Monday, September 17, 2012

Sermon for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost: "The Sacrificial Servant"

+ 16th Sunday after Pentecost – Sept. 16th, 2012 +
Series B, Proper 19: Is. 50:4-10; James 3:1-12; Mark 9:14-29

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

Who could dare to speak these words?
            Could Israel? No, the people were deaf and blind to YHWH’s Word. Rebellious and quarrelsome. Idolatry was their chief problem. False gods. False idols. False worship. That’s why YHWH sent the prophet Isaiah: to preach repentance and restore the broken. To preach rescue for the weary exiles. And you thought the OT was just ancient history. Isaiah speaks to us too.
            It would be rather presumptuous of us to think we could speak these words any more than Israel could. We echo Isaiah’s confession: “I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” We are undone before the Lord’s holiness. We speak before we listen. We close our ears to God’s Word and open our mouths in hatred. We’re no different from the Israelites. Our sinful hearts are a productive idol factory without recession.
            We’re like the rebellious children of Israel, wandering around in the wilderness and exiled by our own sin. We too need a Word that sustains the weary.

            Isaiah may have been the mouth, but YHWH was the voice. These are the Words of YHWH.  And they are the words of his Servant. The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord has opened my ear and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward.

            Who is this Servant? Isaiah says this Servant is faithful. He suffers and will suffer more as Isaiah foretold. He is a Substitute. A stand in, like the sacrifices of the OT – his blood will be shed instead of yours. His life instead of yours. He suffers for the sins of others. This Sacrificial Servant listens. Obeys. Receives instruction. The perfect disciple. And the perfect teacher: speaking a Word that will sustain the weary. He will raise up the fallen House of Jacob. He is a Light to the nations. He speaks the Word of the Lord, a true prophet. He intercedes on their behalf, a true priest. He reigns in steadfast love and mercy, an everlasting King.

             Sound familiar? It should. This Servant is unlike any other servant in the Old or New Testament. Moses wasn’t up for the task of leading Israel out of slavery. Gideon complained that he was least in his father’s house. Jonah tried to run away and would’ve rather died than listen to the Lord. Peter denied. Thomas doubted.
            Only one Servant can claim perfect obedience to YHWH. Only one Servant needs no forgiveness. Only one Servant stands before the Father without guilt. And that Servant is
Jesus, the Suffering, Sacrificial Servant. Jesus is the perfect Israel, perfect for you. He is faithful for you who are faithless. He is obedient for you who disobey. He is your substitute. Your Sacrificial Servant.

            He sets his face like a flint to the cross where He willingly forgives sins by presenting himself as the guilt offering. He makes intercession for Israel and for you.
            And Servant Jesus is tougher than nails. Tougher than death. Tougher than anything hell and Satan could throw his way. I gave my back to those who strike, my cheek to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. Isaiah saw Holy Week from a distance.
            The scourging. Mocking. Spitting. Beating. Slapping. Sweating and Bleeding. The kiss of betrayal. The faithless friends running for cover. The House of Israel cheering for his destruction. The Father’s abandonment.
            Look. The sky is dark. Two criminals hang, one on his right, one on his left. All slowly dying. There he is in the middle, your Servant, taking a deep breath. Breathing his last. Speaking one final word: It is finished. The veil is rent. The blood is poured. The curse is removed. The sacrifice is complete. Death is defeated. And paradise is restored. The Servant speaks, not a cry of defeat, but of victory. For us it is the Father’s welcome, the Shepherd’s embrace and a Friend’s infinite love (Lessing, Isaiah 40-55).

            All of this so that your Sacrificial Servant can speak a word of comfort to sustain us who are weary. There’s a reason your ears are on the outside of your head and not inside. Even your physical makeup is designed so that you listen to the Servant’s voice and not your own. Come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

             Jesus’ yoke of life is light because he bore the heavy yoke of death for you. Life is hard, good thing salvation is easy. Free. Won for you by Christ. He took the hard, narrow path to save you from the broad one that leads to destruction. His Word is rest because he rested in the tomb for you to rest in his promises. And then Easter. Resurrection. Vindication for Jesus and God’s promises and victory for you. He is your suffering, sacrificial Servant who is able to sustain our weariness with his Word and Water, with his Word and body and blood.

            And this is the Sacrificial Servant who speaks comfort into your ears also turns them to listen to your friends, and community crying for mercy. He opens our lips to speak the Good News to weary sinners. He moves our feet to run to the neighbor in time of trouble, with a word that will sustain and give eternal life. Sacrificial Servant Jesus forms us in his image. You too are sacrificial servants, cut from the crucified flesh of your master.
            Your Christian life is one of sacrifice. Parents sacrifice time, energy, all kinds of earthly possessions and income, even their own bodies to provide life for their children. Spouses sacrifice their needs and interests for the life of their husband or wife.       The home, the workplace, the neighborhood. These are all places where we are sacrificial servants. In the very places, stations where Christ has put you. The word is vocation. Calling.

            And there’s none greater than your calling to faith in Christ. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross is there too in your Baptism. You were buried in Christ’s death and raised in his resurrection. Your Christian life drips with Christ’s sacrifice. You’re all wet – but in a good way. Called, gathered, enlightened by the Holy Spirit. You’re free from sin and death. Free to serve. Free to give yourself up for the neighbor. Free to be a Sacrificial Servant.
            Your life in this congregation is also one of sacrificial service.  Sacrificing time to listen to our neighborhood and community in Gospel Seeds or helping with soup suppers or writing cards and calling shut-ins. Sacrificing your time in service with whatever talents and abilities God has given you. Serving on a board or a committee; attending Voter’s meetings - yes, enjoying a potluck is a God-given vocation. Whatever intellectual or physical gifts God has given you, there’s a place for your service here at Redeemer.  Sacrificing our treasure. It was never really ours to begin with anyway. We give Thee but Thine own whatever the gift may be, all that we have is Thine alone, a trust O Lord, from Thee.           

            That’s the life of Christ’s body the Church: sacrifice. St. Peter calls us a priesthood of believers because we are living sacrifices. And we live because Christ has sacrificed his life for us; We’re free to sacrifice our lives for others.
            Of course, this means something entirely offensive to your old sinful nature: getting over yourselves. Dying to yourselves. Die to our sin. But do not grow weary. Do not despair. Do not fear. Your life is in Christ. His sacrifice gives you everything you need.
            For your service isn’t really even your own; it’s the work of the Sacrificial Servant through you for others. He gives you ears to hear. Tongues to speak. Beautiful feet to spread the Good News. Lives of sacrificial service baptized, absolved, fed and nourished, by Jesus, Your Sacrificial Servant.

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

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