Thursday, February 21, 2019

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
February 17, 2019
Text: Luke 6:17-26

            Either Jesus gets everything backwards, or we do.  I think you know the answer to that, but just consider for a moment how utterly backwards our Lord’s blessings and woes sound to our fallen human ears.  Blessed are you who are poor?  Who are hungry, who weep, who are hated, excluded, reviled, spurned as evil?  And then: Cursed are you who are rich?  Who are full, who laugh, who are well-spoken of by others?  This is the opposite of the American Dream.  We consider those blessed who are wealthy and happy and have a good reputation.  And the poor?  They should get a job.  Those who weep need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.  Most people with a bad name have earned it.  What on earth is going on here?  What does this mean?  Four blessings, the beatitudes.  Four curses, the woes.  And all is not as it appears.  Jesus turns everything on its head, as He is wont to do, because you and I, as we are wont to do, have everything utterly inside out and upside down.
            The question, really, is not how much money you have, how much you eat and drink, or whether you are persecuted and reviled.  These are but the symptoms of the greater issue, and circumstances change.  The issue is not one of outward appearance, but of being.  Who are you, and to whom do you belong?  The issue is one of faith.  The issue is one of Christ.  And the Prophet Jeremiah makes this clear in our Old Testament reading (Jer. 17:5-8).  You either trust in man, whether it be yourself, or other men, or the stuff of men, the stuff of this life.  Or you trust in the LORD, YHWH, the one true God, the Father who sent His Son to become flesh, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, to suffer and die on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, your life, and your salvation.  If you trust in man, if flesh is your strength, if your counting on your wealth or your possessions or your honor, or even and especially your own good works, then you may be rich now, and full now, you may laugh now, and be respected now, but when the drought comes, you’re like a shrub in the desert.  For all your riches, you’re really destitute.  Turns out you have nothing.  You shall not see any good come.  You shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, an uninhabited salt land, which is just another way of saying, hell.  No God, no good.  That’s hell.  That’s what trust in man gets you.  Hell. 
            But if you trust in the LORD, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent, then you may be poor now, hungry, mourning, and persecuted now, but what can any of those bad things do to you?  The LORD God is on your side.  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for you to death on the cross, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give you all things (Cf. Rom. 8:32)?  So when the drought comes, you are like a tree planted by the water, sending out your roots by the stream.  And what is the water but that which is included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word, the water of your Baptism into Christ?  The worst drought the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh can throw at you cannot rob you of the water.  It cannot rob you of Christ.  So you do not fear.  Your leaves remain green.  You are not anxious in times of economic crisis or famine, when the money dries up and the tummy rumbles, nor in times of grief or persecution, when you come face to face with death, when people hate you and exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.  You can rejoice and be glad in that day, for the tree planted by this water, the one in Christ, cannot be moved.  And so their fathers did to the prophets who were before you.  Learn from the prophets what it means to be rich in poverty, full in scarcity, filled with joy even in the midst of grief, to rejoice in persecution.  They did not love their lives unto death, and their reward is in heaven.
            That is why you are blessed when the world would call you anything but.  You poor, you who, even in the midst of worldly wealth, know that you have nothing… Yours is the Kingdom of heaven. 
            You who are hungry now, take the long view.  Your hunger is for this earthly life only.  It is the blink of an eye.  This is not to say that we should not feed the hungry.  Quite the contrary.  But it is to proclaim good news to those who lack.  You shall be satisfied!  The sign points to the reality of that Day.  Remember how Jesus fed the 5,000 men plus women and children on five loaves and two fishes?  And twelve baskets full were left over.  Jesus is the living Bread from Heaven.  He will not leave you empty. 
            And you who weep now, who know the sorrows of this world, who have been beaten down by the changes and chances of this life, who know the cold sting of death… Take heart!  You shall laugh.  Your mourning shall be turned into dancing.  Jesus is the end of death. 
            And to all of you in the holy faith of Christ, who are despised and rejected by the world, mocked and ridiculed, shunned by family members and those you thought were friends, those you thought loved you, simply because you confess Christ and His Word… that is now, but rejoice for what will be.  Your reward is great in heaven.  Leap for joy.  Thank God that you have been counted worthy to suffer for the Name of Christ.  You may lose your business if you try to run it according to your biblical convictions.  You may have to pay fines or lose your livelihood.  Your Christian confession may be labeled hate speech.  And the day is coming sooner than later when Christians will suffer imprisonment and death once again.  It has happened before.  It is happening now in other places throughout the world.  Don’t think that you are immune.  But let not your heart be troubled.  Your Father in heaven sees.  He hears your prayers.  He will come to your aid.  He will deliver you.  He will never leave you or forsake you.
