Sunday, February 26, 2012

LSB Lent 1B Sermon -- Mark 1:9-15

February 26, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And He was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to Him.”

The Voice from heaven rang out over the waters of the Jordan River: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” That is what happened at Jesus’ baptism. The Father confirms Jesus’ identity and character. He is named the Eternal Father’s Son. That was always His identity. And that did not change when He assumed human nature and dwelt among us in human flesh. The Father also testifies to His Son’s character. It is perfect, without any flaw. Again, that was always His character. And that did not change when He assumed human nature and dwelt among us in human flesh. Truly human, yet still truly divine, Jesus stands in the Jordan River as a perfect man, something that had not been seen for ages.

So what happens to that perfect man after receiving the divine commendation from on high? Where is that perfect man placed? Not in an earthly paradise. That’s where the first perfect man dwelt. But he was banished from Eden, along with his consort, after rebelling against God. They had fallen into sin. What James describes as happening in human hearts took place in them: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” So it was with the man and the woman in the beginning. And for that, they were driven out of Eden.

But this time, when the Perfect Man Jesus receives the commendation from His Father, He is not placed in a lush, vibrant garden. No, He is put into the wilderness: “The Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness.” Jesus is driven out into the place where the effects of Adam’s sin and the sin of all humanity are on display. He is out in the venue of death and disorder. The wilderness is where man’s dominion over creation—the order that the Creator had initially established—is not seen. No, this is where creation has power over man. The lack of provisions will kill. And the Gospel Writer includes the detail: “And [Jesus] was with the wild animals.” The beasts of the field that were meant to be governed by mankind now stand as a threat to man’s life. The disorder and chaos that man’s sin brought stands all around Jesus.

Why is Jesus there in the wilderness? He is present in the world to deal with the effects of sin. He is there to offer obedience where Adam and you have not. Jesus is out in the wilderness to begin His struggle to overcome Satan who holds mankind in subjection. That is what Jesus was destined to do. It is His purpose. It is His Father’s will for Him. And so the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness. “And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.” The long-expected Descendant of Eve is there to bring the enmity between her seed and the Serpent’s seed to a head, to bring blessing where curse reigned. The Promised Offspring of Abraham is present to achieve victory: “And your offspring shall possess the gate of His enemies, and in your Offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

So Jesus begins His mission of redemption among the ruins that sin had caused. He starts by being tempted by Satan. The Tempter believes that he can overcome Jesus, this Perfect Man, just as he had brought down Adam. Satan had heard the Father speak about being pleased with a man before, even declaring him to be “very good.” But this time something is different. This time, the Man does not have a desire for anything other than what the Creator wants. That flow from desire to sin to death does not work with Jesus. Instead, His desire is in concert with the Father’s will. For Jesus, His will gives birth to righteousness, and righteousness when it is fully grown brings forth life. So after the forty days of temptation, Jesus is not driven out of Paradise, but regains it. He is not barred by a sword-wielding cherub; instead, “the angels were ministering to Him.”

Where Adam fell, Jesus stands. Where Adam rebelled, Jesus obeyed. Where Adam was victimized, Jesus is victorious. This is what the Father had always desired to take place. It is a phase in the scheme of salvation that He had established. So after the episode in the wilderness, Jesus returns to continue His mission: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” Jesus comes proclaiming the news of what He is accomplishing for humanity. Now is the time that the victims of sin and slaves of Satan had longed for. The time of salvation is present. The kingdom of God has come into the world. Hear and believe the news that you are being redeemed.

This is the same message that Jesus has for you today. He knows that words of deception and deceit have led to your death. That is what your forefathers had fallen victim to, and you have as well. The lies of Satan had led to sin in Eden. The imperfections of your ancestors cause your flaws: your lack of love of God or obedience to His will, your natural inclination to sin, your finding pleasure in what is unrighteous. What James described is true about you: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

But there is another word that you are meant to hear. It is the word that Jesus brings to you: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” This is the word that does not bring death, but creates life instead. It is the word that is spoken by the Father’s beloved Son. It is a word of truth that testifies about what He has done. This word of truth tells you what Jesus has accomplished for your sake. He was driven into the wilderness to restore Paradise for you. He was obedient even when tempted to bring righteousness to you. He was among the wild animals to establish order for you. He was served by angels to deliver aid to you.

