Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lent 5 Sermon March 29, 2009

Lent 5 – Judica

March 28 - 29, 2009

John 8:42-59

Before Abraham Was, I AM”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is from the Gospel lesson just read from John chapter 8. We focus particularly on Jesus’ words, Before Abraham was, I AM.

The time of Jesus’ passion and death grows nearer. This Sunday is traditionally called Passion Sunday, for it is on this day that we hear of the people’s rejection of Jesus as the only Messiah, and how they sought to kill Him. We drape all the crosses in the church to remind us that the price for our Lord’s passion is great, and so that when we next view the cross, it will be with new eyes.

Jesus properly points out to the Jews that if they truly were from God, they would love Him, for He proceeds from the Father and goes back to the Father. He then goes on to say that they, the people, are of their father, the devil. For the devil is the father of lies and is at the root of all sin and evil in the world.

This is how our Lutheran Confessions treat this text about the devil. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession writes: “Nevertheless, the cause of sin is the will of the devil and of men turning away from God, as Christ said about the devil (John 8:44), ‘When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature.’”

In times of great evil and distress in the world, it is quite common to ask the question of why. Why is there so much evil in the world? Why is there so much hatred and violence? But if you dig even deeper, the question may even be asked of yourself: why do I do these things? Why am I so torn and possessed by sin? Saint Paul himself struggled with this very same question when he wrote: For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. Romans 7:18-20 (ESV)

This is the slavery to sin which we all are bound under and which we all struggle with every day or our lives. If you do not struggle and fight against sin, it is not a sign that you don’t sin. It is a sign that you are blind to sin and do not realize it’s stranglehold on you.

This is the message which so incensed and infuriated the Jews in Jesus’ day. He had the audacity and sheer gall to suggest to them that they were not going to be automatically saved because they were Jews. But even more, Jesus knows and understands the connection between sin and the devil. For the two always go together.

Now let’s step back and stop talking history for a minute. For Jesus isn’t talking about the Jews in this text finally; he’s talking about you. He’s talking about your desire to cling to pet sins. He’s talking about your wanting to always hold back on God. You know what I mean. I’ll go to church and be a Christian and all, but there are just some things that are too good to give up. There are certain sins which are mine, and I’m not going to let anything or anyone get in the way of doing what I want to do.

This is the trial Abraham faced in the sacrifice of his son. God had given him a son in his old age, and now God asked him to go and sacrifice his son, to prove his great love for the Lord. It didn’t make sense, and Abraham was sorely tempted to simply refuse. After all, this was his son, no one could take him away. He loved Isaac like no one else in the world. And yet it is precisely that love for his son which God tested. What are you willing to give up for me, the Lord asked. Your livelihood, your friends, your life, or even your son’s life?

Abraham walked by faith not by sight. He passed the test, because God gave him the faith to pass the test. But Abraham is not the only one God ever tested.

Every day or your life your faith is tried and tested in the furnace of the cross. There are constantly temptations for you to overcome, trials to face, and crosses to bear. But you know the dilemma: you fail at these every day. Like the Jews of Jesus’ day, you just can’t see past your own selfish nature and self-righteous judgment about the rest of the world.

So where is the Gospel? Where does the hope lie? The hope lies in those great words of Jesus: Before Abraham was, I AM. Those may sound like easy words to say, but those are words of sweet comfort for the hurting sinner. Those words draw you outside of yourself and your own failures and shortcomings, and draw you into His loving embrace and His everlasting comfort.

Let me explain. As long as you look at sin as something you can conquer like a bad habit, you will fail. We have a hard enough time conquering bad habits. Sin goes much, much deeper. Being a Christian is not like a diet program to get rid of sin. Sin is a part of your very nature as a human being since the Fall. You cannot simply reform your way of life. That is putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound. You must be reborn. You must be made anew. No set of laws or regulations or steps for living will cure this disease. It must come from outside of you.

Before Abraham was, I AM. What this means is that this Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has had your salvation planned before the foundation of the world. God knew you would fail, and His love for you is so great, so strong and powerful, that He ordained His only-begotten Son to come into your flesh and die so that the price would be paid for your failure.

The author to Hebrews put it this way: Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. Jesus enters into that most holy place and paid the price, the ultimate price of His very life for you. It is that body and blood which you eat and drink this day. It is that body and blood which will cleanse you and remake you into the image of God once again.

This message is offensive. It forces you to put aside all of your silly and pathetic ideas about yourself, about your worth and status, and strips away the layers of sin and death which infect us all. And in their place the very image of God is put upon you with water and the Word of God.

So it is in that message of life through death and salvation through suffering that brings hope and peace to you this day. Abraham rejoiced to see this day, and he saw it and was glad. For all of heaven rejoice when one sinner comes to realize their sinfulness and turns in faith to the only one who can save them, even Jesus Christ, our Lord.

As we prepare for our Lord’s Passion, death and resurrection once again, may this ever be your song: Jesus, sinners does receive. Believe it for His sake. Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lenten Midweek Holy Baptism

Midweek Lenten Service

March 25, 2009

“It Works” (The Sacrament of Holy Baptism)

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church

Girard, Illinois

The Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer. Tonight, in our series on the Catechism, the basics of the Christian faith, we come to the sacraments. We begin, fittingly enough, with the sacrament with which we begin the Christian life, namely, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. I think all that I want to say about Holy Baptism tonight I can include under a heading of just two words: “It Works.” It works! It is effective. It actually does something--quite a lot, really. Holy Baptism works, and it works in your life.

Tonight, then, we want to answer these three questions about the Sacrament of Holy Baptism: Why does it work? What does it work? How long does it work? First, then: Why does Holy Baptism work? The clue is found there in that term, “Holy Baptism.” Wherever you see the word “Holy” used like this, you can substitute the word, “His,” referring to God. Holy Baptism is His Baptism, God’s Baptism. It belongs to him. He’s the one who came up with it. He’s the one doing the work.

Christ himself instituted Holy Baptism. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” the risen Lord says. And then he commissions his church to act with his authority: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” How? By baptizing them and teaching them. “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The name of the triune God stands behind Baptism. God is the one doing the baptizing. He just uses the minister’s hands. God is at work in Baptism, making disciples of Jesus. God is at work in Baptism, and that’s why it works.

This biblical view of Baptism stands in contrast to the prevailing view in many groups around us, which teach that Baptism is our work--that God is not at work in Baptism, that instead we are the ones doing the work, making our decision for Jesus. Those groups deny that Baptism works, that it actually does something. They turn Baptism from Gospel--God giving us his gifts--into Law, just another work that we have to do for God.

Turning Baptism into a work that we have to perform, in obedience to God’s ordinance--that is robbing Baptism of being the great gift and treasure that God has made it to be. We know that our works cannot save us. Only God can save us, and he does it through the means he has appointed. Luther writes in the Large Catechism. “Our works, indeed, do nothing for salvation. Baptism, however, is not our work but God’s. . . . So you see plainly that there is no work here done by us, but a treasure which God gives us and faith grasps.”

Yes, we maintain that Holy Baptism works, and the reason it works is because God is the one doing the work. To that end, he has attached his Word to Baptism. Whenever God attaches His creative, powerful Word to something--even something as lowly and common as water--it does great things. The Holy Spirit works through this Word, connected to the water, to bring forth new life, a new creation. There was water, the Spirit, and the Word at the first creation, when God created the heavens and the earth. And there is water, the Spirit, and the Word at the new creation, every time God brings forth a new Christian! The Word of God is powerful and life-giving, and the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, uses this means of water and the Word--Holy Baptism--to make new and living Christians out of old and dying sinners.

That brings us to our second question: What does Holy Baptism work? Here we would recall what we said a few moments ago from the Small Catechism: “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation.” In fact, that’s where I got the idea for the title of this sermon, “It Works.” Notice, those are the first two words in that answer, “It works.” Baptism actually does something: It saves us. It gives us all of God’s gifts. God gives us His benefits through Baptism.

