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The Right Use of Beauty. Martyrdom of John the Baptist/Altar Guild Service 2019

August 29, 2019 1 comment

john baptists headMartyrdom of John the Baptist/ Altar Guild Service

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 6:14-29

August 29, 2019

The Right Use of Beauty

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ,

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

 

For the last several years at this service we have observed the festival of John the Baptist’s martyrdom, because it is the closest festival day to the last Thursday in August.  But this year the last Thursday in August actually falls on the day of John’s martyrdom.  And so my robes are red.

 

Red goes with Pentecost and the fire of the Holy Spirit.  It also goes with blood—the blood of the martyrs, who, by the burning faith and love worked by the Spirit, bore witness to our Lord Jesus not only with words but with their red blood.  With their blood they testified to the salvation won by Jesus Christ, and the power of faith in His name.

 

So you see the red of this chasuble.  It is beautiful, but it points to something fewer people think beautiful—the blood of many Christians that poured out from their bodies, who were reflections of their Lord, from whose head and hands and feet and side blood poured and streamed.  His streaming blood, His bloody death purchased salvation from sin and hell.  With their red blood they bore witness, they testified to the certainty of the salvation won by our Lord.

 

Even today blood pours from the bodies of Christians all over the world, in streams wider and fuller than at any time in history.  The time of the martyrs was not 1900 years ago.  It is now.

 

But those suffering and dying are not, in many cases, people whose parents and grandparents and ancestors for generations have been baptized.  They are new Christians, yet these new Christians are called by our Lord to suffer or even die for His name, and they answer His call and join the souls under the altar in heaven.

 

It is different with the Christians around us.  We appear to be living in a unique time, when European culture, what used to be called “Christendom,” is shedding the last vestiges of its Christian identity.  We are having difficulty adjusting to this.  We are having difficulty losing the prestige and the numbers we once had when our countrymen all claimed to be Christians and built beautiful churches to have their children baptized and married in.  We are not being asked to lose our lives.  Christ is calling us to lose our status, to be lowly and despised, to be poor and few in number.  And we are struggling with this.  Many are refusing to give these things up.

 

Parents who still bring their kids to church usually want their kids to experience a full church, a vibrant church, with lots of other kids and lots of activities for kids, even though churches like these are becoming rarer, and those that have these things and also teach the pure doctrine of Christ rarer still.

 

Churches are still hoping against hope that the pews will become full again.  Meanwhile many of them are trying to hang on to what they had when the churches were full, even though they are no longer full.  It is hard to accept that Jesus may be calling us to let these things go.

 

Many Christians think the people and the kids and the money and the feeling of being “vibrant” and so on are necessary.  They run after these things even when doing so means leaving God’s pure word behind.  They can’t imagine church without these things.  They fear that their children will abandon Christianity if it isn’t fun and doesn’t feel like it’s growing and prestigious.

 

Those who remain in the church keep being nagged by the temptation that Moses has been on the mountain too long and now it is time to make gods to lead them out of the desert.  We are tempted to look for anything that will make Christianity appealing to our kids, grandkids, and neighbors, so that they would come back.

 

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death?  (Rom. 6:3)  That is a call from the apostle to remember what life we were given when we were baptized.   He does not think that the Romans (or you) don’t know.  You do know.  Death is not a special way for the elite Christians, the martyrs.  Death is the way for every Christian.   We were baptized into Jesus’ death on the cross.  We are baptized into His death—unless we turn away.  Our lives are death with Jesus and resurrection with Jesus.  There is no other way to be a Christian, no other way for the Church.  If we want to avoid death with Jesus, we want to avoid being Christians.  If we try to find a way to convince people to be Christians that does not involve dying to their desires to be rich and important and be in a beautiful religious facility with lots of other popular, non-embarrassing people—we are finding a way to be ashamed of Jesus.  Because Jesus said, If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel’s will find it. (Mark 8:34-35)  Even if your life does not end with nails through your hands and feet, you have already been crucified with Christ in Baptism, and every day your old nature must be crucified with Christ again.  Your demands to have the love of this world, the honor of this world, the praise of this world—you must die to it and go with Jesus and accept the scorn of this world, the mockery of this world, perhaps the loss of a full church, a youth group, a church with a steeple and stained glass.

 

Christ’s church does not lie to people.  Churches do, but His true church doesn’t.  It doesn’t promise people their best life now.  It doesn’t say “Jesus will never ask you to do something really hard, or suffer.”  It tells people—Jesus calls you to repent, and to repent means to die.

 

She speaks like John the Baptist did.  A king married a woman.  The woman had divorced the king’s brother so she could marry the king.  John told the king, “It is not lawful to marry your brother’s wife.  You are lost unless you repent.”  By repent John did not mean that King Herod should feel bad but stay married to Herodias.  He meant he should send Herodias back to his brother.  He could never be married to her and be right with God.

 

But of course this would offend Herod, wouldn’t it?  Then Herod would never join John’s church.  That’s the way people in churches often talk.  John did not talk this way.  He talked like a man sent by God to turn the sinful to repentance.

 

Pastors have to ask themselves: Is that the way I speak to the unrepentant?

 

Churches have to ask themselves: Is that the message unrepentant sinners in our congregation and outside our congregation get?  If not, are we willing to say that to them, and let the pastor say it to them?  To say, “Repent, you are lost”?  To be in earnest, as if heaven and hell is real, and the unrepentant are headed for hell?

 

If not, no matter how much we talk about Jesus, we are not following Him.  We are walking in another way than His, one without the cross.  The world has to repent of its lawless immorality, but we have to repent in the church of our wanting to be Christ’s while refusing to bear His cross.

 

If what I am saying is striking home with you, then you know that you have done just as Herod did.  He was called to go the difficult way of repentance.  He chose to save face and put John to death instead.  Like Pilate also who, forced to choose between Jesus and angering the Jews and Caesar, went against his conscience and crucified the man he knew was from God.  Like Peter who, though he wanted to be faithful to Jesus, at the moment of crisis denied Jesus to save his life.  We have done this, and though it may have given us a temporary reprieve or a short term profit, when we did it we forfeited our souls.

 

Had Herod listened to John and come in unconditional surrender to God, John would have baptized him.  He would have lost Herodias his brother’s wife, but he would also have lost his sins.

 

The baptism that brought us into the church did not only forgive our sins.  It joined us with Jesus who went to death rather than turn aside from God.  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ were baptized into His death?

 

You who are baptized into Christ and believe in Him are like Peter.  You want to die rather than deny Jesus.  You believe He is the Son of God.  You want to go with Him even to death because you believe in Him and you love Him.  You want to be a faithful witness.  But you falter.  You have many times.  You were afraid to stand with Jesus.  You sought to preserve your life in this world, even though Jesus said, Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it; whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  You tried to be Christ’s disciples and still please the world and your flesh.

