Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sermon - Lent Midweek - "Judas and Christ"

Sermon – Lent Mid-week – February 27th, 2013
Benediction Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI
Luke 22:7-38
“Judas and Christ”

There's hardly a greater insult than to call someone a “Judas”. Betrayer. Turn-coat. Backstabber. The one who sold our Lord Jesus down the river, into the hands of those who would kill him. Mommas don't name their children “Judas” very often. For thirty pieces of silver, he gave up the Holy One of God.

And even though Jesus certainly knew it was coming, and allowed it to happen, Christ himself has little good to say about the betrayer. “Woe to that man!” Jesus says. And when he finds them in the garden, with violent men in tow, Jesus laments, “would you betray me with a kiss?”

Judas had seen so much, had been a part of it all. He had seen the miracles, the healings. He had heard the sermons, and the teachings. He was with Jesus for those three years of public ministry. He was even sent out with the rest of the 12 to cast out demons and preach in Jesus' name. All indications are that he was a full-fledged member of the apostles, beleiving, and even presumably, baptized.

But temptation came, and for whatever reason, Judas fell. He was tempted to leave the fellowship of Christ – and his departure from that upper room was emblematic of his forsaking of his faith. Judas felt sorry for his actions, even admitted he betrayed innocent blood, but he ultimately found no comfort in the Gospel. He hanged himself in despair, and Peter later comments, he “went down to where he belongs”, in other words, to damnation.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

Oh we love to wag the finger at naughty Judas, the betrayer, and make ourselves seem better in contrast. He sold Jesus out, but not us. He fell away from Christ, but not us. He was a big fat sinner... but... do we really want to go down that road?

How often have you and I succumbed to temptation, yes, even as Christians? A holy people, a royal priesthood, children of God and heirs of heaven – but still wallowing in the mud of our sins. Still biting and snapping at each other. Still shaking a sinful fist at the creator.

How often have we betrayed our Lord with a kiss? You know the routine – gossip about your neighbor but cloak it in this veneer of true love and concern for the person. Put on the good Christian facade – go to church, pray, do your best to avoid sin – but then wear it all as a prideful badge of honor, “look at how wonderfully Christian I am”.

Confess Christ on Sunday, but unite him with the prostitute, if not in your flesh at least in your mind, and at the computer screen. Smile as if everything is peace, peace, but in your heart it bubbles and seethes with unrighteous indignation.

How often have we betrayed the Lord of truth by giving ear to the sweet-sounding lies of those who preach glory in his name with no cross in sight? Oh, but everyone says he's such a good preacher. It's so uplifting. It's so practical. Let's not get bogged down in all this doctrinal mumbo jumbo. As if Jesus doesn't care about his own teachings.

Steal, lie, cheat... eat, drink, and be merry, and lazy, and angry, and on and on... Every sin is an offense to God. And particularly for the Christian, a betrayal of who we are in Christ. Every sinner is a Judas, turning away from Christ with every impure thought, word, and deed.

Would you, Christian, betray the Son of Man with a kiss? How could you? After all he's done for you, Christian, how can you go on sinning like this? How can you so easily give in to temptation?

What would you say to Judas? After he had betrayed Christ, and as he was standing at the precipe, fashioning his noose. In his despair, having betrayed innocent blood. Having fallen for temptation and fallen under the power of Satan. What would you say? Woe unto him?

What would you say to any sinner facing the gravity of his sins? Repent and believe in Jesus Christ! For Jesus has paid for your sins. Not with 30 pieces of silver or 1000 talents of gold, but with his holy precious blood, and with his innocent suffering and death. Believe in Jesus Christ who came to seek and save the lost, to call enemies to be his friends, and to raise even those dead in sin to life in him.

You see, the word of God and particularly the good news of Jesus Christ is really all there is. It's all there is for the fighting of temptation and the defeat of the evil one – It's all Jesus used in the wilderness, as he kept quoting, “it is written...”. And it's all there is for us – faith in his word – which can quench the darts of the devil – and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God – the only weapon for defeating the foe.

