Monday, February 25, 2013

Lent 2 of Series C (Luke 13:31-35)

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ: Jesus is coming! He is coming despite any warning, despite the advice of friends or enemies. The Pharisees in our text, whether wanting to spare His life or simply kick Him out of their neighborhood, tell Jesus to leave town before someone gets hurt: “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” This is no empty threat. Herod showed how he treated prophets when he ordered up John the Baptist’s head on a platter. But Jesus will not be dissuaded, He will not be stopped; His path has been chosen for Him, and He walks it without wavering. In fact, far from turning aside and running away, Jesus has a bold message for Herod: “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, city of Israel’s prophets, the throne of Israel’s kings, the home of her priests. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the location of God’s gracious presence in the temple. This was the destination of Jesus, as the true and final prophet. His road wound through the dusty towns of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea, and in His wake demons were driven out and the sick healed. Creation itself was released from the bondage of sin as Jesus the true prophet proclaimed in word and in deed the coming of the kingdom of God. He came to announce liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to the bound. His mission was one of release. “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.” He brought release to those in physical bondage, and He brought release to those in spiritual bondage: liberation came to both body and soul. That was His road, and on the third day He would finish His course, but only in Jerusalem, for the prophetic pattern isn’t only the working of miracles, it is the fate of rejection and death. “Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”

Jesus comes to Jerusalem to proclaim liberty, the release of all creation from bondage to sin. But Jerusalem, God’s city, the chief city of His chosen people, rejects Him. They refuse the gift of salvation, and they will put Jesus to death, as they have done to the prophets who preceded Him. God has come to His people to save them, and they reject Him. There is no greater tragedy in all of history, and God Himself in the flesh cries out in anguish over the rejection that is to come. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” Jesus desperately desires to gather His people to Himself, to hide them in the loving shelter of His wings, but they do not desire Him, they refuse to repent. Jesus mourns over their rejection, and He mourns over the penalty. “Behold, your house will be forsaken.” Jesus came to bring release from the bondage of sin and death, but those who reject Him will find themselves released from God’s care and protection.

The house will be forsaken; Jerusalem will be burned, the temple will be made obsolete and destroyed. In its place Jesus will establish a New Jerusalem with a new temple. The New Jerusalem is His gathered Church, all who dwell under His wings, all who have been released from the hold of sin and death upon body and soul. The new temple is His own body, for in being rejected even to the point of death, Jesus will offer Himself as the final sacrifice, given once for all on the altar of the cross. He sent this message to Herod: “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.” He proclaimed His mission of release by casting out demons and disease, by raising the dead and announcing forgiveness, but on the third day He finished His course, He brought salvation to completion by rising from the grave. He has the power to bring complete and total release to all creation, for only He has offered the required sacrifice through His rejection on the cross, and only He has risen in victory over all that held creation captive.

But after Easter comes Ascension; Jesus is no longer present with us in the same way as when He walked this earth. But He has promised a return. Dear friends in Christ: Jesus is coming! He is coming despite any warning, despite the advice of friends or enemies. His return is inevitable, and once again, He will follow the prophetic pattern. He sends forth His Church, the New Jerusalem, to bring release to a creation in bondage to sin and death. She drives out demons with water, she casts out sin with the powerful words of forgiveness, she defeats death with the proclamation of Good Friday and Easter. Nothing else in this world can give what she can, for only she proclaims the one who has conquered sin and death. For two thousand years she has brought release, liberation, freedom to the farthest reaches of our planet. She is the instrument of Christ, His means for going forth to declare His gospel throughout the world. But as she follows His prophetic pattern in miracles, so she will follow His pattern in rejection.

Jesus desires to gather all people through the Church as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but all people do not desire Him. He has not come for judgment, He has come for salvation, but so many will not have it: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” Hear the agony in Christ’s voice! It is tragic when people hear the Gospel and reject it, instead clinging to false gods or no god at all. But the greatest tragedy is when those who once received salvation, who may even still call themselves Christians, have no desire for Jesus or the gifts He offers. They are rebellious Jerusalem, who have had Jesus in their midst and have refused Him. They have no hunger or thirst for the great gifts that He brings. They see His Body and His Blood upon this altar and they refuse to come and receive it. The Church is like an oasis in the desert that people refuse to drink from. Even more to the point, the Church is like an oasis that people once drank from, but now think that they have no need of.

