blogging at http://capnsaltyslongvoyage.blogspot.com
Here's the audio link: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/23575548/110330Genesis37.mp3
Lord, may we see your love in your longsuffering. Grant us your mercy and hope, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As we look this evening at the life of Joseph we see many parallels between his life and the life of Christians. Like Joseph, we are also loved by a father. Like Joseph, we are also recipients of a great promise in the future and many gifts in the present. And like Joseph, when we talk about God's favor, people seem to hold it against us.
I suppose this is a reaction we'd expect. After all, if I claim that God has shown favor to me, you might assume I am also claiming God has not shown favor to you. You might assume that I'm saying that I am someone special. This discussion of the Christian life then becomes a touchy subject. Why is it so touchy? Primarily because when I talk about God's favor on me I am specifically saying that I am special. That's an easily misunderstood message. It's something which can be offensive to people, and can become hateful very quickly.
What's different about a Christian as compared to Joseph? The Christian confesses to have a special calling from God. We claim that our Lord has revealed himself and shown lavish care for us. But, unlike Joseph, we are not the sole recipient of God's care. We confess that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world. We confess that Jesus' death is sufficient to atone for all the sin of the world. We claim that in his death, burial and resurrection Jesus redeems everyone who will believe that he died, was buried, and was resurrected for them. And he says outright that he did die for everyone. Yes, Christians are special recipients of God's favor. And God's desire is that everyone in the world should likewise receive his favor.
But people don't want to hear the whole message. Maybe they don't like the idea that a Christian is not the person who gets to decide his fate or chart his own path. But many people will avoid that issue by saying that Christians are simply a bunch of stuck-up snobs who want to seem special.
Whatever the reason given, we also see that Christians, like Joseph, endure persecution and hardship. And why do we receive this? It's specifically because, though we claim to have heavenly blessing, we show ourselves to be quite harmless. Oddly enough, Christians are at once the least dangerous and most feared people in the world. In nations which are generally tolerant of various religions, Christianity is the exception. The Gospel is so powerful that it turns people against Christians. People seem to fear us because of our claims to immortality, righteousness, and divine purpose. They don't fear us because we have historically been the people who have provided charitable care for the sick, adopted orphans, cared for widows, fed the hungry, and taught people who could not afford teachers. But throughout the world people have a long history of fearing and persecuting Christians. Like Joseph, we are liable to being killed or sold by our brothers.
Like Joseph, we can also look at believers in Christ and see that they seem to benefit from God's favor. Even in our humiliation we have a confidence in Jesus. We have sustenance that often appears supernatural.
How does all this happen? Are we in danger here of preaching the Christian and not the Christ? Not at all. Why does the Christian have special divine approval? Because we are participants in Jesus, the Son of God, who is loved by the Father.
Why are Christians rejected in their society? It is because they follow Jesus, who was himself despised and rejected.
Why do Christians not retaliate when they are harmed? It is because of Jesus, who did not open his mouth to make a defense but accepted condemnation because of his love for this sinful, dying world.
Why do Christians have a supernatural hope? Because of Jesus who has died on our behalf and who rises again to preserve those for whom he died. Jesus Christ himself, God's only son, the beloved of the Father, came expressly to be rejected by sinful man, to be put to death for the sins of the world, and to rise again in newness of life, the firstfruits of the resurrection, the firstborn among many brethren.
Our Lord, we look to you, the author and finisher of our faith. Grant us your peace. Remind us of your great love for us. Remind us that you were rejected, died, and rose again to bring us to God. This we pray in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Audio link: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/23575548/110327John4.mp3
Sermon - "Unexpected Providences"
Our Lord, open our eyes to see what you are doing, how you have come to meet us, how you are working in and through us by your grace. Amen.
Our Scripture readings today are full of unexpected signs of God's providence. When we look to our Lord, we see he does not work in the ways we would think or plan. He takes care of this world and his people in his own way, working out his will according to the mysterious counsel of his own heart.
We see God giving water in the wilderness, providing for a huge group of people, sustaining their life. And he does it in response to their complaints, not their expression of trust in him. Again and again we see that the God of all love and compassion endures his people complaining against him, not trusting him, and he provides them with exactly what they need, not because of their faithfulness but because of his faithfulness.
In Romans we see that justification is by faith, not by works. If we were to devise a plan for salvation we'd probably want it to be more like a work agreement with merit pay increases and promotions because of outstanding job performance. We'd select people because of how good they are. God selects people because of how good God is. Justification is by faith, not by works.
