Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 8)
June 27, 2010
Text: Luke 9:51-62

“Lord, I’ll follow You, but only if it’s on my own terms. Lord, I’ll follow You, but only if it’s convenient. Lord, I’ll follow You, but only if I don’t have to sacrifice anything, only if it doesn’t lead to conflict with my family and friends, only if I can still do the things that I want, when I want, and how I want to do them. Lord, I will follow You, but only if You conform to the whims of the culture, or to science, or to our enlightened understanding of what is and is not moral. Lord, I will follow You, but following You better not make me depressed, or convict me of my sin, or bring suffering or persecution. I’ll follow You, but following You had better make me feel inspired, uplifted, on an emotional and spiritual high. And I’d better see results in the growth of the Church and in my personal successes… after all, I’m following You, and You’re supposed to make everything successful. Oh, and if I’m going to follow You, Lord, you had better accept me for who I am and affirm what I’m doing whether the Bible says it’s sinful or not.”

Everyone is enthusiastic about following Jesus as long as discipleship doesn’t carry a cost. No one wants to follow Jesus where He’s actually going: to Jerusalem, to the cross, to die. “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51; ESV). He set His face. He was determined to reach His goal. And His goal is the cross, where He dies for the sins of all humanity. To be His disciple is to follow Him there.

The Samaritans did not want to follow Jesus. They did not even want to receive Him, for His face was set toward Jerusalem (v. 53). The Samaritans were a mixed group from Northern Israel who had left the Jews, who only accepted part of the Bible, and refused to worship in Jerusalem at the temple. They believed their worship in their own cities was purer. And so in rejecting the faith of God’s Old Testament people, they rejected the Messiah and the New Testament in Jesus' blood. To follow Jesus would mean to turn their backs on their own man-made religion. It would mean strife with family members who disapproved of their following Jesus. It would mean acceptance of all of God’s Word, even the parts they didn’t like. It would mean worship neither in Jerusalem nor Samaria, but in Spirit and Truth in the true Temple of God, the body of Jesus Christ.

Upon this rejection of their Lord and Master, James and John, the Sons of the Thunder, who are already disciples, already following Jesus, want to call down fire upon the Samaritan village. They want to be like the prophet Elijah, who called down fire upon 100 of wicked King Ahaziah’s men (2 Kings 1:9-12). There is an apparent pride here that every disciple of Jesus must guard against, a pride that considers itself righteous by virtue of simply being a disciple. A Christian must never consider himself better or more righteous in and of himself than an unbeliever. We are all beggars before God, eternally lost, were it not for the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. And we have done nothing to merit or deserve that mercy. James and John fail to understand the cost of discipleship. A disciple of Christ must resolutely set his face toward the cross and die to self, bear the insult, turn the other cheek, and cover over a multitude of sins with Christian love. Jesus rightly rebukes the sons of Zebedee. The Christian Church converts no one by force, and must never respond with force to rejection of the Gospel. Jesus rather promises that the disciple and the Church will be rejected and persecuted for Jesus’ sake and for the Gospel. And He calls the persecuted disciple “Blessed” (Matt. 5:10-12)! James and John would come to know this very vividly and personally in the years to come.

