Christ, Our Meal With God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+INJ+

Love Like Jesus – Sermon for Maundy Thursday, 2015

Love Like Jesus

John 12:34-35

Maundy Thursday

April 2, 2015

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

             Jesus left us a new commandment, a new way of doing things. That night in the Maundy-Thursday-Backgrounds-3upper room, after he had washed the disciples feet, Jesus turned to the disciples and said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Christians have held these words in high regard for centuries. They will know we are Christians by our love. We take pride in these words, we take pride in our loving actions. We set up food banks and hold clothing drives. We hold our tongue when that coworker is especially rude. We do our best to respect our boss or the other authorities in our lives. We genuinely want people to experience the love we have to share. We want people to know we are Christians by our love.

And yet, Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you are to love one another.” Pay attention over the next few days, for we will see exactly how Jesus loved us, and see what it means to love others in that way.  Pay attention over the next few days, for we will see what the world thinks of that love. Pay attention, for we will see what we can expect Satan, the world, and our sinful flesh to do when we set out to love one another just as Jesus loved us.

Jesus loved us by being betrayed into the hands of his captors by the kiss of a friend. Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-31-_-_Kiss_of_JudasWho has betrayed you? Do you feel betrayed by a society that was at one time more favorable to the Christian way of life, but now seems intent on tearing down every last vestige of the faith you hold so dear? Do you feel betrayed that God’s gift of the family is being assaulted on every side, that the notion of man and wife, which was once a fundamental part of the American dream along with a few kids and a white picket fence, is now viewed as out-of-date, oppressive, or downright silly? Do you feel betrayed that a society that at one time largely reflected Biblical morals and values in many spheres of life has turned in the opposite direction? Maybe we have been betrayed by our culture. Maybe we put our trust in the wrong place to begin with. Maybe the culture was never as Christian as we took it to be. Maybe we could speculate until we’re blue in the face. But all speculation aside, one thing is certain. Jesus loved us by being betrayed. If he has called us to love like he did, why should we expect anything else?

Jesus loved us by being put on trial for his confession of the truth. He stood before Pilate and was accused of many things which were true, but which did not sit well with the Jews or the Romans of his day. His confession of the truth made them uncomfortable. His confession of the truth threatened the way they wanted to look at the world.  “Are you the king of the Jews?” Of course he is. He’s the king of the whole universe. In him all things jesusandpilatelive and move and have their being. But they didn’t want to hear that. They were not interested in truth, they were interested in continuing to live the life they chose for themselves regardless of whether it was in line with God’s design or not.  They did not want to hear that Jesus is truly king, for if he is truly king, then they are truly his subjects. They have to listen to all that he said concerning their hypocrisy and empty rituals, about their being white-washed tombs, about the axe being at the base of the tree, about the branches being thrown to the fire.

If Jesus was put on trial for speaking the truth, why would we expect anything different? If we speak the truth about sexuality, why would we expect the world to greet our words any more favorably than our Lord’s? When we speak the truth about greed or contentment, about jealousy or pride, about envy, or anger, or life, or death, or anything else in our Lord’s Word, why are we so surprised when the world won’t listen? Why are we surprised when the truth is rejected in favor of the lie? It’s what happened to Jesus. It’s what happens today.

Jesus loved us by watching as the crowd demanded the release of a hardened criminal over his freedom.  The crowd was determined to get Jesus out of the way, to silence his voice and the words that made them uneasy, so they chose to release a convicted murderer. They chose a man of death over the Lord of life, for they were not prepared to live the life that the Lord designed. Why would we expect anything different? Why are we surprised when our world embraces the death of the unborn just so that it does not have to control its sexual desires? Why are we surprised when our world trumpets greed as a virtue with no regard for who may be oppressed or killed in the process? Why are we surprised when the world chooses tyranny to the self, becoming slaves to every passion and base desire known to man, and calls it freedom?  Is an addict free simply because he has the ability to drink or use whenever the desire presents itself? Or is the addict slave to the addiction? Are we actually free when we give in to whatever passion crosses our hearts? Or are we slaves to desire? How often do we choose slavery and call it freedom? How often do we choose death and call it life?  Our Lord loved us by watching as his own people chose death over life. This is how our Lord has called us to love the world.

