Monday, September 17, 2018

Sermon for Pentecost 17: "Hope for the Helpless"

+ 17th Sunday after Pentecost - September 16th, 2018 +
Series B: Isaiah 50:4-10; James 3:1-12; Mark 9:14-29
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton

Image result for lord i believe help thou my unbelief

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

So often in life we find ourselves feeling helpless. Everyday things, like weather, politics, or school strikes. And in life-altering ways too: hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes, a diagnosis of cancer or an untreatable autoimmune disease, or the sudden death of family or friends.

In many ways our Gospel reading from St. Mark this morning is a story of helpless people, and our Lord who came to bring hope to the helpless.

When Jesus came down the mountain following his transfiguration, he saw the crowds gathered around his disciples. He heard the scribes arguing. He saw the confusion. The fear. They were helpless. “What do we do about this boy? He’s plagued by a spirit? You’re the disciples of Jesus. We’ve heard about you and your Rabbi. We’ve heard the reports. Heal him. Cast it out. Do something!”

The disciples, however, were just as helpless as the crowds and scribes. “We saw Jesus’ heal the deaf-mute man and countless others. We saw the demons flee and tremble before his Word. Jesus gave us his authority to cast out demons. Where did we go wrong? What’s different this time? Why couldn’t we cast it out?”

At the center of this rather chaotic scene is the helpless father and his helpless son, tormented by an evil spirit. “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute.And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”

The crowds, the disciples, the father, even the boy, they were all helpless. And in this way, St. Mark does us all a favor in telling this story the way he does. Mark is a down to earth Gospel writer. He’s not going to give us a spoonful of sugar; he tells us like it is. Here’s a man who knows what real life is like. Not kittens riding on a unicorn skipping across a rainbow. Life in this fallen world is messy. Full of arguments. Fear. Doubt. Anxieties. Worry. Disease. Death. Life often leaves us feeling like the crowds, the disciples, and the father. Helpless. 

As St. Mark tells us this story he reveals our own helplessness. We’re not spectators; we are players on the field, fellow travelers through the valley of the shadow of death. 

When they brought the boy to Jesus he saw this boy’s helpless state. Rather gruesome I imagine. Convulsions. Foaming at the mouth. Rolling around on the ground. 

“How long has this been happening to him?” Jesus asked. “From childhood.”The father replied. 

The same is true for us too. From the day we’re born, and then born again in Holy Baptism, we’ve a target on our back. Hunted by the devil who prowls like a roaring lion seeking to devour us. Hated by the world for the name of Christ placed upon us and his cross we confess. Hounded by our sinful flesh. Helpless in our trespasses and sin. And helpless when the fallen world comes crashing down around us.

When temptation is creeping at the door of our heart and mind; when we fall into sin we so foolishly thought we had under control; when guilt and doubt over our fears, failures, and faithlessness overwhelms us like a thundershower.

Perhaps, then, at those times, you’ve prayed that same little prayer that boy’s father prayed. It’s a good prayer. An honest prayer. A prayer of faith.

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. 

You can’t say it any better than this. Like this father, we are simultaneously believer and unbeliever. I believe, help my unbelief.This is no self-credentialing, self-justifying, self-referencing “faith.” This is the real thing. This is how faith sounds – I believe Lord, and only you, the author of my faith, can deal with my unbelief and sustain the faith you’ve given me.

As we confess in the Catechism: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him; but the Holy Spirit calls be by the Gospel, enlightens me with his gifts, makes me holy, and keeps me in the true faith. 

Being helpless can feel terrifying. And yet blessed are you who are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are we who are weak, for our Lord is strong. Blessed are we who are helpless, for our help is in the Name of the Lord. 

The same Lord who stood before that father and his son also became a helpless infant born for us and our suffering servant on the cross. Jesus didn’t come to save people who have it all together or have everything figured out. That old saying has it backwards: God doesn’t help those who helps themselves; God helps the helpless. The Lord is near the brokenhearted. The bruised reed he will not break; the smoldering wick he will not extinguish. While we were still helpless sinners, Christ died for us. 

