Monday, February 08, 2016

Sermon - Transfiguration - Luke 9:28-36

Luke 9:28-36“Going Out in a Blaze of Glory”

“Going out in a blaze of glory”. What do you think of when you hear that phrase? A race car driver, crashing his car on the final lap? A soldier, charging into the fight, shouting his battle-cry? An astronaut whose rocket explodes shortly after lift-off? An old Quarterback hoping to win a Super Bowl and ride off into retirement? A 1980's Bon Jovi song? Maybe you think of Elijah or Moses, or even Jesus! Maybe, or maybe not.

Today is Transfiguration Day. It is the climax of the Epiphany season – the season of revealing light – in which the spotlight has been shining on the babe of Bethlehem, and our readings have been shedding light on just who this God-man Jesus Christ really is.
From his Baptism, when God declared, “This is my son”to the visit of the wise men who confessed him as king,to the wedding at Cana where he showed his power as the true bridegroom,
All this leads up to his transfiguration,
up to the mountain where his glory shone like flashes of lightning,
where the great men of old came to testify and “hold converse high” and where God confirmed again, “This is my Son”.

And once Jesus gets to the mount of transfiguration, it’s all downhill from there. Downhill to Jerusalem, to arrest, to suffering, to the cross, to death.
The Transfiguration of our Lord is an important event.
Transfiguration Sunday puts us, liturgically speaking, halfway between Christmas and Good Friday. Here we are at the mountaintop, so to speak. And after this, it’s all down hill to Jerusalem, and to the other hill where Jesus would be crucified.

The mountains are in the background today, as Moses stood on Mt. Sinai to receive God’s law, and on Mt. Nebo to view the promised land. Elijah’s great competition with the prophets of Baal took place on a mountain (Carmel), and he too heard God’s voice on Mt. Sianai (Horeb). Now, both great men of old appear on the mountain again, this time with Jesus Christ in glorified form, once again to hear the voice of the Lord.

Glory. That’s another important idea today. We sinners, who so like to glorify ourselves, we wouldn’t mind being the center of all things. That’s what we do when we put ourselves before the Lord and before others. We imagine our own little mountain with ourselves as “king of the hill”. As if it’s all about me and my wants and my great qualities, and my glorious glory. What a sham. What a farce. We sinners are the furthest thing from God’s holiness. We deserve a pit, not a mountain.
But God glories in dealing with us sinners, according to his mercy in Christ. Just as Peter and the others, fools that they were, sinful men in the presence of glory – so too we find our pitiful selves at the top of the mountain today. And just as Jesus didn’t zap Peter for even being there, but had purposefully brought him to see such glory, so too Jesus’ glory is made known to us and for us today.

The Transfiguration account appears in 3 of the 4 gospels. And while Mark and Matthew don’t disagree with Luke, our reading today adds a few extra details. One of those details is the content of the conversation Jesus had with Moses and Elijah. He was talking about his departure. Literally, his “going out”.

The Greek word for “going out” is actually “exodus”. It seems appropriate, then, to have both Moses and Elijah there with him on the mount. Each of them knew something about “exodus”.
Moses lived through THE Exodus. When God’s people got to “go out” of Egypt, “in a blaze of glory”. Well, more water than fire, actually, as “Israel’s host triumphant go, through the wave that drowned the foe”. Moses led the people to the promised land… out of bondage, and into glory, so to speak.

But Moses himself was not allowed to set foot inside the boundaries of that land – until he meets Jesus here on the mount. This reminds us, perhaps, that only with Christ may we ourselves enter the promised land.

Elijah knew something about going out in a blaze of glory too. His departure from this world was unique in all of history, as God sent a fiery chariot down to take Elijah heavenward. Elijah’s “exodus” was perhaps one of the most spectacular of all time. But it was surely less impressive than standing in the presence of the transfigured Christ himself.

Jesus’ own departure was at hand. He had an exodus to face, but it would not be in a blaze of glory. It would be in the shame of a cross. Christ, here glorified on the Transfiguration Mountaintop would soon face ultimate humiliation on the Hill of Calvary. He who shined and flashed like lightning itself would soon see the very sun darkened as he faced his last hours.

And yet in the humility of the cross, we see God’s true glory. His power which is made perfect in weakness. His justice meets his mercy. Life won by death. There as Jesus “goes out”, he brings us in to his Father’s arms. Exiled sinners bound to be cast out of his presence become sons and daughters, and are given a place in the Father’s house. His “exodus” from life is our “exodus” from sin, and our entrance into eternal bliss.

What will be your exodus? How will you go out from this world? Because one way or another, you will go out of it. Your tent here is a temporary dwelling, and one day it will be rolled up as you move on. Jesus looking forward to his own death, setting his face toward Jerusalem, might well make us think of our own time which is also coming soon – perhaps sooner than we think. Your exodus is also at hand.

The Transfiguration of our Lord, Jesus Christ, is a powerful witness to those three disciples, and to all of us, about who Jesus is, and what he’s come to do. If we “Listen to Him” as the voice of the Father commands, we will hear great and good news. Listen to him speak with Moses and Elijah about his departure, which makes our departure so different. Listen to him as he goes to Jerusalem for that final blaze of glory in the dark shame of the cross.

Listen to him as he gives his own body and blood with simple bread and wine. Listen to those words – “for the forgiveness of your sins”. Those words spoken long ago but still echoing with the same power and authority. Listen to him. And then, make your exodus from this place, from his house, from his presence. Go forth in peace knowing that your sins truly are forgiven in Jesus Christ.

to the many healings and miracles that were signs of his power….

While most of us would like to die peacefully in our sleep, some wouldn’t mind “going out in a blaze of glory”. Perhaps it’s best that we don’t get to choose how and when we go. But it’s not as important how or when we go as where and to whom. We’re going out from this vale of tears, into the arms of our Savior. We’re going out from this poor reflection, as in a mirror, to see our Lord face to face. We’re going to the heavenly Jerusalem, where God will wipe every tear from our eyes. That’s the promised land that makes our exodus a joyful one, no matter when and where and how it happens.

Jesus has prepared a place for us, and he promises to take us there. Just as he led the Israelites in their exodus, so we also have nothing to fear in ours – for the Lord is with us the whole way. He went first into death, and took away its sting. Now, for us, it is the gate to eternal life. Now, for us, it is a restful sleep from which our bodies will awaken to glory at the last trumpet. Then, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Sermon - Sexagesima - Luke 8:4-15

St. John's Lutheran Church, Frisco, Texas

January 31st, 2016
Luke 8:4-15
“The Parable of the Sower”

Now here is a parable of Jesus – and a most blessed example – in that he actually spells out its meaning. Thanks be to God that we have this opportunity. Thanks be to God that Christ explains his parable to the disciples, and through Luke's Gospel, also to us.

