Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sermon for Quinquagesima - Lk 18:31-43

                                                                                         Luke 18:31-43

            Three times.  Our Lord Jesus predicts his passion and resurrection three times in the Gospel of Luke.  There are of course many other times when he alludes to his sacrifice.  But on three occasions he just comes out and says it to his disciples.
            The first time, in chapter nine, we hear, “And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’” Peter has just confessed that Jesus is the Christ of God.  Now, our Lord tells them that he is going to suffer, die and rise on the third day.  Luke is very clear in telling us that this was something directed only to the ears of Jesus’ disciples.
            The next time occurs just over twenty verses later in the same chapter.  Jesus has just been transfigured before Peter, James and John.  Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and only Luke tells us that they spoke with Jesus “of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Then when Jesus comes down the mountain he casts out a demon that the other disciples were unable to handle.  It is an awesome display of power and we learn that all were astonished at the majesty of God.
            But then  while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus speaks his second passion prediction. Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”  Immediately Luke tells us, “But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.”  We learn that the disciples don’t understand what Jesus is saying because God has concealed it from them. However, while they realize that they don’t understand, they are afraid to do anything about it.  They don’t ask Jesus about what it means.
            Shortly after this – still in chapter nine – Luke tells us, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” After twice predicting his passion and resurrection, Jesus now sets out on the trip that will bring him to Good Friday and Easter. All that Jesus does and says in the chapters that follow are framed by the Lord’s journey to death and resurrection.
            And now in our text today we have the third passion prediction.  We hear, “And taking the twelve, he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.
And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’ But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”
            Our Lord spoke the first two passion predictions just before starting his journey to Jerusalem.  Now he speaks his third and final prediction at the moment when they are arriving at the end of the journey.  In the next chapter they come to Jerusalem and then Jesus enters on Palm Sunday.  Our Lord provides the final passion prediction and it is also the most detailed – the most explicit. Everything that has been written by the prophets will be fulfilled in Jesus.  He will be handed over to the Gentiles; he will be mocked; he will be treated shamefully; he will be spit upon; he will be flogged; he will be killed; and on third day he will rise from the dead.
            Like the second passion prediction, the disciples don’t understand it because it is hidden from them.  But this time, we don’t even hear that they recognized they didn’t understand.  We don’t even hear that they know they need to ask Jesus, even if they are too afraid to do so.
            The disciples don’t understand what Jesus’ talk about suffering, death and resurrection means.  Not only is it hidden from them, they don’t even think about the fact that they need to ask for an explanation.  Our Gospel lesson sets before us this morning the paradox that everything was explained before hand in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and yet it is only in the resurrection of the crucified Lord that all becomes clear.
            Jesus says in our text, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus did not happen by chance. God had revealed in the Old Testament that this was the means by which he would provide forgiveness and salvation.  It was all there.  As Jesus said to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
            Jesus’ disciples finally did come to understand.  It happened on the evening of the first Easter when Jesus appeared to them.  He said, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” And then Luke tells us that, “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’”
            Living in the last days inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you understand.  Or at least, you should.  You know both what happened in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and what it means.  That doesn’t mean we always act like it.  We allow Satan – the adversary, for that is what the word means – to nag us with doubts about whether God really does forgive that terrible thing we did.  Or we allow Satan to convince us that since forgiveness is guaranteed, it’s really not all that big a deal if we do what we want.  We want Jesus’ suffering and death to mean forgiveness for us, but don’t want that to involve any difficulties for us because of Jesus.
            This is an ongoing struggle in the Christian life.  Through the work of the Spirit in Holy Baptism we are a new creation in Christ.  Created and led by the Spirit, the new man in us understands fully.  He knows that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christian now stands forgiven and holy in God’s eyes – a saint.  He knows that we have been made a new creation so that we can live in ways that carry out God’s will for life.  He knows that he is called to live according to Jesus’ words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
            Yet while Jesus’ resurrection has begun the Last Day, it has not yet arrived for us.  And this “not yet” means that the fallen, old man is still present too.  Like the world, he is on Satan’s side.  He opposes all that I just described.  The old man is the foothold within you that Satan wants to exploit in order to bring you back under his control.
            So, will we allow this or not?  Now faith wasn’t something you did.  As we confess about the Third Article of the Creed, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” And likewise preservation of faith is not something that we do on our own. The Spirit who created faith is the only One who can sustain the existence of faith.
            But here – and only here – you do have a role to play.  Through the Spirit’s power and leading understand that a struggle exists and choose to take part in it.  When Satan nags with doubts about whether God really can forgive that sin, you tell him to go to hell because God’s Word is more true and certain than any dumb thoughts or emotions the old man can throw at you.
            When Satan whispers that forgiveness in Christ means you are free to do what you want, you use God’s Word to answer the old man and his sin within you.  You listen to God’s good word of the Law which the Spirit uses to put to death sin and the old man; which he uses to repress the old man so that the new man guides what you actually do. 
            When the old man wants to avoid suffering and the cross that is part of the Christian life you return to the thing that the disciples in our text this morning don’t understand – but you which now you do understand.  You return to the fact that Jesus Christ was delivered over to the Gentiles and was be mocked, shamefully treated and spit upon; he was flogged and killed; and the third day he rose from the dead for you.
            You return to Jesus Christ and the Gospel.  It is the same thing you do when you have failed in the struggle.  Only in the Gospel – and in the continual return to the Gospel – do we find forgiveness.  And only there do we find strength through the Spirit’s work to live as what God has made us to be. 
            In our text Jesus describes what he is about to do for us in his death and resurrection.  We understand because has done it.  He died for our sins!  He rose from the dead! We live on this side of Easter!  And now, in order to receive this gift we go to the means Jesus has instituted. We go to his Word.  We go to his word of absolution spoken by the pastor in his stead. We go to the Sacrament of the Altar where Jesus gives us his true body and blood, given and shed for you. This is where we go because we do understand what Jesus says in the Gospel lesson today.  And this is where we go so that our lives may show it.    




