Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Dorr, Michigan

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 12)

July 26, 2015
Text: Mark 6:45-56

            “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid” (Mark 6:45; ESV).  What do you fear?  What is it that keeps you up at night?  We all have our fears.  I won’t tell you my deepest, darkest ones right now, though I will tell you just a little bit about how messed up I am.  I love cars and I love to drive.  I love road trips.  But there are things about it that make me really nervous, that cause me to fear.  Traffic, confusion, aggressive drivers, getting lost in unknown territory, finding myself in a bad neighborhood.  So Bray MacIntosh sent me to Detroit this week.  Free tickets to the Mariners at Detroit.  The D.  The personification of all my fears, rolled up with a large crowd of people in an enclosed space, which also makes me very nervous.  Then I found out that day was the anniversary of the 1967 race riots.  Thanks Bray.  Well, we made it out alive, and actually, we really enjoyed ourselves.  So really, thanks Bray.  It was a great day we’ll never forget.  But for the purposes of this sermon, what is it about all those things I just mentioned that cause me to fear?  Chaos.  No ability to control the variables.  Anything could happen.  There are unknown dangers around every corner.  And there is no escape if the worst should happen.  I have no way to save my family.  I have no way to save myself.  And that is what I really fear.  And truth be told, so do you.  The root of all our fears is the knowledge that we cannot save ourselves.
            Immediately after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side (v. 45).  Our Lord stayed behind to dismiss the crowds and take time alone to pray.  And we should note, though it is not the main point of the text, that even Jesus, the Son of God, makes prayer His priority, even when He is exhausted from a busy day of teaching and healing and feeding.  Now it is night, and there has been a change in the weather.  Jesus is on the land and the disciples are on the sea.  The wind begins to howl.  The waves begin to toss the boat about.  What should have been an easy troll across the lake becomes a perilous night at sea.  The sea in ancient literature, and especially in the Bible, is a place of chaos, danger, and death.  It is the place of Satan and the demons.  The disciples are terrified.  Things don’t look good.  After hours of fighting the wind and the waves and holding on for dear life, things take a turn for the worse.  It is the 4th watch, 3 am, the witching hour, and what is that out there on the sea?  It looks like a man, walking on the water.  But men don’t walk on water.  It must be a spirit!  Not just a ghost, as our translation says.  A phantasm, that’s the Greek word.  Remember, the sea is the place of demons, and in Jewish theology, the phantasm is the demon who comes and pulls you down to hell when you die.  Well, no wonder the disciples cry out in terror!  Two thoughts occur to them simultaneously: We’re going to die.  And not only are we going to die, we’re going to hell.  And there is nothing we can do to save ourselves.
            Now, of course, we’re in on the secret.  We know this is no phantasm.  This is Jesus, walking on the water.  And He doesn’t seem concerned.  In fact, our text says “He meant to pass by them” (v. 48).  He sees their struggle.  He knows their fears.  But He told them He would meet them on the other side.  And they should have believed Him.  No storm can void the Lord’s Promises.  But the disciples… well, “they did not understand about the loaves… their hearts were hardened” (v. 52).  Even though they’ve been there for all the miracles, witnessed all the healings, known firsthand the Lord’s faithfulness and the power of His Word… they forgot.  They forgot who Jesus is, and what He has come to do.  They forgot that Jesus loves them and works all things for their good and for their salvation.  They forgot that, because they cannot save themselves, Jesus has come to save them.  And that is your story, too.  You do not understand about the loaves, either… the Bread Jesus feeds you here at His altar, the Bread of Life that is His Body, crucified and risen for you.  If you understood that, you would not fear.  Your heart would not be hardened.  You would believe the Lord’s Promises.  Repent.  You fear death, but why?  Jesus tells you He will meet you on the other side.  He has been through death.  He has come out of it again.  He is risen.  And He promises that you will come through death, too… to life and resurrection and eternal communion with Him.  You fear death because you know there is no way to save yourself.  But you don’t have to save yourself, because Jesus already has.  He died for your sins.  He is risen.  He will bring you to eternal life.  No phantasm will meet you in death.  Only the risen Lord Jesus.  Your sins are forgiven.  You are saved. 
            So the disciples doubt, and you doubt, and you’re terrified when it looks like you’re about to perish.  But here is the comfort.  The Lord Jesus hears the cries of His terrified people.  He heard the disciples.  He hears you.  And when He hears, He speaks His all-powerful, Spirit imparting, faith creating, life giving Word.  “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid” (v. 45).  Or I like a more literal translation: “Courage!  I AM.  Fear not.”  What is this all about… the storm, the fear, Jesus walking on the sea?  This is all on purpose.  It is a demonstration that chaos and danger and death and demons have nothing on Jesus.  Jesus is YHWH, I AM!  Jesus is God!  He is the Creator of heaven and earth.  He made the wind and the sea.  He controls every gust and every wave.  He cannot die until He gives Himself into death.  And you cannot and will not die apart from His knowledge and compassion.  He hears your cry.  He will save you.  He can, because He is God.  He will because He has promised it.  So “Courage,” He says.  He speaks His courage into you.  “Fear not,” He says.  He speaks the fear out of you.  Why can you be courageous?  Why should not fear not?  Because, says Jesus, “I AM.”  God has come in the flesh to save you.
            Matthew Harrison, our Synod president, loves to remind us that “Courage is fear that has been baptized.”  You are a sinner.  You are a fallen bag of bones.  You have your fears and your vain attempts to save yourself.  Jesus knows your weakness and He hears your cries.  You are baptized!  Jesus has already met you on the sea.  The life of the Baptized can be stormy to say the least.  There is temptation and sin and the frustration of living in a world that wouldn’t know the truth if it bit ‘em on the nose.  There is pain and disease and death and decay, chaos and confusion, hatred and race riots.  There are companies in the business of murdering babies and selling their body parts.  There are shootings at schools and at shopping malls and at Navy recruitment centers, and even at churches during Bible Study.  And we fear.  Because we cannot save ourselves.  Especially when there is evidence that the phantasm, the devil, is out to get us.  But Jesus speaks: “Courage!  I AM.  Fear not.”  You are baptized!  Jesus promises to meet you on the other side.  And He does even better than that.  For when the disciples cry out in fear, our Lord not only speaks.  He gets into the boat with them.  He gets into the boat, and immediately the wind ceases.  There is one place the disciples will always be safe.  In the boat, with Jesus.

            And what is the boat but the Holy Christian Church?  You are sitting in the nave, the same root from which we get the word “Navy.”  And here is Jesus in His Word and in His Body and Blood, with you just as surely as He was with the disciples in the boat on the sea.  It’s just that you can’t see Him.  But you know He is with you because He speaks: “Courage!  I AM.  Fear not.”  So you are safe.  And now that Jesus has spoken His courage into you, you know that it’s okay when the wind picks up and the boat starts to rock and the waves come splashing over the side.  You don’t have to save yourself.  Jesus is with you, and you can leave all the saving to Him.  Don’t forget who He is (I AM, YHWH).  Don’t forget what He has come to do (Jesus: YHWH saves, because He will save His people from their sins).  And don’t forget the loaves.  Don’t forget what it is Jesus feeds you.  His Body, crucified and risen, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Jesus doesn’t just speak the courage into you, He feeds it to you, right in the mouth.  He Bodies and Bloods it into you.  And if He does that, He won’t leave you to perish in the storm.  The phantasm can’t have you.  The sea cannot swallow you.  What do you fear?  What keeps you up at night?  Those things have come to an end.  For Jesus is God, and He has spoken: “Courage!  I AM.  Fear not.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 11)

July 19, 2015
Text: Mark 6:30-44; Ps. 23

            “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34; ESV).  In the feeding of the 5,000, our Lord Jesus fulfills the 23rd Psalm.  Christ Jesus is the Good Shepherd who satisfies the wants and needs of His precious lambs.  The shepherding, the pastoring, had been busy for Jesus and the Apostles, and He had called them away for a time, to a desolate place across the Sea, to rest and to eat and to be refreshed by their Lord.  Even pastors need a vacation now and then, and we’re very thankful when our congregations allow us that luxury.  In His compassion, the Lord Jesus reminds His ministers in this text that quiet time away from the demands of ministry is important.  But then again, it doesn’t always work that way.  Vacations are made to be interrupted.  If it’s true that there is no rest for the weary, there is certainly no rest for the Savior.  The people see where Jesus and the disciples are going in the boat.  And they beat them there!  They run around the shore!  If only every congregation were so eager to hear a sermon!  And as Jesus disembarks, there is probably that moment of disappointment as He realizes there will be no solitude.  But at that same moment His pastoral heart is moved.  He has compassion on them.  The Greek word for “compassion” literally means He feels it in His gut.  Even the English word “compassion” literally means “with suffering.”  What causes Jesus to be moved with compassion, to suffer in His guts for these people?  They are like sheep without a shepherd.  They are like a congregation without a pastor.  The word “pastor” means “shepherd.”  The chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, they had failed to shepherd these people.  They were starved for the Gospel.  They were hungry for the preaching.  They had been torn to pieces by wolves in sheep’s clothing.  They were very much in want.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Good Pastor, cannot let that stand.  So from that moment, until late into the night, He gathers them together into His fold and He opens His mouth and teaches them many things.
            Remember, this is a desolate place, and the disciples have a very practical concern.  The people haven’t eaten.  It’s way past supper time.  The shops in the villages are closing.  Time to send them away while they can still catch a morsel.  But Jesus has other plans.  “You give them something to eat” (v. 37).  You see, the Divine Service isn’t over yet.  We’ve had the Service of the Word: Jesus teaching His people His Word of life.  But now it’s time to gather round the Lord so Jesus can feed us by the hand of His called and ordained servants.  Jesus is teaching us how it works when He gathers His flock together, when He congregates them.  Now, the disciples are confused, as pastors often are.  They doubt the Lord’s ability to provide for the needs of these people.  Granted, we have here five loaves of bread and two fish.  But what are these among so many?  Jesus commands them to sit down in groups on the green grass.  “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures” (Ps. 23:2; all quotes of Ps. 23 from KJV).  The word for “groups” in Greek is “symposia,” that is, drinking parties.  It indicates this will be a feast!  Five loaves, two fish, and you know what happens next.  Everyone eats.  Everyone is satisfied.  The disciples take up twelve baskets full of leftovers, a basket for each man.  And then we find out that the number 5,000 only includes the men.  Counting women and children, there may have been ten, twenty thousand people there.  The disciples are amazed.  Pastors always are when the Lord’s gifts actually work.  Remember, one of the Lord’s favorite pet names for the Twelve (and I imagine for the pastors who follow after them) is “O ye of little faith.” 
            The Lord Jesus teaches His people, His sheep, and He feeds them.  “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake… Thou preparest a table before me” (vv. 3, 5).  That’s how He does it, Words and Food, Preaching and Supper (and the still waters [v. 2] of Holy Baptism, of course).  And it works!  The people are fed, spiritually and physically.  And as it turns out, there is no better rest or renewal for the Lord’s undershepherds than to feed His sheep the Means of Grace the Lord commands, and watch Him do miraculous things with what doesn’t look like much: words and water, bread and wine… five loaves and two fish.
            Jesus has gathered us together here this morning because of His compassion for us.  We are like sheep without a shepherd.  There is, of course, no lack of would-be shepherds calling us to follow them here, there, and everywhere.  Politicians, professors, entertainers, preachers of false gospels.  What happens in the chaos of competing voices is the division of the flock.  We’ve talked a lot about sheep and how dumb they are.  That’s not a veiled insult… It’s simply what the Lord calls us.  We just don’t know how to keep ourselves out of danger, and we’re always wandering off on our own, away from the flock, away from the Shepherd and the safety of the sheepfold.  The Good Shepherd constantly has to come find us, save us, wash us, heal our wounds from the dirty, dangerous, deadly places where we’re trapped.  It is no wonder when He sees us He is moved with compassion, He suffers in His guts for us.  That same compassion will lead Him to His Passion and death for us on the cross.  His whole body will suffer.  His entire soul will be in agony.  For us.  For our salvation.  His hands and feet pierced.  His sacred head crowned with thorns.  The insults and mockery and spit.  The scattered sheep.  The Blood outpoured.  The Spirit given up.  The water and blood of His riven side.  “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).  This Shepherd is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opens not His mouth (Is. 53:7).  He dies.  For you.  For me.  For the world. 
            The greatest peril for sheep who go their own way is the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23:4).  If a sheep gets lost alone in that valley, there is no hope.  Notice what the Good Shepherd does.  He goes after the sheep.  He goes into the valley.  That is what He is doing on the cross.  He is dying our death.  He is paying for our sins.  He goes right down into it to bring us out again.  He knows the way.  He is the way.  He leads us out of the tomb and into life eternal.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And with His rod and His staff, He comforts us (v. 4) and leads us out.  You need not fear this valley full of death’s dark shadow.  You need fear no evil.  Because on the Last Day you’ll emerge from it into the light of day.  Jesus Christ will raise you from the dead.  And you will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (v. 6).
            In the meantime, Jesus gathers you here into the sheepfold of His Church to pour out His compassion upon you.  He teaches you many things: His Word, Law and Gospel, convicting you of your sins, bringing you to repentance, forgiving you, enlivening you by His Spirit spoken into you, speaking Himself into your ears, and showing you what it means that you are a child of His heavenly Father.  And then it’s time to eat.  He commands His minister to give you something to eat.  It doesn’t look like much.  Bread and wine, a wafer and a sip.  But do not doubt.  This bread, and this wine, are in the hands of the Lord who fed 5,000 men plus women and children from five loaves and two fish.  These are the hands of the God who spoke the universe into existence, who made something, everything, out of nothing.  So you come, group by group, symposia by symposia, drinking party by drinking party, for the joyous Feast.  And your Good Shepherd gives you to eat, not just bread, but bread that is His Body, given for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Wine to drink, yet not just wine, but wine that is His Blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  That’s what He does.  The Lord Jesus teaches His people, His sheep, and He feeds them.  And your soul is restored.  The Lord gives Sabbath rest to pastor and people in the green grass of His pasture.  He does it out of His compassion.

            We all too often take the feeding of the 5,000 as a neat little story about how we don’t have to worry, because God will provide us with daily bread for our bodies.  That is true, of course, but we miss the greater gift for all our fascination of the lesser.  If, in His compassion, He feeds us His Body and Blood and gives us eternal life, He will also feed our bodies with bread.  If He gives the greater gift, He will not fail to give the lesser.  This feeding is about so much more than bread.  This is about the Divine Service.  This is about Jesus Christ present for you here and now, in the flesh, and in great compassion.  This is about Jesus teaching you with His own Word.  This is about Jesus feeding you with His own Body and His own Blood.  This is about Jesus, your Good Shepherd.  With the Lord as your Shepherd, you have no want.  He has prepared the Table before you.  Time to Feast.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.            

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 10)