The key element of the parable is the seed – which is the word of God. Like other parables, such as the mustard seed, in which the beginnings of God's kingdom start small. A seed – which may seem dormant, even dead, but holds the potential for all sorts of life to sprout forth. A miracle of latent power in each seed, really, and so an apt metaphor for the word of God. We will see this seed in action when we get to examining the various soils.

And the sower – Is it the Father who sends out his word via the apostles and prophets, or the Son – who preached freely to all about the kingdom that was at hand and had arrived in him – or is it the pastor, who even today, preaches and proclaims the word of God – the whole counsel of God, law and gospel, treasures old and new? Probably the answer is yes, all of the above. Take your pick.

But not all have ears to hear. And so not all will hear. There are, sadly, different kinds of soil. And not all of it is good. Why doesn't the preached word of God always flourish? Why isn't the Gospel always received with great joy and to marvelous effect? Why doesn't every mission congregation that preaches the good news of Jesus grow into a sprawling megachurch brimming with parishioners and bursting with baptisms, weddings, and filling its coffers with offerings?

What's wrong with the seed? Is it bad? No. But there are different kinds of soil. In fact, the same good seed is sown – even recklessly so – on all kinds of soil. And yet the mystery is that some receive and some do not. Some believe, and some do not. Some seem to get it, yet fall away – either lacking deep roots, or choked by the cares of the world. So it goes, and so it goes...

One purpose of this parable appears to be to set our minds at rest on this question, “why do some believe, and not others?” And while he really doesn't explain it, Jesus does show the way it works, how it happens. There are spiritual forces that hinder the word of God. So don't be surprised. There are different kinds of soil, and so the seed, that is, the word, does not always produce the same. There are different kinds of people, in different situations, with different reactions to the word, and so the seed sprouts differently here and there.

And another thing. Just because some of the seed doesn't become full grown plants, doesn't mean there's something wrong with the seed. Nor does one lay blame upon the sower. Rather, it is the soil that is not fertile. It is too rocky, to weed-filled, or what have you. In other terms, when the Gospel is rejected, it's not God's fault or desire. When men refuse to hear and believe, when we close our ears, let the cares or riches or pleasures of the world overtake us, it's on us. So when people fall for the devil's temptations and disbelieve or despair, it is our their doing, the blame is on them, not the sower, or the seed.

But thank God we are the good soil, right? Thank God we always hear the word with a noble and good heart! Thank God we always keep his word and have all these wonderful fruits of faith to show! Thank God we have such patience and, well, too bad for all those other bad soils out there.

Does anything sound wrong to you about such talk? It should! Jesus doesn't mean to puff up our egos here with his parable – to give us a sense of spiritual superiority over all those other kinds of soil.

But part of the mystery is also this: That you and I can be all of these sorts of soil at one time or another!

Some seed falls aside the road, is trampled, and quickly snatched by the devil. Sometimes the devil's wicked machinations are successful in turning our attention away from the word of God. Sometimes he distracts us, and we let him. Sometimes he twists the scriptures or sows doubt with his age-old question, “did God really say?”. He loves to brew his concoctions of truth mixed with error and then get us to take a swig or two. And if he could, he would snatch the Gospel away entirely, and leave us with nothing but false pride or despair. Sometimes the Word appears to fall on deaf ears. The seed of its teaching never takes root, never grows, and is gone quickly. The Devil can't stand the idea that it might yet sprout, so he does what he can quickly to interfere, and snatch that word away.

Dear Lord, protect us from this foe! And he does. For the same thing that Satan would snatch away is itself the weapon that defeats him – one little word can fell him – if that word is the Word of God. The foe is defeated by Christ in the wilderness. The foe is defeated by Christ at the cross. The foe in triumph shouted when Christ lay in the tomb, but lo, he now is routed, his boast turned into gloom. Christ lives! The battle is won. The word proclaims it. Let our hearts believe it.

Likewise the temptations and the cares of this world, we sometimes let pollute our soil. Persecution or the fear of it may choke out the word, if we let it. Riches, too, can be a hindrance – for all too often the soil that thinks it is rich is poor, and only the soil that knows it is poor needs what the good seed brings.

And no, friends, we have no time to stand around criticizing our neighbor's soil, pontificating on why his plants aren't bearing more fruit, and what he could be doing to improve. We have plenty of problems in our own backyard, in the garden of our own life, the weed-patch of our own hearts. Repentance is always in order.

Deliver us, Lord, from being unreceptive to or distracted from your word! Keep us from comparing our lives to our neighbor, but ever only to the perfect standard of your word. Remind us, then, not only of our sin, but of our Savior, who intends to sow in us his good word, that we may be fruitful. Amen.

How often Christians emphasize “being in the word”, and “you need to be in the word”. But the picture here is different. The word is planted in us. Even this is God's doing, not ours. When you hear Law and Gospel preached – for your repentance and forgiveness – the Spirit of God is blowing those seeds toward you. When you are convicted of your guilt but comforted by Christ's forgiveness, the Spirit plants that word in your heart once again. And when the Spirit brings you to faith, and to deeper faith by his own mysterious working of that word – then does it bear the abundant fruit, the hundredfold that Jesus promises. When sinners are brought to repentance and faith in Christ.

And Christ's gifts of forgiveness and mercy are distributed even more freely than the reckless sower scatters his seed. Oh what of that, and what of that? He is no respecter of persons, but died to save all – Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. Big sinners and little sinners, lifelong church people and those who've just arrived. He casts the same good seed to all.

To you, friends in Christ, it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God. To you, the good seed of His word has been cast. In you, the Spirit works to sprout and grow that word planted in your heart, that it would flourish and flower and bear fruit a hundredfold.

But he does it not by making you strong and successful and glorious. He does it by death and resurrection. He does it by suffering, cross-bearing, and refinement in fire. He buries you with Christ in baptism, drowning Old Adam each day, as by grace the New Man arises. May it ever be so by God's grace in Christ. Let us continually receive his word, as all his gifts, with thanksgiving.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Sermon - Christmas 2 - Luke 2:40-52

Christmas 2
Luke 2:40-52
“In My Father's House”

Oh how precious little we know about our Lord Jesus Christ's early years.  We have a somewhat detailed story of his nativity.  We know about his early visitors, the Shepherds and Wise Men.  We know he met Simeon and Anna in the temple at 40 days old.  And we know he and his parents had to flee to Egypt to escape the cruelty of King Herod.

But in the 30 or so years before he began his public ministry, the Gospels are rather silent.  They don't tell us much about what Jesus did, where he went, what he said.  We are simply left to assume that he lived a normal life, the dutiful son of Mary and Step-father Joseph.  We conclude that he would have normally learned his earthly father's vocation of carpenter.  That he took care of his mother when his father died.  That in all things, he was a dutiful and sin-free example of what a son should be.

