Monday, January 19, 2015

Sermon - John 1:43-51 - Epiphany 2

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church
Chicago, IL
January 18th, 2014
Epiphany 2
John 1:43-51

The Epiphany Season gives us a chance to delve deep into the revelation of who Jesus Christ really is. This Christmas, we celebrated his birth, and wondered, “What child is this?” Now in Epiphany, the questions (and answers) keep on coming. Who do men say that I am? You are the Christ. Who does God say that he is? This is my beloved Son.

Well, what would these would-be-disciples say that Jesus is? Phillip tells Nathanael about him. He seems to not know exactly what to call him, but he knows Jesus is someone special. He doesn't use the word Messiah, but the idea wasn't too far from his mind. Phillip knows Jesus is some kind of leader, for he answers his call to follow him. And he tells Nathanael he should follow too. Because this is “him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

How did he know? What did he really know about Jesus? And yet, somehow, faith had taken root. He had heard, to some extent, the word of God concerning this Jesus. And he had heard the call to faith, and the call to follow. Phillip didn't come to this through superior study, through extreme spirituality, or some other exertion of effort. Like you and I, called to faith by the Spirit, through the word.

Then there's Nathanael. Not at the same point in his faith as Phillip. When he hears of Jesus, he is skeptical. “Nazareth! Can anything good come from Nazareth!?” A rhetorical question, but a good theological question. We could change the names and places and ask the same question. Chicago! Can anything good come from Chicago?! Wisconsin! Certainly nothing good can come from there. Baltimore? New York? Fargo? Singapore? Take your pick, throw out your own rhetorical question. The answer will be the same. No.

Nothing good can come from any of these places, because the men and women that come from these places are sinners. You and I are sinners. You and I have nothing good to bring. Even our best works are as filthy rags, and who would be interested in that?

No, by nature, Nathanael isn't all that impressed with the idea of this messiah from Nazareth. And by nature, neither are we. A humble Jesus who suffers and dies for our sins just doesn't impress our Old Adams very much.

So Nathanael comments on Jesus, and he gives him far less credit than he should. But then Jesus comments on Nathanael, and he gives him far more credit than you'd expect. “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is no deception!” Wait just a minute, now, Jesus.

Are you saying that Nathanael is free of deception? That he's never lied to his parents, to his friends, to himself? That he's somehow immune to this form (or any form) of sin? Is he the fabled George Washington of the disciples, who “cannot tell a lie?” Or is Jesus here just trying to ingratiate himself to Nathanael, because, you know, he needs disciples and compliments are one way to win friends and influence people?

Or is Jesus simply recognizing that Nathanael is already a man of faith? That he knew Moses and the Prophets had been pointing forward to the messiah, and Nathanael trusted in those words of God. And Jesus knew that Nathanael would also belong to him, be one of his own, that Christ's true nature would be revealed to him along with the other apostles and so many other disciples.

Beyond all that, Jesus would take away all deceit, lies, slander, gossip and every false witness – through his saving work, his death on the cross. This is why Jesus can look at you, too, sinner though you are, liar though you are, and see nothing false. Because he has made it so. And what Jesus says about you is far more important than what you or the world or the devil say about yourself.

Can anything good come from Jerusalem? No. But Jesus doesn't come, ultimately, from Jerusalem. He comes from heaven's high through, a noble guest indeed. Can anything good come from man, let alone a man from a backwater place like Nazareth? No, but here is no mere man, but the God-man, like us in every way yet without sin.

But also with a divine nature – so that he knows all and can do all. He saw Nathanael under the fig tree long before Nathanael was in sight. The divine eye knows no limits. He knew Nathanael's heart, and he accepted him despite the fact that he was a sinner after all.

And he promised Nathanael he would see even greater things yet. What's he talking about, “angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man”?

Well assuming Nathanael, this true Israelite, knew his Old Testament Scriptures, he'd have caught the reference to “Jacob's Ladder”. In Genesis 28, Jacob (the one whose name was changed to Israel) had a dream – in which he saw a stairway or ladder, reaching from heaven to earth, and angels “ascending and descending on it”. God was making a connection between sinful man and the holiness of his heaven. The eternal separation of sin would be bridged.

