Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Genesis 2:4-7, 15-25

“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” 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 is the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the second chapter of the book of Genesis. Dear friends in Christ, in his epic poem Paradise Lost, John Milton describes two acts of marital love between Adam and Eve. The first is just a night or two before the Fall, and Milton, in beautiful verse, praises what God has given as gift: “Hail, wedded love, mysterious law, true source of human offspring, sole propriety in Paradise of all things common else!” There, the marital union is as natural and good as breathing, a beautiful expression of love. But then, many chapters later, after they have fallen into sin, their first deed, after blaming each other, is to return to the marriage bed, however, in a much different way. Milton writes, “He on Eve began to cast lascivious eyes; she him as wantonly repaid; in lust they burn.” And they take each other, no longer in pure love, but in carnal lust, driven by passions now corrupted by sin. The message is clear: the Fall can be no better understood than in the perversion of man’s relationship with woman; even the lawful union of husband and wife is corrupted and poisoned, they are no longer naked and without shame, they are naked and filled with shame. Much has changed; indeed, everything has changed.

Woman was given to man as gift, indeed the highest gift of His creation, to be honored above all save the Creator Himself. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” Adam cries, “She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” She is man’s helper, to save him from his loneliness, to fulfill with him God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. He cannot be without her; humanity is incomplete without woman, “it is not good for the man to be alone.” She is the one corresponding to him, alike, yet unlike, they fit together in every way like a puzzle, completing one another, the two halves of humanity, the two eyes through which God’s greatest creation looks on the world. She is morally equal, an equal member of humanity, with equal worth before man, equal standing before God, yet she is placed in an order, with man as her head, her provider, her protector and she in submission, as receiver and bearer of life. As she was taken from man, so she will return to man, and the two will become one flesh again. She is his gift, and he receives her as gift in love.

But no longer. As Milton so dramatically illustrates, man now takes woman, and woman takes man, in lust, even within God-ordained marriage, man and woman are naked and should be ashamed. The trouble is, they are naked and so often feel no shame. And it is no surprise that if lust fills the marriage bed, that it would then spill out into other relations, that adultery and fornication would become common, that even greater perversions would result. The Fall ruins all. Woman is an equal member of humanity, but now she seizes on that equality to subvert God’s order. She seeks man’s headship in the home, in the Church, in society, and man either abdicates his role as head or uses it to tyrannize those whom God has given as gift. Man no longer receives woman as a helper, but as a slave or as a slavemaster, and woman no longer wants to help, but to be the head.

You can speak quite eloquently against cohabitation and fornication of all kinds, you can argue against the acceptance of homosexuality and the erasure of gender, but the root of all these corruptions is the same sin that fills you, that even perverts your marriage bed. You are no different in God’s eyes from those whom you condemn; your lust, whether it leads to action or not, is the root and source of all the corruptions that we rightly deplore. You can declare God’s order and argue against women’s ordination with the best of them, but you do so not out of a concern for God’s order, but from a desire for power, the same desire for power that has led women to seek the headship of men and men to treat women as sub-human. Women, you seek the authority God has given to men; repent! Men, you cover your desire for power with pious-sounding words; repent! You can puff out your chest and say, ‘The LCMS needs to repent!’ Certainly, our church body needs repentance, but so often we say this to avoid our own need to repent. Our time together this week is not an opportunity for self-righteousness, but for repentance, each one of us.

Repent and hear the Gospel. The Gospel is that woman is a gift, and not just a gift of creation. She is a gift through which God will bring forth salvation when man falls; from her womb will spring forth a line that will culminate in the One who will crush the serpent’s foul head. When God gave woman to man as his helper, little did Adam know that she was not just a savior from loneliness, but through her would come the Savior from sin. From generation to generation, every act of procreation in the promised line, as taineted as it may have been, was for the purpose of salvation, bringing humanity’s Savior ever closer. And when the time had fully come, man didn’t participate, but it was in the womb of a woman where God miraculously conceived the Messiah, God in the flesh, brought forth of woman alone. The second Eve, Mary, fulfilled woman’s task as helper, sent by God for this very purpose, to bring Jesus Christ, our Savior, into the world.

And this Jesus went forth and resisted every temptation, the temptation to lust, the temptation to tyrannize, the temptation to subvert God’s order. He honored and taught women, but He did not lust after them, He did not make them apostles. And as the women wept, He gave up His life into death for you, for me, for all. His death for your sins; He who didn’t lust after anyone, died for all your lust, He who never subverted God’s order, died for your desire for power. He died for your every sin, and when He rose again on the third day, it was the women who once again fulfilled their role as helper, not preaching, but taking the message of Christ’s victory to the apostles so they could take it into the world.

Through the apostles, the Bridegroom sought you out and made you His own, incorporating you into the salvation that He won. The Bridegroom sought out His bride, you, along with all of fallen humanity, and laid down His life for her. She had fallen into sinful adultery, idolatry that could only lead to death, she was destined to return to the dust. But Jesus laid Himself into the dust for His bride, He gave up the breath of life that was God’s first gift only to breathe again on the third day and rise up from the dust of death to make His people alive. He calls on all who are naked without shame to see their sin and repent, and He calls on all who are naked and ashamed to hear the Gospel. He sought you out in your sin, a walking corpse, destined to give up the breath of life and return to the dust, and He made you alive, giving you a new birth in water and the Word. You are His bride, and He the bridegroom, and the order of creation which we receive as Law is a picture of the Gospel: Christ the head of His redeemed, saved, purified body, the Church.

That’s why we fight to preserve the order of creation, within ourselves through daily repentance and in the world through our confession, because it gives us a picture of salvation, it points us and the entire world to the Gospel. Every perversion of the marital union, every attack on our creation as male and female, every perversion of God’s order, is not just a corruption of the Law, it is an attack on the Gospel. In response, the Church, who is the Bride, holds forth the beauty of marriage and the marital union, she declares woman as gift and highly exalts her in her role as helper and receiver in God’s good order, and she encourages men to take their place as provider and head. The Bride condemns perversions of God’s Word, and she also holds up the beauty of what God created and how He set all things in proper, wonderful order, all in service of the proclamation of the Gospel. For the Bridegroom has come for His bride, and He calls on all to take that honored place as His body, receiving protection and provision from He who is our head. He promises the removal of all shame, a restoration of the paradise we lost. There we will stand as Christ’s bride, living forever in these words: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” In the Name of Jesus, our Bridegroom, Amen.

Tenth Sunday after Trinity (1 Corinthians 12:1-11)

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” 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 is the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Church of God in Corinth. Dear friends in Christ: What is more important, diversity or unity? I could hardly have picked a more explosive question. If you want to see some excitement, just drop this hand-grenade into a faculty forum at a major university, or a newsroom staff meeting, or onto the floor of Congress, then quietly (and quickly) walk away. How you answer this question puts a label on you, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, but the debate isn’t that simple. Both sides of the aisle call for unity, the differences come in how diversity plays into that unity, and what kind of diversity we’re talking about; there the debate lines are drawn. But this question is certainly not restricted to the secular realm. Foundational to the debates that rock Christianity in general, and our church body in particular, is the question: How much diversity in practice can we tolerate while still remaining unified in confession? That question is the key to the worship wars, to debates over the role of women in the church, to arguments over communion practice, to division of almost any kind.

What is more important, diversity or unity? Saint Paul has as much to say about our political and social debates over diversity and unity as the book of Daniel has to say about dieting—that is, absolutely nothing. But he may have something to say about the similar debates in the Church, and his solution is quite simple: diversity flows from, and is in service of, our unity. Both diversity and unity are important, but the center of gravity is always found in our unity, unity in the one Spirit who gives all good gifts to Christ’s Church, gifts given in diversity to individuals for the service of the whole.

You see, Saint Paul cannot conceive of a congregation that isn’t diverse. Not necessarily ethnically diverse, though that will certainly be the case as the Gospel goes out to the four corners of the world. That kind of diversity is only skin deep—the great message of the Gospel is that Jesus died and rose for all, every nation, tribe, language, and race, and such outward diversity really means nothing when it comes to salvation and the gifts of the Church. No, Paul is thinking of the diversity that still exists among brothers and sisters in Christ, that isn’t abolished by the common call of the Gospel, the diversity that comes when the Spirit gathers a variety of individuals into a congregation and gives to each different gifts. Not everyone is given the same gift, and not everyone is given gifts in the same measure. The differences can be vast from one Christian to another. He gives us just a taste of what these gifts might be: “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.”

That’s a pretty impressive list, with some incredible gifts. But the list isn’t the point. If you leave this sermon thinking that you need to go take a spiritual gift inventory, or that you need to find a congregation where people still do miracles, heal, and speak in tongues, you are falling into exactly the trap that Saint Paul is warning about. The time of the incredible, extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit came to a close nineteen centuries ago. Those gifts were for the age of the apostles, the first decades of the Church, and we are not to expect them any longer. Indeed, it isn’t even Paul’s intention for us to match ourselves with some list of spiritual gifts at all. Instead, Paul wants us to recognize that we all have been given different gifts, with this key: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

The common good. That’s what spiritual gifts are for. The Spirit gives them in diversity for the good of all. A congregation that is filled with people gifted in exactly the same way is woefully deficient. Only a body of believers who has a variety of gifts can supply what others lack, the assembly of Christians can then fit together like a puzzle, or to use more Biblical imagery, we can be built together as a house, or live, move, and have being as a body. Each part is necessary, and each part supplies something the others don’t have, something essential. No matter what gifts the Spirit has given you, no matter in what proportion He has given them, they are for the good of the Body of Christ, the Church universal, and for your fellow believers.

