Monday, January 30, 2017

The waterquakes [Epiphany 4; St. Matthew 8:23-27]


From the Gospel heard today, Jesus speaks, saying:

First of all, this was no ordinary storm at sea. The word translated as storm actually is used everywhere else in Scripture as “earthquake”. But, I’m sure the translators thought, you can’t have an earthquake on land. What would you call it, a waterquake?

However, this is important for two reasons: first, with an underwater earthquake or the water acting like an earthquake, the water is all roiled up like tsunamis. Second, the other places in Scripture that use this word are important to give us the broader picture of what Jesus is really doing here.

On the second day of Creation, God separates the waters from the waters, or the heavens from the earth. Thus, the earth at this point appears to be nothing but deep water. Even before the first day, however, the Spirit is said to be hovering over the face of the deep waters. Then, on the fifth day, God fills the deep with all the sea creatures, even the sea monsters (Gen. 1:21).

“Thou hast broken us in the place of sea dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death.” (Ps.44:19) “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.” (Ps.74:13)

Finally from Isaiah we hear, “In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.” (27:1)

The point is that there is something in the depths of the sea and it is the dragon, the old evil foe. Down there, the eternal prison of hell awaits his final imprisonment. Down beneath the waves is death, so you can see why the disciples cry out in such drama. Even today, the deep places of the oceans lie beyond our reach and without special, rare equipment, death is still there; sometimes even with the equipment.

Thus, when the Son of God steps out onto the waters, the devil is roused. Like piranhas smelling the blood of their prey, the sea rears its ugly, rebellious head at the Lord and His followers, ready for the feast.

And God sleeps.

You don’t need to be on the seas though, for this same violence to be directed at the Church today. Oh no. You don’t even have to take this as a metaphor. Between natural disasters and personal disasters, life is as tumultuous as this great waterquake.

The great German theologian, Helmut Thielicke, described the Evangelical church of the 1950s as a ship on whose deck the Divine Service was being celebrated with the highest solemnity, while the clergy were blissfully oblivious that the ship had listed to the side and that the waves were already lapping at the deck.

Today, at both coasts of the USA, the Lutheran church dwindles to a very sparse minority and those that stay enact unionistic practices so that you can’t tell they’re Lutheran at all.

On the 200th anniversary of the Reformation in 1817, there was a celebration in Prussia. All the princes had given up Lutheranism and were violently forcing the 7000 Lutheran congregations under Calvinism. The magnificent sermon was about the great honor due both Luther and Calvin while the Service denied the real presence of Jesus. So, they put up a statue of Luther to mark this point in history.

Especially in this year of significant celebration for us, it appears to be more a time of remorse and repentance, than victory and celebration.

And Jesus sleeps.

Repent. The Lord predicts many earthquakes and shaking of the seas in our future, but He also has St. Matthew record two great earthquakes for us (27:51 and 28:2) and they occur at two key moments. This first is after Jesus has died on the cross. The Temple veil was torn in two and the earth shook and the rocks split, even opening graves.

The second earthquake comes when an angel descends to roll away the stone revealing an empty tomb on Easter. The reason this is important, is because we are not just hearing about the storms and strife of our lives. We are seeing Christ in action, revealing His death and resurrection.

Jesus sets out on the boat intentionally, just as He offers Himself up for suffering and persecution. He willingly places Himself square within the old dragon’s sights. This of course is to take his eyes off you. He joyfully sleeps the sleep of death on your behalf, but He raises Himself and quiets death, the devil, and sin forever.

We take comfort in the fact that God never sleeps. That He is always watching and guarding and protecting. But, Jesus sleeps. He sleeps the sleep of death. He rests in the tomb from His greatest labor: your salvation. He does not stay asleep, though, and raises Himself to new life.

Yet, even though He sleeps, His heart is awake, King Solomon says (Song of Songs 5:2). It is in this place where Christ comes to calm the storms. Outside of here, the waves lap at the windows, the winds buffet the roof, and fiery darts ricochet off the walls.

But here, Christ says, “Peace”. He says Peace to our hearts where sinful thoughts are raging. He says Peace to this world, its endless wars engaging. And at the Word of the Creator; at the Word of Jesus, the storm stops here. At the declaration of forgiveness, at the imputation of grace, and at the installation of salvation, a lull in the storm manifests.

“Peace be with you” and the world is still. “Peace be with you” and the storm is calmed. “Peace be with you” and peace is made with God and man that you hold in your hand.

Jesus stays in the boat, His Church. You say that world is going to hell in a hand-basket, but that’s where the Church is. No matter who you meet, we are all in the same hand-basket in need of Christ’s boat.