Again in Romans we see the righteous Christ dying for unrighteous people. God, the perfect Lord, the one in whose presence sin cannot stand, receives us to himself when we are still sinners. God, the immortal Lord, does the impossible and dies. God, who can do no wrong, becomes sin for us in the person of Jesus Christ. And in doing so, he does what no human could do. He takes our evil away from us and replaces it with his good. This is unexpected indeed.
But to cap it all off in today's readings, we see Jesus, a Jewish man, dealing with a Samaritan woman. He shows God's providence to her, an outcast from her own society, a member of a society that Jews will have nothing to do with. How does Jesus do this with the Samaritan woman? How does he do it with us as well?
First, Jesus meets the woman at a time and place she would not expect. Let's look at this morning ritual, found throughout the Mediterranean world. First thing in the morning, right about daybreak, the woman of each household takes a water pot or two and goes to a community well or fountain. Everyone arrives at about the same time of day. They need to take water back to their households for washing, cooking, and drinking. It's going to be their day's water supply. So these women are meeting at the well before washing up. They haven't had their coffee or tea yet. This is first thing in the morning. And as people wait to draw water, or as they help one another, since water is heavy, they talk about this and that, their lives, what they are planning to do that day, how everyone in the family is. It's a community time which I don't think we can parallel nowadays, except maybe for the retirees who get the cup of coffee at the fast food restaurant in the morning.
There's the custom. But this woman doesn't follow that custom. It isn't that she is a nonconformist. You don't get the idea that she was ill. Rather, it looks very much like she is a bit of an outcast. For whatever reason, she doesn't go to draw water at the same time everyone else does. She wants to be alone. So she comes out late, as the day has become hot. She expects to meet nobody. All the respectable people are back home, working.
Jesus doesn't always meet us when and where we would expect him. Yes, we rightly anticipate his presence in Word and Sacraments, where he said he would be present for his people. But how many times have we been surprised to find signs of the Lord's presence elsewhere? How many times have we looked at a situation we've been in and realized that our Lord is caring for us there, in a setting other than one where we are consciously involved in worship and prayer? And how about Jesus' presence in ways that go contrary to our own wisdom? What of our Lord's promises associated with baptism and communion? Do we really think it seems reasonable that our Lord would wash away sins using water and his promise? Do we really think it seems reasonable that our Lord would be present in bodily form in bread and wine? This runs contrary to our wisdom. It runs contrary to all normal human understanding. Yet it is precisely what God has promised in Scripture. God meets us in Christ, at times and places we would have no natural reason to expect.
When Jesus meets with the woman, what does he offer her? He offers her water, living water, running water. The woman doesn't understand this. He has no bucket. He has no piece of rope. He doesn't look like a miracle worker. He looks like a thirsty Jewish guy. And if he were able to come up with running water, would he be thirsty? Would he ask her for a drink from the well? Jesus' offer to the woman doesn't make sense. Likewise, his offer to us, his promise of eternal life, his promise of a bodily resurrection, his promise that he will be present for us always, these offers don't seem to make much sense. They go contrary to our reason. If we think the claims of Christ are altogether reasonable, logical, and normal, maybe we need to give ourselves a reality check. No, nobody who says he will die so we can live forever is speaking the same language that we understand to apply to the rest of the world. Nobody who says he can implant a new nature in us is following normal patterns. Jesus makes offers that don't seem to make sense. But that doesn't stop him. It's all part of the way he shows himself to be divine. It's all part of his claim to deity. Jesus claims to do things that the rest of us could not do. Then he does them. He offers what we don't understand.
When the woman at the well wants a clarification of what Jesus is talking about, Jesus shows that he has seen her and knows her. He makes mention of her marital history and of her current living arrangement, which, by the way, is plenty to make her want to get water at a different time from the other women in the town. Jesus sees and knows his people. He understands our sin. He understands our history. He is not at all ignorant of who we are, what kind of criminals we are. He knows our thoughts, he knows our plans, he knows our imaginations.
Does Jesus leave the woman able to confirm herself in her sin? Not at all. He points out her sin to her. She knows that marriage is serious and that you're supposed to marry one person and remain married to that person. She knows the meaning of shame. Just look at the time she came out to the well. Does Jesus show us our sin as well? He sure does. We see that Jesus came to condemn sin, and then to bear the penalty for sin. He shows the sinfulness of sin. Then in his death he shows that sin is deadly. Do we want to see our sin? Let's look at the way Jesus uses God's Law to convince us of our sin and to crush us, so we are left with no excuse. Yes, Jesus points out sin. Where sin is not pointed out, we cannot see God's grace clearly.
