A Right to Eat the Most Holy Sacrifice – A Sermon on Hebrews 13:1-17

August 25, 2016 Leave a comment

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What if I were to say that something is better than cleaning the septic tank? You’d understand that maybe that something isn’t so great. What if I were to say something is better than chocolate? You’re expectations would then be a lot higher, at least for most of you, right? But what if I were to compare it to something you’ve never heard of before? This thing is better than that new video game, No Man’s Sky. That thing is better than Hatch and Redpath’s Concordance to the Septuagint. I’m not really telling you anything, unless you know the context of those things.

Likewise, what if I were to say that something is even greater than the sacrificial system in the Old Testament? Does that actually tell us anything? Well, that’s the point of our Hebrews text today. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. Um. Yay us?

Moses didn’t come down off the mountain with just the tablets of the Ten Commandments. God also sent down with him the pattern for the tabernacle. That there would be priests who handled the sacrifices for the inevitable sin that those Ten Commandments would show. That offerings for sin were needed so that the people of God could have forgiveness. And those offerings had to be specific. They had to be exactly what the Lord told them to do. And when they weren’t. When Aaron’s eldest sons thought, “God doesn’t really care how we do this.” When they did it their own way, they died. God put them to death Himself. Right in front of everyone at the altar.

The details had to be exact, because if everyone just did what they thought was right, there would be nothing to point to the death and resurrection of Jesus. And so we have all those details in Leviticus. And those details all point to Christ’s death. There were sin offerings, burnt offerings, and thank offerings. Each with a different purpose. All pointing forward to Christ’s offering of Himself. But the sin offering in particular is the focus of Hebrews today. If anyone privately sinned, they were to take a goat or a lamb to the tabernacle. They were to lay their hands on the head of the animal, and confess their sins out loud, placing their sins on the sacrifice. And then, by their own hand, they were to cut the animal’s heart.

A priest would be standing by to catch the blood in a small basin. And then the priest would butcher the animal. The blood was daubed on the four corners of the bronze altar in the courtyard, then poured around the base of the altar. No one was ever to drink the blood. Because the life of that animal was still there in its blood. And that blood was the most holy element. The organs and the fat were then burned completely upon the bronze altar. This was God’s part. The flesh was then cooked, and eaten by the priests alone. The meal was considered holy, and it must be eaten to finish the sacrifice. The sin offering was not complete until the priests were done eating.

And in this way, as is written in Leviticus, “Thus the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed in any one of these things, and he shall be forgiven.” The person bringing the sacrifice didn’t receive a symbol of forgiveness. They didn’t get the foreshadow of forgiveness. The forgiveness that Christ ultimately won was actually theirs. Delivered to them by the means of the eating of the sacrifice. This was the meal that the priests had not only the right, but the responsibility to eat. And by their eating, they bear the sins of God’s people.

However, things were different if it were a public sin offering. Such as for the entire people of Israel, or for the High Priest, who by his sin brings guilt on the entire people. In such cases, it was necessary to sacrifice a bull. This time, the High Priest brings the animal into the tabernacle. The High Priest lays his hands on the bull’s head and confesses the sin. And the High Priest kills the bull, catching its blood in a small basin.

Instead of using the blood to daub the corners of the bronze altar out in the courtyard, he brings it inside the holy place, and daubs the corners of the altar of incense that is inside. He also sprinkles blood toward the veil that separates the holy place from the holy of holies, where the Ark of the Covenant rests. This is different than the Day of Atonement sacrifice, where the High Priest goes behind the veil with the blood. Though there are a great number of similarities between the two.

After the blood is daubed and sprinkled, the rest of it is brought out and poured at the base of the bronze altar in the courtyard. The organs and fat are burned upon the bronze altar, as usual. But then the meat is not consumed by the priests. Or anyone. This meal is taken outside the camp and burned on the ash heap. No one is to eat of it. It’s not allowed. It’s too holy to be eaten. And yet, forgiveness was still given to the people.

So, what happened when Christ Jesus became our sacrifice? What happened when our Lord died on the cross for all our sins? The exact same thing. Our Sacrifice was offered up by High Priest Caiaphas. Our Sacrifice was killed while bearing the sins of all people. The blood of our Sacrifice was poured out. The body of our Sacrifice was taken outside the camp. The flesh of our Sacrifice endured God’s fiery wrath, and was reduced to nothing. And our Sacrifice bestowed on us the forgiveness of sin.

As great as the tabernacle sacrifices were, the sacrifice of Christ was better. And now we know why God insisted on having them done in just the right way. So that we can know just what the author of Hebrews means when he says, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.”

They have no right to eat, for it was a sacrifice for the public sin of all people. Christ’s blood was in the holy place. And His body burned outside the camp. And yet, Jesus says, “Take eat, this is my body. Take drink, this is my blood, shed for your forgiveness.” “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” John was the son of a priest, and served in the role of God’s High Priest at Jesus’ baptism. There was no greater High Priest than John the Baptizer. And yet, the least in the kingdom of God is greater. You are greater. Because now you eat the sacrifice that no High Priest ever could. Jesus gives us the meal that is too holy for even the High Priest, and says this is yours. A holy meal for your forgiveness. Jesus takes the blood that is too holy for the High Priest to drink, and says this is yours. Jesus says in this blood is life. My life. And I give it for you.

And like every sacrifice for sin, the sacrifice is not complete until those who are supposed to eat it have eaten it. Unfortunately, today is not a scheduled communion Sunday. Maybe we should think about changing that. Not to turn the gifts God gives into a Law for us to follow. But because the sacrifice that Christ Jesus gave on that cross really is everything for us.

Because this is the feast Jesus is talking about in our Gospel lesson. Christ invites us who are poor in Spirit, crippled in our faith, lame in our walk with God, and blind to the light of Christ to this great feast. We can’t ever hope to repay Him. But that’s not the point. The feast is Christ Himself. His body and blood for our forgiveness. Which God foreshadowed long ago at the tabernacle and the temple. And now it continues throughout His Church, and even into eternity itself. And He has given you a right to eat the most holy sacrifice. Because now you are all priests greater than the old High Priest. You enter places more holy than the Holy of Holies. You eat the sacrifice too holy to be eaten. You are children of God. And to that, there is no comparison. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Will Few? Will I? – A Sermon on Luke 13:22-30

August 20, 2016 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In Luke’s thirteenth chapter, Jesus doesn’t pull any punches. You’re not going to hear a whole lot of sunshine and rainbows here. In verse three, Jesus says, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Verse seven, “for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’” In verse fifteen, Jesus calls an entire synagogue hypocrites, for insisting that Jesus do his healing on some other day, rather than the Sabbath.

Later on in verse 34, Jesus will lament, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken.” This is the context where we read the tough words of today’s text.

Someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Whew. Sure glad Jesus said those words to them, and not to you and me, right? They needed those warnings. But we’re safe. After all, we know we’re walking that narrow way. We know the master wont shut the door on us. We know the master knows us. Because we ate and drank in His presence. We know He taught in our streets, or at least around our tables. He knows where we come from. And we’re no workers of evil. Of course we’re going to sit around the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Of course we’re part of those who come from the east and the west, and the north and the south. Because we’re good Christians.

But isn’t that exactly what every Pharisee in Jesus’ day could say. And couldn’t they say it with even more conviction than we do? After all, they walked the way of the Law better than we do. For one, they actually know it. And they also care what it says. They weren’t content with calling a half hearted attempt as their best effort. They didn’t let “I’m not perfect” be a convenient excuse. There was never a case of, “At least I’m better than that guy.” The Law was everything to them. And they did it better than you.

And they did eat and drink in the presence of God. They brought their sacrifices to the temple. They gave the fatty portions of their animals to God for Him to consume on the bronze altar. They gave the blood to be poured at the base of the bronze altar for their forgiveness. And while God ate His part by fire, they ate theirs along side of Him. In repentance, in dedication, and in thanksgiving. And they did it better than you.

