Friday, February 19, 2016

Lent Midweek 1

This sermon is based on a Lenten sermon series entitled "The Apostles' Creed: Knowing God Perfectly!" authored by Rev. Brent Kuhlman.

“Who is greater, he that sits at the table or he that serves? Is it not he that sits at the table? But I am among you as a servant.” 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 evening is the passion reading read a few moments ago: Part One, the Lord’s Supper. Dear friends in Christ: you have the wonderful privilege this night to know God perfectly! Yes, you heard right—you will leave this place knowing God, not slightly, not a little bit, not even mostly or considerably, but perfectly! Hear these words of Luther: “The Creed properly follows, which sets forth all that we must expect and receive from God; in short, it teaches us to know Him perfectly.” To know God perfectly is to know Jesus, God in the flesh, and to know Jesus is to know Him not only as teacher and Lord, not only as true God and true man, but as a servant, as One who has come to serve you. Luther says we know God perfectly when we know what we must expect and receive from Him, and tonight we learn to expect and receive Christ’s service. And not just any kind of service; He serves you with salvation. Jesus is God for you as He serves you by giving His Body into death and shedding His Blood for you upon the cross, and by giving that same Body and Blood to you to eat and to drink in the Lord’s Supper. As Jesus Himself says, “I am among you as a servant.”

He comes to serve us, we sinners who delight in serving ourselves. “My time is at hand,” Jesus says. The time of service has come, the time for Him to render us the greatest service of all. But the time of man’s wickedness has also come, a time for the schemes of self-serving men. Look what happens! The bigwig religious establishment types, the know-it-all consultants, and their lockstep followers gather in secret meetings, plotting in the high priest’s palace. They are jealous of Jesus, they are threatened by Him. Not from the Romans, not from the Greeks, but from the church, from God’s chosen people and those appointed to lead them, come plots of betrayal and murder. They seek to serve themselves; they care little for truth or error, they care little for the salvation of the people. What they care about is their own reputation, their own power. They are people like you and me; we may not plot to take another man’s life, but we will plot to take his reputation, we will seek to humble him and exalt ourselves. When it comes down to it, we will serve ourselves, even if we must destroy someone else.

The time of man’s wickedness has come. Look what happens! Satan is working overtime, lurking about, seeking a soul to entice. And he finds one, not in the brothels, not in the bad part of town, not among the atheists but in the Church, in the Office of the Holy Ministry. “Then Satan entered into Judas, surnamed Iscariot, one of the Twelve. He went his way to the chief priests and captains and spoke together with them how he might betray Jesus to them.” Whatever his motivation, political or religious, we do know that Judas intended to get rich with this dastardly deed. “What will you give me to betray him to you?” He is serving himself; his own ideals, his own opinions, but most of all his own pocketbook. He is fundamentally driven by greed. And what won’t man do, what won’t you do, in service of greed, in service of yourself? We may not hand over a friend for blood money, but we will do whatever we can to enrich our own checking account, whether it is moral or not, and no matter who we hurt along the way. We will always find a way to serve ourselves, as Judas did. But you never truly serve yourself, no matter how hard you try. In serving his own ends, Judas is actually serving another: Satan himself.

The time of man’s wickedness has come. Look what happens! Trouble, conflict, discord, contention, fighting. Where? Amongst the rabble rousers in the taverns, among the bullies at school? No, in the Church. In the Office of the Holy Ministry. “There was also a strife among them as to which of them should be accounted the greatest.” The apostles clench their fists, raise their voices, spit invectives, push, shove, and threaten one another with bodily harm, litigation and excommunication as they verbally brawl about who is the greatest among them. How appalling! What an embarrassment! The people of God, people who call themselves Christians, fighting over their position, fighting to serve themselves, to satiate their own pride. This is no conflict over doctrine, over the truth of Scripture; those are things worth fighting for. This is a contest of stubbornness, a war fought over pride, to see who has the biggest head, who can exert the most self-serving ego.

What does Jesus do with this rotten mess? What does He do in the midst of all these deadbeat losers and criminals, the chief priest and scribes, Judas and the Twelve, you and me? Look what happens! The most unexpected event in the history of the world. The time of man’s wickedness has come, but that very hour is also the hour of Christ’s service. Look what happens! “Having loved His own who are in the world, He loved them to the end.” He loves us! He loves us to the end! He loves us by serving us. You learn to know God perfectly in what Jesus does for the apostles and for you. You learn to know God perfectly as Jesus serves sinners, sinners like you and me. He humbles Himself, making Himself lower than the lowest servant. He washes their feet! “I am among you as a servant.” He came not to be served but to serve. Peter objects; he will not let his Lord become a servant. But Jesus will have none of it; the only way to have Jesus is as a servant. “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.” He serves, we are served, there is no other way; Jesus comes in no other way than as a servant. Only as Jesus serves us do we know God perfectly.

In washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus teaches Peter, the other apostles, and you what to expect and receive from Him—love, mercy, forgiveness, salvation. And having loved them by washing their feet Jesus departs in order to love them to the end. “Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but afterwards you will follow me.’” He is going where they cannot now follow—into death, that final enemy of man, the price of your selfishness, the price of your sin. He goes where you cannot now go, for He goes in your place, He goes bearing your sin, your selfishness, your pride. He goes as your servant. He goes as God for you, winning salvation by giving up His own life into death in your place, paying the price that your sin required with His own blood. He goes where you cannot now go with the promise that afterwards you will follow Him into the grave. But because He has already walked the road of the cross through humiliation and death to the victory of the empty tomb, that journey has been forever changed for you. You will follow Him through death to life everlasting. You will live as He lives, never to die again. Christ has served you unto death, so that He can give you life.

To know God perfectly is to know what to receive and expect from Him, to know that in Christ’s death and resurrection your salvation was won, and that in this place, His salvation is given to you. At this altar, Jesus “takes off His outer garments” and goes to work for you. He comes among you once again as One who serves. “Take eat, this is my body,” He says. “Drink of it all of you, this is my blood,” He says. He gives Himself to you fully and completely, holding nothing back, coming as your servant. You sit at the table and He serves you, He loves you. He loves you to the end, and He will continue to pour that love out upon you; this is what you are to receive and expect from Him all of your life. What He says He gives. What He gives He says. Forgiveness, life, salvation. He loves you to the end. Good Friday, the Lord’s Supper, all for you. There you know God perfectly! In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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