Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A)

February 23, 2014
Text: Matthew 5:38-48

            Do not resist the one who is evil.  Turn the other cheek.  Give the one who sues you more than he’s asking of the court.  Give to beggars.  Lend generously.  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  It’s a tall order Jesus gives us this morning.  “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48; ESV).  We’ve learned a thing or two about holiness and righteousness in the past couple of weeks, though, as we’ve heard and meditated upon our Lord’s sermon on the mount.  And we know that our holiness and righteousness does not come as a result of our doing God’s commandments.  Our holiness and righteousness come in Jesus.  He is holy.  He is righteous.  And He gives this holiness and righteousness to us freely, as a gift, in His Word and in His Sacraments, to be received by the empty hands of faith.  So also our perfection.  We are to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.  Well, that’s impossible for us in and of ourselves.  But Christ Jesus is perfect, as His heavenly Father is perfect.  He is sinless.  He loves God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength.  He loves His neighbor as Himself, in fact, more than Himself.  And He imparts His perfection to us poor sinners just as He imparts His holiness and righteousness, by grace, through faith, by means of His holy Word and Sacraments.  That’s a joyful and freeing thing to know.  You don’t become holy, righteous, or perfect by doing, but simply by being in Christ who died for your sins and who is risen from the dead to give you new life. 
            But you have not been freed to become a slave again to sin and death.  Things change now that you are in Christ.  There are things that Christians do and don’t do because you are a Christian; not to be saved, but because you have been saved; not to become holy, righteous, and perfect, but because in Christ God has declared you to be holy, righteous, and perfect.  You’re a new person.  And as such you are no longer enslaved to the desire for vengeance against your enemies.  You are no longer enslaved to the desire to protect your life and property at all costs.  You are no longer enslaved to living for yourself.  For you have been made a son of God in THE Son of God, Christ Jesus (v. 45).  You are a son of God in your Baptism into Christ.  And the son is not a slave.  The son is free.  You are free to sacrifice yourself for your neighbor.  You are free to give yourself up for your neighbor, as Christ gave Himself up for you.  For after all, as a son of God, what can possibly be taken from you that will not be repaid in overflowing abundance?  What can you possibly lack?  As St. Paul says, all things are yours in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 3:21-23).  And what do you have that you did not receive (4:7)?  God has given you your life and breath and all that you have that it may be given to and for your neighbor in love.  And you will never be expended.  For God is an unfailing fountain of good who continuously fills you with Himself and with all that you need, so that the more you give, the more you receive, here in this life, perhaps, but if not, most certainly in heaven.
            So you are free NOT to exact an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth (Matt. 5:38).  You are free to suffer at the hands of one who is evil (v. 39), to rejoice and be glad when you are persecuted and slandered for righteousness’ sake, for your reward is great in heaven (vv. 10-12).  You are free to turn the other cheek toward one who has slapped you on the right (v. 39).  You are free to give the shirt off your back to one who sues you (v. 40), to labor diligently for one who forces you, doing more than is expected, to give, to lend liberally with no expectation of repayment (v. 41).  For all things are yours in Christ Jesus, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Cor. 3:23).  You do not do the things you do to gain an advantage.  That is what the pagans do.  Unbelievers understand that they must treat others as they wish to be treated if society is to work and if they are to gain the goodwill and favor of their neighbors.  But you do what you do as an emissary of the King, as a son of the Father.  After all, if all things are yours in Christ, what possible advantage can you gain that you do not already have?  You do the things you do out of love, because Christ has loved you unto His death on the cross.  You do the things you do because the love of Christ flows through you to your neighbor.  “We love because he first loved us,” as St. John writes (1 John 4:19).  Beloved, you are the hands and feet of Christ in the world as you love and serve and sacrifice in your daily vocations, your relationships, your place in life.  And like your Lord, you are crucified, you die for the sake of the other.  You are free to do this very thing.  For Christ has died, and He is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever, and you are baptized into Christ, and so His reality is your reality.  He will raise you, too.  Death has no power over you when you are in Christ.
            Remember, His righteousness is your righteousness.  His fulfilling of the Law is your fulfilling of the Law.  For what He has done counts for you.  And so where you have not loved your enemies and prayed for those who persecuted you, where you have not forgiven as God has forgiven you, where you have not turned the other cheek, given the shirt off your back, served, given, loved with everything in you and with everything that is you… He has.  For you.  He did not resist the one who was evil, but gave Himself into the hands of the Jewish guards, though at any moment He could have appealed to His Father, who would have at once sent twelve legions of angels to defend Him (Matt. 26:53).  He gave Himself into the hands of the Sanhedrin, King Herod, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.  As the Prophet Isaiah writes, He gave His back to those who strike, His cheeks to those who pull out the beard; He hid not His face from disgrace and spitting (Is. 50:6).  The soldiers forced Him to walk and bear their load, His own cross, to Golgotha, where they stripped Him naked, nailed Him to the cross, and cast lots for His clothing.  Freely He gave His all, His everything, for you who could not repay.  So greatly did He love you, His enemies, that He gave Himself into death on the cross, praying for His persecutors, praying for you, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  So all of these things Jesus commands you today in the Holy Gospel He did for you, in your place, to your credit, and for your benefit, “that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:45). 
            When, in our Old Testament reading (Lev. 19:1-2, 9-18), God commands His people: “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (v. 2), this is not an admonition to do the things that He commands and thus become holy by your own effort.  We know that would never work.  No, this is a promise grounded in the very identity of your God.  You shall be holy.  Really, you will.  And you are.  How?  Because I, the LORD your God, am holy, and I have placed my Name upon you and made you my own by the blood of Jesus Christ, God in human flesh.  So I give you my holiness.  It is a gift in Christ.  And now here is how you are to act, now that you’ve received my Name and my own holiness.  You are to love your neighbor.  You are to leave the gleanings for the poor.  You are not to steal or deal falsely or lie.  You are not to oppress or rob your neighbor, withhold wages, curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind.  You are not to do injustice in court, nor are you to hate your neighbor in your heart, take vengeance or bear a grudge against him.  Why?  Again and again in our Old Testament, God gives you the reason.  “I am the LORD” (vv. 10, 12, 14, 16, 18).  You belong to me.  I have given you my holiness.  So do not do those things.  Instead, love, serve, give, sacrifice.  Have mercy, for you have been shown mercy.

