Where is Our God?

22nd Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 27c]                            November 10, 2019

 

Exodus 3:1-15

1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 7 Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” 13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Well, you can’t give yourself a name. A name is given. It’s bestowed. Bestowed by someone who is over you, or who precedes you.

 

A mom and dad bestow the name upon the little girl or boy, the little child doesn’t name self. A homerun hitter ends up named as “Hammerin’ Hank,” or a fullback as “Moose,” or a power forward as “The Mailman,” not because they put the name on themselves, but someone else—a coach or some fans—bestowed the name.

 

It’s not as if when you are named, say, George, you can choose for yourself a new name and require that everyone start calling you, say, “T-Bone.” You would just end up looking silly.

 

If a man ends up meeting his long-lost father and yelling, “My name is Sue, how do you do?”, at least it is known that the terrible name was bestowed by the father.

 

You can’t give yourself a name. A name is given. It defines, it identifies, it calls upon the person.

 

And that makes sense. For the one bestowing the name is the one giving the gifts. The greater one caring for the lesser. So mom and dad bestow the name on the child—they will be giving that child all the gifts of the family name. My dog doesn’t name me, but I name him—I will be caring for him, feeding him, and he won’t be helping me make the mortgage payment.

 

 

The one bestowing the name is the one giving the gifts. Exodus 3:14:

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

 

Who will name God? He’s the one who gives the gifts. He reveals his Name as a gift to the sinner, to us.

 

If we named God, he would not be God, but an idol of our making.

 

If we named God, he would fit our expectations, be subject to our desires—which would be revealed in the name we bestowed—and in that way, he would not be God unless we made a decision for him to be our God, unless we called him into our hearts. But a God who is not your God until you make a decision for him, or until you call him into your heart, this is no God, but an idol.

 

Who will name God? Who will make a decision for him? The true God is the one who gives gifts. He reveals his Name. He gives his name to the sinner. He is defined by no one—it’s all there in his Name.

 

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

 

That verb “I Am,” in the Hebrew is the word Yahweh.

 

Yahweh, that’s all it is—the verb meaning, I Am. In the Hebrew, the verb is a much more complete and full than that. It means not only I Am in the present, but also, I have been, and I will continue to be, and, I cause to be.

 

So the voice of God speaking to Moses from the burning bush did not just reveal God to be the true God, that is, the one who is, rather than the one who is only if we cause him to be by making a decision for him, but the voice in the bush was God revealing himself as the one who is, who was, who will continue to be, and who causes to be. That is, he is not only the Living God but, in that, the God who is giving all life.

 

He gives life. This is our Creator.

 

But how do you give life to a sinner? How will God give life to a creature who acts as if he’s not a creature, but is one who has his own life in his hands and, not only that, but is one who thinks God is subject to him, even to the extent that he has the power to determine whether or not he will choose to make a decision for God?

 

How do you give life to a sinner?

 

God is not only our Creator. He is our Redeemer. Not only the One who created life, but the One who redeemed fallen life, so that the Old Adam of sin is, by the Gospel, recreated as the New Adam of faith.

 

 

It’s all there in his Name.

 

He revealed his Name to Moses: Yahweh, the God who was, who is, who will be, and who causes all things to be.

 

Then a child a born. The Virgin is with child and will bear a Son. What name will Mary and Joseph bestow on the child? Matthew 1:21:

[The angel said,] “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

 

Jesus is our English pronunciation. The Hebrew pronunciation would have been closer to Yeshuah, which means Yahweh saves.

 

By Mary and Joseph, the Father in Heaven bestows the Name upon his Son, the Name by which we are to know him and call upon him, and it is the Name Yeshuah, Jesus, this One is Yahweh saving his people from their sins.

 

 

Whose voice was that speaking from the burning bush, saying to Moses, I Am? It’s the One being held in Mary’s arms. It’s the One who stood before Pilate to let himself be crucified in the place of every sinner. It’s the One who is called Yahweh-saves, Jesus, for he saves his people from their sins.

 

The one whose voice spoke to Moses from the burning bush, he’s the One who bestowed his Name upon you and me and our families in Baptism, so that in Baptism, we who are sinners, who can in no way make a decision for Christ, we now bear the Holy Name and we belong to salvation.

 

The one who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, he still speaks. He is the God who was, who is, who will be, who causes all things to be, and he causes you and me to be his own.

 

He still speaks. Not in the flames of a burning bush, that belongs to Moses, and it was never promised to us. Not in the flames of our own burning hearts, he never promised us that, and our hearts are sinful.

 

He speaks to us in his Word. His Word of Scripture. His Word he has preached in the Church. His Word of Gospel. His Word by which he comes to us to forgive our sins and make us his own. His speaks to us in His Word, and by that Word, he gathers us to himself, to his Body and Blood.

 

Every time he gathers us to his Body and Blood he is gathering us to his Name, he is placing us on Holy Ground, he is cleansing us from all unholiness, bestowing on us all the gifts of the Name.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

Jesus Blesses

All SAINTS’ DAY                                                             November 3, 2019

 

Matthew 5:1-12

1 Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

11 Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

 

To be poor, destitute, to have nothing of your own. To stand as one only to be given to.

 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who stand before God with nothing to claim, only to be given to, and who then find the God before whom they stand is he who is on his way to the cross.

 

There he will stand before men to be judged, stand before them as one who is claims nothing on his own, and they will give him the one thing they have to give. They will give him their sin, their death, their judgement. He will take that judgment, in order to say to us, By the blood of my cross, you are blessed, you are of the kingdom of Heaven.

 

 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. What is this comfort?

“Comfort, comfort, my people,”

the Lord spoke by the prophet Isaiah.

 

“Comfort, comfort my people,

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

cry out to her that her warfare is ended,

that her iniquity is pardoned,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

[Isaiah 40:2]

 

Blessed are those, then, who mourn their sin, who see no escape, who find themselves in warfare unwinnable.

 

Jesus as he speaks the blessing is on his way to the cross, and those who belong to him, they are his Jerusalem, his Church, they are pardoned, they receive from the Lord’s hand every good gift in double measure, and in every guilt, they are comforted.

 

 

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.

 

The meek, this speaks not of some delicate nature or wimpiness, but of the Son of God riding into Jerusalem meek and lowly on the back of a donkey, to the cross to give himself over to death for all sinners.

 

In the way of our world, the Earth is not inherited by the meek. It is owned by those who grasp it with power, by those who conquer its land and control its oceans, by those who tear down others and stab them in the back.

 

In the way of the cross, the Earth is not controlled but inherited by him who gives himself the ransom for every sinner, and then given by inheritance to those sinners he pardons and cleanses.

