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Made Clean. 14th Sunday after Trinity, 2017.

September 20, 2017 Leave a comment

cleansing 10 lepers.jpgFourteenth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 17:11-19 (Gal. 5:16-24)

September 17, 2017

“Made Clean”

Jesus

If someone asks you, “What is the Lutheran Church?  What makes it different from other churches?”—and you had to give a quick answer—the answer would be this: the doctrine of justification.  We say that a sinner is declared righteous by God for Jesus’ sake, solely through faith in Him, without any works.

 

But the Bible has other ways of describing what God has done for us in sending His Son into the flesh.  One is what we see Jesus doing in the Gospel reading today—He purifies the ten lepers, or makes them clean.

 

Jesus is headed down to Jerusalem.  As He goes through a town, a group of men with leprosy stand at a distance from Him and shout, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!  They are a long way off from Jesus because God’s Law commanded that they be.  It condemned people with leprosy as unclean or impure.

 

God is not only righteous and just; He is also pure and clean.  So He commanded that the impure were not allowed among the people with whom He dwelt.  The unclean were not allowed into His house.  Lepers had to live outside the camp with their clothes torn, in mourning.  Whenever an Israelite came by who didn’t have leprosy, they had to shout “Unclean, unclean!” to warn them.

 

Uncleanness and impurity separated lepers from God and His holy community.  They stood far away from Jesus, yet from far off they cried to Him: Have mercy on us! 

 

They must have heard about Jesus—how He had healed many others who were paralyzed, who had fevers, who were blind, how He cast out demons.  They believed that Jesus, who had overcome the devil’s power over other people, could and would take away their impurity.

 

And Jesus didn’t disappoint them in their trust.  He heard their cry and told them, Go, show yourselves to the priests. 

 

The Law commanded that if a leper was healed, he had to go to the priests at the temple and be examined by them.  If the priests found that the leper had been cleansed, they would perform two rites: one to purify him, and the other to reinstate him as a member of the holy people.

 

So when Jesus says, Go, show yourselves to the priests, He is telling them to believe that He has granted what they called out for even though they don’t see it.  Even though you don’t see it yet, I have granted your prayer.  I have mercy on you.  You are cleansed.  Go to the priests and let them acknowledge it.

 

And as they went, says the Holy Spirit through St. Luke, they were cleansed.

 

Jesus purifies us from the leprosy of sin and brings us before God’s face.

 

Leprosy has mostly been rooted out of the modern world.  But our sense of impurity hasn’t gone away.  Look at how people carry around little bottles of hand sanitizer to kill any germs they may get from contact with other people!  Look at how obsessed our society is with bodily perfection and health, and how increasingly we eliminate babies with physical defects, aborting them so that they never see the sun!  We don’t do these things from religious impulses.  But the fact that we are so preoccupied with them shows how people continue to recognize intuitively the need for purity and wholeness, at least in regard to the body.

 

That feeling that we need to be pure, to be clean, is correct.  Uncleanness, sickness, deformity is a manifestation of the corruption and death at work in our bodies.  And the reason why corruption and death are at work in our bodies is because of the impurity of our souls, even our whole natures.  Original sin, in which we are conceived, passed down to us from Adam and Eve, makes us impure and unclean before God even before we think or do anything sinful.  And just like skin diseases break out in boils, scabs, or running sores, so original sin breaks out in impure thoughts, words, and actions against God.

 

We were all born with this leprosy.  It is not something we have any power to cure.  It corrupts everything we think, everything we do.  And it separates us from God.  We cannot come into His presence when we are unclean with sin; we can’t be numbered among His holy people.  Behold, (A)the Lord‘s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,  or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;2 (B)but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. (Is. 59:1-2)It isn’t just our evil words and evil deeds that separate us from God, but the evil nature with which we are conceived, so that all that by nature provokes the wrath of God.

 

Yet we sit here this morning not defiled, but clean.  Not alienated from God, but reconciled to Him, and brought near to Him.

