I Thirst – A Good Friday Sermon

April 17, 2014 Leave a comment

After this, Jesus, knowing all was finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge of a hyssop branch and held it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished,” and He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit.

Can it really be? Jesus, of all people, thirsty? The same Jesus who told the woman at the well, “whoever drinks of the water I will give him will never be thirsty forever?” The same Jesus who stood up at the feast of booths and said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink!” The same Jesus who said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

And what does Jesus get to drink? It’s not the fine wine he provided at the wedding at Cana. It’s not the cool water of Jacob’s well. It’s not even the cup he gave to the disciples less than twenty four hours before. Where he said, “Truly I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” No, the fruit of this vine had not aged well. The fruit of this vine had turned to vinegar. The fruit of this vine was sopped up with a sponge, stuck on a hyssop stick, and put to Jesus lips.

But that can’t be right either. This wasn’t the day. This couldn’t be the day. Because it was the same day, by Jewish reckoning, that Jesus made the promise not to.   And the wine wasn’t new. And this wasn’t the kingdom of God. It’s all wrong. Except that it wasn’t. Rather, this is exactly what God had planned from so long ago.

For my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink. Psalm 69:22. All thirty six verses of Psalm 69 are a picture of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Maybe even more so than Psalm 22 which we read last night. But big deal. Jesus fulfilled what was written. But does that mean anything for you and me? Yes.

Jesus being thirsty means that water of life which He has within Him, He didn’t use for Himself. Jesus saved that water of life for you. But the wine vinegar he could take. Because there on that cross, everything is made new. On that cross is the kingdom of God. It is finished. And it is yours.

One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness–his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth–that you also may believe. The water given at the death of Jesus. The water of life. All for you. So that you will not be thirsty ever again. You are baptized in this water. Crucified and buried with Christ. Together with Him at the cross. Because Jesus has brought His cross to you now.

And with the cross here, Jesus can indeed drink the fruit of the vine with you anew in His kingdom, which has no end. Not wine alone. But drink from the fruit of the vine. The fruit of the one who says, “I am the vine.” His own blood shed for your forgiveness of which Jesus says to take and drink. And to share this moment with you is what Jesus has been thirsting for all this time. The death of Jesus is where your thirst is quenched forever. Through water and blood. Shed for you. So that you will live with Christ always. It is finished. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Bread [Extra]Ordinary – A Maundy Thursday Sermon

April 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take eat, this is my body.”

There is nothing quite as ordinary in the world as bread. Bread was there in the beginning. When God cursed Adam, He said plainly, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” Bread is common to all peoples of all time. The Egyptians ate bread. The Romans ate bread. The Chinese ate bread. The Native Americans ate bread. And though each place may be a little different in grain or style. There is no mistaking that it is in fact bread.

Bread is such a staple that even prisoners are given bread along with their water. We ask in our prayers for the Lord to give us this day our daily bread. And even in a world that has rejected wheat gluten, bread is still universal. Gluten free bread is now available at Whole Foods starting $6.00 a loaf plus tax. No one is ever asked to get by without bread. And if they are, as a French princess once said, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” Let them eat cake.

However, as ordinary as bread is, as little as we think about it, God has considered bread to be one of the most vital parts of all creation. Which is really strange. Because bread doesn’t grow on trees. We don’t dig it out of the ground. It takes work to make bread. Our work. A farmer growing grain. A miller to grind the grain into flour. A baker to knead and let rise and cook. A whole community working together. All to put bread on the table. And that’s great. Community is certainly a noble purpose. But that’s not the primary thing that makes bread important to God.

No. Bread is important to God, because that is where He is present with us. Here with us. And this has been the way it was since before the night when Jesus was betrayed. The first Passover, the feast of unleavened bread. Where God was with them. The presence of God, protecting them from death. In the wilderness, God gave His people bread from heaven. Manna. And where the manna was present, so was the Lord. God commanded an omer of the Manna to kept in the holy of holies. In other words, keep this bread in remembrance of me.

The manna was stored in the ark of the covenant. Which was the altar on which the blood was poured on the day of atonement. The only day anyone ever went inside. And so the bread was tied to the blood. Tied to death. Tied to the forgiveness of sins. Tied to the presence of the Lord.

But this wasn’t the only bread at the temple. Part of the priestly duties at the tabernacle, and later the temple was to make bread every Sabbath. Twelve loaves to be put on a table just outside the curtain to the holy of holies. This was called the bread of presence. Show bread. Showing that God was indeed present with His people. This bread was a meal for God. In other words, the Lord’s supper. But God did not eat this meal. And each Sabbath, the priests, and the priests alone were commanded to eat this bread made holy by the presence of the Lord.

So in the temple bread is anything but ordinary. Bread is crucial. Bread is holy. Bread is how the Lord is with His people. Bread is the presence of God. And this fact was not lost on Jesus throughout His ministry. He doesn’t send the 5,000 away. Not because they might starve on the way home. But because they’re in His presence. The bread made holy by it’s proximity to God is no longer restricted to the levitical priests. But is given to every man, woman, and child. And at the end, it isn’t just twelve fresh loaves of bread, but twelve basketfuls of bread still holy. Bread from the presence of our Lord, ready to be given to still more people.

And when those people pressed Jesus for more bread. He gives them bread. The true bread from heaven. “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.Man does not live by bread alone. But this is not bread alone. Nor is it spirituality alone. But both together. This is my body given for you.

So every time after this. Every time the Church gathers, there is the breaking of bread. At Emmaus. At Jerusalem After Pentecost. At Troas. At Corinth. On a boat lost in the middle of the Adriatic Sea. It was the custom that every service, every gathering have the breaking of bread. Because Jesus says, “Do this often in remembrance of me.” It is only recently that we gave up this practice, on account of pragmatic reasons that no longer exist.

But tonight, we have the bread of presence. Christ truly present, in body, soul and Spirit. Tonight we have the bread from heaven. Covered in blood from the final Day of Atonement. Poured out on God’s altar as a sacrifice for all sin. Tonight we have the bread of life. Christ Jesus delivering His death to you. His body given. His blood shed. For you to eat and drink. So that your sin is forgiven. So that you are made holy. So that God is present with you now and always. So that you are no longer ordinary. But belong in God’s temple, now and forever. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Communing Younger Children

The question that inevitably arises from the idea of bringing younger children to the communion rail is why. Why do that? After all, that isn’t the way it’s usually done. And that’s what confirmation is for, right? Besides, they need to know what it is, and they’re not old enough to understand.

I wholeheartedly agree that anyone who comes up to receive the body and blood of Christ needs to know what it is, and have some understanding of what this is all about. And so, the objections listed are valid objections. Likewise, many of the reasons given to go ahead with communing children hold very little weight. Just because they really seem to want it, see others doing it, and it breaks my heart to see them not get it, doesn’t mean that is ample reason to commune children. After all, Paul’s warning to the Corinthians is to Christians. “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Corinthians 11:28-29 ESV)

But even though those reasons are insufficient, and the reasons for objecting are good, I still believe that our children should in fact be given the opportunity to commune at the altar of our Lord. Therefore the solid objections must be answered, and a right reason be given. children should be admitted to the Lord’s Supper, because Christ Himself expects them to be there.

However, before we can prove the thesis, it is necessary to first deal with the objections. As to whether bringing children is different than the way it has usually been done, it is all too easy to brush aside things that have the excuse “we’ve always done it that way.” Because often things are done that way for good reason. Knowing the reason is the important to whether something should be done or not. The problem comes when one tries to identify what exactly it is that used to be done.

In the United States, there have been countless different ways of doing confirmation. And many churches have simply found their own way. Borrowing from multiple denominations. Creating a hodge-podge that usually has little rhyme or reason. We commune after confirmation possibly because that’s what the Methodist church the next town over did. We confirm during 7th and 8th grade because maybe that’s what the Anglicans did over there. Very little was theologically grounded. Because we had to do something. And the way it used to be done was no longer feasible in this context. We had to build things on the fly, and work out the bugs later.

Except we never worked the bugs out. And this way of doing things became normal. A lot like the woman who cut off the end of her ham when cooking it. Her mother had always done it that way. And her grandmother. It wasn’t until asking her very old great grandmother that she found out that the ham was cut because her pan was too small to hold a whole one. That was an excellent reason. Necessary even, but no longer needed for the children, whose pans were already large enough.

So also it is with First Communion and Confirmation. There may have been times when the reasons we do things the way we do made sense. Like maybe only having one pastor within a hundred miles, as was common in those days. Or perhaps another good reason. Those reasons no longer exist, and so it is time to re-evaluate. Which I believe adequately addresses the first objection.

The second objection is similar to the first, in that confirmation was modeled after what was needed at the time. However, historically, this has not always been so. Luther himself did not think highly of Confirmation, since the Roman Catholic Church has only declared the rite a sacrament less than 100 years earlier. Not that Luther was against education. That certainly was not the case. He desperately pushed education, not just for people of certain ages, but people of all ages, from birth to death. But Luther never saw confirmation as tied to the reception of the body and blood of Christ. In fact, Luther often communed children as young as seven.

Therefore confirmation wasn’t a rite to admittance to the table. It hadn’t been in the Church for the 1400 years after Jesus. It wasn’t after Luther. It only became that in the legalistic Roman Catholic Church around 1425 or so. And then later in the legalistic church bodies that both denied the actual presence of Christ in the Supper, and insisted on a previously unheard of “age of reason” as a requirement for faith.

But Luther did say the following in the introduction to his Large Catechism: “For it is not our intention to admit to [the Sacrament] and to administer it to those who know not what they seek, or why they come.” (LC 7:1) Which seems to line up very well with our third and fourth objections, that those who come need to know what it is and understand what it’s about. Which is true.

However, are we right to say that children cannot know that this bread is the body of Christ given for them? Or that the wine is the blood of Christ shed for their forgiveness? What level of understanding is required? To understand that this wafer of unleavened bread has become the body of Christ at Jesus’ Word? To understand this wine has become the blood of Christ at Jesus’ Word? And yet is also still bread and wine? That is within the realm of a child’s understanding. How the Word of Christ does this? That’s beyond even my understanding as a pastor. And I’m not sure that there’s any intermediary stage on understanding in there that children cannot grasp but 8th grade graduates can.

Of course, no one can understand it without first having heard it. No one can know what it’s all about without teaching from somewhere. And there are certainly a lot of children who just have not been taught. Even within our own church bodies. But the fact that they don’t is different from saying they can’t.

So having dealt with the objections, let us move into the reasons why we should be bringing children who know and understand to the table of the Lord. In our introduction, we listed some reasons people give that were not good reasons. Because they all spring from an emotional reaction rather than a Scriptural position.

To know if we should admit children, we need to know what the Lord’s Supper is. And that always goes back to Jesus’ words, “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for your forgiveness. Do this.” The Lord’s Supper is the center of the Christian life. Every time the apostles’ gathered after Jesus told them these words, they gathered around the breaking of bread, which is what Jesus did in instituting the supper. And the first part is short hand for the entire Sacrament. Jesus intended this breaking of the break, this Eucharist, this Communion to be for all Christians from that point on.

Are our children Christians? Do they have faith? If we are to believe Jesus, their faith is greater than ours. Two separate instances, Jesus insists on this. “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” (Matthew 18:2-5 ESV) “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14 ESV)

There is Jesus, in flesh and blood. Should we hinder them simply on the basis of their age? They are just as much members of Christ’s Church as we. Perhaps more so, if we believe Jesus’ words above. We should not be telling them that there are parts of the Gospel that aren’t for them. We shouldn’t be starving their faith when it is growing the most. Children need food to grow, and this food is not bread alone, but the Word made flesh, that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

With the 1 Corinthians 11 caveat that we insist on for all people. We do not want people in their ignorance to take communion to their harm and “eat without discerning the body.” (1 Cor 11:29b). We do not want them to be, as Paul writes, unworthy.  But children can discern the body, when taught, when they are made disciples (literally in Greek: students). They can examine themselves. And answer the question of worthiness. We confess in Luther’s Small Catechism: “Who, then, receives such Sacrament worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation is, indeed, a fine outward training; but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins. But he that does not believe these words, or doubts, is unworthy and unfit; for the words For you require altogether believing hearts.” (SC 6:5)

There is a Rite of First Communion available in the Lutheran Church. It is advised that those participating know about their faith. And an important part of that is knowing by heart the Ten Commandment, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. The Ten Commandments so that they can know the Law in as basic a form as there is. The Apostle’s Creed so that they can know the Gospel in as basic a form as there is. And the Lord’s Prayer so that they know that they can go to God with everything in both the realms of Law and Gospel.

Also is an examination by the pastor. And this is in order to see if they understand the basic parts of the Christian faith. Who is God? Are you a sinner in need of forgiveness? What did Jesus do for you in that regard? What is the Lord’s Supper? Et cetera. It needs not be a formal examination, but a casual one. A conversation about the faith. And afterwards, there can be used a rite in the Divine service to acknowledge their status as communing members.

But then, how to make them disciples, make them students? This should be starting at home with Mom and Dad. Parents should be teaching their children the faith. Being examples to them of what a Christian life looks like. Not just on Sunday mornings, but at all times. However, such families might not even exist at this point, we have become so lax in this area as a whole. So it would take some dedication.

As far as setting an age, I’m personally against it. One child may be ready at 6. Another might not be ready until 12. The age of the child is not particularly important. The faith of the child is. And that is what the examination is for. Not to have a legalistic examination, but because I cannot read hearts. And therefore have to trust the words they speak.

But how does one get started? There are resources available to help parents get started. Concordia Publishing House has a book, Lutheranism 101 for Kids, which parents can go through together with their children daily. And it covers the same topics as the informal examination questions. For Parents who don’t know a lot about their own faith, there is the full version of Lutheranism 101. A book we have had here at Our Saviour’s before.

I propose that we have some of these books on hand to give to people who want to use them. Yes, that costs some money, and the budget is always tight. But I believe the resources to be worthy ones to use. We would not need many right now. We don’t have that many kids in the congregation. And my family already has these. But for those who don’t, it would be good if we got this into their hands for their use in their homes.

Ultimately, the goal is to give our children the Gospel. All of it, not just parts. Over and over again. Just as God gives them to us. Our children are our example of faith, as Jesus says, not the other way around. They can’t help having childlike faith, because they are in fact children. So, as a my seminary professor of mine once said, “Thank God that He even lets those of us with less faith, namely grownups, be served at His table.”

The Church of Dry Bones – A Sermon on Ezekiel 37:1-14

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is our Old Testament Lesson, where God brings Ezekiel out to the valley of dry bones.

What is the Church for? Why do we come here each Sunday? And ‘because we have to’ isn’t the answer I’m looking for. What about to worship God. To give thanks and praise to our creator. To be together with other Christians in order that our faith might be encouraged and strengthened. To learn and study and find things out about God. To find out how to live life the right way. To be able to do the good works which God would have us do in service to our neighbor. To be salt and light to the world. Those are all good things. Godly things. But they are not the most important thing about Church.

You see, there was once a church who did not worship God in a loud voice. A church that did not praise God in song. That did not give thanks to the creator of all. Their faith was not encouraged by each other’s company. Their faith was not strengthened by their unity. They did not learn. They did not study. They did not find things out about God. They could not live life the right way. They were unable to do good works which God tells us we are to do for our neighbors. They could not be salt. They had no light in them. Because every single member of that church was dead. And not spiritually dead. Not metaphorically dead. Actually, physically dead.

The vultures had long since devoured their flesh. The wind whistled through their bones. And the sun had dried the skeletal remains. No one was there to bury the bodies. No one was there to care at all. These dead were scattered all across the floor of the valley. Yet this is a church. This is people for God.

Don’t be silly, pastor. If those people were part of God’s Church, it was not in their bodies. Their souls were part of the Church Triumphant in heaven. They were with God. They have a church better than we do today. Free of sin. Free of Satan. Never to worry about death again. So, it’s ridiculous to call that collection of unburied bodies a church. There were no souls there left to save. Just a collection of dried out old bones. After all, it’s easy to believe the old Gnostic heresy that you are a soul, but only have a body.

But if that’s the case, why does God call Ezekiel to preach to them? Why does God place Ezekiel as a priest over them? As a prophet to them? As a pastor? Before, Ezekiel was forbidden to even touch the dead in His priestly office. But now, he is brought out to this desolate place by the Lord. Set in the midst of this valley of death. Surrounded by the dead on all sides. This is his new congregation. This is his new community. And to them, he must speak the Word of the Lord. And that Word, which Ezekiel is to preach, is the only thing that matters. A word of death and resurrection. No other word would do any good at all.

The situation at that Church and the situation at ours is no different. We could use the bones as an example of being spiritually dead ourselves. Or speak of being metaphorically dead in our sin. And that would not be wrong. In fact, that kind of death is of even more consequence than physical death. But to us here in this life, it is little more than a philosophical construct. A Platonic form. A great idea. A matter of faith. We make glorious Gnostics. Dividing the realm of thought and the realm of physical life as though the two had nothing to do with each other.

And yet, Thus says the Lord God to these bones Behold, I will cause breath, or a better translation, I will cause the Spirit to enter you, and you shall live. Because the word we translate as breath is the same word for the Holy Spirit. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put the Spirit in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

The Holy Spirit isn’t just there for faith. The Holy Spirit is there for life. Physical life, spiritual life, it’s all the same thing, parts of the same whole. It is no accident that Jesus gave up the Spirit when He died on that cross. The Spirit gives life. The Spirit is life. Therefore, as St. Paul says in our epistle lesson today: If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

So Prophesy regarding the Spirit; prophesy, son of man, and say regarding the Spirit, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O Spirit, and spirit upon these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the Spirit came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

We don’t just preach a spiritual resurrection. Not just a resurrected life of ideas. Our God is just as concerned about our physical bodies. You are not just a soul, you are a body and soul created together. Our abbreviated reading left it out of the Gospel lesson today. We wont make that mistake Wednesday evening. But when Jesus goes to Lazarus’ tomb, before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus wept.

Jesus wept. Because Jesus does not want to see anyone die. Not His friends. Not His enemies. Not sinners who have earned their sentence. Not even those who are just about to be raised from the dead. On average, 150,000 people die each day. We hear that number, and shrug it off. Yet Jesus weeps for every single one. Every day. Every one of those people matter to Him. And He knows each one by name.

And so Jesus does not just raise people willy nilly. He doesn’t raise everyone like He did with Lazarus or with the people of the valley of dry bones. He doesn’t raise them so that they might die again. Instead, Jesus joins them in death. And Jesus goes there not to rest in that death. But to overthrow death itself. The death on the cross is to destroy sin. The resurrection is to destroy death. And that action of Jesus is the Word of God. The Word made flesh and dwelling among us. And that Word proclaimed gives that gift to you.

We all must hear the Word of the Lord when it comes to death and resurrection. Like Ezekiel preached. Like Paul proclaimed. It isn’t just one of the things we talk about in Church. It isn’t just the starting place of the faith. It isn’t just the springboard we use to get to more important things. This is what Church is for. The death and resurrection of Jesus given to you. The Word made flesh will put your flesh back on your dried out old bones. He will put His Spirit in you. And you will live. That is what Church is for. Thus says the Lord God: …I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live… Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

 

Categories: Sermon

A Christian Life: Crying Out – A Sermon on Psalm 142

March 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is our Psalm, Psalm 142.

What should the Christian life look like? What should people see when they come across you in the street? What should they find when they encounter you? How about what St. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5? Always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Hard to argue with St. Paul. Hard to argue with the will of God in your life.

If you’re a good Christian then, you should be able to smile at hardship. Take the lumps life gives in stride. See the bright side of the train wreck. And soldier on through anything. Isn’t that what doing good does? Isn’t that what rejoicing always means? Isn’t that what giving thanks in all circumstances looks like? And doesn’t that take prayer without ceasing? For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
And so, we have a picture of what a good Christian does. Who a good Christian is. And while nobody measures up perfectly, we can still try. And, with some practice, and help from the Holy Spirit, our lives should begin to look like that. Doing good. Being happy. Praying regularly. Giving thanks for even the things we wish were not.

If that is what the Christian life looks like, then just what exactly is Psalm 142? With my voice I cry out to the Lord. With my voice I plead for mercy. I pour my complaint before him. I tell my trouble before Him. To cry out in pain is not rejoicing. To plead for mercy is not giving thanks in all circumstances. Poring out a complaint is not the kind of prayer God is looking for. And to tell God my troubles takes time away from doing good to others. None of this looks in the least bit happy. God forbid we ever find ourselves doing any of these things. Because that’s not what Paul said was God’s will for our lives.

Therefore, to cry out must be some kind of sin. To plead for mercy in this life is to not have enough faith. To complain to God is a blasphemy. And to tell your trouble is to incur His wrath, not unlike those who wandered in the desert for forty years. So be stalwart in your resolution. Hold fast in your faith. Be strong for the Lord. And be happy with everything that happens to you.
That kind of attitude strikes us as very pious. It has a ring of holiness to our ears. It sounds right. And even matches up well with a piece of Scripture.

But it is all wrong. No, not the words of Paul. But what we do with them. We rejoice and suppose it drives away our sadness. We pray assuming to be rid of our pain. We give thanks hoping to put an end to the grief. We treat Paul’s words as a formula. A formula for the Christian life. Do this, and everything will be okay. Do this, God will wipe the tears away right now. Do this, and the Gospel is but another law.

And that’s not what it is. We can’t just made the sadness stop. We can’t be rid of the pain. We can’t end the grief. And Psalm 142 acknowledges that fact. With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. These aren’t just David’s words. They’re ours. Whenever we’re overcome. Whether by pain or grief or shame or sin.

These are our words. We don’t stand mute before our Lord when everything falls apart. We have a voice. And God has given us that voice. To tell Him how we hurt. To speak aloud what we endure. Even if we’ve brought it on ourselves. We boldly go to God and say, When my spirit faints within me, you know my way! In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul.

But this we’re afraid to say. Can we be so bold? To go to God and accuse Him this way? No one cares for my soul? Surely that can’t be right. That doesn’t strike us very pious. That doesn’t have the ring of holiness to it. That doesn’t sound right. And it doesn’t sound very Scriptural. After all, Job asked questions like this, and God didn’t sound too pleased with them.

And yet here they are. We spoke them already. This is our text today. And those are the words that are on our hearts, whether we want them to be or not. Our heart does wonder where God is. When our world crumbles around us, our hearts cry out. God, take notice! God, Give me refuge! God, care for my soul! God reads your heart. So why cover it up and pretend that He can’t see it?

But our Psalm doesn’t end there. While we hurt, while we wonder, while we plead, we still know to whom we cry. I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me! Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name! The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.

And how does God do that? How does God deal bountifully with me when I’m here of all places? By making this Psalm of ours His as well. Where we are, there Jesus is also. Crying out. Pleading for mercy. Pouring out His complaint. Telling His trouble. Jesus cried out as He gave up His Spirit. Jesus pleaded for mercy, mercy for us with His very life. Jesus poured out His complaint. Poured out onto the ground in His own blood. And told the world His trouble. The trouble of us all. The trouble of death itself. And no one took notice. No refuge remained. No one cared for His soul.

But here is where we received our portion in the land of the living. This is where our cry is attended. This is where we are delivered from our persecutors. This is where we are brought out of prison. This is where we give thanks to His name. Giving thanks in all circumstances. Because no matter the circumstance, Jesus died for you.

