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Sermon: Romans 5:1-11. Feb. 28, 2019

February 28, 2019 Leave a comment

Thursday after Sexagesima

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Romans 5:1-11

Feb. 28, 2019

 

Iesu iuva

 

In the name of Jesus.

 

The beginning of the fifth chapter of Romans is one of the most loved parts of the Scripture for Christians who understand the Gospel.  It tells us what makes us righteous before God: not works, but solely faith in Jesus—which means that God declares us righteous and sees us as righteous apart from any works we have done, apart from what we are and what we have done.  God judges us to be righteous and without sin because we believe the Gospel that His Son made us right with God. It is a gift.

 

Then it tells us the result of God’s declaration that we are righteous.  Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God (v. 1).  God is no longer angry with us, dissatisfied with us.  He no longer deals with us as sinners who have offended Him.  Instead we have peace with Him—not primarily peace that we feel in our hearts, but peace that is greater than our feelings.  The peace of God toward us.  He is no longer angry with us and ready to punish us because of our sins, because they have been taken away.

 

And because God is at peace with us, St. Paul says, we have hope.  What do we hope for?  Hope that we will be successful or that we will have a great life in this world.  No: hope for the glory of God (v. 2).  We have a certain hope that we will see God’s glory in eternity when Jesus returns on the last day.  Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.  And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  During this life we stand in God’s grace, in His favor, by faith in His Son, who atoned for our sins with His suffering and the shedding of His blood.  God does not count our sins against us.  He daily forgives them because of the price Jesus paid to blot them out—His blood.  We live this life in His grace, and when this life is over, we will see God’s glory and be transformed into His likeness.  That is the certain hope that Jesus has given us in the Gospel.

 

But Paul follows this up by saying something that is not familiar and well beloved among Christians.  Listen: We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings (v.3)…  You don’t hear Christians say that often: “we rejoice in our sufferings.”  Not just laypeople.  You don’t hear pastors say it either.  Even less do you see pastors or lay Christians do it—rejoice in the midst of suffering.  Yet Paul says Christians do it (even though we don’t see a lot of it.)  Why?

 

Because the final outcome of our sufferings is to make us hope more firmly in what God has promised.  The outcome of suffering for Christians is that we set our hope on the glory of God instead of the false hopes of this world, which do not last.

 

In a Christian suffering produces patience or endurance.  When we suffer we endure it and hold on to the promise of God.  We wait for the day when there is no more pain, only joy.  No more sin, only righteousness and blessedness.  No more death, only life.  We don’t have this now in this life.  In this world the best we can hope for is temporary relief.  For deliverance from suffering into joy, we have to wait for God to fulfill His promise.  Suffering teaches us to endure and wait, looking for the real hope God gives instead of the false hopes of our flesh.

 

Patience or endurance produces “character.”  Literally the word is “testedness.”  As we endure, overcoming trial and temptation, we see that our faith is not a human dream, not something we made up, but something God worked in us, because it continues when a human confidence would have died out.  It continues in the face of suffering, affliction, temptation.  We become tested.  We see that this faith in Jesus that is in us didn’t come from us.

 

And this produces hope—the hope of the life to come.  We have confidence that since God gave us this faith in Jesus that justifies us, He will complete what He began in us.  He will finish our faith by bringing us to see His glory.

 

How could He not?  Paul says: if we were reconciled to God when we were His enemies by the death of His Son, how will He not now save us through suffering and temptation, when His Son is at God’s right hand interceding for us?

 

This is how we should understand it when we receive the body and blood of Jesus.  He is testifying to us that we are redeemed with the death, the pierced body, the shed blood of His only Son.  We were not redeemed with something small, cheap, or insignificant to Him—but with His only Son’s pain and dying.  As great as our sins continue to be, and as weak as our faith is, neither our sins nor our weak faith are greater than the love God showed us and set upon us before eternity.  He will surely finish what His love began in us.

 

And to this our soul’s salvation

Witnesses Your Spirit, Lord

In Your Sacraments and Word.

There He sends true consolation

Giving us the gift of faith

That we fear not hell nor death.  LSB 559 st. 3

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Seed, Sower, Soil. Sexagesima 2019

February 25, 2019 Leave a comment

sower jean francois millet.PNGSexagesima

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 8:4-15

February 24, 2019

Seed, Sower, Soil

 

Iesu Iuva

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Behind the house I grew up in there was a cornfield.

 

That isn’t very remarkable for those of us who lived in northern Illinois our whole lives.  My wife, however, grew up on the Oregon coast.  I am pretty certain no one in her hometown had a cornfield in their back yard, or anywhere near their back yard.  The Oregon coast does not have the soil for growing corn and soybeans, I don’t think.  It is very good soil for pine trees, and there are a lot of fish in the waters around there, but I don’t think it’s soil where corn grows well.

