The Compassion of Jesus

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13 [a])                     August 2, 2020

 

Matthew 14:13-21

13 Now when Jesus heard [of the death of John the Baptist], he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

We all handle things differently, but Jesus’ handles things in a Jesus-way, a way belonging only to him.

 

Think of what you would’ve done in Jesus’ position.

 

John and Jesus were related through their mothers, May and Elizabeth. John the Baptist was dear to him. How much time Jesus and John may have spent together growing up, we don’t know. But we know that the birth of John was announced by an angel to Elizabeth, and so was the birth of Jesus to Mary.

 

We know that Jesus knew the Scriptures—he knew of the prophet Isaiah some 700 years prior having foretold John the Baptist, saying that he would be a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of Jesus. [Isaiah 40:6]

 

We know that when Jesus as an adult began his ministry, it was by the hand of John the Baptist that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan—baptized into the sins of the world, so that John then announced him to be the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world.

 

And we know that John was thrown into prison by King Herod—unjustly, without trial, with no opportunity of defense. Locked in prison because John had the gall to speak of the Lord’s institution of the marriage of a man and woman and the gall to point out that Herod had transgressed it.

 

So, in Jesus’ position, what would you have done?

 

In our text of Matthew 14, Jesus has just been told of the death of John. His hometown, Nazareth, had just expelled him—they did not believe that Jesus was the Christ—when John’s disciples came to Jesus and told him of how Herod’s dancing stepdaughter had demanded that Herod chop off John’s head, and Herod did it. He handed John’s head to her on a platter.

 

So, after being rejected by his own hometown, Jesus is told the news of how Herod murdered John.

 

What would you do?

 

Maybe appeal through the legal apparatus, accusing Herod of malfeasance so that the Caesar back in Rome might remove Herod and maybe even bring justice down on Herod’s head. Everyone knows Herod would deserve it.

 

If you were Jesus, maybe it’s time for power. Jesus had already healed paralytics; he had already given healthy skin to those with leprosy—it’s obvious Jesus has power to do whatever he wants.

 

But no fire came down from Heaven to consume Herod and his degenerate palace, no army of angels to destroy this morally debased government—no political movement, no rebellion, no destruction, no retribution.

 

What did Jesus do?

 

When Jesus heard [of the death of John the Baptist] he withdrew from there in a boat, to a deserted place by himself.

[Matthew 14:13]

 

This is the Lord of all power and might emptying himself out of his power and coming in weakness.

 

This is the Lord of all justice, not demanding justice, but suffering injustice.

 

This is the Lord of life seeing the unjust taking of John’s life, and acting not in retribution, but withdrawing. Acting not out of his justice, but his compassion.

 

What did Jesus do in this withdrawal? We read no words of the planning of a counter-attack, no words of designs of retribution, no words of setting up of a movement, but Scripture tells us only that “he withdrew in a boat, to a deserted place by himself.”

 

What did he do in this withdrawal? A contemplating of the words of life, a remembering and reciting of the Psalms, a speaking to his Father, interceding to his Father for his disciples, praying to his Father for the care of the people and families of the towns he was going through, giving thanks to his Father for his good gifts.

 

We aren’t told what Jesus did in this withdrawal to a desolate place—for this particular time, we do not know. But we know elsewhere that Jesus would withdraw, be alone, and pray to his Father.

 

He would pray the words of the Psalms. He would pray for those he loved to be kept in the Word. He would pray that sins be forgiven and that people and families would be given good food and shelter and safety, he would pray that all people would be given repentance and would be turned to him for his grace and salvation.

 

 

And while Jesus had withdrawn and was alone,

the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

[Matthew 14:14]

 

The compassion of Jesus.

 

In the Greek this is a vivid word. It’s not just compassion as a passing emotion. The Greek word means a pouring out of yourself toward someone, a pity and mercy coming from your deepest insides.

 

Jesus is alone, heartbroken over the murder of beloved John, and the crowds press in on him.

 

He is the One John baptized to be Christ who would stand in for all sinners, who would be the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world, and now Jesus is about that job.

 

He’s taking away people’s sin, taking it upon himself. He’s taking away their sickness, giving them bodies of health and life.

 

He’s taking it all upon himself—for into that John had baptized him—and taking all the sin and sickness and death upon himself, he’s going to the cross, to put it all the death in his own body.

 

So on the crowd, these sick and hungry people, he has compassion. He spills himself out.

 

The crowd will see from him no sword—the sword belongs to Herod. The crowd will see no retribution from him. They will see a Lord who came not be to served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for sinners. A Lord who meets power and degeneracy with withdrawing to dwell upon the Words of his Father, to pray to his Father, and to find his confidence not in the exercise of power, but in the receiving of gifts from his Father and the bestowal of gifts upon sinners.

 

 

The Church, those who belong to Jesus, those who bear his Name in Baptism and hear his Word—the Church is in the world of power, the world of Herod, in the world of people with bodies given over to sickness, and households in hunger, of broken families, of malice among neighbors and violence in the streets, of people living in fear and seeing no relief.

 

The Church, we withdraw.

 

We don’t withdraw as if we are apart from the world. We are not. We are in the world. Our Lord has given us this, to be neighbors to our neighbors.

 

But we withdraw to be alone, apart from the world, with our Father. We withdraw to leave behind the working of power in our world, and to come to the Word of our Lord and his world of gifts.

 

We withdraw to be with brothers and sisters who live not by bread alone, but by every Word from the mouth of the Father.

 

We withdraw, then, to the proclamation of the Gospel—a Gospel bearing no sward but coming in the weakness and gentleness of Jesus himself; we withdraw to the Sacrament, to receive the fullness of Jesus in his Body and Blood given us to eat and drink for the forgiveness of all sin; we withdraw to communion of saints, that is, to the fellowship of all those who hear the Word of Christ and live together in his forgiveness and grace.

 

We withdraw, not to leave our neighbor, not to ignore or self-isolate—we are still in the world, but we withdraw to the Word.

