Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Sermon for the second mid-week Lent service - Fourth Commandment

 

                                                                            Mid-Lent  2                                                                                                                4th Commandment

                                                                             3/3/21

 

            During Holy Week, Jesus was under constant attack from his opponents, as they tried to trip him up and get him to say something they could use against him.  After Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees took another run at Jesus as they sent a lawyer with a question to test him. The lawyer asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

            Jesus said that the Law and Prophets could be summarized in two brief statements: Love God with all that you are. Love your neighbor as yourself.  This parallels what we find in the arrangement of the Ten Commandments.  The first three commandments – the “first table” of the law as it is often called – are all about God.  The next seven commandments – the “second table” – are all about our neighbor.

            As we move from the Third to the Fourth Commandment, we pass over this division.  The Fourth Commandments proves to be the perfect transition between the two.  On the one hand, it teaches about how we are relate to other people, and so it definitely falls on the side of the commandments the deal with our neighbor.  However, these people are not just anybody. They are in fact God’s representatives, and so the Fourth Commandment also calls to mind the first three commandments.

            In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther says that of the commandments in the second table of the law, the first is the greatest.  He says, “God has given this walk of life, fatherhood and motherhood, a special position of honor, higher than that of any other walk of life under it.”  He says this because parents function as God’s representative with their children.  Luther adds: “For God has exalted this walk of life above all others; indeed, he has set it up in his place on earth.”

            The Small Catechism explains this commandment by saying that we are not to “despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”  Children need to recognize that it is God who has placed their parents over them. When they obey they parents, they are obeying God. They are not to disrespect their parents or cause them to become angry due to disobedience or the way they speak to them.

            Naturally, children need to serve and obey their parents. But beyond this, they need to honor, love and cherish them. They need to recognize the great blessing God has given to them in their parents. This is too easily overlooked and forgotten, and so we have the Fourth Commandment to remind us of this fact. Luther comments in the Large Catechism, “God knows well this perversity of the world, and therefore, by means of the commandments, he reminds and impels all people to think of what their parents have done for them.  Then they realize that they have received their bodies and lives from their parents and have been nourished and nurtured by them when otherwise they would have perished a hundred times in their own filth.”

            Of course, parents never cease to be parents, even as children turn into adults.  And so the Fourth Commandment is something that guides our actions as we deal with our parents who are becoming older.  We honor, love and cherish our parents by caring for them as they become less able to care for themselves. St. Paul wrote to Timothy and said, “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.”  Luther echoes this thought when he wrote in the Large Catechism, “you are also to honor them by your actions, that is, with your body and possessions, serving them, helping them and caring for them when they are old, sick, feeble, or poor; all this you should do not only cheerfully, but also with humility and reverence, doing it as if for God.”

            But the Fourth Commandment does not only provide direction for children.  It also tells parents what they must do.  Parents have been placed as God’s representatives, and so they have duties that they are to carry out.  Obviously they must provide for the physical well being of their children. Yet Luther teaches that not only are they to do this, but they are “especially to bring them up to the praise and honor of God.”  In fact he adds, “Therefore let all people know that it is their chief duty - at the risk of losing divine grace – first to bring up their children in the fear and knowledge of God.” If you are parent, every other activity and interest with which you involve your child is meaningless when compared with raising them to be Christians who know and practice the faith.

            Children and youth know that they do disobey their parents, and act in ways that prompt anger.  As adults, we recognize that we did this as well. What is more, those of us who are parents recognize the ways we have failed to carry out the responsibility God has given us in raising our children.  We have not lived as if raising our children in the fear and knowledge of the Lord is our most important job.  We have placed other things ahead of this, and invested far more time, money and energy with our children into these things.  I will give only one example because it is probably the greatest way this occurs – sports – but there are certainly others.

            We have broken the Fourth Commandment, but Jesus Christ did not.  He did not as he lived with his earthly parents, Mary and Joseph.  When Jesus was twelve, they accidentally left him behind in Jerusalem when they had gone up for the Passover.  After finding him in the temple, Luke tells us, “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.”

