Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pentecost 16 Sermon -- Matthew 16:21-28 (LSB Proper 17A)

August 31, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

Today, Jesus speaks about discipleship in a way that we often overlook or sweep aside or just plain want to skip over. Jesus uses words that selfish, self-preserving, self-pleasing, sinful humans don’t want to hear: “suffer, die, deny, lose.” They strike the eardrums and make people grimace, cause people to recoil. There is a cost involved in being a disciple of Jesus, but that isn’t pleasing to hear.

Think about how businesses advertise their services. They want you to choose their product. And to lure you in, they promise you all sorts of things like: “No fees. No payments until 2010. No cost, no commitment.” Such promises are alluring. You get what you want, what you demand. And you pay little or nothing for it as long as you can. But this is not how Jesus attracts people to the services He provides.

Your Lord does the opposite of the advertising executives and businessmen. He doesn’t promise no cost, but says what is not alluring: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” This is the epitome of commitment: all out following, obedience to a Master that requires self-denial, losing an entire way of life. That is the call to discipleship that Jesus makes.

But Jesus not only makes such a call to discipleship, it is also the way of life that He lived out. That is how today’s Gospel began: “From that time, Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed . . . .” He hides nothing from the Twelve; He says this is how it must be. Jesus puts it plainly: “I must suffer and die.” And His message, His description of what is necessary, is offensive and not at all alluring.

That’s what Peter’s reaction showed. The chief disciple “took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him, saying: ‘Far be it from You, O Lord! This shall never happen to You.’” Peter’s reaction is visceral; it exhibits pure emotion. Suffering and death is not to his liking. It is incomprehensible and inconceivable that “the Son of the Living God” should die. And most of all, it is inauspicious for a disciple to hear about his Teacher undergoing such things. In Peter’s mind, nothing good is going to come of this for Jesus or the Twelve. “This shall never happen to You!” Peter exclaims, as if he could anticipate what Jesus was going to demand of him.

And doesn’t Jesus know it. He is totally aware of what is racing through Peter’s mind. He says: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Jesus knows that Peter is right; nothing of what He said is appealing to Peter’s sensibilities. It is scandalous and offensive to the mind of man. The total fate of suffering, death, self-denial, and loss doesn’t attract customers or disciples who want something for nothing. But such a mindset like Peter’s is “a hindrance” to Christ. It would keep Him from accomplishing salvation for mankind and keep His disciples from receiving it.

That is why Jesus talks about His own suffering and death as being necessary. It must be this way for Him. It must be this way for Peter and the rest of the Twelve. It must be this way for you: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Jesus makes this point explicit, so that no one can miss it. Because “setting your mind on the things of man” will not benefit you at all; it is most harmful.

At the heart of this self-denial and loss is a rejection of your former sinful way of life. Jesus calls His disciples to a new way of living, even to a new source of life. Stop pleasing your desires, for what you want by nature is harmful and detrimental. Sinful humanity wants nothing that lines up with the righteousness of God. That is the concupiscence, the evil lust and inclination, that all human beings possess—part of being sinful and unclean. The way of Jesus runs contrary to that. He is interested and dedicated to fulfilling the will of the Father: both obeying the Commandments and taking up His own cross “to suffer many things” in order to bring you forgiveness, life, and salvation.

And so Jesus calls you to be His disciple. He instructs you “to take up your cross and follow Me.” This is the way to everlasting life. Be connected to the suffering and death of Christ through Holy Baptism. Lead the life of discipleship by denying yourself and following Jesus. What good will come out of continuing to fulfill your sinful desires and pleasing the lusts of the carnal mind? That’s what Jesus asks: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for His life?”

The questions are rhetorical, but they are also serious. You could obtain everything of this world, everything that pleases the carnal mind and body. Think on what could meet all your sinful desires and inclinations: A full bank account to spend on wine, women and song. Massive amounts of food and drink to fill your belly. An unending rotation of bed partners. Every satellite channel imaginable. A nearly endless supply of mind-altering or mood-altering substances to suit your fancy. Employees that do your every bidding, while you have no concern about their welfare. A garage filled with Porsche, Ferrari, and Rolls. Hundreds of hangers-on and the pinnacle of social status. Whatever your heart desires, whatever your body craves, whatever your mind wants in its basest recesses.

Such a life would be self-pleasing, even self-indulgent. But what is it all worth? “When the Son of Man comes with His angels in the glory of His Father, and repays each one according to what he has done,” will you be able to buy your life with such things? Will this meet the purchase price of your soul?

No, “setting your mind on the things of man,” will ultimately be of no benefit. But having Jesus Christ as Lord will. And to have Jesus Christ as Lord means “setting your mind on the things of God.” It includes fully and gladly recognizing Him who “suffered many things at the hands of the elders and the chief priests and the scribes” as your Redeemer whom you serve. And it also includes “denying yourself and taking up your cross and following Him.”