The word of God, and the good news of Jesus Christ is all there is – for comforting lost sinners, for dragging us from the pit of despair, for calling us back from the cliff. Jesus gives hope to the hopeless. Jesus gives love to the loveless. Jesus even forgives all your betrayals and backstabbing and covering of sins with kisses. It's the very reason he goes to the cross. It's the very reason he submits to it all – for you, and even for Judas, had he only believed. Yes, Jesus paid even for the sins of Judas, his betrayer, and so the one who died for the sins of the world can and does even forgive your sins, even today.

The law rightly shows us that we are no better than Judas. But the Gospel offers us a hope that Judas rejected. The promises of God in Jesus Christ are for all – no exclusions – no sinner too sinful for the blood of Jesus to cover. Hitler and Stalin, Jezebel and Judas, sinful you and me – Jesus died for all.

The same Jesus who gives his life as a ransom for many, indeed, for all – is the same Jesus who gives his body and blood in the Holy Supper. We receive these gifts even today. It's notable that even Judas was present as Jesus gave this sacrament. If only he had believed. For the word of Christ says it, given and shed – for you. For the forgiveness of your sins. Not just some, but all of your sins. Not just the little ones. Not just the ones before you believed. Not even only the ones you know. Christ is that good, that merciful, that forgiving.

Let Judas stand for us as a warning of temptation – that even for an apostle of Christ it is possible to fall away, fall into dark sin and deep despair. Watch out! But let him stand even more to remind us of the even deeper love of Christ. Who loved sinners, and still loves sinners, even those who betray him. Even you.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sermon - Lent 2 - Matthew 15:21-28

Sermon – Reminiscere – February 24th, 2013
Grace Lutheran Church, Dyer, IN
Matthew 15:21-28
“Feasting in Faith when Yes Looks like No”

I suppose there's a misison theme today in that the Cannaninte woman is an outsider, and at least previously, a pagan – an unbeliever in Christ whom our Lord encounters and helps and saves. He says he is sent only to the sheep of Israel, but shows by his actions that he welcomes all who come in faith. The message of the Gospel, it is clear, is not just for Jews or Germans or Americans, or even for only LCMS Lutherans. The true Israel includes all who believe in Christ, whether in Jerusalem, or Dyer, Indiana or far away Singapore. To that end, even now, He sends pastors to proclaim the word, far and near, to administer his sacraments in every place that His Spirit gathers people, and to give gifts freely as he wills.

You know that old saying about how God answers prayers either with a yes, no, or “wait”. I think of that as I read this passage about the Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus for help with her demon possessed daughter.

Someone else in her shoes might be discouraged when Jesus initially ignored her. Maybe the answer to her prayer was, “not now”. But she persisted. After Jesus finally tells her, “it's not right to take bread from the children and throw it to the dogs”, another might have concluded the prayer was certainly answered, “no”, and move on in disappointment. But this woman persists. She doesn't take the apparent “no” for an answer. Here is the mystery.

Surely Jesus' actions are strange here, putting off this woman at first, calling her a dog, telling her it wasn't right for him to help her.... but take note of the strange persistence of this woman, who apart from the fact that she was asking for a supernatural solution to a supernatural problem, also had a supernatural persistence where others would have given up.

Jesus knows the heart. He knows what people need. He knows her and He knows what He is doing. So, too, he knows you. He knows your needs and problems better than you do. He knows what you think you need, and what you really do. He knows your timetable, but he also knows the “proper time”. And he means to do you good, even when it looks like he is ignoring you, putting you off, or even doing you evil.

And faith knows its object, that is, the Savior. Faith knows the character of this merciful Jesus who comes to help and rescue. Faith looks to Jesus for all good things, for daily bread as well as daily renewed life.

Now you. You have just as much right as this woman to expect good things from God – zero. She was an outsider, a pagan, and surely a sinner. The affliction of her daughter by this demon, who knows what caused it. Who knows what the cause of any calamity or affliction is in this life. But what we deserve for our sins is surely far worse. Your problems may be bigger or smaller. Your suffering may or may not compare. But what you bring to the table is the same – nothing good. Nothing with which to say, “Hey look, God, you owe me one here.”

