Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 8)

June 26, 2016
Text: Luke 9:51-62

            Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (The Cost of Discipleship, [SCM, 1959]).  What does he mean by that?  Well, it may mean your death quite literally, your physical death as a result of persecution against the one true faith of Jesus Christ.  As we know, many of our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world risk and even forfeit their lives to be baptized into Christ.  They shed their blood for the Savior who shed His Blood for them.  For now there is not much risk of that here in America.  But that does not release you from our Lord’s claim on your life.  To follow Jesus means to die to yourself.  It means the death of your old sinful flesh, crucified with Christ and drowned in the waters of Holy Baptism.  It means the rejection of your fleshly passions.  It means hatred from the world, and maybe even from your own family members.  Salvation is absolutely free to you in Christ, but it is not cheap.  It cost your Savior His Blood and death.  And to follow Jesus, to be His disciple, to walk in His discipline, well, that is quite costly.  It is free to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. For what does it mean to follow Jesus?  It means to go the way He goes, and the way He goes is suffering and the cross for the sake of His neighbor… for you!  So for you to follow Him means you also have to march through Holy Week and Good Friday and Golgotha.  There is no other path to the resurrection and eternal life.  Now, don’t misunderstand.  Your suffering and death do not somehow make atonement for your sins.  That is all done already in the cross and death of Jesus.  What, then, is your cross all about?  There are many reasons concealed in God’s hidden wisdom, ways that He is making all things work together for your good, since you are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).  But among other things, you are called to suffer for your neighbor, as Christ suffered for you.  That is to say, you are given as a sacrifice to your neighbor to speak the truth in love and the life-giving message of the Gospel to your neighbor, even if that speaking brings you rejection and suffering.  And you can do that because you know what awaits you when all is said and done: eternal life, heaven, the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come. 
            Look how Jesus sets His face to go to Jerusalem in our text (Luke 9:51).  He knows what awaits Him.  The cross and death.  But He is absolutely determined.  He will not be swayed.  He will not be turned aside.  Not by the rejection and ingratitude of those for whom He suffers.  Not by the misunderstanding and dissuasion of His apostles.  Not by the devil Himself.  Our Lord Jesus sets His face to go to Jerusalem, sets His face toward the cross, for you, because He is determined to save you.  Now, that is the preaching of the Gospel, our Lord’s determination to suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins.  Our God wins the victory over our enemies, not by some glorious show of power and might, but by surrendering Himself to the death and hell of the cross.  And that is scandalous.  It is amazing, the hatred that preaching brings on.  It is demonic in nature, this hatred.  That is why it is so irrational and vitriolic.  That is why the media blames Christians for Islamic terrorism.  That is why nuns and Christian universities and various Christian institutions and employers must be forced to pay for abortions.  That is why Christian florists and bakers and photographers must be forced to participate in same-sex weddings, even though there are many other florists and bakers and photographers who would happily provide the same service without violating their conscience.  It doesn’t matter, because the Christians must be made to conform.  Which is to say, they must be made to reject Christ and His Word.  At all costs.  Even the cost of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedoms once held dear by the majority of Americans regardless of political persuasion.  Now they are encroached by politicians and government officials regardless of political persuasion.  And why should that surprise us?  Our Lord tells us right here that this is what we should expect.  He also shows us how to respond.  Speak the truth in love, and then suffer for it.  And rejoice that you are counted worthy to suffer for the Name of Jesus. 
            There are only two possible reactions to the preaching of Jesus and His cross.  There is either rejection, or there is faith.  Jesus sends messengers, preachers, ahead of Him on the journey, to make preparations for His reception.  And those in a certain village of the Samaritans reject Him outright.  They do not receive Him.  Why?  Because “his face was set toward Jerusalem” (v. 53; ESV).  It is not simply the customary hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews, though it certainly is that.  They are categorically opposed to our Lord’s determination to go to Jerusalem and accomplish the work of our salvation.  They don’t even understand it.  This hatred grows deep inside of them, out of their fallen hearts, where Satan reigns.  And so the demonic determination to reject Jesus and His disciples.  This is the crassest form of rejection.  But then there are the disciples themselves, James and John, brothers, Sons of Thunder, from Jesus’ inner-circle, and they ask, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them,” those wicked Samaritans who have it coming (v. 54)?  We understand the sentiment.  But you see, in responding to rejection with wrath, the disciples also have rejected the Gospel of Jesus.  Why did Jesus come?  Why is He so set on going to Jerusalem to suffer and die?  For the sake of these very Samaritans.  He does not want them to suffer God’s wrath.  That’s just the point.  He comes to save them from it, to save the disciples in their misguided zeal, to save you from your faithlessness, your apathy, your casual faith, and your unwillingness to take up your cross and follow Jesus.  Our Lord sets His face to go to Jerusalem for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
            And here we encounter the other reaction to Jesus and His cross.  Faith.  The thing about faith, though, is that it does not come naturally.  By nature, you will reject Jesus and the cross every time.  That is simply the reality that results from being a child of Adam.  It’s his fault.  He fell.  We fell in him.  Our wills are, by nature, bound to unbelief and rejection of God, until the Holy Spirit frees us from bondage.  Faith is a gift.  It comes to us from outside of us, from God Himself, bestowed in His Word and Baptism, and nourished by the Supper, by the Holy Spirit who comes by these means to give us faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we are reconciled to the Father.  The very preaching of the cross that provokes so much hatred and rage is the means by which the Holy Spirit brings you to faith.  It’s a mystery, isn’t it, why you react one way to the preaching of the cross, and another reacts a different way?  You believe as a result of the preaching and your Baptism into the death of Christ.  Someone else, perhaps even someone very similar to you, shuns the cross with horror.  So it goes.  We don’t know why.  We only know that you believe because of the grace of God and His work upon you.  So we give thanks, and confess, and suffer in hope and joy.
            Three particular fellows are singled out in our text for their encounter with Jesus.  We don’t learn whether any of the three rejects Jesus or follows Him, but we do learn what it will cost them if they follow Jesus to the cross.  The first man says he will follow, but Jesus reminds him that foxes and birds have better accommodations in this world than the Savior and His Christians.  Being a disciple of Jesus just may cost you the comforts and pleasures the best of earthly life has to offer.  Jesus calls the second man: “Follow me” (v. 59), but the man asks first to go bury his father.  Now, Jesus isn’t heartless.  It’s not that the man’s father is dead and he just wants to get through the funeral before he leaves.  It is that the man wants to wait until everything is just right in his earthly life before he makes the commitment to Jesus and His Gospel.  To this, Jesus responds, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead” (v. 60).  Let the unbelieving world take care of its own business.  The Gospel is the first priority.  There is nothing more important, and the time to believe and follow is now.  The third man simply wants to go and say farewell to his loved ones before he follows.  Jesus responds that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62).  What happens when we follow Jesus is that we start to feel a certain nostalgia for the old life outside of Christ.  Remember the flesh pots of Egypt?  Maybe slavery to sin and death wasn’t so bad after all.  This kind of looking back can kill faith.  Repent.  Take up your cross and follow Jesus.  All the way to death. 

