What Our Scars Proclaim – A Sermon on John 20:19-31

April 11, 2015 1 comment

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus shows off His scars. Every scar has a story. Some scar stories are really cool. When people ask about them, there’s a grand adventure to tell. Maybe the scar came at great sacrifice. Maybe it makes the punchline really zing. Maybe it’s the exclamation point on a great story. But those kinds of scars always end up with a story worth telling.

And then there are the scars that tell stories we don’t want told. Stories that are embarrassing. I got this scar on my arm because I’m an idiot. I tried to ride a bike between a parked car and a pole barn. A rivet on the side of the barn has reminded me ever since that even though the bicycle fit, I didn’t.

My brother likes to tell people to ask me about the scar on my finger. It’s nearly faded, but the memory has not. At the age of ten, I ended up with broken glass in my finger. And I was too scared of the pain to take it out. So on my birthday, My mom, my elderly grandmother, and two of my elderly great aunts wrestled me to the kitchen sink. And there they worked with tweezers, digging until they were sure the glass was all out. And then digging some more for good measure. It was immensely embarrassing. And it hurt even more than I feared. Those women were merciless. And I was powerless to do anything against them.

But even worse than these are the scars we hide. The scars that bring up old wounds that we would rather have forgotten. Sometimes those scars have visible reminders. Sometimes they don’t. But they still make themselves known. They still tell a story that we do not want to hear again. And they never go away.

Maybe we get these scars when we’ve hurt others in a way we can never make right. Maybe these scars came from when we’ve been destroyed by someone else’s sin. Or maybe they came from hurting ourselves so badly, that no one would ever understand. Whatever the cause, it doesn’t matter anymore. Those scars fester. And remind us constantly about the day we were hurt. You know what those scars are, even if no one else does. You live with them every day. They keep you up at night. They’re worlds more difficult to handle than any embarrassment ever could be. And they haunt you when you’re alone.

Aren’t these scars what we have Jesus for? Isn’t that why Jesus died? To make these scars disappear? Isn’t that why we come to church? To be told that those scars are all covered up, and no one ever needs to see them again? Especially not you? Don’t we come here every Sunday to forget all those scars? And have those things be as if they never happened at all? So that now we can get on with life? So then, why isn’t it working? Why are they still there? Why does it still hurt so much?

Not only do our old scars remain, but being part of the Church has given us new ones. We don’t have to look half way across the world to martyrs dying because they trust in Jesus. We too are left with scars as our society has already excised anything remotely Christian. Marriage, family, life, even civil discourse. I don’t know if you noticed. But all these things have been lost already. They’re gone. And all that’s left is the shaming of anyone who would claim the name Christian. These new scars are just like the old ones. These scars beg to be covered. They beg to be left alone. They beg to not be seen by anyone, lest we remember the pain once again.

Is it then any wonder why going to church just isn’t very popular anymore? Going doesn’t get rid of the scars we have. And risk of new scars is growing every day. It’s the same dilemma the disciples in the upper room faced. Why do you think they locked themselves away? It’s the same dilemma Thomas faced. Which is why he refused to believe. The risk was too high. The possibility of gaining new scars was too great.

And yet, it is through scars that we are saved. It’s through scars that anyone is saved. Then [Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Every scar has a story. And the story from these scars is about the day God died on your behalf.

The whip on His back. The nail in his hands and feet. The spear in His side. They all left their mark. Not just for a little while. Not just until the third day. Those scars last forever. And Jesus has them even now. Those are the scars Thomas demanded to see. And because of those scars, He believes. But if Jesus’ scars last forever, what about ours? Will they ever go away? Will they ever stop reminding us of when we were hurt so badly?

But that’s the thing. Jesus did not die to take away your scars. Heal your wounds? Yes. Bear your pains? Absolutely. But those scars are too important to hide away. Those scars are too important to remove. Because scars mark the place where a wound has healed. If your wound is still open, Jesus is there to heal that wound. But when that wound is healed, the scar still remains. Your scars, all of them, mark the place where has healed you. They mark the place where Jesus is with you, even now.

And because Jesus is with you, the story that scar tells has changed. It’s no longer a story of sin alone. No longer a story of what we did. Or what we didn’t. Or what someone else inflicted on us. That story now includes Jesus. Who gained all of our scars for Himself in His death and resurrection. Jesus, perfect God, and perfect man has your scars. And yet remains perfect. He has sanctified all scars, and made them holy. Your scars now tell the story of your forgiveness through Christ Jesus.

Because You share your scars with Jesus, those words now mean so much more. “Peace be with you.” There is not a single sin that isn’t forgiven. There isn’t a single wound that can’t be healed. There isn’t a single death which hasn’t already been overcome. And every day you see that scar. Every day you feel that scar inside. Every day that scar reminds you of the painful story that goes with it. It is also a reminder that Jesus died for that. Jesus rose for that. Jesus is with you right now for that.

And therefore, Jesus’ words are for you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Receive one who comes by means of the story that goes with the scars. Receive the forgiveness of sins. Receive the resurrection that Jesus has won for you. Receive the life that Jesus has given to you. A life of scars everlasting. Scars that are still in His hands and side. Scars that testify just how much Christ has done for you.