July 12, 2015
Text: Mark 6:14-29

            St. John the Baptist was beheaded by the government for preaching traditional marriage.  Let’s not mince words on this.  Herodias was offended by John’s preaching, because he declared it unlawful, ungodly, for Herod to have his brother Philip’s wife while Philip was still alive.  As we all know, hell hath no fury… and Herodias was furious at the scorn and shame brought upon her by John’s preaching.  How dare he make her feel bad about her domestic situation!  How dare he question the sanctity of her love.  How dare he suggest, nay, proclaim, that her marriage to Herod is sinful before God.  And so John finds himself in the dungeon.  Herodias wants him executed, but Herod protects him, if you can call the dungeon protection, because he fears John and knows that he is a righteous and holy man.  Herod even appreciates a good John the Baptist sermon now and then, although he finds John’s message perplexing.  You know how it is when a sermon hits a little too close to home.  The Law of God tears you apart at the seams.  And it hurts.  It’s the crucifixion of the old man, the old sinful nature.  That always hurts.  But it must be done, so that your God can raise you up to new life, a new creation in Christ Jesus.  That preaching hurts, but you love it, because you know it’s true, and you hear in it the voice of the living God.
            But the enemies of the Gospel are always watching for an opportune time to rob you of such preaching, and Herodias and the demons identified the opportunity to silence John on the occasion of Herod’s birthday.  There was a big bash, a serious feast, a wining and dining of the elite of the elite.  These included Herod’s nobles and his generals and the leading citizens of Galilee.  Such feasts always serve a political purpose.  They offer an occasion for the ruler to show off his wealth and his power.  He shows the leading men a good time and shores up their loyalty.  The free-flow of alcohol looses up the tongues.  Stories are told.  Boasts are made.  And hearts are merry.  And they’re all the merrier if Herod’s pretty step-daughter gives us a dance.  It’s not in the text, but we assume the dance was lewd.  Whether that’s true or not, it was certainly a crowd pleaser, and it exceedingly pleased Herod.  Caught up in the spirit of the moment and the spirits in his cup, Herod makes a rash vow.  “Ask me whatever you wish, and I will give it to you… up to half of my kingdom” (Mark 6:22-23; ESV).  It has been suggested Herod was offering to trade in the mother for a newer model, make Herodias’ daughter his wife.  It’s hard to say.  But this had been a set-up by Herodias the whole time.  Daughter asks mother, “For what should I ask,” and mother advises daughter, “The head of John the Baptist” (v. 24).  She wouldn’t be the last mother to demand a preacher’s head on a platter.  But she meant this quite literally.  She had trapped the king in his words.  Herod didn’t want to execute John.  But he also didn’t want to be embarrassed in the presence of his prestigious guests.  So rather than do what he knew to be right, he sold his soul for a dance.  Isn’t that the way of the world?  Herod promises to give up to half his kingdom, as if he were a powerful god, but in the end, we see he is nothing but a weak and insecure slave of his subjects.
            Well, John is beheaded.  So it goes.  But there would have been an easier way, you know.  If he had just tolerated the illegitimate marriage, this never would have happened.  He could have done so much more good if he’d just kept his trap shut this one time.  But that wasn’t his office, was it?  He was sent to be “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Mark 1:3).  He was sent to proclaim “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 4).  To everyone.  Even to sinful kings.  He doesn’t stay out of politics when the Word of the Lord is at stake.  He is not ashamed to proclaim the Lord’s testimony before kings (Psalm 119:46), even if it costs him his life.  Divine truth is worth dying for.  We forget that, living in a society that denies the very existence of objective truth.  But John knew it.  So did the prophets and the apostles and the martyrs of all ages who loved not their lives even unto death (Rev. 12:11).  What about you?  Are you afraid to bear witness to Christ?  Do you fear to speak His truth because your friends and family might rebuke you, or think mean thoughts about you, or defriend you on Facebook?  Repent.  It’s getting harder, isn’t it?  The Lord knows your weakness, and has taken your failure into Himself and put it to death in His flesh.  And He gives you His Spirit, to make you bold, that you confess His Name and His Word, even if it means your death.  For you know that whoever lives and believes in Jesus, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Jesus shall never die (John 11:25-26).  And you know that whoever confesses Jesus before men, He will also confess before His Father in heaven; but whoever denies Jesus before men, He will also deny before His Father in heaven (Matt. 10:32-33). 
            But with John there is even more at play.  John is sent to prepare the way of the Lord quite literally.  John’s life, and his death, parallels that of Jesus on every level, except that what happens to Jesus is greater, what happens to John is lesser, just as he said it would be: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  So John’s birth is foretold by the angel Gabriel, who promises he will be great before the Lord (Luke 1:15), and Jesus’ birth is foretold by the angel Gabriel, who promises the Child to be born is the Son of God (v. 35).  John’s birth is miraculous, born to elderly parents.  Jesus’ birth is even more miraculous, born of a virgin.  John baptizes for repentance, but Jesus offers a greater Baptism that not only washes away sin, but makes you God’s own child.  John has disciples, but he sends them to follow Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  And John prepares the way in suffering and death.  He is arrested and beheaded.  His disciples put his headless body into a tomb (Mark 6:29).  Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified.  Joseph and Nicodemus put His pierced Body into a tomb.  And now it is Jesus’ turn to blaze the trail.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!  Herod worries that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead, and his fear is not completely unfounded.  Because the risen Jesus will raise up John on the Last Day.  And He will raise you.  You’ll see John and Jesus with your very own eyes.  And you’ll praise God for the blood John shed, preparing the way for the Blood of the Savior, shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
            So you need not fear the enemies of the Gospel: Not Satan, nor the demons, nor sin, nor death; not Al Qaeda, nor ISIS, nor the abortionists, nor the homosexual marriage crowd.  You need not fear the unfaithful who claim the Name of Christ, nor your own sinful flesh.  Jesus Christ is the end of fear.  The enemies of the Gospel are always watching for an opportune time to get you.  But they can never get to you when you are in Christ Jesus, in His Word, in Your Baptism, in His Supper.  The Lord also gives a Feast, and He outdoes Herod.  He, too, gives Food and Drink.  But He invites the weak of the weak, dying and dead sinners.  His Feast is the medicine that brings the dead to life.  His wine also looses tongues, not for boasting, but for confessing and singing songs of praise.  His wine makes our hearts merry, so that we rejoice, and we’re caught up in the Spirit, His Holy Spirit, who opens our lips to speak His Word with joy.  He makes no rash vow, but He does make a vow: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14).  It is the promise that He hears our prayers and answers them.  And unlike Herod, He delivers.  He is not trapped in His Words.  He holds Himself to them.  He is a powerful God, the only true God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Though it is true that His Words result in a death: His own on the cross, for the life of the world.  For sinners.  For you. 

            Jesus Christ is crucified by the government that He might form for Himself a Bride, the holy Christian Church.  He sleeps the deep sleep of death, that from His side the Church be formed.  Water and Blood, Font and Chalice, filled with Jesus Christ crucified for you.  You are His beloved.  You are His spotless Bride.  As with any marriage, what is yours is His, and what is His is yours.  What is yours He has taken away: sin and death and condemnation.  What is His He has freely bestowed upon you: righteousness and life and resurrection.  In the Church, we preach traditional marriage, not because we’re ignorant, or prudes, or haters.  We preach it because it is God’s gift for our good: for companionship, and procreation, and holy sexuality.  And we preach it because it is an icon of Christ and the Church, a living picture of the Gospel.  The husband gives himself for his bride.  The bride receives the sacrifice of the husband for her good.  And in this pattern of giving and receiving, husband and wife live together in love and fidelity and so provide a safe haven for the nurture of children.  We all fall short of this in our marriages.  But this is what marriage is designed by God to be.  Until the Day the Lord Jesus comes again and bids us join Him and the wedding Feast of the Lamb that has no end.  Then St. John will have His head again.  And all will be made whole and right and good.  Indeed, come, Lord Jesus.  Come quickly.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 9)

