The Illusion of Purpose – A Sermon on Romans 8:18-27

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the epistle lesson, from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.” As the chapters go on, he speaks of the meaninglessness of knowledge. The futility of enjoying the good things in life. The uselessness of living a life filled with wisdom. The emptiness of working hard. Because in the end, everyone dies. And everything you do will someday be forgotten.

That’s pretty much the opposite of what we think today, isn’t it? We think hard work is a noble thing. That living one’s life wisely is right path. That there’s nothing wrong with enjoying life. And the pursuit of knowledge is worthy of high praise. Those are the things that give us purpose. Those are the things that make our lives meaningful. And what is meaningful will last from generation to generation.

I know that’s what we think, because what happens to us when those things are slowly taken away? When we can’t work like we used to? When we can’t live the right kind of life? When there is nothing left to enjoy? When our knowledge deteriorates with our minds. When our purpose is no longer clear, we give up. We lose hope. We see our lives as meaningless. Without purpose, what’s the point of going on? Why doesn’t God just take our lives already? Because even death is better than a life without purpose. And the only hope we see is death itself. We just want God to get it over with already. Because the only thing left for us here without a purpose is futility, sufferings, and groaning.

Perhaps the reason we so desperately want purpose in our lives is because in this world, there is no purpose. For the creation was subjected to futility, Paul writes. Literally the creation was subjected to purposelessness. And while that may surprise us, it isn’t surprising anyone else in our world. Buddhists figured out the world was purposeless thousands of years ago. Greek philosophers came to the same conclusion. Modern philosophy cannot help but repeat this truth. And it is now the predominant point of view in our post-modern society as well. All echo the wisest of men, saying together Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.

Yet the desperation for purpose and meaning is still alive in everyone. There’s a deep void in creation itself, and we’ll fill it with just about anything. So long as we have something in our lives to give us meaning. We’ll buy books by the millions on how to lead a purpose driven life. We’ll find purpose in everything we learn. Purpose in everything we work at. Purpose in everything we dream of. We must see it. Lest the fear of being meaningless overtake us. We must see this purpose. And we do. Only it’s all illusion. we see only what we want to see. At least until the illusion is destroyed when our lives fall apart. Then the sufferings of this life overtake the lies we’ve told ourselves for so very long. Then we groan in agony at our futility and our uselessness.

And thank God those lies are revealed. It is God Himself who reveals them as lies. For the creation was subjected to futility, to purposelessness, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it unto hope. God subjected all of creation to meaninglessness intentionally. Not because we wanted it. But because in this way we have hope.

But that can’t be right. It just can’t be. Serving no purpose creates hopelessness, the very absence of hope. That’s the conclusion everyone else has come to. When existence has no purpose, the Buddhist hope is for Nirvana, that is, to no longer exist. Permanent death. When existence has no purpose, the Greek philosophers hope is in denying themselves the material things of this world. That they can achieve a different, more meaningful existence through their own works. That is their hope. When existence has no purpose, modern thought is to just have as good a time as you can. Sex, drugs, whatever you like. Whatever feels good that moment. It doesn’t matter. Because that moment is all the hope you have for sure. These are the kinds of conclusions we reach when things have no purpose.

And yet God is the one who who subjects the creation to purposelessness. Not so that it can come to those conclusions. Not so that it can hope in things that have no hope. But so that we would have the one Hope of the world. Jesus. That is exactly what Paul writes in today’s epistle lesson. That is exactly what Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes. We don’t need a purpose. We need hope. We need the only hope that saves from death.

But how does the world being purposeless prepare us for hope? After all, the first response we have isn’t hope, but despair. But that’s because we’re looking to ourselves. We look only at us, because that’s all we see. But there is no hope in what we do. No hope in us fulfilling our purpose. Because hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Now, this is where the world laughs. The world calls us fools for trusting in a hope that no one can see. But there is no surer hope than ours. No surer hope than Jesus. However while hope cannot be seen, purpose can. And Jesus has purpose. Jesus has meaning. There is no futility in Him. He is the one who rose from the dead. He has promised that resurrection to us as well. Yes, it is true that our resurrection is still a hope, because we have not seen it in us as of yet. But the promise comes from one we can, and do see.

We see Jesus in His Word. The Word which tells things how they are. Pulls no punches about how life in this world works. That this world has suffering, futility, and groanings. However despite the sin of this world, the sin at work in us, Jesus still goes to the cross and dies on our behalf. To forgive our sin. To adopt us as God’s children. And to be with us even now. 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God… the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God… And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.

So yes, we groan in this world, but we look forward to the next. And not just where our souls are in heaven with Jesus. But where He puts body and soul back together again. Resurrection from the dead. Resurrection to a new world. A world no longer subject to purposelessness, but whose purpose lies with Christ Jesus our Lord. A world without sin. A world without end.

