Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Third Sunday after the Epiphany


Third Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
January 27, 2013
Text: Luke 4:16-30

            For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12; ESV).  It’s a deadly thing, this Word of the Lord.  Then again, it’s a life-giving thing, this Word.  Because it is powerful.  Because it is performative.  Because it does what it says.  So in the Gospel this morning our Lord opens the Scriptures to the Prophet Isaiah and reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).  Then our Lord rolls up the scroll and sits down to preach.  (In those days, in the synagogue, the preacher sat and the people stood, so, you know… count your blessings.)  Everyone’s eyes were fixed on Jesus.  There was an anticipation in the room.  This was the hometown boy.  He grew up in this congregation.  He was a good boy then, and now He’s a clergyman, a rabbi, with disciples of His own.  What will He say?  Will He do us proud?  Undoubtedly.  And, at first, He doesn’t disappoint.  He says an amazing thing that the people don’t fully grasp.  Today,” He says, right now, at this very moment, “this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21).
            In this statement Jesus sums up our whole Christology, our whole theology of preaching, our theology of the Scriptures, our theology of the Church gathered around the Word of the Lord.  The people seem to have missed the point at first, although perhaps some of the more erudite among them were already scratching their heads at the implications.  Jesus, in saying what He says, is pointing to Himself and saying, “Messiah has come.”  He’s pointing to Himself and saying, “Right here, in the flesh, is the fulfillment of all the hopes of Israel, all the promises of God to His people, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms.  Wait for no further revelation from God.  I’m it!  For the One anointed by the Spirit to preach the Gospel to those who are poor and helpless, to those who are bound up in their sin and death, to those who are stumbling around blindly and desperately in spiritual darkness, to those who are oppressed by the threats and curse of the Law and the very devil himself, that One is here.  I AM.  I am He.” 
           Now, slowly, it began to dawn on the people who were marveling at His gracious words.  Wait a minute?  Is not this Joseph’s son?” (v. 22).  Isn’t this Mary’s boy?  Didn’t we change His diapers?  Where does He get this authority?  And that’s when things go south for the Preacher.  Because He starts to wield the living and active Word of God in such a way that it cuts deep, pierces to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Jesus starts to kill people with His Word.  Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’  What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well” (v. 23).  We came to see you do some miracles, Jesus.  We came to hear an inspiring and heart-warming message.  We came to be empowered to live life to our full potential.  But Jesus denies them what they want.  All He has to give them is death and resurrection.  And here’s the plain truth, Jesus says.  If you don’t want death and resurrection… if you don’t want the Lord’s Christ as He comes to you, in the flesh of a boy from Nazareth, to be killed and raised for your forgiveness, to kill you and raise you to new life with His Word… if you don’t want this Lord and this Word from this Lord, then you don’t have to have it.  I’ll take it to others.  Just as Elijah and Elisha were sent to Gentiles, the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian, so I’ll take my Word and my salvation to the nations.  It’s a killing Word of Law that Jesus speaks.  It cuts to the heart.  Believe in me or die eternally.  As is often the fate of preachers, the people seek to kill Him.  They try to throw Him off a cliff.  He miraculously passes through their midst before they even know He’s gone.  His time has not yet come.  But it will.  This is why He came, to be killed by His people, for His people, and for all people… for you.
            That’s a scandalous word.  Jesus Christ came to be killed… by you… for you.  You don’t want to hear that.  You don’t want to hear that you killed the Lord of life.  You don’t want to hear that He had to be killed in order for you to live.  This Word of the cross kills you.  It puts you to death.  It crucifies you.  It takes you back to your Baptism where the Old Adam in you is drowned and dies daily.  It hurts, this Word of the cross.  That’s why there are things in God’s Word that you don’t like.  That’s why sometimes you cringe at the preaching from this pulpit.  Maybe you haven’t thought of throwing me off a cliff.  But you have been upset when God’s Word has cut too close.  So here we go, buckle up for the ride, because I’m about to make everyone in this room hate me.  Though I could name many examples of things that may have upset you, I’ll give you just one which is particularly appropriate on this 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (over 55,000,000 dead since that tragic decision).  I know for a fact that some of you cringe when I preach against the holocaust in this nation that is abortion.  And you do so perhaps because of your political persuasion, or because you know and love someone who has had an abortion, and you want to justify their actions in your mind.  It can’t be done.  Repent.  No one can be justified apart from Christ Jesus.  And this is beyond politics.  This is about the murder of the defenseless, of babies created by God, for whom Christ Jesus died.  On the other hand, I know for a fact that some of you start to feel pretty good about yourselves when I talk about abortion.  You start to feel self-righteous over against “those other people” who think differently than you, who have made mistakes, who have sinned.  Perhaps this is because of your political persuasion, or because you have no experience with the heartache of a woman who has been victimized by a society that offers no other alternative, no other choice, than to destroy her child.  As a result, not only are you full of pride, but you’ve failed to have compassion or to speak the forgiveness of Christ to one riddled with guilt over abortion.  The fact is that the blood of 55,000,000 babies is on all of our hands.  Scandalous things I’m saying here.  And yet the real scandalous thing is this: The only answer for any of it is to kill Jesus.  Christ crucified is the only answer for the 55,000,000 babies and the victimized women and the culture of death.  Christ crucified is the only answer for you, beloved, for idolizing your political party, for seeking justification for yourself and others elsewhere than in Christ, for pride, for lack of compassion and failure to speak the Gospel.  Christ crucified is the only answer.  That, and you have to die.  You have to die to yourself.  God’s Word will do it.  Your old Adam has to be killed.  That’s what Baptism is.  That’s what happens when a preacher comes wielding the sword of God’s Word.  It’s all a big, deadly scandal.  Christ is crucified.  And you die. 
            But God doesn’t leave it there.  Now that you’re dead, which is the ultimate poverty, there is Good News to be proclaimed!  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!  And His Word bespeaks you righteous, as we sang in the opening hymn.  His Word forgives all your sins.  Which means His Word raises you to new life.  It happens completely outside of you.  God’s Word comes and takes hold of you, lifts you up, and breathes new life into you.  That, too, is what happens in Baptism.  That’s what happens whenever you encounter God in His Word.  I don’t know why you came today.  Maybe you came to see a miracle.  Maybe you came to hear an inspiring and heart-warming message (boy, were you disappointed!).  Maybe you came to be empowered to live life to its full potential.  I can’t give you any of that, and I won’t.  All I have is the living and active Word of God.  Which is to say, all I have for you is death and resurrection: Christ’s, and yours in Christ.  It’s a powerful Word that kills you and makes you alive.  The Holy Spirit is in that Word to lead you to repentance and faith in Christ.  This is a Word that does what it says.  In fact, Jesus Christ is really present in that Word, speaking you forgiven, speaking you righteous, speaking His Spirit and life into you.  Just as He’s present in the Supper, bodily, with His true body and blood, so He’s present with you in preaching.  I’m just the instrument He plays, the mouthpiece so to speak.  He’s the Preacher.  And if that’s the case (and it is), something amazing is happening right now: You who are poor, who have no righteousness of your own, no merit or worthiness, you are having the Good News preached to you by the very Savior of the world.  You who are captive to sin and death, groping around in Spiritual blindness, oppressed by sin, death, and the devil, to you the Lord Jesus is coming at this very moment to free you and give you sight.  That’s how God’s Word works.  It does what it says.  And that means that today, right now, as we speak, Christ Himself present in His Word, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.  Thank God there are no cliffs in Dorr.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              

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