Friday, February 27, 2009

In Adam, In Christ

“In Adam, In Christ”

Matthew 4:1-11

Lent 1, Invocabit

February 28 – March 1, 2009

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the Garden of Eden man exalts himself to be a god in place of God. He succumbs to the temptation of the devil, and eating of the forbidden fruit he receives death. But in the sin-cursed wilderness God humbles Himself to become man in place of man. Jesus does not eat but fasts and bears the onslaughts of the devil for us that we may be restored to life. In the Garden man tries to win independence from God, to be his own master, to be in charge of his own life, and in the end man cuts himself off from all that is good. But in the wilderness, Jesus depends and relies on His heavenly Father, submitting to His will and looking to Him for all that He needs, in order that He might restore us to faith and to a right relationship with God. In the Garden, the tame and gentle animals that God had created fell under the curse of man’s rebellion, turning against one another and against man himself. But in the wilderness, Jesus lived among the wild beasts (Mark 1:13), that He might experience the full effects of the fall and restore His creatures and renew all of creation.

It is for this reason that the Scriptures refer to Jesus as the second Adam. He came to undo and overcome the work of the first Adam. You and I are one with the first Adam. His blood flows through each of us. His rebellion dwells within us. We have participated in his sin. We are of the same nature. In Adam, we die. However, in Christ, we live. For we have also been made one with Christ through our baptism into His body. Jesus bore the sin of our old Adam and put it to death that we might be raised to a new life with Him. Now Christ’s blood flows through each of us who have been made to be His members, particularly as we receive His blood and body in the Sacrament. God’s love and faithfulness dwell within us by His Word and Spirit. St. Peter says that we have actually been made to be partakers of the divine nature through the flesh of Christ (2 Peter 1:4).

In a very real sense, then, all of you Christians have two natures. By birth, you have the nature of Adam. By rebirth in baptism, you have the nature of Christ. That’s why being a Christian is a struggle. Those two natures are at odds. Your old Adam continues to war against Christ and rebel against His saving work. For the work of Christ means the death of Adam. Your old nature doesn’t want to die. You still want to go your own way and do your own thing. The old Adam hangs around your neck until the grave. That’s why Lent is such an important season of the church year. It reminds us that being a Christian is always about repentance and forgiveness, daily going back to your baptism, that the old Adam in you may be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that Christ may daily emerge and arise in you to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

It was immediately after His baptism that Jesus was sent into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. This should teach us something about our own baptism into Christ. Many think of baptism just as a nice religious ceremony, a family event usually involving a cute little baby. We need to realize, however, that baptism puts us into the middle of a battle. For the baptized have been made to be enemies of the devil. In the water God snatches us from Satan’s kingdom. The devil doesn’t like to lose his slaves. The sign of the cross inscribed on our foreheads and our hearts is a like a target. Only by the Word and Spirit of Christ will we be protected from the schemes of the evil one. We should all pray more fervently and more diligently that God would guard us and all the baptized from the power of the devil.

Let us give our attention then briefly to the devil’s temptation of Christ and how Christ won the victory for us over our enemy. Satan came to Him and said, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” This first temptation is the temptation of the flesh. Jesus is hungry, so the devil tempts Him to use His power to gratify His desires. But the Father had not given Jesus to do that. It was His Father’s will that Jesus hunger on our behalf, that we might learn to hunger for Him who is the Living Bread.

The devil tempts us also to gratify our desires and lusts and passions. “Go ahead,” he says. “What’s the harm?” “Doesn’t God want you to be happy? Doesn’t He want you to enjoy yourself? If it feels good, do it.” But whatever the devil gives is temporary and short-lived; the pain that follows endures and lasts and multiplies. The devil doesn’t dish out happiness and freedom but addiction and slavery.

Notice also how the devil seeks to plant doubt with his temptation. He says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God...” At His Baptism the Father had just said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Now Satan wants Him to doubt that Word of God. “After all, if You really were the beloved Son of God, would the Father put You through these 40 days? Look at You; you don’t look like the Son of God, all weak and weary. Are you sure about who you are?”

