Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 17)

August 30, 2015
Text: Mark 7:14-23

            It’s so contrary to our instinct.  We’re always guarding against things from the outside entering in and making us sick or unclean.  We worry about germs.  We worry about touching things that are gross.  We worry about what we inhale and what we ingest.  We carry around hand sanitizer to kill off anything we touch.  We wash with antibacterial soap.  We watch what we eat.  We are forever on a diet.  And almost daily in the news headlines we read about how this or that common food or drink or ingredient is going to kill us.  Now, not all of this is bad.  It’s true that germs make us sick.  It’s true that we should take care of our bodies and observe proper hygiene habits.  And it’s true that too much of some ingredients in processed food can do damage to our bodies, although I’m not sure we need all the sensationalism from the alarmist media.  But this is basically who we are.  We’re always worried about what comes into us.  Maybe for different reasons than the Pharisees, but we’re worried just the same.  And so it comes as a shocker when Jesus says: “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him” (Mark 7:15; ESV). 
            This is the fundamental problem of fallen human nature.  We’re always worried about defilement from the outside in, when the real problem is inside out.  “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (vv. 21-23).  This is what happened in the Garden, in the fall of man.  Suddenly Adam and Eve went from totally focused on God and His good and gracious will for them, to totally focused on self and the desires of the flesh.  So they died.  That is the way of death.  The fall of mankind isn’t just about sinful outward actions, what we call “actual sins,” bad things we do and good things we fail to do.  No, it goes much deeper than that.  In fact, it goes right to the heart of man.  We don’t just say our actions are fallen.  We talk about fallen human nature, what we call “original sin.”  And it effects every aspect of us.  We are rotten to the core, corrupt in our very essence.  We are born looking away from God, our only source of life and salvation, and looking instead upon ourselves.  Incurvatus in se, is the Latin theological phrase.  “Curved in on the self.”  We are navel gazers, self-involved and self-obsessed, narcissists, and so in our own self-interest, we cut ourselves off from God and off from our neighbor.  Repent. 
            This is why we have the Ashley Madison scandal that is all over the news.  This is the website I referenced last week that specializes in facilitating extra-marital affairs.  Their tag line is, “Life is short.  Have an affair.”  Lord, have mercy.  I’ll be honest, it takes a lot to shock me in this fallen world, and I’m not surprised so many men and women (mostly men) fell prey to this temptation (33 million accounts, over 23,000 in Grand Rapids alone!).  Those kind of numbers are a little too abstract to make it real, though.  What really put it in perspective for me is an article that revealed there are only three zip codes in the United States without Ashley Madison accounts: Nikolai, Alaska, population 94; Perryville, Alaska, population 113; and Polvadera, New Mexico, population 269.  That’s it.  That means you and I undoubtedly know someone with an Ashley Madison account.  That means there are accounts right here in Dorr, in Wayland, in Hopkins, and in all the places you live.  And the hackers are releasing names and all the juicy details.  Many Christians have fallen to this temptation, and they will be exposed.  I’m telling you, if your name is on this list, you’d better come talk to me right away.  It’s time for Confession and Absolution.  That’s the only way you’re going to get out of this mess.  This is the way the devil works (and make no mistake, there is a demonic power behind this website).  First the devil helps you justify the sin in your mind so that you feel comfortable, or at least excited about doing it.  Then, once you’ve committed the sin, he pulls the rug out from under you.  He accuses you and tells you God can never forgive you now.  He drives you to despair and puts you to shame before your neighbor.  And you know what can never help you?  Your heart.  Your heart is the problem!  For God’s sake, don’t believe the conventional wisdom that you should follow your heart!  Or be true to yourself!  Or go with your gut!  Or whatever recycled and warmed-over variation of that advice. 
