Sunday, July 21, 2019

The cross? - Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity - 1 Cor 1:18-25

                                                                                                Trinity 5
                                                                                                1 Cor 1:18-25

            “It’s the cross!”  That cry used to go out from the Surburg vehicle when the kids were younger and we reached Effingham on trips to Danville to visit Amy’s mom.  It’s not hard to understand why this cross caught their attention.  Standing
198 feet tall and 113 feet wide, the cross in Effingham is the tallest cross in the United States. Forged out of more than 180 tons of steel, it was intentionally built to be larger than the giant cross that already existed in Groom, Texas.  Apparently that cross is 196 feet tall. So why did they build the Effingham cross at 198 feet?  Why not go even bigger?  It is because FAA regulations state that at two hundred feet a standing object must have a flashing light on top of it, and the cross builders did not want that.
            A giant cross built in a location where it can be seen by as many people as possible - reportedly twenty million people drive by every year.  You could not have suggested something more bizarre to a person living in the first century Mediterranean world.  It’s not just that the idea would be bizarre.  It would have been crass and offensive – something that violated basic standards of decency.
            A number of peoples in the ancient world used crucifixion as a means of execution.  It was found among the Persians, the Indians, the Assyrians, the Scythians and the Carthaginians.  It has been suggested that the Romans may have picked up the practice from that last group, against whom they fought a series of wars in the third and second century B.C.
            To say that the Romans embraced the practice is an understatement. They used it against slaves, non-Romans in the provinces and traitors. In general, Roman crucifixion began with a flogging using a whip studded with pieces of lead or bone.  This shredded skin and muscle, and caused profuse bleeding.  The victim was then forced to carry the cross beam to the place of execution. There the outstretched arms were nailed to the beam, and the beam was hoisted up onto a vertical post that was already in place.  The feet were then also nailed to the post. 
            While this gives us a general description, we need to be aware that the practice varied greatly. As the scholar Martin Hengel has described, “crucifixion was a punishment in which the caprice and sadism of the executioners were given full reign.” Some crucified victims upside down. Some impaled the private parts of those being crucified. At the siege of Jerusalem the Roman soldiers entertained themselves by nailing Jewish prisoners in different postures to the crosses.
            Crucifixion was a slow, painful and humiliating death. The people who were crucified – who were subjected to this – were viewed as the lowest; as worthless; as the scum of humanity.  Crucifixion was such a horrible thing, that polite people simply didn’t speak about it.  It was considered uncouth – improper among good company. And of course, those who died by crucifixion were not worthy of a second thought.  Often their bodies were left on the cross until they were eaten by birds – a warning to any who might oppose the Romans.
            In the verse just before our text, Paul has told the Corinthians that Christ sent him to preach the Gospel, “and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”  Rhetoric – the way that you developed, ordered and delivered speech – was the central feature of the ancient education system.  People and their message were judged on the basis of rhetorical skill.  St. Paul was theologically profound, but when it came to the rhetoric of that message his background didn’t give him the skills to impress people in the Greco-Roman world. And Paul said that was just fine, because that meant that the cross of Christ would not be emptied of its power.  The Gospel wasn’t about impressive use of language.  It was about the cross of Jesus Christ.
            Paul said that he did not want the “cross of Christ to be emptied of its power.”  And he goes on to say in our text, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  In two verses in a row, Paul uses the word “power” when speaking about the cross.  Now, to most people in Paul’s world, the idea of describing the cross using the word “power” was absurd.  The cross was instead everything that was the opposite of power. 
            The apostle acknowledges this fact when he says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.”  To those who didn’t believe in Jesus Christ the word of the cross was folly.  It was stupid.  It was a joke.
            Yet Paul said that people who took such a view were perishing.  And then he went on to say, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  The cross looked like weakness and foolishness. But the reality was very different, because God was at work in the cross.  The apostle went on to quote words from the prophet Isaiah, “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’” Rather than being foolishness, the cross was God making foolish the wisdom of this world.
            Paul says, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”