Then there are these three aspiring disciples in the concluding verses of the Gospel lesson. The first offers to follow Jesus: “I will follow you wherever you go,” he says (v. 57). But he has not counted the cost of discipleship. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (v. 58). Are you ready to give up your comfortable home and your very pillow to follow me? Are you ready to give up even more than this? It is interesting that in all of the Gospels, whenever anyone offers to follow Jesus, makes his personal decision to be a disciple, Jesus refuses him. Jesus chooses His disciples. It is not an act of the will, but a gift of grace. But neither does Jesus force discipleship on anyone. There is a second man whom Jesus personally calls, “Follow me.” But the man responds, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (v. 59). Now, it is not that the father is already dead and simply needs to be buried. What the man is saying is, “First let me live out my life with my father. Once Dad is gone, then perhaps I’ll be your disciple. I have other things I need to do first.” The man puts off following Jesus, much like the person who thinks there is plenty of time to be a Christian and a faithful Church member later. “Right now, I’m just too busy.” But when Jesus calls, the time is now. “Let the dead bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (v. 60). Unbelievers can continue to live in this world of death. You have been chosen out of it. You have been chosen to bring life to the dead by proclaiming the Kingdom of God in the person of Christ. Ironically, if this second man had followed Jesus, Jesus would have sent him back to his father with the Word of Life! Then there is this third man, another who offers to follow Jesus on his own terms. “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home” (v. 61). It is not that Jesus is against family. Remember, when Elijah calls Elisha, he gives him permission to go and say farewell to his family. But this man has his priorities mixed up. “Family first, Lord. You come in a close second.” It sounds good. Family values and all that. But beloved in the Lord, this is precisely backward. Jesus comes first. Then family. When you put Jesus first, then family and everything else falls into place. But if family comes between you and the Lord Jesus, then the cost of discipleship is family. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62). In Palestine, if you don’t pay attention to where the plow is headed, you will run into a rock and mangle the expensive plow! Jesus sets His face forward, toward Jerusalem, toward the cross, for our salvation. If you are to follow Him, your face, too, must be set toward the cross.

And of course, the point of all of this is that not one of us, not one person in this congregation, is fit for the Kingdom of God outside of Christ. Not one of us doesn’t fit the descriptions above. Every one of us wants to follow Jesus on his or her own terms. I’ll follow you, Lord, but it better not take too much of my time. It better not come between me and my family. I better not hear about giving money to the Church. I better not be asked to serve on a committee. I better not be told to give up and repent of my favorite sins. And if I ever have to suffer persecution, mockery, imprisonment, beatings, death on account of Christ and the Gospel? Beloved, if a couple hours on Sunday morning is too much for you, how will you answer this last question? Repent. Like the prophet Elijah in our Old Testament lesson, we don’t want to have to suffer for the Kingdom (1 Kings 19:9b-21). We get depressed. We don’t like the holy cross. We don’t like this talk about crucifying the sinful nature. But this is precisely why we need to follow Jesus. Repent and believe the Good News. And the Good News is this: Our Lord Jesus stepped into the fire of God’s wrath coming down from heaven. He stepped into the fire in our place. He was consumed by God’s righteous anger for our sakes, as punishment for our sins. In His faithfulness, He took all of our unfaithfulness into Himself. All of our sins, all of our rejection of Jesus and His Father and the terms of discipleship, all of our hard heartedness, all of our self-centeredness, our confusion of priorities, our self-righteousness, our lack of love for the neighbor, all of this our Lord bore in His body on the tree of the cross. He went through hell for us, literally, in the forsakenness of His Father. All so that our faithlessness might not be counted against us. Our Lord set His face toward Jerusalem to die for us. He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25). And this is all given to us freely, here, in the Word of God and in the Sacraments. It is gift. It is grace. You don’t earn it. It is yours in Christ Jesus.

But while grace is free, discipleship is hard. And that is why even Christians struggle to crucify the sinful flesh. For freedom, Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1). He has set us free from sin, death, and the devil, by His innocent suffering and death. But it is so tempting to submit ourselves again to the yoke of slavery. Beloved, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (vv. 24-25). The disciple of Christ Jesus follows Jesus on Jesus’ terms, and not his own. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:23-25). “[L]et us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:1-2). Indeed, beloved, Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem and the cross for you. Those are His terms, the death of the Son of God. He has already won your salvation. He gives it to you here freely. Now follow Him. Serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. He redeemed you for this very purpose. And as you count the cost of discipleship, remember His sure and certain promise: “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, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). God keep you steadfast in your faith and life as you follow Him, beloved. For I am convinced that He who began this good work in you at your Baptism, will bring it to completion at the Day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 7)
June 20, 2010
Text: Luke 8:26-39

“One little word can fell him,” the Church sings (LSB 656:3). Yet for all practical purposes, we pretend he doesn’t exist. Satan, I mean. And he likes it that way, because if he can convince us that he doesn’t exist, he can work behind the scenes to undermine our faith in Christ and lead us away from the Church. And he can do this without our even knowing it. We need to know that our enemy exists, and that he is doing all within his power to capture us away from Christ. Satan and his demons are real. And we must acknowledge this reality if we are to guard against him and his sinister attacks.

