Sunday, February 22, 2015

Homily for Lent 1 - Mark 1

(adapted from a 2007 sermon by Rev. Todd Peperkorn)

          “We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose,” - Romans 8:28.  That is important to keep in mind as we plunge into the holy season of Lent.  You need to recognize that when Jesus is tempted, suffers, and dies – it is all done to benefit you, to be worked for your good.  It is all going according to God’s plan for you.  Jesus does not get caught by surprise in a hidden trap laid out by the devil.  Martin Luther said, “Even the Devil is God’s devil.”  In other words, God will work even the devil’s works for the good of God’s people.
          That is so easy to forget in the midst of temptations – both when you are pressed up against it, and also when you hear today’s Gospel text.  Still wet behind the ears from Baptism, immediately Jesus goes to
spend His 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the Devil.  Note that Jesus does not accidentally wander into the wrong place at the wrong time.  It was not His idea to go there, but the Holy Spirit “drove Him out into the wilderness,” as St. Mark reveals.  Matthew and Luke let us know a few specifics, detailing three of Satan’s attacks, trying to lure Christ away from righteousness and into selfishness, fake faith, and idol worship.
          However, St. Mark skips those details to get to other things.  As we listened along to the rest of Mark chapter 1 this past month, it might have seemed like everywhere Jesus went, He was battling against demons.  And that is St. Mark’s point.  He wants you to see the temptation as the opening battle of the Kingdom of God invading the stomping grounds of the Devil – and as Jesus casts out more and more demons, the battle intensifies until He gets to the Cross, where He decisively defeats the Devil once and for all people.  Even though Christ’s death looked nothing like a victory – until Easter that is, when Christ’s resurrection proves that Satan does not win in the end.
          Knowing Christ wins in the end strengthens you as you find yourself in this battlefield of sin, the arena between God and the Devil.  Day by day the prince of darkness works to recruit you in his rebellion against the King of the Universe.  “Come, join me, and we will throw God off His throne all on our own.  And you will not have to put up with Him telling you what to do anymore.”  He tempts you to reject, neglect, forget about and revolt against the Kingdom of God that comes to you in Christ Jesus our Savior.  In both good times and bad, Satan would convince you that God is too far from you – so that you falsely believe that God cannot help you out of your failures, or have any hand in your successes.  That serpent constantly asks you, “Did God really say…?” until your thoughts question God’s Word, your words contradict it, and your life shows more concern for what the world says than what God says.  After all, the world that you can see and touch is so much more real to you than the God whom you only know by faith.  But when you fear offending the people at work or in your home more than you fear offending the Holy God, you have broken the First Commandment.  You have committed idolatry.
          St. James warns, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and
enticed by his own desire.”  Lured and enticed are the words of hunters and fishermen – baiting the hook with the lure, enticing into the trap, to make the beast or the fish to want to come unknowingly into the danger zone.  And you know what is to happen next to the victim.  This is how St. James describes your sinful nature, your own desires, as baiting the hook to catch and kill you.  “Sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death.”
          When it is not just the Devil out to get us, but we serve as our own worst enemies when our evil desires get a hold of us – who will save us from these bodies of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord who gives us His victory.  When Jesus went out to be tempted by the Devil, He did not do it for Himself.  He is led by the Holy Spirit to face these temptations for you.  Where you fall into the snare of seductions, Jesus remains steadfast under His trials to give you the crown of life.  He went into the wilderness of this world so He could be your substitute, stand in your place, and earn the credit for you to be counted as blameless and free before God.
          More than just forgiving and cleaning up your past failures at temptation, Christ’s testing in the wilderness also strengthens you for the trials you will face later today and throughout the rest of your life.  Listen to what Martin Luther beautifully said when he preached on this Gospel:
          Christ has served and helped us by His fasting, hunger, temptation and victory. Also, whoever believes on Christ shall never suffer need, and temptation shall never harm him. Instead, we shall have enough in the midst of want and be safe in the midst of temptation because the Lord triumphed in our behalf. Christ’s fasting also encourages us to believe that, by His example, we can cheerfully suffer want and temptation for the service of God and the good of our neighbor, like Christ did for us. Therefore this Gospel is sweet consolation and power against the unbelief. It awakens and strengthens our conscience, that we may not be anxious about the nourishment of our bodies, but be assured that God can and will give us our daily bread. (Luther)
          Note that Luther does not promise an easy life to those who follow Christ.  If you want to avoid suffering then maybe you should be looking to find a different religion.  For a Christian will face many temptations away from faithfulness to God and love for your neighbor.  However, what Luther does say is that even in the midst of hard, dark, and difficult times, you do not need to worry.  Christ’s temptation,
fasting, hunger, and victory demonstrate for you that God will always take care of you too.  You do not need to worry about tomorrow, because God will be there with you.  Christ has come to be your shield as He suffered the brunt of God’s wrath against our sin on the Cross. 
          Now the Lord feeds you not only with daily bread for your body, but also with the bread of His very body to keep you body and soul in Him.  At His Supper, the Son of God calls us in a special way to assure us that He is in communion with us in our battles against temptation.  Not only does Jesus know what we are going through because He was tempted like we are, but as one pastor put it, Jesus shares with us all that “He is and has, in all He has done and will do for our salvation.  His invincible power against temptation is ours... He sat down on the right hand of God and received power over all His and our enemies, also over Satan.  In this power we share, He is at our side in every battle.  With Him at our side, fighting for and with us, we must conquer” (Lindemann, vol 2, pg 60).

