Friday, July 13, 2018

Sixth and Seventh Sundays after Pentecost


Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 8)

July 1, 2018
Text: Mark 5:21-43

            Desperate.  Jairus is a desperate man, as any man would be in his shoes.  His little daughter, Daddy’s little girl, is sick.  She is at the point of death.  All the efforts of man, all the medical knowledge at their disposal, all of it had come to nothing.  Parents and family and members of the synagogue had prayed.  That precious twelve-year-old light of her Daddy’s life continued to fade.  So now here he is, seeking the Teacher from Nazareth, falling at His feet, imploring Him earnestly, “Come, Lord Jesus”… “My little daughter is at the point of death.  Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live” (Mark 5:23; ESV).
            Desperate.  The poor woman had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, as long as Jairus’ daughter had breathed the breath of life.  Not once a month, but every day for twelve long years this woman suffered, with none of the modern coping mechanisms.  She was miserable.  She suffered much under many physicians… I won’t paint you a picture, but you can imagine what these doctors from the early First Century subjected her to.  It wasn’t pleasant, I’m sure.  And she spent all she had, every penny, but their efforts just made it worse.  To top it all off, remember this is a daughter of Israel, a woman under the Law of Moses.  She is unclean.  Always, every day, for twelve years, she can have no contact with anyone.  She’s an outcast.  She’s not supposed to get near Jesus.  She’s not even supposed to be in the crowd.  She’s making everyone she touches ceremonially unclean.  But she’ll take the risk.  She’s desperate.  “If I just sneak up”… “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well” (v. 28). 
            Desperate.  The world is desperate for peace with a God she won’t acknowledge.  But not on His terms!  She will dictate her own conditions for peace, thank you very much.  I hear it all the time: “I just can’t believe in a God who”… And you fill in the blank.  “I just can’t believe in a God who wouldn’t allow someone to love a person just because they happen to be the same gender.”  “I just can’t believe in a God who sends people to hell just because they don’t believe in Him.”  On the other hand, “I just can’t believe in a God who would let that guy into heaven just because he does believe in Jesus.”  There we go dictating the terms.  There hangs the forbidden fruit, promising that when you eat of it you can be like God, determining what is good and what is evil.  And it will kill you.  Repent.  The world is desperate, but she doesn’t know why, or won’t acknowledge it.  Desperate in sin.  Desperate in unbelief.  Desperate in death.  So her children seek to justify themselves.  We’re all about love and tolerance… and let’s get those Christian haters!  Them we cannot tolerate!  The ultimate virtue for the world is self-fulfillment.  Do what makes you happy.  Be true to yourself.  Follow your heart.  Which is exactly what Eve did in the Garden.  Did God really say?  Well, who really cares what He said?  We all know He’d want me to be happy.  And anyway, who can be sure He even exists.  You see, in a strange twist of irony, the denial of God, this insistence that everything is ultimately accidental and meaningless (i.e. evolution), this is all finally a striving for peace with God.  Because if there is no God, there is no conflict.  It’s the ultimate state of denial.  It is desperation.  Unwilling to reconcile with God, and unable to imagine an eternity of conflict with Him (Hell), we just deny the whole thing.  We pretend none of it is real.  That’s the world you live in.
            And you—you have your own desperations.  You also know the anguish.  You know the sting of death, loved ones who have died or are dying.  You know the pain of infirmity in your own body and the bodies of those you love.  From the common cold to cancer, you know this is not how it should be.  This is what it means to know good and evil.  Thank you Eve.  Thank you Adam.  Apart from that fruit, we would only have known the good.  But now the world is fallen, and so is our flesh.  We’re condemned to a life of dying, and that makes us desperate.
            But you—you know a way out, the only way out.  And that is Jesus.  Jairus knew it, too, and fell at the Savior’s feet, imploring Him for mercy.  The woman knew it, too, and snuck up to touch the hem of His garment.  You know that if you could just catch a Word of life from His lips, just a crumb and a drop from His Table, you will be healed.  And Jesus says to you, “Daughter… Son”… “your faith has made you well” (v. 34).  Actually, not just “made you well.”  The Greek literally says, “your faith has saved you”!  Jesus preaches a good Lutheran sermon: Salvation by faith alone.  Beloved, your faith has saved you.  Because the content of your faith is Christ.  Luther said that faith is a synonym for Christ.  It is not that if you believe hard enough, you will be saved.  Faith is not your work.  It is Christ.  And it is a gift.  Christ is your salvation.  Christ has made you well.  Christ has saved you.  “Your faith has saved you,” He says to the woman who received His healing touch.  “Your faith has saved you,” He says to you who have touched and tasted His healing Body and Blood.  “Depart in peace.”  Be healed of your afflictions.  Your sins are forgiven.  You are clean.  You are restored.  Jesus takes your disease and uncleanness into Himself and nails it to the cross.  And in exchange, He leaves you clean with His own cleanness, His righteousness, His holiness.  No need to justify yourself.  Jesus has done it already.  He has done it completely.  It is finished.
            But there is more, as, indeed, there must be if this is to be truly Good News.  For the woman was healed, but she eventually died.  And Jairus suffered the greatest heartache a man can know in this life.  His precious little girl died.  And you will die.  “Why trouble the Teacher any further?” (v. 35).  There is nothing He can do about this, says the world.  Why does Jesus do this to us?  Here we are, desperate once again.  The world weeps and wails in hopelessness, and in our own grief, we’re tempted to join in.  When Jesus comes to the house, there is a great commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.  That is the only response the world knows to death.  And it’s not even all that sincere, not for most of those present.  It was the custom at the death of a loved one to hire mourners to help set the mood.  They’re doing it for pay!  And they scoff when Jesus announces hope in the face of hopelessness: “The child is not dead but sleeping” (v. 39).  Much as they scoff at you when you confess: “I believe in… the resurrection of the body” (Apostles’ Creed).  They can’t believe you mean that.  Because they’re desperate, but not so desperate as to believe something that contradicts their every experience of death.  Dead men don’t rise.  It is easier to live in denial than to stake your eternal fate on a confession of hope in the face of hopelessness.  It is impossible for man to believe this hope.  It’s a miracle that anybody believes.  It is a miracle, and it happens every time a baby is baptized into Christ, every time the Lord Jesus speaks faith into the heart of a child of God: “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36).
            In a little foreshadowing of the Judgment, Jesus throws the unbelieving world out of the house.  Only the believers are present: the disciples, Jairus, his wife, and the corpse.  Jesus takes the hand of the little girl in His own, and He speaks into her ear: “‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise’” (v. 41).  And she does.  Immediately, St. Mark tells us (v. 42).  She’s walking around, probably talking and laughing and overjoyed to be alive.  Jesus commands them to give her something to eat.  Nothing works up an appetite like being dead.  And nothing calls for a Feast like resurrection from the dead.  When our blessed Lord appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, He was constantly eating with them (Cf. Luke 24 and John 21!).  And He has given us the Meal of His death and resurrection to eat and drink until He comes again.  He died.  He is risen.  We eat with Him every time we gather around His Altar.  It is His healing touch.  Your faith has saved you.  Depart in peace.  And what about death?  What about it?  You already died with Christ at the font.  You are already risen with Him from the baptismal flood.  And anyway, you already know what He will do for you on the Last Day.  He will take your hand in His hand, the pierced one, and speak into your ear: “Child, I say to you, arise!”  And you will.  You’ll step out of the grave with your own two feet and join in the unending Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end.  Despair no more.  Jesus lives.  And so do you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 9)
