Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Lenten Midweek V/ Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion

Lenten Midweek V
“Death to Resurrection: The Wilderness to the Promised Land”[1]
March 21, 2018
Text: Josh. 3; Matt. 3:13, 4:1-2

            Our sin and unbelief has exiled us from God and His Kingdom.  The question is, how do we get back?  How do we get back to our home with God in the Promised Land?  Through the water, of course. 
            Israel had sinned against the LORD.  (I know, what’s new, right?)  But this sin was an act of unbelief so grievous that it cost a whole generation the Promised Land.  Remember the spies Moses sent to scout out the Land and bring back some of its produce (Ex. 13)?  Twelve men, a man from each tribe, and when they came back, not only did they show the people the huge, juicy grapes, pomegranates, and figs and describe the place as a land flowing with milk and honey…  They also scared the people and discouraged them with reports of strong, fierce warriors and impregnable fortifications.  We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are” (v. 31; ESV).  As though the Israelites were to win battles by their own might.  As though the LORD had not promised that He Himself would fight for them and win the victory.  Of the twelve, only Caleb and Joshua confessed their faith in YHWH and encouraged the people to go forth boldly, in the Name of the LORD.  Guess who the people believed?  It wasn’t Caleb and Joshua.  The LORD was justly angry.  The ten unfaithful spies dropped dead from a plague.  Of the rest of the nation, God swore, “none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness… shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers… not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun” (vv. 22-23, 30).  Israel was forced to go back out into the wilderness, the place of death, the place of emptiness, hunger, and thirst, the place, it was said, of the demons and their prince.  They had been on the cusp of the Promised Land.  They were about to enter it from the south, no bodies of water in their way.  But now, the wandering and the waiting… the waiting to die in the dessert. 
            Now there is a new generation.  The old has passed away.  The children of wilderness wandering are poised to enter the Land from the east.  And to do so, they must cross the Jordan River.  Ah, the Jordan River.  Baptism.  This is where our Old Testament reading picks up (Josh. 3:1-6).  You have to understand what is happening here.  This is nothing less than a death and resurrection… of Israel.  One generation has died in the wilderness.  A new generation has been raised up to enter the Promised Land through the water.  There is even this peculiar phrase, “At the end of three days” (v. 2; emphasis added).  Isn’t that just like God, to leave us a verbal marker to understand the theology of what He is doing?  The third day, the day of resurrection!  Our Lord rose from the dead on the Third Day.  Now, at the end of three days… There will now be a resurrection of God’s people!  They are to consecrate themselves, for God is about to do wonders.  He Himself will lead them through the water.  He Himself will lead them into the Land.  The priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant, the seat of God Almighty, the throne of YHWH, the dwelling place of the LORD with His people, shall pass before them, and the people shall follow.  And what happens?  As soon as the priests’ feet touch the water, the River stops flowing.  One side of the river stands up in a heap and the water is cut off.  The people cross over on dry ground.  It is a repeat of the Red Sea miracle for this new generation.  Joshua is established in the office of Moses.  The people pass through the water and set foot in the Land of Canaan.  God ha fulfilled His Promise.  A Land flowing with milk and honey.  Forty years after the tragedy of the spies, the children of Israel are home.
            Baptism.  Death and resurrection.  It’s all right there for us to read in the history of God’s people.  Remarkable.  Israel passes through the water from the place of sin and death and Satan to the place of life and peace promised by our God.  But now consider this: Jesus makes this journey in reverse.  He goes through the water out into the emptiness.  He comes from Israel to be baptized by John in the Jordan.  And then the Spirit leads Him out into the wilderness to do battle with the devil.  What is going on here? 
            Jesus is baptized into our sin and our death, our condemnation.  He is baptized into Israel.  He is baptized into us.  He takes our sin upon Himself.  He bears it.  He becomes the Sinner.  And He carries it out into the wilderness.  He carries it to the devil.  He is fulfilling the role of the scapegoat.  That’s a word everybody uses, but very few realize it’s right out of the Bible. The scapegoat was one of two goats set before the LORD on the Day of Atonement.  Lots were cast over the goats, one for death, and one for Azazel, which is to say, Satan (Lev. 16:8).  The goat chosen for death would be sacrificed as a sin offering.  But the scapegoat, the one for Azazel… The priest was to lay his hands on the goat’s head and confess the sins of the people, and send it bearing the people’s sin out into the wilderness, to the place of Azazel.  That is what our Lord Jesus does.  He bears our sin into the wilderness.  He bears our sin into death, the death of the cross.  And it is no longer ours to bear.  The Lord has taken it away forever.  He has returned it to Satan, to be cast into hell forever. 
            And now there is you.  As you are born into this world, in this flesh, you are born into the wilderness, the place of death, the place of emptiness, hunger, and thirst, the place of the demons and their prince, the devil.  Your father, Adam’s sin has put you here.  And your sin has confirmed it.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  You are his child.  And what can you do?  You’ve been exiled here in this wilderness.  How do you get back?  How do you get back to your home with God in the Promised Land, His Kingdom, His heaven?  Through the water, of course.
            Your parents bring you to the font, or, if you’re older, your mother, the Church, brings you to the font.  Now, understand, just as there is really only one altar in all of Christianity, for there is only one Jesus who gives Himself there in His body and blood, so there is only one font.  In the sacraments, we step out of time and space into eternity.  So there you are with Israel and John the Baptist and Jesus at the Jordan, and with all Christians of all times and places.  And just as the priests’ feet touch the water as they bear the ark of God, and now YHWH is in the water, so Jesus is in the water of the font.  That’s what He says.  Through the Apostle Paul, He tells us, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27).  More than that, you’ve died and been raised with Him, for His death and resurrection are in the water.  Again, St. Paul: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).  So there is Christ in the water, and there you are with Him in the water, and there is the Spirit descending upon you, and there is the voice of the Father, declaring you God’s own child, His own son, with whom He is well pleased.  For your sins and death and condemnation are washed away.  Jesus has soaked them up in His own Baptism and borne them to the wilderness and put them to death in His body.  There is nothing left in you for God to judge but Jesus and His righteousness.  And what does that mean for you? 
            The path is open.  The Promised Land lies ahead.  By His death and resurrection for you, your Lord Jesus Christ has led you out of your exile.  He went out that you may come in.  And through the water, you enter the Kingdom, the Church, heaven.  Now, in this earthly life, you are living in the already/not yet, the great paradox of baptismal life.  You are in the water.  You are living in your Baptism.  You’re in the great in-between.  You have one foot in the wilderness, and one in the Promised Land.  As a result, you walk in danger all the way.  There are temptations to return to the perceived safety of the slavery you know out there.  But it’s a lie.  And you know that.  So you stay in the water.  Because that is where Jesus is.  And He is leading you out.  He is leading you to His home, to the place of life and fullness and peace and joy. 
            And it is nothing less than a death and resurrection: Christ’s for you, yours in Him.  You were dead in your trespasses and sins.  But you are baptized into Christ.  In Him, you live.  So, beloved, take up your cross and follow Him through the water, through Good Friday, to the eternal Easter Day.  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).

Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion (B)

March 25, 2018
Text: Mark 14 & 15
            And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body.  And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked” (Mark 14:51-52; ESV).  The young man is not named.  Mark does this on purpose.  It is a literary device employed to pique our curiosity.  Who is this young man?  Why does he appear here, of all places?  The Holy Spirit is not so careless an Author as to weave meaningless details into His Composition.  This is here for a reason.  Many have surmised (and I include myself among them) that the young man is none other than St. Mark, John Mark, the human author of our Gospel.  That could well be the case.  It would not be unusual for an author to write himself into the narrative, especially if this is Mark’s way of confessing that he, too, denied his Lord, ran away from Jesus when the going got tough.  It is fun to speculate, but we can’t say for sure, because Mark leaves the man unnamed.  Because he has an even more important point to make.  The young man who runs away, the young man who is already dressed immodestly but now has to run away naked and totally exposed, the young man who abandons Jesus in His hour of suffering is not only John Mark, not only some random figure in the wrong place at the wrong time.  You are that young man.  And so are the apostles.  And so are Adam and Eve.  So are all their children.  This is humanity’s story.  This is your story.
            Note that the scene takes place in a garden.  God in the flesh, Jesus, is walking with His people, His disciples, sons of Adam all.  But in the time of trial, mortal men once again fail and fall.  In the face of temptation, rather than hold fast to the Word of the Lord, the disciples determine for themselves what is good and what is evil.  It is good to flee, they think, and leave Jesus to suffer His own fate at the hands of cruel men.  It would be evil to be caught and to die with him, they think; to take up their own cross and follow Jesus.  So as the serpent strikes the Shepherd’s heel, the sheep are scattered (cf. v. 27).  They all realize they are naked, vulnerable, exposed, so they hide.  Undoubtedly they make excuses.  Undoubtedly they turn on one another.  They are fallen men.  “You will all fall away,” Jesus had prophesied (v. 27).  Now His Words come back to haunt them.  Every one of them had boasted they would never leave Jesus in the lurch, that even if they must die with Him, they would never deny their Lord (v. 31).  Their track record would suggest otherwise.
            They already show their hand, making a big fuss when the woman anoints our Lord with expensive ointment at the house of Simon the leper (v. 3).  “There were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment wasted like that?  For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor’” (vv. 4-5).  The woman’s extravagant gift is a fruit of faith.  She anoints the Savior’s Body in preparation for His burial.  The reaction of those at the table is neither a fruit of faith, nor the fruit of any real concern for the poor.  It is stinginess dressed up with piety.  The Church has suffered from this sin from time immemorial.  Repent.  In any case, this is the last straw for Judas.  When the money isn’t handled as he sees fit, he leaves, and from that point on he seeks an opportunity to betray Jesus.  He will be there in the upper room to ask with the others, “Is it I?” (v. 19), and to dip his bread into the dish with Jesus (v. 20).  But he is there under false pretenses.  He bellies up to the Communion Table, but he eats and drinks judgment on himself.  For he does not discern the Body of Christ.  He does not eat and drink in faith.  He is a hypocrite in the true sense of the word.  Woe to Judas.  “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (v. 21). 
            Judas, of course, is the most egregious example of a disciple who falls away from Jesus.  But how do the rest fare?  After boasting of their faithfulness, Peter, James, and John cannot watch with their Lord for even one hour (v. 37).  They fall asleep when their Friend needs them most.  “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (v. 38).  It is true for all of the disciples.  Judas comes with the soldiers and every one of them scatters: “And they all left him and fled” (v. 50).  Look closely.  There is that young man running away naked.  There is his linen cloth, lying on the ground.
            It doesn’t get any better at Jesus’ trial.  Peter follows at a safe distance, but as our Lord is falsely accused, mocked, beaten, and spat upon, Peter doesn’t speak up for Him.  Instead, Peter is in the courtyard denying Him three times.  Just as Jesus said He would.  Peter is not so willing to die with Jesus after all.  The rooster crows twice, calling Peter to repentance.  Peter breaks down and weeps bitter tears (v. 72).
            And the hits keep on coming.  The Sanhedrin, the spiritual leaders of Israel, hand Messiah over to the Roman government to be killed.  The crowd of pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Passover sacrifice call out for blood: “Crucify him… Crucify him” (15:13-14).  Pilate denies Jesus justice for the sake of his own convenience.  Barabbas (literally “Son of the Father”), an insurrectionist, a robber and a murderer, goes free.  Jesus is scourged and delivered up to be crucified.  The soldiers worship Him in mockery, beat Him, abuse Him, then strip Him and lead Him out to the Holy Hill to be crucified.  They nail Him to the cross and lift Him up between two robbers.  They gamble over His clothes.  The chief priests and scribes and those passing by deride Him.  The very sun in the sky hides its face for three hours.  Our Lord is utterly alone, abandoned by His friends, the Church, the State.  And what of His Father?  Where is the Father?  His back is turned on His beloved Son.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 34).  Even the Father has left Him to suffer on His own.  That is hell.  He suffers it because of your sin.  And Peter’s.  And that of the Twelve.  Even Judas.  Even Pilate, the Sanhedrin, the robbers, Barabbas, Mother Theresa, and Hitler.  It all hangs there on the wood in the flesh of the Son of God.  This is the payment.  This is the sacrifice of atonement.  Jesus is the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.  He is the perfect Mediator between God and man, because He is God and Man, by His death reconciling God and man in the forgiveness of sins.  Of all people, the centurion in charge of the execution is the first to get it.  As Jesus utters a loud cry and breathes His last (v. 37), the centurion confesses what the disciples should have known all along: “Truly this man was the Son of God” (v. 39).
            And where are you in all of this?  You are there in the griping and complaining, in the hypocrisy and betrayal.  You are there in the boasting of your faithfulness and the failure as you flee.  You also have denied your Lord when the going gets hard.  You also have neglected justice for the sake of convenience.  You also have betrayed Him and pierced His sacred flesh with every sin, every breaking of every commandment, every lustful thought, every wandering glance, every juicy bit of gossip or sweet boast that passes over your lips.  You talk a big Christian talk, but when it comes right down to it, you can’t watch with Him one hour either.  You need your sleep.  And you certainly don’t want to take up your cross and die with Him.  I know you don’t want to hear it, but you are just like your parents.  You just can’t bear the temptation.  Instead of clinging to the Word of the Lord, you listen to the serpent.  You are convinced you can determine your own good and evil, and you reach for the fruit that is forbidden.  Hear the rooster’s early morning sermon: Repent.  But know this.  Even as you are the young man fleeing naked, your sin exposed for all to see, you are in the naked Man lifted up on the cross, your sin exposed for God’s wrath to be spent on it in His flesh.  That you be saved.
            You have denied Him, but He has not denied you.  You have forsaken Him, but He has not forsaken you.  There is great comfort in confessing yourself to be the naked young man.  The linen cloth is all the young man has with which to clothe himself.  It is immodest and insufficient.  It is his own version of Eden’s fig leaves.  But in the arrest, suffering, and death of Jesus, the young man and you are stripped of your linen cloths, your fig leaves, the sin you parade before God and others as if it were righteousness.  You are stripped of it, that Jesus may be wrapped in it and buried in it.  “And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb” (v. 46).  You see, Jesus does all of that to death.  He takes it to the grave with Him.  That He might clothe you in something better.  In the Garden of Eden, God sheds the blood of animals to clothe Adam and Eve in their skins.  At Golgotha, God sheds the blood of His beloved Son to clothe you with Jesus.  And you are no longer naked.  By your Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, you are given the robe that is Christ Himself.  “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27).  And so you don’t need to run away and hide anymore.  You already died with Christ.  And Easter is coming.  No matter what happens to you in the days to come, there is one thing that is certain.  In the end, your grave will be as empty as His.  He cannot leave you in death.  You are clothed with Him.  You walk around in His skin.  Where He is, you are.  Weep your bitter tears this Holy Week for all your sin and all that Jesus has suffered for your forgiveness.  But so also, lift up your head and rejoice.  All of this has come to pass that you may be God’s own child, fully fed and fully clothed.  God has written it in the flesh of Jesus: You are loved.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                     