So who is Satan and who are the demons? Satan and the demons were created by God originally as holy angels during the six days of creation, probably on day one. We don’t know all the details, but there was a rebellion in heaven. It was a rebellion of pride. Led by Satan, then named Lucifer, which means “light bearer,” the evil angels rebelled against God and were cast out of heaven. They aimed at removing God from His throne, which of course, they could never do. Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven” (Luke 10:18; ESV). Jude writes, “the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (v. 6). The devil and his demons are chained, restrained by God, and yet, they have a great deal of power and influence in this world as they await the judgment to come. And so it was Satan who came in the form of a serpent into the Garden of Eden and successfully tempted Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and so sin against God. The devil led our first parents to sin, and we have been trapped in and oppressed by sin and its consequences ever since. The name Satan aptly means “enemy.” Devil means “accuser,” “liar,” “slanderer.”

"Besides these two names, Satan is also called Abaddon and Apollyon
(Revelation 9:11), which means ‘the destroyer’; Beelzebub (Luke 11:15),
which means ‘lord of the flies’; and Belial (2 Corinthians 6:15), which means
worthlessness. The devil is also referred to as a murderer (John 8:44), a red
dragon (Revelation 12:3), the ancient serpent (Revelation 20:2), the prince of
this world (John 12:31), the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Ephesians 2:2), the
spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient (Ephesians 2:2), the
evil one (Ephesians 6:16), the tempter (1 Thessalonians 3:5), a roaring lion
(1 Peter 5:8), and the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4)."[1]

Satan is very dangerous. His demons are his servants and compatriots in wickedness. We have no idea how many there are. But they are more powerful than anyone of us, or even all of us put together. We should take heed. We should not investigate them beyond what the Word of God tells us about them. We should not play within their sphere of influence. We should avoid ouija boards and tarot cars, fortune telling, and black magic. And we should resist Satan’s every temptation with the Word of God. Most of all, we must remember that though the devil is dangerous, he is restrained by God. And though the devils are more powerful than all the world, God has more strength in his little finger (Luther). By virtue of our Baptism into Christ, we bear the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are in God’s hands. And so ultimately the devil cannot harm us.

But that doesn’t mean he won’t try. And you can bet that the minute you allow him any room in your life, he will take advantage of it. For the devil is jealous for you. Remember that every one of us is born into this world being a member of the spiritual kingdom of the devil. We are born spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God, which is to say, we are born as unbelievers, dead in trespasses and sins, and in the spiritual possession of the devil. That is why we baptize babies. In Baptism, God snatches us out of the devil’s kingdom into His own Kingdom. And he makes us at that point marked men and women, for now we are the devil’s enemies. The devil wants to get us back into his own possession, and if he can’t do that, he’ll bring as much harm upon us as he is permitted. At every turn he will place stumbling blocks in the way of the believing Christian. He will tempt us. He will seek to lead us to doubt Christ and our salvation. We know from the book of Job that the devil can bring great physical harm upon people. And yes, the devil can even physically possess people. Not Christians. We are in the possession of Christ, possessed by the Holy Spirit. There is no room for evil spirits. But demons still physically possess people, just as they did in our Gospel lesson. Usually not here in the Western world, though it does happen here too. Possession is much more common in undeveloped countries marked by animistic religions. But here, remember, the devil works best when he convinces us he doesn’t exist, and that is, for us, the greater danger.

It’s a little scary, isn’t it? And that is why our Gospel lesson is so important. What happens when Jesus comes to one afflicted by the devil and his demons? At the presence of Jesus, the demons tremble. At His command, they must depart. The Gerasene man was afflicted by Legion, thousands of devils in physical possession of one man. But when Jesus comes into the man’s presence, the demons cause the man to fall down to his knees and beg with a loud voice that Jesus would not torment them. The demons know that Jesus has the authority to cast them for all eternity into the abyss, the Lake of Fire prepared for them, as He will on the Last Day. This is not that Day in our text, but the demons must still bow before this divine authority. The demons recognize, in fact, what even the disciples have not yet fully grasped. Jesus is the Son of the Most High God, God in the flesh, the Messiah and Savior of the world. And He will destroy the devil and his demons and their evil works forever.

