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Sermon for March 17, 2019, Second Sunday in Lent

Luke 13:31-35 (Second Sunday in Lent—Series C)

“O Jerusalem”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT 

March 17, 2019

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is today’s Gospel reading from Luke 13:

31In that hour, some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus], “Go away from here and continue your journey because Herod wishes to kill you.” 32And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform healings today and tomorrow and on the third day I am brought to my goal.’ 33Nevertheless, it is necessary for me to journey today and tomorrow and the next day because it is not possible for a prophet to die outside Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often have I willed to gather your children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing. 35Behold, your house is being abandoned to you. I say to you, you shall surely not see m until you shall say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

 

           “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” Jesus lamented. How His heart ached for the people of this city, the city which kills the prophets and stones those sent to her in the name of the Lord. Jerusalem, the people, had a long-standing pattern of rejection of the Lord’s prophets.

          It is so terribly tragic that the “holy city” of Jerusalem would become known as the place that “kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her.” Regarding those called by God to speak His Word of Law and Gospel to the people, Jerusalem’s history is a bloody one. For example, today’s Old Testament lesson from Jeremiah 26 records the threats against the prophet Jeremiah, “Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, ‘This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears’” (Jer. 26:11 ESV). Nine verses later we read, “There was another man who prophesied in the name of the LORD, Uriah the son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. He prophesied against this city and against this land in words like those of Jeremiah. And when King Jehoiakim, with all his warriors and all the officials, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death. But when Uriah heard of it, he was afraid and fled and escaped to Egypt. Then King Jehoiakim sent to Egypt certain men, Elnathan the son of Achbor and others with him, and they took Uriah from Egypt and brought him to King Jehoiakim, who struck him down with the sword and dumped his dead body into the burial place of the common people.” (Jer. 26:20-23 ESV).

          Other Old Testament texts show the viciousness of Jerusalem against the prophets speaking God’s Word. In 2 Kings 21:16 we are told that King Manasseh, “shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another” (2 Ki. 21:16 ESV). In Jewish tradition, this was understood to refer to all righteous Jews, including the prophets. The historian Josephus wrote, “He spared not even the prophets, some of whom he slaughtered daily, so that Jerusalem ran with blood” (Jewish Antiquities 10.38). Nehemiah 9:26 summarizes, “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against [God] and cast [His] law behind their back and killed [His] prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to [the Lord]” (Neh. 9:26 ESV).

O “Jerusalem,” “Jerusalem.” Do you and I also have a history of rejecting God and His Word? To find out, look at your life in comparison with the Commandments. You and I are to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” When we trust in our skills, power, friendships, and honor we have a god, but it is not the one true God. How often have we rejected the one, true God in favor of our idols, the gods in which we have mistakenly placed our trust—money, possessions, self, other people, prestige, knowledge, status? Our inclination to sin ensnares us. We are not able to believe God nor to fear and love Him. We reject Him. We turn away from Him. We place our trust in ourselves and in the created things of this world. In doing so, we indicate that His Word is a sham. It’s unnecessary for our lives. We don’t want what the Lord wants to give. And that includes a Savior.

When people reject God’s Word of truth, they do not confess that they are sinful and unclean by nature. People don’t want to hear that they are not right with God and so they turn away and place their trust in themselves. They don’t agree that they are really and truly sinners who are condemned to death and hell. Therefore, what do they need to saved from? There is no need for Jesus to save them from a condition they don’t believe that they suffer from. So it is when we fail to know our sin as it is pointed out by God’s Word. We falsely claim that we have no need of what God wants to give us—forgiveness and salvation. It is exactly the situation that John describes in his first letter, words that we know very well from the liturgy, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8-10 ESV). O “Jerusalem,” “Jerusalem.”

From the first sin of Adam and Eve, God has desired to gather His fallen, sin-filled, rejection-laden people to Himself and to restore them. From His First Testament people to Twenty-First Century people, the Lord wants to gather the lost, rescue them from sin and death, and make them His own. But they, and we, were not willing to be gathered. Sin and rebellion against God are a stubborn thing. We can’t overcome it on our own. The fact of the matter is, all people, including us, would be lost forever, condemned to eternal death, if God Himself had not willed that “all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

And with that desire to save and to gather sinners under His everlasting wings of grace and mercy, like a mother hen gathering her chicks, God the Son was given to us as the gift of the Father. The eternal Son of God became fully human so that He might journey to Jerusalem and be THE once-for-all rejected Prophet. “It is necessary,” Jesus said, that He continue His ministry of casting out demons and healing the sick in body and soul so that He might complete His goal established even before creation—that of saving and rescuing sinners from death and hell.

Throughout the past Season after Epiphany we have read over and over that the work of Jesus’ earthly ministry was one of releasing those captive in bondage to Satan, sickness, and sin. And the way in which that salvation and freedom would take place involved Jesus’ own rejection in Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. Why? It is not possible for a prophet to die outside Jerusalem. And so Jesus, as THE Prophet, in solidarity and continuity with His Old Testament prophets, travels to Jerusalem to be “rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Lk. 9:22 ESV). “Jesus’ prophetic destiny of rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection must take place in Jerusalem, the holy city, that place where God dwells, and atonement must take place.”[1]

          And so, He goes as it stands written in the Holy Scriptures. He goes to Jerusalem to die on a cross for your sins and for mine. He suffers the condemnation of hell on the cross in our place. Jesus sheds His holy, precious blood to make atonement for the sins of the whole world so that, by God’s grace through faith and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord, all might receive the forgiveness of sins. Through His sacrificial death, Jesus has purchased your release. You are set free from sin, death, and the devil because of Jesus’ saving work for you accomplished on the cross!

And on the third day, Christ rose from the dead, forever defeating the power of death and hell. Did you catch the allusion to the “third day” in the text? “Behold, I cast out demons and perform healings today and tomorrow and on the third day I am brought to my goal.” Along with Luke’s first readers, we can recognize “on the third day” as an allusion to Jesus’ resurrection. The third day is the day of the final release of all creation from its bondage to sin and Satan. It is the beginning of the new creation. After taking on Himself the world’s bondage while He was on the cross and burying it in the tomb, Jesus rises from the dead. As humanity’s substitute and representative, Jesus accomplished salvation for us all with His death and resurrection! This is the goal of His journey to Jerusalem—our freedom from sin, death, and the power of Satan.[2]

In the Word of the Gospel combined with water in Holy Baptism, the crucified and risen Savior came to you and gifted you with saving faith and trust in Him as your Lord and Savior. Baptism has given to you exactly what the words and promises of God declare: the forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. In the read and preached Gospel, the Crucified and Risen Savior comes to you with His forgiveness and the new life of faith so that you no longer live under the power of sin, but in the freedom of Christ. You can now fear, love, and trust in God above all things through Gospel at work in you by the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit. Shortly, we will sing in the Sanctus, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” The Crucified and Risen Jesus comes to us in His Supper where we eat and drink the true Body and Blood of Christ with the bread and the wine for the forgiveness of sins, for life, salvation, and the strengthening of our most holy, Christian faith.

