Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 8)

June 28, 2015
Text: Mark 5:21-43

            Desperate.  Jairus is a desperate man, as any man would be in his shoes.  His little daughter, Daddy’s little girl, is sick.  She is at the point of death.  All the efforts of man, all the medical knowledge at their disposal, all of it had come to nothing.  Parents and family and members of the synagogue had prayed.  That precious twelve-year-old light of her Daddy’s life continued to fade.  So now here he is, seeking the Teacher from Nazareth, falling at His feet, imploring Him earnestly, “Come, Lord Jesus”… “My little daughter is at the point of death.  Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live” (Mark 5:23; ESV).
            Desperate.  The poor woman had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, as long as Jairus’ daughter had breathed the breath of life.  Not once a month, but every day for twelve long years this woman suffered, with none of the modern coping mechanisms.  She was miserable.  She suffered much under many physicians… I won’t paint you a picture, but you can imagine what these doctors from the early First Century subjected her to.  It wasn’t pleasant, I’m sure.  And she spent all she had, every penny, but their efforts just made it worse.  To top it all off, remember this is a daughter of Israel, a woman under the Law of Moses.  She is unclean.  Always, every day, for twelve years, she can have no contact with anyone.  She’s an outcast.  She’s not supposed to get near Jesus.  She’s not even supposed to be in the crowd.  She’s making everyone she touches ceremonially unclean.  But she’ll take the risk.  She’s desperate.  “If I just sneak up”… “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well” (v. 28). 
            Desperate.  The world is desperate for peace with a God she won’t acknowledge.  But not on His terms!  She will dictate her own conditions for peace, thank you very much.  I’ve heard a lot of this the last couple of days: “I just can’t believe that God wouldn’t allow someone to love a person just because they happen to be the same gender.”  There we go dictating the terms.  There hangs the forbidden fruit, promising that when you eat of it you can be like God, determining what is good and what is evil.  And it will kill you.  Repent.  The world is desperate, but she doesn’t know why, or won’t acknowledge it.  Desperate in sin.  Desperate in unbelief.  Desperate in death.  So her children seek to justify themselves.  We’re all about love and tolerance… and let’s get those Christian haters!  Them we cannot tolerate!  The ultimate virtue for the world is self-fulfillment.  Do what makes  you happy.  Be true to yourself.  Follow your heart.  Which is exactly what Eve did in the Garden.  Did God really say?  Well, who really cares what He said.  We all know He’d want me to be happy.  And anyway, who can be sure He even exists.  You see, in a strange twist of irony, the denial of God, this insistence that everything is ultimately accidental and meaningless (i.e. evolution), this is all finally a striving for peace with God.  Because if there is no God, there is no conflict.  It’s the ultimate state of denial.  It is desperation.  Unwilling to reconcile with God, and unable to imagine an eternity of conflict with Him (Hell), we just deny the whole thing.  We pretend none of it is real.  That’s the world you live in.
            And you—you have your own desperations.  You also know the anguish.  You know the sting of death, loved ones who have died or are dying.  You know the pain of infirmity in your own body and the bodies of those you love.  From the common cold to cancer, you know this is not how it should be.  This is what it means to know good and evil.  Thank you Eve.  Thank you Adam.  Apart from that fruit, we would only have known the good.  But now the world is fallen, and so is our flesh.  We’re condemned to a life of dying, and that makes us desperate. 
            But you—you know a way out, the only way out.  And that is Jesus.  Jairus knew it, too, and fell at the Savior’s feet, imploring Him for mercy.  The woman knew it, too, and snuck up to touch the hem of His garment.  You know that if you could just catch a Word of life from His lips, just a crumb and a drop from His Table, you will be healed.  And Jesus says to you, “Daughter… Son”… “your faith has made you well” (v. 34).  Actually, not just “made you well.”  The Greek actually says, “your faith has saved you”!  Jesus preaches a good Lutheran sermon: Salvation by faith alone.  Beloved, your faith has saved you.  Because the content of your faith is Christ.  Luther said that faith is a synonym for Christ.  It is not that if you believe hard enough, you will be saved.  Faith is not your work.  It is Christ.  And it is a gift.  Christ is your salvation.  Christ has made you well.  Christ has saved you.  “Your faith has saved you,” He says to the woman who received His healing touch.  “Your faith has saved you,” He says to you who have touched and tasted His healing Body and Blood.  “Depart in peace.”  Be healed of your afflictions.  Your sins are forgiven.  You are clean.  You are restored.  Jesus takes your disease and uncleanness into Himself and nails it to the cross.  And in exchange, He leaves you clean with His own cleanness, His righteousness, His holiness.  No need to justify yourself.  Jesus has done it already.  He has done it completely.  It is finished.
