Monday, July 27, 2015

To the Tree [Trinity 8; St. Matthew 7:15-23]

The Lord Jesus Christ speaks, not just to His generation, but in history and to us today.
“A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.”

What Jesus is saying today is what we talked about last week. How, even if we were to make the decision to follow God’s Commandments, we would be doing so in sin. As Jesus has said, a diseased tree cannot bear good fruit.

This is nothing more than a teaching of the doctrine of Original sin: the Biblical fact that humanity is completely fallen into sin and is therefore a diseased tree that can not do good works or produce good fruit towards God. Thus, for all your trouble at sanctifying your actions and turning your life around, you deserve nothing but eternal and temporal punishment and death.

On one level, we hear Jesus like this, speaking in metaphor about trees and sin. Yet, there is not just one level here and the topic of this conversation is certainly not just you and me, nor is it an essay on how to care for trees.

In this section of St. Matthew’s Gospel, we are hearing part of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon that not only taught us Jesus’ own prayer, but also that the poor in spirit are blessed. It is here, in this Sermon, that most people will label Jesus as the new Moses, because we hear a lot of Law or commands to do certain things.

St. Matthew is writing to the Jews, primarily, so Jesus is not just upholding the 10 Commandments and all other laws of God, but He is adding to them. Do not just “Not murder”, but make sure your neighbor is protected and don’t even think badly about him. Do not just “not commit adultery”, but make sure unmarried couples remain chaste and don’t even think about another woman in your own marriage.

In fact, Jesus’ conclusion here is that “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (5:48). Jesus is not just the greater Moses, but the stricter Moses. Where Moses was incomplete and lenient in teaching God’s Law to the people, Jesus includes the very thoughts and emotions within ourselves as admissible evidence into the case against us, which inevitably leads to our being found guilty.

Thus, when Jesus begins teaching about trees, He is not teaching within a vacuum nor is He using random flora to paint us a picture. Jesus is bringing into the foreground all that has transpired between God and His people. In this case, from the very first interaction at a very different tree, Jesus wishes to draw our attention.

God made His people, people of promise. Thus, they become the tree. Their roots are the root of Jessie for out of its stump a branch shall grow. This stump is what is leftover from the Fall of Adam. In the Garden of Eden grew the Tree of Life and the forbidden Tree. Of the Tree of Life they were to eat and of the billions of other trees. But of the one forbidden tree they were to not eat, lest they die.

It was at that tree of knowledge that God held Church. It was at that one tree where Adam would be able to show his belief in the Lord. It was there that Adam encountered the Law and could do nothing to change its words. It was there that God’s love showed forth brightest, because He met with and spoke to Adam.

Don’t let the devil fool you. There is a temptation so great that you will fall victim to it, just as Adam did. You can not resist temptation on your own, neither can you be enabled and empowered to defeat sin.

Repent. The Tree has been cut down. Eden is destroyed. The rebellion that Adam and Eve displayed is alive and raging in your heart. Since this corruption is in your veins, you are a diseased tree, good for stoking the fire, but not for producing good fruit.

The Lord has promised that:
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord." (Isa. 11)

The Word declares that the Tree of Life is still upright. That it has not left the earth with the destruction of Eden and that God’s people are still in His care. For the stump survives through the Branch and from it true knowledge will arise.

Though Eden is gone, it was but a picture of the paradise to come. This one Branch will produce good fruit. This one Branch will posses the Spirit of the Lord. This one Branch will offer Himself upon a tree of death and convert it to the Tree of Life. The Branch is Jesus.

Jesus is the Good Tree and the fruits He produces are life, light, and the forgiveness of sins. Upon the cross, an instrument of death and torture, Jesus suffers and dies to purchase the life of Jesse’s stump and all believers in Christ. In what’s called the Great Reversal, Jesus makes death produce life.

Meaning, by His death sin, the power of the devil, and even death is put to death. With these defeated nothing can come from this tree but life, as only the true Son of God can give: in His Body and His Blood.

Do you get it? The stories in Genesis are not just fun things to share and make art crafts out of, they proclaim Jesus. Both the OT and the NT point to a suffering and dying Messiah sent to justify all men.

If you did not put this together yourself, then you need to hear more from your catechism. It is not just for fun that you call yourself Lutheran and it is not just for giggles that you call yourself a Christian. Because you are those things, you believe and are baptized, but believe what?

Believe that Allah and God are the same? That everyone is going to heaven because God is love? That what you believe and what church you attend doesn’t matter?

Adam didn’t believe it mattered what tree he ate from, as long as he was eating like God told him to. Jesus, on the other hand, does think it matters. It does matter which God you worship. It does matter which church you attend and it does matter what kind of fruits you are receiving from the prophets.

The good fruit is cross fruit. The bad fruit is everything else. The good fruit is baptism in the water flowing from Christ’s pierced side, flowing in this Font. The good fruit is the Gospel, preached in every word of God from Genesis to Revelation. The good fruit is the Body and Blood of Jesus, given and shed for you to eat and drink.

Making distinctions is important, for we want the good fruit and not the bad. Therefore Jesus leaves us with obvious locations of His promises in physical form. The Lord promised Life from a tree and you have it. The Lord promised His Word and you have Him.

The Lord has promised righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever and in Christ these things are possible, even for a poor, miserable sinner such as myself. The One who does the will of our Father in heaven is Jesus and He enters the kingdom of heaven through the tree of the cross.

Trees and branches were broken off and tossed in the fire that you may be grafted into the Good Tree. In unbelief, you will be broken off again. If you continue in belief, God is able to graft you in again (Rom.11).

In mercy, Jesus is the true Vine and in baptism you are the branches, grafted into the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order that the promises of the one, Good Tree are now yours.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Road to nowhere [Trinity 7; St. Mark 8:1-9]

Jesus speaks to you all today, saying,
“And there were about four thousand men. And he sent them away.”

“Following Jesus” and “Walking with Jesus” are a couple of ways that are popular to speak of what a believer’s life is like. This is probably because Christianity was first called “The Way”. This of course, not being named after an actual path or journey one followed, but after Jesus calling Himself, The Way (Jn. 14:6).

However, our sinful selves quickly forget that it is all about Jesus and instead focus on the self. How do I walk with Jesus? What can I do for Jesus? What will keep me on the way?

You focus so much on the flesh that you create your own roads. One of these is called the Romans’ Road, named after St. Paul’s letter in the Bible. Since we have been hearing from this letter the last few weeks, it is worth it to discover what the Gospel reveals about it.

This Roman’s Road is presented by so-called evangelicals as the way of salvation, for it begins at chapter 3 where no one is righteous and ends with you opening the door of your heart to Jesus, because apparently He is knocking on it.

The first and second stops on the “road” are to prove that you are a sinner and that you deserve death for this, for the wages of sin is death. The third stop is at Romans 6:23 where Jesus tells us that eternal life is a gift from God in Jesus.

The “road” then tells you that this gift must be asked for and accepted, but doesn’t that defeat the purpose of a gift? The Bible never says anything about “accepting a gift”, but your sinful self would never think of asking for a good gift from God, anyway.

A child will want any and everything, with no discretion for what is good or bad. Maybe, by coincidence, they will ask for something good and we praise them for making a correct choice. However, usually it is something not right. Sugar, expensive toys, all toys within reach, or even bleach.

In this, there must be some discretion made. The giver of a gift must be careful and purposeful. He must be thoughtful and wise if he wants this gift to be for the child’s good, instead of for the bad. We may be able to give good gifts to our children, of bread, clothing, and security, (instead of stones and snakes) but we can not give eternal gifts.

Jesus says, who of you would give their child a stone, if he asked for bread? We know right from wrong, you see. The Law of God has revealed this to us. It has shown us that there are responsibilities to take on, neighbors needing caring for, and a God to be worshipped. What it doesn’t show is an end to any of this. The Law says do this and it is never done.

Thus, when a sinner is presented with a gift and is told to accept it, he doesn’t do so without sin. In fact, his judgment of the gift itself is sinful. He doesn’t know whether he is accepting a good gift or a demonic gift. For it is in sin that he asks and in sin that he accepts.

Repent. There is no “Romans road” to salvation nor is there comfort to be found in a gift of one’s own choosing. Left to yourself, you will not pick the right one and you will accept the devil’s reward. Even trusting the power of God to enable you, will lead only to more death in sin.

The Law’s only job is to reveal the depths of your sin. Yes, God is giving gifts, but how many times must you accept it, before this time it sinks in for good? The Law shows that no matter how sincere you are, the true gift is out of reach.

A true gift already has your name on it. A true gift is already perfectly thought of, just for you. A true gift is given without any requirements, prerequisites, or assembly required. There is no accepting a gift that is already for you, there is only rejecting and scoffing it.

Notice the crowd of 4000. They did nothing to earn this heavenly meal. They did not ask Jesus to feed them nor did they earn it. The only thing they did was to wear themselves out and be hungry. In other words, they simply sat and received the gift of God.

Christ already knows your hunger. Christ already knows that you are dead in your sin. He does not only give you bread on your table or your reasoning capacities. Jesus gives you Himself.

You do not place yourself on the Way, you are placed on the Way. Jesus baptizes you into the Way. Jesus speaks to you His Gospel and you believe the Way. Jesus offers His true Body and true Blood and you ingest the Way.

Christ has walked the only road to heaven and He is the only one who has made it there. Did Jesus wait for you to open the door, to die on the cross for you? Did Jesus wait for you to ask Him to suffer for your sins? Did Jesus hold off Easter morning until you could find it in your sinful life to accept His gift and start doing good?

Not only did the crowd of 4000+ receive a gift, but they were then, promptly, turned away. They wanted to keep eating and if all they had to do was follow this guy around to do so, so be it. This is because the sinful flesh wants to dwell on the flesh. We want something to accept, to ask for, and to follow. What we don’t want is something we don’t work or pay for, ourselves.

Dear Christians, Jesus has bought and paid for you. Baptized into the Faith, there is nothing that you can ask for or follow that you don’t already have in Jesus. All the good things given to you are spoken in the Gospel, where forgiveness and salvation is accomplished. The Way is not so uncertain as to be littered with the things you do from day to day, but is instead made of the rock-solid promises of God in Jesus.

The letter to the Romans also says that the Gospel is the salvation of God (1:16). It says that the FREE gift of God is eternal life (6:23). It says that you have shared in Christ’s death, in Baptism, and have been set free from sin because of Jesus. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (3:28)

The true Way is Jesus Himself. It is the promise to be there for you, forgiving your sin. Where He promises to be, for you, is where righteousness is to be found. Jesus may promise to live in your heart, but if He is not there by Word and Sacrament, then it is a devil. The Word of God proclaims that you are justified by grace, through faith, only because of and in Jesus.

That is a gift that is already open and functioning, before you get here. It is a door that is ajar, waiting for Jesus to bring in the last lost sheep. The Church has already paved the road for you. Flooded by the true Blood of Christ, this center aisle of the Church draws you towards the promise of full forgiveness and full salvation at this Altar.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Murderer [Trinity 6; St. Matthew 5:20-26]

Jesus speaks to you all today saying,
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment;”

What is the 5th Commandment?
You shall not murder.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every physical need.

What is really being taught in this command that our Lord gives us? Jesus reveals to us at least 4 levels of breaking the 5th Commandment: the act, the thought, our words, and other’s anger against us.

All of these have to do with the body. Murder is the triumph of self-love over God’s command to love Him and our neighbor. In order to kill, a conclusion must be reached, in our hearts, that the victim is not human or less than human. Also true of abortion, euthanasia, and suicide, the body we see is the body we know God made and therefore treat it as such.

Made in the image of God. That is what we say about people, because God gives us our bodies and souls. There is no doubt that these things are good gifts from above. In light of this, there is no way to tell whether someone is not human or is less thn human, because all have the same gift from God. How do you know you are dealing with a human? They have a body.

More than this, Scripture tells us that it is by Eve’s body that Adam recognized her as his wife saying, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”

Repent. You do not understand the importance that Jesus places upon the body. You do not understand what the body was made for nor what having a body entails. You are not a soul with a body. You are not a body trying to become a soul. You have a body. You have a soul and they can not be separated.

Not only did God make the body, but He made it as the crowning point of all of Creation. The final act of God was to create a body and give a soul, uniting them as one. Your bodies are testaments to this creative act and are therefore divine property.

You need to be helping and supporting your neighbor in every bodily need. EVERY neighbor. Jesus says that if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him to drink. If he asks for your cloak, give him your shirt as well. Everything you own is up for grabs, for your neighbor.

You need to be merciful, kind, and forgiving towards your neighbor. This also includes your enemies. Be humble to those who disagree with you. Be passive to those who threaten you. Pray for those who persecute you and do this 70 times 7 times.

You also need to avoid harmful substances and assist your neighbor in doing the same. The abuse of drugs and alcohol is destructive to the body and the mind. Allowing these things to happen results in a breaking of the 5th Commandment.

Adding one more level of transgression: neglect. If you allow someone to be murdered; if you allow someone else to be angry; if you allow evil thoughts to occupy your brain; this is all sin and sin destroys faith.

Jesus has a body. HAS. Not only did the Lord create, but He redeemed. Jesus took a body. God was born with a body and a soul. Next time someone says their body is not important, tell them God has one.

Jesus went through every developmental stage of the body. He did not appear fully grown. He subjected Himself to the full gamut. He was a fetus. He was a zygote. He was a gestational sac. He went through infancy. He experienced adolescence. He ate, He drank, He slept, He cried.

Jesus is a man. He became obedient to God’s Law in a human body, not just to show us what a human can do, but to show that He really was a man, able to suffer and die for our guilt, because we failed to not murder.

The Body of Jesus is different from our bodies, because Jesus is also God. His fulfilling the Law, His life, suffering, and death was a sufficient ransom for all people.

Which brings us to why everyone won’t be in heaven and why everyone being made in the image of God isn’t enough.

All people means all people, right? With His holy, precious Blood and with His innocent suffering and death, Christ has redeemed all people. “ The blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 Jn. 1:7) God reconciled the entire world (all people, all time) to Himself, in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them (2 Cor. 5:19).

The real question is not “who is going to heaven”, but “Where is the Blood of Jesus that gives this righteousness?” Dear Christians, why bother yourselves with the hidden will of God when He has revealed His promise of forgiveness and salvation to you and all people?

Do you not know? Have you not heard? All who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death and His resurrection. All who have thusly been brought through the water and the Word have put on Christ. Upon the lintels and doorposts of your bodies and souls, the blood of Christ has been spread and death passes over, in Baptism.

The Promise of Jesus is the promise of sacrifice; of Blood. Real Blood. Not fake, movie set blood and not just the idea of Blood. The Blood of the God-man, Jesus Christ, is shed for you and today is given to you.

Washing in the Blood of the Lamb is baptism, which now saves you from your murdering sinful self. Communing in the Blood of the Lamb is the Lord’s Supper where you ingest the Blood and so become and show yourself to be a part of the Body of Christ.

For your murdering, you deserve death. Yet God brought the charges against you and Jesus took the blame, suffering in humility upon the cross.

Our eyes do not see into hearts. We can not distinguish who is redeemed and who is not.
“The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (Jas. 1:20).

Do not focus on the flesh, asking, “How can I put away my anger today?”
Instead, hear that Jesus’ righteousness exceeds that of all people. That Jesus does not murder, does not become sinfully angry, and does not insult.

Jesus left His offering, His entire being, upon the cross for your sake, in order to reconcile with you. In order that, all your anger against God would be placated by His innocent suffering and death.

God has come to terms with you handing His Son over to the judge, to the guard, and finally to death. Paying the last penny for your guilt, Jesus then lives, never to die again.

Monday, July 6, 2015

History's a wash [Trinity 5; St. Luke 5:1-11]

Jesus speaks to you today saying,
“And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.”

What passes for journalism these days is really just shock and awe. Each and every news station is for profit and could really care less about the truth, until it makes them money. Case and point: where has Isis gone? Where has Bruce Jenner gone?

There is no follow-up and there is no concern, because that doesn’t sell with you. Unless you are entertained you won’t watch and nothing entertains like the next new thing. There fore, each and every time your TV goes on, there will be a new scandal, a new special report, and a new rewriting of history.

But that does not surprise us. Even current decisions in the Supreme court are no surprise. In fact, the U.S.A., for all its liberty, is simply following the pattern of all civilizations before it. They rise and they fall, but the Church remains.

One of my favorite revelations at Seminary came in Church History. Men will always destroy their neighbor in the name of their own ideals. Empires come and go, but there are always small pockets that preserve the truth. In the many wars of Europe, it was the Church that held onto culture and reintroduced it when the world had calmed once again.

What do we think was happening at the time Jesus was going fishing? Rome was conquering the world and being very violent towards any and every other religion and culture, not just the Jews. Political opinions were so volatile, that war could have erupted right there on the very beach Jesus was teaching.

In the first few centuries of the Church, it was legal and encouraged to hunt down Christians and kill them. In the next era, it was legal and encouraged to seek and destroy so-called heretics regardless of their innocence. Finally, in our time, it is legal and encouraged to shun and ostracize, even to the detriment of reputation, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of, Christians.

Yet this is not unique to the Church. The only thing unique about our time is that it has never been lived in before. History, barbarian hordes, and other malefactors wash over and around the Ark of the Church and when the chaos settles, the Church, with the Word, is the only structure remaining.

Repent. The world does not forgive, or have mercy upon, any who do not leave everything behind and follow IT. Satan will have nothing less than your entire life and bank accounts and your sinful nature wants nothing but to give it all to them.

You have been fed the lie that you are independent and self-sufficient. That you need no shepherd or overseer, but just in case there is one, He should just accept your way of doing things, and that be that.

It matters not who rules the land, for there is one Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Pet. 2:25), that is the God-man, Jesus Christ. Though God is the true king and ruler of all things, He had one enemy yet to be conquered: death.

How is an all-powerful God able to conquer death? How, in the face of many persecutions and executions of His own people, can He sit there and declare His complete sovereignty?

History and worldly powers are not just allowed to continue by God’s authority, but God places Himself under their authority. Jesus hides His glory in order to bow down to earth. Under His own Law and subject to His own creation, Jesus offers Himself, even in death. God’s suffering, humiliation and death, make Him God and no amount of war or poor journalism changes that.

As our Overseer, or bishop, Christ cares for the Church (Acts 20:28). He is Her Head and Her Lord. He is “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. [Jesus does] manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (1 Tim. 3).

The Apostles leave all to follow the Savior Who orders all of history for their salvation. History does not simply consist of who won, who had which laws, and who were guilty of which debaucheries and destructions of society. True Salvation history consists of the Promise of God prevailing in any and all governments and reaching you.

The prosperity of this or that nation of people has NOTHING to do with the prosperity of the Church. Just as the prosperity of the Apostles and their fishing, have nothing to do with the Gospel that Christ is offering to all.

The Church will always remain, because Christ is her head and His Word and Sacraments are her walls. Christ is eternal and His Gospel is eternal. So, when the Church builds and gathers around these things, the eternal comes to you and moth, thief, or rust cannot destroy this.

In leaving the things of this world behind, the Church preaches that that which passes away is not of salvation and has no affect on salvation. Nations can rise and fall, but the Word remains. In leaving all things behind, you prove that your treasure is in heaven, that Jesus is the King of heaven, and that heaven comes down to you, here.

In baptism, your evil, rebellious will was drowned and you were born again in Christ. In hearing the Gospel, your will was sacrificed in order that the will of Christ dominate, giving forgiveness. In the Lord’s Supper, your entire being is placed into submission as your gifts and offerings are placed to the side in order that you receive the true Gift and Service of God: His Son, for your salvation.

In this rock solid and kept promise of God, you have a more sure footing than any constitution or declaration can give. In the Lamb of God, you have possession of the Kingdom that outlasts all kingdoms. In Christ, we have confidence to draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb.4:16).

God is God because He suffers. God is God because He is humiliated, dies, and rises again. God is God because His promises are true regardless of the state of worldly things. His Church stands, receiving those promises in the midst of violence, death, and the struggle of this world and our own sinful nature.

You are baptized into this Church and into the Body of our true Bishop; Who cares for us, purchases us, and frees us from death, sin, and the power of the devil. Something no creature or creation can, or will, do.