By faith, we receive the ministry of Jesus that took Him to the cross and the grave in order to save us from our sins. By faith, we trust that He was rejected for us, so that we might never be rejected by God because of our sins and our sinfulness. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! What great joy we look forward to because of the saving work of Christ! From Revelation 21, a picture of us, the holy, Christian Church, the new Jerusalem: “‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, . . . And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21:9-10, 22 ESV).

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! “With milk and honey blest—The promise of salvation, The place of peace and rest—We know not, oh, we know not What joys await us there: The radiancy of glory, The bliss beyond compare!

Around the throne of David, The saints, from care released, Raise loud their songs of triumph To celebrate the feast. They sing to Christ their leader, Who conquered in the fight, Who won for them forever Their gleaming robes of white.” (LSB 672:1, 3)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Arthur A. Just, Jr., Luke 9:51-24:53, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 1997), 563.

[2] Ibid., 561.

Sermon for Lent Midweek 1, March 13, 2019

Sermon is from the Lenten Series “Behold the Man!” This is my edited version for use at LCOR.

Hebrews 7:20–28; John 17 (Midweek Lent 1—Behold the Man!)

“A God Who Prays”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT 

March 13, 2019

 

That ust’ve been a sight. I wonder if the Israelites in the wilderness protested at the elaborate details and the exorbitant expense of making high-priestly vestments for Aaron. Did they have to scuttle the plans until the voters could approve of the design and the expense? Did they put it out for bids to see if someone had a source of pure gold or blue dye that they might come in under budget and put the rest in an LCEF account? “I don’t know why one priest needs to be dressed in something way more elaborate and costly than anything we buy or make for ourselves. Does Aaron think he’s better than we are?” “When my grandkids became priests in Egypt, they had to save up all their own money to purchase vestments; no congregation was buying those for them!” “I don’t see why we have to use all this gold; tin would look almost as nice for a tenth of the price!”

Nevertheless, when God commanded what sort of frock Aaron was to be dressed in as he was consecrated as the high priest, His orders were strangely particular. First the ephod, made of gold, with two gold shoulder pieces, each with an engraved onyx stone with six names of the sons of Israel on it, joined together with blue and scarlet yarns and fine linen. Second the breastpiece, matching the ephod, of gold, with blue and scarlet yarns and fine linens, with twelve different stones set in gold settings, and two gold rings to attach it to the ephod. Then, the robe, all blue, with blue and purple and scarlet pomegranates on the hem, interspersed with golden bells. Next, the engraved gold plate attached with a blue cord to the front of Aaron’s turban. Finally, a cloak, the turban, and a sash of fine needlework. All these Aaron is to wear so that when he presides as high priest, he does not die (Exodus 28:6–39).

It’s hard to describe the spiritual meaning of such apparel. Clothing is unavoidably physical. And yet, despite the beauty of those vestments, no matter how real the priesthood of Aaron and his sons, as well as the Levites, they were merely shadows of something more real, of a more permanent priesthood, of a High Priest whose service endures eternally. Aaron’s vestments, like a pastor’s vestments, are a sign of the beauty of the office he occupies, an office that does not truly belong to him, the one who merely stands in between God and His people. The vestments signify neither Aaron nor the pastor, but Christ. The office is beautiful because of Christ, no matter the crudeness and uncouthness of the men in the office.

Aaron, then, is no longer the one to intercede between God and men. Nor am I. But behold the man! There is One to intercede, One who is a Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek, the priestly King of righteousness. Behold the man who, though also God, intercedes for mankind before God. Behold God who has become man and who, as man, intercedes, prays for, us people.

Who wants an intercessor, a priest, a go-between, though? A go-between implies you are insufficient for the task of getting yourself to God. An intercessor implies that you cannot climb the ladder of heaven to plead your own case. That Jesus takes on human flesh to be an eternal Priest between people and God implies that you, on your own, are not good enough. Because, if you’re honest with yourself, you’re not. Who seeks for God as he ought? Whose thoughts are undistracted in prayer? Whose hatred for (okay, call it annoyance with) his brother does not interfere with the orientation of his prayer? Who loves God perfectly enough to be able to approach Him in prayer? Who keeps the Sabbath perfectly, hears the Word of God gladly and regularly? Who uses the name of God correctly, never letting slip an “Oh, my God” when things don’t go according to plan, and calls upon it regularly, when the catechism prescribes prayer? Who? No one. Well, at least not you. You are a sorry excuse for your own priest. You need someone else to take up your case. So behold the man!

Jesus is the perfect High Priest. Sinful mankind cannot approach a holy God. We need someone to take our place, to plead our case. Behold the man! Jesus has taken your flesh. He will take up your cause before His heavenly Father. In Jesus, God has a voice that He can raise before the Father. He has hands He can fold in prayer. He has a head He can bow correctly and reverently. Behold the man who prays perfectly. Behold the High Priest whose office, whose role, is to pray for you—for you. Behold the man who prays for you without ceasing.

Jesus has hands to raise in prayer. He has eyes so that He can lift them up. He has lips that can shape syllables. He has vocal cords that can craft syllables His Father will hear. He is man so that He can intercede for people. And for what does He pray? For His disciples. For His Church. For you. Because sinners cannot approach a holy God, Jesus intercedes. Because rebellious man’s petitions will fall on deaf ears, the only obedient Son of God has taken flesh in order to pray on your behalf, to give voice to your prayers, to pray for you.

Since you cannot keep yourself from sin, from idolatry, from rebellion, Jesus prays that the Father would keep you: that He would keep you in His name, which was put upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism; that He would keep you from the evil one, which we ask in the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus, as perfect God and man in one person prays for you. Behold the man who prays for you constantly before His heavenly Father.

So, in Jesus, who prays for you without end, you are no longer rebels against your heavenly Father. You are no longer sinful aliens. You are no longer unable to bend the Father’s ear with your petitions. You are in Jesus, and Jesus prays perfectly. Not because you pray regularly or correctly, but because you are in Jesus, your prayers are perfect. Because Jesus fold His hands perfectly in prayer, so do you. Because Jesus lifts up His eyes perfectly in prayer, so do you. Because Jesus’ voice is perfectly attuned for prayer, so is yours. Because Jesus is the man who intercedes for the rest of mankind, as a person, you have hope. You have a Lord who prays for you. You have a man who redeems mankind. You have the God who became man for you. You have a Savior. Behold the man, the Priest who bids you to pray and who prays for you without ceasing. Amen.

Sermon for March 10, 2019, First Sunday in Lent

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 (First Sunday in Lent—Series C)

“With a Mighty Hand and an Outstretched Arm”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT 

March 10, 2019

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is the Old Testament lesson recorded in Deuteronomy 26:

1When you come into the land which Yahweh your God is giving to you as an inheritance and you have taken possession of it and live in it, 2you will take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground which you harvest from your land which Yahweh your God is giving to you and you will put it in a basket and you will go to the place which Yahweh your God will choose to make His name dwell there. 3And you will go to the priest who is in office at that time and you will say to him, “I declare today to Yahweh your God that I have come into the land which Yahweh swore to our fathers to give to us.” 4And the priest will take the basket from your hand and he will set it down before the altar of Yahweh your God. 5And you will respond and say before Yahweh your God, “My father was a wandering Aramean and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6And the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us and they laid on us hard labor. 7And we cried to Yahweh, the God of our fathers, and Yahweh heard our voice and saw our affliction and our toil and our oppression. 8And Yahweh brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders. 9And He brought us to this place and gave to us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10And now, behold, I bring the first of the fruit of the ground which you have given to me, O Yahweh.” And you will set it down before Yahweh your God and worship before Yahweh your God. 11And you will rejoice in all the good which Yahweh your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.

 

          In the Address for Ash Wednesday, we heard these words to begin the Season of Lent, “On this day the Church begins a holy season of prayerful and penitential reflection.” Our modern Lenten practice shares some similarities with the reflection and remembrance that the Israelites were commanded to undertake when they finally arrived in the Promised Land, conquered it, and lived there. The ritual of offering the firstfruits of land each year would remind the worshiper that the Promised Land was God’s gracious gift that was to be received with joy-filled thanksgiving. In the liturgical rite of making that offering, the worshiper would remember where the Israelites had been and where they were going according to God’s grace.

          “My father was a wandering Aramean and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us and they laid on us hard labor.” Four hundred years of slavery and bondage. Jacob and his sons and their families came to Egypt during the time of a great famine. Joseph, who had been sold into slavery by his brothers, had risen to a position of prominence in the house of Pharaoh because God worked the evil done to him for good. The Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians under a Pharaoh “who did not know Joseph” (Ex. 1:8). And for centuries, this people languished under the rod of their oppressors. Yet, they flourished. The number of people grew and grew.

          “And we cried to Yahweh, the God of our fathers, and Yahweh heard our voice and saw our affliction and our toil and our oppression. And Yahweh brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders.” The answer to the Israelites’ prayers was Moses. He and his brother Aaron were sent by God to Pharaoh to secure the release of God’s people. But Pharaoh would not let the people go. So, the Lord sent the terrors of the 10 plagues against the Egyptians. With those signs and wonders, Yahweh brought the Israelites out of Egypt, through the Red Sea waters, to meet Him at Mt. Sinai where Yahweh would establish His covenant promises with them—“I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am Yahweh your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Exod. 6:7).

          As the Israelite presented the firstfruits offering to the Lord, he would remember where they had been as slaves in Egypt. He would remember God’s great act of salvation in the Exodus, the Lord with a mighty hand and outstretched arm bringing His people out of slavery in order to be His covenant people. And the Israelite would remember their time in the desert. Because of their rebellion against God, the people would wander in the desert forty years until those 20 years and older, who had grumbled against the Lord, had died (Numbers 14:1-38). How much more thankful would this make the Israelite who would have food in abundance in a land “flowing with milk and honey”! According to His gracious promise, God “brought us to this place and gave to us this land.” And the Israelite would say, “And now, behold, I bring the first of the fruit of the ground which you have given to me, O Yahweh.” And the Israelite would rejoice in all the good which God had given to him and to his people and to his family.

          In all this, the Israelite was remembering and reflecting on what GOD had done. The whole Exodus event and the coming into the land of promise was God’s doing. It was first and foremost “the land which Yahweh your God” gave to the people of Israel as an inheritance. They were to take some of the firstfruits of “the land which Yahweh your God” gave to them. They would take the firstfruits offering to “the place which Yahweh your God will choose,” the place God would pick for His divine service to take place. Over and over, “Yahweh heard our voice. . . Yahweh brought us out of Egypt. . . He brought us to this place and gave to us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” And the result of this remembrance is a joy-filled celebration of all the good that Yahweh their God had done for them.

          I propose that we come to Lent with the same thinking. While “giving up” something for Lent can be a fine practice, it’s not the goal. It’s not the point. Lent is a time of prayerful and repentant reflection and remembrance on where we have been and where we are going because of what God has done for us according to His grace.

          Where you and I have been is similar to where Israel had been. At one time, all of us were slaves, slaves to sin. As Israel was enslaved before Pharaoh, you and I and all people were conceived and born in slavery to sin. Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” It is under the tyranny of sin that we came into this world corrupted by sin. This being the case, we had no way of setting ourselves free from sin and its punishment of death. We had no way of making ourselves better before God by anything that we could do, think, or say. Israel couldn’t get out of bondage in Egypt on its own and we couldn’t get out of slavery to sin on our own. We were held fast in the chains of our sin, bound in our slavery to our evil inclinations, and under the curse of God’s Law that condemns us to eternal death. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a).

          But God acted according to His grace and mercy. Out of love for His sin-filled, grumbling, unfaithful children of Israel, He led them out of Egyptian slavery with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. He brought them into the land of promise, a land flowing with milk and honey. Out of love for His sin-filled, grumbling, unfaithful human creatures the world over, God led all people out of slavery to sin and death with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Only this time, it was not with the signs and wonders of the plagues against Egypt or the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. This rescue from slavery happened because God the Son took upon Himself human flesh and chose to take the sins of the world upon Himself as if they were His own. Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, suffered the punishment of death that all people should have endured because of their sin. For us, Jesus stretched out His arms and allowed His mighty hands to be nailed to a cross. These are the hands that healed the sick and raised the dead; the hands which rescued Israel from Egypt; the hands the formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.