            But there is more, as, indeed, there must be if this is to be truly Good News.  For the woman was healed, but she eventually died.  And Jairus suffered the greatest a heartache a man can know in this life.  His precious little girl died.  And you will die.  “Why trouble the Teacher any further?” (v. 35).  There is nothing He can do about this, says the world.  Why does Jesus do this to us?  Here we are, desperate once again.  The world weeps and wails in hopelessness, and in our own grief, we’re tempted to join in.  When Jesus comes to the house, there is a great commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.  That is the only response the world knows to death.  And it’s not even all that sincere, not for most of those present.  It was the custom at the death of a loved one to hire mourners to help set the mood.  They’re doing it for pay!  And they scoff when Jesus announces hope in the face of hopelessness: “The child is not dead but sleeping” (v. 39).  Much as they scoff at you when you confess: “I believe in… the resurrection of the body” (Apostles’ Creed).  They can’t believe you mean that.  Because they’re desperate, but not so desperate as to believe something that contradicts their every experience of death.  Dead men don’t rise.  It is easier to live in denial than to stake your eternal fate on a confession of hope in the face of hopelessness.  It is impossible for man to believe this hope.  It’s a miracle that anybody believes.  It is a miracle, and it happens every time a baby is baptized into Christ, every time the Lord Jesus speaks faith into the heart of a child of God: “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36).
            In a little foreshadowing of the Judgment, Jesus throws the unbelieving world out of the house.  Only the believers are present: the disciples, Jairus, his wife, and the corpse.  Jesus takes the hand of the little girl in His own, and He speaks into her ear: “‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise’” (v. 41).  And she does.  Immediately, St. Mark tells us (v. 42).  She’s walking around, probably talking and laughing and overjoyed to be alive.  According to St. Luke, Jesus commands them to give her something to eat (Luke 8:55).  Nothing works up an appetite like being dead.  And nothing calls for a Feast like resurrection from the dead.  When our blessed Lord appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, He was constantly eating with them (Cf. Luke 24 and John 21!).  And He has given us the Meal of His death and resurrection to eat and drink until He comes again.  He died.  He is risen.  We eat with Him every time we gather around His Altar.  It is His healing touch.  Your faith has saved you.  Depart in peace.  And what about death?  What about it?  You already died with Christ at the font.  You are already risen with Him from the baptismal flood.  And anyway, you already know what He will do for you on the Last Day.  He will take your hand in His hand, the pierced one, and speak into your ear: “Child, I say to you, arise!”  And you will.  You’ll step out of the grave with your own two feet and join in the unending Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end.  Despair no more.  Jesus lives.  And so do you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 7)

June 21, 2015
Text: Mark 4:35-41

            Times of tribulation and sudden catastrophes betray our struggle with faith and doubt.  At these times we ask the really hard questions.  Where is Jesus?  Why is He allowing this to happen?  Can He help?  Does He even care?  When life gets particularly difficult; when it becomes clear to us and to everyone around us that we are broken and perishing people at the mercy of wind and wave, time and circumstance; when we have to admit that we are utterly helpless, that even our lives are a big, filthy mess of sin and death; we cry out to Jesus: “Lord, don’t you care?!”  And it seems like He is asleep on a cushion, unconcerned and unmoved by our plea.
            The disciples took Jesus into the boat after a particularly exhausting day.  There had been great crowds, probably healings, and certainly much teaching.  Our Lord was tired.  The disciples, being experienced fisherman who knew their way around a boat and the lake, were eager to give their Teacher a rest.  They could handle it.  The weather looked good.  The conditions were favorable.  And this is what the disciples did for a living.  Take a break, Jesus.  We’ve got this one.  Go take a nap on the cushion in the stern.  So He did.  That blessed sleep after a hard day of labor.  Then, all at once, the weather took an unexpected turn.  A great windstorm arose.  This kind of storm is not all that uncommon on the Sea of Galilee.  The Sea is surrounded by mountains and hills, and when cold wind blows in from the mountains over the warm water, it can make for tumultuous weather.  But this storm came out of nowhere.  The waves were breaking over the boat.  The disciples were bailing, but they couldn’t keep up with the water now filling the boat.  The situation looked hopeless.  And though everyone else was in a panic, bailing for their very lives, where was Jesus?  Asleep on the cushion.  Apparently unconcerned.  Apparently unmoved by the cries of distress.  “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38; ESV). 
