Monday, January 28, 2013

Sermon - Epiphany 4 - Luke 4:16-30

Sermon – Epiphany 4 – Luke 4:16-30
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chicago, IL
“Good News to the Poor”

You know, there are a lot of interesting connections with today's Gospel reading and the occasion of my visit here to Gloria Dei. While to be sure, I am not Jesus, today, as then – we have a guest preacher. We have an emphasis on the word of God being preached in a foreign land, and perhaps you will find you don't appreciate everything I say today, especially if you find out I am a Packers fan. Nonetheless, I pray like Jesus, I will not finally be pushed off a cliff.

What is going on in Jesus' hometown of Nazareth? I've actually been there – took a trip there in 2007 with some people from my congregation. I stood on the top of that very high cliff from which they tried to throw Jesus down. What made these people so angry with him? Jesus had already been quite active teaching and preaching in Capernaum. He had made quite a name for himself, this preacher from the Galilleean countryside. Maybe it was hometown pride that captured these people's attention in Nazareth – one of our sons has gone on to the big time. Let's share in the glory of his fame. But along with his teaching and preaching, Jesus also healed many. He performed miracles. 

And here, perhaps is the key. The people of Nazareth wanted some of the goodies. They wanted signs and wonders, too. They wanted these blessings, these earthly blessings for themselves. So let's politely sit through the sermon, compliment this fine young man of ours, and then he'll surely treat us well in return – for after all – he's one of us! He owes us. We deserve these blessings, too. Maybe more. But those words of his – while beautiful, well-spoken – when it started to sink in what he was actually saying – then their opinion of him turned.

Just like today – most people you would ask who know little of Jesus would say nice things about him – that he's a good moral teacher or a spiritual man, a great man... but they don't take his words so seriously. And we are much the same. You and I are subject to the same temptations and guilty of the same sins as the men in that synagogue of Nazareth. We want Jesus for the wrong reasons. We want a different kind of Jesus than he really is. We politely listen to his words, maybe even speak well of him, but pay far too little attention to him, and what he says. We want him to bless us, give us good things for we think we deserve them. We're Christians, after all, we go to church. We could list out all the reasons that God owes us... but we'd have a harder time admitting why we owe him, and how we can never repay him. Forgive us our debts, oh Lord.

And perhaps he point of pivot is here – when Jesus looks into your heart and sees the sin lurking – and his law, like a hot poker, hits the sore spot of your sin – and the preacher condemns a sin that you know you are guilty of, too... what do you do? Do you rationalize? Do you excuse it? Make up some reason you're not really guilty? Do you react like these men of Nazareth – getting angry at the one who speaks the truth – wanting to “kill the messenger” because the truth hurts? Yes the law of God often has this effect on sinful man – an indignation, a rage, a “who do you think you are, buddy?” or worse.

But the Christian who hears the law of God in faith, is cut to the heart. By the work of the Holy Spirit, may our reaction not be indifference or excuses, anger or indignation, but repentance. When you hear the law of God, confess your sins to the one who speaks gracious words. To Jesus Christ, the one who speaks “Father, forgive them”. Confess to the pastor, who is charged to speak Christ's forgiveness to you, here and now. Repent, confess, believe, and be saved. Jesus says that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy – the one anointed to speak good news to the poor. That doesn't mean he comes to speak only to poor people who have no money. He speaks of the poor in spirit. Those who hold no treasures or value in their own works, but come empty, as beggars before God. Those who know their sin, and live only by the grace and mercy of a loving God who gives us good things without merit or worthiness.

And the good news that he brings is himself. His person and work for us. That he is true God and true man, born for us. That he is our subsitute in living a righteous life – for we surely can't and don't – thus earning God's favor. And by suffering for us, shedding his own blood, and laying down his life at the cross – bringing the best news of all that conscience-stricken sinners could hear - “It is finished”. The angry crowd at Nazareth tried to kill him, but he “passed through” and escaped death at that hour. The Romans and Jews also tried to end his life, and succeeded only because he laid it down, at the right time, as a sacrifice for sin. But here, too, he passed through death, and on the third day rose victorious. Death cannot even hope to contain him, and now through him, death is conquered for you. You, in Christ, once captive to sin and death, are the captive that is set free to life eternal.

What good news for poor sinners. And God sends this good news of Jesus Christ out. He is a God on a mission. Just as Jesus was sent from the Father to us, so does Jesus send his apostles and disciples, pastors and teachers, and missionaries, to bring the good news of Christ to the poor in spirit wherever the Spirit wills. He continues to send us his gifts, in the word, and in the water, and at the altar – good news for lepers and widows – good news for bankers and bartenders – good news for Americans and Singaporeans. He sends Christians to teach the good news faithfully, also, to our children, as you do here at Gloria Dei.

This coming week you highlight the work of Lutheran Schools, here and around the country, who share in the sharing of this same Good news. God bless your work in teaching the children of God's kingdom in this place about the love of Christ for them. And he sends missionaries, even to places like Singapore, to preach that same good news. Just as he sent Elijah and Elisha to foreigners, by his grace and mercy, so does our continue to act in grace and mercy for those near and far.