            And what about those times that you haven’t lived according to the holiness the Lord has given you?  What about all those grudges you’ve harbored, goods you’ve hoarded, lies you’ve told, and vengeances you’ve taken?  Repent.  And rejoice in the gracious Good News that Jesus has done it for you, and He’s taken all your not doing it and paid the penalty for your sin on the cross.  You are forgiven.  You are free.  You are God’s dear child.  All things are yours in Christ Jesus.  And so you are perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  For Christ is your perfection.  You are Christ’s.  And Christ is God’s.  Which means you belong to God.  Do not fear.  Rejoice.  You are baptized into Christ.  Therefore yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A)

February 16, 2014
Text: Matt. 5:21-37

            “You have heard… But I say to you…”  We sinners are very good at hearing God’s Law differently than He speaks it.  The Pharisees and the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day heard the Law as something that could be kept, with great effort to be sure, but it was possible for those of superior character and religiosity… you know, like they were.  But for them the Law was strictly an outward matter, as we heard last week.  They were only concerned with outward behavior.  They were not concerned with the disposition of the heart.  The Pharisees were also very good at changing God’s Law.  Jesus illustrates this point with regard to the 4th Commandment: “Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and ‘whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’  But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God) – then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down” (Mark 7:10-13; ESV).  So you see there is a difference between what the Pharisees heard and what God actually said.  The Word of God is changed as a matter of interpretation.  If giving money to provide for older parents is good, giving it to God is even better, or so the thinking goes.  So we’ve improved upon God’s Commandment.  And while it is easy for us to sit here in the pew and condemn the Pharisees, the truth of the matter is that we do the same thing.  God said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24), but who are we to judge the actions of two (or nowadays, more) consenting adults, be they men and women, or men and men, or women and women?  Who are we to judge the way another treats his or her own body?  Who are we to judge a husband and wife for whom the flame of love has died if they tear asunder what God has joined together?  It is more loving to live and let live, to be, not just tolerant, but affirming.  After all, God is love (1 John 8).  Which He is, but of course, what that really means is that in love God has given us His Commandments for our good.  But we interpret our way out of them.  We rationalize or emotionalize God’s Commandments in such a way that any and all outward behavior is excused and even justified.  And so there are two ways that we hear God’s Law wrong.  There is the way of the Pharisees, legalism, which is concerned only with outward behavior and cares not about the disposition of the heart.  Or there is the way which is much more prevalent in our culture, moral relativism, the way that says anything goes in terms of outward behavior, because all that matters is warm fuzzies in the heart, all that matters is that you are fulfilled, happy, and true to yourself.  At the end of the day, both approaches are the same.  Pharisees and libertines, legalists and moral relativists, both attempt to manage the Law in such a way as to declare themselves righteous.  Both seek self-justification, either by moralism, or by lawlessness.
            But that’s not Christianity.  That is why Jesus ups the ante in our Holy Gospel.  You have heard the Law preached in many and various ways, but Jesus preaches it in all its unyielding truth.  Jesus gives it to you straight.  The Ten Commandments leave no breathing room.  God expects you not to murder.  There are no exceptions here for unwanted pregnancies, vigilante justice, or excruciating terminal illnesses.  But even if you have kept this Commandment outwardly, you haven’t yet kept it.  For when you have been filled with unrighteous anger toward your neighbor, when you have insulted him or called him names, when you’ve refused to forgive his trespasses against you, you have broken the 5th Commandment.  St. John writes that “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15).  If you do not love your brother as yourself, you have murdered him in your heart.  If you can help your brother in physical need but don’t, if you embitter your neighbor’s life by your words and actions, if you injure your neighbor physically or emotionally, you have murdered him.  