But we’re not left alone, waiting for that to happen. We don’t sit here begging God for death. Hoping to get this life over with so we can hurry up and get to the next one. That’s not hope. And that’s not why God is with us right now. Because God has a purpose. Not us. Not the world. God. And His purpose is to be with you. Even when we can’t work like we used to. Even when we can’t live the right kind of life. Even when there is nothing left to enjoy. Even when our knowledge deteriorates with our minds. God loves you. And prays with you, even when you don’t know what else to say. We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless writes Solomon. But adds one exception, our Lord. And while the happening of this world, even the happenings of your life might be meaningless in the long run, you yourself are not meaningless. You mean everything to Christ. And in that fact, there is more hope than the world could ever give. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Recklessly Planting – A Sermon on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

July 12, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This morning, Jesus explains His parable in our Gospel lesson. Good thing he does too. “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

So what’s the first question you asked yourself after hearing Jesus’ parable? What kind of soil is your life? After all, we know that word is planted in you. If anything, it was planted just now when we heard Jesus’ own words. All that we need to know now is how that seed will grow, if it grows at all. Granted, we all want to be that good soil Jesus talks about. Where the Word grows and bears fruit a hundredfold, or at least thirtyfold. But how can you be sure you’re that good soil? After all, Maybe it’s growing just fine right now, but what if you wilt when things get rough? What if something from the world, whether it’s good news or bad, chokes you out? What if things get so bad between you and God, that you just don’t understand it anymore, so that what you had is no longer there? How can you be sure that you’re good soil? That you understand what the Word proclaims? And grow the fruit God is looking for?

The question becomes even more pressing when Jesus says things like, “Go and make disciples of every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to treasure all things which I have commanded to you.” Just how can you be sure to get that seed into the right soil in them, if you’re not sure if it’s in the right soil in you?

How can you be sure? Well, it turns out that’s the wrong question. Because every single one of those soils Jesus is talking about are in you. Every one. And no amount of cultivation, or rock removal can ever change that. No amount of looking inside yourself. No amount of doing things for God. No amount of giving your heart or your mind or your all to the Lord will get you good soil.

Because there are times when God’s Word is proclaimed, and we just don’t get it.  That seed bounces along the path and is snatched away. We forget. We never understood in the first place. We can’t see the treasure God put right in front of our eyes. And just keep on walking down the path.

There are times when God’s Word is proclaimed, and we get really excited about it. We say, “I’ve never heard it explained that way before!” And, “Wow! That was really deep!” And, “That completely changed the way I think about things!” But when things get tough. When we’re hurting. When nothing is going according to plan, we quickly fall back into the same thing we always do. And what had grown withers away.

There are times when God’s Word is proclaimed, and too much from the world is in the way. We justify what we are doing with our families, with our jobs, with our lives. We say, that’s just how it’s done. Nothing wrong with that. Lots of good people are going that way. Who am I to say it should be otherwise? The world’s good overshadows us and chokes the growing Word. All three of these soils are in us, working against God’s Word.

And they’re in your neighbor as well. They too will not understand. They too will get excited for a moment, then go back to the way they’ve always done things. They too will let the world dictate what is good and what is not. That’s what sin has done to us all. None of us are any different in that regard.

Fortunately, the one who sows the Seed doesn’t plant just one seed. Jesus doesn’t just speak His Word one time. Jesus is reckless with what He plants. Throwing it out, no matter what ground it might land on. And Jesus keeps throwing more. You don’t get it this time? It gets scorched this time? It gets choked out this time? Jesus plants more. Because your sin is forgiven. Your lack of understanding is forgiven. Your failure to endure is forgiven. Your being overwhelmed by the cares of this world are forgiven. That’s one of the reasons why Jesus came. One of the reasons Jesus died and rose. Forgiveness is one of those seeds. One of those gifts Jesus gives to you, again and again. And that’s why it’s one of the things we forget when the seed is snatched away, scorched, or choked out.

You need to hear that forgiveness over and over. Have that seed planted over and over again. You can’t get too much of God’s Word. And neither can your neighbor. If Jesus plants whether or not your soil is right means that Jesus also plants whether or not your neighbor’s soil is right. It also means that it’s not your job to make sure they have the right soil. It’s not your job to “close the deal.” Nor to “make someone a Christian.” Because not even I can do that. That’s all God’s work. All evangelism is is throwing seed wherever we happen to be.

We let Jesus worry about the soil, we let Jesus worry about how His Word is received. And we can trust Him to do that, because Jesus knows every soil. Because He has experienced them all Himself. Because it was the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches that led to Jesus’ arrest that evening before Good Friday dawned. Jesus was sold for thirty pieces of silver. And the empty promises for Judas that came with them. It was Jesus though who was choked out. Using His last breath to give up the Holy Breath, the Holy Spirit, which are, in Greek, the same words.

Jesus knows the tribulation and persecution that arises on account of His Word. When Jesus was asked by the chief priests whether or not He was the Son of God, He affirmed it. And that Word directly lead to the whipping, the carrying of His own cross, and his being nailed to that cross. Jesus was lifted up over that rocky terrain. Not even able to reach the ground at all. And on top of all this, Jesus was withered by the blazing heat of God’s wrath. Which was poured out once and for all over all sin. Jesus cried out, “I thirst.” And there was no water. Only wine vinegar offered on the end of a hyssop branch.

