Friday, July 26, 2019

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11C)
July 21, 2019
Text: Luke 10:38-42

            Many things are necessary in this earthly life, things that are good and God-pleasing.  But these things become evil when they keep us from Jesus and hinder us from hearing and learning God’s Word.  For example, jobs are necessary, good, and God-pleasing.  If people didn’t have jobs, the world wouldn’t work.  There would be no one to provide necessary goods and services for others.  No one would have any money, food, clothing, or shelter.  You couldn’t provide for yourself and for your family.  If you’ve ever been unemployed, you know the feeling of anxiety that brings.  I think we can all agree that jobs are a good thing.  St. Paul agrees, when he writes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (1 Thess. 3:10; ESV).  It is important to hear that word, “willing.”  There are people who can’t work, for any number of reasons, and we should help them.  But it is good to work.  A job is a gift from God, a means of His provision for you and for your neighbor.  Nevertheless, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).  When your job keeps you from sitting at Jesus’ feet and hearing His preaching, that otherwise good gift of God has become a tool of the devil.  In fact, it has become an idol for you, because you have feared, loved, or trusted your job more than you fear, love, and trust in the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  There are, of course, people who have to work on Sunday mornings: Police officers, doctors, positions where we always need someone on duty.  And of course, there are those whose employers don’t recognize God’s command to give their workers time and opportunity to attend Divine Service.  If your job prevents you from ever coming to Church on Sunday mornings, it’s very important to talk to your pastor about other opportunities to sit at Jesus’ feet and receive His gifts. 
            It works this way with other things as well.  Relationships among people, family, friends, community, are good gifts of God.  They are necessary and God-pleasing.  God said from the very beginning that “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18).  God created us to be in relationship. But when those relationships hinder us from hearing Jesus Christ and receiving His gifts, what is otherwise good has become evil.  It even works this way with work in the Church.  For example, as a pastor, there are so many times I’m so concerned to get a sermon on paper that I fail to listen to the Lord Jesus and what He has to say to me in a particular text.  God forgive me.  I’ve forgotten the one thing needful.  It happens among Church members, too.  There are so many things that need to get done here at Church.  They are necessary, good, God-pleasing things.  Sometimes, though, we get so busy doing those things that we forget to stop and sit down at Jesus’ feet and listen as He speaks directly and intimately to us in His Word.  Or our mind is on other things that need to be done at home, or once again, at work, or whatever it happens to be.  And we forget that the reason for this assembly, the reason we come to Church in the first place, the reason this place called Augustana Lutheran Church exists, is to hear Jesus and His Word, by which He forgives all our sins, and gives us eternal life. 
            Martha is distracted with much serving (Luke 10:40).  Jesus is her honored guest.  This calls for a feast.  She has invited all her friends.  And in this, of course, she is a model to us.  We ought to invite all our friends to the Feast where Jesus is present, here, in the Divine Service.  But she is anxious and troubled about many things (v. 41).  There is all the food preparation, the table to set, the house to be tidied, the guests to be attended, and all the things that go along with hosting a meal, being hospitable.  Martha is a good worker.  She has experience in this.  But by all rights, she should also have help.  Where is Mary, her sister?  Why, she’s just sitting there, making Martha do all the work.  It isn’t right.  It isn’t fair.  And Jesus, don’t you care?  Tell her to help me (v. 40). 
            Now, Martha has a point, don’t you think?  There is serving to be done, and someone has to do it.  Many hands make for light work.  It is necessary, good, and God-pleasing when Christians help and serve.  But there is something infinitely more important, and Martha has forgotten.  One thing is necessary (v. 42).  Mary has chosen the good portion, the one thing needful, and it will never be taken away from her.  Mary is sitting at the feet of the Lord Jesus, hearing His Word, being forgiven her sins, receiving the eternal life that only the Lord Jesus can give.
            Everything that Martha was doing was good.  But in hindering her from sitting at Jesus’ feet and hearing His Word, it became evil.  It is good for Mary to help her sister Martha in serving the guests.  But not in place of hearing Jesus’ Word.  Mary gets the order right.  Hear God’s Word and receive the gifts of the Lord Jesus.  Then go serve on the basis of that Word and in the new life given by God through that Word.  You can serve and do all sorts of necessary things apart from God’s Word, but they will never be good and God-pleasing.  In fact, they will be evil, sinful in God’s sight, and damaging to your soul.  On the other hand, gladly hear preaching and God’s Word, and on the basis of that Word, go and do those same necessary things, and now they are good and God-pleasing, bathed in the blood of Christ, truly good works that glorify God by serving our neighbor.  What makes the difference is faith in Christ, which is given by His Word.  That which is done in faith pleases God, not because of the work, but because of the faith.  Jesus gives all the benefits of His suffering, death, and resurrection by His Word.  Faith receives those benefits and makes them its own by clinging to the Lord Jesus.  And that faith, then, is always active in love and service. 