Every scar has a story. Even yours. And that story has been written in Christ, on your body, and on your soul. These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. And that by believing you may have life in His name. Life in His story. Life in His scars. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Easter is for Hearing – A Sermon on Mark 16:1-8

April 4, 2015 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Easter mornings are always the best for Church. We sing louder than any other day. We sing Jesus Christ is Risen Today, Alleluia! We shout for joy. We tell each other He is risen! We celebrate with more friends and family than usual beside us. We feast at the Lord’s table with the whole Church throughout time and eternity. And we always hear the story. The Gospel story. That Jesus is risen from the dead. And we get to see Him appear to those very first eye-witnesses.

Oh, wait, did we miss that last part? Oh no! That can’t be right. Today’s Gospel lesson doesn’t quite get to seeing Jesus risen from the dead. We’ve got the women at the tomb. We’ve got the stone rolled away. We’ve got the angel proclaiming the good news that Jesus is no longer in the grave. And then the women run off. And they say nothing to anyone.

In fact, that’s where the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end. Actually, it ends in the middle of a sentence that is never completed. It ends with a words that in Greek can never begin or end a sentence. The last words in Mark are εφοβουντο γαρ. They were afraid, for indeed…. And it stops. No one sees Jesus.

Now, later manuscripts add an ending to Mark. And we don’t exactly know what to do with them. They seem to be fragments with apostolic tradition. They’re fragments that give us the resurrection of Jesus we’re looking for. But they really don’t seem to be from Mark’s Gospel. So still biblical. Just not exactly part of Mark’s story. But you can see how they got put there. Sentences must be completed. And we need to see Jesus. Especially today, of all days.

However, this is the exact ending Mark has been building to throughout his entire Gospel. Because for Mark, seeing is not believing. The disciples see many miracles throughout Jesus’ ministry. And yet not a one will stand by him from the moment He is arrested. Jesus’ enemies see what he does. Mark, chapter three, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand in the sight of all. And yet the Pharisees use that moment to plan Jesus’ destruction. Because Jesus had the audacity to heal someone on the Sabbath. Hanging on the cross, those Pharisees would taunt Jesus with the words, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.

But even most amazing of all, in chapter 8, the Pharisees came to Jesus demanding a sign. Right after Jesus had just fed four thousand people. Even with the sign in front of their eyes, they demanded to see more before they would believe. And Jesus replied with these words, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say no sign will be given to this generation.” Seeing is not believing.

Hearing, however, is. In Mark’s Gospel, the disciples followed Jesus before they ever saw Him do anything. Blind Bartimaeus calls out “Lord, have mercy!” without having seen at all. It was the loud shout on the cross when Jesus died that convinced the centurion that, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Three times we hear Jesus tell us exactly how the cross and resurrection are going to go down. And the cross happened exactly as He said. Now, here at the tomb, there sits an angel with the words, “He has risen. He is not here… Just as He told you.” We hear the Good News, well before we could ever see.

But maybe we should ask whether or not the women at the tomb believed when they heard the good news from the angel. We know they heard. But with that news they were trembling, and astonished, and afraid. They said nothing to anyone. And if there was anyone that should have expected an empty tomb, it was them. We heard of the women just earlier at the end of chapter 15, after Jesus died on the cross, that, “When He was in Galilee, they followed Him and ministered to Him.” They heard Jesus tell the disciples on three different occasions how He was going to die. And how He was going to rise from the dead. But that’s why Mark ends the way it does. With that half sentence that just begs to be completed. They were afraid, for indeed…. Where their story ends, yours begins. We start afraid. We start trembling. We start astounded.

I don’t know your fears. I can’t read your hearts. But there are fears that are common to all people. Perhaps you’re afraid that you don’t measure up. That you’re not doing a good enough job. Maybe you’re afraid that if you had done better in the past, today’s pains wouldn’t be as sharp as they are. It could be that you’re afraid that you can’t do enough to make right what you did wrong. Or it could be that you’re afraid to ever be wrong, lest everything come crumbling down. Perhaps instead, you’re afraid of losing one you love. Or possibly it’s a fear of failing to do what you used to do. Then again, maybe waiting for tomorrow will be too much to bear. It could be that there’s so much, that you can’t do it all, and are afraid of disappointing those you love. Or maybe there’s nothing to be done, and you’re desperately lonely. Perhaps death is knocking at your door. And your sin is more than you can bear. Whatever it is, Satan does not let you go unscathed. Whatever it is, it’s not something you can fix.

I don’t know your fears. I don’t know what makes you tremble. I don’t know what astounds so much that you can’t say anything to anyone. But JEsus has put someone here for you. A young man. Well, youngish man. In a white robe. Telling you that Jesus is risen. He is not in the grave. Look here at the place where He was. He has gone ahead of you.