No one walks away free from this Commandment.  And the Sixth Commandment is the same.  God expects you not to commit adultery.  To be sure, this means that you shall not physically cheat on your spouse.  He also expects husbands and wives to remain faithful to their marriage vows until death parts them, and so He forbids divorce, with only very narrow exceptions to that rule.  But here God also expects sexual purity in thought, word, desire, and deed.  This prohibits all forms of unchastity, fornication, sex before marriage, living together outside of marriage, prostitution, pornography, homosexuality.  It should go without saying, and yet it cannot go without saying: Christians do not engage in such behaviors.  If you do, repent.  Confess and be absolved.  Let’s talk, you and I, about how to make the situation right.  But even if you have not offended against this Commandment outwardly, you still aren’t free.  For Jesus says that even to look at another person with lust is to commit adultery with him or her in your heart (v. 28).  And we’re all nailed to the wall.  We’ve all broken this Commandment, too.  Jesus also gives instruction on the 8th Commandment, that a Christian’s yes ought to be yes, and your no, no.  There are times when you must take an oath before God, such as in court or when you get married, whenever your neighbor’s welfare demands it, but this should only be in very serious circumstances.  A Christian’s words should always be truthful even without an oath.  How many empty promises do we make?  Sure, I’ll do this or that.  Sure, I’ll be there at this time.  And we have no intention of following through, or we lose that intention somewhere along the way.  And so you see, once again we’re all nailed.  We’ve all sinned.  Repent. 
            But dealing with this sin is going to take a whole lot more than a simple outward reformation of life.  For your outward behavior is symptomatic of the condition of your heart.  Jesus is interested in your heart.  That’s where the disease is.  Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, etc. (Matt. 15:19).  Defeating sin is not as simple as gouging out your eye or cutting off your hand.  Amputate all your limbs and appendages and you’ll still be a sinner.  Because what you really need is a new heart.  “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps. 51:10).  What you really need is a heart transplant, a bona fide death and resurrection.  And that is what you get with Jesus, His death and His resurrection for you, and your death and resurrection in His.  A great exchange takes place for you in Christ.  Jesus takes your murderous, unforgiving, adulterous, dishonest, and unfaithful heart into Himself.  And He gives you His sacrificial life, His faithfulness, His truthfulness, His love, so that these are credited to your account.  He takes all your sins to the cross to be crucified and die with Him.  And now they can never count against you.   He gives all of His sinless body parts to redeem all of your sinful body parts.  He gives His eye, His hand, His whole Body into death and hell for you, that you might have life and heaven.  He who knew no sin became sin for you, that you might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). 
            And though you have been unfaithful, your Bridegroom, Jesus, does not divorce you.  He gives Himself up for you to make you holy, cleansing you by the washing of water and the Word, to present you to Himself in splendor, as a Bride adorned for her Husband, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27).  The risen Lord Jesus bestows His righteousness and His resurrection life upon His Bride, the Church, you.  And so in spite of what you have heard from the world, from society, from the culture, even from false Christian teachers, you listen only to the voice of your Beloved Savior.  You do not try to justify yourself.  You do not try to earn your righteousness by your outward keeping of the Law.  You do not excuse your sinful behavior, or seek Jesus’ tolerance and acceptance of your sin.  Instead, you confess it.  You confess the hidden wickedness of your heart to the One who alone can make you clean and new.  You confess it into His tomb where it is buried forever, forgiven, never to be resurrected.  You say “Amen” to your Lord’s killing and condemning Law, because you know that He slays you only to raise you to new life, that you may say “Amen” to His life-giving Gospel.  You have heard many and various things from many and various voices in the world.  But you also know the one and only voice of truth, the voice of Jesus Christ.  Let all that is not of Him be put to silence.  For He is your God.  His Word is your life.  His Word bespeaks you righteous.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (A)

