Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pentecost 4 Sermon -- Mark 5:21-43 (LSB Proper 8B)

June 28, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Seeing [Jesus], Jairus fell at His feet and implored Him earnestly, saying: “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”

In this episode from Christ’s life, both the young daughter of Jairus and the older woman with a bleeding disease need the touch of Christ. They need what only He can provide, since their afflictions cannot be relieved by the hand of normal men. No man can touch a dead girl and make her live. The Gospel writer ensures the audience knows that the older woman received no help from physicians. The sources of aid normally turned to are of no avail.

So both Jairus and the woman seek out Jesus. They both have heard of Him. They both know His capabilities. Reports of Jesus had spread throughout Galilee. Jairus had Jesus present in his synagogue, hearing the Teacher’s words and seeing His actions. The woman “had heard the reports about Jesus.” So both come to His presence: Jairus falls at Jesus’ feet; the woman “came up behind [Jesus] in the crowd and touched His garment.”

In both cases, faith drives these individuals to Jesus. They believe what they have heard about Him. They come in their desperation because they trust that Jesus is willing and able to help. From His teaching and actions, they know His character and capabilities. Jesus is a strong man, one who carries power from heaven above, but He uses that strength for the good of others. Jairus and the woman believe in Jesus’ ability which is compounded with His compassion.

In faith, Jairus and the woman come to Jesus. Neither is disappointed with what happens. The woman believes that “if I touch even His garments, I will be well.” And upon touching Jesus’ cloak, “immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.” Jairus believes that Jesus will heal his daughter and brings Him to the house. And Jesus “taking her by the hand said to her: ‘Talitha cumi!’ And immediately the girl got up and began walking.”

What the Gospel writer provides for us in this portion of his account are two patterns which describe us. St. Mark illustrates what takes place in everyone who trusts in Jesus for restoration of body and soul by telling of the healed woman. He also depicts the actions of those who have already received Christ’s aid but want it for others by speaking about Jairus. Both the woman and Jairus serve as examples for us to emulate. They are also visible displays of what happens in the soul and mind during the lives of Christians. You and I act like these two characters of the great drama of salvation.

Knowledge of our poor condition drives us to seek a remedy. So we act like the woman in the Gospel Reading. Recall how she tried to find a solution to her illness: “[She] had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” How we do that! Like the woman, we know that we have a great problem—the disease and ill effects of sinfulness. Our lives bear the scars of our faults and transgressions. The symptoms of our sin are constantly seen like the unending flow of blood from the woman. But often, we turn to our own devices to find a solution. We encounter our sins and their effects, but we want to find a different way of dealing with them other than confessing our guilt and receiving forgiveness for them.

So we exhaust all our options. We spend everything that we have on books, counselors, programs, different patterns of behavior. And we can suffer much in that process as our guilt never goes away, but hangs around our necks and weighs us down. When our attempts at solving the insolvable fail, we realize our need for a greater solution—the only solution. The only help for what plagues us to the core—for the unrighteousness of body and soul—is the touch of Christ. “Hearing the reports about Jesus,” only after receiving His Spirit through the message the there truly is a Savior who absolves sin and guilt, we come to Him. By His touch we are saved. And His reaction is not to chide, but to commend: “Your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

But after we have been given this faith, we act on our conviction about Jesus. After our own reception of what Jesus provides through His Word of forgiveness, we then want others to receive it, too. So it was with Jairus: he knew what Jesus could do and he knew well that his daughter needed it. So what does Jairus do? He makes it so Jesus with His capability and compassion will be at his daughter’s side: “He fell at [Jesus’] feet and implored Him earnestly, saying, ‘My daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, so that she may be well and live.’ And He went with [Jairus].”

