Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Second Lenten Midweek Sermon: "Jesus' Third Word on the Cross"

+ Lenten Midweek 2 – March 15th, 2017 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Jesus’ Third Word on the Cross
Text: John 19:17-27

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

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”  Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Jesus’ third word on the cross allows us to see the cross from Mary’s perspective.
Mary, who had heard the angel Gabriel say, “Do not be afraid Mary, for the Holy Spirit would conceive in your womb a son named Jesus who whose kingdom will have no end,” now sees her son and King enthroned on the cross, crowned with thorns.

Mary, who had seen the shepherds run to find Jesus lying in the manger just as the angels had said, now sees the Good Shepherd, her little lamb, laying down his life for his wayward sheep.

Mary, who had seen Jesus’ first miracle of water turned into wine, now sees his appointed hour when blood and water would flow from his side, to fulfill the Law and manifest his glory on the cross for us.

As she was witness every parent’s worst nightmare, perhaps she remembered Simeon’s words at Jesus’ presentation in the temple: “A sword will pierce your own soul also.”

The child she saw in Bethlehem’s manger is now on Jerusalem’s cross.

The sky that was once filled with angels and Glory to God in the highest is now filled with darkness and silence from heaven.

All the things that she pondered in her heart, all that Jesus has said, done, and promised lead to this cross on this day on this hill.

“Woman, behold, your son!”  Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” 

From the cross, Jesus comforts John, his beloved disciple, even as he dies to make us all beloved children of God.

From the cross, Jesus provides someone to care for his mother, even as he is caring for her and you and me and all by his death on the cross.

From the cross, Jesus ensures that Mary, his mother will not be abandoned, even as he is abandoned and left to die alone for the sins of the world.

That is, after all, the deadly consequence of our sin: to be left utterly, completely, and forever alone. That is what hell is, not the fire and pitchforks we see in cartoons.
No wonder the fear of being alone, of being invisible, and unnoticed is one of our greatest fears.

Perhaps you’ve felt this kind of loneliness simply because you’re baptized and bear the cross of Jesus on your forehead and heart. You live, think, and act differently than those around you at work, in your family, at school, or with your friends. We’re like salmon swimming against the raging current around us.

Or perhaps our loneliness is more personal. Maybe you’ve noticed the irony that the more we engage in social media to connect with people, the more disconnected we actually become from real, face-to-face human relationships. We live in a world suffering from a famine of real relationships. People are starved for friendship, for human, personal care, for tangible compassion, for someone to understand and care for us. We may not think to call that loneliness, but that’s what it is.

Worse still is the loneliness of our guilt. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone.” No one loves to remind us of this more than the devil himself. “You’re a damned dirty sinner” he says. “How could you call yourself a Christian? Christians don’t act, think, or behave the way you do”, he accuses. He leaves us with the devilish question ringing our ears: “How could God ever love you after all you’ve done?”

But Jesus will not let the devil have the last word. Jesus did not abandon John or Mary. And neither will he abandon you.

Maybe you’ve seen the famous statue known as the Pieta, one of Michelangelo’s most well-known sculptures. It depicts the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Jesus. The word pieta means pity in Italian. This is why Jesus went to the cross for Mary, John, and for you: Jesus is moved by pity, love, and mercy for us in our sin and death.

Jesus’ third word from the cross is a word of compassion and pity, or the care of Mary and John: “Woman, behold, your son!” And to John, his beloved disciple, “Behold, your mother!”

As Mary bore the Savior of the world in her flesh, so now, Jesus bears the sin of the world in his flesh on the cross. As Mary looked after the well-being of infant Jesus, now the crucified Jesus looks after the well-being of his mother from the cross. And as Mary once cradled Jesus in her arms and gave him life, so now on the cross, Jesus draws us to the Father’s embrace by his death on the cross, our source of life eternal.

Behold, what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God. And that is who you are.

Mary, John, and all of us, find the answer to our loneliness and sin and death in the words of Jesus from the cross, and in Jesus’ death on the cross for us.