February 9, 2014
Text: Matt. 5:13-20

            “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20; ESV).  Well, on the face of it, it seems like we might as well just give up and resign ourselves to eternal condemnation.  The Scribes and the Pharisees, these were the guys who knew every jot and tittle, every iota and dot of the Law, and meticulously kept every detail.  So how on earth is my righteousness, your righteousness, to be greater than theirs?  After all, you and I know our sins.  And Jesus knows them even better than we do.  There are times when we may regard our neighbor with pharisaical pride.  In fact, we love to do this.  We love to revel in another person’s sins and faults and weaknesses.  We love to gossip about them.  We smirk with delight in the knowledge that we are better than they are.  And then the unforgiving mirror of God’s Law shows us the hideous truth of our condition.  Our gossip betrays us.  We are not better than our neighbor.  We are not holier.  For every finger we point at another, ten thousand fingers of the Law are pointing back.  Righteousness exceeding that of the Scribes and Pharisees?  Hardly.  We are not righteous at all.  We are, as we confess, by nature sinful and unclean, constantly sinning against God and our neighbor in thought, word, and deed. 
            Jesus knows that, and thanks be to God our righteousness is not determined by our conduct or our disposition or our piety.  Our righteousness is in no way determined by our keeping of the Law.  Christ Jesus is our righteousness.  And it is in that way, and that way only, that our righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees.  The Scribes and the Pharisees put on a pretty good show.  They were really good at outwardly keeping the Law.  Humanly speaking, these were the upstanding citizens, good Christian folk, morally blameless, advocates of traditional values.  They talked a good talk.  They walked a good walk.  All of which is fine and good.  But it does not count as righteousness before God.  For as St. James reminds us, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10).  There is no breathing room when it comes to God’s Law.  No matter how bright and shiny your life may be, the fact remains that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), all, including Scribes and Pharisees and good Christian folk.  Because as good as you may be at keeping the Law outwardly, you know the thoughts in your mind and the desires in your heart.  You know that you are not pure.  You know that you are full of rebellion against God, selfishness, greed, lust, pride.  So you are a sinner.  And a sinner is, by definition, not righteous.  So here is the dirty little secret about the Scribes and Pharisees: They have bright and shiny, religious lives, but they are not righteous.  Because they do not have Christ.  They are sinners.  And instead of receiving God’s salvation for their sins, they reject Him, and by their own efforts work to make themselves righteous.
            You are a sinner, to be sure.  Your life is not even as bright and shiny as the Scribes and Pharisees.  And yet, your righteousness exceeds theirs.  Because your righteousness has nothing to do with who you are in and of yourself, or anything that you have done or left undone.  Your righteousness is Jesus Christ.  You are in Christ.  You are baptized.  His righteousness counts for you.  His blood washes away all your sin.  And so, while the Scribes and Pharisees find themselves shut outside the doors where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, you are entering into the kingdom of heaven, into the joy of your Master.