            Christians have been prone to mess up the order of all this from the beginning and throughout the Church’s history.  As a matter of fact, the Reformation was all about this very thing.  The problem that gave rise to the Reformation was the mistaken belief that the most important thing, the one thing needful, was not to hear Jesus and believe His Word, but to do good works, and in this way the Christian is saved.  Not so!  It’s not your action that saves you.  It’s not your good works that save you.  God saves you.  Jesus Christ saves you.  He does it all.  He fulfills the Law for you.  He dies for your forgiveness.  He is raised for your justification.  And so the one thing needful is to receive all of that from Him.  And He gives it, freely and generously, in His Word and Sacraments.  So the one thing needful is to sit at His feet and hear Him.  Then go serve.  That will naturally follow.  But your salvation is not based on your serving.  Rather, your serving is based on your salvation, which your Lord Jesus Christ gives you totally apart from your serving and before your serving, by His serving Himself all the way to the death of the cross for you and for all people. 
            So what things in your life hinder you from sitting at the feet of Jesus Christ and hearing His Word?  Family?  Friends?  Your job?  Fun in the sun?  Your pillow?  Even serving your neighbor in their time of need?  Even working here at the Church?  Repent.  These are all necessary, good, and God-pleasing things.  We should do them, and we should rejoice in them.  But when they hinder us from sitting at Jesus’ feet and hearing Him, they are evil.  You have to understand that when Jesus and His Word serve as the basis of your life, everything else falls into its proper place.  (S)eek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” which is to say, hear and believe Jesus in His Word, “and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).  When Jesus and His Word are just some subordinate part of your life, nothing is in its proper place.  Repent.  And hear the Word of the Lord.  All your sins are forgiven, covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Your mistaken priorities, your thinking that there are things more important than being here in God’s House and hearing Jesus, your resentment against your neighbor for not helping you the way you think they should, your resentment against Jesus for seeming not to care when nothing could be further from the truth, all of that is taken by the Savior, Jesus Christ, and nailed to the cross in His flesh, where it dies with Him.  Your debt to God is paid in full.  You are free.  And you have eternal life.  For Christ is risen.  And He is here.  He is here to speak His Word to you, His justifying, life-giving Word.  Sit at His feet and revel in His gracious speech, by which He imparts to you His gifts. 
            And there’s something else.  You don’t give a Feast for Jesus.  Jesus gives a Feast for you.  Here He sets the Table with the richest of foods, the true treasure, His body and blood given and shed for you, under bread and wine, for your forgiveness and life.  So don’t miss it. Not for any reason.  For this is all gift, freely given, for you, the one thing needful, the good portion, that shall never be taken away from you.    
            There are many things necessary, good, and God-pleasing in this life.  But only one thing is needful for the rest to fall into place.  That is Jesus Christ.  Hearing His Word, you have Him as your Lord.  Having Him as your Lord, all things are yours, which is to say, you have everything you need.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10C)
July 14, 2019
Text: Luke 10:25-37

            I’m sure you would have known better than the priest or the Levite.  You would have known to stop.  After all, we have the benefit of this text.  We have Good Samaritan laws on the books.  We refer to people who come to our rescue on the roadside or in times of trouble as “Good Samarians.”  And we even have the Good Sam Camping Club, complete with the coveted RV sticker of good ol’ smiling Sam with his shiny halo.  So I’m sure you would have helped the poor man lying on the side of the road, stripped and beaten and half-dead.  Or at least you would have whipped out your cell phone to call someone else to help.  We’re good people that way.  Unlike the lawyer, we don’t have to ask who is our neighbor.  We know our neighbor is everyone, and especially anyone who needs our help.  True enough.  We have it right at least up to that point.
            But the lawyer isn’t as stupid as you think he is.  You know, his first question is quite profound, and very few people ask it today.  What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25; ESV).  Now, we Lutherans could quibble, and I do and have quite often quibbled…  You don’t do anything to inherit.  The inheritance is a gift.  Eternal life is given by grace, through faith, apart from works.  But then, that isn’t self-evident, is it?  And he’s asking the right Guy about the right subject.  If anyone knows, Jesus knows.  How do I get eternal life?  What do I do?  The lawyer does expect a Law answer to his Law question, and he has a sneaky suspicion he knows the answer.  And it turns out he does.  What does the Law say, Mr. Lawyer?  How do you read it?  He practically quotes Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all you mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (v. 27).  That’s it.  The two greatest commandments.  The two tables of the Law.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  The summary of the whole Law and Prophets.  Jesus affirms it.  Yes.  You’re right.  Do this, and you will live (v. 28).  It’s exactly what our Lord says in our Old Testament reading: “You shall therefore keep my statues and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD” (Lev. 18:5).  You know, if you could keep the Law perfectly, in every point, flawlessly, you could be saved by the Law.  You can’t, of course, but that doesn’t keep people from trying.  And truth be told, it doesn’t keep you from trying.  Because you’re not so different from the lawyer, after all.