 

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, (BC)doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled (BD)in his body of flesh by his death, (BE)in order to present you holy and blameless and (BF)above reproach before him (Col. 1:21-22), says St. Paul in Colossians 1.  We were brought near to God and cleansed of our sins when Jesus was cast out as the one who bore the impurity of our deeds and thoughts and even of our nature.  As He bore that impurity on the cross and the sun was darkened, He cried out that God had forsaken Him.

 

That was the purification of our uncleanness.  It says in Hebrews 10: 1But when Christ[b] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he (Q)sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time (R)until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering (S)he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.  By a single sacrifice He perfected sinners; by that one sacrifice He purified us of sin.

 

Jesus was going down to Jerusalem to do this very thing when the lepers cried out to Him.  When our parents brought us to the church as little ones, seemingly innocent yet already impure and alienated from God in our minds, through the pastor Jesus received us and cleansed us in the washing with water through the Word (Eph. 5).  He baptized us, putting us to death with Him and raising us up with Him.  We died to the old life of Adam.  We rose in Christ to a new life as children of God, free from condemnation and sin.  Our sins were covered.  We were brought into the communion of saints, the holy people of God.  We were purified from the uncleanness of sin, and God came to dwell, not in a tent near us, but in our bodies.

 

It is true that we still feel the old nature working in us, making our conscience dirty again, making us think evil thoughts and provoking us to do evil deeds.  But the thrashing around of the old Adam is not counted to us, as long as we are led by the Spirit, as long as daily we resist and crucify the flesh and return to our Baptism to die in repentance and rise through faith in Jesus alone.

 

So as often as we feel the old nature and its impurity, Jesus comes to us through the pastor in holy absolution.  We confess our sins, and Jesus testifies that our sins are forgiven—which means that they are loosed from us, they are not counted to us, and we are not cast out as unclean, but we are pure and clean and brought to our Father in heaven.

 

This is what the letter to the Hebrews is talking about when it says: 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts (AA)sprinkled clean (AB)from an evil conscience and our bodies (AC)washed with pure water.  (Heb. 10:22)  Jesus sent the lepers to the temple.  They did not yet see that they were clean, but they went in faith.  We draw near to God in faith that Jesus has made us clean, trusting His cross, where He provided purification for sins, trusting His promise in Baptism, where He applies that purification to us.   We see that impurity is still at work within us.  It seems, sometimes, overwhelming.  But we don’t believe in it.  We consider Jesus’ promise greater than what we see with our eyes, and His work more powerful than the works of our flesh.

 

Jesus purifies us from the leprosy of sin, and brings us to stand with confidence before the face of God.

 

But in the reading, something awful happened.  Jesus cleansed ten lepers.  Nine of them were Jews, who were descendants of Abraham and heirs of God’s promises.  One was a Samaritan—a foreigner.  Yet out of the ten men for whom Jesus did this amazing miracle of cleansing and restoration, only the Samaritan came back to thank Him!

 

Was it because the others thought they should thank God in the temple and not at the feet of Jesus?  Was it because the priests at the temple convinced them Jesus was a false prophet?  We aren’t told.  We only hear Jesus faulting them for not thanking God at His feet.

 

How awful it is to face the reality that the same thing happens among us!  Jesus has cleansed many people of something worse than leprosy in this place.  When He baptized them, He washed away the uncleanness of original sin that separates people from God forever.

 

Yet most do not come back to give thanks here where Jesus is present in flesh and blood.  So many baptized babies we never see again after their parents bring them to be baptized.  They bring them to Jesus to be baptized, but not to hear His Word or receive His body and blood.

 

But some are brought back long enough to be confirmed and admitted to the sacrament of the altar.  Then, after their confirmation day, a few months or years later, they too are gone.

