Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ash Wednesday Sermon -- Joel 2:12-19 (LSB Ash Wednesday)

February 25, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.”

The prophet Joel’s words depict the nature of the Lord God. They aren’t words original to Joel, none that he came up with himself. In fact, this description of the Lord God being “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” is found in many places throughout the Old Testament.

It is how the Lord God describes Himself on Mount Sinai, when He gives Moses the two tablets of the Ten Commandments after Moses had broken them when seeing the Israelites worshiping the Golden Calf idol. It is what the people of God confess about Him when they return with Nehemiah from exile in Babylon. King David in his psalms repeats this description about God’s character. And even the prophet Jonah admits that the Lord God is that way when the city of Nineveh is not destroyed. (Although Jonah is upset because God’s merciful nature kept Him from destroying the city.)

This depiction of the Lord God is essential for us as His children. We must have a gracious and merciful God who is slow to anger. We must have a God with steadfast love who relents over disaster. Or else, we are doomed. For what we do in our daily lives arouses the Lord God’s anger. It gives cause for our punishment and disaster. We should encounter nothing but divine wrath for our sinfulness.

If we recall what divine wrath looks like from the Scriptures, we truly understand why we need a gracious and merciful God. He is the One who saw the evil world and drowned it all. Sodom and Gomorrah took the full brunt of divine wrath because of their wanton sinfulness. The Lord God punishes the hard heart of Pharaoh by sending the ten plagues against the Egyptians. And when He witnesses pagan Assyria threatening to conquer His holy city Jerusalem and sends an angel to strike down an army of 185,000.

All these are episodes of divine disaster brought upon sinful humanity. And where the Lord God did not relent, there is no escape. So when He swears that He “visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments,” we rightfully shudder and fear.

For to which camp do we belong? We do not keep the commandments. By our sinful actions, we demonstrate hatred for the Lord God and His will. Based upon our lives, we should prepare ourselves and our children and our children’s children to experience the Lord God’s wrath, to feel the blow of God’s Hammer upon us and them.

But yet, the testimony of the Lord God is that “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” The words come from His own mouth and are given to be spoken from the mouths of His prophets. That is the God that we need, and the same description of Him is given to us today.

The prophet Joel exhorts us: “Return to the Lord, your God.” He tells us: “Who knows whether He will turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him?” We are called to do exactly as we have done this evening: “Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.” For the Lord is “jealous for His land and has pity on His people.” What we experience is not the wrath and anger of the Lord God, but His mercy.

That is what this night is all about. Once again this year, we deliberately examine ourselves and confess what we have done. In full and brutal honesty, we will admit the frailty of our mortal nature and the record of our sin. We will admit what our destiny is because of it: “We are dust and to dust we shall return.” But we will also state clearly: “O God, You desire not the death of sinners, but rather that they turn from their wickedness and live.” These are the words of humility, words that admit our error, words that show a desire to return to the Lord our God after rebelling against Him.

And such words do not go unheard. What St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians applies to us, just as were read this evening: “The Lord says: ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” The Lord God has heard and provides His salvation to us; He relents over our deserved disaster.

And so we may have that truth confirmed for us, the Lord God gives to us His Body and Blood for our forgiveness. We must know and be assured that we have the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” We cannot live otherwise. To that need, the Lord answers, just as we heard at the beginning of our service: “I became man, and all that I do and suffer is for your good. I have had mercy on you by taking into Myself all your iniquities.”

And that same merciful and gracious Lord calls us to return to Him, to come to Him on this very night. And as a pledge of His mercy and grace, Christ speaks to us: “As a pledge of this, I give you My Body to eat. I give Myself into death, shedding My Blood to obtain grace and forgiveness of sins. As a pledge of this, I give you My Blood to drink.” What Christ does in His suffering of God’s wrath for our sake shows that God does not despise anything He has made, but forgives our sins as we are penitent for them. That is the greatness of His mercy for us: that God Himself suffers disaster, dying crucified on cross for our sin and our salvation.

We truly have the Lord God who “turns and relents, and leaves a blessing behind Him.” What we must have to live has been given to us. Our impending disaster has been relented. For our God is “jealous for His land and had pity on us, His people.” So may you go out from this evening assured of your forgiveness by this merciful Lord and always return to Him when your sin and guilt confront you again.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; and He will do it. For that is what your God is: “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” Especially for each of you.