But enough about the people outside of these walls, who aren’t listening to this sermon in the first place; Jesus isn’t speaking only about them, but also about you and me. Christ desires to gather you under His wings, but you refuse. You refuse to be gathered when you hang onto your sin, when you refuse to repent. You refuse to be gathered when you wallow in your favorite pet sins, indulging in them instead of crying out for forgiveness. The penalty for those who refuse to be gathered by Christ, who refuse to be released by His Gospel, is the same as it was for Jerusalem: “Your house is forsaken.” Those who reject the One who has defeated death and won heaven will find themselves released from God’s care—forever. And so where do we turn, what is the answer? It is the clear and consistent call of Lent: Repent! Repent of your sin and receive the promised forgiveness, be gathered by Christ under His loving wings!

For Jesus is gathering a New Jerusalem: not the perfect, not the sinless, but the forgiven. Repentance doesn’t mean that you never sin again; repentance means that you see your sin and cry out to Jesus for forgiveness. Jesus is coming, He is returning, and upon His return He will gather the forgiven into the New Jerusalem, the new heavens and the new earth. That final day is the third day, the fulfillment of Easter. Jesus told Herod: “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.” The third day is coming, and on that day, Jesus will return to finish His course. Sin, death, and Satan have been defeated through the cross and empty tomb; upon His return, they will be eliminated and destroyed forever. Satan’s house will be desolate, the grave will be robbed, sin will no longer hold in bondage. Christ will come to bring release, freedom, and liberation to all people, to you and to me!

Jesus is coming; He will not be dissuaded or hindered by anything. He isn’t waiting for some natural disaster, He isn’t waiting for some human prediction, He is waiting for the proper time. All that is holding Him back is His love for humanity and especially for His wandering sheep, His desire to have more gathered under His wings in repentance and forgiveness. He is coming; the third day is approaching, as Jesus promised at the end of our text: “I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.’” You do not fear the coming third day; you are forgiven, Christ has died for you, He has risen for you, He has baptized you, He has absolved you, He has placed His very Body and Blood into your mouth, and so upon His return you can boldly cry out in repentance and faith: “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” In the Name of Jesus, who will return on the third day to gather His children, you and me, under His wings for an eternity in the New Jerusalem, Amen.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lent 1 of Series C (Luke 4:1-13)

It was a glorious day; light streamed through the windows, the birds sang outside, the church was full. I was at the font, and a man in a white robe, a sinner like me, was speaking. “Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways?” The questions came fast and furious, but I knew the answers; of course I renounced them. Who wouldn’t? “Do you desire to be baptized?” There is nothing else that I could ever want. “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Cold water was splashed upon my head, and the heavens were opened; the Spirit descended like a dove, the Father’s voice rang out: “You are my beloved child, with you I am well-pleased.” There at the font, paradise rested on this earth. The glory shone all around, all I wanted to do was bask in it, to capture that moment and stay in it for the rest of my life. But that vision of glory was quickly shattered. The Spirit, the same Spirit which had come upon me at the font, led me away from the font. I couldn’t stay in the church; the comfort, the safety, the security of God’s house was not where I would remain. Suddenly the birds were no longer singing, suddenly the sun was no longer shining, suddenly what had been a glorious day became very gloomy. I looked around, and all I saw was a wasteland; a land of corruption, without growth, without life, without any of the glory and grace that had filled the font. I looked behind me, hoping to catch a glimpse of the font, one last look, and with a shock, I saw a figure standing right behind me.