For what Jesus says to Mary and John from the cross is a picture of what he does for each of us by his death on the cross.

Just as Jesus provides compassion from the cross for Mary and John, he provides compassion for you by dying on the cross.

Just as Jesus comforts Mary and John in their loneliness, he comforts us by promising never to leave nor forsake us.

Just as Jesus gives Mary and John a new family, he makes us a part of his family by his death on the cross.

For when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 

Jesus pays for all our sin that separates us from God and from one another. Jesus’ death brings us from the loneliness of sin and death into fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And there is no greater fellowship than Holy Communion. In the Lord’s Supper you are never alone. Jesus is with you in his body and blood to forgive your sin. And John and Mary, and all the saints are there too…with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. The Lord’s Supper is a meal of fellowship and reconciliation in Jesus’ death for us.
And by Jesus’ cross we are reconciled to one another as well. Though hidden from her sight, in the time after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus took care of his mother through his beloved disciple, John.

In the same way, he cares for us too. Though we don’t see Jesus, he is with us, hidden in our daily vocations, callings: our spouse and children, family and friends, neighbors, and the like. When you feed the homeless, teach your children, or go to work each day, Jesus is hidden in your vocation as behind a mask, serving others through you. And when you go to the doctor, buy groceries, or are getting your oil changed, Jesus is hidden in the vocation of others as behind a mask, serving you through others.

And know if you ever feel alone in this life, or don’t have a family of your own, or your family seems broken beyond repair, fear not. Jesus’ death on the cross gives you a fellowship, a communion, a family unlike any other.

Look around you in the pews. Behold, your brothers and sisters in Christ. Care for one another in body and soul. Be reconciled with those you are quarreling with. Forgive those who have hurt you. Love one another as God in Christ has loved you. Bear one another’s burdens. Grieve when someone grieves and rejoice when someone rejoices.

And above all, fix your eyes on Jesus.

Behold, your brother and your Savior, crucified for you.

Behold, our redeemer and friend.

For greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

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

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

First Lenten Midweek Sermon: "Jesus' Second Word on the Cross"

+ Lenten Midweek 1: Jesus’ Second Word on the Cross +
March 8th, 2017
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Text: Luke 23:35-43

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

We don’t know the whole story of the thief on the cross. what he stole; how he ended up on the wrong side of Roman law – after all, the Romans didn’t mess around with larceny; theft was a one-strike crime and a one-way trip to the cross; we don’t know what his life was like before he spoke those famous words of repentance and faith: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

We may not be able to write an entire episode of CSI: Jerusalem starring the thief on the cross, but we do know the most important part of his story.

We meet this thief on the cross near the end of his life, or so he thought. In reality, it was the beginning of an unexpected story, with an unexpected ending. The thief dies, yet lives. The criminal is guilty, yet declared innocent. The man is on the cross dying next to Jesus and yet with Jesus in paradise.  

The thief made no excuses, no equivocations, no attempt to explain his situation. He simply confessed. “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’

The other thief, the one who mocked Jesus, was right about one thing at least. Jesus could’ve saved himself horrific pain and a world of agony and bitter death by coming down from the cross. But he could not have saved that thief or you or me if he had. So, Jesus stayed on the cross for you and the thief.

And the penitent thief saw in this naked, bleeding, dying man his King and ours.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

We’re not so different from that thief on the cross. Today, each of us comes with different circumstances. Some content and filled to the brim with life, happiness, and countless blessings. Some empty, hurting, bearing scars from the battlefields of life, empty souls, struggling faith, and wounded hearts. Others ache with the loss of someone we love, or for love that we desire but never quite seem to find. And still others wonder whether anyone thinks they’re valued and loved. Whatever kind of day today is for you, whether you’re hurting or happy, empty or full, content or anxious, we all need that prayer of the thief on the cross.

It’s a prayer of deliverance, from sin to grace, from a fallen world to a new creation, from death to life.

Today, that prayer is ours as well. We too need deliverance. Do we not fear God, since we are under the same sentence of condemnation? For the wages of sin is death.
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Jesus, who spoke pardon for his murderers, now speaks his pardon and promise to this thief:

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.

But these words are not only for the ears of the thief on the cross. Jesus speaks these words to you today.

The kingdom, paradise, and forgiveness that Jesus promises is found in Jesus crucified for you.

The ancient church said it this way: The cross of Christ is the key to paradise.

In Advent, we sang these words:
O Come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

Now in Lent, we see the fulfillment of these words in Jesus crucified for us. As Adam was overcome by the serpent and the tree of the garden, Jesus, the second Adam overcomes Satan by the tree of the cross. And as Adam and Eve were barred from returning into paradise by the Cherubim’s flaming sword, Christ opens the way to paradise by his death on the cross.

The cross of Christ is the key to paradise.

This was true for the thief on the cross. And it is true for you as well.

Jesus, the innocent one, takes on all our guilt, shame, sin, and death in our place, and in exchange gives us his righteousness, holiness, life, and salvation. Like the thief, we deserve death, yet live. We are guilty, yet declared innocent. We were exiled, fallen, broken sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, but through the cross, Jesus has brought us back into paradise.  
Jesus’ second word on the cross is a reminder that wherever Jesus’ Word is heard, Jesus is there for you. And wherever Jesus is, there is his Kingdom, Paradise, and all his promises to you. Where water is poured out in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is there for you. Where Jesus’ Word joins heaven and earth in the bread and the wine, Jesus is there in his body and blood for you.

As he spoke to Zacchaeus, Jesus says to you: Today salvation has come to this house…for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

As St. Paul proclaims: behold, now is the favorable time; now is the day of salvation.

As Jesus declared to the thief on the cross, so he says to you: Today, you will be with me in Paradise.

Today is your day. Today is the day of God’s favor and salvation for you, whoever you are, and whatever your story is, today Jesus writes a new ending for each of us, penned with his blood shed on the cross for you. No matter what your sin, no matter how anxious your mind or how heavy your heart, no matter how deep your wounds, you are not alone. Jesus’ promise is for you. Today and always. Today you will be with me.

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

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday Sermon: "Jesus' First Word from the Cross: Forgiveness"

+ Ash Wednesday – March 1st, 2017 +
Redeemer Lutheran HB
Text: Luke 23:33-34 – Jesus’ 1st word on the cross

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

Martin Luther once said the church is the mouth-house of God. Here, God calls us to receive his word, listen to Jesus’ word, and speak that word to others around us. This is especially true in the season of Lent. As good as the soup suppers will be, Scripture reminds us that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. If we are to speak, sing, and confess Jesus’ word, we must first be filled.

That’s why we have additional weekly services during Lent: to hear Jesus’ word of forgiveness. That’s what the ancient practice of fasting or “giving something up for Lent” is about: forgoing something for more time to hear God’s word, or fasting from something to use that money for the support of spreading God’s Word.

This Lenten season we’ll fill our ears with Jesus’ last words as he hung on the cross to save, redeem, and forgive us. Today we hear the first word of Jesus on the cross:

And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

This is arguably one of the harder of Jesus’ words on the cross: Forgiveness. I’ve talked to many dear saints who’ve confessed that the hardest part of the Lord’s Prayer to pray is, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I imagine that’s true for all of us some days.

We think of historical stories, like, Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian woman who was thrown in a Nazi concentration camp for hiding Jews in WWII, and later after the war was over, came face to face with one of her captors following her presentation on forgiveness. What did she say? What would we say?

Or perhaps fairy tales like Cinderella come to mind. The most recent Disney version of Cinderella illustrates this well. The wicked step-mother is portrayed in all her vile, cruelty. And her snotty daughters revel in physically and emotionally abusing Cinderella. Together they mercilessly humiliate, degrade, and dehumanize her every chance they get. How did Cinderella respond? How would we respond?

