Reminiscere, the Second Sunday in Lent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 15:21-28
March 12, 2017
“Consider Your Place in Life”
“No one believes how the devil opposes and resists them, and cannot tolerate that anyone should teach or live rightly…It hurts him beyond measure to suffer his lies and abominations to be exposed…and to be driven out of the heart, and to endure such a breach to be made in his kingdom. Therefore he rants and rages as a fierce enemy with all his power and might, and marshals all his subjects [against Christians]…in addition, [he] enlists the world and our own flesh as his allies…Such is all his will, mind, and thought, for which he strives day and night, and never rests a moment…
If we would be Christians, therefore, we must surely expect and reckon upon having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies, who will bring every possible misfortune and grief upon us.” Large Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, 3rd Petition, 62-65
How did it go this week?
How did what go?
Your fight with Satan and his allies, your flesh and the world. Did it go well?
Last week’s Gospel told us about the temptation of Jesus. To save people out of Satan’s Kingdom, Jesus had to be attacked by Satan. On Wednesday, we heard the beginning of Jesus’ final conflict with the evil one, His Passion.
What happened to Jesus also happens to everyone who doesn’t want to remain in Satan’s kingdom. You have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. You have God’s name on your forehead. As long as you remain in Jesus’ death and resurrection, in His victory over sin, death, and the devil, you also are in a life-or-death conflict with the old evil foe and his allies the world and your flesh. You could never hope to win this fight. But Jesus has already won. Through faith in Jesus you also conquer Satan, even when you’re weak, even when you stumble. That’s why Satan’s goal is to destroy faith in Christ.
So how did the fight go this week?
The chances are good that you didn’t think much about the fact that you were in the middle of a battle with Satan and his allies, your flesh and the world. We get so busy with work, responsibilities, worries, pleasures, that we forget. If you forget you’re in a war, this week’s battles probably didn’t go very well.
Even if you were conscious of the battle you’re in, chances are good that you experienced defeats. In the prayer guide in the bulletin this week the catechism memory work is about confession. “Which are these?” it asks—what sins should we know and feel in our hearts and confess in order to receive absolution? The answer is: Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm? In other words, look at how you carried out the calling God has given you. The sins the catechism mentions are not what we consider great sins. They are sins that most of us struggle with every week in one way or another. Yet to be a Christian is to continue to fight against them, to get up when we fall and try to make progress against them. For forgiveness and strength in this fight we draw near to God, hear His Word of pardon and absolution, and receive the body and blood of Jesus which cleanses us of all sin.
To overcome our sins by faith in Jesus is to fight against the evil one, Satan, and his allies, our flesh and the world.
But if you try to do this week in and week out, you find how hard it is. In fact, you feel overwhelmed. It is a struggle even to keep your mind on it, isn’t it? If we don’t want to be overcome by our sins, we need God’s help. We call out to God to keep us watchful, to give us strength against the devil, to keep us in faith in Christ, to forgive us when we fall. We pray. Prayer is our weapon in the war against the devil—not because our prayers are strong, but because the One who has promised to hear and answer our prayers is mighty and victorious.
In the Gospel reading we have an example of this in the Canaanite woman. She cries out to Jesus for help and deliverance in her distress, and she doesn’t quit, because she believes that Jesus is who He says He is—the promised Son of David, come to bring salvation to her and the whole world from the devil’s power.
But we don’t need prayer only for ourselves. God calls you, when you are baptized, to serve Him in specific ways by serving specific people. He places you in your family and calls you to love and serve your spouse, your children or your parents. He places you in your congregation and calls you to love and serve your congregation and your pastor. He places you in your city or country and calls you to love and serve your government and your fellow citizens. All these things—family, church, state—are God’s institutions. They are there to bring God’s blessings to people. When they falter, people suffer. So they need prayer too. When the devil makes inroads against someone in your family, against your congregation or synod or your pastor, against your city or country or neighborhood, you aren’t supposed to sit still. You are supposed to fight the evil one with the weapons God has given you—prayer and the Word of God.
The Canaanite woman is dealing with an obvious attack of Satan on one she is called to love and serve—her daughter. Her daughter, says the Gospel, is “severely possessed by a demon.” The word literally is “she is demonized.”
People are naturally “demonized”—under the power of demons. If the Kingdom of Jesus is going to free them, there will be a fight.
If people are going to be saved, there will be a fight. We need to pray.
The problem is sometimes Jesus doesn’t seem to listen to our prayers…doesn’t answer her, says “I was sent only to lost sheep of Israel,” says, when she bows down in front of Him, “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
She perseveres in faith in Jesus, believing He will help. She says, “Yes, I am a dog, but dogs get the crumbs.” Yes, I’m a sinner, yet you will not refuse forgiveness and blessing even to the chief of sinners. You came to save sinners.
Don’t doubt this. Hold firmly to it. Though great our sins, yet greater still/ Is God’s abundant favor. / His hand of mercy never will/ Abandon us nor waver. / Our shepherd good and true is He/ who will at last His Israel free/ from all their sin and sorrow.
When you see the devil attacking in yourself, your home, your church, your city, call on Jesus for help. This is how His kingdom advances, people are brought to salvation and preserved in it.
Soli Deo Gloria
The First Battle of Jesus’ Reformation. Invocabit, The First Sunday in Lent, 2017. St. Matthew 4:1-11
Invocabit, the First Sunday in Lent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 4:1-11
March 5, 2017
“The First Battle of Jesus’ Reformation”
You have been hearing this year about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, how God revealed to the world again the truly good news of Jesus after it had been buried under teachings of men and demons. Martin Luther was the human instrument through whom God accomplished this.
But what happened with Luther was only one act in the play. Reformation began long before this. The stage was set for it in eternity. The drama began when God spoke this threat to the serpent in the garden: I will put [hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:15) When Jesus came out of the Jordan River, still wet from being baptized, the table was set, and the drama began.
Jesus came into the world to bring about reformation. He didn’t come to reform a corrupt government, or even to reform a corrupt religious establishment. He came to destroy the root of the world’s corruption—to dethrone the fallen spirit that had set himself up as the world’s god, and to set free the people God made to bear His own image and likeness. Jesus was here to bring about a reformation of the world, make the world into a temple, where people would worship God in every thought, word, and action, with every breath. This worship of God, this obedience of God, comes through faith in the true God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
All the evil we see in the world—cheating and lying, hatred and killing, immorality, dishonoring God—all of it comes from unbelief, non-trust in the true God.
So Jesus entered the world, as God had promised long before, to crush the serpent’s head, make people free from his corruption, and bring about reformation. To bring them to faith in God & release them from worship of Satan, belief in his lies.
He was conceived in the womb of Mary through the Holy Spirit, born in the Bethlehem stall. For the next few decades we hear little about Him, until He appears at the Jordan River to be baptized with the crowds who were confessing their sins that those sins might be washed away.