Likewise, God did teach in their streets. Literally. Not just a helping hand with a vague hope that somehow something of God might get known. Maybe by osmosis. Because heaven forbid we actually say anything. No, God sent His prophets to preach His Word out loud with actual words. Creative Words that carried all the power of our Lord with them. And their forefathers believed. Because they’re the ones who came back and rebuilt the temple after the fall of Babylon. And that Word was faithfully passed down from generation to generation. That Word mattered more than sports. Mattered more than sleep. Mattered more than life itself. And they shared that Word better than you.

And yet, not even this was enough. Their best keeping of the Law, their best sacrifices, their best proclamation of the faith, none of it opened the narrow door. What makes us think our half-assed attempts can do any better? What makes us so sure that we wont hear the same thing from God? Why shouldn’t we expect to likewise hear, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!”

So will those who are saved be few? Sure sounds like it. Only those who enter by the narrow door. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, a few prophets. Oh and all kinds of people from the East and the West, and the North and the South. Or, as John described in Revelation, a multitude that no one can number. Because Jesus actually doesn’t answer whether or not few will be saved. Thank goodness, because if the answer is yes, we believe ourselves elite, like the Pharisees. And if the answer is no, then we think just about anyone can make it, and so why bother trying. We’d use either answer wrong. So Jesus answers a different question. He answers whether or not you can be saved.

And if today’s text is written for us. If verses twenty-two through thirty are for our ears. If Jesus’ strong words are really meant to be taken to heart, then maybe that answer is no. At least it is in light of the Law. But there’s a greater context to Luke. A context that we see in the very first verse of today’s text, where we read, [Jesus] went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And what is Jesus going to Jerusalem for? He’s going there so that the first in all importance might become last. The creator of all things is going there to be humiliated by His creation. God Himself is going there to die. And Jesus dies for you.

How narrow a door is that? It’s a door so narrow, that only one may ever walk through it. Strive to enter by the narrow door. The Greek word for ‘strive’ is αγωνιζω. Where we get our word ‘agony’ from. And Jesus indeed was in agony. Jesus suffered. Jesus bled. Jesus was crucified. All to pass through that door for you. Every Law that needed done, Jesus did. Every sacrifice that needed to be made, Jesus made. Every Word that needed to be proclaimed, Jesus proclaimed. Jesus outdid our best efforts, and our “best efforts.” And by His death, He has opened up the door to the feast.

We recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We sit at the table with the prophets. We kneel at the table with people from East and West, and North, and South. And we’re not just eating with God. God is feeding us Himself. He is the sacrifice. His flesh is given to us for food. His blood is given to us to drink. His life is given to us so that we may have life forever. And we, who had nothing of our own to bring. We, who had nothing to give to God but our sin, and shame, and guilt. We who were last of all men. We are made first. Jesus says to us, there is no one more important than you. That’s why I gave my life for you. That’s why died for you. That’s why I rose for you.

Jesus does give us a warning here in this text. When we want to bring our own self righteousness through into the kingdom of God, we will always find that door closed. No matter how good it is, no matter how hard we plead to keep it, no matter how much it helped others, none of it fits. We come instead with nothing. We come as the last of all men. Saying only, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And Jesus answers, “Well, how about that. Sinners happen to be exactly who I saved.” Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

In Memoriam – Denny Holthus

August 20, 2016 Comments off

Job 19:23-27, Psalm 23, John 10:27-30, John 14:1-6.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There are a lot of hats that Denny wore throughout his life. A number of roles he played. Offices, if you will. Husband. Father. Grandfather. Coworker. Family. Friend. Today, there is one hat, one role, one office that matters even more than all of those. Denny is a beloved child of God. A sheep in Christ’s flock. Jesus laid down His life for Denny. Jesus acknowledged Denny before the Father in Heaven, just as He promised in Denny’s  confirmation verse. Jesus clothed Denny in His own righteousness by baptism. Fed Denny His own body and blood for the forgiveness of sin. Spoke His creative Word over Denny to give faith. And Denny is right now resting in His arms. Christ has prepared a place for Denny, and Denny knows the Way.

What exactly is the way? That’s Thomas’ question in today’s text. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Jesus spoke these words the very night He was betrayed. The night before He went to the cross. The night before He died.

