Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pentecost 17 Sermon -- Mark 9:38-50 (LSB Proper 21B)

September 27, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

Jesus’ words should cause fear to enter the hearts of His hearers. It is a remarkable option that He gives to those who scandalize His littlest disciples. Option A—the better option—that Jesus outlines is drowning in the Sea of Galilee with a weight hanging around one’s neck. If that is the better option, then what is the worse? What can be worse than the sinking fall through the murky waters never to breathe the air again?

Earthly death is the worst fate that we can imagine. But Jesus speaks of an even more dire one. In His discussion with the Twelve, Jesus speaks of an eternal death—the worst of fates. He describes the end of those who are scandalized and who scandalize others: “to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” Endless decay, endless burning—such a fate is worse than lying dead at the bottom of a lake.

Why does Jesus speak about these fates? Because He is serious about His way of discipleship and is seriously concerned about the welfare of His disciples. Jesus’ desire for those He has chosen to follow Him is to reach the end of their journey. He lays out the way of everlasting life, first walking it Himself by His perfect obedience, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. He atones for people’s sins, and He gives them a new identity by placing His name on them. They are destined for everlasting life with Him.

But Jesus doesn’t leave His disciples as atomized individuals, separated from one another, not knowing who else is following His way of life. Instead, He has the Holy Spirit call, gather, sanctify, and keep them. Jesus has His disciples placed into groups, bound together by their baptismal identity, receiving together His gifts, leading together a new life. Moving forward together, they pilgrim to Paradise.

That is the way Jesus intends it. It is why the Church on earth has existed for nearly two millennia, doling out Jesus’ forgiveness and being bound together as His Body. But when this is threatened, when this is jeopardized, Jesus shows His indignation. The path to everlasting life is laid out for His people. But others exist who do not want anyone to complete it. They see the path Jesus’ disciples are walking, and they want to throw obstacles in their way: stones, logs, tripwires, anything that will cause Jesus’ followers to stumble and fall for eternity.

That is what Jesus means when He uses the word skandali,zh|. It means ‘to cause to fall,’ like tripping over a stone. It can also mean ‘to give offense to someone or something.’ Those who trip or take offense at the leader or fellow travelers will not complete the journey. This is why Jesus is angered, why He says: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Those who cause Jesus’ believers to sin and lose what He has earned for them are attempting to thwart His will. And that receives His wrath.

Who does such a thing? Who would cause Jesus’ little ones to fall? Of course, we can think of obvious subjects: Satan, fallen angels, nonbelievers, and persecutors of the Church. We know how the Lord God spoke of the Serpent in the Garden after the Fall: “The woman’s descendant will crush your head.” There His anger was kindled with retribution promised.

But there is another class of people whom Jesus has in mind. They are why these words of His should cause fear in your hearts. Jesus speaks these words to the Twelve and to all His believers, warning them and you about causing your fellow believers to stumble and fall. His anger is especially kindled against those who bear His name as Christians, but who also cause members of their group to trip or to abandon the path of everlasting life. For such people, even those who are considered part of the Church, “it would be better for [them] if a great millstone were hung around [their necks] and [they] were thrown into the sea.” This shows the serious concern that Jesus has about salvation and the people who are to receive it.

So what should be done in response to these words of judgment from Jesus? The first response is to repent, to admit guilt where you have caused one of the little ones who believe in Jesus to stumble. It is not an empty saying that James writes to Jesus’ disciples: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” The second response is to reform, to remove what is causing your own sin or causing others to fall. This is why Jesus says: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut if off. . . . If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. . . . If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. . . .” Your Lord would rather you enter Paradise maimed, lame, or blind, so that all can be restored. He does not want you to be whole, but also “to be thrown into hell, where [your] worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

Repentance and reform are done individually, as the Holy Spirit works in you. He brings you the Word of the Lord, even the statements of judgment. He convicts you of your sin. But He also brings the divine declarations of forgiveness. Dwelling in you, the Spirit raises you up where you fell on the path of discipleship and sets you right, so you can proceed again. He strengthens your faith and will, so that you can rid yourself of the stumbling blocks and endure their loss for now, knowing that all that is good will be restored to perfection in the end.

But there is a third response to Jesus’ words: to be renewed, especially renewed in your corporate lives together. Your Lord says: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” As He has given you His Spirit and newness of life and has placed you in fellowship with your fellow believers, Jesus desires that you act in harmony with each other. His words should be on your tongues. His way of life should be your corporate goal. His love should be shown among each other. For where all that is so, there the Body of Christ moves in unison on the Pilgrimage to Paradise, not putting stumbling blocks in the way.

