Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pentecost 5 Sermon -- Luke 9:51-62 (LSB Proper 8C)

June 27, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, He set his face to go to Jerusalem. . . . And He said: ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’”

Looking back while pushing a plow is bad form. It causes all sorts of errors, deviations from the straight rows that should mark a good cornfield. One really can’t go forward with any sort of accuracy while looking back. Eyes must be pointed forward, so that the course is kept. That is the foundation for Jesus’ statement: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” But His statement is about more than good plowing technique. It is about discipleship, what is required of those who will follow behind Jesus.

Jesus gives this teaching on the road to Jerusalem. On His way, Jesus encounters several individuals. One man promises: “I will follow You wherever you go.” Another is called by Jesus: “Follow Me.” Still another claims: “I will follow You, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Each of these are to be disciples of Jesus, individuals to be led by Him. In a manner of speaking, they are all going to put their hands to the plow, the plow that Jesus will drag in front of them. Jesus will set the way for them, and they are to keep their eyes fixed on Him and the way that He lays out. Looking back will cause their hands to steer the plow in a wrong direction or even to slip from the plowhandle altogether.

But these three men are not fit for the kingdom of God. For what happens when given the opportunity to follow? The hardships that disciples will face causes trepidation in one: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Another has family matters to care for: “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Still another wants time to give last wishes to his family: “I will follow You, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” The eyes are fixed away from Jesus, looking back. The hands are slipping from the plowhandles.

But what these three men do is no different than others who have been called to follow the Lord. The same issue was seen with the Prophet Elijah. He was called to go to Israel, to speak against the Baal worshipers, including the royalty. But when Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah, he fled. He ran off to a cave where the Lord had to confront him: “Behold, the word of the Lord came to [Elijah], and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.’” Elijah had been bold, had confronted the Baal worshipers, but the threat of death was too much: that threat caused the prophet to look back.

And it isn’t simply Elijah who has done so. No, the Apostle Paul had to confront the same problem among the Christians in Galatia. You heard his statements: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. . . . For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” The Galatians were under temptation to use their new freedom for wrongful purposes, to walk in a way contrary to Christ’s command. There is a struggle to be faithful followers: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” So Paul exhorts them to put their eyes back forward: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

Yet, there is one more party who also has the same problem of looking back. That party is you. You are called to follow. Jesus has put your hand on the plowhandle to hold. He tells you that He is setting out the way, leading you in the proper direction, even giving His Spirit to you. But what do you do? You see Jesus ahead of you. But you don’t follow. You get distracted by other things. Or you submit again to the yoke of slavery that sin throws back on your necks. Or you take your freedom and use it for ends opposite of Christ’s intentions. That’s the reality. Jesus can rightly say two things: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God,” and “You’re not fit for the kingdom of God.”

That is the point of Jesus’ statement. You aren’t fit for the kingdom of God. It would be a lie to say that you are. Every time you look back, look away from Christ, His statement applies to you. But it isn’t simply because you look back. No, it goes much deeper than that. It’s because of all your sins, the turning away from righteousness. The things you do display the lack of fitness. Think on the list that Paul lays out about the works of the flesh, the desires that your own nature has: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” At least one in the list accurately describes your works. And not only does Paul lay out what these works are, he follows them up with a statement very similar to Jesus’ statement: “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

That stark truth is critical to hear, for it dispels any thought of worthiness in you. But even more so, it reveals something true about Jesus. Remember the description of Jesus: “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus is described as having His face set like stone toward Jerusalem. He is going there, even to be handed over to the Gentiles by His own people to be crucified. But Jesus still goes; nothing will dissuade Him. Recall the statements that He made on the road to Jerusalem: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. . . . Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. . . . No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” These statements will not be perfectly fulfilled by those who hear them, but they will be fulfilled by Jesus, fulfilled so that you will be made fit for the kingdom of God.

There is no demand that Jesus makes of His followers that He Himself doesn’t keep. No, He fulfills them in substitution for others who cannot. That is what Jesus does when “He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” Elijah runs away when Queen Jezebel threatens his life, but Jesus travels to Jerusalem under the threat of death from Herod and the Sanhedrin. In their rage, James and John want to call down fire on the Samaritan village, but Jesus rebukes them knowing that He will be baptized with fire in His crucifixion. One man on the road is dissuaded to follow because of the hardships, another of having to leave his father, but Jesus leaves His Heavenly Father to go and lay His head in the tomb. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” But that statement of Jesus does not apply to Him: He puts Himself to the task of redeeming the world and never looks back. “He set His face to go to Jerusalem.”

Because of Jesus’ action—His unrelenting drive to His death, resurrection, and ascension—you are made fit for the kingdom of God. What Jesus accomplishes is done for your benefit. You cannot make yourself fit for the kingdom of God, but receiving the merits of Jesus’ work, you are made fit. In Holy Baptism, you have your former lives put to death, so that a new life may be found in you. As you are given Christ’s Spirit, He works in you to produce good and proper actions: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” That being made fit is a constant activity done in you. There is the daily drowning and rising again. Or in the language of Jesus’ statement: the daily slipping of the hand from the plow and the daily replacing of that hand, the daily looking back and the daily setting of the face.

This is what the Holy Spirit does in you. Forgiveness and restoration is given, just as it was to Elijah, James and John, and the men Jesus encounters on the road. The Holy Spirit makes you fit for the kingdom of God, to be made like Jesus, the One who was always fit. As this is done in you, now you can speak like the psalmist: “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let Your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” These statements are now true for you, but never because of your effort. But since Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem, putting His hand to the plow and not looking back, you are now fit for the kingdom of God.

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

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pentecost 4 Sermon -- Luke 8:26-39 (LSB Proper 7C)

June 20, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met Him a man from the city who had demons. . . . When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before Him and said with a loud voice: ‘What have You to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’”

“What have You to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Even while falling down before Jesus, the demoniac builds itself up and confronts Jesus with those words. The behavior is much like the lizards or snakes who puff out their necks or rattle their tails when preparing to strike or defend themselves. This possessed man knows that Jesus is a threat, that Jesus has nothing good to do with him. This is a confrontation, and it will have a negative result for the demon, no matter how powerful and aggressive it tries to make itself. For after the challenging words, what does the demoniac say to Jesus? “I beg You, do not torment me.”

The demon is powerful. It causes great damage. Look at the torment that it brought to the Gerasene man: “For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. . . . Many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.” This is the record of the demon’s actions. It despises everything good and relishes in everything evil. The evil spirit makes the man a menace to society. The unclean spirit ruins the man’s sound mind, making him to reside away from the community, to live among the dead. That is the power the demon has to harm the man who is weak compared to angelic beings.

But despite the demon’s strength and ability over the Gerasene man, it has no ability over the Nazarene Man. Its fate is sealed, For the demon is not all-powerful. It is strong, but not almighty. The demon cannot withstand the power of the Son of the Most High God. So when Jesus is confronted by this possessed man, He hears the cry: “I beg You, do not torment me.” Why does this plea come out? “For [Jesus] had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man.” Despite all its strength and power, despite its posturing, the demon cannot resist the command that comes from the Son of the Most High God, the One who has power over the creation, who “even the winds and the waters obey.”

Jesus commands; the demon and all the other demons obey. He tells them to come out of the man. They will obey, even as they ask for terms from Jesus: “And they begged Him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged Him to let them enter these. So He gave them permission.” Even with their pleas, the demons will leave the man: “Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pig, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.” There is the fulfillment of the command: the demons leave the Gerasene man and he is restored to his right state, as the Evangelist describes: “Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.”

This incident in the country of the Gerasenes is a raw display of divine power. It causes fright in the people who witness it: “When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. . . . Those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked [Jesus] to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So He got into the boat and returned.” Showing the power over the demonic is amazing and astonishing. It frightens. And it should, for what is seen is beyond the normal, beyond the ordinary. This awesome display of divine authority was done by Jesus for the benefit of those afflicted. Despite the frightful reaction of the Gerasenes who demand that Jesus leaves, what Jesus did freed the possessed man. All Jesus’ authority was used to take the man from the clutches of the demonic to be one of His people, to sit at His feet. And Jesus authorizes the man to proclaim what had been done for him, so that other might believe: “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.”

