Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Transfiguration Sunday (Series B: Mark 9:2-9)

“This is my beloved Son; listen to Him!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Transfiguration Sunday comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, I’ve always been perplexed when I see a movie with a ‘special appearance’ by someone. It kinda makes me feel bad for the other actors- they are all just making ‘regular’ appearances, but that guy, he’s making a ‘special’ appearance. Or maybe I should feel bad for the actor or actress who is singled out. Maybe they have low self-confidence, or a big ego, and so they need to be called ‘special’ in the credits. Either way, I think it’s a bit odd, but we see it in our Gospel lesson for today, so I guess its okay. Here we have two people who make a ‘special appearance’ on the Mountain of Transfiguration. “And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.” You know Moses, of Ten Commandments fame? Or Elijah, who on Mount Carmel took on the prophets of Baal in a Rocky-esque battle royale? Both of these guys showed up on that day, they made their ‘special appearance’ with Jesus and the disciples.

But even if they were making a ‘special appearance’ that day, they were not doing anything different than they had done before. They were pointing to Christ, something they had dedicated their very lives to. Moses and Elijah pointed to Jesus with their writings, their preaching, and their very lives. They were there on the mountain that day as a proof to the disciples that Jesus was the One foretold in the Scriptures, the promised Messiah, the One who was to come. For Transfiguration day was a day on which Jesus was revealed for who He truly is, the Son of God, God in the flesh, on the top of the mountain in the presence of James, John, and Peter He uncovered His glory. “And He was transfigured before them, and His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” The glory that Jesus kept hidden throughout His time on this earth was revealed for brief moments on the mountain of Transfiguration, there He proved to the disciples that He truly was God.

Is it any wonder that Peter wanted to stay? He loved the glory of God, he wanted to bask in it forever, dwelling amongst Moses and Elijah, and God in the flesh, Jesus Christ Himself. “And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He has seen the glory of God face to face, and this little glimpse convinces him to set up shop and stay. Peter wanted the glory- right now! We like to get after Peter, but as I have said before, his only problem is that he says out loud what everyone else is thinking. We too want to stay among the glory, we thirst for that glory, we want God to deliver us the glory right now! The glimpse of God’s glory we see on this day threatens to suck us in, to make us want to remain aloof from the problems of this world. We don’t want to leave the mountain, we don’t want to face the challenges of this world. Our sinful inclination is to want glory first and glory last- the glory of God is itself not bad, but Satan uses it to severely tempt us. It surely tempted Peter, and Satan worked through this apostle to tempt Jesus. That is why the gospel of prosperity and glory has swept through our world, extolled by Pentecostalism in South America and TV preachers here at home. That is why too many Christians avoid engagement with this sinful world, that is why we seek glory over others even in the church, that is why we expect the victorious life here on this earth. And this is only our more pious thirst for glory. We are too often tempted to seek out the glory of this world, whether it is money and fame, or reputation and how we look in the eyes of others. Glory can capture us with even a glance, even a glimpse, as it did to Peter in our text.

And Peter’s suggestion could’ve been the end of the story. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah could’ve stayed in their tents, with Peter, James, and John worshipping them, sitting in the glory of God forever. Two thousand years later they would still be there, a sight to behold, perhaps a permanent shrine to the glory of God in the flesh, perhaps even you or me would’ve traveled to Israel to see them. And we would still be in our sins. Thanks be to God that Jesus did not listen to Peter, but instead came down from the mountain and walked to Jerusalem and the cross! For a Jesus in glory on the Mountain of Transfiguration could not save us, only a Jesus hanging from a cross could do that. Suffering always comes before glory, no matter how much we humans want to turn it around. Before He went up onto the mountain, Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Only then could Jesus reign in glory, only after He suffered and died, paying the price for our sin, for our thirst for earthly glory. He went to the cross because of His love for us, His love for you and me. This love was so overwhelming, so powerful, that it drove Jesus from the mountain, it compelled Him to come down. He had to face Pilate’s soldiers, He had to face the cross, He had to face abandonment by the Father because He did not want us to- His love refused to let us suffer the consequences for our sin, so He took it upon His shoulders. Only then, only after the suffering, could glory come. “And as they were coming down the mountain, He charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Easter Sunday held the glory, and it only came after suffering.

