Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mark 7:31-37; Rally Day; September 26, 2012;

Mark 7:31-37; Rally Day; September 26, 2012;
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA;
31Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34And looking up to heaven, [Jesus] sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 7:31-37 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Did you hear that little word about Jesus?  You know the one that shows his compassion, his care, his love, his humanity?  And looking up to heaven, [Jesus] sighed… Jesus signed.  It’s such a tiny point right in very middle of the text, and yet very important.  Jesus signed.  The Greek word is “στενάζω.”  And it means just that, to sigh or groan.  You understand from the text what it means.  Standing before Jesus was this deaf man.  He couldn’t speak correctly because of his hearing.  It is an out in the open showing of the effects of sin on the world.  That is, not what a particular sin has done, but exactly what the curse of sin on the world is.  You know all about this, you know it every time you run into a situation that make you say, “This is not the way that things should be.”  You’ve given this very same sigh.  You’ve had standing in front of you out-in-the-open things that are not the way they should be.  Your child, suffering from a scraped knee, crying for you to do something to make the pain stop.  Your spouse, breathing the last shallow breaths as death claims them.  Late night in the ER hoping against hope that the accident was not fatal, that there is something the doctors can do.  Sitting in the nursing home, disappointed that your loved one doesn’t recognize you again today.  This is the sigh of Jesus.  This man has been affected by sin.  He can’t hear.  He can’t speak clearly.  His friends beg Jesus to do something to make it stop. 
St. Paul describes the sigh to us saying in his letter to the Romans that creation was subject to “futility.”  That is bound to the sin of its most important creature.  God created the world for people.  They were bound to it as a perfect place to live and work and grow and multiply.  He put the first people in a beautiful garden called “Eden.”  They had everything they could ever want.  And yet, they desired the one thing God told them they could not have.  So they took the fruit from that tree and ate it and subjected themselves, and you and me, and indeed the whole creation to “futility.”  That is, death and decay, and pain and sorrow.  They were given the garden as a place where work would be rewarding and pleasant.  I’m sure the first sighs were heard when the first thorns appeared.  Thorns and hard work are a part of the curse that the first couple brought to the land.  Adam and Eve lived some 900 years.  Imagine all they saw, imagine the depth of their signs as the perfect world they knew began a steady spiral into “futility.”  Imagine the sigh as they discovered the body of Abel, their son, murdered by his own brother.  Imagine their sighs as their “many other sons and daughters” spread across the world taking with them the rebellion against God that they started.
And all these years later, generations and generations we’ve suffered and sighed.  Although Adam and Eve began it all they are not solely to blame.  Cain killed Abel in a fit of jealousy.  The monstrous, selfish nature of sin was revealed very clearly with Abel’s blood soaking it to the earth.  Every person since Adam and Eve has the same capacity for that kind of evil.  Sin is a selfish turning into oneself, holding yourself as more important that all else; believing that you are the final judge of right and wrong.  This is the only real gift we give to our children.  It is the only real gift we received from our parents.  It spoils our world.  Generation after generation the perfect creation is subject to our sin.  Generation after generation our bodies and minds are subject to our own selfishness.  Death and disease and suffering, thorns and thistles and hard work, cancer and pneumonia and gout, droughts and tornados and floods, the “futility” of the curse is right at hand for us to see.  And we sigh.  But don’t blame Adam.  Don’t blame Eve.  Look at your own heart and see what you know is there.  Sin crouches in you.  You want what you want, and you want it now.  You put yourself above all else, even those you love most dearly.  When you see all of this, the dangerous world around us, the blackness of sin in our hearts that’s when the sigh reaches is apex.  That’s because there is nothing to be done.  No human struggle can end the “futility.”  You can’t prevent death, even if the cancer subsides.  It is the curse of the Garden.  We know it well, and we sigh.
But, into this sin filled futility steps Jesus.  I said no human effort can do anything, but Jesus is more than human.  That’s what he show us.  That’s what we hear in his Word, Ephphatha. Ephphatha, does what it says.  Jesus makes signs to the deaf man.  He pokes his ears and spits on the ground.  “I’m going to open your ears!”  He looks up to heaven, from whence he came and sighs.  It’s a prayer.  “Father, This is why You sent me.  They have done this to themselves.  But I am about to set everything on the path to redemption.”  He says to the man, “Be opened! Ephphatha!”  It works.  The deaf man hears and speaks clearly.  The “futility” of his ears is reset.  He sings praises to God, praises to Jesus, God in human flesh standing in front of him.  That’s when we know our sigh has an answer not in our effort but in Jesus.
But there is more that Jesus has to do.  That formally deaf man is dead.  In fact, Adam and Eve are dead, too, and all their children, grand children, great grand children all the way to you and me.  That wasn’t the only person Jesus healed.  And yet they are all dead too.  The futility goes deeper.  Death is the enemy.  Death is the final result.  If we sigh about anything we sigh most deeply over death.  We know that it is not the way things should be.  What does Jesus sigh, what does Jesus healing, what does Jesus have to do with death?  That is the whole question of life on earth.  What about death?  If Jesus did nothing more that open a deaf man’s ears, and a few other miracles, the futility remains.  And our sighs have no answer, and we may as well go home. 
That is not all that Jesus did.  All his miracles and teaching in fact, point to another greater, futility ending, sigh answering miracle.  It is also what Jesus’ sigh is about.  Way back in the Garden under the first signs of sin, God answered the sigh of Adam and Eve with a promise.  Humans subjected the world to futility that cannot be undone by humans.  God promises he is the one, who would himself, answer for their sin.  He would pay the penalty, the just sentence, the forever punishment that would make everything right again.  He would make a new creation, like the first, that was perfect without sin’s corruption.  God is in Jesus Christ, reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).  That is, removing the futility.  Jesus is God born in human flesh.  Man and God bound together in a way that only God can understand and accomplish.  He is fully, completely human subject to all that humans are subject to, with one exception.  Jesus is without sin.  He is who Adam should have been.  He is who you and I should be.  He lives and speaks and heals and feeds.  But he also dies.  He subjects himself to that futility for us.  He allowed his enemies to hang him on a cross.  This sinless, perfect, God-man suffers a humiliating, brutal execution (born out of the sinful corrupt human heart!).  He hangs naked, beaten, bleeding out on the ground, stretched out toward heaven.  And guess what, he sighs…
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. (Mark 15:33-37 ESV)
There he hangs in futility, rejected by God.  There he hangs suffering what is ours to suffer.  There he hangs and sighs out his last breath.
And again, if this is all that Jesus does we may as well go home and weep for him, and sigh again for ourselves.  There is more.  The life that Jesus gives up is the life that he once again takes up.  In a way that only God can do and understand, three days after he was laid in his grave, Jesus lives again.  This is no wives tale, no vain hope either.  There is ample, tangible proof that it happened.  Jesus sighed out his breath on the cross and breathed it in again in the grave.  He makes the futility of death empty.  His death reconciles human sin with God, that is pays the punishment.  The answer to our sighs is in his death and resurrection.  It is the answer to the promise in the Garden.  The answer to the deaf man’s friends.  The answer to Jesus sigh.  It is a promise to us.  Death is coming but Jesus can and will breathe life into you again.  You will live in a perfect, newly created body in a new creation, a perfect creation, a creation where there will be no sighs saying “that’s not the way things should be.”  Again I direct your attention to the Font.  In ages past the word Ephphatha was used in the Rite of Holy Baptism.  It emphasizes that through the work of God in this washing, deaf, dead, sinful, futile ears are opened and hear the promises of God.  Jesus word does what is says.  The promise in the Garden, the promise of the Cross and resurrection is made personal here.  The sigh is answered for those who have had their ears opened, have heard and hold on to Christ in faith.  In light of the promise made by God in the resurrection St. Paul sighs for us:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:20-25 ESV)
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Friday, August 10, 2012

John 6:41 – 51; The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; August 12, 2012;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston Iowa;

41So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:41-51 (ESV)

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

Sometimes when you read these texts that are assigned for us to read, it’s kind of hard to figure out what’s going on. Sometimes that’s because you don’t have the whole story. I think that’s the case here with the Gospel for today. It seems to be talking about bread. Jesus says, he’s ‘the bread come down from heaven.’ But to really understand what’s going on here it’s important to know what been going on right before…

John, the Gospel writer, tells us about the great crowds are following Jesus at this time in his ministry. He’s attracting lots of attention because people who gather around him are coming away healed from diseases. Blind people can see again, and crippled people are walking. You can understand it; even in our day we will go great distances to be healed. Just think of how far people will go to get to Mayo clinic.

So on this occasion, John tells us, a very large crowd had gathered because it was close to the Passover. Jesus pointed at the crowd as they were gathering and asked his disciples. “Where will we buy food to feed all these people?”

“What? Philip complained. “You’ve got to be kidding, it’d take 8 months to earn enough to even give this crowd just a bite each!”

Andrew spoke up next, “Well, I don’t know about the crowd but here’s a boy whose brought his own lunch. It’s pretty small, five small loaves and two small fish. It’s not going to go very far!”

“Have everyone sit down.” Jesus instructed. You see, Jesus already had in mind what he was going to do and was setting up the disciples to learn a new lesson. He took the loaves and fish and blessed them and began to pass the small lunch around. Amazingly, that little lunch basket didn’t empty out, instead everyone there was fed. Jesus has used a small lunch to feed a great crowd. And they all had all they wanted to eat.

“Now,” Jesus said continuing the lesson, “gather up the leftovers, nothing should be wasted.” And the disciples gathered 12 baskets of bread and fish from the 5 and 2. And when the people realized what had happened they went wild, “This is a guy we’ve gotta have as our King. Look at what he can do. We’ll never go starving again!” But Jesus slipped away to the other side of the lake, so they wouldn’t make him the king.

But eventually, the next day, they found him again, and crowded around again. Jesus spoke to them again. “You’re looking for me because I fed you, yesterday. But that food, that bread and fish, is the kind that spoils. That’s not the kind of food you should be looking for. What your really need is the bread that comes down from heaven.” It’s as if he was saying, “You need bread to eat to live, but what you really need is to believe in me, to ‘eat my flesh,’ then you’ll really live.”

Now you see, this text makes a whole lot more sense when you know what happened before. You see the people there were grumbling, because Jesus says he is “the bread come down from heaven.” It offended them, when Jesus said what they needed was not bread to fill their stomachs, but the bread that he offered. That meant to believe in him. “Wait a minute!” they grumbled, “What’s this guy saying? He’s the bread from heaven? He’s just the son of Joseph the carpenter, and Mary, his wife. We know them. He’s just a neighborhood boy. He didn’t ‘come down from heaven’ He was born in the normal way.” He may have been a miracle worker but still he was just the neighborhood boy, born in a small nowhere town. What they expected from God is not an ordinary looking man, but an extraordinary, spectacular showing of God. This can’t be God! He’s far too ordinary.

Don’t we complain about how God comes to us, too? We want to make himself present among us through extraordinary ‘spiritual’ experiences. We want to see God in a flashy display of Glory, God showing himself in some visible power in our lives. We want the mountain top experience in worship and have a tendency to think if we don’t ‘feel’ God’s presence that must mean he’s not active here. We want God to show himself in our lives by doing something big, like taking away our illness, or making us successful, or solving out family problems. But “We preach Christ Crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.

Jesus Christ comes to us regularly in very ordinary non-spiritual looking ways. He comes to us in Water and Word in baptism. When we watch a baptism we see only a baby (or adult) getting water poured on their head. He comes to us in plain looking bread and wine, he comes to us through preaching, the ordinary human voice. It all doesn’t look like much and not particularly special. It is by faith alone that we see that Jesus Christ here. It was by faith alone that people standing before Jesus saw “God’ son” instead of the Son of Joseph.

It was God’s Son there in with the crowd in flesh and blood: God himself, in true humanity, in Jesus Christ. They didn’t know who Jesus was because they didn’t recognize his true father. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” They said. They rejected the idea that God could be man. But only through the man Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does the Father come to us and are we drawn to the Father. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Jn 14:6 ESV)” We shouldn’t expect to see God anyplace else.

It’s what we find here, Jesus speaking His Word to us in ordinary human voices; Jesus washing us clean with His Word and water in baptism; Jesus, giving us the forgiveness He won on the cross through his very body and blood, in, with, and under ordinary bread and wine. Here is where we find the bread of life to eat.

It’s an offense to human ears to hear that this is how God works. And not only is it an offense but it’s impossible to believe. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Jesus says. You cannot know who the Father is, except in the flesh of him who was sent from the Father. Many of us memorized the words of Martin Luther from the small catechism: “I believe 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.” Believing in this flesh and blood Jesus, trusting in him you have eternal life, not only for your future but right here and now. People become Christians, that is they come to faith in Jesus, not by human will, power or choosing, but by God’s will, power and choosing. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph 2:8-9, ESV) It is hearing the word of God, the Good News of the real, flesh and blood Jesus Christ that creates faith in human beings. That is how we eat the bread of life. That is how God draws people to himself. By giving us the Good News of Jesus Christ, living, dying and rising again. It comes through the cross of Jesus Christ, offensive as it may be.

Bread that we eat every day, earthly food, only lasts for a short time. It only keeps us alive for a little while. But Jesus Christ, ‘the bread come down from heaven’ is bread that lasts forever. “If anyone eats of the bread I give they will live forever.” Jesus isn’t just talking in spiritual or symbolic terms either. He says, “This bread is my flesh.” To eat the bread he offers is to take part in the flesh he gave on the cross. When we eat the bread he offers, we believe in Jesus Christ, who came into the world ‘in the flesh’ as God and man.

Even though Jesus isn’t talking about the Lord’s Supper here, exactly. I don’t think we can stop today without talking about the connection there is to it. Just think about it. He says, “50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” Jesus talks about eating his flesh in faith, and you will not die. “Here is my flesh, standing before you, suffering on the cross, rising again from death. Believe in me and you will not die.” And Jesus says right here Sundays Jesus Christ says, “This is my body, this is my blood. Here at this altar is the bread that comes down from heaven. Here is forgiveness given through the same flesh and blood that hung on the cross to die, so that one may eat of it and not die.” It’s not just spiritual eating, it real physical eating. It’s not just spiritual nourishment, but physical nourishment. Just as we eat food to live at our own table, Jesus gives us his food to eat at his table. He gives us his very body and blood, ‘bread from heaven’. At our table we eat to live for a little while, at His table he gives us food to live forever.

In the Old Testament reading, Elijah was supplied food that he ate ordinary food and water and it sustained him for 40 days. It didn’t look like anything special at all, yet it was what he needed to go on. God gives us bread here in worship that we can really live on. That food is The Bread of Life, come down from heaven. Jesus Christ is the bread that sustains us not just for 40 days, but also for eternity. Amen.

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

Sunday, August 05, 2012

2 Corinthians 5:14-21; The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 5, 2012;

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:14–21, ESV)