            For what awaits beyond the cross is resurrection.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And He’ll raise you.  So the Lord has called you to be His own, and in calling you, He’s bid you come and die.  It is a blessed death.  For that death is folded up in the death of Jesus.  And Jesus’ death is a death unto life.  His life is a life unto eternity and light and joy in the presence of God.  Be not afraid.  Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem for you.  Set your face upon Him.  Keep your eyes on Jesus.  He will never forsake you.  Not even in death.  He will never let you go.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                  

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 6)

June 12, 2016
Text: Luke 7:36-8:3

            “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom. 10:15; ESV [cf. Is. 52:7]).  Jesus preaches the good news of sins forgiven to the woman in our text, and she adores His beautiful feet.  Quite literally.  That she is behind Him, and then at His feet, shows her great humility.  It is the humility of repentance.  She is a sinner, and she knows it.  She knows her need for this good news which Jesus brings and bestows upon her.  We are not certain what her sin is.  Could it be that “a lady of the city” is something akin to our designation, “a lady of the night”?  Whatever the case, she knows her sin quite well.  She weeps tears of sorrow for having offended her God.  And with those tears, she washes the feet of her God, her Savior, Jesus.  She lets down her hair, an act considered rather immodest in her society, but certainly not to the God who has numbered every hair of her head.  With that hair, she dries His feet, kisses them profusely in worship, and anoints them with expensive perfume.  How beautiful are the feet of our Lord.  They do not kick this sinner away.  They receive her worship, even as gracious Words pour from the lips of their Owner.
            Simon doesn’t like it.  Simon, the host, the Pharisee, seeing all these things, thinks to himself: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39).  But Jesus is more than a prophet.  He is God in human flesh.  He does know who and what sort of woman this is, that she is a sinner.  That is precisely why He does not refuse her.  He knows her sins better than she, who weeps for them.  He knows her sins so well that He has taken them into Himself.  According to the Law of Moses, in allowing her to touch Him, He has taken her uncleanness into Himself.  That’s just the point.  He takes it, that He might pay for it in His suffering and death.  Yes, He knows who this is, and what she has done.  And He knows what Simon is thinking.  “Simon, I have something to say to you” (v. 40), whereupon He tells this parable: A moneylender had two debtors.  One owed him five hundred denarii, a denarius being a common day’s pay.  Five hundred days’ worth of pay!  The other owed fifty, a considerable amount, but certainly much less than the one who owed five hundred.  But be that as it may, neither of them could pay.  So the moneylender forgave the debt.  He cancelled it.  He wiped the slate clean.  Unbelievable.  “Now which of them will love him more?” Jesus asks (v. 42).  And the answer is obvious.  But Simon knows he’s been caught.  “The one, I suppose,” he replies (you can almost hear the snarkiness), “for whom he cancelled the larger debt” (v. 43).  And he’s right.  He has judged rightly.  And now here’s the application.  This woman owes a great debt to God.  Her sins are many.  She has nothing with which to pay.  She could never hope to pay off her debt.  Not by any good work.  Not even by her worship at the Savior’s feet.  But God has wiped her slate clean.  He’s cancelled her debt.  He’s forgiven her much.  So she loves much.  She worships, not so that she might be forgiven, but because she has been forgiven.  She loves Jesus because of what He has done and is doing for her.  Clearly she is represented in the parable by the one who is forgiven much, therefore loves much.
