Sunday, August 25, 2013

LSB Proper 16C Sermon - Luke 13:22-30

August 25, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you came from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.”

There’s going to be a grand gathering of people. That’s at the heart of the Scripture Readings for this day. Isaiah brings that message to the people of Israel. It wasn’t the only message that he brings. No, they had heard some disturbing things from the prophet’s mouth. He had spoken of the Lord’s wrath and anger directed against the people’s impiety and faithlessness. The prophet even disclosed the forthcoming exile that the Israelites would suffer at the hands of the Assyrians, as well as the Babylonian army that would overrun the Judahites.

But a message of redemption and restoration is strewn throughout Isaiah’s prophecy. His divinely given statements conclude with promises about what the Lord would send to His people. The Lord’s Servant would arise. He would bring salvation to the Lord’s people. This promised Messiah would usher in a new era, even the arrival of a new heaven and a new earth. And the promise of the Lord’s work for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is disclosed: “And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to My holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord.”

Those words echoed in the people’s ears as they went off to exile. They echoed in their ears as they returned again. But the Lord’s promise of a grand gathering still had yet to be fulfilled. The restoration of Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple were incomplete fulfillments. More was to occur. The promised Messiah had yet to arrive. Until He did, the Lord’s promise would remain partially unmet. But the arrival of that Messiah would bring what Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the prophets all had looked for. It would lead to the grand gathering that the Lord had said would take place.

That’s the background of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel Reading. Jesus speaks about the Lord’s promised grand gathering. But Jesus’ statement includes some sharp points: He doesn’t only talk about the people gathered together; He mentions those who will be left out. His words are spoken in response to a question He receives: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” His answer is somewhat non-responsive: Jesus does not disclose the total number of the saved. But He does plainly state that not all people will be in the kingdom of God: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”

Why does Jesus speak this way? What drives that statement? It has to do with the response that He has received—or not received. The Gospel Writer notes what Jesus is doing: “He went on His way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.” Jesus is headed to fulfill the prophetic statements made about the Messiah. He has been disclosing His identity by what He says and does. But how many have heard and believed? Remember how Jesus sent the Seventy-Two out with a message that the kingdom of God was present. Many of them were not believed. Remember the incidents where Jesus teaches in the synagogue or sits at table with Pharisees or makes public statements in the streets: not all of these incidents were met with great approval.

But Jesus still appears in those towns. He reveals His identity as the Messiah. He heads to Jerusalem to die and rise again. All along the way, Jesus speaks for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to hear: “I am the Christ. I am the Promised One. I am the One sent from the Father in heaven. I am the One that your forefathers longed to see. I am ushering in the kingdom of God, so that you can be part of it. Hear and receive Me, so that you may have the benefits that I bring.” But those words strike some ears that will not hear and some hearts that will not believe.

So when that question is posed to Jesus—“Lord, will those who are saved be few?”—His answer indicates that it not all will be saved. He gives out the warning: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Jesus points out the truly sad result that will take place after He completes His work and begins the grand gathering promised by the Lord: When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.”

Jesus’ words are statements meant for more than the ancient, physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob so that they would not miss what Jesus was bringing to the world. But they also stand as a warning to you, just as they warned the people of First Century Palestine. What He says also applies to this day and age. You have the testimony of Jesus’ words and works, the description of His activity as the Messiah. He says that you are meant to have a part in the grand gathering: “People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Jesus invites you to benefit from the work that He has completed. The fulfilled promises are for you, the people from the nations who have been given to know the glory of God revealed in Jesus’ actions. The words of the Epistle Reading are a description of what has happened for you, about what awaits you because of the acts of redemption that Jesus has completed: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” This is your birthright, the destiny that you are meant to have a share in.

But the warning is given: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Access to the kingdom of God is given through Jesus. Entry into it comes in the ways that He has established: receiving the Gospel in its various ways—hearing it, being bathed in it, eating it. That is how you become part of the kingdom of God and preserve your spot in it: believing with the heart, confessing with the mouth, and living out your identity as Jesus’ disciples. His words drive you away from thinking that you will have entry into the kingdom through any other way. That is why the author of the Epistle Reading includes the warning that echoes Jesus’ words: “See that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject Him who warns from heaven.”

Jesus’ statement is not spoken to you to drive you away from Him. The description about individuals not being able to enter through the narrow door is not to make you hopeless. It directs your hearts and minds to Him, the One who does give you entry into the kingdom of heaven. But having your hearts and minds set on Jesus is more than just thinking about Him or knowing some things about what He did or memorizing a few words of wisdom that He spoke or placing your name on the parish register. It is to have Him as the object of your faith, the One whom you trust, the One from whom you expect all good things.