            And this is great Good News to us who are beset by vexing sins, whose consciences are troubled, fightings and fears within and without, whose hearts are weighed down with grief and hopelessness, broken lives, broken relationships, a broken faith.  Whatever you are going through right now, whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been, all of that is baptized in the blood of Jesus Christ, your crucified Lord.  All your sins are forgiven.  And Christ is your righteousness.  That is what St. Paul means when he says you’re justified.  Justified simply means righteous.  Righteous on account of Christ.  Justified on account of Christ.  Here’s what he says: “But  now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:21-25).  How are you made righteous before God?  Christ died for your sins and God raised Him from the dead.  And now on His account God bespeaks you righteous, declares you righteousness, pronounces you righteous.  It’s a courtroom decree.  And Christ’s righteousness is given to you as God’s free gift.  It is received by faith.  Believe it and it is yours.  It’s as simple as that.  There’s nothing to add.  There’s nothing said here about your works.  There’s nothing said here about your worthiness or whether you deserve it, because you don’t.  It’s pure grace.  It’s pure gift.  For you.  In Christ alone.  And in this way your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, who, in reality, are not righteous at all. 
            But aren’t Christians supposed to do good things?  Shouldn’t we do good works?  Shouldn’t we be upstanding citizens, good Christian folk, moral, advocates of traditional values and the like?  Shouldn’t we serve our neighbor, love our neighbor, provide for our neighbor’s needs?  Shouldn’t we flee from sin and godlessness?  Yes, yes, and yes.  Absolutely.  But that doesn’t make you righteous.  And thank God for that, because in your fallen flesh you will fail.  Your fallen flesh still needs to be crucified daily in repentance.  But you should do these things, not in order to be righteous, but because you are righteous in Christ.  So He sends you out to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  What does salt do?  It preserves and it seasons.  Back in the days before refrigeration, how did you keep the meat from spoiling?  Salt!  And my wife doesn’t always believe me, but even when something tastes great, sometimes the experience can be enhanced all the more with just a little bit of salt.  Christians are salt.  God preserves the world on account of Christians who pray and love and serve in it, and on account of people who are not yet Christians but will be as they hear God’s Word and receive Baptism.  And God seasons the world with His Christians, with your faithful confession, with your works done in Jesus’ Name, with your various vocations to which God has called you to be His hands in the world.  He sends you to be light in this dark world, to shine the light of Christ in the darkness and expel it.  You do this as you speak of Christ, as you speak God’s Word, which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105).  And by example as you live according to God’s Word in the world, confessing your sins, and hearing and living by the Absolution of the Lord that you receive freely here in His Church. 
            It is an amazing thing what Jesus once said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matt. 21:31).  Or, as He said of the tax collector over against the Pharisee: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other” (Luke 18:14).  How can Jesus say such things?  It is not that Jesus has suddenly become tolerant of sin and affirming of materialistic lifestyles or sexual transgressions.  He has not come to relax the Law, much less abolish it.  In fact, as He says, not one iota or dot will pass away from the Law until it is accomplished.  Jesus does not abolish the Law.  He fulfills it.  He accomplishes it.  By His righteous life in our stead.  By His death on the cross for our forgiveness.  And He is risen and gives new life to us who were dead in our trespasses and sins, new life now in Baptism so that we can be His salt and His light in the world, life hidden under this weak flesh, but real life, a life that will be made manifest on the Last Day in the resurrection of the dead.
            It is no secret that you are a sinner.  If you try to keep it a secret, you are a Pharisee and not a Christian.  Christians confess their sins.  Christians confess that they are sinners.  Because you know that your righteousness does not consist in a polished outward life that, like a whitewashed tomb, hides the stench of deadly sins inside.  Your life is Christ.  Your righteousness is Christ.  Your everything is Christ.  And in Christ, to you belongs the very kingdom of heaven.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Purification of Mary and The Presentation of Our Lord