Jesus knows what it is to have everything snatched away. To have His disciples flee in all direction from the Garden of Gethsemane. To be denied by His closest disciple three times. To stand before a crowd that to a man wanted Him crucified. T have no one understand. Jesus knows what it is to have life itself snatched away. Because He died on that cross. Not fainted. Not just mostly dead. Completely all the way dead.

But this is the way it had to be. Because this is what it took to be planted in the good soil. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body and buried it in Joseph’s new tomb in a nearby garden, because Jesus died. That’s what you do when that happens. And by planting that seed in the good soil, behold, a harvest of thirty-, sixty-, a hundred-fold, and even more. By that planting, we have the fruit of forgiveness. By that planting, we have the fruit of adoption into God’s family. By that planting, we have the fruit of resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection on the third day. Those fruits likewise have seed. And those are the seeds planted in us. Planted in our neighbors.

So yes, sometimes we let those gifts, the fruit of Jesus’ death and resurrection get choked out. Sometimes we let those gifts get scorched. Sometimes we let those gifts get snatched away. But Jesus keeps planting, again and again. Every time He speaks His Word to us. Every time He feeds us His body and blood. Every time He reminds us of our baptism, which connect us to His death and resurrection. Because, along with being the seed, Jesus is also the good soil. And our faith grows in Him alone. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

You Are the Christ – A(n early) Sermon on Matthew 16:13-20

July 5, 2014 Comments off

Since Rev. John Halakhe of Bethesda Lutheran Communities, former General Secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya under Rev. Walter Obare, is in Our Saviour’s pulpit on Sunday, I thought I’d get ahead and write the sermon for when I get back from vacation on August 22nd. So I guess this is early.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus asks His disciples a question. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Who do you say that I am? That is the question that has reverberated across all time. At one point, Adam and Eve replied, “The one we make ourselves equal to with this fruit.” And one point, Abraham replied, “The one I have to help by sleeping with my maid, lest His promises fail.” At one point, Jacob replied, “The one I must overcome in my wrestlings, if I want to succeed.” At one point David replied, “The one I can ignore when I see a pretty lady from my balcony.” At one point, Peter replied, “The one I have to save from Himself, lest He keep talking about His own death.”

Who do you say that I am? Likewise, we too have given the wrong answer with the things we have done in our lives. We too have made ourselves equal to God. We too have tried to do our part in what is God’s Work alone. We too have tried to wrestle what we want away from God. We too have indulged our sinful flesh under one pretense or another. And we too want to step in and save God from His foolish words. And all those things say with our actions that whoever this Jesus is, He’s just not as important as we are.

Who do you say that I am? Despite how we have consistently answered that question with our lives, Jesus still asks. He’s not just hoping that one day you come up with a different answer. You wont. Sin has already infected you that badly. Since you were conceived in your mother’s womb even. Jesus keeps asking, because God gives a different answer as a gift to you. Who are you, Jesus? “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

These are not words the sinful flesh in us can say. The part we call the Old Adam simply refuses. Because that Old Adam is too busy being its own Christ, it’s own Meshiach, its own anointed one. Anointed over all that it sees. Saying “mine” to all things. Considering itself God’s equal, if not God’s superior. No one else can take that role. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.”

It is only by the Holy Spirit that we can say who Jesus is. It’s only by the Holy Spirit we can make that good confession. These words are a gift. Which is why our creeds are so important. Far more important than the lives we live or the deeds we do. Because it’s in the Apostles’ Creed, it’s in the Nicene Creed, it’s in the Athanasian creed that we too say Jesus is Lord. And He’s not just any Jesus. He’s not just any Lord. He is the one revealed to us by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures.

Who do you say that I am? You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus Christ, the only Son, our Lord. Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Which makes Him not just another human being. But He is God in the flesh. And yet, he was born of the virgin Mary. Even though He is fully God, He is still fully human. And in every way He is our brother.

Who do you say that I am? The God Man who suffered under Pontus Pilate. Not some illusion that had no idea what suffering was. Not some Half-God who could put up with suffering better than anyone else. Jesus truly suffered like every one of us would, and has. Jesus was crucified, died and was buried. Truly God died on our behalf. No swoon, or make-believe death. But all the way, totally dead.

Who do you say that I am? Jesus descended into hell, as written in 1 Peter 3, to proclaim to all those in that prison what he had done. The third day, He rose from the dead. Alive. Not just in some spiritual body. Not just just in metaphoric terms. But that same body, which still bore the scars. Scars that once meant death, but now mean life for you and me. And this same Jesu, God and Man, in His body ascended into heaven, bringing us with Him to stand before God. Not as the sinners we are, but as the forgiven and loved people of God, made holy through Christ, which we also are.

And yes this same Jesus will return one day. The day and the hour we do not know, nor the year, or even which century or millennium. But that’s a promise He made. The same way He promised to die and rise from the dead. Promised to forgive our sins. Promised to give us life. And life forever with Him.

