Sunday, July 31, 2011

Proper 13A Sermon -- Matthew 14:13-21 (LSB Proper 13A)

July 31, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Now when Jesus heard [about the death of John the Baptist], He withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by Himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed Him on foot from the towns. When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

The Collect of the Day stated: “Heavenly Father, though we do not deserve Your goodness, still You provide for all our needs of body and soul.” Though seemingly simple, that is a profound statement. It tells about you and it tells about God. What did you admit, as you prayed those words? That you are deserving of nothing good from God. It is quite an admission, a statement that hardly anyone would say of themselves. People like to speak about what they are entitled to. There are large debates about such things in our Congress. Demands are made quickly to have what should be coming to you. But in the prayer, your admission was you don’t deserve goodness. It is a true statement rooted in your guilt, your sin, your rebellion against God’s will.

But the prayer spoke of another truth, a truth about God and His character: “still You provide for all our needs of body and soul.” Those words described God: that He has the ability to supply what you need. They also described His character: He is gracious and merciful, He gives what you need though you do not deserve it. And in the Scripture readings heard this morning, you had God’s will revealed to you: He desires to be generous for your benefit.

The events that took place around the Sea of Galilee reveal God, His character, and His will to you. There are more than words or propositions: here you see actions that reveal these things about God. The Gospel Reading began with a sentence recording Jesus’ actions: “Now when Jesus heard this, He withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by Himself.” What is the “this” in that sentence? What had Jesus heard? He had experienced rejection in Nazareth when He had preached in His hometown synagogue. Soon after that, Jesus heard about what King Herod had done to John the Baptist. Not only had Herod imprisoned the Forerunner of the Christ, now he had put him to the sword. Jesus’ kinsman, His servant, was now dead. In the face of this, Jesus goes away by Himself, sailing across the lake.

But what happened? Jesus doesn’t even get to the other side of the Sea of Galilee by Himself: “But when the crowds heard it, they followed Him on foot from the towns. When He went ashore He saw a great crowd. . . .” A greeting party is there for Jesus. But this is not a delegation to welcome Him and bestow great accolades upon Him. They are present because they believe Jesus. But even more so, they are there to get something from Jesus. Do they deserve such action? Can they demand Jesus give them some sort of entitlement? No. But what does Jesus do? “When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” When Jesus saw what the crowd needed, He had a pain in His stomach over their plight—that’s a literal way of understanding the Greek word σπλαγχνίσθη. Jesus comes a people who are in need, and His character drives Him to action. He sees their diseases and heals them.

The Gospel Writer tells us that this went on for a while, so much that the day was ending: “Now when it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’” The situation had changed. No longer were there only sick people around needing something from Jesus, the entire crowd has a need: stomachs to be filled. So how does Jesus react? “But Jesus said, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’” But the disciples cannot do that: “They said to Him, ‘We have only five loaves here and two fish.’” What the disciples are capable of doing will not meet the needs of the crowds. But what Jesus is capable and willing to do takes care of the situation.

“Jesus said, ‘Bring them here to Me.’ Then He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.” The identity, character, and will of Jesus are on display; they are shown by what He does. He acts out of His compassion to heal the sick. He acts out of His compassion to take care of the hungry. He helps in ways that no earthly being could. His will is to give aid, and so He does, even in the midst of rejection and unbelief shown in Nazareth and by Herod.

So it also is for you, as Jesus acts out of compassion for you in this world full of sin, false worship, faithlessness, and rebellion. His will is to bring salvation. His character is show mercy. His identity is wrapped up in being the Redeemer. And so Jesus acts to help you. The greatest of the acts is what He accomplished by dying and rising again. That is what opened the gates of heaven to you. That is what made it possible for you to be a holy people. It is the source of absolution for your sin, renewal for your hearts and minds, life for your bodies and souls. Jesus’ identity, character, and will cause Him to give everything of Himself for you, as you heard well last Sunday in the words of His parables.

What was accomplished in the past has effects in the present day. Even more so, Jesus is active in the present day, acting in compassion even here. What does Jesus behold in this place? What does He see? He sees you, afflicted by so much. You suffer from illnesses—physical, mental, spiritual. You are hungry, wanting to have righteousness given to you. You are people who need aid. And yet, you deserve nothing good, due to your sin, guilt, and rebellion. But Jesus does not turn you away. He does not dismiss you. Instead, He acts out of compassion for you. Like the reaction He had when getting out of the boat and seeing the crowds, Jesus has a pain in His stomach over you and your plight.

