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Numbers 21:4-9 "The Disease of Boredom"

Numbers 21:4-9

The Disease of Boredom

Lent 4B

March 15, 2015

Everyone gets bored. There isn’t a parent nor a teacher alive who has not been plagued by a bored child. Not a boring child, but a bored one. “I’m so bored!” comes the moaning cry from one who has iPods, TVs, video games, friends, and more. And it doesn’t really get much better as we get older.  Surrounded by stuff to do and things to see and engage in, still we’re plagued with boredom.  So people try to fill boredom up with all manner of things. From toy trains to playing sports to getting drunk to getting high to going to the gym to being a couch potato.  The laundry list of stuff to do is limited only by our imagination. Funny how boredom isn’t so easily overcome just by stuff to do. In fact, stuff to do never gets rid of boredom. It merely postpones it.

But boredom can’t really be defined simply by having nothing to do. That’s surface boredom. Everyone can find something to do. And we have all experienced boredom even while doing stuff. We can be bored at and even by our work. We can be bored with sports. We can be bored with our families or our home life.  We can be bored at church. No, boredom goes deeper than having nothing to do.

At the heart of boredom is rebellion.  Consider the people of God during the Exodus.  God had rescued them out of Egypt. He had led them through the desert.  He had provided for them water from a rock that Moses stuck, quail and manna from heaven to fill their bellies.  Maybe upwards of 2 million people were there.  That’s a lot of people to talk to, to play with, to get to know.  And what do they do?  They whine, speaking against God and against Moses, because they are bored with their lives, bored with the gifts of food and sustenance that God had provided kept them alive for years. 

What we have here is a classical case of acedia, one of the seven deadly sins, usually translated as sloth.  But this is more than just laziness.  This is a prevailing boredom with the holy things of God.  One theologian has described this sin like a type of spiritual morphine: we know the pain is there, yet we simply can’t rouse ourselves to care.  We become numb toward God and toward His gifts.  The manna, the quail, the pillar of fire by night and cloud by the day had lost their luster.  How the Israelites could have complained against God and Moses over these things is almost beyond our comprehension.

Before we judge the Israelites too harshly, we must take a good, hard look at ourselves.  We are surrounded by electronics, by a constant demands for our attention.  Over and over again I hear the same thing-our lives are so busy and hectic.  Attention Deficit Disorder seems to be becoming the norm.  You would think with all the stimulation that we wouldn’t get bored.  Yet, the busyness of our lives is a dead giveaway that the solid and lasting things of the kingdom of God have lost their luster among us. Our busyness with work, with sports, with ourselves is just another attempt to stave off our spiritual boredom and fill it with earthly and fleeting things.

The third commandment, remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, teaches us that it is our duty to keep God’s sacred things holy among us.  These holy things most clearly and directly delivered to us here, when the Holy Spirit gathers us together to hear His Word and receive His Sacraments.  

And yet, every one of us here has had a Sunday when we became bored through part of the Service.  “I’ve done all this before. I’ve heard all this before. I get it all ready.”  And we simply go through the motions, checking out our watch until it’s over and we can go to something more exciting.  The liturgy is more than form and ritual, but enacted reality, holy ground where we actually come into the presence of God to receive His gifts, then to praise Him in word and song, with our body and soul.  When spending time with God gets boring, where does the problem lie? With God, or with you?

Or consider this.  Historically in the Lutheranism Communion was offered each week for all those who wish to receive it.  One of the biggest complaints about offering weekly Communion is that it will lose its meaning if it’s done too often. In other words, it’ll get boring.  It’s the same old manna from heaven, I’m tired of being fed by God.  Good Lord, what sinful thoughts and words! What apathy toward the gifts of God. What sloth! Repent.

Our sin stings us like the bite of a snake, though all too often we are so sick that we don’t even feel it.  We need a doctor to diagnose our bite, but even more importantly, to prescribe the right treatment-repent and believe in Him who was lifted up for all to see.  This sounds too easy, too convenient, yet there He is, lifted up on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.  This cross isn’t the most exciting, and our wandering eyes don’t like to linger there.  We are reminded of the great sacrifice our Lord made for us men and for our salvation.  When faith looks up to Christ crucified, God saves from eternal death all victim of the fatal venom of sin. 

