Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lenten Midweek II

Lenten Midweek 2: This Is the Night the LORD Has Made[1]
February 27, 2013

Text: Amos 5:18 (ESV): “Woe to the ones who are longing for the day of the LORD!  What good is the day of the LORD for you?  It will be a day of darkness and not light.”

            The Nation of Israel believed that the Day of the LORD would be a Day of divine judgment and recompense against other nations, but not them.  They believed that the Day of the LORD would result in their triumph, their prosperity, their deliverance from all enemies.  So they longed for the Day of the LORD so that the other nations would get what’s coming to them, and Israel would be rewarded for their faithfulness. 
            Except that Israel had not been faithful.  They had received so much from the hand of the LORD.  To Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the promises had been made, the promises of a great nation, a land flowing with milk and honey, and THE Promise that by the Seed of Abraham all the nations on earth would be blessed, for that Seed would be the Savior of the world.  So God preserved for Himself a nation.  He brought the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea on dry ground, preserved them in the wilderness, gave them the Ten Commandments and the Torah through Moses, brought them into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua, defeated their enemies before them, established the Kingdom.  On and on the list of blessings goes.  But it lulled the nation into a false sense of security.  They came to place their faith in their status as a favored nation rather than the Almighty God who pours out His grace freely, as an undeserved gift.  So the nation turned to other gods.  Never to the exclusion of YHWH, but in addition to YHWH.  More is better, right?  The nation began to neglect the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger among them, the very people they had been commanded to care for (Ex. 22:21-24).  Those who had been blessed materially neglected to do with their wealth what God had given it to them to do with, to care for their neighbor in need.  They had neglected justice.  They turned a deaf ear to the plight of those in distress.  And in all of this, they did not recognize their sin.  They did not repent, return to the LORD, or confess, but brashly went about business as usual believing the LORD to be on their side, waiting only for the final judgment of their enemies on that great and dreadful Day.  So the LORD issues a dire warning to the people through His Prophet, Amos.  Woe!  Woe to you who long for the Day of the LORD, who triumphantly sing, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24).  This Day will not be good for you.  It will be a Day of darkness, and not light; it will be a Day of judgment, and not deliverance.  Repent.  And, of course, the LORD made good on His threat.  They Day turned to darkness as the nation of Assyria conquered Israel in 722 BC.
            It’s easy for us to stand in judgment against Israel of old.  How could they take the LORD’s salvation for granted?  How could they not recognize their guilt?  But what is true of Israel is also true of us.  It is true of us as a nation, this nation that we love, the United States of America.  God has poured out every blessing upon this nation.  We are the wealthiest nation in the world.  But we neglect the widow, the orphan, the stranger among us, the unborn child and the terminally ill.  We adulterate our worship, mixing the worship of the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with the worship of other gods for the sake of pluralism and being politically correct.  And this is true of us individually.  God has so richly blessed each one of us, not only materially, but spiritually, redeeming us by the blood of His Son Jesus, baptizing us into Christ, nourishing us with His Word and Supper.  God shines His saving light upon us.  But “We love the darkness of self-centered narcissism.  We live in the darkness of lies and half-truths, and we have an ongoing lust for more of the darkness that feeds our flesh.  The Prince of Darkness mocks our feeble discipleship, our failed relationships, and our fatal attractions” (Lessing).  What is the answer to all of this?
            The answer is not to try harder to walk in the light and resist the pull of the darkness.  The answer is not to try to appease God with burnt offerings or more money in the plate.  The answer does not lie within you.  There is only darkness there, within the recesses of your heart.  The answer, the only thing that will change anything, is Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, coming into the darkness and suffering it.  The answer is Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, taking on flesh and becoming one with us in our darkness, suffering at the hands of darkened sinners, you and me and all people, for darkened sinners, you and me and all people.  Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, “also knows the night of the Lord.  For three hours He hung on the cross in darkness, bled in the darkness, cried in the darkness, and thirsted in the darkness” (Lessing).  He did all this for widows and orphans and strangers, to reconcile them to the one true God.  He did all this for you.  He suffered the night that the LORD has made, the judgment against your sin, so that you could walk in the Day that the LORD has made, rejoice, and be glad in it… so that you could walk in the Light of the world, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.
            You see, the judgment stands against you just as it stood against Israel.  Except that the Lord Himself, Jesus Christ, takes that judgment upon Himself.  It’s not a matter of excusing you.  It’s matter of redeeming you.  And now you can look forward to the Day of the LORD, the Last Day, when our Lord returns, for “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).  The light that is Jesus Christ dispels all darkness, the darkness of sin, the darkness of death, the darkness of hell and the devil.  So now, in Christ, you are light in the Lord.  And you confidently pray: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

[1] The theme and many of the thoughts in this sermon are taken from R. Reed Lessing, Restore the Roar! (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012).

