Not Your Personal Savior – A Sermon on Matthew 15.21-28

August 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As she ran raggedly up the road, she couldn’t believe she was doing this. She wanted to stop and catch her breath, but she dare not waste a moment. She couldn’t believe that she had just left her daughter at home by herself. The same daughter who might end up doing anything, even when she was there for her. She had harmed others, she had harmed herself. And the chaos was impossible. Leaving her alone was inviting disaster.

And yet, she had to run. She had to catch up this Jesus. The dust of the road clung the her sweat drenched forehead. She was gasping, but continuing to put one leg in front of the other as quickly as possible. And just ahead of her, she saw the one hope she had left. So she cried out right then and there. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” 

Nothing. He didn’t even look back. He just kept walking. “My daughter is severely oppressed by a demon,” she cried. She knew Jesus’ reputation. She knew that Jesus had driven out many demons down south in Capernaum. She knew that He helped anyone who came to Him down there. Often staying for hours, even days, as people lined up to be healed. Surely, He’d be willing to do the same for her, right? Right?

As she cried out again and again, Jesus’ disciples started to look rather embarrassed. These twelve jewish men looked at her, then at Jesus, then at the crowds beginning to murmur at the scene. “C’mon Jesus,” they said to Him. “Give her what she wants. Sent her away, for she is crying out after us.

Jesus didn’t even look at her. Nor at the bystanders watching this scene unfold. He instead answered His disciples. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But how could that be right? Because Jesus time and again had healed non-Jews. The Centurion’s servant in Israel. The Samaritan Leper in Israel. The healing of the people of Gerasenes, the land which was historically part of Israel, but the people there weren’t. There were plenty of Genitles throughout Israel that came with the crowds to Him. So why not here too? Why not have Jesus heal her daughter in the midst of Tyre and Sidon?

She finally caught up with them, out of breath. She threw herself at Jesus’ feet. She begged, “Lord, help me! You’re the only one who can. You’re the only one who can make my daughter well. You’re the reason I left her there. I am desperate for help, and I need your mercy.”

And here, Jesus finally looks at her. For the first time, He acknowledges her existence. He looks her in the eye and says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Now, us today need to understand. This isn’t Jesus merely playing. This isn’t some well disguised test of her faith. Jesus isn’t pretending to give her the greatest of uncertainties before praising her inevitable response. Jesus one hundred percent truly means what He says to her. Why?

What’s the context of the story so far in Matthew? Jesus conducts His ministry in Israel. Jesus teaches, and heals, and gives in Israel. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees in Israel. Jesus makes then so mad, that they want to kill Him, in Israel. But, it’s not yet time. Jesus’ death is going to happen on the Passover. So to let the Pharisees cool off a bit, Jesus heads out of Israel. As our text says, He goes up to the region of Tyre and Sidon. But while He’s there, He doesn’t teach, or heal, or give. Jesus doesn’t do any of these things, because if He did, He would be Tyre and Sidon’s savior, and not Israel’s savior. And all the promises made throughout the Old Testament would be broken.

He didn’t come to be this woman’s personal savior for the same reason. Jesus saving this woman’s daughter does absolutely nothing for anyone else. It leaves every promise Jesus made unfulfilled. It gives the impression that Jesus has abandoned His own people. And that Jesus is on the look out for only people who will serve and obey Him as the King He is. Only for people who do the right good works.

As shocking as this may sound, Jesus didn’t come to be your personal savior either. How entitled are we? Have we earned Jesus’ forgiveness by believing in Him hard enough? Are we so important, that Jesus has to drop everything else and do what we ask? Do we get salvation by ourselves, apart from Jesus saving anyone else at all? No. We get forgiveness, life, and salvation only because Jesus is Israel’s savior. Only because Jesus followed the Law given to Israel. Only because Jesus is the sacrifice called for in Israel’s system. Only because Jesus was nailed to the cross and died on Israel’s Passover. It was only in doing that, that Jesus’ death and resurrection was sufficient for the whole world.

Jesus can only be our savior if He’s Israel’s savior. If the bread is taken away from the children and thrown to the dogs, then no one is fed and all die. If this woman has her daughter healed by earning it, even if she earned it by her faith, then the death and resurrection of Jesus is robbed of it’s saving power. And this, Jesus will not do.

So when Jesus spoke such harsh words to this woman, she finally realized why Jesus could not just give her what she so desperately needed. Because if He did, He would not be able to give her the one thing she needed even more. It was not right for people to mistake Jesus for Tyre and Sidon’s savior. It was not right for her to consider Jesus her own personal savior. It was not right to take salvation away from the people that it was promised to.

Besides, to truly save her and her daughter, Jesus had to be Israel Savior. Jesus had to die on the cross outside Jerusalem. For it was there that He bore Israel’s sins. But this is the part the woman understood. Jesus paid for not only Israel’s sin, but Tyre’s sin, Sidon’s sin, This woman’s sin. Her daughter’s sin. Our sin. All of it. Only the savior of Israel can do that. “Yes, Lord.” she answers. Yes, you’re not my personal savior. Yes, you’re not Tyre and Sidon’s savior. Yes, you’re Israel’s savior. But Israel’s savior is so great, that the gifts You give to Your people, are good for us all.

“Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” And have you seen under the table when there’s children eating? There’s just as much to eat under the table as there is on top of it. Israel’s savior saves me also. Israel’s savior saves this woman’s daughter also. Not apart from keeping His promises, but by keeping His promises. This woman understood exactly that. And for this reason, Jesus praises her faith. Her daughter is healed, not because she was so faithful. Not because she asked. Not even because she had need. But because that’s what Israel’s savior does.

But as great as this woman’s faith is. There was one thing she didn’t quite get yet. She was content to be a dog under the table. As should we. The meal of crumbs is more than enough for us. The meal of bread and wine we eat today may seem like little to anyone else. But there is Christ for us. But there’s one more thing that Jesus dying for Israel did. It took all of us from under the table, to being seated at it. We are no longer dogs. But the death and resurrection of Jesus has made us children of God. Jesus saving His little chosen people, whether they understood it or not, was so big, that now even us Gentiles are brought into His Church. Made citizens. Made heirs of the kingdom. Our entitlement attitude dies on that cross with Christ. Our need to justify ourselves is nailed up there with Him. Our sin is taken away. All of it. All by the savior of a little people from the Middle East. The very people He promised to save. And He did just that. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Drowning Peter – A Sermon on Matthew 14:22-33

August 10, 2017 1 comment

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If we were to pick a favorite verse from our Gospel lesson today, which one would it be? Probably not the verse where the disciples are struggling against the wind, and not making it to shore. Probably not the one where they think Jesus is a phantasm, greeting their entrance into death. And probably not the one where Peter was afraid, and began to sink.

However, that verse where Peter gets out of the boat in the middle of the storm and successfully walks to Jesus? That one’s pretty cool. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be able to do that? And so, that’s what we think we as Christians should be doing. Getting out of the boat and walking to Jesus by faith. But all too often, we’re the ones who have failed. We’re the ones drowning when we should be standing. You know, for once, we would like to be the ones to get it right. After all, it sure looks like everyone around us is managing their lives just fine. They don’t look like they’re drowning. They look fine. So, maybe we’re the only ones out there who are struggling to keep up.

When’s the last time you asked someone how they were doing? Odds are, they told you that everything was fine. Things are good. No complains. And on the off chance that they said something other than that, how awkward did it feel? We are taught at a very young age to never disclose how we actually feel. We aren’t supposed to let people know when something is wrong. Why? Perhaps we’re supposed to be too proud to ask for help. Perhaps we’re afraid of being rejected. Perhaps the shame of need is greater than the need itself. No matter the reason, we are taught from the day we’re born to walk on top of the water. Even when you’re drowning in it. Because the appearance of being alright is more important than actually being alright.

But when everyone looks like they’re succeeding but you, things get very lonely, very quickly. And there’s no way to let anyone know. And even if they heard, they wouldn’t know what to do anyways. So we keep the surface clean. Any sin we might be struggling with must appear to be something minor. But under the surface, we can’t breathe. Fear, greed, lust, doubt, pride, anger, loss, no one must know. No one else can be allowed to see the pain I still feel. No one else can know when my temper gets me into trouble. No one is allowed to hear that I can’t take care of myself the way I used to. It cannot be revealed that I have no idea what I’m going to do to get out of this. The desires must be sufficiently covered up. The addictions must remain hidden forever. And no one can ever realize how afraid I really am.

After all, no one else has these problems. At least as far as I can see. But that’s only because they’re just as good, if not better at hiding them than we are. When we see Peter’s doubt and fear, despite standing on the water in front of Jesus, do you know the first thing that goes through my head? It’s, “Oh, thank goodness I’m not the only one.” You see, we want the outward appearance of Peter walking on the water for ourselves. But we know our sin. We know where we have hurt others. We know where we have failed to help when we should have. We know where others have sinned against us. We know that we have fallen beneath the waves. We know that we are drowning down here. And no amount of positive thinking can ever make that go away.

But no matter how lonely we feel down here, we are not alone. On the sea with Peter is Jesus. And here also, in the midst of our sin, is Jesus. And, quite possibly, that’s the last person we want down here. We don’t want Jesus to see what a mess we are. Because we’re well aware of the Law. We just no longer have a way to keep any of it.

Under the water is the last place we ever want to find ourselves. And yet, what is baptism? Don’t we confess that baptism is where the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires? Isn’t the Christian life one lived under the water? Are we not buried with Christ? What part of that sounds easy? We baptize our children, knowing full well that by that baptism, they have been targeted by the devil and the world. But we have them baptized anyways, because that is where Christ Jesus is for them, and for you.

Baptism brings the fury of the world down upon us. Baptism causes Satan to rage around us. Baptism kills the Old Adam living inside us. There is no comfortable way for that to happen. The Christian life is one of struggle. One of suffering. One of drowning. Just like Peter slipping beneath the waves in our text today. We are baptized into the death of Jesus. And we are not alone.

