Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sermon for Trinity 6 - Rom 6:3-11

                                                                                    Trinity 6
                                                                                    Rom 6:3-11

            It will probably not surprise you to hear that I love to study the Bible.  It is after all, God’s Word. It is his revelation in which we meet Jesus Christ our Savior and learn about how we live according to God’s will in response to the salvation of the Gospel. 
            And then on top of that, the study of Scripture that we expect of our pastors involves the use of the languages Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. It involves learning about the history, geography and culture of the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern world.  It involves learning about how Christians, both ancient and modern, have interpreted the Scriptures.
            Now for me, this is fun. As I have described in the past, I figured out quickly in high school that languages, history and literature were my strengths and that math and science were not.  Don’t get me wrong, I got A’s, but I didn’t enjoy it and clearly I was never going to excel in it. And so I headed down the path that has led me here.
            As one of my favorite professors and now friend likes to say: “The Bible is a big book.”  There so much stuff in there that you will never run out of new things to learn. At the same time, I have found that some of the most interesting discoveries are not information that is completely new.  Instead, it is learning that something you assumed you knew – something straightforward and basic – isn’t what you thought it was.
            That is the case for our text for today from Romans chapter 6.  Now we grow up in the Church confessing every Sunday in the Nicene Creed that there is “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”  We learn in the Small Catechism that baptism, “works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this as the words and promises of God declare.”
            It’s understandable then, that when we come to a text about baptism we are primed to read it as if that it is talking about the forgiveness of sins. The problem is that not all verses about baptism are talking about the forgiveness of sins – at least not directly. For sure this truth is always present and can be assumed. But sometimes this is not the thing that the biblical writer is calling our attention to – not directly.
            And that is the case with our text this morning from Romans chapter 6.  In our text Paul begins by saying, “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.”
             Now without a doubt this text does describe why baptism gives the forgiveness of sins.  Paul says that to be baptized is to be baptized into Jesus Christ’s death.  In fact, the apostle says that to be baptized is to be buried with Christ. Through baptism you have shared in Christ’s death for you. This was a death – a sacrifice – that he made for you.  It was a death in your place.  As Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” By sharing in Jesus’ death through baptism, the saving benefits have become yours. This means that you have received … the forgiveness of sins.  You know it for sure. Why? Because you have been baptized!  Christ has combined water with his Word to give you something objective you can hold onto in faith.
            However, that’s not specifically the thing Paul is talking about here.  Instead, to understand his point, we need to go back up to the first two verses of the chapter that are not included in our text.  Near the end of chapter five Paul had written, “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”  Now one could be inclined to say: “This is great! I like to sin and God likes to forgive! This is perfect!”
            In response to this impulse that all sinners share, Paul writes, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”  In our text, Paul is not talking about the forgiveness of sins, but instead about living in ways that don’t sin.  Paul says that we have died to sin because we have died with Christ. But it’s not just a death that has occurred.  There has also been a resurrection.
            Jesus Christ died on Good Friday. But on Easter God raised him from the dead. And it’s the resurrection that really drives what Paul is saying in our text.  The apostle says, “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.”  Did you notice what the apostle just did there?  He said that Jesus died and you have died with Jesus through baptism. Then he said Christ was raised from the dead. And so we expect that the next thing he will say is that we too will be raised from the dead.  But instead he says, “we too might walk in newness of life.”
            Paul isn’t talking about the future.  He’s talking about right now.  This “newness of life” is what is what you already have now because you are “in Christ.”  It is the forgiveness and salvation you have because of Jesus.  But in the setting of what Paul is talking about it also includes the way we live. And this fact is tied to Jesus’ resurrection. For Paul leaves no doubt that your baptism also means that you will share in Jesus resurrection.  He goes on to say in the next verse: “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.”
            In his letter to the Romans, Paul doesn’t show you all of his cards as at once.  It’s not until chapter eight that he reveals a key point that runs throughout his thinking. There he writes: “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.” Paul says that the Spirit who raised Jesus Christ is in you.  How do you know?  You’ve been baptized!  It is the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, and he is going to do the same thing to your body on the Last Day.
            What does this mean for us right now?  Paul says in our text: “We know that our old man was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”  Pauls says that the old man was crucified with Christ in under to nullify the work of sin in our body – and the purpose of this is for us no longer to be slaves to sin.
            This isn’t only about death.  But it’s also about life – the resurrection life of Christ worked by the Spirit.  Paul says at the end of our text, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Notice how Paul returns again to the resurrection of Jesus, and how the resurrection becomes the basis for how we now live.
            Now you are probably sitting there thinking: “Yeah, but pastor it’s not that simple. I am still messing up in sin.  I still find myself doing stuff I don’t want to do, and failing to do the things I should.”  You are right. And Paul knew it too.  That’s why in the verse after our text he writes, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”
            Paul doesn’t talk like this life that avoids sin is automatic.  And remember what I said earlier about how Paul doesn’t show all of his cards at once.  If here in chapter six Paul announces freedom from sinning because through baptism we have shared in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in chapter seven he deals with the fact that sin is still present and offers an ongoing challenge.  Paul writes the famous words in chapter seven: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
            However Paul’s discussion is moving towards chapter eight.  And there Paul finally comes right out and talks about the Holy Spirit. There he says, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
            Paul has told us two truths.  He has told us that through baptism we have shared in the saving death of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit who will raise our bodies on the Last Day is already at work in us now – the power of Christ’s resurrection is at work in our lives today.  And he has told us that we also still have the flesh – the fallen sinful nature that is not yet completely gone and can still drag us down into sinful thoughts, words and deeds.
            The question then for us as Christians is what we are going to do with these truths.  Are we going to just excuse sin?  Are we going to assume that falling in sin is just to be expected? That’s not what the apostle thinks.  He says, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
            Paul says that by the Spirit we are to put to death the deeds of the body.  Make no mistake. The inspired apostle acknowledges that there is a struggle.  He doesn’t deny that failure occurs.  But he refuses to believe that falling into sin is always inevitable or unavoidable. And that is because the Spirit who raised Jesus Christ from the dead is at work in you now. 
            Our life as Christians is therefore very simple.  When we fall into sin we return in faith to our baptism, for there we have the assurance of forgiveness because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We view sin as something that we will need to struggle against.  In faith we believe God’s promise that through baptism the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us so that we can put to death the sin present in us and instead live in faith toward God and love towards our neighbor.
            Few people have understood this more profoundly than Martin Luther who wrote in the Large Catechism: “Therefore let all Christians regard their baptism as the daily garment that they are to wear all the time. Every day they should be found in faith and with its fruits, suppressing the old creature and growing up in the new. If we want to be Christians, we must practice the work that makes us Christians, and let those who fall away return to it.”