          “Even the Devil is God’s devil,” said Martin Luther.  There is so much comfort in those words.  While that evil foe is trying to bring down the Son of God, the Son in the wilderness successfully does His work to save you.  Satan is much more powerful than us, yet his power only goes as far as God will let it.  Even to the point that God actually uses all the evil things Satan does to bring about good in your life – with no greater example than the Cross, when the devil attacked Jesus with death, and the Lord produced life eternal for you. 
          Amazing, right?  What kind of wonderful God do we have who can turn even the evil things of this world for our benefit?  This is none other than the true God come down from Heaven to save you.  Trust that when He gave you His Spirit in Holy Baptism, you are now in His hands – safe from the assaults of the Devil, even when God tests and tries you to strengthen your faith.  When your own sin, or other people’s sin in this world attacks you, take heart.  Find peace in knowing that Christ has overcome the world, and He creates a new world for you.  Believe it for Christ’s sake.  Amen.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

January 3 - Luke 2:21 (and Homily for New Year's Day)

            Today’s is the shortest Gospel of the year – and yet Martin Luther found so much beautiful Gospel in our little Lord Jesus being circumcised that Luther’s sermon is over three times the length of mine this morning.  But it is so good, I have stolen most of Luther’s points.  [Also credit goes to Rev. William Weedon, whose sermon I adapted for this.]
            He starts off with the silliness of circumcision.  What man would ever do that to himself – or to his sons – if God had not commanded it?  Even with a command, human reason sees it as ridiculous.  Other nationalities were bound to say, “Can you believe it?  Those Jews think their God wants their men to mutilate themselves there!”  And even in our day, can you imagine if a friend tells you about how great their pastor's New Year sermon was, about how people have been really mean in 2014 and need to be nicer this year, and they ask you what this sermon was about, can you imagine how "eager" you will be to say, "Uhhhhh, circumcision"?  Even Luther makes note of how strange it is.  “Man is made no better by it, for everything depends upon the soul.”
            However, that is the way it goes with all of God’s commandments and works – they appear foolish and useless, so that our proud reason can be put to shame and die.  If God chose something that made sense to us, our know-it-all natures would be left unconfronted and have no reason to surrender.  Then there would be no room for faith.

