Monday, September 29, 2014

Not in angels [St. Michaelmass; St. Matthew 18:1-11]

So far, we have celebrated quite a few feast days. Meaning, we have skipped the readings for the regular Sundays in the Trinity time of the Church Year and have instead celebrated a certain saint. These saints, as we talked about with St. Matthew’s day, follow Jesus. They follow His every move, watching and believing that all He does is for us.

The purpose of these feast days is not to show us great people that we will never be like, but to remind us that Christ makes us all equals. We are all saved and cleansed of our sins, in Jesus.

And so when we hear Jesus speaking of angels and heavenly authorities, that statement for us becomes a little fuzzy. In the only descriptions we have of St. Michael in the Scriptures heard today, yes we have him fighting, but why does he have to fight? Isn’t he an angel? Some kind of protected-heavenly-being-class character or something?

In this day and age you never think of angels as the bad guys. They are always pictured in heavenly glow with words of wisdom. They are the, mostly feminized, heroes that come to the rescue or give sage advice when needed desperately. Literature calls this kind of character the Deus Ex Machina.

Literally meaning, “god from out of the machine”, the Deus ex machina comes in at the lowest point of the story, picks the main character up, and turns the tides. Why this happens is because the Deus Ex Machina uses means outside the norm, which makes sense because he is also from outside.

So he will impart some special gift, or power, or pertinent words to enable the protagonist to once again be the hero he needs to be.

What troubles us about angels is that today we hear that not only are they vulnerable, but also not all are on our side. For, from the Epistle, we hear that the Dragon also has angels. That someway, somehow the devil has reached so far into heaven that he influences even God’s angels to turn against Him.

So, now who will be the Deus Ex Machina for the Deus Ex Machina? Who will save the one saving? Incredulous to us, Jesus actually responds to this unasked question today by using an infant. Not only are we to receive infants in Jesus’ Name and direct them away from sin, but we must become like them ourselves.

Lord God, who then can be saved? Not only do you starve yourselves of God’s Word and Sacraments, but you then hand that over to the infants among us. There are two ways to cause a little one to stumble: 1) You purposefully lead them away from Christ and His Gospel or 2) You willfully neglect to nurture and teach them about Christ and His Gospel.

The first way is the way you all avoid, because it is easy to do. Of course you will not teach your children to love Buddha or that Mohammed died for them. That would be ludicrous. It is, in fact, the second way, the sin of omission, which you fall victim to so often.

In neglect, the little one is left to fend for himself. Maybe a little is said about Jesus, but it is not emphasized nor is it made to be the most important thing in his life. Excuses are made. God is labeled as loving and understanding and therefore you are excused, not only from teaching, but also from taking a stand. Church is not as important as other things.

This is something that we can correct. However, when we hear that the same thing happens even to the angels in heaven, who see God’s face everyday…

Repent. You are no more justified in your half-hearted actions than the angels are in their outright rebellion and war against God. What are we to do? If nothing in all of Creation is safe to trust in or able to help us, then we must do our best to avoid it.

Dear Christians, no matter how heavenly or good looking or good-sounding angels are to us, they do not have forgiveness nor salvation to offer us. No matter how well intentioned or loving or good our actions are, they do not have any power to reach into heaven nor get us there.

What does save us; what does forgive us; what does reach from heaven to earth and back again, is Christ. Jesus is the one God who is outside and yet reaches in as a man to restore our lost and condemned selves. In fact, the very thing that St. Michael and all angels fight for is that very thing you receive, from God’s own hands, today: Jesus.

Jesus; His words, His work, and His sacraments are what rightly divide true Good from true Bad. The difference between good angels and bad angels is Christ and Him crucified. The difference between our sinful actions and justification is Christ crucified. Jesus on the cross defines exactly who God is, what He is doing, and how He is doing it.

For it is Jesus who humbles Himself. Jesus humbles Himself even below that of an infant, for He places His well-being in the hands of those who hate Him. He allows His allies to turn away from Him and allows His enemies to hang Him on a tree. Jesus has become a man of no repute, stricken, smitten, and afflicted in order that you would be great in the kingdom of heaven.

Yes, you are not safe from trial and temptation, but the most humble God-man, Jesus, has taken those sins from you. For His sake, He has justified you by grace, through faith. No longer are you held under the sway and chains of your sinful desires. Jesus has set us free from sin, death, and the devil by taking all of them upon Himself and putting them to death on the cross.

In this way, Jesus is not the Savior that saves the hero, He is the Savior that saves the lost. He is the Savior and the hero that steps into the very corruption of His creation, remains without sin, and yet atones for all of it. And He does so, through the cross.

And thus we preach and teach nothing but Christ crucified. This preaching and teaching is what wins the war against the dragon and his angels and this preaching and teaching is what wins you over again and again. This is the Gospel. This is what good angels preach and fight for. This is what you, as Christians, give your life to and find your new life in.

Maybe, now, we read verses 10 and 11 a little bit differently, in the Gospel. Now we know that our angels never cease to see the face of Jesus’ Father in heaven, but Jesus is come. God did not send an angel or an idea, or any other piece of creation, to us.

Indeed, a person may have 10,000 angels attending them, but it would do no good. For it is only by the Word that the angels have victory. It is only through Jesus that they have any existence at all. Jesus is the victor and He is the man to mediate between God and man.

In today’s Divine Service, the tenor has changed. As we turn towards the Last Days of the Church Year, we will hear about wars, even wars in heaven. All of creation will be shaken and what we once thought sure and trustworthy, will not be.

 However, we are stood on the rock. We have been plucked from the death of war to the life of peace. We have been given new words to speak and sing and they are “Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth.” For Christ has come and given His peace. In a baptism that covers all sin, Jesus has taken you into Himself.

Monday, September 22, 2014

And He walks with me [Feast of St. Matthew; St. Matthew 9:9-13]

From Jesus’ own mouth, we hear,

“As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.”

So now what are we to take from celebrating a Church Feast day dedicated to a man other than Christ? We are to take exactly what St. Matthew is recording about himself, here. We are to hear and see that when Jesus speaks, hearing must follow.

So we hear and follow Jesus with St. Matthew and it’s great. Later that day we join in the dinner party with prostitutes and other tax collectors and hang out with Jesus. The next few years are confusing and scary at times, but people are really getting a hold of this Jesus-thing and it’s exciting.

Never wanting it to end, it comes to an abrupt end. Neither St. Matthew, we, nor the other disciples saw it coming, apparently. Things were going great. There was another dinner and much celebration of the Great Feast of the Passover, but things escalated quickly, from then on.

Jesus got heavy and depressing. Soldiers broke up the whole thing and all of it was over. We all ran separate ways. When we finally did gather ourselves, there was nothing fun about it. For 50 days we sat scared and alone. Jesus came back, but we were not about to go outside, no way; no how.

You see, when St. Matthew left his tax collecting booth, he did not know what was going to happen. By faith, he knew that God had given him all things and that the Lord provides, but he didn’t know how or when. But it’s not like he stepped-out of his own volition, as if he knew something big was happening that he had to be a part of.

Neither did he foresee great things happening to him and the others. St. Matthew was looking in the dark, with eyes wide open, seeing only Jesus, the true light.

In fact, St. Matthew had every reason in the world NOT to follow. I’m sure he had a cushy life, big investments, maybe a family, but more likely many girlfriends. His life of sin and vice was overpowering, so much so that he was part of the Tax Collectors. A group immensely disliked even by their own families.

For all intents and purposes, St. Matthew had forsaken God and family to pursue his career and he remained there even on this day. St. Matthew did not pray the sinner’s prayer nor did he turn his life around and accept Jesus into his heart just before Jesus got to him. St. Matthew, at his tax booth, was a blind, deaf, and dead sinner in front of God.

Repent. You have no ability to see into the future. You have no guarantee that your choice to follow Jesus will lead to bigger and better things for your life and you have nothing to offer a God that has everything already. Your heavenly choices reach about as far into heaven as your left hand.

Because what you don’t understand in your sin, is what it truly means to follow Jesus. St. Matthew and all the disciples, probably even the prophets before them, also had this trouble. You can not understand how, when you make obedient choices for God, that He doesn’t give you a mountain of blessings and make everything happy-happy, joy-joy for you.

You can not understand how, when you give your entire life to God, let go and let God, and give it all to Jesus; that sometimes it is thrown back in your face. You can not understand how, when you force all of your effort into removing sin from your life, that it just comes back 100x stronger.

Following Jesus is not a walk in the park. It is a march to the cross. Indeed, when Jesus called to St. Matthew in his tax booth, Jesus was not asking St. Matthew to be brave or get out of his comfort zone, or even to leave the world behind and do better in his life. Jesus was not asking, He was telling.

And when Jesus speaks, even things that have yet to exist, listen. In the beginning, when there was only Jesus, HE spoke and all things came into being; the earth and all stars. Even at your conception, Jesus spoke and you were created.

Now He is speaking again, with this same creative force, saying “Follow me”. Not to do what He does, when He does it, but to SEE what He does!!!

Jesus did not take St. Matthew’s buddies or co-workers, yet He still died for their sins. Jesus did not call all of St. Peter and St. Andrew’s family, but the promise is also for them. To really and truly follow Jesus means to watch Him in action. It means to follow His every move, for they are all building to the greatest act of love ever given.

To follow Jesus means to receive what His actions give to you and to believe that they are done for you. St. Matthew did not die on a cross for the whole world and neither will any of you. Following Jesus does not mean doing what He does. If that were true, you would then also need to be crucified.

Instead, Jesus marches to the cross and wants you to see. Instead, Jesus heals the deaf, blind, and raises the dead and wants you to pay attention. Instead, Jesus dies and rises again and wants you to share in this great mystery.

Thus, in Jesus commanding St. Matthew to follow Him, Jesus is creating faith. Faith that not only moves St. Matthew to obey, but allows St. Matthew to comprehend and receive all of Christ’s work and see the cross as central. For how can a man be saved unless God does it? How can a person find forgiveness, if Jesus does not forgive them by the means of grace?

For St. Matthew and those living with Jesus, all they needed was a word from His mouth directly, or a touch and they were translated to the Kingdom, simply by the faith it took to do those things.

For us today, we do the same things. All you need to do is hear Jesus calling you. All you need to do is touch Him, in Faith, and you will be saved. The good News is that you don’t have to imagine this happening nor do you have to make it some sort of fantasy only occurring in your brain.

You hear the Gospel that Jesus Himself speaks to us. You sense the baptism that Christ Himself baptizes us with. You touch the very fibre of His being in eating and drinking His Body and Blood. No one alive at the time of Jesus had this happen to them; not St. Matthew, not even St. Thomas who stuck his hand in Jesus’ side.

Jesus says, “Follow me” and you do. In baptism, you follow Him in His death and resurrection. In the Gospel, you follow Jesus on His path to your salvation and in the Sacrament of the Altar you proclaim His death until He comes again, clinging to His very flesh and blood.

Following Jesus means going where He goes and where He goes is to His Sacraments. There are no two ways around it. Christ has here promised salvation and is here to hand it out, Himself. His kingdom comes and His will is done in washing, speaking, eating and drinking. St. Matthew was led to the very place on which you are walking: the Church.

Your heavenly experience is here, with your brothers and sisters. Your heavenly calling is here with your Lord and Savior. You are called, comforted, washed, and fed salvation and forgiveness, by Jesus in the flesh.

You now know that your future is to be with and in Jesus forever and that, regardless of what the world, the devil, or your sinful nature does to you here, the ultimate Good has been accomplished and given to you for all time: you are reconciled to God, in Christ.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Criss-crossed [Trinity 13; St. Luke 10:23-37]

Jesus speaks to us today, saying,

24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

In the past few weeks, Jesus has been creating faith in His Church, as He is wont to do in the Trinity season. We have been hearing of this work in the Gospel readings as the most unlikely people are justified by Him. Last week, went on to explain it all to us: Jesus isn’t just opening eyes and loosing tongues, He is saving.

In Baptism, your own eyes, ears, tongues, and hearts have been ripped open. No longer are you stone-hearted or stone-deaf, but a new heart has been born inside you, one of flesh and blood. In this saving faith, you now witness that which prophets and kings of old greatly desired to see and hear.

But just what is it that was so desirable? Is it really just this dialogue between Jesus and a lawyer that everyone of all time wanted to hear? Indeed, because for the most part, you have not learned how to love your neighbor. The entire Old Testament is filled with a plethora of examples of “not loving your neighbor”.

Even the New Testament; for this lawyer, probably a disciple, is weaseling his way around the words of Jesus. All Jesus talked about was loving God and loving your neighbor. You do that everyday, don’t you? How can he even think about trying to get around this, seemingly harmless command from Jesus?

Jesus explains this to us in a parable. By speaking it, He hopes that we hear it, mark it, learn, and inwardly digest it as the Word of God. However, the lawyer, though we want to dislike him and distance ourselves from him, understands precisely what Jesus is talking about. For the love that Jesus commands of us here, is a love that can get you killed.

This is not just a feel-good, you-can-do-it-better-if-you-try parable, and yet even the most learned of scholars and pastors today will still make it out to be. They will preach that it is a tale of ritual purity, personal safety, freedom fighters, or even universal healthcare.

And their point will be to lead you to believe that it has nothing to do with Jesus or His cross, but everything to do with you. How you are so much better than the priest and the Levite. How you have the power to change the world. How you have so much goodness and holiness inside you, that you are able to make yourself the Good Samaritan.

Repent. What they preach, you believe. You believe this walking contradiction that, somehow, even though the world is full of neighbors in need, you are still a Good Samaritan. As if one good deed for one neighbor at one time is sufficient to earn you that title. Are you still a Good Samaritan when you pass your neighbor by or blame the problem on him?

If it was simply a matter of changing your life to better suit the life God describes to us in this parable, then of what purpose was Christmas, much less Good Friday and Easter? The Prophets and the Kings did not sit around desiring to hear how well you have improved the lives of the poor in America in the 21st century, or how much of a good neighbor you are.

Listen to the parable again. Have someone read it to you, out loud. Is it a lesson in morality or is someone dying? Look again at your bulletin’s cover. Is this a coffee-house scene or is this a Good Friday scene? Here we see a man bleeding to death. He doesn’t need a life-coach or a motivational speaker. He doesn’t need universal healthcare or someone to give a course on self-defense. He needs mercy. He needs atonement.

Indeed, Jesus offers Himself to the world in the same way that the half-dead man offers himself. Jesus is not presented to us on a throne high and lifted up nor is He presented in victory. What Jesus does is gives Himself in crucifixion and death.

The story of the Creation of the world always ends with Jesus on the cross. The parting of the Red Sea is not over until God’s Chosen offers Himself in place of the Israelites. Christmas is not the end of the story. As our bulletin cover tells us, the Christ presents Himself as a Lamb of sacrifice, bleeding and dying for the world.

And true mercy is shown to this man in the Good Samaritan, who completely switches places with him. Where the robbers and righteous men have robbed him, stripped him, beaten him, and left him for dead, the Good Samaritan clothes him, comforts him, nurses him back to health, and offers all he has to the innkeeper in continued care.

This substitution is the key to this parable, here. The fact that a dead man is resurrected by the Good Samaritan taking his place, is the point. For this is what Jesus has come to show and to do. The prophets had been waiting for the time when their prayers and sacrifices would be fulfilled. The kings were waiting for an everlasting kingdom with no strife and no poverty.

Being our substitute, Christ completes this parable. In taking on your sin and guilt, He dies on the cross for our pardon and remission. Jesus not only allows Himself to be stripped of all His divine honor, but also of His divine Life, for the sole purpose of saving you. For in this match-less deed of love, our God bestows grace by the death of His Son.

The mercy of Christ is not just a teaching ministry, it is a doing ministry. Jesus does not just pick people up from feeling down, He raises the dead. Jesus does not just give strength to overcome difficulties, He saves. Instead of you dying in your sins and going to hell, Jesus takes the cross.

Now, in Baptism you are saved because it is a washing of renewal and regeneration and in it you are given all the glory of the kingdom of heaven. In the depth of your degradation, Christ bows down to you, heals your eternal wounds of sin and death, places you on His shoulders and carries you to His own Palace.

The point of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is for you to be the man robbed, stripped, and killed in your sins, in order that Jesus would take your place. The point of this parable is that you see total depravity and repent, in order that Christ give you the free forgiveness of sins. This, so that you may not die, but live.

Many churches today are celebrating the festival of the Holy Cross. Regardless of the shifty origin of the festival, it is truly meet and right that the Church of all time recall this cross and Her Savior on it, even in the midst of such a parable as this.

For Jesus did not return to heaven after He told this parable; He ascended to the Right Hand of God only after your salvation was secure and complete. He ascended to give us that which He purchased and won on the cross even today, for it is in the death of Jesus that we are reconciled to God.

 And it is in His holy Supper that He gives us to proclaim His death until He comes again.