Thus, this treatment isn’t something new or different than it has ever been. The solution to our spiritual boredom and apathy isn’t less Jesus, it is more Jesus.  More time spent with Him and His Word. More receiving His Sacramental gifts. To receive that objective and solid truth that our sins are forgiven regardless of the whims of our feeling or our boredom with Christ. We are part of God’s ongoing story of salvation. We have been made into the living children of the living God, made to be and to do what God has created us in Christ Jesus, the good works He has prepared beforehand for us to walk in.  We look beyond this fleeting sinful world, the tiring old complaints of sin, the uncertainty and confusion of this life.  For we have the promise of eternal life, the promise of our living Lord to sustain us throughout this life and into the next.  And there is nothing boring about that.

Mark 8:31-38 "Unashamed of the Cross"

Mark 8:31-38

Unashamed of the Cross

2nd Sunday in Lent

March 1, 2015

How quickly something goes from good to bad.  Peter had just answered Jesus’ question about whom the disciples say that He is.  He answers correctly, in faith stating, “You are the Christ.”  And then he turns around at the first opportunity to correct Jesus on what this means and what this looks like.  Peter will not accept a suffering Christ until after the resurrection.  We too live after the resurrection, yet still the fears  and doubts plague us.

How easy it is for us to be like Peter.  How quickly we are to say, “I believe in Jesus,” then want to turn around and contradict Him in what He says.  We make bold statements, but do when push comes to shove, do we live up to it?  All too often, we don’t want a Jesus whose word means what He says.  We don’t want a Jesus who doesn’t give any wiggle room when it comes to sin. We don’t want a Jesus who doesn’t fit our idea of what He ought to be.  When it comes down to it, this is a temptation for all us, and one in which we all too often fall into sin because of.

Why? What causes us to want to pick and choose what to believe about Jesus?  What causes us to keep your mouths shut about Him when someone says something that is wrong or misrepresenting Him or His church? What causes us to avoid looking someone in the eye, of getting that uncomfortable feeling in our gut, of just wanting to run and hide from the situation?

Shame. Shame is often at the heart of this issue.  In a world where sin is excused and shame over that sin is downplayed in the name of tolerance and progress, shame is heaped upon those who would follow Christ.  And we fear it.  We fear the scorn, the weird looks, the gossip.  What if they don’t like me? What if they stop talking to me? What if they lose their friendship, the relationship with family? 

But there’s more.  We try to justify ourselves by thinking, “I’m not ashamed of Christ and of being a Christian, I’m just avoiding problems by not speaking up.  It’s not that I’m anticipating my own shame or that passed on to another generation, I’m just pretending I don’t really understand what is going on, and it’s really none of my business.  Fear of being ashamed leads us to put our mind on the things of man, not upon the things of God. Jesus’ words are pretty straight forward here, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” The shame of hell is far worse than that of man.

Repent.  For Jesus warns that He has come to suffer, die, and rise, and that all who believe in Him must carry the cross.  The temptation is always there to avoid the worldly shame of the cross.  Repent of your shame of Jesus, for even this He has taken upon Himself. He has suffered many things and rejection by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and was killed, but after three days He rose again, destroying the power of the cause of shame.  For the shame of our sins, for the shame that we feel and that we don’t, but shouldn’t, Jesus takes the cross.  Jesus suffered for our salvation and has overcome the temptations of the flesh, the sinful world, and the devil.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have no need to be ashamed.  This adulterous and sinful generation is temporary and fleeting.  Adam and Eve were naked in the garden and they were not ashamed. Why? Because there was no sin. So too Abraham was called by God to walk before Him, and be blameless.  We too stand before God, bearing naked all our thoughts, words, and deeds. We too, like Adam and Eve, like Abraham, like all the saints of God who have gone before us, can stand unashamed, for our nakedness is clothed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness.  We need no shame because we have no blame, for it was all laid upon Him. 

Isaiah 53:3, 5, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed Him not… But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.”

