Thursday, March 31, 2016

Mark's thoughts: The exact opposite of error leads into the opposite error

Doing the exact opposite of an error usually just leads you into the opposite error.  I thought this as I read the post God’s Love Song of Salvation.  On the one hand the author has a valid point. The primary purpose of the Old Testament is not to provide moral examples.  It is instead the revelation of God working out his promise to save all of humanity – a promise fulfilled in Christ.

Yet this is where the problem arises and an appropriate correction turns into error.  The straw man of moralism is set up and then destroyed by the truth of Gospel, grace and forgiveness.  It all sounds so good because now we are really doing “Law and Gospel.”  Now “God is running all of the verbs.”  Now we have escaped the moralism that confounds American evangelicalism.

This is the move that radical Lutheranism and its radical grace set before us all the time these days.  It is so very seductive because what it says is true.  Yet it ceases to be the truth when this is all that is said, all the time.  For if we are to be biblical, we need to recognize that there is another side to the matter.

You see, the saints of the Old and New Testament (and the rest of the Church’s history as well) are examples we are called to imitate.  There is a writer – I don’t know his name – who once talked about them in this very way.  He wrote:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:1-38 ESV)

Now in this text the saints of the Old Testament are certainly being held up as examples.  They are examples of how a faith that trusts in God’s promises lives and acts. To ignore this is to omit a biblical truth.  This in turn is part of a larger effort that ignores the repeated biblical emphasis that Christians are to live in ways that are generated by faith in Christ. They are to imitate Jesus Christ.  After all, Jesus is an example. At least Martin Luther thought he was.

There is another text that treats the saints of God’s people as examples.  It says:

Concerning the cult of the saints our people teach that the saints are to be remembered so that we may strengthen our faith when we see how they experienced grace and how they were helped by faith.  Moreover, it is taught that each person, according to his or her calling, should take the saints’ good works as an example (AC XXI.1).

Doing the exact opposite of an error usually just leads you into the opposite error.  Don’t follow there.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sermon for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord - Jn 20:1-18

                                                                                       Jn 20:1-18
When the Chicago Cubs win a World Series during the next couple of seasons, no one here will be able to accuse me of being a bandwagon fan. After all, from the time that I arrived at Good Shepherd I have consistently and openly declared that the Cubs are my team. It is, after all, a family thing. They are my dad’s team. They were my Grandpa Surburg’s team as he grew up on the north side of Chicago and walked to Wrigley Field to watch the scoreboard and listen to the crowd.

In sports, there few labels more derogatory than being called a “bandwagon fan.” The label says that a person is not a real fan of team. Instead they have only started to root for a team as it was having success. Rather than displaying character and loyalty, the person has only joined in rooting for a winner when they are winning.

The term “bandwagon” actually came out of political life during the second half of the nineteenth century. Circuses sent a decorated wagon carrying the circus band through a town in order to get people’s attention and advertise the arrival of the circus.

Politicians saw how the bandwagon captured the public’s attention, and they started to use them in parades through towns while campaigning. As a campaign was successful, other candidates wanted to be associated with a winner. They even rented seats on the band wagon so that they could be seen with a candidate’s campaign. In this way the phrase, “jump on the bandwagon” was coined. Applied to sports, it became a metaphor for people who are not “real” fans.

However our Gospel lesson for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord teaches us that when it comes to faith in Jesus Christ, there is nothing wrong with being a bandwagon fan. In fact, every one of us is a bandwagon fan and so were Jesus’ disciples. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ the great victory has been won. Now in Christ we are blessed to follow a winner, and we have the certainty that we will share in this victory too.