James discusses aspects of that harmony of corporate life: “Be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged.” James also speaks about the assistance that the Lord gives through the actions of His people who are bound together: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” This is the Church of Christ acting as its Lord intends.

That acting includes the mutual care and concern that each disciple of Jesus should have for one another. Instead of tossing stumbling blocks into the path of discipleship, you should be concerned with the spiritual welfare of your fellow believers. That is why James writes: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” Your concern for each other’s faith can keep your fellow believer from suffering the worst fate that Jesus described.

Neither being tossed into the sea with a millstone around one’s neck nor being thrown into the unquenchable fire is necessary. For Jesus does not give a choice only between the lesser of two evils. No, He gives you the way of life, the Path to Paradise. He warns against stumbling and being a stumbling block to others. But He also promises: “Truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose His reward.” So it shall be for you, as you have His forgiveness delivered to you and as you lead your lives together by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Trust in Jesus who is serious about the welfare of His disciples. He is serious about the wrath visited upon those who trip them up or lead them astray. But He is even more serious about the mercy and salvation He has for those who bear His name. That is what He has for you on this day, as you have heard His declaration of forgiveness for your sins. Jesus says: “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Know that He is not against you, but has worked and continue to works for your salvation, as you repent, reform, and are renewed as His disciples.

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

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pentecost 16 Sermon -- Mark 9:30-37 (LSB Proper 20B)

September 20, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus sat down and called the Twelve. And He said to them: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

The disciples of Jesus follow Him down the road to Capernaum. But it is no silent trip. A heated conversation takes place. Claims and counterclaims are made. Each of the Twelve makes statements about the greatest among them—whether each one lays claim to the title or renders judgment about another’s boast. Disagreement is found all the way to Capernaum.

Of course, the Twelve do not argue in front of Jesus. No, they attempt to keep out of earshot. But Jesus knows about their discussion: “They came to Capernaum. And when [Jesus] was in the house He asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.”

Such an argument is not to be found among Jesus’ followers. It is especially so for those who are to be leaders among Jesus’ people. What motivates any argument about who is the greatest? Is it not pride, jealousy, envy, covetousness? But these are not virtues; they are the worst of vices. Listen to what James said about them: “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”

James’ words accurately depict what transpired among the Twelve on their journey to Capernaum. Even in the presence of Jesus, there was “disorder” and “vile practices” with the Twelve’s argument. So it will be in this congregation of Jesus’ followers if jealousy and selfish ambition rule the day. James’ words describe the terrible aspects of that disorder: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

But Jesus provides the way out of the morass created by His disciples. He provides the answer to the argument they had, just as He provides the solution to the same arguments that run through this congregation. Who is the greatest? Jesus tells them: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus’ answer turns the argument on its head. The Twelve’s discussion about greatness did not involve taking the last place or service. And yet, Jesus says that is how one becomes first.

“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” This criterion is clear and total. First place is only given when an individual is last and is a complete, perfect servant. But that criterion is unattainable. Who can be last of all? How is that calculated? Every time a new individual is encountered, must there be an immediate ranking, like the football polls? And just who does that ranking? Who can be servant of all? There are individuals who will never be met. How can they be served? Jesus’ answer is given, but the Twelve cannot meet its criterion and neither can you.

Yet, Jesus does provide the solution to the Twelve’s argument about greatness and to our conflicts which stem from bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus speaks about Himself. He is the greatest. He is first. He meets the criterion. And He had told the Twelve about it on the road to Capernaum before their argument had even begun: “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.” That is how Jesus is last of all and servant of all.

Jesus’ prediction of His death and resurrection shows His humility and exaltation. Though the Eternal Son of God, Jesus puts Himself under the Law and the limitations of earthly life. Though Ruler of all, Jesus allows Himself to be betrayed by one of His disciples and condemned by a Roman governor. Though the Source of life, Jesus lets Himself be killed. For by these actions, Jesus becomes last and the perfect servant, carrying the guilt of the world, offering Himself as the sacrifice for past, present, and future humanity. But by these actions, Jesus becomes first: “after three days He will rise,” being exalted by the Eternal Father and placed as Head of the Church, having dominion over all things.

Jesus’ answer to the Twelve’s argument about greatness shows that His disciples’ question had no foundation. None of them was greatest. None of them would be first. For they all were disciples—students and followers. They all had a Master. They were all subservient and inferior to Jesus, so none could be called the highest. And all would be served by Jesus’ sacrificial acts, so their status was the same.

This is true for you also. Each of you as Jesus’ disciples and recipients of His salvation has the same status. None is greater than another. Certainly, there are earthly ranks and arrangements. In that sphere of life, one can measure greatness. As the Church exists partially as an earthly institution, there are ranks in it: We have bishops, senior pastors, head deacons, congregational chairmen, council and board members. But in the spiritual realm, there is One who is first—Jesus Christ—and His disciples are all peers with each other.

Such a concept is not in the thinking of the world. Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition are, just as James wrote. But the measure of greatness that Jesus gives comes down from above. It stands in contrast to the Twelve’s argument and the discord that creeps into this congregation, like it crept into the community that James oversaw. As you have received Jesus’ teaching and through it the Holy Spirit has delivered salvation to you, so this wisdom from above has been made yours.

So James exhorts you based upon Jesus’ teaching: “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. . . . The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Jesus’ wisdom bears His characteristics. And so will all who have been given that same wisdom and act according to it.

That is what you are called to. “Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” are the opposite of that calling, since they are “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” The Twelve’s argument on the road to Capernaum is not an example to follow. But the Greatest One has taken the last place and has served them and you, so that you may share in His salvation. He calls you to follow Him and to live in the wisdom He has given to you, a life of humble obedience.

So live according to the true and good way of life that Jesus provides. James speaks about its penitential and humble character: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.”

Acknowledge your sinfulness—your bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, pride—and all that flows from it, including the discord in the Church that it sparks. Admit that you need Jesus’ service and receive it, just as you do this morning, hearing divine words that give life and transform your will and actions. Then live among His followers, knowing that you are all equally guilty, but equally forgiven by Jesus, your Master.

Led by the Spirit of God and what He delivers to you, you will abide in divine wisdom, acting upon it in this congregation of Jesus’ believers. You and every single disciple of Jesus have been redeemed because of what happened for you: the Son of Man was delivered into the hands of men, was killed by them, and after three days rose again. You have that status, because by these acts of service for you, Jesus became first and has given you the way of life. That life is led in the meekness of His wisdom: humility that leads to eternal exaltation.

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

September 2009 Parish Letter

“Merciful God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, was lifted high upon the cross that He might bear the sins of the world and draw all people to Himself. Grant that we who glory in His death for our redemption may faithfully heed His call to bear the cross and follow Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

[Collect for Holy Cross Day]

In the listing of Church Festivals, Holy Cross Day is one of the oldest, but also one of the most neglected. It is easy to understand why Holy Cross Day may be neglected, even though it is a red-letter day. The festival commemorates an historical event in AD 320 when Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, discovered the original cross of Jesus in Jerusalem. But days which commemorate discoveries often go by the wayside as individuals become accustomed to what has been discovered. We can think of how Columbus Day on our secular calendar often goes unnoticed, unless the Post Office is closed or children have the day off from school.

Though we might neglect Holy Cross Day, the importance of Christ’s crucifixion is not forgotten by us, His disciples. Its importance is recognized year round, not just on Good Friday or Holy Cross Day. The Apostle Paul writes of the centrality of the cross to the Corinthian Christians, as is found in the Epistle Reading for September 14: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”(1Cor 1:18, 21-24)

Paul’s words are meant for us, as well as for the Corinthian Christians. What we hold true regarding the crucifixion of Christ is foolishness to the world. We believe that salvation does not come to us through signs or mystical contemplation or logical reasoning, as much as such things might impress the world. No, we believe that our salvation comes from the Creator of all things’ taking on human nature and dying while suspended from a wooden beam. The world may cry out: “You fools!” But we point to the evident weakness of Jesus in crucifixion and say, “Because of that act, I am entitled to forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.”

John’s Gospel which is read on September 14 also shows the incompatibility of human wisdom with the wisdom of God seen in Christ’s crucifixion. John records the words of Jesus and the Eternal Father as they speak on Palm Sunday about the crucifixion: “Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. . . . Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? “Father, save Me from this hour”? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’”(John 12:23, 27-28)

Nothing about a crucified man appears glorious to the eyes. It is a gruesome spectacle of pain, gore, and torture. In total humiliation, the beaten and abused victim is put on display as he slowly succumbs to death. Yet, Jesus says that it is the hour of His glorification. The Father confirms that He is glorifying His name through it. And for us, the recipients of what Christ’s crucifixion accomplishes, it is the hour of our Lord’s glory and our own glory.