For now, the demons beg that Jesus let them enter a herd of pigs. Pigs, unclean according to the Law of Moses. A fitting destination for unclean spirits. Jesus gives the demons permission. And as always happens when unclean spirits are given a little slack, great destruction ensues. The pigs rush down a steep bank and are drowned in the lake. Why does Jesus allow this? It is a foreshadowing of what He will do to Satan and all demons on the Last Day, when He drives them into the Lake of Fire, Gehenna, the end times hell, where they will suffer for all eternity along with all unbelievers.

But enough with the demons. What happens to the man who has been freed from slavery to the devil? He is clothed and in his right mind, sitting at the feet of Jesus, the posture of a disciple. He begs to be with Jesus from now on, to follow Him wherever He goes, along with the Twelve. But not now. Not yet. Now Jesus gives him an important task. He is to return to his home and proclaim how much God has done for him. “And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:39). Jesus is God. In proclaiming how much God has done for him, he proclaims how much Jesus has done for him. He confesses Christ. We are not all called to be apostles. We are not all called to be pastors. We confess Christ in our daily vocations, in our homes, in our cities, that Jesus may free others from their bondage to Satan.

Beloved in the Lord, you were born in the spiritual possession of the devil. But Christ has freed you. He drove the devil away with His Word and water, your Baptism into Christ. The unclean spirit had to flee, to make room for the Holy Spirit, who now possesses you. Jesus speaks His Word and the devil flees. One little word can fell him. You are safe. What happens to those who are freed from slavery to the devil? You are clothed, clothed with the righteousness of Christ, your baptismal robe, and you are clothed for spiritual warfare in the whole armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, ready shoes given by the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:10-20). And you are in your right mind, the mind of Christ Jesus. You sit at the feet of Jesus, as His disciple, hanging on His every Word. That is what you are doing now as you are gathered around font and pulpit and altar, hearing His life-giving Word and receiving the Sacrament of His body and blood. Your Lord Jesus is readying you for life in this fallen world where the devil still has power and influence for a little while longer. You are to go out an live in this world, in your daily lives and vocations, confessing Christ, proclaiming how much God in Christ has done for you for as many days as God grants you in this earthly life. And then, after all is said and done, you will be with Him forever, as was the desire of the Gerasene, and as is your desire also.

There is this cosmic spiritual battle going on even now for your soul and the souls of all men. We must know that, and we must know our enemy. We must be on our guard, for our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (vv. 9-11). Indeed, the battle rages. But the war is won. Satan has his little season. But his days are numbered. For in His death on the cross, our Lord Jesus crushed the serpent’s head. He destroyed the old wily foe. The accuser can no longer accuse those covered by Jesus’ blood. The father of lies cannot stand in the light of Truth Incarnate. The murderer has no power over the One who is the resurrection and the life. For Christ is risen. And you are named by His Name. You are His prize possession. You are engraved upon the palm of His pierced hand. Let the devil and his demons rage. The time of their judgment is coming. In Christ, the Kingdom of God is your inheritance. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] John D. Schuetze, Angels and Demons: Have Wings—Will Travel (Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1998) pp. 54-55.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Third Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 6)
June 13, 2010
Text: Luke 7:36-8:3

If you’re not a sinner, church is not for you. If you’re not a sinner, you don’t need Jesus. If you came today because you are righteous, because you have no sin, and church is what righteous people who have no sin do, you might as well go home, or to the golf course, or out to brunch, because this will be a colossal waste of your time. You’ve joined the wrong club. The Church is a place for sinners. The Church is a hospital for those mortally wounded by their own sin. The Church is a place where the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, tends and treats sinners with the medicine of immortality, His Word, and His Sacraments. The Church is a place for real sinners, sinful to the core, who commit real sins in thought, word, and deed, against God and against the neighbor. We’re not talking about the person who piously confesses a little bit of imperfection, a few foibles, a handful of mistakes, but the one who knows that nothing good dwells in him, in his flesh; that his heart is black and hard and dead in trespasses and sins; that like a dead man on the street, he can do nothing to improve his condition, no decision for Jesus, no decision to live, certainly no self-willed resurrection. He can only do what a dead man does… lay there and be dead and rot and stink. If this description fits you, you are in the right place. For this is who you are, beloved, and this is who I am… outside of Christ.