Oh we try, in our twisted minds, to appeal to our own supposed merit. As if holding our temper for a bit against some annoying person impresses the Lord who is truly slow to anger. Your anger was likely sinful in the first place.

Or as if writing a check to support a good cause shows God how good your heart is, and now, He'll send you some benefit in kind. But just try to hide the darkness bubbling in your heart from the one who knows all. He's not fooled by a donation here and there. You can't pay off the debts you truly owe.

Or maybe you go out of your way for people who never appreciate all you do, day in and day out, quietly suffering their sheer ingratitude – surely God must look at all they put you through and reward you this time. A friend of mine used to say, “Get off the cross, we need the wood”. There is only one whose sacrifice is pleasing to God.

God isn't impressed with your martyrdom, your charity, your patience, or any other supposed merit you bring. Our best works are as filthy rags. Our shining example is a pile of garbage to him. Tainted and corrupted wholly by sin, we are beggars through and through, who can only ask and plead for what we don't deserve. Just like this woman.
Just like a dog, begging at the master's table.

But the dog knows, and the woman knows, and the faithful know – that the master delights in feeding the beggar. He joys to be patient with the sinner, to give heavenly riches to the poor in spirit, and to sacrifice himself for those who bring nothing. Christ goes to the cross for this very reason.

This woman's faith is truly a remarkable example. She doesn't become indignant with Christ, “who does He think He is? Calling me a dog.... we Canaanites were here before those Jews....”. She doesn't appeal to some imagined basis for his help, as if she deserves it - “But Jesus, I've been such a good mother.” Nor does she give up and go away discouraged. She simply persists in trusting the giver of good things for even the smallest crumbs, and finds herself lavishly blessed and fed.

God moves in mysterious ways. At least mysterious to us, fallen sinful people. But somehow, faith “gets” it. A hymn puts it this way, “Behind a frowning countenance faith sees a smiling face”. Behind the apparent “no”, faith sees the “yes” in Christ. You see your sins, but God sees Christ's righteousness. You see death all around you, but the Word says you are alive – and alive forever. You see shame and destruction and chaos and meaninglessness.... but the promises of God stand in the midst of the swirling mess and proclaim a sure, certain, profound truth – that God loves you in Jesus Christ and is busy blessing you now and for eternity. It is a great mystery that things which appear one way, with God, are so often another. Faith hears God's word, and contrary to what the eye can see, faith believes.

And the mystery is also to be eaten and drunk. For under the bread and wine are the most precious gifts of Christ's flesh and blood. Not crumbs from the table, or sips sneaked from the master when he's not looking – but a lavish feast, a spread unlike any other, and a foretaste of the feast to come. Here your sins are forgiven. Here your faith is strengthened. Here you receive Christ, really and truly, for your good.

There is no better remedy for what ails you than Christ. There is no other promise you can rest in, hope you can stand on, or future worth having apart from Christ. And there is no food for your faith but the bread of life that he provides, and the living water he gives to quench the thirsting soul. Jesus is everything.

Even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the children's table. And even sinners like you, are welcome to feast in faith, in Christ our Lord. Even when it looks like a big “no”, “all the promises of God find their yes in him” (2 Cor 1:20)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sermon - Ash Wednesday - Amos 1:1-2

Sermon – Ash Wednesday – Amos 1:1-2
Lutheran Chapel of the Cross, Racine, WI

The words of Amos, who was among the sheep breeders from Tekoa, who perceived events in Israel during the days of Uzziah the king of Judah and the days of Jeroboam ben Joash the king of Israel, two years before the earthquake. He said, “The Lord roars from Zion and from Jerusalem He utters His voice. The shepherds' pastures mourn, and the peak of Carmel withers.” 

What was the most devastating, shocking, earth-shaking moment of your life? A job loss? Maybe the sudden death of a loved one? That day in the doctor's office when you heard the diagnosis? Or the moment when your spouse turns to you and says, “I want a divorce”? You feel the very earth move under your feet as the shockwaves shake you to your core. It's as if, for that one moment, everything comes crashing down.

Where is God in a time like that? Is he angry? Does he forsake us? Does he simply not care about the disaster that befalls his people? Or does he care, but is simply powerless to act?

Questions like these have plagued Christans and non-Christians as long as we have lived in this fallen world. Both figurative and literal earthquakes shake our faith, and cause us to question and wonder why.

The people of Amos' day were about to have their earth shattered. There was an army on the rampage, a world empire on the rise – the Assyrians – a brutal and ruthless conqueror who were soon to lay waste to the northern kingdom of Israel. The 10 Hebrew tribes there were utterly wipted out, and lost to history.

Amos was called to speak a prophetic word, to preach a call to repentance, 2 years before the earthquake. What earthquake? The earthquake that everyone knew was a sign of God's judgment. The literal earthquake that accompanied the roar of his wrath over their sin. And would also accompany that shaking of their world, which would soon come crashing down at the hands of the Assyrians.
I'm reminded of another earthquake. Or at least a building that catastrophically crumbled. Jesus mentioned an event that must have been in the local news. A tower in Siloam, the south part of Jerusalem, fell and killed 18 people. Was this a judgment on their sin? Was God angry with these 18 for some particular offense?

Why do bad things happen? Short answer: sin. But rather than trying to connect the dots between particular sins and particular catastophes, Jesus points us to a better way. Rather than trying to figure out what I did to deserve this misery, or worse, what that other person did to deserve theirs, what should we do instead? What is Jesus' answer? Repent.

“Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5 ESV)

Disasters and calamities, tradgedies and sorrows, suffering and pain – the vale of tears in which we live – for the Christian, should be always a call to repent. Whether the earthquake strikes out of nowhere, or whether we can clearly trace it back to our own sin, the call is still to repent. To turn from sin and turn in faith to Christ. To confess our sins freely, and believe in the one who forgives them always more freely.

And when disaster looms and strikes, when the ground gives way beneath us – all the more reason to turn from it to the sure and certain ground of faith in Christ. For on that day when he faced ultimate sorrow and loss, on that day when the sun darkened, rocks split, and the earth shook... on that day he brought remedy to this fallen creation, this earth which is cursed, and all pain that we bear from sin. “It is finished” he declared. And so it is.

The voice of the Lord roars, the Lion of the tribe of Judah – a voice which roars in judgment over sin, shaking and quaking the very earth. But a voice which also roars in triumph and victory over the foe. Your enemy is vanquished. Your sins are forgiven. And with Christ's resurrection, you too are assured resurrection.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day perhaps, in which repentance is most clearly in focus for us. The day in which we wear our sins on our sleeve, with the ashes on our foreheads. Dust you are, and to dust you shall return. Repent. Sorrow not over the earthquakes of life, but over your sins. Repent... turn from those sins, put them behind you, and look away – in the opposite direction. Repent and believe in the one who suffers all to redeem you from sin and suffering and even death itself. The one who roars and shakes the earth, but also speaks a quiet and kind word of forgiveness. Go in peace. For you are forgiven.

He does not promise to explain all your suffering. But he does promise hope in the midst of it. He does not promise earthly peace, but a peace that passes understanding. He does not take away the effects of all sin now, but will one day, and forever. When the earth shakes one last time, and then all is peace.

Monday, February 04, 2013

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Sermon - 4th Sunday After Epiphany - Matthew 4:31-44

Sermon – Epiphany 5 – Luke 4:31-44
Trinity Lutheran Church, Menasha, WI
“The Purpose Driven Savior”

What's your purpose? Why are you here? I don't mean why are you here this morning – although, that's a good question, too. Did someone drag you to church? Are you here to do your weekly duty to God? Or did you come to hear an awe-inspiring, magnificently engaging, fantasic and wonderful guest missionary preacher? (Sorry to disappoint you)

 Some years ago a popular book came out, marketed to Christians, “The Purpose-Driven Life”. Perhaps you even read it, too. It spun off a whole cottage industry of purpose-driven paraphanalia, programs and para-church activities. But sadly, at the heart of this book was simply a re-packaging of works-righteousness, an emphasis on what YOU have to do for God, not what God does for YOU in Jesus Christ. What's your purpose?

Related to that, and probably more important, is Jesus' purpose. Why is he here? Why was he sent? Did you know we have a purpose-driven Savior? Jesus tells us exactly why he was sent, and what is his purpose: to preach the good news.

 If you were just reading along in your Bible, and you only had verses 31-37 of today's reading, you might think that Jesus came to cast out demons. And surely, he did enough of that. Word spread throughout the whole countryside that this Jesus of Nazareth had authority over the unclean spirits. He spoke, and they listened. You might think then, that his purpose was to beat down the bad guys. To bully the bullies. To bring justice and set thing right again in the world. Surely, we could use some of that today, even if we aren't possessed by demons, too.

 Or read a bit down, and you might become convinced that Jesus came to heal the sick. For he did a bunch of that, too. Not just Peter's mother-in-law, mind you, but many, with various diseases. This was no trickery, but honest-to-goodness miracle working. I bet any of us over the age of 40 could use some healing – of anything from aches and pains to chronic conditions, heart problems, diabetes, cancer. Is that why Jesus came? To be a miracle worker, the perfect doctor, to take all the pain away?

 The people were impressed with his demon-defeating and disease-healing, but Jesus wasn't. He could have stayed there in Capernaum forever, a resident good-dispenser, but he was clear that his purpose would drive him on. He had to go. There were others to see.

 And notice, he didn't say, “I have other demons to cast out, in the towns” or “Let me go heal some in the countryside, too, for that is why I came”. The miraculous signs, to Jesus, weren't the thing. They weren't the purpose. “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” Preaching the good news of the kingdom. That's his purpose. That's why he was sent.

 Which means we must ask, “well then what is that news?” In Jesus' case, you can't separate the message from the messenger. For who he is and what he does are part and parcel of what he proclaims. He is the king, and the kingdom of God arrives in him. He is the Christ, the Son of God, as even the demons confess. And the Christ is appointed to die. Yes, the good news is that he will die. All of Jesus' preaching and teaching, all of his healings and miracles, all lead up to Jerusalem, to betrayal and arrest, to suffering and condemnation, to the cross.

 And there, too, is God's purpose. He goes to the cross to atone for your sin. To pay for all your pernicous, foul, wickedness. All the nastiness that you think. All the garbage that comes out of your mouth. All the shameful things you do. And me, too. For all this, for all of you, for all the world – his purpose to pay the price. His purpose to save the day, and all days, for all his people. To make the good news that he has proclaimed, and now sends others to proclaim. Some of us will be sent to preach the good news, too. Pastors are sent to their flocks. Missionaries are sent to flocks far away. But the message is the same, the news is just as good – for it's always about the King, the Christ, the Son of God. It's always the message of Christ Crucified for sinners. It's always the same purpose, for the salvation of sinners like us.

 But for all of us - our part, our purpose, is primarily to receive this good news in faith. To hear. To receive. To be baptized. To be fed his body and blood. To passively receive the gifts on his terms, not ours. Our purpose is to be saved, and only in that salvation, to go and do the good works he has already prepared for us to do. These good works, while also commanded, flow from faith itself. These good works, love for our neighbor, are a reflection of the love God shows us first. They are never to be separated from faith, not neglected, but they are not how we are saved. That is only through the work of Christ.

 Why are you in church this morning? I hope it's not cause mom made you come. I hope it's not to be seen wearing your dazzling new Sunday outfit. And I know it's not to hear the famous preacher from Racine. Instead, let your purpose in this place, now and always, be to receive what Jesus gives. To hear what Jesus says, the good news, preached to you, the poor miserable sinner – who by that good news is received as a child of God forever. May your purpose be to hear, to believe, and to live. In Christ, and in love for neighbor, now and ever. Amen.