            For the lawyer desired to justify himself.  He desired to be seen as one who “gets it.”  He wanted to be righteous in the eyes of Jesus and in the eyes of those listening in on the discussion.  Kind of like we desire to be seen as one who “gets it,” to be right, to be respected, honored, admired.  This is why we tell our stories so that we come off looking great and everyone else, well… not as great.  This is why our Facebook and Instagram pages make us look so interesting.  Not that I want you airing your dirty laundry on social media, but let’s be honest, our online profiles present something less than the complete picture.  And we covet “likes” and “loves” and good comments on our posts, because we long for approval.  We are forever seeking to justify ourselves, to be righteous.  We justify our actions.  Even and especially our sins.  Yes, it was wrong of me to do that, but I had my reasons.  And at least I know what to do if I see someone stranded or hurt on the side of the road.  I’ll call someone whose job it is to help them!  And if I stop to help myself, then I’m really a hero.  And that really makes me feel good.  About me.  Repent.
            The lawyer desires to justify himself, and so do you.  So Jesus must pull the rug out from under us all.  And that is why He tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The parable tells us how it ought to be, and isn’t.  It tells us how we ought to be, and how we ought to act toward our neighbor.  But more importantly, it tells us how we aren’t and don’t.  The parable of the Good Samaritan is not a moralistic story, as it is so often portrayed in Sunday School materials and popular Christian piety.  We don’t do the kids any favors when we help them justify themselves: Look kids, just help out people in need and you’re righteous!  You’ve got this Christianity thing down.  No, you don’t.  This is the Law, and it kills.  It damns.  You don’t love the way the Samaritan does.  That’s just the point.  The priest and the Levite don’t love the naked, bleeding man.  They pass by on the other side.  They don’t want his uncleanness to rub off on them.  The lawyer doesn’t love the man either.  Not even hypothetically.  He would have passed by on the other side, too.  The lawyer doesn’t love his unclean neighbor when that neighbor, in his uncleanness, needs that love the most.  And he hates his Samaritan neighbor.  But the irony of the whole thing is, it is the unclean Samaritan, the hated Samaritan, who loves his Jewish neighbor enough to climb down into the ditch and get dirty and bloody to save him.  He’s the most unexpected hero in the story.  And he’s the only hero. 
            It certainly knocks the lawyer off his high horse.  He wouldn’t touch a bloody, half-dead man.  Not in a million years.  Maybe you wouldn’t, either.  Then again, maybe you would.  But don’t think that gets you off the hook.  Who are the neighbors you do not love?  Those who voted for Trump?  Those who didn’t vote for Trump?  The poor?  The unborn?  The tax-collectors and prostitutes?  The widow?  The Orphan?  The stranger among you?  Who do you refuse to help?  Who do you refuse to forgive?  Why are you so afraid to get your hands dirty?  Why don’t you put your time and effort and money where your Christ-confessing mouth is?  Repent.  There is no self-justification here. 
            There is only justification in Jesus Christ. 
            Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  He’s the only One who fits the description.  You are not the hero of this story any more than the lawyer is.  You know who you are?  You are the naked, beaten, bloody corpse lying in the ditch.  That’s who you are.  And guess what you can do to help yourself… Nothing.  Not a thing.  You can lay there and die.  That’s what you can do.  You’ve been attacked.  You’ve been assaulted.  You’ve been robbed and murdered.  The devil.  The world.  False teachers.  Your own sinful nature.  They’ve robbed you of your life and they’ve shown no mercy. 
            But Jesus…  Jesus finds you, a helpless, hopeless, disgusting mess of blood and gore, and He does not pass you by.  He gets down into the ditch with you.  He’s not afraid of your shameful nakedness.  He’s not afraid to get bloody and unclean.  He covers you with Himself.  He breathes into you the breath of life, His Word, His Spirit.  He pours on the salve of His Gospel, His death, His resurrection, and gives you to drink of the wine that is His blood.  He binds your wounds.  And He carries you… “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53:4)… He carries you Himself to the Inn of His holy Church where He cares for you.  He washes away your uncleanness.  He forgives your sins.  And He charges the Innkeeper, your pastor, to take care of you in His place, and continue to apply the medicine, the Gospel, the Absolution, the Supper, until He returns for you, as He will on the Last Day.
            This is the Jesus who strapped you… not just to His own animal, but to His own back… carried your cross, your sin, you, all the way up Calvary hill.  He took your place.  He became the naked, beaten, bleeding man for you.  He died your death, so that you could live.  And having paid for your sins in full, He is risen and lives and reigns, seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  And He loves you.  Real love.  Extraordinary love.  Love poured out of every vein.  Love in the font.  Love in the chalice.  Love that forgives and heals, that saves.
