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The Rich Young Idolater October 14, 2018

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Mark 10:17-22

Proper 23

October 14th, 2018

 

Focus:  God loves us and forgives us, even of our greatest idols.

Function:  That the hearers repent of their idols and trust in Christ alone.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

The Rich Young Idolater

 

Our gospel reading from Mark today is one that’s very familiar to us as the Church.  It’s the story of the rich young ruler, the man who had great wealth, and wanted to know how to be saved.  Because we’re so familiar with it, today’s sermon will be more of a Bible study, as we walk through this text verse by verse and really look at it.  So, let’s dig in!

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

 

Jesus has recently been in the region of Judea, just on the east side of the Jordan River.  He’s been doing some difficult teaching, as He’s answered the Pharisees questions about divorce, and then later said one of His famous quotes: “Let the children come to Me.”

And now He’s preparing to leave that place, to move on to the next town and continue to preach and teach in another place.  And in the next section, Mark tells us what that place is.  They’re on the journey to Jerusalem.  It’s about to be time for the triumphal entry, for Jesus to ride in to Jerusalem on a colt.  For an excruciatingly difficult week.

It’s sandwiched in between these events, that we see this young man come before Jesus.  He gets on his knees.  He comes to the feet of Christ.  And then he asks Him a question.  “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Before we get to Jesus’ answer, we can unpack that.  Good Teacher is true.  Jesus is that.  More than that, but He is a good teacher.  But what about the question itself?  “What must I do?”  What’s the answer to that?  Brothers and sisters in Christ, what can you do you’re your own salvation?  Nothing!  Let’s see Jesus’ response:

18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 

 

Jesus begins with the introduction.  He responds to this young man calling Him a “good teacher.”  Why?  Why would you call Me good?  There’s two goals of this sentence.  First, who is good?  God alone.  So in order for Jesus to be good, He must be…God.  Jesus is seeking a confession of faith from the man.  And this is gold!  If we can’t earn our salvation by our works as we’ve already said, how then are we saved?  By faith in Christ.  Jesus is aiming for that response.

The second part of this sentence is for us to realize that we aren’t good.  God alone is good.  That means, we aren’t.  We’re not good enough.  We can’t earn our salvation.  It must be a gift.  And so Jesus continues His answer to help the young man see this.

19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 

 

What must I do to be saved?  Keep the Law.  If it were up to us, that’s how we’d have to do it.  We would have to keep the Law perfectly.  No slip ups, no kinda sorta’s.  Perfectly.  I won’t read into the order of the commands Jesus is quoting here.  I mean, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, and then back to 4.  I’m not sure if there’s any reason He puts honoring parents at the back of the list for this man.  I don’t know.

But what is clear, is what He doesn’t include.  The first table of the Law is missing.  Commandments one through three, which teach us how to love God.  They’re not here.  He’s going with the second table, the obvious ones, the one’s we can see.  The one’s we can judge.  This man would know if he’d ever killed someone.  Cheated on his wife, stolen, lied in court.  He’d know these.

The point here is this: you can’t even keep the commands to love your neighbor, who’s right here in front of your face.  How do you think you can love God, the Lord of the universe?  If you can’t keep the easy ones, how are you going to keep the hard ones?  Jesus is inviting the man to realize that he can’t save himself, that even his question is wrong.

But in the man’s response, we see he doesn’t get it.

20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 

 

*Facepalm*

            The young man thinks he’s done it!  He actually believes in his heart that he has kept the Law.  This is easy for us to look at from the outside.  To render our judgment, both because we know of original sin, that all men sin and fall short of the glory of God.  But also, because we know the young man can’t do it.  We know he hasn’t done it.  In a couple of verses, we’re going to see him walk away from God.

We could read into that introduction, too.  That perhaps he just showed us his lack of faith.  Jesus said not to call Him good unless you think He’s God.  So it’s possible that the young man changes his introduction to match.  To declare that he doesn’t see Jesus as God, but only as a teacher.  I can’t say that part with certainty.  But it’s an interesting possibility, and the context tells us it’s probably true.

Either way, the statement is a hard one.  This man thinks he’s kept the Law, and that he’s capable of earning salvation.  So we see Jesus respond:

21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 

 

Jesus could’ve responded to the young man in lots of different ways.  Clearly, this guy wasn’t there for the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus took all of these laws and showed us just how deep they actually are.  Just how impossible it is to actually keep them.  He could’ve preached that again, but He doesn’t.

He could’ve gotten angry at the man’s lack of faith.  But He doesn’t.  He could’ve gotten angry at the man’s idolatry, but He doesn’t.

Instead, He loves him.  Remember, when this man shows up, Jesus was just about to begin His journey to Jerusalem, where He would willingly give His life for all people.  This man included.  He loves him.  Dearly.  This man is His creation, His creature, and Jesus is going to give His life for him.

So instead, we see Him respond with precision.  Like the surgeon in Operation, whether you’re thinking of actual doctors, or that difficult, beeping children’s game.  Jesus strikes true.  Straight at the heart of the man.  He names his idol, and He seeks to kill it.

On the surface, it sounds like a ridiculous command.  Take everything you own, and go and sell it all.  Then take the money, and give it all to the poor.  At that point, as you hit rock bottom, as you’ve got nothing left, come with Me.  Trust in Me.  Follow Me.  You’ll have Me.

This is the call.  He’s made it before.  The disciples were asked to do something similar.  Although, for most of them, they left the homes of their parents, the work they were being trained to do so they could care for themselves and their own families in the years to come.  But the twelve did it.

22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

The young man couldn’t.  He couldn’t give it up.  Jesus went straight for the kill.  No messing around with different laws.  Jesus went straight to the first commandment.  You shall have no other gods before Me.  And for this man, his wealth was his god.

He trusted in it.  He trusted in it for his daily bread.  He trusted in it for a roof over his head.  He trusted in it for the safety he could buy with it.  He trusted in it for the friends he could acquire with it.  He trusted in the money when the Savior of the world was right there in front of him.

Jesus knew his idol.  He knew the one thing that was truly preventing this man from being saved.  He lacked faith.  He didn’t trust in God above all things.  And so Jesus answers the question truly.  Give it up.  Repent.  Stop trusting in the created things and trust in the Creator.

This is us.  For some of us, perhaps all of us, money is an idol.  Even if it isn’t all the time, we have those moments.  We trust in our bank account, rather than God, for daily bread, for the needs of this life.  We panic at the sight of stock market changes, and what that means for our retirement, rather than trusting in God.

We idolize family, as we turn to them for love and belonging instead of the Lord.  We idolize our careers, as we put so much effort into building something, anything, even though as soon as we leave this place, it’ll crumble.  We idolize our government, looking to them for safety, guidance, even our identity at this point.

We idolize success, striving each day to be as busy as we can be, doing this activity, this task, this job, all so we can move up.  All so our kids can move up.  We already have more wealth than 98% of people who are alive today.  What are we striving for?  What are teaching our children?

This is what our Bible study has been about the past five weeks.  And we’re just getting started.  We’ve talked about the purpose of life, loving our enemies, where our identity comes from, our value.  We’ve looked at self-esteem.  In these next few weeks, we’ll see what God’s Word has to say on another few dozen topics.  We’ll talk government and politics.  We’ll talk family, marriage, children, and education.  We’ll talk about contentment, individualism, flags, and death.  Please join us, bring more topics.  Bring questions.  Bring your family.  Bring your friends.  Let’s study God’s Word.

Jesus knows this is us.  He knows our biggest idols.  He knows them all.  Most of the time, He even created them.  They were meant to be gifts, but we chose to worship the creation rather than the creator.

But even with this grand insult of the Almighty God, His love for us runs so deep, that He kept His promise.   He hopped on that colt, and He road it into Jerusalem, knowing exactly what He was up against.  He did it for you.  The whole week, the teaching, the table tossing, the betrayal, the Lord’s Supper, the garden and arrest, the trials, the mockery, and the crucifixion.  He willingly gave His life for us.  He shed His blood to cleanse us of our idols.  To forgive us, to restore us.  We are free to trust in Him.

You are His creation.  You are dearly loved.  And this, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is what true love really looks like.  It’s the willingness to speak the hard words.  It’s the willingness to call your family, your friend to repent of their wrongdoing, to turn away from their sin.  To turn away from idols, and to put our trust in Christ alone.  Because He does love us.  He does provide for us.  He does protect us.  And He shows us what true love looks like by laying down His own life for ours.  He is your hope. He is your salvation.  And it’s all a free gift.

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Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy September 30, 2018

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Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

Proper 21 – The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 30, 2018

Focus:  God has given us the words to speak: the good news of Jesus Christ.

Function:  That the hearers share the gospel in their vocations.

Structure:  This is the problem…this is the response of the Gospel…these are the implications.

 

Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy

 

Over the last few weeks now, our Scripture readings through the lectionary have been focusing on the leaders of the Church.  Two weekends ago, we saw James giving us the warning that not all should become teachers, because those who do will face a stricter judgment.  And last weekend, Pastor Otto preached on God telling the prophet Jeremiah to no longer pray for the people of Judah.

This weekend, we have Moses, the writer of the first five books of Scripture.  The book of Genesis ended with God’s people of Israel having a pretty nice deal on the table with Egypt.  Joseph was famous, ruling over everything except the throne of Pharaoh.  And so his family took comfort in the land of Goshen.

But as we transition into Exodus, generations have passed.  And the new Pharaoh hasn’t a clue who Joseph was, or what he’d done for his land and his people.  Rather, in fear of the great numbers of Israelites, he chooses to enslave them before they think of overthrowing his throne.

After about 430 years in Egypt, the people cry out.  They finally remember the Lord and His promises to them.  And they ask for His help, His deliverance.  So, God raises up Moses to be His spokesman, His prophet among them.  He performs miracles through him in the eyes of the people.  Turning a staff into a snake.  Healing leprosy.

And as Pharaoh rejects the command to let Israel go, to let God’s people go, the Ten Plagues begin.  All the water in the land becomes blood.  Frogs, gnats, flies, so thick upon the land you felt like you were swimming in them.  The death of livestock, boils, and hail.  Locusts and thick darkness.  And then the Passover and the Plague of the firstborn son.  There wasn’t a house in Egypt where someone wasn’t dead.

And as the Israelites are finally kicked out by Pharaoh, we see the grumbling begin.  Despite everything they witnessed, all that God has done for them, they doubt Him.  They doubt His salvation, His love, and His provision.  Weren’t there graves in Egypt?  Didn’t we have meat in our firepots in Egypt?  Wasn’t there plenty of water to drink in Egypt?  Why’d you bring us out here in the wilderness to die?

Our Old Testament reading today is one of these grumblings.  A strong craving.  For meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic.  Apparently all free.  Or at least, so they say now.  And they look upon the gift, manna, the bread that God gave them every day as sustenance.  The bread that tasted like dessert as they ate it.  They look upon that bread with disgust.  God’s gift wasn’t good enough.  The certainty of it being there every day wasn’t good enough.  The wonder of it being freely given.  The regularity you could trust.

Instead, they wanted a buffet, a smorgasbord to feast on.  They had grown tired of God’s gift.  They had grown bored with true comfort.  We do this as well.  We grow tired of His Word, wanting something more entertaining.  We grow bored with hearing the same good news, gospel message each and every week, so we stop coming until we feel we need it.  We grow tired of His gifts, of something like marriage.  I’m convinced that this buffet mentality is behind the epidemic of adultery and pornography.  Why settle for the same thing every day for the rest of our lives?

And so the Israelites all came out of their tents and cried out against God and against Moses.  The text doesn’t say here.  It doesn’t say if Moses is fearful for his life.  There were other times he thought the Israelites might choose to overwhelm him in their anger.  But it doesn’t say that here.  It just tells us Moses response to their complaint this time.  And it’s essentially this: “[God,] if you will treat me like this, kill me at once.”  He’s overwhelmed by their lack of faith in God.  He’s stressed by the burden of trying to care for them all.  So He asks God to end it.  And, I guarantee you, he’s not the only leader of the Church to ever make that request.

And yet God’s response isn’t death.  He could’ve.  “Okay Moses, here’s what you asked for!”  And Moses would’ve been no more.  But instead, God responds with mercy and grace.  He hears the root of Moses’ complaint, that the burden was too much.  And so God raises up seventy men, from among the elders of Israel.  And He pours out His Spirit upon them, and they begin to prophesy.  That is, they begin to speak the words of God to His people.  It’s only temporary, to show God’s favor is still in Moses, that he is still the rightful leader of this people.

When Moses’ assistant, Joshua, hears the report of two others prophesying back in the camp, Eldad and Medad, he tells Moses to put an end to it.  Moses is the prophet, not these other two.  But Moses’ response is simple and great: “Are you jealous for my sake?  Would that all Yahweh’s people were prophets.”  Imagine how wonderful it would be if you were all full of God’s Word.

Now, I see why the worship committee paired this text with our gospel reading.  We see the disciples make the same call as Joshua.  There were those casting out demons in Jesus’ name.  They wanted Jesus to stop them.  But as true a connection as this is, it’s not where I want to look today.

Instead, I take you to Peter’s sermon on Pentecost.  As he preaches to the Jews, he quotes the prophet Joel and says,

17 And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. – Acts 2:17-18

 

You see, God has raised you up.  You are His sons and daughters who prophesy.  Put simply, that means we speak His words to others.  And what words would that be?  What has He given you to say?

Rather than responding to us as we deserve, with death and damnation for our sins, God responds with mercy and grace.  He responds by sending His Son, Jesus Christ to be our forgiveness.  Like the manna, the gift is regular.  It’s daily.  It’s always here and you can be certain.  In His Word, we are forgiven of our boredom.  In His gifts, daily of baptism, we are washed clean of our lusts.

That’s the interesting thing, isn’t it?  I’ve been working with our 7th graders these last couple of weeks to prepare them for receiving the Lord’s Supper for the first time in their lives.  That’s a big deal.  It truly is.  But one of things that I’ve stressed above all else is this one little part of Christ’s gift and command.  “This cup is the new covenant in My blood.  Do this, as _____ (often) as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

The Lord isn’t in the business of withholding His gifts.  There’s no one in heaven keeping tabs on how much you’re drinking.  The early Church took the Lord’s Supper together daily.  They treasured the gift.  And they heeded Christ’s command.  This forgiveness is here.  Shed for you.  In Christ, your sins are forgiven.  One of the students asked, “Pastor, what if for some reason I’m at church for both services.  If I come up at 8am for the Lord’s Supper, can I come up again at 10:45am?”  YES!  Most definitely. Do this as often as you drink it.  I know I’ve sinned in the time between services, and rejoice greatly that Christ’s forgiveness is more abundant than my sin.

These are the words that you’ve been given to speak.  The Church doesn’t need to be the center of our culture.  I don’t want the Church to be so full of events that you can’t live in your families and in your communities.  That’s not what this building is meant for.  You’ve been given a Word to speak, and people to speak it to.  There’s no need to be jealous for the sake of your pastors.  I’ve heard it said before that evangelism is only the job of the pastor.  You’re not taking special work away from us.  It’s my job to love you.  It’s your job to love your neighbor.

It’s like I shared with the kids in the children’s message.  The church is the bucket, God’s gifts are the water, and you are the sponge.  We come here, we gather here, to hear God’s good news for us in Christ, and to receive His abundant gifts.  And then we go out from this place, we scatter, sloshing His gifts around as we go.  Dripping, soaking, sharing the good news of Christ and Him crucified.  Sharing the good news that our sins are forgiven.

This is the teaching of vocation, one of the true gems of Lutheran theology.  As you go home today, and you’re talking to your next-door neighbor in the driveway, you have the opportunity in that relationship to share the Gospel.  As you go home and hear your brother gloating and bragging about his sin, you have the opportunity to share the Law, to show him his sin and his need for a Savior, and then to point him to Christ, where that sin is forgiven.

You are husbands and wives.  Fathers and mothers.  Sons and daughters.  Nieces, nephews, and cousins.  You are students, teachers, employees, employers.  You are teammates, coworkers.  You are friends.  You are neighbors.  All of these are good things.  All of these are vocations in which you serve your neighbor, loving them as Christ loves them.

And most of all, you are children of God.  You are His.  Forgiven of all sin in the blood of His Son.  Richly blessed in the abundance of His gifts.  And entrusted, as His prophets, with His most precious Word of life in Christ alone.

The Gift of Greater Strictness September 16, 2018

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James 3:1-12

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 16, 2018

 

Focus:  God blesses us with His gifts.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in the gifts and responsibilities God has given them.

Structure:  This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel…these are the implications.

 

The Gift of Greater Strictness

 

This is a difficult text and a difficult book.  Teachers being judged to a greater strictness?  Does that mean there’s different rewards waiting for us in heaven?  Or that we have to give an account on the Last Day and will be judged according to our works?  It would just be easier to side with early Luther and say, “Someday I will use James to fire my stove.”  He came around.  He grew to like James, eventually.

But antilegomena or not, James’ letter made the canon of Scripture.  And as a part of God’s Word, we do respect it as such.  And we should include in our studies, our personal devotion, and even in our church readings.

And there are certainly several things here we can look at.  All three uses of the law are in this text.  The bits being placed into the mouths of horses is an illustration of the curb, that their behavior, their movement can be controlled, curtailed.  The horse kept in line.  James’ discussion of the tongue is an excellent example of a mirror, breaking down how we fall short.  And the idea of a pilot guiding his ship could also be used to illustrate the law as a guide.

But where I’m going this morning is to view all of this as a gift from God.  These things are gifts to us as His people.  The law is His good and perfect will for us.  And so even the very idea that we have a life to live to His will is a gift.

And despite labeling our tongues as a great evil, they too are a gift.  God has given us the ability to speak, to taste food, and if you’re around my daughters lately, to make all kinds of silly sounds and faces.

But even though they’re gifts from God, we can abuse them.  How many harsh things have rolled off the tip of your tongue?  And that’s not just swearing and cursing.  Insults, lies, deception, mockery, hatred, disgust.  We often discuss whether or not people have a filter.  But even the best of us slips up.  We’ve all said things we instantly regretted.     We have harmed neighbors, destroyed friendships.  The tongue can indeed be wicked.

And to James’ point here, there are times where pastors, leaders in God’s kingdom where our tongues have lit the church on fire.  I know mine has.  Times when we forget someone’s name and offend them by it.  Other moments where a pastor slips in our speech and break someone’s confidentiality, revealing just a little too much, just a little too soon.  Or maybe there have even been times where they’ve taught something incorrectly, and it started a chain reaction of pain in the community.

And then there are also times when pastors preach the truth and it fails to itch the ears of their hearers.  Perhaps all pastors who have preached the Word of God in truth, have seen people leave the pews, and leave their church community altogether.  And then it’s their tongues that start causing fires that have to be put out.