So what does Jesus do? He invites you to come to Him. You have a need. Come to the One who can fulfill it. The invitation is the same one that the Lord gave to the people of old through the prophet Isaiah: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to Me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, My steadfast, sure love for David.” The invitation draws you to the provision that Jesus has for you.

Do you have a desire for life? Come to the One who has died and lives eternally. Do you hunger for justice and righteousness? Come to the One who has no fault in Him. Are you worn out by the impossible task of trying to live perfectly? Come to the One who has borne your burden. What Jesus has is meant for you. It is given freely for you. And it is given by being in His presence, listening to what He says: “Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to Me; hear that your soul may live.” His words deliver to you the divine provisions that He possesses, the forgiveness, life, and salvation that you need.

Do you deserve such blessing? Is it an entitlement that you have had since birth? No. But it is what the Lord chooses to give to you. It is what He makes to be your birthright, as you have been born again by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. The everlasting covenant has been made with you. You have been brought into it through the compassionate work of Jesus. You are connected to His death and resurrection. That part of the covenant is renewed every time you admit sin and are forgiven through Jesus’ words of absolution. What Jesus has done for you in His sacrifice is delivered again and again, as you partake of Him in the Lord’s Supper, eating the bread of life that Jesus offers to you. Jesus authorizes His apostles, His sent ministers, to give you something to eat, to give what you need for your salvation. And what Jesus offers to you is enough and more than enough, like the leftover baskets of bread that were collected after all had eaten and were satisfied.

Through these actions that Jesus does, that have Jesus as the actor, His life becomes your life. His righteousness has become your righteousness. And now you share Jesus’ character. You share His will. The Holy Spirit transforms and renews you. So there are actions that you do that reflect the same compassion that Jesus had for you. What does that look like? It looks like this: When you see the plight of others, you also get that pain in the stomach. You are driven to act selflessly, no longer for the benefit of yourself, but for others. You take what you have and provide aid. That is what happens when you share Jesus character and abide in His will.

But there is the limitation: like the disciples, you only have five loaves and two fish. The clothing closet has a finite amount of materials in it. The bank accounts only supply what is in the black numbers. Knowledge of medicine can only heal so much. But you also know that what Jesus provides is still present now. It isn’t bound by such earthy limits. What causes the soul to live, what forgives sins, what delivers from unending death is still given by Jesus. And you can direct the crowds to Him. You can repeat the invitation that was spoken by Isaiah and others sent by the Lord: “Incline your ear, and come to Me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, My steadfast, sure love for David.” Those words beckon people, drawing them to the source of provision. The promise is made concerning you, the Lord’s people: “Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for He has glorified you.” That is what happens, as you act according to the identity, character, and will that Jesus’ work has bestowed upon you.

The realization of all this becomes clear, as today’s collect said: “Heavenly Father, though we do not deserve Your goodness, still You provide for all our needs of body and soul.” The prayer continues: “Grant us Your Holy Spirit, that we may acknowledge Your gifts, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience.” You will do so, as you benefit from the compassion that Jesus has shown to you, acting according to His identity, character, and will. Receive those actions. Be transformed and renewed by them. Know that Jesus has provided well for you. And going from this place, you may carry that provision to others who suffer the same plight, so they also may share in what the gracious and merciful Jesus gives.

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

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Proper 12A Sermon -- Matthew 13:44-52 (LSB Proper 12A)

July 24, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus said:] “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Jesus tells three more parables about the kingdom of heaven: the Parable of a Hidden Treasure, of a Pearl of Great Price, and of a Dragnet. These describe what Jesus has done in this world. They are illustrations describing what He has done for you who have been made part of His people. Jesus’ action to bring salvation to the world is often called “redemption”. It means that a purchase has taken place, a buying of something. In this case, the purchase is of you, of your bodies and souls. That purchase has made you Jesus’ people, His possession.