Our text begins on a Sunday in the darkness of early morning. We learn that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried. Jesus had uttered “It is finished,” and died on the cross on Good Friday. John tells us how Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had placed his body in a new tomb where no one had been buried. The tomb was in a garden in the same vicinity as the crucifixion site. When Mary arrived, she saw that the stone which had sealed the tomb had been taken away and the entrance was open. She ran to tell Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” This began a great foot race as the two disciples ran to the tomb. The disciple whom Jesus loved – usually presumed to be John – was faster and got there first.
He stooped to look into the tomb and saw that Jesus’ body was not there. Instead the linen cloths in which Jesus had been wrapped for burial were lying there. When Peter finally arrived, he actually went inside the tomb. He saw that not only were the linen cloths present in the tomb, but folded up and placed in a different spot was the cloth that had been on Jesus’ face in the burial
Next John tells us, “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” This disciple saw the cloth and face cloth in which Jesus had been buried, now placed in different spots and we are told that he believed. He believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. Nonetheless, John adds, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” And then the two disciples went back to their homes.
During the course of John’s Gospel, the evangelist emphasizes on several occasions that Jesus said and did things the disciples did not understand until after the resurrection. John’s Gospel is different in that he tells us about multiple trips that Jesus made to Jerusalem during the course of his ministry. In chapter two Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the first time in the Gospel. While there he cleanses the temple.
After doing this the Jews asked, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” They wanted him to do something that would demonstrate he had the authority to act this way. But Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews were bewildered. They responded by saying, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” Herod the Great had begun the restoration and expansion of the temple complex. Even after his death some thirty years earlier, the project still wasn’t finished. In fact it would not be officially done until a time not far removed from the temple’s destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D.
Then John tells us, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” This text at the beginning of the Gospel signals us that Jesus is going to say and do things that can only be understood in the light of Jesus’ resurrection. Likewise after Jesus had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in a way that fulfilled the words of the prophet Zechariah, John tells us, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.”
In this Gospel, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus himself indicates that he will accomplish this through his death – a death that will take place through crucifixion. On Palm Sunday he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And later Jesus added, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John tell us that, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”
Jesus goes to die. But in John’s Gospel this is simply part of one movement that then sweeps upward in Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Jesus describes it as his “glorification.” As he said during Holy Week, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” In fact this departure and glorification is necessary so that the Spirit can be sent. John says in chapter seven, “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are his glorification. It is only his resurrection that enables the disciples to really understand who Jesus is and what he has done. According to Jesus it is only this glorification that makes it possible for the Spirit to be sent. And it is the Holy Spirit who bears witness to Jesus so that the disciples can fully understand Jesus and his saving work. Our Lord told them, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
This means that when it comes to Jesus, every Christian is a “bandwagon fan.” We have been called to faith in a Lord who has already won! The outcome is not in doubt. We are like the crowd of fans that has gathered in the downtown of a city. They are jubilant and excited as they wait for the victory parade to come down the street.
We wait for that victory parade. It will arrive on the Last Day when Jesus Christ returns in glory. And when he does, the risen Lord will give us a share in his resurrection. Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Now did you catch what Jesus said about you right now? As someone who believes in the crucified and risen Lord; as someone who eats and drinks his body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, you already now have eternal life. The victory is already now yours, even as we wait for the consummation of Jesus’ victory – the day when he will return in glory and transform our bodies to be like his.
Jesus calls us to live in the knowledge of his glorification – his death, resurrection and ascension. Victory is already ours now. Eternal life is already ours now. We know who Jesus is and what he has done for us. And therefore we have confidence and strength as we face the devil and a fallen world. On the night he was betrayed Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
And at the same time, the victory of our Lord guides the way we live right now. At the Last Supper, Jesus did something unexpected. He washed his disciples’ feet. When he had finished he said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.” And then later Jesus went on to say, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ we know that we have the victory of forgiveness, eternal life and resurrection on the Last Day. It is Jesus Christ’s love for the Father and love for us that prompted him to serve us in this way. He was lifted up on the cross and buried in a tomb. Yet the upward movement of his glorification carried him out of the tomb and on to the right hand of God. Because of Jesus the victory is ours. And so through the work of his Spirit we walk in faith toward Jesus and love toward our neighbor as we look for the victory parade to arrive.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Sermon for Good Friday - 2 Cor 5:14-21

                                                                                      Good Friday
                                                                                       2 Cor 5:14-21

Stephen Curry is on top of the basketball world. Last year Curry was named NBA Most Valuable Player as he led the Golden State Warriors to the championship. This year he is on track to do the same thing as he leads a dominant Golden State team.

Curry is probably the best pure shooter in basketball today. His ability to handle the basketball and his passing prowess compliment his shooting, and together make him into one of the best players in the game. His greatness is recognized by everybody.