            But who does the other character in the parable represent?  This must have grated on Simon, for the Savior’s implication is unmistakable.  The other character represents him.  Yes, Simon, you are the man!  You are perhaps clean outwardly.  But inside you are full of sin and death, a whitewashed tomb, as Jesus says elsewhere (Matt. 23:27-28).  The woman has led a life of manifest sin.  Her sin is obvious to all.  But she is no worse than Simon, than the other Pharisees, than the pious Christians sitting in the pews this morning, who perhaps live morally upstanding lives, but their hearts… If others could see into our hearts, know the desires of our hearts, hear our inner thoughts… We are just as sinful as the woman in our text.  We don’t like to admit it.  Perhaps we’ve even deluded ourselves, as had Simon, into believing we’re better than her, better than others.  If this is you, repent.  If you’ve ever thought, “That person over there really needs to hear this sermon,” repent.  This sermon is for you.  If you’ve ever railed against the moral failings and weaknesses of others without first examining your own life and removing the log out of your own eye by Confession and Absolution, repent.  Perhaps, like Simon, you think you only owe the 50 denarii, not the 500 of the woman.  But you still owe 50, and you can’t pay.  You can never hope to pay back the debt.  Not by any good work.  Not even by your worship of Jesus here at Church.  Jesus must take your debt, 50 or 500 or 5,000… Jesus must take your uncleanness, your sin, into Himself, to be paid by His blood.  That’s the only possible payment.  And He does it in His innocent suffering and death on the cross, for the woman, for Simon, for you.
            Whether you’re the woman or the Pharisee in our text, you have been forgiven much.  All your sins are forgiven.  And now follows your Christian life of love.  You love because He first loved you.  You love because you have been forgiven much.  The order is very important, here.  It is true, Jesus says, “her sins… are forgiven—for she loved much” (Luke 7:47).  This does not mean her love caused her forgiveness.  Rather, her forgiveness caused her love.  It is like saying, “It rained, for the windows are wet” (Buls).  The windows being wet didn’t cause the rain.  The rain caused the windows being wet.  And so the forgiveness given by Jesus caused the woman, causes you, to love much.  That means worshiping at Jesus feet, not that you might be forgiven, but because you have been forgiven. That means serving your neighbor in Christian love, providing for their bodily needs and confessing Christ to them, not to earn forgiveness, but because Jesus earned your forgiveness and has given it to you freely.  That means being generous with your time, talent, and treasures for the work of the Church, not because working for the Church and giving to the Church earns you points with God, but because God has forgiven you all your sins in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and declared you His own child in Holy Baptism.  Jesus paid your debt to God for sin.  He paid it in full.  You are reconciled to the Father.  God loves you.  You belong to His Kingdom.  Heaven is your home.  He will raise you from the dead on the Last Day.  Rejoice.  Weep, not only for sorrow over sin, but for joy in forgiveness.  And go love, because you can, because Jesus has freed you for this very thing.   Love and serve your families.  Sacrifice for them.  Work diligently in your vocations, serving your neighbor out of love for the Lord.  Participate in society.  Pay your taxes.  Enjoy God’s creation and take care of it.  Speak up for the defenseless.  Give to charity.  That’s the Christian life.  That’s the thankful and loving life Christ Jesus frees us to live by forgiving our sins.  And when you don’t live that life perfectly (and you won’t, because you can’t), there is Jesus, forgiving your sins, saying to you as He says to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (vv. 48, 50).
            Yes, the Lord Jesus says to you as He said to David through Nathan, “The LORD also has put away your sin” (2 Sam. 12:13).  He has put it away in His wounds.  You shall not die, for He has died in your place.  And He is risen, and reclines with you here at His Table with His risen Body and Blood.  Come and fall at His feet, those beautiful feet that were pierced for your transgressions.  Come and hear the gracious Words coming out His mouth.  Take and eat, this is my Body… Take and drink, this is my Blood… shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.  He will not kick you away.  He will never do that.  He receives you.  Jesus receives sinners and eats with them.  Jesus receives you and feeds you for eternal life.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.