Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sermon Lent 3 March 27, 2011

Oculi Lent 3
March 27, 2011
Luke 11:14-28

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

It is the way of the wicked to call what is good “evil,” and we have all done it. We have vilified those we disagree with. We rarely call our opponents in politics, at the work place, at home, or in the Church “evil.” But we've called them “closed-minded,” “hateful,” “legalistic,” “Pharisaic,” “stupid,” “racist,” and “liberal.” Our intentions in all criticism, in arbitrary accusations, character assassinations, and plain old name-calling has been to make ourselves look good and to enact some vengeance, born of envy or anger, disgust or ignorance, but never of charity, on our opponents. We've made ourselves the judge. We've relished our anger. Repent.

Our mothers were right. Whenever we point at someone four fingers point back at ourselves. Our insults and complaints reveal more of ourselves than they do of our opponents.

Hear the today's Gospel and see yourself not in Jesus but in the Pharisee’s. The Lord was working good, was casting out a demon. But some in the crowd hated Jesus, no matter what He did. Their hearts were full of envy and rage. They couldn’t stand or accept His good deeds. So they called him evil. They said, “He drives out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” They were saying, “Jesus is in league with Satan.”

The accusation tells us nothing of Jesus, except that He had power over demons, but it reveals much of the accusers. Who sides with the demons against Jesus? Who prefers the demons over Jesus? Who sows seeds doubt? Who demands a sign from heaven?

This is what the devil did in the desert when he asked Jesus to leap from the Temple. “Force the angels to catch you. Make your Father proved His power and His love.” The crowd already had a sign from Jesus: He cast out a demon. But unbelief always wants something more. Envy is never satisfied.

Jesus would later say to this same crowd that an evil generation seeks a sign. They refused to be satisfied and would not trust in Christ and His Word. They demanded proof. Jesus said He would give them was the sign of Jonah, the sign of a man buried three days in the belly of death alive out of death to preach repentance and salvation to the Gentiles. That’s the sign faith clings to--the sign of the cross, Christ crucified and risen to save sinners, death spitting up its prey.

You were once darkness, under the influence of demons, calling good things evil, being filled with rage, lust, and envy. Jesus shines in the darkness. He has suffered demons. He has taken your accusations, your vilifications, your sins. He was executed as a sinner, with wicked men, to wash your sins way. He has thus rescued you from the devil’s domain. He gives His own mercy and grace to you. He has broken the devil’s grip on all creation and cast him into Hell to pull you out. He shines with the light of grace, undeserved and perfect love. He loves you. Thus you have been brought into the kingdom and given God's own Holy Spirit. You are baptized. Your tongue is loosed to sing His praise. He has you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

Still fallen men call what is good evil. They attack God’s Word by calling it a human-created fiction. They say Christians are intellectually foolish and psychologically weak, Christianity is an offense that should die its own death. But God has chosen nonsense in the world to shame the wise. God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen you, in His mercy, to be vilified with the Lord, to go the way of the cross, to move from the Pharisees to Jesus.

The devil is obviously strong. He has great power. He is ruthless, and also clever. But Jesus is stronger. He exercises His strength not with spectacular power, violence, or deceptions, but instead He submits to all the devil has. He lets the devil do his worst, bring his full power to bear, and He turns the other cheek. He uses Satan’s strength against him. It is not a surprise. It is exactly what was prophesied. The devil knew. He quoted the Word of God in the desert. But in the end, he was a fool who could not resist the chance to kill God even though this is how he lost humanity. Jesus did not use not evil disguised as good, that is the way of the devil. Jesus used good disguised as evil. The unjust death He died, the innocent for the guilty, is good. His crown of thorns, His bloody arms and legs, His dying thirst are good. The centurion's conversion and the repentant thief are good. The death of Jesus appeared evil but is the ultimate and greatest good. It is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes. The strong man's strength is no more. The Lord infiltrated the enemy's camp. He destroyed death from behind enemy lines. The devil’s armory was turned on the devil and then demolished. So that he has nothing left to use on us and no way to keep us in.

It was by a tree that the devil overcame the human race and plunged creation into darkness. So it is by the Tree of the cross that the devil is overcome. It was by death that Satan sought to steal away man’s glory. So it is by the death of Jesus Christ that the glory of man is restored. Satan is caught in his own trap, succumbs to temptation, bound and defeated. The strong man is out-maneuvered by the Stronger Man whose strength is not hatred and rage but love and mercy. The war is over. Satan is defeated. Jesus is the Victor.