            Indeed, His is the love that loves God with all His heart, soul, strength, and mind.  His is the love that loves His neighbor, you, as Himself, even to the death of Him.  The Law is fulfilled in Jesus.  He does it, all that you cannot do.  And He gives it all to you, to be counted as your own, His righteousness, as a gift.  That is justification.  Jesus does all this, and you live.  Try as you might, you can never justify yourself.  But you don’t need to.  Jesus is your justification whole and complete.  Jesus is all the justification you need.  What shall I do to inherit eternal life?  Nothing.  Jesus has done it all.  “The law says, ‘do this’, and it is never done.  Grace says, ‘believe in this’, and everything is already done.”[1]  By Jesus.  For you. 
            But you do have neighbors who need to be loved, so get busy.  You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37), He tells the lawyer, and He says the same to you.  Not to be justified.  No, we’re past all that.  Do it because you are justified.  By God, in Christ.  Jesus doesn’t heal you to send you back into the brokenness of living for yourself.  He heals you to be His hands in the world by giving yourself for your neighbor.  Jesus pours His love into you and fills you so that His love flows through you to your neighbor.  And His love will never dry up.  It will never fail you.  There is always more love, more healing, more forgiveness and life right here in the Inn, the Church, where Jesus dispenses the medicine of His Gospel.  You can’t out-give God.  You can’t out-Good-Samaritan Jesus.
            That is the point of the parable.  Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  Jesus loves perfectly and fulfills the Law for you.  Jesus rescues you from sin and death.  Jesus gives you His righteousness as a gift.  Jesus alone is your justification.  It’s all about Jesus.  Jesus, for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                    

[1] Martin Luther, The Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 26, .

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9C)
July 7, 2019
Text: Luke 10:1-20

            Jesus sends preachers.  Jesus sends you a pastor.  That is what this Gospel text is about.  Now, the preacher has a very specific mission for which he is sent.  He is an emissary of the King come to announce Peace.  That is to say, he is sent to the house, to the congregation, to announce the Peace of Jesus Christ, Peace with God in the forgiveness of sins.  That is the Gospel.  He is sent to preach the Gospel. 
            This Peace is the Hebrew concept of Shalom: That is not just peace in your heart or some inner sense of well-being.  It is not simply a lack of conflict in your life.  It is Peace that permeates the whole being, bringing about healing and wholeness, freedom and joy.  It is the casting out of all that is wicked and destructive, all that is not of God, and the bestowing of all that is righteous and perfect, all that is of God.  Jesus brings about this Peace by His coming into our human flesh to claim His Kingdom, by His coronation with thorns and His ascending the throne of the cross to do battle with the usurper, Satan, and win for Himself a people, you.  Now victorious, risen from the dead, the tomb deprived of His holy body, Jesus reigns!  And that means Peace.  The preacher is sent to impart this Peace, Shalom, by preaching.  Therefore Jesus bids His people, preachers and hearers, to pray for more preachers, more harvest workers, for the fields are ripe for harvest.  There are so many who need to hear this preaching and receive our Lord’s gift of Peace in the forgiveness of their sins.
            Now, in our text, we learn the responsibilities of preachers and hearers.  The preacher is not to worry about provisions.  And there is a very important distinction here, of which we must take note.  Here, in preparation for His death and resurrection, Jesus sends out the 72 with the command to take no moneybags or knapsacks or sandals.  Later, on the cusp of His betrayal and suffering, He will remind them that they lacked nothing; nevertheless, from now on they are to take moneybags, knapsacks, and even swords (Cf. Luke 22:35-36).  The point is, the Lord continues to provide for the needs of His preachers (and all His people), but there is no vow of poverty here.  The preacher can and should be paid and have savings and own property.  But the principle is at work in either case.  He is not to rely on money or stuff to provide for him and his family.  He is to rely on the Lord.  And the Lord provides through the generosity of His people, the hearers, you.  The preacher is to eat and drink whatever the hearers provide.  It is as St. Paul writes in our Epistle: “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.  Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:6-7; ESV), and as he says elsewhere, “Let the elders,” pastors, “who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’” (1 Tim. 5:17-18).  So you give your offering.  You sow in generosity, and God rewards that.  And the preacher lives by your charity.  Don’t think, by the way, that goes unnoticed or unappreciated.  It is the Promise of the Lord in action, the Spirit working generosity through you by His Word, by which my family is fed.  And in this day and age, in this cultural moment, that’s nothing short of a miracle. 