What Jesus did for that boy and his father, He does for all on the cross by His death and resurrection. Jesus cast all of our doubt, fear, worries, anxieties, helplessness, sin, and death upon himself on the cross. And he cast out the devil. His cross is the exorcism of the world. Our Baptism is our exorcism too. Depart unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit in the Name of the Father and of the Holy spirit. His holy absolution does for us what he did for that boy, he raises us from the dead with his Word: I forgive you all your sins. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus places his body and blood into our helpless mouths, forgiving us, healing us, and feeding us his Bread of eternal life. 

And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, the spirit came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

Arose. Anestiin Greek. The Resurrection Word. In that word Jesus gives us hope in our helplessness. Joy in our sorrows. Comfort in our grief. Life in our death. Forgiveness for our all sin. 

Later, in the house, the disciples asked Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?”
“This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”It’s a reminder to His disciples that power lies not with them but with Him. Jesus alone is our help in the darkness. When other helpers fail and comforts flee. Come, friend of sinners, thus abide with me.
It is for us as it was for the father and his boy. Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who came from heaven to earth to help the helpless, to save, forgive, and raise us from the dead.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.  

Monday, September 10, 2018

Sermon for Pentecost 16: "Opened"

+ 16thSunday after Pentecost – September 9th, 2018 +
Series B: Isaiah 35:4-7; James 2:1-10, 14-18; Mark 7:24-37
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton
Image result for ephphatha

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

God delivers his Word in many ways throughout Scripture. We sing hymns rich in poetry and prose in the Psalms. The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. 

We hear God’s commands and promises from the prophets, like Isaiah: The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;  then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

Epistles, like James, teach and apply Christian doctrine for our lives. My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

Mark’s account of Jesus healing of a deaf-mute man is rich in prose, fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, and thoroughly doctrinal. Yet it is not a Psalm, a prophecy, or an epistle. St. Mark uses one of God’s favorite ways to deliver his Word. He tells us a story. The miraculous, sacramental, story of salvation. 

Jesus returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 

Jesus is in Gentile territory, a route that makes little sense geographically. His motivation, however is mercy, not convenience. Regardless of territory, language, or ancestry, the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. For Tyre. Sidon. Galilee. The Decapolis. Milton. For you. And for the deaf-mute man.

And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 

As this story unfolds, we wonder, “How can a deaf man hear the Gospel?” For some, hearing isn’t an issue. For others it is. I imagine this man felt like I do without my glasses. Lost. Lonely. Isolated. Afraid. Anxious.

A few Sunday’s back when the microphones weren’t working, we experienced a glimpse of what this man’s daily life. Without hearing we feel lost. Separated. This is what sin does to us spiritually. Apart from our Lord’s blessing, we’re lost. Yet in his precious hands, scarred and wounded, and in his living and active Word, we find the same life-restoring healing that Jesus brought to the deaf-mute man.

And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 

Jesus comes to this man personally, as if he came all the way from the north in Tyre and Sidon to heal this man. He does the same for us.Who for us men and for all salvation came down from heaven… incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, made man, crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. Suffered. Buried. Risen. Ascended. 

Just imagine the man’s surprise. For the first time in his life he could hear and speak. Afterwards, Mark states, He spoke plainly, most English versions say. Mark uses a better word: orthos. Orthodontist, straight teeth. This man had orthos; straight speech. The Church is called to speak the same way: orthodoxy. Straight, right praise in Word, song, and deed.

Mark tells us in a story what St. Paul declares doctrinally in Romans 10: Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. How can a deaf man hear the Gospel? The same way any of us can. By grace. The Gospel creates hearing where there was silence. God’s Word creates faith where we only had unbelief. Jesus opens once closed our ears, and hearts, and minds to hear and believe his Word.

