Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mark.10.35-45; Fifth Sunday in Lent; March 25, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:35-45, ESV)

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

We have often talked about how God, through Jesus Christ, has retrieved us from the jaws of our mortal enemy, Satan. How in Baptism God placed the name of Jesus on us to make us his children instead of the property of Satan. That is what Jesus is talking about here, too, when he talks about being the ransom. You know what it means to be ransomed; you’ve seen it in a thousand television programs. Someone is held captive until a release price is paid. That’s God’s Amazing Grace for us that he was willing to pay the release price, the blood of Jesus, for our sins, to remove us from the power of sin, death and especially from the power and control of Satan. It is a very comforting thing to remember that Satan has no power over us, and God is here for us, to fight for us, and defend our cause against him.

10The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. Proverbs 18:10 (ESV)

What makes all this work, what’s behind all this, is God’s willingness to serve us. Jesus says “for even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” And that’s a curious thing, that the Creator of the universe willingly serves his created creatures. That’s like the boss serving his employees. That’s the master serving the slaves. But that is exactly what we see all over the scriptures. Jesus serves sick people by healing them. He serves hungry people by feeding them (by the thousands!). He serves confused people by teaching them. He serves outcast people by hanging out with them. It was the constant complaint of Jesus critics, “He goes in with sinners and eats with them.” They have a hard time getting their minds around what Jesus is doing. “If he is really from God,” they think, “he should be spending his time with godly and worthy people. He should be spending his time with the folks who put the real money in the collection plate. He should have been spending his time with us, telling us what a good job we’ve done.” They wanted Jesus to tell them they were the good guys they thought they were.

But Jesus makes it clear he is doing something different. Jesus explains it in parable after parable. One is in Luke 15, there he tells us of the shepherd who lost one sheep from his flock of a hundred. He leaves the ninety-nine sheep behind and goes out to find the missing one. Then he carries it home on his shoulders. The shepherd serves the wayward sheep, by carrying it home. It is a picture of Jesus serving. Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd. But look how Jesus goes one step beyond the parable. He gives up his very life for the lost sheep. One of our well known Lenten hymns says it like this:

How strange is this great paradox to ponder:
The shepherd dies for sheep who love to wander;
The master pays the debt his servants owe him,
Who would not know him.

I love that line “The shepherd dies for sheep who love to wander.” They don’t wander off accidentally, they do it on purpose. They don’t make little missteps that get them into trouble. It isn’t that they’re not quite perfect. It isn’t minor character flaws that keep popping up that leads them a little astray. They love to wander. They want to do it, and look for the chance to strike out on their own away from the shepherd. And he dies to bring them back. Paul tells us what that’s all about, too.

"For while we [sheep who love to wander] were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly [sheep who love to wander]. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners [sheep who love to wander], Christ died for us." (Ro 5:6-8, ESV)

Jesus serves by dying for sinners who love to wander off.

And one thing we love to do is put ourselves in the ninety-nine, the “good sheep” who “don’t need to repent.” We don’t really belong there. And although we love the Savior, we are also the sheep who love to wander. We so easily fall into sin. “I’ll just do it this time I’ll worry about the consequences later. I can sin, because I know God will forgive me.” “I’m not really that bad, I know other people who sin more than me.” “for all the good I do, I’m really a good sheep, not a bad one.”

That’s really what Jesus disciples were doing, too. They clearly have a different view of things than Jesus does.

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

I really want you to pay attention to what they are asking Jesus for. They want that, when Jesus comes into his glory they can be in their glory at his right and his left. “Jesus we really deserve to be right there at your side basking in the glory, too. We’ve seen all these wandering sheep you’ve been with. We’ve been right here at your side all the time. When you really get down to establishing your glory, we [who are sheep who have never wandered], deserve to be at your right and your left.” Jesus answers, “You do not know what you are asking.” You don’t really understand why I’ve come. It’s all about service. It’s about what I am doing for you through my life and death and resurrection. “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”

Notice again the disciple’s request. “We want you to do for us…” We want glory. We want you to make us great. They don’t get it. But mostly they can’t serve as Jesus serves. We can’t serve as Jesus serves. Even our best service is marred by self interest. Even if at first our motives are good, we can’t help think about how good it will look to other people that see us doing it. Call it the I-hope-other-people-see-me-put-my-money-in-the-collection-plate syndrome. We love to come to worship to receive the gifts God gives us here, but we are sure to sit in the same place every week to be sure everyone knows that we are here. And what parent hasn’t thought more about how other people will think of them when their child misbehaves. We really want the glory, even when we fight against the temptation; the sin of self glory is still there in our hearts. All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Isa 64:6, NIV) Isaiah says that even the good things we do are not acceptable to God. We can’t hide our sinful hearts, our desire for self-glory, from God. He knows the true story.

It is only through the work of God that we can be delivered from that sin that so much fills our hearts and corrupts even the good things we do.

Where guilt is great and sin abounds,

There God’s great love is poured,

And fervent prayer from saints resounds:

“Oh, vindicate me, Lord”

We call upon Jesus to help us. We call upon Jesus to serve us. Because we know that Jesus service is different. His is selfless. Without realizing it James and John actually point that out by what they ask. That’s why Jesus says, “You do not know what you are asking.” Jesus talks about his cup and his baptism. That’s his service to the world. It’s the cup of suffering. It’s the baptism of bearing the whole world’s sins. It’s the cross. James and John wanted to be with Jesus, “in his glory.” The cross turns “glory” on its head. Jesus “glory” comes in his suffering and death. His “glory” is to vindicate us, to free us from our sin, our sin of wanting self-glory. It’s backwards from the way we naturally think. It’s the Good Shepherd leaving the 99 and giving everything for the sake of the one lost sheep. And backwards from the way the world works. It’s backwards from what James and John were thinking. Jesus says, “You do not know what you are asking… to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. (Mk 15:22-28, ESV)

I’m sure that that’s not what James and John had in mind. But there on the cross, Jesus comes into his full glory. Jesus shows his true nature on the cross, in his willingness to suffer and die. It is in that suffering and death that we see what Jesus means by saying that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. There is where the Shepherd gives his life for the sheep who love to wander.

And there it is again. God’s Amazing Grace. That he sent his own son, who deserves to be served by the whole world, yet, lived died and rose again to serve the whole world. As for me and you sheep of the shepherd, who struggle with our love to wander, he serves us, too. Right here, right now, through his Word. Amen.

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

Saturday, March 10, 2012

John 2.13-22; The Third Sunday in Lent; March 11, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:13–22, ESV)

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

Well, this has been one of those winters. No, not the typical hard Iowa winter. The un-typical mild Iowa winter. In spite of all the troubles in the world, here in Iowa we've had spring for the last 3 months. It's time, just about, to get outside and start cleaning up the yard, tilling your garden, and more. It's even been warm enough lately to open the doors of the house and let out the stale air. It's time again to start thinking about cleaning house, spring cleaning.

Today’s text is about Jesus cleaning house. It’s important to note that this isn’t the only time he does this. St. John records this account in the first part of his Gospel, and the other Apostles tell us of a similar time during Holy Week. And considering the condition of things in the temple, and what was going there every day, it wouldn't surprise me if Jesus did it there every week. Jesus comes to the temple and doesn’t like what he sees, so he cleans house.

We don’t see this picture of Jesus very often; whip in hand, raised voice, overturning tables, driving people away. The only way to describe it is that Jesus is angry. Don't let anyone every sell you the picture of Jesus meek and mild. Jesus argued with the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus called demons to account. Jesus was a force to be reckoned with. Here in the temple he's downright aggressive. But he's doing more than just spring cleaning. He's repurposing the temple. He's cleaning the "Father's House" and pointing to something beyond himself.

Another thing to notice about this text is when it happens. It's an important point that it’s Passover. For those of you who when to the Seder Meal we did a few years ago, do you remember how we started. We started with a cleaning. Before Passover the Jews clean house. Everything is cleaned and the whole house is searched for yeast, and all of it is removed. Yeast is a strong symbol of sin and before Passover the Jews remove it from their houses to symbolically remove sin from their lives.

