Sunday, August 30, 2020

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17A)

August 30, 2020

Text: Matt. 16:21-28

            Peter is looking for a kingdom of glory, glory, hallelujah.  He had just confessed the truth revealed to him by the Father: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16; ESV).  But he clearly doesn’t grasp the implications of such a confession.  He doesn’t like all of this talk about suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes, and being killed in Jerusalem.  And this Third Day business about being raised?  What does that even mean?  So Peter must do something.  He takes Jesus aside to talk some sense into Him.  Far be it from you, Lord!  This shall never happen to you” (v. 22).  “Jesus, this is not how You win an election or inaugurate a revolution!  This is not how You get the people behind you!  You can’t go to Jerusalem and just give up the fight, give Yourself over to the enemy.  Now, look around You.  You have twelve strong men at Your side.  We’re ready to fight to the death for You.  So show the people You are strong.  Show them You are capable.  Flash some of that divine power in the face of the opposition, and knock ‘em to the ground.  Multiply some more loaves and fishes and show the people how well-fed they’ll be under Your administration.  Keep up the miracles.  Free healthcare for all.  They’ll beg You to be their King.  And once Jerusalem and the rest of Judea are under Your Lordship, it’s on to Rome, and then the world!”

            Does it sound familiar?  I don’t just mean if you’ve been watching the Democrat or Republican conventions, although there is a clue about those, here, too.  Remember what happened in the wilderness following our Lord’s Baptism?  “Tell these stones to become bread.  Feed the hungry, starting with Yourself.  Throw Yourself down from the Temple.  The angels will catch You.  The people will see it, and they’ll be Yours.  See all these kingdoms of the world, across time and space?  They all belong to me.  I could give them to You, You know.  Just one little act of homage.  Just one quick bow of the knee in my direction.  No need for cross and suffering.  No need to give Yourself over to save these wretched human creatures.  You can rule them without all of that!”  And it’s no wonder, is it, what Jesus says to Peter?  Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 23), the things of Old Adam, the things of the devil himself!  Peter’s vision for the Kingdom is the vision of Satan. 

            How different is Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom!  Now that Peter and the disciples have the words of the Creed down, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus begins to teach them the “What does this mean?” part.  It means that He must go to Jerusalem.  He must suffer many things from the Jewish leaders.  He must be killed.  And on the Third Day, He must be raised (v. 21).  The Greek word for “must” is δεῖ, a freighted word in the Gospels that speaks of divine necessity.  It is divinely necessary that Jesus win His Kingdom in this way.  It is the Father’s will.  He sent His Son, Jesus, into our flesh for this very purpose.  To go to Jerusalem to die.  To hand Himself over into the clutches of the enemy, the Jewish leaders, the Romans, sinners, the devil, death and hell.  To hand Himself over as our Substitute.  To take our place.  To pay our debt.  To undergo our punishment.  Jesus is showing the disciples and us that it is divinely necessary for Him to suffer for our sins, to be killed for our sins, and on the Third Day to be raised from the dead, having paid for our sins.

            That is how He wins His Kingdom.  That is how He wins our redemption.  That is how He frees Peter and the disciples and you and me to be citizens of His Kingdom.  Jesus’ Kingdom is the Kingdom of the cross.  What else could it mean that some standing before Him would not taste death until they saw the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom?  It is not that they would live in their earthly bodies until He comes again in glory.  They are dead, now, after all, and we’re still waiting.  They saw Him come into His Kingdom on the cross!  That is His throne.  And they were eyewitnesses of His resurrection.  The King Himself, having died, stood before their very eyes alive.  And as they watched, He ascended into heaven to reign.