 

Return to your baptism.  There you died with Jesus.  There your sins were washed away.  There, fleeing compromise with the world, you are raised from the dead to walk in newness of life.  Not to follow the Pharisees in a self-chosen holiness from the flesh, but to go with Jesus to the cross, to lose your life in this world, and gain what is life indeed.  Have you faltered?  So did Peter.  Return to Baptism where your faltering flesh is dead and the life of Christ has raised you.

 

Come to this altar; receive the finished salvation of Jesus.  Eat His body.  Drink His blood.  Receive His power that enables you to bear witness to Him in a world that demands you bow your knee to it and its ruler.

 

No!  You are Christ’s.  You will go to Him and conquer the world as He did and as the martyrs did.

 

As long as He continues to give us beautiful churches, robes, paraments, we will use them to bear witness to the shedding of His blood.  You can use them without fear as a Christian because they are not your gods. They are simply gifts.  You have died to this world with Him.

 

But if He allows them to be taken, don’t be afraid.

 

If we are friendless, homeless, poor, because we are His, that is a more beautiful robe than can be made with hands, or washed, or ironed by your hands.  If you are small and forsaken, if you lose people, if you lose paraments, workers, vestments because you are poor, your Lord adorns you with His poverty and lowliness.  It is a royal honor.  “Blessed are the poor.  Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.  Blessed are you when others revile you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5)

 

May the Lord Jesus teach us to see and rightly use both kinds of beauty—the beauty you work with in the altar guild, and the beauty of the cross.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

How Jesus is Seen. Exaudi, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, 2019

martyrs.PNGExaudi, the Seventh Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 15:26-16:4

June 2, 2019

How Jesus is Seen

 

Iesu Iuva

 

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The Paschal candle is no longer burning.  Since Epiphany it has been by the altar, but at Ascension Day, Thursday, it moved to the Baptismal font.  After the Gospel reading its flame was put out.  That’s because, after the ascension of our Lord, we no longer see Him.  He is alive from the dead, but no longer visible to our eyes.

 

That is hard for us, but even harder for the world.  The world needs to see Jesus so that the people in the world may know God.  Apart from Jesus no one can know God or be saved.  But we have to come into contact with Jesus to know who He is.  We need to see Him, even if we don’t physically gaze upon Him with our eyes.  The world needs to see Jesus that it may come to know Him and be saved, but we Christians also need to go on seeing Jesus so that we may not fall away and lose heart.

 

Since Jesus has ascended to God’s right hand and we can no longer see Him, He has left behind a witness to Himself in this world.

 

In reality Jesus speaks of two witnesses to Him in this reading.  And in a certain sense you could say He even describes three witnesses to Himself.  The first witness Jesus calls, “the Helper” and “The Spirit of Truth.”  The second witness is the apostles themselves, who have been with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry.  And the third “witness,” so to speak, is the suffering and persecution the apostles and those who believe after them endure because of their witness to Jesus.

 

First of all, the apostles.  They had been with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry, and so Jesus says, “You will bear witness to Me.”  They would testify to all they had seen Jesus do and teach on earth.  They would show people who Jesus was by His actions and His teaching.  That He was the eternal Son of God, with the Father at the beginning, through whom the world was made.  That He had become a man, humbling Himself and taking on our weakness and mortality in order to be our servant.  How after preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins to the repentant, His enemies nailed Him to a cross, and He died for our sins, and how He was raised from the dead, showing that our sins were forgiven by God forever.  They would bear witness that they saw Jesus ascend into heaven and that He is returning to judge the living and the dead.

 

This witness of the apostles is not unfamiliar to you.  You hear it and say it in summary every week in the creed.  We hear the witness of the apostles about Jesus every time the Gospel is read.  They bear witness to us: this is who Jesus is.  This is what Jesus did.  He is the Savior of sinners.  He is your Savior.  Their witness guards us from being led astray to a false Jesus.

 

Yet Jesus doesn’t mention the apostles first when He talks about the witness to Him that will happen after His ascension.  He says, When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father…He will bear witness about Me.  (John 15:26) 

 

The apostles weren’t left to their own faulty memories to be witnesses of Jesus.  Otherwise no doubt they would have mixed up things Jesus taught, or misinterpreted things He did.

 

If all we had to go by was the apostles’ memory of Jesus—even as eyewitnesses—no doubt we could not rely on it with absolute assurance.  But Jesus promises that He will send them the Helper, who is also the Spirit of Truth from the Father.  He will ensure that the witness they bear of Jesus is accurate, that the picture they give the world of Jesus is true.

 

Jesus tells them that this Helper is going to bear witness with them.  He is not just any kind of helper, but one who helps you to speak, or who speaks on your behalf—an advocate.  He is able to convince people and to comfort people where the apostles by their own power of speech and personality will not be able to.  This Helper, the Holy Spirit, Jesus is going to pour out on the disciples when He ascends to heaven as His gift to them.  And the Holy Spirit will witness with them and convince people that what they say about Jesus is the truth.

 

This is comforting news for us.  We in the Church are witnesses to Jesus also.  We didn’t see Jesus first hand like the disciples, but we believe the witness of the apostles of Jesus.  And what if it depended on us to convince everyone that Jesus is the Son of God?  It doesn’t.  We are merely witnesses.  And in the Church we have a great helper who speaks to us and bears witness to Jesus so that we rest in Him.  But He also speaks through us and convinces the world that our witness to Jesus is true.

 

And this Helper also brings it about that the third time of witness can happen, which is when we endure persecution and hardship because we bear witness to Jesus, and yet we do not fall away.  Jesus said: I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away.  They will put you out of the synagogues.  Indeed the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God (John 16:1-2). 

 

The apostles and the Church bear witness to Christ.   The Holy Spirit bears witness to Christ.  And finally, the persecution and suffering of the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, bears witness to Christ.  Wherever a church believes in the real Jesus and bears witness to the real Jesus and holds to the real Jesus and His real teaching, there will be hostility from the world and the devil.  This is a necessary part of being a witness in this world.

 

What is it that Christianity wants to tell the world?  What is it that the Holy Spirit bears witness to among human beings, as long as the world remains?

 

Isn’t it that God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life?  (Jhn 3:16)  And what does the love of God the Son look like?  It looks like Him suffering for us, to impart this great gift to us—that our sins are taken away.  Suffering when people ignored Him and treated Him with contempt during all the years He taught.  Suffering when even His apostles didn’t listen to Him.  Suffering in the garden as He prayed and prepared to offer Himself up.  Suffering on the cross when He endured God’s fierce wrath against the world’s sins.

 

So when we suffer because we bear witness to Jesus, the world not only hears the church confess the faith and talk about Jesus and preach Jesus.  It not only hears the witness of the Spirit.  It also sees us following the one we preach.

 

Suffering for witness to Christ will happen, and when it does, the Holy Spirit enables us to witness to Jesus’ love for us not only with our lips but with our wealth, our good name, our sweat, our tears, and perhaps our own lives.