The devil is defeated. But he still lashes out in a frenzy, like a drowning man seeking to drag everyone down with him. His strength is gone. He has no accusations left. Death itself is undone. But the devil thrashes about with such violence that some are deceived and think it is strength. Thus do defeated, evil spirits return. And if the freed heart is not filled with good, the demons are not replaced with the Lord, then the last state of that man is worse than the first.

The unclean spirits must be replaced with the Holy Spirit. And those who have the Holy Spirit hear the Word of God and keep it and are thereby blessed. Blessed are those whose wickedness has been covered and sins have been forgiven. Blessed are those who confess what is evil as evil and confess what is good, even the Lord Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection, as good.

You are such people. For though you have called good evil and vilified your opponents, so also have you confessed your sins. You are not a hypocrite. You have not claimed to be anything other than a sinner. Neither are you wicked. For you do not call your sins good. You confess them. You call them evil. You repent of them. And you also confess the goodness of Jesus Christ, of His Holy Cross, of His power over death and the devil, and of His Holy Sacraments. You expect and receive forgiveness. You hear the Word of God and keep it, which is to not to say that you obey it perfectly but that you believe it, you trust it, you hope in it. Jesus Christ is your Lord.

In +Jesus' Name. Amen.

Lent Midweek 3 Sermon March 23, 2011

Midweek 3 Sermon
The Patient Lamb of God
1 Peter 2:21–24
March 23, 2011

“Lamb of God, Pure and Holy”—that beautiful Lenten hymn (LSB 434) ties all our sermons together this season. Tonight, our meditation takes a more personal turn as our concentration shifts to the third line of the hymn: “ever patient and lowly.” So we fix our attention on “the patient Lamb of God.”

In our text St. Peter speaks of the example of Jesus, and we are all ears. God knows the school of hard knocks leaves us battered and bruised much of the time, and most of those injuries we have not deserved. Despite our best efforts to play by the rules and lead a godly life, we often end up with the short end of the stick. So while we are licking our wounds, we wonder: Is there another way, perhaps? Could Jesus provide us with a model of how to handle undeserved opposition? Maybe a dose of what He dished out in the temple against the money changers would prove helpful. Maybe a whip and a few well-chosen angry words would teach people a thing or two. Just what do you do when you do good and suffer for it? Is there another way?

But St. Peter leaves us no wiggle room. Want to know what to do when you suffer for doing good? Suffer, that’s what. “To this you were called,” writes St. Peter, “because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). The patient Lamb of God, you see, does not mean just a lamb who is tolerant and enduring. “Patient” means “suffering.” Tonight we consider the suffering Lamb of God. He is our example, writes St. Peter. He is the one who suffered for us.

And this suffering Lamb of God is not just a pattern or a mentor in suffering. Jesus wrote the book on suffering, and He wrote it in His own blood. He, the one who suffered for us, has called us to suffering. “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me,” says Jesus. Christians ought not be surprised when suffering comes their way; it is part of the deal. Along with Jesus comes His cross. You cannot have a Jesus who doesn’t suffer. There simply is no Jesus like that. The very reason He left His Father’s throne and came down from glory was to lower Himself all the way to death, even death on a cross. Jesus came to lay down His life as a ransom for sinners. This is the measure of His love, and the Father’s love, for a lost and fallen world. “In this is love,” wrote St. John, “not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and gave His Son as the payment for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Yes, this Jesus whom we love is the patient Lamb of God, the suffering Lamb of God who suffered for us. He left us an example, that we should follow in His steps. Make no mistake about it, those footsteps are marked by hardship and suffering. “Come, follow Me,” says Jesus. Then He walked the sorrowful road to the cross. The very fact that we follow Jesus will get us in trouble. It gets us in trouble with the devil, but also with an ungodly and unbelieving world. We get in trouble with the devil and the world because they are allied against Jesus, and we are aligned with Jesus—we belong to Him. It should not surprise us, then, that the going can get tough in this world, because the enemies of Jesus are enemies of His friends too.

We keep wondering what went wrong when things go bad in our life; we think that if we are on God’s side everything should be fine and dandy. Not so, says St. Peter. “To this you were called,” (1 Peter 2:21). Because Christ suffered for you, you ought to expect to suffer when you have done nothing wrong. This is the life you have inherited because you belong to Jesus. Following in His steps means you share in His sufferings because you have the same enemies He has. These very sufferings, therefore, are the mark of authentic Christian faith; they show that you belong to Jesus, the patient Lamb of God.

“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). Ok, but that’s only half the story. These words are quoted from the prophet Isaiah, where we see the full extent of the trials of the suffering Messiah: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:9). It is a package deal, this patient love of Jesus for His Church. It includes not only suffering but also death. That is how we confess it in the baptismal creed: “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.”

So when we read the Passion history in these Lenten services, it is not so we can feel sorry for Jesus and all He went through at the hands of those bad people. Those cunning enemies of Jesus didn’t do Him in. Rather, it was the deliberate plan of God to make Jesus the victim of our sin so we could go free. “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquity. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed” (see Isaiah 53:5).

The phrase “the Passion of the Christ” means His suffering and all that it included. St. Peter gives us the shorthand version: “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). That about sums up the suffering of Jesus. From His first words at the cross until His last, Jesus’ sole concern was to do the Father’s will in giving His body and shedding His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. He did not utter a word in self-defense or revenge from the beginning to the end. Instead, Jesus began by saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). And He ended by saying, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Now that is love for you. Love never seeks its own way but pours itself out for others. At the cross we see Love incarnate pouring Himself out for the sins of the entire world. This is a patient love, a suffering love. Having loved His own, Jesus loved them all the way to death, even the death of the cross. That is the measure of His love, this patient Lamb of God, this suffering Lamb.

We do not enjoy suffering and hardship. And we Christians don’t seek out suffering. We will take it when it comes our way because we know it goes with the territory. As Peter says, “To this we were called, because Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). But suffering is never an end in itself.

The suffering of Jesus on His cross was not for its own sake. St. Peter reminds us when he writes: “He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).

The reason Jesus was sacrificed is that He was the sin-bearer—but not His sins; rather, He bore our sins. All our selfishness, all our pride and arrogance, all our impenitence, all our stubborn refusal to love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves, all our impatience and petty irritation with God and other people, all our refusal to let God be God, and all our prideful attempts to build ourselves up by tearing others down—each and every one of these sins of ours deserve death. So it is no wonder that Jesus died, though He is God who cannot die. For He is our sin-bearer, who bore all our sins in His own body.

And when Jesus, the patient Lamb of God, bore our sins in His suffering and death, He bore them all away. He removed once and for all the death penalty that stood against us. In a mysterious way, we died, too, in that death of His. St. Peter explains it this way: “so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Here is where Christ’s patience becomes our patience: since by the grace of God all our impatience and ungodliness was given to Jesus in His death, He has taken it all away and given us His own righteousness. We have not just a new way of life, but a whole new life. When we are insulted, we need not retaliate; when we suffer, we need not threaten. And that’s good to know.

You may have suffered a lot because of the words or actions of others over the years, and you are not alone. Many of us are among the walking wounded. It is a tough, dark world out there. In such a world people get hurt. But remember that when Jesus was wounded for your transgressions, He also took your hurt with Him to His cross. By His wounds you have been healed. Your hurt comes to an end in Him who cried out in triumph that day at Calvary: “It is finished!” You need not carry your hurt with you any longer. Jesus bears your grief’s and carries all your sorrows. There is healing in His holy body and most precious blood.

A whole new life in Christ and His righteousness is yours, then. Take it and go with it into life. Live in Him as He is alive in you—this patient Lamb of God who bore all your sins in His own body on the tree. By His wounds you have been healed.

Lent 2 Sermon March 20, 2011

Lent 2 Reminiscere
March 19-20, 2011
Matthew 15:21-28
“Lord, help me.”

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

It is not right to give the children's bread to the dogs. But this woman is bold. Her response to being ignored was to keep on asking. Her response to overhearing that He came only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel was to fall down and worship Him. Her prayer for her daughter's demon possession is simply, “Lord, help me.”

Then He says, “It is not right to give the children's bread to the dogs.” But she is bold. She does not quit. She has the promises. She has the Scriptures. She waits on the Lord, for Him to show His mercy, to bare His arm, to reveal Himself. She does not want the children's bread. She wants more. She wants His bread.

“Yes, Lord,” she says, “yet the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the Lord's table.” Put me in your lap, Lord. Scratch behind my ear. Throw the ball. And let me eat what falls from the loaf of which You eat. I want a part of Your bread.

Better to be a doorkeeper in the House of God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. Better to be a dog in the home of the Lord than to be the play thing of demons.

Now, some would say that we should not see in this bread anything of the Holy Communion. They tell us that every instance of bread or wine in the Scriptures is not a sacrament, does not bestow the forgiveness of sins, and is not the Body and Blood of Jesus. Sometimes, they say, bread is just bread.

Is that so? Is bread, from the perspective of heaven, ever “just” bread? Does God ever feed us, provide for all that we need to support this body and life, in a casual, even accidental way? Is there any providence from heaven, any feeding, any love or mercy of God apart from the Body and Blood of Jesus crucified and raised? No. Everything goes back to the cross and the Holy Communion brings the cross back to us.

But this isn't the feeding of the five thousand or turning water into wine. There is no actual bread even as there are no actual dogs. These are metaphors. There is only the Lord, His disciples, the woman, her daughter, and the demons. The demons are not metaphors. They are real, so is the daughter sorely vexed and the mother full of fear. Jesus is not a metaphor either, nor are His disciples. They are real. They are there.

The Lord acts strangely. What the disciples want of Him, I do not know. They ask Him to release her or send her away because she is crying after them. Is this because they are annoyed, tired of the cries. Or are they embarrassed that He ignores her? Are they moved by compassion? Does His silence, His ignoring of her valid cry, concern them? Are they helpless and heartbroken or just annoyed? I don't know, but I suspect it is a complicated mixture of things. In this, at least, I feel at one with them. How many times has it seemed to me as though the Lord ignored the prayers of people sorely in need and how badly I, the “professional church worker” have wished for a miracle not only to help the needy but also to show that my God is real and has power. In any case, the apostles are not metaphors. But they are helpless. And though they are not metaphors they are prototypes of the Ministry. They can't do a thing for the woman or her daughter, who are prototypes for the laity. The apostles and the woman stand before demons as helpless as we stand before cancer, war, poverty. All they can do is pray.

But this is the Lord's intent. He is not a prototype. He is the antitype. He is the fulfillment of all the prophecies and types, of all the hopes and dreams of the world, of all creation. His intent is that His pastors would pray and that the people would pray, that they would come to Him with the boldness and confidence of dear children asking their dear father. The woman puts the apostles to shame. She is better at prayer than they are. She is bold. She is confident. She wants not the children's bread, she wants to share in His bread.

Is this only a metaphor? Does she really mean only something other than bread? She is not, after all, an actual dog. I think she wants more than bread, but that she also wants bread. She wants to eat with Jesus, to be in fellowship with Jesus. Her prayer has grown from, “Have mercy on me for my daughter is possessed by a demon” to “help me” to “share Your bread with me.”

Could it be Eucharistic? That is, in asking for bread, is she actually asking for what Our Lord gives in the Lord's Supper? The Lord's Supper is not a metaphor or symbol. The bread we break is His Holy Body, crucified and risen, given to us to eat with our mouths to forgive our sins. Doesn't her plea for bread have something to do with how the Lord helps us, has mercy upon us, delivers us and our children from demons? Of course. Then it is Eucharistic.

But here is really why it is Eucharistic, not simply because she mentions bread, but because the Lord is constant and unchanging. He did not one day decide to try something new and invent the Holy Sacraments. This is how He always is, always interacts with His people. He feeds. The sacrifices were mainly meat for eating. The Manna in the dessert was also food. But man does not live by bread alone, even by Manna alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God, even as Our Lord reminded the devil last week. So the Lord does more than feed the Body. He provides for the soul through the body. You can't wash a soul. So you wash the body with water and the Name of God and the soul is thereby washed. We call that baptism. You can't touch the soul or feed it apart from the body, so Jesus feeds our bodies with physical food that conveys food for the soul, with what the soul needs to be strengthened and cleansed. He does not sit in heaven and think nice things toward us. He actually enters into creation. He speaks through human words, in a human voice. He feeds with bread and wine. He washes with water.

Food is not a metaphor. It is real. So is God's grace. God's Word has taken up flesh to be our Savior, to walk among us, to suffer as us, to be punished and killed in our place. He has accomplished what He was sent to do. He has pulled us out of Hell that we would have communion with Him. He enters into us by way of the mouth, feeds us with Himself and thereby consumes us, makes us a part of Him, while taking residence in us. It is not the children's bread He gives. That would not be right for us, mere dogs, Gentiles. But He came only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He is not lying when He says that. So the woman must be transformed. She must join the house of Israel, become a son of Abraham, an heir of promise. The Lord does this. He transforms her through His Word. But still He gives more than the children’s bread, to her and to us. For He gives out of His affection and generosity. He gives Himself, the Bread come down from heaven, the Bread of Life.

He hears the woman's prayer. He gives Himself to her. The demons depart, banished. He hears your prayer as well. He gives Himself to you in His Bread. The demons cannot have you. They depart. You, O House of Israel, are His.

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