          In suffering and death, Jesus, with outstretched arms and pierced hands, offered Himself as the once-for-all perfect sacrifice to save all people from their slavery to sin and everlasting death. On the cross, the Savior bled and died to give us freedom in the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting. And because of this, the greatest saving act of all time, we have a hope and a future. Listen to what Jesus says on the night before He purchased our freedom with His own blood: “’Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (Jn. 14:1-6 ESV). As St. Paul puts it, we will be “forever with the Lord” in the place that He has gone to prepare for us. We have a place in the land of promise, not an earthly land with milk and honey, but a heavenly inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. Because Jesus purchased and won the forgiveness of our sins, we are set from death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). We are inheritors of everlasting life with Him in Paradise when we die. And when the Lord comes again on the Last Day, we will be raised from the dead and will enter with Him and the whole Christian Church into the glory of the new heavens and earth where we will be His people and the Triune God will forever be our God.

          The Lenten road that we travel again this year to the cross of Good Friday and the empty grave of Easter is a time given to us by God in His Church to remember and to reflect upon where we were. We were condemned slaves of sin, sentenced to death and hell for eternity. But God acted to save us through the gift of His only Son, Jesus Christ. With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, Jesus rescued us from our sins and saved us from death through the shedding of His blood. Today, you stand forgiven of all your sins. You are covered in the blood of Lamb. You rejoice in what God has done for you in Jesus, for you know the place to where you are going. The Savior in love has prepared a heavenly home for you to await the day of the resurrection of all flesh when all the saints of God in light will be with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit forever in glory in a new creation. Therefore, go this day in peace; you are free. Amen.

Sermon for March 6, 2019, Ash Wednesday

From the Series “Behold the Man,” Edited by Rev. Michael J. Coons for use at Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (Ash Wednesday—Behold the Man!)

“A God Who Hungers”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT 

March 6, 2019

 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“When you fast,” Jesus says, “do not be like the hypocrites.” When, not if, you fast. This is from the Sermon on the Mount, by the way, everyone’s favorite good teachings from Jesus that they’ve never read. Because once you read it, you realize that Jesus isn’t a good teacher. He’s an unyielding taskmaster. Sure, the Beatitudes are nice. Maybe. Until He starts talking about the Law. And warns His disciples not to relax the Law by even one tiny dot. So, to avoid relaxing the Law, Jesus launches into a six-fold intensification of the Law—“You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you”—that leaves you and everyone else slack-jawed and stupefied that anyone could be such a legalist, such a hard-nosed dictator with the Commandments. And that culminates in this standard of just how well you need to obey the Commandments: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). That’s what precedes “when you give to the needy . . . when you pray . . . when you fast.” Do not be like the hypocrites.

Prayer you can get behind, maybe giving to the poor too. But fasting is just weird. It seems too physical to be spiritual. It’s too concerned with what you eat—or don’t eat—to be a Christian activity. Weight Watchers clients, yes. Christians, no. Not Lutheran Christians, anyway. Not people liberated from the Law, basking in the glorious freedom of the Gospel, having severed their ties from the works-righteous, earn-your-ticket-to-paradise Roman Catholics with their fish fries and their days of fasting.

And yet, “when you fast,” Jesus said. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, when the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus to ask why they fasted and the Pharisees fasted but Jesus’ disciples did not fast, Jesus answered, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (9:15). Then they will fast. After Jesus the Bridegroom is taken away. Like now. “When you fast,” Jesus said.

Fasting, peculiarly enough, involves hunger. Fasting means abstaining, not just from diet sodas or chocolate bars for forty days, but from food. Properly done, fasting leaves your belly aching for another helping. This is why fasting seems too physical. What does a rumbling belly have to do with your piety, with your Christian devotion?

“Behold the man!” Jesus, the God-man. As Pontius Pilate presented before the jeering crowds a freshly flogged Jesus wearing a crown of thorns designed to inflict suffering and a fake-royal robe intended to invite ridicule, he preached an unintentional, yet profound, sermon: “Behold the man!” (John 19:5). Taking his advice, that is what we will do throughout this season of Lent that begins today. “Behold the man!”

In Jesus, God is man. The Word has become flesh. Like you. God is your Brother. The One begotten of the Father from all eternity is now the One born of the Virgin Mary. And your Lord. Behold the man! Just like you, He has skin and bones, blood vessels and lymph nodes, teeth and hair, heart and lungs, blood and saliva, hands, feet, eyes, lips, tongue, stomach, and spleen. Behold the man! He eats. He breathes. He walks. He sleeps. He prays. He weeps. He laughs. He bleeds. He dies. He rises. He ascends. He sits. And He will come. He is completely human and completely divine, two perfect natures in one indivisible person. He has fingerprints and DNA. Behold the man, Jesus, your Brother.

Unlike you, though, He has no sin. His human nature is perfect, unspoiled by Adam’s rebellion. Because of sin, you are subhuman. But not Jesus. Oh, He was tempted in every way, just as you are, yet He is without sin. His desires were never distorted into lust, greed, coveting, or idolatry. Behold the man! Like unblemished Adam at the close of the sixth day of creation, when God declared His handiwork “very good,” Jesus is as human as human can be, as human as He intends to make you in the resurrection.

So why fasting? Behold the man! Jesus fasted. The Gospel for this coming Sunday places Jesus in the wilderness, following His Baptism, fasting for forty days, being tempted by the devil. This is not the artificial fasting or giving up some pet vice for the season. For forty days, Jesus ate nothing. Matthew and Luke understatedly report that He was hungry. You don’t say!

That shouldn’t be noteworthy to say that God hasn’t eaten for forty days. Eating is not something natural to God. But, behold the man! Behold the God who took human flesh in the virgin womb of a Jewish girl. Behold the unborn baby, being nourished for nine months in His temporary, earthly throne room. Behold the crying infant, rooting for the breast to fill his newborn stomach. Behold the toddler to whom His parents introduced new foods, all of which He had created. Behold the boy, eating the Passover lamb with His extended family. Behold the man, God in human flesh, who needs to eat in order to live. And now, behold the man, who has not eaten for 40 days, 960 hours, or 57,600 minutes. And you were thinking the time since your last snack was growing a little long.