And this in itself can be instructive – that for most of Jesus' life, his fulfilling of the Law for us was in the simple day-to-day doing of what he was given to do.  For most of his years, he wasn't wowing the crowds with miracles and sermons, but doing simple things according to his vocation.  What an example for us to learn from – that righteousness consists, first of all, in doing those every-day things you are simply called to do.  And that in doing all these little things, every day, he was doing on our behalf what you and I fail to do.

And then we can say simply when Luke tells us “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom”, we learn that Jesus also learned.  He was like us in every way, after all, yet without sin.  So he had to learn things and gain in wisdom.  He did not, it seems, make full use of that Divine omniscience that was his by right.  But instead he humbled himself to do as we do, to grow and learn.  This teaches us that there is nothing sinful in learning.  For if being a student is good enough for my sinless savior, it is certainly a worthy vocation for me.

Nonetheless, we don't know much about most of Jesus' life.  But there is this one little story, our Gospel reading today, that we have about an incident from his boyhood – at age 12.  An episode that is recorded for our instruction.  From it we glean some important details.

For one, it appears Jesus' family was a religious one.  They made the pilgrimage from Nazareth to Galilee every year for the Passover.  Just as they observed the appointed customs and rituals concerning his circumcision and purification, so they also celebrated the other appointed feasts, we assume. This annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem was not without some cost and inconvenience.  But like many observant Jews, they remembered and gave thanks for the deliverance that their God worked for them in bringing them out of Egypt.  And they looked for the promised deliverer to come, the one to whom the Passover ultimately points – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Perhaps a little ironic that they took him along with them each year.

We, too, do well to observe the customs and traditions that the church has set before us.  In many things there is freedom, of course, but we honor those who have gone before us by regarding their wisdom in these things.  This is why we use things like Advent Wreaths and Church Calendars, and celebrate Transfiguration and Epiphany.  They are good and helpful traditions that help to teach us about our God, what he has done for us in the past, and what he does for us even today in Christ.

Yet for some, even a weekly pilgrimage to the altar of the Lord is more trouble than it's worth.  For others, the force of habit may bring us here, but sin distracts and disturbs our weekly sabbath rest.  Our minds drift, our grumbling old Adam grumbles about this or that.  We sinners can despise God's word even as we sit in the pew!  Which only means we need the word all the more.

For his part, Jesus seemed to delight to be in his Father's house.  He sat there listening to the teachers and asking them questions.  As he grew in knowledge and wisdom, he knew just where to find it.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.  And God's holy Word is the one infallible source for true wisdom.  As Jesus was in the Father's House, the temple, he did what he was called to do at that age – grow and learn.  And they were amazed at his answers, these scholars of the law.
But he would come back to this temple, we know, for other purposes.  He would turn over tables and whip out the money changers.  “My Father's house is to be a house of prayer, not a den of robbers!” He would teach in the temple, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.  And he would declare about this temple, that not one stone would be left upon another.

After three days Mary and Joseph found him.  And that little phrase, “after three days” reminds us of another three day temple saying of Jesus.  “Destroy this temple and in three days I will build it again”.  Of course he referred to the temple of his body, which would be destroyed, for us, on the cross.  And when that happened, the temple curtain would tear in two, from top to bottom, for God himself in heaven does it – showing us the veil that separates his holiness from us has come unraveled in Christ.  Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day, his temple restored in glorious fashion.  And when he left behind an empty tomb, the angels wondered why his disciples were looking for him, for clearly, “he's risen, he is not here.”

Mary and Joseph were looking for him, too.  They didn't know where their son was! What irresponsible parents (we might say).  But Luke clarifies, they were traveling in a large group with many others, probably family members from Nazareth, and so it wouldn't have been unusual for them to briefly lose track of their son.  But after those three days they began to worry.  They knew that had to turn back.

Looking for Jesus.  There's a theme we could key in on.  Where do you find Jesus?  Many people are looking for him, even today.  Some think to find him in their own good works, in simply following his example.  Study your bible, for instance, help the poor.  Listen to your parents.  Be nice.  You'll be so much like Jesus it's like you've actually found him!

Well if that's how you find Jesus you'll find it fairly difficult, even impossible.  For not only can we not fulfill the law perfectly as he did, our Old Adam doesn't even want to.  Our Old Adam would like to start Jesus on a game of hide and seek – “ok Jesus, you go hide – and I'll go have a sandwich.  I don't need you and your forgiveness.  I'll take care of things myself, thanks very much.”

Still others would look for Jesus in the most popular places – at the biggest churches with the slickest pastors.  A Jesus of worldly success and outward blessings.  A theology of glory Jesus, obsessed with victory, glory and the approval of the world.  I'm sorry, you won't find that here today at Messiah. There will be no fluffy Jesus or buff-shined-shoes Jesus who tells you that your best life is just ahead of you, just think positive and keep smiling.  No Jesus to make you rich with a heavenly windfall or a Jesus who promises perfect health if you'll only pray hard enough.  Instead here, you will find a Jesus of the cross.  A Jesus who first tells you you're a sinner.  But also Jesus who suffers and bleeds and dies for sinners.

In other words, the Jesus we really need.  And here is true wisdom – knowing that we need him.  Knowing that what God tells us in his law is true – that we are poor miserable sinners destined for destruction.  That no amount of rituals and sacrifices, even the fruit of our body can pay for the sin of our soul.  That our best works are like filthy rags and our best life is still a one-way ticket to the grave.  That without Jesus we are lost, lost, hopeless and destined for destruction.

But the Spirit calls to us in the word, to turn back, to repent.  Like Mary and Joseph turned back to go to Jesus, don't leave God's house this day and go back to Nazareth under power of your own devices.  Don't go without Jesus.  He has an amazing answer for you today in whatever distress you find yourself.  And that answer is his Gospel, the wisdom of God, his very self.

“Why were you looking for me?”  Jesus asks.  A rhetorical question, of course.  “Didn't you know where to find me?”

Don't you, Christian, know where to find him?

Today we don't find him like they did in Galilee, Nazareth and Jerusalem. Nor do we find him as someone else, but only as the Jesus he actually is.  But by his grace and favor, through the Holy Spirit, he finds us first.  And he comes to us in his means of grace:

Find him in his word – preached and proclaimed, read and prayed and sung.  Here the Living Word speaks to you, equipping you with everything you need for true wisdom and salvation.  Here we, like Christ, can grow in wisdom and understanding.  Here we are made dead but the cutting law, and alive by the reviving Gospel.  Find Jesus in his word, for he has promised to be with us always, and always in that word.

Find him in your baptism.  You were made new in those waters, washed of all the sin of your Father Adam's house, and incorporated into a new house – the house of your Heavenly Father.

And find him in his Supper.  For there he most poignantly promises to be, in the flesh and in the blood.  “This is it, it's me!  I'm here for you – to forgive you your sins”.

May your weary and distressed soul find astonishment in the words and wisdom of the Christ this day.  May you, like Mary, treasure up all these things and ponder them in your heart.  And may you go back on the trail to Nazareth, or wherever you are to go, and fulfill your vocations with joy.  Be it student or teacher, as school starts again.  Be it parent or child.  Be it employee or retiree or citizen or friend.