Even the great Christian writer C.S. Lewis wrestled with this, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive…”[1]

Isn’t that the truth. We tend to think of forgiveness the same way the disciples did. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him, seven times?”

We want to place limits, conditions, terms, stipulations, and quotas on our forgiveness, treating it like the height requirements at a Disneyland ride. We’re quick to anger and slow to forgive. We forget all manner of sins we commit against others but when it comes to those who have sinned against us, we have an instant replay, photographic memory.

Thankfully, God’s ways of forgiveness are not our ways.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

When you consider where Jesus was and what he endured, these are remarkable words. Jesus was rejected by his people. His own followers deserted him. One of his closest disciples betrayed him. His best friend denied having anything to do with him. He was tried in a kangaroo court by the religious authorities, taken to the Roman governor who declared him innocent, yet still delivered him over to be scourged and executed. Jesus was pummeled with verbal abuse. False prophet. Blasphemer.

The Roman soldiers mocked him with royal robes, a crown of thorns upon his head, and a reed in his hands for a scepter. Then they bowed before him and pretended pay him homage, only to laugh and strike him with the reed. The priests and people reviled him. Jesus was beaten, scourged, fastened to the cross with iron stakes, and left to hang naked, bloodied, and on display for all the world to see.

Yet, in the midst of all this, the first words from Jesus’s mouth as he hung from that cross was a prayer. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus prayed for his persecutors. Jesus prayed for Peter who denied him, for Pilate who unjustly sentenced him to death, for the religious authorities who mocked him, and the soldiers who executed him. While they were killing him, the doctor was curing the sick with his blood (Augustine).

But Jesus also prayed for you. He prayed to forgive us our trespasses as we trespass against him. He prayed to forgive our mockery, our lies, our anger, our selfishness, our judgment, our grudges, and to forgive all our sin.

As Jesus hung on the cross he prayed for our forgiveness while at the same time he was dying to win our forgiveness. This is why he came…to forgive, save, and redeem you.

God made us alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:1314).

God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will remember your sins no more. (Isaiah 43:25)

This is why Redeemer Lutheran is here in Huntington Beach: to receive forgiveness in Jesus’ name, and to speak forgiveness to others. This is why we have a preschool, Bible studies, and music programs. It’s why we celebrate and encourage one another to receive the sacraments of absolution – in public and private, the daily gift of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper more and more. Because more hearing and more receiving of Jesus’ Word and body and blood means receiving more forgiveness. Every sinful thought is forgiven. Every wicked word is forgiven. Jesus hangs on the cross for you! Jesus pleads for your forgiveness!

When Corrie Ten Boom came face-to-face with one of her former Nazi tormentors, by God’s grace, that’s what she did. She took his hand and forgave him.

When Cinderella left her house, cruel step-sisters, and wicked stepmother at the end of the movie, before she walked out the door she simply said, “I forgive you.”

When we look at the sins others have committed against us and we have committed against them, this is also how we live, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven us.

This Lenten season, and in all seasons of life, Jesus fills your ears, hearts, and minds, and covers you with his forgiving word from the cross:

“Father, forgive them.”

A blessed Ash Wednesday to you each of you…

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

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 3, chapter 7. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001. p. 115.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Sermon for Transfiguration of our Lord: "Jesus Only"

+ Transfiguration of Our Lord – February 26th, 2017 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Exodus 24:8-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

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

Happy Transfiguration Sunday. Probably not a common greeting you’re used to hearing. Merry Christmas. Blessed Easter. Those are familiar. We know why those days are significant.

But what about Jesus’ transfiguration? Why is this event so important?

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.

Ever tried looking at the sun? (And I highly recommend that you don’t). It was like that but the light was radiating from Jesus’s face. Think about that the next time you hear the benediction: “the Lord make his face shine upon you.”

The word is “metamorphasized”. Changed appearance. Transfigured. For a moment, the covering of humility is pulled back. Christ’s glory concealed is now revealed. The glory that once filled tabernacle and temple is now seen in the man Jesus. This isn’t Mighty Morphin’ Power Jesus or Transformer Jesus – though there is more than meets the eye. For the fullness of deity dwelt in him bodily, as Paul says. Jesus the man is there, but his divinity is revealed.

Epiphany is a season about revealing, making known, and manifesting who Jesus really is.
That’s exactly what Jesus is doing on the mountain.

Jesus’ Transfiguration reveals who he is and what he’s come to do.

Jesus’ transfiguration shines forth the glory of his divinity and death for you.

And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

You have to appreciate the irony that the two men in the OT who wanted to see YHWH’s glory (and couldn’t but were both hidden in a cave to protect them from it) now get to see it radiating from the incarnate God-Man, Jesus. Now in Jesus, it’s safe to be in the presence of God’s glory. Now in Jesus you can see the face of God and live to tell about it.
It’s no coincidence that Moses and Elijah are there. Mr. Torah and Mr. Prophesy, standing talking with Jesus like old friends catching up. It’s a great sneak preview of the resurrection. But more than that, the words these two prophets spoke is fulfilled in Jesus. In many and various ways God spoke to his people of old by the prophets. But now in these Last Days He has spoken to us by His Son.

But Peter quickly disturbs the conversation: “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

Peter says what everyone else is thinking. We’ve all thought it before. “Wow! What a sight. Wish I could’ve been there.”

Be honest. We want the mountain. The experience. We prefer the glory to the cross. We prefer the power and the majesty of a Jesus who shines with unearthly glory than a beaten and bloodied Jesus who hangs dead and defeated. But here’s the rub: Only Jesus crucified saves you. Only Jesus crucified bears your sin. If all that Jesus ever did was appear shining on a mountain to three of His disciples, we’d still be dead in sin.

Thankfully, Before Peter could build his shrines, a thick cloud covered the mountain. The same cloud that covered Sinai and filled the tabernacle and temple. The pillar of cloud that guided Israel. The Father’s voice came from the cloud:“This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”

Epiphany ends as it began: with a voice from the heavens resounding: the Lord’s presence in the cloud, and Jesus standing in our place. We heard these words at Jesus’ baptism. Now as Epiphany gives way to Lent, we hear these words again: “Hear Him.”

You don’t need to go to the mountain. We don’t need to go find the glory of God. The mountain comes to you. God’s glory comes to you….in Jesus. Christ draws near, comes to you personally in the water of your Baptism, in the bread and wine of the Supper, in the spoken Word of forgiveness, wherever two or three gathered in His name. The Scriptures, the Font, the Altar – here’s your mountain. Here’s the place where Jesus meets you.

This is why Peter hangs all hope – not on the glorious vision - but on God’s word:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word…

Christ’s Word is that “something more sure”. In our life as stewards of God’s gifts at home and in this congregation, Christ’s word is our great treasure. In our life of speaking the Gospel with others, Christ’s word is a firm foundation. In our life of devotion and prayer, Christ’s word is our life. In all our daily vocations, Christ’s word leads and guides us, and reveals Jesus’ promises to us.
Jesus’ transfiguration reveals his glorious divinity and death for you.

And that’s the key. Without the cross we don’t understand Jesus’ person and work. Without the cross we have no idea how to live as Jesus’ disciple either. Peter sure didn’t…at least not until after the resurrection. 

Like Peter our fear is exposed. Fear is our denial of God’s promises in the first commandment, that he will be our God and we need no other. And people do strange things when they’re afraid. The disciples fell on their faces.

But what about us? When our relationships are strained, finances are tight, futures are uncertain…do we fear, love and trust in God above all things or do we panic, turn inward on ourselves and lean on someone or something else? It’s no different at church either. When giving goes down, when we don’t see as many visitors or new members coming as we hoped, when our friends constantly reject our invitations to church, do we fear, love, and trust in Christ’s word and sacraments to do what he says they will or do we panic, turn inward, and lean on other spiritual means of hope and comfort? The same light of Jesus’ transfiguration that revealed Peter’s foolishness also exposes the foolhardiness of our sin.

But look at how Jesus answers his disciples. “Arise. Get up. Stop fearing.” That’s death and resurrection language.

Arise. Stop fearing. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

The glory was gone. The cloud was gone. Moses and Elijah were gone. The splendor, the mountain-top moment…the divine revelation all of - gone. But not Jesus.

Moses and Elijah can’t save us. Jesu’s word opens heaven for you. Jesus’s word forgives your sin. Jesus’ word feeds and nourishes you along with his body and blood. Jesus’ word will raise you from the dead.

Arise. Do not fear. Jesus speak those same words after his resurrection, to the women as they leave the empty tomb of Jesus in grief and confusion. Arise. Have no fear.

That’s why Jesus charges his disciples, “Tell no one the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” Jesus’ transfiguration only makes sense after His death and resurrection.

Jesus’ Transfiguration reveals his divinity and his death…but also his resurrection.
We’ll see shining, glorious Jesus one day. He will come again in glory to raise us from the dead and give us eternal life. We’ll see Moses and Elijah and all the saints. And we won’t need any tents to preserve the moment, because the moment will be an eternity. And what a sight that will be.

But for now, the mountain of transfiguration gives way to the mountain of crucifixion. Alleluias give way to ashes. Shining Jesus gives way to crucified Jesus. Transfiguration Sunday gives way to Ash Wednesday. And in all this the Father is pleased with his Son, and through His Son Jesus, he is well pleased with you.

A blessed Transfiguration Sunday to each of you…

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

Sermon for Epiphany 6: "Shot to the Heart"

+ 6th Sunday after the Epiphany – February 12th, 2017 +
Series A: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

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

When we hear the account of Jesus’ baptism for us in the Jordan River or when he overcame Satan’s temptations in the wilderness on our behalf, it’s easy to give a full throated “Praise to you, O Christ” when the pastor announces: “this is the Gospel of our Lord.”

But some days, like today, it’s not so easy. “When Jesus says “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better to lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” it seems a little awkward when we say, “thanks be to God!”

And to be honest, when I looked at the Gospel reading for today I thought about preaching on the OT or Epistle reading. I even thought about making up a good excuse so Vicar Toma could preach on this text instead.

But isn’t that exactly how our sinful nature works. Avoid our sin at all costs. Make excuses. Shift the blame. In other words, to justify ourselves.

Jesus’ words are difficult to hear. Jesus doesn’t give us a spoon full of sugar to help the Law go down. Using three of the ten commandments – the 5th (you shall not commit murder), the 6th (you shall not commit adultery), and the 8th (you shall not bear false witness) – Jesus goes right for the heart of these commandments – our sinful heart.

The heart, in Scripture’s way of speaking, isn’t the romantic Valentine hearts, but the spiritual heart, our inmost being as the Psalms say. 

The problem with our sinful heart isn’t just that we do bad things, but that we are corrupted by Sin in every thought, word, and deed. It’s not just our eyes, hands or mouths that commit sin. As Jesus says, it’s a matter of the heart. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 

Jesus calls us to be pure of heart. But he doesn’t have us look at our own heart to find righteousness or purity. Jesus preaches the Law this way to drive us to despair of our sinful heart and find in him the righteousness, the purity, and the new heart that we need.

First, Jesus goes to the 5th Commandment.

5th Commandment: You shall not murder.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 

When we hear this commandment the little Pharisee within goes on the defense. “Oh, that’s easy. I’ve never strangled, stabbed, or shot anyone. My record is clean…not a fight since the playground back in the day. I’m a pretty good guy.”

“but I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

We may not be on the FBI’s most wanted list, but how perfect is your love for others? Have you been selfish, quarrelsome, or angry? Ever rolled your eyes at someone in a church meeting or muttered some kind of insult quietly or in your mind? Ever been angry with someone in your family or your family in Christ? Ever left a conversation thinking to yourself, that could’ve gone better, what a jerk I was? How about those grudges we like to cuddle like teddy bears? We may appear innocent before the eyes of the world, but in the court of God’s law, each of us is a convicted murderer.

Jesus is right, hell fire is what we deserve. But it’s not what we get. Instead, Jesus keeps the 5th commandment for you. Jesus became the murder in your place Barabbas the murderer was let go. Jesus suffers innocently for us and we go free.

Next, Jesus moves to the 6th commandment.

6th commandment: You shall not commit adultery.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in all we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.

 You’ve heard it said, “Do not commit adultery,”. And again, the expert Pharisee within objects. “Ah, ok. I’ve got that one covered too. I’m a faithful spouse. I come home on time. I take care of my family.”

 “But I say to you…“Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” 

Like Jesus said with the Pharisees and the crowds who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. There wasn’t a man or woman in the crowd at Jesus’ sermon on the Mount who hadn’t broken this commandment too. We’re no different. The 6th Commandment isn’t just about God’s gift of sex reserved for marriage. It’s not just physical affairs that break the 6th commandment, but also the affairs of our hearts. As the old song goes…just one look, that’s all it took. Guilty as charged. Each one of us.

Jesus is right. It would be better to cut out our wandering eyes and amputate our sinful hands if that could save us, but it won’t. So, Jesus kept the 6th commandment for you too. He gave his hands, feet, side, head, and whole body over to punishment and death to keep you from being thrown into hell. He put himself through hell on the cross so that you would never be cut off or thrown outside of his grace.

Lastly, Jesus goes to the 8th commandment.

8th commandment: You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor.
What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’

It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking we’ve kept this commandment too. “Oh sure, I’ve told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

 “but I say to you.” Don’t swear at all – by heaven, by the earth, by the hairs of your head. Let what you say simply be yes or no, anything more than this comes from evil.
Jesus isn’t talking about all oaths here. There are plenty of good oaths you make: pastors and congregations make an oath in the ordination rite; husband and wife make an oath in their marriage vows; whenever you sign a document saying you are really who you say you are, you make an oath not to commit perjury, and so on. Jesus even testified under oath before Pilate that he is the Christ.

Jesus is preaching against the elaborate ranking of oaths that had been made up by the Pharisees that allowed them to (by their own determination of course) keep some oaths while others you could let slide. Once again, it’s a matter of the heart.

So, Jesus instructs us to simply let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no”. Words matter. What we say matters. Truth is, we’re all liars in our sinful hearts. We’re well-trained in the art of half-truths and alternate facts.

Thankfully, Jesus keeps this commandment for us too. Jesus bore the mockery of false witness and lies for you. Jesus took all our lies and false oaths to the cross with him and declared, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Jesus, the Truth of God in human flesh, became the liar for you, to fill you with his word of truth.

It’s true, Jesus calls us to have a pure heart. And the pure heart God requires, Jesus gives you. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Just as our physical heart is our most important organ, supplying blood to the body, so too, the blood of Christ shed on the cross supplies life to our spiritual heart. And the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Jesus’ heart was pierced on the cross to give you a new, clean heart.

And Christ’s blood shed on the cross is the same blood you receive in Holy Communion that you may remain clean and pure in Jesus.

Christ’s blood gives you a righteousness that exceeds the Scribes and Pharisees.

Christ’s blood blots out every sin of ours – the big outward ones and the even bigger inward ones of the heart.

Christ’s blood has paid for every murder and harsh word, every affair and divorce and every look that was a little too long, every perjury, and promise we broke. Though our hearts are corrupt, Jesus declares you pure in heart.

And though our sinful heart continues to sin, our new heart loves our neighbor, honors our spouse, and treats others with honesty and integrity. Because, the same Holy Spirit that cleanses our heart from all sin continues to produce good works in us too.

And by the Holy Spirit, we can say, “thanks be to God” or “praise to you O Christ,” even when God’s Word is hard to understand. For the clean, pure, righteous heart God requires, he gives to each of us in Jesus.

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