           Like in the days of Noah, when he preached in word and deed that there was a flood of God’s judgment on the way, so find salvation on the Ark.  How long did Noah’s neighbors think he was a fool as they never saw any flood – until it was too late?  Or what about Lot leaving all his property behind in Sodom and Gomorrah?  Or Moses and Aaron sounding like fools by threatening Pharaoh with destruction?  The list goes on and on.  Yet we see who was right in the long run – the ones who trusted God’s wisdom and promises over human reason. 
            And we also have this going on now in our lives – with a baptism where God calls us to believe that we are really cleansed of our sins and saved with that little bit of water; “also, that Christ’s body is in the bread of the altar; also that we worship the crucified man as Lord and God.  All this is immeasurably far above – and contrary to – reason.”  
            But why mark that member of the body?  Dr. Luther asks, “Why did [God] not command to circumcise a finger, hand, foot, ear, or eye, or some other member?  If evil was to be cut off, then certainly the hand or the tongue… for by the tongue and hands all wickedness is perpetrated among men.”  The answer is that what is wrong with us has to do with our whole nature, our whole being.  We come from corrupted seed, inheriting our sin when we were conceived.  It is not that we do sins and then that makes us sinners.  Rather, we are sinners first, and then out of our sinner hearts comes all sorts of wickedness.  The tree is not good, and so neither are our fruits good.  Circumcision shows that the problem comes to us right at the root.  Done to the infant boys to  make the point that it was done for the sake of original sin and for the future actual sins – and that the original sin is the bigger problem.
            What needs to be changed in your life and mine?  New Year’s resolutions focus on behavior – and
that is a good place to start.  However it is your very nature and mine that really needs the change, our hearts, the core of our very being.  A new nature will automatically lead to a new behavior.  And so we pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” – asking God to give us that which circumcision signifies.
            Jesus did not have this corrupted nature at all, however.  Like us in every way, except without sin.  Fully human and holy, so He did not need circumcision.  And yet He chooses to receive it.  Which sounds funny since Jesus was 8 days old – how could He choose anything?  And yet from eternity God chose to be born of this Jewish family, destining Himself to be circumcised even before He gave the sign to Abraham.  Christ “was born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).  His blood that is shed for the first time today points ahead to the greater bloodshed – when death would take Him. 
            However, death was completely wrong to take Him because it had no claim on the Sinless One.  And because Death owes Jesus big time for the wrong it did to Him, Jesus is now the Lord over it.  This point Luther makes was one that really struck me – that this is how death loses its power over all people who are in Christ as Jesus gives us His victory.  All believers in Jesus will rise at the last day and proclaim
that Death was wrong to take them also!  Because in Christ, we have become completely innocent.  So Death has no right to take us captive!
            Luther relates this to why circumcision happened on the 8th day of life.  “Seven days signify the time of this world until the Last Day, because this present time is measured by the week or seven days described in Genesis 1.  The eighth day is the last day after the present time, when weeks, months, and years will cease and there will be only an eternal Day… when not only the soul, but also the body, shall be redeemed from sin, death, and all impurity, and shall shine as the sun.”
            Lastly we note that the name of Jesus is given on this day of His life – for He will save His people from their sins, as the angel announced before His birth.  As Christ received this name as His own, so also on that day when you were baptismally put into Christ, you received all that belongs to Him, including His Name.  “Therefore we are all called ‘Christian’ from Him.”  A name by which we God has known us from all eternity.  Before the world began, God wrote this name for us into the Lamb’s book of life.
            Dearly beloved children of God, let this New Year be for us a true feast of the Circumcision of our Lord, a true living in our Baptism.  Let us in Christ put down our old sinful selves, corrupted by its deceitful desires.  Let it drown and die in the waters of Baptism.  In its place, receive from our Lord our new self, our new and clean hearts whose desires line up with those of God.  Let this new year be for us a time of living by faith in the promises of the Christ who shed His blood for us – no matter how much human reason thinks it is foolish.   For there is no way to measure the dignity and honor given to us by the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit.  “These [dignities and honors] are superabundant riches of His goodness, which He pours out upon us, so that our heart may be free, joyous, peaceable and unterrified; and [eagerly] and cheerfully” live according to His good and holy will.  Amen.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Homily - Matthew 16:21-28 Proper 17A