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Lenten Midweek IV/ Fifth Sunday in Lent

Lenten Midweek IV
“Tree to Tree: The Tree of Life to the Cross”[1]
March 14, 2018
Text: Gen. 2:15-17, 3:22-24; John 3:14-15

            Why did our Lord have to die for us affixed to wood?  Why wood?  Have you ever thought about this?  Nothing with the Lord is by accident.  It may be helpful to know that the Hebrew word for wood, עֵץ, is also the word for tree.  So now think about this: It is at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil where the serpent overcomes our first parents and traps them in his wicked kingdom by leading them into rebellion against God.  As a result, we are infected with sin from birth, from conception, from the moment we come into existence, because of what happened at that tree.  And now, lest we eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in this living death of sin and decay and sickness and aging and suffering and violence and sadness and separation from God, God has barred our path back to Eden with flaming sword and cherubim.  It is a gracious thing, to be sure.  Living like that would be hell… eternal death.  But it is also a curse.  No access to God’s Tree of Life.  No way back to Eden.  No way back to God. 
            Our Lord is lifted up on the wood, the tree of the cross, that he who once overcame by a tree (the devil), might likewise by a tree be overcome.  Jesus is undoing Adam’s sin!  Adam’s sin made the Tree of Life into a tree of death.  Jesus’ cross made a tree of death into the Tree of Life.  Adam took and ate of a tree what was not given for him.  Because he ate, our Lord surely died.  Because our Lord died on the tree of the cross, we take and eat of its fruit, the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for us, for the forgiveness of sins, and we surely live.  Why did our Lord have to die affixed to the wood?  To undo sin, release us from Satan’s bondage, and wash away the curse forever. 
            It’s all over Scripture, the tree, the wood.  To name but a few: There is Moses’ staff by which the LORD did all the wonders before Pharaoh in Egypt (Ex. 7-12), and which Moses stretched out before the Red Sea so that it divided and the people crossed over on dry land (Ex. 14).  By means of the wood, the people of God were saved from their enemies and were baptized into Moses in the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:2), sent on their way to the Promised Land.  There is the bitter water at Marah, made sweet when Moses casts in the log (Ex. 15:23-25).  With his staff, Moses struck the rock at Massah and Meribah, and out flowed life-giving water (Ex. 17:6).  Immediately after this, Amalek came to fight with Israel in the wilderness.  As long as Moses held up His staff, God’s people prevailed.  When his arms became tired, and he lowered the staff, Amalek prevailed.  So Aaron and Hur sat Moses on a rock and held up his hands, one on each side (Ex. 17:11-12).  And what does that look like?  Jesus on the cross.  Where there is Jesus on the cross, God’s people prevail.  Through the suffering and death of the Son of God, God’s people are saved.
            Then there was the controversy over whether everyone was to serve as the priest of God, or whether God had, indeed, chosen Levi as the priestly tribe, and Aaron in particular as His priest.  Remember, each chief of each tribe was to put his staff into the Tabernacle, Aaron’s staff representing Levi.  And in the morning, behold, Aaron’s staff had budded into almond blossoms with ripe almonds (Num. 17).  Here, life and ripe fruit come from a lifeless piece of wood.  Just as our life comes from the cross of Christ, the Chosen and Anointed One, our High Priest, and from the wood of His death comes the fruit we eat and drink in the Holy Supper, the food of our life. 
            One of my favorite examples of this is an episode from the ministry of the Prophet Elisha.  The sons of the prophets (which is to say, the school of the prophets, their seminary) were hewing logs to build dwellings.  One particular young man who had borrowed an ax was felling a tree when the head flew off and sank to the bottom of the Jordan.  You’ve probably been in a similar predicament where you’ve borrowed something, and wouldn’t you know it, you lost it, or it broke on your watch.  The man panics: “Alas, my master!  It was borrowed” (2 Kings 6:5; ESV).  Without skipping a beat, Elisha cuts a stick and throws it where the ax head fell.  And the iron floats (v. 6)!  This is both a type of the cross and Holy Baptism.  The ax head is lost in the water, as you are drowned in Holy Baptism (this is the Jordan, after all, which should always make us think of Baptism).  When the wood is put in the water, what should not float (the iron ax head), rises to the top.  Just as the death and resurrection of Christ in the water of the font raises you to new life.  You, a sinner, who should perish in your sins, are raised from the dead!  You are a new creation in Christ!  For the tree of death, the tree of the cross, has become the Tree of Life for you and for all.  And so also, that wood in the water restored the young man’s relationship with the person from whom he borrowed the ax.  He is able to return the ax, good as new.  Take note of that.  For in the same way, the wood of the holy cross in the water of Holy Baptism, restores your relationships to one another.  God forgives your trespasses, and you forgive those who trespass against you.  Even when they lose or break your stuff.
            These are only a few examples.  There are so many more.  Think of two of them we’ve encountered in our Lenten meditations: The wood of the sacrifice carried by Isaac to the top of Mount Moriah (Gen. 22); the serpent on the pole that we heard about on Sunday (Num. 21:4-9), of which Jesus says in our Holy Gospel, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).  All of Holy Scripture is about Jesus.  In all of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit is showing us how God Himself will save us from our sins.  By sending His Son.  By fixing Him to the wood.  That we, who have died as the result of one man’s sin at a tree, might now live eternally as a result of one man’s death on a tree. 
            And now this: Barred as we are from the Tree of Life, Jesus takes upon Himself the Tree of Death, the cross, which becomes the very Tree of Life for us.  But there is more.  By means of His death and resurrection, Jesus brings us into His heavenly courts.  And St. John describes the heavenly courts this way in the Revelation: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And night will be no more.  They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:1-5).  Do you see what our Lord’s cross does for us?  It brings us to the water of life, whose tributaries flow into our baptismal font.  And there it is!  The Tree of Life.  We’re back in Eden!  No more flaming sword and cherubim blocking our way.  We have access to the Tree again.  Its leaves are for our healing.  And we can take of its fruit, and eat of it, and so live forever.  We get a little foretaste of it here, in the Supper.  But there we will enjoy it to the full.  And we have access to God once again, our heavenly Father, and the Lamb, Jesus Christ, His Son.  And we belong to Him.  His Name is on us.  That happened at Baptism.  And there is no darkness.  He is our light.  And we reign with Him.  As Adam and Eve were meant to reign, to fill the earth and subdue it.  So it will be on that Day.
            All because Jesus was affixed to the wood.  Because Jesus died on the wood.  Our sins are forgiven.  And Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And now we know how to read the Holy Scriptures.  The Spirit has enlightened our hearts to see that it’s all about Jesus.  He’s on every page.  He’s in every event recorded in Sacred Writ.  He is there, saving us.  He is there, giving us life.  He is there on the page (the product of wood!).  Jesus, our crucified Lord, is all in all.  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).

Fifth Sunday in Lent (B)
March 18, 2018
Text: Mark 10:32-45

            You do not know what you are asking” (Mark 10:38; ESV).  Isn’t that just like the disciples?  Always arguing about who is the greatest.  Always thinking they understand, but in reality, having no clue.  Always boasting in themselves, speaking when they should be listening, asking for things about which they have no wisdom.  There are three Passion predictions in the Gospel according to St. Mark, three times when Jesus explicitly tells His disciples that He must suffer and die for our sins.  And always, immediately after the prediction, the disciples demonstrate what a pack of miserable failures they are. 
            After the first Passion prediction (Mark 8:31), St. Peter rebukes our Lord for all of this suffering and death talk (v. 32), and receives the stinging rebuke in return, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 33).  Whereupon the whole group gets a necessary lecture from Jesus on the necessity of suffering, both Jesus’ suffering and our own: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (vv. 34-35). 
            After the second Passion prediction (9:30-31), none of the disciples understand what He is talking about, and, as if our Lord doesn’t already know their ignorance, and as if He will be unkind to them about it, they are afraid to ask Him (v. 32).  But they do immediately descend into an argument about which one of them is the greatest (vv. 33-34).  Now, probably all twelve aren’t in contention for the title, but some are following Peter, others James or John, or maybe Andrew, or perhaps a dark horse like Nathaniel.  But what they don’t see coming is Jesus’ answer, when He brings a little child into their midst and holds him in His arms and says, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all… Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (vv. 35, 37).
            Now, you’d think the disciples would have learned this lesson.  But here we arrive at our text, the third Passion prediction, and immediately James and John show up with the request to sit on our Lord’s right and left in His glory (10:37).  Actually, first they ask for a blank check, do whatever we ask You (v. 35).  Jesus, like any wise parent, doesn’t fall into their trap.  First tell me what you want (v. 36).  And what they want is to be nothing less than preeminent among the Twelve.  As with all of our prayers, there is both something noble about their request, and something selfish.  It is noble to want to be near Jesus.  That should be our prayer, too, to be as close to Jesus as we possibly can be.  But we know, as do the Ten, that James and John are also looking for some power and glory of their own.  Like us, when we pray the doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory”… But leave me just a little bit, too, Lord.  I want some glory.  Just a little.  Give me a little power.  Just with the affairs of this life.  I mean, I’d make a better president than the turkeys who ran this last go around.  Beloved, repent.  Trust not in princes, and don’t try to be one yourself.  See, we haven’t learned our lesson any better than the disciples. 
            Well, we’re all very hard on James and John for their self-exalting request, which actually puts us in the company of the other Ten.  Why are the other Ten so upset?  Why are you?  Because these guys think they’re better than the rest!  They’re jealous!  And, well, you certainly admit, I would hope, that the actual Apostles have a better claim to this glory than you do, but let’s not be so hasty, you say.  There are ten other candidates, just as well qualified, perhaps even more qualified.  See, what gets you about this is that you do it all the time in your own life.  Why did that guy get the honor when I’ve been quietly doing even more than he does over here?  Why did she get the promotion when I work harder and put out better quality product in half the time?  Why are those people rich and famous while I’m middle class (or “poor,” as we always like to brag) and anonymous.  And, I say it all the time when I’m driving somewhere and some rascal tailgates me or pulls around me or can’t wait half a minute for a red light, “What, are you so much more important than everyone else that you can’t wait a few extra seconds to get where you’re going?”  After which, of course, I cheat on the speed limit to get where I’m going a little faster.  Beloved, repent.  Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Praise God for their good fortune, which we know is not fortune or luck at all, but the providence of our Father in heaven, who also provides what you need, including sometimes a good helping of humble pie. 
            You ask God for many things, and that’s fine.  You are a beloved child asking your dear Father.  There is nothing you can’t ask.  But you have to understand that Jesus’ answer is the same that He gives to James and John.  You do not know what you are asking.”  Even when you ask for the right things, like forgiveness of sins and eternal life and the Holy Spirit, or to be near Jesus, right by His side, you really have no concept of profundity of your request.  You just know you want the good stuff for you.  But Jesus, as always, turns everything on its head.  You want to be with Me in My glory?  Get ready to suffer.  You want to be first?  Be last.  You want to the greatest?  Become a servant, a slave.  Die to self.  Give your life for the good of your neighbor.  Make no claim to honor, to the Kingdom, the Power, or the Glory.  Do not insist on your own way.  Regard others as better than yourselves.  Take the lowest seat.  Take up your cross and follow Me.
            Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?  It is the least of these.  Which is to say, Jesus.  For it is Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father, Almighty God become flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, who did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking upon Himself the form of a servant, a man, humbling Himself and becoming obedient to the point of death, even the accursed death of the cross (Phil. 2:6-8).  For 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).  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  Love unknown, this is… my Savior’s love to me.  Completely incomprehensible to self-centered sinners like us.  “Love to the loveless shown That they might lovely be.  Oh, who am I That for my sake My Lord should take Frail flesh and die?” (LSB 430:1). 
            You see, when our Lord bids us become greatest by becoming least, by giving our life for our friends, loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile with the one who compels us, denying the self, taking up the cross and dying… He is first of all, and foremost, talking about Himself.  This is what He does, for you.  It is nearly Holy Week, and we will follow Him to Golgotha.  Don’t miss it, beloved.  Be there for every service possible.  Hear every Word.  There will be so much Scripture.  All of which will deliver this to you: Our Lord’s suffering and death for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins.  His body and blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.  The Lamb of God, pure and holy, who on the cross did suffer, bearing all your sins, lest despair reign over you.  He gives you in His Word and Supper His own life and light and peace and joy and strength and comfort and help, His Spirit, and everything you need for body and soul. 
            That is why Lutherans call worship “The Divine Service.”  We are not here to serve God.  God gets nothing out of this.  He does not need us to affirm Him so He feels good about Himself.  The Divine Service is not our work for God.  It is God’s work for us.  Here Jesus serves us.  Just as He wrapped Himself in a towel on the night in which He was betrayed and stooped down to wash His disciples feet (John 13).  So, in every Divine Service, Jesus is here in the flesh to serve us.  He comes to us.  He stoops down.  He washes away our sin.  He teaches us and prays for us and with us and in us.  And He feeds us.  All for us.  For our forgiveness and life.  He imparts all the saving benefits of His death and resurrection.  And there is no room here for arguing about who is the greatest.  Jesus is.  There is no lording it over anyone else.  We are all the same before God.  We are all here to receive His gifts, the gifts we truly need, the gifts we cannot live without.  We are all sinners here to be forgiven.  We do serve in Church, but notice that this is not service to God, as if He couldn’t do it without us, but to our neighbor, who needs us to do it.  Again, there is no lording it over anyone here.  We all have different gifts and we use them in different ways.  Our musicians lead the music.  Our ushers usher.  Our elders elder.  Our singers sing.  I do the preaching.  Our Sunday School teachers teach.  Dad makes the coffee.  You sit and stand and hear and believe and confess.  And you love your neighbor.  That part takes practice.  Most of what you do is unseen by others and brings you no glory, not even a shout-out in the sermon.  But that is okay.  Your reward is in heaven.  This is your vocation.  This is what God has given you to do.  You are called to serve your neighbor.
            And the main service you do is out there in the world, the service you provide for your neighbor.  That is where your good works belong.  That is what we should call our worship, our serving.  Your sins are forgiven and you are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, apart from works, by Christ’s life and death and resurrection for you.  God has no need of your works.  But boy, your neighbor sure does.  And most of this happens in vocation.  A mother feeds the hungry when she makes dinner for her all-too-often ungrateful children and husband.  A father clothes the naked when He goes to his job and provides for his household.  A child visits the sick when he drops in to see his ailing grandfather in the nursing home.  Being faithful to your spouse, taking out the garbage, getting up and going to work, obeying traffic laws even when you think you’re more important than everyone else, changing diapers, mowing your lawn, these are the things you do for your neighbor, and so do for Jesus Himself.  That is service.  That is love.
            And, you suffer.  That is service, too.  You are baptized with the Baptism with which Jesus is baptized.  You drink His cup.  You will suffer the holy cross.  You do not seek it, but it will come.  Satan will buffet you with thorns in the flesh.  You will suffer heartbreak and sorrow.  You will worry for your children.  Your best friend will say mean things to you.  You will get sick, and you will care for the sick.  You will suffer persecution for the faith, to one degree or another.  You will bury loved ones, and your loved ones will bury you.  Notice that this, also, is all within your vocations, your callings, the relationships in which God has placed you, among the people with whom He has surrounded you.  And in these vocations, you will pray for help and you will pray for relief and you will pray for success.  You will want to be the greatest.  You will want to be the best.  And you won’t know what you are asking.  But the good news is, the Lord knows what you need.  And He will faithfully give it.  Always.  Even when you think He is holding out on you.  He always forgives you.  He is always with you.  He is even in you, for you eat Him in the Supper.  And you are always in Him, for you are baptized into Christ.  You always live in this reality.  And that is enough.  Jesus is Lord.  You and I follow Him.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              

Friday, March 16, 2018

Lenten Midweek III/ Fourth Sunday in Lent

Lenten Midweek III
“Out of Egypt: Through the Water”[1]
March 7, 2018
Text: Ex. 14:13-31; Mark 1:9-13

            Water.  It is the elixir of life.  It is a torrent of destruction.  Our bodies are 60-80% water depending on body type.  We need water to live.  The human body can survive up to three weeks without food, but only three to five days without water.  The crops need water, but just the right amount of water.  Not enough water and they will die.  Too much water will kill them.  Farmers know better than any of us how to pray, and what it is to live by faith.  Their livelihood depends on water.  Water puts out fires.  It also floods.  Water quenches thirst.  It also drowns.  Water is the stuff of life and death.
            And as it is in this temporal world, so much the more is it in the things of God.  What does such baptizing with water indicate?  It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”[2]  Water is the stuff of eternal life and death.  The water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word results in the daily death of the sinful nature by contrition, that is, sorrow over sin, and repentance, that is, a turning from it, and the daily resurrection of the new creation in Christ by faith in Him.  Baptism is a onetime washing with eternal, daily significance.  I was baptized, yes, at a specific point in time, but better, I am baptized, now and forever, and my Christian life is a life lived from the font.
            The motif is all over the Scriptures.  In the beginning, the Spirit is hovering over the waters, bringing life to creation.   But then there is sin, and God repents of all that He has made.  He destroys all life by means of the Flood… all life, that is, except for Noah and his wife and his three sons and their wives and the animals collected on the ark.  By means of water, the world is put to death, yet by means of water, the faithful remnant is saved alive. 
            The Hebrews in Egypt were to throw their baby boys in the Nile, Pharaoh’s futile attempt at preventing the promised deliverer.  Yet Moses’ mother follows the letter of the law, but not the spirit.  She puts her baby boy in the Nile, but in a basket (literally an “ark”!), from which Pharaoh’s sister draws him and raises him as her own.  Water brings death to the sons of Israel, yet water saves alive Moses, who will save his whole nation.
            It is Moses who leads the people out of slavery in Egypt, yet very quickly Egypt pursues.  The Israelites are caught.  On one side is Pharaoh’s army, on the other, the Red Sea.  Moses, incidentally even before he knows what God will do, speaks the Promise: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD… The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Ex. 14:13-14; ESV).  The Angel of the LORD in the pillar of cloud and fire, the LORD Himself, the pre-incarnate Christ comes between Israel and her enemies.  And all night the LORD drives the waters back by a strong east wind.  The children of Israel cross over the Red Sea on dry land.  St. Paul says they were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea (1 Cor. 10:2).  The Egyptians pursued, but the waters crashed in upon them, drowning them at the bottom of the sea.  Life and death.  Life to God’s people.  Death to those who hate God and His people. 
            It happens again forty years later, when Israel crosses the Jordan.  This time they cross from the wilderness, the place of emptiness and death, to the Promised Land, the place of abundant life.  Many years after that, Elijah, too, passes over the Jordan on dry ground, as he is taken up into heaven by the chariots of fire.  Crossing over the water, he is delivered to eternal life with God in heaven.  It happens to Naaman when he washes seven times in the Jordan at Elisha’s command.  The living death of leprosy is washed from his skin.  He is clean and whole and smooth as a newborn baby. 
            And so we come to our Lord standing there in the Jordan, being baptized by John.  The heavens are torn asunder, the Spirit descends as a dove, and the voice of the Father declares that Jesus is His beloved Son, with whom He is well pleased.  As you know, Jesus is baptized into us, into our sin and death, so that we are baptized at the font into His righteousness and life.  His Baptism seals His destiny.  For Him, the water is the death of the cross.  For us, the water is the life of His resurrection.  In holy Baptism, we die with Christ.  Old Adam is crucified, drowned.  In holy Baptism, we live with Christ.  Christ Himself is our life, which is hidden with Christ in God, but will be revealed for all to see on that Day.  “St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: ‘We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’ (Rom. 6:4).”  We live it now in daily repentance and faith.  We will live it then in risen bodies like unto His risen body, forever, in the new heavens and the new earth.
            And so, by means of water, our Lord leads us out of exile to sin and death into His eternal Kingdom.  He leads us through the Red Sea of Baptism, and our enemies are dead in the water.  Sins forgiven.  Rescued from death and the devil.  Eternal salvation for all who believe this, as the Words and Promises of God declare.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16; ESV). 
            Now, you may say, “This is all wonderful, but I sure don’t feel free and alive and delivered from my enemies.  In fact, I feel like I’m drowning.”  It is true, this life and new birth that has been given you from above in your Baptism is a hidden reality.  That which the eyes can see appears to be anything but life and new birth and freedom.  The old evil foe would have you believe your eyes and your emotions over against the ears into which God has spoken His Word and faith.  He will whisper his lies, and your fallen flesh will be all too willing to listen and believe it.  But tonight you will sing a hymn during Communion, which our children know by heart, and you really should memorize, too.  For you will sing, “Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!  Drop your ugly accusation, I am not so soon enticed.  Now that to the font I’ve traveled, All your might has come unraveled, And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me!” (LSB 594:3).  You will tell off sin.  You will tell off the devil.  You will tell off death itself.  These enemies can no longer enslave you.  They have no claim on you anymore.  Jesus made you His own in the water.  Your enemies are vanquished.  They are dead.  You have crossed over to life, you live.  God’s own child, I gladly say it.  Forgiven, righteous, redeemed, restored.  Delivered in the water.  You are baptized!  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).
[2] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Fourth Sunday in Lent (B)
March 11, 2018
Text: John 3:14-21

