Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Philippians 2:5-11; Sunday of the Passion; April 13, 2014;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

How could you do it Jesus? How could you stoop so low? It starts out so well with your entry into Jerusalem. You riding on the donkey, the people waving their tree branches in the air and laying their cloths on the ground to keep the donkey's feet clean. Shouts of "hosanna" which is to say, "the King is here!" It's hard to imagine how a few short days later you stoop to hanging on the cross, rejected, despised, beaten, and bloody. How could you do it Jesus?

But then, that very question could be asked of other people, also. How could you disciples of Jesus and religious leaders of the day stoop so low? Judas was a thief. He pretended that he was concerned about poor people, but he was helping himself to the disciples treasury. And for a fistful of dollars betrayed Jesus and brought his enemies to him. Jesus lowers himself to be counted among the trespassers.

Peter too, adds to Jesus' humiliation. His denial is born out of pride in contending that he would never forsake Jesus. But when push comes to shove, standing in the presence of those accusing him of being Jesus friend, he flat-out denies it. Jesus himself hangs abandoned on the cross for the sake of sinners who deny him.

The religious leaders, who should've been on Jesus side, instead were his enemies. They use false witnesses to condemn innocent Jesus as a liar and blasphemer. Jesus accepts their condemnation in silence. Innocent Jesus takes the accusation of being a sinner.

Ah, but we don't have to stop there, maybe as we wrap up Lent and prepare for holy week it's a good question for us to ask ourselves. How could you stoop so low? I'm speaking to you sitting here today. How could you stoop so low as to cause Jesus humiliation? It's easy for us to look at other people, those in the Bible who betray, deny, and hate Jesus, and those around us who we think are low down and no good. It's easy to condemn them and say they had their part. It's easy to blame our neighbors who hurt us, in our family we can't get along with, for their sin. But Lent is a time when we look at ourselves in our true light. We look at ourselves to see our own sin. It's the beginning of repentance and faith.

Jesus says, "Why do you see the spec that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3) We constantly do the opposite of what Jesus says. Others are to blame. Others hurt us. And we fail to see that we are the other who hurts our neighbor. We are the other who is to blame. And we justify our selfishness by holding our needs over the needs of our neighbors. And we cling to our things. We make what we have more important than the people God has put into our lives. Our pride and selfishness are the cause of Jesus being made low. He lowers himself, and suffers the just punishment for our selfishness. Jesus puts himself on the cross, counting you and I more important than himself.

How could you, Jesus, stoop so low? How could you allow your humiliation? Because you are the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The one who was slain from the foundation of the world, for the sake of sinful human beings. Because in the beginning God created the world through you, the word. So you are the Creator and Redeemer of the world.

How could you, Jesus, stoop so low? Because God is love. You are God. Love of your creation and your created human beings drives you to the cross. Love is that which would set us free from our slavery to sin. Love does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

How could you, Jesus, stoop so low? Because only you can save us. Only you, God who became man. Your death on the cross is enough to forgive our sins because you are God. Your death is our death because you are a man. You who knew no sin became my sin for us. You took my sin into death on the cross. You suffered our, oh so well deserved, punishment. You were forsaken by your friends, by us, and even by God himself. That is the punishment that our sin deserves, to be ignored and rejected by God. And yet you stoop so low as to do it for us. And you do it because we would not, and cannot. And if it were not for you we would be lost forever. You are the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of us. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Ezekiel 37:1-14; The Fifth Sunday in Lent; April 6, 2014;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”” (Ezekiel 37:1–14, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Resurrection is coming! And I'm not just talking about our celebration of Easter in two weeks. I'm talking about THE Resurrection. The Resurrection the Jesus talked about in the gospel of John:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:25–29, ESV)

And the Resurrection that was Job's hope:

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25–27, ESV)

And Ezekiel, standing in the valley of the dry bones, saw this vision of The Resurrection. He was led there by the Hand of the Lord and in the Spirit of the Lord. God himself, Yahweh, brought him out to the valley to show him how he would restore hope to dead and dying people.

First of all, for Ezekiel, and the people of Israel, his vision was about their hope in God restoring them to the land he had promised. They were in exile. Their sin had caused God to send the Assyrians and the Babylonians to remove them from the land. They had done exactly what God told them not to do. They worshiped the gods of the Canaanites. And now in exile, God seemingly so far away, they had lost hope. And so God gave Ezekiel this vision to restore their hope. If God can restore life to the dis-articulated bones of slain soldiers left to rot in a valley, they could indeed trust that he would restore them to the land that he promised them.

