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Easter 2 2022

Easter 2 2022 Quasimodo Geniti

John 20:19-31

April 24, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia! 

The last week a federal judge struck down the mandate requiring masks for public transport.  As a result, some airlines have stopped requiring masks on their flights.  For some, this seems to be a welcome relief. For others, anxiety and worry, even fear over the spread of disease, over breathing in what someone else might have breathed out.  

One of the gravest sins that could be committed over the last two years was to breathe on a person.  Some said you have to stay 6 feet away so their breath doesn’t get to you, so you don’t catch what someone else might have.  Like it or not, agree with it or not, this has actually changed the way that people interact with one another. It has changed the way businesses function, the way schools conduct learning, the way even that churches and God’s people worship.

But in a sense, we have always been changed by another breathing on us. We read in Genesis 2 that the creation of man took place in this way: that God took some dirt from the ground, that He blew into his nose the breath of life, that is the Spirit of life, and the man became a living creature, an enfleshed soul.  That God gave Adam what God Himself had, the contagion of God’s spirit and life.  With this, we learn that God created man not just for this life, but for eternal life. For by the this breathing into Adam, God the Creator made Adam in His own image.

And yet, this image of God was lost in man through the fall into sin, a novel infection was breathed in by Adam and Eve as the serpent slithered close and breathed out the lie, the twisting of God’s Word. And the infection was born, sin, which now spread like a genetic disease from Adam onward, a disease that leads to only one end – death.  

So we hear in our Old Testament reading this morning of Pastor Ezekiel, looking out at the whole house of Israel, diseased, lifeless, a valley of dry bones.  “Can these bones live?”  The answer really is obvious – dead means dead – but Pastor Ezekiel answers wisely, “O Lord GOD, You know.”  And He does know. And so He commands Pastor Ezekiel to speak the Word of God over these bones, and as bone comes together, sinews and skin enfleshing that in which there was no life, there is no breath. And so God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath, to get up close and personal and breathe on these slain, and the breath came into them and they lived and stood of their feet, and exceedingly great army.

God breathed life into Adam, bringing life where there was previously formlessness and a void.  Ezekiel prophesied breathe into dead bones, enfleshed once more, to bring life to what was once dead.  He who was dead and raised on the third day breathed upon His disciples that they might be infected with what He has – His Spirit and His life that overcomes death. This isn’t just any breathe either, this is the breath of life that spoke creation into being, that brought life to Adam, that spread across a valley of dry bones to raise them up, that bespeaks the righteousness of God. “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any it is withheld.’”

Jesus gives His disciples the grace, the command and the authority to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.  With these words we believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself (SC “Office of the Keys”).

And now He sends His Church out to announce this good news, and even more so, to deliver it through the means that He has established. So you ask, “Who can forgive sins, but God alone.”  “It is true that there is no human power or ability or merit or worthiness to forgive any sins, even if someone were as holy as all the apostles and all the angels in heaven… However, here we must have the true distinction… between what people do from their own initiative and on their own unworthiness and that which Christ commands us to do in His name and which He produces through His power… But if the absolution is to be true and powerful, then it must come from this command of Christ, so that it says: ‘I absolve you from your sins not in my name or in some saint’s name, or for the sake of some human merit, but in the name of Christ and by the authority of His command, who has commanded me to tell you that your sins are forgiven.  So it is not I but He Himself (through my mouth) who forgives your sins, and you are obliged to accept that and believe it firmly, not as the word of man, but as if you had heard it from the Lord Christ’s own mouth.’” (LW 77, pp. 135-136)

This breath of Jesus drives the disciples back into the world. Eventually, the they ventured out of the locked upper room. But they were forever changed by breathing in what Jesus breathed out. They went out into the world and spread something far more deadly than a disease, far more deadly than the threat of the Jews or the Romans. They spread the Good News of the death of death itself.  Breathed upon by Christ to receive the Spirit, Jesus commands and enables and sends them out to proclaim and to forgive the sins of any who repent, and to withhold forgiveness from any who do not repent.  This is not done in an arbitrary way, nor based on their opinions or feelings that day. They were to exercise this Office of the Keys based upon Christ’s work, upon His command, upon repentance over sin, and faith in the risen Jesus.   

It’s still not polite to go around breathing into people’s faces.  So don’t do that. But breathe out the word of God, breathe out His forgiveness, breathe out His peace to calm fears of this world. Husband and wife, do this daily, Parents, model this to your children. You who are infected with sin, come to your Pastor for Confession. This is why God has sent you a pastor in the first place, to breathe out to you the Gospel. Jesus’ wounds are the only remedy; His passion, death, and resurrection are your only defense against evil, against sin, against the power of the devil, against death itself. And He sends His sends you to breathe out onto others the same Word of God, to deliver the same Spirit by speaking of the only medicine, the only cure, to the disease of sin, the only solution to death – the forgiveness of sins, the peace of God that comes with the risen Jesus, His Spirit and the eternal life that only Jesus brings. 

Palm Sunday 2022

Palm Sunday 2022 Palmarum

Zechariah 9:9-12

April 10, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Palm Sunday is a day that many of us enjoy.  I remember as a boy always loving this day, in fact, it was one of my favorites with the pomp and circumstance.  It is always fun to begin church with a procession holding palm fronds while we sing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.”  Here, as in many churches, the children join in the procession, as we enter in the most important week of the year for our faith.  

Every year, God’s people came from far and near to celebrate the Passover, to retell the great victory and deliverance God had granted His people as He delivered them out of slavery in Egypt and in that hopeful expectation of the promised Messiah, especially as many felt enslaved to the Romans. The crowds had gathering singing and praising and welcoming Jesus as king, as the Messiah quoting Psalm 118 and being reminded of Zechariah’s prophecy from God about the Messiah.  And yet, I think they would have been disappointed.  I don’t think they would have been impressed with the first Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, certainly not by the end of the end of the week.

The prophet Zechariah worked around 520 B.C.  In 587 B.C. the Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and taken the people of Judah into exile.  God’s people lived in exile in Babylon until the Persians conquered them.  Then in 538 B.C., the Persian King Cyrus issued a decree that the Judahites could return home and rebuild the temple.

In the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah, we hear how it goes with those exiles newly returned.  In the second year of their return, the people laid the foundation for a new temple.  The older people who remembered Solomon’s temple that had been destroyed wept because this new temple could not compare with the one they had lost.  The foundation was laid, but the rebuilding project lingered on for some twenty years.  Outside interference from enemies slowed the work, but the biggest problem is that the people were just not as dedicated to the project as they needed to be. It’s not hard to understand why the people were discouraged.  They had returned from exile to a devastated city that had no walls.  Judah was no longer a nation, but instead a small province in the massive Persian empire.

And so God sent Zechariah, as well as his contemporary, Haggai, to urge and encourage the people in their faithfulness and dedication to God.  Zechariah encouraged the people with the news that God was going to act decisively.  Just before our text, Zechariah proclaimed the word of the Lord in judgment against the nations, the enemies of Israel and of God Himself.  And then in our text he says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; His rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:9-10). 

            It is clear that God is talking about the Messiah – the descendant of King David.  The promised one is going to come and will be better than anyone can imagine.  God will free the prisoners, restore double to those who have lost, grant peace that will encompass all nations.  And the Messiah will reign. This was a vision of the future that gave the people hope.  And the people went on to finish the temple in 516 B.C.

            A little over 500 years later, the events that we heard about this morning took place.  Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  Both Matthew and John tell us that this happened in fulfillment of Zechariah’s words.  But would the people of Zechariah’s day would have been satisfied with this?  This isn’t exactly the glorious king that most would have imagined. Yes, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  And what is more you just heard in the Passion according to St. Matthew how this “triumphant” visit to Jerusalem turned out.  Jesus enters Jerusalem on Sunday.  By Friday afternoon he is hanging on a cross after being mocked and tortured. War had not ended and peace had not come. God’s people were not free.  They were under the yoke of the Romans, constantly battling against them that would end up with Jerusalem and the temple being destroyed again.  Like it was when they were carted off to Babylon because of their unfaithfulness to God, this time God’s wrath would come upon them because of their rejection of the One who comes in the name of the Lord. 

            No, I don’t think of Zechariah’s time would have been satisfied with how God had kept His word.  And the truth is that often we aren’t either.  God says again and again in his Word that He loves and cares for you, and yet suffering still comes.  God promises healing, but family members and friends get sick and die.  God promises peace, yet war and conflict exist among the nations, and even within our families God promises provision, and yet so many times we feel want and need.  God promises hope, yet we often feel hopeless.  We cry “Hosanna!” save us now, yet here we are.

We experience evil and injustice and Jesus doesn’t always live up to our expectations and standards.  It causes us to doubt God.  It causes us to question God.  It causes us to accuse God of being false, or evil, or a liar.  If God really were all loving and all powerful then none of these bad things would happen.

And what is God’s answer?  “Fear not, daughter of Zion, behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.”  The answer is Jesus, which is not the Messiah that many expected, but the One that we all need. Jesus comes as the king to be enthroned on the cross. He hangs on the cross with the sign posted over His head that says, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  Jesus comes as the Messiah who will die to swallow up death forever.  Jesus comes as Messiah to end the war between God and man by taking God’s wrath and divine punishment over your unfaithfulness upon Himself. Your sins are forgiven. Your salvation won. Your eternal life secured. 

While we enter Holy Week and remember again the great sacrifice of the Son of God who shed His blood of His covenant for you, we do not end here.  Jesus lives, and reigns on high, seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence, He will come to judge the living and dead. The risen and ascended Lord has promised that he will come again.  He will do so in power and glory and might, not in humility. He will come in a way so that every knee will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. 

When He does, He will bring all of the things that Zechariah describes, and there will be no disappointment at that time.  Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, that is God in the Flesh, whether there had been saving faith or not.  He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem.  He will cut off the battle bow and speak peace to the nations. The risen Lord will rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth, in a new creation, the new heavens and new earth where the righteousness of God in Jesus the Messiah remains forever.

This week, return to your stronghold, oh daughter of Zion, return to Jesus, the promised Messiah.  Let us believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection and the assurance of our forgiveness.  Let us trust in God’s love no matter what is happening.  Let us rest in God’s peace in the reign of Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

 

 

Some of this sermon is based off a sermon by Pr. Mark Surburg http://surburg.blogspot.com/2017/04/sermon-for-palm-sundaysunday-of-passion.html

Lent 5 2022 Judica - John 8:42-59

Lent 5 2022 Judica

John 8:42-59

April 3, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Today in the Church year is called Judica Sunday. These next two weeks mark a clearly defined period in Lent, our third step in preparation in commemoration of our Lord’s Passion and to celebrate the paschal feast at Easter. 

This confrontation reaches a climax today when the Jews seek to stone Jesus for claiming to be the preexistent Son of God and that His Word is the word of life. While the Jews think Jesus as blasphemous, for us, it is highest comfort and proof to know that Christ is the true and eternal Son of God.  This is the basis for His Word being able to save everyone who believes.  Because He is true and eternal God, the God of the living and not of the dead, He is able to give eternal life to all who believe in this Word and keep it.

The Jews couldn’t understand what Jesus was saying, much less believe or bear to hear His Word.  They couldn’t understand Jesus’ teaching because they lacked spiritual discernment. And spiritual discernment only comes through the work of the Holy Spirit.  St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that those who do not have the Spirit cannot understand spiritual things.  Jesus says, “whoever is of God hears the words of God. They reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus goes on with an even more damning indictment, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.” (John 8:44).  The physical ancestor might have been Abraham but their spiritual one is the devil.  What counts is not genetics, nor ethnicity, nor language, but faith in the Word of God, the Very Word that the Jews have rejected.  St. Paul wrote the Romans, “But it is not as though the Word of God has failed.  For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’  This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are accounted as offspring” (Romans 9:6-8). 

The Word says that those who are children of Abraham by birth yet not by faith are not children of God, but children of the devil, and in league with the devil, knowingly or not.  Now, this has some pretty serious implications.  First, this means the children of God are born of the Word and the Spirit, not of the flesh.  It doesn’t matter if you were born a Jew, or a cradle Lutheran.  Not everyone is a child of God, but only those who believe in the promise of God fulfilled in Jesus.  In other words, it is by faith alone.

This was incredibly offensive to the Jews.  The truth is offensive, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.  To the Jews, this is blasphemy, the worst of the worst thing that could be said.  Still today, opposition to Jesus, to His Word, to His Church is born from the father of lies, from the devil.  He attacks the truth.  When the truth is attacked, it is an attack on Christ and on His Church.  An assault against the Church is an assault against Christ which is a devilish assault against God Himself.  

That is why it actually is a big deal when people reject the Word. The Jews complaint comes in the idea that death will not come to those who hold onto this Word of Christ. And so Jesus says, “Because I tell you the truth you do not believe Me” (John 8:45).   It is not a lack of understanding, but a lack of faith in the truth of the Word. And they misbelieve about death, and therefore about life. Abraham and the prophets are dead, and they want Jesus to be the same. They have plans to kill Jesus and put an end to His Word.  Who does this Jesus think He is anyway, greater than Abraham?  They fail to believe that Jesus is the Lord of life, that He Himself is the God of the living, and that He has specifically come to defeat death and its cause-sin-upon the cross, that He is the Great I AM who was before Abraham, who was the object of Abraham’s faith, the one who is the Truth.

The Word of truth is that God is the eternal Creator who created not by evolution, but by His Word; that He made male and female, only two sexes, which are not interchangeable; that sexuality is designed for marriage of one man and one woman in one flesh union, and that the marriage bed ought to be kept pure; that the family is foundational relationship, not the government; that one is saved only through faith in Jesus’ cross and resurrection not by good works or good intentions or good ancestors; that the Bible is God’s Word, which cannot be revised, reformed, reinterpreted, rejected. 

It is because this Jesus is the eternal Son of God that His Word and not the word of others that makes alive.  He was before Abraham because is the One true God.  “God could not send Christ out into the world in any other way.  He had to put Him into the Word, and thus spread and present Him to everyone.  Otherwise Christ would only be for Himself and remain unknown to us. Then He would have died for Himself alone. But because the Word presents Christ to us, it presents Him to us as the one who has overcome death, sin, and the devil. For that reason, whoever grasps and holds onto [the Word] grasps and holds onto Christ—and through the Word is set free from death eternally.”[1]

This is what Jesus means when He says that anyone who keeps His word will never see death.  This is not the kind of keeping as in obeying the 10 commandments, but keep in the sense of holding onto, keeping in possession the Word of Christ in the heart by faith. 

Christ means that whoever clings to His Word, will in the midst of death, still have the life of Christ.  For He is the God of the living, not of the dead.  In our Lord’s death, He took on the true death of hell that should be ours.  On the cross, the enemies of God were truly destroyed, the devil’s plan backfired, and death and sin overcome. Through His death, you who hold onto Christ’s Word are now free from the death of hell, free from the fear, free to believe.  For as your death is His, so His life is yours.  For Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.  


[1] LW 76, 411.

Lent 4 2022 Laetaare - John 6:1-15

Lent 4 2022 Laetare

John 6:1-15

March 27, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

It’s always seemed a little ironic to me that we hear about Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5,000 during Lent. During a time of year when many people fast and refrain from eating certain foods, or meals altogether, we hear about people getting their fill of bread and fish.  But then again, maybe it’s not so ironic.  The crowds had been following Jesus, as are we.  They were hungry, and in their time of need Jesus performs and amazing miracle to feed them, and so He does for us.  In fact, the feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle, apart from the Resurrection of Jesus, that appears in all four Gospel accounts.  It’s more than Christ showing His power, but signs pointing to Christ with the goal of faith. 

Jesus goes over the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Now, this was no accident.  He brings the disciples to a place for rest and teaching.  But He also leads the crowds following Him out into the wilderness.  John makes the unique note of when this took place.  The Passover was at hand.  If you remember, the Passover was instituted during the last of the 10 plagues during Israel’s enslavement in Egypt.  As the angel of death was to come upon all the land and the firstborn of everyone and every animal would die, the people of God were to kill a lamb, a spotless lamb, smear the blood upon the lentil and doorposts of their homes, and the angel would pass over their house.  They were then to eat the lamb as part of the Passover meal, after which they were to be led into the wilderness by Moses for the Exodus. 

So now here is Jesus, the One whom John the Baptist declared to be the lamb of God, leading His disciples and great crowd out into the wilderness with no place to go for food.  This was no accident, and Jesus knew what He was doing. And Jesus poses the question to Phillip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”  Jesus knew that there were no fast food places out there in the middle of nowhere, and He knew that the disciples would have to turn to Him to a solution for an impossible situation. 

This account should remind us of the way that God fed His people in the wilderness of the Exodus with manna. We heard about this in our Old Testament reading in Exodus 16.  Israel had just been led out into the desert by Moses and they complain to Moses that he had led everyone out there just to die with hunger. They had no where to go, nowhere to buy bread anymore, nor get their fill of meat.  So God tells Moses that He is going to rain down bread from heaven in the morning and in the evening provide meat to eat.  He even gives them leftovers on the sixth day so that they don’t have to pick any up off the ground on the Sabbath. 

Now, later on in John 6, when the crowds found Jesus as He had walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee to the other side, and they want more from Him, Jesus tells them, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”  When questioned about this, Jesus says, “Truly, truly I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

What Jesus is getting at is simply this: God is the giver of all things, He is the provider of all food, and gives daily bread to everyone even without our prayers, even to all evil people.  And so, of course, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread…”, praying in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

But also learn that man does not live by bread alone, but from every Word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut 8:3; Matt 4:4). And what is that Word of God the proceeds from the Father – nothing else but the Son, the Word made flesh. He who supplied the bodily needs of the 5,000 in the wilderness offers us an abundance of food to feed us unto eternal life. We eat of this bread of life when we put out trust in Him and His death and resurrection, and thus receive by faith all that the Gospel gives.  To feast on Christ by faith, that as He is the true bread that comes from heaven, our very souls and eternal life are fed by believing in Him, and it is only when feeding on Christ that our souls are truly fed.

St. Augustine once quipped, “There is a God shaped vacuum in every man that only Christ can fill.   The “God-shaped hole” is the innate hunger of the human heart for something outside itself, something transcendent.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 refers to God’s placing of "eternity in man’s heart." God made humanity for His eternal purpose, and only God can fulfill our hunger for eternity. 

The problem, though, is that humanity attempts to fill it with things other than God. Our sinful nature seeks to put a square peg in a cross-shaped hole. Sadly, too many spend their lives looking for something other than God to fill their longing for meaning—business, family, sports, whatever it may be.  Maybe worst of all, people gorge ourselves on spiritual junk food, thinking that being a Christian is about health, wealth, and happiness, and then complaining when experiencing the wilderness of this fallen world, that the bread from heaven isn’t enough, doesn’t always leave a pleasant taste in the mouth, isn’t prepared exactly the way we want. It’s a complaint that God is holding back, that we had it better off as slaves to our sinful passions, leading us in our lives only to suffering and death. There is no doubt that many people looking to fill their bellies and their hearts things other than God achieve a measure of “happiness” for a time. But it doesn’t last because it doesn’t meet the hunger of the soul. 

This miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 teaches us that Christ and Christ alone has power to satisfy, not just the body, but the human heart, the deepest longings of your soul.  Only our Lord can satisfy our human nature, and nothing else can do this – not the world, sin, pleasure, perversion, money, learning, exercise, or food. 

 

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism in which we are made, like Isaac, children of the promise of God, descendants of the Jerusalem above, Mt. Zion.  God and the Sacrament of the Altar by which the children of God are fed.

Lent 3 2022 Oculi - Luke 11:14-28

Lent 3 2022 Oculi

Luke 11:14-28

March 20, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Jesus had been accused of many things throughout His earthly ministry. Some people loved Him, and others hated Him.  Some approved of what He did, others were not so welcoming of His words or actions.  In our Gospel reading today, we hear more of the latter. Jesus was casting out a demon that was mute. I would venture to guess that most people would view that as a good thing.  But not so.  Some who witnessed this miracle brought up one of the nastiest things against Jesus, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.”  Basically, they are saying Jesus is in league with the devil.

Amidst this and testing from others, Jesus gives a fairly straightforward and logical answer.  He says that a house cannot be divided against itself.  It would make no sense for a demon to be cast out by a demon. Satan could not be allied with Jesus without being divided against himself. Neither can the Church ally herself with anything that is evil without being separated from Christ, her head. We are tempted to do evil so that good may come. “The end justifies the means” is a cry of the world, and the whisper of the devil.  We cannot use the devil’s weapons in the cause of God. It will leave a divided church, a divided people, division from God Himself. Our divisions prevent the Church from exerting its true moral and spiritual force in the world.  If Satan himself will not have a divided kingdom, how can a divided Christianity be for the advantage of Christ?

So Jesus is setting up a contrast here between two kingdoms, one of the devil and one of God.  And there is no middle ground between the two, for as Jesus says, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”  “To be ‘with Christ’ means to have the same mind and view as Christ that is, to believe that Christ’s works and not our works help us, for this what Christ holds and teaches. But ‘gather with Christ’ means to do good through love and to become rich n good works. Whoever does not believe is by himself through his own works; he is not with Christ but against Christ, for he denies Christ by building on his own works. So also, whoever does not love does not gather with Christ, but does useless works through which he only becomes worse and goes further away from faith” (LW 76 396). 

Which also means there is no middle ground. One of the greatest lies we face today is one of neutrality, one of indifference. There’s an attitude among many, even some within our own church, who feel like this really isn’t a big deal. As if sin is just a minor thing, and whatever I do is ok if it feels ok.  Indifference toward the kingdom of God places one in a very risky situation. Such indifference does not recognize the evil of evil nor the good of good.  Like the Laodicians in Revelation, Jesus’ speaks to us, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16). In such a contest, for Jesus, indifference counts for opposition, and he who does not gather with Christ scatters.  From God’s perspective, there cannot be a divided house, or contrasting kingdoms, or an unpossessed heart.

Therefore, Jesus says that it is by the finger of God that He casts out this demon, which results in the coming of God’s kingdom.  The only true exorcist is Jesus.  “The result is that wherever God’s finger does not cast out the devil, the devil’s kingdom is still there, and wherever the devil’s kingdom is, God’s kingdom is not. The unavoidable conclusion, then, is that as long as the Holy Spirit does not come to us, we are not only incapable of any good, but also are, of necessity, in the devil’s kingdom… These are extremely dreadful words! Christ here grants to the devil a kingdom which cannot be avoided without the Spirit of God, and God’s kingdom cannot come unless his kingdom is cast out of us with divine, heavenly power” (LW 76, 395).

Jesus’ point is that simply casting out evil is not good enough.  It must be displaced by good. The space must be filled, the heart and soul must be possessed by the Spirit of God. Negligence of this only leads to greater bondage. It is not good enough to sweep out the house but leave it empty.  If the unclean spirit comes and finds the house empty, he brings back worse. Sin loses none of its danger by losing its repulsiveness.

This is one of the main purposes for the house blessings that we’ve been doing here.  By the Word of God and prayer, the Christian home is swept clean of sin and evil and filled with the Word of God. The main prayer at end of the rite says this, “Drive from here the snares of the evil one and send Your holy angel to guard, protect, visit, and defend all who dwell in this home.”  Out with evil one, in with Christ and His presence.  The only thing that can keep Satan out is to keep Christ in.

There is a story of Christian converts in Southern Asia who were once Buddhist.  Before their conversion, there had never been a murder in the village for as long as anyone could remember.  There was never any theft or fights.  But after their conversion, people began to act “evil” and crime started to happen.  Years after the missionary who converted them had left, he ran into one of the people from the village.  The person told him about what had happened.  What do you think his reaction to this was?  I would think the former Buddhist would be angry blaming Christianity on the rise of crime in his village.  But instead, he said that it was proof of God working in their lives and the truth of Jesus Christ.  

Before their conversion, Satan left them alone because they were already damned.  But afterward, Satan began to work hard in their village to try to steal them back. As long as the devil is served, he keeps his peace. His stronghold is the sinful, human heart.  And when he his dethroned, when these words are spoken over one soon to be baptized, “Depart you unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen,” the devil goes on the offensive. As a Christian, hell will be loosed upon you and the devil will fight to get you back.  “One stronger than he” must ascend the throne of your life. Christ’s victory must be yours, and it is only yours by faith.

The need and process of release from the devil’s kingdom, entrance into the Kingdom of God through the waters of Holy Baptism, the power of victory in the cross and resurrection delivered to you by the Word and received by faith, and the continual presence of Christ in your lives is of eternal signficance.  Today we hear the call again for faithfulness, for tried and true loyalty, motivated by pure patriotism for the heavenly kingdom, to fill our lives with Christ.  We cannot receive the Gospel, be brought to Jesus, and return to our sinful ways. Great sacrifices will be demanded of you.  You must be ready to give up everything to follow Christ, the world, honor, possessions, enjoyment, pleasure. You must walk as children of light, (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)” (Ephesians 5:8-9). You must fill your hearts and minds and lives and homes with the Word of God. In a day and age where Christianity is not favored in our country, where politics do more harm than help to our faith, where the influence of the sinful world seeks to encroach we must stand firm with Christ or the devil will return with greater ferocity.

By Your baptism, Christ has snatched you ought of the hands of the devil and delivered you into the very kingdom of God. He desires to fill your lives and your homes with His presence. Do no despise the Word of God or the preaching of it by which God’s kingdom comes, but hold is sacred and gladly hear and learn it. For blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. Come, now, receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, and the assurance of Christ’s presence with you and your presence with Christ in eternal life.

Sexagesima 2022 - Isaiah 55:10-13

Sexagesima 2022

Isaiah 55:10-13

February 20, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

This last week there was a story that got all over the news, even many of the secular news outlets.  A Roman Catholic priest serving in the Diocese of Phoenix had performed baptisms over the last 20 years saying, “We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” rather than “I baptize you…” This has caused a lot of consternation in the area, and doubts concerning the validity of the baptism, or if it was really a baptism at all, when the change of the word “I” to “We.”  Without getting into the nuances of Roman Catholic thought on the issue, it does raise a question for us as well. What do we with something like this, not just for baptisms, but with the Word of God in general? 

Before some of you scoff that it really isn’t that big of a difference or that big of deal, it actually is a big deal.  The one who is placed into the Office of the Ministry is not there to change things, to try to make it more communal or acceptable to modern ears or to put a new spin on things, but to speak in the stead and by the command of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Words actually mean things.  We want to avoid falling into the trap that words don’t really matter, especially in times of confusion.  Clarity and precision in the words we use and how we use them are extremely important.  That’s not to mention that we aren’t allowed to monkey with the words of the Word, nor free to redefine what things mean.  This is God’s Word, not ours, and He has placed His word into our ears, into our hearts, into our mouths to proclaim the truth, and His Word is truth. “The power of the word and its content are inseparable.  It is because what God says is the truth that the word will perform exactly what God intends” (Oswalt, Isaiah, 446, fn 61).

At the same time, we have to be careful not to treat the Word of God like a magical formula, either, where if we just say the right things at the right time in the right way that something automatically happens by your own power or simply by going through the motions. There’s an old Latin phrase that describes this misuse of God’s word, ex opere operato, which means, “from working the work”, by doing the act itself, apart from the necessity of faith.  Again, this brings up all kinds of questions, but most importantly how do we view God’s Word, the speaking and praying and proclaiming of that Word?  This is part of the confusion that entails with some many Roman Catholics and many others, honestly, because one word was different, does the formula fail, is the Word and the Sacrament valid?  

In our Old Testament reading for today, from Isaiah 55, we have an answer:  “For as the rain and the snow comes down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).  

Isaiah compares God’s word to the rain and the snow, and the effectiveness of the two.  Now, we live in a desert and there’s a lot of farming that goes on around here, so we know well the importance of rain.  If the rain doesn’t come, not only is the crop lost, but also the seed for the following year’s crop.  It is not the rain that is the source of life, but the word of God, the word that separated the waters above and below, and the word that blesses God’s creation by making the rain fall on the good and evil alike.

And so too God sends His Word into the world, as a recklessly generous sower of the seed of faith.  That is what our parable in the Gospel reading is all about.  The Word of God goes out to everyone sown through the proclamation of the Gospel. No one is left out of the proclamation that in Christ, God saves sinners.  It doesn’t matter whether their hearts are hardened against God, not capable of supporting roots, or whether they are full of weeds or thorns that would choke the seed. The seed of the Word is good, it is effective, and it does only what good seed is capable of doing – brings life where previously there was none. 

This whole passage resonates in relation to the beginning of St. John’s Gospel account.  The word became flesh and dwelt among us because the Word was God Himself.  Through Him all things were made that were made.  Here is the full and perfect revelation of the purposes of God, whose Word takes upon human flesh to achieve the purposes of God – to plant and water the seeds of faith, to cause faith to grow, to cause you to be raised imperishable. And to make things even better, Christ does not return empty handed to the Father. The Word that goes out from the mouth of the Lord accomplished that for which it was sent – the forgiveness of your sins, and where there is forgiveness there is life and salvation.  

Isaiah is making a case as well for why we ought to turn to God and abandon our self-reliance – the absolute dependability and effectiveness of God’s Word to do what God has sent it to do.  Whether or not we understand the ways of the Lord, we can trust that His Word is true and will do what it says.  You don’t have to change it so it makes more sense, so it doesn’t offend, or out of fear of being cancelled. If fact, you are not at liberty to do that, for it is God’s Word not yours. God’s Word works what it says and what God intends despite coming out of the mouths of sinful men.  God doesn’t need you to fix it, to change it, to make it more agreeable to modern ears.  Believe it, believe Him who is the Word. Those who turn from their sinfulness can again and again experience the full pardon and blessing of God.  Where the Word is, there is Christ. Where Christ is, there is His Word. The word written, the Word enfleshed, the word proclaimed once more.  

Over the questions over this last month that I have heard throughout doing the house blessings is, “did it work?” We go around from room to room reading Scripture and praying, ending with the blessing itself.  Did it work? Yes! If God blesses something, it is blessed.  If God sanctifies, it is sanctified.  If God cleanses, it is cleansed.  Is this a magic formula, no?  For the Word both requires faith to believe and delivers the faith necessary to believe.  Does the word take root and faith grow and blossom?  Yes, it does.  But when it doesn’t it isn’t the fault of the Word, the seed of faith.  

Jesus’ parable drives home this harsh reality.  Not all who hear are converted to saving faith. There are hardened sinners who refuse to believe the Word. The devil, the world, and our sinful nature trick people into believing lies; they never rest from their attacks on you. Temptations are real. Your sins are serious. There are real thistles and thorns in your life seeking to choke your faith. Faith can be lost by despising of the Word, the blessing of God – faith, holiness, righteousness, justification – all can rejected and discarded.  

Blessed are you, “blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (Matthew 13:16).   For the Word of God does what it is sent to do, and it has been sent to you. And what it is sent to do is deliver Christ, the word of God in the flesh. The Word incarnate accomplishes what He was sent to do.  He goes to the cross to take your sin, and the sin of the world, upon Himself. He returns to His Father at the Ascension with the success of the atonement and defeating death itself. And now He rains down His righteousness upon you. “Let the Word of God dwell in your richly” (Col 3:16a). 

Septuagesima 2022 - 1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5

Septuagesima 2022

1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5

February 13, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

This morning we stand today in the time of transition.  Still rejoicing in the Epiphany hope, over the next three weeks, we are reminded that God’s revelation of Jesus as the Christ leads us to Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and finally to Easter. 

In this time of transition, we address ourselves to the overcoming of sin, the necessity of self-discipline, the preparations needed to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. By God’s grace, as we heard in the Gospel reading, we have received the invitation and call to enter God’s vineyard.  This is a call for laborers, for workers in the Kingdom, not for those who would be lazy or idle.  The Christian life is hard work in the heat of the day, a hard battle, and a race to the finish line.  The work has its pay, the battle its final victory, the race its medal.  It is the denarius of eternal life, the final defeat of sin, death, and the devil, the crown of victory.

This is no earthly trophy, no worldly prize, no perishable wreath, but an imperishable one, life with God through faith in Christ. And, like all things of eternal value, this is something for which we as Christian ought to hope for, strive for, work for, train for. 

Right now, the Winter Olympics are going on.  The Superbowl is later today.  Whether you follow these things or not, it is impressive to see some of the best athletes in the world competing against one another.  There’s always stories of how they got to where they are. No one gets to compete, no one gets to win a medal or trophy at such things without constant training and practice and self-discipline and coaching. 

St. Paul compares the Christian life to a race and by the Word of God coaches us in what that means. This race of the Christian life requires continuous effort, stamina, and endurance are needed to work during the heat of the day.  This takes regularly exercising one’s faith in Christ and holding tight to His promises found in His Word. It involves denying oneself and the indulgence that might lessen the chance of victory, of perseverance until the end. The spiritual runner must learn to run wisely, not wildly, heading in the right direction, toward the finishing line and entrance into eternal glory with Christ.

Paul says not only that this is a race, but also a fight.  Pursuit of holiness, the fighting is the conquest of evil and sin.  Not boxing the air.  Our punches must land.  This is not practice, and this life is no game.  This is to live with purpose, to intentionally seek the good for others, not only in word, but in deed. Beating the air, training for no purpose, does not produce the desired result.  St. Paul warns us of our fathers in the wilderness of the exodus.  They too received a baptism in the cloud and in the sea, received the spiritual food and drink, yet with most God was not pleased. They went through the motions with no purpose, the practice with no faith, and they were overthrown, disqualified because of their unbelief. God forbid this happens to you.  The last will be first, and the first last in this race and fight. 

The danger is of pride, of thinking that you deserve more than what God has promised.  This was the laborers issue in the Gospel reading.  They wanted more, that the felt entitled, as if God owed them more than what He was already giving out of pure grace and delivered according to His promise.  “The justified are due the crown because of the promise. Saints should know this promise, not that they may labor for their own profit, for they ought to labor for God’s glory. But saints should know it so they may not despair in trouble. They should know God’s will: He desires to aid, to deliver, and to protect them” (Ap V 242-243).  The strength to endure comes not from our efforts, but from Jesus.  Our victory is included in His victory upon the cross and by His resurrection.  This is where the race if finished, and the fight for your eternal life is won, your sins forgiven, Satan is knocked out, and the power of death destroyed.

The point is this. These things that we do here and now; these things aren’t practice. This is real life. What you do here and now matters. It has eternal significance. The life of the Christian is filled with temptation and overcoming with suffering and effort.  No pain, no gain, it is said.  And it is true.  Just as an athlete discipline one’s body, keep it under control, so you as a Christian must do the same. We train the soul by training the body.  The postures we have in worship and life matter. Our soul is taught by our body when we stand to hear Jesus’ words in the Gospel readings.  Our soul is trained by our body when we kneel at the altar rail, confessing humility and thanksgiving out of receiving the body and blood of Christ as a gift.  Our soul is trained by our body when we say no to temptation, whether it tempts our gluttony, our lust, to the envy – the fleshly, sinful passions that should have no power over those who belong to Christ. 

Make no mistake, this lifelong race and fight will be painful.  For it bruises pride, offends the old sinful man, denies the bodily passions, and beats off the devil. This is the life of Christian training. This is no practice, but this is the real deal, and the results are life and death. Just like any professional athlete, to compete, to excel, to win the prize one must focus on the fundamentals. 

This is the purpose of the Divine Service. To deliver the grace of God, according to His promise, to those who believe.  This is wherein the fitness, skill, and reward are delivered by means of His Word, in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Practice the basics of Christianity, both in belief and in life.  Small Catechism, hymns, liturgy all teach this, reinforce this.  They teach a life of repentance over sin, faith in Christ, and struggling against sinful desires and the pressures of the sinful world which try to lead us onto another path. 

This is the purpose of our School. Parents, your church operates a school to assist you in training of your children in the fundamentals of the Christian life and in preparation for a life long race toward the eternal crown of victory.  Youth Catechesis has the same goal in mind, as does Sunday School and Bible studies. To teach the things needed for faith and life to cross the finish line, to finish the race.  In other words, to die well.  And, by grace alone, to receive the crown of eternal life. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

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