            In fact, it may be worse than that.  It just may be that Jesus is doing this on purpose.  Consider the evidence.  Recall that the disciples had earned their sea legs.  They knew what they were doing.  They were pretty good meteorologists, and they wouldn’t have risked life and limb and precious fishing vessel if they knew a dangerous storm was brewing.  Furthermore, what is going on with Jesus?  When waves are tossing you every which way and soaking you to the bone, you don’t just sleep through that.  So the storm came out of nowhere and Jesus kept right on snoozing as though He had nothing to be concerned about.  And so the verdict: Jesus planned this whole thing!  Jesus is responsible for the storm!  He did this on purpose!  Well, He is God, remember?!  Ah, and that is what this is really all about.  Jesus is teaching His disciples (those in the boat with Him and those in His Church this morning) some profound facts.  There will be storms in this life.  They will be unexpected and they will be violent.  No, we cannot handle it.  We are insufficient and we are broken, and on our own, we perish.  Jesus sends the storms for this very reason, that we may know our place before Him.  But He also sends the storms that we might know who He is and what He has come to do.  He is God, the Creator of wind and wave, and He has come to save us.  And awake or asleep, no matter how violent the storm, we are safe in the boat with Him.  That we may know this, Jesus arises and rebukes the wind and says to the sea: “Peace!  Be still!” (v. 39).  And immediately, there is calm.
            This is, of course, a classic example of how Jesus works.  The disciples don’t recognize the pattern until the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but look at how this is a little picture of Jesus’ ultimate saving work.  Talk about a sudden storm: Judas, the soldiers, the arrest in the Garden, the trial. I mean, they had just been celebrating the Passover with their Lord, and now all this.  Pilate, the scourging, the mocking, the cross.  Everyone panics.  Everyone runs.  The Lord Jesus sleeps the sleep of death.  The disciples believe they are perishing, and that God doesn’t care.  All is ruined.  It’s all over now.  But on the Third Day Jesus rises from the dead.  And what is the first thing He says when He appears in their midst that Easter evening?  “Peace” (Luke 24:36).  “Peace to you.”  And now the very storm of death has been stilled.  The thundering of the Law has been silenced.  The howling wind of Satan’s lies is muted.  The waves of our sin can no longer drown us.  Jesus has done all that to death.  And now there is peace.  “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).  Jesus is God in human flesh.  And He has come to save you.
            Here you sit in the boat that is the Holy Christian Church, and God knows this boat is battered and tossed by wind and wave.  You’re drenched, every one of you, as wave after waves spills out from the font and drowns you.  But this is a different kind of drowning.  It’s a drowning unto life, a dying to live.  It is death with Christ, and resurrection in Him.  It is a peaceful sleep in the midst of the storm, from which you arise with stillness and peace.  Oh, the storm rages.  There is cross and cancer, car wrecks and crime.  There are flooded fields and flooded basements and pillows flooded with your tears.  But if you take nothing else from this sermon, cling to this: You are always safe when you are in the boat with Jesus.  Jesus will navigate you safely to the other side, to your home in heaven.  No matter the storm, there is peace in Jesus.  For Jesus is God, and He has come in the flesh to save you.
            In fact, He sends the storms for your good.  He sends them so that you despair of yourself and run to Him for help and salvation.  He sends them so that you trust only Him to deliver you.  And He sends them so that you might witness His deliverance, that you might know His peace.  We don’t always know why our Lord sends the storms He does.  That is what God teaches Job in our Old Testament reading (Job 38:1-11).  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … Who determined its measurements… Or who stretched the line upon it?” (vv. 4-5).  If you know… If you were there “in the beginning,” then you can question God.  He is God and we are not.  That is the point of the Job text.  So you just have to trust Him, that He knows what He is doing, and believe His promise that “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).  He does all things well. 