The way of discipleship says no to the desires of the flesh. You take that Old Adam—the natural, sinful life—and nail it to Christ’s cross and hold its head under the waters of baptism to drown. Discipleship is taking the place of a student, putting your will underneath your Master’s, being subservient to Christ and His ways. It is a life of repentance and living in the righteousness and integrity of God. It is a learned way of life, as you follow your Teacher, even as you suffer as He did. And that suffering can come from enemies who persecute you for holding on to your faith and living it. But it can also be inflicted by your own flesh and bones that want to please themselves and be bound by no one: “being at war” as St. Paul describes.

And yet, what is promised is greater than all the things you will endure. Jesus is no sadomasochist. He does not call you to be His objects of torture; neither did He suffer without purpose or to satisfy Himself. There is an end, a goal, for all who “deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow [Christ].” Discipleship means losing your life, being subservient to Jesus, and enduring what comes with that. But what does He promise to such people? “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

Your Master makes a promise to you: you will find your life for eternity by being His follower. You will be just like Jesus. That’s what a disciple is: being just like his Teacher. So you may suffer just like Jesus did. He said it was necessary, even if Peter didn’t like it. But Jesus said something more than “suffering many things . . . and being killed” was also necessary. He includes that all-important “and on the third day be raised.”

And so it shall be for you. It is necessary to be like Jesus and deny yourselves. But it will also be necessary for you to “be raised” with Him in the resurrection of the dead on that day when “the Son of Man comes with His angels in the glory of His Father.” His Father raised Him from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. And He promises the same for you. Discipleship is not just “denying yourself and taking up your cross.” It is also dying to live, “losing your life for [Christ’s] sake” here on earth, so that “you will find it” in Paradise forever.

That is what Jesus calls you to do; that is your new way of life. Deny yourself, repent of your sin, take up your cross, and follow Him. For you have the promise of the Lord God spoken through the Prophet Jeremiah: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before Me. . . . I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”

This is what Jesus has already accomplished for you by His “suffering many things, being killed, and on the third day being raised.” It is what He calls you to. And it is what He will share with you, as you “lose your life for [His] sake . . . and find it” by being His disciple. For death followed by resurrection is the thing of God, and through His peace, your minds shall be ever set on it.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

St. Bartholomew's Day Sermon -- John 1:43-51

August 24, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

Nathanael said: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip answered: “Come and see.”

On this day, we commemorate the Apostle Bartholomew, one of the Twelve whom Jesus called to be a witness of His ministry, death, and resurrection. Bartholomew is named in the lists of apostles given by the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In each of these lists, Bartholomew is connected to Philip, following him in order. But as was heard in today’s Gospel, there is this man Nathanael connected to Philip. In St. John’s record of Christ’s ministry, there is no listing of a Bartholomew, but the implication is that Bartholomew and Nathanael are one and the same, with Nathanael being a first name and Bartholomew a last name.

Now what is much more important than first and last names is the incident that involves this Nathanael Bartholomew. You heard first the call of Philip to be a disciple: “Jesus found Philip and said to him: ‘Follow Me.’” Just like many of the other Twelve, Philip was made a disciple as Jesus encountered him. Jesus is the actor; He makes the selection. Philip is the object of Christ’s call; he is chosen and then follows. St. John also includes the factoid about Philip: “He was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.” This new disciple was from the same, little circle of Galileans who had their lives turned upside down by Jesus.

But what about Nathanael? How does he become part of the Twelve? He is brought to Jesus: “Philip found Nathanael and said to him: ‘We have found Him of whom Moses wrote in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph!’” It is almost exactly what Philip’s fellow citizen Andrew said to Simon Peter: “We have found the Messiah!” The importance of this knowledge of Christ and His call to discipleship drove both Philip and Andrew to act.

So after being told about Jesus by Philip, Nathanael immediately got up and eagerly went with him to see this remarkable figure from Nazareth . . . or not. The Gospel record is just the opposite: “Nathanael said to him: ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’” The One of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote would come from . . . Nazareth? It’s not even an important town. Sure it’s Galilean, but it’s not even close to the sea. And just why would the Promised Messiah come from there instead of Jerusalem, or at least Caesarea or Capernaum?

Nathanael can’t believe it. He doubts the veracity of what Philip says. But Philip answers in the only way he can: “Come and see.” Just see the Man. Hear what He has to say. Andrew and Peter are already following Him, and they’re from Bethsaida. And these other two brothers, James and John, have left their dad’s fishing business to follow Jesus. “Come and see.”

As the Gospel reading recorded, Nathanael did go and see. And when Jesus identifies him as “an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” and says: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Nathanael is convinced about Jesus’ identity. He is made a disciple through the confession: “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Through Philip’s invitation that carried the call of Christ, Nathanael is made an apostle. No more doubt, no more scoffing; just belief and true confession. In fact, such belief and confession was seen in Nathanael’s life that he was martyred for it. As Church Tradition says, he was flayed, crucified, and beheaded for his witness about Jesus, the good thing that came from Nazareth.

The call of Nathanael Bartholomew to discipleship really is not very different than what happens among you. You don’t have Jesus-in-the-flesh walking and finding people to make His disciples. Yet, He does continue His work and calls new people to be believers and witnesses to His ministry, death, and resurrection through means that He chooses. There are many “come and see” events taking place around the world and even here, just like Bethsaida.

But very often, the reaction is exactly like Nathanael’s: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” There is doubt in both the message and the message’s packaging. Nathanael believed that there would be a coming Messiah, the promised Savior would arrive. But he doubted that He would come from a minor, rural village. As the Magi did decades before, Nathanael expected a different package surrounding the Messiah, not a Babe in Bethlehem or a Man from Nazareth.

Today, there is similar doubt. But it goes to both the message and the packaging. Most Americans say they believe in a god or Supreme Being. But to say that Jesus is God and the only way to salvation, and that His message and work are only found in the Church that baptizes, confesses sins, communes, and teaches all that He commanded: then we won’t see 9 out of 10 say they believe that sort of God. The question is often asked: “Can anything good come out of that place?”

These are the questions that sin-corrupted minds ask, questions that exhibit unbelief. Can anything good come out of teaching about millennia-old commandments and sin and depravity and corruption of humanity? Can anything good come out of denying the full freedom of thought and self-determination? Can anything good come out of a group that clings to the rituals and myths of the past and doesn’t exhibit a miraculous, dazzling power and ability? Can anything good come out of humbling yourself and confessing a need for a Savior and even when you do follow Him, your life isn’t great and perfect?

Aren’t these the thoughts asked by those around you, perhaps even the thoughts that you have asked with your own minds and tongues? Can anything good come out of Mechanicsburg and what goes on at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church? And to those questions, there is just one reply: “Come and see.” Come and see, because this is how the Lord God has chosen to act.

The packaging of Christ’s message may not be grand. In fact, His disciples are told that it won’t be. That’s what the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians, as you heard: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” Can anything good come out of that?

Certainly it can. For in such things is your salvation found. In such things, which Jesus Himself endured, you find eternal deliverance. This is what Moses and the Prophets wrote. “Come and see.” See Him who was persecuted like Jeremiah, sold like Joseph, who suffered and died just as Isaiah described, but was buried and resurrected like Jonah. “Come and see” if anything good can come out of that humbleness and then exaltation: for that is the way the Serpent’s head is crushed and death is swallowed up and the gates to Paradise are opened.

Remember what Jesus told Nathanael: “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these. . . .Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. This is promised to Christ’s disciples, those who “come and see” and believe. It is promised to Nathanael Bartholomew who goes beyond the doubting thought “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” and follows Jesus. And it is promised to you.

You are called to see what is enclosed in the “jars of clay,” to look beyond the packaging with the eyes of faith. Jesus grants you the ability to see and believe what is beyond the veil. He is the Suffering Savior who dies and yet delivers from death. Christ places His authority to forgive sins in sinful humans. He veils His words with resurrecting power for body and soul in tap water. Jesus places eternal life in bread and wine what would not even feed someone for a day. Your Lord makes divine declarations that no human ear should ever hear into simple English words. None of it is impressive to the eye. The packaging doesn’t dazzle or amaze. It all suffers from the Nazareth complex: “Can anything good come from this?”

But the answer is yes. That is what Philip was given to know and believe. And it was extended to Nathanael as the invitation was given to him: “Come and see.” Jesus grants Bartholomew faith as He calls him to apostleship. Where doubt once ruled, belief was given its place. Faith saw the heavenly veiled within the earthly, the grand hidden in the humble. For this is how the Lord God chooses to work, as you can see in Jesus’ life and throughout the Scriptures. It is what He chooses to make you partakers of. And He even gives you the privilege to say: “Come and see.” Through such invitation given to those you encounter, whether your family or fellow townspeople, the Holy Spirit may bring others into discipleship. “Come and see” is the invitation for others to become part of the good thing that your Lord Jesus Christ has here in Mechanicsburg.

The promise is meant for all whom Christ calls by the Holy Spirit through the Church. You have the heavenly here “in jars of clay,” so that “the life of Jesus may be manifested in our bodies.” It will be manifested imperfectly and in part by what you do, by your acts of service in your vocations. But what you also know and believe is that this “life of Jesus” will be revealed for all to see as it truly is. Like Nathanael Bartholomew, “you will see greater things than these,” on the day when “heaven is opened, and the angels ascend and descend on the Son of Man. The martyred apostle we commemorate today has already witnessed this. And with all of Christ’s disciples, you will also see it because of what you have already received in “jars of clay” from Jesus, the truly good thing that came from Nazareth.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Pentecost 14 Sermon -- Matthew 15:21-18 (LSB Proper 15A)

August 17, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” The woman answered: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Jesus certainly is right in what He says. It would not take long for the Department of Public Welfare to put an end to such a practice, if parents were starving children by throwing their food to the pets. Why isn’t it right to do such a thing? Various reasons exist, from the inane to the logical: Veterinarians may say dogs aren’t supposed to be fed human food. In parts of the world, making bread is too expensive, too time-consuming to make, to give to the animals. Philosophically, a child’s welfare is of greater value than a dog’s life.

But these aren’t the reasons that Jesus has in mind. They aren’t the foundational premise for what He says. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” What Jesus says is true, because “the children’s bread” is not meant for the dogs. The pets have no rightful claim to it. They may live with the family, but they have no place at the table. That’s the point of His statement to the Canaanite woman.

Essentially, what Jesus says to her is: “I’m not meant for you. I’m not your Lord, your Deliverer, or your Messiah.” Isn’t that why the incident happens? St. Matthew faithfully describes the scene. Jesus is politely addressed and positively identified by the woman: “O Lord, Son of David.” She makes a fairly reasonable request: “Have mercy on me.” She asks for something that is in Jesus’ area of expertise: “My daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” And Jesus’ response is . . . silence. “But He did not answer her a word.” Silence . . . because Jesus is not her Lord. Silence . . . because Jesus is not meant for her.

Jesus is very clear about His mission, even in the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The Messiah was meant for Israel. That seems to be the promise of the Old Testament. Statements to that effect are all over the Torah and the Psalter and the writings of the Prophets. The Lord God through Moses tells the Israelites: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put My words in the mouth of the prophet who shall speak to them everything that I command.” The Prophet Micah even tells from where this Promised One would come: “You, Bethlehem, Ephratha, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me One who is to be ruler in Israel.”

That is “the Lord, the Son of David” who is promised, the prophecies that Jesus fulfils. But to whom is He sent? “I have only been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He is “to be ruler in Israel.” He will speak to Israel “everything that the Lord commands.” Tyre and Sidon, you are excluded. Syria and Samaria, you are not the target of the Christ’s mission. And you, O Canaanite woman, you are not meant to have what Jesus provides. You do not get “the children’s bread.” “It is not right” for you to have it.

But note what the woman says in reply. She believes the truth of the matter. She does not try to pass herself off as an Israelite, neither does she claim that Jesus is unfair. Rather, she accepts what Jesus says: “Yes, Lord.” It isn’t right for me to have “the children’s bread.” But the woman also mentions something else that has been and still is just as true: “But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” And no one begrudges the puppies who do.

To this acceptance of the truth, Jesus replies: “O woman, great is your faith!” She is commended for believing the truth of what He says, for believing the truth of what that Torah, Psalter, and Prophets declared, for believing the truth about who He is. “Her daughter was healed instantly” as the crumbs fell from the Divine Master during His work of redeeming Israel and her mother snatched them up. And as Jesus leaves from there, the woman’s faith remains.

But for you, there are no crumbs to be had. Because the truth of who Jesus Christ is and what He does and what He says puts you into a different category than the Canaanite woman. Having the same faith in Jesus as she had makes you no dogs, but places you at the table as children. For what Christ was meant to do would also incorporate the nations into “the house of Israel.”

That is what the prophecy given through Isaiah declared. There would be an expansion of the household: “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, who minister to Him, to love the Name of the Lord, and to be His servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast My covenant—those I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” This is what the Lord God declares will happen as He “reveals His deliverance and His salvation” through the promised Christ.

There is a change in status to occur. People who were excluded from the presence of the Lord God and His covenant are being brought in. You, who once were not part of His people are made recipients of the Messiah’s work of redemption. Jesus is “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But His salvific work is not limited only to them. No, what the Incarnate God accomplishes through His perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection transcends all times and places. This is the greater work that would happen after the exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman. She may receive “the crumbs from the masters’ table,” but her descendants are part of “all nations” from whom Christ’s disciples would be made.

This is what today’s Psalm predicted and the Epistle Reading explained. The Israelite Psalmist writes: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine on us, that Your way may be known on earth, Your saving power among all nations.” And the Lord God answers the Psalmist’s prayer as He sends the Eleven and their successors out “to make disciples of all nations,” as they take up the task that Christ began, “baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

St. Paul tells the Romans how this has taken place and how the Gentiles (“all nations”) including you have been made part of “the house of Israel: “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. . . . You at one time were disobedient to God, but now have received mercy . . . . God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all.” And just what does that divine mercy entail? Precisely what Isaiah described: “The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares: ‘I will gather yet others to Him [the Messiah] besides those already gathered.” This is the divinely-planned outcome of Christ’s work in the past and the present work of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

As you are called and gathered by the Holy Spirit, you are made part of “the house of Israel,” made part of His chosen people. You receive the privileged place of children and leave the dogs on the floor. But remember, this is a status given to you, not earned. It is the result of mercy, not justice. In truth, it’s not right for you to receive anything good from the Lord God. Why should He grant you any good thing when you “daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment,” as the Catechism reminds you? You break the two Great Commandments, neither totally loving the Lord your God nor loving your neighbor as yourself. Even the dogs’ place is too good for you.

And yet, you are made the Lord God’s children. For that is His gracious will for you. And in doing so, He does not feed you leftovers, but places the Bread of Life in front of you to eat. He doesn’t treat you as unloved stepchildren, but gives you His Name as your own. He doesn’t leave you out in the courtyard or the foyer, but welcomes you into His “house of prayer” with all the rights and privileges of full membership.

None of this is just. But in matters of redemption, the Lord God goes beyond what is fair: His sense of equity is much different than ours. The Lord God’s salvation is a matter of mercy. It is the answer to the Psalmist’s prayer: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine on us, that Your way may be known on earth, Your saving power among all nations.” Grace and blessing: that is what the Lord God shows to you who are now given a place at the table.

The incident with the Canaanite woman is an incomplete foreshadowing of what was going to happen just over a year later. Soon, the disciples who wanted Jesus to “send her away” would themselves be sent to deliver the good things of salvation to people just like her. But you are not given incomplete shadows of salvation, you actually receive what the Lord God promised. You have been gathered, you have been born again into the Eternal Father’s household. And each day, in His graciousness, the Lord God gives you what your sin-oppressed souls need: forgiveness, life, and salvation.

What was promised to Israel is granted to you, as “the Lord, the Son of David” chooses to show you mercy and reveals His deliverance to “all nations” and to “the ends of the earth.” So you have been given a rightful claim to it, even given a place at the table; for you are the children of the Lord God, and it is right for you to have His good food.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Pentecost 13 Sermon -- Matthew 14:22-33 (LSB Proper 14A)

August 10, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

“And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped [Jesus], saying: ‘Truly You are the Son of God.’”

As the Gospel narrative of Matthew progresses, the statements about Jesus’ identity increase in degree. After the Sermon on the Mount, the crowds recognize Jesus “as one who had authority” because of how He taught and what He said. The centurion knows that Jesus can make people well and says: “Only say the word and my servant will be healed.” The disciples see Jesus calm a storm and wonder: “Just what sort of man is this?” And in Nazareth, the villagers ask: “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?”

But on this day, the statement about Jesus’ identity is not asked in the form of a wondering question. Nor is the statement that Jesus is some sort of teacher or prophet. Rather, there is a declaration that Jesus is a Deliverer and “the Son of God.” And how does this statement of identity develop in the minds of the Twelve? By what they experience and witness.

As we heard from the Gospel Reading, the disciples’ sea voyage was not typical. The boat was “beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.” Their trip was reaching the point of no return. “In the fourth watch of the night,” the voyage was still not completed. Even with at least four experienced sailors on board, the disciples’ boat had only traveled several miles in over six hours. Think back to what the Lord God asked Job in the Old Testament Reading: “Who said to the sea, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed?’” Certainly none of the Twelve would have raised their hand and said: “That describes me.”

But there is an answer to the Lord God’s question. And it is seen in the events on the Sea of Galilee. For what happens “in the fourth watch of the night,” as the disciples fight the winds and waves that torture them? “Jesus came to them walking on the water.” He tells them: “Take courage; it is I. Do not be afraid.” When Peter starts to drown, it is Jesus who “reached out His hand and grabbed hold of Him.” When Jesus steps into the boat, “the wind ceased.”

Just who is this Man? Who is it that walks on the water, gives courage to the frightened disciples, rescues Peter from drowning, and calms the wind? It is precisely who the people in the boat call: “the Son of God.” None other could accomplish such things, no one else than the One “who said to the sea, ‘Thus far shall you come and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed.’”

What we see depicted in the Walking on Water miracle is the fullness of Christ’s incarnation. The fullness of His abilities is on display. The events on the Sea of Galilee are what happen when the One “by whom all things were made” enters Creation and dwells in it. We all hear every Christmas Day: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . All things were made through Him, and without Him not one thing has come into being. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory.”

It is the testimony of John, one of the Twelve in that boat, who witnessed the water-walking, heard the call to courage, saw the rescue of Peter, and confessed: “Truly you are the Son of God.” Because this is what the Incarnation is all about. The Lord God who asks the questions of Job is in the flesh, coming to the disciples in the middle of the sea, bringing them to safety by having full command over the creation. This incarnate Lord God is also our “Rock and Fortress and Deliverer,” who bears that identity and name which no one else has.

You have learned the Second Commandment: “You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God.” And you have learned that a proper use of His Name is “to call upon it in every trouble.” But whose Name is it? What is the identity of the Lord, your God? It is none other than the same Christ, the same “Word who became flesh” and dwelt among Peter, John, and the rest of the Twelve. It is none other than the same Lord who asks Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?” It is none other than the same Lord that David prays to: “I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”

That is the Lord whose Name you “call upon in every trouble.” It is that Lord to whom Peter cried out: “Save me!” It is that Lord to whom David called: “Deliver me.” It is that Lord about whom Job says: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” You are given the privilege to call upon that Name with the promise that He who bears it will answer.

The Lord God asks: “Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?” To those questions, Job, David, Peter, and you and I must answer: “No.” But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, says: “Yes. I have done all those things. I have walked on water. I have passed through the gates of death and blown them wide open. I have comprehended the expanse of the earth, because I caused the world to exist.”

And yet, the answer of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, goes further than just answering in the affirmative. He says: “I have done all those things for your benefit. I have done so, in order that I might be your Rock, your Fortress, and your Deliverer.” He says: “I have descended to the depths of Hades, so that you do not have to. I have had the gates of death revealed to me, so that you may live. I have created the expanse, so that you can receive both temporal and eternal life through it.” That is the significance of having a Redeemer who is none other than the Lord God in the flesh, who we claim “for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. . . . and was made man.”

It is that Lord God who directs you to “call upon [His Name] in every trouble.” The same command was given to Job and to David and to Peter. They all learned to obey it. You must learn to obey it as well. And just how is such obedience learned? It is learned when imperfection and frailty and weakness all confront you. It is learned when you experience what Luther called Anfechtung or tentatio: the trials and afflictions of life, when the winds are against you, when you are tortured and assailed in daily life by the world and Satan and your own sinfulness.

But it is then that you call on the Lord your God, the same One who pulled you from the drowning waters of Holy Baptism and made you His child. It is then that Christ provides His aid and delivers you. It is then that the words of David become your own: “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From His temple He heard my voice, and my cry to Him reached His ears.” The call goes out to the Lord God, who again reaches out His hand and keeps you from drowning eternally. And even those of little faith, who have all sorts of doubt and despair wracking their minds, souls, and spirits, receive the deliverance that Christ provides.

This is what the “true Son of God” promises to you. This is why He teaches you to pray: “Deliver us from evil.” It is not a trite thing or an empty privilege. The Lord God who “shut in the sea,” who “has seen the gates of deep darkness,” who “comprehended the expanse of the earth” does not deal with trivialities. Rather, He is involved in matters like the absolution of sin, destruction of the bonds of death and the grave, and deliverance from Satan’s captivity. That is what He promises to you who have been given His Name and told to call upon it.

The Lord God brought such things to Job and to David and to Peter. He has the same here for you on this day, as you cry out: “Lord, have mercy and save me.” He delivers it to you who on this day “take the cup of salvation and call upon the Name of the Lord.” Jesus’ identity, what His Name means, is seen in what He does. And you make the confession about Him: “Truly you are the Son of God!” You make that confession when you call out to Him and none other to deliver you. And as you do so, you are saved, just as has been promised.

The prayer of David is yours, because you have the same Lord God that Job did, and you make the same confession about Jesus as the Twelve. So you may say: “I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.” That is what is promised to you, who have been given the Name of the Lord as you were drowned in your baptisms and raised to call upon it in every trouble. So receive today and forever the forgiveness, life, and salvation promised by Him who “truly is the Son of God.”

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Pentecost 12 Sermon -- Matthew 14:13-21 (LSB Proper 13A)

August 3, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

“Jesus broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied.”

It’s early evening out in the Galilean countryside and one of the disciples notices the sun beginning its path toward setting. Perhaps it was his own rumbling belly that led him to point out the time to the others. The rest of the Twelve take notice of their own hunger and look at the thousands gathered in Christ’s presence. The healing and teaching which came after the voyage across the Sea of Galilee had burned up most of the day.

So the Twelve come to Jesus. They get His attention and lay out the situation. Christ’s disciples tell Him: “This is a desolate place, and the day is almost over; send the crowds away to go into the villages to buy food for themselves.” Another hour or less and more than just the children in the crowd will be whining to the parents: “I’m hungry.”

The disciples’ plan seems sound. It meets the upcoming demand for food and shifts the burden of crowd control to someone else’s shoulders. The thoughts of the Twelve are clear: “They’ll listen to you, Jesus. Send them on their way. After all, wasn’t this whole trip out to the country meant to provide some solitude, to get away from all these people?” Recall what St. Matthew wrote: “When Jesus heard about [the death of John the Baptizer], He withdrew from there in a boat by Himself.” The crowds had wandered out into the wilderness only “because they heard that Jesus had gone.”

But the reaction of Jesus to His disciples’ suggestion wasn’t to agree with their assessment. Rather than giving the command for the crowds to disperse, Jesus says to the Twelve: “The crowds have no need to go away; you give them something to eat.” Christ wants to do the opposite of what His disciples suggest. He wants the crowds to be fed, to have their needs met right then and there. And it doesn’t take long for the Twelve to note their inability to do so: “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” They might be able to feed two, maybe three people, but what about all the thousands who will be skipped?

There is the quandary. The Twelve have been given an order by Jesus; they must obey it. But how can the Twelve meet the needs of the crowds? How can they fulfill the directive: “You give them something to eat.”? It is an impossibility. And Christ wants His disciples to realize that. But there is something else that Jesus wants them to understand: He has already met the crowds’ need, and only He can do so. Because what is happening in that Galilean countryside is a fulfillment of what the prophet Isaiah described.

Recall what you heard in the Old Testament Reading for today: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear and come to Me; hear that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, My steadfast sure love for David.” The prophet declares what the Lord God desires: that His people come to Him and receive what they desperately want and need.

And that is what was happening in the Galilean countryside. “The crowds followed Jesus on foot,” because they recognized that He was the One who would deliver to them what they needed. Their recognition of His abilities which surpassed all other religious leaders’ drove them to follow Jesus wherever He went. They came to be healed in body and soul, to receive the compassion and pity that Jesus had for them, to be given what no ordinary man could ever provide. What Jesus does by telling the Twelve to feed the crowd shows that what Isaiah prophesied was taking place.

Jesus tells the Twelve: “The crowds have no need to go away; you give them something to eat.” But what the Twelve can give will not meet the needs of the crowds. They will waste “their labor for that which does not satisfy.” Five loaves and two fish cannot feed the thousands. But even if the disciples had the entire warehouse of Wonder Bread and Starkist at their disposal, the crowds wouldn’t be satisfied, either. Only Christ can give what will truly meet the needs and desires of the people.

What Jesus tells the Twelve is actually what they should have spoken to Him: “The crowds have no need to go away; You, Jesus, give them something to eat.” Christ wants His disciples, including you, to make that statement: You, Lord, will satisfy us. You, Lord, will deliver to us the “rich food” that Isaiah describes. You, Lord, will give to us what will make “our souls live.” You, Lord, will take the meager things of creation—words, water, bread and wine—and bring us the salvation of body and soul.

That is what this Feeding of the Five Thousand shows. The power to meet needs is seen in Christ’s work. He “has compassion on the crowds” and heals their illnesses. He “has compassion on the crowds” and ends their hunger. He “has compassion on the crowds” and brings them the teaching that makes them wise to salvation. This is the providential God at work, the One who supplies earthly things for your lives, but who also gives life everlasting.

And how does He do so? He takes earthly things and blesses them and distributes them to His people. The Lord God takes your ordinary lives and blesses them and says: “This is how I will supply what My people need for their earthly lives; through their actions, I will give food, drink, house, home, and everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body.” The Lord God takes our earthly elements and blesses them and says: “This is how I will work forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and give eternal life to all who believe.”

Could you do so? Certainly not. The needs of your lives would face you like that setting sun which the Twelve noticed. Left to your own devices and abilities, there would be the same panic, the same feeling of helplessness that overcame the disciples. Your efforts alone could do nothing to meet your need for the things of the body, let alone your need for divine righteousness and pardon. It is an impossibility.

But you have a Lord who Himself took up the things of the world and was incarnate. That Lord tells you to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” And more importantly, that same Lord says to you: “Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear and come to Me; hear that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, My steadfast, sure love for David.” This is the invitation He extends to you again on this day.

You have heard that Jesus is here with His gifts, and so you have followed Him to this place. He can heal your illnesses of spirit and even cause you to live forever. He has compassion on you, His people. And whether the days of your lives are at sunrise or well spent, Christ your Lord does not send you away to forage for what you need. No, He says: “You have no need to go away, for I will give you the food that fills and satisfies not just for today, but for eternity.”

“Jesus took the loaves, blessed them, and broke them and gave them to the disciples. And they gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied.” So Jesus gives you the Bread of Life to eat this day. He gives you the food that both your body and soul needs. Your illness of sin has been healed, and you shall live eternally. And there is enough left over that you can come back again and again to eat and be satisfied whenever that hunger for forgiveness, life, and salvation arises.

So it is for you and for me, because Christ is our Lord. And He is just as the Collect for the Day said: “always more ready to hear than we are to pray and always ready to give more than we either desire or deserve.” And that same Lord says to us: “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” He freely gives to us what He has paid for and provided for every man, woman, and child. The “rich food” that makes “our souls live” is here for you and me. And we have no need to go away, because Christ fills and satisfies us again and again.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Pentecost 11 Sermon -- Matthew 13:44-52 (LSB Proper 12A)

July 27, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

The Lord Jesus provides you another description of what the kingdom of heaven is like. You heard several of His Kingdom Parables or similes this morning. Last Sunday, the reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel presented Christ’s words about the kingdom of heaven being like a field where wheat seed was sown, but then tare seed had been planted by a rival. Jesus wanted His disciples, both then and now, to realize that the Church would be in mixed company here on earth: there would be saints surrounded by all sorts of enemies, and the saints of God are to await the final judgment when the two groups would be eternally separated.

But today’s descriptions, the comparisons of the kingdom of heaven being like a “treasure hidden in a field” or a “pearl of great value,” show us another aspect of the Church, about His disciples here on earth. Jesus is talking about you with these parables. He is making a point about your identity. These parables about the hidden treasure and priceless pearl are your story. The words that come from Christ’s mouth state that you have value, because it is He that has bought you. This set of Kingdom Parables is a description of Christ’s redemptive work.

There was a foreshadowing of that in the Old Testament Reading from Deuteronomy for today. Note the words of Moses as he repeats the Divine Law to the people of Israel and the end of their exodus to Canaan: “You are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” The prophet speaks to God’s people and tells them their identity. The children of Israel are the Lord God’s “treasured possession.” They have value.

But why are they treasured? Was it because of their vibrant personality? Hardly! Remember how many times on the exodus that Moses complained about those “stiff-necked and obstinate people,” wondering why the Lord God has saddled him with the duty of leading them to the Promised Land. Was it because of their faithfulness? Not at all! Remember when the Israelites made and worshiped the Golden Calf and the Lord God raged: “Let Me alone, so that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them.” This certainly doesn’t seem like the type of language used about “a treasured possession,” let alone a passing acquaintance!

However, that title is given to them; the Lord God calls the Israelites “My treasured possession.” Yet, it had nothing to do with them or their greatness, just as Moses says: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love on you and chose you.” But the prophet reveals why they have this value status: “Because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh, King of Egypt.” The Lord God has determined to give even these “stiff-necked and obstinate people” value. He desires and wills them to be His “treasured possession.” And so it is for you.

Go back to that parable that Jesus told: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” He is talking about Himself and what He has done for you, how He has given you value, making you His “treasured possession.” In that picturesque language, Christ tells you what He has done, how He has redeemed you. It is He who “goes and sells all that He has and buys that field” with the treasure hidden in it. It is He who “goes and sells all that He has and buys that pearl of great value.”

Remember those great words of St. Paul to the Philippian Christians that we hear every Lenten Season: “[Christ] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This is precisely what Jesus is talking about when He says in the parable: “the man goes and sells all that He has and buys that field.” Christ makes Himself nothing. He puts Himself under the Law. He becomes obedient unto death. And for what purpose? So that you “may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom,” as Luther puts it in his Small Catechism.

Today’s Kingdom Parables show you the value that the Lord God has placed on you. It’s like those MasterCard commercials you see on television. The fine dinner or plane tickets or admission to the concert or sporting event all have a cost that is definable. The intangible things, the feelings or atmosphere, are priceless. But in these parables of Jesus, you see what is truly priceless: the salvation that He gives, the redemption that He has achieved, the value that the Lord God awards to you.

Just like the Israelites, you are the people that “the Lord has set His love on.” But it isn’t because of any intrinsic value. No, “there is no merit or worthiness” in you that deserves such action or honor. But there is reason for the Father “not to spare His own Son, but to give Him up for you,” as we heard in St. Paul’s words to the people of God in Rome. It is the same reason that Moses gave to the people of Israel: “The Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers.” It is to fulfill the promise that was given in the earliest days of creation, the promise sworn to Eve guaranteeing vindication against the serpent that deceived her and enslaved her descendants: “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

The value that you have, the pricelessness that has been given to you, is not intrinsic. It comes from outside of you, the great “extra nos” of Lutheran teaching. Though thoroughly corrupted by sin, destined for death and decay, you are given a price tag that is beyond comprehension. The Lord God calls you “My treasured possession.” He considers you to be “the one pearl of great value.” He determines that you are “a treasure hidden in the field” of this earth. And what is the evidence of that? “He sells everything that He has; the Lord God gives His Son up for you.”

And that is the message so essential to your identity. This is the truth that you confess so vigorously as Christians of the Lutheran tradition. It is the heart of your faith, why you learn, study, and take to heart those words: “I believe that Jesus Christ . . . has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. . . .”

That is what is at the heart of these Kingdom Parables of Jesus heard today. Being purchased by the holy, precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of the Son of God, certainly that fits the description that was told to you in the parables. The Eternal Father gives up His own Son. His Son, the God-Man goes and sells all that He has, even His life bartered for thirty pieces of silver, to buy and redeem you.

So that is your identity: you are the purchased and won people of God. You are the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great value. It is an identity given to you by the action of the Lord God Himself. And on this day, the Lord God confirms again that value He has given to you: by absolving your sins, by giving to you from the Scriptures “the new and old things from His treasury,” by presenting and offering His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

That pricelessness, that value isn’t from inside of you. In fact, it is often hidden from the world, even hidden from your own logic and sense. Look around, and the words spoken from Moses apply to you: “You are not more in number than any other people.” Consider your own frailty and failures: you did not impress God enough to convince Him that He just had to buy you. Note your sinfulness and unrighteousness: you did not meet a standard that guaranteed any privileged place in the kingdom of heaven.

And yet, “the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession. In His joy, He goes and sells all that He has and buys you.” For the Lord God is not solely a deity of justice, but “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” That graciousness and mercy is what caused Him “not so spare His own Son, but give Him up” for the purchase price of your redemption, “to redeem you from the house of slavery,” so that you might be part of the kingdom of heaven. And so, “He will graciously give you all things,” even the share of everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness at the close of the age, as He pledges to you again on this day.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” So have you of the kingdom of heaven been bought and redeemed by the Lord God Himself.

T In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.