It is the same pattern in our lives. Suffering comes before glory. We want to stay with Peter in the glory of God, but like Peter, we must come down from the mountain. For we too are to bear crosses in this life, our lives follow His pattern. This cross may be sickness or disease, it may be the raising of children, it may be care for aging parents. A cross may come from our confession of Christ to others around us, it may be persecution for the faith that mirrors Christ’s own suffering. Jesus says before our text: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Ultimately, the bearing of crosses comes from our Christian life, the fact that we deny ourselves and follow Christ, the fact that we put others in front of ourselves. This causes suffering, this causes heartache, this causes persecution. A Christian’s life in this world is characterized not by glory but by the bearing of crosses, with being shaped by the cross, shaped by Christ. We bear our crosses looking toward the glory that is yet to come. And we do not do this alone. The cloud of God’s presence surrounded the disciples on the mountain of Transfiguration, and even if they had to leave the mountain, God’s presence continued to surround them like a cloud. The disciples walked the way of the cross, but they did not walk alone. Christ walked beside and with them, just as He walks beside and with you and me in this life. We do not journey through this life alone, but instead we walk with Christ on the road He trod, and we journey with the cloud of God’s presence around us.

“And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him!’” The cloud of God’s presence declares to us what it first declared to the disciples. God had a point to make with the Transfiguration. He wanted to show the disciples that Jesus was true God, that He was the one foretold by Moses and the prophets, that He truly was who He said He was, the Son of God. But there is much more than that. For with the redemption of Christ by means of His suffering and death, God now speaks these words to you. He said it in your Baptism- “This is my beloved child!” He says it to you each and every day- “This is my beloved child!” For the sake of Christ, we have been adopted by God as His children, we have been incorporated into His family, the rift between God and man has been bridged by the blood of Jesus. It is for that reason that Jesus stands beside us and with us each and every day, it is for that reason that He helps us to bear our crosses. And it is for the sake of Jesus that on the Last Day God will look at us and say, “This is my beloved child!”

“And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him!’” God has a set of instructions for us all on the mountain of Transfiguration. If this is His beloved Son, then we are to listen to Him! It is only through the Word of Christ that we are incorporated into God’s family, it is only through His Word that we are adopted as His children. The Word of Jesus does this, the Word of forgiveness, the Word of life, the Word that applies His death and resurrection to you. It is through this Word that Jesus removes your veil of unbelief, as Paul says in our Epistle lesson: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” With the veil removed, we now believe, we are now God’s children, we can now face all the crosses that come our way because we are God’s children, and we know that suffering comes before glory.

For we are awaiting our own transfiguration. Paul says again: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” The word that Paul uses here for ‘transformed’ is the same word that Matthew uses for ‘transfigured.’ We will be transfigured, Transfiguration day is a picture of our future! Jesus on that day showed us what we will look like in the glory of heaven, in the glory of eternal life! We know that suffering comes before glory, we know that following Christ and denying ourselves is not an easy task, we know just how hard it is to tear our eyes away from the mountain top and go back to the world below. But go we must, for Christ has placed us on this earth to serve others and speak of Him. But my friends, never lose that picture of glory in our text today. We know that glory comes after suffering, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t look forward with eagerness to that Day on which we will be transfigured and glorified to live before God forever. Transfiguration Day is a glimpse of heaven, it is a glimpse of our future, and it is a glorious future. Suffering always comes before glory, but oh the glory that awaits us! Thanks be to God for His great gifts, thanks be to Jesus that He came down from the mountain for us and for our salvation, that we may look forward to the day on which God says to us as we enter His kingdom, “This is my beloved child!” Amen.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Epiphany 6 of Series B (Mark 1:40-45)

“Moved with pity, He stretched out His hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean!’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from Saint Mark, the first chapter. Dear friends in Christ, Naaman had a problem. Our Old Testament lesson describes him as “a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria.” He was a great man, a powerful man, someone who had the world on his plate, but he had a problem. “He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.” Disease has a way of leveling society. The greatest general and the poorest bum on the street are all susceptible to it. The curse of our sin picks its victims at random, and in our Old Testament lesson, it picked someone who could defeat armies, but could not defeat leprosy.

