Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter (April 19, 2015)

Easter 3 – Series B (April 19, 2015)
1 John 3:1-7

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”  It’s a simple truth.  But one we so easily forget.  God the Father loves you.  He calls you his child.  You were made his child in Baptism.  You were named there with the name your parents gave you.  But then it took on a new significance.  Your name was announced as a child of God.
            John does not tell you here to “be” a child of God.  You already are one.  “And so we are.”  It’s part of your identity.  You had no choice who your parents are or what your last name is.  In the same way, you had no choice in the matter of being a child of God.  It’s all by grace … undeserved, unearned, unmerited.  You have a Father who loves you and cares for you and wants you to be with him in eternity.  This is why he sent his Son for you.  To die for your sins.  To rise to life again.  To give you the Holy Spirit so you could trust in God and what he has done for you in Christ.  To be his child.  And if you are a child, then you are an heir of God and a fellow heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17).  No matter what inheritance you have from your parents, nothing can compare with being an heir of God.
            But John also says that we are unknown to the world.  Contrast this with the desire people have to be known, acknowledged, recognized.  Not many of us want to live our lives in complete anonymity.  We want to be known, understood, appreciated.  I’m not talking here about being famous.  Fame carries its own unique drawbacks, always being in the public eye, with the temptation of thinking people owe you respect simply because you are famous.  Once in a while you’ll hear about a TV personality getting in trouble and playing the “Do you know who I am?” card.  But it’s not necessarily egotistical to simply want to be known, understood, and appreciated.  That’s just part of being human and living in families and in community.
            The world – the unbelieving world, that is – will never know, understand, or appreciate Christians, because it does not know the Father, his love, or his plan of salvation in his Son.  People claim to know God.  They claim to be children of God.  But unless you have the Son, you will never have the Father.  “No one who denies the Son has the Father,” John writes in chapter 2 of his letter (1 John 2:23).  They attempt to please God on the basis of their own efforts, but in the end they earn his disfavor, because they do not trust in the means he has provided … the death and resurrection of his Son.
            The resurrected life we share through our baptism into Christ has a hidden nature.  You can wear all the Christian jewelry in the world and still not be a Christian.  You can wear T-shirts that give a Christian message, and still not be a Christian.  But true Christians can also give mixed messages to the world.  We sin, too!  That should come as no surprise.  But more on that on a moment.  Faith is hidden.  The new creation that you are in Christ is hidden … although that new creation does work its way out into manifest works of mercy.  Those cannot be hidden.  But the new nature we have in Christ is not always clear to the world.  When Jesus returns on the Last Day, it will be perfectly clear.  “We shall be like him … we shall see him as he is.”  Resurrected, glorified, immortal, sinless, perfectly righteous and holy.  Face to face, with our own eyes, as Job confessed, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25).  Until then, “we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13.  “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).  The world does not know you.  But God does.  And he loves you.
            But what about this business of mixed messages that we send?  It’s no wonder the world does not know us when we practice sin and lawlessness.  “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness.”  “Practicing” sin.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t need much practice at that.  In fact, it comes quite naturally.  I still bear this old sinful nature that rebels against my Father in heaven, even though he loves me so much and has demonstrated his love for me over and over again.
            My old sinful nature wishes God never gave the Law.  That way I could do whatever I wanted to do.  But this would be “lawlessness.”  Luther in his commentary on 1 John says that “lawlessness” includes sin which also causes your neighbor to stumble and lose faith.  Can you imagine a world without laws?  It would be anarchy!  The world would look like a Mad Max movie.  Maybe sometimes it does when people practice lawlessness.
            My sinful nature also wishes that the cross never had happened, because the cross demonstrates that there is something real called sin, God hates it, and had to deal with it.  But that’s the point, isn’t it?  The cross is how God dealt with sin … with my practice of sin … with your practice of sin.  “He appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.”
            Jesus always practiced righteousness.  And he needed no practice.  It came quite naturally.  He is righteous.  “In him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.”
            The Christian sins, no doubt.  But he fights against sin.  She struggles and knows that a change is in order.  The status quo of sinful behavior is unacceptable.  This is what John means when he says “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”  St. Paul put it this way in Galatians 5: “[T]hose who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passion and desires” (Gal. 5:24).  And Luther wrote: “Although it is difficult to avoid being wounded in war, yet it is an honor to stand up.  But it is a disgrace to yield.  Thus even if a Christian is surrounded by sin, yet he fights against sin.”[1]  You know it’s wrong.  As a Christian, you delight in God’s Law and know God has given it to you for your good.  You love God.  You Abide in Christ … in his Word … in your baptismal grace … remembering your identity as a child of God.  You eat and drink the body and blood of your Savior in repentant faith.  You are purified in Christ, just as he is pure.  You admit your sin and turn to the one who forgives your sin (1 John 1:8-9), relying on Jesus your advocate, not your own efforts.  You are united to Christ in your baptism, in his death and resurrection, and “in him there is no sin” … therefore, as far as God is concerned, in YOU there is no sin.  This is your practice of righteousness!  And “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”
            “Little children let no one deceive you,” the apostle writes.  John, by now an old man, speaks tenderly to his hearers.  He reminds them of their identity as “little children.”  Helpless, frail, dependent upon God for everything, especially in matters of salvation.  Like us.  But children, nonetheless, made children of God by water and the Word … all by grace.  We are all easily deceived.  Easily deceived by the God-hating demons, the lawless world, and our own sinful flesh that would make what is unnatural seem natural, what is immoral seem moral, what is harmful seem beneficial.
            So John reminds us all of our righteous Jesus.  Jesus practiced righteousness for us his whole life.  All the way to the cross.  All the way to the empty tomb.  And he sends his Church to proclaim “repentance and the forgiveness of sins … in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).
            This is how we practice righteousness.  Repent.  Receive God’s forgiveness in Christ.  Be refreshed by the presence of the risen Jesus among us today in his Word and in his Body and Blood.  Go forth and do righteous deeds in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus … the pure and righteous one who clothes you with power from on high and who gives you his peace.  See what kind of love the Father has given to you, child of God!