 

On the other hand, whatever northern Illinois may lack, it has great dirt.  Even people in other states that grow corn will tell you this.  They’d love to farm the soil we tear up to build housing subdivisions, because with all the advances we’ve made in agriculture in the last 2000 years, good soil is still the most important thing for growing corn and grain.

 

So that part of the parable is as true of today as it was of the day in which Jesus told it.  You still can’t produce a crop without good soil.  But there is something different between Jesus’ parable and the way farming is done today, and that is the way the seed is planted.

 

In Jesus’ parable, the farmer sows the seed in his field by hand.  He goes out with a bag of seed strapped to his side and throws handfuls of it out this way and that way as he walks up and down his field.  I never saw anybody do this in the cornfield behind my house when I was growing up.  They had machines to plant the corn in regular rows.  No seed ended up on the road or in a ditch full of weeds or on thin, rocky soil.

 

Farmers were less scientific about their planting in the days when Jesus lived on earth because they hadn’t invented seed drills yet.  But Jesus’ parable is not meant to tell us about how farmers planted their fields with wheat and barley 2000 years ago.  Jesus’ parable tells us how He plants the Word of God in the world now, and about the way that Word grows in the world.

 

His parable shows us the mystery of the seed, the Sower, and the soils. 

 

When the disciples ask Jesus to explain the parable he preached to the crowds, He begins like this: Now the parable is this: The seed is the Word of God.  The farmer who planted the cornfield in my back yard planted corn with a seed drill, and it grew up and produced corn plants.

The farmer in Jesus’ parable plants a different kind of seed: the Word of God.

 

He does not plant human words about God or human thoughts about God.  There are plenty of those in the world.  Instead He plants the Word from God’s own mouth.  It is the Word that God speaks, that communicates the thoughts and will of God.  And as Isaiah the prophet said, the Word that goes forth from God’s mouth does not merely communicate ideas—it accomplishes and does what it says.  As the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  (Is. 55:10-11)  In the beginning God’s Word declared that light should come into being and be separated from the darkness, and that the earth should produce plants, and that man should be made in the image of God, and it was so.  Now God’s Word that is sown in the world declares that human beings are redeemed from sin and death, that their sins are forgiven out of pure grace, without any works, for the sake of Jesus Christ.  And it is so.  God’s Word accomplishes what it says.

 

But seed has to be sown to grow and produce a crop.  God’s Word must be sown on human beings to be heard and believed.  The parable does not say who the sower is directly, but it is evident.  Jesus is the one preaching God’s Word.  Jesus is the sower.  From the synod’s catechism, under the second article of the creed, we learned that Jesus Christ has two natures—God and man, united in one person.  But He also has an office, a job or task for which He is authorized, that is threefold—His office as our anointed one, our Christ, is to be our Prophet, Priest, and King.

 

As our priest, He offers Himself for us as a sacrifice to atone for our sins.  As our King, he reigns over the world for the good of His Church, and on the last day will save us from our enemies and judge the living and the dead.  But He is also our prophet.  That means that He proclaimed the Word of God during His life on earth, and He continues to proclaim it from heaven through the office of preaching, the pastoral office.

 

So when the Word of God is preached, Jesus is carrying out His office as prophet.  He is sowing God’s Word into the world.  And God’s Word is going to do what God’s Word does—accomplish the thing for which He sent it.  It is going to bring Jesus, God become man for our salvation, and with Him the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  It will fall into some hearts and remain there by faith; those hearts will believe that their sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, and so they will bear fruit in love toward their neighbor and in praise toward God, even when suffering comes because of God’s Word.

 

But the parable tells us that Jesus does not sow His seed in the modern, scientific way.  He does it the old-fashioned way, like a farmer going out to scatter seed by hand.  When you sow seed that way, it doesn’t all end up in the cultivated soil, nor does it grow in neat rows, like the cornfields and the soybean fields we see around us.  Instead, some seed lands in places where it can never grow at all.  Some lands in places where it grows for a brief time, then dies; some lands in places where it never produces fruit.

 

This method of sowing seed that Jesus uses that is old-fashioned, non-scientific, and apparently inefficient is called “the public preaching of the Word.”  The Word of God is always heard, it is a message proclaimed and told before the whole world.  Listen to the way our Lord describes how the kingdom of God comes: The ones along the path are those who have heard…(Luke 8: 12)  …As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the Word…(Luke 8:15)  Through the preaching, teaching, witnessing, confessing of the faith done by pastors and by Christians in their callings, Jesus scatters the seed of God’s Word.  He does not simply drill it in orderly rows into the good soil and the good soil only, but He spreads the Word of God to everyone.

 

But this is where the difficulty arises for us.  The seed is the Word of God—the Word that accomplishes what it is sent to do.

 

The sower is the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

 

If the sower is Jesus, and the seed is the powerful Word of God, it seems to us that the seed should do much better than we see it doing.  We expect to see it bring in a great harvest of people.  Instead what we see is not orderly rows of people sitting in the pews, like corn grows in cornfields.  Instead we see gaps in the rows.  Some grows here, some grows there.  Some shoots up and then dies just as quickly.  Some never seems to bear any fruit.  Lots never seem to grow at all.