But you and I heard a good Word this morning, the Word of Christ Himself. “I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” That little word, “forgive,” means to release, to send away, to cancel, to pardon. When Jesus says your sins are forgiven, it means that He no longer holds any of your sins against you. He has released you. Your sins and your guilt have been sent away. Your debt to God has been cancelled, since it was paid by Christ in full upon the cross. You are pardoned… You are the murderer on death row who is pardoned just before the execution. You are Barabbas, who goes free, while your Lord Jesus Christ takes your place, is executed for you, for your crimes. Christ takes upon Himself your sin and shame and wretchedness, and He gives you in exchange His perfection and righteousness. This is called justification. It’s as if you’d never sinned! You are not just pronounced innocent. You are pronounced righteous, not with righteousness of your own, as if you had any, but with the righteousness of Christ. It is not as though God in Christ takes away your sin and leaves you empty. He fills you up with Christ’s righteousness. When God looked at Christ on the cross, He saw all the sins of all humanity from every time and place, and punished those sins there in His body. So now when God looks at you, He sees only the righteousness of Christ. And this is the hospital where the medicine of this blessed exchange is applied to you directly in Baptism and Absolution and Scripture and Preaching and Supper. So you see, if you have your own righteousness to boast of, there is nothing for you here. But if you are a sinner, in need of the righteousness of Christ and His sin-atoning death to be saved, this is precisely the place for you. For there is life nowhere else than where He who is the resurrection and the life meets you with His gifts, in His Church.

A Pharisee named Simon once asked Jesus to supper. It was the Pharisee’s supper, not the Lord’s Supper. The Pharisee had no desire to consult Jesus as the Great Physician for sinners. The Pharisee wanted to meet with Jesus as an equal, or perhaps more accurately, the Pharisee believed he was above Jesus. Jesus ought to be thrilled to be invited to dinner at Simon’s house. And Jesus needed to be put in His place. The hotshot rabbi needed a little schooling in the house of Simon. And so there is this pointed insult when Jesus comes into Simon’s house. It was customary to offer a guest water to wash his feet when he came in from walking along the dusty, dirty highways. Common courtesy, basic hospitality, but Simon offers Jesus no water. It was customary in middle eastern culture (still is) to offer a kiss of greeting to a guest, much like we shake hands today, but Simon offers no kiss, the equivalent of refusing someone’s hand. It was customary to anoint an honored guest with a little common olive oil, but Simon offers no oil. Simon wants Jesus to know just where He stands in the pecking order here. What a great favor Simon is doing Jesus just having Him to dinner. How charitable. How generous.

Well, there is this woman who has crashed the party. She’s a woman of the city, a sinner. We don’t know what the sin is for sure, but we speculate that she was a prostitute. And at some point she had heard Jesus preaching and teaching, proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, even for sinners like this sinful woman. She had been absolved, released, pardoned. Jesus had cancelled her debt to God, even the debt of so great a sinner. So with great joy, she learned that Jesus was to dine at Simon’s house, and she followed Him there. She went where she knew she could meet her Savior, for the forgiveness of her sins. And as she enters, she observes the insult. Having received such great forgiveness, she loves her Savior much. So, timidly perhaps, she comes to Jesus as He is reclining at table. She drops to her knees. And weeping in repentance and joy over the gifts of Christ, she extends to her Lord to customary courtesies in an uncustomary way. Her tears, the most precious of waters, bathe Jesus’ feet. She lets down her hair. Scandalous for a woman of her time and place. And she uses her hair as a towel, to wipe the Savior’s feet. She kisses those beautiful feet, those feet that will be pierced for her. She kisses them profusely. And she has brought an offering: A very expensive alabaster jar of ointment. This is no common olive oil. This is costly perfume. And with this perfume, she anoints Jesus’ feet.