            We want to be on God’s level. That’s what the Fall was about – trying to be like God. The world thinks that God can be allowed to be God if he makes sense to the world – if the world can “put him in a box” and be in charge of God. And we still act that way too.  We think that God should justify his decisions to us - the things that occur in our life and the lives of others.  But God is God, and we are not.  Not only are we creatures acting like we should be able to understand the Creator – we are in fact fallen, sinful creatures.
            So instead, God turned everything upside down by working salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ.  The apostle says that “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”  Paul states in our text that the folly preached is Christ crucified.
            The apostle says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”  A crucified Messiah was a stumbling block to Jews. A crucified Savior – a man who died the ignominious death of the cross – was folly to Greeks.
            It did look like folly. Jesus was nailed to the cross, and like everyone else whom the Romans put there, he died.  He died, mocked and humiliated. And he was buried.  But then on the third day, God did something that had never happened before.  He raised Jesus from the dead with the resurrection life of the Last Day.  As Paul wrote later in this letter, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
            In the resurrection of Jesus we learn that the cross was not folly.  Instead the Son of God was sent to die on the cross – the sinless One who was sent to become sin for us; the One who received God’s judgment against sin in our place.  That’s what was happening on Good Friday. And so as Paul says in our text, for those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Or as the apostle says in the next chapter we are those who are in Christ Jesus, “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”
            Yet, when Paul speaks about the cross in our text in this way, he is not only talking about how God acted to save us – about what it looked like.  He is also describing how God works in his Church and in our lives.  Immediately after our text the apostle goes on to say, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” The Corinthian Christians themselves were examples of how God worked in the way of the cross – of how he worked in ways that were the exact opposite of what they appeared to the world.
            This is true of the ways that Jesus Christ now gives the benefits of his cross.  You come to church and hear the words of Scripture read. You hear a pastor proclaim that Word of God to you.  You see bread and wine on the altar.  There is nothing impressive about these things. God declares that through this Word he gives the forgiveness won by Jesus Christ.  He says that in the Sacrament you receive the true body and blood of Jesus Christ for forgiveness and strengthening in faith.  To the world this is foolishness.  It is stupid.  It is something they can blow off and ignore altogether.
            Or think about your own life.  God says he loves you, and yet you get cancer or diabetes. You experience anxiety and depression.  You experience difficulties and hardships in family life and at work.  To the world … and even sometimes to us … God’s claim of love sounds like foolishness.
            But in the cross of Jesus Christ God has shown us that this is how he works.  As Paul says in our text, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  It looks like folly. But in the resurrection of Jesus Christ we learn that the cross was in fact the power and the wisdom of God for us and our salvation. And it is in the resurrection of Jesus that we find Christ is the power and wisdom of God for us in the midst all that the world considers to be folly.
            The Scriptures and preaching are not mere words.  They are the life giving work of the Spirit that brings forgiveness, strength and salvation. The Sacrament of the Altar is no mere bread and wine.  It is the miracle of Jesus Christ, the risen and exalted Lord, giving us his true body and blood.  It is Jesus present here and now giving us salvation for our whole person – body and soul.
            And because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we know that the hardships of life are not the absence of God.  Yes, they are life in cross form.  But because we have seen in the resurrection of Jesus that the cross was the power of God for our salvation we can believe and trust that God is with us in the midst of these too. We can believe and trust that our God will give us strength and sustain us in faith. We can even believe and trust that God is at work in these circumstances for his own purposes.  They are not meaningless, but instead times that God uses for our good as he crucifies the old Adam in us; as he turns us away from ourselves and towards him.
            A crucified man as God and Savior?  It’s foolishness according to the world. But in the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have learned that appearances could not be more deceiving.  Instead, as Paul says in our text this morning, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
            It’s not what the world wants.  It’s not what the old Adam in us wants.  But the Spirit who raised Jesus Christ from the dead has worked faith so that we can see God’s saving wisdom for us.  As the apostle says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” 