And so as teachers of God’s Word, we get this incredible warning from James.  “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

It’s almost as though James were trying his best Uncle Ben impersonation, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Alright, so it’s probably the other way around.  But there is much wisdom in what Spider-man’s uncle said.  In fact, it fits in quite well with what God teaches in Scripture.

In Matthew, the parable of the tenants, we hear the master respond “‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”  That’s a great stewardship text.  A great way to talk about using the blessings God gives us to be a blessing to others.

And then we can look to Adam and Eve and the fall into sin.  Even though Eve takes the first bite, it’s Adam that God seeks.  It’s Adam that God first blames.  It’s Adam that the Scriptures continue to blame to this day.  He was given responsibility, stewardship, over God’s creation, over his wife.  And when He failed, God held him accountable for it.

Or we can to look to Christ’s words as He says in Matthew 18:

“but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

 

Those words have meaning for all of us, for all disciples, whether we have children or not.  The Scriptures bear this out, the more responsibility we are given, the more accountability there is that comes with it.

And so it’s not surprising, that just about any time we start to talk about heaven, or Paradise, in a Bible study, there’s a question that almost always comes up: “Will there be different rewards for us in heaven?”

It’s a great question, and it’s a fun one for us to grapple with.  And I’m always glad to see people acknowledge, “We’ll let God be God.  And we will simply trust in Him.”  Because the more we prod into this difficult question, the more we realize that if the Bible laid out all the different kinds of rewards God might give, our sinfulness would run rampant.  We would be trying to work to achieve these things, rather than trusting in God and His good gifts.  We only have to look to the disciples to see that.  To James and John asking to sit at Christ’s left and His right hand in Paradise.  It’s not ours to say or to achieve.  We are simply called to be faithful in what God has given us, in the responsibilities He lays on our shoulders.

Because even though there are mornings when I wake up and I’m struggling, struggling with the monotony of another day, struggling with the devil’s lie of a lack of success, of a numbers game, struggling with all the busyness of another agenda, on those mornings, God’s gift to me is a curb.  His gift to me is to use His law to remind me of my responsibilities, of my vocations, that I might get up out of bed and go do them.

And even though there are times when I’m wondering how best to serve you all as God’s people, to call out your sin, to proclaim the gospel, how to walk with you through grief, how to navigate the struggles of damaged relationships, God’s gift to me is a guide.  He gives me His law to help show me the way that I might walk in it, and be a light to the community He placed me in.

And then in those times when verses like these leave me drowning in my own sin and guilt, knowing my failings, knowing the hurt I’ve caused, the things my tongue has set ablaze, that from this mouth have come both blessings and curses, and from this body both fruit and rottenness, God’s gift to me is indeed a mirror.  He gives me His law to show me my faults that I might confess them, and give them over to Him for forgiveness.

For in all three uses of this law of God, it is a gift.  Because each of them points us to these words: “if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”  They point us to Christ, who indeed was able to tame the tongue, to live a life without stumbling, and He did so for us.

We are His body, the church, and He gave Himself up for us.  When I sin and when I fall short, my sins are forgiven in Christ and in His gift of grace to me.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, your sins, the times you have set the church and the world on fire with your tongue, the times you have cursed His people, your sins are forgiven and washed clean in our Savior.

So when James says to us: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness,” we can hear that, too, as a gift.  For us as teachers, we have been given a great gift.  We get to bear fruit for the hungry, we get to be fresh water for those who thirst for life.  We get to share the good news of Christ and Him crucified as part of our daily life.  And get paid to do it!  Yes, it’s a responsibility, but it’s also a tremendous gift.  One Pastor Otto and I are both thankful for.

And for you, there is good news that there are still teachers.  This is a gift of God to you.  That there are still men that the Spirit raises up to declare the Law in all its sharpness and authority.  And, to proclaim the gospel, in all its sweetness.  That you may know, without a doubt, that this God Man Jesus Christ laid down His life for you.  That upon the cross, your sins are forgiven.  That through the resurrection, the devil’s lies are defeated, and the life of Christ is forever yours.  And with our tongues, we rejoice in these things!

The Armor of God September 2, 2018

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Ephesians 6:10-20

Proper 17 – The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 2, 2018

 

Focus:  God saves us from the enemy through His Son Jesus.

Function:  That the hearers put on the whole armor of God, that is, Jesus Christ.

Structure:  Walking through the text…twice!

 

The Armor of God

 

Hell is real.  I’m sure you’ve heard otherwise. “A loving God wouldn’t send people to Hell.”  “Hell is just a myth to scare children into behaving.”  “Hell is just a metaphor.”  Similar things are said about the devil these days.

But don’t be mistaken.  Don’t be fooled.  The devil is very real.  Hell is very real.  In the Greek language of the New Testament, the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t say “deliver us from evil.”  It says, “Deliver us from the evil one.”  We specifically pray against Satan every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

And Hell is a very real place.  Created not for us, but for the devil and his army of angels who’ve sided with him.  It is a fiery furnace meant to be their everlasting home, a place of ongoing anguish as they remain forever separated from God.  It is not His will that we go there.  But it is the devil’s aim to bring us down with him.

I will say this as a matter of fact because that is what it is: you and I are caught up in a millennia old war between the Creator and the deceiver.  We do ourselves great harm by pretending this war doesn’t exist.  By slinking away into the comforts of our wealth, it is easy to pretend that we have peace.  It is easy to imagine that we are safe if we just cling to the works of our hands, the wonders of our medicine, the abundance of our technology, and the hecticness of our daily lives.

Who needs to think about war when there’s so much else to distract us from it?  But it is very real, and by ignoring it, we slowly slip into the snares of the evil one.  It is with great pride that he weaves his sticky web of lies.  It is with an eerie grin that he tells you that you can have it all.  It’s with a crafty lie of success that he drags you into a life that is so chaotic that we can’t even find time to stop and just breathe, let alone be in God’s Word.

The devil doesn’t have to use direct assaults.  He doesn’t have to send a legion of demons into our midst.  We’ve already bought his lies; we already enjoy his deceptions.  But turn on the news.  The comfort disappears.  It’s one crime, one murder, one death, one tragedy after another.  If we so much as look up from our own belly button, we see death and destruction all around us.  We live in a dying world.  We are dying.

The works of our hands don’t spare us.  We live in an age with more technological advances than ever before.  And yet, depression and loneliness and suicide are rising to rates never seen before.  When we have so many new and useful tools to make our lives easier, for some reason, we are running around like crazy, busier than we’ve ever been.

We have wonderful activities, sports, and hobbies for ourselves, our families, and our children.  And yet, these things become so numerous, so all-encompassing, that we lose ourselves.  We lose sight of our priorities.

The devil enjoys taking you out of the pew.  He enjoys distracting you from God’s Word.  He revels in keeping you so busy to the point where we think being busy is a good thing.  We’ve bought the deception.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are at war!  The Scriptures don’t hide this, although the devil would like it hidden.  Cover to cover, the ways of Satan and his minions are made known.  The very pains of war are made clear.

This is Biblical language.  And that brings us to our text today.  This is the language of Paul.  We are at war.  Every day is a battle in a raging war.  Every.  Single.  Day.  When you go to bed.  While you sleep.  When you pull yourself up in the morning.  As you go about your vocations.  Constantly, we are at war.

What does Paul encourage us to do in order to prepare for these daily battles?  Put on the whole armor of God.  Why?  So that we might be able to: stand against the schemes of the devil.  But let me ask you this: can you?  Can you stand against the schemes of the devil?  No. You are not as strong as him.  Read about what happened to the sons of Sceva in Acts 19 some time.  We aren’t as powerful.

Can you stand firm in the evil day?  No.  Can you extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one?  No.  So what in the world is Paul doing in this passage?  What’s he getting at?  What is this armor of God that he keeps telling us to put on?

Maybe you’re catching on at this point.  Who can stand firm?  Who can stand against the devil and his schemes?  Who can extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one?  Jesus!  About two months ago, we read as Paul encouraged us to put on … Christ.

Maybe you’ve heard it before, maybe not.  But in telling us to put on the whole armor of God, Paul is telling us to put on Jesus Christ.  This is one of those times that I really wish we had Bibles in the pews. Lend me your ears, and I’ll show you this through God’s Word.

In verse fourteen, we are encouraged to “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth.”  Paul is connecting us back to an Old Testament prophecy about Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.  We hear from Isaiah 11:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of Yahweh shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of Yahweh.
And his delight shall be in the fear of Yahweh. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea.

 

Jesus is that shoot of Jesse.  He is the one with faithfulness and righteousness as His belt.  And even though we don’t know or use the word “loins” much in our language today, the New Testament did.  In Luke 12:35, Jesus says “Let your loins stay girded and keep your lamps burning.”  And in 1 Peter 1:13, “Girding up the loins of your mind, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  We don’t use this language, so sadly those verses aren’t even translated that way anymore.  But Jesus is the belt of truth that we are always to be wearing or girding.

Verse fourteen also mentions the breastplate of righteousness.  For this, we again turn to the prophet Isaiah, the 59th chapter:

15 Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. Yahweh saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. 17 He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. 18 According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment. 19 So they shall fear the name of Yahweh from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the Lord drives. 20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares Yahweh.

 

As Israel and Judah looked about for a king to deliver them from their enemies, Yahweh had different plans.  He promised that He Himself would save them.  A Redeemer in Zion, who would don righteousness as a breastplate.

