Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Mark's thoughts: Rejoice in our sufferings?



Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5 ESV)

Paul says at the beginning of Romans chapter 5 that because we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  “To justify” is a word from the world of the law courts.  It means “to declare innocent, not guilty.”  Paul has been arguing in Romans that by God’s grace, we are reckoned as righteous through faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose from the dead. 

Already now, we know the verdict of the Last Day.  Along with the whole Old Testament, it is a basic assumption of the apostle Paul that “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10 ESV).  This fact is certain.  Yet what is also certain is that because of Jesus we already know the verdict.  It will be “not guilty” because of Jesus.  The forgiveness won by Jesus Christ has removed sin and gives us peace with God.

Yet peace with God – a peace that prepares us already now for the judgment of the Last Day – does not mean the absence of problems. This is not the same thing as what we would call a peaceful life.  Instead, Paul goes on to say, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV).

It sounds very strange to say “we rejoice in our sufferings.”  God’s Word is very honest in acknowledging sufferings. This is because it is very honest about sin and what it has done to our lives and world.  Peace with God for forgiven sinners does not mean the absence of suffering.  But it does mean that we now have a completely different perspective on that suffering.  Paul tells us that we do, because suffering produces endurance.  It produces the ability to bear up under difficulties.  Endurance produces proven character.  Those who have trusted in God and gone through sufferings know that they can … because they have.  And proven character produces hope. Those who have walked the way of faith live by hope. The do not judge things based on what they see, but rather live the present in the sure expectation of God’s final deliverance.

Paul says that this “hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5 ESV).  This hope does not put fail us or put us to shame because God has poured out his love into our heart through the gift of the Spirit.  It is the Spirit who has created saving faith in Jesus. It is the Spirit who sustains this faith through the Means of Grace. The Spirit guarantees that our hope cannot disappoint us because it is the Spirit who will raise us up on the Last Day.  As Paul says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11ESV).

As Christians, we live the present at peace with God because we are justified through faith in Jesus Christ. And we face the sufferings of the present with hope, because the Spirit is the presence of God’s love who will give us a share in Jesus' resurrection.

Commemoration of Joshua



Today we remember and give thanks for Joshua.  Joshua, the son of Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim, is first mentioned in Exodus 17 when he was chosen by Moses to fight the Amalakites, whom he defeated in a brilliant military victory. He was placed in charge of the Tent of Meeting (Ex. 33:11) and was a member of the tribal representatives sent to survey the land of Canaan (Num 13:8). Later, he was appointed by God to succeed Moses as Israel’s commander-in-chief. He eventually led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land and directed the Israelites’ capture of Jericho. He is remembered especially for his final address to the Israelites, in which he challenged them to serve God faithfully (Josh 24:1–27), concluding with the memorable words, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (24:15).

Collect of the Day:
Lord Jesus Christ, Your servant Joshua led the children of Israel through the waters of the Jordan River into a land flowing with milk and honey.  As our Joshua, lead us, we pray, through the waters of our Baptism into the promised land of eternal life with You; who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one  God,  now and forever.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sermon for Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity - Lk 10:23-37



          Trinity 13
                                                                                                            Lk 10:23-37
                                                                                                            8/30/15