 

We are tempted to come up with a lot of reasons for why this happens.  Maybe we need to update the methods of sowing the seed; maybe after all the seed isn’t enough.

 

But Jesus told us this would happen, didn’t He?  It was the same in His time on earth as now.  He is still the one sowing the seed, and the seed, if it is the pure gospel, is just as powerful as ever, because it is God’s Word that does what it says.

 

The Word of God is powerful and it is true.  When it is preached, it does what it says.  It does what no human words about God can do.  It saves us.  It gives us the forgiveness of sins.  It gives us power to overcome sin.  It makes us sons of God.  It does all this because it is not human thoughts about God, but God’s own thoughts, God’s own promise.  It is His promise that for the sake of His Son, and for the sake of His Son alone, you are righteous in His sight.  Because His Son, the Word made flesh, has done what pleases the Father.  And because His Son, like a seed, went down into the earth and died, and rose again.

 

But when this seed of God’s Word is not received—when it is not heard and kept by faith—then it does not bear fruit in a person.  God gives His Word generously.  He scatters it everywhere, but not everyone hears it, keeps hearing it, and believes it, and so produces fruit with patience.

 

As we enter into Lent, we should come with the prayer that God would make us good soil that receives His Word.  We should not cast our eyes around so much to look at what fruit the Word of God appears to be bearing in others around us, and doubt the power of God’s Word and the one who sows it.

 

Instead, we should ask God to give us hearts that receive His Word and bear its fruit.  We should be praying the first three petitions of the Lord’s prayer: Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us your pure Word, give us Your Holy Spirit so that we believe it and stay with it.  Or as St. James tells us: Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  (James 1:21)

 

To God the Holy Spirit let us pray

For the true faith needed on our way

That He may defend us when life is ending

And from exile home we are wending.

Lord, have mercy!

 

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Septuagesima 2019. Who Will Go And Work Today?

February 19, 2019 Leave a comment

Septuagesima

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 20:1-16

February 17, 2019

Who will go and work today?

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Beloved in Christ:

 

Hark the voice of Jesus crying,

Who will go and work today? (LSB 826 st.1)

 

When you come to the Lord’s table in a little while we will sing that hymn.  We will sing, Who will go and work?  Yet we will be doing the opposite of working.  We will be tasting wine, the vintage of the Lord.  We will be tasting the fruit of the Lord’s vineyard.  Yet we are singing that the work still needs to be done.

 

But the rules of time don’t apply to the Lord like they do to us.  He is still working in His vineyard and hiring workers even now.  Yet He has already opened the wine barrels in heaven; He sits us down and has the waiters filling our glasses and bringing out appetizers.  His wedding feast has already begun.  The Lord’s harvest festival has begun and it will extend through eternity; and in the Divine Service, here, we taste that feast.

 

Yet today He is calling for workers.

 

The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for His vineyard.  Matt. 20:1

 

Vineyards are for wine.  You don’t make wine just to quench your thirst—you dig a well for that.  Wine is for pleasure.

 

The Old Testament scriptures tell us that God planted a vineyard for Himself in this world from which He intends to make wine.  God’s vineyard is His people.  In the Old Testament His vineyard was known as Israel; today it is called the Holy Christian Church.

 

God planted it by making His promises to Abraham and transplanting him from the land of his fathers into the land of Canaan.  Abraham, despite not being able to have children, grew into a vine that bore many grapes.  The 12 tribes of Israel came from him, and God took them out of Egypt and planted them in the promised land.  He tended them with His Word so they would turn into wine.  Through Moses He gave them His commandments.  Through the prophets He gave them the promise of the Messiah, the Savior, the Righteous One.  The wine that God intends to come from His vineyard is righteousness.  Good works.  The whole world is bringing forth thorns, and thistles, and poisonous berries—sin, and nothing but sin.  But in God’s vineyard the good grapes of faith grow and are made into the wine of love and good works.

 

Jesus is the master of this vineyard who goes out early to get workers to help gather the harvest of righteousness.  But He doesn’t just have others do it.  He Himself works out with the workers.  In the heat of the day He pours His sweat on the dirt of His vineyard.  He even sheds His blood to bring in the Lord’s wine.  We have seen some of this during Epiphany, how Jesus left His throne and put aside His divine glory to share our curse, our lowliness.  How on earth He went and proclaimed God’s Word, healed the sick, drove out demons, and faced the heat of persecution and the burden of unbelief and ingratitude.  And we will see it more during Lent.  His labor was not merely preaching and doing good, but also suffering and enduring evil—the opposition of the world and the devil, and the wrath of God against the sinners He came to save.

 

But the Kingdom of heaven involves joining in Jesus’ labor.  That is why He is looking for workers.

