Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 17)

August 31, 2014
Text: Matt. 16:21-28

            Your mind is a battle-ground in which God and the devil fight for possession.  St. Paul makes reference to this battle in our Epistle lesson from this past Sunday when he writes: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2; ESV).  That is to say, don’t surrender to Satan, who has the mind of this world transfixed by his demonic deception, but surrender to God, who transforms your mind from its spell-bound satanic hypnosis to the mind of Christ, that you may know the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect.  Now, everyone of us is in need of such a transformation of our mind.  Because we’re born into the satanic deception, born into the worldly state of mind.  That is our natural state: minds captivated by the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature.  In Holy Baptism, however, our mind is transformed, the shape of it is changed, from this worldly state of mind, to the mind of Christ.  But because we are still in the flesh, and because we are still in the world, our mind must continually undergo this divine transformation.  It is not the case that it happened once, and now it’s done.  No, as with our Baptism, this transformation is an event that happened at a specific point in history, and that now continues to be our present and ongoing reality.  It is not simply that our minds were transformed into the mind of Christ, but our minds are continually being transformed into the mind of Christ.  And note the passive voice here.  You are not transforming your mind.  God is transforming your mind.  The Holy Spirit is transforming your mind into the mind of Christ as you hear and read and meditate upon Holy Scripture and preaching, and as you eat and drink the Body and Blood of the Savior, with whose mind the Holy Spirit desires to make you one. 
            St. Peter needed a transformation of his mind.  Fast on the heels of his confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, a truth revealed to him, not by flesh and blood, but by our heavenly Father (Matt. 16:16-17), now he is trying to dissuade Jesus from completing His saving mission.  He does not want Jesus to submit Himself to the cross and suffering.  “Far be it from you, Lord!  This shall never happen to you” (v. 22).  But Peter is not setting his mind on the things of God, but on the things of man (v. 23).  He has been caught once again by the Satanic deception.  He’s been duped!  He’s been deluded!  And Jesus calls it like it is: “Get behind me, Satan!” (v. 23).  Peter, you’re speaking for Satan, not God.  You have the mind of Satan, not God.  Your mind has been conformed to this world, Peter, and you need Jesus to transform your mind so that you see in the cross of Christ the very will of God.  The cross, Peter, is what is good and acceptable and perfect.  For Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross redeems your mind and your whole body and soul from Satan, indeed, the whole world from death and hell.
            Now, this is completely contrary to our fallen, fleshly minds, that God should redeem us by sending His Son into the flesh to die a gruesome, accursed death by Roman execution.  Surely God could do it another way, a more glorious way, a way befitting His majesty.  I mean, He’s God!  He could snap His fingers, or even just pronounce it so by a sheer act of His divine will.  And as for His enemies, they should be toast.  Like James and John, we think Jesus should call down fire from heaven to devour those wicked people.  Of course, we fail to recognize that the wicked people are us!  And so the battle between the fleshly mind and the mind of Christ.  We do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.  St. Paul says that the natural, unconverted person “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).  We just can’t wrap our fallen minds around it.  We don’t think Jesus should go to the cross, either!  It gets Jesus’ hands too dirty, too bloody.  And when you get right down to it, it is offensive that it would take the death of God to save us.  Yes, we really are that bad.  There really is no other way, for if God is just, He must punish our sin.  He cannot ignore it, pretend it never happened, or leave it undealt with.  That would make Him unjust.  But God is love, and He loves His creation, loves us, in spite of our rejection of Him.  He wants to save us.  He wants us to be His own.  So what is He to do?  He sends His Son.  He sends Him to be our Substitute, to take our place, to receive the just punishment for our sins.  The cross is the intersection of God’s justice and His love.  There our sin is punished.  There we are redeemed.  There in the pierced flesh of Jesus Christ.  We can’t understand it by nature.  God must reveal it to us.  And to receive that revelation, to believe it and hold on to it for dear life, our mind must be transformed by the Holy Spirit.
            So that is what God does in Baptism and in His gifts in Word and Supper.  We actually believe this incomprehensible Gospel that Jesus died on the cross and rose again to forgive our sins and give us eternal life.  It’s a miracle, this faith.  Only God could accomplish such a thing.  But now the fight is really on.  Satan wants us back.  So he uses every weapon in his arsenal.  He shoots his fiery darts of temptation.  He entices us with the allurements of pleasure, power, and wealth.  He introduces doubt about God’s Word (“Did God really say?...), helps us justify in our minds the changing of God’s Word or the willful ignoring of it.  He uses the media and the entertainment industry, the trend setters and the powers that be in the world, and even our friends and family members, to catechize us into his deception.  He plays on our impressionable nature so that we imitate the world, and he uses the laziness of our sinful flesh so that we are anything but fervent in spirit, so that we leave ourselves vulnerable and open to his attacks.  And then, when we’ve fallen to temptation, when we’ve sinned, he changes tactics.  He accuses us, as is his nature.  He is THE accuser.  He lies.  He is the father of lies.  He tells us that we are unredeemable, that Jesus didn’t die for sinners like us, that what we’ve done is beyond the pale of forgiveness.  Beloved, he’s a liar!  Tell him to get behind you!  Tell him where he can go! 
            But know his tactics.  Recognize them for what they are.  Recognize that there is no neutral ground.  You will be catechized, taught, molded, shaped, either by the world, and ultimately the devil, or by the Holy Spirit.  You will either be conformed to this world, or be transformed by the renewal of your mind.  You will either have in mind the things of God, or the things of men.  You will either have the mind of Christ, taught by Him, or a deluded mind that is finally lost.  As they say, “you are what you eat.”  In this case, you are the voice you listen to.  There is the voice of Christ here in His Word.  Or there are all the other voices that are not Christ.  Christ has tuned you in to His voice in your Baptism, and He speaks to you in preaching and Scripture.  But the other voices are clamoring for your attention, and Jesus will not force you to stay here and listen to Him.  So be on your guard.  “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