And that ladder is Christ. One day, Nathanael would see it so clearly. That Jesus is the bridge, the touchstone, the very stairway between earth and heaven. He's the only point of connection, the only way (and truth and life). He, and only he, can and does transport us from the miseries below to the eternal joys above.

And he does it, suspended between heaven and earth on a cross. Nathanael who once sat under a fig tree, would come to live under the tree of Christ's cross. There this true Israelite would find God's ultimate truth – that Christ is crucified for sinners like you and me.

Today we too confess with Nathanael that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the King of Israel. He is the stairway to heaven, and the one Israelite who takes our falsehood away. The truth of his word endures, and his calling to follow is for you, too. Receive him with joy today as he comes in his body and blood. For nothing good can come out of you, but everything good comes from him, for you.




Monday, January 12, 2015

Sermon - Baptism of Our Lord - Matthew 3:13-17

Lamb of God Lutheran Church
Pleasant Prarie, WI
January 11th, 2014
The Baptism of Our Lord
Matthew 3:13-17

I really have two topics for you today, first on the occasion of my visit, this missionary has some words of report and encouragement. And then as we observe today the Baptism of Our Lord, a proper message of law and gospel, and Christ crucified, but first baptized, for sinners.

You know, St. Paul, the greatest missionary (apart from Jesus himself), would often write to the churches he had visited or even founded, the churches that supported him and the work of God's kingdom. And he would commend them and even sometimes correct them, report to them and encourage them. Sometimes he even wrote personal messages like, “don't forget to send Timothy with my chasuble”.

I feel a bit like that today with you, Lamb of God. As I started out with my work as missionary to Singapore, you were the first congregation to welcome me into your pulpit to share about this work, and you have been a faithful supporter all along. As a former mission congregation yourselves, you seemed to know the importance of this kind of work, and even though you've had your own struggles along the way, you've continued to stay the course. So I thank and commend you, glory be to God for it all.

And I also want to offer you a word of encouragement as a congregation that has faced some difficult times of late, and as you find yourself with an uncertain future. Pastor Smallwood has been keeping me abreast of the events here, the sale of the building, this temporary arrangement at Good Shepherd, the options for moving forward. I certainly don't have easy answers for you.

But I would encourage you to remain faithful. Our Lord doesn't give a promise regarding the fate of any particular congregation, but he does promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church. Lamb of God may disband, or Lamb of God may thrive. Lamb of God may continue on in some other form or manner, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is always the same. We are still sinners, saved by Christ, fed by Christ, washed in the baptismal water of His grace.

As for me, I've also dealt with the uncertainties of life, and I can't say without sin. But hindsight is far clearer in which to see God's merciful hand at work. No, we didn't get a visa to move to Singapore. But yes, God remained faithful. A new congregation was established, and meets even this very Sunday (although, 12 hours ahead of us they are already on to Sunday night). And they are served now by a faithful pastor who is based in Indonesia, who can be there more frequently and consistently than I. They still face many challenges, but they are the church – gathered around God's word and sacraments, hearing the gospel preached faithfully. To God be the glory.

I'll tell you more about my new work as a domestic missionary after church, but needless to say, even more challenges lay ahead. But God is faithful in all things, and so we trust in him.

Today, we observe and commemorate the Baptism of our Lord. It falls at the beginning of the Epiphany season, appropriately, as it is Jesus' public inauguration as our Savior. The beginning of his public ministry for us, his ordination if you will.

Isaiah saw it coming,
“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold,
My Elect One in whom My soul delights!
I have put My Spirit upon Him”

And so Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit, set apart and proclaimed as the Son of the Father, with whom God is well pleased. But it also marks him as the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. John had already said so. Now it's even more official. Jesus who has no sin, enters those waters for us, not to be washed of his own sin, but to take on our sins.

Some have suggested it's as if all the sins of the people that were washing off into the Jordan with John's baptism, Jesus waded in and took upon himself, like a giant holy sponge, taking even more – the sins of the world on his shoulders, or into his own body. And with his eye on the cross, where he would take all those sins to die.

You and I are baptized into Christ, who was baptized for us, to fulfill all righteousness. The whole Trinity was in action in his Baptism, the Father's voice, the Spirit's descent as a dove. And so in yours – the whole Triune God places his name on you by those waters. The Father's words of Jesus are spoken as much to you – you are now his beloved child. With you he is well pleased. The same Spirit has sanctified you, and continues to make you holy, continues to point you to Christ, continues the good work begun in you, bringing it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ.