Simon, the righteous Pharisee, sits back in judgment. This Jesus is no prophet, he thinks to himself. If He were a prophet, He would know who this is that is touching Him, making Him unclean. He would have this woman thrown into the street. “Simon,” Jesus says. “I have something to say to you” (Luke 7:40; ESV). Jesus, who is, in fact, a prophet, and more than a prophet, knows all things, including the inner thoughts of a man. “Go ahead Jesus, out with it,” Simon responds. “What is it you have to say?” “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred danarii, and the other fifty” (v. 41). Now a denarius was about a day’s wage, so you can do the math. “When they could not pay,” Jesus continued, “he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” (v. 42). This isn’t rocket science. We all know the answer. Simon is trapped. “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt” (v. 43; emphasis added). Precisely! And here’s the lesson, Simon. You don’t love, because you don’t think you have anything for which to be forgiven. You believe you are righteous by your own works, your own keeping of the Law. And so you do not desire forgiveness. You do not even extend to me the common courtesies. But this woman loves much, for she has been forgiven much. She knows she’s a sinner. For years she has been caught in a cycle of sin. For years her sins have haunted her with the weight of very real guilt. But now her sins are forgiven. And she expresses her great love for her Savior with her tears and kisses and costly perfume.

But here is the clincher, Simon. You and she are both debtors, and neither of you can pay. Behold, I am here for the forgiveness of your sins, the canceling of your debt to God, to pay your debt for you. Indeed, Simon, you do not acknowledge or confess your sins, as this woman does. If only you knew, if only you could see, that you are the one who owes the 500 denarii! Your hypocrisy is the greater sin! This woman’s faith has saved her. Her sins are forgiven. She departs in peace. But you have no peace, Simon, for you still rely on your own works. Taste and see that the LORD is good, Simon. He is good, for He takes away your sin and gives you HIS righteousness in exchange.

We are not told how Simon responds to Jesus’ lesson. We jump right into Jesus’ preaching tour as He is accompanied by the Twelve and a number of women who had, like the woman at the dinner party, been healed of various diseases and evil spirits, and had their sins forgiven them. The story is left open-ended because now the question is directed at you. Are you a sinner weeping at Jesus’ feet, receiving from Him life and forgiveness? Or do you still insist that you’re really not a bad person at all, and in spite of your few imperfections, God will accept you because you are good person? The Church is only for sinners. And Jesus sinners doth receive. The self-righteous are on their own. And that is scary, because that leaves them as dead corpses who rot and stink and finally go to hell. If you insist on your own self-righteousness, repent. And fall with the sinful woman before the feet of Jesus. There is forgiveness with Jesus. There is forgiveness for every sinner. There is forgiveness for you! Take heart; your sins are forgiven! They are covered by the blood of Christ! He died for you! He lives for you! He has taken all your sin away, cancelled your debt to God, pardoned you, and given you His righteousness as a free gift. You are free! You have been forgiven much. Now, in joyful response, go and love much. Love God by loving your neighbor. Serve God by serving your neighbor. Bring an offering to Christ. Not to earn forgiveness. Gone is all self-righteousness. Forgiveness is free in Christ. Bring an offering and love and serve your neighbor because Christ offered Himself for your sake, out of love for you, and now serves you here in His Word and Supper.

If you’re not a sinner, church is not for you. If you’re not a sinner, you don’t need Jesus. But if you are a sinner, and you know your sins, this is precisely the place for you, the hospital where Christ will not just save your life, He will give you new life, His life, eternal life. If you are a sinner, Christ meets you here. He meets you here, and He pronounces you “saint,” holy, righteous. No sin is too great that He has not taken it into Himself and paid for it on the cross. No sin is too great to be forgiven. All sin is forgiven in Him. Beloved in the Lord, are you a sinner? Your sins are forgiven. Who is this who even forgives sins? It is Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners, crucified and risen, and He has invited you this day to His Supper. He does not turn sinners away. There is a place here reserved for you. Come as one who has been washed and anointed in Baptism, and take the Savior’s body and blood to your lips. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Second Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 5)
June 6, 2010
Text: Luke 7:11-17

“God has visited his people!” (Luke 7:16; ESV). So sang the people of Nain, in great fear and reverence, when Jesus raised the widow’s only son. Little did they know how right they were, for God has visited His people in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth, the only-begotten Son of God, the Son of the Virgin Mary. God has visited His people, and the people’s reaction is right on the money! They fear, and they glorify God. Fear and praise. Both reactions are called for when God visits His people. Fear, for God is not a gentle, fragile old grandfather who winks at the kiddies and their mischief, but a perfectly righteous and holy God, who cannot abide sin, and who must punish sinners. And praise, for though God never excuses sin, He is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love (Num. 14:18), and He provides for the forgiveness of our iniquities and trespasses in the punishment of Another in our place, by sending His only-begotten Son into death on the cross as the sacrifice of atonement, that all who believe in Him have eternal life.

