Saturday, June 30, 2007

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, Luke 9:51-62, July 1, 2007

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 1, 2007
St. John’s, Howard, SD
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Lk 9:51-62 (ESV)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
It’s hard to find good help” (Special thanks to Edit-O-Earl)

You can’t help but see a twinge of disappointment on Jesus face when he turns and “rebukes” the disciples that had returned from that Samaritan village. Once again they don’t seem to “get it.” He had rebuked them before, he was going to have to do it again, and well it wasn’t going to be the last time. But maybe it was especially disappointing at that very moment because he has “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus knew what lay ahead of them. His journey to Jerusalem was a journey to the cross. In that city he would give up his very life. There would be nothing that would turn him aside; his face was set like flint (Isaiah 50:7) to the task at hand. God’s power was to be revealed in the weakness of human flesh. God’s great love was to be shown in innocent suffering and death, and the pouring out of the Holy and precious blood for the sins of the world. The disciples were talking about calling down fire from heaven. They wanted a great display of God’s power, which would teach the people who rejected them a lesson. God’s power was going to be shown in a much different way. And then there were the three “wannabe” disciples saying they will follow Jesus. They don’t “get it” either. Really their promises are half hearted; they put anything and everything before their promise to follow. Jesus determination is set in clear contrast to the commitments of the disciples.

Now it is interesting that when we hear this story our first inclination is to find fault with Jesus. “Isn’t he just a little harsh?” When the first guy says “I’ll follow, but let me bury my father, first,” Jesus coldly answers, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” When another says, “I’ll follow, but first, I need to say good-bye to my family.” Jesus reply is, “No one who has put his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service.” Well, even if we don’t admit it openly, we feel it in our hearts. These requests seem pretty reasonable to us. We cringe at Jesus responses. Isn’t family important to Jesus? Do we have to give up everything to be a disciple?

To really understand what Jesus is saying to these guys we have to look at all that’s going on here. We need to remember that the text starts out with Jesus “setting his face toward Jerusalem.” Jesus is committed to his task and the journey that will take him there. These disciples have been told what it all means. Jesus will go to Jerusalem, be handed over to his enemies, be crucified dead, and rise again on the third day. They react the way they do because they think this plan of action is crazy. Who would want to go on a journey that they all knew would lead to death. Jesus is determined, the disciples want to follow him, but they offer excuses. They want to go with him… sort of. When we look at everything from that point of view, these excuse are more like, “I’d like to go with you but I’ve got to stay home and wash my hair.” After the disciples want to burn up the Samaritan village, and give excuses for not going with Jesus, You can almost hear him saying, “It’s hard to find good help these days.”

I wonder a little bit about these excuses. We don’t know what was in these men’s hearts, but Jesus did, because he knows all things. The first disciple says he’ll follow. But we get the impression that he isn’t really committed. “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but not me. I have no place to call home. That’s what you are singing on for. No glorious living. No fame and fortune.” We don’t know how the man reacted. The next man says he’ll first need to bury his father. Was his father dead? If that was the case why wasn’t he off making arrangements already? Why wasn’t he caring for his mother? Maybe he was saying that he would become a faithful follower of Jesus after his father’s death? That could be years. Jesus ministry; Jesus plan was immediate; he was going to Jerusalem right now. There would be no delay. “Let the dead bury their own dead.” The third disciple gets right at the point. Especially with Jesus reply. “Let me say good-bye to my family.” Jesus makes clear what’s going on. “No one who plows looking back is worthy of plowing.” You have to remember in those days the plow was in front of the plowman. You had to watch the animal and the machine as you walked behind it. You won’t make a straight furrow if you’re not committed to the task at hand, if you keep looking back. There is a Latin word for a plowman who keeps looking back. The word is delirious. It means literally “out of the furrow.” A delirious man, one who isn’t paying attention to his work is like a plow out of the furrow. Being a follower of Jesus isn’t a matter of convenience it’s a mater of commitment. There are no part time disciples in the crowd that claims to be Jesus followers. Jesus calls for full time faithfulness. “It’s hard to find good help these days.”