He was not terrifying, but all the same, his very appearance gave me a shudder. “Who are you?” I asked. “A counselor,” was his answer. “I am here to help you achieve all that you deserve, if you are truly a child of God.” The ‘if’ was spoken with derision, as if he wasn’t quite sure if what the voice had said was true. To tell the truth, now, out here in the wilderness, I wasn’t so sure myself. He continued: “If you are a child of God, you should have all the good things that this world can offer.” With a wave of his hand, the desert was transformed. I saw piles of money, beautiful women, fast cars; tables laden with food in big houses. My counselor had a knowing smile on his face. “Sure, you’ve had a little water splashed on your head, but what has that earned you? This is where you will see God’s favor, if you truly are His child.” My hungry eyes drank them in; I wanted it all, I wanted it now. “What do I need to do?” He replied, “It’s simple. Seek them above all else, and they are yours; nothing, not God, not your fellow humans, should get in the way. They are your competitors; seek after these things with all your heart, and I promise you, they will be yours.” It was all so easy; and deep down I knew that all He asked me to do was be a human—what was more natural and easy than that? With greedy eyes, I said, “Show me the way.”

At that moment, a hand grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back. I saw a man before me, a miserable, pathetic man, who had clearly been in the wilderness much longer than I had. His face was covered with weariness; he apparently hadn’t eaten for a very long time. I had never seen such a wretched figure, but yet as I gazed more closely, he had a majesty about him. My counselor had a smirk on his face. “I tempted Adam with an apple, I tempted Israel with the starvation of the desert, but this one, who wasn’t even hungry, fell with hardly any effort, like so many before him. They are so quick to give up on God and seek the things of this world; their minds are driven by lust and greed. What makes this people worth saving?” The hungry man placed himself squarely between me and my counselor. His voice, at least, was still firm: “I stand in their place.” My counselor laughed. With a wave of his hand, the treasures which enticed me were all gone. He pointed to a rock on the wilderness floor. “You have been forty days and nights without food. If you are the Son of God, if what the Father said about you is true, command this stone to become bread.” I somehow knew that this hungry figure had the power to do it; I remembered with shame how easily I had been enticed, and I knew that that he couldn’t withstand these enticing words. But this wretched, hungry, worn down figure stood tall and declared, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”

My counselor’s smile disappeared. He pointed at me and said with a sneer: “Come.” I reluctantly obeyed, leaving the one who had conquered temptation behind me. My counselor asked me, “What is more lasting that treasure? Reputation, fame, glory.” He showed me another vision, this time not of things, but of me in triumph. I saw my name in the paper, on TV and radio, I heard people praising me at coffee and around their kitchen tables. I saw myself running a company, winning awards, having political and social power, exerting my influence in the community and in the church. I heard my parents praising how I had done so much better than my siblings; I saw myself as the most popular person at school, at work, among my friends. My counselor smiled. “If you are a child of God, then you should have status, power and glory above everyone else, because you already know that you’re better than them.” He was right, I did know that I was better, and now was the chance to prove it. My voice could barely disguise my hunger: “How?” I asked. He replied, “Make yourself a god. Put your own needs above the needs of everyone else. Crawl over others, leave them in the dust. Seek yourself, worship yourself, and all this will be yours.” I wanted it all; what else could I say: “I’m ready to live for myself.”

I was at the cusp of achieving everything I had ever wanted, but then the hungry, weary man came between me and my counselor again. He seemed as weak as ever, but yet had found the strength to come among us once again. My counselor pointed at me: “They all love glory, they all want to be gods; this temptation worked on Eve, and it hasn’t failed since. Humans will always worship themselves, never you or your Father. I tell you, Jesus, there is nothing worth saving here!” Jesus spoke: “I stand in this one’s place; I stand in place of all of them.” Without a word, my counselor took us up a high mountain and showed Jesus a grand vision, all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time; all authority, all power, all glory. “All this is yours if you worship me.” I can’t be sure, but think I saw an alternate vision going on at the same time: this vision was of beatings, horrible scourging, and the ominous sign of a cross. Jesus paused, as if considering the two options; I had given in when presented with all the glory that Kiron/Deloit Iowa had to offer—how could He resist all the glory of this world? But then He stood tall and said, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’”

My counselor’s anger could hardly be contained. He pointed at me and commanded, “Come!” And we left the triumphant Jesus behind us. He said to me, “I’m sure you know that being God’s child is a marvelous thing! The gospel is so wonderful, so beautiful, because His forgiveness covers every sin. If you are truly a child of God, then you can live your life exactly how you want to.” I will admit, I was intrigued by this change of tone, this offer of being God’s child without having the hassle of actually changing my life. With a trace of skepticism, I asked, “How?” He replied, “God’s grace is greater than your sin, any sin. So sin first, and ask for forgiveness later! You can do whatever you want, as long as you remember to repent the next day—you can even stay away from worship as much as you want to, as long as you get around to asking for forgiveness before you die. You see, God has given you a license to sin, because He has the get out of jail free card!” That sounded pretty good, and hey, I was living by grace, I was relying on God, wasn’t I? I replied, “Give me that kind of life!”