 

We withdraw to come to our Father and intercede for the Church, for our fellow saints, to pray to our Father for the care of all people and families of our neighborhood, of our nation, of the world, that they be provided with good food and shelter and safety, that they live in peace, and that all people would be given repentance and would be turned to Jesus for his grace and salvation.

 

Out of this world, while we are still in this world, we withdraw to the Word, and there we find our Lord Jesus, who is One with the Father and makes us one with himself and one with each other.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

Holy to the Lord

Eighth Sunder after Pentecost (Proper 12, a)                      July 26, 2020

 

Deuteronomy 7:6-9

6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

You are a people holy to the Lord your God!

 

Stark, clear words giving hope and joy to the Church. The words are spoken, of course, by Moses to the Israelites.

 

They were not a holy people. They are a rebellious and callous people. They are known for building a great calf of gold to celebrate the false god Baal, and this was after the true God, the Lord their God, had delivered them out of Egyptian slavery.

 

They were not a holy people. Upon being given manna from Heaven for food in the desert, they complained.

 

They failed at circumcising their sons into the covenant as they should’ve, they rejected the Lord’s prophet, they harbored hatred in the heart even against each other, they doubted the Lord’s word, they complained about his deliverance—this was not a holy people.

 

You are a people holy to the Lord your God!,

said Moses.

 

This is holiness as gift. Holy not according to your own worthiness, holy not according to anything in you or of you, holy which you could in no way claim on your own, but holy from God.

 

For God is a holy God, and he makes holy: Israel made holy by the forgiveness of sins given them in the promise of the covenant; Israel made holy by the cleansing of the Tabernacle’s blood of the sacrifice; made holy by the prophet declaring the Word of the Lord, that Word sanctifying them.

 

It all depends on the Lord. If the Lord doesn’t cleanse them, forgive them, justify them, and make them holy, then they will not be holy.

 

But you are holy, said the Lord in his Word spoken through the prophet.

 

And at the Lord’s Word, this miserable little band of rebellious people are now holy.

 

 

The Lord’s Word to the Church? You are a people holy to the Lord. Holy not by your own worthiness, holy not according to anything in you or of you, holy which you could in no way claim on your own, but holy from God.

 

The Lord knows all the people in the Church. The Lord knows each one of us. He’s not deluded; he’s not naïve.

 

The great sins, he knows them. The little sins, the little weaselly thoughts against others we keep hidden, the malice in the heart, the lack of love for another, the attempts to excuse ourselves, as if we were less sinner than anyone else—the Lord is not naïve to this. He knows us.

 

His Word to the Church? His Word to each one of us?

 

“You are a people holy to the Lord your God.”

 

You are made holy by the forgiveness of sins given in Baptism’s promise. You are made holy by being cleansed and sanctified by the blood of the Jesus in his Sacrament of the Altar.

 

Made holy by the declaration of the Word of Absolution, in which Word your sins are forgiven on Earth as they are in Heaven.

 

You are made holy by the proclamation of the Gospel.

 

You are made holy in your conversation with fellow Christians as we build-up and encourage one another in the Gospel, rejoicing in the Lord’s justification of the sinner.

 

You are made holy by the Lord’s Word and the prayer of your fellow saints.

 

You are made holy—that is the Lord’s promise. It is his work of grace toward you, and he stakes his Name on it.

 

 

So who calls you unholy? Who calls you worthless, or diminished? Who can be against you? Romans 8:31:

If God is for us, who can be against us?

 

We do have our enemies. Against us stands the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.

 

The devil, accusing us of our sin, keeping our sin tight before our eyes—he keeps dragging us down into the muck of shame and guilt. The devil, letting us hear God’s Word, but only the accusation of the Law, never the relief and grace of the Gospel.

 

He stands against us.

 

Also the world. The world with its temptations and afflictions, the world with its accusations of made up guilt, the world with its false piety of politics and its hypocrisies.

 

The world stands against us.

 

Also our own sinful flesh. Our flesh so eager to search out ways to justify ourselves before God, to justify ourselves over against our neighbor, our sinful flesh, ricocheting between a false security of self-justification and a looming despair of having no hope.

 

The devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, they stand against us. We do have our enemies.

 

But, says Paul,

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[Romans 8:31]

 

The accusations of Satan, his troubling of our conscience; the temptations, afflictions, false piety and hypocrisies of our world, the self-justification of our own sinful flesh—none of this stands against the Word God speaks concerning you.

 

He predestined you to his grace and life-eternal—he sealed that predestination to you in Baptism, and your faith knows nothing to stand against that.

 

He called you by the Gospel, he justified you by the Word forgiving your sins at the Throne in Heaven and in your life here on Earth, and he glorifies you, holding your name in honor, for you are redeemed by the blood of his Son.

 

Who is there to condemn you? Over against the Gospel, over against the Word by which your God justifies you, there is no one to condemn you.

 

It is Christ who died. He is at the right hand of the Father. And he makes intercession for you.

 

And not for you only, but for your brothers and sisters in the faith. For the whole Church.

 

The Lord’s Word to the Church?

 

You are a people holy to the Lord!

 

In the Name of Jesus.

God’s Soil

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10[a])                       July 12, 2020

 

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.” … 18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

God speaks his Word and like rain bringing growth to plant and tree, his Word accomplishes that for which he sends. [Isaiah 55:11]

 

The Word will accomplish what he intends. It won’t return void, says the Lord.

 

This is our life, our salvation. God intends his Word to forgive sins on Earth, to cleanse the sinner, to breathe life into those living in fear, to bind you and me together in the fellowship of his Gospel—and his Word will accomplish what he desires and not return to him empty; it will succeed in the thing for which he sends it.

 

 

So, in telling us about the Word, Jesus calls us soil.

 

You are soil; but which kind?