Paul’s words only make sense with Psalm 142 when both are seen through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Christian life is not our victory over sin. The Christian life is not our overcoming when confronted with death. The Christian life is not our standing resolute in the face of the devil. The Christian life is Christ, who alone has done these things. This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
That means it’s normal for a Christian to hurt. It’s normal for a Christian to suffer. It’s normal for a Christian to wonder why. Because we are not better than Jesus. Who also hurt, and suffered, and asked why, using the words of a Psalm in prayer.

Jesus gives us the words with which we too can go to God, in every circumstance. Not only in the Lord’s Prayer, but the Psalms as well. Even our Psalm this morning. We cry out to the Lord because He hears us. We plead for mercy to the Lord because He gives that mercy. We pour out our complaint, because that complaint is already on our hearts, whether we acknowledge it or not. He sees it. And answers it. We tell our trouble, because He is with us in that trouble. And will not let us go.

So then, no matter how bad it is, we always have one greater to rejoice in. No matter what we have done, we have one for which to give thanks. Because Jesus died on your behalf. And has risen from the dead in order to bring you with Him into life. This is what Paul was talking about. Not just about sounding right or feeling good. None of those things are sure. The Word of God is sure. Psalm and epistle both, together. Giving the whole picture of what our Lord has done for you. Surrounding you, as our text today says, with His righteousness. And dealing bountifully with you in the forgiveness of all sin. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

***** at the Well – A Sermon on John 4:5-26

March 22, 2014 Leave a comment

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 meets a woman at the well.

And not just any woman, mind you. Not just some Jane Doe off the street, who is exactly like everyone else. Not some misunderstood victim of circumstance. No. This was the kind of woman you warn your sons about. The kind of woman who will tell you what you want to hear, only to stab you in the back at the earliest convenience. We have words for this kind of woman. But as they are rude to say aloud, we mutter them under our breaths, shaking our heads. This woman earned every word of them.

Maybe she would go to the well at midday, not so much from shame, but in arrogant defiance. Relishing every glare. Taunting others to say even more. And when people turned their backs to leave her presence, it was her victory over them. Such an attitude seems consistent with what we see in our text.

This day, when meeting a man at the well who had the audacity to ask her for a drink, her words bite back. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” And in those words, she tries to shame Jesus. Or anger Him, or drive Him away. Any of those would be her victory. Any of those would be her gaining control of yet another situation.

Instead, Jesus answers with some strange words. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is saying to you ‘give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.

But rather than simply receiving the gift Jesus was trying to give, the woman is still trying to triumph over Him. Shame Him into turning His back on her like she could do to everyone else. Win, so that she can tell herself that she does have control. Over everything. “Sir, you have nothing with which to draw water and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.

But Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

This man was fool in her eyes. Babbling incoherently. In her eyes, He deserved the shame she was about to dish out to Him. Deserved to be made a laughingstock. And she would do it. “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.Jesus said to her, Go, call your husband.

Ah no. Not going to fall for the oldest trick in the book. Not going to miss this opportunity to silence this man’s ludicrous boast. Not going to walk away from this victory. This conquest. “I have no husband.

You are right in saying ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” And with those words, the tables turned.

Was it that this woman had lured in five husbands to for the purpose of conquering them? Did she successfully drive them away? Did she kill them? Anything is possible. But it was plain that this woman was using people and then discarding them when they were of no more use. This was no poor unfortunate soul. No unlucky woman who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was a predator. And even when the prey fights back, she was not done.

“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Which fathers? Why Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And sure, the Samaritans claim them for their fathers, but they are most definitely the fathers of the Jews. So what makes you better than they? Are you willing to say that they are wrong as well? Doesn’t that destroy your own position you Jewish prophet?

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

What was it about these words? What was in here that changed her heart? Because in hearing these words, everything changed. Hearing these words, she gave up being the conquerer, and was willing to be seen the fool. Hearing these words, she ran back, crying out to anyone who would hear, ““Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ? Why did these words make this happen? Because in these words of Jesus, there was room for even someone like her. God was seeking her. And that meant this living water, which before sounded like a madman’s fantasy, was in fact God’s reality for her.

Was she worthy of such a gift? Certainly not. If it were up any one else, it would not be given to her. If it were up to anyone else, there are a lot of people who would be excluded. Those gifts would be saved for the people who were good. People who helped others willingly. People who had compassion on those less fortunate. People who worked well with others. People who were pleasant. People who tried their best, despite the circumstances. People who deserved it.

But our God does not receive good people. God does not give His gifts to good people. His promises are for those who are nice enough. His love isn’t for those who are compassionate enough. His salvation isn’t for those who have led the best life they could. All of them are rejected. Because not a single one of them are good enough.

You know who God receives? People who have no real redeeming virtues. People who make your skin crawl. People you don’t want to be around. People we look down our noses at. People who are self-destructive. People who commit crimes against humanity. People like the woman at this well. This is the kind of People God to whom gives His gifts. Even sometimes on their deathbed, when there is no longer a chance for them to pay for all they have done. Which one are you?

The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. And the truth is that you are also a damned sinner. And Jesus endures that damnation on your behalf. The entire wrath of God. Over every ill word. Over every lustful look. Over every stolen possession. Over every shame delivered. Over every person maliciously hurt. Over every rape inflicted. Over every child murdered. Over every genocide ever carried out. That’s how much Jesus endured for you on that cross. That’s how much Jesus paid by means of His death. That’s how much Jesus forgives. That’s how much He wants you to share in His resurrection from the dead. That’s the news that changes hearts. Like we see in our text this morning.

You already know the gift of God. You know who it is who says to you, “Give me a drink.” You know this gift of living water. Because Jesus has already given it to you. You are baptized. And that baptism wells up inside you to eternal life. That baptism is Jesus’ promise for you. That baptism is Jesus Himself with you. Jesus, with all the benefits of His death and resurrection on your behalf.

That’s what Jesus loves to give. And He gives, not because of what you did. But despite it. Because you are too precious in His eyes to not save. You are too loved to not die for. You are too dear to not sacrifice everything. You are part of the one to whom Jesus has pledged it all. You are His Church. And He seeks you in Spirit and truth, no matter what. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Is the Gospel a Bitter Pill? – A Sermon on John 3:1-17

March 15, 2014 Leave a comment

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 Nicodemus comes at night to visit our Lord. And Jesus gave him these words. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born ανοθεν, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” With this Greek word, Jesus could either be talking about being “born again,” or “born from above” Nicodemus misunderstands Jesus to be talking about being born a second time. And asks, “How can a man be born when he is old?

Maybe Nicodemus just isn’t very good at Greek. Because clearly Jesus intends the other meaning. Nicodemus is a Jew, after all, and didn’t they usually speak Aramaic in that day? Or perhaps, he’s just not very smart. And opens his mouth before thinking. Most commentators through the years since this was written, chide Nicodemus for his mistake. Even Luther, who considered Nicodemus rather blind in his ignorance.

However, as we hear from Paul’s experience, Pharisees like Nicodemus were very well educated. They were well versed in the languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin. A ruler, as well as a Pharisee, Nicodemus would have excelled in both secular and theological studies. And as such, the meaning of ανοθεν as both “again” and “above” surely would not have escaped his grasp. But since that’s the case, why does John record this brilliant man making such an egregious error?

However, I think Nicodemus was trying to be as faithful as possible. As a Jew, as a Pharisee, as a ruler of God’s people, I think he honestly believed that he was born from above. Not just as a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But as one who held God’s Law with deep respect. As one who kept God’s commands as well as anyone might. Who loved the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might. Who loved his neighbor as himself. Surely if anyone could claim to be born from above, it would be the one who followed God’s Law. The one who did good at every possible turn. One like himself. Therefore, in Nicodemus’ mind, it was more conceivable that one would have be born a second time, as insane as that sounds, rather than for his good life not to have been born from above.

But in response to this, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Baptism. Water and Spirit working together. Giving birth to a New Man. Giving faith to the one baptized. Whether they are just a few days old, or nearly a hundred years old. As we confess, one baptism for the remission of sins. This is the entrance to the kingdom of God.

But, “How can these things be?” asks Nicodemus. For Nicodemus went to the temple regularly. He offered sacrifices regularly. He was in repentance regularly, at the place God had appointed from long ago. He was in the kingdom of God. Why then go to John the Baptist out in the wilderness? Or to Jesus’ own disciples? He went directly to God already. And received forgiveness for His sins already, according to the Law.

And that’s the kicker. According to the Law. Nicodemus believed that he had successfully bought his forgiveness. Successfully earned his favor with God. He had kept up his end of the bargain. And that’s how he understood being born from above. However all those sacrifices done by the flesh only gave birth to flesh. All that work of the Law only gave birth to more Law. What Nicodemus was missing was the Gospel.

We too can be well intentioned like Nicodemus. We want to do the right thing. Perhaps the Laws of God we want to keep aren’t the same ones as his. But they are godly Laws nonetheless. And keeping them surely will have great rewards. God wants us to make disciples of all nations. So, if we just reach people, then we’ll save them from their sin. If we do the right things, people will come to our doors. If we get the right kind of people in the door, we’ll save our church from slowly dying. If we do all that, then surely we are Children of God. People born from above.

But upon hearing this, Jesus says to us that we must be born ανοθεν. And assuming that we are already born from above, we ask how we can possibly be born when we’re already old. After all, the youth of our church are gone. And those who are young and outside the church have no interest in coming. Can we make ourselves young by crawling back into our mother’s womb? Can we make ourselves young by pretending we are? Can we make ourselves young by an idea, a program, a gimmick? We’ll try anything if there’s a chance it could be successful. And Jesus has to remind us that that kind of thinking is all Law. And what’s missing in it is the Gospel.

