Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 12)

July 29, 2012

Text: Eph. 3:14-21

St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is, happily, all about Baptism and the baptismal life lived in the one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church, the Body of Christ. We’ll be in Ephesians for a few more weeks, and the Epistle lessons will serve as our sermon texts. Paul writes his letter to the Ephesians from prison, probably in Rome. He expects to die. He is suffering for the Name and Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. As an apostle, as a pastor, he desires to leave the congregation in Ephesus with a parting Word of encouragement in the Holy Spirit, a Gospel Word of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ, a uniting Word that binds individual Christians together in the one Body of Christ by the ties of Christian love, a strengthening Word to fortify the Ephesians and all who read this letter for life under persecution from without and the temptations of the flesh from within. In our text this morning, Paul is talking about the Christian life that grows out of Baptism into Christ. For it all starts in the water and the Word where our sins are washed away and we are made God’s own child. And firmly planted and rooted in that water, we grow in faith toward God, and in fervent love toward one another.

Pastor Paul prays in his prison cell for his people in Ephesus. He bows His knees before the Father (Eph. 3:14). Now the Jews and the early Christians traditionally prayed standing up. That Paul fell to his knees indicates a particular intensity in his prayer. This is important stuff. As a side comment, this verse is where one of the traditional Christian prayer postures, that of praying on our knees, comes from. Paul prays intensely to the Father for his people, as every pastor should pray for his flock. And he starts with their Baptism. From this God and Father to whom Paul prays, every Christian receives the family Name (v. 15), the Name “Christian,” “little Christ,” the Name of God Himself: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s Baptism. That’s what happened this morning to little Matthew James. His sins were washed away and He was made God’s own child as the very Name of God was put upon Him in the water, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You, beloved, are baptized into that reality. God has put His Name upon you. When you put your name on something, it is because that thing belongs to you and you never want to lose it. You even do it with your spouses and children. You share the same last name. Matthew’s last name is Krenz. He belongs to me. But more importantly, He belongs to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and you do, too. You are precious to Him. He doesn’t want to lose you. You’re His dear child. You call upon Him as “Our Father…” You pray in the Name of your Brother, Jesus Christ. For baptized into the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, you are now sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus. And there’s more. You are the heir with Christ. You inherit the very Kingdom of God.

So Pastor Paul prays for his people on the basis of their Baptism, and he knows that God will hear him, because he knows that God loves His own. He prays that God would pour out strength upon His people by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 16). He prays that God’s people would be strengthened in their inner being, the part of you that wars against your sinful flesh, the Baptized saint in you that hates that you’re also a sinner, that loves God and desires to serve God and love the neighbor and do all manner of good works. Paul prays that that inner being would be strengthened and the old nature, the sinful flesh, be put to death. This, again, is Baptism. For “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should be daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”[1] Paul prays that Christ may dwell in the hearts of God’s people through faith (v. 17). This is Baptism, where you are given the Holy Spirit who creates faith by means of water and the Word. How can a little baby like Matthew believe? It is impossible by Matthew’s own reason or strength. He doesn’t have the intellect or ability to reason or believe or confess. The Holy Spirit must call him by the Gospel and enlighten him with His gifts. You saw it happen this morning. Just as Matthew trusts in his mom even though he has no ability to reason or believe or even confess her name, so now also he trusts in Jesus, because the Holy Spirit has given him faith. It actually happens the same way with you. You cannot believe by your own reason or strength, either, beloved. The Holy Spirit calls you to faith and enlightens you by the same means, Baptism, preaching, Scripture, Sacrament. Outside of the Spirit’s work, you are dead in your trespasses and sins and unable to come to Christ. Your will is bound. You are a slave of sin and death and the devil. But the Holy Spirit frees you by calling you out of slavery and to faith in Jesus by His divinely appointed means of grace.