We also confess this same Jesus when we confess our sins. We are saying that we are who He says we are. We are sinners in need of a savior. We confess that we have need of the death and resurrection of Jesus given to us. And that without it, we have nothing with which to go before God. When we receive that absolution, we also confess this same Jesus. The one who has forgiven our sins. And continues to daily and richly forgive, over and over again.

And all this confession is great! Until we read just a little further in today’s text. Then [Jesus] strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. If the Peter’s confession was a gift of God, why keep it quiet? And if Peter and the disciples were asked to keep it quiet, what does that mean for us and our confession? It seems as though Jesus is sending mixed messages here.

However, Jesus asks them to keep quiet about this gift, because there are more gifts that go with the confession. And at that moment in Jesus’ ministry, they weren’t there yet. But Jesus does promise them three more coming in the future. On this rock I will build my church. The gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

It has been argued that the rock Jesus mentions is Peter himself. After all Peter and the Greek Word for rock, πετρα, are the same root. But they’re not the same word. In most languages besides English, all nouns have a gender. In Greek, Peter is a masculine noun. Rock is a feminine noun. They’re not the same thing. Likewise if Jesus meant that he was building the church on Peter, it would have worked a whole lot better to say “you” than “this rock.”

However, the word “this” needs what is called an antecedent. In other words, what “this” is Jesus talking about? It needs to be in the text. And the only two things that make sense are the town Caesar Philippi and the confession itself. And the confession is a closer antecedent. Upon this rock, this confession, given by the Father to Peter, and to all of us, this confession is what the Church is built upon. And you can back that up in other places in Scripture as well. So the first new promise is a church built on this rock.

The second is that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the church. We tend to think of the Church as a sanctuary against the forces of Hell. A place where we take cover. And that’s a comforting thing. But don’t forget that we’re not the only ones looking for refuge. Gates are a defensive structure. Holding out the invaders. And the Gates of Hell will not prevail.

Christ Jesus breaks down those gates. He charges in, and carries you out as His prize. And there’s nothing anyone can do to stop Him. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? Jesus has overcome all those things, and the gates lie broken before Him.

The third promise is to give Peter the keys of Heaven. It is Peter who will be given the keys, because Jesus, speaking to him says ‘you.’ I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And with those keys, the forgiveness of sins is put in Peters hands. A crazy responsibility. But one God trusts you with.

Because that gift isn’t given to Peter alone. It’s given to all us Peters. All of us who are part of the Church which is built on the πετρα. We are built on the Rock, so these promises are ours as well as Peter’s and the disciples’. And after the death and resurrection of Jesus, there future gifts become right now gifts. All has come together. Which means we freely confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And we are given what God promises to give. A Church built on this confession. A conquered gates of hell. Forgiveness of sins. Even for those times we have made ourselves into gods in God’s place. What amazing gifts our God gives. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Die by the Sword, Live by the Sword – A Sermon on Matthew 10:34-43

June 28, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Last Sunday, we heard from Jeremiah that “the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me.” We sang Onward Christian Soldiers last week, Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus, and A Mighty Fortress. And this week the theme continues. Today we have a sword wielding Jesus standing up against the world. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 

And maybe that’s okay. Because if you haven’t noticed yet, the world is at war with us. Not just in far off places, but right in our own back yard. Just try mentioning that you’re a Bible-believing Christian in some circles. And you’ve got a fight on your hands. And it sure does help to have that sword of the Spirit handy in times like those. That Word of God ready to strike down those enemies.

However, sometimes those enemies are a little closer than some stranger out there. Sometimes they are close enough that we don’t really want them to be enemies. Jesus quotes Micah 7 in today’s Gospel lesson, “…I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.

That makes it pretty hard on us. Because we love our parents. We love our children. We love our in-laws. And we want to have peace with them. Family is really important. After all, isn’t that who we’re fighting for in all of this? But if Jesus is riling everyone up, pointing swords at people, that just makes things really difficult. It’s a whole lot easier to just put the sword in it’s sheath, and not say anything at all.

But neither in our hacking away nor our putting away are we using that sword quite right. Which, when you think about it, is pretty weird. Because the sword only has one job. And that is to kill. How can it be used wrong if we wield against enemies, and put it away for those we love? That sounds a lot like the right thing to do. But it’s not what Jesus does.

Yes, the sword only has one job. But Jesus doesn’t wield that sword. He gives it. He gives it to His enemies. Which is quite possibly the stupidest possible thing He could do. Giving the one who wants you dead the means to kill you just isn’t all that smart. It is quite possibly the worst war strategy in the history of forever. And yet this is exactly what Jesus does.

I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. And that sword runs Jesus through. A sword in the form of nails and spear. Piercing his hands, feet and side. Pinning Him to that cross. And Jesus dies at the hands of His enemies. Dies as a man set against His Father. Because He who knew no sin became sin for us.