Who can say enough about the gift of Christian baptism? It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. It creates faith, drowns the Old Adam and raises the New Man in Christ. It is a daily renewal. It is a lifelong blessing. It is the seal of God's approval and the sign that you too will be part of the final resurrection. It's not just a symbol, though, it actually does what God promises. It is the means of God's grace in Christ for the making of disciples of all nations, Jews and Gentiles alike.

But when we speak of Jesus' Baptism, we can't only mention the one in the Jordan by John. There's another baptism. Hear his words to his disciples from Luke 12: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” and Mark 10 to James and John, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

You see for Jesus, his real baptism, the one that mattered even more, was the cross. For Jesus the baptism in the Jordan was part and parcel of, and led directly to the baptism of Golgotha. There the sins of the world were washed away, not in ritual water, but in the real sweat and blood of his death. There at the cross was the baptism of all baptisms, the baptism into which all who are baptized are baptized... into his death, and into life eternal.


So rejoice this day in the baptism of our Lord, at the Jordan, and at the cross. Rejoice this day that at your baptism, you receive the benefits of his baptism. Rejoice this day that each and every day “baptism has the power divine to make life immortal mine”.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Sermon - Matthew 2:1-12 - Epiphany (Observed)

Grace Lutheran Church, Racine, WI
January 4th, 2015
Epiphany (Observed)
Matthew 2:1-12

Grace and peace to you...

Today we observe Epiphany, and read from Matthew's Gospel concerning the visit of the Wise Men from the East.

Perhaps a missionary emphasis is fitting here, not because before you is a wise guy recently returned from the far east, but because the Wise Men who visited the Christ child represent the inclusion of the nations in God's plan of salvation through Jesus. Thus, this is sometimes called the “Gentile Christmas”.

And while pop culture blends this event in with the events of the nativity in Bethlehem, we in the church recognize it as a separate event – perhaps occurring even when Jesus was 2 years old. You've probably seen the bumper sticker like I have, or maybe a Christmas greeting card or sign bearing the message, “Wise Men Still Seek Him”.

It's a nice sentiment, if only it were true. For the wise men of old couldn't take much credit for seeking him. And if you asked them, they might not claim to be so wise. They come asking a question because God had sent them a message, through a star. To truly understand the visit of the wise men, we must acknowledge that God brought them from their eastern contemplations to see the brighter visions streaming afar.

Wise men still seek him. You know it's not even true today, either. For first of all, who is truly wise? Apart from God, no one. We are fools, embroiled not in lofty and spiritual concerns, but in the day to day worries and troubles of life as a sinner, living in a sin-filled world. Sin is the ultimate foolishness, and you and I have bought in to it for the full ride. “In the day you eat of it you will die” “Sounds good to me!” said foolish Adam and Eve. And their children, even you and I, follow in their foolish footsteps.
Foolish sinners like you and me have no interest in seeking a Savior, let alone one that looks so unimpressive, clad in diapers, down and dirty in the feed trough. Just as foolish sinners have little regard for a bloody and suffering savior, dying on a cross, sweaty, humiliated, helpless and hopeless, mocked by all. There's your God! There's your savior! Can't even save himself! But the foolishness of God is far greater than the wisdom of the world. And the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men. And the Savior God sends is far better than any would-be, self-saving sinner. Humble and lowly as he is, in birth, in life, in death. He's the only Savior we've got, and the only one we fools need.

And the wisdom of God is to call us to faith in Christ by the Gospel. The wisdom of God is that the Holy Spirit brings you to Christ, points you to Christ, buries you with Christ in baptism, and raises you with Christ from the dead. The wisdom of God is that you can't do it, you can't decide to have faith, or by your own reason or strength come to him. But He does the saving, and we are the pure recipients of his grace.
Something for nothing, foolish as it may sound.

Wise men still seek him? Wise men, by the standards of the world seek anything but Christ. But wise men who live only by the wisdom received from God? Now we're talking. We are wise unto salvation only when we look away from ourselves and to Christ, who has done it all. We are wise unto salvation when the Spirit brings us to repent, again and again, and to believe in Christ for forgiveness. We are wise unto salvation only when we become fools, fools for Christ, whose foolishness conquers all.