There are two ways that God visits His people. He visits them with wrath, and He visits them with compassion. The LORD your God is a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him (Ex. 20:5). When God visits with His wrath, no one can stand. This is God’s alien work, the work of the Law that shows us our sin and kills us. If we reject God, and Jesus Christ, His son, this visitation of wrath will last forever in the eternal punishment and death of hell. This work, this visitation of God’s wrath, is the just punishment for sin. But it is never God’s goal. He does not desire the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his evil way and live (Ez. 33:11). God convicts us with His holy Law, that He may prepare us for the Holy Gospel. He kills, that He may make alive. The Gospel, by which He makes dead sinners alive, is God’s proper work. It belongs to His very essence to make alive. Death is God’s enemy as much as it is ours. Life is God’s gift to every one of us, not by our own merit or worthiness, but by the merits and worthiness of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

God’s wrath against sin is real. And we are sinners, as were the people of Nain. And so it is entirely appropriate that when God visits His people, we fear. C. S. Lewis, in his masterful children’s novel, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, records this conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Beaver and the children about Aslan the lion, the Christ figure of the book:

“Is—is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “…Aslan is a lion—the Lion,
the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan. “… Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about
meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone
who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver
than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said
anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”[1]

God is not safe. But He is good. We justly fear His wrath, and therefore wish to do nothing against His commandments. But we also love and trust in Him. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That is what it means to fulfill the First Commandment. It is a fearful thing when God does His alien work. But by faith, we know that He kills, that He may make alive. We know this because God has visited His people in a very real, tangible way in the flesh of Jesus Christ. God has visited His people in the flesh of Christ, that in that flesh, He take away sin and reverse death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Yes, God visits His people to reverse death. In our Old Testament lesson, God visits His people with a prophet, with His Word, and He reverses death. When Elijah first met the widow of Zarephath, he found her preparing one last little cake for her and her son to eat, and then die of starvation, for there was a great famine in the land. God promised through His prophet, that if the widow took care of Elijah also, the jar of flour and the jug of oil would not be emptied until the famine was over. And what happened? The LORD reversed the death of the widow and her son: “The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:16). But now the son is gravely ill, and dies of his illness. The woman is heartbroken and despairing. She believes that the prophet is mocking her and God is punishing her. But God visits His people to reverse death. God kills that He may make alive. Through the prophet, without any merit or worthiness on the part of the widow, the LORD restores the boy alive to his mother. It is a type, a picture prophecy, of the enlivening work of the Lord Jesus. Our Lord raises Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43). Our Lord raises His dear friend Lazarus, who had been dead four days, from the grave (John 11). And in our Gospel this morning, the LORD again restores an only son to his widowed mother (Luke 7:11-17).

Our Lord comes to Nain, a small village, 20 miles Southwest of Capernaum. And as He and His disciples draw near the village gate, they encounter a funeral procession. “There is a great contrast between the procession which is leaving the city, with sad and mournful steps, and that which is about to enter the city, happy because of the Savior in their midst.”[2] Jesus, who was not invited to this funeral, who probably had never before met the widow or her son, but who instantly, in His omniscience, knew the whole story, stops the procession in its tracks. He has great compassion, which literally means, He suffers along with the mother, now destitute and robbed of her husband and her son. “Do not weep,” He commands the mother (v. 13), not because it is wrong to weep in the face of death (it’s not!), but because Jesus is about to reverse the very cause of her weeping. “As Luther says, the Lord here boldly steps in the way of death, as the Mighty One, who has authority over him.”[3] Graciously, Jesus extends His hand. “He touched the coffin: the hand of Life rapped at the chamber of death.”[4] Remember, to touch a dead body, or even be near it, makes one unclean according to the Law of Moses. Jesus takes the uncleanness and death of the young man into Himself. And He imparts His own cleanness and life to the young man. Our Lord speaks. He commands: “Young man, I say to you, arise” (v. 14). And the man arises, as if from a peaceful sleep. For that is what the grave is for Christians, a peaceful slumber of the body while the soul is with Jesus in heaven. And on the Last Day, Jesus will wake our bodies, just as He here awakes the boy. The boy sits up, and he begins to speak. He is alive! And Jesus gives the boy back to his mother. God has visited His people. Death is reversed. The people fear and they glorify God.

