Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 8)
June 30, 2013
Text: Luke 9:51-62

            No one ever said being a Christian is easy.  Or if they did say it, they were deceiving you, or were themselves deceived.  Jesus speaks the plain truth of the matter: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matt. 10:24-25; ESV).  The world’s hatred for Jesus will always result in hatred for His Christians.  To be a disciple of Jesus, to be one in His discipline, is to be one who follows Him.  And His way leads only down one path, that of suffering and the cross, for without these there can be no Easter.  His is the way of death and resurrection: His for you, and yours in Him.  For “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), He set His face to go and die for you, for the forgiveness of your sins and your eternal salvation.  And His death becomes your death in Baptism, even as His resurrection from the dead becomes your resurrection in Baptism, which is true already now spiritually, and will be fully manifest in your body on the Last Day when He raises you from the dead. 
            But for now, during your sojourn in this fallen world, there is no promise that your Christian life will be easy.  We American Christians think it ought to be.  We regard belonging to Christ, belonging to the Church, as belonging to some sort of club, a voluntary association to which we may be committed to a greater or lesser extent, something we can do or not do if something “better” comes along.  We certainly don’t have to risk our lives to come to Church on Sunday morning, as so many others have had to do throughout history, and as many do in other places in the world today.  It costs us nothing except a few dollars in gas to come to Church, a little bit of our precious time, and whatever fraction of our income we put into the offering plate.  And we think we’ve done our duty.  Because that’s precisely how we think of the Church, as a duty, as an obligation to be fulfilled… or not if we’re too busy.  Do you want to know something startling?  It’s never enough for God.  You can never come to Church enough.  You can never spend enough time, give enough money.  You will never fulfill your duty.  Here you think you’re doing God a favor by being here.  He isn’t impressed.  Repent.  You’ve got it all wrong.  This isn’t a duty, this thing we call the Divine Service.  This is a gift!  God doesn’t need you.  You need Him!  You can’t live without Him.  You can’t live apart from His mercy.  Your life is but a breath.  Without Him, without Jesus Christ and His gifts, you’ll perish and go to hell.  I told you it was startling.  And yet, it’s nothing you weren’t taught in Catechism class.  You’ve just forgotten.  We always forget.  We’re always putting our hand to the plow and looking back.  You know where that gets you?  Off course.  Off the path.  Off the way of Jesus Christ.  And there is no other way.  We’re resurrection bound through the cross and suffering.  Because without a death, there can be no resurrection.
            Thank God our salvation doesn’t depend on us.  It depends solely on Christ.  For though you fear commitment to the Lord Jesus and His Church, our Lord Jesus is ever committed to you and to your salvation.  Though you think of Church as a monotonous duty to be fulfilled, the Lord Jesus takes His joy and delight in you.  Though you can never fulfill your obligations to God and His commandments, the Lord Jesus has fulfilled them for you already by His perfect life, lived in your stead.  And though you have often put your hand to the plow and looked back, making a mess of the field of your Christian life, the Lord Jesus put His hand and His whole body to the holy cross, never once looking back, but taking upon Himself the load of this whole world’s sin, including your sin and mine, and paying for all of it there in His suffering and death.  So that you who believe in Him might not perish, might not go to hell, but have eternal life with Christ, the risen Lord.
            Jesus speaks plainly about what it means to be His disciple.  It means to follow Him on the cruciform path, to die to self in repentance, to be drowned and die in your Baptism, and perhaps to die as a martyr, if necessary, for the Name and Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Well, that’s not easy, is it?  You see, to follow Jesus means that what happens to Him happens to you.  His whole life and death and resurrection become your own in Baptism.  But so also, your Baptism into Christ marks you as one hated by the world and targeted by the devil.  So Jesus entered a village of the Samaritans, but He was not received because they did not want this Savior whose face was set toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:52-53).  So, you likewise will be rejected.  You likewise will be hated.  Many will not receive you, just as they did not receive Jesus.  And it will hurt.  Perhaps you’ve had it happen to you.  You’ve confessed the faith or spoken the truth of Holy Scripture about some particular issue, and your friends or your family members have taken offense at your words.  Beloved, rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.  For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  We’ve all experienced this to one degree or another, even if it’s just the prevailing politically correct view that Christians ought to keep their faith to themselves, perpetuated by a media and politicians and academics who serve as the mouthpiece of the unbelieving world.  The answer is not to fight fire with fire, not to curse, not to call down fire from heaven to consume them, as James and John learned, but rather to suffer the rejection.  To commit your cause to the Lord.  To believe that He will set it all right in the end.  To believe that He knows your heartache and to be comforted with His promises.  Nor do you simply sit around wringing your hands and complaining about the state of things.  You confess the faith in spite of the rejection it brings to you.  Because that is what a Christian is called to do.