That act of redemption that Jesus accomplished is a continuation of what had taken place throughout the Scriptures. This morning, you heard words about the Lord and His possessions in the Old Testament Reading. Speaking to the Exodus people, Moses talks about their identity: “You are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” The Lord had selected the children of Abraham to be His own. That favor had been granted to them beginning with the call of Abram from his homeland. Abram had been given a promise to be made into a great people from whom a Redeemer would come.

The Lord’s promise had been handed down from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Jacob’s children. But as they were enslaved in Egypt, the promise looked impossible to fulfill. Yet, just at that time, the Lord acted. He made good on the promise. Moses reminds the people of this: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” Purchase and deliverance had taken place. The Lord had taken the Hebrews from Pharaoh’s ownership to be His own. He had made them His people. And He had done so “with a mighty hand,” by the plagues and leading through Red Sea, actions that only He could do.

This redemption foreshadowed what the Lord would do centuries later. That was accomplished in the actions of Jesus. For He also would deliver people “with a mighty hand”—through death and resurrection. By such actions, Jesus “redeemed you from the house of slavery,” from the hands of Satan and death and sin. Like the delivery of the Hebrews from Egypt, this took place “not because you were more in number than any other people”. This action was not done out of calculation. Rather, it was the fulfillment of a great promise, an action based in the love of you, even when you had no intrinsic value.

Jesus’ Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price help to illustrate this. Think of the first parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. . . .” To the eyes of others, the field looks ordinary. There is nothing in it that should attract the attention of prospective buyers. It is a field like all others. But in that field is something valuable. It is hidden, not evident to others. So what does the man in the parable do when he finds out about that hidden treasure? “[He] found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” The purchase price for that field is everything that the man possesses. But he gladly gives it up in order to make that entire field and the treasure hidden in it his own.

So it is for you. Jesus has purchased you, the hidden treasure. Not only did He buy you, He bought the entire field—the cosmos—where you are. It is all made to be His. And what was the cost? It was the selling of everything that He had. Jesus gave Himself, laid down His life, as your purchase price. Nothing was held back. Jesus was all-in for you. And through that sacrifice, you have been made His own.

Jesus’ second parable confirms this: “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” This parable takes the matter of redemption down to the individual level. Jesus’ words describe more than the purchase of an entire creation. Perhaps one might think that all the universe was so great that it was worth Jesus’ life, an even exchange, so to speak. But what about one pearl? That is the term used by Jesus. One pearl is worth everything that a man has? It seems ludicrous. But Jesus has given everything for you individually. You would not dare to say that you are of equal worth to the Son of God. And yet, He sold all that He had to purchase each of you. Every single one of you has been graciously and compassionately valued by Jesus that He has offered His life for you. The value is not some sort of greatness found in you, but has been placed upon you.

Something is worth what anyone will dare to spend on it. Despite your sin, your imperfection, your failures, Jesus has given Himself for you. “Lord of glory, You have bought us, with Your life-blood as the price,” the hymn famously says. Yes, that is how Jesus “sold all that He had” to redeem you. That message the Church takes out into the world. The Church acts like the dragnet spoken of in the third parable told by Jesus: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown in to the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.” The message of Jesus’ purchase and redemption of sinful humanity attracts people, bringing them into fellowship with Him. It is the message that has reached your ears, revealing your true identity as the Lord’s own people, His treasured possession.

What Jesus accomplished for you is the fulfillment of what had been promised. He accomplished His Father’s will for you, a will that goes all the way back to prior to the world’s creation. The Apostle Paul puts it this way: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” You have been called to salvation according to the Father’s purpose. You were foreknown to be made into the image of Jesus. You were justified by Jesus’ death. And you will be glorified in His resurrection.

Purchased through Jesus’ work—the mighty hand of His dying and rising—you are the Lord’s people. His sacrifice is the giving of all He had, the expression of the Lord’s great love for you. With the life of the Son of God given for you, there is nothing in creation that can remove the identity which has been granted to you: “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

You are the Lord’s treasured possession, redeemed by Him to be His own. So He forgives your sins, restores you to righteousness, and puts you on the path to resurrection. That is His will, a will expressed in giving all He had to make you His own: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? . . . Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” This great action has been made known to you, so that you may believe what the Lord has made you and receive the fulfillment of His will for you. Hearing and believing what Jesus makes known, you are “trained for the kingdom of heaven.” The truth about your identity and the way of life that Jesus has given you is the new and old treasure that has been made yours.