And there is a temptation to see death itself as the way that Jesus was talking about. Because, you know, we can find it in our texts. Job confessed that after his death, “I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself.” Psalm 23 puts God with us in the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus Himself says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” And where did Jesus go? Jesus died. Therefore, why wouldn’t we think of death as a gateway to God? Why wouldn’t we think of death as how Jesus takes us to Himself? After all, that’s what Jesus says here, isn’t it? He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the death”?

No. Jesus instead says the exact opposite. I am the way, the truth, and the life. In every one of our texts today, Christ is with us, not because of our death, but rather in despite of it. Job proclaims, And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! And even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Jesus talks about us, not in the words of death, but in terms of life. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

Death can never bring us closer to Christ. But the good news is this, Christ refuses to let death stand in His way. There’s where Denny’s hope is. That’s where our hope is as well. Despite death, Jesus is here with life. Likewise, we don’t die to be with Christ. He’s here with us right now. He joins us in death by going to His cross. And He is here with us in the resurrection.

For on the third Day, Christ Jesus rose from the dead. And He has raised us all in that same resurrection. And at the last he will stand upon the earth. So that on the last day, we too will be raised from the dead. Death’s reign will end. And we will have our bodies and souls returned together again. The ones we love returned to us again. Not as spirits, or angels, or some other form. In his flesh, Denny will see God. And in your flesh, you will see God. Your eyes will behold Him, and not someone else’s. And there, eternal life is yours. The house, prepared by Christ, with many rooms belongs to you. And you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. You and Denny both.

That’s definitely something worth looking forward to. But we’re still here in the now. But Christ hasn’t left any of us alone in the now. Of course, Christ is with Denny right now. Both are eagerly awaiting that final day. But Christ is here with us too. So that no matter how we’re feeling right now, we’re not alone. If we’re sad, if we’re angry, if we’re not sure how we’re supposed to feel, Jesus is with us through it all. Proclaiming to you that His death and resurrection has prepared a place for you. That you will not have that place snatched away by anything. That your Redeemer lives. And He lives for you.

Jesus doesn’t just show us a way, He is the way. Jesus doesn’t just have the truth, He is truth. Jesus doesn’t just present us with life, He is the life. He is all of those for you. He is the Good Shepherd. He is taking care of the needs you didn’t even know you had. He is giving to you, me, and Denny eternal life. Death isn’t the entrance for this. Death is far more sinister than that. But death has already been overcome by Christ. And it is now no longer anything to be feared. Because Christ is the way, Christ is the truth, and Christ is the life.

I know that my redeemer lives! What comfort this sweet sentence gives. He lives, He lives who once was dead. He lives my ever living head. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Divided for Life – A Sermon on Luke 12:49-53

August 14, 2016 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There’s a very familiar passage from Luke’s Gospel that I’m pretty sure you know by heart. It’s been read aloud so many times by so many people, that it’s one of the most recognizable passages in all the Bible. And we probably know it best in the old King James. 

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Is there anything our world wants more than peace? Why do you think the Christmas story is so popular? Everyone wants peace. From every imaginable background. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached peace. Dwight Eisenhower. Mahatma Gandhi. The Dalai Lama. Jimi Hendrix. Napoleon, of all people. People from all kinds of different backgrounds and different religions all want peace. So isn’t it wonderful that Jesus being born brought that peace? Glory to God in the highest indeed! And on earth, peace, good will toward men!

That’s what makes today’s text so hard. That’s what makes today’s text the last thing we ever want to hear. Because it’s Jesus Himself who says, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Which would you rather hear? Jesus telling you that he has not come to bring the peace you want, but rather division? Or John Lennon saying, “Give peace a chance”? Perhaps, we can find a way to keep the peace we want. Perhaps, it’s easier to pretend we just didn’t read these words of Jesus here. And instead we look only at the message from the angels to the shepherds. Especially without any nuance or context from the rest of Scripture. Because, really, that’s the message we want to hear. Everything’s going to be okay. Everyone is going to get along. God’s here to make us all one big and happy family.

