Sunday, February 24, 2013
(a revision of Rev. Richard Stuckwisch's 2010 sermon)
“You shall die” (Jeremiah 26). Those are stark words on the bulletin cover. “You shall die, Jeremiah, unless you stop talking against us,” said the leaders of Jerusalem 600 some odd years before Jesus was born, because they did not like what Jeremiah said. His sermons got in the way of their good and comfortable life.
“Herod wants you dead, Jesus” said the religious leaders, because they did not like how Jesus spoke against their religion. So they camouflaged it a bit, hiding their hatred under a fake concern for Christ’s life. “If you stick around here, you shall die, Jesus. So why don’t you leave our town and get away from Herod.” Self-preservation makes sense. It’s perfectly acceptable.
But that is not the way of Christ the Crucified. Of course, it is not that He is suicidal or enjoys pain. It hurts Him. He even prays there might be another way. Yet the Son of God goes willingly and knowingly to His death. He voluntarily puts Himself in harm’s way, taking the bullet of our punishment to be a human shield for sinful you and sinful me.
Where others might fight, or flee, or change their stories to stop people from being outraged at them – Jesus, when He is insulted, does not insult in return. He continues to entrust Himself to God the Father. He turns the other cheek to those who strike Him, to the point where He hands Himself over to the Cross. And even then Jesus forgives all those who shamefully attack Him.
That is why God’s Son comes here in the first place – to pour out His innocent blood; for Herod and Jerusalem; for Jeremiah and his enemies; and for you. To pay for the sins of the world and to reconcile you to God.
However, this is more than a history lesson about what happened in the past. This is also God’s map for your life. You shall die. Not just die before we have your funeral, but die daily to sin by the power of your Baptism. For you are marked as one belonging to Christ the Crucified. Disciples of Jesus are to take up their crosses and follow Him. And crosses are used for just one thing – to kill. In this case, to put to death the evil in you and me that seeks self-preservation at all costs – even sacrificing godly love for our neighbor in order to save our own skin. But taking up our Crosses is the way of self-sacrifice, of self-giving and service instead of selfishness. You are to love others – whether they are family or enemy – because God first loved you, even while you behaved as His enemy. When your life makes them uncomfortable because you are doing and saying the godly things, and they tell you, “You shall die” – that is, when they threaten to end your friendship, or to make life miserable for you – well then so be it. In the same way they persecuted our Lord Jesus before us.
And do not for a moment think to yourself, “That is easy for you to say, Pastor.” It is not easy for me to say. I do not want to hear it either. I want to get along with everybody and avoid making people mad – even if though that often means keeping silent about God’s Truth. Way down inside the sinner in me cares more about what people say and think about me than what God says and thinks.
However, their thoughts and words are temporary. God’s thoughts and Words endure forever. Furthermore, yes God says, “You shall die as you take up your cross.” But His last word on the subject is that “Though you die, yet shall you live.” For as Christ has died and is risen, so you shall rise too. You live because the sacrificial and bloody death of Jesus forgives you all your sin. And your neighbor that God calls you to serve, whether they are a friend or an enemy – Christ’s bloody death also forgives their sins.
Therefore you and I, as Christ’s disciples, shall die to holding their sins against them. We must forgive those who trespass against us. Bear their burdens patiently. Even turn the other cheek when they insult without striking back, for our Lord Jesus did not insult in return. He loved those who hurt Him, prayed for them and laid down His life for them.
Ultimately we have to ask ourselves, “What will I really lose if I die as I seek to love others with God’s love?” What can you lose since your “citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:21). You travel here through this earth today and tomorrow (or maybe not, as only the Lord knows how much longer you have here.) But whether you live or die, you belong to the Christ who rises from the tomb on the Third Day.
In today’s Epistle, St. Paul is torn up with sorrow as he tells us about those who “walk as enemies of the Cross of Christ” (3:18). Obviously he is describing those who attack the Christian church, promote immoral lifestyles, laugh at the Bible, and say all sorts of evil things about Jesus and His people. However, St. Paul talks about those whose gods are their bellies – the people who seek out their own greatest comfort and self-preservation in this life – especially at the expense of others. They will tell lies, withhold forgiveness, or whatever… if they believe it will somehow make their lives better. And you should be aware that this is your natural instinct also – to fight or flee, whatever it takes to preserve yourself.
That is the very opposite of faith in Christ and His love for others, the opposite of the eternal life He gives to others. For when we set our minds on earthly things and obsess over our appetites, our selfishness is self-destructive. As our Savior Jesus says elsewhere, “Whoever would save his life will lose it.” Refuse to walk with Jesus, put your cross down and go your own way in order to protect your own skin and you shall not only die here in time, but you shall die forever in Hell. Paul speaks with tears in his eyes about those whose god is their bellies because they have a sad life, always having their rumbling tummies force them to go all over the place to try and fulfill desires that constantly change. And that ends in shame and destruction as they perish like the very food you eat.
Remember how it went for Jerusalem, the city where the Lord caused His great Temple to be built! Yet the people hid horrific lives under very religious actions. They practically dare God to stop them from killing the prophets – and then when God sends His own Son, they kill Him too.
Certainly a few people in Jerusalem were different and were happy to see Christ arrive. Yet most of the citizens failed to recognize Jesus as their Savior. Whatever they thought of Him, bad or good, they did not welcome Him as their God. While some plotted to trap Him, discredit and destroy Him, even those who loved Him did not understand His Cross. Not even His disciples, until afterward. Not even you nor I, except by God's grace, as you are being taught by His Word and the Holy Spirit.
All sorts of people and things try to get in His way, and there is a lot of confusing things that might get in the way of you understanding what today’s text is all about. However, this much is absolutely clear – Jesus is determined to do what He came to do. No one can stop Jesus – not the Pharisees, not Herod, not even the Devil in the wilderness as we heard last week. God's Son comes for just one reason, with only one holy desire – to love you, to save you, to gather you to Himself. As a hen gathers her chicks, Jesus would bring you under His wings of mercy, and nestle you close to His heart as His children. He comes to use His Cross to shelter you, protect you, feed and comfort you. Jerusalem would not have it. Will you?
He goes to Jerusalem anyway, despite the signs of danger, and does what He does no matter what anybody else says or thinks about it because He loves His Father and His Father loves you and Jesus loves you. Jesus endures your pain – not only how others make you suffer, but also the pain you inflict. He endures your insults in peace. He bears your sin and death to remove them from you forever.
See God's strong arms stretched wide open on the Cross in love, to gather you to Himself and protect you in peace. Listen to God's Son here in the Gospel as no one will stop Him from saving you from all your sins. Truly, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. And in Christ, blessed are you. Amen.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
O Christ, as You invited the Samaritan woman to bring her husband, so You would have me bring to You those to whom I have witnessed or about whom I have prayed. Like that woman, I must shamefully admit that I have not been faithful in witness of words and godly life. And my prayers for others have even faltered. As there are those who would have let her status as a Samaritan or her sinful life get in the way of their love for her, so also I have let such things as status and sin get in the way of my love for my neighbors. Forgive me. I want to do better. May this upcoming season of Lent be a time of renewal, of death to my old self and new life in You as I take up the cross your Father gives so I may follow You more closely through Good Friday to the Day of Your Resurrection. Yet remember that my frame is dust. I am weak and even scared of how hard following You will be. Let me never forget that You are the One who sought out the sinful Samaritan woman at the well and dealt with her compassionately. And likewise You are the Savior who seeks me out to save me.