Monday, September 22, 2014

Sermon for the Feast of St. Matthew: "Follow Me"

+ The Feast of St. Matthew, September 21st, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Ezekiel 2:8-3:11; Ephesians 4:7-16; Matthew 9:9-13

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

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
    and he gave gifts to men.”

Today we celebrate one of Christ’s gifts to His Church, to us His people: St. Matthew.

Matthew, was an apostle – sent by Jesus to preach, teach, and give His gifts - the precious currency of Jesus’ holy precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death – to all men. As St. Paul writes, He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

Matthew was also an evangelist. A Good News bearer. A Gospel writer. And an eyewitness to the events he records: Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan, Jesus’ ministry, Jesus’ journey to the cross, to the grave, and back out again in His resurrection. Matthew even records the stuff that’s embarrassing to him and his fellow disciples. Why? Because they weren’t trying to fabricate a myth, but carefully record and report the facts. And Matthew recorded them alright, penned by inspiration in the Gospel for you to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.

According to many scholars and church tradition, Matthew was also a martyr for the faith, hence the color of martyrdom, as we see today, is red. But, as the church father Tertullian once wrote, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Martyrs are witnesses. And before they are witnesses, before Matthew was an apostle and an evangelist and a martyr, he was a disciple.

Thankfully for us, Matthew records Jesus’ calling him to be a disciple. The whole event seems very Genesis-like. God spoke into the darkness and said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. Jesus saw Matthew sitting in the tax booth and said, “Follow me.” Let there be a disciple. And he rose and followed him.

Follow me. Two words. Living words. Words heavy with the weight of glory. Words that give what Jesus requires. Follow me. And Matthew did.

And in hearing God’s call to Matthew, we hear our own.

Matthew teaches us the answer to the question, what does it mean to be Jesus’ disciple?

We could spend a lot of time talking about what a disciple isn’t. Better instead to look at what a disciple is rather than all the counterfeits. For if you know the real thing you’ll know a forgery when you hear one.

A disciple hears and listens. Think of the crowds listening to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7. Think of the disciples in the upper room, on the night in which Jesus was betrayed, receiving the Lord’s Supper. Think of Jesus’ closing words in Matthew’s Gospel: “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

A disciple listens, but not just to any new, attractive teaching that comes along. No. Paul says, we are not to be like children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, we listen to Jesus’ words, the ones recorded by Matthew and others.

A disciple is a student, a catechumen of Jesus. In fact, Matthew’s Gospel is like one big catechism. He even gives us the six chief parts. 10 Commandments – they’re in the Sermon on the Mount. Creed – read Matthew 16 as Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God. Lord’s Prayer – go to Matthew 6. Confession and Absolution – go to Matthew 18. Baptism – Matthew 28. The Lord’s Supper – Matthew 26:26 – how easy is that to remember! It’s all there in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus’ Word for you. Jesus’ baptism for you. Jesus’ pardon of sin for you. Jesus’ body and blood for you.

But here’s the big difference between being a student of the Word and a student at school. There’s no graduation from church. You’re always a student of the Word. The Christian life is one great long catechism class. And that’s a good thing.

Disciples listen, learn, and follow…all because they are called. Jesus called Matthew. Jesus calls you.

He calls you first to repentance, just like He did Matthew. To repent is to turn. To have a change of mind. Really, to get a new mind. That’s what Matthew needed – not the mind of a tax collector who was always taking from people, but the mind of a disciple, one who gives Christ’s gifts to people, points them to Jesus. That’s what we need: a new mind. Ours is deadly sick with sin. A lot like the Pharisees in fact.

“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Why are you hanging around those low-lifes, Jesus? Don’t you know they’re not like us? How are we supposed to share the Gospel with them? They look, smell, and speak differently. I thank God that I’m not like that fill-in-the-blank-person-you-love-to-despise. See how the Pharisees reveal their own hypocrisy.

See how they reveal ours as well. We’ve bought into the great lie that our sin isn’t as bad as someone else’s. That we’re better than other sinners. That we deserve mercy for ourselves but our fellow sinner deserves punishment. You see, the Pharisees were all about comparison too, their works and stature with that of their neighbors’. Problem is, the proper comparison isn’t between you and other sinners, but between you and God’s Law.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that there is no room for pride before God’s Law. Repent. You are not well. You are sick. Sin has filled us all with the stench of death. Hear the Great Physician’s diagnosis and treatment for you. 

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew was sick too. But where we run away from our fellow sinners and condemn them, Jesus runs towards sinners. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Jesus comes only for sinners.

Jesus’ call to repentance isn’t a call to a higher morality, or a call to try harder to obey the Law. No, the call to repentance is to give up on self, and follow Jesus who is a friend to sinners. In Jesus we not list of demands but a righteousness that is given to them from above, as a gift.

My yoke is easy and my burden is light, Jesus declares. For he has born the yoke of your sin upon his own shoulders. He has carried the burden of your guilt and death on himself. For you, the Great Physician infected himself with your disease of sin and death in order to pour out for you a life-giving antidote, his own body and blood, the medicine of immortality.

For you, as for Matthew, Jesus desires mercy. Mercy by his sacrifice for you on the cross. Jesus crucified is God’s mercy. There’s no clearer picture of it anywhere in the world, but there on the cross, for Matthew, for tax collectors, for Pharisees, and for us sinners.

This, then, is the greatest miracle that Matthew records, that in Jesus, in His crucified and risen flesh, our heavenly Father declares us unholy sinners to be righteous in His sight through faith. It was for this message that St. Matthew lived and died.

And it’s this message that we, who are disciples of Jesus, also share with others. That’s simply what disciples do; point others to Jesus. That’s what Matthew did, and still does. That’s what we do. We show the abundance of God’s mercy towards us in an abundance of mercy toward the neighbor. Mercy for our preschoolers and their families. Mercy for our homeless community. Mercy for our members who are sick, grieving, dying, or in need. Mercy in our Hispanic outreach efforts.

Mercy as we follow where Jesus leads us, not in our own ways and wants, but in the life, death, and resurrection of He who leads us. We follow where Jesus leads, to the living word of God and the living waters of Holy Baptism where He gives you a new mind, to the forgiveness of sins in absolution and the forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper, where He gives you new life.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Matthew’s day than to be here in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day at the Lord’s table. For here Jesus continues to dwell and dine with sinners.

Follow me.

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


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pentecost 12 Sermon: "The Way of the Cross is the Way of Life"

+ Pentecost 12 – August 31st, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A, Proper 17: Jeremiah 15:15-21; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

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

What does the Christian life look like? If you had to draw a picture of your life in Christ in order to describe it to a friend or someone who couldn’t read, what would you draw?

Some might draw a ladder. The Christian life is a climb, a hike, rung after rung; onward and upward. Or better yet, for all the rock n’ roll fans out there, maybe the Christian life is like a stairway to heaven and once you’ve lived the right way, said the right things, and done right by others, well, you too could be knockin’ on heaven’s door. But then again, how would you ever really know if you had climbed the ladder high enough or marched up the stairs to the right floor?

Get behind me, Satan…For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

Maybe instead you could draw a scale, like in the pictures of lady justice: you put your good works on one side and your sins on the other and cross your fingers and hope the scales tip in your favor. But think about that for a moment. Do you really want your sin and good works measured to see which one wins out?

Get behind me, Satan…For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

Ok, fine, away with the ladders and scales. Time to get serious and bring out the exercise equipment. Maybe the Christian life is like a gym or a set of weights. Bulk up your prayers, do some spiritual weight lifting, and get ready to plant a round-house kick in Satan’s face. Don’t want any flabby, weak Christians here. But really, whose strength in the Christian life matters most, yours or Jesus’?

Get behind me, Satan…For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

As we heard last week, Jesus isn’t your BFF, your Bestie, or your Homeboy. He’s not your Sherpa, guiding you up the stairway to heaven. He’s not your cosmic grocery clerk, measuring out what you owe according to what you’ve done. And he’s not your divine personal trainer, coaching you into a perfect spiritual specimen.

Jesus is your Savior. He suffers for you. Bleeds for you. Jesus climbs up the ladder of the cross for you. Jesus tips the scales in your favor by pouring out his holy, precious blood for you. His death outweighs all your sin. Jesus carries the weight of your guilt, sin, and death until it crushes him, all for you.

This is what Christ’s life looked like:

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.

That’s the shape of Jesus’ life for you. The way of the cross is the way of life for you.

But Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.

Peter and the disciples seem to have every expectation of what the Messiah should do except the right one. “Are you out of your mind, Jesus? Suffer, die, rise. Are you kidding? That’s the last thing in the world that the Messiah should do. You need to start flexing your divine muscle. You’re the Christ, the Son of the living God. Messiah’s don’t suffer; they end suffering. No one’s going to buy that. We’ve left everything to follow you. Everything! The family business, our homes, our friends. People are going to think we’re crazy. So no more talk like that, Jesus! Not another word about suffering, dying, and rising.”

Peter had one thing right. It would be easier if Jesus avoided the cross. It would’ve been easier to skip the betrayal and escape from the soldiers as they marched into Gethsemane. It would’ve been easier to wash his hands of everything as Pilate had done and get down off his cross and walk away. But Jesus loves you too much to take the easy way out. He loves you enough to stay on the cross.

But we think a lot like Peter. Lord, give us the easy way out too. It would be easier to preach a Christianity without Christ. It’s easy to tell your neighbor. Easy to live as a disciple without the whole: “deny yourself; take up your cross and follow me” bit.

We avoid Jesus’ cross because we avoid sin. We’re all in denial like Peter. We deny our sin. “I could be worse,” we tell ourselves. We deny that our sin has consequences – for ourselves and others. “It’s not that bad” we say. But it is. There’s no victimless sin. There’s no small sin. We’re deniers. We deny Jesus with our heartless words to others. We deny him when we fail to point others to the cross. We deny him in thought, word, and deed. There’s no easy way out of guilt, sin, and death. The only way out is Jesus’ way: the cross. Death and resurrection. There is no life apart from the cross.

The Way of the Cross is the Way of Life.

Jesus wasn’t just talking about himself in this little exchange. He’s talking about you too.

“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.

What does your life in Christ look like? Jesus’ cross. The shape of your life in Christ is the cross. This is what it means to be a disciple.

A disciple is a follower. One who follows another. Being a disciple of Jesus isn’t so much about attending Jesus school. It’s about suffering, dying and rising. It’s about denying one’s self and confessing Christ. It’s about losing in order to win, dying in order to live. It’s about holding everything in this life with the open, dead hand of faith, to be dead to Sin but alive to God in Christ.

This is what happens to each of us in Baptism. In Holy Baptism you were given the cross, upon your forehead, over your heart. Jesus’ death and resurrection was poured over your head. You were washed in his redemption. You are marked by his cross – and that’s a good thing.

To follow Jesus is to be baptized into His death and life, to be joined to Him by Baptism in His suffering, death and resurrection. Your suffering and death can’t save you. They are the just wages of Sin. They are what Sin pays out in you. There’s no life there. But Jesus’ suffering and death give you resurrection and life.

The Way of the cross is the way of life…for you.

In Baptism you were joined to Jesus’ suffering. His wounds are now your wounds for your healing. In Baptism you were joined to Jesus’ death. His death atones for your sins. Jesus was denied by the Father for all our denials of him. Jesus took up your cross so that you could follow him through death into life. In Baptism you were given a new mind, the mind of Christ, set on the things of God not on the things of man. In Baptism you are made a disciple, a follower of Jesus.

This is what your life in Christ look like as one who is baptized and crucified with Christ. It looks like the cross.

Jesus cross upon you in Baptism. Jesus’ cross coming to you in words of forgiveness. Jesus’ cross coming to you with his flesh and blood to sustain your flesh and blood. Jesus’ cross upon your lips as you confess Christ to your neighbor. Jesus’ cross as you daily deny yourself and follow where Jesus leads, to the friend next door you invite to church and bible class; to the co-worker grieving the death of a loved one who needs the word of comfort you received this Sunday; to the family member, friend, or fellow Christian who is aching for reconciliation; to those in need of food or clothing; to single man or woman, to the widow or widower you invite over for dinner; to whomever our Lord places in your life.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

This is how we love our neighbor for this is how God in Christ loves us.

We follow where Jesus leads us: to the cross and to new life in his resurrection.

For the Way of the Cross is the Way of Life.

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


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Book Review of Stitched Crosses: Crusade

This is a long overdue post here on E-nklings. But I wanted to get it up and out for anyone who is interested in good reading, good books, and good story-telling. The author's name is Joshua Rothe, the book's title is Stitched Crosses: Crusade, and here's a short little review I wrote about it.

And if you want to check out the review and other goodies on the website for Grail Quest Books (which I highly suggest you do), here are some links:

My review

Grail Quest Books

I certainly hope this is the first of more to come....First of all, my knowledge of this era in history is woefully inadequate. It revealed a lack of awareness on my part about the events portrayed. However, I suppose that is what a book worth reading ought to do, to reveal, educate, and delight. Thankfully this is where the prose helped me in learning along with enjoying the story. It also made me want to read more about this time in history as well as stories of similar genre.

Secondly, I greatly appreciated the attention to detail both in the action as well as in the explanation of particular Christian practices. Whether one has knowledge of these or not, it helped the reader.

Third, the doctrine of vocation, I thought, rang throughout the book as well.

Fourth, I loved the last part where you explained the history and meaning of the word 'crusade'. That shed a light on the rest of the book and I was glad I read it first since it out my mind in the right frame for all the aspects and facets of 'crusade' which were present in the book and in Markus especially.

And lastly, this story has a way, in fact many ways, of giving the reader a glimpse of the one, great true story: the Gospel. The reader is drawn into a world of historical narrative, with knights, honor, adventure, and redemption, in order to shed light on the great redemption and restoration to life in Christ.