Monday, May 27, 2013

Sermon - Holy Trinity - John 8:48-59

Holy Trinity Sunday – May 26th, 2013
Messiah, La Crescent, MN
"Do You Know God?"

Friends, do you know God?  Now don't answer too quickly.  In light of our Gospel reading from John 8, it's a question worth pondering.  The Pharisees thought they knew God, but Jesus said they didn't.  But he does.  He calls them liars.  He confesses the truth.

Today, who does know God, and for that matter how do we know him and what do we know about him?  Who is God, anyway?  Which god are we talking about?  Buddha?  Allah?  Yahweh?  Is there a difference?  Are they all the same?

All of these questions are also important and appropriate on Trinity Sunday, in which we confess the Triune God, the God who is three and also one.  We take great pains to confess what Scripture teaches about this mystery, but not to go a step further than God's word goes.  So we know God by his word, and by the word that we confess in our creeds.

In many and various ways God spoke to our fathers of old.  But now in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.  Jesus.  Jesus is the exact image of the Father.  He says here, “before Abraham was, I am”.  He claims the name of Yahweh.  Perhaps the clearest confession of his own divinity in all of Scripture.  So if you want to see the Father, look to Jesus.  “No one comes to the Father but by me”, Jesus says.  And anyone who has seen him has seen the Father.  And through Jesus we have access to the Father, are adopted as sons by the Father, receive an inheritance from the Father.

So too with the Spirit.  If you want to know the Spirit's will, look to the words of Christ.  For there the Spirit will always lead you.  If you want to know the Spirit's power, it is found in the words and promises of Christ, in the Gospel, in the forgiveness of sins won at the cross and poured out at the font and served to you in the meal.  Here the Spirit works, to bring us Christ, and to therefore bring us life.

We act as if we don't know all of this.  We act as if we don't know God.  We neglect and despise the Father, by abusing and taking for granted the manifold gifts of his creation.  We think we sit over it, as if it is our own – lording our dominion over created things instead of seeking to be faithful stewards.  It's my money, not yours, God.  I earned it.  It's my body, I'll do what I want with it.  It's not your temple, created and redeemed.  And so we tear away at life, and sin even against the people God creates for us to share a life together – our own family.  We misuse our reason and senses.  We live thankslessly.  For these sins of the first article, forgive us, oh Father!

But we sin also against God the Son.  When we would shove Jesus off the cross to make ourselves the martyr, as if our own petty sacrifices carried nearly enough value to pay the price.  When we glorify ourselves as savior or as partner in salvation – Jesus did his part, now I've got to do mine.  This steals the glory that is rightly his for being the only sacrifice worthy, the only one strong enough to save, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  But we would often prefer the god of me, who explains away the sins of my own.

And we sin against the Spirit.  Yes we despise the gifts he brings.  We get bored with the Holy Word of God.  We are jaded at the table when receiving the very flesh and blood of Christ.  We ignore the guidance and direction the Spirit would give us, deciding it's more important to go have brunch at the diner.

Who knows God?  Certainly not the Jews with their manmade laws and legalisms.  Who knows God?  Certainly not the tax collectors and prostitutes with their greed and impurity.  What sinner of any time and place can claim to know God.  Not even Lutherans.  Not even pastors.  Not even you or I.

But he knows us.  He knows us, of course, for he knows all things.  He knows your sins – the ones that burden you, and the ones you don't even realize you do.  He knows what you should be doing that you don't, and don't even know.

But he chooses to know us in mercy.  To know us so well as to become one of us.  To know our sorrows, our griefs.  Jesus comes to know God's wrath over sin so that we would know it not.  He swallows up death so that we would not see or even taste it, and he invites us to know it, and to know him, through his word.

Knowing God isn't so much about knowing him, as it is about being known by him.  He knows us, for he created us.  And he knows our flesh is fallen.  He knows our need for salvation, and provides for it in Christ.  He knows we need his comfort and guidance and peace, and so he sends us the Spirit, who brings us to know Christ through his word.

Abraham knew it – by faith.  And we too, children of Abraham, by faith.  We know the true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The one God who creates and redeems and sanctifies.  The coeternal, triune, undivided majesty.  The one who was “I am” before Abraham ever was, and the one who will be forever and ever.

We don't know him in the sense that we understand him.  He is far above and beyond that.  But we know what he tells us of himself, and that from his word.  What we know, we confess.  What we confess, we believe and teach.

And there are those that do not know, who have not heard, who have yet to believe.  To them we also confess.  For Christ would know them too.  They are friends and neighbors close to us, who live as men without hope.  They are strangers in far off lands who are lost in falsehoods and the devil's snares.  They are people created by the Father, for whom Jesus bled and died, and who the Spirit would call to faith through the Gospel.  We pray that in some small way the Triune God would use us in service to them.