In our Gospel lesson for today, we hear that “A leper came to Jesus, imploring Him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’” This poor, lonely man, alongside the dusty roads of Galilee, was in the same situation as Naaman. Both were unclean, unable to participate in society, cast out until they were healed. Naaman’s country surely had its own laws about leprosy, but only Israel worshipped the true God, a God who was holy, a God who was clean, a God who could not stand having anything unclean in His presence. That unnamed man in our Gospel lesson was under the condemnation of God’s just Law- he could not come into contact with His people, and He could not worship God. We learn about this in Leviticus: “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” Both Naaman and the leper had a disease that had no cure, a disease that would take their lives, a disease that separated them from their people, a disease that separated them from the God who created them.

Our situation was hardly different. We were conceived and born in sin, our bodies have been filled with the corruption that Adam and Eve brought us since the very moment that our lives began. Every child comes from the womb unclean, and not just physically unclean, they come out spiritually unclean, filled with the disease of sin. And this disease clings to us like leprosy, and just the same as that deadly disease, it makes us unclean before a holy God. And the unclean cannot stand in the presence of a holy God. But if we were only unclean because of the disease passed onto us from Adam and Eve, we could find a way to pass the buck, to blame others for that corruption. But you and I know that this sin that we have inherited has only led to more and more sin. The leper in our text chose to disobey the words of Jesus, when told to go to the priest he instead went all around the countryside. The leper may have not have actively done anything to earn his leprosy, just as we have not actively done anything to earn the inheritance of sin, but he made himself unclean by disobeying the words of Jesus. Even a brief look at the Ten Commandments reveals that we are in the same situation. We disobey God in our thoughts, words, and actions each and every day, making ourselves unclean in His sight.

What is our response to this? Like the leper in our text, we have inherited sin, we were unclean since conception, and have only added to that uncleanness since. We have no other option but to follow the leper in begging for forgiveness. “A leper came to Jesus, imploring Him, and kneeling.” The leper has the posture of repentance; he is summoning Jesus to come near to him, to take pity on his pitiful state. He kneels in repentance; he kneels before the Lord of all heaven and earth, begging for mercy. We do the same each and every day, we continually come to our Lord with bowed knees, begging Jesus in repentance to heal us. “Almighty God, our Maker and Redeemer, we poor sinners confess unto Thee that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against Thee by thought, word, and deed. Wherefore we flee for refuge to Thine infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Thy grace for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But notice that here we have something else in common with the leper- we confess our sins with the confidence that Jesus is able to cleanse us. “A leper came to Jesus, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’”

And what is the response of Jesus? “Moved with pity, He stretched out His hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will, be clean!’” Jesus is moved with pity, the same pity for our sinful and unclean situation that God the Father had when He sent Jesus to this earth. The word for ‘pity’ here means to literally be ‘torn at the guts,’ to feel anguish and compassion for the situation of another. Jesus had this compassion for the leper that day, just as He had compassion for the sinful state of all people, including you and me, the compassion that sent Him to this earth. He came to this earth as the One to clean up the filth of our sin, and He began by healing disease and cleansing leprosy, one person at a time. The leper cries out with confidence in Christ’s ability to heal: “You can make me clean.” Christ has this ability because He is God Himself, God in the flesh, the one born in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve is the One to restore fallen humanity, to remove disease and demons, the One to cleanse this earth. And He does so with His word. “I will; be clean!” He gives an order that the leper cannot follow. He cannot make himself clean, but the Word of Jesus does what it says, and here it is joined with a touch. A leper is a walking corpse, any contact with that person makes others unclean, a touch passes this highly contagious disease to others. But when Jesus, the Clean One, touched this unclean man, his leprosy did not pass to Jesus, but instead the holiness of Jesus passes to the man, and he was cured. “And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.” The cleansing power of Jesus overcomes the uncleanness of fallen man- Jesus is the clean one, the one whose cleanness, whose holiness, is greater than our sin.