When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice sounded from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17) Jesus’ reformation began in earnest. Jesus had come to the Jordan with no sins to confess. Nevertheless, He was baptized with the sinners. The only-begotten Son of God was baptized as a sinner because He had taken the burden of humanity, its sin and its redemption, upon Himself.
Then in the Gospel for today, Matthew chapter 4, we hear how the Holy Spirit brought Him to the first battle of His work of reforming the world. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matt. 4:1) Any reformer of any kind has to fight. If you want to reform a corrupt city government, you will have a fight on your hands from the corrupt politicians who are in power and all the people who benefit from the corruption. When Luther tried to reform the practice of granting indulgences, he was quickly attacked by the powerful bishops, including the Pope, who profited from the sale of indulgences.
Jesus came to reform something much bigger than a city government or even the Church; He came to reform the whole world. He had to have a confrontation with the ruler of this corrupt world—the devil.
But what Jesus experienced as soon as He was baptized happens to everyone who comes after Him. When you brought your little ones to be baptized into Jesus, you were bringing them to be baptized into His fight with Satan. As long as you are a Christian and lay claim to the benefits of your baptism, to peace and union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to the forgiveness of your sins, you can’t avoid a fight with the devil and all who are his. You must suffer his attacks, and you must fight. You must be tempted. When the fight ends, when the temptation ends, so does your salvation.
The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into this fight, and to prepare Him for it, He lets Jesus fast for 40 days. Jesus is weak almost to the point of death when the devil appears to test Him. And the tests the devil brings are all temptations to presumption, to pride. “You are God’s Son,” Satan says. “Since you’re God’s Son, why should you have to starve out here in the desert? 40 days of fasting? How unreasonable your Father is to make things so hard and painful for you! You shouldn’t have to deal with the irritations and humiliations that human beings have because of their sin and unfaithfulness to God when you’re righteous! The angels should carry you around! Why doesn’t Your Father let you show Your glory so that these people give you the honor that is due you?”
Later Jesus would teach His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” The Small Catechism, the handbook of Christian faith and life Luther drew from the Scriptures, explains that part of the Lord’s Prayer in this way, “We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we would finally overcome them and win the victory.”
We usually think of temptation as the devil trying to persuade us to commit grave moral lapses. Of course he does that. But the heart of all the devil’s temptations has to do with faith. Despair is when the devil convinces us that we cannot be saved, that we cannot believe that God has forgiven our sins. The other, “false belief”, refers to presumption, false confidence, where our faith rests not on God’s promise but on ourselves—our past good works, our past experiences of being close to God, our feelings.
The devil tries Jesus with presumption and false belief. “You are God’s Son. Why should you have to hunger and be meek and suffer? Shouldn’t your Father honor you and give you glory and rewards instead of this humiliation?”
Then he lets loose a barrage of flaming arrows at Jesus in his third temptation, in a desperate attempt to get Jesus to fall, like all other human beings have before. “I know that you have come to take possession of the world,” Satan says. “You are the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed king. The Scriptures say you are going to rule all the nations. Well, here, have a look at them. You can take possession of them all, right now. They’re yours. I’ll give them up. Just give me my due. Fall down and worship me. No one will ever know. I won’t make you fast for 40 days or suffer humiliation like your Father is doing to you. It will be quick and easy.”
We have to give the devil his due, the saying goes. This is an evil world, and things don’t go so smoothly for us when we don’t play by its rules. Christians often give the devil his due too. We often believe that there is no other way to survive. (Examples)
But Jesus gives Satan—nothing. Nothing except God’s Word from the Scriptures, which silences his lies and expose his fraud. Satan is driven off, beaten. The first man in history has refused his offers and been faithful to God.
Jesus could easily have overwhelmed Satan with His power and glory. He could have done that without coming to earth. But that wouldn’t have helped us. Using His divine, almighty power to destroy Satan would have meant destroying all of Satan’s servants as well.
Instead Jesus came to reform the world and crush Satan not with overwhelming power but with faith in God and the obedience that comes from faith. Jesus trusts His Father and accepts His will, even when that will means being humbled and suffering for our sins. By this humble faith and trusting obedience to His Father, Jesus bruises Satan in this first battle, and finally bruises his head, crushing it in the dust, when He fulfills His work on the cross. By His perfect faith and obedience to His Father, Jesus earns God’s favor, His grace, for all of us. By His righteousness, Jesus earns the forgiveness of our sins before God. God looks at the human race and sees not our rebellion and falling before Satan, but Jesus resisting and overcoming him. He sees Jesus in perfect trust and obedience giving His holy life, shedding His innocent blood to atone for all of our transgressions.
Jesus’ humble trust in the Father, His rock-like holding to God’s Word despite all temptations, all appearances that seem to contradict it, is the example of how our lives are to be lived. The love and humility He showed in willingly bearing this suffering in the wilderness, when He by rights did not have to suffer at all, is our example of how much God wills that we give of ourselves for our neighbor’s good.
But even more, Jesus’ victory over Satan in this first battle, and His final victory in His death and resurrection is our shield and defense in our battles against Satan. When we are tempted to despair of God’s mercy, we claim Jesus’ obedience all the way to the cross as our own. God has promised and pledged that it is ours in our Baptism. We claim it, invoking the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit placed on us in Baptism.
The work of reformation that He began here is also our defense against false belief. When the devil says, “Avoid suffering. It doesn’t matter. No one will know,” we hold to the Scripture and lay hold of Christ, who suffered this temptation and the agony of the cross for us. We say, “I do not belong to you, but to Him who died and was raised to reform this world and me and make me a new creation, a Son of God.”
Or should Satan press me hard, let me then be on my guard. Saying Christ for me was wounded, that the devil flee confounded. Amen. SDG
Ash Wednesday (7 p.m.)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Joel 2:12-19, 2 Peter 1:2-9, St. Matthew 6:16-21
March 1, 2017
Repentance and Reformation
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
That is the first of the 95 Theses that sparked the Reformation. The first word of the Reformation of God’s Church was about repentance. If your life needs to be reformed, if a family needs to be reformed, if a congregation or the whole Church needs reformation, this is where it begins—with repentance.
But a Christian life not only begins with repentance. The entire life of a Christian is one of repentance—an ongoing, daily “changing of your mind.” A change in how we think, look at the world, what we love and hold dear, what we believe, with the result that we return to God.
This the reason ashes are imposed today. Ashes are a physical way of saying that our way of thinking and living must change. Ashes are what remains to people who have been destroyed.
Look at pictures of a place that has been through a war, like Germany after World War 2, its cities pulverized to dust, rubble, and ashes by the rain of bombs falling from the sky. You see people with wide eyes hiding in blackened, charcoal shells of houses, their faces dirty from the ash that is everywhere. They haven’t just been going through a hard time. Their country has been laid into the dust and destroyed. The ashes of what they once had smeared their faces black.
Do you recognize that that is how you are? A shell of what you were created to be, sitting in the ashes of the glory you once had, not knowing when fire will rain down from the sky to consume what is left of your life?