Monday, February 27, 2017

Mark's thoughts: From ash to water

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  These words are spoken during the Imposition of Ashes at the Ash Wednesday Divine Service as Lent begins.  The words are drawn from Genesis 3:19 in which God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  The sin of Adam and Eve brought death.  St. Paul told the  Romans, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).  As the children of Adam and Eve, sin has been passed on to all of us.   We are born in sin, and in this life we commit sin. There can be only one outcome, for as Paul stated, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

We come to Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent as repentant sinners.  We confess our sin and we know that it produces the death that we deserve.  For this reason too, ashes are used on Ash Wednesday.  In the biblical world, ashes were sign of repentance and lamentation.  Jesus said, “"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21).

We begin Lent confessing that we are sinners who will die because of sin.  This is an admission steeped in humility.  We have offended the holy God, and King David’s words are true for us: “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” (Psalm 51:4).  Our sin has earned us death, and there is nothing that we can do to change this fact.

We begin Lent in repentant humility.  But we also begin it in hope, for Lent is a season that prepares us for Holy Week and Easter.  The apostle Paul wrote that “the wages of sins is death,” yet then he went on to add, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).  He described how sin entered into the world through Adam and passed on to all of us, but then later in the same chapter he wrote, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:18-19).   Adam brought death, but Paul told the Corinthians:   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. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:21-23).

Lent begins with ashes, but it prepares us for water.  In humility we confess our sin as we prepare for Holy Week, for on Good Friday we will see Jesus offer Himself on the cross as the ransom for many (Matthew 20:28) – as the ransom for us.  We will see that, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).  Instead, Jesus Christ received God’s judgment against our sin.  As the apostle Paul went on to say, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus Christ died for us and was buried.  At the Vigil of Easter we return in faith to what happened in our own baptism.  St. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).  Through our baptism we have shared in Jesus’ saving death for us – we have been buried with him.

Yet the Vigil of Easter is the first service of the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord.  Jesus died, but on the third day he rose from the dead.  And because we have shared in the saving death of the risen Lord we know that we will too.  Paul went on to say about bapitsm, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).  In the movement from Ash Wednesday to the Vigil of Easter we once again pass from ash to water; from sin to forgiveness; from death to life. While in the struggle against sin we continue to have need to repent, our baptism assures faith that forgiveness and life – resurrection life – can never be taken away from us.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Feast of St. Matthias, Apostle

Today is the Feast of  St. Matthias, Apostle.  Matthias is one of the lesser known apostles.  He was chosen by lot to fill the vacancy in the twelve apostles left by the death of Judas.  The account of his election (Acts 1:12-26) tells us that Matthias had been a follower of Jesus Christ during His whole ministry – from the baptism of John the Baptist until the day of the ascension.  Church tradition indicates that he engaged in missionary activities and was martyred.

Scripture reading:
In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)  “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

“‘May his camp become desolate,
and let there be no one to dwell in it’;


“‘Let another take his office.’

 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:15-26)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, You chose Your servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve.  Grant that Your Church, ever preserved from false teachers, may be taught and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Commemoration of Polycarp of Smyrna, Pastor and Martyr

Today we remember and give thanks for Polycarp of Smyrna, Pastor and Martyr.  Polycarp was a central figure in the early church.  According to his pupil the church father Irenaeus, Polycarp was a disciple of the evangelist John. After serving for many years as bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp was arrested, tried, and executed for his faith on February 23, c. 156. An eyewitness narrative of his death, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, continues to encourage believers in times of persecution.  When given the chance to recant his faith in Jesus Christ, he replied, “For eighty-six years I have been His servant, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme by King who saved me?”

Collect of the Day:
O God, the maker of heaven and earth, You gave boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior and steadfastness to die for the faith to Your venerable servant, Polycarp.  Grant us grace to follow His example in sharing the cup of Christ’s suffering so that we may also share in His glorious resurrection; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.