Salvation for Body and Soul: Easter Sermon – 2016

Salvation: Body and Soul
Job 19:23-27
Easter Sunday
March 27, 2016
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!
He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

The human body is a fascinating thing.  Did you know, for example, that your tongue print is as unique as your fingerprints. Or that your nose can remember around 50,000 different scents? Not just the ones you want to remember like the smell of lilac blossoms332494efda5e31c9f1894833f70ee129 or freshly brewing coffee, but even the unfortunate memories of skunk and rotten milk: your nose knows which is which. Did you know that the average human heart pumps around 2000 gallons of blood each day through the 60,000 miles of blood vessels in your body? Think about that: that’s enough fluid to practically fill a pool that’s four feet high and twelve feet in diameter being pumped through enough blood vessels that you could wrap them around the earth two and a half times at the equator. I find that personally mind blowing and a little hard to believe, but I read it online, so it must be true! And it’s all in your body.  And we are here today to celebrate that Jesus redeemed all of it.

You see, sometimes we get the idea that Jesus simply died to save our souls, or that the soul is somehow more important than the body.  But the reality of being a human is that your body and soul are inseparable.  You are not a body with a soul or a soul with a body; you are body and soul together, joined as one like nothing else in all creation.  There are those in our world who would argue differently. There are those who would tell you that the body is irrelevant at best, or at worst a mistake. It is not a particularly new argument, it has been argued by different religions for millennia. However, it is picking up steam in popular culture once again.  There are those who would argue that the body is a burden or a crutch that must be overcome in order for your soul to be free.  There are those who would argue that the biology of one’s body could be a mistake, saying one might be a man trapped in a woman’s body or a woman trapped in a man’s body.  There are those who would argue that the body is irrelevant, that one’s gender or biology has no bearing on who a person truly is.  This is yet another symptom of the sad fact that we live in a culture that has, by and large, bought into the lie that what matters most is reality as you see it, not reality as it actually is.

And yet for all the talk about how unimportant the body is supposed to be, we spend an awful lot of time as people trying to save it.  Think of all the technology, medicine, surgical procedures, and cosmetics that are dedicated to the preservation of the body.  If we are really just souls trapped in a fleshy cage, why is it our instinct to spend so much time, effort, and resources decorating, repairing, and even remodeling that cage, when we should really be trying to escape from it?  Because deep down inside we know that the body is important. The truth is hard to kill. We may want to believe that our body is not a very important part of who we are; we may love the supposed freedom of choice we think that gives us, but try as we might to drown reality under a sea of our personal opinions and the ideas we would like to be true, the actual truth has a nasty habit of popping back up to the surface.  And today is a celebration of the truth; it is a celebration of reality.  Today we jesus-died-for-you2celebrate not the symbolic or metaphorical resurrection of Jesus. Today we celebrate his actual flesh and bone resurrection. Today acknowledges the importance of the body both to us and to God himself.

There is great joy to be found in acknowledging reality as our Lord created it.  You and your body are not an accident. Your body was created for you and given to you as God’s gift. Now, there are certainly cases where sin has corrupted God’s once perfect creation, no one is arguing against that sad reality. There are cases where disease or other ailments have made some bodies harder to live in than others.  That’s why when Jesus walked the earth he healed people, putting back together what sin had broken. He healed the blind and the lame and the mute and the diseased. He gave them back their bodies because the body is important, essential even, to human existence. Jesus restored what sin had corrupted.  But those corruptions are the exception, not the rule. The design for creation remains. God has given you a body and has designed it for you. He has given you specific talents and abilities to be used for the benefit of others.  He has made you good at certain things, maybe you’re good with your hands, or maybe you have a knack with machinery or accounting or art. Whatever the case may be, believing in the Creator means we believe that these skills are not ours by chance, but are God’s design for us that he will use in service to others.

Today is a celebration of the fact that not only has God created your body for you, he has redeemed it. That’s why Jesus took on human flesh. Jesus came to earth not simply to teach us how to live, he could have done that from heaven. In fact, he did just that when he wrote the Law into our hearts and clarified it from Mount Sinai. Jesus did not come to earth to reveal some secret or esoteric knowledge reserved for the select few. No, Jesus took on human flesh in order to redeem human flesh, he took a body in order to redeem the body, to redeem your body. And that’s exactly what he did, he who for the joy set before him endured the cross, something, that he needed a body to do,  despising the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of God,[1] he who did not consider his equality with God a thing to be clung to at all costs, but who made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, and being made as a human, fully human, body and soul, he became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.[2] And he did it for you, to redeem you, the whole you, body and soul.