In ancient times, in the Bible, when people grieved and mourned, they sat in ashes, they sprinkled ashes on their heads. They did this to show that they had been destroyed. Frequently, along with the ashes, they stopped eating food—they fasted. People do that when they are too full of pain to fill their stomachs; they also do it when war or destruction has so ruined their worlds that there is no food to eat. When God had punished people in the Bible, or when it seemed like He was about to punish them, they would sit in ashes, they would fast, and they would cry out to God from their destruction: “You have destroyed us; please bring us back to life.”
They understood correctly who the God of the Scriptures is. He is the God who, out of a handful of dust, made man in His image, and breathed in His nostrils the breath of life. We were created with glory to bear the image of the one God. But when Adam and Eve rejected the Word of God, they lost their form, just like the palm leaves in the fire. The image of God was destroyed. They lived out the remainder of their lives under a curse until their ruined bodies returned to dust. God gives life. God also destroys life that turns away from Him.
But God is able to bring back the life He destroys. He is able to gather the ashes of the palm leaves and make them once again the green branches they once were. He is able to bring back human beings that have been destroyed by sin; to raise to life flesh and bone that have returned to dust, and to restore the lost image of the Creator to human bodies and souls.
But when He does that in a person, or a household, or a church, it always begins with repentance, with a change of mind.
If a person is a burnt wasteland, a bombed-out ruin, he hasn’t started to come back to life yet until he recognizes he has been destroyed. Until our ruins are rebuilt and no sin remains in us, a Christian cannot be comfortable and satisfied. Could a person who has lived through a war be comfortable and content while his country is burning, his home is ashes, and he is sleeping on a cot in a refugee shelter? No! He will not be content until his home is rebuilt, the fields of his nation are sprouting grain, the roads are paved, there are schools for his children. So Christians can’t be content while sin remains in them.
As we seek to renew our life of repentance this Lent, it is important to remember that repentance has two parts. The first is contrition, which is heartfelt sorrow and terror over our sins, the recognition of God’s wrath against sin revealed in the Law, together with the desire to be free from sin and its destruction. Contrition is necessary, but it is not something we can do or make ourselves feel. It is God’s work within us, and there is only one way that God has promised to work it. That is through His Word—in particular, through the preaching of His Law.
If you listen seriously to the sermons that are preached to you instead of sitting in judgment on them, as so many do; if you allow yourself to be taught God’s Word by the pastor God sent you; if you faithfully read the Scripture; and if you take up the Small Catechism, learn the ten commandments with their explanations, and look at the way you live in light of them, God will work contrition within you—not because you have done a good work by listening and reading, but because He desires that all be saved and come to repentance. His Word is the instrument He uses to create repentance within you.
He will give you a contrite and broken heart, which is the sacrifice of God, which He does not despise (Ps. 51). He will not only terrify you with the threat of His wrath, but if you believe in Christ, He will also create in you the sorrow that comes from having offended the God you love.
Ashes a biblical symbol of the destruction sin has brought upon us. But there is another kind of ashes in the Bible—ashes used not to grieve, but to purify.
In Numbers 19, God commanded that a red heifer should be sacrificed and burned and its ashes mixed with water. This water was used to purify those who were made unclean through contact with a dead body. An animal, completely consumed in the fire, reduced to ashes on God’s altar—those ashes, that residue of a destroyed life, when mixed with water, made a person clean from the impurity that came from contact with death.
God has provided another, much greater life to be consumed in the fire of His wrath for your sins—the life of His Son. In Baptism, the ashes of His sacrifice on the cross, the fullness of His death for the sins of the world, are joined to water and poured upon you to cleanse not only your body but your soul from death. Not only His death under the wrath of God, but His resurrection into life free from the condemnation of the Law. In Baptism you become a participant in both. You are joined with Him. On the cross, the burning wrath of God fell on His soul as He carried your sins as His own. You also were brought to an end with Jesus.
But God is able to raise up again and put back together what He has utterly destroyed in His wrath. And He did. He raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. And in raising Jesus, He raised you and all people up, put us all back together again as a new creation, as children of God. He raised up our ruins, brought our ashes together and re-formed them, remade us in the image of the glory of God, so that we will never taste the second death.
This is the second and most important part of repentance—not only sorrow for our sins, but faith that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus. By faith I mean certain confidence and trust that although we cannot free ourselves from spiritual destruction, God has done so. He destroyed our sins in the wrath that He poured out on His Son who bore them. Then He raised up the one who bore our sins, freeing Him from the curse. Instead of ashes He gave us a beautiful headdress, a crown of victory (Is. 61), like the Old Testament priests who wore a crown that said, “Holy to the Lord.” This crown is placed on our heads by God, because Jesus, our head, is alive again. His battle with sin is over and He has emerged in righteousness and victory. He is our crown of righteousness and sanctification. He was poured on our heads in Baptism. By faith we wear His holiness as our crown.
“The entire life of a believer should be one of repentance,” Luther wrote in the first word of the reformation. That means not only a life of sorrow over our sin, but a life of confidence and trust that God has dealt with our sin. A life in which we daily return to God, not only with sorrow over our destruction, but with firm trust that our destruction has been swallowed up by life. Then instead of transforming us to ash from outside, God, who is an unquenchable fire of love, transforms us from within into the image of His Son. He burns away our old self until Christ appears in us.
Repentance begins with the recognition of sin and ends with the certain trust that our sins are forgiven—not because we feel that they are, but because the Gospel of God declares them to be. Where the pure Gospel of God is preached, it will work this change of mind—contrition and faith. And this repentance—true repentance– always brings reformation with it. Wherever an individual, family, or congregation is given this change of mind, and clings steadfastly to the promise that their sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, that individual or family or church will begin to reorder its life according to God’s Word. It will begin to produce fruit that pleases God. May God graciously create and strengthen this repentance in us this Lent.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
He Died For All, That Those Who Live Might No Longer Live For Themselves. Quinquagesima 2017. St. Luke 18:31-43
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 18:31-43 (1 Cor. 13)
February 26, 2017
“He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves”
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 2 Corinthians 5: 14-15
For whom do you live your life? For yourself? Or for Jesus?
There was a grandmother who had a grandson that she loved. When he was little, his parents would bring him over to her house on Christmas and at his birthday and other important days. The grandmother had very little money, but she always gave him the best present she could on Christmas and his birthday, because she loved him. When he was little, he would open his present and say, “Thank you, grandma!” and give her a hug.
When he got to be a teenager and started to grow up into a man, he didn’t have much time for his grandma. She still saved up to give him gifts at his birthday and Christmas, and his parents still brought him over, even though he usually looked like he wanted to be somewhere else. And when he opened the card with money in it, he still said, “Thanks, grandma,” and gave her a hug. But except for those occasions when he came over, she never heard from him.
Later he went to college and then got a job in another city, far away. His grandmother still loved him, and still sent him gifts. And sometimes he would call her on the phone and say “Thanks, grandma” when he got them. Other times he wouldn’t.
