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Funeral Sermon. We Shall Be Changed. 1 Cor. 15:51-57

In Memoriam + Richard Maske

Tezak Funeral Home, Joliet, IL

1 Corinthians 15:51-57 (Isaiah 61: 1-3, 10, John 10: 11-16)

April 6, 2019

“We Shall Be Changed”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Marie,

Mike,

Gary,

Karen,

Richard’s Sister, Delores,

And all his family and friends:

 

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

 

God’s Word for our comfort this morning will be drawn from all the readings, but in particular these words from 1 Corinthians 15:

 

For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

 

In church the season of Lent is drawing to its close, and we are moving from the season of renewal of baptismal life, of life in Christ, to the suffering and death of Jesus.

 

But outside of the church, Marie, you have already been through a long Lent, as you sat and watched and comforted your husband in his suffering.

 

The season of Lent and its pain is transformed into a new joy for believers.  It brings to fulfillment the hope expressed by the psalmist in Psalm 71 verse 20: You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.  This is what God did in the Resurrection of Jesus.  And because of Jesus we have the same hope as we go through the passion of our loved ones with them.

 

St. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15 to comfort the Corinthian Christians about the resurrection of the body.  There were some people running around in the church in Corinth telling people there is no resurrection of the body.  Against this Paul affirms: Jesus rose bodily from the dead.  So we who believe in Jesus will rise from the dead in our bodies.

 

But Paul doesn’t just say, “We will rise;” he says, “We will be changed.”

 

What Paul meant by that can be likened to a wedding day.  When you and Richard married, Marie, you were young kids.  But when he saw you come down the aisle in your wedding dress, you were not just a girl anymore.  Not even just his fiancée, that he loved.

 

You were his bride.  You were his only one.  Your relationship was changed, and even your appearance was changed.

 

And when you saw him standing by the altar, he too was changed.  Of course he was the same person who proposed to you.  But now he was your husband, your bridegroom, the man to whom you were giving yourself for the rest of your life on earth.

 

Isaiah uses this analogy to a wedding for what God does to us when He proclaims the Gospel to us and causes us to believe in Jesus.  He clothes us in garments of salvation…like a bridegroom decks Himself in a beautiful headdress, like a bride with her jewels (Is. 61:10).

 

Paul says that at the resurrection we shall be changed.  But Richard was changed already.  God had already clothed him with the garments of salvation when he was baptized.

 

In the next couple of weeks we will see Jesus being the good shepherd.  He will give His life for His sheep.  He will pay for the broken law of God and all the people who have sinned against God by giving His life in their place.

 

He will save us from condemnation and hell by giving His life in our place, pierced with nails and lifted up on a cross.

 

When He did this He purchased and won our salvation.

 

He came and lived among us, hiding His majesty and power, so that His enemies could take Him in their hands, injure Him, nail Him to a cross, kill Him.  During His whole time on earth He lived with us like we live.  He got hungry, thirsty.  He got tired.  He bore with sinful people who treated Him badly.  He had the image of a mortal, weak man.

 

But when He rose from the dead, His appearance was changed.  He was no longer weak, mortal, perishable.  His body was immortal, undying.  Imperishable.  Strong.  He appeared in majesty, full of the glory of God.

 

And the body that emerged from the tomb was the firstfruits of the resurrection.  It is the way our bodies will appear at the resurrection.  We will be changed.  We will share in the glory of God.

 

Richard was baptized into this.  He was placed into Jesus’ death for his sins, but also into Jesus’ resurrection.  This is his rightful inheritance as a son of God who believes in Jesus and who is baptized into Him.

 

Paul says we shall be changed.  This is what awaits Richard.  Today we bury his body, but we do so confident that the Lord Jesus will return, the trumpet will sound and Richard will come forth imperishable and be changed.

 

And so this life he lived—which he spent with you, Marie—bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh,

 

In which he brought you his children into the world—

 

Is not swallowed up by death.

 

Instead in Richard death will be swallowed up by victory, the victory of Christ for him.

 

The pain and sin in Richard’s life has died, but the new life Jesus gave him in Baptism will soon be completed.

 

And this body that you put away into the earth—of your husband and father and brother—you will see again on the day when you also see your Lord Jesus Christ.  And when you see him, he will be changed.

 

Amen.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Mediator of a New Covenant. Judica 2019

April 15, 2019 Comments off

jesus the great high priest.PNGJudica, the Fifth Sunday in Lent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Hebrews 9:11-15

April 7, 2019

The Mediator of a New Covenant

Iesu iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

 

The Gospel reading takes place about six months before Jesus’ final visit to Jerusalem that ended in His arrest and crucifixion.  Jesus is in Jerusalem in this reading for the Feast of Tabernacles, one of the three annual festivals God commanded Israel.  And the Jews almost kill Him.  They pick up stones to stone Him when He tells them that He is I AM, the God who redeemed their fathers from slavery in Egypt.

 

Jesus’ sufferings did not begin when they nailed Him to the cross, or when He was praying in the garden of Gethsemane and His sweat became like great drops of blood.  Jesus was suffering throughout His ministry—indeed throughout His whole time on earth.  He was opposed by the devil and by unbelieving people.  If you’ve had people yell and scream at you, you know how unpleasant that is.  If you’ve had someone threaten you with violence, you know how much pain that causes—even if you are tough.  If someone verbally attacks you, gets in your face, and there is the threat of violence—that is painful.  You will remember that for a long time.  Jesus had this happen to Him in Jerusalem 6 months or so before He died.

 

This shows us that Jesus’ suffering was constant throughout His life.  It also makes it clear that when Jesus returned to Jerusalem at Passover, six months later, it should have been totally unsurprising to Him and His disciples that He was risking death by being there.  He had almost been killed there a few months before!