 

 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

 

Righteousness, that is to be judged innocent by the Father. Righteousness is to be found in fulfillment of the full Law, so that no part of You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself is left unsatisfied.

 

He hungered for righteousness, even to the point of death on the cross, so that in that death, every sinner is justified at the face of God the Father.

 

Having given himself on the cross, his Father then gave to him all authority in Heaven and on Earth, the authority to forgive sins and justify the sinner, so that in this authority he gives sinners of all nations to be baptized into the holy Name.

 

He who hungered and thirsted for righteousness, even to the point of death on the cross, he is given all authority of salvation, and he is satisfied.

 

 

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

 

Mercy is to judge another not by the demands of the Law, but by the overflowing grace of the Gospel.

 

The Law is retribution. It accuses—the sinner is condemned. For the Law to have mercy, it would no longer be Law.

 

Mercy is he who came not to judge, but to be judged, and to give his life the ransom for many.

 

Mercy is for the judge to give his verdict not on account of what is deserved, but on account of the free gift, of the promise.

 

Mercy is for the eternal judge to give not the hammer of the Law, but himself on the cross on behalf of the sinner.

 

He is merciful. A mercy shown to us in such a way it makes us people of mercy, receiving mercy from one another.

 

He is merciful, with a mercy forgiving our sins and, in forgiving our sins, gathering us into his courtroom not to accuse one another at the face of the judge, but to speak to one another in his words of mercy, comforting one another in the Gospel, addressing one another as those belonging to mercy.

 

 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

 

The heart is not pure. The heart is concerned with self and filled with lustful desires. From the heart comes that which defiles. Matthew 15:19:

That which comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.

 

But he who has a pure heart is found hanging on the cross. He is found shedding the blood to cleanse our hearts. Psalm 51:

Hide your face from my sins, [O God,]

And blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart.

 

He who has a pure heart has given himself on the cross to cleanse every heart, so that as we see his shedding of blood on the cross, as we drink his blood as he gives us to do for the cleansing of our hearts, we look upon him, and we see the face of God.

 

 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

 

Peace made between God and the sinner at the reconciliation of the cross; peace among sinners by the speaking of the reconciliation of the cross; he is the peacemaker between God and man, between man and man, the Son of God, sent to save those at enmity with his Father.

 

He is the Son of God, and all those baptized into him and his peace, they have been made children of God.

 

 

This word of blessing—this word of the blessing of those who are poor in spirit, but who receive every good gift from the Father; of those who mourn in this world of sin, but who are comforted by the Word of promise and life; those who are meek and afflicted but who inherit the Earth—this blessing will be rejected by our world.

 

By everything our world can see, the Earth is inherited by power and grasping, not by gift to those who in their sin are emptied out.

 

The world is inherited by those who force their own way, by those who demand that everything be done right, or they will hold others under the accusation of the Law—by everything our world can see, things must be held under the Law, and anything not held under the Law, must be reviled and persecuted and have all kinds of evil uttered against it.

 

In his Word of blessing, Jesus creates us as the people not under the Law, but under the promise, the Gospel. Matthew 5:12:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

The Justification of the Sinner

Reformation Day                                           October 27, 2019

 

Romans 3:19-28

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

A day of great celebration in the Church: Reformation Day.

 

But, as a strange thing, the one thing we cannot hear on the Day of the Reformation of the Church is a sermon about the Reformation. Because, if we heard a sermon about the Reformation, that sermon would be a denial of the Reformation, because the Reformation was about one particular matter, and that matter concerns what is preached in the Church.

 

So, first, a few things the Reformation was not about.

 

The Reformation was not about reforming the Church to rid her of outdated worship practices. We are thankful for our brothers and sisters who have gone before us, and we worship with them. The Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene, and the Athanasian, they are not discarded or updated—they can’t be. These Creeds belong to the Church of every generation and no one generation takes it upon itself to treat them as trash. The Church continues confessing and extolling them with one voice in every generation.

 

The Reformation was not about tearing down crucifixes or statues of saints, or tearing out stained glass windows, or any other destruction of arts which extol the Gospel. Luther himself treasured the gifts of music and art in the Church, and himself practiced the beautiful chanting of the Liturgy and singing of hymns.

 

The Reformation was not about cleaning up the corruption and debauchery of the bishops and priests in Rome. There’s much corruption, much grabbing for political power, much sexual debauchery which needs cleaning up. But this is always the case in our sinful world, and this is not what the Reformation was about.

 

The Reformation was not about Church governance or political alignments. We can read the Lutheran Confessions and we will find nothing of how the Church must be organized for governance, nothing of whether it should be run out of a city like Rome, or a city like Wittenberg or St. Louis. How many bishops should the Church have, how many years of seminary for a pastor? We will find nothing in the Confessions of the Church to give an answer.

 

Nor was the Reformation about what type of government a Christian should live under. Under a King or under a democracy, in a republic or in a dictatorship—the confessions say nothing about how a Christian can expect to live under government.

 

 

Then what is the Reformation about? About one thing only. It is about what is preached in the Church. What is preached in the Church is, The justification of the sinner before God. This is the Article of Justification:

We teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By his death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in his sight (Romans 3).

 

That’s Article Four of the Augsburg Confession. It has been called the Article upon which the Church stands or falls. It is the Article which the Pope rejects, such that he excommunicates anyone who teaches this article, ruling that the Article of Justification is Anathema.

 

But this is the preaching of the Church. This is what we teach our children. This is what every sinner needs to hear:

The sinner cannot be justified before God by his own strength, merit, or work, but is freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when he has faith that he is received into God’s favor and his sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By his death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in his sight.

 

To the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote:

By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness,

[Romans 3:25]

 

This is Justification. Upon this Article the Church stands or falls—not only the Church in Rome to whom Paul was writing at that time, but the Church of every generation, for the Lord gave these words through Paul, in order to have them delivered in Holy Scripture to the Church of every generation and every place.

 

The sinner is justified, says Paul, not by any works of the Law: By the deeds of the Law, no flesh will be justified in [God’s] sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin.

 

Not by any work of the Law are we justified. By no work of love, by no effort of making ourselves worthy, by no tally sheet of accruing merit—by no work of the Law will we be justified says Paul.

 

Then why the Law? If the Law is not there because we can keep it and make ourselves worthy; if the Law is not there as a way for us to accrue merit; if the Law is not there for us build up self in love; then why the Law?

 

The Law, says Paul, gives the knowledge of sin. [Romans 3:20]

 

The Law shows us not how to gain merit, but how sinful we are. The Law shows us not how to be worthy, but how unworthy we are before God. The Law always accuses. The Law always exposes guilt, always covers in shame. The Law never gives comfort, never cleanses, but condemns.