Soon she went into a nursing home. The family had all moved away. She seldom got visitors. Her grandson called very little. He was busy with work and his family. The grandmother didn’t feel any bitterness toward him. She loved him. She never sent him those gifts because she wanted to buy his affection; she just loved him.
When she died, and her grandson came to her funeral, he didn’t have any flash of insight where he realized he had been ungrateful. He went home and went on with his life, never realizing how he had been loved.
Has anyone here ever seen this story happen in real life? I have not only seen it; I have been the grandson—so wrapped up in my own desires and problems that I did not recognize when love was being shown to me. So I did not receive it. I did not respond to it. I appreciated the gifts, but did not receive the love of the person that motivated the gifts. How tragic.
But not only tragic for me. Not only tragic for the people in your life who have treated you or others you know in the same way. Tragic for you as well! Because the way the grandson responded to his grandmother’s love is the way that you—often, maybe always—respond to the love of God.
Today is Quinquagesima, which means “fiftieth”, because it is roughly 50 days before Easter. On this Sunday the Gospel reading records how Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and how, near the city of Jericho, a blind man heard the crowd that was going with Jesus travelling through. He cried out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” We heard how even though the crowd told him to stop making a scene he kept shouting this, and how Jesus stopped, called the man over to Him, and restored his sight. Then, St. Luke records, “He immediately recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.”
The formerly blind man immediately begins to follow Jesus. Where is Jesus going, and what will happen to Him there? The formerly blind man doesn’t ask; he doesn’t care. He follows Jesus without worrying about what will come from following him. He loves Jesus and wants to be with Him. He loves Jesus because he has received not only his sight, but Jesus’ love.
You might think, “Of course he followed Jesus after Jesus did such a great miracle for him!” But it’s not obvious at all that he would do this. A chapter before this in Luke’s gospel Jesus healed 10 men with leprosy, and only one came back to give thanks to the Lord.
No. Many times Jesus does wonderful things for people, and they are like the grandson in the story I told you. “Thanks, Jesus,” they say. “Now I can get back to my life—to my job, my family, my friends, my cell phone.” In fact, that is how people normally respond to Jesus’ gifts. Even more often, people don’t even acknowledge that Jesus has given them a gift.
They go on living for themselves.
When it is pointed out to us that this is what we are doing, we frequently get mad. Look, we say, what do you expect from me? Don’t you know I have to pay my bills? Don’t you understand that it is impossible to follow Jesus the way the world is now without being an outcast, without suffering financially? Don’t you understand people are already doing all they can without you demanding more? And are we not supposed to have any enjoyment and pleasure in life? You’re telling me Jesus doesn’t want us to be happy?
What I’m saying is that the first commandment of God is this: You shall have no other gods—which means, We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. God is always commanding His servants in the Bible to do things that seem impossible to do without risking their happiness, their good name, even their lives. We heard it in the Old Testament reading. The Lord said to Samuel…Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons. And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me. And the Lord said…I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you. (1 Sam. 16:1-3) And Samuel goes and does what God commands, because he loves the Lord, and he trusts the Lord even though he doesn’t understand.
Yes, God commands us to love Him, fear Him, trust Him above all things. Those who don’t love God above all things are sinners. They provoke Him to anger, real and serious wrath that will burn for eternity. Those who don’t love and trust God above all things are as wicked in His sight as men who dishonor their bodies with other men, as women who murder their infants in their wombs, as those who defraud and rob and steal. We do not become good in God’s sight because we refrain from the grave sins others do. Lack of love for God in your heart means you love someone or something else more than God. When we devise excuses for this in the Church—and we do it so easily, both me and you—we become just what the world accuses us of being: Pharisees.
No, let us admit the painful reality. Just like the world, we don’t love God above all things. When we look at the blind man, who out of love jumps up and follows Jesus, not caring where Jesus is going or what will happen if he follows Jesus, we see in the mirror of his example that we are the grandson who doesn’t respond to the love of his grandmother.
Jesus has done more for each one of us than He did for that blind man. He healed not only our eyes but our entire body and soul. He joined our bodies of dust and ashes to His resurrected, immortal bodies, and renewed our souls when He baptized us. Yet we often say, “Thanks, Jesus! See you in heaven when I get done living my life for myself.”
When we are challenged on this and asked, “Shouldn’t you follow Jesus? Shouldn’t you run to hear His Word when it is offered? Shouldn’t you gladly serve Him in His Church? Shouldn’t you give Him Your life, and follow Him in giving it up for the people He wants you to serve? Shouldn’t you give Him the firstfruits of your wealth so that others can hear the joyful news of salvation? Shouldn’t you use all your strength to see the gospel of Jesus given to other people?” Then we say, “But Jesus is going to be mocked, treated shamefully, to be spit on, to be flogged and nailed to a cross!”
Even if we agree, to our shame, that we should follow Jesus with joy like this man who had been blind, we find that we cannot do so. We look ahead of Jesus and see the cross and suffering. The fear overwhelms our joy.
And the more we are told that we should follow Jesus, that we should do it out of love and not out of compulsion, the more we find that we can’t. Those who are annoyed to be told this become more annoyed and resistant. Those who agree but are afraid become more afraid and less joyful.
This is the terrible reality of original sin. We are born not loving God, and we cannot will ourselves into loving Him. The love of God must come to us from outside into our hearts, and once it has begun to come in, it must continue, and we cannot make this happen.
The grandson who didn’t respond to his grandmother’s love needed not to force himself to act like he loved her. He needed to receive the love that was already there from his grandma. That is the way it is with us and God.
Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to be mocked, treated shamefully, spat upon, flogged with whips, crucified. He told his disciples this not to scare them, but to cause them to see when it happened that this was no accident. God foretold it centuries before through the prophets. In eternity He planned it, before the world began. It was His will that Jesus should suffer all these things. It was Jesus’ will also. As He pulled His disciples aside and explained it to them again, now for the third time, He saw it coming clearly. He could have avoided it and said, “We’ll go up to Jerusalem next year.” He didn’t do it. He saw it clearly and unmistakeably, and journeyed toward it.
Those were Jesus’ actions, motivated by His will, by the engine of His heart. What powered that engine was this—love. Love for human beings who do not love Him. Love for His enemies, love for His disciples, love for you, love for me. In love He saw us with a clear eye. He saw that our love of ourselves had to be punished by a just God with shame, mockery, physical suffering, with endless spiritual torment.
So He journeyed to Jerusalem to receive it for us—to be treated with contempt. To be mocked and spit on. To have His flesh opened with stripes from the whips. To have His hands and feet pierced and pinned to the cross and be lifted up from the earth as a curse. To cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” To bring to an end God’s anger against us, His righteous condemnation for the lives we have lived for ourselves, spurning His love. And then on the third day to rise again, God declaring our sin paid for in full, God announcing that Jesus and we are no longer in bondage to our sins. He no longer counts them.