All gifts, in their wondrous diversity, have their unity in their source: the Spirit who gives them. He gives the foundational gift, the gift from which all others flow, the gift of faith. “I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus be accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” There is no room for looking down on any in the Church as if they are sub-Christian or even non-Christian because they don’t seem to have much (or anything) in the way of spiritual gifts. The fundamental, foundational, vitally important spiritual gift is the gift of faith, faith which confesses Jesus as Lord. No other gift is possible without this one, and every other gift is secondary next to it. This gift makes you a part of the body, this gift makes you fit building material for the house. You cannot be saved without it, for the forgiveness of sins, won by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is received only by faith, and faith is only given through the Spirit.

Mute idols can make no one speak, nor can the dead make themselves alive, but the Spirit has come to you and done both; He has raised you up in Christ’s resurrection and He has given you faith to confess your Savior’s holy Name. Jesus died for all, every nation, tribe, language, and race; all humanity, despite our diversity, is unified in two facts: we are all sinners, and Jesus died for us. And all Christians, despite our diversity in spiritual gifts, are unified in this single fact: the Holy Spirit has created faith within us through the Word and the Sacraments, and we are members of the kingdom of God, brothers and sisters of each other, brothers and sisters of Christ. There is our unity, given in this one spiritual gift, the one that comes before all others: the gift of faith.

No other spiritual gift saves, no other spiritual gift brings you Jesus, every other gift is for the common good of the body, they do not make you Christians, but this one does. So there is no room for bragging or boasting in the Church, there is no room for looking down on others with regard to spiritual gifts. In common, we have the greatest spiritual gift, faith, which delivers to us Christ’s blood-bought treasures, and then every other gift is exactly that—a gift!—for the good of the body of Christ. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” Spiritual gifts are not ours at all, they are gifts entrusted to our use, and they are for the good of the Body of Christ. That’s why the Spirit gave them. The Corinthians held some gifts more highly than others (speaking in tongues!) and looked down on others who had more ‘boring’ gifts, or didn’t seem to have much in the way of gifts at all. Their life as a congregation was a competition to see who was more ‘filled with the Spirit’ than others.

Brothers and sisters, this should not be! “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills.” The Spirit is interested in diversity, in variety, and He determines how he will give the gifts; it is not human choice, individually or as a congregation, that gives out spiritual gifts. That is the task of the Spirit, and He does this for a specific purpose. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” It is not our Church, it is not our congregation, it is Christ’s Church, His congregation, and He has sent the Spirit first to deliver His forgiveness in our midst, and then to give the spiritual gifts necessary for the building up of His Body in this specific place and around the world.

So there is no need to take an inventory, but it is worth thinking about how the Spirit has blessed you with certain gifts and how those gifts may be used in service of the common good, for the building up of the Body of Christ. These gifts always serve the good of the whole, and thus are never for our own personal use, or to be exercised apart from God’s Word. Someone who thinks that they have the gift of preaching should first consult Scripture’s qualifications for a pastor and then, if qualified, seek the Church’s order of putting a man into the office of preaching. In the same way, we can have diversity in practice only if such diversity doesn’t threaten the unity of our confession founded on the truth of God’s Word. Diversity must serve unity. Our variety of gifts are to be used for the good of others in accord with God’s Word.

So what is more important, diversity or unity? Throughout our text there is a pattern, a cadence, between diversity and unity, but in every case, the emphasis is on the latter: the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God. The diversity that we find in the Church flows from what unites us: our common confession that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus in our place and on our behalf, the same Triune God to which we now belong. The blessed diversity that we find in the Church serves the unity of the whole, the common good. Diversity serves unity, it never rules over it, for we all have one Scripture, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one Jesus who died for us, one Jesus who rose for us, one Jesus whom we confess as Lord by the one Holy Spirit who gives us every good gift. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Romans 8:12-17)

“You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” 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 Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Church of God in Rome. Dear friends in Christ, we are debtors. We owe someone something. You can’t avoid it; you stand in someone’s debt, the question is, who will that be? “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.” What do we owe our sinful flesh? What did it ever do for us? It held us in bondage, separated us from God and other people, and promised us great things while delivering only death. We don’t owe the flesh anything. We are not in its debt any longer; it used to have a claim on us, because we were chained to it, living in its bondage, but no more. We have been saved. Jesus, the stronger man, came, and robbed the strong man’s house. Whatever we owed to our sinful flesh He paid, dying our death in our place. He killed our sinful flesh when He dunked us under the baptismal waters. If we are debtors to anyone, we are debtors to Him. Not that we owe Him anything to pay for our release—the price has been paid—instead, having been released, we live under Him as His debtors in grateful love.

However, the flesh keeps knocking, it keeps calling for our allegiance, it keeps asking for its bills to be paid. The flesh wants us to believe that we are still in bondage, it wants to keep us in slavery. In fact, Saint Paul calls our sinful flesh the ‘spirit of slavery.’ “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Like an unwelcome houseguest that you just can’t get to leave, the spirit of slavery hangs around even after you have been released from his bondage. The spirit of slavery calls for our obedience, it wants us to think that we are still in chains. Even though we have been set free, even though the chains have been removed by the work of Christ, the spirit of slavery wants us to return to our cells and put the chains back on. And the remarkable thing is, we actually do it. Day after day, we, who have been set free from sin, put ourselves back into its bondage. We willingly, openly, put the chains back on and settle into our cold, hard, cells. We believe this lie, this ridiculous lie, that slavery is freedom.

This is the message trumpeted forth in every corner of our world: slavery is freedom. The world claims that living in sin is actually freedom, that doing what your sinful flesh wants is freeing. This is most often spoken of with regard to sexual sins—free love, sexual liberation, ‘I’m free to do what I want with my body’—but the same lie is told about every sin. The spirit of slavery claims that it’s the ‘Christians’ who are actually repressive, that the Bible wants to put you in chains. This even finds its way into the Church, where the freedom of the Gospel is used to excuse or cover for living in the bondage of sin. It doesn’t make any sense, but people believe it, and you, who have been set free, fall for it all the time. Repent! “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Sin enslaves, as any addict can tell you, it grabs onto you and controls your life. Indulging in sin is putting the chains around your ankles and making sure they’re nice and tight. The end of these things is death; that is all that the flesh can give you, and Paul is quite clear that the freedom of the Gospel is not the freedom to do whatever you want, to live however you want. The freedom of the Gospel is exactly that, freedom from sin and its bondage.

For we have been given another spirit, not the spirit of slavery, to return to our chains, but the Spirit of adoption. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Our status has changed dramatically. We were born into slavery, chained to sin by virtue of our birth as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. We had no choice, that was our identity. Our natural birth was one of slavery; the chains placed upon us even in the womb. But then we were adopted. The Spirit of adoption came to us in our chains and set the prisoners free, for the price of our release had been paid upon a cross two thousand years ago. Jesus came to be our brother; He came and saw us in our chains, and even though He was without sin, He submitted Himself to our slavery and paid its ultimate price—death. Then He broke the bars of death with His resurrection, and set us free. But we were not freed from prison to run around on our own. We were given a new status; no longer slave, but adopted child. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” We are sons of God, given a watery birth in place of our natural birth, made children by adoption instead of slaves by nature, destined for life instead of death.

Why return to the slavery of your birth? “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The life of the free is a daily putting to death of the spirit of slavery. That spirit entices us with its chains, its assertion that you can only be free by living in sin’s bonds, but the Spirit helps us resist its call by reminding us of our identity: our baptism into Christ, where the Spirit of adoption made us God’s children. Martin Luther teaches us to confess in the Small Catechism: “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” The spirit of slavery is put to death only by repentance, when we see our sin and turn away from it, drowning the Old Adam in a return to the font. The Christian life is one of daily, continual repentance, as we see our sin better and better and drown the Old Adam again and again.

This isn’t easy. The spirit of slavery, the Old Adam, is a tenacious swimmer, and his enticing words lead us astray again and again. We are tempted to despair of our identity as God’s children, especially when the Law confronts us and calls us out for not living as Christians should live. But we are not left alone. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” There are three spirits in our text: the spirit of slavery that wants to bind us, the Spirit of adoption that sets us free, and our spirit, which needs reassurance as the struggle goes on within us between slavery and freedom, peace and fear, old man and new. The Holy Spirit doesn’t just make us God’s children through our baptism into Christ, He is daily active and working within us, killing the spirit of slavery and reassuring us of our status before God as we struggle and suffer in the battle against sin, death, and the power of the devil.

