Monday, March 26, 2012

God’s Way to Glory

Fifth Sunday of Lent, and the Annunciation, March 25th, Year of Our + Lord 2012
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
God’s Way to Glory - Mark 10:32-45

     Glorious things are spoken today, and hearts respond in longing.  But what a contrast in the way human hearts respond when confronted with God’s way to glory. 

     James and John are certainly interested in glory.  They know Jesus is the way to glory, but their reaction to the potential of receiving glory through Jesus is crass.  James and John are remarkably selfish, arrogant, and foolish.  They know Jesus is the source of glory, but they refuse to acknowledge the path He takes to glory, nor do they confess their own part in laying out that path. 

     Mary is shown glory, at least that portion of glory displayed when the angel Gabriel shows up in your house.  She is promised glory, her child will be the Son of God, and reign on the throne of David.  Glory will be, by the power of the Holy Spirit, growing inside her, the Holy One taking up residence in her womb.  No other mother has ever been honored with such glory.  How does Mary respond, by patting herself on the back?   No, Mary says, “Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord.  May it be to me as you have said.” 

     Mary is humble, remarkably so.  She knows her place, totally the grace place, the undeserved favor place.  Nothing about her has earned this honor, she is simply chosen by God.  Mary is humble, thankful, and submissive to the will of God, even though His will is going to cause her considerable trouble.  It seems that somehow she knows this is the way for all who are truly on the way to glory, a life of humility, of serving others, of dependence on God, of joyful expectation accompanied by earthly trials. 

     It’s easy to see why over the centuries so many in the Church have gotten carried away with admiring Mary.  We should admire her, and celebrate her, and emulate her.  But it’s so easy to go too far, to ascribe achievements, roles, and callings to Mary that belong to Another, that is, to give Mary responsibility and authority that God reserves for Himself.  Mary is praiseworthy, but we praise God for her, and for working through her.   We do not praise or worship her, nor is she one to whom we should pray.  Nowhere in Scripture are we told Mary is to intercede for us to God.  Rather, we are taught that all who share her faith have the same direct access to God, through Mary’s Son. 
     God hasn’t told us to pray to Mary, and besides, I don’t think Mary is listening.  When she was just pregnant, just starting out on her special task, headed to a few months in seclusion with her cousin in the hill country, already Mary’s attention was focused on the Lord.  When Elizabeth praises Mary, coming to visit her, carrying Jesus in her belly, Mary responds, not by counseling or interceding or comforting Elizabeth, but by singing praise to God, by magnifying the Lord, giving the Church a song which we will sing in a few minutes.  So even more today, as her soul rests in the peace of God’s presence, Mary is, like all the saints, focused on the Lamb, singing of His glory, which is now hers, because in this life she knew the true way to glory.  Christians pray directly to God, which is good, because Mary is probably too focused on Jesus to hear us. 

     By God’s grace, Mary understood God’s way to glory, which gave her humility.  Jesus tried to explain God’s way to glory to James and John, but they were hard of hearing, or hard of heart.  Jesus at the beginning of this morning’s Gospel predicts, for the third time in Mark, His death on the Cross, which is now only a short time away.  This is clearly the way of Jesus, which He has been trying to teach the Twelve about for some time, but with little success. 

     James and John are so lightly impacted by the thought of Jesus being arrested and suffering and dying that they choose this moment to make their bold move of self-promotion, to try to gain the inside track to the best seats in glory.   "Teacher,” they say, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."  They almost sound like a couple of little kids, trying to trick Jesus into making a blind commitment, as if He didn’t know their hearts already.  They almost seem unserious, except that the context seems to say the opposite, they were completely serious.  We might easily condemn   James and John, if our consciences didn’t remind us that our selfishness and arrogance only lag behind theirs because we lack their boldness. 

     How does Jesus respond to James and John?  “Get behind me Satan,” comes to mind as an appropriate reply, the reply Jesus gave to Peter’s similarly ridiculous demand, not long before.  But no, Jesus is patient with these self-promoting glory hounds.  "What do you want me to do for you?"  He asks.  And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." 

     Wow, they are bold, no doubt.  And yet, still not giving the stinging rebuke we might expect, Jesus responds, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"   And they say to him, "We are able."

     No, no you’re not.  Jesus is referring to His way to glory, which runs through a Roman Cross, and through the righteous anger of God.  Jesus is about to be baptized with the punishment for all the sins of the whole world.  He is about to drink the cup of God’s wrath against humanity’s sin, down to the bitter dregs.  James and John truly do not know what they are asking. 

     And who will sit on Jesus’ right hand and His left?  It’s kind of a mysterious passage.  Jesus doesn’t deny that there are special seats for some in His Kingdom, but finding another reference to help us understand these seats in glory is difficult.  In fact, in terms of being on Jesus’ right and left, the passages that do come to mind are just a bit different.  As in Jesus’ description of the Final Judgment, when all the faithful sheep will come to His right hand, but all the unbelieving goats are banished to suffering on His left.  Which is quite a bit like the two thieves, who hung from crosses, one on each side of Jesus, the repentant thief headed to glory in paradise, the mocking one headed to hell.  Both of these examples might serve us well if they get our minds off of how good our seats in heaven will be, and onto how is that we can hope to have any seat in heaven, even a bad one, way off in the corner of paradise.  The very worst seat in the House of God’s eternal glory, that’s all we need.  That will be just fine.  This is our rightful focus.    

     And also the focus for Jesus.  James and John apparently didn’t hear a word He had just said about going to Jerusalem to be condemned and mocked, spit on, flogged and killed.  They have no idea of the immensity of the task ahead of Jesus, about to swallow up Death in His own body.  But then how could they?  Even we, on this side of the story, hearing it and repeating it and having it explained to us over and over, still can only begin to grasp the mystery of His suffering, His abandonment.  Jesus was always going to be utterly alone on the Cross, no child of Adam would ever be able to grasp, let alone face, what He faced.  This has been the plan, all along, God’s way to glory, through suffering, for mercy’s sake. 

     And so Jesus predicts that mercy.  Overlooking James’ and John’s foolish arrogance, Jesus also passes over the fact that they do not know what they are asking, to receive His Baptism and drink His Cup.   They are not able.  They are not able, and yet, Jesus promises, “you will drink from the cup that I drink, you will be baptized with the baptism into which I am baptized.”   Not today, not in present tense, not in a few weeks on a Roman Cross outside Jerusalem.  No, that leg of God’s way to glory is for Jesus alone.  But after, in the future, after three, days, then, yes John, yes, James, you will drink, you will be baptized. 

     This is the great mystery, the great good news, the peace that passes all understanding.  All who are baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into His death.  The bread we bless, the cup we drink, is a fellowship, a communion, a participation in His Body and Blood, given and shed on the Cross for the sins of the world.  Jesus took all the curse in His cruciform Baptism and Cup, so that now all who believe receive only blessing.  It’s the same cross, same body, same blood, but now all the wrath of God is gone, now all the suffering is complete, now only the glory of the new covenant remains, written on our hearts, by the forgiveness of our sins. 

     Mary starts out humble, and ends up with John at the foot of the Cross.  For the followers of Jesus’ it all ends the same.  All the drama of James’ and John’s self-glorification comes full circle at the cross, and in the life of the Church that grew from there.  From the Cross, Jesus gives earthly charge of His mother to John.  In the early years of the Church, James is the first Apostle to be martyred, to die for his confession that Christ crucified and resurrected is the Son of God and Savior of the world.  So John, who lives the longest of all the Apostles, lives in service, humbly caring for the aging mother of Jesus.  And James dies early, the first of Jesus’ inner circle to go to Him in glory.    

     As Mary, James and John all learned, God’s way to glory means difficulty and struggle in this life, along with joys and peace for guilty, hurting hearts.  God’s way to glory also offers bountiful opportunity for humble service, in which God gives joy.  All of this because Jesus gives His own to drink from His Cup and receive His Baptism, delivering the promise of glory and joy, better than we can imagine, a promise as sure as God Himself. 

     The Annunciation, when God became incarnate, when He took on human flesh.  The Nativity, when the Incarnation was revealed.  The life of humble service.  The suffering of Good Friday.  The miraculous joy of the Resurrection.  The Baptism of Christ, which now saves you.  The Cup that you drink, proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes.  All of these are God’s way, Jesus’ way, to glory, for you, Amen. 

Monday, March 19, 2012


Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 18th, Year of Our + Lord 2012
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Love                            John 3:14-21

     For God so loved the world.  Actually, a better translation to give the proper idea to our ears would be something like, - For thus God loved the world, or In this way God loved the world.  Which raises a question.  What is love?  Is love a feeling, as in ‘God loved the world soooooo much?’   Or is love an action, as in ‘God loved the world in this way, by doing this thing’?  Or is love a condition, a state of being, as in ‘I am in love’, the state of being in a particular type of relationship?  It’s confusing.

     I do think we can say at least two things about love, one that it is very important to us human beings, and two, that by and large we humans have messed up love horribly.  Sometimes we treat love as just a feeling, a feeling that we enjoy, that we soak up, that we go to great lengths to find.  But just a feeling.  These days we tend to think that when the feeling of love disappears, or even just fades a little, this releases us from all obligation to the person we said we loved, just a little while ago.  Easy come, easy go, I don’t feel like I love you anymore, and so I’ll be going. 

     Sometimes we treat love as just an action.  Of course, very unhappily, we all too often reduce love as an action to those physical relations that God intends to be the exclusive, private shared joy of a husband and wife.  Sexual love is designed by God to be private, protected by marriage vows, a special gift from God that can give joy, including the joy of children.  But we poor miserable sinners have  largely cheapened this category of love into an anything goes, do whatever feels good, all too often bought and sold, dirty, dingy affair, that injures and insults and causes all kinds of unexpected and hurtful consequences.  In our culture God’s good gift of sexual love has been for many reduced to recreation, recreation about which we feel we must make stupid jokes, to cover up the hurt and confusion that we suffer.

     For in this way God loved the world, but the world in turn has messed up love.  But this still leaves the question, “What is love?”  Well, love is an action, a selfless serving action towards another.  And love is certainly a feeling, a sometimes overwhelming emotion of joy and happiness felt because of our relation to another.  And romantic love, love between a man and a woman, is real, and important, part of God’s good plan.  I also think we can rightly distinguish a category of love that is a state of being, a state of being in a relationship with another, with commitments and service and selflessness as its rightful anchors.  And yet, knowing and acknowledging these categories of love does not yet get us to the full meaning of love, and certainly does not solve our struggles to know and enjoy lasting love in our lives.  Something is still missing. 

   God is missing.  God is missing from this definition of love.  The same John who wrote our Gospel reading also wrote this:  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  (1 John 4:7-8)   God is love.  John doesn’t in this particular verse say God is loving, or that God should be loved, or that God loves the world.  All of these things are true, but John says more.  John, inspired by God the Holy Spirit, says God is love.  Love is not simply a feeling, not just an action, not just a state of committed relationship.  Love is all of those things, but even more, love is a being.  Love is The Being, the Source of all Being, the Great I AM, the Creator of Heaven and Earth.  God is love. 
     This is hard to understand, isn’t it?  We can readily comprehend the idea of love as a feeling.  Even if we confuse feelings of lust and infatuation for feelings of love, nonetheless, we get the idea.  And love as an action is easily grasped when we see a mother comforting her child, or a child steadying the walk of an elderly parent or grandparent.  We even get the idea of love as disciplining actions, like the love of the parent who says no to sleeping in or says no to going to this activity or that, in order to make sure their children learn to gather on Sunday morning in God’s house, to hear His Word and receive His love.  And, while we are very much less likely these days to hold ourselves or others accountable to do the work it takes to sustain a loving relationship, we nevertheless recognize and celebrate the value of lifelong love relationships.  But how can God be love?  How do we understand this?

     Well, to try to understand, we might look for a comparison.  The closest being to God that we regularly see and interact with is a person.  Now, people aren’t very close to being like God, but they were created in His image, and they are the only comparison we have.  So, let’s consider.  We know that a person can be lovely, as in my lovely wife.  And we know that a person can be loving, and lovable.  And we recognize loving relationships and acts of love between persons, as when my lovely, loving and lovable wife commits herself to living her life with me and loving me.  But we don’t say a person is love.  I don’t say “my wife is love.”  That doesn’t make sense to us.  Love is something about a person, or something a person feels, or does.  But John says that God is love.  So, God must be very different from us.  And this is remarkably good news. 

     There are many things we can say from Scripture about God, for instance, He is eternal and unchanging, having been Himself since forever, and continuing on as Himself, forever and ever.  God is all-knowing, nothing is hidden from Him.  God is Holy, completely different, set apart, and completely without sin or evil.  God is all powerful, nothing He wills can be stopped, He is the unstoppable Sovereign of all things. 

     All of these things we can say about God are true, but none of them are good news for us.  The unchanging, eternal Holiness of God, His unchangeable will, His almighty power, all of these pose problems for us, because of our sin.  God has commanded us to obey Him, even more, He created us to live in His will, which includes hearing and following His Word, which Word instructs us to love our neighbors, to keep love pure, to never injure or insult or use others.  The unchanging, pure, sin-hating nature of the Almighty Lord God means we are in big trouble, because of our many sins, and because we are simply sinful, from birth.  Based on these truths about God, how could sinners like us ever love Him, how could we ever trust that He will not reject and punish us, for this is what we deserve.    

     But wait, there’s more.  God is almighty, eternal, unchanging, holy, pure.  And, besides all these things, John says that God is love.  And as love, God then loves to serve, loves to protect, loves to rescue, loves to be in relationship.  And this is good news, good news for sinners, as John continues in his first letter:  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  1 John 4:9-11
     I want you to learn three things from this passage.  First, while really wrapping our mind around the truth that God is love will always be difficult for us, at least in this life, you can see in this passage how the reality of God being love is revealed:  God manifested or revealed His love in us, by sending His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Two categories of love are in play here.  The one true God who is love is  also a relationship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a relationship which means the God who is love could also love in action, the Father could send His Son to love us. 

     Second, propitiation means the atoning sacrifice, the sacrifice made by Christ to atone for, to make up for, to pay for, our sins.  Jesus Christ, lifted up on the Cross like the serpent on the pole in the wilderness,  was lifted up to be the propitiation, the atoning sacrifice, for our sins, indeed, for the sins of the whole world.  Once for all, there is enough merit in the suffering of God’s Son to cover all sin.   Our sinfulness, our lack of love, creates a problem between us and God that we could never solve.  But because God is love He has quite naturally done what it takes to overcome our problem, that we might know His love. 

     Third, notice how John begins and ends with a call for us to love, but the heart of this passage is all about God loving us.  Listen again: 
First the call to love:  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God,
     Then the heart of the passage:  for God is love.  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 
     Finally, now that the fount and source of love has been proclaimed, John returns to the call to love:  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

     The only way we will ever truly love one another, the only way we will ever begin to leave behind the pain and the betrayals and the disappointments that plague our weak efforts at loving, is by first and always being centered on the love of God, which is given to us in Christ crucified.  His love lifts us up, and changes us, giving us new hearts, filled with His Spirit, who moves us to love others.  The first and most important step towards loving others is to know the love of God given on the Cross of Jesus.  Know God in Christ, and He will move you to love others.     
     When our love fails, we break trusts.  The trust that should exist between a husband and wife, or a parent and child, is broken by failures to love.  Our feelings of love are lost when someone we count on fails to come through for us, and our faith in them is broken.  When we are loved, and when we love, trust is built up, but human trust is a fragile thing, easily destroyed.  This is why we must always depend on the love of God first, for God is love, and also the source of all love.  And God has loved the world in this way, that He gave His only begotten Son into death on the Cross, to take away our sins, to wash away all the reasons for God to hate us, and for us not to trust God.  All who believe in Him, in the Son of God lifted up, will not perish, will not suffer for their sins, but rather are forgiven and will live forever in God’s love. 

     God has loved you, in the giving of His Son.  Believe it, live in His love, and rejoice, today, and forever and ever, Amen. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bringing Your A-Game

Third Sunday in Lent, March 11th, Year of Our + Lord 2012
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
Bringing Your A-Game                                    John 2:13-22, Exodus 20:1-17, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

     It’s time for me to bring my A-game, this being the Third Sunday of Lent today, and with the funeral of Selma Damm on Tuesday, then two sermons on Wednesday, one for the St. John kids and an different one for the Lent series here at Trinity, then another Lenten service Thursday night, and then of course, the 4th Sunday of Lent coming up fast.  Add to this the fact that Palm Sunday is also Confirmation  Sunday, which means the joyful task of scheduling and completing 11 confirmation examinations between and then, along with preparing guides for our last couple of Sunday School lessons before Palm Sunday, and thinking about all the Holy Week festivities.  Yes, it’s definitely time for me to bring my A-game, setting aside distractions and diversions, focusing on study, writing, preparation, putting first things first, and letting second and third things take care of themselves.  It’s a good thing my taxes have already been filed!  

     It’s also time for you to bring your A-game, maybe not so much between now and April 1st, but soon.  Because the days are getting dicier.  I predict it will become harder and harder to be a Christian, in particular a Lutheran Christian committed to the pure Gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone, based on the Scripture alone.  This is the only way to be, founded firmly on the person and work of Jesus Christ alone, but making this good confession is becoming more and more challenging, and I think it’s only going to get harder. 

     Oh great, you say, it’s going to get harder, as if it hasn’t been hard enough already.  One hundred years ago, the great majority of churches in America practiced communion the same way, that is to say people understood that when differences exist in the teaching and practice of two different congregations, members of one do not seek to commune at the other.  What churches taught and people believed was widely understood to be very important, the most important thing, actually, important enough to keep us from communing together when real differences exist.  But not so much anymore today.  What you believe and confess about God in Christ is still the most important thing, but not as many people believe this.  Today the trend in society and among churches is to go along to get along.  In fact, an outward show of getting along is often valued more highly than anything else, and so being a faithful Lutheran, refraining from communing when visiting some other church, and explaining our practice to visitors here, well, this is understood by few, appreciated by fewer, and enjoyed by no one.   And that’s just the Sunday morning tip of the go along to get along iceberg. 

     We still teach the Ten Commandments.  We are still called to uphold the sanctity of marriage, and the Biblical teaching that sex is reserved for a man and a woman within a marriage.  We are called to reject pornography and suggestive clothing and T.V. shows that celebrate sex as a consequence-free recreational right, instead of the holy gift from God that it is.   We are called to reject homosexuality,  without falling into the error of mistreating people who struggle with homosexuality.  Sexually, our culture is a complete mess, so it’s not easy to uphold the truth.   

     We are called to reject the overwhelming mass of argumentation for evolution and all the Christ-denying teaching that comes with it.  To do this is to risk ostracism and ridicule in school, and at the office, if you work in the sciences.  And of course, we are called to uphold the value of every human life, from the moment of conception in the womb, regardless of the less than perfect circumstances that may surround the creation of the unborn child.  Somehow speaking up for life in the womb earns us the title of woman hater, even though half of the unborn are women! 

      It’s going to get worse.  The Handbasket factory in our state capitol is almost complete.  The evil of our unbelieving world grows, coming closer and closer. 

     You’ve heard, I suspect, how the Department of Health and Human Services is mandating our Lutheran colleges and other religious institutions to provide free coverage for abortifacients, drugs taken by women  which cause a chemical abortion, the so called Plan B or Morning After pills.  The media is only talking about the free birth control side of the mandate, trying to make Roman Catholics look bad, ignoring as best they can the abortions being mandated, along with ignoring the attack on religious freedom that this mandate truly is.  How will we respond?   

     And, speaking of Roman Catholics, one of the leading candidates for President is a very devout Roman Catholic.  And one is a devout Mormon.  Meanwhile, the incumbent embraces a thoroughly modern and Social Gospel focused religion.  As confessors of the Small Catechism, as grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone Christians, we have significant issues with all three of these faiths, which seem more and more likely to take center stage as we head toward November.  How will we respond?  Great differences exist between religions and between various denominations of Christianity, regardless of how hard anyone tries to go along and get along.  These differences are going to challenge us to respond with a good confession.  It’s time we all bring our A-Game.      

     Jesus brings His A-Game in our Gospel reading today.  Five or six thousand years of warm-up are over, all of the history of salvation since the serpent won his victory over Adam and Eve merely served to set up the confrontation that Jesus incites today.  The single, original ‘Thou Shalt Not’ of the Garden, which forbid eating fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, was later augmented with 10 more major commandments, and dozens of other rules for living, given by God to Israel through Moses, that they might stand apart as His people, much like we are called to stand apart, to be different, to be recognizably His people in the world, today.  Thousands of verses of Hebrew genealogy traced out the line from Eve through Seth through Noah and Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David, all headed toward a stable in Bethlehem.  Evil repeatedly threatened God’s people, sometimes overpowering them, leaving them in need of rescue, again, and again, rescue which the Lord provided.  Prophets thundered God’s warnings, and bound up the broken hearted with His promises, from Elijah to Malachi.  All of this was just the pre-game. 

     We live in the post-game to the main event, and Moses lived in the pre-game.  The pre-game and the post-game are connected, and are very important to know and understand, but today we see the A-Game of salvation coming into focus. 

     It is instructive to consider Jesus’ violent Temple house-cleaning from the perspective of the commandments being broken, primary and secondary.  Any time we see money-changers and merchants, selling to travelers forced to buy the things they need at the last minute, we suspect the 7th, 9th and 10th commandments to be under attack, those with money and goods conspiring to fleece, to steal from those who are in need, those with riches coveting the few things of those without.  And of course the keeping of the Sabbath and the other Holy Days of God seems somehow not very holy when a market has been set up within the Temple walls, the house where the Name of the Lord dwelled, not to be misused.  We also should not forget that Israel was called by God to be a light to the Gentiles, a light of hope to all nations, not just to Jews.  For these buyers and sellers didn’t take over the Court of the Jewish Men or the Court of the Jewish Women, but rather the Court of the Gentiles, the outer court set aside by God as worship space for people from other nations who were seeking to know the True God of Israel. 

     Jesus makes a whip from cords and drives the money-changers and animals-for-sacrifice sellers out of the Temple.  Zeal for His Father’s House consumed Jesus, His righteous anger against sin finding just a few moments outlet in this cleansing by whip of the House of God.  And oh, how we would like to do similar things sometimes, wouldn’t we, to sweep away the immorality and sinfulness we see all around us, to smash some windows on some evil businesses and really clean house, if not with whips, then with bulldozers, or maybe with restrictive zoning laws. 

     We probably should be bolder in our challenge to open sin in our world.  But before you run off to confront the wickedness you’d most like to see gone, you should know one thing.  This is not Jesus’ A-Game.  Yes He made a whip, and yes He violently corrected the sins that were being openly committed in the House of God.  But this is not His A-Game, not His way to victory.  Rather, Jesus today is inciting the Pharisees and the Priests and the Elders of the people, attacking their stronghold, not in order to sweep them away forever, but rather to get them to bring about His death, that He might save them from themselves. 

     The leaders of the Jews confronted Jesus, “Where do you get off, making a whip and driving all these merchants and animals out of the Temple?”  “Who do you think you are, what miraculous sign are you going to do so that we can  know this cleansing is truly from God. 

     Jesus answers, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."

     “What?” the Jews cry, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?"  But he was speaking about the temple of His body.  When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the Word that Jesus had spoken.

     The A-Game of God is not merely to confront and drive out sinners from His House, in hopes that they will straighten up and come back to do better.  God knows this would be a losing battle, because we can never of our own reason or strength keep ourselves from returning to the same sins, over and over.  The A-Game of God is not even simply to destroy the wicked, even though by our sin, all human beings justly deserve His punishment, both today and forever and ever.  God would be just if He did destroy all sinners, but He could have done this in the Garden, or any time since, with only a Word.  It would be no great effort for God to destroy sinners and all our sin along with us.  But this is not His A-Game, not His desire, to see the sinner die eternally, but rather that sinners come to the knowledge of the Truth, the Truth which saves the wicked from sin and damnation. 

     And revealing this Truth, indeed, being this Truth, is the A-Game of Jesus Christ.  “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” declares Jesus.  The A-Game of God is Jesus Christ taking on the sins of the whole world, drawing the wrath of His Father, deserved by us, onto Himself, in order to extinguish God’s righteous anger against sin in His own broken body and shed blood.  This is God’s way of condemning and punishing sin, but at the same time saving sinners, the way of Jesus becoming sin for us, that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God. 

     And so, Jesus’ A-Game is you’re A-Game.  Our goal in meeting and responding to evil and lies in the world is not to merely drive it away from us, nor to destroy evil by strength of arms, nor even to simply make the world a little better place for a little while.  No, our primary goal, our A-Game as Lutheran Christians, is to reject and condemn evil for the sake of proclaiming the Cross of Christ, which is the very wisdom of God, and the salvation of every sinner who repents of their sinfulness and is brought to confess what we confess:  I believe the forgiveness Jesus died to win is for me. 

     Jesus’ A-Game required proclaiming the Law, it required confronting sinners, especially outwardly religious sinners, so that the Cross could be seen for what it is, God’s gift of salvation.  So also our A-Game, our best effort as Christians in the world will require speaking the truth about sin and God’s Law, for the sake of also telling the greater Truth of forgiveness in Christ.  As forgiven sinners, as Christians who still sin and so must continually come to Christ for forgiveness, we approach this task with humility, for we know our salvation springs not from us, not from our goodness, but from Christ alone.  And we approach this task knowing that speaking the Truth of Christ will also bring suffering, for until faith and forgiveness come, the world and every sinner naturally hate the foolish, scandalous message of the Cross.  But suffering cannot last, suffering cannot defeat us, for God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.  Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected is you’re A-Game.   Therefore, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."  Amen.