 

We haven’t endured a lot of this for our witness to Jesus.  Of course we have all suffered, because this is a world where everyone suffers.  Everyone loses loved ones.  Everyone gets sick.  Everyone dies.  But not everyone bears witness to Jesus and suffers for it.  Only faithful Christians and faithful churches do that, and not in the same degree.

 

If we faithfully learn Jesus’ Word and are serious about bearing faithful witness to Him, it will not become easier for us.  Not in a human sense.  Rather, we will gain enemies.  People will say we are intolerant, arrogant, and so on.  And much worse could happen, up to and including losing our very lives.  It’s strange to imagine such a thing happening in this town, at this church, but no longer impossible to imagine it.

 

But there is great joy in bearing this witness to Jesus.  First of all because of who Jesus is that we witness to.  He is not a hard taskmaster, an enemy of human beings.  He is the all gracious, all merciful Lord who died for our sins.

 

Secondly because Jesus has given us a great helper who comforts us beyond all telling as Luther’s hymn puts it.  He speaks to the world with power and helps us.  But He speaks to us in the still small voice that Elijah heard on the mountain and consoles us and tells us that when we suffer, we show ourselves to truly be Jesus’ disciples.

 

The paschal candle is put out because we can’t see Jesus.  We light it when we baptize someone, and then we light a little baptismal candle and give it to them.  It means—you have now become a participant in the life of Jesus.  And then when a Christian dies, we light the paschal candle and put it at the head of the casket.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.   (Colossians 3)  When we bear witness to Jesus, that hidden light of the life of Christ illuminates us.  We become the candle.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

God Looks Into the Depths. Luther, Sermon for Christmas Day, Church Postil

jesus upon the cherubim.PNG

  1. Behold how very richly God honors those who are despised of men, and that very gladly! Here you see that His eyes look into the depths of humility, as it is written, “He sitteth above the cherubim” and looketh into the depths.*  Nor could the angels find princes or valiant men to whom to communicate the good news;  but only unlearned laymen, the most humble people upon earth.  Could they not have addressed the high priests, who it was supposed knew so much concerning God and the angels?  No, God chose poor shepherds, who though they were of low esteem in the sight of men, were in heaven regarded worthy of such great grace and honor.

 

  1. See how utterly God overthrows that which is lofty! And yet we rage and rant for nothing but this empty honor, as we had no honor to seek in heaven; we continually step out of God’s sight, so that he may not see us in the depths, into which he alone looks.

 

  1. This has been considered sufficiently for plain people. Everyone should ponder it further for himself.  If every word is properly grasped, it is as fire that sets the heart aglow, as God says in Jeremiah 23, 29, “Is not my word like fire?”  And as we see, it is the purpose of the divine Word, to teach us to know God and his work, and to see that this life is nothing.  For as he does not live according to this life and does not have possessions nor temporal honor and power, he does not regard these and says nothing concerning them, but teaches only the contrary.  He works in opposition to these temporal things, looks with favor upon that from which the world turns, teaches that from which it flees and takes up that which it discards.

 

  1. And although we are not willing to tolerate such acts of God and do not want to receive blessing, honor, and life in this way, yet it must remain so. God does not change his purpose, nor does he teach or act differently than he purposed.  We must adapt ourselves to him, he will not adapt himself to us.  Moreover, he who will not regard his word, nor the manner in which he works to bring comfort to men, has assuredly no good evidence of being saved.  In what more lovely manner could he have shown his grace to the humble and despised of earth, than through this birth in poverty, over which the angels rejoice, and make it known to no one but to the poor shepherds?

 

Martin Luther, Sermon on Christmas Day (Luke 2:1-14), Church Postil

 

*The Song of the Three Holy Children, 32

Blessed art Thou that Beholdest the Depths. From the Song of the Three Holy Children.

three holy children

23.  And the king’s servants, that put them in, ceased not to make the oven hot with rosin, pitch, tow, and small wood;

24.  So that the flame streamed forth above the furnace forty and nine cubits.

25.  And it passed through, and burned those Chaldeans it found about the furnace.

26.  But the angel of the Lord came down into the oven together with Azarias and his fellows, and smote the flame of the fire out of the oven;

27.  And made the midst of the furnace as it had been a moist whistling wind, so that the fire touched them not at all, neither hurt nor troubled them.

28.  Then the three, as out of one moth, praised, glorified, and blessed God in the furnace, saying,

29.  Blessed art thou, O Lord God of our fathers: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.

30.  And blessed is thy glorious and holy name: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.

31.  Blessed art thou in the temple of thine holy glory: and to be praised and glorified above all for ever.

32.  Blessed art thou that beholdest the depths, and sittest upon the cherubims: and to be praised and exalted for ever.

https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/The-song-of-the-three-children_1_1611/

http://wn.elib.com/Library/Religious/AP/Apocry_child.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Prayer_of_Azariah_and_Song_of_the_Three_Holy_Childre

And Was Buried. Holy Saturday Tenebrae 2018

jesus burial.PNGHoly Saturday Tenebrae

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Matthew 27:57-66

March 31, 2018

..And Was Buried

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

There are two parts of the Creed that almost never get preached.  “And was buried.  He descended into hell.”  How often are these preached?  Almost never.

 

That’s why we are observing Holy Saturday today.  Because, surely, of all years, this one for us at St. Peter is one where we would benefit from hearing Christ’s burial preached.  And you who are here today are mostly members of the altar guild.  This year two of the altar guild’s saints died and were buried.  Others who we loved and who were pillars of this congregation also died and were buried this year.

 

How do we deal with this?  Apart from Christ, we just do it.  Death is part of life, and you have to go on as best you can, soldier through it.

 

You women on the altar guild have a lot in common with those women who were the only ones left with Jesus when He died on the cross.  The disciples fled.  Only John was left.  But none of them had the authority to bury Jesus.  You could not take someone off the cross and bury them unless Pontius Pilate gave permission, because part of the penalty of crucifixion often was that the person crucified was not buried.  His body was left to become food for the birds and to serve as a warning and an example.

 

So the women watched as two members of the Sanhedrin buried Jesus, wrapping His body in a linen cloth.  But they went home that evening and prepared spices and ointments to anoint His body on Sunday.  They would have to wait, because they still believed that it was against God’s Law for them to give Jesus the common honors of burial on the Sabbath day.

 

But you are like them.  Because it falls to you to make sure the house of Jesus is adorned, treated with honor, treated with dignity.

 

There are no doubt many people who say or think, “What is the point of all the work the altar guild does?  The point is that God’s Word is preached, that we receive Holy Communion.  What does it matter how the linens are arranged, whether there are lilies on Easter, whether there are flowers and candles?  These are all just decorations.”

 

That is what some people said when a woman broke open an alabaster jar of expensive, perfumed ointment and poured it on Jesus at the beginning of the week of His death.  “This is a waste.  We could have sold that and given the money to the poor.”

 

And today people say, “What difference does it make whether you bury me after I’m gone?  You can just throw my body in a ditch.  Or just cremate me.  It’s much cheaper.  What’s the point of the ceremony of a funeral?”

 

Perhaps people who say these things would be right if there was no resurrection of the body.  But Jesus rebuked the people who criticized the woman who anointed Him.  “She has done a beautiful thing to me.  She did this to prepare me for burial.”  So Jesus commends her for preparing His body for burial.  It may seem like a waste to us.  After all you don’t need to be perfumed and embalmed to be buried, since your body is going to return to dust regardless.

 

But the people of God hoped for the resurrection of their dead loved ones.  By their actions they said, “These bodies matter, because God will raise them from the dead.”

 

And Christians did a new thing that the Old Testament saints did not.  The Jews typically had tombs, like Joseph of Arimathea—family burial places.  That is what we see throughout the Old Testament.  The kings from David’s house were buried together, but not with everyone else.

 

But from the earliest days of the Church, Christians buried their dead together.  Christians were buried together in cemeteries—which means “sleeping places.”  That’s what the catacombs under Rome were.  Imagine the danger involved in having a Christian burial place when your religion is illegal, and if you are caught practicing it you could quite likely be tortured and finally sent into the arena to be torn apart by lions or bears.  And yet the Christians did it anyway.  And when Christianity became legal, they began to bury the dead Christians in the church yard—around the church.  Even our church has its cemetery, even though it is full and it is a distance from the church.  The old church books call it Gottesacker—“God’s Acre.”

 

Why did the Christians for so long think that God needed an acre in which to put the bodies of dead Christians together?

 

Because, as St. Paul says, 7For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

 

If we were not Christians, we would die alone and to ourselves, just as we also live for ourselves alone.

 

But we live and we die in Christ, who lived and died for us, in us, so to speak.  In our life, in our humanity.  He entered into our sin and wretchedness and died in it.  That is why the women had to watch Jesus suffer and die on the cross.

 

And He also entered into the grave.  He entered the grave that human beings began digging and placing their dead in.  And human beings began doing this—Adam and Eve did it with Abel, no doubt, and Seth did it with Adam and Eve—because they believed God’s promise, given long ago, that Eve’s offspring would crush the serpent’s head.

 

A son of a woman would destroy Satan’s power, would destroy sin.  And having destroyed sin He would also destroy death and conquer the grave.

 

So Jesus is placed in the tomb to conquer it.  Later tonight, with the smell of lilies in our nostrils, the church will light up and alleluias will sound from our throats, the bells will peal.  The ancient darkness, we will sing, has been forever banished.

 

When we bury our dead, we do not bury them as those who have died alone.  We bury them in Christ.  They go into God’s acre because their dead bodies are the Lord’s. They are His planting for the resurrection, and He will raise them from their graves in the glorious freedom of the sons of God.

 

They have died not to themselves but to the Lord.  They are not their own.  They are the Lord’s.  He bought them with His blood.  He placed His seal of ownership on them when they were baptized, His Name, and He sanctified their bodies.  Their bodies, though still sick and corrupted by sin, are nevertheless holy.

 

When they are buried, their graves are not unholy places of decay and death.  They are sanctified and holy because Jesus’ body rested there first and then rose in life.

 

He purchased them to be His own and to be united to Him as members of His body.  So, with Him we die and are buried.  And with Him we will rise.  He is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead.

 

We are not waiting for God to fulfill His promise.  His promise has been fulfilled.  The resurrection of the dead has come, because Jesus has risen from the dead.

 

That is why Christians buried their dead together.  They are not so many separate people who have died alone with their separate graves.  They are members of one body—the mystical body of Jesus, who died and rose again.  They are members of the same body that we are, who come together to eat His body and drink His blood; so they were buried together, preferably near where we who still live gather as the body of Christ.

 

Today, unfortunately, it is not so.  We do not have this picture before our eyes when we bury our dead.  Increasingly funerals are no longer in church, but private family affairs.  That is too bad.  It is sad, because have seen more than one person who stopped coming to church because a pious loved one died, and the pain of remembering them in church was too much to bear.  Or they didn’t have a loved one’s funeral in the church because they were afraid that if they did, they would break down every time they came.  They could not put the death of their loved one together with the church and with Jesus Christ.

 

That is unutterably sad to me.  On Holy Saturday we see that Jesus has entered fully into our death.  He has been placed in our tomb.  When we die, our tombs will be Jesus’ tombs.  For we are the members of His body.

 

The women who followed Jesus spent the Sabbath in pain, longing to go to Jesus’ grave and anoint His body.  But when they went they did not find Jesus’ body there.  He was placed in our tomb, but He conquered it, and left it empty.  Death was swallowed up in life.

 

So it will be for those who rest in the tomb with Jesus, who are baptized into Him.

 

Jesus, my Redeemer, lives;
I, too, unto life shall waken.
Endless joy my Savior gives;
Shall my courage, then, be shaken?
Shall I fear, or could the Head
Rise and leave His members dead?  (TLH 206 st. 2)

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

When I am Lifted Up, I Will Draw All Men to Myself. Good Friday, Chief Service, 2018. John 18:31-32

jesus crucifixion de ribera.PNGGood Friday—Chief Service (1 PM)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 18-19 (18:31-32, 19:33-37)

March 30, 2018

“When I Am Lifted Up, I Will Draw All Men To Myself”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and judge Him according to your own law.”  The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.”  This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death He was going to die.  John 18:31-32

 

By what kind of death He was going to die.

 

St. John draws our attention to the kind of death Jesus was going to die.

 

He was going to die by the form of execution the Roman world considered the worst—crucifixion.

 

And John draws our attention also to the fact that Jesus had said beforehand that He would die this kind of death.  That God had planned it out beforehand.

 

In chapter 12, the Gospel for Monday of Holy Week, Jesus said, Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.  He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die.  John 12:31-33

 

Jesus was going to be lifted up.  Not fly away into heaven, away from all the pain and ugliness down here, but be nailed to a tree and lifted up as the very image of all the evil of this world.

 

Our natural response to John’s words about the kind of death Jesus was going to die is to say, “So what?”  We’ve all known since Sunday School that Jesus died on the cross.  Why draw attention to it?

 

The Holy Spirit is impressing on us the offense of the message about Jesus, the craziness of the Gospel.

 

For John’s hearers and readers in the first century of our Lord, and for centuries after, the message of the Gospel was madness.  For Romans and Greeks who believed in the old gods it was insane that Christians preached that the Son of the One True God was crucified.  For the fundamental characteristic of pagan gods was that they were immortal and could not die.  And for the philosophers who believed in one God the message of the cross was crazy because reason told them that the Creator, being eternal and omnipotent, could not suffer.

 

For the Jews, it was unthinkable that God would be crucified, because the Scripture says that people who are hanged on a tree are cursed by God.  And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.  Deut. 21:22-23

 

And if we lived then and saw the horrible suffering and shame of people who were crucified, it would not take much faith to believe that they were cursed by God.  They were usually pierced through their hands and feet after being flogged and made to carry the beam of their cross to the place of execution.  When they were lifted up, they died slowly, often taking several days to finally die from suffocation.  They were usually crucified in public places, where their last agonies could be watched.  When they died, they typically were left on the crosses to rot and be eaten by vultures and crows.

 

People did not sympathize with those who were crucified.  Many were glad for the peace and order the Roman rule provided, and they supported the Romans making examples out of those who threatened that order.  Crucified people were considered bad people who deserved their death, people whom God had cursed.

 

So when the apostles went out and preached that a manual laborer from out of the way Galilee, who was crucified was the Son of God and the world’s Redeemer, it was mostly received as insane folly.  When Paul wrote in first Corinthians the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, he was speaking from years of experience as a missionary, where his message encountered rejection upon rejection.

 

Today, the word of the Cross is not as strange to us or the people we live among.  It has been preached and pictured in Europe and America’s literature, art, music for more than a thousand years.  It is not strange, but it is still crazy to us when you scratch the surface.  People do not react to it because for the most part they do not take it seriously.  It’s just religious talk, even to many people who go to church.

 

But you see in the popular preachers of today that the message of the cross is still considered ineffective.  And when a church wants to, like Paul, know nothing..but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, the feeling that this is craziness begins to rear its head.  At the grave of my half-brother’s mother, one of the pall bearers talking to me about his church told me, “What is killing churches like yours is a lack of marketing.”  This is a common idea.

 

But it does not appear to be Jesus’ idea.  Now is the judgment of this world.  Now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

 

By this craziness of God being lifted up to die, accursed, on a tree, Jesus says that He will cast out the devil, judge the world, and draw all men to Himself.

 

According to our wisdom, that is simply insane.

 

And yet, Jesus lifted up to hang from the tree, that message brought down the worship of the old gods in Rome.  Then in northern Europe, Russia.  Then in America.  It is doing the same now in Africa and in Asia.

 

And even if few seem to be listening to this word of the cross today, let us hear it and take it to heart.

 

John also makes a point of drawing attention to the reality of Jesus’ death, how he witnessed Jesus’ side pierced with a spear and the outflow of water and blood from His heart.

 

He is drawing our attention to the fact that Jesus really and truly died; He was not simply passed out from shock or something like that.  He was dead.  As really as our loved ones are dead when we go up and stare into their faces at their wake.

 

God was dead, just as God was cursed and put to shame, just as God was condemned.  And Jesus had said before that this would happen, because it had been God’s plan before the foundation of the world.

 

It was God’s plan for you, who face condemnation and judgment and shame for your sins before the court of God.  And for you whose loved ones die, and who are facing death.

 

God had planned long ago that His Son would be put to shame and cursed and would suffer so that you would be released from the curse you were under and the shame that belongs to you.

 

God planned that His eternal, undying Son would be lifted up and die for you.

 

And in doing so He would bring you to Himself and back to God, without curse, without shame, free from eternal death.

 

The spear that pierced His heart let loose the sign that you are free and that the ruler of this world no longer has any power over you.  Water.  Blood.

 

These streams that flowed out as proof of Jesus death flow to you as God’s pledges that you live.

 

The water flows from Jesus’ death over you in Baptism and cleanses you from sin.  It flows over you and begins your new life.

 

The blood flows from Jesus’ body into the cup that you drink, where Jesus seals to you with His own blood that the folly of the death of God, this unspeakable kind of death on the cross, has given you life.

 

And for all who receive these pledges in faith, now is the judgment of this world, and they are judged righteous, acquitted.  Now the prince of this world is cast out from them, and the prince of heaven reigns in their hearts.

 

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

 

SDG

 

 

The Lord of the Flies. Oculi, 2018. Luke 11.14-28

jesus legion.PNGOculi, The Third Sunday in Lent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 11:14-28

March 4, 2018

“The Lord of the Flies”

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Think of flies, that terrible noise they make when they buzz past your ear, the sound of a whole lot of flies buzzing in a swarm.  Where do you hear this noise?  Usually you hear it when you are near something that stinks.  Public latrines with no plumbing, dog parks, the rotting corpse of an animal in the sun.  Wherever something is decaying, rotting, wherever there is excrement and filth and stench—that’s where you hear flies buzzing.

 

“Beelzebul” was the name of a Philistine idol.  The Jews changed one letter of his name and called him “Beelzebub” which means “lord of the flies”.  They meant that Beelzebul was the lord of excrement and the stink of decay, the lord of uncleannesss and death.  And since the Old Testament prophets associated false gods and demons, they said that Beelzebub was really the prince and lord of demons.

 

This is a fitting name for the devil.  Just like flies have a party and make a great buzzing whenever they find something dead and stinking, the devil and his demons delight in death and the pollution of God’s good creation.  And since human beings are the crown of God’s creation, they find no greater pleasure than when they have polluted us, degraded us, and watched us die, physically and spiritually.

 

But while the devil is evil, he isn’t dumb.  Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, the Bible tells us (2 Cor. 11: 14).  He doesn’t tell us that he wants to pollute us and murder us.  He convinces us that he is not the devil at all.  He convinces people that he is their best friend and God’s word is not to be trusted, that it will harm them.

 

Most of us can smell the reek of moral rot around us.  But it’s hard to smell yourself.  The smell of death is on us too, because we too are “by nature sinful and unclean.”  In the epistle, Paul said Be imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:1).

 

To God, all sin stinks.  Even the slightest putrid whiff He cannot tolerate in His nostrils.  But sexual immorality and all impurity and covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.  Let there be no foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 

 

The demon who possessed the man in the Gospel reading took away the man’s speech.  Even to allow a useless word to pass our lips is a misuse of the power of speech.  God gave us the power of speech to speak what is true to His glory.  Even to speak idle, foolish words is a degradation for us who were created in the image of God.  It is decay and corruption.  It also is the work of the lord of the flies, along with impure thoughts and covetousness, anything less than the love that made Jesus a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God for us..

 

We think we can live with the foul odor that is in us, because it’s less (we think) than what we smell in others.  But we really can’t.  Meat that is only partly rotten right now is meat that will be completely rotten.  For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.  James 2:10

 

Jesus came to destroy the work of the devil—not to destroy the things he does that we think are really terrible, and leave the rest of it.  We live under His grace while we are not perfect, but He does not intend to let us remain imperfect.  If we have no interest in becoming perfectly holy, we have no interest in Jesus.  We are not yet done with worshipping the lord of the flies.

 

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (Luke 11: 23).  You cannot be with Jesus unless you are an enemy not only of the uncleanness outside of you, but all of it within you.

 

But hating the uncleanness in us is not the same as being clean.  The more intensely we pursue life and holiness, cleanness and honor, the more death and decay seems to arise in us.  We find that our hearts are not united.  Satan’s kingdom is.  Satan doesn’t drive out Satan.  But in us there appear to be two wills opposed to one another.  We sometimes wonder if we are sincere in what we say: I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them.  I renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways.  And if we are not sincere, how can we make ourselves?  Job asked, Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?  (Job 14:4)  We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  (Is. 64:6) 

 

There is another one who is not divided against Himself.  Jesus has one purpose.  The devil’s purpose is to dehumanize and bring death.  Jesus’ purpose is to restore and make people whole.  To make us alive; to make us holy as God is holy, perfect as His heavenly Father is perfect.  So that we are clean, in perfect health, sound, morally, mentally, spiritually whole.

 

 

Since Satan will not let anyone he controls go, he has to be beaten in combat.  And then, Jesus says, his armor has to be taken away, so that he can’t try to oppress people again and take back what he lost.

 

The devil’s armor is the fear of death.  We fear death because it is the sentence for sin.  Because of our sin we face God’s condemnation.  This is Satan’s armor that he uses to keep human beings in slavery.  Nobody can take this armor away from him unless they can take away our debt of sin.

 

So take to heart the good news that Jesus preaches in this Gospel.  You have heard it before, but hear it again, and keep it in your heart.

 

The demons obey Jesus because He is the Lord.  But He is also one of us.  He shares our flesh and blood.  But unlike us the devil has nothing to blackmail Jesus with.  There is no uncleanness, no decay or corruption in Him.  He was conceived in holiness.  He did no sin.  It couldn’t even be named of Him.  He had no unclean words, no unclean thoughts, no hatred, lust, no fear, love, or trust of anyone before God.

 

In this pure flesh Jesus overcame Satan and disarmed him.  He took the decay of your sinful nature, your broken and corrupted body, mind, and soul, into His own body.  The record of your debt of sin was inscribed on His body.  And it was torn up and put away.

 

Surely, our sicknesses He hath borne, and our pains, He hath carried them…And He is pierced for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace is on Him, and by His bruise there is healing to us.  (Is. 53:4-5, YLT)

 

This is a strange sort of victory.  But the laceration of Jesus’ body, the anguish of His soul, and His death were His victory over Satan, where he tore away the devil’s armor and weapons.  When He was bound to the cross with nails and bound up in the grave clothes and laid in the tomb, He bound Satan.  He took away Satan’s blackmail against us, because He was condemned for us.  And His death is the healing of the uncleanness of our flesh.  Our gangrene was cured in His wounds and death.  And the cure is now at work in us who believe.  We are like people with an infection who have just begun taking an antibiotic.  He destroyed sin in His body.  As we eat His body and drink His blood by faith, His cure of sin begins to cure our flesh of its corruption.  We are not yet fully cured in ourselves, but the medicine we receive ensures that we will be.

 

So by faith we laugh at the devil when he tries to keep us in slavery, in filth, with the flies buzzing around us. There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (Rom. 8:1)

 

This is why Jesus says, Blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.  Blessed are those who go on hearing this word of the Gospel, and who keep it when the devil knocks on the door.  The

word of Jesus’ death is your armor.  When he tempts with false appearances and the promise of life and freedom in sin, the death of Jesus is our armor, showing us what sin really is.  It is death.  It shows us who Jesus really is.  He is the one who loved us and gave Himself as a fragrant sacrifice to God to cover the stench of our sins and make us pleasing.

 

When the devil reminds you of your sins and uncleanness and tempts you to believe that you are not really Christ’s, Jesus’ passion is your armor.  You keep the word of God.  You say, “I am Christ’s not because I have no sicknesses, but because Jesus carried my sickness on the cross and healed it by his wounds, even the sickness still in me.”

 

This is what makes a saint—not doing great things, like Mary, who bore Jesus in her womb and nursed Him.  But hearing the word of God and keeping it.  Hearing that Jesus made us clean with His suffering and crucifixion, believing it.  Not resting our faith on the healing we see in us, but on the healing that God accomplished for us in Jesus’ wounds and blood.

 

This is why you must keep hearing this word, why you must keep eating this bread and drinking this cup, why you must keep being absolved by the minister as by God Himself.  This is how Jesus makes you whole and clean.  This is what keeps the flies away.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Died and Was Buried. Good Friday Tenebrae 2017. Psalm 88, John 19:38-42

deposition raphaelGood Friday Tenebrae (7 pm)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Psalm 88:8-14 (John 19:38-42)

April 14, 2017

“Died and was Buried”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them.

I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow.

Every day I call upon you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you.

Do you work wonders for the dead?  Do the departed rise up to praise you?

Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?

Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of

forgetfulness?

 

But I, O Lord, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.

O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?  Why do you hide your face from me?

(Ps. 88:8-14)

 

Around this time on that Friday almost two thousand years ago, Jesus was buried.  Imagine.  Someone had to climb up on the ladder and remove the nails from Jesus’ hands or wrists.  As that man did so, He would have had to look into Jesus’ face.  It would have been covered with blood from His wounds, covered with bruises.

 

After the nails were removed, Nicodemus and Joseph would have carried Jesus.  Maybe they washed His body before they wrapped it in the linen sheet with the seventy-five pounds spices, myrrh and aloes.

 

They buried Jesus quickly and rolled a large stone in front of the door to the tomb.

 

And just like at our funerals, it seemed like it was all over.  All that was left was loss.

 

We know that death is the way of this world.  That doesn’t help it become easier when your mother dies, when your child dies.  It doesn’t help that everyone dies when you are lying in the ICU in pain, dying, or sitting in the nursing home, wondering when death will come.  If you have been sick and in pain for a long time, you may accept death simply because life has been too painful.  But otherwise, we don’t want to die.  We think of what else we wanted to do in this world.

 

When death comes we feel attacked, blindsided.  We are right about being attacked, at least partly.  Death doesn’t just happen, the way rust happens.  Death comes from God.  It is—judgment.

 

Many of the readings and Psalms tonight express this thought of being attacked by God.  King Hezekiah, suddenly dying, says of God, Like a lion He breaks all my bones; from day to night you bring me to an end (Is. 38:13).  Jeremiah mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem, which has happened because God is punishing them for rejecting Him as their God.  God is using the foreign enemies as His rod.  Our pursuers are at our necks, says Jeremiah; we are weary and given no rest (v. 5).    And the Psalm I quoted, Psalm 88, which we will sing in a moment, says, O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?  Why do you hide your face from me? (Ps. 88:14)

 

Those words remind us that the subject of the Scriptures, both old and New, is Jesus Christ.  In them we can hear the echo of Jesus’ fourth word from the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?

 

Jeremiah’s people were forsaken by God because of their unfaithfulness; they were cast away because they cast God away.  And the same thing could be said of everyone whom God casts away, everyone He attacks, everyone He slays.  Hezekiah was one of the good kings, and there weren’t many.  The writer of Psalm 88 was Heman the Ezrahite, who was a grandson of Samuel the prophet, and was a prophet himself.  Yet Hezekiah was a sinner; so was Heman the prophet, and so was Samuel, his father.  Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you, says another Psalmist to God (143:2).