            This is most painful when your own family and your own loved ones come between you and following Jesus.  You don’t want to do anything that will offend them.  You don’t want to rock the boat.  You don’t want to hurt your own relationship with them.  So you hold your tongue when Jesus is defamed.  You act as though you approve of your sister living with her boyfriend or your cousin who has decided he’s in love with a man.  You recoil at the idea of speaking of Jesus to your uncle who is an atheist.  I know, I have these problems, too.  There are many things I’m called by God to preach to you that make me tremble in fear of your rejection.  But Jesus says, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9).  Repent.  I repent.  Following Jesus is not easy.  Jesus has something to say to us when we put family and loved ones ahead of Him: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.  But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (9:60).  It is not that Jesus doesn’t want you to love your family members, even the unbelieving among them.  In fact, He calls you to do that very thing.  It is not that He doesn’t want you to attend their funerals.  But He comes first.  Jesus always comes first.  Because He is your God.  Your God is whatever or whomever you fear, love, and trust the most.  There is only room for Jesus to take that place.  He will not share you with others.  He wants you wholly for Himself.  And actually, when Jesus is your God, everything else falls into its proper place.  Those who were your idols now become objects of your love and good works in vocation.  Now they become the objects of your Christian witness.  Now you are able to love them truly, in such a way that you do hard things for them, for their good, things that may bring you rejection.  Any parent who has had to discipline their child knows the love of which I speak.
            It kills you, doesn’t it?  And that’s the point.  To follow Jesus means to go the way of the cross.  Ah, but the cross is not an end in itself.  The cross gives way to the empty tomb.  Death is swallowed up by the risen Savior who will raise you from the dead.  And on that Day He will make all that is wrong right again.  You can count on it.  That is the promise.  And that’s why you’re here.  You are here where He pours out His Spirit upon you in the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments.  You are here to have your sins forgiven, all of them, your sins of idolatry and fear, your indolence in receiving God’s gifts and in prayer, your lovelessness that would rather leave well-enough alone than rock the boat with confession of the truth.  All of that is now covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.  You are here to receive the life and salvation won by Jesus Christ on the cross, revealed in His resurrection from the dead, and given right here, right now, in preaching and Sacrament.  Finally, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is simply to receive: His death and resurrection for you, yours in Him.  No more looking back.  Put your hand to the plow and suffer joyfully.  Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith (Heb. 12:2).  He brought you to faith.  He will keep you in the faith.  He will bring it to completion on the Day of His return.  And on that Day, all your suffering will be at an end. Make no mistake about it: He will raise you from the dead.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 7)
June 23, 2013
Text: Luke 8:26-39

            The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead has disarmed Satan and his demons.  And I’m not sure we appreciate just how good this news is for us.  For apart from the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, you and I are the man naked, bound in chains, and living in the midst of death.  Apart from the Savior, you and I are in the possession of Satan and afflicted by the legion of his demonic hoard. 
            Now, don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying that you and I are physically possessed by demons, as the man was in our text.  Physical possession does still happen, but in our context it is rare, as Satan has deceived us Westerners into thinking he doesn’t exist.  Thus we let down our guard and allow him to wreak havoc in our lives.  Even we Christians here in the West who do believe the devil exists, nonetheless live, practically speaking, as if he does not.  And the great danger, here, is that if we do not know the reality of the devil and his demons, we will fail to understand just how desperately we need Jesus to come and save us.  In other places much more attuned to the dark spiritual forces, physical possession is much more common.  For us, the danger is the devil hiding his influence over us under addiction, pornography, greed, a lust for power, and all the forbidden fruit upon which the devil focuses us, whispering once again the lie: “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4; ESV).  And so we take and eat that which brings death.
            Physical possession aside, the fact of the matter is that each one of us sons and daughters of Adam and Eve are born in the spiritual possession of the devil.  That’s what it means to be born in original sin, the guilt passed down to us from our first parents.  That’s what it means when King David confesses in Psalm 51: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (v. 5).  Sinful from the moment of conception (and just an aside here, to be sinful from the moment of conception also means you are alive and have a soul at the moment of conception, so among Christians there ought be no debate about when life begins).  You’re sinful from the moment your parents conceive you, before you ever have a chance to commit an actual sin.  Just as most of you were born American citizens, with a couple Canadians thrown into the mix.  You didn’t have anything to do with being born that way, and yet, you have to own all of the consequences of being born that way.  You were conceived and born into the devil’s kingdom.  St. Paul writes of this in our Epistle.  Outside of Christ, we were, he says, “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (Gal. 4:3).  That means that we were under the devil’s deception.  We didn’t have God as our God, as our Savior.  We were bound to sin and death, and happy to be bound to sin and death.  This is what we call the bondage of the will.  And that’s why the Baptism of our children is so important.  Because in Baptism, our Lord Jesus comes in the Name of His Father and with His Holy Spirit to claim us as His own.  He frees us from our slavery to these elementary principles of the world, frees us from the power of the devil, casts out Satan, and takes possession of us by breathing into us the Holy Spirit and saving faith.  That’s why we’re singing so much about Baptism this morning.  The Lord Jesus takes us out of our slavery to the devil and makes us sons of God, for in Baptism, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:7), an heir of the very Kingdom.