That is what it means to have your faith in Jesus, to be His disciples, to enter through the narrow door into the kingdom of God. This faith includes following the way of life that Jesus establishes for you. Again, the exhortation is given in the Epistle Reading: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Or you can listen to the Lord’s address to His people in the Psalm: “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” That is what belief in the Lord and His Covenant leads to. Your reliance on Him is made evident in your thanksgiving and in your calling upon Him in trouble. Your allegiance to Him is shown by performing your vows, doing what is expected of His disciples. It is what you do because the Lord has made you His priests and Levites, incorporating you into His holy nation.

Right now, you are doing what the Epistle Reading and the Psalm exhorts. You are listening again to the Covenant that the Lord has made with you. You will confess your belief in Him. Your turning to Him for forgiveness of sins displays your reliance on God for the eternal benefit of your body and soul. Praying to be led by the Word and Spirit to the feast for the Eternal Son reveals your desire to have what Jesus offers. As you eat and drink according to Jesus’ command, you are again given His pledge of salvation and a preview of the grand gathering that you are called to. And as you leave here and go into the world, you are guided to love God and love your neighbor.

This is all part of your striving to enter through the narrow door, since all these acts have faith in the Lord as their foundation. Each of them reveals what you believe concerning Jesus identity as the Messiah, what His words and works showed. Led by that belief in Jesus, you are part of that grand gathering that will occur at the Last Day. You will have your place in the kingdom, recognized by the Master of the House, along with all the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and disciples. It is meant for you. May you desire and receive it as the Lord wills.

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

Sunday, August 18, 2013

LSB Proper 15C Sermon - Luke 12:49-56

August 18, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus said]: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is My distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

Think on the statements of Jesus that you and others know. The Gospels record so many of them. Some have become so familiar, that only the first words need to be said, and the rest of the statement can be finished: “Pray then like this…. I am the Good Shepherd…. Let the little children come unto Me…. There was a man who had two sons…. If you love Me….” These statements and others have a treasured place in the heart.

Then we come across Jesus’ statements that were read today: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is My distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.” Those statements aren’t likely to be the most treasured. But just because people may not like them doesn’t mean that these statements can be ignored or forgotten. In fact, many of the “unpopular” statements that Jesus makes are the more important ones, the ones that should be treasured and kept.

Jesus’ words reveal His identity and work. That is the case even with the statements that He makes about casting fire on the earth and bringing division. Jesus is telling you about what He has come down from heaven to do. Jesus’ role in the world is to reveal the Divine Will. Such revelation includes the speaking of the Law of God. It includes the calls to repentance that pour out from Jesus’ mouth.

The call to repentance is the fire that Jesus came to cast on the earth. He is present to speak the stark truth about the condition of mankind. He comes to point out the faults of individuals. Jesus’ words show where you have fallen short of the glory of God, where you have transgressed the Divine Law, where you have caused offense to heavenly justice and righteousness. Jesus’ speech kindles that fire. And why is that so? Because what comes from Jesus is the Lord’s word, the same word that was described in the Old Testament Reading: “Is not My word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”

The fire cast by Jesus is meant to purify. It is meant to consume the dross of your lives. The truth about your thoughts, words, and deeds—the various ways that you have sinned against God—are pointed out. Jesus does what the false prophets in Judah would not do. You heard about the false prophets actions in the warning that the Lord gave through Jeremiah: “Do not listen to the words of the false prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”

Jesus does the opposite of the deceiving actions of the false prophets. He doesn’t heap up a bunch of vain hopes for His audience. He doesn’t keep the truth of the matter hidden from you, saying: “All is well. Don’t have any concern about what you do.” No, Jesus has the word of the Lord and speaks it plainly, acting the way that the true prophets should: “If they had stood in My council, then they would have proclaimed My words to My people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.” He kindles that fire and casts it on the earth. It is done to bring correction.

But Jesus has been given another word to speak. There is more than fire to be kindled and cast on the earth. He reveals more of His purpose: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is My distress until it is accomplished!” So what does He mean by that? Jesus points to the other great action that He performs. Not only does He reveal the Divine Will by preaching the Law of God. Jesus also reveals the Divine Will by speaking about the way that He redeems the world, the way that He atones for the sins that He identifies in you.

The baptism that Jesus must undergo is to have the wrath of God poured out on Him. That is the great, necessary act that He endures in order to be the Redeemer. For the Divine Will was not only that your sins and transgressions be pointed out and shown; it was to have that fault and guilt dealt with so that you could stand righteous before God. You are meant to be purified and cleansed by Jesus’ sacrifice. That is the Father’s good and gracious will for you.

And so Jesus reveals that will. In the statements that you heard today and other times, Jesus mentions what must take place. He has something to accomplish. Certain events involving Him have to happen. They are part of His great purpose in the world: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” It must happen; until it does, Jesus is under great stress: “How great is My distress until it is accomplished!”