Last week, Jesus said, ““A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” So likewise we too will face the sword. The very sword we bring. Because we’re not given the Word in order to destroy others with it. But in order to give that Word to them. And yes, they will turn it on us. Even the ones we love will take their stabs. And it hurts. Unless, we just don’t say anything at all. If we do that, we find that our lives as they are can be spared.

Yet Jesus says today, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” What a strange dread soldier this Jesus is. What a backwards swordsman. Because Jesus gets us into fine messes. Promises to back us up, and does so by handing the sword to our enemies. And it totally works. Not anywhere close to the way we were expecting. Oh, no. I wish it did. It’d be a whole lot easier on me, that’s for sure. But no. God does things His way, not mine. And His way is to have mercy by sacrificing Himself and all He holds dear. And God holds you dear to Him. So when Jesus says whoever loses his life for my sake, He wasn’t kidding.

Take up your cross He says. A person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Things are going to be bad in this life. And you had better expect it. And this is all more than the regular bad stuff that happens to everyone else. This isn’t just dealing with life in this sinful world. This is because Jesus comes bearing a sword as a gift to the enemy. And with that sword, everyone is out to kill you.

What good can come of this? Why can’t God just come in and make things easier? Why can’t he just make things right, and do it right now? That’s got to be better than this. Except this is the place God is. This is where God is found. Not in easy. Not in the comfortable. Not in the things we want to be right. Not in the world’s peace. God isn’t found in those places. He’s found at the cross.

Because where that sword strikes, there He is. The Lamb of God, standing though slaughtered. Standing with you. Standing for you. Even when it hurts the most. Even when you can’t take any more. Jesus is with you. And He will not leave your side. Jesus groans when you groan. Jesus cries when you cry. Jesus shouts out when you shout out. And Jesus has the words when you have none. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Even though it’s not us who are forsaken. Jesus knows what we feel. Jesus knows what we think. Because Jesus is there, bearing it all. Taking the wrong end of that sword with you and for you. That takes more strength than even a soldier. That takes more guts than any dread warrior. Because Jesus dies with us. In every possible way. Whether little by little on the inside. Or by leaps and bounds when they put us in the ground.

And yet in that dying, Jesus works good. Not only in His own death, which pays for all sin. But also in our death, He works life for those we love. Even for those who run us through with the sword. Today’s Gospel lesson is from Matthew, but Jesus says the same thing in John’s Gospel along with these words: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We give this sword, as deadly as it is, to our loved ones. To even our enemies. Because that sword is the Word of God. That sword is Jesus for them too. And even though they might slay us. Or break our hearts. Or do almost anything at all. The seed is planted. The Word is given. And it is given through you. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”

As for us. We know that death no longer has a hold on us. We know that because Jesus has risen from the dead, we too have resurrection coming. And not only that, which today, feels way off in the future. But right now Jesus is with us. By our side through it all. And if He’s with us now, even in death, then there is always hope. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Lord, What Have You Got Me Into? – A Sermon on Jeremiah 20:7-13

June 20, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Old Testament lesson, from the prophet Jeremiah.

Some days, in our Christian walk, we just have to stop and ask, “God, what have you got me into?” Maybe our calling isn’t the same as some of those great heroes of the faith. Maybe we don’t have to stand in front of kings and high priests and risk our necks. But all of us know what it is to be in situations for which there is no good answer. Going on is too hard. But going back is impossible. And it feels like the eyes of the whole world are watching you. What have you got me into? And when will it stop?

This situation is exactly why most Christians keep their faith to themselves. All going public does is create this same scenario. There’s God, asking us to proclaim His Word to the world. But if we do that, the world will laugh at us. We know that’s what happens, because we see it happen to others who try. If we proclaim the consequences of sin, we lose the respect of friends, even family. We make enemies of the very people we’re trying to love. And that’s too much to bear. So, it’s easier to keep it inside. Deal with the fires in our own heart rather than set them upon someone else.

God, what have you got us into? We know we cannot fight the world ourselves. We are not strong enough on our own. Satan is too strong an adversary. And what we stand to lose is more than we can afford to lose. More than we can bear to lose. Maybe that’s why we admire people like Jeremiah. He seems like a strong soldier. One who can stand up stand up for Jesus, because he’s a soldier of the cross. A Christian soldier who can go onwards, marching as to war.

We don’t mind being part of that army, as long as it’s not us on the front line. Let us be towards the back. Helping with the supplies. Patching up the wounded. That’s the part we we’re okay with. After all there are Jeremiahs in the world. People like the one, who, just before todays text, stood up against the entire city of Jerusalem in order to proclaim God’s Word. A Word which said that God the potter was done trying to form this piece of clay in to this shape. That Jerusalem and Judah were about to be shattered and would never be put back together the same way again.

And Jeremiah boldly faced the consequences for speaking that Word. The high priest Passhur had the prophet arrested, beaten, and put overnight in the stocks. And the morning Jeremiah was released, he said to Passhur, “The Lord does not call your name Passhur, but מָגוֹר מִסָּבִיב (Magoor Meesabeeb) Terror Is on Every Side. For thus says the Lord: Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends. They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on… And you, Pashhur, and all who dwell in your house, shall go into captivity. To Babylon you shall go, and there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely.

