Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lent 2 Sermon -- Luke 13:31-35 (LSB Lent 2C)

February 28, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

At that very hour, some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus]: “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill You.” And He said to them: “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish My course.’”

Prophets don’t do well with the rulers of the Jewish people. This has been so from the very beginning of Israel’s monarchy. Saul had his run-in with Samuel. David had to be confronted by Nathan. Elijah was constantly under threat. In today’s Old Testament Reading, you heard about what Jeremiah faced: “Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, ‘This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.’” Speaking the Lord God’s words doesn’t protect one from opposition. Usually it increases the likelihood of opposition.

So it was with the Old Testament prophets sent to the Jewish people. But it was the same in the days of Christ. You heard what the Pharisees reported to Jesus: “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill You.” Jesus is faced with the king’s anger. He is presented with the threat of death. And it isn’t without warrant; for like Jesus, you have heard about the dealings that Herod had with prophets.

In one of this year’s Advent Gospel Readings, you heard this about a prophet and Herod: “So with many other exhortations [John] preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.” The last of the prophets had his face-off with Herod. It got John thrown into prison, and worse. The Evangelist records: “Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. Herod said, ‘John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?’ And he sought to see [Jesus].”

Now the Pharisees bring Jesus the message: “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill You.” So what is Jesus to do? Should He leave the area, abandoning His mission and fleeing for His life? Should He turn and actively engage Herod, condemning him for the murder of John? Or should He do something else? You heard what Jesus said: “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish My course. Nevertheless, I must go on My way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’” Jesus hears the threat, the opposition that Herod may pose, but He goes on His way. He is not distracted or dissuaded, but continues to do what He had been sent to achieve.

Why can Jesus act this way? And why could Jeremiah and the other prophets continue to speak openly in the face of potential death? It is possible because they were given the Spirit of the Lord and His Words to declare. This was their calling. This was their duty. No matter the audience, no matter the opposition, the message was to be spoken. You see this in Jeremiah’s response to Judah’s officials: “Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak these words in your ears.”

Jeremiah was given the words to speak, and speak he must. Likewise, Jesus had been appointed for a duty, and fulfill it He must. That is why He tells Herod: “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish My course.” The opposition that the monarch may bring cannot prevent the fulfillment of Christ’s duties. If Herod wants to see Jesus, there He is in public for observation. If Herod wants to seize Jesus, there He is out in the open. But what the Eternal Father had determined for His Son to achieve in this world would come to pass. And no Tetrarch of Galilee would stop it from happening.

And just what is it that Jesus must fulfill? His words give detail: “Nevertheless, I must go on My way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” Herod may oppose Jesus’ teaching, but his sword will not strike Jesus as it did John. No, Jesus must go up to Jerusalem. For that is where His fate takes Him, as He prophesied before His Transfiguration: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” That is His destiny. That is what Jesus must accomplish. That is His course that no one will interrupt.

So Jesus goes on His way. He tells the Pharisees and the others who hear: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!’” Jesus gives the prophecy about His journey to Jerusalem. He goes there as a prophet, knowing that the Lord’s spokesmen die in that city. But He goes for that purpose. Jesus will be killed, but not because He falls victim to His opponents, but that He makes Himself the Victim for the life of the world.

In that act, Jesus turns the tide on all the opponents to the Divine Will. There are many who actively oppose the Lord God, His way of life, His precepts and commandments. They chase after what their hearts desire, whatever makes them autonomous, their own gods. The Apostle describes them: “Many . . . walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” So it was for the officials of Judah who questioned Jeremiah’s prophecy and for Herod who refused to heed John’s rebuke.

The opponents of the Divine Will may seem successful. They certainly have a better time of it here on earth. Compared to them, the Lord God’s people appear pitiful. The Psalmist’s lament depicts this well: “O men, how long shall my honor be turned to shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?” There is little satisfaction for believers in this world. But the death and resurrection of Christ will reverse this. The Apostle reminds his audience of Philippian Christians: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power the enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.”

Paul’s statement about Christ is based upon what the Lord says: “I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish My course.” Jesus finishes His course. It is not left unfinished. He is not preempted by Herod or the Pharisees or the chief priests and the elders. What has been determined from the foundation of the earth to take place will come to pass. Jesus will enter Jerusalem on the day when the city that kills the prophets says: “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” For that is His destination: to the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday to His Betrayal on Holy Thursday and Crucifixion on Good Friday. But it also leads to the Empty Tomb of Easter Morning, as Jesus predicts: “the third day I finish My course.”

