Monday, March 24, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I have no husband."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

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

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

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

[i] Elbert Hubbard. (n.d.). Retrieved April 6, 2011, from Web site:

Saturday, March 01, 2014

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

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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