They would be restored to the promised land. The Messiah would come. He would save his people from their hopelessness. There would be a resurrection of the dead. God's people would live again with God forever. This has always been the hope of God's people.

A physical, fleshly, real bodily resurrection, is the hope. You and I, and all of our loved ones who have gone before us, will be resurrected as in the vision of Ezekiel. The hope and focus of God's people, the holy Christian church, the Communion of Saints, is in God's promise of the resurrection of the body. We speak it in the creeds. "I believe in… the resurrection of the body." It is a return to what God created human beings to be. Flesh and blood, living breathing, walking talking, touching holding, eating sleeping, bodily human beings. And restoration of creation for created human beings.

In the meantime, we live in an exile. As we live every day in the valley of the shadow of death, death knocking at our door, threatening everything that we are and have, it's easy to lose hope. Hospitals care for the sick, and yet the sick still die. Automobile accidents loom around every moment behind the wheel. Our bodies age and we are unable to do all that we used to do. We struggle with the loss of independence. That loss is a sign of coming death. And all the technology in the world cannot prevent the disappearance of even a single airplane full of people. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). And the wages count heavily against us. My death, your death is a matter only of time.

But the resurrection is coming! That is our goal. That is our hope. The resurrection brings hope to hopeless people. People facing death. But it is not just life after death. It is the resurrection after death. And first there must be death. You cannot be raised from the dead, until you are dead. Just when death will seem to have its victory over you, your joy, your hope, is in the promise of the resurrection.

Next week, as we will hear on Palm/Passion Sunday, Jesus will ride the donkey into Jerusalem hailed as the King. He will ride in, clear the Temple, eat the Passover, pray in the garden, be arrested, betrayed, beaten, mocked, denied, and nailed to the cross. Crucified, dead and buried, Jesus will lie in the stone cold tomb. And then, on Easter, the breath enters him, and he breaths again. God raises him from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Jesus' death is the wages of your sin paid in full. God's death on the cross for you. His resurrection is the promise of your resurrection. No matter how death comes to you, on the day of resurrection, your dead body will hear the voice of God and you will rise to life again, sinews, flesh and skin.

This is the promise of hope restored. The resurrection of the flesh, the body. An end for pain and suffering, forever. An end for sin, forever. An end for death, forever. The beginning for new life, forever.

Ezekiel proclaimed the good news that God's people would return to the Promised Land. They would know the God who delivered them from Egypt was still their God. And what was true for them is true for you and me. It is even a fuller and richer promise for us.

And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” The word of the Lord came to me:” (Ezekiel 37:13–15, ESV)

And so, it is in the promise of THE resurrection, we face death. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, March 24, 2014

John 4:5-26; The Third Sunday in Lent; March 23, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

So [Jesus] came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”” (John 4:5–26, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This sinful woman, has an encounter with God. She has questions. He answers them. She has no illusions about who she is, a sinful, mortal person looking for the hope of eternal life through the coming Messiah. It starts by Jesus asking for a drink of water. Already, she knows something is different. No Jewish Rabbi would speak to a woman in public, let alone ask her to do such a task for him as fetch him water. Jesus initiates the conversation. It is a conversation about who he is. "If you knew who was speaking to you…"

She doesn't understand. She sees a tired Jewish Rabbi sitting by a well. She is there doing a daily, menial, never-ending task. She goes to the well as thousands before her had done, to fill up pots of water and take them home. She goes in the morning early (or it could be during the midday sun) to do a task that she must do every day.

Jesus turns the conversation into a spiritual one. "I have 'living water' to give you. If you drink of my water you will never be thirsty."

After her walk, carrying water jugs, she must've been thirsty, but Jesus was talking of spiritual thirst, her sin. "How is it that you have water? I don't see anything for you to get water out of this deep well."

Jesus answers, "The water I have is not from this well. If you drink my water you will never be thirsty again, and you will live forever."

"That's what I want!" She says. "Then I wouldn't have to keep coming to this well every day."

Jesus is about to drive the point home. He is opened her heart to listen to what he has to say. He's about to show her exactly who he is. "Go get your husband and bring him." Jesus knows exactly who she is, and exactly what her situation is.

"I have no husband."

"Yes, that's true. You don't have 'A' husband. You have had five. Now you're living with someone who is not your husband." The woman's life, her heart, her sin, is all an open book to Jesus. He opens the wound of her sin. The true nature of her thirst is all laid out before him.

Now she sees more in Jesus and she saw before. He has shown that he knows a part of her she already knew. "Sir, I see that you are prophet."

Jesus is drawing her in. He's revealed to her, her thirst. She has a need for forgiveness and he is about to show her exactly where she can find it.

She continues, "I am a Samaritan." She believes she is on the outside. She brings up one of the primary differences between Jews and Samaritans. They are standing in the shadow of Mount Gerizim, the holy place of the Samaritans. They believed that true worship happened only there. The Jews had their temple on mount Zion. Jesus makes them both irrelevant.

"It's not the mountain, it's me! Salvation is from the Jews." A little bit later Jesus will say it this way, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV)

Jesus has laid it on the table. The woman is about to reveal her faith. "I know that Messiah is coming."

Now, there are two issues with the readings for this morning. The first is the gospel lesson that ends right here. We miss her reaction to coming to understand who Jesus really is. She can't wait to tell people that she has found the Messiah. She runs through the town.

The second is that I have an issue with the translation. According to the ESV text Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”” (John 4:26, ESV) and while it is technically correct, it misses a major point. A much better translation would be, "I am is the one speaking to you." The whole discussion that Jesus has with the woman is about exactly who he is. He shows her, her sin and points her toward the salvation she expects in the Messiah. The statement of Jesus here is one of the "I am" statements of Jesus. "I am the bread of life… The water of life… The gate…" The Greek is ἐγώ εἰμί. It's an emphatic "I". It's the language from the burning bush. Moses is a about to go free the people from slavery in Egypt. He asks of God, "Who shall I say has sent me?"

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ”” (Exodus 3:14, ESV) It was at that point that God gave his people that name, "I am" to his people.

Jesus is being very explicit. He is saying, "I am God in the flesh, the Messiah you expect, the one who has come to bring you forgiveness. I am here, the way, the truth, and the life. If you see me as the Messiah, if you bring your sin to me for forgiveness, you know the truth."

The woman's reaction was to leave her water jug there at the well. She had received the water of life promised by Jesus. The water from the well is not nearly as important as it was moments ago. She runs to the town asking the real question about Jesus. It is the question that must always be answered if we are to understand what Scripture has to say. The question is "Is Jesus Christ the Messiah."

Don't be fooled. There's so much noise about today. So many people declaring who Jesus is. So much in popular culture that denies "the truth." Movies that try to tell you that heaven is real, and popularize God story of salvation through the flood and make the story of the Bible about the purpose of your life. When the truth is so much simpler than that. Here in this simple account we see everything we need to know about Jesus. In fact he tells us what we need to know. He is God and man together in the flesh. We see his human nature tired sitting at the well and thirsty. He declares that he is God by using God's very name. He tells us he has come to bring forgiveness, that is living water for thirsty people. Your are sin and my sin is no less than woman at the well. It's not sex that's her problem. It is her sinful nature.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12–13, ESV)

Our sin condemns us. There should be no living water for us to drink. That is exactly why Jesus is who he is. It is exactly why he goes from Jacob's well to the cross. The sin that is laid bare by the piercing of the Word, the thoughts and desires and intentions of our hearts, is carried by Jesus. One who knew no sin became sin for us. The living water that he has to give is that which comes from his pierced side flowing with blood and water. It is forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness from the Messiah. Forgiveness given to the woman at the well. Forgiveness for you and for me.

The Bible, the Word of God, is an encounter with God, in Jesus Christ. It is about that, more than anything else. We have questions, God answers them. Don't have any illusions about who you are. You are a sinful mortal person looking for the Messiah to give you eternal life. In the Word, Jesus offers you that very thing. He offers himself, his sacrifice, his forgiveness, his living water, to you. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Romans 6.23; Weekday Lenten Service Four; April 6, 2011;