But this great divine act done in the Gerasenes is not just a thing of the past. No, Jesus does it here and now. For the ability that Jesus possesses over the demonic is not just for the past; the Son of the Most High God still holds that authority. And not only does He hold that authority, He bestows it upon others to use for the benefit of the afflicted in this day and age. Jesus wants others to be free, to be delivered, to be saved. He confronts that which afflicts and binds mankind; His command must be heeded by them, especially including that which afflicts and binds the soul.

This freeing and delivering is Christ’s mission and purpose. What He did for the Gerasene man is what He does for you. Hear what the Apostle Paul said about Christ and His work: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ Jesus have put on Christ. . . . In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Understanding Paul’s statements, you will see how he describes Christ’s freeing work in you.

You “were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” You were powerless against the base thoughts, words, and deeds that accompany sinful existence. You were under the assaults and afflictions of Satan. But that has changed. For a new Spirit has been given to you: “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Before that happened, you were like the Gerasene man: filled with unclean spirit, rebellious against God, driven to harm and destruction. What happened? Christ confronted you. He said: “Depart unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit.” You once were naked, dispossessed of all that is good, but now Christ has clothed you with Himself. You once were living in the way of death, dwelling in the tomb of unholiness, but Christ has brought you to the way of life. You once were of deluded mind, truly knowing nothing of righteousness and virtue. But now, your minds have been renewed and enlightened: you know the way of salvation that is found in the work of the Son of the Most High God.

There has been a transformation for you, just as there was for the Gerasene man. That happens as Christ confronted you, both on your baptismal day and even this morning. The actions that He takes for you are great and powerful. It may not frighten your eyes, but the ability of God Himself is present here. Though having God Himself confront you can be a scary event, yet as you have been called to faith, you don’t react like the Gerasenes. You don’t ask Jesus to depart from you. You don’t say like the unfaithful Israelites: “Keep to Yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for You.” Instead, you call to Him like the Psalmist David: “I cried aloud to the Lord, and He answered me from His holy hill. . . . Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For You strike all my enemies on the cheek; You break the teeth of the wicked.” And your pleas are answered. Jesus gives His commands: “Be forgiven!” and you are absolved; “Leave these men and women unharmed!” and you are safe again; “Follow Me!” and you walk again in the way of His righteousness.

Jesus confronts what still afflicts you: your mortality, your sinfulness, your acts of unrighteousness committed in the past week. In your imperfection you may say in fear: “What have You to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.” But Jesus does not torment you. No, He commands what is unclean to be gone. He forgives you. He sets you right again. He restores you to your holy status. And because that has happened, you are authorized to speak. You are sent from this place with the command: “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.”

You may be asked: “Just what has God done for you?” You can answer: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Your conscience is faced with the question: “What have You to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” And you can answer: “You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” When asked, “What is your name?” You may reply: “I am an heir of the Eternal Father, for that is what the Son of the Most High God has made me.” That’s what Christ’s confrontation with everything that afflicts you—even sin, death, and Satan has accomplished. And that is what you may declare that to all those who are around you, trusting that Jesus overcomes your enemies who try to afflict you again.

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

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pentecost 3 Sermon -- Luke 7:36--8:3 (LSB Proper 6C)

June 13, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said: “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Debts made need to be repaid. That is how lending works. But what happens when the debtor cannot make payments? This is what we have been witnessing much in our nation during the past several years. The economy is down; jobs are being lost; savings are being depleted. But the lenders will get their money. The contract still stands. The debt is still there. And it’s not just private lenders who are going after what is owed, even the Commonwealth’s Revenue Department will be finding its debtors.