And that's exactly what Jesus does. He calls the woman to true worship, real worship, the kind of worship that God seeks. God seeks people to worship him in spirit and in truth. That worship which is true is what happens according to God's Word. It is worship in accord with God's revelation. We don't worship in a particular way because it seems attractive to us. We don't worship in a particular way because our culture likes it. We worship in a particular way because God in his mercy has given it to us, through a long-standing pattern of practice, based in orthodox belief. Did you know that a pattern of worship as we find in our Lutheran divine services has been followed by believers since the late first century or early second century, and that it has its roots in the Jewish synagogue practices of Jesus' time? Did you know that this worship which centers around repentance, forgiveness, proclamation of God's glory, reading of Scripture, explanation of Scripture, further response and celebration of communion, in the very order we see in our liturgy to this day, was taken up in the apostolic period based on how they understood God to be blessing his people throughout history? God calls us to real worship, worship in spirit and in truth, not in either spirit or in truth, but both. We look for fervent belief. We also look for historic practice. And we can find it in our divine service.
Finally, Jesus reveals himself to the woman for who he is. Jesus introduces himself to this Samaritan woman as the true Messiah, the one who comes to save, the anointed one of God. He has shown himself to her in many ways. Now he tells her, "Yes, I am the one you think I am." God, in his providence, has shown himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ, God the Son. How do we view him? Do we see him as the one who has come to be the savior of the world? Do we see him as the one in whom all things hold together? Do we see him as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end? Do we see him as the resurrection and the life? Do we see him as the soon-coming king?
May the Lord open our eyes to see him rightly, in the name of ┼ the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I managed to catch a recording of this too, available at http://dl.dropbox.com/u/23575548/110323Mark7.mp3
Sermon "Garbage Out"
Our Lord, grant us ears to hear from you and a heart to repent of our sin and be restored, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What defiles a man? Is this a "garbage in, garbage out" world or is it something else? In fact the Word of God says it is quite the opposite. We are not sinners because we sin. We commit sin because we are sinners. It is our nature. We sin because we are evil. It isn't a "garbage in, garbage out" world. It's just a "garbage out" world.
How can we understand this from our passage in Mark 7? First, we may be harmed by what we take in, but that is not what makes us evil. Rather, our desire to take it in shows that we are evil. We can preach, teach, exhort, and counsel all day long about particular sinful behaviors. We can prohibit out of hand all kinds of things that God says have a good and right place, but which are subject to abuse, such as food, drink, and marital relations. We can make people do what is right. But that doesn't change the evil desires we have. Want an example? Find the two children who have been fighting. Make them stop and say they are sorry. That mumbled, "I'm sorry," doesn't indicate anything but being sorry for getting caught. We changed behavior. We didn't change the sinful desire. Many Christian counselors compare this to stapling fruit onto a dead tree. It doesn't make it a fruitful tree. The tree brings forth the fruit that indicates its health. A dead apple tree doesn't produce good fruit. Our lives produce bad fruit. It's because we are sinful at the root.
That brings us to a second observation in this passage. We see that we can do all sorts of good deeds, but they will not make us righteous. We can fast and pray until the cows come home and it will not earn our righteousness. It is only Jesus' righteousness applied to us which will help us. We who are evil know how to bring forth only evil fruit. In my fallen nature I can do nothing, literally nothing, that is pleasing to God. It is only as I am recreated in Christ Jesus for good works that I can bring forth good works, those things that he is doing in and through me. Myself, I always mix in evil somehow, which brings nothing but condemnation. Jesus must be present, working in me.
Finally, we see that there are ceremonies, such as ceremonial washings, prayers, and the like, which may be good things. Yet they are not good because we came up with them. They are not good because we do them. They are good because they are effective in light of God's promises. The classic example which comes up in this passage is baptism. If I apply water to people, they are not baptized. They are just wet. But If I apply water to people according to God's commands and promises, God creates faith in their hearts. They are baptized. It isn't the water. It's water in accordance with God's word. That's how a good thing is created. It isn't by our actions. It's by God's action.
No matter our efforts, we seem to bring out garbage. There must already be evil inside us. May the Lord have mercy on us, cleansing us from inside out.
Our Lord, grant us pardon. We confess that we can do nothing in ourselves. We bring out defilement from our inner man. Cleanse us, purify us, heal us that we may speak and act from the new man, created in Christ Jesus, for good works, which you have appointed for us beforehand. Bring glory to your name, for you ever live and reign, one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon - "By Grace through Faith"
Lord, open our hearts to receive from your word. Open my lips to proclaim your word in truth. Grant us repentance in response to your Law. Give us your joy and confident hope in response to your Gospel. This we pray in the name of ┼ the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We've read it once again today. We receive God's blessing by grace through faith, as did Abraham. And God's people throughout history have claimed exactly the same thing. God's blessing is granted only by God's grace. So how is it that we get things so terribly wrong? How is it that we see Christians, throughout history, trying to earn their salvation? Why do we see the "foolish Galatians" who are trying to maintain their salvation by their own works rather than continuing to trust in Christ? Why do we see the Roman Catholic church in the sixteenth century officially condemning the idea that salvation is by grace through faith, and only changing that position grudgingly in the late twentieth century? How does this happen?
There's a fundamental pattern that Lutherans have been emphasizing ever since there came to be Lutherans nearly 500 years ago. This way of looking at Scripture involves rightly distinguishing between Law and Gospel. Martin Luther said that any seven year old can tell you the difference between Law and Gospel. Law is what God demands that we do. Gospel is what God has done for us. It's a very easy distinction. But here's the challenge. Open your Bible and distinguish between Law and Gospel. Luther said anyone who could do that should be an esteemed Doctor of Theology. It's a very hard task. We confuse Law and Gospel all the time. And when we do that, ultimately we tend to look for our confidence in our own works, our own ability to keep the law, our obedience to the demands of God. We end up looking for love in all the wrong places. We find nothing but sin – pride or hopelessness.
The law of God, God's righteous demands, shows our sin and our inability. That's why salvation can't be by the law. It can't be by works of righteousness that we do. It has to be by God's grace. We see this in the covenant God makes with Abram. Normally we think of a covenant as a two-sided agreement. It's a contract. Think about how a job works. You agree to come to work and do the things your employer wants you to do. Your employer agrees to pay you and do some other things for you. It's very two-sided. If you stop coming to work, you don't get paid. If your employer stops paying you, you won't be coming to work. But God's covenant with Abram is very one-sided.
The covenant was instituted by God. It was not by mutual request. God approached Abram. He told Abram what Abram would do and what he himself would to for Abram.
Usually a covenant has mutual benefits. You are hired to do something your employer wants or needs done. So the employer gains through the agreement. God's covenant with Abram has no benefit for God. It has a benefit only for Abram and his descendants. There's no blessing for God. It's all from God to Abram.
Normally both people involved in a covenant make promises. But here only God makes promises. We see that even more clearly in Genesis 15, where God binds himself to keep his covenant with Abraham but he prevents Abraham from making a promise. God is the one who makes promises. He is the one who is infallibly able to keep his promises.
So we see that God initiates the covenant, he gives all the benefits, he binds himself to the covenant by making promises. Finally we see that this covenant is realized by belief, not by obedience. In fact, as we examine it more, it is less and less like a job contract. It's more like an adoption. Abraham does not work for his wages. And even someone who does work still does not have a promise of wages. There is no wage in God's covenant. It's all about gifts that God gives. There's no payback. That is about merit. This is about grace. Anything we receive is a gift, not a wage. The wage of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ (Rom. 3).
What do we do when we hear about this promise of God? So often we find ourselves asking, as Abram probably did, "What must I do?" There's something about our sinful nature that wants to take the gospel promises of God and turn them into demands of the law.
Now we don't want to forget God does tell us what to do. The Scripture is full of God's statements of what is pleasing to him. We don't deny that at all. But we realize salvation is by grace. All our obedience will never save us. We simply aren't capable of doing it right. Sin condemns us. And we cannot earn our way back from that condemnation. The good news is that we are not in the process of earning a wage. We do not have a covenant with God which we can keep. We have a covenant with God which he instituted and which he keeps. We are receiving a gift, not earning a wage.
How do we receive that gift? We receive it by believing God's promise. That's all there is to it. Just like Abram, just like Nicodemus, so also we look to God's promise.
So what is that promise? Here's that pure gospel. It's the promise of what God has done for us. Jesus has worked our righteousness out for us. It is not something we do or something we devised. It's something initiated by our Lord Jesus, according to his perfect wisdom, grace, and knowledge of our sinful condition. And not only has Jesus worked our righteousness out for us, he is the one who gives birth to faith in God's promises. The Bible says we are dead in sin. We cannot help ourselves. But God in Christ has given us new life. He has given us faith to believe, working that faith through Word and Sacraments, according to his promises in Romans 10, Acts 2, and many other places. Knowing that we cannot keep a covenant, Jesus, the one who institutes the covenant, also keeps it on our behalf, giving himself to die for our sins, showing that he is the resurrection and the life. And in case we should think there's something in us that is deserving of his mercy, he gives his life for the sins of the whole world. It's nothing personal. It's not about you. It's about Jesus given for you. Then, finally, we see that Jesus, the resurrected Lord, is present to bring his grace to us in Word and sacrament. Just as Jesus is all-present in his divine nature, he is able to be with us just as he promises. And his presence is specifically in order to visit us with his grace.
There's the gospel! Salvation starts with God, is worked out by God's will, and will be brought to completion by God's grace in Christ Jesus. We are saved by grace. It is not of works. It's not something we can do. It's God's promise, for us.
Let's stand to pray together.
Our Lord, we sin against you when we think we can bring anything to the table, negotiating with you for salvation, for righteousness. Keep us from this sin, by your grace. Remind us daily of our salvation, gained through the righteousness of faith. Let us look to your promises, for you ever live to make intercession for us. This we pray through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives with ┼ the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Today's readings are Psalm 74.10-17, Genesis 8.13-9.17, and Mark 4.1-20. Since I have a vespers service this evening including these texts and chose Mark 4.1-20 for the sermon, that's what you have below.
Sermon "One Field, One Sower, One Seed"
May the Lord make us attentive to what He would speak through His word. Amen.
The Scripture is full of statements of "one." The Lord your God is one God. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. There is one name under heaven by which we might be saved. There is one God and one mediator between God and man. And in our Gospel passage this evening we see one field, one sower, one seed. These three unities show us three very important facets of God's kingdom.
There is one field. When Jesus pictures the world, it is always a whole world. See how Jesus describes a field, and the field is the world. There doesn't seem to be a road going through the field. There isn't a margin. There isn't some area that is not part of the field. The field is all there is. It's the whole world. This parable and others take a sort of universalist view of life. There isn't anything in the world which isn't going to be included in this parable. There's one field, one world. And it's the world that is cursed by sin. Jesus, the savior of the world, is taking on the world of sin. There is no part his death, burial and resurrection won't affect. There is no place outside of his care. There's one field.
There's one sower also. Our Lord is the one doing the work in the parable. In our household we often refer to God as "the crazy farmer." And he seems to be a crazy farmer. He is sowing seed everywhere. He doesn't seem to be careful about where he puts the seed. He's broadcasting it throughout the world. This parable is not about us and our qualities, our ability to be good soil. It isn't about anything we can do. It isn't about anything we are. We are in the world, which is the field God is sowing. Jesus is coming to our world regardless of the condition of our world. He, the living Word of God, the seed sown by God the Father, is the one who is broadcast by the Father to all the rough places, the hard places, the rocky places, the thorny places, the good land, everywhere. Let us make no mistake about it. The ground has no merit. It's just there in the parable. It's the Father and the Word who are doing the work. Do we bring Jesus to our communities? No, we don't. He's already there. God the Father has put him there. Do we bring Jesus to our families, our work places, our neighborhoods? No. God the Father has already put him there. We don't bring Jesus to people. We may bring people to Jesus, showing them that He is there for them. But he is there for them regardless of our obedience or disobedience. Jesus, the living Word of God, has come to our world. He has been planted here by God the Father, the one sower. There is one field, one sower.
And as I mentioned earlier, there is one seed. This seed is God's Word, the living Word, Jesus Christ himself. What does the seed do? It grows. That's what good seed does. And Jesus is always good and fruitful seed. That good seed will germinate and grow. It needs the conditions – moisture and temperature that's appropriate. If you put a handful of dried beans on a wet paper towel and keep them in a warm moist place, you'll see sprouts very soon. It doesn't matter that they have no soil. It doesn't matter that they won't be coming to maturity. They will grow. Seed grows. God's word, Jesus himself, grows. He is fruitful no matter where he goes. On the hard-packed soil he is attacked by Satan, who spreads his work like a bird which spreads seeds. On the rocky ground he germinates and starts about his work, but his work is stamped out by the hardness of our heart. Among the thorns he germinates and starts about his work, but his work is choked out by our incessant meddling. In the good soil, where he is left to do his work, he produces a bountiful increase. What's the difference? Not the seed. The difference is that in some places Jesus' work on our behalf is allowed to flourish and in some places we fuss with it and stamp out the fruitfulness of the Lord and giver of life. Where does Jesus produce an increase? Where we let him do his work.
What is Jesus' work, then? Living and dying for our sin, giving us his righteousness. Do we try to accomplish his work for him? Do we try to meddle with the seed of the Word of God? Do we try to mediate salvation on our terms? Or do we accept that Jesus Christ has come to give his life and be the savior of the world? There's one field, one sower, one seed.
Let us pray.
Lord, Savior of the world, you have given your life on our behalf, sowing yourself in this world for us. Burn off our thorns. Cast out the rocks from the rocky ground. Plow up the hardened crust of dirt. Be fruitful in and through us, bringing forth your increase throughout this world, for You ever live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
Sermon - "Really"
In the name of ┼ the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"Does it really say that?" I don't know how many times I've asked that question in my life. How about you? We buy a product or service and don't really read the fine print that carefully, or we forget what some of the terms of an agreement are. Or at least we want to forget some of it. Then comes the moment of truth. We find out how limited the limited warranty is. We find out the machine will do everything except what we wanted to do. "Really?" Really.
The same concept holds for all sorts of temptations. And they are common to all of us. We're tempted to excess, whether in work, rest, recreation, spending, saving, eating, dieting, you name it. Our actions have consequences. Our lives are full of predictable outcomes. You eat the candy bar, you get to use the calories or gain weight. You buy that toy, you get to pay for it. You name it, it has a result.
Here in Genesis we see the first temptation to sin. Who are our characters? We have Satan engaging with the undefiled woman and her husband. What are their goals? Satan's goal is to deceive and cause the people to stumble. The woman and the man don't seem to have much of a goal in mind. They are looking at life through innocent eyes. That innocence protects them, but it also prevents them from seeing the sophisticated deception Satan is able to dish out. We'll have to see what happens as we look into this case study some more.
How about the defense the people use? The woman uses the tools that are available to her. She has God's command. This should be enough, shouldn't it? Does God's command not accomplish God's will? Yes it does. And our Lord has told her not to eat of the fruit of the tree. He has made promises to her and to the man. And he has given them one command. Don't eat the fruit from that one tree. There's a natural consequence. You will die in the day you eat of it.
So now we see the woman fail. What does she do? She first expands God's command. No longer is she supposed to avoid eating the fruit from the tree, but she is not supposed to touch it – the fruit? The tree? Whatever the "it" could be, whether fruit or tree, the woman has just denied God's command by expanding it. And this one alteration of God's command leaves her open to other denials of God's will. She no longer has the protection of God's true command. Now she must rely on her own willpower, something infinitely weaker. Looking at the situation rationally, it's clear now that the fruit is beautiful, it seems good to eat, and it might potentially grant her divinity. With God's command denied, there is no reason to avoid what God has prohibited. In the end, the woman, at Satan's prompting, denies God's good will, trusting in her own will instead.
What is the result of the woman's sin? We see God's gracious curse coming upon the humans, bringing death upon mankind. I should probably clarify the idea of a gracious curse. In his grace and mercy, God will not allow sinful, disobedient people to eat of the tree of life and live forever in their sinful state. He will not leave us to an everlasting living death, separated from the presence of God, prohibited access to his grace and mercy. No, that would be a curse indeed. The curse God imposes on mankind in his grace is that we will live temporarily on earth, suffering from the results of a sinful world, and that he will raise up a means of salvation, a means of grace, for us. God graciously promises a deliverer we can approach in faith. Death has come upon mankind as a result of sin, but that death is not irrevocable. God mercifully provides a means of salvation.
So how will God deliver this sinful world? Now what? The woman has sinned. The man has sinned. God has proclaimed his curse on Satan, on the man, and on the woman. What this world needs is sinless obedience. We who are dying need the death of one who is like us in all respects but who is perfect, sinless, in order to redeem us from the curse of sin. We need the death of one like Adam, but like Adam prior to the fall. In short, we need Jesus, God and Man.
This is the crux of the matter. This is what our world doesn't like. We look for salvation from sin. We look to something outside of ourselves. We confess that we don't have the answer and that having someone give us the answer alone won't do us any good. We need someone to work salvation on our behalf. That's offensive to our culture. But it's the word that God has given us. We read one of the most-proclaimed verses in Scripture, John 3.16. God so loved the world! And while we often would like the "so" to mean "so much" the adverb God uses there isn't saying that. Actually, it says, "God loved the world 'in this way,' that he gave his only-begotten Son." Salvation is through Jesus Christ, God's only Son, perfectly and entirely human, like us in every way, but entirely without sin. Jesus, the second Adam, is the one who can die on our behalf, the one who can do what God has ordained. It is not our place to change this command of God. It is our place to accept God's command as he has given it.
God has graciously placed his curse upon his only son. Jesus, the one, has died for us, the many. Jesus, the just, has given his life for us, the unjust. And he has done it because of God's love. He has done it because we had no way of redeeming ourselves. He has done it because otherwise we would have no hope in this world or in eternity.
So why are we still struggling with sin? If Jesus has paid the penalty for sin, why do we still endure the curse? Is God's salvation in Christ not good enough? Are we tempted to add to what our Lord has said? Are we tempted to deny his truth? Do we again ask, "Really"? We've seen what kind of trouble it causes when we do that. So we don't ask the question that way. Instead, we look to the promise our Lord has given us. He comes to us in Word and Sacrament. He promises to clothe us with immortality, but he says that we have not yet been dressed in those garments. Instead, we get to follow Jesus in his humiliation for a time, in this sin-cursed world, walking after him, even to death, before we rise with him. But we know as he has risen we also will rise, putting on immortality, realizing the fullness of his redemption in Christ. Really. Really. Really.
We live in a world which can be described as "now, not yet." Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of sin. And he has done it wholly, completely, entirely. That is the present reality. We are partakers of eternal life, and we are partakers of it right now. At the same time, we see that we are still in our sin-cursed world. We have not been clothed as Jesus has been. We are not yet transfigured. Though we are partakers of the resurrection we have not been raised again yet. While we have eternal life now, we also have eternal life not yet. We look to our Lord in hope, confident in his promises, confessing that he is able to accomplish all he has promised, through Jesus Christ, God the Son.
Let us rise to pray.
Our Lord, once again we look to the reality of your promises. They are all accomplished in Christ Jesus, God the Son, who has come to redeem us from the curse of the Law, the Just for the unjust, the One for the many. Let us rejoice with great joy as we receive your promises and realize that we are partakers of the heavenly bliss to come. This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with ┼ you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Sermon "Days of Mourning" - Matthew 6.1-6, 16-21
Lord, purify my lips. Purify our hearts. Wash us with your word, that joy may come in the morning. Amen.
We like to show our righteousness to others, don't we? Really, sometimes we seem to think that we're wasting our obedience to God if it isn't obvious to other people. We want to be seen, we try to be seen, and we do seek a reward for our faithfulness. That's just the way we are. But we have to ask ourselves just what we are treasuring. What is our desire? Do we want to be seen by others as people of prayer? Or do we want our Father in heaven to hear our prayers and bless those other people? Do we want to have others feel sorry for us when we humble ourselves to pray? Or do we want to see God exalted through our prayers? Do we want other people to benefit through our acts of service, or do we want them to praise us? Do we want poor people to thank us for our generosity, or do we want the poor to be fed and clothed? Do we want people to see that we are holy when we engage in a fast or do we want to leave others ignorant of the fact we are fasting and praying?
Our answers to those questions show a fundamental difference in our attitudes. Do we want to please man and get the praise of man? Or do we want to please God and get the praise of God? We can't have it both ways. While our life of praise to the Lord may be noticed and receive the praise of our neighbors, at least on some levels, our life bowing down and fawning for our neighbors will never receive the praise of the Lord, though he will always notice it.
As we move into these days of mourning, the forty days of Lent, we are called to repentance. We see our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ going to the cross on our behalf. We remember the calls we have in today's readings and throughout Scripture to humble ourselves before the Lord. We see time and time again that we are not worthy to be called least in the kingdom of heaven, that we are not worthy to wash the feet of our Lord. And again and again we see that our Lord has lifted us up into the heavenly realms, has proclaimed us to be his brothers and sisters, has given his life on our behalf so we may be partakers of his righteousness. Our Father who sees us will reward us.
Do we have days of mourning? Certainly we do. We have plenty of sin to mourn about. But what does Jesus tell us to do? He tells us to wash our face, comb our hair, put on a cheerful face, and live in our community, loving and serving our neighbors, even while we fast, weep, mourn for our our sinfulness, and pray that the Lord will have mercy on us and the neighbors we are loving and serving.
In so doing, we lay up treasures in heaven. We show that we are servants of our Lord and Savior. We look to God, not to ourselves, for our provision, for our reward. And we realize that, no matter our sin, no matter our shame, no matter our unfaithfulness, he is there healing us, forgiving us our sins, and nourishing us to eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, just as he promised us.
We have days of mourning. And in those days, let us look to the joy to be revealed. In the name ┼ of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon: "My, How You've Changed!" Matthew 17.1-9
Our Lord, ruler of all, let us see you in your majesty, but let us see you through your grace and mercy, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
There's a movement within Christianity that raises its ugly head once in a while. You've probably heard of it occasionally. It's been around at least since the second century. And I have heard it asserted by genuine believers even within the past year. This movement will say that the Old Testament is the place where we see God in his consuming power but the New Testament is where we see the God of love. Sometimes people will go so far as to say that God is different at different times, that there's no grace in the Old Testament and that there's nothing but grace in the New Testament.
When we consider today's readings from Exodus, Psalms, 2 Peter, and Matthew, we have to realize there's something wrong with that picture. Here we see the God of glory revealed in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. At the same time, in the very same passages, we see that God mercifully reveals himself to his people, showing them his will which is for their good. Our Lord gathers his people to him and has them dine in his presence. Our Lord gives all authority to his Son and tells us to believe in him. Our Lord reveals his glory in the Son and tells people how to speak of God in faithfulness. Our Lord shows himself in his brilliance to his disciples, telling them to rise and have no fear. We read today's passages and we confess with the author of Hebrews, (ESV) "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13.8).
Yet we look to our Lord anew today. We are at the end of the Epiphany season. This is now the ninth Sunday after Epiphany. We won't have that many Sundays in Epiphany again for 27 years. We've had lots of time to look at our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and see what he's like. We've seen him revealing himself through his interactions with the disciples. We've seen him revealing himself by doing miracles. We've seen his grace, his mercy, his everlasting kindness to those who believe on him. We started with him as a young child back in January. Now he's been an adult for several weeks, walking with his disciples, showing them what he's like. We think we know him pretty well.
Yes, maybe we thought we knew Jesus pretty well. Maybe the apostles thought that also. They had been with him for a few years, day after day, week after week. But he's been saying things and doing things to make the apostles uncomfortable. Peter, James, and John, the sort of "inner circle" of Jesus' apostles, have been watching him closely. He's started talking about his death. He's started giving them signs that something is going to happen and that he won't be with them. They don't quite understand this new agenda. But like the good friends they are, they trust Jesus. They will go along with him. He seems troubled. So they will stick closer than usual.
When Jesus takes his disciples up onto a mountain to pray it seems like a pretty normal trip. I don't know why we do this, but we seem to think going uphill is a good way to approach God in prayer. So the four men go up the hill to pray. What happens? Jesus appears changed before the disciples. He is revealed to Peter, James and John in his glory. He shows them a taste of what he will be like when they see him in the resurrection. His clothes can't contain the light. His discussion with Moses and Elijah shows that he is the very God who has talked with them many times before. He is the God of the living, not of the dead. But Moses died and was buried, though Elijah was taken up alive. Jesus therefore shows that he is the God of the resurrection, that even if we die, we will live again.
What do we say? What do we do? When we are overwhelmed by God's presence? Jesus! You've changed! I thought I knew you, but you sure never looked and acted like this before! Maybe we can do something. Yes, that's it. We're completely overwhelmed so I guess we ought to do something. That's it. We'll build a monument to you and to this occasion.
It isn't unusual for a person who is very excited to start babbling uncontrollably. And we all know that it's nearly impossible to do anything useful with someone who is babbling. So what does God do? He surprises Peter, James and John by speaking to them. That's enough to quiet them down.
What does Jesus then do with these disciples who have been reduced to piles of terrified trembling pudding? He touches them. He tells them to get up. He tells them not to fear. He tells them that he will rise from the dead and that after that happens they can tell what they saw. Jesus takes his disciples who have been shocked by his presence. He raises them up so they can carry on with the vocation he is going to give them.
Likewise, we look to Jesus as we come to the end of Epiphany. We thought we knew him pretty well. But he shows that there's more to him than meets the eye. We say, "My, how you've changed!" And he looks at us. He touches us. He raises us up. He tells us, "I haven't changed. You just see me better."
As we walk with our Lord through the season of Lent, starting this week with Ash Wednesday, we'll see him better and better. We'll see Jesus, the just one, giving himself into the hands of unjust men. We'll see him going to the cross on our behalf. We'll see him dying to bear our sins. We'll see all his disciples fleeing from him. And we'll see that we are like those disciples. We'll see that we are sinful indeed. We'll see that, just like those who denied Jesus, we do not deserve the riches of his grace. And we'll see that the grace of God in Jesus Christ is there for us, just as it was for his disciples. We'll see that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Has Jesus changed? No. We just see him better. And as we see him better, we are moved to repentance. As Peter, James and John were moved to repentance in the presence of God, may we also be moved to repentance, realizing that we are unworthy to be partakers of Jesus' presence, but that he has promised his presence with us always.
We receive the sacrament of Holy Communion today. Do we realize that Jesus is present, really present, in his body and blood given and shed for us? Has he changed? No. We just see him more clearly.
Let us pray.
Our Lord, you have given yourself for us, revealing yourself in your glory, revealing your humility, coming to us. Humble us in your presence. Grant us your grace, your mercy, your forgiveness. Raise us up and give us the fearless spirit which you gave to Peter, James and John in the time of your resurrection. This we pray in the name of ┼ the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.