Finally, Jesus loved us by being executed in our place. Even though he had done Crucifixnothing wrong, he allowed himself to be spiked to a cross, stricken, smitten, and afflicted. He did not speak up in his defense, for he knew his purpose. He knew that he was headed to the cross from the moment he became submissive to his Father’s will and agreed to leave heaven. He always intended to show his love by dying for us while we were yet sinners, by loving us while we were yet unlovable. And that is how we are called to love the world. That is how we are called to love one another – to love the unlovable, for the unlovable has been loved in us. To forgive the unforgivable, for the unforgivable has been forgiven in use. “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

This is the life we are called to live. This is the love we are called to love. One of betrayal. One of trial. One of rejection. One of self-sacrifice. And ultimately, a love that overcomes all these things. For Jesus overcame all these things for you, even death itself.

Jesus lives. He loved us in overcoming death, overcoming the betrayal and the rejection. And because he now lives, we also live. For on the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “Take and eat. This is my body for you.” In the same way also he took the cup and, having given thanks, gave it and said, “Take and drink. This is my blood of the new testament for you.” As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we are united to and participate in the body and blood of Christ himself. As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, I no longer live, Christ lives in me. And if Christ lives in me, then Christ loves through me. Just as Jesus loved me, so also I love others, for Christ lives in me and loves through me.

When the world betrays me, I rest in the knowledge that it betrayed him first. gal-2-20-home-wideIndeed, it betrayed him worse, for he had done nothing wrong. We are by nature sinful and unclean. We deserve the betrayal that we experience, for in our hearts we betray others all the time. We betray the confidence of another with careless gossip. We betray the people around us by selfishly seeking our own needs above the needs of others. We betray the people of God when we greedily cling to our dollars rather than supporting the work of the kingdom. Yet for all my betrayal, Christ lives in me to renew me, strengthen me, and use me in service to his Gospel. I no longer live, Christ lives in me, and Christ loves through me.

When the world puts me on trial for the truth, I rest in the knowledge that it tried him first. Indeed, it tried him worse, for he spoke genuine truth. Often my words are tainted with the residue of mixed emotions. So often my sinful flesh would rather listen to the words of the world and believe the lies, for the lies let me justify myself. The lies make me comfortable. The lies excuse my sin rather than deal with it. Even when I do speak the truth of the Scriptures, I have my moments where I struggle with doubt. My words may have the veneer of truth, but often the wood is rotting underneath.  Not so the words of Jesus. His words are not just true, they are truth itself. His words bring life, they bring life to me as the rain brings life from the clouds. For all my doubts and double speak, Christ lives in me to renew me, to speak through me. I no longer live, Christ lives in me, and Christ loves through me.

When the world chooses to embrace death over life, I rest in the knowledge that it did so for Jesus first. When the world ignores the life-giving gospel of forgiveness and instead dives headlong into its sin and self-deceit, we recognize that it did so for Jesus first. And he took it. And he suffered the consequence, dying to redeem the very ones who condemned him, winning life for those who chose death. And now, I no longer live, Christ lives in me, and Christ loves through me.

So come be fed by the body and blood of the Lord. Be united to your living Lord and Savior. For through this precious meal Christ now lives in you. Christ now loves through you with a new and perfect love, a selfless and self-sacrificial love. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”  As we approach the celebration of the Resurrection, as we hear again of the betrayal and suffering and death of our Savior, know that as Jesus loved you, so also you now love the people around you. In spite of their betrayal, in spite of their ridicule and accusation, in spite of their mockery, you love them with like Jesus. For Christ lives in you. And Christ loves through you.

Life in the Fray: Pride (Midweek Service – March 18, 2015)

Life in the Fray: Pride
 Kings 20:12-21
Midweek Lenten Service
March 18, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

             King Ahaz of Judah was a wicked king.  The kings of God’s people were supposed to rule in such a way that the people remembered that Yahweh was the true sovereign over the land, but Ahaz treated Judah as if it was any other earthly kingdom.  When King Ahaz was faced with the threat of invasion, he chose not to trust in God’s promise to keep Jerusalem safe. The prophet Isaiah explicitly told King Ahaz to trust God to defend Judah, but Ahaz did not listen. Instead, he sought protection at the hands of the Assyrians.  That’s like a mouse enlisting a cat to help him solve a dispute with another mouse. Assyria agreed to help Ahaz defend his throne from invasion, but only if Ahaz willingly agreed to make Judah an Assyrian province. That meant not only paying taxes to the Assyrian King, but also paying tribute to the Assyrian gods, setting up high places to sacrifice to the Assyrian deities, even performing such sacrifices on the Alter of Yahweh’s Temple in Jerusalem. King Ahaz wanted to do things himself. Too proud to trust God’s deliverance, Ahaz wanted to do things his way. He trusted earthly politics more than divine protection. He turned his back on the help that God offered and instead sought help from an earthly power, a power which quickly enslaved Ahaz and Judah. Ahaz was a bad king.

But King Ahaz did not live forever. After Ahaz died, Hezekiah took the throne. And according to the book of 2 Chronicles, Hezekiah was a good king. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, much like King David had done. In the first month of the first year of his reign, he repairedhezekiahsmall the Temple doors. He restored proper Temple worship and destroyed the altars used for false worship that Ahaz had scattered throughout the land. He sent an invitation to the northern tribes of Israel to join Judah in celebration of the Passover, to return once again to the proper worship of Yahweh and to live as his people. But Judah was still supposed to be an Assyrian province as negotiated by King Ahaz.  When the King of Assyria heard that the new King of Judah was destroying the altars of the Assyrian gods and that he was not paying tribute as a province should, he sent an army to put Hezekiah back in his place. But Hezekiah and his kingdom had nothing to fear, for they were living in the proper place as the people of God. With the imposing Assyrian army encamped around Jerusalem, and with no hope for escape, Hezekiah did what a godly King of Judah should do: he prayed. He did not trust his own powers and abilities; he did not trust the strength of his army or the strategies of his military mind. He turned the problem over to the Lord, and the Lord answered. That night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. The Assyrians left Jerusalem alone because they were afraid of Hezekiah’s God. Judah was a free people again.

Hezekiah’s humility had given Judah what Ahaz’s pride couldn’t: deliverance from the Assyrians. But after that deliverance Hezekiah grew deathly ill, so ill, in fact, that the prophet Isaiah returned to tell the king to put his affairs in order, for his death was imminent. In the face of his own death, Hezekiah once again humbly appealed to the Lord’s mercy to deliver him, and once again, the Lord obliged. Hezekiah was miraculously healed from the illness that threatened his life, and he was returned to the throne of Jerusalem to continue leading God’s people.

But pride is like a weed. As the snow melts and you look out on your lawn today, you probably don’t see any dandelions yet.  But just give it a few weeks.  Soon enough, those bright yellow parasites will be everywhere.  Pride works the same way.  While you Dandelion-emoedgars-sxc.jpg2_may not see evidence of it on the surface, you can rest assured that it is hiding just out of sight, waiting for the right moment to poke through. In the first case, Hezekiah remained humble and trusted God to deliver Judah from the Assyrians. In the second case, Hezekiah remained humble and trusted God to deliver him from his illness. But for pride’s assaults on Hezekiah, the third time’s the charm. In the third case, Hezekiah fell victim to the same pride that was Ahaz’s undoing. After being miraculously restored to health, Hezekiah was paid a visit by a special envoy from the King of Babylon. The king heard of Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery, and he also heard of Jerusalem’s miraculous deliverance from the Assyrians. He heard of the two great things God had done for Hezekiah. It is very likely that the reason the Babylonian king sent these messengers to visit Hezekiah was not simply to congratulate him on being restored to health, but to enlist him as an ally against Assyria. It was a political move, much like Ahaz had been faced with many years earlier. And like Ahaz before him, Hezekiah fell victim to his pride. He may have looked to the Lord for deliverance in times of need, but in times of peace he trusted the kings of the earth. He trusted the things of the earth. He took pride in the freedom and strength of his kingdom, so much so that he opened up his entire palace to the Babylonians, bragging about all his treasures and weapons and medicines. Rather than trusting that the same God who had granted freedom to Judah would keep Judah free, Hezekiah pursued a political solution to the problem at hand, a solution of his own devising. And that pride cost him. That pride cost Judah. That pride was the last straw, and God would put up with no more. So the prophet Isaiah was sent to inform Judah that the wealth of their palace would be carried off into Babylon, as would the sons of Judah. Pride goes before the fall, and the fall was coming.

These two kings of Judah demonstrate the danger that pride poses in the lives of God’s children, the way that pride poisons our actions. Sometimes, like Ahaz, pride shows itself in a brazen rejection of God’s will in favor of a different way of doing things. Sometimes, like Hezekiah, a person who has been faithful to God in times of distress falls victim to pride when the going gets easier. In either case, pride is idolatry of the self. That’s why C.S. Lewis called pride “the great sin,” because pride can lead to any other sin. Sinful pride is the poisonous belief that I know better than God, that my way is better than his. Sinful pride believes I deserve the best, better than anyone else. Or, to quote Lewis once more, “Pride takes no pleasure in having something, only in having more than the next person.”

The poison of pride will corrupt our every thought, word, and deed, but it is not without antidote.  The antidote to pride has several elements, starting with an honest confession of who Jesus is and what he has done. Jesus, who though he was by nature God was not so proud that he would refuse to submit to his Father’s will, took on human flesh.  He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the painful and humiliating death of crucifixion. He remained silent before Pilate, humbly abiding by his jesusandpilateFather’s will rather than defending himself or setting himself free. It was not pride that put Jesus on the cross, but humility. As Jesus prayed in the garden his refrain was, “Father, not my will but yours be done.” He humbly submitted to the Father’s will. He humbly washed the disciples’ feet. He humbly travelled the countryside without a place to lay his head. He lived his entire earthly life in humility, not letting pride lead him to demand that he get his way. Remembering how the Son of God lived when he was on earth is a powerful antidote to pride in our lives.

But an even more powerful element in pride’s antidote is remembering why the Son of God came to earth in the first place. He came to earth because of my sin. The wall of pride breaks down when we make honest confession of the reality that it is my sinful thoughts, my lies, my lust, my greed, my envy, my hatred that brought Jesus out of heaven and nailed him to a cross. Pride seeks to make excuses for sinful actions. Hezekiah and Ahaz both forgot that their time as king was a gift from God, and because they forgot this, they acted in prideful ways. So often we forget that each day of our lives is a gift from God. We forget that we don’t sustain our own life, and that without our Lord causing our hearts to beat and our lungs to work we wouldn’t have today, much less tomorrow. Yet in our pride we treat each day as if it’s ours by right, as if we deserve it.  We ignore our sin or excuse it away.  It’s easy to do because we live in a world so proud that all sin is simply explained away. Almost any behavior is treated as normal, and those that aren’t normal still aren’t your fault, they are the result of your upbringing or other social influences. But they certainly aren’t regarded as sin, and you certainly don’t need to confess them, not to in the eyes of the world at least. That is fertile ground for pride to fester.  But an honest estimation of ourselves based on the standard of God’s word tells us otherwise. There we see that we are by nature sinful and unclean. There we see the depths of our sin – so deep that pride cannot stand.

Remembering who Jesus was and how he lived is a powerful antidote to pride. So also is remembering that the reason he came to earth was to undo the evil that I have done. And yet another element in the antidote to pride is the means by which this forgiveness is brought into our lives. A splash of water. A small piece of bread. A sip of wine. A simple word. These simple gifts shatter my pride because while they do such great things, they are so common. They are available to everyone.  They are not so expensive that only the wealthy could be saved.  They do not give me access to a super-Word-and-Sacramentsecret club that exists solely to exclude others.  They are for everyone, rich or poor, smart or not, skilled or clumsy.  They are not so obscure that only those who live in the right region of the globe would have easy access to them. They are common, universal elements. Bread, water, wine, words. These common things crush my sinful pride, for if God chooses such simple means to accomplish such great things, why do I assume I must be something great before God will to give them to me? These are not prizes given out to the top one percent; these are God’s gifts for anyone and everyone who wants them. In humility, we recognize that though we are weak and helpless, our Lord is not. He is the one who accomplishes anything in our lives. And such a realization leaves no room for pride.

And ultimately, when our pride is knocked down, a true sense of self-worth can be built up. Pride is dangerous because it is idolatry of the self. But that doesn’t mean we have to hate ourselves. What it means is that the worth we see in ourselves doesn’t come from us – it comes from Christ who lives in us.  My sin was so great the Jesus left heaven and died for it – that reality crushes my pride. But the fact that Jesus loves me so much that he was willing to undergo such torture shows my true worth in God’s eyes. It is not a value I create for myself by the successes or accomplishments in my life. It comes entirely from being a baptized child of God.  Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord. Ahaz wanted his value to come from political savviness, so he ignored the identity God gave him and set out to make his own. Hezekiah, though he had been faithful in times of distress, still craved acceptance from the world so much that when he was finally approached by the cool kids, when he was invited to sit at the table with the global power Babylon, he turned his back on who God has created him to be.  Such is the danger of pride: it puts the self in the seat of God. May our Lord grant us repentant eyes and hearts of faith this Lenten season, that we might not fall victim to pride as these kings of Judah did, but that we would rather find our worth always in what Christ has done for us, and in who he has created us to be.

Daily Dedication – Sermon for March 15/16, 2015

Daily Dedication

Acts 2:42

Laetare Sunday

March 15th/16th, 2015

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

             It takes dedication to accomplish great things in life. It takes dedication to run a marathon. You don’t just wake up one day and run the 26.2 miles, you train first. You train for months, running each day, eating properly, stretching, disciplining your body so that when marathonthe day of the race arrives you are prepared. Such training takes dedication.  We hear all the time about the dedication it takes to become a professional athlete, musician, or artist. You have to hone your skills and to develop your talent. Most of all, you have to be willing to get back up when you’ve been knocked down, to edit and resubmit that rejected manuscript, to audition again, to sculpt or paint again in the hopes that this time someone notices your work and sets you on the road to stardom. Celebrities often speak about the dedication and commitment it took to get where they are, and it would take such dedication for any of us in this room to reach that level of fame and fortune.

But that is not the commitment and dedication that I want to talk about today. In fact, I would say that is not the truest form of commitment and dedication. I think the more challenging, yet ultimately more rewarding, form of dedication is dedication to the details of everyday life. Yes, it takes dedication to train yourself to run a marathon, but it also takes dedication to do the laundry each day, to wash the same dishes over and over, to change diapers, to shuttle kids back and forth to their various after school activities. It takes dedication to wake up next to the same person every day and live a life of loving sacrifice to them, to remain faithful to your vows even when times are tough, to remain supportive even when you would rather be left alone. It takes dedication and commitment simply to make dinner each day, to come home after a long day at work only to be confronted with even more work in parenting, housekeeping, and the many other responsibilities that fall upon adult shoulders. The responsibilities and demands of everyday life take tremendous commitment, yet so often we bristle at that commitment. So often we are tempted to treat such commitment as if it is a second class commitment or somehow beneath us or not worth our precious time, to ignore those things and try to find something bigger and supposedly more important to commit ourselves to, even choosing to leave the basic necessities of everyday life unattended while we dedicate ourselves to something else.

And as powerful a temptation as this is in our personal lives, the temptation is even stronger when it comes to the everyday things of God. We are a fickle people, and we so quickly get sick of the same old thing. We are accustomed to the regular routine of the Christian life – we have heard sermons many times, we have knelt in confession, we have mr-bean-asleepheard the words of absolution, we have tasted the bread and wine of communion. But familiarity breeds contempt, and often we are tempted to despise the gifts of God and pursue something that suits our fancy just a little better. Perhaps we expected that once we became Christian all our problems would go away, that our kids would behave perfectly, that our finances would balance out, that the disease or depression that haunts us would miraculously disappear. But when our daily life in the faith doesn’t look all that different from those outside, when our struggles seem to be the exact same struggles as unbelievers, or even worse, when we see other Christians enjoying the good things in life, the blessings and comforts we want for ourselves, then we begin to wonder whether this Christianity thing is worth the hassle. When such temptation surfaces, we remember the example of the earliest Christians, those we just heard about in the reading from Acts. In that reading we hear of their dedication to the everyday things of the Christian life, of their devotion to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. We have these same gifts among us today, and part of our lives as the baptized children of God is commitment and dedication to these things.

We are called to be dedicated to the apostles’ teaching. This is not a burden, it is a gift. We have the teaching of the apostles themselves recorded for us in the pages of Scripture. Rather than smugness toward the study God’s Word, the new man receives this teaching joyfully and dedicates himself to it.  In a world filled with differing voices, it can be easy to fall into the trap of ignoring God’s Word. We spend several hours each week listening to the voices of the world, in the television shows we watch, in the music we listen to, in the books we read, even in the casual conversations we have with a coworker. The slow drip of the world’s opinions will break through our Christian minds if we are not intentionally fortifying our position. But our Lord has not left us helpless. Rather, he has given us the means to strengthen the defenses of our faith, and those means are Open-Bible-with-Penfound in the apostles’ teaching. So we dedicate ourselves in study of the apostles’ teaching. We don’t assume that because we’ve heard it once we’ve heard it enough. We don’t assume that we are so strong in our faith and understanding of God’s Word that we would never fall prey to the vain philosophies of our world. Rather, we take seriously the threats of the world’s sinful philosophies and we joyfully sit at the feet of the apostles, learning from them each week in bible studies, personal devotions and bible readings, and in the services of the church.

We are also called to be dedicated to the fellowship. No Christian is an island entire unto himself. We are baptized into the body of Christ, a body with many members. Sometimes we would rather stay home and read the bible by ourselves or find some devotional material on the internet, but to do so would cut us off from the fellowship. We are called to be committed to this fellowship, to this gathering together of God’s people, for through it we are uplifted and encouraged in our faith. If you have read the Harry Potter books or seen the movies, you might remember that in the 5th one there is a conversation between Harry and Luna Lovegood. She reminds Harry not to ignore his friends, she isolation-2reminds him that he is not alone in his struggle. She says that she imagines that the Dark Lord wants Harry to feel all alone, because if Harry feels all alone then he is weak. So she reminds Harry to find strength in the people who are fighting with him, those who are supporting him. That is the joy of fellowship. Our Lord has not left us to struggle through this world alone, but has surrounded us with other believers who know our pain and can encourage us in our time of need with the same encouragement that they received from someone else when they were in need. Satan would have us let disagreements or hurt feelings drive us into isolation, so we are called to dedicate ourselves to the fellowship of believers.

It takes dedication because there is a certain comfort found in remaining unknown. It would be easier to sneak into church, hear the word, and sneak out the back without having to talk to anyone, without having to answer questions about how it’s going at work or at home. There is a draw to the anonymity of the shadows. We are tempted to believe that church would be better if people just left me alone and let me keep my private life to myself. But the community of believers is not a burden, it is a gift. It is the gift of knowing that others are praying for me in my time of need. It is the gift of knowing that when I am struggling with temptation that there is a group of people to encourage me. It is a group of people to help me continue in my life of faith, challenging me in my study of God’s Word, confessing their sin right next to me as I confess mine, and receiving the same forgiveness I receive. Such experiences build bonds, and such bonds are truly a gift from God. We find great strength in the fellowship of God’s church.

In this fellowship as the body of Christ, we are dedicated to the breaking of bread, which means we are dedicated to faithfully and regularly receiving the Sacrament of the Altar. In this sacrament we have the forgiveness of sins. We have a restored relationship with God and with each other. We have heaven itself brought down to earth and placed on our tongues. What a tremendous gift this is. Familiarity might tempt us to grumble about the 15 minutes it adds to the service. But we are dedicated to receiving this gift; we will notholy-communion give it up. There are churches who never celebrate communion in regularly scheduled services. While their reasons may differ, the result remains a tragic rejection of one of the greatest gifts God has given us. So we are dedicated to the breaking of bread for it is nothing short of Christ among us today, the body of Christ that unites us as the body of Christ. It puts at peace with God and strengthens us for the challenges we face in life outside these walls.

When you put these things together, the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, and the breaking of bread, it becomes clear why we are called to be dedicated to the prayers. This is not dedication to prayer, although that is important too. No, this is dedication to the prayers, which are the services of God’s house. We are called to dedicate ourselves to regular worship. Such worship embraces all the other aspects of the Christian life already discussed. It is one place where we intentionally hear the teaching of the apostles as their Scriptures are read and as pastors preach on them. Worship also includes fellowship because the public worship of the Church is an opportunity to surround ourselves with other believers, to have our faith uplifted and strengthened before facing yet another week in an unbelieving world. Public worship is also the places where we break bread together, the place where we feast on the body and blood of our Lord for the forgiveness of our sins. The teaching, fellowship, and bread all come together in the liturgies of the church, which Luke here calls the prayers.

This is the shape of the Christian life – dedication to the gifts of God, for these are the very things that sustain and nurture us in our faith. Often we are tempted to ignore these basic things in favor of greater and grander aspirations, looking for something more noteworthy to devote ourselves to. And sometimes, bigger projects do demand our attention. But those are always short lived. Like training for a marathon, there comes a D-300x300point when the race is complete and the training done. It is the dedication to daily life, to the challenges we face each day, the ones that never go away, that is true dedication. And this is the dedication the Holy Spirit works in the heart of the baptized. This is the dedication he works in each of our hearts – dedication to the gifts of God: to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Through these things our Lord is living and active among us, strengthening our faith in him. Through these things we are equipped to face both the challenges of daily life as well as the larger tasks that we must dedicate ourselves to. But left to our own strength, we cannot accomplish anything spiritually. So we rejoice in the gifts of God and dedicate ourselves to them first, for it is only through them that we can accomplish anything else our Lord has prepared for us to do. May God grant this congregation and each person here such commitment and dedication, that the world may be blessed through us.