            Resist him.  That is to say, take up your cross and follow Jesus.  Talk about contrary to our fallen nature.  Crucify your flesh.  Deny yourself.  Die to yourself.  Lose your life.  Repent!  Repent of your selfishness.  Repent of your idolatry.  Repent of listening to the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature.  It will hurt, this repentance.  Because it will be the death of you.  But that is how our Lord works.  He deals in death and resurrection.  For there to be resurrection, there must be death.  Your old Adam must die!  But whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake will find it (Matt. 16:25).  That’s the promise.  If you stop listening to the world, I guarantee the world will hate you.  It will hate you, because it hates Jesus.  The world will mock you.  It may persecute you.  It may even kill you.  That is the cross you are called to bear.  But you can bear it, because you have been transformed by the renewal of your mind.  You have the mind of Christ.  So you know that as you bear the holy cross, Christ bears you.  He who was crucified and is risen from the dead, bears you in His pierced hands, and He will raise you up.  He will rescue you.  He will deliver you.  He will heal you with His eternal healing.  And you know, you who have the mind of Christ, that this light momentary affliction is preparing you for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as you look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:17-18).  The battle for your mind is won by Christ as He sustains you by His Spirit in your Baptism.  Beloved, listen to the voice of your Good Shepherd.  In Christ, you persevere.  In Christ, the risen Savior with the mortal wounds, your mind is given the things of God.  In Christ, you’ve found your life.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 16)

August 24, 2014
Text: Matt. 16:13-20

            The holy Christian Church is an article of faith.  We confess in the Creed that we believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church.  The articles of the Creed are all a confession of what we cannot see, but only know by faith, because our Lord says so by His Word.  And so the Church.  Sure, we can see the building and the people gathered together.  We see the appropriate furnishings with which we are surrounded, hear the organ and the distinctly “Church” music appropriate to this place.  It looks like the Church.  It feels like the Church.  It smells like the Church.  The Word is proclaimed and we sing it and speak it together in liturgy and hymn.  The Sacrament is on the altar.  We gather around the font.  But how do we know the Church is here?  We only know it because Jesus says so.  He says that wherever two or three are gathered together in His Name, there is He among them (Matt. 18:20), and so there is the Church.  He says that upon the rock of Peter’s confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, He will build His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:16-18).  He says that where His Church is, the binding and loosing of sin will be going on; the binding of the sins of the unrepentant as long as they do not repent; the loosing, the forgiving, of the sins of those who repent of their sins and want to do better, who look to Christ alone for forgiveness of sins and strength for their Christian life.  Where that is going on, there is the Church, for the Lord has given the Church the keys of the kingdom of heaven (v. 19), the Office of the Keys as we call it in the Catechism.  And that is the whole purpose of the Church, the only reason we exist, that here, in the Church, Christ may gather us and open heaven to us by the distribution of His saving gifts. 
            So we know where the Church is by the visible marks: The Word, the Sacraments, Confession and Absolution, prayer, the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren, suffering and the cross.  These marks are clear evidence that the Church is here.  But the Church itself we cannot see.  It is an article of faith.  It is invisible, because the Church is simply this: holy believers in Christ, sheep who hear the voice of their Good Shepherd, Jesus, and who know Him and follow Him (Cf. SA XII:2).  But you can’t see faith.  You can’t say for certain who believes and who doesn’t.  You can only go by what a person says, what a person confesses.  We know the Church is here because of the marks.  We know the Church is here because the people here confess the faith.  We confess the Creed.  We confess with St. Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus says that on this rock, this confession, He will build His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 
            But it sure looks like the gates of hell are prevailing against it.  We fight among ourselves over the silliest things, like who is responsible for what, how this or that should be done, and how to pay for it all… And we fight over thing that are not at all silly, like, for example, the authority of the Bible, creation and evolution, the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament… you name it, we can fight over it.  The Church appears to be shrinking.  We live in a culture that has come to mock Christ and His Church, that rejects what the Bible has to say about the social issues of the day, that denies that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that He is the only way to heaven.  So less people come to Church.  And by the way, Christians aren’t having as many babies as they used to, so I suppose we shouldn’t be all that surprised when older people outnumber younger people in the Church.  We suffer mockery and pressure to conform to the culture here at home.  And then we look at the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in other places in the world, and we cringe to realize that what is happening to them there could just as easily happen to us here: kidnappings and imprisonment, beatings and torture, crucifixions and beheadings and every other cruelty imaginable, all because of the Christian’s confession: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
            So are You sure the gates of hell are not prevailing, Jesus?  The holy Christian Church is an article of faith, not sight.  That is to say, things are not as they appear.  We do fight amongst ourselves, much like the disciples fought over who was the greatest.  It shows our sin and unbelief.  Yet God graciously forgives our pettiness and lack of faith, and calls us nonetheless to be His own in Christ and to make our good confession with St. Peter.  Sure, the Church appears to be shrinking.  There are less people in the pews today than there were in the 1950s.  But you have to take the long view of history.  Of course we always want more to come hear about Jesus, but we don’t count the population of the Church by the number here on Sunday morning.  The Church grows with every Baptism, and the Church doesn’t shrink when one of us dies.  The dead in Christ live!  They’re still members of the Church.  Now they can never leave.  They’re in heaven, members of the Church triumphant.  And as for the suffering and persecution… that is actually a mark of the Church.  That is one of the ways that we know the Church exists, that Christ is present with His people and the Church is persevering.  For what did Jesus promise? “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:9-14; ESV).  And so Jesus says to His disciples, to you, beloved: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12).  Where persecution is going on, there you know Jesus is, strengthening and keeping His saints by His Spirit.  And so there you know is the Church, because the people there confess Christ even to their death.  They endure to the end.  And Jesus saves them.  The gates of hell throw their worst at the Church.  But hell never prevails.  Because Jesus has defeated hell.  He has done so in His death and resurrection.
            And so you confess that this crucified and risen Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, is the Christ, Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of the living God, the Savior.  And as with Peter, flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.  No, all flesh and blood can reveal is what the naked eye can see, and that doesn’t look good.  But our Father in heaven reveals to you that things are not as they appear.  He reveals that, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, our Lord Jesus has won the battle, snatched you out of hell, purchased you to be His own by His precious blood, defeated your death in His death, given you eternal life by the life-giving power of His resurrection.  And He has gathered you together here, as His Church, to loose you from your sin, to forgive you, to cover you with His blood, to teach you, to feed you, to make you His own, to strengthen you for perseverance.  Here the Father reveals Jesus to you as the Christ, His beloved Son, your Savior.  And He does this by His Spirit, working in the holy Word of God and the Sacraments, your Baptism into Christ, and the Lord’s Body and Blood in the Supper.  And you are blessed.  You are blessed to confess the holy faith of Christ.  You are blessed to persevere therein, come what may.  You are blessed to live as God’s own child.