Jesus asks, as He asked Nicodemus, “You are a part of Christ’s Church, and you do not understand these things?” Jesus’ rebuke hurts. And it makes us a little angry. Of course the Gospel is important. We know that. But Jesus, we have to do something. You yourself want us to do something. Not just sit here burying what we have in the ground. And we’re trying to find that something which gives results.There are things people like. Can’t we give them those? And once they’re in the doors, we can then share the Gospel. And that’s the goal, isn’t it?

Jesus, We can reach so many more people this way. And we fulfill your command. Because, let’s be honest, Jesus, the Gospel is a bitter pill to make people swallow. And a little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down.

Why do we make such an egregious error? It does not take us long to show how much we hate the Gospel of our Lord. Yes. We HATE it. You and me both. Like a kid force fed cod liver oil. We know it’s supposed to be for our good. But we’re more interested in the sugar bribe than the medicine itself.

Why do we hate the Gospel? Is it really as bitter as we fear? Or are we like children, who turn their noses up before even tasting the meal Jesus puts in front of us? And despite Jesus’ pleading to taste and see that the Lord is good, we insist on the same old boxed works of the Law, and canned self righteousness. We want what we like and nothing else. What we like has got to be better than that stuffy, old, boring Gospel.

But the Gospel is the only thing that ever brings anyone into the bride of Christ. The Gospel is the only thing that ever makes someone part of the Church. The Gospel is the only thing that has the power to save. Not youth or age. Not this style or that. Not which projects we take on. Not what kind of people we reach out to. Not anything we do. Only the Gospel saves. And if we treat that sweet, precious Gospel like a bitter pill that goes down badly; well even dogs know how to eat the treat, and spit out the medicine. And if we ourselves do that, why should we expect anyone else to do differently?

If I tell you of earthly things, and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? And with that line from Jesus, our condemnation is complete. You and I are truly pitiful Christians. Hopelessly selfish. Hopelessly sinful. Jesus indeed has every right to withhold the heavenly things from us. Because as much as He was willing to give, we were unwilling to receive. If Nicodemus is a villain in his doubt, we are doubly so. For here is the warning, and we refused to heed it.

What will Jesus to do us who are in this state? The same thing He did for Nicodemus in our text. Proclaim the Gospel. Not as a bitter medicine that one takes for minor ailments. But as the finest food set before one who is starving to the point of death. Because even though both Nicodemus and ourselves have treated the gifts of God with contempt, the Son of Man is lifted up. The Son of Man, who descended from heaven. The Son of Man who is lifted up onto the cross. The Son of Man who takes away the sin of the world, even our sin today.

Yes, even though we have treated God’s gifts so badly. Jesus still is right here giving them once again. This is for you. A gift. Given out of love. And He keeps picking it up, dusting it off, and giving it again. Each time with as much sincerity as the first. Because this gift is important. This gift is your life. This give is your salvation. This gift is your forgiveness. This gift is Jesus Himself. This gift is His death and resurrection on your behalf.

For God loved the world in this way, loved you in this way. That He gave His only begotten Son. Gave Him to go to that cross. Gave Him over to death. So that whoever believes in Him; Not by one’ own reason or strength, but who are given that belief as a gift; Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world. God did not send His Son to condemn you. You who have treated this gift so badly. You who have sinned in so many other ways. You who have been sinned against by so many others. You who have suffered through this fallen world. God did not send His Son to condemn you. But in order that you might be saved through Him. That the world might be saved through Him. This is the Gospel.

Even while we were still sinners, Christ died for you. Even while we were still turning our nose up at His Gospel, He has given you birth ανοθεν, through water and the Spirit. Even while we still hated the Gospel, He baptized you. Were you deserving? No. And neither was I. But if He were to give it to one deserving, He would give it to no one at all. Jesus has given this to you. And it is yours.

Taste and see that the Lord is Good. Jesus continues to feed us, even when we’re still unsure whether we like this Gospel or not. He feeds us His body given on the cross. His blood shed for our forgiveness. And though we suspect it might be bitter, either to us or others, it is the sweetest grace God can give. Himself.

So we proclaim this Gospel. Not just talking about the Gospel. Not just using the word Gospel a lot. But by actually saying again and again what Jesus has done. What Jesus has given. Because in those words, in that Word, is the power of salvation. Nothing else. The death and resurrection of Jesus is, as Paul says, of first importance. The death and resurrection of Jesus is how we are born ανοθεν. Born from above. Born again. The death and resurrection of Jesus is how we see the kingdom of God.And the death and resurrection of Jesus is our entrance into that kingdom. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon
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