Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent - Laetare - Ex 16:2-21

                                                                                                Lent 4
                                                                                                Ex 16:2-21

            Some people really enjoy cooking.  It’s basically a hobby for them. They collect cook books and like to try out new recipes. They are willing to invest time in making dishes that require extensive preparation.  
            There are probably many more people who like to cook, but face the limitations of family life.  Many evenings are a rush to get home from work and get something on the table to eat before family members have to head out for sports practices or games, church events, or other commitments. There are days when culinary success is defined by simply having something for people in the house to eat – when the ingredients present in the fridge and pantry combine with an idea for a dinner in way that allows food to be on the table in a timely manner.
            No matter what the circumstances of food preparation are, I am going to give you some sound advice this morning about one thing you should never say when another person has prepared a meal. Don’t esay: “What is it?”  I promise you, this will not be well received.  “What is it?” does not express, “This looks great and I can’t wait to eat it!”  “What is it?” does not say, “Thank you for your effort of making this delicious meal!”  Do yourself a favor, and just don’t go there.
            In the Old Testament lesson for today, “What is it?” is the response Israel gives the first time they see manna on the ground.  In fact the name “manna” is derived from the Hebrew for this question: man hu  The Israelites didn’t know what it was.  They were puzzled. Their reaction was certainly not one of enthusiasm or thanksgiving.  Clearly, it is not what they expected or would have chosen.  Yet the manna was the bread of heaven provided by God to give them life. And in the manna we learn about Jesus Christ and what he means for us.
            Our text takes place about a month and a half after Israel had left Egypt in the exodus.  All the food the people had brought with them was now exhausted.  The large number of people in the group meant that the land wasn’t able to support them, even if it had been good for hunting and foraging.
            There was no denying that the situation really was serious.  But Israel’s reaction to it was not one of faith.  This is the people, after all, that Yahweh had just rescued from Egypt.  In the Passover he had spared Israel while forcing Pharaoh to let Israel go. At the Red Sea he had brought them through the water on dry ground, and then had destroyed the pursuing Egyptian army.
            Yet rather than remembering these things and calling upon Yahweh in faith, they grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness and said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
            The Israelites ignored what God had done for them.  In fact, they ignored God altogether as they focused blame upon Moses and Aaron.  Seemingly, they had forgotten about the harsh conditions of their slavery in Egypt.  Instead they remembered it as a time when they were well fed and better off.
            Instructed by Yahweh, Moses and Aaron responded to the people: “At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” They reminded Israel that their grumbling wasn’t really about Moses and Aaron.  Instead, they were grumbling against Yahweh himself.
            The grumbling of God’s people has not stopped.  We do it too.  We grumble about the circumstances in which the Church now lives – a culture that has turned against the idea of truth itself.  We grumble about the way God is providing for us: Why don’t I have enough money to go on a fun spring break vacation in Florida like those people I see on Facebook and Instagram?  We grumble about the circumstances of our life: Why do I have these health problems that cause discomfort, and require medication and doctor appointments?
            Moses and Aaron told the people, “the LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him--what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD.” Our grumbling too is against the Lord.  It is a failure to trust and believe in him, as instead we criticize the way he is directing our lives.
            In response to the people Moses and Aaron said, “At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD.” They said that God was going to act. He would do something in the evening that would tell them that it was Yahweh who had brought them out of slavery.  He would do something in the morning that would reveal his glory.
            As soon as Aaron spoke to the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness and saw the glory of the LORD as it appeared in the cloud. Yahweh declared to Moses: “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’”
            That evening Yahweh delivered.  Quail landed and covered the camp so that people did receive meat.  Then in the morning dew lay around the camp. When the dew evaporated, there was left on the surface of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground.  Israel’s response was to say, “What is it?” They did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.”  It was the bread that Scripture goes on to describe as the “bread from heaven.”
            God said that in the morning they would “see the glory of the LORD.”  He revealed his glory by giving them bread to sustain life.  Yet when they saw it they weren’t impressed. In fact, they weren’t even sure what it was.
            God’s gift of manna was a type.  It was something in the Old Testament that pointed forward to what God would do in Jesus Christ, for it is in Jesus the Word become flesh that we see the glory of God.  In the Gospel lesson this morning we hear about how Jesus fed more than five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish.  The next day that the crowd sought out Jesus, and when he called them to believe in him they countered: “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
            Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  When the people asked to receive this bread, Jesus answered, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
            Jesus Christ is bread from heaven.  He is the bread of life – the bread that gives life.  In our Old Testament text God says that he will give them bread and in doing so he will reveal his glory.  However, this bread only sustained physical life. The people who ate it eventually died.
            God revealed his glory in the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, and he did so in way that gives eternal life.  Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 
            During Lent we are preparing to again remember how Jesus gave his flesh in the suffering of the cross.  He came to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  As true God and true man he bore in his flesh the sin of the world – he bore your sin. His flesh was nailed to the cross.  It was pierced with a spear as Jesus died to give you forgiveness.  And then on the third day he rose from the dead to give you life.
            When the Israelites first saw the manna, they were puzzled. Their reaction was certainly not one of enthusiasm or thanksgiving.  Clearly, it is not what they expected or would have chosen.  In the same way the bloodied Jesus dying in the helplessness of the cross seems puzzling.  It is not what we would have expected or chosen. But by raising Jesus from the dead, God the Father has revealed that it is through Jesus he has given us forgiveness and life.
            In order to sustain us in that life, Christ continues to reveal his glory through bread. When Jesus said that bread he would give for the life of the world was is flesh, the Jews  disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
            On the night when he was betrayed to give his flesh for life of the world, Jesus used bread and wine as he instituted the Sacrament of the Altar.  He gave it to his disciples and told them that he was giving them his body and his blood. We recognize that as the risen Lord he continues to do this for us.  In the bread and wine of the Sacrament, Jesus continues to reveal his glory for it is not merely bread and wine. Instead, because of the Word of Christ it is his true body and blood given and shed for you.  Here we eat his flesh and drink his blood.
            Because of this we have eternal life.  We have life now – life as God’s children that will have no end – life that not even death can stop.  And we also know that Jesus Christ will raise up our body on the last day. We may die before Jesus Christ returns.  Our body may be buried in the ground.  I may be the one who buries you.  But because this morning you receive the body and blood of the risen Lord, you know that your body will be raised too.  You will share in the resurrection of the body that has already begun in Jesus Christ.




Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Sermon for third mid-week Lent service - Dt 8:1-20

                                                                                    Mid-Lent 3
                                                                                    Dt 8:1-20

            I hope I am not giving away any trade secrets tonight, but I have to admit that don’t like to discipline my children. Don’t get me wrong - as they can attest - I do it, but I don’t like to do it.  It is not something I enjoy.  After all, it is usually something that is going bring objections, and moaning, and groaning. And who wants to listen to that?
            I would much prefer to do things for them that are going to make them happy.   I would prefer to give them something, or to give them a privilege they didn’t expect to receive, like getting to stay up past their bedtime so that they can watch something on TV or play a new video game.
            When I see a situation where some form of discipline is needed, there is always the temptation to turn a blind eye.  After all that is just easier.  I mean, there are days when I am tired and just not in the mood to deal with it.
            I am certain that I am not alone in this regard.  But while parents feel this way, we also know that discipline is an important part of our vocation as parent.  There is nothing that will confirm for you the truth of what Scripture teaches about original sin and the fallen, sinful nature of man like dealing with children.  They are selfish and impulsive … and did I mention that they are selfish?  If left to themselves they become brats who know little of respect for others, and know nothing of delayed gratification. And so if we are to be faithful in the vocation God has given to us, we know that we must discipline our children. We must do this so that they will mature into responsible adults who function well in the world and eventually are ready to take on the role of being parents themselves.
            In our text this evening, Moses’ address to the people of Israel takes up the fact that fathers discipline their sons.  He applies this to what Yahweh had done to Israel during the exodus and their time in the wilderness.  Just as a father disciplines a son, so Yahweh had disciplined the people of Israel. Yet it is not just Israel who receives this treatment.  As our heavenly Father, God continues to do this for us as well.
            In our text tonight Moses admonishes Israel about remembering and forgetting. He begins by saying, “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.”  Moses urges Israel to remember what Yahweh had done during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness.  During this time Yahweh had humbled Israel.  He had done this to test Israel – to see whether they would keep his commandments or not.
            When things are difficult or challenging, it is easy to become frustrated with God, and perhaps be less inclined to walk in the ways of the Lord. But Moses says that God uses these times to test us.  He uses them to see if we are going to be faithful.
            To us, that may sound odd.  After all, God is the omniscient God.  He knows all things.  There is no future, present or past for him. He just knows it all.  Doesn’t he already know the outcome?  The answer is yes.  But also that he does care about what we actually do.  It really does matter to him.  I can’t explain to you how this works.  I only know from God’s word that it is the case.  And the fact God actually cares tells us about how he views us.  We are important to him. We really do matter. 
            Israel stood in a unique relation to Yahweh because he had taken them to be his covenant people.  God had Moses tell Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son.”  Moses says in our text that Yahweh had done for Israel what a father does for his son. He told them, “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.”
            Yahweh had disciplined them by allowing them to experience hunger and then providing for them in a miraculous fashion.  Moses says, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
            God allowed Israel to be hungry and thirsty.  He allowed them to be in need. Then he said, “Behold I am about to rain bread from heaven for you.”  He provided manna on the ground six days a week for food.  This was nothing Israel had seen before.  In fact the word “manna” means “What is it?”  He provided water from a rock. Israel was completely dependent on Yahweh.  And Moses said that God did this, “that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
            Our God continues to do this today.  As a father disciplines his son, so God disciplines us.  He humbles us.  He makes us dependent on him so that we too learn that man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.  What we consider to be bad things – unfortunate occurrences – God may be working for our good.  This is the reality that we must accept in faith.
            We can do this because of what God the Father did to his own Son for us.  During Lent we are preparing for the events of Holy Week.  God the Father humbled Jesus Christ – he sent the incarnate Son of God in the way of humility.  He was sent to be a servant – to be the Servant that the prophet Isaiah had foretold.  He was humbled to the point of death – even death on a cross.  Jesus did this in obedience to the Father for us.
            Yet after faithfully suffering humiliation and death, Jesus Christ was exalted by God the Father.  First the Father raised Jesus from the dead on the third day, and then he exalted Christ on the fortieth day as he ascended into heaven and was seated at the ride hand of the throne of God.
            Because we have seen God do this, we know that we can trust in our heavenly Father when he tests us.  We can remain patient and faithful because we know that through these experiences we too are learning that man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.  It is his word that gives us life – forgiveness and eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ.
            Yet spiritual challenges do not only occur in the midst of difficulties. They are also present when we experience blessings and abundance.  Moses tells the people, “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing.”
            God was going to richly bless Israel in the promised land. When he did so, Israel was to bless Yahweh – they were to give thanks to him. But Moses cautioned, “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them,
and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
            In the midst of plenty there was the danger that they would forget that Yahweh was the One who had blessed them. Success and abundance could lead to arrogance.  It could lead to the delusion that the blessings were the result of their own efforts.  They might say, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.”  Yet instead, it was Yahweh who was going to give them the power, and he was going to do it because of his promise – he was going to do it, “that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”
            The many blessings we have received present the same challenge. We can love the gifts more than the Giver.  We can fail to give thanks to God.  We can be seduced by the thought that all of it has happened because of us – because we are just so good.
            The repentance of Lent unmasks this for the lie it is.  The humility of this time of the Church year turns us away from ourselves and towards God.  It turns us toward the One who walked the way to the cross for us.  It turns us to Jesus so that we learn yet again that everything we are and everything we have is because of him.




Monday, March 25, 2019

Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord, in which we celebrate the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that the Holy Spirit would conceive within her the Son of God. We observe this feast of the incarnation on March 25, nine months before celebrating Christ’s birth on Christmas Day, December 25.

Gospel reading:
 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

Collect of the Day:
O Lord, as we have known the incarnation of Your Son, Jesus Christ, by the message of the angel to the virgin Mary, so by the message of His cross and passion bring us to the glory of His resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.