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Sermon for September 23, 2018, Sermon Series, The Apostles’ Creed

The Apostles’ Creed: A Sermon Series (Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Second Article” Jesus, True God and True Man, My Lord”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

September 23, 2018

 

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

 

          Today we begin the Second Article of the Creed in our sermon series on the Holy Trinity: “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.”

          There is a great scene in the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in which King Arthur approaches some peasants in the field as he inquires as to whose castle he is approaching. He identifies himself as King of the Britons. After the peasant Dennis attempts to explain how their “anarcho-syndicalist commune” works, King Arthur orders him to be quiet! A peasant woman says, “Who does he think he is?” Arthur answers, “I am your king.” She says back, “Well, I didn’t vote for you.” “You don’t vote for kings,” Arthur says. “Well, how’d you become king, then?”

Arthur explains, “The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king.” Dennis responds, “Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

          How, indeed, did Arthur become king? We’ll leave that to Arthurian legend and the rest of the knights of the round table to figure out. For our purposes this morning, this story illustrates how we might ask a similar question about the Son of God, Jesus Christ. How did He become “our Lord?” Dr. Luther leads us into that very question in the Large Catechism, “Now, if you are asked, ‘What do you believe in the Second Article about Jesus Christ?’ answer briefly, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ, God’s true Son, has become my Lord.’ ‘But what does it mean to become Lord?’ ‘It is this. He has redeemed me from sin, from the devil, from death, and from all evil. For before I did not have a Lord or King, but was captive under the devil’s power, condemned to death, stuck in sin and blindness.’”[1]

          Without Lord or King, but held captive, prisoners under the devil’s power, condemned to death, and trapped in sin and blindness. Sounds pretty bad. Perhaps you can relate to a man named Richard. “Richard felt as though he were on a treadmill, and he didn’t know how to get off. This wasn’t what he had in mind when he got his master’s degree in business. To all appearances, he was successful: a beautiful home filled with the best possessions, an imported car with all the gadgets, the most expensive clothes, a lovely wife, and two beautiful children. He had it all. He was on top of the world, or so it seemed. But that was a thin veneer.

          Inside, Richard felt imprisoned. He was burdened by bills he couldn’t keep up with—a mortgage, car payments, private school tuition, the whole nine yards. These commitments kept him in a job he didn’t like and didn’t find rewarding because he needed it to maintain his lifestyle. Richard was in the prison of his own riches, and it was beginning to show in his relationships and in his job performance. He would give anything, pay any price, to be free of these burdens. But he knew money couldn’t buy freedom. In fact, he was finding out that money can cause slavery. . . .

          Richard may not have been able to articulate it, but his sense of captivity to the things of his life was really only a window into his real situation before God: his slavery to sin and death.”[2]

          Captive spiritual slaves of the devil condemned to death. Is there anything more horrible to think about? Owned lock, stock, and barrel by Satan who uses the desires of the world the entice us further away from the God and Father who created us. Like Richard, we are constantly tempted by the devil, world, and our own corrupted flesh to lust after those things that will never be able to satisfy us and that “moth and rust destroy” and “thieves break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19 ESV). If asked, “Who is your Lord and King?” we would then have to reply, “We don’t have one. We’re slaves held tight in the chains of harsh and horrible taskmasters who are set on our eternal destruction in both body and soul.”

          Luther articulates the malady for us in simple words. “For when we had been created by God the Father and had received from Him all kinds of good, the devil came and led us into disobedience, sin, death, and all evil [Genesis 3]. So we fell under God’s wrath and displeasure and were doomed to eternal damnation, just as we had merited and deserved. There was no counsel, help, or comfort until this only and eternal Son of God—in His immeasurable goodness—had compassion upon our misery and wretchedness. He came from heaven to help us [John 1:9]” (Large Catechism).[3]

          God the Son, the eternal Second Person of the Holy Trinity, in the fullness of time, received into Himself a true human body and soul as, miraculously, He was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power God the Holy Spirit. In the “Incarnation,” God the Son “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). From that wondrous moment on, Jesus was at the same time both true God and true Man. In the Athanasian Creed, the holy Church confesses this truth with these words, “Therefore, it is the right faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man. He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age: perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh; . . . Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ: one, however, not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh but by the assumption of the humanity into God; one altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.”[4]

          It is this Christ, true God and true Man, named Jesus, who, in “everything that [He] is and does happens for our benefit; in that He was thus born, suffered, died, has been raised, He is OUR Lord” (Luther, Torgau Sermons, 1533).[5] Jesus’ becoming “our Lord” is His work to effect our salvation from Satan, sin, and death. The Son of God became fully human without sin so that He Himself would be Lord over sin. Jesus, true God and true Man, suffered and died on the cross. He was buried in the tomb. He did this so that He might purchase us by the means of His shed blood as He made the sacrifice of atonement once and for all for our sins, His sacrificial death has reconciled us to the Father by granting us forgiveness. The same Jesus is now risen from the dead. He is Lord over death. Christ has ascended to the right hand of the Father and lives and reigns to all eternity as Lord over Satan and all his powers. And Christ will come again as Lord and King of all so that “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11 ESV).

          In the place of our captors—the devil, the world, sin, and death—has come Jesus Christ, our Lord. He is “Lord of life, righteousness, every blessing, and salvation. He has delivered us poor, lost people from hell’s jaws, has won us, has made us free [Romans 8:1–2], and has brought us again into the Father’s favor and grace. He has taken us as His own property under His shelter and protection [Psalm 61:3–4] so that He may govern us by His righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and blessedness” (Large Catechism).[6] St. Paul writes by the power of the Holy Spirit, “[The Father] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14 ESV). Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, has “brought us from Satan to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and [He] preserves us in the same. . . . And He did all this in order to become my Lord” (Large Catechism).[7]

          In the first century, if you were asked, “Who is your Lord?” you were expected to answer, “Caesar is Lord.” But not for us who live by faith in the Son of God. Not for us who have been redeemed from sin, death, and the devil’s power by the all-sufficient blood and merit of Jesus Christ. “Who is your Lord?” Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, is Lord! And so make it very personal, “Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, is my Lord.” Will you confess that with me now as we say these words together, “Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, is my Lord”? Amen.

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 401.

[2] Jacob A. O. Preus, Just Words (St. Louis: Concordia, 2000), 79-80, 83)

[3] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 401–402.

[4] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 17–18.

[5] Albrecht Peters, Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms: Creed (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), 132.

[6] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 402.

[7] Ibid., 402

Sermon for September 16, 2018, Series on the Apostles’ Creed

The Apostles’ Creed: A Sermon Series (Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost)

First Article: “Our Preserver”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

September 16, 2018

 

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

          We continue this morning with the First Article of the Creed as our text: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” Last week, our focus was on God the Father as our Creator and we as His creatures. He has given us all that we have and see before our eyes. What’s more, God is our Father in heaven who, through the gift of His Son, Jesus, has restored us to a right relationship to Himself and to other people. We are new creations in Christ who are able to love God and our neighbors as our Father first loved us in Jesus.

          Now, does this mean that God is simply resting in the distant heavens, unconcerned about His creation? Certainly not! “He daily preserves and defends us against all evil and misfortune.”[1] As we read in Psalm 5:11, “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you” (Ps. 5:11 ESV). God our heavenly Father is constantly and actively present with all things He has made. He keeps and sustains, directs and governs them, for “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28a ESV). Truly, God “directs all sorts of danger and disaster away from us. We confess that He does all this out of pure love and goodness, without our merit, as a kind Father. He cares for us so that no evil falls upon us.”[2]

The Biblical teaching that the Triune God continuously sustains all things He has made is called “Preservation.” We see this throughout His Holy Word. God controls the laws of nature. “We have seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, because God so wills it (Gen. 8:22). He makes the sun to rise on the evil and the just (Matt. 5:45) and gives rain from heaven and fruitful seasons (Acts 14:17).”[3] The Lord governs the nations of the world as can be seen from the history of Israel, Assyria, Babylon, and so on. He orders the lives of individuals as we know from the accounts of Abraham, Moses, David, and others.

And, what so many find hard to comprehend because it is, God also controls the evil in the world. At times, God allows evil to happen and permits people to walk in their own wicked ways. In Psalm 81, God says, “I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels” (Ps. 81:12 ESV). Paul echoes this in Romans 1:24, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves” (Rom. 1:24 ESV). At other times, however, God breaks up evil counsel and the wicked intentions of people. He hinders and frustrates their wicked purpose. All this He does according to His good and gracious will, a will that is very much beyond our understanding, and yet, it is nevertheless true that He defends us against all

danger and guards and protects us from all evil (Small Catechism).

          Take a look at the words of Psalm 31 that make up the Introit for this Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost. “But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love!” (Ps. 31:14-16 ESV). That is the voice of faith and trust in the God who is the Creator and Preserver. The Psalmist doesn’t say he understands why things are the way they are, but confesses, “I trust you, Lord. You are my God. You are my Creator. I am your creature and I know you love and care for me no matter what because you are my heavenly Father.”  Can you and I have that same trust in the very same God and Father?

          Our Creator and Preserver God provides everything that we need for this body and life: food and drink to give us energy, health, and joy; clothing and shoes for protection and modesty; house and home for shelter, security, and hospitality; family and friends to help us bear one another’s burdens; work and livelihood, too. God uses His entire creation in caring for us. That includes His holy angels, parents, government, land, weather, and animals.[4] “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28 ESV). But things happen in this life. People lose their jobs. Houses and possessions are lost in storms, earthquakes, landslides, floods, and fires. Disease strikes us and those we love. There is violence all around us. Can will still rely on God the Father to take care of us with all this evil and suffering and misfortune?         Along with the Psalmist, we really can, because God the Father Almighty is our Creator and Preserver.

          Our Synod’s brand-new update of the Small Catechism with Explanation really speaks the Biblical truth so well on this very point.

                        Our first parents (prompted by the devil) brought evil and suffering into the world by rebelling against God. Sinful activity continues to cause tremendous suffering throughout the world. . . . God punished human rebellion by cursing the earth: even though the earth sustains life, God’s judgment is also evident (storms, pests, earthquakes, diseases, and so forth). . . . Therefore, we need to repent of our sin, trust God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ, care for those who suffer, and pray for God’s restoration of all things when Christ comes again.

Why do some of us experience more suffering and misfortune than others? In some cases, we bring the suffering upon ourselves as a consequence of our sins. . . . In many cases, we do not know why God allows some to suffer more than others. Those reasons remain hidden to God, whose purposes are often beyond our understanding, just as those who saw Jesus suffer were not at the time aware of God’s great and loving purpose behind the cross.[5]

          The Old Testament lesson today from Isaiah 50 points us to the Christ and His cross. In this Third Servant Song, the Servant of Yahweh laments the suffering and pain inflicted against Him. The Servant of Yahweh listens to God’s Word and obeys it perfectly. He doesn’t rebel against the Father in sin, and yet He is afflicted and suffers violence and rejection. “The Lord [Yahweh] 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.” In spite of it all, the Suffering Servant of the Lord is confident of Yahweh’s help and closeness. “But the Lord [Yahweh] helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame” (Isa. 50:4-7 ESV).

          When you and I have those moments when we are unable to see God’s fatherly preservation in our lives because we are blinded by sin and its consequences, the hurt, the fear, the pain, and the evil, we look to the Suffering Servant Himself, the very Son of God, Jesus Christ. For you, for me, and for all people, Jesus set His face like flint to go to Jerusalem to accomplish God’s will for reconciling all sinners to the Father and for preserving our lives with forgiveness and life eternal. For Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of Man, what He endured was “tougher than nails. Because in addition to the nails, there was scourging, mocking, spitting, beating, slapping, sweating, and bleeding. . . . his disciple’s kiss of betrayal, his friends running for cover, his countrymen clamoring for his death, and even the temporary abandonment by his Father while he hung on the cross.”[6]

          “Look. The sky is dark. Two criminals, one on his right and one on his left, are slowly dying. There he is, in the middle, taking a deep breath and speaking his last word. John records it:. . . ‘it is finished’ (Jn 19:30). The veil is rent. The blood is poured. The curse is removed. The sacrifice is complete. Death is defeated. And paradise is restored. . . . For us, it means a Father’s welcome, a Shepherd’s embrace, and a Friend’s infinite love. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ prove that though it was tougher than nails, he finished—for us.”[7]

          In Jesus, you can be sure that you have God’s “fatherly heart and His surpassing love toward” you. “For God does not allow evil to have the final word. He daily brings forth new life in the midst of and in spite of all the sin and death in the world.”[8] For Jesus has the last word, “It is finished.” He took all of our sufferings into Himself and, by His death, overcame our suffering and death. In His resurrection, Jesus gives eternal life to all who trust in Him, even to those who are suffering.

          Be confident, then, that God your Father is working out all things for His gracious purposes and for the well-being of His Church, even though we can’t always see it. Trust in the promises of the Gospel Word—forgiveness of sins and eternal life are yours. Not anything in all of this fallen creation will be able to separate you from the Lord of God your Father that is yours in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39). In the face of sin and suffering, death and pain, hurt and uncertainty, you can be sure of God’s fatherly, divine goodness and mercy to you in Jesus. Rooted in God’s Word, the Gospel of our Savior sustains and preserves you day by day through the power of God the Holy Spirit. For you have been entrusted into the nail-pierced hands of Jesus, the Father’s Servant-Son. He is the ultimate proof of the Father’s continual love and care for you. Amen.

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 400.

[2] Ibid., 400.

[3] Edward W.A. Koehler, A Summary of Christian Doctrine (St. Louis: Concordia, 1952), 43.

[4] Martin Luther, Small Catechism with Explanation (St. Louis: Concordia, 2017), 148-149.

[5] Ibid., 150-151.

[6] R. Reed Lessing, Isaiah 40-50 (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), 524.

[7] Ibid., 524.

[8] Martin Luther, Small Catechism with Explanation (St. Louis: Concordia, 2017), 152.

Sermon for September 9, 2018: Sermon Series on The Apostles’ Creed

The Apostles’ Creed: A Sermon Series (Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

First Article: “Creator and Creatures”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

September 9, 2018

 

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

          My favorite musical is Les Misérables. The convict Jean Valjean is released on parole. Life’s circumstances dictated that his parole be broken. Beginning a new life and rising from the bottom of society, he becomes mayor of a town with a new name and identity. Eventually, the authorities led by Inspector Javert arrest an ex-con of whom he is convinced is the parole-breaking Valjean. In the song, “Who Am I?” Jean Valjean searches within himself for his identity.

He thinks that man is me
He knew him at a glance!
That stranger he has found
This man could be my chance!
Why should I save his hide?
Why should I right this wrong
When I have come so far
And struggled for so long?

If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!

Can Valjean turn a blind eye while another goes back to prison in his place? No. He confesses.

My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on
Who am I? Who am I?
I am Jean Valjean!

Who am I? Who are you? And who is God? The First Article of the Creed invites us to ask and explore these very questions.

          “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” In the Large Catechism, Luther explains these words so simply and beautifully. “This is what I mean and believe, that I am God’s creature.”[1] You and I are creations of God, creatures of God, who belong to Him and whom He richly and daily provides for. Dr. Luther continues, “’I mean that He has given and constantly preserves [Psalm 36:6] for me my body, soul, and life, my members great and small, all my senses, reason, and understanding, and so on. He gives me food and drink, clothing and support, wife and children, domestic servants, house and home, and more. Besides, He causes all created things to serve for the uses and necessities of life. These include the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens, day and night, air, fire, water, earth, and whatever it bears and produces. They include birds and fish, beasts, grain, and all kinds of produce [Psalm 104]. They also include whatever else there is for bodily and temporal goods, like good government, peace, and security.’ So we learn from this article that none of us owns for himself, nor can preserve, his life nor anything that is here listed or can be listed. This is true no matter how small and unimportant a thing it might be. For all is included in the word Creator.”[2]

          We are His creatures and God is our Creator. That’s our relationship to Him. The Father alone with the Son and Holy Spirit, the one, Triune God, created heaven and earth, “all things visible and invisible,” (Nicene Creed) out of nothing, simply by His Word of command, “Let there be.” “Besides this One only, I regard nothing else as God. For there is no one else who could create heaven and earth.”[3]

          How does knowing both our identity as God’s creatures and His identity as our Creator shape our relationship to Him and to His world? In other words, what difference does it make for our lives today that God is the Creator and we are His creatures?

          Because the Scriptures reveal to us that God is the Creator of heaven and earth, He is my Creator and yours. David writes in Psalm 139, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps. 139:12-16 ESV). Our entire life is a gift from God given to us through our parents as He formed us using the means of procreation. We then confess in the First Article of the Creed that “God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them” (Small Catechism, emphasis added).

          As creatures of our heavenly Father, we not only have a relationship with Him but also with the world that He created and in which we live with others. Every person (regardless of age, sex, race, and ethnicity) has received life from God just as you and I have. In that respect, they are no different from us. They are God’s creatures given life just like us. Then there are also all the other living creatures that have received life from God and depend on His care just like we do—dogs, cats, cows, sheep, pigs, horses, butterflies, sparrows, robins, geese, ducks, worms. And the rest of creation too—the universe, planets, land, sea, the whole material world—depends on God for its ongoing existence just as you and I do.

          In our relationship to God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth, we understand ourselves to be His creatures. With our bodies and souls, with our “eyes, ears, and all [our] members, [our] reason and all [our] senses,” you and I relate to God, and to other people who are truly His creations and creatures just as we are. And we also relate to other living things and to God’s whole creation.

          But it is also with our eyes, ears, hands, body and soul, money and possessions, and with everything that we have that we sin daily. Our relationship with our Creator is not what it should be. We, the creatures, often consider ourselves to be “creators” who are in charge of our lives in every way, shape, and form. That’s the very reason God gave us Commandment number 1, “You shall have no other gods before me.” We are to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” He is the Creator and I am the creature and He is the only one I am to regard as God because no one else could create heaven and earth. And yet . . . in our sinful nature, you and I rebel against God. We, the clay, tell the potter, God, how things ought to be. The word of the Lord spoken by Isaiah, “You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” (Isa. 29:16 ESV). Yet, that is what we do every time we sin and reject His Word and Commandments. We think we know better than the God who made us and gave us life and everything we need. Our rebellion in sin destroyed the relationship that we the creatures had with God our Father and Creator.

          Our sin and rebellion against our Creator have also destroyed our relationships with His other creatures. We often think of ourselves better than another person who we deem different from us because of ethnicity, position, economic status, age, and a myriad of other reasons. We label ourselves “most important” to the exclusion of others, including those closest to us—spouse, children, friends. We don’t always regard other people as God’s creatures who have been given life and life’s blessings just as we have. And it is also true that we don’t always do a good job of caring for the world which God has made for us to live in. We abuse His creation and misuse it to our glory but not to His.

          Our relationship to God as Creator and we as His creatures was in need of repair. Our relationship with other people was in need of restoration. Sin and its consequences and effects had to be undone which is something that we could not do. That is why the Father in love sent the Son into His creation to redeem and restore it to Himself.

          Jesus brought about this restoration and reconciliation with God the Father by actually suffering separation from the Father as He bled and died on the cross bearing the sins of the world. On the cross, Jesus’ relationship with the Father was torn apart because of the sin of the world that He was bearing as if it were His own. He cried out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken Me?” On the cross, Jesus stood in our place. He endured God’s hostility. He was at enmity with God. He was punished with the pains and torments of hell itself. He did this for you and me so that our relationship with the Father might be fully restored. His sacrificial death on the cross has brought about our unity with God. We are once again reconciled to God through faith in Christ. The relationship is no longer broken. Our sins are forgiven. We are at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1). The division caused by sin has been healed by the blood of Jesus shed for us on the cross. Romans 5, “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. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:10-11 ESV).

          Through Jesus, we know the Father who made heaven and earth (John 14:9). We know the Father who loved us and sent His One-of-a-Kind Son to be our Savior from sin. We are now reconciled to God through faith in His Son. Our relationship to Him is where we know and understand Him to be our Creator and we ourselves as His creatures who call Him “Father.” And it is this relationship with the Father through Christ that changes our relationships with other people. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to see others in light of Christ’s love regardless of who they are. The sources of division and hatred become sources of blessed and joyful celebration. We have a relationship in Christ with others that is able to go beyond skin color or ethnic or economic background because we are all creatures of our heavenly Father with the gift of life and the gift of new life by grace through faith in Jesus.

          Now, then, who are you? Who am I? We are God’s creatures. He is our Creator. He is our Father in heaven who, through the gift of His Son, Jesus, has restored us to a right relationship to Him and to others. We are new creations in Christ who are able to love God and our neighbors as our Father first loved us in Jesus. What an identity! What a relationship with God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth! Amen.

 

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 400.

[2] Ibid., 400.

[3] Ibid., 399.

Sermon for September 2, 2018, 15th Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 7:14-28 (Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 17—Series B)

“Cleansed”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

September 2, 2018

 

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

Our text is the Holy Gospel recorded in Mark 7:

14And He called together the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand. 15There is nothing outside of a person that by entering into him is able to defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defiles the person.” 17And when He had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples asked Him about the parable. 18And He said to them, “So you are also without understanding? Do you not understand that everything which goes into a person from the outside is not able to defile him 19because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the toilet?”—purifying all foods that there are. 20And He said, “That which goes out of a person, that defiles the person.” 21For from within, out of the heart of people, the bad reasonings go out, fornications, thefts, murders, 22adulteries, greedinesses, wickednesses, guile, licentiousness, jealousy, blasphemy, arrogance, foolishness. 23All these evils go out from within and defile the person.

            What makes a person “defiled?” Not following the tradition of the elders? Not washing hands, cups, or utensils? Not following the traditional rituals? Relying on “clean living” and a decent lifestyle? What makes a person koinos?

To be koinos means that a person is “not clean or set apart,” that is, “not holy” as God is holy. To be koinos means to be unfit for contact with the sacred, to be in the presence of God. As such, to be koinos concerns those who are within God’s reign and rule. So, from a Jewish perspective, to be koinos, or associated with things that are koinos, means to be marginalized within the kingdom. A person who is koinos or associated with things that are koinos is not in full fellowship with God and with His people.

Jesus would have us understand that being koinos (defiled, unclean, not holy) has nothing to do with what a person puts into their body (certain foods), but what comes out from the human who is by nature koinos, “not holy” as God is holy. You see, the whole subject matter of the conversation has changed. It’s no longer about human tradition vs. the divine written Word. What marginalizes a person within—or excludes him or her from—the reign and rule of God is what come out of the person. What comes out of a person’s heart, what proceeds from their inmost being, has the ability to “defile a person”—to disregard and exclude that person from God’s reign and rule. It’s another way of saying, we are by nature sinful and koinos, “unclean.”

Jesus’ gives a realistic list as the evidence. The first nine deal with Second Table items, Commandments 4-10. The last three are oriented more with respect to First Table items, Commandments 1-3. “For from within, out of the heart of people, the bad reasonings go out, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, greedinesses, wickednesses, guile, licentiousness, jealousy, blasphemy, arrogance, foolishness [by being self-indulgent and self-centered].” The proof of what is inside our human nature displays itself in the actions that come out from inside our sinful, unclean selves.

Last Monday I did laundry after we came home from New Hampshire. There was a stain on one of my wife’s clothes that I didn’t know about. That stain didn’t come out by my putting it in the wash and using the right amount of detergent. Now, the piece of clothing is washed and dried with a set-in stain that I couldn’t get rid of. I needed something more—a stain remover.

This is similar to our condition of being sinful and koino,j. God is holy. He is free from any corruption and koinos. He cannot and will not allow Himself to become tainted by the stain our sin.

Before He receives people into His presence, we must be purged and cleansed of all offenses, sins, and unholiness that pollute us and cause God to recoil from us.

All our efforts, however well-intentioned, to remove the stain and the sin and the evil from ourselves before God are in vain, much like my well-intentioned attempt to get the laundry clean. Pharisaic dependence on human tradition and ritual won’t do it. Simply trying to be “nice” people and living the best life we can doesn’t cleanse us. The stain of our koinos, of our sin, can only be removed by blood—the blood of the Son of God-made-flesh so that He could suffer and die in our place as the once-for-all bloody-sacrifice to make all people clean.

In the Introit today from Psalm 51 there is an allusion to the blood of the Passover Lamb that

was painted on the doorposts of the Israelites’ houses in Egypt with a hyssop branch. So King David writes in this prayer to the Lord, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. . . . Purge me with hyssop [that is, with the blood of the lamb], and I shall be clean; wash me [with blood], and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:1, 7 ESV). The blood of the Passover lamb points us forward to the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. We read in Hebrews 9, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, . . . he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:11-14 ESV). St. John also declares, “The blood of Jesus, [God’s] Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7 ESV).