No matter what your fears are, Jesus is risen. Everything you fear is overcome because Jesus is no longer in that grave. That is the news we have been waiting to hear. Even if we didn’t know that’s what we needed. For indeed Jesus has taken every fear, and carried it Himself. Jesus has taken the things that make us tremble, and nailed them to His cross. Jesus has taken even the most astounding sins, and buried them in His tomb. Look at the place where He was. All our sins lie dead. But Jesus has gone ahead of us into life. We were afraid, for indeed our sin was great. Our fears are overcome, for indeed our Savior is greater. Greater than even death itself. And this is the best thing we could ever hear.

Therefore, Easter is for hearing. Our fears are overcome. Our sins are forgiven. Our griefs, He has shouldered. Our doubts, He has carried. Our worst failures are made right. During, our loneliest hour, Jesus is with us. Death has been defeated. And life is given out to all. This is where our story begins. Gather ‘round and listen. This is where the good news reaches our ears. And we hear who we are in Christ. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of God. And so we shout the Easter message so that all may hear. He lives to silence all my fears. He lives to wipe away my tears. He lives to calm my troubled heat. He lives all blessings to impart.  He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Categories: Sermon

Where We Are Delivered from Evil – A Good Friday Sermon on Mark 14:10-15:47

April 3, 2015 Comments off

(Mark 14:10-31)

Deliver us from evil, we pray. Save us from it. Rescue us from it. Preserve us from it. For evil is all around. From outside and within. And there is no escaping on our own. But to deliver us from evil, You Yourself must enter it. You Yourself must be attacked by it. You Yourself must endure it. Lord Jesus Christ, You know what it is to be sold out. You know what it is to have promises given to you broken. You know what it is to be betrayed by those You love.

Therefore you are with us when these things happen to us. Therefore you are for us when we do these things to our neighbors. You are there with the words, “Take eat, this is My body. Take, drink, this is My blood shed for your forgiveness.” You sing Your hymns with us. You stand up for us in the midst of evil. You go as is written of the Son of Man. And there, you have indeed delivered us.

(Mark 14:32-52)

Deliver us from evil, we pray. Save us from it. Rescue us from it. Preserve us from it. For evil is all around. From outside and within. And there is no escaping on our own. But to deliver us from evil, You Yourself must enter it. You Yourself must be attacked by it. You Yourself must endure it. Lord Jesus Christ, You know what it is to be afraid. You know what it is to be sorrowful even unto death. You know what it is to go through all this, and have your closest friends fall asleep in your hour of greatest need. You know what it is to have a friend turn against you with a kiss. You know what it is to be treated as a fugitive. You know what it is to be abandoned by all. Abandoned so fast, that one even left his clothes behind.

Therefore you are with us when these things happen to us. Therefore you are for us when we do these things to our neighbors. You are there with the words, “Yet not what I will but what you will.” And, “Let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” Because it is the Father’s will that you take all these sins of ours onto Your shoulders. The Scriptures are written that you will bear the sins of our neighbors and the whole world. And there, you have indeed delivered us.

(Mark 14:53-72)

Deliver us from evil, we pray. Save us from it. Rescue us from it. Preserve us from it. For evil is all around. From outside and within. And there is no escaping on our own. But to deliver us from evil, You Yourself must enter it. You Yourself must be attacked by it. You Yourself must endure it. Lord Jesus Christ, You know what it is to face those who hate you. You know what it is to have people lie about what you’ve done. You know what it is to be plotted against by your enemies. You know what it is to have your closest friends fail to stick up for you when you need them most. You know what it is to be spit upon and stricken. You know what it is to be abused.

Therefore you are with us when these things happen to us. Therefore you are for us when we do these things to our neighbors. You are there before the Sanhedrin for us with Your silence. As all the accusations that should have been properly placed against us are instead placed on You. As all the accusations that properly belong to our neighbors, are now Yours instead. And in that silence, you have taken them all away from us. And You have made them Your own. And there, you have indeed delivered us.

(Mark 15:1-15)

Deliver us from evil, we pray. Save us from it. Rescue us from it. Preserve us from it. For evil is all around. From outside and within. And there is no escaping on our own. But to deliver us from evil, You Yourself must enter it. You Yourself must be attacked by it. You Yourself must endure it. Lord Jesus Christ, You know what it is to have control taken out of your hands. You know what it is to have a mob rallied against you. You know what it is to have people cry out for terrible evils instead of for You. You know what it is to have those in power fail to stand up for Your right. You know what it is to be punished for a crime you did not commit. All to satisfy jealousy and bloodlust. All to keep the status quo.

Therefore you are with us when these things happen to us. Therefore you are for us when we do these things to our neighbors. You are there in that mob for us, without exerting Your own power. You are there, weaker than we could ever dare to be. You are there receiving a scourging. Whipped for us, and bleeding. All with a goal in mind. The greatest goal of all. And there, you have indeed delivered us.

(Mark 15:16-32)

Deliver us from evil, we pray. Save us from it. Rescue us from it. Preserve us from it. For evil is all around. From outside and within. And there is no escaping on our own. But to deliver us from evil, You Yourself must enter it. You Yourself must be attacked by it. You Yourself must endure it. Lord Jesus Christ, You know what it is to be mocked. You know what it is to be in pain. You know what it is to be so weak that others have to do Your work. You know what it is to be offered poison.