            In our Holy Gospel, we see what Jesus does for those who are in the devil’s possession.  He comes to them.  They do not ask Him to come.  They do not want Him to come.  The man in our text certainly did not want Jesus to come.  But come He does.  He comes and He speaks His Word and the demons must flee.  And the Lord Jesus does this still for us in His Word.  He does it in Baptism.  He’s doing it right now in Scripture and preaching.  And He will do it in a few moments with His Body and Blood in the Supper.  In His great mercy, He still comes to us, right where the demons are afflicting us, and He speaks His Word, and the demons must flee.  And let me tell you something: If you really understood this, you would never miss an opportunity to hear the Word and receive the Supper.  Luther said of the devil: “He is a liar, to lead the heart astray from God’s Word and to blind it, so that you cannot feel your distress or come to Christ.  He is a murderer, who cannot bear to see you live one single hour.”  And then this: “If you could see how many knives, darts, and arrows are at every moment aimed at you [Ephesians 6:16], you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as possible” (LC V:81-82).[1]  If you don’t have the desire to hear the Word, if you don’t have the hunger and thirst for the Sacrament, you’re simply blind to the demonic danger all around you.  Repent, and heed the warning.  And rejoice in the Good News: Jesus comes to you here so that the devil cannot harm you.  And so also, when you feel the affliction of the demons and the accusations of Satan, turn to the Word of the Lord, open the Holy Scriptures, call your pastor and be absolved of your sins, and come to the Holy Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood. 
            With the man in our text we can see the devil’s agenda.  He wants to cut us off from other people, just as the man was cut off from his community.  He wants to take away our health, our safety, our sanity, as he did to the man in our text, who was seized by the demons and broke the shackles placed on him for his protection and the protection of others, and was driven by the demons, naked and exposed, out into the desert.  He wants to lead us to the place of death, as he led the man in our text out to the tombs.  Yes, he wants to kill us and to drag us to hell with himself and his demons.  But we also see in our text what the Lord Jesus does.  In casting out the demons by His Word, Jesus restores us to community, to the community of saints that is the holy Church, as He restored the man.  He restores our health and sanity, as He did for the man who, having been freed from the demons, is now clothed and in his right mind.  He leads us, as He led the man, to sit at His feet and learn from Him, and hear the gracious Words of forgiveness and salvation that pour from His lips.  And like the man, He gives us a charge to return to our home and our community and declare how much God has done for us.
            You see, the Lord Jesus has freed you.  You are now possessed by the Holy Spirit.  And so you need not be afraid.  The devil is powerful, to be sure.  The demons are powerful.  Much more powerful than you, which is why you ought not go playing around in their sphere of influence.  But they are no match for the Lord Jesus Christ.  They are no match for the Holy Spirit.  You are safe in Christ.  You are safe in His Spirit.  You are baptized, God’s own child.  God’s Name is on you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Because you belong to Him.  You are precious in His sight.  And so, you are no longer the man naked, bound in chains, and living in the midst of death.  You are child of God and heir of heaven, clothed in Christ’s righteousness, freed from sin, death, and the devil, and living in the life eternal and abundant that is the risen Lord Jesus.  And here you sit at His feet, your mind set right, healed of all that has so long afflicted you.  Which is to say, your sins are forgiven.  The darkness is broken forever.  The serpent’s head is crushed (Gen. 3:15).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

[1] In Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006) p. 440.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 6)
June 16, 2013
Text: Luke 7:36-8:3

            How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom. 10:15; ESV [cf. Is. 52:7]).  Jesus preaches the good news of sins forgiven to the woman in our text, and she adores His beautiful feet.  Quite literally.  That she is behind Him, and then at His feet, shows her great humility.  It is the humility of repentance.  She is a sinner, and she knows it.  She knows her need for this good news which Jesus brings and bestows upon her.  We are not certain what her sin is.  Could it be that “a lady of the city” is something akin to our designation, “a lady of the night”?  Whatever the case, she knows her sin quite well.  She weeps tears of sorrow for having offended her God.  And with those tears, she washes the feet of her God, her Savior, Jesus.  She lets down her hair, an act considered rather immodest in her society, but certainly not to the God who has numbered every hair of her head.  With that hair, she dries His feet, kisses them profusely in worship, and anoints them with expensive perfume.  How beautiful are the feet of our Lord.  They do not kick this sinner away.  They receive her worship, even as gracious Words pour from the lips of their Owner. 