Look at the people down from you, or up from you. To the left or right of you. All around you are people who are drowning just like you are. No matter what pew they’re sitting in. Or if they’re in the choir loft. Or if they’re in the pulpit. Every single one of us daily drowns and dies. And there is no longer any need to dress that up, and pretend we’re all okay anyways. Every one of us is a sinner. And every one of us is in need of Christ’s hand to save us.

And that’s precisely what your baptism is for. Just as Jesus reached out and took Peter by the hand to save him, so also Jesus takes you by the hand. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Christ Jesus reaches down through the water and pulls you up. He pulls you up out of the fear. He pulls you up out of the greed. He pulls you up out of the lust. Jesus pulls you up out of the doubt, and pride. Up out of the anger and the loss. Jesus pulls you up out of your sin. Because that’s who Jesus is. That’s what Jesus does. All the rest of that drowns and dies. Buried with Jesus in the garden tomb, with the stone rolled in front of the entrance.

We still want to be Peter on top of the water. We want baptism to be past tense. We want it all to be done. But your baptism isn’t past tense, it’s present tense. It’s not I was baptized, but I am baptized. the Old Adam is still drowning. And Jesus is still pulling you up. And maybe that might be a cause to worry, except Jesus has already shown us how this story ends.

For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. Just like Peter, we call on the name of the Lord, even today. We call, because we cannot bear our sin alone. We are not alone. We have Christ Jesus, who is Himself enough. But Jesus isn’t content to leave us only there. Because He has brought us into His Church. Brought us to where there are others struggling, just like us. Where we should be able to safely say, “I’m not the only one.” Because, as St. Paul says in our Epistle lesson, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

O Christ, whose voice the waters heard. And hushed their raging at Thy Word. Who walkedst on the foaming deep. And calm amid its rage didst sleep. O hear us when we cry to Thee. For those in peril on the sea. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

He Broke It and Gave It to His Disciples – A Sermon on Matthew 14:13-21

August 5, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.””

Jesus fed the five thousand. Well, more like twelve thousand, counting everybody. And He fed them using five loaves of bread and two fish. Just think how impressive a miracle that actually is. That’s up there near the resurrection with just how impossible it actually is. Now, what is impossible for us, is most certainly possible for God. However, there isn’t anyone multiplying bread these days. Not like that. And we know that it’s not something we can actually do ourselves. So just what are we supposed to take away from this miracle that Jesus did?

Maybe we’re supposed to take our cue from the disciples. Maybe we’re supposed to not lose hope when our problems seem difficult. Maybe we’re supposed to bring our troubles to Jesus and let Him deal with them. Maybe we’re supposed to trust that our Lord will take care of the things in our lives that we simply can’t. That’s not a bad idea. Because that’s certainly better than trying to fix everything do ourselves. And sometimes it works! When we have a problem that we can’t solve, sometimes Jesus is right there, taking the very worst, and turning it around. When we’re over our heads, we trust Christ, and everything turns out okay. Sometimes. But not always. So, what happens when Jesus doesn’t hold up His end of the bargain?

Because sometimes we hand our problems over to Jesus, and nothing happens. The ends don’t meet. The relationship is not rescued. The cancer isn’t cured. The life is not saved. Whose fault was it? Mine, for not having enough faith? Or was it Christ’s fault? And does it really matter, when the result it the same?

That said, maybe you can point me to where in Scripture Jesus promises to solve all our problems by using our solutions? It’s not this text, that’s for sure. Because in this text, the disciples were presented with a problem. What to do with a whole crowd of people who thought that Jesus was more important than eating dinner. And the only reasonable solution they could come up with was to separate the people from Jesus. Every other solution required the impossible. “Send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves,” they told Him. Jesus told them no.

Is that our problem? We’re afraid to try the impossible? Since that’s what Satan wanted Jesus to throw Himself off the temple to find out, I don’t think that’s the lesson here at all. Instead, what we should be learning today is that when Jesus says no to our solutions, it means He has something else in mind. And as miraculous as the feeding of the five thousand plus was, that so many people ate, I think is almost incidental as far as Jesus is concerned. Because Jesus uses this miracle to set up what is going on at His greatest miracle.

So what happened? Jesus took bread. And when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, and…. Wait. Are these words from the feeding of the five thousand, or from the evening of Maundy Thursday, the night when Jesus was betrayed? Yes.

There are a couple of other similarities worth noting. You might also notice that the text doesn’t say they gathered the leftover bread. Rather, they took it up. It’s actually the same word used in John’s Gospel when Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate if he could take up the body of Jesus from the cross for burial. The bread was taken up in baskets, the Greek word for which you already know as something else. It’s κοφινος, where we get our word coffin from.