At no place is this shown more clearly than on Good Friday, for there the Holy One, the Clean One, shed His blood, and there His holiness, His cleanness, was greater than our sin, it was greater than all that made us unclean, it cleansed us. In our text, Jesus says to the cleansed leper: “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” Our Lord did not come to abolish the Law of Moses, He came to fulfill it, He came to die in obedience to it. And what did the law require? It required blood. Leviticus tells us: “The priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds... And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds... He shall take the live bird…and dip…the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed... And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field.” Jesus Christ shed His blood as the sacrificial offering for our uncleanness, as the offering that God required through Moses for our sin. Jesus told the man to “offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded,” but glory be to God that Christ offered Himself for the cleansing that Moses commanded- Jesus paid the price for us; His shed blood cleanses us because it is the required offering for all of our uncleanness, all of our sin, and all of our disease. Jesus took the place of the bird that was killed when He was hung on a cross and was killed by Pilate’s soldiers. It was on that day that our cleansing was accomplished. It was only the basis of His death on Good Friday that Jesus could make this world clean, because only His blood could atone, only His blood could make clean what was unclean by sin. But there were two birds, weren’t there? Leviticus commands that the priest “shall let the living bird go into the open field.” On Easter Sunday Jesus fulfilled the second bird, when He went free from the open tomb resurrected- the price was paid and now victory over sin and death was accomplished. He rose as a proof to the entire world that He died to cleanse, and He died to cleanse all.

And He does so now through means. Naaman came to Israel in search of healing, and when Elisha, the prophet of God, heard about it, he said, “Let him now come to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” Elisha did not have the power to cleanse in himself, as Jesus did, but the ability to cleanse came from the Word of God, and he spoke that word to Naaman: “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” Naaman could not believe that water, joined with the Word of God, could do such great things, but the wise words of a servant convinced him, “so he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” How remarkably similar is our cleansing today! We don’t have Jesus visibly standing here and touching you to cleanse you of your sin, but He does so through means, most especially through the washing of water with the Word. It is easy to doubt that water with God’s Word could cleanse you of sin, but here today a fellow believer says to you that it is true! In your baptism Christ made you clean, just as He made Naaman clean, and just as He made the leper clean.

The wonderful thing about the cleansing of Christ is that it extends throughout our lives. Each and every time that you come to this place and Christ touches your lips with His very Body and Blood, you are cleansed. Each and every time that you hear you’re your sins are forgiven, you are cleansed once again. Christ’s cleansing is overflowing, it is amazing, it is abundant throughout your life. And because you are clean, you will dwell with our holy God forever in the new heavens and the new earth, the heavens and earth that have been renewed and restored, cleansed from all impurities forever. We too will fulfill the two birds of Leviticus- we will die like the first bird, but for the sake of Christ, we will live free eternally like the second bird, more free that we could ever be on a sinful world. May the Lord continue to cleanse us with His blood through the means that He has appointed until we live free before Him in His kingdom, Amen.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Epiphany 5 of Series B (Mark 1:29-39)

“Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this fifth Sunday after the Epiphany of our Lord is from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, God’s preachers throughout history have always felt a desire to preach the Word of God. Jeremiah describes it as a “burning fire shut up in my bones.” He is weary of holding it in, in fact, he cannot. Paul expresses the same sentiments in our Epistle lesson for today. He cries out “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” He is bound to God by his position as an apostle, and so he must preach God’s Word, He must bring that message to others. Paul says: “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me.”

This urgency, this necessity, this ‘fire shut up in the bones’ does not seem to be present with our Lord in the first chapter of Mark. In our Gospel lesson for last week, a demon of all things makes the bold confession: “I know who you are- the Holy One of God!” And what is Jesus’ response? “Be silent!” In the Gospel lesson for next week, Jesus cleanses a leper, and what does He tell him? “And Jesus sternly charged him… ‘See that you say nothing to anyone.’” And in our text for today, Jesus is healing disease and casting out demons right and left, and what does He do to the demons? “He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him.” What’s with the big secret? Why does Jesus want to remain hidden? The disciples couldn’t figure it out either, for when the morning came Jesus was gone. “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He departed and went out to a desolate place and there He prayed.” Jesus is by His very nature elusive, He is constantly doing something unexpected. And that makes humans panic. “And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found Him and said to Him, ‘Everyone is looking for you!’” The word Mark uses here for ‘search’ should be translated much stronger; it has the meaning of ‘pursue’ and ‘search earnestly.’ The disciples were hunting for Jesus- how ironic is it that the very ones sent into the world to fish for people, to catch them for the kingdom, instead turned around and hunted Jesus?