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ” (Romans 6:23, ESV)
Death. The utter horror of it is beyond question. It amazes me at every funeral, someone says, “She looks so peaceful, so natural.” “No,” I think to myself (because it would be inappropriate to say what I’m thinking at that time) “it’s not natural.” Natural would be sitting up, laughing, breathing, talking, and eating. Dead is the most unnatural, unpeaceful, horrible thing for a person to be. It is the exact opposite of natural. There is no joy in death. Where there is death there is separation, loss, pain, and sorrow. We Christians should understand this better than any. We know what death is all about. It is the wages of sin. Your sin leads to your death. My sin leads to my death. Every funeral is a reminder that one day we will be the guest of honor. And it is no honor in it.
There’s a little dialogue in the movie Unforgiven:
The Schofield Kid: [after killing a man for the first time] It don't seem real... how he ain't gonna never breathe again, ever... how he's dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger.
Will Munny: It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.
The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.
Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.
That’s the horror of it, isn’t it? We all got it coming. It is no wonder that we’ve done our best to lighten the load. “The circle of life”, “death is as natural as sleeping”, “God just wanted that child to be with him”, “this funeral isn’t about a death, it’s a celebration of life”. I’m sorry, a funeral is a funeral. The main point of which is not to hide death in human sentimentality. We have a funeral to recognize the great cost of sin. The open coffin is the best advertisement there is. It is God’s law played out in a visual object lesson. You are a sinner and there is no stopping your death. The utter horror of it all is beyond question.
It’s clearly spelled out by God
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— ” (Romans 5:12, ESV)
Not to belabor the point, but if we really want to understand the horror of death we need to understand what it is, and what it is not. A human being is a body and soul. Physical and spiritual. A created physical body with a spiritual life, or soul that is created to have a relationship with God and other people. A body without a spirit is not a complete person, and neither is a disembodied spirit. Death does this very thing. It separates what God has joined together. Life is ripped out of the body. The body decays. The spirit is displaced from its body. But that is only the half. Following this ripping physical death is spiritual death. That is eternal separation from God; an eternity of God’s just anger; an eternity of aloneness; an eternity of no relationships to any but oneself; an eternity of the wages of sin. All of it as Eastwood says, “takes away” what is best about being a living human being; our relationships, our families, our possessions… everything.
It could, and should take joy away from everything. And yet, here we stand singing this hymn
Death, you cannot end my gladness:
I am baptized into Christ!
When I die, I leave all sadness
To inherit paradise!
Though I lie in dust and ashes
Faith’s assurance brightly flashes:
Baptism has the strength divine
To make life immortal mine. (Lutheran Service Book 594:4)
What is it could that could possibly end the horror of death? Saint Paul addresses death in his letter to the Christians at Corinth.
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ” (1 Corinthians 15:55–57, ESV)
The “sting” of death is sin and here Saint Paul tells us Jesus gives us his victory over sin and death. When I die I leave all sadness. Let’s be clear. This world is full of trouble and death but it is also full of joy and life. Because of Holy Baptism, the hymn says, what we leave when we die is sin. American Author Elbert Hubbard (died on the RMS Lusitania, 1915) defines ‘die’ as a verb: To stop sinning suddenly[i]. Baptism is our comfort because there can be no comfort in death without Jesus Christ. When I die I leave all sadness To inherit paradise! The horror of sin and death is separation that is what would kill gladness. Jesus Christ your savior has ended the horror of death, the sting of death, in his death. The utter horror of the cross is unquestioned. And yet, Jesus died there by his own choosing. He is separated from all on the cross.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ” (Matthew 27:46, ESV)
Here Jesus dies. Here is the separation of human body and life. Here is the separation from God. Here is sin’s punishment paid out. Here is the unnatural, unpeaceful, horror of death. God’s anger over sin, your sin, my sin, laid on God’s Son, Jesus Christ. And paid in full. Paid in full because it is God who does it. Paid in full in all its horror. Paid in full… for you, for me, for all. Paid in full because perfectly pure, sinless Jesus carries your sin into his death.
All that Jesus does, in life and death he does for you. Your punishment for your sin is paid. You will not suffer eternal separation from God. Even though you will pass through physical death. You will not suffer eternal separation from any who die with faith. That is the joy of paradise. Life immortal is a human life immortal. A created physical body and life in permanent and perfect relationship with God and other people, forever. For those who know that Jesus lived, died and rose again for them the horror of death is set aside.
I am baptized into Christ! There is not doubt about it. Jesus’ cross is for me, for you. Jesus’ death is for me, for you. Faith’s assurance brightly flashes: Baptism isn’t some empty symbol of my faithfulness to God, or my promise to God. That would be empty of any power. Instead Holy Baptism is God’s work. His promises made personal. Martin Luther describes it like this:
Second - http://www.cph.org/t-topic-catechism-baptism.aspx
What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are these words and promises of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
And Saint Paul says the same:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. ” (Romans 6:1–10, ESV)
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[i] Elbert Hubbard. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved April 6, 2011, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/elberthubb104815.html

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Matthew 17:1-9; The Transfiguration of Our Lord; March 2, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:1-9, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Isn’t this nice, the bright white color here at the front of church. Rather reminds you of Easter does it not? But, it’s not Easter. In fact, this Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday starts the season of the church year we call Lent. At our Ash Wednesday service you can receive ashes on your forehead. Those ashes set the mood for all of the next 40 days. When you get that little black cross you will hear the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It’s to help us to remember that because of sin, death is in our future. That in turn reminds us how much we need a Savior. We call that having a penitent or repentant attitude; looking at ourselves and seeing sin, then looking at Jesus and seeing Him as Savior. Lent is a penitential season. That is why we leave flowers out of the sanctuary, drape the altar in dark colors, and skip singing alleluias. We might rather skip the somber tones, but it is good way to keep in mind who we are and what we really need.

Ah, but all that is a few days away, right now the altar is white, we’re singing bright songs and looking at Jesus shining as bright as the sun. Today is the day we talk about the Transfiguration of Jesus. It is good to be here, just as the hymn said. It is good to be here where everything is bright and shiny, and there is not any of that dark talk about our sin and death and punishment.

That is kind of what Peter thought, too. He saw Jesus standing there with his cloths glowing and his face beaming like the sun. He saw Moses and Elijah with him (how he knew it was them, we will never really know). And even though he was frightened, it was too good to let go, he wanted it to last forever. Let us just stay here forever, he must have thought. It came out in the words, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

And yet, it isn’t all bad to dwell here for a little while either. Jesus did not scold Peter. After all Peter and the other disciples saw Jesus in a way they had not seen him before. That is, they saw the divine nature of Jesus shining out. What I mean is, that here on the holy mountain (2 Pet 1:16-18) we see that Jesus is really and completely God. His face shines like the sun. It is an internal light, not a reflected light. It is a part of who he is; not something he gets from somewhere else. It is like the pictures of God that are painted for us in the Old Testament and Revelation. In the OT; Daniel speaks about the “Ancient of Days” whose clothing was white as snow and the hair of his head as pure wool. (Dan 7:9) St. John saw a similar view of God in Revelation. (Revelation 1:12-16)

We should make sure we understand Jesus as much as we can. Jesus is not God in a human suit. It isn’t that he is a man with God deep inside. Jesus is God and man together, completely God and completely man. On the mountain of Transfiguration Jesus is not pulling back his clothes like Superman to reveal a great big “S” on his chest. What we see is Jesus as he is. St. Paul describes him like this: For in [Jesus Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1:19-20, ESV) For the sake of what he had come to do, Jesus did not fully reveal his whole self. He humbled himself and chose to appear as a man, a servant, holding back the divine nature.

The 16th Century Theologian Martin Chemnitz said it like this:

He humbled Himself and willed, not only to bear the substance of our nature but also in it to be similar to men in the infirmities with which we are burdened because of sin (even though He could have been immune to all of them as penalties for sin; because where there is no guilt, there no punishment is required), and He was found in fashion as a man, that is, subject to the emotions, deeds, and actions of a complete human life, not exempt as someone who is beyond the lot of the others, but as any other man taken at random from among men. Chemnitz, M., & Preus, J. A. O. (1999, c1989). Loci theologici (electronic ed.). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

If he had not done so, brave Roman soldiers would have run in terror, Pharisees would have bowed in obedience without argument, and Pilate would have never assume authority to put him to death.

There were other times, too, when we see Jesus choosing to let his divine nature to come to light. He turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). He healed the deaf, blind and sick (Mark 7:31-37, Matt 20:29-34, Matt 8:14-15). He cast out demons (Matt 9:32-33), and raised the dead to life again (Matt 9:18-19, 23-25).

Here on the mountain we see Jesus as he is; God and man together. God in human flesh come to earth to save human beings from their sins. And not only that but we see the ultimate end, Jesus will go to the cross and die, but that cross is victory for him, not defeat. As Jesus stands on the mountain with Moses and Elijah we see His resurrection.

Now, we shouldn’t think that because Jesus is God that the cross was nothing. Don’t forget we said that Jesus isn’t only God; he is fully and completely human. He is God born in humble human flesh, as we celebrated a few short weeks ago. All that affects human beings affected Jesus, because he is fully. As we heard a moment ago, he was subject to the emotions, deeds, and actions of a complete human life. That includes pain, suffering, and even death.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Php 2:5-8, ESV)

That obedient isn’t just talking about doing the right thing, it’s also talking about being completely human, suffering and dying, as a human would suffer and die. If you doubt the reality of Jesus suffering all you have to do is spend some time reading the accounts of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was arrested. It’s a far cry from the Mount of the Transfiguration:

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. (Mt 26:36-45, ESV)

It’s the same cast of characters, except Jesus is suffering and the disciples are sleeping. Later on the cross for three hours, Jesus bore the pain of death (and more) and we see why it’s so important to know that Jesus is God and man. All human beings, except Jesus, deserve God’s anger and punishment for their sin. That’s you and me, that our sons and daughters, our grandparents and great-great-grandparents, in fact, every person who has ever live and will ever live. That’s a lot of sin, a lot of punishment, a lot of suffering. We deserve the suffering of hell. But it’s the suffering and death of Jesus, true God and true man, Jesus, the Son of God, that is set in the balance against it all. His death is enough to cover it. His suffering is enough to cover it. Not only did he suffer a physical death but also he suffered the spiritual consequences of our sin. On the cross and in his death, Jesus suffered torment of hell. God, the Father, abandoned him to death. Jesus suffering in our place was enough; we don’t have to suffer the punishment of hell anymore.

And that brings us right back to the Mountain where Jesus is shining like the sun. The story of Jesus doesn’t end with suffering, death and punishment on the cross. The transfiguration is like a little glimpse of the resurrection. The victory of the cross is shown when life returned to Jesus body in the tomb. It is no longer necessary for Jesus to hold back his divine nature. From then on he is just as he was described on the mountain; Jesus in all his glory; Jesus God and man in one person, still fully God and fully human; Jesus the one who conquered sin and death and hell.

And so where does that leave us, as we stand here at The Mountain of the Transfiguration, with forty days of Lent, forty days of a penitential attitude ahead? Well, depending on Jesus, I hope. Just think, the same Jesus that stood on that mountain shining like the sun, suffered the darkness of death, and rose again to shine like the sun. The big thing to remember is that he did it for you. You know how difficult life is. You know how death chases you around. You know how your sin makes your life miserable. You know that no matter how hard you try, nothing you do is going to change it. That shining Jesus is the answer to it all. His life, death and resurrection change it all for you. Your sin is forgiven. That means that you can set it aside and go on with your life. Your death won’t end in hell’s punishment; it ends in a resurrection like Jesus and in life forever with him. That’s why the dark colors and somber tones only temporarily cover up the joy that is coming at Easter. That’s the attitude that Transfiguration sets in place for Lent. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Matthew 5:38-48; The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany; February 23, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38–48, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jesus says "perfect". He means perfect. It's not some halfhearted love he says you should have, but a love even for those who hate you. It's not some easy thing he asks here. He says to turn your other cheek to people who do evil to you. He says you are to love perfectly your ugly neighbor who takes you to court and wins. He says when people take advantage of you make it well worth their while. In the Roman Empire a soldier could conscript anyone to carry their equipment for a mile. So the application for the people hearing Jesus speak was very direct. No one was hated more by the Jews than the Roman soldiers, for good reason. Jesus tells the crowd that their love for the Roman soldiers should be perfect. He's asking a lot from sinful people. In fact, it is more than we can do. Why in the world doesn't he just say, "Do the best you can"?

Sometime after this, Jesus asks perfection of a specific person. A young man came up to him and asked him "what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" (Matthew 19:16ff) Jesus says, "If you would enter life, keep the Commandments." The young man wants to be clear. "Which Commandments?" Jesus lists them all to him. The young man thinks he has it made. "I've done that, I've kept them all. Isn't there more?" And then Jesus says it. He uses the "P" word again. "If you would be perfect..." In other words, "you only think you done them all, you can't just do them all on the outside, you have to do them all perfectly from the heart." He does it by telling the young man to sell everything he has and give it all away, to the poor. He tells him that in order to be saved by what he does, his love for the poor is to be perfect. And being perfect, his love would show itself by caring more for the poor than all the possessions he has. It's more than the young man can do. He's rich. He walks away from Jesus dejected. And notice, Jesus doesn't let him off the hook with, "Do the best you can."

When you look into the face of God, the only way that you can stand is to be perfect. When you have a relationship with God, that relationship can only be sustained in the absence of sin. A perfect and holy God can only be in the presence of that which is perfect and holy. In other words "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." In the beginning, Adam, the very 1st person created by God, was perfect. He walked and talked with God in the Garden of Eden. When he violated his relationship with God by taking what God told him was not his to take, his perfection was lost, he became a sinful person. His perfect relationship with God was broken. And when God came into the garden he hid in fear from God's righteous anger. It is the appropriate place for imperfect, sinful, people. This is where Jesus demand for perfection puts us. On our knees, dejected, hiding in fear from God's righteous anger. "I a poor miserable sinner…"

The wording of the confession is very specific, very intentional. We confess the depth of our sin. We confess our broken relationship with God. We have sinned against him and thought, word, and deed. We violated the commandments defining our relationship with God, and the ones defining our relationships with other people. This is not what our sinful nature wants to do. "What good deed must I do to save myself? Can't I make this fear go away on my own?" Jesus still doesn't say, "It's okay, you did the best that you could." He answers the question. "All you have to be is perfect."

Well, that's not all that Jesus preaches, is it? Along with Jesus call for perfection is his call for repentance (Matthew 4:17). The beginning of repentance is confession of our sin. And the cry of repentance is "Lord, have mercy!" We turn to Jesus for mercy because there is nowhere else to turn. We cannot turn to ourselves because all that we find there is our failure to live up to God's perfect demand. But

Almighty God in his mercy has given his son to die for you and for his sake forgives you all your sins.

There is no "do the best you can" in God's pronouncement of forgiveness. There is no good deed done to gain eternal life. There is only God's mercy given to repentant sinners. Given for the sake of Jesus.

Jesus' demand for perfection is a demand he takes up himself. He lives his life loving his neighbors and his enemies. He gives himself completely for the sake of those who need what he has to give. He prays for those who are killing him. He turns his cheek to them and allows his beard to be pulled out and the crown of thorns to be smashed into his scalp. The depth of his love is unmistakable. It carries him to live a life for the sake of the people of the world. It carries him to die the death that all sinners deserve, but he does not. He goes to the cross in love. And in love he bears the sins of the whole world.

This is your Savior on the cross. He has mercy upon you for your sake, not because of anything you have done. He is perfect for you, even to death on the cross. And when your sin is before you, Jesus is there with mercy all the more. He says to you

I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And so, in forgiveness you live every day, counted perfect in God's eyes. Your sin is washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ. And so, you live toward the perfection that Jesus demands. Not as a way to fix your relationship with him, by doing a good deed that you must do to have eternal life. But instead as a reflection of the love shown to you. You strive to do what Jesus asks, go above and beyond the call of duty, in love, of your neighbor. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Matthew 5:21-37; The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 16, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:21–37, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is preaching. He has a lot to say. And what we hear him say is not always easy to hear. We'd rather Jesus be "Jesus meek and mild" rather than Jesus confronting our sin. Here we have it, Jesus speaking clearly and straightforward about what we are to do and not do. It comes as a part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Last week we heard how it opened. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are you. Jesus is describing the life of faith. Those who have a relationship to God through faith in Jesus Christ are indeed blessed. That compels us to live in a certain way. And that's what he's talking about here. He's pointing to the part of the commandments that describe our relationship to each other. He saying "since you have a relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins, the First Commandment is set in place, so live out your life keeping the others." Sometimes we Lutherans get the idea that God doesn't care if we keep the Commandments are not. Jesus is very clear. Because of all that he has done for us, his life, death, and resurrection, we are to keep the Commandments. And more than that, it's not a matter of keeping them on the outside, for the sake of those who see us, but we are to keep the commandments in the heart.

According to Jesus, murder is more than just causing the death of another person. It is murder to insult someone. The commandment is broken in the heart, long before blood is actually shed. You are to have a relationship with other people that does not cause them pain. If you live your life respecting other people, as the commandment calls for, your relationships will be so much better. The idea of not letting the sun go down on your anger is not only good advice, but it's living according to the commandment. Your sins have been forgiven. That forgiveness should flow out to the people around you. Do not hurt or harm your neighbor in his body but help and support him in every physical need. That's Luther's description of what Jesus is saying here. You are a blood bought child of God. You have a responsibility to live according to God's commandments. That responsibility means to live in a way that is respectful to your neighbor and doesn't cause him harm. So important are your relationships with other people, that when they are broken, when you are in conflict with other people, your relationship with God is affected. Don't pretend that your relationship with God is not affected, if your relationship with your brother isn't set straight. Make every attempt to reconcile yourself to your brothers and sisters.

It is also important, according to Jesus, that we keep our relationships between men and women in proper perspective. Breaking the commandment on adultery is also done long before physical contact. Jesus said that the sin that begins in the heart is acted out in the eye and hand. The danger is there long before. In fact, it is not your eye or your hand that causes you to sin, but your heart. Plucking out your eye or removing your hand won't prevent sin. If you could remove sin that easily it would be best to walk around without a hand or an eye and avoid sin. But you are to be that serious about sexual sin. You are a blood bought child of God. You have a responsibility to live according to God's commandments. That responsibility means to live in a way that doesn't turn other people into objects of lustful desire.

Marriage between a man and a woman is entirely sacred, according to God. It is a holy estate. From the very beginning God made man and woman to be joined together for a lifetime. The purpose is companionship and the extending of God's kingdom through children. Husband and wife are to bring their children up in the way of the Lord. They are to teach their children the Commandments. And encourage them to follow. Divorce is nothing other than the breaking apart what God intended to be permanent. A man and woman locked together for a lifetime. A man locked together with a woman watching out for her best interest with everything he has. A woman locked together with a man watching out for his best interest with everything she has. A man and a woman raising children, watching out for their children's best interest with everything they have. There is nothing in divorce that promotes a man's best interest or woman's or a child's. Divorce is always against God's will for people. You are a blood bought child of God. You have a responsibility to live according to God's commandments. That means supporting families in such a way that divorce is unthinkable. So says Jesus.

These are things we would rather not hear Jesus say. We like our sin. We like our flexible morality. Maybe you have heard your hearts say things like this: God forgives me so I can diss my neighbor. My neighbor is such a jerk God doesn't mean I have to reconcile myself to him, surely. That guy doesn't care about anyone but himself, he doesn't deserve forgiveness. God forgives me so my roving eye is just an appreciation of the female form. Besides if men wouldn't dress that way, women wouldn't look at them that way. No one is really hurt by those pictures in the magazine. The models are willing. They make a good living. God wants me to be happy. And I can't be happy unless I get my divorce. These are all lies from the chief liar. Sin begins in the heart. It's in my heart. It's in your heart. It makes it impossible to live the way that God requires. And Jesus makes no bones about it. It is sin in the heart that is deserving of hell.

And so just as Jesus instructs us on what to do, the law accuses us. Whenever we hear the law we see how woefully short we fall. Whenever we hear the law we see God's demand for perfection. When we seek God's demand for perfection we see only the punishment that we deserve. You and I deserve eternal punishment in hell for our sin. It is a breaking of the Commandments. Not just any one particular commandment, but all of them. Commandments 2 through 10 are seated in the 1st. We do not treat our neighbors as Jesus would have us do because we do not love the Lord our God with all our heart or soul or mind.

But, believe it or not, there is good news in Jesus demands. When the law is set before our hearts and we see our sin, when we have nowhere else to turn, there's only Jesus left. When the burden of sin comes down on us we crawl to the cross holdout our hands and ask Jesus to take it from us. This is faith. This is repentance. Seeing sin and knowing where to take our sin. Seeing sin and clinging to Jesus on the cross for our forgiveness. Jesus describes the things that we should do. We see that he is the one who did them perfectly. On the cross Jesus gladly takes our sin. And from the cross we receive his perfect life. It is an exchange that is given to us by God's declaration of forgiveness. Our punishment is satisfied. And our good works come from the life of Jesus. So the things we should not have done are forgotten in the cross. And the things we should do are remembered in the life of Jesus.

And so the demands that Jesus makes in the law are our joy to accomplish. When we are angry with our neighbor, we remember God's anger over our sin was hung on Jesus on the cross. When we are reluctant to reconcile with our neighbor we remember God's reconciliation of us through Jesus on the cross. When our eyes see the things which turn our hearts away from God, we remember Jesus was forsaken by God for us on the cross. We turn our hearts back toward God because of Jesus. When the world tells us divorce is a good solution, we remember our relationship to God has been restored by Jesus on the cross. And we can faithfully and strongly proclaim God's plan for sexuality and marriage. The power to do these things does not come from our hearts. The power to do these things does not come from the proclamation of the law. Instead, it is the gospel, the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus Christ, that drives us to do all that Jesus commands. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.