Monday, October 17, 2016

Signs and wonders [Trinity 21; St. John 4:46-54]


Jesus speaks to you in His Word, saying,

So what signs and wonders have you seen from God? I’m willing to bet that you have never seen an entire universe created, or a sea split down the middle, or pillar of fire. I’m almost 100% certain that you have never seen a Buddha statue fall down, on its own, when brought into Church.

I’m also pretty sure that you have never been raised from the dead, been in a crowd fed by five loaves of bread, or been healed of paralysis.

Here’s the good news, though. Jesus says that you don’t have to see these things, even today. You get to walk by faith, not by sight. Better yet, anything that is too hard for you to understand like who to vote for, evolution, and microbiology; you get to place in that “faith” box. You don’t have to think about them. You don’t have to study or learn about them. You get to walk through life blindfolded, tempting God to keep the next step in front of you.

This is what you think. If its not done by God directly, then it is still God’s work somehow and that gives you the excuse to not know or learn about it. Or, even worse, you think God doesn’t act at all in the real world and so the Bible is just some mystical metaphor about being a good person. So, what’s the point in being in Church, as well?

On top of all that, Jesus seems to tell us the exact opposite of what we are hearing today when He says, An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. And He could have said it more than just the two times that are recorded in Matthew, but the meaning is clear. The application, not so much.

Repent. The meaning is that we are the evil and adulterous generation who needs signs and wonders before we believe. We yearn for some powerful manifestation of God’s presence in our lives that we completely miss what God is actually doing and the true sign that He is working.

That same verse from St. Matthew gives us our clue, to what God is actually doing, as does what Jesus does to the Official’s son. Death is what is happening in both places; the death of the Official’s son and the death of Jonah. Both are going where their families and friends can not reach. Both are being swallowed up against their will and neither can do anything about it.

Thus, the real miracle of Jesus, that you are witnesses of, is the resurrection from the dead, revealed to you only in Holy Scriptures. It is not in personal revelations or private signs and wonders, tailored just for you and no one else. It is the universal message of universal atonement.

One Lord. One Faith. One baptism. One message and one experience for all. The Lord only interacts with you in the way He promises. There is no hope of you finding Him anywhere but there. You will not find Him in a house. You will not find Him in your neighbor. You will not find Him anywhere.

Unless. Unless there was such a time and a place where He said He would be. Unless there was a way, a means, by which He said He would use. I had asked before how many of you witnessed a sign from the Lord. The answer is none of you and all of you.

None of you have witnessed a sign like you want to witness one, but all of you are witnesses of the sign that the Lord has given to be witnessed. Does that make sense? If you witness a sign that you want to, it is only your own and not from God. But if God sets up a sign to be witnessed and you see it, then its all good.

The Lord has a son. He watched Him be born, grow up, and live on His own. This Son also became sick, but this sickness could not be healed and so the Lord had to watch His Son die. But, so that this death would not be in vain, the Lord set His Son up on a placard. This Son was set on a pole as a sign. A sign to show what kind of sickness leads to everlasting death, even the death of God, and that is sin.

The sickness the Son contracted was your sin and the sin of all people of all time, not His own. This sickness is incurable just in you, thus you can imagine the incredible burden every sin of all time placed on the Son. But the Son bore it. Each and every step of His life He carried it, slowly, surely to the cross.

On that post, you may read that the King of kings hangs there. The true King of the Jews dies there and He will not be back, once He leaves it. For the true King is Jesus. The true Son is God and man in one Christ.

So it is, that today, you don’t just hear of Jesus saving some son by some miracle. You hear of the true Son of God going down into death in order to catch the official’s son and throw him back to life. Jesus dies on the cross and is buried in order that, when you die and are buried, He would also catch and release you.

Thus, you pass from death to life simply by His Word. And if simply by His Word, then by anything attached to that Word as well. Not as a magical formula, but as a God-given promise. Because Jesus said so. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.

At this very moment, in this congregation, there is a person who is more qualified than anyone on earth, to give a testimony about witnessing this sign from Jesus. Unfortunately, she has yet to learn to talk. Yet, by her actions, dear Rebecca has freely given this testimony to all of you. She has touched, seen, and heard this sign coming together upon her. The water and the Word combined to create a sign of Faith that she shall not die, but live.

The true miracle, sign, and wonder of Jesus is that He doesn’t change. What He does to this official’s son, he does to all of you. When He promises rebirth and resurrection by water and the Word, it is accomplished in that way, and no other. You can get wet in the rain that falls from heaven, but you will not receive the same holy cleansing.

Baptism. One of the true signs, given to the Church, by Jesus. In it Jesus physically washes, clothes, and cares for the person, by faith alone. It is the sign that you have been forgiven, rescued from death, and given eternal salvation. It is the way Jesus promises salvation to Rebecca and to you, by faith alone, not by works.

Jesus makes His own signs. These are the signs we have, in the Church, and so these are the only signs we give and witness to, because these are the only signs in which Jesus works out His salvation in you and all people.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Jesus, my friend [Trinity 20; St. Matthew 22:1-14]


Jesus speaks to you today, from His own Gospel, saying,

“The clothes make the man.”
“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
“Its what’s on the inside that counts.”

These clich├ęs and many more pressure you into discarding your body as any indicator of who you are in exchange for some sort of “inner-beauty”, which of course no one else can see, so really what’s the point?

Because, on the other hand, is Aesop and the Wolf in Sheep’s clothing, where the clothes don’t make the sheep, the wolf didn’t want to be a sheep, and the real “clothes” of the wolf DID matter. What you wear matters, not just clothing, but the clothing that is your body, matters.

No matter how you dress yourself up, you are human. You may wish to be a lion and roar about, scaring all around you, but your words and movements will beg to differ. It is what’s on the inside that counts, and Jesus tells us that there is not beauty on the inside, but horrible sin, for evil comes out of your heart.

As you hear Jesus speaking today about this wedding feast, you must remember that He is describing the Church. The wedding takes place in the Church, just as everything else that interests Him, does. The Abomination of desolation is set up in the Church. The division of the sheep and the goats will be in the Church. This man without a wedding garment is in the Church.

The Lord fumes at Adam and Eve in the church of Eden, ‘Who told you you were naked?” Who told you you were not clothed? Who told you to doubt my promise to clothe you? Friend, how did you get in here?

The pastor let me in. It was Adam, God’s priest on earth, that revealed the nakedness of them both. It was the false pastor that told me that I did not need to be clothed for this wedding, because I was fine as I was.

The Lord says this about the Church: Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy; all who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness; she herself groans and turns her face away.” (Lam. 1:8) Being unclothed means you retain your sin. Being naked means everyone knows you are not really a sheep, but a wolf. Being ok with that, means you want no forgiveness, and so you receive no forgiveness.

This is what Jesus gave the prophet Jeremiah to preach. That because you know better than God and because you see that there are more worthwhile things to spend your time on rather than coming to receive the forgiveness of sins at His hand in Church, you think you see clearly.

Being naked is never a good thing, in front of God. It is always associated with sin and death and the shackles that both of them offer. When the king comes to look upon this “friend”, he does not see an un-churched, non-believer, he sees a catechized, contributor who is sitting at the feast.

Where is our hope then? We can not be sure if we are clothed or unclothed. There is no guarantee from our own senses even to determine if someone else is clothed properly. In fact, we do not know if we will be called a “friend”-of-the-king and be tossed out likewise. Being present, does not mean that we will not fall away.

Repent of your sin. This parable can certainly be heard as a part of the Bible advocating correct behavior and proper “Christian” conduct, whatever that means. If that is only what is going on here, then there is no call to attend the Divine Service. You can conduct yourself in like civil manner, without consulting Holy Scripture at all.

Because Holy Scripture is not about you, it is about Christ. Of course Jesus is the son for whom a feast is thrown, but Jesus is also the friend that the king discovers. Note how, this third invitation results in many good and evil people showing up. Note how it is only one of those who is cast out. Note how it is not specified whether He is a part of the good or the evil bunch.

He is simply the one who has been disrobed. He is simply the one who has, for the sake of the good and evil, taken on the dirty rags that they came in, in order that they be dressed appropriately. He is simply the Only-begotten Son of God, taking on the sins of the world and being tossed out of His own banquet, onto the cross.