            It sounded ridiculous.  It was contrary to all reason.  It was contrary to God’s own Commandment.  Moses was to make a graven image, an image of a serpent out of bronze, and lift it up on a pole.  And anyone bitten by one of the fiery serpents God had sent among the people, could look at that bronze serpent, look at the disgusting graven image of their death, and they would live.  The serpents, as we know, were sent as a consequence of the people speaking against God, and against their pastor, the one given to speak for God, Moses (just remember that next time you have a complaint!).  It is no accident that the form of their chastisement was a serpent.  The point must not be lost on us.  In speaking against God and rejecting His Word and the life He has given, the people were committing the same sin Adam and Eve committed in the Garden.  As our first parents were led by the serpent, the devil, to reject God and His Word and the life He had given them in Eden, they died.  And so the people, bitten by the fiery serpents in the wilderness.  They died.  The word for “fiery” in Hebrew is seraphim, the same word used to describe one particular rank of holy angels.  Were the serpents fiery because they were shiny like the angels of God?  Or because the poison burned its way through the body as it killed you?  Hard to say.  But there was no anti-venom.  Just the image on the pole.  Look there and you will live.
            Jesus says this whole business is actually about Him!  As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15; ESV).  The serpent on the pole is what we call in theology a “type.”  It is an event prophecy, an Old Testament reality foreshadowing a New Testament reality, the “antitype,” the fulfillment of the type.  And how does our Lord Jesus fulfill the type of the serpent on the pole?  He is lifted up on the cross, the image of our death and condemnation for sin.  And every one of us, mortally bitten by the serpent, the old evil foe, and dead in our trespasses and sins… Every one of us, when we look upon Christ crucified and believe and know that His death is our forgiveness and salvation, we are healed and we live.  This is why the gradual that we sing between the Old Testament and Epistle is so important, because you have it ingrained in your mind now: “[O come, let us fix our eyes on] Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).  It’s a beautiful little summary verse of our text this morning.  Look to Jesus who was lifted up on the cross for you.  He is the founder and perfecter of your faith.  And He is risen and lives and reigns at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  He is your Savior from sin and death. 
            This is the God who sent the serpents to bite His people in the wilderness.  In spite of all appearances, He is not a God of wrath, but a God of love and mercy.  The serpents were the just punishment of unbelief and sin.  But with the wages of sin, God sends the way of salvation.  The serpent on the pole.  The Son of Man lifted up.  For God so loved the world,” loved the world thusly, in this manner,that he gave his only[-begotten] Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  The Father did not send the Son into the world to condemn it, to destroy it, kill every last one of us and send us to hell.  No, He sent His Son to save the world, save you and me and all people, by being nailed to the cross and lifted up, the very image of our sin and death and condemnation.  And all we have to do is look to Him there, on the cross, beaten and bloodied for us, which is to say, believe in Him, and we live.  And St. Paul says in our Epistle that such looking, such believing, such faith is not even our work!  It is God’s work for us!  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing…  You didn’t create this faith within yourself.  You didn’t decide to follow Jesus.  You didn’t choose Jesus… “it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).  Jesus chose you.  The Holy Spirit turns your eyes to Jesus, fixes them on your crucified Savior, gives you the faith to believe in Jesus Christ as a free gift of His grace. 
            And the way He does this is so ridiculous and contrary to all reason.  He does it through the Word!  He does it through preaching and Scripture.  And He does it in the visible Word of Baptism and Supper.  These are the means to which the Spirit graciously attaches Himself so that we always know where to find Him.  Like the serpent on the pole.  The Hebrews knew just where to look to be healed.  As ridiculous as it may sound, just look at that bronze serpent, and you will live.  Now, of course, you had to believe that Word, that Promise from God, if you were to do it.  If you just dismissed it as quackery, you wouldn’t look.  The looking is faith.  And so you.  The Spirit gives you the Promise.  Look to Jesus.  Fix your eyes on Him.  And believing that Promise, that is what you do.  And you are healed.  You are not condemned.  You have eternal life.  You live. 
            This is why we have crucifixes.  (Oh boy, here’s where Pastor talks about all that Catholic stuff… blah, blah, blah!)  First of all, remember what I’ve so often told you.  Don’t let Rome have all the fun.  Whatever is good in Rome, we retain as our own.  We are the catholics.  We are not Roman Catholics, but in reality, in terms of our doctrine, we’re the real catholics.  Catholic just means “according to the whole,” the whole doctrine of Christ, preached and believed by the Church of all times and places.  And there are many things Roman Catholics do that we also do, like pray, read the Scriptures, be baptized and absolved, and receive the Lord’s Supper.  Boy, maybe we shouldn’t do those things because they’re too Catholic…  That was sarcasm for those of you in Rio Linda.