 

And others keep coming.  Yet though they thank Jesus with their lips, it is just lip service.  They do not cast themselves facedown at the feet of Jesus, thanking Him for making them clean.  They come as those performing a religious duty, not with the joy of those who have been made clean and pure by Jesus’ blood, but as those who think they have kept themselves pure.

 

How do we know that we are not one of the nine who were cleansed and then fell back into spiritual death?

 

Because we trust in this only: that Jesus has purified us from the leprosy of sin and brought us into the presence of God.  When we see the thanklessness and unbelief in our hearts, we turn our eyes and our ears to His promise.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness…If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 1:9, 2:1-2).  Jesus made purification for our sins on the cross.  It is done.  He bestowed that purification on us in Baptism.  That too is done.  That is what we cling to in faith.  And as we continue to put to death our impure flesh, we come to Jesus for help.  We draw near to God through Him, who alone can help us.

 

And He helps us.  He spreads before us the blessed feast of thanksgiving, the Sacrament of His body and blood.

 

When the leprosy of your old nature seems to have broken out again, and you fear that you have relapsed into death and alienation from God, come to the table the Lord spreads.  Pay attention only to His words: “for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”  He is telling you that it is done.  You are purified.

 

As you eat and drink, believing these words, you also lay your body and soul at His feet, that your life from then on may be for the praise of His glory.  Then you go out from here, believing you are pure in God’s sight, and eager to glorify Him for this great mercy.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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Thanksgiving after Receiving the Holy Supper–Luther

lutheran-painting-liturgyOh my God, even though I am without doubt a poor sinner, nevertheless I am no sinner.  I am a sinner in myself and outside of Christ, but in my Lord Christ and outside of myself I am no sinner.  For He has paid for all my sins with His blood, as I firmly believe.  I also have been baptized and received in it the true mark of Your salvation.  I have been absolved of all my sins through God’s Word and declared free of sin, loosed and unbound.  I have also been fed the true body and given to drink the true blood of my Lord Jesus Christ, as certain signs of grace.  I have received forgiveness of sins, which my dear Lord Jesus Christ merited, won, and received for me through His precious blood.  For this I thank Him in eternity.  Amen.

Martin Luther 1483-1546

Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz

The Church’s Sacrifice at the Lord’s Supper. Luther.

Luther communing John the Steadfast.

I will gladly agree that the faith which I have called the true priestly office is truly able to do all things in heaven, earth, hell, and purgatory; and to this faith no one can ascribe too much. It is this faith, I say, which makes us all priests and priestesses. Through it, in connection with the sacrament, we offer ourselves, our need, prayer, praise, and thanksgiving in Christ and through Christ; and thereby we offer Christ to God, that is, we move Christ and give him occasion to offer himself for us and to offer us with himself. And as I have said above, if Christ promises to two persons [Matt. 18:19] the answers to all their prayers, how much more may so many obtain from him [in the mass] what they desire!

…Therefore my advice is, let us hold fast to that which is sure and let the uncertain go. That is, if we would help these poor [departed] souls or anyone else, let us not take the risk of relying upon the mass as a sufficient work. Rather let us come together in the mass and with priestly faith present every urgent need, in Christ and with Christ, praying for the souls [of the departed], and not doubting that we will be heard. Thus we may be sure that the soul is redeemed. For the faith which rests on the promise of Christ never deceives or fails.

So we read that St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, desired on her deathbed to be remembered in the mass. If the mass were sufficient of itself to help everyone, what need would there be for faith and prayer? But you might say: If this is true, then anyone might observe mass and offer such a sacrifice, even in the open fields; for anyone may indeed have such a faith in Christ in the open fields, and offer and commit to him his prayer, praise, need, and cause, to bring it before God in heaven; besides he may also think of the sacrament and testament and may heartily desire it, and in this way receive it spiritually (for he who desires it and believes, receives it spiritually, as St. Augustine teaches)—what need is there then to observe mass in the church?