 

The question then becomes, why did Jesus return to Jerusalem at Passover, knowing that Jerusalem was full of powerful people who wanted to kill Him?  Why did He head back, into more suffering, into what anyone could see was likely to result in His death?

 

The answer of course is that Jesus went to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday knowing He would suffer further when He went.  Knowing that He would die.  And He went to meet suffering and death willingly.  As He said later in John’s Gospel, in Jerusalem at Passover, seeing death right in front of Him: Now is my soul troubled.  And what shall I say?  “Father, save me from this hour?”  But for this purpose I have come to this hour.  (John 12:27)  This was Jesus’ purpose on earth.  He came to suffer and die in Jerusalem—and not to die of old age, but to be crucified, to die in agony, condemned as a criminal.

 

That is a strange thing.  You and I do not think our purpose on earth is to die.  What is your purpose in the world?  Perhaps to bring your children into the world and raise them.  To serve the people around you in your job maybe?  To serve God in His church?  Maybe you aren’t sure what your purpose in this world is.  But nobody ever says, “My purpose in this world is to die.”  Yet that was Jesus’ purpose.

 

And what makes it even stranger?  Is that Jesus was not an ordinary person.  Listen to the things He says in John chapter 8: Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death…Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.  (John 8: 52, 58)  He says, my word gives eternal life and delivers from death, and I am the one true God, the living God.  He is the God of life, the giver of life, the source of life—and yet He came into this world to die!  We all want to have a higher purpose to our lives than simply to die.  Jesus came into the world, God in the flesh, the one who always was—and He came to give up His life.

 

The epistle reading explains this.  Christ appeared as high priest of the good things that have come (Heb. 9:11).  He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15). 

 

Jesus came into the world as high priest.  Priests make sacrifices.  They kill animals and offer them up to God as substitutes.  A priest’s job is to mediate—to go between God and other people, in order to reconcile God to people who have angered Him.

 

Why do priests kill animals?  Because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  The price of sin, of turning away from God, of disobeying God, is death.  So in the Old Testament God taught His people in many ways, using many pictures, that it was necessary for a substitute to die and take away their sins.  And outside of the people of God, people’s consciences were aware that a price had to be paid to make God favorable to them.  So there were sacrifices and priests among nearly all people, even though they worshipped false gods.

 

Under the old covenant, God would accept the blood of lambs and goats as a covering for the sins of the people of Israel.  They had to be offered by the authorized priests at God’s tabernacle or temple.  But the animals had to be sacrificed again and again, and the sins of the people were never taken away.  Their blood was a reminder that the people of Israel were still full of sin and their sin was not covered, once and for all.

 

But Jesus came as the mediator of a new covenant.  Under this covenant, there is one sacrifice offered for sins, and then no more sacrifices are ever offered again.  The reason is because by this one sacrifice sin is covered—forever.

 

Jesus the great high priest would enter into the very presence of God in heaven, not the earthly tabernacle, with the blood of this victim—and the sins of the people would be covered forever.

 

The sacrificial victim was not a lamb or a goat.  It is Jesus Himself—the God the Son.  When you hear the words of the Gospel reading, you realize what kind of a sacrifice Jesus is.  Before Abraham was, I AM!  Jesus says that He Himself is the God that appeared to Moses in the bush that burned and was not consumed.  He is the Lord who appeared on Mount Sinai in fire.  He is God of God, light of light.  The God of life, who gave life to the world in the beginning by His Word.

 

Yet He is also one of us.  He doesn’t appear to the Jews in His omnipotence.  He comes in flesh and blood, and they try to stone Him.  They insult Him as though He was their equal.

 

This person—God, equal to the Father, but also man, our brother—is the sacrificial victim of the new testament.  Jesus offers up Himself.  That is why He goes back to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  It is why throughout His life He endured opposition and pain.  He did not need to do it for Himself.  He did it because as the high priest of a new covenant He was offering Himself as a sacrifice.

 

And His sacrifice is finished.  Jesus doesn’t offer it again and again because He has secured an eternal redemption.  This means all sin is taken away forever by His suffering and the shedding of His blood.

 

From this you can understand why we sing such joyful songs every week when we receive Jesus’ body and blood.  We sing like heaven is opening, the angels are coming down, and we are in paradise—like there is nothing left for us to do but give thanks forever.  We sing that way because in the Sacrament of the Altar we participate in the New Testament of this great high priest.  As we eat His body and drink His blood, we are purified from sin.

 

This is what the epistle means when it says For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb. 9:13-14).

 

In the old covenant, you would be cleansed from leprosy and other defilement with water mixed with the ashes of a heifer that had been burnt on God’s altar.  But this only purified you externally.

 

But God’s Son offered Himself to God for our sins without spot.  It was like when Abraham was prepared to offer his only son Isaac to God.  But Jesus freely sacrificed Himself to atone for our sins, to put them away from God’s sight.  This purifies our conscience.  When your sins make you feel guilty and defiled, what do you do?  Normally people try to take away their guilt by doing what they think will make God happy.  But this doesn’t take away guilt and defilement.  It makes us more guilty.

 

Your conscience becomes clean when you believe the truth—that Jesus covered and cleansed your sin with His suffering in your place.

 

Believing this makes us able to serve God.  Without the sacrifice of Jesus, received by faith, we can’t serve God.  We have a defiled conscience and are always trying to make up for our own guilt.  This is not serving God.

 

But when your conscience is cleansed by the sacrifice of Jesus, and you believe that you are free from sin because of His offering of Himself, you serve God with a glad heart and are acceptable to Him.

 

As we come to Holy Week and look upon the suffering of Jesus, we come face to face with the darkness of our sin.  We see it written all over Jesus’ body, in the wounds and the blood.  We see it reflected in the deeds of the disciples who denied Him, Judas who betrayed Him, the priests who connived against Him and Pilate who condemned Him.

 

But if we see it rightly, we see not only our sin.  We see our great high priest willingly give Himself to suffer and die.  We see Him offer one sacrifice that purifies from sin forever.  We see the same high priest come to us in the Holy Supper to give us a clean conscience by the blood of the New Testament and the body He offered spotless to God.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Lent 5 Midweek 2019. Tenth Commandment and Close of the Commandments.

Lent 5 Midweek (Wed after Judica)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

10th commandment and Close of Commandments

April 10, 2019

 

Iesu Iuva

 

What is the tenth commandment?  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

 

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not entice, estrange, or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, but urge them to stay and do their duty.

 

What does God say about all these commandments?  He says, I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

 

What does this mean?  God threatens to punish all who break these commandments.  Therefore we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them.  But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments.  Therefore we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The tenth commandment is a second commandment against coveting.  The word we usually use for coveting is “jealousy.”  Coveting is a desire for what someone else has.  In the 9th commandment God forbade us to desire our neighbor’s house—his possessions, his inheritance.  In then tenth He forbids us to be jealous of our neighbor’s wife, his manservant, maidservant, ox, or donkey.  He tells us we are not to desire the people in our neighbor’s life.

 

I always thought this commandment was funny when I was a kid, because I didn’t know anyone who had an ox or a donkey, and it was funny to think of coveting them.  Sometimes it still seems that way to me when we recite the commandments with the children.  But God goes into detail about what things we are not to be jealous of.  You must not desire your neighbor’s wife or husband, his male or female servants—not even his ox, or his donkey that works in his field.  What belongs to your neighbor God has given to your neighbor.  What He has given to you He has given to you, down to your animals, and your pets.  God wants you to recognize these things as coming from Him and to be content with what He has given you.

 

Coveting and jealousy over other people’s relationships are actually widespread in our time, perhaps because good relationships are rarer these days than they might have been once.  People are jealous that they don’t have a husband or wife, a boyfriend or girlfriend.  We are tempted to think God has wronged us because we are alone.  Others have a spouse, but they are jealous of the husband or wife of their neighbor, because this person’s husband is so much more kind or attentive, this person’s wife so much more affectionate.  People who don’t have children are jealous and feel cheated.  So are those who lose their husbands or wives or children, sometimes.

 

Why are we jealous in this way?  Because we think God doesn’t give us enough and doesn’t give us what we need in terms of relationships, in terms of love and respect.  We do not trust God to provide us with what we need.  We do not love Him so that, even if we lack a husband or children, we are happy anyway.

 

God commands us that we not feel this kind of desire.  As Luther points out in the catechism, this kind of jealous often leads people to scheme how they may alienate their neighbor’s spouse or workers and get them for themselves.  But even when covetousness and jealousy doesn’t break forth like this, the desire itself is sinful.

 

What this commandment reveals is that sin is not just something you do.  Sin is like a creature that you don’t know is there until it wakes up.  It is as if the serpent that tempted Eve lived hidden inside of us instead of in the tree in the garden.  You don’t know it is there until it wakes up.  And sin living within us is often asleep, or we are not aware of it.  The thing that stirs it up is the Law of God.

 

Paul said this in Romans 7: What then shall we say?  That the law is sin?  By no means!  Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.  For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.  (Rom. 7:7-8)

 

That’s the way the sin that lives in us works.  It uses God’s commandments as opportunities to do evil.  God says, “Do not commit adultery.  Do not even covet your neighbor’s wife.”  Sin produces in us all kinds of lust and jealousy.  Our nature rebels against God as soon as God commands us to do what is right.

 

And so God’s Law can’t be simply guidelines for us to follow.  God’s Law is a touchstone that reveals whether we are righteous and have right hearts.  And the Law shows us our hearts are warped.

 

When we get to the place that we no longer recognize our own sin and take it for what it is, that is when Christians become all the things people say we are—self-righteous, hypocritical, judgmental, deceiving ourselves.

 

That is why God also gives us the close of the commandments, where He tells us what kind of a God He is.  He is a jealous God.  Our flesh is jealous and covetous.  It is resentful of other people having good things and asks, “Why has that not been given to me?  I deserve that more!”

 

God also is jealous.  The difference is that our jealousy is sinful.  God’s jealousy is righteous.  He is jealous and wants us to love Him with all our hearts, love Him above all things.  He is jealous of His glory and wants to be obeyed and honored.  He is not selfish and petty in His jealousy.  He is right, because He deserves all honor, praise, obedience and love.  He is God, our maker.

 

So He tells us that because He is a jealous God He will punish the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him.  This means He will wipe out the name and the remembrance of those who hate Him and rebel against Him.  On the other hand He will bless a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.

If you want to see what God’s jealousy looks like, you can look away from the commandments to the passion reading.

 

Tonight we saw Jesus carry out His cross to the place of a skull.  It was the third hour, and there they crucified Him.  The brutality of crucifixion is a physical reflection of the spiritual suffering Jesus endured on the cross.  Long nails were driven through His hands and feet and then they lifted Him up into the air to hang by those wounds.  He was naked and all He could do was gasp for breath.  As He hung there He was mocked by every group of people around Him, but He could not move away.  Above all this agony, He had an even greater one:  He cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Try to imagine what it would be like to die in such pain, and have God turn away from you, close His ears to you.  Shut you out in His wrath.  This is what Jesus endured.

 

And why?  Because God is jealous.  Because He will not tolerate those who hate Him and refuse to keep His commandments—not even those who do it in weakness.  Sin must be punished.  None can be in God’s presence.

