Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sermon - 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 - Epiphany 4

1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Epiphany 4
January 30th, 2011
“Preaching Foolishness”

“That's the stupidest thing I ever heard!” Anyone ever said that to you, or about something you happen to believe? Is there anything more insulting or disquieting than to have someone question one of the major tenets of your faith – or to suggest that the whole thing is rubbish?

And don't think it doesn't happen. For many of the doctrines of the Christian faith are disturbing to those who don't believe them. Sure there are the live-and-let-live types. But to those who take the time to understand what Christianity actually teaches – they are often angered or offended. And they'll sometimes tell you how foolish they think you are to believe it.

But this isn't a sermon about them. This is a sermon for us. What does it do to us when someone tells us our faith is stupid? That we are fools? Does even a part of us believe it?

We are tempted, not just by such attacks. We are tempted even by our own minds, to place our reason before faith, our own ideas and thoughts before the word of God. And when we do, we usually come to the wrong conclusion.

Luther called reason the “Devil's bride” and the “Greatest enemy of the faith”. One quote attributed to Luther reads, “Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and … know nothing but the word of God” He also said, "All the articles of our Christian faith, which God has revealed to us in His Word, are in presence of reason sheerly impossible, absurd, and false."

So Dr. Luther agrees with St. Paul, that the message of the cross is foolishness, a scandal, utterly unreasonable.

But. To us who are being saved.... a different story. To us who
are being saved, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Still, there's this conflict within us...

Sin often seems so reasonable. Just a little cheating here won't hurt. A little lying there and no one will know. I'll get rid of this inconvenience and I'll ignore that word of God – it's just not practical. God's ways don't make sense to us. Wouldn't it be better to do it my way?

I know God said, “don't eat from that tree”. But it looks so good and I want to be wise. God said, “Honor thy Father and Mother”, but they just don't know what it's like to be a teenager. God said, “do not give up meeting together”, but I could really use a day off this weekend. God said, “pray for your enemies”, but I really hate that guy! God said, “love your neighbor”, but that person doesn't seem worth it... and on and on...

But in reality sin is entirely unreasonable. How many times do we do what's wrong even though we know better. Even though we know we'll get caught, we'll pay the consequences one way or another. Even though we know that sin brings death, and pain, and punishment. And yet we go and sin – for some inexplicable reason.

Reason, human, corrupted, sinful reason, must bow to the foolishness of God. What we think, and what we think we know, must always come after what God says is true. Even if it seems unreasonable.

And thank God for such foolishness. What kind of foolish God would do what he does? Come down from heaven, be born a human. Be mocked. Suffer. Die. Forgive sinners. Love people who hate him. Do it all for people who do everything but his will. Jesus is either the biggest fool who ever lived, or his foolishness is bigger and better than we can imagine.

Paul says God uses the weak things of this world to shame the strong. There's no one stronger in this world than Satan himself. And there's nothing weaker than dying in humility on a cross. And there it is. The foolishness of God. The cross.

So we preach Christ Crucified. It's the only way. It's the only wisdom for us foolish sinners. It's the only power for those of us weakened even to death. Jesus dies, for you and me, for all. The Lord of life dies to bring life. The All-Powerful God submits to petty and unjust human punishments, the judge of all, the king of all, submits to cowardly Pilate.

And in a fit of further foolishness, God turns things upside down again – bringing Jesus from death to life. Back from the dead. Who would ever have thought? What worldly wisdom could have predicted? But no, it's against all reason and wisdom and common sense. But it is by such foolishness that we are saved. In fact without the resurrection, our faith is in vain, as Paul says.

So the next time someone calls you a fool for believing in Jesus, you might agree. But remember that God's foolishness is wiser than man's wisdom. The next time sin seems reasonable to you, repent! And in your weakness turn to the only strength we have – the weakness and foolishness of Christ. We preach Christ Crucified.. for you! The power and wisdom of God are in him, for you.

In his holy name, Amen.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sermon - John 1:29-42 - Epiphany 2

John 1:29-42
Epiphany 2
January 16th, 2011
“Behold the Lamb”

We're two Sundays in to the season of Epiphany. And as I say every year, the big question for the Epiphany season is, “who exactly is this Jesus?”

We hear at his baptism – the voice from heaven declares it – he is God's own Son. That same voice will echo in a few weeks at his Transfiguration.

But in-between, we have a number of these Gospel readings which unfold and unpack different aspects of who Jesus is. Through his speech and actions, we get a clearer picture of this one who was born in Bethlehem, of whom angels sang. What is his identity? And if he is the savior, what kind of savior would he be?

Today, John the Baptist chimes in. He declares Jesus to be the “Lamb of God”. The text also calls him Rabbi, the Son of God, and the Messiah, that is, the Christ. All these names or titles tell us something about who Jesus is.

But Lamb of God is perhaps the most unusual name of these. It's a technical term in the Old Testament, having to do with the Passover. There a lamb, a perfect unblemished male lamb was slaughtered, and its blood was used on the doorposts to mark the homes of God's people. When the Angel of Death came for the final plague – to kill all the firstborn of Egypt, he would see the blood of the lamb and pass over that house. The Lamb was also roasted and consumed that night by God's people – a feast which was established then and carried over every year as remembrance of God's mercy to them – how God saved them from slavery in Egypt.

It's easy for us Christians to see how Jesus fits the bill of “Lamb of God”. He was the one, perfect sacrifice without spot or blemish. He is the one who saves by his blood – saves us from death. He is the one who is consumed in the wrath of God over sin, as he suffers its punishments for us. And we even continue to remember this blessed sacrifice in our holy sacrament – which he established, and we feast on him – body and blood, for the forgiveness of our sins.

Did John understand all this when he pointed out Jesus as the “Lamb of God?” Who knows. But he was right to direct our attention to Jesus.

He says, “Behold!” And that little word is important, too. “Take note!” “Look here!” “This is important!” We do well to “behold” Jesus. It might not seem so at first. For a bloody lamb slaughtered and roasted guts-and-all isn't a pretty sight. Nor is the sight of a man beaten and bloodied, shamed and humiliated, hung up on a cross with nails and thorns and sweat and agony.... no, Jesus isn't a pretty picture either. But John says, “Behold!”

The truth is, when we “Behold the Lamb”, and it's not pretty – it's not pretty because of sin. Sin is what's ugly. Sin's consequences – suffering, pain, death – are uglier still. And there on the cross Jesus becomes sin for us, “God made him, who had no sin, to become sin for us.' Oh yes, all well and good, pastor, sin is ugly.

But that's our sin we're talking about. Mine. Yours. When you behold the lamb who was slain, and see the bloody mess that sin makes, that's your mess! Are we accustomed to thinking of our sins in such terms? Are we used to thinking that every time we gossip or fudge the truth or slack off when we should be working – it means blood and death? Do we consider our sins that ugly, or have we become so accustomed to sinning that it's not a big deal anymore?

Sure, we are repulsed by CERTAIN sins – other people's sins, mostly. The child abusers and the drunk drivers. The people who cheat on their husbands or beat their wives. But what about the people whose love is cold? Who are too selfish? Who neglect to do the good that a child of God is called to do? What about people who just think evil thoughts and hold lust in their hearts? Jesus condemns such things too. We're not off the hook. We're just good at beholding other things besides our own sins.

Maybe the Old Testament people had better reminders than we do of this reality. As day after day bulls and lambs and doves were slain and butchered and burned in sacrifice for sin. An endless stream of blood poured out for the endless stream of sin and its wake of death.
And yet, it wasn't, ultimately enough. One hymn puts it well, “Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain.”

But once you've truly beheld the bloody mess that is your sin, then once again “Behold the Lamb of God...who takes away the sin of the world.” And yes, that includes your sin, too.

Jesus is that lamb. Jesus takes that mess. He suffers for you, and for all people. And he dies. And there is nothing more important for us to behold, to look at, to pay attention to. For there in the Lamb of God, we see God's love for us sinners, and we are forgiven.

And that lamb is slain, only to rise again! We can behold him on the cross, and in the tomb, but we will see him, behold him, face to face one day – for he lives forever, and we will live with him forever. The Lamb is victorious, and he gives us a share in his victory.

Behold him again, today, as he comes in the sacrament. Though we don't see him with our eyes, we behold him by faith – according to his promise. This is his body and blood. Given and shed for you. This, here, is the lamb of God. Behold the lamb. Take eat, take drink, for your forgiveness.

And believe it for Jesus' sake. Amen.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Sermon - Luke 2:41-52 - Christmas 2

Luke 2:41-52
Christmas 2
January 2nd, 2011
“It is Necessary”

It's a week and a day after Christmas and already Jesus is 12. That's because the New Testament isn't too concerned about the details of his childhood. We are simply told that Jesus was an obedient son. The next we see of him he is 30, and his public ministry begins.

But there's more to this account of the boy Jesus in the temple than to satisfy some of our curiosity about those years between his birth and public ministry. Luke isn't trying to write a biography of Jesus life, but instead to tell us a Gospel account – what is the good news of Jesus Christ? And to that end, this story of Jesus at 12 in the temple – it points toward that good news.

There are some clues here that connect this account with Jesus' later life and deeds – and especially, his passion.

For one, these events take place in Jerusalem – which is where the story of Jesus' work and life begins and ends. It all happens in close proximity to the Passover feast – where the lamb is slain as a sacrifice for sin. So the true Lamb of God would shed his blood, here, as a sacrifice for all sin.

The temple takes center stage, there, and in Jesus' work. For he would cleanse it, teach in it, and destroy the temple of his body to rebuild it in three days. The temple, the house of God, was the place where God dwelt with man. Jesus is the true temple, the ultimate dwelling of God with man. God and man united in one person. God with us, Emmanuel. Old Simeon sings when the “Light to the Gentiles” and the “Glory of Israel” is brought to the temple as an infant. And when the God-man is crucified, the temple curtain is torn in two.

There's a little three-letter Greek word, which means “it is necessary”. Luke uses that word in today's reading, when Jesus says, “it is necessary for me to be in my Father's house”. The same word appears when Jesus speaks of the necessity of him going up to Jerusalem, to suffer and die and rise again. It is necessary. It was a must, for us.

Mary and Joseph would lose their son and find him on the third day, just as in his death he was lost to Mary only for three days, and rose to life on the third. There another Mary would be asked, “why are you looking for Jesus?”

Jesus has work to do. Even at 12, he knew who he was, and he knew where he would be going. In his Father's house, and about his Father's business. Not his will, but the Father's would be done. The obedient son of Joseph and Mary is the obedient Eternal son of God.

For our part, we are disobedient sons and daughters. We disobey our Heavenly Father, and we disregard his earthly representatives – parents and other authorities. We are not about our Father's business as we should be, and we are not in our Father's house as often or as faithfully as he would have us. We are sinners, after all. And in our sins, we are really lost, and do need to be found.

Like Mary and Joseph, and so many other students of the wise Teacher, we don't always understand very well what Jesus is talking about. We hear what we want to hear – even from God's Word. Jesus wants to talk suffering and death. He wants to point us to the cross. But like so many others, we want success and glory instead.

But only in his cross do we find what we need – access to the Father's house in heaven. It's not just the thief next to Jesus there that receives the promise of a place in paradise – but all people who believe in Christ – for us he prepares a place. For us he will come back, to take us home.

From that cross flow all the gifts of God's grace, and we receive them in the Word of God, and in his Sacraments. Baptismal water which makes us his children. Words of teaching which create and nurture faith. Bread and wine that are the true body and blood of the Lamb – and that truly take away sins. And we find all of these, in God's house. And he comes to us here, in this place, and brings us to his Father through these means of grace.

Even as a 12 year old, Jesus is doing things for his people, being who he is, our Savior. Teaching, Amazing, pointing to the cross. Submitting to his parents, in fulfillment of the law – for us. Submitting to his Father, in fulfillment of all righteousness – for us.

Take a page from Mary, who treasured up all these things in her heart. Treasure up the birth and life and work and teachings of Jesus. Sit at the feet of the great teacher, whose wisdom surpasses even Solomon's.

And marvel with the scribes and chief priests, and be amazed with Joseph and Mary. Appreciate all that he is and does for you, the poor sinner. And see how he points you again and again to his cross and resurrection. Amen.