The Passover is a major holiday for those in Israel, in Jesus time, as well as today. Jerusalem was crowded to capacity. Every room was full, the streets were crowded, there was joy in the air, but also tension. Whenever there are large crowds of people there is always the possibility of trouble. Roman soldier patrolled the streets. Since every family was required to slaughter their Passover lamb in the temple, it too was very crowded. Other sacrifices were also required during that time.

When Jesus entered the temple he found a market place. It’s not that he’s against free trade. The market itself was even understandable. People would have to exchange their money. If you’ve ever traveled out of the country you know what that’s all about. The people in town for the Passover came from all over the Roman world their money needed to be exchanged. But even more than that, all Jews were required to pay the temple tax. It couldn’t be paid with Pagan money. That doesn’t mean that people weren’t being taken advantage of, they probably were. Whenever, you gather people around business transactions greed pops up its ugly head.

But Jesus anger isn’t necessarily aimed just at the moneychangers and their greed. After all they provided a necessary service that was required by the Law of Moses. His anger seems to be about something else.

There are also the tables of people selling animals for sacrifice. (No one from PETA was there to complain!) They are also providing a necessary service. It’s difficult to travel with animals. People needed to be able to buy what was necessary for sacrifice. And remember they had to be perfect without blemish. Who would want to carry a lamb all the way from Egypt, a journey of several weeks, just to find that it didn’t pass inspection? It was better to buy one that was already certified. All in all, there’s nothing wrong with the practice of buying a sacrifice for the temple. Of course here to there were probably abuses, and inflated pricing, because the sellers had motivated buyers. But again Jesus isn’t necessarily driving the animal sellers out of the temple because of their greed.

Here’s the picture I want you to put in your mind. Think of the property all around our church. Imagine it all enclosed with a high wall, all the way around the perimeter; all the way from the outdoor worship center to Spenser street. That whole area is full of tables and people and animals. You’ve go bulls, and sheep and goats and doves in cages. People have come from Des Moine, St. Louis (MO.), Kansas City, Denver, all the way here, by the hundreds. They’re outside the walls and inside. There is a steady stream of animals being brought in, also by the hundreds. People are packed together, there’s arguing, haggling, bleating, cooing, and mooing. Imagine all that noise, and worse imagine the smell. It’s a huge mess. And here inside the church people are tying to pray, and sacrifice, and worship.

Jesus cleans house. We can understand why. But remember it’s not just that he wants to get rid of the noise, the smell and the mess. He’s not necessarily angry that people are buying and selling. He’s not necessarily angry that you can’t hear yourself think to pray. There is something else that troubles him even more.

With all the commerce, the buying and selling, people had gotten the impression that you could buy your way into God’s presence. It was a system that seemed to imply that if you paid enough money, got a perfect enough animal, had the right kind of cash, you could get in to see God. “My Father’s house is not a market!” Jesus shouted. This is not a place where business is done—not a place to exchange money, or buy and sell lambs for sacrifice, or cashing in on the worship of God and commercializing worship with Him. This is a house of prayer; a place where we meet God, not in a barnyard or bank. It’s not a place where money of any kind buys anything! When we come here, God looks for faith, not at your checkbook. He doesn’t care how much you give, or how perfect your lamb is.

Jesus is making a very important point about the worship of God. “If you want to come to God, you don’t need money, you don’t need an animal sacrifice, and you don’t even need the temple… anymore. I am the temple! God has come among you. I am here to take you to the Father. It doesn’t require all this mess, the blood of these animals. It requires my blood. It requires my death. The death of God’s very own Son, on the cross.”

Jesus cleans house. He pushes it all aside and out of the temple, the moneychangers, the pigeon sellers, and the sacrifices, too. He comes to replace it all. He earns our way to the Father. He is the final and complete sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. “Destroy this temple, torture me, beat me, crucify me, and kill me, and I will come alive again in three days. Everything you see here in this temple of stone, is right now being replaced in the temple of my body.”

And there’s something else we should pay attention to here. God’s House, this house that Jesus is cleaning is a house of prayer for “all nations.” That’s what St. Mark says Jesus shouted. Remember that the temple had some pretty strict rules about access. Jewish males could go into the temple proper, but women and Gentiles were left to do their worship in the outer courtyard; out there on our parking lot, out there among the animals, the noise, mess, and moneychangers. You see, Jesus isn’t just cleaning house for the Jews. He’s making room. He’s opening the house up for all nations. He opens it for every person: Jews, Gentiles, rich, poor, sick and well; farmers, factory workers, bikers, teachers, auto-mechanics, and children. The temple, that is Jesus Christ, is for all people. “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus commanded.

It’s time for us too to clean house. Remember God isn’t interested in your money; he’s interested in finding faith. He doesn’t want perfect sacrifices that are empty; he wants your fait to be focused on him. He wants this house of prayer to be open to “all nations” people from all walks of life, people from all social classes, and races. When Jesus cleans the temple he opens it up for all people. And he doesn’t just clean up the temple; Jesus Christ cleans up the whole world. His life, death and resurrection are about cleaning up the mess of sin. His blood cleans the mess of sin in your heart and mine. His blood cleanses the sin of everyone who believes in him, the Jew and the Gentile. When people have faith in the work of Jesus Christ they have access to the Father, through him. There are no more outcasts, no second-class citizens, no one who is beyond help and hope.

Isn’t it good to know that you don’t have to deal with moneychangers for access to God? Isn’t it nice to know that Jesus guarantees your access to the Father by his death? Jesus cleans house. He cleans the temple. He cleans your heart. He cleans mine. He gives us forgiveness. He cleans us a way to God by removing our sin. Amen.

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

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Romans.5.6; The Second Sunday in Lent; March 3, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Ro 5:6, ESV)

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

There's another way you could say that. While we were weak, God remembered us, at just the right time. How many times have I said to you that in Baptism we know that God remembers us. He does it in a very personal way. He shows us that He has chosen us. Even though it is a very simple thing, water and spoken words, we trust that God does what He promises through it. We rejoiced in the fact that Baptism is so specific that it doesn’t leave any doubt about who God is dealing with. The water of Baptism makes our heads wet and God puts His name on us, and with His name comes all His promises. For each of us, it happens at just the right time.

So, here St. Paul says that God remembered us when we were weak. Another translation says it was when we were powerless. Now I don’t know about you but I’m the kind of person who never wants to be seen as weak. Just like everyone I want people to see me as a strong person. Weak people are taken advantage of. Weak people are not influential people. Weak people are not respected. Weak people are… well not really anything. It’s like a cartoon of a job interview I recently saw. The interviewer says: “You’re just the type of weakling this company is looking for to exploit and discard. You’re hired!” That’s really what we think about when we say that some one is weak. Here’s how we really hear Paul’s words: While we were doormats…While we were wusses.. While we were crybabies, softies, namby-pamby, or wimps. And naturally none of us wants to be any of those things. None of us wants to be weak. Really we don’t believe that we are weak, either in life or even in the sight of God.

Teen called weakling; saves man from pond

The Associated Press
Last Updated 8:22 a.m. PST Friday, January 30, 2004

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) - A high school freshman who walked out of a weightlifting session after being called a weakling became a hero minutes later when he saved an elderly man who had driven into a pond.

Justin Gregorich, 14, was one of three people who jumped into the water Wednesday to pull Raymond J. Kane from his sinking Lincoln Town Car.

"It's amazing - there are snakes and there are alligators ... all three of them just jumped in right after that guy," said paramedic Mike Eash.

Gregorich had hopes of joining Countryside High School's junior-varsity football team next season, and after school Wednesday he went to the team's conditioning practice.

But at 5-foot-3 inches tall and 130 pounds, he couldn't lift as much weight as the other boys, who teased him. Gregorich said he left early and began walking home.

"I'm thinking, man, I should have stayed at football, the coach is going to be mad at me, why did I leave?" he recalled. "And - WHAM!"

At that moment, the Lincoln veered off the road in front of him and sped toward the pond. Gregorich dove in, along with passers-by Michael McBrayer and Shawn Brady.

One man opened the car door as Gregorich and the other man grabbed Kane by the arms, authorities said. They swam about 50 feet back to the bank.

Kane was in good condition Thursday, issuing a statement through a hospital spokesman thanking his rescuers.

"I owe my life to that young man," Kane said. He also wished him luck in making the football team.

Even if we could be convinced we are weak, that’s the picture we want to think about ourselves. The weakling makes good in the end. The football reject makes the team anyway. “It’s really about inner strength and character.” That’s really how we want God to look at us. We might be weak but we are sure that we are strong in inner strength and character. That’s the reason we believe God should remember us.

It happens every time we run into trouble in our lives. We are sure God is testing us. We are sure He just wants us to prove how strong we really are. So we buck up, we endure, we turn to our “inner” strength. And then we turn to God and say: “Look God! I’m doing great. See, I can handle it. I’m really strong. Aren’t I a great person, a person worth remembering?”

Think about Peter. He was a strong guy, right? Well, I wasn’t his strength that allowed him to walk on water. It happened after Jesus feed the five thousand. He told the disciples to go to the other side of the lake, while he stayed behind. It took them a long time to cross the lake, because “the wind was against them.” While they struggled against the wind, in the dark of the night they saw Jesus walking toward them on the water. They were frightened, just as you and I would be. “Don’t be afraid! Jesus shouted over the wind and the water. Now this is where Peter demonstrates his strength. “Lord, if that’s really you, let me walk on the water out to you.” “Come.” Jesus answered. And Peter stepped out of the boat and began to walk to Jesus. But as soon as the strong man realized what he was really doing, he began to sink. When he took his eyes off of Jesus and began to see his own position and his own ability he plunged into the water. “Lord, save me!” he cried out, and Jesus saved him. Even strong Peter, the Rock, couldn’t walk on water by his own strength but only when he was depending on Jesus.

St. Paul (that’s who wrote our text for this evening) also knew what it meant to be weak. In fact, he said that he boasted in his weakness.

"For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Co 12:10, ESV)

And he didn’t mean that weakness brought him strength, he means that his weakness showed the strength of Jesus. When Paul was down and out, bent down with trouble, unable to move on his own, paralyzed by unmanageable circumstances, that’s when he really depended on Jesus. Jesus even said to him,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Co 12:9, ESV).

“When you are at your weakest point, that’s when you really depend on me, instead of yourself.”

Ok Pastor, but why do we have to be weak before Jesus remembers us? Well, that’s not exactly what I’m saying. That’s not what Paul is talking about either. Really what he is saying, what I am saying is that when we are weak, that’s when we see our need to be remembered by God. When we know that we don’t deserve anything God does for us, that’s when we see most clearly what it means that God does remember us. God does His most important work in our lives, not in the ways that we people think He should, but in weakness. While we were still weak… when we realize that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, when we are sinking in the water of sin, when we are lost and alone, God remembers us and saves us.

He saves us through the weakness of 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 2:6-8, ESV)

Jesus became a weak and humble person, and submitted to a death of weakness.

“At just the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:6, ESV)

It was just the right time for us, because if He hadn’t done it we would have been lost to our sin, lost to death and lost to hell. An eternity of hell is exactly what we deserve for our sin. But because we were weak and powerless, God stepped in, He remembered us, and took the punishment away from us paid it Himself, in Jesus. We can’t do it, we are too weak, so He did. He did it in the weakness of human flesh that bled and died on the cross.

In just a few short weeks, Easter will be upon us. We’ll travel through the rest of holy week and remember the weakness of Jesus death on the cross on Good Friday. And even more importantly we’ll remember that after Good Friday comes Easter Sunday. The same Jesus, who in weakness died, in glory and strength walks away from death alive again. That’s where He really shows us where our weakness ends. Because He took the punishment for our sin to the grave, we too will walk away from death.

We are weak. Trouble stalks us all the time. It causes us pain. And that’s were we most easily see Jesus. In our weakness we remember that He remembers us. Amen.

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