 

Why the Law? So we will know our need of a Savior; so we will see our total inability to be worthy before God; and we will, instead, look for a Redeemer. Not being able to justify ourselves, we finally rejoice in hearing the Word of the One who is our justifier, Jesus Christ, justifying freely by his grace.

 

 

If anyone were to us, What was the Reformation about, and what is the Reformation still about, until our Lord comes again? it is about this, The preaching in the church that the sinner is justified by no work, merit, or worthiness of his own, but is justified freely before God for the sake of Christ, through faith, and that the sinner’s sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by his death, made full satisfaction for our sins. This faith in Christ, God accounts to us as righteousness.

 

Not about Church power or governance, not about bishops and cardinals, not about cleaning up corruption and debauchery, not about candles and vestments and statues and stained glass, not about an office building in Rome or Wittenberg or St. Louis or anywhere else, but about one thing: the justification of the sinner before God freely for Christ’s sake through faith.

 

 

Everything in the Church, said Martin Luther, is ordered toward the forgiveness of sins.

 

The proclamation of the sermon? Jesus forgives the sins of every sinner.

 

The Confession and Absolution? The forgiveness of sins by the Word of Jesus spoken by the pastor.

 

The Lord’s Supper? Jesus giving us his Body and Blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins.

 

The mutual conversation of the Christians at home or in the hospital and everywhere else?  The comfort of Jesus speaking the forgiveness of sins given as a gift from one Christian to another, so that we are building one another up in the Gospel.

 

Everything in the Church is ordered toward this: The forgiveness of sins, the justification of the sinner before God through faith in Christ Jesus. Everything in the Church is ordered toward, as Paul says,

That we are justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by his blood, through faith, … that God might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

[Romans 3:25]

 

In the Name of Jesus.

God Wants to be Known by His Name

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 24, c]

October 20, 2019

 

Genesis 32:22-30

22 The same night [Jacob] arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

God comes to Earth in the flesh, in the form of a man, for a short time—what is God up to?

 

It is Jacob to whom God comes down—Jacob the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. So that Jacob is the one on Earth carrying the promise of redemption for all sinners.

 

The promise of a redeemer from sin was given to Abraham, with the promise that from Abraham’s lineage would come forth a descendant who would bless all nations. Then the promise given to Abraham went to Abraham’s son, Isaac. From Isaac, it went to his son Jacob. And now we see Jacob, and God comes down in the flesh, as a man, to him.  What will God say?

 

 

Because Jacob has big trouble coming at him just around the corner, we might hope God will say something that would pull him out of disaster.

 

We remember some of the story. Jacob is getting ready to cross the Jabbok river and meet his brother Esau. Jacob hasn’t seen Esau since that terrible scene where Jacob schemed and lied to steal the family promise away from Esau and make it his. After that, Jacob quickly pulled up stakes and left town, moved away to a foreign land, married, and raised a family. But now he’s returning. Esau has had several decades to stew in bitterness, hoping for a day for revenge. Jacob deserves it.

 

Jacob crosses the Jabbok river in fear. The day of reckoning with Esau is here.

 

So when God comes down to Earth in the form of a man to meet with Jacob, maybe we will hear some deep wisdom about how Jacob can handle this Esau problem with success.

 

God comes down in the flesh, and this is what he says,

“What is your name?”

 

No great wisdom about how to handle a problem. Just a question:

“What is your name?”

 

A name is no mere label.

 

With the name comes the person, all that he is—his good, his bad, his honor, his guilt—and with the name comes all that has been done to a person, all that has oppressed him, defiled him, all that has brought shame to him.

 

With a name, you get the full person.

 

A name such as Stalin or Hitler—just whisper the name; we all know immediately what comes with the name. A name such as Einstein or Marie Curie, do we even have to say what they did? It’s given with the name.

 

All that a person is and has done, and that which has been done to him—it’s given with the name. By the Commandments, we are not to bring shame on another’s name, for an attack on the name is an attack on the person.

 

“What is your name?”

says the Lord.

 

Jacob is holding him down in his grip, demanding the blessing, and the Lord says,

“What is your name?”

 

To give his name will expose Jacob, it will bring with it all that Jacob is, and has done, and all that has been done against Jacob, bringing him into shame. In giving his name, Jacob is vulnerable.

 

“Jacob,”

he says.

 

It’s all there. Jacob is a Hebrew word meaning “supplanter.” He had supplanted his own brother Esau—Jacob’s name exposes him as a cheat, as one who takes things from others.

 

Before God, nothing is hidden.

 

Jacob, supplanter, is his name. But then God says,

“Your name is no longer Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men and prevailed.”

[Genesis 32:28]

 

“Israel” is a Hebrew word meaning just that—he has striven, he has wrestled with God. He held God down; he didn’t let God go until he heard the blessing: “Israel.”

 

 

God knows our names. All that we are, all that comes with our names, all that we have done, all that we will do in our sinful flesh, all that we are in the deepest corners of our sinful hearts—it is all held up to the light of the Law, exposed in our names.

 

He knows our names. He gives us a new name: Israel. The church is named as the New Israel, the New people of God who strive with him. We are, all of us, “Israel”—named by him.

 

Strive with God. Hold him. Cling to him. Don’t let him go until the blessing. This is the language of faith. Faith is born of the Gospel.

 

In the Law God comes to us in strength. The Law exposes sin, names us as supplanters. We cannot stand before God like that and live. The Gospel is the Lord coming to us in his self-chosen weakness. The Gospel speaks forgiveness of sin, giving us the blessing of the Lord’s holy Name.

 

God wants to be known for the Gospel, for the forgiveness of sin, for the blessing. He wants to be known by his Name. By his Name the sinner will know him and who he is, will know all that he has done, and all that has been done to him, against him, bringing shame upon him.

 

By the Lord’s Name, we know how our sin defiled and crucified him.

 

By his Name we know how he stood in front of the Pharisees and let them insult him, in front of the soldiers and let them spit on him—and we know how he stands in front of us, even while our sin and our arrogance, bring shame to him.

 

But he took all that upon himself, and put it to death in his own body on the cross—that’s all according to his Name, Jesus.

 

Now he is the God who wants the sinner to strive with him, and hold him down, until the blessing.

 

This is the life of faith, the life of prayer.

 

Our conversation with God is no sweet whispering of flowery words. It is an actual conversation rooted in life’s pain. It’s wrestling and striving, speaking to God of what really hurts, of what leaves us empty, of what brings shame upon our names. In this conversation we hold him tight, in order to say,

“You are my Lord, I must have your blessing. I hold on to you, I will not give up speaking, until I hear your blessing upon my name.”