You know what it is to have everything you own stripped from you. You know what it is to be left naked and alone. You know what it is to be crucified. You know what it is to be condemned as a criminal. You know what it is to hear Satan’s words in those who were called to be Your people. You know what it is to be tempted to serve yourself. You know what it is to be seen as the most contemptible person in the world. And be told that you deserve your fate.

Therefore you are with us when these things happen to us. Therefore you are for us when we do these things to our neighbors. You are there in Your suffering for us. You are there with all who have sinned. You have been nailed to our cross. You have received our judgment. You have taken on so much from us, as well as all the sins of our neighbors. You did not take the easy way through. But made sure that every last debt and trespass was paid in full. And there, you have indeed delivered us.

(Mark 15:33-47)

Deliver us from evil, we pray. Save us from it. Rescue us from it. Preserve us from it. For evil is all around. From outside and within. And there is no escaping on our own. But to deliver us from evil, You Yourself must enter it. You Yourself must be attacked by it. You Yourself must endure it. Lord Jesus Christ, You know what it is to be abandoned by the Father completely. You know what it is to die. You know what it is to be buried. You know what it is to be sealed away, with no hope of escape. You know what it is to be mourned. You know what it is to have all those who love You give up all hope. And to have no idea where to turn next.

Therefore you are with us when these things happen to us. Therefore you are for us when we do these things to our neighbors. You are there in death for us. Lying in our graves with us. Comforting those who are in sorrow. Giving hope the those who mourn. Because death is not your end. You have broken the seal over death. And through your resurrection, You bring that resurrection to us all. Both now and on the last day. In this resurrection, you have indeed delivered us from the greatest evil. The evil of sin, both ours and what is done against us. The evil of death, which now has no sting. The evil of the devil, who has plotted against us and against You all this time.

Deliver us from evil. What does this mean? “We pray in this petition, in summary that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.” For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Categories: Sermon

A Paschal Carol – A Maundy Thursday Sermon

April 1, 2015 Comments off

Exodus 24:3-11, 1 Corinthians 17-33, Mark 14:12-26

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Every year once a year, we inevitably encounter Charles Dickens’ most beloved classic story. We know Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. We know the ghosts of Christmas, past, present, and yet to come. And this is not usually the time of year we think about them.

But all good stories resemble The Good Story. The hero always needs a resurrection of some form. Simba returns from the dead to save everyone in The Lion King. Han Solo is resurrected from Carbonite to help lead the rebels against the Empire in Star Wars. Harry Potter returns to life to finally defeat the evil Voldemort. And Ebenezer returns from a vision of his own death to save Christmas. Good stories always end up looking like Jesus’ story. So it shouldn’t surprise us when tonight’s texts resemble Dickens’ story. Maybe we could call the readings tonight A Paschal Carol.

The vision of the Pascha past is our Old Testament lesson. The memory of great time. A time when the people of God were in awe of what God did to save them. A memory that lived on, and was passed down from generation to generation. A memory God wanted them to remember. So He gave them a great feast to be held every year. A feast of unleavened bread. A feast of lamb. All to remember that Death passed over their houses that night. Because they were all covered by the blood of the Lamb.

But the point of this Passover was not to be an end. This feast was shadow, pointing forward into the future. Pointing forward to a different Lamb. Pointing forward to the defeat of death instead of it’s mere delay. Pointing forward to a bread that was also the body of God. Pointing forward to a cup that was the blood of God.

The vision the Pascha Present, is the account of Jesus in the upper room. It’s a picture of the suffering Jesus will undergo that very day, especially since the Jewish day starts at sundown. Take, eat. This is My body. The very body that would be arrested for them. Beaten for them. Scourged for them. Abused for them. Crucified for them. Take, drink. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. The very blood that would fall from his wounds. The very blood that would be spilled across the ground. The very same blood that would be on the heads of those who crucified Him, and their children.

The present was not the same as the past. It was new. It was different. It was the night when we stopped looking forward, and started looking back. The awaited Christ had come. The final sacrifice had been made. There was no more need for foreshadowing. Because He is already here. The bread was unquestionably the unleavened bread. The cup was unquestionably wine. Especially since grape juice as we know it didn’t exist until the 19th century.

But the Word of God came together with that bread and with that wine. Jesus spoke to that unleavened bread This is my body. And it was. Jesus spoke to that cup of wine This is My blood. And it was. Exactly as when light was created on the first day, so Jesus spoke. And it happened. Whether the disciples believed His words or not, it happened. Whether they were worthy or not, they received exactly what Jesus gave. Even Judas.

The Paschal meal was no longer just a memory. It was no longer a symbol of something greater. It was no longer a reminder of their standing with God. Jesus delivered Himself. Jesus delivered no less that His own body and blood from the cross. As a last will and testament. That’s the New Testament in Jesus blood. Not a book. But an inheritance given away. Jesus left you in His will forgiveness, life, salvation. All payable upon His death. And With His body, and His blood given to you, that death is confirmed. The inheritance is yours.