So back to our original question.  Do you know God?  Maybe we could answer this way.  According to my sinful flesh, I don't know him at all.  But in Christ, God has known me in mercy.  In the Spirit he creates me anew, to know him and serve him and love and trust him forever.  It's not so much that you know him, but that he makes himself known to you in Jesus Christ.  To him be all the glory, with the Father and the Spirit, this Trinity Sunday and always, One God, forever, Amen.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Sermon – Easter 6 – Numbers 21:4-9

May 5th, 2013
St. John's and Trinity Lutheran Church, Suring, WI
"Look to the Cross"

What was the sin of the Israelites? They were ungrateful for God's blessings. And when suffering began, even a relatively mild suffering, the started to complain. They even complained ABOUT the blessings God had bestowed. Look what he had done:

He gave them Moses, a deliverer – someone raised in the royal courts of Pharaoh and uniquely qualified to stand before the most powerful man in the world as a spokesman.

He sent plagues to the Egyptians – not one, but ten! And each one more terrible than the last, until finally Pharaoh relented and let the people go. Oh, and by the way, through all these plagues on their enemies, the Lord kept the Israelites free from any of it. He even passed over their homes when the blood of the firstborn would be shed.

And when Pharaoh finally did let the people go, they didn't just go, the Egyptians sent them packing with gold and treasures and provisions. They weren't just freed from slavery, it was like winning a glorious battle, and they didn't even shed a drop of blood.

He brought them through the Red Sea in miraculous fashion. He brought them to his Holy Mountain and gave them the law. He designed an entire system of sacrifice by which their sins could be dealt with (and which pointed to the deeper reality of a once and for all sacrifice yet to come).

And if that wasn't enough, he made their clothing and shoes to not wear out, and he fed them each day with the miraculous bread from heaven – manna.

For all this they were ungrateful, they murmured, grumbled, complained.

Dear friends in Christ, have you had this experience – when life throws something your way, some challenge, some trouble, some problem to complain about.... and just when you wonder why the Lord is letting it happen, it gets ten times worse?

“Oh Lord, I don't think I can handle this. It's too big for me, it's too much.” And it seems as if he says, “Oh yeah? Watch this!”

But how quickly do we, like the Israelites, forget all his benefits? How little it takes to make us blame God for our troubles, rather than look in the mirror. How often we would grumble, murmur, and complain about even the good things he gives us which we totally don't deserve.

And just as the Israelites had the audacity to complain about being freed from slavery and even about the food that he provided them (like he owed them anything at all!), don't we often do the same about even the greatest gifts he gives us? I've got better things to do than study the Bible. Oh, church was too long today. The sermon was boring. The pastor is a so-and-so. But here God feeds you, cares for you, proclaims your salvation in Christ. And yet how quick to forget, neglect, and despise even these gifts.

God sent serpents, venomous snakes into the Israelite camp. But this was a call to repentance. Turn from your grumbling, wicked ways, you thankless Israelites. You think you had it bad before!

God would call us all to repentance as well. Pray that he sends pastors instead of snakes to call for repentance. Pray that by his grace, you can see the troubles of this world, the misfortunes and disasters, the suffering and pain with the eyes of faith. That these things would lead you again and again to repent. That these things would remind you again and again of the one who truly suffered, who suffered all, even for you.

The Lord is merciful. He gave the Israelites a means of his grace. Moses made the bronze serpent on the pole, and all who looked to it lived. Forgiveness. Peace with God.

Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
So Jesus, our bronze serpent, who crushed the head of the ancient serpent the devil, takes the venom of our sins, and dies the death we deserve. Jesus, the great physician of body and soul, renews in us a right spirit, and promises us a resurrection like his.
So look to him, and look to his cross.
If you think the world is wicked, look to the cross.
If you fear for your soul, under the weight of your sins, look to the cross.
If you suffer physically, if your heart despairs, if grief and loss are known to you, look to the cross.

Are you ashamed of what you've done? Look to the cross.
Do you try to do better, but always fail? Look to the cross.
Do your desires betray you; does your heart yearn for evil; do you feel at war with your flesh?
Look to the cross.
Does death frighten you, or what lay beyond? Look to the cross.

Look upon the cross of Jesus Christ. And there see your salvation. See the world's salvation. See the death of death itself. See the Father's anger set aside. See the warfare between God and man turn to peace. See the Christ, who takes all your fear, guilt, shame, despair, suffering, betrayal, wickedness, lust and sin – all that is bad, wicked and evil. And see ultimate good in his ultimate suffering.

Look to the cross, this day. And see Christ. For all, and for you.

And look today to the meal that Christ provides you. Like manna, miraculous food from heaven, though simple and earthly to the senses. Like manna, food in the wilderness of this life, food that sustains us for the journey. Like manna, we may wonder, "what is it?" - but we have only to confess it is what he says it is, and a mystery at that.

But unlike manna, here, the true Bread of Heaven, the body of Christ himself, and his life-blood shed to give you new life. Here, now, today. So look, and see, and hear his words, and take and eat and drink and live.