The shame of our sinfulness, of our wavering, of our own Peter like-rebuke toward Christ when His Word says something we don’t like, is forgiven. We stand unashamed of the Gospel.  Unashamed to follow a crucified Christ.  Unashamed to serve one another, to be in submission to one another.  Unashamed of denying ourselves, denying our sinful desires, denying a world which is hostile to Christ and therefore is hostile to us.  Unashamed of whatever suffering and death we face for our Savior, who suffered and died in our place.  Because of this, unashamed to take up the burden of the cross - proclaiming the Good News to a world who often doesn’t want to know about Jesus.  Facing the shame of the world not with pride, but with humbleness, not with wavering, but by the grace of God in Christ Jesus. We can go through life, confident in St. Paul’s words to young Timothy in his first letter, 1:12.  “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.”

Mark 1:9-15 "The Sacrifice of a Son"

Mark 1:9-15

The Sacrifice of a Son

1 Sunday in Lent B

February 22, 2105

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.” Brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the message for you here today.  This is the message of the church of God in Christ Jesus to the world. 

And on this, the first Sunday in Lent, we focus upon this very fact, this reality of our lives.  The time is fulfilled.  The promised Messiah has come. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, has come into the world, who offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins. And by that single offering, He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:1-13).

This is the point of the Old Testament reading for today with Abraham and Isaac.  The Lord provided the sacrifice so that Isaac could be spared.  That Lamb is God’s own beloved Son.  As the substitute of all men, in our Gospel reading, we hear how Jesus is driven by the Spirit out into the wilderness after His baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.  There He is tempted by Satan in order to endure and defeat all temptation.  What God did with Abraham foreshadows the cross of Christ.  The sacrifice of a Son. What Jesus does in the wilderness being tempted by the devil does the same. 

All too often we try to make the sacrifices ourselves, feeling as though God is demanding and unfair in what He asks us.  We don’t face temptation the same way that our Lord did.  We can’t.  The Lord can hear the temptation and not sin.  He doesn’t have the desire for evil, He doesn’t fall as our first parents, Adam and Eve, did.  Yet sin infects us. When we are tempted to sin, we consider it. And imagine what it would be like “if only.”  And we are dirtied by it. Our passions translate into sin in thought, word, and deed.  We are not in control. We do not resist. We are not strong.

Repent. Repent of your sin. Of trying to sacrifice to earn God’s favor. Of trying to stand up to temptation by yourself. Of yielding to temptation and falling into sin. Of trying to bring God’s kingdom down into this earth by your own actions.

Yes, repent and believe the gospel.  For all our temptations that lead into sin, for all our selfishness and perversions, we have a great strength in Christ.  All that Jesus did, He did for us.  He faced temptation and beat it back with His Word.  He serves an example, the most perfect example of a truly godly life.  But even more, He stands in our place.  We don’t have to overcome the devil. We don’t have to suffer for our sins. The Holy Spirit drives Jesus out into the desert on purpose.  To be the people of God personified.  Jesus replicates the experience of the people of God in the wilderness.  Here His “forty” corresponds to their “forty years” in the Exodus.  Unlike the children of Israel, Jesus does it right. He does it perfectly. He overcomes temptation acting as the people of God should act.

This is what pleases the Father about His beloved Son.  This is why He was anointed by John the Baptist in the Jordan.  To stand in our place. He was tempted for us even as He was crucified for us.  For He faced down the temptations and the sin, and then He offered Himself up as the once and for all sacrifice for our sin.  He died the death that we deserve.  He took the punishment that we deserve.  He bore the wrath of God that we deserve.  Our sin was served to Him, so that He may serve the world with eternal life. 

This is what pleases the Father about those who are His beloved children through faith in Christ.  Jesus brings with Him the kingdom of God.  God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father give us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity (SC explanation of the 2nd petition). Redeemed through our Savior’s sacrificial service, out of pure grace, so we, whether at Zion Lutheran Church, our Daycare, or our School share that grace of God with others. Forgiven and restored through Jesus, the Suffering Servant, we hear His call, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:44), which is the theme this year for National Lutheran Schools Week.

The focus of Lutheran churches and schools is upon this Servant of the Lord, the One who suffers, dies, and is risen in our place, for our justification. We confess Christ. We worship Christ. We teach Christ. We serve Christ by serving others, showing His grace to fellow members of the school and church family, to the community and into the world.  With that same saving good news of God, that in Christ, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel.”

