Monday, September 29, 2014

Sermon - St. Michael and All Angels - Revelation 12:7-12

And war broke out in heaven....

We know of war. We hear of wars and rumors of wars. We see our nation and others fighting over things that matter and things that don't. Some of you have even fought in wars, in foreign lands. Maybe you're against war in general or against a particular war. Maybe you wonder, war, what is it good for?

But the war that broke out in heaven – is like no other war that would ever be. Michael the archangel and his angels fought with the dragon, that great serpent of old, and all his evil angels.

We don't know how long this war lasted, or if, even, that's a question that makes sense. Revelation uses pictures and symbols to express heavenly and spiritual realities, that are in many cases, timeless, eternal. But though they are spiritual, they are just as real.

So in this war of the heavens, we don't know what tactics and strategies were used, or many other things. But we know what's most important: who wins. The good guys. Michael and the angels. They cast the Dragon – aka the Devil, Satan, the Ancient Serpent – they cast him and his fallen angels out of heaven – there is no place for them in God's presence any longer – and they fell.
In rage, smoldering at their defeat and humiliation, the Devil seeks to do what damage he can in what little time he has left. If he can't get to the Lord of Heaven himself, he will set his sights on those created in God's image. And so he roars and prowls and looks to devour even you, and you, and me. The Devil is real, and he is dangerous. He is our most powerful enemy. He is far smarter than you. He knows God's Word far better... Luther even called the Devil a Doctor of Theology. But his wicked knowledge is all geared toward one purpose – to do you harm. To destroy your life, to see you suffer and die. And ultimately, if it were possible, to steal you away, to lead you astray, even gently if he has to, from the Christian faith and from your Lord.

This is the most insidious way that he devours. His slithering question, “Did God really say...?” continues to be asked today. It is asked in the public square when Christian teaching is ridiculed and marginalized. It is asked in church bodies that dance to the Devil's pied-piper tune and plot a course away from God's word and into heresy and damnation. And the Devil's question is asked and answered when you reach for whatever forbidden fruit hangs in front of you – and you decide you know better and want to be like God. Oh Lord, deliver us from this evil, we pray!

But just as our foe was cast out of Heaven, so will he one day be cast into the lake of fire. Just as he fell like lightning from heaven, so does he fall in defeat to the same weapons of warfare used by Michael and the angels. “they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony”. It seems the angels, too, use the same weapons given to us, Christians. The blood of the Lamb and the testimony, the word of God.

The word. It's the way Jesus himself defeated the tempter in the wilderness. It is written. It is written. It is written. The word that created and recreates. The same word which bespeaks us righteous. The same word cried out, “Father forgive them” and which forgives you, even today. The same word that will be spoken over your grave, “Death, where is thy victory, Death where is thy sting?”. The same word which will be spoken at the trumpet call of God when Christ returns with all his angels and brings all things to fulfillment. The word of God. That word of God made flesh in Christ.

And the other “weapon” by which they overcame - The blood of the Lamb. It's the way Jesus himself defeated the Foe on our behalf, at the cross. There and then the Accuser lost any sins to accuse, because Jesus took them all away. The blood of the Lamb. “His blood be on us and on our children” the murderous crowd seethed. And bitter and blessed irony, His blood is upon us, to save us. The blood of the Lamb, by the water of baptism, douses the doorposts of your heart - to mark you – so that the destroyer would passover this one. Jesus was destroyed in your place. His blood shed in exchange for yours. His defeat – your victory.

But the blood of Jesus doesn't just stop at the cross. The blood of Jesus by which we overcome the Dragon and all his forces of evil is also for us today. The blood once shed, the body once broken – dead, but now alive forever – that same body and blood are here for you in on the altar, in the bread and wine, by the promise of the Lamb himself. Here, he breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, and saves us by his grace, delivering us from evil. Here in this holy meal you receive the victorious Christ, and are united with him and with his victory.

Likewise the testimony by which they overcame – the same word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ in particular, is preached from this pulpit, read at that lectern, sung in this sanctuary, prayed at this altar. This word, this sharp, two-edged sword, not only kills our old Adam and revives our own Spirit, but the same proclamation of Christ disarms and destroys the foe and his accusations. It is the one little word that can fell him.

So God sends his holy angels, who once cast Satan from heaven, to watch over us even here and now. In a sense the war still continues, as we struggle not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil. Thanks be to God for our allies in this fight, those messengers from on high who watch over and defend the children of God at his command. Why shouldn't the Lord God, who spared not even his own Son for our salvation, not also give us even more? Why shouldn't he who feeds us and quenches us with Christ's body and blood, and speaks to us his word of promise, not also keep us by his firstborn sons of light?

Therefore rejoice, oh heavens, and you who dwell in them! And can't we count ourselves among the inhabitants of heaven? Certainly our citizenship is there. Surely our destination is with the Lord. Even now, we are strangers and sojourners on this earth. We are in it, but not of it.

For salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come.. to us. Like the angels, we too overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the testimony. And we too see the accusations of Satan fall to nothing, for in Christ, your sins are no more. Battle over. Victory won. Eternity secure. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Sermon - Pentecost 12 - Matthew 16:21-26

Christian teaching is full of paradox. God is three, yet he is one. Jesus is human, yet divine. This is bread and wine, but also Christ's body and blood. And you, Christian, are sinner yet also saint, wicked and righteous, dead in sin, yet alive in Christ.

Today Jesus says, “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever would lose his life for my sake will find it”. Friends these sorts of mysterious sayings can only be rightly understood through the cross.

Last week, we hear Peter's great confession, his bright shining moment. “You are the Christ!” he declares. And Jesus blesses him for it. He's on top of the mountain, spiritually speaking. It all comes together with this wonderful insight, given by the Father. Everyone's been asking and wondering who Jesus is, and Peter, just a regular guy, a fisherman, is given the answer from heaven above. Wow. What a glorious moment.

And then it all comes crashing down. Because with what seems like the very next breath Jesus is calling Peter the devil. “Get behind me, Satan! For you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of man!” Wha – what?

Friends, have you had this sort of experience in life? You think everything is fine. You've got it all figured out. Life is running on all cylinders. Your health is good, the job pays well, your marriage is solid and your kids behave themselves. You go to church, you pray, you give your offering. Maybe it goes so well that you even take all this for granted. But God blesses you, smiles on you, and life is good. And then, ka-blammy. It all comes crashing down. Maybe it's you that messes up. Maybe it's some senseless tragedy that strikes out of the blue. Your wife leaves you. Your son gets a girl pregnant. You get laid off. The doctor says, “cancer”. And now the God who you thought was your friend, whose lifted up his countenance upon you – seems to be giving anything but peace. Instead he seems like your enemy. God must hate me. How do we make sense of this? Only through the cross.

For Peter, it wasn't enough to know that Jesus was the Christ. Well enough. They had all been wondering. But with that great confession hanging in the air, Jesus tells him just what kind of Christ he means to be. He “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised”. And that is NOT what Peter and the disciples wanted to hear. That's not the kind of Christ they were looking for. They wanted a Jesus without the cross.

They liked all the glorious miracles and crowds following Jesus. They marveled that even the demons submitted to them in Jesus' name. Surely they had plans for what lay ahead – like James and John who wanted thrones on Jesus' left and right in this Kingdom he was preaching about. Peter, too, probably had his own plans laid out for the future – plans which must have given him a cushy job and high honors. Jesus would come into his glory, restore the kingdom to Israel, make everything hunky dory once again on earth. Victory, triumph, glory, finally, was within their grasp. With the Christ here on our side, nothing can go wrong. So they must have thought.

But that all came crashing down. Peter couldn't bask in the glory of his confession for long. Jesus was talking crazy talk about suffering, betrayal and death! And when he tried to quietly set Jesus straight, Jesus loudly and clearly calls him out. “Get behind me Satan.”

You see, a Christ without the cross is a satanic version of Christ. And it is a Christ that is all too common, even among “Christians”.

A Christ of victory apart from defeat, rather than he who defeats death by his death. A Christ of glory apart from humiliation, and not the one whose power is made perfect in weakness. A Jesus who smiles and laughs but never sheds bloody tears, or drinks a cup of wrath, or cries out in forsakenness. A Jesus who you'd never know suffered and died for sins, because, well, let's not talk about sin it's too much of a downer.

If this is your kind of Jesus, I challenge you today to repent, and see Jesus only through the cross. If your Jesus is only smiles and sunshine, then you better get Satan behind you and see Christ as he is – crucified for us sinners. For this is the only Christ that matters, the only Christ he wants to be, the only Christ who can save us from sin and death and the devil. A Jesus who knocks us off our high-horse of self-righteousness and says “I will be your righteousness, and I alone.”

And it is this Christ that we must see in the crosses of our life. For anything a Christian takes up in life, for the sake of Christ, is our cross. Sometimes heavy, sometimes a bit lighter. But always following him who has gone before us, submitting to his Father's will in all things. We don't get to choose our own crosses. Nor do we even always know what they are. But only Christ of the cross is comfort for us in all the twists and turns, ups and downs, crosses large and small of this life.

It is a paradox, isn't it, that when we rest secure – Christ shakes us and cuts us down with his word of rebuking law. And when we are stumbling, fallen, hurting – this is when the Gospel brings hope. We need both. We make the good confession, like Peter, for it is also given to us to say, “You are the Christ”! But we also need that rebuke, that our sinful selves would get behind the child of God, drown under the daily repentance of baptismal renewal, and go the way of Satan – resigned to the irrelevant past.

And this renewal gives us cause once again to confess Christ, and rejoice in his victory. It gives us the faith and strength to carry our daily crosses knowing that his cross is ever before us. His suffering gives our suffering meaning. And his resurrection gives us hope.

Whatever cross you bear this day, know that Christ bore his before you. So take up that cross and follow him – for his cross, his suffering, his death – have already won the victory. So that even in your troubles and sorrows, your faith would look to him – and lay down your life only to find it. That in the Christ of the cross, your soul is not forfeit – but saved – by the one who gave his life for the world. Even Jesus Christ. In his holy name. Amen.