Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, November 29, 2015

First Sunday in Advent

First Sunday in Advent (C)

November 29, 2015
Text: Luke 19:28-40

            Jesus comes.  He rides into Jerusalem, our humble King, mounted on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  He rides on in majesty, in lowly pomp rides on to ascend the throne of the cross, to rule by Blood, His own, shed for you, to purchase you for Himself, to forgive your sins.  Jesus comes: He is conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffers under Pontius Pilate, is crucified, dies, and is buried… for you.  He is risen and ascended and lives and sits at the right hand of the Father… for you.  He rules… for you.  And He does not leave you an orphan.  He comes.  He comes to you graciously in His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments.  He will come again in glory, visibly, to raise you from the dead, to take you to Himself to live forever in His presence.  And notice this: the direction in all that Jesus does for you, is that He comes.  He comes down.  He comes to you.  He comes for you.  He comes as one of you, God in the flesh, Immanuel, God with you.
            There are two kinds of religion in the world.  There is the religion where the direction is from you to god.  You submit to god.  You slavishly serve god.  You work your way up to god, and you hope he, or she, or it, or they take notice of you and accept you and favor you and deliver you.  In this religion you are forever climbing a ladder to god, carrying the burdens of your sins and weaknesses, often falling back to the bottom and having to start all over again.  Like Sisyphus rolling his stone up the hill, all your effort is for naught.  It ends in condemnation and futility.  And notice that every single religion in the world falls under this category except for one.  The direction of Christianity is exactly the opposite.  It is God to you in the flesh of Christ.  He submits to you, to your death, to your hell, to your punishment by crucifixion.  He receives your spikes in His hands and feet, your crown of thorns, your spear in His side, for your sins, that you may have His life.  He is among you as One who serves, who washes His disciples’ feet, who hosts you at His Table, who serves you His Body and His Blood.  He does His work for you.  He comes to the sick to heal your diseases.  He comes to prostitutes and tax collectors and sinners like you to restore you and to eat with you.  He comes to dead men rotting in the grave to raise you to life, spiritually now, bodily then.  Jesus, God, comes to you.  So there are really only two religions in the world.  There is every other religion where you must work your way to god.  And there is the holy Christian Church, where the Son of God, Jesus, comes to you, to be God for you.
            Jesus comes.  Advent means “coming”.  This is a Season of preparation for the Christian.  In Advent, we prepare for the Lord’s coming to us.  It is always good on this First Sunday in Advent to review the three kinds of coming for which we prepare.  There are three ways our Lord comes to us.  Of course, Advent is especially the season of preparation for our Lord’s coming at Christmas, as a precious little Baby, born to the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judea.  That is the first way He comes to us.  He comes in the flesh.  He is born into history, to be our Savior.  He comes as one of us, born under the Law, to fulfill the Law of God for us.  He takes on our flesh to pay for the sins of our flesh.  He must be flesh and blood to die, to give His Flesh and Blood for the life of the world.  You can’t hang a spirit on a cross.  But you can hang a man.  Jesus is born to die.  For you.  And He is born in the flesh to march that flesh right through the valley of the shadow of death and out the other side.  He is born to rise in His Body, for you.  He is born to be glorified in the flesh for you.  He is born to ascend into heaven in your flesh and sit at the right hand of the Father in your flesh.  Don’t miss what is going on here.  What Jesus does in the flesh is what He will do for you in your flesh.  Jesus becomes one of you, that you might be one with Him. 