The feeding of the five thousand isn’t itself the Lord’s Supper, but it is one of the few things that Jesus did that is attested to in all four Gospels. It made a big impact on the disciples. So big that whenever bread was involved, this would have been the first thing they thought of. So on the night when He was betrayed, Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, “This is my Body.” And at those words, everything that happened in today’s text came rushing back. In this bread was Jesus refusal to let the people be separated from Him. In this bread there was more than enough to feed all. This bread would be taken up, gathered into the κοφινος. And so also the Body of Christ would do the exact same thing.

Jesus’ body, broken by the cross, would stop the separation caused by our sin. Jesus’ body, hanging on the tree, given unto death for their sake and for ours. Jesus’ body, dying outside Jerusalem, takes up the sin of the world, and gives us in its place forgiveness. Jesus body itself would be taken up, for He indeed died and was buried for you and me. And after we are fed, after we are bought back, after we are saved, there is still more than enough Jesus to go around.

We are still eating the very bread that is His body today. It never runs out. There is always more. Because Jesus’ forgiveness never runs out. Forgiveness for our doubting if He cares. Forgiveness for our thinking our solutions are better than his. Forgiveness for our putting Him to the test, by creating problems for Him to fix. Forgiveness for blaming Him when we fail. Forgiveness for forgetting what He has already done for us. Forgiveness for each and every sin. Both the ones we think might be unforgivable. And the ones we think are so insignificant that don’t think need forgiven. Jesus body and blood cover them all.

So what about our problems today? Is Jesus here for those? Yes, He is. He might not have the same solution in mind that you do. But His first priority is to not have you, or anyone else separated from Him. And, as we heard last week, not even death can do that. No matter the problem we face, Jesus did in fact answer it at the cross. Jesus has overcome it in His resurrection. And with patient endurance, we wait for the final day, when there are no more problems. Knowing that only Jesus gives us the patience and the endurance to get through today as well. And one of the key places He does that is in His Supper.

Therefore, as the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Come to the table to the Lord. And receive what Jesus gives. For His body given for you will never be empty, and His blood shed for you will never run out. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Lutheran Internet Trolls

August 1, 2017 1 comment

Hello there. I am Rev. Eli Davis, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Grants Pass, Oregon. I have on occasion used the pseudonym Tarsus Darkstar, or T Darkstar. Those two sentences right there are vitally important, but we’ll get to that later.

Facebook debates. Youtube comments. Are there any places on the internet that one can have a reasonable discussion over things that are disagreed upon without it melting down into total anarchy? Maybe we expect as much from the world. But shouldn’t we expect more from each other? Well, not if nobody knows the ground rules to having a debate.

Recently, I have discovered a couple of blogs that really go off the deep end. And they seem to be on opposite sides of the LC–MS spectrum. And yet, they are so alike, that you can hardly tell them apart, even whom they are ranting against. Let’s name names. The two blogs are Congregations Matter and The Cellar Door. Both are anonymous. Both are toxic to conversation. Both are trolling Lutherans online. And while I hate to bring any more attention to them, this post is about their methodology. Not naming them would be unfair to everyone.

What right do I have to call them internet trolls? I’m glad you asked. Ten years ago, I joined an online community of the non-theological sort. You see, I’m Portland Trailblazers fan. But even back then, most comments sections were full of anonymous, hate-spewing trolls. I stumbled across one place that was different. It was a site called Blazer’s Edge. The author of the site insisted on a couple of rules. No swearing. And no personal attacks. Disagree all you want, but the moment anyone made it ad hominem, it was moderated through deletion, and eventually, if the problem persisted, bans.

You see, it wasn’t the disagreement that ended good conversation. Not at all, it made for the best conversation. But the moment that disagreement went into, “You’re stupid,” or “Do you even watch basketball,” or “That’s what a homer would say,” then it was nipped in the bud. And, I dare say because of that, it was the most level-headed conversation on the entire internet. I have never found anywhere that dealt with disagreement better.

Well, two years in to my participation on the site comments, the site had grown exponentially. Moderation was bigger than one person could handle on their own. I and five others were asked to start a moderating team. And we were given that set of rules to work with. Over time, we came across some very fascinating situations. People who would dance on the line, stepping over just enough to see what we would do. But we did get to meet just about every kind of internet troll that there has ever been. Some figured out that that wasn’t going to fly at Blazer’s Edge, and some didn’t, and were banned. A few bad enough to ban the entire IP address from the system. But even then, there was always room for forgiveness. There was always room for reinstatement. It’s a lot like ex-communication is supposed to work, except for it’s a basketball forum.

I’m the only regular moderator from the original six, though I think another one pokes their head in every so often. I’ve trained the second, third, and fourth waves of moderators. And each time, one of them sticks it out, and the rest eventually drift on. And even I don’t devote a ton of time to it anymore. I don’t really have to. Over the last eight years, the community knows the rules well enough, that we rarely have to do much, even when the basketball topics touch on politics and religion. Granted, no one agrees. But that makes the most interesting discussions.