So you have been made part of the kingdom of heaven. You have been purchased and made the Lord’s own people. The dragnet has gathered you up. At the close of the age, when the great sorting takes place, you will be the righteous kept by God for all eternity. It is not something that you accomplish, but has been done for you. That is the great truth Jesus reveals. Hear and receive it: “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” He has done what He said He would do: you have been justified by Jesus’ death. He will fulfill His promises to you: you will be glorified through Jesus’ resurrection. So live now as the Lord’s holy people and look forward to the eternal life He has desired to be your own.

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Proper 11A Sermon -- Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 (LSB Proper 11A)

July 17, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus] put another parable before them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. . . .”

Jesus tells another parable involving a sower. Last Sunday, you heard how Jesus described the preaching of the Gospel in the world is like a sower who goes out and throws seed out over all types of soils. This Sunday, you again hear Jesus speaking about seed, but this time the seed is not the Gospel, but rather those who have heard the Gospel and have benefited from Jesus’ work for their salvation. Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds and Wheat is not about how people receive Jesus’ teaching but about those people who have received His Word and are living in this world.

Jesus describes the condition of the Church, the total assembly of saints who have received the Gospel through preaching and the sacraments, as it exists here and now. This is the kingdom of heaven here on earth. And what condition is that kingdom in? Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.” The Church finds herself here on earth surrounded by all sorts of other people. The members of the Church bear fruit, following the new way of life that Jesus has given to them. But all around the followers of Jesus are people who do not abide by the Lord’s will, who threaten to choke out the wheat and turn the world into one massive field of weeds.

Jesus’ explanation of the parable to His disciples reveals the characters in the parable: “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.” Two planters are found in this parable. Jesus, the Son of Man, the Christ, has sown good seed. He has established a people in this world. They are those born of water and the Spirit. They did not rise up by themselves, but have been planted. But the second planter, the evil one, the devil, has also been busy. He has been attempting to thwart the plans of the Son of Man from the very beginning. Even when everything was “very good,” Satan brought ruin into the world through the temptation of Adam: “for the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it. . . .” Those who are not planted by Jesus are those noxious weeds in the world. These two groups of people exist side by side.

So what should be done about this situation? Using the terms of the parable, there are some solutions that simply cannot be done. Think of your garden or your fields. Can the wheat or the plants you desired remove the weeds? Can the plants go down to Lowe’s or Agway and purchase some trowels to dig out the weeds or some herbicide to spray on them? No. That isn’t possible. Using the imagery of the parable, the wheat cannot tear out the weeds, “the children of the kingdom” cannot remove “the sons of the evil one.”

But what about the workers employed by the owner of the field? Surely they can help. You heard that suggestion in the parable: “And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’” The workers want to remove the weeds from their Master’s field. But the Master dismisses their proposed solution: “But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.’” Jesus explains that the workers employed by the Master are the angels. They have the ability to remove the weeds, “the sons of the evil one.” But their actions in doing so may jeopardize the wheat. Angelic action can wreak much havoc, as the Scripture narratives record. But any mistake made by them would bring about harm to the crop, the wheat, the “children of the kingdom.”

So what can be done about this situation? What action will “the kingdom of heaven” receive from its Monarch? Will the Master allow his crop to be ruined? Will Jesus do nothing for His people, the Church, “the children of the kingdom”? Jesus does not leave His people unattended. Neither does He ignore their plight. He knows the situation you live in. Jesus knows that you are surrounded by people who are not part of the kingdom and that the evil one is trying to overturn and thwart His will. You have a Master who has not only acted for you from up in heaven, but has come down here to earth and witnessed the actions of Satan in the world. Jesus was planted in the ground, into the tomb, and has come out again. He has experienced, endured, and overcome the worst that the evil one can do, so that you could be part of “the kingdom of heaven.” He will take action for you, to fully eradicate the evil one and those aligned with Him.