Behold the man, the incarnate God, with lips, teeth, tongue, and taste buds that have not savored a morsel for forty days. With an esophagus, stomach, and intestines that have been empty and aching for forty days. Behold the man who fasts for you. The First Adam sinned by eating. The Second Adam will fast before enduring an onslaught of temptation, withstanding every one. Behold the man who fasts and who assumes His disciples will also fast.

Like fasting, Lent is weird. Who has time or patience for a season of repentance, for subdued joy, for bottling up our “Alleluias” until we can uncork them and go crazy with Easter jubilation? Who wants to explain to the Wednesday-evening bridge club that they won’t be around for the next six weeks? Who wants to give away more money to the poor from their already penny-pinched budget? Who wants to devote more time for prayer from their way-too-busy schedule? Yes, Lent is weird.

Lent, like fasting, is also oddly physical. In fact, the Germans call this penitential season before Easter Fastenzeit, literally “fasting time.” The disciplines of Lent—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—are designed to guard you against that age-old temptation of being too spiritual. The temptation is as old as creation. When the serpent seduced Adam and his wife to give in to the spiritual desire to be like God, knowing good and evil, over the physical prohibition against eating from that one tree, they set the pattern for the rest of us, who want to prefer the spiritual over the material. So once God settled the Israelites in the Promised Land, they quickly abandoned the very physical worship of Yahweh alone by means of the sacrifices offered only in the temple in Jerusalem for the more spiritual, less-precise worship of the Baals and the Asherah. And Nicodemus cracked a joke that true religion could never be so physical as to involve rebirth. And the Sadducees concocted their ridiculous story about the woman who married one of seven brothers to prove the physical resurrection is impossible. And your children insist that they’re spiritual but not religious. And you give your “amen” when your friends tell you, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” All of that is an attempt to substitute safer, spiritual clichés for real physical, fleshly realities. And it’s all sin.

Give up your pious, hyper-spiritual pretensions. God isn’t like that. The incarnation has been in His mind from before the first words of creation. Behold the man! In Jesus, in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily, you who have both a body and the complete inability to use it properly, as your Creator intended, have hope. God is like this: a man, your Brother. Behold the man!

Jesus fasted. For you. He is a God who can eat—who needs to eat—so that He can abstain from eating, enduring the pains of hunger to deny His flesh what it desires. For you. For your tendency to prefer the spiritual over the physical in a fake spirituality that leads you to indulge the flesh with its desires, both good and evil. Jesus endured temptation and never sinned so that He could be the man to redeem all other people, the Creator who would ransom His creatures, God who could give His life for sinners, for you.

So fast freely. Fast to discipline and chasten your flesh. Fast so that, as you learn to control your belly, it will give you discipline to control the other parts of your flesh as well. Fast and let the rumbling of hunger teach you that your belly is not your God. Pray until you realize that your schedule is not your God, your time is not your own, and your daily bread does not come from the work of your own hands. Give alms, tithe, give offerings, and give money until you know down in your gut that money is not the source of your security or happiness. Behold the man who fasted, prayed, and gave alms perfectly for you. His rumbling stomach, His hunger pangs, are your comfort in temptation. His flesh is your hope. He succeeded where you have failed. Behold the man!

And then break the fast. Eat. Drink. At His altar, veiled in bread and wine for His disciples to eat and drink for the forgiveness of their sins, with His flesh as true food and His blood as true drink, behold the man! Let the growling of your belly in Lent and anytime lead you here, to the place where the Lord bids you to fast and hunger no more. Here is food that endures to eternal life, drink that quenches your deepest thirst. Here at His altar is the man who gives Himself to you to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of your sins, for the strengthening of your faith, for the enabling of your fervent love for one another, for the salvation of your flesh. In bread, in wine, behold the man! Amen.

 

 

Sermon for March 3, 2019, The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Luke 9:28-36 (The Transfiguration of Our Lord—Series C)

“A New Exodus”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT 

March 3, 2019

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text for Transfiguration is the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 9.

28Now about eight days after these sayings, [Jesus] took with him Peter and John and James and went up into the mountain to pray. 29And it happened while he was praying that the appearance of his was different and his clothing was white like lightning. 30And behold! two men were speaking with him. These were Moses and Elijah. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking about his exodus which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and after they had come fully away, they saw his glory and two men who were standing with him. 33And it happened that while they were separating from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here. So let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying). 34As he was saying these things, a cloud overshadowed them. And they were afraid when they entered into the cloud. 35And a voice came from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, the Chosen One, listen to him.” 36And when the voice had spoken, they found Jesus only. And they were silent, and they reported nothing of which they saw to anyone in those days.

 

          So, are you all ready for Lent? It starts this Wednesday! I’ve had my Paczkis from Big Y before they disappear for another year, so I think I’m pretty much all set. But Lent really isn’t about what we can give up for 40 days. It’s a time when we especially consider our sins in light of Jesus’ suffering, Passion, and death in preparation for the great celebration of His Easter resurrection. It’s His resurrection that guarantees us that Jesus’ Passion and death were the once-for-all perfect sacrifice to purchase and win our complete forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

          But how can we talk about Lent on this day of such revealed splendor and glory? We just finished singing, “O wondrous type! O vision fair Of glory that the Church may share, where Christ upon the mountain shows, Where brighter than the sun He glows!” (LSB 413:1). Yet, the Transfiguration of our Lord can be seen as a setup for Lent. This Last Sunday after the Epiphany sets us up for the next season of the Church Year, showing us that, at the end of the Lenten road, there is glory for Jesus and for us.

          Our text takes place on “the mountain;” exactly which mountain, we don’t know. But Jesus takes Peter, John, and James with him up the mountain for the purpose of prayer. It seems like Jesus prayed for a while because the three disciples were heavy with sleep. Nevertheless, while Jesus was praying, suddenly there was glory! The appearance of His face was different. His clothing was white like lightning. This is Jesus, the Son of God, in His divine glory. This is the Son of Man who, in Daniel 7, came on the clouds of heaven and received from God the Father dominion, glory, and a kingdom. Jesus was joined by Moses and Elijah who also appeared with Him in glory. And these three were having a conversation. And Luke is the only Gospel writer who lets us be a fly on the wall so that we know what it is that they talked about—Jesus’ exodus which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.