    All of a sudden, Jesus spins around and demands, “Get behind Me Satan!” If you have lost the sense of shock over this verse because you are familiar with it – which is a good thing, to be familiar with the Bible - but for a moment try to remember how stunned you were the first time you heard this – or imagine how surprised the Disciples were when Jesus looks Peter straight in the eye and commands, “Get behind Me, Satan!”
    That is a bit harsh, wouldn't you say? Jesus calling one of His own disciples “Satan.” Really? Give Peter some credit. Last Sunday we heard him get it right when he confessed Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Now He treats Peter like that never happened.
    Jesus staunchly refuses to back down. “You are a hindrance to Me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Peter, as well intentioned as he thought he was, actually ended up becoming the mouthpiece of Satan. And that is something that should stop each of us – pastor and people –and make us think. What are the thoughts that make sense to us – but sin has so twisted us that those thoughts are no different than what the Devil thinks against the plans of God?
    To a human mind that recognizes Jesus has great wisdom, knows how to confound His enemies’ arguments, can do great miracles like calming storms, feeding 5000, healing the sick, casting out demons, and even raising the dead – it makes no sense that He should suffer and die. Flex some divine muscle and avoid all that. After all, when you have a choice, do you choose the more painful option or do you choose the way that will be less costly? If you could heal wounds in an instant, when the doctor said the word “surgery” your stomach would not tie itself up in knots. “No thanks, doc. I got this.” Hocus pocus, and poof, you are good as new. However Jesus just said to His disciples for the first time that “He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
    Peter dreams of Jesus being a glorious king in Jerusalem as He preaches and teaches goodness, love, and kindness. Just do some miracles and it will inspire people to live at peace with their neighbors. And they will want Jesus to be their Lord who establishes justice everywhere forever. However, Christ recognizes Peter's dream as a temptation from the Devil to go against God's plans for His Son.
    Just like this trap worked on Peter, Satan knows it will work on many other would be followers of Jesus. That is why plenty of people will tell you that it does not matter what you believe. That all good and kind humans are going to the same blessed place in the end, no matter what religion they belong to. And really that ends up meaning that they wrongly think that it does not matter whether Jesus died on the cross or not. These are the minds that are set on the things of man. These are mouthpieces that are being used by the ancient dragon. His entire goal is to keep you from enjoying Christ's victory over Hell.
    If those people were right, then Jesus might as well have let Peter get his way. If in the end it does not matter if Jesus died on the cross for you or not – well then Jesus pretty much wasted His time sacrificing Himself so painfully on Good Friday.
    However, you know you will never get the blessings of Heaven if it depends on you being good and kind enough. You know you need Jesus to tell you to deny yourself – because you do not want to sacrifice. Neither do I. We want good things, a comfortable life, respect, well-being, health. And we want it now. None of this delaying until later, if we can avoid it. So we cut a few corners here and there when we think nobody will care. Naturally I might help someone – if I get something out of it. And so I ask myself if it will be worth what it will cost me in time and money. You and I have set our minds on the things of man, not the things of God.
    Here is the Good News – God lets none of this get in His way of saving us. He knows better than we do how we are naturally born selfish, thinking about no one else's needs but our own from our first days. And still He sends His only-begotten Son into this self-centered world. Satan tried tempting Jesus away from our salvation during the 40 days in the wilderness. But Jesus was determined to rescue us. Peter foolishly tries to save the Savior from Good Friday by putting a stop to it all. And if you now insist upon having a Jesus without His Cross, well then you are still in your sins and it will all end hellishly for you!
    Salvation is at stake for you, me and the world here. Jesus says it is absolutely necessary for Him to go through bitter suffering, absolutely necessary for Jesus to get dead as a doornail, and gloriously be raised on the third day. Just as God promised, the shed blood of His Son purifies your heart of evil. Just as God promises, He raised Christ to now declare you forgiven of all our wrong-headed thoughts and self-centered words. Just as He promised.
    So now what? Now Christ’s Cross – the death and resurrection of the Son of the living God – it shapes your mind and guides your life. For as disciples, you and I find our life by losing it as Jesus says here. You could say that today's Epistle from Romans 12 does a good job describing what losing your life looks like as Christians genuinely love one another, show honor to one another, help fellow Christians in need, associate with the lowly and pray constantly. Not one bit of that is wrong.
    However, losing your life for Christ's sake is more than just stuff going on outside your body as you interact with other people. It is also about what goes on inside your mind and heart towards God. Losing yourself simply means that you first believe the truth about yourself, and then you believe the truth about Jesus. You believe the Scriptures when they diagnose you as not just a person with a little problem, but a sinner who would replace God's will with your own if you had a chance. And for that, both me and you deserve nothing but God's temporal and eternal punishment.
    To deny yourself is to repent. To seek forgiveness from God, even when your self-centered feelings would rather not. To deny yourself and take up your cross is to go on a daily search and destroy mission to hunt down your old sinful nature, and to crucify it along with your evil desires. St. Paul lists a few of those evil things in today's Epistle text – like slothfulness, arrogance and thoughts of revenge. Humble yourself under the nail-marked hands of the Christ who has chosen to live at peace with you, the Christ who has chosen to show hospitality to you forever in Paradise. See all of your sin where it belongs – nailed to death on Christ's cross and buried forever in His tomb.
    Turn away from that old deadly life of believing Satan's lies. Lose your old ways of trusting in yourself. For only then will you find the new life in Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. When you take up your cross and follow Jesus, you believe what He says – that He is the God who died on Good Friday and was raised again on Easter for us and for our salvation, to rescue us from the place prepared for the devil and all demons.
    True to Christ's word, Peter and the other Disciples did “not taste death until [after] they [saw] the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (Matthew 16:28). They did not die until after they saw Jesus go to the Garden of Gethsemane and pray for His Father's will to be done, and then go to the Cross and come out of the tomb in obedience to the Father's will. All to bring salvation to sinners like Peter, you, and me.
    There is one bonus bit of Good News for you and me in this. It took a long time for the Disciples to understand all this – to see that Jesus reveals His reign over sin and death by suffering His own death at the hand of sinners. Jesus only BEGAN to teach them this here. Which means He told them again. And again. And again... And they still did not quite understand it all after the Lord was risen from the dead, and so Jesus told them again after that. The God who had that much patience with their slow-heartedness in believing the Scriptures – He is the same God who has that much patience for you and me. He will not give up on us until He brings our faith to completion at the resurrection of the Dead on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