            Jesus must suffer and be killed and on the Third Day rise.  That is the divine plan.  But, by the way, it’s not just Jesus who must bear the cross.  It is all of us who would follow after Him.  Now, of course, there is only one cross that pays for the sins of the world, your sins and mine.  That is the cross of Jesus.  His death is the only and all-sufficient sacrifice of atonement that wins our forgiveness and salvation.  But then, in His infinite wisdom and desire for our good, our Father lays a cross upon each one of us.  Now, this cross is not to pay for sin.  It is to mold and shape us into the cruciform image of Jesus, into the Christians God would have us be.  And it must be this way.  It is divinely necessary.  This is how God kills our Old Adam with all his sins and evil desires.  This is how God destroys our idols, especially the ones buried deep within our hearts.  This is how God rips away from us every shred of hope or help outside of Himself.  You have to come to the end of Yourself for Christ to be your everything.  You have to be dead in order for Him to raise you.  It is, as we have it in our Book of Concord reading in your bulletin: “Paul teaches in a very consoling way that God in His purpose has ordained before the time of the world by what crosses and sufferings He would conform every one of His elect to the image of His Son.”  Think about that: From all eternity God has known every cross and affliction you would have to bear, and how He would use it, and how He would deliver you from it.  And here is the Promise: “His cross shall and must work together for good for everyone, because they are called according to God’s purpose,”[1] as St. Paul teaches in Rom. 8:28. 

            So you have suffering to endure in this life.  The cross of the Christian is every suffering you bear in faith.  Especially those you bear for the sake of Christ and His Gospel.  But it isn’t only persecution.  It is also godly grief over your sins, which is to say, repentance.  It is sadness over the state of the world today, the enmity with which we treat one another, our callous disregard for life, our trampling on the weak, the destitute, the vulnerable… the poor, the widow, the orphan, the unborn.  It is Lot, living among the people of Sodom, tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds (2 Peter 2:8).  It is your groaning with all creation (Rom. 8:22), living in a fallen body in a fallen world.  It is the pandemic.  It is the civil unrest.  It is disastrous groaning of nature, like Hurricane Laura or the derecho, wildfires, earthquakes, droughts, famine, or flood.  It is war.  It is cancer.  It is depression.  It is death.  Any of these, borne with faith in Jesus Christ, suffered faithfully, with faith in Him, is a cross by which God is working your good, your growth in faith, your perseverance, and your final deliverance.  He is bringing you through suffering to the resurrection of your body. 

            Now, this is not what Old Adam wants to hear.  Be honest.  Confess it.  You don’t like hearing about how you have to suffer and die this side of the resurrection, any more than Peter wanted to hear it from Jesus.  That is why, by the way, you think everything is riding on this presidential election.  I’ve heard it from Republicans and Democrats, and I’ve heard it louder and louder every four years: “This is the most important election in our lifetime!”  Well, maybe.  Elections are important, and don’t misunderstand me.  I want you to stay informed and vote and participate as a citizen, and I want you to do so as a Christian, as one who has been given the wisdom of God in the Holy Scriptures.  I want you to do it out of love for your neighbor and for his good, for your family, for your community, for your country.  And by the way, I have dearly held political opinions, if you’d like to hear them sometime, so I’m not knocking that.  But don’t be deceived.  Neither Joe Biden, nor Donald Trump is the answer to all that plagues our nation and our world today.  And neither one will usher in the Kingdom of God.  Truth be told, humanly speaking, no matter who wins in November, we’re sunk.  I say that for your comfort.  But were you listening to Jesus?  You don’t win the Kingdom by winning elections.  That is Peter’s way.  And Satan wants you to think it’s that easy.  The fact is, with the right people in power, sure, you could gain the whole world.  But what good would it be in the end if you forfeit your soul?  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25). 

            That is, it is not for you to build for yourself a heaven on earth.  It is not for you to avoid all suffering; to put your own safety and welfare above all else; to seek pleasure and rest and security and fulfillment in the things that are transient, including your riches, your house, your health, your job, your retirement, or even your family; to provide for yourself a soft pillow and garden of roses here and now, at the expense of what is to come when Christ returns.  We live for that Day!  Stop seeking the things of this life as though they were ultimate.  They are not.  They have a limited shelf life.  Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Seek the things that are eternal.  Take the long view.  Have in mind the things of God, not the things of man.  Suffer for Christ now; deny yourself now, believing and trusting in Him; lose your life for His sake now; knowing that the life you have in Him is eternal in the heavens, and that on the Last Day He will raise you, bodily, from the dead. 