And yet, we still must deal with the text of the Pascha yet to come. As with Ebenezer Scrooge, this news is not so bright. In the following instructions I do not commend you, writes Paul. Because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. And Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Whoever eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Those words are more frightening than the open grave with Ebenezer’s name on the tombstone. Those words are why Martin Luther wrote in his Large Catechism, “It is not our intention to let people come to the Sacrament and administer it to them if they do not know what they seek or why they come.” Those words are why I don’t like to just commune anyone who asks, without first finding out what they believe. Those words are why the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod has, at least on paper, stood with the historical Church throughout time and practiced closed communion. Not because we’re mean. Not because we want to be exclusive. But because the danger is real.

Yes, Paul mentions that this is why some of them are weak, ill and dead. That is dangerous for them. But even worse than that is the negative impact the abuse of this gift has on a person’s faith. And so, out of love, and out of concern for their faith, we may ask some people to hold off, until we can talk about what discerning the body means. What examining one’s self means. Even if they are already Christians.Because there are Christians, saved Christians, that deny Jesus’ words that the bread is His body, and the wine is His blood.

But those words from Paul in 1st Corinthians can also scare us. Make us ask if we are worthy enough. How much do we need to be able to examine ourselves? Maybe our past sins make us unworthy? Is the blessing Christ promises worth the risk? But those questions are precisely why Jesus gave this Sacrament to you and to me. This is My body given for you! You alone are never enough. Jesus alone is more than enough. And here He is. This is My blood, shed for your forgiveness! This blood is given to you precisely on account of your sin. There is no sin that is too great. No sin that makes you unworthy to receive Jesus. If Jesus can commune Judas Iscariot, as we see in Luke’s Gospel, then He can certainly give this precious gift to you as well.

And you can never have this gift too often. Never. It will never stop being special. It will never stop being effective. Because what makes it so doesn’t come from you. And while there’s no Law saying how often or how little it can be used, Luther was willing to talk about the Lord’s Supper in terms of a daily encouragement and a daily treasure. Because the body and blood of Christ in this Sacrament is no less than the Gospel itself, given to you.

What joy this Sacrament is! Ebenezer Scrooge’s Christmas morning has nothing on this kind of joy. The joy of sins forgiven. The joy of feasting with the whole Church, past, present and future. The joy of inheriting everything Jesus left for you at His death. It’s a joy so profound, that not even the solemn events of Holy Week can quiet it.

Even though the altar will be stripped bare tonight. Even though Jesus is betrayed, beaten and bruised. Even though Jesus cries out in pain, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me!” Even though Jesus is crucified and dies. We stand at the cross through this very Sacrament, and see Jesus for us. At the cross we see God’s glory. We see God’s blessing. We see God’s victory. At the cross Tiny Tim’s words ring the most true. God bless us, every one. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

I Am Not Enough, Thanks Be to God – A Sermon on Mark 10:35-45

March 21, 2015 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where James and John decide that it’s okay to go up to Jesus and say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” That didn’t go over very well with the rest of the disciples. Especially when they asked for the most prominent positions possible. There are things that are okay to ask, and there are things that aren’t.

Except, you don’t ever really get that idea from Jesus. Jesus doesn’t tell James and John that they’re asking for the wrong thing. Jesus doesn’t scold them for trying to be closer to Him than anyone else. Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for being selfish. Actually, just the opposite. Jesus essentially asks them in return, “Are you sure you’re ready for this?” “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”And they said to him, “We are able.” Yes. Yes, you are. “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” Jesus cannot give them what is set aside for someone else. But Jesus will give them something that’s even better than what they asked for.

This is why God attaches such bold promises to the things we ask. Saying things like, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do for you.” Because God will give you what you ask for, or something better. Now, that something better might be very different than what we asked for . One pastor put it this way. It’s okay to ask your father for ice cream and cookies for breakfast. He knows oatmeal is better for you though. And that’s what he’ll give you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask.

But you know, as kida, we really do want the ice cream and cookies. And we can get mad when we don’t get it. And sometimes we don’t really get why oatmeal for breakfast is better for us than sweets. Oatmeal’s plain. It’s ordinary. It really isn’t that impressive looking. Or tasting. But one will stick with you through the morning, and the other will leave you in a sugar crash, in worse shape than you started.

We’re not much different when it comes to asking God for things. Sometimes we ask for things that are a lot like ice cream. But the problem is never in our asking. Jesus isn’t going to chastise you because you didn’t ask for the right things. But He will certainly give you something better than what you ask for when you don’t. Look at James and John. They asked to be in the places of honor when Jesus came into His glory. And instead, Jesus gave them something better. He gave them His cup to drink, and He gave them His baptism to be baptized in. And yes, Jesus means His death when He says that. But that also means that it’s the cup from the Lord’s Supper, which we drink, and the baptism which we are baptized with. That’s what Jesus gives them instead. That’s the gift that better than what they asked.

