Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Pentecost 12 (September 1-6, 2014)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed.

Verse: Matthew 18:20 - “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #526  “You Are the Way; through You Alone”
Hymns for Sunday: 906, 526, 540, 579, 844, 794

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Ephesians 2:1-10
What were you? What are you now? Why? What does that mean for your life now?

Tuesday:  Luke 18:9-14
How does pride block the gift of God? What is the remedy for this? How is God working in you?

Wednesday:  Psalm 32:1-7
Who is blessed? Why? Blessed with what?

Thursday:  Ezekiel 33:7-9
How seriously does God take sin? Why? What had He done to rescue you from sin?

Friday:  Romans 13:1-10
Why and how does love fulfill the Law? 

Saturday:  Matthew 18:1-20
What does true greatness in the kingdom of God look like? Why? From where, then, does this greatness come?


The Catechism: The Sacrament of the Altar: What is the Sacrament of the Altar? [Part 1] It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ our children returning to school this week.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, guidance, and strength for Pastor Douthwaite.
+ the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, guidance, and provision for our Synod’s Board for National Mission.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.


Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Pentecost 12 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Back to Kindergarten”
Text: Matthew 16:21-28 (Romans 12:9-21)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Peter thought he had it all figured out. Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah, the Saviour. It seemed like everything was coming together nicely. Everywhere Jesus went, the crowds were getting larger. And the signs Jesus was doing just kept increasing His celebrity and popularity - healing the sick, cleansing lepers, making the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, and the mute speak, casting out demons, raising the dead, calming the seas, feeding the multitudes, and preaching the kingdom - that in Him, the kingdom of heaven had come near. And it sure seemed like heaven on earth when you were with this Jesus.

Oh sure, there were some bumps along the way. Jesus had His naysayers and those who opposed and challenged Him. But He always one-upped the religious types at their games; He was always able to put them down and put them back in their place. No one knew God’s Word better than Jesus. No one ever won an argument with Jesus. Yes, life was good with Jesus.

And Peter was feeling pretty good about himself as well. In the verses right before those we heard today in the Holy Gospel, Peter had just made the great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And for this, Jesus had called him blessed! Yes, things were on the right track, and Peter could only be excited about the future and what Jesus would do next. Peter thought he had it all figured out.

So how unexpected, then, how completely out of left field, how absolutely, utterly, 100% wrong were the next words Jesus then said. From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

Now, if Peter had been one of our modern day GPS systems, the words coming out of his mouth next would have been: recalculating! recalculating! Jesus was making a wrong turn here, speaking nonsense! And Peter - Peter the blessed; Peter to whom Jesus as the Christ had been revealed to him by the Father in heaven Himself! as Jesus had said - Peter had to get Him back on the right track. So out it comes - the rebuke: Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never, no way, not in a million years, happen to you

And how stinging those next words of Jesus must have sounded to Peter, as they burned into his ears and cut into his heart: Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.  . . .  And Peter the blessed, becomes Peter the goat. Peter who thought he had everything figured out, Peter the Ph.D., becomes Peter who couldn’t be more wrong and who needs to go back to Kindergarten again.

But do you remember a few years ago, there was a book that came out with the title: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? So don’t despair Peter, but learn again this basic truth: this is what it means for Jesus to be the Saviour, not what you think. That Jesus must go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of His enemies, be killed, and on the third day be raised. He must. There is no other way and no other kind of Saviour. He must do this and go this way. The cross was the plan, the destination. It would not be an accident, but intentional. It would not be a tragedy, but using a great miscarriage of justice in an act of brutality, He would lay down His life, for no one could take it from Him (John 10:18). He would endure the worst of deaths and look like a loser. A great fall from the heydey of His popularity.

But the result of all this would be life. On the third day He would rise from the dead. And what looked like defeat would be victory. Victory not just over His earthly opponents and naysayers - that is a victory far too small and really of no consequence. No, this would be victory over His real enemies - our enemies - sin, death, and the devil. He took our side against them and succumbs to them in order to defeat them. He must, for us. For those are enemies too powerful for us.

Now, many of you probably learned that in Kindergarten. It is the first and basic truth we learn as we grow up in Church - that the man we see on the cross is Jesus, and He’s dying there for me and for you, for the forgiveness of our sins. That’s what we deserve, because of our sins. But Jesus took it in our place, and then rose to life to give us life. That’s what it means that Jesus is Saviour.

Basic, right? And so maybe you’ve been sitting there this morning thinking: Pastor, we know this.

OK. Then how come you act like Peter?  . . .  Oh yes you do! And here’s how: for in response to Jesus’ next statement - If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. - you think: Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to ME.

Because like Peter, you think you’ve got it all figured out too. Your plans, your life. Spouse, family, job, home, success, achievement, retirement. You’re a baptized child of God and your Father promised He’d take care of you and all your needs. You come to church, your sins are forgiven, sometimes you even like the hymns, so it’s full steam ahead! Life is good with Jesus. 

But then, like Peter, the cross comes and intrudes on all you think you knew, all you planned, all you thought was good and right. So you try to recalculate - figure out how you can throw off that cross and get back on the road to your plans. Or if that’s not possible, maybe you rebuke God too, like Peter. God, why are you doing this to me? This isn’t right! This is not how it’s supposed to go . . .

Oh, but it is, you Peters. This must happen. For your good. For your life. You can cling to your plans, you can cling to your life, you can cling to the way you think things should be and throw off God and His cross and His work in your life - you can do that. And many do. A baby? Not in the plans. And so a little boy or girl is aborted. A spouse of the opposite sex? Not what I want. Obey my parents? But they’re stupid! (So are my teachers, my boss . . .) Give up my golf game or the football game on TV for my family? Not gonna happen. Forgive? Not after what they did to me . . . again! Help my neighbor? Maybe if he’d do something for me once in a while! Repent? But Pastor, you just don’t get it, and everyone’s doing it! You can do that, in those and lots of other ways. But know this too: whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?

So back to Kindergarten for all of us. If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. It is common to think that means that Christians have to suffer. It doesn’t mean that at all. You might, maybe even you will. But to take up the cross means more than that. A lot more than that. For Jesus doesn’t want you to suffer, He wants you dead. Jesus doesn’t want you “dead or alive,” He wants you dead and then alive. Dead and then alive in Him. Dead and then alive in His cross and resurrection. Dead and then alive in your baptism, and then to live in your baptism each day. Dying to your “I got it all figured out;” dying to your “my way or the highway;” dying to your clinging to the things of this world and life . . . and living in Jesus and clinging to Him, and His forgiveness, and His victory, which is much bigger than what we see and know here and now. A life and a victory that will never end, no matter what happens to you here and now. 

And so to pry your cold, stony fingers and your hard, calloused hearts off the things of this world, to humble your proud mind and your “I got it all figured out” attitude, the Lord sends the cross into your life. Not to hurt you or harm you or just to make you suffer, but to help you. To save you. That you die and rise with Jesus and in Him every day, and so live. Really live. Not just a life filled with stuff here. That would be like Jesus just gaining victory over His earthly opponents and naysayers - that is a life far too small and really of no consequence. Jesus has more for you than that. And so His cross and so your cross. Jesus for you and you in Him. 

And what does such a life look like? Go back and read the words we heard from St. Paul in Romans today. Don’t do it now! Listen now. But later, read those verses again. There are some whoppers in there, and maybe you’ll be tempted to react like Peter did. But that’s your calling as a Christian. To do those things as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1) in your home, your school, your workplace, your church, your neighborhood, everywhere. And sometimes, it’s going to be pretty heavy, the crosses you will bear in those things. But you will see this too - the work of God your Saviour in you and through you and for you.

For to follow Jesus doesn’t just mean to suffer and it doesn’t just mean to obey - it means to follow Him to the cross. To die and rise with Him. The death and resurrection begun in baptism, when the sign of His cross was placed upon you and given to you in the water with the Word. That’s now yours to live in, because Jesus is yours to live in, and He in you. His forgiveness, His life, His salvation, all yours. And strengthened in you now as you come to receive the Body and Blood He gave into death and raised to life for you. That you rise too, to life with Him even now, but finally and fully when the Son of Man comes with all his angels in the glory of his Father.

And when He does, Jesus then said, he will repay each person according to what he has done. Which sounds ominous, but don’t be afraid of that! For that doesn’t so much mean all the good things you have done - or not! - but rather this: that those who die and rise with Christ here, in baptism, in repentance and faith, in forgiveness, in the cross, have the promise that will on the Last Day you will live even though you die. For as St. Paul said earlier in his letter to the Romans: For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:5). A resurrection to joy, to peace, to glory, to angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. To live there, in that, forever.

So remember that, all you Peters, what your learned in the Kindergarten of your faith. It is still true today, and will be always. Rejoice and be glad! The cross is the way to life.

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Saint Bartholomew Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Greatest Saviour for the Greatest Sinners”
Text: Luke 22:24-30; 2 Corinthians 4:7-10; Proverbs 3:1-8

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We don’t know much about the apostle Bartholomew, who we commemorate today. Not many of his words or deeds are recorded for us in Holy Scripture. Tradition says that after our Lord’s death, resurrection, and ascension, Bartholomew went up into the region of Armenia and proclaimed the Gospel there. And that for that he was rewarded with “flaying,” which is being whipped until you basically have no more skin, and then he was perhaps crucified after that. 

But Bartholomew had come to know and believe that though the enemies of Christ could kill him, they could not take his life. Though they take his skin, he could say with Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold” (Job 19:25-27a). Like his fellow apostles, he testified in both word and deed that death had been defeated by Jesus. For him, for you, and for all.

And when that’s true, then so are the words we heard from St. Paul today: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Death and life so close together, for those in Jesus. Our bodies are dying, wearing out, decaying each day, and yet we know that at the same time we have already begun to live in the gift of everlasting life. Life that will last forever, beyond the reach and grip of death. For that gift, that life, was already given to you in your baptism and so you have it already now, not just some time in the future. And so the death you will die is His death, the death of Jesus, as Paul said. That’s the death you are carrying around - a death that has already been defeated. And the life you live is His life, the life of Jesus. That’s the life you have - and so a life that will have no end. So it is not one or the other - are you living or are you dying? For the Christian on this side of eternity, the answer is simply yes. And that’s the great confession we have, and get to proclaim to the world. In word and deed. In how we speak, and in how we live - and die - in that faith. As Bartholomew did.

But Bartholomew did not always speak and live that way, just as we do not. He had to learn, or perhaps better to say: to have that faith worked in him by the Holy Spirit. For while we do not know many of his words and deeds from Holy Scripture, this we do know, from the Holy Gospel we heard today - that he was involved, with the others, in a dispute as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. Or in other words, they didn’t want to be jars of clay, as St. Paul described us, but jars of gold.

Now, we’re not told if Bartholomew was arguing for himself or if he was politicking in the cause of one of the others, perhaps Peter or James or John, but in any case, greatness talk is not faith talk. The desire for greatness and faith do not go together. For faith clings to Jesus. Faith points to Jesus. Faith lives in Jesus. The desire for greatness is living not in Jesus and finding life in Him, but living in the world, finding life in the world, and clinging to the world. The desire for greatness points to and is all about me

Which doesn’t mean a Christian cannot be great in the eyes of the world. They can and have been. You can probably name some. But that is greatness borne of service and not of fame sought. For Christians know that all talk of “the greatest” starts and ends with one name: Jesus. And that any greatness that may be attributed to a man comes from Him and leads back to Him. 

But that’s hard - no, really, impossible for us, who are saint and sinner, believer and unbeliever, at the same time, to be all about Jesus and live in Him all the time. Especially when greatness and praise does come your way. For just when you think you got it, that you’re doing okay, that you’ve learned something and are making progress, the devil comes along and knows exactly what lure to use to lead you astray, what wire to use to trip you up, or what burden to use to beat you down.

Or if he doesn’t do that, he’ll instead pat you on the back and whisper in your ear that you really are the greatest - or should be. Just look at how good you’re doing! And you’ll believe it. You want to believe it. You want to be praised and known, too. To be not clay but gold . . . or at least silver or bronze.

So, for example, take some of the words we heard from Proverbs earlier. There is a very well known verse there: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. And if you’re like me, you often think: I can do that. I should be able to do that. I just need to try a little harder.

But the problem is that little word “all.” 100%. And we who are both saint and sinner, believer and unbeliever, cannot do anything 100%. So here’s the reality. Listen to this little poem written by a friend of mine who used to be a pastor, and tell me if it’s not spot on. If it doesn’t so astutely capture the greatness-disputing of the disciples. If it doesn’t so frightfully reveal what’s so often lurking right under the surface of our hearts . . .

Lord, Thee I love with half my heart.
The world has claimed the other part.
I pray Thy name be hallowed, Lord,
But want my name to be adored.
Thy kingdom come, Thy reign extend,
And rain on me wealth without end.
Thy will be done, my lips shall pray
And curse when I don’t get my way.
I thank Thee for my daily bread,
But cakes and steaks I crave instead.
My million sins forgive, forget,
While I collect a one-cent debt.
From tempting evils keep us free
Unless I find they pleasure me.
Lord, Thee I love with
half my heart.
My greatness I want with the other part (See end of sermon for attribution).

True? So, instead Lord, Destroy, reclaim, the other part. Destroy my desire for my greatness and give me faith, instead, in your greatness. Faith not in my all, but in your “all.” For you did all for me. 

For Jesus was the one - the only one - who trusted and loved the Lord with all His heart; with every thought and every word and every desire and every deed. And so He came down from heaven to love and mercy us with all His heart, all the way to the cross. The greatest become the least. The perfect one become the sinner with our sin to die our death. The one who deserves to be served come to serve us. That we who are great sinners know this only: that it’s not the greatest Christians, but the greatest sinners, who have the greatest Saviour. 

Which does not mean that we can go out and sin and become the greatest sinners so that we can get more forgiveness! St. Paul’s answer for that (Romans 6:1) is “By no means!” It means the recognition that we already are the greatest sinners (or as St. Paul puts it: the chief of sinners), and that for the very reason, we have the Jesus who comes to us still today and proclaims to us Himself and His life and His forgiveness. His greatness, for you, for me, and for all. 

Bartholomew and the others would learn that as they saw Jesus on the cross and as they saw Him risen from the dead, but most of all when they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit whose job it is to sanctify us. That is, to make us holy by pointing out the greatness of our sin, and then pointing us to the greatness of our Saviour. That we begin to believe rightly. Dying with Jesus to sin even now, including dying to our schemes and desires for greatness, that we may also live with Jesus, even now, in His greatness and life. 

For still today, for us, death and life are so close together. We talked about this a bit last week in the adult Bible class, there hearing how Luther so vividly described it. For Adam, he said, was living, but with death so close - just an arm’s length away; the fruit God had said not to eat. But we, he said, are dying, but with life so close - just an arm’s length away; the fruit of the cross given to us to eat and live. The arm of the Pastor reaching out to us with the life and forgiveness found in the Body and Blood of Jesus. Right there. For you. True greatness. That as Job confessed and Jesus accomplished, you live even though you die. Even if flayed, or crucified, or beheaded, or whatever other grisly and gruesome way our satan-inspired world comes up with. You have what is greater. You have the greatest. You have Jesus. 

And having Him, then nothing else really matters. Not really. Having Him, we too can be Bartholomews - the later version, not the earlier one! The one counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41). And if you are found so worthy, rejoice! For whether or not anyone ever finds out about your life, your words or deeds, whether or not you receive any greatness in this world, this is promised you: life in a kingdom that will never end

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


(From: The Infant Priest by Chad Bird [p. 60]. The last line of the poem in the text above is my own addition - his final line being the “Destroy, reclaim, the other part” that was included just after.)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pentecost 10 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Cling to the Word”
Text: Matthew 15:21-28 (Romans 11:32; Psalm 28:6)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

What do you do when what you experience in life does not seem to line up or agree with the Word of God? When what is happening to you even seems to contradict the Word of God?

The Word which says that God will provide for you (Matthew 6:25-33), but you’ve been in need for so long? The Word which proclaims that God will be with you always (Matthew 28:20), yet you’ve never felt so alone? The Word which teaches that you are a child of God (Galatians 4:4-7), baptized into Him, and that He will never leave you as an orphan (John 14:18), yet your Father has never felt so far away? The Word which trumpets that you are forgiven (Acts 10:43), yet you look at yourself and inside yourself and see nothing but a miserable, wretched sinner, and feel so unworthy and dirty and unclean? The Word which promises you every good (Romans 8:28), yet so much of what you receive seems anything but good?

How do you reconcile the Word which says God will always hear and answer every prayer (John 16:23), yet when you pray you seem to be like this woman we heard about today, whose prayers are met only with silence and rejection? 

What do you do? Such times are hard, when Word and world conflict. But that is the reality we live in. This woman’s reality. So by considering her, we see ourselves.

So first of all consider: why was she there? Well, because her daughter was severely oppressed by a demon. Maybe for some time now. And how do you fight against a demon? She needed help.  . . .  You know how it is, for demons are pressing hard, attacking, luring, and tempting you too. Into all manner of sins. What are they for you, that you wrestle with? Maybe severely. And your strength is not enough. You’ve tried, and failed. Fallen back into the old ways, the old sins, the old bad habits and despair. You need help too.

But do not overlook this fact: why was she there? Because first Jesus had come to her. The Son of God had come down from heaven in the flesh, and then Jesus went to her, to her area, to the district of Tyre and Sidon. First, the Lord of all invaded the enemy’s territory to help, to rescue, and to save.  . . .  And again this is true for you as well. We have not a God who is far off, but a God who is near, who comes to us in our own flesh and blood, that we come to Him. 

But still there is more, for why was she there? Because not only was Jesus there for her, but she heard about Jesus. Someone told her. Someone preached to her. Just as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds and John the Baptist pointed the crowds to Jesus, so she had been told this good news. Or maybe she heard Jesus herself - His preaching with an authority not of this world.  . . .  You’ve heard that word, that preaching, too. That here is hope for the hopeless, help for the helpless, and freedom for the possessed. And so you’ve come too.

And so with great boldness and in great desperation and with great hope, she comes to Jesus. And she gets . . . not what we expect. Not, I’m sure, what she expected. Not what Jesus’ track record indicates she would get. She gets . . . this. The silent treatment, rejection, insult. Sand kicked in her face. Shoved to the back of the room. Acknowledged only to be rejected. 

For this woman, the Word she had heard and what she was now experiencing were two vastly different - and seemingly even contradictory - things. 

But she does not believe her experience. She does believe whatever emotions are surging from her heart. She does not believe the demons whispering to her to go away, that see? Jesus does not want to help you. No, she clings to Jesus. She clings to the Word and promises of God about Him. That Jesus is the Lord. That Jesus is the promised Son of David. That as Paul would later proclaim, Jesus has come to have mercy on all people. Including Gentiles. Including Canaanites. Including her.

And because of that, Jesus holds her up as an example of great faith. For this is what faith does - it clings to the Word and promises of God. Even when our emotions and experiences and other people in this world - even disciples - tell us otherwise. Because everything else is unreliable. Everything else in us and in this world has been tainted with sin. For sin isn’t just the bad things we do, it is the disease that infects our minds and our emotions so they don’t work as they should. That we think wrongly and interpret our emotions incorrectly and when left on our own, will think wrong things of God, too. And you can be sure the devil and his demons take full advantage of that, to deceive us and mislead us in false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice (Small Catechism, explanation to the Sixth Petition). Which means that any sentence that begins with “it seems to ME” or “it feels like to ME” frankly cannot be trusted.

Only sentences which begin with: Thus saith the Lord - only these are pure truth. Only these are to be relied on and trusted. Only these will give us the firm and certain foundation we need in a world full of trouble and strife, changes and chances, danger and need. Especially when our experiences and emotions are telling us one thing today and something else tomorrow. God doesn’t change and His Word doesn’t change, and so we have something outside of our infected, sinful selves to rely on.

That’s what this woman did that day. She clung to the Word of God and would not let go. And not only the Word of God she heard that brought her there to Jesus that day, but also the words that Jesus spoke too. The words that sounded so harsh, yet in which this woman finds hope. For when Jesus says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” the woman responds: “You say that I am a dog. Let it be. I will gladly be a dog; now give me the consideration that you give a dog. I ask no more than a dog’s rights. Give the children what is the children’s; I don’t ask for that. Give me the crumbs and I will be content with that” (Luther, House Postils, Vol. 1, p. 325).

How different is that from what we hear in our world today - where so many are demanding rights and privileges and what they want from God? And when He doesn’t deliver, see ya’! 

No, it is not to those who think they are deserving or worthy that Jesus gives, but to the undeserving and the unworthy. Not to the Pharisees and Sadducees, but to the tax collectors and sinners. Not to those who think Jesus owes them something simply because they are physically descended children of Abraham, but to the true children of Abraham - those not according to the flesh, but according to the promise. Children by faith. Like this Canaanite woman. Like you.

And so she receives. The mercy she has come for. The mercy Jesus has come to give. Was it a crumb, was it more? It didn’t matter! Faith doesn’t measure the gift, but receives what God gives with thanksgiving. Believing that it is good and exactly what we need.

Faith doesn’t measure the gift; it is the sin in us that measures gifts. Comparing what God has given to others and what He has given to me. Judging what God has given to me compared to what I asked for. But just as we cannot trust our emotions and experiences, so too we cannot trust our judgments here. What we think are mere crumbs might be much, much more. Like children rushing downstairs on Christmas morning, one child receiving a small box and one receiving a very large box, and immediately the jealousy begins - not even knowing what those bosex contain! Do we judge God that way? His gifts that way? His works that way? His love that way? Lots to repent of there.

Instead, believe the Word. What the world considers treasure - wealth and power and honors and glory - these are of little worth, really. They come and go and do not last. But what the world considers of little worth - the Church, the Word of God, the water of baptism, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, these are treasures containing far more than mere crumbs. They contain the death and resurrection of Jesus for you. They give you the fruits of His cross. They give you those gifts that will never end - His forgiveness, His life, His salvation, His Sonship, His Body and Blood. And that’s true no matter what you feel or experience here - you have His Word and promise. For thus saith the Lord: I baptize you. I forgive you. This is My Body, My Blood. I am coming back. You will be with Me in Paradise. Sure and certain, these words. Words of life. Words to cling to.

For no matter what the devil, the world, or your own sinful nature with its emotions and experiences wants you to believe, your Father in heaven, your Saviour Jesus, and His Spirit will not let you down. The struggles will continue, of that you can be sure. Those hours of deep need, darkness, and hurt. Such is life in this sinful world. But as we sang in the Introit earlier: The Lord is my strength - when I am weak - and my shield - when I am attacked; in Him my heart trusts - not my emotions or experiences - and I am helped. And not just given a helping hand, but rescued, saved. For you are forgiven. It is finished (John 19:30). The Lord has mercied you. Cling to that When in the Hour of Deepest Need (Office Hymn, LSB #615). And every other hour too.

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Pentecost 8 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Not Practical, But Compassionate”
Text: Matthew 14:13-21 (Romans 9:1-5)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The story that we heard today, of Jesus “Feeding the 5,000” as it has come to be known, even though there were more than 5,000 there that day, for there were 5,000 men plus women and children, whose numbers could have swelled the crowd considerably - this is a story found in all four Gospels. And so it is probably familiar to all of you. Today we heard Matthew’s account of this story, the simplest account of the four, and the one which provides us with the fewest details. Which is quite unusual for Matthew, who likes to tell us how all that Jesus did was according to this or that prophet and in fulfillment of this or that Scripture.

He omits from this account Mark’s emphasis of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, that Jesus sees the crowds as harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, and has them sit down on green grass (Mark 6:34, 39), a lush pasture, even in the wilderness, for His sheep. We might have expected Matthew to include this and then add that this was in fulfillment of Moses’ prayer, that the people of God not be harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Numbers 27:17), or concerning the green grass, to let us know: as it says in Psalm 23 . . . But he doesn’t.

In the same way he omits Luke’s emphasis on Jesus teaching the people and speaking to them of the kingdom of God (Luke 9:11) before feeding them, to which Matthew could nicely have added references to Samuel or Zechariah, of God as Israel’s true king (1 Sam 8:7; Zech 9:9), or of the kingdom of truth Jesus had come to establish.

And he omits the details that John includes of the fact that Jesus was testing His disciples, for He knew what He was going to do (John 6:6). Or the fact that it was the time of the Passover (John 6:4). Or that it was a young lad who, in fact, had the five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:9). Lots of fodder here for Matthew! Of Jesus being the prophet greater than Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15), and Jesus as the new and real passover.

All, you could say, important details. But without them, strip away all those details from this story, and what you have left is Matthew’s account, and the clear focus he wants to highlight without any other clutter: Jesus having compassion

Now maybe you’re used to hearing that, of knowing Jesus that way. But I think it is worthwhile to think a little bit more and a little bit deeper about compassion and just what that means. And first, to do that by realizing what compassion isn’t: it isn’t practical. 

In this story, it is the disciples who are practical. They are experienced in the ways of the world. At least some of them were businessmen before leaving that life behind and following Jesus. They knew the value of a denarii. And so it was only reasonable, it was common sense, it was practical for Jesus to send the crowds away. The reasons were many: it was a desolate place. The day was almost over. No way was there enough food out here in the middle of nowhere. Maybe the disciples’ own stomachs were rumbling and grumbling. So be realistic, Jesus. It’s time to send them away.

But Jesus never does the practical thing. He does the compassionate thing. Compassion interrupts us and our lives and what we were doing. Compassion stops what we’re doing in order to see to the needs of someone else. Compassion makes us go out of our way to help another. Compassion means sacrificing yourself because something else has come up, whether that means sacrificing time, or money, or energy, or sleep, or whatever else you were really hoping to have or get done today. To help a family member, a neighbor, or even a stranger. That’s why compassion is so hard and increasingly rare in our world today. Our world where I don’t even have enough time to get done what I need to get done, let alone stop and help someone else! Our world of tight budgets, little time, and lots of demands. Compassion just isn’t practical.

So how does a compassionate Jesus respond to His practical disciples? He invites them to be compassionate too; to be compassionate with Him. They need not go away; you give them something to eat.

And their response: We are not able. We have only five loaves of bread and two fish. So Jesus says: Bring them here to me. 

I don’t know if Jesus said that with exasperation, disappointed that His disciples still didn’t get it. Or if He had a little smile on His face. I suspect it’s the latter, the smile. Jesus the compassionate having compassion on His disciples too. To teach them that with Him, there’s no “only.” When you have Jesus, you have everything. Enough to feed 5,000 men, plus women and children. Enough to feed a world full of Christians with His Body and Blood. No place is desolate or empty when Jesus is there. 

Brodi - that’s something for you to especially remember this day as we bid you godspeed as you leave for the seminary. You’re going to have a lot of times - as a seminarian, as a vicar, and as a pastor - where you think you are not able; you don’t have enough; you have “only” . . . whatever. But remember: there’s no “only” with Jesus. When you have Him, you have everything, and far more than enough.

So Jesus takes the bread and fish and looking up to His Father, says a blessing. He says grace. A thank you. Thank you for the people. Thank you for these disciples, even if they don’t quite get it yet. Thank you for the food. Thank you for the opportunity to feed them all, to teach His disciples what they need to learn: that God isn’t practical - He’s compassionate

So after giving thanks, Jesus gives the bread and fish to the disciples, that they do what He told them: you give them something to eat. They do, and much to their surprise, they are able. Jesus even feeds their rumbling, grumbling stomachs, too. Turns out, there is more than enough. All ate and were satisfied. Ready now to go home not in want or in need, but filled and content.

The God who is not practical, but compassionate. That’s what Jesus shows us. That’s who Jesus is. A God who cares about the needs of His people and provides. And not just spiritually and not just physically, but both, for we are both. 

And this has been true all along - a compassionate, giving God. Paul wrote of all that God gave to His people in the Old Testament, as we heard in Romans today. To them, he says, belong the adoption, God choosing them out of all the nations on the earth; the glory, God Himself leading them and dwelling with them in a pillar of cloud and fire; the covenants, given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David; the giving of the law, God’s glorious revelation on Mt. Sinai; the worship, the tabernacle, where God would be for His people to provide for them the forgiveness of their sins; the promises, of a land of their own, peace, protection, and all that they would need; the patriarchs, the fathers in the faith and God’s perfect faithfulness to them; and the Christ, in the flesh, who is not just flesh and blood, but God over all, blessed forever. 

So much had been given to them! So much has been given to us! But how often are we blind to it, and blind to our Lord’s compassion. How quick to forget His work and faithfulness of old. How quick to look and trust only what I have in my hands instead of the fact that we are in His hands, and therefore think: It is not enough. I am not able. 

Repent. Of your doubt, of your lack of compassion, of your thinking that God somehow hasn’t given you what you need. There’s no “only” with Jesus. With Him whose hands were filled, always, with compassion. Whose hands baptized you and now feed you. Whose hands shield you and bless you. Who hands went to the cross for you. To pay the price you could not pay, not just for your food, but for all your shortcomings, all your sins, all your rebellion, all your doubts - that you have life. And not just life, but His life. That you who are thirsty may have drink. That you who are hungry may have food. And no mere bread and fish, but His Body and Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. To satisfy you so that now, in Christ, you are ready to go to your home filled and content, too. Your home here, yes, but even more, your home with Him, forever. 

For you have Jesus. And when you have Him, you have everything, and far more than enough. 

And having done so for you, Jesus invites you now to be compassionate too. Like the disciples, He gives to you what you need to do so. Including the heart. And to realize: this Christian life may not be practical. This Christian life may call on us to do a lot of impractical things, things that make no earthly sense - where we put our money, how we spend our time, things that maybe do not give us the biggest return on investment in the world’s eyes. To get interrupted, to not get that thing done, to go out of your way, to sacrifice. 

That’s not always easy. Maybe it’s never easy! That’s okay. Maybe the interruption and the getting you to show compassion is the compassion you need right now! God is not practical. He’s compassionate. And that’s better. 

Practical would have been to choose better disciples in the first place, right? Or better Christians; better yous and me. But God is not practical. He’s compassionate. And that’s better. And so you are a child of God.

And so we prayed earlier: Heavenly Father, though we do not deserve Your goodness, still You provide for all our needs of body and soul. That’s the foundation. That’s what we heard today from Matthew. So . . . Grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may acknowledge Your gifts, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience.

Serve Him who has everything . . . how? We heard that today too: by serving others in compassion. Like Father, like Son. Like Son, like Christians. For when you do it to one of the least of these, Jesus says, you’ve done it unto Me (Matthew 25:40).

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pentecost 7 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Me? A Treasure? Yes You Are!”
Text: Matthew 13:44-52 (Romans 8:28-39)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today we heard two of my favorite parables of Jesus. Parables that I do not think we can ever hear enough. Parables that teach how valuable you are, how much you are worth to your Saviour. That you are His treasure, you are His prized pearl, for whom He gave everything. 

We can never hear that enough, because if there’s one thing, one truth, satan does not want you to hear, it’s that one. If there’s one thing, one truth, satan does not want you to believe, it’s that’s one. 

And so he is fighting. Against you, against the church. To get you to disbelieve or doubt your Father’s love for you. And so, he says: A loving God? A God who treasures you? Really? Take a look around. The world is a mess. The Church is a mess. You are a mess. Look at what happened in the world just this past week. Look at the continuing divisions and scandals in the Church. Look at yourself! You’re no treasure! You’re a dirty, rotten sinner. 

And he’s right, you know. There is always a kernal of truth to satan’s lies, which is what makes them so effective. The world, the Church, and yes, you, are a mess. And satan’s working very hard to keep it all that way, sowing his weeds - as we heard last week - not only of hatred and division, but also of pride and glory, to keep us in sin, to keep us selfish, to keep us a mess. 

And then in addition, he says, you have to fix this mess you’ve created. He is not content with messing things up, he also wants us to keep chasing our tails to try to fix it. Because we’re not very good at that. The world that preaches tolerance as the way to peace just keeps getting more intolerant and unpeaceful. The Church that preaches compromise as the way to unity is just compromising itself into irrelevance. And ourselves? You know the answer to that. Like New Year’s resolutions, we might do good for a couple of weeks, and then we fall again. Pull one weed and another pops up in its place. 

And he even uses Jesus’ own parable against us. This parable, which Jesus meant to comfort us and reassure us, satan turns on its head and says: You are the man in the parable. Or at least you’re supposed to be. God and His kingdom are supposed to be this precious and valuable to you. And you say they are, Christian. But you don’t act like it. You are willing to give up everything, are you? I know better. I know your heart. You’d rather deny, you’d rather compromise, you’d rather keep quiet than lose your job, lose face, or lose your precious things. And I don’t even need to try very hard to get you to fall! You’re so weak and pathetic. A little name calling, a little pressure, and you crumble like a stale old cookie. So treasure? You’re no treasure! You’re an old, obsolete, broken down piece of junk that God is burying not in love, but in a landfill.

But here’s the thing satan: If you want to talk about burying and you want to talk about a landfill, well what about Jesus? You see, He was crucified on a garbage heap, yes, thrown out like the garbage by an ungrateful world, and then buried, dead, in the ground. That’s all true.

But satan: why was he there? Why was the Son of God there at all? Was it not because He loved us? Was it not because He was giving up everything for us? 

He came down from heaven and was incarnated as a man. He willing gave up His prerogatives as God, willingly not using His divine power to help Himself or save Himself. He left his throne in heaven and the unending song of the angels to be born in a stable. He became obedient to His parents, lived in this fallen creation, and He who feeds all knew hunger, He who provides rain for all thirsted, and He who is joy sorrowed. You tempted Him satan, but He didn’t fall for it, did He? He knew rejection, even in His hometown, even by His “framily" - His family and friends. And then He allowed Himself to be arrest and beaten and whipped and spit on and punched. His head was crowned with thorns and He experienced the utter rejection of the cross - yes, thrown out and buried like garbage.

And you call Him weak, satan. But isn’t that strength to do all that? And you call Him a failure, satan. For having such indignity done to Him. But why, then, is His grave empty? Why, then, is there still a Church - as imperfect as it may be? And why, satan, are you still fighting so hard if you’ve won? Where is your victory?  . . .  Unless you haven’t really won at all! Unless all you can do is mess things up and try to make us believe you won.

Yes! It’s true isn’t it, satan? We are God’s treasures. If we look at ourselves, as you want us to, we’ll never see that. But if we look at the cross, and all that Jesus gave for us, then that’s how much I’m worth! Then there’s what cleans up my mess. There’s my forgiveness, my life, my salvation, my food. There’s the answer. We confess it every week in the Creed, those words that mean that Jesus purchased and won us from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death (Small Catechism, explanation of the Second Article). Purchased! I belong to Him. And dear friends, so do you.

Because Jesus took that holy precious blood poured out on the cross and poured it over you in Holy Baptism, to cleanse you and make you His. 

And He takes that Body and Blood that hung on the cross and was buried in the grave but now risen from the dead and puts it into you, into your mouth, feeding you with Himself and His life and His victory.

And He takes the Word of His cross, that message of how valuable you are to Him and all that He gave to purchase you, and fills your ears with it. That you may know, and by the working of His Spirit, believe it.

Because it’s hard to believe it sometimes. When we’ve had a particularly bad week. When our own sins have erupted from us and the sins of others have crushed us. When we look in us and around us and see nothing but dirt.

But in the dirt is where Jesus is! When He came down to earth, He was born in a dirty stable, not an immaculate palace. He hung out with dirty sinners, not the high and mighty and those who thought themselves deserving. 

And so as He was hidden, so now He hides us in the ground, in the dirt. But don’t be dismayed by that. It is, as St. Paul said, good. First of all because once we get a taste of glory, we always want more. That’s the way of our sinful nature. Get a little, want a lot. So Jesus buries us, His treasures, under the sufferings and pains and trials of this world - not because He hates us, but because He loves us. To keep us with Him and relying on Him, and hungering and thirsting after Him and His glory, not the glory of this world and life.

And secondly, He hides us in the ground, in the dirt, that we may be a blessing to others in the dirt, those with us under the suffering and pains and trials of this world and life. That they not be alone. That they may see and hear the love of their Saviour from us - that they, too, are pearls of great price their Saviour is searching for.

He hides us in the ground for hiddenness is the way of it with God. In the end, on the Last Day, all will be revealed. The net will be hauled ashore and the fish separated - the righteous and the evil. Those in Christ and those who are not. But not until then. Now we live by faith and not sight. Now we live by His Word and promises. Now we receive Him hidden in water and words and bread and wine. Now we live in the dirt, but knowing that the resurrection to eternal life is coming. For He who was raised from the dirt and dust of death, is coming back to do the same for us. And then will be the kingdom, the power, and glory.

Yet not that even then you will see the treasure that you are. For then you won’t care about that. You will only see your Saviour and the treasure that He is. 

And so until then, we confess with St. Paul: No, in all these things - in all this dirty world and life - we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. From our Saviour who came into the dirt for us, to raise us to Him in His glory.

So it is as we sang just before the sermon: I am baptized into Christ (LSB #594). Into His death and resurrection. And so sin, satan, and death have all lost. And there is nothing worth comparing to this comfort sure. We don’t even have to fear the grave - we’re already buried, with Christ. Treasures, pearls of great price, resting and sleeping secure, awaiting the day of our raising. Children of paradise, being kept by our Saviour. 

That’s who you are. And if you are still doubting it, come and receive the Body and Blood of the One who says you are. Yes, you are worth it - every crumb, every drop, every splash, every Word. Yes, you are worth it, so He is here for you - His treasure, His child.

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.