 

And so Jesus dies forsaken by God.

 

But for those who are baptized into Jesus and take refuge in Him by faith, the commandments do not speak a curse.  They speak a blessing.  I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

 

For those who take refuge in Christ, the law pronounces a blessing.  The law says God will show love to us and a thousand generations of those who love God and keep His commandments.  Because, it says in Romans chapter 10: Christ is the end of the Law, that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.  Christ is the fulfillment of the Law.  He fulfilled the Law’s demands when He died for our transgressions on the cross.  That is why He cried out “It is finished!”

 

For us who believe the Law is fulfilled by Christ, God promises blessing.  We have kept the law, because Jesus’ keeping of the law is ours.  And now when, believing in Jesus, we seek to keep these commandments, God counts these works as good.  He looks on us as righteous ones, as His sons.

 

Now instead of being jealous against us, He is jealous for us, because we are presented before Him pure and spotless, as His bride.

 

May we then use our Lord’s fulfillment of the law not as an excuse to serve the sinful flesh, but as those who have been set free from the law’s curse by Him who became a curse for us.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

Lent Midweek 4 2019. 8th and 9th commandments

Wednesday after Laetare

St. Peter Lutheran Church

8th and 9th commandments

April 3, 2019

 

Iesu Iuva

 

What is the 8th commandment?  You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

 

What is the 9th commandment?  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way that only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

False witness leads to death.

 

Nothing could be clearer from the passion reading today.  Over and over we hear how the chief priests “vehemently accused” Jesus, leveled false charges against Him to Pilate and to Herod.  False testimony was the poisoned dagger by which the priests murdered Jesus.

 

Of course, false witness doesn’t always literally kill people.  More often people who are falsely accused in a court lose money and have their good name dragged through the mud.  But this is a kind of killing too—at least an attempt on a person’s life.  You take away a person’s wealth, you take away their ability to eat and clothe themselves.  If you take away a person’s honor and good name, you impose on them a kind of social death.   A person with a bad reputation might lose his job or not be able to succeed at business.  But even more that person becomes isolated.  We are learning more and more about the serious consequences of being alienated socially, being alone.  Suicide rates are higher than ever.  Depression is epidemic.  Why is it?  Because people are isolated.  They interact with other people increasingly through the safe distance of a screen and fiber optic cables.  When you “tell lies about your neighbor, slander him, or hurt his reputation” you cut those already fraying cords that allow him to be with other people and hold his head up.  You interfere with his ability to not be alone, which is really to attack a person’s ability to live.

 

False witness, lying—you might not think it could do so much damage.  But lying is tied to the very beginning of human sin.  When the devil wanted to lead Adam and Eve into sin, he lied to them about God.  He slandered God.  That is what the word “devil” means, literally—“slanderer.”  So Jesus says in the Gospel reading for the Sunday coming up that the devil was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, because there is no truth in him (John 8:44)  On the other hand, when Jesus is questioned by Pontius Pilate in the reading today as to whether He is a King, He says, You say rightly that I am a king.  I was born and I came into the world that I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice.  Lying and slander is the devil’s work and leads to death. To tell the truth is Jesus’ work and it leads to life.

 

It’s clear enough from this that to bring false charges against your neighbor is sin and that God forbids it.  But that’s not typically what we do.  What we do more often is speak against our neighbor not in court, but to a smaller jury in the kitchen, or in the parking lot, or the locker room, or maybe in the concourse at church.  And we typically justify it by saying that our complaints and criticisms of our neighbor, whoever he or she is, is not “false witness” because it is true.

 

But in the 8th commandment God refuses to allow this excuse.   When you condemn or speak evil of your neighbor, you sit in judgment on him or her.  But if God has not given you the office to judge your neighbor, as judge, as parent, as boss, or pastor, you are not to judge and condemn your neighbor.  That’s God’s job on judgment day.  And until then it belongs to the people that He has called to do it.

 

Instead what we are called to do is love our neighbor and protect his reputation.  This is why Jesus gave us instructions in the 18th chapter of Matthew about what we are to do if our neighbor sins against us.  The short version is—you go and talk to him privately, and if he repents, you have gained your brother.  If he doesn’t listen to you, you talk to him with another person as a witness.  Then if he won’t hear you you bring it to the whole church to judge.  Or, if it is a matter with someone who isn’t a Christian, you might bring it to the civil authority.

 

The strange thing is, we all avoid dealing with our neighbor’s sins the way Jesus tells us to do it like the plague.  Why?  For at least one reason—because we are afraid of our neighbor getting angry with us.  In reality, to talk honestly with each other when we have offended each other is a loving thing to do.  You speak the truth to your neighbor.  This is what Jesus does in His kingdom.

 

The other thing we do, where we vent and complain about others, and privately condemn them, is the devil’s work.  Even if what you say about your neighbor is true, when you act as his judge in your own private court in a corner, that is not God’s work.  He does not seek to destroy, but to save both our neighbor and us.  When He judges, He does it in the open, in the light.  And even that is done (until judgment day) in the hopes that sinners will repent and be forgiven.

 

The darkness is where the devil does his work.  Coveting is another example of this.  In the darkness of our hearts, he stirs up desire and longing for what belongs rightfully to our neighbor.  He creates a sense of indignation in our hearts that God has given wealth or property to our neighbor that we think belongs to us.  And then we begin to scheme ways to get what God has given to our neighbor that no one will be able to call stealing.

 

Against all this God commands us to love our neighbor.  Instead of telling his secrets or hurting his reputation, God commands us to speak well of our neighbor, defend him, and explain everything in the kindest way.  Instead of coveting his possessions, He commands us to help him to protect and improve his income and possessions.