July 8, 2018
Text: Mark 6:1-13
            Preachers are called to preach the Word of the Lord.  Jesus sends them with all His authority to speak His Word… all of it, the whole counsel of God, no more, no less.  The preacher doesn’t get to pick and choose what he likes and what he doesn’t like, what is safe to proclaim and what could land him in hot water with the people or with the government.  The Holy Christian Church is called to hear the Word of God… all of it, the whole counsel of God, whether it appeals to her members or not.  She is to receive it gladly, confess it boldly, and support the ministers of Christ who publicly proclaim it.  But understand, there is no promise of glorious success in this undertaking, at least not in human terms.  There will be those who hear the Word of God, repent of their sins, and come to faith in Christ.  But there will also be those who will not hear, not for lack of preaching, but because they refuse to hear.  They do not want the Lord or His Word.  And this should not surprise us.  We are a rebellious nation in the midst of rebellious nations, after all.  Fallen sinners, every one.  We are born unbelievers.  Our ears are not, by nature, attuned to the things of the Spirit.  That is why we require a new birth by water and the Word, the washing of regeneration that is Holy Baptism, that born of the Spirit we have ears to hear.  It is God’s gift, this new life, this faith that hangs on every Word of the Lord Jesus.  It is His doing, and not our own.  And so it is that we are called to preach and hear and confess the living Word of God.  But the results are up to the Spirit.  We are not called to success.  We are called to faithfulness. 
            Jesus came to His hometown, Nazareth, to His home synagogue, to be the Guest Preacher on this particular Sabbath.  The text doesn’t say it, but I can imagine how it went.  Everyone was excited that the hometown Boy was returning to preach.  “That’s our Boy!  He’s done well.  Look at the following He has.  Why, I can remember when He was just a little guy on Momma’s knee.  I just can’t wait to hear His sermon.  I bet He’s a good Preacher.” 
            But then He opens His mouth.  And He preaches the Word of God unvarnished, with all its rough edges and hard surfaces, the crushing weight of the Law, the scandal of the Holy Gospel.  And the people say, “Wait a minute!  This is not what we were expecting.  Who does this kid think He is, anyway?!  Saying things only God has the authority to say!  Telling us to repent!  Forgiving our sins!  After all, He’s just a carpenter.  Nobody special!  We know His mom and His brothers and sisters.” 
            I’ve preached at my home Church, and while everyone was very gracious, I’m not sure how effective a preacher I can be to people who changed my diapers.  When a preacher returns home, at best, there is a condescending pride in the boy who made good.  Jesus gets the worst.  The people are offended at Him.  They will not hear the Word from Him.  “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and his own household” (Mark 6:4; ESV).  “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief” (vv. 5-6).  Disappointing.  Sad.  But so it goes.  Jesus came to preach, and that is what He does.  Whether they hear or refuse to hear (Ez. 2:5).
            Our Lord’s mistreatment serves as an object lesson for the Church.  This is not just about a preacher returning to his home congregation.  This is the treatment any faithful Christian can expect when you speak the Word of the Lord.  Jesus calls the Twelve and begins to send them out two by two.  He invests them with His own authority over unclean spirits.  He sends them out to preach that people should repent, to cast out demons and heal the sick, to be His spokesmen, His representatives to the people.  An “Apostle” is one who is sent.  The Apostles were sent by the Lord Jesus, and they possessed all His authority in the matter for which they were sent, so that when they spoke, when they acted, it was the same as though Jesus Himself spoke or acted.  And so also the reaction they were to encounter.  Jesus tells them they will not always be received well.  “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.  And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:10-11).  The negative reaction is not to the Apostles in and of themselves.  It is a rejection of Christ.  It is a refusal to hear His Word.  As Jesus says elsewhere, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16).  “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master… If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matt. 10:24-25).  No matter.  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12). 
            That is what the world does to prophets and preachers of the Word.  That is certainly how they treated Ezekiel.  God sends His man, the prophet Ezekiel, to a rebellious nation of Israel.  And He virtually promises the prophet he will be rejected.  “I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD GOD.’  And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ez. 2:4-5).  The preacher is sent to preach the Word of the Lord.  He is not called to success.  He is called to faithfulness.  Whether they hear or refuse to hear, they will know that Christ has sent His man, that the Lord has spoken. 
            This is a comfort to pastors and to the Church in a world that doesn’t really want to hear us right now.  We’re free to believe what we want to believe, as long as we do it quietly.  But when we come speaking the Word of the Lord, preaching that the people should repent, that they are sinners, and so are we by the way, and we all need the salvation that only comes in Jesus Christ, well… No, thank you!  Keep preaching that and we’ll have to silence you by force.  Refuse to endorse same-sex “marriage” and we’ll strip you of your tax-exempt status.  Speak against homosexuality and we’ll fine you for hate speech.  Keep it up and we’ll arrest you.  I’m not exaggerating.  It’s already happening in Canada and Europe, and we know that right here in the good old United States of America, Christians have lost their businesses and their livelihoods for speaking God’s truth about gay marriage.  Don’t think you are safe just because you don’t own a flower shop or a bakery.  God still may call you to suffer at the hands of the world for His sake.  But that’s the Spirit’s problem, not yours.  Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not.  We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).  You just confess the truth in love.  I’ll just keep preaching.  And whether they hear or refuse to hear, they’ll know that the people of God have been among them. 
            And the miracle is that some will hear.  The Spirit does His work in the preaching of the Gospel.  He breaks hearts of stone and bestows beating hearts of flesh.  He brings to new birth by water and the Word.  He leads the Old Adam to water and drowns him good and dead, that He raise up the new man in Christ to live in Him by faith.  He bestows seeing eyes on the blind and hearing ears on the deaf.  He opens dumb mouths and looses bound tongues to speak His Word faithfully.  He sends preachers to preach and the Word of the Lord grows as sinners come to faith in Christ.  “(W)e preach Christ crucified,” says St. Paul, “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).  We preach Christ crucified for sinners, for the forgiveness of sins.  We preach Christ raised from the dead, who will raise us also.  It is a scandal, and it is really to say that Christ Jesus saved us precisely in being rejected.  It’s true.  He saved us by dying.  Not very successful in human terms.  But with God, things are not as they appear.  His death is His triumph and our salvation.  So with St. Paul, we are content to be weak and defeated in the eyes of the world.  For the sake of Christ, we are “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (2 Cor. 12:10).  For Jesus says to us as He said to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). 
            So it is that the Lord sends His weak preachers to mount pulpits week after week, day after day, proclaiming “Thus says the LORD GOD” to poor miserable sinners.  It is a pitiful sight to the movers and shakers of this world.  But with God, things are not as they appear.  The weak man is clothed in an Office that speaks for the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  The Word he speaks grants life to the dead.  And the sinners in the pew are forgiven, righteous, glorious saints, who reign with Christ and will judge the world.  We preach and we suffer, willingly, with rejoicing, because we know how this ends.  We know it is good.  For Christ is risen.  He lives, and He reigns.  The old is passing away.  Jesus makes all things new.  “Thus says the LORD GOD.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           


Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist


The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
June 24, 2018
Text: Luke 1:57-80

            The Nativity of St. John the Baptist is a dry run for Christmas.  John is the forerunner of the Christ, our Lord Jesus.  He prepares the way of the Lord.  Not just in preaching, but in his birth, his Baptism, and in his martyr’s death.  John’s birth parallels our Lord’s in so many ways.  Both births were prophesied from of old, from ancient times.  In our Old Testament, Isaiah tells us of the voice who will cry in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord by calling for repentance and comforting with forgiveness (Is. 40:1-5).  He’s talking about St. John.  The same prophet tells us that the virgin will conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His Name “Immanuel,” which means, “God with us” (Is. 7:14).  He tells us this Son will grow up to be the promised Suffering Servant who will bear our griefs and carry our sorrows, be wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, yet in making this offering unto death for our sins, He will see His offspring, His days shall be prolonged, and the will of the LORD will prosper in His hands.  That is to say, He will rise from the dead.  This beautiful prophecy of our Lord Jesus Christ is found in Isaiah 53. 
            The births of the two are both miraculous.  John is born of an old woman well past her prime, Elizabeth, bringing to mind the miraculous conceptions and births of the Old Testament, particularly that of Sarah who gives birth to Isaac in her old age.  All the miraculous births in the Bible point us to the greatest of miraculous births, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary. 
            Both of the boys receive their names from the angel, and one points to the other.  The son of Zechariah and Elizabeth is to be named John (Luke 1:13), much to the surprise of the crowds (vv. 59-63), and his name points to his vocation as forerunner.  John means “Gift of YHWH,” and that is what he is: a gift to this barren couple in their old age, a gift to the world in his preaching and pointing to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  The Son of Mary, the Son of God, is to be named Jesus, which means “YHWH saves,” for that is what He has come to do, to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).  Both boys receive their name at 8 days old, in the shedding of their blood by circumcision, John first, the forerunner, Jesus the fulfillment.  It is the first shedding of our Savior’s precious blood for our redemption.  He is saving His people from their sins.  He is doing His Name, Jesus, YHWH saves. 
            And there are so many other parallels.  John always comes first, preparing the way.  Jesus always comes as fulfillment.  John decreases.  Jesus increases.  So it must be.  It is the plan of God from all eternity.  John baptizes with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire.  John’s baptism is prophetic.  Jesus’ Baptism is fulfillment.  You are baptized by Jesus, Baptism in all its fullness, in the Name of our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, delivering all that John’s baptism prophesied and foreshadowed.
            And of course, John’s forerunning would not be complete apart from his martyr’s death.  John is imprisoned in a dungeon and spills his blood for preaching the truth to Herod and Herodias: It is not lawful for a man to have his brother’s wife.  Adultery and divorce are detestable to God.  Even then, preaching biblical truth about marriage and sex brought down the wrath of the government.  John’s head is delivered on a silver platter as a reward for Salome’s lewd dance.  How is that for foreshadowing?  John dies for the sins of the Herod family.  In his case, his death doesn’t make atonement, but it is the direct result of sin, and it is the righteous one dying for the sins of the unrighteous.  It all points us to Jesus, arrested for preaching the truth that He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world, put to death for the sins of the people… all people, and that means you.  The Righteous One dies for all the unrighteous ones.  But His death does atone for sin.  His death undoes death.  And this time, He goes first.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  He’ll raise St. John, head and all.  He’ll raise you, and give eternal life to you and all believers in Jesus Christ.
            John is the forerunner, and so at his birth, his father Zechariah sings a Christmas carol.  The Benedictus, we call it, which means “Blessed be,” and we still sing it today in the morning office, Matins.  Zechariah, remember, was struck dumb when he failed to believe the angel’s prophecy of John’s birth (Luke 1:20).  But the moment he wrote, “His name is John” (v. 63; ESV), his tongue was loosed, and his first words were this hymn of praise.  And they’re all about Jesus!  They’re all about what Jesus does.  Remember, praise is not just some endless string of exclamations about how great God is, like He needs some kind of affirmation for His self-esteem.  Praise is telling what it is that’s so great about God, what He’s done for us and for our salvation.  And Zechariah does not disappoint.  God has visited and redeemed His people, Zechariah sings (v. 68).  He has come, in the flesh, to be among us and be one of us, and to give His life into death for us, that our death be turned into life!  God has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David (v. 69).  The King is being born, the Son of David who is greater than David, David’s Lord and ours.  It’s what He spoke by the mouth of the holy prophets.  It is salvation from our enemies (vv. 70-71).  It is the end of sin, death, and the devil.  It is the mercy of God promised to Abraham and all our fathers, to remember His holy covenant, the covenant forged in blood, not just the blood of bulls and goats, but the blood of this Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (vv. 72-73).  All of this so that we be reconciled to God and serve Him all our days, without fear of punishment, without fear of rejection or condemnation, in holiness and righteousness forever (74-75).  Then, and only then, he gets to John.  But it’s still all about Jesus.  And you, child,” John, my son, you “will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways” (v. 76).  John is the forerunner.  And He will prepare the way of Jesus Christ by preaching.  He will preach the knowledge of salvation.  He will preach the forgiveness of sins.  He will preach the tender mercy of God.  God is not against us.  He is for us.  He sends His Son.  And this news, this Gospel, is light for those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.  It guides our feet into the way of peace (vv. 76-79). 
            Comfort, comfort my people,” God says through the prophet Isaiah, as He promises the birth of John (Is. 40:1).  John is born, and does just that.  He comforts God’s people by preaching.  And in the preaching, all things are leveled and straightened.  Every valley is lifted up.  The poor have good news preached to them.  Sinners are forgiven.  The dying are brought to life.  And every mountain and hill is made low.  The haughty are leveled.  Pride goes before a fall.  Pharisees and good Christian folk are told that tax collectors and sinners march into the Kingdom of God before them.  Repent.  Repent of your sins.  Repent of your self-righteousness.  For the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it (vv. 4-5).  It will be a terror to those outside the faith and forgiveness of Christ.  It will be the eternal joy of those who are in Him.  This is the whole sum and substance of John’s life and preaching and baptism and death.
            Everything about St. John the Baptist is, finally, all about Jesus.  And now we know how to read the Bible and how to hear preaching.  The Bible talks in some places about St. John, and in other places about any number of other people and things.  But all of it, in every place, is about Jesus.  When a preacher preaches, his topic may be about any number of the teachings of the Scriptures, the particularities of Christian faith and life, this or that episode in biblical history, and it may relate to any number of things going on in your life and in the world today.  But all of it, in every place, is about Jesus.  It is about Jesus Christ for you.  Or at least it should be.  This is how you can evaluate a sermon.  Is it about you and how you can live a better life by following steps x, y, and z?  That is not a Christian sermon.  That preacher is being unfaithful.  Or is the sermon about Jesus Christ and what He has done to save you from your sins, reconcile you to the Father, and give you eternal life?  That is what every sermon should be about.  Sure, there will be Law.  Do this.  Don’t do that.  Repent of your sins.  But the Law accuses you so that you know just how much you need Jesus.  The Law serves the Gospel.  The Law robs you of any righteousness of your own.  It imprisons you under sin, and ultimately, it kills you.  The Law is good.  But you are not.  And that is why the Law has its way with you.  The Gospel gives you Jesus, who releases you from your bondage and raises you to new and eternal life.  A sermon that leaves you in the Law, leaves you dead and damned.  A sermon that preaches the Gospel gives you Jesus, who gives you His life and salvation. 
            It’s not quite Christmas in July, but this morning and every June 24th we get a little forerunner of Christmas in the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.  How appropriate.  John goes before.  But even as he goes before, he fades from the scene so that our eyes focus on Jesus.  John decreases.  Jesus increases.  It’s all about Jesus.  Jesus crucified.  Jesus risen from the dead.  Jesus for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost


Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 6)
June 17, 2018
Text: Mark 4:26-34

            Who would have thought?  Who possibly could have imagined?  This sprig Ezekiel speaks of (Ez. 17:22-24), a mere twig from the top of the cedar, weak and tender, broken, yet planted by the LORD on the mountain height of Israel.  And it grows and bears many braches and produces much fruit and becomes a noble cedar, one under which every kind of bird finds shelter for its nest, a dwelling place, security, a home.  Who can help but think here of the holy cross bearing the weak and tender, broken and dying body of our Lord Jesus Christ, planted on the height of Golgotha for the life of the world?  Indeed, that is what the prophecy is all about.  No one would have guessed that this tree, itself dead wood and the instrument of death, would, in this ignominious execution, become the very Tree of Life.  The low tree is made high, the dry tree green and flourishing.  This Tree bears its own Creator.  Pinned to the wood is the flesh of God.  And from this corpse, Life.  Life grows.  Branches spread.  Preachers preach.  Believers congregate.  They build homes, familial and spiritual, under the shade of this noble Tree and the Crucified One who is risen from the dead.  And the leaves of this Tree, which are for the healing of the nations, and the fruits of this Tree, the body and blood of Jesus Christ, are given us right here at the Altar.  It’s unthinkable, but it’s true.  And it’s what our Lord Jesus teaches us this morning in the Holy Gospel.
            The Kingdom of God is that which is so insignificant, weak, dying, and dead in the eyes of the world, that the world takes no notice.  Who would ever think this could amount to anything?  Better to crush it, like a bug under my shoe.  But in the very crushing of it, in its death, it becomes the very greatest thing.  In another place, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24; ESV).  What is true for the wheat is true for the mustard seed and for the Kingdom.  Out of death, comes life.  Beloved, Jesus is the Mustard Seed.  He is the smallest, the most insignificant, the Last, the Least of these, despised and rejected, broken and crushed.  And from His death grows the Kingdom of God that is the Church, holy believers in Jesus Christ, you.  It’s the last thing anyone would expect.  It’s the Great Reversal. 
            Jesus turns everything on its head.  His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways.  What man considers great is utter nothingness.  What man considers nothing is the Kingdom of God Almighty.  In the resurrection of the dead, we will see the Kingdom as it really is, in all its majesty.  But for now, what we get is the little group of nobodies worshiping the Man who was nailed to the dead wood.  We get the Church on earth, warts and all.  She’s beautiful.  We love her.  But she kills us.  No offense to you, but she’s full of insufferable sinners, sinners who are really good at sinning, even and especially against one another.  She has her disagreements, her sad divisions, her fightings and fears within, without.  She can be unfaithful, adulterous.  In the Old Testament, her name was Israel, and she went a-whoring after other gods.  God help her, she still suffers those old temptations today.  That’s why God lays the cross of suffering upon her.  He gives her budget troubles.  He gives her contentious members and conceited pastors.  Sometimes, like Gideon’s men, He shrinks our number to a ridiculously small company of people.  Apparently you all lap your water like dogs (Judges 7)!  When the time is just right, God hands us defeat or weighs us down with persecution.  He’s pruning us!  He loves you, so, here’s some suffering.
            Really.  That’s how God works.  We know what He does with things that are weak and insignificant, dying and dead.  We know what He does with our dead Savior.  He raises Him!  And that’s what He does with us.  He raises us from death.  Spiritually now, by water and the Word.  Bodily then, on that great Day when our Lord comes again in glory and calls us by name out of the grave.  For… we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised… Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:14-15, 17). 
            Who would have thought this is how God saves the world?  Who could have imagined this is how God births His Church?  Cross and suffering and death.  And from that resurrection and wholeness and life.  I love the first parable in our Holy Gospel.  The man goes out to scatter seed on the ground.  That is to say, the preacher goes out to scatter the Word in the world.  The Christian goes out to scatter the Word by his confession of Christ.  And then what does the preacher, the Christian, do?  He goes to sleep!  Because he can’t make the seed grow.  It’s not going to help if he sits there and watches it or worries about it.  He goes to sleep, and he rises in the morning, night after night, day after day, and the seed grows, he knows not how (Mark 4:27)!  It’s a mystery.  God gives the growth.  In His time.  In His way.  That’s how it is with the Kingdom.  Now, I’m going to go to a Church convention this week, and we’re going to be all hot and bothered about what we need to do to make the Kingdom grow, and you can either cry or laugh about such a thing, so I’m determined to enjoy the rich irony that we’re having these discussions mere hours after we’ve all preached on this text, the point of which is that you can’t make the Kingdom grow!  God has to do it!  I’ll need a little therapy, or at least some TLC when I get back.  But see how what Jesus says here takes all the pressure off?  Our job is not to make the Kingdom, the Church, grow.  When we do try to make it grow, we’re basically saying God has no idea what He’s doing.  He needs our help.  Repent.  I repent.  Because I suffer those same illusions.  And I worry about it.  I toss and turn at night about what will happen with the Kingdom of God in this place.  You know what?  It’s not my business to worry about it.  It’s not yours either.  God will do what He will do.
            Now, we are given to sow the seed.  That is vital.  We are given to preach, proclaim, confess!  Teach your kids the faith.  Bring them to Church.  Invite others to Church.  Be here yourself.  Give an offering to support the ministry.  God can sow the seed without us, but He has given us a gift, that we get to be a part of it.  He does it through us.  The results of it all are up to Him.  We are simply to be faithful, to speak Him to one another, to Moscow, to the world.  But then He grows the thing.  There is this great Bonhoeffer quote in the Treasury of Daily Prayer, and it’s so important for us to keep in mind as we go about the Mission of Christ in this place.  He writes: “It is not we who build.  [Christ] builds the church.  No man builds the church but Christ alone.  Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it.  We must confess—he builds.  We must proclaim—he builds.  We must pray to him—that he may build.  We do not know his plan.  We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down.  It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of construction.  It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down.  It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me and I alone will build where it pleases me.  Do not meddle in what is my province.  Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough.  But do it well.  Pay no heed to views and opinions.  Don’t ask for judgments.  Don’t always be calculating what will happen.  Don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge!  Church, stay a church!  But church, confess, confess, confess!  Christ alone is your Lord; from his grace alone can you live as you are.  Christ builds.”[1]
            And now, here we sit at Augustana Lutheran Church, a newly established, self-standing congregation of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.  Who would have thought?  It’s not much to speak of.  Oh, you see the potential.  At least I hope you do.  I certainly do.  But, I mean, we’re a pretty small group, an insignificant nothing in the world’s eyes.  We congregate in a borrowed building (and many thanks to our very gracious hosts), but we’re like the Son of Man who has no place to lay His head.  No one who’s anyone thought we’d get this far.  I never thought I’d leave Michigan for Moscow, Idaho.  But here we are, thanks be to God.  Not by our efforts.  Oh, I know you’ve put forth plenty of effort to make this happen, and there is plenty more effort to be asked of you.  But that didn’t make this place.  All you’ve done is sow the seed.  If God didn’t want a congregation here, it wouldn’t have succeeded.  But look, the seed is sprouting.  A branch is growing from the Crucified and Risen One.  The Tree of Life spreads its shade even here.  I don’t know what will happen.  Maybe this will take off like gangbusters (what is “gangbusters,” anyway?).  Maybe attendance will dwindle and we won’t last long.  I don’t think that will happen, but it’s not up to me.  God will do what He will do.  Just take up the seed and toss it.  Confess it!  Then go to sleep without a care.  We walk by faith, not by sight (1 Cor. 5:7).  Then again, faith sees a lot here as the Lord works in this place.  The Gospel is preached.  Baptisms bring children of God to new birth.  We gather, week in and week out, with the whole Church of God, in heaven and on earth, to be nourished by the fruits of the Tree of Life, the true body and blood of Jesus Christ.  The Kingdom has already succeeded here!  We pray it will continue to take deep root and grow.  What began as a tiny, insignificant hymn sing at Kraig and Tanna’s house, is a place where Christians can settle in and find a home.  Who would have thought?  Apparently, God did.  And so it is.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              


[1] Quoted in Treasury of Daily Prayer (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008) pp. 840-41.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Third Sunday after Pentecost


Third Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 5)
June 10, 2018
Text: Mark 3:20-35