The disciples wanted to keep Jesus to themselves, when He disappeared that morning, they were driven to a frenzy in their search for Him. And it wasn’t only the disciples, either. Simon says that “Everyone is looking for you!” The town of Capernaum had lost its personal healer and teacher, and they wanted Him back RIGHT NOW! How sad is it that this often characterizes our own relationship with Jesus? We have been claimed as His own, rescued from death and hell through His love, and then appointed as fishers of men, those sent out to spread this message to others. But what do we do? Too often we cling to Jesus, we hold Him tight so that no one else can get to Him. Jesus can be seen as a personal possession, someone that only is for us and for those within these walls. The town of Capernaum wanted Jesus for themselves, they didn’t want to risk Him moving on to anywhere else. How often does this church building become like Capernaum, where we keep our Jesus that is only for us? We can be so possessive about our Jesus, we keep Him here where He is safe, instead of out in the sinful world that probably doesn’t deserve Him anyway. Jesus is ours, no one else can have Him! How ironic is it that the very ones sent out to catch people instead turn around with the disciples and hunt down Jesus? And when we hunt down Jesus, we are doing so in order to keep Him to ourselves.

Jesus is elusive, He keeps Himself hidden for reasons that we cannot quite understand. But I think that He does so because He decides when He will be revealed. And He was revealed in a powerful way at Capernaum that day. “And immediately He left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother in law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told Him about her. And He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” The healing touch of Jesus removed the fever from this pious woman, and she immediately started serving our Lord. But Christ had first served her with healing, He had revealed Himself as the One who has come to defeat disease, as the one who has come to engage the effects of sin on our fallen earth and restore what God had originally made perfect. This was a private healing, but soon He would become much more public. “That evening at sundown they brought to Him all who were sick and oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” That night, Jesus took on the soldiers of Satan, the agents of the lord of darkness, casting them out with the authority of His Word and the power of His touch. Jesus revealed Himself as the one with the authority, as the one with the power, as the Holy One of God who has come to do battle with sin and Satan and defeat them.

This battle raged throughout His life, as Jesus continued to destroy sin and its effects, and do battle with Satan’s followers, one by one. But Jesus continued to keep His work under a cloak of secrecy. This tension between Jesus revealing Himself for who He is- the Holy One of God, God in the flesh, the one come to defeat sin and Satan- and the hiddenness that He demanded from so many, continued throughout His life. This was because Christ would only truly reveal Himself while hanging on a cross on Good Friday. It was on that day that the centurion would be the only human in Mark’s Gospel to confess these words: “Truly this man is the Son of God!” For it was only on the cross that Jesus could ultimately be revealed as God in the flesh come to die in the place of all people, it was only on the cross that Jesus was revealed as the sin-bearer, as our sin-bearer. Without the cloak of secrecy that covered much of His ministry, people would misunderstand who Jesus is and what He had come to do. He was waiting for the moment of ultimate revelation. On the cross, all was quite literally laid bare for the world to see- Jesus was revealed as the one who had come to deliver you and me, as the one who would shed His blood for our sin, the one who would die in our place.

And now that Jesus has been revealed for who He is on the cross, we reveal Him to others. We make Him known for who He is, the one who came to this sinful world to cleanse it, to defeat the power of sin, Satan, and death. We proclaim Christ’s death to this sinful world, but we do not stop there. For Jesus did not remain dead, but was raised on the third day, triumphant over the power of death. We proclaim Jesus for who He is, the one who died but was raised, and therefore gives life to us all. Just as He lifted up Peter’s mother in law and took away her fever, so He will someday raise us up, free of all diseases and sins, to stand before Him around the throne forever. That is the message we proclaim, the message that was hidden until the moment of the cross and empty tomb, the message that we now reveal through our words and actions. Just as the disciples searched earnestly for Jesus, saying to Him, “Everyone is looking for you!” so we search earnestly for all who do not know Christ, bringing this message to them, acting as the couriers of His message, the instruments of His call. The words we speak are not our own, but are instead His Word, and that Word brings healing from sin and life to all.

We do this because Jesus is not our own personal possession, but instead has been revealed as for all people. There is now no shroud of secrecy over Jesus- we know who He is, the One who came to suffer and die to deliver us. He is now revealed as for every person everywhere. He was for every person in Capernaum, as Mark tells us: “that evening at sundown, they brought to Him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered at the door.” Jesus was for each and every person in Capernaum, He was there for their healing and He would soon die on a cross for them. But the mistake that Capernaum made, a mistake that we also too often make, was to think that Jesus was only for them. Jesus shattered that illusion at the end of our text. “And He said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’ And He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” But even Galilee could not contain Him. For Jesus died and rose again for every person everywhere. He died for all! Each and every sinner who has ever lived or ever will live is the object of Christ’s love. He died for all! Every person that you see during your lifetime is another child that Christ showed His love to on the cross. He died for all! The love of Christ is so overwhelming that it covers up every sin ever committed. He died for all!