 

Are you the soil of the path, where the birds come and take the seed away? This is when we hear God’s Word, we hear him tell us of life, of salvation, of the kindness and grace of the Gospel, but we hear it not for grace of the Gospel, but for demands of the Law. We hear his Word telling us how to make ourselves righteous instead of how God justifies freely out of grace.

 

And not hearing God’s Word rightly, then the evil one, Satan, comes and snatches the life-giving Word away like a bird snatching a seed.

 

Or maybe you are the rocky soil. This is to hear the Word and rejoice in it, but then the things of the world take you away, the tribulations cause you to focus on self, the afflictions make you turn inward to yourself, and the Word, once rejoiced in, has been pushed aside.

 

Not the soil of the path, nor of the rocks, maybe you are the soil overgrown with thorns. You hear the Word, but it has no chance, as you are overtaken with cares of the world, the concerns of keeping house and job going, the desire to gain more in this world, and though you heard the Word is choked out by the weeds and thorns.

 

Or maybe you’re the good soil. You hear the Word. You rejoice. You live every day in it. You don’t take the Gospel of all sins forgiven and twist it into a rule book for how to live by the Law—maybe you’re the good soil, hearing the Gospel with ears of faith, building-up and encouraging others in the Word of grace, such that when you see someone struggling to live life under the Law, you kindly speak to them the opposite, the life, the true life, given as gift by God to save the sinner and to give the comfort of the Gospel to rescue from the Law.

 

But if you and I are the good soil, then why when we hear Jesus describe the hard soil of the path where the Gospel doesn’t take root, but the devil comes like a bird and takes it away, when we hear Jesus tear down the Pharisees for teaching that life is found in the Law—why do we feel that he is speaking, at least a little bit, at us?

 

And if you and I are the good soil, then why, when Jesus speaks of rocky soil that hears the Word but then gets taken away by the tribulations and fears of this world, and gets taken away trying to justify ourselves by how we live, or when we hear Jesus talking about the thorny soil where we have so many concerns that are more important, so much desire to gain more in this world, that, though we hear the Word, it is slowly choked out by everything else we hold as important?

 

The hard pathway soil, the rocky, the thorny, why do we hear of soil not receiving the Word, and we somehow know, Jesus is pointing at us?

 

He is. It’s his speaking of the Law. It’s his accusation of the sinner. It’s why the sower sows seed on the hard path, the rocky, and the thorny, because the sower, this sower, Jesus, wants the Word of God to strike us in such a way that we finally know we cannot escape the Law’s accusation.

 

And, in being condemned by the Law as hard and rocky and thorny ground, we then find that Jesus then creates us anew. He makes us good soil.

 

No hard, rocky, or thorny soil can make itself to be good soil. You can’t make yourself to be what you are not.

 

So Jesus does.

 

Bad soil spoken clean, bad soil forgiven of all sin, bad soil spoken to by Jesus, the Word of life, this bad soil is now the good, the soil of faith, the soil ready every day to hear the Gospel.

 

For this, Jesus died. For this he went to the cross.

 

He didn’t go to cross to show soil how to change itself, to show the sinner how to be what the sinner is not.

 

He went to the cross to put our nature of bad-soil to death. To put our hard path giving up the Word to the devil, to put our rockiness, always hearing the Gospel but then not caring, to put our thorniness, receiving the Gospel but then letting everything else consume us—Jesus went to the cross to take all that upon himself and to put it to death in his own body.

 

So that now, he puts it to death in us, so that every time we hear his Law, Jesus is, by his Law, accusing us and putting our sin to death in repentance.

 

And having through the Law put us to death to the Law, Jesus then speaks his Word to us. His Word bringing life. His Word of Gospel.

 

He speaks his Word, a sower sowing seed into new soil, into good dirt, into ground that by his gift and his grace receives the seed, so that the seed thrives and grows and bears the fruit of faith, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty, beyond any reasonable measure, but according to the abundant measure of Christ, who by his Word creates you anew, giving you a heart of faith.

What is Our Flesh Trying to Do?

FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST (Proper 9[a])                July 5, 2020

 

ROMANS 7:14-25

 

MATTHEW 11:25-30

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

What is our flesh trying to do?

 

Paul knows the problem as well as we do. Paul writes,

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.

[Romans 7:15]

 

Paul would’ve made a terrible employee, a terrible student.

 

He can’t follow simple directions. As an employee, his boss would’ve ended up asking him, “Why did you ship the boxes to Phoenix? I told you to ship them to Atlanta.” And Paul would say, “I don’t understand my own actions. I wanted to send the boxes to Atlanta, but I did not. I sent them to Phoenix, which is the very thing I hate!”

 

“Nothing good dwells in me,” says Paul, [Romans 7:18] “that is, nothing good dwells in my flesh, for what I will to do I cannot do in my flesh.”

 

Paul, you’re fired.

 

Of course, in real life Paul wasn’t a bad employee—he made tents for a living and we can assume that many people would buy his tents or he would’ve starved to death. For that matter, Paul wasn’t a bad student either. He had been a first-class pupil of Gamaliel, a preeminent teacher of the Pharisees.

 

But Paul isn’t talking about his abilities as an employee or student. It’s about his life before the face of God, he’s talking about his life in the flesh where he is given to love the Lord his God with all his heart and all his mind and all his soul, and to love his neighbor as himself, and in this life before God and as a servant to his neighbor, Paul says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

 

Paul is describing, as he calls it, our life of flesh. Elsewhere he speaks of this as the old Adam, or the old Man of our sinful flesh. Elsewhere, as the outer man. Paul is describing our life of flesh as being so given over to sin that it cannot be reformed or rescued.

 

We want to think our life of flesh is somehow reformable. There is somehow a little spark of good, and we just need to fan the spark into flame to improve ourselves. This would mean that the answer to sin is the right instruction so we could know how not to sin anymore or to be coached out of it, like a baseball pitcher being coached out of a bad throwing motion.

 

But Paul is saying that our life of flesh is so given over to sin that even when we are trying to do good, we do evil.