I answer: It is true, such faith is enough and truly accomplishes everything. But how could you think of this faith, sacrifice, sacrament, and testament if it were not visibly administered in certain designated places and churches? The same is true in the case of baptism and absolution: although faith is sufficient without them, where nothing more can be done, still, if they never existed anywhere, who could think of them and believe in them or who could know or say anything about them? Moreover since God has instituted this sacrament, we must not despise it, but receive it with great reverence, praise, and gratitude. For if there were no other reason why we should observe mass outwardly and not be satisfied with inward faith alone, then this is reason enough, that God so instituted it and wills it. And his will ought to please us above all things and should be sufficient reason to do or omit anything.

There is also this advantage: since we are still living in the flesh and are not all so perfect as to govern ourselves in spirit, we need actually to come together, by example, prayer, praise, and thanksgiving to enkindle in one another such a faith, as I have said above, and through the outward seeing and receiving of the sacrament and testament to move each other to the increase of this faith. There are many saints who, like St. Paul the Hermit, remained for years in the desert without the mass and yet were never without it. But such a high spiritual example cannot be imitated by everyone or by the whole church.

But the chief reason for holding mass outwardly is the word of God, which no one can do without. It must be used and inculcated daily, not only because Christians are born, baptized, and trained every day, but because we live in the midst of the flesh, and the devil, who do not cease to assail us and drive us into sin. Against these the most powerful weapon is the holy word of God, which even St. Paul calls “a spiritual sword” [Eph. 6:17], which is powerful against all sin. This is shown by the fact that the Lord, when He instituted the mass, said, “Do this in remembrance of me” [1 Cor. 11:24-25], as if he were saying, “As often as you use this sacrament and testament you shall be preaching of me.”

…And had there been no preaching, Christ would never have instituted the mass. He is more concerned about the word than about the sign. For the preaching ought to be nothing but an explanation of the words of Christ, when he instituted the mass and said, “This is my body, this is my blood, etc.” What is the whole gospel but an explanation of this testament?

Martin Luther. “ A Treatise on the New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass.” Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 35. Pp. 102-106.

Christ Offers Us As a Sacrifice in His Supper. Luther.

Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk

Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We should, therefore, give careful heed to this word “sacrifice,” to that we do not presume to give God something in the sacrament, when it is he who in it gives us all things.  We should bring spiritual sacrifices, since the external sacrifices have ceased…What sacrifices, then, are we to offer?  Ourselves, and all that we have, with constant prayer, as we say, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” [Matt. 6:10].  With this we are to yield ourselves to the will of God, that he may make of us what he will, according to his own pleasure.  In addition we are to offer him praise and thanksgiving with our whole heart, for his unspeakable, sweet grace and mercy, which he has promised and given us in this sacrament.  And although such a sacrifice occurs apart from the mass, and should so occur—for it does not necessarily and essentially belong to the mass, as has been said—yet it is more precious, more appropriate, more mighty, and also more acceptable when it takes place with the multitude and in the assembly, where men encourage, move, and inflame one another to press close to God and thereby attain without any doubt what they desire.

 

For Christ has so promised: where two are gathered in his name, there he is in the midst of them; and where two agree on earth about anything they ask, everything that they ask shall be done [Matt 18:20, 19].  How much more shall they obtain what they ask when a whole city comes together to praise God and to pray with one accord!  We would not need many indulgence letters if we proceeded properly in this matter.  Souls would also be easily redeemed from purgatory* and innumerable blessings would follow…

 

To be sure this sacrifice of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, and of ourselves as well, we are not to present before God in our own person.  But we are to lay it upon Christ and let him present it for us, as St. Paul teaches in Hebrews 13[:15], “Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess him and praise him”; and all this “through Christ.”  For this is why he is also a priest—as Psalm 110 [:4] says, “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”—because he intercedes for us in heaven.  He receives our prayer and sacrifice, and through himself, as a godly priest, makes them pleasing to God…

 