Friday, July 21, 2017

Commemoration of Ezekiel, Prophet

Today we remember and give thanks for the prophet Ezekiel.  Ezekiel, son of Buzi, was a priest, called by God to be a prophet to the exiles during the Babylonian captivity (Ez. 1:3). In 597 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army brought the king of Judah and thousands of the best citizens of Jerusalem—including Ezekiel—to Babylon (2 Kgs 24:8–16). Ezekiel’s priestly background profoundly stamped his prophecy, as the holiness of God and the Temple figure prominently in his messages (for example, Ezekiel 9–10 and 40–48). From 593 B.C. to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 587 B.C., Ezekiel prophesied the inevitability of divine judgment on Jerusalem, on the exiles in Babylon, and on seven nations that surrounded Israel (Ezekiel 1–32). Jerusalem would fall, and the exiles would not quickly return, as a just consequence of their sin. Once word reached Ezekiel that Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, his message became one of comfort and hope. Through him God promised that his people would experience future restoration, renewal and revival in the coming Messianic kingdom (Ezekiel 33–48). Much of the strange symbolism of Ezekiel’s prophecies was later employed in the Revelation to St. John.

Collect of the Day:
 Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Ezekiel, you continued the prophetic pattern of teaching your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness.  Grant that your Church may see in your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Commemoration of Elijah, Prophet

Today we remember and give thanks for the prophet Elijah.  Elijah, whose name means, “My God is Yahweh [the Lord],” prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel, mostly during the reign of Ahab (874–853 B.C.). Ahab, under the influence of his pagan wife Jezebel, had encouraged the worship of Baal throughout his kingdom, even as Jezebel sought to get rid of the worship of Yahweh. Elijah was called by God to denounce this idolatry and to call the people of Israel back to the worship Yahweh as the only true God (as he did in 1 Kgs 18:20–40). Elijah was a rugged and imposing figure, living in the wilderness and dressing in a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt (2 Kgs 1:8). He was a prophet mighty in word and deed. Many miracles were done through Elijah, including the raising of the dead (1 Kgs 17:17–24), and the effecting of a long drought in Israel (1 Kgs 17:1). At the end of his ministry, he was taken up into heaven as Elisha, his successor, looked on (2 Kgs 2:11). Later on the prophet Malachi proclaimed that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah (Mal 4:5–6), a prophecy that was fulfilled in the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist (Mt 11:14). 