            Simon doesn’t like it.  Simon, the host, the Pharisee, seeing all these things, thinks to himself: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39).  But Jesus is more than a prophet.  He is God in human flesh.  He does know who and what sort of woman this is, that she is a sinner.  That is precisely why He does not refuse her.  He knows her sins better than she, who weeps for them.  He knows her sins so well that He has taken them into Himself.  According to the Law of Moses, in allowing her to touch Him, He has taken her uncleanness into Himself.  That’s just the point.  He takes it, that He might pay for it in His suffering and death.  Yes, He knows who this is, and what she has done.  And He knows what Simon is thinking.  Simon, I have something to say to you” (v. 40), whereupon He tells this parable: A moneylender had two debtors.  One owed him five hundred denarii, a denarius being a common day’s pay.  Five hundred days’ worth of pay!  The other owed fifty, a considerable amount, but certainly much less than the one who owed five hundred.  But be that as it may, neither of them could pay.  So the moneylender forgave the debt.  He cancelled it.  He wiped the slate clean.  Unbelievable.  Now which of them will love him more?” Jesus asks (v. 42).  And the answer is obvious.  But Simon knows he’s been caught.  The one, I suppose,” he replies (you can almost hear the snarkiness), “for whom he cancelled the larger debt” (v. 43).  And he’s right.  He has judged rightly.  And now here’s the application.  This woman owes a great debt to God.  Her sins are many.  She has nothing with which to pay.  She could never hope to pay off her debt.  Not by any good work.  Not even by her worship at the Savior’s feet.  But God has wiped her slate clean.  He’s cancelled her debt.  He’s forgiven her much.  So she loves much.  She worships, not so that she might be forgiven, but because she has been forgiven.  She loves Jesus because of what He has done and is doing for her.  Clearly she is represented in the parable by the one who is forgiven much, therefore loves much.
            But who does the other character in the parable represent?  This must have grated on Simon, for the Savior’s implication is unmistakable.  The other character represents him.  Yes, Simon, you are the man!  You are perhaps clean outwardly.  But inside you are full of sin and death, a whitewashed tomb, as Jesus says elsewhere (Matt. 23:27-28).  The woman has led a life of manifest sin.  Her sin is obvious to all.  But she is no worse than Simon, than the other Pharisees, than the pious Christians sitting in the pews this morning, who perhaps live morally upstanding lives, but their hearts… If others could see into our hearts, know the desires of our hearts, hear our inner thoughts… We are just as sinful as the woman in our text.  We don’t like to admit it.  Perhaps we’ve even deluded ourselves, as had Simon, into believing we’re better than her, better than others.  If this is you, repent.  If you’ve ever thought, “That person over there really needs to hear this sermon,” repent.  This sermon is for you.  If you’ve ever railed against the moral failings and weaknesses of others without first examining your own life and removing the log out of your own eye by Confession and Absolution, repent.  Perhaps, like Simon, you think you only owe the 50 denarii, not the 500 of the woman.  But you still owe 50, and you can’t pay.  You can never hope to pay back the debt.  Not by any good work.  Not even by your worship of Jesus here at Church.  Jesus must take your debt, 50 or 500 or 5,000… Jesus must take your uncleanness, your sin, into Himself, to be paid by His blood.  That’s the only possible payment.  And He does it in His innocent suffering and death on the cross, for the woman, for Simon, for you.
            Whether you’re the woman or the Pharisee in our text, you have been forgiven much.  All your sins are forgiven.  And now follows your Christian life of love.  You love because He first loved you.  You love because you have been forgiven much.  The order is very important, here.  It is true, Jesus says, “her sins… are forgiven—for she loved much” (Luke 7:47).  This does not mean her love caused her forgiveness.  Rather, her forgiveness caused her love.  It is like saying, “It rained, for the windows are wet” (Buls).  The windows being wet didn’t cause the rain.  The rain caused the windows being wet.  And so the forgiveness given by Jesus caused the woman, causes you, to love much.  That means worshiping at Jesus feet, not that you might be forgiven, but because you have been forgiven. That means serving your neighbor in Christian love, providing for their bodily needs and confessing Christ to them, not to earn forgiveness, but because Jesus earned your forgiveness and has given it to you freely.  That means being generous with your time, talent, and treasures for the work of the Church, not because working for the Church and giving to the Church earns you points with God, but because God has forgiven you all your sins in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and declared you His own child in Holy Baptism.  Jesus paid your debt to God for sin.  He paid it in full.  You are reconciled to the Father.  God loves you.  You belong to His Kingdom.  Heaven is your home.  He will raise you from the dead on the Last Day.  Rejoice.  Weep, not only for sorrow over sin, but for joy in forgiveness.  And go love, because you can, because Jesus has freed you for this very thing.   Love and serve your families.  Sacrifice for them.  Work diligently in your vocations, serving your neighbor out of love for the Lord.  Participate in society.  Pay your taxes.  Enjoy God’s creation and take care of it.  Speak up for the defenseless.  Give to charity.  That’s the Christian life.  That’s the thankful and loving life Christ Jesus frees us to live by forgiving our sins.  And when you don’t live that life perfectly (and you won’t, because you can’t), there is Jesus, forgiving your sins, saying to you as He says to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (vv. 48, 50).