That is what Jesus accomplishes, what He accomplishes for you. For through His actions, you also have a course set for you. It isn’t destruction, but resurrection. It isn’t condemnation, but redemption. For your minds are no longer set on earthly things, but on the glory of heaven that Christ has won for you. You may suffer humility and shame now, as the psalmist describes. There are enemies who may seek your life because you dare to speak the Lord’s words and believe them. But your course is set with Jesus who reached His goal, despite the opposition brought by sin, death, the minions of Satan, even your own sinful desires.

So the message of the prophets is spoken to you: “Mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God.” The psalmist’s exhortation is meant for you: “Offer sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.” The Apostle’s instructions are given to you: “Join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. . . . [S]tand firm thus in the Lord.” Christ’s statement shows His desire for you: “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”

You are called to repentance and reconciliation, and you have responded. Brought into the citizenship of heaven, you are also called to boldness and courage. Despite the opposition, your Lord is not victimized, but victorious. Jesus’ statement stands true: “The third day I finish My course.” For Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried, but on the third day rose again from the dead. And since Christ finished His course, you shall see Him “who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.” And you shall say for all eternity: “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!”

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

St. Matthias Day Sermon -- Acts 1:15-26

February 24, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

In those days Peter stood up among the believers and said: “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when He was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.”

February 24 is when the Church commemorates St. Matthias, the last of Christ’s apostles, the one chosen in the city of Jerusalem after Christ’s Ascension. Matthias’ selection is the way Christ’s Church fills the office that Judas Iscariot had vacated. By betraying Jesus and never taking the path of repentance and forgiveness, the Traitor had forfeited his place among the Twelve and, more importantly, the possibility of salvation. But St. Peter, knowing what the Scriptures had said about this, gathers the members of the nascent Church and leads them to replace Judas.

This is what the Evangelist Luke records, and what you heard tonight. What St. Peter, the other Eleven, and the Church do is ask the Lord God to fulfill His word. It isn’t just that they thought 12 was a good number, so they another apostle should be added. No, their action is based on what the Lord God had said. Notice how St. Peter handles the situation by quoting from the Scriptures: “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and ‘Let another take his office.’” Nothing is going to be done without that divine guidance and foundation.

But with divine guidance and foundation, great things take place. Such is the case with St. Matthias. We heard what St. Peter directed the Church to do: “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when He was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.” The apostles had a divine command to bear witness to the death and resurrection of Christ, to make more disciples, to preach the good news to all creation. And in order to fulfill what they had been charged to do, they would need another.

The selection of Matthias to be an apostle follows the pattern of how the Lord God acts. The apostles have their divine command to fulfill. So they can do so, the Lord of the Church provides what they need. Judas’ vacated position will be filled. Another man is added to the Twelve: “And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”

Centuries before this event happened, the Lord God had known what would transpire. He knew who would become part of the Twelve. He knew who would take up the duty to be witness of Christ’s resurrection. But this is not a passive knowledge; the Lord God is active in the life of His Church. He spoke the prophecies describing what would take place, what He Himself would fulfill. The Eleven cast lots, leaving the selection of an apostle up to Christ Jesus, the only One who can choose. They themselves had been chosen by Jesus to follow Him. They had heard Jesus’ words: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” And now, the Lord of the Church had selected Matthias to bear His yoke.

The apostles proceed according to faith and trust in the divine command and promise. What happens in Jerusalem is an act of faith. Christ’s disciples believe in the Lord’s mission, the task that had been given to them. Disciples will be made of all nations. Judas’ traitorous act will not thwart that. There will be a full complement of witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, the good news that brings rescue to the world. The number of souls to be added to Christ’s Kingdom will be met as His ways to bring forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are followed.

This is an example that the Church follows today. As Christ’s disciples, you have the same object of faith. The divine words of promise in the Scriptures are what you believe, because in them you find the identity of God and His actions done for you revealed. In them, you have done for you what Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew: “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

You are recipients of this revelation. Your sinfulness has been made known to you by the Divine Law acting as an unrelenting mirror. The need for forgiveness is something that your souls feel everyday. But you are not left abandoned in guilt. Salvation is shown to you. Christ Jesus has left witnesses to His resurrection, witnesses that testify about Him and reveal your redemption because of His death and return to life.