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity - Lk 6:26-42

                                                                                                Trinity 4
                                                                                                Lk 6:36-42

            Now don’t get me wrong. The professors that I had at the seminary were very smart guys.  There were among them minds that were not just bright, but also dedicated to pondering the depths of God’s Word, and what that revelation from God means for the lives of Christians and the Church as a whole.
            Among the best of them, their command of the material – the depth of their knowledge – was something that initially blew me way.  But it didn’t take very long before I realized something that put things into perspective.  Yes, these professors were talented and knowledgeable. But on the other hand, they taught and talked about this material every year. Many of them had been doing this for several decades.  The amazing insights were things that they shared year after year.  For the most part, this was not stuff that they were coming up with on the fly.  Instead it was a stock body of knowledge that they had acquired, and over the years, and they had honed the delivery of this material through repetition in class after class.
            This is really just the nature of teaching anything.  Certainly one always is looking to learn new things. But there is usually a certain body of knowledge that needs to be communicated.  Do this enough times and you figure out the best and most helpful ways to do so. This is not a matter of completely reinventing the wheel every time you are going to teach a group of people.
            Our Lord Jesus was no different. Yes, he was the omniscient Son of God and Creator of the universe.  But he also had a body of knowledge – essential truths about the Gospel, about the kingdom of God – that he was teaching people during his ministry.  And while Jesus was incredibly gifted as a teacher – something even non-Christians recognize – that does not mean he said something completely new and different every time that he taught a group of people.  During three years of teaching in different parts of Israel, with different groups of people, he certainly repeated things.  This fact in itself helped the apostles lock into their minds the content that we now find in the Gospels – something that they were far better at than would could ever be, because they lived in an oral culture.
            Our text this morning is part of a sermon – a time of teaching – by Jesus.  Luke introduces it by saying, “And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases.”  Now you will notice that Jesus stood “on a level place.”  For this reason, it has often been called “the sermon on the plain.” Yet when you look at Matthew’s Gospel you find much of the same material, and there it is introduced with the words, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them.” This, of course, we know as “sermon on the mount.”
            So was it a sermon on a plain or a sermon on a mount? The answer is yes.  Surely our Lord shared this same teaching in sermons like these, and lots of other places as well. At the same time, the fact that Jesus repeated it should catch our attention. Because this morning, he sets it before us.  He repeated it because he really means it.  It really is true.  And it is really is true for us.
            Our Lord begins our text by saying, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Jesus says that we are to be merciful and compassionate, just as our heavenly Father is merciful and compassionate. This statement concludes one section of the sermon, and also introduces the part that we have in our text this morning.  The mercy that God the Father has for us, becomes the pattern for how we are to treat others.
            Jesus has just said, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”  Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who harm you. Treat all people the way you want to be treated.
            This is not how we naturally act. This is not how we want to act.  So in case there is any confusion on our part, our Lord adds, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”  Anyone can love the person who loves them in return. Anyone can do good to the person who does good to them. You don’t have to be a Christian to act in that way.
            But what Jesus describes is something very different. And so in the verse before our text he says, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” This action that looks nothing like the world finds its source in God.  As Jesus says, God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  That’s the way God is, and so Jesus says in our text, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” It turns out, that’s the way we are supposed to be too.
            Now we haven’t even arrived at the main part of our text, and no doubt you are already thinking: “I don’t do those things.  I don’t want to do those things.  I am not able to do those things.” And you are right – at least in part.  You often don’t do those things. You don’t love your enemies, or pray for those who wrong you. And you are right, that you don’t want to do those things. That’s how the old Adam is – the fallen, sinful nature that clings to us.  But when you think, “I am not able to do those things,” well, that’s where you are wrong.
