What is Man? Sermon for June 11/12, 2017

What is Man?
Psalm 8
Trinity Sunday (Final Sunday)
June 11th/12th, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 

There’s a certain pride that comes along with being asked to do something important. Imagine a young student who has been asked to carry a note to the secretary in the school office. Out of everyone in the whole class, the teacher chose that one person for such an important mission. That child holds the note securely, walks confidently down the hallway to the school office, and proudly places the note on the secretary’s desk. And the whole time, the student stands a little taller, head held high, feeling honored and special that they were chosen for such a task. Were you ever the student chosen for that task? Do you still feel proud when asked to do something important by someone you respect?

 

Or maybe you don’t feel honored in those situations. Maybe you feel terrified. Maybe you look at the task given to you by your boss and, instead of standing taller and walking with your head held high, you shrink back at the thought of what might happen if things go wrong. A young doctor who is responsible to diagnose and treat diseases might be more intimidated than excited by the task at hand. After all, failure could be fatal.  When the boss looks to you to be the one to close the deal with that huge client, you might find yourself worried about messing up more than being honored to be chosen for the job. When we are asked to do important things by people we respect, our response is usually a mixture of pride and fear.

 

There’s a similar sentiment running through the Psalm we chanted today. I invite you to have the Psalm in front of you.  You’ll notice that Psalm 8 opens with a confession of God’s greatness and grandeur: “O Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. You have set your glory above the heavens.” The name of God here refers to his reputation, a reputation that the Psalmist says is readily accessible and clearly known all throughout the earth. In fact, the majesty of God is so obvious that he doesn’t need volumes upon volumes of great theological masterpieces to defend him against his accusers. He is defended by those things that seem weakest in the eyes of the world. “Out of the mouths of babes and infants.” It takes nothing more than what infants can babble to defend the glory and majesty of God, for it is readily seen in the handiwork of creation itself, visible to anyone who will take the time to look.

 

The glory of God is seen in the power of the ocean and the height of the mountains. It is seen in the vastness of the land and in the horizon that’s always out of reach. It is seen in the multitude of the stars. And when the psalmist David looks out and considers the magnitude and scope of God’s creation, he is left to wonder, “Who am I, that the God who did all this would remember me?” “What is man, that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

 

The awe of the psalmist reaches beyond feelings of insignificance. It touches on those emotions of pride and fear that arise when we realize the importance of a task we have been given by someone we respect. As verses five and six of today’s psalm put it: what is man in the midst of this great creation that you are mindful of him? Why should the majestic Lord remember something as insignificant as humanity, whose individual lives are far shorter than the lifespan of the stars and mountains, who are so small that we are like ants on the ocean? Why should God remember us? “And yet,” David says, “you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands, you have put all things under his feet.”  The actual Hebrew word in verse five that is translated as “heavenly beings” is, in fact, the word “Elohim,” which means God. Many translators would render the thought like this: “In the grand scheme of your majestic creation, what is man that you are mindful of him? Yet you have made him only a little lower than God himself. You have crowned him with glory and honor by giving him dominion over the work of your hands. You have put all things under his feet.”

 

Talk about a momentous task. As we heard from Genesis, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. And he said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over it.” Ever since he completed creation, God has chosen to continue his work in it through people. He works in and through the things of this world, and he has placed humanity in dominion over it. To care for it. To steward it. Talk about intimidating. God regularly places the health, safety, and wellbeing of human beings into the hands of other human beings. He cares for and provides for infants and small children through their parents. He cares for and protects adults through the hands of the police, doctors, and first responders. He places people in charge of governments and private industries to cultivate this world and wisely use the resources available here. He provides for the widow and orphan through the charity of other people. He continues to work in and through this creation by working in and through people. When we look out at all that this world and contemplate all that it is comprised of, we too should ask ourselves, “What is man, that you are mindful of him? Who am I, that you have made me a little lower than God himself? That you call upon me for such a task as this?”

 

The Gospel reading for today ups the ante even further. On the Mount of Ascension, Jesus looked out over the eleven and said, “It is time for you to leave this place and go back to daily life. And in your daily life, make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching them.” So not only has God chosen to work in and through people to continue his work of creation, he has chosen to work in and through people to continue his work of salvation, of calling others to faith, of sustaining the church in this world. Not only has God entrusted the physical health and wellbeing of children to parents, but even their eternal salvation. He could blast his Word from heaven with a bullhorn, he could speak directly into each person’s thoughts and minds the words he wanted that person to know, but instead he has chosen to work through people. He has called his church to proclaim his Word. He has chosen to work through sinful and imperfect people to deliver his holy and perfect Word. That’s incredible! What is man, that you are mindful of him? What is man, that you have given him such a task as this?

 

The task is overwhelming. The thought intimidating. And left to ourselves, we would surely fail. But our joy is that our Lord has not left us as orphans. In the same breath where Jesus told the eleven to make disciples, he promised that he would be with them always, that he is with all his children always, to the end of the age. That is his promise to you, too. He has given you a task for which you are completely unqualified, but he has promised that he will be with you every step of the way. His power is made perfect in our weakness. That’s why we cling so firmly to his Word, for it is through the Word of God that Christ is present among us. And it is ultimately Christ who is at work through us. The task may be great, but it is his task. It is his work. We are the instruments, he the musician. We are the tools, he the farmer. We are the masks, he the actor. This is his creation, we are just the stewards. This is his church, we are just the stewards. In the face of such a monumental task, find comfort in the reality that our Lord is in control, and he loves you. Find comfort in the promise that he is ruling over all things for your benefit, for the benefit of all his children. And find encouragement to approach each day with the desire to be faithful to the task our Lord has given.

 

In the four years I have been privileged to serve as a pastor here at St. John, I have been intimidated by the task at hand more than once. I have been humbled that the Lord would entrust a place such as this into my safe keeping, at least in part. There is so much history here. So many people call this place home. I feel blessed for the time I have served here at St. John. I am thankful for the relationships that have formed, the friends that I have made, and the memories I’ll take with me.  I’m humbled by opportunity I have had to bring the Word of God to the people in this place. I’m humbled that our Lord would send such a man as me to do his work in his church. And I find comfort in remembering that this is, indeed, his church. While our Lord may have placed St. John into my care for four years, I never walked alone. No pastor ever does, for while pastors come and go, the Word of God remains forever. When I look out over the fruit of faith I see here at St. John today, I rejoice in Paul’s reminder that Pastor Smith or Pastor Merrill or maybe even Pastor Majeski, Narr, or Weber may have planted, and I may have watered, but it is God who gives growth. The next pastor whom God brings to St. John will continue to serve God’s people here. He will continue to plant. He will continue to water. But never forget that it is God who will provide the growth for this congregation and for her members. It is our Lord’s church, we are just the instruments he uses to accomplish all that he would have done.

 

It’s incredible, when you think about it. What is man, that God would be mindful of him? What is man, that God would use him to accomplish his heavenly and earthly purposes? What indeed? But the simple truth remains that God has given humanity great and wonderful things to do in his church and in his world. God has given you great and wonderful things to do in your family, in your church, and in your community. No matter who your next pastor may be, God will be faithful. He will provide for you. He will work through you. For you are his children. He has made you just a little lower than the heavenly beings, and he has crowned you with glory and honor.

 

I pray God’s blessings for each of you and for St. John Church and School as you continue to do God’s work in this place. +INJ+

Living Water – Sermon for Pentecost 2017

Living Water
John 7:37-39
Feast of Pentecost
June 4th/5th, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 

It’s hard to overstate the importance of a culture’s holidays.  As Americans, we celebrate Memorial Day because we want to remind ourselves to honor the sacrifice of those who died protecting our freedom. We celebrate Independence Day because we want to remember that the roots of our nation lie in limiting the power the government has over the lives of individual citizens. We celebrate Thanksgiving because we want to remind ourselves to be grateful for the prosperity we enjoy in this land. The holidays we celebrate help us remember what it means to be American. And since we celebrate these holidays from our youth, from long before we can understand their significance, these holidays also play a large role in shaping us into Americans. Our holidays both make us who we are and remind us who we are.

 

When God established Israel as a chosen people in the Old Testament, he established holidays. Seven, to be exact. Seven feast days that helped give the people of Israel the identity our Lord intended for them. Each feast highlighted a specific characteristic of what God wanted from and for his people. The feast of Passover reminded the people of Israel of their deliverance from Egypt. They were a people who were at one time slaves, but now were free. The feast of Unleavened Bread reminded them that the Promised Land was theirs as a gift from God. Since the land belonged to God, this feast reminded the Israelites that they were expected to live in the land as God described. The feast of Firstfruits was celebrated as the crops were just beginning to produce a harvest, a reminder that just as the land belonged rightfully to God, so also all the fruit of the land belonged to God as was given to Israel as a gift. They were a people who depended on God to provide for their needs. The Feast of Pentecost celebrated the great harvest and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. They were a people who had received both bodily and spiritual blessings from their Heavenly Father, the physical food of the harvest as well as the spiritual food of God’s Word. Rosh Hashanah was the feast that asked God’s blessing over the new year. They were a people who were created and redeemed by God, and so they were reminded by this feast to live each day by the grace of God. Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, was like a spring cleaning for the Temple. The feast reminded them that they were a sinful people whose holy God lived in their midst by covering their sins with his own holiness.

 

The Feast of Tabernacles, often called the Feast of Booths, is the seventh celebration. It was a feast of rejoicing and anticipation, a celebration that had one eye on the past and the other on the future. This was a holiday that recalled Israel’s days living in tents in the wilderness, days when the Israelites survived on the gracious manna and quail provided by the mercy of God. For seven days during the Feast of Booths, faithful Israelites would live in temporary shelters they had built from branches collected after the harvest.  For seven days, the people ate, lived, and slept in these temporary booths. They did not work, but spent this time remembering how their ancestors ate bread without working for it. The feast was a week-long celebration of how God provided for the people in the wilderness, which culminated in God’s delivering them into the Promised Land. The feast taught the people to rejoice in the ways God continue to provide for his people in their own day and also to look for the great deliverance that he had promised but had not yet fulfilled.

 

While some of Israel’s holy days allowed the people to celebrate in whatever village they called home, observing this feast, along with Passover and Pentecost, required a pilgrimage to the Temple. So during the Feast of Booths, the streets of Jerusalem would be especially crowded not only with travelers, but also with the make-shift shelters that the travelers built. But unlike Passover or the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Booths was not a primarily about repentance. It was not an especially solemn observance; it was a time of great celebration. Think along the lines of Time’s Square on New Year’s Eve. The seven days of the Feast of Booths was like the week between Christmas and New Year when nothing much gets done, culminating by counting down the seconds until the ball drops to ring in the New Year. It was a huge campout filled with exuberant and joyful people living in home-made shelters for a week.

 

Like the time between Christmas and New Year, each day of the Feast of Booths was a celebration. Each day would see the pilgrim throng march in procession to the Temple and around the altar, singing and rejoicing the whole way. Each day would see a procession of priests march to the Pool of Siloam and fill a pitcher with water to be processed back to the altar and poured out as a drink offering. During this procession, the people would sing Psalms of deliverance. Eventually the Israelites adopted the custom of singing the words of Isaiah chapter 12, words which we still sing today: “With joy will you draw water from the well of salvation, and you will say in that day, “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people. Proclaim that his name is exalted. Shout and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

 

During this celebratory parade, the ceremonial water called to mind God’s great promise of deliverance waiting to be revealed with the arrival of the Messiah. The feast reminded the Israelites how their ancestors had lived in anticipation of God delivering them into the Promised Land, and it taught them to live in anticipation of God’s promised Messiah, the one who would deliver a new generation of Israelites. The final day of the feast was especially energetic, the culmination of a week of celebration, reaching its climax as the priest, for the final time, poured out the water from the Pool of Siloam and all the people shouted, “Hosanna! Lord, Save us! Deliver us! Give us water from the well of salvation. Send us the promised Messiah!”

 

Now, you may be wondering why I would take so much time to describe the Feast of Booths when today is Pentecost. But the Feast of Booths is the setting of today’s Gospel reading. John tells us that on the last day of the feast, the great day, the culmination of a week’s worth of celebrating and praising God for all his gifts while also looking for the fulfillment of his promise to send the Messiah, as the people were either anticipating to the final pouring of water or right after they had seen it, as all the energy and emotion of the crowd was directed toward calling out to God to send his promised Messiah, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone wants this water of life, let him come to me and drink.” Jesus’ message couldn’t be clearer. This feast of celebration that anticipates God’s great deliverance finds its fulfillment in Jesus. He is the living water. He is the great deliverance.

 

He is the great deliverance for you, too. For like the Israelites of Old, we live in a time of wilderness wandering. Life in the fallen world is often like walking through the barren wilderness. The cares and concerns of this life sap our energy and leave us emotionally and spiritually dehydrated. The threat of disease, the challenges of relationships, the guilt over sins committed, the shame of other people knowing our shortcomings all combine to drain our hope dry. Like Israel in the wilderness, we are often tempted to curse God for our lot in life. And like Israel in the wilderness, all too often we give in to that temptation. Like Israel in the wilderness, we are often tempted to turn our back on God and embrace the sinful philosophies of a dying world. And like Israel in the wilderness, all too often we give in to that temptation. We treat each other according to the standards of the world, speaking out of bitterness and anger instead of out of charity and mercy. We turn our back on the needs of our neighbor, preferring to send a check to some charity so that we can clean our conscience without dirtying our hands. When the opinions and ideas of our world come into conflict with God’s Word, we often tell our Lord to keep silent.

 

And yet for all our sin and failure, God showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. While we live in sin and ingratitude, our Lord continues to cause the rain to fall and food to grow. He continues to provide for all our needs of body and soul. And he continues to call us to look to the great gift of promised deliverance. As the Israelites in the wilderness were called to look to the promised land with hope, so also we are called to look in hope toward our promised rest. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in your place make that rest a reality. The gift of baptism, the forgiveness of your sins, the body and blood of Jesus given to you at this very altar make that promise yours. Apart from Christ, the wilderness of this world would leave us parched beyond hope, dead from dehydration, a valley of dry bones. But Christ has come. Jesus lives for you. Whoever believes that promise will drink the living water of salvation.

 

And with but a single drink, you have so much living water that rivers pour forth from you. In our Lord’s Word, we have more than we could ever need, more than we could ever deserve, more than we could ever hope for, more than we could ever contain. The gift of Christ is so abundant that when you have but a single drop of his living water, it is as if you have rivers upon rivers of it. You don’t get just part of Jesus through his Word. You don’t get just part of the Spirit. You get all of it. You get life in abundance. You get faith in abundance. You get immeasurably more than all you could ask or think.

 

In a way, our life as the people of God today is like our own celebration of the Feast of Booths.  The dwellings and circumstances of this life are temporary shelters made from branches that will one day wither and fade. Through his word, our Lord calls us to rejoice in the gifts he freely gives while we live in this temporary situation. And he calls us to look with anticipation to the deliverance waiting to be revealed when he comes again in glory. Rejoice and anticipate, that’s what this feast is about. That’s what your life is about too.

 

So even though it may be Pentecost, celebrate the Feast of Booths today. Come to the altar of your Lord and celebrate the waters drawn from the well of salvation. Drink the living water that is Christ himself. In this Sacrament Jesus gives himself to you. He fills you to the point of overflowing with faith, hope, and love to sustain you in the wilderness of this life. Here at this rail, Jesus gives you the gift of the Spirit to sustain your soul, to guard and protect you in the true faith unto life everlasting. And when the time comes, our Lord will fulfill the deliverance promised to you just as he fulfilled the promise of deliverance for the Israelites in the wilderness by leading them into the Promised Land, and just as he fulfilled his promise of deliverance by sending Jesus as the Messiah.

 

Remember and anticipate: that is the Feast of Booths, and that is our life in Christ.  May our gracious Father in heaven grant us living water all our days of this pilgrimage and deliver us safely into the life to come.

 

+INJ+

Dealing with Distractions – Sermon for May 14, 2017

Dealing with Distractions
Acts 6:1-9, 7:2a, 51-60
5th Sunday of Easter
May 14, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

Everyone gets distracted. The older you get, the more responsibilities you have, the more likely it is that something will slip through the cracks. Sometimes it’s something small, like scrambling to get out the door on time in the morning and leaving your coffee mug sitting on the table. Other times it’s something more significant, like missing an appointment or deadline because something else comes up unexpectedly.  No one knows this better than moms, who are consistently responsible not only for their own schedule but also for the schedules of their kids and, often, their husband. That’s why it’s good on a day like today to take time out to say thank you to moms for all that they do. But Mother’s Day sentimentality aside, most moms could probably tell you a story about the time they forgot something important for work or home or their child’s school. Most dads could too.

That’s because distraction is a common problem. Many would argue that, as a culture, we have become addicted to distraction. It is now a documented fact that the sound your phone makes when you get a text message or other alert releases dopamine into your brain. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that drives you to seek rewards and gives you a sense of pleasure when that reward is met. It sharpens your focus and increases goal directed behavior so long as that behavior results in the desired reward. Some researchers suggest that the cultural addiction to smartphones is a result of the dopamine they produce in your brain. For example, dopamine in your brain makes you start looking for something, and when you find that thing, you get a feeling of reward or accomplishment. With smartphones, the dopamine in your brain encourages you to look for the notification: a new text, new email, new mention. With phones, you can have that reward experience almost immediately, which releases more dopamine into your brain so that you seek the reward more and more. Smartphones are especially suited to feed this cycle because dopamine is heightened by anticipation and unpredictability. Subconsciously wondering when your phone will bing next releases dopamine into your brain. Then, when your phone finally bings, the result that your brain was seeking is fulfilled. The behavior is rewarded, and your brain starts the whole cycle over by anticipating the next bing.[1]

When your phone doesn’t bing, you pick it up to see if you missed something. You check it every few minutes just to make sure. And if you didn’t miss something, if there’s no notifications there to reward you, then you post on social media or text someone in an effort to induce a response from your phone. Or you play one more level on that game so that you can hear the sound it makes when you win. Or you look for that one perfect pin on Pinterest that you can save for later. And pretty soon, the dishes aren’t done, the laundry’s not folded, the lawn needs to be mowed, you haven’t made eye contact with your spouse all day, you haven’t spent much time with your kids, you didn’t finish that report for your meeting at work in the morning, and all you can think about is how to get your phone to make that “new message” sound you love so much. We are easily distracted people. And more often than not, we’re so caught up in the distraction and how it makes us feel that we don’t even realize what’s not getting done, what important tasks are slipping through the cracks.

It’s just as easy for us to get distracted in the church. It’s easy for us to get distracted as the children of God. It’s easy for us to let what’s most important slip through the cracks as we chase after other things – some of which are important, some of which are not. It’s a temptation that faces the church as a whole, and a temptation that faces each of us as a child of God.

Today’s reading from the book of Acts tells of a two-fold distraction, temptations that would keep us distracted from the main purpose of the church and the primary work of the children of God. One of the major distractions is the threat of persecution. The Apostle Stephen was violently opposed for preaching the good news of Jesus. When he would not fall silent in the face of his persecutors, he was killed. We often find ourselves living in fear of persecution and we wonder what we would do if such a threat appeared in our lives. We don’t need to limit persecution only to death threats, although there are certainly people around the world for whom that remains a distinct possibility. For us, we live in fear of becoming a social outcast, or of losing friends, maybe even losing family members. We live in fear of how people might negatively respond if we proclaim the Word of God with our lips and with our lives.

The threat of persecution or hardship is a powerful temptation to set aside our identity as God’s children and instead to attempt to blend in with the world around us. And because there’s no shortage of reasons to fear, we can quickly become addicted to the distraction. Like waiting for the phone to buzz, we end up waiting for, even looking for the next threat. We become distracted from the comfort of God’s Word.

When faced with such temptations, we remember Jesus’s words from today’s Gospel reading: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Often Jesus spoke of His suffering and death, but we tend to forget. Now He says: “I am the Way.” He is the Way to live and to die. Jesus said “Narrow is the Way that leads to Life and few are those who find it.” It is narrow because it is the way of God, following God’s Word, not distracted by the threats of sinful men. How does one quiet a fearful heart in the face of persecution or rejection from the world? By believing in the promise of Jesus. How does one quiet fears about the future? By listening to Jesus who says: “In My Father’s house are many mansions. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to Myself so that where I am also you may be.” And then He adds: “And where I am going you know the Way.” Jesus went the way of sorrows and suffering, the way of the cross, the way of death and resurrection so that we can go the way of peace and everlasting life. Jesus is the Way.[2]

Beyond the fear of persecution, we are also tempted to become distracted from who we are as the children of God by other good and godly activities. It is important for parents to make sure their kids have clean clothes, but that’s not their most important task. Would we applaud parents who were so wrapped up in doing laundry that they neglected to feed their children or take them to the doctor when they had a fever? So also we are likely to get distracted by activities that are in and of themselves good and godly, but that are not our main focus as the children of God.

In today’s reading from Acts, that activity was tending to the needs of widows. The twelve summoned the full number of disciples and said: “It is not right that we should give up preaching the Word of God to serve tables.”[3] There are cautions and reminders in there for all the children of God. Most importantly, there is a reminder of the importance of hearing God’s Word. I’ve often heard it said that the church should focus on deeds, not creeds, that the church should focus on helping the sick and starving, the widows and the orphans, and not on gathering for worship or Bible study. And because such experiences are often more fulfilling than an hour of sitting in church or Bible Study, we become addicted to the distraction. Like waiting for the phone to buzz, we are waiting for the next service trip or charity event, ignoring the simple task of listening to God’s Word while we wait.

But such ideas distract us from our main focus as the children of God. It’s not that such activities or acts of charity and mercy are unimportant. They certainly are. But we must keep the hearing of God’s Word our top priority. We are first and foremost people who hear and confess the truth of God’s Word. We hear and confess the truth of our sin. We hear and confess the truth of our salvation. We listen to him who is the way, the truth and the life, for there is no way other than him. There is no life apart from him. His Word of truth assures us that he is our Good Shepherd, the one who laid down his life that we might overcome death. Living in that promise is what makes us children of God. The acts of kindness and mercy, while important, come after the hearing of God’s Word. It’s like a lamp in your living room. If you want the lamp to light up, you have to plug it in. Once you unplug it, the bulb goes dark. You don’t just plug it in for 30 minutes then unplug it expecting the lamp to go on working all evening. The lamp has to remain plugged in to shine. So also the children of God. We need to be plugged into God’s Word to be the light of the world. We don’t just plug in once or twice a year and expect the light to shine. We stay connected to the source – to the Word of God – and then through us the light of God shines into the darkness.

The world is full of things that would distract us from this reality. Whether it’s the bing of a smartphone or the dozens of other activities and events that would keep us from regular worship and Bible Study, repent of these distractions. Turn your focus back to hearing and learning the Word of God, making regular worship a priority, not fearing soft or hard persecution from the dying world, not prioritizing pious actions over the Sabbath rest of hearing God’s Word, but instead remaining plugged into that Word in order that the Holy Spirit might create saving faith within you.  For with that faith comes the promise of eternal rest, the joy of knowing you are loved by your Father in heaven, and the comfort of knowing that no matter what happens in this life and in this world, Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you. And he will come again to take you unto himself. May the Word of God comfort you with this promise all the days of this life and into the life to come.

[1] Susan Weinschenk Ph.D. “Why We’re All Addicted to Texts, Twitter and Google” Psychology Today Online (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-wise/201209/why-were-all-addicted-texts-twitter-and-google)

[2] The Sermon Notes of Harold Buls. http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/bul/east-03a.html

[3] Acts 6:2

Hearing Our Lord – Sermon for May 7/8, 2017

Hearing Our Lord
John 10:1-10
4th Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)
May 7th/8th, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

The human eye is an incredible creation composed of over 2 million working parts. There has never been a successful eye transplant because the eye is so intricate, connected to the brain by more than 1 million microscopic nerve fibers. But the eye incredible not only because of how precisely and intricately designed it is, but because of the impact it has on us as people. Sight is the primary sense in human beings. Some people estimate that 80% of our memories are determined by what we see, and 80% of what we learn is learned through the eyes. The only organ more complex in the entire body is the brain itself, but over half of the brain is devoted to processing visual stimuli. Vision is the primary sense for the vast majority of human beings – it forms our most basic understanding of the world around us. Of course, the bodies and brains of those who are blind learn to rely on other senses to make up for the lack of vision. But generally speaking, sight is the primary sense in people.

But what about the children of God? What is to be the primary sense for the children of God? Which sense are we to rely upon most for our understanding of the world around us?

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Our Epistle reading reminds us that we were at one time straying like lost sheep, but we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. The Psalm for today is Psalm 23, one of the most beloved sections in all the Scriptures. The Lord is my shepherd; I am his sheep. The Gospel reading for today records for us words of our Lord that have become known as the Good Shepherd Discourse. The image of shepherd and sheep is one of the consistent images that runs through the entire history of God’s people. It’s a prominent image in the Old Testament. It’s a prominent image in the New Testament. It’s a prominent image in the church today. It’s in our hymnody. It is in our artwork. Here at St. John we have a painting by the elevator depicting Jesus as a shepherd, and we have a stained glass window dedicated to the same idea. Today’s Gospel reading helps us understand a bit more about why this image is a favorite one of our Lord, and why he consistently places it before us. And believe it or not, it has a lot to do with sight.

Today’s Gospel reading from John chapter 10 follows on the heels of an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees where sight was the main topic. John chapter 9 records for us the account of a man born blind who had his sight restored by Jesus. The man is questioned by the Pharisees, as are his parents, and eventually he is cast out of the synagogue for confessing Jesus as Christ. When Jesus heard that the man had been cast out of the synagogue, he went and found him and said, “For judgment have I come into the world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” When the Pharisees heard this, they asked Jesus, “Are we also blind?” To which Jesus replied, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say you see, your guilt remains.” He then immediately launches into the Good Shepherd Discourse, including this discussion about how true sheep hear the voice of their shepherd, relying on their ears, not their eyes.

That’s our call as the children of God: to rely on our ears, not our eyes.

Our eyes will deceive us. Our eyes will fill us with fear. Our eyes will fill us with anxiety and doubt. Our eyes will look out at the world around us and see rising unrest. They will see a polarized political existence in our country. They will see racial tensions. They will see professional baseball players subjected to racial slurs in a Major League Ballpark. They will see tensions rising between those fighting for religious liberty on one side and those fighting for SOGI laws on the other. Our eyes will see flooding in Missouri and Texas. They will see tornados and earthquakes and hurricanes. They will see cancer and disease and death within our own families and church and school. Our eyes will give us every reason to fear.

But our Shepherd beckons us to believe our ears, not our eyes. For faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.  Christ our Shepherd invites us to cast all our anxiety on him, for he cares for us. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. He leads us to the still waters. He makes us to lie down in green pastures. He fills our cups overflowing with his mercy. Though the mountains crumble and the earth gives way, the steadfast love of our Lord never ceases. Behold, the Son of God, with whom the Father is well pleased. Listen to him. Don’t let your eyes fill you with fear. Let your ears fill you with peace.

But our eyes are powerful. We’ve learned to rely so much on vision. We’ve trained ourselves that seeing is believing. It is not only fear and anxiety that our sight tempt us to believe more than we believe the promises of God. It is greed and lust. Our eyes see the fruit of the world, and seeing that the fruit looks good for eating, we are tempted to take a bite. Our eyes take in the new car our neighbor drives, the new house our friends purchased, the new phone, the new Apple watch, the new iPad, the new this the new that. Our eyes gluttonously devour all the toys and possessions that are not ours, and our eyes tell us that we deserve more, that we deserve better, that we want what others have.

But our Shepherd beckons us to believe our ears, not our eyes. Our ears hear the voice of our Shepherd saying , “Do not covet.” It those words is more than a command; in those words is a promise of freedom. The one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The one whose eyes are addicted to greed becomes a slave to greed. But if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Free from the worry that comes with discontent and coveting. Free from the temptation that is always hiding in the shadow of those shiny new things. The temptation to cut back giving to God so that we can afford a nicer car or more extravagant vacation. The temptation to neglect quality time with our spouse or children because we are spending so many hours working for a bigger paycheck. The temptation to play with the numbers a little so that the government doesn’t really know how much we make. The growing hatred in our hearts as we look at the possessions of the people around us and, rather than rejoicing in the good gifts our Lord has given someone else, hating them for getting what we want. The temptation to tear down the reputation of another person or to speak ill of them or to sabotage them because we are jealous.

Our Lord’s Word sets us free from all of that when it says, “Do not covet. But receive from the Lord with thanksgiving that which is yours.” Our ears give us the peace of a thankful heart. Our ears hear the Lord’s call to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” And our ears trust that our Lord will give us such bread, neither giving us so much extra that we think we have no need of our Lord, nor giving us so little that we fall into theft and so dishonor the name of the Lord. Our ears hear that our heavenly Father knows we need food and clothing and shelter, and that he desires to give us these things. Our ears, not our eyes, fill us with such peace.

Our eyes see the pleasures of the world around us. Our eyes lust after the flesh, after the bottle, after the next high or the next thrill. Our ears hear the voice of our Lord calling us back to his fold. These other voices are not the shepherd. They have not entered our lives or our hearts or our minds by the door, but have climbed in by some other means. They come to steal and kill and destroy. To steal our joy and kill our relationships and destroy the life our Lord has designed for us – a life of faith toward him and love toward others. Jesus has come that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Jesus has come, and he speaks. He comes with his Word. He comes to our ears, not our eyes.

He comes in a splash of water on a baby’s forehead. The eye sees tap water. The ear hears the Word of God and knows that by itself that water would be plain water, but because it is combined with God’s Word it is the life-giving water of baptism.  The eye sees bread and wine. The ear hears the Word of God and knows that the crucified and risen Christ himself is present in this meal to bring us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. It is our ears, not our eyes, to which our Lord makes his appeal. It is through our ears, not our eyes, that our Lord is present among us today.

When a person loses their sense of sight, their body responds by directing some of the parts of the brain that would normally be used to process visual stimuli to process sounds, smells, tastes, and touch instead. That’s partly why people close their eyes when the kiss or when they take a bite of a particularly tasty steak or when they take a long deep breath to absorb the smell of flowers in the springtime. Our other senses are strengthened when sight is taken away. Jesus says that he came into the world so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind. Those who trust the eyes more than the ears will never see the Lord for who he is. As far as we trust our eyes, the painful and disappointing circumstances of our lives, the temptations and siren songs of the world around us, more than we trust the Word of the Lord in our ears, so far will we miss Jesus for who he truly is.

Repent of idolizing your eyes. Hear the voice of your Shepherd. Learn to recognize the voice of your Shepherd. When you hear the voice of another, do not follow it. Flee. Learn to hear the voice of your Shepherd in the proclamation of his Word, and follow that voice. For he alone is the Good Shepherd. All others are thieves and robbers. Do not listen to them. Hear the voice of your Shepherd calling you to repentance. Hear the voice of your Shepherd promising you forgiveness. Hear the voice of your Shepherd and follow him. For He has come to give you life, and to give it to you abundantly.

Waiting to Be Revealed – Sermon for April 23/24, 2017

Waiting to Be Revealed
1 Peter 1:3-9
2nd Sunday of Easter
April 23rd/24th, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 

Christ is risen! Alleluia!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Everyone loves going on vacation. A little time away is often medicine for the soul. A trip someplace warm in the middle of winter, a visit to a national monument, or just a few days with family who live out of state.  But when does your vacation actually start? If you’re going on a particularly special trip, the tendency is to count the days. For the last week or two before your vacation, you count down to the moment when the clock strikes five and you’re done with the last shift. Maybe you’ve got an app on your phone. Maybe you’ve literally circled the date on the calendar on your wall. You have the date in your crosshairs, and your excitement grown with each step toward that day.

But that’s not when vacation starts. Usually, that’s when a whole new slate of headaches starts.  If you’re flying, you’ve still got to unload your car and get all your luggage onto the little shuttle bus that takes you to the airport. Then you’ve got to get in line and make it through the baggage check. Then comes the TSA line and trying to get through security. All of that usually adds up to one of two extremes – you’re either running to your gate trying not to miss you flight, or you’re sitting at your gate 3 hours early. There’s usually not much in between. Driving can be even worse. You count down the minutes at work until that last day is done, but what are you really counting down to? Trying to fit all those suitcases into the back of your car? Sitting in construction or rush hour traffic? Stopping for bathroom breaks and snacks? Trying to stay awake as you push on toward your destination? The pain in your back from driving for so long?

The point is – we often count the minutes to vacation, but we tend to count to the wrong place. We tend to count to the moment work ends, not the moment vacation begins. Those usually aren’t the same thing. Of course, loading the car and walking through the airport on your way to vacation have an air of excitement, much more than having to do those things for the trip home. But they aren’t the best that vacation has to offer. That comes at the end of travelling. That comes at the destination itself. That’s when vacation really starts.

In some ways, that’s how the Christian life works. Our life as the children of God in this world are like that time between leaving work the last time on your way to vacation and actually arriving at the resort. That’s what Peter says in today’s Epistle reading. He says that we have been born to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He says that we have been born to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. That’s the vacation part. But Peter also says that this inheritance is being kept in heaven for us. It’s in heaven, we’re on earth. Peter says this inheritance is being kept for us who are being guarded for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. The hope is ours. The inheritance is promised. But it hasn’t been revealed yet. And Peter says that we rejoice in this inheritance, but also that until we actually receive it we will be grieved by various trials that test our faith. It’s like we’re on vacation, but we haven’t actually gotten there yet. Instead, we’re struggling to make it to our destination.

The reading from Acts today is an example of one such moment from the life of Peter himself. Peter and the other Apostles were fulfilling the commission Jesus had given them to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. They were taking the good news of the resurrection out into the towns and villages, and they were performing many signs and wonders to validate their words. But not all wanted to hear. Peter and the other Apostles faced trials. In today’s reading from Acts, they were arrested for proclaiming the gospel. They were beaten. They were chased out of the Temple. But they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus. They would not be deterred. They did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. With their eyes on the imperishable, unfading inheritance being stored for them in heaven and waiting to be revealed, they were able not only to make it through the trials of the moment, but to rejoice in them.

The fact is, our life in this fallen world is marked by similar hardships. Our life in this fallen world is confusing. We have the great joy of the forgiveness that is already ours, but we aren’t in heaven yet. It’s like we’re done with our last day of work before vacation, but we still have to load the car. Or we’re stuck in traffic. Or we’re the 178th person in the TSA line. Except it’s not minor inconveniences that we’re dealing with. It’s real burdens. It’s death and disease. It’s perpetual temptation and the threat of falling away from the faith. It’s the hostility of the world around us as the animus toward Christianity continues to grow. And what is our response to these threats?

Often our instinct is to lock the world out like the disciples did on that first Easter. On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the disciples were behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They were afraid that they were going to be hunted down and executed just like Jesus was. And their fear blinded them to the promises Jesus had made before his crucifixion. But Jesus came and stood among that fear-filled group and brought peace. He brings the same peace to you today – the peace of knowing that you have an inheritance stored up for you, waiting to be revealed. Often we want to lock out the world, afraid of the dangers outside our door. But Jesus comes and speaks peace. He speaks peace and then sends us back out into the world. He knows we will face hardships. He knows we will face temptation. He knows our life will not look particularly comforting. He knows we won’t be able to see ourselves as being all that different than anyone else in the world around us. But blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Blessed are those who realize that there is something more than this life in store for the children of God.

We are often tempted to lose hope. We are tempted to let the challenges of life overwhelm us. In these moments of despair, our Lord gives us the gift of a living hope. He comes to us through the proclamation of his Word and calls us to remember the promised inheritance. When death fills us with fear, our Lord reminds us that we have an inheritance that is untouched by death. When the evil of the world fills us with fear, our Lord reminds us that we have an inheritance that is unstained by evil. When the fleeting and temporary nature of this creation fills us with fear, our Lord reminds us that we have an inheritance unimpared by time.  This inheritance is yours. Moth and rust will not destroy it. Sin and evil will not defile it. It will never wither. It will never fade. It will never wear out. For it is being guarded by Jesus himself.

The trials of this life will not destroy you, for you are a precious child of God. Instead, they reveal your true character, like fire reveals the true character of gold. The true character of the Christian life is faith in the promises of God. It is not financial security. It is not perfect health. It is not perfect family life or relationships. The character of the Christian life is not defined by things of this world. Our Lord has not promised us that life will be easy. He has not promised us that we will always feel good. He has not promised us that we will be immune from the effects of sin and decay in a fallen creation. What he has promised us is the outcome of our faith: the salvation of our souls.

That is your final destination. Salvation is yours, right here and now. You are on vacation, so to speak. But you aren’t all the way there yet. You will be soon, but not yet. And yet all the sufferings of this life are nothing but a small drop in the ocean of eternity. So rejoice in the life you have now. Rejoice even in your trials. Rejoice if you are counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. Rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of your future resurrection Much like even the longest TSA line can’t totally kill your joy when you’re on your way to Disney World, the promise of resurrection fills you with a joy that is inexpressible. Let the word of Christ fill you with a living hope, one that will sustain you in the trials of this life until our Lord brings you home.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jesus Lives, the Victory’s Won – Sermon for Easter 2017

Jesus Lives, The Victory’s Won!
Exodus 14:10-15:1
Easter Dawn
April 16, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 

“Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?” What?! Talk about a tone-deaf! That’s not the gratitude Moses was probably hoping for after marching in to Pharaoh’s palace and demanding he “Let my people go!” That’s the perspective of a teenager who screams at her parents that they never give her anything as she goes stomping off down the hallway of the house they pay for, flinging herself onto the bed they bought her and crying into the pillow they gave her before texting or Snapchatting or Instagramming her friends on the smartphone she got from, you guessed it, her parents! And those texts and Snapchats will all be bitterly and angrily written to let the girl’s friends all know how awful her parents are and how they never give her anything.

“Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?”  Did God bring you out of Egypt to kill you? No! Of course not! If he wanted to kill you, he would have directed the 10 plagues at you instead of against the Egyptians. If he wanted to kill you, he wouldn’t have given you the Passover Lamb whose blood painted on your door posts protected you from the Angel of the Lord, he would have left you ignorant and let your firstborn die too. If he wanted to kill you he would have left you to suffer in Egypt under the whips of your slave masters. “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us out here to die?” No! What had God done to this point that could possibly give you that impression? “What have you done in bringing us out of Egypt?” What do you mean, ‘What have you done?!’ I’ve set you free from a life making bricks with no straw. I’ve set you free from those who would drown your sons in the Nile. I’ve set you free from slavery and oppression. That’s what I’ve done! And now you want to go back?

Talk about short-term memory loss. Talk about selective amnesia. The Israelites were blinded by the threat of Pharaoh’s army closing in. And, to a certain extent, I can’t say I blame them. I mean, each and every one of them had been conditioned from a young age to fear the Egyptians, to cower before the whips and swords of their captors. Now, just a few short days after leaving slavery behind, here was Pharaoh’s army threatening to recapture them. A lifetime of conditioning doesn’t just go away overnight. So to a certain extent, I can understand the fear of the Israelites. They looked at their situation and processed the information according to the only reality they had ever known – the reality of slavery in Egypt.

But God had something different in mind. The Angel of the Lord who had been leading the people in the pillar of cloud and fire moved to the rear guard to protect the people from Pharaoh’s army. God had Moses stretch out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back, and the people of God passed through on dry ground. Of course, the Israelites didn’t stop complaining once they were on the other side. Instead, before they ever reached, Mt. Sinai they accused God of freeing them from slavery only to starve them in the desert, a complaint he answered by giving them miraculous bread from heaven. Then they accused God of bringing them out of Egypt only to kill them with thirst, a complaint God answered by bringing forth water from a rock. Then, while at Mt. Sinai, they thought God had killed Moses up on the mountain, so they demanded that Aaron build them a golden calf to replace the God who had supposedly abandoned them. When they left Mt. Sinai they refused to follow God into the Promised Land because they were afraid of the people who lived there, even accusing God once again of delivering them from Egypt only to kill them by the swords of the Canaanites. And none of these example even touch on Israel’s 40 years of wilderness wandering. These are all accusations against God that happen in the same year as the 10 plagues and deliverance from Egypt. It’s like Israel was completely blind to the many times God had delivered them. All they could see were the challenges and fears before them.

Does that sound familiar? Do you see yourself in the story? Do you see yourself in the Israelites? You should. Each of us should. We are all guilty of stunningly selective amnesia. Here we are today to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Re-sur-rection! Life from death. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. More than that, he lives! He has defeated death. Christ is arisen from the grave’s dark prison. All our hopes would be ended had Jesus not ascended from the grave triumphantly. But he did ascend from that stone cold tomb. Jesus lives, the victory’s won!

Yet how often do we, like the Israelites of old, respond to our deliverance by ignoring the manifold ways God has revealed his love for us, focusing instead on the challenges and problems and fears in our lives? “Jesus lives!” the angels say, and our response is, “Yeah, but money’s tight this month. Have you conquered death only to starve me in this life?” “Jesus lives!” the angels say, and our response is, “Yeah, but my cancer isn’t getting any better. Have you conquered death only to give me over to an army of murderous cells?” “Jesus lives!” the angels say, and our response is, “Yeah, but look at how many people are turning their backs the church today. Look at how few there are left. Have you conquered death only to abandon me in the middle of this desert?” “Jesus lives!” the angels say, and our response is, “Yeah, but it’s getting harder and harder to live as a Christian in America. Have you conquered death only to destroy us with the swords of those who inhabit this land?” Are we any different from the Israelites of old? “Have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? To kill us with starvation or thirst?  To destroy us with the sword of our enemies?”

A lifetime of conditioning doesn’t go away overnight.

We do, indeed, live in a world that attacks us our whole life long. We live in a world that gives us reason to fear. So our Lord’s response is as simple as it is merciful. He calls our gaze away from the problems. He calls us to look at the deliverance, to fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. O Israel, why are you frightened by the hunger or the thirst or the army closing in on you? Look at the manna and the water from the rock and the Red Sea being pushed back for you to cross! O Christian, why are you focused on the chaos and disease and evil in your life and in the world around you? Why are you focused on chemical attacks in Syria or capricious politicians or the storm clouds brewing in the relationship between church and culture. Yes, in this world you will have tribulation, but take heart. Jesus has overcome the world. This world threw all it could at our Lord. Satan and his demon host attacked our Savior in every way they could conjure. And our Lord bested them all. Our Lord bested death itself. The grave could not hold him.  He has triumphed gloriously. The hosre and his rider have been thrown into the sea! Jesus lives, the victory’s won!

And in your baptism, you live too. You live in him. In this life we will still have hardship. Jesus never promised us anything different. What he promised us is that this life is not all there is. This life is a desert wandering. We are free from the slavery to sin and death, but we have not yet arrived in the promised rest. Like Israel who had been delivered from Egypt but was not yet in the Promised Land, our time in this desert is filled with reasons to fear, with death and disease, with enemies both physical and spiritual, with temptation and despair and doubt. But the gift of today is that our Lord has given us something else to look at. Rather than looking at the problems, look at the cross. Look at the empty tomb. Look at your deliverance. Jesus lives, the victory’s won!

Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on, nor about the things the people of this world will say about you, what they will call you and what you will suffer on account of being faithful to Christ. For the Gentiles seek after these things. But you have a Heavenly Father who knows you need them. And you know he will provide them. You know he loves you, for God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And now Christ lives. And no matter what this world throws at you, your Lord will deliver you.

Jesus lives, the victory’s won. All you need, God will dispense. Let this be your confidence. Jesus lives, the victory’s won. Death’s reign is done. Brighter scenes will soon commence. Let this be your confidence. Jesus lives, the victory’s won. And now even death itself is but the gate to life immortal. Let this calm your trembling breath in the face of life’s challenges. Let this be your confidence.

Christ is risen. Alleluia!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

 

 

Christ, Our Meal With God

Christ, Our Meal With God
Exodus 24:3-11
Maundy Thursday
April 13, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

The Temple in Jerusalem was a bustling place, especially during the high feast days like Passover. The priests who worked there filled their day by offering sacrifices on behalf of Israelite worshippers from sunrise to sunset. Every animal sacrifice had two significant parts: the flesh and the blood. The priests did different things with the flesh and the blood, depending on what kind of sacrifice was being offered. But the flesh and the blood were the key elements.

Each day began with a priest on duty offering a whole burnt offering, a sacrifice of an entire lamb. Since only one of these was offered each morning, a priest might only get to perform this sacrifice once in his life. The offering was called the whole burnt offering because the entire animal was sacrificed. The blood of the lamb was splashed against the base of the altar and flesh of the lamb was placed on the altar to be consumed by flame. None of it was eaten by the priest. None of it was eaten by the Israelite worshippers. None of it was used for anything. The whole offering was burnt on the altar.

This daily sacrifice was the divinely instituted means of grace that covered the sins of the people so that the holy God could dwell among them in the Temple. The burning of the meat on the altar would produce a pillar of smoke to remind the Israelites of the pillar of cloud that led them out of Egypt and across the Red Sea in the days of Moses. It served as a visual reminder that just as the Lord dwelt among his people in the pillar of cloud and fire during the Exodus, he was now dwelling among them in the Temple. It was the sacrifice of the whole burnt offering that allowed the people to live in the presence of God.

Once God was present among his people by virtue of this whole burnt offering, the priests would then offer the other sin offerings of the day. If a new mother needed purification after giving birth or if a soldier was returning from war with blood on his hands, their offerings would be offered at this point. Again, none of the flesh and blood would be eaten in these offerings. They were sacrifices that made atonement. They were sacrifices that covered the sins of the people. They were whole burnt offerings to the Lord. Day after day, year after year, lamb after lamb was sacrificed to cover the sins of the people, to reconcile God and man, to bring peace where there was division and hostility on account of sin.

Once all the whole offerings for sin had been made each day, once the entire congregation present had their sins covered in order that they could stand in the presence of the holy God, that’s when the peace offerings would happen. They were called peace offerings not because they established peace, but because they reflected the peace that had been brought about by that day’s sin offering. That’s when things really picked up at the Temple. That’s why there would be several priests on duty on any given day. While there may have been only one whole burnt offering each day, there were sometimes hundreds of peace offerings. Peace offerings were celebratory meals.  They were required for each family at the high feasts like Passover or Pentecost, but that’s like saying it is required that you have turkey and pie on Thanksgiving. Peace offerings could also be given throughout the year in thanksgiving for just about anything, like the safe return of a family member from war or the birth of a child.  Just like we celebrate significant events with a meal, the Israelites celebrated significant events with a peace offering.

As with the other sacrifices, the key elements to a peace offering were the flesh and the blood. The Lord’s institution of the peace offerings required that the blood of the animal be splashed against the altar, but the flesh would be consumed by the worshippers. Israelites rarely ate meat – it was expensive to buy an animal and if you killed an animal from your own flock you no longer had that animal for breeding, wool, or milk. Typically, the only time Israelites ate meat was as part of a peace offering. There, they ate the flesh of an animal, but they didn’t eat the whole thing. No, the priest got a small portion, and a small portion was left on the altar for God. God and the Israelite would consume the same animal. Just like your entire family eats one bird on Thanksgiving, God and his people would eat one lamb together. It was a holy meal, one that took place after a whole burnt offering had covered the sin of the people.

This holy meal at the Temple was foreshadowed by the holy meal described in today’s reading from Exodus. At Mount Sinai, God ate with his people. We are told that the there was pavement as sapphire stone under his feet, for Moses and the elders were truly in the presence of God. Yet even though they were in the presence of God, the elders of Israel were not struck down, for God covered their sin. They beheld God, and they ate and drank with him and with each other. In this meal with God on Sinai, like the meals with God in the Temple, the Lord first covered the sin of his guests. In the Temple, this was done through the daily whole burnt offering. At Sinai, we are told that Moses ordered burnt offerings to cover the sins of the people. Then he took half of the blood and threw it against the base of the altar, sprinkling the other half on the people, covering their sins with the blood of the lamb and bringing them into the covenant of God. Once God was present among them, they ate and drank with God.

All of this paved the way for the events we remember today. On the night when he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus instituted a new covenant. And the disciples ate with God. Like the sacrifices of the first covenant, flesh and blood are the key ingredients in this new covenant. Our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is the flesh of the new covenant. It is my flesh. I give it for you to cover your sins. I give it to you as your meal with God.” This flesh was sacrificed on the cross as the whole burnt offering to cover the sins of the world. In that one offering, sin was covered once for all. The Temple curtain was torn in two. The earth shook. Graves were opened. God and man were reconciled.

And then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them saying, “Drink of it all of you – this is the blood of the New Covenant. My blood. I give it for you to cover your sins. I give it to you as your meal with God.” This blood was poured out on the cross. It dripped down our Savior’s back as he was whipped within an inch of his life, down our Savior’s brow as thorns cut into his scalp, down our Savior’s arms as nails were driven into his wrists. The blood was shed once for all. The Temple curtain was torn in two. The earth shook. Graves were opened. God and man were reconciled.

At the Temple, once the whole burnt offering had been made for sin, it was time for the peace offering. Now that God and man are reconciled by the sacrifice of the cross, we enjoy a meal with God. It is a meal of thanksgiving, which is why we call it a Eucharist. It is a meal hosted by God himself, which is why we call it the Lord’s Supper. It is a meal shared with God and with each other, which is why we call it a Holy Communion. It has gone by many names through the history of the church, but the dynamic remains the same: once God and man are reconciled, they share a meal. The did it at Sinai. They did it at the Temple. We do it tonight.

And it’s all because of Jesus. He is the fulfillment of the sacrifices of the old covenant. He is the true sin offering, the one who gave himself entirely, the whole burnt offering that covers our sin. On the cross, he offered himself as the sacrifice to forgive all your sin. The lying and lust and anger and bitterness that would separate you from God have been covered by the blood of Jesus. There is no longer any need for sin offerings or whole burnt offerings. God made him who knew no sin to be the sin offering for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God. The suffering and death of Jesus in our place put us right with God. There is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Jesus has done it. It is finished.

But not only is Jesus the true sin offering, he is the true peace offering, the Lamb of God who gives himself as the feast which we eat with God. The Israelites celebrated being reconciled to God by eating with him. So also, in this meal, because we have been reconciled to God by the blood of Christ, we now eat with him. We gather at the Lord’s table as if we were gathered around Easter dinner. The blood of Jesus and water of baptism has brought us into God’s family, and families eat together. We eat with God as part of his family. And as the family of God, we eat with each other.

So let us repent of our bitterness. Let us repent of our grudge holding. Let us repent of our gossip. Let us repent of the ways we drive wedges into the family of God. Let us repent of the ways we bring selfish division.  And let us rejoice in Christ, the whole burnt offering, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Let us rejoice in Christ, the peace offering, the Lamb of God, who is the main course in this our meal with God. The sin offering is done. The peace offering in prepared. The feast is ready. Come to the feast.

+INJ+