            Two high profile suicides this past week.  I admit, I know virtually nothing about Kate Spade, though my heart grieves for her family, and especially for her in her hopelessness and despair.  Anthony Bourdain I know from television and the little bit I’ve read of his writing, and I always found his work enriching, teaching us about food, not just as fuel, but as an art form and a key to other places and cultures, travel, philosophy, and (he probably never realized) even theology, because he always urged the importance of communing with people, family and friends old and new, around the table.  He had this vision of gathering around the table with representatives from every people, tribe, nation, and language.  Food not only nourishes our bodies, it cultivates our relationships and cements them around the shared feast of sight and smell, taste and texture, conversation and camaraderie.  That’s a very eucharistic way of thinking.
            I can’t help but wonder if it would have made a difference if Spade or Boudain could have heard the words you and I have heard and read and sung this morning.  From the Introit: The LORD “has heard my pleas for mercy.  The LORD is my strength and shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped” (Ps. 28:6-7; ESV).  What is suicide but a seeking to hide yourself from the presence of the LORD God?  Yet in our Old Testament (Gen. 3:8-15), the LORD comes to His children who have fallen, and it is a gracious visitation.  He comes and He seeks and He finds and He calls.  And though He does not ignore our sin or pretend it hasn’t happened… He deals with it, always confronts it… nevertheless there is the Promise.  The serpent has not won.  The Seed of the woman is coming.  He will crush the serpent’s head, by Himself suffering the mortal bite of death, His heal crushed in serpentine jaw as His feet and hands are spiked to the wood.  It’s the way out.  It’s our hope.  Death is not the end.  Not for Jesus, and not for you.  Our Savior is risen, and your momentary afflictions will pass.  They will give way to joy and life eternal.  Don’t hide.  Don’t harm yourself.  Come into the forgiving, healing, and life-giving presence of your Lord.  He loves you.  We know, as St. Paul says in our Epistle, “that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence… So we do not lose heart… this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory… we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Cor. 4:14, 16, 17, 18).  And we know from our Lord’s proclamation in the Holy Gospel that the strong man, Satan, Beelzebul, the prince of this world, has been bound and plundered by the Stronger Man, our Lord Jesus Christ, by His life, death, and resurrection (Mark 3:26-27).  He has rescued us from all that enslaves and afflicts us.  So we need not despair.  We need not give up.  Things are not as they appear.  Now we suffer in weakness, but we know our vindication is coming.  So “take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB 656:4).
            When we call God’s Word the Word of Life, we aren’t just speaking figuratively.  These Words could have saved two lives this week.  Because the Holy Spirit is in them.  And that’s why you need them.  Desperately so.  Because the only difference between you and Kate Spade, you and Anthony Bourdain, is God’s gracious working in His Word.  This is not to say that Christians aren’t tempted by suicide, nor is it to say Christians never commit suicide.  And it certainly is not to suggest that Christians don’t suffer depression.  Believe me, they do.  But it is to say, you have the only real effective medicine against hopelessness, despair, and death.  You have the Word.  You have Jesus.  And so, you have life. 
            We should here dispel the soul-mudering myth that all suicides go to hell.  That’s just not true.  It’s not in the Bible.  It is a teaching that grew out of the otherwise noble concern that we ought to discourage suicide.  Look, suicide is never the answer.  It is certainly an act of unfaith.  It is not the unforgiveable sin.  We’ll get to that in a minute.  But it is a statement that the state of your life is so bleak and hopeless that not even Jesus could save you from it.  Well, that’s a tremendous lie of the evil one.  And, by the way, it leaves everyone around you devastated.  It’s a very loveless act.  It’s tantamount to abandoning your family and your friends.  DO NOT DO IT!  If you are tempted by this, you must come and see me.  It’s not noble.  It is selfish.  It is a last ditch effort to hide from God under the cover of fig leaves.  So yes, it does put your soul in mortal peril.  But it is not automatic damnation.  Luther said, “I am not inclined to think that those who take their own lives are surely damned.  My reason is that they do not do this of their own accord but are overcome by the power of the devil, like a man who is murdered by a robber in the woods.”  He wrote to a widow named Margaret, “That your husband inflicted injury upon himself may be explained by the devil’s power over our members.  He may have directed your husband’s hand, even against his will… How often the devil breaks arms, legs, backs, and all members!  He can be master of the body and its members against our will.”[1]  This is one of those questions people ask all the time.  Do suicides automatically go to hell?  And before answering, it’s important to inquire, “Why do you ask?”  Because if you’re looking for a pass to do yourself harm, no.  No false comfort for you.  Suicide puts your soul in peril of damnation.  But if you’re looking for comfort because a loved one has harmed him or herself, you should know that our God is a God of mercy.  Just look at what it cost Him to redeem us for Himself.  We are not saved by our work of not doing ourselves in.  Nor are we saved only because we have opportunity to repent before we die.  We are saved by grace, because of Christ.  And no sin is beyond the pale of our Lord’s suffering and death for the forgiveness of our sins. 
