Monday, June 23, 2014

Proper 7 of Series A (Jeremiah 20:7-13)

“O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.” O Lord, you lied to me, you tricked me, I was betrayed. I heard your preachers, on TV and in best-selling books, talking about the victorious Christian life. They told me that being a Christian meant going from glory to glory, living the good life, the life of one who had the God of the universe on his side. Christianity had all the answers, all that I needed to be prosperous and secure, to live my best life now. I’ve been set free, free from my shackles, free from the slavery of sin, but life was better when I was bound. My chains are looking awfully enticing now, because freedom has given me nothing but trouble. Being a Christian was supposed to make life better, but my life has never been worse. “I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me.” O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived. I was tricked by your commission. You told me, you told the entire Church that all authority belonged to you, and now it was our task to go forth and baptize all nations, teaching them to obey everything you have told us. It seemed so easy; what could be simpler than taking the victory of the crucified and risen One into the world He rules over in majesty? The God of the universe, the Lord of heaven and earth, is supposedly on our side, but I’m not seeing it. You have abandoned us, you have left us; if you are with us, why do we suffer so?

“O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.” The task you have given to the Church, the task you have given to me as a Christian, is impossible. Didn’t I tell you I was unworthy? I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” I told you I couldn’t do it, that I would be a failure, but still you sent me into this world. How can I, a sinful, weak human being, bring your Word to sinners? Do I have any credibility? I can hear them saying ‘hypocrite’ from a mile away! I know myself, I know my own sin, my own weakness. I know that I stumble with words, that I choose the wrong times, that I miss opportunities. You are going to let your mission to the world rest upon my shoulders? You’ve chosen the wrong man, given him the wrong mission, you tricked me into an impossible task with sweet words.

O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived. I never knew that it would be this hard. I never knew that doors would be shut in my face, that people would refuse to listen, that some would hate me and speak behind my back. “For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and a derision all day long.” You have saddled me with the task of speaking a Word that the world hates, a Word that calls the world to repentance, that condemns the sin of those around me, and—big surprise!—people don’t like that one bit. They want nothing to do with hearing their behaviors called ‘sin.’ And that’s even before I get to the Gospel. Far more offensive and hateful is the message of the cross, that only through you, Jesus, is found deliverance from sin.

The world hates me, the world hates the Church, because it hated you: “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his own household?” They hated you because you pointed out their need for salvation by preaching the Law; they hated you because you pointed to yourself alone as that salvation. They hated you so much they plotted against you and put you to death. And as I know very well, a disciple is not above his master. “For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! ‘Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ say all my close friends, watching for my fall. ‘Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him, and take our revenge upon him.’” All around the world, Christians are taken from their homes and forced to flee, they are even killed in numbers that are staggering. Every day, your words come true: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” Speaking the Gospel in some parts of the world is a death sentence; that is why so many come here, where we still have freedom.

But freedom cannot protect me from the insults of others, the rejection of the world because of you. I speak the Law to a friend, concerned about the path they are on, and they don’t repent, they stop talking to me. I speak the Gospel to a family member, inviting them to come to worship with me, and they roll their eyes, they harden their hearts, they whisper about me. The Word of the Lord is a burden upon my shoulders, and it becomes heavier with every family member that doesn’t want anything to do with the Church, with every friend who insults me behind my back, with every moment of rejection.

And so I’ll refuse to speak it anymore. If your Word carries such a price, then I’ll refuse to pick up the tab. O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived, but no longer. I will shut my mouth, I will be just like the unbelieving masses all around me. Then my life will be better, I will live at peace with the world, but not with my heart. “If I say, ‘I will not mention Him, or speak any more in His name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” Your Word will not remain trapped inside me, it must get out, it must be proclaimed. Your Word is not meant to be trapped and hidden safely away, it is meant to be preached, to be spoken and taught to the world around me. It will not let me get away with being a private Christian. I now understand what Paul said: “If I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” Your Word is always a burden; it is a burden if I speak it and face the wrath of the world, and it is a burden if I refuse to speak.

For the Christian is called upon to speak of Christ. There is no other way. Your Word will not long remain in one who traps it within his own chest. You call on me to speak that Word no matter the consequences, no matter what this world does to me. “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” You have not called me to a personal, private faith; you have called me to a faith that trumpets itself loudly throughout the world, speaking with boldness to those who will listen and those who refuse. You have not called me to an easy path; you have called me to give up of myself, to lay down even my life if necessary. But you have not called on me to do this alone.

