Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Matthew 16.13-20; Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 21, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20 ESV)

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

And Peter said, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

Well, the confession doesn’t get any clearer than that. “Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.” Peter surely doesn’t understand all the implications of the confession, but he is saying something miraculous. The man, Jesus, his friend, his teacher, standing before him, breathing the same air, eating the same food, wearing out the same sandal leather, this human being is from God, himself; the promised Messiah; the Christ. Christ is a title that means “the anointed one.” Saying that Jesus is the anointed one is saying that he is the one set aside and appointed to do a specific task for God. The specific task of the Christ is to save God’s people from their sin. Peter was saying exactly that. He knew who the Messiah was supposed to be and why he was supposed to come. That’s the promise of God that Peter heard from his parents and his church. That’s the promise of God throughout Peter’s bible.

Peter may be thinking about the promise made in the garden:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 ESV)

It means that Satan is defeated. He won’t have control over God’s people anymore. This is the first promise of what the Messiah, the Christ, is going to do.

Peter may have been thinking about the promise made to Abraham as he sheathed the knife that was held at Isaac’s throat. You remember the story. God tells Abraham to take his son, his only hope for the future, and offer him as a sacrifice, a burnt offering. Abraham faithfully obeys all the way to placing the knife against the soft flesh of his son’s neck. God intervenes and provides a substitute and a promise. A ram is caught in the thorns. The lamb’s life is sacrificed in place of Isaac’s. Isaac is spared. A different sacrifice is given. Its blood is shed instead. And God promises Abraham:

and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18 ESV)

This event isn’t just a picture of Abraham’s willingness to do what God said. It is a picture of faith, but also a picture of the object of the faith. It is a picture story of the Christ and Peter’s confession of faith. Jesus is the substitute in death for the sin of the world. Jesus is The Lamb of God, who comes to take away the sin of the world.

Peter may have even been thinking about the confessions of the prophets. Like King David who writes in Psalm 22 the very words Jesus uses on the cross:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1 ESV)

Jesus is suffering the just punishment for sin. He uses David’s words (which are God’s Words) to describe it. God turns away from Jesus. God abandons Jesus to punishment and death and hell. Jesus receives the just punishment for sin, eternal separation from God, that’s exactly what hell is. The just punishment for sin is poured out on Jesus on the cross.

Peter may have been thinking about Isaiah. He describes the Christ as the one who carries the load of sin. The Messiah is the one who removes the punishment of the sins of the world, by bearing its burden.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 ESV)

All this is Peter’s confession. It comes from God’s Word. All this is what it means when Peter says that Jesus is the Christ. It is something miraculous and amazing. He didn’t just figure it out on his own, God, the Holy Spirit revealed it to him. God, the Holy Spirit spoke through him. And it isn’t just the words that are amazing it’s also the fact that Peter utters them so clearly without reservation. In this instance Peter lives us to his nickname, the Rock. He is rock solid, faithful, and confessional.

My friends in Christ, Peter’s confession is our confession. “Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.” We’ve said it already a half a dozen times this morning. We’ll say it more times before our worship time is through. It is one of the reasons we gather as a congregation; to say clearly what God has given us to say about Jesus; to confess our faith in Jesus as the Messiah, our Savior from sin, death and hell. To worship God by proclaiming who He is and what He has done for us.

Peter gives a great confession. But he very shortly erases all that he said. When Jesus tells the disciples all what it really means to be the Christ, Peter reacts outside of his clear confession.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23 ESV)

Jesus sets Peter in his place. It’s as if he says, “You’ve forgotten what you just confessed. You are off topic. You’ve got something else at the center instead of me, and my life, death and resurrection, all that I have come to do. You are listening to Satan speaking to your heart instead of the Holy Spirit that spoke in your confession before. Get back on track. I am at the center. Confess me again as the Christ. Keep clear what I have come to do for you.”

But we are no different than Peter. Life happens. Stuff happens. Roofs leak. There are bills to pay. Pastors come and go. Long faithful members die. As the community shrinks attendance declines. Families fight and struggle for power. We worry and fret about survival. And our confession evaporates in a cloud of trouble. Jesus is not at the center anymore. So our Lord Jesus rebukes us. “Get behind me Satan. You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but instead the things of man have been put at the center.”