For most of us in this room, that is how we first came into the salvation that Jesus provides. Our parents had been forgiven by Jesus and knew that His suffering, death, and resurrection were not only for them, but for their children also. And so they implored Jesus to lay His hands on us and make us well, to bring us to the waters of Holy Baptism, so that divine grace and forgiveness would be given to us. As the promises of Christ were spoken at the font, our dead souls heard His words—not a magic formula—but the dynamic words of the Gospel: “Little child, arise!” And we were brought to life and given the instruction to be nourished, to be fed more and more of Christ’s words of forgiveness.

Many of you have done the same with your own children or other loved ones. You ran like Jairus to ensure that your child would be in the presence of Jesus. You knew their fatal illness of body and soul that only Jesus could cure. And when your child was there before Him, Jesus did not ignore them, but took their hands and spoke the enlivening, dynamic word of salvation that brings life to the dead. In faith, believing in Christ’s capability and compassion, you acted.

The Gospel writer includes this episode of Jesus’ life, so that you and I can be assured that capability and compassion are meant for us. The Old Testament Scriptures speak of this. You heard from the Book of Lamentations: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’” And in the Gospel accounts of Jesus, you see that put into action. Jesus acts in steadfast love, displaying pity to those who needed it. He does not turn away those who come trusting in Him, but commends their faith. For that is His character: “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.”

That commendation of faith is what Jesus wants to ring in our ears. He wants us to constantly hear and believe what He says to the healed woman: “Your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Our faith in Him has made us well, even if our bodies do not display health. For our faith has received the newness of life that His forgiving word provides. As we have faithfully come to His presence, Jesus commands us to rise from death; His hands are laid upon us in Holy Baptism and Confirmation; even the touching of Him in veiled form in the Lord’s Supper delivers forgiveness, life, and salvation. But our Lord does not want us to come only when we have exhausted all options, but to come running like Jairus when we encounter the spectre of sin, death, and Satan in our lives. He speaks to us: “Do not fear, only believe.”

Christ’s capability and compassion are meant for us and for all whom we bring into His presence. The results of His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection are the source of our salvation and eternal wellness. In pity for us and our sins and all the ruinous effects of our unfaithfulness, Jesus took up His cross and offered Himself in our place. In answer to our looming unending death, Jesus rose from the grave and shares His mastery over it. You are meant to receive it, like the woman and Jairus’ daughter, because it is the Lord God’s will.

And so the Lord Jesus has laid His hands upon you and commanded you to live. It is true now and will be so at the Last Day. And when that occurs, then you will fully rejoice in Christ’s capability and compassion, just as the Psalmist does: “I will extol You, O Lord, for You have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You have healed me. O Lord, You have brought up my soul from Sheol; You restored me to life from among those who go down to the grave.” That will be the effect which the touch of Christ has in your lives now and forever, as your faith in Him has made you well.

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

Monday, June 22, 2009

June 21, 2009 - 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Due to the English District Convention being held in Hales Corners, WI, Dr. Thomas Kraus (pastor emeritus of Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church) was asked to preach and preside at the Divine Service on June 21. Dr. Kraus preached on the Gospel Reading for the day, the account of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41).

St. Mark's account includes the question from the disciples who witnessed Jesus' actions: "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey Him?" The answer gets to the heart of who Jesus is: the incarnate Son of God, through whom all things were made. It is important to know this answer, for then one knows who their Redeemer is. He who made the world also took residence in His creation, becoming man, so that He could give salvation to sinners like you and me. Even the wind and the sea obey Jesus, for they are subservient to Him. What He speaks must be obeyed. And that same dynamic word is spoken to you and me. So we may trust that the words of Jesus will be fulfilled when He says: "You are redeemed. Your salvation has been accomplished. You are forgiven. You are My people. You will have a place in the new heaven and new earth." So may you hear and believe.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pentecost 2 Sermon -- Mark 4:26-34 (LSB Proper 6B)

June 14, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said: “[The kingdom of God] is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

The Lord God loves His earthly creation. When He caused it to exist, He declared it to be “very good.” This was so, when the Lord God commanded the earth to bring forth vegetation of all kinds and to produce fruit according to its kind. And so when the Lord God speaks about the spiritual institution that He creates by speaking His Word, it is possible for Him to use the earthly creation to describe it. That you heard this morning, as the Lord God’s words were spoken to you, speaking about the Church to which you belong.