            And He comes in His Word and in the Sacraments.  That is the second way He comes.  This is His coming in between the comings, between His earthly ministry and His coming again at the end of time.  He comes in the water of your Baptism and undertakes a great exchange.  He was baptized by John in the Jordan River to take all your sin into Himself, and you are baptized at the font, by water and the Word, by the Holy Spirit and fire, to receive all of His righteousness as your own, to receive His death and the death of your Old Adam in Him, to receive His resurrection and be His new creation arising anew every day in Him.  He comes in Holy Absolution, to speak your sins to death and speak you to life.  He comes in His Word, in Scripture and preaching to speak Himself into your ears and your heart, to breathe into you His Holy Spirit.  And He comes to you in His true Body and Blood in the Supper, hidden under bread and wine, but the very Body born of the Virgin Mary and crucified for you, the very Blood drained from His veins and poured out on Calvary for you.  He comes and He serves you, just as He served the disciples in the upper room.  Jesus comes to you.
            And He will come again in glory to raise all the dead and to judge.  That is the third way He comes.  We spoke a lot about this the past several weeks as the Church Year came to a close.  At a time known only to God, when we least expect it, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the trumpet will sound, the universe will be shaken, the dead will be raised, and every eye will see the Lord Jesus Christ coming on the clouds in power and in great glory, surrounded by His holy angels.  The books will be opened and all men will be judged.  Believers will be given eternal life, in your body, in a new heavens and a new earth, a resurrection heavens and earth, if you will.  Unbelievers will be sent to eternal death in hell with the devil and his demons.  This, too, is a very important theme of Advent.  Because the Lord is coming.  He is coming whether you are prepared, or not.  He is coming whether you want Him to, or not.  Let not that Day take you unawares.  As we heard from Jesus the last couple of weeks: Watch!  Stay awake!  Be prepared. 
            Now, all three kinds of advent call for preparation.  In the coming weeks, St. John the Baptist will teach us how to prepare.  Repent!  For the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Jesus, the Kingdom of God in the flesh, is on the scene.  Repentance means turning.  It is turning from sin to the one true God who comes in the flesh for you.  This means examining yourself, considering your place in life according to the Ten Commandments.  What are your vocations?  How have you been remiss in them?  “Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy?  Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome?  Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds?  Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?”[1]  Upon examining yourself, confess these sins to God.  Come to your pastor for individual Confession and Absolution.  This is a great exercise in preparation.  And most of all, receive and cling to the forgiveness, life, and salvation given you by Jesus Himself, who comes!  This is really all His work, by His Spirit, by His Word and gifts.  He comes and He repents you, He forgives you, He restores you, He heals you.  He does the turning.
            The crowds on the road to Jerusalem greeted Jesus’ Advent with rejoicing and praise of God.  They spread their cloaks on the ground before Him, preparing a royal highway for their King.  “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord,” they sang (Luke 19:38; ESV).  The Pharisees did not like it.  Unbelievers never like it when you greet Jesus’ coming with loud and public rejoicing.  But if you are silent, the very stones will cry out.  So this morning Jesus comes to you.  He advents.  You prepared this morning by remembering your Baptism in the thrice Holy Name, marking yourself with His cross.  You prepared by confessing your sins and hearing His blessed Word of forgiveness, again in that precious three-fold Name, the Name in which He comes.  You heard His Word.  You received His teaching.  And now, as He comes to put His very Body and Blood in your mouth for your forgiveness, you respond as did the crowds.  “Holy, Holy, Holy,” you sing in the Sanctus, acknowledging Him to be your Lord and God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  “Hosanna,” you cry to Him… “Save us now, O Lord!”  And He does.  He comes to do just that.  And so, knowing that, you sing the joyous song of the multitudes throughout history, and all over the world, who greet the coming Lord: “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  And He comes on the altar.  He comes in the flesh.  Jesus comes to you.  That is the direction.  You don’t work yourself up to Him.  He comes down.  By grace.  Jesus comes for you.  He comes to save you.  Blessed Advent of our Lord.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Last Sunday in the Church Year