The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord

February 2, 2014
Text: Luke 2:22-40

            The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord.  Two things are going on here in our commemoration  on this feast day.  The first is that Mary is offering the sacrifice of her purification.  Giving birth made a Jewish woman ceremonially unclean, which meant that she could not participate in the regular life of the community, and particularly in the religious rituals of the Jews.  Blood and other bodily discharges were unclean things in the Old Testament, not sinful in and of themselves, but pictures of our sinful uncleanness.  And so when a woman gave birth, she would bring the prescribed sacrifice to the Temple 40 days later in the case of a son, or twice that in the case of a daughter.  If she had the means, she was to bring a year old lamb for a burnt offering and a turtledove or a pigeon for a sin offering (Lev. 12:6).  If she could not afford a lamb, she was to bring two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and one for a sin offering, to make atonement for her uncleanness (v. 8).  After this, she would be pronounced clean by the priest.
            The second thing that we are commemorating today, which happens simultaneously, is the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple.  Forty days into His young life, our Lord Jesus comes into His House for the first time.  Here, at the Temple, He is redeemed, bought back by His parents.  That is the second, and perhaps more important significance of the sacrifices.  For the firstborn of all flesh are holy to the LORD.  The firstborn belong to Him.  This was His commandment to the people of Israel, and it all stems from that first Passover in Egypt, when the angel of death killed all the Egyptian firstborn of man and beast from the slave in the field to the son of Pharaoh, but passed over the blood spattered dwellings of the Hebrews.  The firstborn of Israel were spared, by God’s mercy, on account of the blood of the Lamb painted over the doorposts and lintels of their homes.  And so now the firstborn are the LORD’s possession.  The firstborn of beasts were to be redeemed by offering another animal as a substitute, or their necks were to be broken.  The firstborn sons were to be redeemed by their parents with the sacrifices of the mother’s purification (Ex. 13:12-13; Num. 18:15).  They were redeemed and their mothers were made pure by the blood of sacrifice. 
            What is peculiar, of course, about this particular purification and redemption is that this birth is not unclean.  This is the birth of the sinless Son of God, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.  Mary needs no purification, for her purification comes from her sinless Son, Jesus.  Jesus needs no redemption, for He has come Himself to be the Lamb offered upon the altar of the cross for the redemption of every firstborn, of every child, of every mother including His own, of every unclean sinner, including you.  And yet, here is the Holy Family, offering the prescribed sacrifices.  Here our Lord is willingly placing Himself under the Law of God for us.  He is fulfilling it for us, in order that the Law become powerless over us.  He is taking our place.  He is making the final payment for those Israelites who were spared in Egypt so long ago, and for every one of us who have been spared by God’s mercy.  The firstborn Son of God is redeeming us to be God’s sons, as well.  St. Paul puts it this way: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5; ESV).
            You are God’s son!  Even you daughters, by the way.  The son receives the inheritance, and so this is the great Good News of this text for all of you, men and women.  In submitting Himself to the Law, our Lord Jesus redeems you from the Law, from its threats and demands, from its condemnation, so that you may receive the adoption as God’s son, and so receive the whole inheritance, all that is His, the very Kingdom of heaven.  Simeon declares it as he takes the Baby Jesus in his arms.  The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ, the Savior, and now in this Baby, he knows that the Lord has made good on His promise.  Now, this is not due to the little Lord Jesus’ appearance.  