But the necessary act does take place. Jesus does undergo the pouring out of the wrath and anger at sin and unrighteousness. This is what He accomplishes for your benefit. It is why you heard the exhortation given to fellow believers by the author of Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” This Jesus who spoke the word of Law also speaks the word of Gospel to you: “I have redeemed you. You are Mine. Your sins are forgiven. Follow Me and My ways, so that you may fully enjoy the benefits that I have earned.”

That message is what you are meant to hear and believe, to speak and confess. You listen to what Jesus says and you believe Him. It is why you have been taught—like Samantha has been—in the Catechism: “16. Why should we remember and proclaim His death? First, so we may learn to believe that no creature could make satisfaction for our sins. Only Christ, true God and man, could do that. Second, so we may learn to be horrified by our sins, and to regard them as very serious. Third, so we may find joy and comfort in Christ alone, and through faith in Him be saved.

But Jesus’ words are not always heard. His words are not always heeded. That is why He follows up His statements about casting fire and undergoing baptism with another statement: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Again, this would not likely be among the most treasured statements of Jesus, but it must be received.

Jesus’ words reveal that He will be a divisive figure. In His lifetime, Jesus received great opposition because of what He said concerning His identity and work. Not all would believe His statements. That division caused by His statements continues today. Nearly countless individuals have insisted that His words cannot be true. Some individuals would rather be filled with the vain hopes or to follow the visions of their own minds. Others forget the name of God in order to pursue their own dreams. And still others summon their own strength to actively oppose the preaching of what Jesus has said and done, as well as those who believe it.

Jesus makes exclusive statements about sin and transgression and about forgiveness and salvation. This makes Him and His work a matter of faith: one either believes what Jesus has said or not. That does bring division. But for you who are called to faith in Jesus’ words and works, this division does not dissuade you. No one loves division or desires it. But you have cast your lot with Jesus, placing your trust in Him. You have your hope in His word and testimonies. And like Samantha will hear in a few moments, your ears have received His promise: “Whoever confesses Me before men, I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”

You have made the confession of faith: “Jesus, Your fiery words pointed out my guilt; that is true. Your undergoing the baptism of wrath has brought me salvation; that is true. Now Your call to discipleship governs my life, even if I must suffer through earthly divisions because of it.” That is why you have prayed: “Give me grace then to receive with thanksgiving the fruits of Your redeeming work and to daily follow in Your way.” That is why you receive the exhortation: “Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” And that is why you receive the promise again on this day: “He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Peace on earth may not be given, but you do have the peace with God that Jesus has brought. And that peace will endure forever.

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

LSB Proper 14C Sermon - Luke 12:22-40

August 11, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And [Jesus] said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing…. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.’”

Last week, you heard Solomon’s laments about earthly pursuits: “Vanity of vanities…all is vanity.” Remember what Solomon labeled as vanity: making the collecting and gathering of earthly things the heart of life. Having that as your reason for existence makes life end up being a pointless act. Everything that is collected and gathered ends up being handed over to someone else anyway. There is no lasting gain of what your mind and body put their effort into. This was also Jesus’ point in the parable that He spoke about the rich fool. All the barns full of wheat ultimately bring him no riches; all his assets are lost when his soul is demanded of him. He actually was poor toward God; his life was falsely based in the abundance of possessions.

Those thoughts stand behind Jesus’ statements that you heard this morning. Jesus continues His teaching about earthly goods and the wrong thinking about them. He corrects the thinking that all people naturally have. That change begins when Jesus says: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” That last statement is consistent with what Jesus said prior to His parable: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Jesus talks to His disciples about the more that exists to life. Food and clothing seem like the end-all, be-all to life. After all, how does one live without such things? Jesus does not say that these are unimportant or unnecessary for earthly life. But He does reveal two things about life itself: (a) worrying about the necessary things will not increase your lifetime on earth, and (b) there is more to life than just the days you spend on earth.

The first point that Jesus makes begins to reveal your own powerlessness. Jesus knows that your minds work. He knows that they can calculate and analyze. Your minds can figure out all sorts of things. They can come to basic conclusions: “Living is good, so having life is my goal. In order to live, I need various items—food, drink, clothing, shelter, etc. When others lack these items, their lives end. So I need to focus on getting them.” But all the mental calculating and analyzing won’t add one hour to your life. Ultimately, you have no power to do that, despite all the gears running in your head.

Jesus says: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” Your anxiety will not make you live longer. And if you can’t even add an hour to your lifetime by being anxious, then what makes you think that such anxiety is of benefit to you? It’s another vanity. It’s pointless. It’s futile. It’s folly. To emphasize that point, Jesus uses some examples from nature that each of you can witness: “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them…. Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” The birds and flowers are provided for despite their inability to mentally calculate and analyze. They live off what God in His goodness provides.