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lenten Midweek I

Lenten Midweek I: Upside Down[1]
February 20, 2013
Text: Amos 3:1-2

            Upside down.  That’s what you are, and you know it, and God knows it even better than you do.  You are not what God created you to be.  He created you to be in perfect fellowship with Him, to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, and so also to be in perfect fellowship with your neighbor, to love your neighbor as yourself.  But you aren’t and you don’t.  You fear, love, and trust in other things and people above God, worshiping idols of your own making.  You do not love your neighbor as yourself.  You put yourself first.  Some neighbors you love, but about most neighbors (let’s be honest) you’re indifferent, and there are many neighbors you despise.  You go on living your life of comfort and luxury while your neighbor for whom Christ died lives in poverty and suffers injustice.  It’s not the luxury, or course, that is the problem, but the indifference to the plight of others.  Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head (Matt. 8:20).  And you sympathize, but you ultimately shrug your shoulders as if it’s not your problem.  So you are not the person God created you to be.  You are the opposite of that.  You are upside down.  And being upside down, you are exposed, naked before God.  For in your luxury you are poor.  In your leisure you are enslaved.  God pours out His blessings upon you and you turn them against Him.  Perversely, you worship the creature rather than the Creator.  And secure in what you think is God’s favor, you believe the call to repentance is for others.  That’s why you love preaching like this.  You know that there are some here tonight who need to hear this.  Not you, of course.  But THEM!  That’s why you need a preacher to come and proclaim this Word of the Lord specifically to you.  That’s why you need Amos, the burden bearer, to bear the burden of God’s Word to you and throw it on your back to crush you with it.  Amos’ preaching brings you to acknowledge what you already know deep down in your heart.  You’re upside down.  You’re not the person God created you to be.  The aim of such preaching is repentance, confession of the sin, so that the forgiveness of God that brings new life to those crushed by the burden of the Law may be proclaimed to you in Jesus Christ, your Savior.
            Amos was sent to preach in just such a context.  Israel had become a nation of luxury and convenience.  They believed themselves secure in God’s favor.  After all, God had delivered them from bondage in Egypt and personally ushered them through the wilderness and into the Promised Land.  The Lord had defeated all their enemies and given this good land to Israel to enjoy in perpetuity.  They were God’s people.  He had chosen no other nation.  To their patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He had spoken the promises.  To Moses He had given His Torah.  Their sense of manifest destiny would put American patriotism to shame.  But in all of it they were blind to their sin.  They were blind to the obvious fact that they were upside down.  They worshiped other gods, not to the exclusion of YHWH, but in tolerance of other religious belief systems.  They enjoyed their wealth on the backs of the poor.  They paid unfair wages to their workers and used dishonest scales in the marketplace.  But it never occurred to them they should repent.  That’s something other nations should do.  Not them.  So God, in His grace, sent Amos to lay the burden of God’s Law upon His people.  In upside down irony, the preaching of the Law that kills is for the sake of preaching the Gospel of salvation for all people.
            What is particularly upside down about Amos’ preaching, however, is that he uses the Gospel to announce the Law.  In our text he reminds Israel that they are God’s children, God’s family, whom God had brought up from Egypt saying, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2; ESV).  You only have I chosen.  It’s a marvelous proclamation of the Gospel truth.  Yet since this is the case, God says through the Prophet Amos… since you have taken my grace for granted, my grace which I have poured out upon you in abundance, “therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”  It’s a chilling upheaval of Israel’s worldview.  It’s a chilling upheaval of our worldview.  For God has rained down His blessings upon us.  He’s given us a prosperous nation, set us in a family, provided our daily bread.  We have a good life.  And if this weren’t enough, He’s given us salvation in Jesus Christ, the full and free forgiveness of all our sins.  He’s called us in Holy Baptism.  He’s made us His own and fed and nourished us in His Word and Sacraments.  And what do we do with it?  We spit on it.  We use it as a license to sin.  God will forgive, we say, as we heedlessly throw His commandments to the wind, never stopping to think about what forgiveness cost our God: His own dear Son, nailed to the cross, suffering death and hell in our place.  We’ve turned God’s grace upside down in our upside down lives.  God should punish us for our iniquities. 
            But He doesn’t.  Instead, He punishes His Son.  The Son of God comes into our upside down world to turn us right side up.  He doesn’t leave us with the roar of His Law.  He doesn’t leave us with the thundering preaching of Amos.  Rather, He turns Himself upside down for our sakes.  Almighty God takes on flesh.  Our flesh.  The Son does not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but makes Himself nothing.  He humbles Himself and becomes obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).  No futile shrugging of the shoulders on the part of Jesus.  He sees us in our misery and He does something about it.  Covering our sins with His blood, they no longer count against us.  They’ve been paid in full by the Savior on the cross.  Taking our sin and death into Himself, He gives us His righteousness and life.  He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).  He doesn’t do this because we deserve it, or because we’ll do what we should with it.  He does it all by grace.  In mercy.  In the perfect love of God that loves the unlovable.  Once you were lost, but now you are found.  Once you were blind, but now you see.  Once you were dead, but now you have new life.  Which is just another way of saying, you are baptized into Christ.
            Where you are faithless, Christ Jesus is faithful.  So now, in the fear, love, and trust of the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, just go love your neighbor.  If he’s hungry feed him.  If he needs clothes, you give them to him.  If he needs shelter, provide it.  If he needs your forgiveness, forgive.  Don’t demand that he be lovable before you love him.  For that’s not how God has loved you.  Simply understand this: God does not favor you because you are who you are, or what you do.  God favors you because Jesus is who He is, and has done what He’s done.  That’s the definition of grace: God favors you for Jesus’ sake.  And that truth, beloved, turns the whole world upside down.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