This has happened as Jesus has brought you back under the rule of God. The word of truth that Jesus proclaims—“the gospel of God”—brings you new life. It is what His Father desired and what He achieved: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” You have been born out of this word of truth. It has restored you from death to life. It has made you the Father’s beloved children. The good gift and perfect gift is His Son that came down from above, the One who remained steadfast under trial and has made you righteous. Jesus possesses the gate of His enemies, even the keys to death and Hades. He has brought blessing to you and peoples all nations by His obedience, by His death, and by His resurrection.

You have been brought forth by the word of truth that has been spoken to you. It has shown you what is righteous and good: the righteousness that Jesus has, the perfection that He possesses. It also shows you the way of life for you to follow during your time in this wilderness. The knowledge of your own sin, your own unrighteousness, your own evil desires, your own failures, and your own afflictions shows that you are not perfect in yourself. That knowledge and experience drive home the point that you are not yet in the Paradise that Jesus has regained for you.

So you ask for help on the pilgrimage to the way there. You pray for guidance from above: “Make me to know Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day long.” You pray for the forgiveness that the Beloved Son won through the fulfillment of His Father’s will: “Remember Your mercy, O Lord, and Your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to Your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of Your goodness, O Lord!” You pray for the victory that only He can provide: “To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in You I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.” These prayers the Father answers according to His will. It is a good gift and perfect gift that He bestows to you.

What you need has been and continues to be provided for you. It is what the Beloved Son Jesus Christ, the One with whom the Father is well pleased, has earned for you. His identity as the Eternal Son and His righteous and perfect character are revealed, so that you may see Him as your Redeemer. Jesus has restored mankind to its rightful place. He has brought divine order into the world’s chaos. It started early in His ministry on earth and continued through His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. The time is fulfilled; Jesus has brought you into the kingdom of God. You are not eternally banished to wander in the wilderness with all its hazards, but are destined for a place in Paradise with all that is very good. Repent of your sin and believe in the gospel. For that word of truth, which speaks about what the Eternal Son has done, makes you the beloved children of the Eternal Father.

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

LSB Ash Wednesday Sermon -- Psalm 51

February 22, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment.”

“You’re right; I was wrong.” That statement is made frequently in our midst. Or it should be. It is a statement that acknowledges error. The sentence declares that the words or judgment of the other individual were correct, and it admits that your own actions were not. That is what David does in Psalm 51 that you prayed this Ash Wednesday evening.

Most of you are familiar with what led to the composition of this psalm. David had sinned, but it took the Lord’s actions to convict him of that. Israel’s king, the Lord’s anointed, had committed adultery and had devised a plan to kill his lover’s husband. With Uriah out of the way, David took Bathsheba into his harem of wives. And nothing was thought of it. That was, until the Lord sent Nathan the prophet to confront David and his sin. “You are the man”—the sinful man—Nathan declares. And the prophet’s speaking the Lord’s judgment against David convicts him.

But David does not say: “Lord, you’re incorrect. There is no sin here. No fault is in me. I’ve done nothing wrong.” No, he says: “You’re right; I was wrong.” Or actually, he puts it much more profound words: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment.” David practices confession in the words of the psalm: he speaks the same way about himself as the Lord speaks. The Lord had accused him of sin and David agrees with the factuality of that statement.

So you also do this Ash Wednesday evening. This night is a time of confession, of admitting the guilt that is in you and that you have committed, as the Lord has pointed it out to you. It is a time for you to say to the Lord: “You’re right; I was wrong.” There is no place for hiding or disagreeing. It is not a time for you to be defiant or proud. No, you are to speak the same words that David did: “Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment.” You speak the same way about yourselves as the Lord speaks. And your act of receiving ashes shows the penitence that comes from believing what the Lord has said about your sin and mortality.

This confession—this “same-speaking”—that you make is based in the factuality of the convicting statements that the Lord makes against you, just as He did against David. But it is also spoken knowing the truth about other statements that the Lord makes. He has much to say. He does not only speak about your guilt and His righteousness. The Lord does not only talk about His holiness and your lack thereof. He also speaks about other aspects of His character, including His steadfast love and mercy.