“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” We will suffer death to our flesh, the daily drowning we are called to, we will suffer the opposition of a world that doesn’t understand why we refuse its bondage, and we will suffer the ravages of sin in a creation that is still fallen. But the Spirit reassures us, bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and that we have an inheritance with Jesus. You are God’s beloved child, you belong to Him, that is your status right now, but you are also an heir, for you have an inheritance that is still to come, waiting for you on the Last Day. For as Jesus suffered and then entered into His glory, so your suffering, too, will only be temporary, and not worth comparing to the glory that is to come. You are children of God, adopted through the work of the Spirit, and an eternity of freedom awaits you, your inheritance won by your brother, your Lord Jesus Christ. In His Name, Amen.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Matthew 7:15-23)

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” 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 is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the seventh chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ, Jesus doesn’t have many good things to say about false prophets. In fact, He gets downright upset when He starts discussing them. His greatest fire and brimstone is reserved for those who teach falsely, who lead others astray. Elsewhere, He talks about millstone necklaces; here, He sounds much like John the Baptist. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” False prophets are doomed, they are condemned, their fate is destruction. No matter how much they protest, the Last Day will not be a pleasant experience for those who teach falsely. “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” I never knew you. There are no more terrifying words that one could hear on the Day that Christ returns. I never knew you. Though they did signs and wonders, though they claimed to speak for Jesus, their destination is hell.

And they are taking as many as they can with them. False prophets are condemned so harshly because they do not keep their opinions to themselves. The false teachings that leave them condemned they spread to others, a poison that robs the true faith from the hearts of others. Make no mistake, dear friends, false teaching, false doctrine, false theology, condemns, it robs true faith and leads you straight to hell. During the World Wars, posters carried the handy phrase, ‘Loose lips sink ships.’ We should have posters up all over this church, saying ‘False doctrine brings hell.’ Why? Because a wrong Jesus cannot save you, no matter how wise He sounds or how nice He is. In the same way, a wrong path of salvation can bring you only condemnation, no matter how appealing and easy the wide road may look. False doctrine is a poison; maybe a little won’t kill you, depending on what kind it is, but it sure isn’t healthy, and as the doses get stronger and you take them more frequently, you are killing off true faith so that you will hear with the false prophets: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

Are you interested in avoiding that fate? Does having the door to heaven shut in your face on Judgment Day sound like something that you would rather not have happen to you? If you’re here this morning than you probably think that avoiding hell is a goal that all people should have, right? If not going to hell sounds like a good thing to you, then Jesus has one word for you: Beware. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Beware, dear friends, beware of false prophets. Keep your eyes open for them, be watchful and alert. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, because false prophets don’t typically put ‘leading people to hell’ on their resume, or print ‘false teacher’ on their business card. In fact, if there is one thing that Jesus stresses about them in our text, it is that false teachers are always in disguise. He calls them ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing,’ and then says that not only do they prophesy, cast out demons, and do mighty works, but these are all done ‘in my Name.’ You see, false teachers will often claim the name ‘Christian.’ These are the most dangerous; we are pretty good at spotting false prophets when they come from outside the visible Christian Church, like Muslim imams or Hindu priests, but things get much more difficult when false prophets call themselves Christian. And in fact, it is very difficult to find any false prophet who has something bad to say about Jesus.

Appearances are deceiving. Not only may false prophets bear the name ‘Christian,’ but they will probably do a lot of good works. Sure, there are many who are sleazy and outwardly wicked; those are much easier to spot. It’s the ones who are outwardly good, who make great neighbors, who serve in the community, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, who are actually the most dangerous. While we praise any good deed done by believer or non-believer, the good deeds of a false prophet can cause us to let our guard down and open our ears to their teaching. Miracles can do the same thing. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that miracles are restricted to those who are true disciples of Jesus. In fact, Jesus explicitly promises in Matthew twenty-four that false prophets will do many signs and wonders “so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”

How can you “beware of false prophets?” If they are so well-disguised, how can you mark and avoid someone who will poison the faith given to you by the Holy Spirit? Jesus has a very simple answer: “You will recognize them by their fruits.” Now, we may be tempted to think that ‘fruit’ here is the same as ‘fruit’ elsewhere in the Scriptures, referring to good works. But we already said that what makes many false prophets so dangerous is that they do have good works and even miracles. So the fruit of false prophets must be something else, indeed, the very thing that makes them a false prophet in the first place: their teaching. You can only know false prophets by examining their teachings. There a false prophet cannot hide. You see, a bad tree cannot produce good fruit, you don’t gather grapes from thornbushes. They can try to obscure their teaching with flowery, pious-sounding words, they can make the task more difficult for you, but ultimately, as Jesus says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.”

How can you recognize bad fruit? Only by knowing good fruit, knowing the truth. False prophets can only be avoided if you know the truth of God’s Word, if you know the Scriptures. Every minute spent reading your Bible, every Sunday morning or Wednesday evening spent in this place receiving Christ’s gifts in the Divine Service or learning His Word in Bible Class, is arming you to recognize the fruit of false teachers. Bankers are not taught to recognize counterfeit bills by looking at a bunch of fake money, they are instead taught every aspect of the real thing. That is what we do here; we give you the real thing, so that if you encounter false prophets, on your television, in a book or magazine, on your front porch, or in this pulpit, you can recognize the fruit, mark and avoid them.

Appearances will get you nowhere. The truth is often clothed in rags, while falsehood wears a $3,000 suit and drives a Jaguar. The most ardent atheist can do as many outwardly good deeds as the most sincere Christian. You judge your teachers by their fruit, knowing that “every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” You judge your teachers on the basis of God’s Word, which means you must know God’s Word. That is your task, for the sake of your own soul and the souls of others around you; to listen to any who proport to be teachers and judge their fruit, their teachings. That includes me, Pastor Poppe, and any who stand in this pulpit. Any pastor that is afraid to be judged on the basis of God’s Word, who instead throws around his weight as a teacher of the Church, is afraid that his teaching won’t stand up to the scrutiny of the Word of God. Call him to repentance, for false teaching brings death and hell; true teaching brings life.

The true Jesus does save you; the true Jesus bled for you, He died for you, He rose for you. The true Jesus took all the sin of the world upon Himself, your sin and mine, and died to pay its penalty. The true Jesus has placed His Name upon you in Holy Baptism, He has made you His own dear child and delivered to you all the gifts of His Kingdom. The true Jesus has placed into your mouth His Body and Blood, feeding you with His grace unto life everlasting. The true Jesus is true God in the flesh forever, seated at the right hand of the Father, for you. The true teaching of the Church isn’t just right; it’s good, it’s beautiful, and it’s for you. The true path of salvation isn’t just the right way, it’s the only way, and it’s the best way, because it’s all about grace alone by faith alone, without any merit or worthiness on your part. If you have indulged your itching ears with the slick lies of false prophets, if you have mixed a little poison in the waters of life that you receive from Christ, if you have by neglect of God’s Word left yourself open to the assaults of false teachers, repent; repent and return to the true faith. This is the truth: you are forgiven for the sake of Christ’s shed blood, poured out on Calvary’s cross and applied to you at font, pulpit, and altar. The truth that you in weakness have neglected is the very truth that forgives you for that weakness, the very truth that saves you for eternity. You are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, a child of God forever.

On that great and terrible Day, you too will cry out ‘Lord, Lord,’ but this will not be the insincere cry of those who claimed the Name and refused the teaching; instead ‘Lord, Lord’ is the cry of faith. “Abba, Father,” you cry out, all you who have been adopted as sons, who have been made children of God through Christ, and the door will not be shut against you. No, it will be opened to you forever, for Jesus does know you, He died for you, He rose for you, He made you His own. Your lawless deeds are forgiven; He died for them all. That is the truth, the truth that has set you free, the truth that is not only right, but so much better than anything the false prophets offer. They bring death, Jesus has life, life for you. This is the truth we hear, this is the truth that we study, this is the truth that we read in the pages of the Scriptures. This is the truth that we cling to, because this is the truth that saves, and you who abide in that truth by the work of the Holy Spirit will live forever, world without end. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Genesis 2:7-17)

“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” 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 Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the second chapter of the book of Genesis. Dear friends in Christ, the Lord God planted a garden in the land of Eden, in the east. It was the sixth day. He had already created light, sky and land, plants, the moon, sun, and stars, and a multitude of animals to fill the sea, sky, and land. Now He does some gardening. The world is paradise, perfect and good, but it is not yet ‘very good.’ The garden in the land of Eden is to be the center of that perfection, the perfect sanctuary in a perfect world, and in the midst of that garden, in the holy of holies, He will plant two trees.

That sanctuary, indeed even the holy of holies, the inner chamber, is to be the dwelling place of His final creation, the creation that alone can make all things complete, ‘very good.’ Before this final creature is set in place, the world isn’t imperfect, but it isn’t finished. This creature will be the crown of His creation, and it will be entrusted with the care of all else as God’s own steward and representative. Therefore the Creator, who made all else with the power of His Word, does this final act of creation in a completely unique way. “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” God gives life, that is His gift to the crown and ruler of His creation. He takes the dust of the ground, forms it into man, and gives us the breath of life. We all go back to a pile of dust and a blast from God’s nostrils. Before God formed us, we were simply dirt on the ground. Before God breathed His breath into us, we may have looked like man, but there was no life in us. Apart from God, there is no life. Life is His gift, pure and simple.

