Sunday, October 15, 2017

Keep Your Clothes On!

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3 and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ 5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
“Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
“For as many of you who have been baptized have put on Christ.” Gal. 3:27 Or maybe we can go with the great Zinzendorf hymn, “Jesus they blood and righteousness, my beauty are my glorious dress, midst flaming worlds with these arrayed with joy shall I lift up my head. The righteousness of Christ is our wedding garment. So don’t take it off.
Of course, this parable is delivered again in the temple before Jesus is arrested. And it is spoken to those who will murder him. The king had sent his invitations, little save the date memos. The wedding would be a joyous occasion.
But when the time came, everyone thought they had better things to do. I mean, we know these people. God offers them the greatest gift imaginable, the forgiveness of sins. He offers it in baptism, he distributes it in the Lord’s Supper, the great wedding feast, the foretaste of the feast to come. He gives it in the absolution and through the sermon. And they are indifferent to it. They have way too many other things to keep themselves occupied. They don’t think they have anything to worry about. They reject the invitation. Of course, rejecting a king’s invitation is to insult the king. It isn’t the right thing to do.
Some, are downright hostile to the invitation. Of course, here we have the Chief Priests and Elders, the leaders of Israel for generation after generation, the kings and politicians who would beat the prophets and stone those who were sent to them. It’s a tradition that continues in this world wherever the church is persecuted with violence and oppression. God will not let that go unanswered. On the last day, legion upon legion of angels will descend upon the earth and mop up that situation rather quickly. Right now he holds them in check out of mercy, to show grace, to bring about the repentance he seeks. But the time comes. Their cities will be burned.
But it is then, when the guests reject the invitation that God sends his messengers out to invite whoever they might find to the wedding feast. Those he had invited have shown themselves to be unworthy, so he decides to invite everyone anyway.
But then comes the tricky part. He gave everyone festive clothes to wear. The clothes he wants them to wear. He’s rich. He doesn’t want people coming into his party wearing street clothes, work clothes, ratty rags worn and tattered. He gives them the clothes he wants them to wear. And most of the guests are quite happy to shed the oil stained clothes they have. Not only do they get invited to a wedding but they get the nicest robe they have ever seen handed to them. I mean, it’s fun isn’t it? Who doesn’t like to dress up from time to time. Put on a nice evening gown like the one you wore to prom. Or a tuxedo, even a fine suit. Not the kind a guy wears to go sell insurance, but a nice one that makes you stand out and look good. I keep thinking I need to buy a couple of those again. Somehow, I outgrew all the ones I used to have.
But now one of the guests is a little too proud of his own suit. It wasn’t what he was asked to wear, but he paid good money for it so it has to be acceptable, right? Of course, it doesn’t quite work out that way. He sticks out like a sore thumb. Everyone wearing white, and he is in black. He ruins the aesthetics of the whole event.
So it is with this picture of the church. Jesus is our wedding garment. His blood, his righteousness they are our glorious dress. He is given to us in baptism. There are some out there who don’t think they need Christ. They can do just fine with their own righteousness. Some of these are people who actually refuse to ever be baptized. They come to church. But just don’t see the need to repent. They think they are righteous enough on their own. Others, well they put on Christ. They were baptized. They had put on Christ, but then they didn’t think that righteousness was good enough. Maybe they were duped into believing that that just got them to the starting point, but they couldn’t rely on it. Instead of receiving forgiveness where forgiveness is given and when forgiveness is given, that by which the faith in Christ, lives, that by which the robe of Christ is ever kept free of the stain of sin, they begin to think they are righteous in and of themselves because of their work rather than Christ’s work. And so they shed the righteousness of Christ and put on their own righteousness which is no righteousness at all.
Don’t take your clothes off. Don’t change your clothes. Wear the righteousness Christ gave you. Wear your wedding garment. It’s kept clean by the forgiveness of sins received in absolution, received in the body and the blood shed for you in Christ Jesus.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Stone the Builders Rejected

33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord's doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.”
“He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Thus the leaders of Israel, the chief priests and the elders, answer Jesus. Jesus pulled a Nathan. Nathan was the prophet who spoke to David. Nathan convicted David of adultery by telling a parable similar to this in that it asked a question by which those answering condemn themselves. It’s the whole judge not lest ye be judged bit. It is the meaning of Romans chapter 2 when Paul shows that when we condemn others we condemn ourselves because we are guilty of breaking the same law.
Jesus tells a parable. The chief priests should have been smart enough to know Jesus was laying a trap for them. They should have heard the echoes of Isaiah chapter 5. They should have known that the vineyard was Israel, that the tenants would end up being them. But if they knew this they pretended not to. They think maybe Jesus is just asking a question concerning law. They answer it as such. Then Jesus lets the hammer drop. He lets them know he speaks about them. They are the tenants. They are the ones who beat those who call for repentance and murder them.
The prophets, men like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Elisha the list could go on. God had told them how to judge prophets In the 13th chapter of Deuteronomy and the 18th chapter, If they entice you after other gods, they shall die. If they speak the in the name of God but what they say does not come to pass they shall be put to death. So prophets would have to be able to show they were prophets by something immediate that the people could see and they would have to be faithful to the word of God. But it was the ones that were faithful to the word of God that were beaten and abused, ignored and marginalized, imprisoned and stoned. The people would not hear the word of God. It was the false prophets the kings listened to. The ones who told people what they wanted to hear. It didn’t matter if it continually failed to be true.
I often wonder if we are any different today. Not that pastors are prophets in the sense of the Old Testament. But then us Christians in general who have had the Spirit poured out on us in baptism, who can point people to that which the prophets of the Old Testament could point to. Who like John the Baptist point to Christ and say behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Isn’t that just too harsh a pill to swallow? Sinners need forgiveness. I’m not a sinner. This is what our hearts want to say. We would rather listen to the man who tells us if we pray in this manner we will receive this. If we behave in this manner we will avoid that pitfall in life. We want to believe we are the masters of our own destiny. Churches that speak of Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins remain empty. Churches that reveal that this world only has tribulation to give to the followers of Christ but that our hope is in the resurrection? Those churches are maligned even by other so-called Christians. Churches that give you rehashed self-help lessons in the place of “Jesus Christ and him crucified”, the only thing that Paul would know among those to whom he preached? Well those churches overflow. They have a good youth group, you know. Yes, they do, because the parents don’t know the word of God, or don’t care about the word of God beyond what it can do for their children in this world. They may teach the commandments, but they don’t teach the gospel. They want to move beyond the gospel, by which they mean they turn away from the cross, and look at themselves and what they should do instead. They reject Jesus. They reject the cornerstone. And so it crushes them.
This is what Jesus lets he priests and elders know. The vineyard will be taken from them and given to others. So it is that many on the last day will say “Lord, Lord!” and will not enter the kingdom of heaven. They will say that they did many great things in his name, but the Lord will say he did not know them. So it will be for those that read scriptures like the Pharisees thinking that in them they have eternal life, and not realizing that they speak not of they need to do for themselves to earn eternal life, looking for rule after rule and becoming ever stricter in their own walk. But these scriptures speak of Jesus Christ, the stone the builders rejected, the stone the Chief priests and elders, the stone you and I crucified with our sins, but who in that crucifixion became the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and broke the bonds of death with his resurrection that we would be raised anew with him to walk in the newness of life even now serving him in everlasting innocence, righteousness and blessedness.
Now the Peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

That Your Heart would Be a House of Prayer

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was ga prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?
The people asking this of Jesus represented the highest authority the land knew next to God. The Chief priests and the Elders made up the Sanhedrin, the great council. And they had not given Jesus the authority to do these things.
Of course we only have a little section here. What are these things that the Chief priests are asking about? Well, he drove out the money changers and those selling the sacrificial animals. That hurt. He healed the sick, the lame and the blind, and he allowed the toddlers and infants to praise him as the Son of David. At these things Matthew tells us they were indignant.
No one intervened when Jesus ran the money changers out, which is incredible enough. The Chief priests knew how unpopular they were, so they remained quiet and let it happen. They were afraid of the people. Perhaps, they thought that his authority came from popular support alone. If that was the truth then the trap they laid with their question might have worked. One could understand them asking about that, who gave him the authority to forbid what the highest authority in the land allowed, indeed what the highest authority gained their income from. They made a prophet charging rent for the space, a percentage on the exchange rate, a percentage on the animals sold. That hurt their pocket books.
But it is strange what makes them indignant. He heals people. By what authority do you give the blind sight? One wouldn’t think a person should even have to answer for that! You allow the lame to walk? How dare you! And this wasn’t a matter of anything occurring on a Sabbath when it was forbidden to work. It was the sheer audacity that he was able to do it at all.  And the infants crying out that Jesus was the Son of David? Jesus answered them with a Psalm hinting that he was the Messiah.
This is what they are after. If Jesus would say out right that he was the Messiah, they would catch him in a trap. Instead they find themselves caught in the trap. Jesus asks them about the baptism of John. The Chief Priests don’t want to answer. They had rejected John, but the people knew he was a prophet. John had told them that the Messiah was coming, that the Kingdom was near. They had all gone to repent and hear him, and then wait for the Messiah to come. But this sort of answer couldn’t be used in a trial. Jesus had evaded the question. The Priest’s couldn’t answer him. The people knew John was a prophet. If they said he operated by man’s authority they would be stoned to death for blasphemy. But they had not gone to repent. They had not received John’s baptism of repentance. So they could not affirm that he was a prophet, it would be to condemn themselves and their own unrepentance. Because they had not recognized John they had not recognized the Messiah. Because they refused to bow before the Law as John preached it, they could not see the gospel that stood before them.
It’s a strange thing that the priests did not bow before the law. This wasn’t just a matter of them being liberals, cultured or educated. The Pharisees were conservative cultured and educated and they didn’t receive John’s baptism either. This was something deeper. This had to do with a whole different understanding of the law. Some believe the law is something that can be kept by sinful man if he tries hard enough. Some had understood that they had not kept the law, they were broken before it. For some it was the law, the creation, and not the law giver, the creator that had become their god. It is what they had put their trust in, and they were blind to the many ways they had broken the law, the many ways in which the law had betrayed their sinful flesh. Why should they submit to a baptism of repentance? They were not publicans. They were not harlots. They were not those who had been raised without the law like the soldiers that John also baptized. To join in a baptism with them would be to make themselves equal with the likes of these sinners who needed repentance. They thought they had managed to keep it, they were above it.
Of course, that was the stinging accusation behind all he overturned tables and spilled coinage in the temple square. These men who profited off the piety of the poor, who turned the temple from a house of prayer into a den of thieves. These men who stood before the altar to sacrifice what they sold, were as unclean as the publicans and the girls they employed on a Saturday night.
It’s the same today. There are those who think the law can be kept with just a bit more effort. There are those who have allowed the law to become their idol. They trust in it. They think it will set them free. They stake their lives on it. Perhaps they needed forgiveness once or twice. But now they are better, now they are obedient. Some think therefore they are too good for church. They don’t need it to be good. Some go to church as a matter of keeping the law. And by keeping the law, they keep God at bay. They have no need of forgiveness. They do not recognize the authority of Jesus to do these things, and the things that he does they think are blasphemous, they think they have become our idols they can’t believe that we should think our salvation, the forgiveness of sins can be given in such things.
But we have a priest whose authority is higher than that of the chief priests. We have a priest  by the order of Melchizedek. He was not above the law, but subjected himself to it. First when he was eight days old and the knife cut into the most tender flesh. Then when he fulfilled all righteousness and was baptized with publicans and harlots, though he had no sin. It was love that compelled him. Love is the highest of the laws. It was the law that the priests, the rabbis, the scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees could not fulfill. It was the law that the publicans broke, and the harlots sold. It is what makes sinful flesh incapable of fulfilling the law. But it is what compelled Christ to finally die on the cross for you. His love. His love for you fulfilled the law with his blood that we could be saved by grace through his word, that the righteousness of John’s baptism would be fulfilled by his love.
So he baptizes us, not with John’s baptism but with his own death and resurrection, a circumcision not made with hands, but which puts off the sinful flesh, and restores us to love through his love. So he feeds us with his love in a feast of forgiveness, and receiving his forgiveness, by kneeling here at this altar and receiving the benefit of the sacrifice our priest made in his house of prayer, here we, here we acknowledge our sin and bow before the law, even the law that John preached that we may recognize a greater presence, even our Lord Jesus Christ who flips over the money changing tables in our hearts, who drives out all the beasts the law requires for sacrifice to say I and I alone am needed, and then he purifies your heart that you would be his temple, no longer a den of thieves, but once again a house of prayer filled with love.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Becoming Children

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the fhell3 of fire.
10 “See that you do not despise gone of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So lit is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed6 in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:1-20)
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus loved little children. Let me rephrase that Jesus loves little children. Jesus died for little children. It’s why he wants them to be baptized. It’s why he wants them to be raised up in the faith they are given in baptism. It’s why the church always has such concern for little children, because we are the body of Christ, here to do his work in this place, at this time. So we have Sunday school started today. We love it.
But I think we idealize children from time to time, and we let that get in the way of understanding what Christ has to say here. Children are not innocent. Most parents can tell you this of their own children, but they lose sight of this when it comes to the concept of children. Children need to be instructed in the faith because children are just as much prone to sin, to selfishness, to guile and so forth as adults. There probably isn’t a one of us in here who can’t tell of the embarrassment they caused their parents at the grocery store when mom told us we couldn’t have the candy bar, so we just stuck it in our pockets and walked out, only to be brought back in by our mom’s and having to return it to the grocer who let us off the hook because as children our good looks could let us get away with anything. But we knew it was wrong, that’s why we were so secretive about it. So it is that Jesus is not pointing to any virtue in children when he says we must become like one if we are to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Children, there was no difference between a child and slave, except that if the child wasn’t sold as a slave the child would eventually be free. Children were told to do things that no one else wanted to do, and they took orders from everyone. They didn’t have time to think about being great, greater or greatest. That was the point. Children weren’t great. Jesus is telling the disciples to stop their stupid game. They aren’t serving God, they aren’t making themselves great in the kingdom of God. They are making themselves great in the kingdom of men, and in their own eyes. They become haughty. And God humble the haughty. He despises the haughty, the self-righteous. But he loves the humble.
The game is still played. This game that the disciples played. The who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The real problem with it is it is self-defeating. It shows who the person really being loved is, and it is not your neighbor. That’s the hard thing with this game, trying to earn rewards in the kingdom of heaven, to be better than the person next to us and be recognized for it, by our neighbors or by God.
This isn’t to say that we should shun any recognition for good works. Life is full of paradoxes, and one of them is sometimes the humble have to receive thanks for the good they do.
The question is, what’s the motive? Good works done for selfish reasons are not good in anyone’s eyes. Now thankfully for us, motives can’t be seen by us. They can be suspected from time to time, but they cannot be seen. They can be seen by God. And so we have this conundrum. How do we do them? How do we do good works? How do we serve God in a God pleasing way? Well, we become like little children, and stop worrying about ourselves. We recognize ourselves to be unworthy servants who have never gone above and beyond what God has demanded us with his law of love.
Love is not selfish, arrogant or rude. Love is selfless. Love is not concerned about itself, but about the person it loves. So love does not take care of the poor in hopes for reward either temporal or eternal.
See this was a thing in medieval society before the reformation. The poor were needed and the needed to remain poor, so that the rich would have a way of earning their salvation! So you did just enough to help them stay poor so you could have some way of getting yourself out of your jam. You weren’t helping them, but yourself. This is one of those things that got Luther to see the whole hypocrisy surrounding the Medieval Catholic system of salvation. He began to see that good works done in such a manner were not good.
So it is that when people are told that they increase their sanctification by works, or that they receive extra rewards in heaven for their works the motivations appealed to ruin the chances for good works. Their sanctification isn’t increased by such efforts, it is decreased! Christians taught such things are actually robbed of their good works by the very people admonishing them to do good works.
So it is that out of his selfless love, Jesus Christ makes us all into children, children of the heavenly Father. He purchases us out of the kingdom of the law, the kingdom of death, the kingdom of the devil that promises rewards and punishments, offers us the carrot and beats us with the stick. He does this by dying for us on the cross. He purchases us not with gold or silver but with his holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death. He pays the price for all out sins. He washes us clean and makes us white as snow. And he does it so that there is nothing left for us to worry about. And I mean nothing! He totally levels it for us. And this is how we become children in his kingdom.
This isn’t to say that while we live in this world he won’t discipline us from time to time, and reward us from time to time. The law is still at work in this world and in our lives. But death can no longer claim us, and we are freed from worry, from anxiety, from having to wonder if we have done enough, or playing some game with other about who is doing what, who is better than who. We live in his grace. We live in his love. We love in his love. And from that love and for that love we love others that they might know the love of Christ, who with no hope of reward, who with no care for glory suffered and died even for those who despise him, who reject him, and who still find themselves playing games to see who is greatest in the kingdom of God.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Just Live

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance6to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life7 will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Then Jesus told his Disiciples, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Deny himself, pick up his cross, follow me.
 In the gospel, Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the son of the Living God. Then Jesus begins to tell them what that actually means. He will god to Jerusalem. He will suffer. The elders, the Chief Priests and Scribes will kill him. On the third day he will rise again.  
It wasn’t the concept Peter had of the Messiah, the Christ. It wasn’t what anyone thought of the Messiah. It is one of the reasons that Christ was hesitant to identify himself as the Messiah while he worked in Galilee. He would silence the demons that would identify him as such. He would ask people not to speak about what he had done.
But now the disciples have identified him as the Messiah, so he has to let them know what this means. And Peter isn’t having it.
The disciples have understood the Messiah in terms of earthly glory. He was supposed to become king. And it was all of this that Jesus continually rejected.
He would rather deny himself. He would go to Jerusalem. He would suffer and die. And only then would the disciples see his glory, and come to understand the true nature of the Christ and his Kingdom in the resurrection. In losing his life, he would give us opportunity to find ours.
So what is this? What does it mean to deny one’s self? To pick up your cross? To follow him? How do we try to save our lives?
Of course behind all of this is the cross. There is the willingness to accept martyrdom if that be your plight, and accept life if you be inflicted with it. To live with persecution humbly, and accepting your crosses when they come.
Crosses when they come. There are those who go looking for crosses to carry, and hills to die on. They chase martyrdom. Most often they turn Christianity into some sort of political movement or Cultural Revolution. They go about with a look at me Christianity, that loses its focus on Christ and forgiveness. Look at what a strong Christian I am! And Paul warns not to be to proud lest you fall.
There will come time enough when a stand will have to be taken. Martyrdom isn’t Martyrdom if you chase it. It’s just suicide. Martyrdom, the word means witness. It is supposed to be something we do that makes a confession of Christ. And yet it is something that Jesus tells us to avoid if we can. “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” Avoid if we can. But if we can’t?
Because it would be so easy to avoid it if we simply didn’t confess him. It would be so easy to avoid him, if we simply didn’t let his life, his death and his resurrection have its way with us and makes its stamp upon our own life. But he rose from the dead! And with that he offers so much more than this world could ever offer with all its glory, or the fame of martyrdom! He didn’t come to reform this world as so many wanted him to do. He didn’t come to set up a better government, or give a better set of laws. He came to put this world to death by dying to it. Think about it! The author of life he is called. God. The Son of the Living God. The creator of the world. He died, and with him so did his creation. It’s dead. It has nothing to offer now. Not this world. But then he rose, the first fruits of the new creation. Now we who die with him. We who lose our life for his sake? Where? In Baptism. That’s our martyrdom, this is where we die for his sake. He puts his seal upon us. He stamps our life. And there we rise again to walk in the newness of life, rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins as if we were dancing in the midst of a Spring shower. Now we simply get to just live. Just live.
And the world can’t let us do that, because the world is dead. The world is darkness that refuses to know the light. But you, you can just live, because the Creator, the Author of Life who died for your sins, he lives and you have lost your life for his sake. He took it, that you might find it in him because outside of him, outside of the forgiveness of sins there is no life. So now he offers you his life in the bread and the wine through which we proclaim his death until he comes. It is the only living thing you will eat, because he is not dead but is alive. He is not dead but lives. And now, so do you.

You don’t have to chase glory. You don’t have to chase earthly riches. You don’t have to justify your existence to the world, or God. You can simply enjoy the life you are given. Because when you live this life here, when you suffer the crosses that come your way in the sure hope that Jesus rose from the dead, when you enjoy the joys that are left in this world as gifts from a God who loves you? Well, then you live the life that God has given you. Unlike the world. You get to just live.  

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Jesus Loves the Little Children

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. [7] 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:25-30 (ESV)
Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
This is how Jesus describes the little children to him the Father in heaven has revealed the kingdom. They are those who labor and are heavy laden.
The wise and understanding, these are the people who think they have it figured out. In Jesus day these were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The learned, the upper crust of society. Today you find these types in every stratum of society. They are people who find God immoral. They know better than him.
That one is always sort of strange to me. The Ten Commandments have had quite the impact on our society. Jesus Christ has had quite the impact on society. Here we have a man who died for the sins of the world. He shed his blood for people of every stripe. Jesus died for the cultured and the uncultured. He died for the rich and the poor. He died for blue collar and white collar. For the healthy and the sick. The Albert Einsteins of the world, and for those suffering every form of mental illness, or downs syndrome. “Red and yellow, black and white they are precious in his sight,” I remember singing those words as a four-year-old in Ft. McMurray and simple understandings like that have transformed society’s notions of right and wrong, of justice and of mercy. Oh, it hasn’t put an end to racism and try as I may to understand another person’s culture and concepts of polite, I can still find it awkward, or rude. But when people think that Christianity is the problem, I find most often they are not aware of just how much Christianity is responsible for even what is left of their morals, even shaping the problem. Sure the Bible didn’t outlaw slavery. It can be hard for us today to read what the Bible has to say about such things. But I will tell you this, we wouldn’t have any qualms with slavery if it wasn’t for the Bible, if it wasn’t for the fact that Jesus died for the sins of the world. We would care less about racism if it wasn’t for the fact that we could teach our kids to sing “Red and yellow, black and white they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
The little children of the world, to whom the Father has revealed these things. This was a phrase Jesus would use for his disciples. Little children, oh how society has changed in that department. In the first century, little children were synonymous with heavy laden, this was before child labor laws. My parents knew of no such legislation. I remember being excited when I first learned my mom and dad were buying lake property until we pulled up to the three acres of thick woods bordering the swamp and learned that my brother and I would be helping my dad clear it. I thought fire made sense and would probably be the best way until I learned you actually had to control the burn. Ten or eleven, those five-gallon buckets were about half my size but they were the only way to get water to the property line, two at a time. I was lucky, I mean it wasn’t the way I really wanted to spend my weekends, but at least my dad was too busy during the week to make us work like that on a Monday. Though my dad did know how to farm me out to old timers in need of firewood. Kids in the first century were pretty much slaves. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It sounds so nice. But the truth is anyone in the village could lord it over the children of the village, make them watch the cows in the noonday heat, fetch the falling figs in the midst of a rainstorm, and in general do anything an adult sees needs to be done, but doesn’t care to do himself. And the kid would be paid in room and board if he or she was lucky.
Oh, Jesus really and literally meant that the kingdom, the mystery of Jesus Christ, was revealed to little children. The little children that were brought to him to bless, when the disciples were enraged. But he also meant it figuratively to mean the simple in the land who simply saw who Jesus was. They weren’t so invested in their theories as to who God should be, or what God should do to miss seeing what it was God was doing.  These were the type of people who most often didn’t have time except perhaps on the Sabbath to study God’s word. The Pharisees, the Scribes, the Sadducees represented a lifestyle of leisure. They had money, they wore fine robes and looked down on the rags other people wore. They could sit around and study God’s word and pay someone else to plow their fields and make them breakfast. I mean when I think about this I think about waitresses at restaurants, the single mom who can’t hardly afford not to work on a Sunday morning when all the people like to go get breakfast after church. And then the good majority of those same people complain that a person shouldn’t work on the Sabbath, but aren’t you glad they do, if at no other time than when you are on vacation and there isn’t any other option? It was that kind of relationship these people had with one another. You couldn’t be a Pharisee if you were poor. But it was to the little children, the overworked and heavy laden to whom the Father revealed the kingdom in Jesus Christ. They were the one’s who flocked to see John the Baptist at the Jordan. They were the ones who gathered to hear the Beatitudes when Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount. They humbled themselves like little children before their Father in heaven, and then they saw what the Father was doing, then they found the rest they were looking for.
So it is that the kingdom is one of rest. No not the kind of rest the Pharisees had from physical labor, but rest for the souls of those who have tried their hardest to live up to God’s law and have failed. This was the chief difference between the little children and the wise and understanding. The “wise and understanding” used here with a bit of tongue and cheek, had thought they accomplished God’s law. The little children could not afford such luxurious delusions. They knew their sins, and the Pharisees piled on more. The yoke of the law can be heavy if you are going to try to earn God’s favor by pulling it. But the yoke that Jesus has is light. It isn’t a matter of earning God’s favor, but experiencing his love, his grace, his mercy, that which he poured out upon you as little children at the baptismal font. It is there that he assures you of his favor so that you no longer have to worry about it. Then we live in his love and living in his love we learn to love as he loves, even as he loves all the little children of the world.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Persecuted for Righteousness Sake

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant [4] above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign [5] those of his household.
26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. [6] 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? [7] And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:21-33 (ESV)
“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake but the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Jesus gives his disciples a pep talk. He is sending his twelve out to preach in his name. He was hated by the world. He is hated in this world. He exposes our sin. He destroys our delusions of grandeur. Even in his day, he was hated. He warns the disciples. “It isn’t going to be any easier for you.” “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher and the servant like his master.”
This is why Christians can find a certain amount of comfort amidst the persecution. If no one hated us, would we really be Christian? Of course, today we live in a culture that is still greatly influenced by Christianity. Much more so than one would think. Sometimes the influence is a little twisted and confused, but it is still there. Things people take for granted today are developments that would not have happened in any other society. Freedom of Religion is one of those things. We take it for granted. We know that no one can be forced to believe the gospel. So we don’t try to force it. We preach it. We shout it from the rooftops as it were. When this was being written the rooftops were often used as pulpits in small villages where perhaps there was no synagogue. Somewhat the same way the pope will often address crowds gathered at the Vatican from a window on the second floor. Jesus taught the disciples in the dark. He preached to the crowds, and then he explained what he had said to them as they walked. He instructed them concerning the gospel as they walked, as they gathered around campfires, as they sat by the roadsides. He instructed them in the way that fathers were commanded to teach their children in Deut. 6. And he regarded them as his children, as he does all his disciples including you. What they had been taught on a personal level they were now to proclaim to the world, but just as their teacher was hated, so they would be hated.
But it can be an odd thing to take comfort in your persecution. A person has to be on guard against a persecution complex, like Jehova Witnesses who think they are doubly blessed by the stranger slamming the door in their face. Peter says it:  “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:15-17 (ESV) I had a professor for missions once, Dr. Douglass Rutt. He once said it to the class like this. “You will be hated for the gospel’s sake. But make sure it is for the gospel that you are hated and not because you are just a jerk.” That’s probably a paraphrase, but it hit home.
We can often just be jerks even when it comes to the gospel. It comes about when we have no patience with others who may not understand the faith the same way we do. Or perhaps in overzealous enthusiasm, we rush out to get into a fight or a debate about some particular article of faith. Perhaps we argue Creationism vs. Evolution with little to know understanding of the church’s own historical teaching concerning the nature of creation, and even less concerning current scientific research. It’s not anything new, Augustine in the fourth century complained about Christians doing that very same thing. Maybe it is that we try to force other people to live in the manner we think we should be living, even though we ourselves fall way short of that goal. Of course, we can’t help that people will judge us based on their past experience with Christians either. But there was a time when Christians were actually persecuted because they believed in the forgiveness of sins. Now, this is something it seems only garners persecution from other so-called Christians. The world hardly knows that Christians believe in such a thing because about all they experience from Christians is judgment. And they know there is something a bit off about this when Jesus is known for having said don’t judge. That you will be judged by the same measuring stick with which you judge others.
But let it be known, the world will still persecute you for believing in the forgiveness of sins. You don’t have to be a jerk to be persecuted for Christ’s sake. It will come. It will come from those who refuse to understand how a sinner like you can go to church on Sunday. They don’t believe you should judge others, but they will call you a snob for having sinned all week long, perhaps absentmindedly snubbing them at work, or losing your temper, maybe you gossiped and slandered them, and you still have the gall to get up on Sunday morning and act as if your toilet smells of roses. When in fact, the reason you come is the complete opposite, or at least it should be, it isn’t because you think you have been perfect, but because you know you have fallen short of the glory of God in life, you haven’t reflected the love of Christ for sinners in your life, at least not as perfectly as you would have liked. And you know there is only one answer to that, to confess your sin to God, and receive the forgiveness of sins from Jesus, that you may grow in faith and love having been nourished by his word, and being strengthened in the faith and the forgiveness of sins, would even be able to forgive those who persecute you for the sake of righteousness, praying with Jesus himself from the cross, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” And then it is because you are the body of Christ, the disciple of Jesus, that they persecute you as they persecuted him. But hold fast for in him alone is their salvation.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.