My eagerness was shattered by a booming voice: “Leave him, Satan! I stand in His place!” Jesus stood there, his hunger and weakness remaining, but yet still with that hidden majesty that seemed to never leave Him. Satan, my counselor, took us to the very pinnacle of Jerusalem’s temple. He said, “God loves you, Jesus; you are His only-begotten Son. He would never allow harm to befall you. Throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” This seemed to be simply an invitation to trust God’s love and grace; at least that is what I thought when I had given in just a moment ago. But Jesus looked Satan in the eye and declared, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

I looked up, and Satan was gone, leaving only Jesus, Jesus alone. He had conquered each of Satan’s temptations, He conquered where I so easily had failed, to my shame. He looked at me not with anger, but with eyes full of grace and love and said, “Come.” We left the temple and Jerusalem, and stood upon a low, rocky hill. His voice said to me, “All of this is for you, it was all done in your place, to forgive you when you fail. I was obedient where you were disobedient, so that you would be mine for eternity.” I looked beside me to speak a word of thanksgiving to my Lord, but Jesus was no longer there. Where did He go? Then I heard a familiar voice, the voice of my counselor: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” There, ahead of me, on the crest of the hill, was Jesus, hanging upon a cross, and my counselor, Satan, giving one last temptation. Jesus, weary, weakened, and dying, simply looked to heaven and declared in reply to his words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then with all His remaining strength He cried, “It is finished!” Satan fell to his knees, crushed, defeated, triumphed over. But for me, and all who believed, there was victory, victory sealed by an empty tomb, for where I failed, where you failed, Christ won the victory, and He won it for you and me. To Him be glory, praise, and thanksgiving, now and forever! Amen.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Transfiguration of our Lord (Luke 9:28-36)

“As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon on our celebration of the Transfiguration of our Lord comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, as an old man, nearing the inevitable martyrdom that would bring his life to a close, Peter looked back on this day, he reflected on the Transfiguration. In his second letter, the leader of the disciples tells us, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we make known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”

As he writes these words, the events of that remarkable day come flowing back. He sees the face of Jesus, shining like the sun, His clothing dazzlingly white; human language is inadequate to describe the glory of the incarnate Son of God. He sees Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus, representing the Law and the Prophets; the Old Testament has come to testify once more to the Christ. Peter remembers with shame his foolish question, his desire to keep the glory in tents, like the tabernacle of old—Luke kindly writes that he didn’t know what he was saying. And who could’ve thought clearly on the mountain that day? Brilliant glory blinding your eyes, seeing the greatest saints of God walking this earth again, joy and fear and wonder all mixed together? You would’ve lost your mind, too. And Peter remembers God’s response to his foolish question. The cloud overshadowed them, a cloud that brought fear into trembling hearts. This is the cloud of God’s presence, the cloud of His glory, and it is terror for a sinner to fall into the hands of the living God. But there is no destruction in that cloud, instead a voice, the voice of God Himself, speaking not to Jesus, not to Moses or Elijah, but to Peter, James, and John. What did this voice declare? “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!”

Listen to Jesus. The voice of God the Father, from the cloud of His glorious presence, had one command for Peter, James and John, for you and me. Listen to Jesus! Listen to Jesus, for He is the prophet that follows the pattern of Moses. Moses predicted that He would come, saying to the people of Israel, “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.” The Law was given through Moses, and now the promised One has come, who has the authority to interpret that Law, to apply it to God’s people. Listen to Jesus, even when it’s inconvenient, even when He says things that make you uncomfortable. Listen to Jesus when He calls on you to love your neighbor, yes, even your enemy above yourself. Listen to Jesus when He tells you that hatred is murder. Listen to Jesus when He condemns divorce, greed, and selfishness, when He says that money and possessions are for the good of others, not for yourself, when Jesus declares that you are to humble yourself before God and your neighbors. The Father’s voice doesn’t tell you to listen to Jesus when you want to, when it makes your life easier, or when His words match up with the way that the world is going. The Father’s voice makes no exceptions.