Jesus’ parable speaks about debt. He tells it to illustrate how forgiveness works. For sin incurs debt. Every transgression against God’s Law must be repaid. Divine Justice is an unyielding lender. Each sinner owes something, for their ledger is filled with red ink. Compared to the level of righteousness demanded by the Lord God, the level of obedience and compliance offered by humanity is woefully short. There is much owed.

This is shown in a very real way with the woman who crashed the Pharisee’s party. This was a great social event. Simon had opened his house up to many, especially to Jesus: “One of the Pharisees asked [Jesus] to eat with him, and He went into the Pharisee’s house and took His place at the table.” Jesus was welcome guest; Simon wanted Him there. But Jesus’ presence at the banquet causes something totally unexpected: “And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that [Jesus] was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed His feet and anointed them with the ointment.”

The sinful woman’s actions were shocking! To many, they were totally inappropriate, totally uncouth, totally wrong. Or at least, that is what the host of the banquet thought: “Now when the Pharisee who had invited [Jesus] saw this, he said to himself: ‘If this man were a prophet, He would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.’” The party-crasher was not just any common sort from the city; she was a sinner! She was a loose woman, one whose actions were not matter for polite conversation. The host doesn’t want her even close to his house, but there she is with one of the honored guests. The host doesn’t want her to be welcomed in any way, but there she is being received by Jesus.

What drove this sinful woman to sneak into the Pharisee’s house? What motivated her tear-washing of Jesus’ feet? It was her sin—her sin that Jesus forgives. It was her faith—her faith that Jesus forgives. It was her love—her love of Jesus’ forgiveness. For this sinful woman was a debtor. Her ledger was as scarlet as her dress. Her credits in the bank of righteousness were as low as her reputation. She had nothing and owed everything. But she knew that Jesus remedies her situation. And having received the great mercy that Jesus provides, receiving His righteousness that restores her, the woman worships Him in the greatest of honor through the lowest of humility.

Jesus welcomes this, though the Pharisee does not. And that is the point that Jesus makes with His parable: “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” The sinful woman is the debtor that owed the five hundred denarii. She cannot repay the debt. But Jesus is the moneylender who cancels the debt. He forgives sinners. That’s His purpose and will. Instead of demanding repayment, Jesus absorbs the debt. But what Simon the Pharisee must learn from Jesus’ parable is that he also is a debtor. The moneylender had two debtors, and even the one who owed fifty could not pay. The moneylender cancels the smaller debt, too. Though smaller in size, the debt was still real and could not be repaid, no matter how much the Pharisee would try to keep the Law. Simon must have Jesus’ forgiveness to live.

This reality is what St. Paul described in the Epistle to the Galatians: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law, because by works of the Law no one will be justified.” Debts must be repaid, but the debtors could not repay it. And yet, the lender absorbs the cost: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” That is what Jesus does: He becomes accursed; He absorbs the debt, so that sinners may have life and forgiveness through faith in Him.

Now why is this so important for Simon the Pharisee to learn? And why is this incident in Jesus’ life so important for the Evangelist to record it for generations to come? Because the concept of debt and forgiveness is not just a theoretical idea. It isn’t simply an illustration for a story. No, it describes your reality. You are debtors. You owe God, and your debt cannot be repaid by you. It doesn’t matter how big the debt is, how many sins have been committed, how bad on the scale of sin your actions have been. You still are a debtor. And what do you have to offer in payment to your Lender? Nothing of value, nothing of worth. This is what Jesus wants you to understand and understand perfectly.

It is an important lesson for you to learn, for it is knowledge that leads you away from misguided self-righteousness. Such was part of the problem with Simon the Pharisee. He was right about the woman at Jesus’ feet: she was a sinner. But so was he. He was indebted. He also had a red ledger. Though Simon may not have “owed” as much as the sinful woman at Jesus’ feet, he still had a debt that he could not repay. None of Simon’s keeping all the details of the Torah could have made up for what he had done in breaking God’s Law. For Simon to be made right with God, he needed to have what Jesus said to the sinful woman be true for him: “Your sins are forgiven. . . . Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Simon’s problem is so often yours. There are few in this room that would be recognized as public sinners like the woman who came to see Jesus. No, that’s not typical. You have your foibles and faults. You have your occasional transgressions and peculiar sins. Some may even be known to others: public outbursts of temper, being sources of gossip, talent of telling bawdy jokes, perhaps even a double-cross here or there. But rarely would you be kept out of the company of others because of your reputation. And yet, those sins are real and kill. They still are red marks on your ledger. You still have the “fifty denarii debt” on your record. Because of that, you have no right to consider yourself greater than another, but have every reason to receive what Jesus has to give.