            I know you don’t want to suffer.  I know you want your good things now, and to be safe and happy always.  Satan would have you believe you can have it all without any unpleasantness.  But your Father knows what is necessary for your salvation.  It is better to let God be God, and Jesus be the Savior.  Trust not in princes, they are but mortal.  Trust not your own thoughts about the way things ought to be.  The cross is necessary.  That is God’s decree.  But the Day is coming.  You will be raised from death.  Jesus is Lord.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.            


[1] FC SD XI:49 (McCain, p. 609).

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16A)

August 23, 2020

Text: Matt. 16:13-20

            You can only know Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, and come to confess Him as such, as the Father reveals Him to you.  Flesh and blood cannot reveal this.  You cannot logically think your way to Jesus as Savior and God.  You cannot feel your way in your heart to Him.  You may have many thoughts and feelings about Jesus, and they may even be good (as in positive) thoughts and feelings, but apart from the Father’s revelation, they will always miss the mark.  This is to say, Jesus is not whatever you think and feel about Him.  He is a real Person, a real Man, and real God.  He is who He is.  You don’t get to make Him up in your own image so that He does and says the things you want Him to do or say, supports your causes, agrees with your agenda, tolerates what you want Him to tolerate, damns who you want Him to damn.  Whoever such a Jesus may be, he is not the one true God and Savior of the world.  He is an idol.  Jesus of Nazareth is the eternal Son of the Father, God of God, and the Son born in time to the Virgin Mary.  He is an objective reality, which is to say, His being is not dependent on you.  He is who He is, whether you like who He is, or not.  By nature, Old Adam chafes at this.  Because it puts Jesus outside your control.  To know Him and confess Him as He is, therefore, requires a revelation from God Himself.  That is, God must speak and define this Son whom He has sent, and what He has sent this Son to do.  Which is what the Father does by His Spirit, who is active in the Preaching and Works of Jesus, to reveal Him, and bring you to faith in Him.

            Thus the two questions are distinct.  Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matt. 16:13; ESV), and “who do you say that I am?” (v. 15).  People say all kinds of things.  They reason and feel their way to a savior of their own creation.  Everyone who witnessed Jesus in His earthly ministry knew He was either something sinister or something great.  Many of the Jewish leaders were of the opinion that He cast out demons Beelzebul (Matt. 12:24).  The people in today’s survey were more charitable.  Some thought John the Baptist had been raised from the dead.  Herod himself was a proponent of this theory.  Others knew the promise that Elijah would come again before the great and terrible Day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5), whether the man himself, or someone in the power and spirit of the great prophet.  Maybe Jesus is this Elijah?  Or maybe He is Jeremiah, or one of the other great prophets reincarnated?  Clearly, He is some sort of prophet, and Moses did promise God would raise up a Moses-like prophet to whom all Israel should listen (Deut. 18:15).  Maybe Jesus is that prophet.  But notice that none of these options propose Jesus as God’s promised Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world, or that He is the Son of the living God. 

            It is not that different from the varied opinions people hold today.  Some regard Jesus as a sinister threat.  His religion, they believe, is responsible for most, if not all of the violence and hatred in the world.  Now it is fashionable to topple statues of our Lord and His saints as examples of white supremacy, as tools of oppression.  Satan must be giddy.  But most people (I think it is still safe to say), have a mostly favorable impression of Jesus.  He was a great man.  A moral teacher.  A visionary.  A revolutionary.  The personification of love.  As we define love, of course.  He is a prime example of spirituality.  But again, in whatever way we want Him to be.  This is why you will hear from the lips of so many, the phrase “I just can’t believe in a Jesus who would” say or do whatever they don’t want Jesus to say or do.  Or, “My Jesus would never”… fill in the blank with whatever that person’s Jesus “would never.”  I hope I never hear either of those phrases from your lips.  If you’ve ever said something like that, repent.  That is idolatry.  It is blaspheme.  And be honest.  Examine yourself.  Because of this I am certain when it comes to any son or daughter of Adam and Eve… You’ve thought it.  The real Jesus has made you cringe.  You wish He didn’t say some of the things He says.  He embarrasses you.  He wounds your pride.  In brutal, crushing honesty, He tells you that you are a sinner, full of unrighteousness and all manner of filth and shame, and that apart from Him, you are lost.  Yes, you’ve thought it.  Repent.