The Temple is a crowded place, and no one else is making such a big deal out of this particular Baby.  But the Holy Spirit has revealed this to Simeon.  And so Simeon, taking the Baby from His mother’s arms, holds Him up and sings to Him a song you all know, the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32): “Lord” – and he’s praying to the Baby, by the way – “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word,” now I can die with confidence and joy, why?  “(F)or my eyes have seen your salvation,” your Christ, my Savior, and the Savior of the world, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel,” indeed, the Savior of Jews and Gentiles alike, of all people… even you.  Yes, he’s prophesying about you, how you would come to faith in this same little Baby he now holds in his arms.  And you even sing his song when you come back from Holy Communion where you have held that same Body in your hands or received it in your mouth, your Light, your Glory, your Salvation, in the flesh.  And now you can depart in peace, die with confidence and joy, for this salvation has become your own.  In Him you have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
            Simeon tells us how it will happen.  He says that Jesus is appointed by God for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed.  That is to say, you can’t be neutral about Jesus.  You either believe in Him or you don’t.  If you don’t, you fall, you’re condemned.  If you do, you rise, you have eternal life.  And He is a scandal.  For His sign is His naked, bruised, and bloody Body raised up on the tree of the cross as the sacrifice for your redemption.  That’s the sword that will pierce Mary’s soul.  There at the foot of that cross we see His mother in maternal agony over her Son’s suffering and death.  But don’t be scandalized.  Don’t be deceived by the appearance of things.  This is nothing less than the redemption of Israel and of the whole world.  This is your salvation.  Simeon proclaims it, and so does another faithful Israelite at the Temple that day, the prophetess Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She, too, had been waiting for this Baby to come and deliver her.  From the day she was widowed as a young bride, she had continued in the Temple, worshiping, fasting, praying night and day, waiting upon the Lord.  And now He had come.  Upon seeing the Lord Jesus, she could not contain herself, but giving thanks to God, she spoke of the Savior to everyone who would listen, “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38), to all who were waiting for God to make good on His promise to send Messiah to crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15).
            What makes this day momentous for you, dear Christian, is that here the Lord Jesus, the firstborn Son of God, redeems you to be God’s son.  The sacrifice He makes here is the fulfillment of the Law which you could not fulfill.  Sacrifice all the sheep and turtledoves and pigeons you like, you can never make yourself clean from sin.  But He can.  And He does.  For this sacrifice is but a foreshadowing of His once for all sacrifice on the cross, the sacrifice of redemption for the whole world and the sacrifice of purification for your sin.  And Jesus still comes into His Temple.  He still makes His dwelling with men.  He still comes in His flesh to His House to be with His people.  Here He is, the risen and living Lord Jesus, offering us the fruits of His cross on His altar, His true Body and Blood.  Here He is, the fulfillment of the prophets’ proclamation, the Baby held up with joy and praise by Simeon, the redemption of Jerusalem confessed by Anna.  He is right here in the preaching of His Word.  For you.  To forgive your sins.  To make you clean.  To declare, as your High Priest, that you are pure with His purity, that you are holy with His holiness, that you are God’s own child, baptized into Christ, that you are the Father’s beloved son.  With Simeon you see your salvation in the Lord Jesus.  With Anna you confess Him to all who will listen.  And you know without a doubt that you can die in peace and joy, for this One who has redeemed you will also raise you from the dead.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             