Collect of the Day: Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Elijah, you continued the prophetic pattern of teaching your people the truth faith and demonstrating through miracles your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness.  Grant that your Church may see in your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity - Lk 5:1-11

                                                                                    Trinity 5
                                                                                    Lk 5:1-11

            Televisions shows have undergone something of a revolution during the last several years. The continued development of online capabilities allowed Netflix to move from being a service that sent you DVD’s in the mail, to one that has movies online.  But the bigger change occurred as they began to produce their own television series that are only available online through their service.  Amazon has also followed suit, and now it too produces television shows that can only be viewed through them.
            I was skeptical when I first heard that this was the goal for Netflix and Amazon. But I have to say they have pulled it off.  I have found “House of Cards,” “The Man in the High Castle” and “Stranger Things” to be very interesting.
            At the same time, this new way of producing and seeing television shows has created something of a problem.  When a new season of a show comes out, it’s all there at once.  Every single episode is there for you to watch. When people get into a series, they often “binge watch.”  On more than one occasion I’ve told myself, “Oh, I can stay up a little later and watch another episode.” You wait for the new season to come out, and then in a week you’ve watched all of it. 
            While that provides instant gratification, it does create a problem.  You then have to wait a long time before the next season comes out. For example, the second season of “The Man in the High Castle” was released on Dec. 16 of 2016, but the third season is not going to come out until late 2017. And if the series has a complicated plot, by the time the new season comes out I can’t remember all the details of what has happened thus far.  In fact, I will probably watch the second season again, before the new one comes out.
            We have a similar problem this morning with our Gospel lesson.  We hear about Jesus’ call of Peter, James and John as he works the miracle of a catch of fish.  But to really understand what is happening, we need to catch up on the details of what has just occurred in the previous chapter.  Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist, and at his baptism the Holy Spirit descended upon him.  Then after he had resisted the devils temptations we are told, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.”
            The next thing that happened was that Jesus taught in the synagogue at Nazareth.  There he read these words from the prophet 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 release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”  Jesus said that he was the fulfillment of these words. And then Jesus went and showed that this was the case.
            We are told next that the people who heard him teaching “were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.”  Jesus showed he had the authority to release people from the bondage of sin as he then cast a demon out of man.  The demon cried out, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked the demon and cast him out.
            Then Jesus went to the house of Simon Peter, where his mother-in-law was sick with a fever.  Jesus rebuked the fever, and it too left her. We learn that at sunset many sick people were brought to Jesus and he healed them. He cast out more demons, and rebuked them as they cried out, “You are the Son of God!”  The people wanted to prevent Jesus from leaving, but he told them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”
            When we know all of this, it’s not hard to understand why in our Gospel lesson the crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear the word of God.  And it’s also not hard to understand why Peter was open to the Lord’s request to let him use Peter’s boat as a platform for teaching.
            Our Lord saw Peter and his companions cleaning their nets after a failed night of fishing.  He got into Peter’s boat and asked him to put out from shore a little so that he could sit in the boat and teach from the crowd on the shore line. And then, after Peter had heard Jesus teach the word of God, Jesus made an odd request.
            He said to Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Now Peter knew his stuff.  He knew that this was the exact opposite of what any competent fisherman would do.  He answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”  And as we heard in the reading of the Gospel lesson the nets took in such a large catch of fish that they began to break. They filled not only Peter’s boat, but also that of James and John with such a weight of fish that they began to sink.
            What happened next is the really striking moment in our text.  We hear: “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’”  Peter sees the miracle that Jesus has worked, and he is overwhelmed. When we keep in mind what has just happened in the Gospel his awe becomes all the more understandable.  It’s the catch of fish – but it’s the catch of fish as the thing that caps off everything else.