“The Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.” I am not alone. Though this world rages against me, still will I stand confident, for I know the future of those who attack the Church. My persecutors will stumble, they will not overwhelm me, for I have One on my side who has already conquered them, who has passed through death and the grave on my behalf, triumphing over all those who attack me. The Lord is on my side as a dread warrior; He carried the fight to the enemy, and He defeated sin, death, and the devil, the instigators of my suffering in this world. The victory has already been won; I can say with the psalmist: “In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

Man has no claim upon me; God does, through the death and resurrection of His Son. This world can harm my body; it can insult me, persecute me, even put me to death, but it has no power over me. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” My Lord is the One who has delivered my soul and defeated my enemies; there is no need to fear, I am not alone, and I will never be alone. One day, O Lord, I will see you uplifted in triumph far above your enemies, far above my enemies. “O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” O Lord, my sufferings in this world are real, but they have a termination, they will end, for you are with me, you have defeated my enemies, your resurrection is the proof that all you said is true, that you will never leave me nor forsake me. What can man do to me?

I shall not be afraid of man, for they cannot take away my salvation. In the midst of my struggles in this life, in the midst of opposition to the Word I carry within me, I will rejoice, I will sing praises to you, O Lord, for you are with me for salvation. “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For He has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.” My life has been delivered from the shackles of sin, the penalty of death. You are with me, Immanuel; you are with me as a dread warrior, fighting on my behalf, fighting to defend me, to deliver me. The fight is yours, for the victory is yours, won when you laid down your life into death and then took it up again in triumph.

The task you have given to me and to all the Church is impossible for us to accomplish; we can’t do it alone. But you have not left us alone; you are with us as a dread warrior, and the mission of the Church is your mission, it is your task. You guarantee that your Word “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” It is your mission, your task, and in your grace, you use me and a host of other sinners to accomplish it. Yes, I am unworthy and ill-equipped for such a great task, but you have forgiven me; the contradiction of a sinner proclaiming Law and Gospel to other sinners is resolved only in your cross. The grace that has forgiven me and the grace that I proclaim is the same grace. I am a beggar telling the other beggars where I found a loaf of bread. And that bread is the Bread of Life, it is you, Lord Jesus, and with you beside me, what can man do to me? The dread warrior is on my side, and He has the victory. “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For He has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.” Amen.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Pentecost (Numbers 11:24-30)

“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!” 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 Pentecost Day comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the eleventh chapter of the book of Numbers. Dear friends in Christ, Moses was on the verge of a breakdown. Like so many of God’s saints—Elijah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and St. Paul, to name just a few—the burden of the Lord’s work weighed heavy on his shoulders. He cried out to the Lord, “I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.” Moses is ready to give up; he would rather die than continue to carry this burden. He feels unbearably alone. The Church was in a similar situation ten days after the Ascension, as the Jewish people celebrated the great feast of Pentecost. They had seen Jesus alive, demonstrating His victory, but now He appeared to be gone again, departing into heaven to return only on the Last Day. They were alone, or so it seemed, alone with the burden of carrying the message of the resurrection into a world that wanted nothing to do with it. Christ had promised that He would be with them, but as they huddled together in the upper room, it seemed like they had never been more alone.

God heard the pleas of Moses, and He answered, not by granting his wish and putting him to death, but by giving him a gift. “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you… And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone.” God’s gift, His answer to the earnest, desperate prayer of Moses, is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is given as a gift to lift up the burden that lay heavy on his shoulders; through the work of the Spirit, Moses will no longer be alone. In our text for today, we see this promise fulfilled. Moses gathers the seventy elders, and as promised, the Spirit is outpoured. “As soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it.” The Spirit’s presence manifests itself with signs and wonders, demonstrating that these men had been appointed by God to help Moses govern the people. Moses was no longer alone; he could now lead this people into the Promised Land.

The new Israel, the Church, faced similar loneliness as that Pentecost Day dawned. They had been appointed to a task that was impossible to mere human means, given a commission that they couldn’t fulfill on their own. But they too had the promise of relief. Jesus had said, “I will not leave you as orphans;” He had said, “Behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.” And on that Pentecost morning, Jesus’ promises were fulfilled. With the sound of a rushing wind, with the appearance of tongues of fire, with the speaking of many languages, the Holy Spirit was given as a gift. God saw the desperate need of His people, and He acted to fulfill it, giving to the Church of all ages the gift that she would need for the rest of time: the Holy Spirit. In the wilderness, God took a portion of the Spirit that rested upon Moses and gave it to the elders to carry on the work of leadership. On Pentecost, God took a portion of the Spirit that rested upon Jesus at His Baptism and gave it to the Church to carry on the work of preaching the Gospel.