Jesus is for everyone, but this proclamation should not obscure the fact that Jesus died for you. Every sin that you have ever committed, or ever will commit, even the sin of keeping Jesus to yourself, has been covered by the blood of Jesus and forgiven for His sake. We read in our Old Testament lesson for today: “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of His might, and because He is strong in power not one is missing.” The same God who created everything, who knows all of the stars by name, sent His Son, Jesus Christ to suffer, die, and rise again to deliver you, to forgive you, to give you life, life everlasting in Christ. Each of us looks forward to that day when Christ will raise us up healed and renewed, to live without sins and tears forever in the presence of God, because Jesus died for all! May the same Jesus who cares for you and loves you preserve you in faith and trust in Him until life everlasting in His Name, Amen.

Monday, February 2, 2009

February article for School Newsletter

What is a Lutheran? Part Two

Last month we took a look at some of the basics of what Lutherans believe, including a crash course on the Reformation. This month we will look at what Lutherans teach on the most important issues of the Christian faith- that of sin and grace, God’s grace shown to us through Christ.

Based on the Scriptures we believe that every human being ever born is sinful. Now ‘sin’ is a word that we don’t use too much in our culture today. ‘Sin’ includes all the wrong things that we do, especially the ways that we disobey the rules set down by God. But sin is much deeper than simply a list of bad things that we do. Sin is a corruption, it is a disease, it is poison running through our veins. We are born in rebellion against God, and it is a rebellion that we cannot end by ourselves. The Bible calls us ‘dead’ in our sins, and just as a dead person cannot stop being dead by himself, so we cannot be saved from our sins by any effort of our own.

Lutherans believe that God did not leave sinful humanity in its sin. His justice demanded punishment, but His love for His creation demanded action. And so Jesus Christ, both true God and true man, came into the world. He lived the perfect life that we could not, and yet bore our sin, facing God’s punishment in our place. He was crucified as a criminal on the cross, and there He paid for all of our sins through His blood. God’s punishment was poured out on Him, and because He took on that punishment, we do not have to face it. But even after He paid for our sin through His death, Jesus had one more enemy to defeat- death. And so on Easter Sunday He rose, breaking the bonds of death that held Him, and us, captive. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus won the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven for all humanity. Without Christ we could only look forward to death and God’s justice. With Christ, we have hope, the hope that death is not the end, but instead it leads to life, eternal life with our creator!

It is that message that should be proclaimed from every Christian pulpit each and every week. If you are not hearing that Christ died for your sins on a weekly basis, you need to speak to your pastor. If you hear me preach on a regular basis and do not hear Christ and Him crucified, you need to hold me accountable and demand that the Gospel be proclaimed. We are sinners and therefore need to hear this message of grace each and every day.