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

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Transfiguration Day Sermon -- Mark 9:2-9 (LSB Transfiguration B)

February 22, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them. . . . And as they were coming down the mountain, He charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

The Transfiguration Event confirms the identity of Jesus. During the past several weeks, you have heard about things Jesus did—wondrous things, miraculous things. These showed something about who Jesus is. Like the people of Galilee, you could make statements about Jesus: He is an amazing teacher, unlike any other; He is a great healer; He is a merciful Man who takes pity on the sick, the downtrodden, and the outcast. That is what those preaching, healing, and caring activities of Jesus rightly told you.

But the identity of Jesus is even greater than that. All the above is true, but is incomplete. There is more to Jesus. The one unclean spirit in Capernaum actually gave a hint about this. When Jesus encountered it and cast it out, the unclean spirit said: “I know who You are—the Holy One of God.” And that statement is confirmed by what happens on the high mountain.

At the end of Jesus’ Galilean Ministry, “[He] took with Him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” What Jesus had meant to accomplish through His preaching and wondrous deeds in Galilee had been achieved. The people of Jesus’ home region knew that a man sent from God, a prophet, had been among them. They had even witnessed the fulfillment of the prophecies about the promised Christ’s work against the effects of sin, against the forces of evil. But in the Transfiguration, Jesus is shown not just as a man sent from God, but God-in-the-flesh: someone greater than any prophet.

Jesus’ heavenly nature is seen by what happens on that high mountain: “He was transfigured before them, and His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” Peter, James, and John see this holiness and glory on display. Jesus looks exactly like what the prophets Daniel and Ezekiel had seen in their visions of the Lord God in heaven above: the Ancient of Days with clothing white as snow and hair like pure wool; a human appearance like gleaming metal, like the appearance of enclosed fire, with brightness surrounding Him.

This is what the Inner Circle of disciples witness. But as you hear, there was even more: “And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.” The greatest prophet and the greatest leader of Israel—long since dead on earth—were speaking with Jesus. Heaven had opened its doors on that high mountain. And still more: “And a cloud overshadowed them, and a Voice came out of the cloud: ‘This is My Beloved Son; listen to Him!’” Peter, James, and John see things, hear things, greater than what the Israelites saw with Moses and Mount Sinai, greater than any of the prophets’ visions. For they see and hear the Godhead and gaze upon the Son of God in the fullness of His divinity and humanity. Jesus’ identity is confirmed, and by grace these mortal disciples witness it and survive.

The Transfiguration is a great event. It is so great that Peter says: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” In his awe, Peter suggests the only thing that makes sense to someone who doesn’t know what to say. It is good that he and his two fellow disciples are there. It is good to see the revelation of exactly who Jesus is. It is good to be in the unveiled presence of God and not die. But it is better for them to leave that high mountain.

Note how quickly everything ends on that high mountaintop. Right after the Voice of God the Father booms out of the cloud and states exactly who Jesus is, the event ends. The purpose of the Transfiguration has been fulfilled: “And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.” The Transfiguration was not Jesus’ goal, but a means to an end. Jesus must be explicitly identified as the Son of God. Peter, James, and John must receive the explicit command to listen to Him. But they must be left alone with Jesus. They must come down from that high mountain for the identity of Jesus to be fulfilled.

The Gospel-writer mentions that purpose in a roundabout way, but it is there: “And as they were coming down the mountain, [Jesus] charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Did you get that? Listen again to that last phrase: “until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” A death has to take place from which the Son of Man rises. That is what Jesus has to achieve. Jesus and His disciples must descend the high mountain, so that He can climb an inferior, undesirable, and cursed hill outside Jerusalem. For the Son of God and Son of Man is not on earth for the purpose of being metamorphosized, but for the purpose of sacrificial death and resurrection.

It was good to be on that high Galilean mountain, but for all humanity’s good, Jesus comes down. His identity is not being kept secret, but who He is does include the necessity of His death and resurrection. You heard how Mark began His description of the Transfiguration: “After six days Jesus took with Him . . . .” Other translations make it clearer: “Six days later. . .” But six days after what? Earlier this year, you heard the what. It was the dialogue about who Jesus was: “[Jesus asked]: ‘Who do people say that I am? . . . But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered: ‘You are the Christ.’” And after that confession about Jesus’ identity: “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Six days after the dialogue, that identity is confirmed: Jesus is the Christ. Peter, James, and John now see just who it is that will be rejected and murdered. They know Jesus’ fate after coming down that high mountain. Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets—even the Psalms also—had spoken of the Christ dying for the sins of the world. John the Baptizer, who had already heard God the Father identify Jesus as His Son at His baptism, testified that Jesus is “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” The events in Galilee, all the healings and the exorcisms, were not leading to the Transfiguration, but to Jesus’ death and resurrection. For then both the effects of sin and sin itself were removed from mankind and Satan’s tyranny over humanity was ended.