 

He calls us to join with Him in laboring for the good of His Kingdom, to join Him in bringing forth righteousness.  That means not necessarily that we all preach like Jesus did, and labor in the Word and doctrine.  But it means that we all carry out the jobs to which He calls us.  We care for our children and our parents.  In the Church we hear and learn God’s Word, uphold it with our service and offerings, and work to spread it.  In our jobs we serve our neighbor—customers, our boss, our employees.  All this is labor in the Lord’s vineyard.

 

It is labor in His vineyard if we do it because we believe in Christ.  Most people, even Christians, work for themselves.  They work to get money, they work to get ahead, they work to pay off their credit card, they work to get a reputation, they work to get people off their backs.  They do a lot of work, but they are not working for Christ.  They are working for themselves.

 

The master of the vineyard did not do that.  He went into the vineyard to labor for the glory of God.  Jesus sweat and labored to make you and me vines that produce grapes, that produce wine that pleases God.  He didn’t do it to make Himself rich.  He already had everything.  He came down and labored in this world out of grace and love toward us.

 

That is what we are called to do.  Who will go to work today?

 

Yesterday a group of us met to put together the group that is going to start contacting members of St. Peter who have stopped attending church.  It will be a lot of work to contact them, and I would imagine there will be at least one or two who will not want to hear that St. Peter is concerned about how they have been away from the Word of God and His body and blood for so long, who may even get angry about it.

 

It’s also hard, difficult, expensive to reach out with the Gospel who have never been members of St. Peter or Christ’s Church.  For some reason many Lutherans seem to have gotten the idea that it should be easy for the Gospel to go forward in the world.

 

Well, I suppose everything is easy for God.  Yet He Himself planted His Word in the world with the hard labor of His Son.  It grew in the world through the sweat and blood of the apostles.  We should expect no different today.

 

Yet the master of the house goes out for laborers more than once.  He goes at the beginning of the day, at about 6 am.  Then again at 9.  Then at noon.  Then 3.  He even goes again at 5 pm, an hour before quitting time.  It appears that He could use more workers.

 

That’s how it is with Christ.  In another place He told His disciples: the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.   It’s a shame to imagine that Jesus cannot get enough workers to help bring in His harvest of souls, to help make His wine of righteousness.  Yet we see Him go out in the parable not once, not twice, but 5 times to find workers.

 

 

If it was profitable to work in the Lord’s vineyard—if it made you money or made you famous, then the seminaries would be full of people wanting to be pastors.  Then church and bible class and Sunday school would be full, and we would never have trouble finding someone to chair the board of Trustees and the other vacant council positions.  And not only that, but Christians would work hard at their marriages, at being faithful at their jobs, at raising their children, and the work God calls them to do in the world.

 

But it does not make you rich if you serve the Lord.  If you serve in His vineyard, your reward is not an earthly one.  Everybody gets the same wage regardless of what time of the day they started and how long they worked.

 

The wage, the reward is eternal life; the forgiveness of sins.  The reward is that we get to share in the joy of the Lord’s harvest.  We get to drink the master’s wine and sit at His table.

 

The reward is that we spend our lives working in the Lord’s vineyard instead of serving ourselves and our own projects, which Jesus calls standing around idle.  No matter how hard a person works and how much money they make in life, if they are serving themselves, they are really doing nothing.

 

None of their works will endure.  When the world ends and is judged, it will all be burned up.  The only things that will remain will be the works of God.  His vineyard and its fruit will endure.

 

Now if you are in the Lord’s vineyard you have a share in this.  He will pay you the wage of eternal life—whether you spent your whole life serving Him or only came in at the end.

 

The wage is not earned by our labor anyway.  Eternal life is not earned at all—not by us.  Eternal life is the reward of righteousness.  And there is only one who earned that reward—the master of the vineyard.  The one who pays the wages.

 

He gives us the wage He earned by His blood and sweat in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross.  He gives it to us without any work.  To everyone who believes in Him, that He accomplished righteousness and made the wine that gives God joy by His life and His suffering—He gives eternal life.

 

He gives it to us even before the work day is over.  In a few minutes we will sing:

 

Hark the voice of Jesus calling: who will go to work today?  Fields are white and harvests waiting; who will bear the sheaves away?

 

Yet while we are singing about work, we will be rejoicing in the fruits of our Lord’s finished work.  Take, drink, this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  We drink it, believing His words, and the work of our salvation is already done.  We rejoice.

 

That is why we go out of the church and labor.  The harvest of righteousness has already been accomplished, and the Lord has prepared His wine and His meat.

 

We go out with the certainty that the Lord will make something of our labor, something that will endure, and that He has already finished the work of our salvation.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Metamorphosis. The Transfiguration of our Lord 2019

February 10, 2019 Comments off

monarch.PNGThe Transfiguration of our Lord

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 17:1-9

February 10, 2019

Metamorphosis

Iesu iuva!

 

In second grade, Mrs. Higginbotham had a fish tank set up for us to watch a biological process that our science book called “metamorphosis.”

