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.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Homily - Proper 10A Isaiah 55 and Matthew 13:1ff God the Farmer went out to Sow

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11

In college one year I worked on the Summer Youth Ministry Team for Concordia University.  Mostly that meant helping out with the VBS for a congregation and working with their youth group.  Our team each chose one of our professors who promised to pray for us throughout the summer.  I will never forget the day when a letter came from my partner, Dr. Brighton.  He specifically quoted this text from Isaiah to encourage me.  But that made me a bit confused.  I remember questioning God, “Why this verse now, Lord?  I mean, I feel like my ministry work is going great.  I am seeing the kids learn as I teach.  Your Word is having success.  I mean, maybe if I was discouraged I could understand why You had Dr. Brighton quote this passage.  But I am actually getting great joy from my work.”
In less than half an hour, I had an answer.  During our Team meeting, one of my friends poured out her heart saying she felt like a failure.  She was trying to reach the kids with God’s Word, but they just did not seem to be getting it.  Then I realized how foolish and self-centered I was to think that God had sent His Isaiah 55 promise just for my sake.  No, it was for my friend.  At that moment He had given it to me to give away.  He sent Isaiah 55 out so He could promise His daughter that His Word she was speaking would get done what He wanted it to do.  Even if she could not see it happen.
When it comes to sharing the Word of God with others – or even when it comes to life in general - we can get short-sighted, looking for immediate results.  Or we can get near sighted, seeing only the bad results.  Or both.  And so, for example, many evenings it might take a LOT of successes for us to consider a day to be really good – but only 1, 2, or 3 failures and we consider the day terrible.  That is what is going on inside many of us when we come to today’s Gospel text and hear the parable of the Sower.  The sin in us gets us distracted.  The seed that does not produce sticks out.  Too bad for all that wasted seed in the rocky soil, amongst the weeds, and eaten by the birds.  At least it was not a total loss… However, we fail to appreciate the seed that does produce 100 fold, 60, and 30.  Those are no small numbers!  This is a bumper crop, abundantly fruitful beyond expectation.
So what does this Parable of the Sower look like in real life?  Jesus tells this Parable because things in real life have been getting in the way of faith.  Christ’s disciples have always gotten confused by this.  He has given us His Word, great and wonderful promises of forgiveness and salvation and God’s unending love.  How come the unbelievers reject it?  Christ’s followers are confused because the crowds have been leaving Jesus.  He is not as popular as He once was, and worse yet, people are actively opposing Him.  Even family members of Jesus are refusing to go along with Him.  Jesus teaches that sin-closed ears and hearts, the cares of the world, persecution, and the love of wealth and luxury all get in the way of the true Christian faith.  
What does this Parable of the Sower look like in real life?  It looks like a congregation or a Christian who focuses only on what is going wrong that they fail to see the great stuff God is doing, for instance noticing the people who are not here with the result that they fail to rejoice in the people God has brought here.  This parable looks like a congregation or a Christian who expects no setbacks, nothing but overnight success stories.  Yet you farmers and gardeners know it would be ridiculous to look for crops the day after planting your seed.  God takes His time providing for our daily bread.  And God takes His time converting hearts and making people a part of His Church, a citizen of His Kingdom.  On a few rare occasions, God QUICKLY works repentance and Christ’s forgiveness into a person – almost overnight.  Most of the time we do not get to see what God’s Word has been doing all along inside an unbeliever until months or years later.  
Ultimately our impatience with God gets down to a violation of the First Commandment.  When we hear the Parable of the Sower and think the Sower is foolish for wasting so much seed on all sorts of unproductive ground, we are really judging God to be a fool.  As generous as the Sower is in spreading the seed, that is precisely how generous God is in spreading His Word.  Speaking it to those who would believe it, or believe it not.  Yet when we imagine that God should be efficient, like we would be efficient if we were God – then we are trying to make God in our own image, instead of God re-making us in His own image of love, generosity, kindness, patience, and so on.  We end up telling God He is wrong, we are right.  And that is sin.
What does this Parable look like in real life?  It looks like God spreading His Word of salvation from the Flood in the days of Noah – and His Word of life takes root in 8 souls, while the rest of the seed falls on rocky hearts that will be destroyed on the Day of Judgment.  In the days of Moses, God sows His Word on Israel.  In the hearts of the Joshuas and Calebs and Rahabs, the seeds find a home and grow.  In other hearts, the seeds find soil as soft as concrete, as hospitable as Hell, who grumble and complain about the true God while bowing down to a golden calf.  In the days of Jonah, God sows His Word on pagan Ninevah and the seed takes root in the soil of over 120,000 repentant hearts, while the people of Israel are not so thrilled with God’s mercy.  In the early days of Jesus, God sows His Word in Herod’s Palace, where wise men rejoice but the King plots murder.
Though some of His seed is snatched and some is scorched and some is trampled, the Lord does not stop.  He continues to spread His Word.  Here, there, and everywhere.  Preaching in season and out of season, in the field and out of the field, embraced and rejected, scorned and loved, insulted and praised.
When God went out to sow the seed of His Word, He dropped some into your heart.  Did His seed take root, this seed of Christ, this seed of grace and mercy?  How could it take root in a heart like yours and mine – hearts that are as clean as a manure pile and as fertile as a Walmart parking lot?  The truth is, where there are not rocks, there are weeds, and where there are not weeds, there was that vulture-like Devil ready to snatch God’s Word away from us.
But lo and behold, God did not look for good soil to plant His Word.  He created good soil for Himself in you, no matter how rocky or weed infested your heart may be.  And His Word has its way with you.  His gracious absolution transforms you the sinner into good ground.  Christ now cleanses you of the poisons of your past.  The weeds of your impatience are patiently pulled out by Jesus.  God the Farmer scatters His seed on the Walmart parking lots of our hearts, and somehow, by His work, in His time, our souls become rich soil.  All that was lifeless is now covered by colorful blooms.  Dead land transformed into a field of salvation.  That is what the Lord Jesus does for you.  He converts your parking lot heart into a place for parking His Word, His Spirit, His Body and Blood, His life divine.  God’s Word will do this, for that is the reason He sent it into your life.
For the seed of God’s Word is packed with the life, death and resurrection of His Son – His Son who was once packed with your sin and death; packed with your impatience and mine; packed with all the times you and I have judged God was foolishly doing things wrong, yet we were the fools; packed with all the rest of our guilt.  It looked at the Cross like Jesus was choked by the weeds of this world, as His enemies got Him out of the way so they could go on loving the things of this world.  It looked at the cross like Jesus had successfully sprung up for a time in this rocky world, only to be scorched by God’s wrath.  It looked like the vulture-like Devil had snatched Jesus away from us.  Yet when the body of Jesus was planted in the Earth, it turned out that He became the first-fruit of those Risen from the Dead, the promise that your body will rise above the ground of your grave too.
God the sower went out to sow His seed.  He planted it in you, and when the harvest comes, He will find in you a hundredfold crop.  And what He has done in you, Christ has plans to do in many more hearts around the world, until all is ripe for the Day of Resurrection.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.