            So you are blessed.  That is the reality Jesus has pronounced over you.  But the most important thing you have to understand about these beatitudes is that, before they can be about you, they are first and ultimately about Christ.  This is a description of your Savior.  He is the poor man.  Literally, born into poverty, in a stable in Bethlehem.  His parents have to give the sacrifice of the poor when He is presented at the Temple, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons.  He is raised in a carpenter’s home.  He is not rich.  But even more profound, St. Paul preaches to us, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9; ESV).  His ultimate poverty is that of the cross.  There He is the Sin-Bearer.  He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).  He who is everything becomes nothing on Golgotha, a worm and not a man, hungering and thirsting for our righteousness, for our salvation, with shame and grief weighed down, hated by all, excluded, reviled, spurned as evil.  Not just by man, but stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted (Cf. Is. 53).  Jesus, our blessed Lord, becomes the Curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal. 3:13; Cf. Deut. 21:23). 
            But what happens in His accursedness?  He defeats it.  He rises from the dead.  The Kingdom of God is His.  He is the Kingdom of God in the flesh.  And He has purchased you by His own blood to be in His Kingdom as His own beloved citizen and as a child of His heavenly Father, to live under Him and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  Where Jesus is, we are, by virtue of our Baptism into Christ.  Who are you, and to Whom do you belong?  You are baptized into Christ, a Christian, and you belong to Christ.  No identity crisis for you.  You are not your job.  You are not your wealth and possessions.  You are not your good name and reputation.  And you are certainly not your good works or merit before God.  Your identity is all wrapped up in the flesh and blood of Christ.  Let me say it again: Who are you, and to Whom do you belong?  You are baptized into Christ, and you belong to Christ.  Therefore you are blessed.  And He sets a Feast before you, His own Body and Blood, which is just a foretaste of the eternal Feast to come.  You are filled.  You are satisfied.  And you laugh and sing and rejoice at this Feast, as you will for all eternity, for this is just the beginning of your reward which is great in heaven, all of which is pure gift from the Lord Jesus.  The beatitudes are about you, because they are first and ultimately about Jesus. 
            Now, we’ve talked about the blessings and the woes, but we dare not neglect the introduction of our Gospel reading where we learn what happens whenever we gather around Jesus to hear His Word.  He touches us at the very core of our poverty and lack and grief.  And He heals us.  He forgives our sins.  He fills us with Himself and all of His gifts.  And He frees us from all that binds us.  He heals our sickness and disease.  He puts the demons to flight.  He gives us life where once there was only death.  And notice, that all these people who came to hear Him sought to touch Him, and power came out from Him and He healed them all (Luke 6:19).  Well, here we are, gathered around Jesus to hear His life-giving Word and be healed by Him.  And now we long to touch Him, so that the same power comes out from Him to heal us.  And that is what happens at the altar.  His Body.  His Blood.  Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, to put the demons to flight, and to heal you of all your afflictions.  The ultimate healing, of course, happens on that Day when Jesus comes again in glory to raise you from the dead.  But the beginning of that healing is here, now, in the gift He gives when He touches you.  That is the power that comes out from Him.  Our whole life is lived around the altar, because our whole life is lived around and in Jesus.  Our identity, our very being, is Jesus. 
            Woe to all who trust in man.  They have received their good things now.  Their punishment awaits.  But blessed are you who trust in the LORD.  No evil can finally harm you.  Not really.  For you are baptized into Christ.  You belong to Christ.  He is your wealth, your satisfaction, and your eternal reward.  He is your whole identity.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
February 10, 2019
Text: Luke 5:1-11

            The boat, the Word, the water, and the nets.  A sinful man, a fisherman by trade, named Simon, and the people who have come to hear the Word of God from the mouth of the Lord Jesus.  That is the scene.  The crowd is great in number, and they are pressing in on Jesus.  He gets into the boat belonging to Simon and asks him to push out a little from the land.  And there He sits and teaches the people from the boat.  Jesus is in the boat, speaking His Word across the water while the fishermen are washing their nets.  And this is how it will be now that the Kingdom of God has come in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth.  For the boat is a picture of the Church.  The Church is the ark by which we are saved through the flood of Baptism.  We even call the sanctuary of the Church where you are sitting “the nave,” a nautical term.  We get the word “Navy” from the same root.  It is in the Church where Jesus sits, speaking His life-giving Word to those gathered to hear Him.  He gathers them by the Gospel in the water, the nets in the sea, the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.  He gathers them into the boat, into the Church.  And in this way, they are saved. 