 

At the beginning of the year there was a striped caterpillar munching on milkweed or leaves.  But by this time in the year, February, we no longer saw the caterpillar.  Hanging from the fish tank’s cover was a metallic green-blue pod, almost like liquid turquoise—very beautiful.  Caterpillars that grow up to be moths usually build ugly, hairy cocoons, but this kind of caterpillar spun or wrapped itself up in a liquid sapphire coffin that Mrs. Higginbotham called a “chrysalis.”

 

Then through the winter and into the spring nothing happened.  The chrysalis just hung there in the upper corner of the fish tank.  But near the end of the school year, when spring had come and been here awhile, the appearance of the chrysalis began to change.  It started to become transparent.  The membrane became thinner and thinner.  You started to be able to see through it, and you could see that inside was something quite different from what had gone in.

 

I don’t remember the day the new creature came out, but I remember seeing it when it was ready and the whole class came outside to let it go on a day in May.  I remember watching it stretch its orange wings in the sun on a plant growing through a chain link fence outside the school.  It was a beautiful thing, a small wonder that God does many times every year.  He causes little creeping caterpillars to transform into bright orange flying things.  He causes some of His creatures to change their form, to transform from one thing into something else.

 

+

 

Today is the Transfiguration of our Lord.  Today we remember how the three disciples saw Jesus change His form, though it was not in exactly the same way.  The caterpillar became a butterfly and stopped being a caterpillar.  But Jesus did not change from man into God at His transfiguration.  Instead at His transfiguration one nature of Jesus appeared that was normally hidden—His divine nature appeared.  It was less like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly and more like the sun appearing after it is hidden by a cloud.

 

But when it came out the disciples wanted it to remain.  Peter said, Lord, it is good that we are here….I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.  (Matt. 17: 4) 

 

God rebuked Peter for saying that, but I know exactly, exactly how Peter felt, and I think you do too.  Don’t you want to see this world, or at least your world, or maybe yourself—transformed?

 

We have all experienced the wonder that my second grade class felt when the butterfly came out of the chrysalis and when my teacher took it outside and let it out into the world.  We were all second-graders once.

 

Now that we are older—even a few years older—we often can’t see the wonders God does around us because they are overshadowed by the pain of life in this world.  We would like to see the world transform so that the glory of God would not be covered by the sweat, the dirt, the thorns, the thistles.  Some people have been in this world too long to hope for so much, but even they reach out for little bits of something like glory that they think are still attainable, like being on time or having your bills paid or being in a church that is growing.  Age and bitter experience teaches you to accept the world as it is and not bash your head against a wall trying to have more.  But is there anyone here who can’t relate with Peter, who if they saw Jesus suddenly transfigured, wouldn’t want to stay there?

 

Yet God wasn’t pleased with this plan of Peter’s.  He isn’t pleased with any of our plans to carve out a piece of glory and lock it away.  Not because He doesn’t want us to have His glory, but because He wants us to have it all.  But He wants us to receive it as His gift, not to try to take it on our own terms.  The attempt to steal God’s glory is really a very old plan, and not one we invented.  It came to us from the serpent—the lie that we could have God’s glory for ourselves if we turned away from His Word.

 

And once we were infected by this lie and came under God’s curse, were exiled from His glory, condemned to work and sweat and experience futility and then to die, then old lie we bought tells us: you can find your way back.  You can see this in our world.  People don’t go to church, we all are aware of that.  Yet every day they come out with new technology and new medicines—and many of them are truly impressive.  They are supposed to make our lives better—and in some ways they do!  And yet people are even more unhappy today than they were when I was a child and we barely had computers, we had no internet access.  We had only just gotten cable.  We keep telling ourselves there is a way back to the garden of Eden—even if lots of Americans no longer believe in a literal garden of Eden.  They are looking to be transfigured, or for the world to be transfigured.

 

And we go to church, but we are looking for the same thing, most of the time or all of the time.  We in church think like Peter, James, and John: If Jesus would just show the glory we know He has to everybody, He would win over the whole world, and everything would be happy ever after.

 

But this is not the Father’s plan for the glory we see in Jesus.  So He says to Peter (and to us): This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.  Listen to Him.”  (Matthew 17: 5)  Jesus is the only Son of the Father.  He is also “the Son of Man”—that’s what He calls Himself.  He is the son of Adam.  He is one of us whose first ancestor was made by God from clay and had breath breathed into him.  He is one of us whose first ancestor turned away from God and exiled us from His glory.  But Jesus pleases the Father.  He knows the Father’s will.  He knows the way to His glory.  He is the only one who can take you there.  He is the only one who can transfigure us caterpillars into monarchs.  Listen to Him.

 

 

 

 

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What Jesus told Peter and the other disciples six days previous was this: …that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Mt. 16:21)  He cannot stay up on the mountain and shine like the sun and have everyone marvel at Him.  He must go down from the mountain to Jerusalem where enemies are waiting for Him, where not just death but crucifixion await Him.