July 5, 2015
Text: Mark 6:1-13

            Preachers are called to preach the Word of the Lord.  Jesus sends them with all His authority to speak His Word… all of it, the whole counsel of God, no more, no less.  The preacher doesn’t get to pick and choose what he likes and what he doesn’t like, what is safe to proclaim and what could land him in hot water with the people or with the government.  The Holy Christian Church is called to hear the Word of God… all of it, the whole counsel of God, whether it appeals to her members or not.  She is to receive it gladly, confess it boldly, and support the ministers of Christ who publicly proclaim it.  But understand, there is no promise of glorious success in this undertaking, at least not in human terms.  There will be those who hear the Word of God, repent of their sins, and come to faith in Christ.  But there will also be those who will not hear, not for lack of preaching, but because they refuse to hear.  They do not want the Lord or His Word.  And this should not surprise us.  We are a rebellious nation in the midst of rebellious nations, after all.  Fallen sinners, every one.  We are born unbelievers.  Our ears are not, by nature, attuned to the things of the Spirit.  That is why we require a new birth by water and the Word, the washing of regeneration that is Holy Baptism, that born of the Spirit we have ears to hear.  It is God’s gift, this new life, this faith that hangs on every Word of the Lord Jesus.  It is His doing, and not our own.  And so it is that we are called to preach and hear and confess the living Word of God.  But the results are up to the Spirit.  We are not called to success.  We are called to faithfulness. 
            Jesus came to His hometown, Nazareth, to His home synagogue, to be the Guest Preacher on this particular Sabbath.  The text doesn’t say it, but I can imagine how it went.  Everyone was excited that the hometown Boy was returning to preach.  “That’s our Boy!  He’s done well.  Look at the following He has.  Why, I can remember when He was just a little guy on Momma’s knee.  I just can’t wait to hear His sermon.  I bet He’s a good Preacher.”  But then He opens His mouth.  And He preaches the Word of God unvarnished, with all its rough edges and hard surfaces, the crushing weight of the Law, the scandal of the Holy Gospel.  And the people say, “Wait a minute!  This is not what we were expecting.  Who does this kid think He is, anyway?!  Saying things only God has the authority to say!  Telling us to repent!  Forgiving our sins!  After all, He’s just a carpenter.  Nobody special!  We know His mom and His brothers and sisters.”  I’ve preached at my home Church, and while everyone was very gracious, I’m not sure how effective a preacher I can be to people who changed my diapers.  When a preacher returns home, at best, there is a condescending pride in the boy who made good.  Jesus gets the worst.  The people are offended at Him.  They will not hear the Word from Him.  “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and his own household” (Mark 6:4; ESV).  “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief” (vv. 5-6).  Disappointing.  Sad.  But so it goes.  Jesus came to preach, and that is what He does.  Whether they hear or refuse to hear (Ez. 2:5).
            Our Lord’s mistreatment serves as an object lesson for the Church.  This is not just about a preacher returning to his home congregation.  This is the treatment any faithful Christian can expect when you speak the Word of the Lord.  Jesus calls the Twelve and begins to send them out two by two.  He invests them with His own authority over unclean spirits.  He sends them out to preach that people should repent, to cast out demons and heal the sick, to be His spokesmen, His representatives to the people.  An “Apostle” is one who is sent.  The Apostles were sent by the Lord Jesus, and they possessed all His authority in the matter for which they were sent, so that when they spoke, when they acted, it was the same as though Jesus Himself spoke or acted.  And so also the reaction they were to encounter.  Jesus tells them they will not always be received well.  “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.  And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:10-11).  The negative reaction is not to the Apostles in and of themselves.  It is a rejection of Christ.  It is a refusal to hear His Word.  As Jesus says elsewhere, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16).  “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master… If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matt. 10:24-25).  No matter.  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12). 
            That is what the world does to prophets and preachers of the Word.  That is certainly how they treated Ezekiel.  God sends His man, the prophet Ezekiel, to a rebellious nation of Israel.  And He virtually promises the prophet he will be rejected.  “I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD GOD.’  And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ez. 2:4-5).  The preacher is sent to preach the Word of the Lord.  He is not called to success.  He is called to faithfulness.  Whether they hear or refuse to hear, they will know that Christ has sent His man, that the Lord has spoken. 
            This is a comfort to pastors and to the Church in a world that doesn’t really want to hear us right now.  We’re free to believe what we want to believe, as long as we do it quietly.  But when we come speaking the Word of the Lord, preaching that the people should repent, that they are sinners, and so are we by the way, and we all need the salvation that only comes in Jesus Christ, well… No, thank you!  Keep preaching that and we’ll have to silence you by force.  Refuse to endorse same-sex “marriage” and we’ll strip you of your tax-exempt status.  Speak against homosexuality and we’ll fine you for hate speech.  Keep it up and we’ll arrest you.  I’m not exaggerating.  It’s already happening in Canada and Europe.  There are proposals to do it here.  The stage is set and it will happen.  But that’s the Spirit’s problem, not yours.  Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not.  We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).  You just confess the truth in love.  I’ll just keep preaching.  And whether they hear or refuse to hear, they’ll know that the people of God have been among them. 
            And the miracle is that some will hear.  The Spirit does His work in the preaching of the Gospel.  He breaks hearts of stone and bestows beating hearts of flesh.  He brings to new birth by water and the Word.  He leads the Old Adam to water and drowns him good and dead, that He raise up the new man in Christ to live in Him by faith.  He bestows seeing eyes on the blind and hearing ears on the deaf.  He opens dumb mouths and looses bound tongues to speak His Word faithfully.  He sends preachers to preach and the Word of the Lord grows as sinners come to faith in Christ.  “(W)e preach Christ crucified,” says St. Paul, “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).  We preach Christ crucified for sinners, for the forgiveness of sins.  We preach Christ raised from the dead, who will raise us also.  It is a scandal, and it is really to say that Christ Jesus saved us precisely in being rejected.  It’s true.  He saved us by dying.  Not very successful in human terms.  But with God, things are not as they appear.  His death is His triumph and our salvation.  So with St. Paul, we are content to be weak and defeated in the eyes of the world.  For the sake of Christ, we are “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (2 Cor. 12:10).  For Jesus says to us as He said to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). 

            So it is that the Lord sends His weak preachers to mount pulpits week after week, day after day, proclaiming “Thus says the LORD GOD” to poor miserable sinners.  It is a pitiful sight to the movers and shakers of this world.  But with God, things are not as they appear.  The weak man is clothed in an Office that speaks for the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  The Word he speaks grants life to the dead.  And the sinners in the pew are forgiven, righteous, glorious saints, who reign with Christ and will judge the world.  We preach and we suffer, willingly, with rejoicing, because we know how this ends.  We know it is good.  For Christ is risen.  He lives, and He reigns.  The old is passing away.  Jesus makes all things new.  “Thus says the LORD GOD.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 8)