The Holy Spirit is the gift we celebrate on this day, the gift that the Church couldn’t exist without, the gift that you and I desperately need, or else we will die eternally. The Holy Spirit is, as we say in the Nicene Creed, “the Lord and giver of life,” only because the Holy Spirit brings us Jesus. He is the One who creates faith within you; He is the One who conveys forgiveness, life, and salvation to you through the Word and the sacraments. Jesus won salvation through His sacrificial death and victorious resurrection; the Holy Spirit delivers salvation to you by bringing you Jesus in word, water, bread and wine. Without the Holy Spirit, the salvation Jesus won would never have come to you; without the Holy Spirit, no one would know about Jesus’ redemption. But now that the Holy Spirit has come as promised, this message goes out into the world, starting in Jerusalem with the words of Peter: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit is given in Baptism; your Baptism. On the day of your Baptism, you were given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift that keeps on giving you Jesus, the gift that remains with you in the storms of this life. The Church is never alone, you are never alone, because of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is God’s loving, gracious gift to you, to me, to the entire world.

And once the Spirit is loose, there is no telling where He will go. Jesus told Nicodemus as much early in His ministry: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit operates through the means that God has established: He comes in the Word, He comes in Baptism, and He comes in the Lord’s Supper. That is where we are to look for Him; that is where He has promised to work. But the people and places where He will do this work may surprise us. It certainly surprised Joshua. As he expected, the Spirit fell upon those elders gathered around the tent, but shockingly, the Spirit also fell upon those who failed to show up.

“Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested upon them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.” For some reason, these two had missed the assembly; they weren’t at the right place at the right time, but still the Spirit came upon them. The Spirit works when and where He wills, and that makes men, who think they know how God should run things, nervous. “And a young man ran and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, ‘My Lord Moses, stop them!’” They aren’t the right kind of people, they aren’t at the right place, they aren’t doing things the right way. Joshua thinks that Eldad and Medad are renegades, trying to seize power for themselves. The Spirit has chosen them, but Joshua doesn’t think much of that choice, he wants Moses to put an end to the Spirit’s work.

When the Spirit works in unexpected places, it makes us nervous, uncomfortable, fearful. We understand Joshua, because we’ve all been there. We don’t check our fears and prejudices at the door of the Church; they come with us and affect how we look at the work of our congregation in this community. Will we, at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Kiron and Faith Lutheran Church in Deloit, be found trying to restrain the Spirit? The Lord is sending the world to us, people that aren’t like us, and they are hearing the Gospel call, they are receiving the Holy Spirit; will we find ourselves opposing the work of the Spirit? The Lord is opening doors for us, opportunities that we have never seen before; will we bunker down in fear like Joshua, protesting that the Spirit shouldn’t be working in that way, or will we welcome all people, trusting in the Lord of the Church and the Spirit He has sent? It’s His Church, after all, not yours or mine. He is working among those who don’t look like us, who don’t speak our language, who have little money or no money at all, who struggle with addiction and hunger. The Spirit is at work amongst people that we wouldn’t have chosen, if we with our sinful prejudices were in charge.

Repent. Open your eyes and your minds to see the harvest field. Cast away the sinful human prejudices that would restrain the Spirit’s work. Offer a welcome to all; call all people, no matter how much they are alike or different than you, to come hear the Gospel message. Look for the doors that God is opening before us; I know of one congregation who had to close their school, and almost immediately, God opened the door of work to African and Asian immigrants. Rejoice in what is happening here; another congregation I know held a Vacation Bible School filled with children from Asia, Africa, and Central America. The pastors were ecstatic; most of the members were not. Even the New Testament church struggled with this; it would take years before the apostles recognized the Spirit’s work, and Gentiles were fully received into the Church. Repent of your ideas of where the Holy Spirit should work and instead rejoice when you see Him at work; the Spirit is doing great things among us—rejoice!

For the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to the world; He is for everyone. Moses rebukes Joshua for his opposition to the Spirit’s work, instead calling on him to pray for more: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!” That prayer was answered on Pentecost, when the Lord’s people, those who believed in Jesus, were all filled with the Holy Spirit. The languages spoken on that day demonstrate that the Spirit is given to the world, to every tribe and nation, because Jesus is for everyone. The Holy Spirit brings Jesus, and He brings Jesus to everyone, even you and me. He brings Jesus to you, saying this day: you are forgiven of your prejudices, of your opposition to the Spirit’s work. Today He brings Jesus to you to forgive you, to apply the death and resurrection of Jesus directly to you. That is His task, the task He delights in, and He is determined to bring Jesus to the ends of earth, so that all people, people like us and people very different from us, from every nation under the sun, speaking thousands of languages, from every age, and yes, you and me, will together praise the Lamb who was slain in the glories of eternity. He is the gift that God gives to you this day, the gift that makes all the difference, now and forevermore. In the Name of Jesus, who gives His Church, who gives you, the gift of the Holy Spirit, Amen.