 

What is our flesh trying to do?

 

 

Our flesh is trying to justify self. That is the essence of our sin.

 

Our flesh, when caught in sin, is trying to make up for it by doing outwardly good works to redeem itself. It’s trying to save itself by Law, so that even when sinning against God’s Law, we’re trying to use works of Law to improve ourselves.

 

Our flesh, is using the Law to point at others and show their sin, as if accusing others of sin somehow rescues us from our own.

 

Our flesh, when caught in sin, and seeing the salvation freely given by Christ Jesus, does not want to be justified by Jesus, but wants to justify self, in this way turning from the salvation given by Jesus, as if salvation is something we can accomplish on our own.

 

What is our flesh trying to do? It’s trying to save self by works, it’s trying to justify self, and this sinfulness is so deep seated, so much at our origin, that we cannot rescue ourselves from it.

 

When we ask the question, What is our flesh trying to do?, the answer is not pretty.

 

 

What is Jesus doing?

 

That is the question. For he is the Savior, we are those he is saving. He is the justifier, we are those being justified. He is the merciful one, we are the ones receiving mercy.

 

Jesus turns our eyes from our flesh. He has us look outside ourselves to him and his grace, and in seeing Jesus, we finally find rescue from our sinful flesh.

“Come unto me,”

[says Jesus,]

“all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

[Matthew 11:29]

 

Jesus makes no appeal to our flesh. He doesn’t give us his Law in order to tell us how to improve our life of flesh, how to reform it, how to rescue it.

 

He gives us his Law in order to tell us that our life of flesh is over. It’s daily to be repented of, daily to be put to death in the water and promise of Baptism.

 

The heavy yoke of the Law finally grinds our life of flesh to nothing—no hope, no justification, no rescue. And then the Law has done its work.

 

Now, it’s the new yoke. The yoke of Jesus. The yoke of the Gospel. A yoke easy and light, a yoke gentle and lowly and giving not burden, but rest. It’s a yoke which is really no yoke at all.

 

It is Jesus redeeming the sinner with his own blood and calling us out of works into faith.

 

It is Jesus speaking not the Law, but grace, so that, being done with our life of flesh, we now are daily given our life of faith.

 

It is Jesus putting us not under burden (for that is the work of the Law and no life will ever come from that), but under grace (for that is the gift of the Gospel, and in the Gospel, there is only gifts and life).

 

 

This Gospel is only gift. It is not according to our works, not according to our efforts or understanding, as if we can grab onto the Gospel with the wisdom of our flesh or the understanding of our minds. Matthew 11:25:

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

 

This Gospel is only gift, given to the sinner as a parent gives gift to a little child.

 

This is what Jesus is doing: he sees us in our life of flesh, and he doesn’t try to improve the sinful flesh into somehow being strong enough to bear the heavy yoke of the Law, but he gives his Law to daily drown the sinful flesh in repentance.

 

Then he is daily putting you and me under the yoke of the Gospel, which is so light and gentle that it is really no yoke at all, but only gifts.

 

In this yoke of the Gospel, this life of faith, this life living in grace, you find rest for your soul.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Receiving Gifts From Our Lord

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 8]                           June 28, 2020

 

Romans 7:1-13

 

Matthew 10:34-42

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Jesus comes not to bring peace but a sword. What do we do with this?

 

He’s our prince of peace. [Isaiah 9:6]

 

Going to the cross, he will ride into Jerusalem not on a warhorse, but humble and lowly on the back of a donkey.

 

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

says Jesus. [Matthew 11:29]

 

But here in chapter ten of Matthew, it’s the sword:

[Jesus said,] “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the Earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

 

What price does Jesus exact with this sword?

[Jesus said,] “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

 

It’s a costly sword. You lose your father, your daughter, your family, your own household. And you take up your cross and follow Jesus.

 

What does Jesus mean? Is not this the same Jesus who says to love your neighbor as yourself, even love your enemy? He commands to love and obey and respect our parents, even to respect and obey the governing authorities.

 

Can he really be telling us to hate our family and household?

 

 

Jesus is taking a sword to us. There’s no doubt about that. It is the sword of the Law. A sword cutting us off from everything we grasp and hold onto in the way of the Law.

 

That is what we do in our sin. This old Adam of our sinful flesh clings to us every day. We hold onto things according to how we benefit from them only as long as we hold onto them. We hold on even to people for what they are to us and we can get out of them.

 

Even onto our own loved ones, our family, our own flesh and blood, we hold to them as if they are something we can control for our own use.

 

We’ll call it love. But it’s not love. It’s self-love. It’s loving something for what good it is to you. It’s our old Adam of sinful flesh loving self and then loving others for their usefulness to us.

 

To that kind of love, Jesus takes a sword. He brings the Law in the most harsh way we can imagine.

 

Jesus tells us we will be cut off from family, cut off from our loved ones, from our household, and all that will be left is him. Him and his cross, which we must bear. Him and his blood, which he shed to redeem us from the sin of loving self over others. Him and his atonement which he paid for every sinner.

 

Jesus brings the sword of the Law, and it leaves us with nothing which we, in our sin, deemed necessary and valuable to our lives. But then we are given everything. Matthew 10:38:

[Jesus said,] “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

 

 

Our old life of holding on to people for our own advantage, of controlling others for our own benefit, of figuring out what good others are to us, Jesus has us lose our old life.

 

The accusation of the Law cuts us off from that. We daily die to it in repentance.

 

And we find our life. Our true life of receiving gifts from our Lord. Our life of receiving others—our parents, our children, our families, our neighbor—as gifts from our Lord.

 

Gifts to be daily received, even in their weaknesses, as those we are given to love and serve. Gifts of persons to cherish and honor, and, as our Lord gives us opportunity, to give gifts to.

 

Matthew 10:42:

[Jesus said,] “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

 

In our life of the Old Adam, of the sinful flesh, we start out seeing a child as one who needs to serve us, even as one to control, but now, in our life of the New Adam, our life of faith, where we are only receiving gifts from Jesus, we are given to see the child as a gift from our Lord—the gift of a little one to whom we give gifts, even the gift of a cup of cold water.