[1] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 30, p. 269). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sermon for the Resurrection of Our Lord (April 5, 2015)

The Resurrection of Our Lord (April 5, 2015)

We hear the voice of Jesus in the Gospels.  In fact, in some Bibles, the very words that came from his mouth are printed in red ink.  This practice has been around since 1899 when the first New Testament was printed with the words of Christ in red.  It was the idea of Louis Klopsch, editor of the Christian Herald magazine.  Klopsch wanted to print the words of Jesus in the color of blood, since Jesus shed his blood for the sins of the world at the cross, establishing the New Covenant, the free gift of the forgiveness of sins by faith in Jesus’ finished work at the cross.[1]
            In our Lenten midweek services this year, we heard the words of Jesus from the cross.  The “Seven Last Words of Jesus” has been a familiar Lenten theme over the years, in particular on Good Friday when we remember his death and all that it means for us.
            Now, we are at the tomb.  Here, there are no words from Jesus.  No red letters.  Only silence.  He is silent because he is not here.  And Jesus does often seem silent to us.  We tell him our hurts in prayer, and there is only silence.  We cry out to him in the midst of our pain, and our voice echoes back to us from the walls of our bedroom, the walls of our study, the walls of our hospital room.  Especially in the face of death, Jesus seems silent.  And we are afraid … like the women who came to the tomb on Sunday morning after the Lord’s death … like the disciples who fled and hid in fear … like Peter who was afraid of what God must think of him after denying that he even knew Jesus.  Jesus is silent.  We know how we have acted towards God.  And we are afraid of what he must think of us.
            But in fact, there is no silence at the tomb.  The empty tomb itself cries out, “He has risen!”  Jesus is who he said he was.  He is God in the flesh.  He is the Messiah.  He is the Savior of the world.  The cross and the empty tomb tell us exactly what God thinks of us.  He loves us.
            In fact, there is no silence at the tomb.  Here, we do not hear the voice of Jesus, but rather the voice of an angel.  He says, “Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.”  The sinless Son of God was crucified as the once-for-all sacrifice for sins.  The punishment for the sins of the world – for your sins and my sins – were laid upon Jesus, credited to his account.  Now, your account is marked “paid in full.”  The forgiveness of the world – your forgiveness – has been earned by Jesus.  There is nothing left for you to do other than to receive his gift of life and salvation by faith … by trusting in what Christ has done for you.
            “He has risen; he is not here,” the angel’s voice continues.  Jesus is risen from the dead as the victor over sin.  He is risen from the dead as the conqueror over all the consequences of sin … death, which is the wages of sin; and hell, which is eternal separation from God for all who refuse to receive the forgiveness of sins that Jesus has earned for them, for those who think they don’t need a Savior.
            But you who are baptized are united to Jesus in his death and resurrection.  In Romans 6, Paul says, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).  Holy Baptism means the death of your sinful nature.  In baptism, your sinful nature has been put to death so it is no longer the ruling force in your life.  Paul says, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin … For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:6, 14).  Baptism means the creation and resurrection of a new nature within you.  In baptism, you are made to be a new creation with a heart of faith and a new will that wants to please God and obey him.  In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17), and again in Romans 6, “Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.”  Baptism means the death of the Law’s condemnation against you.  In baptism, you are marked as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.  All that he accomplished for you is applied to you personally.  You are declared “not guilty.”  In Romans 8, Paul boldly announces, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).  And Baptism also is the promise of your own resurrection on the Last Day when Jesus returns again in glory.  Back in Romans 6, the apostle promises, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:5). 
            The late Christian theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer wrote a book entitled “The God Who is There” with its sequel “He is There and He Is Not Silent.”  The angel said to the women, “He has risen; he is not here.”  Not “here” in the tomb, that is.  But in fact, Jesus has risen … and he is here!  To paraphrase Francis Schaeffer: “He is here and he is not silent.”
            The voice of nature cries out to us of God’s existence.  Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”  Creation tells us that there is a Creator.  In Romans 2, Paul speaks of those who do not have God’s written Law, yet “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Rom. 2:15).  Our conscience tells us that there are standards of right and wrong that come from somewhere … we say it’s God.
            But nature does not tell us all that we need to know.  We need a further revelation, and he’s given that to us in his Word, the Bible.  Jesus speaks to us today through his Word … and not just the red letters.  In the Bible, we hear God’s Word of Law which tells us what we are to do and not to do … and we come to realize that we have failed to do God’s will.  But God has given us another Word, his Word of Gospel.  The Gospel is the Good News that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
            The empty tomb cries out along with the voice of the apostles who testified to having seen the risen Jesus.  Paul also mentions that the Risen Jesus had appeared to over five hundred people at one time.  His opponents could have very easily produced a dead body and put and end to any hysteria over the crazy expectations of his followers.  But his followers were not expecting him to rise.  They were hiding in fear.  Even though Jesus had told them he would rise after three days, they still doubted.  They were as surprised as anyone else when the tomb was empty.  But after they saw the Risen Lord, they were changed like no one else in history and went out and boldly added their voice to the angel that “He has risen!”  We hear their testimony that Jesus is alive, and he still speaks to us today through Christian parents, grandparents, Sunday School teachers, pastors, and so on, as they faithfully teach the Scriptures to us, which is the very Word of God.
            He is here and he is not silent.  He is with us today, our omnipresent, omnipotent Lord.  “I am with you always,” he said to his disciples.  He is with us also sacramentally in the bread and the wine: “This is my body; this is my blood” he said to them on the night he was betrayed and gave us the Lord’s Supper.  This altar is our Galilee.  This altar is our Jerusalem.  This is the place where he is personally present for us … for life, forgiveness, and salvation … just as he has told us in his Word.
            Come and meet him here.
                        Come partake of his life here.
                Come with trembling and astonishment … not in fear, but in peace and joy, for…
                        Christ is risen!
            He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Sermon for Maundy Thursday (April 2, 2015)