Matthew 18:21-35 "The Way of Grace: 70 x 7"

Matthew 18:21-35

The Way of Grace: 70 x 7

Ash Wednesday

February 18, 2015

Consider one of the last times somebody, maybe one of your kids or parents or another family member, wronged you in some way—and then came to you to say they were sorry. How did you respond? If you were in a pleasant, tolerant mood did you say something like “Ah, it’s no big deal. Don’t worry about it. You probably didn’t mean to do it.” If what they did to you was still stuck in your craw, if you were still angry about it when they said they were sorry, did you respond with words like: “Well, you should be sorry. Don’t ever do it again.” Or, perhaps the well worn phrase, “I’ll forgive you but I don’t want to have anything to do with you again.” I want you to consider how you forgive, or fail to forgive others, those in your family, those who are friends, those with whom you work. How are we tempted to respond with either generic words of “It’s OK” or with angry responses? Is that how we want God to respond to us?

In our Gospel lesson, Peter is just starting to realize who Jesus was and why he had come. Peter may have known that other Jewish rabbis of Jesus’ day were telling their followers to forgive people at least three times. Peter may have thought he was being generous by suggesting seven times for forgiveness. But Jesus tells him not seven times—you could keep track of that. No, seventy times seven. Or in spiritual math, forgive and just keep on forgiving.

Now this does not mean that we purposely seek to be martyrs for the cause. But it does mean that when we are sinned against, we seek to forgive and forgive and forgive again—just as our Lord did for us when He gave his life on the cross. Oh, how Peter must have felt guilty when he denied his Lord three times outside in the high priest’s courtyard. But how relieved and comforted he must have felt when he later remembered that Jesus shed his blood to forgive him even of that denial. Jesus doesn’t just stop by saying 70x7. He emphasizes the importance of forgiveness with the parable of the unforgiving servant.

Did you ever notice in the parable that the first servant never actually asks for forgiveness? He owed a huge amount—10,000 talents, like trillions of dollars, more money than any single individual has ever had in the history of the world. But yet he doesn’t ask to be pardoned or to have the debt reduced or to have it forgiven. No, he says “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” He couldn’t pay it back; it wasn’t possible. He had to be forgiven the debt, released from it entirely. But he doesn’t get it. And this poor sucker that owed him 100 denarii—several thousand dollars—was the first to suffer for it.

One of the ironies of the Christian faith is that so many people don’t get it. So many think that we Christians are just here in church telling each other of all the good things we’ve done and how we’ve pleased God with our faithfulness. But that is not what the Christian faith is about— it’s about forgiveness. That is why we come here together, regularly, faithfully—not to please God with our worship—but to receive forgiveness in Jesus Christ. 

We began tonight with the Litany for Ash Wednesday crying out to God much like the servants in the parable, “Lord, have mercy! Spare us! Help us! Hear us! Forgive our debt! Have mercy!”  This is why we are marked with ash tonight, that ancient Biblical symbol of mourning and repentance. We are reminded what we owe-everything, even your life.  We mark ourselves with ashes to how our mourning, our shame, our death. We are dust. We will die because of our sinfulness, because of our unpayable debt!  This is all the world can see as it looks at that smudge of ash upon your head.  And yet that ash is in the shape of the cross, for on that cross your debt was forgiven completely, paid in full by the blood of Jesus.

So yes, remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.  But also remember that God Himself became man, dust like you, joined to your temptation and suffering so that you may be joined to His death and resurrection. It should always awe us, amaze us, when we realize that the Son of God came into His creation for such a purpose.  When we realize that we are the servant who owes the master trillions in debt and that he has forgiven us without our even first asking for it…well, that should amaze us day after day, week after week. When we realize the volume of forgiveness we’ve received from our Lord, through our Lord, then we are able to forgive others as well, to our family and friends.

And yet we think it so hard to forgive. When the hurt runs deep, the debt owed to so large.  What are you still harboring in your heart, not able to forgive someone else for? Is it against a relative who insulted you at some family event? Is it a friend who manipulated you, or cheated you, or injured you in some way? Is there sin against you larger than 100 denarii? 1000 denarii? How many times have you had to forgive them already? 7, 27, 57 times?