In verse fifteen we see the shoes of readiness.  This brings us to a prophecy of Jesus in Isaiah 52:7:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

 

You’ve heard that before!  The shoes of readiness of the Gospel of peace.  Jesus’ own good news of salvation.  Paul uses that verse again in Romans 10.  And, we see a similar notion of readiness in other spots.  In Exodus 12, as the Israelites celebrated the Passover in haste, which points forward to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and our Lord’s Supper.  And then there’s also this in 1 Peter 3:

14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

 

Be prepared.  Be ready.  At all times.  With what?  The hope that is in you.  To be able to tell others, what is your hope.  And, what is your hope?  Jesus!

In verse sixteen, we are to take up the shield of faith.  This is the only piece of armor out of the six that doesn’t find root in the prophecies of Isaiah.  According to the Scriptures, who is our shield?  God Himself!   In Genesis 15, Deuteronomy 33, 2 Samuel 22, Psalm 3, 5, 7, 18, 28, 33, 59, 84, 89, 91, 115, 119, 144, and Proverbs 30.  That’s some pretty common usage!  From Psalm 91, we read:

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

 

And, from Psalm 120, we even see and learn about the devil’s flaming arrows:

In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue. What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue? A warrior’s sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree!

 

I know I’ve said this before, but the devil knows just one trick.  He lies, he deceives.  He tries to convince you that the Word of God cannot be trusted.  And so we take up our shield of faith, we take up the words of Jesus, to extinguish the lies.  As Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” – Matthew 4:4

We’ve already seen the fifth piece of armor, verse seventeen’s helmet of salvation was right beside the breastplate of righteousness in Isaiah 59.

So, lastly, we have the sword of the spirit.  We turn again to Isaiah, this time chapter 49:

Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.” And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him—for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength—he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

 

The Words of Jesus are the very sword of God.  Paul went ahead and told us this one, but we see it throughout Scripture!  The one we know best is from Hebrews 4:12 – “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

And so we revisit the text of Ephesians 6.  Put on the whole armor of God.  That is, put on Christ!  He is our truth, our righteousness, our ready Gospel of peace, our faith, our salvation.  His very Word is our sword.

Alone, I stand no chance against the devil and his demonic hordes.  But we are not alone!  In Christ, we can stand against the schemes of the devil meant to lure us away from our faith.  In Christ, we can stand firm in the evil and busy day.  In Christ, we can extinguish the flaming darts of lies flinging from the devil’s mouth.  In Christ, we can stand.  We do stand!

And we do so daily, regularly.  Remember, we are at war all the time.  What happens to a soldier in the battle caught without his armor and his weapon?  He’s killed.  We keep putting on the armor of God.  Jesus is the center of everything in our lives, in our jobs, in our homes, in our families.  Everything.  Peter encourages us with these words:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

 

The devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  He is our enemy.  And he fights dirty.  But, in Christ, he cannot stand.  The devil has no might before our Lord.  This is what Moses told the Israelites in Exodus 14, at the Red Sea:

13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 Yahweh will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

 

We aren’t the conqueror.  Christ is.  You don’t have to defeat the devil like some hero from a movie.  Christ is the hero.  He is the conqueror.  All we have to do is put on Christ!  And that, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is already done!  It’s the beauty of your baptism.

Christ’s righteousness is your righteousness.  Not earned, but given.  A gift that you wear.  That you put on daily as you take off the old self, and put on the new self.  We put on the whole armor of God.

Put on the whole armor of God.  That is Jesus!  And, like Paul, take up the sword of God’s Word, so that you may proclaim boldly the mystery of the gospel.  We are at war.  And your neighbor is not your enemy.  He simply needs to hear the Word of truth.

This is one of the most beautiful things about these closing words to the Ephesian church, the thing that we don as our armor in the daily war against the devil, is the very same thing we wear as our royal garb as the bride of Christ in Paradise for eternity.  Hear, once more, from the prophet Isaiah (61:10-11):

10 I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord Yahweh will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.

 

Amen!

Whoever Feeds on My Flesh August 19, 2018

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John 6:51-69

Proper 15

August 19, 2018

 

Focus:  God gives us the bread of life.

Function:  That the hearers speak the truth with boldness.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Whoever Feeds on My Flesh

 

I’m guessing you’ve heard it.  In the midst of our cultural war over all things moral and immoral, Americans say it all the time.  “You shouldn’t be so judgmental.”  “Jesus says, ‘Judge not, that you be not judged.’”  “Didn’t you know Jesus hung out with the sinners?”  “Jesus would have approved of what we’re doing.”  “Why don’t you love everyone like Jesus?” “Jesus would’ve baked the cake!”

Have you heard it?  It’s a ludicrous attack on our faith, but it’s not really meant to attack us.  It’s meant to justify, to make whatever it is that they’re doing okay.  If you really loved me, you’d want me to be happy.  You’d want me to do whatever I want to do.  That’s love in 21st century America.  Supposedly.

It’s ludicrous, though.  A selective reading of Scripture, regurgitating catchy phrases they’ve heard others use.  This isn’t the full picture of who Jesus is, or what He’s done.  It doesn’t mesh with the fullness of His teachings.  And it’s ironic, because if you catch these people on any other day, they’d be just as likely to tell you Jesus is a myth; that He never existed anyway.

There are plenty of places you can go in Scripture to respond to these things.  And this is one of them.  Our gospel account today from John 6 is one of them.  Jesus either is who He says He is, or He’s completely insane.  And if He is who He claims to be, you can’t just nitpick His words, only listening to the ones that fit your agenda.  If He’s God, His word is truth, and nothing less.

We’ve been reading through John 6 now for the last three weekends.  Slowly making our way through the section rightly subtitled, “I Am the Bread of Life.”  But to get a bigger picture of who Jesus is talking to, we have to go back a day.  John 6 begins with a story you all know very well.  Jesus feeds the 5,000.

He’s been teaching, talking with people, sharing the good news of forgiveness and God’s mercy.  Calling people to repentance.  Healing the sick.   The kind of things that were all in a day’s work for this Man Jesus.  It’s the week of the Passover/ Jerusalem and its surrounding region are swarming with Jews as they come for the holiest time of the year.

Jesus sees a large crowd coming to Him near the Sea of Galilee, and He instructs His disciples to feed them.  Philip suggests it would take two hundred denarii, that is two hundred days’ worth of wages, to feed a crowd this size.

And yet Jesus doesn’t flinch.  He takes what they have, which is five loaves and two fish from a boy in the crowd.  He has the people sit, He blesses and He breaks the bread.  And the disciples wait tables.  They pass out food, and they pass out food, and they pass out food.  And by the time they’ve finished and gathered the leftovers, they have twelve baskets full.  Quite an important number in Scripture.  Five thousand men, plus women and children, full.  From five loaves and two fish.

It’s an incredible miracle, but one that makes Jesus want to flee.  The people know what He just did.  “If we could have that, our lives would be wonderful.  Come, let’s force Him to be our king!”  So Jesus disappears, up onto the mountain to pray and to rest.

This is also when the disciples cross the sea in the boat, seeking to reach Capernaum.  And during the evening, Jesus walks on water, clear across the sea.  In their fear, He calms them, and He joins them.  Another miraculous event.

But the crowd, realizing Jesus had disappeared, they also head for Capernaum.  And they find Him there, as well as His disciples.  And Jesus begins to explain to them who He truly is.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35

 

The statement sounds good, right?  The crowd just saw Him do it.  Make Jesus our king, never go hungry or thirst again.  Imagine how wonderful that would sound to most of the world today.  Maybe all of it!

But not the Jews, they’re not so easily had.  “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” – John 6:42.  They recognize Him, and the miracle gives them pause.  Already, there are some who don’t want anything to do with Man Jesus.

And if it weren’t already enough, Jesus says verse 51, the opening of our text: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

“Wait a second…what did He just say?  Did He just say we have to eat His flesh?”

Jesus compares Himself to the bread that came down from heaven.  The crowd knows this reference.  It’s the manna in the wilderness, upon which their forefathers fed and lived for 40 years.  It’s the bread, the stuff of life, that sustained them after the parting of the Red Sea.  Stuff that not only nourished, but tasted like dessert as it did!

And yet Jesus teaches that that bread was only meant to foreshadow His flesh.  That bread was only a glimpse, only a taste.  It wasn’t the real deal.  It was never meant to be.  Take and eat.  “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks My blood has everlasting life, and I will raise Him up on the last day.”

For many today, we see this as the Lord’s Supper, by which we gather together at His table, and we regularly and often eat His body and drink His blood.  We do so, because He said to.  We do so, because in that bread and wine, there is forgiveness.  We do so, because in that sacred meal of His body and blood, there is life in Jesus.

But to the Jews, the crowd, and even His disciples: what?  What is this Man talking about?  Even the twelve disciples admit that “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”  To eat the flesh of a Man?  We can understand where the accusation of cannibalism comes from sometimes.  But Jesus is God.  And we aren’t.

Interestingly, in the text, Jesus even prophesies His own ascension into heaven.  Not sure anyone catches it, there’s hard enough stuff already said they have to deal with first.

And they can’t.  And so we read verse 66: “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.”  I can’t tell you how often I hear this about the church.  We need to do more to get more people in the church.  If only our services were more attractive.  Entertaining.  If only our preaching were more powerful and uplifting.  Then more people would come!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t get caught up in the numbers. In fact, you’d be better off ignoring numbers all together when it comes to the Church.  King David probably wishes he had after his disastrous census of Israel.  You can’t number the Bride of Christ.