Maundy Thursday (April 2, 2015)
WORDS AT THE TABLE (Mark 14:12-26)

Our Lenten theme this year has been based on the seven last words of Jesus from the cross.
            “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he prays while earning the forgiveness of sins for all people.
            “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” he says to the dying criminal who asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom.
            Concerned about the earthly care for his mother, who was at the foot of the cross, he says to her “Woman, behold, your son!” And to his friend John, who was also there, he says, “Behold, your mother.”
            “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cries out in anguish, as he feels the full weight of the world’s sin upon him.
            “I thirst,” come the poignant words from the one who promised to quench the thirst of our souls with living waters.
            Having suffered in full for the sins of the world, he says, “It is finished.”  And there is one more word to hear tomorrow as, with his final breath, he calls out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
            But before these words from the cross, Jesus had words at the table.  The night before he was crucified, he celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples.  This was the annual remembrance of God’s deliverance of Israel from their bondage in Egypt.  This meal is often called “The Last Supper” and at which Jesus instituted what we call “The Lord’s Supper.”
            There were many more words spoken at the table than what you heard in tonight’s Gospel reading.  Matthew’s account of the Last Supper is very similar to Mark’s.  Luke’s account is similar and adds some other details.  John’s is much longer.  His goes on for several chapters.  It includes the account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus’ Farewell discourse, and what is known as his High Priestly Prayer.  That’s too many words to consider all together in one sermon … so, I think I may have a theme for a future midweek sermon series … focusing each week on Jesus’ words at the table.  Tonight, we will simply use Mark’s account for our meditation since that’s the one assigned to us in the lectionary.
            The room was prepared.  The meal was set before them.  They reclined at the table, as was the custom in those days, in spite of what you may have learned from Leonardo da Vinci’s famous and familiar painting … or the way Albrecht Durer has them seated like the Knights of the Round Table on the cover of our service folder. 
            In the middle of supper, Jesus says, “One of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”  Talk about a conversation stopper.  You’ve been there before.  You’re having a nice time at a holiday dinner with extended family gathered around the table.  All of a sudden, someone blurts out something shocking, embarrassing, or hurtful.  The light banter and laughter stops cold in its tracks.  Silence.  All eyes turn to the one who made the comment.  Finally someone responds, “Why would you say such a thing?”  Others join in and express their indignation.
            You can imagine this happening that night in the upper room.  After the initial sorrow and shock of the disciples, they proceed to question Jesus, “Is it I?”  Their questioning reveals their fear.  They already knew much of what Jesus could do.  They knew that he could look into hearts.  They recognized their own weaknesses and flaws which were evidenced on so many occasions during their time spent with Jesus.  And although they probably would admit this to no one, they each knew their own individual potential to be the one to fall away and betray Jesus.  And more tragic words have never been spoken than the next words from our Lord’s mouth about the one who became the betrayer: “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”  What was going through Judas’ mind at that point?  He must have already been in the depths of unbelief.  His heart must have  already been irretrievably hardened.  Jesus’ words about his coming betrayal fell on thorny soil, and the deceitfulness of 30 pieces of silver choked the word of Jesus in the life and heart of the betrayer.
            You and I recognize our own weaknesses and flaws, too, which are evidenced on so many occasions in our time spent with Jesus.  We are so weak, and we all know our own potential to fall away … especially when we are relying on our own strength, our own abilities, or when we rely on our emotions as a measure of our relationship with God.  We become fearful when we hear words in Scripture such as this in Hebrews 3: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12) … or this frightening section in chapter 6: “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Heb. 6:4-7).  And we ask the Lord, “Is it I?”
            But this is the very reason why Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper … to forgive our sins, to soothe our fears and our guilt, to assure us of his ongoing presence among us, and to confirm and strengthen our faith in him.  When we are weak, then he is strong for us.  When our emotions betray the uncertainty in our relationship with God, his sure and certain Word tells us that we are baptized and beloved in Christ Jesus and belong to him.
            “This is my body … this is my blood,” Jesus says.  We receive his body and blood truly given us to eat and to drink.  We take Jesus’ words at face value.  This is his last will and testament before he dies, and we dare not attempt to change or reinterpret his words.  St. Paul helps us to understand them further when he says that the bread we eat is a participation in the Lord’s body and the cup we drink is a participation in the Lord’s blood.  Some may say that means a participation in the benefits of the Lord’s body and blood.  Well, yes, we do get the benefits of life and salvation.  But there’s more to it.  When you eat the bread and drink the wine, you are eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood.  When your pastor displays the bread before your eyes, what does he say?  “The true Body of Christ, given for you” … because that’s what it is.  When the cup nears your mouth, what words do you hear?  “The true Blood of Christ, shed for you” … because that’s what it is.
            Jesus added, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”  A covenant is a solemn promise.  Sometimes it’s two-sided, an agreement between two people.  Sometimes it’s one-sided, a promise given from a greater party to the lesser.  In Bible times, a covenant was sealed with blood and then celebrated with a meal.
            Jesus says “my blood of the covenant”?  But which covenant is he referring to?  In Luke’s account, Jesus calls it the “New Covenant.”  The Old Covenant was given to Moses and the people of Israel and ratified at Mt. Sinai as we heard earlier in the reading from Exodus 24.  It was a two-sided covenant where God promised to care for the people of Israel as long as they remained obedient.  Sacrifices were offered and the blood was thrown on the altar and on the people to seal the covenant.  Then, the covenant was celebrated with a meal in the presence of God.  Moses and the leaders of Israel went up the mountain, “they beheld God, and ate and drank.”
            I find it interesting that Matthew and Mark both simply say “THE covenant,” as if to say there really is only one covenant.  God made a one-sided covenant first with Adam and Eve and further promised to Abraham.  He promised that the Seed of the Woman would come to crush the serpent’s head.  He promised that a great descendent of Abraham would be a blessing to all nations.  That Seed, that great descendent, is Jesus.  As he gave the disciples his blood of THE Covenant, he was soon to be the perfect sacrifice for sins.  His blood would be poured out at the cross to cover over the sins of all people of all nations.  He gives his Church a meal to celebrate his covenant.  In the Holy Supper, his blood is sprinkled on us and our sins are covered.  Here, in this Holy Communion of bread and wine and body and blood, we behold God, and we eat and drink.
            Finally, Jesus tells the disciples, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  This was the last time Jesus feasted with his disciples before the cross.  He was offered wine there … wine mixed with myrrh (Mark 15:23).  But that was meant to serve as an anesthetic, to dull the senses.  It was offered to those who were being crucified as one last act of pity.  Jesus refused to drink it.  It was his intent to feel the full force of the pain of the cross, to be in full control.  But through that pain and through that suffering, Jesus also could see beyond the cross and know that the great wedding banquet in eternity was sure to come when Christ the Bridegroom will feast with his Bride, the Church, in the kingdom of God.        
            The Holy Supper now is a foretaste of that great banquet.  It is the assurance of the covenant he has made with us.  His body was given for us.  His blood was shed for us.  And “as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  The Lord’s Supper is all Gospel, pure and simple.  The free gift of forgiveness and salvation.  Celebrated at a meal where we eat and drink the very means by which our sins were forgiven.  The forgiveness of sins placed right into our mouths and received by faith in our hearts.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sermon for Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion (March 29, 2015)

Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion (March 29, 2015)
“We Wish to See Jesus” (John 12:20-43)

