Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Sermons’

Ad Te Levavi, the First Sunday in Advent 2019. Join the Triumph of Our King.

December 2, 2019 Leave a comment

jesus triumphal processionAd Te Levavi—The First Sunday of Advent

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 21:1-9

December 1, 2019

Join the Triumph of our King

 

Jesu juva!

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 

God the Father was His source

Back to God He ran His course

Into hell His road went down

Back then to His throne and crown.

 

For You are the Father’s Son

Who in flesh the victory won;

By Your mighty power make whole

All our ills of flesh and soul  (LSB 332 st. 5-6).

 

In the town I grew up in the Lutheran Church of our synod worshipped in a building not much bigger than this one.  I hope no one from that church would be offended by my saying that it was not the most beautiful building in Christendom.  It was functional.  But I distinctly remember, despite its plain appearance, Palm Sunday in that church, when all the children would process to the altar with palm leaves in their hands.  I understood intuitively then what I later learned formally in seminary as I paraded into church with the other children in clip-on ties and barrettes: that Jesus Christ was there in that Divine Service, just as really as when He sat on the back of the donkey and rode into Jerusalem among the crowds who scattered cloaks and branches on the road before Him.  In flesh and blood, though invisibly, our King comes to us in this church too, 2000 miles from the church I grew up in, 2,000 years after the first Palm Sunday.

 

Our King comes to bring you with Him in His triumphal procession.

1.

Even though I sensed that Jesus was present in the Divine Service on Palm Sunday decades ago—at least that’s how I remember it—more often I am not really fully awake to the coming of our King.  I am half-asleep when Jesus comes, more often than I want to admit, both in the Divine Service and outside of it.  And it is the same with you.

 

Hasn’t that been the case with you too, in your life?  Jesus came to you.   He came to you as your King, but you didn’t recognize Him.  You weren’t prepared to fall down before Him and honor Him.  Perhaps you were a young child or a teenager in church and Jesus came to you and was warning you to watch and pray lest you enter into temptation.  But you did not heed Him.  When temptation came, you fell into sin.

 

Or perhaps you committed no great sin, but year after year you were complacent.  You did not serve your King with your whole heart.  You brought little or no fruit to maturity, because the cares and worries and pleasures of this life occupied you and not Christ Jesus the King.

 

But see what kind of King visits us.  He does not ride a war horse or a chariot; He doesn’t bring a sword or a gun.  But His knowledge and His might subtly make themselves known like a concealed weapon.  He directs two disciples: “Go over into the next town and you will find a donkey tied up with its colt.  Untie them and bring them here.  If anyone says anything, just tell him, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and right away he will let you take them.”

 

Normally we call borrowing someone’s donkey without asking “stealing.”  But it is not stealing when everything on earth is yours, when not only the donkey and her colt but also the man who owns them are yours.  Jesus is Lord by right over the donkey and its owner because He is God their Creator.  And He proves that by His knowledge.  Who but God would know what animal is tied up in the next town and what the owner will say when His disciples arrive to take it?

 

That is who the King who comes to us is.  He is all-knowing and all-powerful, even though He does not make a display of His knowledge or His power.  And everything belongs to our King.  All of you.  All of your thoughts, all your time, all your money, all your property, everything He has given you belongs to Him and should be put to His service. And He knows and sees everything.

 

So He knows how you have used your body and mind, time and possessions.  Sometimes you have simply served the devil with them in a way that was obvious to you and filled you with shame.  More often you simply behaved as if your time, life, body, possessions were yours alone, and you did not think of Him when you used them.

 

And He is coming.  This is why Paul calls out in the epistle: Now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we [first] believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light. (Rom. 13:11-14).

 

Salvation is nearer than when you first believed in Jesus because the day of His return to judge is nearer than it was when you were baptized.  Then, His knowledge from which nothing in creation can hide, will be unveiled.  Then also His omnipotent power will be visible, to the terror of those who rejected Him as King.

 

2.

But He is coming now as well, not only in unveiled knowledge and might on the last day.  When He comes now, it is not in terror, but as He appeared on Palm Sunday, and also as He appeared on the first Christmas.

 

Matthew quotes the old prophecy from Zechariah chapter 9: Say to the daughter of Zion: Behold, your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey; on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.  (Matt 21:5)

 

He says, Look at how this mighty King comes.  He knows everything.  He has all power in His hand.  Everything belongs to Him.  He sees our disobedience, our self-serving, our rebellion against Him—all the things we hide in the closets of our conscience so that even we ourselves forget about them—for awhile.

 

He does not come to excuse our sins, as though we really are justified in having served ourselves instead of Him.  But He does not come as an enemy to take vengeance.  He comes humble, gentle.  He rides a yoke animal, the lowly beast they tied to a cart to drag loads too heavy for men to carry, the animal they bound to a mill to turn the giant stone that grinds grain.  You can’t dig your spurs into a donkey and charge your enemies.  You go slowly on a donkey, because you are not riding a military animal, but an animal meant to labor and carry burdens.

 

That is how Your King comes.  All His knowledge, all His strength are bound to your service.  Jesus rode the donkey, and her colt came with.  But that was not how it was with Him.  He was separated from His mother to carry the immeasurably heavy burden of your sin.  You have lived as if everyone should serve you, as if you were king.  Jesus came to carry the burden of your guilt with his great strength.  He carried it like the lowly beast of burden that carried him when he carried the cross out of the city gates and was crucified.  And there on the cross He carried the guilt, shame, and wrath of God that was yours into the grave and death.  Away from God’s sight and away from you forever.

 

He came to serve you.  This is how your King still comes to you.  There is no doubt about His power and majesty and glory.  He is the living God.  But He comes in gentleness to bear the burden of your sin, and to serve you so that you are healed of it.  He will come as a terrible judge to His foes, but His gentleness toward troubled sinners is as great as His might.

 

He comes to be your King, to take you captive, that is true.  He wants all of you, and He keeps coming to you until you are all His and He is all yours.  But He doesn’t abandon you when you fall or even when you are an unripe fig tree for years and years.  He comes gentle, meek, on a beast of burden, to help you.

 

Now His lowly donkey is the preacher.  You could look at the pastor’s vestments that way.  They are like the cloaks the apostles put on the donkey before Jesus sat on it.  When the pastor preaches and teaches the teaching of the apostles, he is Jesus’ donkey with the apostles’ cloaks covering him.  Then Jesus comes to you through the pastor—lowly, humble, gentle, to serve you, to take your sins away, and bring you with Him in his triumphal procession.  When the pastor baptizes and absolves you and feeds you Jesus’ supper the way He said to do it, according to His direction, then Jesus the King leads you out of the nations among which you have been scattered into His Kingdom.  Then the King leads you into His chambers, brings you into His banqueting house, and His banner over you is love (Song of Solomon 1:4, 2:4).

 

Just as they laid the branches in the road before Jesus, so this righteous branch appeared not as a glorious King but as a little branch trampled down in the dust.  Yet this is where His might accomplished wonderful things.  Driven into the dust by those who hated Him, He tore the whole human race out of the power of the grave and the curse of Adam—you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  His gentleness and meekness made us great, as His ancestor David wrote in the eighteenth Psalm (Ps. 18:35).  This little branch with no splendor or beauty became our righteousness in His death, and in His resurrection opened for us a Kingdom with no end.

 

3.