Jesus, the Son of God Himself, the author and perfecter of life, the champion and Savior of mankind.  Surely, when He preaches, the Church grows in numbers!  Actually, no.  It’s the opposite.  As Christ once said: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – Matthew 10:34.

Jesus preached truth into a dying and broken world.  And the world clung to death.  It’s like the rats that gather in the sewers, or the criminals up to no good.  Turn on the light, and everyone scatters.  Stealthing away into the darkness where the things they love can’t be found.  Jesus speaks truth.  Jesus proclaims truth.

There’s no wide swath of acceptance of any and all things.  Does He love all people?  Yeah!  Does He want all people to be saved?  Yeah!  But the world hates Jesus.  And it hides in darkness thinking it can go on unseen.  But the truth purges darkness.

Jesus preached truth.  It was hard to hear, hard to understand, hard to rationalize with the human mind.  But it was truth.  And despite the “Bread-King” miracle, the people couldn’t stand it.  They left.  Nearly every last one of them.  Gone.

And so Jesus is left standing there with only the twelve disciples.  And He asks, “Do you want to go away as well?”  It’s a question of faith.  And Peter’s response is beautiful.  You know it to a tune: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

We don’t get it.  We don’t understand it all.  I can’t tell you how Christ is present bodily in the Lord’s Supper.  He is.  I know it’s true because He’s promised.  But that’s all I know.  His body is here.  His blood is here.  And we take them.  Take and eat, take and drink.  We take them.  He’s really, physically present in the Lord’s Supper.  That’s all I know, but that’s enough to cling to.  His Word, His promise, His truth.

And that’s Peter’s response.  Look at what we’ve seen.  All the miracles.  The healing, the teaching.  The feeding, the walking on water.  Yeah, the disciples don’t get it.  They don’t understand who Jesus is.  But there’s enough.  They trust, and in the midst of an incredibly difficult and awkward conversation, these twelve men cling to Christ.

We have the good news of a Savior.  Of a Lord who loves us and willingly gave Himself up for us!  And how hard is the task He places before us?  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  We cling, we trust, we eat.  Jesus saves us, all of us, by His own doing, by His own work.  He freely gives His abundant gifts to us.  And we don’t have to understand it.

I would call your attention today to another of Christ’s teachings:

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. – John 15:18-21

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, speak the truth with boldness.  You will be rejected.  Jesus was.  And yet, we cling.  You have absolutely nothing to lose if the world rejects you.  Nothing.  To say you’d lose anything is a lie of the devil, to silence you.  The worst they can do is make it so that you see Him face to face a little sooner.  Speak the truth into a broken and dying world.  Call them to repent, to hear the good news.  Call them to the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  You have the words of eternal life in the palm of your hands, and on the tip of your tongue.  Jesus is that Word, and He has richly and fully given Himself to you.  Amen.

 

 

Putting on the New Self August 12, 2018

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Ephesians 4:17-5:2

Proper 14

August 12, 2018

Focus:  God calls us into the life of His Son.

Function:  That the hearers love one another as Christ loves us.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Putting on the New Self

 

“You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do.”  This is how the Apostle Paul speaks to the Ephesians.  You are now a Christian, put off your old self, and put on the new self, in Christ.  We do not live as people of the world, nor do we live as people of the old covenant.  We have a new covenant in the very blood of Christ!

Jesus has claimed you as His own!  He shed His blood upon the cross for you, buying you back from sin, death, and the devil.  They are your masters no more.  Through the waters of baptism, these things have been drowned.  You have a new Lord, Jesus Christ.  And through the richness of His Supper, you have the bread of life that never ends.

So put off the old self.  No longer walk as the Gentiles do.  You are a child of God.  And those things that you once loved, they have no claim to us any longer.  This “is not the way you learned Christ!”  Jesus isn’t your get out of jail free card for eternity.  Live as you please, always keeping it in your back pocket until you finally need it.  He’s not just one more item on the buffet line, that as long as you put Him on your plate, you’ve got a healthy meal.

pause

Remember the Road to Damascus account.  Paul, known as Saul at the time, is a leading member of the Jewish Pharisees.  He’s studied at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the most famed leaders of their day.  He’s been persecuting, arresting, even helping kill followers of Jesus across the Middle East.  He asks permission of the high priest to go to Damascus, that if they would find any members of the Way of Jesus there, they might arrest them. And so he gathers some men, and sets out.  And this is when he meets the risen Lord.

On that road, Jesus calls Paul to leave it all behind.  The knowledge, his wealth and status in the community, his hatred of Christians.  Nearly all that he knew and all that he had.  It’s absurd!  Asking a man to give up all he knows, all he has, all he is.  Yet that is precisely what Christ asked of Paul on that road.  And it’s precisely what Paul does.

He put on the new self.  Taking any and every chance he could get to tell others about Jesus and the richness of His grace and His mercy.  Paul shared the good news all around the Mediterranean Sea, even to Caesar himself.  For Paul, the putting off of the old self, and the putting on the new self is crystal clear to Christians today.

pause

All of us here started as Gentiles.  For most of us, that was being born into America, into her land, her values, her way of life.  We find ourselves desiring life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness just as much as the people that share our community with us.  We find ourselves longing for the comforts of this world in the here and now.  We chase after the American Dream of being happy at all costs.  We strive at the polls to make sure our voice is heard.

We often forget that we’ve put off the old self.  That we are called to live, not as Americans, not as people of this world, but as the body of Christ.  As Lutherans, we are weak on this.  Because of our desire to always let the gospel dominate, as it rightly should, we often forget to even talk about what it looks like to live as the people of God.  How will we know unless someone first teaches us?

That’s what Paul’s doing in this text.  The second half of our epistle reading today is Paul’s attempt at giving some guidance to the church.  Shedding light on what it looks like to put off the old self, and put on the new.  That in Christ, we might love our neighbor.

He gives us three examples that we can look at today.  The first deals with anger.  Every one of us here today gets angry.  Not a doubt about it.  I sure know I do.  But what happens once we get angry?  Paul here says that we can get angry as long as we refrain from sinning.  But we don’t.  We even talk about how quickly someone gets angry by describing the length of their fuse.  “Oh, that guy’s got a short fuse.”  We’re like bombs, just waiting to explode and unleash our wrath on one another.

Who here has never held a grudge?  Who here has never withheld forgiveness from another?  We struggle mightily with anger.  And as such, there’s really not a point for us trying to figure out if our anger is righteous or not, justified or not.  It doesn’t matter.  “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  Paul encourages us in our putting off of the old self, to put off our anger. That’s what we see in verse 31 – “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put way from you, along with all malice.”  “Give no opportunity to the devil” to lure you into sin.

Paul talks about a thief.  In putting off the old self, the thief is to stop being a thief.  Find honest work, take up a job, bring home a paycheck.  And then, rather than take from others, take from yourself, take from your paycheck and provide for the needs of those around you.  We may not think of ourselves as thieves.  But we steal.  We steal from our employers when we aren’t working hard on the job, we steal from our neighbors by treating our paycheck as though it were an idol.  It’s mine!  My precious!  You can’t have it!

And lastly in this section, Paul talks about our way of speaking.  Put away falsehoods and speak the truth.  Put away corrupting talk, words that tear down or do harm to your neighbor, your mother, your child.  Instead, fill your mouth with words that build up, words that encourage, words that teach, words that forgive.

In the Middle Ages, it was fairly common for people to pick up titles behind their name.  Frederick the Wise.  Richard the Lionheart.  Charles the Simple.  That one wasn’t a compliment.  Wisdom, power, courage, foolishness.  But you didn’t hear the trait Paul mentions next.  He encourages us to be tenderhearted.  People don’t go down in the history books for their forgiveness, for their willingness to love other’s even before themselves.  If you’re seeking fame, to leave a legacy that sticks, so that your name or your deeds are remembered for generations to come, put off the old self.  We are not of this world.  Your name is written in the Book of Life.  Who needs a legacy when they get to live forever?

In a way, this sermon is an introduction to our fall Bible study.  We’re going to be looking at topics like these.  How have we been raised, trained, and taught to think about the life we live?  And, does it actually match with the new self, or has the old self crept in again?  Does our thinking come from being American, being of this world?  Or does it come from Scripture?  I’ve got a vast range of topics for the class: the purpose of life, science, equality, liberty, our income, technology, citizenship, government, philosophy, love, marriage, vocation, work, warfare, taxes, death, loneliness, persecution, suffering, and so on and so forth.  This class will challenge each and every one of us to examine who we are, how we live our lives, and whom we trust on a daily basis for all that we need.  I’m greatly looking forward to it, and I hope you can join us in September.

Because even though we’ve been called to this, even though we are called to be in the world, but not of the world, even though we’re called to put off the old self and put on the new, it’s all easier said than done.  Paul was keenly aware of this.  In his first letter to Timothy, he calls himself the worst of sinners.  In his writings to Rome, we see him wrestling and confessing that even though he knew what he shouldn’t do, he still did it anyway.

This is me.  This is us.  We are children of God.  And yet the world is enticing.  Our flesh longs for earthly comfort.  Our mind thinks like an American and not a Christian.  Our daily lives often look no different than those of someone who doesn’t know Christ.  We’re sinners.