May you hear this day not only the condemnation of the law, the accusation of your sin, and a healthy reminder of the truth that hurts – you deserve nothing from God but death. But also repent, turn, and believe, in the one who speaks gracious words, good news to the poor, and announces God's favor on you – even Jesus Christ our Lord. May he bless that good news of Christ here, in your church, in your school, and abroad, in the lives of us poor in spirit, making us rich in the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sermon - Epiphany 2 - John 2:1-11

Sermon – 2nd Sunday after Epiphany – John 2:1-11
St. John's Lutheran Church, Random Lake, WI
“The Bridegroom at the Wedding”

 “Who is this guy?” That's perhaps the main question of the Epiphany season. We've heard quite a bit about him in Advent, as we expected his long promised arrival. Christmas tells us more of who he is– born in Bethlehem, son of Mary... A savior, which is Christ the Lord. But Epiphany further unpacks the one who has appeared, the one who is made manifest, who is revealed to us... and bit by bit, from different angles, we hear of who he is and what he is about, this Jesus. 

“This is my son, whom I love” The voice from heaven declares at his baptism. He is the one mightier than John the Baptist. And John calls him the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. As a boy, we see him as the obedient son to his parents, but also the one who must be in his Father's house. He amazes the scribes and pharisees with his wisdom, which only keeps growing. He is the one of whom Isaiah wrote, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me.” He is the one who has authority over the evil spirits, and over the forces of nature. He has authority to preach – an authority unlike the scribes and pharisees, and even the authority to forgive sins. It seems there is always something more we can say about Jesus, and it is always something he is or does for us.

Today, with Jesus' first miracle at Cana in Galilee, he turns water into wine. And with this important event, John shows us a few more important answers to the question of “who is this Jesus?” It is no accident that it happens at a wedding. For while the bride and groom celebrated the beginning of their life together, Jesus Christ, the true bridegroom, was inaugurating his public ministry – beginning his public life as our beloved provider. From heaven he came and sought her, his bride, the church. He would rescue this maiden in distress from the very jaws of the beast, and shed his blood for her, for us, for you. All of us together, the church, are the bride of Christ, even the body of Christ, our head. And he is our loving bridegroom, our perfect husband. He is the breadwinner, the daily bread provider, and the heavenly bread himself, the one who sustains our very life. He is our head, and we submit to his authority, but his leadership is a servanthood that puts us first, even to the point of death. So great is his love for his bride, he lays down his life for her, for us all.

 And let's not too quickly pass over the words of Mary, here. “Do whatever he tells you”. Easy enough? And so they do, and a miracle happens. But what about us? Do we do whatever he says? Surely not, according to the law. He says love one another, but we love mostly ourselves. He says take up your cross, but we'd much prefer a comfy pillow. He says to turn the other cheek, but we'd rather punch and claw. He says to be perfect – but we are far from it. Far from doing whatever he says, the Old Adam in us wants to do just the opposite – ever since the first Adam and Eve did the one thing they were told not to do.

 Do whatever he says. Isn't it a miracle, then, that we ever do what he says? According to the Gospel, by the working of the Holy Spirit, this happens. For I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel. It is by the Spirit that we believe, and are saved, and live. It is only by the Spirit that we can in any way do whatever he says.

 And so what does he say to us? Well besides the instructions of the law, which have to do with loving and serving our neighbor, first he tells us to believe. He calls us to come and hear his word. To receive it in faith. To repent and be baptized. To die and rise to the newness of life in the washing of rebirth and regeneration. And he commands us to receive his gifts from the altar – do this, often – take and eat, take and drink, for the forgiveness of your sins. Whatever he tells us is most importantly to receive his gifts with thanksgiving.

Those at the wedding in Cana marveled at the gifts that he gave that day – a fine wine, indeed the finest – the best saved for last, contrary to expectations. So too, do we marvel at the gifts he gives today. We still don't know how he does it. But we know that he does. He continues to call sinners like you and me to receive good things we in no way deserve. This first of his signs, Jesus did in Cana, at Galilee. But it would not be his last sign. He would heal the sick, cure the deaf and blind and lame. He would rout the evil spirits. He would multiply fish and loaves, calm the storm, walk on the waves. He would even raise dead Lazarus after three days. And if that's not enough, his chief sign was the sign of Jonah, rising from the dead himself after three days in the belly of death.

Marvels and wonders, indeed, but look closer at this bridegroom. For he would eat with the sinners and tax collectors. He would wash the feet of his disciples. He would forgive the sins of men born blind, women caught in adultery, even the Roman dogs that surrounded him and pierced his hands and feet. He even forgives the likes of you, the worst of your sins, the deepest darkest shame you hope no one ever discovers – the sins of your past, the corruption of your heart – the bad, the ugly, the unspeakable. Whatever he says to sinners then, he says to you now.  Go in peace, your sins are forgiven.

And he would send his disciples to make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching. To turn the hopeless sinners whose worldly revelry leaves the soul empty into wedding guests and members of his bride who have true reason to celebrate. To bring us, all together, at last, to the wedding feast in his kingdom which has no end.

As missionary, your missionary, to a foreign land, it is the good news of the true bridegroom that goes with me. It is the forgiveness and life that he gives so freely that makes all things new. May the Christ who once turned water into wine, continue to transform sinners into saints, unbelievers into believers, and lost souls into members of his bride the church. As his word is preached, and his sacraments are administered, God grant it, for the sake of his Son.