But precisely because you have no ability to repay, Jesus grants you His gifts. That is, if you recognize your need for what He has and that He has the ability to waive your debt. That is what the sinful woman shows in her actions. Simon the Pharisee doubts that Jesus is a prophet because Jesus permits the woman to perform her act of worship. But the woman knows that Jesus is more than a prophet! She rightly recognizes Him as the source of her salvation, the One who can forgive and make her right in God’s eyes. And that is the same belief that must be found in you. For you need to have what Jesus said to the sinful woman be true for you: “Your sins are forgiven. . . . Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Such words do not come to any random person, but to those who are called to believe that they are debtors but that Jesus forgives them.

And that is what Jesus has done again this day. That is what He has spoken through His ministers to you. The truth is that you have been forgiven much, everything that you owed. So your reaction should be like the woman who was also forgiven much. And in truth, that also is done this day, as you have come in your humility, recognizing nothing truly good in you and that the Lord alone is most high. You kneel before Him and receive His favor. You take the same position as the sinful woman. And in that mode, Jesus welcomes you into His presence. He welcomes you, so that you may hear His words: “Your sins are forgiven. . . . Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Hear them and believe the One who says them, for they are true for you.

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

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pentecost 2 Sermon -- Luke 7:11-17 (LSB Proper 5)

June 6, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“As [Jesus] drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her: ‘Do not weep.’”

Occasionally, we are given the opportunity to see clearly our purpose in life. That is, there are times when we see in concrete ways just why we are here in this time and place, why we have been interconnected in our relationships with others. But with Jesus, it is not an occasional event. As He had come down from heaven for us men and for our salvation, Jesus constantly saw why He was on earth. It is especially clear when Jesus encountered death and those who mourn because of it.

That is what takes place in the Village of Nain. The Evangelist sets the scene: “Soon afterward—[after healing the centurion’s servant]—Jesus went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a great crowd went with Him. As [Jesus] drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.” Two crowds are converging, led by two very different people: Jesus brings a company of joyous followers, while the dead man brings a company of mourners. And at that moment of convergence, Jesus’ purpose in life is shown. The dead man is victimized by death and there is much collateral damage caused for all those connected to him, especially his widow mother.

But what is Jesus’ purpose? He has come to personally deal with death; to put an end to it and its effects. This is what motivates Jesus’ action: “And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her: ‘Do not weep.’ Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And He said: ‘Young man, I say to you, arise!’” Pity drives Jesus to act. Jesus has compassion on the widow, providing what He has for her benefit. Jesus is the Word of God that brought life to the world, causing creation to exist. That power is His possession, what He has to give. So He uses that ability to correct what is wrong. Jesus speaks the Word of Life to raise the young man from his coffin and restore him alive to his mother: “He said: ‘Young man, I say to you, arise!’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”

What Jesus does at the village gates makes Nain a microcosm of the whole creation. Jesus’ singular compassionate act for the young man’s mother is what He will do on a cosmic scale. Jesus is meant to reverse all the effects that sin has brought to the creation. That is what He—and He alone—has the ability to do. Jesus is “the Resurrection and the Life.” His purpose is to bring life to the world, to deliver all creation from the jaws of death. His compassion is not for the widow only; rather, it is shown for all who are in the same predicament, for all who are affected by death, for all who are under the curse that sin has brought.