It is the blood of Jesus that washes us from our iniquity and cleanses us from our sin. It is the blood of Jesus that reconciles us to God. Jesus, true God and true Man, died on Golgotha’s cross, shedding His blood as the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It was not with silver or gold that we are made clean from sin, “but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19 ESV).

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross, we are no longer excluded from God’s reign and rule by our sin and koinos. We are made clean and holy through the waters of Baptism as the cleansing blood of Jesus shed on the cross is applied to each one of us personally “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” St. Paul writes in Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5 ESV). This is a source of great comfort to us when we feel filthy, guilty, and unclean because we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. When we feel unworthy of God, it is our Baptism that reminds us He has come near to us in Word and Sacrament.

          God comes near to us because Jesus has come near and cleansed us with His blood so that we are no longer unholy, unclean, and defiled with sin. Because we are whiter than snow before the throne of God through the cleansing flood of Jesus’ blood, God does not recoil from us in horror, but He comes near and favors us with His presence. Ephesians 2:13, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” In Baptism, the Father has called us each by name and has put the saving mark of the cross upon our head and heart. Through the lavish waters of Baptism, He has claimed us as His own sons and daughters, inheritors of life and salvation, through the very blood of the Lamb.

Now you are no longer koinos, unclean and marginalized and excluded. Because of Jesus, you are included in the reign and rule of God because you are indeed clean. You are declared holy by Jesus’ blood shed for you on the cross and applied to you in your Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. The forgiveness of all your sins and all your uncleanness is yours through Christ alone—a gift of His grace and favor. “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:19-23 ESV). Amen.

           

 

 

Sermon for August 19, 2018, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

John 6:60-69 (Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 15—Series B)

“Word of Eternal Life”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

August 19, 2018

 

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

Our sermon text is from the Holy Gospel recorded in John 6:

60Therefore, many of His disciples who heard him said, “This teaching is offensive. Who is able to listen to Him?” 61But knowing in Himself that His disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this cause you offense? 62Then what if you should see the Son of Man ascending where He was before? 63The Spirit is the One who gives life, but the flesh is of no benefit. The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life. 64But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had already known from the beginning who those were who did not believe and who it was who was going to hand Him over. 65And He said, “On account of this I told you that no one is able to come to me unless it is given to him from the Father. 66From this time on many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him. 67Therefore, Jesus said to the Twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” 68Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life, 69and we have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

 

           It really is the BIG question, isn’t it? To whom shall we go—Jesus or . . . ? But before we can answer this question, we must answer first, “Why go to Jesus in the first place?” What are we actually looking for? The answer from John 6 is eternal life. That’s what Jesus has been offering to the people as He preached to them in the synagogue at Capernaum.

          We began three Sundays ago with the beginning of Jesus’ sermon, His “Bread of Life Discourse,” following the feeding of the 5000. The crowd was seeking Jesus, but for the wrong reason. They wanted to make Him their “bread king” and so provided everything that they might need in this life. But Jesus countered that reason by saying, “Stop working for the food that perishes but receive the food that remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27). Jesus taught them that God was doing a work in them by the power of the Holy Spirit, creating faith in their hearts to believe in Jesus as the true Bread of God who had come down from heaven in human flesh so that He might give His life for the world. In that sacrifice of Jesus’ life into death, Jesus gives Himself to the people to be received by faith as the Savior whose flesh is true food and blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on this bread by trusting in the words and promises of God spoken by Jesus will live forever, that is, has eternal life.

          The crowd was thinking about life now, but Jesus was focusing them on life forever that would be theirs by the sacrifice of His body and the shedding of His blood which cleanses the sins of all people. And where there is the cleansing of sin, there is eternal life. The punishment, death, is removed and life everlasting is the gift received by faith in the Son of Man, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. But this teaching proves to be too much for many of Jesus’ followers to handle. “We know this guy—we know His mom and dad—where does He get off saying that He’s come down from heaven? Who does He think He is?” (John 6:42). “And how can this man possibly give us His flesh to eat and blood to drink and be the true manna from heaven? What’s he mean by giving His flesh for the life of the world? That’s just crazy talk. He’s just a human like us. The ‘living Father sent Me’ He says. Give us a break!” At the end of Jesus’ message, “many of His disciples who heard him said, ‘This teaching is offensive. Who is able to listen to Him?’” So, “from this time on many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.”

          Jesus’ message about bringing eternal life through His flesh and blood was simply too offensive to the people. First of all, it was blasphemous to them that this Jesus was indicating that He’s God. Second, even if Jesus were God, God wouldn’t come down from heaven and take on human flesh and be a real man and He certainly wouldn’t die. Gods don’t die. Paul says it to the point this way in 1 Corinthians 1:23, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” Yes, Jesus is a “scandal” and “offense” in that He is God who took on human flesh so that He might give His flesh over to a bloody death on a cross in order that all humanity might have eternal life through the forgiveness of sins.

The message of the Gospel, of Jesus Christ who suffered, died, and rose again to give enteral life to the world is offensive to the sinful human nature of all of us. If it wasn’t, everyone ever born would believe. No one would rebel against God’s offer of eternal life through faith in His Son who died and rose again as Lord and Savior. But that’s not reality. Our fallen nature wars against God and does not willingly submit to His Word of truth. So people look for options that are more “palatable,” that are more “reasonable,” that suit the fallen nature of humanity better than a God who took to Himself human flesh and blood and died in humiliation on a Roman cross as a sacrifice to bring life to the world. Fallen humanity says, “I don’t need that kind of a Savior. I can find better.”

So, to whom shall we go for real, true, abundant life?

There are a plethora of options available, for sure. Multiple religions and religious ideologies and various forms of “spiritualism” certainly vie for the attention of people. They all make wondrous promises of enlightenment or spiritual fulfillment, even a heaven or a nirvana, a place of peace and bliss. Society and culture will tell you that all religions and forms of spirituality are essentially the same. If there is a God, they all lead to the same one. If there is a heaven, they will all get you there. Different paths, same deity. All lies! World religions and spirituality cannot lead you to God or heaven. The notion that they are all just same paths to the same end is a bogus lie propagated by Satan to get fallen humanity to be duped and to spend eternity in hell with him!

