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.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Sermon for Ash Wednesday - Mt 6:16-21

 

                                                                                                Ash Wednesday

                                                                                                Mt 6:16-21

                                                                                                2/17/21

 

            A railroad steam engine is a massive machine.  You can see them pictures, but until you stand next to one you don’t really grasp how big they are. They are gigantic steel beasts that once burned with an intense heat in their firebox as they exuded steam and belched out smoke and cinders.

            But leave one outside for any length of time, and rust soon begins to consume them.  The rain, ice and snow begin a process of oxidation that in a brief time mars the appearance of the engine, and after awhile seriously damages it.  One of the great challenges of railroad museums seeking to preserve these pieces of railroad history is that the only really safe way to store and display them is inside a building.  Since steam engines are so big, that means you need a very large building to display more than a few, and not many museums have the financial resources to build such a structure.

            In our Gospel lesson for Ash Wednesday, Jesus makes reference to the destructive power of rust. He does so in order to illustrate the transitory nature of the things of this world, compared with the eternal blessings that God will give to his people. Yet the reason our Lord needs to say this, is because our focus constantly drifts to the things that won’t last.

            Our Gospel lesson for Ash Wednesday is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount begins with a strong note of Gospel.  Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Our Lord describes those who recognize and admit their spiritual condition – that of ourselves we are fallen and sinful people who have nothing to offer and can do nothing for ourselves.

            Yet Jesus says that just such people are blessed – they possess God’s end time blessing, because “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven – the reign of God – arrived in the person of Jesus Christ.  By his death and resurrection he has conquered Satan, sin, and death. He has brought forgiveness and life to all who confess that they are spiritually poor.  He has brought the work of his Spirit to them.

            And then at the end of this first section, usually called the Beatitudes, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The righteousness to which Jesus refers is the God’s saving action in Christ to put all things right.  You know that through faith in Jesus Christ you are justified – that you are righteous in Gods eyes. Our Lord says that even if you face persecution because of this faith you are blessed – you possess God’s end time blessing.  You do because the kingdom of heaven – the saving reign of God is yours.

            This beginning establishes the way we are to hear the rest of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus tells us that because the kingdom of heaven is ours – because we know of God’s saving work in Christ – this is what our life will look like. That is what it will produce in our life.

            While this is certainly true, unfortunately things are not quite so simple.  That is what Ash Wednesday is about. While we are the new man in Christ through the work of the Spirit, there is also still the old Adam present.  As St. Paul told the Galatians, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  The old Adam – the fallen sinful nature that still clings to us - continues to show up in the way we live.  When we listen to Jesus’ instruction in the Sermon on the Mount we hear a description of the way we want to live. We hear a description of the way we do live at times because the Gospel.

            But we also hear words that reveal the times and ways that we don’t.  We hear words the Spirit uses like a mirror to show what is really going on – words that show us our sin. 

            Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent, a penitential season in which we confess our sin. We confess our sin as we prepare for Holy Week and the remembrance of how Jesus gave himself on the cross as the sacrifice for us. And our text tonight certainly shines a bright light on the sin we need to confess.

            Tonight, I want to focus on the second half of our text where our Lord says: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

            Jesus tells us to consider what our treasure is – what do we value most?  There is no doubt that there are many earthly things that take on this role.  We want a house that is in right location and the right size. And of course, that house needs to have d├ęcor and features that are essential – the right kind of floor, the right kind of kitchen with the right kind of appliances; the right kind of bathroom with the right kind of finishes.  Then of course, there is the need for the right kind of furniture and decorations. Each thing needs to be “just right,” because if it’s not, how can a person be really satisfied? There are tv networks and YouTube channels that fill our head with ideas.

            Or course, we also need the right clothes.  We need the right car. We need the right tv, surround sound and computer.  We need the right smart phone and watch. We need the right gaming system, and we need the new games. We need the right implements for our hobbies and sports.

            It’s not just that we spend money to get these things.  It’s that they become the focus of our thought and attention. Think back over the things I have just mentioned and consider how much time you have used in thinking about them and choosing them.  By comparison, how much time have you spent thinking about God’s Word and in prayer?

            Jesus says, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  First, our Lord calls upon us to recognize the transitory nature of these things.  They wear out. They lose their shine. They become obsolete or out of style.  And the problem is that once we have these things, we consider them to be necessary.  And so we are caught in the perpetual cycle of attention and acquisition.

             Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” There is nothing we value more than our time and our money.  Those things towards which we devote our time and our money are our true treasure. And Jesus says that “where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.”  Where our heart is, there you will find a god.  Our Lord goes on to say just after our text, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

            Jesus’ words tonight confront the false gods in our lives.  They reveal many of the things we fear, love and trust in more than God.  In response, there is only one thing we can do. We must confess the sin in our life. We must repent and turn to Jesus Christ for forgiveness.  In faith we return to our baptism, for there we were buried with Christ into his death.  In our baptism we have the means by which God continues to wash away our sins, because we have received a share in Jesus Christ’s saving death for us.

            And tonight we come to the Sacrament of the Altar, for here Jesus gives us his true body and blood, given and shed on the cross for forgiveness of our sins.  Here in the Sacrament, Jesus applies this forgiveness to each one of us. He gives us the very price he paid to forgive our sins.

            Yet our text tonight is not only about repentance and forgiveness.  When we turn in faith to our baptism, we are turning to the means by which the Holy Spirit has given us rebirth, joined us to Christ and continues to be at work in our life. When we receive the Sacrament of the Altar, we are receiving food for the new man by which the Spirit strengthens us to live as those who are blessed because the kingdom of God is ours.   These are the gifts by which the Spirit enables us to live in the ways that Jesus describes.

            In our text Jesus says, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  Our Lord doesn’t say lay up treasures in heaven because they are going to be waiting there for us.  Instead, this statement means that they are secure with God. They can’t be lost as we look toward Jesus’ return and the Last Day.

            And what are these treasures? They are first of all the assurance of forgiveness, salvation and resurrection.  When what God had done for us in Christ is the focus of our life, these are the treasures that are sure and guaranteed. And then beyond this, there is also the works that we do in Christ.

            At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his believers that what they did mattered. He said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

            Our good works bear witness to faith in Christ. They give glory to the Father. And even though it is only God who made them possible in the first place, Scripture is clear in stating that God takes account of these things. By his grace, he even chooses to count them in our favor in the Last Judgment and in the eternal life of the resurrection and the new creation. We don’t do good works get this blessing, but we seek to live the life that Christ describes confident that God does care about what we do, and that he even chooses to reward the life of faith.

            In our text tonight Jesus says: Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  In Jesus Christ we have our greatest treasure because through his death and resurrection for us he has given us forgiveness and eternal life.  Blessed with this Gospel, through work of the Spirit we seek to live in ways produced by faith in Jesus.