What Jesus says about His crucifixion includes its effects: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”(John 12:31-32) Our oppressor is vanquished by Christ’s death; our tyrant is overthrown by His crucifixion. And all who believe the acts of Jesus are drawn to Him, drawn to the forgiveness, life, and salvation that He brings through His sacrifice. Christ’s cross is the divine answer to our cries for deliverance from sin, death, and Satan.

As people who have received Holy Baptism, we have been “baptized into [Christ’s] death.” We live in the new reality that Christ’s death and resurrection have brought to us, as Paul writes to the Roman Christians: “Our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. . . . Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.” (Rom 6:6, 8) Holy Cross Day is September 14, but we can say that every day of our lives is a day of the holy cross.

So let us never forget the importance of Christ’s cross for us. Even if the sanctuary isn’t adorned with red paraments or Helena’s discovery is discussed, the centrality of the Holy Cross is recognized in our lives. As our sins are crucified again by hearing God’s Law, the remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice will be made. The retracing of the cross on our head and hearts marked on us in Holy Baptism brings it to remembrance. The proclamation of Christ’s crucifixion will be found on our lips, as we confess our faith. For then it will be as the psalmist says: “I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as You know, O Lord. I have not hidden Your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness from the great congregation.” (Ps 40:9-10)

~Pastor Zimmerman T

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pentecost 15 Sermon -- Mark 9:14-29 (LSB Proper 19B)

September 13, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[The father said]: “But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him: “If You can! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

The father’s words reveal his desperation. Nothing can help his son. He describes his son’s condition to Jesus: “Teacher, I brought my son to You, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked Your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” The oppressive spirit has plagued his son from childhood. No doctor can give aid. Even Jesus’ disciples, who in the past had healed the sick and cast out demons, are unable to help.

And so the father’s desperation mounts. His son is jeopardized by his affliction: “It has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him.” To bring normality, to restore personality, even to save life, the child needs help. But none can be found, even in the presence of the crowds which follow Jesus, even at the feet of Jesus’ disciples. So the father’s frustration boils over into his lamenting complaint to Jesus: “But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

“If You can do anything. . . .” Such words are not a statement of expectation. Rather, they show the disappointment, perhaps even anger, of the father. Recall what Jesus encounters when He appears on the scene, returning with Peter, James, and John after His transfiguration: “When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw Him, were greatly amazed and ran up to [Jesus] and greeted Him. And He asked them, ‘What are you arguing about with them?’” The father comes to Jesus’ disciples for aid. But none is forthcoming. So when Jesus shows up, the father lashes out at Him: “If You can do anything. . . .”

How often such words come out of our mouths! Such words are full of doubt, full of despair. We speak them with deflated hearts and spirits. In the back of our minds we have an inkling, a notion that the Lord God can help us. But it is like a whisper in a crowd: it is barely noticeable, as the din of our lives drowns it out. The constant clamor of our illnesses, our worldly needs, our trials and temptations keeps it from being heard. And when the thought of the Lord God’s ability crosses our minds, it spurts out like the father’s complaint: “If You can do anything. . . .”

Think of all those “O-Words” that are used to describe the attributes of the Lord God: omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent. We confess that He is correctly described that way. But is He so for us? Is He really all-knowing? Because it seems like He is oblivious to our suffering. Is He really always present? Because it seems like He has picked up stakes and moved away. Is He really all-powerful? Because it seems like He is displaying weakness in this world. So we say to Him: “If You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” But we expect little, if anything, to come.

For this, we must repent. That is what Jesus calls the father and us to do. Upon hearing the reason for the argument among His disciples, the scribes, and the crowds, Jesus says: “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” Confronted with the father’s despair and anger, Jesus says: “If You can! All things are possible for one who believes.”

Jesus’ reply to the father points out what is lacking: true belief in Him and His identity. The father’s statement doesn’t begin: “If You are willing. . . .” That would put his son’s plight totally into Jesus’ hands. Rather, he begins: “If You can. . . .” What the father has encountered brings doubt in Jesus’ ability. But only trust in Jesus’ ability can bring healing to his son. Only trust in Jesus’ ability will bring aid for all who call upon the name of the Lord. It is a matter of faith, of having God rightly. Does the heart trust Him above all things? Or does it consider its own situation beyond the Lord God’s knowledge, purview, or power?

So we must receive Jesus’ rebuke along with the father: “If You can! All things are possible for one who believes.” His words point out the father’s lack and ours. But it is done to bring him and us to the proper relation to Him. Note how the father reacts to Jesus’ rebuke: “I believe; help my unbelief!” He does have an understanding of who Jesus is. In the back of his mind, the father does acknowledge Jesus’ ability. But he also admits the doubts that have arisen from the immediate lack of help and the afflictions of his son’s entire childhood. The father calls on Jesus to remove that doubt, to knock over and destroy the impediments to his faith.

That is what we also need. Jesus displays His mastery over evil: “He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’ And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out. . . .” He wants us to trust in that ability to meet what afflicts us. Jesus desires us to receive His deliverance from sin, from death, from Satan and everything that they throw at us. Our cry to Jesus should be what last came from the father’s mouth: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Our Lutheran statement of belief in Jesus is manifold, but recall what most of you learned in your youth: “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 . . . that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.” That statement displays trust in Jesus’ mastery over sin, death, and Satan; that He is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent over our enemies.

So that we can make such a statement—even saying, “This is most certainly true.”—we need Jesus’ aid. We must say: “Help my unbelief.” And Jesus answers that call for help. Our Lord speaks to our souls, reassuring them of what He has done and will do. Isaiah’s prophecy shows Jesus that way: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.” That sustaining comes from what the eternal Father has promised about Jesus, what Jesus says about Himself, and what the Spirit testifies about what Jesus has done. Only through those divine words coming to your souls and mine, do we have our unbelief helped, have our doubts assuaged, and have our faith restored. So we are not left to say to Jesus: “If You can do anything. . . .” Rather, we call for His aid, by saying: Because You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Vivified and strengthened by those divine words of life, we believe in Jesus. We believe in the new life He has given us through Holy Baptism. We believe in the forgiveness of sins that He has given us through Holy Absolution. We believe in the atoning sacrifice that He delivers to us in the Holy Supper. Through these things, Jesus acts for us. He is able to help our unbelief, restoring our trust in Him above all things, even over everything that assails us.

That belief and trust leads us to confess that we shall have possession of eternal life—delivered from sin, death, and Satan—just as the Psalmist did: I love the Lord, because He has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because He inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call on Him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!’ . . . For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” Such is the great statement of belief based upon what Jesus has done for us. It is what He has accomplished because He can do anything. Eternal life is the result of what He has done in His compassion for us who were trapped in the poverty and misery of sinfulness and imperfection.

Our words reveal our desperation. But even more so, our words of faith in Jesus reveal our great hope: we have been redeemed by Jesus, and we shall eternally live with Him, just as He has overcome everything that opposes us. As our unbelief has been helped and our faith is strengthened, so we can expect to receive the greatness of Jesus’ salvation. For that has been promised to us by Him who says: “All things are possible for one who believes.” So may we always plead to Jesus: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

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

Saturday, September 12, 2009

End of Summer & Back from Vacation

Here in Mechanicsburg, summer has come to an end. Our parish schedule returns to its customary Sunday routine: 9:00 Sunday School & Bible Class; 10:30am Divine Service.

Our midweek routine remains mostly the same, with the addition of Wednesday morning time with the parish preschool children at 10:30am.

Thanks go to Dr. Thomas Kraus for filling Calvary's pulpit and presiding at the altar on September 6. [That is why no sermon is posted for that Sunday.]

It was good to be back in the Midwest for over a week. Got to visit my grandparents in Traverse City, MI and celebrate another birthday. Visited with Revs. Timothy Manwell and David Juhl in the Chicago area, deliver them some Yuengling Lager, and as sample both types of Chicago-style pizza (Lou Malnati's pan; Aurelio's thin crust). Also spoke with faculty members at Concordia Theological Seminary about completing the requirements for the Master of Sacred Theology degree.

The next few months will bring some extra events beyond the upcoming Thanksgiving/Advent/Christmas time: District Regional Pastoral Conference (October 5-7 in Ocean City, NJ) and Synod Covnention Delegate Meeting (December 11-12 in Dearborn, MI). The calendar pages will turn quickly!

Pentecost 13 Sermon -- Mark 7:14-23 (LSB Proper 17B)

August 30, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus] called the people to Him again and said to them, “Hear Me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

Jesus says a lot about eating. Earlier this month, you heard Him speak about the Bread of Life: that He is the Bread of Life that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. He told you to eat and drink His flesh and blood, so that you would have life in you. Today, Jesus tells you that what you eat cannot defile you, that what you eat does not make you unclean. But what you do eat can make you holy.

Jesus’ statement about food and defilement comes in response to the Pharisees’ criticism of His disciples. As you heard last week, the Pharisees had complained that Jesus’ disciples had eaten with defiled hands, that is, unclean hands. The Pharisees demanded that Jesus’ disciples conform to the traditions handed down from the elders, the supplementary regulations that were appended to the Lord God’s Divine Law. They claimed that righteousness and holiness were dependent upon undergoing the ritual cleansings, as the traditions of the elders required. But as you heard last week, Jesus tells the Pharisees that the Divine Law cannot be set aside by man-made traditions, especially those which attribute holiness to keeping the word of man.

This week, you heard Jesus explain that the dietary laws of the Old Testament were abrogated by Him. What a person eats and drinks will not make that individual unholy or unclean. Why is that so? Jesus tells you: “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” The Gospel Writer tells you: “Thus He declared all foods clean.” The food consumed by you goes into the stomach and eventually ends up outside of you. It doesn’t go to the heart, it doesn’t go to the center of your being. Even what ‘goes down the wrong pipe’ never reaches the soul; food can’t make the soul unholy or unclean.

Jesus identifies the heart as the place where holiness or lack thereof is found: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” The heart of man is a dirty, slimy, cruddy place. So it has been since the moment of the Fall into sin. Rather than loving the Lord with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength, there was just the opposite: mankind loved himself with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. There was no love to be found for the Lord God’s commandments, for His way of life, for His will.

Because of that lack of true fear, love, and trust in God, humanity was defiled. The unclean heart led to unclean thoughts and acts, that list of sins which Jesus described. Thus, there was no holiness to be found in humanity. Everything which originated from the unclean heart defiled the mind, body, and soul. Consumed food made no difference: for what entered the stomach had no effect on the heart.

But the Lord God has to offer will make the heart clean. So it was for the ancient Israelites, those who had the dietary laws. The Lord God’s commandments, decrees, and statutes—the Covenant that He made with them—set them apart, made them holy. His words brought them salvation, gave them the way of life, made them a new people with great promises to hold on to. The Lord God declared them His people—forgiven, reconciled to Him, holy and held guiltless.

So Moses instructed the ancient Israelites to hear what the Lord God said, to have His words enter their unclean hearts and change them: “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the just decrees that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.”

But Moses’ instructions to listen also included the instruction to hold onto what the Lord God had done and had declared: “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” What the Lord God gave to the Israelites to make them holy was to be preserved by them. That which cleansed their hearts was to remain in their hearts. As it cleansed their hearts, so it would make their actions holy, as Moses described: “Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”

Because your hearts are the same as the Israelites’, the same as Jesus describes, you need to have the Lord God make them clean. What comes out of you defiles you. For out of your hearts come evil thoughts, including the same list of sins of which Jesus spoke. That is the condition of natural man, the way that all people are, including you, prior to the Lord God’s work in them. So the source of evil—the dirty, slimy, cruddy hearts—must be cleansed.

What can do such a task? Not what is taken in by the stomach, but what the heart is given to consume. You are given the words of Gospel from Jesus to consume. The Holy Spirit comes in and sanctifies you, bleaching your souls, so that you are made holy. You are given new will, new desire. Instead of a lack of love, you now treasure the Lord God’s commandments, His way of life, His bidding. The Psalmist’s praise for the Lord God’s decrees becomes true for you: Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of Your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.”

The Lord God’s testimonies are wonderful. They declare you to be righteous. They remove your guilt. They promise you everlasting life. That is why your souls keep them. Only by receiving them is light given to your darkened hearts. Only by receiving them is understanding given to your ignorant hearts. And through this, new life is created. Your hearts are no longer only the center of evil, but are the source of good, as they are regenerated and renewed.

But you do have the same admonition given to you as Moses gave to the Israelites: “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” Though your eyes have not seen what Jesus has done, you do have the witness of His apostles about His actions. That witness needs to be kept. The testimonies about Jesus need to be maintained. They also need to be passed down. For only by hearing the words and works of Jesus is eternal life given to you. Only by having the Holy Spirit working through that testimony are you made holy.

Jesus’ words are right: “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him.” But what goes into you can make you holy. The Gospel of Christ which goes into your ears through the proclaimed word and into your mouths through the Lord’s Supper removes your defilement. For such things do not enter your stomach, they enter your hearts. And so the evil thoughts are turned to good; lack of love and faith is replaced with plenty. Through the Spirit’s work, you can grow in virtue and your new, good intents can come to completion. So it shall be, as you keep the words of the Lord in your hearts.

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