 

He comes to us and calls us to awake and receive Him, to cast away the works of darkness, because the day is almost here.  To receive our King who comes to serve us.  To let His Word expose the darkness in us and then proclaim to us the light of His righteousness for us.  He calls us to join Him in His triumphal procession.

 

And already, at least in our word and singing, we do that in every Divine Service.  We sing: Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!

 

The words of the Divine Service tell us “The King is coming; Jesus is coming, just like on Palm Sunday—to us!”  They proclaim this just before we eat the bread that is His Body and drink the wine that is His blood.  There He gives us His righteousness and the forgiveness of our sins.

 

And in heaven, in the highest place, the angels and victorious saints echo our hosannas.  They join in our praise of the King who is coming to save us.

 

These are not idle words.  The angels shouted Hosanna with the crowds as Jesus entered Jerusalem to die.  They do so now when Jesus comes here to give us the body and blood He gave for us in Jerusalem long ago.  They rejoiced then and they rejoice now as they see the King come to us in salvation.

 

And yet His Kingdom didn’t come in a way that made sense to the people in Jerusalem.  The crowds expected paradise to begin that day or soon after.  Here we have high hopes too for what Christ will do among us now that, after years of vacancy, God has sent you a pastor.

 

But Jesus does not bring His kingdom in a way that is comfortable or sensible to human wisdom.  He brought it through His death on the cross in Jerusalem.  He brings it to us through the strange means of bread, wine, water, and preaching.  And as He comes in this way He no doubt will work in us and lead us in ways we cannot understand.

 

But as Advent returns our King does not tell us we need to understand what He is going to do.  He calls us to recognize Him as He comes in His Word and Sacraments and to join Him in His kingly procession.  Follow Him with hosannas to this altar.  Ask Him to visit you with His Spirit this Advent and show you where He would have you serve Him.  Go with Him to your brothers in the church and those who are apart from our king, and serve them with Him.

 

How blest the land, the city blest

Where Christ the ruler is confessed!

Oh peaceful hearts and happy homes

To whom this King in Triumph comes!

The cloudless sun of joy is He

Who comes to set His people free.

To Christ the Savior raise

Your happy shouts of praise!  (LSB 340 st. 3)

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Best Thing You Never Did. Last Sunday of the Church Year 2019.

November 24, 2019 Leave a comment

jesus crucifixion criminalsLast Sunday of the Church Year

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Luke 23:27-43

November 24, 2019

The Best Thing You Never Did

Jesu Juva!

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Zion hears the watchmen singing, And all her heart with joy is springing,

She wakes, she rises from her gloom.

For her Lord comes down all glorious, The strong in grace, in truth victorious,

Her star is ris’n, her light is come.  (LSB 516 stanza 2)

 

Imagine watchmen singing?  You would expect a soldier to cry out with a hoarse and ragged voice; but Zion’s watchmen sing, according to the old Lutheran hymnwriter.  The watchmen of Zion, God’s city, sing out when her king approaches, because Zion is a city of song and of joy, and especially so when her king appears.  Then the city of God’s heart leaps for joy.

 

The season of the church year that is coming next Sunday—you could say it is the “dress-rehearsal” season for the coming of Jesus.  Advent is like a “preparedness drill”, like the military or first responders might do.  We prepare to enter into the joy of our Lord’s first appearing in the world as a baby in the manger; we also prepare for His coming in glory as King and judge.

 

And today, the last Sunday of the church year, is also a day for remembering the Lord’s coming in glory to “judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”

 

Yet the Gospel reading for this Sunday does not show our King appearing in royal splendor or dressed in the authority of a judge.  Instead He appears in shame, weakness, and humiliation.

 

In our country judges wear black robes that signify the gravity of their office and the authority to apply the power God has given the state to punish the guilty.  In Europe the judges even wear white wigs and ruff collars, the clothing of centuries past, to show that they are representing traditions of law in that country that go back beyond our great-grandfathers.

 

But Jesus has no garb, no splendor to mark Him as a judge or King, as one who bears an office.  He has no clothing at all.  He is naked.  And after they strip Him and nail Him to the cross and lift Him up naked, they cast lots for His clothes.

 

It’s hard to picture our Jesus in such indignity.  Most of us have called Him Lord and God since we were children.  And rightly so; in the Epistle reading St. Paul writes that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created….And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together…For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  (Col. 1:15-19)

 

But the One in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell is now emptied of glory, stripped of dignity; naked, pierced through hands and feet, hung up to die on a tree between two wicked men.

 

Yet you can see that, despite His humiliation, Jesus continues to speak like a man with authority, like a man in a position of power.  As He is being led away to the place called Skull he tells the women who follow Him, wailing over Him, to wail over themselves and their children instead.  When they crucify Him, He prays to His Father to forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).  Even though He is nailed to the accursed cross, He prays as the One who has God’s ear.  And then He promises paradise to one of the men hanging on the cross next to Him.  Though Jesus is stripped naked, nailed to a cross, lacking every visible sign of authority and God’s favor, He behaves as the judge of the world—even on the cross.

 

He behaves that way because that is who He is, even hanging on the cross.  On the cross itself He judges the world, condemning it as He is crucified, and also pardoning it.

 

And because Jesus has already condemned and pardoned the world on the cross, repentant sinners who believe in Jesus can and should greet the day of His return and rejoice as the watchmen sing out His nearness.

 

Jesus condemns the world from the cross.  It isn’t that Jesus pronounces condemnation on the world from the cross.  Pay careful attention to the fact that even while He hangs bleeding and accursed, He gives a guilty man paradise.  Even as they are driving nails into His hands Jesus prays for the forgiveness of His tormenters to His Father.  Note this.  Jesus does not want to condemn the world.  Jesus does not want to doom the sinners of the world to hell.  He wants to save us all.  Even the ones who hammer nails into His hands.  Even the leaders who falsely accuse Him and hand Him over to be put to death.

 

But Jesus’ presence draws out of the world its own condemnation.

 

The world hates God.  Human beings hate God by nature.  We hate God because He interferes with us doing as we wish.  He not only makes us feel guilty for cursing, for getting drunk, for lusting, for seeking revenge, for coveting—He condemns us to die.

 

So we run from God.  We run so far we forgot we ran from Him.  Then we complain that He seems so far away.

 

But what if God came near to us?  What if He came near to us and made Himself like us so that He wouldn’t overwhelm us, terrify or destroy us?  What if He made Himself weak enough that we could harm Him?  What would we do then?  Would we come back to Him?

 

Jesus told a parable about this right before He was arrested to the priests; in His parable there was a vineyard hired out to renters, and the renters saw the son of the owner coming to collect some of the wine of the vineyard.  What do they do?  They say, “Look, this is the heir.  Let’s kill him and the vineyard will be ours.”

 

And that’s what the human race did when God came near to us, in peace, to reconcile us, to bring us back.  We killed Him.  Yes, it was the Roman soldiers who beat Him and drove in the nails and the spear; yes it was Pontius Pilate who gave the order.  And it was the leaders of the Jews who handed Him over to Pilate with false accusations.  But they were only doing what you have done every time you knew God’s will and did what was contrary to it.  And every time too that you sinned in ignorance.  You wished there was no God who commanded you to obey your parents, to pray and learn His Word, or not to hate, or to be chaste, or to not speak evil of your neighbor.

 

People have been doing that ever since Adam and Eve first hid from God.  But at the cross of Jesus, human beings did the worst thing they ever did.

