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Palm Sunday 2021 - John 12:12-19

Palm Sunday 2021

John 12:12-19

Return to Joy

March 28, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Throughout our Lenten season this year, and into this coming week, we have considered a common theme in our midweek services, “Return to the Lord.”  After missing the opportunity to gather in public worship most of Lent last year, and after even missing our typical Holy Week and Easter traditions, this call to return to the Lord is an important one and a meaningful one.

We are reminded of that as we enter into Holy Week on this Palm Sunday, that the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Today is a day of joy as we sing “hosanna” along with people all over the world in celebration of Jesus riding into Jerusalem, of the Lord who returns to us. The Gospel of John tells us that the crowd which had gathered to see Him, had heard how Jesus had brought Lazarus back from the dead.  People were following Jesus around and you can bet they were wondering what sort of sign and miracle He might do next.  Many people had believed in Him because He could even raise the dead. There was a lot of anticipation about who Jesus was and who He would be.

It didn’t matter what group a person was a part of. It didn’t matter if they were rejoicing for the right reasons or the selfish and self-serving wrong reasons.  Nobody in the crowds saw the cross coming at the end of that week.  Nobody recognized that parade as the long-prophesied and purposeful procession to Calvary.  Everyone celebrated Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem without a clear view of His purpose: to die for the sins of the world and be raised up again on the third day. 

Whether they were crying out “hosanna” for the right reasons or not, everyone along that route still wound up devastated and shell-shocked six days later.  Everyone looked on the arrest, the abuse, the mockery, the shame, the crucifixion as total failure and defeat.  Nobody saw God’s Word and promise being fulfilled amidst all the darkness and blood and mockery.  Nobody saw the serpent’s head being crushed in eternal defeat.  Nobody saw victory, even though the Victor Himself declared victoriously, “It is finished” before bowing His head and commending His spirit into His Father’s hands.  

Even the very faithful ones who were crying out their loud hosannas for all the right reasons, were still just as terrified and devastated six days later when life took a terrible and unexpected turn towards Golgotha.  Think of the faithful women, who were undoubtedly part of that Palm Sunday procession, who would hurry out to the tomb one week later, with the goal of anointing Jesus’ corpse.  Instead they are met with the question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is risen, just like He told you He would.” They didn’t get it.  

Even the disciples didn’t get it at the time. Our text says that they “did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him” (John 12:16).  Even after the women come to tell them the Good News about Christ’s resurrection, they don’t believe it.  St. Mark tells us in his Gospel account that Jesus appeared to them the evening of the resurrection, and He rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw Him after He had risen (Mark 16:14). 

And truth be told, we’re no different either. You’ve heard the promises of God. You’ve followed Jesus around and listened to His teaching.  And still, you have some doubts, some concerns, even some fickleness.  Now, I’m not inviting you to identify with the Palm Sunday crowds not the crowd that would later demand to crucify Jesus nor even the disciples locked away in the upper room.  But to return to the Lord in repentance and in faith.  

Holy Week keeps you honest.  You don’t have to pretend that everything is great, that it is all parades and excitement.  God doesn’t promise that you’ll have it easy, nor that you’ll be healthy, wealthy, and wise. There’s no good to come by pretending that just because we’re able to come back to church after missing last year that everything is all good and fine.  All creation still suffers the effects of sin.  The cross comes before glory, suffering before the resurrection.  But God does promise to strengthen the weak, comfort the mourning, heal the brokenhearted, to be present in every time of need.

“We know that God is at his best when life is at its worst. Our hope is not built upon our job security, our health and welfare, our physical comfort, or our income. All is not right with the world just because God is in his heaven. No, all is right with the world because God was on the cross—because God himself died on that cross on Calvary, paying the penalty for all of our sin and rebellion” (Hal Senkbeil, Triumph at the Cross)”

Palm Sunday is a high point, but also a turning point as Jesus’ opponents go after Him.  Suffering comes before glory and death before the resurrection.  While today is a day full of joy, and looking to the joy of Easter in one week, it also includes the seriousness of what happens in between. Serious, yes. Reverent and somber, yes.  Joyful, yes, though not the fleeting feeling of happiness to which it is often confused, but the overwhelming sorrow over sin and confidence that God’s great love for you is displayed in the cross of Christ.

While we begin a transition today into Holy Week, the seriousness over the events of Jesus’ passion should not rob you of the joy. The hymns we sing are full of joy and praise to Christ, cries of hosanna, “Save us now” matching the shouts of Hosanna God’s ancient people.  This was a plea to God for deliverance.  But in the mouths of those witnessing the very salvation fulfilled in Jesus, hosanna is transformed into praise. You know what it truly means for Jesus to save.  The prayer for deliverance has been answered, the promised Son of David has come to save. The praise doesn’t fade, for He would in humility rode in is not only the crucified Christ but also the risen Redeemer.  Our joy, our songs of praise will never cease.  You are to make a confession of faith that Jesus rode on in full knowledge that by His death He triumphs over sin and death. You are to make the bold confession that three days later He rose.  You are to make the confession that He lives and reigns still today and look forward to His glorious return, the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting. 

