Sunday, February 26, 2012
Lent 1, February 26th, 2012
Lent begins. Our 40 day time of preparation and prayer, penitence and fasting. A time of testing and probing, that leads us, with Jesus, to the cross.
The New Testament tells us of a 40 day sojourn in the life of our Lord. Mark tells us that after Jesus is baptized the Spirit drives him, or more literally “casts him out” into the wilderness.
It reminds us of another time, long ago, when another man was cast out. Adam, and his wife Eve, fresh with the stain of sin, and death, the fruit of their sin, they are cast out of the Garden of Eden. No longer to have access to the tree of life, for in his mercy, God didn't want them to eat of it and live forever in sin. So what seemed like exile was really also an act of love. God placed an angel with a fiery sword to block the way back. And now Adam would bring food to the table only with great trouble. Work had become labor. The ground produces thorns. Life is tough.
Jesus is the Second Adam. He comes to repair the damage. Fresh with the baptismal water of his anointing with the Spirit - a baptism not for his own sins, but which identified him with us sinners.... and fresh with the declaration of the Father, “This is my Son, whom I love” ringing in his ears, Jesus is driven out to the wilderness. His public ministry begins with a fast. A time of testing, probing...fasting. Satan gets a chance to have at him. And Satan fails. We know from Matthew's Gospel many of those details. But Mark doesn't fill us in. It's enough, here, to know that he was tempted. But unlike the first Adam, Jesus does not fall for it.
The first Adam named the animals. God brought them to Adam, and whatever he called them, that was their name. But with Adam's fall, all creation fell, and even the animals now have become wild. Paul says all of creation groans in expectation, like a woman in labor, waiting for the end, the renewal of all things. All that happens in Christ. Even the wild animals in the wilderness, with him in his temptation, seem to bear witness that this Jesus is about to bring blessing to all creation. The Second Adam, the Son of Man, the Savior of all. And the angels minister to him.
This stuff matters to you and me, too. We are the children of Adam. We are the heirs to his fallen nature, and we live in this fallen creation. In sin did our mothers conceive us, and we are born in iniquity. Life for us is a wilderness, filled with thorns and pains and dangerous beasts both literal and figurative. Satan, too, would tempt us, and rule over us. And always hovering over us is the curse of death that Adam's sin and our own sin have brought.
Every day your Old Adam rebels against God, shakes his fist in anger at the law, and blames everyone and everything but himself. Every day the Old Adam seeks to deceive and deny and destroy your very faith. But every day the same Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness drives you back to the waters of your baptism, where that Old Adam is drowned and dies. By repentance and faith. By sorrow for sin and believing in Christ's forgiveness.
Jesus defeats Satan, conquers sin, and destroys death – beginning in the wilderness, until “it is finished” on the cross. There he is finally cast off from God, who forsakes him. There your sins are finished, and Satan's head is crushed. There the Second Adam deals death to death and by a tree restores us who were defeated at the tree.
In this wilderness temptation, Jesus prepares for all this. He prays, and he fasts. During the season of Lent, many of us will do the same. Martin Luther says. “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training.” And it is true. But the best preparation is the inward training of faith, and that faith in the word of God.
Jesus doesn't just stay off by himself. He comes back and preaches: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Those words are still in effect. They are still training us for righteousness. They are still convicting us of sin – yes, repent of your sins, even this day! And they are still calling us to faith – to believe in his Good News.
What's more, there is no fasting from his table. There's no reason to refrain from eating and drinking the gifts of his body and blood. But there is great reason to take and eat, take and drink! Jesus gives you himself – here – for your forgiveness. To starve to death the Old Adam and feed the New Adam with his own life. To sustain you for your wilderness wanderings in this world, until he brings you safe at last to the promised land.
40 days of Lent – they lead us to the cross. Where Jesus deals with sin, decisively. 40 days of preparation – so prepare. Hear his word. Receive his gifts. Repent of your sins. Believe his Good News. It is for you. In Christ, Amen.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Epiphany 6 – February 12th, 2012
Hand sanitizer. One of the accoutrements of modern American life. Some might say it's a convenient way to wash your hands, prevent the spread of disease, and promote health. Others might say it's a sign of our neurotic culture. When kids can get fashionable colored bottles of the stuff to clip on to their school backpacks.