Can you imagine something like that on Facebook? Or in Youtube comments? Or in the comments section of any blog? How fast would it devolve into name-calling. How many people will just assume the very worst? How many people will say the most hurtful thing they can imagine, all because there is no one to hold them accountable for their actions. The only people who dare to do such a thing face to face do so in a faceless mob. Or are children who have no idea what consequences are. Accountability makes discussion possible. Blazer’s Edge made accountability possible with anonymity, but only because abusing others had the consequences of not being able to participate in a real discussion. On Facebook, on Youtube, on blogs, no one can hold you accountable for being a jerk. Especially when you’re anonymous.

Now, there are good reasons to remain anonymous. If you’re afraid that your idea will get you hurt, then anonymity is the power of protection. If you don’t want people digging into your personal life in order to try and further defame you, anonymity is the power of privacy. But if anonymity is how you grab the power to belittle others, then you are a garden variety, typical, uninteresting internet troll. And that is a statement that I am willing to put my name to.

Internet trolls get immense satisfaction from tearing down others. They enjoy lobbing controversial comments, and watching the fallout. They love to see just how many people’s attention they can get. Because all of this feeds into their self-justification for doing all of this. There is not a single internet troll that I have encountered in my eight years of moderation that has not said or implied that they are just putting the truth out there. But just as Satan’s greatest lies are half-truths, so also this line is only a half truth. The statements may sometimes in fact be true. But they are not presented in such a way as to win someone to your side. Rather they are only meant to conquer, to stomp their foot on the head of their victims in triumph and glory.

Congregations Matter do this by bringing up events that have happened, and assume the worst. For example, their article on Concordia University Portland. A press release from the CUP Board of Regents mentions a request for the school to become independent. However, the conclusion reached was based entirely upon one word in the release, plus their own overwhelming hatred of the Synodical President. I’m sure they would say they were just speaking the truth. But that’s only half true.

The Cellar Door, a more recent blog, uses the exact same methods. Changes in the wording of hymns between the TLH and the LSB are tantamount to rape according to one post. Plus pastors that they don’t like are accused, without evidence, of being a “pseudo-Lutheran sexual predator.” Or of another, “His actual church is just a physical front to provide him with legitimacy, like a dry-cleaner run by the mob, except that, at least in the movies, mobsters are cool and sympathetic”. Maybe what the articles are arguing have some truth in them. But as long as this is mixed in, it will only ever be a half truth.

It’s an internet meme at this point to point out the Eighth Commandment, you shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. Lutherans have been screaming this at each other every time someone says something they don’t like. But since when does being falsely accused of breaking it give us the excuse to break it as willfully as possible?

The response is predictable, but true. If someone proclaims something publicly, they should be reprimanded publicly, lest someone see it as an excuse for their own sin. But this can be done respectfully. Such a truth does not magically make the Eighth Commandment moot. Case in point, Brothers of John the Steadfast respectfully called Higher Things to a public repentance. This was after they believed that Higher Things were doing something wrong, and they discussed it with them. When Higher Things didn’t see it that way, they brought it before everyone.

Now, that I happen to disagree with Brothers of John the Steadfast on this one is actually important. Solely because I can respect the way they went about it. That hasn’t always been the case before. But with my experience in moderating forums, I can recognize when people change, and actually want to have a discussion. And this was one of those times. Also what helped here is that neither group are anonymous. Boards and chief editors are listed on websites. Who they are isn’t a secret. They were willing to be accountable themselves for the sake of their brothers in Christ. And that means I can actually take them seriously.

What can we do in the mean time? What can we do with those who would rather destroy their perceived opponents than discuss with those they might disagree with? What can we do with the Lutheran Internet Trolls? Again, I know what I’m going to do, given my experience. Trolls thrive on attention, especially negative attention. The more someone tries to prove them wrong, the more they will believe that they are right. Which is why I lament using specific examples, despite it being necessary in this case. Trolls look at the numbers. It’s time to give them no numbers. Block them on Facebook. Don’t click on links to their site. Starve them of the glory they desire. Because that may be what it takes for them to know that they need the forgiveness of Christ for the specks in their eyes, just like we need the forgiveness of Christ for the logs in ours.

One last thing. We all know that disagreements on doctrine are truly important. We know that there is no such thing as an okay amount of false doctrine. There are no unimportant sins. But we also confess that we are brothers in Christ. That we will bear one another’s burdens. And that Christ would rather die to forgive all sins, rather than lose any of us. The disagreements we have are of vital importance. But remember why we disagree. To win our brother to the truth. No other kind of victory matters. Because that’s what Christ’s own victory at the cross does for you and me.

-Rev. Eli Davis

How Much of All is All? – A Sermon on Matthew 13:44-52

July 29, 2017 Comments off

Parable of the Treasure in the Field by Edward Riojas

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our Gospel lesson today has three more short parables from Jesus. But this week, He doesn’t explain any of them. Yet, we’re not completely in the dark here. We do know that these parables are about the Kingdom of Heaven. And we already know a great deal about the Kingdom of Heaven. So maybe that will help.