Now this doesn’t always happen in this way. Dead sons are not always, or even ordinarily, restored to their mothers in this earthly life. Many are the mothers who have been robbed of their sons and daughters and husbands too early. What comfort does this Gospel bring to them when Jesus doesn’t bring their loved ones back to life? This miracle was granted in this place, to this mother and son, and in this way, for a very specific purpose. This, along with the resurrection of the son in Zarephath in our Old Testament lesson, and Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus, all of these serve as types, foreshadowings, of our Lord’s own death and resurrection. For God also lost a Son in death, His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. It was a tragic and horrific death, the death of the cross. This death is the payment for this sins of the whole world, for the sins of both widows, of Nain and of Zarephath, and their sons, the sins of Jairus and his daughter, the sins of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, the sins of the disciples, your sins, my sins, all sins. For God must punish sinners. He punishes them in the flesh of His Son, who became sin for us, hanging on the cross of Golgotha. But God kills that He may make alive. God has visited His people. Christ is risen. Jesus lives. Jesus dies, that we may not die forever. Jesus perishes, that we may not perish in God’s just wrath. Jesus lives, that we may have eternal life now, albeit in a hidden way. Jesus lives, that when we die, our souls may be with Him in heaven, and our bodies rest in the grave, until that Day when He reunites our bodies and souls and awakens us from the slumber of death. We are given eternal life in Baptism. At the font, the water joined with the Word, God kills us, drowns the Old Adam in us along with all sins and evil desires, and raises us to new life in Christ. Every day is a day of death and resurrection for the Christian as we return to our Baptism, daily crucifying the flesh and arising in Christ and the Holy Spirit, daily repenting of our sins and believing the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ. Jesus lives. He who died once for the sins of all, now lives forever. And in Baptism, we are united to Him in His death and resurrection.

And this, beloved, is the comfort for the mother who has not yet received back her son. This is the comfort for all who have lost loved ones in the faith of Jesus Christ. This is the comfort for all of us who have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus lives! And you will receive your loved ones back in heaven. The widow of Nain’s son was raised and given back to her. Some years later, he had to bury his mother. And then he died again. He was not resurrected forever, as he, and we, will be on the Last Day. But when he died, he was restored to his mother yet again. Imagine with what great rejoicing she once again received her son into her arms in heaven, as the angels sang their alleluias along with the whole host of heaven. And we, too, will meet them there, and see them with our own bodily eyes in the resurrection of all flesh.

God has visited His people. He has visited His people in the flesh of Jesus Christ. He continues to visit us in the flesh of Jesus Christ, the very body and blood of Christ given and shed for us and distributed in the bread and wine of the Supper. This is the meal of eternal life. Are you dying? (All of us are!) Do you mourn over death? Here is the meal of life! Here God visits you! Here you join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, all those who have died in the faith, in the Holy Communion. Here you eat and drink with the widows of Nain and Zarephath and their sons, with Jairus and his daughter, with Lazarus and his sisters, with Hulda and Wilma and Birdie and Bernice, with Paul and Bob and Lissy, with Bill, Bonietta, and Delora, and countless other saints who have gone before, those you know and those you don’t. They live, because Jesus lives, and we are united by the body and blood of Christ as one holy Christian Church. Death has been reversed. It has been swallowed up in victory. God has visited His people. He is not safe, but He is good. And in His goodness and mercy, He has redeemed us and given us eternal life. Let us fear Him, and give Him all praise and glory. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Quoted in R. Reed Lessing, Concordia Commentary: Amos (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009), p. 1.
[2] Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament Vol. I (St. Louis: Concordia, n.d.) p. 302.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.