Rejoice over Jesus for the right reasons this Palm Sunday. Return to the Lord in worship this Holy Week.  Return to make confession of your sin and to behold Christ crucified for your forgiveness.  Return to see the empty tomb. 

Lent 5 2021 - Genesis 22:1-14

Lent 5 Judica 2021

Genesis 22:1-14

March 21, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

This morning we heard in the Old Testament reading the familiar story of Abraham being called by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Now, Isaac was the very son that had been promised to him for years.  If you remember, God had promised that Abraham was going to be the father of many nations, that his descendants were going to outnumber the stars in the sky.  Even more, one of Abraham’s descendants would be the Messiah Himself. Abraham was 100 years old when God finally made that promise flesh and brought Isaac into this world.  It was from this son—this promise in the flesh—that the Messiah would come into the world.  Abraham believed this.  And yet… God is now commanding something crazy and horrifying.  He’s commanding Abraham to put this same son to death!

It’s hard to swallow sometimes.  How could God ask something like this of Abraham? If it was all just a test, doesn’t it seem kind of cruel?  Sometimes this very passage is used by critics of Christianity to try to turn God into some kind of monster who would demand child sacrifices to prove faithfulness. Or maybe it would even point to divine child abuse.  But this misses the entire point of what is actually going on here.  Part of the point is to show us something about the nature of God’s promises.  In fact, over the next two weeks we enter into the final stages of Lent, this time called Passiontide, which is all about the depth of God’s love, the lengths that He would go to see you spend eternity with Him. This account of Abraham and Isaac tells us much about the promises of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Abraham heard the word of God, he believed/he trusted the word of God, and he obeyed.  But what exactly did he believe/trust in? The writer to the Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 11:17-19 that he believed in the resurrection, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”  We even hear Abraham proclaim this resurrection faith when he tells his servants to “wait here, and we [the boy and I] will go and worship and then WE will return.” Abraham wasn’t lying in order to not raise suspicions.  He was telling the truth.  That he and Isaac would return together.  And it’s not that Abraham had some blind generic faith that believed that God would do something on that mountaintop, but he didn’t know what that “something” would be.  Rather, it was a very specific, focused faith on God’s promise that his offspring that would outnumber the sands of the seashore and the stars in the sky would come from Isaac.  God said it many times over the course of 25 years, and Abraham trusted God.  If God told him to kill his son, Abraham fully believed that God would raise him from the dead, because Isaac still had children to bear.  God’s promise could not and would not die with Isaac on that mountaintop.  

As Abraham was poised over his son, knife in hand, the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and stayed his hand. Now, when you see the phrase “angel of the Lord” this a reference to the pre-incarnate, eternal Christ.  This is what Jesus was talking about to the Jews in the Gospel account when He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus is claiming to be God Himself, the Great I AM, the One who made the promises to Abraham in the first place concerning Himself. 

And so as Jesus calls out to Abraham and commends His faith, Abraham’s lifts up his eyes and looks and sees the ram caught in the thicket by his horns is a foreshadowing of Christ with His crown of thorns.  He is showing Abraham what God Himself will do through His only Son, the One through whom the promised is fulfilled.  This ram is sacrificed in the place of Isaac just as Jesus is sacrificed in the place of all the sons of Abraham. 

Remember where they are.  The land of Moriah where God leads Abraham to take his son is where Jerusalem and later the temple would be built. It is on this mountain that Israel would offer the sacrifice of atonement for sins every year in the temple’s holy of holies.  It’s upon this mountain that the Lord would provide the sacrifice for all sins, once and for all.

So you see, this whole account foreshadows Christ.  Abraham believed that God’s promises would not die upon that mountaintop in the sacrifice of Isaac, nor the sacrifice of Jesus.  For our God is the God of the living, not of the dead. It is by His death of the only begotten Son of God, the Son in whom all things are promised and find their fulfillment that death is defeated. Jesus makes clear that He is the One whom Abraham waited for, the fulfillment of God’s promise to him that “in your offspring shall all the nation of the earth be blessed…” (Genesis 22:18).   Abraham longed for and rejoiced to see the day of the Lord fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah.  He saw it and rejoiced.  He named the place “The Lord will provide” not “The Lord has provided.”  He names this place in this way not just because God did provide, but also because He will provide.  Abraham saw more than the reprieve of Isaac. By faith he saw the promise of Jesus. And he rejoiced.  So should we.  God doesn’t hold back.  We should rejoice in the death of Jesus because it is by His death that Abraham and Isaac live.  It is by His death that we live.

On the mount of the Lord it will be provided.  What is this mountain called?  Zion.  There’s a reason why our congregation is named this, because this is where God meets His people, where God provides for His people.  God does not withhold His Son from you.  He does hold back from providing for you.  Believe like Abraham.  May Zion Lutheran Church always been the mount where the Lord provides forgiveness, peace, comfort, security, strength. 

 

Lent 4 2021 - Acts 2:41-47

Lent 4 Laetere 2021

Acts 2:41-47

March 14, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.”  So writes St. Luke in our text from Acts 2.  This account comes right after Peter’s Pentecost sermon and the faithful response to hearing the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  These four aspects of the Christian life – devotion to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of the bread, and prayers – were part of the daily life of those early Christians, a description of their life together in Christ. 

This should make us stop and think about what we are doing here.  Why are we here week after week? Our common life under the Word of God starts with common worship at the beginning of the day.  Our days and weeks revolve around Sunday, where we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of the bread, and prayer.  But it doesn’t just exist here, or at least is shouldn’t. What really does our life together in Christ mean?

The world finds it hard to articulate just how or why the church has any role to play other than providing a place to fellowship with other individuals who have a private relationship with God. The whole last year has confused the world even more.  Without faith, it doesn’t make sense to physical gather around where Christ promises to be when there is technology that can be used to connect virtually.  Without faith, the common life shared by Christians extends as far as convenience and opportunity, but not as an essential necessity of life.

Many, even within Christianity, think of the church either as a place where individuals come to find answers to their questions or as one more stop where individuals can try to satisfy their consumerist desires. Too often we treat the Church like a club that we can belong to, a group of like-minded people.  And then when it gets boring, or tiring, or we hear something that offends our sensibilities – or dare I say, a fear of illness – we look for the greener grass on the other side of the fence.  As the prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 53, “We like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, every one, to his own way, but the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” 

But being a disciple of Christ, being part of the Church of God in Christ Jesus is not like being part of a club.  It’s being part of the flock of sheep under the care and guidance and protection of the Good Shepherd.  As part of that flock, as part of that family, we then share in all that have, the good and the bad and the ugly, because that is what families do. Christian fellowship is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we participate.  It is a gift of God that we cannot claim, but only receive.  This is because our fellowship, our life together, stems first and foremost, last and finally in Christ. When we receive the Gospel of Christ, we have the abundant life and common unity of the entire flock under one Good Shepherd, in “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship” and in “the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42), all of which takes place under the Cross of the crucified Christ and in the life of the resurrection.

Our life together under the cross will remain sound and healthy only where it does not think of itself or make itself into a movement, a society, a club, but only where we understand ourselves as being part of the one, holy Christian and apostolic church, where we share actively and passively in the sufferings and struggles and promises of that church.  A true understanding of the Church of God shapes our identity, our purpose, our efforts, our life. The word “church” in Greek literally means an assembly. The church is the assembly of God’s saints, sinners redeemed by Christ, in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered.  So, why do we Christians assemble? To get from Christ what He wants us to have. The goal of Christianity community, of fellowship, of life together is to be in the presence of Christ Himself, and to meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation, coming only through Jesus Christ, for in Christ God Himself has taken on our flesh to have fellowship with His creation. 

Luther once wrote a wonderful little tract on this topic where he said, “This fellowship consists in this, that all the spiritual possession of Christ and his saints [i.e., believers] are shared with and become the common property of him who receives this sacrament [of the altar]. Again all sufferings and sins also become common property; and thus love engenders love in return and [mutual love] unites” (LW 35:51).

What do we share? What finally brings us together and holds us together? Jesus. The result is that we are unified in the one body of Christ through faith, grow together in the grace of God, that we share in the commonalty of the will of Christ, that we praise God with one heart and one voice, turning to Christ for forgiveness and life which He bestows through Word and Sacrament, being in fellowship with one another, and a beacon of light to the world. 

Do you remember what the result was of the first Christians in worship and life together?  The rest of the world noticed them! The fact of the matter is your Christian life ought to be noticeable, others ought to see Christ in you.  People ought to look at us Christians and wonder what we are doing and why. At times, this will bring ridicule and criticism, just like it did to Jesus, just like it has to the Church of God throughout the ages. But the Holy Spirit also is at work gathering people into this Church through the faithful reception of the Word, by means of baptism, adding to our number day by day those who are being saved.

Christ, through His Apostles, set the pattern for us.  This is how He takes care of His Church.  By His Spirit, we cling tightly to the teaching of His Word.  We keep the fellowship by steadfast faithfulness to His teaching, and to one another.  He feeds us in His most holy meal at this Altar.  He comes among us in this Divine Service, He hears our prayers as we cry out to Him.  By the grace of God, let us continue in these things, because in them is Christ and our salvation. 

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.

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