Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cross Bearing

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 28, Year of Our + Lord 2011
Matthew 16:21-28

Good News!  If you want to come after Jesus, if you want to come into His kingdom with Him, you must deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Him.  Good News!  The Gospel of the Lord!  Self-denial.  Cross bearing.  How is this good news?

Many things may come to mind when we hear the words ‘cross bearing,’ and the first lie we must put aside this morning is our tendency to choose our own crosses, in order to show how well we bear them.  This is the hypocrite’s way out of cross bearing, and we’ve all done it.  My ‘blank’ is so difficult, so hard to bear, but I must hold up under the stress, and I will, because I am determined to follow Jesus.  We fill in the ‘blank’ with whatever manageable problem we choose, perhaps with our  husband or wife, who is so easy to blame for all my troubles.  Perhaps you fill in the blank of your self-chosen cross bearing with your boss, or your unruly children, or the sad fact that some of your friends and neighbors have nicer things than you do.  No matter, whenever we choose our own crosses, they are false, watered-down, self-chosen burdens that we use to make ourselves look or feel good.  As soon as we feel a desire to brag about the burdens we are bearing, as soon as we want others to know how hard we are working for the Lord, then we should know this is not the cross-bearing of which Jesus speaks.   

Real crosses kill people.  True crosses are thrust upon you, and nobody who is truly bearing a cross wants to brag about it.  Oh yes, Jesus tells us we must pick them up, but remember that Jesus picked up the cross that the Roman soldiers forced upon Him, those soldiers being a visible and earthly symbol of the Law of His Father, the One truly telling Jesus to pick it up, pick up the cross, for this is My will. 

True crosses come in many forms, but share the same characteristics.  True crosses are unavoidable, real burdens thrust upon a Christian for being a Christian.  We would rather not talk about true crosses, burdens that we would truly like God to take from us, but which He doesn’t.  Thy will be done. 

They can be physical.  The Baptized have been promised eternal health by the Christ who has joined Himself to them by water and the Word.  The promise of eternal health heightens the pain of illness and injury, because the Baptized know they are to be set free, and yet, for a time, they must wait, suffering the earthly consequences of sin like everybody else, even though their sins have been washed away.

True crosses can be emotional, stemming from the social cost that comes with living out the name ‘Christian.’  To live out the name Christian means you will do, and do cheerfully, many things that the world will deem to be foolish, foolish things like denying the lies of evolution, which seem so impressive, but which at its core denies God, saying life is one big meaningless accident.  Living out the name Christian means doing foolish things like rejecting the sexual revolution, which exchanges the gift of love between a man and woman for the self-centered pursuit of pleasure at all cost, or foolish things like denying American civic religion, which preaches that God loves Americans who dedicate their lives to being good people, good citizens.  Refuse consistently to go along with these or other popular trends in the world, and you will learn the cross of rejection, ridicule, ostracism. 
True crosses can be financial, giving up opportunities for wealth, real money forfeited, because the business isn’t honest, or is based on taking advantage of the weak.  Being rich is no sin, but if your riches are in reality simply the money you have helped the fool part with, or if gaining your riches requires neglecting your spouse and children, of failing to raise them up in Christ, then you are called to deny yourself, and pick up the cross of saying no to your own desires.

Have we reached the Good News yet?  Cross bearing is difficult, painful.  Why do it?  Why not listen to Job’s wife, who suggested Job, deep in a pit of suffering, should curse God and die?  Or, if you have opportunity, why not eat, drink and be merry, for as long as you can? 

Why bear crosses?  First of all, because the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.  There will be an accounting, and everyone who has turned from the way of the Lord will be repaid.  We prefer to deny or ignore this bit of truth, but there it is, straight from Jesus’ mouth.  Bearing crosses simply means living in this sinful world as a follower of Christ, which is the only way to avoid everlasting punishment. 

The reality of Hell and the consequences of sin should wake us up to the folly of living selfishly.  But the End seems so far away, and sin is so attractive, and the world says you have a right to be happy.  Thank God, then, for earthly suffering.  The Lord doesn’t just let people blindly go through life, without any premonition of the punishments of Hell.  The ways of the world do seem pleasant, but God allows their emptiness and brokenness to inflict preliminary pain, in hope that sinners will, like the Prodigal Son, come to their senses and desire a return to the Father. 

It’s a start to realize that the way of this sinful world is a dead end, a painful, but good start.  But the depth of death at that dead end must be revealed, we would never get to the bottom on our own.  And so Jesus, right after Peter correctly confessed His identity as the Christ, the Son of the living God, began to reveal the work He had come to do, beginning 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.  This is the first cross that Christians must bear – confessing Christ had to be crucified, for you, for me.  This is the death of self, the death of pride, the confession of sin, utter sinfulness, and the inability to get free from sin.  And this is always the cross that Satan most wants you to avoid.  Above all things, Satan wants you to deny the Cross of Christ, to deny it for Jesus, and so also for yourself.  This was Peter’s error.  Peter knew who Jesus was, but he denied the Cross, he denied Jesus’ calling to die, in part I’m sure because of his love for and dependence on Jesus.  Peter simply didn’t want to think about Jesus dying such a horrible death.  The price seemed too high; why should salvation be so costly?  Is the world, am I, really this sinful?

Yes.  Look around, read the news, study history, look into your own heart.  The only way for sinners to be able to follow Jesus into His kingdom was for Jesus to suffer and die for all our sins.  So, why pick up this Cross?  Why confess that Jesus had to die, for me?  Because it’s true.  It’s true, and it’s necessary.  Deny the Cross of Christ and Jesus will call you Satan, because denying the cross is to join forces with Satan, just like Peter did. 
But let’s be honest.  Just hearing about how bad we are, about how overwhelming the power of sin is, this will only crush us down, and crushed down we will have not strength to pick up any crosses.  Being called Satan got Peter’s attention, but he wasn’t yet ready to lay down his life and pick up his cross, not yet. 

But there were better reasons coming to bear the cross, better reasons for Peter, and for you and me to confess that this is what it took to save us.  And those better reasons are Jesus, and the third day.  Because Jesus did it.  Despite the denials and failures of Peter, and the rest of the disciples, despite your denials and failures, despite Judas and the Pharisees, despite the sins of the whole world, indeed for the sins of the whole world, Jesus picked up His cross.  Despite the fact no one understood, no one could follow Him to Golgotha, despite the fact Jesus was utterly alone, He did it.  Jesus endured the cross, willingly, for the privilege of having you for his very own.  This is love, Jesus suffering and dying, so that in His third day resurrection He could give you new birth, a fresh start, complete, free forgiveness, and everlasting life. 

Jesus says that on the Last Day He will repay each person according to what he has done.  The remarkable, joyful Good News about cross-bearing is that to each sinner who confesses that his sin was why Jesus suffered and died, God reveals His great exchange: the death and punishment of the sinner has been taken by Jesus, and Christ’s life of good works and faithfulness to God is given to the sinner.  Jesus Christ, His life, His good works, His death, and His death defeating resurrection, all of Christ is for you.  God has declared it, and so it is. 

Meditate on this miracle, ponder His love for you.  And then, by the power of His love, bearing the unavoidable crosses of Christian living becomes possible, even desirable, because this is the life that God is using to bring you to Himself, forever and ever.  Your future, your life, is secure, with Jesus.  Nothing can take Him away from you, or you away from Him.

Cross bearing is still not easy, in fact it would still be impossible, except that Christ is with you, His Spirit lifts you up, His Father seeks you out to bless you, even in the middle of suffering.  Cross bearing, living as a Christian, confessing your sins daily, and daring to serve the people God puts in your life, this is the work of God, in you. 

Cross bearing is also the work of God, in you, for the life of the world.  Every day of Cross bearing by His people is an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to the world.  When the world sees Christians living in Christ, bearing crosses, serving neighbors, gathering to be forgiven and fed, most of the time the world’s response is to ridicule, and sometimes it is to take advantage.  But sometimes, by God’s power, the world sees Christians living as Christians, bearing crosses, and their response is wonder, and awe, and maybe even a question, to you, about why, why would you live that way?  And then, with God’s help, you can say, “Because of Jesus, because He died for me, and rose for me, and forgives me all my sin.”  “Come, follow me to meet Jesus, the Savior of sinners, who bore the cross, for you.”  Amen.   

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Of Keys and Gates

Of Keys and Gates  (Matthew 16: 13 - 20)
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 21st, Year of Our + Lord 2011

     Ah, now here’s a sermon for a Marine to preach.  The gates of Hell, Jesus declares, will not prevail against My Church.  So let’s strap on our gear, grab our rifles, and get after it.  The time has come to throw ourselves into storming the gates of Hell, to bombard the battlements of Beelzebub, to be about destroying the defenses of the Devil.  Let’s go, you sons of Abraham, you daughters of destiny, what are you waiting for?  Do you want to live forever, or what?  It’s time to fight! 

     So, what do you think?  Sound good?  Make sense?  Yes?  No?  Maybe?  You may have heard sermons based off today’s text, sermons that, with or without the Marine Corps lingo, declare that if we are going to be real followers of Jesus, we must be bold in our assault of Satan’s stronghold.  This idea is promoted by many a church leader, a great way to get people fired up for a cause.  Well, in a week we will hear in vivid detail how things go, when, fresh off his great confession of Jesus as the Christ, Peter, the leader of the twelve, boldly tries to take charge, actually trying to apply his ideas and his authority to grow the Church, as he sees fit.  That bracing story is in next Sunday’s Gospel.  For now, let’s just remember that the validity of a particular idea about the Church and her business does not depend on what we think, or how hard we work, but rather on what God has said, and on what God has done, and is doing. 

     After all, if the true Church of God could be run based on the wisdom and strength of men and women, then why did we need a Savior?   We know better than to get caught up in a fervor about all the great things we are going to do.  We also know that our rule and guide is the Scripture, so let’s take this idea of storming the gates of Hell and see how it fits with what our text actually says. 

     Jesus does promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church.  However, nowhere does Jesus tell us to grab our weapons and assault Hell.  This imported idea stems from the fact that we quite naturally like to imagine ourselves the heroes in a great struggle.  And indeed there will at various times be great struggles in our lives as Christians, but are you the hero?  Essential to being a Christian is admitting that all the really important work, all the really difficult tasks, must be done by God, for us, because we just don’t have what it takes to save ourselves, or anyone else.    

     But then, what does Jesus mean about the gates of Hell not prevailing against His Church?  Peter has just correctly answered Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” by confessing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  How should we understand what Jesus says next?  Listen again:  Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

     Jesus praises Peter’s confession, because the right understanding of Jesus’ identity is the first essential building block of the Church.  Remember, the Church is not a building, or an institution, but rather the Church is the gathered believers in Jesus Christ.  So building the Church means bringing people to true faith in Christ.  Peter has, by the Father’s gift, come to believe and confess Jesus’ identity, leading Jesus to express great joy.  “Way to go, Rocky!”  Jesus promises to build His Church on the rock of Peter’s confession, that is on Peter and those to come who, like Peter, will be given the right understanding of who Jesus is. 

     Following this build my Church statement, Jesus promises “The gates of Hell shall not prevail against my Church!”  Great!  But what does this mean?  Notice, Jesus doesn’t say the Church is to assault the gates of Hell, but what else could He mean? 

     Let’s go back for a moment to how Christ builds His Church.  The Church is built when God brings unbelieving sinners to true faith in Christ.  Where are such unbelieving sinners before they are converted?  They are trapped in the Kingdom of Hell, bound by their sins to the devil.  Remember how Jesus describes His ministry, that He comes to set the prisoners free?  Prisoners of whom?  Prisoners of Satan, who rules the domain of the lost.  As Paul writes, we are saved when God transfers us from the domain of darkness to the Kingdom of His beloved Son.  The gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s Church, that is to say Hell has no power to hold sinners who trust in Christ. 

     Indeed, Jesus then goes on to talk about keys, which are used to lock and unlock doors, or gates.  Jesus tells Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  Peter and the other Apostles, and indeed as we hear later in Matthew 18, the whole Church, are given the authority to forgive and retain sins, which is called the Office of the Keys. 

     To bind and to loose.  To bind is simply to call a spade a spade, to correctly diagnose reality for sinners outside of God’s grace.  To bind is to declare to the unrepentant sinner that they face eternal punishment for their sins.  Binding is frightening work, but binding is used by the Holy Spirit to serve the Gospel.  The Church uses the binding key to bring sinners to repentance, that is to confession of and sorrow for their sin, and a desire to escape.  Binding seeks to prepare the sinner to be loosed.  For to loose is to forgive sins, to free repenting sinners from the gates of Hell, and usher them through the gates of Heaven.  The Apostles and the pastors following them are called out from the congregation to publicly administer the Office of the Keys, and the Church at large has this gift to use in your personal, private interactions, a gift to be extolled, the very power to free sinners from Hell, to open the gates of Hell by the forgiveness of sins, which robs Satan of all his power. 

     Indeed, as Luther states in the Large Catechism, “Everything, therefore, in the Christian Church is ordered toward this goal: we shall daily receive in the Church nothing but the forgiveness of sin through the Word and signs, to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here. So even though we have sins, the ‹grace of the› Holy Spirit does not allow them to harm us. For we are in the Christian Church, where there is nothing but ‹continuous, uninterrupted› forgiveness of sin. This is because God forgives us and because we forgive, bear with, and help one another.”[1]

     Pretty sweet.  But how can this be?  How is it possible that Christians can forgive sins, whether publicly or privately?  It might even seem the height of arrogance for one sinner, which is what every Christian is and remains throughout this earthly life, the height of arrogance for one sinner to presume to forgive another sinner.  Instead of gratitude for the gift, it is possible for the sinner who hears the Word of forgiveness from another sinner to think: “Who do you think you are, forgiving me?”  “Aren’t you high and mighty?”  The accusations can easily fly from our defensive lips.  Indeed, this is such an offensive notion that most Christian churches have ceded this power, giving up on the Church’s call to forgive sins, leaving individual sinners to seek their own forgiveness with God directly, on their own.   

    Most churches have given up the authority to forgive sins in God’s stead, which is a terrible tragedy, since God in His wisdom has not made Himself directly visible or directly audible to us.  Waiting on a direct declaration of forgiveness from God for my particular sins will leave me lingering in doubt, for there are many voices in my head, but God has not promised to speak to me directly.  When the Church abandons her authority to forgive sins, great harm is done, great comfort and assurance is forfeited, for God has chosen to speak through His Church, through His people, and especially through called public servants.  To set aside the blessing of one sinner forgiving another in God’s stead is to set aside the way God has designed to deliver forgiveness.   

     Still, the question remains:  On what basis is the Church to wield this power?  On what basis do the called and ordained servants of Christ publicly proclaim the forgiveness of sins?  On what basis are you, Christian, authorized to declare God’s forgiveness to another?  Well, it is not based on your goodness, or the righteousness of the pastor.  It does not depend on how holy or pious we Christians seem to be, nor on all the good works we do.  The power of forgiveness is based on one thing only, the blood of Christ. 

     The power of sin is the law of God, which promises punishment for all sin.   Therefore, the power of Satan is also the law of God, the evil one locking sinners within the gates of Hell by the combination of their sin and the punishment God’s law demands.  But the blood of Jesus has paid for all sin.  The defeat of the gates of Hell is already complete, for this battle was won at the Cross.  Satan wants to hold sinners forever, but the blood of Jesus declares that his power to accuse and bind is a lie, an empty shell, a façade of power, an impressive looking gate that crumbles away, whenever we confront it with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

     The blood of Jesus washes away all sin.  In the crucifixion of the Son of Man, all the wrath of God against human sin was poured out.  And so the authority to forgive sins rests in Christ, crucified and resurrected, and He is the one who has given this authority to His Church.  The sinner who declares God’s forgiveness, whether publicly in the Sunday service or privately in the home, workplace or coffee shop, is God’s chosen representative, but the power of the gift is always the blood of Jesus.   

     If ever we are to speak of storming the gates of Hell, it would be in this context, the context of one sinner freeing another sinner from the power of Satan by the proclamation of God’s Law and Gospel.  No guns, no bravado, just the Word about Jesus’ Cross.   

     It is no fun to confess that we are constantly in need of forgiveness.  To confess the truth about who we are and what we say, think and do exposes all our weakness, shame and vice.  But to speak the truth is always worth it, for when we confess the truth about ourselves, we are then able and ready to confess, hear, receive, believe and rejoice in the truth about Jesus.  For He is the crucified and resurrected Christ, the Son of the Living God.  In Him, by Him, through Him, the gates of Hell are blown open, and the Kingdom of Heaven is open to you, for your sins are forgiven, in Jesus’ blood, Amen. 

[1]Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 (Edited by Paul Timothy McCain) (405). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mongrels of the Master

Mongrels of the Master (Matthew 15:27)
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
August 14th, Year of Our + Lord 2011

In the Name of Jesus.

      That was an odd song to sing today, “What is This Bread?,” odd to be singing a Lord’s Supper song on this non-communion Sunday.  Or, perhaps it’s better to say this is an odd Sunday not to be celebrating the Lord’s Supper.  Because the Canaanite woman would really get this song.  The answers to each stanza’s first line, ‘What is this bread, What is this wine,’ ‘So who am I,’ ‘And is God here,’ and finally, ‘Is this for me,’ the answers to these questions would come quickly to her lips, her great faith joyfully singing the Good News of the Supper.  And her grace-hungry mouth would eagerly receive the crumbs of life which the Son of David provides to us here, at this altar, whenever we kneel around His meal.

     Yes, it is odd to not celebrate the Supper when we talk about the Canaanite woman, odd even though her story comes before the Supper was instituted, before the Sacrifice was made, before the Resurrection revealed the hope and promise Jesus gives in Holy Communion.  Her story comes before Maundy Thursday, when Jesus gave us His Supper, and before Good Friday and Easter, when He fulfilled its promise, but the Canaanite woman’s faith is the same as every Christian’s faith, only stronger and bolder than most, certainly stronger and bolder than mine. 

     For she pursues Jesus and the saving power she knows He has, this foreign woman demonstrating her understanding and faith in the Messiah of Israel.  Even though she can hardly know the details of how Jesus would complete and deliver the salvation of the world, even though she probably cannot yet confess the Crucifixion and Third Day Resurrection, still, she knows, with deep conviction, who this man Jesus is, and what He has come to do.  She knows that she, and her daughter, need this Man, more than anyone else, more than anything else.  For this Jesus is the Lord and at the same time the Son of David, the promised descendent of ancient King David who would come to be the glory of Israel and a light to all the nations.  She knows this Man Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the promised Savior, who is in truth God Himself, the eternal Son of God entered into human flesh, in order to free Israel, and indeed the whole world, from the power of sin.
     Her faith and conviction lead her to break all the cultural norms, to expose herself to abuse, ridicule, public embarrassment, all of these accepted by her, because she knows no one else can help her daughter, severely oppressed by a demon.  God has broken into human history, and He has made Himself known to her, accessible to her.  She believes He can do whatever it takes to save her daughter, and she would have no problem believing that Jesus could and would give His body and blood to His Church to eat and drink.  Why couldn’t He, after all?  Jesus is Lord.

     Buddhists believe that god is truly present in every living thing.  Mormons believe through dedicated service and clean living, the males of the species can begin the upward evolution into becoming gods themselves.  But Christians, who confess that, in Jesus Christ, God became a man, appearing and acting in verifiable human history, Christians, who have more and better evidence to support the fundamental facts of their faith history than any other religion, still Christians struggle to believe that in the Supper we receive the true body and blood of Christ. 

     Why is this?  Oh sure, the Real Presence is a mystery, contrary to what our eyes see, not rational according to human reason, but most Christians readily accept other mysteries, other teachings that depend solely on God’s Word, mysteries we accept in faith.  What is it about the Supper that makes it so hard to believe? 

     Consider the insult.  Very often it’s not so much believing in the unseen that causes us to doubt and qualify and deny the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Supper.  Rather, we may recoil at the insult we think the Supper hurls at us.  For what does the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Supper say about you?  At one level, the Supper says “this is what it took, sinner, to save you. Your salvation required the innocent suffering and cruel death of Jesus Christ.  Nothing else would do, no lesser sacrifice could take away the sin you’ve committed, that you are still committing.” 

     God might as well call you a dog, like Jesus does the Canaanite woman.  After ignoring and rebuffing her pleas for mercy because she wasn’t an Israelite, Jesus then says worse.   As she persists in her cries for mercy, Jesus puts her in her place:  "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."  You are not worthy, woman, sinner, dog, to receive such a high honor as to be fed at the table of the Christ. 
     What Jesus says to the woman about her unworthiness applies just as well to you and me, in our sinfulness.  The Holiness of God is non-negotiable.  Even if our sins were few and minor, which we all know isn’t true, even still, the least sin means we deserve to be cut off from God, like dogs.  Hearing such an insult, we are tempted to anger, to fight back, to storm off from the table, and find some religion that doesn’t expose our sins quite so vividly, some savior who isn’t so coarse, so rude.  How dare He say that to her?  To me? 

     But wait.  That’s not how the Canaanite woman hears Jesus, and in truth that is not the intent or final meaning of His words.  Jesus, by rebuffing her and calling her a dog is in truth setting her up for the highest honor.  Jesus, the Word made flesh, the hope of the world, the preacher of preachers, gives this woman the highest honor today.  Jesus gives her the privilege of declaring the Gospel, allowing her to be the one who proclaims this good news:  Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table. 

     Did you hear that?  In the Kingdom of Christ, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table, so I thrill to be called a dog by Jesus.  For Jesus, in love toward God His Father, and in mercy toward you and me, took on Himself our sin, so that we sinful dogs might be declared Holy. As long as you know the Master, the Canaanite woman joyfully preaches, as long as you acknowledge your sinful need and seek crumbs from His table, you will be fed by the Lord God almighty, fed forgiveness and everlasting life, because that is who the Master is.  Jesus Christ, Lord and Son of David, is the forgiveness and life of God, given to us sinners, to us dogs, so that we can live, with Him, both today, and forever and ever. 

     By some unreported miracle of His Word, this Canaanite woman has been brought to believe that it is the highest of compliments to be called a dog by Jesus.  To be claimed as a mongrel of the Master the sweetest praise, the best of news.  Great indeed is her faith, great because it knows that just a crumb from Jesus is all she needs, all her daughter needs, for Jesus is God our Savior, come to set sinners free from guilt and death and the power of the devil. 
     The people of Israel, the Jews of Jesus’ day, had in their self-pride codified the most common sin of mankind, which is the idea that the good life with God depends on me, on what I do, or who my parents are.  Like so many Jews back then, who were sure they were doing what was required to save themselves, we Christians are susceptible to believing that the things we do in Church and life are earning God’s favor.  There are many things to do in Church, and in life, but by none of these can you or I earn God’s favor, for we are sinners, tainting each attempted good deed with our pride, selfishness, lust, or laziness. 

     It is God who draws us here to hear His Word and do the things we do, but even our most pious actions do not win God’s favor.  No, first God must and does come here to favor us, to give us what we need.  And He does, because Jesus has won God’s eternal favor for us.  Apart from God’s action on us, all our religious acts are empty.  But because God in Christ does meet us whenever we gather in His name, because He comes to teach and forgive and feed us, because the Master is the one at work here, the simple things that happen here are holy, and filled with life and joy, for you. 

     Like the Canaanite woman, we have been blessed with the knowledge of who Jesus is.  Even more, we are continually given access to Him in His Word and Sacraments.  And because Jesus has suffered for the sins of the whole world, we can announce this gift to the world.  We can tell our demon oppressed neighbors and friends, our demon oppressed sons and daughters.  What’s that?  You don’t think you know anyone who is oppressed by demons?  Well, in our culture Satan is happy to keep his demons undercover, but remember, anyone who is not owned by the Master Jesus is by default owned by Satan.  The Devil possesses every sinner who has not been rescued from his domain of darkness.  But we have good news, for everyone, the strange gift of calling people dogs, in order that they, like us, can rejoice in being fed from the Master’s table. 

     God grant that in this life we, with the Canaanite woman, may always acknowledge that we are dogs, poor miserable sinners, acknowledging this truth, even as we eagerly seek the crumbs of Jesus, crumbs from His table that give life, by the blood bought forgiveness of all our sins.  May we ever rejoice in being mongrels of the Master, Amen. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Look To Jesus

Two new baptized children of God this weekend, Bodie Ryan Herman, yesterday afternoon, and at Trinity this morning, Max David Vern Kleinke, two young sons brought by their parents to the washing of Christ, born again by water and the Word, adopted by God the Father, given the gift of the Holy Spirit.  So, while the congregations are welcome to listen in, the message this morning is really intended for Max and Bodie.  The rest of you may take from it what you can.

Bodie, Max, God’s message to you this day is “Look to Jesus.”  It’s as simple as that. Except, as your fellow baptized Christians here this morning will tell you, it’s never quite that simple.  Look to Jesus is excellent advice, and if we could correctly understand it and do it with any consistency at all, we wouldn’t need to keep coming back here.  But we don’t always get it, and all too rarely do it, so, Max, Bodie, you’ll need to keep coming back to hear this message again.  Which is good, joyful really.  Not joyful every time; there will be plenty of Sundays when you put up a fuss and drag your little feet, trying to get Mom and Dad to skip Church.  But you, and they, need to keep hearing this message.  And at the core, in the end, living actively in the Church of Christ, gathering regularly to hear Him and receive His gifts, this is the only way to live. 

Max and Bodie, as we rejoice in your Baptisms this morning, we also have more good news, because God’s Word to you today is a really good place to start understanding the what and how of looking to Jesus.  So let’s get you started. 

Look to Jesus.  Don’t try to look past Him.  You’re in the big wide world now, and before long you are going to start asking some hard questions, about God, about life, about why things are how they are.  It’s natural, and it’s o.k.  Just remember, don’t try to look past Jesus for answers, because you can’t see God except in and through Jesus. 

The hard truth is that in this fallen world, there are quite a few questions God has not chosen to completely answer for us, like why evil happens to Christians, or to anybody, for that matter.  And why some sinners are saved by the Gospel, and other sinners reject it.  These are the kind of questions Job asks in the book that bears his name, from which today we heard the Lord’s response to Job’s “why God” questions.  Job demanded to know why he, a faithful believer in the Lord and His promises, was suffering so much.  God’s answer? Where were you Job, when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.   God points out that He is the Creator, and we are creatures, fallen, sin-damaged creatures at that.  God doesn’t explain an answer to Job, because there is no way for us small, weak, sinful creatures to understand all that God the Creator and Savior is doing. 

But don’t fuss boys, God does not leave Job, or you, in a lurch.  The Lord does not simply say shut up, and walk away.  No, the Lord lets Job know that some questions will not be answered in this life, and then the Lord delivers Job.  The Lord rescues Job from his suffering, returning twofold all that he had lost, saving Job from evil, and from his own shallow understanding. 

God kept His promise to care for Job, for the sake of the Savior that Job believed in, the Redeemer that Job knew lives, the Redeemer Job knew he would one day see face to face.  That same Redeemer has saved you boys, through the washing of water and the Word, which binds you to His Cross, and His Resurrection.  In Jesus God has given us all we need for salvation, He is our answer.  When you have hard questions, don’t try to look past Jesus, look to Him.  Take your questions to His Cross. 

Max, Bodie, look to Jesus, habitually.  We already touched on this, but it’s really important, so we will expand a bit.  In our Gospel this morning we see Jesus, going up on the mountain alone to pray, to have communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Bodie, Max, consider this:  If Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, needed to commune with God, how much more do we need to do the same?  Make a habit of communing with God, because you need to, because you are still sinners.  You need to, because you cannot maintain your own faith, for your faith can only feed on Jesus, the true bread from heaven.  Come to Christ, habitually, so that when your fervor dims, your habits will keep you coming, so that the Holy Spirit can re-ignite your faith, by the life-giving power of forgiveness. 

Look to Jesus, boys.  But where?  Where are you to go to find Jesus?  Up on a mountain top? Out in the great wide world?  Or perhaps deep inside your heart, or your mind?  Should you go searching for miraculous healings and amazing events in order to find Jesus?  No, from Paul learn to look to Jesus in the places He has promised to be found.  For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!"

Like a golfer keeping His head down, focused on the ball all the way through His swing, you need to focus on Jesus, all through your life, and the place you can find Jesus is in the proclamation of His Word.   The Lord God, the ruler of heaven and earth, the source of all power and life, chooses to make Himself present to you in His lowly Word, and in the signs He has given.  The first sign is Baptism, your new gift, which is also new every day, for all the baptized.  Look also to Jesus in the Supper, under the bread and wine, for He has promised to be there, too, for you.  God is hiding in plain sight, happy to send His Word wielding Spirit to create the faith which sees Him wherever His Word is proclaimed. Wherever sinners are washed and absolved and fed, there Jesus is present, with forgiveness, life and salvation.   

Bodie, Max, when Jesus calls you to do something, look to Him, right at Him, not at the wind and waves.  Boldly stepping out of the boat to answer Jesus’ call to walk on the water, Peter was doing o.k., staying up, on top of the water, right up until the moment he stopped looking to Jesus, and let his eyes wander to see the wind.  Losing sight of His Lord, Peter’s faith wavered, and he began to sink into the deadly waves.   When Jesus calls you, look to Him, focus on Him, not on the wind and waves. 

And what you ask, will be your wind and waves?  The temptations of the world, which will tell you that God is not real, which tell you to serve only yourself, trust only yourself.  These temptations are lies which will lead you into the sinking death of selfishness, unbelief and hopelessness.  These lies surround us, but Jesus is present for you.  Life and purpose and love, for you, and for you to share, are found in Christ.   Look to Jesus, not to the wind and waves. 

But perhaps, youngest Christians, you are wondering what Jesus will call you to do.  Well, for now, your calling is to be a son to your parents, and a brother.  Pretty sweet gigs, but they will bring their own wind and waves.  You will resist God’s call for you to obey your parents and love your brothers and sisters, the waves of sin will threaten you.  And, as you go through your life, Christ will give you more callings, like neighbor, friend, student, worker, husband, father.  The only way you or anyone else will begin to fulfill the things Christ calls us to do is if keep our eyes on Jesus. 

Finally, young Christian men, always look to Jesus as your Savior.  Too often preachers present Jesus as a life coach, clipboard and whistle in hand, encouraging you to step more lightly on the wave tops, come on, you can do it.  Or Jesus is preached as your new judge, slightly nicer than the Father, but an angry judge none the less, if you do not hold up your end of the bargain and live as rightly as you can.  Or, most ridiculous of all, Jesus is presented merely as your example to follow, as if you have the strength to live as He lived, to be as He is. 

When Jesus is preached as life coach, or judge, or example, you may feel motivated for a while to try really hard.  But you, like Peter, are going to look down.  You, like all the rest of the baptized here this morning, will look away from Christ, leading you to fail in your callings to serve family and friends, to fail to commune with God as you should, to try to reason your way through the hardest questions of life.  Bodie, Max, you will forget, in many ways, to look always to Jesus.  Then, your eyes filled with the problems and temptations of this world, you will begin to sink.  And if, sinking into the water, you see Jesus as only your coach, or your judge, or your example, well boys, then you will be sunk. 

Remember sinking Peter, remember His cry:  Lord, save me!  That’s who Jesus is, first and always, the Lord who saves, God Himself come down to earth, made to be a man, in order to save sinners from all our sins, all our problems, all our guilt, and from death that haunts and pursues us.  Look to Jesus as your crucified and resurrected Savior, for that is who He always is. 

Look to Jesus, and see that He did not really come down from heaven to feed crowds, or heal sick people, although these were good and right things to do, good things, but secondary.  His real purpose was to save, to bear your sins and bleed and die, so that in His bloody death you might find forgiveness, so that in His glorious resurrection on the third day, you might find new life.  And you have, for He has given both of these to you, His forgiving death and His eternal life, given to you, in your Baptism. 

Max, Bodie, look to the Cross.  Look to your Baptism.  Look to Jesus, call on His Name, and be saved, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.