That is how people see Curry now. Yet the shocking thing is that ten years ago when he was graduating from high school, nobody saw him this way. Curry’s father Dell was a good shooter who played his college ball at Virginia Tech and then went on to have a career in the NBA. Stephen Curry wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and play at Virginia Tech. However, Virginia Tech did not offer him a scholarship. In fact, all they would do was to say that Curry was welcome to walk on.

This was the response that Curry received from all the major college programs. Curry was a very good shooter. But when coaches looked at him, all they saw was a skinny kid who was six feet one inch tall, and only weighed 160 pounds. Everybody thought Curry was just too small to succeed in the physical demands of major college basketball.

So Curry ended up playing at Davidson University. There he finished his physical maturation as he grew to six foot three inches and gained some weight. During his three years there he put on a show as he led Davidson to NCAA tournament success. In his junior year Curry led the nation in scoring and was a First Team All American. He entered the NBA draft where he was taken as the seventh pick.

College coaches looked at Stephen Curry in only one way. They saw a skinny kid who was just too small. Yet because they viewed him in this way, they completely missed out on a great player. They failed to see him for what he really was.

In the epistle lesson for Good Friday, the apostle Paul discusses the problem of viewing Jesus Christ in one way that completely misses what he really is. The world looks at a man dying on the cross and sees a nobody – a nothing. But Paul declares that this way of looking at things is all wrong. Instead Jesus was on the cross because God was reconciling the world to himself. And when we see this, it changes everything.

The text for tonight is found in 2 Corinthians. In this letter, Paul is defending his apostleship because some very slick people had come to Corinth. Public life in the Greco-Roman world revolved around rhetoric. The process by which a person generated arguments, expressed them in language and presented them in speech dominated all of life. The entire education system sought to teach this one skill. It formed the basis for how the culture evaluated individuals.

When judged on this basis, the apostle Paul probably wouldn’t even have been considered average. And that was the problem. The Corinthians lived in a culture that prized rhetoric above everything else. And so when some Christians came to Corinth who had rhetorical skill and opposed Paul, the Corinthians were very impressed. They found it easy to look down on Paul and his message. Paul didn’t deny that these other teachers were better in rhetoric. What he wanted the Corinthians to understand was the reason that he and his coworkers like Timothy had come to them in the first place. He begins our text by saying: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Paul says that Christ’s love for us controlled and guided what the apostle did. Jesus had died on the cross. But this was not just another example of some poor schmuck getting crushed by the machinery of the Roman Empire. Instead he had died on behalf of all. In fact, because he had died on behalf of all, Paul can say that through Christ all have died.
It is not until the end of our text that Paul explains in more detail what was happening. He writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The reason Jesus Christ died was sin.

Now talk about “sin” is very uncool these days. You see, for there to be sin, there must be some ultimate standard. There must be some absolute right and wrong. And for a Christian understanding of sin there must be a holy and just God against whom all sin is committed. There must be a God who will pronounce eternal judgment on the Last Day. And this is no fun. Because it means that I don’t get to do whatever I want. It means that don’t get to be god in my own life.

Trying to be more than what we are – trying to be like god – is what got us in this whole mess in the first place. That’s how the devil got Adam and Eve to commit the first sin. And once sin got rolling, it has never stopped. In thought, word and deed we just keep putting ourselves first even as we put God and our neighbor second.

We were created in the image of God, because we were created for fellowship with God. But instead, sin had made us enemies of God. And there can be only one outcome for enemies of God. They are judged. They are condemned. They are damned.

And so God acted to reconcile us to himself. Paul says in our text, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

How did this reconciliation work? How did God do it? God is just and he had to remain just. Where there is sin, it must be judged; it must be condemned. And so the apostle says at the end of our text, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Although Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God was free from sin, God made him to be sin in our place. Like a sponge, he soaked up all of the world’s sin – all of your sin – into himself. And then God poured out his wrath and judgment against Jesus. He condemned sin in Christ, so that now you have received God’s salvation – his righteousness. Because of what Jesus has done in your place you are now able to stand before God as one who is justified. You have been forgiven and will be declared “not guilty” by God on the Last Day.

In our text Paul describes in theological terms the meaning of the event that our Gospel lesson narrates. Those who lived in a world where crucifixion was an ongoing reality knew that there was nothing good about the cross; there was nothing heroic and meaningful about it. Instead, it was a painful, degrading and humiliating way to die.

But the knowledge of who Jesus Christ is and what God was doing through him has made everything look completely different. That is why Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.” To regard Christ according to the flesh is to think about him in the way of the world. It is to see the crucified One as weak, abandoned and futile

But the apostle Paul says we no longer consider Christ in this way. Because Jesus has risen from the dead and revealed through his Spirit what God the Father was doing on Good Friday, we now marvel at the mighty work God accomplished. We see not folly, but divine power graciously poured out for us. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Because we no longer view Jesus Christ according to the flesh – in the way of the world – we rejoice in the foolishness and weakness of the cross. As Paul went on to say, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

This wise foolishness, this powerful weakness, has won salvation for us. And because we have seen God work in this way in Christ, we are able to trust in him when the events in our life look like foolishness and weakness. We do not look at these things according to the flesh - in the way of the world. Instead, we view them as those who are a new creation in Christ. We have seen God work our salvation through the cross, and so we know that in faith we can entrust ourselves to him. We can be confident that he is still the One who loves us and has redeemed us. He remains in charge, even if we don’t understand what he is doing. We know this is true, because of what happened on Good Friday.

Today we remember that Jesus Christ died on the cross for us. He did it on our behalf - in our place – in order to reconcile us to God. This fact now determines how we look at everything. It guides how we do everything. As Paul says in our text tonight: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sermon for Maundy Thursday: 1 Cor 11:23-32

                                                                                             Maundy Thursday
                                                                                             1 Cor 11:23-32
I think most observers would agree that Jimmy Carter did not have a particularly successful presidency. He was unable to address the economic situation as the nation continued to suffer from “stagflation” – high inflation, high unemployment and slow economic growth. His attempt to deal with the Soviet Union in a less confrontational manner was rewarded by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. And of course the Iranian hostage crisis virtually paralyzed the last year of his presidency.

However President Carter did have one remarkable success. In 1978 Carter brought together Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin of Israel at Camp David in Maryland for twelve days of negotiations that resulted in a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. By all accounts, it was Carter’s relentless effort to work out compromises that produced this success.

Israel and Egypt entered into a peace treaty – one that has lasted until today. This is a remarkable achievement because between 1948 and 1978 the two nations had fought in five wars. When the nations entered into the treaty, Israel was in the stronger position because – simply stated – it had won all of the wars. Israel had the better military. It controlled the Sinai peninsula after capturing it in the 1967 Six Day war.

But while Israel was in a stronger position, this was a treaty that it needed too. Surrounded by enemies it had been on the verge of annihilation in the 1973 Yom Kippur war when it turned disaster into victory. Israel needed to reduce the pressure, and peace with Egypt would allow it to focus on other threats.

In the epistle lesson for Maundy Thursday, Jesus institutes the Sacrament of the Altar as he refers to the new covenant in his blood. A covenant in the Old Testament was the same thing as treaty. It was a legal agreement that established a relationship. God had entered into a covenant with Israel. As a result of their sin, he promised the day when he would make a new covenant. Like the modern treaty between Israel and Egypt, God had been the stronger party in both covenants. However unlike the treaty that Israel made, God didn’t need anything. Instead the first covenant with Israel and the new covenant have been matters of pure grace. In the Sacrament of the Altar Jesus provides the guarantee that we have we received this grace and that we are included in the new covenant as God’s people. 

The apostle Paul begins our text by saying, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.” Paul is not claiming some direct revelation by the Lord for the words he handed on to them. Instead the language used indicates that he is doing the same thing that he again does in chapter 15 when he talks about the appearances of the risen Lord. Paul is reminding the Corinthians about the tradition of the Church that he had handed on to them. What Paul had received, he had passed on to them.

Paul, of course, was not present at the Last Supper with Jesus when our Lord instituted the Sacrament of the Altar. He wasn’t a believer who was present to see the resurrection appearances of Christ prior to his ascension. While the ascended Lord had appeared to him on the road to Damascus and called him directly as an apostle, these were the kinds of things that he had to learn from others in the Church. And then as he did his missionary work and proclaimed Christ, he handed them on to the new believers.

In our text Paul calls the Corinthians back to the words he had delivered to them. He does this because of problems that had arisen in the meal that accompanied the celebration of the Sacrament. Because of the way that rich members were treating poor members, divisions were present. Paul answers this by calling them back to the Sacrament itself. He calls them back to fact that it is the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Paul refers to, “the night when he was betrayed.” Tonight we remember that Jesus instituted the Sacrament at the Last Supper with his disciples. Later that evening Judas betrayed him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet the Greek word used here reminds us that this betrayal was part of something larger. Paul uses the same verb when he says that Jesus was, “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, was delivered up by God that Father as the sacrifice for our sins. The Sacrament that Jesus instituted that night can never be separated from this saving death.

As part of the Passover meal, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Then we are told that later, “In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
Jesus declares that when he gives you this bread and this wine, he is giving you his true body and blood. If anyone else said this, you would work to figure out some other meaning that makes sense. But Jesus can do things with words that no else can. With him all things are possible. Is it bread and wine? Yes. But in, with and under – that is in a miraculous way – Jesus Christ is using that bread and wine to give you his true body and blood. It is his true body. It is his true blood. As Paul said in the previous chapter, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

Literally, Jesus says it is his body “on behalf of you.” Jesus offered himself on the cross as the sacrifice for you – as the sacrifice in your place. And now in the Sacrament he gives to you of his body that hung on the cross. He does so in order give you the forgiveness that he won through the cross. He applies it to you as his body is placed in your mouth. He does this in the declaration that it was given for you.

Our Lord says that he gives you his blood to drink. The Old Testament forbid Israel from drinking blood. Yet with these shocking words Jesus alerts us to the fact that he is doing something new - something not seen before. He is using wine to give us his blood – the blood of the new covenant.

When Yahweh had rescued Israel from slavery in the Exodus, he entered into a covenant with the people. He took them to be his own. Though called to live faithfully according to the Torah as God’s people, there was nothing in it for God. They were simply the object of his love. His covenant and love were purely a matter of God’s grace.

You know what happened. In spite of this blessing, Israel soon turned after other gods – the gods of the people around them. And so through his prophets God promised that he would do something new. Jeremiah said, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.”

The first covenant was established as Moses sacrificed oxen. He took a portion of the blood and threw it on the people saying, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” This action meant that they were included in God’s covenant.

In a similar way, Jesus now takes his blood and gives it to us. He gives us the new covenant that has been established by the shedding of his blood on the cross. Just as Israel was completely unworthy of the rescue in the exodus, so were we. Just as Israel had nothing to offer God in the covenant, so we do not either. Yet in his grace God has given his Son to die on the cross for your sins. And now in the Sacrament Jesus gives the blood shed for you. He gives it to you and thereby he forgives your sins and asserts that you are included in this new covenant – that you are God’s people.

You don’t always live like God’s people. In this way we have more in common with ancient Israel than we would like to admit. And that is why we need this Sacrament. We need it because here Jesus gives us the forgiveness he won on the cross. 

We come to the Sacrament with nothing to offer God. We come to a God who needs nothing. And yet, in spite of this, he has chosen in his grace to send his Son to die on the cross in order to give us forgiveness. He has established the new covenant and has graciously included us. We come to the Sacrament to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ. And in this body and blood our God gives us forgiveness and the assurance that we are his people – that we are included in the new covenant that will have no end.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wednesday in Holy Week

Today is Wednesday in Holy Week as we prepare to observe our Lord’s death and resurrection for us.  The season of Lent will conclude tomorrow on Maundy Thursday as the Triduum begins – the one service that runs over the course of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  On Wednesday in Holy Week, the Gospel reading is the Passion of Our Lord according to St. Luke (Luke 22:1-23:56).

Scripture reading:
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.
            Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.
            Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
            And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.
            A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
            “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
            “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”
            And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”
            And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
            While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
            Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
            Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him.
            When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”
            Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”
            When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.
            Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.”
            But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”—a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.
            And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
            Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
            One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
            It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
            Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
            On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
Collect of the Day:
Merciful and everlasting God, You did not spare Your only Son but delivered Him up for us all to bear our sins on the cross. Grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him that we fear not the power of sin, death, and the devil; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.