This is why the gospel must always dominate!  Because if it’s up to me, I fail.  If it’s a matter of doing good to my neighbor, and forgoing my own desires, I’m really bad at it.  If my good works could earn the favor of God, I’d be in a handbasket to Hell.

Yes, we are called to put off the old self, and to put on the new self in Christ.  But this happens every day.  Luther described it as the daily remembering of our baptism, the daily drowning of the old Adam, our old self.  We talk about the value of being regularly in His Word, regularly in His house.  There are actually churches around the world where our brothers and sisters in Christ gather daily to sit at His feet, to feast at His table, to receive His forgiveness.  As often as you drink it.  We are right now: sinners.  And yet at the very same time, we are justified in Christ.  We are His.

This is to where Paul turns at the very end of our text.  But it’s the root of it all: “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  The gospel is the good news that we have life that knows no end.  The gospel is the good news that we are children of God. The gospel is the good news that God forgives even me.  And you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are the forgiven children of God.  Daily put off the old self.  Daily put on the new self, that is, Jesus Christ and His righteousness, given for you.

Jesus is Our Peace July 22, 2018

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Ephesians 2:11-12

Proper 11

July 22, 2018

 

Focus:  God brings us together in the blood of Christ.

Function:  That the hearers partake of their common union in Christ.

Structure:  This is the historical situation in the text…this is the meaning for us now.

 

Jesus is Our Peace

 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  How many of you know that verse?  Have heard it before?  Can anyone place it for me?  That’s right!  It’s the Lutheran verse.  Ephesians 2:8-9.  It is a critical passage for us to see that we aren’t saved by our own doing, but only by the blood of Christ. Not by our work, but by His.  This was especially important during the time of the Reformation.

But, wouldn’t you know it, Paul kept writing.  “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  And then skipping over the subtitle that is many of our modern day Bibles, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

How many of you already knew that the Lutheran verse was actually talking about circumcision?  From early on in the history of God’s creation, He set apart, He singled out Abraham and his descendants after him.  He cut a covenant with him, that He would be Abraham’s God, and that they would be His people.  This is the Old Covenant.  It’s what we call the first ¾ of the Bible.  Watching as this one man blossoms.  Is fruitful.  Multiplies.  And suddenly, after entering into Egypt as only about seventy people, they leave Egypt with a couple million people.

The nation of Israel.  These are the people of God of the Old Covenant, cut with Abraham.  And the marker, the entry point, the sign, the seal of this covenant with God was circumcision.  If you were circumcised, you and your household, were in.  You were Israelites, or as we might call them today, Jews.  If you weren’t circumcised, you weren’t in, you were a Gentile, an outsider, a foreigner.

But then this God-Man Jesus Christ, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and having given thanks, broke it, and gave it to His disciples saying, “Take and eat, all of you, this is My body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of Me.” And then after the supper, He took the cup, and having blessed it, gave it to His disciples saying, “Take and drink. This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Earth-shattering and game-changing.  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday changed the course of history.  The Old Covenant is no more.  No longer do you have to shed your blood to be one of God’s people.  Kids, I’ll let your parents tell you what circumcision is, but it involves some bloodshed.  No longer is it your blood.  Now, in this New Covenant, it is the blood of God Himself.  Shed for you.

That Jesus Christ would take all of the sins of this fallen, wretched, broken, and damned world, and carry them to the tree on Calvary.  That as those nails pierced through His hands and His feet, in His wounds, in His blood, all the sins of sinful mankind are taken into Christ, and forgiven in the sight of the Father.  All of them.

These are Paul’s words of encouragement for the Ephesians.  They’re not Jews.  They weren’t part of God’s chosen Old Covenant people.  And they’re not circumcised.  And so there’s been a divide.  The Jews are nagging them to cut off the flesh.  The Gentiles really don’t want to.  But they do want to be saved.

And that’s precisely then what Paul is giving them.  It is not by the works of your own hands that you are saved.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  It isn’t our work.  It’s His work.  Jesus has already shed the blood for you!  As you might imagine, this is some pretty fantastic good news for the Ephesians.

But now that we know the context of the Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus, does it mean anything to us today?  And the answer to that is a resounding yes!  The history is profound, and those are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  For that reason alone we care.  But we can learn from it as well.

Our passage today is all about Christ being our peace.  Jesus alone reconciles us to God the Father.  So the contrast to this then, the law that the text would proclaim to us is division.  The opposite of reconciled is driven apart.  The opposite of peace is hatred.  Division and hatred, Paul wrote about those things to the Church in Corinth.  Pretty much that whole first letter.

But we’re not talking about just any mere divisions here.  It’s not that you’re Royals fans, and I like the Cardinals.  It’s not even that some of you like guns, while others of you would just as soon see them banned.  Not at all.

These divisions are about salvation.  How are we made right with God?  There are always those who want to earn it, who want to boast in themselves.  The Jews and circumcision.  For centuries during the dark ages and the middle ages, the teaching of the Church was that we had to earn it by our keeping of the Law, by our good works.  It’s the same thing the Jews were doing.  And we still do it today.

We’re always seeking to justify ourselves.  We try to say that those things we’re doing aren’t really sins at all, that we are keeping the Law.  I still remember two years ago in confirmation class.  One of the girls raised her hand and started to ask me a question: “Pastor, is it a sin if I…” Yes.  “But, I didn’t even get to finish!” Yes.  It’s a sin.  If you’re having trouble figuring out if it’s sinful or not: if it’s something we do, it’s at the least tainted by our sinful nature.

Turns out her question was about dating.  Guess what?  The answer is still yes.  And we can take that farther, as Christ does in the Sermon on the Mount.  Apart from marriage, physical attraction is sinful.  The “how far is too far?” question misses the mark.  Yes.  It is a sin to _____.  We can’t keep the Law.  Now, there is a little tension here.  We do want to do God’s Law, as it is His good and pleasing will for us.  But it’s not a matter of earning our salvation. We can’t earn our salvation.  Jesus has kept the Law.  He has saved us.  We, now, love God and love our neighbor, which will be our VBS theme this week.

We also cause divisions with the things that the Scriptures don’t even discuss.  Things where there is the opportunity for flexibility.  We call these adiaphora.  Neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture.  And yet we say, “It must be done this way.”  Organ vs. guitar.  Common cup vs. individual cup.  Donuts in the gym vs. fruit trays in the narthex.  We can make some decisions based on whether or not things are helpful in pointing us to Christ.   But, unless you want to say the hole in your donut reminds you of the wounds in Christ’s hands, that one’s really just an adiaphora.  We can take it or leave it.  Setting up new laws to follow when we can’t even keep the one’s that God gave us is just asking for trouble.

Don’t try to take it back.  Don’t try to reclaim your divisions from the cross.  Don’t try to reclaim the hatred and the disgust from His wounds across His scarred body.  Give it up!  Leave it all behind in the saving wounds of our Lord.

This is the beauty of it all.  It doesn’t matter what your background is.  It doesn’t matter which sins have plagued you.  It doesn’t matter what your baggage is, what you’re guilty of.  This is the place for you!  There is a place for you here!  Because in the body of Jesus Christ, there is peace and reconciliation for all people.  In the blood of Jesus Christ, all of our sins are forgiven.

It is Jesus alone who can do this.  And He has done it.  All believers are gathered in Christ.  We are reconciled to God the Father.  We are brought near to God Himself.  And in doing so, we are also brought near to one another.  In this assembly, the assembly of the baptized children of God, there is no stranger.  There is no foreigner.  We all have the same Christ.  He is our common union.  His body and blood, our communion.  We all belong right here.

Abiding in the Vineyard April 29, 2018

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John 15:1-8

Fifth Sunday After Easter

April 29, 2018

 

Focus:  God cleans (baptism) and prunes (Lord’s Supper) His people.

Function:  That the hearers abide in Christ by keeping His commandments.

Structure:  Textual Illustration.

 

Abiding in the Vineyard

 

Last week, we had an image from Jesus that we could relate to.  An illustration, that we are sheep, and He is our shepherd.  For many of us, that is so relatable because we’ve heard it over and over again.  Even if we’ve never been shepherds and we’ve never watched them care for their flock.

Here today, Christ gives us another illustration, and this time, it’s one we can even more fully understand.  Even if you’ve never seen a vineyard, grapes growing on the vine, we are all familiar with fruit growing in a garden.  It could be an apple tree.  It could be a berry bush.  In the sermon today, I’ll stick specifically with the words Jesus picked, but we get the idea.

We have the roots and the trunk.  And then we have branches.  And from those branches, we see fruit.  And we know that there is a time to prune, so that the branches will bear fruit again.  And we also know, what happens if a branch falls off the vine? It withers, dies, and no longer produces fruit.

And so today we learn that Jesus is the vine.  He is the root, He is the trunk, He is the whole plant.  He is the grape vine that spans across the vineyard.  Jesus once again declares Himself with this parable to be God.  His I AM statements throughout the gospel according to John are declarations that He is God.  When God reveals His name in the Old Testament, this is it.  The divine name is the Hebrew phrase, I AM.  Ehweh/hwha.  We know Jesus is making this connection to the Old Testament, because the Pharisees try to kill Him for it.

One of my favorite things about this text is verse 3.  “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.”  Already you are clean!  Not tomorrow, or next week.  There isn’t a plan to add you in next year.  You are already clean!

This weekend we ourselves are witnesses of this very act.  God washes us clean.  Right here, Eden is washed clean.  Right here, Walter was washed clean last weekend.  Right here, you were washed clean.  Your sins are gone, removed from you by the washing of water and the Word.  You are His.  You are His child, you are His branch.  God grafted you onto the vine.