Listen to Jesus! When God speaks, you shut up. You listen. No more excuses, no more caveats, no more attempts to explain away your thoughts, words and deeds. Jesus will take none of that. Listen to Jesus, and shut your own mouth. Quit talking and listen. Listen to Jesus! Listen to Jesus as He preaches the Law in its full severity, giving you no way out. Give up your pathetic attempts to justify your own actions, and listen to Jesus. Listen to Jesus as He calls you what you are, a poor miserable sinner, deserving only death and hell. Give up the foolish claims of the world, which deny sin and avoid death, which blabber on and on about man’s goodness, and listen to Jesus. Be silent before the words of Jesus, for His words are true, and they say the truth about you and all people.

Listen to Jesus, for only in Him is found the answer to sin and death. He is the promised Messiah, the chosen heir of David’s royal line. Listen to Jesus, for He alone has the words of eternal life. He condemns every other path that this world offers; He declares that He is the only way. Don’t trust yourself, your own good works or pious actions. Jesus says that no amount of good can outweigh your sin. Listen to Jesus! Every other path, every other way brings only death. Listen to Jesus, for He alone has come bringing life and salvation. Don’t listen to the world’s stupid chatter, the false claims of pluralism, diversity, and tolerance, that place the words of Jesus on equal footing with the claims of all other religions. Only Jesus has the endorsement of our Creator: Listen to Him!

Listen to Jesus, for only He has come to do what it takes to erase your sin and bring life into a world of death. As He stood in glory on the mountain of Transfiguration with Moses and Elijah, Luke is the only Evangelist that tells us what they were talking about. “And behold, two men were talking with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Jesus had a departure ahead of Him; He needed to come down from that mountain and go to Jerusalem. In fact, the Greek word used here is ‘exodus,’ the same word used to describe God’s great acts of salvation in bringing His people Israel out from bondage in Egypt. Moses and Elijah were discussing with Jesus the new exodus He would bring, this time salvation from sin. But this exodus, like the first one, wouldn’t be accomplished without blood. Eight days earlier, He had told His disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Listen to Jesus, for He has a departure coming, and it will be bloody, it will come upon a cross. Listen to Jesus, for He is Isaiah’s suffering servant, who bore the iniquity of us all. Listen to Jesus, for He has come to bring the greater exodus, He has come to bring you and me out from the bondage of sin. Lamb’s blood will be shed once again, and the Angel of Death will pass over our doors. Suffering must come before glory, because only suffering can win salvation from sin and death.

But Peter doesn’t want to listen to Jesus. He wants no part of suffering before glory. He wants glory now, and glory forever. “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He wants to hold onto the glory, to make it his own, to keep it there on the mountain and adore it until breath leaves him. Peter would sacrifice His own eternal salvation and the salvation of all creation in His thirst for glory. But the Father intervenes, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” Listen to Jesus: suffering comes before glory. Without His suffering, without His death, there is no glory; not for Jesus, not for Peter, not for you and me. Unless Jesus goes down the mountain and walks the way of the cross, there will be no glory, only death.

Listen to Jesus, for He declares that after the suffering comes glory. The Transfiguration is the sign, seal, and guarantee that after the horror and darkness of the cross comes the glory and light of the resurrection. The Transfiguration shows us what is coming, that on the third day Jesus will rise in glory, triumphant over the grave. At the empty tomb, the angels will bear white robes as witnesses of the great victory of Christ. And the Transfiguration is our guarantee of an even more glorious day, the fulfillment of Easter, the Last Day when Jesus will return in glory to do away with sin and death forever.