            The sinful man, Simon (we know him as Peter), is at the helm of the boat.  He and his partners (his brother Andrew and the sons of Zebedee, James and John) know how to fish.  Or so they thought.  But here they’ve toiled all night and caught nothing.  Now Jesus, who has finished His sermon, tells them to put out into the deep and let down their nets for a catch.  Well, that’s just silly.  It’s not the right time for fishing.  If we didn’t catch anything all night, we’re not going to catch anything now, in the light of day.  And who are You, anyway, Jesus, to tell us how to do our job?  The disciples had not yet been called, but they did know Jesus.  Why, it wasn’t so long ago that Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law of the fever, and many others of their afflictions and cast out demons in front of Peter’s house.  So, while the request is rather absurd, let’s humor the Preacher once and do what He says.  At Your Word, Jesus, I will let down the nets.  And what happens?  Such a large number of fish the nets begin to break!  Both boats are filled, and they begin to sink!  It’s such an over-the-top miracle, which is just like Jesus to do.  There is always more with Jesus, more than we can think or ask.[1]
            And Peter is terrified.  He’s a sinful man.  And Jesus is holy.  It’s a rerun of our Old Testament reading (Is. 6:1-13).  Isaiah, the sinner, the man of unclean lips in the midst of a people of unclean lips, believes he is a dead man in the presence of the thrice-holy God.  And he’s right!  He would be, were it not for the cleansing that comes from the altar, the coal with which the angel touches his lips to purify him.  Here in our Gospel, Peter falls down before the Lord Jesus, confessing his sins.  And Jesus absolves him, takes away his sin.  Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10; ESV).  Do not be afraid.”  “I am not here to condemn you, Peter.  I have not come to kill you, but to forgive you and give you life.  And I have come to call you as my own, and ordain you my Apostle, a preacher in my stead, to pilot, not just a fishing boat, but my holy Church.  The net you will be casting is my Word, the preaching, the Gospel.  And this forgiveness of sins I have bestowed upon you, you and your fellow Apostles will bestow upon others as my own mouthpiece.  You will cast the nets into the water.  You will wash my people clean.  That is the Office I here create.  The Preaching Office.  The Office of the Keys.  The Office of the Holy Ministry.” 
            From now on you will be catching men.”  Actually, that doesn’t quite catch the Greek.  Better would be, “From now on you will be catching men alive!  What a beautiful phrase.  Not only will you not be catching men unto their death, as you have been catching fish, but you will actually be catching men into life.  That is what happens when you catch men by the Gospel in the water and bring them into the boat that is the Church.  They live.  They do not die.  For the first time in their lives, they live!  Because Jesus is in the boat.  The Gospel is the Word of Jesus.  The water is that included in Jesus’ command and combined with Jesus’ Word.  Therefore it puts the very life of Jesus into those who were dead in their trespasses and sins. 
            So Jesus is in the boat, and at His Word, the nets do their thing, and in comes the catch.  Get it?  When Jesus is not in the boat, and has not given His Word, Peter and the guys fish all night and catch nothing.  No matter how hard they work.  No matter what tricks they try.  But when Jesus is in the boat, speaking His Word, the Word does what He wills it to do.  It reminds us of what we confess in the Augustana, Article V: That we may obtain justifying faith in Christ, “the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake.”[2]  The Spirit works faith when and where it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel.  Christ is in His Gospel.  The Gospel delivers Christ.  Men are caught, that is, come to faith in Christ, as it pleases God to make it so in the preaching. 
            And not when we’re trying our own gimmicks and tricks.  Not by our hard work, toiling all night.  Not by our know-how and ingenuity.  Men aren’t caught and the Church doesn’t grow by Church-growth principles, denominational programs, or religious fads.  Men are not caught by attractive people in skinny jeans with drums and guitars singing meaningless mantras that ape the culture and may or may not even mention Christ.  Certainly withholding certain doctrinal articles, keeping mum certain teachings of Christ because they might be offensive to newcomers will never catch men.  There is only one thing that catches men.  Jesus in the boat, speaking His Word. 
            And by the way, we don’t always see the spectacular results.  Here we are, trying to launch a boat, a brand new congregation, and we know Jesus is with us in the boat, speaking His Word of life, but we’re not in any immediate danger of sinking because we have too many people.  That would be great, but that isn’t the promise here, and you’ve missed the miracle if you think it is.  People come to faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel.  The catch is up to Him.  Not you and me.  We are not called to success.  We are called to faithfulness.  We are called to take the boat into the deep and let down the net.  We are called to go into the deep darkness of this world and proclaim the Gospel.  And it’s silly.  We often toil all night and seems like there’s no reward for our work.  You really want us to keep at it, Jesus?  To keep preaching the Gospel to a world that doesn’t want it?  Okay.  We’ll humor you.  At your Word we will let down the nets.
            And, of course, we’re blind to the miracle it is any time a baby is baptized.  Or an adult, which is an even greater miracle.  We’re blind to the miracle it is when sinners repent of their sins and believe the forgiveness given in the Absolution, when men and women, young and old are catechized in the faith by Jesus’ continued teaching, when the crucified and risen body and blood of Jesus Christ is placed into your mouth to give you life.  You are the miracle!  You’ve been caught by the net of the Gospel in the water.  You’ve been brought, by grace, into the boat.  Because Jesus sent His disciples fishing. 