 

Yet God does enter into judgment with us, or so it seems.  He casts us down and puts our mouths in the dust.  We are struck with illness and the sentence of death.  Our congregation becomes like Jeremiah’s Jerusalem: How the gold has grown dim, how the pure gold is changed!  The holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street…the tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst (Lam. 4:1, 4)…Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace!  Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners (Lam. 5:1-2).  The families that once were members of this congregation are now the parishioners of congregations where the body and blood of Christ is not confessed, churches where infants are not baptized, or members of no churches at all.  And those that are left no longer grow up in the house of God or are taught the Word.  The day is drawing near, it appears, when there will no longer be Good Friday services here in this Church.

 

When we think about this, how do we not feel that God is striking us, attacking us because He is displeased with us?  And like Hezekiah, Heman, or Jerusalem, are we righteous before Him that He should not judge us?

 

Let God be true and every man a liar, as St. Paul says.  Or with the thief on the cross, let us say: We are getting the due reward of our deeds.

 

Then let us look away from our suffering, like the thief did, to Jesus.  This man has done nothing wrong.  There was no deceit in His mouth.  He never displeased His Father.  He never spoke lies.  He is the man Psalm 24 speaks about:

 

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  And who shall stand in His holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up His soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully.  He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of His salvation.  (Ps 24:3-5)

 

Jesus’ hands are clean and so are His lips.  His heart is pure.  Even crucified, in great agony, as He is attacked by the Father and His soul is cast away, He says, “My God!”  He trusts God not to forsake Him.  He commits His soul, dying, into His Father’s hands.

 

Jesus is forsaken by God, attacked in His wrath, humiliated before His foes, brought about before bloodied, spit upon, dressed like a king.  The Father gives Him into their hands, and allows them to have their way with Him, to crucify Him, to make Him die on a tree, of which the Law says, Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.  He does not intervene to save His Son from receiving a portion with all sinners in death.

 

We come around again to Joseph and Nicodemus burying Jesus, and sealing the tomb.

 

You know why Jesus is ambushed and attacked by God.  It is for you, to win God’s favor and grace for you.  Even while God casts Him away like an unclean thing, Jesus goes on trusting His Father.  He breathes out His soul in death and His last words are “Into your hands I commit my Spirit.”  How thoroughly He trusts His Father with all that He is, even when His Father seems to hate Him, seems to not know Him!  Makes Him suffer!

 

How pleased the Father is with His Son’s trust and obedience!  How much He loves it!

 

He loves it so much that He is pleased with you and all who believe in His Son, believes that through His Son’s obedience He will be gracious to them!

 

We deserve suffering and death because of our sins.  But God doesn’t give it to us because He hates us in His wrath and we are getting what we deserve.  The Father no longer recognizes the sins of anyone who believes in Jesus Christ.  The Father is not stupid or kidding Himself.  He knows our sins, but He also knows the ransom His Son paid to release us from God’s wrath against our sins.  He will not lie or go back on His Word.  It is, as the readings from Hebrews will soon say, Jesus’ last will and testament.  It can’t be altered, and God is not a liar.  He will not impute sin, count sin, to anyone who believes that Jesus has made payment for his sins.  That means you, even with your weak faith.

 

Instead, He imputes His Son’s pure heart, His perfect, unfaltering trust, His holy obedience even to death, to all who believe in Jesus. That is His unfailing promise in your baptism, and in the Holy supper of His body and blood.

 

When we die and are attacked by God (so it seems), we are not being brought into judgment, dealing with a God who is going to destroy us in His wrath and never build us up again.

 

We are dealing with a God who counts us to have clean hands and a pure heart, who says of us, He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of our salvation. 

 

We are dealing with the God who desires to build us up, to raise us again; that is why Hezekiah sang O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these is the life of my spirit…behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness, but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.

 

Today He cast our sins behind our back.  Jesus said, It is finished.

 

Psalm 88 asks: Do you work wonders for the dead?  Do the departed rise up to praise you?  Is Your steadfast love declared in the grave, or Your faithfulness in Abaddon (that is, destruction?) 

 

The answer is: yes.  For today God’s beloved Son joins us in the tomb, among the dead, making it holy, a place of rest.  When we lie down as Christians, we go with Jesus, who remains the eternal God, whose battle has ended, whose righteousness and victory will be revealed in us.

 

Amen

 

SDG

The First Battle of Jesus’ Reformation. Invocabit, The First Sunday in Lent, 2017. St. Matthew 4:1-11

 

temptation-of-christInvocabit, the First Sunday in Lent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 4:1-11

March 5, 2017

“The First Battle of Jesus’ Reformation”

Iesu Iuva

 

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

Thanksgiving for the Lord’s Discipline. Thanksgiving Day 2016. Deuteronomy 8:1-10

January 11, 2017 Leave a comment

puritanos-peregrinosThanksgiving Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Deuteronomy 8:1-10 (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

November 24, 2016

“Thanksgiving for the Lord’s Discipline”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Setting apart a day to give thanks to God has a long history in America.  The Pilgrims didn’t invent it.  The French and Spanish explorers are said to have had their own “thanksgivings” to give thanks to God for allowing them to arrive safely in the new world.  A group of English settlers in Virginia wrote a constitution for their colony in 1619 that said “that the day of our ships arrival … in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”  Both Catholics and Protestants set aside days of Thanksgiving because they recognized, or wanted people to recognize, that they didn’t get to America safely or accomplish anything here on their own.  God enabled them and allowed them.  Without His favor they would have died on the voyage, and without His favor they would not be able to succeed in anything once they arrived.  So together, as a society, they gave thanks to God, recognizing His hand in the events of their lives, and thanking Him for the good He allowed them to receive in spite of their many sins against Him.

 

We aren’t like this anymore in America.  We don’t recognize God’s hand in the things that happen to us as a nation.  And imagine the President or Congress announcing a national day of thanksgiving, or a national day of supplication and prayer, in response to some great blessing received or tragedy experienced by the nation, announcing that schools and businesses and the stock exchange would be closed so that the nation might turn to God for a day!

 

Things are not much better in the Church among Christians.  If we announced a special service of thanksgiving in response to a special blessing of God on a day that people are not accustomed to coming to church, I know very well what would happen.  Even, say, if someone wrote a check to St. Peter for several hundred thousand dollars, covering the whole cost of our roof repairs.  This is an indication that for many people worship is not the spontaneous, living response of their hearts to God’s love and gifts; for many people it is a formality, doing what they think is required and no more.  Worship is on Sunday, period.

 

But God does not stop being our God at noon on Sundays.  He doesn’t stop giving us gifts then or providing for our needs of body and soul.  Every day He lets His sun shine on the just and the wicked alike.  I believe that God has made me and all creatures, that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them [or preserves them] Luther’s Catechism teaches us to say.  And it goes on to remind us of all the gifts He gives us, day in and day out, whether we please Him or not: He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.  He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.  He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.  For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

 

Yes, as we sing in the communion liturgy each week, “It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, Holy Lord, Almighty Father, Everlasting God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  It’s only right that we should recognize that God has given us our life and existence, and that He constantly provides for our lives to be sustained, whether we do good or evil.  And recognizing this, it’s right that we should give thanks from our hearts to Him at all times.  And when He shows us special kindness as a church or as a nation, it is right that we should publicly thank Him in the Church with a special service of thanksgiving.

 

This has immediate practical importance for your lives as individuals, this issue of recognizing God’s hand in your life and thanking Him.  Because if we do not recognize God as the giver of the good things in our lives and give Him thanks—the things that we need and the people and things we love—we will not be able to recognize Him as the giver of the things that seem evil to us.  When we get sick and when we suffer in various ways, we will feel ourselves abandoned or cursed by God, because we have not learned to recognize Him and His hand in all that we experience in life.

 

Consider the reading from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy chapter 8.  You would think that the people of Israel would have no difficulty understanding that God was intimately involved with what happened to them.  He had, after all, sent ten plagues on the Egyptians to make Pharaoh let them go; led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night in the wilderness; parted the Red Sea to bring Israel through in safety and then drowned Pharaoh and his mighty army.  He had fed them with bread from heaven in the desert.  He had come down on Mt. Sinai in fire and spoke the Ten Commandments to them.  He had entered into a covenant with them there that they would be His people and He would be there God.

 

And yet they did not recognize that God was among them and leading them.  At the beginning of their exodus, right after coming through the Red Sea, they went a few days without water and began to say, “Is the Lord among us or not?”  (Ex. 17:7)  Then Moses struck a rock with his staff, and water came out for the whole congregation of 3 million.  But after 40 years in the wilderness they had still not learned to recognize God’s presence among them and how He was providing for them and teaching Him the whole way.  So Moses explains to them, not long before his death: You shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord…Know then, that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.  Deut. 8:2-3, 5

                                                                                                                                  

The Israelites did not understand the reason why they experienced the things they did, why after God gloriously led them out of Egypt, He allowed them to wander in circles in the desert for 40 years.  Maybe many of them began to think that God’s promise that He loved them and had chosen them to be His own people out of all the nations on the earth was just religious talk that doesn’t actually have any significance in real life, because they seemed like they were going nowhere, and the promised land seemed a long way away.

 

But Moses explained that no, God did have a reason for their wandering in circles.  As a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.  A man disciplines his son because he loves his son.  Kids with strict parents look at other kids whose parents let them do whatever they want and think those kids have it better.  But as adults we understand that parents who let their kids do whatever they want on the internet without paying attention, who let their kids run around as teenagers without paying attention to what they’re doing are parents who don’t love their kids very much.  Parents who love their kids allow their kids freedom when their kids have proven that they can handle the freedom without ruining themselves.  They “test” their kids “to know what is in [their] hearts.”

 

This is why God led the Israelites in circles in the desert forty years, why He humbled them so that they had to rely on God to drop bread down from heaven if they were going to eat.  He didn’t allow them much freedom at all, did He?  It was to discipline them so that they worshipped Him—that is, so that they believed in Him, so that they trusted Him, so that they learned faith in Him.  Then when they entered the promised land and suddenly had houses that other people built, and rich farmland that other people cultivated, they would not turn away from Him and think they had gotten all this for themselves, or worship the idols of the people who lived there before them.  They would remember the Lord who brought them out of slavery and give Him thanks for the good land that He had given them.

 

Another amazing thing is hidden in that sentence: Know then in your heart, that, as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.  It’s easy to focus on the word “discipline” and think of a dad in the old days taking his son behind the woodshed with a switch or something.  But that is not the key word: the key word is “son.”  I don’t think anywhere before the exodus of the people of Israel did God call any human being his “son,” not even Abraham or Noah or Enoch, who walked with God.  But here Moses tells the people of Israel that God has been treating them like His Son.  A man disciplines his son not only because he loves him but because the son is going to inherit everything that belongs to his father, and he needs to learn to be wise so that he will be capable of managing his inheritance instead of destroying it and himself.  God is dealing with Israel, rebellious Israel, idol-worshipping Israel, as His own son, whom he is preparing to inherit everything that is His.

 

This would have little meaning for us as Gentiles, as non-Israelites.  Our ancestors worshipped idols, and God did not discipline them and deal with them as His sons.  But long ago someone came to them and taught them about Jesus and proclaimed Him as the Son of God.  And our believing ancestors taught their children about Him until it came down to us.

 

We learned that Jesus, the Son of God from eternity, through whom God the Father created and preserves the world, became the son of Adam, one of us.  He lived among us so that we might see in Him the exact image of God the Father.  And being our brother, He died for our sins, was raised from the dead, and ascended with our human nature to the throne of God.  Through His suffering the wrath of God for our sins, He caused human beings to be adopted by God as sons; and He received the inheritance of eternal glory in human flesh as a pledge of what is to come for all who believe in Him.

 

Because of Him, you have a certain pledge from God about what His heart is toward you and what He is doing in the events of your life.

 

They are not random, meaningless events, like the Israelites were tempted to think.  God is dealing with you as sons.  He is dealing with you like a father who loves his son and who wants to prepare him to inherit all that is his.

 

A father loves his son, so he provides for him; he gives him food, shelter, clothes, and defends him from danger.  At the same time, because he loves his son, he also tests him and disciplines him.  He humbles him so that he learns to be faithful and obedient when he is not entrusted with much freedom.  He schools him so that when he grows to be a man and inherits his father’s house, he will not squander it and ruin himself.

 

Many of you are dealing with personal suffering that is hard to see as God’s love.  You are sick or have constant pain.  It may be that the doctor has told you you have a limited amount of time left on earth.  Others are suffering from seeing their children or relatives in conflict or unforgiveness, or having abandoned God.

 

We grieve over what our nation has become, many of us, since many of our people have forgotten right and wrong, forgotten what is decent and good.  Most have also forgotten God and seem to be past repentance.

 

And then for many of us there is the grief at the state of the church—especially our own congregation, but also the Christian church more generally in our country….

 

 

How can we give thanks?

 

God has not stopped being kind, gracious, and merciful.  See how freely Jesus heals the lepers of their diseases, even though 9 out of 10 are unthankful.  He continues to provide us with wealth, peace, safety.

 

But when we suffer He is dealing with us as sons.  See how His only begotten Son was chastened with the lash for your sins, how He hung on the cross, suspended by nails in His hands and feet, crowned with a curse, abandoned by God.  Did the Father love Jesus?  He did.  Yet Jesus, though He was a son, was made perfect through suffering.

 

God is dealing with you as sons, preparing you to inherit glory with Jesus.

 

Do not lose heart.  Go against your heart and praise Him “at all times and in all places.”  Recognize His love not only in your daily bread, in the turkey on the table and the family gathered around it, but also in your afflictions.

 

Amen.

 

SDG

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