Everything that the Church does is to be based on the same divine guidance and foundation that the Eleven used in their actions in Jerusalem. The Church should act as it has been commanded by the Lord God. It is the instruction that tells Christ’s disciples never to rely on themselves for salvation. The same words show where the grace and favor of Christ are found. The Lord of the Church designates the means by which His forgiveness will be doled out to sinners. His command organizes the Church and establishes the ministry that Matthias and his successors possess and fulfill. This divine guidance and foundation motivate the actions of Christ’s community.

Like the apostles in Jerusalem, you are called to rely on what the Lord God has spoken and set down for you. He knows what you need, and He provides the ways, means, and objects that fulfill them. That is what the event with St. Matthias’ call to apostleship illustrates. It is a demonstration of the Lord God’s trustworthiness. The same trustworthiness is what you depend on, just as the first members of the Church did.

But “trust in the Lord” is more than a proverb. It is the rule of the Christian life. And in the fullness of the rule, you find your salvation. Not that you “trust and obey” in order to appease God, but that you rely on what He provides. What God the Father handed over to His Son Jesus Christ is handed over to you. You need not worry that it won’t. That could have been the question in that Upper Room in Jerusalem. Will God act? Will those psalms be fulfilled? But in faith, they call upon the Lord God to do what He said, believing that it will be so.

It is the same action the Church takes today. You call upon Christ to fulfill His word and believe He does. In Holy Baptism, you call on Him to make good on His promise: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” In the Lord’s Supper, you pray that what He says comes true: “This is My Body and Blood present here for the forgiveness of your sins.” And you appeal to your Lord to speak again, to give you “the words of eternal life.” Nothing is done without reason or warrant, without confidence or faith. The Church follows the example of the Eleven and the call of St. Matthias, trusting that what the Lord God promises, He will deliver.

The example in Jerusalem’s Upper Room is your pattern for action. Look for the divine guidance and foundation and let them be the rationale for what you do. But take them not only as a rationale. Rather, rely on them as the true and always-fulfilled promises from Christ they are.

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

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lent 1 Sermon -- Luke 4:1-13 (LSB Lent 1C)

February 21, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“Jesus full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.”

As we have prayed this morning, the Psalmist declares: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” The promise is made for those who are faithful, those who have been given the privilege to be in the presence of the Lord God. This is no small thing! For the Lord God Almighty, the Lord of Hosts, chooses to give His protection, to defend His people from all things that assail them.

Listen again to several of the promises that have been sworn by the Most High God: “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler. . . . A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. . . . Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge—no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.” Think upon what this means: the Lord God has promised to be a place of refuge and protection from disaster. For this reason the Psalmist declares: “I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”

But what does this defense look like? How is it given? The Temptation of Jesus answers those questions. What Jesus undergoes, what He experiences in the midst of this struggle, shows how the Lord God makes Himself a trustworthy sentry for His people. The Evangelist tells us about the setting in which Jesus suffered the spiritual assaults of Satan: “Jesus full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended; He was hungry.” From the description, Jesus is vulnerable, subject to attack. He is exposed in the elements. He suffers from the lack of earthly provisions. Jesus is like the travelers along the rural roadways or desert highways, out in the open to whatever lies in wait.

And lie in wait, Satan did! The Evangelist records three specific temptations that Jesus underwent. Each time, Jesus is tempted to do things that He had the ability to do or receive. Satan reminds Jesus of His empty stomach and tells Him to manipulate creation, so that He can eat. The Nazarene carpenter is shown all the authority and wealth of the world and urged to take it in exchange for a simple bow and kiss of the ring. The Lord of Hosts is tempted to test just whether the angels under His command will protect Him. All three could be done with little effort. Out in the wilderness, with no one around to see, no one to know just exactly what happened, Jesus faces these temptations.

But the incident in the wilderness ends without sin, without Jesus’ succumbing to Satan’s wiles. So how is He able to withstand them? How is Jesus able to keep from forsaking His identity and role by not falling victim to Satan? It is so because Jesus’ will is perfectly aligned with God the Father’s will. Everything that the Eternal Father set down to be good, right, and salutary is what the Eternal Son also determined to be good, right, and salutary. His desire is to fulfill everything that He Himself had instituted and promised. It is what the Holy Spirit leads Him to accomplish. Because this is so, Jesus is not led astray from the way that had been designed for Him. Even though He is exposed to assault, Jesus can withstand it. And so, He can take up the role of being the Spotless Lamb of God who bears upon Himself the sin of all the tainted creation.