Our opening hymn this morning was Jesus, Priceless Treasure. Which is absolutely true. The blood of Christ shed for you and me is worth more than any gold or silver. Worth more than any worldly possession. Worth more than anything else in all of existence. Because in the blood of Jesus there is His Kingdom. In the blood of Jesus there is forgiveness. In the blood of Jesus there is salvation. There is nothing we treasure more than Christ. So maybe Jesus is the treasure in the first two parables?

If that’s the case though, then who is the man who buys the field? Who is the merchant looking for pearls? Is that you and me? If that’s the case, then Jesus parables are all law. The command is to sell everything you have. Get rid of all other earthy ties. Sacrifice each thing you have. All in order to can get your hands on Jesus. Which, if you think about it, is just the First Commandment. You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.

Unfortunately, I see that many of you drove cars here this morning. Most here live with a roof over your heads. All of you have the clothes on your backs. The parable doesn’t say that the man sold some of what he had to buy the field. The parable doesn’t say the merchant sold some of what he had to buy the pearl. Everything means everything.

Selling everything and following Jesus doesn’t mean only giving up the things we can afford to lose. It doesn’t mean that we get to hold stuff back to protect ourselves, just in case our Lord doesn’t provide quite in the same way we want Him to. After all, Ananias and Saphira tried that in Acts 5. And they were guilty of sinning against the Lord, which cost them their lives. If the command is to give up all, then that is what we must do. Just because everyone else isn’t doing it doesn’t excuse breaking the Law of the Lord.

However, that also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense with what Jesus says a few chapters back in the Sermon on the Mount. The sparrows eat, the lilies are clothed. Your Father in heaven knows that you needs those things. And you are worth more than they. Pray this prayer: Give us this day our daily bread. And our Lord gives to you. You have what you have, as a gift already. In our Acts 5 example, God never asked Ananias and Saphira to sell all that they had. Their problem was that they lied before God and before their neighbors. They told everyone that they had given everything when they hadn’t, and they expected credit for it. So even though Jesus is in fact our priceless treasure, I don’t think today’s parable is about us finding Jesus as our treasure. There are ways to make that work, I suppose. But it leaves a lot of questions behind. That’s why I think it’s the other way ‘round.

The point of today’s parables are that we are Christ’s treasure. In Jesus’ own words, we see the very center of the Kingdom of Heaven. These parables show us what Jesus does for us in His death and resurrection. Because Jesus at His cross did indeed give up all for us. And you know what? That makes us feel pretty good about ourselves. I must really be someone really great, if Jesus is willing to give up everything for me.

But there’s a nuance in the original Greek that we don’t quite catch in translation. It doesn’t change the meaning of any of the words. But the parable doesn’t really make the point that the treasure itself is all that great. The man who bought the field, bought it because He found something that He treasured, not because that treasure was objectively valuable. The man who bought the pearl did so because the pearl was costly, not because it was actually worth what he paid. Jesus didn’t give up everything for us because we were so wonderful. In fact, once again, it’s the other way ‘round.

Our Old Testament lesson is what Jesus’ parables look like in real life. The Lord says through Moses, “You are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

Likewise today. We aren’t Jesus treasure because we’re so great. We’re Jesus’ treasure because He loves us. Because what to we have to offer Him? We didn’t cost Jesus so much because of how valuable we are. We cost Jesus so much because the debt still owed by us was beyond immense. We’re not a treasure in the field because we’re so shiny, but simply because we are buried with dirt, six feet under. And yet, Jesus gives up everything else in order to buy us back.

Look just how much Jesus gave up for you. Look just how much your sin cost. Jesus gave up His heavenly throne in order to take on our human flesh. Jesus gave up His glory to be born in a barn, with a feeding trough for His bed. Jesus gave up the honor due His name in order to bear the great shame of our guilt. Jesus gave up His kingdom, His sovereignty, to be rejected by His own people. Jesus gave up His perfection in order to be crucified like a thief on a cross. Jesus, the very creator of life Himself, died. Jesus the eternal God died. Jesus didn’t ask how much of all is all. He just gave it all, without reservation. That’s how much Jesus gave up to buy you back from our debt. That’s the everything that Jesus sold away in order to pay for all our sin. Not because we were worth it. But because we were worth it to Him.

“Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Jesus indeed gave Himself up on our behalf at the cross. But Jesus has also been delivering that gift to people as ancient as Adam and Eve. He still delivers that gift to people as new to the Kingdom as we are today. Jesus gives us the treasure of His mercy. Freely, as a gift. Without any worthiness or merit of our own.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? …Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nor can anything separate Jesus from His treasure, from you, for whom He sold everything in order to obtain you forever. Thanks be to God

Categories: Sermon

The Poisoned Field – A Sermon on Matthew 13:24-43

July 20, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Usually, in the parables of Jesus, we want to get right to what the metaphors actually mean. What does the sower mean? What does the field mean? What does the seed mean? What do the weeds mean? What does the enemy mean? What does the harvest mean? And Jesus does indeed answer all those questions. But what gets left out is the details that Jesus actually uses. Is the parable then merely a husk that transports all these concepts? Or do we have something to learn from why Jesus picked those particular objects as the metaphors to begin with?