And may you never be far from your Father's house.  Here you hear and are forgiven.  Here you eat and drink and live. Here the favor of God is upon you, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Sermon - Midweek Advent 3 - "Christ our King"

1 Samuel 16:1-13 David is anointed as king
Philippians 2:1-11 “Every knee shall bow”
Matthew 2:1-12 “Where is he that is born king?”

So far in this Advent Season we've seen Christ as our prophet – the appointed messenger of God's word, the ultimate messenger, who himself is the message, the very Word of God made flesh, now dwelling among us.

And we've also seen Christ as our great High Priest, who has offered the once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin, the sacrifice of himself on the cross, and yet still intercedes for us his people. He even makes us, believers, together, a royal priesthood – with sacrifices and prayers of our own to offer to God in his name.

And the final office of this Old Testament triad – the king – Christ also fulfills most excellently. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, as Handel's Messiah joyfully sings, and as John saw written on his robes and thigh in the vision of Revelation.

But just as there's more to it than first appears when it comes to his role as prophet and priest, so also his office of king. Jesus as king shows us more than just his awesome, almighty, top-dog in creation power. It's far more to us than just an acknowledgment of his omnipotence. Yes, he's the most powerful, we get that. But how does that benefit us? Why is it such good news that he is king?

Once again we turn to the Old Testament for some direction. There we see the office of king held by many mere men, none of whom did so perfectly. But if there is one who was regarded as the greatest, it was surely king David. David, the shepherd boy who felled the giant Goliath with a sling. David, who killed tens of thousands of Philistines and brought honor and glory to Israel. David, who though anointed to be king even as a youth - would wait patiently for his time, even when King Saul wanted him dead. David, a man after God's own heart, whom God promised to build a house, a dynasty, that would last forever.

Now, David wasn't perfect. We know his sin with Bathsheba, and his murder of her husband Uriah the Hittite. We know who the consequences of this sin reverberated in David's own family, and though his son Solomon would inherit the throne, he too was far from perfect. And in the next generation the kingdom split into two, never to unite on earth again. Both kingdoms saw a succession of kings, some good but mostly bad, some faithful but most of them turning to other gods. And so God, through the Assyrians and then the Babylonians, brought and end to the kings of Israel. He cut down the mighty tree of David's royal family, into a stump – the stump of Jesse. And the monarchy was done. Davidic dynasty over. David's house had fallen.

But God had made a promise. And our God keeps his promises.  And so a shoot would come forth from that stump of Jesse. God would restore the fallen booth of David into a mighty house. The king would rise again, and his throne is established forever. Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Yes, of course, it's Jesus. Jesus the long-expected king.

The wise men knew it.  They saw his star in the East and they came to worship this king.  They asked the worldly king, Herod, but he could see only a threat to his own power.  Nonetheless, we remember the visit of the magi and their gifts fit for a king, fit for the Christ.

When we think of a king, we think mostly of his authority to rule and govern.  The king is the singular head of a government, the big dog that sets all the smaller dogs to yapping.  His word is law.  We as Americans may pride ourselves on breaking away from King George and governing ourselves.  At least if you have to have a king you hope for a just and fair king, who applies his laws equally.

But a king is not only meant to be a ruler.  He's also supposed to be a protector.  He doesn't just send the armies into battle, but he leads the charge.  He who governs well keeps his people safe from the enemy.  This is one reason King David got into trouble with Bathsheba – he wasn't doing what he was supposed to as king – leading the armies – but shirked his duty, sat in the safety of his palace and succumbed to temptations.

In Jesus Christ, we have a perfect king.  David's Son, but also David's Lord.  He rules the peoples with equity.  His justice is fair, he does not show favoritism, but applies the same law to all his subjects.  But even though we are a rebellious people, still our King leaves his royal throne behind to come walk our streets, breathe our poisoned air, and bear upon himself our burden of sin. He takes the rightful punishment for all-law-breaking law-breakers.  He who would judge all, puts himself under the sentence of death.

And thus he is also our protector.  While earthly kings ride horses and chariots into battle against their enemies in battles near and far, this king fights for us, our champion, the valiant one.  He conquers, not by sword or spear, but by being pierced, bruised, stricken and smitten.  He brings peace not by glorious victory, but in the humble suffering and sacrifice of the cross.  There is his throne, our king, our Christ.  Our Lord and Protector.  A crown of thorns.  A staff they used to beat him.  A mocking purple robe put on him and ripped off.  Homage paid by soldiers spitting and pharisees wagging heads.  His royal court – condemned thieves, Roman dogs, and grieving onlookers.  And the sign above him, written by the earthly governor who condemned him, “This is the king of the Jews”.

Our King has come.  He came as a babe in Bethlehem, but a humble king.  Honored by wise foreigners and lowly shepherds, but despised by the kings of this world.  Our king has come, humble and riding a donkey, a prince of peace, who comes to bring us peace.  Our king has come into his glory, in the dark shame and bleak suffering of the cross.  And our king has conquered death and brought life and immortality to light.  Death cannot contain him.  He rises again, for you, for all.  Death has no victory.  Death has no sting.

Now it's true, his kingdom is not of this world.  So he told the king's representative who gave the order to crucify him.  Jesus' kingdom is far more than this world.  The Kingdom of God is the reign and rule of God in the hearts of men.  It is the gracious activity of God to bring about his purposes, in accord with his plan.  It is the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word, to convict the world in regard to sin, and to point us, drive us to Christ for our forgiveness.  Jesus' kingdom is a kingdom not only of power, but also of grace.  It is a kingdom exercised in the church, through the proclamation of the Good News, and through the administration of the Sacraments.  You want to see Jesus as king? See him in the water of baptism, claiming sinners as his own.  See him under humble bread and wine, his body and blood truly present.  The king has come, and the king still comes to his people to rule, and to protect.

But the king will come again.  He will come again in glory, to judge both the living and the dead.  And his kingdom will have no end.  We think on this at the end of the church year, and also at its beginning, in Advent.  He came, he comes, and will come again.  And when he comes again it will not be in humility but in all the glory of God that is rightly his.  All eyes will see him.  There will be no mistaking it.  And, we are told, every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  Every knee will bow, either in faith as his righteous children and loyal subjects, or in fear of the just punishment to come for those that reject his grace.

St. Paul wrote to Timothy from prison,

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;  (2 Timothy 2:8-12a)

Take heart, you loyal subjects, for you also share in this reign.  For you are a priesthood after your great high priest, and you are a royal priesthood, for your priest is also the king.  And his reign and rule he shares with those who are his own.  We have what even the angels cannot claim, a promised crown of righteousness awaiting us in glory.  We have access to the king forever, who will dwell among us and has become and will always remain one of us.  True God, True Man, Prophet, Priest and King forever.  Join the angels, the prophets, the apostles, the martyrs and all the saints of God in singing the praises of our King, for he has done all things well.