But God isn’t only concerned with giving life. His abundance doesn’t stop with the breath of life. Man is put in this perfect world’s inner sanctuary and told that all things are his. “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden.” What kinds of trees were in that garden? “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” We even had access to the holy of holies, where the tree of life grew. Surely every tree provided good food, but the tree of life provided exactly what the title implies: life, full and complete, providing in continual abundance the gift God first gave into our nostrils. But another tree stood in the holy of holies, the one thing in all of creation that God withheld from us. “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die.” This tree was our place of worship, where Adam preached his sermons, pointing to the tree and proclaiming the one command that God had given. This was our church, where we worshipped God by not partaking of what God had not given to us.

But Satan snuck in, and twisted God’s words, with his, “Did God really say?” and his “You will be like God.” He led us to fix our eyes on the one thing God had not given rather than on all the abundance that He had given. He tempted us to be dissatisfied, and then fed that fire until it roared. That is how Satan works. God gives a gift, and Satan immediately starts tempting, pointing us to what God has not given. God gives us a spouse, and we lust after those whom God has not given. God gives us a home and food on the table, and we covet what our neighbor has. Maybe God doesn’t give certain gifts to us, maybe He hasn’t given a spouse or children, or a high-paying job, but even though He has given us Himself and a tremendous array of gifts, Satan tempts us to focus on those things God hasn’t given, to covet and to take. It’s been this way from the very beginning. God formed us from the dust of the ground, breathed into our nostrils the very breath of life, and if that weren’t enough, He put us in a perfect garden and gave us the wondrous fruit of every tree save one, including the magnificent tree of life. And we fell for Satan’s trick, fixing our eyes on the one thing in all creation that God had withheld.

We grasped after what God had not given, and so we lost all that He had given. “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” God said, and on that terrible day, death entered the world, we began to die. All that God had given in such abundance was taken away. We were driven away from the garden, cast out of the holy of holies; that place which we were to guard was now guarded against us, and when the Flood came, the garden in the land of Eden was no more. But the curse didn’t end there. We were formed from the dust, and now we are destined to return to dust. We were given the very breath of life, and now are destined to give up that breath. The great gifts of creation are now to be reversed; one day you will return to the state of Adam on the morning of that sixth day of creation. First, you will give up your breath, and then you will turn to dust. The life that God gave to you as His gift will be forcibly taken from you.

You desired and you took what God had not given, and so you receive what God never intended: death. But God in His mercy and grace doesn’t stop giving. You are barred from the tree of life in the midst of the garden, but God gives another tree of life. This tree isn’t beautiful, ripe fruit don’t hang from it, it isn’t a delight to the eyes. Instead, it’s an instrument of torture, ugly to the extreme, unseemly and offensive. In place of fruit, there hangs upon this tree of life a man, beaten and bloodied, pouring out his life upon it. It doesn’t look like a tree of life, only a place of death. But when the death that is died upon that tree is the death of the sinless Son of God in your place, then the cross of Jesus is truly the tree of life. When the death that is died upon that tree forgives your every sin, then the cross of Jesus is more beautiful than any tree. For on that tree, God withholds from His Son the breath of life in your place, and Jesus pays your penalty for you.

Jesus dies to make His cross the new tree of life, the new source of life for those sinners who are destined to give up the gifts God first gave to us in the garden. Yes, you will give up the breath of life one day, but because Christ breathed His last having preached His final sermon, “It is finished,” because you have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit as Jesus breathed into your ears His Word, that breath will one day return. Yes, your body will return to the dust from whence it came, but because Jesus laid down His life into the dust of death for you, bearing your sin and enduring your penalty, you will be raised from that dust to live before Him forever. Yes, you were excluded from the holy of holies, cast out of the inner sanctuary, but Christ has gone into the most holy place by means of His blood to open a way for you.

Yes, you were cast from the garden in the land of Eden, but there is another garden to which Christ has won you entry, a garden in which you will dwell forever. Saint John saw in the New Jerusalem “on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” The tree of life that is the cross of Jesus has won you access to this tree of life that will never be destroyed, that you will never be barred from. The entire new heavens and the new earth will be the inner sanctuary, the holy of holies, and you will have access forever, for you are the redeemed, the saved, those for whom Christ died. Life was God’s gift in the beginning, and life is God’s gift at the end, life through Jesus, and as Adam was created from dust, so you will be raised from the dust, to live before Christ forever, to eat from the tree of life without end. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Luke 6:36-42)

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” 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 is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, there are many phrases and verses from Scripture that you hear on the lips of people who have never cracked a Bible. There are many quotations of Jesus that are ripped completely out of their context and then used to support any and every cause. But there is perhaps no single part of Scripture that you will hear more often in our culture than the one that we find in our text today: “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” Usually, this is simply shortened, in a music video, a magazine interview, at a family reunion, or in your living room, to, ‘Don’t judge me!’ Don’t judge me when I wear or say or do what I want. Don’t judge me when I choose a lifestyle for myself and my children. Don’t judge me when I choose to love someone of the same sex, or chose to become a different sex. Don’t judge me when I neglect or destroy my family through gambling, alcoholism or affairs. Essentially, it all comes down to, ‘Don’t judge me in anything I do.’ These words of Jesus have become very popular indeed, and if someone doesn’t know anything else about our Lord, they know that He was against judging, and therefore was a really good guy.

At least He was better than His followers. The accusation flies against the Church, especially a congregation, like ours, that actually believes in something. It’s said so often that we almost don’t hear it anymore, its become an axiom that no one questions: ‘The Church—or your church—is judgmental.’ Maybe you haven’t heard this personally, though I suspect many of you have, we hear this as a congregation, we hear this as the Christian Church. Someone encounters the Church in some way, and perhaps before anyone has a chance to say anything at all about their lifestyle, it is said, ‘Don’t judge me!’ Especially today, ‘Don’t judge me’ is an essential part of the relativistic spirit of the age. ‘Don’t judge me!’ means, ‘You can’t tell me whether what I am doing is right or wrong.’ ‘Don’t judge me!’ means, ‘There is not an objective standard which you can hold me or anyone else to.’ ‘Don’t judge me!’ means, ‘Don’t call my actions sin!’ ‘Don’t judge me!’ is a trump card, that anyone can play to shut off all conversation, to put an end to any discussion of morality or virtue. Jesus says, “Judge not,” and that’s that.

You should know all about this, because you do it all the time. ‘Don’t judge me!’ isn’t just the cry of a transgender activist, it is your cry whenever you are trying to justify yourself and your sinful actions. You may not be so blatant as to say it in the same way, but you have the same arrogance, the same desire to keep on doing what you are doing, no matter what anyone says. ‘Don’t judge me!’ you arrogantly say as you approach God’s holy altar while living in open sin. ‘Don’t judge me!’ you boldly declare when your pastor calls on you to repent. ‘Don’t judge me!’ you say as you cherish and indulge your secret, hidden sin. It’s your trump card; Jesus says, “Judge not,” and that’s that.

Quite often, when you hear (or use) the phrase ‘Don’t judge me!’ it comes from a spirit of arrogance; someone is doing what they know is wrong, but they have found in Jesus a word that excuses everything: “Judge not.” But we would be making a terrible mistake if we assumed that in every case ‘Don’t judge me!’ was a cry of arrogance. Even many of those who cry ‘Don’t judge me!’ in a bold, seemingly confident way, are in reality souls desperate for a word of grace. ‘Don’t judge me!’ then means ‘Don’t reject me because of my sin!’ Quite often, these are words of humility. When a person says, ‘that church is so judgmental,’ it could mean that a congregation spoke the truth about God’s Law and man’s sin, and that person in arrogance refused to repent. On the other hand, it could mean that a humble sinner, broken by their transgressions, facing the deep consequences of their sins, not knowing how to escape, came to a church desperate for a word of grace, a word of hope, and were only given the Law’s threats and condemnations. By word or by deed, directly or indirectly, they were told ‘You aren’t welcome here.’ This is tragic, heartbreaking; for many a broken sinner, ‘Don’t judge me!’ is a cry for help.

You should know all about this, because you do it all the time. Every Sunday, in fact, you gather before God and cry out to Him, ‘Don’t judge me!’ We call it Confession and Absolution. First we admit our sinfulness, we declare openly who we are: “I, a poor miserable sinner…” Then we plead for grace. “Be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.” ‘Don’t judge me!’ we plead. Our sins are great, our sins are many, our sins fill us every day, every moment, and we are desperate for a Word of grace, a Word of mercy, a Word of forgiveness.

And Christ has come to give us that Word. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful,” Jesus commands us, and the Father’s mercy is shown forth in the sending of His Son. Jesus didn’t come to judge or condemn, He didn’t come to reject those who have been humbled by their sins, driven to repentance by the preaching of the Law. Yes, Jesus certainly preached the Law, more severely than any who came before him, as there were many arrogant sinners who needed to see their sins, but when the Law did its work, when it drove sinners to repentance, Jesus spoke words of hope, of comfort, of forgiveness. And these were not empty, idle words. Jesus Himself paid the price to make these words reality, to remove judgment and condemnation from a world that deserved it.