But the action that Jesus will finally take to accomplish that goal is not yet done. It has been promised. The promise is rooted in what He has already done: it is based on the fact of His death and resurrection. He is superior to all things in this world. The description that the Lord gives through the prophet Isaiah is about Himself: “I am the first and I am the last; besides Me there is no god. . . . Is there a God besides Me? There is no rock; I know not any.” An action has been promised for you: “Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it?” That action has been made known in the Scriptures, spoken by Jesus’ own mouth. The solution to the Church’s plight in this world is for Jesus to usher in a new age.

The Master says to the workers: “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” Jesus explains this statement: “The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Jesus’ solution is to bring to completion what His death and resurrection have accomplished. A time of judgment will come, the close of this age. But then the promised new heaven and new earth will arise. Creation will be fully restored. And all that is evil, all the effects of sin, all those allied with Satan will be removed. That is the solution that Jesus declares.

So Jesus’ parable is a message of hope and joy and comfort to you. Your Master has promised to work on your behalf. He has not abandoned you. He has not ignored your plight. Jesus has not turned His back on His people. He knows what you are experiencing in this earthly life. In fact, He has already suffered it Himself. His solution requires patience and endurance. But it also promises that no eternal harm will come to you. There will be no accidental tearing out of a wheat plant in an attempt to remove a weed. None of “children of the kingdom” will be mistaken for “sons of the evil one” by the angelic reapers. The solution to the Church’s problem is promised and will be accomplished, just as the Lord in the past promised and fulfilled His covenant to bring salvation to the world.

But Jesus doesn’t just say something will happen in the future, so just wait. He also gives the Church assistance in this age. The Apostle Paul’s description of creation and believers is very true: “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. . . . And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” The creation and the Church are both waiting, longing for what Jesus has promised to give. But as they wait, as you wait, Jesus has given you the Holy Spirit to assist and help you. You have the firstfruits of the Spirit already: forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, new mind and will, the ability to do good works in your life. And not only has the Spirit granted you these, He is also working for you, even as you live in the futility and frailty of this life, exposed to the afflictions of the evil one: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

A great promise and description of help is made in those words. The Spirit helps you in your weakness. Even now, when you are surrounded by all the weeds in the field, you have the Spirit present to give you aid. When you see all “the sons of the evil one” and watch them being successful and when you witness yourself and all the other “children of the kingdom” harassed and assaulted, the Spirit is continues to inform you of what Jesus has already done for you. When you are frustrated and don’t know what to ask for, the Spirit is interceding on your behalf, asking the Father to give what you need at that time, so that your faith is maintained. This is what the Spirit does as “He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

So Jesus gives you hope in this age, even in the world full of both weeds and wheat. The hope is in what He will do to bring this situation to a close: “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Your hope is for the fullness of your redemption, for the time when “[the angels] will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.” That time isn’t here yet. What you experience now is not what will be. The futility, the bondage to decay, and the threats to the kingdom of heaven will come to an end through Jesus’ actions. Hope in that has been established in you by the Spirit through Jesus’ Word.

Hearing Jesus’ words of promise, believing them, and sustained by them, you wait in patience, longing for what the creation anticipates: “the revealing of the sons of God.” The full revealing of “the children of the kingdom” is what Jesus, the Crucified and Risen Lord, has ordained for you. The close of the age will come. The command will be given for the great sorting. And what will be eternally beneficial to you who have been forgiven, redeemed, and saved by Jesus’ work will be fully granted: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Proper 10A Sermon -- Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 (LSB Proper 10A)

July 10, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

Jesus told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. . . .”

Jesus’ method of teaching included telling many stories or parables about the Word of God and the Kingdom of God. As the Church gathers in worship this summer, Jesus’ followers will hear many of these parables. The first that you hear is the Parable of the Sower. Jesus begins the story very simply: “A sower went out to sow.” It is a task that has been done for millennia, a familiar action found in most civilizations. Fields will be planted, so that a harvest can be had. Seed goes into the ground; plants rise up; grain is collected. Planting is a ritual repeated every winter or spring.

But note what Jesus says about the sower in this story: he is a very wasteful planter. Listen to what Jesus tells about the sowing that goes on. The sower has seed fall on the road, producing no plants: “And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.” The sower tosses seed into unsuitable soil where nothing can take root: “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.” Even the bed of thorns gets planted: “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” But he also manages to find some good soil, so that a harvest happens: “Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

The sower is a very wasteful planter. He doesn’t seem to care where the seed falls. He shows no concern about the amount of seed that never brings about a harvest. Road, rocky soil, weed bed: the sower’s seed hits them just as much as it finds good soil. This is much different than the way that fields are planted now: careful analysis of soil, precisely tilled rows, perfectly spaced plants, even a satellite-mapped field. Seed is conserved, used in the best possible way. There is little to no waste like the sower in Jesus’ story endures.