He is simply your God, sacrificing His own spot at His own wedding, in order for you to enjoy it fully as if it were your party. Sin is the garment Christ wears as He is stripped naked on the cross. Righteousness is the garment He purchased with His Body and Blood. And it is very, very Good that He leaves His Righteousness at the door of the feast in this way, for you to take up.

Now we need to find and grab hold of this door, this Feast, and this Wedding garment of righteousness. How can you be sure and certain that you will not be tossed out with the festal trash?

Adam and Eve knew they would not be forsaken, because immediately after their expulsion, God gave them clothes. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the prophets knew that God would go and be exiled with them when He said, ““And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.
“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. 10 I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. 11 And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. 12 And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty.” (Eze. 16)

And this confounds us (Eze. 16:63), for we know it is our sin that Jesus is being kicked out for and yet it pleases Him to enact such a salvation, in this way. It was His good pleasure to be lifted high up on that cross for your sake, in order that it be known that God is the Lord; that He can suffer and still be God; that He can die and still be God; that He can rise again and be the one who clothes you in His garments of death and resurrection.

The Lord clothes you. Just as Adam and Eve had Jesus as their private Tailor, so even you, this day have their garments. You are not undressed, but dressed in the baptism that covers you, that robes you; that cleanses you. Both evil and good can be in the Church because Christ has paid for it all and His Blood covers it all.

So, you cross yourself to remind you of your baptism, wherein Jesus daily drowns you to sin and raises you to new life in God. You confess your sins to remind you of the robes you left behind and the new robe you now wear by grace alone. You approach the Body and Blood of the Crucified One, to remind you that this place at the feast is yours, in Faith alone.

Yes, satan. I am a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I am dressed in the Emperor’s new clothes. I am not what I say I am on the outside. My insides are rotten and full of sin and death. But, begone! I am baptized into Christ. I am not my own, I have not my own words or my own clothing anymore. Christ is all those things for me and He gives me His beauty, His righteousness, and His forgiveness.

Jesus is the one you need to refer to for anything that has to do with me. I must now sing to my Lord Christ, Who has redeemed me with His blood and has made me to be numbered with His Saints, in glory everlasting.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The only offering [Trinity 19; St. Matthew 9:1-8]


Jesus is speaking to you, from His own Gospel, saying,

So, today have you come as a Scribe or as a paralytic? Have you come to have it your way or have you come not caring? Maybe you hope to find healing or some other great gift that God may leave behind just for you?

Today there is a gross misunderstanding of what Church is and by Christians, no less. There is no one who can articulate why they come to church. Best as they can tell, its because mom would get mad or you would disappoint your grandparents. But, you don’t know the prayers and you definitely don’t know the songs. In fact this place makes you feel so uncomfortable, you surprise yourself at staying here for an hour and 15 minutes.

So why are you here? Everything that it looks like goes on here can be done at home, with style and substance more to your tastes, and probably with a better boost of pleasure for yourself.

To help answer this question, we look to the paralytic. Why was he brought forward? What did he hope to gain by being brought before Jesus? While we ought to and do pray for our own health and healing from the Lord, we are not promised it. We are promised to be heard, but we should not think that God is at our beck and call.

Consider the paralytic. He did not ask to be brought to Jesus, as far as we’re told. He did not say any magic prayers or disappoint his family by not being in church, thus finding himself paralyzed because of it. He was forced to come to Jesus and Jesus was busy gathering and preaching. He was announcing that the Kingdom of heaven was at hand and repentance was needed, in order to greet it properly.

And, as Jesus stood there, having preached and forgiven sins, some men started moving towards Him, holding something in their hands. It was a simple bed full of a man who could not use any of his limbs. He lay there, lifeless, as Jesus stood over him.

In like manner, some men here hold things in their hands after forgiveness and preaching have been given. They also approach the Lord and offer up what has been laid in their hands. Lifeless pieces of paper offered up as Jesus stands over them, at the time of the Offering.

If you were ever in doubt to how biblical your actions are in the Divine Service, let today lay those doubts to rest. In these men offering up the paralytic to Jesus, we see mirrored our own offerings brought towards the Lord of Life during the Service.

This means that each and everything you do in this space, at this time, echoes in eternity. What you do here, how you act here, what you offer here will go with you after you die. For here, heaven meets earth and what is performed here will be the actions performed forever and the first thing accomplished is Jesus coming down to you.

He comes down and first sees the faith of the men that brought you here. Without pastors and the Church, all poor sinners would die and perish in their sins. For, like the paralytic, powerless and without works, you need to be helped; you need Christ to be preached to you and the many faithful pastors in your life have endeavored to do this.

Secondly, Jesus comes and finds dead and impersonal faith. Jesus is not content with another’s faith. Another’s faith can and should certainly bring sick and sinner before God, but in order to be truly healed, you must believe for yourself. Also, you must be alive, for Jesus demands a living faith. You can not remain a paralyzed sinner, if you desire forgiveness.

Repent. The time to be slothful, petty, and half-hearted has passed. The sun is rising. The daylight has come. Either you are with Christ or you are against Him. Either you are offering your best or you are giving it to someone else. Either you are repenting or you are comfortable in your sins.

The paralysis of sin impairs your judgment. In sin you find right and wrong switched. You find good and bad swapped and you find that good enough is good enough. In God’s eyes, this is not good enough.

Jesus forgives the paralytic for sins such as these. In fact, Jesus encourages this man, still in his paralysis, to take heart in the forgiveness of sins. Not just because that forgiveness of sins is the most important thing in life, but because the forgiveness of sins is given and also comes in the form of an offering being brought to an Altar.

In Palm Sunday, we see a different kind of offering being brought by some men to the front of Christ’s Church and that is Christ Himself. Jesus ascends the hill of the Temple mount surrounded by many faithful men. He rides through the gate, ascends the steps to the holy of holies, and is arrested, scourged, and crucified.

Bringing your own offering imitates Christ offering Himself for the sins of the world. This is why such pomp is afforded this time in the Service. We sit silent. We are reverent. We bow, etc. Your action proves that you hear the Word of God and believe. Your offerings, brought as a sacrifice, show you that Jesus has worked His faith in you so that you now offer, not 10 %, not half, but all. For faith cries out, “All or nothing!”

Jesus does not desire nothing, so He creates everything. He comes to nothing in you, paralysis and sin, and makes you a full-fledged saint. He does not accept a dead faith, so He freely gives true living faith to you. Jesus can not stand half measures and half offerings, so He gives you His full, complete offering. You now get to bring the sacrifice and offering that Christ made, for you, at God’s Altar this very day, which is you, with your sins, prepared to be forgiven.

What you offer today is not something for God, but something for you. God is not served by human hands, but you serve the Faith given to you in offering all you have. That is, all of your sins. You are the one who benefits from your offering, just as you are the one who benefits from the Divine Service. All of this is happening for you so that your paralysis may be taken away and you be free from sin, death, and the devil.

This is because no matter what you offer, no matter how you pray, and no matter how many times you are here or not here, Christ has already worked out all good things for you, especially the forgiveness of sins. You do not buy this. You do not wish for it and you definitely do not earn it. But, you can not be here without it and you can not be with Christ for eternity without it.

Before the paralytic even thinks about worship or thanks; before you even considered God’s almighty handiwork, Christ had already offered Himself on the cross for you and by that single offering for all, you have gained the eternal inheritance and true everlasting life.

This is your hope. In the cross, you have good reason to hope in God in all your concerns and should not doubt that He will help you. You must also come to the aid of your neighbor or not be able to stand before God. Just as pastors have carried you along, so you too should bear your neighbor to your pastor and church, so that you may thank, worship, and glorify God with all His people.

Dear Christians, you have come here today as paralytics. Truly, it was the Holy Spirit in you, that brought you here, not so that you could walk again on your own, but so that you could live again in new life before God. For your one purpose in life is to be forgiven by Jesus and you are brought to this place because it is the only place in the world where this Word is preached in its purity and the Sacraments are administered according to it, for the forgiveness of sins.

You are here today by faith alone and grace alone. You are forgiven by Christ alone, through His holy Scriptures alone. It is this day that the Lord has made for you to hear His Word spoken just for you saying, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”