 

If we paid attention to these commandments, we would never run out of good works to put our energy and strength into.  So often the church is flailing around looking for schemes to get other people to go to church.  This is not always wrong.  But the most powerful thing that would attract people to church is seeing love in our hearts and lives.  This is not a new idea.  Jesus washed the disciples’ feet before He went to Gethsemane.  Then He said, By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  This is why we believe in Jesus and love Him.  We believe that He loved us.

 

We believe that He was silent before the false testimony against Him because He wanted to suffer and die to take away our shame and bad reputation before God.

 

We believe that He was mocked and stripped of His good name and what few possessions He had so that He could give us, as a free gift, the Kingdom of His Father.

 

We love Jesus because He daily and richly forgives our sins.  He feeds us His body and blood.  When we confess our sins, He absolves us.  He daily renews the promise He made to us in Baptism that we are His.  He preaches into our ears how He has atoned for all our sins through His bitter suffering and death.

 

Jesus’ love is what draws us to Him.  The most powerful witness to the world is Jesus’ love working in us.  And among the many ways He has commanded us to love our neighbor is to protect his reputation, speak well of him, and seek to help him improve his possessions and income.

 

May the Lord pour His love into our hearts and teach us to exude this kind of love in the way we speak and act toward each other and those outside the church.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

3rd Wed in Lent 2019. 6th and 7th Commandments

Wednesday after Oculi (3rd Lent Midweek)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

6th and 7th Commandments

March 27, 2019

 

Iesu Iuva

 

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

What is the 6th commandment?  You shall not commit adultery.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.

 

What is the 7th commandment?  You shall not steal.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbors money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.

 

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For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore You, O children of Israel, are not consumed, God says through the prophet Malachi (3:6).  God does not change; this is one of His attributes, called “immutability.”  You can count on Him to be the same tomorrow as He is today.

 

Because He does not change, He told the people of Israel, they were not “consumed”—burnt up.  He didn’t destroy them because He had a purpose for them that He had planned before the world began. Their continual turning away from Him, as wrong as it was, would not change it.  His purpose for Israel was to bring Jesus Christ into the world, God with us in flesh and blood.

 

Since God does not change we can be certain that He will be the same today as He was in the past; He remains God with us.

 

And since God does not change, we can be certain that His will for us does not change.  God does not stop being God or become a different God when our tastes change.  His commandments are a reflection of who He is.  God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1 John 1:5-6).  There is no change and no darkness in God; He commands us to walk in the light, as He is in the light—to walk in the light of His face with no stain of the darkness of sin (1 John 1:7).

 

So when God says, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, we can be sure that these commandments do not mean something else now than He meant when He first revealed them three thousand five hundred years ago.

 

You shall not commit adultery means not only that God forbids us to sleep with someone other than our spouse and break our wedding vows; it means that He commands us also to be pure in thought, word, and deed.  He forbids all sexual gratification apart from one’s spouse, forbids all breaking of the bond of marriage except in cases of adultery and abandonment, and commands that we love and honor our spouse and His gift of marriage.

 

Because we have a tendency to limit the scope of this commandment, Jesus makes it very clear what the 6th commandment entails in the Sermon on the Mount:  You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body should be thrown into hell (Matt. 5:27-29).

 

Even lustful thoughts are enough to condemn you to hell, and we must fight against them.  If lustful thoughts and desires will send you to hell, it’s clear enough that fornication—sex before marriage will too.  That shows that a person isn’t even fighting lust anymore—sin has simply won.  That is true of pornography, homosexuality, and all the other transgressions against the 6th commandment that are now considered normal.  God has not relaxed His commandments just because we have stopped paying attention to them, even many in the church.  In the epistle reading this past Sunday, Paul told us bluntly what we are to think about those who live in sexual immorality without repentance: For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure…has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on the sons of disobedience.

 

Maybe the seventh commandment seems a little less frightening.  After all, few of us are shoplifters or thugs who rob people.  It’s not because we’re so good, but because after all, the risks of that kind of stealing are so great it hardly seems worth doing to most of us.  But there are a lot of ways to steal that will never end up putting you in jail.  Being lazy and giving half effort at work is a way of stealing—not only because you get paid for work that you’re not doing, but because God commands you in the 7th commandment to love your neighbor and not only think about getting what you need, but also help your neighbor to improve his possessions and income.

 

It used to be considered stealing and a great evil to be greedy, and charge exorbitant interest, or to ratchet up your prices because you know people have nowhere else to buy what they need.  That’s now considered fair play, but God calls it being a thief.

 

It’s also a form of stealing when you waste things, or when you don’t take care of what God gives you.  You’re supposed to use your property and talents not only to benefit yourself, but others.  Think of how often this form of stealing happens.

 

And finally, it’s stealing whenever we refuse to use our money and goods to help our neighbor who truly needs it.  There are of course many people who beg because they refuse to work—but God says, “He who will not work, neither shall he eat.”  (2 Thess. 3:10)  But if someone is truly in need, and we have power to help him, but think that we can do what we want with our money—we sin against God and cast the 7th commandment aside.

 

The fourth through tenth commandments tell us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, treat him as we want to be treated.  That is who God is.  God is love.  His commandment is that we be as He is, with our property, with our sexuality, and so on.

 

But we have to fight with our sinful nature, with the power of the Holy Spirit, if we are going to keep God’s commandments.  Even when we are engaged in this fight as Christians we are not without sinful desires.

 

The very fact that we have to fight with ourselves shows us what Paul says about our nature in Romans 8: For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s Law.  Indeed, it cannot. (Rom. 8:8)

 

And so the 6th and 7th commandments not only show us how God wants us to walk; they also show us our need for someone who can walk in them and enable us to do so as well.  They show us our need for someone to stand in between us and God—a person who is holy and chaste, who is not greedy or selfish—and who can turn away God’s anger against us.

 

I the Lord do not change, so you, O Children of Israel, are not consumed.  God had a purpose for Israel, so He didn’t destroy them.  His purpose was to send His Son to become man among the people of Israel; His purpose was to send His Son into the world to fulfill His commandments, to complete the law for all people, so that we would be counted as having done it.

 

That is who Jesus is.  He comes into the world and is chaste, without the least spot of sexual impurity.  He does not steal, but loves his neighbor and seeks his well-being with all His heart.  He comes and does these commands not for Himself, but for us, so that we would be considered righteous, those who have fulfilled God’s Law.

 

And in the passion reading we saw Jesus being tried and condemned for our unrighteousness.  He was specifically condemned for blasphemy—breaking the 2nd commandment.  But when Jesus was punished with whips, crowned with thorns, pierced with nails to the cross and lifted up, He was being punished for our adultery, fornication, lust.  For your laziness, theft, wastefulness, selfishness.

 

He was consumed by God’s wrath against us, and we were counted righteous.

 

Jesus warned that it was better to tear out your eye than to lust and go to hell with both of them.  But last week we heard the chief priest say that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.  And that is what Jesus is doing; His body is cast into the fire of God’s wrath for our impurity, and we are set free.

 

And in Jesus’ suffering is where we also get power to begin to fulfill His commandments here on earth.

Look at Peter.  After he denied Jesus, he broke down and wept bitterly.  He wasn’t even there when Jesus died, he was so full of guilt.  He meant to stand with Jesus and die with him, but he found out what kind of sinner he really was.

 

But later he overcame his weakness and became like his Master.  He also died on a cross, crucified for his witness to Christ.

 

How did Peter overcome this sinful desire to save himself at Jesus’ expense?  He got it from first learning his own powerlessness to fulfill God’s commands.  Through the recognition of his sin he was prepared to recognize the great love of Jesus.  He came to know that Jesus had foreseen Peter’s denial, his selfish heart, and gone to pay for all Peter’s sins anyway.  Through Christ’s cross, Peter became a new creation.

 

Don’t run when the commandments of God show you how deep your sin is.  God does not change.  The love that caused Jesus to take all your sins to the cross does not change either.  God’s verdict that your sins are forgiven does not change, nor does His good news: in Christ you are pure, in Christ you are righteous.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

4th Wednesday in Lent 2019. 8th and 9th Commandments

jesus pilate.PNGWednesday after Laetare

St. Peter Lutheran Church

8th and 9th commandments

April 3, 2019

 

Iesu Iuva

 

What is the 8th commandment?  You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

 

What is the 9th commandment?  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way that only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

False witness leads to death.

 

Nothing could be clearer from the passion reading today.  Over and over we hear how the chief priests “vehemently accused” Jesus, leveled false charges against Him to Pilate and to Herod.  False testimony was the poisoned dagger by which the priests murdered Jesus.

 

Of course, false witness doesn’t always literally kill people.  More often people who are falsely accused in a court lose money and have their good name dragged through the mud.  But this is a kind of killing too—at least an attempt on a person’s life.  You take away a person’s wealth, you take away their ability to eat and clothe themselves.  If you take away a person’s honor and good name, you impose on them a kind of social death.   A person with a bad reputation might lose his job or not be able to succeed at business.  But even more that person becomes isolated.  We are learning more and more about the serious consequences of being alienated socially, being alone.  Suicide rates are higher than ever.  Depression is epidemic.  Why is it?  Because people are isolated.  They interact with other people increasingly through the safe distance of a screen and fiber optic cables.  When you “tell lies about your neighbor, slander him, or hurt his reputation” you cut those already fraying cords that allow him to be with other people and hold his head up.  You interfere with his ability to not be alone, which is really to attack a person’s ability to live.

 

False witness, lying—you might not think it could do so much damage.  But lying is tied to the very beginning of human sin.  When the devil wanted to lead Adam and Eve into sin, he lied to them about God.  He slandered God.  That is what the word “devil” means, literally—“slanderer.”  So Jesus says in the Gospel reading for the Sunday coming up that the devil was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, because there is no truth in him (John 8:44)  On the other hand, when Jesus is questioned by Pontius Pilate in the reading today as to whether He is a King, He says, You say rightly that I am a king.  I was born and I came into the world that I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice.  Lying and slander is the devil’s work and leads to death. To tell the truth is Jesus’ work and it leads to life.

 

It’s clear enough from this that to bring false charges against your neighbor is sin and that God forbids it.  But that’s not typically what we do.  What we do more often is speak against our neighbor not in court, but to a smaller jury in the kitchen, or in the parking lot, or the locker room, or maybe in the concourse at church.  And we typically justify it by saying that our complaints and criticisms of our neighbor, whoever he or she is, is not “false witness” because it is true.

 

But in the 8th commandment God refuses to allow this excuse.   When you condemn or speak evil of your neighbor, you sit in judgment on him or her.  But if God has not given you the office to judge your neighbor, as judge, as parent, as boss, or pastor, you are not to judge and condemn your neighbor.  That’s God’s job on judgment day.  And until then it belongs to the people that He has called to do it.

 

Instead what we are called to do is love our neighbor and protect his reputation.  This is why Jesus gave us instructions in the 18th chapter of Matthew about what we are to do if our neighbor sins against us.  The short version is—you go and talk to him privately, and if he repents, you have gained your brother.  If he doesn’t listen to you, you talk to him with another person as a witness.  Then if he won’t hear you you bring it to the whole church to judge.  Or, if it is a matter with someone who isn’t a Christian, you might bring it to the civil authority.