The Wise Men from the East came a long way to worship the infant king. You and I travel only a short way down the road. But when God brings us to himself through Christ, we all travel the infinite distance from death to life. We go from enemies of God to friends, even children.

The Wise Men had to contend with enemies of God, especially Herod. Weasely-wise Herod employed his worldly wisdom to lie and deceive, for his own wicked ends. He was an enemy of Christ, and of the Gospel, wanting no other king but himself.

And you and I must also contend with enemies of the Gospel. Perhaps our foes are not as cruel or slick as old Herod, but the ultimate enemy is the same, the Old Evil Foe who seeks to work us woe. He seeks to steal the Christ child from you, or you from your Savior. He seeks to be the only king, but to make you think you are on the throne instead of God. He lies and deceives, and would make you miserable any way he can, if God would only let him.

Just as the wise men could not have stood up to Herod on their own, but were rescued by the Lord's design, so too is the Lord our only refuge when Satan seeks to oppose us and the Gospel. We don't turn to dreams and visions, but instead to the word of God, and the promises of Christ himself.
And then the gifts. The Wise Men brought gifts to the Christ child. But this is not so much to buy his favor, or to bribe him for some benefit. They bring him gifts to honor him who is born King. It is a confession of their faith in the word they received concerning this child.

So too, with our gifts. We can bring nothing to Christ that isn't already his. We can give nothing to Christ that he needs or lacks. We can pay nothing to purchase his favor or mercy. Instead, we who receive all good things through him – we bring our gifts in grateful response. We bring our gifts to support the preaching of his word, the administration of his gifts, and the expansion of his kingdom of Grace. Not that he needs our gifts, any more than the Christ child needed gold, frankincense or myrrh. But we do it in joy and thanksgiving, to honor him who has first served us.

And our gifts also serve as a confession of our faith that this child who was born for us, this child who would grow to a man who died for us, and rose from the dead for us, and lives and reigns to all eternity for us – is our savior, even Christ the Lord.

The highest worship isn't to bring him gifts of gold, frankincense or myrrh. The highest worship isn't even to fall down before him. The highest worship of Christ is to believe his word concerning himself.

This day as we observe Epiphany, recall the wise men. Share in their wisdom and worship the Christ, only by the grace of God who has called us to such wisdom. So come from afar, bring your gifts, and rely on the only one who can rescue you from the evil foe. For his word is sure, and he will not fail to save.

In Christ our Lord, Amen.



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Singapore Mission - Special Announcement

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Grace and peace to you in Jesus Christ,

The first purpose of this letter is to thank you for your support of our Singapore mission this past year. We appreciate each and every one of you, your prayers, your kindness, and your gifts. It is through you and your generosity that the Lord makes this kind of work possible. “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” 1 Thessalonians 1:2

As you know, it's been quite some time that we have experienced tremendous difficulty obtaining a visa that would permit our family to move to Singapore as originally planned. While we have tried several paths toward this goal, it doesn't look like any one is a viable option for some time. Many of you have wondered, as we have, “what's next for our work in Singapore and for our family?”

So the second purpose of this letter is to share that plans for LCMS mission work in Singapore are shifting. For now, Word and Sacrament ministry to the emerging congregation there will be handled by LCMS missionary Pastor Charles Ferry. Pastor Ferry is based in Jakarta, Indonesia, only a short 1.5 hour plane flight away. It simply makes far more sense for him to make frequent visits than for me to go back and forth from the United States. The LCMS will not abandon Singapore, but for now, this alternate arrangement makes the most sense given the challenges to obtaining the appropriate visas to live in Singapore. I am confident the congregation and its members will be well served in Pastor Ferry's faithful care.

I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 3:6 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth”. St. Paul explains the work of the Gospel is far greater than one person, and the Holy Spirit often works through a succession of individuals to accomplish His purposes. But it is, ultimately, His work.

As for myself, I am transitioning to a new and exciting mission role. Currently the LCMS Office of National Mission is exploring the potential of supporting new mission starts here in the United States, the third largest mission field in the world. These new starts will be in places that desperately need pastors but cannot afford them on their own. These ministries will be in places the LCMS must be in the future although their financial potential to be independently sustainable will always be a challenge.

The plan is for me to use my church-planting experience in a new context, our larger cities. Working with Rev. Steve Schave, director of LCMS Urban and Inner City Mission, we have identified a number of possible locations for a strategic church-plant in or near major metropolitan areas. Likely, our first new urban/inner city church plant will focus especially on college students at a major university. Because many campus ministries have the opportunity to connect with international students, my experience overseas will also come in handy. All of this we will do in an authentically Lutheran way, with Word and Sacraments at the forefront, preaching Christ crucified at every opportunity.

As I transition to this exciting new national mission field, many questions still remain, for which we don't yet have answers. I boldly ask that you keep my family and me in your prayers as God moves to open the required doors. I'll certainly let you know more as I do, and continue communicating the progress of His mission in which we are privileged to serve.

I also pray you would consider supporting me in this work financially, just as I know you would if I went overseas, and that you would share my story with those who care deeply about reaching people here in the U.S. This new domestic work in urban/inner-city or campus settings will require designated financial support from God’s baptized people.

Over the last decade the LCMS, like other large church bodies, has lost ground in our cities and on college campuses. Our Christ-focused witness and mercy ‘footprint’ has shrunk. This cannot continue. We must go back into these ripe harvest fields with the Gospel! This will be a network-supported position, and we will continue to rely on a group of faithful financial partners to supply what is required to sustain us in our work. As I visit congregations, I am often asked, “what about missions here in the United States?” This new position is a purposeful, intentional response to this very question. Christ has commissioned us to make disciples of ALL nations, and the nations are literally coming to us. The mission is here. The mission is now.

If you prefer to continue supporting the work in Singapore, or would like to explore another opportunity to partner with an international missionary, please contact Deb Feenstra or Michelle Beckmann the Mission Advancement office in St. Louis (1-888-930-4438) to make arrangements.

Through all of this, our God has been faithful to us. To Him belongs the glory and praise.

In Christ our Advent Lord,

Rev. Thomas Chryst
Strategic Mission Developer

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
Thomas.Chryst@lcmsintl.org

"Where the paschal blood is poured, death's dread angel sheathes the sword"

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sermon - Pentecost 19 - Matthew 22:15-22

Sermon
Matthew 22:15-22

You and I, fellow sinners, do not do as we ought. Any time the law is brought to bear and focus on us, it shows every little fault and failing. So too with Jesus' words today. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's”.

We might think in terms of the Catechism. The Fourth Commandment, “You shall honor your father and mother” also entails the command to obey all rightful earthly authorities. But also to honor, serve, love and cherish them. The law here is that sinners like you and me, we don't really like authority much. We generally despise being told what to do.

From the day we learn the word, NO, and shout it at our loving parents, to the grumbling about this silly law or that, or having to pay this tax or that,
or my boss is a jerk
and the pastor is boring
and my husband doesn't deserve my respect
and the teacher at school is so clueless...

Find an earthly authority in your life and you will not have far to look, to see your Old Adam hating that authority, chaffing at it, shaking his fist in rebellion.

And all these authorities God places in our lives, are ways that he rules his creation for our good. So when you despise God-given authority, you despise the ultimate authority of God. And God works through these authorities, even tainted and corrupted by sin that they are – just as he worked through Cyrus his “chosen instrument” to accomplish his purposes. But we despise the good gifts of God, the authorities he gives us.

Render unto Caesar, Jesus says. Easier said than done, when you're a sinner.

Or render to God what is God's. Not there's something. For what isn't God's? Our whole life, our everything, for starters. And yet we want it for ourselves. This is a basic First Commandment issue. When we put anything in the place of God, we trample on Jesus' words here, “Render to God what is God's”.

Here I suppose some would criticize Christians for not giving enough money to church. But perhaps some give money even to let themselves off the hook a little for not giving something else they should. Well, we should give unto God from the bounty he gives us, but even that's not what is at the bottom of all this.

But what especially would God have of us? Repentance. He would have us come in humble confession of our sins. He would have a broken and contrite heart. He doesn't want your good works, as if you even have any to offer. He does want a change of your heart, a turning from sin, a genuine sorrow that you have grieved God by your actions and inactions, your thoughts and words, too.

And just as they couldn't fool Jesus with tricky questions about taxes, you can't fool the Lord God when it comes to your own sins. Though you try to rationalize or excuse why you haven't rendered properly to God or Caesar, he won't simply let you off the hook, without the cost which must be paid.

But what about Jesus? Did he practice what he preached? Does he “render unto Caesar?” And what if anything, did he “render unto God?”

With Jesus, there's always a twist.

He rendered unto Caesar, through Pontius Pilate, what didn't belong to Caesar. Just listen to this conversation with Pilate when Jesus was “on trial” (from John's Gospel):

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

Jesus, it seemed to Pilate, was “rendered unto Caesar” by his own people. But Jesus knew better, that only he could give up his freedom, his life, his kingdom. Pilate and the Jews weren't forcing anything here. Jesus, the King far above and beyond this world, meant it to be this way. It was his plan, his purpose. To render himself to Caesar, and more importantly, to God, as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Anyone who was listening to Jesus would know this truth. Jesus came to bring us freedom, his life, his kingdom – by rendering up himself, on the cross.

By rendering his own life to God, he paid a price he didn't owe. But far more than covering your tab at the restaurant, or you tax bill with the government, Jesus pays, offers, renders the price for sin. He pays what we couldn't, even if we tried. He gives what we don't have to give – the holy and precious blood of the spotless Lamb of God.

Oh and there's another way to look at this phrase, “Render unto God what is God's”. Look again to how Luther treats the First Commandment, that we “should fear, love and trust in God above all things”. Now there's some law there, no doubt, but did you hear the Gospel side of it? The good news not that not only should we, but we can “trust” God? That we can trust him “above all things”? If he were only an angry judge, why would we trust him? But if he is the God who has, in Jesus Christ, wiped the slate clean – then who better to trust? Certainly not ourselves. Certainly not fellow sinners, even the princes of this world. They have no ultimate answer to our problems. Only God, through Jesus Christ, deserves our trust. And what a blessing that he calls us to do just that. That's faith. And that's what God wants us to render to him more than anything.

So, repentance and faith, all for the sake of Christ. Render unto him what is his. For he rendered his all for you.

When Jesus passed the test with his answer about taxes, the Pharisee and Herodian inquisitors marveled. But we can marvel all the more at all that Christ has done for us. Marvel in faith, that he renders himself, that our confession is met with forgiveness, and that by His Spirit we render true faith in God. Marvel at it all, for the sake of Christ, Amen.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sermon - St. Michael and All Angels - Revelation 12:7-12

And war broke out in heaven....

We know of war. We hear of wars and rumors of wars. We see our nation and others fighting over things that matter and things that don't. Some of you have even fought in wars, in foreign lands. Maybe you're against war in general or against a particular war. Maybe you wonder, war, what is it good for?

But the war that broke out in heaven – is like no other war that would ever be. Michael the archangel and his angels fought with the dragon, that great serpent of old, and all his evil angels.

We don't know how long this war lasted, or if, even, that's a question that makes sense. Revelation uses pictures and symbols to express heavenly and spiritual realities, that are in many cases, timeless, eternal. But though they are spiritual, they are just as real.

So in this war of the heavens, we don't know what tactics and strategies were used, or many other things. But we know what's most important: who wins. The good guys. Michael and the angels. They cast the Dragon – aka the Devil, Satan, the Ancient Serpent – they cast him and his fallen angels out of heaven – there is no place for them in God's presence any longer – and they fell.
In rage, smoldering at their defeat and humiliation, the Devil seeks to do what damage he can in what little time he has left. If he can't get to the Lord of Heaven himself, he will set his sights on those created in God's image. And so he roars and prowls and looks to devour even you, and you, and me. The Devil is real, and he is dangerous. He is our most powerful enemy. He is far smarter than you. He knows God's Word far better... Luther even called the Devil a Doctor of Theology. But his wicked knowledge is all geared toward one purpose – to do you harm. To destroy your life, to see you suffer and die. And ultimately, if it were possible, to steal you away, to lead you astray, even gently if he has to, from the Christian faith and from your Lord.

This is the most insidious way that he devours. His slithering question, “Did God really say...?” continues to be asked today. It is asked in the public square when Christian teaching is ridiculed and marginalized. It is asked in church bodies that dance to the Devil's pied-piper tune and plot a course away from God's word and into heresy and damnation. And the Devil's question is asked and answered when you reach for whatever forbidden fruit hangs in front of you – and you decide you know better and want to be like God. Oh Lord, deliver us from this evil, we pray!

But just as our foe was cast out of Heaven, so will he one day be cast into the lake of fire. Just as he fell like lightning from heaven, so does he fall in defeat to the same weapons of warfare used by Michael and the angels. “they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony”. It seems the angels, too, use the same weapons given to us, Christians. The blood of the Lamb and the testimony, the word of God.

The word. It's the way Jesus himself defeated the tempter in the wilderness. It is written. It is written. It is written. The word that created and recreates. The same word which bespeaks us righteous. The same word cried out, “Father forgive them” and which forgives you, even today. The same word that will be spoken over your grave, “Death, where is thy victory, Death where is thy sting?”. The same word which will be spoken at the trumpet call of God when Christ returns with all his angels and brings all things to fulfillment. The word of God. That word of God made flesh in Christ.

And the other “weapon” by which they overcame - The blood of the Lamb. It's the way Jesus himself defeated the Foe on our behalf, at the cross. There and then the Accuser lost any sins to accuse, because Jesus took them all away. The blood of the Lamb. “His blood be on us and on our children” the murderous crowd seethed. And bitter and blessed irony, His blood is upon us, to save us. The blood of the Lamb, by the water of baptism, douses the doorposts of your heart - to mark you – so that the destroyer would passover this one. Jesus was destroyed in your place. His blood shed in exchange for yours. His defeat – your victory.

But the blood of Jesus doesn't just stop at the cross. The blood of Jesus by which we overcome the Dragon and all his forces of evil is also for us today. The blood once shed, the body once broken – dead, but now alive forever – that same body and blood are here for you in on the altar, in the bread and wine, by the promise of the Lamb himself. Here, he breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, and saves us by his grace, delivering us from evil. Here in this holy meal you receive the victorious Christ, and are united with him and with his victory.

Likewise the testimony by which they overcame – the same word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ in particular, is preached from this pulpit, read at that lectern, sung in this sanctuary, prayed at this altar. This word, this sharp, two-edged sword, not only kills our old Adam and revives our own Spirit, but the same proclamation of Christ disarms and destroys the foe and his accusations. It is the one little word that can fell him.

So God sends his holy angels, who once cast Satan from heaven, to watch over us even here and now. In a sense the war still continues, as we struggle not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil. Thanks be to God for our allies in this fight, those messengers from on high who watch over and defend the children of God at his command. Why shouldn't the Lord God, who spared not even his own Son for our salvation, not also give us even more? Why shouldn't he who feeds us and quenches us with Christ's body and blood, and speaks to us his word of promise, not also keep us by his firstborn sons of light?

Therefore rejoice, oh heavens, and you who dwell in them! And can't we count ourselves among the inhabitants of heaven? Certainly our citizenship is there. Surely our destination is with the Lord. Even now, we are strangers and sojourners on this earth. We are in it, but not of it.

For salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come.. to us. Like the angels, we too overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the testimony. And we too see the accusations of Satan fall to nothing, for in Christ, your sins are no more. Battle over. Victory won. Eternity secure. In Jesus' Name. Amen.



Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Sermon - Pentecost 12 - Matthew 16:21-26


Christian teaching is full of paradox. God is three, yet he is one. Jesus is human, yet divine. This is bread and wine, but also Christ's body and blood. And you, Christian, are sinner yet also saint, wicked and righteous, dead in sin, yet alive in Christ.

Today Jesus says, “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever would lose his life for my sake will find it”. Friends these sorts of mysterious sayings can only be rightly understood through the cross.

Last week, we hear Peter's great confession, his bright shining moment. “You are the Christ!” he declares. And Jesus blesses him for it. He's on top of the mountain, spiritually speaking. It all comes together with this wonderful insight, given by the Father. Everyone's been asking and wondering who Jesus is, and Peter, just a regular guy, a fisherman, is given the answer from heaven above. Wow. What a glorious moment.

And then it all comes crashing down. Because with what seems like the very next breath Jesus is calling Peter the devil. “Get behind me, Satan! For you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of man!” Wha – what?

Friends, have you had this sort of experience in life? You think everything is fine. You've got it all figured out. Life is running on all cylinders. Your health is good, the job pays well, your marriage is solid and your kids behave themselves. You go to church, you pray, you give your offering. Maybe it goes so well that you even take all this for granted. But God blesses you, smiles on you, and life is good. And then, ka-blammy. It all comes crashing down. Maybe it's you that messes up. Maybe it's some senseless tragedy that strikes out of the blue. Your wife leaves you. Your son gets a girl pregnant. You get laid off. The doctor says, “cancer”. And now the God who you thought was your friend, whose lifted up his countenance upon you – seems to be giving anything but peace. Instead he seems like your enemy. God must hate me. How do we make sense of this? Only through the cross.

For Peter, it wasn't enough to know that Jesus was the Christ. Well enough. They had all been wondering. But with that great confession hanging in the air, Jesus tells him just what kind of Christ he means to be. He “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised”. And that is NOT what Peter and the disciples wanted to hear. That's not the kind of Christ they were looking for. They wanted a Jesus without the cross.

They liked all the glorious miracles and crowds following Jesus. They marveled that even the demons submitted to them in Jesus' name. Surely they had plans for what lay ahead – like James and John who wanted thrones on Jesus' left and right in this Kingdom he was preaching about. Peter, too, probably had his own plans laid out for the future – plans which must have given him a cushy job and high honors. Jesus would come into his glory, restore the kingdom to Israel, make everything hunky dory once again on earth. Victory, triumph, glory, finally, was within their grasp. With the Christ here on our side, nothing can go wrong. So they must have thought.

But that all came crashing down. Peter couldn't bask in the glory of his confession for long. Jesus was talking crazy talk about suffering, betrayal and death! And when he tried to quietly set Jesus straight, Jesus loudly and clearly calls him out. “Get behind me Satan.”

You see, a Christ without the cross is a satanic version of Christ. And it is a Christ that is all too common, even among “Christians”.

A Christ of victory apart from defeat, rather than he who defeats death by his death. A Christ of glory apart from humiliation, and not the one whose power is made perfect in weakness. A Jesus who smiles and laughs but never sheds bloody tears, or drinks a cup of wrath, or cries out in forsakenness. A Jesus who you'd never know suffered and died for sins, because, well, let's not talk about sin it's too much of a downer.

If this is your kind of Jesus, I challenge you today to repent, and see Jesus only through the cross. If your Jesus is only smiles and sunshine, then you better get Satan behind you and see Christ as he is – crucified for us sinners. For this is the only Christ that matters, the only Christ he wants to be, the only Christ who can save us from sin and death and the devil. A Jesus who knocks us off our high-horse of self-righteousness and says “I will be your righteousness, and I alone.”

And it is this Christ that we must see in the crosses of our life. For anything a Christian takes up in life, for the sake of Christ, is our cross. Sometimes heavy, sometimes a bit lighter. But always following him who has gone before us, submitting to his Father's will in all things. We don't get to choose our own crosses. Nor do we even always know what they are. But only Christ of the cross is comfort for us in all the twists and turns, ups and downs, crosses large and small of this life.

It is a paradox, isn't it, that when we rest secure – Christ shakes us and cuts us down with his word of rebuking law. And when we are stumbling, fallen, hurting – this is when the Gospel brings hope. We need both. We make the good confession, like Peter, for it is also given to us to say, “You are the Christ”! But we also need that rebuke, that our sinful selves would get behind the child of God, drown under the daily repentance of baptismal renewal, and go the way of Satan – resigned to the irrelevant past.

And this renewal gives us cause once again to confess Christ, and rejoice in his victory. It gives us the faith and strength to carry our daily crosses knowing that his cross is ever before us. His suffering gives our suffering meaning. And his resurrection gives us hope.

Whatever cross you bear this day, know that Christ bore his before you. So take up that cross and follow him – for his cross, his suffering, his death – have already won the victory. So that even in your troubles and sorrows, your faith would look to him – and lay down your life only to find it. That in the Christ of the cross, your soul is not forfeit – but saved – by the one who gave his life for the world. Even Jesus Christ. In his holy name. Amen.