Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sermon - Epiphany 4 - Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Epiphany 4 – January 29, 2012
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
What Would Moses Do?

Moses says, in his farewell address: “The Lord will raise up a prophet like me from among you”. Well first there's the history.

The 40 years of wandering in the desert was coming to an end. God would lead his people across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. Moses had been their leader, well, their human leader, all this time. From the Exodus and the Passover, through the parting of the Red Sea to Mt. Sinai and the giving of the 10 commandments, the establishment of the Tabernacle and the whole sacrificial system. Moses was the guy. And now as he approached 120 years old, it was time for the people to enter Canaan. And Moses wouldn't be going with them. It was time for a new leader.

Moses died just across the border. Mount Nebo. He never set foot on the earthly promised land (at least until he met Jesus at the mount of Transfiguration). Instead, it was Joshua, son of Nun, who would take over the mantle. Joshua was a mighty leader, too. He lead the conquest at Jericho and many other Canaanite cities, as the people came into possession of the land. Through Moses, God had done great things. Through Joshua God was about to do great things. So Joshua must have been who Moses meant when he said, “The Lord will raise up a prophet like me from among you”. Right? Not entirely.

Old Testament prophecy can often be seen as having multiple layers of fulfillment. The near fulfillment, the historical thing that happened back then for people to see, and the ultimate fulfillment, which sometimes points even to the last day itself. The promised land, for instance, was promised to Abraham, and delivered to God's people in Joshua. But the true promised land of Heaven is the ultimate fulfillment.

So too with this prophet of whom Moses speaks. Joshua was great and all, but he was still not the imposing figure that Moses was. Moses, after all, met God and lived. Moses saw the plagues and the passover and the parting of the sea. Moses received the Ten Commandments and wrote the Torah! Moses! Who can be as great a prophet as he!? No, Joshua, whose Hebrew name was “Yeshua” stood in the shadow of this giant of faith, Moses. But there would be another Joshua, or Yeshua, or as you know him, “Jesus”.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of Moses' words of prophecy here. But to appreciate it, let's compare the two.

Moses was the great law-giver. He brought the Ten Commandments, the moral code by which God's people were to order their lives.

Jesus was also a law-giver. Not only a law-giver, but certainly he did that. He taught us to love God, and love our neighbor. He showed by example of washing feet how we out to serve one another. How being great in his kingdom meant being the least. In fact, he even expounded and expanded the Law of Moses - “You've heard it said, do not commit adultery, but I say... lust is adultery in your heart! Moses taught you, 'do not murder', but I say that hatred of another is like murder in your heart! Moses let you get a divorce, but that was only because of your hardened hearts. From the beginning, God has joined men and women together in marriage. And what God has joined together, let man not separate!”

The problem for us, is that we break the law of Moses, and we break the law of Jesus. Neither the 10 commandments of Moses, nor any of the commandments of Jesus are attainable for us sinners. So Jesus is a prophet like Moses. But Jesus is even greater.

Moses was a deliverer. Through him, God brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. He plagued their enemies and rescued them from the angel of Death. He regarded the blood of the lamb, the lamb without blemish, as a sacrifice sufficient to save each household. And then he brought the people through the sea, and drowned Pharaoh's host which pursued them in those same waters. The memory of this salvation established the Israelites as a nation. It gave them their very identity. It made them who they were. Moses led them through all this.

But Jesus is a deliverer to exceed even Moses. Moses was a faint shadow of this true deliverer. Jesus brought us out of the bondage of sin, and into the freedom of the Gospel. Jesus rescues us from death by dying and rising, himself. Jesus is the lamb of God who is slain from the foundation of the world, and who takes away the sin of the world, and has mercy on us. Jesus is the one who delivers us by his gift of Holy Baptism, bringing us safely through the water to new life in him, and drowning our old Adam, our sinful nature, daily, through repentance and faith. Jesus makes us who we are, his people, his church. Built by him and on him and in him, sustained by His Spirit, and promised a future paradise that will never end.

And Jesus is the only law-fulfiller. He does all things well. He perfectly, obediently obeys the will of the Father, and fulfills all righteousness by living entirely without sin. And he does this, not for himself, but for you. To give you the credit for his perfect life. To give you a righteousness only he could earn. His holy life overshadows your mess of sin, just as his perfect death takes you from under the shadow of sin and death.

What would Moses Do? Well, whatever Moses did, Jesus did it better. He is truly the prophet God raised up like Moses, but even better. He is the perfect law giver, and law-fulfiller. He is the one true deliverer of the world, and of you and me individually. He is the one who brought us through the waters, and establishes us in his kingdom forever.

Hail to Jesus Christ, the one with authority, the Holy One of God, the new and greater Moses, the Prophet who speaks God's word, who is the living word, our leader, our champion, our savior. In His Name, Amen.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sermon - Epiphany 2 - John 1:43-53

Epiphany 2 – January 15, 2012
John 1:43-53
You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

There is much to learn about Jesus from the calling of Nathanael.

Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Nathanael starts his interaction with Jesus with a mild insult. Really. I mean. Phillip, you're telling me that the Messiah is from that back-water town? They're a suburb of nowhere.

But Phillip tells Nathanael to come and see, and for some reason, he does. Skeptical, probably frumping along to humor his friend. Nathanael was expecting another crackpot, some false Messiah like so many that had come before.

Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Well, the answer to that, theologically, is “no.” Nothing good can come from Nazareth, or from Jerusalem, or Rome. Nothing good can come from New York, or Chicago, or Green Bay, or Racine. Nothing good can come from anywhere, especially from anyone in this sinful, broken, messed up world.

And that means nothing good can come from you or me, either. Out of the heart come our evil thoughts. From our unclean lips come unclean words. And our blood-stained hands can do only the filthy works of sin. We are corrupt through and through. Can anything good come from me? No. For I am just as much a part of this sinful world as the next guy. And so are you.

Can anything good come from Nazareth? No. But Jesus is not from Nazareth.

When Jesus sees Nathanael he rattles his cage of pre-conceived notions. He shows a little of that divine knowledge that only he could have. He saw Nathanael under the fig tree, before Phillip called him. And he returns Nathanael's insult with a compliment, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is no deceit!”

What does Jesus mean? That Nathanael is without sin? Surely not. For if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Perhaps Jesus is here commending Nathanael for having enough honesty to call a sin a sin where he sees it. For having the guts to ask what good can come from Nazareth, and having the humility to know that the sins of his own past make him no better.

Jesus knows our past, too. He calls us before we know who he is. He saves us before we know we need saving. He knew you before you were born, after all. Yes, he knows your deep, dark secrets. No sin or shame can escape him. But he puts all that away. He chooses to deal with your sins by taking the condemnation you deserve. Jesus knows you better than you even know yourself. He knows who you really are – who he has made you to be in your baptism. He knows the plans he has for you, the place he's preparing for you.

Back to the story. This little bit of a show of omniscience by Jesus leads Nathanael to confess a great truth. To recognize the folly of his insult. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Ah, yes, true. We can confess the same with Nathanael. We know who Jesus is. We know, not on our own, but because he tells us and shows us. We know from his word, that he is true God and true man. That he is without sin, yet takes on our sin. That he is our great prophet, our high priest, and our true king. Nathanael would come to learn in more and better and deeper ways just who this Jesus was and what he came to do. Nathanael would come to see even greater things than a prophet from Nazareth.

You think it's a big deal that I saw you under the fig tree, Nathanael? Well you aint seen nothin' yet!”

And he would. And we do. For Nathanael and for us, the minor miracle was Jesus seeing him under the fig tree. The greater miracle is us seeing Jesus on the tree of the cross.

The cross is that touchstone between heaven and earth. Jesus hangs there, right in the middle, the God-Man, between God and Man. He suffers and dies there to bridge the chasm of sin. To bring God to man and man to God. In Jesus heaven itself is open to us.

Jesus is Jacob's ladder – the stairway to heaven. Only through him does God come to be with us, to cleanse us and call us. Only in him do we have access to the Father and to eternal life.

Only at the tree of the cross can Nathanael and Phillip and all the other apostles and disciples find the true Son of God and King of Israel. Only in his cross can we see Jesus for who he is. He didn't come to do parlor tricks. He didn't come to wow us with miraculous fireworks. He came to die. To conquer death. And to speak good news to us, his people.

And like Nathanael and Phillip, he calls us to follow. To have no deceit about our sins, but to bring them to the tree of the cross. To hear and see him, Jesus, for all that he is and does. And to trust and believe and live in him, forever.

And with Jesus, we can still say, “You aint seen nothin' yet.” Yes, once again, we will see heaven opened, when he comes again in glory. Yet again will Jesus descend, now in glory. That day, that great Epiphany is coming soon. May he keep us faithful, so that at the last we too can stand and confess him, Jesus, the Son of God, and the King of Israel, our savior. In his holy name, Amen.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Jesus the Sponge?

While leading Bible Study at church today I was amazed, as I often am, by the theological acumen of some of our attendees.  We were discussing the readings for the Baptism of Our Lord (Mark 1 in particular), and the idea that in his baptism, Jesus "takes our sins" upon himself.  Almost a sort of "Reverse-Baptism".

One comment from the class, was that it was as if all the people who were baptized there by John had washed their sins into the water, and Jesus comes in, like a sponge, and takes them all to himself.  This, of course, culminates in the cross, where "it is finished".  But you could argue that it begins, in a public way, when he takes our sins upon himself in the Jordan.

Another comment, in a similar vein, was from someone who traveled to Israel with me in 2007.  Of course we saw there the Sea of Galilee, the large freshwater lake that was for many in the land over the years, a very important source of life.  The Jordan river flows from there, and afterward to the Dead Sea.  So the picture was that life comes from the clean water of Baptism, and is washed down and away with death itself.  A very cool observation!

Issues Etc. may have the "smartest listeners in radio", but I may have some of the smartest Bible Class members around!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Sermon - Christmas 1 - Luke 2:22-40

Christmas 1 – January 1st 2012
Luke 2:22-40
The Firstborn Redeemer

For the world, Christmas is over. For the Church, it's only just begun. We are one week in to our Christmas season, which will follow with Epiphany, and several Sundays after. While the world is on to Valentine's Day, we continue to dwell on Christ, our newborn King.

Today a reading from Luke which tells an episode from Jesus' infancy. 40 days after birth, observant Jews performed the redemption of the firstborn, according to Exodus 13, our Old Testament reading. For every firstborn male a sacrifice was made – to redeem him, to buy him back. This itself was a sign pointing to Christ, the firstborn of Mary and the only-begotten Son of God. The New Adam who came to redeem the Old Adam in all of us.

So Jesus is brought to his, yes, his temple. Like his circumcision and his baptism, Jesus participates in all these rituals – though he has no need to be redeemed from sin himself. Yet he is our priest, our representative to God, and does all this and more in our place. Jesus is redeemed, in this ritual sense, even as he is your redeemer. Mary and Joseph make the ritual sacrifice of two turtledoves, for they couldn't afford the lamb. But the true lamb of sacrifice was the babe in their arms.

There they meet old Simeon, who sings a song, called the “Nunc Dimmitis”, Latin for “Now Dismiss”. Having seen and even held Jesus, the promised savior, his redeemer, he can go – he can die in peace. The glory of the Lord, that is also the glory of Israel – which had departed from the temple long ago – had now returned. The light to the gentiles, the one who brings light to all nations – had dawned upon the earth. “My eyes have seen thy salvation” - Simeon is talking about Jesus Christ!

We sing that song, too. We sing it when we, too, have seen and held the Christ – even more, after we eat his body and drink his blood. We see the salvation of God, the glory of Israel, the light to the nations. And with our sins forgiven, and our souls nourished, we too are at peace. We can now be dismissed. We are ready, even for death, having received Jesus and his gifts.

I can't tell you how many dying Christians I've spoken or sung these words to. For in the word, in our baptism, in the Supper – we see God's salvation and our promised rest. Simeon's song is the song of every Christian, every believer in Christ. We can go in peace.

Simeon and Anna remind me of Adam and Eve. People acquainted with death. Simeon was well up in years, waiting to die. Anna knew the death of her husband at an early age; death had shaped the course of her life. Like Adam and Eve who died the day they ate of the fruit, but whose bodies lived in sin and death for years to come. Simeon and Anna both awaited the fulfillment of the promises to Adam and Eve and all the other men and women of old. That the seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head. Only Simeon and Anna lived to see it unfolding in this infant Christ.

Eve thought her firstborn son, Cain, would be the one. But he, too, became known for bringing only death. It would take another firstborn to do the job. A firstborn of a virgin. Redeemed under the law of Moses at the temple, but redeeming all of Adam and Eve's children from death by his blood.

You and I are people acquainted with death. Our culture tries to make us numb to it, but death is always breathing down our necks. We are fragile. We could all go at any time. You don't have to be old like Simeon and Anna to realize this. You don't have to suffer from aches and pains or debilitating diseases to see death's shadow over life. Change and decay happen in so many ways. Things and people we love go away, deteriorate, yes, even die. Relationships fracture. All good things, they say, must come to an end. So it is in our world of death. Not only life, but everything in it is subject to the wages of sin. Well, almost everything.

Death meets its death in the Babe of Bethlehem. Death meets its death in Christ on the cross. When he says, “it is finished”, he declared the victory. He, the Son of God and Son of Man did exactly what he came to do.

And yes, Jesus died, a sword pierced his soul when he suffered for our sins and gave his life as a ransom for many. He died. But Jesus is also the firstborn... of the dead. He burst from the tomb in a glorious resurrection to never die again. And the firstborn of the dead is no only child. His brothers and sisters will follow, when he calls us forth from death. He does it, already, in our baptism. He'll do it for our bodies as well on the last day.

Simeon can go in peace from the temple, though Adam had to go in bitterness from the garden. An angel barred the way back to the tree, to paradise. But angels announce the restoration of life to us all, “he is risen, he is not here”. And angel trumpets will announce his return in glory on that triumphant day.

We see that in Christ, everything old is made new again. He even says so, in Revelation “Behold, I make all things new”. He renews old Simeon and Anna. He restores paradise. He renews and cleanses his temple, and the temples of our bodies. He brings glory where it has departed. He brings life where there was only death. And he brings sinners to God who had been exiled long ago. He brings righteousness and holiness and life to us who were so lost.

We can, and we do, depart in peace, according to his word. We know the Firstborn Redeemer. Our eyes have seen his salvation. Our ears have heard. Our hearts believe. Our lips confess, even sing, with Simeon, with Anna, with all the believers of old, with all the saints already departed, and with those who wait for him on earth.

Lord, now let your servants depart in peace, according to your word, for our eyes have seen your salvation in Jesus Christ, our Lord, amen.