            And He saves you.  He delivers you from every cross and trial, just as He delivers you from sin and death by His own death and resurrection.  Of course He can help.  Of course He cares.  He is God.  And He has come to save you.  And that you believe this, He has left you a Meal: His very Body, His very Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.  Jesus is present here in the boat.  He’s here in the flesh.  And you are safe.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Second Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 5)

June 7, 2015
Text: Mark 3:20-35

            There are spirits at work in all things.  There is a vast spiritual reality present among us that we cannot see with our fallen eyes.  It is a war between God and Satan, the angels and the demons.  They are fighting to possess you.  The war was already won on the cross.  Jesus is the Victor.  He is stronger than the strong man.  He binds the devil by being bound to the cross, submitting Himself to death for our sakes, and rising again on the Third Day, vanquishing sin and death.  But the devil still has a limited time to wreak havoc in this world.  He wants you as a casualty in the war.  He wants you to lose your faith in Jesus, to forsake your Baptism, to fall away from the Body of Christ, the Holy Church.  It is vital you understand that there is no spiritually neutral ground.  Either the Holy Spirit possesses you, or demons possess you.  You can’t have it both ways, and you can’t have it neither way.  In your Baptism you belong to the Holy Spirit.  Where you are in the Word of Christ and receiving His Body and Blood for strength and nourishment, there the Holy Spirit takes possession of you whole, and there is no room for demons.  There the holy angels surround you to protect you in body and soul and shield you from temptation.  But away from your Baptism, in those dark places you love to wander, the idols to which you are devoted, the images you love to worship, curved in on yourself, these are dangerous places because they are the realm of evil spirits.  There are very real demons at work, beloved, in addictions, in pornography and sexual perversions, in greed and selfishness, in gossip and slander.  Repent.  Run for the waters of the font.  Run to Christ.  Be absolved.  The guilt you feel is the Holy Spirit calling you home.  The Blood of Jesus that flows from font and chalice is also very real, to forgive you of all sin, to cleanse you of all that is unclean, and to restore in you the Spirit of joy and peace and faith, the Holy Spirit of God.  You cannot fight this spiritual battle alone.  The weakest demon is stronger than any man.  But the strongest demon, Satan himself, is no match for the Lord.  There is help for you.  Come talk to me.  There is no shame in confession of sins.
            Jesus’ family is not sure He has the Holy Spirit.  They are afraid He is out of His mind.  He is the embarrassing One, the brother who is making a spectacle before the crowd.  Mary remembers the things said by angels and shepherds, wise men and old Simeon.  She ponders them in her heart.  But those things cannot mean this, can they?  Jesus challenging the religious leaders?  Jesus surrounding Himself with crowds of the irreputable: the unclean, tax-collectors, prostitutes, sinners?  Jesus making claims that suggest He is Messiah, suggest He is the Son of God?  Well, Mary knows that to be true if she heard the angel right.  She knows His conception was a little… different than the normal way.  But the brothers (who are not yet believers, though they will be after the Resurrection)… the brothers convince her that they must shut Him up and bring Him home.
            The scribes, the religious leaders, believe there is something more sinister at work than insanity.  They are good enough theologians to know there is no such thing as spiritually neutral ground.  They believe Jesus is possessed by the devil.  Not just any demon, but Beelzebul, the lord of the flies, the prince of demons, Satan.  They are convinced the devil has given Him this power to cast out demons as a show, to attract the crowds, deceive them, and lead them astray.  But how can Satan cast out Satan (Mark 3:23)?  How would that work?  That would be like our own armed forces demonstrating their vast power to ISIS by bombing themselves.  It would be lunacy.  A kingdom, a house divided against itself cannot stand (v. 24), Words of wisdom for our nation, words of wisdom for our Church, and proof positive that Jesus is not possessed by Satan, but by the Holy Spirit.  And here is what is so chilling.  In saying He has an unclean spirit (v. 30), the scribes blaspheme the Holy Spirit.  And “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (v. 29; ESV).