Your body is important to God. It is a gift, not a curse.  Yes, there are a multitude of problems that our bodies face in this life: hunger, deformity, disease, pain, and eventually death.  There are temptations and misunderstandings about gender and sexuality. But these temptations come not because the body is bad, but because it is a good gift from God that Satan is out to destroy.  Satan wants us to believe in the separation of body and soul.  He will tempt us to ignore the body and focus on the soul, tempting us to believe that our salvation is found by thinking the right way or found in the strength of our believing.  He will tempt us to believe that it doesn’t matter what we do with our body so long as our heart is in the right place.  He wants to drive a wedge. Or he’ll take the opposite track and tempt us to believe that salvation is found only through the body by living the right way and making the right choices. He will tempt us to believe that it doesn’t matter what images go into our eyes so long as our body does not act out the lust, or that it doesn’t matter what hatred or bitterness we harbor in our hearts so long as our body does no harm to another.  But his end game is the same: separate body and soul in our thinking.  Today undoes Satan’s web of lies and reminds us of the reality that salvation is found nowhere in ourselves, body or soul, but only in he who is the way, the truth, and the life:[3] in Jesus, the only name under heaven given to men by which we can be saved[4], in Jesus who became body and soul for us.  It’s not our actions or inactions that win us salvation; salvation is found in the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, today we rejoice with Job.  For we too know that our redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth, and that even after our bodies have been destroyed by disease or death or decay, yet in our flesh we shall see God.  And our own eyes, the eyes that belong to this very body, will see him for themselves.[5]  We rejoice in he_is_risen_wallpaper__yvt2the knowledge that our bodies are not irrelevant or burdensome, but rather a gift, a gift so important to God that he would take one himself to suffer in our place. Your body is a gift so important to God that he brings the gift of salvation to that body today, not merely in theory, but in physical and fleshy ways, bread and wine that fill our mortal stomachs with the food of immortality, salvation for our bodies as well as our souls.  That’s why when we stand before the grave of a loved one waiting for the moment when that casket is lowered into the earth we pray that God the Father who created that body, that God the Son who by his blood redeemed that body, and that God the Holy Spirit who sanctified that body to be his temple would keep those remains until the resurrection of all flesh.[6]  That’s why at the end of communion we pray that the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ would strengthen and preserve us body and soul unto life everlasting. For body and soul together is life. It is our life in this world. It will be our life in the world to come.

So rejoice today that your body is not an accident, it is a gift – the gift of life itself. Whatever temptations or afflictions you face, whatever diseases or ailments have attacked your body, know that Jesus died for all of it. He redeemed you from all of it. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”[7]  May our Lord continue to provide for all our needs of body and soul as we celebrate his resurrection, and as we wait for him to come again.

+INJ+

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

[1] Hebrews 12:2

[2] Philippians 2:6-8

[3] John 14:6

[4] Acts 4:12

[5] Job 19:23-27

[6] Blessing from Lutheran Service of Committal. Pastoral Care Companion p. 134

[7] Philippians 3:20-21

Incarnation and Crucifixion: Sermon for Good Friday – 2016

Incarnation & Crucifixion
Luke 1:26-33
Good Friday
March 25, 2016
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

 This may seem like a strange text to read and meditate on tonight. After all, today is Good Friday. The chancel is set up for the Tenebrae service. We just finished singing Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted, and in a few short moments we will hear again of our Lord’s agony on the cross. Why would we read of Gabriel and Mary on such a day as this?  Because today is not only Good Friday, it is also the Feast of the Annunciation,  observed every year on March 25, 9 months before December 25, the day we celebrate the birth of Christ.  Actually, there is good reason to believe that this is the exact reason we celebrate Christmas when we do. Of course, no one actually knows what day of the year Jesus was really born. But there was a belief among certain early Christians that Jesus was conceived and crucified on the same date, 33 years apart.  Because they could look backward through annunciationrecorded history to determine the date of Passover in the year Jesus was crucified, they simply added 9 months for the time Jesus spent in Mary’s womb and determined Christmas should be celebrated on December 25.

Now on the one hand, it is helpful to know that the Christians who were making this claim for December 25 based on the date of a March 25 Passover were doing so almost 100 years before the Romans instituted the feast of Sol Invictus, the pagan festival that Time Magazine and the History Channel and pretty much everyone else out there will tell you that Christians stole and renamed Christmas. But apart from demonstrating that Christians didn’t steal the date for Christmas from a pagan holiday, there probably isn’t much practical value in knowing that Jesus likely died on March 25.  Yet there is incredible value in meditating on the connection between the incarnation of Jesus and his crucifixion. There is much we can learn from seeing the relationship between the Annunciation and Good Friday.

Think to what Jesus says from the cross: “I thirst.”  With two simple English words, only a single word, in Greek, our Lord lays to rest any doubt as to what is happening on that piece of wood.  Yes, he is thirsty, but more importantly, he is true man, for spirits do not thirst.  Apparitions do not get cottonmouth.  Ghosts do not suffer from dehydration.  But a man does, a man who was at one time an embryo and fetus, a man who was born an infant and raised a boy, a man who has just been scourged and beaten, a man who have carried their cross outside the city to the place of execution.  Our Lord thirsts because he is dying.  The body that was given life when the Angel Gabriel spoke to Mary is now slowly losing that life and is crying out for sustenance.  His parched lips desire relief from their pain.  Jesus is truly man, truly suffering, truly dying.

It’s difficult to overstate the significance of our Lord’s incarnation, the fact that he came into his creation as a creature.  The importance of the incarnation must be considered two ways.  One, our Lord became a human to die for the sin of humanity.  Jesus is your substitute up on that cross. In order to stand in for you, he had to become like you in every way – except without sin. He had to be a human to redeem humans. But sometimes we are guilty of underestimating another aspect of our Lord’s incarnation, namely that he became a part of this creation in order to die for this creation.  For just as the sin of Adam has lasting consequences for all of creation, not just for people, so also the death of Jesus is for all creation.

It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that the world around us is marred by sin.  In this year already there have been several events classified as natural disasters, from an avalanche in India, a swarm of locusts in Argentina, and an outbreak of 59 tornados over a day and a half in Louisiana, not to mention all the earthquakes that are simply expected in certain regions. But this isn’t groundbreaking news.  Natural disasters surround us our entire lives.  Neither should their presence surprise us, for the Scriptures are not silent 2DA5125700000578-0-image-a-28_1445463851042when it comes to the presence of such disasters in creation.  When our Lord created this earth, he looked out and saw that it was good.  Our Lord had created an earth in perfect harmony.  Adam and Eve lived off the fruits of the Garden in which the Lord had so lovingly placed them.  All their needs were met.  Life was truly paradise.

But sin ruined that.  Adam and Eve rejected their place in creation, and their disobedience brought sin into the world.  Notice, however, that their disobedience brought sin into the entire creation, not just to mankind.  It’s not as if Adam and Eve alone were changed by the presence of sin in the world while the rest of creation went right on as if nothing had happened.  No, after the first sin, when the Lord was doling out judgments, he told the serpent that it was cursed above all livestock and he told Eve that she would experience pain in child bearing.  But listen to his words to Adam:

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.[1]

The ground itself is cursed because of Adam’s sin.  All mankind fell in Adam’s fall, we took the rest of creation with us.  Paul says the same in Romans 8:

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”[2]

Adam’s sin has subjected all of our Lord’s good creation to the debilitating effects of the fall.  Our sin has tainted our Lord’s perfect creation.  Jesus came into creation to fee us from our sin, yes, but he also came to free the creation itself from the terrible burden we have placed on it.

The Jesus hanging on the cross is true man and true God, part of this creation while at the same time upholding it.  The importance of Jesus’ humanity extends beyond the redemption of the human race. “The Son of God became a human creature and not some other kind of creature.  As one particular human creature brought about the ruin of creation, so now one particular human creature brings about the restoration and renewal of creation. God began his rescue of creation at the point where its ruin had taken place, with his human creatures.”[3]

The terrible truth of our sin is that it ruined more than just humanity, it ruined all of God’s perfect creation.  God did not create this earth to destroy its inhabitants with volcanic eruptions and landslides.  Those tragedies are the result of our sin, the result of our corruption.  Our holy Lord demands justice for that corruption. There are few things that fill a parent with dread quite like walking through a nice store with small children. You break it, you buy it. Well, the sin of humanity broke God’s creation, and now something must pay the price. And in steps our Lord.  In the announcement of Gabriel we hear that our Lord has become part of his own creation.  Humanity had ruined his creation, so our Lord became human. “On Good Friday, God poured out his anger against those who ruined the harmony of his creation,”[4] his anger against Adam and Eve, his anger against you and me, his against all people.

On Good Friday, our Lord poured out his anger, dumping that cup of wrath all over the cross.  “The Son of God who had become a human creature embodied the entire human race and died on our behalf.”[5]  Jesus stepped in as the representative of all humanity.  CrucifixJesus took the blame for the current state of creation, and Jesus suffered the punishment for it.  God poured out his anger onto the head of his Son, and “the rest of creation felt that anger.  In the presence of God’s judgment, the created order comes unraveled.  The sky darkened and the earth shuddered.”[6]  Think about what accompanied the death of Jesus. Matthew tells us that the earth shook and rocks were split and tombs were opened so that the bodies of many who had died in the faith were raised, and they returned to Jerusalem and appeared to many.[7]  The earth itself reacted to the death of Jesus, for the death of Jesus freed the earth itself from its bondage to sin.

All creation fell in Adam’s fall, but all creation is restored in Jesus’ death on the cross.  Just as we still live in bodies that suffer under the effects of sin, so also the creation around us still suffers the effects of sin.  There are still floods.  There are still earthquakes.  There are still hurricanes and tsunamis.  But thanks to Jesus, there won’t be in eternity.  That’s the promise that we cling to; that’s the hope that makes this Friday Good.  The new creation that awaits us will be free from sin and its corruption.  We will be free from sin, all because our Lord became part of this creation and died to redeem it.  It started with a message from Gabriel to that simple young lady in Galilee.  Come, let us consider once again all that child did for us when he became a man.

+INJ+

[1] Genesis 3:17-18

[2] Romans 8:19-22

[3] Together With All Creatures: Caring for God’s Living Earth. A Report of the CTCR, p. 45

[4] Ibid, p. 45

[5] Ibid, p. 45

[6] Ibid, p. 45

[7] Matthew 27:51-53

A Prophecy of Joy – Sermon for Palm Sunday

Behold, Your King is Coming to You
Zechariah 9:9-12
Palm Sunday
March 20, 2016
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

palm-sunday“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  With those words, the prophet Zechariah foreshadowed the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  It was a day of celebration, a victory parade of sorts.  Picture the many images you have seen of crowds lining the streets of Detroit or some other city, filling up Hart Plaza to celebrate a Stanley Cup or NBA Championship. Such a crowd was gathered in Jerusalem to welcome the Messiah, to rejoice at his arrival, to anticipate the deliverance he would bring. There was no tickertape, but there were palm branches waving to and fro celebrating the occasion. There was no red carpet, but there were cloaks to honor his arrival. There were voices crying out, almost certainly in song, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!”  But we must not get swept away in the celebration. We must remember the Word of the Lord spoken through his prophet Zechariah. I invite you to have those words before you today as we consider the significance of what they say. “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey.”

These words reveal just how great a gift the Messiah actually is. The Messiah is our King, and he is coming to us. This statement is not simply referring to the direction of his travel. It is not, “Hey, look, the Messiah is coming down the road and he happens to be coming in our direction.” Rather, it is a statement of advantage. “Behold, the Messiah is coming to you,” meaning “for you,” for your good. Like when a child gets stuck on top of the monkey bars and another child goes to get the teacher. When the teacher is on her way, classmates try to calm the frightened child by telling them, “Don’t worry, she’s coming.” The prophet Zechariah says the same thing. “Rejoice! You King comes to you, righteous and having salvation.” Your salvation.

God has been planning this. He’s been building this. He’s been working throughout 51b798dd58c9a1b70fbdc04bf1bef646history to bring about the salvation of the world on the day when he sends his Messiah. That’s what our Psalm said just a few moments ago: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Like a child makes a spaceship by carefully piecing together tiny blocks of Legos, our Lord has made the day of salvation. This day of salvation is the day which the Lord has made. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous indeed.

Your king comes to save you, something only he can do because only he is righteous. Only he can fulfill the Law properly, for only he is without sin.  Only he can be the sacrifice to take away the sin of the world. Where our righteousness is only derived from him, his righteousness is his own. We are like the entourage who live in luxury only because they happen to be friends with someone famous. We are like the people huddled around the fire trying to get warm with the heat the flames produce.  He is the fire itself. He is the heat. He is the warmth. He is true righteousness. And he shares that righteousness with us. He not only lets us warm our bones by the fire, he sets up camp right in our hearts with the fire of the Holy Spirit that is ours through the preaching of his Word. He not only lets us live in the lap of his luxury, but he actually seeks out the lost and says to us, “Come, follow me.” He selflessly gives us all his riches, and takes our poverty for himself.

This Messiah is humble and riding on a donkey.  Jesus was humble. His birth was humble, not in the palace of the king, but in the barn of a full hotel.  His childhood was humble, not surrounded by cameras and bodyguards and all the other trimmings that typically surround celebrity children, but the simple son of a carpenter and his wife who lived in a small town in Northern Israel.  In the famous words of the prophet Isaiah, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”  In the words of the Apostle Paul, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

This Messiah is humble not only in appearance, but in mission. He does not come as a despot to subdue the empires of the world. He speaks peace to the nations.  That itself should give us a moment’s pause. The righteous one, the Messiah, speaks peace. We have his words today. Do we use them to speak peace? Or do we prefer judgment and condemnation? Which Bible verses are the quickest to pop into our minds: the ones that Maundy-Thursday-Backgrounds-3condemn the sins of others, or the ones that speak of the tender compassion of our God? Is the Word of God a two-edged sword to be used against Satan, or do we prefer to cut down the people around us with it so that we are the last one standing?

For all the abuse that sinful people have done to and with the precious Word of God, that Word remains first and foremost a word of peace.  The Messiah speaks peace. He speaks peace to the warring nations in the book of Zechariah. He speaks peace to calm the storm in the Gospels. He speaks peace into your life. Cast all your anxiety on him and live in peace, because he cares for you.  He doesn’t promise that your life will be free from problems or pain, only that in him you will have perspective that rises above the chaos of this life. And he can promise that because he can deliver. He is, after all, the only true King, righteous and having salvation is he, and his rule shall be from the River to the ends of the earth, and he shall rule from sea to sea, and he will rule in peace.

That is why through the Messiah, we are prisoners of hope.  In the words of the prophet Zechariah, because of the blood of God’s covenant with us, he will set us free. For the Israelites of old, that referred to the blood the cows and birds that Abraham cut in half. By the shedding of that blood, God irrevocably bound himself to the Israelites, promising to give Abraham a son, a promise fulfilled in Isaac; promising to give Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars, a promise fulfilled in the people of Israel and even in the church today; promising to establish the Israelites in the land of the Canaanites, a promise fulfilled in the days of Joshua; and promising to send the Messiah, the one through whom all nations on earth would be blessed, a promise whose fulfillment we will celebrate over the span of the next week.  Because God had made a promise and sealed it in blood, the Israelites could confidently wait for his deliverance.

We have a blood covenant with God too. Not one sealed with the blood of goats or bulls, but with the blood of the new covenant, the blood of Christ himself, given and shed for us and for our salvation.  That blood, the very blood waiting for you at the communion rail this day, established a promise between you and God, a promise that he will never leave you or forsake you, a promise that you belong to him, and that he lives in you. And because Christ lives in us, in the words of Paul, we are bondservants of Christ, slaves of Christ. Weholy-communion remain prisoners, but we are no longer enslaved to sin. Because we are in Christ, we are, in the words of the prophet Zechariah, now prisoners of hope, enslaved to hope. Hope permeates everything we do. Hope tints our view of the world around us as we look past the struggles of this life to thank God for the blessings. Hope seasons our speech, for we are the salt of the earth.  So we speak not only of the concerns and brokenness of this world but of the promise of the life to come. Hope defines our relationships as we live in forgiveness and reconciliation, rejoicing in the unity we possess in Christ.

And that is the stronghold to which we return, the stronghold of Christ himself. Through the gift of baptism we are in Christ. We are in the Kingdom of God. Nothing can harm us in this stronghold. If God is for us, who can stand against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in our Stronghold, Christ Jesus our Lord.

So Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey… and he will speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you, because of the blood of God’s covenant with you, he will set you free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope, for the Lord has promised that he will restore to you double.

An Outlook of Mercy

Mercy for Community
Jonah 4:1-11
Midweek Lenten Service
March 16, 2016
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

The story of Jonah is a familiar one.  What Sunday School child hasn’t heard of Jonah, the prophet of the Lord, and his captivating tale of action and suspense, his foolishly trying to overcome impossible odds and actually hide from God. There’s a terrifying storm and the 70018inside of a great fish. But there’s also redemption, first for the prophet who sees the error of his ways and delivers God’s message to Nineveh, but also for the Ninevites who hear the word of warning and repent. Yes, the story is well known and well loved, yet there’s one detail we tend to ignore, a nugget hidden in the last chapter of the book. We often act as if the story ends when Nineveh is spared, but there is more to the story.  In fact, if we skip the conclusion we miss the main point we’re meant to take away from the book, for the conclusion reveals Jonah’s reason for fleeing in the first place. Have you ever considered why Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh? What in the world would inspire him to try to hide from the all seeing eye of God himself? I think most people assume Jonah was acting from fear. And that seems logical, for the Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, a notorious empire whose name in the pages of history is forever linked with brutality and arrogance. Quite simply put, they had a reputation for being inhospitable to visitors. They considered themselves better than others, and treated their supposed inferiors accordingly. Given the reputation of Assyrians, it seems reasonable that Jonah was simply afraid to go to Nineveh.

However, the words of Jonah himself betray a different motivation for running from God. You could say it was fear of sorts that sent him in the opposite direction, but it wasn’t fear for his own safety or fear of what the Ninevites might do to him, it was fear of what God might do for them. Too often we treat the story of Jonah as if it ends when the people of Nineveh repent. Jonah preaches, the people repent, God withholds disaster, and they all live happily ever after. Except, that’s not what happened. Instead, when the people of Nineveh repented and God withheld disaster, “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 Jonah-Angryin 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.”

The only fear that Jonah felt was fear that the wicked Ninevites might be spared. He would have gladly have travelled to Nineveh to witness its destruction. It probably would have filled him with great joy to see those smug you-know-what’s burn for what they had done. If God promised to reenact Sodom and Gomorrah, Jonah probably would have paid his own way to get a front row seat. But forgiveness? Jonah couldn’t bear the thought of that. And he knew God was merciful, and he knew God would forgive them if they repented, he just knew it. And that was simply a risk he wasn’t willing to take.  So he ran.

What risks are we unwilling to take with the mercy of God? What chances with his compassion? We know Jesus’s words all too well. “When I was hungry, you gave me food. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink, when I was a stranger you welcomed me, when I was sick you visited me, when I was in prison you came to me.” We know Jesus’ words and we try to fulfill them. We organize water drives for the people of Flint, we host MCREST each fall, we provide a small food pantry on site and support larger organizations who do much more to feed and clothe the homeless. We do all these things from a kind and generous heart, putting into action the gift of faith which our Lord has provided. But such efforts offer us the convenience of separation, of not having to actually interact with the people we assist. And such distance often blind us to the toxic attitudes we tend to cling to, most times without us even realizing we are doing it.

So ask yourself: what about forgiveness? What about repentance? What is our attitude toward the people in the world around us, the people we work with, the people in our neighborhoods? What is our attitude toward the people on the opposite side of the political aisle? What is our attitude toward those who support Trump or Clinton or Sanders or Cruz? Dives and LazarusWhat is our attitude toward those bleeding heart liberals or those cold-hearted conservatives? Do we want to see the mercy and grace of God freely given to all people? Or, like Jonah, do we harbor a secret desire that some people would be left out, that some people would be given only the wrath of God, that some people would be deemed goats on the last day. Who would we like to see sent into eternal punishment?

This is where the story of Jonah hits us right between the eyes, and why I think that the first three chapters that we are so familiar with, the stuff about the Ninevites and the great fish and Jonah’s change of heart, are actually nothing more than the set up. I think the main point we are supposed to take from the story of Jonah is found in the conclusion. For I doubt that any of us will receive a vision from God sending us to preach repentance in the headquarters of ISIS, but I bet all of us can see our own guilt in Jonah’s attitude. When Jonah becomes angry at God for sparing the wicked city, he takes himself out to a high hill overlooking Nineveh. There, he builds a small shelter to protect himself from the sun’s scorching rays, and the Lord even gives him a vine to provide extra shade and protection.  The next day, the Lord destroys the vine and Jonah is left to endure the sun and wind unguarded. When Jonah questions God for this, God’ response is as poignant as it is simple. “Why, Jonah, are you upset that I would destroy a plant when you are lusting over the destruction of a city filled with life, human and animal alike? Should I not be merciful instead of vengeful?”

And the book ends there, leaving that question hanging in the air, and leaving us to squirm in our seats. We never get Jonah’s response, for this question is not merely asked to Jonah, it is asked to us, and it is the crux of the entire book. Put yourself in Jonah’s shoes. How far are we willing to run in the opposite direction to ensure that the message of repentance is not preached to certain people, to homosexuals or Muslims or some other group?  How thirsty are we for their destruction? Do we have an attitude of mercy for our community, even for the community of this the 21st Century, a community filled with gender confusion and narcissism and entitlement and moral chaos? Or would we rather see the fires of heaven consume the wicked? Do we truly hope that the suicide bomber repented of his choice in the split second between when he pushed the button and when the explosion went off?  Or do we find secret solace in the hope that at least he’s burning in the fires of eternal torment for what he did?

The fact of the matter is, we are more like Jonah than we care to admit. And yet our Lord remains merciful. He had mercy on the people of Nineveh. He has mercy on us too. And his mercy makes all the difference in the world. He has mercy for our lust. Sure, we may not have actually raped anyone like the Assyrians so commonly did, but we have raped with our eyes and our minds. He has mercy for our greed. Sure, we may not be guilty of sacking and plundering cities throughout the region like the Assyrians were notorious for, yet we certainly think twice before throwing a dollar into the cup of the homeless guy we pass on our way to Comerica Park.  The Lord has mercy for our bitterness and hatred and condescending arrogance, for the self-righteous thoughts that cross our mind when we see that cross dresser or that lesbian couple.

Quite simply, the Lord has mercy for our sin. While we deserve only punishment and wrath, our Lord provides the sun and rain to water the earth and make it grow, he provides food and clothing and shelter, he provides family and friendships and all the blessings of this life. Even more, he provides his Word that calls us to repentance and promises us tumblr_ldcbxwQKQ91qes9ozo1_500forgiveness. We didn’t deserve to have that Word preached to us any more than the people of Nineveh did, yet there it was. And now here we are, because that Word did it’s work, because it accomplished the purpose for which it was sent.

Just like the Word made flesh accomplished the purpose for which he was sent. It was our lack of mercy, it was our lust for vengeance that nailed Jesus to the cross, just as much as anything the people of Nineveh were guilty of. It was the sin in our lives that filled the cup of judgment that Jesus had to drink in our place. But drink it he did. With agonizing drops of sweaty blood he prayed for that cup to be taken from him, yet when the moment came, he drank it. He consumed it for you. He took the judgment Nineveh deserved. He took the judgment Jonah deserved. He took the judgement each person in this room today deserves. He took it all. He drank the cup.

When we see ourselves for the Jonahs we are, and when we see the mercy we have each been given from the gracious hand of a loving God, only then can we truly live in mercy toward our community. Perhaps you’ve seen the video  (warning: some explicit language) floating around online of the young men who went around asking people for a slice of pizza. Each time they were met with confused looks. Sometimes they were politely homelessmanturned away, other times they were called names. But never did they get any food.  Then, one of the young men bought a pizza and gave it to a homeless man, no strings attached. He simply gave it to the man and walked away. They secretly videoed the man eating his pizza, and a few minutes later one of the other young men asked the homeless man for a piece. He gave it without a moment’s hesitation. What he had received purely from the mercy of another, he shared with the same mercy.

The mercy of God works the same way. What we have graciously received from the hand of God as pure gift we now share with others. The eyes of faith reveal to us that everything in this life is a blessing from God, for without his mercy I would have nothing. It is by his mercy that I have the ability to work and earn a paycheck. Yes, I still do the work, but it’s by the grace of God that I have the ability to work at all, for he is the one who makes my body work, he is the one who sustains my life. Everything we have we owe to his undeserved mercy.  So we share what we have been given.

Except the mercy of God extends beyond providing food and clothing and shelter – even the unbelieving world can do that. The mercy of God comes when we preach the God of forgiveness, when we live lives of self-sacrifice, even toward those who we think don’t deserve it.  It is only through the mercy of God that anyone in this room today has the gift of faith. It is not our doing. We certainly don’t deserve it. So why would we seek the Open-Bible-with-Penjudgment of those who do not possess this great gift? It is through the mercy of God that we love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who persecute us. It is through the mercy of God that we turn the other cheek after being struck by the insults of this world, allowing them to strike at us again. It is through the mercy of God that we withhold eternal judgment about who is or isn’t worthy of God’s mercy. For such judgment is not ours to make, and if we judge with the harshness of Jonah, such harshness will be used against us.

Rather, we humbly rejoice in the gift of faith that our Lord has worked in us and we live in mercy toward our community, beginning with the attitude found in our hearts, an attitude shaped by a humble and honest confession of our own worthiness. An attitude shaped by the gracious love and undeserved mercy shown to us while we were yet sinners. And Christ who is alive in us shapes us into people who have the same mercy and concern for others who are yet without faith, that we would look upon them in mercy, not judgment. For that is who we are in Christ. That is who we are through baptism. We are people of mercy: mercy for the church; mercy for the sick and ill; mercy for the family; mercy for life; mercy for our community.

That’s who we are as the people of God.

+INJ+

 

What Kind of Messiah?

What Kind of Messiah
John 6:1-15
Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetere)
March 6th/7th, 2016
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

What are you looking for in a President? What issues do you consider the vital ones? Is it the candidate’s stance on the sanctity of life? Is it their position on marriage or family issues? Or does immigration matter more to you? Maybe foreign policy is at the top of your list. Or is it health care and social safety nets? Or maybe it’s not any specific issue.flag Maybe what’s most important to you is whether or not a candidate seems trustworthy. Or whether you think a candidate is too influenced by special interest groups or major donors. Or whether you think the candidate has the right demeanor to be tasked with making major decisions that come with the Oval Office. Whatever criteria are the most influential when it comes to your decision making will certainly impact which candidate, if any, gets your vote when Election Day gets here. And those candidates who don’t measure up? You’d rather they just go away.

That’s basically what happens to Jesus in John chapters 5 and 6. In chapter 5, Jesus heals a paralytic on the Sabbath. After healing the man, he tells him to pick up his mat and go home. Excited at being given the ability to walk, the formerly paralyzed man picks up his mat and heads toward home, only to have his parade rained on by a group of Pharisees who scold him for breaking the Sabbath Law against working. He was, after all, carrying his mat. When the Pharisees found out that he had been healed by Jesus just that day, they shifted their scorn off of the newly healed paralytic and focused it instead on the healer himself. Couldn’t Jesus heal people Sunday through Friday? Why did he have to heal on the Sabbath? Had he no shame?

It seems that Jesus wasn’t religious enough for their liking. Jesus responded by teaching the Pharisees that he alone gives life, and that he gives that life through his word. He taught them that they were misunderstanding the intent of the Sabbath by applying it in such a way that did not allow for acts of love and mercy. He beckoned them to believe in Phariseeshim as God’s promised Messiah. But it didn’t matter what he said. Not to them. He didn’t measure up to their most important criterion. He wasn’t religious enough for them, so John tells us that from that point on many of the Pharisees were seeking even more to kill him. He was not the Messiah they were looking for. He was not the Messiah they wanted.

That’s where today’s reading picks up – the feeding of the 5,000. After this run in with the Pharisees,  John tells us Jesus moved to a different region and began healing the sick there. The crowds surrounded him not because they were interested in hearing his teaching, but because they wanted to see exciting miracles. When evening came, there was no food. Jesus had compassion on the crowds, and just like the Lord had provide miraculous bread to the Israelites when there was no food for them to eat in the wilderness, Jesus provided miraculous bread to this crowd in this wilderness. So much that there were 12 baskets of left overs after the crowd had eaten their fill. The people were so amazed that they sought to make Jesus their king, by force if necessary.

That’s where today’s reading ends, but that’s not the end of the story. That night, after the crowds had gone home, Jesus walked across the Sea to Capernaum. When the crowd couldn’t find him the next morning, they travelled to the place where Jesus was and ask him to do more signs.jesus 5000 Jesus responds by telling the crowds to stop seeking miraculous bread for their bellies and instead to seek him who is the bread from heaven. But the crowds weren’t  interested in that. They only want to see Jesus heal their sick. They only want to have Jesus fill their bellies. They didn’t  want to be confronted with all this talk about salvation and the Messiah and the true bread from heaven. So John tells us that from that point on many of his followers turned back and stopped following him. He was too religious for them. He wasn’t the Messiah they were looking for. He wasn’t the Messiah they wanted.

Too religious for the crowds; not religious enough for the Pharisees. So they both rejected him. Which causes me to wonder, What kind of Messiah are we looking for today? What criteria have we conjured?  What do we expect Jesus to do and to be as the Christ of God? Are we looking for a Messiah of the Law, one who is defined by regulations and religiosity?
Are we looking for a Messiah who will reward us for our behavior, for the fact that we’re not like those sinful people out in the big bad world? Do we expect a Messiah who will join our clique? Are we looking for a Messiah who will force our neighbors to embrace our views, to make clear lines of who’s worth our time and who’s not? Do we want a Messiah who will establish for us a Christian nation? Are we looking for the religious zealot that the Pharisees so desired?

Or like the crowds, do we simply want a Messiah who will take away our diseases and give us food all while leaving the teaching out of it? Are we waiting for a Messiah to relieve the pressures of this life, to entertain us and make us feel good, to help us find happiness wherever we determine it should be, regardless of what his word says. Are we looking for the social Messiah the crowds desired?

John tells us that Jesus was too religious for the crowds, and not religious enough for the Pharisees, so both end up rejecting him. Both are unsatisfied. At the end of chapter 6, Jesus turns to the Apostles and asks, “Will you also turn back?” To which Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” It is in Peter’s confession that we see the Messiah for who he truly is. Our criteria and expectations are ultimately irrelevant, for this is not an election. This is Jesus, who alone is the way, the truth, and the life. This is Jesus, the only name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. This is Jesus as he truly is, not simply as we wish him to be.  This is jesus, the one who has the words of eternal life.

They are words of life for he is the Lord of life. He is the one sent from God to pay the price we could never pay. No matter who wins the next election, our greatest enemy is death. No matter what happens with the First Amendment or Second Amendment or any other p_290204_epolitical detail of this life, the fact that this life will end for each of us one day is the ultimate problem to be overcome, and it has been overcome by the life, suffering, and death of Jesus in our place. There is no one else who can offer a solution for that problem. No political candidate, no celebrity, no one except Christ alone. We must never lose sight of that reality, for it keeps everything else in perspective. The religious regulations of the Pharisees are irrelevant on someone’s deathbed.  Those regulations pass away and no longer matter once a person is dead.  The same is true of the needs and wants of the crowds. Their bellies may be filled one day, but they will be empty again the next. They may have their loved ones healed of one disease, but a different ailment is waiting to strike.  The things of this world pass away. Decay sets in. Time takes its toll. It’s not that the details of our lives are unimportant, but we have to keep them in perspective. For what does it benefit a person to gain the whole world but lose his or here soul? When death comes, there is only one hope. It is Christ.

And Christ is already yours. He has claimed you in the water of your baptism. Like he fed the Israelites with miraculous bread from heaven during their wilderness wandering, like he fed the crowd on the hillside all those years ago with miraculous bread from his compassionate hand, he feeds us today with the bread of heaven from his own hand, the bread of his body given for you, paired with the cup of salvation, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for your life, for your salvation. Christ is yours. He is alive in you. He is at work in you. He will not let you go.

Yet we must never forget that he is at work through his Word. As Peter says, Jesus has the words of eternal life. Jesus uses words, so we use words.  We operate by words, not by force. If we are fed up with the trajectory of our world, we teach and preach and proclaim the truth of God’s Word, for his word is living and active, sharper than any sword. It will not return to him empty, but will accomplish the purpose for which he sent it. It will gal-2-20-home-widecreate faith. It will sustain faith. It is a lamp unto our feet and a light to our path, making low the mountains and raising up the valleys, paving the way of repentance. He is a Messiah of the Word, and he has left that Word with us.

If we go about setting up our own criteria for what type of Messiah Jesus should be, we will be as disappointed as the Pharisees and the Crowds. So we don’t try to make Jesus fit into our expectation, we take him at his word. We trust his word. We cling to his word. We believe what he says about our sin, and we believe what he says about our salvation. We see him suffering and dying, promising that to be his disciple means to take up our cross and do the same. And we trust his promise that through such death comes resurrection. Much of the world rejects such a Messiah. Much of the world wants a Messiah who will set up rules to follow or simply give us bread while letting us live however we see fit. But that is not the Messiah God sent. He sent the suffering Messiah, the one who gave his flesh for the life of the world. It may not be the Messiah we would have invented for ourselves, but it is the one God has sent, and he alone gives us life.

May our Lord grant us eyes that look to his Christ, ears that hear his Word.