            There is the Jesus of your thoughts and feelings, who is a false god every time.  Or there is the Jesus revealed to you by the Father in His Word.  He has rough edges, this Jesus, and He is not concerned to live up to your expectations.  He says what He says, and He does what He does, and it is always a scandal to those living securely in the flesh.  But He is the only Savior, the Christ, the Son of the living God.  He is the only One who touches the unclean and heals them and restores them to community.  He is the only One who gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, mobility to the lame and to paralytics.  He is the only One who bears your griefs and carries your sorrows, who is wounded for your transgressions and crushed for your iniquities.  He is the only One who casts out the demons, who takes your sin and your filth and your death into Himself and kills them by His own death on the cross in your place.  He is the only One who raises the dead to life.  And the proof is not only Jairus’ daughter, or the widow of Nain’s son, or Lazarus.  Elijah and Elisha both did similar miracles, after all, and all of these had to die again.  The proof is Jesus Himself.  He is risen from the dead.  Still!  He is risen from the dead, never to die again, and that is how He will raise you.

            That is the real Jesus.  That is the Jesus revealed to you by your Father in heaven.  And that is the Jesus you confess, not when you draw upon your own thoughts and feelings, but when you say what the Apostles said, what the Father reveals in the Word.  That is the Jesus you confess when you say the Creed.  Only the Father could enable you by His Spirit to say that about Jesus and about our Triune God. 

            And it is upon that revelation from the Father, that preaching, that confession, that our Lord Christ builds His Church.  That is the rock.  Peter is not the rock.  A little Greek goes a long way here.  There is an important play on words you miss in English.  Jesus says to Simon, “you are Peter,” Πέτρος, stone, “and on this rock,” πέτρᾳ, rock as in cliff or ledge or crag, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18).  The difference is between a stone you can pick up with your hands… not likely to build a Church, literally or figuratively, on that… versus a solid rock foundation for a great building.  The play on words gives plenty of honor to Peter as the one who made this confession as the Father had revealed it to him.  If anything, the Lutherans don’t give enough credit to Peter.  But he is not the rock.  He is the rocky one who stands on the rock, the little stone that comes from the great rocky mountain.  He stands on the confession.  And the confession is that of the real and true Christ, the Son of the living God.  You might as well say the Rock is Christ Himself!  And it is against that confession, that Lord Jesus, that the gates of hell will not prevail. 

            Not the opinions of men, not your own fleshly conceptions of who Jesus should be, not even the hellish fiend himself, the devil, can bring down the Church built on Christ, the Cornerstone, or the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, which is to say, the Holy Scriptures.  And that means COVID can’t prevail, either.  Or the collapse of American society.  Or governors, or the Supreme Court, or whoever wins the next election.  Or nuclear holocaust.  Or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword.  Or anything else in all creation.

            Because Christ is risen!  The confession is Truth.  Waves beating against Gibraltar will have more success in their endeavors than the evil that beats against this Rock, the Christ, the Son of the living God.

            And this releases you!  It releases you from your sins.  It releases you from your false Jesuses.  It releases you from death and condemnation.  Jesus gives the Office of the Keys to His Church to bind and loose.  You know about this Office from the Catechism: “The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.”[1]  The preaching of the Gospel is the Father’s revelation of Jesus Christ as your Savior.  And this is what looses you, what frees you.  Those who follow a Jesus of their own making remain in bondage.  They are all tied up.  Those who believe in the Jesus Peter confesses, and the Church along with Him, are freed from the jaws of hell.  The Church is built wherever sinners believe this Gospel, whenever sinners are loosed from their sins.  The Church is built on the preaching of Christ crucified and risen for you. 