August 21 - What I wrote in 2010

at first I considered all the texts and propers separately - all are tremendous treasures in their own right.  I didn't see any connection until Luther's Writing ("Thus the incarnation and the death of Christ are both comprehended most concisely in this one word, 'testament.'"  WOW!) reminded me to see today's Words from TDP united in Christ.
The heir to David's throne is privately plotted against by those who would usurp his authority thinking the Father is unaware of their schemes (1 Kings 1).  Adonijah assumes that if he is not the head, he is nothing (1 Corinthians 12:15-16).  Yet, as head, he would say "I have no need of you" (1 Corinthians 12:21) to Solomon and Bathsheba (1 Kings 1:21) - and probably Nathan, Zadok, and Benaiah as well!  (Now hear the Pharisees and Sadducees and Romans saying this to Jesus!)
A lot is at stake here if Adonijah succeeds - both the faith of Israel in rejecting Nathan and Zadok, but also your salvation which is found in the descendant of Solomon!
God leads David in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:24) - despite what David deserves for his secretly usurping Uriah's role, despite what we deserve for our "usurpations."  Adonijah (and the Pharisees, Saducees, and Romans - and atheists and synergistic pagans of our day) will not succeed.  The son of David will be the Head.  Jesus is risen from the dead, putting to death the plots against Him.
And now you have your role in His body (1 Corinthians 12:27-31).  Do not say "Because I am not as brainy/witty/popular/well-spoken as so-and-so, I do not belong to the body."  In His book were written all your days and the important roles you would play in the body of Christ when as yet there were no days.  Wonderful are His works indeed (Psalm 139:14-16). 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

August 20 - Whose Soul Are You Worried About? (2 Samuel 11, 12, and Psalm 51)

"Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart." (Psalm 51:6)

So much can be taught from this incident:

  • How one sin leads to another - especially as we try to solve our sin problem with more sin
  • Original Sin (Psalm 51)
  • God's Absolution
  • The son of David's death on account of Sin pointing ahead to the Son of David's death on the Cross

But today, the Holy Spirit had something else for me to ponder.  I cannot use any names or details, but heavy on my heart is how sin has torn apart a family I care deeply about (outside my parish, thankfully.  And even better, God has provided them with a faithful pastor.)  There is an extreme expressed lack of repentance on the part of an individual.  This person's soul is in a VERY dark place.  Right now I have no doubt this person has become an unbeliever, living and believing lies.

It is tempting to think things will not change for this beloved person.  Yet at one point, David was similarly
living his lie.  He had gotten away with his sin of adultery and murder.  Or so he convinced himself.  Even without TMZ in those days, you can figure the palace servants passed the juicy dirt amongst themselves about the King's scandalous behavior.   We know David lived this lie for about 9 months - the length of time it took for his son to go from conception to birth.  And then God sent Nathan to rebuke David.  And God worked the change of heart.

That same Holy Spirit at work in David that day to bring David back to God in faith and truth through the forgiveness of sins - I cannot lose hope that He will do the same in the life of this lost sheep, my beloved friend.

"Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice." (Psalm 51:8)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

July 24 - OT Juxtaposed with NT reading

The juxtaposition of the OT and NT reading is phenomenal.

In Samuel, Israel wants to become just like all the other nations and have a man as King.

In Acts, the Lord has given a man as King - His Son.  And by that King, He makes all the other nations to be just like His Israel, a member of His kingdom.

Oh, and uses the earthly pagan rulers to accomplish His will too in delivering Paul from evil.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

July 22 - Psalmody, OT and NT readings

Whether it is the Lord delivering His righteous from the persecution of the Babylonians after they cry out to
Him in the Psalm,

  • or the Lord returning the Ark to Israel from the Philistines, 
  • or the Lord granting success in the face of opposition to the Apostle Paul  

some days, you just need the reminder that the Devil will not win in the end.  God does.  And in Christ, we shall see that victory too.

Pray for our Christian sisters and brothers in Mosul.