June 28, 2015
Text: Mark 5:21-43

            Desperate.  Jairus is a desperate man, as any man would be in his shoes.  His little daughter, Daddy’s little girl, is sick.  She is at the point of death.  All the efforts of man, all the medical knowledge at their disposal, all of it had come to nothing.  Parents and family and members of the synagogue had prayed.  That precious twelve-year-old light of her Daddy’s life continued to fade.  So now here he is, seeking the Teacher from Nazareth, falling at His feet, imploring Him earnestly, “Come, Lord Jesus”… “My little daughter is at the point of death.  Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live” (Mark 5:23; ESV).
            Desperate.  The poor woman had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, as long as Jairus’ daughter had breathed the breath of life.  Not once a month, but every day for twelve long years this woman suffered, with none of the modern coping mechanisms.  She was miserable.  She suffered much under many physicians… I won’t paint you a picture, but you can imagine what these doctors from the early First Century subjected her to.  It wasn’t pleasant, I’m sure.  And she spent all she had, every penny, but their efforts just made it worse.  To top it all off, remember this is a daughter of Israel, a woman under the Law of Moses.  She is unclean.  Always, every day, for twelve years, she can have no contact with anyone.  She’s an outcast.  She’s not supposed to get near Jesus.  She’s not even supposed to be in the crowd.  She’s making everyone she touches ceremonially unclean.  But she’ll take the risk.  She’s desperate.  “If I just sneak up”… “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well” (v. 28). 
            Desperate.  The world is desperate for peace with a God she won’t acknowledge.  But not on His terms!  She will dictate her own conditions for peace, thank you very much.  I’ve heard a lot of this the last couple of days: “I just can’t believe that God wouldn’t allow someone to love a person just because they happen to be the same gender.”  There we go dictating the terms.  There hangs the forbidden fruit, promising that when you eat of it you can be like God, determining what is good and what is evil.  And it will kill you.  Repent.  The world is desperate, but she doesn’t know why, or won’t acknowledge it.  Desperate in sin.  Desperate in unbelief.  Desperate in death.  So her children seek to justify themselves.  We’re all about love and tolerance… and let’s get those Christian haters!  Them we cannot tolerate!  The ultimate virtue for the world is self-fulfillment.  Do what makes  you happy.  Be true to yourself.  Follow your heart.  Which is exactly what Eve did in the Garden.  Did God really say?  Well, who really cares what He said.  We all know He’d want me to be happy.  And anyway, who can be sure He even exists.  You see, in a strange twist of irony, the denial of God, this insistence that everything is ultimately accidental and meaningless (i.e. evolution), this is all finally a striving for peace with God.  Because if there is no God, there is no conflict.  It’s the ultimate state of denial.  It is desperation.  Unwilling to reconcile with God, and unable to imagine an eternity of conflict with Him (Hell), we just deny the whole thing.  We pretend none of it is real.  That’s the world you live in.
            And you—you have your own desperations.  You also know the anguish.  You know the sting of death, loved ones who have died or are dying.  You know the pain of infirmity in your own body and the bodies of those you love.  From the common cold to cancer, you know this is not how it should be.  This is what it means to know good and evil.  Thank you Eve.  Thank you Adam.  Apart from that fruit, we would only have known the good.  But now the world is fallen, and so is our flesh.  We’re condemned to a life of dying, and that makes us desperate. 
            But you—you know a way out, the only way out.  And that is Jesus.  Jairus knew it, too, and fell at the Savior’s feet, imploring Him for mercy.  The woman knew it, too, and snuck up to touch the hem of His garment.  You know that if you could just catch a Word of life from His lips, just a crumb and a drop from His Table, you will be healed.  And Jesus says to you, “Daughter… Son”… “your faith has made you well” (v. 34).  Actually, not just “made you well.”  The Greek actually says, “your faith has saved you”!  Jesus preaches a good Lutheran sermon: Salvation by faith alone.  Beloved, your faith has saved you.  Because the content of your faith is Christ.  Luther said that faith is a synonym for Christ.  It is not that if you believe hard enough, you will be saved.  Faith is not your work.  It is Christ.  And it is a gift.  Christ is your salvation.  Christ has made you well.  Christ has saved you.  “Your faith has saved you,” He says to the woman who received His healing touch.  “Your faith has saved you,” He says to you who have touched and tasted His healing Body and Blood.  “Depart in peace.”  Be healed of your afflictions.  Your sins are forgiven.  You are clean.  You are restored.  Jesus takes your disease and uncleanness into Himself and nails it to the cross.  And in exchange, He leaves you clean with His own cleanness, His righteousness, His holiness.  No need to justify yourself.  Jesus has done it already.  He has done it completely.  It is finished.
            But there is more, as, indeed, there must be if this is to be truly Good News.  For the woman was healed, but she eventually died.  And Jairus suffered the greatest a heartache a man can know in this life.  His precious little girl died.  And you will die.  “Why trouble the Teacher any further?” (v. 35).  There is nothing He can do about this, says the world.  Why does Jesus do this to us?  Here we are, desperate once again.  The world weeps and wails in hopelessness, and in our own grief, we’re tempted to join in.  When Jesus comes to the house, there is a great commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.  That is the only response the world knows to death.  And it’s not even all that sincere, not for most of those present.  It was the custom at the death of a loved one to hire mourners to help set the mood.  They’re doing it for pay!  And they scoff when Jesus announces hope in the face of hopelessness: “The child is not dead but sleeping” (v. 39).  Much as they scoff at you when you confess: “I believe in… the resurrection of the body” (Apostles’ Creed).  They can’t believe you mean that.  Because they’re desperate, but not so desperate as to believe something that contradicts their every experience of death.  Dead men don’t rise.  It is easier to live in denial than to stake your eternal fate on a confession of hope in the face of hopelessness.  It is impossible for man to believe this hope.  It’s a miracle that anybody believes.  It is a miracle, and it happens every time a baby is baptized into Christ, every time the Lord Jesus speaks faith into the heart of a child of God: “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36).
            In a little foreshadowing of the Judgment, Jesus throws the unbelieving world out of the house.  Only the believers are present: the disciples, Jairus, his wife, and the corpse.  Jesus takes the hand of the little girl in His own, and He speaks into her ear: “‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise’” (v. 41).  And she does.  Immediately, St. Mark tells us (v. 42).  She’s walking around, probably talking and laughing and overjoyed to be alive.  According to St. Luke, Jesus commands them to give her something to eat (Luke 8:55).  Nothing works up an appetite like being dead.  And nothing calls for a Feast like resurrection from the dead.  When our blessed Lord appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, He was constantly eating with them (Cf. Luke 24 and John 21!).  And He has given us the Meal of His death and resurrection to eat and drink until He comes again.  He died.  He is risen.  We eat with Him every time we gather around His Altar.  It is His healing touch.  Your faith has saved you.  Depart in peace.  And what about death?  What about it?  You already died with Christ at the font.  You are already risen with Him from the baptismal flood.  And anyway, you already know what He will do for you on the Last Day.  He will take your hand in His hand, the pierced one, and speak into your ear: “Child, I say to you, arise!”  And you will.  You’ll step out of the grave with your own two feet and join in the unending Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end.  Despair no more.  Jesus lives.  And so do you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

              

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 7)

June 21, 2015
Text: Mark 4:35-41

            Times of tribulation and sudden catastrophes betray our struggle with faith and doubt.  At these times we ask the really hard questions.  Where is Jesus?  Why is He allowing this to happen?  Can He help?  Does He even care?  When life gets particularly difficult; when it becomes clear to us and to everyone around us that we are broken and perishing people at the mercy of wind and wave, time and circumstance; when we have to admit that we are utterly helpless, that even our lives are a big, filthy mess of sin and death; we cry out to Jesus: “Lord, don’t you care?!”  And it seems like He is asleep on a cushion, unconcerned and unmoved by our plea.
            The disciples took Jesus into the boat after a particularly exhausting day.  There had been great crowds, probably healings, and certainly much teaching.  Our Lord was tired.  The disciples, being experienced fisherman who knew their way around a boat and the lake, were eager to give their Teacher a rest.  They could handle it.  The weather looked good.  The conditions were favorable.  And this is what the disciples did for a living.  Take a break, Jesus.  We’ve got this one.  Go take a nap on the cushion in the stern.  So He did.  That blessed sleep after a hard day of labor.  Then, all at once, the weather took an unexpected turn.  A great windstorm arose.  This kind of storm is not all that uncommon on the Sea of Galilee.  The Sea is surrounded by mountains and hills, and when cold wind blows in from the mountains over the warm water, it can make for tumultuous weather.  But this storm came out of nowhere.  The waves were breaking over the boat.  The disciples were bailing, but they couldn’t keep up with the water now filling the boat.  The situation looked hopeless.  And though everyone else was in a panic, bailing for their very lives, where was Jesus?  Asleep on the cushion.  Apparently unconcerned.  Apparently unmoved by the cries of distress.  “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38; ESV). 
            In fact, it may be worse than that.  It just may be that Jesus is doing this on purpose.  Consider the evidence.  Recall that the disciples had earned their sea legs.  They knew what they were doing.  They were pretty good meteorologists, and they wouldn’t have risked life and limb and precious fishing vessel if they knew a dangerous storm was brewing.  Furthermore, what is going on with Jesus?  When waves are tossing you every which way and soaking you to the bone, you don’t just sleep through that.  So the storm came out of nowhere and Jesus kept right on snoozing as though He had nothing to be concerned about.  And so the verdict: Jesus planned this whole thing!  Jesus is responsible for the storm!  He did this on purpose!  Well, He is God, remember?!  Ah, and that is what this is really all about.  Jesus is teaching His disciples (those in the boat with Him and those in His Church this morning) some profound facts.  There will be storms in this life.  They will be unexpected and they will be violent.  No, we cannot handle it.  We are insufficient and we are broken, and on our own, we perish.  Jesus sends the storms for this very reason, that we may know our place before Him.  But He also sends the storms that we might know who He is and what He has come to do.  He is God, the Creator of wind and wave, and He has come to save us.  And awake or asleep, no matter how violent the storm, we are safe in the boat with Him.  That we may know this, Jesus arises and rebukes the wind and says to the sea: “Peace!  Be still!” (v. 39).  And immediately, there is calm.
            This is, of course, a classic example of how Jesus works.  The disciples don’t recognize the pattern until the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but look at how this is a little picture of Jesus’ ultimate saving work.  Talk about a sudden storm: Judas, the soldiers, the arrest in the Garden, the trial. I mean, they had just been celebrating the Passover with their Lord, and now all this.  Pilate, the scourging, the mocking, the cross.  Everyone panics.  Everyone runs.  The Lord Jesus sleeps the sleep of death.  The disciples believe they are perishing, and that God doesn’t care.  All is ruined.  It’s all over now.  But on the Third Day Jesus rises from the dead.  And what is the first thing He says when He appears in their midst that Easter evening?  “Peace” (Luke 24:36).  “Peace to you.”  And now the very storm of death has been stilled.  The thundering of the Law has been silenced.  The howling wind of Satan’s lies is muted.  The waves of our sin can no longer drown us.  Jesus has done all that to death.  And now there is peace.  “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).  Jesus is God in human flesh.  And He has come to save you.
            Here you sit in the boat that is the Holy Christian Church, and God knows this boat is battered and tossed by wind and wave.  You’re drenched, every one of you, as wave after waves spills out from the font and drowns you.  But this is a different kind of drowning.  It’s a drowning unto life, a dying to live.  It is death with Christ, and resurrection in Him.  It is a peaceful sleep in the midst of the storm, from which you arise with stillness and peace.  Oh, the storm rages.  There is cross and cancer, car wrecks and crime.  There are flooded fields and flooded basements and pillows flooded with your tears.  But if you take nothing else from this sermon, cling to this: You are always safe when you are in the boat with Jesus.  Jesus will navigate you safely to the other side, to your home in heaven.  No matter the storm, there is peace in Jesus.  For Jesus is God, and He has come in the flesh to save you.
            In fact, He sends the storms for your good.  He sends them so that you despair of yourself and run to Him for help and salvation.  He sends them so that you trust only Him to deliver you.  And He sends them so that you might witness His deliverance, that you might know His peace.  We don’t always know why our Lord sends the storms He does.  That is what God teaches Job in our Old Testament reading (Job 38:1-11).  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … Who determined its measurements… Or who stretched the line upon it?” (vv. 4-5).  If you know… If you were there “in the beginning,” then you can question God.  He is God and we are not.  That is the point of the Job text.  So you just have to trust Him, that He knows what He is doing, and believe His promise that “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).  He does all things well. 

            And He saves you.  He delivers you from every cross and trial, just as He delivers you from sin and death by His own death and resurrection.  Of course He can help.  Of course He cares.  He is God.  And He has come to save you.  And that you believe this, He has left you a Meal: His very Body, His very Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.  Jesus is present here in the boat.  He’s here in the flesh.  And you are safe.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Second Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 5)

June 7, 2015
Text: Mark 3:20-35

            There are spirits at work in all things.  There is a vast spiritual reality present among us that we cannot see with our fallen eyes.  It is a war between God and Satan, the angels and the demons.  They are fighting to possess you.  The war was already won on the cross.  Jesus is the Victor.  He is stronger than the strong man.  He binds the devil by being bound to the cross, submitting Himself to death for our sakes, and rising again on the Third Day, vanquishing sin and death.  But the devil still has a limited time to wreak havoc in this world.  He wants you as a casualty in the war.  He wants you to lose your faith in Jesus, to forsake your Baptism, to fall away from the Body of Christ, the Holy Church.  It is vital you understand that there is no spiritually neutral ground.  Either the Holy Spirit possesses you, or demons possess you.  You can’t have it both ways, and you can’t have it neither way.  In your Baptism you belong to the Holy Spirit.  Where you are in the Word of Christ and receiving His Body and Blood for strength and nourishment, there the Holy Spirit takes possession of you whole, and there is no room for demons.  There the holy angels surround you to protect you in body and soul and shield you from temptation.  But away from your Baptism, in those dark places you love to wander, the idols to which you are devoted, the images you love to worship, curved in on yourself, these are dangerous places because they are the realm of evil spirits.  There are very real demons at work, beloved, in addictions, in pornography and sexual perversions, in greed and selfishness, in gossip and slander.  Repent.  Run for the waters of the font.  Run to Christ.  Be absolved.  The guilt you feel is the Holy Spirit calling you home.  The Blood of Jesus that flows from font and chalice is also very real, to forgive you of all sin, to cleanse you of all that is unclean, and to restore in you the Spirit of joy and peace and faith, the Holy Spirit of God.  You cannot fight this spiritual battle alone.  The weakest demon is stronger than any man.  But the strongest demon, Satan himself, is no match for the Lord.  There is help for you.  Come talk to me.  There is no shame in confession of sins.
            Jesus’ family is not sure He has the Holy Spirit.  They are afraid He is out of His mind.  He is the embarrassing One, the brother who is making a spectacle before the crowd.  Mary remembers the things said by angels and shepherds, wise men and old Simeon.  She ponders them in her heart.  But those things cannot mean this, can they?  Jesus challenging the religious leaders?  Jesus surrounding Himself with crowds of the irreputable: the unclean, tax-collectors, prostitutes, sinners?  Jesus making claims that suggest He is Messiah, suggest He is the Son of God?  Well, Mary knows that to be true if she heard the angel right.  She knows His conception was a little… different than the normal way.  But the brothers (who are not yet believers, though they will be after the Resurrection)… the brothers convince her that they must shut Him up and bring Him home.
            The scribes, the religious leaders, believe there is something more sinister at work than insanity.  They are good enough theologians to know there is no such thing as spiritually neutral ground.  They believe Jesus is possessed by the devil.  Not just any demon, but Beelzebul, the lord of the flies, the prince of demons, Satan.  They are convinced the devil has given Him this power to cast out demons as a show, to attract the crowds, deceive them, and lead them astray.  But how can Satan cast out Satan (Mark 3:23)?  How would that work?  That would be like our own armed forces demonstrating their vast power to ISIS by bombing themselves.  It would be lunacy.  A kingdom, a house divided against itself cannot stand (v. 24), Words of wisdom for our nation, words of wisdom for our Church, and proof positive that Jesus is not possessed by Satan, but by the Holy Spirit.  And here is what is so chilling.  In saying He has an unclean spirit (v. 30), the scribes blaspheme the Holy Spirit.  And “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (v. 29; ESV).
            Ah, yes, the sin against the Holy Spirit, the unforgiveable sin.  This has caused no small amount of angst among Christians.  We hear about this, and we worry: “Have I committed the sin against the Holy Spirit?  Can I be forgiven?”  First of all, if you are worried about whether you’ve committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, you haven’t.  Take comfort.  If you had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, you wouldn’t be worried about it.  That is the nature of this sin.  The sin against the Holy Spirit is to refuse Him, to harden your heart against Him when He speaks His Word, and to do this so persistently that He gives up on you.  He gives you what you want.  He hardens your heart for you, like Pharaoh in the exodus.  And then He leaves you alone.  He gives you up to your idolatry.  He gives you over to the evil spirits.  The sin against the Holy Spirit, then, is persistent unbelief.  The scribes called the Holy Spirit an evil spirit.  They rejected Jesus and believed the Holy Spirit needed casting out.  They hardened their hearts.  They blasphemed the Holy Spirit.  That is the unforgiveable sin, because it refuses forgiveness, refuses Christ.
            Now, think about the way our Lord was received by His own family, the authorities, and the religious leaders of the day.  Think about the Spirit at work in Jesus and the spirits at work in the various reactions to Christ.  And then compare these to the plight of the Church in our own day.  The Church is the Body of Christ.  As it is with Christ, the Head, so it is with the Church, His Body.  The world will reject you when you confess Christ and His holy Word, when you hold steadfast to the faith, when you insist His Word is truth.  Your own family may think you are insane.  They may try to shut you up and take you home.  The world, including many of those perceived to be “religious authorities,” may call you worse than insane.  They may accuse you of being in league with Satan.  Oh, they won’t say it that way.  They’ll say you are a hater.  They’ll say you are a bigot.  If you don’t believe me, just try calling Bruce Jenner’s recent “transformation” into question on Facebook.  No matter how gentle, how loving, how compassionate you may be, the reactions will be venomous.  The very fact that the world has so whole-heartedly embraced this is evidence of grand demonic deception.  (And this should go without saying, but because there is so much confusion in the world, I hope you know, beloved, that Mr. Jenner’s confusion calls for our compassion and for our loving confession that gender is not something we get to choose for ourselves, because God has made us male and female.  He is God.  We are not.  He will bring clarity to those who are confused, unless they harden their hearts against Him.  And Mr. Jenner is precisely the kind of person our Lord would hang out with.  But He wouldn’t leave Mr. Jenner in his perversion.  He would, and does, call him to repentance and faith.)  The world has no love lost for Christians.  The world thinks we are insane to believe the things we believe.  And the world calls the Holy Spirit an evil spirit, a spirit of hatred and bigotry, a spirit of ignorance and intolerance.  Being a disciple of Jesus comes with a cost.  They will revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of Jesus (Matt. 5:11).  Our Lord promises it.  But rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in the heavens.  For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (v. 12). 