That is how the Lord God becomes a help for you. It is why you can pray with the Psalmist: “I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” The One who is not victimized but victorious over Satan is your eternal ally against your great foe. The One who wandered in the wilderness and faced the Tempter is with you as you do the same. The One who has a perfect will for you works to fulfill it. It is why the Church prays on this day: “Guide the people of Your Church that following our Savior we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come.” It is why the Psalmist declares: “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler.”

Because Jesus is not defeated by Satan, He is able to be a help for you. This is how the promises of the Psalm actually are fulfilled. A promise of protection is no good, if the protector cannot withstand what assails you. Armor is no good against an armor-piercing shell. An inflammable garment gives no defense against fire. A vaccine is worthless if it cannot inoculate a patient against a disease. But you rely on One who was tempted by the Tempter, but did not sin. That is a trusty shield and weapon to trust in!

But Christ’s Temptation shows you more than the identity of your Protector. Certainly the bona fides of Jesus are on display. Yet, there is more. You are shown how your Protector also arms you against your opponent. Think again about what St. Luke records: “Jesus full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” Like Jesus, you wander in the wilderness of this world. But also like Jesus, you are “led by the Spirit.” You have been given the Holy Spirit in your baptisms. Those who have been confirmed were given the Holy Spirit again. As you hear the Words of Christ, you continue to receive the Holy Spirit.

What the Apostle states is indeed true: “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Because this is so, you wander in the wilderness of this world, but are not unarmed. No, you have a great armor to wield along the way. That is what Jesus demonstrates to you in the events of His temptation.

Remember the ways that Satan tempted Christ: “Command this stone to become bread. . . . If You, then, will worship me, it will all be Yours. . . . Throw Yourself down from here. . . .” All of the Tempter’s assaults sought a weakness in Jesus. Satan tries to find something that will lure Jesus into sin. He probes to find something that Jesus would desire but that the Father condemns. But notice how Jesus is able to parry these attacks and defeat His assailant: “It is written . . . . It is written . . . . It is said . . . .” Each time, Jesus wields the greatest of armaments—the Divine Word which carries the full authority of the Lord God and accomplishes what it says. Though facing an opponent with deep guile and great might, Jesus holds the field victorious. Satan fights with great resolve and great strength, but one little word subdues him.

That word—“the word [that] is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—is what Jesus has given to you. It is how He equips you for your journey in this life. In the events of His Temptation, Jesus shows how to use it. By doing so, He fulfills what the Psalm promises: “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.” And tread and trample, Jesus does! It is done in part in the Trans-Jordan wilderness, as Jesus overcomes Satan with the Divine Word. It is finished on the Jerusalem cross, as Jesus obeys the Divine Will. It is shown for everyone to see, as Jesus returns in Divine Glory.

But until that day, you are on your journey. You are on the pilgrimage to the New Jerusalem. And Satan lies in wait to strike you down and take the treasure that your Lord has given you. But you are not left alone; you are not left unprotected. No, the promise has been given to you by the One who has already defeated your enemy: “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.” You are protected and armed: you have the Holy Spirit in the holy word—the very thing that your Champion used to emerge victorious against the old, evil foe.

So you are equipped again this day. You are reissued your armaments for the expedition. You are given provisions for the journey. “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Saved you will be, even against this world’s prince. For the promise made to you concerning the Serpent is true: his head will be crushed by the Christ who defeated him in the wilderness. And because of that, the other promise is true: “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.” So it will be for you who have Christ’s Word, call upon Christ’s Name, and walk with Christ’s guidance toward the glory of the world to come.

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

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2010 Lenten Devotion Source

If you're looking for brief, yet profound, daily devotional thoughts for the 40 days of Lent, check out this link: This is a service from Memorial Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Houston, Texas.

The list of contributors is familiar to me, as eight of the twelve are seminary classmates or contemporaries. Take four years of seminary training and combine with five-or-so years in parish pastorates: the result is hearing words of wisdom and life for Christ's people.

Read their work and behold with the eyes of faith "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

Ash Wednesday Sermon -- Joel 2:12-19

February 17, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” 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.