          When you hear “exodus,” what do you think about? I hope you’d think about the Israelites as slaves in Egypt; about Pharaoh and harsh task-masters forcing the Israelites to make bricks without straw; of Moses going before Pharaoh saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go’” (Exodus 5:1 ESV) and of Pharaoh’s refusal and the hardening of his heart. “Exodus” can evoke images of the plagues that God sent: the Nile turning to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, the death of the Egyptian’s livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness. Finally, there was the death of the firstborn when God established the Passover. When He saw the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts, God would “pass over” and not kill the firstborn of that house. “Exodus” also invites us to think of the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and the people then gathering at the foot of Mt. Sinai when the Lord appeared in a cloud of fire and smoke and rumblings of thunder and lightning. The people were afraid of the Lord’s presence on the mountain. Yet Moses went up to meet with God and came down with his face shining, reflecting the glory of God Himself. Of course, there is the ultimate destination of the Exodus, the Promised Land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey where the Israelites would be God’s people and He would be their God.

          The Exodus event that we remember was the greatest redemptive event in the Old Testament. It was the ultimate saving act of God in rescuing His people Israel from slavery. But it was a forward-pointing prophecy of the perfect and complete rescue from slavery that would come about by another exodus, Jesus’ exodus, which includes His suffering and death, resurrection and ascension. The language of “exodus” reminds us that the mission of Jesus is grounded in the purpose of God to bring people liberation from their bondage to sin, its consequences and effects, and the power of the devil.

Tied up in the exodus of Jesus, then, is the release of all people from slavery, not to Pharaoh, but a far worse owner and task master. Jesus tells us that everyone who does sin is a slave of sin (John 8:34). Surely, we don’t like the idea, but we are slaves! We sin. There’s a new Pharaoh in town—Satan! There are new taskmasters—the world and our sinful flesh—keeping us bound to sin and its consequences of corruption and death. Satan himself oppresses us, driving us further from God. The world draws us deeper and deeper into bondage, enticing us with its fleeting and perishable goods. Our sinful flesh constantly tempts us to put ourselves first and to have unhealthy desire for those things that cannot ultimately satisfy and that soon fade away. Our reality is that we are held fast in the chains of our sin, bound in our slavery to our own evil inclinations, and under the curse of God’s Law which we cannot keep.

The people of Israel needed a deliverer to set them free from their slavery to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. So, too, all people need an even greater deliverer to set us free from our bondage and captivity to sin and Satan. It was promised by the Lord through Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” Who is a prophet like Moses, yet is greater than Moses, to whom we should listen? The very One whom God anointed to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at release those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. God the Father identifies this One today in His Transfiguration, “This is my Son, the Chosen One, listen to Him.” 

Jesus Christ is “the one greater than Moses.” He is the greater Deliverer, anointed at His baptism with the Spirit in order to bring rescue and release from the slavery of sin and Satan to all people. As God saved the children of Israel through the Old Testament Exodus, the Lord has saved all people with Jesus’ exodus. This exodus was accomplished by Jesus who passed through the waters of the Jordan River, even as Old Testament Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea. In Jesus’ baptism, He identified with the sinners whom He came to save as He was anointed for the task of being the One to bring all people release from sin, its effects, and from the devil’s lordship over us. This exodus was accomplished by Jesus who entered the wilderness, not for forty years as did Israel, but for forty days and forty nights, being tempted by Satan. Where Israel failed, yielding to temptation in the wilderness, Jesus did not. He overcame Satan with the power of His own divine Word, a foreshadowing of the devil’s ultimate undoing as throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry He healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised those claimed by death.

Yet Jesus’ exodus was not complete without the shedding of blood. God didn’t spare His firstborn Son, but let Him die, shedding His own blood so that God might “pass over” our sins with a decree of “Forgiven!” Jesus, the Lamb of God, took away the sins of the world by dying a sacrificial death in our place on a cross. Jesus’ exodus took Him to the cross and the grave, in order that, having borne our sins in His body on the tree, having died in the place of all sinners, He might rise again from the dead in His glorious resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection assures us that the sacrifice of the Lamb of God was totally effective in releasing us from our sins, from sins effects, and from Satan’s power. Jesus’ Transfiguration glory gives us a glimpse of what our future holds when our Lord Christ brings us ultimately into the promised land of eternal life and eternal glory.

Transfiguration Sunday, then, is not just a setup or a glimpse into Lent. It is also a preview of our future glory with Christ in the new heaven and the new earth, the home of righteousness that will follow our own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. As Moses and Elijah appeared in glory with the Lord, so shall we. One day, we will be with the Lord in resurrected body and soul in glory. We will be with Christ at His eternal banqueting table, celebrating the release He won for us through the cross and the grave. With St. John in Revelation, look at the glory that awaits you with Christ:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” . . . Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; . . . the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever (Rev 21:1-5; 22:1-5 ESV).

          Sisters and brothers, we are now ready for Lent! We have seen the glory that awaits Jesus following His Passion and death—the glory of Easter. We have glimpsed the preview of the glory that awaits us who stand in Jesus’ forgiveness and release from sin and Satan—the glory of Easter. There is Transfiguration brilliance and glory at the end of the Lenten road—forgiveness, everlasting life, resurrection, new heaven and earth, Jesus’ glory forever and ever. Amen.

Sermon for February 24, 2019, Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Luke 6:27-38 (Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany—Series C)

“To Love and Show Mercy”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

February 24, 2019

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[Jesus said:] 27But I say to you who are listening, “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you. 28Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. 29To the one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other one also. And do not withhold your tunic from the one who takes your cloak. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask back from the one who takes from you. 31And just as you wish that people should do to you, do likewise to them. 32And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even the sinners love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even the sinners do the same. 34And if you lend money to those from whom you hope to receive it back, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive the same back. 35But love your enemies and do good and lend money expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are ungrateful and evil. 36Be merciful just as your Father is merciful. 37And do not judge, and you shall surely not be judged. And do not condemn, and you shall surely not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. 38Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, poured out will be given into your lap. For the measure which you use will be the measure you receive.”

          The Gospel lesson for this Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany is the core of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain.” It follows immediately the blessings and the woes of last Sunday’s Gospel. So that we can hear today’s Gospel in its context, listen again to the opening words of Jesus’ sermon: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Lk. 6:20-26 ESV).