            The preacher is to come into the house, the congregation, and announce Peace in the reign of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins.  And when the people of the congregation receive the preaching, when they believe it, the preacher’s peace is to rest upon them, which is to say, he is to continue among them, preaching, teaching, disbursing Peace (Christ, forgiveness), until he is sent somewhere else.  The 72 sent in our text were given to heal the sick.  This is a sign of what happens in the preaching of Jesus.  You are healed now from your sins, and marked for perfect and complete healing of body and soul in the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day.  After all, this Peace, remember, is Shalom: healing, wholeness, righteousness, that only comes from God, in Christ, who has made you God’s own and given you His Kingdom.  So the preacher preaches Peace in Christ, and you receive it by faith, and in so receiving, you are forgiven and healed and made whole. 
            Now, it is true that not everywhere the preacher goes will he be received.  The preaching will not be believed by all who hear.  And this is tragic, for in such a case, the hearers forfeit their claim to the gift of Peace.  But be warned.  Rejection of the preacher and his preaching does not free one from the rule of Christ.  This is what the world, in its wholesale rejection of Christ and Christianity, doesn’t understand.  Christ is King, whether you acknowledge that fact, or not.  He does rule over you.  And that will be revealed to all, soon enough.  You will know it, but then it will be too late.  You will stand before the divine Judgment throne, and then you will have to acknowledge it.  You will kneel, along with everyone in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and your tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11).  And that will be hell for you if you are an unbeliever.  But it will be heaven for you who believe.  Understand this in no uncertain terms: Now is the time to acknowledge Jesus’ reign.  Now is the time to hear and receive the preaching.  Now is the time to grasp this Peace of Jesus Christ and cling to it, to Him, by faith. 
            The one who hears the preacher, hears Jesus.  The one who receives the preaching, which is to say, believes it, receives Jesus.  The one who rejects the preacher and his preaching, rejects Jesus.  And the one who rejects Jesus, rejects the Father who sent Him… rejects God!  You have no God apart from Jesus.  There is no Father in heaven who does not have Jesus as His Son.  There is no Holy Spirit who does not proceed from the Father and the Son.  The Spirit speaks in the Word, the preaching, which imparts Jesus, who is our Peace with God, His heavenly Father, and brings us into His Kingdom, under His gracious and merciful reign.  The preacher preaches this good news.  You hear and believe.  And the very Kingdom of God is yours through Jesus Christ, who dwells with you and in you, with all His gifts. 
            When the 72 returned to Jesus, they were filled with joy that even the demons were subject to them in Jesus’ Name.  It is so true.  Jesus accomplished great signs in the preaching of the 72.  Demons were cast out.  They were given to tread on serpents and scorpions.  They were given to perform miraculous healings.  These signs, of course, are types of the greater reality brought about in preaching.  When the preacher preaches the Word of Jesus, demons are cast out.  Satan is thrown down.  The serpent’s head is crushed.  The scorpion is trampled.  Sinners are forgiven and healed.  But the preacher is not to rejoice in this power as though it were his own.  It is, after all, Jesus’ power working through the preaching that accomplishes these things.  The preacher is nothing.  Jesus is everything.  This is so important for both preacher and hearer to understand.  Otherwise, this quickly devolves into a personality cult, as we so often see on a large scale in megachurches, and as can and does happen in congregations of every size.  Understand, the preacher heals no one, saves no one, converts no one, in and of himself.  This is why, in this sense, it doesn’t matter who the man is under the robes.  I understand that each man brings his own talents and weaknesses to the preaching office, and you may prefer one man to another as a result, but finally, what matters is not the man, but the office with which the man is clothed.  The preaching office is that through which Jesus does His work of preaching.  Christ does the healing, the saving, the converting.  By the preaching.  The preacher is simply to rejoice in all that Christ accomplishes, and to glorify Him alone.  And the preacher is to rejoice that such is also done for him.  The preacher, too, has Peace and forgiveness in Jesus.  Satan has no power over the preacher.  The preacher, too, has been healed.  He’s been freed.  His name has been written in heaven.  He is baptized into Christ. 
            And that is why you rejoice, as well.  Satan has fallen like lightening from heaven.  The demons are cast out.  You are healed and made whole, in Jesus.  That is to say, Shalom.  You have Peace.  You have Jesus.  Your name has been written in heaven.  Jesus sent me to tell you that.  Hear it.  Believe it.  Receive it.  Rejoice in it.  And yes, please give an offering, so that my family and I can eat.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8C)
June 30, 2019
Text: Luke 9:51-62

            Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (The Cost of Discipleship, [SCM, 1959]).  What does he mean by that?  Well, it may mean your death quite literally, your physical death as a result of persecution against the one true faith of Jesus Christ.  As we know, many of our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world risk and even forfeit their lives to be baptized into Christ.  They shed their blood for the Savior who shed His Blood for them.  For now there is not much risk of that here in America.  But that does not release you from our Lord’s claim on your life.  To follow Jesus means to die to yourself.  It means the death of your old sinful flesh, crucified with Christ and drowned in the waters of Holy Baptism.  It means the rejection of your fleshly passions.  It means hatred from the world, and maybe even from your own family members.  Salvation is absolutely free to you in Christ, but it is not cheap.  It cost your Savior His Blood and death.  And to follow Jesus, to be His disciple, to walk in His discipline, well, that is quite costly.  It is free to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. For what does it mean to follow Jesus?  It means to go the way He goes, and the way He goes is suffering and the cross for the sake of His neighbor… for you!  So for you to follow Him means you also have to march through Holy Week and Good Friday and Golgotha.  There is no other path to the resurrection and eternal life.  Now, don’t misunderstand.  Your suffering and death do not somehow make atonement for your sins.  That is all done already in the cross and death of Jesus.  What, then, is your cross all about?  There are many reasons concealed in God’s hidden wisdom, ways that He is making all things work together for your good, since you are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).  But among other things, you are called to suffer for your neighbor, as Christ suffered for you.  That is to say, you are given as a sacrifice to your neighbor to speak the truth in love and the life-giving message of the Gospel to your neighbor, even if that speaking brings you rejection and suffering.  And you can do that because you know what awaits you when all is said and done: eternal life, heaven, the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come. 
            Look how Jesus sets His face to go to Jerusalem in our text (Luke 9:51).  He knows what awaits Him.  The cross and death.  But He is absolutely determined.  He will not be swayed.  He will not be turned aside.  Not by the rejection and ingratitude of those for whom He suffers.  Not by the misunderstanding and dissuasion of His apostles.  Not by the devil Himself.  Our Lord Jesus sets His face to go to Jerusalem, sets His face toward the cross, for you, because He is determined to save you.  Now, that is the preaching of the Gospel, our Lord’s determination to suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins.  Our God wins the victory over our enemies, not by some glorious show of power and might, but by surrendering Himself to the death and hell of the cross.  And that is scandalous.  It is amazing, the hatred that preaching brings on.  It is demonic in nature, this hatred.  That is why it is so irrational and vitriolic.  That is why the media blames Christians for Islamic terrorism.  That is why nuns and Christian universities and various Christian institutions and employers must be forced to pay for abortions.  That is why Christian florists and bakers and photographers must be forced to participate in same-sex weddings, even though there are many other florists and bakers and photographers who would happily provide the same service without violating their conscience.  It doesn’t matter, because the Christians must be made to conform.  Which is to say, they must be made to reject Christ and His Word.  At all costs.  Even the cost of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedoms once held dear by the majority of Americans regardless of political persuasion.  Now they are encroached by politicians and government officials regardless of political persuasion.  And why should that surprise us?  Our Lord tells us right here that this is what we should expect.  He also shows us how to respond.  Speak the truth in love, and then suffer for it.  And rejoice that you are counted worthy to suffer for the Name of Jesus. 
            There are only two possible reactions to the preaching of Jesus and His cross.  There is either rejection, or there is faith.  Jesus sends messengers, preachers, ahead of Him on the journey, to make preparations for His reception.  And those in a certain village of the Samaritans reject Him outright.  They do not receive Him.  Why?  Because “his face was set toward Jerusalem” (v. 53; ESV).  It is not simply the customary hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews, though it certainly is that.  They are categorically opposed to our Lord’s determination to go to Jerusalem and accomplish the work of our salvation.  They don’t even understand it.  This hatred grows deep inside of them, out of their fallen hearts, where Satan reigns.  And so the demonic determination to reject Jesus and His disciples.  This is the crassest form of rejection.  But then there are the disciples themselves, James and John, brothers, Sons of Thunder, from Jesus’ inner-circle, and they ask, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them,” those wicked Samaritans who have it coming (v. 54)?  We understand the sentiment.  But you see, in responding to rejection with wrath, the disciples also have rejected the Gospel of Jesus.  Why did Jesus come?  Why is He so set on going to Jerusalem to suffer and die?  For the sake of these very Samaritans.  He does not want them to suffer God’s wrath.  That’s just the point.  He comes to save them from it, to save the disciples in their misguided zeal, to save you from your faithlessness, your apathy, your casual faith, and your unwillingness to take up your cross and follow Jesus.  Our Lord sets His face to go to Jerusalem for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
            And here we encounter the other reaction to Jesus and His cross.  Faith.  The thing about faith, though, is that it does not come naturally.  By nature, you will reject Jesus and the cross every time.  That is simply the reality that results from being a child of Adam.  It’s his fault.  He fell.  We fell in him.  Our wills are, by nature, bound to unbelief and rejection of God, until the Holy Spirit frees us from bondage.  Faith is a gift.  It comes to us from outside of us, from God Himself, bestowed in His Word and Baptism, and nourished by the Supper, by the Holy Spirit who comes by these means to give us faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we are reconciled to the Father.  The very preaching of the cross that provokes so much hatred and rage is the means by which the Holy Spirit brings you to faith.  It’s a mystery, isn’t it, why you react one way to the preaching of the cross, and another reacts a different way?  You believe as a result of the preaching and your Baptism into the death of Christ.  Someone else, perhaps even someone very similar to you, shuns the cross with horror.  So it goes.  We don’t know why.  We only know that you believe because of the grace of God and His work upon you.  So we give thanks, and confess, and suffer in hope and joy.
            Three particular fellows are singled out in our text for their encounter with Jesus.  We don’t learn whether any of the three rejects Jesus or follows Him, but we do learn what it will cost them if they follow Jesus to the cross.  The first man says he will follow, but Jesus reminds him that foxes and birds have better accommodations in this world than the Savior and His Christians.  Being a disciple of Jesus just may cost you the comforts and pleasures the best of earthly life has to offer.  Jesus calls the second man: “Follow me” (v. 59), but the man asks first to go bury his father.  Now, Jesus isn’t heartless.  It’s not that the man’s father is dead and he just wants to get through the funeral before he leaves.  It is that the man wants to wait until everything is just right in his earthly life before he makes the commitment to Jesus and His Gospel.  To this, Jesus responds, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead” (v. 60).  Let the unbelieving world take care of its own business.  The Gospel is the first priority.  There is nothing more important, and the time to believe and follow is now.  The third man simply wants to go and say farewell to his loved ones before he follows.  Jesus responds that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62).  What happens when we follow Jesus is that we start to feel a certain nostalgia for the old life outside of Christ.  Remember the flesh pots of Egypt?  Maybe slavery to sin and death wasn’t so bad after all.  This kind of looking back can kill faith.  Repent.  Take up your cross and follow Jesus.  All the way to death. 
            For what awaits beyond the cross is resurrection.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And He’ll raise you.  So the Lord has called you to be His own, and in calling you, He’s bid you come and die.  It is a blessed death.  For that death is folded up in the death of Jesus.  And Jesus’ death is a death unto life.  His life is a life unto eternity and light and joy in the presence of God.  Be not afraid.  Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem for you.  Set your face upon Him.  Keep your eyes on Jesus.  He will never forsake you.  Not even in death.  He will never let you go.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                  

A Wedding Sermon

The Holy Marriage of Hanna Mawgen Hoffbeck to Timothy David Kern
June 28, 2019
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Millington, Michigan
Text: Gen. 2:7, 18-25; Eph. 5:1-2, 22-33; John 2:1-11

            In the Name of Jesus+.  Amen.
            Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a lot of time to think and read and write in his German prison cell during the war that would make him a martyr at the hands of the Nazis.  Sadly, incarcerated as he was, he could not attend, much less preach, at the wedding of his dear niece, Renate, to his best friend, Eberhard Bethge.  But he did write them a wedding sermon from a prison cell, and that is something you read in preparation for this day.  For Pastor Bonheoeffer makes the vital point that as much as today is about your “Yes” to one another, your love… which, by the way, is not an emotion, but a willing decision on your part to be and act for one another, for the good of each other…  As much as today is about your promise before God and His Church to have and to hold one another from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death you do part… It is not, finally, your vow, your love, that sustains the marriage.  It is God’s promise in Christ.  It is His “Yes” that creates something here today, a marriage of man and wife, a holy matrimony, a household, a home.  And it is God’s “Yes,” His promise in Christ, that will sustain your marriage in the face of every attack from within and without, from the temptations of the flesh, from selfishness and pride, from the world’s hostility to the holy estate of marriage as God has designed it and given it, not to mention the world’s hostility to the Christian Church and her pastors and deaconesses, from the attacks of the devil himself who slithered between the holy union of our first parents in the Garden.  Their marriage, which quickly fell into sin and brokenness, was sustained by one thing only: The Promise.  A Child, the Offspring of the woman, who would crush the serpent’s head.  By suffering his mortal bite.  By dying.  Our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.
            The vows made today are important.  Extraordinarily so.  The serpent, even now writhing in the pains of crushing defeat at the foot of the cross, will nonetheless seek to slither in between you in your union.  I’m going to be honest with you.  There will be times you will be tempted to give up on one another, to put asunder what God has here joined together.  You will hurt one another.  Sometimes very deeply.  You will sin against one another.  When two sinners try to live together, they always end up sinning at the expense of the other.  The grass will look greener elsewhere.  Your eyes and your minds will wander.  If love is an emotion, you’re toast!  Because the emotions that accompany love come and go.  Not only because the newness wears away as married people “get used to” one another, or because “familiarity breeds contempt,” but because marriage isn’t easy.  It is work.  And though it is God’s great blessing, an institution He created even before the Fall into sin, now it bears the burden of the curse.  Thorns and thistles.  The sweat of your brow.  Pain in child-bearing, which is not just the birth, but the whole business of raising a family.  Husbands lording it over wives.  Wives striving against husbands.  The vow, and the work… That is love.  Decision.  Action.  In faithfulness.  For the good of one another.  Even when it means dying to youself.  In fact, particularly dying to yourself.  That is love. 
            At some point in your ministry, Timothy, and probably in your office as Deaconess, Hanna, a couple will come to you and tell you they’ve fallen out of love.  This is where the vows come in.  And this is the Law.  You will say to them, “Tough!  Get over it!  And get over yourself!  So you’ve fallen out of love?  Fall right back into it!  Which is to say, get to work!  And stop looking for feelings in the pitter-pat of your heart.  Those feelings are wonderful gifts from God, but they are not love.  You made a promise!  You made a vow!  Before God and His Church.  For better, for worse.  Remember?  Thick and thin.  Good times and hard times.  Till death.  You must not put asunder what God has joined together.”  Falling out of love is another way of saying, “I’ve decided to love myself more than I love her, instead of her, instead of him.”  This will always be the temptation.  Repent.  And then?  Then go to that which alone will save your marriage.  The Promise.  The Gospel.  Jesus.
            Jesus Himself attends the wedding in Cana, and Jesus is here at this wedding, as surely as He was at that one.  There He was with His disciples at the side of His mother.  Here He is in the apostolic Word, with His Bride, His Body, our mother, the Church.  There He gave the very best wine and joy in abundance where both ran empty.  So He gives to you the wine that is His blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins, and the joy of His Spirit, poured out on you in Baptism.  His death for you.  His resurrection and life for you.  This is the source of your life in Christ, and your life together as Timothy leaves father and mother and cleaves unto Hanna, and the two become one flesh.  And this is what sustains and nourishes that one flesh life together, and gives joy.  Laughter.  Music.  Romance.  Ah, I’ve told you love is not a feeling, but the feelings are great, aren’t they?  Thanks be to God.  And the deeper joys: Friendship.  Mutual support.  Companionship.  Forgiveness, which you will have every opportunity to practice in the Name of Christ.  Fruitfulness, according to God’s will.  We pray His blessing, if it be His will, that you be fruitful and multiply and fill… at least your home with little Kerns.  It’s tough business, raising children.  There is the pain of child-bearing in this fallen world.  But there is the Promise.  You bring them to Baptism.  God is their Father.  Christ has redeemed them by His blood and death.  The Spirit comes upon them in Baptism and abides with them.  God loves them even more than we parents.  It’s worth every heartache, every tear.  They are a tremendous joy.
            And then there is this: The Christian husband and wife, you, have this great privilege of serving in the world as an icon, a living picture, of Christ and His holy Bride, the Church.  That explains the Epistle reading from Ephesians, the one where the unbelieving world puts its fingers in its ears at the mention of wives submitting to husbands.  Everybody listen up a minute.  It’s not about men verses women, superiority and inferiority, oppression or misogyny.  It is about the Christian husband and the Christian wife willingly entering into an office.  The Christian wife willingly submits to her husband as a picture of the Church submitting to Christ.  Which means to place herself under him as the one who protects her, provides for her, and dies for her… physically, if necessary, and certainly to himself.  That is the authority of his office as husband, to be the one who gives himself for the sake of his wife, even unto death.  And in this way, he is the picture of Christ giving Himself into death for the Church, to present the Church to Himself in splendor, a beautiful Bride without spot or wrinkle or any such thing because she is cleansed of her sins by the blood of her Bridegroom, and clothed with His righteousness.  You see, in this way, Hanna and Timothy, your marriage is itself a sermon.  For it calls to mind the precious promises of Christ and His saving work for us, His great love for us, which is not to say that we make His heart go pitter-pat, but that He has made a vow to us: That He forgives all our sins; that He makes us His own dear Bride, children of His heavenly Father; that He takes all our debt upon Himself and pays it with His own blood; that He gives us all that is His… righteousness, holiness, eternal life, the very Kingdom of God, the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day.  And He follows up His vow with work: His death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, His giving you His Spirit and all His gifts, by His Word, by the Sacrament of His body and blood.  His vow and work sustain your vow and work.  Which is to say, His love sustains your love.  It is He who makes you one in Holy Matrimony.  What He joins together, let no man put asunder.
            Jesus is the faithful Bridegroom.  The LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Him on the tree of the cross, and while He slept the sleep of death, opened up His side with a Roman spear.  And from His side the LORD God fashioned a woman, Holy Church, born of the water and nourished by the blood that pours out from His riven side into font and chalice.  And the LORD God brought her to His Son, who is risen from the dead, and He has declared, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Holy and Mine, for she was taken from me.  And I will never leave her, nor forsake her.’”
            As beginnings go, you can’t do better than to be begin with that.  God’s “Yes” in Christ.  It gives you to say “Yes” to one another.  So let it be.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.