When we refuse to forgive, we show that we have not yet fully understood the forgiveness we have received. Forgiveness is not optional. It is the mark of the Christian life of faith in Christ.  So we pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” You did not deserve it because your forgiveness, your salvation, is by grace alone.  Your sins are forgiven upon the cross. And so is the world’s.  The sinful world may not receive it well, may choke you for what it feels you owe, but you do not receive the grace of God in vain, but unto life everlasting as His holy people through faith in Christ the crucified. Turn away from your sin, return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love.

*This sermon is an adaption from the series "The Way of Grace" by Concordia Seminary, 2011.

Mark 9:2-9 "The Unveiled God"

Mark 9:2-9

The Unveiled God

Transfiguration Sunday

February 15, 2015

This morning we have come to one of the most important transitional times in the church year.  This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and so this Sunday we commemorate the Transfiguration of our Lord. Transfiguration is not a minor event, but the apex of the liturgical season of Epiphany.  Epiphany is a season of light and of the revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the God. Recall the star that leads the magi to the infant Jesus.  In the transfiguration, a similar light shows the way to Jesus, this time not a star, but the morning star, the Light that is a person, Jesus Christ. We read about Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up upon a high mount and being transfigured before them, Hs clothes become radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.  The glory of the Lord shines in the face of Jesus, revealing who He is. The season of Epiphany now concludes with how it began in Jesus’ baptism, with God the Father speaking, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.” Jesus displays His divine glory and to prepare His disciples for His death and resurrection.  This is the revelation, the epiphany, of the glory of the Lord in front of His disciples. 

And so it is for us as well. The glory of the Lord is revealed to us today, that we would be prepared for His death and resurrection.  This is not just so that we would know Jesus, but so that we would know what Jesus has done for us on the cross of Christ, that we would prepare our hearts and minds to receive Him as He reveals Himself to us, both on the Last Day and His great return, as well as through His means of grace.

Though lowly in appearance to the world, we see the glory of God revealed to us in His Word and Sacraments.  To the world, and even to some within Christianity, this seems silly.  It’s just words, just water, just bread and wine.  And so it is these earthly things, but not “just” these things.  Here God hides Himself in the lowly and humble ways so that even the lowliest and most ignorant of sinners might know these are the means where God locates Himself.   

But the world does not see, will not see, cannot see the Lord.  In our Epistle reading from 2 Cor. 3:14–18, St. Paul next uses the figure of the veil to discuss Israel’s present unbelief. As the people of Israel could not see Moses’ face because of the veil, so their minds remain hardened and a veil covers their hearts today as they hear the voice of Jesus in Holy Scripture. Only in Christ is this veil abolished (3:14) and only in repentance is it removed (3:15).

Apart from Jesus there is no belief in God, for no one can know the Father except through the Son.  Why do some people not believe? Those on the road to condemnation are blinded by the god of this age and so do not see the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (4:3–4). Because their head is covered up. Covered up in sin, in denial, in rejection, in unbelief. 

How is this veil removed? Through faith in Christ, through repentance, and forgiveness of sins that Jesus won on the cross. The solution for such “blindness” is in the open proclamation of Jesus Christ through which “light would shine out in darkness to affect enlightenment” (4:6).  You cannot remove this veil, but the Lord has removed it from you through faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of your sins.

Listen now to the words of the Benediction, from Numbers 6, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”  This isn’t a question. This isn’t a “maybe” this will happen.  This is a blessing given from God to His people, that the glory of God, in the face of Jesus, is for you.

The Hebrew word for face is also the word to be in the presence of, in the sense to be in front of your face.  To see God’s face is to be in front of Him, to enter His presence, which typically in the Old Testament referred to visiting the temple for worship.  As blind people, we can’t just open up our eyes and see what it right in front of us.  Our eyes have to be opened, our sight restored.  Jesus unveils God face to us.  To be unveiled is to see God’s face, the face of Jesus, to be in His presence, which happens in worship as He comes to us through His Word and Sacrament.

Listen to the first verse of one of our Communion hymns, “Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face; Here would I touch and handle things unseen; Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace, And all my weariness upon Thee lean” (LSB 631:1).  While we live here and now, this revelation of the glory of God in Jesus doesn’t quite fit our grandiose picture of God’s majesty.  Easy to lose focus during this time of the year, veil the cross of Christ from our lives. Both in the great suffering that Jesus underwent on the cross and the glory of the cross.