This is how the devil attacks you, too. “If you are a child of God . . .” Satan wants you to doubt the Word of God spoken at your baptism. “If you really were a beloved child of God, would God allow you to go through the things you’ve gone through? And look at you, sinner; you don’t look like a Christian. Are you sure you’re forgiven? Are you sure you’re going to heaven?”

This is really the most evil of the devil’s temptations, to doubt your relationship with God, to doubt the Word that God has spoken to you. Remember the serpent’s question to Eve in the Garden, “Did God really say . . .?” We usually think of temptation in terms of physical things. But the even greater temptation is spiritual, the temptation to unbelief, the temptation to take your attention off of God’s Word and to believe other sources. In the Small Catechism, Luther placed the three temptations in this order: first, false belief; then, despair; and then, other great shame and vice. The vices come last; issues of faith come first.

So when the devil assaults your conscience and reminds you of your sins, fight him off by clinging to Christ and His Word. Don’t let Satan force you to dwell on your miserable self. Instead, focus on your merciful Savior. Know that all of your sins were swallowed up in the wounds of Christ on the holy cross. Anything that the devil can charge you with, Christ answered for at Calvary. With the Word and name of Jesus you can put the devil to flight. In this way Christ truly is your mighty fortress.

In response to the devil’s first temptation, Jesus replies, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” Jesus drives back the devil here and every time with the Scriptures, the solid rock of the Word. Our real life comes not from bread or any other earthly sustenance but from God’s words and speaking. and give us life. The Word proceeds from the mouth of God to you, “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” “I forgive you all your sins.” “This is My body and blood given and shed for you for the remission of sins.” Feeding on that Bread of Life, we live.

Jesus quotes Scripture, and so the devil, in his craftiness also quotes Scripture. He took Jesus up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” The devil has here what seems like a holy idea. God says that His angels will protect you. So let’s see if it’s true. Jump from the roof of the temple. But testing God like that does not flow from faith but from unbelief. It’s an attempt to manipulate God and make Him do your bidding. Unbelief demands outward displays of power to prove that God is really with you. Beware! That is the religion of the devil. Jesus said, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”

Don’t ever forget that the devil is very good at religion. He can quote the Bible with the best of them. But his religion, his Bible-quoting is always a perversion of the truth. It has the appearance of godliness and holiness and morality, but it is devoid of the grace of God, or it perverts God’s grace and mixes it with man-made righteousness. The devil laughs at the naiveté of those who think that it doesn’t matter what religion you are as long as you’re sincere. The devil doesn’t mind if people are religious. He is the founder of Mormonism and Islam. He invented prayers to Mary and the saints. He is the author of all sorts of Pharisaical programs of man-centered holiness. What he doesn’t like is the cross of Christ–if people trust not in their own merits but in the merits of Jesus alone for forgiveness.

Finally, the devil took Jesus up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” This was more than a wicked invitation for the Creator to bow down to the creation, this was an attempt by the devil to get Jesus to bypass the cross. “You want to reclaim and redeem the world, fine. But don’t do it the hard way through suffering and dying. Do it my way. Do homage to me and it’s all yours. You can have all the glory right now.” But Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” Jesus took the path to Calvary, the only path that would truly ransom you from the power of the devil. By the shedding of His holy blood, Jesus released you from Satan’s grip and purchased you as His own.

Today’s Gospel marks the beginning of our Lord’s victory over the devil. Jesus went face to face with the devil as our representative and our substitute. He was not defeated. He was tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Christ’s triumph over Satan now counts as our own. When we face temptation, we look not to our own strength and will but to Him who vanquished the enemy in the wilderness and crushed his head at Calvary.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Service of Victory Sermon for George C. Howarth Sr.

Revelation 2:10
“Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.”