            Ah, yes, the sin against the Holy Spirit, the unforgiveable sin.  This has caused no small amount of angst among Christians.  We hear about this, and we worry: “Have I committed the sin against the Holy Spirit?  Can I be forgiven?”  First of all, if you are worried about whether you’ve committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, you haven’t.  Take comfort.  If you had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, you wouldn’t be worried about it.  That is the nature of this sin.  The sin against the Holy Spirit is to refuse Him, to harden your heart against Him when He speaks His Word, and to do this so persistently that He gives up on you.  He gives you what you want.  He hardens your heart for you, like Pharaoh in the exodus.  And then He leaves you alone.  He gives you up to your idolatry.  He gives you over to the evil spirits.  The sin against the Holy Spirit, then, is persistent unbelief.  The scribes called the Holy Spirit an evil spirit.  They rejected Jesus and believed the Holy Spirit needed casting out.  They hardened their hearts.  They blasphemed the Holy Spirit.  That is the unforgiveable sin, because it refuses forgiveness, refuses Christ.
            Now, think about the way our Lord was received by His own family, the authorities, and the religious leaders of the day.  Think about the Spirit at work in Jesus and the spirits at work in the various reactions to Christ.  And then compare these to the plight of the Church in our own day.  The Church is the Body of Christ.  As it is with Christ, the Head, so it is with the Church, His Body.  The world will reject you when you confess Christ and His holy Word, when you hold steadfast to the faith, when you insist His Word is truth.  Your own family may think you are insane.  They may try to shut you up and take you home.  The world, including many of those perceived to be “religious authorities,” may call you worse than insane.  They may accuse you of being in league with Satan.  Oh, they won’t say it that way.  They’ll say you are a hater.  They’ll say you are a bigot.  If you don’t believe me, just try calling Bruce Jenner’s recent “transformation” into question on Facebook.  No matter how gentle, how loving, how compassionate you may be, the reactions will be venomous.  The very fact that the world has so whole-heartedly embraced this is evidence of grand demonic deception.  (And this should go without saying, but because there is so much confusion in the world, I hope you know, beloved, that Mr. Jenner’s confusion calls for our compassion and for our loving confession that gender is not something we get to choose for ourselves, because God has made us male and female.  He is God.  We are not.  He will bring clarity to those who are confused, unless they harden their hearts against Him.  And Mr. Jenner is precisely the kind of person our Lord would hang out with.  But He wouldn’t leave Mr. Jenner in his perversion.  He would, and does, call him to repentance and faith.)  The world has no love lost for Christians.  The world thinks we are insane to believe the things we believe.  And the world calls the Holy Spirit an evil spirit, a spirit of hatred and bigotry, a spirit of ignorance and intolerance.  Being a disciple of Jesus comes with a cost.  They will revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of Jesus (Matt. 5:11).  Our Lord promises it.  But rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in the heavens.  For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (v. 12). 

            You have the Spirit of faith about whom St. Paul writes in our Epistle: “I believed, and so I spoke,” Paul quotes the Psalmist (2 Cor. 4:13; Ps. 116:10).  So you believe, and so you speak.  You believe because the Spirit has given you faith in Christ as a gift.  You speak because the Spirit teaches you what to say by His Word and gives you courage.  And along with faith and His Word, the Spirit gives you the gift of discernment.  You discern the spirits.  You know that the Holy Spirit speaks in the Word of God and the confession that Christ is Lord.  You also know that evil spirits parade as angels of light.  That means they look good to the world, and even to your flesh.  But you can always tell them for who they are when they call on you to doubt the Lord’s Word, to doubt your salvation in Jesus, to harden your heart, to go your own way.  Generally speaking, the world will not be a fan of what the Holy Spirit is doing.  The world will always follow the evil spirits.  But you are not of the world.  You have been called out of it.  The Holy Spirit has cast out every evil spirit in your Baptism into Christ.  He has taken possession of you, body and soul.  And He has brought you into His Church, the Communion of the Baptized, the Body of Christ, sons and daughters of the Father.  Here Jesus Himself washes you, and teaches you, and feeds you with His Body and Blood.  Here Jesus Himself forgives your sins and grants you eternal life.  He calls you His brothers and sisters and mother.  For you do the will of God.  And the will of God is simply this: that you believe in Jesus Christ, whom He has sent.  So here, in the Church, you are safe from the demons and unclean spirits.  You are with Jesus, who has crushed the serpent’s head.  And “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16).  The Kingdom ours remaineth (LSB 656:4).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.