 

People have done lots of horrible things in the thousands of years we have been on earth.  There have been genocides.  There have been oppressions, powerful and rich holding down the weak and the poor.  And there have been the countless personal sins that haunt our lives—the lazy man who doesn’t support his family, the husband who abuses wife and children, those who cheat at business, those who lie their whole lives.

 

But the worst thing human beings ever did was humiliate and put to death God’s Son when He came to save them.  God gave His dearest treasure and mankind killed Him.  This is why Jesus prayed for us as He was being nailed to the wood.  This is God’s beloved Son, in whom He is well-pleased.  As the crucified criminal said, He has done nothing wrong.  Neither toward His Father, nor toward His brothers in flesh and blood.  He came for one purpose only—to help us and reconcile us to God.

 

Of course you will say, correctly—It was God’s will that He die for our sin.  It was written before it happened.  And that is true.  But that doesn’t make it a good work on our part.  It is the greatest act of wickedness on the part of the human race, to treat shamefully and kill God’s Son.  Our guilt is exposed in Jesus’ naked, crucified body.  His shame is really our shame.  If there was anything good in the human race, would we have nailed the firstborn of all creation to a cross?

 

But we could not avoid it.  His presence exposes our sin.  Either He must die, or we must.

 

Son on the cross we see the condemnation of mankind and each of us exposed already—that we killed the Son of God.  And you have your share in this too, because by your thoughts words, and deeds, you have rebelled against this King.

 

That is the worst thing human beings ever did.  It is the worst thing you ever did.

 

 

2.

 

But Jesus the King also accomplishes another judgment on the cross.  He justifies the ungodly (Romans 4).  Or as St. Paul wrote in Colossians, He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into His Kingdom.  (Col. 1:13-14).  He gave us His Kingdom.

 

This, again, is difficult.  A man naked on a cross, stripped of everything, bestows on us a Kingdom.  A man condemned to a cursed death between two criminals lifts us up to Paradise.

 

But what is more difficult still is that we killed this King sent to save us.  This is the worst thing we have ever done, the crowning evil atop the heap of human evil.  How can He now call us righteous and give us a Kingdom?

 

3 successive people or groups of people mock Jesus’ claim to be the anointed one, the King.  The first are the rulers, who say, “If He is the Christ, let Him save Himself like He saved others.”  The second group is the soldiers, who offer Jesus sour wine to drink and say, “If you are really the King of the Jews we have heard about, if you are the One who will rule all nations, even Rome, save yourself from this cross.”  Both of these groups don’t ask Jesus to save them: they ask Him to save Himself, and prove that He is Christ.  Because obviously a King who is going to defend and deliver others first has to be able to save Himself, right?

 

Finally one of the other hanged men rails at Him: “Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!”  He seems to think Jesus has the ability to come down from the cross, and he is angry at Jesus for not saving himself (and the criminals as well).

 

But the last criminal doesn’t talk like this.  He says, “We are getting what we have deserved for our deeds.  But this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he turns to Jesus and asks for a gift: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

 

The last criminal rightly recognizes that his deeds brought him to the cross.  His own works brought him to die shamefully, painfully, and under a curse.

 

Our works brought the Christ, the chosen one of God, to be crucified.  Our works crucified God’s beloved, the One who came to rescue us.  There is no refuge for us in our works.

 

Bu this man asks Jesus to remember Him when He comes to His Kingdom, and Jesus says: Yes, today.

 

Because He didn’t come to save Himself; He came to give Himself.  He freely bestows His Kingdom on those who believe in Him.  Not on those who have treated Him well, because none have.  But on those who believe in Him.  Though Jesus is dying in humiliation, naked, He has a Kingdom He is about to enter.

 

He enters it as He emerges from the tomb, not only the firstborn of creation, but firstborn from the dead.  He is the firstborn of those who die because of sin and are raised by God with sin and death underfoot.  He is the firstborn of those made new, entering paradise.

 

That is Jesus Kingdom.  He came to give it to us.  And even though our wickedness was so total it drove us to put Him to death, it was not great enough to prevent His Kingdom from coming.

 

Now He freely promises it to you as He did the criminal hanged with Him.  Look at that man hanging next to Jesus, you who are troubled by sin, and realize—there was never an unlikelier candidate for paradise.  But Jesus said, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

 

He made you the same promise—when He baptized you, and when He absolved you this morning and in that absolution put you back in your baptism.  “I forgive you all your sins…”  That was the sound of the stone rolling away.

 

That is why when the watchmen sing to you that He is near, you should know that the joy is meant for you, the burdened one, the dying one getting what your deeds deserve.  Yes, but now you are going to receive the reward of the best thing you never did, the thing Jesus made of your worst.  He is not coming to destroy you on the last day.  He is coming to give you a kingdom.  Not even your worst could stop Him.  When He comes He will simply announce in glory what has already been accomplished in His weakness on the cross.  “The Kingdom is yours.  I am for you.”

 

That is what He now says hidden under the bread and wine, giving you His body to eat, His blood to drink.  “I am for you.  Take and eat.”  And at the altar, today we are with Him in paradise.

 

Now come, Thou Blessed One,

Lord Jesus, God’s own Son,

Hail, Hosanna!

We enter all

The wedding hall

To eat the supper at Thy call.  (LSB 516 st. 2)

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

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

The Fire of the Day of the Lord. Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year 2019.

November 19, 2019 Leave a comment

Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Malachi 4:1-6

November 17, 2019

The Fire of the Day of the Lord

Jesu Juva!

 

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

 

The day is surely drawing near when Jesus, God’s anointed

In all His power shall appear as judge whom God appointed.

Then fright shall banish idle mirth,

And flames on flames shall ravage earth

As Scripture long has warned us.  LSB 508 stanza 1

 

Our God is a consuming fire, says the Scripture.  And the day of His return in judgment is a day of fire.  The prophet Malachi says it is a day burning like an oven, and all the arrogant will be stubble.  But for those who fear the name of the Lord the same fire heals.  For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings (Mal. 4:2). 

 

The same day and the fire will set some people ablaze and bring healing to others.

 

It is difficult to imagine “flames on flames” ravaging earth and the world as we see it coming to an end.  But two years ago there was a total solar eclipse.  I don’t remember it being that impressive where we were living at the time, but I gather from the internet that the eclipse was pretty intense here.  That was nature proclaiming the coming end of this creation, giving a preview of when the sun will be blotted out, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall and the sky rolled up like a scroll.  Nature proclaims this every year.  The days get shorter and shorter, darkness comes sooner and sooner.  The trees give up their leaves.  Every year ends, just as every human life composed of many years has its end, and so nature bears witness that this creation also has its allotted number of days.

 

And the world understands this on a gut level.  That is why the world is full of fear about various calamities that may end life on earth.  Climate change is one.  Not that many years ago we feared nuclear annihilation.  What the world doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to know, is that when the world ends, it will end at the hand of the Crucified.  The One who was rejected by His creation will return and bring an end to His Creation by judgment.  God the Father has appointed a day on which this will happen.

 

And the prophet Malachi described this day four centuries before Jesus was born.  For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.  The day that is coming will set them ablaze, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch (Mal. 4:1). 

 

If we lived a hundred years ago and wanted to bake a loaf of bread, we wouldn’t turn on a gas oven.  We would build a fire.  And besides sticks we might well throw in “stubble”—leftover bits of hay, grain, cornstalks.