But Jeremiah also had to ask God, “What have you got me into?” This bold, fiery prophet couldn’t bear this burden any more than we could. Because right after these harsh words for the high priest, he didn’t know if he could take it anymore either. And so he cries out to God. “O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me.” He didn’t get the same respect that Jonah got in Ninevah. He didn’t get the same respect that Samuel got five hundred years earlier. Even Elijah, for all his grief, was still recognized in his own time as a great prophet. Jeremiah was the fool. The jester of the kingdom. The butt-end of all the jokes.

For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” And no one believes. They all think that God is perfectly happy with them as they are. That good things happen to good people, and they are good people. Jeremiah is the homeless man with the sandwich board proclaiming the end of Judah and Jerusalem. Nobody took him seriously, even when the Word of the Lord made it personal. And it was more than even Jeremiah could take.

For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. Every time he proclaims, another part of Jeremiah is killed by poking fun, the rolling eyes, the words behind the back, or to his face for that matter. However, Jeremiah can’t just give up either. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.

What have you got me into indeed! Jeremiah can’t bear to go on, but neither can he just stop. And that cost him everything that we might hold dear in this world. For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side? “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my close friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.” In other words, let’s see if this “prophet” can take what he’s dishing out. Let’s see if he can make these same proclamations when the tables are turned.

None of this made Jeremiah bold. None of this made Jeremiah unique. None of this made Jeremiah any better than you or I. He was handling it as well as we would. Overwhelmed, crushed, wishing it would all just end. Lord, what have you got me into? Whatever it is, could you just please take me out. Just stop the world, I want to be left off. End it all, so I don’t have to go through any more. Come soon, Lord Jesus.

You see, the world and Satan are also too much for even Jeremiah. They are far stronger than he. No amount of front line soldiering can make up for that fact. No amount of boldness or resolve or will can stand in the face of this enemy. The old satanic foe has sworn to work us woe. With craft and dreadful might he arms himself to fight. On earth he has no equal.

But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior, Jeremiah writes immediately next. Because Jeremiah does not fight alone. The weight of the battle is not entirely on his shoulders. Nor is it all on yours. Our Lord Jesus Christ bears it all on your behalf. And reminds us that our enemy is not people, the enemy is not the ones we care about. The enemy is sin, death, and the devil. And Satan uses the ones we love, the ones Jesus loves as pawns against us.

Jeremiah did not preach the destruction of Jerusalem in order to fight against Judah. He did not say the kingdom would be forever broken in order to condemn the king. He did not curse the High Priest Passhur in order to destroy him. These were all done in order to bring love to them. Bring the forgiveness of sins to them. Bring Christ himself to them. To show the divide that was there. And to prepare the way for the bridge which God Himself was delivering.

Because there is only one Dread Warrior. Only one Soldier of the Cross. Only one who goes onwards. Only one who stands up for us all. Only one who is a Mighty Fortress. And that is the one who boldly went to the cross. Who faced death on behalf of us all. Who died and was buried with the sin of us all. Who rose on the third day so that you also would live. And that one is Jesus.

And because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the rest of Jeremiah’s words  proclaim that victory. Not just despite what God has got us into. Rather, what God has got us into has been so that victory can go out to all the world. Even to the ones we love. This is what He has got you into. The persecutor has been defeated. Sins have been forgiven. And the Lord now fights for you against all the powers of hell. A battle which has already been won by Christ through cross, grave and resurrection.

[T]he Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause. Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evil ones. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Categories: Sermon

Learning the Grammar – A Sermon Genesis 1:1-2:4a

June 14, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Old Testament lesson where God creates the universe. This is the beginning. The six days of creation.

Now, there is a considerable amount of controversy over the beginning. There are those who believe that Genesis Chapter One is a complete myth, and it shouldn’t be taken seriously at all. Others see some truth to it. And take away that God is creator, but the details in Genesis are of no consequence. Yet others want to find a way to mesh what is listed in Genesis 1 with what is taught by a non-Christian worldview. And there are those of us who believe what is written here is just what God did.

Now, I have said before that I don’t care what you believe about Genesis Chapter One as long as it doesn’t go against what Paul says of the Gospel in Romans Chapter Five. For example, “[S]in came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men…” And “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Granted, that does narrow things down quite a bit. But I really wasn’t giving enough credit to God’s Word in today’s text.

That said, there are those who fight for Genesis Chapter One for all the wrong reasons. And those reasons remain wrong, even when they sound like they’re really good. Like ‘standing up for truth.’ Or, ‘protecting a Biblical worldview.’ But then treat the text as if it were some kind of bludgeon that we get to hit people over the head with. Or that it’s some kind of badge to show how good a Christian we are. Or that the only thing in the text that really matters is how we can use it to show those people out there how wrong they are. Then the text isn’t about what God has done, it’s about us, and what we do about it. The text isn’t about Gospel, it’s about Law.

Now, the Law is good. We need it to point to the Gospel. To point our sorry, sinful selves to Jesus and His Work. But to take that gift, and turn it into something we must do, that is crass unbelief. That is to reject God’s own Word of promise too. Just like those who reinterpret Creation. We all have a problem with it in one way or another. We want it to be all about us. When really, it’s all about Christ.

But how do we see that in Genesis Chapter One? All we really get out of it is that God made stuff, and it it was all good. But that’s because we’re looking at it all wrong. This isn’t just the beginning of the universe. This is also the beginning of our faith. The beginning of our learning about God. This is our ABC’s. Our grammar. Our vocabulary. The beginning of the things we need to know.

And in the beginning, things have to be real basic. Because you can’t build without a foundation. So we start learning terms. God. Spoken Word. Light. Darkness. Water. Separation. Seed. Fruit. Tree. The first three days. In the beginning, we are just hearing these things for the first time. But every one of these terms has more. And bit by bit, those foundations are built into God’s House, in which you dwell. The next three days heavenly bodies, animals, and humanity. A little more complicated. But the first bricks laid on that foundation.

Eventually, over time, we get to see the depth with which God has given to each one of those words. God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Trinity which we confess today in the Athanasian Creed. Spoken Word, Jesus entering the World. Being made known in the words we hear today. Written down so long ago. But still as powerful as ever.

We know what light and darkness are. What god and evil are. What right and wrong are. And that because we shunned the light, we rebelled against God, we are separated like the Day is from the Night. Like the waters above are separated from the waters below. Like the dry land is separated from the water.

However, Water also joins together. Reunites us with God in Baptism. Baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit as our Gospel lesson today says. In water there is death and life. Death to the old Adam in us. Life for the new man created by God. Separating us from the world. Separating us from our sin.

Spoken Word and Seed also are together. As the Word of God is planted in us by its proclamation. Grows in us as it is watered. Ground, Water, Seed, all come together again. And what grows in us bears fruit. We have faith. A tremendous gift of God. But a gift that comes only from a tree. The tree of life. The tree where good and evil come together. The tree of the cross, upon which Jesus died. Died for all our sins. Died for our rebellion. Died to bring Creator and Creation back together from our separation.

But tree is not separate from the third day. Because on the third day from the cross, Jesus rose from the dead. First fruits of those who had fallen asleep, says St. Paul. It is that fruit who hung on the tree of the cross and rose again that gives those seeds out that grow in us. From Him comes the soil and the water. From Him comes the light that give us growth. Because this Jesus is the Word. This Jesus is God. And that good news is to be preached to the whole creation, Jesus tells us in Mark’s Gospel. Fish and birds. Animals and all creeping things. Sun, moon and Starts. And especially to you. The crown jewel of God’s creation. The ones make in the image of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The image of God.

So creation isn’t just some story. It isn’t some myth that some dude a few thousand years ago made up to explain why we’re all here. It also isn’t some stick we get to hit people with until they fall in line. Nor a test to see if we’re believer enough for God. No. Creation is the beginning. Not only of all things, but of our understanding. Creation is the foundation upon which all the gifts of God are built. Creation gives us the words, the Word made flesh, by which we understand who Jesus is, and just what He has done for us.

This is good news. Because creation and new creation are the same. And it’s not up to you. God has made you. And even though you have fallen into sin. Even though you have rebelled against Him. God also makes you new. And makes you very good. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Eldad, Medad, and the Holy Spirit – A Pentecost Sermon on Numbers 11:24-30

June 5, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Old Testament lesson, where Eldad and Medad begin prophesying in the camp. It’s an account that makes sense for Pentecost, because we have the Spirit descending on the Elders just like the disciples in Acts. And those Elders speaking the Word of God because of it. It’s kind of like a preview of what will happen later on. But if we take this account by itself, placed in the context of the book of Numbers, it ends up feeling a lot more out of place.

Because this account is placed right in the middle of a whole lot of trouble. On one side, the people were sick of manna. That’s at the beginning of chapter eleven. On the other, Miriam and Aaron were speaking out against Moses. That’s the beginning of chapter twelve. And right on each side of this story about the elders, God is getting ready to chastise the people by giving then exactly what they want. Making the quail so thick that there was nothing else to see. We haven’t even touched chapter thirteen where the spies come back from Canaan too scared by what they saw to enter the land promised to them by God.

In the midst of all this, God says to Moses, in chapter eleven, starting at verse 16 “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone.

In the middle of this mess. In the midst of everything falling apart. In with everyone this frustrated and angry, there is God. Not just as a king whose orders aren’t being followed. Not just as a Lord who is disciplining a rebellious people. Not just as justice personified. But as God giving His gifts to this people. Giving in mercy and compassion and love.

Because it’s this people, and their seventy representative elders, that God pours out His Holy Spirit upon. That’s no small gift. That’s no mere passing bout of mercy from a judgmental God. That pouring out is a gift far bigger than even a parcel of land in the Middle East. And for that moment, those seventy elders prophesy. That is, they speak the word of God, while they stand in that place.

Well, we say seventy. But the text then tells us that only sixty-eight of them were there with Moses and God around that tent. Eldad and Medad, two of the seventy elected elders of the people stayed in the camp. Why would they do that?

I don’t think it was because they were too old or sick. Someone else would have been chosen if that were the case. But it wouldn’t be too far fetched to believe they were staying in camp because they were upset with Moses. Maybe Eldad and Medad were the ones leading the complaining about the manna. Maybe they too shared the objections of Aaron and Miriam. Maybe they were so fed up with all this, that this refusal was their protest. After all, that’s the exact same way we protest the things we don’t like among God’s people and in His Church today.

Pastor does things you don’t like? We’ll show him by not coming to church. Those people have too much say, and lead us in the direction we don’t want to go? I can just stay home. God not living up to my expectations? Saying all the wrong things? Not giving me what I want the way I want it? Then I absent myself until He gets it right.

The worst part is that we’re okay separating ourselves from the people of God. From His Church, whether Old Testament or New. All over my own personal preferences. We think so much of ourselves, that we assume God can’t get along without us. We hold ourselves hostage, with the ransom being the desires of our hearts. Dump that manna. Get rid of that Moses. Forget that kind of God and go back to Egypt. And I’ll be there if you guys will just get on board. It’s a position of selfishness. It’s a position where we make ourselves into our own gods. And that is no exaggeration. We sin egregiously. And given the context, I feel pretty safe in assuming Eldad and Medad are right there with us.

God disciplined the people whining about the manna with a plague. God disciplined Miriam’s discontent of Moses with leprosy. God disciplined the people’s fear of the promised land with forty more years of wandering in the desert. Until that entire generation had died. All those over twenty years of age. Including Eldad, Medad, the seventy elders, Aaron, Miriam, and even Moses Himself. Only Caleb and Joshua lived to see the day they crossed the Jordan and received what God had promised.

So how does God take care of Eldad and Medad, who refuse the summons? Who refuse to go see God? Whose refusal was a sin easily equal to all the things this rebellious people had already done? How does God take care of them? He pours out His Spirit on them. Even while they are pouting in their tents at camp. God pours out the Holy Spirit. And they speak the Word of the Lord to anyone who will hear. Despite their sin. Despite their anger and frustration. Despite everything else. The proclamation of God’s Word is above it all. And it’s coming from their lips.

News comes to Moses and the sixty-eight. And Joshua, Moses’ assistant from youth, wants Moses to stop them. Because Eldad and Medad had already gone against Moses by not showing up. What could their prophesying be but trying to take Moses’ place. And Moses says, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!”

And in Acts today, it happened, just as Moses had hoped. Or, perhaps, prophesied. Starting with twelve. Swelling to three thousand. And growing every day since. All prophesying. Speaking the Word of the Lord. Speaking Jesus, crucified and risen for you. Speaking forgiveness through that death and resurrection for all sinners. Forgiveness for all who grumble against God. Forgiveness for all who have ever hated someone whom God put in their lives. Forgiveness for all who idolize themselves. Forgiveness for even the Eldads and Medads out there.

Because God has poured out His Spirit on you. You have been baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus says. That baptism is God’s work, God’s pouring out, all on your behalf. Baptism puts that river of living water from Jesus in your heart. A new birth of water and the Spirit. There aren’t two baptisms, but one baptism. Just as there is only one Lord and one faith and one Father of us all. And whether you received that as an infant, or on your deathbed, that baptism is God’s gift that keeps on giving. Because there is His Spirit in you.

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit himself, will say on this Pentecost day, “Be baptized every one of you into the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and your children.” And that promise in no way conflicts with the fact that only the death and resurrection of Jesus saves you. Because Paul will also say of Baptism, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? We were buried therefore by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might have new life.

And because of that baptism, the Spirit of God now resides in you. Just as it did with the sixty-eight elders who spoke God’s Word. Just as it did with Eldad and Medad. Just as it did with Peter and the apostles. Just as it did with the three thousand baptized on Pentecost. Just as it did with the people in the Christian Church throughout history, including today and beyond. As far as God will have it go. We prophesy. We speak the Word of the Lord. We speak Jesus. And that Word concerning Jesus gives life to a dead world.

That means despite our sin. Despite our idolization of self. Despite our anger at God and each other, we are forgiven. We are loved. We are people of God. Just like Eldad and Medad. And whether we’re ready or not, God will speak through us in order to deliver Christ Jesus to the world.

God has joined us to something much bigger than ourselves. Much bigger than a personal relationship. God, through baptism into Christ, has joined us to God’s people who span the entire length of history. Their story is our story. Their God is our God. Their forgiveness is our forgiveness. Because we are all found in Christ, who has indeed saved us all, through His death and resurrection.

So this Pentecost Sunday, we are reminded again of the gifts God gives. We are reminded in familiar words that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, My Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the last day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon
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