The One who said, “Be merciful,” was shown no mercy by this world. The One who said, “Judge not” was judged by Caiaphas and the blood-thirsty mob. The One who said, “Condemn not,” was condemned to death by Pilate. He was shown no mercy by men so that you would be shown mercy by God. He was judged guilty not just by the rulers of this world, but by God Himself, so that you would not be judged. He was condemned to death so that you will live, even though you die. Your sins, which are many, are put away, paid for by the shed blood of Jesus. Jesus died in your place, He died your death, He died bearing your sin. He, who saw more clearly than anyone else, allowed the blind to lead Him into the pit of Hell, and there He suffered your punishment so that you never will. He preaches the Law to humble you when you arrogantly say ‘Don’t judge me!’ clinging to your sin, and He preaches the Gospel to forgive you when in humility you cry ‘Don’t judge me!’ despairing of your sin. He shows you mercy.

It is this mercy that we then, as individual Christians and as the Church, take into the world. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” We are not the blind, our eyes have been opened by the healing hand of Jesus, sight has been restored in the washing of Holy Baptism; we do not follow our teacher into the pit, but we follow Jesus in the way of mercy. “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Our teacher did not condemn us, He did not hand us over to the judgment of God, our teacher showed us mercy. That is the mercy that we show to others, those who desperately cry out ‘Don’t judge me!’ Our interactions with our fellow sinners is to be characterized by mercy. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.”

The one who has been forgiven and then refuses to forgive will find the same standard applied to him. The one who has been spared condemnation, and then condemns his fellow sinners will discover that the same standard has been applied to him. The one who has been forgiven and then goes out to forgive, to show mercy, will revel in the grace that he has been given. “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” The measure you received was mercy, mercy given to you who didn’t deserve it; you were spared the judgment of God because Jesus endured it in your place. This is the mercy that Jesus extends into the world, and He does so through His instruments, His Christians, His Church. A disciple is like his teacher when a disciple shows mercy.

Our teacher didn’t condemn us, He didn’t judge us, but He forgives us. He didn’t ignore sin, He didn’t leave us in our arrogance, but in mercy He preached the Law to call out our sin, and then preached the Gospel to forgive it. When we encounter sinners who in an arrogant refusal to repent say, ‘Don’t judge me!’ we do not leave them in their sin. That is the most unmerciful thing we could do. We preach the Law, but not because we want to condemn them to hell, but because we have the joy of the angels over every sinner who repents. We preach the Law for the same reason Jesus preaches the Law: so that sinners would repent, so that they would turn and be saved. And when we encounter sinners who desperately, humbly cry ‘Don’t judge me!’ we in mercy extend Christ’s forgiveness and do all that we can to welcome them into a congregation of sinners and help them leave their life of sin.

We can only forgive when we have received forgiveness; we can only call to repentance when we have first repented. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Specks need removing, but only by those who have their logs removed, their eyes opened, by daily contrition and repentance. Repent. Repent of all your sins. Repent of those sins you try to justify, repent of your refusal to act in mercy toward those who simply need a word of grace, repent of judging and condemning. Admit your hypocrisy, that you have desired mercy while giving none. Repent, for your Father is merciful. Repent, for Jesus died for your every sin. You are forgiven, you have been shown mercy; Jesus bled, Jesus died for you. Good measure has been given to you, it is overflowing, enough for you, enough for your neighbor. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

First Sunday after Trinity (Genesis 15:1-6)

“And [Abram] believed the Lord and He counted it to him as righteousness.” 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 is the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the fifteenth chapter of Genesis. Dear friends in Christ: Father Abraham had no sons, no sons had Father Abraham. There were none of them, no not one, so let’s all complain to the Lord. God had promised Abraham many offspring; He promised that nations would come forth from him, that in him and in his offspring would all the nations be blessed. God had taken the promise given to Adam and Eve in the Garden, that one of the offspring of Eve would crush the head of the serpent and reverse the curse of the Fall, and applied it to Abraham. But Father Abraham had no sons, no sons had Father Abraham. And that’s a big problem. Not to the world, mind you, fatherhood doesn’t matter much to our world. Although we give it lip service on this day, a nation that has legalized homosexual marriage, that encourages the procreation of children apart from the union of husband and wife, that portrays fathers as bumbling fools, proclaims loud and clear that fathers don’t matter. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, despite fatherless homes driving crime and violence in our cities and instability in our homes, our country has chosen to tell fathers to take a hike.

But fatherhood certainly matters to God. Not only did God so order the world so that fathers would be the heads of their households, having spiritual leadership and the duty to provide, God also would provide salvation from the Fall and its consequences—sin, death, and the power of the devil—through fatherhood; until, of course, the Messiah would be born of woman alone. But Father Abraham has no sons, no sons has Father Abraham. God’s promise has hit a roadblock; the plan of salvation is stymied. Not only does Abraham have no son to inherit his vast wealth, Abraham has no son to inherit the next link in the chain of salvation. But before Abraham can open up his mouth to complain, the Lord moves first to reassure him. “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’” The promise of God comes to him once again, completely out of the blue, to reassure him, to comfort him, to tell him everything will be OK. But Abraham isn’t buying it. “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

Abraham’s eyes are telling him another message: a childless marriage, a servant poised to take his inheritance, whispers in his tent, the promises of God turning to dust. “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” We cannot see the fulfillment of the promises. We read in the Bible, we hear from this pulpit great and many promises, given by God to His saints. Promises of deliverance, promises of blessing, promises of prosperity. And we look around us, and we see nothing of the sort. Lazarus, the believer, lay at the door of the rich man, a complete and total hypocrite and pagan. And it was Lazarus, who trusted in the God of the universe, who suffered, while the rich man, who scorned his Creator, ate and drank in luxury. Our eyes tell us a much different story than God’s Word does. The Bible declares that your Savior, your Lord, who you were baptized into, holds all power and all authority in His hands. But you don’t see any of it. You still suffer, you still languish, the world continues to laugh in your face. There doesn’t seem to be any difference between you and unbelievers; in fact, they seem to be doing better. You gaze over the fence and see success and prosperity filling the hands of those who hate God and refuse to go to church. So you doubt, so you despair, so you wonder what the point of following God is. You cry out with the words of our Introit: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

God hears the cries of His people, from Abraham in his tent, to Lazarus at the door of the rich man, to you at your kitchen table as your world falls apart, before your doctor as he brings you bad news, or at the bedside of a loved one as they suffer and die. He hears our cries, He knows our afflictions. And He responds. “The Word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’” Notice what God doesn’t do. He doesn’t immediately give Abraham a son; He doesn’t remove his suffering or affliction. God certainly reserves the right to act in miraculous healing or provision immediately after you pray, and sometimes He does. But most of the time, He doesn’t. Instead, He gives us His Word.

“And He brought [Abram] outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then He said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” The response of your Creator to doubt is preaching, the proclamation of the Gospel. Dear friends, you are suffering now, in one way or another. You may feel like Lazarus, abandoned to lie in the muck; you may feel like Abraham, left high and dry by God. You may be doubting and despairing, but hear this day the promises of your God: your sufferings have an end, they have a termination. God’s promises are true, despite all the evidence your eyes try to give you. You have glory and prosperity that is much more than financial security on this earth: the inheritance of heaven belongs to you, perfect healing and victory over death. Because Christ died and rose again for you, because He bled for you and He rose in victory for you, sin cannot condemn you—it is forgiven! Death cannot defeat you—it has been defeated! And none of Satan’s threats or accusations can stick—He has been conquered! You are righteous, right with your God through Jesus, and so your suffering is temporary, your suffering will end, your suffering doesn’t have the victory, that belongs to Christ.

The resurrection of Jesus is the answer to your suffering; as Job trusted in His Redeemer who lives in the midst of his affliction, so you trust in that same Redeemer, who walked this earth centuries after Job, suffered, died, and rose again for him and for you. The destination of believers is not that of the rich man, but that of Lazarus: “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.” Abraham’s side is destination of all believers, for Abraham is the father of all who believe. “And he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” God’s Word, His promises, do not return void, they are not worthless vibrations on the air; God’s Word is full of power, the power to create faith. Repent of your doubt, repent of your unbelief, repent of your despair. Repent and believe the Gospel, the Gospel which proclaims to you your crucified and risen Lord, who has already defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil, who has made you righteous. God’s Word, His promises, come washing over you like the waves of the seashore, creating and sustaining faith, reassuring you each and every week, each and every day, as you walk through this valley of the shadow of death.