            Now, someday you may be called upon, as St. Peter was, as St. Bartholomew was, whom we commemorate today, and as our brothers and sisters in the Middle East are now, to confess Jesus unto your death.  Peter was crucified upside down in Rome.  Bartholomew was skinned alive in Armenia.  Our brothers and sisters are shot and buried in the desert sand, crucified in the public square, or suffer the public display of their severed heads.  That they confess Christ anyway, in the face of such atrocities, is a miracle, a God-given gift.  Beloved, the same Lord Jesus Christ who feeds you here at this Altar, the same God and Father who declared you His own child in your Baptism, the same Holy Spirit who dwells in you by His life-giving Word, will give you the same gift of perseverance should that day come.  He will keep you in your confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  He will keep you in your Baptism.  And your persecutors will think they win as they snuff out your earthly life, for that is what flesh and blood has revealed to them.  But in that same moment, you will see for yourself what your Father has revealed to you, that the gates of hell can never prevail.  For you will see Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.  You will see the holy Church gathered around Him.  You will see that yours is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 15)

August 17, 2014
Text: Matt. 15:21-28

            Jesus just ignores her.  He does not answer her a word (Matt. 15:23).  Just keeps on walking.  And she keeps begging.  “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David” (v. 22; ESV).  Her daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.  If anyone can help, it is Jesus.  The woman must know something of Him.  Though she’s a Canaanite and not a Jew, she must have heard of Him, and she must know the Promise given to God’s people of the coming Messiah.  She calls Him “Son of David,” a messianic title.  In other words, she believes He’s the Savior.  And the Savior is in the business of crushing the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15), casting out demons and conquering Satan.  So the woman cries to Him, pleads with Him, will not let Him go.  The disciples are getting annoyed.  “Lord, just help her out so she’ll leave us alone.”  I am not sure they are moved by compassion so much as the desire to be rid of her, escape her with a clean conscience.  But Jesus answers the disciples: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24).  Now, wait a second… Isn’t Jesus the Savior of all people?  Isn’t that the Promise we trace through the whole Old Testament, that He’ll be the Savior of the nations, that He’s for everybody?  Yes, of course.  That is the case now that His saving work has been fulfilled.  But in His earthly ministry, He was sent to preach and do miracles for the Israelites.  And, to be sure, it took guts for this Canaanite woman, a Syrophoenician, to address Jesus in the first place.  The Canaanites were the previous inhabitants of the Promised Land, the pagans, the antagonists of Israel.  There is some racial tension here, and Jesus highlights it in His answer.  He essentially tells her, “no!”  But she won’t let go.  If Jesus is the Messiah, He is here for her, and she is holding Him to it.  She throws herself in front of Him, stopping Him in His tracks.  Begging now on her knees, she prays simply and directly: “Lord, help me” (v. 25). 
            And that is your prayer, is it not?  In times of desperation?  In times of great distress, illness, or grief?  “Lord, help me.”  Sometimes there are no other words.  Now, sometimes the help is quick in coming.  Recovery.  Resolution.  Encouragement.  Comfort.  But sometimes the help seems not to come at all.  You’ve been there with the Canaanite woman, haven’t you?  And it’s not just racial tension between Jews and Gentiles that separate you from Jesus.  It is your sin.  You have separated yourself from God by your rejection of Him in your every sin.  So you know that you are not worthy for Jesus to hear you.  And often, He seems to ignore you.  It seems He does not answer you a word.  You beg Him, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David,” and He just keeps on walking.  He seems to reject you.  In the case of the Canaanite woman, He even calls her a dog: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (v. 26).  It is not right to take what belongs to the Jews and throw it to the pagan Gentiles.  In your case, he calls you what you are, a sinner.  It is not right to take what belongs to the righteous and throw it to sinners. 