All religion and spirituality can be divided into two categories. There are the religions of the Law and the religion of the Gospel. Every world religion and way of spiritual thinking apart from the Holy, Christian, and Apostolic Church is a religion that seeks to reconcile God through people’s own works. An individual gets on God’s good side by good behavior, following all the right rules, making all the right moves. A person tries to attain a higher level of existence, of transcendence, of nirvana by how they think and act. It’s all a bunch of “do this” and “do that” and “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” That’s the very charge often leveled against the Christian Church, that it’s a religion of rules. How ironic that the real “religions of rules” transfer their problem upon the Church as if it were ours.

So sinners are free to go their own way and seek out the best way that they can attain the good life with God in His heaven through what the world offers. If you should choose that path, know that you will work for what you get, laboring for food that ultimately perishes. For how do you know if God approves of what you are doing or not doing? How do you know that you have done enough? Maybe there’s more. Maybe you need to try harder, work harder, be nicer? Perhaps you ought to just stop sinning altogether. Surely there ought to be a reward for that!

But how can anyone rid themselves of their own sinful nature? How can a wretched person who is by nature sinful and unclean, who sins daily, who thumbs his nose at God’s Word, and loves to do things his or her way, ever overcome that to make right what is so wrong? “What can a person give in exchange for his life?” (Mk. 8:37 NET). To whom shall we go?

There is Jesus Christ. He offers “words of eternal life.” He promises in His Word that He will give up His life into death and hell for us so that He gifts us eternal life without cost, without price. Only Jesus can do what is necessary to take away the punishment of sin, the guilt of sin, the condemnation of sin. Only Jesus can make the sacrifice that will turn away God’s wrath from the sinner and make things right between humanity and the Creator once again.

Guilty sinners, Jesus gave His flesh for you(John 6:51). He took that flesh upon Himself and became incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of God the Holy Spirit. Jesus grew up in the flesh and lived and walked and taught and healed in that flesh. He proclaimed, not a religion of “do this” and “don’t do that” and God will love you more, but a religion of, “God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit loves you so much that God the Son became fully human so that He could suffer hell in your place, die your death, and shed His blood, so that you might receive as a free gift the forgiveness of sins and eternal life along with the power and ability to love and to serve God and your fellow people with joy. “For this is the will of my Father,” Jesus said, “that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn. 6:40 ESV).

This, then, is the Gospel that you have come to know and to believe by grace through faith: Jesus is the Holy One of God, the Son-made-flesh who dwelt among us, the Savior who suffered and died to purchase your forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This Gospel is your gift from God—your forgiveness, eternal life, and the new birth of faith. To whom will you go? Pray your Father in heaven that your confession of faith would always be, “Lord Jesus, to whom shall I go? You alone have words of eternal life.” Amen.

         

Sermon for August 12, 2018, 12th Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 19:1-8 (Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 14—Series B)

“Strengthened By the Food God Provides”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

August 12, 2018

 

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 1 Kings 19:

 

1And Ahab told to Jezebel all that Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2And Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah saying, “So may the gods do to me and more if I do not, by this time tomorrow, make your life like the life of one of them.” 3When he saw that, he arose, and ran for his life and came to Beer-Sheba, which belongs to Judah, and he left his servant there. 4And he went into the wilderness a day’s journey and he came and sat down under a broom tree and he asked that he would die, and he said, “Enough! Now, O Yahweh, take my life because I am no better than my fathers.” 5And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold! This angel was touching him and was saying to him, “Arise; eat.” 6And he looked and behold! there was at his head a round flat loaf baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and he lay down again.  7And the angel of Yahweh returned a second time and touched him and said to him, “Arise. Eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8And he arose and ate and drank and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.

 

           Elijah had been to the mountaintop, literally. But now he was down in death valley. How quickly the situation changed! One moment, Elijah was at the top of it all. Yahweh and the Canaanite god Baal had duked it out. Actually, it wasn’t much of a contest. Being a false god, Baal never showed up that day on Mt. Carmel, a mountain due west of the Sea of Galilee on the Mediterranean coast. Oh, his priests tried to call upon him to bring down fire to consume their sacrifice. They danced around like a bunch of crazy people, cutting themselves to appease their deity. But nothing happened. Elijah watched all the commotion and made fun of them around noontime, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Ki. 18:27 ESV). But nothing ever happened. Baal never answered. But Yahweh did.

          Elijah stood before his water-drenched altar, the wood, the stones, the sacrifice water-logged and dripping profusely. He prayed, “‘O Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Yahweh, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Yahweh, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’ Then the fire of Yahweh fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘Yahweh, he is God; Yahweh, he is God.’ And Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.’ And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there” (1 Ki. 18:36-40).

          The 450 prophets of Baal met their end with the judgment of God in their execution. Elijah was on top of the mountain, used by Yahweh to show the people that He alone is the one true God and not Baal nor any other. It was a big win for the Lord! Elijah was flying high! But then Queen Jezebel put out the death warrant on Elijah. She swore an oath when she learned that the prophets of Baal had been killed, “So may the gods do to me and more if I do not, by this time tomorrow, make your life like the life of one of them.” Wanted: Elijah the prophet. Dead, not alive.

          Now suddenly finding himself no longer on top of the world but in death valley, Elijah got out of the Kingdom of Israel. He went to the farthest city in the southern-most part of the Kingdom of Judah. It seems he was crushed. He was devastated. It was a huge victory for the Lord, but now he’s under the sentence of death by the queen of Israel. Where’s the change in her, in the people who now sought his life? A day’s journey into the wilderness south of the Kingdom of Judah, Elijah lay down under a 10-12 foot high broom tree, the only one in the area. “Enough! Now, O Yahweh, take my life because I am no better than my fathers.”

          We get some insight into Elijah’s thinking in the verses following our Old Testament text today. When Elijah was at Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai of the Ten Commandments fame, Yahweh had a conversation with His servant. The Word of Yahweh came to him. I’ve capitalized “Word” here in my manuscript to indicate that it’s not simply a spoken, audible word, but the eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son. This is the very Word of God who would, in centuries to come, take on human flesh and dwell among us as Jesus the Incarnate Son of God. But now God the Son comes to Elijah in a form that Elijah can see and relate to and asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah tells Him, “I have been very jealous for Yahweh, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Ki. 19:10).