 

And now when we teach the child a lesson, it is not to be over the child, not to control the child, but to give the gift of learning things beneficial to life.

 

 

Catechumens, we rejoice in this day as you come to your Lord’s Table to be given gifts by him.

 

This is your life of faith, of the new Adam, where you have put on the new man and are renewed in knowledge according to Christ who has created your life of faith, so that Christ is all in all. And that, Daxton, is your confirmation verse, Colossians 3:10.

 

In this life of faith, you stand before God not according to your own righteousness, but as his chosen generation, his royal priesthood, his holy nation and his own special people, so that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. And that, Amanda, is your confirmation verse, 1 Peter 2:9.

 

And this life of faith is not just some fleeting emotion, but it is the heart of faith created in you by the hearing of the Gospel, it is the sure confidence that you have been justified by the word of Christ, so that the Gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation for all who have faith, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in this Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed from faith unto faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” And that, Carleigh, is your confirmation verse, Romans 1:16.

 

Jesus creates you anew in this life of faith as he has his Word proclaimed to you and gathers you to his Body and Blood and the fellowship of his saints, so that the peace of God rules in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; so that you are thankful as you let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, as you teach and admonish one another in psalms and hymns, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And that, Kaitlyn, is your confirmation verse, Colossians 3:15.

 

And, Catechumens, all of this—this daily putting to death the old Adam in repentance, this daily standing before God in the life of faith, rejoicing in his justification of the sinner, this life with other Christians gathered to the Name of Jesus, of hearing his Gospel proclaimed, of receiving his Body and Blood as he has appointed for you for the forgiveness of your sins—all of this is to you not by way of Law, not by way of what you can grasp by your own might or get under your control, but it is all to you by way of gift. The gift of justification, of forgiveness of all sins, of the Name of the Lord on your head, the gift of life, all gift from him who gives gifts.

 

He gives the gift of the sword, the gift of the Law, to cut you off from anything the old Adam would try to gain on his own; and he gives you the gift of grace, the gift of the Gospel, to create you anew, so that, in losing your old life of sin, you daily gain your new life of faith.

 

He serves you with all his gifts, for he, the Son of Man, came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. And that, Carter, is your confirmation verse, Mark 10:45.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

Fear Not

Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7 [a]                         June 21, 2020

 

Jeremiah 20:7-13; Romans 6:12-23

 

Matthew 10:5[a], 21-33

5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, …21 “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24 A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. 26 So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in Heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in Heaven.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Jesus tells you who you should fear, and it is pure gift: [Jesus said,] “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.”

 

It’s true, usually when we think of fear, we don’t think of gift. Anxiety, sleepless nights, terror, sweaty palms, troubled conscience, distress and nerves—that’s what we think of with fear.

 

But Jesus tells you who to fear, and it is pure gift: “Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.”

 

The only one who can throw you, body and soul, into Hell, it’s Jesus.

 

No earthly army can throw you into Hell. An army can kill your body, but cannot cast into Hell. No loss of friends, no loss of job, no attack by any other can throw you into Hell. Satan can’t cast you into Hell. He, like you, is a creature, and does not have power over eternal life. Only Jesus can throw you into Hell.

 

Which means, do not fear the army with weapons, do not fear the attack of enemies, do not fear loss of wealth or income, do not fear any earthly onslaught, do not fear Satan and the demons.

 

Fear only Jesus.

 

 

But when you fear only Jesus, you look at Jesus and you see in his hands the print of the nails, and you know it was for you.

 

It was for you that his body took the sword’s piercing, the insults and spitting of the soldiers, it was for you that he spilled his blood, even unto death.

 

Fear only Jesus. And then hear the words Jesus speaks, “Fear not”! The only one you should fear is the one who says to you, Fear not.

 

Fear not your sin, I have taken it away. Your shame, I have covered you with my own honor. Your anxiety, your sleepless nights, your terror and sweaty palms, your troubled conscience, your distress and nerves—do not fear, I have taken it all upon myself, I have redeemed you, I have cleansed you and made you mine, you have nothing to fear.

 

 

It’s a joyful life Jesus gives. A blessed life. A life of hope and grace.

 

What could make it go wrong? What could rob you of this joy? The way to rob a Christian of joy is to put the Christian under the Law.

 

The Law is God’s Word showing guilt. God’s Word always accusing the sinner.

 

The Law is God’s Word echoing in our conscience, his Word from which we want to run, his Word used by the devil to bring our sins up in front of our face and to cause us to tremble.

 

Do not fear the devil. He cannot throw you into Hell. Fear only Jesus, the one with nail prints in his hand for you, the one saying to you, Fear not.

 

But if you do want to rob yourself of this joy, it’s easy: Return to the Law; leave behind the Gospel.

 

Return to the Law, so that you try to deal with your sin by keeping the Law, so that you try to find your honor by making yourself righteous with the Law, so that you try to justify yourself by sorting yourself out with the Law.

 

Leave the Gospel behind and return to the Law, and then you will know fear—the fear of trying to make yourself holy but being unable, of hearing the demons accuse you and keep you in guilt, of having the Word of Law stinging your conscience, of the anxiety and distress belonging to one who fears everything but Jesus, who alone can cast you into Hell.

 

Sin has no dominion over you,

says Paul,

since you are not under the law, but under grace.

[Romans 6:14]

 

Sin brings fear and despair. Sin is made manifest as the guilt of our sin is thrown in our face by the Law. The has no dominion over you, says Paul, for you are not under the Law, but under grace.

 

By the Law you will never deliver yourself from sin or death or fear. You will only drive deeper into it.

 

What delivers you from sin and death and fear? Jesus. Grace. Sins forgiven. The Word of the cross cleansing your conscience. The Name of Jesus put on you in Baptism. The Body and Blood making you holy. This, Jesus and his gifts, delivers you from fear.