The only problem with that is that the world out there actually believes these words from Jesus. It’s one of the few places they do. They see that the one problem that’s keeping the world from peace is Jesus and His Christians. And so, when a shooter in San Bernadino claims ties to ISIS, the headlines are about how praying to Christ in such a tragedy is the worst thing you can do. When another shooter in Orlando shouts Allahu Akbar, the headlines are all about how Christianity is the real reason 49 people died. I have been personally told that if anyone is dumb enough to believe in Jesus, then they deserve to be met with nothing but rage.

And this is anything but a left or right political issue. Both sides are backing away from us. Both sides are cutting ties. Both sides look at us with disdain. In fact, every side has something against us. Because if it weren’t for people like you and me, the world would already be united in peace. The world would already be a better place. And whether or not it’s actually true doesn’t matter. That’s what the world believes.

But there is truth to the fact that Jesus did not come to bring peace but division. And He brings that division, because the world already has something to bring it all together as one. The world is already united. United in death. Because everyone dies. And what could be more peaceful than death? The dead cannot provoke us. The dead cannot take what is ours. The dead cannot fight us. The dead cannot wage war against us. The dead cannot kill us. The dead cannot hate us. The dead have no way that they can ever hurt us. The dead exhibit all the qualities we could ever hope for in peace. So why not find our unity there?

And that’s exactly what our world does. It extols all the glorious benefits of death. It enthrones death as a mighty king above all life. It asks you to revere death from afar. And not to look too closely, lest you are devoured yourself. Which is precisely where the Gospel gets into trouble. It’s the Gospel’s fault that we look at the losses death brings instead of the benefits. It’s the Gospel’s fault that we dethrone death from it’s perch. It’s the Gospel’s fault that we examine death very closely, and discover that it has already been beaten. Because there was a man who claimed to be God. And that man told everyone who would listen that He would be killed, and then He would rise on the third day. And then He went and did exactly that. Death would never be at peace with Him ever again. And by that dividing of Himself from death, He divided us from death as well.

But how do we now put these two parts of Luke together? Peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and, I come not to bring peace, but rather division. Because peace and not-peace are exactly the opposite of each other. But really, I don’t think that’s too hard. Because Jesus will not make peace with death at all. The peace that is given instead comes in unity with the One who ends death forever. And while that is accomplished on Easter morning by Jesus’ rising from the dead, it will come to its full fruition on the last day, when everyone’s death will be overturned. That’s the peace.

In the mean time, however, we take the words of Jeremiah’s text today to heart. Let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Likewise, what does life have in common with death? And it is the Word made flesh who broke death to pieces. So no matter the cost, we speak that same Word. We speak that same life. We speak that same Jesus.

For indeed we look with the author of Hebrews to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Yes, that kind of division hurts. That division may cost us the ones we love. That division may even kill us. However, We are baptized with the baptism He was baptized with. We have Christ’s cross. We have Christ’s burial. And we have Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We have been divided from death. Divided from our sin. And He has put us on the side of life. What a blessed division we have been given. And we pray that division for everyone. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

On the Occasion of the Wedding of Jim and Lorre Mangrum – Matthew 22:1-14

August 14, 2016 Comments off

Greek Text: Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. How do wedding sermons usually go? We start by taking something good, namely marriage, and then try to understand it through something even better, like God’s love for us. We understand how we’re supposed to love each other, cherish each other, sacrifice for each other, by seeing just how perfectly Jesus loved, cherished and sacrificed for us. What better way to understand something? What better way make that something better than by using the best as an example to follow? And that’s why us pastors usually get up in front of everyone to tell you why marriage is like the kingdom of heaven.

Only, in today’s text, Jesus does it the other way around. The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding. And not a very good wedding at that. Jesus takes the perfect, and compares it to a total disaster. No one wants to show up to wedding of the king’s son. They beat up the king’s messengers. And the king responds by burning their cities to the ground. Even the people off the street who get roped into the wedding can face the ire of a frustrated king. So much for having the perfect day. And while we have no problem seeing a very imperfect world, because we know we live in an imperfect world, we’re not so sure about God comparing His perfect kingdom of heaven to that.

It’s one thing to try and make something better by comparing it to the perfect. It’s another thing entirely when you compare a good thing to something far worse. What in the world is Jesus thinking? We might be left with the impression that the kingdom of heaven isn’t perfect. That somehow imperfect people could be a part of it. Or worse, somehow, even the worst of sinners could be a part of it. Oh. Maybe that’s the exact point.

Jim and Lorre, you both know that there is both a better and a worse in marriage. You both know that there is both a richer and a poorer. There is both sickness and health. Things aren’t always good. You know that death does indeed part. That death leaves widows and widowers. Marriage is far from perfect. And yet, here you are again. Because marriage is worth it. The one you love is worth it. And that’s how Jesus tells us what the kingdom of heaven is like.

He looks at the people He created, and because of our sin, we are anything but perfect. And yet Jesus says that we’re all worth it. Even though by our rebellion, we don’t have the better, only the worse. Even though by our selfishness we don’t have the richer, only the poorer. Even though by our constant sin, we do not have health, only sickness. Even though we part from Christ by death, He refuses to part from us. In fact, He joins us precisely in our death, so that we will remain together with Him.

That’s why Jesus points to a wedding. The most broken and horrible wedding you can imagine. And He says, That’s what the kingdom of heaven is like. Because as broken as that wedding was for the king’s son, there is still a wedding. As broken, and sinful, and horrible as we are to Christ, and to each other, Jesus still says, I take you to be my wedded church, to have and to hold from this day forward. Because we’re not here to take some tidbit about Christ and learn about marriage. We’re here to take some tidbits about marriage, and learn about Christ.

That’s exactly what our Ephesians text says as well, if we’ll listen to it. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior… Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish… This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Whether or not we can live up to that kind of standard, we know that’s the standard Christ sets for Himself. And He does live up to it. Because He has indeed given Himself up on our behalf. He has indeed sacrificed everything for His bride. He has given His life on a cross. God Himself has died for you. And by that death has taken on His shoulders every poorer, every sickness, every worse that has every been, and ever will be. By that death, He has paid for every sin. Every broken Law. Every unfaithfulness. Christ Jesus has kept His promise. He has kept the vows He has made to you. As we heard the Lord say from Hosea, And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.  I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.

Jim and Lorre, today, you are married together. But today is also the day the Jesus renews His vows to us. He has you. He forgives you all you sin. He clothes you in His baptism. He proclaims to you His love and faithfulness. And He makes you part of His family. That’s why every time the Church gathers, it’s a wedding. And every wedding is a joy. Because whether or not a marriage lives up to the hopes of the kingdom of heaven, we know for sure that the kingdom of heaven is indeed like a marriage, warts and all. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Blood in the Water – A Homily on Matthew 3:1-17 for Grass Valley Cont. Ed.

August 9, 2016 Comments off

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Who are the kinds of people John baptized in the Jordan river? Who do we baptize today? Is it the ones who are already clean that need to be washed? No. Rather it’s the ones who need to repent. The ones who are born sinners. The ones who are unclean. And in baptism, we are made clean.

That cleansing is easy enough to see with water. Especially for us who have been raised in a place where clean drinking water is not only common, it’s expected. We can go to just about any tap in the country and find drinkable water coming out of it. But what if that water had something in it? Would we trust it so easily if we were in a third-world country? What if it came out of the tap brown or green? What if it came from the river, just down stream of the sewage spout? What if it were the water saved by the butcher after cleaning his cutting boards? Would we still look at that water in the same way? As something that could make us clean? Perhaps, but it does take some of the luster off. I don’t think I’m going to try that kind of water in the font at my congregation.

Because we love baptism. Some of us like to see it anywhere we can. And we see foreshadows of baptism all throughout the Old Testament. From the Spirit hovering over the waters in Genesis 1. To the flood in Genesis 6-8. To the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 14. To the water coming from the rock in the wilderness. To the crossing of the Jordan by Joshua and the people. To Jonah being thrown into the sea. And those are the ones the New Testament points us to. Some of us are quite willing to see a prefiguring of baptism pretty much any time there’s a water reference. And, sometimes, even when there’s not.

So why don’t we spend more time on the one place in the Old Testament that looks the most like the baptism that Jesus uses in our congregations today? In Exodus chapter thirty, The Lord said to Moses, “You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.”

Architecturally, the bronze basin is to our font, as the bronze altar is to our altar. Likewise, when we are washed in Christ’s baptism, we are made priests. That washing brings us into the tent of meeting, His Church. That baptism is the entrance rite that brings us near the altar to receive Christ’s body and blood. Our sins are washed away in that water and Word, so that we would not die. That baptism is ours forever. You see, the parallels are clear. And they’re clear when we look at John’s baptism as well. The people are baptized into repentance. They are prepared for God in the flesh to come to them. They are washed from their sins. And yes, John’s baptism isn’t quite all what Jesus’ baptism is. But the people could draw the parallels to the events at the temple, and understand. You’d think that this would be a great place to find baptism.

Though perhaps there is a reason we aren’t so keen to look there. The priests aren’t the only thing washed in the bronze basin. Leviticus, chapter one gave directions on how to prepare sacrifices. And verse nine tells us this. “But its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water, and the priest shall burn all of it on the altar.”  And where was the water to wash with? The bronze basin.That’s actually kinda gross. Because what’s all over those insides is now in that basin. The same basin that the priests wash themselves with. And most of our people believe that kosher laws were supposed to be for sanitary reasons. This is not sanitary. This is not clean. It’s as revolting as using dirty water in our baptismal fonts. How can it be clean?! There’s blood in the water!

And that’s precisely the point. There’s a reason why when John says to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus is the sacrifice. And as the sacrifice, Jesus needs to be washed at the basin. Jesus needs to be washed in the water. Because if we’re washing priests, there needs to be blood in the water. If we’re going to the tent of meeting, there needs to be blood in the water. If we’re going to be at the altar, there needs to be blood in the water. If we want to live, and not die, there needs to be blood in the water. If we’re going to have our sins washed away, there needs to be blood in the water. If baptism saves as Christ promises, then His blood absolutely must be in the water. And it is.

From all our experience in the world, we want to cry out “unclean!” But what God has made clean, do not call unclean. You have been washed and made clean by the blood of the Lamb. You have dipped in your robes, and they have been made as white as snow. The blood has been shed for your sin. And forgiveness has been delivered to you. Through that baptism, Christ has opened heaven to you. The Father sees you, and says, “This is My beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” The Spirit comes and rests upon you. And the fulfillment of all righteousness has indeed been given to you.

Categories: Sermon

The If-Then Continuum – A Sermon on Luke 12:22.34

August 6, 2016 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus says to us in our Gospel lesson this morning, Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life. Well, there’s something easier said than done. How are you doing on that one, by the way? How’s your anxiety level? And if we filter that through today’s text, what does that say about you? Figuring this out  is something we’re actually well practiced in. Jesus says, don’t be anxious, and so we cannot help but measure our own anxiousness. Just like when Jesus elsewhere says, do this, or don’t do that.

Jesus says believe, so we measure our belief. Jesus says, love one another as I have loved you, and we measure our love. Jesus says, do not hinder the little ones from coming to me, so we measure how many kids we have in church each Sunday. We live our lives measuring, and using those measurements to tell us about who we are. We take what Jesus says, and turn it into if-then statements. What does it say about us if we’re anxious about our lives? What does it say about us if we’re not?

We will then fall somewhere on the if-then continuum. And the range is pretty wide. If I’m anxious, then I’m not doing something right. If I’m anxious, then I’d better do more for the Lord. If I’m anxious, then I’m not pleasing God. If I’m anxious, then I’ve failed Christ. If I’m anxious, then I’m taking steps away from my salvation. If I’m anxious, then I might be lost. If I’m anxious, then God hates me. If I’m anxious, then God isn’t keeping up His end of the bargain. If I’m anxious, then maybe there is no God. If I’m anxious, then what good is God to me?