Jesus’ second parable that you heard—the Parable of the Mustard Seed—is a depiction of the Church. It is a restating of a parable told by the Prophet Ezekiel. And to understand Jesus’ words, it helps to know what the Old Testament prophet had said centuries before. Listen again to what the Lord God said to His people centuries before the Son of God took flesh and dwelt among us: “I Myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I Myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches, birds of every sort will nest.”

The Lord God’s message was given to His people about to be exiled to Babylon. Their entire culture and political reality was going to change. They would no longer live around Jerusalem, free to live as the Lord God’s people in a designated land for their possession. This great change would challenge their understanding of themselves. Are they really the Lord God’s people, if they are driven away from the City of David? How can they worship Him when they are away from the Temple? Is the Lord God’s favor removed from them forever?

But the Lord God does not abandon His people. He promises them redemption and deliverance: not a political restoration, but a preservation of their identity as His own. He pledges to them a reversal of fortune which a Redeemer would bring. Out of their line, from the remnant of Israel, one would be raised up by the Lord God, planted on an Israeli hill, bringing forth fruit and becoming a haven for them and all sorts of birds. Through Ezekiel’s parable, the Lord God promises the arrival of the Christ, who would deliver salvation to people of every tribe, race, nation, and language by His crucifixion on Mount Calvary. In a parable about a “noble cedar,” the Lord God states that what His Christ would accomplish would be “very good.”

And so when the Christ appears, He speaks the same way. For His presence is meant to accomplish and fulfill what the Lord God had promised in the Old Testament. The Christ will bring a kingdom of God on earth. It is a realm, a sphere of influence. But this kingdom is not an earthly one. Christ’s realm is seen when He proclaims the message of salvation to sinners who need to hear it and they believe it. They receive the word of Christ which testifies about His identity—the incarnate Son of God—and about His work for them—leading a perfect life, suffering death in substitution for them, taking the full brunt of God’s wrath, and delivering a newness of life through His resurrection.

This reception of the word is described in Jesus’ first parable that you heard: a farmer sows seed into the ground, the seed sprouts, and a fruitful plant appears. Here Jesus speaks in agrarian terms about the message of salvation that is proclaimed in the world. The plants in this parable represent people—like you—who have received the Gospel of Christ and believed it. You have become part of the kingdom of God, just as Luther speaks about in His Small Catechism: “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” Your reception of the Gospel delivers the Holy Spirit to you, so that you believe in Christ’s works for your salvation and then lead lives according to His will. So you are made “very good” by the Lord God, made pleasing to Him, as St. Paul describes.

But Jesus takes the people back to the Old Testament to speak about the nature of His kingdom. He reminds them of what the Prophet Ezekiel said about an institution which will be most cosmopolitan: “[The kingdom of God] is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Jesus speaks of the people who believe His words about His identity and trust in His works for their salvation. The Christ describes what will happen as His salvific mission is fulfilled.

Jesus says that the mustard seed is “the smallest of all the seeds on earth.” It is insignificant, unimpressive. It can be discarded by a person, almost without noticing it. But this is how Jesus describes His Church. It was small like a mustard seed. Think of who followed Jesus when He spoke these words: a motley crew of fishermen, tax collectors, political activists, and some of their relatives. Traveling around Galilee, they were a most insignificant group of people. They were as insignificant as the exiled Israelites who heard the Lord God’s promise about Christ.