            Do not be afraid,” Jesus says to Peter, absolving his sins.  And He says it to every Christian pastor, and to every Christian.  Do not be afraid.  You are a sinful man, but your sins are forgiven.  I take them away by my death.  I nail them to my cross.  I cover them with my blood.  I bury them in my tomb.  I am risen from the dead, but your sins will never rise.  They are separated from you as far as the east is from the west.  They no longer accuse you.  And such Absolution always leads to mission.  You, being forgiven of all your sins, declare that forgiveness to others.  The Church is the lifeboat for sinners, forgiving their sins.  Peter and the sons of Zebedee heard this forgiveness, and they got up and left everything to follow Jesus.  They became the first Christian preachers.  Understand, the fishing business was much more lucrative and prestigious than we give it credit for.  Remember how John was able to gain entrance to the High Priest’s house because he was known to him?  Probably the High Priest was a customer of John’s.  It’s a big operation, this fishing business.  And they leave it all, their livelihood, their possessions, in the case of James and John, their poor father.  It reminds us of the seminary students who leave lucrative and influential positions in the world to study for the Holy Ministry.  I’m not talking about myself, by the way.  I came to the seminary right out of college, and my whole education was theology and preparation for ministry, so if this doesn’t work out for me, I’m in trouble.  But these guys are the real heroes who leave everything behind, secure employment and large salaries, pack up their wives and children to become servants of the Word.  What on earth possesses them?  Jesus and His Word of forgiveness.  Their sins are forgiven.  That drives them to preach it to others. 
            But it isn’t just pastors.  It’s you.  Here you are in a mission congregation.  Okay, maybe we’re not a mission congregation anymore now that we’re self-standing, but for all practical purposes.  We don’t even have an office or a building to call home.  We’re totally at the mercy of our gracious hosts, and we’re very thankful for them.  But again, we’re just trying to launch a boat.  It’s hard work.  Humanly speaking, things are not all that certain.  The experts said we wouldn’t make it this far.  What on earth possesses us to do such a thing, to engage in such a venture?  Our sins are forgiven.  And that drives us to preach that forgiveness to others, to confess Christ to our community, to our friends and family and neighbors, to invite them to Church, to welcome them here as our own, members of our family, fellow forgiven sinners, caught by the net of the Gospel in the water, hauled into the boat where Jesus is, speaking His Word.  Do not be afraid,” Jesus says to us.  Whatever happens here, Jesus is doing His thing.  The Holy Spirit is working faith where and when He pleases.  The Gospel is preached.  Sinners hear.  Men are caught.  Faith is bestowed.  The dead are brought to life.  That is what happens when Jesus is in the boat, speaking His Word.  And so it is, here and now, today.  So let down the nets, beloved.  Let’s go fishing.  Invite your friends to Church.  Bring them to hear Jesus in the boat, that their sins be forgiven.  God will bless it.  He has promised.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.            

[1] Arthur Just, Lectionary Podcast.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
February 3, 2019
Text: Luke 4:31-44

            Our Lord forgets not the afflicted (Ps. 10:12).  He hears their desires and strengthens their hearts (v. 17).  Which is to say, He forgets not your afflictions, your sorrows, your grief, your sickness and pain and regret.  These things sin has wrought in this fallen world and in your life.  These bitter things are symptoms of the death to which we are all condemned, to which our first parents enslaved us by their rebellion in the Garden.  It would certainly not be unjust of God to forget us in our afflictions, to abandon us in our rebellion, and let death takes its course to hell, and drag us down with it.  But that is not who our God is.  Our God is the God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6; ESV).  He does not abandon us.  He does not forsake us.  He is the God who arises, who lifts up His hand (Ps. 10:12) to defeat our enemies, to rebuke demons and fevers and heal our afflictions.  He lifts up His hand to be pierced, affixed to the wood, to bleed, to writhe in agony, to go limp in death to save us from death and hell, and then to be filled with life again, and, nail-print intact, to grab ahold of us and raise us up out of our death and rebellion to life and righteousness and eternal salvation.  He forgets not the afflicted.  He heals and He saves.
            So it is that we find Jesus this morning casting out unclean demons and healing diseases and afflictions.  This morning’s Holy Gospel follows fast on the heels of last week’s (Luke 4:16-30).  Jesus preached in Nazareth.  He proclaimed.  The most important thing, as we learned, is the proclamation, the preaching that creates reality.  Jesus preached that He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 61, in other words, that He is Messiah, come to save His people from their sins.  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).  Then, having rolled up the scroll and sat down, Jesus begins His sermon with the words, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21).  Jesus preaches, He proclaims this good news, and in the proclamation, it is accomplished.  The poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed… these are relieved of their afflictions in the preaching.  The Kingdom of God has come in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth.
            Now Jesus is in Capernaum, and once again He is preaching.  He is teaching them in the synagogue, and the people are amazed because He preaches with authority.  That is to say, once again, His preaching is creating reality.  He doesn’t just speculate.  He doesn’t just talk about God’s Word.  He speaks God’s Word, and that Word forgives sins and restores sinners to the Father.  And now amazing things begin to happen.  A man with the spirit of an unclean demon is in their midst.  He cries out that Jesus is the Holy One of God, a rather curious thing for a demon to say.  Isn’t it interesting that demons know what the rest of the crowd does not?  It is as St. James writes: “Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19).  This teaches us something about faith.  Faith is not simply believing things to be true.  Faith is trust that these things are true for you.  Demons believe the facts about Jesus.  You believe the facts about Jesus are true for you and for your salvation.  Now Jesus commands the demon to be silent and come out of the man.  And when Jesus speaks, things happen.  Even the demons must obey.  Jesus is the God even of the demons.  The demon throws the man down and comes out of him.  And because Jesus is on the scene, casting out the demon, the man is unharmed.  The people are amazed, not simply by the miracle, but by the power of Jesus’ Word: “What is this word?” they exclaim.  For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” (v. 36).  Jesus speaks, He preaches, and His preaching creates reality.