            You have the Spirit of faith about whom St. Paul writes in our Epistle: “I believed, and so I spoke,” Paul quotes the Psalmist (2 Cor. 4:13; Ps. 116:10).  So you believe, and so you speak.  You believe because the Spirit has given you faith in Christ as a gift.  You speak because the Spirit teaches you what to say by His Word and gives you courage.  And along with faith and His Word, the Spirit gives you the gift of discernment.  You discern the spirits.  You know that the Holy Spirit speaks in the Word of God and the confession that Christ is Lord.  You also know that evil spirits parade as angels of light.  That means they look good to the world, and even to your flesh.  But you can always tell them for who they are when they call on you to doubt the Lord’s Word, to doubt your salvation in Jesus, to harden your heart, to go your own way.  Generally speaking, the world will not be a fan of what the Holy Spirit is doing.  The world will always follow the evil spirits.  But you are not of the world.  You have been called out of it.  The Holy Spirit has cast out every evil spirit in your Baptism into Christ.  He has taken possession of you, body and soul.  And He has brought you into His Church, the Communion of the Baptized, the Body of Christ, sons and daughters of the Father.  Here Jesus Himself washes you, and teaches you, and feeds you with His Body and Blood.  Here Jesus Himself forgives your sins and grants you eternal life.  He calls you His brothers and sisters and mother.  For you do the will of God.  And the will of God is simply this: that you believe in Jesus Christ, whom He has sent.  So here, in the Church, you are safe from the demons and unclean spirits.  You are with Jesus, who has crushed the serpent’s head.  And “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16).  The Kingdom ours remaineth (LSB 656:4).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity (B)

May 31, 2015
Text: John 3:1-17

            “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity.  Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us” (Liturgical Text from the Introit for Holy Trinity).
            Nicodemus comes by night, under the cover of darkness, to converse with Jesus, the Word of God made flesh.  He comes by night, because he is afraid.  Nicodemus is a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin.  The Sanhedrin does not approve of Jesus and His ministry.  The Sanhedrin will very soon seek to put Jesus to death.  And, in fact, they’ll do it.  The Sanhedrin does not acknowledge Jesus for who He is: The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the only-begotten Son of the Father, the Logos, the Word, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Messiah come to save sinners.  And Nicodemus, though he does not oppose Jesus, does not recognize Him, either.  Nicodemus is a teacher of Israel, a theologian of the Church, but, as is all too common among theologians, he does not know God when he’s staring Him in the face.  To know God, you have to know Christ.  Apart from Christ, there is no God.  The Father is the Father because of the eternal Son.  The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  Three Persons, One God.  It is a mystery.  But our God is revealed in the Person of the Son who became flesh and blood and made His dwelling among us, Jesus of Nazareth, Christ, the Savior. 
            You can only know the true God in Christ.  To be sure, God has left evidence of Himself all around us in what we call the natural knowledge of God.  That is to say, we know there is a God by nature, because of creation.  Every house is built by someone.  The Builder of all things is God (Heb. 3:4).  There is an intentional design evident in creation itself, the way it all works together, the recurring patterns, the order, the symmetry, the symbiotic relationship of organic life, the very laws of science, and above all others, the fact that conditions on this planet are just right to sustain human life and the wide variety of living things in our world.  Evolution has no reasonable explanation for this.  This doesn’t just happen by accident.  I don’t know who built this building.  But I know there is a builder, or builders.  I know nothing about them.  But I do know that, no matter how many billions of years we sat around waiting for it to happen, this building would NEVER accidentally come together with running water and electricity and a scheme that in every respect is suited for the worship and life of a Christian congregation.  There is a design evident in the building itself.  And if there is a design, there must be a designer.  How much more complex is the created universe?  The design evident in creation tells us Someone must have put this all together.  We don’t know anything yet about him or her or them.  But we know that he, she, or they exist.  That is why everyone is, by nature, religious.  Atheists have to go to great lengths to convince themselves there is no god.  Every group of people in the history of the world has believed in some sort of deity.  There is not only the evidence of creation, but there is also the conscience.  If there is such a thing as objective right and wrong (for example, everybody knows you shouldn’t murder), then there must be some objective being or beings who determine what is right and what is wrong.  Whoever that is, that’s god.  So what do we know about God from natural knowledge?  We know He exists.  We know He is powerful.  We know He establishes right and wrong, good and bad.  Reflecting upon our conscience, we know that we have done the wrong and the bad.  We have murdered (in our heart, if not with our hand).  We have stolen.  We have slandered.  We have cheated.  We have exploited and used and abused.  And thus there is fear: Maybe God is against us.  Maybe that is why there are floods in Texas and tornados and earthquakes and nuclear missiles and sickness and death.  We cannot know otherwise by nature.
            And that is why it is such good news for us when Jesus announces: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17; ESV).  We know we have a gracious and merciful God in Jesus, the Son.  Jesus is the revelation of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He is the Son sent by the Father, who gives the Spirit.  He is the Son sent to be lifted up on the cross (v. 14) for the sins of the whole world, for your sins and mine.  We know the one true God in Christ, by the preaching of the cross.  We preach Christ crucified, says Paul (1 Cor. 1:23).  That is how you know that God is for you, not against you.  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:23).  Because Jesus died, you will not die.  Because Christ is risen, you will rise and live.  For whoever believes in Him has eternal life (John 3:15-16).  Such believing, such faith, is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who has given you new birth into the Kingdom of God.
            That happens in Baptism.  Our Lord says, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5).  In Holy Baptism, that which is flesh born of flesh is born anew of the Holy Spirit.  That is what Paul says and what you learned in Catechism class: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5; NIV).  That’s Baptism.  In Baptism, you are reborn in the death and resurrection of Christ, and God is your Father.  This all happens as the Spirit comes upon you in your own, personal Pentecost.  And the Spirit continues to grant you this faith, sustains you in the faith, as He blows through the preaching of the Word.  Remember that spirit, wind, and breath are all the same word in the ancient languages, and Jesus is giving us a play on words when He says: “The wind blows where it wishes” (v. 8).  He is telling us the Spirit blows where He wishes, just as He blew through the house that first Pentecost after our Lord’s resurrection.  He blows through with the living breath of the Holy Gospel in preaching and Sacrament.  Our Confessions put it this way: Through the Gospel and the sacraments, “as through means, [God] gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel” (AC V:2; Tappert).  It is a mystery why some believe the Gospel and others do not, but we do know that wherever there are believers in Christ, that is because the Holy Spirit is doing His work, bringing sinners to faith in Christ for reconciliation with the Father.  It is a Trinitarian action.
            Now, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are in perfect communion with one another.  God, in Himself, as Holy Trinity is the very definition of love and union.  And in that perfect love, God fashions an object on which to pour out His love.  Love is not content to be hoarded.  Perfect love gives itself for the beloved.  God makes man.  God makes you.  In love, God molded the dust of the ground and breathed into it the breath, the Spirit, of life.  Adam was given dominion over the earth, but he had no one upon whom to pour out his love.  It was not good.  Therefore God put Adam into a deep sleep, and from Adam’s side God formed a helpmeet, a woman, a wife, Eve, the mother of all the living.  Eve, now, is the object of Adam’s love, and as Adam loves her, Eve responds in love, and both love and worship the God who walks with them in the Garden (that’s Christ, by the way!) in the cool of the day, who loves them and has given them this magnificent creation to tend and enjoy and upon which to be fruitful and multiply.  It all goes grievously wrong when Adam and Eve break their love for God and for one another, listening to the devil, eating the forbidden fruit, blaming one another for their fall, blaming God.  What does perfect love do when it is rejected by its object, when its object destroys itself?  What does God, who is love, do when beloved man falls?  God loved the world, Adam and Eve and all their children… God loved you in this manner: He gave His only-begotten Son, gave Him into the death of the cross as the payment for your sin, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:14-16).  He does not condemn the world.  He gives Himself in love in behalf of the world.  For you.  That you may be His own forever. 