But the sower in Jesus’ story is not like you and me. Jesus is not giving instructions on how to plant a corn or wheat field. Rather, the story He tells is a description about the Word of Christ, the seed that He sows in the world. Jesus explains the story, so that its true meaning can be known. Each of the seed’s landing sites is a different type of people. And the Word of Christ hits all of them. Jesus’ explanation helps you understand why preaching the Gospel does not always bring about new disciples. But it also tells you what happens when it does.

Hear again Jesus’ explanation of the seed hitting the road: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.” Jesus’ teaching is spoken to many who simply do not understand it. That is expected because ever since the Fall into Sin, mankind does not have the will or mind of God. What He says stands contrary to how the world thinks. Jesus presents the mindset of God, not the mindset of the world. He calls for sacrifice, compassionate action, humility. Jesus speaks against self-reliance and proclaims that people are dependent upon Him for salvation. This is not how the world thinks. So when Jesus’ words are spoken to some people, they simply do not understand. And when that happens, “the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown.”

What about the rocky soil? Jesus says: “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” Hearing of what Jesus has done can bring great joy. There is initial exuberance: “My sins are forgiven! I have a place in heaven! I belong to a community of fellow people!” But what happens when the opposition to discipleship arises? You heard what Jesus said two Sundays ago: “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. . . . Whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” He even says: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.” Discipleship is following, not leading. It means walking the same suffering path that Jesus took. But when that comes, when those statements start coming true, only the rooted will endure. Those who are just exuberant, shallow, ungrounded Christians will fall away. Such is the rocky soil.

And then there is the weed bed: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” Jesus’ parable talks about the ongoing challenge that faces all His followers. Tribulation and persecution arise in particular times and places, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches are universal. You encounter them. Life and all its concerns demand attention, even to the point of occupying all hours of the week, so that no time is given for God to do His work in you through His Gospel word. There are the gods of the earth who demand not just diligence, but devotion: work, leisure, school, other organizations. And then there is the wealth of the world that passes itself off as true treasure: “You really don’t need a Savior. You have everything that is needed here. Just look at how successful, popular, and well-loved you are on your own.” Slowly, but surely, the fingers of the world’s cares and riches choke out the Word of God, so that there is no place for it to take root and prove to be fruitful.

Despite all this, the sower continues to toss the seed out there. It seems to be a waste—a waste of time, a waste of talent, a waste of treasure. But the sower flings the seed because His Word will accomplish its purpose: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Jesus continues to send His Word into the world because He desires to have people become His disciples and share in the salvation He achieved for them. It is His Father’s will to have this be so. And the Holy Spirit brings that salvation to those who hear and believe. Faith only comes through hearing the Word of Christ, so that Word is sown in this world.

Note well that Jesus’ parable did not end with a road, rocky soil, and weed bed. He also spoke of good soil: “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” This is His description of those who hear and believe. It does not always happen: the seed does end up on the road, among the rocks, or choked out by weeds. But there are people in whom that seed does take root. They do not have the Word of God strike the eardrum and bounce off. They do not lack depth of knowledge and trust in what that Word says. They do not have the cares of this world or earthly riches choke out the Word. Instead, they are given a new mindset. They look forward to what awaits them when they will leave this sin-plagued world. They are given to know what Jesus speaks about is a greater order than this world has.

But Jesus’ description of the good soil is not just a textbook example. He is not providing an agricultural manual. No, He is describing what has happened in you. You are the good soil. You are “the one who hears the word and understands it.” You are given the share of Jesus’ salvation. You are set on a new way of life. Jesus’ Word has taken root in you, forgiving your sin, motivating you to lead lives of discipleship, causing you to follow Jesus’ example. Jesus tells what happens in you: “He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” That description of a harvest speaks about the good works that you are led to do, including the possibility of speaking the Word of Jesus that you know to others, so that it also may take root in them.