These other statements that the Lord makes you have also heard this evening. You have had a prophet speak to you this evening, just as David had Nathan in his presence. You heard the Lord’s statements uttered through the prophet Joel: “’Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” The statement is made about the Lord’s character: His compassion and generosity, His willingness not to repay evil with evil, His desire not to have people suffer the calamity of His wrath.

This is what David was made to know. It is why his psalm authored in response to the divine confrontation that Nathan brought included these words: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” His spirit was broken by Nathan’s words; contrition flowed from his heart because of the Lord’s conviction. And so David recalls what God had also revealed about His character: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” In those words, David also speaks the same way about the Lord as the Lord had spoken about Himself. David’s faith was in what the Lord had declared both about sin and salvation.

In faith, believing what the Lord says about Himself, you also speak this way. This evening is a time of confessing sins but also confessing the Lord’s character: “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” You rend your hearts as David did, and you turn to the Lord for salvation. You believe what the Lord has said and agree with it. You perform your acts of contrition trusting the Lord’s words that He will forgive. His words have come to you through the apostle Paul: “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” And your assent that this is true leads to your belief, your confession of faith in the Lord’s gracious will for you: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

So this evening, the words of David spoken in faithful response to the Lord’s statements have become your own. They flow from your heart to your mouth and from your lips to the Lord’s ears: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that You have broken rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” You speak this way in acknowledgement of your sin, of the Lord’s merciful character, and of the salvation that the Lord offers.

And what is that salvation that He offers? It is the result of the work that the Lord performed for you. This is what you also have been told by Him through the apostle Paul: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Your deliverance is found in what the Lord has provided, in the help that He has given in this day of salvation. The Lord has spoken about your sin and about His gracious and merciful character. And you have also been told of His righteousness that is made to be yours because of Christ’s atoning work for you.

The sacrifice for your sins has already been offered. Reconciliation to God has already been set in motion. You are meant to receive the benefits of this. And you do, as you believe what has been spoken. It is yours, as you confess what has been made known: that the Lord’s grace and mercy were shown to you in Jesus Christ, that Jesus’ suffering and death way is how the Lord has relented from your disaster. This will be your confession on this evening—another “same saying”—as you will pray: “By the mystery of Your holy incarnation; by Your holy nativity; by Your baptism, fasting, and temptation; by Your agony and bloody sweat; by Your cross and passion; by Your precious death and burial; by Your glorious resurrection and ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter: Help us, good Lord.”

These words that flow from you are rooted in your belief in what has been revealed concerning Jesus: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” And so we will pray in words that express these truths that the Lord has revealed about us, about Himself, and about His salvation: “O God, You desire not the death of sinners, but rather that they turn from their wickedness and live. We implore You to have compassion on the frailty of our mortal nature, for we acknowledge that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Mercifully pardon our sins that we may obtain the promises You have laid up for those who are repentant.”

What you and I say on this night boils down to that basic statement: “You’re right; I was wrong.” We say to the Lord: “Everything that You have said and done is right, but that is not the case for me. You are holy, and I am not. You are righteous, and I am not. But You are also gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. This has been shown in what You did for me. So I lament my sin and acknowledge my wretchedness. And I trust that I will receive full pardon and forgiveness from You as You have promised. Let it be done to me as I believe.” Such is the purpose of this Ash Wednesday, this day of salvation.

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

Monday, February 20, 2012

LSB Transfiguration B Sermon -- Mark 9:2-9

February 19, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them…. And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son; listen to Him!’”

For this last Sunday of the Epiphany Season, we see the final and greatest testimony about our Lord’s divinity. That is, it is the greatest testimony until the time of Christ’s death and glorious resurrection. So it is most understandable that we hear about this event in the life of Jesus before the Church begins her journey through the season of Lent.

For the last several weeks, we have heard from Mark’s Gospel about various miracles that Jesus performed. First, we heard about Christ’s own baptism, where God the Father declared that the Man standing in the Jordan River was truly His “beloved Son.” After that, we saw how Jesus used His divine powers and abilities to assist people in dire straits. He casts out demons, takes away fevers, cleanses lepers. The helpless are given aid, their problems solved in ways that only God Himself can accomplish.