            “But Pastor, I have an empty cross, because I worship a risen Jesus!”  You’ve said it.  You know you have.  Let’s be honest.  Somebody somewhere along the way told you wrong.  It’s not their fault.  Somebody told them wrong.  Let’s all just take a deep breath and think about this for a minute.  For one thing, if you tell me the cross ought to be empty because Jesus is no longer dead, I’m coming to your house at Christmas time, and I better find an empty manger, because Jesus is no longer a baby asleep on the hay.  He’s a grownup now.  Of course, it would be ridiculous to have a manger scene with no Jesus just because He isn’t a baby anymore.  The manger scene is a picture that aids our faith and devotion, reminding us that God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, took on our flesh and was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, laid into a manger, because there was no room for Him in the inn.  The crucifix reminds us that that precious little baby grew up into a man who really suffered and really died for us and for our salvation. 
            Now, you can have crosses without the corpus, the body of Jesus, if you want.  But this is important, and I want to put this myth to bed once and for all.  There really is no such thing as an empty cross.  There are crosses without the corpus, and I have a few myself.  But always, and in every case, the cross is a reminder that Christ died for you.  And that is why we decorate our churches and our home with them, whether crucifixes or not, and we even wear them around our neck, next to our heart.  That we may always be reminded.  Jesus died for me.  Yes, He is risen for me… that is incredible Good News and our entire faith depends on that.  But the resurrection depends on His dying.  You don’t have a risen Jesus unless you first have a dead one.  And in that way, the crucifix is just as much a reminder of His resurrection as the “empty” cross.
            There is also this: If Jesus is on the cross, there is no room for you.  Remember that this is supposed to be your death, your condemnation.  But God so loved you, He gave His only-begotten Son into your death in your place.  Because Jesus is on the cross, you are not.[1]
            But isn’t the crucifix a graven image?  And didn’t we just have a reading against that last week?  Yes, it is, and yes, we did have the reading of the Ten Commandments last week (Ex. 20).  By the way, your manger scene is a graven image as well.  And you probably gave your children and grandchildren picture bibles… Bibles full of graven images.  And you may carry graven images with you in your wallet.  In any case, you have them hanging all over your home.  Look again at what God says about images in the Ten Commandments.  You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything… You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God…” (Ex. 20:4-5).  He does not prohibit images, He prohibits making images to worship.  He’s outlawing idolatry.  This is commentary on the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (v. 3).  Now, if you are tempted by the crucifix to worship the image over and above the man the image depicts, then by all means, don’t have crucifixes.  Many generations after Israel came into the Promised Land, King Hezekiah of Judah had to break the bronze serpent in pieces because the people had begun to worship it, contrary to the purpose for which the LORD gave it (2 Kings 18:4).  So if you are denying Jesus and worshiping the little metal figure attached to the wood, then yes, you’re breaking the Commandment.  But if the crucifix is aiding you in your worship and devotion, your meditation on Christ and His suffering and death for you… if it helps you focus on your prayers, and if it reminds you of how precious you are to God, then it is a tremendous gift from God.  It is like the bronze serpent was to the Hebrews in the wilderness.  It is a lifeline.  Luther says that “images for memorial and witness, such as crucifixes and images of saints, are to be tolerated… And they are not only to be tolerated, but for the sake of the memorial and the witness they are praiseworthy and honorable.”[2]  Of the crucifix, in particular, Luther says, “whether I will or not, when I hear of Christ, an image of a man hanging on a cross takes form in my heart, just as the reflection of my face naturally appears in water when I look into it.  If it is not a sin but good to have the image of Christ in my heart, why should it be a sin to have it in my eyes?”[3]  Indeed, God does not prohibit crucifixes or manger scenes or picture bibles or family photos in the First Commandment.  In fact, insofar as these aid and encourage your worship of the one true God, they are a fulfillment of the First Commandment. 
            “But Pastor, I just don’t like crucifixes.”  Well, at least now you’re being honest.  Christ crucified is always an offense to our fallen and sinful flesh.  Crucifixes are a matter of Christian freedom.  You don’t have to have one.  But here is why I, and many here today, love them.  I wear mine nearly every day around my neck and over my heart, and I have them all over my walls at home, so that I am never without a reminder of Christ crucified for me.  And when I pray, I often pray with my eyes focused on the crucified Lord Jesus, by whom I have access to my Father in heaven.  And I cling to this crucifix whenever I am pleading with God on your behalf or for some need or in some crisis, when my sins weigh me down, when I am sad, when I give thanks, when I rejoice, or whenever I need Christ, which is always.  I feel the shape of His incarnation and death in my hand and the image is burned into my eyes.  Christ for me.  Christ for you.  Christ for the world.  Christ crucified.  Christ risen from the dead.  Look upon Him always, beloved.  Look upon Him, you who are mortally bitten by sin.  Look upon Him and be healed.  Look upon Him and live.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.     

[1] Thanks to Katie Schuermann for this illustration, The Harvest Raise (St. Louis: Concordia, 2017) p. 291.
[2] LW 40:91.
[3] LW 40:99-100.