            The sermon on the plain is introduced by a description that people “came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.”
            Jesus Christ wasn’t just there teaching to order to give good advice or to tell people what to do.  We see this in the way that power came out from to Jesus to heal all. In fact, his word itself – his teaching - was different.  When our Lord first began his ministry in Capernaum we learn that the people “were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.  Indeed, Jesus’ teaching and miracle went hand in and hand we are told, “They were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’” 
            Jesus Christ taught and healed as the Son of God anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism. At the synagogue in Nazareth he read these words from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” And then he declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
            Anointed by the Spirit, our Lord came to bring the kingdom of God – the reign of God to fallen people in a fallen world. That mission was always directed towards one place; one moment; one event.  He, the sinless One, defeated sin and the devil by taking our sins and making them his own on the cross.  He received God’s wrath and judgment that culminated in death.
            And if that were the end of it, I would agree that you are not able to do the things Jesus describes in our text. But on Easter, God raised Jesus from the dead through the work of the Holy Spirit. And as the ascended and exalted Lord, he has poured forth the Spirit.  Through the world and baptism you have received the Spirit of Christ. And so it is Christ who is at work in you, both to will and to do those things that Jesus teaches.
            Jesus begins our text by saying, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” You have received God’s mercy in the ministry of his Son, Jesus Christ.  You have received compassion. You have been forgiven. And so now Christ’s Spirit leads and enables us to act in mercy and compassion towards others
            What does that look like? Jesus says in our text, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned.”  In those settings in life where God has not placed us in the vocation with a responsibility to oversee the actions of others, we don’t look to judge and tear people down. We don’t look for opportunities to condemn.
            Our Lord illustrates this by saying, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.”
            We confess the sin in our own lives.  We admit it and live in the forgiveness that God has given us in Christ.  When we are living in this way in Christ, then we are able to speak to our neighbor in love and care – in ways that are meant for their well being, seeking to help and build them up, rather than to tear them down.
            Jesus says in our text, “forgive, and you will be forgiven.”  Our Lord’s ministry to bring the reign of God, has given you forgiveness.  You are baptized.  You hear absolution spoken to you.  You receive the true body and blood of Jesus Christ. But to be forgiven in Christ, must result in you forgiving others. It will have this result, that is, if we want Christ to continue to forgive us.
            Like love, forgiveness is not an emotion – though it can indeed at times be accompanied by moving and powerful emotions.  In its essence, forgiveness is the recognition that I cannot choose to hold something against another person.  I cannot choose to return to the wrong and bring it up.  I can’t do it, not if I want God to forgive all of my wrongs and treat them as if they never happened because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
            It is the Spirit of the risen Lord who makes this possible.  And we pray that over time the Spirit will also bring about healing in us so that we feel at peace with those we have forgiven; so that our emotions “catch up” as it were with the act forgiveness worked by the Spirit.
            How does this happen?  Well, we listen to Christ’s word, because it is still a word that has authority.  It is still the word in which the kingdom of God – reign of God – comes to us.  We receive all of his Means of Grace regularly, because through them the Spirit is at work to strengthen the new man in us. 
            And we engage in something that Jesus tells us to do in our text as he says, “pray for those who mistreat you.” Just do it.  Pray for that person, even if at first those prayers seem to be nothing more than rote words that we force ourselves to say.  Pray for that person.  Keep praying for that person.  Praying for that person is forgiveness put into action. And over time the Spirit uses this to change us so that the whole of our person is brought into sync with Christ’s forgiveness for us that we are passing on to others.
            In our text today, Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”  God the Father has been merciful and compassionate to you in his Son Jesus Christ.  Yet this action of being merciful is not something you now do on your own.  The very act of being merciful to us in Christ was achieved through the work of God’s Spirit.  Conceived by the Spirit; anointed by the Spirit; raised by the Spirit, Jesus has now given us the Spirit who makes it possible for us to be merciful, and to do those things that Jesus describes in his sermon.