Each time, the crowds are amazed. They had seen nothing like this. Never in their lives had their eyes beheld such great, miraculous things. Witnessing these displays of divine power, the people become convinced of who this Jesus of Nazareth is. And so they follow Him. They proclaim Him to be the One sent from God. But what should happen if the miracles went away, if the displays of divine power become few and far between? Would the people be so willing to follow Jesus on His path? Would they be so quick to gather around Him? Would His fame continue to travel to all towns in the region? Or would such a lack of signs and miracles be a crisis of faith, something that drives people away?

Unfortunately, it would be such a crisis. We know from the whole record of Christ in the Gospels that a lack of show, a lack of majestic power would drive many away from Him. It seems that some just wanted to be around the miracle worker, in the presence of dazzling things. But when the teaching got weird and hard, when the actions of Jesus seemed just ordinary, the crowds weren’t interested in Him.

But hard teachings and being humble were essential parts of His ministry. They were necessary for Him to bring salvation to creation. For the Christ was the One who emptied Himself of divine privilege, who took upon Himself the role of a servant, who became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Yet through such a life, a life as the Suffering Servant, our Lord Jesus brings His creation from death to life, from sinfulness to redemption.

That is the path that Christ must take, the path to the Holy City in order to die. He must go to a mountain outside of Jerusalem, to be crucified like a common criminal, killed by unrighteous men, so that His righteousness might be given to them. And that is what Christ’s disciples must understand. They must take this truth to heart, so that they can participate in His work on their behalf.

But before this part of His life takes place, Christ takes three of His disciples to a different mountain. The Inner Circle—Peter, James, and John—are selected by Jesus to witness one more great proof of His divinity. They are given a preview of what awaits the Christ after He undergoes His humiliation and death. Much like our movie trailers, the Transfiguration Event gives these three disciples something to look forward to, even in the darkest days of Christ’s ministry and life.

On this mountain in Galilee, Jesus displays what He truly is. He pulls back the veil of His humanity, removing His servant’s form for a moment. Mark tells us: “Jesus was transfigured before them.” His figure, His appearance changed. These first disciples of Jesus had known Him as the Man from Nazareth, the One who called them away from the seashore in Galilee.

But now, the Galilean carpenter looks different. He no longer appears as a commoner, a person of the earth. The dingy, dusty robes are changed. “His clothes became radiant, intensely white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” The holiness and glory of God is seen in the person of Jesus. His divine nature is witnessed by these three men of Galilee.

Yet, as if that were not enough, Peter, James, and John witness Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus. The Giver of the Law, Moses, and the Great Prophet, Elijah, stand with Jesus. They stand in as character witnesses, so to speak. Their words had spoken about the Messiah, the One who would fully obey the Law of God and fulfill all the promises of God to His fallen creation. Christ Himself had taught that He would not abolish the Law and the Prophets, but fulfill them. Now the authors of these writings discuss Christ’s mission with Him, including the punishment of death that the Law demands and the predictions of death that the prophets had given.

And as this conversation draws to a close, one more witness from heaven is given regarding the identity of Christ Jesus. Once again, a voice from heaven rings out: “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him!” The Heavenly Father Himself points to Jesus again and endorses Him without reservation. Jesus is no mere child of God; He is the Beloved Son, the One whom God the Father has loved from before time began, the only-begotten Son of God in the flesh.

But just as important as the identification from heaven is the command that the Father gives: “Listen to Him!” The command is not conditional or limited. The disciples are not told to listen to Jesus and follow Him when everything is great. They are not to listen to Jesus only when massive crowds are present. They are not to be around Jesus only when the miracles are being done.

No, the command is unconditional: “Listen to Him!” Listen to Him without question. Listen to Him at all times. Listen to Him even when the rest of Israel wants to murder Him, when no one wants to be associated with Him, when doubt and slander are spoken against Him. In fact, it is most necessary to listen at that these times, when all the visible signs are no where to be seen, but when the Lord God Almighty still reveals divine truth with what He speaks.

For in this time of weakness, this time of humility, the same dazzling God is present. Jesus is still the same glorious and holy God, despite what the externals may look like. The veil is necessary, the servant’s form is essential, so that He can provide salvation by being the Lamb of God sacrificed for the sins of the world. And those who put their entire faith, trust, and hope in Him will receive the benefits that Jesus provides.

