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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.

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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.

Blood of the New Covenant April 17, 2014

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Matthew 26:20-30

Maundy Thursday

April 17, 2014

Focus: God has made with us a new covenant.

Function: That the hearers confess their need for a Savior.

Structure: This is the historical meaning in the text…these are the meanings for us now.

 

Blood of the New Covenant

 

As you well know, seeing as you’re here, today’s Maundy Thursday.  Today marks an important day in the middle of Holy Week, as Jesus has been in Jerusalem for a few days and the moment at the cross draws near.  But just what exactly is Maundy Thursday?  Outside of Holy Week, you never hear that word.

I could quiz my confirmation class right now, make Karl and Adam come up here and answer that for you, but that would be mean.  So I guess I’ll just tell you.  Maundy is from Latin, from the words mandatum novum, or in English, a new commandment.  It refers to the moments after Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.  It’s supposed to remind us of Jesus’ words in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

But this year, this Maundy Thursday, we won’t focus on that aspect of the day.  Instead, we’re focusing on another new commandment that Christ gave that day.  We’re focusing on the Last Supper.  And in order to truly understand the Last Supper we need to see it for what it really is: a bridge, a link, a transition from one thing to another.

See the Last Supper isn’t just any meal.  It’s the celebration of the Passover.  It’s the celebration of what God has done for His people.  You know the connections, you know the accounts that I’m talking about.  In Genesis, God made a covenant with Abraham, that He would their God and that they would be His people.

But covenants are tricky things.  It’s not like a promise.  If you break a promise, not much happens.  Okay, maybe a little trust is lost, but that’s about it.  But not with covenants.  If you break a covenant, you die.  Bloodshed is required.  And that’s where all of the animal sacrifices came into play.  God allowed for their blood to cover our sins.

But eventually all of that sin led God’s people into slavery in Egypt.  And it wasn’t pretty.  You can’t make the pyramids without tortured slaves, harsh labor, and death.  God saw the pain of His people and He heard their cries.  And He acted.

Nine plagues later, Pharaoh still wouldn’t let God’s people go.  So God rolled out one last plague, the killing of the firstborn.  And He told Moses what to do.  Have them make a meal and eat it in great haste, for after this plague, they will be driven out of Egypt.  Put no leaven in the bread, as it won’t have time to rise.  Instruct the people to sacrifice a lamb and paint its blood on their doorposts.  When the angel of death comes, he will not touch their home.  They will live.

That’s where the name Passover comes from.  The angel literally passed over their homes and spared them.  And that night, the Egyptians, led by Pharaoh, drove the Israelites out of town.  They were free.  God had heard them and He had saved them.

For nearly 1500 years after that night, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.  The meal that reminded them of God’s redemption, of God’s deliverance.  That may seem hard to believe, but we’ve been celebrating Christmas and Easter for nearly 2000 years now.  So did they, year after year, they remembered.

And that brings us to the Last Supper.  Christ’s disciples certainly didn’t know it.  They assumed it was another Passover just like any other.  They assumed they were celebrating their salvation from Egypt.  And they looked forward to sharing it with Jesus, just as they had done the past three years.

They didn’t know that this night would be different.  They didn’t know that Jesus was about to change everything.  They didn’t know that that night would change their lives, and ours, forever.

But it did.  That night Jesus reinterpreted the Passover meal.  The Last Supper became a bridge from something old to something new.  A bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  A bridge between the old covenant and the new covenant.  A bridge between the Passover and the cross.

That night, Jesus reinterpreted the meal and all of its parts in light of Himself.  That night, the Messiah taught the disciples how all things pointed to Him.  The Passover deliverance, the meal, the prophets, the blood, everything was meant to point us to Christ.

The Passover meal begins with a blessing and the first cup of wine, and then a preliminary dish, an appetizer, of mostly herbs.  After that, the host, in this case Jesus, retold the Passover story, retold Israel’s history.  Then they drank the second cup of wine.

The host would then speak a blessing over the unleavened bread.  At that point, they would eat the main course, consisting of the lamb, bread, herbs and finally a word of blessing over the third cup of wine.  The meal would then conclude with some singing of a few psalms of praise, followed by the fourth, and final, cup of wine.

The Passover meal is highly scripted.  If a Jewish family were to invite you to their Seder dinner multiple years in a row, you would begin to notice and catch on.  So imagine the disciples’ faces when Jesus broke from the norm and started teaching about Himself.

Imagine the disciples’ faces when Jesus lifted up the bread and said, “this is my body.”  Imagine the disciples’ faces when Jesus lifted up the cup and said, “this is my blood.”  Imagine the disciples’ faces as Christ took the Passover meal and made it His, as He proclaimed Himself to be the Passover lamb for all people.

That’s the connection, that’s the bridge the Last Supper is building.  Passover, Last Supper, Lord’s Supper.  Christ calls it the “new covenant in My blood.”  As the lambs were sacrificed to save the Israelites, the final lamb, Jesus Christ, is sacrificed to save us.

We are sinners.  We, every one of us, have broken the covenant.  There is no hope of salvation for us now without the shedding of blood.  Without the sacrifice that passes over our sins.  It matters not if it’s lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy or pride.  We need a Savior.

This Maundy Thursday, we wanted to highlight and focus on the Lord’s Supper, on the new covenant, on the forgiveness of sins.  To help us do just that, I baked the bread.  And yes, it’s unleavened.  But today you will see your Pastor break the bread and give it to you, as Christ broke the bread and gave it to His disciples.

Today, you will partake of the Lord’s Supper.  Today you will come into His presence trusting in the words and promises He made in the Last Supper, that this is no mere bread, but His very body.  And this is no mere cup of wine, but His very blood.  Today, you come to His table, trusting in His promise, trusting His words, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Maundy Thursday is not yet over.  Know that the events that are about to happen are part of God’s plan.  Because we have sinned blood must be shed.  But take comfort, for Christ is our Passover lamb!  He is our Savior!  Come, remember, celebrate, and be forgiven!