What had transpired in Jesus’ life had crescendoed to this Transfiguration. But this was not the pinnacle. There was more to take place. The Son of Man would rise from the dead, and then Peter, James, and John could freely speak about what they had seen. They could speak about Jesus as the Son of God with all His glory; how God the Father loved Him fully for what He did; how there really is life after death as the presence of Moses and Elijah proved; and how even sinful, mortal humans could stand in the presence of the Lord God because of the mediating work of Jesus. All of this is meant for you to hear and to speak, because the Son of Man has risen from the dead for you.

The Transfiguration shows you just who exactly it was that hanged on the cross of Mount Calvary, that most inglorious hillside. You know who and what Jesus is and what He has done for you. This is what the Spirit of the Lord has made known to you as Peter, James, John, and their successors spoke freely about Jesus. All the veil of sinfulness has been removed from your eyes, as St. Paul wrote: “God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The identity of Jesus is no mystery to you, but has been made explicitly clear by the events on that Galilean mountain and Jerusalem’s hill.

So now you need not be frightened by the presence of God. You should have a sense of awe and reverence, but not terror. For God-in-the-flesh has died for you and the Holy Spirit is purging your sins away. The radiance of God’s glory will not be a beam that blinds or causes you to hide—like a prison searchlight—but a beacon to draw you to Him. For His glory is meant for you. You are destined to have an experience like Peter, James, and John: to witness Jesus unveiled. But the experience meant for you will surpass even what those three disciples saw.

Remember that Peter, James, and John had to leave that high mountain. But the time would come when they would see Moses and Elijah again. And so it is for you. The day shall arrive when you are transfigured and will permanently be in the presence of the glorified Christ and all His people—Old and New Testament believers. That is what Jesus’ death and resurrection has achieved for you, what you have been given a share of through your baptisms and being made children of God. That is what Jesus’ words—the words of eternal life—have guaranteed to you.

The Transfiguration is a preview of what awaits you and all who trust in what that Voice of God the Father said: “This is My Beloved Son; listen to Him!” Those words have been spoken plainly and freely for your benefit. Believe them and receive what that Beloved Incarnate Son of God has achieved for you. So when Jesus leads you up the mountain of Holy Zion in Paradise with all His people, you will be like Him and see Him as He truly is.

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

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Epiphany 6 Sermon -- Mark 1:40-45 (LSB Epiphany 6B)

February 15, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

A leper came to [Jesus], imploring Him, and kneeling said to Him: “If You will, You can make me clean.” Moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out His hand and touched [the leper] and said to him: “I will; be clean.”

Ability and desire are two different concepts. There’s the “can” and then there is the “wanna.” Just because someone can do something doesn’t mean that they have the “want-to.” Are they motivated to act upon their abilities? It’s a question that each of you has to evaluate, often doing so before asking for a person’s favor.

You see the same thing happen in the Gospel Reading for today. The leper who comes to Jesus for healing mentions both of these concepts: ability and desire. This man knows about himself, about the illness he has which leaves no hope. He will die because of it. That is the fate of most lepers. But this man has heard about Jesus of Nazareth, that there is Someone who has both the ability and the desire to heal.

That the leper has heard about Jesus is implicit in the text. The past two weeks, you have heard Mark’s account of Jesus’ work in Galilee. Included in that account were details such as: “Jesus went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” Apparently, news of this had reached the leper who could not go near any of the towns where Jesus was. His uncleanness had separated him from society. But apparently, he believed the news about Jesus that got to him.

So it is that when the leper can encounter Jesus outside the confines of a town, he decides to press the “can and want-to” questions. This is what Mark describes: “A leper came to Jesus, imploring Him, and kneeling said to Him: ‘If You will, You can make me clean.’” The leper’s words show his belief in Jesus’ ability: “You can make me clean.” This is a statement of faith, a simple creed about Jesus. There is no doubt in the leper’s mind that Jesus can heal.