 

Jesus must go there, with His glory hidden.  What hides His glory is that He is like us. Jesus was indistinguishable from one of us.  Isaiah said of Him: He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.  (Is. 53: 2)  If Jesus sat next to you in the pew in the days of His earthly life, you wouldn’t know who He was.  He would just be some guy.  And when He went to the cross, He would be some guy you would move away from.

 

He hid His glory and came down to where we are.  All the way down.  Down farther than we want to admit we are.  How far?  Look at the cross where they pierced His hands, His feet, where, suffering, He cried I thirst.  The chief priests and scribes He said would kill him laughed about Him as He suffered.  Do you have pain?  Does it make you groan, or cry, or writhe, and when you do the heavens don’t respond to your tears?  Jesus, the beloved Son of God, came exactly where you are. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people, Jesus says through David in Psalm 22.  He joined you there and went further down: He was rejected by God.  He becomes lowly and loathsome to God because that is what we are through sin.  That is how He transfigures us, and through us, the world.

 

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  (Matthew 16: 24-25)  That is what Jesus told Peter 6 days before His transfiguration.  We cannot enshrine Jesus in a tabernacle and capture His glory, or a part of it, the way you capture a tiger in a zoo.  That is not the way we enter into paradise.

 

The way is Jesus, who puts aside His glory, and goes down the mountain to be crucified for us.

 

And He goes knowing that neither Peter nor we have it in us to go with Him to the cross.  So He goes alone, drops like a stone to the bottom of death, and rises again.  And all that He accomplished He puts on you and in you in Baptism.  All your life in this valley of tears he leads you, like a caterpillar to its chrysalis, to baptism, to be crucified with Him and resurrected with Him until the day when He comes to let you out into a new world.

 

Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 2019–Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. No One Ever Hated His Own Flesh

February 5, 2019 Leave a comment

The Second Sunday After Epiphany—Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 2:1-11 (Eph. 5: 22-33)

January 20, 2019

No One Ever Hated His Own Flesh

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The lifestyle we have in America is not free.  It comes with a price tag.  We pay for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as we understand those words today.

 

We are even paying this price in the church.  Christians are not immune.  We do not have clean hands.  Listen.  There are almost no small children making noise in church this morning.

 

Everyone who has had children knows that children are expensive.  They cost money and they cost so much time.  And you have to teach them everything.  You have to pay to educate them and you also have to teach them yourself.

 

Children get in the way of the American lifestyle; they get in the way of young men and women sampling all that the world has to offer; they get in the way of school and careers.  They get in the way of old people too—they cost money and time and energy for grandparents now that 40 percent of them are born out of wedlock and grandma becomes full time babysitter.

 

We have taught our kids by our words and our actions that children are undesirable.  Having too many children is looked on as a form of irresponsibility or craziness or both.  Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them says Psalm 128.  Blessed is the man whom God gives many children.

 

But we know better than Psalm 128, and science has given us the ability to limit the fruit of the womb with pills and devices.  And now we don’t see children in church, because they have been discouraged.  When young people do have children, they generally don’t bring them to church, because they have long since learned that it is more important to do what makes you happy than to have God.

 

 

But since 1973, it has not just been a matter of people choosing to not have children or to put them off in favor of other things they considered more important.  Americans have been quietly allowing the killing of their children for 45 years now.  Some 61 million babies have been killed since then, which would be something like 1/3 of the babies conceived.  Imagine that.  We sacrifice 1 out of every three children we conceive in America.

 

And why do we do it?  Because we do not believe that God knows how to give us happiness.  If we have too many children we will not be happy.  We will be poorer and have less time to do what we consider meaningful; our lives will be consumed with the difficulty of feeding too many mouths.  If we have children at the wrong time we will be unhappy, we think.  And this may be true.  It is difficult to raise children if you are unmarried, for instance.  But we wouldn’t be dealing with this problem if we had not already turned away from God’s Word and sought to find happiness or true love or sexual pleasure apart from marriage.

 

We pay a price to be free from God and His Word and to seek happiness according to our own reason and our lusts, and the price is the loss of our children and even the sacrifice of our children and grandchildren.

 

It is not surprising that people don’t want to look at this because it is awful to contemplate that this is what we have done and are still doing in the modern world.  But none of us has clean hands.  We may not have had an abortion, we may not have supported it.  But we have all participated in the system that created legal abortion.  We have all loved ourselves more than our neighbor and tried to find our own happiness at the expense of loving and giving to the other human beings, created in the image of God, we find around us.  We consider them a burden, an impediment to our happiness.

 

Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding at Cana in Galilee.  At this wedding they ran out of wine—truly an embarrassment at a wedding party, to not have enough food and drink to put before your guests.  When Jesus’ mother brought this to the attention of our Lord, He said, “Woman, what does this have to do with Me?  My hour has not yet come.”  Not my problem, our Lord appears to be saying.  The hour has not yet come for me to be married and provide wine for the wedding feast.