As we have come to another occurrence of Ash Wednesday, the Lord God directs us to two actions: return and reconciliation. That is the theme of this day, as it is every year that Christ’s Church is mercifully granted the ability to experience it. Return and reconciliation: both are actions that indicate two directions or two parties. In order to return, one must (a) have been going away from something or someone, (b) switch directions, and (c) proceed back toward something or someone. In order for reconciliation to occur, one party that has been wronged or aggrieved needs to be brought back into harmony with the other party. Each of these actions describes what takes place between the Lord God and sinful humanity.

All of humanity has run away from the Lord God and His will. It has been so from the very beginning, with the first humans. They disobeyed the Lord God’s will and forsook the good relationship that they had with Him. The command was simple, yet was broken. Not content with being the stewards of the Lord God’s creation, they desired a different arrangement than they had with Him. Desiring to be their own masters, their own lords, they coveted the poisonous fruit that tempted the eyes and the heart. And so they went away from the direction that the Lord God had given them.

No different than your ancestors, you have done the same. The Lord God’s way of life has been laid out for you. You are not ignorant of it; you have been explicitly told what it is. His commandments have been written on your hearts, heard by your ears, gazed upon by your eyes. And yet, you desert them. You break them. You see where they direct you, but then you go the opposite way. You follow the path that your mind lays out for you, refusing to travel in the way that the Lord God has set.

But on your journey, your wandering from Him and His righteousness, the Lord God calls you back. He sends out the message to return: “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” It is an earnest desire that He has for you. The Lord God knows where your desires will lead you: to eternal destruction, to an endless time of sorrow, to a continuous separation from all that is good. But it is not what He desires for you. No, the Lord God has something much greater in store for you, and He wants you to have it. So He sends out the cry to return, to turn around and come back to Him. And you hear it today.

For that is the nature of the Lord God. He is powerful and majestic, righteous and holy. But along with those attributes are others: “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” Because He is so, the Lord God sends out His words for your ears to hear. He sends out His words to change your hearts, minds, and souls. Like the whistle that calls back wandering hounds or the bugle call that redirects an ill-fated cavalry, the Lord God’s words of repentance lead you back to His righteousness, so that you may participate in it.

So you have heard this evening. The Apostle writes: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” That is how the Lord God displayed His character. The Lord God was so “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,” that He made His Son to be like you, so that you could be like Him. To reconcile you, to bring you back into harmony with Himself, the Lord God made His Son suffer in your place. The full measure of His wrath was visited against the Christ, so that you could be given the full measure of His grace. Jesus Christ was made to be unrighteous by carrying your guilt and bearing the sins of the world, so that you “might become the righteousness of God.”

That is what the Lord God shares with you. But this happens only when you return to Him. It only occurs when your hearts, souls, and minds are changed: changed by hearing His words of law that point out where you have gone wrong and hearing His words of forgiveness and promise that show you the goodness that He has for you. But you need not wait for this to happen on another day: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” The Lord God has been reconciled with you through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. All that is needed to bury the eternal, cosmic hatchet has already taken place. And now, in this time, on this day, the Lord God calls you back: “Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”

So you have heard this evening. And so you may act. For the Lord God’s words have struck your ears and have been carried to your hearts, minds, and souls. You have been instructed to turn back to the Lord God’s righteousness: but not only told to; you are being led by the Holy Spirit to do so. It has taken place right here and now in this “favorable time” and this “day of salvation.” So you may do as the Lord God leads you. As the words of the Great Litany are prayed, you may rend your hearts. As the ashes are placed on your foreheads, you may weep and mourn that your sin will return you to the dust. As the holy season of Lent begins, you may fast and deny yourselves the treasures and delights of this earth. But you do so, knowing that you are returning to the Lord God—and His grace and mercy—as He calls you back to Him.

With rent hearts, you pray with King David’s certainty: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite hearts, O God, You will not despise.” It is a certainty that you may truly have, even as the Divine Law has crushed your bones. For you know how the Lord God is: “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” You have heard “joy and gladness” as the Divine Gospel has “renewed a right spirit” within you. You know what He has promised for you: “He relents over [your] disaster.” You know how much He cares for you: “The Lord became jealous for His land and had pity on His people.” That is how He is for you in this “favorable time” and this “day of salvation.”

Turned back to Him, you possess the true treasure that the Lord God has in store for you: “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Turned back to Him, the Lord God does not “make your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.” Turned back to the Lord God, you have “a blessing [left] behind Him.” May you always be guided by the Lord God’s words that call you away from destruction and into His reconciliation. For then you shall have “your reward from your Father who is in heaven”—the forgiveness, life, and salvation earned by His Son who was made sin for you, so that you “might become the righteousness of God.”