            Ah, but just there He’s given you something to hold on to.  For Jesus came precisely to take what belongs to the righteous and give it to sinners.  Just as He came precisely to take what belongs to the Jews, namely, salvation in the Messiah, and give it to the whole world.  In calling the woman a dog, Jesus gives her a place in the house (Rev. Mark Love).  And she knows it.  She has caught Him in His Words, right where He desires to be caught.  “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (v. 27).  And so you.  In naming you a sinner, Jesus has given you your place in God’s house.  “Yes, Lord, yet you came precisely to save the sinner from His sin.  You came precisely to save me, to have mercy, to help me.”  You see, Jesus wants to be caught in His Word.  Hold Him to His Word!  Hold on to Him in His Word, and never let Him go.  That is faith.  And so, what does He say to the Canaanite?  “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire” (v. 28).  And her daughter was healed from that hour.  The demon was cast out.  Satan was conquered.  The serpent felt the weight of Messiah on his head.
            Why does Jesus make the woman, make you, jump through so many hoops?  Why doesn’t He just deliver immediately when you ask?  We talked about that last week and we ultimately had to content ourselves with God’s answer to Job: “I’m God and you’re not, so just trust me that I know what I’m doing.”  In other words, we don’t know.  God hasn’t told us.  But we do know that in these situations Jesus, far from having abandoned you, is exercising your faith.  He wants you to hold Him to His Word.  He wants you to believe in spite of the evidence, because you have heard what He says in His Word.  He wants you to know your place in God’s house, as a sinner graciously given His salvation and His righteousness, without any merit or worthiness in yourself.  Jesus wants you to catch Him in His Word.
            So in those times when you are not immediately relieved of your suffering, when the sickness lingers, when the relationship ends, when the loved one dies, when you face your own death… It is then that Jesus wants you to catch Him in His Word.  He wants you to cling to His Promise.  Do you really think He is ignoring you, He who has purchased you to be His own by shedding His precious blood and dying for you on the cross?  Do you really think He refuses to answer to you a word, He who has given you the Holy Scriptures as the revelation of Himself in His grace and mercy?  Do you really think He has rejected you, He who has place God’s own holy Name on you in Baptism as we saw with little John this morning?  No, no.  He wants you to cling to precisely those things.  He wants you to throw yourself in front of Him and stop Him in His tracks, and, recognizing your complete helplessness and unworthiness, cling to Him for mercy: “Lord, help me.”  “Lord, I am a dog.  I am a poor, miserable sinner.  I confess it.  But You brought me into God’s House, made me His own.  You promised there is a place for me.  Just let me eat the crumbs.  Just let me sit at your feet at Your Table.  That’s why you came.  To have mercy on me.”  And then, like a dog sitting by the Master’s Table, wait expectantly for what He has to give you.
            He will help you.  But He will help you perfectly.  He will help you in the way He knows to be best, though it be a cross.  Maybe He will immediately relieve you.  He often does.  Then again, maybe He won’t relieve you until you close your eyes in death and open them in heaven.  That is actually a better help and healing than anything you can prescribe to Him.  And you have to remember that the perfect help and healing only come in the end, when Jesus raises you from the dead.  God may cure your cancer now, but you will still die.  God may restore your loved one to health now, but eventually you will have mourn a loss.  That is the reality of life in this sin-fallen world.  The Lord does have mercy.  The Lord does help.  But we often mistake His mercy and help for neglect.  Because we fail to see what Jesus Christ has finally done for the help of the Canaanite woman and her daughter, for you and me, and for the whole world.