But the Parable of the Mustard Seed doesn’t stop with the description of seed size. Remember what Jesus says about the mustard seed: “When it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” This is also how Jesus describes His Church. The past two Sundays, you have heard of how the Lord God’s people here on earth did not remain just a dozen people of Galilean descent. You heard how Jesus’ apostles received the commission “to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name” to people of all ethnicities. You also heard the events of Pentecost which brought the words and works of Christ to Parthians, Medes, Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, and so on. The kingdom of God comes to them all. In the words of the prophet, they find their place in the tree of Christ: “Under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches, birds of every sort will nest.”

So you also have found a place in the tree of Christ. You have received the words and works of Christ. You are among the birds in Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed. It is so, because you are like the ground in Jesus’ Parable of the Seed. The seed of the Gospel has been planted in you, delivered by the proclamation of the apostolic message, reception Holy Baptism, participation in Christ’s Holy Supper, and the conversation of those already in the Church. Through that seed, the Holy Spirit has worked in you, bringing forth faith and the fruits of faith. So the kingdom of God has come to you, and you have been given a place in Christ’s Church.

But one other item must be kept in mind. The description of the Church’s significance in Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed is not an earthly measure of significance. The Lord God’s people will indeed do great things in this world. But that is not how its greatness is measured. Rather, the Church’s greatness is found in being the people who have received the grace and mercy of the Lord God and have His divine work done in them. It is a greatness found in having the words and works of Christ brought to you and believed by you, so that you have are found to be pleasing to Him. It is a greatness found in having “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” with the people of every tribe, race, nation, and language. So whether the Church on earth is 1 billion people or 1 million or even 1 thousand, the Lord God still calls it “very good.”

The sowing and planting in the parables still goes on today. The message of Christ’s words and works is being proclaimed; and your mouths can speak it. More birds of all sorts are finding their shelter from sin, death, and Satan in the shade of Christ’s tree: the mustard tree of the parable and the tree of Calvary’s cross. They join you in receiving the salvation that Christ has won through His perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. The kingdom of God continues to go forward in this world.

But such activity is not just for new believers: it is the continued work of the Holy Spirit done in your lives. You must receive that work, so that the Psalmist’s agrarian description of the Lord God’s people may apply to you: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Continue to receive the message of Christ’s words and works in its aural and visible forms, and this shall be so for you. The Holy Spirit given to you as a guarantee of everlasting life will produce the fruits of faith in you. And you shall be pleasing to the Lord God who redeems sinners and makes them His people, the One who calls His creation, the Church, “very good.”

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

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Holy Trinity Sunday Sermon -- John 3:1-17 (LSB Trinity B)

June 7, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

How many times have you heard that sentence from the Scriptures? It is learned easily, taught even to the youngest of disciples. But within that statement is found great reference to the Holy Trinity, the greatest divine mystery that we focus on this day. With that sentence, the Evangelist states that the redemption of the world was accomplished by the Triune God: that your salvation has been given by the coordinated work of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

This Sunday is when the Western Church confesses both the unity and the manifold essence of the Lord God. And the designated readings tell all who hear about the work of the Triune God. The mystery of God’s essence will not be fully known by us mere mortals. It isn’t given for us to understand, but to confess. The Lord God presents Himself in Three Persons, each one being described as divine in the Scriptures. But the greatest revelation in the Scriptures is not the Lord God’s essence, but that this Triune God has worked salvation for sinners.

You were given a glimpse of the Lord God from Isaiah’s vision of heaven. You heard the lyrics of the seraphic song, the praise given to the Lord God: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” In the presence of the divine majesty, even the seraphim have to cover themselves, using their wings to veil their eyes and conceal their loins. The prophet sees the grandeur of that heavenly worship, noticing even the thresholds shaking from the angelic chorus. And in response to this, Isaiah states: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

But why is Isaiah given this glimpse into heaven? Is it to bear witness of the Divine Majesty? Is it to bring him to a confession about his guilt and unworthiness? Yes, that is the purpose of his vision. But there is an even greater purpose of this vision: the calling of Isaiah to be a prophet. So his vision states: “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said: ‘Here am I! Send me.’” Isaiah is there in order to be sent by the Triune God to deliver a message of salvation to His people. He is witness to fullness of the Lord God, the same who will use His ability and power to redeem the world. Isaiah bears witness to what he knows about the Lord God, including the divine statement: “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

You heard another description of the Triune God in the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus. You heard Jesus speak to Nicodemus about a rebirth, a new birth that must occur within human beings for their salvation. Jesus speaks about being born of the Spirit: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again/born from above.’”