From these words we learn that we do not offer Christ as a sacrifice, but that Christ offers us.  And in this way it is permissible, yes, profitable, to call the mass a sacrifice; not on its own account, but because we offer ourselves as a sacrifice along with Christ.  That is, we lay ourselves on Christ by a firm faith in his testament and do not otherwise appear before God with our prayer, praise, and sacrifice except through Christ and his mediation.  Nor do we doubt that Christ is our priest or minister in heaven before God.  Such faith, truly, brings it to pass that Christ takes up our cause, presents us and our prayer and praise, and also offers himself for us in heaven.  If the mass were so understood and for this reason called a sacrifice, it would be well.  Not that we offer the sacrament, but that by our praise, prayer, and sacrifice we move him and give him occasion to offer himself for us in heaven and ourselves with him.

 

Martin Luther, “A Treatise on the New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass.”  Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 35, pp.98-99.

 

*  “A Treatise on the New Testament” was published in 1520. In 1518 (according to the footnote in the American Edition”) Luther affirmed that he believed in the existence of purgatory. But already in the same document he insisted that “every matter concerning the souls in purgatory is most obscure.” By 1521 he would say “Those who do not believe in purgatory are not to be called heretics.” The first time he wrote a treatise directly on the doctrine of purgatory was in 1530 where he attacked the traditional arguments in support of the doctrine.

Repeat, Repeat the Sounding Joy

December 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Clausae parentis visceraBrewers_Blackbird

Caelastis intrat gratia;

Venter puellae baiulat

Secreta quae non noverat.

 

[Into the womb of the chaste mother

There enters heavenly grace;

The girl’s belly bears

Secrets that she does not know.]

 

Today as we walked out of the church doors a noisy flock of starlings had roosted on the roof of the church and in the trees in front of the old steep steps to the doors to the nave and in the poplar in front of the derelict house across the street. 

 

My son heard them.  But I didn’t.  I was thinking about the kinds of things I think about when I leave church.  That usually makes it impossible to hear much else.

 

My son said to my wife, “Listen to the birds!  Doesn’t it sound like they are all singing, ‘Merry Christmas’?”

 

“You think they are happy that Jesus is born?”  “Mm hmm,” he said.

 

My wife hates birds of all kinds, but especially black birds.  And for me starlings are kind of like flying stains.  When I was a kid and my dad would see one he would practically spit on the ground and say, “Grackles.”  They don’t sing so much as gurgle or gargle to one another, or babble mutually incomprehensible nonsense to each other like an Alzheimer’s ward. 

 

They aren’t really a color, either.  They’re black.  But then if you move your head slightly they are purple, or green.  Like a rainbow in a puddle of oil. 

 

A long time ago when I was in my early 20’s I remember reading Psalm 84, looking at it with adult eyes for the first time. 

 

How lovely is your dwelling place O Lord of hosts!

My soul longs, yes, faints, for the courts of the Lord;

My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

 

Even the sparrow has found a home,

And the swallow a nest for herself,

At your altars, O Lord of Hosts, my king and my God!

 

I remember the intense skepticism I felt about the Psalmist’s interpretation of the sparrow’s motives.  It was unpleasant.  I felt despair about it.  I needed God, and I needed the Bible to be true and not a book of fairy tales.  I knew no religion or god that needed me to correct its facts would be able to save me.  And I had come to the conclusion that I needed not assistance but saving.  Above all I needed to be saved from the way that I thought I could figure everything out.

  Read more…

Questions for Self-Examination–The Fifth Commandment, part 2

September 1, 2012 4 comments

 Questions for Self-Examination

For preparation for Confession and for the Sacrament of the Altar

 

The Fifth Commandment: You shall not murder.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

 

Part 2

In reality, haven’t I at times given offense to the innocent and simple by my words and deeds, and to one degree or another wounded their souls?

 

Have I striven to raise up those who have been given offense and caused to stumble, and sought to make amends for the injury done them as much as possible, and to soothe and still their anger?