Sermon - Christmas Eve - John 1:1-14 (15-18)

“Word, Light, Life.”
John 1:1-14 (15-18)
Christmas Eve 2015

In the beginning...

John begins his Gospel of Jesus Christ with the same words that start the creation account of Genesis.  “In the beginning”.  It's no accident, of course.  The same Son of God who was there in the beginning is the one who comes in the flesh to save us.  His origins are from of old, even, from the beginning.

Quantum physicists have tried to plumb the secrets of the universe, examining how the smallest particles that make up our world might fit together.  And using their admittedly extensive intellect they've come to the conclusion that everything had a beginning – at the Big Bang.  There and then, they believe, everything started with an explosion – and all matter spread out from a single point.  Of course, this is extrapolation.  No one was there to see it.  And when pressed, even they admit their best theories break down into absurdity when pushed to the limit.  Time itself becomes meaningless.  Thus far modern physics on “the beginning” (or at least, my brief summary of it).

But we Christians have another word about the beginning, and that word is Christ.  He was with God in the beginning, for he is God.  All things, therefore, begin with him.  By him all things were made.  Nothing exists that wasn't created through him.  Not even smarty-pants physicists.  Not even you or me.  

That this Child born in Bethlehem is the Creator of all things is not something to lightly pass over.  It's impossible to comprehend, really, that the ultimate being, the ground of all reality, God of Gods, Lord of Lords, Supernal, Eternal, All-knowing and all-powerful – would come down... (and down, fails to entail the fullness of this thing), that he would come down, to be one of us, to be conceived and born, born in the most everyday way we humans are.  That he would empty himself of such glory and majesty that even to look on him was surely death, but now he's a baby and everything that it means – crying, needing his mother, making dirty diapers and all.  God of the universe, here in time, for you.  The one from before the beginning, now makes his beginning as one of us.  Wonder for a moment at that.

Was the word...

And this agent of Creation is described by John as the “Word”, the “Logos” (in the Greek).  And how can a word be alive?  How can a word be eternal?  How can all things depend on this word?

In our everyday experience, words can mean little.  You say something, but you don't mean it.  You hear words, words, words... advertisements.  The latest political debate analysis.  The store checker trying to sign you up for their credit card.  None of these words mean all that much.  None of them are likely to last, to be remembered.  None of them will change your life, in most cases.  They're background noise.  But they are the words of man.

Furthermore, our words are tainted by sin.  We say things that aren't true, or aren't very nice.  We make  pie-crust promises – easily made, and easily broken.  We curse, swear, lie and deceive.  We talk of ourselves, when we should be listening to others.  We tear others down under the pretense of concern.  We repeat the lies of Satan that make us feel good about ourselves, and sometimes give only lipservice to things that we know should be said.  Our words are so often poisonous, bubbling out of the polluted heart and doing nothing but tearing down and spreading the chaos of sin and death.  We must confess with our lips, our unclean lips, that we are ruined if not for the saving Word of Christ, the very living Word of God.

The Word of God is in a class by itself.  This word is creative.  It made all things.  It is powerful, holding all the authority of the one who speaks it.  The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword.  It cuts both ways, piercing us with the law's accusations, but also severing us from guilt and shame by the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The Word of God is eternal – it is the first word spoken, and none of his words will pass away – even though the heavens and the earth will.  This Word stands alone.

And Jesus Christ is that living Word.  This is John's Christmas account – a more theological word about the meaning of the incarnation.  That in Jesus Christ, God became flesh.  And this is how it began.  Here in the manger, the silent Word is pleading for us.  Here in the manger, the Word that one day will be pierced by nails and spear, but still has come to speak a word of comfort.  A word of Gospel.

In him was life and that life was the light of men...

Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is both Life and Light.

He is the source of all Life, since by him all things were made.  He is the Light of Lights, from whom even light itself has its existence.

Life mystifies the scientists and philosophers.  It's hard to define, and far harder to explain.  The search for life on other planets continues to be a quest that preoccupies many.  And the explanations of life's origin continue to elude even those most steeped in Darwin's theories.  How is it so complex?  Where did this information come from?  DNA, RNA, microscopic systems that exceed the most cutting edge technology we can design.  Wetware that far exceeds our hardware creations.  Life, which overcomes obstacles and seems adapted for every challenge to its existence.  Life in all of its wonderful variety yet miraculous order.  Let alone human life, in a category of its own.  A PhD in biology won't even scratch the surface of the mysteries of life. But we Christians know from whence life comes.  It is from him.  The life was in him, from the beginning.  The life that is the light of men.  And it is found in him, even today.

But life is not where we “live”, in our sinful nature.  The First Adam brought death.  And the Old Adam is a dead man walking.  We sinners know little of life, but we are well acquainted with death.  We see it all around us.  We see its effects creeping in on us.  We hear of this shooting and that cancer.  He dies, she is dying.  Though we often speak of it in whispers, or hide it in hospitals, or try to sanitize it with euphemisms.  We know well the wages of our sin.  It's like a dark cloud that follows us everywhere and eventually swallows us up.  

But Christ is the life.  In him is life.  And he brings that life to us.  Through, of all things, his death. But he is so much life, that death cannot hold him.  And risen from the dead, he gives life to all who believe on his name.  He gives them the same life, he makes us children of God.  We're in the family.  We're blood.  Not born of flesh and blood, but born of God.  Because he was born of flesh and blood, for us.

And light.  Another thing of mystery to the scientists.  It's nature, still not fully understood.  It's speed is constant, and nothing can go faster.  Yet it can bend and warp.  It's a wave and a particle, depending on when and how you're looking.  And yet, though one of the simplest and basic elements of creation, still its true nature eludes our brightest and best minds.  So common, so integral to our experience as humans, and yet a mystery.

Who can see anything without light?  And who can see anything without Christ?  Especially for us who sit in darkness.  Oh, like death, we know the darkness well.  Our sin loves the darkness, for there it thinks it can hide.  It skulks and snivels in fear of exposure.  And woe to anyone who tries to cast the light upon it!  Who are you to judge me!?  You've got your own sin, too!  So your darkness is worse than my darkness, I tell myself, and the darkness further obscures things for both of us.  

But the light of Christ casts out all darkness.  It shines through and not only exposes sin, but chases it away.  Purifies, vaporizes the darkness with the light of his truth.  The true light, the ultimate light, who gives light to all now comes into the world.  

John came, baptizing, calling broods of vipers broods of vipers.  Preparing the way and making straight the path for the greater one to come.  The one John didn't even deserve to touch his sandals.  Who ranks far before John.  The one whose origins are from of old, even from before the beginning.  John wasn't the light, but he testified to it, pointed to him, Jesus Christ the light of the world.  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  The Glory of God now revealed in human flesh.

Some will see him, with eyes enlightened by faith.  Others will remain in the darkness.  He came to his own, the people who should have known him, but they did not.  And so many others who you wouldn't think would, would come to the light.  Some will prefer the shadows of sin and death.  But others will believe in him and live.  So for you: grace upon grace.  Life.  Light.  And an eternal word.

In the love and hope and joy and peace that God gives this Christmas, we see a child, born to die, a perfect little one innocent in every way, who is much more than meets the eye.  The Word made Flesh.  The Light of the World.  The Life of all mankind, wrapped up in this little bundle of Bethlehem joy.  Thanks be to God for this one, this Jesus, the Christ, who brings us grace and truth, even today.  In the beginning, at the manger, from the cross, and always.  In Jesus' Name.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sermon - Midweek Advent 2 - "Christ Our Priest"

Christ our Priest 
Exodus 19:1-8 “A royal priesthood”
Hebrews 9:11-22 “Christ appeared as a high priest...”
John 17:1-26 Jesus' High Priestly Prayer

So far we've seen Christ as our Prophet – fulfilling the Old Testament role of the one who speaks for God, and indeed who is the very Word of God.  He is the prophet to whom all prophets testify.

But our Lord Jesus Christ also fulfills the office of priest in a most excellent way.  Such that he is the everlasting High Priest of the highest order, a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.  But to get a better grasp on his priesthood, and why it is such good news for us, we again take a step back into the Old Testament.
The priesthood of Moses' brother Aaron was established with the sacrificial system at Mt. Sinai.  The anointing of Aaron as the first High Priest of Israel was a day of great joy for God's people.  
They would sing of it in the Psalm (133):

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!

The priest, and especially the High Priest, we see, was especially beloved for he was a representative of the people before God.  He stood in the place of the people and offered sacrifices and prayers to God on their behalf.

Sacrifices – yes, the priesthood was a bloody business.  More akin to a butcher than a paper-pusher, the Old Testament priest was well acquainted with the blood of beasts.  How many millions of animals were slain on the altars of Israel over the years by the hands of the priests.  And why?  Why did the high priest, once a year, place his hands onto the head of the scapegoat and then send it out to die in the wilderness?  And then take another goat, kill it, and sprinkle its blood on in the Holy of Holies?  Why were bulls and rams and pigeons slain and sacrificed?  It was all for this:  for the sins of the people.  The wages of sin – death.  Sin means blood.
I often wonder whether the ancients saw this more clearly – how sin leads to death.  And seeing all these animals die... We've made death so clinical and sanitized it today, but it's only a thin veneer over the ugliness. We don't even like to think that our cheeseburger was once a cow.  But the priests dealt with death.  Day in, day out. 

For his part, Jesus is the priest to end all priests.  He came not only to make the greatest sacrifice, but to be it. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Your sin.  Mine.  Everyone's.  Christ the victim, Christ the priest.  He willingly sheds his own blood, offers his own life, gives up his own spirit – for you.  
To save you from the bloodguilt of your sin.  To rescue you from a well deserved temporal and eternal punishment.  To satisfy the just wrath of God over your sin.  And to create in you a clean heart and a right spirit.

Jesus your priest stands before God the Father and says, “I stand in their place.  My blood for theirs, my life for theirs.  I have paid the price, I drank the cup, I have done it all.  It is finished.”

You see the high priest of old was anointed with oil, but Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit.  The high priest of old would wear bejeweled robes.  But Jesus was stripped of his garments.  The high priest of old would make his sacrifices year after year.  But Jesus died once for all.

Hebrews goes to great lengths to show us how Jesus' priesthood far exceeds all others, and how as the priest of the New Covenant, he sprinkles us with and purifies us with his blood, and so our sins are forgiven.  All the Old Testament sacrifices, while they dealt with sin, did so in a way which found root and fulfillment in Christ. Thus, no more temple sacrifices continue, as the true temple is Christ, and the ultimate sacrifice has been fulfilled in him and by him.  

But a priest is good for more than just making sacrifices.  He stands as a representative of the people, before God, also in prayer.  He sums up the concerns and petitions of the people and presents them on their behalf. He is a mediator in both word and deed.  An intercessor, a go-between.  A priest prays for the people.
Certainly Jesus prayed for us.  John 17 records his longest prayer, what is even called his “High Priestly Prayer”.  

There he prays for his disciples, and for the church that would be built through the Gospel they would preach. That they, we, would not be taken out of the world, but kept faithful while we remain here.  That we would have joy.  That we would be sanctified, made holy, but the truth of God's word.  That standing in that truth, we would also be united.  It is a beautiful prayer of spiritual blessings, notable for what he does NOT pray for as for what he does.  He doesn't ask the Father to keep us from ever suffering, or having to bear persecution.  He doesn't plead that we would all be healthy and wealthy.  Instead he prays, “keep them from the evil one”.  And finally, that we may be with Jesus where he is.

Jesus prayed often, not simply as an example for us, but he prayed for us.  Throughout his earthly ministry, in times of apparent success and through all opposition, Jesus prayed.  In his last hours before death, he took his disciples to a favorite spot for prayer – Gethesmane – Judas knew it well for they would often go there.  Even in the midst of his dying, from the cross itself, Jesus prayed to his Father, prayed for us, for our forgiveness.
But make no mistake. Even now that he is ascended into heaven.  Even now that he sits at the right hand of the Father and rules all things for the good of the church.  Even now that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him.  Still, Jesus prays.  He intercedes with the Father for us.  He is still very much our good and great High Priest pleading with his Father on behalf of his people.  

His people, by the way, who are also priests.  Even the Old Testament people were declared to be a “royal priesthood, a holy nation”.  But now we, too, New Testament believers – are called the priesthood of all believers.

So what sacrifices do we make?  Not for sin, that's certain.  Jesus has already done it all.  But we are told to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.  We lead holy lives in response to his holy word.  We serve God by serving our neighbor.  We offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, joyfully returning to God a portion of what he has given to us.  In your support of the church and the work of the Gospel, you fulfill this priestly role.
And prayer, too, makes us priestly.  We can go directly to God in prayer for he government and those in authority, for our neighbor, for the unbeliever, even for our enemies.

Even in the most frustrating moments of life, when you're at your wit's end, and you feel powerless to effect any positive change.  When you're beating your head against the wall trying to help someone, or solve some crisis of the day, you are still a priest.  You still have access to God through Jesus Christ, and that is no small thing.  You can, you are graciously and lovingly invited to pray to the very God of heaven who sits on his throne.  And we know our prayers will be heard for the sake of the one by whose name we pray, even Jesus Christ our Lord.

I remember with fondness old Helen, a dear 105 year old lady whom I would visit.  Her hearing had gotten hard, her eyesight poor, and her legs were mostly useless.  But her mind was sharp, even at her age.  Helen would often wonder aloud, “Why am I here?  What purpose do I serve?  All my friends and family are gone on ahead of me.  Why doesn't the Lord take me?  I'm no good to anyone!”  And I would gently remind her, “but you can pray”, and I know she did.  Even when all else fails, every one of us still claims this vocation.  The priests of God, the royal priests, pray to him through Jesus Christ.  We pray, young and old, rich and poor, a ceaseless stream of prayer rising to God like a pleasing incense ever rising to him.

Thanks and praise to Christ our prophet, who brings us the word of God, even his very self.  The prophet to whom all prophets testified.

And thanks and praise to Christ our priest, who offers the ultimate sacrifice of himself, and even still prays for us his people.  He is the Great High Priest whom all prior priesthood anticipated, and who has now come.
As we continue to anticipate his coming in glory, and look forward to celebrating his coming in the flesh long ago, may we continue to fulfill our priestly calling in loving response to his many and ongoing gifts.  In Jesus' name.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Sermon - Midweek Advent 1 - "Christ the Prophet"

Christ our Prophet
Micah 5:1-5a “You, oh, Bethlehem”
2 Peter 1:16-21 “The prophetic word more fully confirmed”
Luke 13:31-35 “Oh Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets”

This Advent Season we meditate on the three-fold office of Christ, who is our Prophet, Priest and King.

We will see how Jesus fulfills these three Old Testament offices, which, like all of the Scriptures, testify to him.  We will draw on the saints of old who held these offices and set forth the pattern, but we'll also see how they reach their apex and perfection in Christ.  And finally, we will consider how, in each of these offices, our Lord Jesus still serves his people as Prophet, as Priest, and as King.

Today, Christ the Prophet.

An average person on the street might think of a prophet as akin to a fortune teller or psychic.  Someone who has a special knowledge, particularly about the future.  Maybe they can predict the outcome of sporting events, or tell you what profession you'll one day have.  Or maybe they can foretell the course of events on a national scale.  Nostradamus, guys like that, who write cryptic poems that people try to decipher in the events of history.

But the biblical definition of prophet is quite different.  Now, it is true that often the prophets of the Bible have a special knowledge, and can even predict the future.  But this message they bring is not one of superstitious origins, it comes from God himself.  It is not a vague and cryptic message to be decoded and shrouded in mystery, but it is as straightforward and clear as the Word of God always is – for that is the message they bring.  And while the role of the prophets is sometimes to tell the future, it is just as often to speak a present word to the people of God.  Repent!  Turn away from your sins, and turn to God today while he is near!  And so forth.

We might survey the prophets and some of their more notable prophecies:  You have the major prophets:

Isaiah – who warns both the Northern and Southern kingdoms of judgment, but also predicts a restoration after exile in Babylon.  He also shows the Messiah as a suffering servant of God.

Jeremiah – the weeping prophet who foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and then lived to see it.  But he also foretold of a New Covenant in which God remembers sin no more.

Ezekiel -  Who preached doom and gloom for both Israel and other nations who had mocked Yahweh, but also had a word of hope perhaps best seen in his vision of the Valley of Dry Bones, restored to life.

Daniel – who lived during the captivity and also received prophetic messages through interpreting dreams and receiving visions – and who prophesied the rise and fall of empires and the coming Messiah

Then 12 minor prophets, for example:

Hosea – who married a prostitute as a living object lesson that God's people where unfaithful to him by following other gods.

Amos – A shepherd and vinedresser from the South, turned prophet to the North – with a word of warning for those people.

Jonah – the reluctant prophet, whose 4 word sermon brought Nineveh, the world capital of wickedness to sincere repentance... an even greater miracle than being swallowed by a fish.  But even in this sign of Jonah, the prophet pointed to the Ultimate Prophet.

And Micah, who tells the Savior will be born in “You, oh Bethlehem, Ephrathah”.

Then those many other prophets whose messages weren't written as Holy Scripture for us, but some of whom we hear about, like Nathan, the prophet who stood eye to eye with King David, called him out on his sin with Bathsheba, “You are the man!”  And when David confessed his sin, immediately Nathan also spoke that word of comfort, “You will not die.  Your sin has been put away”

And of course Elijah, who stands for “all the prophets” and meets Jesus on the mount of Transfiguration.  Elijah, spokesman for God against the wicked pagans of his day, Ahab and Jezebel and their false gods Baal and Asherah.

All these men were “carried along by the Holy Spirit”, given the words to speak, inspired to write and act on behalf of God with a prophetic word – a word not their own – a word from God himself.

And there is one more prophet worth mentioning here, the last of the prophets, the voice of one crying in the wilderness “Prepare the way of the Lord”.  John the Baptist, who says of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  John, who preached a harsh word of repentance, and called a brood of vipers when he's see it.  But John who also preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And who recognized the greater prophet to come, whose sandal he wasn't worthy to untie. Jesus says John is a prophet, and more, the greatest man to ever live – yet whoever is least in the kingdom is greater than even he.

Which brings us back to Jesus, of course.  The one who is the greatest because he makes himself least.  The one who is a prophet's prophet.  He is the one of whom all true prophets prophesy.  He is the ultimate bearer of the message, for he himself IS the message - the very Word of God by whom all things were made, the eternal word now made flesh and dwelling among us.

Jesus would speak all that the Father had given him, for his people and for our benefit.  When many came to him for healing and other miraculous signs, he would say, “Let's go to the other towns, so that I may preach there too, for that is why I came”.

Many received his message with great interest and even joy.  “What is this, a new teaching, and with authority?”  But others were offended at his prophetic word.  Even at his hometown, where he declared himself the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, they tried to push him off a cliff.  “A prophet is never accepted in his home town”.

And while some today think that Jesus only message was one of love and cheer and no rough edges, he certainly could call down prophetic fire and brimstone.  He excoriated the pharisees, calling them whitewashed tombs and sons of Satan.  He cleared out the temple, even made a whip, and demanded his Father's house be a house of prayer, not a den of thieves.  He called a sin a sin, though sometimes gently, too, “now go and sin no more”.  Today, too, he calls you to repentance by his prophetic word.

But the best prophetic word that Jesus brings is his Gospel.  The good news about himself.  That in Him, the Kingdom of God has come.  That in him, the promises and prophecies of old are fulfilled.  That in him, the sins of the world, and your sins, are forgiven.

A prophetic word he spoke even from the cross - “Father forgive them...”, “Today you will be with me in paradise”, “It is finished”.  Yes, Jerusalem, which kills the prophets, would also kill the greatest prophet on a Roman cross.  But Jesus knew it, and prophesied it many times.  Take Luke 18 for example:

31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

One of the marks of a true prophet, then, is if his predictions come true.  But what prophet ever went so far as to predict his own arrest, suffering, death, and resurrection?  And then delivered on it, just as promised?  Only Jesus.

The God who knows both past and future, has provided a prophet for you.  He declares the sins of your past forgiven.  And he promises blessings now and in the future.  He speaks with all the authority that is his – all authority in heaven and on earth.  And while he speaks a word of law to show you your sin, that word is followed by his word of comfort.  In Christ, your sins are forgiven.  In Christ, your future with God is secure.

We know that some of his prophecies yet remain to be fulfilled.  He will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead.  All flesh will rise and see him.  He will separate the sheep from the goats.  And of those that belong to him, not one will be snatched from his hand, but he will say to them, to us, “enter into your rest”.

Thanks be to God for Christ the Prophet, who came once in blessing, and will come again in glory. Trust in his prophetic word, for it will never fail you.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sermon - Pentecost 25 - Mark 13:1-13

Pentecost 24
Mark 13:1-13
“Saved in the End”

You see this fancy temple? It's toast. You see these tall pillars? They're coming down. The Holy Place? Scrap it. The Holy of Holies? First they'll tear it down, then it will become a trash heap, then a shrine to a false god, and then, along with every other once proud and impressive location – everything will be destroyed. Not even one stone left on another.

Are you impressed by the things of this world? The Sistine Chapel? The Great Wall of China? Mt. Rushmore? None of it will last. Even the Pyramids, which have stood perhaps the longest – they'll be gone, too. Your house, your neighborhood, the Taco Bell. Your school, your workplace, even your church building.

It's that time of the year again, the end of the church year, in which the lectionary, for several weeks, sets before us these readings which point to the end. Call it the judgment day, the last day, the second coming of Christ. Or use the fancy term, “eschatology” from the Greek word “eschatos”, which means, simply, “the last things”.

Here in Mark's Gospel, were are again in Holy Week. Jesus is with his disciples in the temple, like so many others who have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Jesus has already been welcomed on Palm Sunday and greeted with “hosannas”. He's turned over temple tables, and his teaching is overturning the hopes and expectations for Jewish national glory.

Not only is Jesus not the military messiah so many expected, here to run out the Romans. He's the bearer of bad news: This place is going down. And so it came to pass. In 70 AD, not even 40 years after Jesus speaks these words, Roman general Titus puts down a rebellion in Jerusalem.
And he destroys the temple. Jews still mourn this event every year. Titus would go on to become Roman Emperor, and the arch which tells of his glorious victory in Jerusalem still stands in Rome to this day. But the temple, the temple into which so many Jews put their hopes for the future, has been reduced to one lone exterior wall.

So how can Jesus say “not one stone will be left” if, in fact, a whole wall remains? Because the prophecy isn't finished yet. The destruction of the temple was but a foretaste of the final destruction for which this corrupt world is destined. All of it will pass away. Vanish like smoke. Be rolled up like a scroll. Scripture tells us, and Jesus tells us, of a time to come when he will bring about a new heaven and new earth, and the old will pass away entirely. For us it is a day of victory and celebration.

But before that day comes, he has more bad news. There will be other calamities. And what a list it is! Wars and rumors of wars. Earthquakes. Famines. And maybe worst of all, false teachers.
Do not be led astray! Jesus warns us to watch out, especially, for those who would falsely come in his name. But this isn't just about crackpots who claim to be Jesus in the flesh yet again (though surely there have been quite enough of those!)

This is also about all who would come and teach falsely concerning him. Anyone who teaches against his word. Anyone who points you to yourself for your own salvation. Anyone who teaches you that his grace is not enough, and that you need to add your own work, your own decision, your own acceptance to the mix. Anyone who teaches you to despise his gifts given in water and bread and wine, and not receive them as he intends, for the forgiveness of your sin. Anyone who would teach that Christianity is all about Gospel apart from Law, or vice versa. Anyone who adds the teachings of man to the revealed Word of God. Even those who would cheapen God's grace in Christ by claiming that this sin or that sin doesn't matter, or isn't that sinful, and who call good evil and evil good. Beware! Watch out! Do not be led astray! Many will come, teaching all this and more, but they are not Christ. And it is not yet the end.

He warns the disciples of persecution. That they would be arrested and beaten and delivered over to death. Even families would be torn apart in all of this. And all who are with Christ will be hated for his name's sake. What an uplifting picture of the future Jesus paints for them, and for us.

Church history tells us that all of the 12 Apostles met a martyrs death, except for John – who was also persecuted and imprisoned. Jesus rightly prepares his disciples for the trouble that would follow them, even unto death. But these disciples, too, are but a foretaste of the persecution of the church and the birth pains of creation that would continue from then until the very end.

And we, too, live in those times. Yes, we are in the end times. The times of the birth pains. We hear of wars and rumors of wars. We see earthquakes and famines and false teachers. We see families torn apart and Christians hated for Jesus' name. The church has always faced these things, in one measure or another, in fits and starts, just like a woman in labor. When the birth pains come, then they recede, then they come again in greater force, then recede. We know how this goes. We know that the end is coming, it's on the horizon, it's getting nearer. But we can't say exactly when.

But Jesus doesn't tell us all this to scare us. He knows well enough that we have enough fear living in this fallen world. He's not simply trying to get us to wake up and shape up, and live a good life with the short time we have left. As if threats of the law could do that anyway.

But it should drive us to repentance. Repent of your attachment to the supposedly impressive things of this world, which is passing away. Repent of your adherence to anyone who teaches falsely in Christ's name. Repent of your fears of what may come, of who may oppose you, and your lack of trust in Christ. Repent, and believe in Christ!

And hear that Jesus is also speaking words of comfort to his dear flock, not one of which he means to lose from his hand.

“The one who endures to the end will be saved”. In other words: have faith. Have trust in me. For I have come to save. No matter how bad it gets. No matter what troubles may come. No matter what armies march into your backyard and destroy your homes and burn your churches. No matter what natural disasters befall you. Though the earth shakes it all down and the fields dry up and waste away. I am with you to the end. So endure to the end. You will be saved. I won't let you fall. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And he who lives and believes in me will never die.
Jesus endured all of this and worse, for you, on the cross. He knows what it is to suffer all, and to see your world come crashing down before you. He suffered the wrath of God for the sins of the world. Every injustice against every innocent. Every violence, every cruelty, every hatred – this man of sorrows carried it all on that wooden cross. And his sacrifice was for it all. The sins of the world. To save the world.

Though false teachers will come and give false words about him, his word, and his work. Yet he promises that his faithful people will not be without his Spirit. And that Spirit will give us even the words to speak before councils and synagogues and even before governors and kings. That word never changes. That word of the Gospel which shows Jesus Christ crucified for sin, to save the world. And that Gospel must be preached to all nations.

So rather than worrying about when all this will happen, it is enough for us to know that it will. And that Christ knows it, and is still going to save us. No matter how bad it gets, no matter what you must suffer now or in the future – Jesus suffered all, and has gone before you to save. He faced death, but conquered it. And now you share in his victory. He has saved you. And he will save you, even for all eternity. Cling to this word. Even to the end. Believe it for Jesus's sake. Amen.