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity - Lk 15:1-10

                                                                                                           Trinity 3
                                                                                                            Lk 15:1-10

            “Call my phone, would you?  I don’t know where it’s at.”  Have these, or words similar to them, been spoken at your house?  They probably have.  The era of the smart phone has freed the phone from a cord that attached it to the wall. We now have the ability to call from almost anywhere.
            And course these phones are far more than phones.  In fact if you track the time used on the phone (as most phones do that for you), you will find that the majority of the time in which we use our phones has nothing to do with making phone calls.  Instead, we are on social media, or watching YouTube videos, or playing games. We are probably far more likely to send a text, than we are to call someone. For many people their phone serves as their scheduler which they use to keep track of upcoming appointments. And of course, the smart phone contains all of our contacts – all of the information needed to contact the complete list of most everyone we know.
            Because of all the ways we use our smart phones; because of all the way that we rely upon them, misplacing your smart phone is not a small problem.  While there are our apps on our phone that are intended to help us locate them, from what I have seen, for the most part people resort to, “Call my phone, would you?  I don’t know where it’s at.”  A family member or friend calls the phone. We hope that it the wringer had not been turned off and the phone set to vibrate. Then we listen for the sound of the phone and try to hone in on its location.  Sometimes more than one request for a call goes out. And then finally, when we find the phone, we are relieved and glad.  A minor disaster has been averted, and we can get back to doing life.
            In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus tells a pair of parables about people who are intently searching for something.  In the first, it is for a lost sheep, and the second for a lost coin.  The point of both is the love that God has for sinners, and his intense desire to bring them back to himself. This is very important and comforting message.  Yet while the parables end with the repentant sinner returned to God, we also need to recognize that this in itself is not the end of the story for us.
            Our text begins with the words, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  During Jesus’ ministry we find that people often described as “tax collectors and sinners” were coming to near Jesus teach.
            Now this phrase probably included a broad range of people.  Tax collectors were assumed to be crooked because they easily could make themselves extra money by doing things like unfairly assessing the value of goods being shipped.  Though in a land like Galilee where Herod Antipas was the ruler they were not direct agents of the Roman empire, taxation always called to mind Roman domination. And the fact of the matter was that some of money collected did go back to Rome as Herod demonstrated his loyalty as a petty king allowed by the Romans to rule.
            The term “sinners” certainly encompassed a number of kinds of people.  You will note that it is the Pharisees and scribes who describe these people as “sinners.”  So does this mean they were people who didn’t follows the rules – “the tradition of the elders” – that the Pharisees had added on top of the Law of Moses itself in describing what it meant to live a God pleasing life?  Or were these people who actually lived in ways the broke God’s law- ways that truly were sinful?  We can’t say for sure, but the best guess is that the group probably included both.
            The complaint of the Pharisees and scribes was: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  Jesus welcomed these people to hear his teaching.  But he went a step beyond that. He also welcomed them to eat with him.  Certainly, these meals were a setting in which teaching also took place.  But more importantly, the act of eating with these people indicated that he accepted them. The concept of table fellowship was very important in the first century Jewish world. Rather than keeping himself separated from those were who were sinners, Jesus in his ministry welcomed them and actually ate with them.
            In response to the grumbling by Pharisees and scribes, Jesus told two parables.  He said, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”  The answer was obvious.  Any of them would go and look for the lost sheep because the sheep was valuable.
            Jesus then added that once he has found the sheep the shepherd calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”  There was joy that the lost sheep had been found.  And then Jesus made the application to their present situation as he said, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”  This of course was not to say that those who are faithful in walking the way of faith are unimportant to God.  Instead, it emphasized how God desires not even one to be lost; how there is joy about the fact that through repentance the lost had been returned.
            And Jesus then added a second parable, this one that took place in the setting of a house.  He said, “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?
And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’”