And what happens to you, now that you’ve been called and enlightened by the Spirit? The Spirit continues to do His work in you. He continues to strengthen you. And you continue to grow in faith and in love, as Paul says in our text. Christ dwells in you by faith, and you are rooted and grounded in love (v. 16). You do good works to serve your neighbor. You do works of mercy. You provide for your neighbor in his need. You aren’t saved because of these works. You do these works because you’ve already been saved by Christ. Good works aren’t necessary for salvation, but good works are necessary. That’s the Christian life. You’ve been freed to do these works, with joy and thanksgiving that God is using you to do His work in the world. You do them in your vocations, your various callings as fathers and mothers and sons and daughters and citizens and neighbors and church members and every other relationship to which you’ve been called. And God calls you to come and hear His Word and receive His gifts in the Divine Service and in Bible Class and Sunday School. Paul says he prays this, that you “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (vv. 18-19; ESV). That happens as you hear and read and study and meditate upon the Word of God and pray and receive the holy Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. When you want to deepen a relationship with someone, you listen to them and talk to them and, never forget (you do this all the time as families or with friends or when you date someone)… you eat with them. That’s how you deepen your relationship to God, or better, how God deepens your relationship to Him. He speaks to you in His Word and you speak to Him in prayer, and then He feeds you with the meal of the Baptized, the body and blood of His Son.

But it all starts with Baptism. Jesus comes to you as He came to His disciples in the boat in our Gospel this morning. He comes on the water, in the midst of the deadly storm. He speaks His Word of peace, the holy Gospel, and suddenly there is life in the midst of certain death. The Lord washes away your sin in Baptism just as He baptized the whole world in our Old Testament lesson, washing away the wickedness but preserving believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all. And then He makes His covenant, His bow in the clouds, life for His people. Never again will there be such a catastrophic flood to destroy all creation. God is for us, not against us. He loves us. We are baptized into Christ.

And all of this is a mystery. It is revealed in Christ, but it is beyond our comprehension. We know it, and yet, we don’t. We live by faith, not by sight. How could God do all these wonderful things for us in common tap water combined with a few words from Holy Scripture? He’s just that good. God is for us. His Son died for us and is risen from the dead for us. We are baptized into Him and into His death and resurrection. Sins forgiven, we have eternal life. God’s own child, each one of us, another added to our number this morning. We don’t have to understand it. We just confess it. And what better words to end with than those of St. Paul: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power that is at work within us” the power at work in our Baptism, we might add, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen” (vv. 20-21). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Luther's Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 9)

July 8, 2012

Text: Mark 6:1-13

In matters of life and death, there’s simply no time to beat around the bush. One must be blunt, even jarring, and if people are offended, well, then, they’re offended. You’re dying. There’s no dressing it up. Sin has mortally wounded you. And there’s only one source of help. You need radical surgery, and only Jesus Christ, the Savior, can perform it. It will be a full-fledged death and resurrection. I know you’d rather make do with the Tylenol of warm and fuzzy spirituality and good old-fashioned family values and go on denying the real problem. But that won’t do. For you to be cured, Jesus must tear you apart with His Law. He must kill you. He must utterly destroy you. He must rip your heart out of your chest and give you a new one. Because your heart is made of stone, an unbelieving heart, black with lust and covetousness and rebellion against God, a heart captivated by idols, a heart filled with love only of the self. Jesus must rip it out and give you a new heart, a beating heart of flesh, devoted to the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, captivated by Christ, filled with love for others. Jesus must bind your wounds by the precious Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in His blood. Jesus must breathe new life into you by His Holy Spirit. Forget the Tylenol. It won’t help. Forget your self-made religious illusions. They’re fake. It’s time for surgery. This is a matter of life and death. This is a matter of death and resurrection. This is a matter of God’s killing Law and His life-giving Gospel. There’s no time to be around the bush. It’s time for blunt honesty. And if you’re offended, well, then, you’re offended. But you will know that the prophetic Word of the Lord has been among you.

