Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 16)
August 27, 2017
Text: Matt. 16:13-20

            What does the world say about Jesus?  “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matt. 16:13; ESV).  The disciples gave the answers of their own people.  Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets (v. 14).  The answers in our day are not that different.  A holy man.  A great teacher.  A moral example.  The reality is, though, in the minds of a fallen people, and particularly those of us living in post-modern America, Jesus is, for us, whoever we want Him to be.  What’s that old Mark Twain quip (if it really was Mark Twain who said it): God made man in His own image, and ever since, man has been returning the favor.  That is to say, we’re pretty good about imagining God, imagining Jesus, as we’d like Him to be, rather than taking Him as He is and as He reveals Himself to us in the Bible.  We say things like, “I just can’t believe in a God who would…” or “My Jesus would never…”  Repent.  Those words should never cross the lips of Christians.  We don’t get to pick and choose the things we like and don’t like about God and His Word.  We are given to confess Him as He is and His Word as He speaks it.  Jesus asks the disciples what the world out there says about Him, but that’s not really what He’s getting at.  He wants to know about the disciples.  He is giving them to confess.  He wants to know about you: “who do you say that I am?” (v. 15). 
            He’s not looking for the answers revealed by flesh and blood.  He’s looking for the answer revealed by His Father and yours, the answer of faith.  Peter answers on behalf of the Twelve, and for all of us: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16).  Here we learn from St. Peter what it means to be a Christ-confessing Christian, which is to say, a creedal Christian.  We confess that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is the Christ (that’s Greek), the Messiah (that’s Hebrew), the Anointed One, the promised Son of Eve, Son of Abraham, Son of David, come to be our King and save us from our sins and from death.  And He’s the Son of the living God, God in the flesh, the God who is born and who suffers and who dies for you.  And the Man who is risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, sitting at the right hand of the Father for you.  The earliest Christian Creed, from which all of our Creeds have developed, is simply, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11).  This is shorthand for all that Peter here says of the Son of Man, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And that is a summary of all that you confess in the Creed.  You’re confessing the Man, Jesus, is God, and your only Savior from sin.
            And that’s the rock upon which Christ builds His Church.  The rock isn’t St. Peter.  Peter means little stone.  It is a play on words, to be sure, when Jesus names Simon “Peter.”  But the rock our Lord then speaks of is a solid slab serving for a foundation.  Make no mistake, Peter takes the lead when it comes to the apostles.  Don’t let your Lutheranism get in the way of recognizing that.  He speaks for all of the apostles when he makes his good confession, but don’t lose sight of the fact that he speaks for all of the apostles.  He’s one of the three in Jesus’ inner-circle, including James and John, and he’s always mentioned first.  And he’s clearly the leader of the disciples in the Gospels and especially in Acts.  In fact, one of the main purposes of the book of Acts is to compare St. Paul to St. Peter, in order to legitimize Paul’s apostleship.  So we’re not knocking Peter in any way when we say he is not the rock.  But we are exalting his confession.  The confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, is the divinely revealed truth upon which the Church is built.  And resting on that rock, on that confession, on that faith, the gates of hell cannot prevail against her. 
            It will certainly look like the gates of hell are prevailing.  The world will always dismiss the Church and her confession of Christ in favor of their own designer Jesuses.  The world will always mock the Church and the world will always persecute the Church.  The diminishment of our religious freedom in our land should not surprise us.  Our brothers and sisters elsewhere suffer torture, beatings, and imprisonment for the sake of Jesus.  At this very moment, as we sit in padded pews, ISIS is beheading, burning, and crucifying Christians in the Middle East.  Children are boiled alive.  Why?  Because they confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  There is a cost to this confession.  St. Peter was crucified upside down for it.  St. Paul was beheaded.  Your friends may laugh at you.  Your pastor and your Church may be fined into oblivion for not performing a gay wedding.  It’s not really you they hate, or me, or Peter.  It’s Jesus.  But there is this promise none of them can take from you.  The gates of hell will not prevail.  In the end, Satan loses.  He already lost at the cross.  In the end, sin and death and hades and the demons are thrown into the Lake of Fire, and you inherit the whole cosmos.  Take they our life, goods, fame, child, or wife…  It will hurt for a time.  It will hurt very deeply.  But we get them back, for good, and for better.  The Kingdom ours remaineth.  You can count on it.  You have our Lord’s death and resurrection on it. 
            And because this is all true, look what you have.  Your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life.  For this purpose, Jesus establishes the Office of the Holy Ministry for His Church.  Jesus gives Peter and His confessing Apostles the Office of the Keys: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19).  This is another way of saying what He says in St. John’s Gospel after He is risen from the dead, when He breathes His Spirit on the disciples and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23).  The keys are Holy Absolution.  When Absolution is withheld from an unrepentant sinner, the pastor binds the sinner in his sin until he repents.  This is done only for the purpose of driving the sinner to repentance, that he be forgiven.  When Absolution is given, be it upon the confession of sins, or in preaching and the Supper, the sinner is released from his sins.  Beloved in the Lord, I said it once already this morning, and I say it again: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.”  You are loosed from your sins.  You are released.  You are free.  No more guilt.  No more condemnation.  Death and the devil can go to hell and hell can go jump in a Lake of Fire named Gehenna.  They have no claim on you anymore!  You belong to Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.
            Now, this is not the Jesus of the world.  The world would not have a Jesus who calls a sin a sin, and a sinner a sinner, and actually treats the devil and hell as real.  But that’s not your opinion anymore.  That opinion has been drowned with your Old Adam in Holy Baptism.  You are no longer of the world.  You are in the world, and for this purpose.  That as you love and serve your neighbor in the vocations to which Christ has called you, you would make the good confession: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  You would confess the Creed.  And, if necessary, die for it.  Because in dying, you do not die.  Not really.  Christ is risen, and  you are baptized into Christ.  You died with Christ at the font, and you are raised with Christ at the font.  Your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3), and that is why hell appears to prevail.  But in the end, it will not be hidden.  In the end, the whole universe will see it, that the living God is your Father.  You are redeemed by Jesus.  You are God’s own child. 