            And here we learn about the new reality in His Kingdom.  Where Jesus is, there is no more room for demons.  Jesus comes to cast out Satan and His minions.  So also, He comes to undo all the damage they have done.  His Word undoes real afflictions.  He raises Peter’s mother-in-law out of her fever.  He heals all those brought to Him that evening who are sick with various diseases or oppressed by demons.  The miracles prove His authority.  They are confirmation of His preaching.  He is who He says He is.  He has come to do what He says He has come to do.  He is God in the flesh.  He has come to save His people.  First there is the preaching.  Then there are the miracles that confirm the preaching. 
            Now, you’ve probably never thought of it this way, but is this not the very pattern of how our Lord deals with us in the Divine Service?  First there is the preaching, what we call “The Service of the Word.”  You can easily see how that part is the same.  There are the Scripture readings, just as Jesus opened the scroll in Nazareth to the appointed reading of the day from Isaiah 61.  Then there is the sermon, just as Jesus preached to the people in Nazareth and in Capernaum.  There is the liturgy of the Synagogue to accompany and complement the preaching, and so there is here at Church in the Divine Service.  But what about the miracles that confirm the preaching?  Where is the miracle?  I mean, if we did miracles here after the sermon, one would think we’d be bursting at the seams with people who want to be healed of their afflictions.
            Christ Jesus grant recovery of sight to the blind and open your eyes to see.  What greater miracle could there be than that Jesus speaks and bread and wine become His true Body and Blood?  First you have the preaching, then comes the miracle.  And the miracle is for your healing.  It goes right to the heart of the problem, the mortal disease, inherited from Adam, that is your sin.  The very Body of Jesus, the hand of God lifted up to be pierced, the very Blood of Jesus, the Blood that poured out of His hands and streamed down His arms and His Body onto the ground at Golgotha, that Body and that Blood are given to you under bread and wine for the forgiveness of your sins.  But not just for forgiveness.  For strength.  For fortification against temptation and the attacks of the devil.  For protection.  To protect you against the fiery darts of the evil one.  For healing.  Spiritual healing, certainly.  That is the forgiveness you receive and the faith in Christ that these gifts impart.  But also mental and physical healing.  Oh, this is not to say that suddenly your cancer will be gone if you take Communion.  But it is to say, who knows how many sicknesses you have not suffered because you received this medicine of immortality, and who knows how many sicknesses you’ve recovered from because of the Great Physician’s remedy.  At the very least, we know because of the Lord’s Promise, that this holy Meal is a down payment on the perfect healing you will be granted in body and soul on the Day of Resurrection.  The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is given to you for life.  Eternal life.  The Lord of Life gives you Himself.  He is your Food, and you are what you eat.  So, for the same reason the people in Capernaum brought all the sick to Jesus, that He might lay His hands on them and heal them, you come here with all your afflictions of body and soul.  Jesus remembers your afflictions.  He hears your desires and strengthens your heart.  He touches you with His Body and Blood, and you are healed.
            And what a beautiful picture it is of the Christian life when the people, after hearing the preaching, bring their loved ones to Jesus for healing.  Peter and the disciples ask Jesus to help his mother-in-law.  They pray to Jesus, and He heals her.  The people bring the sick to Jesus for healing.  They pray to Jesus on their behalf, and they bring them into His presence.  They pray and they bring them to Church, and He heals them.  You pray for your loved ones, especially when they are suffering.  You pray to Jesus and, if they’ll let you, you bring them here into the presence of Jesus, where He does the miracles.  You bring them to Church.  You do this because you, likewise, know the healing of the Lord.  You’ve heard the preaching.  You’ve received the miracle.  And now you live in the reality of the Kingdom.  Like Peter and the crowd in Capernaum, you bring your loved ones to hear Him and be healed by Him.  Like Peter’s mother-in-law, you get up to serve, doing works of love for your neighbor.  Jesus frees you up from your afflictions so you can do this very thing. 
            There is the preaching.  There is the miracle.  This is the Divine Service.  Jesus sets the pattern.  And this is why you come to Church.  Because you know you need this healing and this life.  The world is a fallen place, and you live the midst of many dangers and afflictions.  There is only one sure remedy for all that ails you.  It is Jesus.  It is the forgiveness of sins.  It is His Word, His miracle, His Meal, His healing.  The remedy for death and hell is Christ crucified and risen for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

Monday, January 28, 2019

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
January 27, 2019
Text: Luke 4:16-30

            A hush fell over the crowd as He entered the synagogue.  The hometown Boy, the famous Rabbi and miracle worker, had come to preach.  Maybe He would even do some of the miracles He had done in Capernaum.  It’s only reasonable to expect it.  There is His family, of course.  Mary, widowed at such a young age.  His brothers, James, Joseph, Jude, Simon, and His sisters.  None of them rich, but certainly respectable, pillars of the community.  The liturgy got underway, the singing of Psalms, the customary prayers composed by the ancient fathers.  Now it is time for the reading of Holy Scripture, the high point of the Service.  And this time it is extra special.  This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.  Jesus stands up to read.  He takes up the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah and finds the place.  And He opens His mouth, the Word made flesh speaking the Word inscripturated: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19; ESV.  Cf. Is. 61:1-2). 