But what if I’m not anxious? What if I’m really pretty okay on that front? There’s an if-then continuum there too. If I’m not anxious, then I must be doing something right. If I’m not anxious, then I’m doing the Lord’s work. If I’m not anxious, then I’m pleasing God. If I’m not anxious, then I have succeeded in the tasks Christ gave me. If I’m not anxious, then I am taking steps towards my salvation. If I’m not anxious, then I’ve kept my end of the bargain. If I’m not anxious, then I know that I truly am saved. If I’m not anxious, then this is proof that God loves me. If I’m not anxious, then maybe I don’t even need God? If I’m not anxious, then what good is God to me?

You see, it doesn’t matter which way we end up going, the end result is the same. And we always do this. We take what Jesus says, measure ourselves by it, and play the if-then game. We do that with anxiety here. We do that with faith, with love, with children, with everything. And we do that because we are all sinners. And every one of us would take the promises of Christ and turn them into a work for us to do. We take the very thing Jesus does to save us from our sins, and we use it to multiply our sins. We take the Gospel itself and turn it into a Law to be followed.

Abraham does this exact same thing in our Old Testament text. Sure, God promises Abraham to make him into a great nation, and that the Savior would come through His family. And we heard the third time He promised that a few weeks ago with Sarah and the three visitors. Today’s text is the second promise. Because Abraham looked at the first promise and concluded, “If I don’t have an heir, then I’m not doing something right.” And God said no, you will have an heir, your very own son. So right after this text, Abraham impregnates Hagar. Thinking, “If I have an heir, then I am doing something right.” Abraham had again taken God’s promise and turned it into an if-then statement. And again, God says no. That’s not how this works.

The Gospel doesn’t have any if’s. Jesus’ death and resurrection takes all the if’s away. There is no part of your salvation that is contingent on you. There is no part of your resurrection that requires you to do your part. That’s how scandalous the Gospel is. And Jesus’ words in todays text are actually all Gospel. Do not be anxious is not a command, it’s a proclamation. There is no looking at if you’re anxious or not. Jesus’ dying and rising answers every anxiety you could ever have. 

Worried about what you’re going to eat tomorrow? Worried about what you might wear? Your Father knows that you need them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you? …Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. Not as a command, but to let you know just how much God does indeed take care of you.

But what happens when those things aren’t there? What happens when the things that preserve our lives aren’t around? What happens when not even life itself can be sustained? After all, our text reminds us that no one can add even one hour to his life. Everyone dies at some point. Therefore it seems to be true that we need our if-thens. If we don’t take care of ourselves, who will? If we don’t take care of ourselves, then surely there is nothing but death ahead.

But Jesus takes these ifs and thens away as well. Sell your treasures to have treasures in heaven that cannot be lost. Again, this is not a command but a proclamation. The food in this world decays. It goes bad. Or it is devoured by the bugs before long. So Jesus presents you with a food that never rots or molds. A food that lasts forever. A food that is here at our table today. Jesus’ own body, and Jesus’ own blood. This supper is a treasure that gives you Christ. And by this treasure, your every sin is forgiven.

Likewise, the clothing in this world wears out. Threads go bare. Moths eat holes. Stains ruin what used to be new. But Jesus gives you clothes that last forever. Because He has clothed you in His baptism. With the water and the Word, you now wear the robes of His righteousness, make clean by His blood. No one can ever take your baptism away from you. And it will never wear out. This too is a treasure. This treasure is yours. And where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

There are no if’s or then’s when God gives His gifts. And Jesus creates those gifts just by speaking them. Jesus speaks, “Light,” and there is light. Jesus speaks His cross, and He goes to the cross. Jesus speaks His resurrection, and there is resurrection. Jesus speaks, “Believe,” and we have faith. Jesus speaks, “Here’s your treasure,” And there our heart is also. Jesus speaks, “Do not be anxious,” And by that Word takes our every anxiety onto Himself instead. Jesus speaks because you are far more than birds or grass. Instead, you are the one for whom Christ died. You are the one to whom Christ speaks forgiveness. You are the one whom has been saved to eternal life. And there’s no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

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