Saturday, February 01, 2014

In Memoriam +Margaret Elaine Carroll+

In Memoriam +Margaret Elaine Carroll+

Feb. 1, 2014
Text: John 11:17-27, 38-44

            “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die’” (John 11:25-26; ESV).  Like an oasis of cool water in the desert is our Lord’s promise here to us in the face of death.  All we have to sustain us now, to strengthen us to go on living with joy, to comfort us in our grief, is the Word of Christ, this sure promise of the Savior.  There is a life beyond this frail earthly existence, a life that is eternal and abundant.  It is life in Another, life in Christ.  Whoever believes in Christ, trusts in Him for the forgiveness of sins and salvation from death and condemnation, though he die, yet shall he live.  In fact, he shall never die.  And what was and is true for Lazarus and for Martha and Mary is also true for Peg.  She believed in Christ.  She trusted in Christ.  And as a result, though she has died, she lives.  In fact, she never really died.  Really, she didn’t.  Not there in the hospital anyway.  You see, she got her death over with as a baby at the font, when her Lord Jesus washed her with water and His Word, at St. John Lutheran Church in Allegan.  There the death of Christ became her death.  She was joined to Christ in His crucifixion.  There her old Adam, her sinful flesh was drowned.  And there Christ’s new resurrection life was given to her as a gift.  It was and is with Peg as we confessed with St. Paul a few moments ago: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).  Our Lord Jesus gave Peg eternal life already as a baby in Holy Baptism, a life hidden to be sure under weakness and sin and cancer and death, but a life nonetheless.  A life still hidden to us, but now made manifest to Peg as she sees the Lord Jesus for herself in heaven.  What we saw in the hospital on January 12th was only the temporary expiration of her body, the separation of her body and her soul.  But she is not dead.  She lives.  Because she is in Christ who is risen and lives and reigns and who will raise Peg from the dead, body and soul reunited, on the Last Day.
            You do not know this from experience.  All that is available to our five senses is the evidence that a death has occurred.  That Peg has not died, but lives, well, this is beyond our senses.  It is beyond our reason.  It is even beyond our emotion.  We may feel in our hearts that Peg lives, but how can you trust in that?  For most of us here today, the dominant feeling may be sadness.  And that’s okay.  Death is sad.  Jesus wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, even knowing full well what He was about to do.  Strange things, emotions.  They change.  They are limited.  They can deceive.  They can be manipulated.  You just can’t trust them.  But you can trust Jesus.  The only way we know this to be true, that Peg is not dead, but lives, is Jesus’ Promise: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  And then Jesus puts His money, or better, His blood, where His mouth is.  He dies, on the cross, for Peg, for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.  He dies, but He is not dead.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And He lives.  And Peg’s life, and your life, these are now hidden in Him, who is Himself the resurrection and the life.
            We don’t deal very well as a culture with death, do we?  We do our best to deny it, delay it, prevent it.  We don’t think about it if we can help it, but there it is, a slap in the face of life when a loved one dies or when we have to face our own mortality.  When the inevitable does occur, we don’t want to face the reality.  We dress it up in euphemisms and fairy tale explanations, because in the face of death, we just can’t bring ourselves to speak plainly.  In the end, death is our greatest fear.  But here in the Church we face death head on.  We don’t dress it up.  We speak plainly.  We give it our careful thought and attention, not because we’re morbid, but because in Christ, we can, because we know the whole story, because we know that speaking of death, we speak of a deeper truth.  Death was never meant to be.  Humanity was created for life, life forever with God.  But our first parents fell into sin.  And through sin came death.  St. Paul writes all about it in Romans 5.  You can read about it for yourself.  As children of Adam and Eve, this sin infects us all.  And we’re not speaking here just about the bad things we do or the good things we don’t do.  Those are just the symptoms of a deeper problem.  We’re speaking here of a corruption deep within our nature, a corruption that separates us from God, and finally from life.  Beloved, we’re all dying.  I know you don’t want to hear that.  Do you see what I mean?  You don’t want to speak plainly about death.  But denying it doesn’t change the reality.  When you are faced with a reality this severe, you must face it head on, and the treatment for it must be radical.  Furthermore, you must trust yourself entirely into the capable and pierced hands of your Great Physician, Jesus Christ.  He has done something about your death.  He has done something about Peg’s death.  He died.  And now He is risen.  And He has a radical treatment that will save your life.  It is His death and resurrection for you.  That is the medicine that takes away your sin and gives you eternal life.  It restores you to God as His own child.  It is given to you here in Christ’s holy Church by means of His Word preached, the washing of Holy Baptism, and the Supper of His Body and Blood.  It is the medicine that was given to Peg in her Baptism as a baby at St. John in Allegan, and which she received ever after from her gracious Lord Jesus as He spoke His Word of life into her and nourished her at His altar.  So though she has died, she lives.  And in fact, she shall never die, for baptized into Christ and into His death and resurrection, she has eternal life. 

            And now here are some other things that she has as she lives before God in heaven and awaits the resurrection.  We heard about these things in our second reading (Rev. 7:9-17).  She is before the throne of God and serves Him day and night in His temple.  She is sheltered by His presence.  She hungers no more, neither thirsts anymore.  The sun does not strike her nor any scorching heat.  The Lamb in the midst of the throne, Jesus Himself, her Good Shepherd, leads her to springs of living water.  And God wipes away every tear from her eyes.  And then, before Peg even realizes that any time has passed, the Lord Jesus will speak to her.  He will cry out with a loud voice, just as He did at the tomb of Lazarus.  And He will say, “Peg, come out.”  And Peg will come out.  She will come out of her grave.  Her body will be good as new, better than new, her very body but made perfect, a resurrection body, fashioned after Jesus’ resurrection body.  And so will all people be raised, and all believers in Christ, all who have life in Him by faith, will live eternally in their resurrection bodies with Christ.  They will always be with the Lord.  It sounds too wonderful to be true, doesn’t it?  But don’t take my word for it.  Take Jesus’ Word for it.  For Jesus does not lie.  And this is what He says: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  Jesus died.  Jesus lives.  Jesus shall never die again.  He is the resurrection and the life.  And because of that Peg lives, and Peg shall never die.  Jesus will raise her from the dead.  This reality is now hidden with Christ in God.  But you will see it for yourself on that Day.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.