 

You are not under the Law. You are under grace.

 

You are not under the accusing word the demons bring to your conscience. You are under the Word of justification, giving you a good conscience at peace with God.

 

You are not paying the wages of sin, which are death—Jesus paid that wage by the price of his own blood on the cross. You are receiving the free gift of God which is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 6:23]

 

 

Then what is the Law to you?

 

It is still the Word of God which we must hear. It is still the accusation which we must hear every day as long as we are still in our life of flesh. It is still the Word of God accusing us so that constantly we are brought to repentance and the old Adam of sin is daily put to death in that repentance.

 

And it is still the Word by which we know, even while we are yet in sinful flesh, that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, we should obey the government authorities for the good of society and the benefit of our neighbor, and we should know our guilt when we do not do these things of God’s Law.

 

But the Law is not the Word by which we are righteous. Not the Word which will ever bring life or deliver from fear.

 

The Gospel, the Word of grace, the Word of sins forgiven and consciences cleansed, you are under that Word.

 

The Gospel brings no fear, only forgiveness and grace.

 

The Gospel does not cast into Hell, it brings the gift of life.

 

You are under the Gospel. It is your life of faith.

 

It is your life of knowing that Jesus is the only one who can cast into Hell, and he is the one with nail prints in his hands for you.

 

Matthew 10:28:

[Jesus said,] “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

A Kingdom of Priests

2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6 [a]                                             June 14, 2020

 

Exodus 19:2-8

2 They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3 while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to [Moses] out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” 7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. 8 All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.

 

Romans 5:6-15

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned– 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Where is God’s hand?

 

This world we are in, this world of an unjust killing we all saw on T.V., of the tears of a child, of a brother, shed for the unjust loss of a loved one, this world of an innocent man shot in front of a pawn shop, of shop owners seeing their family’s property taken away by looters and rioters, this world of neighbors isolated from one another because of a pandemic, of doctors and nurses in New York or even northwestern New Mexico working days on end to attend to the sick—this world we are in, what is our Lord’s hand in it?

 

He loves this world, we know that. He so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son so that we would not die but will live eternally.

 

With all the sickness and death, the injustice and violence, the fear and despair, our Lord loves this world, loving every person, even to the point of sending his Son die for the ungodly.

 

What is our Lord’s hand in this world?

 

 

Our Lord’s hand is in this world. He created it, he loves it, and even when we took it into sin and death, he entered it, becoming Man, to redeem it.

 

Now we may see his hand in our world.

 

We can speak of his hand in two ways: his left-hand and his right.

 

So we speak of our Lord’s left-hand kingdom and his right-hand kingdom.

 

The left-hand kingdom is the kingdom of the Law, of justice and retribution, the kingdom of earthly governments and authorities. [Romans 13:1-4]

 

It’s the kingdom of the sword, the kingdom of the police officer who pulls me over for speeding, the judge who throws into prison for murder or harassment, the state sending a bill to pay your taxes, the bank making me sign a contract for a loan, the teacher giving an “A” to the student who turns in the perfect essay, a “D” to the student turning in only half the homework.

 

The left kingdom is the kingdom of a man protecting his home from thievery and violence, a store expecting me to pay for the bread I take home, of voters turning out of office the mayor and council members who hire a police chief who doesn’t train the officers to protect the innocent.

 

The left-hand is not about mercy and grace. It is the kingdom of earthly governance, the kingdom of the sword of justice, it is known by its power and retribution.

 

And we have said nothing yet about the Church.

 

 

Our Lord’s right-hand kingdom, it is the kingdom of grace. It is not of earthly governments and authorities. It is the Church.

 

It speaks not retribution, but mercy.

 

It’s means is not the sword, but the Word of Gospel.

 

It comes not in power, but in weakness.

 

Our Lord’s right-hand kingdom comes not from the halls of Washington D.C., nor Santa Fe, but from the pulpit proclaiming the Gospel, and the Lord’s people gathered to the Table of his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sin.

 

Our Lord’s right-hand kingdom will never be understood by the government, for the Church knows no retribution, no violence, no action of power, no coercion, or else it’s not the Church.

 

The Church knows the voice of Christ, who did not crush the ungodly with retribution, but who, while we were still weak, at the right time, died for the ungodly. [Romans 5:6]

 

The Church lives by the Word of Christ, who justified us not by pronouncing the sentence of death upon the heads of those who deserve death, but who justified us with his own blood. [Romans 5:10]

 

The Church lives as those who have been made members of the Church not by the citizenship of where we were born nor by the citizenship of earthly allegiance, but by the Name the Lord placed on us in Baptism.

 

The Church is those who were under the sentence of death which reigned over all people from Adam, but who have now been called out of that reign into the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of the man Jesus Christ. [Romans 5:15]

 

 

You are the Church. What is your role in this world?

 

You live in the left-hand kingdom and in the right-hand kingdom, simultaneously.

 

You live in the left-hand kingdom by your life of flesh, by your daily life under the Law. You live in the left-hand according to all the things of this world: the governmental authorities, the contracts you make with your neighbor, the food you buy, the doctor you see, the wealth you earn for your family, and the property and home and business you protect.

 

At the same time, you live in the right-hand kingdom, the kingdom of grace. You live in the right-hand kingdom according to your life of faith. You live in the right-hand kingdom by the life given you in Baptism, by your hearing of Christ’s Word of forgiveness and reconciliation, by your eating and drinking of his Body and Blood for your justification.

 

And, so, as you live your life of faith, your life in the right-hand kingdom, what is God doing with you in the left-hand kingdom?

 

Exodus 19:6:

[The Lord said, to Israel,] “You shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the Earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

 

In this world of the left-hand, this world of Law, of power and retribution, this world where sin can only be restrained outwardly by the exercise of the sword, in the midst of this world, the Lord has his holy people, a kingdom of priests—it is his Israel.

 

At the time of Moses, Israel was those who bore the Name of the Lord by circumcision into the covenant. And that pertained up until the crucifixion of Jesus.

 

Now, after the crucifixion of Jesus, the Lord’s Israel are those given his Name in Baptism.

 

Baptism is the new circumcision. [Colossians 2:11]

 

The Church is the new Israel.

 

And you, baptized into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are God’s kingdom of priests, his holy nation.

 

And as those bearing the Lord’s Name by Baptism, as those made the Israel of God, his holy people by the blood of Christ, God sets us as his kingdom of priests in a world of sin, his holy people among people who need holiness.

 

As priests before God, we intercede.

 

We pray for our neighbor, that where a man is unjustly killed, the one who killed would be brought to justice, the governmental authorities responsible for him would be brought to justice, and that his family would know the honor of vindication for the victim.

 

We pray for our neighbor that where a shop owner is looted, where a liquor store is taken down in flames, where a man guarding a pawn shop is murdered, those breaking the windows, stealing the goods, lighting the flames, shooting the guard, would be held up to earthly justice, and the owners of the businesses and the family of the guard would be vindicated.

 

We pray for our neighbor, that all life—the life of the infant, the life of the adult, all life—would be protected and held in honor.

 

We pray for the president, for the governors, for the mayors, that they would rightly wield the sword for the punishment of those who do evil and the protection of the innocent.

 

And, as the Lord’s priests in this world of sin, as those living our life of faith, our life of the right hand kingdom of grace, in the midst of the world of the left hand-kingdom of Law—as the Lord’s priesthood of the baptized, we pray that all people, of every family, language, and tribe, all people would hear the proclamation of Christ Jesus who died for the ungodly, of Christ Jesus who’s kingdom is not of the sword, but of grace, who forgives all sin, releases all guilt, and covers all shame, including ours.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

You Belong to Life

Sixth Sunday of Easter [a]                           May 17, 2020

 

1 PETER 3:13-22

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into Heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

 

IN THE NAME OF JESUS.

 

Hell is not meant for you.

 

Jesus created you for life. With his own blood Jesus redeemed you. He baptized you for salvation.

 

Baptism now saves you,

says Peter,

not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience.

 

That’s why Jesus went to the cross for you, that’s why he baptized you—to give you a peaceful conscience. A conscience cleansed of sin, belonging not to death, but life.

 

 

Hell is not for you.

 

St. Peter in his letter to the church, tells us what our Lord has done about Hell. Hell is a spiritual place, literally, the place of the demons and of those people who have died outside of the Gospel.

 

 

This place of the unclean spirits, we can hardly conceive of what it’s even like.

 

We end up needing to picture Hell as a pit under the Earth, or a fiery furnace with people tied to pillars—images like that.

 

The chief unclean spirit of Hell? That’s Lucifer, of course, Satan.

 

In his fall, Satan took many angels with him. We are now to know them by titles given them in Scripture: demons, devils, unclean spirits.

 

Then Hell becomes also the place of the spirits of those people who died apart from the Gospel, those who wanted to justify themselves, do it on their own, without Christ’s word of grace.

 

The place of the fallen angels and of the spirits of people who died in rejection of the Gospel, that’s Hell. No resurrection of the body, no eternal life with the God the Father.

 

What will our Lord Jesus do about Hell?

 

 

We sometimes talk about “Hell on Earth”—a fire, the Muslim attack on the Twin Towers, some grisly murder: Hell on Earth.

 

Maybe that’s not too far from true.

 

It’s not Hell, of course, not the Hell, but it is the work of the devil. The sickness, the malice, the warfare, the lies, none of this belongs to creation as God created it.

 

He created it, and us, for life, for health and joy, for fellowship with him and one another. The sickness and malice and hatred and lies, this belongs to the realm of death—the kingdom of the demons. We might rightly call it all a bit of Hell on Earth.

 

 

We may consider this time we are now in—the virus, the threat to health, the pressure on our doctors and nurses, citizens at the throat of one another, there is a way we can speak of this, certainly as not Hell itself, but as a precursor to Hell, as a harbinger of life apart from God.

 

So in the Church, while we are still in this sinful world, we suffer.

 

The Church is the Body of Christ. The Church is the people God gathers to his Name. We hear his word; we receive his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sin; we encourage and comfort each other.

 

So all this discomfort of social distancing, of smiles hidden by masks, of no shaking of hands or giving hugs—none of this should be natural to the us. A pandemic like this—we haven’t seen it in our lifetime. We don’t know how to handle it in the way that is best for each other.

 

Yet, in the midst of it all, in the midst of a society trying to protect itself from pandemic, of neighbors on edge and often handling things poorly, of governing authorities given the office to protect citizens, and sometimes carrying out the office well, and other times incompetently, and in the midst of the Church, a people Jesus gathers to his Name, yet a people often confused about how to go about things, often frustrated, often not as caring as should be, in the midst of the Church, a voice.

 

The voice of Christ, risen from the dead. The Easter voice—right in the middle of the fear and the confusion, the voice of the resurrection.

 

It’s the voice of Jesus we hear.

 

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, says Peter,

He speaks his voice to forgive our sins and make us righteous.

 

Christ also suffered … that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18),

He speaks his voice to call us out of our fear, out of any sin of not caring for one another, and to bring us to his Father, binding us together as the people of Christ.

 

He was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19).

That is, he who gave himself on the cross to make us righteous, before he was resurrected, went in spirit to the spirits in prison, says Peter. That is, Christ went to Hell.

 

But not to suffer.

 

He went to Hell to proclaim to the spirits of Hell that he has forgiven the sin of all people, so they no longer have any accusation against us; to proclaim that he has defeated death and the devil; to proclaim that those who belong to him do not belong to death, Hell is not for them, they belong to him, Christ, and he is their Lord.