            Yes, the Lord Jesus says to you as He said to David through Nathan, “The LORD also has put away your sin” (2 Sam. 12:13).  He has put it away in His wounds.  You shall not die, for He has died in your place.  And He is risen, and reclines with you here at His Table with His risen Body and Blood.  Come and fall at His feet, those beautiful feet that were pierced for your transgressions.  Come and hear the gracious Words coming out His mouth.  Take and eat, this is my Body… Take and drink, this is my Blood… shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.  He will not kick you away.  He will never do that.  He receives you.  Jesus receives sinners and eats with them.  Jesus receives you and feeds you for eternal life.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Third Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 5)
June 9, 2013
Text: Luke 7:11-17

            Jesus stops death in its tracks.  And that’s good news for us who carry about the death that is sin’s wages in our very bodies.  That’s good news for us who have had to lay loved ones to rest in the grave.  That’s good news for us who have been dying ever since death entered the world by the one man, Adam, in the Garden.  The procession coming out of Nain is one of grief and heartache.  It is a procession of death.  But Jesus meets the procession at the city gate and stops it dead in its tracks.  Do not weep,” He says to the poor woman mourning for her only son (Luke 7:13; ESV).  And then He touches the bier bearing the dead body, and once again He speaks: “Young man, I say to you, arise” (v. 14).  And he does.  He does because Jesus’ Word is just that powerful.  It gives what He says.  No more need for weeping.  Life is restored.  Jesus gives the young man back to His mother.  Tears of sorrow turn to tears of joy… and fear!  Who is this man?  What power He has that He raises the dead!  So they glorify God by confessing the truth of the matter: The Great Prophet has arisen, the Messiah has come, God has visited His people (v. 16).  And they’re right.  He has.  In the flesh.  Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary, the Son of God, has come to give us life.
            The widow has been surrounded by death.  First she lost her husband, now her only son.  And she, herself, is as good as dead, for with no men in the house, who will provide for her?  Where will she live?  What will she eat?  How will she make a living?  As she follows the bier to the place of burial, she sees her own death before her.  Imagine her loneliness and her grief.  It’s hard enough to lose a spouse.  But your children are not supposed to die before you do.  Some of you know that grief.  Undoubtedly all of you know some measure of this grief, and if you don’t, you will.  Death is all around us.  And unless the Lord returns first, each one of us will have to die.  That is why Jesus coming and touching the bier, taking death by the throat, and speaking His Word of life is so important for each one of us.  This is not just some event that happened long ago in a far off place (although it is that… this is most certainly history, it happened).  This is also something happening to us, right here, at this very moment.  Jesus is coming to us, surrounded as we are by death, and He speaks.  Do not weep.”  Do not weep, because, despite all appearances, death is not the end of you.  Death is not the end of your loved ones.  Death is not the end, because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!  And He has come to give life by His Word.  He marches right up to the bier, right up to the corpse, and He touches it.  Well, if you know anything about the Law of Moses, you know that touching a dead body or even a casket makes you unclean.  Jesus comes right up and touches us, and He takes the uncleanness, takes death itself into Himself, and in exchange imparts His cleanness and His life.  It’s the great exchange, and it only happens in Jesus.  Young man, I say to you, arise,” and he does, because now he has life in Jesus, the life of Jesus, life in His living Word.  He’s so alive, he sits up and begins to speak.  And Jesus gives him back to his mother. 
And what our Lord here does for the young man and the widow, He does for you.  Okay, not in the sense of your loved ones hopping out of their caskets… yet.  But in this sense: He says to you at the font, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and you die in your sinful flesh and He raises you to new life in Himself.  That is to say, you’re no longer spiritually dead, but alive.  You have eternal life.  He says to you again, “I forgive you all your sins” in that same Name of the Triune God, and since your sin is gone, you no longer have to pay sin’s wages by dying.  You have new life in Christ.  He says to you, “Take, eat… take, drink, this is my body and blood, given and shed for you for your forgiveness, life, and salvation,” and there you have it.  That Meal gives you life and keeps you alive.  It is the medicine of immortality.
            And what about our death?  Sin’s wages have to be paid.  And they are.  When our Lord touches the bier, He takes away the young man’s death for payment at a later time.  That time is when He is nailed to the cross and lifted up to die your death, for your salvation, and for that of the young man and the widow, and for all people.  That’s where our death is accomplished.  On the cross.  In our Lord’s crucifixion.  He is buried in our tomb.  He sleeps the sleep of death for our sake.  And then, what happens on the Third Day?  He is risen from the dead.  Death has come to an end.  Our Lord has marched right up to our death and grabbed it by the throat and taken it into Himself, that we might not perish, but have eternal life.  So for us, death is but a slumber.  We need fear the grave no more than we fear our bed.  For we will wake up on the Last Day when the Lord Jesus calls us by name speaking these words: “I say to you, arise.” 