            Again, we hear about the persistent effort to find the lost coin, and the joy that results when it is found – a joy that simply must be shared with others. Jesus concluded, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  Our Lord said that every single sinner matters to God.  He describes not just the desire to save sinners, but the effort to bring them back, and the joy that is present before God when this happens.
            Our Lord speaks about you this morning.  For at one time, you were the lost sheep. You were the lost coin.  Conceived and born as a descendant of your father Adam, you truly were a sinner.  You were an enemy of God, opposed to his will in every possible way. You were spiritually blind and dead. 
            But God considered this to be absolutely unacceptable. And so he sought you out.  He launched a rescue mission. God the Father sent his Son into the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  Thought sinless, Jesus Christ the Son of God was numbered with the transgressors. He took your sin as his own and received God’s judgment in your place.  He received the final result of your sin – he received death.
            And then on the third day God did something outstanding.  He did something that has reversed the result of Adam’s sin.  He raised Jesus Christ from the dead.  He began in Christ the new life of the Last Day resurrection. Not just for a Sunday morning or evening, but for forty days Jesus presented himself alive to his disciple as spoke about the kingdom of God.  He ascended into heaven, and as the exalted Lord on the day of Pentecost he poured forth the Holy Spirit.
            On the day of Pentecost, as Peter preached and the people were convicted of their sin they asked, “Brothers, what should we do?”  The apostle responded, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  You have received one baptism for the forgiveness of your sins.  You have received the Holy Spirit who has made you a new creation in Christ.
            There was rejoicing in heaven when this happened.  Yet our text also warns us that things can become lost again.  “Call my phone, would you?  I don’t know where it’s at.”  These are words that have not been spoken only once at our house.  They are words that have been spoken on several different occasions about the same phone.
            As a baptized child of God, you are “found.”  But this does not mean you can never get lost again.  The emphasis in our text is joy about the sinner who repents.  On an earlier occasion in the Gospel the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at Jesus’ disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  Our Lord’s response on that occasion was to say, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
            In Christ we are forgiven. Through the work of the Spirit we are a new creation – we are the new man.  But we are people who are also still sick.  The old Adam, the fallen sinful nature continues to be present in us as well.  And if we fail to recognize this fact, over time it can have spiritually deadly consequences.
            Sick people – people with a serious medical condition like high blood pressure or diabetes – need their medication.  You still face the sickness of the struggle against sin.  And so you need the medication of the Means of Grace.  You need to hear the Word of God proclaimed and taught.  You need to hear Christ speak forgiveness to you in Holy Absolution.  You need the true body and blood of Christ which is food for the new man. 
            And you must still be willing to repent.  In the ongoing struggle against sin, we do fail. We do stumble.  We do sin. The question then that really matters is how we respond when the word of God confronts us in that sin. Do we admit that God is right and we are wrong?  Do we confess our as sin against God? Do we repent?
            The world makes it harder and harder to do so.  It says that sin is good, and God’ ways are bad – just think about any topic related to God’s gift of sexuality. Think about how how Sunday and the Third Commandment are treated by the world. 
            Yet as Christians, staying found requires us to continue to repent. We confess our sin.  We turn to Christ the risen Lord as he gives forgiveness in the Means of Grace.  We receive the work of Christ’s Spirit who strengthens faith.  And through the leading and power of the Spirit we then seek to live lives in which we see the results of repentance. 
            Repentance does not only mean that I want to be forgiven – that I want to “get off the hook” for the sins I have committed. It means that I want to live in ways that turn away from sin – way that are true to God’s will.  In his ministry, John the Baptist said, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” The apostle Paul said that after the risen Lord Jesus appeared to him and completely changed his life, he preached to Jews and Gentiles “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.”
            So today, rejoice that you have been found!  After all, there was rejoicing in heaven when you became a child of God – when through baptism and faith you were forgiven and received the guarantee that you too will share in Jesus’ resurrection on the Last Day.  Remember that those who have been found, can become lost again if they ignore Christ’s Means of Grace; if they live as the world wants them to live instead of what God’s Word says our life should be.  Where the continuing struggle against sin, results in failure, repent.  Give thanks for the forgiveness that Jesus Christ won for you through his death and resurrection. And then, as a new creation in Christ, bear fruits in keeping with that repentance. Follow the Spirit’s leading and the leading of God’s Word as you live in ways that are true, good and pleasing to God.