Why do the people of Nazareth take offense at Jesus? Is it simply because He’s the hometown boy, because they know His mom and Joseph and His brothers and sisters, because they changed His diapers and knew Him when…? Actually, congregations love it when a son of their congregation comes home to preach. They feel like they had something to do with making the boy into the man he is. And they’re right. I am who I am as a pastor today in large measure because of little Our Savior Lutheran Church in Bingen, Washington, small in numbers but mighty in the gifts of God’s grace. It was there that I was baptized into Christ. It was there that I was taught the Scriptures and the Catechism. There, at that altar, I received my first Communion and was nourished week after week on the body and blood of Christ. By their love and encouragement and prayers and financial support I was put through four years of college and four years of seminary. They did it because they love the Lord Jesus and His Gospel and His Church. Of course, they’re right to take credit for making me who I am. And, not to be too presumptuous, I think they’d love it if I came home to preach. But they’d call me Jon, not Pastor, and why not? They would say, is not this Donald’s son, and are not his mother Gayle and his brother and sisters here with us? Did not we change his diapers and do we not remember when he was a little rascal running around in Sunday School and the many sins of his youth? And if I were to forget my place as little Jon… If I were to preach the Law in such a way as to call them out on their very real sins… If I were to forget all tact and kill them with the preaching of the Law so as to bind their mortal wounds with the proclamation of Jesus Christ and His Gospel, with authority, no less… Well, let’s just hope they aren’t reading this on the internet (love you, Mom!).

Well, I’m sure you know this already, but there’s a big difference between Jesus and me. Jesus has no sin. He was the perfect child in Synagogue. He was never a little rascal. But the congregation in Nazareth think they remember Him that way. They are all excited when their favorite son gets up to preach. That’s our boy, they say. But then He opens His mouth. And He kills them. He exposes their idols. He shows them their sins. He is blunt. He jars them. He forgets His place as little Yeshua. He preaches with authority. You’re dying, He says. In fact, you’re already dead in your trespasses and sins. And the Tylenol of your self-made spirituality won’t help you a bit. But here’s the good news. I’m here. I’ve arrived on the scene. I’m your only hope and your only help. You’re going to despise me for this. You’re going to take offense. And that despising, that offense, will work together for the salvation of the world. For you will deliver me over to be crucified. And by my death I will give life to the world. The sins of the whole world will be paid for on the cross. Death will be defeated in my own death. Hell will be vanquished. The serpent’s head will be crushed. The grave will be sanctified, and after three days, I will rise from the dead for the eternal life and resurrection of all who believe in me.

It’s an offensive message, isn’t it? The members of the Nazareth congregation aren’t offended because Jesus is the hometown boy, they’re offended by the message the hometown boy preaches to them. With authority. As God in human flesh. They’re offended at the person of Jesus Christ, the Savior. Because that means they are sinners condemned to death and hell, that there is no good in them, that they cannot help themselves, that they need Jesus to be their Savior and their God. You and I are offended at this, too. Because it kills our sinful flesh to hear it. As, indeed, it must. The preaching of Jesus Christ is nothing less than death and resurrection. The preaching of His death and resurrection results in the crucifixion of our flesh and our being raised to new life in Christ. This is Law and Gospel. This is the drowning and rising of Holy Baptism. This is daily repentance and forgiveness. This is confession and Absolution. This is the fruit of Jesus’ death placed in your mouth as the risen body and blood of Jesus in the Supper. And this is what all Christian preachers are given to proclaim, whether in their hometown, or half a continent away. The LORD sent the Prophet Ezekiel to the rebellious house of Israel. He was to preach, “Thus says the Lord GOD” (Ez. 2:4; ESV), but Ezekiel wasn’t promised that they would listen. “And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them” (v. 5). Jesus sent His twelve apostles out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He gave them authority to preach. And He promised that some would reject them and their message. If any would not listen, if any would not receive the preaching of Jesus Christ, they were to shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against them. “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent” (Mark 6:12). The miracle is that anyone does NOT reject the prophet, the apostle, the pastor, and the preaching of Jesus Christ. That’s the Holy Spirit working in His Word. For sinners are always deaf to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, unless the Spirit gives them ears to hear.