February 27, 2009

A Service of Victory Sermon for George C. Howarth Sr.
Born of Flesh February 14, 1925.
He died in Christ Monday, February 23, 2009


Family and friends of George, especially Elena, Gordie, Ned, Jim, Bill, Rachel, Jane, Alice, Carol, & Grandchildren, grace to you and peace form God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Our text for today is Revelation 2:10: Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.

George C. Howarth was born on Valentines Day, 1925. He died in Christ on Monday, February 23, 2009. Blessed are the dead who die in this Lord from this time forth and even forevermore.

There is something beautiful and appropriate about being born on Valentines Day. Eighty – Four years ago George was born on the day of love coming down. It is a connection that lasted a lifetime. Today we see another love which comes to us it is a love beyond Sister, Wife, Sons, Daughters, Grandchildren. It is the love that came down from Heaven for us. Our Lord who came of the Blessed Virgin Mary entered this world the same way George did so many years ago. But it was not coincidence that this happened. It is because of His deep love for us that Christ calls us by faith and enlightens us with the Gospel.

God put His name on George and on each of us and He tied George and us to Himself in a way that would never end. Jesus died for Him, and therefore the bond of death was broken forever. When Jesus died, He destroyed the power of death forever. And because of that, the bond between our Lord and His child, George, continues even now beyond the grave. George is in Heaven now, awaiting the resurrection of the dead, because of what Christ did for Him on the cross.

In the Shepherds Psalm which we heard Christ tells us that He is our Shepherd that takes away all my want. He reminds us that He is the One Who sent His Son into this world. He is the One Who was born in Bethlehem. He is the One Who works faith in our hearts through the Good News of His love. In particular, we like to think of Jesus Christ, the Shepherd and the Lamb, Who died for us and rose again. The Lord Jesus holds out His nail-pierced hands to receive us and to accept us and to keep us forever ... in those hands.

And so the Lord God says, “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life,” pretty tall order, wasn’t it? I mean, could any of us truly be that faithful throughout his entire life? Would George enter into heaven at his death because he was faithful unto death?

The answer, of course, is no, as I am sure George would attest to as well. George like you and I couldn’t be that faithful. We are all sinners. He had a temper like everyone else. He got impatient, especially as his illnesses, old age, and memory loss seemed to get the best of him. I know George could get downright ornery, even with his own family members, over how he couldn’t go home like he wished. It doesn’t take too much imagination to recognize the sorrow of memory loss to the point of not being able to do anything for oneself. It’s hard to imagine anyone handling all of these adversities with perfect grace and love every moment of every day.

But George understood something. He understood that when God commanded be thou faithful unto death as He did to George and to all of us, that when God commanded this, He gave it as well. Faith, after all, is not our work at all. It is a gift. George would pray the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23 and even the creed with me up till the end.

The faith that God gave to George was pure gift. And God gave it to him abundantly. God in His mercy drew George into His holy kingdom through faith, and then kept Him in that holy kingdom by His Word. Faith always longs to be with the giver of the gifts, and George was ready to go home. Although I only knew him for a short time, I remember vividly the joy and calmness that George had when I read the Scriptures and prayed with him. That is faith. That is a pure gift.

George now belongs with the saints in heaven, and his suffering is at an end. St. Paul once said that we now see in a mirror, dimly, but then (at the end of all things) we will see face to face. George is now in the eternal presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, face to face. Think of all the singing he is doing now! I’m sure he must be excited with all the songs and whistling. No more memory loss. No more being in a wheelchair. No more having others waiting on him. He is whole and complete, awaiting the resurrection of all flesh, when we will be united with him in our Lord Jesus at the Last Day.

But until that time, we wait. And to be sure, we wait with not a little sorrow. Our Lord wept at the tomb of His friend, Lazarus, even knowing that He would raise Lazarus from the dead in a few short minutes. Death, no matter how you cut it, is wrong. It is not the way that God wants us to leave this earth. And so we weep, for we miss him, and long for things to be right that are wrong.