But the “want-to” question remains. Note what the leper says: “If You will . . . .” The leper puts the question to Jesus: “Is it Your desire to cleanse me? Do You want to heal me, as You healed all those other people in Capernaum and the rest of Galilee?” Those questions do not indicate doubt in Jesus’ identity or ability. The leper fully believes in Jesus’ power. But is that power meant for him? That is the question.

But it does not take long to answer the leper. Jesus doesn’t make him twist in the wind. The Evangelist writes: “Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him and said to him: ‘I will; be clean.’” And in that simple action, the “can and want-to” questions are fully answered. Jesus indicates that the leper is right, that his faith is true: “Yes, I have the ability to heal you.” But not only does Jesus show His ability, He tells the leper about His desire: “I will.” Jesus wants to heal him; He can heal him; and He does heal him.

When Jesus speaks those words, the faithful leper is cured. Jesus says to him: “I will; be clean.” And the Gospel-Writer says: “Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.” Jesus’ words carry His ability. And when Jesus wants something to occur, He speaks and it is so.

There is much to be learned from this short narrative. The most important is to know about Jesus’ ability and desire for you. What are you to see from this event about Jesus and yourself? First, that as the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus has great abilities. This is the identity and ability issue that the Epiphany Season deals with. Just who is Jesus of Nazareth? That question can be answered based upon what you have heard about His actions.

But the second part, the part about Jesus’ desire for you, needs to be understood as well. Is the ability that Jesus had and used in Galilee meant for you? Are you to receive preaching and healing from Jesus? Those questions can’t fully be answered based upon what you heard today. But as this event in Jesus’ life is seen in the full context of what He said and did, you can answer affirmatively. The Evangelist includes details that every hearer needs to keep in mind as they continue to hear the whole story of Jesus: Jesus is moved with pity when He sees the effects of sin in humans; Jesus gets His hands dirty with people, even touching the leper; Jesus shows the desire to heal someone with an extreme malady; and Jesus speaks and fulfills His word.

The way that Jesus treats the leper in Galilee is the way that He desires to treat all who suffer the terminal leprosy of sin. Those who hear about Him, believe in His ability and desire, and who turn to Him for aid are not dismissed. No, these are the sort that Jesus heals. These are the ones whom He welcomes and brings back from exile. The leper was an outcast, separated from the visible fellowship with the Lord God because of his disease. He was unclean. But Jesus’ actions for him restore the leper and all who do likewise.

And so it is that the full story of Jesus includes the act that reconciles all leprous sinners to the Father. Jesus’ sacrificial death is the fulfillment of His identity and His resurrection is the pinnacle of His ability. Jesus lays down His life and takes it up again, so that every single one of you who are spiritually leprous can be healed. Jesus stretches out His hands to be pinned by nails, so that the sin which eats away at your life can be removed. And that healing, that cleansing is done by believing in Jesus’ ability and trusting in His desire to save you. For when you do, then you will be where you can hear Jesus’ words of forgiveness for your sins. You will go to hear Jesus say: “Be clean.” And you will believe those words, whether they be spoken from a pulpit or attached to baptismal waters or connected to the loaf and cup of the altar.

What you believe about Jesus’ identity and ability is put on display here in this room. There is the same action as the Galilean leper’s taking place in this assembly. For you have come, believing that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for your sin. And you have already implored Him and knelt before Him, saying: “If You will, You can make me clean.” There is no doubt, but the confession of faith that you have made: “If we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And the “can and want-to” questions are answered: “To those who believe in Jesus Christ He gives the power to become children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit.”

There the belief in who and what Jesus is and does brings the benefit. It is an act of faith, what you do as you have heard Jesus’ words and learned about His works. They are done for you, done in the divine desire that you be saved. And though the acts of Jesus in this day may not be as dramatic as the healings in Galilee, the effects are just as good, if not better. Like Naaman, the Syrian leper who eventually did wash in the Jordan River, you also believe what the Lord God has attached His Word to. And as you do, then you act in faith, and the cleansing of soul is given now and the eternal cleansing of the body awaits you in the life of the world to come. What the Lord God says is done for you, for He desires that you receive His grace and mercy.