 

Our Lord gives it that way. He will have it no other way. He showed up to Jacob by no accident. The Lord didn’t come down and find himself walking around on the banks of Jabbok to, all of the sudden, find himself ambushed and head-locked by some guy named Jacob.

 

He came down in order to wrestle with Jacob. In order to ask him his name, to bestow upon him the new name, “Israel”—to bless him.

 

He comes to us by no accident. He is not ambushed by our sin. He is not surprised by the shame attached to our names. He knows it all, better than we do ourselves, and it is for that reason that he shows up to us in the flesh.

 

“This is me,”

he says,

“My Body, My Blood, and I know your name, who you are, what is your pain, what is your shame.”

 

“Strive with me, hold on to me, expect from me the blessing of my Name, for you are Israel,”

he says to us,

“You strive with God.”

 

So we hold onto him, to the Body and the Blood, to the Name spoken with the Body and the Blood, Jesus, and holding on to him, we are blessed.

 

Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord,”

we sing in the Liturgy. The Name of the Lord is Jesus. He comes to us by that Name. In that Name, we find the blessing: your sin is forgiven, your shame is removed—he covers you in honor.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

Faithful to the Faithless

2 Timothy 2:1–13

[1] You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, [2] and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. [3] Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. [4] No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. [5] An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. [6] It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. [7] Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

 

[8] Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, [9] for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! [10] Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. [11] The saying is trustworthy, for:

 

          If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

          [12] if we endure, we will also reign with him;

          if we deny him, he also will deny us;

          [13] if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

         

         

          for he cannot deny himself.

 

 

In the Name of Jesus, AMEN

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are in a culture today where as much as probably any time in history, we are surrounded by distractions. Emails, texts, apps, social media and screens and every kind of electronic notification can consume us. Not to mention the various vocations and other things that demand our constant attention. In other words, even for people who aren’t ADD or ADHD, staying focused can seem near impossible today. St. Paul in our text is writing to his young pastor friend Timothy in one of his final letters about what he should be focused on in his ministry to the church and the other pastors he is mentoring. This is Paul’s final letter of instruction and to his apprentice and he emphasizes over and over again for Timothy to be about One Thing primarily, the proclamation of our Lord’s death and resurrection, the Gospel. Using the metaphor of a good soldier, he warns Timothy not to be about entangled in “civilian pursuits”, which could easily distract, but rather “please the one who enlisted him”. Like the great athlete, training for the prize or the good farmer focused on growing good crops, Paul urges Timothy to stay focused, through difficulty, hardship, suffering and distraction on delivering the gifts of our Lord Jesus Christ who has died and risen for His church. Just as there are many causes and even very good ones that any church or pastor could focus on, it’s important for us to note that above all Timothy is to preach Christ crucified for the sinner, the Gospel. He is to preach the justification of the sinner, the forgiveness of sins for all on account of our Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s easy to put our energy on everything around us, except the main thing, to be distracted by people, politics or social causes as the church’s main charge which is why Paul reminds the church in Ephesus also when he tells them,

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Eph 6:12

Our real enemy isn’t our neighbor but sin, death and the devil, all of which are dealt with on Christ’s cross for us.

 

So Paul says, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, [9] for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! [10] Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” In other words just as certain as Jesus is risen from the dead, so His word of forgiveness goes out and accomplishes its purpose, bringing life to those who are spiritually dead, healing and cleansing those who are spiritually diseased and leprous, just like in our Gospel reading this morning.

Paul, who had his share of beatings and imprisonment for preaching the Gospel, isn’t focused on his circumstances or even his suffering, for his hope is in the word of the Gospel of the forgiveness of all sins on account of Christ. Paul isn’t preaching his own methods of cleaning up your life, or self-improvement. He isn’t giving pep talks or motivational speeches, but is boldly proclaiming the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of all sins. This word, which is Jesus’ word given to Paul, the other apostles and now to Timothy and the entire Christian church is “the power of God unto salvation”. It is the Word of Gospel that creates faith in us, for “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ”. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” This is why the single focus of the pastor and the single Word of the church is the Word of Jesus, who has risen from the dead for you, and forgives your sin this day.

To be clear, it’s not that there aren’t many things that are important to be instructed on in all of life’s vocations. We can get teaching on finances, marriage, relationships, parenting and lots of other good things. The reality though is that Jesus did not come into the flesh, die and rise to simply make us more moral or give us some good advice on different aspects of life, but as the angel says to Mary, “you shall call His name Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins.”

His very name speaks of the forgiveness He came to give you. For, like all sinners you may think that if you just do this, that or the other enough, you will be ok, but the Scriptures teach that your condition is far worse than you imagined. For you were born, “dead in your trespasses” and sin. So our Lord’s Word for you is not reformation but resurrection. Your hope is exactly what Paul tells Timothy here in our text. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,”. While your Old Adam still somehow thinks he is good enough and smart enough to figure it out, the Law of God actually condemns all of you even your “Good works” done in the flesh as filthy rags before the Lord, for He is holy and commands the same of you, not a few of the 10 commandments, but all of them are demanded in terms of the Law. But in His Word of Gospel He gives you what you don’t have, He gives what you cannot do for yourself, He gives you His perfect life as gift, He is your substitute, and Jesus is your righteousness. This is why He has called you here this morning, to be gathered to His name, the name by which you were baptized into His death and resurrection, so as certainly as He was raised, so are you, as new Adam, new creation by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone.

 

“The saying is trustworthy, for:

          If we have died with him, we will also live with him;” 2 Tim 2:11

 

The Gospel for you that Jesus gives, is a Gospel that is rooted not in your faithfulness, or ability to do good and get better, but in His already finished work on the cross for you. He promises in our text today to continue that work, despite your unfaithfulness, His word and His promise to be with you, named as His own through water and the word forever. “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

          for he cannot deny himself.”

 

In the Name of Jesus,

Amen

We’re Just Doing What We are Given to Do

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 22, c]         October 6, 2019

 

Luke 17:1-10

1 And [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”

 

In the name of Jesus.

 

Just do your job. Coach Bill Belichek is famous for that. Multiple super bowls, always in the playoffs, and when he’s asked what he says to his New England Patriot players to motivate them, he says, “Do your job.”

 

“If one guy is out of position,” says coach Belichek, “then someone is running through the line of scrimmage and he’s going to gain a bunch of yards.”

 

So, to every player: Do your job. Play your position. It’s simple.

 

And it sounds a bit like Jesus telling the Apostles of the servant who dresses properly as a servant and serves his master’s household with food and drink, as he is appointed to do.