[1] The theme and many of the ideas in this sermon are from R. Reed Lessing, Restore the Roar! (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012).

Sunday, February 17, 2013

First Sunday in Lent

First Sunday in Lent (C)
February 17, 2013
Text: Luke 4:1-13

            Three temptations, and they’re common to all mankind, to every one of us.  The first concerns daily bread, the stuff of this life; the second concerns false worship and a striving to be like God, to become your own god; and the third concerns putting God to the test… “If you’re really God, then You’ll do this or that for me.”  “I just can’t believe in a God who would…”  Fill in whatever it happens to be that you find objectionable about God: “…allow people to suffer, send people to hell, condemn behavior I find acceptable, expect me to do this or that,” or as the devil wanted Jesus to think, “I just can’t believe in a God who wouldn’t miraculously rescue me if I jump off this tall building.”  Three temptations, and they ultimately come down to the same temptation with which the devil tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden: God is holding out on you, keeping you down, not allowing you to enjoy good things to which you have a right.  Go around God.  Be your own god.  Can you really trust His Word, anyway?  And with this temptation, successfully perpetrated against our first parents, humanity is sent spiraling down the bottomless pit of sin and death.
            But in our text, it’s time for a rematch.  Our Lord Jesus faces the evil one head on in the wilderness as our stand in.  He comes to undo all that went wrong in Eden, all that is wrong in the world, in the Church, in your life.  He stands there in the wilderness, toe to toe with the tempter, in your place.  The devil was victorious in the Garden of Eden.  Did God really say?  You won’t surely die.  Take and eat.  Eve took and ate and gave some to her husband Adam.  By food Adam was overcome, along with all his progeny.  And in Adam’s fall, you fell.  It’s not just that he took a bite of the forbidden fruit.  It’s that in taking that bite of fruit he lost faith in God, rejected Him, and worshiped himself rather than his Creator.  Jesus Christ comes as our New Adam, the head of a New Creation, and He is faced there, in the wilderness, in the emptiness, among the wild animals and the demons, with the primeval temptation.  You’re hungry.  Eat.  If you are the Son of God… Notice here the doubt Satan tries to cast upon the Father’s proclamation at Jesus’ Baptism: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22; ESV).  If  you are the Son of God, God wouldn’t want you to starve.  What kind of heavenly Father is that?  Command these stones to become bread.  It’s the same temptation as that in the Garden.  If God really loved you, Adam and Eve, He wouldn’t hold back this fruit, which is so pleasing to the eye and good for food.  But whereas Adam and Eve listened to the serpent, our Lord Jesus rebuffed Him with a Word from God: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone’” (4:4; Deut. 8:3).  Indeed, man must live by bread.  Jesus, being a man, must live by bread, but not alone.  Rather, by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.  And what is that Word by which Jesus, and you, must live?  You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  And if that is the case, trust me.  Even in the hard times.  Even when you’re hungry.  Even when you lack.  Even when you face the cross and suffering and death.  Believe me, dear child, it will all be for the good.  In the Garden, Adam fell by doubting God’s Word and taking and eating.  In the wilderness, Jesus defeated the devil by trusting in God’s Word and refusing to eat.  And the curse begins to unravel.  Strike one for the devil.
            Again, the devil showed Jesus all the mighty kingdoms of the world and their glory, a sweeping view of history and geography.  All these I will give you, says the prince of this world, if you will worship me.  Here the temptation is to win a kingdom without suffering and the cross, to have it all, and to have it now.  You and I know something of this temptation, too.  So did Adam and Eve.  Don’t wait upon God.  Seize the day.  Take what you want.  Look out for yourself.  Have the glory and the honor without the pain.  Just reach out and take that fruit.  It will make you wise.  You’ll be like God, knowing good and evil.  See, once again, it’s the same temptation as that in the Garden.  But once again, the Lord Jesus is victorious.  He keeps the First Commandment in your place: You shall have no other gods.  It is written,” declares the Lord Jesus, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:8; Deut. 6:13).  You don’t make a deal with the devil for temporal gain.  That includes selling out to the world to get what you want, or to avoid suffering and persecution.  Adam sold out and we’ve been suffering the consequences ever since, enslaved to sin and doomed to death.  But where Adam sold out, Jesus redeemed.  He’s redeemed you and me.  He did not sidestep the cross.  He shed His blood, for Adam, for you, for me, and for all people.  And in so doing, He won a Kingdom to which you and I belong as citizens, the Kingdom of the children of God.  Here is true glory, true power, won by suffering and death, that we who are dead in the sin of Adam might have life and salvation in the righteousness of Christ.  Another blow to the curse of Eden.  Strike two for the father of lies.
            One more try, though.  This is where the devil gets especially crafty.  He quotes the Word of God against Jesus.  Taking Him up to the pinnacle of the temple, probably about 100 feet off the ground, He whispers, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you” (4:10; Ps. 91:11), and again, “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (v. 11; Ps. 91:12).  Ah, the devil knows Scripture, too.  In fact, beware of this.  It is absolutely true that you should resist the devil with God’s Word, as Jesus does in our text, but don’t try to outwit him with it.  The devil knows Scripture better than you do.  Just throw the Word in his face, and then flee the temptation.  Get out of it, lest you be overcome.  That was Eve’s big mistake.  She stuck around to discuss the options with the serpent.  Did God really say you cannot eat of any tree in the Garden?  Of course not.  The devil knows that.  But he always twists God’s Word, just as he did in the Garden.  He quotes it out of context.  He leaves out important things.  For example, the Scripture he quotes here says that God will command His angels “to guard you in all your ways” (Ps. 91:11; emphasis added), a striking omission.  For God has promised the angels to guard the Lord Jesus only in the way set out for Him by God.  And remember, that way is the cross and suffering for the redemption of humanity.  There would come a time when Jesus would not be defended by the angels, though He reminds us that at any moment He could call upon His heavenly Father and more than twelve legions of angels would deliver Him (Matt. 26:53).  Jesus doesn’t choose to do that.  Because He loves us, and He wants to save us.  So once again He opposes the deceiver with the pure Word of God: “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Luke 4:12).  And don’t miss what is happening.  This is a direct command that the devil cease and desist.  The devil shall not put the Lord his God, Jesus Christ, the Savior, to the test.  Strike three.  The temptation is over.  The devil’s out.  And he must leave until a more opportune time, until another struggle, the ultimate, that of our Lord’s Passion, His suffering, His death on the cross, where He will once and for all win the victory over the devil and bring the curse to an end.
            Three temptations our Lord endures for us, and three times He successfully overcomes them.  And here is the good news.  His victory is your victory.  He is your stand in.  For you, who have been tempted to forsake God for the stuff of this life, over concerns for your daily bread and your appetite for more and more, Jesus has successfully resisted the devil and given you not only bread for your belly but every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  For you, who have worshiped false gods, particularly the self, and sought honor and glory without suffering and the cross, Jesus has remained steadfast, worshiped the Lord His God and served Him only by embracing the cross for your redemption.  For you, who have put the Lord God to the test and exchanged Him for other gods more to your liking, the Lord Jesus has been faithful.  And His faithfulness is your faithfulness.  Behold the great exchange that happens in your Baptism into Christ.  Jesus takes all your sin and unfaithfulness, your death and condemnation upon Himself and nails it in His body to the cross.  And in exchange He gives you His victory over Satan, His faithfulness, His righteousness, His status as God’s Son, His eternal life, His Kingdom.  And it is all by grace, apart from your works.  He does it for you.  He does it to make you His own.  Take and eat the fruits of the tree of life where He continues to deliver all of this to you in His crucified and risen body and blood.
            So the next time the devil wants to throw your sins in your face, the next time he shoots a flaming arrow at your heart, the next time he tries to convince you that you are anything other than God’s own child, you tell him where to go.  You belong to Jesus Christ, God and Lord.  Jesus Christ has defeated the devil and his kingdom once and for all.  Satan cannot harm you.  You know him for what he is.  He’s nothing but a big fat liar.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday 2013: Rescued from the Rubble[1]
February 13, 2013

Text: Amos 1:1-2 (ESV): “The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.  And he said: ‘The LORD roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the top of Carmel withers.’”

            The Word of the LORD is earthshaking.  The LORD roars from Zion, from His Church, and nothing can stand against it.  For His is a Word that kills and makes alive.  His is a Word of death and resurrection.  His Word upsets the old order of things in the fallen creation.  It upsets you in your sinful flesh.  Indeed, it kills you by the roar of God’s Law, that God Himself might bring you to new life by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Savior. 
            There was literally a huge earthquake that rocked the Mediterranean world two years after the Word of the LORD came to Amos.  He doesn’t just call it an earthquake.  He calls it the earthquake.  There are many earthquakes, but this one was a defining event in world history.  The Prophet Zechariah speaks of this same earthquake, “the earthquake in the days of Uzziah” (Zech. 14:5), and archeological evidence in Hazor of Galilee confirms the biblical account.  What does God accomplish by such an earthquake?  Well, this, like all natural or man-made disasters, is a call to repentance, as our Lord Jesus tells us.  When He was asked about Pilate’s slaughter of some Galileans, He responded, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-5).  Well, so much for the theology of Pat Robertson (he’s a false teacher, by the way.  Don’t listen to him).  Every disaster, every tragedy is a call for all of us to repent, because in our sinfulness, we all deserve to perish in such a tragedy.  It happened to them, it could happen to you.  Repent.  But there’s also something else going on, specifically with earthquakes.  Earthquakes in the Scriptures often indicate the presence of Almighty God.  We’ve encountered this in our study of Revelation.  The earth quakes in reverence and fear of its Creator and the Judge of all mankind.  THE earthquake, the historical event referenced in our text, points to a theological reality.  Almighty God is present in His Word.  Thus the Word is powerful.  It kills in judgment and makes alive in mercy.  Which is to say, repentance is not something you do within yourself by your own efforts.  It is something the LORD does to you by His Word.  The LORD roars.  He roars in His Word, and the Word of the LORD is earthshaking.  It shakes you to your very core.
            It is that Word that we encounter tonight, and in encountering the Word, we encounter the living God.  There is only one response possible for the sinner in the presence of Almighty God.  Repent.  Quake.  Rend your hearts and not your garments.  Confess your sins.  This night is a night of repentance.  God’s Word shakes you up and exposes your brokenness, your idolatry, your covetousness, your lust.  It gets right to the heart of things, to your heart, which is full of impurity, murder, and adultery.  You have not feared, loved, and trusted your God above all things.  You have not loved your neighbor as yourself.  Tonight we mourn our sin in sackcloth and ashes.  Ashes will mark your forehead tonight with the reminder that dust you are, and to dust you shall return.  The wages of sin is death.  You have offended your Creator.  You have rejected your God.  You are a sinner.  Yet those ashes will be traced upon you in the sign of the holy cross.  You have been redeemed.  The Lord Jesus Christ died for your sins.  He made the payment for your iniquity.  He shed His blood for your cleansing.  Almighty God took on flesh to atone for you, because you could not.  And on that Good Friday, as God hung upon the wood, the earth shook.  The rocks split.  The graves could not contain the bodies of the faithful who rose and went and testified.  The death of Jesus Christ was an earthshaking event.  God is present there on the cross, in judgment and mercy, judgment against the innocent Son, mercy on all of sinful mankind, eternal life for all who believe in Him.  And then there was the big aftershock.  Sunday morning, there was a great earthquake.  Angels rolled the stone away to reveal an empty tomb.  Christ is risen.  That is the reality which continues to shake the world everywhere the Word is preached.  It shakes you to your core.  The LORD roars from Zion, His Church.  It is nothing less than your death and resurrection.
            You’re a wreck.  You know that.  Your house of cards has fallen in upon you.  You’re trapped.  You’re helpless.  You’re dead.  But there’s good news.  The Lord Jesus comes as Savior.  He comes to rescue you from the rubble that is your life, that is your sinful flesh.  How does He do it?  By dying for you.  By stretching out His hands to be nailed to the cross for you.  He rescues you by His blood shed for you and given to you.  By His blood He frees you, restores you, heals you.  He redeems you.  You belong to Him.  And that ash on your forehead will wash off in the sink tonight.  It cannot cling to you.  Because the earthshaking reality is that Jesus Christ has taken away your sin.  And you are righteous.  He has spoken it so.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the ideas in this sermon come from R. Reed Lessing, Restore the Roar (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012).

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

The Transfiguration of Our Lord (C)
February 10, 2013
Text: Luke 9:28-36

            Your heavenly Father underscores the point for you in no uncertain terms: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35; ESV).  Jesus of Nazareth, born of the Virgin Mary, is the Son of God, begotten from all eternity.  He is the One anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit at His Baptism in the Jordan to undertake the divine mission of salvation.  Jesus alone is your Savior.  Jesus alone is your righteousness.  Jesus alone is your eternal life, your death and resurrection.  He is your God.  And to Him alone you shall listen.  For faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).  And you are saved through faith alone in Christ alone.  It is by grace alone.  The Father makes sure you don’t miss it.  He glorifies His Son there on the mountain, the divinity radiantly shining through the humanity and the voice from the cloud.  This is it.  This man is your salvation, your God.  Look nowhere else.  Listen nowhere else.  Listen to Him.
            The trouble is two-fold: There are so many voices that are not Jesus competing for your ear.  And your sinful flesh is willing and eager to hear any and every voice that is not Jesus.  What are some of these voices vying for your attention?  Well, if you’re anything like me, it is at this point in the sermon that you start to wonder what’s for lunch.  Tuning out Jesus, in your mind you go over the menu and your plans for the afternoon.  Who is that sitting three pews ahead, and what is she wearing?  I wonder what this week will bring at work or school.  Your mind wanders, and before you know it, you hear, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”  And it’s all over.  (For those of you who weren’t listening, that wasn’t really the end.)  But there are even more sinister voices vying for your attention.  The information age is a blessing in so many ways, but the constant barrage of media that relentlessly assaults you on screens and over speakers and through the phone in your pocket has you distracted and hypnotized.  And hopefully you already know this, but if you don’t, take careful note: The media’s agenda is that of the unbelieving world.  Most of the content is ungodly.  This is not the voice of Jesus.  To be sure, the Church can use various media to proclaim Christ to the world, and we should.  But in general, what is the message with which we’re saturated day-in and day-out, morning, noon, and night?  Lust.  Greed.  Covetousness.  Selfishness of every stripe. You deserve it.  You can’t live without it.  It’s actually the voice of the old serpent from the Garden.  God is holding out on you.  He doesn’t want you to have any fun.  Be your own determiner of right and wrong.  Decide for yourself what you want and need.  Be like God.  Worship self.  Just look at that fruit: Pleasing to the eye and good for food.  Before you know it, you’ve taken and eaten.  And you’re naked.  And you’re dying.  You are, in fact, dead.
            Jesus takes three men in your same condition, Peter, John, and James up on the mountain to pray.  As is their custom, while Jesus is praying, these three fall asleep.  We’ll see them do the same thing on the night Jesus is betrayed.  Just like you and me.  A three hour football game or a movie can rivet our attention, but a few minutes with Jesus (you know, the living God who saves us from death and hell) and our eyes get heavy and our heads start to nod.  It’s a defense mechanism against God’s Word.  We tune Him out.  Still, Jesus takes these three with Him for this occasion, just as He takes you and me with Him here, for this occasion, to meet Him in His Church.  There are the three, snoring away, failing to watch and pray, only to wake up to a glorious sight.  God the Son is shining His glory through His flesh and even His clothing so that there’s no mistaking it: This man is the Son of God.  This man is the Savior.  Two other men appear with Him, to bear witness to this truth, Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, representatives of the whole Old Testament.  The Scriptures are fulfilled in Jesus.  They talk with Jesus.  And here we find out why it’s so important for us to listen to Jesus.  The whole content of their discussion is about Jesus’ departure.  That’s the word our English translation uses, but it’s difficult to get true sense of the word in English.  The word really is “exodus.”  They talk with Him about His exodus, His journey.  Here we call to mind Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness, to the Promised Land.  Jesus is leading us in exodus from our slavery to sin, death, and the devil, through the wilderness of this fallen world (and the valley of the shadow of death), to the Promised Land of eternal life and resurrection.  His exodus is the journey to the cross to make atonement for our sins, his burial in the grave, His resurrection on the Third Day, and His ascension into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.  That’s what they’re discussing.  That’s what the Scriptures are about from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22.  We preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23).  That’s the Word to listen to.  Because in that Word there is life for the dead.  There is life for you. 
            And just so you and Peter, John, and James don’t miss it, the Father envelopes the whole crowd in a cloud (God is always appearing in clouds throughout the Scriptures) and He speaks: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!  And then all at once it’s over… “when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone” (Luke 9:36).  Because He’s all you need.  Having Jesus, you have the Father.  Having Jesus, you have the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and all the Scriptures.  Having Jesus, you have the forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life.  Listen to Him and you have Him, and having Him, you have all you need.
            If only we could see what Peter, John, and James were given to see.  And yet, glorious visions have a limited shelf-life.  As we mentioned, these three would fall asleep again on another mountain, the Mount of Olives, very shortly.  They would fail again and again to listen to Jesus.  They would all desert Him.  Peter would even deny Him.  In fact, they really didn’t understand this whole event at the time.  Remember, Peter wants to stay on the mountain and build three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.  Luke tells us He didn’t even know what he was saying (v. 33).  When they came down the mountain, they kept silent about the whole affair.  It was just too strange.  It wasn’t until later, after the resurrection, after Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, that the three began to speak of what they witnessed.  God had given them this experience to strengthen them for the events of Holy Week, and to strengthen us through their witness to bear up under our wilderness wanderings, trusting in Christ who will lead us home to God in heaven.  It is tempting to think we want a glorious experience like the apostles.  But Peter, much later in life, when reflecting on this experience writes that we have all we need in the Holy Scriptures.  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.  And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:17-19).  Do you hear what Peter is saying?  You have the same benefits he received witnessing the Transfiguration, even more sure and certain, in the Holy Scriptures, which enlighten you as a lamp shining in a dark place.  You have not been given to see the glory of Jesus with your physical eyes, as the three apostles were.  But you have been given ears to hear.  You can hear Jesus in His Word.  Listen to Him.
            The fact is, glorious experience or not, you can’t stay on the mountain.  Jesus has a cross to bear for us men and for our salvation, and you and all the disciples of Jesus have crosses to bear in your life, because this is, after all, the wilderness portion of the exodus, life in this fallen world, in your fallen flesh, which gets sleepy and distracted by other voices vying for your attention.  Repent.  That fallen flesh must be crucified.  You must die so that God can raise you from the dead by the Word of the living Lord Jesus.  By grace, the Lord Jesus brings you here to His Church, sleepy as you are, to pray and to see something amazing.  This place, the Church, is your Mount of Transfiguration.  By faith you hear the living voice of Jesus in His Word, and hearing Jesus, you hear the Father.  By faith you see the Divine Nature shining through the Body and Blood of the Savior under the bread and wine of the Supper.  The Father says to you, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!  And by God’s grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you do.
            Lent is a time for listening to Jesus.  On this last Sunday before Lent, we’ve been given a glimpse of Jesus’ glory to strengthen us for this holy time.  It’s a time for deep meditation on our Lord’s Word and His Passion, for repentance and confession of sins, for disciplining the body and the soul and putting the old sinful flesh to death.  We put our alleluias away for a time, to help us focus, only to take them up again forty-some days later at the Easter Feast.  Christ is risen, but first the cross and our Lord’s suffering for our sins.  Receive your Lord’s gifts this Lententide.  Be here, beloved.  God wake you from your sleepiness.  There is no other place more important for you to be.  There is no other voice more important for you to heed.  There is no other voice that can give you life.  The Father has called you to faith in His Son.  He’s given you His Word in the flesh.  Listen to Him.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
February 3, 2013
Text: Luke 4:31-44

            What do all the people in our text have in common; the demoniac in the synagogue, Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, those coming to Jesus with various diseases and infirmities, those plagued by unclean spirits?  In every case they are utterly in the grip of sin, death, and the devil.  And in every case they are utterly helpless to do anything about it.  In this way, beloved, these people are exactly like you.  You may not even know it, but you, also, are utterly in the grip of sin, death, and the devil, and you, also, are utterly helpless to do anything about it.  And that is why this morning’s Gospel is such good news.  For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, comes in the flesh, casting out demons and healing diseases.  He comes to undo all that sin has wrought.  He comes to free you from your three main enemies (the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature).  He comes to heal you from death and all its precursors (disease, infirmity, despair).  He comes to give you the medicine of forgiveness that only comes by His blood and death, and the eternal life of His resurrection.
            Don’t think, though, that the point of this text or of Jesus’ ministry is the miracles.  He did them, to be sure, and they were wonderful gifts to those who received them.  But the miracles, the healings and exorcisms, these aren’t the point.  If they were, Jesus would be nothing more than a magician.  He wouldn’t be the Savior.  Our text bookends the miracles with what is most important: Preaching.  Our Lord is a Preacher, THE Preacher, and His preaching delivers His death and resurrection to those who hear and believe.  In the beginning of our text, we hear that Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, as is His custom (Luke 4:31).  He not only remembers the Sabbath Day and keeps it holy by attending Church, but He also grants the Sabbath rest of His preaching to the congregation.  There He is, teaching them on the Sabbath, opening up the Scriptures to them, and they are astonished at His teaching, because He teaches with divine authority: Thus says the LORD (v. 32).  And it is, in fact, the LORD who is speaking.  At the other end of our text, after the miracles, He departs and finds a desolate place, away from everyone, because the people have focused their attention on the wrong thing.  They are focused only on the miracles.  They seek Him and find Him and ask for more.  But what does Jesus say?  I must preach the good news,” the Gospel, “of the kingdom of God to other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (v. 43).  Jesus came to die for the sins of the world and to conquer death in His resurrection.  And He came to deliver that death and resurrection to the world, to you, beloved, in preaching.
            Impressed with the miracles, the people had missed the point.  Well, you can’t blame them for wanting more healings.  There is more than enough sickness and death in this world to keep Jesus busy for a very long time, not to mention demonic activity.  Imagine there was a guy somewhere here in West Michigan who could heal whatever sickness or disease you can imagine with a word or the touch of his hand.  You’d flock to him, too, and you’d bring your sick and infirm friends and loved ones.  Such a man would offer hope in situations that seem hopeless.  Death has such a grip on the world.  Sickness is but a foretaste of death.  It touches every one of us.  If only there was someone who could reverse the trend.  The people thought they had found such a one in Jesus, and actually, they were right.  But He didn’t come to deliver them in the way they desired or prescribed.  What they missed is this: The true medicine, the true healing, is in the preaching.  Those who were healed that day would get sick again and die.  But the preaching, well, that gives nothing less than eternal life.  The greater service Jesus provided that day, the greater miracle, was the preaching, the medicine of immortality.  And He must take it to other towns as well, for He was sent for this purpose.
            All too often, like the people in our text, we miss the point.  Why doesn’t Jesus do a miracle for me?  Why doesn’t He heal my cancer or wipe out my debt or save my marriage?  Why does He let my mother suffer and my uncle die and my best friend grieve the loss of a child?  I don’t know.  I have no idea.  God doesn’t say.  Like a child to her dad, we ask our Father “Why?” and He answers, “Because,” and that’s all we’re left with.  But we can say this: We’ve missed the point of Jesus’ work if we think His purpose is to do miracles for us.  He can do them, and He does… but not always, and not even usually, at least not by our definition.  That’s just not what He’s here for.  That’s not why He was sent.  He was sent to die for your forgiveness and rise from the dead for your eternal life, and to deliver that to you in Preaching, in Word and Sacrament ministry.  Because that’s what you really need.  In giving you that, in giving you Himself and His death and resurrection, He doesn’t just treat the symptoms, He gets to the heart of the disease.  He doesn’t just take away cancer and debt and divorce, He takes away sin and conquers death.  He doesn’t just drive out demons, He crushes the serpent’s head and damns the devil and his wicked host.  The true healing, the true exorcism, is going on right now.  It is to have Jesus Christ applied to you in Baptism and absolution and Scripture and sermon and Supper.  That’s what you need more than anything else in all creation.
            You actually know this instinctively, even if not explicitly, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit in and of itself.  That’s why you call your pastor when you’re sick or in the hospital.  I’m not a doctor.  I can’t give you medicine or perform surgery.  I’ve never done a miracle.  But you call me.  Why?  Not because you want Jon Krenz.  You call because you need Jesus.  You need His Word.  You need His preaching.  You need His body and blood.  You don’t know whether you’ll recover from the sickness or not.  But you know that when Jesus is there with His Word and His Sacrament, you have all the healing you need.  Your sins are forgiven.  Death is destroyed.  You have eternal life.  You will rise from the dead on the last day.
            And you know that when Jesus is there, the devil must flee.  Jesus doesn’t just heal in our text.  He casts out demons.  Where Jesus is, the devil cannot abide.  Now, this is very important.  Physical demon possession is fairly rare here in America, probably because the devil works best among us industrialized westerners by convincing us he doesn’t exist.  Then he can fly under the radar and do great damage undetected.  Possession does happen, and it’s more common in other cultures where there is overt paganism, but that’s not usually how he works among us.  Don’t think for a minute, though, that he doesn’t have just as great an influence here among us.  Just look at the devolution of the culture, the desecration of marriage and sexuality among us, the disregard for human life both in the womb and out of it, the blatant hostility in our culture against God and His Church.  But it isn’t just out there that the devil wreaks havoc.  He aims his arrows of temptation and affliction at your heart, too.  He knows just where to hit you.  He knows your favorite sins.  He knows when you grow tired.  He knows when you’re defenseless.  It’s a miracle that you’re even a Christian.  If the Holy Spirit should forsake you for even a moment, you’d renounce Christ and be lost. 
           But Jesus comes for you right here and casts the demons out.  You are baptized into Christ.  You are no longer in the devil’s possession.  You are God’s own child.  And in His Word, in the preaching, Jesus drives the unclean spirits away.  In His Word, in the preaching, He applies His death and resurrection to you and makes them your own, so that your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life.  And that’s not all.  He gives you His body and blood in the Supper, the medicine of eternal life, the healing you ultimately need.  He does for you exactly what He does in our text for the demoniac and Peter’s mother-in-law and the crowds that comes to Him for healing.  There you are, utterly helpless, utterly in the grip of sin, death, and the devil.  And Jesus comes and speaks His healing, exorcizing, freeing Word over you, and claims you as His own.  He takes you into His Father’s house, cleans you up, binds your wounds, and feeds you from His Table.  And so you have the ultimate healing, the forgiveness of sins.  And having the forgiveness of sins, you know that Jesus will raise your body without corruption and incorruptible on the Last Day.  The Lord Jesus gives you this healing already, as a gift, in His preaching.  This is why He came.  And it is good news, indeed.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.