            What is amazing is that even Christians, who should know better, tell you to “give your heart to Jesus” as if it’s some amazing present He’ll be thrilled about!  Like your heart is some kind of pure and precious jewel, and you’re somehow enriching Jesus by giving it to Him.  In Bo Giertz’ novel, The Hammer of God, the young pastor, Fridfeldt, wanting to teach his older, seasoned, superior pastor a thing or two about true faith, declares, “I just want you to know from the beginning, sir, that I am a believer” in Jesus… “I mean that I have given him my heart.”…  “Do you consider that something to give him?” asks the old man…. You see, “it is one thing to choose Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, to give him one’s heart and commit one’s self to him, and that he now accepts one into his little flock; it is a very different thing to believe on him as a Redeemer of sinners, of whom one is chief.  One does not choose a Redeemer for oneself, you understand, nor give one’s heart to him.  The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap.  A fine birthday gift, indeed!  But a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks his walking cane through it, and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with him.  That is how it is.”[1]
            Jesus is the Lord who has mercy on you and redeems you, body and soul, heart and mind, right down to your very essence.  Not because you’re so precious, but because He is so good.  He does it by taking on your nature, your essence, though Himself without sin.  Yet He becomes THE Sinner for you.  He takes into Himself all your sin and uncleanness, all that yucky stuff that oozes out of your heart, and He humbles Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.  That is penalty for your sin.  That is the destiny of your heart.  Follow your heart if you want, but understand, it’ll lead you to the pit of hell.  Follow Jesus, whose heart for you led Him through hell on the cross… believe in Him,  Christ crucified and risen for you, and you have eternal life.  Jesus takes your heart and washes it clean and pure in His Blood.  Jesus takes you up into Himself and delivers you spotless before His Father.  Jesus forgives all your sins and creates in you a new heart.
            What is so backwards about all of this from our perspective, is that He does it by what He puts into you.  Salvation must come from outside of you.  Actually, what you take in, if it be full of Jesus, cleanses you, heals you, restores and enlivens you.  We are speaking, of course, about the Word of God, the Holy Gospel, the preaching that declares you forgiven and free.  We are speaking about the Holy Absolution, by which you return to your Baptism in which the risen Christ washes you of all sin, drowns your sinful flesh, and raises you to new life in Him.  We are speaking of the cleansing and nourishing Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, which He gives you here at His altar, for the forgiveness of your sins.  What comes out of you defiles you.  What goes into you from Jesus makes you clean.
            Indeed, the Lord Jesus gives you a new heart.  The old heart must die.  The new, you can only receive from Jesus.  You prayed for this very thing in the Introit.  You’ll pray it again after the sermon: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).  Give me a divine heart and soul transplant.  And Jesus says yes.  It is done in your Baptism.  It is done as you remain in our Lord’s life-giving Word and Supper.  Everything is upside down now.  What comes out is defiled, what goes in cleanses.  Confession of sin is what comes out of you.  Absolution, forgiveness from Jesus Himself, is what goes in.  Body and Blood of Jesus is what goes in.  The Gospel is what goes in.  What you think, do, and say is all sin and filth and death.  What Jesus thinks of you, does for you, and says to you is purifying, healing, and life-giving.  Giving your heart to Jesus doesn’t save you.  That Jesus gave His heart for you, now THAT is what saves you.  It is not about what you do for God, but what God does for you in Christ.  It’s all so contrary to our instinct.  It’s all upside down.  But as it turns out, in God’s economy, upside down is right side up.  And you, O sinner, are a saint.  Because of Jesus.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

[1] Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1960/2005) pp. 122-23.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 16)

August 23, 2015
Text: Mark 7:1-13

            Jesus is not against washing your hands.  In fact, if your mother tells you to go wash up for dinner, Jesus wants you to submit to her and do your Fourth Commandment duty of honoring her, serving and obeying her, loving and cherishing her.  So also, the rest of us appreciate it when you observe proper hygiene habits, so love for your neighbor demands that you wash.  With soap and water, please.  It’s one of the unwritten rules of our life together. 
            But the scribes and the Pharisees are not concerned about germs.  Their concern runs much deeper.  It is a question of how one becomes and remains pure: Clean before God, sparkling before the neighbor.  The scribes and Pharisees were upset that Jesus’ disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed (Mark 7:2).  They were offended at this because the disciples were blatantly disobeying the traditions of the elders.  Note, this handwashing is not a command of God.  It is a tradition of the elders.  It is a commandment of men.  The Jews were afraid of becoming ceremonially unclean.  So in addition to observing the commandments of God recorded by Moses in the Law, they added extra traditions that went the extra mile.  They washed everything.  The word in Greek is “baptize.”  They baptized everything: Hands, cups, pots, copper vessels, and even their dining couches.  Because what if someone ceremonially unclean had touched those things?  What if (gasp!) a Gentile had touched those things?  What if an unclean person or a Gentile or a sinner had, unbeknownst to the pious Jew, brushed up against him in the market place?  The scribes and the Pharisees were worried about guilt by association.  We must wash off that filth!  Baptize those hands!  Baptize everything!  Wash it all away!  God will be impressed!  God will see how pure you have kept yourself!  You will shine in the eyes of your neighbors!  You will be clean!  But it’s hypocrisy.  Because as shiny as you are on the outside, any honest examination of the heart will turn up nothing but sin and death, evil thoughts, murder, adultery, covetousness, and every form of wickedness.  Jesus rightly says in another place, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27; ESV).  The scribes and Pharisees rely on their works, especially their works over and above God’s Law, to make them pure and clean.  And it works, on the outside.  People are impressed.  These are “good Christian folk.”  But God looks at the heart.  He is not impressed.  The heart is unclean.  The heart is evil.  In preferring the outward righteousness of the Law, the scribes and Pharisees reject God’s clear Word.  And so by what they do they make void the Word of God. 
            It’s easy to sit in judgment on the legalistic scribes and Pharisees.  We are always better at seeing the sin of another than we are at seeing our own.  The truth is, though, we do the same thing.  Like the scribes and Pharisees, we build a façade.  We present ourselves as holier than we actually are.  Think about it.  When someone at Church asks you how you’re doing, you don’t tell him about your struggle with lust or the evil thoughts you entertain about your co-worker.  Nor do you tell him all the judgements you’ve been making about him ever since he approached you.  You tell him you’re doing fine, because that’s what you want people to think about you.  “That is one person who’s got it all together!” you want us to think.  And you certainly don’t want them believing you actually mean what you say when you confess that you’re a poor, miserable sinner.  When you get right down to it, that’s probably why you don’t come to private Confession, because you don’t want the pastor to know that you have real sin.  But you do want everyone to know that you’re here, Sunday in and Sunday out, repenting sincerely, believing truly, and that you give to the offering and serve on this or that board… that you vote the right way and dress the right way and believe all the right things.  And incidentally, I’m glad if all of that’s true.  But I don’t for a minute believe that the hidden chambers of your heart are as clean as your public persona.  I say this in love, because I know myself, and I know fallen human nature.  More to the point, the Bible tells us what we are.  You and I, Pharisees that we are, are whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, full of death on the inside.  Or as Jesus tells us today, all that running around being “good Christian folk,” doing the things we expect “good Christian folk” to do, and counting on that as our righteousness, our purity: that doing, our doing, makes void the Word of God.  Repent. 
            This whole Josh Duggar thing is precisely about this.  For those of you who don’t know who I’m talking about, Josh Duggar is the Christian kid from the reality show 19 Kids and Counting who was recently exposed for having molested his sisters a number of years ago, and more recently for having an account with a website that specializes in facilitating adulterous affairs.  Needless to say, the media is all over this.  Here is a Christian who has taken a mighty fall.  Josh’s Christian fans are horrified by the news.  But here is the thing they all fail to consider.  Get ready, because this will be a shocker.  Josh Duggar is not the exception, he’s the rule!  And the very fact that we love to stand in judgement of him shows us for the Pharisees we are.  Maybe your sins are different than his.  Do you think that makes you clean?  The truth is, you don’t want others knowing what you think, say, and do in secret, either!  You’d be horrified if we could all read your thoughts, because you know how nasty they are.  You can be as squeaky clean as we all thought the Duggars were on the outside, but that doesn’t cleanse you of your evil heart and your very real guilt.  If you think it does, you make void the Word of God.  And you are still in your sins. 
            Thank God, you are not made clean by what you do.  You are made clean by what Jesus Christ has done and continues to do for you.  The Lord Jesus is not just righteous, He is righteousness itself.  He is the Holy One, come down from the Father, the only-begotten Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.  He took upon Himself our flesh.  He went down into the dirty, stinking Jordan River to soak up your sin and the sin of the whole world.  And He took it to the cross, bearing it in His holy Body, to bathe in the one and only cleansing agent capable of the job: His Blood, the Blood of God made man, shed for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins.  And now our risen Lord, Righteousness Incarnate, gives Himself to you as a gift.  He does it first in your Baptism.  He is not satisfied simply with baptized hands.  In fact, He is not satisfied with full-body immersion, if all the cleansing is is an outward bath.  When Jesus baptizes you, He cleanses you from the inside out.  He starts with your heart and with your soul.  He takes possession of you with His Holy Spirit.  And what begins at the Font continues in the Word of Preaching and Absolution, and at the Supper of His Body and Blood.  By these means He gives Himself to you to be your righteousness before the Father.  The Father doesn’t look at what you do.  What you do is all sin.  The Father looks at what Jesus does.  And He counts it as your righteousness.  You are clean.
            And now you can do things, like take care of your elderly parents, or give special offerings to Church, and yes, wash your hands before supper, not to impress God or your neighbor with how clean and pious you are.  You can do those things because the Spirit of God has created in you a clean heart, a new heart, a heart that beats with the very Blood of the Lord Jesus given to you in His Means of Grace.  You aren’t saved or clean or any better before God by any of those things that you do.  You are saved and clean because of Jesus.  Only Jesus.  It’s not about you.  It’s about Jesus Christ for you.
            I pray Josh Duggar knows that his “good Christian, family values” public persona is not, and has never been, what makes him clean before God.  Jesus Christ already made him clean by His sin-atoning work on the cross.  This is not to minimize the very real damage he has done to people by his sins.  But it is to say that he has salvation in Christ, and all his sins are forgiven.  Yes, even Josh Duggar, the hypocrite and molester and adulterer.  Josh Duggar is spotless before God.  Because he is covered in Jesus’ Blood.  And so are you.  Because you are in Christ.  Because you are baptized.  All your sins, every last deep dark secret of your heart, all of it is forgiven.  You are righteous.  You are clean.