One thing to know is that Jesus does mix His metaphors. Last week we had the parable of the sower, where the seed was the Word of God, and the soil was how we responded to it. The snatching away meant just that. The Word of God can be snatched away from those who do not receive it. Likewise being choked and being scorched. The cares of this world do choke the Word from us. Our lack of being rooted in the Word does leave us dying of thirst.

But this week, the metaphors Jesus uses don’t mean the same things. This week, the seed is us, and the soil of the field is the world. In last week’s parable, the Word of God grew in us and bears good fruit. That is, it creates faith. This week’s parable is not the same thing. It’s close. But it’s still important why Jesus chooses these particular metaphors.

The most interesting one to me is actually the word Jesus uses to describe the weeds. Weeds is a pretty generic term in English. It could mean one of any number of unwanted plants. Or, in Oregon, something else altogether. But the Word Jesus uses in the original Greek is actually not a generic term at all. It’s the specific Greek word for the darnel plant, or botanically speaking, Lolium temulentum. And that is oddly specific. But maybe not that odd. Darnel has some properties that actually tell us a lot about today’s parable.

When darnel sprouts, it is indistinguishable from wheat. And as it grows, you can’t tell the difference between the two. Until the two plants finally sprout the heads, where the grain is found. The wheat heads appears plump, the darnel heads appears more spiky. Wheat grains are a nice golden brown, darnel grains are black, and often infected with a poisonous fungus that is lethal to humans. It’s serious stuff. In fact, the penalty in the Roman empire for sowing darnel in your neighbor’s field was death. Because you’re not just hurting your neighbor’s crop. If he misses it, you can kill entire cities of people. It’s far more than just an unfortunate weed. It can destroy everything.

But what do you do when you find it growing with the wheat? When you harvest by hand, there is something you can do. But it’s not go out and pull it up early. The roots are already developed. And intertwined with the roots of the wheat. To pull up one is to pull up the other. You might as well burn the field down and start over rather than try that method. But to get a crop, you wait until the wheat is fully ripe. Then you tie the wheat stalks together. And separately, you tie the darnel stalks together. A lot like braiding hair. Then you cut the wheat, and keep it. You also cut the Darnel, so it doesn’t go to seed in your field. You burn it, lest the seeds sprout somewhere else. And this is the parable Jesus tells.

How do we understand the sin in us? It our sin something we treat like a garden variety weed? Something that is inconvenient, but in the end harmless? Something that we’d sure like to get out, but if we miss one or two, it isn’t really going to matter? Or is our sin like the darnel plant? Where even a little can kill us dead? And we can’t even tell if it’s there or not until it’s too late. And now that it’s in us, we can’t get it out without it killing us in the process. Jesus choses this parable for a very good reason. The darnel shows us our sin.

Have you ever asked why there is still sin in the world? Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t just get rid of it all right now? Philosophers throughout history have called this a “theodicy,” a problem for God. If your God is all good, and all powerful, why is there still evil in the world? The field is the world. And to simply rip all the evil out of it would rip us up as well. The darnel in the parable shows the state of the world.

Our Lord has answered both our questions and the world’s questions. There is evil in the world today, because our Lord does not want you to die without first being gathered into His barn. The sower planted good seed. Jesus created a good world. An enemy sabotaged that. We likewise betrayed Him, and planted the seed of sin in His world. That’s the one thing questions of theodicy refuse to acknowledge. We are not born good. We’re not even born neutral. We are born in sin. And we sin against both our Lord and our neighbor. Then have the audacity to call that very sin good. But instead of uprooting all that sin, and being left with nothing, our Lord decided to have mercy instead. Decided to save you and me instead. Even when that cost Him His life.

Jesus bundles up our sin like the farmer bundles darnel. Jesus carries that sin for us. Jesus takes that sin away from us. Jesus throws that sin on the fire for us. Even when He has to go into the fire with it. Jesus bears that sin at His cross. Why do bad things happen to good people. There was only ever one good person. And He willingly endured the worst, so that you would have the poison of sin removed forever. So that you would have the seed of the enemy removed from you forever. So that you would be with Him in His kingdom forever.

Last week’s parable was how Jesus spreads His Word to the world. This week’s parable is about what Jesus’ Word delivers to you. And Jesus does give you life, forgiveness, and His kingdom. No matter what kinds of evils and poisons might be growing right next to you. Or as St. Paul puts it in today’s epistle lesson: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” … “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we have been saved.” Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Jesus Isn’t Stingy in Planting Seed – A Sermon on Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23

July 14, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. One of the way that we tend to hear Jesus’ parables is to start by trying to apply it to our own lives today. We look at the areas in our experience that line up with the images Jesus uses, then use that information to tell us what to do next. Take today’s parable. We know that seeds grow in good soil and produce fruit the best there. We know from Jesus’ explanation that the seed is the Word of God. Therefore if we just tend our soil, tend to the parts of us that receive the Word of God, then we will bear the fruit that the Bible tells us we’re supposed to bear.