            Now, already, before He has preached, hear the profound and gracious words that pour forth from our Lord’s lips.  To begin with, this is a Trinitarian passage.  The Spirit of the Lord (the Father) is upon Me (the Son).  Jesus begins His preaching, and really, His public ministry, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  And then we learn what He has come to do.  He has come to preach!  Good news, Gospel.  To the poor.  The poor both bodily and spiritually, those who have nothing, no resources within themselves to provide for themselves, to sustain themselves, to save themselves.  And that preaching is a proclamation of liberty.  The word for “liberty” could also be translated “release,” or even “forgiveness.”  Creation is released from its bondage.  Those who are captive to sin, to death, to the devil are set free.  Their sins are forgiven.  They are brought into God’s Kingdom.  You are forgiven, set free, and brought into God’s Kingdom.  And, our Lord proclaims, this is the year of the Lord’s favor, His gracious acceptance of the poor, the sinners, as His own.  This passage is programmatic for Jesus’ entire earthly ministry and His saving mission.  And He tells us as much in His sermon.
            Jesus sits down, not back amongst the crowd, but in the preacher’s seat in the front of the synagogue.  You can be especially thankful for your pew, because the way it used to work is the preacher sat and the congregation stood.  (Come to think of it, I kind of like that arrangement.)  The eyes of all the people are fixed on the Lord.  What will He say?  Is He as good a Preacher as we’ve heard He is?  And Jesus begins His sermon with the great announcement that would shake the world: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).  Jesus is the One anointed by the Spirit of the Father.  It happened at His Baptism.  St. John is the witness.  Jesus is the One sent to preach.  He is the Great Prophet of whom all the prophets who went before were but foreshadowings and preparers of the way.  He is the Great Preacher of whom all the preachers who have gone before and come after are but instruments, mouthpieces for His continued preaching.  Of release.  Of forgiveness.  Of New Creation and New Life.  Of the Grace of God for sinful man.  Jesus is the One.  Don’t miss what He is claiming.  Jesus is the Promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. 
            It’s a nice message.  So far, so good.  The people are with Him.  Well, maybe.  “Actually, now that we think about it, that’s an awful audacious thing to say about oneself.  You know what, this boy whom we’ve known since He was yay high is getting a little big for His britches.  Isn’t this Joseph’s son?  Don’t we know His mother and His siblings?”  And now Jesus takes a situation already turning sour and makes it worse.  As faithful preaching of the Word of God always does.  Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself’” (v. 23).  We’re done with your preaching.  Do some miracles.  Heal the sick.  Cast out some demons.  Let’s see some fireworks.  And Jesus says, “No dice.  No prophet is acceptable in his hometown.  You do not believe the preaching.  Here you have heard the most gracious Words imaginable from the lips of God Himself.  Here you have witnessed the ancient prophecy coming to fulfillment.  And still you do not believe!  Well, I can’t do any miracles then.  The miracles are for believers.  They manifest the truth of the statement that I am the Messiah.  They reveal to you that the New Creation is breaking into the old, that salvation and new life have come in My flesh.  Now, you should know this if you know the Scriptures.  For all the Israelite widows in the days of Elijah at the time of the great famine, he was sent to a Gentile, to a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon!  Because she believed!  For all the Israelite lepers in the days of Elisha, it was a Gentile the Prophet cleansed, Naaman, the Syrian, the military commander who had fought against Israel!  He didn’t believe at first.  But when he followed the words of the Prophet, dipping in the Jordan seven times, he was cleansed by the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.  He came to faith!  You refuse to come to faith.  You have rejected the Word of the Lord.  You only want a show!”
            Well, the sermon didn’t go so well.  There are two marks of a prophet: 1.) They preach the Word and demonstrate the power of the Word in miracles.  2.) They suffer rejection, which is ultimately the rejection of God.  Jesus, our Great Prophet, fits both criteria.  The people (remember, not a huge company, a relatively small congregation of people who have known Jesus since He was a little Boy), are “filled with wrath” (v. 28).  They want to kill Him.  They drive Him to the brow of the hill throw Him off the cliff.  This is what preaching God’s Word gets the preacher, and, incidentally, you who hear and believe the preaching and confess it in your daily lives and vocations.  It gets you the wrath of the people who want you dead.  You know that it’s true.  You’ve read the reports.  You’ve seen the newscasts.  But it’s really not you they want dead.  It’s Jesus.  Nothing more enrages the people of this world than Jesus.  And the rage, of course, is demonic.  Which is to say, the people who are enraged are deceived.  They think they’re doing good.  They think they are serving what is right and true and beautiful, so they have all the passion of a raving fundamentalist.  They are fundamentalists.  Just not Christian fundamentalists.  That is the way the unbelieving world responds to the preaching of Jesus.  They’re okay with Him, until He starts claiming to be God’s Messiah, the only Savior of the world, and that He won’t save the people who don’t believe in Him. 
            The people are in a murderous rage, but this time, for now, it isn’t Jesus’ time.  He passes through their midst and goes away.  See, there’s a miracle after all.  But His time is coming, and does come, on a Friday during Passover.  It is the ultimate rejection.  God is nailed to a cross.  The elite scoff.  The passers-by gloat.  The demons dance.  But by God’s grace, we see.  This rejection is the very release Jesus has been preaching.  The death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the sacrifice of atonement for the whole world’s sin.  It is the good news preached to the poor, the liberty of the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, the liberty of those who are oppressed.  It is the Lord’s gracious favor, the forgiveness of your sins, your life, your salvation.  It is the end of the old, the satisfaction of the Law, the undoing of the curse.  It is the mortal poison death must drink to the dregs.  It is the crushing of the serpent’s head.  And when “It is finished,” there is rest, Sabbath.  And then there is life and the New Creation.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  Bodily.  And all of this for you.
            And today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.  Because that is the nature of preaching.  Jesus is the Preacher.  Not me, for crying out loud.  I’m just the lump of flesh standing here as His mouthpiece.  My words don’t do a thing.  Jesus is the Preacher.  And His Words do what they say.  You are poor.  You know it.  No matter how much money you have.  You are poor, miserable sinners.  And to you, Jesus preaches good news.  You are free.  You are healed.  You see.  You hear.  You are raised to new life.  Your sins are forgiven.  Because of Jesus.  God looks upon you with favor, accepts you as His own, makes you His own child.  Because of Jesus.  And the miracles?  The greatest miracle is that you believe in Jesus.  That happens by His Word, in the preaching, by the Spirit.  And of course, the miracles point to what Jesus does for you now spiritually, and will do for you finally and decisively in the resurrection of your body.  Prophets preach God’s Word and are rejected. But those who believe, you, receive the perfect freedom of life in Jesus Christ, who is risen from the dead.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.            

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
January 20, 2019
Text: John 2:1-11

            Wine in abundance is a sign that Messiah has come.  No room for teetotalling in the Bible.  The Prophets Joel and Amos both preach that in that Day (the Day of Messiah), “the mountains shall drip sweet wine” (Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13; ESV).  The rest of the prophets concur.  Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”  Old Ben was not a very good theologian, but on this one, he’s close.  Wine is proof that God loves us and gives us His Son.  So it is that Jesus comes to a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mountains drip sweet wine.  Our Lord speaks and water becomes the very best wine.  We often call this Jesus’ first miracle, but it’s so much more than a miracle, and that is not what St. John calls it.  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee” (John 2:11; emphasis added).  St. John calls it a sign, not a miracle.  In other words, it’s not just an impressive magic trick.  It is a sign of who Jesus is.  It is a sign that Messiah has come and our salvation has arrived.  Wine in abundance, dripping from the mountains, is proof that God has made good on His Promise.  He has sent us a Savior.  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory,” manifested, a word related to Epiphany.  He gave us an Epiphany that He is the Glory of God, God Himself, in the flesh.  And his disciples believed in him” (v. 11).  They believed the sign.  And so do you, for this sign is manifested for you as you hear it in Scripture and preaching this morning. 
            What is amazing is that this sign is performed for those who least deserve it.  Jesus gives the very best wine to a bunch of rowdy drunks.  To run out of wine at a wedding feast brings great shame on the bride and groom and their entire family.  It is also an indication that guests were lubricated to excess.  What the family thought to be more than sufficient was not enough for this crowd.  They were abusing their right to the family’s hospitality.  They were abusing God’s good gift of wine.  Wine is a gift, but drunkenness is sin.  The guests are three sheets to the wind.  The master of the feast is angry because custom has been broken.  Everyone knows that you serve the good wine first, and after the people have “drunk freely” (v. 10), that is, after they are plastered and their taste buds are numb, you bring out the cheap stuff.  But the wine Jesus provides is the very best.  The master of the feast does not know the wine came from Jesus, from the 6 stone water jars.  He thinks the family paid good money for it.  He is outraged over the extravagance, the expense undertaken for those who are incapable of appreciating it.  But isn’t that just like Jesus?  He gives the very best gifts to those who take Him for granted, who despise His gifts and abuse them.  Still, He gives, and He gives in abundance.  The jars held twenty to thirty gallons each!  No more danger of running out.  Even this crowd would have trouble burning through that.  The mountains drip sweet wine.  Jesus gives wine to drunks.[1]  And in this way He manifests His glory, and His disciples believe in Him.
            It is not by accident that this sign takes place at a wedding.  Actually, this is the fulfillment of the Prophet Hosea’s ministry.  Remember Hosea?  We should talk more about him.  His name is related to the Name of Jesus.  Hosea means “salvation”, just as Jesus means “The LORD saves”.  God commands Hosea to marry a prostitute, Gomer, and in this way the prophet’s marriage becomes a sign of YHWH’s marriage to Israel.  Gomer is unfaithful.  She runs away from her husband.  She goes back to prostitution.  She sells herself to other men.  Just like Israel, “whoring” after other gods (the Bible’s words, not mine… Lev. 20:5-6; Ez. 6:9; Hosea 4:18; and numerous other examples).  But Hosea goes out to find Gomer.  He redeems her.  Literally, he buys her back, for fifteen shekels of silver.  Can you imagine, a broken-hearted husband slogging through the gutters of the red light district to find his unfaithful bride, having to pay for her to come back to him?  But he loves her.  And Hosea is a picture of our God and what He does for His beloved Israel, His beloved Church, what He does for us.  The Church is the Bride of Christ.  We are unfaithful to our Divine Bridegroom.  We whore after other gods.  We sell ourselves to the pleasures of this world.  Drunk and full of lust, we take our Lord for granted, despise His gifts and abuse them.  But He comes after us.  He comes for us, God in the flesh, God in man made manifest, to redeem us, to buy us back, not for fifteen shekels of silver, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.  He pays with His very life for us to come back to Him, to live with Him, to be His Bride.  Because He loves us.  God shows his love for us,” St. Paul writes, “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  Christ is our Hosea.  We are His Gomer.  We are unfaithful, but He is faithful, to us and to God, for us and in our place. 
            Now, this is what it means to be married to Christ.  What is ours is His, and what is His is ours.  That is how it works in marriage.  All that belongs to the Bride becomes the Bridegroom’s.  All that belongs to the Bridegroom becomes the Bride’s.  Jesus takes upon Himself all our sin and uncleanness, our unfaithfulness, our idolatry, lust, and drunkenness, and He pays the penalty for all of it.  He takes our death and condemnation and all that goes along with it, our weakness and sickness and sadness, and puts it to death in His flesh on the cross.  In the meantime, we get all His righteousness, eternal life, salvation, and every good and gracious gift bestowed upon us by our God.  Luther says all of this is sealed by the wedding ring of faith.  Faith makes all of these things our own.  St. Paul writes about this in Ephesians, chapter 5, when he tells husbands to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (vv. 25-27).  As Jacob met Rachel at the well, so our Lord meets His Bride, the Church, at the well of the Font, where He gives us the wedding ring of faith.  And we are made clean, holy, spotless with the splendor of His holiness.  It is as Isaiah prophesied in our Old Testament reading: “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Is. 62:5).  You are beautiful to God.  You are precious in His eyes.
            So our Lord does the first of His signs at a wedding, and in this way He woos us to believe in Him and be His Bride.  And so also He honors holy marriage as a blessed institution, given by God in the Garden even before our first parents fell into sin.  One man, one woman, united in love and fidelity as long as they both shall live.  Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).  Our Holy Gospel is a great comfort for husbands and wives, because just as Christ was present for the couple in Cana, so He is present in your marriage.  And He gives wine.  He gives joy.  He gives the Holy Spirit.  Even when you abuse His good gifts.  In fact, especially when you abuse His good gifts.  He is there, in the hard times as well as the good, in every argument, in every heartache, and even in your infidelities.  His Promise sustains your marriage, and He gives you joy.  He gives you to delight in one another.  He gives you to delight in Him.  So also our Holy Gospel is a great comfort to single people.  There were undoubtedly unmarried people at the wedding, singles and widows and maybe even divorcees.  They also get the wine.  Jesus, who is not married… He’s saving Himself for His Bride, the Church… is at the wedding for single people, too.  Being single does not make you less of a person, less of a guest at the Feast, or any less forgiven and redeemed and precious before God.  Singles have a particular cross to bear for as long as God gives them to bear it.  But you also get the wine.  And what is ultimately true for every one of you, single or married, child or adult, husband, wife, widow, or divorcee, is this: Jesus is your Bridegroom.  You are married to Jesus.  He is faithful to you.  He has redeemed you.  And all that belongs to Him, belongs to you.  All of it.  All things are yours in Christ Jesus who loves you.  For though His hour had not yet come at the wedding in Cana, it would come soon enough, on Calvary, where He shed His blood and gave His life to make you His own.
            On the third day there was a wedding,” writes St. John, and there is more going on here than meets the eye.  The Holy Ghost chooses His Words very carefully.  On the third day Jesus rises from the dead.  On third day there is a wedding.  On the third day the preparations are complete.  The Bride, who was once a drunken Gomer, has been washed in water and the Word, and robed in the righteousness of Jesus.  The Bridegroom has prepared a Feast for His Bride, and at this Feast there is wine in abundance.  Here He manifests His glory.  Here His disciples believe in Him.  Beloved in the Lord, you are the Bride, and Jesus woos you.  Come to His Table.  Eat and drink, and rejoice.  The Bridegroom who loves you has arrived.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

[1] For this recurring phrase I’m indebted to the Rev. David Petersen.