Nicodemus needs to hear these words of Jesus, as well as Jesus’ words about Himself. And why must he hear Jesus’ words? Because in them his salvation is found, the salvation given by the Persons of the Holy Trinity working in concert with Themselves. Jesus can speak these things about the Triune God, because He is the Incarnate Son of God who had taken residence on earth: “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.The words of Jesus speak a mystery about the Lord God’s work in the world among humanity.

For what reason did the Son of Man descend from heaven? Why did the Son of God become flesh and dwell among us? Jesus gives the answer: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” The Son of God takes on human flesh, so that He can suffer and die to redeem a sinful, corrupt, guilty world. He does so, because it is the will of His Father. The Father wants the world to be saved through His Son. And the Holy Spirit causes sinful human beings to believe this great act of redemption, so that everlasting life can be their own.

This coordinated action of the Holy Trinity is what the Apostle Peter made known to the people of Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. You heard the historical events of that day last week. But this morning, you heard the great proclamation of salvation that Peter made that day: “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.” The works and wonders and signs done by Jesus showed Him to be the Promised Christ. But it was the definite plan that this Incarnate Son of God would be crucified and killed and raised again so that your sins may be forgiven and His righteousness be made yours. That forgiveness and righteousness is delivered by the Holy Spirit to you.

Every single part of this—and even more—is incorporated into the Evangelist’s great statement that you heard earlier, that seemingly simple statement: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” The will of the Father, the actions of the Son, the work of the Spirit: all of this is the coordinated undertaking of the Holy Trinity to bring salvation to you.

The importance of this day in the Church’s life is to speak rightly about this Triune God who has done these great things. In a matter of moments, you will pray the words of the Athanasian Creed. That statement of faith will provide a detailed confession about the Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It will speak of the unity of the Persons, their equality of essence, the proper worship that is due to each of them. It will state the necessity things to believe about the Lord God’s nature. But even then, the focus will not be on the essence of the Holy Trinity, but on Its concerted work for your salvation.

All of the statements about majesty coequal and three eternals and the shared glory of the Persons are important. But they are always seen and understood through the prism of the Evangelist’s words: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Your confession of faith in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not simply about the Lord God’s existence. It is that this Lord God—and no other—is the source of your salvation. The Father’s great love for you, His creatures, caused Him to act for your deliverance. The Son in eternal obedience accomplished all that was necessary for you to be saved. The Holy Spirit has brought you to a right belief and has worked everlasting life in you. That is what gives this day all its importance.

You have confessed your guilt of sin and your desire for salvation. You also have heard the identity of the One who will bring it to you—the Eternal God: One undivided essence, yet truly Three Persons. That is who has saved you, according to an eternal, definite plan. And so you acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity by the confession of a true faith. And you worship the Unity in the power of the Divine Majesty. For nothing other can be done by those who have received the salvation that the Holy Trinity delivers.

So today’s Divine Service began: “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and undivided Unity. We will give glory to Him, because He has shown His mercy to us.” The Holy Trinity shows His mercy to mankind. It is the mercy which Isaiah received in the purging away of his sins. It is the mercy that the people of Jerusalem received through Peter’s proclamation—even those who were absolved of the guilt of turning Jesus over to be killed by the hands of lawless men. It is the mercy that Nicodemus received by being born from above by the Spirit.

That same mercy has been given to you by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” So the Lord God definitively willed for you. And so He has acted to forgive your sins, to deliver you from Satan, and to bring you from death to life.

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