Note what happened after Jesus raised the young man: “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying: ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited His people!’ And this report about Him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.” What Jesus had done was not limited for that one Galilean village. No, what Jesus had done became the testimony of many, a testimony delivered for others to hear. For what they said about Jesus was true. A great prophet had arisen; in fact, One who is greater than all the prophets—even greater than Elijah who had raised a different widow’s son to life. God had visited His people, bringing His compassion and power with Him. What Jesus did in Nain shows His identity and ability: that He has power over death and that He is the promised Redeemer that the prophecies of the Old Testament had foretold.

The report about Jesus’ ability and identity that the people brought into Judea and the surrounding country is the same that you confess about Jesus. You believe that He is the way that God has visited His people. You believe that He is powerful over death. You believe that His compassion is meant for you. You believe that Jesus is the source of your resurrection and life. And why is this so? Because His words of eternal life have reached you, because you have heard the witness of Christ’s words and works. But even more so, you believe because what the young man of Nain experienced is what has happened to you. You have been raised to life.

Think again on what happened to the young man of Nain. He is dead. There is no life in him. He is carried to his grave by others who will suffer the same. Even his widow mother will fall victim to the same fate that engulfed her son. That is the plight of all who are born of man. They all walk in this world under the curse of sin until the day that their breath leaves them. All are powerless to change that, save for One—God who visited His people, suffering under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, and the third day rose again from the dead. And how does His ability to give life come to those who are dead? He speaks: “I say to you, arise!” Jesus’ words of eternal life raise the sinner.

You have been raised like the young man of Nain. Why? Because Jesus’ words of eternal life have been spoken to you. Jesus gives His command: “Young man, [young woman, old man, old woman, newborn,] I say to you, arise!” That word of eternal life is attached to the water of Holy Baptism, just as you recall from Luther’s catechism: “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.” Jesus’ word of eternal life frees you from the curse of sin, even when you fall victim to it and its effects in your daily existence. In Holy Absolution, Jesus again gives you life, so that “a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” The Lord’s word of eternal life are connected to bread and wine in the Holy Supper: “These words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words.” And so Jesus brings you life every Lord’s Day.

Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Supper: these are the ways that Jesus raises your souls from death and gives life to your mortal bodies. Why? Because they carry His words of eternal life. Without them, there is no power in such things. But with them, salvation is given to you. As Jesus has given you the command to rise again through these things, you are made alive. So you may confess that “God has visited His people.” For He has made Himself present for you. So you may rightly pray with the Psalmist, as you did this morning: “O Lord, my God, I cried to You for help, and You have healed me. O Lord, You have brought up my soul from Sheol; You restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.” Like the Psalmist, you have been delivered from the fate that should be visited on all who sin and fall short of the glory of God. Like the young man of Nain, you have been raised, and so you may speak. Like the villagers, you have witnessed Jesus’ acts of compassion for you, so you may testify about them.

But there is one more thing to be said about Jesus’ words of eternal life: His command to rise is not limited to the span of your earthly days. No, it will be spoken to you for a final time. For you are just like the widow’s son: a day will come when you will be on the funeral bier, when the procession will take you to be buried. A crowd great or small will follow you to the grave. The end of earthly life comes to all who are born of man, whose parents are sinful like them. But even then, Jesus’ command to rise shall again be given. And when Jesus speaks, things happen as He wills them to be.

This is promised by the Lord: “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son’s] voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” Jesus promises that He will speak and you will hear and respond. Jesus again will say to you: “Arise!” And it shall be as He wills it for you. Jesus will speak His words of life and the Holy Spirit who accompanies it shall act, just as we Lutherans confess: “On the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”

All this is the effect that Jesus’ words of eternal life have. It is the fulfillment of the purpose for which He came to this world. Jesus’ words and works are for us and for our salvation. They were done to overthrow the power of sin, death, and Satan. Jesus accomplished His cosmic purpose by dying and rising again, so that “death no longer has dominion over Him.” Through His resurrection, the opposite is true, just as He declares: “Behold, I hold the keys of Death and Hades.” And in His great compassion, Jesus uses them to unlock the chains and fling open the doors, to restore life to those who are dead. It was so in the Old Testament with the raised boy in Zarephath. The young man in Nain experienced it during the earthly ministry of Christ. So also it shall be for you, whenever Jesus gives the command: “I say to you, arise!”