            And it’s just too much.  Peter senses that he is in the presence of God at work in an incredible way. And all this does it to make him perceive his own sinfulness – the fact he that has no business being in the presence of God.  Peter’s response teaches us about our own sin. We like to minimize it – those words that hurt another person’s reputation were only said in jest; that anger at another person is really no big deal; that choice to blow off church or devotions is only about how busy we are.
            But that doesn’t cut it – not when you are dealing with the holy and almighty God.  Peter’s words prompt us to consider the sin that really is present in our life and the consequences that it has apart from Jesus Christ.
            Yet remember what we learned about why Jesus had come.  He had been anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism.  He had declared that these words of Isaiah were fulfilled in him: “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 release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”  Jesus did not come to scourge frightened sinners.  He came to release them from bondage to sin, death and the devil.  He came to give forgiveness to repentant sinners.
            Jesus is the Son of God who cast fear into the demons. But into order to win forgiveness he came to suffer and die for you. As our Lord told his followers after his resurrection: “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.”
            In our text, Jesus says to Peter, “Do not be afraid.”
Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead for you, so that there is now no need for fear.  Through water and the Word in Holy Baptism he washed away your sins and made you a saint – a forgiven son or daughter of God.  There is no need for fear. Jesus the crucified and risen Lord just said to you: “I forgive you all your sins.”  Jesus has released you!  His word continues to be one with authority.  It does what it says because he is the Lord. If he says that you are forgiven and free, then you are!
            Now you might be inclined to stop right there.  And if you are all about you, it is indeed the place to stop. But Jesus doesn’t.  Instead, he said to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”  Then when they had brought their boats to land, Peter, along with James and John, left everything and followed Jesus. 
            The forgiveness and salvation our Lord has given to us sets us in motion to follow Jesus in the life of a disciple. The first thing this means for us is really simple.  Jesus suffered and died to forgive you. And so now, you forgive others. This means that it doesn’t matter that what your spouse, or brother or sister did was really dumb and hurtful.  You don’t get to hold onto that wrong and hold it against them. You don’t get to keep bringing it up in order to score points against them. Instead, Jesus’ forgiveness for you means that you do the opposite. You let it go.  You don’t bring it up.  You live with others in the forgiveness that Jesus Christ has given to you.
            And then let’s face it. There’s something else our text sets before us that is just impossible to ignore.  Jesus said to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”  Our Lord called Peter to follow him and to be involved in catching men.  Now Jesus chose Peter as an apostle.  He didn’t do that to you.  He didn’t do that to me. 
            But Jesus has given you the good news of the Gospel.  He has given you the good news that gives you release from sin and the devil.  He has given you the good news that frees you from the fear of death because you know that Jesus Christ has already risen from the dead.  Death has been defeated in Christ!  It doesn’t get the last word, because Jesus already had it.  And so if you die, not only will you be with the Lord, but he will also raise up your body on the Last Day.  Death can’t win.
            You know this. You believe this.  But how can it stop there? This is not just rescue and release for you.  It is rescue and release for every person – for those friends and acquaintances in your life.  And so our Lord’s gift of the Gospel is the gift we share with others.
            This happens in different ways, both big and small.  It happens in the way you live – as people who know that you are a Christian see your love and care for others.  It happens as others share with you their hurts and hardships, and you have the opportunity to tell them how big a difference Jesus Christ makes in your life.  It happens as you tell others about how much your church and what takes place there on Sunday mean to you.
            This week I learned about a resource that can be extremely helpful as we seek to do this.  It’s titled, “A Simple Explanation of Christianity.”  It is the Small Catechism set in a visually attractive format.  They are not expensive – less than 50 cents a copy.  We have ordered them and will place one copy in every mailbox. Take that copy and think about one person to whom you can give it. And once you have done that and found it’s not that hard, I pray that you will think about one more person to whom you can pass it on.  I promise you that we won’t run out of copies for you to give to others.
            We do these things to share the Gospel, for the very same reason that Peter lets down the nets in our text this morning.  He said to Jesus that he did it “at your word.”  Peter did it because of faith in Jesus’ word – the same word that is described as the “word of God” in the first verse of our text.  Our assurance of forgiveness and our motivation to share the Gospel both are derived from God’s Word in which Jesus assures us that we have no reason to fear, because he has released us from sin, death and the devil.