Oh. Well, that kind of looks as plain as oatmeal. Water splashed on us with some words. Some of us don’t even remember when it happened to us. Some cheap wine, some styrofoam crackers that barely count as bread, some remembering. I mean, it really doesn’t look all that remarkable. We wanted something different. Something special. All without realizing that it doesn’t get more special that this. This is the same cup that Jesus drank, given to us. The cup of which He said, this is my blood, shed for your forgiveness. This is the same baptism which baptizes us into His death. These are the means God uses to not only create, but sustain faith in you.

These are the places Jesus promises to be for us with His forgiveness. The places where Jesus promises to be with us to the very end of the age. The places where Jesus promises to makes us part of God’s family. It’s impossible to say too much about the value of these gifts. Because in them is Jesus for you.

Jesus likewise gives more than they ask to the rest of the disciples who are not happy with James and John’s request. They’re being indignant is the same as asking Jesus to do something about James and John. He does. But something better. Something for all of them. He gives them freedom.

Wait, freedom? Isn’t this where Jesus says, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all”? That sounds like the opposite of freedom. We’d much rather be lording it over someone, and making them do everything we want them to do. Because that’s a whole lot easier than them telling us what to do all the time.

Look at our own lives. How badly do we fall apart when things get out of control? When nothing is going right. When the people we love are hurting. When we can no longer do what we used to do. When we can’t make it right. When the sin is too big to stop. When we are too weak. What is it that we feel at that moment? It’s fear. But what are we afraid of? And look past the event itself. What are we afraid of?

We’re afraid that we’re not enough. Whether that’s good enough, strong enough, whatever. We’re not enough. And to be enough, we need power. And we must do what it takes to have that power. Not having it just isn’t an option. And even if we end up hurting the very ones we love, we must keep it. For their sakes, and our own.

That need binds us. Leaves us with no other options. And limits what we can do. We’re afraid that without it, we will never be able to do enough. We will never be able to prove that we are enough. And so we hold it, or rather it holds us until our dying breath.

Power is our ice cream. It’s what we ask for from God more often than anything else. Power to do things ourselves. But so many other things in this world look to take that power away from us. The sin of others takes that power away. Death takes that power away permanently. And so, the power we want the most is the power over death. Which is why we hope beyond hope that we have power over the way we die. To have that power is the greatest of all powers. Even if it is a delusion. Because we still all die.

And yet God uses that death not to take away, but to give. Which is why we are baptized into death. Which is why the cup we drink is a cup of death. When we die, we are freed from the need for power. Freed from needing to be enough. And what we are left with is a a God who tells you that you don’t have to be enough. In fact, you were never enough. But that’s okay. That’s what God loves about you.

You aren’t enough. And that means God has a purpose. Jesus came not to be served. Not to lord it over you. But to serve you. To be enough for you. To give His life, which is enough, in order to cover all the parts in your life that aren’t. You no longer need to worry if you are enough. You’re not. And God will take care of you anyways. Raising you from death. Raising you with sacraments today. Raising you with all the dead on the last day. And in between, giving you enough. Giving you more than enough.

You see, the power is unnecessary. The fight for power useless. Even with all the power in the world, you can never, ever be enough on your own. And that power will enslave you to itself. Unable to give. Unable to serve. Unable to be a neighbor to those around you. You were created with need, so that God could serve you by filling that need. And He has served, giving His life as a ransom. He still serves, delivering His death to you. The gifts of God, his plain, ordinary, oatmeal-like gifts, set you free. And since Jesus is giving those gifts so freely, it really is okay to ask Him anything, knowing that whatever He gives is for your good. Whatever He gives sets you free.

You are free! Because now look what you can do without having to be in control of everything. Now look what you can do when you can trust God to provide for you. You have the freedom to serve. To give to others freely, without wondering what you’ll lose out of it. Because God has given just as freely to you. And fear gives way to joy. You are not enough, and that is good news. Because God is enough for you.

What that looks like in my life or your life? I have no idea. I don’t have a whole lot of experience thinking this way. Or acting this way. I’m used to being as strong as I can, and hoping that my strength alone is enough. I know it’s not, but I don’t know what else to do. And yet, Jesus is there when I am not enough. To remind me that I was not created to be enough all on my own. And that He will cover what I cannot.

James and John asked to be on Jesus’ right and on His left when He entered into His glory. Jesus said that those places weren’t His to give. Those two places were reserved for two thieves who had been caught and sentenced to death for their crimes. Who before sundown would have their legs broken to speed their death. These two had no power to claim of their own. And yet, they shared in Jesus death. A gift they didn’t earn. But a gift given because that’s what Jesus does. Jesus continues to share that death, that powerlessness with us. In ways that don’t look like much to anyone else. But in that death, in those sacraments, Jesus is in fact enough for you. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

It’s All About Where You Look – A Sermon on John 3:14-21, Ephesians 2:1-10, and Numbers 21:4-9

March 14, 2015 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson. Where we get the tail end of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Which includes this iconic verse. For God so loved the World that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. But let’s not stop there. Our Epistle lesson has another well known Gospel packed verse. For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

And then there’s our Old Testament text. Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people so that many in Israel died. Eh. Two out of three aint bad. And what a powerhouse of two those are. The Gospel in a nutshell, and the very definition of salvation. John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9. Those are verses worth memorizing. Those are verses we hold on to forever. These two verses are also great proof texts of the Reformation. Clear words against anyone who would preach a works righteousness. It’s believing, not works that save. With these, how dumb to you have to be to believe anything else?