Consider the love behind this gift. Meditate on it.
You are not able to stop living for yourself. But Jesus has blotted out the life you live in the flesh. He lived His life on earth in love toward His Father and in love toward you. For His sake the Father’s anger against your life of self-love has ended. For His sake, the Father counts you and all who believe in Jesus not only as if they lived their life following Jesus, for Jesus, but as if you lived Jesus’ life.
As you receive this love of Jesus, which is given to you when His Gospel is preached, when the Scripture is taught, when you read the Bible at home, when you receive the body and blood of Jesus in the Sacrament—as you receive His love in these ways, His love is born in you. The death He died for all becomes active in your life. Just as the grandson would have loved his grandmother if he had paid attention and received the love that was behind her gifts, so as you hear the word of the forgiveness of your sins through Jesus’ gift of His life for you, His love will enter your heart and do what it did in the man He healed of blindness. It will cause you to forget yourself and follow Jesus, not out of compulsion, but out of love, with joy.
On Wednesday the season of Lent begins, with its call to baptized Christians to renew the fight against our flesh, with its constant desire to live for ourselves. This fight, in which we exercise our will, is necessary. No one can be a Christian without it. We have to daily drown in Jesus’ death, in which we died in Baptism, the desires, thoughts, and impulses of our flesh that want us to live the old way—for ourselves, in sin, with our hearts denying Jesus’ love, closed to it.
We have to fight. But our fighting, our willing to no longer live for ourselves doesn’t create love. Love comes from seeing the love Jesus has in His heart for you—the love revealed in His joyful willingness to go to Jerusalem, to be treated with contempt, to be spit on, whipped, pierced with nails, and forsaken by God.
In that love we are secure, now and forever. That love has destroyed the life you lived for yourself.
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
In Memoriam + Kathe Schroeder
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Job 14:1-17, 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, Matthew 27: 33-60
February 25, 2017
“A New World”
Sandi, Ron, John,
All of Kathe’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren,
Her family and friends,
Members of her church family at St. Peter:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
God’s Word for our comfort today comes from all of the readings we just heard, and in particular these words from first Corinthians: For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1 Cor. 15: 22-24)
Beloved in Christ:
In the old version of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism that I had to memorize, the fourth commandment was longer than the one the kids learn now. Honor your father and mother, we learned. But it used to have more, a promise: that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth.
I want to start off by saying that I have not seen, in ten years as a pastor, a family that honored their parents (and grandparents) more than you have shown honor to Reiner and Kathe. I have seen quite a few families that loved and honored their parents at St. Peter, don’t get me wrong. But in a day when people no longer do this, your family has been exemplary—even the grandkids. The promise of blessing God attached to the fourth commandment applies to you.
Frequently when loved ones, particularly parents, die, people feel guilt that they did not show enough love and honor to them when they were alive. Perhaps some of you feel this way today. It is true that before God even the best fall short of keeping this commandment like we do all the others. Before God we can’t brag that we have done all that He asks even when we’ve done our best. But God covers our sins; He blots them out with the blood of His Son, and covers us with Jesus’ perfect righteousness, just as now Kathe’s body is covered by a white cloth emblazoned with the cross. She always expressed to me her feeling that God had blessed her and Reiner by giving her children and grandchildren that loved and honored them. So I hope that this will be a comfort to you—your care for Kathe was an example, and wherever you failed, God has covered your failings, just as Kathe’s whole life was covered with the perfect life of Jesus when she was baptized.
Kathe was blessed in many ways in this life, and she always said this when I visited her. She was blessed with a husband that was the love of her life, a gift which is not given to everyone. She was blessed with three children that she loved and that loved her; then with a similar relationship with her grandchildren. She had a beautiful family, a beautiful home. God gave her a good character, an ability to work hard and do good for others, which she passed on to her children and great-grandchildren. Above all, she was blessed in a way that so many are not. She was baptized into Christ as a baby and taught to know Him as her only Savior from her sins and from death. And she remained in this faith which was given to her in baptism until her end.
For all these blessings she received, and for the blessing her life was, we give thanks to God today. You remember her, and you rightly feel grief that this woman, with all of the little things she did, will not be present in the rest of the years of your life on earth. You are right to feel grief about this and even to express it to God. For years when I would come to visit she would make me tea and give me those pieces of sugar that looked like ice; when I put them in the tea they would make cracking noises. She would put a plate of cookies and pastries in front of me. I will remember those times, but I will not experience them again in this life. You have other memories. One that was in her obituary that made me laugh was that she never let her grandkids win at any board games! You have many memories like this, and it is a loss over which it is right to grieve that during the years of this life you will no longer see her or hear her voice.
I say this not to rub it in, but because we try to deny the loss to make the pain go away. But it is in facing the reality of the pain of death that God’s comfort comes to us.
Kathe’s life was filled with a lot of happiness. But in a way it was happiness snatched out of the hand of great powers that loomed over her and the whole world. She had many griefs. She just didn’t talk about those—at least not to me—or dwell on them. Her father died when she was a child, leaving her family in poverty. She was confirmed in 1942, when the world was in the middle of a terrible war and her country was a police state. And when the war was over, it only kind of got better for her country. Half of it came under the control of another police state from the other side of the political spectrum. The world sat on the brink of a much worse war in which the whole world could be destroyed. No one was sure when that might happen. And Germany was right on the border.
People kept on living. They got married, like Kathe and Reiner, and started families. Yet it could have all come crashing down. They were lucky and moved to the United States where it was a little safer.
But even now, this world is under the control of dark authorities and powers. We live in their shadows. It is the darkness of the shadow of death. In this world, God appears remote and absent. When we want to come near to Him, there is a barrier—that in thought, word, and deed, we break His commands. Pain, sickness, and hardship come to all of us, and also death. And for many people, at many times, the sense arises that these bad things are happening to us because God is against us. People don’t say this usually, but the feeling lingers.
That was what Job was saying in the first reading we heard. Why do you keep such close watch on my sins, God, he asks, that you are punishing me so intensely? I’m only on earth a little while—then I’m gone. I was born in sin, and when I have done my best, I still am a sinner in your sight. He expresses longing that God would bury his sins forever, deal with him as a father, give him life in place of the death that comes as a result of sin.
Then we heard another apparently depressing reading. Jesus was led out to “the place of the skull” and crucified. And while he hung on the cross by nails in his hands and feet, Jesus cried out in agony, My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? A few hours later He let out a loud cry and gave up His spirit in death.
Then something happened that doesn’t usually happen. The earth shook. Rocks split open. The curtain in the temple that closed off the holy of holies, the place where God dwelt on earth, ripped from the top to the bottom. Almost unbelievably, graves were opened and a bunch of holy people who had died rose and appeared to many people. The event was so overwhelming that even one of the Roman soldiers who was there, who probably didn’t believe in the God of the Jews, said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”
This was not an ordinary, natural event. Jesus was and is the Son of God. When He died, God tasted death. The punishment of death, the penalty for rebellion against the God who made us, was experienced by God. Jesus took our sins as His; and He took the punishment for them. He experienced being forsaken by God. He died. And the result was—the earth shook, as if the world itself was being moved, changed. The way into God’s presence was made open. The dead rose to life again. The dark powers that have controlled the world were thrown down. And the way was paved for a new world to being—a world in which there is no death, where God is near, and the darkness over our world and in our hearts becomes light.
That all happened in a moment when Jesus died. But then everything seemed to return to normal. Jesus was taken down off the cross and buried, just like everyone else. That seemed like the end.
You know what comes next. If not, Paul reminds us. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Even though the world seemed like it had gone back to normal, to darkness and death, it had not. Things had changed. Jesus rose from the dead; his followers came out on Sunday and found an empty tomb. Then He appeared to them, told them what was going to happen next, and forty days later ascended to heaven.
What was going to happen next was His disciples would go out into the world and proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead. They would also say what this means. It means that the sins Jesus carried on the cross have been paid for. God released Jesus from them into resurrection and eternal life. And everyone who believes this shares in Jesus’ release from sin and death and His eternal life.
People often say to grieving friends, “Don’t worry; she is in a better place.” For those who die believing in Christ this is true. But people seldom believe that this world will be the better place.
Jesus is the firstfruits. He rose from the dead. And all the people He died for will also rise from the dead in the same way when He returns.
It will be a new and better world. It won’t be a world where our happiness comes in the shadow of the powers of darkness that run this world, where we enjoy what we can while we can, and God seems far away. It will be a world where the powers of darkness are thrown out forever, and the darkness of our hearts is also gone, and God will be all in all.
Kathe became a citizen of this new world in 1927 when she was brought to the baptismal font in Firrel, Germany. She was baptized into the risen Jesus, with His righteousness, life, and victory over death. Her sins were forgiven. That is why now the Easter candle burns in front of her body. The life of Jesus, risen from the dead, became her life. The perfect righteousness of Jesus, and His atonement for the sins of the world, was drawn over her infant life. Today it still covers her like the white pall with the cross covering the casket. We do not know what she will look like when the day of resurrection comes exactly. We know that just like the image of Adam was on her when she suffered, when she got old, when she died, the image of Jesus will be evident in her body when she rises—the image of righteousness, joy, victory, everlasting life. There will, beyond all shadow of a doubt, be a smile on her face—of gratitude, of joy, of victory.
Jesus died and rose again and claimed the whole world—all people who share His flesh and blood—to live in that new world. You as well—whoever you are, whatever you have done, whatever you believe. Everyone is in, no one is out, except those who refuse to be in, who won’t believe it, who insist on their right to remain in the darkness, in the shadow of the dark powers running the world now. He claimed you with His blood, and when you were baptized He put on you the garments of righteousness of the new world that He will reveal when He returns. Don’t throw it away. Daily take off the old clothing of slavery and death and put on, by faith, the new man, risen from the dead.
That is where we get peace and strength to live in this world where the darkness overshadows us. We receive the life of Jesus—in His Word, in the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, in the sacrament of His body and His blood given and shed for us on the cross. We receive in those things the assurance that we belong to Him and His new world which enables us to come near to God without fear and ask for the strength and peace we need to continue until the day when we will no longer be without the visible presence of our loved ones who have died in Christ—the day when we will see Kathe and Reiner, happy forever—and when we will see the God who made and redeemed them and us, face to face.
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 8:4-15
Feb. 19, 2017
“Broken Hearts are Good Soil”
The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Though these all be gone,
Our vict’ry has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth. LSB 656 st 4
Surely the people is grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever (Is. 40:7-8). Jesus’ parable this morning reveals the mystery of how the eternal Word of God is given to us, who are otherwise grass that withers and fades.
Jesus preaches to the great crowd that has gathered to him from cities all around that the Word of God is spread like seed when a farmer goes out in the spring and sows his fields.
But Jesus doesn’t explain this to the crowd. He just tells them a story about a sower casting seed into the field. Most of the seed lands somewhere where it doesn’t grow up into a crop. Then Jesus calls out, He who has hears, let him hear!
Only to His disciples does Jesus explain the meaning of his story. To you it has been given to know [or understand] the mystery of the kingdom of God, but for others it is in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Jesus is quoting the prophet Isaiah, who tells how he saw God in the temple and the seraphim flying around His throne singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth!” Then, says Isaiah:
I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing,[c] but do not understand; keep on seeing,[d] but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull,[e] and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
Wait! God told Isaiah to preach His Word so that they would not understand it? So they would not turn to God and be saved?
That’s what it says; and Jesus says that’s why He preached a parable to the crowd—so that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand.
That’s not very loving, is it? What it is is a terrifying warning about the consequences of “not having ears to hear.” The consequences of taking lightly the Word of God, of ignoring it, of valuing it less than other things, of treating it as if it is only the word of men. God may cause those who hear His Word but do not listen to it to no longer be able to listen to it, understand it, and be saved by it.]
Then Jesus goes on to explain His parable to His disciples. The seed, He says, is the Word of God.
Why does Jesus tell a parable about proclaiming and preaching God’s Word? It isn’t as if God’s Word was never preached before Jesus came. It’s not new. God sent prophets to proclaim His Word since the beginning of the world.
But there is something new here. God sent the prophets to proclaim His promise that salvation would come for the world in the future. The seed of a woman would crush the head of the ancient serpent; the offspring or seed of Abraham would bring blessing, salvation to all the nations of the earth to replace the curse that all human beings were under. The descendant of Abraham, born of a woman, would bring God’s Kingdom to the earth. Satan would no longer control us. In place of sin ruling in human hearts there would be righteousness; instead of death there would be eternal life. Instead of God being absent from us and angry with us, God would dwell in the midst of us and have pleasure in us.
That is what God told His people through the prophets would happen in the future. But Jesus proclaimed and preached: that day is now. Now forgiveness of sins is happening. Satan is being cast down. Death is being overcome. Sinners are declared righteous. God is present with and pleased with all who believe this good news.
That was and is the Word of God that Jesus preached and still preaches, which endures forever. But there is something else amazing and mysterious about this Word of God.
You know the story of creation. When God wanted to create the world, He didn’t get out a plumb line, a saw, a hammer and some nails. He spoke. And nothing disobeyed His Word. The light didn’t say, “No, I won’t shine.” The waters didn’t say, “I don’t want to be gathered together and let the dry land appear.” When God spoke, creation obeyed. God’s Word is omnipotent, almighty. What God speaks happens.
But when God speaks to human beings, it’s different. God allows His almighty Word to be resisted and rejected by human beings, who were made out of dirt. He says, “You are forgiven and saved,” yet many people say, “No.” Or more likely they say nothing, because they aren’t listening. Or laugh and say, “Listen to that fanatic, that crazy fool,” or “This has been going on for 17 and a half minutes already.”
