Peace Be With You – Sermon for Quasimodo Geniti (April 27th/28, 2014)

 

Peace Be With You

John 20:19-23

2nd Sunday of Easter (Quasimodo Geniti)

April 27th/28th, 2014

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

Fear.  Hiding.[1]  They seem to go together hand-in-hand.  Where there is fear, there will be hiding.  It’s been that way since the beginning of time.  There in the garden were the first man and woman, naked, exposed in their sin, and hiding.  But from whom are they hiding?  Do they really think that they can hide from the all-seeing eye of the all-present, all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe?  I’d hope not.  But then again, that’s probably exactly why they’re hiding.  They know he is the all-present, all-knowing, all-powerful adam_eve230212_02creator of the universe, and they know that they have sinned against him.  They know they have eaten from the tree of which the Lord said, “You shall not eat.”  They know they have been bested in a battle of wits against the serpent.  They know they are naked.  They, like God, now know the difference between good and evil – and they know which one they are.  They know they have sinned.  They are ashamed.  They are afraid, so they hide.

Fear.  Hiding.  They go together hand-in-hand.  The disciples hide for fear of the Jews.  The disciples hide for fear that they will be the next ones to be captured, the next to be put on trial before the Sanhedrin, the next to be sent to the kangaroo court before Pilate, then Herod, then back to Pilate again.  The disciples are afraid that they are going to be the next ones whipped and beaten within an inch of their lives, forced to carry the instrument of their own torture to the place of their death, nailed to a wooden cross and executed, condemned to endure one of the most excruciatingly painful forms of death ever conceived in the gruesome mind of sinful man.  The disciples are afraid, so they hide.

Fear.  Hiding.  They go together hand-in-hand.  We hide out of fear.  Like our first parents in the garden, we know our own sin.  We know all too well, better than anyone else, how sinful we really are.  We know the inmost desires of our hearts.  “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” wrote the prophet Jeremiah.[2]  We may be unable to fully understand our hearts, but we know all too well what they are capable of.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, hatred, lust, sexual immorality, greed, lies, slander.[3]  These come from our hearts, and we know it, so we hide.

We hide behind walls of rationalization by lying to ourselves, saying that any desire we feel must therefore be natural or we wouldn’t feel it.  We hide behind walls of self-justification by playing the card of the Pharisees and measuring ourselves against other 20110312021240-bricksinners rather than measuring ourselves against God’s holy Law.  “I’m better than so-and-so,” we tell ourselves in a vain attempt to bury the guilt our conscience feels over our true condition.  “At least I don’t do drugs.” “At least I don’t cheat on my spouse.”  “At least I go to church.”  We hide behind a self-constructed wall of good intentions and bad excuses.  “I would have spoken up and defended my neighbor, but I didn’t know what to say.”  “I know that I technically cheated on my taxes, but it was only a little, and money is really tight this year.”  “I know that I watched that movie with lust in my heart, but it’s not like I said or did anything wrong.” “I know I really hate my boss, but he’s asking for it.”

Hiding.  All we are doing is hiding, hiding because of our fear.  Fear of being held accountable to a higher standard.  Fear of having our sins and shortcomings brought to light.  Fear of being seen for who we truly are: sinful and unclean.  Hiding and fear go together.  But like Adam and Eve could not hide from the all-present, all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe, where do we think we can hide where our Lord cannot find us?  There is no place that is safe, for our Lord Jesus is not Superman and our acts of kindness and charity are not lined with lead.  Our Lord sees right through our so-called good deeds to the truth of our hearts.  There is nowhere to hide.  He will find us, just like he found Adam and Eve.

And thanks be to God for that.  Thanks be to God that he does find us, even when we hide, just like he found Adam and Eve, just like he found those hiding disciples.  For remember that when our Lord found Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden, he comforted them with the promise of the one who would crush the serpent’s head.  He made them garments of skin to clothe their nakedness.  He escorted them from the tree so that they would not eat of it and be trapped living in their sin forever.  When our Lord found Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden, he had mercy on them.[4]  Remember what happened when Jesus found the disciples locked in the upper room for fear of the Jews.  The resurrected prcas2184Christ did not come in to interrogate them for their cowardice or scold them for their lack of faith.  He came to speak peace into 10 lives burdened with the oppressive weight of fear.  There stands the risen and victorious Christ in their midst, come to show them his wounds not to say, “Look what you did to me,” but rather “See what I have done for you!”

“Peace be with you,” Jesus says.  When he had said this he showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Not afraid.  Joyful.  Mission accomplished.  10 lives now overflowing with peace where fear once ruled the day.  Death has been defeated, there is no need to fear, there is no need to hide.  Sin has been overcome, there is no need to fear, there is no need to hide.  Satan has been conquered, there is no need to fear, there is no need to hide.  Where there once cowered 10 fearful men who amounted to little more than a heap of lifeless bones, the Lord spoke
words of life.  Bone was joined to bone, flesh came upon them, and the breath of life filled their souls.  Jesus is risen, there is no need to fear, there is no need to hide.  Jesus is living, and through the power of his Word, now his Apostles were alive in him too. So alive, in fact, that our Lord sent those apostles out from their hiding place to share the peace they have received.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  JesusOnCross_01As the Father has sent me, so also I am sending you.”  As the Father sent me?  How exactly did God send his Son into the world?  “God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world
might be saved through him.”[5]  God the Father sent his son into the world to save the world.  Jesus sent the apostles into the world to save the world, not by dying for it again, no, Jesus had already done that.  Rather the disciples were sent out to save the world by delivering to it the peace just delivered to them through the Word they were given to speak.  Our Lord doesn’t want his gift of peace to stop with 10 souls, but wants it delivered to every person everywhere.

As Jesus sends them on their way, he gives them the tool that they need for their task.  For having sent them, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  The peace that the apostles speak is not of this world – it is the peace of the Spirit himself, for it is the Spirit himself.  Into these men Christ breathes his Spirit and sends them out into the world to use that Spirit to deliver the gift of peace.    And so they did.  The disciples took up the ministry of reconciliation and began preaching Christ crucified all over the ancient world.  And churches began to sprout up: in Ephesus, in Galatia, in Corinth, in Rome.  In whatever places the Apostles delivered the message of peace that they themselves received, other lives were filled with peace.  And having delivered that peace, the Apostles then sent other men to do the same.  And so the Word of the Lord was sown.  The peace of the Lord was delivered as more and more people heard the message of reconciliation.  That very same peace has been delivered into your life by the spiritual descendants of the apostles, by the pastors who have baptized you, who have fed you the body and blood of the risen Lord, who have catechized you and preached to you from this very pulpit, who have stood before you in this place to declare your sins forgiven in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  But as with the apostles, so with you.  As Jesus delivered peace into their lives and then sent them to carry that peace to others, so also he has delivered peace into your life and sent you to deliver that same peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding.

keep-calm-jesus-is-the-risen-kingAnd yet so often we are hesitant.  So often we are too afraid.  While our Lord would have us go, we hide like Jonah.  Fear and hiding go together hand-in-hand, and so we often hide from the opportunities to speak our Lord’s Word of peace.  Maybe we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing.  Maybe we’re afraid of being called a hypocrite.  Maybe we’re afraid of not having the answers to the questions that so naturally arise in discussions about Jesus.  But never forget that before Jesus sent the apostles to deliver the message of peace, he first delivered it to them.

That is how our Lord works.  He didn’t send the apostles out to undertake an impossible task, but gave them everything they would need.  He does the same for us.  We can’t hide from our Lord, so instead we kneel before him in humble repentance.  He takes our doubts and fears and shame and bitterness and makes them his own.  He takes his faith and his hope and his life and his joy and gives them all to us.  He breathes his Spirit onto us through the words of the Gospel spoken through the voice of his pastors, spoken through the voice of your fellow Christians, written for you in the pages of Holy Scripture.  He does not send us out unequipped, but gives us the gift of forgiveness and new life in him, the exact things we need to go forth with no fear.

And so we do go forth.  We go forth from this place and bring reconciliation and peace into our relationships, into our families, into our school, into our workplaces, into our world.  Fear and hiding go together.  They always have, and they always will.  But our Lord comes into our hiding places with words of comfort and of peace, with his own crucified and resurrected body and blood to strengthen and preserve us body and soul as we take his words of comfort to a dying world.  May the Lord who has so graciously given us this gift of reconciliation and peace grant that by his Spirit we too may proclaim the good news of salvation so that all who hear it may receive the blessing of the peace that surpasses all understanding.

In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

 

 

[1] This sermon draws on a sermon by Pr. Tony Sikora entitled, “Upper Rooms, Fig Leaves, and the Resurrected Christ.” I liked the correlation drawn between fear and hiding in the scriptures and in the lives of God’s Children today.

[2] Jeremiah 17:9

[3] Matthew 15:19

[4] Genesis 3:15, 20-24

[5] John 3:17

In Our Flesh, We Shall See God – Easter Sermon (April 20, 2014)

In Our Flesh, We Shall See Godjesus-resurrection-tomb-mary

Job 19:25-27

Easter Sunday

April 20, 2014

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.    Job 19:25-27

             Job was a man who understood the meaning of the word pain.  He understood what it was to suffer.  He knew firsthand the hurts and trials that life could hold.  Here was a man who, at one time, was wealthy almost beyond measure.  In the words of Scripture, “this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.”[1]  But at the hand of Satan, Job

Job-wife1lost everything he had on this earth.  He lost his children to the swords of his enemies and the collapse of their house.  He lost his flocks to fire from heaven and a band of thieves.  He lost his health, becoming deathly ill, so ill that even his wife chided him, saying, “Do you still hold fast your integrity?  Curse God and die.”[2]  With his life in shambles, his children dead, his wife telling him to throw in the towel, and his friends offering not words of comfort or assurance, but rather trying to uncover some secret sin that they could blame for his misfortune, Job speaks words of unwavering faith.  “After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”[3]

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this joyous Easter morning, these are our words too, for in Job we see a picture of ourselves.  Like Job, we find ourselves surrounded by death and suffering.  We too live in a world where our loved ones get sick and die.  I would venture to guess that there’s not a person in this room today who hasn’t had their life or their family touched by a major disease of some kind.  I would venture to guess thathe_is_risen_wallpaper__yvt2 there’s not a person here today over the age of 21 who has not grieved the death of a loved one.  If I’m wrong, if there is someone here who has never tasted the bitterness of sickness or death, then I’m truly happy for you.  But even you will not avoid it forever.  Even if you’ve managed to avoid it to this point, you haven’t avoided all its effects.  If a casket at the end of the line was the only problem we face, that would be bad enough in itself.  But to add insult to injury, like Job we too live in a world where enemies threaten us daily from all sides.  There is the threat of unemployment or underemployment.  There are those who daily find their joy being eaten away at by mental illness or depression, by loneliness or fear. There are coworkers and neighbors who seem to have made it their sole purpose to make your life miserable.  There is the guilt or shame that we feel over a poor choice, shame that we can’t get rid of, shame that clings to us like a strand of hair charged with static.  There’s the feeling of inadequacy that is so hard to shake.

We live in a world where there is so much pain, so much suffering, so much frustration that it would be futile to try and describe it all, and no one knows better than you the scars it has left on your own existence.  We live in a world of disease and famine, a world that promises to be many things to many people, but ultimately delivers only one thing to all its inhabitants without bias: death.  For in this world all things die.  Plants and animals alike share one fate.  Governments and empires and political initiatives fade away.  Even towering buildings and impressive monuments of great men will one day be reduced to trunkless legs of stone and a face half-buried under the sands of time.[4]  We spend our days in a dying world victimized by constant decay, and here comes Satan whispering in our ear, “What’s the point?  Life is too difficult.  Curse God and die,” or perhaps, “Life is too short, indulge that passion, indulge that lust, embrace the greed.”  He promises that it will make the hurt go away.  He promises it will make life truly worth living.  “Eat, drink, and be merry,” he says, “for tomorrow you may die.”

Tomorrow you may die.  In those four words you have the heart of the conflict: the world simply cannot answer the question of death.  Actually, it doesn’t even try to.  Instead of addressing the problem of death, the philosophies of this world dodge the question put forth the idea that death is natural, simply one more step in the circle of life. The world’s theory of origin requires the presence of death so that the fittest species may survive while the weaker genes are weeded out by predators and disease.  This world’s view of pleasure stems from the belief that because we will all die one day anyway, we should enjoy life as much as we want right now, carpe diem,seize the day, for at your back you always hear time’s wingéd chariot drawing near,[5] chasing you down so that it can bury you six feet under.  But if death is natural as the world claims, then so also is the suffering struggle-e1354743825180that leads to death.  Yet our instinct refuses to believe this.  No matter what the philosophies of the world tell us, suffering still hurts.  Death still hurts.  People still cling to life and fight to stay alive.  God’s fingerprint buried deep down inside us will not allow us to embrace suffering as natural.  That’s why it is so tempting to try to hide from the pain through countless distractions and medications and self-medications, trying to drown the sorrows, or at least dull the senses so that it doesn’t hurt as much, all the while ignoring the 300lb gorilla in the corner whose shadow looms over us all and whose name is death.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, says Satan, for he knows the man behind the curtain is no wizard.  He’s the grim reaper.  Satan knows the world cannot answer the great question of death, so he has taught the world to ignore it.  His ultimate goal in all of it is to have us lose hope.  The devil wants us to curse God and accept death, to give in to the despair and live for this life only.

But like Job, we know that there is more to our existence than the pain and suffering and decay around us.  We know that even though physical death awaits us on this earth, paradise awaits us when we leave this veil of tears.  For like Job we know that our Redeemer lives, and that at last he will stand upon the Earth.  And after our skin has been destroyed, yet in our flesh we shall see God.  We shall see him for ourselves.  Our eyes shall behold him.  This is the joy of the resurrection.  This is the joy of Easter.  When it comes right down to it, this is Christianity.

So often the world treats Christianity as if it is nothing more than one system of morality among many.  So often we in the church are tempted to act in the same way.  So often we are tempted to act as if the main purpose of the church was to eliminate a particular cultural sin like homosexuality or pornography or abortion, as if that would eliminate sin altogether.  So often we are tempted to act as if the main purpose of the church is to eliminate poverty or end world hunger or stop pollution, as if that would bring about peace on earth.  So often we are tempted to act as if the purpose of the church was to help us get our families in order or help us manage our finances or teach us to live our best life now, as if that would provide lasting happiness.  But each of those misses the point.  It’s not that our Lord is silent about sin in the world or about acts of charity or about our vocations in our families, but each of those is fruit of the tree.  The tree itself is the resurrection of Jesus.  If our message is for this life only, then we are of all people most to be pitied.  For this life ends in death, regardless of which president you voted for or how many plastic bottles you recycled.  No matter what kind of family life you had or what your bank account looked like, death is the penultimate chapter in every person’s story.  Then what?  What’s the final chapter?  At the last our Redeemer who lives will stand upon the earth.  And after our skin has been destroyed, yet in our flesh shall we see God, whom each of us shall see for himself, and our eyes shall behold, and not another.[6]

The resurrection makes all the difference.  It gives us a perspective that gets us
through any earthly trial or tribulation.  As I’ve told you before, I love watching football and basketball on TV.  But there’s something different about watching a classic game when you already know the outcome.  When I watch sports live, I get all worked up when my team turns the ball over or commits a foolish penalty, as I’m sure will happen when I sit down to watch the Red Wings this afternoon.  But when I’m watching a game I’ve seen before, one that I know my team will win, I don’t sweat the small url-2stuff.  I may not like the turnovers or penalties, but they don’t bother me as much because I know how the game will end.  So also the life of a Christian in light of the resurrection of Jesus.  You know how the story ends.  Jesus is the firstfruits, we are the harvest.  Jesus is already risen from the dead, we too will be raised on the last day.  At that point, whatever money problems or relationship issues or sicknesses we have in this life will be washed away as we cross the river of life to enter paradise.  Whatever shame or guilt gnawed at you on this side of the grave will be gone forever.  The resurrection of Jesus is your guarantee from God that such a future awaits you, and the anticipation of such an eternity gives us the strength to face any challenges this life throws our way.

Such is the joy of the resurrection.  Such is your life in Christ.  As we arrive at the end of Lent and Holy Week, we rejoice that we are Easter people.  More than a one day celebration of an empty tomb, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is the foundation for our whole existence.  While the world clamors for us to lose hope, we cry out with Job, “No.  You cannot take my hope, for I know that my redeemer lives.”  When Satan tempts us to curse God and embrace death, we join our voices as the people of the resurrection and proclaim: Christ is Risen! Alleluia!  He is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia!

 May our resurrected and living Lord Jesus guard your hearts and minds in the true faith through whatever this life throws your way until the day of your resurrection.

Easter_Christ_is_risen

[1] Job 1:3

[2] Job 2:9

[3] Job 19:26

[4] Ozymandias – Percy Bysshe Shelly

[5] To His Coy Mistress – Andrew Marvell

[6] Job 19:25-27

Deliver Us From Evil – Homily for Good Friday

Deliver us From Evilgood_friday_poster

Mark 3:22-27

Good Friday

Midweek Lenten Series (Lord, Teach Us to Pray)

April 18, 2014

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Mark 3:22-27)

Tied man

Deliver us from evil.  “In Greek, this petition also reads, ‘Deliver us from the Evil One.’  It seems to be speaking of the devil as the sum of all evil in order that the entire substance of our prayer may be directed against our archenemy.  For it is he who obstructs everything for which we ask.”[1]  To put it bluntly, the devil is a force to be reckoned with.  He is the great opponent of God and his Christ, and he is at work in everything that opposes God’s will for this creation, and God’s will for you. [2]   Every man, woman, and child in this fallen creation is in the dominion of the prince of this world, and is at times subjected to his temptation and to the havoc he wreaks.  The power of God and the power of the devil are in the most severe conflict with each other, for the devil wants to be God.  He wants to be worshiped by men.  He wants to be the one in control of creation and human history.  So God and the devil are fighting over you, fighting for your allegiance, fighting for lordship of your life.

And the odds are never in your favor.  There is no neutral ground.  There is no Switzerland in this cosmic battle.  There are no Amish colonies to which we can flee in an effort to wilfully abstain from this conflict.  Whatever or whoever is not of the Kingdom of God is in the devil’s kingdom.  That is the kingdom into which we are all born.  That is the kingdom in which we continue to live and move and have our being, the kingdom of this world in which we still struggle.  We struggle because we are surrounded by a world that is still manipulated by Satan.  We live in a world populated with people who are still unwittingly under the control of the evil one, people who for all outward appearances seem to be good and noble people, but who through the absence of faith are ultimately unsuspecting agents of the enemy, pawns in his great chess match with the Almighty.  Satan teaches them to speak of Godly sounding ideals like faith, hope and love, but to speak of love only as an excuse to ignore or applaud all manner of sinful behavior under the guise of tolerance and open-mindedness; to speak of faith only as faith in one’s self and in one’s own abilities rather than humble confession of sin that looks to Christ alone for forgiveness; to speak of hope only as hope to be found through politics or programs or earthly institutions, never as hope for eternal life to be found through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We daily struggle against the incessant attacks of the devil through the voices, assumptions, values, and mores of a sinful world.

And struggle, not victory, is the best we can hope for in this life, for we ourselves are so often the unwitting agents of the dark one.  We ourselves are the ones who casually embrace pride, thanking God that we are not like those homosexuals or prostitutes or murderers or sinners out there.  We ourselves are the ones who unquestioningly embrace the ideals and standards of our culture, mindlessly enjoying the luxuries of smartphones and multiple cars and week-long vacations and HDTVs with hundreds of channels all while complaining that money is tight.  We ourselves are the ones who have unsuspectingly embraced the lies spoon fed to us by the world around us.  We ourselves are the unwitting pawns in the games of the demons.

And we ourselves are powerless to stop it; we are in bondage to it and cannot free ourselves.  Were it not for the light of God’s Word breaking forth into our darkness, we would not even see the problem.  Sure, we may recognize that things in this world aren’t perfect.  We might have a sense that things like bombings at marathons or school shootings are pretty bad.  We might experience that death sure hurts a lot, even when it is the peaceful passing of one who lived a full life.  We might understand that there are some struggles in this world.  But apart from the Word of God holding the mirror before our faces we would never recognize our own helplessness.  We would continue on blissfully unaware of own contribution to the contamination of this creation.  Without God’s Word we would continue marching toward our graves as if that was the only option, echoing back the world’s mantra that death is only natural.  Without God’s Word, we would never know that our dilemma is something that far exceeds our abilities, that we are at war with the cosmic powers over this present darkness, battling against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.[3]

As part of this creation, we are born enslaved to sin.  We are born captive to death.  We are born belonging to the devil, and we are never free of our sinful flesh in this life.  The best we can hope for in this sinful flesh is struggle, for struggle is an indication that there is something else at work within us.  The world doesn’t struggle because the world doesn’t care about our Lord or his Word – it has bought Satan’s lie hook, line, and sinker.  We struggle because we care, but the best we can hope for is to be a house divided against itself.  Yet, in the words of Jesus, such a house cannot stand.  We cannot stand.  It would be useless to talk of gathering our forces together in mutiny against the prince of this world.  Satan is far too strong for us, and we are far too valuable to him.  He needs our allegiance to stroke his ego, so he will not give us up willingly.  We are his treasure, precious to him only to support his delusions of grandeur, but precious nonetheless.  He is no more eager to see us go than Pharaoh was to see the Israelites leave Egypt.  No, we cannot hope to free ourselves from Satan’s clutches; he is far too strong.  No one can enter this strong man’s house and plunder his goods, not unless he first binds the strong man.  Only then may he plunder his house.[4]

jesus-falls So Jesus entered the strong man’s house.  Jesus entered this fallen and sinful creation.  We may be valuable to Satan’s narcissistic delusions, but we are valuable to Jesus on a whole different level.  We are valuable to him not because our worship and praise feeds his ego.  We are valuable to him not because he is so gluttonous for power that he insists on dominating every aspect of our lives.  We are valuable to him because we are his beloved creation.  We are valuable to him because he is love, and we are his beloved.  And so He who was by nature God did not consider his place as God something to clung to, but took the form of a servant.  He took on human flesh.  He took up residence in the dominion of the prince of this world.  He saw us trapped in the strong man’s house, so he came into that house himself.  He lived here as true man – experiencing our hunger, our thirst, our fatigue, our frustration, our temptation, our grief, our sorrows, our loss, our death.  And in so doing he bound the strong man with cords that cannot be broken.  The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil.[5]  That is why we are gathered together tonight, on the Friday we now call Good.  That is why we are gathered together to remember the crucifixion of our Lord, for if we could have been made righteous by any other means, then what in the world is Jesus doing on the cross?[6]  If Jesus could have simply showed us a means of escape, a series of hidden tunnels or an Underground Railroad to extract us from the house of the strong man, wouldn’t he have done it?  But there was no other way out.  There was no secret passage by which we could find our way back to God.  The only way to free us from the bonds of Satan was to come down here and bind Satan himself.

So that’s what our Lord did.  He took Satan’s most powerful weapon, death, and turned it back on itself.  In his own death Jesus destroyed the power of death.  The sin that Satan used to chain us has been broken, for Jesus, the one who knew no sin, became sin for us.  Sin was punished.  Sin was judged.  Sin was nailed to a tree and had a spear jabbed up between its ribs.  He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.[7]  He redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us, as it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”[8]  So, look tonight at that tree.  Look tonight at that cross.  Look tonight and see Jesus on that cross, and seeing Jesus on that cross, know that there’s no room for you.  Hear Jesus cry out from that cross, “It is finished!” and know that he’s talking about the price of your salvation.  It is finished; it has been paid. Remember how at the death of Jesus the ground shook and the dead were raised, and know that it is the undoing of the chains of death that Satan used to confine you.  Remember how at the sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross the curtain in the Temple was split in two from top to bottom, and know that the ropes of sin that Satan used to bind you have been cut in half.  You have been set free.  You or I may not have been strong enough to free ourselves from the grip of Satan, but one who is stronger than he has come into this house.  He has bound the strong man.  He has taken you for his own, and nothing can overpower him.  You now belong to him, and nothing can steal you back.

JesusOnCross_01 Come now, let us ponder on his holy passion.  Let us see his great distress, anguish, and affliction.  Let us meditate on how it was our sin and bondage to the devil that wrought such deep affliction, and, with repentant grieving, let us find peace in our conscience, the peace that his cross gives, the peace of knowing that though his death we have been delivered from the evil one.  Let us take comfort in the trust that because we have been delivered from the clutches of the evil one, even though the daily struggles of this life are difficult for us to bear, yet they cannot overpower our Lord.  Let us find in the cross of Jesus the strength bear our own crosses in humbleness and patience until the day of our resurrection when we will be delivered from this valley of sorrow to our Lord in heaven.  Come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, and remember how he delivered us from evil.

[1] Large Catechism

[2] Much of what follows is from: Althous, Paul The Theology of Martin Luther p. 162-164

[3] Ephesians 6:12

[4] Mark 3:27

[5] 1 John 3:8

[6] Paulson, Steven Luther for Armchair Theologians p. 147

[7] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[8] Galatians 3:13

The God of the Unexpected – Palm Sunday Sermon (April 13, 2014)

The God of the UnexpectedJesus

Matthew 21:1-9

Palm Sunday

April 13, 2014

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

Expect the unexpected.  That’s a good rule of thumb when dealing with Yahweh, the God of the Israelites.  Expect the unexpected, for he is forever surprising us by the way he acts.  Well, it would be surprising, perhaps, if we weren’t so familiar with the stories.  We know that David is going to beat Goliath.  We know that Noah and his family will survive the flood.  We’ve been hearing these things since we were kids in Sunday School.  Now, don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to be well informed about what takes place in the pages of Scripture; far from it.  But I do think that familiarity has desensitized us to the shocking nature of some of what’s in the there.  We barely shrug at the knowledge that our new born Lord spent his first night among the cattle sleeping in a feed trough.  It’s completely normal to us that Jesus spent his time with the outcasts, the tax collectors and the sinners, more than with the religious establishment or political big wigs.  While these things may have been shocking to first century Jews, they are not necessarily all that surprising to those of us who have heard them taught and preached since we were kids.

Yet the saying holds true: expect the unexpected, for that’s what you tend to get from the palm-sundaytrue God of heaven and earth.  The history of Palm Sunday is no exception.  Jesus rides into Jerusalem to thunderous cheers from crowds of people who line the street to greet him.  Here, the Messiah, the king of the universe, is finally getting the recognition he deserves.  This is not just hundreds of people in a group following him around the countryside.  This is not even the thousands of people being fed on the shores of the sea of Galilee.  This is Jerusalem, the center of the Israelite universe.  This is Passover, the center of the Israelite calendar.  And here comes Jesus, the rightful king, riding before tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Israelites, not on a stallion or war horse.  He’s not standing atop a pair of lions with one foot on the back of either cat.  He’s humble and mounted on a donkey.  Sure, the crowds are astonished by him, praising him, shouting hosannas for all to hear.  But they have no idea what he’s about to do.  They have no idea how he’s about to do it.  Their expectations are about to be shattered.  Never mind that just a few days earlier Jesus had told them “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise,”[1]  Even his disciples still don’t understand what is about to happen.

But that shouldn’t surprise us.  For if there’s one thing we can expect from God, it’s the unexpected.  The disciples’ expectations were wrong.  The Israelites’ expectations were wrong.  So often our expectations are wrong too.  But God is not interested in our expectations, he’s interested in our salvation – and he accomplishes it in ways that the world considers total foolishness.  The words that Jesus spoke to his disciples about his upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection were spoken as they were headed to Jerusalem for that fateful week.  Like many the other travelers, their journey took them through Jericho.  As you probably remember, Jerusalem was situated more-or-less at the top of a mountain.  Jericho was the city at the base.  Before pilgrims would undertake the somewhat difficult trek up the side of the mountain to Jerusalem, they would often stop for supplies and rest in Jericho.  It was during this particular stay in Jericho that Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus[2] and ate with Zacchaues.[3]  Even though Jericho is the setting for these and some other well-known stories in the New Testament, the city is mostly remembered for the story of Joshua and the Israelites entering the Promised Land.  That’s another story filled with the unexpected – trumpets and shouts and walls that come tumbling down.  But there’s one more element of that story that I find even more surprising, and it’s one that usually gets glossed over in Sunday School.

You see, as soon as the Israelites had miraculously crossed the Jordan River they set up camp on the plains of Gilgal at the eastern border of Jericho.  There, they gathered their forces and prepared to wage war on the Promised Land.  Picture the forces of Rohan gathering to ride off to aide Gondor in Lord of the Rings, or the Allied Forces gathering together on the Western Front.  Here was the army of God’s people within shouting distance of their enemies who were barricaded behind Jericho’s massive walls.  And what was step one in the Israelite’s battle plan?  What was the first move that this army made?  Circumcision.  Yup, that circumcision.  And we’re not talking about just the baby boys, either.  We’re talking every male in Israel, every soldier, every man of fighting age who had been born during the days of wilderness wandering.  Not one of them had been circumcised during that 40 year mini exile.  Now that it was time for them to take possession of the Promised Land as God’s people, they had to be made God’s people once again.  The promise of the Land made to Abraham and was passed down to his descendants through circumcision.  If these Israelites weren’t circumcised, the promise didn’t apply to them and they had no claim to the land.  So in view of their enemies, enemies who were so afraid of the Israelites and their God that they were ripe for the taking, God incapacitated the whole army for a few days, made them incredibly vulnerable to enemy attack, but in so doing made them his chosen people once again.  The rest, as they say, is history.[4]

joshua-wallsThe unexpected continued from there.  After this brief stopover in Jericho, the Israelites continued on to take possession of the Promised Land as God interceded for them by causing Jericho’s walls to fall down[5] and causing the sun to stand still and giant hailstones to crush the retreating enemies at Gibeon.[6] It may not have been the battle plan that the great military minds in history would have drawn up, but it certainly worked.  Even though it seemed like foolishness to take time for circumcision on the doorstep of battle, that proved to be the deciding factor in how the war turned out.

There is a picture here of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  After his brief stopover in Jericho to dine with Zacchaeus, Jesus now rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.  Sure the crowds embrace him now and rejoice in his presence, but that would be the same as the Israelites rejoicing and the Canaanites cowering in fear as the Priests triumphantly entered the Promised Land by walking the Ark of the Covenant across the Jordan River on dry ground.  What comes after both of these triumphal entries is shocking vulnerability and weakness – but it makes all the difference it the world.  Just as the Israelites did not ride the wave of intimidation into the Promised Land after their God miraculously stopped the flow of the Jordan River, so also Jesus did not ride the wave of popularity with the masses.  Instead, he became vulnerable like the Israelite army had done through their circumcision.

Jesus’ weakness and vulnerability came in the form of being betrayed by one of his own, captured and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He was bounced around a kangaroo court, being beaten each step of the way, before being sentenced to death and scourged within an inch of his life.  He was then crucified and hung out to dye as travelers mocked him on their way into the city.  To any onlookers, he certainly would have appeared defeated.  But he is no ordinary man.  He is the God of the Israelites, he is the true and living God, the God of the unexpected.  jesus-fallsHe is the one who did not consider his rights and privileges as God something to be clung to, but mad himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.  And being found in human likeness, he became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  And he did it for you, to redeem you, so that you could spend eternity with him in paradise.  Just as the shedding of Israelite blood through circumcision on the plains of Gilgal ensured their victory over the nations of the Promised Land, so also the shedding of Jesus’ blood was the victory over sin, death, and the devil.  God worked through the unexpected to do something miraculous for you.

And now he continues to do the same.  We have our own expectations of how a God should act.  We want him to be powerful and majestic.  He should be lofty and above the fray of this world.  We so often act as we expect his holy things to glow or float or be surrounded with angelic voices.  We have a hard time picturing him encumbered in the mundane things of day-to-day life.  Civilizations throughout history have invented for themselves gods who fit this description, gods who are above the normal things of this world.  But we have the God of the unexpected.  He is not above the normal things of this world.  He created them, and he uses them to save us.  He brings his gifts of life and forgiveness to you in unexpected ways.  Simple words, spoken from the mouth of ordinary people.  The same voices that tell their kids when it’s bedtime or order French Fries at the drive through also proclaim your sins forgiven in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  A splash of water on a baby’s forehead.  Normal water.  Not special water that has been imported from the Jordan River, but rather plain water that came from the tap in the kitchen or bathroom.  A wafer of bread or a sip of wine.  Not special bread made from select wheat grown only in the Holy Land.  Not special wine fermented from grapes grown in vineyards in Israel.  Simple bread and wine that were bought from a distribution Word-and-Sacramentcompany somewhere.  It’s no accident that the Christian Church for centuries has used the words of the Jerusalem crowd to greet our Lord’s arrival in the sacrament of the altar.  After the words of institution are spoken, the congregation responds by singing, “Blessed I he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  He who once arrived in Jerusalem on the back of a donkey now arrives among us in, with, and under the bread and wine.  With God, you expect the unexpected.  Don’t be bored by the simple gifts; these completely mundane and normal things are the means of your salvation.  These are the unexpected ways that our Lord comes to you today.

This coming week we will hear again the story of our salvation, the same story that we heard at this time last year, and the year before, and the year before that.  But don’t let familiarity with the story blind you to the unexpected and miraculous within it.  Don’t let the cross become the great, “of course.”  Rejoice in the God of the unexpected, and rejoice in the unexpected things he has done for you.  For they are your salvation.

[1] Luke 18:31-33

[2] Mark 10:46-52

[3] Luke19:1-10

[4] Joshua 4-5

[5] Joshua 6

[6] Joshua 10

Forgive Us As We Forgive Others – Midweek Sermon (April 9, 2014)

20110907185152Forgive Us As We Forgive Others

Jonah 3:10-4:11; Luke 5:27-32

Midweek Lenten Service

(Lord, Teach Us to Pray)

April 9, 2014

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have someone to forgive.”[1] Just ask Jonah.  Jonah’s name means “dove” in Hebrew, but he’s often portrayed as if he’s more of a chicken.[2]  After all, he did run away when the Lord called him to preach a message of repentance to the Assyrians in Nineveh.  As the story goes, “the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evilhas come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.”[3]   You’ve heard that part of the story before, but did you notice what was not in there?  We’re not told why Jonah doesn’t want to go to Nineveh.  We’re not told why he fled from the presence of the Lord.  We’re just told that he got up and went the opposite direction.

Was he just being chicken?  Not according to Chapter 4, which was read just a few moments ago.  Hear again these words from the Book of Jonah: “When God saw what [the people of Nineveh] did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the Jonah-Angrydisaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly,and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”[4]

“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”  Jonah thought forgiveness was a lovely idea – when he and his fellow Israelites were the ones being forgiven.  After all, they were the chosen people of God.  They were the ones with the sacrifices and the prophets.  While they might not have technically earned God’s forgiveness, they certainly deserved it more than those wicked Assyrians in Nineveh.  Those wicked Assyrians were the enemies of God and his people.  How could God forgive them?  They would eventually come and take over the Northern Tribes, invading the towns and villages, capturing and deporting the people who lived there, exiling them to some far off village in a distant corner of the ancient world.  Certainly these people didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness.  They’d made their bed, now it was time to sleep in it.  So thought Jonah.

How often are we like Jonah?  If we’re honest with ourselves, how often would we rather see the wicked people of this world punished by God rather than forgiven by him?  Do you want to see Hitler in heaven?  Do you want to see drug lords in heaven? Child molesters?  Abusive and violent parents?  What those who sexually exploit young girls?  Pimps or murders or human traffickers?  Do you want to see God forgive them?  Or like Jonah, do you find just the tiniest bit of pleasure that you are not like them?  Would you rather run and watch them burn under God’s wrath than go to them and preach repentance?

“Forgive us our trespasses Lord, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Powerful words.  Dangerous words, for too often we aren’t very good at forgiving those around us.  And forget forgiving the big wickedness in the world, like the Hitlers or child molesters.  We have such a hard time forgiving the people closest to us, the parents or spouses or children or coworkers who have hurt us in some way.  Like Jonah, we tend to hold on to our bitterness, to wallow in it like pigs in the mud.  But bitterness and selfish entitlement are like blinders on a horse.  They only let us see so much, obscuring the rest of reality that is right next to us.  Jonah was so obsessed with the wickedness and sin of the Assyrians that he failed to see the depths of his own sin.  He failed to see how God had mercifully provided for him, focusing instead on the supposed injustice he had to suffer as the Assyrians were spared.  Jonah was so upset by forgiveness given to the Assyrians that he was ready to die himself.

But that’s what bitterness does.  That’s what it did to Jonah, that’s what it does to us.  How often do we find ourselves in the midst of a conflict or argument with a loved one, and all we can think about is the wrong that that person has done to us, ignoring the way that we have contributed to the problem.  How often is our view of life characterized by giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt while demanding absolute perfection from those closest to us.  How often we treat a careless word spoken by another in passing as if they were intended to cut out our very hearts.  How often we indulge a sense of entitlement and self-pity when someone has wronged us.

Forgive us, O Lord, as we forgive others?  Really?  Do we really want that?  If we’re honest, we should probably admit that we’d rather the Lord use something other than the genuineness or sincerity of our forgiveness as the standard by which he forgives us.  For if he uses our standard, we will find ourselves not the Niniveites, but the vine in the great story of Jonah – withering and dying in the scorching heat as God leaves us to die.

JesusOnCross_01

But he does use a different standard – his own.  He is the God of grace and mercy.  He is the God of reconciliation.  He is the God who showed his love for us in that while we were sill sinners, Christ died for us.  Jesus is the standard of forgiveness that moves our Heavenly Father to have mercy on us.  He doesn’t wait for us to drum up enough forgiveness for others before he will give us any from himself.  Rather he has already poured out his forgiveness over us in the water of baptism.  He has already poured out his forgiveness over lips in the sacrament of this altar.  We have already been forgiven, so now we forgive.

Repent of the bitterness.  Repent of the selfish entitlement.  Take off the blinders and see yourself and your relationships for what you are.  Any 8th grade catechism student can tell you that the Law of God acts as a mirror to reveal our true nature.  Let the Law be your mirror; believe what it says.  Think about what a mirror does.  It not only shows you your reflection, but more specifically, it shows you your imperfection.  We look in the mirror to see what’s wrong with us: a smudge on our shirt, a hair out of place, an outfit that doesn’t match.  Look into the mirror of God’s Law and see that you do not love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and neither do you love your neighbor as yourself.

Then rejoice in the gift of forgiveness.  Rejoice in the reconciliation God has provided you through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son.  God looked out over his newly formed creation and declared that it was not good for man to be alone.  It is not good for you to be alone, our Lord has created you to live in relationships with him and with other people.  But in this sinful world, those relationships are going to be rocky at times.  If you cling to bitterness and grudges and selfish entitlement instead of clinging to our Lord’s gift of confession and reconciliation, alone is exactly where you’ll wind up.  All too often we act as if the best way to keep the peace in relationships is to ignore the conflict in them.  What a terrible lie that is!  Ignoring conflict only escalates conflict.  Burying your head in the sand by ignoring conflict or treating it as if it’s no big deal does not provide a solid foundation for a healthy relationship.  The foundation we need is honesty in self-evaluation, honesty in confession, and above all, honesty in forgiveness.

That was a fundamental rift between Jesus and the Pharisees.  They thought they had no need of a Savior to rescue them from their sin.  He had no intention of being anything else.  Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick.  Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  But there is no one who is righteous, no, not one.  If you think yourself righteous by yourself, then Jesus is not for you.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

So confess your sin.  Confess that we are all of us citizens of Nineveh.  Confess that our own personal wickedness has come up before the Lord.  Hear his voice calling you to repentance.  And with the people of Nineveh, rend your hearts and not simply your garments.  Confess your sin, and be reconciled to God.  Be raised up in the joy of forgiveness so that seeing what has been pardoned in you, you have an infinite supply of pardon for others.  Being reconciled to God, now be reconciled to each other.  Don’t pretend problems or sins don’t exist; forgive them.  Bury them in the tomb of Christ.  Don’t hang on to them, move past them.  Resolve to live in peace with those around you.  It doesn’t mean you’ll start to magically like every person who wrongs you or treats you poorly, but it does mean that you will treat them with love regardless of their actions, for that is what our Lord has done for us.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins or deny our prayer because of them.  We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would look instead at Jesus and the righteousness he has provided.  And having received the answer to that prayer, now in our marriages, in our families, in our workplaces, in our church, in our school, in our lives, we focus not on the sins that have been committed against us, but we look to Jesus.  God’s message to Jonah is clear: Jesus died for the people in Nineveh.  Why would he not
want to forgive them?  God’s message to us is the same: Jesus died for the people in your life.  He shackleshas forgiven them as he has forgiven you.  Why would we not want to forgive them?  Let the love of Christ free you from the shackles of bitterness.  Stop lugging around the burden of that grudge.  Live your life in the joy of reconciliation, forgiving others as in Christ Jesus, God forgave you.

And the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.

+INJ+

 

[1] C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity

[2] Sermon by Chad Bird (Christ Crucified p. 36)

[3] Jonah 1:1-3

[4] Jonah 3:10-4:3

Funeral Sermon for Anna Schmidt

Anna Mae Schmidt

Romans 8:22-27; John 10:27-30

April 9, 2014

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 Each of us has moments in life that impact us for years to come.  In my limited experience, it seems to me that those moments are more often than not connected to death, either the death of a loved one, or a near death experience that gives one a new perspective on being alive.  From what I can tell of Anna, she was no exception.  Her dad died when she was fairly young, only about 13 years old.  From that time on, because her siblings were older and she was the only one still at home, Anna had to learn how to take care of herself and her mother.  From what I understand, that nurturing mentality is something that stuck with her for many years.

As I sat in her living room earlier this week with Alvin and two of their sons, I heard stories of what a great mom she was, shuttling sons back and forth between many and various sports practices and games.  She was a soccer mom before they were called soccer moms.  She took great pride in her boys.  She loved them dearly, a love that I assume was intensified by the experience of losing her own father at such a young age.  But she was more than a mother.  The way I heard it, she was an exceptional cook too.  I couldn’t help but be moved by the glint in her sons’ eyes as they recalled the big family dinners that mom used to prepare.  She cooked German food.  She cooked it well.  And she cooked it in massive quantities, making sure that no one ever left her table hungry.  But if there was still a little room left in your belly after one of her feasts, she’d probably want to fill it with a strawberry sundae. She loved to provide for her family.

Beyond her talents as mom or cook, she was a good wife and companion to Alvin.  Again, this is simply my speculation, but I’d be willing to guess that watching her own mother lose her husband helped shape Anna’s approach to married life.  She truly enjoyed her time with her husband, doing those things that we often assume moms and wives don’t want to do.  She loved to pile into the motor home with her husband and go fishing, and camping.  The two of them would spend time together in the beautiful forests of Michigan or on the shores of one of our many beautiful lakes.  As long as Alvin went with her, she would gladly spend the night in the woods, cherishing the time they had to be together, time that perhaps her own mother missed out on.

That’s the Anna that her family remembers.  That’s the Anna that those who knew her longest remember.  That was Anna before the dementia took control of her body.  That was Anna for 50 years of marriage and motherhood.  Unfortunately, that’s not the Anna I knew.  I would have loved to have had the opportunity to sit and talk with that Anna, to get to know the Anna that those who knew her longest still remember and love.  But I first met Anna last September, and by then the disease had taken control.  So apart from the stories I heard and the memories that were shared with me, I didn’t really know who Anna was.

But I know who she is.

Anna is God’s baptized child, washed in his holy water on March 19, 1932.  In her baptism, Anna was joined to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 6 – anyone who has been baptized into Christ Jesus has been baptized into his death.  And if we have been united to him in a death like his, we will certainly be united to him in his resurrection.[1]  Or as Paul wrote in Galatians, because I have now been crucified with Christ through baptism, I no longer live, Christ lives in me.[2]  Christ is alive in all his baptized.  Christ was alive in Anna, and now she is alive in him.

The presence of Christ in in his Christians, especially in Anna, is not something to shrug off as if it’s no big deal.  It’s not just some theological jargon or tired old cliché.  In truth, it makes all the difference in the world.  Because Christ was alive in Anna, Paul’s words from Romans 8 apply directly to her.  Hear again what Paul had to say: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”[3]  Anyone who knew Anna for the past few years knows that the dementia had taken such control of her body that she had trouble speaking or remembering.  But the Holy Spirit was alive in her, speaking the words she could not speak for herself.  The gift of faith was alive in her, faith given to her in the water of Baptism, faith sustained in her through the proclamation of God’s Holy Word.  The dementia may have overpowered her mind and body, but it could not overpower her baptism.  Nothing can overpower baptism, for nothing can overpower Jesus.

That’s what he himself told us.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, said that no one will snatch his sheep out of his hand.[4]  No one.  Anna was made a sheep of his flock in her baptism, and nothing will overpower baptism.  Not even dementia.  Satan can and will wreak all kinds of havoc in this world, but he cannot overpower our Lord.  God’s Word is sure and certain, and God’s Word declared Anna his dear child.  Satan cannot steal that.  He can and will tempt us to give it up, to turn our back on it, to reject the gift of forgiveness that our Lord gives.  But he cannot take it by force.  So even though Anna’s mind and body buckled under the weight of dementia, her baptism did not.

Neither will your baptism fail you, for God’s Word is true.  As the prophet Isaiah tells us, just as the rain and snow come down from heaven and water the earth so that plants bloom and grow, so also God’s Word does not return to him empty, but it accomplishes its purpose.[5]  The Word of God spoken over you in your baptism places you squarely in his hand.  And no one snatches one of Jesus’s sheep from his hand.  What a gift baptism is.  What a blessing to be claimed by our Lord in this way.  What comfort is ours through this wonderful gift, this gift that was given to Anna, this gift that would not let her go.

Even though over the course of the last few years Anna lost the ability to speak, the gift of faith in her would not be silenced.  The hymn we sang just a few moments ago[6] will give you a glimpse of what it was saying.  Hear again those words, and hear them as Anna’s words: God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ!  He, because I could not pay it, gave my full redemption price.  Do I need earth’s treasures many?  I have one worth more than any that bought me salvation free lasting to eternity.  Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ!  I have comfort even stronger: Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.  Should a guilty conscience seize me since my baptism did release me in a dear forgiving flood, sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?  Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ! Drop your ugly accusations, I am not so soon enticed.  Now that to the font I’ve travelled, all your might has come unraveled, and against your tyranny God my Lord unites with me.  Death, even you cannot end my sadness, I am baptized into Christ!  When I die, I leave all sadness to inherit paradise.  Though I lie in dust and ashes, faith’s assurance brightly flashes: baptism has the strength divine to make life immortal mine.

Because of all these things, given to Anna in her baptism, given to you in yours, there is nothing worth comparing to this lifelong comfort sure!  Open-eyed, our graves are staring, but even there we’ll sleep secure.  Anna is resting secure now.  Though our flesh awaits its raising, still our souls will continue praising.  Anna’s soul is praising now even as it has been for the last few years that she was unable to speak.  Even though she was not the Anna you remember from so many years ago, the gift of God was alive and well inside her proclaiming, “I am baptized into Christ.  I’m a child of paradise.”

As you mourn the death of such a wonderful woman, find comfort in the fact that she is God’s child.  Rejoice that you are God’s child.  Be comforted with the knowledge that the Holy Spirit spoke words of faith for her when she could not speak for herself.  Rejoice that the Holy Spirit speaks for you and for me in our weakness.  But above all else, rejoice in the promise of the New Creation, the Creation free from the effects of sin and corruption, the Creation where you will be reunited with Anna as you knew her, Anna before the dementia held her captive.  For that is the promise that awaits her, and you, as God’s child.

+INJ+

 

[1] Romans 6:1-5

[2] Galatians 2:20

[3] Romans 8:26

[4] John 10:29

[5] Isaiah 55:10-11

[6] God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It  LSB 594

The God of Substitutes – Sermon for April 7, 2014 (Judica)

The of God Substitutions

Genesis 22:1-14; Hebrews 9:11-15; John 8:42-59

Judica Sunday

April 6th/7th, 2014

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 I don’t know what you’re planning on doing tonight after church, but for those of you who know me, it should come as no surprise that I’m going to go home to watch the NCAA Basketball Championship Game.  I’m not as excited for it this year as I was last year when my Wolverines were playing, but I still love to watch college basketball.  hrt-hc-uconnmenrutgers1320120107194542If you watch the game tonight, or any basketball game for that matter, one of the stats that the announcers consistently track is “bench production.”  They want to see which team gets more points from the guys who didn’t start the game.  The idea is that because both teams probably put their best 5 players out on the floor to start the game, whatever contributions either team gets from the guys who didn’t start could wind up being the deciding factor in who wins the game.  The implication is that the substitutes are not as good as the starters.  In fact, in sports in general, with the exception of perhaps hockey, there is a clear distinction between the starters and the subs, between the court and the bench.  And almost no basketball player wants to be pulled out of the game when it counts.  Almost no athlete wants to be replaced by a substitute.  In the sports world, you want to be the guy who’s subbed in, not the guy who’s taken out.

There’s a fair amount of substitution in the Scriptures as well, although in the Scriptures, it’s generally better to be the one subbed out.  Take the account of Abraham and Isaac that we heard a few moments ago.  Abraham had been told by God some 30 years earlier that all nations on earth would be blessed through his descendants.  God had eventually revealed to Abraham that Isaac would be the son through whom this promise would be fulfilled.  God identified Isaac by name as the one through whom Abraham would have descendants as numerous as the stars, but in today’s reading that same God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  Genesis tells us God did this to test Abraham.[1]  The test was to see whether or not Abraham trusted God to keep his promise.  Isaac did not yet have kids, so if God was going to keep his promise to Abraham that Isaac’s descendants would be as numerous as the sand on the sea shore, then he would either have to stop Abraham from sacrificing Isaac or he would have to raise Isaac back from the dead.  Either way, Abraham trusted God’s Word of promise concerning Isaac.

But it’s the end of the story where the substitute comes in.  Once the Angel of the Lord had stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, Abraham noticed a ram caught in the thicket by its horns.  Abraham sacrificed that ram instead of sacrificing his son.  God provided a substitute for Isaac, and Abraham recognized it as such.  That’s why he named the place “the Lord will provide.”  That’s why even unto the day of Moses, when the book of Genesis was written down, it was still said that on the mountain of the Lord it shall be provided.”[2]  God provides substitutes on a mountain in the land of Moriah.  k.Genesis22.14Fast forward a few hundred years to the days of David and Solomon, and a very interesting thing happens.  In the second month of the fourth year of Solomon’s reign, he began to build the Temple.[3]  He built the Temple in the place where the Angel of the Lord had appeared to his father David.[4]  He built the Temple on Mount Moriah.  The Temple of the Lord, the city of Jerusalem itself, was built in the same place where Abraham had almost sacrificed Isaac all those years ago.  The descendants as numerous as the stars that were born to Isaac through the promise of the Lord now worshiped that very same Lord in the very same place where Abraham’s faith in that promise was tested.  On that mountain, the Lord provided substitutes.

And provide he did.  Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, sacrifices were made on the altar of the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem.  While the specific animal may have varied from bull to goat to bird, or while the specific motivation for any particular sacrifice might have varied from covering up an intentional violation of God’s Law to covering for an unintentional violation of God’s Law to the general spring cleaning that took place on the Day of Atonement, what remained consistent through it all was the substitution.  The animal sacrificed stood in as substitute for the Israelite sacrificing it.  You see, unlike in a college basketball games where he players generally don’t want to have a substitute take their place, in the Temple that’s exactly what you wanted.  And that’s exactly what you got: substitution after substitution.  4.The_16The blood of goats shed in place of human blood.  The blood of bulls shed in place of human blood.  The flesh of a heifer burnt to ash so that the flesh of the Israelites could be spared.  On that mountain in the land of Moriah, the Lord provided substitutes.

But all of those substitutes were incomplete.  While they certainly covered the sin of the Israelites, they did not remove it.  They did not take it away.  They were a spritz of perfume on a sweaty shirt.  They were a scented candle in a room filled with garbage.  The smell of the candle might cover the smell of decaying garbage for a time, but when that candle burns out you need to replace it, over and over and over again.  The smell keeps coming back.  To truly be rid of the problem you don’t just need an unending supply of candles, you need to clean out the room.  You need to take the trash out, to wash the floors and the walls, to remove what is causing the stink.  Then, not only will the garbage be gone, but the smell of the candles will flourish all the more, no longer merely covering up a rotten odor, but filling the clean air with sweet smelling aromas.  The substitution of goats and bulls and heifers, while important, was ultimately in need of a substitute itself.

But this is Mount Moriah.  This is the mountain on which the Lord provides substitutes.

So God provided yet another substitute, this time not in the Temple itself, but somewhere else on Mount Moriah, just outside the city walls of Jerusalem.  There was sacrificed the Lamb of God who not merely covers up, but who takes away the sin of the world.  There was the ultimate substitute, where God himself became human so that he could take the place of humans, subbing himself into our mess, sending us to the sidelines while he finished what we had started.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am,” said Jesus.[5]  He is the great I AM, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The God who appeared to David and told the king to build him a Temple in this place.  The God of Solomon who filled the Temple with holy smoke and fire when the building was completed.  The God of the Israelites who provided and accepted the sacrifices of substitution offered on that mountain for generations.  Now, this very same God came to this very same mountain to be the sacrifice himself, to be the substitution.JesusOnCross_01

Because he is man, he was able to stand in our place.  Because he is God, his sacrifice counts not only here on earth, but also in the heavenly places.  For when Christ appeared, he entered once for all the holy places by means of his own blood.  He needed no substitute.  He entered himself, and in so doing he secured for us an eternal redemption.  For if the blood of animal substitutes purifies the flesh, purifies the surface, if the blood of animal substitutes acts as an air freshener in a smelly room, how much more will the blood of Christ purify us from the inside, moving past the surface problem to the conscience itself.  How much more will the blood of Christ, which is not sprinkled on your skin, but is poured over your lips, taken into your body, digested so that it literally becomes part of you, how much more will that blood cleanse the inside of you.  It doesn’t simply cover the stench, it cleans out the garbage in our hearts and in our lives.  It takes it away so that the source of the smell is removed, not simply masked.[6]

Because the blood of Jesus is inside you, now you are clean.  Sure, sin will come back.  As long as we are in this body and life, there will always be more garbage dumped into our hearts.  Sometimes we dump it there ourselves by speaking hurtful words to another, or by indulging in hateful thoughts, or by filling our eyes with lustful images or our ears with lustful lyrics.  Sometimes the garbage is put in there by others who dump the filth of their sin onto us, speaking hurtful words that cut to our own hearts, manipulating or abusing us physically or emotionally.  There is still a lot of garbage in this life.  But the garbage does not need to just pile up.  The world tells you to ignore the stench and soldier on.  The world tells you that the stench isn’t really a stench at all, that it’s natural because that’s what garbage is supposed to smell like.  The world tells you to dull your senses with alcohol or drugs or spa days or some other form of self-indulgence so that the smell doesn’t bother you as much.  But all the while, the pile of garbage continues to grow deeper and deeper.  Well, today is trash day.  It’s time to stop ignoring or justifying the trash; it’s time to take it out.  Come to the altar of our Lord, drink the blood of Jesus, that purifies your conscience to serve the living God.[7]

Jesus is your substitute.  He stood in your place and took the judgment for the sins you’ve committed.  But don’t forget the conversation from today’s Gospel reading, or any of Jesus’s other conversations where the Jews – his own people! – called him names and insulted him and hurled false accusations against him.  He is your substitute there too.  When the world insults you, remember that it insulted him first.  The world’s insults cannot speak a louder or truer word than the one spoken by Jesus.  Jesus speaks the truth, and he has declared you cleansed and forgiven.  When the world insults or attacks you, remember that those insults and attacks are absorbed by Jesus, your substitute, and in their place he speaks to you words of acceptance and forgiveness.

Rejoice in your substitute.  Rejoice because the Lord has heard your pleas for mercy and deliverance.  He has inclined his ear to you, and his answer is Jesus.  Come to that altar of our Lord and receive your substitute.  Come, and have your conscience cleansed.

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[1] Genesis 22:1

[2] Genesis 22:14

[3] 2 Chronicles 3

[4] 1 Chronicles 21

[5] John 8:58

[6] Hebrews 9:11-14

[7] Hebrews 9:14