            Who do you say Jesus is?  You say He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  You say, “He is my Savior.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tenth and Eleventh Sundays after Pentecost

Guest Pastor, The Rev. Douglas Taylor

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 13, 2017

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 20, 2017

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 12)

July 30, 2017

Text: Matt. 13:44-52

            You are not the hero of this story.  Old Adam figures if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  So he hears the parable of the treasure buried in the field and the pearl of great price, and he inserts himself into the story as the one who sells all that he has, gives up everything, to buy the field, to purchase the pearl.  Yes, that’s what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, says Old Adam.  I get to show how committed I am to Jesus, how much I love Him, by my great sacrifice, by my glorious work.  We like that interpretation.  It’s probably what you’ll find in most Bible commentaries.  It’s definitely what you’ll find in the latest Christian bestsellers.  And it is absolutely what you will find in your heart.  Repent. 

            Really?  You think you’re the one who purchased the Kingdom of Heaven by your great sacrifice?  Or, another way to ask the question is, you think you’re the one who redeemed Jesus?  Now you can hear how silly that sounds.  Let’s plunge Old Adam back under the baptismal water where he belongs, and God grant us ears to hear the parables with Jesus in the lead role.  The Kingdom of Heaven works this way.  There you are like a dumb box of rocks buried in a field.  It’s not just picture language.  That’s what happens when you die and we bury you.  Now you know your part in the story.  It’s to lay there dead.  Jesus seeks you and finds you and, miracle of miracles, He declares you, by grace, to be a great treasure.  (In our first Communion hymn we’re going to sing that Jesus is the Priceless Treasure.  That’s true, and I love that hymn, but it’s not an interpretation of our parable.  I picked it because the irony is so delicious.)  You are the treasure.  Not because you’re so great.  You’re a rotting, maggot infested corpse, a poor miserable sinner, spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God.  You have your father, Adam, to thank for that.  You’re the spitting image of him.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  But Jesus comes along and declares you to be a treasure, not because of your merit or worthiness, but because of the price He pays for you.  He sells everything… gives it all up, His glory, His majesty, His divine omnipotence… He gives it all up on the cross.  The price on your head, to make you His own, to bring you to life, raise you from the dead, is His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death.  And He pays it.  With joy, He says (Matt. 13:44).  That is the love of Jesus.  It fashions its own object.  Jesus raises you, His beloved, to life… spiritually now, by faith in Him, and on the Last Day, in your body when He comes into the field, the cemetery, takes you by the hand, and lifts you out of the casket.  Jesus is the hero of this story.  Jesus, crucified and risen for you.

            The treasure in the field tells us about the universal atonement.  Jesus buys, redeems, not just the treasure, but the whole field.  The field is the world.  Jesus redeemed the whole world in His sin-atoning death.  The treasure is the Kingdom, which is to say, those who believe in Him, as He says elsewhere, “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21; ESV).  The Kingdom is the Holy Christian Church.  That is the treasure.  So the first parable teaches us that in redeeming the whole world, Jesus buys for Himself a people, a Church, “chosen… to be a people for his treasured possession,” as our Old Testament reading has it (Deut. 7:6).  The pearl of great value teaches us that what He did for all, He did for you.  The merchant goes in search of fine pearls.  The Greek says “good margaritas,” which is the word for pearls, so I guess we’ll see you at La Casa Lopez after Church.  The merchant is discerning.  He looks through many pearls and He finds the one He wants and He sells everything to buy it for Himself.  Jesus finds you.  You singular.  You.  And He gives it all up on the cross, His very life, to redeem you and make you His own. 

            Now, why does He choose you?  You plural, the Church?  You singular, as in you yourself?  Moses gets this right.  It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples” (Deut. 7:7).  That’s what he says to Israel, God’s chosen people, and his words apply to the Church, and to you.  It’s not because He finds you so gosh darn cute and irresistible that God chooses you and makes you His own by the blood of His Son.  Moses says, it’s “because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers” (v. 8).  It’s because God promised, and He cannot lie or break His Word.  In His steadfast love and faithfulness, He sends His Son to buy you for Himself.  This is the very essence of God at work for you.  God is love.  God is faithfulness.  So He delivers.  He saves sinners.  He saves you.  God is the life-Giver.  So He raises you from the dead and gives you life in Himself.  Freely.  By grace.  Because He is good. 

            But just here we run into the great paradox.  Jesus buys the whole field, redeems the whole world, but not all are saved.  You are brought to eternal life with your Lord.  Some are lost and go to hell.  If it is all by grace and all the Lord’s doing, why are some saved and others not?  The paradox is between the universal atonement and eternal election.  If the sins of all people of all times are forgiven on account of Christ, why doesn’t everyone go to heaven?  To be sure, it is because some believe and others don’t, and those who don’t believe are the ones who are condemned.  But we just said your part in the whole thing is to lay there like a box of rocks until Jesus gives you living faith, as He does, by His Spirit, in His Word and Holy Baptism.  What about those He doesn’t enliven?  You can’t answer that question.  It’s not for you to know.  God knows, and that is enough.  We can only say what the Scriptures say.  God loves all people and wants them to be saved.  He redeemed all people by the blood and death of His Son.  If you come to faith, that is because God has given you faith in Christ as a gift.  If you do not come to faith, that is your fault.  We do not believe in double predestination, where God eternally predestines some to heaven and eternally predestines others to hell.  That is not what the Bible teaches.  The Bible teaches that you are saved because God has eternally predestined you to salvation.  You are His elect.  He chose you.  You did not choose Him, but He chose you.  But He does not predestine the others to hell.  You cannot solve this logical conundrum.  You are butting up against the hidden will of God.  Here you must simply put a finger to your lips and zip it.  Jesus says, “many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14).  Just rejoice that the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel and enlightened you with His gifts, and that He sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ, by grace.  Give thanks to God that it all depends on Him, His bringing you to faith and His keeping you in the faith.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30).  It is all His work.  And He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the Day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).    

            Jesus describes that Day for us in the parable of the net.  The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net cast into the sea that gathers fish of every kind.  Didn’t Jesus tell the apostles they would be fishers of men?  By the preaching of the Gospel, Jesus gathers men unto Himself.  On the Last Day, the net is hauled ashore, and the angels have the job of sorting through the fish.  The good fish are those who believe the Gospel.  They are kept for eternal life.  The bad fish are those who do not believe the Gospel.  They are cast into the fiery furnace, which is to say, hell, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  From this we learn that there is a Judgment Day and there is a hell for those who do not believe.  In fact, it is for those who insist on paying their own way into the Kingdom, buying the field and the pearl for themselves.  That isn’t Christianity.  That is the religion of the unbelieving world and most Christian book stores. 

            But we also learn how wide and deep is the love of the Savior that He calls even you to be His own, and chooses you for Himself as His precious treasure and pearl.  How wide and deep is the love that does all this?  Jesus sells Himself into death to bring you into His Kingdom.  Every scribe who has been trained for the Kingdom of Heaven, every pastor is to bring out of the Scriptures what is new and what is old.  That is to say, he is to bring out the New and Old Testaments and show that they are, finally, not about you.  They are about Jesus for you.  You are not the hero.  Jesus is.  And the crucifix is the picture of Him paying the price for the field, paying the price for the pearl, paying the price for you.  Rejoice.  Your name is written in the Book of Life in the ink of Jesus’ blood.  And what can erase His blood?  What can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  You belong to Him.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.