          Elijah was discouraged. He was afraid. He felt totally alone in the mission to preach to the people so that they might hear God’s Word and be brought to repentance and faith in Him again as their Savior. But the Son of God reveals something to Elijah at Mt. Horeb/Mt. Sinai that he didn’t know. But I’ll come to that in a minute. For there is another answer to the question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” that we need to address.

          The Word of Yahweh would not be speaking with Elijah on this mountain had He not touched and spoken to Elijah in the wilderness. From our reading, Elijah “lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold! This angel was touching him and was saying to him, ‘Arise; eat.’ And he looked and behold! there was at his head a round flat loaf baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and he lay down again. And the angel of Yahweh returned a second time and touched him and said to him, ‘Arise. Eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ And he arose and ate and drank and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.”

          The Word of Yahweh is the Angel of Yahweh is God the Son before He took on flesh by the power of God the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. God the Son set Elijah up to bring Him to Mt. Horeb in order to share some good news with the worn-out prophet. And so He provided food for Elijah in the wilderness. Now wait a minute? Hasn’t He done this before, fed people in the wilderness with bread, the manna? Oh yes! Will God the Son feed another crowd of people in the wilderness with bread? Yes, and with fish! They will all eat to the full and be satisfied because the Son of God-made-flesh would provide the food for them and would then teach His people that He is the true bread that came down from heaven in order to give life to the world. We heard in John 6, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn. 6:48-51 ESV).

          In the strength of physical food, Yahweh brought Elijah to the mountain again. Then the Word of Yahweh spoke Gospel, good news, to his prophet, “Elijah, you are most certainly not alone. I have seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Ki. 19:18). Seven thousand! So Elijah is strengthened by the Gospel Word spoken by God the Son who is the Word of Yahweh. Elijah is encouraged and made ready again to take up his commission to return to his God-given ministry. By the food of bread and by the nourishment of the Word, Elijah returns and serves the Triune God until he is taken up into heaven in a whirlwind in 2 Kings chapter 2.

          Elijah needed the strength that God provided both physically and spiritually. Elijah received real, tangible, edible food. He also received God’s grace and encouragement, a new life, if you will, so that he might return to ministry. Now, we’ve spent a lot of time with Elijah this morning. What is there in this text for us? We, too, need the strength that God provides for us, both real and tangible things for the here and now and His grace and new life for now and forever.

          The one, true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, provides us our “daily bread.” We confess that He is our Creator and Preserver and that we are His creatures. Martin Luther reminds us in the Large Catechism that the Triune God “has given and constantly preserves . . . for me my body, soul, and life, my members great and small, all my senses, reason, and understanding, and so on. He gives me food and drink, clothing and support, wife and children, domestic servants, house and home, and more. Besides, He causes all created things to serve for the uses and necessities of life. These include the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens, day and night, air, fire, water, earth, and whatever it bears and produces. They include birds and fish, beasts, grain, and all kinds of produce. . . . They also include whatever else there is for bodily and temporal goods, like good government, peace, and security” (Large Catechism).[1] The very God who provided bread in the wilderness for His ancient people, who gave to Elijah food in the desert, who multiplied loaves and fish and fed the thousands continues to provide for all of our physical needs as well so that we might be strengthened to serve the Lord in our vocations as father, mother, son, daughter, employer, employee.

          The Word of Yahweh who comforted Elijah with good news also provides His Gospel for us. The Word who took to Himself a real human body and soul allowed Himself to suffer death and hell on a cross so that all people might receive the forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in Him. Jesus said, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). And on the cross, He did. He gave His flesh into death and commended His soul into the hands of the Father as He died. Jesus died so that you and I and all who live by faith in the Son of God will live forever. But the Gospel doesn’t end with Jesus’ death, for there must also be the resurrection of the Son of God. As Jesus lives, so we too shall live a new life in the forgiveness of sins looking forward to resurrection life in body and soul forever and ever. That’s the Gospel—Jesus the Son of God, the Son of Man, crucified and risen for the forgiveness of your sins unto life everlasting.

          It is in the strength and power of the Gospel Word that we live new lives of faith with forgiveness and eternal life. The Angel of Yahweh, the Word of Yahweh, Jesus the Son bids us, “Arise! Eat.” At His bidding then we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Scriptures. Jesus the Son invites us, “Arise! Eat!” And so He prepares a table before us of bread and wine with His Word of command and institution so that we truly eat and drink His body and blood with the bread and wine in the Holy Sacrament for the forgiveness of sins, for life and salvation, and for the strengthening of our faith so that we might live in this world in the strength that God provides in His Son, in His Word, in His Sacrament.

          Perhaps as we visit with Elijah today we might exclaim, “Yahweh has done it again!” Our God provides the physical things that we need to strengthen us for living and for serving Him. Our God provides forgiveness of sins through the hearing of the Word and through eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus so that we have eternal life and are rescued and redeemed from death and the devil’s power. Yes, what Yahweh offers to you and me here in Word and Sacrament is strength, the power of the Gospel unto salvation, so that we are able to go back out into the world in the strength of God and live ever more faithful lives of love and service to others. For the journey of life is too much for us, so come and eat to full and be satisfied. For the flesh of the Son of God is true food, and His blood is true drink (John 6:56). Go in peace, then, in the strength of this heavenly food of Word and Supper. Amen. 

         

         

 

 

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 400.

Sermon for August 5, 2018

John 6:25-35 (Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 13—Series B)

“The Bread of God”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

August 5, 2018

 

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

Our text is from the Gospel lesson recorded in John 6, the beginning of Jesus’ “Bread of Life Discourse”:

25And when they found [Jesus] on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus answered and said to them, “Amen, amen I say to you, you are not seeking me because you saw signs but because you ate from the loaves and were satisfied. 27Stop working for the food that perishes but receive the food that remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for it is upon this one that God the Father has set his seal. 28Then they said to him, “What shall we do in order that we should be working the works of God?” 29Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in that one whom he has sent.” 30Then they said to him, “So what sign do you do so that we might see and believe you? What are you going to work? 31Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness just as it stands written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” 32Then Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen I say to you, Moses has not given you the bread from heaven. Rather, my Father gives you the bread from heaven, that this, the true bread. 33For the bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, that bread is the Bread of God.” 34So they said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” 35Jesus said to them, “I Am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me shall surely not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall surely never thirst.”