Last Sunday in the Church Year (B—Proper 29)

November 22, 2015
Text: Mark 13:24-37

            Stay awake!  Jesus is coming soon, visibly, to judge the living and the dead!  He will come suddenly, when He is least expected, like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2).  You do not know the day or hour.  It could be any moment.  “(I)f the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into” (Matt. 24:43; ESV).  So stay awake.  Watch.  Be prepared.  What will happen on that Day is that in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised, and we will all be changed (1 Cor. 15:52).  The Lord will open the scroll.  He will divide those who believed in Him from those who did not believe in Him (cf. Matt 25:31-45).  Those who believe He will give eternal life, in the flesh, in a new heaven and a new earth.  Those who do not believe He will cast into the Lake of Fire (hell) prepared, not for them… Christ died for them, for the forgiveness of all their sins, so that they could have eternal life… but prepared for the devil and his evil angels.  The reason unbelievers go to hell isn’t that their sins aren’t paid for.  It is that they have refused the payment, refused the cross, refused Jesus.  It’s a great tragedy.  We don’t like talk like this, and it is a slap in the face every time we hear it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true: hell is real and real people go there.  And if we fall asleep, if we do not stay awake, there is a very real danger that we could lose our faith and be numbered among the unbelievers.  God forbid it.  Christ help us.
            The truth is, we’re not very vigilant, are we?  It is so easy to fall asleep.  What we mean by “fall asleep” is to take our eyes off of Jesus, to take our ears off of His Word, to miss out on His gifts here in the Divine Service, to pay attention to other voices over and above the living voice of Jesus.  That is why last Sunday the writer to the Hebrews reminded us that we must not neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some,” but rather we should “encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25).  The clearer it is that Judgment Day is coming, the more important it is to be in Church.  And of course, we should always remember that even if Judgment Day is a long way off, you don’t know when you will die, when God will call you personally before His Judgment throne.  So it is so important to stay awake and keep our eyes on Jesus.  Jesus is our only hope in the Day of Judgment.  He alone is our righteousness and salvation.  But we are so distracted, you and I.  It has been said that when the Lord returns with the holy angels and the heavens are rolled up like a scroll, we’ll miss it because our heads will be down and our eyes attached to the little plastic screens on our phones.  That’s silly, of course.  Every eye will see Him when He comes (Rev. 1:7).  But the point is, in a world where very serious things are happening… violence, war, famine, disease, beheadings of our brothers and sisters in Christ, little babies chopped up in their mother’s womb and sold for spare parts… well, we’re all too involved in our social media to notice.  Or perhaps social media is the only way we participate.  It’s amazing how much time we spend staring at screens: television screens, computer screens, tablets, smart phones, and now even watches!  Google has a pair of glasses you can wear and see the screen all day long as you go about the rest of your business.  Now, I love all these gadgets, and they can be a great blessing.  I also realize that some of you have very little to do with this kind of thing, and good for you.  But that doesn’t get you off the hook.  The point is not the prevalence of technology, the point is how easily amused we are, and, as one of my favorite writers put it in the title of his book, we are Amusing Ourselves to Death (Neil Postman).  Perhaps to our eternal death.  Because, in a world where we’ve never been more plugged in, more connected to the ether, we’ve never been more disconnected from Jesus, and frankly, from our neighbor. 
            The kids in the congregation know this, but it was news to me and probably will be to many of you.  There is a social-networking site called Snapchat where what you write disappears into the ether like it never existed.  Now, I have my doubts about whether it is or isn’t out there somewhere, but be that as it may, think about what that says about our culture and the value we place on words.  Words that disappear are meaningless, or at least of very limited value.  You can’t hold someone to a word that isn’t there.  Is that really what you want?  Words that disappear?  Words that are unreliable?  Words that, by definition, cannot be kept?  Or perhaps the other amusements offered by our information age.  Pleasures that are fleeting?  Two-dimensional digital images, shallow relationships, at the expense of relationship with real, flesh and blood people?  Connecting online so we don’t have to connect in person?  Our culture puts a premium on that which does not last.  And so does our flesh.  We prefer Facebook to the Church.  We prefer Google to the Scriptures, or for those of you who aren’t online, the newspaper to the precious and holy Word of God.  We prefer our favorite smooth-talking candidate, or glittery entertainer, to the Lord Jesus Christ, the crucified One, who saves us from our sins.  Repent. 
            This is actually an indication of what is happening to the whole world.  “(F)or the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner” (Is. 51:6).  “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus says (Mark 13:31), but there is, nevertheless, something you can cling to: “my words will not pass away” (v. 31).  No Snapchat with Jesus.  You can count on His Word.  He always keeps it.  The Word of the LORD endures forever (1 Peter 1:25).  And listen to these Promises from our Old Testament lesson: “my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed” (Is. 51:6).  You are saved, you are justified (made righteous), because Jesus has spoken it so by the power of His suffering and death and resurrection for you.  Things temporal can lull us into sleep, but all these temporal things are passing away.  Nevertheless, take heart.  Jesus is making all things new.  “We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13b; NIV).  We are looking forward to a risen and glorified body, made in the image of Jesus’ risen and glorified Body.  We are looking forward to that Day when our Lord comes back to get us and take us to Himself, that Day when He delivers us from our trials and tribulations and tears, from our meaningless and broken words, from our sins and our body of death, and gives us life with Him in the Kingdom of our Father, a life that will not pass away. 
            The Day is coming.  Our Lord has spoken, and His Word cannot be erased.  And this is a Day of great joy for you.  Look up.  Lift up your head.  Your redemption is drawing near.  Jesus soon will send His angels to gather you, His chosen ones, from the four winds, to bring you to Himself.  Days of great joy require preparation.  We are preparing for the Thanksgiving feast this week, and hopefully for you that will include the Feast that takes place here at the altar the night before.  And we are already preparing for Christmas.  We will do that spiritually through the Season of Advent, as a new Church Year begins.  Advent is a time of preparation for the Lord’s coming.  How do we prepare?  St. Jude tells us.  Be edified, he says, built up in your most holy faith (v. 20).  That happens at Church, by the Word preached and the Sacrament distributed to you and received by you.  Pray in the Holy Spirit (v. 20).  That is, gather together here to pray the liturgy, and carry that prayer with you into the week.  Pray for the Church.  Pray for the world.  Pray for one another.  Pray for your own needs and those of your family and loved ones.  That is your offering, your sacrifice as priests in the world.  Give thanks and praise to God.  Pray for the proclamation of the Word.  And don’t forget to pray for your pastor.  Have mercy on those who doubt, Jude says (v. 22).  Have mercy on those who sin by snatching them out of the fire, turning them from sin to Jesus.  Show mercy with fear… watch yourself, lest you, too, be drawn into temptation. 
            It is a tall order.  But Jude tells us it really doesn’t depend on us, thank God.  It is really Jesus who does this for us, keeping us awake, prepared, and watchful.  He is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the Father, in the presence of His glory (v. 24).  He keeps you steadfast, awake, by His Spirit, in His Word.  He prepares you by repenting you.  He keeps you in the one true faith.  By His grace.  It is His work.  Rejoice, dear Christian!  Your Lord Jesus is coming.  He is coming soon.  He is coming for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 28)