The Father’s command is the same to us. We are called to listen to Christ. We are called to follow Him wherever He leads, to trust in Him despite what the externals may look like. The Father’s command is very appropriate to us in our days. For we have seen neither the miraculous signs nor the transfigured Christ. Yet, we here in this room confess that He is our God and our Lord, that He is the provider of our salvation.

Why do we believe such things? Why do we make such outrageous claims? Because we have Christ’s words spoken to us, we have the Father’s command to listen given to us, and we have the Spirit’s creation of faith within us. And with these three things working in concert, with the Triune God operating on our behalf, we make the confession of faith that we do.

And so it that our faith lays claim to the salvation, to the gifts that our Lord has won for us. We grab hold of His divine power for our behalf in His word and promises. Wherever His promises are made to us, wherever His teaching is made known, we are called to listen. And we do so. For that is what is done in this house of God.

Here are made His promises of regeneration and renewal in Holy Baptism. Here are spoken Christ’s great declarations of absolution. Here are given His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation in His Body and Blood under bread and wine, because He says so. Our Lord speaks and we listen. We listen, believe, and receive, despite all the veils in this life. We listen, believe, and receive because Christ came down that mountain of transfiguration and died on the mountain outside of Jerusalem. We listen, believe, and receive because not everything was majestic for Jesus.

And so we can listen, believe, and receive when not everything is majestic and glorious for us. For the Father’s command is unconditional, but so are the words of Jesus. They are for the grand times of our life, but more importantly for the low and terrible times. Yet, even then the Lord’s words come to us and are just as effective, just as true, just as powerful. What Christ has done for us and what He promises to us are for all times and all places. And as we listen, believe, and receive, we shall be brought out of this life of sinfulness, of things not going the way we desire, of sorrow and shame. For as our Lord has gone before us, so we shall follow—even to our own time of transfiguration, when the corruptible becomes incorruptible and the imperfect is glorified.

May we always stand firm in our faith, grabbing hold of the promises of Jesus, always listening, believing, and receiving, so that when He returns with His angels and nothing veiling His glory, we may see Him just as He is.

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

Sunday, February 12, 2012

LSB Epiphany 6B Sermon -- Mark 1:40-45

February 12, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And a leper came to [Jesus], imploring Him, and kneeling said to Him, ‘If You will, You can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, He stretched out His hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’”

“Past performance is not an indicator of future results.” How often have you heard that phrase uttered on television or radio? It appears every time that an advertisement about financial investments runs. They show you how gold prices or mutual fund rates have increased, attempting you to place your money and trust in them. But the warning is given: just because there has been financial increases in the past doesn’t mean that it will happen in the future. There is no guarantee.

So what does have to do with today’s Gospel Reading? It helps to explain the actions of the leper who confronts Jesus. The portion of Mark’s account that you heard this morning concludes the first chapter of his Gospel. The Evangelist has given you an initial profile about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He has recorded several events where Jesus has performed remarkable deeds, primarily in the Galilean city of Capernaum. Jesus preached with authority. He cast out an unclean spirit. He cured a fever that made a woman bed-ridden. When all sorts of ill people were brought into His presence, Jesus healed their diseases. And His fame spread throughout the region—fame that reached the ears of the leper who is written about in today’s Gospel Reading.

This leper was an outcast. That is the result of his disease. He is ill. But more than that, he is unclean. His disease requires that he leave society, lest others contract it. It cuts him off from participation in the cultic events meant for the Lord’s people. He cannot gather to listen to Moses and the Prophets being read in the synagogue. He cannot go to the Temple and celebrate the great festival days like the Passover. This man lives away from the kinfolk of his tribe.

But what had happened in Capernaum didn’t stay in Capernaum. Jesus’ actions became well known because of their miraculous nature. Galilee was abuzz with the news of what Jesus had done. It even reached the outcasts of society. That is known from the actions of the leper. So when Jesus travels around the region, even in the areas away from the cities where the lepers and other outcasts dwelled, this man confronts Him: “And a leper came to [Jesus], imploring Him, and kneeling said to Him, ‘If You will, You can make me clean.’”