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

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June 2010 Parish Letter

“Almighty God, Your faithful servant Barnabas sought not his own renown but gave generously of his life and substance for the encouragement of the apostles and their ministry. Grant that we may follow his example in lives given to charity and the proclamation of the Gospel; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

[Collect for St. Barnabas]

Following Christ leads to generosity. Throughout the Gospels, the Lord gives various exhortations and commands about giving. It is part of the life that He lays out for His disciples. Jesus’ instructions on giving include a famous statement: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”(Lk 6:38)

But Jesus’ teaching about giving also addresses the motivation of the giver: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.”(Mt 6:1-2) Jesus’ words indicate that humbleness and selflessness will be driving the giving. Christ’s followers who give to the needy and poor do so with every attempt not to draw attention to themselves. Their actions aren’t for show or for fame; they are done simply because they are good to do.

What Jesus taught concerning giving is epitomized in the actions of St. Barnabas, whose festival day is June 11. Barnabas is one of the second generation of apostles, a believer from the earliest days of the Church. Barnabas is matter-of-factly introduced in the Acts of the Apostles: “There was not a needy person among [the believers], for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”(Ac 4:34-37).

The man sells a field and gives the money to help the poorer Christians in Jerusalem. The record reads much like an entry in the parish council’s minutes. But beginning with that gift, Barnabas enters into great service in the Church. He who was dedicated to service to the Temple as a Levite becomes a servant of Christ. Important among Barnabas’ work was his assistance to St. Paul following the Damascus Road experience: “And when [Saul] came to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of the Lord.”(Ac 9:26-27) What Barnabas did for Paul would be his modus operandi—helping where he could to further the mission of Christ.

Barnabas’ service to Christ would also include assistance in expanding the Church. As many people of Antioch were brought to faith, Barnabas was sent by the apostles to look in on what was happening: “The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. And when he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.”(Ac 11:22-24) When the Antioch church collected money to help the Jerusalem believers, it was Barnabas who served as courier: “So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.”(Ac 11:27-30) Later, Barnabas would be involved in assisting the missionary work to the Gentiles that originated at Antioch.

What is seen in Barnabas’ life is a dedication to service. He works, but his efforts are never to achieve his own fame. His name is listed in the Acts of the Apostles, but usually in connection with other people. Barnabas is the messenger, the assistant, the helper, the “second chair”. But in this way, Barnabas lives up to his name—“son of encouragement”. There isn’t the glory-seeking that Jesus warns against, but the virtuous selflessness that the Lord wants to see. That makes Barnabas a great example for us to follow.

This example is referred to in the Collect of the Day: “Almighty God, Your faithful servant Barnabas sought not his own renown but gave generously of his life and substance for the encouragement of the apostles and their ministry. Grant that we may follow his example in lives given to charity and the proclamation of the Gospel. . . .” What Barnabas exemplifies is a pattern for our parish. And this month, there will be an opportunity for us to follow it. Barnabas himself gave to the Jerusalem church and was involved in collecting funds in Antioch for the support of the Jerusalem church. Later in June (and early July), our parish will be gathering funds for the support of our Synod, even the planting of national and international mission congregations. But we won’t be blowing trumpets while giving!

Going forward, our parish will be seeking to find ways to be of service to those around us. That effort will also be a way to follow Barnabas’ example. Being a parish dedicated to giving generously of our lives and substance for charitable efforts and proclamation of the Gospel is part of our identity that Christ has given to us. Perhaps it will be shown by helping donors to Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries or as messengers of hope to those suffering around us. Maybe we will be “sons of encouragement” to those who want to maintain the Lutheran confession of faith in our area. However our parish will show its identity, it must be in Barnabas’ manner: not seeking our own renown, but giving generously of what we have. For that is good to do, as our Lord states and as His disciples have exemplified.