Only through receiving the Word of Jesus, the seed that He sows, does this happen in you. But when it does, a great phenomenon takes place. This is what the Apostle Paul spoke of in today’s Epistle Reading: “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry: ‘Abba! Father!’” That Word of Jesus planted in your hearts, minds, and souls has produced life in you. You are no longer dead, a bunch of fallow fields. No, you are people in whom the Spirit of God works. You are dead to sin and alive to Christ. You are the resurrected people who look forward to the resurrection of all who are Jesus’ followers.

That is what the Word of Jesus achieves in you, but only when it is heard, believed, and followed. Cutting yourself off from receiving that Word or failing to listen to it will make you just like that road on which the seed fell: the evil one will snatch away what had been sown. Not grounding yourself in that Word or only chasing after exuberance will make you like the rocky soil: there will be no root in you. Allowing other concerns to choke out all the space in your life so that you are not molded by that Word will make you like the weed bed: you will prove to be unfruitful. Those are the negative fates that are always possible.

But you can be that good soil in which Jesus’ Word takes root and produces great fruit. That fate meant for you is found in following what Jesus establishes as His way of discipleship. It is His desire for you. It is why He has even generously dared to sow His Word in you. As the Church has prayed this day, you also must ask: “Blessed Lord, since You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.” Hearing, reading, marking, learning, and taking to heart what Jesus has planted in you, you will be that good soil that produces the harvest, even the great end of everlasting life. So may it be for you who have heard the Word and understand it, especially the Gospel that Jesus died for your sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day for your salvation.

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

Proper 9A Sermon -- Matthew 11:25-30 (LSB Proper 9A)

July 3, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus said]: “Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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.”

Jesus’ words promise rest for those who are burdened. The burden that humanity bears is great. It comes from the Law of God that clearly spells out what is expected of all whom the Lord has created. His order is imposed on the world that He has made. And that order addresses all aspects of life, both secular and spiritual. But as that order found in the Law confronts humanity, as you are part of the world that the Lord has made, it exposes all the failures and faults of mankind, including yours.

Think about what has been laid upon you. You are instructed in how to behave with one another. You are told how to interact with God. Your actions are constrained by what the Lord determines to be good. The duties that the Lord’s commandments assign to you are manifold. And as you have been made the Lord’s people through the work of Jesus, it is your desire to fulfill all those commandments.

Though you desire to obey, you find that you cannot fulfill that desire. The Apostle Paul describes that situation in the Epistle Reading for today: “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” You attempt to fulfill what the Lord demands of you, but the Law keeps increasing the burden of your guilt. It doesn’t bring relief, but brings forth admissions of failure that roll around your hearts, minds, and souls: “I haven’t loved God with all my heart. I have not loved my neighbor as myself. The Lord’s words have not always been my delight. I have hated, lusted, cheated, and slandered. Seeing what others have makes me jealous of them and dismissive of what the Lord has given me. The Lord put me in charge of my family, and I have not reared my children well. The Lord placed me under my employer’s governance, and I have not been obedient, but obstinate. The Lord has assigned me authority in this world and I have abused it.”

Such admissions and contrite statements come from the Law’s effect on mankind, especially from those who know and believe it to be good. Remember Paul’s words: “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the Law, that it is good.” There are times when you may rebel against God’s Law, thinking that it is not actually good. This is occasionally seen in your lives and in the record of the Lord’s people found in the Scriptures. But the more typical problem for those in the Church, including you, is that you know that the Lord’s will is truly good, but you have not kept it. And each failure to dos so is like adding more and more bricks into a bag that you are lugging around. The never-ending labor to obey the Law tires the body and the burden of guilt and failure crushes the soul. That is described well in Paul’s words: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the Law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

So what can be done about it? Several solutions can be offered. Some may put forward the idea: “There really isn’t a Divine Law. All of it is just made up by people who wanted to oppress and subjugate others.” Others may say: “Just ignore the Law. It was meant for a different people in a different culture at a different time.” Still others may suggest: “The Lord’s commandments are just what He wishes you would do. He knows you can’t keep them, so just try your hardest and don’t worry about it. Your attempts aren’t really failures as much as just the best you can do. There really isn’t any guilt or punishment to in play here.”