But our culture wants to sanitize more than just hands. We like our food clean and fresh and pure, too, don't we? If you bring home a package from the store and it's already been opened.... what do you do? If that little safety seal or bump on the lid of the spaghetti sauce is up – you're not supposed to use it. We like our cars clean, clothes clean – our dishes clean – our bodies clean. I bet Americans shower and bathe more than most cultures throughout all history.
The people of Jesus' day may not have been as obsessed with clinical sanitization as we are today, but they thought a lot about what was clean and unclean. And if anything was unclean, gross, repulsive to them, it was a leper. They wanted no part of these skin diseases – a very public and outward kind of disease for all to see. So they cast out the lepers, ostracized them, and that was that. Lepers were unclean. And the way they dealt with it was to take out the human trash.
We like to think of ourselves as clean people. But the truth is that we aren't. I won't gross you out this morning, but simply remind you that for all our efforts at sanitizing our lives – we are still subject to all kinds of germs, all manner of impurities, in the air we breath and the food we eat, and even within our very bodies. I'm sure the scientists could paint quite a picture of how unclean life really is, all our illusions aside.
But it's worse than that, for we are unclean at a much deeper level. Our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our very souls are tainted, through and through, with sin. Any outward filth we see pales in comparison to the mucky mess within us. The squalor of filth in which we are conceived, and born, and continue to live. We're far worse than lepers. Especially to God, who really is pure and clean.
So what's a God to do about such uncleanness? What does Jesus do with the leper?
“If you are willing, you can make me clean”
“I am. Be clean.”
What an expression of faith from this man. He knew Jesus well enough (how? By faith!), he knew him well enough to know that Jesus had the power to cleanse. That he had the ability to bring that outward cleansing of body, that healing of disease the man so desperately wanted.
But did he know that Jesus meant so much more, when he said, “be clean”. That the uncleanness of the leper, and the filth of you and I, runs much deeper than the surface. It's not just a skin disease. That's just a symptom. We are rotten to the core. We are thoroughly corrupted. We are the creepy crawlies that should make God turn away in disgust.
Even death itself is a symptom of this infection. Sin is the cause. And the more you look in the mirror of God's law, the closer you study it, the more you will see just how caked on and baked on and stuck on it is.
But Jesus is willing to make us clean. That's why he came. To make it happen. To say, “be clean”, and we are.
We are clean because he not only washes us, but he takes the dirt of sin himself. He bathes in it. Becomes it. He gets his hands dirty in a way we never could, “God made him who was without sin to become sin for us”. Talk about dirty laundry! And the cross is his washing machine.
Jesus was the only one clean, the only one without spot or blemish... But God made him so stinking filthy in the fullness of all our sins, and all sins ever. Then God had to take out the trash. In disgust, he turned his back on his own son, and all sin. “Why have you forsaken me?” “Because you disgust me. You're sin.”
And in doing so, Jesus makes us clean. By his shed blood we are washed. We are more than sanitized. We are holy. Righteous. Shining like justice. And God will never utter a harsh word against us, never turn up his nose at us, but only embrace and welcome us in Christ.
When your sins are forgiven, you are clean. Just like that leper, only better. God sees your sin no more. He declares it gone. And he makes it more than just a word. He makes it particular, to you, in Baptism.
In your baptism Jesus said to you, “Be clean!” Sure he can preach all day about forgiving people's sins, but is he talking about me? When that water is poured on you, when those words are spoken to you, when the pastor calls you by name - Jesus brings it home that you, yes you, are clean. Your sins are forgiven, washed, wiped away. You are clean.
No, you're not a leper. You're much worse. You're a sinner. But the good news is we're sinners who know Jesus. We put our faith and trust in the one who is willing to make us clean. The one who does what it takes to make us clean. The one who says to us, “be clean”. And we are. In his blood. By his sure word. Believe it, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
Sunday, February 05, 2012
Epiphany 5 – February 6th, 2012
Everyone is Looking for Jesus
“Everyone is looking for you, Jesus”. So Peter said when they found him alone, praying. And how true it was. Jesus had made quite a name for himself in a short period of time. His healing touch, and his authority to cast out demons had caused quite a stir. Everyone seemed to want something from Jesus. Everyone was looking for him.
It's much the same today. Everyone is looking for Jesus. At least, everyone is looking for something, and if Jesus will give it to them, then they want Jesus. Do you want to find a job? Ask Jesus. Do you want your husband to appreciate you more? Ask Jesus. Do you want your aches and pains to go away? Ask Jesus. Do you want to get over the death of your loved one? Ask Jesus.
In Capernaum, if you had a demon, or you were sick, then you were looking for Jesus. But that's not why he came. Sure, he had compassion on so many. Sure, his heart went out to those who suffered. But his purpose was different. He wasn't there to give them what they wanted, as much as to provide for them what they needed.
When Peter and the others find Jesus off alone, praying, he says, “Let's go to the next towns so that I may preach there also, for that is why I came”. Yes. It's the preaching. That's the reason. He went to the synagogue in Capernaum and preached. He would go to the mount and the plain and the villages and towns and preach. Even in the very temple in Jerusalem, he would preach. That's why he came. To give them what they really needed – the word.
It's still the Epiphany season, and we're still answering that big question, “Who is this Jesus who was born as our Savior?” What kind of savior is he? What is he all about? What did he come to do and why? Today it's quite clear: he came to preach.
But what? We must listen closely to his words. We must take note of just what he says, even more so than what he does (although the two go hand in hand). And as we listen to Jesus we will hear the message ring out – that he came to seek and save the lost. That he came to give freely the blessings of his Father. Forgiveness of sins, new and eternal life. To make us his friends, not slaves. To call us to follow him. To defeat the strongman, our enemy the devil. To make us disciples by his baptism and teaching. To feed us in his meal, with his body, his blood. To be handed over to the Jews and Romans, to suffer for us, to die for us, and on the third day to rise from the dead, for us. This is what he preached. This is why he came. To proclaim himself, our savior, and to back up his talk with a perfect walk.
Nowadays people are still looking for Jesus to do all sorts of things for them, but not always what he means to do for them. We think small. We want this or that, not the grand gifts he offers. We want actions, not words. We want to see it now, not have to hold on to promises. We want the glitz and success and fireworks of glory, not the suffering and dying and shame and defeat of Calvary.
Our old nature, anyway, chases after a Jesus that really isn't Jesus. A Jesus of our own imagination, made in our own image. A Jesus at our beck and call for all of life's little problems, to make the boo-boos better.
But much better is the real Jesus. The Jesus who calls us and recreates us into his own image, and gives us new life forever. The Jesus who gives us his word – and what a word it is! That word, that eternal word, which is our rock in the storm, our comfort in sorrow, our fortress in the raging battle. I think of Luther's hymn, “A Mighty Fortress” and the line, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife – let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won, the kingdom ours remaineth”. Yes, we have it all because we have Jesus and his word.
Last week, we included in our prayers a Pastor Jeff Geske, a classmate of mine, who was with his family in a terrible car accident. His wife and two of his three children were killed. A terrible tragedy on so many levels, for him personally, for his son, for his congregation, where he had only begun serving about a month ago. Well on Tuesday, Pastor Geske posted these words of encouragement, and I share them with you now:
“Thank you! I would like to thank everyone for the words and love shown to me during this most difficult time at the death of Laura and Joshua and Joy. I rejoice knowing that they are now in heaven with our Savior Jesus. I miss them so much, but I know that one great and glorious day, they will along with Jesus welcome me home to heaven.
May this difficult time for me remind you and encourage you to continue to express your love to your family. They are so precious and truly a gift from God on loan to us. May God comfort you as He is comforting me. Never forget how much God loves you! John 3:16-17
Take comfort in the five most important words you can ever know which are, "Jesus died for my sins! Jesus loves you and so I ask and encourage you to love others and share His love, forgiveness, and salvation with them. Heaven is our home!”
What a powerful word Jesus preached, that it brings comfort even to this family tragedy. A Savior who came not just to wow us with miracles, or to make our lives free of trouble, but to proclaim an eternal word of forgiveness and salvation. That's the Jesus we know. That's the Jesus we look to, and listen to. That's Pastor Geske's Jesus, and yours, and mine. In His Name, Amen.