In Christ,

Vicar Maronde

Article from February Church Newsletters

The Small Catechism- not just for confirmation students!
From the Vicar,
As I learn and grow in my faith and knowledge, an interesting thing has occurred- I am learning to appreciate the ‘simple’ knowledge that was given to me at first. Sometimes we have to learn more to simply be grateful for what we learned earlier. I can’t say that I enjoyed Luther’s Small Catechism very much when I was in seventh grade, but now that I am more mature, I am learning each and every day the genius and beauty of this little book. Dr. Luther’s work is truly a masterpiece in so many ways, and I am convinced that if a person of any age starts to investigate it once again, they will find that they can never fully mine its depths. In fact, Luther himself said as much about this work that he put together! Of course, the Small Catechism is the primary ‘textbook’ for confirmation instruction, but I think we are cheating ourselves if that is the only use we find for it. Instead, the Catechism is a book of learning, a book of devotion, a book of prayer. It is a book for all of life, a book that leads us deeper and deeper into Scripture.
Of course, the catechism is primarily a book of instruction for all ages, for both learning and teaching. But who is supposed to lead this teaching? The answer is not only the Pastor or Vicar, although we are glad to teach your children and truly enjoy it. Each part of Luther’s Small Catechism begins with these words: “As the head of the family should teach it to his household.” The Catechism is primarily a book of instruction for the family. The training of our young people in the faith is not only the job of the Pastor or Vicar, but is the responsibility of all Christians and especially parents. How does the ‘head of the family’ teach it to his household? A good place to start is Luther’s preface, where he gives the teacher some guidelines (with much of his usual fiery intensity showing through!).
We almost never think of the Catechism as a book of prayer, but it also is that. Here the genius of Luther is truly revealed. The language used is simple and direct, yet beautiful and deep. It teaches us what to pray for and even gives to us the very words. Here the value of memorization is revealed, as we can pray to God using the words taught us from the Catechism. When it becomes a book of prayer, we take ownership of the words and they become part of us, just as Scripture does when we are immersed in it. I like to think of the phrase in the TLH liturgy about the Scriptures: “[Grant that we may] read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” Try starting with the first commandment and pray a question and answer of the catechism each day, or stick with one for a week. Not only will it become a part of your devotional life, it will also help you to learn more about our Lord.
And as we pray, teach, and learn the Catechism, it teaches us to speak and confess our faith. Then it becomes a book of missions. True missions do not focus on ourselves and our own story, but instead on God and His plan to save us all from sin. The Catechism gives us the words to speak about God and what He has done for us in Christ. It trains us to confess our faith. Confession is what missions is all about, and Luther’s Small Catechism has equipped us to do that.
As I said above, the depths of the Catechism cannot be fully mined even after a lifetime of study. My hope and prayer is that the Small Catechism becomes an important part of your Christian walk, and that you may explore all that it has to say as you learn and teach, pray and confess its beautiful words.
In Christ,
Vicar Maronde

Epiphany 4 of Series B (Mark 1:21-28)

“I know who you are- the Holy One of God!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this fourth Sunday after the Epiphany of our Lord is from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, think back with me to the Gospel lesson we heard last week. We heard then the powerful words of our Lord: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; Repent and believe in the Gospel!” The kingdom of God had come to this earth in the bodily frame of the Son of God, the time had been fulfilled for our salvation, the time had been fulfilled for the breaking of our bonds- “repent and believe in the Gospel!” The first act of Jesus, then, is to call some followers. His Church will be built in seeming weakness, poor fishermen will be His prophets, the ones to carry His message to the ends of the earth. “And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” For Simon and Andrew, James and John, the journey had just begun, and it was a journey like no other they had ever traveled. If they did not know this already, they would find out when Jesus took them to their synagogue on the Sabbath.

“And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath, He entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at His teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” Jesus wasted no time, but came to the worship service of His people, the home congregation of His four disciples, and began to teach. For Jesus was the prophet who was to come, the prophet promised by Moses in our Old Testament lesson: “The Lord said to me…‘I will raise up for them a prophet from among their brothers. And I will put my words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command them.’” Jesus taught with the very authority given by God, He spoke as the embodiment of the kingdom of God on our fallen earth. He had the right and ability to speak from God and about God because this one in their midst was God Himself, God in the flesh. And this authority was recognized immediately by the gathered hearers. “And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”

While Jesus spoke with the authority of God Himself, the scribes spoke only from their own human authority. Jesus explained the Law in their hearing, He spoke of how it came to fulfillment in His becoming man. The scribes proclaimed their own interpretations and applications, they interpreted the Law for their own sakes. We too think that we can explain away the Law, we are constantly looking for loopholes to excuse our behavior. Jesus sharpened God’s Law so that no one could think of themselves as free from it. The scribes arranged things so that they could not be accused of breaking any rule. We ourselves live in a society where God’s Law has no more teeth, we too often explain His clear regulations away. Christians too often join with the scribes in picking and choosing which laws still apply, and which we no longer have to keep. Jesus fully kept the Law, not falling in any aspect. The scribes imagined that they kept the Law, but they were deluding themselves. Our own sinful nature attempts to explain away sin, we imagine that we can please God through our keeping of the Law. You, me, and the scribes too often are mired in Satan’s lies, thinking that we can somehow keep the Law or avoid it altogether.

Satan deceives in these more subtle ways, but often he comes forth with a roar. “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit.” Wherever the kingdom of God is being established, wherever Christ is proclaiming with authority the Word of God, Satan’s minions are stirred up. They will oppose Him at every moment of His life, just as they oppose all those who follow Him. Our world, and sadly the Church as well tries to believe that Satan does not exist, but I think we have all felt His temptations, we know what it is like to be under spiritual attack. He is constantly working to separate us from God, to make us doubt our faith, to lead us into sin. Our enemy is persistant, he is terrifying, and he is real.