God hears your cries and knows your sorrows. He knows you long to be with George, and for things to be made right. And today He makes the same promise to you that He made to George: I will never leave you nor forsake you. Our Lord Jesus Christ promises that He will see you through your sorrow. He promises that you will see George again, and that your sorrow will come to an end. Even though it may seem bittersweet for a time, soon it will be replaced by joy at a happy reunion in Heaven.

But God does not leave you wishing and yearning to be with George. He is in Christ, just as you are in Christ. Furthermore, Christ died for you, just as he died for George. And every time you receive Christ’s body and blood in the Holy Sacrament, you are connected to George, because you are connected to Christ in the forgiveness of sins. Can you imagine the heavenly choirs? Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify your glorious name, ever more praising you and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth. Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Heaven and earth, dear friends, Heaven and earth join together in praise of the One who died and rose again so that George and all the company of heaven might receive the crown of life. I for one find the picture of George in the heavenly mansions, singing and rejoicing in God’s mercy, I find that to be a wonderful and beautiful picture.

So rejoice this night with tears. For your tears will come to an end, you will see George again at the Last Day. And what a happy reunion it will be.

We pray:
All blessing, honor, thanks and praise
To Father, Son, and Spirit,
The God who saved us by his grace;
All glory to his merit.
O triune God in heaven above,
You have revealed your saving love;
Your blessed name we hallow.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

“The Sacrifices of God”
Jonah 3 and Matthew 6
Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In the blessed name of Jesus. Amen.
The season of Lent lasts for 40 days, from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. Sundays are not counted because every Lord’s Day is a “little Easter” in the Church. Lent corresponds to the 40 days that our Lord Jesus fasted in the wilderness, in which He overcame the temptations of the devil. Living by faith in Christ, trusting in the all-sufficient merits of His holy life and His suffering for us, we seek to follow in His way–to put down and mortify sin and to grow in the holy life Christ has given to us. Today’s readings teach us how to do that. They instruct us in the true meaning of repentance and faith.

On the one hand, we learn from the Old Testament reading that true penitence has some outward aspects to it. Sometimes we can be tempted to believe that repenting and believing only has to do with what’s going on in our hearts. However, the account from Jonah shows us it involves our bodies, too. Jonah was sent to Nineveh by God to preach against it because of its wickedness. He declared, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” God’s judgment was about to come down upon them for what they had done.

Amazingly, it is written that the people of Nineveh believed God. You wonder what might happen if Jonah went to one of our great cities today and cried out against them because of their wickedness, violence, and immorality. The cynic in me thinks that he would be quickly dismissed as just another religious crackpot. But here in Nineveh, the Law of God was not met with rebellion, but it accomplished its primary purpose of leading the Ninevites to repentance. They proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the least of them to the greatest. Even the king of Nineveh laid aside his robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes. The king announced to the people: “Cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.”

Notice here how the repentance of the Ninevites involved their whole being. It wasn’t purely a spiritual matter but a bodily matter too. The two go together. They fasted and put on sackcloth as a way of humbling the flesh along with the spirit. They put themselves in the ashes as a sign of death they deserved. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Furthermore, their repentance involved the bodily act of turning away from evil, stopping the sinful deeds, which they had been doing. They didn’t just say, “Gee God, I’m sorry” while all the while planning to continue the same way of living. Their belief in God’s judgment was real. Their desire to change was real.

Let it also be the same way for us these 40 days of Lent. Whatever your pet sins may be–gossiping, gambling, drinking, greed and stealing, lust and sexual immorality, anger and losing your temper, grudge-holding, vengeance-seeking, misusing God’s name, laziness, self-righteousness–whatever it is, acknowledge that you have invited God’s just judgment by it. You have deserved nothing but death and hell. Repent, turn away from your sin and turn to God for mercy and help. That is literally what the word “repent” means, to turn, to turn around from embracing the things that lead to death to embracing the things that lead to life in Christ.