 

Should that servant be called a hero because he did what was given him to do? No, the servant did the servant job. Simple enough. As Coach Belichek would tell us, Do your job. Play your position. Luke 17:10:

[Jesus said,] So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

 

So far, so good. We now have Jesus as life-coach, as someone who shows us wisdom of how to live in the daily grind—we have him as an early-century Coach Belichek.

 

So we must be missing something. Because Jesus didn’t come to be a life-coach. He came to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, he came to seek and to save that which was lost. He came to give his life on the cross to ransom the sinner. He came to justify you and me.

 

So when Jesus teaches a parable, if what we hear is good advice on how to organize our lives, or good advice on how to handle money or stewardship, instead of hearing the voice of the Lamb of God who is going to the cross to save sinners, then maybe we have robbed the parable of the Gospel and turned it into Law.

 

The One speaking the parable is Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the Gospel.

 

Jesus justifies the sinner. He gives sinners peace in their consciences. He gives sinners to know that when they hear his Name, they are hearing the One who forgives sin and makes them his own.

 

 

“So you also,

[said Jesus,]

“when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”

 

This is the cross. For Jesus is speaking to his Apostles, and he is setting them to do what they are given to do as his servants.

 

What did Jesus give them to do? That comes a few verses earlier. Forgive. Forgive the sinner. Forgive those who sin against you. Do not count sins. Do not keep digging up the wrongs. Forgive. Each day. Multiple times each day. Seven times in a day, says Jesus—the number seven being the number of fullness and completion.

 

If you do not forgive sins, you are withholding what I have given you to do. If you find ways to hold on to sins, you are with the Pharisees and scribes who, when they come up with the strongest charge they can with which to publicly convict and shame Jesus, the charge they come up with is, “This [Jesus] receives sinners and eats with them.” [Luke 15:1]

 

Jesus hears the charge; he takes it. He speaks no excuse, he voices no intent to improve the sinners so they are somehow more acceptable to the scribes and Pharisees, he takes the charge. He wears it all the way to the cross.

 

So when Jesus tells his disciples to forgive sins, freely and abundantly to release people from guilt, he is doing it in a world where the Pharisees are telling these same disciples to not release sins. To use the Law of God to keep sinners under guilt. To accuse people and cover them in shame.

 

To forgive sins when the Law is there ready to accuse; to forgive sins when the person you are forgiving doesn’t really deserve forgiveness; to forgive sins when everyone around you is expecting to do a better job of improving lives with the Law—to forgive sins is not easy. It can’t be done just by putting in harder work and more effort.

 

Forgiving sins is done by faith. Faith is in Christ Jesus, the one who receives sinners and eats with them, who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who freely and abundantly forgives those who sin against him—to forgive sins is done only by faith in him who is the friend of sinners.

 

Forgive sins seven times, forgive sins the fulness of times, says Jesus.

 

When the Apostles hear that, they say, Increase our faith. [Luke 17:5]

 

The Apostles had that right. If they are going to forgive sins, they are not going to do it because someone told them the right mechanics about how to do it, like a football coach telling the linebacker where he’s supposed to line up on a 3rd and seven.

 

If they are going to forgive sins, freely and abundantly, they are going to do it because they know who Jesus is. They are going to do it by faith in him.

 

 

Now the parable makes sense as it can only when seen in view the cross.

 

Forgive sins, Jesus says. Freely and abundantly—forgive them all day long, as many times as it takes, and don’t do any math on what is the right number or the right time.

 

Forgive as servants appointed to do just that, as servants doing only what you have been authorized to do by the master of the house. Forgive sins without looking for payment, with no expectation of reward, but forgive as servants who, when you have done what you are given to do, then say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” [Luke 17:10]

 

The cross is in those words. The cross is in the title, “unworthy servants.” For no one is a worthy servant of Jesus’. The question with Jesus is not whether or not you are a worthy servant, but whether or not he has made you his servant.

 

Because to be a servant of Jesus’ is everything. No one makes himself or herself a servant of Jesus’. No one enters the Lord’s household on his or her own. No Christian is self-made.

 

But to be called into the household, to be given the Name of the Lord in Baptism, to be called his own so that he even honors you to be his servant, this is the cross. This is the crucified One claiming those whom he has ransomed and cleansing them with his own blood, so that they are now worthy by faith in him.

 

And as these servants, we don’t forgive anyone because we are worthy to—we are not—but we forgive as those who are forgiven, as those whom he honors to make his servants to give gifts as freely and abundantly as he desires.

 

And when we find ourselves in our stinginess, holding on to debts, we turn to him and say, “Increase our faith.” For he is the one who receives sinners and eats with them, and our faith is in him.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

Faith Hears the Decree from Heaven

St. Michael and All Angels                                         September 29, 2019

 

Revelation 12:7-12

7 Now war arose in Heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world–he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in Heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

If there is a conversation about you, a conversation being carried on by, say, three or four persons, wouldn’t you want to know what they’re saying?

 

These three or four persons talking about you, wouldn’t you want to know if they were malicious toward you, speaking ill, tearing you down? Or if they were friendly and favorable, holding your name in high honor? And to know if that conversation was not just about you, but it even determined how you would stand in the future, if you would stand with a name held in shame, or if you would stand with a name of good reputation, held in honor by all?

 

There is that conversation about you and me.

 

 

Now war arose in Heaven, writes John.

 

John would not know of anything of a war in Heaven, except that he was an Apostle, and the Lord, as John was on the Island of Patmos, revealed to John a scene of the conversation of the Council in Heaven.

 

This Council consists of the conversation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. From this conversation of the Three persons of the Holy Trinity, God creates all things—the Earth and the planets, the trees, plants, and animals, and as the culmination of it all, Man and Woman.

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

[Genesis 1:27]

 

But in that conversation of creation, before he created the man and the woman, God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, created the angels.

 

God gave the angels position at the Council in Heaven. They are spirits, not humans, they have no flesh and blood—that belongs to the Man and the Woman. The angels would have position in Heaven, but God created them to be servants to the Man and the Woman, who were, after all, the Image of God, and the culmination of all creation.

 

They were created as servants to us, to you and me and our children, to bring to us the tidings from the Throne in Heaven, to be bearers of light, messengers of heavenly decrees. Then, one of the chief angels rebelled, and many of the other angels with him.

 

These who fell, they made themselves to be messengers to us not of light and good tidings from Heaven, but of the lie, bearers of darkness. They made themselves malicious and small-minded little servants, always speaking guilt and shame and accusation. And they tempted us and brought us into this darkness of the accusation.