            Yet as the One who is true God and true man, Jesus Christ stood in another and far greater relationship.  When Mary and Joseph found Jesus he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?”  God the Father had sent the Son of God into the world in order to carry out his saving will.  He has sent the incarnate Son to be the suffering Servant – the One who would bear our sins and receive God’s judgment.

            Our Lord Jesus obeyed the Father’s will and was faithful to it.  In the Garden of Gethesemane as he was about the be betrayed into the suffering and death of the cross, he prayed: My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath – the wrath that we deserved because of our sin. By his death he atoned for our sin, so that now we can stand before God forgiven. And then on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  In the resurrection God has given us victory over death, for we will share in our Lord’s resurrection on the Last Day.

            This victory that is ours through the Gospel enables us to obey the authorities God has placed as we keep the Fourth Commandment – and also to disobey if they tell us to violate God’s Word and will.  The Small Catechism’s explanation says that we are not to “despise or anger our parents and other authorities.” As we live in the world, chief among those other authorities is the civil government.

            God’s word is clear that we are to obey the government.  The apostle Paul told the Romans: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”  Paul went on to say that we are to pay taxes: “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

            Paul tells us that we are to pray for our government and leaders.  He write, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” We do this every Sunday in the Prayer of the Church, and you should be doing it in your own prayer life each day.

            The government is what Luther calls God’s “left hand rule.”  His “right hand rule” occurs through the Gospel as it is proclaimed by the Church. There is no force or coercion here, but only the work of the Spirit through the word about Christ. God’s left hand rule takes place through the law as it is imposed by the government.  Because we live in fallen world where sinners will sin wherever they can, the government is means by which God represses and controls sin so that we can live in peace and safety. Even those who don’t believe in God become God’s means by which he does this.

            The peace, security and order God provides to us through the government is a great blessing that we should not take for granted. Wherever you see a breakdown of government – or where the government refuses to carry out its duty – you see the anarchy, chaos and destruction that follows.  You don’t have to look to some Third World country to observe this.  Think about the scenes that played out in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, or what we saw this summer in riots inspired by Antifa and Black Lives Matter.

            When the government does what God has given it to do, it is a great blessing from God.  But in these times, we also see that the government can be a force that promotes things that violate God’s will. It can turn its coercive power towards the promotion of sin and evil.  When it seeks to force us to accept and take part in this sin, then we must disobey the government. We say with the apostle Peter, “We must obey God rather than men.”

            We must not be na├»ve.  Powerful forces in our culture are seeking to promote an understanding of sexuality that violates God’s will. Our culture seeks to force acceptance of homosexuality and so-called “transgenderism,” and to eradicate the biblical worldview. There are those who want to use the government as the tool achieve this. The “Equality Act” currently being promoted by our president and his party is a powerful tool that, if passed, will be used to place Christians in a position where they must either deny what God’s Word says about these matters or face punishment and penalties.

            When the government tells us to disobey God’s word, we must disobey the government and be willing to suffer for the sake of the truth.  Our Lord’s suffering that we are preparing during Lent to remember provides the model for us. The apostle Peter wrote, “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

            If God wills, we follow in Jesus’ steps as we accept unjust suffering. We can do this because we know that by his death Christ has won forgiveness for us. We can do this because we know that on Easter Jesus rose from the dead. In Jesus’ resurrection, we have the confidence of the victory that has already been won. We can live in the certainty that through baptism this victory is already ours and that we will receive its consummation when the risen and ascended Lord returns in glory.  

 

 

 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Second Sunday in Lent - Reminiscere - Mt 15:21-28

 

                                                                                                Lent 2

                                                                                                Mt 15:21-28

                                                                                                2/28/21

 

            A great irony of our time is that we have more forms of communication than anyone has had in the history of the world. These means of communications are faster than anyone else has experienced. And at the same time, we have a greater ability to ignore communication directed to us.