Even the Gentile king of Nineveh turned to the Lord in his repentance, declaring, “Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” The Ninevites put their hope not in their own turning; their own works of repentance, but in God’s turning. They relied on the hope that God would turn away from the judgment He had declared on the city. They believed the Lord to be good and merciful, and through that faith, they were saved. It is written, “Then God saw . . . that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”

In a very real way, the message of God to you this day is the same as Jonah’s, “Yet forty days and judgment is coming.” For Good Friday is about 40 days away. As we contemplate that coming judgment, we lose our appetite, so to speak. When a person is in sorrow or troubled or focused intently on a future goal, very often he won’t be able to eat. So also, as we enter this 40-day season, we engage in a holy fast, that our hearts, minds, and bodies may be more devoted to the Word of God and prayer. Like the king of Nineveh, we set our hope on the fact that God will turn His fierce anger away from us, so that we may not perish but have everlasting life.

In fact, we live in the sure confidence that our Lord will turn His fierce anger from us, because He has turned it elsewhere, on His own beloved Son, who bore our judgment for us on the cross. The Father executed our disaster on Christ. Therefore, He relents from bringing it upon us, and He does not do it. Jesus was laid low in the sufferings of hell and the ashes of death so that, as we lay ourselves low with Christ in the ashes of penitence, we may be raised up with Him to new life, the life we celebrate at the high feast of the Easter.

As we engage in the outward Lenten disciplines of almsgiving and prayer and fasting, Jesus reminds us to do these things for the right reasons and with the proper attitude inwardly in our hearts. He says, “When you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”

Christians do not horde worldly wealth. For we know that God is the Giver of all good and perfect gifts; and we trust that He will always provide for us, even as He does the birds of the air. By such faith we are freed to use our monetary resources in love towards others, to take what we have freely received from God’s right hand and freely give it for the good of our neighbor in need.

However, even such good deeds can be perverted and twisted back in on the self. Therefore, Jesus exhorts us to do our charitable giving secretly, to the point that our left hand doesn’t even know what our right hand is doing. In this way, the act can be entirely one of love, that is, one that receives no personal benefit such as worldly acclaim and glory, but one that is done solely for the sake of the neighbor and to please God alone. To give in this way is to find one’s satisfaction in the eternal praise of God and not the temporal praise of men. Jesus Himself is our reward, who will indeed be shown openly to us on the Last Day. He Himself is our wealth, as it is written, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

Jesus also alerts us here to the wrong and the right way to pray. “When you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

We are taught here to guard against making a show of our prayers, always making known to people how often we pray or whom we’re praying for, and the like, to make ourselves look more spiritual in the eyes of others and to be honored by them. Prayer is not directed toward man but toward God alone. It cares not what others think, be it good or bad. It trusts in the Lord and seeks only Him and His help. The “reward” given to such prayerful faith is precisely that which it trusts in, namely, God Himself–to receive His gifts, to live in His presence, to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Jesus finally speaks here of the wrong and the right way to fast. “When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

Christians fast and engage in other forms of self-denial not in order to be noticed by others. For such notice will pass and fade away. We do so rather in order to be purged of worldly loves and worldly desires and to direct our hearts to the eternal Creator who said, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Fasting is not done for any particular sort of gain or for the improvement of one’s health, but simply so that we may learn to hunger and thirst for the righteousness of Christ given in His words and sacraments.

Jesus said, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you . . . I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. . . If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world. . . Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Fasting in regards to the world, Jesus invites us to feast on Him who died and rose for us, to believe in Him, to receive His true body and blood so that we may be forgiven and share in His everlasting life, we in Him and He in us.

This is what it means to lay up for yourself treasure in heaven. For moth and rust cannot destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal this treasure which Christ has won for you. Endure patiently in the way of the cross, looking forward with sure confidence in the Easter victory feast–Christ’s resurrection, and our own resurrection when He comes again.
In the name of the father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.