            It is His death on the cross, where He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, where He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God for our sins and the sins of the whole world (Is. 53:4-5).  You know why Jesus kept walking as the woman was begging?  He was walking on to complete His earthly ministry, walking on finally to Golgotha to help her, to save her, to save her precious little daughter, to cast out the demons forever.  He was walking on to save you.  And so in His death and in His resurrection, He provides for your help and healing in full measure.  He dies that you might live.  He lives that you might never die.  He is risen, and He will raise you, too, to live with Him, with all the saints, with the Canaanite woman and her daughter, in paradise restored, in the healthful creation of the new heavens and the new earth.  Jesus is not ignoring you, and His answer to you isn’t really “no.”  It is a bigger “yes” than your request.  It is the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 14)

August 10, 2014
Text: Matt. 14:22-33

            Why does Jesus make His disciples set sail without Him into a storm that by any human standard should cause all on board to be lost?  Why does He make them endure the storm all night long?  While He’s there on the shore praying, the storm arises.  He knows they are in peril.  He knows they are there in the middle of the sea, beaten by the waves, the wind against them, fearing for their lives.  But He doesn’t go out to them until the fourth watch of the night, sometime between 3 and 6 am.  When He does finally walk out to them on the water, our text tells us “they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear” (Matt. 14:26; ESV).  Well, maybe “Ghost” is not the best translation.  They said, “It is a φάντασμά (a phantasm).”  The Jews believed that when they died, an angel would come and carry them to heaven.  Jesus teaches that, too, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:22).  The Jews also believed that when someone died and went to hell, a demon, a phantasm, would come and carry them there.  You know why the disciples were crying out in fear?  They believed they were about to die and go to hell, because a phantasm had come to cart them off to Hades.  Maybe they had Jesus all wrong, after all.  They certainly knew they were sinners.  They feared the storm.  They feared God’s Judgment.  And they had forgotten Jesus’ Word. 
            Back on the shore, Jesus had told them to get into the boat and go before Him to the other side (Matt. 14:22).  We aren’t given the exact quotation, but there is a promise implicit in Jesus’ command.  You will get into the boat and you will cross to the other side.  It’s not just a command, it’s a Gospel guarantee.  You will get to the other side.  Jesus does not promise the weather will be good and the water peaceful.  He knows full well there is a storm brewing.  But when Jesus sends His disciples out in the boat without His visible presence, He wants them to remember and trust in His Word.  That’s what all of us are to do.  We are to get in the boat of the Holy Christian Church and cross through this earthly life to the other side of heaven and the resurrection.  Jesus is with us.  We know that by faith.  But we forget, because He is not visibly present with us.  In reality, He’s present with us in His Word, in His Gospel Promise.  You will cross over.  You will get to the other side.  But there will be storms.  There will be perils.  You will be beaten by the waves.  The wind will be against you.  You will fear the storm.  You will fear for your life, because death is all around you in this life.  You will fear God’s Judgment because you know your sins.  And you, like the disciples, will forget Jesus’ Word. 
            That is why He comes to you.  He comes to you on the water.  Baptism!  He comes to you in His real flesh and blood.  He comes to you and He speaks: “Take heart; it is I” (v. 27).  Well, actually, the words He uses are even stronger than that: “Take heart… I AM.”  YHWH, right here, guys!  “Do not be afraid.”  Because you don’t have to.  Jesus has it all under control.  He is the Lord of wind and wave, the Creator of heaven and earth.  Things are not always as they appear.  The disciples think Jesus has left them to face the storm alone.  In fact, He has done nothing of the sort.  He knows right where they are, precisely what is happening to them.  He sent them there to face it! They think it is a phantasm coming to drag them down to hell.  In fact, it is Jesus coming to save them from death and from hell.  So also you.  Things are not always as they appear.  Jesus sends you into the storm for your good.  You think that He has abandoned you.  In fact, He has done nothing of the sort.  He knows right where you are, precisely what you are going through.  And this is something that you cannot understand now, with your fallen and finite mind, but He is sending you through it, for your good.  That is what He has promised through the Apostle Paul, that He works all things together for your good, for your salvation, for you have been called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).  You may not know now why He does it.  You may not ever know in this life why He does it.  We’re always asking what lesson we’re supposed to learn from something we’ve had to endure.  You may not be given the answer.  Nor does God owe you an answer.  Often His answer is that which He gave to Job in our Old Testament reading (Job 34:4-8): “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.  Who determined its measurements—surely you know!” (vv. 4-5).  In other words, “I’m God and you’re not, so just trust me that I know what I’m doing and stop trying to tell me how to be God!” 
            Just trust Him.  Believe His Word.  Believe His Promise.  You will get to the other side.  Because He will get you there.  That is one thing we learn from the storm.  We can’t do it on our own.  Really, we can’t do it at all.  We need Jesus, or we perish.  When Jesus sent the disciples away on the boat, the water was calm.  They thought they had it handled.  After all, they were professional fishermen.  And this is their lake.  They are perfectly capable of getting to the other side.  That is how we act when life is smooth.  We have it handled.  We know what we’re doing.  Sure, we need a little help and direction from Jesus, but ultimately, we’re good on our own.  Then a storm arises that blows that myth out of the water.  It exposes us in our weakness and utter helplessness.  The disciples thought that every other time they’d been on the lake and come to the other side safely, it was by their own skill.  They didn’t see that God had been the One to keep them safe every time they had pushed the boat off from shore.  So also you and I.  We know what we’re doing.  We have it under control.  We take it for granted that we’ll be safe.  Until we’re not.  We don’t see that every time we have been kept safe, every success we’ve ever enjoyed, every storm we’ve weathered, and every storm we haven’t had to endure, is from God.  We need Him always, when the lake is smooth, and when the waves beat against us.  But when we recognize that we need Jesus every moment, we can also take comfort in His Word of Promise.  He will get us to the other side.  He will keep us safe.  Because He has already done everything to guarantee our safety in His saving work on the cross and in His resurrection from the dead.  Stay in the boat and let the storm rage.  Stay in the Church and let the devil and the world assault you.  They cannot finally harm you.  Jesus comes to you.  “Take heart,” He says to you.  “I AM.” 
            There is also this matter of Peter getting out of the boat and walking to Jesus on the water.  There is a lesson for us here, as well.  It is not that you can walk on water if you just believe enough.  You can try it at the Church picnic next week.  It will never work.  Because you don’t have a word from Jesus.  He hasn’t told you to walk on water.  It was to Peter, and Peter alone, that Jesus said, “Come” (v. 29).  And that is why Peter can walk on the water.  It is not because of his faith.  It is because of the Word.  The sinking happens for the same reason Jesus sent the disciples out into the storm.  To show Peter that he isn’t walking on water because he is a great hero of faith, because he has supernatural abilities, because he is talented, or even because he believes enough.  He is walking on water for one reason only: Jesus’ Word.  On your own, you drown.  With Jesus, you’re safe.  The minute Peter loses sight of the Word, when he looks at the wind and the waves and realizes he is unable by nature to do what he’s doing, that is when he begins to go under.  But as Christians do, in the moment we’re sinking, the moment we are in peril, we call upon the Lord for help: “Lord, save me” (v. 30).  And He does.  He always does, because He is faithful.  Even though we are not, He is.  “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (v. 31).  O Peter, O Christian, beloved in the Lord, why do you doubt?  Why do you ever doubt?  Jesus will never let you perish.  Never.  He does send storms and He does let you sink.  But He always saves you, because that is who He is.  It is right there in His Name: Jesus, “the LORD saves.” 
Why doesn’t Jesus just appear and make everything better for us right now?  Why does He make us get into the boat and suffer storms with wind and waves?  Disease?  Injury?  Loneliness?  Brokenness?  Death?  Whatever it is, why doesn’t Jesus just get rid of it?  He does, but not the way you tell Him to.  He takes it into Himself and bears it to the cross.  That is why He dies.  He dies for your sins, that you be forgiven.  He dies for your hurt, that you be healed.  He dies for your death, that you live forever with Him.  And He is risen, and lives, and reigns, so that nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God for you in Christ.  You have His Word on it.  And that is the Word that will carry you across, here in the boat, the holy Church.  In spite of the storms, in spite of all that this fallen world can throw at you, you will get to the other side.  Because Jesus has spoken.  He cannot lie.  Do not be afraid.  He has promised.  He will save you.  The wind and the waves will cease.  And you will bow before His throne, safe on the other side, and confess with the disciples: “Truly you are the Son of God” (v. 33).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  H     