            There is a lot of confusion about death and dying, even among Christians, so perhaps we’ll take this opportunity to set the record straight.  When you die, physically speaking, your soul separates from your body.  Your body is put into the ground.  Your soul is carried by the angels to be with Jesus in heaven.  When a believer dies, their soul goes to heaven.  When an unbeliever dies, their soul goes to hell.  And there, whether it be heaven or hell, the soul awaits the resurrection from the dead.  The souls of the believers are in bliss, beholding the Lord Jesus.  The souls of the unbelievers are in torment, being separated from God and His love.  On the Last Day, when our Lord Jesus returns visibly to judge the living and the dead, He will raise all people, believers and unbelievers alike.  And what we’re talking about here is a bodily resurrection.  You’ll rise in your body.  You’ll sit up and talk and hop out of your casket just as surely as the young man did in our text.  Believers will be raised to eternal life in a new heaven and a new earth.  We don’t know much about that from the Scriptures, except that it will be paradise restored and even improved.  God will be with us in a very intimate way.  There will be no more sorrow or troubles.  No striking sun or scorching heat.  No hunger or thirst.  God will be our eternal consolation.  Unbelievers, however, will be raised to be cast into the Lake of Fire with the devil and the evil angels.  They will exist in eternal torment, body and soul, a reality upon which we prefer not to dwell, but a reality nonetheless.  And notice several common misconceptions that are excluded by this.  No, not everyone goes to heaven, sad to say.  You don’t become an angel when you die.  The angels are not human, but a special creation of God to serve Him and us.  There is no such thing as a ghost.  There are angels and demons, but no ghosts.  We don’t know if our loved ones in heaven are conscious of us who are still on earth.  Certainly not always.  I would hate to think my dad is watching me when I’m in the shower (creepy), or worse, when I sin.  You’re not done with your body when you die.  You’ll take it up again in the resurrection.  That is why we treat the bodily remains of the deceased with reverence and respect, even though we know that body will decay.  Our Lord redeemed that body as well as the soul, and He will put it back together again on the Last Day.  And the bodies of believers will be made perfect.  No more aches and pains or disease or glasses.  We’ll be like Jesus Christ, who is risen, and who will raise us.
            The young man’s resurrection was a foreshadowing of all this, including our Lord’s resurrection on Easter Sunday and our own resurrection on the Last Day.  But the young man—like Lazarus and like Jairus’ daughter, the two other instances of our Lord raising the dead recorded in the Gospels—he died again.  Presumably after his mother, this time.  He died again, and in this way was restored to her again, this time in heaven, where they both await the resurrection, when they will never die again.  And as we die, we will be restored to our loved ones in heaven, and they to us, where we will wait together for the resurrection of our bodies. 
            And all of this is true because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  That changes everything.  Death is not the end.  Resurrection and eternal life are the ultimate reality in Christ.  For Jesus enters our sorrow and death and stops death in its tracks.  And He undoes it.  Our tears of sorrow turn to tears of joy, and we glorify God in hymns of praise.  For Messiah has come.  God has visited His people in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth.  And we are saved.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

In Memoriam +Deadre Ann Nemec+

In Memoriam +Deadre Ann Nemec+
June 3, 2013
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Hale, Michigan
Text: Rev. 7:9-17

            It should never have happened.  What you’ve been thinking, what undoubtedly many of you have said in recent days, is absolutely right biblically and theologically speaking.  Deadre should never have had to suffer this affliction.  Deadre should never have died.  God didn’t create us to die.  He created us for eternal life and fellowship with Him.  But something went tragically wrong at the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden.  It’s not just that Adam and Eve took a bite of fruit.  It is that in disobeying God’s command, they rebelled against God, rejected Him as their God, and in this way lost the life that He alone can give (“in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” [Gen. 2:17; ESV]).  (S)in came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” St. Paul writes in Romans (5:12).  And we’ve been doomed ever since.  Sin and death are genetic.  We’re sinners, like our first parents, and we die.  And it’s tragic.  And we grieve.  And it’s okay to grieve.  Even as Christians.  Because it never should have happened.  But it did. 
            So what is God going to do about it?  That’s the next logical question.  But the first question, actually, is what has God done about it?  He sent His Son.  He sent Jesus.  He sent Him to die.  God so loved the world, so loved Deadre, loved her and all of us in this way, that He sent His only-begotten Son to take care of our sin and to take our death into Himself, so that whosoever believes in Him, including our dear sister Deadre, might not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).  So the truth is this: Deadre died, and yet, she lives.  Not just in some figurative sense.  Not just in our hearts, whatever that might mean.  But really and truly, she lives, in Christ, and with Christ in heaven.  Her body has perished.  But her soul is with Jesus.  And that’s not all.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And here is the promise.  On the Last Day, when our Lord Jesus returns visibly to judge the living and the dead, He will raise all people in their bodies and give eternal life to all believers in Christ.  That means Deadre.  Contrary to our fallen human reason, contrary to what we see with our eyes and what we have thus far experienced in this earthly life, Deadre Ann Nemec will rise from the dead.  In her body.  It will be just like the scene at Lazarus’ grave in our Gospel lesson, only better.  Jesus will say, “Deadre, come out!”  And she will.  You can count on it.  Because Jesus promised, and He is able to deliver on His promise, because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
            In the meantime, we have for our comfort this beautiful description of the reality of heaven in our second reading from Revelation 7.  This is the reality that our sister, Deadre, even now experiences.  There is a great procession, an innumerable multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language.  They are clothed in white robes, the color of holiness, with palm branches in their hands, the symbol of victory, and they are singing with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  They are singing praise to God, and to the Lamb, Jesus.  They are singing about the great salvation our Lord Jesus won on the cross and in His resurrection and has delivered to us by His Spirit in His Word and Sacraments.  Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:10).  Notice, they’re giving all the credit for salvation to God, and to our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We are not saved by what we do.  We are not saved by being good people.  We’re saved by Jesus.  He does it all, and He gives it to us freely, by grace.  But they are right there before the throne of God.  Deadre is in this scene, right there before the throne of God, seeing Him for herself, He whom she once only knew by faith.  She sees Him, and she sings to Him and she’s caught up in the glory and bliss of it all.
            These in white robes, “These are the ones,” the angel tells us, “coming out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v. 14).  These are the ones coming out of the fallen world.  These are the ones who are dying and going to heaven.  So there in that line, processing in her white robe and singing praise, is Deadre Nemec.  Her tribulation is over.  She’s come out of it.  Now there is only joy and blessedness.  And her robe is white because it has been washed in the blood of the Lamb.  Blood doesn’t usually turn things white.  But this blood does.  Because it is the blood of Jesus.  And that is what happens in Baptism, that our sin stained robes are washed white in His blood.  Sin is washed away.  Our conscience is made clean.  And we have eternal life. 
            And notice the other wonderful things God does for Deadre and those in heaven as they are gathered before His throne.  It is the opposite of tribulation.  No more hunger and thirst.  No striking sun or scorching heat.  No more disease.  No more sarcoma.  The Lamb, as it happens, is also the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who leads His people to springs of living water.  It is the fulfillment of the 23rd Psalm which we prayed a few moments ago.  And this is particularly beautiful, knowing all that our sister Deadre went through these last through years.  God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (v. 17).  All the pain. All the heartache and sorrow.  All the garbage that should never happen, but does happen in this fallen world, all of it taken away by the heavenly Father who stoops down to dry His children’s tears.  All that is wrong is made right again.  Because Jesus took all the wrong into Himself and nailed it in His flesh to the cross.  And so now all of this is made right because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. 
            That’s what God has done about it.  He sent His Son Jesus to save us, including Deadre, from our sins and from death.  And now Deadre is taken care of.  She’s safe.  She’s alive.  God wipes away her tears.  But what is God going to do about it for us who are left?  Well, He’s not going to answer our every question “why?”  It’s okay to ask Him that question.  The Psalmists certainly do.  But there are things that God, for His own reasons, leaves a mystery for us.  I don’t know why, and neither do you, and we won’t until we are where Deadre is.  But this is what He will do.  He will comfort us by His Word.  He will send His Holy Spirit by that Word to dwell in us and soothe our grieving hearts.  He will keep us by His Spirit in that Word until the day He takes us there where Deadre has gone.  He will keep us for the Day of Resurrection, when Deadre and all of us will be raised bodily from the grave.  And in the meantime, He will gather us around His altar and feed us with the Body and Blood of Jesus for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.  And something else about Sacrament of the Altar.  As we confess, we gather there with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  That means Deadre.  She’s part of the company of heaven.  Deadre is there at the altar every time we gather for the Lord’s meal.  She joins us from the other side of the veil.  If you want to be near Deadre, you join her there, where the Lord feeds her and you and every member of His Church on earth and in heaven.  That’s why we call it Communion.
            So, be comforted.  Fix your eyes on Jesus Christ who died, and who is risen from the dead, your Savior.  Cry to Him.  Commend yourself to Him in your grief.  And know that what He has done for Deadre He will do for you.  He will take you to Himself in heaven.  He will wipe every tear from your eyes.  And He will raise you from the dead on the Last Day.  This is most certainly true.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Second Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 4)
June 2, 2013
Text: Luke 7:1-10

            Okay, that was a difficult hymn to sing, I know (LSB 755: “In the Very Midst of Life”).  But these are the words we need on our lips and in our minds and hearts this morning.  I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I’m pastor to all of you, but with all the *stuff* so many of you are going through right now, it’s been a tough several weeks for our congregation.  If you haven’t noticed this, then thanks be to God.  Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Listen afresh to these words: “In the very midst of life Snares of death surround us” (v. 1).  We’ve had our share of death in this congregation over the last two weeks.  And the snares of death, those are the things that remind us how fleeting this earthly life is, which is to say, sickness, struggles, difficulties, heartaches, all the stuff that reminds us we live in a fallen world.  And we’ve had plenty of that to go around, too.  “Who will help us”?  That’s the question.  “Who will help us in the strife Lest the foe confound us?”  What does the devil do when we’re bearing a heavy cross?  He loads it up with temptations and accusations that make it even heavier.  He reminds us of our sins.  And he tells us that this is all because of some terrible thing we’ve done that cannot possibly be forgiven, that God’s out to get us, that there’s no saving us now.  He would have us despair, the liar.  But we believe him, unless we get some help from the outside.  And who is that help?  Again and again in the hymn we sing these words or words very similar: “Thou only, Lord, Thou only!”  Only the Lord God can help us.  Only the Lord God can cast out the devil.  Only the Lord God can give us the healing and relief we really need, the antidote to death: The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, wrapped up and delivered in the flesh in the preaching of God’s Word, Holy Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Altar.  Sin is at the root of everything we suffer.  Sin brought death into the world.  So here we mourn our sin, we confess it to God, and He saves us.  He washes our sin away in the Savior’s blood.  He gives us righteousness and life in the Savior’s resurrection.  He makes us new.  He has mercy.