And so it happens that God’s almighty, eternal Word that gives pardon from sin, brings God into our hearts, saves us from being damned forever on the day of judgment gets sidelined, thrown into a closet in the Church, rejected.
Jesus says God’s Word is a seed. When it is sown, when it is thrown onto ears and hearts through preaching, it lands in many ears and hearts where it is not permitted to do what it is meant to do. It is meant to fall into the ear canal and find its way into the heart. There it will grow up like a plant into eternal life and joy and with it bring fruit to the praise of God—much fruit, a hundredfold.
The Word is the Word of Jesus; it brings Him and His full atonement for our sins, accomplished in His death in our place on the cross, where God’s anger against not listening to His Word and believing it was poured out in full on Him. In those who hear and believe is planted the death and forgiveness of their sins. Where this is planted in the heart, the Holy Spirit who is present in the seed of the Word causes a new life to grow in our hearts that were formed from dirt. In the midst of these bodies of dust and ash which rebel against God, love self more than our neighbor, the life of Jesus grows. We begin to love God, desire His Word, find comfort and pleasure in it; we trust Him and call on Him with confidence that He will hear and help, and we begin to seek our neighbor’s good—his well-being here on earth and in spiritual things.
But Jesus says this doesn’t happen in most people to whom God’s Word comes. Many people have hearts like the hard-packed dirt of a footpath, made rock-hard by the weight of many feet. They hear the Word of God, but it never enters their heart. It just lies there on the top of the hard crust of their hearts. They don’t understand it, and even if they do, they don’t put their trust in the message it proclaims. Then the demons swoop in and take the Word of God away. If our eyes were open to this, we would see how every Sunday morning demons descend on so many hearers of God’s Word like crows and grackles to take away God’s Word from their hearts.
Others receive God’s Word and believe with joy for a time. They hear that salvation is accomplished, finished by Jesus, and they rejoice. But beneath the soil at the surface of their hearts is rock that prevents the Word of God from taking deep root. God’s Word is planted, but it gets no moisture. The seed is not watered; they do not continue to hear and learn the Word of God. They may keep hearing it, but it doesn’t get in; they don’t acknowledge their need for ongoing daily repentance and renewal. So when it gets hot and they are tested by suffering or persecution, the new life of faith dies.
And then there are those among whom God’s Word takes root and grows, but alongside it also grow the weeds of worry about this life, the desire for wealth and pleasure here on earth. These weeds are not pulled out. They are there in the heart with God’s Word—worry, love of wealth and pleasure. And the Word of God is not able to grow with these things. It grows stunted, sickly, fruitless. The Word of God in their hearts becomes knowledge that produces no fruit—in essence, another weed.
There is only one kind of soil, one kind of heart, that receives God’s Word to salvation—the good soil, the noble and good heart. Hearts that are not packed down and hardened against God’s Word; hearts that are not rocky and unwilling to continue in daily repentance for sin and renewal by God’s Word; hearts that are not divided by obsession with the worries and pleasures of this life.
In this parable Jesus is comforting future preachers, who will experience how few people seem to receive the Word of God, continue with it, and bear fruit. But He is also calling us to examine ourselves, to ask ourselves, How do I receive God’s Word? Do I bring forth fruit that testifies that my faith in Jesus is living and genuine?
It is a question that requires serious attention from us and honest self-examination. It is a question that Jesus brings before us not to kill us, but to save us. And this self-examination will have this effect on nearly everyone who honestly does it, as they prepare to receive the body and blood of Jesus each week—we will be disturbed. At how often we fall into the same sins—perhaps at how we live in those sins without repentance, bearing fruit for the devil. And at how little of the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control, thankfulness and praise to God we bear. How little we endure suffering without complaining, trusting in God; how little we can endure mistreatment from other people and still love them.
This kind of disturbance is good, if it is excited by the Holy Spirit and not by our own efforts to feel the right way. We are not born good soil to receive God’s Word. We can’t make ourselves good soil either. It is God’s work.
But what makes a heart “noble and good” is conviction of sin that makes us hunger and thirst for forgiveness and the freedom to bear fruit for God. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled, said Jesus. The poor sinner who is terrified of his sins, who runs to Jesus continually for forgiveness and help, and believes that He will help, He says has “a noble and good heart.” Such a sinner is glad to receive Jesus’ help, glad to confess his sins and be absolved, comes to Jesus wherever Jesus is planting and watering. This is why a long time ago I tried to teach about the benefit of private confession and absolution. I was speaking from my experience, and echoing another teacher who also knew what it was to be terrified at his lack of fruitfulness. He wrote:
Thus we teach what a wonderful, precious, comforting thing confession is, and we urge that such a precious blessing should not be despised, especially when we consider our great need. If you are a Christian, you need neither my compulsion nor the Pope’s command at any point, but you will force yourself to go and ask me that you may share in it…If you are a Christian, you should be glad to run more than a hundred miles to confession, not under compulsion, but rather coming and compelling us to offer it…Therefore, when I exhort you to go to confession, I am doing nothing but exhorting you to be a Christian. If I bring you to this point, I have also brought you to confession. For those who really want to be upright Christians and free from their sins, and who want to have a joyful conscience, truly hunger and thirst already. They snatch at the bread, just like a hunted deer, burning with heat and thirst, as Psalm 42 says, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”
That’s what Martin Luther thought about confession.
But God is so gracious that both the seed of His Word and the flowing streams that water it and make it grow in our heart don’t come to us in only one way. He plants the Word in our heart in Baptism and in teaching His Word; He waters it through preaching, teaching, and His Holy Supper.
In all these things, He tells us the joyful news—your sins have been taken away by my blood. You are liberated from death and Satan. It has happened as surely as I died, was buried, and rose again. All who receive this eternal Word with noble and good hearts that hunger and thirst for forgiveness and desire to bear fruit to God will find that this Word will not return to God empty or in vain—in this world or on the day of judgment.
Soli Deo Gloria
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 8:23-27
January 29, 2017
“The Captain of the Ship”
Jesus gets into a boat, and his disciples follow. Then a great storm arises. It must have been a really great storm. At least four of Jesus’ disciples are men who fished on this sea six days a week for years. They were familiar with the weather. They have been through storms before, and I’m certain that, being men who made a living with their hands and their back, they were not the type of men to show fear easily. But when they come to wake Jesus up, they cry like terrified children, they humiliate themselves: Lord, save us! We’re dying!
I’ve known Christian men who were dying. Men don’t want to admit fear of death and God’s judgment in front of another man even when death is imminent. Yet these fishermen in the boat cry out to Jesus in terror.
This must have been an incredible storm.
I am sure that you have had storms like this throughout your life, whether you are listening on the radio or here today. You may very well be in one right now. It may be that the doctor told you how many months he thinks you have left; it may be that the doctor isn’t sure what to tell you. Or it may not be a storm that threatens you with literal death, but it’s bad enough that it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning, or it’s hard to bring yourself through the doors of the church.