Can Jesus make you clean? Yes, for that is His ability as the Crucified and Risen Son of God. Does Jesus want to cleanse you? Yes, for that is what His crucifixion and resurrection demonstrate, and it is the purpose of His instituting the Church on earth. How does Jesus cleanse you? That is what His Word in verbal and visible form accomplishes, as you receive it and believe it. What Jesus does for the leper in Galilee is what He also does for you. If He desires, He can make you clean. And He says: “I will; be clean.” So be it for you.

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

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Epiphany 5 Sermon -- Mark 1:29-39 (LSB Epiphany 5B)

February 8, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus said to the Twelve]: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came.” And He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

So the war campaign of Jesus continues. Though it may seem odd to speak of Jesus’ work in this way, the war description fits very well. There is a struggle that Jesus participates in, a contest which is more than a game. There are no neutral parties, no people who are disinterested or unaffected by the results. It is war of liberation, not conquest.

Galilee is one theatre of operations in this war that Jesus wages. Last week, you heard of Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum and His healing of a demoniac. He announces who He is and what He is going to do, explaining the Old Testament prophecies about Him, about the promised Messiah. His words are a declaration of freedom and liberty: “I have released you. You are free from slavery to sin and death and Satan.” And to show that His words are true, Jesus deposes one of the captors, freeing the man from the demon which had ensnared him.

The same acts continue in the streets of Capernaum. The Evangelist writes: “And immediately [Jesus] left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.” But as He enters the house, Jesus is informed of the illness which grips Simon’s mother-in-law. She suffers from the effects of sin; not that she broke God’s Law and so He has punished her with a fever, but that her imperfection and sinfulness make her susceptible to illness. So Jesus frees her: “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

Once again, Jesus deposes what had held one of His people captive: disease and illness. And when news of where Jesus can be found reaches the people of Capernaum, they flock to meet Him in order to receive the benefits of His work: “That evening at sundown they brought to Him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” The people of Capernaum welcome Jesus as a liberator, the One who can and will deliver them.

These events are part of Jesus’ redemptive work. His presence in the fallen world is dynamic as He carries authority and power which He uses to aid sinners. Those who are desperate for such aid go to meet Him, to be where Jesus can be found. They want what Jesus can provide. But what He has to give them is even greater than healing the sick or expelling unclean spirits.

The greater gift is alluded to in Jesus’ words on the morning after His preaching and healing in Capernaum. The Evangelist writes: “[Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him, and they found Him and said to Him: ‘Everyone is looking for you.’” Why do they look for Jesus? Because they want Him to act on their behalf again. But Jesus’ reply shows that the healing is not the main purpose of His mission, not the only thing He is there to do: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came.”

Jesus’ words indicate two things. First, what He was doing was not meant for Capernaum alone, but for a greater audience. His theatre of operations is to be enlarged. More towns will receive His work. Second, what Jesus was meant to do is to proclaim the gospel, to declare what the righteousness of God is and to share that righteousness with those who lacked it. Jesus’ mission is to speak words of freedom to the captives of sin, death, and Satan. But He doesn’t simply talk about freedom, His words and actions deliver it. Jesus tells people about redemption and gives it to them, because He is the One who redeems them.

So Jesus begins to fulfill His mission: “He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” This is Jesus on the warpath. The physical healings show Jesus’ power and they reverse the symptoms of sinfulness. But when Jesus preaches, He is getting to the root of the problem. The gospel that Jesus declares will be eternally therapeutic. He says: “Your guilt is removed and your sins are no longer counted against you. Your condemnation has been lifted, so that even your earthly death does not actually end your life. Your slavemaster has been defeated by Me, so now you are My people and I give you a new purpose and it is not an awful fate.” This is the message that Jesus brings to the synagogues of Galilee. He says these words and backs them up with action, delivering the promised goods, setting people free.

The same liberating gospel is what Jesus brings to the synagogues, to the assemblies of Pennsylvania. Jesus sends out His ministers with the same message of freedom. He said: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came.” And after He accomplished all that is necessary for that gospel message to be true, Jesus sends that declaration of freedom and liberty around the world. He dies and is raised again and He says: “As the Father sent Me, so now I send you. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” And He sends His apostles with that declaration of freedom and liberty, His words that accomplish what they say.

That is why the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians: “If I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! . . . I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” Paul tells his assembly that he must preach the gospel to them because he needs to fulfill the command given to him and they need the blessings that the gospel of Christ gives. And what are those blessings? They are the salvation which Jesus has earned and that He brings by His work done through the Church.