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

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Transfiguration Sunday Sermon -- Luke 9:28-36 (LSB Transfiguration C)

February 14, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“And a Voice came out of the cloud, saying: ‘This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!’ And when the Voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.”

From today’s readings, it appears that the main figure should be Moses. Moses’ name is found in all four portions of the Scriptures read or prayed: in the Psalm, the Old Testament Reading, the Epistle Reading, and the Holy Gospel. He even is mentioned in the Collect of the Day. Why should Moses get such ink? What makes him such an important person?

Those familiar with the salvation history of the Lord God’s people know that Moses is a prominent figure. And that has been known well before Charlton Heston’s portrayal of him. Moses is the Law-Giver: the one who sets down the Ten Commandments and the Levitical Code. Moses is the Intercessor: the one who speaks with the Lord God face-to-face, pleading with Him not to destroy the rebellious people of Israel. Moses is the Miracle-Worker: the one who ushers in the plagues, parts the Red Sea, and brings forth water from the desert rock. Moses is the Deliverer: the one who leads the Hebrew people out of Egypt.

All of these roles which Moses plays lead to his fame. It is why the Psalmist declares: “Moses and Aaron were among His priests, Samuel also was among those who called upon His name. They called to the Lord, and He answered them.” It is why the Editor of Deuteronomy concludes the book with the great statement about him: “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”

But Moses is not the Christ. He holds many similar roles and does many similar things. However, everything that Moses accomplished was temporal and imperfect. It would not last. Israel would be captured and enslaved again. Moses’ striking of a rock to produce water a second time would even keep him from entering the Promised Land, as the Lord God declares: “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” And so Moses dies, being buried “in the valley in the land of Moab.”

What Moses gives is a type, a pattern of what the greater Christ would be and do. That is seen in the life of Jesus. Jesus fulfills the pattern that Moses left: how He acts, what He teaches, where He accomplishes His deeds. It is so, even in the event of His Transfiguration. Like Moses, Jesus “went up on the mountain.” Like Moses, “the appearance of [Jesus’] face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white.” But from the events on that mountain, it is clear that Jesus is not Moses. Jesus is greater than Moses, for Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He is the main figure for this day and all days.

That is what the Transfiguration Event reveals. “Eight days after these sayings,” where Peter declares that Jesus is “the Christ of God” and Jesus prophesies His death and resurrection, the Transfiguration Event happens. It confirms Jesus’ words. It confirms Jesus’ identity. For what takes place? “Behold, two men were talking with [Jesus], Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” The talk is about Jesus’ death—the same death that He foretold to His disciples. “A cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a Voice came out of the cloud, saying: ‘This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!’” The Father’s Voice reveals Jesus’ identity—the same identity that Peter rightly confessed.

In these things, Jesus is shown to be greater than Moses. For Jesus is not struck down by the Lord God for disobedience. No, Jesus’ death, “His departure” was something that “He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” It is not something done to Jesus; it is what Jesus does, what He accomplishes. Additionally, Jesus is not identified as simply “the Chosen One,” in the way that Moses had been chosen to be a prophet. No, Jesus is identified by the Father’s Voice as “My Son.” No matter all that Moses did, he would never hold that title. But it truly is Jesus’ identity.

This is why the Author of the Hebrews writes: “Consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses. . . . Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a Son.” The Author speaks about Jesus’ identity. Jesus is greater than Moses because He is God’s Son. Jesus is greater than Moses because He accomplishes what had been prophesied, to speak of the second and greater things.

All of you know Moses. You know what he said; you were told to listen to him. You have been taught the Ten Commandments. Some in this room—our catechumens—are committing them and their explanations to memory. From the commandments, you learn about God’s holiness. You have heard them and you have come to agree with the Psalmist: “The King in His might loves justice. You have established equity; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.” It is clear what had come from Mount Sinai: the powerful and unyielding Law of God. Through Moses, the Lord God had spoken to His people: “In the pillar of cloud He spoke to them; they kept His testimonies and the statute that He gave them.” But what He spoke brought to light their sins and iniquities, their faults and failures. The people listened to Moses, but disobeyed. Even the Great Prophet himself committed transgression.