But we have a much greater Savior. For Jesus came into this world to do battle with Satan, to take on the powers of darkness on our behalf. Into the place of worship, into the midst of God’s chosen people, an agent of the evil one came. And he came bearing a challenge. “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are- the Holy One of God!’” The unclean spirit knew who Jesus was, in fact, he knew better than all those assembled in the synagogue that day. The unclean spirit knew that it was unclean, it knew that it was making its host unclean. But it knew more than that. It knew that this Jesus of Nazareth was the clean one, the Holy One of God, the one sent by God to rid the earth of Satan’s domination, the one sent to make clean what was filthy with sin. It knew the vast difference between unclean spirits and this carpenter from Galilee. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” The unclean spirit ran up against the agent of cleansing in this world, the one one who was truly clean and holy, because this one was God in the flesh. It knew who Jesus was, and in arrogance it snarled at Him, “Have you come to destroy us?”

Jesus’ answer is ‘Yes!’ Faced with the powers of darkness, with the terrifying sudden appearance of Satan’s soldier, Jesus, the Holy One of God, the clean one, did not back down. “But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’” Jesus, the one bearing the very authority of God, spoke and His Word did what it said. “And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.” Jesus took on Satan once again in single combat, casting him aside with the power and authority of His Word. For the rule of Satan was coming to an end, his power was crumbling and his hold over humanity was about to be broken. Jesus came into the world to take Satan head on and defeat him, to ruin him, to send him to hell where he belongs. By tempting Adam and Eve to fall into sin, Satan poisoned this world, he made it filthy with sin. But Jesus, the Holy One of God, came to restore this sick world, to be the agent of cleansing. And He started by throwing down one of Satan’s soldiers, cleansing the man in the synagogue. But the greatest act of cleansing was yet to come, and it would come through the influence of Satan himself. For the lord of darkness would influence sinful men to kill Jesus, to hang Him on a cross as a criminal. But in that act of humiliation, of seeming defeat, Satan was the one who was defeated. For on the cross, the shed blood of Jesus cleansed the world of sin, it released all creation, you and me from the bondage of Satan. By dying Christ granted life to us all and threw down Satan forever.

Having been confronted with both the teaching of Jesus and His defeat of the followers of Satan, the people realize what has come into their midst. “And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey Him!” Jesus was revealed, He was ‘Epiphanied’ on that day as the Prophet that Moses promised, as the one with the authority of God, as the Holy One of God. “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers- it is to Him you shall listen.” He has the authority to teach the things of God, and He has the authority to cleanse the earth of Satan’s domination. And so, at the great Epiphany on the cross, Jesus will be revealed as the One with the authority to defeat Satan for us, as the one whose blood cleanses you and me from our sin. His blood was shed to deliver you from the bondage of Satan, He defeated Satan when you were unable to. His blood was shed to wash you clean, to make you and me who were conceived and born in sin, conceived and born unclean, new and clean before God.

On resurrection day, Jesus was ‘Epiphanied’ as the one who had triumphed over sin, Satan and death. And because He triumphed over our foes, we too triumph over them. Satan is still prowling, but he is defeated, the lion has no more fangs. He will still accuse us of our sins, he will still try to convince us that God does not love us, he still tries to tear us away from our Savior. But when his attacks come near, we face them with the power of Jesus and with the very tools that He gave us, the Word that He proclaimed to us. We take on Satan with the confidence that the crucified and risen one fights with us, that we do not stand alone. We put Satan in his place with the Word, we tell Him to return to hell where he belongs. Like Jesus, we are armed with the Word, the same Word that makes us clean now is our weapon against the evil one.

Like any victory, the news of Jesus’ exorcism traveled fast. “And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” This message did not travel on its own, but instead it needed messengers to speak it. We too are heralds of the victory that has been won, we proclaim Satan’s defeat right to his face and then to every person we come into contact with. To every person who is bowed down with sin, every person afflicted with the fiery darts of our enemy, we proclaim Christ’s victory on Calvary’s cross and Easter’s empty tomb. This message, the message of the blood that has cleansed us, is for all people, and so it must go to them. We are the conduits of His Word, we are the heralds of His victory. May the Lord assure us of this victory whenever Satan attacks, giving us the confidence that we have been cleansed and forgiven, and will stand before God’s throne to all eternity, Amen.