            Who do people say that the Son of Man is?  Many and various things.  “But,” Jesus asks you, “who do you say that I am?”  You confess what the Father has revealed to you here and now in our Holy Gospel.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.  You are my only Savior from sin and death.”  It is not a product of human reason or a feeling deep down in your heart.  It is the objective Gospel that is preached to you.  So you believe.  And so you confess.  And you are blessed.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                 

[1] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986). 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15A)

August 16, 2020

Text: Matt. 15:21-28

            But he did not answer her a word” (Matt. 15:23; ESV).  What do you do with God’s silence?  What do you do when Jesus ignores you?  It is a hard text this morning.  Luther says that in all the Gospels, nowhere is Christ so hard as He is here.  The dear woman is crying out.  Begging.  Pleading.  For her precious little daughter.  She uses all the right words, even the words of the liturgy, the Kyrie and the Creed, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David” (v. 22).  She appeals to His compassion.  She has heard all about Him in the Word, the testimony of others.  And maybe she’s witnessed His compassion in action herself, hearing the Word from His own mouth, observing the miracles of healing and release.  Here her dear sweet daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.  And didn’t Jesus come precisely to evict the demons and free humanity from Satan’s grip?  You can see her there, on her knees, or prostrate on the ground, tears streaming down her face, voice atremble, desperate for the help she knows only Jesus can give.  And… nothing.  Not a word.  He turns His back.  

            Now even the disciples speak up on her behalf.  They pray for her.  True, not because they particularly care about her.  She is a foreigner, after all.  And not just any foreigner, a Canaanite, of the nations God had commanded His Old Testament people to eradicate from the land.  But they’re annoyed.  They’re tired of her following and begging.  “It’s just one miracle, Lord.  Just do it and get her off our backs.”

            And now Jesus speaks, and His speech is even worse than His silence.  I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (v. 24).  Essentially, “No grace for you!  You are the wrong ethnicity.”  And we can hardly believe our ears.  This is not the kind of talk we’ve come to expect from Jesus, of all people.  And we’re Bible believing Christians!  Imagine what the “I just can’t believe in a Jesus who would say that” crowd does with this!  But it gets worse.  She kneels before Him, in utter submission.  Lord, help me” (v. 25).  And He replies, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (v. 26).  He calls her a dog!  There is some debate whether He is referring to a mongrel on the street or a little domesticated lap dog like mine, but either way… a dog?  It’s a racial slur.  Is Jesus a racist?  Maybe He needs to read some of our pro-life literature where again and again we make the point that every human being, regardless of their gender or ethnicity, mental capacity, usefulness, level of development, or any other factor, is precious in God’s sight and made in God’s image.  Did He miss that lesson from His heavenly Father?  And what about His compassion?  Is this just an off day for Him?  Could it really be true that Jesus is rejecting this dear woman who comes to Him in faith? 

            The woman knows what you also know.  In spite of all appearances, it cannot be true of Jesus that He will ever reject one who comes to Him pleading for mercy.  It cannot be true that He is full of racist hatred.  It cannot be true that His compassion could ever fail.  So there must be something else going on here.  Jesus must be doing His alien work, the work of the Law with all its devastating condemnation, that He may bring the woman to the end of herself, where she needs to be, so that He may do His proper work of raising to new life, healing, restoring, and casting out Satan forever.  That is the work of the Gospel. 

            It is true in your own life, is it not?  How many of us have been praying daily for the end of this pandemic (which by the way, you should do as a Christian royal priest)?  But what result has there been?  Will it ever go away?  Is God even listening?  How many of us have been praying for our nation and all that ails us?  For an end to the political rancor, the civil unrest, the societal breakdown… And the riots just continue!  We’re more divided than ever.  Lord, help us.  Where are you?  Are you really turning your back?  Did you come for others, but not us?  Could that possibly be true?  And, of course, there are any number of things in your own life for which you pray and beg God, in all the power of Jesus’ holy Name, and all-too-often it seems like He isn’t even listening.  Grandma still died of cancer.  My child still left the Church.  My house was still repossessed.  I’m still dying! 