Abraham believed the Word, even though God did not immediately grant him the son he desired. He walked by faith, no longer by sight, faith in the sure and certain promises of a God who does not lie. The rich man lived by sight, and he thought (correctly) that the world does the same. “I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” But Father Abraham, the father of those who walk by faith and not by sight, points the rich man to a lesson that he learned so long ago: it is through the Word that God does His work. “Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’” God attacks doubt through the Word, through preaching. But the rich man, even in hell, still refuses to trust the Word, responding, “No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” The world lives by sight, Christians live by faith, faith in the sure and certain promises of God. “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Father Abraham had no sons, no sons had Father Abraham. There were none of them, no not one, so let’s trust in the Lord. At the end of our text, Abraham still doesn’t have a son; the promise is still waiting for its fulfillment. But he is no longer walking by sight; he walks by faith, worked by the Holy Spirit through the preached Word. “And he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” Abraham is righteous not because he did anything, but through faith he took hold of the promises of Christ. He believed in the coming Messiah, his offspring according to the flesh, who would crush the serpent’s head, just as you believe in the Messiah who has come, and that faith made him righteous, right with God, because that Messiah was coming to win righteousness for him and for all. Abraham is the father of all who believe, all who live by faith and not by sight, he is your father and mine, and every earthly father who faithfully teaches his children the Word which brings faith follows in his footsteps, and should be celebrated this day and every day. The life of faith would not be easy for Abraham; he still had many years to wait, he continued to struggle with doubt, and would need the reassurance of the Word again and again, just as you need it daily. But he walked by faith in God’s promise, and when the time had fully come, God fulfilled that promise, just as a Day is coming when His every promise, already ‘yes’ to you in Christ, will be fulfilled for eternity. On that Day there will be no faith, only sight, and with Abraham you will see your God face to face. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21)

“It shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 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 is the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago, the account of the first Christian Pentecost, Acts chapter two. Dear friends in Christ: everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. It doesn’t matter what nation, race, or country; everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. It doesn’t matter what language or dialect; everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. Neither riches nor power, neither athletic ability nor beauty, make any difference at all; everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. This is not universalism, that everyone calls out to his own god (or gods) and is saved, but this is very specific. Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord, the one Name of the one and only true God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, will be saved. It is only by calling on that Name, to that God, that men are saved. Salvation is found in no one else than that God; salvation is given through no other name. All other names, every other path, is false, and leads only to damnation. Like those who sailed with Jonah, you can call out to other gods all you want, and the storm will keep on raging. But not so with the God of Israel. Everyone who calls on the Name of that Lord, the only true God, will be saved.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? There is one problem—one big problem—with these words of Joel, preached by Peter. No one can call on the Name of the Lord on his or her own. Sinful man cannot call on the Lord and be saved. The world and our sinful flesh consider the things of God to be foolishness. “And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’” The preaching of the Word of God is drunken stupidity to the world. The proclamation of the Gospel is the rambling of an idiot to our sinful flesh. You’ve heard their mocking, you know what they say, you may even agree. The Bible’s morality is repressive and outdated, the teaching of a six-day creation intellectually infantile, all those miracles ridiculous to even consider believing. And that doesn’t even touch on the greatest foolishness of all, the foolishness that the people reacted to on the day of Pentecost: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the proclamation that in His Name alone can salvation be found. This is the height of stupidity, the pinnacle of offense, to say that there is one path to heaven, that eternal life is found in only one place: the resurrected Jesus.

The sinful mind, the sinful world, wants nothing to do with the things of God; everything God says is simply the speech of a drunken fool. So the world responds with disdain, with mocking, with angry comedy, rather than calling on the Name of the Lord to be saved. No one can believe in God on their own, no one can call on the Name of the Lord on their own volition. Yes, they can call on plenty of other gods, but the Name of the true God is foolishness to the world. Why? Because they do not believe.

But how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? Faith can only come by hearing, and it is hearing that Pentecost is all about. The signs and wonders of Pentecost are not an end in themselves, but they are there so that the world will hear and believe. “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.” The rushing wind, the tongues of fire, even the speaking in other languages, all were to gather the nations to hear the Word. This is no surprise; every miracle performed by Jesus was for the sake of the Word. Not a single healing or act of mastery over nature was an end in itself; each and every sign and wonder was to gather people to hear the Word.

The signs and wonders declare that God is coming into their midst; as the Lord descended in fire and storm upon Mount Sinai, so in flame and wind He has come among His people again. As on Sinai He descended in power to give the Word to His people, the covenant, with the Ten Commandments at its center, so now He descends to bring His Word of Gospel to the nations. The disciples are not speaking gibberish, but are speaking what the Spirit has given them to say. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The Holy Spirit comes so that the Word will be preached, so that the world will hear what He has given the disciples to say. So the point of Pentecost is not a bunch of Hollywood special effects, but when Peter opened his mouth to speak.

How are they to hear without someone preaching? The Holy Spirit works through means, and the first miracle of this day is not that wind rushed in, nor that tongues of fire appeared, nor even that different languages were spoken. The first miracle of this day is that Peter, who denied our Lord three times less than two months before, stands up boldly and preaches the greatest sermon a pastor has ever preached. “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.” The hatred of this world for the Word of God has cowed many a Christian into silence, it has led many a preacher to talk about something else. The mockery of this world has kept you, time and again, in silence, refusing to speak of Jesus to friends and family when opportunities have been placed before you, it has kept you, time and again, from seeking opportunities to speak. But filled with the Holy Spirit, on the day of Pentecost, Peter—miracle of miracles!—lifted up his voice and spoke.

The second miracle of this day is that people hear and believe. It was not the signs and wonders—those simply gathered the people to hear—but the Word of God, preached by Peter with unexpected boldness, that created faith. The hatred of this world for the things of God has left many hearts in darkness. That was your state; conceived and born in sin, you were an enemy of God. You hated God, and everything associated with God; you thought it was all drunken foolishness. When you see and hear the hatred of this world for the things of God, know that this is the hatred that once filled you, the hatred that still dwells within you and all people. But on that first Pentecost—miracle of miracles!—Peter preached, and people believed.

We don’t hear about this in our text; we must look toward the end of Acts chapter two. Peter has proved throughout his great sermon that the Lord to whom we must call to be saved is the crucified and resurrected Jesus, and now he says, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” The people are cut to the heart by the preaching of the Law, and they cry out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter’s response is the same as Joel’s: everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. “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.” Miracle of miracles—they did call on the Name of the Lord, and they were baptized.

Peter preached, and people called upon the Name of the Lord. Not on their own power, but by the faith worked in them by the Holy Spirit, using the means that God has appointed, the preached Word. How are they to preach unless they are sent? With this great miracle the Holy Spirit propels the disciples into the world, the many languages a prophecy of how the Gospel will go to every corner of our planet. Through the means of the Church, the Holy Spirit will call on the world to repent and believe, and it will come to pass that everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. Pentecost is a miracle repeated every Sunday, every time the Word is proclaimed, every time a sinner who hates God is made a believer who loves Him in the waters of Holy Baptism. Pentecost is your miracle; it is a miracle that someone preached the Gospel to you, that someone baptized you into Christ’s name, and it is a miracle that you believe.

“It shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” You can only call on the Name of Jesus when God has called you and you believe, as Peter preaches, “The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” You can only believe when you hear the Gospel proclaimed; there is no faith without hearing, the Holy Spirit doesn’t act directly, zapping faith into your heart apart from the Word. And you can only hear if someone preaches; the Word of God on occasion boomed forth from the sky, but no longer, now it comes through the mouths of men. And those men can only preach if they are sent, propelled forth from Jerusalem and Judea to the ends of the earth. This is the great order, filled with the Holy Spirit, that Jesus uses to bring His salvation to the world, and this is how He saved you.

The same Jesus who poured out His blood on Calvary as the sacrifice for the sin of the world pours out the Holy Spirit to give to you the benefits of that sacrifice: forgiveness, life, and salvation, won by His wounds, His innocent suffering and death, His victorious resurrection from the dead. The signs of Pentecost tell us that we are living in the last days: wind, fire, and the languages of the world proclaiming the glories of Christ, they tell us that the great harvest is being gathered in. Only one promise is yet to be fulfilled, and for that the Church waits, as she preaches, as she proclaims the Word so that many will hear and believe: Christ has promised to return, and He will, to take to Himself you, me, Peter and the eleven, along with all who have called on His Name. This Name we worship, this Name we praise, for salvation is found in no other Name but the Name of Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord. Amen.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Isaiah 12)

“The Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.” 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 Old Testament lesson that we sang at the beginning of the service and read just a few moments ago, the twelfth chapter of the prophet Isaiah. Dear friends in Christ, the old song was sung by the Red Sea. It was a song of victory, of triumph over the enemies of God and His people. The people stood above the waters, gazing into the waves that swallowed up their foes: Pharaoh’s host, chariots, horses, officers and soldiers, all cast down in utter, humiliating defeat. Their song of triumph echoed out over the waters of destruction, the waters of victory: “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him, my father's God, and I will exalt Him.” But that was the old song; our Introit calls on us to sing anew. “Sing to the Lord a new song, Alleluia, for He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. Alleluia.” The new song is sung by the baptismal font. It is a song of victory, of final triumph over the enemies of God and His people. We stand above the waters, gazing into the waves that swallowed up our foes: sin, death, and the power of the devil, all cast down in utter, humiliating defeat. Our song of triumph echoes out over the waters of destruction, the waters of victory: “The Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.”

Sing, dear friends, sing out the song of victory. Sing out, each and every one of you, for God has Himself become your Savior; He has come in salvation to you—you singular—delivering you from His just wrath over your sin. “You will say in that day,” the day of Easter, the day of your baptism, every day since that you celebrate His salvation, and then on the Last Day that endures forever, “You will say in that day, ‘I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.’” God was angry with you, for you sinned; God was angry with you, for your rebelled against Him. God was your enemy because you were His enemy, you, along with all of humanity, turned against the One who gives every good gift. You were quite rightly condemned to death and hell. I am convinced that we do not take this nearly seriously enough. Yes, we say the words, “We justly deserve your present and eternal punishment,” but we don’t actually take them seriously. We don’t really think that our sins anger God, that a holy God must have wrath over sin, and that His wrath paints a bullseye on our chest. We don’t think about what it means to have the God of creation angry with us, or consider the eternal consequences of our sins. But that is reality. Our sins anger God, they anger and offend Him enough that death and hell is our only share. You deserve to spend eternity in hell; know it, believe it, confess it, sing it.