 

           Have you ever sought out Jesus for the wrong reason? Have you sought out Jesus, not because of who He is—true God and true Man, the Savior—but because of what you can get from Him?

          There are times when even Christians look to Jesus as “the quick fix” to their problems. They will look to Jesus as the divine “wish-granter.” Jesus, for some, becomes that genie in a bottle that you can rub when you have a need or a want or a problem that needs to be dealt with and fixed. After Jesus fed the 5000, the crowd wanted to take Jesus “by force to make him king” (John 6:15). This wasn’t in response to Jesus’ politics or His campaign promises. The simple reason to make Jesus king is so that He can provide them with what they want and need. Jesus would be for them their “Bread King.” When they noticed that the disciples had gone in the boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, they couldn’t figure out how Jesus got there because He hadn’t gotten in a boat, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus cuts right to the point, “Amen, amen I say to you, you are not seeking me because you saw signs but because you ate from the loaves and were satisfied.”

          The Jews in John 6 were seeking Jesus for the wrong reason—not because of who He is, but because of what they could get from Him—bread, bread, and more bread. He’d provide food for them forever and they wouldn’t have to work a lick for it. Jesus, the quick fix; Jesus, the Bread King; Jesus, the wish-granter; Jesus, the greatest labor-saving device ever! Do not people today still seek after Jesus with this in mind? “What can I get from Him that will benefit me here and now?” A good job, lots of money, a nice home, a cool car, the latest in mobile tech, anything that will give me an edge over other people in this life. It’s all about the physical, the here-and-now, what I can get to get ahead in this world—bread, bread, and more bread—Jesus, the quick fix, the wish-granter, the Bread King who gives us “stuff.”

          So Jesus, what do we have to do so that you’ll take care of us with what we want and need right now? Or, as Jesus was asked, “What shall we do in order that we should be working the works of God?” The Lord had told them, “Stop working for the food that perishes but receive the food that remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for it is upon this one that God the Father has set his seal.” If the Son of Man is going to give it, then, the mentality was, we’ve got to earn it. To a first century Jew, the Torah was the “Bread of Life.” Doing the Law was the way to get right with God and to please Him so that He will do for His people what they need. “What works should we do? You tell us what you want as a new Torah and we’ll do it to make you happy so that you can make us happy.”

          But you, I, and all people have a much more desperate need. We need the true Bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. Moses and the people of Israel ate the manna in the wilderness as we heard from Exodus 16 this morning. God provided bread from heaven for them each morning. He took care of their need for food in the evening by sending them quail. Yet, the Israelites who ate the manna in the wilderness died. The physical provision of God did not save them from their sins. It was for their life in this world alone. The very fact of death reveals the desperate need of all humanity for salvation from sin because sin is the cause of death. Death is the punishment for sin. If you do, think, act, or speak contrary to God’s Word, you sin. If you sin, you will die both physically and spiritually; temporal and eternal death will be your end.

          The need for rescue from sin and death cannot be met by physical things like food and money. The need for rescue from sin and death cannot be met by how a person lives and behaves, by what they do or not do. “What shall we do in order that we should be working the works of God?” Jesus responds, “This is the work of God, that you believe in that one whom He has sent.” God does a work that meets our desperate need for forgiveness and eternal life. The Father sends His Son to be the very Bread who comes down from heaven to give eternal life to the fullest.

          It was this Son of God who descended from heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness. It was this Son as the pre-incarnate Christ who went ahead of the Israelites in the pillar of cloud and fire as the angel of the Lord and led them out of Egypt, through the sea, through the wilderness, into the land of promise. Christ has done this coming down to bring life and forgiveness to God’s people before, and not He has done it climatically in the Incarnation. God the Son has taken to Himself a true human body and soul so that He might give life to the whole world, defeating death through the forgiveness of sins.

          What’s important regarding the need of humanity for salvation from sin and death? Not the manna, not the loaves but the true Bread of Life from heaven that gives life to the world who is Jesus Himself. And what Jesus gives is Himself for the life of the world (John 6:51). He is nailed to a cross bearing the sins of ancient Israel, the sins of the whole world, yours and mine. He suffers pain and hunger. He cries out, “I thirst.” God-forsaken and damned, Jesus bleeds and all people are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Forgiveness is purchased for all. Eternal life is won for all. Jesus has come down from heaven in human flesh, has suffered, died, and is risen again so that the work of God might be done in you.

          It’s not, “What must I do?” It is the work of God the Holy Spirit who works faith in our hearts so that we believe in Jesus, the Bread of Life, the Savior, and “that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:31 ESV). God the Holy Spirit works this saving faith so that we are able to receive the saving fruits of Jesus’ cross—forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The Father gives you and me the true Bread from heaven by grace through faith. He grants us to know and to believe in Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, who lived, suffered, died, rose again, ascended, and will come again, as the only Way, Truth, and Life.

          Where do we receive this Bread of Life today? In the places where God the Holy Spirit has promised to deliver faith, forgiveness, and eternal life to us, in the places where we receive the food that remains to eternal life. We receive the Bread of Life Himself as He comes to us through the Spirit in the spoken Word, in the water of Baptism, and in the bread and wine in His Supper. We believe and receive Jesus and partake of Him by faith as He comes to us in Word and Sacrament. Receiving Jesus by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit through His Means meets our desperate hunger and thirst for forgiveness and eternal life. The very Bread of God Himself promised, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6 ESV). Those who believe in Jesus by faith as Lord and Savior shall surely not hunger nor ever thirst for the forgiveness, life, and salvation that Christ gives through His cross and resurrection.

          What’s more, God in His grace continues to provide for our physical needs as well. Having met our greatest need for eternal life, our Father gives us what we need to support this body and life as well. Jesus said, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:31-33 ESV).

          All that we need to support life in this world the Father gives to us by grace: “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have” (Small Catechism, Explanation to the First Article). By that same gracious love and mercy, the Father sent the Son who came down from heaven as the Bread of Life to give life to the world in the forgiveness of sins. By the work of God the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament, believe, receive, and partake of Jesus by faith as He comes to you with forgiveness, salvation, and life everlasting. You need is met. You are filled to the full in Him. Amen.

         

 

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