Note well what the leper does. He begs Jesus for aid. He worships Jesus by taking a posture of humility. What drives him to such actions? It is what this man has heard about Jesus and His actions in Capernaum. And then the man says to Jesus: “If You will, You can make me clean.” It is a profound statement. The leper recognizes that Jesus has ability. He believes what he has heard about Jesus’ miraculous deeds. He trusts that Jesus can cleanse him. But he prefaces that statement with a significant phrase: “If You will….”

Those words uttered by the leper reflect an uncertainty. The previous actions of Jesus show that He can heal. But is that healing meant for this leper? Is Jesus’ past performance indicative of future results? Will He heal this man? It isn’t a statement of doubt in Jesus’ ability, but it is a question about Jesus’ desire. The leper says: “If You will, You can make me clean.” And implied in that statement is the potential opposite result: if Jesus does not desire to help the leper, He can leave him unclean.

So how does Jesus react to this man? You are told about His thoughts: “Moved with pity, He stretched out His hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’” Does Jesus want to heal the leper? Yes. The pity that Jesus has when witnessing the brokenness that sin causes in His creation drives Him to act. He wants this leper to be made whole, to be clean. He discloses His desire by telling him: “I will….” And what Jesus desires is enacted. Touching the unclean man and speaking the commanding word of healing, Jesus makes the leper clean: “And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.” Receiving the benefit of Jesus’ gracious will, the leper is restored. He is rid of his disease. He is made eligible to participate in all that the Lord’s people can do.

This matter of Jesus’ will and the fulfilling of it are important for all of you to note. That is why this event is recorded in Mark’s account of Jesus’ words and works. First it is important to see that what Jesus desires to do will take place. Because of this, there is a certainty that your faith can latch onto. When Jesus makes a promise, He fulfills it. When He wants to accomplish something for you, He will do it. That is why you participate in so many things that the Church does here on earth believing that you will be aided by the acts through which Jesus works. You are baptized because you believe Jesus’ statement that He wants disciples to be made and has established the means by which they are made. You come to be absolved because you believe what Jesus says concerning His appointment of representatives to loose sins in heaven by loosing them here on earth. You partake of Jesus’ holy meal because you believe that the new testament that He has established in His blood brings forgiveness to you. You address Jesus’ eternal Father with direct requests for daily bread, forgiveness of sins, safety from temptation, and deliverance from evil because He has told you to ask for such things.

Why do you act so boldly by participating in those actions that Jesus’ Church does on earth? Because you have been told His will for you. It has been disclosed in the accounts of His words and works. Moved with pity, Jesus has lived perfectly for you, died sacrificially for you, and rose to life victoriously for you. His gracious will to grant salvation has been displayed. He has said it is meant for you. It is His will to do great things for your salvation. He has disclosed His will in His words. You recognize the greatness in what the Son of God has promised to you. Trusting what He has said, you come to receive His blessings and benefits that He desires to give. In other words, you come to hear Jesus say to you: “I will; be clean.”

But the matter of Jesus’ will and desire also comes into play when discussing other matters where He has not given direct promises. Even when speaking about Jesus, there is truth to that phrase: “Past performance is not an indicator of future results.” During the past several weeks, you have heard about Jesus’ past performances. You have heard about His miraculous deeds in Capernaum. You believe in His ability that these actions show. You make great statements of faith about Jesus based on these actions: that He bears authority over all things in heaven and earth, that He can command the demonic, that He can heal disease. But are you meant to receive all the same actions that the people in Capernaum did?

That last question—the question that the leper had in his mind—brings up the matter of Jesus’ will and desire. It is an issue about what He has promised, what He has guaranteed. Just because He has done such things in the past does not mean that He will do so now for you. That is something you deal with in your lives here on earth. There are many examples of it. You have suffered illness, and so you have prayed for healing, trusting in Jesus’ ability to grant it. But for some of you, it has not come. You have been afflicted by the assaults of mind or soul, and so you have asked for Jesus to use His power to overcome them. But again, it does not happen for some of you. You have wanted some earthly blessing—goods, fame, child, or spouse—so you have requested Jesus to take action. But it is not granted to you.

