Monday, February 26, 2018

Second Sunday in Lent

Second Sunday in Lent (B)
February 25, 2018
Text: Mark 8:27-38

            This morning Jesus bids us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Mark 8:34).  Now, broadly speaking, bearing the cross is any suffering a Christian bears in the Name and for the sake of Jesus.  In this sense, all the sufferings of the Christian are baptized in His blood, sanctified, made holy, and the promise applies to these sufferings that God will work them all for the good of His beloved baptized child (Rom. 8:28).  That means all your aches and pains, all your heartbreak and loss, your grief and your sorrow, all these have been turned into gifts of God, crosses laid upon you in love by your gracious heavenly Father, so that you despair of yourself, crucify your flesh, lose your life in Christ, and flee to Him alone for help and salvation.  The cross drives you to Christ.  The cross drives you to His Word.  The cross drives you to prayer.  So you should always receive your suffering with thanksgiving, for God is working a mighty thing through it, even though you may not know what that thing is until you see Him face to face.  Faith believes what the eyes cannot see, even in the face of great suffering.
            But this morning, our Lord bids us bear a very specific cross.  He says, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it… For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:35, 38).  The crux of the matter is being ashamed of Jesus and His Words, who He really is and what He really says, in this adulterous and sinful generation, a generation that doesn’t want the real Jesus or His real Word.  The cross the Lord bids you take up in our Holy Gospel is that of faithful confession of Jesus and His Word, no matter what persecution it may bring you.  Think here of the hundreds of Christians who have been kidnapped by ISIS in Syria and Iraq over the past few years.  Think here of the 21 Christian martyrs who were beheaded in North Africa a couple of years back.  Do you remember them?  The image is burned into my mind, the men in their orange jump suits, kneeling by the sea, knives to their throats, with their last breath confessing Jesus.  There is a beautiful icon of their martyrdom, which is worth looking up.  Think here also of those closer to home who have suffered for confessing the faith.  Think of the florists and photographers and bakers who have lost their businesses, reputations, and livelihoods because they were not ashamed to confess the Word of Christ.  They considered it more important to be faithful to the God who was so faithful to them He gave His only Son into death.  “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (v. 36).  The word “life” can also be translated as “soul.”  You can easily gain the admiration and approval of the world, but at what cost?  Your soul.  Things can be easy now, but you will, in the end, lose your soul into an eternity of sorrow.  Or things can be hard now.  You can be despised, mocked, rejected now, suffer now, lose your life now, and your reward will be an eternity of the Lord’s admiration and approval in heaven.  For whoever would save his life, his soul, his self… NOW… will lose it in the end.  But whoever loses His life, his soul, his self… NOW… for my sake and the gospel’s, will save it in the end.  When it comes to confessing Jesus and His Word, it’s either your way, which is to confess a Jesus who is acceptable to this adulterous and sinful generation… or there is the way of the cross, which is to confess Jesus as He is, and His Word as He says it, and to do so without shame, and so to suffer whatever consequences such confession may bring.
            Peter doesn’t like that plan.  Peter is ashamed.  Oh, he’s willing to die for Jesus.  At least he thinks he is.  But he’s not willing to die for a Jesus he finds unacceptable to his own reason or ideals.  He is not willing to die for a Jesus who just surrenders Himself to His enemies, surrenders Himself to the cross and death.  Jesus teaches that the cross is divinely necessary, that He must suffer many things, that He must be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, that He must be killed, (and then the part that they all miss) that He must rise again after three days (v. 31).  He says it plainly (v. 32).  He says it boldly.  And Peter does not like it one bit.  Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Him (v. 32).  But Jesus will not save His life, His soul, His self NOW and so lose the souls of those He loves.  His mission is to lose His life for Peter’s sake, for your sake, for the whole world, to save your soul for His eternal Kingdom.  And seeing His other disciples, Jesus cannot allow Peter’s adulterous and sinful, indeed, demonic preaching to continue.  “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 33), on the things of this world and this generation, the things of your fallen, dead flesh.  Incidentally, talk about a Jesus who is offensive to our politically correct sensitivities.  When Jesus hears false doctrine, He isn’t tolerant.  He isn’t even nice.  He calls Peter (one of His three best friends in the world) “Satan!”  For false doctrine has as its source the very father of lies. 
            The truth is, though, sometimes Jesus has to say this to you.  Because there are any number of things about Jesus that you don’t like, and there are things that He says that make you ashamed of Him.  There are things in His Word that make you cringe.  There are commandments you wish His Church wouldn’t proclaim quite so loud.  And worst of all, there is the Gospel, which preaches a Savior who just surrenders Himself to His enemies, gives Himself up into death, willingly, without a fight.  And then has the audacity to say that this is necessary if you are to be saved.  Because you are so evil that it takes the death of God to pay for your wickedness.  Because if He doesn’t do this, you will be the rightful property of Satan.  So He does it, because He loves you.  Not because you are so loveable.  But because He has decided to love you anyway.  Because He says so.  Because that is how gracious He is.  Because He is faithful.  He remembers His mercy and His steadfast love, for they have been from of old (Ps. 25:6).  He remembers us, and He blesses us (Ps. 115:12).  That’s just who He is.  For “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
            And now Christ Jesus is risen from the dead, and that changes everything.  Peter, once scandalized by the cross and a preacher of false doctrine, is forgiven and restored.  He is no longer ashamed to confess His love for the Lord.  He is given the charge to feed the Lord’s sheep and precious lambs.  And now he will lose his life, literally taking up his cross, for he will stretch out his hands and be dressed with the wood and carried where he does not want to go.  Those are Jesus’ words, indicating the kind of death with which Peter would glorify God.  It’s all right there in John 21 (vv. 15-19).  So you also, though you have been scandalized by the crucified Lord and His Word on more than one occasion, are forgiven and restored.  You have died with Christ, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).  This all happened at the font.  You are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus.  So the you that is ashamed of Jesus and His Word is crucified by daily repentance, a daily return to the baptismal water.  And raised to new life in Christ, you are no longer ashamed.  With St. Paul, you confess that you are “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).  You are not ashamed to confess your love for Jesus.  You are not ashamed to speak His Word in season and out of season.  You are not ashamed to lose your life, to surrender yourself to the cross, to die with Him who died for you, that you may live with Him who lives for you.
            This adulterous and sinful generation has many ideas about who Jesus is and what He says.  He is a prophet, a great teacher, a revolutionary, the model of morality, a practitioner of tolerance and acceptance of everyone and everything.  There are as many opinions about Jesus as there are people on the earth.  To take up the cross is to die to your own opinion of Him.  There is only one true Jesus.  He is, as Peter confesses, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Savior appointed by God from all eternity to suffer the cross to save sinful humanity.  The Christ is defined by God in His Word, not by the opinions of men.  And when you go confessing the Christ as defined by God, you will suffer for it.  They may mock you.  They may reject you.  They may dress you in an orange jump suit and lead you where you do not want to go, to kneel by the sea and there receive your martyr’s crown.  But losing your life in this way, you will glorify God.  And you will receive the better life won for you by Jesus in His own suffering and death.  Those 21 men by the sea in North Africa cried out to Jesus as their throats were slit.  It was the last thing they heard on earth, the last word they said.  Then, all at once, they heard for themselves the choir of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, standing before the throne of God and of the Lamb.  And Jesus confessed them before His heavenly Father.  He was not ashamed to call them brothers.  For redeemed by the cross of Christ, they were not ashamed to deny themselves, take up their own cross, and follow Him.  God grant us all such faithfulness when and if the time comes.
            And so you.  Since you have been justified by faith, you have peace with God through your Lord Jesus Christ.  Through Him, you have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which you stand, and you rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  More than that, you rejoice in your sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put you to shame.  You are not ashamed.  Because God’s love has been poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit who has been given to you (Rom. 5:1-5).  This is God’s doing.  He turns everything on its head.  Losing your life, you save it.  Hated by the world, you are loved by God.  Yourself a sinner, God declares you righteous.  Having died with Christ, you have new life in Him.  With Jesus, Good Friday always ends in Easter.  And at the End of all things, your grave will be as empty as His.  Christ Jesus will raise you from the dead.  And because of that, you need never be ashamed.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

First Sunday in Lent/ Lenten Midweek I

First Sunday in Lent (B)
February 18, 2018
Text: Mark 1:9-15

            St. Mark paints a picture of stark contrasts in our Holy Gospel this morning.  First the beautiful Trinitarian picture of our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan, the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending on Him as a dove (Mark 1:10), and the voice of the Father from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (v. 11; ESV).  But then a violent transition.  That beautiful dove, the symbol of peace, the Holy Spirit now filling our Lord Jesus to the brim, “immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (v. 12).  Drove Him out, cast Him out, the same Greek word used when Jesus casts out the evil spirits.  Threw Him out, you could say.  Immediately upon His Baptism, the Holy Spirit threw Jesus out into the wilderness, the place of nothingness, where the demons are said to dwell, the home of Satan.  Utterly alone except for the company of wild beasts, our Lord languishes for 40 days in the place of hunger and thirst, loneliness and desolation, death.  Why?  To be tempted.  To do battle with His archenemy, Satan.  To be tested.  To be faithful.  To be victorious where you, and Adam, your father, have not.  To love the Lord His God, His heavenly Father, with all His heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30; cf. Deut. 6:5).  To love His neighbor, love you, even more than Himself.  And to do it all in your place, for you, so that it counts for you, so that His victory is your victory.  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).  He wins the battle!  And the holy angels minister to Him (Mark 1:13).
            You are baptized into Christ.  You are clothed with Christ.  You are in Christ.  And so what happens to Christ, happens to you.  You are baptized, and the Spirit comes upon you, and God says that you are His beloved child, with whom He is well pleased.  But then immediately, violently, the Spirit throws you out into the wilderness of this fallen world.  He throws you out into the place of nothingness, of doubt and unbelief, of sin and sorrow and death.  This is where the evil spirits are said to dwell.  And they do.  You know it by experience.  You only have to turn on the evening news to see the evidence of their handiwork.  And it is not for nothing that Jesus calls Satan “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).  It is a dangerous place, this wilderness, a place where you hunger and thirst for righteousness, a place that is often lonely and desolate (that’s why we need each other in the Church), a place where, on your own, you would die.  Spiritually.  And eternally.  You would die.  Why does this Spirit put you here?  This life, in this world, is the Spirit’s school of cross and trial.  You are here to be tempted.  You are here to do battle.  You are here to be tested.  You are here to be faithful.
            But there is a great difference between you and Jesus in this wilderness sojourn.  Jesus’ faithfulness is the faithfulness that counts for you.  And thank God for that, because you aren’t always faithful.  You fall.  You sin.  You are hit by Satan’s arrows.  Sometimes you even like it.  You’re perfectly happy to trade the bread of God’s holy Word for the bread of stones.  You’re perfectly happy to trade preaching and God’s Word for entertainment.  You prefer the fleeting pleasures of this world to the eternal joy of Christ crucified.  You want power.  You want glory.  Not humiliation, death, and blood.  Repent.  The only Jesus we know is the one nailed to the cross.  Yes, risen from the dead, absolutely, but first crucified, for you cannot have a risen Lord if He is not first a dead one.  But thank God, this isn’t that kind of test for you, to see if you’ll be faithful enough to be saved.  Jesus did all that already.  This time of trial and tribulation is different.  It is a time to crucify your flesh.  To drive you to despair of yourself, your righteousness, your abilities, your talent, your loveable-ness.  To sing about your own helplessness, bondage, and death.  To make you realize that, in and of yourself, you are as empty and dead as the wilderness.  That apart from the Holy Spirit who is in you, you would be the dwelling place of evil spirits, under the rule of Satan.  You would be dead.  You would be, not a son of God, but a son of hell.
            The wilderness is not a pleasant place to be, but it has its good purpose.  The Holy Spirit has done this kind of thing before.  Remember Moses was exiled to the wilderness for 40 years after killing the Egyptian.  40 years spent in the middle of nowhere, tending the flocks of Jethro, marrying Jethro’s daughter, living the life of a Bedouin.  Moses was 80 when YHWH called him from the burning bush, and he had four decades of wilderness wandering still ahead of him.  For those 40 years Moses spent with his father-in-law Jethro, were just a trial run, a practice, a preparation, for the 40 years Moses would spend shepherding God’s flock, God’s holy Bride, the children of Israel, in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land.  St. Paul tells us the people of God were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, when they went through the Red Sea as on dry ground (1 Cor. 10:2).  And then they immediately found themselves in the wilderness, the place of nothingness, the place of hunger and thirst, and, apart from God, the place of death.  They had to live by faith that God would bring them into the Promised Land, that God would be faithful to His Word, that His Word would keep them alive and bring them joy and blessing, that He would feed them with His manna.  It was all a picture of our life in the wilderness, as the Church, the people of God, the New Israel. 
            For just as Israel of old failed to be faithful in their wilderness wandering, so are we.  Just as they grumbled and looked back longingly to the flesh pots of Egypt, so we moan and complain about our lot in life and pine after the good old days of our slavery to sin.  Just as they fashioned idols and sat down to eat and drink before them, and rose up to play, so we run after other gods and follow after the pleasures of the flesh.  Just as they trembled and feared before their enemies and forgot that it is the LORD their God who fights for them and wins the victory, so we tremble and fear before the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.  And we think we will never receive our inheritance in the Promised Land, because our enemies are too strong for us.  Of course, we’re half right.  They are too strong for us.  But our Lord is stronger.  He fights them.  He defeats them.  Our Holy Gospel is all about that.  Where Israel, where we, have failed in our wilderness journey, the Lord Jesus Christ has not.  He did not grumble or complain, but went willingly into the wilderness for us.  He did not eat and drink and rise up to play, but fasted and denied Himself, for us, living not by bread at all, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of His Father.  He did not fear before His enemy, but triumphed over him for us, by the sword of His holy Word.  And now, baptized into Christ, His victory is our victory.  His faithfulness is our faithfulness.  And He does not leave us in the wilderness alone.  He is with us, as our Mighty Fortress, protecting us, providing for us, picking us up when we fall, speaking to us His Word of life, feeding us with His Manna, His true Body and Blood.  And the angels are ministering to us, surrounding us to keep us safe in body and soul. 
            Lent has this way of making this all so vivid for us.  Lent is about our baptismal life in this wilderness, our journey from the font to our Father in heaven, our battle in the meantime with Satan, a battle which has already been fought and won for us by the Lord’s faithfulness, by His cross and death, by His resurrection life.  Many of us give something up for Lent, but we don’t do it to impress God or impress others or make ourselves more righteous.  We do it to remind us how weak we are, how impossible it is even to give up chocolate, much less give up sin.  Some of us add a discipline for Lent, which is always good.  We certainly add the discipline of more services and more devotions.  But again, we don’t do it to impress God or anybody else.  And we don’t do it because it makes us that much more worthy of heaven.  No.  We do it because we know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).  Even as we fast, we feast on the gifts of our Lord Christ.  Lent gives us to see our cross in the shadow of His.  Your suffering, your sorrow, your sin, your death… it is all taken up into His.  Lent imposes the cross of Christ on our foreheads and on our hearts.  It is the banner of our Lord’s victory over the devil, that the serpent who once overcame by the tree of the garden, has now likewise by the tree of the cross been overcome (Proper Preface for Good Friday).  And after the cross, there is Easter and the empty tomb.  After the Lenten fast comes the Feast.  After the wilderness, there is the Promised Land.  Christ is risen.  Christ will raise you from the dead.  Blessed Lent.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   

Lenten Midweek I
“Garden to Garden: Eden to Heaven”[1]
February 21, 2018
Text: Gen. 3:22-24; Rev. 22:1-5
            Two Gardens, one in the Beginning, one in the End.  They are bookends of the Holy Scriptures, of the story of man… our story.  And there are similarities between the two, but there are radical differences.  The first Garden is Eden.  Paradise, we call it, a word that has its origin in Persia, where the great kings enjoyed an inner sanctum in their palaces, an enclosed garden of delights with exotic plants, exotic animals, creature comforts, and exotic pleasures.  It was man’s best attempt to fulfill the instinctive desire, built into every one of us, to return to the Garden, to Eden, to the Paradise of God.  But of course, such a garden paradise was only acquired by the greatest, the richest, the elite among us.  We still have that today.  It used to be featured on a show called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, which many of you probably watched religiously.  Oh, how we envied the palaces and gardens and pleasures that money could buy.  Now we have reality shows that basically do the same thing, only without Robin Leach.  This is why we covet.  We want to get back to the Garden.  We don’t usually logically process that, but that’s what the emptiness is.  We know we’re missing out.  We know we’re far from home.  We try to fill the gaping black hole in our hearts with things that resemble the Eden we never knew.  But even when champagne wishes and caviar dreams come true, they fall far short.
            What was Eden like?  What made it so unbelievably good, the true Paradise of which our best efforts are only a dim and degenerate copy?  Eden was beautiful, of course, or we should say, the Garden within Eden.  Eden is the region, the Garden is the specific location.  God planted it Himself.  Before other places on earth had vegetation, before it had even rained, God planted the Garden and caused every kind of plant and tree bearing fruit to spring up.  It’s worth a re-read sometime this week, the creation account.  And there He placed man, Adam, breathing into him the breath of life, or, as you know, “spirit,” “wind,” and “breath” are all the same word in Hebrew, so you could say, “He spirited into Adam the Spirit of life,” the Holy Spirit, giving man his own spirit, or soul.  And He brought all the animals to Adam to name them, to be classified, and to show Adam that it is not good for him to be alone, that the male has his mate, that male and female go together.  And so, God put Adam into a deep sleep and did a surgery.  He opened Adam’s side, and from that side God formed the woman, and the two were now one flesh and were to cleave to each other from now on, for the rest of their lives (which at this point, before sin, would have been forever).  That’s what marriage is, incidentally.  Our culture is wasting a lot of time and effort trying to define, or undefined, as the case may be, marriage, when here it is written down for us.  One man, one woman, united as one flesh in love and faithfulness, for life.  But I digress.  The man and his wife were given to work the garden, to tend it, which probably consisted of expanding it.  And it wasn’t hard.  It wasn’t burdensome or toilsome.  They loved it.  Work only became a four letter word after the Fall, after sin, after the curse.  But here, they were having the time of their life. Think about what a great honeymoon it must have been!  Time alone in paradise to get to know one another and make a marriage.
            But as great as all that is, that’s not even it, yet.  That’s not what made it so unbelievably good, the true Paradise.  What made it so unbelievably good is that God was in it, in perfect Communion with His people, Adam and Eve.  He visited them visibly.  He walked with them in the cool of the day.  He spoke with them face to face.  (And no, this is not where we sing your favorite hymn, “In the Garden,” which works just as well as a song about you and your boyfriend.  Sing it if you want, but not around me.  Although, wives, if you want to put your husband in a good mood, sing it to him, and about him… he’ll be puddy in your hands.)  We often say things like, “ I wish I could just see Jesus, and ask Him everything on my mind, and have Him speak His assurances to me face to face.”  There’s that longing for the Garden again.  Adam and Eve had that!  That’s what made it a Paradise.  Perfect fellowship, perfect Communion with our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
            Until…  Until that fateful moment, probably very early on, as in days or hours after their creation, when Eve was standing around gazing at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and its forbidden fruit.  Now, this was not yet the sin.  This tree, you have to understand, is the place of worship for Adam and Eve.  Luther calls it their altar.  For here they were to demonstrate their love for God by obedience to the commandment, which was given for their good: Don’t eat of this tree, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die.  Well, you know how the rest of this goes.  The serpent appears, Satan, our old wiley foe.  Eve listens to his argument, agrees with it after a little theological discussion about the finer points of the commandment, believes God is holding out on her, and she takes and eats what is not hers to take and eat.  And Adam, who has been entrusted with the preaching of this commandment as the first Christian pastor, and apparently has been standing there silently the whole time… He listens to the preaching of his wife instead of the Word of God, and he takes and eats what is not his to take and eat.  And this is not a Communion meal.  This is an anti-Communion.  Communion with God is broken, and Adam and Eve die.  Because of their separation from the Lord and Giver of Life.  They die spiritually in that moment.  They begin to die physically.  They age.  Their body begins to deteriorate.  And they will die eternally, slaves of the serpent.  As will their children, you and I, who inherit their sin and guilt.  Unless God acts.
            But they are afraid of God.  They are naked.  They sew fig leaves.  They hide.  God comes anyway.  He knows.  They will not confess.  They blame God and the devil and one another.  Broken Communion.  Broken relationships.  Broken lives.  And God curses, first the serpent, but then the man and his wife.  Work will now be a four letter word.  It will require blood, sweat, and tears, and there will be thorns and thistles.  There will be pain in childbirth and rivalry between the sexes.  And man can no longer live in the Garden, lest he eat of the Tree of Life, and live forever, which is to say, live a half-life.  Live physically, while dead spiritually and eternally.  Continue to deteriorate, get sick, get hurt, sin and be sinned against, suffer… but never die.  No end.  No relief.  No rest.  So it is a gracious thing that God does in casting man out of the Garden and guarding it with cherubim and flaming swords.  It is for our protection.  But now, we long to get back.  We try to get back by our own works, by our own reason and strength, by creating our own paradise, a McMansion, two cars, 2.5 kids, and a dog, or whatever Paradise looks like to us.  But as wonderful as those things are, they miss the mark.  They don’t fill the hole.  Because what makes a paradise Paradise, is Communion with God.
            What shall we do?  What can we do?  Not a thing.  We are helpless and hopeless.  We are bound to sin and death.  But God does something.  And that is what will bring us home.  God did not send our first parents away without a Promise.  The Seed of the woman will come.  He will crush the serpent’s head.  By Himself suffering the heal crushing, mortal bite of the serpent.  God will be born of a woman, and He will suffer and die.  This is all about the cross.  This is all about Jesus.  But in doing that, He will defeat the serpent forever.  He will die our death, the death that comes as a result of Adam and Eve taking and eating.  He will put our original sin (which is what we call our inherited sinful nature and guilt) and every actual sin you and I have committed to death in His body on the tree.  It will be done away with by His blood.  And, therefore, we will not die, but live.  For Christ is risen from the dead, but our sins will never rise.  And there is Communion with God once again.  We even call it that.  The body and blood of Christ, crucified and risen for you, given to you to take and eat, take and drink, the fruit of the tree of the cross, the tree of life.  And eating of it, and drinking of it, you live forever, a full, God-given life as He has always meant you to live it.  The altar, beloved, is your Eden. 
            But there is another Garden described in our readings this evening.  It is the Garden of which the altar is only a little glimpse and foretaste.  It is the Garden of Heaven, the forever Garden of new creation and resurrection.  This is the Garden where the Scriptures leave us in the end.  This is the culmination of our story, where we all live happily ever after, for eternity.  Only this isn’t fantasy.  It is real.  It is the truth.  And what makes it so unbelievably good, better, even than Eden?  Oh, it is beautiful, to be sure.  There is the river of the water of life, just as there were the rivers in Eden, but this river is that which flows from the throne of God Himself, and of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.  Its tributaries flow into our baptismal fonts.  And there is the tree of life once again, on either side of the river, and we have full access to its fruit.  Twelve kinds it bears, the number of the Church, the twelve patriarchs, the twelve apostles, the whole Church of God from all times and places.  We are to take and eat its fruit.  And thus we are healed.  Its leaves are for the healing of the nations.  What a spectacular place.  But that’s not yet it.  That’s not what makes it Paradise. 
            God and the Lamb are there.  We will see our God face to face, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Jesus.  We will be with Him.  Communion restored.  Fully.  Worship.  Singing.  Eating and drinking.  His Name on our foreheads.  His Name is already on us, in fact, in Baptism.  But then, we’ll see it with our eyes.  No more curse.  No more bad.  No more fear or hurt.  No more night.  God Himself, and Jesus Christ, His Son, the Lamb, will be our Light.  And we will reign with Him.  We’ll be the kings and queens with the Garden Paradise.  Forever and ever.  Paradise restored.  Because Communion is restored.  And now, we have a little bite and sip of it.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

[1] The theme and structure of this sermon are from Jeffery Pulse, Return from Exile: A Lenten Journey (St. Louis: Concordia, 2017).  

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday
“Heart to Heart: Sackcloth and Ashes to Robes of Righteousness”[1]
February 14, 2018
Text: Joel 2:12-19; Rev. 7:9-14

            A solid dose of repentance is what is called for on this day.  Not just an outward show.  The ash crosses, sure.  That’s all wonderful.  But we’re talking about a matter of the heart.  Rend your hearts, and not your garments.  Because sin is not a surface problem, like trying to cuss less and be a better husband (remember today is also Valentine’s Day, men, so you might want to stop at a store after Church).  The problem, though, isn’t that you have a few vices and you aren’t as good as you should be.  No, it’s much deeper than that.  The problem is your heart.  Rend that.  Tear it up.  Crush it to powder.  Burn it to ashes.  And ask God for a new one.  For sin is nothing less than rejection of God.  Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13; ESV).  It is His grace, His mercy, His steadfast love that is the basis of your confidence.  It is that grace, mercy, and steadfast love personified in the person of Christ, crucified for your sins, risen for your justification and life, that gives you boldness to return.  Repentance is always a returning.  It is a coming before God in the sackcloth and ashes of contrition (sorrow over the sin that separates you from Him and from one another), in faith that He will forgive you, heal you, and restore you on account of Christ His Son.  King David has it right.  What sacrifice can you bring when you come before the Lord in repentance?  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,” he says; “a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).
            The truth of the matter is, our sin has exiled us from God.  We are in exile in the land of unbelief and death, under the dominion of the devil.  This is a fallen creation.  That is always where sin leads.  That is the seriousness of the situation.  And so, just as faithless Israel was led away in chains to Assyria, and Judah to Babylon, so we, in our faithlessness, live in a world and a flesh hell-bent on rebellion against our God.  We’re slaves in a foreign country.  Admitting that is the first step in repentance.  Confess the situation.  You are in bondage.  You can do nothing to help yourself.  You can do nothing to free yourself.  The devil has you in chains, and in the end, he will kill you.  Confess your sins.  The actual bad things that you have done, the things that have hurt your neighbor, your family, yourself.  The words you’ve said.  The evil you’ve committed with your bodily members.  The anger.  The lust.  The covetousness.  The grumbling.  The ungratefulness.  The dissatisfaction with the great gifts you’ve been given.  Confess the good you have failed to do.  The neglect of your family, your responsibilities at work, to your community, to your Church.  Even more to the point, confess the situation of your heart, that it is evil, as Jesus says of it: “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19).  And so, what it needed to free you from exile is rescue from the outside of you.  Note this very carefully: Following your heart only leads you deeper into bondage.  It is just your heart that is in chains.  Your heart is the problem.  You need a Savior from the outside, who will first of all steal you away out of slavery, and then turn your heart, produce a change within, repent you, if you will.  And that Savior is the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
            There is only one way for Jesus to free you from your bondage to sin, death, and the devil.  This is the really radical part.  The only way you can go free is for Jesus to take your place.  That is to say, He must be damned for you.  He must suffer and die for you.  And that is why when you receive the ashes this evening, you will receive them in the sign of the cross.  The ashes remind you that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  That is to say, your body will expire.  You will die.  The ashes are a reminder of your exile, your slavery apart from Christ.  But the sign of the cross is the sign of hope and redemption.  You’ve been rescued.  You’ve been led out of bondage.  You serve a new Lord, now; the One who was crucified and died for you, and who is risen and lives for you, Jesus Christ, the Savior.  And though you will still die physically, unless the Lord returns first, still, you will live, because He lives and you are baptized into Him, and His death is your death, therefore His life is your life.  Death no longer has a claim on you.  Jesus died your death for you.  The devil no longer has any power over you.  Jesus suffered your damnation in your place.  The price of redemption has been paid, in full, by the blood of the Savior.  Your servitude has been fulfilled by His suffering.  Depart in peace.  You are free. 
            And now He leads you out.  Your whole Christian life, from Baptism to the resurrection of your body, is an exodus, a great journey of return to the Lord your God.  Jesus is the Leader in this.  Follow Him.  If you stick with Him, you cannot be lost.  This takes the Holy Spirit, for this is where the change in you takes place, the turning from sin and death and unbelief, the turning to God, the returning to your Lord, conversion, faith.  That happens in Baptism and preaching.  The Spirit is given to you in the Word and the water.  And now you live in your Baptism, which is a continuous journey of repentance.  That is to say that every day is a day to repent of your sins, to confess them to God, and to believe and trust in the forgiveness of sins won by Christ on the cross.  Every day is for you a day of death and resurrection.  That is what your Baptism indicates according to Dr. Luther in the Catechism, that the old Adam in you should daily be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and the new man daily emerge and arise to live before God.  This is why every morning you arise and commend the day to God in prayer, that He would bless your work and preserve you from sin and an evil death (a death in unbelief), and every night you confess your sins to God, ask His forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, and thank Him for His providence over the day now past.  And you go to sleep knowing He will wake you, whether to another day of journey in the morning, or at your destination in heaven.
            The destination, yes… that is important.  It is not just that you’re freed from the tyranny of your old masters in exile.  You are free to… free to live under Christ in His Kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  Now, if you don’t watch carefully, the old flesh will try to pull a fast one on you.  It will try to convince you that it is enough to be freed from  And then, your flesh will contend, you can be your own master.  Don’t fall for it.  That’s the old trick from the Garden.  Seeking to be your own master is precisely what enslaved you in the first place.  No, just as important as being freed from sin, death, and the devil, is that you’re freed to follow Jesus on the journey of repentance and faith, the baptismal journey, to the Promised Land of heaven and the resurrection from the dead.  In Revelation Chapter 7, St. John, or rather, the angel who is speaking with St. John, calls that journey “The Great Tribulation.”  That is what this earthly life is.  It’s a struggle.  There is the flesh to contend with, which has died already in Baptism, but needs to be crucified anew each day.  There are the sins that beset us.  There is illness and injury and pain and sorrow.  These are the symptoms of death.  But what happens when we physically die, we who are in Christ, is described in that wonderful Chapter:

After this I looked, and behold, ba great multitude that no one could number, cfrom every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dclothed in white robes, with epalm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, f“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and gthe four living creatures, and they hfell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 isaying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, dclothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of jthe great tribulation. kThey have washed their robes and lmade them white min the blood of the Lamb. (Rev. 7:9-14)

            That is where the return to the LORD your God is complete.  That is when repentance will be at an end, and there will only be rest and rejoicing.  When we behold the Lamb face to face with the great multitude.  When our white robes are visible for all to see, including ourselves.  When Old Adam has died once and for all and forever and there is only New Creation all the time.  We get a foretaste of that here at the altar.  We will know it by sight when we come out of the Great Tribulation with our palm branches before the throne.  We will know it fully when Jesus Christ, who is risen from the dead, raises us.  On that Day, there will be no more sackcloth and ashes.  Only the robes of the righteousness of Christ.  And you are righteous now, in Christ.  But you are still on the journey.  And so the ashes.
            So today we repent, which is to say, we follow Jesus on the road to death.  But always, always with the end in mind: heaven and the resurrection.  That is what Lent is, and that is our whole Christian life.  A journey.  An exodus.  A being freed from, and a being freed to.  Return to the LORD your God, beloved, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  For you, He sent His Son.  For you, He sends His Spirit.  For you, for you, for you.  It is all for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] The theme and structure of this sermon are from Jeffery Pulse, Return from Exile: A Lenten Journey (St. Louis: Concordia, 2017).

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

The Transfiguration of Our Lord (B)
February 11, 2018
Text: Mark 9:2-9

            In the Transfiguration of our Lord, heaven meets earth.  Jesus takes His disciples, Peter, James, and John, up on a high mountain, just as Moses met with YHWH on Mt. Sinai, and Elijah on Carmel.  And it is there, on that mountain… we don’t know which mountain, and it really doesn’t matter, and it is probably better that we don’t know, because we would be tempted, like Peter, to go and stay forever on that mountain, waiting for heaven to come to us… it is there that Jesus is transfigured before the three.  A transfiguration is simply a change in appearance or form.  But what a change!  Jesus’ glory, His God-ness, is shining through His skin and His clothing.  He is intensely white, white with His own holiness.  It is not that there is a change in Jesus.  He has always been this.  He is always God.  But up to this point, He has hidden His divinity under His manhood… much as He hides Himself now for us under words and water and bread and wine.  But here His divinity is shining through, and that is when it happens.  Heaven meets earth.  Heaven comes down.  There is Moses, and there is Elijah, the great saints of the Old Testament, the author of the Law and the Greatest of the Prophets.  Their whole ministry was about this, about Jesus, and what He is doing to save the world, save us from our sins.  And there is the cloud, the cloud that accompanied the children of Israel in the wilderness, the cloud that descended on Sinai and on the Tent of Meeting to speak with Moses, the cloud that descended on the Temple at Solomon’s dedication.  And from the cloud, a voice.  The voice of the Father, who spoke the same words at our Lord’s Baptism, and speaks them eternally of Jesus: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7; ESV). 
            Heaven descends to earth there on the mountain, and note this very carefully.  Jesus is the heart and center of the whole thing, the focal point, the hub around which all of this circulates.  And that teaches us what heaven is.  It is not a location 50 trillion miles up in space, a location far removed from us.  Heaven is where Jesus is.  Heaven is where the saints are gathered around the Lamb, who is at the Father’s side.  Heaven is that gathering of the Church of all times and places, Old Testament and New Testament, around Jesus, God made flesh for us.  Everyone is consumed with Jesus in heaven.  All the talk is about Jesus.  And what Jesus does when He comes into the flesh, is that He brings heaven down, that He may bring us in.
            Of course, we talk about heaven mostly as the place of repose for the souls of those who have died in the faith and are awaiting the resurrection.  That is true.  We don’t know much about that.  It’s an interim state of the soul where the person who has died is with Jesus and enjoys seeing Him face to face.  They are comforted, those in heaven.  Revelation 7 is such a key text here, those coming out of the great tribulation, clothed in white robes that were washed in Jesus’ blood, holding palm branches of victory, gathered around Jesus (there He is as the hub again!), singing of His salvation, God having wiped away every tear from their eyes.  That much we know about them, and we should always read that text when we need to be comforted about where are loved ones are now who have died in the faith.  But there is more to come.  There is the resurrection of the body.  There is the new heavens and the new earth.  And frankly, we know more about that than we do about the interim state we normally call heaven.  Most of what we read in the Bible about the afterlife is about the resurrection. 
            But, in fact, we learn a few things about heaven here, in the account of the Transfiguration.  We learn that we see Jesus as He is, in His glory.  We learn that we can hear the Father, maybe even see Him in some sense that we can’t now comprehend, as He appears in the cloud.  And for all of you who have worried whether you’ll know your loved ones in heaven, let not your heart be troubled.  The disciples recognize Moses and Elijah.  Now, how do they know who these men are?  If they’re wearing nametags, there is no mention of it in the text.  And, of course, the disciples hadn’t seen photographs of Moses or Elijah.  Christian artists make icons and paintings and sculptures of the men, but those are only their best guess.  No, here’s the point: In heaven, we know one another.  Why has any pastor ever suggested we’re not going to recognize each other?  That’s ridiculous.  It’s not in the Bible.  Shame on him, whoever started that rumor.  We don’t become less united in heaven.  We become more united, perfectly united, the perfect union of the body of Christ.  And we’ll be happy.  We’ll never get bored or want to leave.  Peter says that it is good to be here, and he wants to make three tents, one of Jesus and one for each of the dignitaries.  He wants to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.  And he’s right.  It is good.  This is what Tabernacles is all about, that we are pilgrims striking camp here in this life, but when we’re with Jesus, we’re at home.  We wouldn’t want to leave, either. 
