Friday, March 30, 2018

Sermon: Good Friday - 2018

30 March 2018

Text: John 18:1-19:42

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Hearing the biblical texts on Good Friday is a bit like walking into a heated discussion in the middle.  You have to figure out how we got here, and you don’t know how this is going to end.

But the fact of the matter is, for us Christians, we already know how it ends.  It’s next to impossible to preach a Good Friday sermon without “spoilers.”  So I’m going to “spoil” Good Friday for you right now.  Our Gospel lesson began with Jesus and His disciples in a garden, and ended with His burial in a tomb in a garden.  We heard anew of the betrayal, arrest, denial, trial, flogging, condemnation, the march to Golgotha, the crucifixion, the controversies involving the wording of the accusation and the confiscation of His garments, the meeting with Mary and John, our Lord’s death, and His entombment.

All of this happens before Sundown, before the high holy Sabbath, on that first and greatest Good Friday of all.  As our narrative ends, Jesus lies sleeping in the garden tomb.  And this is where we all go home at the end of the service.

But of course, the greatest spoiler of all is our Blessed Lord’s spoiling of Satan’s plan to rule the universe by stealth and spite.  For we all know that after Good Friday comes Easter Sunday, the Sunday of the Resurrection.  This is why our sadness and our grief are tempered with joy – even as we meditate upon our Lord’s agony and suffering, even as we ponder our own mortality and things to come upon us in this fallen world. 

It is because of this “spoiler” that we have the audacity to call this Friday “good.”  For we know what came before the end of this Holy Week, this week of redemption.  In the beginning, we began with another Holy Week, the Week of Creation.  There was another Good Friday in that first Holy Week of Creation – the sixth day when man was created from the dust of the ground, when life was breathed into him, and when his wife was crafted of the man’s own flesh, and the two of them lived in a garden.  “And it was very good,” declares the Lord.

But we know that the tempter, Satan, operating in the form of a serpentine liar, was to lead Adam and Eve astray, and bring corruption into the good garden.  The garden was no longer a place of abundant life, but a place where life competes for scarce resources, and where life struggles and dies.  Our good creation has become corrupted – and death is the greatest corruption of all.

And it is here where we step into the conversation after thousands of years of God’s meticulous plan to redeem mankind and to save the world through a New and Greater Adam.  On this Good Friday, the New Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, would surrender His breath of life and would be laid back into the dust of the earthen tomb, resting on the Sabbath day, having defeated Satan and death at the cross, and now awaiting the triumph of Easter morning’s garden discovery of the empty tomb.

Sin, death, and Satan have been spoiled by the ultimate spoiler of all, our Lord Jesus Christ.  And as Eve was created out of the flesh of her bridegroom that original Good Friday, so is the Church created out of the flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ when His flesh was nailed to the cross, and when His blood was shed upon the earth to renew its goodness. 

And just as Eve was the mother of all living, the New and Greater Eve, our mother that is the Church, has given us a new and eternal birth from the matrix of the baptismal font.  We are Eve’s children, and we are the Church’s children.  God has become our Father.  The Lord Jesus Christ has become our redeemer.  Satan has become our defeated enemy.

Yes, we know how it all ends.

And yet, we are still faced with many unknowns.  For we cannot see into our own immediate future.  Though our Lord has redeemed us by the cross, we still live, for the time being, in the corrupted world in our fallen flesh.  Even as our Lord endured the cross on His way to the resurrection, so do we, as followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Our own crosses will come upon us in ways that are both expected and unexpected, and crosses are horrific.  The only way that we can endure them is by faith – the very faith that is a gift of God delivered to us in Word and Sacrament, the faith of Jesus as He endured the cross and the tomb, the faith given to us by His grace, mercy, and love.  It is the faith that grasps the Lord by the hand and refuses to let go, come what may.

For just as sure as the sun sets and rises again, so too does Sunday follow Friday.  So too does joy follow sadness.  So too does eternity follow time.  So too does life follow death.

And so we follow Jesus – from the garden to the garden.  We too are betrayed by people we trusted.  We too are bullied by the world, in some cases arrested for the sake of the Gospel.  We too are denied by friends who flee from us in times of trial.  We too are physically beaten down and condemned to die.  Along the march of this life, we are subjected to humiliations and degradations.  We bear the crosses laid upon our own shoulders, including false accusations and being deprived of things that are rightfully ours.  We struggle with family issues, and we too breathe our last and are buried back into the earth from which our human race came on the original Good Friday.

Enduring these struggles and bearing these crosses are not easy.  They are not trifles.  Our suffering is very real.  Even though we know how the narrative ends, we live in the present, and not in the future.  It is only by faith that we can endure what we must in this no-man’s land between the gardens.

And so even though we know Easter is coming, we still pause and meditate on the journey from the Garden of Eden to the Garden Tomb.  Though we anticipate the resurrection, we nevertheless meditate upon the cross.  For the cross of Jesus is what redeems us; the blood of Jesus is what cleanses us; the flesh of Jesus is what restores us; the death of Jesus is what revivifies us.  Our debt is paid.  Our sins are atoned for.  Our lives have been bought back.  Our narrative has been rewritten.  And we can live our lives under the cross with a knowing smile that sin, death, and the devil have been defeated.  We can go to our own tombs in the garden knowing that a New and Greater Garden awaits us.

So here we are once again, dear friends, here we are pondering the cross and being strengthened by the Word.  Here we are literally eating and drinking life, delivered to us by our Lord upon the cross, looking forward in faith to the resurrection.

We know how we got here, and we know how this ends.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

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

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Sermon: Maundy Thursday - 2018

29 March 2018

Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35 (Ex 12:1-14, 1 Cor 11:23-32)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” 

And when we love our fellow Christians the way our Lord loves us, the world will know that we are disciples of Jesus.

Of course, there are many different kinds of love: that between parents and children, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, love of friends, love of country, even the kind of love that Jesus commands us to have for our enemies.

But on this Maundy Thursday, Jesus mandates that we disciples of Jesus love one another, even as He has loved us.  This is part of our task to evangelize the world. In a sense, it is a mark of the Church that we love other Christians, that we see and treat one another as brothers and sisters.  We may not like each other sometimes, but Jesus doesn’t command us to like each other, but rather to love one another.

Jesus isn’t ordering us to conjure up a feeling or to display emotion.  That isn’t what love is.  Jesus isn’t commanding us to be nice, because that too is not the meaning of the word “love.”  In this specific Greek usage of the word translated “love,” Jesus is commanding us to put others ahead of ourselves, to, in a sense, become the slave of other members of the Church.  We are to serve.  And in case this is something that could get lost in translation, our Blessed Lord shows us what He means by love: He washes the feet of the disciples. 

This was shocking, even to the point of scandal.  Jesus is their Master.  And yet He is doing the work that the lowliest slave would have performed.  Our Lord’s actions were so radical and controversial, that Peter initially refused to obey the Lord’s instructions.  But He changed His mind when Jesus said to refuse the Lord’s washing is to refuse salvation.  The Lord cleanses His disciples with water, not only an act of humble service, but also as an allusion to the “washing of regeneration” that He will later command the disciples to carry out among all the nations as a way to make disciples. 

“Do you understand what I have done to you?” He asks.  “You call Me Teacher and Lord,” He says, “and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

This kind of love, dear friends, is not a thought in the mind or a feeling in the heart.  Rather it is commitment in action, in service, in humility.  It is not seeing any task as beneath our dignity, nor any of our brothers and sisters as unworthy of our service.  We are, as it were, to get our hands dirty.  This is hardly what the world has in mind when it views everything through the lens of sexuality, and trumpeting the slogan, “love wins.”

Love indeed wins, dear friends, but the kind of love that wins is the love that Jesus has for us, the love that we are commanded to imitate.  It is the love of God humbling Himself to be born of the virgin Mary, to breathe our “poisoned air” (in the words of the hymn), to become covered in dirt, and yes also with tears and sweat and blood – all out of love for each one of us for whom He died.  Love wins because Jesus, out of love, offers Himself as the sacrifice, and He even shares that sacrificial body and blood with us in another way: in the Holy and Mystical Meal that the Lord shared with His beloved disciples on that Maundy Thursday.

In fact, the Christians would from this point forward gather around the Lord’s body and blood each week, and they would also share another meal with each other, which was called the “love feast,” a kind of potluck in which all Christians: rich, poor, free, slave, young, old, Jew, and Gentile would sit together at table, as brothers and sisters, and would feast together, even as the Lord calls us to feast on His sacrificial flesh and blood in the greatest love feast known as the Holy Eucharist.

St. Paul delivers to us what He received from the Lord, that on the “night when He was betrayed,” He took bread; He took wine; He said, “Take, eat;” He said, “Take, drink.”  “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

Another way that we share the love of Christ as His disciples is to keep the feast of Passover, that is, the Feast of His body and blood.  As a congregation, we ensure that the body and blood of Christ – as well as the proclamation of the Gospel in the very Word of God – are made available every Sunday and usually every Wednesday, as well as on other feast days.  For in this Holy Supper, the love of Jesus is made manifest for us poor miserable sinners, a salvific gift that we eat and drink, a participation, that is, a fellowship in the one all atoning sacrifice of the cross through a miracle that transcends space and time.  We love our neighbor by supporting this ministry and by upholding this holy place where Jesus continues to wash us and serve us; a place where disciples are made, where sins are forgiven, where the love of God is made manifest in word and in deed.

We also serve our neighbors by not handing out the Holy Supper to anyone and everyone.  For “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”  Just as a doctor loves and serves his patients by refraining from prescribing a drug that might cause an allergic reaction, we are careful and discerning about giving the body and blood of Christ to those whom we don’t know, for as St. Paul warns the Corinthian Christians, “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

We love our neighbors in various ways according to our vocations.  Pastors love their neighbors by preaching and carefully administering the sacraments.  Hearers of the Word love their neighbors by their careful attention and by supporting each other by their presence.  We all love our brothers and sisters in Christ by our prayers, our visits, our help with things that need done, our offerings, our labor, and by carrying out the tasks that the Lord has called us to do.  In the words of a litany: “those who bring offerings, those who do good works in this congregation, those who toil, those who sing, and all the people here present who await from the Lord great and abundant mercy.” 

The Lord commands us to love one another.  We do this by serving each other, even as the Lord serves us.  We serve in many and various ways, but our service is to be offered willingly, humbly, and without expectation of repayment.  When we serve our brother, we serve our Lord.  And let us not forget that our Lord serves us, and in His service to us, we find our salvation, we are enabled to love because He has first loved us.  He loves us right here and right now, pouring out His mercy upon us in His Word and in the Holy Supper.  His mercies never depart from His beloved.  His service to us never lapses. 

On this day, we remember His love for us, His command to love one another, and most of all, we participate in this miraculous meal “in remembrance” of Him.

As our Lord promises: “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sermon: Palm Sunday - 2018

25 March 2018

Text: Matt 21:1-9 (Zech 9:9-12, Phil 2:5-11, Matt 26:1-27:66)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Today is known as Palm Sunday, or more accurately, the Sunday of the Palms, because of our Lord’s reception into the Holy City for the High Feast as the people “cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road” –
as was read just before our own procession into the church.  It is also known as the Sunday of the Passion, because of our Gospel reading, which explains why the Lord was coming into the Holy City.

Unless you understand a couple very important things about what is happening, this all just won’t seem to make any sense.

Why palms?  The palm branch symbolizes the nation of Israel – often appearing on ancient coins.  And as the palm represents the nation, the kingdom, its use acknowledges the King.  The people strew the branches before Jesus in celebration of his accession to the throne.  There was one occasion when the crowds wanted to take Him by force to crown Him, and He departed.  But now, it is time for His departure, and a different crowd, a mob, will indeed take Him by force to crown Him – but this time it will be with a crown of thorns.

As our account of the passion painfully recounts, our Lord, our King, will be crowned and robed; He will carry a scepter, and will be hailed as the King of the Jews.  For Jesus is the one and only King in history who saves us: from sin, from death, from the devil, from the world, and from our sinful flesh.  This King doesn’t rule by lording over us; rather this Lord rules in love, in sacrifice, in laying down His perfect life for us poor miserable sinners. 

And this is why on that Palm Sunday, that initial Holy Week, our Lord was not only welcomed with royal palms, but also by the royal chant recognizing Him as the King: “the Son of David.”  For David is the founder of the dynasty of the kings of Israel, a dynasty that is eternal.  It is eternal, dear friends, because Jesus is eternal.  He dies, and yet He rises – and so will we.  For where the King is, His loving subjects follow.  He treads our filthy roads – the last of which leads to death.  And we filthy sinners likewise tread the road to death.  But we do not tread alone.  We follow Him through the valley of the shadow of death, we join Him through baptism into death, and we continue to follow Him to eternal life.

For only a King can rule us, dear friends, and only this King rules us in love.

This King hears us praise His name, and this King hears our petitions before the throne – and our most urgent prayer, dear friends, is our Hosanna.  Hosanna is such an important plea to our Lord and King that we left it in the original Hebrew.  “Hosanna” is a word of prayer for salvation.  “Save us, O Son of David,” we are bold to cry, “Save us, O King,” we cry out in joy waving our own palms.  We are joyful because we know that our King will do as we ask: “Save us from our sins, from the grave, from hell itself, O Son of David,” is our plea that accompanies our palms and our singing.

“Blessed is He,” our song continues, our song that is a prayer; our song that is a cry of triumph, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  And the cloaks we spread before Him, dear brothers and sisters, is our life.  We serve our King with our very lives, because He first served us with His own life – even as His sacrificial lifeblood was poured out upon the cross as a full atonement, a complete sacrifice, an all-sufficient oblation before the Father on our behalf, the payment of the penalty of our sins, and the promised deathblow delivered to the devil: the old evil foe, the tempter who brought misery and death into our world by making us doubt that Word by whom all things were made.
Do not doubt, dear friends!  For we know where this Sunday of Palms leads.  It will lead to the Thursday of the Eucharist, the Friday of the cross, the Saturday of the Lord’s Sabbath rest in the tomb, and finally to a new and greater Sunday, the First Day of a new and greater week of a new and greater creation, the Sunday of the Resurrection, the Sunday in which our palms not only symbolize the King, but also victory and peace.

But before Easter Sunday there is Good Friday.  Before the empty tomb there is a cross – a cross that is not empty; a cross adorned by the King, a cross that serves as a throne, a throne from which our King offers the greatest decree ever uttered by any King: “Father, forgive them.”  

This is why, dear friends, we process into church this morning.  This is the meaning behind the palms and the hosannas.  This is why we sing, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.”  

We pray for Him to save us as Holy Week begins because we know how Holy Week ends!  Our salvation has been won at the cross.  Our eternal life has been sealed at the tomb.  Our participation in eternal life has been given to us at the font.  We go into Holy Week knowing that our King is also our champion, the one who has saved us, the one who has heard our pleas, the one at whose name is above every name” before whom every knee will bow, “and every tongue confess” – even as our lips sweet hosannas sing – that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  

“Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  Amen.

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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sermon: Judica (Lent 5) - 2018

18 March 2018

Text: John 8:42-59 (Gen 22:1-14, Heb 9:11-15)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Old Testament passage, the non-sacrifice of Isaac, is one of the most maligned and misunderstood passages in the entire Bible.

When I was a little kid, I had science books that included records that taught various lessons.  One record told the story of Abraham and Isaac as mankind’s first rebellion against primitive superstition and believing in the supernatural, replacing those beliefs with science.  According to this child’s record, Abraham, who believed the thunder and lightning of a storm had to be appeased by human sacrifice, refused, and instead offered a goat.  Thus mankind freed himself to believe in science.  Other skeptics criticize the text based on the supposed cruelty of God, whose sadism is finally expressed by abusing and torturing His own Son to death on the cross.

Unless you have the key, the Bible remains a locked and mysterious book.  Unless you have the key, it all seems pointless.  The key is Christ, dear friends, and the shape of that key is the form of the cross.  Without connecting Abraham and Isaac to their descendant Jesus, and without understanding sin and atonement, without seeing this passage through the lens of the cross, passages like our text just sound like mythology or bad pop psychology.

In the beginning, when Adam and Eve sinned, bringing death and disorder to our world, God promised a Savior.  That Savior was also to be a descendant of Abraham, born of the line of Isaac: the miracle baby born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age.  God promised Abraham that the blessing would come through Isaac – not Isaac’s half-brother, and not from the children of one of the family’s slaves – but from Isaac.  So when God tested Abraham by ordering him to sacrifice his one and only son whom he loved, Abraham obeyed.  He loved his son, but he also trusted the promise of God.  He knew that somehow, the Lord would provide, and that his son, his one and only son whom he loved – would indeed live somehow.

So after Abraham watched his son carry the wood of his own execution and sacrifice up the hill, Isaac asked his father where the lamb for the sacrifice was.  Abraham answered, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

Abraham then bound his son to the wood on the altar atop the hill.  Before Abraham could slay his son, the angel stopped the execution.  God praised Abraham’s faith: “Now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

Abraham’s faith was rewarded by the appearance of a substitute, a ram, “caught in the thicket by his horns.”  And the son of Abraham, Isaac, lived because of the substitute that the Lord Himself provided.  Isaac and the ram both served as previews of the Son of Abraham, the Lamb of God to come: Jesus Christ, who was born two thousand years after Abraham, but who, being God, preceded Abraham.

When the Lord Jesus was still in Mary’s womb, blessed Mary called Him her God and her Savior.  He was a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of the royal line of David, born of the virgin, conceived by the word of the angel.  He was, and is, His Father’s only begotten Son, His one and only Son whom He loves eternally.  And for the sake of love, God the Father withholds nothing from us, dear brothers and sisters, even watching His own Son carry the wood of his own execution and sacrifice up the hill.  He watches His Son laid out upon the wood for the sacrifice.  And God provides for Himself the Lamb for the sacrifice: Christ, the Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world.

And upon that hill called Golgotha, where God withholds nothing from us, we see Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb, even being caught in the thicket of thorns around His head, being the burnt offering, that is, the holocaust, the atonement for the sins of the world, the substitute who dies in our place. 

For on that day, that Good Friday, the Lord provided, “on the mount of the Lord” it was indeed provided.

Abraham did not refuse to sacrifice his son because of science, nor because of rejecting the supernatural, but rather He did so because the angel told Abraham to stop.  Abraham had faith, and his faith was credited to him as righteousness.  Isaac was not the son of Abraham to be sacrificed, rather that Son of Abraham is Jesus.

As the author of Hebrews says, “He entered once and for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves, but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.  For it is the “blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God,” which purifies “our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

Jesus is the new and greater Isaac, but also the new and greater Lamb.  Jesus is the Son of Abraham, but also the God of Abraham.  Jesus appears in the flesh two thousand years after Abraham, but according to His divinity, lived eternally before Abraham.  Our Lord Jesus made it clear when He said, to the raging of the mob: “Before Abraham was, I am.” 

And indeed, Abraham rejoiced to see the day of Christ come, the day when the mystery of the lamb provided by God would be made clear, when Abraham would see His descendant, that is, his Son Jesus, offer Himself as the sacrificial Lamb provided by God Himself.  Indeed, it is Jesus Himself who dies in the place of Isaac, and in our place as well, dear friends. 

Just as Isaac lived because of God’s merciful intervention, so too do we live, dear friends, so too do we live forever.  We live forever by the blood of the Lamb, the Lamb provided by God Himself, the Lamb that is the Son of God Himself, the God who provides, who gives us life – even life eternal. 

We Christians have the key to understanding this passage, because we Christians have Christ.  Christ the crucified is the key that opens the door not only to understand the Bible, but to receive the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation through the sacrificial death of the Son of God, the Son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Lamb of God.

The Lord will provide.  


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

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sermon: Laetare (Lent 4) - 2018

11 March 2018

Text: John 6:1-15

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Man does not live by bread alone, but … by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord,” says Moses when he preached about Manna to the children of Israel. And thus says our Lord Jesus when He preached about stones to the devil.

And the children of Israel were certainly vexed by the devil as their flesh got the best of them in the desert. Their growling bellies made them irrationally yearn for their former bitter days of slavery, forgetting the signs and wonders given them by the Lord’s prophet Moses.

The Lord heard their pleas, and literally rained bread from heaven upon them. Even in their unbelief, He reminded them to believe. Even as they complained against His prophet, the Lord commanded His servants Moses and Aaron to oversee the feeding of the Lord’s people.

Every year, at Passover, the children of Israel would call to mind their escape from Egypt under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. This memorial took the form of a meal, a meal in which the sacrificial lamb’s blood brought about the passing over of the angel of death. A meal in which blessed bread and blessed wine were consumed.

And it is as Passover approaches that our Lord took bread, “And when He had given thanks,” broke it, gave it to His disciples, and invited the five thousand to sit on the grassy hillside and eat with Him. This miracle was a kind of a memorial of Passover, though the people did not realize that the Passover Lamb Himself stood in their presence, that the One who is the Word of God, the very One through whom all things were made, the One who sustains us not only by bread, but by His every Word – was Himself distributing miraculous bread through His ministers, bread that combines with the Word of God to nourish, strengthen, and give life.

Like the Manna and like the Passover, this feeding of the multitudes was a great sign of something better to come, a foretaste of the real feast. That later Passover feast would be the day before the Passover Lamb to end all Passover lambs would be sacrificed, that He would once more take bread, give thanks, break it, and give it to the disciples saying: “Take, eat,” giving His flesh for the life of the world. He would also give them the cup of the New Testament, saying: “Take, drink,” giving His blood for the forgiveness of sins.

It is through this miracle, the feeding of the five thousand, that our Lord would proclaim Himself to be the bread of life. And it would be through this proclamation that the Lord would explain that in eating the bread of life, we are eating His flesh – given for the life of the world. Indeed, unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we have no life in us.

Our Lord, in His mercy, doesn’t only feed the five thousand because they were hungry, but also because we are hungry – not merely for earthly food, but for supernatural food. For we live not by bread alone. The Word of God that creates, also forgives, also re-creates, also makes new, also gives eternal life.

And just as not everyone in the days of Moses would receive this blessing, refusing to heed the words of the Lord’s prophet, seeking to hoard, acting without faith in the Lord’s providence, so too we see such rebellion in the days of our Lord’s earthly sojourn. For after using the feeding of the five thousand as a lesson of the Eucharist to come, one third of our Lord’s followers would abandon Him, refusing to accept and trust in His Word that we are to eat His flesh and drink His blood unto eternal life.

And we see a similar lack of faith in these last days. Many of our brethren in the Christian Church refuse to believe our Lord’s clear words that “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” Many in our own communion believe these words, but attach greater importance to turning worship into entertainment, measuring “success” according to numbers. And even if we confess the Lord’s presence in the sacrament, and even if we profess it to be of the highest importance, and even if we strive to do so reverently - our lives do not bear out this confession and profession.

Too often we ponder things earthly minded instead of the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world. Too often we find other priorities competing for our time on those days when the Lord’s ministers are distributing the miraculous bread of life and the holy blood of the New Testament to starving sinners who trust in these words: “given and shed for you.” Too often we see the liturgy as a show of reverence that comes to an end when the final chord of the postlude sounds, and when we leave the sanctuary and return to our secular vocations. And far too often, we, like the Israelites in the days of Moses, grouse and complain, gripe and moan, rant and rave – all in the face of the Lord’s abundant and boundless mercy.

And like the multitudes that wanted to make Jesus a king by force, we too depend on our own means, seeking to take the will of God into our own hands – rather than humbly submitting to Him and to His will.

How often do we try to make the Kingdom of God into our own image? What kind of faith is shown when we think we have all the answers, when we try to impose our vision of the kingdom of God into others instead of, as Luther said, letting God be God.

The Christian life is about submission and surrender, about putting our faith and trust in Him by whose every Word we live. He will give us this day our daily bread. He will not let us starve in the wilderness. He will feed us according to His own means and measure. And look at His measure! None of the children of Israel lacked food in the form of daily provisions of Manna. And when the True Son of Israel provided bread for those who came to hear the Word of God, twelve baskets of this miraculous bread were left over!

Dear children of God, “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her; that you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom.”

Let us receive the Bread of Life Himself. Let us commune with the Word of God, from whose mouth comes “all that we need to sustain this body and life.” Let us continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Let us repent of our complaining and lack of faith. Let us joyfully receive the good gifts of the Lamb of God, who gives Himself for us, “for us men and for our salvation,” “for the life of the world.” Let us continue “daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house,” eating our daily bread “with gladness and simplicity of heart.”

And “let us give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endureth forever.” Amen.

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

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Sermon: Oculi (Lent 3) - 2018

4 March 2018

Text: Luke 11:14-28

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

One of the most popular books for high school students to read is a 1954 novel by William Golding called Lord of the Flies.  Like most great novels, it’s disturbing and thought provoking.  It tells a story of the underlying evil inside of human beings – even in children.  I wonder how many modern readers of Lord of the Flies know why that expression is used in the book, where it comes from, and why that became the book’s title.

In our Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ casts out a demon.  But some people, reflecting that underlying evil inside of human beings, attack Jesus for doing this good work.  They come up with a ridiculous accusation.  They accuse Him of casting out demons “by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.”  “Beelzebul” is a nickname of the devil taken from the name of one of the false gods of the Philistines.  The name “Beelzebul” translates into English as “the lord of the flies.”

It’s a fitting name for the devil, for he fancies himself to be a lord, when he is really just a rotten imitation.  And his lordship is found in dead bodies and on dungheaps.  Flies begin their lives as maggots eating rotting things and end up in filth.  They carry disease, and are associated with death.  Flies are loathed by man and beast alike.

This lordship of flies represents everything that Jesus came into our world to change.  And it is ironic that even as He is casting out demons He is Himself accused of working for the lord of the flies, that is, Satan.

Satan was created by God and rebelled.  Jesus was begotten of the Father and obeys.  Satan is filled with hatred and rage to be beneath God and seeks to become God’s superior.  Jesus is equal to the Father, but submits to the Father out of love.  Satan is a lion seeking whom He may devour unto damnation. Jesus is the Lamb of God who offers Himself to us in the form of bread and wine to be eaten and drunk for our salvation.  Satan commands demons to possess and oppress people.  Jesus commands demons to depart in order to liberate and release people.  Satan is a liar.  Jesus is the Truth.  Satan brings death to Adam and Eve and their descendants through disobedience and disbelief of God’s Word.  Jesus is obedient even unto death and brings life to Adam and Eve and their descendants who believe in Him as the Word Made Flesh.  Satan is king of nothing and the lord of the flies.  Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

You cannot get more opposite than the Lord of Life: Jesus Christ, and the lord of death, Beelzebul.

Even as our Lord is healing the sick by delivering them from the power of the devil, He is attacked by the mob.  Jesus shows how ridiculous their accusation is, saying, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.  And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?”

In other words, the charge doesn’t even make logical sense.

But our Lord Jesus doesn’t stop there.  For the problem isn’t just that our Lord’s detractors have committed a logical fallacy.  The issue isn’t that they made a mistake in their reasoning.  No indeed!  They are acting out of evil and spite.  Jesus turns the tables on them with an insult of His own: “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?”

Our Lord warns them: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you….  Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”

So who is Jesus?  Is He the Son of God who casts out demons by His own power, or is He a demon who only has power over demons because Satan has given Him power?

This is the crucial question, dear friends. 

What is your confession?  In the words of a book title by one of our Lutheran professors, “What do you think about Jesus?”  Do you think Jesus is a fictional character?  Do you think Jesus is just a first century Jewish rabbi?  Do you think Jesus is some sort of manifestation of evil?  Do you think Jesus is God in the flesh who died for the sins of the world on the cross, rose again from the dead, defeated Satan, destroyed sin’s power, and now calls us to follow Him to eternal life – which He gives us as a free gift?

Our Lord’s attackers – then and now – allow their jealousy, hatred, and refusal to confess their own sins to blind them to the only Man in history who is truly righteous, and who loves them, and is willing to die for them.  And even though He works miracles before their eyes, they refuse to believe.  They refuse to believe out of stubbornness and selfishness.  They refuse to believe because deep down inside, they are the ones who worship the lord of the flies, still hoping beyond hope that Satan can deliver on the promise that he made to Adam and Eve, that by disobeying God, we can all be like God.

The enemies of our Lord don’t simply disbelieve, they are consumed with hatred for those who do.  The enemies of our Lord don’t simply disbelieve that He is God, rather they hate Him because they know that He is God, and they refuse to bow down to Him.  They would rather worship their pathetic little buzzing maggot god that eats garbage and dung.  And it’s little wonder that what we see in Hollywood and on our TVs, in our news reports, and on social media, in our schools and among our politicians, is a continuous diet of garbage and dung.

Jesus has come to deliver us from this sad, nihilistic life that ends in death and hell.  He comes to give us life that we might live it abundantly.  He comes to deliver us from sin and lead us to righteousness.  He comes to conquer the devil who deceived us, hates us, and corrupts us, so that by means of the cross and through our Holy Baptism, we might enjoy eternal fellowship with the God who created us, loves us, and redeems us.

Jesus has come to sweep our house and put it in order, to cast out our demons, to forgive our sins, to heal us from our mortality, and to bring us to everlasting life.  For blessed indeed are “those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”  Amen.

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