Another wonderful thing about this parable from Jesus is that it’s not just me.  It’s not just you.  All the “you’s” in the text are plural.  God’s got Himself a whole vineyard.  Everywhere you look around you, that’s what you see!  You see Christ the vine.  You see His Church the branches.  You’re surrounded by Christ Himself.  We’re in this fruit-bearing thing together.

And so, what is it then that Jesus instructs us to do?  Abide.  Eleven times in the chapter, ten times in just the first ten verses.  Abide in Me.  Abide in the vine.  Abide in My love.  That’s the work that’s called of us.  That we remain in Christ.

And Christ defines this for us.  That’s our gospel reading for next weekend.  But I won’t leave you in suspense.  We have to keep it together to see what all Christ is teaching us in the parable of the Vine and the branches.  And so we read in verses 9-13:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

And so abiding in Christ in the vine is the Ten Commandments.  It’s the first table of the Law, that we would trust in God above all things and that we would enjoy the gifts that He gives through regular use of His Word and Sacraments.  And it’s also the second table of the Law, that we would love one another.  That we would give of ourselves to care for one another.  Even to the point of death.

This is the Law.  To abide in Christ is to keep it.  And I’m terrible at it.  As the storms buffet against the vine, branches can fall off.  As we’re tempted in the midst of the difficulties of this life, we can fall off.  We’re tempted to idolatry. We’re tempted to chase after other gods, even if we don’t call them such.  We can put our trust and our hope in things that cannot save us.  And so as the rains come and the winds howl, we cling to false hopes, to worldly ideals and dreams.

As the hail pounds down upon us, we find ourselves neglecting and hurting our neighbor.  It won’t be so bad if I tell people what she did last week.  It’s not really gossip if it’s true.  We have no problem bad mouthing our authorities and ignoring their voice, whether that’s our parents, our boss, or our government.  We convince ourselves that divorce isn’t adultery.  Or that lingering stare doesn’t really hurt anyone.

Indeed, even as the devil’s tornado roars, we jump right off the vine, abandoning the things God provides to keep us safe and in the faith, only to be sucked up into a whirlwind of death and destruction.

If you’ve ever seen a vineyard, the vinedresser goes to great lengths to keep His branches safe, strong, and healthy.  He’ll put posts for the vine to attach itself to.  He’ll run fencing and wire for the branches to be wrapped around.  It isn’t the branches that are doing this.  We are given work to do, and we often don’t do it well.

Jesus says in verse seven that “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  At all times, the Word of God dwells in you.  The words “you are My child,” through your baptism.  The words, “Your sins are forgiven” through Christ’s Absolution and His supper.  God has built a vineyard for you.  He’s grafted you into His own Son the vine.  And He’s surrounded you with all the support and help that you need in the midst of sin and death.  We cling to His promises.  We abide in His vine.

And it isn’t just in the times that we fail, it’s not just when we sin that we see God pumping life into us through the vine of Christ by forgiving us of our sins.  God regularly is pruning us.  Working on us that we might bear fruit.  He is constantly edifying His bride the Church.

He builds us up each and every week through Word and Sacrament.  You can gather together, branches in the vineyard, right here at St. Matthew.  Here you can hear the Word of God both read in the readings and professed in the sermon.  Here you can receive the forgiveness of all yours sins through Christ’s very own body and blood shed for you.

God builds up His Church even in the midst of suffering and persecution.  For when the branches are being pruned, they’re being strengthened.  The pains of this life, although not part of God’s plan, are still a way by which we are strengthened in our faith.  God can work through our suffering to teach us to cling all the more to His promises, to trust in Him, to abide in the vine.

God builds us up with His daily provisions.  It is through the gifts that He provides each and every day that we see all the more clearly who He is and what He does for us.  We see the provisions of my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members.  We see the provisions of food, shelter, and clothing.  We see the provisions of family, friends, and neighbors.  We see the provisions of safety, forgiveness, and life.

It’s like the advice that you receive about stray cats.  Don’t ever feed ‘em, because if you do, they’ll stay.  Even the simple cat, another of God’s marvelous creatures, shows this to us.  That as the cat received provision, it began to trust that that food would be there again.  As we receive our daily bread, we begin to trust that it will be there again.

The parable concludes with verses sixteen and seventeen.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

 

You are part of God’s kingdom, a branch of the vine.  It’s not your doing.  He chose you.  He washed you clean and He grafted you in in your baptism.  He gave you His Law, and then laid down His own life for your failure to keep it.  And so you remain, you abide, because whatever you ask of the Father, He gives you.  And so you ask for your daily bread, you ask for forgiveness and life, and you ask for the strength to love your neighbor in the hope that they too may be grafted in.  And God, our Fatherly vinedresser, provides.

The Fat Feast April 1, 2018

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Isaiah 25:6-9

Easter Sunday

April 1, 2018

 

Focus:  God swallows up death forever.

Function:  That the hearers be glad and rejoice in His salvation.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

The Fat Feast

 

The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left. The wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. 10 The wasted city is broken down; every house is shut up so that none can enter. 11 There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished. 12 Desolation is left in the city; the gates are battered into ruins.

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, these are the words of the Lord, spoken to His creation by His prophet Isaiah, the 24th chapter.  The party is over.  The creation is broken, the fruits of the world downtrodden, and its inhabitants ashamed, standing condemned by their own guilt.

The party’s over.  There’s no more gladness, no more rejoicing, no more instruments.  No longer do the people drink wine and burst out into song.

Chapters 24-27 of Isaiah’s prophecy are apocalyptic.  They’re about the end, about our own self-destruction and self-absorption, but also about God’s response to our despair.  Because in our text today in chapter 25, we learn that the party is far from over.  In fact, the party has really only just begun!  We’ve seen the judgment, now we get to see the restoration!

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
Talk about a promise!  A feast, but not just any feast.  This isn’t Golden Corral or Pizza Street.  The words used by Isaiah are the choicest of foods, the best of wines.  Literally, the best money could buy.  Here’s an endless feast of the perfect cut of meat.  An endless feast where the barrels of perfectly aged wine are bottomless.

And it’s for you!  That’s the best part of the promise: it includes you.  The promise is for ALL people.  It’s a gift, given for us.  And it happens right here.  On THIS mountain.  Isaiah is referring to Mt. Zion, to the city of Jerusalem, to the city on a hill.

 

And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.

 

Notice again, those same words twice more.  ALL peoples, ALL nations, and THIS mountain.  Regardless of your background, regardless of where you come from.  This promise is for you.  It is again, right here, in Jerusalem, the promise going out to God’s people.

That phrase, to swallow up, in Hebrew is the word “Belah” ([lb).  And every time it’s used, every time something is “swallowed up,” it’s always an act of judgment.  And so here, that judgment is not on us.  That judgment is on what afflicts us.

God will swallow up the covering, the veil that is upon us.  Remember those years where your favorite sports team was just plain awful.  You go to the game, with your brown sack in hand.  You’ve cut out the eyes and the mouth, and you sit there in the stands, with this bag over your head.  You’re ashamed; your team is a disgrace.  And yet there you are.

This veil and covering is our shame.  And it goes far beyond a paper bag and a losing record.  You have guilts that cling to you.  You have those times in your life that you can’t undo.  Things you’ve said that you can never take back.  Harm that you’ve done to someone you care about that you can never reverse.  Things you’ve seen and heard, things you’ve done that you’ll never be able to put out of your mind.

Satan accuses.  Our sinful nature accuses.  It takes our sins and turns them into guilt and uses them mocks us.  “You’ll never be good enough.”  “No one could possibly love you.”  “You’re hopeless.”

This promise is for you.  That God Himself will swallow up your guilt, your shame, your despair.  God Himself will swallow up your sin!

 

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

 

The repetition in these verses is like gold.  Yahweh is going to swallow up our enemies, the veil, the shame from upon us.  God Himself is going to swallow up even death itself!

The people of Israel that Isaiah wrote this book for, they lived in the Promised Land of God, a land that He took from the Canaanites and gave to His own people.  These Canaanites worshiped a false god, Baal.  And in their mythology, there is an ongoing battle between Baal and Mot, or death.  When the spring comes, Baal crushes Mot, and life begins again.  But every fall, Mot swallows up Baal, and death falls on the land.  In much of the ancient artwork, Mot is even pictured as a large and grotesque beast with an even larger mouth just waiting to swallow up life.

But for us, for the people of God, this stands in contrast.  This promise is not dependent on the seasons.  It doesn’t come and go.  No!  God will swallow up death forever!  It’s the main course on His dinner plate! He will wipe away tears from ALL faces.  He will take our shame, our despair, our reproach away from us, away from ALL people.

And He doesn’t simply cast them aside.  They aren’t merely removed from you temporarily only to harm you again later.  The veil of our shame and our guilt, the veil of our sin and our death is taken on by our Savior.  He carries it for us.  And by carrying it to the cross, He has swallowed it up forever!

Isaiah doesn’t mince words.  He’s intentional; he’s deliberate.  And He only uses this phrase “For Yahweh has spoken,” three times in the book.  And each time, it’s a statement of finality.  It is finished.  That is, God’s Word always accomplishes that for which He sent it.

This promise isn’t based on you or what you do.  We don’t trust in this promise because we can see it, or taste it, or find it, or predict it.  We trust in this promise because He said it.  Look back through the text thus far.  Yahweh is the doer of the verbs.  Not you, not me, not Isaiah.  God has done it.  We bring our sin, and God swallows it up.