            But beloved, we cannot stay on the mountain.  This is just a glimpse, just a little foretaste, to strengthen Jesus and His disciples and us for what must be borne below: The cross.  We are always looking for heaven on earth, for the mountain top experience, for God to do something spectacular for us, show us a sign, speak to us in our hearts or in our guts, instead of looking where He tells us to look, listening where He tells us to listen.  This is my beloved Son; listen to Him!  And what does He say?  We cannot stay here on the mountain.  Heaven is ours now, but it is not for us to see yet.   There is suffering to be endured.  Beginning with our Lord’s own suffering and death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  There is no bypassing the cross on the way to heaven.  There is no Easter without Lent and Good Friday.  There is no resurrection without a death.  And so the disciples must descend the mountain with a once again ordinary looking Jesus, and they must continue on to the Holy City for the great sacrifice of the Lamb of God upon the cross.  That is why Transfiguration happens here, on the cusp of Lent.  A little glimpse, a brief moment of glory, to show us who Jesus really is, God in the flesh, and so to strengthen us for the events that lie ahead. 
            All at once, when the event is over, the cloud and Moses and Elijah have disappeared, and there is no longer the majestic voice, the disciples no longer see anyone but Jesus only (v. 8).  Jesus only, in His regular raiment, His ordinary appearance.  And it is to Him they are to listen.  And so us.  It is to Him we are to listen.  And where does that happen?  Not in the mountain top experiences, as glorious as those may be.  Not in the spectacular sunsets, as wonderful as they are, or the times we pray to find our keys and they immediately appear to us, as much as that relief is a blessing.  You should not listen to voices in your head.  If you have them, you may need medical treatment, and you certainly need pastoral care.  Do not think that the feeling in your heart or in your guts is God talking to you.  It may be a delusion.  It may be a demon.  Or as Pastor Lassman loves to say, it may just be a bad can of chili.  Jesus speaks in one place only, where He has promised you can always hear Him and know that it’s Him.  In His Word.  In the Scriptures.  In the preaching of the Scriptures.  In the Absolution that the Scriptures command pastors to announce.  In the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.  In the Supper Jesus instituted for you, for the forgiveness of sins, saying of the bread: “This is my body,” and of the wine, “This is my blood.”  And so it is, for we know He cannot lie. 
            And so, that is Jesus there on the altar, under the bread and the wine once He speaks His Word over it and promises He is there in it, with it, and hidden under it.  And what does that mean?  What have we learned from the Transfiguration Gospel?  Where Jesus is, there is heaven.  Heaven has come down!  Heaven has come down to you in the true body and the true blood of Jesus, the very body given into death, the very blood shed for you, the very body and blood risen and living and reigning at the right hand of the Father, that will come again to judge the living and the dead.  There is heaven.  It is on the altar.  There you are with your loved ones who have died in Christ.  There you are with Moses and Elijah.  There you are with the whole host of heaven, gathered around the Lamb, and singing His praise.  There you are comforted.  There God wipes away your tears.  It doesn’t look like much.  A wafer and a sip.  Jesus didn’t look like much either.  Until He showed His disciples who He is in the Transfiguration.  And now we know who He is here for us.  There is the center, there is the focal point, there on the altar is the hub around which our whole life in Christ circulates.  We return to the altar every week, for the altar is the center of our existence.  For Christ is the center of our existence.  And there we have a little foretaste of the never ending Feast, the joy of eternal life. 
            But now it is time to come back down the mountain.  Now it is time for Lent.  We put away our alleluias for a time, knowing we will take them up again.  Some of us will fast.  Some will give something up.  We will discipline our bodies.  And we will fail, which is all a part of Lent, to know the limits of our ability, that we can’t even give up chocolate for a few weeks, much less work off our sins or make ourselves worthy of eternal life.  Lent shows us how much we need Christ.  And Lent is a time for laser-like focus on Christ and His gifts.  If you give something up for Lent, that’s great.  You don’t have to, but it’s probably a good exercise.  But I’d encourage you to add a few things this Lententide.  Add the Wednesday evening Divine Service.  That is most important. Come receive Jesus in the Supper a few extra times the next few weeks.  That includes the special services of Holy Week.  That is how you prepare for Easter.  Pick up the devotion book that goes along with our midweek meditations, and actually read it.  It’s helpful.  Read more Scripture.  Pray more.  Pray for your Church.  Pray for your pastor, please.  Pray for those who don’t know Christ.  Especially those you know who don’t know Him.  And know this: Easter is coming.  You saw a glimpse of it this morning.  It will peek out from behind the Lenten purple every Sunday.  You will sing your alleluias again, with added gusto.  For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven (Eccl. 3:1).  Now is the time to rend our hearts in repentance, confess our sins, and return to the Lord our God.  Now is the time for Good Friday and the cross.  But the Day is coming.  Just you wait.  Wait upon the Lord.  And above all else, listen to Him.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)
February 4, 2018
Text: Mark 1:29-39

            I’m sure you’ve caught on by now, but this is the Sunday to make it explicit: What Jesus does for the people in His earthly ministry, He does for you here and now in His Church as He comes among you in His Word, Baptism, and Supper.  Jesus didn’t stop doing these things when He ascended into heaven.  He is not a God removed from us.  He is a God very near, as near as His Word in your ear and His risen body in your mouth.  We Lutherans talk a lot about the real presence of Jesus, especially when it comes to the Holy Communion.  But I’m not so sure we always, or ever, really get what that means.  He’s not just “with us in spirit.”  That’s a ridiculous statement.  When I tell you I’m with you in spirit, I’m telling you I’m not really with you at all.  Jesus is with us as He promised, to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:20).  That Promise is delivered where the Baptism and teaching are going on (vv. 19-20), and where two or three are gathered together, congregated, in His Name (the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit), agreeing on the binding and loosing of sin (Matt. 18:18-20).  That Promise is delivered where tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners like you are gathered around the Table with Jesus to eat and to drink.  As assuredly as He was with them in His earthly ministry, so assuredly is He with us here and now.  As assuredly as you are sitting in the pew, so assuredly is Jesus in the building.  And you can’t divide Him up into His two natures in such a way that He’s somehow with us as God but confined to His throne in heaven somewhere else as a man.  That makes two Jesuses, which I think even the most radical anti-sacramentalists would agree is a heresy.  Jesus is one Person.  He has two Natures, Divine and Human, but He is one Person.  So where Jesus is, He is there as One who is God and Man.  That means He’s here in His body.  Because this man is God, He can be everywhere as a man!  Of course other men can’t do that, because other men aren’t God, but this man is.  And that means when He says He’s giving you His body to eat and His blood to drink, He isn’t lying.  You eat Him.  You drink Him.  For the forgiveness of sins.  And by the way, what is true of the Supper is also true of the proclamation of the Word and Baptism and Absolution.  Jesus is really present in the Word.  It is His voice you hear.  It is Jesus who forgives your sins.  And He is really present in the water.  It is His death and resurrection which becomes your own in Baptism.  It is Jesus with whom you are washed.  It is Jesus with whom you are clothed.  Your Baptism covers you with Jesus.  Really.  We’re not talking about metaphors, we’re talking about truth.
            What Jesus does in our text, He’s doing among you now.  He is healing.  He is casting out demons.  Immediately after preaching and casting out the unclean spirit, which we heard about last week, He enters Simon Peter’s house, which is just across the street.  (It’s actually really cool… You can Google Capernaum synagogue and see the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus preached.  Then you can Google Peter’s house in Capernaum and you’ll see a modern Church sitting on stilts over what is believed to be the house where our Holy Gospel takes place this morning.)  Jesus enters Peter’s house where Peter’s mother-in-law is ill with a fever.  Well, Rome may claim Peter as the first pope, and I really don’t care if they call him that, but let it be known to all that Peter was married!  He has a mother-in-law.  The disciples do what every Christian should do for a family member or a friend who is sick.  They bring the predicament before Jesus.  You do that when you pray for someone.  And Jesus immediately responds to their petition.  He takes her by the hand and lifts her up.  This is really quite beautiful in the Greek, because the word translated here as “lifted her up” is actually the same word used for the resurrection: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and our own resurrection when He takes us by the hand on that Day and raises us up.  Jesus raises her up, and so complete is her healing that she is able to get busy and wait on Jesus and His disciples.  And we can imagine how that was, this old Jewish grandmother serving up a big Sabbath meal for her son-in-law and his friends. 
            At sundown the whole town came to Peter’s house to entreat Jesus for those who are sick and suffering.  They had to wait until sundown, of course, because it was a Sabbath that day.  They weren’t supposed to walk around town until Sabbath was over.  Jesus meets them there at the door and heals many and casts out demons and silences them, much as He had done that morning in the synagogue with the man with an unclean spirit.  It’s a beautiful thing to see, the Lord’s great compassion for these people who come to Him or are brought to Him by loved ones.  But it does beg a question, doesn’t it, especially in light of what I said at the beginning of this sermon?  If Jesus does all of that for them, healing their diseases, sending the demons packing from those so afflicted, why doesn’t He do that for me?  What about when I begged Him to heal my grandmother from cancer?  Or the little child for whom we all prayed, but he died from the leukemia anyway?  What about when I’m suffering under the dark fog of depression and I beg Jesus for just a little crumb of comfort and peace?  But I just go on suffering?  If Jesus is doing here and now what He did for the people there and then, where’s my piece of the pie?  Where’s my healing? 
            There are several things you should keep in mind when that question presents itself.  First, you should recognize that it’s a legitimate question, but one most often coopted by the devil and his friends in the unbelieving world to lead you into doubt, despair, and finally, unbelief.  Recognize that for what it is.  It’s not wrong to ask the question, but you need to listen for the answer Jesus gives and be content not to know all the whys and wherefores when Jesus does not immediately take away your suffering.  We live by faith, not by sight.  Second, you have to understand that the healings Jesus performed in His earthly ministry were not an end in and of themselves.  He is not a magician or a witch doctor.  The miracles are signs that point to the greater reality.  God has come in the flesh to save His people from sin and death and all of death’s symptoms, which is to say illnesses.  And He does that, ultimately, not by miraculously healing cancer, but by raising you from the dead!  The case of Peter’s mother-in-law is instructive here.  He “lifts her up,” the English says.  He “raises her,” Mark actually wrote.  It’s a little foretaste of what He will do for her in the End.  He’ll do it for you, too.  That is the real healing.  And it is a result of the eternal life He has already given you in your Baptism and continues to give to you here and now in His Word and Sacraments.  You have eternal life now.  And you can’t see it yet, but that’s okay, because you will see it on that Day.  Remember that all those people gathered at Peter’s doorstep saw a little glimpse, received just a little taste, of what it is to see eternal life.  But you know what?  They all eventually got sick again.  And they all died.  Now they are in heaven, and their joy is full, but they are still waiting, as you are, for their ultimate healing: The resurrection of their bodies.
            But keep this in mind, too: How do you know how many times Jesus has miraculously healed you?  Have you ever recovered from the common cold?  Don’t you see that that is a miracle!  Have you ever had a broken bone mend?  Or a nasty cut heal into a scar?  Did you fall on your knees in thanksgiving to God that you didn’t bleed to death?  No, you just put a band-aide on it and went about your business.  You didn’t recognize it as a miracle because it always happens that way.  Except, of course, when it doesn’t.  Then you get mad and complain.  And by the way, how many bad things didn’t happen to you and you have no idea you were miraculously protected from them, because they didn’t happen? 
            And now think about this…  We know that misuse of the Lord’s Supper, partaking of it without discerning the body of Christ under the bread, can make a person sick or even lead to death.  That’s what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11, and that is one reason we practice closed Communion.  But if that is true, isn’t it also true that receiving the Lord’s Supper in faith that it is the true body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins heals you inside and out?  We were just talking about the fact that you can’t divide Jesus up into two halves, one God and one man.  There’s only one Jesus, and He is God and man, wherever He goes and whatever He does, ever since His conception in the womb of the Virgin.  Well, you can’t divide you in half, either, as much as we are always doing that, especially at funerals.  You aren’t part body and part soul.  You’re body and soul.  And so, when your soul is healed, as it is when Jesus comes to you in the Lord’s Supper, and in preaching and Scripture and Absolution, could it not be that your body is healed as well?  That’s not to say that you’re never going to get sick or that you’ll magically get rid of that cold after coming to Communion.  That would be to make Jesus a magician again.  But it is to say that here, in this place, is the same Jesus who healed Peter’s mother-in-law and all those people at Capernaum.  He’s really here, and He’s really doing what He always does.  He is giving you life.  The Sacrament is just the medicine you need when you are full of infirmity or afflicted in body or soul, because the Sacrament is nothing other than Jesus.  Jesus here, for you.  That is why you call your pastor when you are sick or suffering and have him come and preach to you and give you Jesus’ body and blood.  Luther says of the Sacrament: “It will cure you and give  you life both in soul and body.  For where the soul has recovered, the body also is relieved.”[1]  This shouldn’t surprise us.  The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).  Disease and affliction and every malady are symptoms of death.  When Jesus forgives our sin, the root cause has been cured.  That’s when the symptoms begin to subside.  And, of course, there is the issue of real presence once again, by which we mean the bodily presence of Jesus in the Supper.  That means His crucified and risen body touch your lips.  That is the body that touched, and thus healed, so many in His earthly ministry. 
            But the true and ultimate healing comes from the Word of Life Jesus proclaims.  Thus when everyone was looking for Him to do more miracles, Jesus bids His disciples, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:38; ESV).  Jesus came to preach, for it is in His Word, proclaimed, inscripturated, tucked into the water of rebirth and renewal, given for you to eat and to drink, that Jesus heals all that ails you.  It is His Word by which He delivers His death and resurrection to you.  So here you are at Church to hear His Word and receive it in your mouth.  And in this way, Jesus is forgiving your sins, healing you, and driving the devil far from you.  He is a real Jesus, really present, in the flesh.  He is not a God far removed.  He is a God as near as your ear and your mouth opened to receive Him.  And having thus received Him, you depart in peace, raised to life and made whole.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

[1] LC V:68 (McCain).