 

 

These fallen angels, these unclean spirits, they are messengers of darkness, always speaking the accusation.

 

But in Heaven, the conversation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is the conversation of light. The Father speaks to the Son, sending him to Earth to become Man and to die for all men and women, redeeming us with his own blood.

 

The Son presents the testimony of blood to his Father, interceding for us, declaring us to be clean by virtue of his blood and justifying us to his Father.

 

The Father and the Son send forth the Holy Spirit to bring the decree of this justification to the sinner on Earth, the Holy Spirit calling sinners, gathering us into the Church—for the Church is nothing other than redeemed sinners gathered to hear the Gospel and be given the Sacraments.

 

And, in this conversation in Heaven, this conversation about you and me, this conversation in which you and I are justified before the Father and made his own, what becomes of Satan and the unclean angels? Revelation 12:7:

Now war arose in Heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven.

 

War in Heaven. Satan, here called the dragon, defeated and thrown out, their voice of accusation silenced.

 

John is describing what happened when the Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, was crucified. In the Holy One’s crucifixion, the unholy angels lost their accusation. For, how can you accuse a sinner, when that sinner has been clothed in the righteousness of Christ Jesus?

 

 

So we hear the decree from Heaven. It is that you are justified before the Father. You are justified by the blood of the Son which he shed on the cross.

 

This justification is brought to you as the Holy Spirit gathers you into the Church to hear the proclamation of the Gospel. For the Gospel is always nothing other than the Word of the forgiveness of all your sin.

 

This justification was sealed to you in the promise of Holy Baptism.

 

This justification is made sure to you every time the One who gave himself on the cross now brings that redeeming blood to you, as he gives you to eat his Body and drink his Blood for the forgiveness of your sin.

 

 

What happened to the accusation?

 

It is still there, as long as we live in our sinful flesh. The accusation is still heard as God has his Law proclaimed, and as long, then, as the unclean angels testify in our consciences not of Christ’s mercy and grace, not of his justification of the sinner, but testify in our consciences of our sin.

 

But in our life of faith we know this:  War arose in Heaven. And Satan was thrown down. And his voice of accusation is cancelled out before the Father by the Word of Jesus.

 

That is the cross. For what accusation can stand against a sinner who is clothed in the righteousness of Christ Jesus?

 

That is the cross. Satan still has a voice as long as we are in our sinful flesh, until the day when Jesus stands upon the Earth and brings it all to its full, final culmination, but even as we await that Last Day, we do so in the knowledge that the Accuser is thrown down, and his voice is not heard in eternity.

 

We still hear the Law; we still hear the accusation. But it is our Lord’s gift to us to show us our sin, to put us under guilt, so that we then depend upon only his Gospel.

 

His Gospel that all sin is forgiven. That by the blood of the Lamb, you are clean. That we rejoice in the holy angels, the messengers sent by God to watch over us, protect us, and keep us in our Lord’s good Word of the Gospel, which is life to the sinner.

 

And we rejoice that our Lord gives us to speak this comfort and encouragement to one another. So that as a brother or sister is tempted by unclean angels to despair, as a brother or sister is being held under the accusation, we speak the opposite testimony, the Word of blood of the Lamb which cleanses the conscience. The Word spoken in Heaven and, in the Gospel, spoken to us here on Earth. Revelation 12:10:

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the Earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in Heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

By the Sweat of Your Face

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 20, c]

 

1 Timothy 2:1-15

1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

If we want to see an argument explode out of nowhere in our current culture, can we do it any faster than by just by bringing up the sexes? Just say the words man and woman, or male and female, or husband and wife, or natural marriage, or mother and father, and get ready for the dumpster fire.

 

Man and woman, male and female, husband and wife—it’s ground for a war, it’s conflict, it’s time for name calling.

 

And yet, it didn’t start that way. God did not intend it that way. In the beginning, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in their conversation of creation, made mankind, male and female. And the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend it and keep it. [Genesis 2:15]

 

Tend and keep. No word here about working so hard you’re sweating, about work being a grind, about reporting in on Monday and counting the days until Friday, just gentle words, Tend and Keep. Work the ground and keep it. From that tending and keeping, you will have all you and your family ever need. Your interaction with the Earth will not be a constant battle against flood and disaster, against drought and famine, but your engagement with the Earth will be one of a creature receiving abundant gifts from the Creator.

 

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to tend and keep it. But the man was not whole without his counterpart, his equal, she who along with the man completes humanity, so there is male and female. To the man and the woman, the Lord God blessed them and said, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth. [Genesis 1:28]

 

If the man is given the high office of tending the ground, providing the food, guarding it all, the woman is given the high office of giving birth to the child, of bringing forth the generations, of bearing life.

 

And there is no note of pain in this, of difficulty or threat, of loss or tears.

 

The man and the woman. Created for each other, created to bring forth and uphold life, created to receive gifts from the Creator.

 

 

Then, we know what was done.

 

The man and woman, rather than receive gifts as they were given, took things according to their desire. Rather than stand as creatures living from the gifts of a loving Creator, in their desire, they took their stand as those who refuse gifts, but will make their own way.

 

They sinned. From them—for we are their children, we have no life but that it didn’t come through them—from them, we stand as sinners.

 

And the tending and keeping of the Earth? The Earth is now cursed. It is now by the sweat of your brow. Genesis 3:17:

[The Lord said,] Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.

 

If the man now gets food only by the sweat of his brow, what of the woman bringing forth children? Genesis 3:16:

[The Lord God said,] “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children.”

 

And the man and the woman, given to be one-flesh with each other? They are now in conflict, the wife seeking the man’s office, the man ruling over the wife, both seeing themselves as apart from the other.

 

From then on, up to us today, work is no longer the joy of receiving gifts from creation, but is the struggle to control nature and bring forth food by the sweat of the brow. Childbearing is no longer simply the joy of bearing new life into a peaceful creation, but is the tears of a mother in pain, the crying of a mother who loses a child, the torment of a woman unable to bear, none of it intended by the Creator.

 

The binding together of the man and the woman, the gift of husband and wife, the institution of marriage, it is torn-at by jealousy and lust, it is even denied by sinful generations, it is mimicked and mocked by those who desire to pursue lust outside of marriage.

 

 

Then the promise. In the midst of this sweat of the brow, this pain of childbearing, this tearing of marriage, in the midst of it all, a kindly and gently spoken promise:

The woman will bring forth a child who will be struck by Satan, but who, in being struck by Satan, will crush Satan’s head.