            You can only know that in Christ.  You can only confess that as one born anew of water and the Spirit.  Anyone can behold a beautiful sunrise and exclaim: “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24; ESV).  That is the natural knowledge of God.  But only one who knows God in Christ can make the same confession when a tornado has obliterated their home.  This, too, is the day that the LORD has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  Because those born of water and the Spirit behold God nailed to the cross, and know that Good Friday is the Day that the LORD has made.  We rejoice and are glad in it.  Because we also know Easter Sunday is the Day that the LORD has made, and so is the Day of our own Resurrection to come, when we will stand on our own two feet again, and with living breath rejoice and be glad in it.  Then we will stand before Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and ponder this mystery of the Trinity with our own eyes.  Therefore, no more fear.  You know God in the flesh of Jesus, in the Body and Blood He places in your mouth for your forgiveness and eternal life.  You know God who is merciful, who is for you, and not against you.  Nicodemus, don’t sneak around in the shadows.  Come into the Light that is Christ Himself.  Believe in Him.  You will not die.  You will live.  For God loves you.  He loves you in this way: He sent His Son.  He does all things well.  “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity.  Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us” in Christ.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost (B)

May 24, 2015
Text: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

            Jesus promises the Helper will come (John 15:26).  The “Helper”… The word, actually, is Paraclete.  You may know Him from other translations as “Advocate,” “Counselor,” or “Comforter.”  He is all these, and more.  We are speaking, of course, of the Holy Spirit, who helps us in our weakness, advocates for us before God, counsels us by His holy Word, comforts us with the Gospel of Christ.  “Paraclete” literally means one who is called to the side.  When a child falls off her bike, she calls for Mommy.  Mommy comes to her side to paraclete.  She helps, counsels, and comforts.  She advocates getting back on the bike.  The Holy Spirit is at our side as our Paraclete.  He is poured out upon us in Holy Baptism.  He works on us and through us in His Word and the Holy Supper.  He dwells with us and makes us His temple.  He proceeds from the Father and the Son.  Jesus promises the Paraclete will come, “whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father” (v. 26; ESV).  The Spirit proceeds from the Father, through the Son, a little foretaste of next week’s Feast of the Holy Trinity.  And though the Spirit is from all eternity, and has been here in His creation from the very beginning, “hovering over the face of the waters” when the earth was without form and void (Gen. 1:2), He was poured out upon the Church in His fullness that first Pentecost after our Lord’s resurrection (Acts 2), blowing through the house like a mighty rushing wind, bestowing tongues of fire on the disciples and loosing their tongues to preach… To preach Christ crucified for sinners, Christ Jesus risen from the dead… To preach, not just to Jews, but to the whole world, each visitor to Jerusalem hearing the Gospel of Christ in his own native language.
            “(H)e will bear witness about me,” Jesus says (John 15:26).  That is what the Holy Spirit does.  He always points us to Jesus.  He is often called the “shy” Person of the Holy Trinity, because He does not seek attention for Himself, but for Jesus, by whom we are restored to the Father.  The Spirit is always helping us with Jesus, advocating for us through the blood of Jesus, counseling and comforting us with Jesus.  “He will bear witness about me,” Jesus says.  “And you also will bear witness,” the Lord promises His Apostles, “because you have been with me from the beginning” (v. 27).  The Apostles were the official witnesses of Jesus Christ.  The qualification to be an Apostle is to have been with Jesus from the Baptism of John until the Ascension (Acts 1:21-22).  You actually had to have seen the risen Christ with your own eyes.  That is what made you a “witness” in the full sense of the word.  And now, with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Apostles’ mouths were opened to speak this eyewitness testimony to the world, to preach Christ, the Savior.  That is how it works with the Spirit.  He is poured out on us in our Baptism.  He bears witness to us about Jesus.  He gives us living faith in Jesus.  And though we are not witnesses in the same technical sense as the Apostles, we witness His resurrection in His Word, and as the risen Jesus gives us His Body and Blood.  By His Word, we’re with Him, from the Baptism of John to the Ascension, indeed, from the creation of the world to its consummation at Christ’s return.  And the Spirit opens our lips and looses our tongues to speak; some to preach in the Office of the Holy Ministry, some to confess in their daily lives and vocations, one and all to testify of Christ.  The Spirit bears witness about Christ first to you, then to your neighbor through you.  But He’s always pointing to Jesus.
            The Church needs the Holy Spirit because we can’t see Jesus face to face.  Our Lord has ascended into heaven.  He is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  He is coming back soon, to judge the living and the dead.  But in the meantime, we cannot see Him with our eyes, as the disciples did during His earthly ministry.  He is with us, to be sure.  He is with us in a very real and tangible way.  But that way is hidden in Words and water and bread and wine. So we need the Spirit.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t believe Jesus is with us.  This kind of thing is spiritually discerned, as the Apostle Paul reminds us (1 Cor. 2:14).  The natural, unconverted person cannot accept it.  It is foolishness to human reason.  It is a miracle of the Holy Spirit that you believe any of this.  That is the Spirit bestowing faith in Christ where and when He pleases in those who hear the Gospel (AC V:2-3).  You cannot believe this by your own reason or strength.  The Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ (SC II: Third Article). 
            Notice that it is through the Gospel that the Holy Spirit brings you to faith.  Now, the Holy Spirit is God.  He is bound by nothing in and of Himself.  He can do what He wants.  But He has graciously bound Himself to means, the Means of Grace, the Gospel, so that you can always know how to find Him.  He has bound Himself to preaching and God’s Word, and to the tangible Gospel of Baptism and Supper.  There you can be sure that it is the Holy Spirit giving you comfort and counsel in Christ, not some other spirit, some evil spirit giving you false comfort and counsel in someone or something other than Christ.  This is important: If a spirit speaks to me in my head or gives me a feeling in my heart, how can I know this is the Holy Spirit?  I can’t!  It could be a delusion.  It could be an evil spirit.  But when I hear the Gospel, I know it is the Holy Spirit who speaks to me.  I know it without a doubt.  And when I receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, I know it is the Holy Spirit who takes possession of me, with the Father and the Son, one God, now and forever.  The Spirit works through means, and He has told us what they are, so we can always be certain.
            And that is how He testifies to the world, too.  By His means.  By the Word.  In preaching.  In your confession.  In this way He convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement.  Concerning sin, “because they do not believe in me” (John 16:9).  The only sin that shuts a person out from God is unbelief.  The forgiveness of sins is given freely in Christ who died on the cross as the payment for sin, and who has been raised from the dead.  He convicts the world “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer” (v. 10).  The only true righteousness that avails before the Father is that of Jesus Himself.  Jesus is vindicated in His ascension to the Father.  His righteousness is demonstrated before all.  And in the preaching of the Gospel, the Spirit declares to the world that Jesus’ righteousness results in justification of the sinner before God.  Believe in Him, and God counts you as righteous.  You shall not die, but have eternal life.  Finally, the Spirit convicts the world “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (v. 11).  The devil is defeated.  The world judged Christ to be THE Sinner, and executed Him on the cross.  The great mystery is, so did God.  He made Him to be sin who had no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).  But now, having paid for the sins of the whole world in His bloody suffering and death, Christ Jesus is risen from the dead.  God’s Judgment is for Him!  And for us!  And against Satan.  Satan and the demons are damned.  The Gospel publishes the judgment.  The Spirit bears witness to Christ.

            And He leads the Church into all truth (John 16:13).  Again, this is always and only through the Word, through the Holy Scriptures.  If anyone comes proclaiming a new truth revealed to him by any other means, run.  Run away, and don’t look back.  That one is a false teacher.  The Spirit guides us into all truth through the Word.  It is not a truth that evolves.  It is not a truth that changes with the times.  And it is not dependent on your feelings about it, as if what is true for one is not true for you because you don’t feel it’s right, and you feel better about another truth.  No.  The Truth is One.  The Truth is Jesus, the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).  And it is all things whatsoever Jesus has commanded us, which we are to teach the baptized until our Lord comes again (Matt. 28:19-20).  The Spirit speaks to us in the Scriptures.  He speaks what He hears from the heart of God (John 16:13).  All that the Father has belongs to the Son.  The Spirit takes what is the Son’s and declares it to you (v. 15).  The Spirit, poured out on you in Baptism (your own personal Pentecost), brings you into the very life and love of the Holy Trinity, by washing you with the blood of Jesus.  God’s own child, united to the death and resurrection of Christ, a temple of the Holy Spirit, your Paraclete.  It is right there in the Words spoken over you at the font: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.