Living off what God in His goodness provides is what you are meant to do as one of His creatures. Instead of being anxious about it, you are to receive what God gives. The same concern that God has for the birds and flowers is shown to you. In fact, the One who provides shows you more concern: “Of how much more value are you than the birds!… But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith!” This truth revealed by Jesus calls you to put your faith in the providence of God. His role is to provide for you. That is what He has set up the creation to do. He has the ability and power, not you. So Jesus exhorts you to stop all the anxious attempts to be your own Creator and Provider. Instead, place your faith and trust in God who does create and provide.

Then there is the second point in Jesus’ teaching here. He also tells you that there is more to life than days on earth. It is something that God, your Father, knows. He wants you to know that also. Wrapping up His statement about the earthly things, Jesus says: “Seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” Jesus reveals a greater part of existence. Life isn’t just about having enough food, drink, and clothing. No, there is a kingdom that you belong to. And as you belong to it, the earthly necessities will be given to you.

But you may think: “Okay, Jesus; I get that there is something more than just time here on earth. In fact, I’d like to have this greater thing. But how am I supposed to seek out this kingdom that is greater than earth, when I can’t even add days to my life here on earth? How is this kingdom-seeking possible? Won’t my attempts just end up in more vanity and futility?” To these questions, Jesus answers: “You are correct. This would just end up in more vanity and futility, if it were all left up to you. But that’s not the way it works. Just like God provides for your eating and drinking and clothing for your earthly life, He also provides the kingdom to you.” That is the upshot of Jesus’ statement: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Note that Jesus doesn’t talk about it being the Father’s good pleasure that you go on a quest for the kingdom or to figure out a way to obtain the kingdom. No, it is His good pleasure to give it to you.

There is more to life than a number of days on earth. There is an everlasting reality that the Father has established. But He has also provided the way for you to possess it. He wants to give it to you. So what has the Father done? He has given His Son to be the mediator of this kingdom. He has established His Son to be the way that you have entry into the kingdom. Not that you have to go and find a way into the kingdom; instead, the kingdom comes to you. It comes to you in the same way that the Father provides what you need to live on earth.

Think about what you need to live. You need food and drink and clothing. In a similar way, that is also what you need in this kingdom that the Father established. So He gives you food: the Father gives you Jesus, the Bread of Life that came down from heaven. So He gives you drink: the Father gives you Jesus, the well of everlasting water that springs up inside of you. So He gives you clothing: the Father gives you Jesus, the robe of righteousness that you put on in baptism. Why is this done? Because it isn’t the Father’s good pleasure just to mention that there is something more. No, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Your Father is a Giver, and He gives you the kingdom that is greater through His Son. And since He has given it to you, there is nothing to fear.

As Jesus has revealed this to you, then the change of thinking begins to be seen in you. First, the anxiety over what you will eat and drink or what you will put on starts to dissipate. The Father provides what you need to live through His creation. Whatever you don’t have is what you don’t need. Second, you begin to recognize the security found in having a place in the greater kingdom. You begin to act like you have an existence that is more than just the number of days that you have on this earth. God’s kingdom has been given to you; you have a place in it. So being engrossed and anxious about a place on earth isn’t your mindset anymore. Instead, your heart is set on the treasure that awaits you.

This is what faithful living looks like. You begin to meet the description given in the Epistle Reading about your spiritual ancestors: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.” They had a place in the kingdom, too. And so they followed in trust the way that God laid out for them. They lived in reliance on what He would provide.

The same is true for you. Jesus gives you the command: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” If you think that your life consists in the abundance of your possessions, then you would give nothing away. If you think that it is all up to you to accumulate what is needed, your minds would be devoted to that task, not caring for someone else’s needs. If you think that there is only life on earth, then you would stack up the moneybags full of dollars and build the biggest storage units to fill with stuff.

But that is not what you think. No, you have been given to know that such thinking ultimately is vanity. Your assurance and conviction are in what Jesus has made known to you. You believe that the Father provides what you need and that He has made you a conduit through which He provides for others. You believe that there is an eternal kingdom that the Father has made you part of. You believe that there is such a thing as being rich toward God, and that such treasure will never fail. That faith is created in you. Your reliance placed in God makes you righteous before Him. That trust exists in you, despite what you see all sorts of other people doing around you: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Your faith allows you to act differently in this world—to move away from anxiety about yourself and to enter into service of others.

Jesus has revealed to you the truth about life. He has torn down what is vain in you. He has built up what endures in its place. He has done so because the Father’s good pleasure is to have you in His kingdom, to feed you eternally, to clothe you with His glory. That treasure will not fail, no thief will take it from you, and no moth will destroy it. The place in the kingdom is yours now. Your experience of it will be even greater when Jesus returns. Then you will not only believe that you should be rich toward God; instead, all good things will be added to you beyond all measure.

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