            You can’t get that by washing your hands or your dishes or your furniture.  You can’t get that by anything you do.  You have it in Christ, by what He has done.  And it is free gift.  You’ve been washed at the Font.  You’ve been clothed with Jesus.  Now He brings you to His Table, because you’re clean and dressed for the Supper.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.            

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 15)

August 16, 2015
Text: John 6:51-69

            “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:53-54; ESV).  Go figure, you make a Communion statement, and everybody leaves!  Everybody, except a few of the faithful.  That’s what happens to Jesus.  Everybody forsakes Him except for the Twelve.  “How can this man give us his flesh to eat… This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (vv. 52, 60), they ask, their heads shaking in unbelief and disapproval, as they walk away.  There are four words in this saying of our Lord that make it particularly controversial, four words that have kept the Church arguing for centuries: Flesh, Blood, eat, drink.  You see, what Jesus is saying here is that Almighty God is a Flesh and Blood Man.  He’s saying to the Jews and His disciples, “You see this guy here present and speaking to you?  I AM.  Almighty God, right here, right now, in the Flesh!”  And it’s scandalous!  But there’s more.  “You want to live?  You want to have eternal life?  You have to eat me.  You have to eat my Flesh and drink my Blood.  Eat me and drink me and you have eternal life.”  Now, we Lutherans take Jesus’ Words here quite literally.  We worship a Man, Flesh and Blood.  We pray to a Man.  God died for us.  He could die because He is a human being.  God’s Flesh was pierced.  God’s Blood was shed.  And God is bodily risen from the dead.  He’s still a man.  He’s still Flesh and Blood.  And we eat Him and drink Him.  We believe Him when He says “Take, eat; this is my body… Drink of it, all of you… this is my blood” (Matt. 26:26-27), or as He says it here in our text, “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55).  Jesus says it.  We believe it.  He is God, after all, so He can do this miracle for us, and He always keeps His Promises.  So that’s good enough for us.  We eat His Body there, under the bread.  We drink His Blood there, under the wine.  It is what He says it is, and it does what He says it does, forgiving our sins and imparting eternal life.  It should go without saying that our Lord does not lie.  But as we know, not everyone in the Church finds this doctrine of the Lord’s Supper so easy to stomach.
            Actually, the early Church didn’t really have a problem with this.  They heard it from the Apostles, who heard it directly from Jesus, and except for a couple guys in the middle ages who stirred up trouble, it really wasn’t until the Reformation that guys like Zwingli and Calvin and the non-Lutheran reformers began to question if our Lord really meant what He said.  These are the fathers of the Reformed churches.  Zwingli denied that our Lord is present at all in the Sacrament.  He insisted it is just a symbol.  Calvin said our Lord is present spiritually, and that we partake of Him by faith, but that His Body and Blood are nowhere near the bread and wine.  Luther just sticks with Scripture.  He takes Jesus’ Word for it.  “This is my Body.”  Okay, that’s what it is.  And so we believe, teach, and confess.  But it’s offensive, because you’re taking those four words literally: Flesh, Blood, eat, drink.
            Maybe you’re too Lutheran to get what the big deal is about all this.  But let’s just think through what is so offensive about these words for a moment.  First of all, Flesh and Blood.  For the most part, we’re all okay with this idea that God the Son is a Flesh and Blood Man, theoretically.  But we get squeamish when it comes to the specifics.  You see, because Jesus is a Man, we confess that God was hungry and thirsty.  He got tired.  He had to use the restroom.  I’m not so sure we’re right when we sing, “the little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.”  To be sure, it wasn’t the sinful, selfish, demanding cry we’re guilty of as little babies, but how else did the very human Son of God tell Mary and Joseph He was hungry or tired or gassy?  That’s how babies communicate.  I was reminded just how controversial this whole thing is yesterday, the Feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord.  I was reading through comments on some things my brother pastors had posted, and I was amazed at how much objection there is, even among Lutherans, to calling Mary “the Mother of God.”  It just makes Jesus too human.  But you realize, don’t you, that’s what the Bible says: “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” God with us (Is. 7:14).  “(Y)ou will conceive in your womb and bear a son… the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:31, 35).  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal. 4:4).  Thus the early Church named Mary Theotokos in Greek, the Mother of God.  That bugs people.  It’s too fleshly.  It makes God a little too real.  He’s not just a nice idea.  He’s not a kind spirit far removed who loves us and wants us to be basically good people and live fulfilling and happy lives, but basically leaves us alone except when we really need him.  That’s the god of the culture, but that’s not our God.  Our God comes down, He comes to us, in the Flesh.  He comes and gets His hands dirty with our filth.  He’s conceived.  He’s born.  He grows up in a backwater town, despised Nazareth, Nowheresville.  He suffers and He dies.  To take away your sin.  To take away your filth.  To free you from death.  And He is bodily risen from the dead, and He will raise you in your very real body, too, on the Last Day.  It’s not just that you go to heaven when you die.  True enough, that, but there’s so much more.  The Man, Jesus, God in the Flesh, will raise your flesh from the grave and you’ll live forever in your body.  A risen body, made complete and healed of every affliction, but your body.  On a very real earth.  A risen earth, made complete and healed of every affliction, but the real earth.  That’s pretty hard to take, too, isn’t it?  Christianity is an incarnational religion.  That is to say, it’s a flesh and blood religion.  We have a Flesh and Blood God who redeems us flesh and blood.  We’ll live forever with our Flesh and Blood God in the flesh and blood of our bodies.  Does that offend you?  Repent.  You’re offended by Jesus.  That’s what He says. 
            And then there’s the clincher.  This Flesh and Blood God… He gives you His Flesh and Blood to eat and to drink.  And apart from that Flesh and Blood, you have no life in you.  Now, to be sure, there is more than one way to feed on Jesus.  John 6 isn’t exclusively about the Lord’s Supper.  Otherwise, how could our children have life when they haven’t been instructed and are not yet receiving the Sacrament?  We feed on Jesus also in His Word, which is the Word of eternal life, as St. Peter confesses (John 6:68).  But that said, John 6 is about the Lord’s Supper.  Of course it is.  The original hearers of this Gospel heard it in the same context in which we are hearing it: The Divine Service.  They (and we) hear Jesus say: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,” and then we eat His Body and drink His Blood at the altar.  Of course He is talking about the Lord’s Supper.  But this is scandalous, to take Jesus at His Word here.  You mean you actually chew Jesus’ Body in your mouth and swallow His Blood?  The very same Body that was nailed to the cross?  The very same Blood that spilled all over the ground on Calvary?  Yes, that’s what we mean.  Because that’s what Jesus means.  He says it.  He means it.  He does not lie.  And if you have a problem with that, you’re problem isn’t with me, it’s with Jesus.  Repent.  Don’t walk away shaking your head and muttering, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”  Jesus asks you this morning, as He asked the Twelve: “Do you want to go away as well” (v. 67)?  Would you rather go have Jesus-free bread and wine, or bread and grape juice, or Doritos and Coke with those who deny His bodily presence in the Sacrament, who don’t believe the plain meaning of His Words?  May it never be.  Those are the thoughts of the flesh, which is of no avail.  The Spirit gives life, and He has opened your ears and your heart to a mystery too big to comprehend with your mind.  God is a Man, and He gives you His Flesh and His Blood to eat and to drink for your forgiveness, life, and salvation.  You don’t understand it, but that is neither here nor there.  You believe it because He says it. 
            And you don’t want to go anywhere else.  Because you know that any other way is the way of death.  “Do you want to go away as well?” Jesus asks.  And you answer with St. Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68-69), God of God, the Son of the Father, begotten before all worlds, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, the Man, Christ Jesus.  He is here now, Flesh and Blood, here for you.  Eat His Flesh.  Drink His Blood.  And you have eternal life.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.