 

Yet of course Jesus provides the wine, copious amounts of wine, and the master of the feast calls it “the best wine.”  He provides it by speaking His Word and transforming mere water into wine.  In so doing Jesus manifested His glory, which means that He showed that He is God.

 

How foolish we are to think that God is not able to give us pleasure, happiness—that God doesn’t understand our desire to be happy and our thirst for pleasure.  God invented wine.  He knows how wine makes you feel.  God invented marriage.  He invented sex.  He gave us the pleasure of sex, the pleasure of a man in a woman and a woman in a man.  How foolish we are to think that we know better than God the way to happiness and pleasure.

 

Taking God’s gifts apart from the way He gives it may give pleasure temporarily, but it always leads to death.  Wine is good, but abused, it destroys homes, brings shame, kills people.  Sex is good, but taken apart from marriage and children when God wills it destroys families, brings shame, and kills people.

 

But the good God knows not only how to give pleasure and happiness, and how we ought to live, He also knows how we are trapped.  How we constantly doubt Him and lust after what He has not given us, and how in our paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace we have not known, as it says in Romans 3 (16-17).

 

So He came to help us.  He came not only to tell us the right way to go—which would not help us, because He had already done that long ago in the ten commandments.  He came to unite Himself to us the way a husband is united to His wife.

 

Paul said in the Epistle: No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the Church, because we are members of His body.  Therefore a man shall leave His Father and mother and hold fast to His wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.

 

Christ became “one flesh” with His Church.  God the Son left His Father and mother and was united to His bride, the Church.  He left His Father in that He laid aside the form of God and came in the appearance of a mortal man and a sinner, so that no one could see His glory.  And He joined Himself to His bride, the church, taking her to be one flesh with Him.  That meant He took to Himself her sin that she could not take away.  And He took it away, giving Himself for her on the cross.  In return He gave His bride Holy Baptism, in which He washed her and made her beautiful, without fault.  And He nourishes and cherishes the Church because each of her members is a member of His body, one flesh with Him.

 

That’s why Jesus told His mother: My hour has not yet come.  He was saying, it’s not yet time for me to provide wine for my wedding feast.  Because when that hour came it would be the hour when He was joined to His wife in her sin and separation from God, in her lostness, nailed to the cross under a sky that was dark as night.

 

But the hour came.  We remember it every Sunday, how the night before He gave Himself for us He took the bread and the cup and said, “This is my body, given for you; this is my blood, shed for you.”  He transforms the bread and wine into His body and blood that were given to atone for our sins and release us from death.  He feeds us with the food of life, His body, and the wine of eternal joy, His blood.

We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bone.  This is why we embrace life, even when it comes with difficulty and suffering, because we know that joy and life do not come from the abundance of our possessions.  Joy and life do not come where there is no suffering and no cross.  Joy and life come from our bridegroom, the Son of God, who made Himself one flesh with us.  Joy and life come with His cross.

 

He sets us free from the price we have been paying for our so-called “freedom”.  He does not let you carry your sins—be they abortion, fornication, greed and selfishness.  He makes you a member of His own body and joins you to His own flesh and blood and He dies for your sins.  So that you may be His bride, that you may stand before Him in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.  This is what we remember and proclaim as we eat His body and drink His blood.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Epiphany 4 2019 Certain Death to Certain Life

February 3, 2019 1 comment

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 8:23-27

February 3, 2019

Certain Death to Certain Life

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Living in Chicago, most of us don’t know anything about the sea.  If we hear seagulls they are seagulls from the barges that have migrated to parking lots outside Target.  We have never experienced storms on the sea in small boat.

 

But we have experienced the prairie version of the storm on the Sea of Galilee—tornados.  Everyone who was alive in 1990 and lived around here has a memory of the tornado that hit Plainfield at the end of August that year.  It was an F-5 tornado, the most intense kind, which means that the winds were blowing somewhere between 261 and 318 miles per hour.  A lady from the church I used to visit had a son who was driving near St. Mary Immaculate Church in Plainfield, which was destroyed in that storm.  His car was picked up in the air and tossed by the tornado.  The injuries he sustained were with him for the rest of his life.

 

Another member of St. Peter who lives near downtown Plainfield had the back half of her house torn off by the wind.  Over 300 people were injured in that tornado almost thirty years ago.  Twenty-nine people were killed.  We don’t have experience with storms on the sea, like the disciples did.  But we have experienced storms.

 

Being in a storm like that, with the waves about to cover their little boat, it is not too surprising that the disciples’ prayer to Jesus sounded like it did.  Lord!  Save!  We perish!  3 short words in New Testament Greek.  But not words brimming with confidence or faith.  Words that sound desperate and doubtful.

 

We are about to die.  You are sleeping.  You just finished cleansing the leper, healing the centurion’s slave.  You seem to have forgotten us.  Maybe your power has run out?  Because here You are, sleeping in this storm, when it means certain death—for us and for You.

 

We can understand the fear of the disciples not only because we have seen storms that can kill, but because like them we are also in a little boat with Jesus on a wild sea.  The little boat is the Holy Christian Church, and it is tossed around on the waves of this world.  And it seems doomed, this little boat we are in.

 

Is that overdramatic?  Not to hear you tell it.  Not a day goes by when someone doesn’t say something expressing worry over the future of St. Peter Church and, to some extent, the whole Christian Church.  We hear stories about the Lutheran Church growing in distant places.  But in our land we see few churches growing, and almost all the ones that do are those that have departed from the Word of God.  They say that Baptism is only water, the Lord’s Supper only bread; they rely on popular music and casual attitude to do what God’s Word seems not to be doing on its own—making Christians, saving people.  Meanwhile, the little boat in which we sit, the church in which we rely solely on Christ crucified, working through His Gospel and Sacraments—looks like it will be swamped by the tossing waves, broken by the raging wind.  We see many who have abandoned Christianity or the Divine Service as society has gone from encouraging Christianity to looking at it with contempt.  We see mounting hostility toward Christianity and wonder whether in our lifetimes the waves of open persecution will break over this boat at the very time in which we are weakest.

 

Sometimes we get up in arms as we see the Church’s influence in our country slipping away.  But more often we find ourselves in the place of the disciples. We are at our wits end.  We are tired.  We have done all we know how to do to help this boat called the church not sink, and nothing is working.  It looks like certain death, and we call out to Jesus—not with firm confidence, but with dismay, wondering why He is sleeping.

 

In fact, some may have even stopped calling to Him.  They have given up hope that Jesus will do anything to help them.

 

At this point, Jesus woke up, looked at His disciples in the middle of the raging waves swamping the boat, and said, Why are you fearful, little-in-faiths?  You would imagine Jesus would have to yell this over the crashing waves and the howling wind.  Why are you fearful, small-in-faiths?  It’s almost funny to imagine it, except for what comes next.  Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and a great calm came to pass.  In an instant, certain death was changed into a great calm on the sea.

 

Jesus rebuked their lack of faith before He rebuked the wind and the sea because their little faith, and our little faith, is a bigger problem than the winds that threw their boat around, or the tornado that tore off the back of the house in Plainfield.  Or the church leaking members.  What is a bigger danger than all these things?  Our little faith in Jesus.  That we doubt whether Jesus is able to do anything to help us, or that we doubt whether He will help us.  It is a bigger danger than an F-5 tornado.  The tornado can only crush your house or take your life.  But the absence of faith in Jesus means the loss of salvation and the loss of the only one who is strong enough to help us.

 

He speaks His Word to help us who are small in faith, and He does it now in a much greater way than He did for the disciples then.  Then His Word only turned certain death into a great calm.

 

Now His Word that He speaks to us when we come trembling to Him turns certain death into certain life.

 

The Word Jesus speaks to us does not always make tornadoes stop in their tracks or replace the turmoil and danger of this world with a great calm.

 

The Word He speaks to us ends the power of tornadoes and storms and even the power of the devil, the world, and the flesh that seek to destroy the Church.

 

The Word He speaks takes away the power of death to those who receive it in faith, who believe it.

 

The Word He speaks takes away the guilt of sin and makes a great calm in the conscience of those who believe it.

 

The Word He speaks makes those who believe it rulers over the whole world.  If you believe what Jesus says to You, everything in the world becomes your servant.  Pain, weakness, your stumbles and falls, even death—they all serve you.  They don’t rule you.  They kneel before you and work for you.

 

What is this word He speaks to you?  It is the good news.  He proclaims to you that He has become what you are, that God has become a human being, joined Himself to you, reconciled you to Himself, and taken your sin upon Himself.

 

The reason God came in the flesh was to turn certain death into certain life.  We are caught in a storm, in certain death.  We are born in sin.  All our lives sin storms within us.  Then our conscience is overwhelmed with the waves of God’s wrath pouring in from His Law, revealing to us that we have fallen short of what He demands of us.  We have not trusted Him above all things, but turned aside to what our own hands could build.  We have not believed what He tells us, but trusted what we could see with our eyes and touch with our hands.

 

This is certain death.  Certain damnation.

 

But Jesus entered into our human nature and He took on the form of us who were in bondage to death.  That’s why He got tired and fell asleep, just like we do.  Later, He would die and be buried, like we are, even though He is the Creator of human beings, the Maker and the giver of life.

 

He entered into our flesh and blood, which is doomed to die.  And He turned certain death into certain life.

 

That is what lies ahead in the church year.  The storm of our sin descending on Him in His passion.  Then, in Easter, He arises and comes into the locked room where they are overcome by the waves of guilt, sin, and death; and He says, Peace be with you.

 

When certain death is around us, we should not despair.  We should rejoice.  Jesus is with us.  His Word that He speaks to us—that He spoke when you were baptized ,that He will speak to you in the sacrament of His body and blood—turns certain death into certain life.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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