Saturday, August 09, 2014

In Memoriam +Henry Louis Pfauth+

In Memoriam +Henry Louis Pfauth+

August 9, 2014
Text: John 10:11-15

            Hank Pfauth walked in danger all the way, whether it be the earthly perils he faced in his time in service to our country during World War II, or the physical ailments that plagued him, particularly the last few years of his life.  He also knew that he walked amidst spiritual dangers, the flaming arrows of the evil one, temptation, sin, and death.  But just as Hank bravely served our nation, confident that the Lord would take care of him, so he bravely walked in this life in the midst of spiritual dangers confident that his walk was with Jesus Christ all the way, who would, as our Psalm declares, keep him from all evil, keep his life, keep his going out and his coming in from this time forth and forevermore (Ps. 121:7-8).  Hank trusted in Jesus, his Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep, for Hank, for you and me, that we might forever live in the safety of the Lord.
            That Jesus is our Good Shepherd means that He leads us, as the beloved Psalm 23 sings, through the valley of the shadow of death and out the other side again.  So that’s what He’s done for Hank.  Our Good Shepherd Jesus led our brother Hank through death and to Himself in heaven, to safety, to joy, to eternal life.  Jesus can lead us through that valley because He’s been there Himself.  That is what He did on the cross for us.  He conquered death by dying.  Dying in our place.  Dying for us, for Hank, for our sin, to pay our debt to God and to purchase us to be His own.  And what He purchases with His own blood He does not leave behind in the valley.  He does not leave Hank in death.  Hank lives.  He lives with Jesus.  He sees now for himself what we can only know by faith, as he stands before the throne of God and of the Lamb with the saints adorned in their white robes.  And the Lamb in the center of the throne, Jesus Christ, who is risen and living… this is His promise: He will raise Hank and all of us from the dead when He comes again on the Last Day.
            Until that Day, or until we join Hank with Jesus in heaven, we, too, walk in danger all the way.  Jesus tells us about those dangers in our Holy Gospel.  He talks about the hired hands who flee at the first sign of danger and the wolves who snatch and scatter the sheep (John 10:12).  Those would be the people and things that we fear, love, and trust more than God.  Those are the people and things we follow instead of listening for the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, to follow Him.  They also include our three main enemies who are always out to devour us like a wolf: the devil, the unbelieving world, and our own sinful flesh.  If you don’t believe you walk in danger all the way, just consider why we’re here today.  Death is the certain reality of life in this fallen world.  We try to ignore it, shield our eyes and ears from it, but eventually a loved one dies and we have to go to the funeral.  We have to confront it, this sad reality.  And we grieve.  It looks like the wolf won.  It looks like the Good Shepherd wasn’t so good after all, like He fell asleep on the job, as though He failed.
            But things are not as they appear.  The Good Shepherd wins the victory over death by, of all things, submitting to it.  What does He say?  “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11; ESV).  The Good Shepherd, Jesus, allows the wolf, death, to swallow Him whole.  And the devil rejoices.  The demons dance for joy.  The enemies of Christ sing their triumph song.  Until the wolf’s tummy starts to rumble.  And ache.  And writhe.  And then Christ, the crucified Savior, punches a hole right through death’s belly so that it can never hold another sheep captive in the tomb again. That’s what happened on Good Friday and Easter, in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
            So the same Jesus came to Hank on Wednesday morning, in the wee small hours, and said to him, “Henry…” He says Henry because He calls us by our baptismal names.  “Henry,” Jesus said.  “The time for walking in danger is over.  Walk with me where it is safe, through the valley of the shadow to the bright eternal day of heaven.”  And for the first time in a long time, Hank walked without trouble, better, in fact, than He’d ever walked before, with Jesus, with the holy angels, to the place Jesus has prepared for him in His Father’s house.  He now enjoys God’s good healing that we sang about in the 6th verse of the hymn (LSB 716), the good healing that allays all suffering, sin, and sorrow, because those things are at an end in Christ.  The sorrow is ours today, not Hank’s.  He is in perfect joy and bliss in the presence of the Savior.  He wouldn’t have it any other way, again, as we sang in the verse: “For all the world I would not stay; My walk is heav’nward all the way.”  For all the world, Hank would not have stayed.  Not because he doesn’t love you.  But because he is where he belongs.  He is healed.  He is with Jesus.  And you’ll see him again.  You’ll see him when you are there with him, with Jesus, because of Jesus, who gives you eternal life. 
            Death is always sad.  Even for Christians.  Because we miss our loved one.  We miss Hank.  But there is also a note of joy at every Christian funeral.  Because we know what Jesus has done about death, Hank’s and ours, in His own death on the cross and in His resurrection.  We know what happens for every believer who walks with Jesus through the valley of the shadow, that He brings them into the light and life of heaven.  And we know what happens at the end, when Jesus returns, and tells us to come out of the grave in our bodies.  Beloved in the Lord, this body will rise from the dead!  So the Christian funeral is a celebration and a confession of the Lord Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come.  We know the end of the story.  We know the Good Shepherd wins.  And death lays dying at the foot of His cross.
            The joy of it all is that we, like Hank, can walk with Jesus all the way.  He never walks away from us.  He never leaves us nor forsakes us.  Not in life.  Not in death.  He walks with us because we are baptized into Him, united to Him by water and the Word.  He walks with us, speaking His Word of life to us.  And here at the altar, He feeds us with Himself, His true body and blood, given and shed for us, for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He spreads a Feast before us.  And not just us, but those who have gone before, Hank and all the saints, who continue to join us “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.”  The hymn we just sang preaches Hank’s confidence in Christ.  That confidence is ours, as well.  “I walk with Jesus all the way, His guidance never fails me; Within His wounds I find a stay When Satan’s pow’r assails me; And by His footsteps led, My path I safely tread.  No evil leads my soul astray; I walk with Jesus all the way” (LSB 716:5).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 13)