Unless you think this was just something Luther came up with, I will remind you of what the Bible says. Jesus tells Nicodemus that we need to be born again, “born of water and the Spirit.” St. Paul echoes this when he tells Titus that God “saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” That’s Baptism, the new birth by which God saves us. St. Peter tells the crowd on the Day of Pentecost that they should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ “for the forgiveness of sins,” and that they will receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit--“the promise is for you,” Peter says, this wonderful promise God attaches to Holy Baptism. Likewise, St. Peter says in his epistle, “Baptism now saves you.”

Baptism works. “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation.” Doesn’t that sound very much like what we heard in the Explanation of the Second Article of the Creed, where we said that Jesus Christ has redeemed us “from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil,” that we may live under him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Do you get the point? Do you make the connection? The same benefits that Christ won for us on the cross--forgiveness of sins, redemption from death and the devil, everlasting life and salvation--those same benefits are given to us in Holy Baptism. Or to put it the other way around: The benefits that Baptism gives are the very same things that Christ won for you on the cross! The whole gospel, all the gifts that God has for you, everything that Jesus Christ purchased for you by the shedding of his blood--it all comes to you in the waters of Holy Baptism.

“Therefore,” Luther says, “every Christian has enough in Baptism to learn and to do all his life. For he has always enough to do by believing firmly what Baptism promises and brings: victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, God’s grace, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with His gifts.” Here then, my friends, you can take comfort in knowing that God has poured this great treasure upon you in Baptism. Remember that you are baptized, that you belong to God. He claimed you for his own by putting his name on you. “So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, ‘Nevertheless, I am baptized. And if I am baptized, it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.’”

“I am baptized.” Notice that. Not just, “I was baptized,” back on such-and-such a date, and that has no relevance now for my life. No, I “am” baptized; I am in a baptized condition. That brings us to our third question: How long does Holy Baptism work? Answer: It keeps on working, as long as we live, every day, until we reach our final goal.

Baptism is a dying and a rising. It happened on the day you were baptized. Your old sinful self was put to death and buried, and a new person came out alive, alive with Christ, alive in the Spirit. And, this baptismal dying and rising continues to happen, every day that you live as both sinner and saint. Each day, that old Adam hanging around your neck--the sinful flesh that doesn’t want to listen to God, that wants to be his own god--the Old Adam needs to be put under the water, over and over again, and die. Daily repentance, sorrow over sin, denying the sinful self--that is Holy Baptism at work every day. As is the daily rising with Christ, living the new life in the Spirit. That’s baptismal living. Being the new person you are in Christ. That too is Holy Baptism at work in your life. The dying and the rising are inseparable--dying to sin, rising to righteousness and new life. Now, in Christ, by the power of the Spirit, you can say “yes” to loving God and loving your neighbor. God gives you new desires and new impulses, to live the way God created you to live. That’s walking in newness of life. Baptism keeps on working.

It continues to work every day until you reach the final goal. That is the resurrection of the body. Yes, God redeemed both your soul and your body in Holy Baptism. That’s one reason the water was poured over your head: to show that God has claimed this body that he created but that sin infected with death. God has committed himself to reclaim your body for eternity, for eternal life. He will give you a new and glorified body at the resurrection of the dead, when Christ returns. Just as our Lord Jesus Christ was raised from the dead with a glorified body, no longer subject to death, so it will be for you at the Last Day. Your baptism assures you of that. In Holy Baptism, you were joined to Jesus, in his death and resurrection. The body God created, the body Christ redeemed, the body the Holy Spirit sanctified through Holy Baptism--this body, corrupted by sin, will be raised incorruptible, imperishable, whole and glorious. This is the sure hope you have, my friends, the hope of the resurrection and eternal life! This is the hope into which you have been baptized!

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism: It works! Why? Because it is God’s Baptism, Holy Baptism, His Baptism. He’s the one doing the work. What does it work? Everything Christ won for you on the cross: forgiveness for your sins; rescue from the devil’s domain into the new life in the Spirit; resurrection from the dead and eternal life and salvation. How long does it work? Every day, as long as you live--and then some. Luther sums it up: “In this way one sees what a great, excellent thing Baptism is. It delivers us from the devil’s jaws and makes us God’s own. It suppresses and takes away sin and then daily strengthens the new man. It is working and always continues working until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.” Yes, Holy Baptism: It works, and keeps on working, for you! Amen.