But such solutions are not what Jesus puts forward in His teaching. He doesn’t say that the Divine Law doesn’t exist. He doesn’t suggest that you ignore the Law and its demands. He doesn’t say that guilt and punishment aren’t real. No, Jesus teaches that the Law is real, its demands are real, your guilt is real. But He also says: “Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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.” Jesus shows you the remedy for your problem: it is what He offers. He promises rest and relief.

Why does Jesus promise such a benefit for you? Because that is what His Father sent Him to bring and to give out. Jesus’ purpose was to make known the Lord’s salvation in thought, word, and deed. His will was to fulfill everything that had been commanded. His teaching taught the full demands of the Divine Law, but also the atoning sacrifice that He would make. His deeds showed true righteousness and exhibited mercy. That is what Jesus accomplished in His earthly life, so that your burdens may be taken away from you. In thought, word, and deed, Jesus demonstrates the Divine Character expressed in today’s psalm: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. . . . The Lord is faithful in all His words and kind in all His works.” He does what is said about Him: “The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.”

But not all people received that from Jesus. It was rejected by many who saw and heard Him. Jesus’ words reflect that: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will. 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.” Many missed the salvation, the rest and relief that Jesus was bringing.

But you have not missed it, since you have heard and believed the word of Christ. Jesus’ arrival was the fulfillment of what had been promised centuries before, as Zechariah’s prophecy declared: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus fulfilled this prophecy by riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He was there to bear the burden of guilt, to atone for your failures and the sins of all mankind. Jesus’ presence was to deliver the Lord’s goodness, the salvation that He had sworn to give: “As for you also, because of the blood of My covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.”

So Jesus promises rest and relief. That rest and relief is based in what He has done. Through His perfect will, through His proclamation, through His obedience unto death, you are forgiven. That rest and relief are made yours as you receive the benefits of what Jesus has accomplished for you. Your guilt is taken away. Your record is wiped clean. You are restored and revived. You are considered by the Father to be righteous and perfect, as He views you through the prism of His Son’s work on your behalf.

So Jesus says: “Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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.” Jesus’ yoke has been put on you when you were united to Him in Holy Baptism. Troubled by your sin, guilt, and failure, you come here to receive the rest and relief that Jesus offers in Absolution. Hearing His teaching, you learn from Jesus what He has done for you and the about the life that He gives you. And you come to be further yoked and united to Jesus as you commune with Him. Forgiveness, life, and salvation are given to you who are guilty, dying, and lost.

Through these means that apply Jesus’ works to you, the labor is ended. Yes, you will go out from here striving to obey the Lord’s commands. That is your desire, as the new life as Jesus’ disciples is assigned to you and your hearts and minds are renewed. But the work for your salvation has been accomplished for you. Jesus’ perfect obedience and righteousness more than make up for your failure and imperfection. He has done what you could never do. And the heavy burden placed on you, the guilt that comes from the knowledge of your sins—that is removed. Think again about lugging around a bag of bricks, the burden of your guilt. Your failure to love God above all things—forgiven; brick removed. Your failure to love neighbor as yourself—forgiven; brick removed. Your mistreating of the Lord’s name and word—forgiven; brick removed. On and on it goes, as Jesus’ words of forgiveness absolve and remove every ounce of guilt: “You are forgiven, because I have borne that burden for you.”

Jesus’ words show the solution to the problem. Remember Paul’s lament: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The lament was answered: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The solution is found in what Jesus has done. Paul’s guilt was removed by Jesus’ forgiveness. The same is true for you. It has been made known to you in what Jesus has revealed: “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.” The Father has been revealed to you, as has His desire to save you through the work of His Son. That salvation is what Jesus invites you to receive: “Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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.”

Find the rest and relief that Jesus has for you here. It is meant for you. It is accomplished for you. It is presented freely for you. Have your guilt removed. Have your sins forgiven. Have your failures remedied. As you are united to Jesus, yoked to Him and His work for your salvation, you also will be “delivered from this body of death.” This life of frustration, where “when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand,” will end. Instead, you will live where sin no longer dwells in you, but where only all that is good exists. That rest and relief is what Jesus has accomplished for you through His death and resurrection. So come to Him, take His yoke upon you, learn from Him, and you will find rest for your souls.

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