The veil of darkness has been lifted from your through faith in Christ.  For the glory of His divine majesty scatters the darkness of your sin, the devil, and death itself.   While we still see through a mirror dimly, then we will see face to face.  As we journey with Jesus throughout the upcoming Lenten season, as He sets His face toward the cross, so upon the cross, He set His face upon you so that your sins are forgiven. 

Mark 1:29-39 "Jesus Comes Today With Healing"

Mark 1:29-39

Jesus Comes Today With Healing

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost B

February 8, 2015


 “They brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons… And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” Ah, wouldn’t it be nice to have been back then with Jesus.  That’s some kind of health care, right there! You have a bad back? Go see Jesus. Bronchitis, allergies? Run down and see Jesus. Cancer, heart disease? No problem. He’ll heal you.

We hear how healing in Jesus’ ministry was very important and He did it often, so what about us?  Everyone of us in this room probably knows someone who is sick, who is battling cancer, heart disease, the ravages of old age.  What about us?  Did Jesus just close up shop and stop all the healing?  Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus comes today with healing.

Our Gospel reading for today continues on from last week’s, where on the Sabbath day, after He had taught in the synagogue and healing a man with an unclean spirit, Jesus continued on to the house of Simon and Andrew, where they come across Simon’s mother-in-law, who had a fever.  Jesus goes to her, took her by her hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 

This is the same type of thing that Jesus does to us. God descends with heavenly power and brings healing. He takes His people by the hand, lifts them up, to be in service to our neighbor and to Him. He uses Dr., nurses, science, intellect to help bring physical healing to those in the world.  Yet, Jesus brings healing today that is much more complete, much more permanent, and much more restorative. Jesus comes today with healing, for as He says in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  

Sinners we are in need of healing.  It is because of this very fact that healing lies at the very center of the Church’s ministry, for in these ways Jesus reveals Himself as the Son of God. The very purpose of the Church is to bring God’s healing to the world to overcome the rift between God and humanity which is caused by our sin and leads that death, to reveal to the world that this Jesus is the Son of God.  This is achieved for us when Christ comes to us with healing, when we become one with Him and with one another as the body of Christ. Everything that we do as the Church, all our sacramental and liturgical life, all our teaching, is directed at restoring the proper relationship between God and creation, which has been corrupted through our sinfulness. Isaiah 53:5, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

In Baptism, Jesus leads us to abandon our own life in which we were under the sway of sin and death, and enter into a new life, where sin and death have been defeated. In Baptism, we enter into a new relationship with God in which sin, sickness, and death no longer dominate. We become children of God, heirs of the Kingdom, members of Christ’s body, the Church. This new relationship is to endure forever, and neither sickness nor death can destroy it. Baptism, therefore, is the sacrament of healing, a healing aimed at the whole person, body, soul, and spirit, in which your sins are forgiven and the life of Christ bestowed.

The sickness and death which once ruled our lives are defeated by Christ and the eternal Kingdom of God is now opened to you. The brokenness of our human existence is abolished as we are incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, through which we are saved. We are no longer left to live out our lives alone, to suffer and die a meaningless death. Rather, in the Church, our suffering and death become a means to victory, following in the footsteps of Christ, His death on the cross and His resurrection. Through Baptism, we are healed, and we are charged to bring this healing ministry to the world around us: to our family, to our neighbor, to all whom we encounter.

While Baptism is the means by which we become members of the Church, the Body of Christ, the Sacrament of the Altar is the means by which this membership is realized and continues to be lived out. We are brought from the font to the Altar. We are the Church precisely when we gather together, Sunday after Sunday, to celebrate the mystery of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection on our behalf. In the Sacrament, we not only remember these events, but we become partakers of Christ’s body and blood, receiving His grace “for the healing of soul and body.” Our sickness and our sin drives us to the medicine of eternal life.  This isn’t “take a pill and call me in the morning” kind of issue.  While we still live in this sinful and fallen world, we need this medicine on a regular basis.