November 15, 2015
Text: Mark 13:1-13

            Texts like our Holy Gospel, with all the talk of conflict and destruction and “the End,” can be scary for us.  There is something that is right about this.  We should fear God.  We are sinners.  God cannot abide sin.  Therefore we should fear His wrath, which is a real thing.  Hell is real, and real people go there.  So also, the conflict and destruction our Lord speaks of in our text is real.  And the End is coming when our Lord will return visibly to judge the living and the dead, to separate the sheep from the goats, to give eternal life to all believers in Christ, and send unbelievers to the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his evil angels.  Daniel tells us about this in our Old Testament, that the dead will be raised on that Day, and judged: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2; ESV).  But the End our Lord speaks of in our Holy Gospel isn’t just THAT End, the big one at the End of all time.  It is first of all about an end that has already taken place in history.  That is to say, the sack of Jerusalem by future Roman emperor Titus, and the utter destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD 70.  The disciples, remember, are pointing out to Jesus the marvelous architecture of the Temple, one of the wonders of the ancient world.  They wanted Jesus to be impressed by this triumph of human ingenuity and spectacular display of piety.  And Jesus takes the opportunity to teach where human ingenuity and outward piety will inevitably lead.  Destruction.  Not one stone will be left upon another.  They will all be thrown down (Mark 13:2).
            The Old Law is at an end.  Jesus has fulfilled it.  There is no more need for this Temple.  Jesus is the new and better Temple, the dwelling place of God with man, God in the flesh.  And there are consequences for the Jews having rejected Jesus.  What was it the chief priests and Pharisees said?  Because of Jesus, “the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48).  It happened, about 40 years later, not because the Jews accepted Jesus, but because they rejected Him.  Our Lord wept over Jerusalem, longing to gather her to Himself, but they would not (Matt. 23:37).  So this is the end of which Jesus speaks this morning, the end of Jerusalem as the Jews knew it, and the end of the Old Testament Temple and sacrifices.  But to be sure, this end points to THE End, and Jesus teaches us about both this morning.  The end of Jerusalem and the Temple is a sign that points to the End of time and the return of Jesus Christ to judge.  So are all other kinds of conflict and catastrophe.  The signs are apparent through the whole history of the world, from the fall of our first parents into sin to the present day: false christs… those claiming to be Jesus or at least to be some sort of savior; wars and rumors of wars… the Middle Eastern crisis isn’t going to end any time soon, nor will the threat of nuclear holocaust; earthquakes in various places; famines; genocide; abortion; human exploitation; and your own sin and suffering.  These are all a sign that the End is near.  Jesus is coming soon.
            And the point is what Jesus tells the disciples: “Be on your guard” (Mark 13:9).  Be vigilant.  Be watchful.  Because these things are happening all around you.  Now, the devil would lull you to sleep with shallow comforts and a false sense of security.  He sweetly sings his lullaby, just waiting for the opportunity to plunge his dagger into your heart.  In this case, the hand that rocks the cradle really does rule the world.  He is the prince of it.  And he wants you for his kingdom.  It’s a sham.  You are not safe.  Not with him.  Not with his followers, most of whom don’t even know they’re following him.  But understand what will happen to you in these gray and latter days if you are watchful, if you expose the devil’s lies for what they are, if you follow Christ and confess him.  You will suffer trials and persecution.  Why would the devil keep up the illusion of comfort and security if you’re on to his scheme?  The veil will be removed.  And they will deliver you up, Jesus says, to authorities religious and secular who will accuse you and beat you and rob you and kill you.  Has that not happened to you, my dear Americans?  You’re the few lucky ones.  Our brothers and sisters throughout the world suffer and confess Christ on pain of death.  There is still time for you.  