            But you know, as the woman knows, that in spite of all appearances, this God in whom we live and believe, the God who took on flesh and blood to be one with us, to suffer with us, to suffer for us and die for us, to bear our sins to the cross, and put them to death in His Body, and bury them forever in the tomb… this God, this Man, who is risen from the dead and promises to raise you and me… cannot fail to hear your petitions, your cries for mercy, and have compassion on you and deliver you from all your afflictions.  It is an impossibility.  You know too much about Jesus.  He must be doing something else.  Faith… which God gives you freely by the Spirit in the Word of Christ… clings to Jesus and His mercy in spite of all appearances.  Even when Jesus seems to be ignoring and rejecting you.

            “So, I’m a dog, is that it, Jesus?  It is true.  I confess it.”  The woman makes no qualms about it, and neither should you.  You put it this way a few moments ago: “we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean… We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment” (LSB 151).  But then she says a remarkable thing: “Yes, Lord,” I am a dog, as You say, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (v. 27).  “I am not asking because I have any worthiness in me.  I am asking because You are good.  I am asking because You are merciful, because You are Mercy Incarnate.”  You put it this way when you confess your sins to your Father: “For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.  Forgive us, renew us, and lead us.”  “I do not ask, dear Father, because I am worthy or have earned it.  I ask because You are good, and You sent Jesus, and You cannot fail to have compassion and forgive and help in every time of need. 

            “And by the way, just the crumbs are fine.  If the crumbs are all you give, the crumbs are just fine with me.”  But, of course, He gives so much more than crumbs.  O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire” (v. 28).  And so it was.  Her daughter was healed instantly.  Or you, dear woman, dear man, be it done for you as you believe: “I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 

            Why the silence?  Why the ignoring?  Why the seeming rejection from God?  Because if God always immediately did everything you ask, immediately delivered you, never allowed any suffering in your life, there would be no room for faith.  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).  Faith is knowing the truth of a thing when you don’t see it… when you see the opposite!  Faith in God’s Promises is trusting who He is and what He says, even as He does His alien work. 

            And this is an important teaching point: God’s alien work is that which is outside of His nature.  That is the condemnation of the Law, accusing, terrifying, condemning, turning away from mercy.  This comes to us right out of the Prophet Isaiah.  The Prophet declares that God will be on the side of Israel’s enemies, to punish His people: “For the Lord will rise up… he will be roused; to do his deed—strange is his deed! and to work his work—alien is his work!” (Is. 28:21).  Now, why would God do such an alien work?  To expose our desperate need for Him to do His proper work, the work of the Gospel: forgiving our sins, comforting, consoling, healing, and raising to new life.  Which is what He does for us in Christ.  His proper work is that which is of His essence, that which is proper to His nature.  Faith knows that it is the nature of God to deliver in mercy.  Faith clings to that sure and certain hope even as God does His alien work of bringing down to death.

            So what do you do when it seems like God is giving you the silent treatment, ignoring you, turning His back, or worse, rejecting you as a dog?  You cling to Him all the tighter as you hear and believe His Promises in the Gospel, and eat and drink His Body and Blood in the Supper.  And then you throw His Promises in His face.  “Have mercy, Lord.  You must have mercy.  That is who You are!  I’m fine with the crumbs.  Just a few crumbs.  Like a dog, I’ll lick them up from the ground.  But do not forsake me.  Do not abandon me.  I am a poor, miserable sinner, yes, unworthy of your deliverance.  But You are good.  I trust in You.  Your steadfast love will never fail.”

            And this much is absolutely certain: He will deliver you.  It may even be in this life.  The woman’s daughter was healed instantly.  How many times have you recovered from a sickness?  Maybe God will end this pandemic.  Maybe He will spare our nation.  Then again, maybe not.  Because His deliverance is not something confined to this time and place.  It is not something penultimate.  It is ultimate.  He is not satisfied giving you crumbs.  He will give you the whole Feast.  And that is what happens on the great Day of deliverance when Christ comes again in glory to raise you from the dead.  Then every affliction will be healed.  Then all strife will be at an end.  Then the devil and his demons will be cast into the abyss of hell where they can never touch you again.  Never again will the Lord meet you with silence.  Never again will He seem to ignore you.  He will wipe every tear from your eyes.  You will live forever with Him in joy and blessedness.  That is the deliverance we’re really begging from God.  And it is impossible for Him not to give it.  It is proper to His very nature.  “Come, Lord Jesus, have mercy and deliver us.”  He will and He does.  He comes.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.               


Sunday, August 9, 2020

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14A)
August 9, 2020
Text: Matt. 14:22-33
            What is it that terrifies them, the storm-tossed boat full of disciples in this morning’s Holy Gospel?  Is it the weather?  Undoubtedly the wind and the waves add to the anxiety.  But don’t mix this up with the time the boat was filling with water and the disciples feared for their lives, while Jesus was sleeping soundly in the stern (Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41).  In that instance, it was the storm that scared them, and the question was whether Jesus cared and whether He would save them.  He did, and it was an important reminder that Jesus is in control, that He cares for us in every need, and that no matter what, all is well as long as Jesus is in the boat with His people. 
            But Jesus is not in the boat this time.  He had sent the disciples ahead to the other side while He dismissed the crowd after the feeding of the 5,000.  And then He went up on the mountain for solitude and rest and prayer.  But the disciples were struggling in the midst of the sea.  Making no progress, beaten by the waves, the wind was against them.  Frustrated.  Anxious.  And by the way, did no one think to ask how Jesus would get to the other side to meet them? 
            Turns out, He’s going to walk.  Not around, but on.  Jesus comes to them in the fourth watch of the night, between 3 and 6 in the morning, walking on the sea.  And this is what fills them with terror.  It is a ghost!” they cry (Matt. 14:26; ESV), a phantasm, a sea demon come to drag them down to Davy Jones’ Locker.  Now, this is important, because it gives us great insight into the struggle between faith and doubt, and the very real fears that afflict Christians in this fallen world in this storm-tossed boat called Holy Church.  Though the weather is bad, this time, it isn’t that that terrifies the disciples.  It is the coming of Jesus!  They mistake Him for an evil spirit out to get them.  Think about that!
            Here we are in the ark of the Christian Church, a little band of disciples, easily frustrated and anxious, and now, needless to say, a storm has descended upon us.  Waves of civil unrest and societal instability beat upon us, and the winds of pandemic and government restriction are against us.  Not to mention the chaos of our individual lives, our sins, our pains, our afflictions, and in the end, death.  Now a Figure comes walking toward us, calmly, on top of the swirling chaos of wind and wave, and what is our reaction?  This is going to surprise you.  You know what it is?  Utter terror.  Because our eyes are fallen.  We do not have eyes to see.  And so we think Jesus is a demon, out to get us. 
            I’m not talking about Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild, as He comes to you in devotions and hymns and pious spiritual exercises.  I’m talking about Jesus coming to you in suffering and the cross… when Jesus comes to you precisely through all that is terrifying and deadly, the things that cause you anguish and sorrow.  It is impossible for fleshly eyes to see who it is that comes to you in that.  He appears to your eyes as a phantasm, a demon out to kill you.  When COVID enters your community and infects your body or a loved one.  When the government shuts down your business, or your Church.  When you receive a cancer diagnosis.  When your child perishes in a car wreck.  Who is this, walking steadily toward me in all of that?  It must be evil! 
            You do not have eyes to see.  So Jesus must give you ears to hear.  Take heart; it is I” (v. 27).  Or better, “Take heart; I AM!  Do not be afraid.”  How often have you pined to see Jesus with your own eyes… not just the eyes of faith, but these fallen eyes… especially in the midst of suffering.  If I could just see Him for myself, I would know that everything is okay.  Turns out, that just isn’t the case.  It’s a noble desire, and you will see Him when your fleshly eyes are renewed and opened to behold Him in heaven and in the resurrection, even as you see Him spiritually now by faith.  But here the disciples see Him with their fleshly eyes, walking in glory on the sea, and they are terrified!  And it is sheer arrogance to think that your reaction would be any different.  No, your eyes are not the organ of faith.  Your ears are.  Jesus speaks, and that is what delivers the disciples from their terror.  So Jesus speaks to you in the midst of the chaos of your life in this fallen world, and that is what delivers you.  For what does He say?  I AM.”  This man is no demon.  He is God, the God who became a flesh and blood man for us, the eternal Son of the Father, who inserts Himself right in the midst of the storm and the terror as our Emmanuel, God with us.  And then, “Do not be afraid.”  It is not like when you say to a fearful person, “Oh, don’t be afraid, it will all turn out all right.”  That rarely works.  It’s like telling a worried person, “Don’t worry!”… “Oh, thanks, I didn’t think of that.”  No, when Jesus says “Do not be afraid,” He is taking away your fear.  By placing Himself in between your fear and its cause. 
            The cross.  He dies your death.  You live His life.  Isn’t that the cause of all fear?  Death and condemnation?  There He is, taking it on Himself, taking it off of you.  No more need to fear.  Your sins are forgiven.  Your debt is paid in full.  Death has no claim on you.  The devil will have to go to hell without you.  Christ is risen.  And He will raise you. 
            So Jesus speaks His Word, “I AM.  Do not be afraid.”  And that changes everything.  The chaos loses its power.  We are safe.  Ears on Jesus, and we will not perish.  It leads us to confess with St. Paul that, in spite of all appearances, “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).  It can even give us the confidence of Peter to bid the Lord, “if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matt. 14:28).  I wouldn’t make a big deal out of the word “if.”  It can also be translated, “since.”  Since it is You.”  This is a statement of faith.  Hearing Jesus’ Word, Peter believes and confesses.  And Jesus speaks again: “Come” (v. 29).  And it is amazing!  Peter does it.  He walks on water to Jesus.  By the power of that little word.  “Come.”  “Ἐλθέ.”  Everything goes along swimmingly, until Peter trusts his fleshly eyes instead of his ears.  When he saw the wind… By the way, how do you see wind?... When he saw the wind, immediately back to fear.  And in that situation, Peter does what every Christian should do (after all, every Christian has these moments, often).  He prays!  Lord, save me” (v. 30).  And of course, Jesus does just that, for that is what He came to do.  Yes, that Figure walking on top of all the chaos is no demon come to kill you.  He is the Savior come to save you from it all.  O you of little faith,” He says to Peter, “why did you doubt?” (v. 31).  And then He gets in the boat, and the wind ceases, and the disciples worship and confess that He is the Son of God (vv. 32-33). 
            I don’t know about you, but I’m so tired, so troubled, so frustrated and anxious by all that I see in the news and on social media, in politics and society and even and especially in my own sinful heart and life.  Things don’t look good.  It appears there is no end to all of this.  And whatever is coming on top of this all must be evil.  It must be demonic, and it’s downright terrifying.  Until He speaks.  Take heart; I AM.  Do not be afraid.”  Jesus is on top of it all.  Do not let your eyes deceive you.  He is coming through the suffering, through the chaos and storm that has no power over Him.  He is its Lord!  And ours. 
            You have your doubts.  You are of little faith, just like Peter.  One Word from Christ, and you can walk around and play on top of the chaos with our Lord, as Christians so often do, laughing and singing and rejoicing, even in the midst of great suffering.  Trust your fleshly eyes and you will see the evil wind and billowing waves, and you will sink into the sea.  But there is Jesus.  He will save you.  He came to do just that.  Pray.  Trust.  Call upon Him in every trouble.  Lord, save me.”  You may be of little faith, but you have Jesus.  Or better, Jesus has you.  And that is all that matters.
            And you do have Him, and He does have you.  Listen.  “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit… Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age… I forgive you all your sins… Take, eat; this is my body… Take, drink; this is my blood… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.”  Take heart; I AM.  Do not be afraid.”  He comes, the Son of God.  Here and now.  In His gifts.  To you.  For you.  It is awful stormy out there, and the devil is having his day.  But you are in the boat, and Jesus is coming.  Fear not.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.