“These days” we have the same view as those would-be disciples. All too often today, Jesus is a part time activity; Sunday mornings and once a quarter meetings. “I don’t have time.” “Everyone is so busy.” “Let the younger generation do it.” St. Paul’s words to the Galatians are words also spoken to us. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13, ESV) Luther says it like this: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” It was Jesus journey to Jerusalem that set us free. Free from the worry about our own relationship with God. We don’t have to do good things to earn a place with God. Jesus has done them for us. We don’t need our good works, but our neighbor does.

“It’s hard to find good help these days.” I think it was always hard for Jesus to find good disciples. I’m sure I’m one of his most troublesome. The truth is we are all lousy disciples of Jesus. Even when we want to do good things we have to argue ourselves into it. And even when we do things for the right reasons our own sinful pride takes credit where none is due. For every good thing we’ve done there are twenty that we didn’t do. For every right thing we do there’s a bucket full of wrong. And there are lots of excuses. School, family, jobs, television, all keep us from being the disciples that Jesus would have us be. Now don’t think I’m just talking about church meetings. We could do all the meetings we want, and still not be “good help.” Our lives of service to others isn’t centered on our gathering in this building for meetings, it’s centered in the life that God has given us. And the new life he gives us through Jesus. Through his life, death and resurrection that is our new life in Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. It has everything to do with the family he’s placed us in. The job we go to every day. The friends we play with. The school we attend. It doesn’t take a church program to serve our neighbor. It doesn’t take a church program to defend life and speak against abortion, or to speak up about the hope that is within you, the hope of eternal life in Jesus. It’s a full time job. It’s a full time commitment. “It’s hard to find good help these days.” You aren’t going to do it perfectly. Just like you, I’ve missed opportunities; I’ve left unsaid what needed to be said. We’ve all used every excuse in the book, “Let me bury my father first…” “Let me get my life in order first…” “Let me get through school first…” “Let me settle into retirement…” “Let me raise my children…” “It’s hard to find good help these days.”

And yet we just sang a beautiful hymn: Take my life… take my hands… take my money… are we saying that we didn’t mean any of it? No of course not. We really didn’t mean every word. After all we are Jesus disciples. He has called us to be his. We know that Jesus walked that road to Jerusalem for us. We know it’s for us because of the promises he made to us in our Baptism. He reaches out with a pastor’s hand and pours water on our heads and says, “The trip to Jerusalem is for this one.” That’s the most important part of faith, clinging to the promises of God, knowing that Jesus did all these things “for me!” That’s the essence of a personal faith in Jesus.

That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

Jesus is the perfect model of loving service. Don’t think for a moment that he wasn’t in complete control of events. The Chief Priests and teachers of the law weren’t in charge. The Roman governor didn’t call the shots. Jesus wasn’t even the puppet of His Father. Jesus chose the path that he was on. He made his choice freely and without being forced. His choice was service through sacrifice. He really “took up the cross” of his own free will. And most important of all, he did it for you. He did it for your sins. He did it for your failures. He did it in spite of the excuses you make for not taking up a cross of your own. That’s exactly why he set his face to Jerusalem. That’s exactly why nothing was going to stop him from going. For Jesus, there are no excuses that will stand in his way of setting you free.

We heard also from Paul in the Second reading: For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1, ESV) The freedom that Paul is talking about, the freedom Jesus won for us, isn’t the kind of freedom we often think about, especially as we think about last weekend’s celebration of our Nation’s independence. It’s not a freedom to do whatever we want. That kind of freedom is self indulgent. Christ set us free from our need to earn our own salvation. We don’t have to work to make our place with God. We don’t have to do good works to earn anything. Jesus has earned it all for us. In fact, Jesus freed us from the slavery to sin, death and Satan, so that we could be his servants. Just like the Declaration of Independence didn’t mean that our forefathers were free from dependence. They were just dependent on each other instead of the King. “Take my life, O Lord, renew, Consecrate my heart to you;” Disciples of Jesus are dependent on him. We are dependent on Jesus. We are free to serve. Free to follow Jesus… full time, with our whole heart, soul and mind.

As Pastor Earl Feddersen wrote: “Paul has a message for us [today]. It is rather simple really: Christ has already set us free! Get out into the light of His day. As Jesus implied, the spiritually dead can bury their own dead, but you get out and proclaim the kingdom of God!” Amen.

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

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, June 24, 2007, Luke 8:26-39

Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:26-39, ESV)

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

This is a story about Jesus that hasn’t usually been read to us in church. It’s brand new for these new reading that go with the new lectionary and new hymnal. It’s one of the things I like about the new readings we get to hear stuff that we’ve not heard before in a worship setting.

Well, it is a great account of our Lord, healing someone in great need of healing. I noticed a few things about what’s going on here. First, Jesus is clearly identified for who he is. Legion the demons yells out at him, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” and later when Jesus is going to leave he tells the man to tell what God had done for him. The man recognized God’s work in Jesus by telling everyone what Jesus had done for him. Although we wouldn’t use this as a proof that Jesus is God, it clearly shows the man knew who was helping him and that God was working through Jesus.

Secondly, I noticed that the guy who Jesus was helping really needed help. It seems to me that lots of people tried to help him and failed. I’m not sure they locked him in chains and kept watch him just to protect themselves. He had family and friends that didn’t want him to hurt himself. Even if they were very selfish in trying to help him by confining him they couldn’t do anything anyway because he broke the chains and ran back the desert. This guy living naked in the graveyard, foaming at the mouth, screaming at the top of his lungs, was quite helpless and in great danger. The danger was very real.

Notice also, how everything is in turmoil in the account. Jesus comes ashore; he’s confronted in a loud voice. There’s a herd of pigs near by (they are not necessarily quiet animals). There’s the description of the man’s activities, and the argument with the demons called Legion. They are begging with Jesus and he’s telling them what they are going to do. “Please don’t cast us into hell! We don’t want to go there yet! Can’t we live in those pigs? We won’t be too much trouble there?” I picture in my mind my mother’s angry face, when I pleaded with her. I think Jesus just waved his hand and pointed to the herd. Off went the many demons thinking they had won a victory against Jesus. But instead the pigs were sent screaming into the lake to drown; noise, anger, death, drowning pigs what a commotion that must have been. No wonder the folks who saw it were afraid. Now the contrast is really what this reading is all about. The pig herders run of to tell everyone what happened. When everyone comes to see Jesus the man who had the demons is dressed, in his right mind and sitting a Jesus feet. He’s learning from Jesus. Hanging on Jesus words, it reminds me of Mary and Martha. Remember Martha busy in the kitchen working a frenzy to get everything ready and Mary sitting quietly at Jesus feet listening. Jesus says it is the one thing needful. What Mary needed, what the man who no longer had a legion of demons needed, what you and I need… is to listen to Jesus, to sit at his feet and take in his Word.

The last thing to see here is how everyone is afraid. The pig herders are afraid. The town’s people ask Jesus to leave because they are afraid. In the face of Jesus power and his ability and in recognition that he’s connected to God in some great way people are afraid of him and just want him to go away.

So that’s what we see in this account. Now the interesting thing is this one is right in the middle of two other accounts that have the same kinds of things happening. Right before this Luke tells us that Jesus and his disciples were boating across the lake and were caught in a storm. The waves were crashing over the boat the disciples were in grave danger. They were helpless, the boat was going to sink and they were going to die. Jesus was sleeping. They wake him up and he calms the storm. They are afraid. “Do you have no faith?” Jesus says.

After the Legion account Jesus is waking through crowds of people. They’ve come because of all that they’ve heard about him. Some want to be healed, some want to see the guy who casts out demons, some want to see what’s so special about a guy from Galilee. He was “almost crushed” by the crowed as he was trying to move along. A man named Jairus comes and asks Jesus to heal his sick daughter. She’s helpless, too, because she is dying. On the way another helpless person touches Jesus robe because she is just sure that if she does Jesus can heal her 12 years bleeding illness. Jesus calms the crowd to find out who touched him. She was healed by faith in Jesus. Then news of the little girl’s death comes to Jairus. “Master, don’t bother the teacher anymore, your little girl is dead.” Think of the sense of helplessness that must have fille him standing there with the person who he was sure was his last hope, and the delay caused by the crowds and a sick woman cost him his daughter. Think of the fear of facing his wife… and seeing his little girl dead…. well you know the story, Jesus arrives at the house and the mourners are shouting the grief of death. Jesus quits them and raised the girl to her mother’s arms. And again everything is calm.

Do you see the pattern? Chaos, trouble, helplessness, Jesus, calm. In fact in these four short stories (that actually happened!) Jesus shows that he’s more powerful than nature, Satan and his demons, sickness and even death.

Chaos, trouble, helplessness… that where we are most of the time in our lives isn’t it? Surgery doesn’t just cause us pain, it takes away our ability to care for ourselves and we have to depend on someone else. It may even mean a change of how we’ve always done things. The wind blows and the house creaks and the water rises. We panic about all our stuff we’re going to loose in the storm. We send out storm spotters to watch so we can scurry to cover and protection. Murderers live closer than we care to even talk about. News of father killing mothers and unborn children leave us wagging our heads and feeling well out of control. Drug dealers are selling to our kids. Not to mention that we let our kids go out and party on Friday nights closing our eyes to the danger. “They’re going to do it anyway.” Talk about helpless… and danger. My heart aches for the families that will be hurt when Satan’s handiwork comes to its fullness. Death hovers over us. We’ve not done a funeral here in quite awhile but sooner or later another casket will be lifted up our high stair case and set before this altar with broken hearts. All of these dangers are real. We get sick, we can’t control or even predict the weather, there’s real evil out there, and people die every day. Satan is constantly trying to get us to focus on our troubles instead of Jesus. We need money for the roof. So be it. The roof isn’t more important than God’s word proclaimed under it. We think we’ve got to do something to make people give more money to fix it… well remember that everything is in God’s hands…

Chaos, trouble, helplessness… Jesus. Jesus on the cross. He hung on the cross because of all that chaos trouble and helplessness would be all that our lives were about if we were left in our sin. The epistle lesson said we were “captive under the law.” That’s a way of saying that whatever we get, chaos, trouble, helplessness we deserve because of sin. But that’s not what God wants. This story of Jesus casting out Legion and sending them drowning in the lake is to show us that Jesus is in control. That God is in control. Jesus suffered, he cried out in pain, he was helpless, there on the cross bearing our sin. He lay in the coldness of death in the tomb, but he overcame it all. He is in control of it all, the whole time. Nothing is more powerful than our God and Savior Jesus Christ, not even chaos, trouble, pain, death, taxes and church budgets.

Jesus bring us here… to be calm; to receive his word; very specifically his word about sin. It’s not a word of judgment. It’s a word of forgiveness. The chaos we face, and oh boy, do we face it, isn’t to punish us, it’s to remind us that He has it in his hands. He can and does control all things. He’ll take care of all things when he will take care of you. Psalm 46 says it… though the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam… though kingdoms totter… be still and know that I am God.

That man that Jesus saved from the Legion of demons was dressed, in his right mind and sitting at Jesus feet, listening to his word. That’s what God wants for you.

Are you afraid of what Jesus can do and does? Well, join the crowds… what Jesus does is frightening. Fear is a natural reaction to God’s Word. But dear brothers and sisters in Christ, your panic, and planning, and fighting, and trying to control others is never going to change your life (or this church). That’s trying to chain up chaos. The chains just get broken and we end up living in the cemetery again. If you want calmness in your life and among us here in the church, it is only going to come through the gifts that God gives: Sitting at Jesus feet, listening to him, eating his meal, his very body and blood, pouring water, and in the name of Jesus receiving the forgiveness of our sins.

That’s what the man had to say about Jesus. Jesus said, “Go home and declare how much God had done for you.” He says that to you do. So let’s start right here. Say this with me:

“Jesus is in control. Jesus has forgiven my sin.” Amen.

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

Now let’s confess our faith in what God has done through Jesus by turning to the catechism printed in our hymnal (p. 300). We are going to read the Creed together including Luther’s explanations. Notice, how it’s all about God being in control and dealing with chaos, trouble, and helplessness…

The Creed

As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.

The First Article: Creation

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

What does this mean?
I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
This is most certainly true.

The Second Article: Redemption
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Plate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
What does this mean?
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
This is most certainly true.

The Third Article: Sanctification

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
What does this mean?
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.
This is most certainly true.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Second Sunday after Pentecost, 2.Sam.11.26-12.10.13-15, June 17, 2007

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When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord. And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.” Then Nathan went to his house. And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. (2 Samuel 11:26-12:10,13-15, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

David sat impatiently waiting. Ever since Nathan had contacted him he felt uneasy as if there was something to dread with this visit. But, truthfully, David was angry. “Why must he come and interrupt my important business? I am the King of Israel and Judah. What does he have to tell me that is so important that it can’t wait for my schedule? I don’t have time for a prophet, today.” It was going to be a difficult day. Governing had become increasingly difficult over last year. Decisions were harder to make… People seemed less cooperative… and David himself felt as if he was going nowhere. Everything in his life was more difficult since she came. He was sure Bathsheba brought these troubles with her. At first when she came, after the appropriate mourning period, it felt good to finally be together. It felt good to finally get all the trouble behind them and move on with life. After her husband, Uriah, died… rather was killed… bravely in battle. David had done the honorable thing taking care of her and her child, in honor of her husband’s ultimate sacrifice. And she was very beautiful after all. David pictured his wife in his mind. He remembered the first time he had seen her on the roof. Any man would have felt the same, any man would have sent for her… he had only done what any man would have done. Her image filled his mind… but instead of love, it only brought anger, and the anger welled up in him, “Where is that prophet!!” he scowled.

“Nathan the prophet is here, my Lord,” called his servant.

“What are you waiting for? Send him in! Can’t you see I’m waiting? I haven’t time for this… hurry; I must get back to my business!” And the servant scurried off.

The prophet entered slowly, as if he was carrying a great burden. He looked at David for a long time before speaking. “My Lord, I have a story for you.”

Impatiently David replied. “Yes, get on with it.”

“There were two men who lived in a certain town, one rich and one poor…” began the story. “The rich man had many sheep… the poor man only one.” The story immediately gained the king’s attention. He remembered how he too, was once a shepherd. How he had cared for little sheep, feeding them and protecting them. He grinned when Nathan described how for the poor man his one little sheep had become more than just an animal for food, but actually a household pet. How it was so loved that it was even fed at the poor man’s table, just like one of his own children. It was an interesting story. David had always loved sheep, especially the little ones. “A traveler came…” continued Nathan. “The lamb of the poor man was killed and eaten by the rich man and his guest, because the rich man couldn’t bear to waste one of his own sheep on a no name visitor.”

Instantly David was on his feet. His anger boiled over. His face flushed. “Any man who has done such a thing in my kingdom deserves to die. He must pay four times over for the sheep, because he had no pity on the poor man.”

“You are the man!” Nathan stated looking David directly in the eye.

“You are the man!” That was David’s rebuke. These words are some of the most severe law in the entire bible. They seem to have taken David completely by surprise. He was going alone; doing whatever it is that kings do, living in the sin of his marriage to Bathsheba. Living with the knowledge that he had killed Uriah as surely as if he had swung the sword himself. Thinking that God would just let it all go… hoping that God had already forgotten… after all, he was the anointed king… certainly his position allowed him some leeway.

Through Nathan God points an accusing finger. “After all I have done for you, after all I have given you, and you have killed a man to have his wife. You have killed a man to cover up your own selfishness and greed. You have killed a man to cover up your inability to control yourself.” The accusing word, the sword that cut David’s heart, is sharpened by his own words. “The man who has done this deserves to die!” Literally “he is a son of death.” David’s own condemnation is applied to himself. And there is nothing he can say in his own defense. “I have sinned against the Lord.” He says. We can imagine him lying on the floor with his face on the ground awaiting God’s deathblow.

Have you ever been there? lying face down before God knowing that he sees your sin; knowing that you deserve the condemnation and the punishment that David deserved; knowing that you too have been selfish, that you have lacked self-control. You may remember a time when you wanted what your neighbor had, and maybe you even plotted to get it. Or maybe you have been living with a sin that you hoped God would simply ignore. Maybe you’ve thought to yourself that you are entitled because… “I’m better than my neighbor… at least I don’t do the things that they do.” Well, God does not tolerate sin. He does not ignore it. He hates it in every form. Unjustified anger, greed, lack of self-control, lies, gossip… all are alike in his eyes. All are sin. All deserve the same accusation… all deserve the same punishment. Because of any one of them; Nathan’s words point to you and say; “You are the man!”

I also want you to notice something else in the text. I want you to notice how serious God is about sin. “Because you have done this… the son born to you will die.” David’s sin had serious consequences. His son would die. Sin brings death. The Apostle Paul said it like this, centuries after David; “The wages of sin is death.” And it isn’t just murder, but all sin, from the smallest lie to the grossest murder they all result in death. David’s son died because of David’s sin.
You are the man… I am the man… not because we’ve done the same things a David but because we are sinful people like David. “We confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean…” Our problem with God isn’t the sins we do it’s the rejection of all that he is that lives in our hearts. We sin be because we are sinners. Try as you might you can’t remove the sin in your life because it is buried too deep. That’s the real problem, that’s why you should be face down on the ground saying to God, “I have sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” And because someone must die for your sin. If you are ever tempted to think that God will pass over and ignore sin, remember the price that was paid for yours. Here in this text David’s son dies because of sin… Jesus Christ, Son of David also died because of sin. Paul again wrote in his letter to the Romans; “He who did not spare his own Son…” but he gave him up for the sin of us all. God is so serious about sin that he allowed his one and only perfect Son to die because of your sin.

But the death of Jesus isn’t only about how much God hates sin. It is, more importantly, about how much he loves you. God is not willing that any should be eternally lost, and that is why he allowed Jesus to die. He wants everyone to be with him forever, and when that possibility was threatened by sin, he did something about it. He placed the sin of the entire world on Jesus Christ and then abandoned him to the cross to suffer and die because of it. He gave to him the deathblow we, along with David, deserve. And when Jesus rose again the bonds of sin and death were released, and they hold no power over us any more.

Look again at the text. When the accusing finger points at David, he simply confesses his sin. No excuses, no doubts, no shifting blame. “I have sinned against the Lord.” He says simply and quietly. He confesses his sin. And notice; God doesn’t give David what he deserved. Instead of striking David dead, God speaks again through Nathan. “The Lord has forgiven your sin. You are not going to die.” David had faith that God would forgive his sin. He knew that God was gracious and merciful. He knew that God was planning to do something about the sin that ruled his life. He knew that one of his descendants would be the Savior that would take away the sin of the world. David confessed to God in that faith, and he was forgiven.
We now look back and know it was Jesus Christ, who died the death of the whole world’s sin on the cross. And just as he died for sins of David, his murder, his adultery, and his lies, we know that he died for us. When the accusing finger point to us saying, “You are the man!” “You are the woman!” “You are the sinner!” We turn to God and say, “I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone.” No excuses, no doubts, no shifting blame, just simply and quietly confessing our sins. And God replies, “My Child, I have already forgiven you, you will not eternally die.” “… as a called and ordained servant of the word, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” God forgives you as surely as he forgave his servant David, and as surely as Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to the right hand of God the Father.

There is sin in your life. I know there is because there is sin in my life too. We will struggle with sin until our dying day or until Jesus returns again. As Jesus says it comes out of our hearts. But, it doesn’t have to rule our lives; it doesn’t have to control us. God had made a way of dealing with it. “If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse of from all unrighteousness.” That is what we are doing here today isn’t it; receiving the gift he brings, forgiveness of sins, being cleansed from all unrighteousness. In this wonderful building God comes to us in Word and water, Body and Blood and Bread and Wine for the forgiveness of our sins. It’s not God forgetting the things we do, but God restoring our relationship to him through the punishment and death of another; God declaring us “not guilty” of sin, even though we are sinful.

Sometimes we need the personal touch. David did. He needed to see God’s accusing finger pointing at him reminding him that he deserved to die. He needed God’s word of forgiveness spoken right into his ears. It was personal, just between God and David, so God sent David a pastor. He’s sent you a pastor too. It is my job to remind you of your sin, to actually point God’s finger of judgment at you until it hurts, until you say, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And then it is my privilege to speak God’s Word of forgiveness to you. It happens publicly a bunch of times every Sunday morning. But sometimes you need the personal touch. That’s what Private Confession is. Some will say that Private Confession is Roman Catholic and not Lutheran. That’s simply not true. Look it up in your Catechism or on p. 304 LW (or LSB 326) in the front of your hymnal. Check out the insert in the bulletin this morning. As your pastor God has sent me to you so that you can hear God’s Word of forgiveness spoken directly to the sin that troubles you. If you want to know what it looks like, you can find also in the front of your hymnal on p. 310 LW (or LSB 292)

David had sinned against the Lord. He deserved to die. He needed God’s forgiveness. You and I sin much every day. We deserve to die. We need God’s forgiveness. Thank God he has provided what we need. David’s Son, God’s own Son, Jesus Christ has died in our place. We are forgiven because God has taken his death as the punishment for our sin. Amen.

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