We are the new Noah. But where Noah couldn’t save anyone except his family, we have flotation devices galore, even for when that one wave hits you. There is forgiveness with the Lord and He gives it out free today. Christ is in the boat, giving peace, giving life, and giving it all free to you. He comes into your presence and manifests the glory of His salvation in Word and Sacrament.

Miracle charlatan [Epiphany 3; St. Matthew 8:1-13]

From the Gospel heard today, Jesus speaks, saying:
“And behold, a leper came to Him and worshiped him, saying, ‘Lord, if You will it, You are able to purify me.’”

What we explore in Epiphany is how Jesus reveals Himself to be the only true God, because people already see Him as “just a man”. Again, He is not pointing hell at you and demanding you kneel in fealty. He is pointing at His miracles in order that you believe that the Son has authority on earth to forgive earthly sins in earthly ways.

Let’s just be honest, as much as people want you to believe that good feelings heal you better than anything else, good feelings do not help this leper. He doesn’t need good thoughts. He doesn’t need platitudes. He needs to return to his family. He needs to return to his life and his church. He needs to be healed.

Let’s understand leprosy. Leprosy, in holy Scripture, can be used to describe a number of skin diseases. When a skin disease is contracted, you go to the priest. He looks at it. Declares you unclean and depending on how it looks, proscribes your quarantine sentence, which could range from 7 days to infinity days, depending on whether or not you get better.

If the priest touches you, he goes through days of purification to become fit for service again. If you happen to get better, you go through days of purification, burning your clothes, and shaving all your body hair off in order to rejoin society and church, but only if you happen to get better.

Which usually wasn’t the case and the priest did not have the power to heal you, only to diagnose. This is why leprosy is considered punishment for sin and the wrath of God. Many times in the Bible people who sin are divinely afflicted with leprosy and when they are, they are cut off from the people, because God’s people are to be clean.

Thus we get leprosy colonies. What else are we to do with our loved ones that are cursed? We want to love them, we don’t want to forsake them, but we don’t want to catch Gods wrath from them. What did they do to deserve that? What if associating with them gets me the same thing?

Now, you could say that leprosy, at least how we know it today, has been cured. So, if Jesus would just have waited a couple thousand years, He would not have had to perform a miracle, or His miracle was not a miracle because a cure could be found. To make matters worse, every religion claims miracles.

That would be true, if miracles were Jesus’ only calling card. That would be true if miracle were the only thing to prove Jesus’ divinity. That would be true if God was simply a god of parlor tricks.

Whether it’s a cold or a terminal illness, all diseases point to one thing: death. Even if you get over them, you know the next one could be it, because everybody dies. Thus, a miracle really can not stand on its own. Its needs something beyond itself to point to, because a miracle done in time only delays the inevitable.

No amount of scraping, shaving, or bathing washes away death. No amount of miracle pills, cures, or even miracles themselves, rid a person of dying. Do not look for miracles when you are seeking Jesus. Though He can do them if He wished, even the devil will be performing miracles in these last days.

Repent. You‘d like to think that you can spot a con game from a mile away. You’d like to think that if you just search the Scriptures, you’ll find a life to live and that will be your test against these false miracles. You’d like to think you stand firm by what you do.

What happens when Jesus touches the leper is that He becomes unclean! What happens when Jesus touches the dead or dying is that He becomes unclean. One of the false charges against Him is that He eats and drinks with unclean people and things and therefore is unclean and not worthy to call Himself God.

When Jesus touches the leper, the leper is made clean and declared clean. The leper gets to return to his family and Jesus must go before the high priest. The leper gets to return to life and Jesus must go to suffer and die. The leper is raised up and Jesus is brought low.

Jesus performs this miracle, not for the miracle’s sake, just so that there are miracles for you to believe in, but because the miracle not only shows His power over all things, but so that when you see Him on the cross, you know what He can do and Who He said He was. And three days later believe it.

Now who is on the cross? The man who did miracles but has none for himself. The God who cured and healed and raised, but can not save Himself. When you look at an empty cross, instead of focusing on Who should be on it, you are thinking about what happened and how it happened and what it would be like for you to see.

With a miracle it’s the same way. How did that happen? What did He do to make it happen? Isn’t that amazing? Do you do children’s parties? Can you do it again?

Jesus goes to the cross to silence these speculations and uncertainties. If miracles were all there were, then Jesus is a fraud. However, Jesus on the cross answers all the questions. The miracle that temporarily restored life shows a Savior who is going to permanently restore life, with His death on the cross.

If you are going to perform a miracle, you had better be prepared to die for the sins of the world, otherwise you too are a charlatan. Miracles are no parlor games. In Scripture, they are all performed to prove that Christ is crucified and those receiving faith need to be baptized. They are done so that people believe and are brought into the life of the Church.

Thus, miracles take a back seat to catechesis and going to Church. Miracles are lower than preaching the Gospel and receiving the forgiveness of sins. You do not have a mystery on the cross. You do not have an enlightened idea on the cross. There should be a body there so there is no question: this is what miracles are all about.

The importance of this is what is to be done with the leper, with the one who is afflicted with death. He needs healing, yes, but he needs perfect healing. He needs a savior who doesn’t just produce ideas and miracles, but one Who can guarantee that it will never happen again.

One that will take this sickness unto death into the grave permanently. When there is a body on the cross, you do not have to speculate or doubt any promise made by Jesus, because it all becomes clear. The miracles were done to show that Christ is on the cross, both God and man, dies, and three days later rises again.

Here is the miracle worker Who has one last miracle for you: to rescue you from sin, death, and the power of the devil by the forgiveness of sins. This is the greater work of Jesus Beyond the miracles is you hearing Christ’s forgiveness proclaimed to you by the pastor and believing it is yours.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Teaching and learning [Epiphany 1; St. Luke 2:42-52]


Jesus speaks to you today from His Gospel saying,

In this way, Jesus grew in wisdom and favor with God and man. Thus, being obedient to your parents gains you wisdom and favor. Honoring your father and mother was the first commandment with a promise attached to it, after all.

This is because everything centers around family. Not your family, but the family of God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and the Son’s Bride, the Church.

If this is true, why not stay at the Temple then? Why not continue, at the obvious church, to reveal Himself as the Light of the World and God’s only Son and the salvation of all the earth? Because His mother said “No”.

The Lord so values His own commandment and so prizes His ordering of the family, that He even subjects Himself to it, so great and holy is the command.

The Lord becomes a servant to His parents. With a flick of His wrist or a syllable from His mouth He can bring false teachers to their knees, destroy the puppet kings, and accomplish salvation. Instead, He becomes a child to re-enter the kingdom of heaven through the cross.

If Jesus is the servant, there must be a master. Indeed, for what other purpose do we older folks exist other than to care for, instruct, and bring up the young? Everyone is looking for some great meaning, some grand purpose to their lives, and the very first thing passed over on that quest is being an obedient child. The second, is being a father or mother.

Maybe they are passed over because they are too normal. It’s the way it’s been done for millennia. Everyone does it.

If we really want progress; if we truly are going to make that next evolutionary leap, we need to move beyond the conventional and pedantic.

Repent. You live in a time of unprecedented peace and in a land of plenty. You have more tools at your disposal to train up a child, than the entire world put together and yet there are uneducated children, un-obedient children, and unwanted children. All must be gathered together, the good and the bad. Likewise must we gather, as well as we can, the best of tools, for this prosperity, this abundance will not be yours forever.

God’s Word and grace are a passing rain shower and if we continue to focus education solely on making a living, then we will witness just how quickly the rain passes. No one is alert. Everyone just quietly goes along with whatever is fed to them.

The freedom to provide sound Christian schooling is the freedom of the Gospel itself, Dr. Luther says, but when it’s gone it’s gone. The Jews had it, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing. Paul and the Apostles brought it to the Greeks and Europe, but when it’s gone it’s gone and now they have the Muslim. Ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay.

The parents may be the masters, but really who is more important in the slave/master, student/ teacher relationship? It is the child. For though the child is submissive, he is the one receiving all the attention, all the time, and all the effort.

And Christ came down with His parents to Nazareth and was submissive to them, but Jesus also had a heavenly Father. And since Joseph and Mary were obeying God’s commands, the Father’s will also fell in line with theirs, for His will was that Jesus be born of a virgin, that He be your brother, that He disguise His royal power, take on a servant form, like you, and lead the devil captive.

Here now is the great exchange of Christmas. The Lord becomes a child to lead the Children of God to life and light. Jesus submits to parent who have submitted to Him; an exchange only possible through love; love given and shown clearly on the cross.

For there is the great and final obedience. On the cross is Isaac obeying Abraham, Samuel obeying Eli, and David obeying Saul. The Son accomplishes and obeys the Father to the point of death, but where the previous sons failed to accomplish the task, Jesus succeeds.

The task is education to everlasting life. The task is teaching that death is not the answer. The task is knowledge that leads away from death. You are not just to urge children into eking out a living, but to receiving a full and eternal life at the hands of the servant God: Jesus.

The Lord then becomes a servant. Seeking, saving, and teaching. He spends the treasure of His entire Kingdom in order to give it to you. He spends His entire life, quite literally, on making sure you have access to life.

The prophet cries out, “All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.” (Is. 54:13) Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, goes to Jesus. (Jn 6:45) You are given the Word that you may have life more abundantly, not just in things, and what you are given you are to pass on.

Jesus passes His life on to you. The teachings of God are life itself. Jesus hands over His entire being in order that you be brought into it. Clothed in this Body, death has no hold on you and sin has no dominion over you.