            The number of means by which we can communicate today is hard to believe.  There is the phone, and since we all have cell phones, it is always there to be used. There are email and texting. There are the messenger components of Facebook, and Twitter.  There are Facetime, Skype, and Zoom.  These ways of communicating are basically instantaneous, and some of them even allow you to see the person with whom you are communicating.

            And yet, the nature of the communications also means that people have the ability to ignore and avoid your communication if they want to do.  To illustrate my point, let me compare the experience of my grandfathers when they were pastors with my own.  When they called someone on the phone, the phone rang and people answered the phone.  They did so because they didn’t know who was calling.

            Today, when I try to reach people, through any of these means of communication, they know exactly who is contacting them.  And so if they want to, they can ignore me, even as they continue to interact with all the other people they want. And I am not talking about people forgetting to reply to one message. It may surprise you to know, that some people don’t want to hear from their pastor.  They will choose to ignore multiple communications in several different formats.  One of the realities I have encountered is that if people want to ignore me, they can.

            In our Gospel lesson this morning, a woman from the area of Tyre and Sidon finds herself being ignored as she asks for help. The really surprising thing, is that it is our Lord Jesus who is ignoring her. Jesus’ behavior toward her seems almost shocking.  Yet in our text we have a reminder about God’s gracious act to include us in the salvation he has given. And we also learn an important truth about how God sometimes deals with us.

            Our text begins by saying, “And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.” Tyre and Sidon were located on the Mediterranean Sea, north of what had been Israel in the Old Testament.  Jesus has left Galilee and gone out of the area that was Jewish. He has done so because he has just had an attack from the Pharisees and scribes.

            Matthew tells us at the beginning of this chapter: Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 

Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.’”  Galilee is located about eighty miles from Jerusalem.  Travelling on foot, it takes about four days to get there. This was not a social call.  The Pharisees were seeking to attack Jesus as they took up a topic that was a very important part of their teaching – ritual washing.

            Jesus answered their challenge. But then he did what he does on several occasions after responding to attacks by his opponents: he withdraws.  Jesus is following the Father’s timing.  He knows when he is to die, and he responds to events in a way that make sure that he fulfills that will.

            Next, we learn, “And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’” When Matthew wants to get out attention – when there is something important or surprising that takes place – he introduces it by saying, “behold!”. 

            This event certainly was surprising.  Matthew tells us that a woman from that region came to Jesus asking for help.  Now Tyre and Sidon were Gentile territory – it was pagan territory and always had been.  It has been the home of Jezebel in the Old Testament.  Matthew evokes this pagan past and its negative associations by calling the woman a “Canaanite.” Historically the term was anachronistic.  It would be a little like calling a woman from Alabama a “Confederate woman.”  But it conveys the negative things that came to mind for Jews when they spoke about the area of Tyre and Sidon.

            The surprise was that this woman approached Jesus and said, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” The words, “Have mercy on me!” were a plea for help.  Then she called Jesus “Lord” and identified him as the “Son of David.” “Lord” in the Gospel is the language of faith, and even more shocking is that the woman referred to Jesus as the “Son of David” – a term that identified the Messiah.

            It is clear that word about Jesus, the miracle working teacher, had spread far and wide.  In chapter four Matthew tells us, “And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.”  Just before the arrival of the Pharisees, Jesus’ healing ministry had drawn great attention in Galilee, an area that bordered the region of Tyre and Sidon.  Matthew says, “And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.”

            This woman had heard the word about Jesus. She had heard about his healing miracles. She had heard that he was the Son of David – the Messiah. And so as Jesus came into her area, she approached Jesus, proclaiming who he was, and asked him to help her afflicted daughter.

            And what was Jesus’ response?  He ignored her. In fact his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” Jesus then said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  In the presence of the woman, Jesus said that he wasn’t sent for her.

            Of course, it’s not just the woman who is included in that statement.  It takes in pretty much all of us. Our Lord’s statement is a reminder that he came as Israel’s Messiah.  We were not included in God’s covenant with Israel. And yet, as God had told Abraham, he worked through Israel in order to bring salvation to all people.  Our inclusion in this salvation as Gentiles is yet another example of God’s grace.  He gives us what we don’t deserve, because of his great love.

            Undeterred, the woman came and knelt before Jesus, saying, “Lord, help me.”  She approached in humble submission as she again addressed Jesus as “Lord” and asked him to help her daughter. Yet instead of helping Jesus said, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” He called her a dog who was unworthy of his help. After all, she wasn’t part of Israel’s descendants.

            First Jesus ignored the woman.  Now he insulted her.  In her interaction with Jesus she had received no help.  Instead, Jesus had only rejected her.  Sometimes, that is the way it feels as we approach God.  We face challenges in life.  There is illness, or family members are experiencing difficulties, or there is loneliness, or we face uncertainty about the future.  We do what God’s Word tells us to do. We approach God in prayer and ask for help. And yet things don’t get any better. Or perhaps they even get worse.

            At those times it can feel like God is ignoring us, or has abandoned us, or is even opposed to us. These experiences can lead us to doubt God, as we struggle to understand why he is treating us this way.  We may become angry with God and face the temptation to give up on him.

            It would have been understandable if the woman, after being insulted in this way left.  But she didn’t.  Instead she replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.”  She had such great faith in what this Lord, the Son of David, could do that she said even his left overs were enough to help her daughter.  When Jesus heard this he replied, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And we learn that her daughter was healed instantly.

            Jesus praises the woman’s great faith.  She had heard the word about Jesus, and she believed it. When he preached on this text, Martin Luther said the word she had heard is “a true Gospel and word of grace. This is the source of the woman’s faith, for if she had not believed, she would not have run after him.”  She came to Jesus. She addressed him as Lord and called him Israel’s Messiah.  She begged him for help. When she was ignored and seemed to be rebuffed, she returned yet more fervently. And when Jesus called her a dog, she confessed that Jesus’ power was so great that even the smallest portion from him was more than sufficient.

            There are times when this is how God deals with us. He does so in order to lead us to a deeper and more committed faith – a faith that will produce even more fruit. We want the life of faith to be easy. But any coach knows that athletes do not improve by remaining comfortable. Instead, they must be pushed so that they become uncomfortable. That is when growth and improvement take place.  Our Lord leads us to a deeper and more mature faith by allowing us to pass through these experiences. In this way he is exercising us in faith.  He is equipping us to be people who are more ready to resist the attacks of the devil.  He is developing us so that we can bear even more fruit as we love and serve our neighbor.

            When it seems that God is ignoring us or even against us, we must cling in faith to what God has revealed about himself in his word. Even when our experiences seem to contradict this Word, we must hold fast to what God has said in his Word.  Luther commented: “This was written for all our comfort and instruction, so that we may know how deeply God hides his grace from us, so that we would not consider him according to our perception and thinking but strictly according to his Word.”

            We can do this because Jesus Christ is the center of God’s Word.  It is all about Christ, and what God has done for us through Christ.  He is the One who died on the cross to reconcile us to God.  He has given us peace with God by winning the forgiveness of our sins.

            This he did on Good Friday. But never forget what Good Friday looked like on that day.  It looked like God had rejected Christ.  Indeed during the season of Lent we are preparing to hear Jesus cry out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

            However, what looked like God’s “no” on Good Friday turned to be God’s great “yes” on Easter.  By raising Jesus from the dead God demonstrated what Christ had won for us on the cross, and he defeated death as he began in Jesus the new life of the resurrection. Because we know Jesus the risen Lord, we are able to cling in faith to God’s word, and continue to trust in him in spite of the circumstances.  Because Jesus, risen from the dead is our Lord and God, we know that even the smallest portion of his power is sufficient to sustain and rescue us. 

            Like the Canaanite woman we continue to turn in faith to our Lord.  In his resurrection we have the guarantee of God’s love and care for us. We have his great “yes!” that overcomes every “no” we may experience. The “yes!” of Jesus’ resurrection  sustains us in faith until we share in the resurrection when Christ returns on the Last Day.

             

           

           

 

 

 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Sermon for first mid-week Lent service - First to Third Commandments

 

                                                                                    Mid-Lent 1                                                                                                                           1-3 Commandments

                                                                                    2/24/21

 

            In the preface to the Large Catechism Martin Luther wrote: “Nevertheless, each morning, and whenever else I have time, I do as a child who is being taught the catechism and I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc.  I must still read and study the catechism daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the catechism – and I also do so gladly.”

            When Luther talks about “the catechism,” he is referring to those basic and essential texts of the Christian faith: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the institution texts for Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar.  We often think that because they are basic, once we have covered them in Catechesis we are done with them.  After all, we know them.

            But Luther’s words remind us that while they are basic in that they are foundational, they are never basic in the sense of being easily learned and hence no longer requiring our attention.  This learning is not simply a matter of head knowledge.  As we consider the Ten Commandments, because of the old Adam in us, there is the continual need to hear this summary of God’s word and will. Through it the Holy Spirit reveals our sin, and through it the Holy Spirit represses the old Adam so that the new man in us can direct what we actually do.

            The First Commandment states, “You shall have no other gods.” This raises the obvious question: “What is a god?”  Luther insightfully summarizes the biblical answer when he writes in the Large Catechism: ‘A ‘god’ is the term for that to which we look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart.”  Or as Luther summarizes his point, “For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.”

            That which is most important to us; that which provides a sense of security, is our god.  Obviously there are many things in our lives which take on this role: money, wealth, material blessings, hobbies, sports, work … the list goes on and on.  We each must recognize and confess the things that take on this role – these false gods that are present in our life.

            When you arrive at the First Commandment, you need look no further for evidence of sin. And in this sin we find the reason that we are in Lent, preparing to remember our Lord’s sacrifice for us during Holy Week. Lent is a penitential season in which we place a special emphasis on the need to confess our sin and repent.  We do so because our sin is the reason that Jesus made his final trip to Jerusalem. As Jesus was approaching the city he yet again predicted his passion and resurrection.  Just a little later he explained the purpose of his death when he said: “Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Our Lord Jesus went to the cross in order to free us from sin.

            Instead of having others gods, the Small Catechism’s explanation of the First Commandment says: “We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.”  As we prepare to remember Jesus’ passion, we must recognize that this is what Jesus Christ did.  Our Lord is true God.  He is also true man, and he perfectly feared, loved and trusted in God for you.  As Hebrews tells us, he was tempted in all ways that we are, yet without sinning. He did what you cannot as he perfectly fulfilled God’s will.

            The Second Commandment states: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”  Luther comments in the Large Catechism, “Just as the First Commandment instructs the heart and teaches faith, so this leads us outward and directs the lips and tongues into a right relationship with God.”

            In the Small Catechism we confess that we are not to “lie or deceive by his name.”  We are not to use God’s name in order to support falsehood or wrong of any kind.  This is true in general in life. But it is especially true as we deal with God’s Word. The worst form of lying and deceiving by God’s Name is when individuals teach false doctrine they claim is God’s Word.     Our Lord Jesus confronted the Pharisees for the various ways they taught as doctrines the commandments of men. The apostles did this and emphasized the need for pastors to confront false teaching.  Paul told Timothy in his first letter, “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge persons not to teach any different doctrine.”  We are called as individuals to speak the truth of God’s Word when we hear false doctrine, and we should expect our pastor to point it out and teach us so that we recognize when God’s name is being used to teach something that is false – something that God’s Word does not say.

            At the same time, this commandment also teaches us that we are to use God’s name in the right way. The Small Catechism says that we are to “call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.”  Prayer is the First Commandment put into practice. We show that we fear, love and trust in God above all things by stopping and turning towards God in prayer.

            We call upon God in trouble, knowing that this is the very thing he has told us to do.  In the Psalms we read, “Call up me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”  We praise God simply because he is God, the Creator of all things.  We praise him for his saving work in Jesus Christ. And we give thanks to God for the blessings which he gives to us. Prayers of thanks are in themselves helpful because they make us pause and take account of how many blessings God has given to us. And having recognized them – gifts for bodily life in daily bread, and gifts for spiritual life in Christ and his Means of Grace we give thanks. The psalmist wrote: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”

            Jesus Christ is our model for prayer.  In particular, the Gospel of Luke emphasizes the role of prayer in the ministry of Jesus.  Despite his busy ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God and bringing it to those in need through his miricales of healing, Jesus took time out for prayer.  On a number of occasions we hear about how he went off by himself – how he withdrew in order to pray to the Father.  And of course, during Lent we are preparing to observe one of the most moving and famous occasions of prayer – that in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus was about to enter into the events of his passion.

            Prayer can happen at any time. The apostle Paul told the Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing.”  But experience in the life of faith going back to the Old Testament has shown that the people of God are most certain to have prayer as a regular and important part of their life when it is a scheduled part of life. We need regular times of prayer built into our daily

lives. 

            Martin Luther continued this belief and practice by setting forth in the Small Catechism’s Daily Prayers section direction for prayer at the beginning and close of the day, and before and after a meal. This provides a framework for prayer during the day. A Christian certainly needs to have a time of devotion during the day when there is the reading of Scripture and prayer. And in our life together in family and marriage, we will want to hear God’s Word and to pray together.

            Finally, the Third Commandment states: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”  Of course, we do not worship on the Sabbath, on Saturday.  Instead, the coming of Christ has meant that the Law of Moses – the Torah – no longer applies to us.  We now worship on Sunday because of the day that is the culmination of Lent and Holy Week.  We prepare to remember our Lord’s death on Good Friday. But as St. Paul asserts so powerfully in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, if Christ had not risen from the dead the whole thing would have been pointless.  And so all of Lent and Holy Week bring us to Easter – the resurrection and vindication of Jesus as the Christ.  Indeed, every Sunday is a “little Easter” – it is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of life that this has given to us.

            The Small Catechism says that we should not “despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”  We summarize under the Third Commandment all that God says about his Word and the Means of Grace, which are the Word in its various forms.

            We must remember that reception and use of the Word is God’s command.  He knows our sin.  He knows our need better than we do.  He knows the blessings that he gives through the Word – the blessings of faith, forgiveness and eternal life. And so he commands us to receive his Word.  This commandment deals with all of the occasions in which we use God’s Word, but especially it makes us think of those times when we gather at church to hear it read and preached; to receive absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar. As Luther writes in the Large Catechism, “God wants this commandment to be kept strictly and will punish all who despise his Word and refuse to hear and learn it, especially at the times appointed.”

            Through this Word, the Holy Spirit who created faith continues to sustain it. Through this Word we receive the forgiveness of sins and the comfort of God’s continuing love.  This is something that we never cease to need. And it is something that never ceases to bless us. And so I conclude with Luther’s words from the Large Catechism that summarize this truth in a wonderful way:

            “Let me tell you this. Even though you know the Word perfectly and have already mastered everything, you are daily under the dominion of the devil, and he does not rest day or night in seeking to take you unawares and to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against these three and all other commandments. Therefore you must constantly keep God’s Word in your heart, on your lips, and in your ears.  For where the heart stands idle and the Word is not heard, the devil breaks in and does his damage before we realize it.  On the other hand, when we seriously ponder the Word, hear it, and put it to use, such is its power that is never departs without fruit.  It always awakens new understanding, pleasure and devotion, and it constantly creates clean hearts and minds. For this Word is not idle or dead, but effective and living.”

              

           

 

             

             

 

 

           

             

           

 

             

 

 

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’;

and

“‘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.

 

 

 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

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.