But all of you also know Christ. You know what He said. In fact, God the Father commands: “Listen to Him!” For from Jesus’ mouth comes the message of salvation. Moses’ Law condemns you and your sin. But listening to Jesus, you hear how salvation is given. Peter testifies about Him: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus speaks and sins are forgiven. But how is this so? Because of what He does. The Son of God endures “His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Jesus goes down from the mountain in Galilee to climb another hill. And it is clear what has come from Mount Calvary: the even more dynamic and unyielding Gospel of God. Hearing that Gospel of God—the words of and about Christ—you are forgiven and delivered.

This is what the Author of the Hebrews alludes to in his writing: “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.” What is that confession? It is the repetition of what you have heard from Jesus. You obey the Father’s command: “Listen to Him.” And you can say again those words of life. The words of Christ give you “a heavenly calling.” The Chosen One sent by the Father has chosen you to share in what He has earned for you. Because He has made atonement for your sin, Jesus calls you to hear and to believe Him. As the Father’s Eternal Son, Jesus offers Himself in a once-for-all sacrifice for the guilt of the entire world. “Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest”—the hymn rightly confesses Jesus’ identity as Priest of all priests and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Through all this, Jesus “was faithful to [His Father] who appointed Him.”

In all these things, Jesus is shown as greater than Moses. It is just as the Epistle-writer says: “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses. . . . Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a Son.” The Transfiguration Event confirms this to be true. You are called to believe this witness that God the Father gives about His Son. You are called to recognize the truth about Jesus’ identity. You are called to confess the faith that the sent Chosen One has revealed to you through His words.

And so, you hear the Father’s declaration: “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” He does not say this about Moses, but He does say it about Jesus. The greater glory belongs to Christ—“as much more glory as the builder of the house has more honor than the house itself.” Jesus, who builds a spiritual house of living stones, has the greater honor: “And we are His house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” That hope is not in Moses, not in the Law that no descendant of Adam could keep. No, that hope is in Christ and His actions that no mere mortal could ever do, but what the Eternal Son has accomplished for us.

For Jesus would accomplish His departure in Jerusalem; He died and rose again, so that you may be given a heavenly calling to life everlasting. So do as Jesus’ Father declares: “Listen to Him!” Listen and hold fast to what the One who has the greater glory says. Listen and hear His words of eternal life. Listen and believe His testimony. Listen and know that He speaks about you. You are forgiven, holy, living, because the Son has made you His household. “Listen to Him!” for in that Chosen One is found the glory of your salvation and in His words is found your eternal hope.

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

Monday, February 8, 2010

February 7 -- Divine Service Canceled

Due to the snowfall received in the Harrisburg metro area (18-24+ inches), including the borough of Mechanicsburg, Divine Service was canceled for February 7.

The scheduled readings for 5th Sunday after Epiphany included Isaiah 6:1-13 and Luke 5:1-11. What follows below is a sermon written in 2007 for that day:

February 4, 2007 at Zion/St. John’s Lutheran Churches – Dexter/Casey, IA

When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken. Then Jesus said to Simon: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

Witnessing the power, glory, and majesty of the divine is a frightening experience. Or at least, that is what our readings for today illustrate. Many descriptions of humans encountering the power of the Lord God are given to us within the Scriptures. This morning, we were presented with two of the most well-known: Isaiah before the throne of the Lord God; the miraculous catch of fish in the Sea of Galilee.

At each time, the reaction of the human to divine power is fear. They are frightened, and rightly so; for there is a poor fate for mere mortals who come face-to-face with God Himself. The words of both Isaiah and Simon Peter point out why this poor fate awaits humans who encounter divine glory. Isaiah says: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Simon Peter says: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

What Isaiah and Simon Peter both recognize is their sinfulness. Isaiah focuses on his lips, the uncleanness of what he speaks. Peter just plain calls his whole self full of sin. There is a proverb telling us: “Know thyself.” And clearly, Isaiah and Peter possessed such knowledge. Faced with the Lord God’s glory, majesty, and perfection, there is no match for mere mortals. Even the seraphim, the heavenly angels that Isaiah witnessed, covered themselves in the sight of God. And if they do so, humans must as well.

When the glory of God confronts us, there is no where to hide, no way to conceal just how sinful and imperfect we are in comparison. That divine perfection stares us right in the face. It shines a light upon us that leaves no shadow into which to creep. It speaks in a voice that must be heard: “You are a sinner. You are condemned. You have no standing before Me.” And as much as we might want to cover our ears or put a gag in His mouth, there is no way to keep that divine indictment from being spoken against us.