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Feast of the Visitation

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation, the day when Mary went to see Elizabeth after learning that she was pregnant with the Son of God, and that Elizabeth too was pregnant.  The Church observes several days which are connected with the virgin Mary: The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord (Feb. 2); The Annunciation of Our Lord (March 25); The Visitation (July 2); and St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord (Aug. 15).  We do this because they are festivals of the Incarnation.  On these days we confess with the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.) that Mary was the Theotokos, the God bearer.  We confess the reality of the incarnation – that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary as the One who is true God and true man.  In addition, Mary stands out as a great example and model of faith as she trusted God’s Word.

Scripture reading:
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:39-45).

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your Son and made known through her Your gracious regard for the poor and lowly and despised.  Grant that we may receive Your Word in humility and faith, and so be made one with Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity - Eph 2:13-22

                                                                                                Trinity 2
                                                                                                Eph 2:13-22

            In May of this year, there was a rather unusual protest in Carbondale.  Now of course, as a university town, protests of various types are nothing new there. But this one was quite different from anything I have ever heard about before.
            On the sidewalk in front of University Mall, a group known as the “Bloodstained Men” were protesting the practice of circumcision.  Dressed in white clothes, they had stained the crotch of their pants bright red and carried signs that said things like: “Circumcision harms humans”; “Circumcision is sexual mutilation”; and, “Foreskin is not a birth defect.”  The group was on a sixteen day protest tour in Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee as they spoke out against the practice of circumcision.
            Now this probably strikes most of us as being just weird.  Circumcision is not at all something we think about as being an important issue.  It’s a very common practice.  According to the CDC, about 81% of the male population is circumcised. As a nurse who has dealt first hand with this subject, Amy says that it’s a no-brainer – yes, it’s a good practice.
            While circumcision is something that we give almost no thought to, it was an incredibly important subject in the first century A.D. as the Church began to expand.  Circumcision was, of course, the sign of the covenant for Israel and those who descended from the nation – for the Jews.  Jesus came as Israel’s Messiah.  His apostles and first disciples were Jews.
            However, as soon as the Gospel began to be preached to Gentiles, circumcision became an issue.  Did Gentiles Christians need to be circumcised in order to be part of God’s people? This wasn’t just an abstract theological discussion. It was a highly charged emotional issue.  Circumcision set apart Jews from Gentiles. To Gentiles the practice was an abhorrent mutilation.  To Jews it was a point of great importance and solidarity that marked them off as God’s people.
            Writing to the largely Gentile church in the area of Ephesus, Paul says just prior to our text: “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands--remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
            Before they heard the Gospel, the lack of circumcision really did mean something for these Gentiles.  It meant that they were not part of God’s covenant people.  Instead, they were trapped in their sin, slaves of the devil and under God’s wrath.  Paul wrote at the beginning of this chapter, “ And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
            However, Pauls says in our text that the good news of Jesus Christ had changed all of that.  He writes, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”  Cut off from God by their sins, Jesus’ death on the cross had brought them near to God through forgiveness. And Paul says they had also received life through the resurrection of Jesus. The apostle has just said in this chapter, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, he made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--
and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
            Because God has done this in Christ, Paul says in our text that he has reconciled Jew and Gentile into the one people of God – the Church.  He says, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
            Now having heard all of this, it is quite possible that your response is: “So what?  What’s the big deal?”  After all, no one cares about circumcision any more. Well … no one except the “Bloodstained Men,” and I don’t think any of us are going to take them too seriously.  The one Church is now basically a Gentile church, and it has been that way for a long time. There is no great hostility as it existed in Paul’s day.
            And that is true.  But let’s think a little more about the implications of what Paul is saying.  The apostle has said that Christ is our peace – that he has brought peace. Then he adds in our text, “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
            Jew and Gentile is not the only relationship where there is the need for peace.  So, how are things in your marriage?  How are thing between you and your children, or between you and your parents?  How are things between you and your brother or sister?  How are things between you and your extended family?
            When we look here, we find all kinds of ways that that sin – our sin and their sin – creates hostility and fractures peace. And Paul’s words about what Jesus Christ means for Jew and Gentile apply directly to these too.
            The apostle says, “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”  Christ’s death and resurrection provided access to the Father through the Spirit who has worked faith in Christ. The same Spirit has worked faith in each one us and has joined us together.  Paul says at the end of our text, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
            Each of us is forgiven because of Jesus Christ. Each of us has been joined together with one another in the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit through baptism. This means that our calling as Christians is now to live in forgiveness towards one another.  Our calling is to seek to restore peace with one another.
            Paul says this very thing a little later in the letter:
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
            As Christians then, walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.  Your calling has been made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Chris for you. That’s why Paul says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” 
            Christ calls us to live in peace with one another.  He does so because he has given us peace with God through his death and resurrection.  He does so because he has united us as one through the work of his Spirit.  Paul says in this letter, “There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
            Do you hear it?: Paul mentions one seven times - one body; one Spirit; one hope; one Lord; one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all. God has acted in Christ through the Spirit to unite us as one.  He has united us to forgive one another and act in love toward one another.  The apostle says in the last chapter of this letter, “Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and give himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
            We can do this because through baptism the Holy Spirit has made us a new creation in Christ.  As Paul says in our text, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.”
            In Jesus Christ the risen Lord we have the cornerstone that upholds our life and every aspect of it.  Upon this cornerstone we have the foundation of the apostles – the Spirit breathed apostolic witness in by which Christ sustains faith.  Though we were once far off as Gentiles, here Jesus preaches peace to us. Because he has, we are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.  And so we walk in forgiveness and peace with one another.