            As many of you know, until the apostasy of my youngest son, the Surburgs have always been Cubs fans. The origin of this is my Grandpa Surburg who grew up on the north side of Chicago within walking distance of Wrigley Field.  Too poor to buy a ticket and get into the game, he used to stand outside and listen to the crowed as he watched the scoreboard to know what was happening.
            Grandpa Surburg was born in 1909 and died in 2001.  He lived ninety-two years as a Cubs fan and never saw them win the World Series because the last time they won it was in 1908 – the year before he was born.  He waited his whole life hoping to see it … and never did.
            I believe I will see the thing he desired to see, but did not.  Now Cardinals fans will of course laugh at this.  I said it when Theo Epstein came to the Cubs organization after leading the Boston Red Sox to a World Series win that ended the “curse of the Bambino” in which they had not won it since 1917.  I said it as the Cubs under Epstein began building an organization from the ground up in the minor leagues.  I said it as that approach built the Cub’s farm system into one of the top rated organizations in baseball.
            Now, I am not about to claim that at that the beginning of this season I thought that the Cubs would have one of the best records in baseball and be very likely to make the playoffs.  Joe Maddon is obviously an excellent manager.  I am not going to claim that the Cubs will win it this year – with more on the way - I don’t think their pitching is strong enough yet.  But when they can win like this with so many very young talented players, I have no trouble continuing to say that the Cubs will win the World Series before Theo Epstein is done. I will see what my Grandpa Surburg waited his whole life hoping to see and never did.
            In the Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus shares a similar thought with his disciples.  They have returned from preparing the way for Jesus as he is going to Jerusalem, and joyfully report what they have experienced. Our Lord tells them that they are in fact experiencing a remarkable end-time moment in God’s saving plan.  He says to them, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
            When you heard the Gospel lesson announced as the text for this sermon, you probably thought, “Well we are going to hear another sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan.” That is a very reasonable thing to surmise.  Because of course, almost all of the text this morning is about this classic parable by our Lord.  However, note that I said, “almost.” Because you see, the first two verses of our text do not deal with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Instead, they are the conclusion of what Luke has been narrating since the beginning of chapter 10.  And so in order to consider the first part of our text, we will need to fill in what has been happening in the Gospel of Luke.
            At the end of chapter nine we read, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  Jesus has just predicted his passion as he said, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” Now he begins his journey to Jerusalem as he heads towards suffering, death and resurrection.  He begins his journey towards the culmination of his saving ministry in fulfillment of the Father’s will.
            As he does so, Jesus sends out a kind of “advance team” to prepare the way.  Out of the broader group of disciples he sends out seventy (or perhaps seventy two) disciples in pairs.  They are to travel light and go quickly, not even stopping to greet other people on the way. The time is short and the matter is urgent.  Our Lord gives them this instruction, “Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” Where a town does not receive the message they are to go into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.”
            The disciples return from their mission with joy saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” Jesus said to them in reply, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” and then added later, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
            These events are what prompt Jesus to say in our text, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”  Our Lord says that what they are experiencing is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises in the Old Testament.  It is the arrival of the end time salvation of God that prophets like Isaiah announced. It is Satan being kicked out.
            The question raised by the text is whether we believe these words are true for us as well.  The question for us is whether we perceive the amazing character of God’s end-time salvation that is at work in our midst – the same thing that Jesus describes in our text.
            Now I doubt that any of us would answer with a flat out “no.”  But I also think we are hesitant to answer with a resounding “yes.”  After all, when we look around we see a world that doesn’t give the Gospel the time of day.  We see a world where the Church is facing some of the worst persecution it has ever experienced. It sure doesn’t look like the kingdom of God – the reign of God – has arrived.
            We see the rejection of the Gospel by the world.  We see the suffering of God’s people and it makes us wonder – even doubt. But what we have to recognize about the beginning of our text this morning is that Jesus speaks these words to people who have met with rejection.
            In his instruction to the seventy, Jesus told them to proclaim “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But then he added that where a town does not receive the message they are to go into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.”
            Jesus prepared them for rejection because he knew that they would also meet with rejection.  Their work had not been one big success story.  But it had been the reign of God at work.  That reign could bring salvation where there was faith, or it could bring judgment were it met rejection. But either way, God was powerfully at work.
            And then, consider where Jesus is going at this very moment.  He is making his journey to Jerusalem.  There he will meet the ultimate rejection.  There he will be sentenced to death on trumped up charges.  He will be crucified and die.
            That does not look like the reign of God.  That does not look like God’s victory and salvation.  And yet, it is.  For it was God’s plan for his Son to be numbered with the transgressors.  It was his will for Jesus Christ to bear our sin and die for it so that we can receive forgiveness. And then it was God’s will to raise Jesus from the dead.  As Jesus said to the two disciples walking to Emmaus on the evening of Easter, “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?”
            When Jesus died on the cross and was buried, it did not look like it was victory over Satan and sin.  Yet it was.  We confess in the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus descended into hell.  Our Lord’s descent into hell was not about accomplishing something that still needed to be done.  Instead, it was about Jesus declaring that he had won – that Satan had been defeated.  It was about Jesus going into Satan’s own backyard and talking trash to him – talking smack – because Jesus’ had won and Satan had lost. And then in his resurrection, our Lord stuck the dagger in that last enemy – death.
            This is what Jesus Christ has done for you, because he is the end-time fulfillment of all of God’s promises.  And you have seen it through God’s Word.  You know what has happened.  You know the whole story.  The apostle Peter described it in this way: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”
            In our text Jesus says, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”  Yes, blessed are your eyes that see and your ears that hear!  Yes, blessed are your eyes that see water poured and ears that hear, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Blessed are your eyes that see Christ’s servant stand in front of you, and your ears that hear Christ say, “I forgive you all your sins.”  Blessed are your eyes that see bread and wine, and your ears that hear, “This is my body. This is my blood, given and shed for your.”  Blessed are you, for when you see and hear this you are experiencing the kingdom of God – the reign of God that frees you from Satan and sin.  You are receiving God’s end-time salvation that all the saints in the Old Testament longed to see.
            This is the good news. This is the “now” of God’s salvation.  But there is also bad news - the “not yet” in which we live.  You are blessed to see and hear things the prophets wanted to see and hear.  But Jesus also says you are blessed in another way.  Earlier in this Gospel our Lord says, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”
            Believing in Jesus Christ will mean enduring hardship. It will mean not fitting into this world.  It will mean receiving the world’s derision.  You can’t shy away from these things.  You can’t seek to avoid them.  In faith, you need to step up and be willing to accept them.
But Jesus can call you blessed when you do this because it is on account of him.  In fact, paradoxically he says rejoice and leap for joy because your reward is great in heaven.  Jesus assures you that because of him, the victory is already yours.  It is stored away in heaven, ready to be given to you.  This is not something that you have to go there and get. It is something that Jesus will bring to you on the Last Day when he returns in glory and raises your body to be like his resurrection body.
Blessed are you now, because this is your future. Blessed are you now because of what you see and hear. Indeed, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

           
                       
             
           


           
           
           


Friday, August 28, 2015

Commemoration of Augustine of Hippo, Pastor and Theologian



Today we remember and give thanks for Augustine of Hippo, Pastor and Theologian.  Augustine was one of the greatest of the Latin church fathers and a significant influence in the formation of Western Christianity, including Lutheranism. Born in A.D. 354 in North Africa, Augustine’s early life was distinguished by exceptional advancement as a teacher of rhetoric. In his book Confessions he describes his life before his conversion to Christianity, when he was drawn into the moral laxity of the day and fathered an illegitimate son. Through the devotion of his sainted mother Monica and the preaching of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (339–97), Augustine was converted to the Christian faith. During the great Pelagian controversies of the 5th century, Augustine emphasized the unilateral grace of God in the salvation of mankind. Bishop and theologian at Hippo in North Africa from A.D. 395 until his death in 430, Augustine was a man of great intelligence, a fierce defender of the orthodox faith, and a prolific writer. In addition to the book Confessions, Augustine’s book City of God had a great impact upon the church throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Collect of the Day:
O Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you, give us strength to follow the example of your servant Augustine of Hippos, so that knowing you we may truly love you and loving you we may fully serve you – for to serve you is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.