          Jesus continues in today’s reading, “But I say to you who are listening . . .” And what Jesus says is 16 imperatives or statements of command. These describe the life of Jesus’ disciples as they share in the life of Christ as His followers by faith. We will look at these statements of command in three sections—Love Your Enemies, Imitate God, and Do Not Judge. What we will discover is that, as you and I share in the life of Jesus as His baptized followers, we will show love and mercy.

          Jesus begins the core of His sermon with a call to action for those who share in the life of the Savior: “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.” These are spoken as general actions for His disciples. Jesus speaks to the group. This, then, is what the followers of Jesus by faith are to do. Love is not an emotion, but an ACTION that is expressed by doing good even to those who hate you on account of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ disciples who are hated and excluded and reviled and spurned as evil on account of the Son of Man. And what does Jesus call His disciples to action to do? To love those who persecute and to do good to those hate and to bless those who curse and to pray for those who mistreat us because we are baptized Christians. Church liturgies (orders of service) from the fourth and fifth centuries, probably preserving an earlier practice, included prayers of blessing and petitions offered for heretics, those who like to cause divisions, Jews, pagans, and for all in tribulation and for the needs of the whole world. These kinds of prayers, which are still prayed from Christian altars the world over, show how the Church loves all, even her enemies, as she stands before God and prays on their behalf.

          Jesus also illustrates how an individual Christian might demonstrate love for his or her enemy. “To the one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. And do not withhold your tunic from the one who takes your cloak. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask back from the one who takes from you.” Jesus is speaking again here of the results of persecution on account of faith in Him—being struck on the cheek and being deprived of the outer garment so necessary for survival. The Christian does the opposite of his or her natural reaction. There’s no hitting back in retaliation, but the offer of the other cheek to receive the same violence. The persecutor who hates the believer so much takes away his coat! Yet the Christian is not even to struggle to hold on to his inner garment but willingly to allow the persecutor to strip him naked. The believer in Jesus might even be stripped of his property and possessions, but he should not demand back from those who take his things.

          We cannot help but think here of Jesus’ Passion—His suffering and death in the place of His enemies. Romans 5, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . . But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:5-10 ESV). You and I should have suffered the full wrath of God against our sins and our sinfulness. We should have been beaten and stripped and made to suffer death and hell as the rightful punishment for our disobedience to God’s Word, for our failure to love Him and our neighbors.

But in our place, Jesus was beaten and stripped, fulling God’s promise as we read in Isaiah 50, “The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting” (Isa. 50:5-6 ESV). Jesus was crucified in the disgrace of nakedness. He had no earthly possessions except the clothes on His back and these were taken from Him.

          It is quite astounding that everything Jesus asks of His baptized disciples, He Himself did first on our behalf. He was struck but did not retaliate. He was treated violently and stripped of His clothes. Everything He had, including His life, He gave up in order to save you and me from God’s wrath and punishment. On the cross, He died for ours sins so that we might no longer be God’s enemies. Through the waters of Holy Baptism, you and I now have received the fruits of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. Your sins are forgiven. You have a new life connected to Christ as your Lord and Savior. You are given God’s grace to do what Christ Himself has done: to love even those who are your enemies.

          Because you and I now share in the life of Jesus as His baptized disciples, we show love and mercy as we are enabled to Imitate God. Because God is kind to the ungrateful and evil (remember, that was you and me!), because of His gracious favor to us through the merits of Jesus Christ, a heavenly reward and status as sons—inheritors of the Most High—is what is promised to us. It was this status that we received in Holy Baptism. Now as children of the Father, baptized into Christ, we imitate His kindness by showing mercy. It’s how you and I as Christians love our enemies and do good to those who hate us and lend without expecting in return. We, by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, become merciful. We become like Jesus and reflect His mercy to others, to our enemies, to those who hate us because of Jesus. We don’t show mercy because they deserve it, but precisely because they do not. For that is what God did for you and me and so we are like our heavenly Father. We show mercy through forgiveness.

          This brings us to the final section: Do Not Judge. Our Lord gives us practical examples of how mercy can be shown to others. “And do not judge, and you shall surely not be judged. And do not condemn, and you shall surely not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, poured out, will be given into your lap. For the measure which you use will be the measure you receive.” Judging and condemning in the context refers to the judgments of believers against unbelievers. These are judgments and condemnations about doctrine and life that are made without substantial evidence or on a faulty understanding of God’s standards. In other words, these condemnations and judgments are NOT made based on the Word of God. And since Jesus’ disciples represent Him, and He represents the Father, Jesus doesn’t want us as His disciples to misrepresent God.

          This means that what God in His Word calls sin, we call sin. “Do not judge” doesn’t mean we shy away from proclaiming God’s Law. It is God’s Law that condemns and shows sin for what it is in order that the Gospel might then lead people to repentance and saving faith in Jesus. It is through the Gospel that they receive the forgiveness of sins. Christians, then, do not judge and condemn according to any other standard than God’s Word, and they do so in order that sin might be exposed, the heart terrified of the punishment of God, and so that the heart may be comforted by the mercy extended to the person through the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. As disciples of Jesus, we love our enemies and show mercy as we imitate God, not judging except according to His Word with the purpose that we might faithfully proclaim His Law and Gospel centered in the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

          To love and to be merciful to our enemies is to release them from their sins in the name of Jesus through the Gospel. To love and to be merciful is to show a person his or her sin and to show the person the only Savior, Jesus, in whom there is the forgiveness of sins. This is our Christian discipleship as we share in the life of Christ through faith. By the power and grace of the Spirit through the Word of Christ, Love Your Enemies, Imitate God, and Do Not Judge according to any standard other than the Word. In this way, you show Christ’s love and mercy in the forgiveness of sins to your enemies, to those who hate you, curse you, and mistreat you all on account of your faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sermon for February 17, 2019, Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Jeremiah 17:5-8 (Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany—Series C)

“The Difference”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

February 17, 2019

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is the Old Testament lesson recorded in Jeremiah 17:

5Thus says Yahweh, “Cursed is the man who trusts in people and makes flesh his strength, and from Yahweh his heart turns away. 6He is like a shrub in the desert and will not see any good. He will dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in a salt land not inhabited. 7Blessed is the man who trusts in Yahweh and Yahweh is his trust. 8He is like a tree planted by water, and by a stream it sends out its roots. It does not fear when the heat comes; its leaves remain green. It is not anxious in the year of drought; it does not cease to bear fruit.