August 3, 2014
Text: Is. 55:1-5; Matt. 14:13-21

            “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Is. 55:1; ESV).  Our Lord bids us through the Prophet Isaiah to come to Him and be satisfied, to purchase from Him water, food, wine, and milk, a feast which we, who have nothing of ourselves, could never afford.  But our Lord bids us come and buy that which is priceless without money and without price.  Because He gives it freely.  And what is this water, food, wine, and milk?  It is His salvation, eternal life, forgiveness of sins, mercy, providence, faith, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  It is all that Christ pours out on us in His Word and Sacraments.  What else is the water but Baptism?  What else is the food but the Bread of Life that is our Lord’s Body given into death for us and distributed to us?  What else is the wine but the Lord’s Blood in the Supper?  What else is the milk but the precious Word of God by which He nourishes us as infants in the faith?  And it’s free to you and to me here in the Lord’s Church.
            The Lord Jesus feeds His people.  Certainly He gives us each day our daily bread.  At the very least we ought to take that lesson to heart as we hear the Holy Gospel.  The people are hungry.  The Lord provides.  Bread in the wilderness.  Five loaves and two fish, miraculous multiplication, twelve baskets left over.  He’ll provide for you, too.  But that’s not really the point.  You have yet to starve to death because your heavenly Father knows what you need and has graciously given it.  “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).  We’re always laboring for that which does not satisfy, as the Prophet Isaiah points out to us (Is. 55:2).  We’re always so narrowly focused on this life and the concerns of this life, that we look for satisfaction in possessions and money or pleasure, what this world has to offer.  And though we know better as Christians, for all practical purposes, we often act as if this life is all there is.  Live it up now.  Get what you can now.  It’s all over when you die.  You know that’s not true!  In reality, it is only Jesus who satisfies.  He is the Bread of Life from heaven, the true Manna who sustains us in this wilderness of sin and death, with His Word and His Body and His Blood.  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).  The Word imparts Jesus, gives Him to us with all His saving benefits, to nourish us and bring us to eternal life, heaven, and the resurrection of our bodies.
            Don’t miss the point of the feeding of the 5,000.  Yes, Jesus miraculously multiplied real bread and fish.  Yes, hungry people ate real food and were satisfied because their bellies were full.  St. John tells us in his account that bread is all the people cared about (John 6:26).  They wanted to make Jesus King so that they would always have something to eat (v. 15).  Jesus chides them for it.  “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (v. 27).  The people had missed the point of the miracle.  Jesus’ providence for the bodily needs of the people is a sign of His providence for our spiritual needs. 
            After all, Jesus could have provided for the people’s hunger in another way.  Clearly there were villages nearby to which the people could go and buy bread for themselves, as they undoubtedly planned to do anyway, and this was the suggestion of the disciples (Matt. 14:15).  But what does Jesus say to His disciples?  “(Y)ou give them something to eat” (v. 16).  Jesus isn’t giving this command to just anybody.  He’s giving it to the Twelve.  He’s giving it to the Apostles, the first Christian pastors, and He’s charging to them to feed the people.  Not with their own resources, mind you.  They are to take what God has already given them, five loaves of bread and two fish, and bring it to Jesus, for it is He, through them, who will feed the people.  And what does He do?  He takes the food, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to His disciples.  Now, that ought to sound familiar.  Let me repeat that.  He takes the bread and fish, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to the disciples.  And the disciples are to give it to the people. 
            This is how the Lord feeds His Church.  He feeds His Church by distributing His gifts in the Apostolic Ministry.  He gives the Church pastors who are to take what God has already given to satisfy our bodily needs, bread and wine in the case of the Lord’s Supper, and bring them to Jesus, for it is He who feeds His Church by the mouths and hands of His ministers.  Jesus, by the mouth of His called and ordained servant, speaks His Word over the bread and wine, the Words of Institution: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples…” (LSB 197).  You know how it goes.  He says of the bread, “this is My + body,” and it is.  And He says of the wine, “this is My + blood,” and it is.  And then the pastor is to take what Jesus has given and feed the people.  It is free.  It is for you.  You who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  For that which is priceless is here given to you without price, for Jesus has paid the price in full in His innocent suffering and death on the cross for you.
            No, the meal in the wilderness was not the Lord’s Supper.  That would not happen until the night of our Lord’s betrayal in the Upper Room where He had gathered with His disciples.  They were to take what happened there and give it to the Church.  This meal in the wilderness is a dry run of sorts, a practice, to teach the Church how the Lord feeds us.  He gives pastors.  And He gives the pastors that which they are to feed the people.  And in this way Jesus Himself feeds you.  And there is another lesson here.  Everyone is satisfied.  And there are even leftovers.  What seems like it could never be enough: five loaves and two fish, is sufficient to fill everyone and so also fill twelve baskets full of leftovers.  There is a basket for each disciple to take up, for when the Lord gives, He gives in abundance. 
            And we look at the little wafer and the sip of wine in the Supper and say, How can that possibly satisfy?  How can that do anything about my need, physically or spiritually?  What can that possibly do about my sin?  What can that possibly do about my death?  Beloved, do not look at the appearance of things.  When you do that, you labor for that which does not satisfy.  Remember what the Lord did with the five loaves and two fish.  Look what the Lord does with the bread and wine of the Supper.  He takes it.  He blesses it.  He gives to you, His true body and blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.  And you are satisfied.  You are healed of your iniquity.  You are healed of death.  You are nourished for eternal life.  For when the crucified and risen Body and Blood of Jesus touches your lips and flows down your throat, the Bread of Life and the Medicine of Immortality has taken possession of you.  It flows in you and through you.  And it overflows to your neighbor, because remember, there are always leftovers, baskets to pick up, the Bread of Life (Jesus) to distribute, the grace and mercy of God poured into you in Jesus so that there is more than enough for you to give to your neighbor.

            Jesus feeds His Church.  Jesus feeds you.  He feeds you with Himself.  And it is enough.  You are satisfied.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.