As the result of this healing which we have, how can we not be like Peter’s mother-in-law, who simply got up and began to serve.  To serve the Lord and to serve one another.  Not because she has to, but because that is who she is.  She has been healed, lifted up by Christ, and the opportunity to serve is there.  How do you serve them?  By being a good husband, and a good wife. By being a good neighbor.  By telling Jesus about others who are sick and suffering, so that through they too might receive the same medicine, the same healing as we have.  To take the message of Christ into the world. 

As the body of Christ, we are to do what Christ does, to go where our head turns. We are to take the hands of those sick in this world, sick with fevers, or simply sick with sin.  Bringing them the mercy of Christ and the healing that He gives as the ushers in the reign of God, in the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Mark 1.21-28 "The Last Word"

Mark 1:21-28

The Last Word

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

February 1, 2015


For centuries, the ancient city of Fengdu was known throughout China as the city of the dead.  According to legend, the gates of hell were located there, and so was thought to be the home of the devil.  The city sat on the banks of the Yangtze River, until several years ago when the Three Gorges Dam was built, flooding the town.  After the people of the city were relocated, citizens placed signs around the city counting down the days until the town would be destroyed.  Many of these signs portrayed the image of the devil as a symbol of the city.  The days of Fengdu were limited, and so were the days of the devil. The flood would wash over the city as well as obliterate the gates of hell and its lord, the devil.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the floodgates have opened.  With the coming of Jesus, has come the beginning of the end of the devil’s hold on sinful humanity.  Jesus has come ushering in the kingdom and reign of God, bringing with Him forgiveness of sins and eternal life. In doing so, He breaks the devil’s grip.

The gates of hell cannot prevail against the building up of Christ’s church.  The first miracle of Jesus recorded in Mark’s Gospel is this exorcism, making it clear that Jesus comes to destroy sin and the power of the devil.  This unclean spirit knows who Jesus is. There is no doubt in his statement, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”

In a sense, Jesus has invaded the devil’s turf, and the demon responds to the threat that Jesus represents.  “What have you to do with us” is a common statement in Jesus’ day basically meaning, “You have nothing to do with me. Stop meddling in my affairs. This is none of your business.”  But this is exactly Jesus’ business.  This is exactly why Jesus has come, because of the uncleanliness of the world brought about by sin.  Jesus’ words spoken with authority and power still cause a stir today.

How often do we try to say this to Jesus when he shows up in our lives.  “What are you doing here, Jesus. I don’t really want you around, what I am doing or thinking is none of your business.”  We may not have a demon, but what has come out of our hearts has dirtied both body and soul.  “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23). All these come from the depths of our heart.  They are not merely mistakes or bad choices – it is sin.  That which misses the mark falls short of the glory of God.  It hurts and defiles others, and it hurts and defiles you.  Sin makes you unclean.

We are always tempted to be like this man with an unclean spirit.  We’re tempted with thoughts, “I have my opinion, you have yours.  Who are you to tell me that I’m wrong.” We’re tempted to speak when we should be silent.  We’re tempted to accuse others in order to justify ourselves.  We’re tempted to explain away our uncleanness making use of our own words as though our words have the power and authority to excuse us and our actions before God and our neighbor.  There is no excuse for sin. There are no words you can speak, no works you can do, no way you can justify yourself, save yourself, or cleanse yourself, no matter how hard you try, no matter how pious your intentions, no matter how strong your love.  You cannot cleanse your dirty heart.

So what are we to do? CFW Walther, the first president of the LCMS and of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, used to say to seminary students, “We have no power but the power of the Word, but we have the power of the Word.”  Jesus casts out demons by His Word. The same word that created all things, now restores all things. And that same Word is still proclaimed for all the world to hear and believe.

When it comes to sin. When it comes to the devil.  When it comes to your dirty heart, Jesus has the last word in the matter.  His Word does not just stop there, but continues to enliven, continues to guide, continues to cleanse you throughout your whole life.  His Word is still proclaimed with the same power and the same authority.  While, hopefully, none us here are possessed with an unclean spirit, and we may not see exorcisms all that often in our culture, we do experience that same powerful word each Sunday, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Through faith in Christ, the dirtiness of your sin is forgiven.

But even then, His Word does not stop.  Not even the uncleanness of being buried in a dirt 6 feet under can mute Jesus’ Word.  For from that grave of yours, you will hear Jesus have the last and final word. Arise, live, come you are cleansed by the blood of Lamb.  The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds on Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.