You have been given a share of those blessings as long as you believe what Jesus says and does. He knows that you need deliverance. For who in this place has not suffered from illness? Who hasn’t fallen victim to the wiles of Satan? Who hasn’t felt the dreadful impact that sin brings to personal lives and family ties and relationships? Who hasn’t had to bury their loved ones or explain to the young why there will be less people at Christmas or Easter or birthday celebrations? Who hasn’t had their own consciences accuse and condemn them?

Like the people in Capernaum and all Galilee, you know that you need deliverance. But in your desperation, to whom do you turn? It cannot be to yourselves, for that would be futile. It cannot be to others, not even if they make great claims or dress in unique garb, for they suffer the same limitations. No, it must be to Jesus that you go for aid. For He alone can provide the redemption and liberation you need. This is what He brings as the Incarnate God, the Lord God-in-the-flesh. What the prophet Isaiah said describes Him: “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to Him who has no might He increases strength.” That is the Redeemer you need, the Redeemer that Jesus is.

And the Psalmist speaks of that same powerful, dynamic God providing aid to His people: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. . . . The Lord lifts up the humble; He casts the wicked to the ground. . . . His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor His pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love.” What the Psalmist describes is what the compassionate acts of Jesus done in Galilee and here delivers. That is the gospel that He proclaims through His Church.

In your guilt and your sorrow, your hearts are broken; but Jesus binds your wounds with His forgiveness and promise of eternal joy. In your contrition, you are humbled; but Jesus lifts you up to be heirs of heaven. In your weakness, you fail to be perfect in thought, word, and deed; but Jesus does not treat you according to your terrible measure of worthiness. Instead, He delivers what He has earned to you, as you hope and trust in His compassion and mercy. The desperate clamoring for what Jesus has—the gathering at the doors of His house on earth—is the reaction He wants of you. For then, He will speak and you will be healed, not in body, but in soul. And for all who have been made righteous in the sight of God, the blessed end of everlasting life with glorified and restored bodies awaits.

That is the blessing of Christ’s gospel which is meant for you. As you assemble in this house of Christ and believe His words and actions, it becomes yours and yours to keep. You are in the theatre of Christ’s operations of redemption. And it is meant for all whom you bring in their desperation to receive His work also. For all “those who fear Him, those who hope in His steadfast love” shall have the blessings of Christ’s gospel. It is theirs as He preaches it to them and they believe, just as it is was for the people of Galilee and for you.

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

Monday, February 2, 2009

Epiphany 4 Sermon -- Mark 1:21-28 (LSB Epiphany 4B)

February 1, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

They were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying: “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him!”

Jesus brings amazement to the synagogue at Capernaum. The worshipers are surprised at what they hear and what they see. It is a new experience for them, but not a new experience for Jesus. He had already been a source of amazement earlier in His life. In a similar setting—the Temple at Jerusalem—He had astonished the teachers of the Law with His questions and knowledge. What took place during Jesus’ youth is similar to the event near the beginning of His adult work.

The crowd in the synagogue was “astonished at His teaching, for [Jesus] taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” It is important to note that first, because what the Evangelist says with that sentence explains the entire incident at Capernaum and tells you something essential about Jesus. What the people hear from Jesus’ mouth is different than what they normally heard, even in their synagogue meetings. A different quality exists—an authority—in Jesus’ words.

Though this was new to the people of Capernaum, it was not a new occurrence in Israel’s history. What the synagogue members said could have been spoken about many in the past: Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, all the prophets. Every prophet in the Old Testament spoke “as one who had authority,” because each of them had the word of God placed directly into their mouths, so that they could speak it.

You heard about prophets in the reading from Deuteronomy. The Lord God says about prophets: “The prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name that I have not commanded Him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.” In that statement, it is clear that the Lord God does bring forth people to whom He gives His words to speak. When they do so, according to His command, they speak with authority. But when they don’t or when they speak other things, they are impostors without authority.

Based upon what they hear, the crowd in Capernaum recognizes Jesus as a prophet. They say He speaks with authority. His words make them draw that conclusion. Jesus is properly seen as One who doesn’t give lectures like the scribes or textbook recitations like students, but as the One who fully knows what He says and whose words have power. He is the Author of those words, and as such, His teaching has authority. The crowds’ thoughts about Jesus are correct.