So is your faith mistaken? Is your Lord not able to do such things? No. The issue is not in the ability, but in the will: not your ability and will, but the Lord’s ability and will. In the matters where Jesus has not given His direct promise, you must ask the way that the leper in today’s Gospel Reading did: “If You will, You can….” And when what you ask for is not aligned with the Lord’s will, it is not granted to you. It isn’t a matter of you didn’t pray hard enough or didn’t say the magic words or didn’t believe with enough effort. No, it is a matter of acknowledging that there are areas of life where your Lord has not made promises to you. And in those areas, contentment only comes when you receive what He grants to you according to His will and don’t covet what others have been given.

So as you hear the accounts of Jesus’ words and works, look for where He has given His guarantee. There are matters where He has made everlasting covenant promises to you. This is where “past performance will be an indicator of future results.” Listen for where He has said to you: “I will….” Wherever that promise is made, cling to it. Grab hold of what your Lord desires for you. Know that what He wills does come to pass for you, His people. Trust in the “great word” of Jesus about what He has done for your redemption and how He delivers it to you. Offer your prayers and requests by saying: “Lord, You have said that You desire my salvation, my forgiveness, my life, so grant it to me.” Declare your “Amen” that says: “Yes, it shall be so, because You have promised it.” And you shall be made clean from your sin, restored to righteousness, and reconciled with God the Father, just as your Lord promises and desires.

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

Sunday, February 5, 2012

LSB Epiphany 5B Sermon -- Mark 1:29-39

February 5, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“That evening at sundown they brought to [Jesus] all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.”

Jesus continues His miraculous deeds in Capernaum. That is the heart of the Gospel Reading for this day. The morning that began with Jesus’ teaching with authority and driving out an unclean spirit in Capernaum’s synagogue continues with further deeds to benefit those who needed aid. Mark tells you that the venue for Jesus’ deeds moved first from the synagogue to the house of Simon and Andrew: “And immediately He left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.”

But not all was well in Simon’s house: “Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever….” The symptom of illness that even you know of centuries later was present. Simon’s mother-in-law needed healing. So what actions do her children take? They don’t ignore the problem. Neither do they overlook the person who has the ability to help. The Gospel Writer records their actions: “… and immediately they told Him about her.” Simon and Andrew disclosed the problem that this woman had. They tell it to the One who had shown authority and ability by His actions in the synagogue.

So what does Jesus do about this problem? “And He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” Jesus’ actions show that He has both the ability and the desire to help. He encounters the disorder that afflicted Simon’s mother-in-law. He engages it and overcomes it. The illness that drove this woman to bed is removed. And new ability is given in its place. No longer is she under the illness’ burden. Now she can be active. Now she can serve Jesus, the One who has healed her, and those in His company.

But the Gospel Writer speaks about further events in Capernaum. Jesus’ actions were not limited to the aid of only one woman. What happened in Simon’s house for one person was done for many more. Like Simon and Andrew who informed Jesus of their relative’s illness, the others in Capernaum bring their loved ones to Jesus to receive His aid. Simon’s house becomes a hospital of sorts: “That evening at sundown they brought to [Jesus] all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” Jesus’ presence is recognized as beneficial. His ability is known. The people believe what they have seen and heard. And they want those close to them to be helped by Him. But they do not know how long He will be there. So even as evening draws the day to a close, the people bring their invalids to Jesus to receive His aid.

There is an urgency seen in these people of Capernaum. It is an urgency found in those who know their plight, who know the problems they have. And when there is a chance for their situation to be reversed, they make the great effort to be where that help can be found. They are driven to it. That’s what was happening in Capernaum.

What is it that draws the people to Jesus? It is the showing of His identity by His words and works. What Jesus says and does displays His authority and ability. Jesus shows Himself to be the Lord. But that showing is not only a raw display of power; rather, it is a display of power to benefit others. Jesus’ actions match up with the description of the Lord given in the Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah: “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Who are the faint and the ones with no might in Capernaum? They were “all who were sick or oppressed by demons.” And what does the Lord do for them in Capernaum? “He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” His actions restore their strength and gives them power. There was nothing in the people of Capernaum that could overcome their afflictions. But the Lord’s presence in their village gave them restoration. Their belief in Jesus’ identity drives them to His presence to receive that aid. And that faith is exactly what the Lord wishes to see among His people.