But that day is not yet; for now, you listen to Jesus. Listen to Jesus, for His Word bespeaks you righteous, it cleanses you from all your sins, all the times that you have stubbornly refused to listen to Him, and makes you the Father’s own beloved child. Listen to Jesus, for He declares that suffering comes before glory, in His life and in the lives of His disciples. Yes, you will suffer in this life, from the abuse and the cruelty of others, from the persecution and hatred of this world, from disease and ultimately from death. You will bear the cross as your follow Jesus. Like Peter, we don’t want to hear these words, we don’t want to face the suffering, but the Father’s voice calls on us to listen to Jesus. And Jesus guarantees suffering in this world of sin. But He doesn’t leave us without hope. As He didn’t remain in the grave, so we will not remain in this world of suffering and death. The Transfiguration is our guarantee that after our own suffering comes glory, and oh the glory that is to come! Saint Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The Transfiguration is a picture of your future, for Jesus descended that mountain and walked the way of the cross so that you would be glorified with Him forever. You too must walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but listen to Jesus: after suffering comes glory. God speaks Jesus to us, forgiving our sins, making us righteous, and giving us glory, glory that is hidden now, but one day will be fully revealed.

The Transfiguration assures Peter, James, and John, it assures Jesus, and it assures you and me that on the other side of the cross is the empty tomb, that Good Friday is followed by Easter. It assures us that on the other side of our suffering stands the glory of resurrection and an eternity in the new heavens and the new earth. Today we bury our Alleluias, to bring them back in even greater glory on Easter morning. Today we come down from the mountain for the Lenten fast, listening to the words of Jesus: suffering comes before glory. We ponder the sufferings and we look toward the glory, knowing that Christ suffered for us so that His glory would be ours for eternity. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Epiphany 4 of Series C (Jeremiah 1:4-10)

“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of the prophet Jeremiah. Dear friends in Christ, have you ever heard talk about the ‘call of God?’ So often when we hear of it, it is some abstract idea, it is spoken of as something inward that we must discern. Christians ask themselves, ‘what is God calling me to do?’ and they search inside for the proper answer. But when we only look inside of ourselves for the calling of God, we are looking in the wrong place, for God calls us externally, just as He called Jeremiah. “Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” The Word of the Lord comes from outside of Jeremiah and calls him, in fact declaring that he had been appointed a prophet from conception. The word translated here as ‘consecrate’ has the sense of being called to be set apart for a purpose, the purposes of God. Jeremiah was called out of all of his people from the womb to be their prophet. In the same way, on the day that you were brought to the baptismal font, God consecrated you, He called you out of the midst of all people and set you apart to be His child, to be covered with the blood of Christ, to be one of his disciples in this world.

In a real sense God is not doing us any favors by calling us through Baptism. Through that washing, we have been given a legion of enemies, all seeking to destroy us. An unbaptized person is a friend of Satan and the world, he has nothing to fear from them. But you and I who are baptized, we are called out of the midst of Satan’s friends and allies, and now we are his sworn enemy. I am convinced that we do not think about this nearly often enough, for if we did, we would truly be terrified. Satan is real, and he aims to carry you, me, and every one claimed by the waters of baptism down to hell with him. What Jesus says to Peter at the end of Luke’s Gospel is also true of us: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat.” In our culture today, and especially in Christianity today, it is popular to ignore Satan’s existence, but he is constantly working through our sin and the sin of others to destroy our faith. In fact, he is quite satisfied with being overlooked, for he has a powerful ally in our world, which is no friend to us, but instead despises our faith and wishes to lead us into the gutters of sin. Satan can threaten us much more effectively under the cover of the world’s agenda. He has convinced our world that unborn children are not human, that sex, marriage, and family have no connection, that sin is really no big deal, but simply a matter of personal choice. And Christians have played right into his hand by overlooking our enemy. But make no mistake, you are under attack, and your enemies are playing for keeps.

Jeremiah did think about what we too often refuse to, he knew the terrible forces arrayed against him, and he was petrified. “Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’” Even at that young age, he knew the cost of God’s calling, he knew that he would have a persistent enemy, seeking to destroy his faith in his God. He knew that he would be sent as one man against a nation, calling his people to repentance, declaring that their sin was about to lead to catastrophe. He knew that he would call out the people where they were most sensitive, going after their many sins. He knew that men would hate him for his message, because his message would be the Word of God. He knew, and he was terrified.