Jesus puts us in our place. “You’ve forgotten what you just confessed. You are off topic. You’ve got something else at the center instead of me, and my life, death and resurrection. You are listening to Satan speaking to your heart instead of the Holy Spirit that spoke in your confession before. Get back on track. I am at the center. Confess me as the Christ. Keep clear what I have come to do for you.”

How do we survive at such criticism? How do we react to God’s Word that convicts us of our sin? It is all in the confession. It is in the answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?”

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, come into the world to bring us forgiveness of sin. This isn’t some un-practical, un-revelevant thing. You and I are sinful. We tend push Jesus out of the center. We do it not only as the church, but also in our personal lives. As we just heard:

“… we have sinned in thought, word and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.” (Divine Service, Setting Four, LSB, p. 203)

Life happens. Stuff happens. Our sin comes to the surface again and again. We pay for it over and over again; broken church, broken lives, broken promises, and broken friendships. It never ends as long as we live. We cannot free ourselves. And more than that, when we die in our sin, without faith in Jesus, there is only eternal punishment. There is nothing more relevant, more important than the message spoken by Peter, “Jesus, you are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

My dear Christian friends, today I come to you to proclaim exactly what I did the first time I spoke from this pulpit. With Jesus there is forgiveness. There is forgiveness in Jesus only. He has forgiveness for your failures, forgiveness for your broken promises, forgiveness for your thinking more of money than of Jesus, forgiveness for thinking that it is your job to save the church, forgiveness for thinking of yourselves first instead of others. Forgiveness is all here, in Jesus Christ. It is found here at the font, where born sinful people are washed clean and adopted by God; where sin is washed away forever; where God’s promises put on people with His name. It is found in Jesus on the cross. It is found in Jesus in His holy and precious blood shed for you. You receive it right here in, with and under bread and wine, Jesus’ special meal for you. It is found in his suffering and death as payment for the debt you owe for your sin. It is found in his bearing of your grief and sorrow over sin. He is wounded for your transgressions. He is crushed for your iniquities.

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Psalm 130:3-4 ESV)

What does that forgiveness mean? It means that as life happens, as stuff happens, our sin is taken care of. We can serve each other without fear. The things we do for one another are washed clean of sin. Our self-serving motives are taken to the grave by Jesus. Dear Christians, confess with me and Saint Peter, the confession that makes all the difference for us. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Amen.

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

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Romans 10.5-17; Eighth Sunday after Pentecost; August 7, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:5-17 ESV)

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

There is a very strong contrast in this text. It talks about two kinds of righteousness. Righteousness is just a $10 word that means being right with God, or having God look at us and seeing only good. So this text is talking about that. The first way is simple. If you keep the commandments, so says Moses, you will live by them. And at first we may like what we hear. We are pretty keen on the law and the commandments after all. How many of you were distressed at the fight to remove the Ten Commandments from courtrooms around the country? God gives us laws, if we obey them we can live. If we could just get everyone to follow those Ten Commandments then we’d have a country that was blessed by God. It is interesting that recent polls show that even Christians don’t know the commandments. If you ask what they are you usually get a list containing something about killing, stealing, and maybe even littering. How are you supposed to keep the commandments if you don’t even know what they are? And that’s just the problem. When we look at our lives we think we see that we are keeping them pretty good. It’s those folks out there who aren’t on the ball. We’re not lazy like those folks down the road who never work and don’t even try, but live on the handouts of others. We’re not drinking our way to an early grave like those who are always parked out in front of the bars. We’re not worshipping that Posturepedic god instead of warming our place in the pew. We’re putting “our fair share” in the collection plate, not like those folks who never give anything so the church can meet its budget. We’ve got it all over them. When Moses says, we shall live by them… We’re very quick to point out where others aren’t keeping them. And we, if we just look at the surface, are doing pretty well. The problem with looking at the commandments this way is that we forget something very important about them. The important thing is how they start. The first commandment is really the key to them all. That’s what Jesus tells us when he was asked: What is the greatest commandment?

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)

The first commandment is the key. If you can’t do it you aren’t keeping the rest. You shall have no other gods is a tall order and it is infinitely personal. It’s between me and God. He is to be first and only. I am to depend on him for everything. I am to love him more than anything, including myself. He is to be in my every thought, always. The rest of the commandments don’t matter after this. The righteousness that Moses says lets me live is really having a perfect relationship to God. And when I look at my life, when you look at your life in light of God’s demand in just this first commandment we end up standing in the rubble of all the commandments broken. But the proof is in the living. Your life and mine is littered with the broken pieces of the commandments. We have enemies because we don’t keep the commandments. We hurt friends and family because we don’t keep them. We toss and turn in the night with our well earned guilt. What Moses says is true. The person who does the commandments will live by them. But it is just as true that those who don't live by the law perfectly, will die by them. The way for righteousness by the law isn’t in the cards. But we still try, we gather up the broken pieces of the law all around us and dutifully carry it to God and say, doesn’t this count for anything? But the commandments must be whole. Broken pieces offered to God are nothing. In fact, only bring God's justified anger. Isaiah says it clearly.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6 ESV)

Now I said the passage talks about two kinds of righteousness. And that’s a good thing because the first way is out of reach. The second way is a righteousness based on faith. St. Paul tells us what this way is like. First, he says, this righteousness isn’t like the way of the law because it admits it can’t keep the law. That’s what he means when he says “Who can bring Christ down?” or “Who can raise Christ from the dead?” He’s just saying that faith admits we can’t do anything to make these things happen. Faith confesses the truth about who we are.

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3 NIV)

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. (Psalm 51:3 NIV)

But the righteousness of faith is more than that. We know we are sinful because the law condemns us. But God’s Word also gives us hope.

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); (Romans 10:8 ESV)

The thing is the way of righteousness by the law is hard, in fact impossible. We can’t keep the commandments. That is we can’t keep them perfectly to be right with God and have a relationship to him. But the way of faith is easy. In fact, there is nothing to be done at all.

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10 ESV)

We confess with our mouth what we believe in our hearts. Faith expresses itself in words.

In confession it says,

But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Psalm 130:4 ESV)

At the baptismal font it says,

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16 ESV)

At the altar it says,

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28 ESV)

At the hospital it says,

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10 ESV)

At the grave it says,

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 ESV)

That’s the word that is near you, in your heart, and confessing the faith that saves. Jesus gives the victory in all these times because he is the one who has won them. Actually that’s the other way that what Moses says is true. He says that the man who does the commandments shall live by them. We know he’s not talking about you and me. He is talking about someone. It’s Jesus. Jesus did the commandments perfectly. He had no trouble with keeping God as the center of his life. It shows too in everything else he does. He had compassion on sinful people who needed help. He healed sick people. He fed hungry people. He gently (and not so gently) corrected those who believed false things. He placed other people’s needs above his own. Jesus is the one who can and does present the commandments in whole stone to God, the Father. There are no chips or scratches or cracks at all. By all rights Jesus should live, as the commandments promise, if they are kept whole. And Jesus does live. But first he dies. When we present our works to God all that we should receive is his anger and punishment for destroying his perfect law. But instead Jesus steps between us and God’s anger. He takes it all. On the cross God’s perfectly just anger is poured out on Jesus. All the punishment for the broken tables of the law. All the punishment for not doing what we should. All the punishment for doing what we shouldn’t. All of what we deserve for trying to deflect our own sinfulness on other people. But Jesus does live. He earned life through his perfect life and sacrificial death on the cross. He lives, just as Moses says. And what’s more, he presents his perfectly kept law to God, not for himself, but for you and for me. So, what Moses said about living is true for us to. That’s God’s promise in our baptism in Jesus, through his life, death and especially his resurrection from death.

But that’s not all that Paul says here either. He tells us what the church, what this church; Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Union County, Iowa; and all our sister congregations across the state, nation, and world, are all about. In short he says our task as the church is to do just exactly what faith does. Faith has an expression in proclamation. It isn’t really difficult. “Faith comes from hearing” he says, “and hearing through the Word of Christ.” Our task is to preach. How can they call on him if they don’t believe? They can’t. How can they believe without hearing? They can’t. How can there be hearing without a preacher? There isn’t. The job of the church above all things is to proclaim the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ alone. The job of the church is to remain focused on the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Budgets and buildings are necessary to that end but we don’t worship bricks, and we don’t keep a beautiful building for the sake of its beauty. This is all here for the sake of hearing.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: We rejoice in this gift from God; the proclamation of eternal life through the forgiveness of sins won for us by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.

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