Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sermon for First Sunday in Lent - Invocabit - Mt 4:1-11

                                                                                    Lent 1
                                                                                    Mt 4:1-11

            When I was in middle school and high school my parents used to refer to how “the creature was coming out.”  They used this phrase to describe the fact that when I got really hungry, I wasn’t very pleasant.  To this day, I usually eat on a regular schedule.  On school days, breakfast is about 7:15 a.m.  Lunch is between 12:00 and 12:30 p.m. Dinner is usually somewhere around 5:30 p.m.  If it can be avoided, I don’t deviate much from this because I know that I still don’t function all that well when I am hungry.
            Now for some people this is not an immediate and pressing issue.  As long as I have known her, Amy has been able to miss meals altogether and then just eat something later in the day.  I know this goes back to her many years working as a nurse in hospital settings.  When things got very busy in patient care, eating just had to wait. 
            But like all of us, there are limits to how far she can push this.  At some point hunger gets to all of us.  We get crabby.  We get short.  We react in ways that we normally wouldn’t.
            The devil is working this angle against our Lord’s human nature in our Gospel lesson today.  Our text begins by saying, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” The word “then” picks up on what has just happened in Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and God the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.
            Jesus is baptized and then goes into the wilderness to be tempted.  If we are listening carefully, these events should sound familiar.  It is the same thing that the nation of Israel had done. They went through the water of the Red Sea and then after disobeying God by refusing to enter the promised land, they wandered for forty years in the wilderness.
            Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted.  He fasted for forty days and forty nights.  Jesus was – and still is - true God and true man.  In the incarnation he became like you in all ways except sin.  We learn that at the end of these forty days of fasting, he was hungry. Well of course he was.  You would be too.
            The devil chooses this moment to tempt Jesus.  Remember, the devil has been playing this game for a very long time and he is very good at it.  His temptations will target you where and when you are vulnerable.
            He said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” The devil’s point was “So you are the Son of God and you are hungry. Well, then do something about it.”  He invited – he challenged Jesus – to use his power to help himself.
            However Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”  Jesus quotes a verse from Deuteronomy that talks about how God used hunger with Israel in the exodus.  It says, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
            Not long after Israel had passed through the Red Sea, they realized that they were running out of food. Finally, in response to their complaints God promised that he would provide manna for them – the bread from heaven.  Moses says that God used this hunger to teach the nation that they had to rely on God’s word.
            Jesus didn’t need reminding.  At his baptism, Jesus was designated as the “Servant of the Lord.”  Repeatedly the prophet Isaiah identifies the Servant as Israel.  Jesus is Israel – he is Israel reduced to one.  He had come to be the Servant sent by God.  He was here to serve God the Father by carrying out his saving mission.  He was here to serve us by offering himself on the cross. He wasn’t going to use his power to serve himself.  And in this we begin to see that he is the faithful Son that Israel never was. 
            The good news for us is that in his letter to the Galatians St. Paul calls Gentiles “the Israel of God.” The bad news is that we are just like Israel. We are not willing to trust God’s word of love and care.  We are not able to live according to every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
            Having failed in his first attempt, the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple. He said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, ‘and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”  The devil invited Jesus to force God’s hand by making him perform a dramatic rescue right there in Jerusalem.
            Jesus answered, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  Israel had tested God when they ran out of water. They had not trusted that Yahweh would care for them.  Jesus trusted the Father’s will.  He would not test God.  He would not deviate from the path that the Father had set before him.  Jesus’ action in the city of Jerusalem would not be a spectacular event in which he forced God’s hand.  Instead, it would be the humble and lowly death on a cross.
            Finally the devil took Jesus to a high mountain showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. It must have been a breathtaking sight! And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 
            Here was the offer of the easy way.  Jesus could have it all.  There would be no suffering. There would be no cross.  All he had to do was worship a false god. Israel had done this all the time. They fit in with their pagan neighbors by worshipping their gods.
            When offered the choice between the cross and worshipping a false god, like Israel you often choose the latter.  Rather than facing the world’s rejection, you put the ways of the world before God.  In the way you view sex; in way you view money and possessions you follow the world instead of him.
            However, Jesus did not.  We learn, “Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”  Jesus would only serve the Father.  He was making his way to the cross and he would not turn aside to pursue an easier way that was sinful.
            Jesus Christ was in the world to be the Servant of the Lord that Israel never was.  He had come to be the faithful Son that Israel never was.  Four times in this Gospel Jesus predicts his passion.  In chapter twenty he tells the disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” And then just a few verses later he adds, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
            Because Jesus was the faithful Son and Servant of the Lord he received God’s judgment in your place.  He has won forgiveness for you and made it possible for you to be sons and daughters of God. He has set forth the way you are to walk as you live by the word of God; as you do not put God to the test; as you worship and serve God alone.
            Jesus told the disciples ahead of time that the way of the cross led to the glory of the resurrection.  On that mountain the devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory if he would just fall down and worship him. Jesus obtained that and more, but he did so by obeying the Father’s will. After his resurrection, Jesus stood on a mountain in Galilee.  He told the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
            Through baptism Jesus’ Spirit has given you the status of being sons and daughters of God.  You are now called by Jesus to follow him – to walk in his ways.  As our Lord talked about his death he said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.
It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
            Following Jesus means struggling against sin.  It means seeking to fear, love and trust in God above all things in what you do and say.  It means loving your neighbor as yourself in what you do and say.  Jesus Christ did this in his temptation in the wilderness as he overcame the devil.  He did it all the way to the cross.  Now in the risen Lord we find forgiveness for the ways we fail. And by his Spirit he gives us strength to do and say those things that are only possible because of what he has made us to be.