The dream of every rabid fan of a famous band is to get their hands on a backstage pass.  To go behind the scenes after the concert and hang out with the band.  Talk to them.  Get your picture taken with them.  What a thrill!  But what inevitably happens when you are so star struck?  What do you say when you finally meet your favorite musicians?  You get all tongue tied.  About the only thing you are able to spit out is, “Uh, yeah, uh, I really love your work.”
            There were some Gentiles who wanted a backstage pass to see Jesus.  They approached Jesus’ disciple Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  The text calls them Greeks, which probably means they were Greek-speaking Gentiles from the region to the east of Galilee which was heavily influenced by Greek culture.  But they were also apparently worshippers of Yahweh.  They were “among those who went up to worship at the feast.”  This was right after Jesus had entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.  The city was temporarily increasing in population as people arrived from all over the place to prepare for the Passover later that week, the great festival that celebrated the rescue of God’s people from their Egyptian enslavement.  The crowd that followed Jesus that day included people who had heard of his fame and rallied around him as the Messiah.  And, I suppose, like in any other crowd, there were others who simply got swept up in the excitement and didn’t really know what the hoopla was all about.
            Why did these Gentiles want to see Jesus?  We’re not really told.  Was it simple curiosity … to see what the big deal was with him?  Was it to hang out with this popular figure … like the groupies that surround band members at a concert?  Was it to see a miracle so they could say to him, “Uh, yeah, man, I really love your work”?  Why did they wish to see Jesus?  We can only guess.
            As a disciple of Christ, has anyone ever approached you and said, “Sir … Ma’am … we wish to see Jesus.”  Probably not.  At least not in those exact words.  But maybe the request was framed differently.  Maybe they noticed the way you respond to certain situations or problems in your life that set you apart.  Maybe they heard you say something that piqued their interest.  If they were brave enough, maybe they asked you to tell them what makes you tick.  Did you show them Jesus?  Or did you chock it up to just trying to be a good person?  Did you glorify yourself, or did you glorify Jesus?  Did you love “the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God”?  Did you love your life so much that you were afraid to publicly confess Jesus as your Savior?  Or did you hate your life so much that you were able to freely point people to the Savior in spite of what others may think?  Please note, by the way, that when Jesus says to “hate” your life he is not telling you to hate yourself.  This was a typical way of speaking in those days.  By way of exaggeration, Jesus is telling his followers to set aside their own selfish wants and desires and to embrace what God wants … and that, of course, is to give up all hope of saving yourself by your own efforts and instead to come to Jesus in repentant trust and give him the glory in all you say and do.  
            “We wish to see Jesus,” these Gentiles said.  The request of these Gentile worshippers of Yaweh was the occasion for Jesus to speak of his “hour” when he would be glorified … the time to see Jesus glorified at the cross as he finishes the work he came to do … to die for both Jew and Gentile alike.  Jesus had stated that he had come to save the lost sheep of Israel (Matt. 10:5-6).  Yet in John 10, he declares that are also “other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).  These “other sheep” are the Gentiles for whom Jesus also came to lay down his life.  Like a grain of wheat planted into the ground, his body would be laid in the tomb.  But, like a grain that sprouts forth in order to produce more grain, so would the Risen Jesus produce the fruit of forgiveness and eternal life for all who receive him by faith.
            Jesus is the one who “hated his life in this world” so that you and I could have eternal life.  Jesus always put the will of his Father first, and that meant putting the needs of others before himself …  including our greatest need, the need of an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Therefore, Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8), and in this way Jesus is glorified and exalted (Phil. 2:5-11).
            Now, don’t think for a second that this was easy.  It might be easy for us to say, “Well, of course Jesus could do all this.  He’s God, after all.”  He is indeed God.  But he is also Man with very human emotions.  And he was “troubled” by what was coming down the road for him at the end of that week.  On several occasions he told his disciples that he would be arrested, mocked, spit upon, flogged, and killed.  If you knew this was your fate, you’d be troubled, too.  Jesus was troubled … yet he was still obedient to his Father and willing to glorify the name of his Father by his death on the cross and the salvation of the world that it would bring.
            At our Lord’s Baptism, the Father’s voice came from heaven, assuring Jesus of his Sonship and sending him on his divine mission.  At the Transfiguration, the Father’s voice came from heaven again, once again affirming Jesus’ divine Sonship and sending him down the mountain toward his own “exodus” to rescue us from our slavery to sin, death, and the devil.  Once more, approaching the cross, the Father’s voice is heard again, assuring Jesus that in his death, the Father’s name would be glorified.  Jesus told the gathered crowd, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.”  And this is true for the gathered crowd here today.  The voice of the Father is for our sake, too.  His voice that comes to us through his Word today assures us of our forgiveness as Jesus is lifted up on the cross … including the times when we have been afraid to let others see Jesus in us and through us as we confess his name.  The sinful world is judged.  The devil is defeated and has no more power to accuse you or threaten you.  Jesus is lifted up on the cross and draws us to himself in grace and mercy.
            I know of some pastors who have placed these words on their pulpits where their sermon manuscript is placed: “We wish to see Jesus.”  Whether laminated, engraved, or written on a Post-It note, those words are a reminder to the preacher to give his hearers Jesus and to point them to his cross.  Jesus and his cross should be at the center of every Christian sermon, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 1: “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23); and in chapter 2: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).  You should come with that expectation every time you come to the Divine Service: “We wish to see Jesus.”
            If you don’t see Jesus as Savior at the cross, it will be impossible to see him as your Savior at all.  There were those who refused to do as Jesus did, to “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.”  The Savior of the world was right in front of them, and they refused to believe in him, even though, as John notes, “he had done so many signs before them.”  Jesus therefore “departed and hid himself from them.”  What a frightening indictment on their unbelief!  Their hardness of heart brought God’s judgment, the very judgment that Isaiah had prophesied … the blinding of eyes and the hardening of hearts that stubbornly refuse God’s gracious offer of salvation.
            Isaiah saw Jesus.  At the end of today’s Gospel reading, John writes that “Isaiah … saw his glory and spoke of him.”  In Isaiah 6, the prophet says, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Is. 6:1).  And in chapter 53, the great “Suffering Servant” chapter, God says through the prophet, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up and shall be exalted” … and then proceeds to describe how this Servant will be marred beyond recognition … how he will be “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” … how he will be “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” … how he will be “pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities” … how the Lord will lay “on him the iniquity of us all” … how he will bear “the sin of many” and make “intercession for the transgressors.”  I contend that what Isaiah saw in chapter 6 was our Crucified King lifted high upon the throne of his cross.  The train of his robe that filled the temple was the blood of the King flowing down to atone for the sin of the world.  How appropriate then, that we sing the song of the angels from Isaiah 6, “Holy, holy, holy” as we approach the altar of the Lord to eat his holy Body and drink his holy Blood that was given and shed to atone for your sins and mine.  Here is where you see Jesus!
            Fed and nourished, you go from this place so that others will see Jesus through you.  The humble service of Jesus is reflected in the humble service of his followers.  “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.  If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”  You have been given life and breath to serve your neighbor.  So walk while you have the light.  Believe in the light.  In Holy Baptism, you have become “sons of light.”  Shine the light so others will see Jesus.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent (March 22, 2015)

