father.  Jesus is your Savior.  Who cares whether your first or last?  It is enough just to be with Jesus.  And then have mercy on your brothers and sisters.  Put them first.  Put yourself last.  Consider others better than yourself.  Be a servant to all.  That is your joy in Christ who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).  Jesus also talks about receiving one such child in His Name.  More on that in a few minutes.  For now, though, think about how shocking it was for those manly men, those tough guys all worried about who is the manliest of them all, to see Jesus pick out a child and say this one is great in the Kingdom.  And now think about all of us gathered here today, and all the children of our congregation, and how Jesus would find the most insignificant babe in arms and take him into His embrace.  It’s a beautiful thought.  Very comforting, even if a bit shocking.  Babies first.  Oh, eventually He would make His way to our esteemed president and our head elder and the other officers of our congregation.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, He would even embrace this poor excuse of a pastor.  He would have mercy on us all.  He would delight in us all.  But that baby, He would take in His arms immediately.  And, in fact, that is precisely what He does… at the Font!  For all of us babies in the faith.
            Who is the greatest?  Who is the best?  Is that argument not at the heart of every conceivable problem in the Church and in the world?  Sin entered the world because Adam and Eve wanted to be the greatest, as great as or even greater than God.  They forgot that the greatest in the LORD who gave them life.  And you want to be greater than your neighbor.  You’re always comparing yourself to others, tearing them down, building yourself up.  We virtually never gossip about the good attributes of another person.  We delight to wallow in their negative characteristics and spread the stories that knock them down a peg.  Because if I can tear you down, that makes me that much better in comparison.  At least in my own eyes.  And when it comes down to opinions about anything under the sun, I’ll tell you what, my opinion is the best I’ve ever heard.  Of course, I wouldn’t say it that way.  I’d offer up my humble two-cents and then secretly despise you if you didn’t take my advice.  If you did take it, that’s just confirmation of my theory.  You see how this works?  Who is the greatest?  Who is the wisest?  Who is the strongest?  Who is the fairest of them all?  Every argument from the color of the carpet to how best to prevent a nuclear Iran comes down to who is the greatest.  Repent.
            Jesus is the greatest!  And knowing that is freeing.  It frees you from the jockeying for first position, the competition to be number one.  It frees you to be a child in the Kingdom of God, to simply receive what the Lord has to give: His forgiveness, His life, His provision for every need of body and soul.  It frees you up to rely totally on Him, secure in His embrace.  And it frees you up to love and serve your neighbor, to have mercy on him, to put him first, give to him generously, defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.  Which is to say, it frees you up to serve as a Christian in your particular vocation. 
            This is true of all vocations, but this text has particular application to the vocation of parents.  “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:37).  What does it mean to receive one such child in Jesus’ Name?  In the wider sense, I suppose, it can mean receiving any person in the Name of Jesus, and caring for them as you would for a child.  But I think here receiving a child in Jesus’ Name has a more technical sense.  Where do you receive a child, literally, in Jesus’ Name?  At the Font.  In Holy Baptism.  Parents, bring your child to Baptism, where Jesus puts His Name on them (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and takes them up in His arms.  And then keep bringing them to Jesus here at Church so they can live in their Baptism.  I’m convinced this is exactly what Jesus means when He says, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).  He’s talking about Baptism.  And life in Baptism.  And so here.  And this also means that it is a blessing when parents receive children into their marriage, into their family, as a gift from God.  Our culture is against having children, or certainly what our culture would consider too many of them.  That’s not what Jesus says.  Jesus is a Psalm 127 kind of Guy: “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them” (vv. 3-5).  So go have kids.  (Get married first, of course.)  “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28).  It is the blessing of God.  And think how highly this speaks of adoption, or foster parenting, this receiving of children in Jesus’ Name.  And think how much more horrendous, how greatly offensive to our Savior, is the murder of babies in abortion.  Lord, have mercy.  Here in this text is a call to every one of us, parent or not, to speak up for the little children in Jesus’ Name, to defend them, to defend life, and hold it sacred.  And notice what happens when you do any of these things.  You become last.  You become least.  You become servant.  And you sacrifice yourself for the sake of the other in the way of Jesus Christ.  Which is really great.

            You can do this for children of all ages, in Jesus’ Name, because you have been received as a child of God in Jesus’ Name.  God’s own child, I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ!  The Kingdom is yours!  Your sins are forgiven.  God is your Father.  Jesus is your Brother.  The Spirit of God dwells in you.  All things are yours in Christ Jesus, who was handed over for you, killed for you, and the third day rose again for you.  And He’ll raise you, too.  So you have nothing to lose.  Love and serve.  And know that Christ is your all in all.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.