Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Sermon: Wednesday of Populus Zion (Advent 2) - 2010

8 December 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 3:1-12 (Isa 11:1-10, Rom 15:4-13)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear Christians, we know that the world in which we live is winding down. The perfection that God created is no more. It has all been coming unwound since the fall in Eden. Each passing generation becomes worse, and even physics and cosmology suggest that the universe is destined to come apart at the seams.

And for the most part, we live in denial of this terrifying reality.

A science fiction film from 1999 called “The Matrix” had a similar plot. People around the world just had a sense that the world they saw, felt, heard, tasted, smelled, and experienced was just not quite right. Most people were content to live in the fantasy that it was just fine. But some people – people whose true home was known as Zion – had the truth revealed to them. And that truth was ugly. All of mankind had been defeated in a great war with machines. The humans were all living in containers and were serving as batteries for the machines. The machines had wired the brains of the captured humans and fed them with a program of simulated reality. They believed in everything they saw and felt. But none of it was real.

The ones who figured out the truth and escaped the matrix had the burden of knowing how ugly the world really was. They also had the responsibility to fight back against evil and free their imprisoned fellowmen from their captivity.

And then came a savior who would lead the human race out of the matrix of lies and a false sense of reality and into a world of freedom in the land of Zion.

This movie is, of course, a variation of the story of the universe, that is, the story of the Bible.

For we live in a matrix of sorts, surrounded by death, disease, sadness, and sickness – all from sin – and we have convinced ourselves that this is “normal.”

We live in a world of predation, of a nature that looks beautiful from the outside, but is filled with wolves eating lambs, leopards ripping open the bodies of goats, where lions run down helpless calves, and little children are both prey and predator.

“To err,” we say, “is human.” Although we were created perfect. And the law demands that we be perfect. “I’m only human,” we say when we sin and are called to repentance, although that excuse would not have satisfied John the Baptist who cried out, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” John pointed to a human who does not err and is perfect. John also warned all of us not to play the excuse card, by appealing to our ethnicity to cover for our sins, for “every tree… that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

But we gladly steer clear of such talk. We don’t like “law preachers.” Sermons of “fire and brimstone” make us uncomfortable and embarrassed. The message of John that “the axe is laid to the root of the trees” and “the chaff he will burn with fire” is always meant for someone else, and not to be discussed in polite company. After all, we would rather talk about something else and convince ourselves that we don’t need to repent or even think of such things.

Like the people in the matrix, we are being preyed upon by evil and we are content to stare slack-jawed at a TV screen, whose dancing images make us covet and convince us to just buy, eat, consume, and you will be happy. It’s all good.

Dear friends, it isn’t all good. It was “very good” at the creation. But now, we need a Savior to take us to Zion.

But instead of thanking the Church and instead of expressing gratitude for preachers like St. John the Baptist for telling the truth and warning us to “flee the wrath to come,” the world oppresses the Church and beheads such preachers as John. For there is one thing the Old Adam cannot stand – and that is to be called a sinner.

And this, dear friends, is where the other, and more important half of John’s message is still ringing out the world over: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

John does not say that hell is coming, but rather heaven. He doesn’t point to the one who will condemn the world, but the Savior of the world.

And he is warning us not to be lulled to sleep by the soothing voice of the media telling us that death is natural and that science has all the answers. No indeed! The bad news is that the world is broken and we are indeed stuck in a matrix of deception. But the good news is that we have a Savior who leads us to Zion, telling us the truth, unplugging us from the deceitful wires of the matrix of the world, the devil, and our sinful flesh. In repentance there is life. There is forgiveness. There is a restoration of the goodness of creation in a Zion that will never end.

Dear brothers and sisters, imagine a world where there is no death, no disease, no sadness, and no sickness – for there will be no sin – and look at what will be considered not just “normal” but “eternal.”

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.”

Can you just imagine a world unplugged from the ugliness that we have come to see as good? Can you imagine a world without strife and struggle and survival of the fittest – a world where all creatures are fittest and survive forever in harmony just as the Creator intended?

Dear brothers and sisters, this is the message of John, this is the ministry of Jesus, this is the proclamation of the Church, and this is the promise that awaits all who have faith in the Savior.

For instead of the lies of the media we have the truth of the Word. Instead of the empty, deadening consumerism of our quest for material happiness, we have the true body and blood of Christ that has broken into our material world, given for us to consume to the fullness of life everlasting!

In Christ, we break through the matrix and we have our Zion.

Dear friends, don’t let your pride get in the way of the freedom Jesus offers. Don’t let your anger at the messenger cloud the free gift being handed to you by the one who speaks through these servants!

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

We have hope, dear friends, even if the world mocks us, even if the Gospel is drowned out by commercials , even if our preachers are beheaded. We have hope because we have assurance for the sake of Christ, by the cross of Christ, and in the service of Christ that will never end.

In this reality, St. Paul’s blessing is not just a pious wish, but rather an ironclad reality:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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