 

The promise: the woman will bear a child who will stand on the Earth as the New Adam, the New Man who takes all the sin of Adam and Eve, all the sin of their children, including you and me, who takes all the shame of living from cursed ground only by the sweat of your brow, all the pain of sickness and stillbirth and infertility, all the shame of lust and living in sinful community where men and women cannot even clearly rejoice in what it means to be a man or a woman—he, the New Adam, born of woman, takes it all upon himself and puts it to death in his own body on the cross.

 

 

We live by that promise—promise given to Adam and Eve, promise accomplished by the New Adam, Christ Jesus, on the cross, promise delivered to you and me every time we hear his word cleansing us of our sin, forgiving our rebellion against being creatures created to receive gifts, and declaring us to be his bride, the Church.

 

We live by that promise, that he, Christ Jesus, is the New Man, and he takes as his Bride the Church, a Bride he loves and daily sanctifies, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word, presenting her as his bride in splendor. [Ephesians 5:27]

 

And living in that promise that all sinners have been redeemed by Christ Jesus and he gathers us to be his Bride, the Church, we hear the kind words of the Apostle Paul:

Yet [the woman] will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

 

This is our Lord’s kind promise that even as we live in this world of “the sweat of the brow,” this is not judgment to us—for the judgment against sin is found at the cross, but this is the life we are given to live in faith. So that even as we live by “the sweat of the brow” in our sinful flesh, in our life of faith, we live as the Bride of Christ, daily being sanctified by his promise.

And it is our Lord’s promise that even as a woman is given to go through the pain of child-birth, or even the pain of being unable to bear, yet, that is not judgment to her, but she is being saved even as she goes through it. 1 Timothy 2:15:

Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

 

This is our Lord’s promise that we are saved not by any work we do, not by any sweat of our brow, not by any pain of child-bearing, but, as we go through all of this, we are saved by grace through faith.

 

By the grace of a Lord he calls himself Groom, and calls us his Bride, the Church.

 

By the grace of a Lord who as Groom, sets men to be pastors to serve his Bride the Church, not because they are of themselves worthy or competent, but because he, the Groom of Church, chooses what is weak in this world to put to shame the wise.

 

By the grace of a Lord who so honors the office of being a man that he came into the flesh as a man, redeeming all who are children of the man, Adam.

 

The grace of a Lord who so honors the office of being a woman that he came into the flesh by birth from the Virgin Mary, who now stands as Mary, Mother of God, most honored among women.

 

By the grace of a Lord who forgives sins as inexplicably and abundantly as an out-of-control dishonest manager freely giving away the wealth of his master. [Luke 16]

 

Through all things, we are saved by his grace.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

A Shepherd Only for Sinners

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 19, c]            September 15, 2019

 

Luke 15:1-10

5 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Jesus is our shepherd. One of the great images in Scripture.

 

The shepherd who leads us beside still waters, makes us to lie down in green pastures, restores our souls. [Psalm 23]

 

He prepares a table for us, even in the presence of our enemies. With him as our shepherd, goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives. He is our shepherd. He makes his flock to lie down in safety.

 

But what does this mean? How does Jesus do this? When is he shepherd?

 

Can we rescue this beautiful imagery from being just some sort of cliché emoting warmth and making us feel good? Is there actually something solid and real we can say about what it is he actually does to be our shepherd?

 

The way that if I told about my dentist, I could actually say something concrete and real about what he does as my dentist, how on a certain date he filled in this cavity or took this x-ray? How if you were telling me about your insurance agent, you could tell me real facts about where his office is and exactly what policy he sold you for your car?

 

Can we rescue the imagery of Jesus from being some gauzy platitude and, instead, describe his shepherding in such a way that it is as solid and real as it would be if we were describing our dentist or insurance agent?

 

 

We know something of shepherding in our world. Look it up in the dictionary and we find something such as “shepherding is the careful management of resources or of an organization.”

 

So we see shepherding when a man is CEO of, perhaps, a bank, and he is able to shepherd the bank through a tough recession without losing any of its assets. Or when a woman is coaching the volleyball team, and she’s able to shepherd them to a district championship.

 

So we know something of shepherding. And then we come to Jesus.

 

He stacks up poorly. He’s got twelve apostles, but they argue with each other over who’s the greatest, one keeps denying him, another ends up betraying him, they’re all despised in the world, and we think we are looking at a man who is good at the careful management of resources or of an organization?

 

He gathers large crowds, but the next thing you know they’re shouting at Pontius Pilate to crucify him. Crucify who? The one claiming to be their shepherd.

 

We look at today’s Church. The Church chanting the 23rd Psalm about “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me to lie down in green pastures,” the church hearing readings from Scripture of the Lord saying,

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy.

[Ezekiel 34:15]

When we look at this Church, and we ask, how is Jesus the shepherd of this Church, what does he do to make himself shepherd?, What will we find?

 

He’s not as good a shepherd as the politician who shepherds a lot of volunteers, gathers a lot of donors, and builds a winning campaign. That kind of shepherding we can see; it makes sense.

 

He’s not as good a shepherd as a trainer down at the gym who has twenty people on a work-out program so you can measure their progress, or as the financial advisor who teaches seminars on how to establish wealth.

 

Those kind of shepherds—you can measure their results; you can see their effectiveness; in the world, we need them.

 

And then there’s the Church.

 

No progress to measure. Oh sure, progress here and there, as a school gets built in this town, or a new church goes up in that suburb. But then there’s the church in northern Africa where the whole world can see sheep being mowed down by Muslim terrorists. There’s the congregation somewhere in Arizona, perhaps, where three of the youth have been tempted away from the church by the promises of the Mormons to have a family filled with nice smiles. Or the congregation of sheep where the flock ends up fighting with each other, and four of the families leave with hurt feelings.

 

And Jesus is the shepherd of the Church.

 

When do we see Jesus as shepherd? This startles our world: Jesus is shepherd by virtue of hanging on the cross.

 

We preach,

says the Apostle,

Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

[1 Corinthians 1:23]

 

 

On the cross hangs our shepherd. Foolishness to our world. But the wisdom of God for every sinner.

 

On the cross hangs the one who is paying the ransom to purchase every sinner from sin, death, and the devil. A ransom not of gold or silver, but his own blood.

 

On the cross hangs the one who, by giving himself over to death, dies in our place, and is victor over death and Hell on our behalf.

 

On the cross hangs the shepherd. Our shepherd. A shepherd like no other.

 

Not by leading winning teams or victorious movements, not by shepherding people to better health, nor better wealth, nor anything our world counts as worth measuring. But our shepherd by being the One who saves the sinner.

 

The sinner. That’s the one who cannot save himself. That’s the sheep who cannot keep himself in the sheepfold.