 

 

This Jesus who went to the cross to make us righteous with his own blood—the righteous for the unrighteous, says Peter; who went to Hell to proclaim the sinner forgiven and victory over death and the demons; this Jesus has now gone into Heaven and is at the right hand of God, with the angels, authorities, and powers subject to him (1 Peter 3:22).

 

This Jesus, he is your Lord.

 

Because he is our Lord, we do not belong to Hell, not to death.

 

Even in the midst of world of sickness and confusion, we belong to life.

 

You belong to the Lord of life.

 

Even as we suffer while still on Earth, even suffering in our sinful flesh, we belong to our life of faith, to the grace and mercy of Christ Jesus, to the patience and kindness of the Lord of life, and we belong to life, even as our eyes cannot see it, because, Christ has baptized us into his Name.

 

Baptism now saves you, says Peter (1 Peter 3:21).

 

Baptism now saves you not because it removes any dirt from your skin, but because in Baptism, Jesus unites you to his cross, unites you to his proclamation of victory over the demons of Hell, unites you to his walk out of the tomb, so that his resurrection is now your resurrection—Baptism now saves you because your guilt is taken away and Baptism is your appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21).

 

IN THE NAME OF JESUS.

The Lord Our Maker

The Third Sunday in Lent [a]                      March 15, 2020

 

Psalm 95:1-9

1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;

let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;

let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

3 For the LORD is a great God,

and a great King above all gods.

4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;

the heights of the mountains are his also.

5 The sea is his, for he made it,

and his hands formed the dry land.

6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down;

let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

7 For he is our God,

and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

Today, if you hear his voice,

8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

9 when your fathers put me to the test

and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The Psalm is a prayer. A prayer given us by our Lord. An intercession to God in Heaven from the lips of those who belong to him. It is an intercession he wants to hear from our lips.

 

1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;

let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

[Psalm 95:1]

 

Those are the first words our Lord gives us in this Psalm. They are words we are given to speak not to him, but to one another—we are encouraging one another:

Oh, Come, Let us sing to the Lord.

 

In this short petition our Lord gives us so much.

 

First, we are bound together, all of us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, in such a way that we speak to each other in encouragement.

 

Second, as we speak to one another in encouragement, we are inviting each another to come to the Lord’s Name to receive his gifts.

 

Third, we are inviting one another to join as one voice to make a joyful noise. And that noise is joyful because it is “to the Rock of our salvation.” That is, we have a Savior, we are justified by faith in that Savior, and that Savior is our Lord Jesus Christ. [Romans 5:1]

 

 

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;

let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

[Psalm 95:2]

 

In this encouragement we are given to speak to one another, we remind each other with words of thanksgiving. For to give thanks is to rejoice in knowing that all that we have is from our Lord, he is the one who cares for us, and we now sing to him with that joy, praising his Name.

 

 

For the LORD is a great God,

and a great King above all gods.

[Psalm 95:3]

 

We pray to our Lord who is the Creator of all. There is no power above him, either in Heaven or on Earth. Our every breath comes from him, our every care we commend to him.

 

 

In his hand are the depths of the earth;

the heights of the mountains are his also.

The sea is his, for he made it,

and his hands formed the dry land.

[Psalm 95:4-5]

 

All things are in his hands.

 

We give petition to our God for the Earth and all things around us, praying that in hurricane or earthquake, in pestilence or famine, he cares for us, as he has promised to do.

 

We pray to him for all the things of the created order. This includes the things of our parents and our children, of our families and our neighbor. It includes those given to serve us in positions of authority, the prince and the king, or, in our case, the president, the governor, the mayor, and all given public office.

 

We commend them to our Lord’s care that they would use their offices to protect families and all persons, and that we would give them due respect and help as we are able.

 

We pray for the police officers and first responders, for the doctors and nurses, commending them to our Lord’s care, that they would do well in providing safety and medical care, and would receive due honor from us.

 

We pray for our neighbor, that our neighbor would be kept in health, and where our neighbor is sick or weak or even just fearful, we rejoice in helping our neighbor as we are able and in speaking encouragement.

 

And especially at a time such as these days now, we pray for our neighbor and our nation. We know that our President has declared the Coronavirus to be a national emergency.

 

We may not know or understand the scope of this, we may not agree with all the assessments being made, but we give thanks to our Lord for the president and all governing authorities.

 

We do not panic, we do not fear, for we know that we belong to the Lord who is our Shepherd, and in this faith we pray that our authorities handle things with wisdom, and that they receive, as the Catechism puts it, honor, service, and obedience from us and our fellow citizens.

 

Especially at a time such as this, we pray for those who may be especially susceptible, and we pray for the doctors and nurses and medical providers, that they may have much success in their service to us and our neighbor.

 

And we pray with confidence and thanksgiving, for our God is our Shepherd who loves us, and we are the people of his pasture.

 

 

6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down;

let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

7 For he is our God,

and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

 

We pray to our God in the confidence that he is, indeed, our God. He has named us as his children, himself as our God, and he will not depart us.

 

We are the people of his pasture, the sheep of his hand.

 

He cares for us as a shepherd not letting his sheep go without good water, as a shepherd guarding his sheep from the wolf, as a shepherd, even, who lays down his life for the sheep.

 

God has shown his love for us in that, even while we were still sinners, he gave his Son to die for us. [Romans 5:8]

 

Through Christ, we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. [Romans 5:9]

 

Because he is our Shepherd and we his sheep, and because by his blood he has given us access to grace in which we stand, we pray to him in worship.

 

A worship which receives gifts from him. For to worship God in faith is not to bring gifts to God to make him happy, but is to come to him to receive all good gifts from him.

 

To worship God in faith is to know that even as we suffer, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that he is our God who loves us, and this suffering produces endurance.

 

And enduring this suffering produces character—a character by which we know that we are his people, he is our Lord, and in our every doubt or weakness or fear, we commend ourselves to him.

 

For, this character he gives us, this character of knowing that we are his, produces, says Paul, hope. [Romans 5:4]

 

Romans 5:8:

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

In the Name of Jesus.