 

Have I provided all possible assistance to my neighbor in his need, distress, danger, and poverty?  Have I even stood by him with counsel and comfort?

 

Have I had mercy and love in my heart, kindness in my actions, and a sweet and considerate bearing in my words?

 

Have I been longsuffering toward those who offend, insult, and injure me?  Have I nurtured a heart willing to be reconciled with them? 

 

Have I sought to make peace between others who hostile toward one another?

 

Have I sought what is best for my neighbor in spiritual and physical things? (Salomon Liscovius)

 

Great in the World and Great in the Kingdom of God

August 30, 2012 9 comments

Martyrdom of John the Baptist (observed)/ Altar Guild Opening Service

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 6:14-29

August 30, 2012

 

Dear sisters in Christ, fellow servants of our Lord who was crucified for us:

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.

 

Yesterday, August 29th, was the festival day of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist.  As I’ve said before, originally Lutherans kept the saints’ days for the purpose of teaching how people in the past lived the life of faith in Christ.  What they got rid of was the invocation of the saints, the prayer to the saints.  In those days the idea was that the saints were spiritual giants that we could never hope to be.  So you went to them so that they would pray for you and ask God to give you grace. 

 

But as Lutherans, we don’t get off that easy.  We don’t get to have other people be saints for us.  We must become saints ourselves.  That’s why John’s martyrdom is such a useful story and example for us.  It shows us exactly what we are signing up for when we are baptized and confess faith in Jesus.  It shows what it means for us to receive Jesus’ body and blood.  To be a Christian is to receive salvation as a free gift through the death of Jesus, apart from our works.

 

And to be a Christian is also to die with Jesus Christ, to share in his rejection, as John did.

 

We have a clear picture of this in the gospel.  Consider the contrast between

 

            The great men and women of the world and

            Those who are great in the kingdom of God, men and women.

 

And also

            The feast of the world contrasted with

            The feast of Jesus. 

 

Who does Herod spend his life with?  Not with John the Baptist, a man of God who comes out of the wilderness and says, “Repent.”  He comes into contact with John, and for awhile he listens to John.  But that is not who his life is spent with. 

 

Herod’s life is among the powerful, among the beautiful, and among the wealthy.  The rich, leading men of Galilee—the foremost citizens.  Men who have operahouses named after them.  Among generals and officers.  Men who carry swords.  Killers.  Among lesser lords whom Herod has to control but also keep happy.

 

Herod lives among celebrities, but the world is also treacherous.  Powerful people, wealthy people, violent people—they have to be tough, clever, or smooth, or some combination of all of them.  It is a tough world in which to be honest.  It’s hard to be rich, powerful, or a successful warrior without knowing how to get what you want and forcefully pursuing it.  People trying to get power or wealth, men aiming at being successful fighters or soldiers—they don’t usually understand or respect the meek.  Meekness makes you a victim.

 

But in secret, Herod’s life in this world is thrown into an uproar by John the Baptist, who fearlessly says, “You are damned because you have married the woman who was one flesh with your brother.  Repent.”

 

He speaks with that kind of boldness to Herod, and calls Herod to kneel.  But not before him—before God.  Who speaks this way to a king?  Only someone crazy; or someone who really seeks nothing else than to speak the truth in the sight of God.

 

What about the great women of the world?  Like Herodias, they know how to get what they want.  This man, that man; but it’s not necessarily the man she wants but the man’s status and power.  And when a crazy, fundamentalist, bumpkin man of God comes and tells her husband, “You should not have married your wife.  You have incurred God’s wrath.  Repent”—Herodias’ eyes narrow.  This man must die because he interfered with her pursuit of happiness. 

 

And her daughter is growing up to be just like mom.  She’s learned to use her sexuality to control men and get what she wants.

 

And isn’t this how our daughters are being taught that they should live today?  And aren’t are sons taught to be Herods?  And if you’re not powerful, rich, violent, sexy, what good is your life?  If you don’t know how to get what you want, you’re a chump.  A lamb to the slaughter.