            Well, what then about the sin against the Holy Spirit?  Jesus explicitly says in our Holy Gospel, “Truly, I say to  you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29).  This bothers us.  And it should.  Just like suicide should bother us, and all other sins should bother us.  It’s a call to self-examination and repentance, confession and forgiveness.  But we wonder, what does Jesus mean by this?  And worse, have I committed the unforgiveable sin?
            First, you must understand, it is not the case that our Lord’s death on the cross doesn’t cover blasphemy against the Spirit.  No sin is too big for the blood of Jesus.  That goes for suicide.  That goes for depression.  That goes for your particular sin.  And that goes for blasphemy.  The reason the person who blasphemes the Holy Spirit is guilty of an eternal sin has nothing to do with the inadequacy of Jesus or the atonement.  It has to do with the hardness of heart of the person and his willful and persistent rejection of the Spirit’s efforts to bring him to faith in Christ.  The person who blasphemes the Spirit knows full well that Jesus is the Savior and died for his sins, but he rejects it anyway.  He calls the Spirit in Jesus an unclean spirit, a demon, and serves the demons as gods.  He sells his soul for the fleeting and empty pleasures of this life.  And this is why Jesus brings this up against the scribes and the Jewish powers that be.  At some point, they know.  They know He is the Messiah.  They know He is the Savior.  But He is a threat to them.  He is a threat to their power and their way of life.  He is a threat to their own self-righteousness by their adherence to the Law.  So they reject Him.  And they kill Him.  And in our text, they call the Spirit at work within Him an “unclean spirit.”
            Many Christians worry whether they have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit.  Maybe they said something irreverent about Him.  Maybe they even cursed Him at one time or another.  Perhaps they weren’t always believers in Christ.  Perhaps they are weak in the faith even now.  Well, take heart, dear Christian.  The classic comfort here is that you wouldn’t be worried you had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit if you had, in fact, committed the sin against the Holy Spirit.  It is the nature of this sin that the perpetrator has so hardened his heart against God that it is impossible for him to repent or return to the faith.  Think here of Pharaoh and his hard heart, or King Saul.  On the other hand, remember that St. Peter denied Jesus with an oath.  It was a terrible, soul-imperiling sin, and Peter had lost the faith in Jesus in those moments.  But Jesus looked upon him.  And the Spirit sent into His heart the Words Jesus had said, and these brought Peter to the bitter tears of repentance.  Remember also St. Paul, the onetime persecutor of the Church.  In his zeal and ignorance, he sought to put Jesus’ precious believers to death.  He did not believe there was a Holy Spirit in Jesus, but then Jesus spoke to him, on the Damascus Road.  And Paul heard the Word, was baptized, and believed.  And he preached Jesus as the Messiah.  Our Lord’s own family thought He was insane and they tried to bring Him home and shut Him up.  Well, St. Mary is pretty much the queen of the saints.  We shouldn’t pray to her, and she wasn’t sinless, but we rightly love her and imitate her.  And James and Jude were among the brothers who became leaders in the very earliest Church.  This is all by grace.  Clearly Peter and Paul and our Lord’s own family danced awfully close to the border of blasphemy.  We do, too.  Our Lord’s Words this morning about this sin are a warning to us all.  Be careful how you walk.  Examine yourself.  Repent.  Confess.  Cling to the forgiveness you have only in Jesus.  Don’t resist the Spirit’s work in you.  He calls you by the Gospel.  He enlightens you with His gifts.  He sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ.  To blaspheme Him would be to call all of that evil, and not only that, but to harden your heart against it, and to keep hardening your heart against it to the very end, so that you die outside of the faith of Jesus.
            Which is often what does drive people to self-harm and suicide, school violence and substance abuse, and certainly to despair.  What I find so grievous about Anthony Bourdain in particular, is that as enriching as it was to enjoy his work, you could always tell, he doesn’t know Jesus.  He was pretty explicit about that.  I’m not saying he committed the sin against the Holy Ghost.  Maybe he did.  Maybe he didn’t.  And I pray that somehow, some way, in his dying moments, he encountered the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  Probably not, but we can hope.  Because we know our God loves Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade.  And we know He loves us.  And His love for every human being is greater than any love we could ever begin to have for any other human being, even our spouse and our children.  And that is a great comfort.  Because God’s love acts for the good of the beloved.  Always.  He can help them, and He does.  He doesn’t force His salvation upon them, but His salvation is there for them, accomplished fact, in the crucified and risen Jesus.  
            And now this.  We know that God so loves us that He gathers us around the family Table.  And He calls us His brother and sister and mother.  And He sets before us a Feast.  If only Anthony Bourdain had known this!  We eat together.  We drink together.  The body of Christ.  The blood of Christ.  And it makes us one.  One with our Host, Jesus Christ.  One with each other, the Body of Christ that is the Church, those of us gathered here and now, and those who join us from other times and places at the one altar of Jesus Christ.  The sights.  The smells.  The tastes.  The textures.  The Word of Life ringing in our ears.  And the joy.  Sins forgiven.  Life eternal.  The Great Feast of the Lamb that has no end.  Do not lose heart, beloved.  This morning you have a foretaste of your eternal reality.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                