The incident in Capernaum is paradigmatic for the Church. Who are you gathered here? Why have you come? What do you desire? What has driven you to this place? The question can be asked of Jon and Jamie who carried their little daughter Hailey this morning: What did you desire to receive here? These were the questions that faced the people of Capernaum. The answers to these questions will reveal your faith, what you know to be true about yourself and the Lord.

You have come to receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation that Jesus provides. That is what He has present for you here. That’s what Jesus is giving out in this venue. Such gifts are made available for you because of who Jesus is and what He has done. Forgiveness, life, and salvation are available for you because Jesus has lived without sin, has overcome death, and has overthrown the tyranny of Satan. His righteousness shown through perfect obedience to His Father’s will and through the compassionate acts He has performed is made to be yours. His resurrection from the grave has shown that death is not all-powerful and that immortality is the rightful state of mankind. Jesus’ mastery over the demonic demonstrates His true dominion over all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.

It is this almighty Lord who makes Himself present here for you, so that you can receive benefits from Him. He does not want to hear you say: “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God.” Those are the words of the people who do not recognize His presence. They are the words that come from those who do not avail themselves of His aid. Such statements are of doubt and despair. The statements recognize plight, but do not see the help that is present to overcome it.

But the Lord works to ensure that this is not your fate. He has put into your presence the help that you need. He does so by bringing it to your town. Even as much as Capernaum was blessed to have Jesus present with them, they were not His only audience. Remember how the Gospel Reading ended: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him, and they found Him and said to Him, ‘Everyone is looking for You.’ And He said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’ And He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” Jesus brings His aid to other locations, other places where people are in need of it. That’s what you see happening in the Gospel Reading, but also what you see happening here in this place. The Church becomes a hospital of sorts, the place where Jesus brings His healing to sinful people.

Do you need Jesus’ aid? Yes, because you are not perfect. Yes, because you are afflicted by conditions beyond your control. Yes, because you know that you cannot overcome death and the grace. Yes, because you know that human ability is great, but is not supreme. And so you have come to be aided by Jesus. You have come to receive what Jesus makes present here with the preaching about Him and His works. You have come to be helped by the One who “gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength.”

Your faith has driven you to this place to receive Jesus’ help. You believe what you hear about Him. You trust in what He says about what takes place when His words are spoken and received. This faith draws you to Jesus’ presence. Knowledge of sin drives you to receive forgiveness. Knowledge of mortality drives you to receive everlasting life. Knowledge of affliction drives you to receive salvation. You know that your condition needs to be remedied. And so you come to the One who can provide that healing with His words of power being proclaimed to you, His words of power connected with water and washing you, His words of power joined to bread and wine and distributed to you.

And yet, you don’t only benefit yourselves. Certainly, you come to receive the assistance that Jesus has for you. But like the people in Capernaum, you also bring others to receive it. Simon did not keep the plight of his mother-in-law secret from Jesus: “…immediately they told Him about her.” The people who witnessed Jesus’ actions in the synagogue did not keep the knowledge of His abilities to themselves: “That evening at sundown they brought to Him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door.” There is a movement of people to where Jesus is present with His gifts. So it was in Capernaum, and so it is here today.

You first were brought to His presence, but you have also brought others to Him. Some of you have carried children to receive Jesus’ actions, like Jon and Jamie carried Hailey here this morning. Others of you have brought spouses or future spouses into the faith. There are people here who have invited friends and acquaintances to receive the benefits that Jesus wishes to give out in this “next town” that He visits. This happens because Jesus helped you, so that you are now able to serve Him, just as Simon’s mother-in-law was. The greatest service that you do is to rightly believe and speak about who Jesus is and what He has done, so that others may also receive the benefits that He has won for them and desires to give them. It isn’t a service that must be done far away, but takes place in your own hometowns, just as it did in Capernaum and the other cities of Galilee.

So on this day, you can celebrate that another person has been added to the number of people who have been helped by Jesus. You can be glad that you yourselves have received His forgiveness, life, and salvation. And you can rightly rejoice in the Lord who has done this for you: “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor His pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love.” Yes, the Lord’s delight is in you who know the truth about your condition, but even more so who trust in Him and His help that overcomes it, urgently coming here to receive it.

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