But then there is the other part of the incident at Capernaum: “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out: ‘What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God.’” This was clearly not a usual Sabbath. The present of a demoniac in the synagogue is quite abnormal. But it does present Jesus with an opportunity to confirm what the people had already begun to think about Him.

What Jesus does with the demoniac shows that He not only “[teaches] as one who had authority,” but acts with that authority, too: “Jesus rebuked him, saying: ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.” Jesus speaks and the demon obeys. The words that come from Jesus’ mouth carry full authority, full power over all beings, visible and invisible. That is part of His identity, just who Jesus is.

As Jesus commands the unclean spirit, the people of Capernaum begin to see exactly who He is. He has first shown His authority by His teaching. Then the unclean spirit says that Jesus is “the Holy One of God.” And finally what Jesus does to that unclean spirit confirms that is true. This is an epiphany—a revelation of Jesus’ identity as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The conclusion that the people of Capernaum reach is meant to be. And their reaction is the desired one: “At once [Jesus’] fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” The people of Israel were to know that Jesus is “the Prophet” that Moses had spoken of many centuries before, to whom every person of God was to hear, believe, and obey.

The issues of Christ’s identity and authority are vitally important for you as well. The reading of an ancient account of events in a rustic Galilean town is relevant for today. It is to confirm what you believe about who Jesus is and what He does. Your faith in Jesus is rooted in the authority that He has as the Son of God. Without that belief in who Jesus is, the Christian faith is worthless. Everything that goes on in this parish would be meaningless. The entire Christian faith is intertwined in the confession that Jesus is the Son of God, that His words are authoritative, and that His actions accomplish salvation.

You are called to be astonished at Jesus’ words and works, to have the same reaction as the members of Capernaum’s synagogue. It is not a reaction of shock or surprise, but of awe and wonder at what the God-Man from Nazareth could do which not one individual in this room could by their own ability. The worshipers knew that they could not teach as Jesus did; in fact, they had never even heard teaching like that. The worshipers knew that they were powerless against unclean spirits, unable to help their fellow citizen. But the words and works of Jesus give them and you an object of faith, something to trust, hope in, and cling to.

The authority that Jesus’ words and works carry is where you put your trust. The incident in Capernaum is important to keep in mind, as you hear of those words and works of Jesus as the Church Year progresses. Reading from the Gospel of Mark, you have already heard the testimony that God the Father gave of His Son at His baptism: “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And now you have heard of the nature of His teaching and what He did in power over the forces of pure evil. But more will be said and done by Jesus, more that will bring up the question asked in Capernaum’s synagogue: “What is this?” You will answer that question: “This is what I believe for my salvation, because Jesus has the authority to say and do these things for me.”

And so you will trust what Jesus says and does. You will believe Jesus when He says: “I have the authority on earth to forgive sins.” You will believe Jesus when He says: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” You will believe the stories that He tells to illustrate what the kingdom of heaven is like. You will believe that “even the winds and the seas obey Him.” You will still believe in Jesus when He says: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” You will believe because Jesus has the authority to say and do all these things as His Father has given Him all the words to speak and laid out the agenda of what to accomplish. It is what He has been given to say and to do for your salvation.

Jesus words and works will astonish. They are nothing like what you experience in this world. They have an authority that is absent in sinful creation. But wherever the testimony about what Jesus said and did is found, there His authority is present. His words and works continue to carry salvation to the world—to present you with the truth that God is righteous and that you are sinful, but also to remove the uncleanness of sin and evil from you. That is what takes place here in this assembly of Christ’s believers, those who continue to listen to the amazing teachings and events of Jesus’ life.

The authority of Christ is present in this assembly, because He has placed it here. The Holy One of God has given the authoritative command: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” That Gospel is Christ’s words and works. And He adds the promise: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” It is a promise that only one with supreme, divine authority can make. But as the Lord God has raised up a Prophet greater than Moses and put all His words in His mouth, and as Jesus is the Word of God Incarnate who has spoken them, the needed authority is there.

The Capernaum worshipers asked: What is this?” You know the answer: It is the redeeming mission of the Lord God for them and for you on display. So Jesus’ fame will spread in your region, in your lives, as you bear witness to His astonishing words and works. Believe them, for through them the Holy One of God gives you salvation by freeing you from your sin and leading you to faith in Him. Believe them, for they compel what is wrong in you to depart. Believe them, for they are the words of eternal life for you and all who listen to Jesus.

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