 

When I was young, my dad would build a fire in the fireplace, but I didn’t know how to do it.  What I liked to do was throw pieces of paper, dry leaves, and Kleenexes into the fire.  And this “stubble” would quickly ignite and go up in a big flame.  All that would be left would be little black ashes floating up the chimney.

 

The day of the Lord will be like that.  The stubble, the paper thrown in the flame, will be the arrogant and all evildoers.  They will go up in the flame of God’s judgment and be utterly consumed—except that their burning will never be finished.  The prophet says—they will be ashes under the soles of your feet.  They will be like hay stubble tossed in a fire.  The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.  They will have nothing left.  The name, the wealth, the beauty, the glory they had here—their branches—will be consumed and gone.  So will their root—that which they grow from—their body and soul, to which everything else in life is added.  When this fire burns them nothing will be left to grow back again.  They will endure an everlasting destruction.

 

John the Baptist echoed Malachi’s prophecy when he preached to those he baptized about the One who would come after him: He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.  (Matt. 3:11-12)  And before either Malachi or John, God had foretold this judgment of the unrighteous through David in the first Psalm: The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous (Ps. 1:4-6) 

 

How many times have you been jealous of people who seemed to be great and important, beautiful and wealthy in this world?  Yet the Lord says that those who are merely rich, merely powerful, merely beautiful and popular, but do not fear Him, will be like stubble in the fire.  They will not stand in His judgment.  Every good thing they have and boast in will be consumed in a moment.

 

But what about you?  Malachi says that those who fear the Lord’s name will experience something different.  But he says, the arrogant and evildoers will be stubble.  David says the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the church of the righteous. 

 

We would like to believe that we have done well enough to escape the fire with which the Lord will cleanse the earth, which will burn the chaff without quenching.  We would like to believe that there is at least something good in me that will cause God to spare me, the way He spared Noah in the flood of His wrath.  After all, at least we listen to God’s Word.  At least we confess our sins and are not proud and arrogant.

 

But no, that is not enough to save us.  If we actually listen to God’s Word and believe it, that didn’t come from us.  There is nothing good in me, that is, in my flesh (Rom. 7)  We were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2).

 

But the same fire, the Lord, comes with healing on the day of judgment.  For you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in its wings.  (Mal. 4:2)  The Lord arises like the sun on those who fear His name and heals them.  Does the sun heal?  David reminds us in the 19th Psalm that the sun comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and like a strong man, runs its course with joy.  Its rising is from the end of the heavens and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.  The sun makes its joyful, brilliant circuit across the heavens and kisses the green plants and they bear fruit and flower; it smiles on the grapes and they ripen into wine.  The sun leaves fruitfulness and life in its wake as it visits the earth.

 

So it will be on the day of the Lord.  His coming which sets the wicked ablaze will be like the sun rising on those who fear God.  Their eyes will shine.  Their faces will be radiant.  And the righteousness of Jesus will enfold them like wings of warm light and heal them.  For when Jesus comes in radiance and power, and the earth is shaken, and the sky rolls up like a scroll, He will judge the world in righteousness.  He will condemn sin and sinners and purge the creation corrupted by sin with holy fire.  But He will judge those who fear God’s name—righteous—and pronounce them worthy to enter the new heavens and the new earth.

 

How will the fire of the Lord meet you on that day?  As an oven, or as the sun?  If you scoff at the idea that the crucified Lord will return in power to judge, or if you comfort yourself with the vain hope that God cannot possibly have such unrealistic standards as you hear about in church, the day of the Lord will set you ablaze and leave you neither root nor branch.

 

The Lord is as John the Baptist preached—one who holds a winnowing fork in his hand to separate wheat from chaff.  It is arrogant to disregard God’s Word.  Every time you have set aside the commandments of God you have been arrogant and set yourself above His Word.

 

Then how can we imagine the Lord will rise upon us with healing?  Because we rely solely on His grace.  Only by pure mercy.  And that mercy has already dawned upon us when our Lord appeared on earth.

 

First He sent Elijah the prophet to prepare His way.  John came clothed like Elijah, living in the desert like Elijah, proclaiming a baptism of repentance.  And those who came confessing their sins to John heard John preach the mighty one who was coming next, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  Who would not merely pour water on us, but who would make us new as the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters that covered the earth at creation.  He would bring a new creation out of the dark chaos of our nature.

 

The one John proclaimed is the one who comes to you in the Gospel.  He is mighty but came as a helpless infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes, as a man who did not lift a hand against His enemies, but went like a lamb meek before its shearers to the slaughter.  He was crucified for our offenses.  His blood stained the doorposts of the cross to cover us and cause wrath and judgment to pass over us.

 

He is the sun of righteousness.  Those who look to Him are radiant and their faces are never ashamed.  He has washed us in water with the Holy Spirit and made us new, so that the fire of the Lord does not burn us.  In that water He placed God’s name upon us, and we fear His name because we believe what He has done for us and what He says about us.

 

He has burned up our sin by His appearing in the flesh and His death on the tree.  He has also burnt up our attempts to cover our sins like the sun burns away the morning mist.  He is our covering on the day of judgment, our tabernacle.  He is our righteousness.  He is our shade from the wrath of God.  He enfolds us with His arms that were extended on the cross to fulfill all righteousness.  When He comes He comes like the sun for us.  He fills the earth with life and fruitfulness.  He will bring us forth from the earth healed from death and corruption.

 

Malachi says that when He comes we will be like calves released from the stall.  I have never seen a calf do this but I guess that at least a few of you have.  What I have seen is Joseph’s rabbit, who sometimes when he leaves his cage runs out and for no reason jumps in the air and kicks his legs sideways.  Joseph says he does this for pure joy.

 

This is how it will be for us who rely solely on the Lord’s mercy when He appears.  We will have joy because we are free—from death, from sin, from guilt, from persecution.

 

Come to the Lord who visits you at this altar like the sun to heal you.  Then go forth from this place, not idly waiting for His coming, but living with the certainty that the sun will rise upon you.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year 2019. Sons of Destruction and Sons of the Resurrection

November 12, 2019 1 comment

Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year

Emmaus Lutheran Church, Redmond

St. Luke 20:27-40

November 10, 2019

Sons of Destruction and Sons of the Resurrection

 

Jesu Juva!

 

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

 

He sits in the temple courts, which are flooded with people who have come to Jerusalem for the Passover.  He does not hide in a corner.  He teaches the people and proclaims the good news.

 

And there are many, then as now, who do not want Jesus’ teaching replacing theirs.

 

Some Sadducees also begin to ask Him questions designed to make the resurrection of the dead look foolish.  You heard the story about the seven brothers.  Since they all married the same woman, and none of them raised up children, whose wife will she be in the resurrection?  The story is designed to make the idea of the resurrection seem ridiculous, and also to give Jesus a question He can’t answer.

 

But the resurrection of the dead is not simply a matter of theological speculation for Jesus.  He is the Son of God and the Son of the Resurrection.  On the other hand the Sadducees are sons of destruction.  In the epistle reading St. Paul wrote that the day of the Lord and the day of the resurrection would not come until the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god and object of worship (2 Thess. 2:3-4).  Paul is talking about the antichrist, the great opponent of Christ and persecutor of Christians who arises in the last days.  He calls the antichrist “the son of destruction”, but there are many other sons of destruction, even if they are not as prominent.  Every teacher whose teaching denies Christ is a son of destruction, but Jesus is the Son of the Resurrection and comes to make many sons of the resurrection.  So today let us look at who are the sons of destruction and who are the sons of the resurrection.

 

Look again at the Sadducees.  They come to debate with Jesus the Son of God.  They are so blind that they trust their own intellect to guide them in the ways of God, and so arrogant that they imagine they will defeat Jesus by the exercise of their intellects and their smooth talk.

 

But even though Jesus is the Son of God, for Him the question of the resurrection is not one that he can approach self-confidently, the way the Sadducees do, without fear and trembling.  For Him the resurrection is His only hope.  Narrow eyes in the crowd watch Him, looking for an opportunity to seize Him and put Him to death.  Only days from now, in the darkness, when the crowds are gone, they will send armed men with lanterns and torches to bring Him to them.  And He will go out to them not with arrogant words but with a robe damp with the cold sweat of death.

 

Resurrection is not a mere topic for debate for Jesus.  It is His hope as the pit of destruction swallows Him up.  As His lifeless body is taken down from the cross, wrapped up in spices, sealed behind a stone.

 

Today our bodies are tended to in funeral homes with chemicals or crematory ovens.  They are rolled down into concrete vaults in the ground dug out by backhoes.  When we lay dying, we are attached to machines that beep and blink and are usually sedated so that we feel no pain.  But the resurrection of the dead is no mere topic for debate for us, as far as we have progressed in reducing some of the physical pain of death and the unsightliness of the dead.  An old hymn says:

 

In the midst of life we are in death.

From whom can we seek help?

From You alone, O LORD,

Who by our sins are justly angered.

 

Death is the reminder that we are sinners against God.  It is, as Scripture says, the wages of sin.  For the most part people today do not experience the fire of God’s wrath tormenting the soul—not in this life.  But we experience the pain of getting old, losing strength.  We experience regret at the loss of youth, of wasted years.  We get disillusioned as we get older and realize that the bill of goods we have been sold about the pleasures life in this world seldom turn out as good as they were advertised.  All of this is part of what you have earned as a sinner.  And then death takes our bodies, and our souls, unclothed of their earthly habitation, depart from this world.  And as this is happening comes the fear and anguish of the soul realizing that it must return to God its judge.

 

The Sadducees were all blind to this, and they didn’t care.  They dismissed the resurrection of the dead as childish.  This life is all that matters, they said.

 

This is the way of the sons of destruction.  They take away life from human beings, the possibility of real life.  They put themselves in the place of God, who is the God of the living, the living God.  And by their teaching they take away the possibility of life.

 

In the Old Testament reading Pharaoh is oppressing the people of Israel.  When Moses comes and tells him that the Lord said to let His people go so that they might go worship Him in the desert, Pharaoh says, No!  Let them focus on working for me.  Let them focus on this life and obey me.  The Pharaohs actually believed they were gods, but they were gods of death.  They oppressed people in this world and took away the possibility of everlasting life by teaching lies.

 

In the Epistle reading Paul tells how the antichrist will take his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.  Many people wrongly think that the antichrist can’t come until the temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem.  But Christians should understand that even if the Jews manage to build a temple there, it would not be the temple of God.  God’s temple is the Church, the community of believers in Christ.  The antichrist sits in the Church and says that his false teaching is actually God’s teaching.  That is why Luther and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church say “the Pope is the true Antichrist, who has exalted himself above, and opposed himself against Christ” (Smalcald Articles Part II, Art. IV:10-11).  He would not be the antichrist if he sat merely in a Jewish temple; the antichrist sits on a throne and claims to be over God’s Church and demands obedience to himself even when that means disobedience to God.

 

Paul calls the antichrist the son of destruction.  Jesus called Judas the same thing.  They are bound for destruction, and they belong to the destroyer, the devil.  But there are many sons of destruction who are less important, but nevertheless doomed to eternal damnation.

 

We have those in our synod whose practice and teaching is opposed to Christ’s.  And when they are confronted about it, there are those who protect and excuse it.

 

We do not have those, God be praised, who openly deny the resurrection of the dead.  But we do have many preachers who, by their words and practice, fail to preach repentance.  They do their best to make worship so appealing to unbelieving people that they are never confronted with their sin and the destruction that is awaiting them.  As a result the Gospel they preach is something other than resurrection from the dead.  It is a good news that allows them to remain as they are.  Those who preach and practice this way without repentance are sons of destruction.

 

But why are there so many who practice open communion, of whose worship it could be said, “Keep your sandals on your feet, because the ground on which you are standing is not holy?”

 

Isn’t it because many in our churches like it this way?  We like to hear preaching that does not call us to repentance.  We like worship that does not confront us with the living God, the God who kills and makes alive?

 

Isn’t it true that, in us, there is an antichrist waiting to get out, who wants to be the authority, who wants his word to rule?  Yes, because we too were born to destruction and death.

 

II.

 

However, in the Gospel reading, we hear the good news from Jesus.  Despite the mockery of the Sadducees, there is a resurrection of the dead.  First Jesus contradicts their false ideas of what the resurrection will be like.  Then He proves the resurrection from Scripture.

 

The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but not those  who are counted worthy of attaining to that age and of the resurrection from the dead….For they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection (Luke 20:34-36).

 

Jesus says that sons of God are sons of the resurrection. It is a strange saying.  All sons of God are sons of the resurrection?  But what about Jesus Himself?  Wasn’t He God’s Son before He rose from the dead, before He even became man?

 

Assuredly so.  Yet God’s Son became the Son of Man, subject to death, subject to the wages of sin.  He became the first son of the resurrection so that there would be many sons of God after Him.

 

He made Himself subject to death for our sins in order to release us from them when He rose from the dead.

 

We hope for our loved ones who die in Christ that they will rise from the dead and become equal to the angels and sons and heirs of God.  That was Jesus’ hope also, because He took on Himself our helplessness before death, the sin that makes us subject to destruction.  He allowed it to swallow Him up.  And then He burst it open.  He is the first Son of the Resurrection.  And all who are united to Him are joined to His resurrection.

 

The proof of this is just a little word: God says that His name is I AM, the living God, and that He is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.  God is not the God of those who have ceased to exist, Jesus points out to the Sadduccees who think people cease to exist when they die.  He is the God of the living, not the dead.  Death has nothing to do with Him.  If He is Jacob’s God, then Jacob lives.  If He is your God, you live, even though you are dead.

 

And with a little word like this Jesus has already killed the antichrist and the sons of destruction.  He has already pronounced judgment on them.  His Word, wherever it comes, robs them of all their power.  Five hundred years ago all who were called by Christ’s name bowed the knee before the Pope and considered him the lord of Christ’s kingdom on earth.  Now millions in Christendom have no fear of the antichrist at all.  This is the work of Christ’s breath, His Word, that, let loose in the world, taught people that salvation comes solely through faith in Him, apart from works.

 

But when the day of the Lord comes, the antichrist and all the sons of destruction will be brought to an end forever.  They will be cast into destruction with their master the devil.  But for those who are joined to Christ by faith the day of the Lord will be the day of resurrection, the day of life and adoption as God’s Sons.

 

That is why you come to this table.  You come and eat and drink and share in the death of God’s Son.  And then as death comes upon you—as it comes on all men—it is not destruction for you.  It is the beginning of being raised up, of becoming a Son of Resurrection and a Son of God.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

What Has Been Revealed and What Has Not. All Saints’ Sunday 2019

November 7, 2019 Leave a comment

All Saints’ Sunday

Emmaus Lutheran Church

1 John 3:1-3

November 3, 2019

What Has Been Revealed and What Has Not

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

Behold, the life- giving cross, on which was hung the salvation of the world.