Physical hearing can often be treated with medicines or technology. Thankfully, even if our hearing is completely gone, we cannot lose the divine hearing and divine speech of Jesus’ Word. We don’t receive Divine hearing and speaking from a speech class but it’s worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Hearing the Gospel and believing God’s Word is a miracle only God can perform. 

Like the deaf-mute man, in hearing the Gospel we become different people. God opens our ears to hear his Word and our mouths to declare his praise to give a reason to anyone who asks us for the hope that is within us. That’s evangelism. We may speak the Word, but God performs the miracle of opening ears, hearts, and minds to the Gospel. It’s a miracle he performs daily, weekly; Whenever you invite a friend to Sunday School or Bible class or when our preschoolers hear God’s Word in the classroom and chapel time. 

Jesus healing the deaf man is not only a miraculous story, it’s a thoroughly physical story.

Jesus put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. “Eww, gross,” we say. “How can spittle do such great things? Certainly not just the spittle, but the Word of God in and with the spittle does such great things.” Same is true of Baptism, our divine spittle. 

Jesus joins his ear-opening, tongue-loosening Word to his physical creation. He opens our ears to his Word and loosens our tongues for his praise, just as he did that deaf man. God does this, not with abstractions, but with gifts for our senses; we touch, taste, hear, see, and smell that the Lord is good. Words in our ears (or hands for braille and sign language). Water and Word in Baptism. Words that pronounce forgiveness in Absolution. Words with bread and wine that deliver Jesus’ body and blood. 

This story reveals the delightful surprise that God’s promises are as hard as the nails of the cross and as solid as the stone rolled away from his grave. As real as a finger in the ear and spit on the tongue. 

And looking up to heaven, Jesus sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

Jesus did more than open the deaf-man’s ears. He opened the kingdom of heaven to us. Be opened.

When Adam and Eve left Eden, it was closed. Paradise is no longer closed. The way is open. At Jesus’ Baptism and Transfiguration, heaven opened. The Father spoke: T”his is my beloved Son!” Jesus kept the Law for us, heaven opened. Jesus suffered the punishment of the Law for us, heaven opened. Jesus cried out on the cross: “It is finished”, heaven opened. The stone was rolled away, heaven opened. Jesus showed his hands to the disciples on Easter Sunday, heaven opened.,” You are baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, heaven opened. “Ephphatha. Be opened.”

Indeed, "He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Funeral Sermon for Robert Mills: "A Hands On Savior"

+ Funeral Sermon for Bob Mills – September 8th, 2018 +
Texts: Isaiah 26:1-4, 19; Romans 14:7-9; John 6:27-40
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton
Image result for Jesus' hands

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Some say the eyes are a window into a person’s soul. And while there’s some truth to that, I’ve found that you can get to know an awful lot about a person by their hands. The well-worn wedding ring or firm grip are an autobiography to the world; every callous, line, and scar have a story to tell us about that person.

In the short time I’ve known Bob, I discovered that he was a man who liked to work with his hands. 

Hands that carried ladders, lugged fire hoses, and reached out to help those in need despite the danger. Hands that were joined in holy matrimony with Mary for over 55 years. Hands that held his children and grandchildren. Hands that worked on the house, helped a friend or neighbor, and sanded, sawed, and hammered in the workshop. 

Yes, Bob’s hands were a window into his life; witnesses to a life full of hard-work. Love. Contentment. 

And yet, Bob would be the first to admit that none of these earthly blessings came from his hands. For he knew that everything – clothing and shoes, house and home, a devout wife and devout children, labor and leisure, indeed all we have – all of it comes from our Heavenly Father’s hands. He richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support this body and life. And he does this purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. 

This is how he provided for Israel in their 40 years in the wilderness. How He provided for Bob throughout his life. How he provides for us all our earthly needs. By grace. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Everything we have in body and soul comes from the cross of Christ. Everything. 

Bob knew this, believed this, lived this. For he confessed what the Scriptures tell us, that as many good things as our hands do, they also do many bad things too. Our hands – and everything we touch – are stained with sin. Our sinful hands are a window into our sinful hearts.

This is why Jesus warns us and the crowds in John 6, Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”

Jesus isn’t saying that food and earthly stuff is bad; he’s simply warning us that none of that will keep us alive forever. There’s nothing that our hands, heart, or head can do to save us from perishing.   

What will save us? Not us or the work of our hands, but Jesus and his handiwork of salvation for us. For our Lord is a hands on kind of Savior. He saw our sinful mess and said, “I can fix this. I will fix this. Look to my hands.”

Hands that formed and knitted us in our mother’s womb. Hands that gave us, just as he gave Bob, new birth, new life from above in Holy Baptism; washed and cleansed of sin through the hands of the pastor who baptized us in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

Hands that healed the sick just as he works through the hands of doctors and nurses to care for us. 

Hands that put daily bread on our table and his body and blood – the bread of Life – on his table for our forgiveness. As Jesus declares: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” 

Not figurative hands, but real, touchable, hold-able hands like ours – flesh, blood, and bone. 

Hands of an infant held in Mary and Joseph’s arms. Hands that extended on the cross to save Bob, and you, and all. Hands that were nailed for you, and for Bob, and for all. Hands, head, and body that bore all our sin, disease, and death for us as he suffered at the hands of sinful men, for sinners. Hands that still bear the scars, those dear tokens of his passion, love, labor, and sacrifice for us.

Glorified and resurrected hands stretched out to give us peace. Hands that carry us home to be with him when we die. Hands that will one day reach down into our graves and pull us up as quickly as an exuberant student raises his hand in class to answer a question.

As Isaiah proclaims:

Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.    You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
    and the earth will give birth to the dead.

Jesus will give the word. Arise! And up we go: Bob, us, and all the faithful departed, will arise. We will be made new: a new hands, new, glorified, and resurrected bodies. 

This is why we make the sign of the cross and remember our Baptism as we confess the Apostles’ Creed…we believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting. This is the confession, hope, and faith that Bob lived in, died in, and will live again in for all eternity.

For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Yes, Jesus is also a man who likes to work with his hands. And his hands tell us the story of our salvation. Hands on the cross for us. Hands on the stone rolled away for us. Hands of blessing throughout our life.

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Sermon for Pentecost 15: "What Makes Us Clean?"

+15th Sunday after Pentecost - September 2nd, 2018+
Series B: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Ephesians 6:10-20; Mark 7:14-23
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today’s Gospel reading picks up where last week’s left off. Last week Jesus dealt with things external (the washing of hands and so forth). This week Jesus deals with things internal (our unclean hearts).

The Pharisees are gone, taking their spiritual accounting books, and their further contempt of Jesus, with them. Only the crowds and Jesus’ disciples remain. 

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

At the heart of the issue (pun intended), is the question: what makes a person unclean? What marginalizes us in the kingdom of God? What draws us away from God’s gifts? What defiles us before God? What separates us from God’s holiness? 

What makes us unclean? The disciples wondered. You can  just picture them scratching their heads saying, “What do you mean nothing that goes inside of a person defiles him? That’s not what momma and the rabbis taught us. Leviticus 11 is pretty clear about bacon, lobster, scallops, and other unclean foods. You are what you eat; and if you eat unclean foods you’re unclean. We thought the dietary laws marked us as a holy nation? What’s going on here, Jesus?” 

We ponder the same question too. What makes us unclean? And if we’re unclean, how can we be clean again? Can we apply some Scrubbing Bubbles to our sinful flesh, hire Mr. Clean to help mop up our sinful messes, or recruit Bill Mays to oxiclean our sin away? No. There are some stains only the cleansing blood of Jesus can wash away.

Jesus begins his cleansing work in a rather strange way. Before he points us and his disciples to the source of our spiritual uncleanliness, he first gives us a biology lesson, gastroenterology 101. 

Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him,since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”

Again, the human heart, not the food, is the issue. Food goes in and comes out. Our body takes the nutrients we need and “the rest goes into the privy.” Food doesn’t touch the heart. Jesus isn’t talking about our cholesterol and heart health. Nor is the heart the emotional, squishy, lovey-dovey thing we think of on Valentine’s Day either. Jesus is talking about the heart as the seat and center of our will, where we determine what we say, think, do, and so on. Food doesn’t touch that. 

That’s why Mark adds that little commentary note. It’s like a road-sign in a one stoplight town, blink and you miss it. “Thus he declared all foods clean.” As Jesus will later reveal in a vision to Peter in Acts, here he reveals that he is the end of the Law. Leviticus 11 and the ceremonial Laws of the OT are fulfilled in him. Cleansing now comes in Jesus, not the Law. We’re to enjoy a lobster tails or bacon covered scallops. Food and drink is not what defiles you.

What make us unclean? Jesus ratchets up the intensity of the Law. It’s not what goes into our mouths that defiles us, but, What comes out of a person is what defiles him.For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts. But surely we’ve never had any of those, right? That’s what really sinful people do. Sexual immorality? Our Lord says that, “Whoever has looked at a man or a woman with lust in their hearts has already committed adultery in his heart.Theft, murder, adultery,coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

That’s quite the list, isn’t it? Reading it feels like a spiritual firing squad, we don’t know which bullet killed us, but all guns are aimed at our heart. No one escapes that list alive, not a one of us. Don’t think so? If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.Food and drink aren’t the problem. Like a plumber, Jesus climbs down underneath the facades we’ve built and inspects the source of the leak. Before our Lord cleanses us, he shows us the source of our uncleanliness and sin and we finally see how bad it is. Not a smudge, something more like Macbeth’s wretched spot.

Jesus’ words reveal our sinful hearts are rotten, sick, and dead to the core. This is why all that language of giving our hearts to Jesus sounds rather absurd when placed next to Jesus’ words. How could we possibly give him our hearts like that? We can’t. We can’t cleanse our hearts. 

What makes us clean? Like King Midas, whose touch turned everything to gold, everything is defiled by our unclean heart. Not so with the heart of God. He is merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. God reveals his heart to us in Jesus. And in Jesus, all things are clean: food and drink, and most important of all, you.

will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.Ezek. 36:25-26
Jesus cleanses us, not by telling us to scrub our sin a little harder, not by coaching us to wax on our own forgiveness and wax off our guilt, but in the most remarkable way. Jesus became the unclean one, the defiled one, the one who bore the dirt, grime, and filthy rags of our sin, all for you. Jesus became soiled with our every evil thought, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness, so that in him we become as he is: holy, blameless, clean. Jesus was Baptized with sinners to soak up like a sponge all that defiles us and let it be wrung out upon him on the cross. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. 

Ordinary food won’t fix our sinful heart. But there is a food and drink that will. Our Lord’s body and blood that we receive and as we do, sing, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”  For here is holy food and drink that cleanses us without and within. 

And if we are clean in Christ, then our  mouths that once spewed forth sin, are cleansed by the Holy Spirit and filled with his gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, self-control. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.

In Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice on the cross, you are forgiven. Holy. Pure. Without spot, wrinkle, or any such thing. In Jesus you are clean.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Sermon for Pentecost 14: "Traditions and Commandments"

+ 14th Sunday after Pentecost - August 26th, 2018 +
Series B: Isaiah 29:11-19; Ephesians 5:22-33; Mark 7:1-13
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Everyone has traditions. If any of our family stops in or around Tillamook, OR, we go to the cheese factory. When you’re at a baseball game you sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the 7th inning stretch. Towns like Milton have memorials to honor the service and sacrifice of our military. 

The word “tradition” means something handed on from one person or from one generation to the next. Like the baton in a relay race handed on cleanly to the next runner. The Christian writer G.K. Chesterton called tradition the “democracy of the dead.” If all we do is focus on the present moment we have no regard for the past. In keeping the traditions, our past becomes our present.
All religions have their traditions too – rites, ceremonies, practices, holy days, feasts, fasts, etc. Christianity is no exception. Even the simple act of reading lessons from the Scriptures and preaching on them is a tradition that reaches back to the synagogues. The Bible is a tradition: books, letters, Gospels, and psalms handed on from the prophets, apostles, and evangelists and copied and translated by Christians in the past and handed on to us. Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the singing and chanting of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs are all part of the “tradition.” 
You might think of tradition as a vehicle, a means of bringing the past into the present and handing on what is most valuable and important, sort of like a moving truck from California to Milton, WA. Now imagine, as you’re on your summer road trip through Mt. Shasta or the Olympic National Forest but you never look out the window of the car except at the road ahead. All you stare at are the dials and dash lights of the car, or if you’re in the backseat, the drop-down DVD player. And you never see the snow-capped mountains or the lush green of the forest around you. All your attention is on the vehicle. That’s crazy, isn’t it? Why bother with the gas and the trip? Why not just sit in the driveway and admire your car?
That’s what happens when tradition takes over. Traditions can be good, but they can go bad too. Like when we forget why we have a certain tradition and all we say is “Well, it’s always been that way.” Or worse yet, when our traditions lead us away from or become more important than God’s Word.
This is what happened with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They were steeped in tradition – 613 things to do and not do in order to do the righteousness of God. Washing hands and feet and dishes and cushions, not just for personal hygiene but for ceremonial purity. And like all religious types, they took note who followed the traditions and who didn’t. Who washed their hands and cups and saucers and who didn’t. They pointed it out to Jesus when His disciples dared to eat with ceremonially unclean hands. 
Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”
Jesus quickly turned the tables on them quoting Isaiah: “This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from. In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.”
When tradition takes over, when the vehicle becomes the thing itself, as Jesus said, “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
Jesus illustrates his point with the 4thCommandment: “Honor your father and mother,” which also includes taking care of them when they’re old and providing for them. But the tradition of the Pharisees said that if you declared a portion of your wealth to be “Korban,” which was like sacrificing it in advance, then you didn’t have to use it to help your parents. And God was supposed to be pleased with this, because the sacrifices were for Him in the end, so how could He possibly not like that?
What’s the problem? The problem is thinking God needs our sacrifices. That’s not Christian. It’s pagan. Keep the gods fed and liquored and happy. It doesn’t work that way with God. He doesn’t need or want anything from us but faith. That’s all He wants. Faith. Trust in His Word and promises. And the faith he wants us to have, he gives as free gift.
“I desire mercy not sacrifice.” He says it all over the Scriptures. Jesus repeated it to these same Pharisees. I desire mercy not sacrifice. Mercy to the neighbor in need. Mercy to mother and father. Mercy to the broken stranger in the ditch. Mercy to the least and lost and lowly. Mercy to sinners. Forgiveness to those who have wronged you. Mercy even to those who hate you and revile you and persecute you.
Lip service to God, that’s easy. Just say go through the motions. But mercy to those whom God has placed in your life, not so easy. Faith toward God, fervent love for one another. That’s what He desires. Faith-full hearts from which flow with mercy and love toward others.
When we elevate tradition over God’s Word rather than a servant of God’s Word, we become preoccupied with what we’re doing for God rather than what God has done and is doing for us. Take worship for example. Worship isn’t about what we do for God. It’s about what God in Christ is doing for us – forgiving us, washing us, feeding us. His Word, His Baptism, His Body and Blood. It’s not about our making ourselves pure. We can’t. A sinner cannot purify himself from Sin. Cleansing must come from outside, from above, from the Son of God who became our Sin in our flesh and died our death on a cross. That’s the focus of worship. Not in our hearts, not in ourselves, nor in what we do but in Jesus and what He has done.
Prayer, praise, thanksgiving, worship, and tradition are good. And God delights to hear from us as a loving Father delights to hear from His children. But we worship isn’t about us pleasing God; rather, we pray, praise, and give thanks because in Christ we are pleasing to Him.
With all their religious rules and regulations, ritual washings, and traditions, the Pharisees missed the one needful thing. Jesus. They missed God’s mercy in Jesus. They missed the cleansing that all their washings could not work. They missed the most wonderful thing God has ever done, and will ever do, for the world – the sending of His beloved Son in the flesh to be our savior. They were like noisy patrons at a comedy club, so busy talking to each other, they missed the punch line and didn’t understand why everyone around them was laughing. They were so busy with their traditions, with their religious dos and don’ts, they missed the great good news that Christ came to save sinners not saints. That He came to redeem sinners not the redeemable. That He came to raise the dead not the living. 
We would have missed it too. We focus on our hands rather than the hands of God. We focus on our doing rather than God’s doing. We focus on what we think God wants from us rather than what God says He wants from us – mercy not sacrifice. For we are all Pharisees in our sinful hearts. And just like the Pharisees, the problem isn’t with tradition, it’s with us. We make idols for ourselves and think it’s our sacrifices that save us. But we’ve got it all backwards.
The only sacrifice that matters is the One Jesus offered in obedience to His Father. The only offering that can be held before God is the offering of Jesus’ life for your life. Jesus let his hands become defiled and hooked with nails to a beam of wood for us. Jesus endured a horrible human tradition of condemnation and execution on a cross to give us a true washing of rebirth and regeneration that cleanses our defiled hearts.
Today Jesus declares, “You are cleansed from sin and clothed in my sacrifice; there’s no amount of tradition keeping, much less commandment keeping, that is going to make you pure enough to sit at my table. There is nothing you can offer God that is going to make it right again. I’ve done it all for you. Come; you are welcome. Never mind your burdens, sins, and hypocrisies, come to me and my table, and I will welcome you, feed you, cleanse you, forgive you and save you. The Pharisees will cluck their tongues and wag their accusing fingers at you, but come to me all you who are heavy laden. And I will give you rest.”
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Special note of thanks to the blog of Rev. William Cwirla for the ideas and outline of this sermon. I get by with a little help from my friends.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Sermon for Pentecost 13: "You Are What You Eat"

+ 13th Sunday after Pentecost - August 19th, 2018 +
Series B: Proverbs 9:1-10; Ephesians 5:6-21; John 6:51-69
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

You are what you eat, my parents would say when I was a child, as I (with delight) and they (with disgust), watched me devour a box of nerds, airhead candy, or a package of smarties.

Silly as it sounds, there’s a grain of truth baked into this old saying.

“You are what you eat.” The fruits, vegetables, proteins, and nutrients we eat and drink affect our bodies, they sustain our physical life, satisfy our needs, and keep us alive. 

“You are what you eat” is true of our Christian life as well. We live in a world where “Have-it-your-way Christianity” and Happy-Meal-Theology is far more popular than a steady, solid diet of hearing, singing, and praying the Scriptures and receiving Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.

Thankfully, like loving parents feed their kids what is good and healthy, our Heavenly Father knows best what we need and how best to satisfy our hunger and thirst for righteousness. We do not need catchy slogans, but salvation. 

In John 6, this is exactly what Jesus puts on the menu, a full-course meal of grace, true comfort food in the Crucifed one. In the first course, the Father gives us His Son. In the second course, Jesus declares himself the Bread of Life. And now, today, in this final course, Jesus declares:

Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 

According to Jesus, there are two kinds of food. The food of death. The food of life. Bread that’s gathered from grain, baked, and eaten - all of which takes hard work. And there’s Jesus, the Bread of Life, given to us free of charge, by grace in Christ Crucified and Risen, not our work but his work for us. 

There’s the bread of iniquity from Adam...
“By the sweat of your face
   you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
   for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
   and to dust you shall return.”

And there’s the bread of Life and righteousness in Jesus our Second Adam. Iam the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

If the Jews weren’t angry with Jesus before, they were after hearing that. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat”? Is Jesus proposing that his followers turn into cannibals? No.

Perhaps, then, he’s speaking figuratively? But how can that be? Jesus doubles down on the fleshly language. Eat. Drink. Jesus’ language is far too earthly, ordinary, and tangible to be a metaphor or a symbol. After all, metaphorical food won’t satisfy, and symbolic drink won’t quench thirsty souls. We are flesh and blood creatures and Jesus is our flesh and blood Savior.

It’s more likely, in fact, that the Jews were upset not because they misunderstood what Jesus was saying, but because they understood him all too well and didn’t like it. 

The feeding of the 5000 in the wilderness. The healings. The teaching of God’s Word with authority. It all sounds rather Moses like. And yet Jesus claims to be greater than Moses. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.

When Jesus declares he is the Bread of Life, he’s saying that he is the God of Israel who can and will prepare a new table in the wilderness for his people. He will feed, provide, and save in his own body and blood broken and shed on the cross. 

They took offense at him. Grumbled, just as they did in the wilderness in Exodus. 

Do we take offense Jesus’ words too? If we’re honest, we have, and we will. Sometimes Jesus’ words upset us because we misunderstand them. Other times, however, it’s because we don’t like the truth his word reveals about us. 

For His Word reveals all our hidden faults like a menu exposes all the hidden calories on the plate before us. That we were darkness, foolish, and dead in our trespasses. His word is a warning label against the devil’s Turkish delight, which he constantly wafts before us, tempting us with whatever is pleasing to our eyes and sinful desires. Our Lord takes his word in hand, like a master chef with his blade, and exposes our sinful heart that constantly looks inward and outward for satisfaction in anything and everything other than God’s promises. Yes, our Lord’s word kills, but it also makes alive.

Jesus feeds, forgives, and fills us with his Word of absolution, his word and water in Baptism, his word with the bread and wine, our Bread of Life, true Manna from heaven. 

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” 

“Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live,
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

Flesh. Blood. This is sacrificial language. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, for you and me and all. Jesus’ flesh and blood are the antidote to our Sin, the “medicine of immortality.” His flesh given into death for our sins, destroys sin in His flesh. His blood poured out for you and for all. Blood of an eternal covenant. “I will forgive their sins and remember their iniquities no more.”

Flesh. Blood. This is sacramental language too. In bread and wine, the Creator comes to his creatures to feed, satisfy, and save us. Jesus the Bread of Life gives us living bread and true drink in his body and blood. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. 

Jesus took all our sin into a cup - every grumble, complaint, hurt, pain, sorrow, suffering, all our offenses - and he drank it down to the last drop on the cross. Jesus let the grave swallow him whole, only to be spit back out again three days later like Jonah out of the belly of the fish. His crucified and risen flesh and blood are true food and true drink.

Jesus uses the food of the fall - bread - fills it with his own body and redeems, restores, and rescues us. Jesus, who tasted death for us, takes the fruit of his cross - his perfect life and perfect death -  and gives his body for the feast; gives his sacred blood for wine...oh taste and see that the Lord is good. 

In this Sacrament, we partake of a grand, yet gracious mystery. We eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus who knew no sin yet became sin for us. Jesus consumed all that we are, our sin and death on the cross, so that in this Supper we receive all that he is: his grace, forgiveness, life, and salvation. In this sacred meal, we truly are what we eat: Forgiven. Saved. Alive forevermore. 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.