Not so fast. You should never assume the foes of the Gospel are dumb. We live in a world where we think it’s easy to destroy an opponent’s argument. Because that’s what we read. That’s what we hear. That’s what we watch. We are told that anyone who would disagree with our particular political stance is dumb. Anyone who doesn’t do things our way is stupid. Anyone who comes to a different conclusion is an idiot. But instead of engaging the actual debate, we content ourselves in knocking over straw men. Or watch someone else do it for us. And the ones who end up dumb are us.

Never assume that the foes of the Gospel are dumb. Because while we sit here, pointing to a few verses out of context, those who would have you believe in works righteousness are using that very context for their own purposes. After all, John 3:16 isn’t the end of what Jesus has to say. He goes on, saying, “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.” That’s the note Jesus ends on. Not belief only, but also works.

So also Ephesians 2:8-9 also has a verse 10. Sure faith and grace aren’t a result of works. However, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” And Paul finishes that thought there, not after verse nine, where we stopped. Therefore all they need is one question. Whereas only those who do what is true come into the light. And whereas those created in Christ Jesus are created for good works. Therefore, how will we know that we believe, that we are indeed in Christ Jesus, which is what we need to be saved?

The logic is diabolically brilliant. Because the answer that makes the most sense, the answer that is the most sound is to look at yourself. If I am doing good works, if I am doing what is true, then I will know that I believe. I will know that I am created in Christ Jesus. I will know that I am saved. You can come to this conclusion, and John 3:14-21 still makes sense. Ephesians 2:8-10 still makes sense. All without changing a word. The only thing that changed is where you look.

And with that perspective, now you don’t have to be ashamed of this embarrassing text from Numbers about God sending the snakes. Because obviously those people got what was coming to them. They did not do good. They were not true. They loved the darkness more than the light. They deserved to die. And if you don’t want to share their fate, you’d better get to work. Just like in every other religion across the world. After all, this is God’s love. This is God’s grace. That you even have a chance to show what you’re made of. Just shouting John 3:16 doesn’t destroy that argument. Repeating Ephesians 2:8-9 doesn’t overturn that logic. Because they kept those texts. Word for word. And they kept the immediate context as well.

Now, it’s no longer about them out there. We cannot go on by saying things about those people. That wont change a thing. Because every one of us has this perspective. Every one of us has the Old Adam that always insists on looking at itself. Finding its own way. Doing its own thing. All of us have this little works righteousness advocate sitting on our shoulder. Pretending to be an angel, speaking the words of the devil himself. There’s a reason the logic works. Because we all think this way. The Israelites in the desert, Nicodemus, the Ephesians Paul wrote to. All of us. We are the foes of the Gospel. Because we are all sinners. Dead in trespasses and sins.

We can’t look to ourself. We can’t look to how much we love Jesus. We can’t look to our own belief. We can’t look to our own repentance. We can’t look to our own works. We can’t look to anything inside ourselves to tell us our standing with God. None of these things tell us anything at all.

Jesus said, People loved darkness more than light. And we are people. And look at the words Jesus uses about those in darkness. Those words are plural. Their deeds were evil. Everyone who does wicked things. But the one who is in the light is singular. The one who does what is true. His deeds have been carried out in God. There is only one on whom the light shines. And it is the one who is also the light who came into the world.

When there’s only one in the light, there is only one place you can look. The spotlight’s shining on Him. That Old Testament text we dismissed earlier? It makes this very point. Yes, God sent the snakes. But the reason was to have mercy. To give grace. To get their attention away from themselves. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look to the bronze serpent, the serpent given to them by God, and live. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so also must the Son of Man be lifted up. So that anyone who looks to Him will not perish, but have eternal life.

That’s how God loved the world. He gave His only Son to be lifted up on a cross for you to see. On the cross is where His deeds have been carried out in God. On the cross is where the light who came into the world shines. Even when we were dead in our trespasses, Jesus died for us. Rose again for us. So that we are made alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved! For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world would be saved through Him.

It’s only in looking to the Son lifted up on the cross that any mention of works makes sense. Because the snake-bitten cannot work. The sinner cannot work. The dead cannot work. Only Jesus does the deeds of His Father. And even when you’re made alive together with Christ, only Jesus can do that good work which God prepared for Him beforehand to do through you. And that is a comfort for you. Because now you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’re doing enough good work for God. You don’t have to worry if you’ve repented enough. You don’t have to worry if you believe enough. Jesus Christ has been lifted up for you. And that is more than enough.

And if ever you doubt that, look to Him on that cross. That cross is not your own doing, it is the gift of God. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever looks upon Him should not perish, but have eternal life. By grace you have been saved, through faith. The faith given to you through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. You see, these were great verses of Scripture all along. Not just a few out of context. But all of them. Together. Not to look in, but to look out. Looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith. Thanks be to God.


Categories: Sermon

Overturning Tables in Weakness – A Sermon on John 2:13-22

March 7, 2015 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus gets angry and creates quite a commotion over at the temple.