            The centurion in our text (a Roman military officer), was in the same predicament we are.  In the very midst of life, he was surrounded by snares of death.  His servant whom he highly valued was sick and at the point of death (Luke 7:2).  Now, this centurion, he’s a Gentile, not one of God’s chosen people Israel.  But the Jewish elders plead his case.  He’s a good guy, they say.  He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue” (vv. 4-5; ESV).  He built a church, for pity’s sake!  But we know, as we just sang in the hymn, you can’t bargain with Jesus on the basis of your own worthiness.  You have none.  Why do snares of death surround us?  Our sins.  So much for worthiness.  Still, our Lord goes with them.  It’s exactly what He does for us.  He doesn’t wait around until we figure out we’re sinners before He comes to us.  He comes to us in the preaching of His Word, Law and Gospel, showing us our sin and then showing us our Savior.  He comes in compassion to save, first by wounding, like a surgeon who makes life-saving wounds in the body of his patient, and then by healing, by making us alive with the Good News of forgiveness of sins in Him. 
            But what is amazing in our text is what the centurion sends his friends to say to Jesus.  The centurion had already been a faithful hearer of God’s Word in the synagogue, what was known as a proselyte at the gate, a Gentile believer in the one true God.  And so he knew, contrary to what the Jewish elders said about him, that he was, in fact, not worthy.  I am not worthy to have you come under my roof,” he confesses (v. 6).  It is a confession of sin.  He’s a sinner, and he knows it.  He doesn’t hide it.  He mourns it.  He confesses it.  And he pleads for the Lord’s help, not on the basis of his own worthiness (of which he has none), but on the basis of the Lord’s mercy and by virtue of the Lord’s authority.  Just say the Word, Jesus… “say the word, and let my servant be healed” (v. 7).  For man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).  Man lives by the Word of the Lord.  Say the Word and the sickness will have to leave.  The centurion understands authority.  He is, after all, a man under authority, and he has authority over others.  He says to one go and he goes, to another come and he comes, to another do and he does (v. 8).  So if Jesus speaks a Word, the sickness must obey.  The centurion is confessing that Jesus is Lord.  The centurion is confessing that Jesus is his Lord, compassionate and merciful.  And Jesus tells us that even in Israel He has not found such faith (v. 9).   
            We poor sinners are utterly helpless.  We think we can help ourselves, but the truth is, we are completely dependent on God for our every breath, our every heartbeat.  We cannot provide these things for ourselves.  We’re sinners, and all we can do is sin.  As Christians, we recognize our sin for what it is.  We don’t hide it.  We mourn it.  We confess it to God.  We leave it at His feet to be dealt with.  And from His mouth we hear a gracious Word: I forgive you all your sins.  Just say the Word, O God, we plead.  And He does.  He speaks the healing and life-giving Word of the Gospel.  And He also hears our prayers for other things.  He hears them for Jesus' sake.  He hears our prayers for healing for ourselves and others.  He hears our prayers for the needs of this body and life.  He hears our prayers for consolation in the time of sorrow and for the Holy Spirt.  And He answers, graciously, according to His will and in His perfect wisdom.  Now, He doesn’t do this because we’re worthy.  This is not the kind of thing where we scratch God’s back and He scratches ours.  There is no bargaining with God.  We don’t make vows to do this and that if He does such and such.  To do that would be to make the claim the Jewish elders made on behalf of the centurion: Lord, I’m worthy to have you do this for me, or if not, then I’ll make myself worthy by performing a vow.  Rubbish.  Let’s have none of that.  We are not worthy.  Let’s just say so.  There’s no pussyfooting around it here in our Lord’s Church.  But God is merciful.  And for that reason we come in the Name of Christ and beg Him just to say the Word.  And He does, because He is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. 
            Not only does He say the Word, He sends Him in the flesh, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He sends His Son.  He sends His Son to become one with us, to suffer as we do and be tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).  He sends His Son to take our sins into Himself, our weaknesses, our sicknesses, our pains and heartaches, our death and condemnation into Himself, and to nail it in His flesh to the cross, to suffer and die in our place, for the forgiveness of our sins.  And He raises His Son in the flesh, that we might be justified (declared righteous) and have eternal life, that on the Last Day the risen Son of God may speak the Word to us, “Come out of the grave,” and we will do just that in our bodies, to live forever with Jesus.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14).  Just say the Word, O God.  Just send the Word, O God.  And God does.  He sends His Son, who speaks to us gracious words of healing and life.  Jesus gives us life.
            And so, when snares of death surround us, when powers of hell o’ertake us, when our sins oppress us, who then shall help us?  “Thou only, Lord, Thou only!”  “Where shall we for refuge go, Where for grace to bless us?  To Thee, Lord Jesus, only!” (LSB 755).  We are not worthy of the Lord’s help, and we cannot help ourselves.  But Jesus Christ is worthy, and He helps us.  By the worthiness of Christ, God has mercy upon us.  He hears our prayers.  He speaks His Word.  The snares of death are coming to an end because the Lord just says the Word.  And He has the authority to end them.  They must obey His Word.  For He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.