Then there’s the storms the Church goes through, which is really what this story is getting at. The boat that holds Jesus and the disciples is a picture of the Church. Look up there, at the ceiling; it kind of looks like the bottom of a boat. That’s why the Latin word for the part of the church on your side of the altar rail is called the nave; it comes from the navis, which means “ship”, which is also where we get the word “navy”. The Church of Jesus is a little boat or an ark. It sails through the rough waters of this world, the storms of persecution, the flood of God’s judgment, the depths of death and hell, and lets those inside out on the dry land of the new creation. And Jesus is in this boat with us. We aren’t sailing ourselves to heaven. He is the Captain of the ark of the Holy Christian Church.
But the whole way on this voyage the boat is hit by storms. And throughout the 2000 years since Jesus ascended to the Father, the Church has cried out in desperation, feeling like the ship was sure to sink, and the Christians inside would perish.
Anyone who’s a member of this congregation and cares about it at all, for whatever reason, knows this feeling. This Gospel reading today is your story, isn’t it?
And if the Church sinks, it’s far worse than when storms hit us individually. We come to the Divine Service, to other Christians, to the pastor, to find help when the storms hit us privately. We rely on the Church to be there when our child is going astray, when we are laid low with illness—to tell us what God says; to correct us when we live or believe contrary to His Word, and above all to proclaim to us the forgiveness of sins in His name. We come to the Church when our father or mother, husband or wife has died. We bring the bodies of the people we love most so that the Church—or rather Jesus through the Church—will preach to us that our loved one will rise again.
But if the Church goes under, destroyed by persecution or twisted and mutated so that it no longer proclaims God’s Word—who will bring us the Gospel of Christ crucified? Who will tell us that it applies to us too? Who will forgive our sins in Jesus’ name? Who will baptize our children? Who will give us the body and blood of Jesus? And not only us: if the Church goes under the waves, who will proclaim the coming judgment of God and the forgiveness of sins through Jesus to the world that falsely believes it has God already, without Christ?
+Our storms at St. Peter are not unique or new
–when all of Europe was supposedly Christian, a false gospel of salvation by human effort made the true Gospel for all intents and purposes unknown, until 500 years ago God worked through Martin Luther to restore it
–Since then the devil has worked to almost extinguish the pure Gospel again through luxury and wealth, through doctrinal indifference.
+Yet very few Christians realized that this was a storm that threatened to destroy the Church; very few even realize it today. We are only starting to realize in our Church that true faith in Christ was being eaten away for a long time; we started to realize it because this congregation is almost underwater.
We aren’t the whole Church; but what is happening here is happening all around us.
+So we go to Jesus, like disciples:
And notice: when the disciples wake Jesus up, they don’t have quiet confidence, fearlessness. That’s what firm faith brings. Instead they have terror and fear that Jesus is just going to sleep while they drown.
Their prayer comes from fear more than from faith. It seems to express anger at Jesus—“How can you not care that we are going to die? What are you doing, still sleeping?”
When a ship has no captain, or the sailors don’t trust the captain and they think the ship is going to sink, all hell breaks loose. Sailors stop working together and letting the captain direct; they all start trying to save the ship as individuals, which is absolutely not going to work, or maybe they try to mutiny and set up a new captain. And when all these things become hopeless, people start grabbing something that floats and taking their chances in the sea. When no one listens to the captain anymore, the ship is doomed.
But Jesus is the captain of the ship of the Church; He will safely bring it through all storms into the eternal calm and peace of eternal life.
When Jesus gets up from sleeping, notice who He speaks to first—not the wind and the waves. Not to the thing the disciples think is the danger.
He speaks to them first, because the danger is not the storm. In our day, the danger is not the declining numbers in the Church, or declining bank accounts, declining prestige in our society.
The danger is within us—unbelief. That instead of Jesus, we trust in what we see and feel, in our own thoughts, in the wisdom of the world and the false religion pushed by the devil and the world.
Unbelief is the danger because it is idolatry: we think the storm is more powerful than God; we fear it more than God. The first commandment: You shall have no other gods—We should fear, love and trust in God above all things. The storm is more powerful than God, and we know better than God’s Word what is necessary to save ourselves or the Church.
So Jesus speaks first to the disciples, rebuking the storm in their hearts, the storm of unbelief and the cowardice that comes from it.
Why are you so cowardly, you of little faith?
Jesus understands why they are afraid. What He is telling them and us is that we don’t have anything to fear. Not if we have Him.
+Really? We have nothing to fear? Nothing. How can you say that, if the boat is about to sink and the disciples are going to perish?
Because Jesus rebukes the winds and the sea and there was a great calm. Not only does Jesus know how to steer the ship safely. He simply speaks and nature obeys. Who does that?
The answer is, only God does that. God was with the disciples in the boat, living with them, sharing their bread, sharing their storms, sharing their sins.
The prophet Jonah brought a great calm when he was thrown into the sea. The storm came because of Jonah’s rebellion against God, when Jonah ran away from the presence of God. It went away when the sailors handed over Jonah to certain death.
But God rescued Jonah from his rebellion and its punishment; from certain death, sending the fish, who vomited him onto dry land.
Jesus also brought great calm that lasts forever; He took on our rebellion against God as His own; He willingly was thrown into the boiling, angry flood of God’s wrath, making our sins His own and being nailed to the cross. Then He stepped out of the belly of death into the land of the living, having put our sins away forever. Now there is a great calm; peace with God.
That great peace comes rolling across the storms of this world to us from the eternal God in our flesh; not a temporary calm, like the one in Matthew 8, but an eternal one.
Jesus is the captain of the ship of the Church. He can be trusted to lead us safely through the storms of death and hell, because He has already gone through them and destroyed them.
Jesus will not fail to bring His church safely to land.
His Church includes the weak in faith.
But those who reject Jesus’ word are not Jesus’ Church; they are not in the boat where He is. They are mixed with the saints around the Word, but they don’t believe in Him. When storms come, they mutiny against Jesus, don’t listen to His Word. They try to take over the boat from Him, or jump overboard because they think it’s doomed.
Brothers, we are weak; we do this in spite of ourselves. But let us be comforted and listen to Jesus. He is worthy to be trusted. He isn’t a fool or a con artist. He tells us, “You have me in the boat in my preaching, in my pure doctrine, and my Sacraments. Hold on to me; you have nothing to fear.”
We have many sins, but He doesn’t cast away sinners who trust in Him, the Savior of sinners, the sin-bearer.
He will not let the floods overwhelm us or let His Church sink. Our traditions will perish, our will that contradicts the will of God will not be done. But Christ’s Church is more than that—it is the whole company of saints throughout the world, through time and eternity, who cling to Jesus alone.
It will never perish, and neither will those who trust Him. He cannot perish; He died, and He lives forevermore. And we who are baptized into Him have been joined with Him who joined Himself to us—we also have died and risen. The new creation that will appear on the last day has already begun in all who believe.