Like Isaiah and Peter, we react with fear, guilt, and shame when the perfection of God is laid against our sin and sinfulness. We wish it to go away. We come to grips with our impending doom, realizing there is no way for us to avoid it. No matter what we might want to do to placate the Lord God, to alleviate His wrath, it is an unachievable task. There is nothing in realm of possibility for us to carry out.

And yet, we see something amazing in both of these episodes involving Isaiah and Simon Peter. We do not see the Hammer of God come crashing down upon either of them. We do not see thunderbolts from heaven strike down either of them. And there is no wicked, maniacal laughter emanating from God’s belly.

Instead, there is a positive action made on behalf of both mortal men. One receives absolution, the other receives benediction. The sin of Isaiah’s lips is purged away, cauterized by a coal from heaven’s altar: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Simon Peter receives assurance and welcome from Christ Himself: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

In each case, the impediment of sin is removed, erased by divine action, not by the work of man. Human weakness is overcome by the glory, power, and perfection of God. No more must Isaiah and Peter await a destructive fate. But just the opposite, they are given fellowship with God Himself, granted His goodness to remove their guilt. This is what we would call pure Gospel—the work of God Himself to accomplish salvation within sinful humanity.

It is not earned by either of these men. Neither makes himself perfect. Neither atones for his guilt. Neither convinces God that they are not, in fact, sinful. But rather, their salvation comes to them. Where nothing but depravity and failure exists, the goodness and perfection of God enters. Sin is forgiven. Guilt is removed. The verdict of condemnation is vacated. That is what Isaiah and Peter experience. And it is our experience as well.

What both Isaiah and Peter say about their own guilt and sinfulness is what we confess about ourselves. But as much as we admit our guilt and unworthiness before the presence of the Lord, we receive the Lord God’s salvation. In truth, the salvation of the Lord exceeds our sinfulness and guilt, covering all of it. And like Isaiah and Peter, we receive this divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in us, but solely out of the Lord God’s voluntary, gracious actions.

Because of that, our encounter with the Lord God is no longer something that we fear, but something that we treasure. It is no longer the source of our doom, but the source of our salvation. For when we now are brought into Christ’s presence, it is to receive the benefits of His death and resurrection on our behalf. It is to be a joyous experience, not one of fear and fright. And it isn’t that we just happen to wander around and accidentally end up beholding God, but that He purposefully makes His presence among us.

That is what we encounter every time that we are gathered together by the Holy Spirit to hear the Word of God and be participants in His Sacraments. True enough, we do so deliberately, with reverence and awe. But this reverence and awe is not doom and fright. We intentionally come to where Christ is to be found, so that we can encounter Him and His holiness, perfection, and glory. We do so, in order that these can be used in us for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.

So we come to this place where Christ is found. We do not say: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Instead, we plea to Christ: “Be present among us, Lord, for we are sinful and we need your grace and mercy and forgiveness.” We desire Christ to be present to drown our old, sinful natures and renew them in Holy Baptism. We want Christ to be present to say: “Do not be afraid, your sins are forgiven.” We need to have Christ present with us at our altar, so that we may partake of His Holy Body and Precious Blood and hear Him say: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”

Those are the encounters with Christ necessary for us and for our salvation. It is not what we do that saves us, but rather what Christ does for us in our midst to bring us forgiveness, life, and salvation. Such encounters are gracious things, wonderful events, even miraculous actions. And because our Lord is willing to be found among us sinners, we are most thankful. Grateful for what Christ has done for us, we are also desirous for the Lord to have the same presence with others for their salvation.

That is why Isaiah and Peter are sent out to the world, to go for God, to catch men. Likewise, we have the same calling. It is what we pray the Lord to strengthen us to do after we commune with Him. It is what He sends us out into our society to accomplish. So that wherever we may wander, the blessings of what Christ has done for us may be shared and brought to others who have yet to experience them. They, too, may encounter Christ, not in fear or fright, but in peace and joy.

So it was for all of you who were first brought into Christ’s presence by other disciples. May you also go out and do likewise. For what all of you bear is not a message of doom, but of salvation. What Christ has given to you is meant for all who encounter the Lord God as Redeemer, so that they too may bear His Name: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In that Name may all of you go and confess what the Lord God has graciously accomplished for you.