Our text this morning really isn’t about hometown boys or hometown crowds. It’s about the offense of the Gospel. It’s about the offense of Christ crucified for sinners. The miracle is that by the Spirit, beloved, you believe this Gospel. You believe the apostolic preaching. The world is offended by this. Shut up, you Christians. Go believe it if you want, but don’t force it down our throats. But you believe it. It’s a miracle. It’s the miracle of your Baptism. It’s the miracle of the dynamic Word of God, which is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). The Word of the Lord kills you with the Law. The Word of the Lord brings you to new life with the Gospel. There’s no beating around the bush. You’re dying. You’re dead… in and of yourself, that is. But the Lord Jesus, who died for you and has been raised from the dead for you, has brought you to new life by His Spirit and made you God’s own child. Death and resurrection is what it is. You’re sinners. Repent. Die to yourself. And believe the Good News. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. His blood covers all your sins. You belong to Him. Don’t be offended. Believe it. You’ve been created anew. So, now, go out and be the people God has called you to be. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 8)

July 1, 2012

Text: Mark 5:21-43

The Lord sends us afflictions. There’s no use attempting to save Him from Himself or His own actions. The Lord sends us afflictions for our good. He bestows the holy cross upon us as a precious gift for our temporal and eternal welfare. Parents discipline their children. Parents challenge their children to teach them important lessons and impart or foster skills. God disciplines us as His dearly loved children, baptized into Christ. God molds us and shapes us into the cruciform image of His Son by placing challenges and difficulties, afflictions in our way, to exercise our faith. The Lord sends us afflictions. And He does this so that we will come to the end of ourselves and our own resources.[1] When all is well, we tend to forget our need for God, our utter reliance upon Him for every breath, for every heartbeat, our absolute dependence upon Him for our every good. We are not in the least self-reliant. But we think we are. So God sends us afflictions so that we die to ourselves and seek help and deliverance only from Him. Now, this may be difficult for your ears to hear, because you’re still trying to save God from Himself, to save Him from the responsibility for your afflictions. “God simply allows afflictions,” you may be objecting in your mind. “He certainly doesn’t send them.” Well, where is that in the Bible? It may be true in some sense that God allows afflictions to come our way from the devil or the world or our own sinful flesh, but He also suggested, for example, that the devil target His servant Job (1:8). When Job demanded that God justify Himself, His answer was essentially, “I’m God and you’re not, so I don’t owe you an explanation. You’re just going to have to trust that I know what I’m doing and that it will all end up for your good, because I’m a gracious God.” That’s it. No further explanation. God doesn’t pass the buck to the devil. The Lord sends us afflictions. And these afflictions He uses for our good, so that we cease trusting in ourselves and our own resources and cast ourselves upon the Lord alone for help in every time of need.

For twelve years in our text, a father delighted in his daughter, a precious gift from God, Daddy’s little girl. Then she became sick and died. For twelve years, the same twelve years I might add, a woman was afflicted with a discharge of blood. A feminine issue. It made her unclean, excluded from the community. She suffered much under many physicians. None of them could help. She lost all her money. She was at her wits end. The father, the woman, both had come to the end of themselves and their own resources. They could do nothing to better their situation. They could not save themselves. And here we come to the first reason God gives us the gift of afflictions in our earthly lives. We cannot save ourselves. It’s a hard lesson for us Pharisees to learn. We’re always trying to justify ourselves, to improve ourselves, to provide for ourselves, to save ourselves. Repent. When the Father lays a holy cross upon us, He doesn’t do it to so that we can save ourselves by suffering. He does it to show us that we absolutely cannot save ourselves. There is no self justification, no improvement that can earn merit before God, no help within ourselves. If we are to be justified God must do it. And He does, in the righteous life, sin-atoning death, and victorious resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. If we are to be saved, God must do it. And He does, in Christ. If the father and the woman in our text are to be helped, God must help them. And He does. He sends His Son, Jesus Christ.