But don’t stop singing there. “Though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.” The wonderful miracle that inspires our song is quite simple, though it is the most profound mystery ever conceived: in an inconceivable act of mercy, the angry God has become our salvation. Our salvation came from no other place, no other source, than the very God who was angry with us. This angry God freely, in His overwhelming love for you, acted to bring you salvation. “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.”

In Isaiah chapter eleven, we see this plan unfold. A shoot will come forth from the barren stump of Jesse, the line of Israel’s kings that had been cut off by God’s wrath. A shoot will come forth, a Branch bearing fruit, true God in the flesh, and He will go forth to bring you righteousness and peace. He will restore Eden again, reconciling man and beast to each other and to their Creator, and He will bring forth the new Exodus that requires a new song, gathering the people of God from every place they have been scattered. He will bring us through the waters of baptism as He brought the people of Israel through the Red Sea waters, and we will see our enemies drowned behind us. How will He do this? To find the answer, we must look to Isaiah chapters fifty-two and fifty-three. There we see this Branch from the stump of Jesse placing Himself between us and God’s wrath over our sin. “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.” God was angry with the Branch, His Son, for our sins, He was angry with the Branch and so His wrath passed over us, and now He comforts us, the angry God has become our salvation for the sake of Christ. Sin can no longer enslave, Satan can no longer accuse, and death has no more victory. Know it, believe it, confess it, sing it!

Come singing to the waters of life, drink deeply of this salvation. “With joy will you draw waters from the wells of salvation.” This is the water flowing from the pierced side of Jesus, the living water that He promised the Samaritan woman, water that one drinks and is never thirsty again. This is the water bubbling up from what used to be desert; as God gave His people Israel water from the rock in the wilderness, so He gives you and me water from Christ, our crucified and risen Lord. The desert has become a garden, and on the Last Day we will dwell in the new Eden forevermore. On that day, the day of salvation, the day of Easter, the day of your baptism, and every day since until the Last Day, you will rejoice to sing, together with all the Church of every tribe, language, race, and century, “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon His Name, make known His deeds among the peoples, proclaim that His Name is exalted.”

Call upon His Name, the Name of salvation, the Name above all other names, at which every knee shall bow. The salvation of the Branch, the salvation brought by God, is not just for you as an individual, it is not just for us in the Church, it is for the entire world. “Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.” That is what the song is for, to proclaim to the world that the angry God has become our salvation. He has done gloriously, He has acted, intervened in mercy, in grace, in love for a creation estranged from Him. He did Himself what we were unable to, He acted in compassion toward those who had only hatred for Him. He brought you through the waters; He destroyed your foes in the font, but his salvation doesn’t end with you, it doesn’t end with those currently in the Church; His salvation is for all, and the Church sings so that the world will know that God has acted in salvation for all people.

That is what the new song is all about. “Sing to the Lord a new song, Alleluia, for He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. Alleluia.” The old song was incomplete; the salvation it celebrated, though great, was not total. Pharaoh’s host was drowned in the Red Sea, but sin, death, and Satan still stalked God’s people, creation was still in the bonds of rebellion. The new song celebrates a salvation that fulfills the exodus because it is greater than the exodus; because the Branch stood between us and God’s wrath, an enemy nation has not been defeated, but the domain of death; the people have not just been freed from slavery, but from the shackles of sin. It isn’t a worldly ruler who is defeated, but the tempter and deceiver, Satan Himself. The Branch has triumphed over them by being nailed to a tree in our place and rising again in victory. “Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” The angry God has become our salvation. The angry God, whose holiness meant our destruction, now dwells in our midst, God comes among us, in Word and Sacrament, not to destroy but to save. We are the inhabitants of Zion, the Church, which exists in this world wherever the gifts of Christ are given, and will be fully revealed as a bride for her husband on the Last Day. On that day, we will shout, on that day we will rejoice, on that day we will sing! “The Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.” In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Easter (John 16:16-22)

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 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 is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ, we do not know what Jesus is talking about. We don’t get it, we cannot comprehend His words, they fill us with confusion. “So some of His disciples said to one another, ‘What is this that He says to us, “A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”; and, “because I am going to the Father”?’ So they were saying, ‘What does He mean by “a little while”? We do not know what He is talking about.’” It’s not that the words themselves are hard to understand, it’s not that we need to consult a dictionary or thesaurus. It’s not as if Jesus is speaking here in code. Yes, He’s speaking a little mysteriously, but anyone who has been with Jesus throughout His ministry, or anyone who has read the Gospels, who has heard the three passion predictions, knows exactly what He is saying. In a little while He goes to die, they will see not see Him, He will dwell in the belly of the grave, but that is not the end of the story. For it is only a ‘little while’ and they will see Him again, He will rise victorious over the grave, “and no one will take your joy from you.”

So it is not the words themselves that cause us the trouble, it is the consequences of these words, it is living out these words. We do not know what Jesus is talking about because we have to live through the ‘little while.’ For the disciples, “a little while and you will not see me” meant that very shortly, in just a ‘little while,’ a night of horrors would begin. They would see their Lord, their Master, their friend and the One they depended on betrayed by one of their own, handed over to a midnight court, and then condemned to the cruelest death imaginable. To the disciples, “a little while and you will see me” meant hours of waiting with Jesus’ cold, dead body languishing in the grave, a day of darkness so excruciating that many lost their faith, and nearly their minds. Jesus’ ‘a little while’ was overwhelming, crushing, it seemed to never end, and they couldn’t understand why. “We do not know what He is talking about.”

You and I understand their confusion. We too live in Jesus’ ‘a little while,’ living in the valley of the shadow of death without seeing our Lord. We dwell in a Holy Saturday that never seems to end, waiting and watching for Jesus to rescue us from our misery, and not understanding why this ‘little while’ is taking so long. We do not see Jesus, He has departed again, ascended to the right hand of the throne of God, but what we do see is what distresses us. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament,” Jesus says, “You will be sorrowful,” He emphasizes, and He never spoke truer words. As the disciples languished in sorrow on Holy Saturday, so we languish in sorrow all the time. We feel like Jesus has abandoned us, that He has left us to languish in our sin and in the midst of a sinful world. To all appearances, Easter hasn’t changed anything; our baptism seems to have been a waste of time, Jesus doesn’t seem to love us or care how much we suffer. Job argued over and over again that the wicked often prosper while the righteous suffer, and Jesus here guarantees it: “You will be sorrowful.” And we do not understand why: “We do not know what He is talking about.” As a pastor, probably the question I am asked most often, in one way or another, is, “Why am I suffering?” Perhaps we started out patient, but as time goes on and sufferings pile up, there is an added urgency to our cries. We don’t understand what’s going on, we do not know what Jesus is talking about, ‘a little while’ seems interminable, we cannot see Jesus, we can only see suffering, and we are bearing the brunt of His words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”

That is what it looks like in the midst of ‘a little while.’ The Church at large, and individual Christians, sorrowing and suffering, wondering just how long ‘a little while’ will last, not seeing their Lord, only their sufferings. And all around them, the world rejoices, the world that hates Jesus and His followers celebrating victory after victory, Satan enjoying the torture of Christ’s saints. The world doesn’t see Jesus, and it is glad, because to all appearances its great enemy has been defeated. The foe was triumphant, when on Calvary, the Lord of Creation was nailed to the tree. In Satan’s domain did the hosts shout and jeer, for Jesus was slain, whom the evil one’s fear. You see them gloat, mocking Christ and His Church with seeming impunity, and the frustration of Christians only increases their fun. Nothing happens as they deride your Lord and run down His saints. Instead, they sit in smug victory, rejoicing with every suffering Christian.

But short was their triumph; only ‘a little while.’ The world killed the Lord of glory, their foe and bitter enemy, but in ‘a little while,’ their victory turned into defeat, their rejoicing into mourning. The tomb was robbed, the grave left empty; the enemy they had left behind them dead and defeated rose to put an end to their victory party. Jesus rose to turn the world upside down, to give mourning in the place of rejoicing and rejoicing in the place of mourning. The world didn’t see Jesus for ‘a little while,’ and they thought victory had been won, but now they see Him again, a terror to His foes. John cries out in the first chapter of Revelation, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him.” In ‘a little while,’ the world will see Jesus again, coming with the clouds of heaven, and He, whom they mocked and killed, the Head of His body, the Church, which they persecuted and harassed for these many centuries, will return as the judge of the living and the dead. In just ‘a little while,’ the world’s smirk will be wiped off its face, in just ‘a little while,’ the world’s joy will be turned into sorrow.

In just ‘a little while,’ the sorrow of Christ’s suffering people will be turned into joy. “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” The same vision that gives the world terror, that melts those who stand against Christ’s Church, will give you joy. Satan oppressed you, sin overwhelmed you, death threatened you and finally took you, but their rejoicing, their victory, will be turned into sorrow, and joy will instead belong to you. On Easter morning, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb filled with sorrow. But as she wept, the promise of Jesus in our text for today was fulfilled, and her sorrow was turned into joy. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” No one understood those words when He spoke them, but when Jesus looked Mary in the eye, risen and glorified, she finally understood. We do not understand why we must suffer so, we do not understand ‘a little while,’ but like Mary, we will. When we see our Lord face to face, then we will know that we have only been waiting ‘a little while.’

Jesus’ promise is ‘a little while.’ He guarantees that your suffering has a termination, an end, that this world does not have the victory, but is foolishly rejoicing in defeat. That is the promise of the cross and the empty tomb: Satan has been dealt with, sin has been paid for, death robbed. The world has no victory over you, but has already been defeated. Your sorrows will terminate, but joy will never end. Jesus led the way, winning joy—eternal joy—through His sorrow and sufferings; He too walked through the valley of the shadow of death to the joys of eternity. Without the sorrow of the cross, no joy is possible, without the death of Jesus sorrow lasts not ‘a little while,’ but for eternity. Because Christ has passed that way before us and in our place, we know that all the sufferings of this world last only ‘a little while,’ and a Day is coming when they will not be remembered any more. “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” This joy drives away all sorrow, because this joy lasts forever. In this world, you will have tribulation, but take heart, Christ has overcome the world, your sufferings have an end in perfect joy. Saint Paul captures it perfectly: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

‘A little while’ doesn’t remove the hurt, ‘a little while’ doesn’t eliminate the pain. ‘A little while’ will not immediately bring back your lost parent or child, it will not restore your marriage. ‘A little while’ doesn’t remove all the questions: “We do not know what He is talking about.” As a pastor, when people ask, ‘why am I suffering?’ I desperately want to take away their afflictions like the apostles of old. There are times that I wish I was a faith healer, and could simply say, ‘be healed,’ and their sufferings would be gone. But I am not an apostle, and neither are those faith healers, all they have to sell is a false theology and empty promises. Instead, I, along with all faithful pastors throughout the centuries, are to preach, we are to bring God’s Word to the hospital bed and the living room of those entrusted to our care. We are not given to ‘fix’ suffering, we have been given to say: ‘a little while.’ ‘A little while’ means that all suffering has an end, ‘a little while’ means that relief is coming, ‘a little while’ means that the cancer, the heart disease, the family conflict, the addiction, your sinful desires, even death itself, do not have the victory, but their days are numbered, in the new heavens and the new earth, they will not even be remembered. The cross and the empty tomb guarantee it. As Jesus was raised, so you too will be raised, and you will see Him face to face in an eternity that will be characterized by joy. Sorrow has a termination; joy will last forever. “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Easter Sunrise (Isaiah 25:6-9)

“It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’” Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Amen! Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Amen! Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Amen! Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning of joy is the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the twenty-fifth chapter of the prophet Isaiah. Dear friends in Christ: come to the feast! You have fasted long, come eat, come drink! You have held back your alleluias, come sing them so that all the earth can hear! You have spent forty days in repentance, come rejoice in the forgiveness won by Jesus! You have worn the mourning veil, come watch Christ swallow it up! “And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.” You have wept, come to have your tears dried! You have been ashamed, come in guilt and shame no more! “The Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth.” Come to the feast, come partake of the good things Christ has to give; His abundance is for you!

Come to the Mountain to eat and drink. Do not be deceived by its humility, do not be offended at its stature. Do three steps make a mountain? Yes, if the Lord’s feast is there! “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” Come to this mountain, come to the feast; here Christ feeds His people the wedding banquet of the Lamb in His kingdom, the marriage supper of the Lamb. Here He is both host and meal; here the sacrifice sits at the head of the table, giving His Body and His Blood to eat and drink. He bears the scars, but the nails afflict Him no longer; He was slain, but now lives forevermore. No sacrifice ever sat at the head of his own feast, but this one does, for He lives, never to die again, and He lives to feed His people. Rich food He gives: Body and Blood riding on bread and wine.

Rich food, the very Body of the incarnate Son of God, the Lamb without spot or defect. The costliest gift that God could ever give, given into death on the cross, given to you in this feast. Well-aged wine, the Blood shed from the very foundation of the world. Every drop the most valuable liquid this earth has ever drunk, and it is poured out on the ground for your salvation, and poured out into your mouth in this feast. His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death, given on this mountain, given in this feast. The promise complete, the prophecies all fulfilled. God doesn’t lie, and today He gives you the proof. Rich food full of marrow, aged wine well refined, food which gives life, food which annihilates death, food which fills us body and soul for eternity, food on this Mountain which gives us all that He won on another mountain, so long ago.

Come to the Mountain, see your Lord hang derelict and still. Do not be deceived by its appearance, do not be offended at its horror. Does a knobby, rocky little hill make a mountain? Yes, if the Lord of glory is perched on its top, suspended high upon the cross. Then this hill of death and punishment is the very Mountain of the Lord, the Mountain of salvation. On that Mountain God offers His sacrifice, it is the high place where the altar is constructed. On that Mountain God does not spare His Son as He commanded Abraham to spare his, on that Mountain God Himself provides the fire for the sacrifice, and the consuming fire of His wrath is poured on His Son. On that Mountain God Himself provides the sacrifice that His justice demands, He gives His Son into death. And on that Mountain, death greedily swallows up Jesus, as the whale swallowed up Jonah, thinking it has won the victory, and it takes the Lord of life into its slimy, stinky gullet.

Come to the mountain and see the place where death holds its prisoners. Do not be deceived by its peace, do not be offended at its lack of prominence. Does a peaceful hillside in a garden, with a cave cut into it like the wound of a spear-thrust, make a mountain? Yes, if the Lord of glory dwells in its belly. Then this hill of captivity is the very Mountain of the Lord, the Mountain of salvation. For look! This Mountain is not full any longer, but it stands empty, gaping and hollow; its prey has been taken away, never to return again. Death swallowed up Jesus, but it could not hold Him, it could not keep Him, the grave will stand empty of Jesus forever. Jesus picked up His life again after having laid it down, and He left the tomb as empty as He found it. Death thought it had the victory, but victory was robbed from it; certain victory turned on Easter morning to certain defeat. Death swallowed up Jesus, and now Jesus goes forth to swallow up death.

“And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.” Come to the feast, for this is a feast of destruction! Come to the feast, where what He takes away is just as important as what He gives! On this Mountain, Jesus swallows up every barrier between you and your God. On this Mountain, Jesus destroys every one of your enemies. On this Mountain, the mountain stained with His blood, the mountain gashed with an empty tomb, the mountain on which the feast is laid, every veil and covering is swallowed up. Our world was shrouded in darkness, choking, thick darkness, smothering us with sin, death, and suffering. We could not see God, we were blind to Him, and the veil of mourning simply hid our tears. But on this mountain, every covering is destroyed.

Come to the feast of destruction! Here the covering that divided you from you God is abolished! No barrier remains, no divide exists; your sin has been paid for, done away with, eliminated. You are in fellowship with your God, the divide is gone, the harmony of the garden restored; He is your God and you are His people. Come to the feast of destruction! Here the shroud that hid your eyes from God has been destroyed! No spiritual blindness remains where Christ preaches His Word; He opens eyes, He creates faith, He makes enemies of God into beloved children. You can see your God with the eyes of faith, and a Day is coming when your own eyes will see Him, and not another; the time for faith will be over, and the time for sight will have begun. Come to the feast of destruction! Here the mourning veil will be removed; Jesus Himself will take it from before your tear-stained eyes, for He has replaced sorrow with victory.

Come to the feast of destruction! Here your greatest enemy is annihilated. “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” On this Mountain, tears are destroyed, they are wiped out, eliminated, abolished, ended forever. Jesus has gone to war with your tears, and He has defeated them. Jesus has gone to war with death itself, and He has left the tomb behind in victory. At this feast, at this table, Jesus stoops down low to you and in tenderness wipes your face clean. He doesn’t tell you not to weep, for He knows that you will weep in your journey through the valley of the shadow of death. But here He wipes away your every tear, here He comforts you with His victory, here He gives you the promise of a mountain and a feast where tears will be no more. For at this feast, on this Mountain, He takes away all that is evil and gives to you all that is good.

Come to the feast of destruction! Here your sin and guilt, your shame and embarrassment, is removed. At this feast, there is no more humiliation, at this feast, Christ looks down on no one, at this feast, each is given the honor belonging to Christ Himself. You belong to God, every one of you, for your sins are forgiven and you have been made His child. You each are loved by your God, because Christ loved you into the grave and then back out again. No more divide, no more blindness, no more tears, no more death, no more guilt and shame. Only rich food full of marrow, and aged wine well-refined. At this feast there is life in place of death and forgiveness in place of sin. At this feast you eat and are satisfied.

Come to the feast! Come to the feast where death is destroyed, come to the feast where every covering is swallowed up, come to the feast where reproach is taken away from the earth. Come to the feast that points forward to a greater feast to come, on the final Mountain, Mount Zion, where the Lamb who was slain will hold His marriage supper for all eternity. On that Mountain, on that Day, we will say, as we say on this Mountain, on this day: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” On that Mountain, there will never be a tear again, on that Mountain, no one will ever feel guilt or shame ever again, on that Mountain, every barrier between God and man will be torn down forever, and you will see with your own eyes what you today see with the eyes of faith.

Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He who was held prisoner of it, has annihilated it. Death took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen. O Death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one of the dead will remain in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Amen! Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Amen! Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Amen!