Small Passion: 16. Christ before Herod

Small Passion: 16. Christ before Herod (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

But those who are great in the Kingdom of God are different.  In opposition to Herod, and his generals, and the rich men and nobles of Galilee, you have John the Baptist, John’s disciples, and the disciples of Jesus.

 

John does not seek glory in this world.  And he doesn’t get it.  He gets crowds of miserable, poor, wretched sinners who come to be baptized.  He gets the hatred of Herod’s wife. He gets prison, and in the end he gets neither love nor honor.  His wild man, hairy head is cut off and put on a plate and given to a teenage harlot.  He is hated and written off as demon-possessed by respectable, orthodox religious leaders as well as powerful, wealthy, ungodly rulers. 

 

And what about John’s disciples?  All these poor ragtag nobodies can do is take the headless body of John and bury it.  And mourn that once again the sheep are torn apart and the wolves are fat and sleek. 

 

Jesus’ disciples have it no better.  John’s story is recounted because Herod, addled and tormented with a guilty conscience that is unwilling to part with sin, hears about the miracles that Jesus’ disciples are doing and begins to think that God has raised John the Baptist from the dead.  You can see the terror with which John’s preaching burned Herod’s conscience. 

 

The disciples would like to think that their miracles, done by Jesus through them, mean that they will have a different outcome to their discipleship than John the Baptist did.  They do not want to listen to Jesus that He will be killed in shame, brutally humiliated and broken; they do not want to hear that the same fate awaits Jesus’ disciples. 

 

We don’t want to hear it either.  We are not able to accept it.

 

And what about the great women in the kingdom of God?  They were not loud and brash.  They did not use sex to manipulate men.  They served—Jesus and the disciples while they taught God’s Word.  They submitted.  They did not presume to teach and dominate men, as Eve had done.  They did not perfume themselves and make themselves up to own male attention and get their way.  They poured perfume on Jesus; they used their hair and their beauty in service to Jesus.  Even when Jesus was crucified, they tried to honor Jesus and in some way to show the great honor that was due to Him.  They loaded his body with expensive spices and ointments.  They were back early to do more to care for His body.  They were lowly; they served Christ and his disciples.  They put themselves in subjection.  Just as the world despises men who don’t know how to take what they want, and how to manipulate power, the world despises women who submit themselves to their husbands and who do not usurp authority over men.

 

Yet these women were great in the kingdom of God. 

 

What they did is also what you do.

 

Just as they cared for Jesus’ body even though no efforts of theirs could properly reveal His glory, so you prepare this earthly building so that it will in some way proclaim in our poor, weak way, something of the glory of Jesus.

 

Jesus was dead and laid in the tomb, yet they still lavished rich, expensive spices and perfumes on him to try to say, “Even as a dead man, this is the King and the Son of God.” 

 

Even though Jesus’ body and blood come to us in such a scorned and despised way, nevertheless your work proclaims—Jesus the Son of God is here in our midst in this church giving us salvation!

 

Let us compare briefly the feasts of the great people of this world, and the feast of Jesus Christ, the world’s true king.

 

People want church to be more like Herod’s party, with more people willing to come, especially more of the lords and great men of Galilee.  So even if we don’t put out caviar and fine wine and have the daughters of successful harlots shake it at the church’s feast, we do come up with things along the same lines.  Music that people like.  Sermons that are appealing to our world, which tend to be Americanized versions of the old rationalistic preaching in the Lutheran church in Germany that caused the true Lutherans to move to the US.  Then the pastors would come out and preach that God was the Father of us all and was willing to forgive everyone who tried to do what he knew was right; God didn’t really  need the bloody death of His Son to forgive us.  And they preached “useful” sermons, like modern farming techniques, or 5 steps to controlling your temper, or 3 to drinking less beer. 