There is a temptation that pastors face when it comes to preaching. Because every pastor has their own pet peeves. Those things that we just really don’t like. And sometimes, the texts for the week seem to say exactly what we want to say to those people. For example, I have a real big problem with the idea that the Church should be run just like a modern business. If ever there were a trump text for such a position, it would be today’s. Jesus making a whip of cords, driving out the businessmen, and shouting at them, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” I could talk for hours on that subject. But if I were to make it the point of a sermon, I would be doing you a great disservice.

Because then the most egregious sinners end up being those guys out out there. A wise pastor once said, “If I ask you to pray for the most sinful person you know, and yours is not the first name to come to mind, it’s time for some serious self-reflection.” This text isn’t primarily for them out there. The Ten Commandments text we read in the Old Testament this morning isn’t primarily for them out there. It’s for you. It’s for me. Because we are sinners. We have failed. We do not do what God would have us do.

That said, though, I think we have a hard time taking today’s text that way. Jesus never walked into our congregation with a whip. Jesus never overturned our tables. Jesus never drove us out of His Father’s house. We look at Jesus cleansing the temple, and think, “Wow, they sinned really bad.” Because nowhere else does Jesus do this.

Isn’t that the sense you get? Their sin at that place was so bad, that Jesus got angry. Their desecration of the temple was so wrong, that it took physical force to turn it around. Those people were the worst of the worst. After all, Jesus only speaks about the Pharisees. These people He actually did something about.

But then, that doesn’t fit with what we know about who Jesus is. That doesn’t fit with how God looks at sin. Because every sin is equal in the eyes of God. To break one commandment is to break them all. As it is written, For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. And elsewhere, Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. Desecrating the temple is no worse than a lustful glance out of the corner of your eye. Nor is it better than mass genocide in the eyes of God.

Likewise, we make the mistake of thinking that actions speak louder than words when it comes to Jesus. When it was the Word that created all things. Jesus simply speaks and it is. The Word is a far more powerful thing for our God than any whipping people or overturning tables could ever be.

But if all of this is true, and I think Scripture makes a pretty compelling case that it is, then today’s text doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The sin isn’t worse than any other sin. The method is not as effective as Jesus’ usual method. Even the temple itself doesn’t end up being that important in the long run, as within thirty-five to forty years, it’s going to be desecrated into a pile of rubble anyways. So why this kind of zeal? Why this kind of reaction? After all, this doesn’t really fit Paul’s “we preach Christ crucified” model.

Or does it? When they asked Jesus what sign he was going to show them for doing these things, Jesus immediately referenced the cross. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” He was speaking about the temple of His body. Likewise, we too are said to be temples for the Lord. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? His temple was clean from the beginning. Our own temples, however need cleansed.

So if the sin of the merchants and money-changers in our text isn’t any more egregious than any other sin. If Jesus’ actions don’t speak louder than His Word. If the temple of real importance isn’t the one made out of stone, but the one, and ones made out of flesh. If all these things are true, then there is something unique going on here as Jesus uses that whip and overturns the tables. Because here, Jesus is giving us a picture of what he does in each and every temple in His Church. A picture of what He does in every one of you.

Because cleansing a temple take something more than words. It takes more than our hearts. It takes more God simply speaking a cleansing into existence. It takes an action. A violent action. And there’s only one other place in Jesus’ life where a violent action like that ever happens. And that it at the cross. Everywhere else, Jesus speaks. And Jesus speaks at the cross as well. But it is that action of Jesus going and dying on that cross that changes everything.

But wait a minute. I thought we said that the Word of God was more powerful than any action. And that is true. But as we have heard today, The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. As Paul says elsewhere, The power of God is made perfect in weakness. And that Jesus was crucified in weakness. Jesus saves you by becoming weak for you. Weak even to the point of death. Weak by resorting to action instead of simply speaking the Word. Because it’s only in God’s weakness that we are saved.

But weakness is what causes us stumble. Weakness is what causes us to think this all foolish. Because we have dealt with our own weaknesses, and have found them to be the cause of everything that’s wrong. How can God’s weaknesses do any better? But that is exactly why we preach Christ crucified.

To cleanse you from your sin, God became weak. To drive out the merchant, who would buy and sell your soul, Jesus became weak. To get rid of the money-changer, who would give you a way to pay for yourself, Our Lord became weak. To overturn the tables that held your pain, and guilt, and shame, He became weak. To get rid of the sacrifices you came up with to bribe your way into good standing, Jesus became weak. Weak enough to die on your behalf. And that weakness is our salvation.

Does God still use His strength? Absolutely. God does speak, and faith is created in you. But He will connect that Word to very weak things. Like water. Like bread and wine. Like sinful people like you and me. And through those things, He cleanses our temples. Through those things, He forgives our sins. Through those things Jesus gives us life. Through those things Jesus gives us hope.

For we do not stand in our own strength. We don’t right the world with our own morality. We don’t cleanse the temples of others with our own good character. We’re all weak together. And in the weakness of Christ, He has saved us all. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

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