 

It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

 

Remember from before, we’re living in chapter 24.  We’re living in the midst of our brokenness, our sin, and our shame.  We’re living in a place where there is no singing, nor wine, nor joy.  But in spite of this, God tells us what to say.

On this swallowing day, God gives us the words to speak.  We may live in the midst of despair now, we may not yet be at the feast of God that never ends, but God gives us the glimpse.  These are the words that we’ll be singing at the promised feast.  And we can start practicing right now.

In fact, that’s what you’re doing.  That’s why you’re here.  It’s called Christian worship.  You have come to foretaste the feast.  You have come for a glimpse of the promise that is yet to come.  As Pastor Otto stood before you this morning, you heard the forgiveness of sins!  They were swallowed up by God Himself.  The Absolution is a foretaste of God’s final verdict for you: My beloved child!  As you come up here in just a few moments, you are partaking of a glimpse of the feast that is to come.  You are feasting on the body and blood of God Himself, poured out for you on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins.   Your guilt is swallowed up in Him.  It’s a foretaste of the final wedding feast of the Lord that has no end!  For Yahweh has spoken.

The Hebrew word in this verse for “waiting” isn’t what we typically think of.  The word Cavah (hwq) means to wait for something you know is going to happen.  It’s not an anxious worrying, it’s not chewing on your nails waiting to hear from your doctor the results of the recent tests.  This is much more like waiting for the sun to rise in the morning, or waiting for the spring and for warm weather again.  You KNOW these things will happen.  We wait for our Savior because we KNOW that He will save us.  We wait for Yahweh, because this promise is for you.

The last word of our text this morning should never be forgotten.  Salvation.  Every time this word is used in the Old Testament it is announcing the power God has over His enemies.  The Hebrew word here is Yeshua ([wvy). Salvation. We wait in gladness, we wait and rejoice in His Salvation.  In His Yeshua.  It’s the Hebrew name Joshua in English.  And in Greek, it’s the name Jesus.  Let us be glad and rejoice in His Jesus.  Our Lord and our Salvation.

It is on THIS mountain that Jesus has swallowed up all enemies.  It is on THIS mountain, that Jesus Christ swallowed up your sins and your despair and your grief by bleeding and dying upon the cross.  It is upon THIS mountain that Jesus Christ swallowed up even death itself by bursting forth from the tomb on Easter morning.

CHRIST IS RISEN!  (He is Risen Indeed!) ALLELUIA!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus has feasted on our enemies by swallowing up the veil of shame, the cover of sin, the reproach of guilt, and the tears of death.  And so we gather in His house this day to celebrate this very thing: God has swallowed up death forever.  We gather in His house this day to celebrate an empty tomb, that Jesus is alive, risen from the dead, giving us life that never ends. Jesus feasted so that we would feast forevermore.

This promise is for you because Yahweh has spoken.  Let us be glad and rejoice in His Jesus.  Amen.

Leave it All Behind January 21, 2018

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Mark 1:14-20

Epiphany 3

January 21, 2018

 

Focus:  God calls us to leave everything behind as He delivers us in Christ.

Function:  That the hearers build their worldstory based on the Scriptures of Christ.

Structure:  .

 

Leave it All Behind

 

Could you do it?  Could you leave it all behind?  That’s what we see of the disciples mentioned in our gospel reading together today.  Simon and Andrew are casting nets.  They’re fishermen, it’s what they’ve been trained to do, it’s all they know.  And Jesus, simply walking by, calls out to them to leave the nets behind and follow Him.  And they do.  Could you do it?

Then we see a pair of brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  They were together with their father fixing the family boat.  They, too, were fishermen.  Zebedee was wealthy enough that he owned the business, even had some hired hands.  This was their life.  Fishing.  And we know all about the idea of an inheritance.  This is it.  Their life, their business, their family.  Everything they know.  And at Jesus’ simple call, they leave behind everything they know, including their own father, and they follow Christ.  Could you do it?

The Scriptures are full of examples.  Think of Abraham in the Old Testament, and how absurd his call was.  Think of the Apostle Paul, on the road to Damascus, what he was traveling to do.  Giving up everything they knew, leaving behind everything they would have found comfortable.  Could you do it?

Could you leave behind the years of training that you’ve received?  The way you’ve been raised, the way you’ve been taught to look at world around you, to process the daily events of life, and incorporate them into your worldstory.  It’s taken decades to build you.  Could you do it?

This is the call of Christ.  This is the call of the gospel.  That we would leave behind our worldly desires and follow Him.  “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

This is what makes evangelism, sharing the good news of Jesus, so difficult.  It usually isn’t heard as a free gift.  We are so overwhelmed with stuff that we have the phrase, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”  A gift, what’s the catch?

But with this gift comes change.  Painful change.  Tearing down the things that you once loved, the things that once occupied the place of God in your life.  Our idols have to go.  For the rich young ruler, that was his wealth, and he couldn’t do it.  For the Pharisees, it was their pride, and most of them couldn’t do it.

And so as we reach out to the community around us here in an American context, just what is it that we’re asking them to give up?  You can feel free to challenge me on this if you’d like, but after closely observing our culture these last few years, the average American citizen sees the primary goal of life as happiness.  That’s their worldstory.

As they process the news, “how does this make me feel?”  As they think about their future, “what do I want to do so that I’m happy?”  As they process the little moments of their day, “can I put a smiley emoji when I text my friend about it?”  If it makes them happy, they go for it.  If it causes pain or discomfort or sadness, they avoid it at all costs.

So when everything becomes about self-fulfillment, we can see why American culture hates the message of Christ.  “Who are you to tell me I’m wrong?  Who are you to say that I can’t do whatever I want to do?”  Christ’s simple message, “Repent and believe the gospel,” is calling for them to die to self.  To give up their idols for salvation that comes through Christ alone.

Pastor Otto preached last week on our need to hear the voice of God, the authoritative Word of God.  To continue to build upon that teaching, the Scriptures teach that our entire worldstory is to be built by the Word of God.  Who am I?  Why am I here?  Where am I going?  How do I process everything going on around me?  What should I value?  Who should I listen to?  The Scriptures are our foundation as followers of Christ.

This stands against the world’s idea that life exists apart from theology. Life is over here (raise one hand), and theology is separate (raise other hand).  This is extremely evident as we see several Christian cases, First Amendment cases, go through the nation’s courts.  The argument is that you’re fine to worship however you want.  As long as it stays over there (raise “Theology” hand again).  You can’t bring it with you when you re-enter life.  But this is simply false.  The teachings of Christ in His Word, the gifts of Christ given to us, inform everything we do.  They color the way we live life in the face of suffering and death.

Earlier I asked you again and again, “Could you do it?  Could you leave it all behind?”  But it’s not your work.  It’s not something we are capable of doing.  The only thing we can do is fight back.  Scratch and claw and growl as we cling to our idols, to all the false stories and information that built our worldstory through the years.

Yes, foreign worldstories still cling to you.  We still would rather be happy than suffer.  We often identify first as American, and then as a Christian.  Right along with the rest of culture, we want to believe that we’re basically good, when in reality, we’re evil through and through, and any good in us is the work of God.  We struggle to overcome worldly views on everything: life, death, marriage, work, money, goals, learning, education, progress, government, individuality, success, believing in ourselves.  The list seems endless.

Satan tempted Jesus in this manner, also.  And not just in the wilderness, but even in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus knows He’s been betrayed, He knows His arrest is coming.  He knows the next twenty hours will bring immense amounts of pain, suffering, bloodshed, and scorn.  And so He prays.  And He prays.  And He prays.

36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)  Christ submitted Himself to God the Father, and to His will.  He was arrested, tried by night, flogged, beaten, mocked, tortured, and then forced to drag His own cross to the top of the hill where men would drive nails through His flesh into the wood.  And then they hoisted Him up, to humiliate Him before the world, and to slowly, but surely, suffocate Him to death.

Christ’s sacrifice, of His own self, of His very life, won for us salvation.  His blood shed there upon the cross is the atoning sacrifice for all of our sins.  His blood covers us.  And then, on the third day, He rose again, declaring to the entire creation that death is defeated, that the devil is done, and that the wretchedness of sin, and all its ways, are being put to an end.

These gifts are ours.  Through baptism, you have been buried into Christ’s death.  The Old Adam, the old sinful nature, drowned there in that water, by His Word.  But more than that!  Not only are you united to Christ in His death, but also in His resurrection.  Because Christ is risen from the dead, we know and can trust that we, too, will be raised to new life.

This is what prompted the Apostle Paul to write:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

 

As the people of God today, He calls us by His voice, through His own authoritative Word.  He invites us to build our lives, our minds, our very selves around Him.  He calls us out of our own worldstory, into His worldstory.

And in His worldstory, when we struggle, when we fail, when we fall, when we scratch and claw to hold onto our worldstory and our old worldly ways, Christ is ever present.  That in His Word, and in His Sacraments, indeed in His house, you continue to receive the forgiveness of sins in the fellowship of this altar.

This is our life, in Christ.  And it takes more than a lifetime.  Yes, we teach our children the Word of God.  We teach them to think and to process life through the lens of Scripture.  We constantly take ourselves back into His Word in order to put off the old self, the old worldstory, and to put on the new self, His worldstory.  And on the Last Day, when Christ returns, all other worldstories will pass away.  And we will live with Him, the Creator of heaven and earth, we will live with Him forever.