Lent 5 – Series B (March 22, 2015)
“True Glory” (Mark 10:35-45)

A recent blog post at the Huffington Post, written by a young woman from the “Millennial” generation, listed 34 ways you change as you become an adult (by the way, in case you don’t know what a “Millennial” is, that’s the label recently given to those who reached adulthood around the year 2000; that means that they’re generally in their late 20’s and early 30’s right now).  Here’s the first four of those changes: 1) You don’t feel the need to gossip anymore;  2) Jealousy is futile and starts to fade away as a controlling force in your mind;  3) You handle conflict directly, maturely, and respectfully;  and 4) You know how to apologize and admit fault.
            But is that really true of adulthood?  Adults continue to gossip, get jealous, act immature, hold grudges, and never admit they are wrong.  The article goes on to state this: “Adulthood is a journey into strength and self-empowerment.”  Another blogger – a Millennial himself – writes in response: “Millennials are often labeled as the self-centered, ‘Me’ generation, and I’ve always hated that stereotype because I didn’t really see it.  Now I do.  Millennials think adulthood is more self-empowerment than self-sacrifice … Three of the 34 ‘ways you change as you become an adult’ are focused on others.  Sounds more like these may be ways to become parasites of happiness, not productive, caring adults.  Millennials won’t grow up because we won’t care about anyone but ourselves.  It’s hard to grow up and be an adult when you can’t get out from in front of the mirror.”[1]
            Pretty harsh words, coming from someone from within that generation.  But let’s not just rag on the Millennials.  This applies to every sinful generation.  We are all so self-absorbed that servanthood and self-sacrifice does not come naturally.
            I don’t know how old James and John were at this point.  They may have been in their 20’s or early 30’s.  The “sons of thunder,” they are called.  Two young, brash brothers.  Apparently, they were into self-empowerment, too … so much so that they audaciously asked Jesus for positions of power and authority when he comes into his glory.  Matthew’s Gospel tells us that they even get their mom in on the act … that’s why she appears with them in the picture on today’s service folder (Matt. 20:20-28).  Maybe the boys thought mom could put in a good word for them.
            James and John had a mistaken notion of glory.  They were expecting the glory of an earthly kingdom.  This was a perpetual misunderstanding among the disciples and the Jews in general.  This request happened right before our Lord’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.  The crowd at that event was expecting Jesus to be an earthly king, too.  That’s why they turned their back on him so quickly when they saw him nailed to a cross.  James and John wanted positions of power and honor … to be seated at the Lord’s right hand and left hand.  And lest we come down too hard on them, it appears the other disciples wanted in on the act, too.  That’s why they were so indignant.  They were just upset that James and John got around to asking first.
            What are our notions of glory?  We think of God’s magnificence, his splendor, his majesty and greatness, his holiness, his complete other-ness … and this is certainly included in the Bible’s idea of glory.  We think of the glory of God’s presence … the cloud that filled the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle … the pillar of cloud and fire that led the people of Israel in their wilderness wanderings … the glory of the Lord shining upon the shepherds in Bethlehem … the bright glory of Jesus shining on the mount of Transfiguration.  We might also think of the glory of eternity ... an existence without sin and its effects, no more sadness, no more sickness, no more death, a joyful reunion with those we love who have gone before us, a life lived forever in God’s presence without having to be kept safe in a cleft between two rocks, like Moses when he was given a glimpse of God’s glory in passing.  But there is so much more that can be said about God’s glory.  There are many different words in the Bible that are often translated as “glory” but all have various nuances of meaning.
            The glory of God is demonstrated in his mighty deeds and saving works in Christ Jesus.  As Jesus approached the cross, he declared, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23).  The night of his arrest, he prayed to his Father, “the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” … “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:1, 4).  The cup which Jesus was about to drink was the cup of God’s wrath over sin and mankind’s rebellion against him.  The baptism with which Jesus was about to be baptized was being immersed in blood and death and grave.  In all this, “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” … the payment due for the bondage to sin and death to which we have all been subject ever since Adam and Eve first said “No” to God and “Yes” to the devil’s temptation.
            “In the cross of Christ I glory,” we sing.  The cross does not appear very glorious.  But God’s glory is evident under the cross and suffering.  The world cannot see this, but the eyes of faith can. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 4 says, “the god of this world [that is, Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God … For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4, 6)
            The King is crowned with thorns as he suffers and dies for the sins of the world.  The sign Pilate placed there declared him to be the King of the Jews.  At his right and his left are condemned criminals … sorry excuses for a prime minister or a vice-president, but the ones chosen to “sit” at his right and his left.  One rejected him in mockery, one received him in faith … a plain example of the two types of people in the world.  And consider a further contrast.  James and John asked Jesus for a place in glory prior to seeing the gore of the crucifixion, what most people would view as defeat.  The thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember him in his kingdom, and this while looking at a beaten, bloodied, dying man.  That is faith … seeing the glory of God even in the face of suffering and death.    
            We reflect God’s glory when we humbly serve others in the name of Christ.  Jesus said, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”  Our lives are not about self-empowerment, but rather self-sacrifice … toward our spouse, our children, our co-workers, our classmates … anyone God has placed in our life and who needs our care and concern.
            It may mean suffering for us, too.  “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus replied after the initial request from the two disciples.  “You will indeed drink the cup and be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.”  James was martyred.  John was exiled.  But we must remember that suffering does not equal punishment.  Jesus drank the cup of the Father’s wrath over sin, down to the last drop.  “It is finished,” he said.  Our watery baptism connects us to Jesus’ bloody baptism.  In repentant trust, we come to the Lord’s table where we drink of the blood of the New Covenant.  Our Lord forgives our self-absorption and our wish for self-empowerment rather than self-sacrifice.  And through his Word and Spirit, we are empowered to be servants, even if it means we must also suffer.  Like the thief on the cross, God has given us eyes of faith to trust that God has not abandoned us when we suffer or when death draws near to us and our family.  In those times, he is present with you and continues to serve you with his love and mercy.  Jesus will remember you in his kingdom and you will be with him in Paradise.
            The 1989 Oscar-winning film Driving Miss Daisy is set in the American South during the Civil Rights struggle.  Miss Daisy, played by Jessica Tandy, is a wealthy 73 year-old Jewish widow who lives alone in Atlanta, Georgia.  After she wrecks her car, her son decides to hire a chauffeur, an African-American man by the name of Hoke, played by Morgan Freeman.  At first, Miss Daisy refuses his services, but eventually lets him drive her around.  Although Miss Daisy has her prejudices, she gradually begins to accept Hoke as a friend because of his humble, yet dignified, service to her.  In fact, the relationship between Miss Daisy and her chauffeur develops during the film until we are not sure who is serving whom.  Hoke is illiterate, and Miss Daisy teaches him to read.  When Miss Daisy’s housekeeper dies, she decides to cook and clean on her own, and Hoke assists and takes care of the garden.  Hoke ends up having a profound influence on Miss Daisy because of the love and faithfulness he shows.  When dementia begins for Miss Daisy and she takes up residence in a nursing home, Hoke continues to visit and help feed Miss Daisy.  At one point, Miss Daisy – this affluent, white, Jewish woman – tells this formerly illiterate black man, “Hoke, you’re my best friend.”[2]
            Those you humbly serve may never call you your best friend.  But that’s beside the point.  You don’t serve others to gain a friend.  You serve them because Christ has humbly and sacrificially served you.  And you may end up having a profound influence on them as you serve them selflessly in the name of Christ.  After all, even before we were friends of Jesus, he died for us.  Remember St. Paul’s words in Romans 5: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us … For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:8, 10).  Consider the profound influence his love and self-sacrifice has had on you!  A profound, far-reaching, eternal influence so that you will one day see your Risen Jesus … and no longer just with the eyes of faith, but right before your very eyes, shining as the Lamb of God (Rev. 21:23).


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent (March 8, 2015)

Lent 3 – Series B (March 8, 2015)
John 2:13-25
            It wasn’t necessarily wrong to be buying and selling animals at the temple.  Many pilgrims at Jerusalem for the Passover celebration came from many miles away.  It was not feasible for them to travel with animals to offer in sacrifice at the temple, so provision was made for travelers to buy animals once they arrived.  Stalls at the base of the temple mount had been constructed where oxen and sheep were kept.  Those who sold pigeons positioned themselves there with birdcages.  The moneychangers would have set up shop at nearby tables, too.  It was not acceptable to buy animals for sacrifice with coins bearing the idolatrous image of the Roman emperor. You had to exchange them for other coins that wouldn’t have been offensive in that way.
            This whole business wasn’t all wrong.  The issue was that the business of buying and selling worked its way from outside the temple precinct, upstairs into the temple courts themselves. The place where pilgrims were to be engaged in prayer and worship had turned into a loud, busy, smelly marketplace.  The lowing of cattle, the bleating of sheep, the clinking of coins, and the haggling of the venders[1] competed with the prayers of the faithful and the chanting of the priestly choir.  It’s apparent that the moneychangers also added exorbitant fees for their services (Mt. 21:13; Mk. 11:17).  It was quite a profitable business, both for the venders and for the chief priests who oversaw the temple rituals.
            This is what got Jesus fired up.  Take a look at the artwork on your service folder.  The artist has covered Jesus’ face.  We don’t get to see whether Jesus was enraged or if he simply got down to business.  I suspect it was the latter.  It would have been out of character for him to be out of control.  Also, it appears as if he’s ready to strike the man on the ground, but the whip was merely to drive the animals out and get the attention of the wrongdoers.  Jesus would not have used the whip to injure anyone.  Jesus was upset about the way in which the temple was being desecrated.  He wanted to uphold the holiness of God’s house, the place of worship, and to place no barriers in the way for all people to hear the Word of God.
            John observes that at that time “many believed in his name when they saw the signs he was doing.”  They saw the healings and exorcisms he had performed.  And then John adds this interesting bit of information: “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”  Jesus did not fully reveal his identity to those merely looking for signs but who quickly turned away from him when he turned out to be a different sort of Messiah than they expected.
            The Jewish leaders asked for a sign, but for a different reason.  They wanted him to verify his authority to purge the temple as he did.  They did not believe in him in spite of the signs he was doing (except for some who did believe later, including possibly Nicodemus, whom we are introduced to in the chapter following our text today).  This is the sign that Jesus would give them: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” … not the temple in which they stood, but the temple of his body which stood before them.
            Jesus did not entrust himself to those who were merely looking for signs because he knows what’s in the heart of man.  Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind.”  At creation, God wrote the Law on the heart of man, but since the Fall into sin it becomes contorted and twisted in calloused, hardened hearts.  At Sinai, God gave the written Law to Moses – summarized in the Ten Commandments – the revelation of God’s perfect will for the lives of all people, and yet people still rebel against it.  Jesus said, “out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22).  In today’s Epistle reading, Paul says that the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God.  Yet that is what we so often rely on.  Too often, we have let the world’s values shape our own to the exclusion of what Holy Scripture says.  And that only leads to eternal death (1 Cor. 1:18).  Yes, Jesus knows what’s in the heart of man.  He knows what’s in your heart and my heart.  He sees the sin in our hearts and lives that get in the way of our worship.  He is well aware of our words and deeds that get in the way of others who would join us in worship.  Zeal for God’s house and God’s honor does not consume us.  We are more zealous about making money, taking vacations, playing sports, or any number of things to which God takes second fiddle.  We are not as zealous for him as his Son was, that’s for sure.
            Zeal for God’s house consumed Jesus.  It fired him up so that he drove out the animals and the moneychangers.  It fired up his opponents so that they ultimately killed him.  But that was the way in which God intended to save us from the penalty for our rebellion against his commandments.  Our sins were laid upon Jesus and consumed him until he breathed his last breath so that God’s wrath over lack of zeal for him will not consume us.
            “We preach Christ crucified.”  The sign of the cross is the sign we look to for forgiveness and salvation.  It’s a stumbling block to those looking for miraculous signs.  It’s foolishness to those trying to figure things out by their own reason.  But it is through the sign of the cross that Jesus entrusts himself to us and gives us faith to believe in him.  “To us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
            Through the sign of the cross, Jesus has entrusted himself to us.  We sinners entrust ourselves to Jesus and his care.  He is the Lamb who came to take the place of all those other sacrifices which were only previews and shadows (Col. 2:17).  Look at the artwork again on the service folder.  Did you notice the lamb being carried behind Jesus?  In an even greater way, all the sacrifices of the temple are now behind him.  He is the once for all sacrifice.  He was whipped for us, driven out of the city for us, and bore the cross for us.  All the money changing in the world cannot compare with the great price he gave to earn forgiveness for us and everlasting life and a place in his kingdom.
No temple now, no gift of price,
No priestly round of sacrifice,
Retain their ancient pow’rs.
As shadows fade before the sun
The day of sacrifice is done,
The day of grace is ours.

In faith and confidence draw near,
Within the holiest appear,
With all who praise and pray;
Who share one family, one feast,
One great imperishable Priest,
One new and living way. (LSB 530.1, 3)

            Jesus is the true temple.  He is the true center of worship.  John 1:14 says that “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.”  All the fullness of God dwells in him (Col. 1:19).  The earthly temple was soon to be obsolete when he said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
            In Holy Baptism, Jesus has raised you up.  You were buried and raised with Christ (Rom. 6:1-4).  Joined to him, he has also raised up his Body, the Church, into a house of living stones and placed you as one of those stones.  You, dear Church, are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  You are a house of prayer for all nations.  And this house is not confined to a building, a city, or a nation.  Everywhere and anywhere that God’s Word and the Body and Blood of Jesus are offered and received in faith … there is God’s temple, there is Christ’s body, there is the Church.
            Entrust yourself here to Jesus.  Believe in his name.  May zeal for his house – and all the gifts of life and forgiveness that he generously provides for you here – graciously consume you.
For Christ is ours! With purpose true
The pilgrim path of faith pursue,
The road that Jesus trod;
Until by His prevailing grace
We stand at last before His face,
Our Savior and our God. (LSB 530.4)


[1] Kretzmann, Popular Commentary Vol. 1, p. 418.