 

The sinner—it’s the one separated from the sheepfold, subject to his own sin, struck with his own guilt, blanketed in shame, unable to lead himself away from Satan, the evil one.

 

The sinner, that’s the stray sheep this shepherd—this shepherd known only by the cross, who makes himself shepherd by shedding his own blood for the sheep—that’s the stray sheep this shepherd goes after: the sinner.

 

That is, of course, you and me. If we are not sinner, he is not Savior. If we are not the lost sheep, we don’t know him as our shepherd.  He goes after the one that is lost until he finds it. When he finds it, he rejoices with the whole church:

Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.

[Luke 15:6]

 

He brings back to the sheepfold, that’s his gift of repentance and restoration to the sinner.

 

He calls the sheep his own, that’s the ongoing proclamation of the promise of Baptism, as we were given to see that promise bestowed upon little Shepherd Asa this morning.

 

He sets the feast. That’s his liturgy where he is serving out his Body and Blood to cleanse of all sin.

 

You are his sheep, he is your shepherd.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

Dying to Live: Making Disciples through Death & Resurrection

Luke 14:25–33

 

[25] Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, [26] “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. [27] Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. [28] For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? [29] Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, [30] saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ [31] Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? [32] And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. [33] So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

 

Now that the crowds following Jesus are very large Jesus is discussing what is means to be his disciple or person following His teaching. We hear the word disciple in the new testament a lot, so Jesus answers the question to all those that seem to be following Him “what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? In answering this question, rather than speak in any “seeker-sensitive” or culturally relevant way, Jesus speaks about the cost of following Him in a way that isn’t popular or even culturally relevant. It is the opposite of what one would expect when you have drawn a huge crowd. Instead of playing to crowd and giving them what they want to hear, Jesus speaks about giving up everything, even father, mother, possessions and He speaks so clearly that we can’t misunderstand, in terms of the Law, what it means to be His follower, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:33 In case you’re wondering what the Greek word for “all” in this text means, it actually means “all”. So that we have no doubt what Jesus is talking about in terms of our following Him and being His disciple, it is clear here that it is a total and complete, it involves our entire lives, with 100% abandonment of everything else and completely following Him all the way to the cross. IN fact this sounds an awful lot like what He will soon tell a young wealthy man in Luke 18 when that young man asks about attaining eternal life, so Jesus responds similarly, “

 

[20] You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” [21] And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” [22] When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” [23] But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. [24] Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! (Luke 18:20–24 ESV)

 

It gets even harder here in this text, when we listen closely, since Jesus ultimately speaks about dying. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” In his famous book called The Cost of Discipleship, Deitrich Bonhoeffer a German Lutheran pastor during WWII in speaking of what the Bible says about following Jesus and being a disciple explains “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” If this is accurate, the question is, how can anyone be Jesus’ disciple? Again the answer is the same as how Jesus answers the young wealthy man in Luke 18, “What is impossible with man, is possible with God.”

 

When I was growing up in the Baptist church in Texas, we used to attend what were called discipleship classes. Usually they went something like this: You would attend a series of Bible studies or complete levels of booklets and age appropriate series of workbooks and then by the end of it, you were supposed to be at a new level or had progressed so that the next series of books would take you to the next level and then the next and so on. It was like going through levels of Christianity. Then later on, you could then train others or lead them through the same kind of thing. After years of what the churches I grew up would call “discipleship” you were supposed to have it figured out, problems fixed and a lot of language was thrown around, even what we called “testimonies” were shared and we were supposed to tell stories about how we used to do this and that, but now we’re doing something great or helpful and are no longer cussing as much, or drinking or gambling or whatever moral behavior was a problem, because of these classes and other spiritual disciplines, you were supposed to be good now or at least a lot better. The reality however was that I wasn’t getting any better, and people around didn’t seem to be any less sinners than before, but now were just sinners using more church language, or often shifting or trading one sin to another, from despair to pride and so on.

Jesus here in our Gospel text isn’t saying anything about classes, moral improvement, levels of disciples or giving this or anything of the sort. In the very center of our text Jesus doesn’t talk about moral improvement, but about dying. Again He says, ““Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Cross language is the language of dying, and this is what Jesus came to do, head to Jerusalem and die on a cross for your sins and mine. So if we are to follow Jesus truly, we go to die as well with Him. Death is the result of sin, not bad moral choices or moral lapses, but Original sin. This taints everything about us and is actually why we commit “sins”, because we are born sinners and the Scriptures teach that the “wages of sin is death.”. Jesus first told Adam & Even in the garden in Genesis 2:16–17

 

“[16] And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, [17] but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (ESV)

 

It is our Lord, who created the earth and all that is in it to be received, and enjoyed and yet when sin entered in we exchanged the gifts of God for gods themselves and as Paul says in Rom 1, “worshipped the created things rather than the Creator.” Due to our now fallen nature inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve, we, like them and all their descendants worship anything and everything but the One who made us and gives us all good things. IN other words, we are guilty of breaking the First commandment where we are told “You shall have no other gods” and then the remaining 9 that all flow from that first commandment.

 

The question again is, how can we be Jesus’ disciple if we’re dead and have nothing? We must remember that the good news of Jesus is predicated with the bad news about our condition. We are bring nothing to the equation except for sin and resistance. We are blind, poor and spiritually dead, but the Good News of the Gospel, however, is that Jesus, the one who was crucified, is also the ONE WHO IS RISEN.  It is our Lord Himself who brings His cross, His death to you and the power of His resurrection to you. For its Jesus who bared the cross for you, the penalty that you deserve for your sins, Jesus took upon Himself and He willingly went to the cross and died in your place, for your sins. Although you can’t go back in time and literally go to the cross, it is our Lord Himself who brings all that He won on that cross, where He defeated sin, death and the devil, He brings it to you. His victory is now yours by grace, through faith. It is our Lord Himself who baptizes both the helpless baby and you, so that now you are a baptized child of God who has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you. And the life you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave himself for you.” (Gal 2:20) (ESV) So it is accurate and surely true that to be a disciple of Jesus costs everything, but Jesus gave everything on Good Friday to you, so that even this very morning He speaks His word of forgiveness to you. As St. Paul puts it in Rom. 8:3–4 “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.” In other words God Himself does for you what you can’t do because of your sinful flesh. What is it that God has done for you? “He sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,” The Old Adam, your sinful flesh is now dead on the cross with Jesus “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, or in YOU, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” So the follower of Jesus, is the One walks by gift or grace, not by self-effort, but by receiving the Promise that on account of Jesus all your sin is forgiven. For, not only has Jesus died &risen for the forgiveness of your sins, but you are His, now and forever. To Him be the glory forever and ever.

In the name of Jesus, Amen.