[1] Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, Ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Westminster/John Knox, 1955) pp. 58-59.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Second Sunday after Pentecost


Second Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 4)
June 3, 2018
Text: Mark 2:23-3:6

            It is the Sabbath Day, and the hungry disciples are picking heads of grain.  And the Pharisees are bugged.  “What’s up with this, Jesus?  Would you take a look at Your disciples”… “why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24; ESV).  Well, first off, who says it isn’t lawful?  We just read the Commandment in our Old Testament lesson.  Yes, it’s true, God says to His people that on the Sabbath Day “you shall not do any work” (Deut. 5:14).  The Children of Israel were not to go out and gather manna.  They were not to harvest their fields or sheer the sheep.  They were not to send their servants out to work or make their oxen tread the grain.  They were to take care of business the other six days of the week.  But the point of the Law is clear in the text.  “You were a slave in Egypt, O Israelite.  You know what it means to have no rest, no day off, no relief from the taskmaster’s whip.  You are not to be that way.  The LORD your God has called you out from that.  Man and beast need a day once a week to be renewed.  And you need a day to worship, to meditate on my Words, to enjoy the Rest I alone can give.  So the Seventh Day, the Sabbath Day, is to be a holy day, a holiday.  Take the day off.  Take some time with your family.  Take some time to immerse yourself in my holy Word.”  The Sabbath is not given to be a burden, but a gift!  Now, consider again the disciples in the grain field.  Which is more restful?  To be hungry or to be satisfied?  Is it not a labor to be hungry?  And I don’t know about you, but I love to enjoy a good meal when it’s time to relax.  Or consider the man with the withered hand in the second part of our Holy Gospel.  Is it not a labor to suffer under a debilitating disease?  And to be freed from that debilitating disease, to be made whole, that is true rest, the Rest that only Jesus can give.
            Let’s do a little Catechism review.  What is the Third Commandment?  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”[1]  How do we keep the Sabbath Day holy?  How do we sanctify it?  By hearing God’s Word.  Going to Church, having our sins forgiven, remembering our Baptism, listening to the Scriptures and the preaching, and eating and drinking the Holy Supper of our Lord’s body and blood.  Being fed by the Lord.  Luther says, “God’s Word is the treasure that sanctifies everything [1 timothy 4:5]… Whenever God’s Word is taught, preached, heard, read, or meditated upon, then the person, day, and work are sanctified.”[2] 
            In the Old Testament, the Sabbath Day was to be kept on the Seventh Day, Saturday.  In addition to the gift of rest and God’s Word, the Sabbath was to be an act of faith on the part of the people.  God will take care of them and prosper them, even if they don’t work this one day of the week.  God Himself set the pattern.  In six days God did His work of creating the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested from His work, not because He was tired, but because He was setting up the pattern for His people, and He was setting up a Commandment which finds its fullness in Jesus.  Jesus follows the pattern.  Of course, in His earthly ministry, He kept the Sabbath on Saturday, resting and attending Synagogue.  His righteous fulfillment of the Commandment counts for us all, praise be to God, for we have not kept them Commandment, outwardly or inwardly.  But it’s more than that.  In Holy Week, Jesus does the work of New Creation.  He undoes the damage of Adam’s fall and the curse of the Old Creation.  He undoes it by dying on the cross, atoning for Adam’s sin and ours, suffering the curse in our place.  And on the seventh day, in a glorious repeat of the First Creation, He rests!  He rests in the tomb.  This is actually what this has all been about from the very beginning.  God rests from all His work on Holy Saturday.  Jesus rests, having completed the sacrifice.  For it is finished.  And then, THEN, on the Eighth Day, the First Day of the New Week and of the New Creation, Sunday, Jesus Christ rises from the dead.  Behold, He has made all things new. 
            So now, in the New Testament, every day is our Sabbath Day, for Jesus Christ Himself is our Sabbath.  He is our Rest.  For now every day we rest in the forgiveness of sins that is ours in Jesus.  We rest in His peace.  He has reconciled us to God our Father.  We rest in His unending life.  Death is no longer our oppressor.  We rest in His freedom.  We are no longer enslaved to sin and the kingdom of the devil.  We don’t have to go around proving ourselves all the time.  We don’t have to justify ourselves anymore.  Jesus has justified us, declared us righteous, once and for all by virtue of His righteousness and death for our sins.  This is why He says to the Pharisees, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  The Sabbath is not meant to be a new burden, but a joyous gift from God to man.  Don’t you need a rest?  Aren’t you always craving a day off or a vacation?  Why?  You need Sabbath!  We all know this instinctively.  Jesus gives it.  Here and now.  In His Word.  In the Sacrament.  In Himself.  Peace.  Be at rest.  Be in Jesus. 
            This is also why He says, “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (v. 28).  It is the Lord who defines the Sabbath and what it means for us.  The Pharisees do not.  Church leaders do not.  All the manmade laws that grew up around the observance of the Sabbath among the Jews were meant to be a hedge around the Law to keep us from transgressing it outwardly.  But the great irony is that in making the Sabbath into a burden, they broke the very Sabbath they were trying to protect.  They made the Sabbath, not Rest, but a work!  They made salvation dependent on the traditions of men.  They have no such authority.  In so doing, they make themselves gods.  It is not the case, beloved, that the New Testament Church or the Pope or even the Apostles changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.  Man cannot change the Word of God.  Nor did Jesus change it, incidentally, though He certainly has the authority to do so if He wants.  Sunday is not the Sabbath.  Not in the Old Testament sense.  But that’s just the point.  Now that Jesus is our Sabbath, in the New Testament, every day is our Sabbath.  Saturday is our Sabbath.  So is Sunday.  Even Monday.  And every day in between.  For Jesus has brought us into the New Order of things, the New Creation.
            Why, then, do we worship on Sunday, if Sunday is not the new Sabbath?  Actually, we don’t have to.  Nowhere in the Bible is Sunday prescribed, though it is called “the Lord’s Day” in the New Testament and very quickly becomes the primary day of worship.  Why?  Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Sunday.  Thus Sunday is a very good day to hold the Divine Service and gather around the risen Lord Jesus in His Word and Supper.  The earliest Christians, incidentally, worshipped every day.  After all, every day is the Sabbath, so…  But maybe it’s not practical for us to come to Church every day, so we need to set aside at least one day of the week when we know there will be preaching and Sacrament and Christian fellowship.  We could do it on Tuesdays.  That would not be a sin.  But better, we do it on Sunday as a custom of commemorating our Lord’s resurrection, for every Sunday is a little Easter for the Christian Church. 
            And what is the Commandment for us?  How should the Christian regard the Third Commandment?  Go to Church.  If you had to sum up the command in a few simple words, it would be this.  Go to Church.  And pay attention.  God is speaking.  Listen up.  I was just writing out some graduation cards to a couple of my kids from Michigan whom I confirmed many years ago.  Well, what do you say?  I’m more or less against most of the things we say to kids at graduation (“Reach for the stars.”  “Follow your heart.”  “Live your dreams.”  It makes me sick to my stomach).  So I wrote that I was proud of them, which I am.  They’re good kids.  And then I wrote, “Don’t forget to go to Church!”  A nice little Law thought from their old pastor. 
            It is the Law in the sense that, if you don’t want to go to Church, tough!  Get out of bed and go.  You don’t have anything more important to be doing.  But when you get right down to it, commanding you to go to Church is like commanding your kids to come open Christmas presents.  Look, all of this that we’re doing here this morning, is receiving one continuous line of gift after gift from Jesus.  And these aren’t just underwear and socks kind of gifts.  These are the real thing.  Kingdom gifts.  Forgiveness of sins.  Eternal life.  Heaven.  Resurrection.  The Father’s House.  Joy.  Peace.  Abundance.  The New Creation.  All things.  God only has to command us to come receive these things because we’re so dense.  We’re absolute blockheads, as Luther would say. 
            I don’t really care if you go home and mow your lawn this afternoon, though some Christians would be absolutely scandalized by it.  (I say, do it for their sake.)  That’s not the point of the Sabbath.  The point of the Sabbath, as is the point of everything in theology, is Jesus.  Jesus rested the rest of death, that you might have the rest of life.  The risen Jesus gives you the Rest that is Himself.  He feeds you and He makes you whole.  We’re not worried about the picking of grain on this day or any day.  It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.  Jesus does it for you.  And like King David, your High Priest, Jesus, the Son of David, gives you the Bread of the Presence to eat.  He gives you the Bread of Life, that is Himself.  Come to His Table.  Take a load off.  And rest.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


[1] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986). 
[2] Luther’s Large Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 2010) p. 34.