 

The strange thing is, we all avoid dealing with our neighbor’s sins the way Jesus tells us to do it like the plague.  Why?  For at least one reason—because we are afraid of our neighbor getting angry with us.  In reality, to talk honestly with each other when we have offended each other is a loving thing to do.  You speak the truth to your neighbor.  This is what Jesus does in His kingdom.

 

The other thing we do, where we vent and complain about others, and privately condemn them, is the devil’s work.  Even if what you say about your neighbor is true, when you act as his judge in your own private court in a corner, that is not God’s work.  He does not seek to destroy, but to save both our neighbor and us.  When He judges, He does it in the open, in the light.  And even that is done (until judgment day) in the hopes that sinners will repent and be forgiven.

 

The darkness is where the devil does his work.  Coveting is another example of this.  In the darkness of our hearts, he stirs up desire and longing for what belongs rightfully to our neighbor.  He creates a sense of indignation in our hearts that God has given wealth or property to our neighbor that we think belongs to us.  And then we begin to scheme ways to get what God has given to our neighbor that no one will be able to call stealing.

 

Against all this God commands us to love our neighbor.  Instead of telling his secrets or hurting his reputation, God commands us to speak well of our neighbor, defend him, and explain everything in the kindest way.  Instead of coveting his possessions, He commands us to help him to protect and improve his income and possessions.

 

If we paid attention to these commandments, we would never run out of good works to put our energy and strength into.  So often the church is flailing around looking for schemes to get other people to go to church.  This is not always wrong.  But the most powerful thing that would attract people to church is seeing love in our hearts and lives.  This is not a new idea.  Jesus washed the disciples’ feet before He went to Gethsemane.  Then He said, By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  This is why we believe in Jesus and love Him.  We believe that He loved us.

 

We believe that He was silent before the false testimony against Him because He wanted to suffer and die to take away our shame and bad reputation before God.

 

We believe that He was mocked and stripped of His good name and what few possessions He had so that He could give us, as a free gift, the Kingdom of His Father.

 

We love Jesus because He daily and richly forgives our sins.  He feeds us His body and blood.  When we confess our sins, He absolves us.  He daily renews the promise He made to us in Baptism that we are His.  He preaches into our ears how He has atoned for all our sins through His bitter suffering and death.

 

Jesus’ love is what draws us to Him.  The most powerful witness to the world is Jesus’ love working in us.  And among the many ways He has commanded us to love our neighbor is to protect his reputation, speak well of him, and seek to help him improve his possessions and income.

 

May the Lord pour His love into our hearts and teach us to exude this kind of love in the way we speak and act toward each other and those outside the church.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

jesus pilate.PNG

The Kingdom of God has Come Upon You. Oculi, Third Sunday in Lent, 2019.

jesus exorcismOculi, the Third Sunday in Lent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 11:14-28

March 24, 2019

The Kingdom of God has Come Upon You

 

Iesu Iuva!

In the name of Jesus.

 

People don’t break free from the power of the devil.  The Kingdom of God overtakes them.  People don’t choose God.  The Kingdom of God breaks in upon them in the Word of God.

 

Do you realize that the Kingdom of God has come upon you, and that the Word of God has freed you from the power of the devil?

 

A man is possessed by a demon.  Jesus casts it out.  The man, newly released from the demon’s control, begins to speak, because the demon that controlled him was mute.  The crowd that has seen Jesus do this mighty work marvels.  It is a terrible thing to be possessed, enslaved, by a demon.  President Lincoln had the power to emancipate slaves, but only after the armies of slave owners were beaten and could no longer resist.  But who has the power to overpower demons?  Not the priests, scribes, and rabbis of the Jews.  Only God has this power, and those to whom God lends it.  And Jesus is exercising this authority over the devil on our behalf.  Just like He did in the first Sunday in Lent when He said, Begone, Satan! …Then the devil left him.  (Matt. 4)

 

But when the mute spirit goes out of the man, a swarm of gossiping spirit appears to descend on the crowd, and many of them start saying, Jesus casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.  Beelzebul means “Lord” or “Master of flies.”

 

Flies are unclean.  Where will you find swarms of flies?  By ripe garbage in the hot sun?  Near a dead animal that has been in the sun 3 days?  By an outdoor latrine?  Yes, wherever there is filth and stench will be flies.  After they have their fun in the filth they will fly somewhere else and spread disease and corruption.

 

The devil is absolutely like this, even though the uncleanness he delights in and spreads often doesn’t have an odor.  Often it looks good and appealing on the outside.  He and his swarm spread the filth that makes us unclean in God’s sight—pride, anger, complacency, lust, self-righteousness, greed.

 

If you want to get rid of flies, how do you do it?  You get rid of the uncleanness that they feed on, don’t you?  You take out the trash.  You go out into the yard with a shovel and a plastic bag.

 

But how do you get rid of the uncleanness in which the devil and his swarm buzz?  Can you get rid of pride, anger, unbelief toward God, complacency, greed?  Can you just “take it out” like you take out a bag of trash?

 

You can’t, can you?  You get rid of your anger one day, and it’s back days, hours, minutes later.  God humbles you so you cry out for help and cast yourself at His feet.  You say, “Lord, I’m sorry I thought I could ever do things on my own.  Forgive my self-sufficiency and pride.”  You say it and a few days later you’re already slipping away from prayer.  The attention of your heart has moved away from God again.

 

Our hearts, minds, souls are fountains of uncleanness.  You get rid of some and more appears to replace it.  Trying to rid yourself of the uncleanness over which the devil rules is like trying to stop a fountain, or scoop out the ocean with a spoon.

 

The devil is like a mafia don or a bandit sitting in his hideout, according to Jesus.  His goons all obey him out of fear.  If he lets them rob each other, his whole operation is going to fall apart.  And no strong man, no bandit, lets people walk in and take the cash he has stashed away from his “business ventures.”  But the devil’s kingdom is much more wicked than the domain of a gangster.  His loot is people’s souls.  Unclean spirits find their version of life by destroying human souls.  Notice how when an unclean spirit goes out from a man, Jesus says he finds no rest until he’s back dwelling in the human being, causing him to suffer.  He calls the human being his “house.”  Satan delights in dragging the souls and bodies God created in His image down to hell.  He especially loves it when he can do it to a Christian, and even better a Christian pastor.  About 1500 years ago an experienced preacher said, “Hell is paved with the skulls of priests.”

 

Satan controls everyone stained with the uncleanness of sin, and he never lets anyone go.  The only way anyone goes free from the devil is if the devil is conquered, or overcome.  Just like if you wanted to rob the gangster in his hideout.  You have to go in, guns drawn, and take him out.  Arrest him or kill him.

 

If someone is going to be free from the devil, someone has to go into the devil’s castle and defeat him.  Who is brave or foolish enough to try that?  The truth is, even if there were such a person, we would not be able to do it.  We wouldn’t even know where to find him.

 

But this is what Jesus does in the reading, and this is what He has done to you.  By the finger of God He overcomes Satan and robs him of his prisoners.

 

If you take this to heart, you will realize what we are up against when we want to spread the Word of God, when we want to teach God’s Word to children, or do any of the works that the Church of Christ does.  Who do you think has the power to challenge Satan and try to take away his possessions?  Do you dare to try it?  Do you think I do?  How foolish to imagine that we can build the Kingdom of God with our own wisdom and talents, with our own charm!  We might be able to build our own kingdoms that way, but not the Kingdom of God.

 

How foolish to imagine that our neighbors and loved ones can be rescued from sin and hell by anything less than God’s pure Word!  Can you imagine going into a battle and carrying ammunition that you weren’t sure would fire?  Yet that’s the way most Christians think about the Word of God.  It doesn’t matter if it’s pure, as long as we think it’s good enough.  Only the Word of God is able to drive out Satan, not human words.  Not human thoughts.  Human words and thoughts that are not from God never serve Jesus.  They always work against His kingdom.  He who is not with Me, He says, is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me, scatters. 

 

That is why you are blessed.  The Kingdom of God has come upon you.

 

How do I know this?  Because Jesus has come to you in His Word.  He is a man like us, but He is clean.  He is not mostly clean, and partially unclean with the devil.  He is completely clean.  He has no uncleanness in Him.  In the Gospel reading He is on His way to stop up the fountain of uncleanness that is in our hearts.  He is on His way to prepare us a bath out of which we come out clean and beautiful in the sight of God, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish.  (Eph. 5:27).  That bath is called Baptism.  He prepares it by burying our uncleannesses in His tomb; carrying them to His cross, and burying them behind the stone.  The power of Baptism that washes away our uncleanness is not the water, but the Word of God joined to the water.  It washes us and makes us clean, so that the devil has no authority over us.

 

Baptism is not something you can do.  I can’t do it either.  I administer it.  I pour the water and speak the words, but Baptism comes from Jesus.  He simply uses me to administer it the way you use a hammer to pound in a nail.

 

That is how lucky you are, how blessed you are.  The Kingdom of God has come upon you.  Jesus has come to you in Holy Baptism and covered your uncleanness.  He put you in His Kingdom.

 

In His Kingdom He keeps loosing you from the power of devil.  He keeps declaring you clean.  You confess to Him; you tell him about what is in your heart, in your mind, on your lips, sometimes on your actions.  You tell him about all the uncleanness you keep finding there.  And He says, “I forgive you all your sins.  I loose you from the devil’s power.”

 

Then He beckons you to come to Him, open your mouth and eat His body and drink His blood and be made clean by His blood that was poured out for you.

 

So the devil has been driven away from you.  You are clean.  The Kingdom of God has come upon you.

 

And yet the unclean spirits that have been driven away from you by Jesus are even now wandering in waterless places, desiring rest.  They would like to come back to claim you.  You weren’t strong enough to get them out of you, and you aren’t strong enough to keep them out.  There’s only one thing that keeps the unclean spirits from moving back in to our hearts—and our homes, and our minds, and taking over.  That is the Word of God.  When the unclean spirits come back and find Him there, they will have a powerful surprise.

 

The word of God needs to be dwelling in us by faith.  And the Word of God does not dwell in hearts that also give space to the devil.  You cannot have God’s Word dwelling within you while also picking and choosing which parts of God’s Word you will accept and which you will reject.  You cannot have God’s Word living in you while you knowingly and unrepentantly intend to serve the devil in some part of your life.  If you insist on being unclean, you reject the kingdom of God.  He who is not for me is against me, and He who does not gather with me, scatters.

 

On the other hand, if you feel the uncleanness in your heart, and it feels like the flies are swarming there—if your heart seems to be dirty again almost as soon as the Lord has declared you clean—if it seems to be divided against itself—don’t despair.  You are weak, but He is strong.  His word is true when it tells you that you are clean, that you have been washed by His Word and made beautiful in His sight.

 

And when the church also seems to be infested by flies and uncleanness and the devil seems to be winning, and many of its members seem to not want the kingdom of God to come upon them, don’t despair.  He will not allow the devil to overcome.  He will glorify His Word.  Call out to Him with the uncleanness of your heart, your home, your church; pray, “Thy Kingdom Come,” as He taught us.  And He will grant His Holy Spirit so that the Kingdom of God remains among us.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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