 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent - Invocabit - Gen 3:1-21

 

                                                                                                Lent 1

                                                                                                Gen 3:1-21

                                                                                                2/21/21

 

            In the first three Rocky movies, Sylvester Stallone’s character Rocky Balboa faces two fights that are rematches.  However, they could not be more different.  In the movie Rocky, the boxer’s only goal is to go all fifteen rounds against the World Champion Apollo Creed – something that no one has ever done.  In shocking fashion, Rocky not only goes the distance but even comes close to upsetting Creed at the end of the fight. He achieves his goal, even as a loses in a split decision.  Then in the sequel, Rocky II, Rocky and Creed have a rematch.  Rocky barely beats Creed as both fighters are knocked down and Rocky manages to rise up again while Creed falls just short in his attempt to do so.

            In the third movie, Rocky III, Rocky faces the powerful opponent Clubber Lang, played by Mr. T.  In their fight, Clubber Lang destroys Rocky as he knocks him out early, and takes away the World Champion title.  It is an experience that shakes Rocky to his core as for the first time in fighting he experiences fear.  Yet trained by his former opponent Apollo Creed, Rocky eventually recovers the hungry edge – “the eye of the tiger.”  In the rematch, he dominates Clubber Lang – showing that he no longer fears him – and knocks Lang out in the early rounds.

            In our Old Testament and Gospel lessons for the First Sunday in Lent we see an initial battle, and then a rematch.  In the first, it is Adam vs. the devil.  In the rematch it is Jesus, the second Adam vs. the devil.  These two encounters are like the two fights between Rocky and Clubber Lang.  In first Adam suffers an overwhelming defeat. Then in the rematch, it is Jesus Christ who never falters on his way to a crushing and final victory.

            In our Old Testament lesson we hear about the Fall.  God had created all of the cosmos, including our world as the place where man was to live.  Here he planted the Garden of Eden as the home for man. God created Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life. God put Adam in the garden to work it and keep it.  He told him, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

            God gave every tree in the garden to Adam – every tree but one.  He told Adam that he was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  This tree was the means by which Adam confessed that God was God.  He showed that he feared, loved and trusted in God above all things by not eating of this one tree.

            Next we learn that God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” God creates Eve from Adam as the helper who corresponds to him – the one without whom life is not very good. In doing so God establishes marriage as the one flesh union of a man and a woman.  He also establishes the spiritual headship of the husband. You will note that Adam received the instruction about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil before Eve was created.  It was Adam who taught Eve about what God had said.

            In our text, the devil approaches Eve in the form of a serpent and says, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  Now there are two things to observe about what he said.  First, the question is phrased in a way that is intended to cause doubt about God’s Word: “Did God actually say….? 

            This is same tactic that the devil has been using since that day.  Of course today, he doesn’t speak to us directly.  But he uses the world to deliver the same question. Did God actually say that he created the world in six days? Did God actually say that the crucified and risen Christ is the only way to salvation?  Did God actually say that sex is only to be used within marriage? Did God actually say that he loves are cares for you?

            The second thing to note is that the devil lies by twisting the words into something God didn’t say.  Jesus tells us that the devil is a liar and a murderer.  He speaks lies to us through the world all the time. He says that there is no such thing as truth.  He says that you can be “spiritual,” and you don’t need religion. He says that you are free to decide what you believe is true for you.

            When Eve corrected the devil and told him that only the tree in the midst of the garden would bring death, the devil replied, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The devil said that God was holding out on them.  They could be so much more. They could be like God.

            Eve saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise. So she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.  We learn, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” They disobeyed God’s command – they sinned – and in that moment they recognized that everything had changed.

            Now at the beginning of the sermon I said that this was the initial battle between Adam and the devil.  Of course, in the events that lead to the fall, Adam is barely even mentioned.  That’s how easily and completely the devil defeated him.

            Created first by God and given the role of headship, he was the one who had taught God’s will to Eve.  Yet now he ignores his role and responsibility as he is guided by his wife in spiritual matters. We hear God’s rebuke of Adam when he says, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ and then goes on to describe the curse upon the ground. The devil doesn’t even have to deal directly with Adam in order to get him to sin.

            Yet sin he did, right along with Eve.  And the consequences were devastating.  We learn in our text that pain, hardship, strife – all the things we know to be part of life – were caused by the Fall. What was very good, became something that can be a nightmare because of sin.

            As the offspring of Adam and Eve, you are no different.  The devil gets you to doubt God’s Word as he raises the question, “Did God really say?”  He feeds you lies through the world, and you believe them.  He tells you that God is holding out on you and trying to limit your freedom and your fun. After all, why should you take out time during your day to read God’s Word and pray?  Why should you take time out of your Sunday morning to come to Bible class and bring your children to Sunday school? Why should you take time out of your week to attend mid-week Lent services or a service celebrating the ascension of Jesus Christ?  And by the way husbands, many of these things are a matter of whether you are going to demonstrate the spiritual headship and leadership God has assigned to you. Or are you going to act like Adam and ignore the responsibility God has given you?

            The devil completely and utterly defeated Adam.  But in our text we hear the God’s promise of a rematch. He says to the devil, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  God says that a descendant of Eve will defeat the devil.  He promises a Savior who will win a rematch.

            Working through the history of Israel – through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David – in the fullness of time God sent forth this Savior.  He was indeed the offspring of the Eve.  He was also the Son of God as Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.

            Jesus Christ came to fulfill the Father’s will.  He came to defeat the devil.  But the way in which he would do this is not what we would expect. In order to provide the answer to sin, Jesus Christ came as the suffering Servant.  He came as the One who would bear our sins and receive God’s judgment in our place. At his baptism, Jesus stepped into this role.  From the moment of his baptism, Jesus’ life and ministry was directed towards one goal – his death on the cross.

            In our Gospel lesson we see Jesus and the devil go against each other, one on one.  The devil’s goal to is derail Jesus’ ministry.  He tries to get Jesus to serve himself, instead of carrying out the Father’s will.  Yet where Adam failed, Jesus Christ does not. And this is not the only attack Jesus faces.  After predicting his passion for the first time, Peter said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But our Lord turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

            Where Adam was unfaithful, Jesus was faithful all the way to the suffering and death of the cross. The death of Jesus by crucifixion certainly looked like defeat.  But on the third day – on Easter – God raised Jesus from the dead.  He vindicated Jesus as the Christ and in the ascension exalted him to his right hand. God demonstrated that our Lord had delivered a crushing and final defeat to the devil.

            In Christ, your sin is forgiven.  In Christ, death has been defeated and the resurrection of the Last Day has started.  In Christ you have received your Lord through the work of the Spirit – you have been freed from the devil. You know that this is true for you because you have been baptized!

            Because of Jesus Christ, the devil is a defeated enemy.  But make no mistake, his is still a strong and dangerous enemy. He is like the Japanese in the Pacific during the second half of World War II. They no longer had any hope of victory.  Instead, their tactic became one of trying to take as many Americans with them in death as they could.  No battle illustrates this better than the fight for Iwo Jima that began this past Friday in 1945.

            The devil has lost the rematch. Jesus Christ has won the final victory.  As a baptized child of God, your mission is to follow Jesus Christ in faith until death or Christ’s return.  The devil will continue to speak the through the world asking, “Did God really say?”  He will continue to speak lies to you. He wants to reclaim you and take you down into destruction with him.

            So how do we resist these attacks?  Our Lord Jesus shows us the way in our Gospel lesson.  He uses the Word of God.  The Word of God is the tool – the weapon – by which we are defended.  And when I say the Word, I mean the Word in all its forms as Christ gives it to us in the Means of Grace.  Through Scripture, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar Christ’s Spirit keeps us in the faith and enables us to resist the attacks of the devil. There we learn we find what God really does say. There we find the truth. There we receive strength through the Spirit to remain faithful to our Lord as we look forward to his return and the resurrection of the dead.