Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

                                                                                    Trinity 11
                                                                                    Gen 4:1-15

            My brother Matthew and I couldn’t be more the same … or more different.  When it comes to the foundational things in life that really matter, my brother and I are exactly the same.  We both seek to place Jesus Christ at the center of our personal life, and also that of our family.  We are both committed to being Lutheran because we believe that what the Lutheran Confessions teach is a true exposition of God’s Word. When it comes to a general worldview and outlook on life we are the same.
            However, when you look at other areas of life, we are very different.  I love sports and avidly follow them. My brother only pays attention to them insofar as it helps him to be able to converse with the patients for whom he is the doctor.  I love trains and model railroading. My brother loves to do things with his computer and to play board games.
            You see very great differences when you compare the way we have decided to pursue the setting for our lives and families.  Matthew and I grew up in a house in a typical subdivision.  In purchasing the home my parents had as a goal to make sure my dad would have space to build a good sized model railroad.  Basically, I have reproduced the setting in which I grew up.  Amy and purchased a house in a subdivision and in choosing the house we had as a goal to make sure I would have space build a model railroad.
            Matthew and his wife did something completely different.  When it came time to build their dream home, they purchased a lot that is partially wooded and is far out in the countryside.  They have a barn and dozens of chickens that they raise for eggs and meat, along with turkeys.  They have cage after cage of rabbits in the barn.  Their son raised pigs this year for 4H.
            Matthew loves the setting he is in, just as I love the one in which I live. And as my mom has observed, the great thing is that no one is going to be jealous or envious of the other’s life.  Matthew consciously chose to do something different than the setting in which we grew up, so he certainly isn’t envious of me.  I don’t want to have to drive twenty minutes or to get to everything; I think the animals are a ton of work; and I hate the smell of well water. So I’m not envious of him.  It’s nice to visit. But then we are both glad to return to our own home.
            Things are very different between the brothers Cain and Abel in our Old Testament lesson today.  Cain is envious and jealous of his younger brother Abel.  And once present this sin works on Cain until it produces something even worse.  In our text this morning, we see how sin operates in our lives.  And we are reminded that the blood of Jesus Christ gives us forgiveness.
            Genesis chapter four narrates the events that occurred after the Fall and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  As we read on into chapter four, we are now in a different world, because it is a fallen world.  Adam and Eve have become different people because they have lost the image of God.  They are no longer able to know God as God wants to be known. They are no longer able to live perfectly according God’s will.  While in Genesis chapter one we hear God say, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” in chapter five we learn that Adam “fathered a son in his own likeness after his image.”
Things are different.  Sin has entered into the world in chapter three, and now immediately in chapter four we learn about what sin does in the lives of human beings.
            We learn in our text that Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel.  Cain was a farmer, while Abel kept sheep.  In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. Then we are told, “And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.”
            We aren’t actually told what was wrong with Cain’s offering.  But in the description of Abel’s offering, the problem seems quite clear.  Abel brought the firstborn of his flock and he sacrificed the best parts of the animal to the Lord.  On the other hand we are only told that Cain brought an offering.  The attitude of the two brothers was not the same as they made the offering. Abel gave God the first and the best.  Cain just gave something.
            The description of the two brothers speaks to you and the way you handle God’s gifts.  Do you operate in the way of Abel or of Cain? Does the idea of giving the first and best part to God describe your offering?  Or do you follow Cain’s model and just give something – something that doesn’t exhibit the thankfulness of faith?
            Cain was very angry about the fact his offering did not get the same reception as Abel’s.  He was envious.  He was jealous.  And so God said to him, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
            God told Cain that there was no need to be angry.  If he acted in a faithful way, his offering would be accepted and all would be well. However, if he didn’t then sin was waiting to get the upper hand.  It wanted to take control of him.  Instead Cain needed to rule over it by doing the right thing – by acting faithfully.
            This is the first verse in the Bible that contains the word “sin.” When scholars examine this portion of Genesis chapter four, they find that in a number of ways it has been crafted so that it links back to the Fall in chapter three.  Sin had entered into the world in the Fall, and now in the life of Cain we see the consequence of this.  We see sin at work.  We see it first in the fact that he didn’t give the first and the best to God.  He held back and gave what didn’t inconvenience him.
            But sin is not content to remain as it is.  Instead, it is like a virus that seeks to replicate itself and spread.  James described sin in this way, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”  Sin wants to grow.  And it did in the life of Cain.
            Cain was envious and jealous of Abel and the way his offering had been received by God.  That sin churned away in him until it grew and brought forth death.  We hear in our text, “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” 
            This is how it is in your life.  You are slighted or wronged.  But instead of forgiving, you get angry; you bear a grudge.  This sin festers away like the splinter that is never taken out and causes an infection. The skin becomes red and hot and painful.  Pus forms and if untreated the infection spreads to other parts of the body.  Your anger eventually turns into hate, and hate is a grievous sin because as John tells us, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
            Cain murdered Able when they were out in the field – when they were alone.  But God knew.  He said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain responded to the Creator with sass that would get him in trouble in any of our families:  “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” And then God declared, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.”
            Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance – it cried out for judgment upon Cain.  Your hatred cries out for the same thing – for judgment and eternal punishment by God.  So does your envy, and your jealousy, and your anger, and your meanness, and your lust.  Because this is so, God did judge it.  He did pour out his wrath against your sin. But he exacted the punishment for that sin upon his own Son, Jesus Christ, who suffered and died in your place.
            Jesus shed his blood on the cross.  But unlike Abel’s this is not a blood that cries out for vengeance.  Instead, it is a blood that washes you clean.  It is a blood that speaks on your behalf and declares you forgiven.  It is blood that makes you a saint. As John wrote at the beginning of Revelation, God is the One who “loves us and released us from our sins by His blood.”
            In the Old Testament, God said that life was in the blood and that was why the blood of an animal would be used in the sacrifices at the tabernacle.  Those sacrifices pointed forward to Jesus Christ.  He shed his blood as he gave his life in your place.  His death on Good Friday was the end of his life.  But it was not the end of life.  For on the third day God raised Jesus Christ with an indestructible life – a resurrection life that will be yours too on the Last Day through the work of Christ’s Spirit.
            To forgive you for the times you continue to sin in thought, word and deed, Christ continues to give you the blood shed for you.  In the Sacrament of the Altar he gives you his true body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins.  Through these means the Spirit feeds and strengthens the new man in you. Through these means you receive the saving love of Jesus Christ.
            And this love moves you to act in love.  John, after talking about how the one who hates his brother is a murder and does not have eternal life in him went on to say: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”





Friday, August 29, 2014

Feast of the Martrydom of St. John the Baptist

Today is the Feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist.  In contrast to the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (observed on June 24), this feast commemorates his beheading by the tetrarch Herod Antipas.  From the perspective of the world, this was a pathetic end to John the Baptist’s life.  Yet it was in fact a noble participation in the cross of Christ.  Our Lord Himself said that none had arisen greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11).  He was the last of the prophets in the tradition of the Old Testament, and was the “prophesied prophet” – the Elijah of whom Malachi spoke who would come to prepare the way for the Lord (Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6; Matthew 17;10-13) and the voice crying in the wilderness foretold by Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3) . John prepared the way for Christ by proclaiming “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has arrived” (Matthew3:2) and administering a baptism of repentance.  John’s death anticipated that of the Christ for whom he prepared the way.  By his own martyrdom he bore witness to the fact that God works through the cross in the lives of His people, and that they bear witness to Jesus Christ as they suffer, and even die in His name. 

Scripture reading:
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:14-29)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, You gave Your servant John the Baptist to be the forerunner of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in both his preaching of repentance and his innocent death.  Grant that we, who have died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, may daily repent of our sins, patiently suffer for the sake of the truth, and fearlessly bear witness to His victory over death; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one  God, now and forever.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Commemoration of Augustine of Hippo, Pastor and Theologian

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

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Commemoration of Monica, Mother of Augustine

Today we remember and give thanks for Monica, Mother of Augustine.  A native of North Africa, Monica (A.D. 333–387) was the devoted mother of Saint Augustine. Throughout her life she sought the spiritual welfare of her children, especially that of her brilliant son, Augustine. Widowed at a young age, she devoted herself to her family, praying many years for Augustine’s conversion. When Augustine left North Africa to go to Italy, she followed him to Rome and then to Milan. There she had the joy of witnessing her son’s conversion to the Christian faith. Weakened by her travels, Monica died at Ostia, Italy on the journey she had hoped would take her back to her native Africa.

Collect of the Day:
O Lord, You strengthened Your patient servant Monica through spiritual discipline to persevere in offering her love, her prayers, and her tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine, their son.  Deepen our devotion to bring others, even our own family, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever.