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Lent 3 2021 - Luke 11:14-28

Lent 3 Oculi 2021

Luke 11:14-28

March 7, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

The other day I ran across a social media post from a friend of man who has competed in highland games and was looking forward to doing it again in a month or so.  If you know what those are, it’s when men compete in all kinds of crazy feats of strength like throwing a gigantic log, large stones, hammer throws.  Usually the people involved in those competitions are not small, but fairly large, strong men.

In an ironic twist, the next day I spoke to someone at our school about a loved one who used to be a strong, smart, independent man. He was an EMT, I believe, and helped out in other medical and service capacities.  So here was a man who had spent his life helping others, who also took pride in his physical abilities, but who now is suffering from an aging body and aging mind.  He is now the one being taken care of, who has to have help moving around the house and struggling doing activities that he used to do without even thinking or trying. 

We all like to take some pride in the strength of our body, or mind, or will, but the sad fact of the matter is that no matter how strong you are, no matter how much you keep your mind or body in shape, human strength fails.  Even if you’re perfect shape, there is one who is stronger.

In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus performs a miracle of casting out a demon from a man.  What we are to learn from this miracle is that Jesus compares the devil to a strong man who guarded his palace. No one could conquer him, destroy his palace or rob him unless it was to be the stronger One, Jesus Himself.  Since the demon possessed this poor man making him mute, Christ is telling us here that we are to view this man as an image for all of humanity.  Man was originally created in the image of God in true righteousness and holiness, a good and perfect residence for the Holy Spirit. But that didn’t last long. Through the fall into the sin, Adam who had been a beloved child of God, became a child of wrath (Eph 2:3).  What had formerly been a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, now becomes a tool of the devil.  Even worse, not only did Adam and Eve fall but now that corrupted nature is implanted as children are who born in Adam’s sinful image (Gen 5:3). That’s why now, by nature we are blind, deaf, and mute so that we do not know God, do not glorify God, and are unable to praise Him.  We are just as helpless to help ourselves out of this situation as the poor man who was possessed by the demon, with no strength to overcome the evil strong man. 

Christ tells us here that Satan is the strong man.  He is stronger than you are, not matter how good of shape you think your soul might be in.  You cannot take on that old evil foe, that fallen angel, and win.  His stronghold is the human heart, the palace and the spoils of war. He guards his palace because he has stolen it and he knows that it doesn’t really belong to him.

The kingdom of Satan is cast over our whole race. And we belong fully to him. Until… Until the finger of God reaches out and touches you. We hear about Jesus casting out demons so often we lose the wonder and the power that’s at work there, the way the demons cringe and flee. Don’t let this scene be clouded. Look at it clearly. See your Lord in action. He casts out the demon, the mute man speaks, and God’s people marvel! The finger of God is at work, and that finger is more powerful than all the hosts of hell!

The same finger of God has been at work among you. It touched you in your life, probably first at your Baptism. No small thing, but a front-line battle—that’s what takes place at the font. The strong man shows up at a Baptism to try to guard his own, but you know what? He’s totally outmatched. He doesn’t stand a chance against the Stronger Man. If you haven’t thought about it this way, think about it now. At your Baptism, Jesus broke down the walls of Satan’s prison, tied Satan himself up, and freed you. He carried you out. The finger of God descended, the finger tracing the cross of Christ upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified, and the devil turned tail and fled! At your Baptism, God opened up your lips so you could speak his name, and cry it out, “Your kingdom come, O Christ!” And His kingdom came to you. Brought out of Satan’s domain, you have been brought into the kingdom of our God. The devil is not your master anymore. He has no hold over you. He threatens, he flails, he tries every last trick in the book to drag you back down, to rob you of the glorious freedom that Christ has given to you. But he’s no match for our Strong Man, our Lord Jesus. He pinned Jesus down, cold and dead in a rocky prison. But you know full well that our Lord Jesus, His stay in the tomb was short. The Stronger Man overwhelmed death itself, lives and reigns still today.

In the miracle we hear about today, the Lord is not just taking away the demon’s power of the man’s mouth, He is freeing him from the accusations and control of the demons.  He tempts, sure. But now the devil is as good as mute, unable to accuse, no unforgiven sins to point out, no guilt or shame that can stick. So it for you.  For you are baptized and forgiven, cleansed and fed. Greater than the devil is Christ who is in youHe , weak as you faith might be. 

But you must still be on guard.  The danger is still real. If a demon is cast out of the body but not the soul, it will come back with a vengeance.  We can’t be lured into the false belief or be deceived with empty words that since we have been rescued from the devil’s power there is no longer any danger if we were to live an immoral life. This was the point of the Epistle for today: you are no longer in darkness, but in the light of the Lord.  So walk as children of light.

So yes, the devil is strong, stronger than you. But that doesn’t really matter, for Christ is stronger still.   The devil has no more accusations that can stick, for Christ has forgiven you; there is no more shame he can add, for Christ has cleansed you of all unrighteousness; no temptations he can dangle that Christ has not already overcome; no sorrow he can pile on your heart, for the joy of the resurrection overwhelms all; and no more silence imposed, for the mute man speaks and our lips declare Christ’s praise forever. 

Lent 2 2021 - 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7

Lent 2 2021

1 Thessalonians 4:1-7

February 28, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

St. Paul says in today's text, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”  Your sanctification is God’s will. And how could it be otherwise since God is holy. But it is necessary for us to hear it again, to be reminded again, of God’s will in our lives and God’s sanctifying acts.  We speak of sanctification as the work of the Holy Spirit. The Small Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther, in explaining the third article of the Apostles' Creed, says: "The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith." 

And so St. Paul saying, “we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus Christ, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more” (1 Thess 4:1).  St. Paul urges us to be the holy people of God - which you are by virtue of your baptism into Christ – and yet to encourage you to be so all the more.  

St. Paul writes and encourages, “Be holy.” To be holy is to be set apart by God, for God, for God alone is holy, to possess the grace of God, to have part in Christ’s divine life. This doesn’t mean you are perfect, not in this life. It certainly doesn’t mean that you are self-righteous or holier than thou.  It means that through faith in Christ, God Himself establishes your hearts blameless, forgiven, cleansed, in holiness before our God and Father, unto the coming of the Lord Jesus with all His saints (1 Thess 3:13).  This is the purpose and aim of your redemption. This is the will of God.  Your sanctification is also the purpose of the Lenten preparation for Easter. It’s not just to temporarily give something up for 40 days, but for your own Easter when we shall rise with Christ in newness of life.  Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, devotion to the Word of God, the sermons, the midweek services, all aim at your holiness. 

God has sent His Son, and Jesus has lived the holy life, and then laid down His own body for you.  He purchased your holiness with His own, and by the cross and the agonies there.  Look at the cross, see Christ nailed there and dying in agony.  That is how important and precious your sanctification is to God.  He has purchased holiness for you, and poured it out on you, and chosen you from among all mankind, and called you to live before Him in faith and in the holiness which He has given you in Christ.  Your sins are forgiven.  You have been made heirs of eternal life in glory with God.  It is a gift to you by grace through faith. A life of sanctity frees us from the cage of sin and fills our hearts with a purpose so deep and abiding that one is forced to wonder how he ever lived without it before. 

God has saved you for a purpose: To live as His sons and daughters forever. Jesus did not pay the price for your sins on the cross for you to continue in sin, nor live in the passions like the Gentiles who do not know God.  You have been made holy in Christ. This is who you. So act like it. The truth of the matter is, how you live and what you do speak the truth about who you are and what you believe. If you are the child of God, then this is how you ought to walk, and that you do so more and more. 

So there isn’t any confusion, St. Paul is very helpful here in giving us some practical advice dealing with sanctification so that our witness for the Lord may be blameless.  Every Christian was entrusted by God with the body as an instrument to be used for the Giver, and so everyone must learn how to control his own body, how to keep it clean, regard it with honor, and not to treat it in the passion of lust like those who do not know God who have never learned the intention of the Creator. That is why Paul reveals that sin against your body is a sin against yourself, they are the worst kind of selfishness, but ultimately against the Giver. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who enables you to live a holy life (1Co 6:15–20).  Jesus’ holy bride, the Church, must not take part of the impurity of those who do not know Him.

The world today needs the witness of Christian lives made holy through faith in Christ to contradict the growing persuasion that faith in Christ is of no particular value, and that Christians are just like everyone else, or in some cases worse because we seek to uphold God’s created intent and will.  Your holiness, a life set apart from the sinful world to walk and to please God, how a child of God acts, talks or thinks in faith, according to the Ten Commandments, for the glory of God and the welfare of others. Your sanctified life continues to be a witness to the presence of Christ in us, and brings glory to God even when we are unaware that it our sanctification observed, or that it has any influence whatsoever. 

And God knows how difficult living in this corrupt and sinful world.  He understands the weakness of our flesh.  We were just reminded in the Collect of the Day that we must guard our soul and our body.  That prayer we prayed combines the Epistle’s admonition to purity and the thoughts of the soul and the Gospel account of bodily adversity suffered by the daughter of the Canaanite woman.  We pray to be defended in body, cleansed in soul. Christ comes to redeem not just the soul, but also your body.  All of you. That is why He has given us this holy meal, which we again shall share this morning, to strengthen us and purify us for holy living.  Here is the very body of Christ, under the form of the bread, for your forgiveness and sanctification.  It cleanses you!  Here is the very blood which He shed for your sins to cleanse you and raise you up from sin to holiness and everlasting life.  Come and eat and drink and be refreshed and cleansed and strengthened, for how you ought to walk, and here Christ would prepare you to walk faithfully as one of His own. 

You are called in holiness.  You have been set apart by the work of the Holy Spirit to live lives of purity in body and soul, of honor before God and man. Strive with eagerness and perseverance of faith more and more. God’s command and promise to you in Jesus Christ is true and faithful. Let it be done for you as you believe. Amen. 

Lent 1 2021 - Hebrews 4:14-16

Lent 1 2021 Invocabit

Hebrews 4:14-16

February 21, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

A young couple had just lost their child.  At the last moment, they had learned that the birth of their child would not bring life, but death.  It was a tragedy that they just couldn't seem to get over.  Family and friends tried to console them. And yet nothing that anyone said seemed to be of any help.  No one could really understand the pain and loss. There were no words that truly gave comfort or any kind of peace in such a tragic loss.  And that’s not because people didn’t try. The best condolences came across as hollow, well intentioned yet ill received. The worse were fake and condescending, sometimes downright insulting.  And then they meet another couple that was going through the same thing. They knew exactly how they felt. They don't have to explain it. They don't have to talk. There was just the knowing look between them of shared experience. 

How often have people felt as though no one really understands and so can’t offer any real sympathy over any number of tragic circumstances in life.  Everyone wants to be understood, to be truly heard and related to, to know they’re not alone.  It’s a sign of depression and whispers of the devil’s lies that you are all alone in your grief and sadness and that the there is no real healing.  If only we would have someone in our lives who would be able to sympathize with the deepest hurt, the strongest temptations, the most intimate feelings.

The good news is that we do. Just like one couple who has experienced the same sort of tragedy in life can comfort another, we have a God who doesn't just pay lip service in understanding the pains and struggles of living in a sinful world, but one who has personally experienced temptation, evil, injustice, heartache, incredible loss, and pain and suffering. The author to the Hebrews writes to us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

  One of the great implications of the incarnation of God in the flesh in the person of Jesus is that God Himself doesn't stand aloof to the pain in the suffering of this world.  He doesn't just watch it perched upon his throne up in heaven. He doesn’t stand at an antiseptic distance to avoid being infected with grief.  The prophet Isaiah proclaims about this one, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3a).  He takes the pain in temptation and suffering upon Himself so that we might have One who can stand in our midst, One who could speak for us, One who could explain and put into words the inexplicable in our hearts and our minds and our lives. 

Jesus actually knows, He understands, the struggles.  Our Gospel reading shows that Jesus was not just tempted by the devil in the wilderness over 40 days, but during the whole of His human life with its full range of active and passive temptations.  He knows when you are tempted to hold back.  He knows the temptation to take matters into your own hands.  He knows the sweet sound of the devil whispering in your ears. He knows just how deeply you are hurt, He understands the pain of disappointment, of anger, betrayal, jockeying for power. He’s experienced life lived in fallen creation. 

Yet here is the difference.  He was entirely “without sin” in this life.  He didn’t fall into those temptations; He wasn’t overtaken by them.  Since He is without sin, He suffers with sinner in order to take your sin upon Himself and take it away from you.  He didn’t just suffer with you because He wanted to sympathize with you in your weakness and identify with you in temptations, but because He wanted to offer sympathetic help without demeaning or belittling us.  He affirms your feelings and the gravity of your sin and still shares His sinless holiness.  No one can do that other than Jesus. 

Let’s go back to that couple with the stillborn child.  What do you say to that couple, especially if you haven’t ever experienced their kind of pain?  Everyone wants to have the right words. We want to help, but we’re at a loss to know what to say or how to say to it.  This couple that I talked about, I know them.  I held their child.  And even I didn’t know what to say. I’m a pastor, I’m supposed to have the right words. Being left speechless is an uncomfortable thing when you desire to help someone, but you just don’t know how because you know, your words simply don’t cut it.  This leaves you with only one option – the Words of Christ.

Consider Jesus in the midst of tragedy and death. His friend Lazarus had died. He didn’t try to explain it away. He didn’t talk to just fill the silence.  He didn’t say, “It’s all God’s will” or “It was their time” which translates to “God killed your loved one, get over it,” and turns God into a heartless, controlling dictator.  No, Jesus wept.  The sinless Son of God just wept.  He knows the pain of death and loss. And then He spoke. He called Lazarus from the tomb, speaking life over death. Because He could.  In fact, He is the only one who has the just the right words at just the right time which actually does something.

And this is the greatest news of all. Jesus not only understands what we're going through but he's the only one who can actually do something about it. Whose words actually bring peace and comfort to a broken heart. Whose words actually deliver strength and endurance and patience. Whose word can even overcome the assaults and the whispers of the devil, the onslaught of the sinful world, the unease of a burden conscience.  Whose words actually bring life, even in the midst of death. This is part of the point in our text from Hebrews.  Jesus is able to sympathize with you in a way that is neither condescending nor unhelpful because He understands. He too has been “tempted in every way like us”, in all respects, even by the worst abuse at the hands of hardened sinners.  He has suffered all that you suffer and can ever suffer and provides you with His comforting words so that you may share this with others.  This is how St. Paul can write in 2 Corinthians, “He comforts us in our afflictions so that we can comfort others with the same comfort by which He has comforted us."  Just as Christ suffered like and with you to comfort you, that sometimes the Lord allows suffering so that you can bring the comfort you’ve received to others.  So in those uncomfortable situations when you don’t know what to say, speak only those words with offer any kind of real hope, any kind of real peace, any kind of real comfort – the Word of God. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me shall live even though He dies and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). 

In Jesus, you have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, the very Son of God who speaks and acts on our behalf. Because of this you can approach His throne of grace not just to have a sympatric ear by means of our prayer, but with the sure and certain confidence that you may receive mercy and grace to help in time of need. Because you have access to God’s grace through Christ, you are invited to come near to God boldly and confidently with trust in Jesus as our High Priest, who is acquainted with suffering.  The whole purpose of the Divine Service is centered around this very fact. The altar up front and center in our church symbolizes that you have access to God’s throne of grace.  You may approach the King on His throne to receive gifts from Him.  You have an advocate who stands with you, who understands you, who leads you in receiving God’s mercy as His Word is read and taught, as He feeds you with His very body and blood, and as He invites you to approach Him with prayers on behalf of the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and all people according to their needs. 

 

Quinquagesima 2021 - 1 Corinthians 13

Quinquagesima 2021

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

February 14, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

All you need is love. Or so the song goes.  But what is love? That’s one of those questions that have been asked seemingly forever.  Songs, poems, books, movies, stories upon stories have asked, and attempted to answer, that very question.  And it is Valentine’s Day today, so it seems to fit.  So why is that love is sometimes such a hard thing to pin down?  We may know it when we see it, when we give it, when we receive it. Likewise, when it is missing.  But to put it into words, is harder to do.  To put it into action is even harder. 

The Corinthian church was struggling with this.   Frankly, they were a hot mess.  In 1 Cor 12, a chapter before our Epistle, Paul has spoken of the spiritual gifts given to God’s people, and then speaks of God’s people as the body of Christ – one body with many members.  None are greater or lesser and none has the right to say to another they are not needed.  God has appointed people different roles in the body of Christ and not all function in the same way.  He ends chapter 12 encouraging them to “earnestly desire the higher gifts.  And I will show you a still more excellent way.” Love is the more excellent way. But all their gifts, and their good meant nothing without love. And all the problems, the bickering and the infighting, the abuse and divisions, stem from a lack of love, both Christ’s love received by faith, and love shared toward one another.

            And so he writes this chapter on love, describes what it is.  But it’s still hard to picture sometimes what this looks like in real life.  So let me give you an example.  True story.  There is this guy I know who married this girl. He’s a good man. He pursued her and really wanted to get married to her, more than she did him.  He was excited, ready, and willing to give her everything he would ever have.  He leaves his father to hold fast to wife, just as marriage was intended to do. Some people were really happy about it, but there were some who thought it was a bad idea. Some told him, “She really isn’t good enough for you.” Some told her, “You’re marrying that guy?  Don’t you want to be single for a while first, to learn who are?”  Partly because of this she had some reservations about getting married to him. But she didn’t want to ruin things. She was happy overall, so she kept all bottled up inside.

At the beginning the marriage was great. The honeymoon phase where the other person just seems so perfect, the excitement about the newness and being in the relationship.  The joy of new love.  They shared everything with each other, and it was great. And they were good to each other. Their love was patient and kind. 

Yet, over time the marriage started to get a little strained.  The “feeling” of being in love started to change.  Conversations didn’t last as long.  She got busy doing other things and didn’t always pay him attention the way she should have.  Life happens and a division started to grow between them. 

Both of them started to notice the distance. You know what it’s like.  That feeling of uneasiness, that something is there causing the separation.  But you may not be able to put your finger on it.  And rather than talk about it, you just kind of push things aside hoping they’ll get better on their own.  He would just dote over her, doing all that he could to provide for her.  Sometimes she appreciated the attention, while other times she felt it to be stifling.  She had a hard time with it. But rather than trying to fix things, she felt the distance between them, and before she really realized what she was doing, she started looking elsewhere. 

It started innocently enough. She met some new people, spent more time away from home, her eyes started to wander, her thoughts would go to places and ideas. “What if…  If I didn’t have these responsibilities, I could do other things. He’s holding me back. If I was just treated the way that this other guy treats his wife, maybe I’d be happier, more fulfilled, something like that. If I wasn’t chained to this relationship.” 

Little by little, that separation grew. And she felt guilty. At least at first. But that started to fade too.  Until she was alone, that is.  Which led to her to not feeling good enough. And honestly, there was some truth in her thinking. Insecure about who she was, did she even deserve to be loved?  Then, when they would go out in public and she felt like a fake pretending like everything was OK when really on the inside she was just a mess. And then she felt she was being dishonest, covering up what was going on in the marriage. And she resented him for the love he gave her. 

And then she hit rock bottom. Caught red handed and no way to explain her way out of it.  Lying on the floor, sobbing her eyes out when her husband showed up. He picked her up. “Why do you even love me?” she said.  “I don’t deserve, I don’t want it. I don’t need it.”  She was a hot mess.  He said, “Love bears all things.”  It was a profound mystery why this guy would ever love her after all the things she has done. And I tell you, this mystery is about Christ and His bride, the Church. 

I told you this was a true story. You are her. As Jesus picks you up out of your sinfulness, He says, “My love bears you. I have chosen you to receive my love. You don’t need to earn it.  It doesn’t depend on you, it depends on Me. I’m the one who is giving it, and I can give it whom I chose.  And I chose you to receive My love.”  

Paul’s description of love here in 1 Corinthians is first and foremost about God, for God is love.  God’s love in Christ is patient and kind and endures despite your sinfulness and unfaithfulness.  Christ loves you despite your insecurities and tears down the dividing wall of hostility. He loves you so much that He would give His very life for you, He would take all your sin upon Himself to the cross, so that you would be presented to God Himself as the godly bride of Christ, forgiven, cleansed, holy, and righteous, the beloved of the Lord.   God’s love for you in Christ isn’t based on how good you are, nor how loving you are in return, but that you be the recipient of all that He has to give you. 

The Corinthian’s issue was one of love, and I know you can relate, because that’s your issue too. In the verse right after our text, St. Paul says, “Pursue love…”  Pursue love, who is Christ.  Where Christ promises to be for you, where Christ promises to deliver His love to you. The love of God is found in the beating heart of Jesus, received by you and perfected in you by the means of grace.  The love of God displayed on the cross delivered to you in His Word and Sacraments.  Love that endures long after faith has turned to sight and certainty of hope is fulfilled on the day of resurrection. There is no “Until death do us part” for death is defeated by Jesus crucifixion and cannot separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. This is the love you have the joy of sharing with one another.

Pursue the love of Christ – Christ’s love for you, Christ’s love for others.  St. John reminds us, “We love because Christ first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) In order to know love, we must know Christ’s love for us, and to know Christ is to love Him and those whom He loves. This other person who you struggle to love – your friend that has annoying habits, a child who made some life choices you don’t agree with, a spouse who has hurt you deeply by words or lack of action – is a person whom Jesus loves perfectly.  Love moves people to build one another up, to will and to act for the good of the other, for love resides in the will, not in the emotions.

So, what is love? Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (1 Cor 13:4-8). Because love is a person, God in the flesh, Jesus the Christ.

Sexagesima 2021

Sexagesima 2021

2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9

February 7, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Imagine for a moment that you have just woken up. It’s early and still dark outside.  Still half asleep, you go to grab something you have left on the porch. You take a step outside, the cold cement on your bare foot sends shivers up your spine. One more step, and then sharp pain makes the shivers disappear. You yelp, and who wouldn’t after they stepped right on a goat head.  You know the pain, don’t you. Consider the thorns.  And how even after you pull it out of the skin, the burning sensation continues as you walk around the rest of the day, a constant reminder.

Consider now a different thorn. In Genesis, shortly after the Fall into sin, God speaks to Adam about the consequence of his sin, “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…” 

Thorns in creation remind us of the fall itself, that all of creation suffers from the effects of sin.  So, yes, goat heads are a result of the Fall. In Romans 8:20, Paul highlights this very fact, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it [that is, Adam].” Because of Adam’s sin, creation came under God’s judgment, nothing in creation has been able to perfectly fulfill its God given purpose. In the first place, it does not bring forth the good things it would have produced if man had not fallen. In the second place, it produces many things that can be harmful.  So, as Paul points out, the earth itself feels its curse, even though it committed no sin, it endures the curse that sin imposed onto it. And yet, God works in and through His creation to bring about His good and perfect will. 

So consider yet another thorn.  St. Paul speaks of a thorn given him in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass him, to keep him from becoming conceited.  We don’t know exactly what this was – a chronic health problem, a physical ailment, a mental anguish.  But we do know, again, the purpose.   You see, Paul was addressing a pernicious problem pertaining to preachers – pride, boasting, conceit.  Being the apostle to the Gentiles, a man of perfect pedigree and eloquent speech, a Roman citizen and worldly honor, Paul was well acquainted with this temptation.  If anyone had a reason to boast, it was Paul.  He could even boast at how good he in the hardship he has endured.  It adds credibility.  Not only could he have boasted of his accomplishments, but also his perseverance.  He could have easily boasted in false humility. 

And so God uses this messenger of Satan, this thorn, to keep Paul humble.  God uses even the effects of a fallen world for the good of His people.  When affliction reduces Paul to total dependence upon God, then he is the more graceful instrument in Christ’s hand. But it’s more than that.  It is not that he doesn’t boast at all. In fact, he boasts all the more! Just now the object of his boasting has changed.  He boasts in his weakness, for is it in his weakness that Christ and God’s strength is made even more clear.

For this is the Word of the Lord to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."  It is said that the lower view one has of humanity, the higher view one has of Christ.  Only when we confess by faith that we are poor miserable sinners who deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment can we confess all the more that we are saved by God’s grace.  On the other hand, whenever we think that there is some merit or worthiness in our works, that God somehow owes us something then we diminish the Blood of Christ in our minds.  If we are only 99% sinners, then Christ did not need to die for that other 1%.  But if we are fully and completely sinful, and utterly hopeless to succeed in any spiritual endeavor, and helpless in all things unless Christ does the work for us, then we truly treat Christ as our Lord. 

So we boast in nothing but Christ.  We boast in Christ's righteousness that He gives as a free gift in Baptism.  We boast in His Word spoken that actually forgives.  We boast of His body and blood given and shed for our forgiveness. We do not boast in our sufferings as if they merited anything.  Rather, it is the sufferings of Christ that merit eternal life and salvation for us. When we openly and clearly confess that Christ alone has saved us, then it is no embarrassment for us to take glory in our weakness and our failures.  Troubles in life are not necessarily punishments from past sins, but God uses them for our benefit, that God’s power might be made more apparent in our weakness.  By confessing our weakness, we are confessing the power of Christ.  By faith, we boast with Paul that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.

And nowhere in history is this displayed more in the presence of another thorn, or rather, several thorns wrapped around in a circle, a makeshift crown, placed upon the head of Jesus. Here, a symbol of the fallenness of creation, of worldly weakness is God’s strength perfectly displayed. This is where He has assumed your weaknesses – the weakness of an aging body or mind, the weakness of failed accomplishments, the weakness of your character flaws, the weakness of your sin and unrighteousness. When you suffer the thorns of life, remember the thorns of Christ that He wore upon His brow.  When you are pierced by sorrow and pain, recall that Christ was pierced by nails and spear.  When you feel weakness, then you are reminded of the weakness that He took, the form of a servant by which Christ allowed Himself to be humiliated.  He had to be weak in order to overpower Satan for us.  He had to lose as He was arrested, beaten, tortured, and crucified.  By losing, He succeeded in winning us back from sin, death, and hell.  By suffering, He won eternal bliss in Paradise for you. By dying, He took upon Himself your weakness that you might have His strength. By His resurrection, His strength is displayed for all the world. So, the next time you step on a goat head, boast about Jesus, that His grace is sufficient.   

Septuagesima 2021 - Lutheran Schools Week

National Lutheran Schools Week 2021

Septuagesima 2021

Matthew 20:20-28

January 31, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

The elementary classroom teacher gives a thorough expla­nation of the significance and location of the subject and verb in the sentence. Immediately after the explanation, a student gives a blank look to the teacher. “Don’t you get it?”  The same thing happens at seminary level, as a professor teaches Greek or Hebrew, traces the complex development and explanation of some nuance of theology, with a blank look from the student. “Don’t you get it?”  The question also comes up in the home when the clear­ly defined family rules or expectations have again been violated. “Don’t you get it?” In addition, the question has been asked personally and painfully when a heartache or struggle is not understood by a spouse, friend or fellow parishioner. “Don’t you get it?” 

The question could well summarize the response that Jesus might have had at the interaction with His disci­ples and the mother of the sons of Zebedee in our Gospel lesson. Jesus has repeatedly taught His disciples about His mission. Matthew’s Gospel notes three specific conver­sations. Following the “who do people say that the Son of Man is?” question (Matt. 16:13) and Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16), we are told, “From that time Jesus began to show HHHis disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things… and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (v. 21). Shortly after Jesus’ Transfiguration, as we heard about last Sunday (Matt. 17), Jesus again shares a simi­lar message (Matt 17:22–23). Then again, in the days before the Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem, Jesus continues to teach His disciples. Jesus is very clear as to why they will be journeying to Jerusalem: “And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death” (Matt. 20:18). Jesus continues with details about the emotional and physical agony of His journey.

Hopefully, the disciples would begin to understand the purpose and gravity of what Jesus has come to do. However, rather than asking additional questions or offering support, the disciples are immediately distracted by an interaction with the mother of the sons of Zebedee. She asks, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at Your left, in Your kingdom” (v. 21). The disciples get caught up in the conversation, “and when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.” In their jealousy, they wanted similar positions in Jesus’ kingdom. They were more concerned about themselves than their Lord and Master. Didn’t they get it?

Before we become too judgmental of the mother and disci­ples, we must reflect and confess that often we, too, don’t get it. We don’t get the reality of our sin. We identify with the disciples as we seek our own prideful places in the king­dom. Surely, we are more worthy of recognition than others. Certainly, our service in church, school, home and other contexts deserves some reward. Jesus told the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1–16) who felt they deserved greater reward because of their longer and more faithful service in the kingdom. Rather than celebrating Jesus’ grace, we seek our own glory. Yet God’s Law would have us “get” that we are sinful in thought, word and deed, and deserve no place in His kingdom. 

The Good News is that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The Son of Man was willing to leave the right hand of His Father’s kingdom to take on human flesh. Jesus demonstrated greatness by associating with little children, healing lepers, responding to the pleas of fathers and mothers for their sick and dying children, sitting in the living rooms of thieving tax collectors and other sinners, and washing feet. Jesus journeys to the cross, fulfill­ing every detail of God’s plan of salvation. He was willing to be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and to be condemned to death and delivered to be mocked, flogged and crucified. Jesus served as the sac­rifice for the sins of the world. So that His service might be the sufficient and final payment received by all who believe, He was raised on the third day. 

The message of Christ’s death and resurrection is the message that Lutheran schools have shared with children and families for generations. Like the disciples, we get dis­tracted from Jesus’ message individually and collectively. Lutheran schools seek to offer an excellent education, a safe and thriving environment, a variety of activities, and other aspects of education in today’s complex and demanding world. However, Lutheran schools are unique and critical because of the message that Jesus came “to give his life as a ransom for many.” That’s the message that Lutheran school students are baptized into. That’s the message taught and lived every day in the classroom. The world may not “get” our message, for it is only understood and believed by faith, but our mission is to share the work of our servant Savior. Lutheran school students will not “get” every language arts, mathematics or science lesson taught. They may not even get every explanation in Luther’s Small Catechism. However, we pray that through the Spirit’s work and blessing, they be­lieve Jesus served them through His suffering, death and resurrection, and as a result, they seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be given unto them. 

We, who have received the bounty of God’s love through the Means of Grace, are sent to serve. The message of our sinful nature, the temptation of Satan and the encour­agement of the world is “serve me.” Again, we identify with Jesus’ disciples and say, “Put me next to You on Your throne.” Parents desire, “Serve my child first.” Everyone seems to suggest, “What about my rights?” Certainly, fair­ness and justness are godly and necessary, but we are not to live in the ways according to the world.  But Jesus says, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26).

Today, we praise God for the many servants who are part of our Lutheran school ministry. We praise God for the opportunity to serve our community in this way. We are blessed with great teach­ers, great staff, great volunteers, great pray-ers, and the great support of many. The greatness is measured in a faithful response to God’s grace. We are sent to serve our community in Jesus’ name, sent to serve children and families, sent to be servants of our God who serves.

 

This sermon was modified by one provided by the LCMS for Lutheran School’s Week 2021.

Transfiguration 2021

Transfiguration 2021

Exodus 34:29-35

January 24, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Moses had been on Mount Sinai for a while now, his second time on top of the mount speaking with God.  After the first time, he had come down with the Ten Commandments only to find God’s people worshipping a golden calf.  In his anger, he had thrown down the two tablets of the Law, breaking them into pieces.  So he had to go up again and get a new pair so that he could speak God’s Word to God’s people. 

So Moses made two new tablets, as God had commanded, and went back up the mount.  As he did so, God descended in a cloud and stood with Moses there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord (Exodus 24:5). As God passed before him, He spoke, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression of sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

When Moses heard these words, he bowed down and worshipped the Lord and asked that God would go in the midst of His people, for they are a stiff necked people, and pardon their sin, and reestablish His covenant with them.  Moses probably felt some frustration with the people over their idolatry, and maybe some shame over his anger, and he never liked speaking to large crowds. For another 40 days and 40 nights, Moses stayed on Sinai, and now it was time for him to come down again.

Moses’ descends from Sinai a second time with the two tablets of the testimony. It is a contrast to the first time, when he found the people of God in chaos and rejection and idolatry.   Now, he comes down to awe and fear.  What makes the difference is the reestablishment of Moses and God’s own messenger, and what symbolized that was Moses’ shining face.  As a result of his close communion with God, the skin of his face shown, reflecting the glory of God.  The transformation of his appearance was striking and suggested to them the fearful circumstances of God’s revelation on Sinai, which was of course, exactly what it was supposed to do.  The people of God were supposed to listen to Moses, as he commanded them all that the Lord has spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 

The OT people of God had a hard time listening.  They continuously listened to false ideas which led to false worship. They copied the sins of those from whom they were enslaved and were being freed. They had to constantly be called back to faithfulness, to open their ears and hearts to God’s Word.

Things haven’t changed all that much, have they? We too have a hard time listening to God.  With so much information at our disposal and at our fingertips on phones and computers and internet. How do we know what to believe? Who are we supposed to listen to? So many who call themselves Christians have listened to false prophets and the pagan world rather than God.  Many others have given up, turned it all off.  But it’s not like they have stopped listening, but rather changed who they are listening to.  Instead of the sources out there, it is a turn inward to listen to one’s own thoughts and feeling, to their sinful hearts.   God knows this.  That’s why He has sent prophets and preachers to one thing, to declare: This is the Word of the Lord. 

Whenever Moses came into God’s presence, he removed the veil and God spoke with him. Having absorbed the brightness of God’s presence, Moses’ glowing face as he departed from God to communicated God’s Word to Israel, left no doubt about the authority of the words he spoke. When the entire message had been delivered, Moses would always put the veil once again over his face. The hiding of the glow was the symbol that Moses’ further words were his own, and not be confused with what God had said.  

As incredible as Moses is, God promised a prophet even greater than Moses with his transfigured face.  In Deuteronomy 18 God says, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you, [Moses] from among their brothers. And I will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.  And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it from Him” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). As Moses’ face reflected the glory of God, there would be One who would shine even greater, not as a reflection, but as glory personified.

A prophet greater than Moses has arisen, confirmed by Moses himself and the Elijah upon another mount.  Once again God Himself spoke with Moses, but now there is the confirmation of the heavenly Father, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”   As Jesus is transfigured before three of His disciples, speaking with Moses and Elijah, we get glimpse of the unveiling of God Himself, for we see God when Christ Jesus covered Himself in our flesh and dwells among us.  Because of Christ, we see the Lord and hear His Word.  This is why the author of Hebrews begins his letter, “In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by His prophets. But now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2a).  

As Moses unveiled himself to speak God’s Word, so Jesus unveils Himself in the revelation that He is God (in answer to Moses’ prayer) who has come down to dwell among His people, to pardon their sin, to reestablish His covenant, to speak the Word of God as the Word in the flesh.  In Christ, we can look upon the very face of God and live.  The unmasked face of God is Jesus.  Jesus is the face of God turned upon His creation in grace and mercy to proclaim the saving Word to those who have ears to hear. 

St. Paul would write in 2 Corinthians 3, “Since we have such a hope [in glory], we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gave at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened.  For to this day, when the read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yet, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts.  But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.  … And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed/transfigured into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:12-16, 18).

The intention of the Transfiguration is to demonstrate what Peter confessed in the previous chapter of Matthew: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  The three disciples here were to bear witness to what they had seen and heard. The revealed Christ, the Son of the living God, who is to be known, believed, and confessed, listened to.  The glory of the old covenant is fleeting compared to the Jesus, the fulfillment of all God’s promises. 

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