Friday, February 16, 2018

Commemoration of Philip Melanchthon

Today we remember and give thanks to God for Philip Melanchthon, Confessor.   Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) was a brilliant student of the classics and a humanist scholar. In 1518 he was appointed to teach along with Martin Luther at the University of Wittenberg. At Luther's urging, Melanchthon began teaching theology and Scripture in addition to his courses in classical studies. In April of 1530, Emperor Charles V called an official meeting between the representative of Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism, hoping to effect a meeting of minds between two opposing groups. Since Luther was at that time under papal excommunication and an imperial ban, Melanchthon was assigned the duty of being the chief Lutheran representative at this meeting. He is especially remembered and honored as the author of the Augsburg Confession, which was officially presented by the German princes to the emperor on June 25, 1530.  It is the defining confessional document of Lutheranism.

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, we praise You for the service of Philipp Melanchthon to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church in the renewal of its life in fidelity to Your Word and promise.  Raise up in these gray and latter days faithful teachers and pastors, inspired by Your Spirit, whose voice will give strength to Your Church and proclaim the ongoing reality of Your kingdom; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Commemoration of Philemon and Onesimus

Today we remember and give thanks for Philemon and Onesimus.  Philemon was a prominent  first-century Christian who owned a slave named Onesimus. Although the name "Onesimus" means "useful," Onesimus proved himself "useless" when he ran away from his master and perhaps even stole from him (Philemon 18).  Somehow Onesimus came into contact with the apostle Paul while the latter was in prison, and through Paul's proclamation of the Gospel he became a Christian. After confessing to the apostle that he was a runaway slave, he was directed by Paul to return to his master and become "useful" again. In order to help pave the way for Onesimus' peaceful return home, Paul sent him on his way with a letter addressed to Philemon, a letter in which he urged Philemon to forgive his slave for having run away and "to receive him as you would receive me" (v. 17), "no longer as a slave, but as a beloved brother" (v. 16). The letter bears witness to the power of the Gospel as it unites people in Christ and forges the one people of God and was eventually recognized by the Church as one of the books of the New Testament. 

Collect of the Day:
Lord God, heavenly Father, You sent Onesimus back to Philemon as a brother in Christ, freeing him from his slavery to sin through the preaching of the apostle Paul.  Cleanse the depths of sin within our souls and bid resentment cease for past offenses, that, by your mercy, we may be reconciled to our brothers and sisters and our lives will reflect your peace; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sermon for Ash Wednesday - Joel 2:12-19

                                           Ash Wednesday
                                                                                           Joel 2:12-19