 

          We can all agree that a time of drought is bad. Here in New England we experienced moderate to severe drought conditions within the last few years. Thankfully we are not in a drought now. But when it’s so very dry, we begin to worry. Water in the reservoirs drops extremely low. Crops can’t produce in the dry soil. Well-water levels plummet. We’re forced to use less water for bathing, doing laundry, cooking, and outdoor watering of lawns and gardens. When droughts are extreme, the land dries up. Wells go dry. Crops and animals die. People also suffer and perish.

          The same is true of what we might call “spiritual drought.” God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah in our text today about these very “dry times” experienced by two very different people. One person is a person of faith and trust in the Lord. He trusts in Yahweh and acknowledges Him as the God of the covenant promises. The other, to put it simply, does not. His heart is turned away from the Lord. This individual trusts in people. He puts his faith in the strength of himself and of those who are like him. God describes both individuals using the image of plants. One is like a shrub in the desert. The other is like a tree planted by water. They both face the dry summer heat. But the end results are quite different for both.

          Now, all people are very prone to spiritual drought and the scorching heat of life lived in a fallen creation. That’s because sin is tricky. It can numb us and put us to sleep, spiritually speaking. Trust in the God who made His promises of life and salvation to us can be directed toward other people or even ourselves. We are tempted to ignore God’s Word. After all, aren’t there more important things in life than going to church to hear the Word of the Lord or reading the Scriptures during the week? It’s been proven in the court of experience that intentionally missing the Divine Service is the beginning of a downward spiral. I’m not talking about situations where one is sick or is unable to attend for various reasons. It’s this scenario: “I’ll just sleep in this once. I can miss one week at church.” Next week comes: “You know, it was nice just to stay home and take a slow morning last week. I think I’ll do it again this week.” In the following weeks, the story doesn’t change. Other so-called priorities have won the day. Spiritual drought has begun.

          Consider yourself like a plant, like the one in my office. It gets watered every so often, usually when I see more and more brown leaves on it. Brown leaves are a sign that the plant is already in trouble! It is withering and dying. Similarly, when we ignore the Word of God, we are essentially saying, “I am putting my trust in myself or in other people and things. Those are more important in my life and I can do just fine with them.” But do you notice any “brown leaves” in your life? Do you notice a thirst for things that you once had—the water of life in God’s Word—which is now lacking? Sometimes we notice, and that is a wake-up call. Other times, the devil, the world, and our own flesh are so subtle in drying us out spiritually that we are like the proverbial frog put in a pot of water. You know the one, where the heat is ever so slowly increased, and the frog doesn’t even realize that he’s being boiled.

          Spiritual drought is often like that. People get so wrapped up in their thinking and doing, trusting in their own strength and ability, that they fail to trust in God. They put their trust in other people who often face the same spiritual drought which leads them further away from the God of the Promises of life and salvation. The result is a person who is like a desert shrub planted in the thirsty-dry earth, in a salt-land, facing the heat of summer, which shrivels and dies all alone. This person doesn’t see any good while dying from spiritual drought. Their heart is turned away from the Lord and fails to trust in Him so that there’s nothing to quench their spiritual thirst. There’s nothing but dry, hard, dusty earth. “Cursed,” then, is a really good word to describe such a person. May the Lord so protect us from spiritual drought and death!

          But there is another plant experiencing the scorching heat of summer in a fallen creation. It’s a tree, but this tree has been planted by water. This tree is like a person who, despite temptation, suffering, and struggle in this life, remains steadfast in faith. This person, by the power and grace of God, trusts in the Lord despite the searing heat placed on him by the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh. This tree, this person, is thriving and bearing fruit in a desert oasis. How can that be?

          It can be because spiritual drought is averted. The tree is soaking up the waters of the stream through its roots. This person is watered by the Word and Promises of God through the hearing of the Scriptures during the “dry seasons” of this life which come upon us all, those moments of temptation, trial, and pain. During these sweltering times, there is an “irrigation system,” if you will, between the person and the Lord Himself. That irrigation system is the ministry of God the Holy Spirit who delivers through the Gospel Word and Sacraments the faith which trusts in God above all things. Stepping away from that faith and trust in the Lord, one enters the dangers of spiritual drought. But sustained in that faith by the Word and Spirit, one faces the temptations of the devil, the world, and the flesh, as well as the troubles of this life, without fear and continues to bear the fruits of faith in Christian living.

          There’s a marked difference between the person who lives by faith and trust in the Promises of God and the person who has left behind those Promises and choses to place their trust in people and the world. As this person is termed in Jeremiah, “cursed,” so the one who is empowered by the Word and Spirit to remain steadfast in faith and trust is called “blessed.” We see this also in the Gospel this morning. Jesus condemns, “Woe to you,” those who live for today, neglecting the ways of God and the care of His people. Likewise, Jesus blesses the crowds and describes their places in this life and the life to come according to God’s grace and the gift of faith. Even amid sorrows, God’s blessings do prevail because it is Jesus who won these blessings and who distributes them through the Means of the Spirit: the Word and the Sacraments.

          It was Jesus, the Son of God, who came among us in human flesh. He came to sinners like you and me who should have shriveled and dried up in the drought of sin and death. But Jesus came with living water to grant us the blessings of the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. He came to suffer and die on a cross as the punishment for our failure to always fear, love, and trust in God above all things. On that cross, Jesus became like the desert shrub for all people. He thirsted and was parched for us so that He might water us with His life-giving Spirit whom He has now poured out to us through the Gospel in Baptism, Word, and Supper.

          Today, Jesus continues to come to us in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit with His Word of forgiveness and life when we read and hear the Scriptures. He came to us when our Savior first made us His own in Holy Baptism. And Jesus comes to us with His very own Body and Blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. The “roots” of our God-given faith and trust in Him as Lord soak up the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil that He gifts to us in Word and Sacrament. It is the Means of Grace, then, that sustain us through the times of the sweltering heat of temptation, through the spiritual doubts and struggles of our lives, so that we continue to trust in the Lord in the surety of saving faith.

          Jesus promised in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Connected to Jesus by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, you, then, are all like trees planted by the living waters of God’s Word. With saving trust in Jesus, through hearing the Word, soak up the spiritual hydration of forgiveness, eternal life, and a strengthened faith that can make it through even the toughest scorching heat and spiritual droughts of life. Be confident that the Lord is with you always, in every circumstance and situation, with the refreshing water and hydration of His very Word of forgiveness and life in Jesus to comfort and to strengthen you. Amen.

 

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