Monday, September 28, 2015

Dead and Alive [Trinity 17; Baptism of Benjamin; St. Luke 14:1-11]

Jesus speaks to us today, saying,
“‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?’”

Jesus clarifies what it means to fall when He talks about those who are dead. As He says of all the fathers’ sons and daughters He has raised, “He is not dead, but has fallen asleep”.

Indeed, this is what happens to a son or an ox that falls into a well. Jesus says in Exodus 21, that if this happens to one of your wells you dug, you must pay for the dead beast (21:33), implying that the survival rate of the fall is zero.

You must ask, then, what kind of well is being dug that Jesus says you can survive? Or even, what kind of well do you fall in and die? While we probably won’t be able to answer those with great clarity, in this sermon, it will be advantageous to note two famous, Old Testament wells.

The first well is Joseph’s. You remember, the well his brothers threw him into and then pretended he died? A second well worthy of remembrance is Daniel and the lion’s pit. He also was thrown in and the hope of his enemies was that he get eaten.

So, on the surface, it would be nice if our sons and oxen survived the fall, but dig another layer down into what Jesus is saying and we come at a much more serious picture of where Jesus is going in this conversation.

If your son falls into a well and survives, well then you just get Batman learning a life lesson as his father comes to retrieve him. Likewise, if the Sabbath is simply about not doing work or avoiding certain kids of work, then the lesson is over and we can turn to any other number of teachers and philosophers who have similar pithy sayings in their repertoire.

But, this is life and death. You fall into a well, you die. If, by some miracle, you don’t die, you can’t get out. Even if someone were to be passing by, he would have to jump in the well and boost you out. Then who would save him?

Likewise, when you fall into your seat at the Wedding feast make sure you fall in the lowest place possible, for if you are already as exalted as you can be, He Who invited you will have nothing to do with you except to cast you out.

Repent! Maybe if you know who’s ox it is, you will get it out of the well. Maybe if there is a camera watching you, you will help. Maybe if it is following God’s commands and you can show others, you will dare to lift a finger. However, if you think you are doing God’s will, you are more likely to boost your own ego, than to help your neighbor.

The best you can hope to do, in your sin, is fall in and die alongside your neighbor. You do not have a greater understanding than anyone else about good works and faith. You are not transcendent and you certainly have no greater grasp over the Word. In fact, it is not you who is out of the well, able and ready to help, but it is you who is in it.

Benjamin has given you the opportunity to once again remind yourself how and in what way all of this is accomplished. Since a death is required, Benjamin was caused to fall into the well of baptism, in which he has no hope of getting out before he is drowned. The father allows his son to fall into a well.

And this is what Jesus reveals to us: you must fall. You must fall into the very last place, the place of death, in order that the Lord of Life would find you. Jesus does not go to those who “get it”, those who “have it”, nor does He go to those who “know better”. Jesus has come for dead, fallen, sinners.

Our heavenly Father watches and even encourages His only-begotten Son to fall. He commands that Jesus be born of a virgin, falling from heaven like lightning, so to speak, in order to suffer and die in the pit of despair and death. Upon the cross, we see what taking the lowest place really means: death.

Our heavenly Father pushes His Son into the Pit for you. Jesus falls and is not rescued from death, for you and your good works. Jesus takes the lowest seat in the pit, raises you from that place, in Baptism, and exalts you in His Place.

Dear Christians: you are not hearing a treaty on good works or even holy works. You are not hearing about yourself at all. You are hearing of Jesus dying, rising to new life, and pulling your dead, sinful self out of the pit.

You must fall into the pit. Jesus commands it in order that He, not your self-righteous transcendence, would give you His Life.

Benjamin, my son. I have failed you. I have brought you into a world of hate and death. A very difficult future exists for you here with little hope of comfort and peace, in this life. I have pushed you into the pit.

But Jesus draws you out. In baptism, Christ has lifted the curse of sin and death from you forever. Being raised from that drowning, you are now Christ’s. Where you were conceived by your parents in death, Jesus causes your rebirth into salvation. It is baptism that saves you. It is this washing of rebirth and regeneration that is the key to faith.

Indeed, no greater faith can a man have except to remember his baptism. One of the holiest and godly things you do is cross yourself, thereby reminding yourself that you are baptized into Christ. That, at this future moment, you are saved by faith, through grace. Nothing you have done, but everything Christ has done for you.

The well our heavenly Father and His Son throws us into is certainly a well of death, but they do not leave you in it. Only one has returned from the well alive and that one, Jesus, remains there to continue and boost you out each and every single day, to forgive sins.

Baptism now saves you. The water and the Word now saves you, because the Word is not high and lifted up, but down in the pit; preaching, teaching, and forgiving. This is the day the Lord has made for Benjamin’s salvation. This is the day the Lord has made for you to remember your own salvation in baptism.

This is the day the Lord has made for you to hear the Gospel and repent of your sins once more, so that you may receive forgiveness of sins from the hand of Christ’s pastor. This is why you rejoice and are glad in it.

Is it lawful to preach the forgiveness of sins and salvation without works on a Sabbath? Is it lawful to hear that Christ is the end of the Law and that our good works are filthy rags, on the Sabbath? Is it lawful to say that the holy commands of God do not save on the Sabbath?

If the Son says so; If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. If Jesus promises salvation in water and the Word, combined in baptism, then I believe, Benjamin believes, and you all believe, for this is the Gospel of the Lord.

My son was in the well and is now made well. My son was lost, but now is found. Rejoice with me, dear friends, for this son of mine was dead, but has now been raised to new life again. (Lk. 15:24)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Irksome, indeed [Trinity 15; St. Matthew 6:24-34]

Jesus speaks to you today saying,
26 Look at the birds of the air:” and “Consider the lilies of the field…”

Indeed, by the world’s estimation, Hippie Jesus has come out to play on this 15th Sunday after the Most Holy Trinity. What they mean of course, is finding God in nature. They want you to stare at the birds and the flowers, meditate on them, and be enlightened.

Their reasoning is that these are creations of God, so there must be something of God within them. Something that hard thought and peaceful meditation can uncover, if you would just relax and open your mind.

This is the idea of Mother Earth and mother nature. That somehow, if we are kind to them, they will be kind to us. Do not “pshaw” just yet. You are indeed all caretakers of the gifts of God, the earth being one of them. What you are not, are its saviors.

So much has this environmental movement spread and infected the Church, that even the Pope commanded a day of prayer on the first of this month. It was decreed that we should pray for the care of Creation in the hopes of saving it and bringing everyone together as one.

Truly, truly I say to you, as long as humanity is in danger and a cause to save it can be established, there will be no end to the Tyrants who are ready and willing to take up their great and noble mantle to lead you poor plebeians to enlightenment. How irksome.

In the Gradual today, Jesus told you “It is better to trust  in the Lord than to put confidence in man or princes” (Ps. 118:8-9). In fact, while you groan on and on about how the world doesn’t need any more hippies and chafe at the fact of being placed under their authority, as elected officials, Jesus demeans you one step beyond even that.

Jesus demands that you become disciples of the birds and the lilies, not that you emulate them or find comfort in them, but that you find the Law and your sin. For, Jesus knows of no more splendid a king than Solomon, yet He said that all his glory is nothing compared to a lily that neither toils or spins, as you all do. (Spangenberg, p.311)

Now, then, if God feeds the birds and adorns the flowers in the field with such beauty only to be trampled upon and eaten by the animals, and in the morning flourish and in the evening cut and thrown into the fire, will the Lord not much more nourish and feed and clothe you sentient men, if you only could believe it? (ibid.)

Irksome indeed. We should be ashamed almost to the point of death when we see a bird flying by in the air and a wildflower growing in a field. That we must be taught by them and they should be our doctors is disgraceful. Are we not men?

Dear Christians, we have our father and mother Adam and Eve to thank for such a miserable condition, but even they were not the source of this curse; not even satan. The Lord has cursed the earth to eventual destruction. It was the Word of God that spoke in the Beginning and brought futility and corruption to earth.

Do you think you can fight against the curse of God? Do you hope to save the earth by recycling a few Wednesdays a year? The earth is doomed. Heaven and earth shall pass away”, says the Lord. Who are you to go against the Word of the Lord?

What God ordains is always good. He has ordained the earth to be corrupted to its eventual demise, not in anger, but in love and hope. Holy Scripture declares, “For the creation was subjected to corruption, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope;”(Rom. 8:20)

Hope is in the Word of God. Hope is that the Lord will bring us to faith and graciously sustain us in such faith, by the Holy Ghost, that we would endure even the curses of God, as Jesus has done.

Consider Christ on the cross. He neither sows, reaps, gathers, toils, or spins and yet, in His dying on the cross, you find all this given to you at the price of His Body and Blood. The evil of the day fades, withers, and tomorrow is tossed in the fire, yet the Word of the Lord endures forever and this Word creates Faith.

Answer these questions of Jesus, dear Christians: What shall you eat? What shall you drink? What shall you wear?

The righteousness of God has been revealed apart from creation, sin, and the Law. The Glory of God is posted on an unnatural tree; so unnatural that it is able to bind the infinite in place and kill the most holy God. Not by its own power, but by the will and desire of Him Who created it.

By the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross you are to eat and inwardly digest the Word. By the declaration of a fallen world, you are to drink of the Word and thirst no more. By the command of the crucified and risen Lord of all Creation, you are to be baptized and so clothed with Christ Himself.

The Word of God gives you the answers to these questions. Do not be anxious, Jesus says, because they are already provided for you. These Sacraments are of the Church which no darkness nor even the gates of hell can overcome.

In the midst of a cursed and dying world, Jesus gives undying clothes and food and drink. Christ’s robe of righteousness does not wear out nor is it eaten by moths. The Bread of heaven does not spoil nor does it leave a man hungry. The Blood of Jesus is a well of eternal life that springs up from inside of you, as you drink for the forgiveness of sins.

The birds of the air teach us that our work is in vain, yet the Lord delights in it all. The flowers of the field teach us that beauty is fleeting, yet a Church that delights in her Bridegroom will be praised (Pro. 31:30).

We are not to seek out our salvation in any other place or from any other person or idea, other than Christ Crucified. There is no salvation in nature; there is no salvation in unity. Salvation is found only in the Word of God, revealed and spoken by the only Son from heaven.

As we sang: this truth remains unshaken; that though sorrow, need, or death be mine, I shall not be forsaken. I fear no harm, for with His arm He shall embrace and shield me; so to my God, in Christ, I yield me.

Monday, September 7, 2015

You, the Leper [Trinity 14; St. Luke 17:11-19]

It is Jesus Who speaks in your hearing today, saying:
“Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Jesus did a very silly thing to these 10 lepers. He heals all of them knowing full well that only one will return and that it will be a person you would probably not want in your church. Free will, given by Jesus, leads the Samaritan to return to Christ, but it also led the other 9 away from Him.

St. Luke has written this Gospel is such a way that you are to see Jesus as the sacrifice for all, regardless of their decisions about Him, all the Temple sacrifices were for the express purpose of revealing the Messiah to all people. However, it was not the act of sacrificing that saved them, but belief in the promise behind those acts.

If there was no promise, the sacrifices would be worthless. If God had not said, “Offer sacrifice”, there would be no point. For without the Promise, a bloody mess is just a bloody mess and no holy significance.

So it is with this foreigner. He is not of Abraham’s bloodline nor is he Moses’ descendant. He is a bloody, diseased mess living as far from the Temple in Jerusalem as he feels his prayer is from God. Last week you heard of a merciful Samaritan. This week it is an enlightened Samaritan; even a lost and condemned, enlightened Samaritan.

Here is what is happening: Jesus is walking into a certain village. Not just any village, but a village far away from the Temple; read: far from God’s promise of real presence among His people.

Not only is Jesus in a place where a Samaritan is welcome, but He is also among lepers. We can only conclude that this village is no village at all, but a leper colony, for no regular village, in their right mind, would allow such a meeting between the non-infected and the infected.

Yet, these 10 lepers have a divine gathering around Jesus in just such a diseased place. Jesus purposefully walks to them. The Good Samaritan, purposefully gathers them, and purposefully purifies all of them, regardless of creed, station, or bloodline.

This does not mean that Jesus has come in this sort of manner for us all today. It does not even mean that Jesus reveals Himself in acts of healing miracles. It means that Jesus is revealed in His Word and in the preaching of that Word. Thus, He preaches and these 10 hear and believe saying, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us.”

What it means is that this foreigner who was raised outside the Temple with little to no knowledge of God’s Law, much less His Promises, can hear and be saved just as you can.

Repent! Your family members will not be able to get you into the good graces of God and neither will any of your other associations. Whether you are born into a church or outside; those things you do and surround yourself with, though filled with sin, do not prevent Jesus from doing the work He wants to do. That is: accomplishing your salvation.

The Old Testament is full of God’s people exercising their free will and each and every time, it takes them down the path of sin and death. So, free will is not what is at work here. The Spirit of Christ is alive and hovering over the void of darkness, that is this cursed earth and your cursed will, creating faith.

Jesus seeks the sinner. These 10 were not completely in the dark about God and who He is, but they were in the dark about their own salvation. Given up for dead by their own countrymen and exiled into this colony, they then give up on themselves.

You can see why they are so loud when they hear Jesus approaching! The Miracle man! The Faith healer has finally come to us. We are freed from this illness!

And that’s all they wanted. True faith was not theirs, but the Giver of true Faith was not about to let them doubt His Word and promise just because they were sick, so Jesus purified them all.

True faith does not turn away from Jesus. While all 10 were purified, only one was made well. While all ten were given victory over their malady, only one was given victory over sin, death, and the devil.

For, the same reason Jesus plays with mud and spit, Jesus comes into contact not only with lepers, but with the dead. Jesus physically communes with His creatures in order to show that the one, true, physical God has come to earth, not just to work miracles, but to take on this sin-sickness in His very own Body.

This is the atonement upon the cross, for you. Now the leprosy of these 10 men is Jesus’. Now, the suffering and illness of these men has been transferred to Jesus and it is a suffering unto death. Even though your sin clings to Jesus, it does not stop corrupting until it causes even the death of God.

Thus, Christ comes to die for the lepers. He barges into their colony of disease, stench, and death, bringing purification. It is an exchange: Jesus’ health for their illness. Jesus’ life for their death. This is what Jesus tells them by His presence.

By His presence, Jesus proclaims their freedom! He comes bringing emancipation from the social stigma and excommunication that they have suffered with for all these years. Who wouldn’t be ecstatic? Who wouldn’t be elated and burst from pure joy upon receiving a bill of clean health?

It is funny that you have more time for God when you are suffering and sick, than when you are well and at peace.

The 9 leave, never to return as far as we know, seeming to have no time for Jesus now that their lives are fixed. The 1, the foreigner with all his disadvantages of being far from God’s Temple, returns, not by his own will, but under the guide and direction of the Spirit of Jesus. He returns to Jesus, because it is Jesus, not the priest, Who has made him well.

More than that, it is his faith that he now possess, from Jesus, that is saving him. This has nothing to do with his purification. By nothing, I mean that faith, given in the Word, had already saved this Samaritan before purification. Regardless of his physical condition, the Word of God speaks to him absolution.

Today, Jesus proclaims His presence among you by His Sacraments. Today, you hear the Gospel of freedom and believe, because the Spirit of Christ is now hovering over these waters. But instead of them being dark and void of life, they are full of the true Light. Instead of disease and sickness unto death, there is only the Word of God and life.

This same Word is spoken to you. You have been set free. You are led by the Spirit to hear and feast on Christ, your true salvation. The works of the flesh and the law have no hold over you. This great and wonderful news needs to permeate everything you do.

Your body, both sinful and sanctified, is a reminder to you that you are yet slaves to the law. In your own sickness of sin and death, you are to serve your neighbor in love in everyway possible. Jesus did not free the leper from his body, but He has freed your conscience from the curse of the Law, from sin, and from death on account of Himself.

Where the old covenant of the Old Testament could only observe and declare one to be clean, the New Testament of Jesus Christ creates that cleanliness. In Christ, the Gospel preaches purest. In Christ, the Sacraments are rightly administered. Meaning, they are rightly given to you: the baptized children of God who have inherited the disease-free kingdom of heaven, through faith alone.