“But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a youth;” for to all whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.’” We have much to fear with a world that hates us and an enemy that will not quit, but the Lord does not leave us in fear. He instead delivers us from that fear by taking on the powers that threaten us. He promised Jeremiah that “I am with you to deliver you,” a promise that was only completely fulfilled when He became man to dwell with us, and He dwelt with us to deliver us. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, was born of a virgin and walked this earth to do battle with our enemies. He drove Satan from people, destroyed the effects of sin as He healed disease, just as we heard in our Gospel lesson today. He was our brother, bearing our flesh; He was the presence of God with us to deliver us.

The word ‘deliver’ in our text for today has almost a violent sense, the idea of God tearing us away from the clutches of our enemies. Satan thought he had us right where he wanted us, in the clutches of sin, condemned to death, with no way out. But Jesus Christ came to rip us from those that held us captive, and He did this by submitting to our penalty in our place. He let our enemies rage against Him, for while they had no hold over Him, He had taken on all of our sin and guilt, all that Satan wished to accuse us of, and He took it all to the cross. There He crushed Satan’s head by shedding His Blood for you and me. And when He rose again on the third day, He rose victorious over our enemies, and He tore us out of their clutches. We no longer have to fear Satan and this world, for Christ has triumphed over them, He came and fulfilled God’s promise through Jeremiah: “I am with you to deliver you.”

God did not only speak these words of promise to Jeremiah, He confirmed them with a touch. “Then the Lord put out His hand and touched my mouth.” When Isaiah cried out to the Lord about His sin, God removed his sin with a touch. In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus heals with the power of His word, but He also heals with a touch. “Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him, and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them.” God knows that we are fleshly creatures, we crave the assurance of physical contact, we cannot subsist on words alone. This is one of the reasons He took on our flesh and blood in the first place. But now that he has ascended into heaven, how can we receive this assurance in a world filled with our enemies? We know that they have been defeated by Christ, but how can we endure their continual onslaught alone?

God touched Jeremiah to assure him of the promise, but also to place him in the office of proclaiming that promise. “Then the Lord put out His hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.’” He was to proclaim God’s word to His people, to embody that word as God’s called and appointed prophet, his task was the proclamation of Law and Gospel: “See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Today, God continues to appoint men, to call them out from the midst of their brothers and sisters to proclaim His word to His people. And those men are placed into the pastoral office with a touch. At ordination, other pastors lay their hands on a man, declaring that God has placed that man into the office of preaching, the office of administering the sacraments, the office of caring for the flock entrusted to him. Ordination is the assurance to you, me, and all Christians that God has called this man and appointed him to bring the Word of God to you, to proclaim that Word in the midst of a world that rejects it.

Therefore, the only task of a pastor is to bring the gifts of Christ to His people- it is not about him, in fact, he cannot let himself get in the way of what Jesus has given him to do. Our Lord knows that we cannot endure in the midst of our enemies without a constant shower of forgiveness and love, the deliverance that Christ won through the cross and empty tomb. And it is no surprise that Christ delivers those gifts through a real, fleshly person, one whom He has appointed for the task. Jesus heals through a touch, the touch of water as it is poured upon your head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the touch of His very Body and Blood given upon your lips, hidden under bread and wine, which cleanses you from your sin. The touch of a hand, as in private Confession and Absolution Christ’s forgiveness is spoken to you once again. Each and every time that you gather here for the Divine Service, God once again does what he did for Jeremiah. He speaks His word of comfort and peace, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord,” and He acts, “Then the Lord put out His hand and touched my mouth.”

In the midst of this sinful world, a world filled with those opposed to the Gospel, Jesus Christ provides to us the gifts that He won for us. He does not leave us alone, but instead comes to us with His forgiveness, physically touching us with His salvation. On this very day, Jesus Christ comes to you to touch your lips with forgiveness, life, and salvation. You dine with the Lord of heaven and earth this day, who has defeated your enemies and will continue to strengthen you until that Day when He delivers you from this veil of tears and brings you into the eternal glory He won for you, Amen.