     “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!”  That’s how the prophet Joel began this chapter.
     Joel writes because a disaster was engulfing the land.  A locust plague was descending upon them.  At the beginning of the book he had written, “What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.” The prophet described the insects as a foreign invader: “For a nation has come up against my land, powerful and beyond number; its teeth are lions' teeth, and it has the fangs of a lioness. It has laid waste my vine and splintered my fig tree; it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down; their branches are made white.”
     Joel described this event as “the day of the Lord.”  He wrote, “Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.”  The prophet describes it in this way because the locust plague was not just a case of “bad luck.”  It wasn’t one of those random and uncontrollable things we can’t explain.  Instead it had a very specific source and a very specific cause. 
     Yahweh had sent the locust plague.  And he had done it as an act of judgment against the sin of the nation.  This becomes crystal clear at the beginning of our text as Joel writes, “‘Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
     Unlike other Old Testament books written by prophets, we don’t really learn anything about how the nation had sinned.  That’s one of things that makes Joel difficult to date.  The only thing that is absolutely clear is that they had.
     This lack of specificity makes Joel a perfect text for Ash Wednesday.  Today begins the penitential season of Lent.  During Lent we prepare again to observe the remembrance of our Lord Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday.  We prepare to remember that Jesus Christ offered himself as the sacrifice for our sin. The season of Christmas was fun and Epiphany was nice.  But now things get real.  Now the church year rivets our attention on the reason the Son of God entered into our world and revealed his glory in our midst.  He did it because of sin.  He did it because of your sin.
     The book of Joel doesn’t provide any details about how the nation had sinned.  It simply calls the people to repentance because of their sin.  We just know that it had happened.  And that general character is very helpful for us tonight. Because the Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent confront our sin in all the ways it is present in our life.
     It leads us back to the Ten Commandments for they are the diagnostic tool God has provided for identifying sin.  Do your actions show that you are putting other things before God?  Do you call upon God’s name to praise him, or only when you need help?  Are you faithfully receiving the Means of Grace – God’s word – in all of its forms?  Do you obey those in authority over you?  Do you help your neighbor?  Do you look at pornography in order to lust? Do you take what is not yours?  Do you gossip and hurt the reputation of others? Do you covet the blessings and life that others possess?
     There it is. There is the sin that brings the day of the Lord for you.  And in the Old Testament we learn that the day of the Lord is not just about locust plagues.  Instead, every act of judgment – every “day of the Lord” – points forward to the Day of the Lord. They all point to the Last Day and the day of judgment.  They point to the judgment and damnation that all sinners will receive from the holy God.
     However, that is not what God wants to happen.  God takes no delight in the death of a sinner. Instead, what God wants is to save.  This is grounded in his very character and being.  We hear God say in our text, “‘Yet even now," declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”
     God confronts us in our sin.  He calls us to repentance – to return to him.  And he doesn’t want just words.  He doesn’t want people just to go through the motions.  He wants us confess our sin; to regret our sin; and to return to him.  Joel tells us that the reason we can do so is because “he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”
     This statement, that Yahweh is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” repeats over and over again in the Old Testament.  It is a refrain that runs all through God’s revelation before Christ.  It says that God gives us what we don’t deserve.  He doesn’t wish to be angry at sinners.  He never runs out of faithful love. Why can you return to God in repentance? Because this is the God who meets you. This is the God who wants you to return so that he can forgive you.
     God is very serious when it comes to forgiveness.  The holy God wants to be gracious, merciful and loving toward you a sinner.  He is gracious, merciful and loving.  But he is also the holy God. For you the sinner, this holiness is like the radioactive heart of a nuclear power plant. To come into this presence can only result in horrible death.
     Because this is so, God did something to make it possible for you to be with him.  He the holy God sent his holy Son to become flesh – to become man.  Through the incarnation, Jesus Christ – true God and true man – lived in our world.  As we will see on Sunday he was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sinning.  He remained sinless in obedience to the Father.  He went as the sinless sacrifice – the Lamb without any blemish – to the cross for you.  God laid upon him your sin – he made him who knew no sin to be sin – in order to take away your sin.  Now through faith and baptism you receive the forgiveness that he won.  You have been clothed with Christ and when God looks at you he does not see your sin.  Instead, he sees Jesus Christ’s holiness and righteousness.
     God says, “‘Yet even now return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”  We repent and confess. We return to God in the confidence that God’s gracious, merciful and loving character has caused him to act in Jesus Christ so that we can be reconciled to the holy God; so that we can come to him without fear because in Christ he has taken our sin away.
     We come to him knowing that he the living God does not give us judgment.  Instead, in Christ he gives us life.  Jesus died on Good Friday’s cross.  He was buried in a tomb.  But then on the third day, God raised him from the dead. Through the work of the Holy Spirit he transformed that body so that it cannot die again. 
     The risen Lord has now ascended into heaven.  And it is as the ascended Lord that he poured forth the Holy Spirit.  He did this on Pentecost in fulfillment of Joel’s words at the end of this chapter. On the day of Pentecost Peter said, “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.’”
     You now live in those last days. The Spirit of Christ who transformed Jesus’ body in the resurrection is going to work that same transformation for you.  He will do it on the Last Day – the final Day of the Lord – when Jesus Christ returns in glory. 
     Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, the Day of the Lord is no longer something to be feared.  It is instead something for which we long.  We pray, “Come Lord Jesus!” We can pray this because in Christ we have seen that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
     And while we wait, we repent.  We confess our sin. We repent and turn to God.  We listen to his invitation: “Yet even now return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Because of Jesus Christ we return to the LORD our God in confidence, for he has demonstrated beyond all doubt that he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.