The father runs to Jesus and falls at His feet, imploring Him earnestly, “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). The Lord has compassion. He goes with the man. You see, our God may send afflictions, but He also suffers for and with us in our afflictions. That’s what the word “compassion” means. It means to suffer with the object of your compassion. Our Old Testament lesson says of our God that, “though he cause grief, he will have compassion… for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men” (Lam. 3:32-33). That’s interesting. He causes the grief and affliction according to the verse, but at the same time, in His compassion, it hurts Him to do so. He takes no delight in it. Like a parent, I suppose, who says when disciplining his child, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” The father was right to go to the Lord Jesus in his affliction, because Jesus is the Lord of compassion. So compassionate is He, that He takes on flesh and becomes one of us, to suffer and die for our sins. His cross is our salvation. Our crosses point us to our crucified Lord and shape us in His image. Our crosses drive us to prayer. The father knew Jesus could help. The father went to Jesus. We go to Jesus when we suffer affliction. For we know He will have compassion, and as we heard in our Old Testament (v. 23) and sang in the hymn, great is His faithfulness.

It must have been extremely frustrating to the father as they made their way through the crowd toward the sick little girl. Let’s get a move on, Jesus. Time is of the essence. All at once, Jesus stops. Someone touched Him. Actually, someone touched the hem of His garment. Now, the crowds are pressing Him all around. Lots of people are touching Him. The disciples point out the absurdity of the question when Jesus asks, “Who touched my garments?” (Mark 5:30). But someone has touched Jesus in faith. He could feel the power go out of Him. It was the woman. She, too, seeks Jesus as her only help. She comes in all humility. She reaches through the crowd, just to touch the edge of Jesus’ robe, because, she said to herself, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well” (v. 28). And it happens. The moment she touches Him, Jesus soaks up her uncleanness to be borne all the way to the cross, and the woman is healed, clean, whole. “And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (v. 29). “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53:4). Jesus stops, not to chastise the woman, but to praise her faith and to publicly bless her. “You came to the right place for healing. May it be for you as you believe.” “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” Your faith has received the healing only I can give. “go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (Mark 5:34). Praise be to God!

Well, this is all fine and good for the woman, but what about the father? “We’re wasting time here, Jesus.” And what happens? Servants come from the house. Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher? But the same Jesus who healed the woman’s affliction, taking her uncleanness into Himself and bestowing His healing and righteousness upon her, will also take this little girl’s death into Himself, and bestow upon her His life. “Do not fear, only believe,” He says to the distraught father (v. 36). She’s only sleeping. Death is but a slumber for those who die in the faith. Because Jesus will wake them up. Jesus will wake us all up on the Last Day, to live eternally. For now, the Lord of life enters the room of the dead little girl, takes her cold and lifeless hand and says to her, “Talitha cumi… Little girl, I say to you, arise” (v. 41). And the little girl arises. She’s alive. She’s healthy. She’s hungry. Get her something to eat. Jesus restores the little girl to her parents. Peter, James, and John are eyewitnesses of the whole thing. She who was dead, now lives. It’s only a temporal resurrection. The girl will die again, later, when she’s old. But her resurrection here points forward to our Lord’s victorious and eternal bodily resurrection from the dead on Easter, and our own eternal, bodily resurrection from the dead when our Lord awakens us on the Last Day.

Why did God send these afflictions upon the father and his precious little daughter… upon the woman in our text who suffered for twelve years with a disease that made her an outcast? Why does God send us afflictions? Law and Gospel, beloved. The Law: We have no power to save ourselves or help ourselves in any way. On our own, we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). The Gospel: God has compassion. He sends the afflictions for our good. And He will deliver us. Perhaps now, in this earthly life, as He healed the woman and raised the little girl.  Then again, maybe not.  He has not promised us temporal healing from every affliction. But certainly on the Last Day, in the resurrection of all flesh, when we will receive our eternal healing, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. In the meantime, afflictions are a discipline for us. Despairing of ourselves, we run to Christ alone for help and salvation. Great is His faithfulness. He will always help us. He will always grant us the true healing of the forgiveness of our sins by means of the medicine that is the Gospel. He will always deliver to us eternal life and salvation. The Lord sends us afflictions. Don’t excuse Him for this, or try to justify Him. Certainly don’t despise Him for it. Rejoice in it. He gives them in love. For our good. Even as He afflicted His Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross of Calvary for our ultimate good, our very salvation. He did not leave His Son in death. Christ is risen. He will not leave you in death, either. Do not fear; only believe. There is an end to your afflictions. Great is God’s faithfulness to you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] This concept comes from the Rev. Mark Love.