We then try to apply today’s experience backwards to Jesus’ day. We assume that Jesus is telling his disciples to tend to their soil. And the whole point for everyone is to watch out for birds, clear out the rocks, and pull up the weeds. Which we can take to mean things like our sin, our troubles, or even the devil. When all those things are taken care of, then the Word of God can finally do it’s best work. And produce in us a hundredfold, or sixty fold, or thirtyfold. In other words, God’s Word in us will really pay off in the long run.

The problem is that we’ve made soil cultivation the point of the parable. And the sower in the parable doesn’t care one iota about soil cultivation. There are weeds? Don’t care, throwing out seed. There are rocks? Don’t care, throwing out seed. The ground is actually a road that the seed can’t possibly grow in? Don’t care, throwing out seed. I think it’s pretty safe to say that the last thing this parable is about is cultivating your soil. It’s not about getting rid of the birds, the rocks, or the weeds.

That’s not to say that we concluded the wrong things in general. Sin, grief, pain, loss, death, Satan, these are all problems, and Christ is indeed the answer to them all. That is one hundred percent true. But it does mean that this parable is not at all a checklist of things to clear up so that good things can grow. That’s to look at the text through the lens of ourselves. What we should really be doing is looking at the text through the lens of Christ.

What is Jesus trying to say here. What is going on? It helps to back up to chapter twelve and get some context. Because in chapter twelve, the Pharisees really start putting the pressure on Jesus. Before this, they really only had one run-in with Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. In chapter nine, the Pharisees are concerned that Jesus is sharing the sacrificial meal with sinners. And that’s pretty serious. But in chapter twelve, Jesus’ disciples break the Sabbath by picking heads of grain. Jesus Himself heals on the Sabbath, which is clearly prohibited by law. They accuse Jesus of driving out demons by the prince of demons. They demand a sign to prove that Jesus is sent by God, despite all the signs going on around them. It gets so bad, that even Jesus’ mom and  brothers show up to get Him, because, which we get from Mark’s Gospel, they think Jesus has gone crazy. And nobody really understands what He’s talking about.

This is the context for the Parable of the Sower. The sower sows, Jesus proclaims His Word, no matter where it ends up landing. Whether it lands among the Pharisees who have that Word snatched away. Whether it lands among His family who can’t maintain the root of faith in the face of things going poorly for Jesus. Whether it lands among the crowds who initially react with great joy, but are choked out by the threat of losing their place in the synagogue. Or whether it lands among His disciples who will eventually proclaim that same Word to the world. That’s what Jesus’ parable meant to the disciples He explained it all to. So maybe that’s a far better place to start understanding Jesus’ parable today.

Because Jesus’ ministry, by all accounts, was not terribly successful. Sometimes Jesus went in, proclaiming His Word, and no one believed. Like later in chapter thirteen, when Jesus returned to Nazareth. Sometimes, Jesus proclaimed His Word, and people received it with joy. Until things got difficult. Like in John chapter six, when they all left when Jesus told them that they needed to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to be a part of His kingdom. Sometimes, Jesus proclaimed His Word, and people were choked out. Like when the crowds shouted at Pontius Pilate, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Not even His own disciples stuck around when they put Jesus on a cross. And all throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, the parable of the sower was the reality of it all.

Jesus’ ministry continues today. Jesus is still proclaiming His Word. The world is still responding in exactly the same way. And that scares us to death. We worry about things like the Church in America shrinking. We worry that there are too many older people in the congregation. We worry that unless we do something, unless we plant that seed in the just the right soil, we aren’t going to have anything left pretty soon.

But today, in the parable of the sower, Jesus lets us know that’s not what He’s worried about at all. It doesn’t matter how much falls on the road, or in the rocks, or in the weeds. Because some of it will always land in just the right place. Because that seed, that Word proclaims the the most important event in all history. The death and resurrection of Jesus.

What good does our worry do? Every single one of us has it. And it is sin. It is a failure to trust that Jesus does in fact know what’s best. We have this inexplicable urge to shove our Lord out of the way and do something. Anything, even, in order to have some sort of control. When Jesus Himself saves apart from control altogether. Both in the parable, and at the cross. For Jesus is handed over to sinful men, and they get to do to Him whatever they want. So they put Him to death. And by that out of control death, every one of us has been saved. not just from sin in general, but even from the specific sin of worrying, the specific sin of not trusting, the specific sin of looking at ourselves alone as the answer. And every other specific sin you can think of as well.

What does that mean for Jesus’ ministry today? It means that the ministry is focused primarily on one thing. The same thing the parable teaches. Proclaim the Word of God. Proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus. No matter what it looks like for each individual seed. This is the way Jesus plants. This is the way the kingdom grows. And it is always growing. It has never once shrank. Because not even death separates us from Christ. We only transfer membership from the Church militant to the Church triumphant.

You are part of that Church. You are a member of the body of Christ. A hundred-, sixty-, thirtyfold already springs forth from you. And still, the seeds keep falling from the sowers hand. Still, Jesus plants His Word in you. And He is as reckless with it as ever. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon