Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Congregation at Prayer - August 24-29

For the Week of Pentecost 13 (August 24-29, 2015)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. Ephesians 6:11 - ”Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #566 “By Grace, I’m Saved”
Hymns for Sunday: 665 (tune: 804), 566, 947

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

Monday:  Psalm 119:129-136
What is being asked for in this psalm? Why?

Tuesday:  Revelation 6:9-11
God knows His martyrs, dead and living. What comfort does this bring?

Wednesday:  Romans 6:1-5
What has baptism done to us? What does this mean? What does it mean to “walk in newness of life?”

Thursday:  Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
God speaks, we listen. How does that shape your life? Why?

Friday:  Ephesians 6:10-20
Who are the enemies of the Church? Therefore, what is our armor and weapons?

Saturday:  Mark 7:14-23
Where does your uncleanness come from? But what comes from outside you that makes you clean?

The Catechism: The Lord’s Prayer: The Fifth Petition: And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, not have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ all students returning to college, for our Lord’s protection, blessing, and strength of faith.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Board of Evangelism.
+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for Lutheran for Life.
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!

The Congregation at Prayer - August 31 - September 5

For the Week of Pentecost 14 (August 31 - September 5, 2015)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. Psalm 146:5 - ”Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,  whose hope is in the Lord his God.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #797 “Praise the Almighty”
Hymns for Sunday: 589, 797, 619, 545, 524, 818

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

Monday:  Psalm 146
How do earthly rulers rule? What do they do? How does God reign? What does He do? So who should we trust?

Tuesday:  2 Chronicles 28:8-15
How did God use Israel to discipline and to do good? Why both? What is God’s greater purpose here?

Wednesday:  Luke 10:23-37
How can you serve your neighbor like this? How has Christ done this for you? 

Thursday:  Isaiah 35:4-7a
How does Jesus reverse the effects of sin? What is pressing hard on you? Need you be anxious?

Friday:  James 2:1-10, 14-18
How do we show faith by works? What does this mean?

Saturday:  Mark 7:31-37
Jesus opened the man’s ears. What else did He open? What has He opened for you? How? Why?

The Catechism: The Lord’s Prayer: The Sixth Petition: And lead us not into temptation. What does this mean? God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, or other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ good rest and safe travel for Pastor and family as they continue on vacation this week.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Sunday School teachers.
+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for the Higher Things youth organization.
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 13 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A Tradition to Live By”
Text: Mark 7:1-13; Ephesians 5:22-33; Isaiah 29:11-19

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

Ah, the good ol’ days, when “Wives submit to your husbands” was the controversial thing about marriage! Nowadays, marriage has been twisted and distorted by some, kicked aside by others, and thrown into the scrap heap by many. What God instituted in the beginning as a good and holy institution, for a man and a woman to create a family and find delight in one another, has been relegated to a tradition of man which can be disregarded or changed at will. Or at least, by the stroke of a single Supreme Court pen. 

We should not be surprised. It is what happens whenever the Word of God is removed as the foundation of truth. The traditions of men, the wisdom of men, the current tide of societal thinking will come rushing in to fill the vacuum - and always to the detriment of man. For nothing we can come up with can ever take the place of the Word of God. It will always be inferior, and make us inferior to how God created us to be.

Exhibit 1-A for Jesus was the Pharisaical tradition of “Corban.” The Pharisees, Mark tell us, had many such traditions, but this one seems particularly egregious to Jesus. For besides God, the only other persons to get their own commandment were father and mother. For father and mother, a man and a woman joined in marriage and through the one flesh union bringing forth children, are deserving of special honor and love. The family, as such, is the building block of society. And so God protects it as of first importance. Even before protecting life in the fifth commandment, protecting the gift of sexuality in the sixth, the gift of possessions in the seventh, the gift of a good reputation in the eight, and the gift of contentment in the ninth and tenth -before all these He protects father and mother. They are first after Him, and not only are we not to despise or anger them, but we are to honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them (Small Catechism, Explanation to the Fourth Commandment). And that, Luther would go on to say, no matter how weird you think your parents are - and who doesn’t, at some point in their lives, think their parents are a bit odd and embarrassing. No matter, God said, honor them.

But instead of doing that, the Pharisees created a tradition which effectively did away with the Fourth Commandment - the tradition of Corban, a word meaning “gift to God.” A tradition that probably started out well, but had deteriorated and become corrupt. It was a pretty neat trick, actually. The Pharisees (or anyone really) would pronounce their possessions as “Corban” - that is, dedicated to God. Which sounds good, right? Except that what was so dedicated didn’t actually have to be imediately given to God. For example, your land could be dedicated as Corban, and yet you could continue to live on it. It was a designation of intent, voluntarily made, and whether or not you ever actually followed through and fulfilled your vow, you were from that time on prohibited from using that property for the support of your parents. And so what was happening here was not only was the Fourth Commandment out the window, but it cost you nothing, and you got to look super holy at the same time!

So Jesus was not pleased. Instead of caring for their parents, and instead of helping and serving their closest neighbor, they come to Jesus and wonder why aren’t His disciples doing what they’re doing; how come they don’t keep the tradition of the elders; why they were eating with hands unwashed, and therefore “defiled.”

Traditions. The words literally means that which is handed down, or handed over. Every culture and society has them. They are neither good or bad in and of themselves - they are just what we do because it’s what our parents did, what our culture does. Certain ways handed down, or handed over. We put our hand over our heart during the national anthem. We sing “Happy Birthday.” We eat traditional foods on holidays, and use traditional decorations. All good things. Things that have meaning for us and make us who we are. Another way of speaking of those things is that they are the folk culture of our society. There are different kinds of culture. High culture is the best stuff that transcends cultures and is shared by cultures - the best music, the best art, the best literature. Pop culture is the stuff that is popular at the moment but is here today and gone tomorrow. Folk culture is what is handed down from generation to generation. Traditions that bind us together and inform who we are.

But when that culture or tradition comes into conflict with the Word of God, something has to give. Because who are we? Are we who the culture, the tradition says we are, or are we who God says we are? Those who have lost the foundation of the Word of God have only one choice - the culture, tradition, society, dictates. And we see it happening in our world today, with marriage, with the value of life, with gender. And again, we shouldn’t be surprised that this is happening; that sinful men do sinful things. But when these things come into the Church, then something has gone very wrong.

For as Christians, we dare not allow the traditions of men, the culture of man, the opinions of society, to replace the Word of God. Marriage as the union of a man and a woman is the way God established it. The value of life is non-negotiable. Gender is not whatever we say it is, but what God created. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, is how we say it in the liturgy. The Word of the Lord endures forever.

This is a battle that is not new. Jesus today quoted from the prophet Isaiah whose prophetic career was some 700 years before Jesus and the Pharisees walked the earth. Satan has been attacking the Word of God from the very beginning. Sinful men do sinful things. 

Traditions. In the Bible, there are two very significant times when something was traditioned, or handed over. Not the only two times, but two significant, important, times. The first was when Eve handed over the forbidden fruit to Adam and he ate. That “tradition,” that handing over, plunged the world into sin and is the reason why we are born sinful and unclean. Eve handed over and Adam received a “tradition” not of God but of man. 

But then years later, there was another handing over - when Judas handed over the Son of God and He was crucified. But this “tradition,” this handing over, got the world out of its mess of sin; this tradition was of God and the reason why Jesus was born. And just before this, Jesus did a handing over of His own - He handed over His Body and Blood to His disciples, and commanded them to continue handing it over - handing HIM over - generation after generation, for the forgiveness of sin, for life and salvation. That in opposition to the tradition of sin, the Church hand over life; hand over Jesus.

And that really is the choice. When the traditions of men conflict with what is handed over in the Word of God, Jesus is at stake. Life and salvation are at stake. 

For in sending His Son, in handing over Jesus, God has done - as Isaiah said - a most wonderful thing! The most important thing. Wonder upon wonder, as He hands over His Son to atone for our sin, gives us this forgiveness, makes us His own, and promises us eternal life. As, Isaiah prophesied, He makes us who were deaf to hear His Word, and opens our eyes to see His glory. 

It’s difficult, though, isn’t it? We receive what is handed down to us by the world in great doses, and the Word of God . . . well, how much in comparison? And sometimes the traditions of men can sound very convincing and even look holy and good at times. But what has been handed down and handed over to you is Christ and His Spirit. What has been handed down and handed over to you is forgiveness and life. What has been handed down and handed over to you is true wisdom, not the ever-shifting opinions of time and place. The Word of the Lord endures forever for the Lord endures forever. This world will not. 

So what of you? Well, the Word of God was made flesh and has united Himself as one flesh to you. Jesus has forever united God and man in one body, and brought into that union through Holy Baptism, you have life. When you sin, you have life in His forgiveness. When you are anxious and worried, you have life in His promises. And when you die, you have life because He will raise you with Himself and take you to Himself. Or as Paul put it: Christ gave Himself for you to wash you clean and make you holy, without blemish, and give you life and a future with Him. He nourishes you and cherishes you and cares for you. You will not and cannot find a better spouse than He.

So shall we trade that for the traditions of men? Shall we look for a better way? A greater truth? A different life? Or shall we joyfully submit to such a God? To such a Saviour? It isn’t really much of a choice, is it? And then also in our marriages, in our callings, in our lives, do the same - laying down our lives for others, submitting to them in love, handing over to them the same forgiveness and love we have received. That, it seems to me, is something worth handing down and handing over. That is living in Christ, and He in us.

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

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Pentecost 12 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A God Who Never “Walks It Back” ”
Text: John 6:51-69

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

Today we come to the conclusion of Jesus’ teaching through John chapter 6. And we’ve moved; we’re in a different location now. What began in the wilderness with Jesus feeding the 5,000 and then moved across the Sea of Galilee now ends in the synagogue at Capernaum. Apparently the people who followed Jesus across the sea continued to follow Him and continued asking Him questions about the feeding and His teaching. That’s good. But then we hear that after this day, that stopped. That after this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. Many who were following Him walked away.

Why? Well, in their own words they said: This is a hard saying; who can listen to it? But it wasn’t the words of Jesus that were too hard to understand; the people understood full well what He was saying. This wasn’t an intelligence or learning issue - it was a faith issue. These words of Jesus were too hard to accept; too hard to believe. These words of Jesus were too different, and maybe even offensive. That He came down from heaven, that He gives life, that He gives His flesh and blood as food and drink, that He is the Bread of Life. And so many walked away. And that’s not good.

But notice what doesn’t happen here: Jesus doesn’t “walk it back.” That’s a phrase that has become popular in our day and age. When someone says something that creates an uproar or offends someone, they “walk it back” - they try to explain what they said in terms that are more acceptable; they try to soften it, perhaps become a little more vague, try to settle things down. I didn’t really mean it that way. You misunderstood what I was saying. I was using that word differently than what you assumed. Let me parse that for you. That’s “walking it back.” 

But Jesus doesn’t walk back what He said. You might think He’d want to, given that many are leaving. But no. He doesn’t say: Oh, you misunderstood. He doesn’t tone it down. He doesn’t try to explain Himself further or make His teaching more acceptable, more palatable. Because He meant what He said. He really does give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink in His Supper. He really is the Bread of Life. And we really have no hope of life apart from Him. It’s all true. Jesus was there in the beginning and created life, and He continues to give life, He sustains life, and only He can give eternal life. So He doesn’t walk it back. 

For the truth is never a popularity contest. Jesus isn’t trying to get elected as Saviour or leader of Israel. He isn’t trolling for votes. He IS the Saviour. As we prayed in the Collect of the Day earlier: He IS the way, the truth, and the life. This is the truth. This is the way it must be. He will lay down His life for the life of the world and feed us with Himself. And unless we feed on Him, unless we are born from above, unless we receive His forgiveness, unless we live in Him and He in us, we do not and will not have life. This is the Word of the Lord.

Now that makes many grumble today as it did in Jesus’ day. Those things are just not popular or mainstream. Those things make people get up and walk away today. Which is what will happen if the starting point of how we think is our life, our efforts, our wisdom, and what makes sense to us. We’ll rely on ourselves and think we are capable of much more than we really are, and reject words and teaching that seem to disagree with that. 

But from God’s perspective, it’s quite a different thing. When God looks at the world, He doesn’t see potential, He doesn’t see wisdom, He doesn’t see ingenuity, He doesn’t see a bunch of people that just need a little help to get over the hump. He sees a world of rebellion, not goodness; a world deceived, not in truth; a world of death, not life; a world of people who think they know better than God; a world in need of saving. A world to which He could not say: Do this and live, for we cannot do it. Adam would not and so we cannot.

So here’s the good news: God doesn’t walk it back. Yes, that’s good news. God doesn’t walk back the truth to appease us and our self-promoting, self-glorifying way. And this too: the God who does not walk back His words also does not walk back His presence or His promise. What He says is the truth, and what He says He will do. And so when faced with our sin, rebellion, and death said: I will do it. I will save

And so He sent His Son, who did not walk back from an incarnation into a sinful world; who did not walk back from the temptation, from the hate, from the scourging, from the cross; who did not walk back from taking our sin and uncleanness upon Himself; who did not walk back from being forsaken for you. He willing did these things. And though many walked away from Him, He would not walk away from them. 

And so you know this as well: He will not walk away from you. You who have come here after another week wallowing in sin. Another week of failing to do what you should have done - failing to love God and love your neighbor. Another week of doing what you should not have done - loving and serving yourself. Another week of half-truths and parsed words to get what you want. Another week of unclean desires, wicked thoughts, grudges and bitterness. You’ve come here after being steeped and marinated in your sins, reeking of those sins. You walk in here like a bum off the streets of hell . . . and your Saviour does not walk back from you. Instead He embraces you with His love, kisses you with His forgiveness, and rejoices over you at His Table. He came into this world for you and He’s still coming for you. And there’s no place that He’d rather be than here, and nothing He’d rather be doing than forgiving and feeding prodigals like us. 

And how different is that? We’re not used to that. We’re used to people who walk away for a lot less that that. Friends, spouses, family, who cut us off, who turn away, often for the stupidest things, and who won’t even give us a chance to repent. Or if they do, would rather hold a grudge and hold it over us rather than forgive. Maybe you’ve even done it youself.

That’s who your God is. A God who won’t walk back from you. A God who loves bums and serves sinners. A God who came to die, not condemn; whose glory is the cross. If you don’t know that, if you don’t know God like that, then you won’t believe even, as Jesus said, if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before; even if you see Him rise from the dead, as Jesus said elsewhere (Luke 16:31). Because you won’t know that He does these things for you. You’ll grumble, like the people then, that God isn’t being very God-like. You’ll complain that you’re not getting what you deserve. You’ll think you’re not getting the credit and praise you got coming. You’ll be offended at being called sinner . . . and walk away.

But if you don’t walk away, you’ll hear most wonderful words. I baptize you. I forgive you. You are my son, my daughter. Today you will be with me in Paradise. Come to the feast. This is My Body, this is My Blood. Peace. Well done, good and faithful servant. These are the words of eternal life. Gift words. God-for-you words. That you too believe and know that Jesus is the Holy One of God. That the baby in the manger is the Holy One of God. That the man rejected in His own hometown is the Holy One of God. That that one hanging out with prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners, and lepers is the Holy One of God. That the criminal being scourged and mocked and then hung up on a cross is the Holy One of God. That this one who looks anything but holy and god-like is the Holy One of God. The Holy One of God for you. For you unholy, to make you holy, with a holiness you do not have and cannot have apart from Him.

That’s the truth, and Jesus will not walk it back. He is faithful to His Father and steadfast for you. And so His call goes out still today: don’t walk away, repent. Don’t walk away, listen. Hear His words of eternal life. And through those words the Spirit will work and the Father will draw us to Himself. That’s the only way. To walk away is to walk back to sin and death, but faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17)

So hear. You may not understand everything and have all the answers. That’s okay. You don’t have to have them; He does. He who knows all things and knows you, His child. He knows your need and has come to fill you with Himself. So if you’re ever tempted to walk back, do this instead: walk back to your baptism, and remember your adoption there as a child of God and the forgiveness He has promised you. Walk back to the mercy promised you in absolution. And walk back to this altar, to the Body and Blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. And you have His promise: that in this eating and drinking there is forgiveness, life, and salvation. As often as you do this. For the flesh of the One who won your forgiveness on the cross is placed into your mouth. The life-blood of the One who poured out His life for you is poured over your lips. The One who gave everything for you, holding back not one little thing, holds back nothing here either. Forgiveness, life, and salvation yours. And He will not walk it back. 

So what ever happened to those folks that day who walked away? We’re not told. But I’ll bet Jesus prayed for them. For after this day Jesus went to the cross and died for them and their sin too. And maybe later they came back. Maybe they were among the 3,000 who were baptized at Pentecost. 

And He prays for you, just as He died for you. 

And what about those who walk away today? Well, don’t give up on them either. Pray for them. And tell them, when you have the chance, of a God who doesn’t walk it back, and what good news that is. That His gifts are here for sinners like us. That His life is here for us who die. So come and get it! Come and get Him.

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

Thursday, August 13, 2015

St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Mary’s Song, Our Song”
Text: Luke 1:46-55

It is instructive to note who God uses to accomplish His work. Abraham was an idolater. Jacob was a heel and a deceiver of his own family - selling out his brother and then deceiving his father. Moses was a murderer, Amos a shepherd. Peter, James, and John were fishermen. And Mary - well, she was a nobody. Her claim to fame . . . well, she didn’t have any claim to fame. All we know about her was that she lived in Nazareth and was betrothed to a man named Joseph. If you were going to pick someone to be the mother of our Lord, Mary would not have been it. 

But that’s how God works, setting us up for His biggest surprise of all - for who would be the Saviour of the world. A baby born not in splendor or glory, but in poverty and lowliness, in a manger, from a virgin who was on the verge of her fiancĂ© divorcing her and putting her away discretely, to consign her to a life of quiet shame. 

This one, God says, is the one. The Father of all mankind looked on the humbled estate of his servant and chose her. Not because she earned it or deserved it. That was as impossible for Mary as it is for you. No, this choosing was pure grace. Completely undeserved. All mercy. All of God and not of man . . . or woman. And so this maiden nobody would have ever heard of, becomes the one that from now on all generations will called blessed

Blessed, because He who is mighty has done great things for her. For that is what it means to be blessed - to be the recipient of blessing from the hand of the holy one. 

And you have been so blessed, though we do not always realize it. In fact, all people are so blessed. God gives daily bread to everyone without our prayer, even to all evil people, but we pray that He may lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving (Small Catechism, explanation to the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer). Mary did, and so said: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Even though her blessing began with an unexpected child and ended with the heart-piercing grief of seeing that fruit of her womb crucified.

So Mary received from the Lord in faith - in the faith that all from the hand of the Lord is for good, not for shame; for our salvation, not for harm. Sometimes that takes a lot of faith to believe, as you know from your own life. When it seems as if God is sending things into your life that are not good. Things that you’d really rather not have to endure. Things that bring hardship, suffering, pain, or grief. But just as God often does His greatest work through humble and lowly people, so He often does His greatest work through these humble and lowly and seemingly-not-good things. Unexpected, and so marvelous and wonderous. 

And example 1-A of that is not only Jesus, but the cross that He hung on. That God would give life by dying. That He would exalt by becoming lowly. That He would heal by being wounded. That He would make rich by becoming poor. That He would bless by becoming a curse.

But He does so because that’s where we are. Dying, lowly, wounded, poor, and cursed. He comes to us where we are, to raise us to where He is; to do great things for us. And if we sometimes get too full of ourselves, too prideful, too much thinking that we deserve anything from Him . . . well, He’ll scatter the proud, bring down the high and mighty, and send the rich away empty, in order that He might be merciful, and gather us to Him, exalt us in Him, and fill us with Him. That we be truly blessed - not just with the things of this world and life, but with that which will last to eternal life. For His mercy is for those who fear Him, from generation to generation. To the end of time.

So God filled Mary with Jesus. And He fills you with Jesus too. The same Spirit that overshadowed Mary and conceived a son in her, has come to you in Holy Baptism and conceived faith in you. God has done great things for you and you have been so blessed. And He who has done so, giving His Son for you and giving His Son to you, will not stop giving, and blessing, and being merciful. He helped His servant Israel, and He helps you too. He promised, and sealed that covenant with the blood of Jesus.

So as Luther would say, we are beggars, it is true. But it is good to be a beggar when God is the giver and blesser. For then coming with nothing, we leave with everything, for we leave with Jesus. For that is the way of it with God. Come with sin, leave with His righteousness. Come in lowliness, leave with His glory. Come in poverty, leave with His riches. Come dying, leave with His life.

And when you know that, when the Holy Spirit has worked such faith in your heart and revealed this truth to you, the truth of Jesus, who could not break forth in song like Mary did? And so we will. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, we’re going to sing right now. For He has done great things for you.


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

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Pentecost 11 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Come. Eat. Live.”
Text: John 6:35-51 (Ephesians 4:17-5:2; 1 Kings 19:1-8)

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

I had the opportunity to have some good conversations with Bishop Omolo of Kenya this week. We talked about all sorts of things, and one of the things we talked about was food. He’s been in the United States some five weeks now, traveling about, thanking donors and trying to raise awareness of the struggle many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are enduring - especially the widows and orphans. After five weeks, he said, he was ready to go home. And one of the things he missed the most was the food. American food is good, he said, but very different, very heavy, and so he had gained some weight. And then we talked about the food I remembered eating when I was there - the pineapple, how amazingly sweet and juicy it was; so much better than the ones we get here. And the small sweet bananas they have there. He couldn’t wait to go home and have “his” food again.

And then I got to thinking: I wonder if Adam and Eve had thoughts like that? Memories of the food they had in the Garden before they were stupid and ruined it all. When they weren’t satisfied with all the food God had given them and wanted more, just one more. Adam lived some 900 years after that horrible day, every year of it spent working for his food - tilling, planting, weeding, harvesting, grinding, baking, toiling under a hot sun with a now uncooperative soil. I wonder if he and Eve ever reminisced . . . about how good it was, how sweet and abundant the fruit, and how they would probably give anything to go back again. To undo what they had done and enjoy that bounty once more. But they couldn’t. Their sin had made that impossible.

Maybe you have some memories like that . . . from your childhood, or another time past, food that your mother or father or grandmother or grandfather made, or from a vacation . . .

So what if you could? What if we all could? Go back. Go back to such food. Or, have food that maybe you never had before and had only heard of - but here’s the offer. Come! Let’s go. I’ll take you there. I’ll give it to you. And you won’t believe it. I cannot even begin to tell you how good it is . . .

Well that’s what Jesus is saying today. The verses in the Holy Gospel are continuing Jesus’ teaching of the crowd after He fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish, and after they chased after Him and found Him the next day on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Last week He told them to stop chasing after food that perishes; food that is here today and gone tomorrow, and that you will eat until you die; post-sin-Adam food. There’s a better food that Jesus has come to bring. I am the bread of life, He said. Bread that doesn’t just sustain the life you already have, but bread that gives the life you need.

And today we learn more about that as we continue with Jesus’ teaching. He says: I have food for you so that you will never hunger again, and never thirst again. Or in other words, for your every need to be satisfied, as it was in the beginning. I’ve come to bring it to you, and to take you to it on the last day. To take you back home, to Paradise. Your parents were cast out of the Garden, out of Paradise, and into the wilderness. I have come to take you in the wilderness back to Paradise again. Not just to feed you here in the wilderness; not just to make your life a bit more tolerable here, for a time. But to restore what was lost. To take you back again. And then, raised on the last day and restored to what once was, you will never be cast out. For whoever comes to me, whoever comes with me, Jesus says, will never be cast out. I am this bread of life. This is the reason my Father sent me. To give life to the world.

For to Adam it was said: eat of this tree and die. But truly, truly, Jesus says, if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. The Tree of Life, back on earth again. So what do you say? Sounds like a good deal.

Well here’s what the Jews said: You can’t do that. We know who you are. We know where you’re from - you came down from Nazareth, not heaven. We know your Mom and Dad. You’re like us. You’re in this world, this wilderness, with us. Jesus, your words are writing checks your body can’t cash!

Except Jesus could do that. He would do that. And He did do that. Because His body, His flesh, would write the check to pay the debt of sin on the cross. He provides life for the world because He takes the sin of the world upon Himself. All the life-stealing sin of the world robs Him of His life, so with the wages of sin paid with His death, life could reign again. And we see that it did with His resurrection. A resurrection to life He provides for us. Yes, He says, I will raise him up - I will raise you up - on the last day. Death defeated and sin forgiven. For I am the bread of life. With me, in me, you have life. 

Yet just as the Jews didn’t believe, so satan is constantly tempting us not to believe either. Hissing to us, as he did to Adam and Eve, that life is found over here, in something else. That you don’t need that bread; have this bread instead. It’s better. Really. Trust me. And many listen - we so often listen! - and look for life where it cannot be found. Tasting what we should not taste; forbidden fruit. Looking for life in the things of this world, looking for life in ourselves and we can accomplish, looking for life all over the place in the latest fads and promises of the world, rather than where it really is - in Christ, the bread of life. Which is to be, as Paul said, like the Gentiles, like unbelievers. Acting like them, like everyone else; like there’s no difference. Hard of heart, dark of mind, calloused, futile. Futile, like a hamster trying to get someplace running on its wheel. Futile, like trying to go up the down escalator. 

But, Paul says, that is not the way you learned Christ! That’s not who you are. That is not what you learned of baptism, where you died and rose with Christ; where the Father made you His child; and where the Spirit has given you the forgiveness of your sins and a new life.

And that is not what you learned here as you receive the forgiveness of sins. That coming here with a burdened and troubled conscience, Jesus gives you peace with His absolution. That for all your sin for which you should be cast out, you receive the Father’s welcome instead. For Jesus was cast out for you, that you never be; that you have life.

And that is not what you learned as you hear the words of Jesus proclaiming: This is My Body, This is My Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Here is food for your hunger and drink for your thirst. Here is Jesus come down from heaven and giving Himself and all that He is and all that He has to you. That you live now. That you live forever. For the one who gave His flesh for the life of the world here gives His Body and Blood to give life to you

Yet just as the Jews in Jesus’ day, so satan is saying today: these things can’t do that! We know what these things are, we know where they come from, from the tap, from the store, from the traditions of men, not from heaven. 

Don’t be fooled, persuaded, deceived, or mislead. That man from Nazareth was more than just a man, and these things are more that just things. For the Word and promise of God make them more than just what meets the eye. This water, these words, this bread and wine, are bread of life. This water, these words, this bread and wine are exactly what you need. This water, these words, this bread and wine are the food we need not to get to the mountain of God, like Elijah, but are the food from the mountain of God, from that mountain called Golgotha, to give us the life we need. To refresh us, to sustain us, to strengthen us. To soften our hard hearts, enlighten our dark minds, to open our deaf ears and blind eyes, and give us Christ.

That’s the food that’s here for you, served over and over. Food from your true home and that takes you home - from sin to righteousness, from wilderness to heaven. So that on the last day of your sojourn, you will be raised up from death to life and live forever. And then home, the real feast will begin: the feast that has no end; the marriage feast of the Lamb. Jesus wants you there at that feast, and so He comes here now to this feast, that you feast on Him. For as He said: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. Yes, the good, sweet, life-giving Tree of Life, back on earth again!

Come. Eat. Live.

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

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Pentecost 10 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“What Are You Chasing?”
Text: John 6:22-35 (Exodus 16:2-15; Ephesians 4:1-16)

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

You think Jesus would have been happy that people were coming after Him, chasing Him down. The people woke up the morning after Jesus had fed them, feeding the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish, and when they discovered He was no longer there, they went looking for Him, even sailing across the Sea of Galilee to find Him. That took some effort. And that’s a good thing, isn’t it? 

Well apparently not. For when they find Jesus and try to figure out how and when He got there - since there was only one boat the day before and Jesus sent the disciples away in it and didn’t go with them - Jesus doesn’t seem particularly happy to see them. He doesn’t greet them, commend them for coming after Him, or speak some other warm and happy words to them. He says (and I paraphrase now): You came just because you want more free food. Stop it. There’s something more important going on here. That food I gave yesterday was a sign. I’m not here just to fill you bellies, but to fill your souls. I’m not here just to provide bread for this life, but for eternal life. For I’m not just a Rabbi, as you call me, but the Son of Man. You came all the way across this Sea for food that perishes - would you have come so far and worked so hard if I hadn’t fed you? For just my teaching? You wouldn’t have, would you? Yet that’s more important. You should be working harder for that food than for food that perishes; food that just leaves you hungry the next day again. Stop it. Repent. Think about that . . .

So just chasing after Jesus isn’t necessarily a good thing, if you’re chasing after Him for the wrong reasons. Yes, Jesus gives good things for this world and life, and He’s happy to do it. When the disciples were handing out the bread and fish, what do think the look on Jesus’ face was? Happiness? Delight? Joy? Sure! He is the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep and loves to do so. He loves giving gifts. But if we love the gifts more than the giver, if we chase after the gifts more than the giver, if our focus is the gifts more than the giver, then the gifts aren’t good anymore. Then they’ve become idols, false gods, what we live for and from. 

So think about it: what are you willing to “cross the sea” for? If you think about it a bit, you may not like the answers you come up with. Roads that seem too treacherous to drive to church are willingly braved to go to sporting events or parties. Checks that look so big going into the offering are written so easily for other things. Time that seems in such short supply for Scripture and prayer is lavished on television, computer games, Facebook, Twitter, music, and movies. Which is not to say we can’t do those other things - we can, and there’s nothing wrong with them. Our Lord gives us things in this world to enjoy. We don’t have to be and shouldn’t be monks. 

And yet, it’s sobering isn’t it? Thinking about your life and how things are sometimes out of whack? When we’re willing to “cross the sea” for the gifts but not the giver of those gifts? Yes, we do it too. For our sinful nature will always go after and cling to the things of this world - the gifts, rather than the giver. And when it does, as that day in Capernaum, we need to hear Jesus’ rebuke. We need to repent.

Now at this point, the people seem willing to do so; to repent. They didn’t turn around and go back after Jesus rebukes them - and apparently isn’t going to produce more bread - they stay and ask of Him. They want to learn more. So okay, Jesus. You told us not to work for food that perishes but for the food that endures to eternal life. How do we do that? What must we do, to be doing the works of God?

Perhaps the answer they expected, and that we might expect here, is: the Ten Commandments. What must we do? The Ten Commandments. Love God, love your neighbor. Pray, read your Bible, go to church, honor your father and mother, don’t murder, lead sexually pure and decent lives, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t covet what your neighbor has, to enrich yourself at his expense. But no, Jesus doesn’t say that. Because doing those things cannot get you eternal life. Doing those things are good and the way we should live, but they cannot atone for the sins you’ve already done and which have already produced the death you’re going to die. Even if we could somehow begin doing them perfectly now. When it comes to eternal life, they’re not the answer.

Rather, Jesus says, believe in him whom [the Father] has sent. Or in other words, put your faith not in yourselves and what you can do, but in the one who was sent - not across a Sea, but across time and space, from heaven to earth - to provide eternal life. Who was sent to do those things you cannot do. Who was sent to forgive sins and conquer death. Put all your chips on Him. If you’re going to “cross the sea,” cross it to receive these things, these promises, from Him, not for food that perishes. Not for food that’s here today and gone tomorrow.

Okay. Show us a sign then, they say. You can almost imagine the scene. We don’t know how many people were there, but it was a crowd and as crowds do, they were probably all shouting different things at different times. And so the guy over here shouts: Show us a sign! And then another guy yells: Yeah, what work do you perform? And then from somewhere further back: Our fathers at the manna in the wilderness - He gave them bread from heaven to eat. The implication being: you’re bread was pretty good, but you just gave us that earthly bread you’re talking about, food that perishes. That’s why we’re back for more. If you’re talking about greater bread, give us a greater sign. 

Well Jesus really had just done such a sign. The same God who rained bread from heaven (as we heard in the Old Testament reading from Exodus) is the same God who had just fed the 5,000. A little different procedure, but the same gift, same God. But they were blind. They couldn’t see how great that was, or what it meant. They wanted to see something more spectacular in order to believe what Jesus was saying.

And again, that’s a trap so easy for us to fall into, too. The thinking: the more spectacular, the more true. The bigger the better. But it’s not always so. In the Epistle from Ephesians, Paul said that when Jesus ascended . . . he gave gifts to men. And what were those gifts? And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers. Oh. Hmm.  . . .  

And he gave them, these people, Paul goes on to say, to equip the saints, to do the work of the ministry, to build up the body of Christ. And to do that through preaching, and through giving the gifts of baptism and absolution and the Lord’s Supper, and through these giving the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Oh. Hmm.  . . .  

And then Paul adds the goal: so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Or in other words, so that we stop “crossing the sea” for the things that really don’t matter. That we stop thinking and saying: Oh. Hmm, to His gifts and wishing for something more exciting, more spectacular. That we stop chasing so hard after the things that the world and maybe our sinful nature say are important and we need, and realize there’s more our Lord has for us. That really, what He wants to give us is Himself.

And that’s what Jesus finally then says. I am the bread of life. I am the one sent from God. I am the one who crossed time and space. I am the one sent to give you eternal life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 

That’s not just a statement; that’s a promise. Enjoy the things of this world, yes. But when you get them and still find there’s something missing, that there’s a hunger and thirst that all the things of this world are unable to satisfy or quench, you will find it in Him. And He comes to give Himself to you. To fill you with Himself. And for far longer than the 40 years Israel spent in the wilderness - for an eternity. And the sign He did for that was the sign of Jonah. He was swallowed up not by a fish but by death - your death and mine. And then on the third day rose from that death, spit out by a death that could not hold the perfect and innocent one, to live as the victor over sin, death, grave, and devil forever. What sign will you do that we may believe? That’s the sign. The one who descended in death is now ascended in life, and because He has, so will you; so will all who are joined to Him.

And so He comes for you again today, filling His Word with His forgiveness, filling this bread and wine with His Body and Blood. That you feed on Him and have the greater gift. That you feed on Him and have not just life, but eternal life. 

And if Moses were here today, he would say, this is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. And then St. Paul would add, that we may live and grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. That we grow. Grow in His mercy, grow in His grace, grow in His forgiveness, grow in His life. Grow in prayer, grow in His Word, grow in faith, grow in Him. And grow together - one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all. Here is the Bread of Life that produces such a life. So if you’re going to “cross the sea,” cross the sea for this. Imperishable bread for an imperishable life. So Come, Jesus says, and feast, on Him. Come, Jesus says, and live. Come, Jesus says. Come!

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