If you escape it, praise be to God.  If you don’t escape it, thanks and praise be to Christ who counted you worthy to suffer for His Name.  Jesus says, “You will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness,” to martyr unto them, the Greek says (v. 9).  Understand, Jesus leaves you in the world to do this very thing.  Because “the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations” (v. 10).  You suffer for the sake of the Gospel.  Your suffering is a witness.  It is a martyrdom.  And it is a sign.  Jesus is coming soon.  Therefore repent and believe the Good News.  All your sins are covered by His Blood.  He died for you.  He is risen and lives for you.  He wants you for His own Kingdom.  He snatches you from Satan’s claws and declares you His beloved.  He writes His Name on you and defends you from all evil.  He is your true comfort and security.  And on the Last Day He will raise you from the dead, in your body, and pronounce you righteous with His own righteousness.  He has already done it in Holy Baptism.  You are justified.  Eternal life is yours. 
            Now, even when they bring you to trial for your confession of Christ, do not be afraid.  On that day, “do not be anxious,” Jesus tells you, “what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour,” for you see, “it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (v. 11).  What a precious promise.  If you’re anything like me, you worry about what you’ll say when it comes down to it and you are the one on trial, with your very livelihood or maybe even your life in the balance.  Will I be faithful?  Will I say what I should?  Will I confess Jesus Christ and entrust myself fully to Him?  Don’t worry about it, Jesus says.  The burden is on Him, not on you.  Perseverance under trial is His work and His gift of grace.  First of all, you already have the words.  You know the Creed.  And if you know the Creed, you know the Scriptures.  You know the teaching of the Lord, for the Holy Spirit has taught you by bringing you to Church.  And as far as speaking it when and as you should, that, too, is the Holy Spirit’s work.  He will put the courage into you.  I don’t know where he got it, but our Synod President, Matt Harrison, is fond of saying “Courage is fear that has been baptized.”  I like that a lot.  Of course you’re afraid.  You’re a sinner.  But you are baptized.  The Holy Spirit is in you.  You are clothed with Christ and all His righteousness.  And God is your Father.  He won’t desert you when the going gets tough.  You will confess, not because you are faithful, but because He is faithful.  And He has promised. 
            So, you know what is coming.  Family members against family members.  Brother delivering brother over to death, and a father his child, and children their father, and on and on it goes.  They’ll think they’re doing God a favor.  “Let’s get those hateful Christians.  Let’s expose them for the ignorant bigots that they are and outlaw their hate speech.”  Have you ever noticed how those who call us haters are full of vile hatred?  “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (v. 13).  Why?  Most of them don’t know why.  Love them, beloved in the Lord.  Speak Christ to them.  Forgive them.  Pray for them.  Serve them.  Do not compromise the Lord’s Word, but bend over backwards wherever you can to establish peace.  And recognize that the source of their hatred is the evil one, who is absolutely desperate.  Because he knows he has lost.  And he knows Jesus is coming to cast him out. 

            Hold on to the Lord’s Promise: “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (v. 13).  The one who remains in Christ, who clings to His Word, the one who is baptized and nourished by the Supper of the Savior’s Body and Blood, the one who believes and confesses the Lord Jesus… you… will be saved.  So, in the midst of all these signs, in the midst of the conflict and destruction and persecution, be of good cheer.  Look up.  Stand up straight and tall.  For your redemption is drawing near.  God’s wrath is not for you, you who are in Christ.  God’s wrath has been poured out on Jesus for you.  All your sins are forgiven.  And you know the judgment, which Jesus will announce publicly on the Last Day: You are righteous!  You shall not die!  You will live, forever and ever, with God, with Christ.  And your joy will be full.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.