 

That’s what church is, far too often, and it’s what we’ve come to expect out of church—it will be, like everything else, from the mall to fast food restaurants—a sensory experience designed in every way to appeal to your desires.  Like Herod’s feast, except with a religious spin, and the sex, drunkenness, and gluttony toned down. 

 

Herod’s feast is a display of earthly delights.  But you know that those delights often turn bitter in our mouths.  Neither wine, nor rich food, nor a much-sought after wife, nor the beauty of a young woman, can take away the horror and pain of a conscience that feels the weight of sin.  Herod is sorrowful about killing John because he knows he is committing grave sin—murdering the man who comes with God’s Word.

 

Earthly pleasures have their time and place.  But the feast of earthly pleasures that the great ones of this world struggle for—their pleasures last only for a time.

 

Christ’s feast is different.  Jesus is also a king, but His feast is not simply rich food and well refined wine.  He feeds us a different meal that also gives us joy.  But not the joy of wine, women, and song.  His joy is spiritual joy.  It is a sober joy, a joy that remembers that all of the pleasures of this world perish; Food for the stomach and the stomach for food; but God will destroy them both (1 Corinthians). 

 

At the feast of Herod the powerful come because they want something from Herod.  Herod needs to share the spoils of power and wealth with them.  But Herod needs their cooperation.  Everybody is at the earthly feast to get something.

At the feast of Jesus, we receive, but Jesus only gives.  In order to spread this feast for us He got only suffering from us; He took our sins and the fury of God’s wrath against them. 

 

Our participation in Jesus’ supper is a participation in His death, a communion in His death, in His pierced, crucified body, and His blood streaming down the tree to the earth. 

 

He participated in the righteous wrath of God against us—He bore it in our place.  He became a communicant in our sin, even though he did no sin and no deceit was found in His mouth.

 

We are communicants in His death—in His martyrdom.  That means we are responsible for it.  We are also redeemed by it. 

 

Now if on this earth we have constant sorrow and cross—and we are despised, and people walk away from the church, and they cast out my name or your name as evil, if even sometimes members of the church despise me or you—we are only receiving a little bit of what Jesus received, and His disciples received.  It is not success, beauty, power that makes you great in the kingdom of God—that is what makes you great at Herod’s feast. 

 

In Jesus’ kingdom, you are great when you believe in Jesus and you share in His suffering–in being despised, laughed at, or cast out as evil. 

 

But none of this comes from us.  John didn’t do it on his own.  It comes from eating the food at Jesus’ table—the Word of God.

 

Jesus alone by His suffering and death has saved you and brought you through the red sea of sin and death.  In Your Baptism all of that was poured out on You.  And as you eat and drink His body and blood the life that He gave for You strengthens the life of Christ within you, so that you do not faint and falter and lose the victory given to you in Baptism. 

 

Yes, when you, me, and this whole congregation come and receive Christ’s body and blood—we are participating in the eternal feast of Jesus’ wedding, that will go on forever—the feast of salvation.  The glory of that feast will completely put to shame the Herod-feasts that the world throws for itself. 

 

But when we come to this altar, we sit at this feast already, because Jesus gives all of himself to us now.  That is why it is a beautiful thing that like the women who anointed Jesus for burial, you show love and honor to His body and blood by caring for the altar. 

 

But the body of Jesus, for the women who buried Him, as also for us, does not really need us to care for it.  Jesus allows us to do so.  He accepts our service.  But it is really Him who has saved us by His death in the body.  It is really Him who works in us through His body and blood so that, with John the Baptist, we cling steadfastly to Jesus with a good conscience, and do not let the hatred of the world or its contempt make us lose heart, or forget that the feast of everlasting life is made open to us now.

 

May the Lord bless you as you work to keep the house in which that feast is celebrated among us beautiful.  But even more, may the Lord work in us through His body and blood, so that we are and remain His house, His temple, now by faith and forever in eternity.

 

Amen.

 

The peace of God, that surpasses understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

 

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