 

As the pastor says these words on Good Friday, he lifts the black cloth and reveals one arm of the cross.  He says the words a second time: Behold, the life-giving cross! and bares the second arm.

 

Then a third time he says the words and takes away the black cloth entirely, and the cross is revealed to the congregation, perhaps with the image of Jesus’ body.  Behold, the life-giving cross, on which was hung the salvation of the world.  And the congregation answers: O come, let us worship Him.

 

There are things God has uncovered and things that He has left hidden.

 

He has uncovered the salvation of the world just as the Good Friday service does.  And in uncovering the salvation of the world, His only Son, He also reveals His children, the holy ones, the saints.  But He has not yet revealed the glory of His saints.  This is what John the apostle says in the Epistle.

 

But how has God revealed His saints?  Who are these who have a right to be called “holy ones” and where do you find them?  And who dares to number themselves among “the saints”?  Do you?  Did you hear how Jesus described them?  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…blessed are the pure in heart…blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:6, 8, 10).  In the same chapter He says, You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48).  And it is written: You shall be holy, for I [the Lord Your God] am holy (1 Peter 1:16).  And as we approach the table of the Lord we join in the song of the seraphim who covered their eyes as they sang Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth.  I have known some wonderful Christians, but I have not known any who were so holy even the angels dared not look at them.

 

But when God uncovered the salvation of the world on the cross, He also uncovered His holy ones.  They are found where the salvation of the world is lifted up.  They receive their holiness from Him.

 

Behold, what manner of love the Father has given us!  (1 John 3:1)  Just as it is strange on Good Friday when the cross is uncovered, and the pastor says, “Behold, the life-giving cross,” so these words of the apostle are strange.  As though you and I don’t know what’s under the cloth!  As though we have never heard before how the Father loved us!

 

He so loved us that He gave His only Son (John 3:16).  But where and how did He give His Son?

 

He gave Him into the hand of the high priests, the soldiers, Pontius Pilate.  And into your hands, for it was your sins for which He was handed over to die.  He gave His Son to us hung on the cross by the nails, so that the cross of death would be the life-giving cross upon which we find the salvation of the world.

Behold, the man, Pontius Pilate says, moved to pity by the bloody, bruised face and back of Jesus.  Behold with John the spear entering the side of Jesus, the water and blood streaming from His heart.  Behold the manner of love the Father has given us, giving His Son into death for our sins.

 

Behold, what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.  Not called God’s enemies for causing the death of His Son.  Called children because sanctified by the death of God’s child.

 

God called Jesus His child, His beloved Son, when John plunged him into the water of the Jordan.  Jesus came to that baptism offering Himself to fulfill all righteousness for us, to make an end of our unrighteousness on the cross and bestow on us a seamless, spotless righteousness before God.  Then the Father’s voice said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased, and the Holy Spirit came down and rested on Him.  The Triune God uncovered Himself.  And such love the Father has given us—to uncover Himself to us, and to enfold us into Himself as at the Baptism of Jesus.  We are called His children in our Baptism, sealed with the name of the Triune God.

 

What love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God.  And so we are.  The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. 

 

Behold the love the Father has given you.  You are not only called God’s child.  You really are His child.  The Scripture knits us to Jesus.  John says, “The reason the world doesn’t know we are saints and children of God is that it did not know Him.”  Jesus said, Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14).  John says, Whoever knows God’s Son knows us.

 

Jesus has fastened Himself to us.  He was knit together in His mother’s womb, like us.  He became sin and a curse, because that was ours.  He gave us the divine name, which was His.   And what He calls us we truly are.  We are sons of God.  We eat His body, we drink His blood.  We live in Him and He in us.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me, and I in him (John 6:56). 

 

With Thee, Lord, I am now united;

I live in Thee and Thou in me,

No sorrow fills my soul, delighted,

It finds its only joy in Thee.

Lord, may Thy body and Thy blood

Be for my soul the highest good.  (LSB 619 st. 2)

 

Behold what manner of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.  And so we are.  He has revealed His love to us in the preaching of the cross; He has declared us His children in Baptism, and affirmed that we are united to His Son in the holy supper.

 

But there remains something that God has not uncovered.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. 

 

We did not become Christians for the benefits that it brings in this world.  St. Paul says, IF in Christ we have hope for this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15: 19). 

 

Our hope is for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  Sometimes it takes pain to remember this; it takes standing at the graveside of parents and friends.  Or it takes having people revile and speak evil of us because we believe in Jesus.

 

Then, we are reminded that our hope is not in this life, where we are called and truly are God’s children, but are still suffering the poison dart of our sinful nature, and the hostility and deceit of the devil and the world, where we are still dying and living in the midst of death.

 

Our hope is for what we will be when the dead are raised and our Lord appears in the clouds.

 

But what will we be then?

 

That is not yet revealed.

 

Just as the cross lies hidden under the black cloth on Good Friday at the start of the service, so what we will be is not revealed.

 

All we know is that we will be like Jesus when He returns.  That will happen because we will see His glory.

 

When Jesus prayed the night before He gave Himself for us in great love, He had this in mind: Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see the glory that You have given me because You loved me before the foundation of the world.  John 17:24

 

The weakness of our fallen minds can’t comprehend this great reward of seeing Christ’s glory and being transformed into it.  But you may remember, how in Exodus, Moses asked God to show him His glory.  The Lord said, “No one may see My face and live.”

 

So He put Moses in a rock and covered it with His hand and walked by, proclaiming His name; then Moses came out and saw God’s back as He walked by.  Moses did not ever see God’s face.  But only seeing His veiled glory made Moses’ face shine for days.

 

We will see the unveiled glory of Jesus.

 

No angel in the sky

Can fully bear that sight

But downward cast their wondering eye

At mysteries so bright.  (LSB 525 st. 3)

 

But we will be able to gaze into the brilliant sun of the eternal glory of God the Son.  And we will be like Him, just as Moses’ face bore the fading radiance of the glory he saw.

 

This glory is not yet revealed, but because it is our hope, and is promised to us, we run to make it our own now.  Everyone who has this hope in himself purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:3).  We don’t wait for it to come lazily; we press on to make it our own.  We come and confess our sins and are absolved; we come and eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus that put our sins to an end.

 

Each day we purify ourselves and put to death our old self that Jesus crucified and buried on the cross.  We do this because we have a hope—we belong to the one who is pure, and one day He will be revealed, and we will be uncovered too.  And we will be like Him.

 

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

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Again. Trinity 7 2019

jesus feeding 4000Seventh Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 8:1-9

August 4, 2019

“Again”

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat…Mark 8:1

 

“Again” means this wasn’t the first time; it had happened before.  There are a lot of things that happen in the Bible again and again, in one generation and the next.  God feeding people with bread in the wilderness is one of those things that happens again and again.  Time would fail if I mentioned all the times the Lord does this in the Scripture.

 

It happened more than once to the disciples of Jesus, too, which is why Mark says, “When again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat…”  This wasn’t the first time.  The first time was when Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 men with five loaves and two fish.

 

Since something very much like this miracle had happened once before, probably not very long before, we expect that the disciples of the Lord would have seen what was coming.  This miracle seems a little strange to us.  Jesus already fed 5,000 people.  Why does He now do the same thing with 4,000?

 

But as you can see, the disciples seem to have forgotten that Jesus did this.  Jesus tells them He has compassion on the crowd; they have been with Him three days and have had nothing to eat, and if they go home with no food they are likely to faint in the road.  His disciples say, “Well, where can anyone get bread to satisfy all these people in this wilderness?”

 

But you would not expect that they would so quickly have forgotten how Jesus gave thanks for the five loaves, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to give to the five thousand men sitting on the grass.  How they went after and picked up all the broken pieces of bread and collected them in baskets and there were 12 baskets full.

 

You would think that they would remember that Jesus had taken care of them and the great crowd.  Everyone ate and was satisfied.  You would think that after seeing this miracle they would be at peace and comfort and not be afraid when they were running low on bread and when things seemed too much for them to manage.

 

But that is not how the disciples reacted.  They appear to have forgotten all about what Jesus did.  And you can hear in their words—what?  Anxiety.  You can hear that note that creeps into our voices when we talk about our troubles.  “It’s impossible,” that’s what they sound like.

 

But how could they have forgotten what Jesus did?

 

Well, let me ask you.  Have you had any difficulties in your life that caused you to worry recently?  Maybe even some this week, or earlier today?

 

And let me ask you further—have you not had other problems in the more distant past—whether in your personal life, your home, your work, at church?  And what happened with those problems in the past?  Didn’t you come through them?  You came through them and you always had food.  You survived.  You maybe even saw some almost miraculous resolution to those problems in the past.  But even if not, you were taken care of.  God was gracious to you because He is a gracious God.  He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the righteous.  He hates nothing He has made.  He wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, and He provides for us all, whether we believe in Christ and are saved or whether we do not believe and are His enemies.  He is kind to every person on earth and gives what we need for this life because His kindness is meant to lead us to repentance.  An old Lutheran hymn says:

 

Did not His love and truth and pow’r

Guard ev’ry childhood day?

And did He not in threat’ning hour

Turn dreaded ills away?  (LSB 737 st. 4)

 

Think of how many times God has done that for you; guarded you, turned ill away, provided for you.

 

Yet, despite God faithfully providing us with food, clothing, protection, and working so many things out for us in the past, when the next trial and difficulty comes, how do you react?  Don’t you worry, fret, and fear, as though God were not taking care of you at all, as though He did not love you?

 

This is what the disciples did.  They forgot what Jesus had done before when He fed the five thousand.  They did not believe, or they believed with a weak and wavering faith, that Jesus was the God of their fathers with them in the flesh, the God who fed their fathers with bread from heaven in the desert.

 

If they had believed this firmly they would have behaved differently.  When they heard Jesus expressing His compassion for the crowd, they would have said, “Lord, we have these seven loaves, and they are not nearly enough to feed all these people.  But you can take our loaves and make them enough for this crowd.”

 

But they had not learned to say this yet.  And so they had to have the lesson again.

 

And this is how the Lord Jesus deals with us, His Church.  He teaches us this lesson again.

 

It is often a painful lesson to learn—to trust in the Lord to provide for us, His church.  It is painful because to learn it we have to experience being in want, being in need.

 

That is not new.  We have forgotten this because we have lived in a time and place where Christianity was legal and even had some social respectability, even though that respectability was superficial.  But we have become used to that and relied on it.  Now we are pretty far into a time where much of that social respectability is gone.  And with that gone, so have many people, so has money from offering plates.

 

Now we are experiencing what Christians have always really had to experience, even though we didn’t always recognize it.  We are experiencing that Christ’s Church always survives in this world only by Him providing for it.

 

We survive spiritually and have faith in Jesus through His Word and Sacraments alone, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in them.

 

But we survive physically in this world because Jesus provides for those who cling to His Word.  We do not know how His church will continue.  Christians often don’t know where the bread or the money they need to continue will come from.  What we see throughout the Scripture is that the Lord provides for His people, even if He has to send bread from heaven, or if He has to take 7 loaves and make them feed four thousand people in the desert.

 

And the Lord makes us learn this again and again because we don’t learn it quickly.

 

We should take to heart how evil this is—not to believe the Lord.  We don’t take it that seriously because we can’t help it.  But think what it means when you don’t trust Jesus to provide for you.  It means you are saying He is not good.  He is not compassionate.  We call into question His love.  We call into question His faithfulness.

 

Just think what this looks like to people we want to witness to when we are full of fear and anxiety when the Lord Jesus lets us be in need.  Our actions tell them that He is not so wonderful a Lord and we aren’t sure if He really cares about us.

 

But you see from this reading that Jesus really does care about us.  I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days, He says.  The word refers to a deep compassion that comes from the guts, the kind of compassion a parent has when he has to see his child in pain.  Jesus felt this way about this crowd, just because they were hungry.  It is true that Jesus is concerned about more than just our bodies.  But He cares about our bodies too—whether we have food and drink and clothes, family and friends.  He knows what we need because He has flesh and blood just like we do.

 

And He not only cares about our physical need.  He cares even more that we learn to know His compassion and we learn to bring our needs to Him and rely on Him to provide what we lack.  When we think we have things pretty well under control, which most times we do, we never really experience the love and compassion of our God.  We think we are handling things ourselves.  But when we experience our own helplessness, when we are made to know it, then we taste how sweet the mercy of our Lord is when He helps us in our need.

 

Be still, my soul; though dearest friends depart,

And all is darkened in this vale of tears;

Then you will better know His love, His heart,

Who comes to soothe your sorrows and your fears.

Be still my soul; your Jesus can repay

From His own fullness all He takes away.  (LSB 752 st. 3)

 

So when you experience need and trouble, or when you are looking at someone else’s need and trouble and you don’t have what you need to take it away from them, what is Jesus teaching you?  He is teaching you what He taught the disciples when He brought a great crowd—again—and they had no food.

 

This is like the other lesson He has to teach us again and again—that our standing before God as His people and as heirs of eternal life—is solely and completely His gift.  You would think that we already know this.  And probably if you have been here awhile you do know it intellectually.  Yet again and again He is teaching us that we have no righteousness except the righteousness He accomplished for us by His death.  And to teach us that He keeps bringing us to this meal where He gives thanks for the bread and the wine and blesses it saying, This is my body, for you.  This is my blood, for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

 

He keeps teaching us that He is good and full of compassion and that we can trust Him to the uttermost, not only with our helplessness and our need for bread.  But with our sinfulness, with our flesh that does not believe and that longs for things that are not good and does not satisfy.  Why does He continue to bring us to this meal so often, except that we learn to run to Him with our sin and unbelief and be nourished with the bread of life that makes us holy in God’s sight, His own flesh, given up for the life of the world?

 

The one who spreads this table before us will not hold back from us any good thing.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Anger and its Purification. Trinity 6, 2019

cain and abel.PNGSixth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 5:20-26

July 28, 2019

Anger and its Purification

 

Iesu iuva!

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

My dad never liked baseball or football or basketball because he was born in another country and didn’t grow up with those sports.  He liked tennis.  So did my older brother.  So when everybody else was watching the Cubs or the Sox we’d be watching Wimbledon.

 

When I was very young and just starting to learn to play tennis myself there was an American player named John McEnroe who had a very bad temper.  He screamed and swore at the umpires.  He smashed rackets.  The British press called him a brat—and he kind of was.

 

In 1980 he played a famous match against a long-haired Swede named Bjorn Borg.  Borg was the exact opposite of McEnroe in temperament.  He showed no emotion at all on the court.  But apparently when Borg started playing as a teenager in Sweden, he had been exactly like McEnroe—unable to control his temper.  But the Swedes at the tennis club would not put up with him throwing his racket and so forth and he was suspended from the club for six months.  Borg seems to have learned to channel his anger and frustration into his play.  Perhaps anger—which is unavoidable in sports as in everything else in life, especially if you care about it—ended up being a benefit to Borg because of the way he handled it.

 

Martin Luther recognized that anger can be helpful in doing the work God calls us to do.  He is quoted as saying:

I find nothing that promotes work better than angry fervor.  For when I wish to compose, write, pray, and preach well, I must be angry.  It refreshes my entire system, my mind is sharpened, and all unpleasant thoughts fade away.

 

There is a godly anger that goes with the office of father and mother, with the office of pastor, of ruler, even of citizen, that is not sinful but actually helpful.  Parents probably all have experienced a time when they became very angry with their children and the children as a result listened very closely to what mom or dad had to say when they had not been listening up until that point.

 

But that is not the way anger works most of the time.  Most of the time we get mad because nobody knows how to drive, or because people think they are better than us, or because they are lazy, unreliable, and don’t keep their word.  We’re not angry because God has called us to discipline or judge in words and actions; we’re angry because people offend and irritate us.

 

This is just human nature, this propensity to get annoyed, irritated, to say harsh words and hold a grudge.  It would be nice if you could find a lot of people who always have a smile on their face, who don’t snub people, but are friendly, welcoming, kind to everyone, even to those who are rude and selfish.  But you really can’t find anyone like that.  Even those few who seem to be will tell you they get irritated and have harsh thoughts even if those thoughts don’t spill out into words or actions.

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches today that this attitude of our hearts—this irritability and anger is sin.  It is not merely a mistake.  It is evidence that we are corrupt and cannot please God in the flesh.  See, it is not God’s nature—thanks be to God!—to be quick to anger.  It is not the nature of the true God to keep a record of wrongs.  The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Joel 2:13) we sing during Lent.  Imagine if God kept a record of our faults!  Every day He would have nothing good to say about us, just constant condemnation.

 

But our nature is different than God’s, even though God created us in His image.  This is what Jesus is trying to make clear in His sermon.  I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:20).   The scribes and Pharisees were the best, most devout Jews, the ones who knew Scripture the best and who were considered the most serious about keeping God’s commandments.  Jesus is telling us: You will never get into heaven unless you are far more righteous than the people you think are the most strict, the most holy.

 

Jesus is saying, You must be perfect.  And to illustrate what He means, He uses the fifth commandment: You shall not murder.  In the old days everybody learned it as: Thou shalt not kill. 

 

But then Jesus really says nothing about picking up a weapon and killing someone.  He says, Not just the killer is liable to judgment, but also everyone who is angry with his brother.  And whoever insults his brother, Jesus says, will not just have to stand before a regular court but before the Jewish supreme court (that Jesus Himself stood before the night before He was crucified).  And whoever calls his brother a fool will be liable to hellfire.

 

I know I have told this story in a sermon before, but I doubt anyone will remember it.  When I was about 12 I remember hearing this in Bible Class and suddenly becoming very scared because I knew I called kids worse than “fool” practically every day at school.  And rightly so, because Jesus is not kidding.

 

Then when Joseph was little we were driving near the mall, and I had taught him this passage of scripture.  Then some guy cut me off and I yelled out that he was a fool and Joseph gasped, “Dad!” with fear in his eyes.

 

And rightly so, because I had broken the fifth commandment.  I didn’t take a gun and shoot him.  But in my heart toward that person was the seed that was in Cain’s heart that grew up and produced the fruit of his brother’s blood.  It seems far fetched maybe.  Most of the time we are content with a partial righteousness.  If we don’t do anything that gets us in trouble or makes us look really bad a lot of us are content with that.

 

But that is not righteousness in the eyes of God.  Righteousness is that you love your neighbor as yourself and God with all your heart.  Righteousness in God’s eyes is that you and I see the well-being of our neighbor in this life and in the life to come as of equal importance to our own well-being.  `

 

I can tell you, friends, brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers, and I know you will believe me—I really want for myself to go to heaven.  I fear hell and God’s wrath.  I also want to see God’s face and be free from sin and death forever.

 

Yet often I do not love my neighbor.  I get irritated with him or her.  Sometimes I even grumble about them or call them names.  But Jesus says you and I must have a righteousness far beyond this if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.  We must have a new nature, a new heart that sincerely loves our neighbor.

 

When I think about our synod’s declining attendance, I often think of all the things that draw people away from Christ and His church that didn’t used to be there.  But just as often I wonder whether it isn’t the case that we have lost our first love (Rev. 2:4) as Jesus told the church in Ephesus in the opening chapters of Revelation.  I see this in myself and in other pastors as well as in laypeople.  We are so concerned with ourselves and our own problems, and not very concerned with the salvation of our neighbors, even as a whole generation is growing up not going to church at all, not hearing the bible read.

 

That is why Jesus preaches this sermon.  It is to show his hearers, many or most of whom were decent, church-going people, that this did not pass before God.  When you are angry you are a murderer.  You need a new nature if you are going to enter the kingdom of heaven.  And if you will not forgive or be reconciled to those who sin against you, how do you expect to be reconciled to God?

 

Jesus continues this sermon for two more chapters.  It is not a sermon rich with good news.  It is a Law sermon.  God’s Law is good, but it is not good news.  Not for us.  A hymn says it well:

 

The Law of God is good and wise

And sets His will before our eyes,

Shows us the way of righteousness,

And dooms to death when we transgress.  (LSB 579 st. 1)

 

The good news is the One who preaches this sermon, Jesus.  The Law of God [was] in [His] heart, as the psalm says (Ps. 40), and He came to fulfill the Father’s will and His commands.  He has come and completed, with a pure heart, all of God’s holy commandments, including the fifth commandment.  There were only a few times when Jesus got angry, despite all the wickedness He saw on earth.  He never got angry when people mistreated Him personally, but only in service to God’s word.

 

Instead, Jesus helped people in their physical need.  Remember how Luther explains the commandment:  We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.  And Jesus did this.  He preached God’s Word and cared for people’s souls, but he also provided bread and fish to the crowd, wine to the wedding at Cana, and healing to all manner of sick and suffering people.  Jesus loved His neighbor—both those who did Him good and those who did Him ill.  He still does.

 

And what is even more wonderful is that He offers His obedience to us, He promises it to us, so that you and I have the righteousness that is superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees, the righteousness that enables us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

He says to those of us who struggle with unrighteous anger, who are tempted by it, “Come, and I will cover your wrath, your murder, with my wounds and death.”

 

And to those who seem mostly to have it under control, “Come, and I will give you a better righteousness, a heart like mine, so that you not only contain your anger but that you overflow with love toward those that anger you.”

 

That is what He holds out to you in the Gospel.  He holds out to you His perfect righteousness, His perfect obedience to the Law, and His death that perfectly atones for your transgressions.  And along with this forgiveness comes His Spirit, who changes your heart so that it produces love, gentleness, and mercy.

 

This is the reason that in these last days He spreads this table before it, where the bread and wine will become His true body and blood—so that we may receive the righteousness that gives us entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: