Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sermon for Michaelmas: "Messengers of Jesus"

This sermon was preached at a monthly gathering of Lutheran pastors in Southern California known as the Servants of the Word. We pray Matins, read and discuss the Lutheran Confessions, eat good food together, and have a good time doing it. 

+ St. Michael and All Angels - September 29th, 2015 +

Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Servants of the Word gathering
Revelation 12:7-12

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today is not “Touched by an Angel” day, nor is it “Angels in the Outfield” day, or even “Charlie’s Angels” day. It is the lesser known and perhaps even lesser celebrated festival of St. Michael and All Angels. Thankfully, our collective amnesia in the Church can’t cause a super blood moon eclipse to overshadow this important holy day of the Church.

Admittedly, it’s a bit of an odd church festival. St Michael isn’t one of the disciples, though he does our Lord’s bidding. He isn’t an evangelist, though he is a messenger of the good news. And he’s not like the saints of old who were martyred for the faith, though he is a witness to Christ all the same. St. Michael is an angel.

Every Sunday Christians confess the angels in the Creed. God is the make of all things visible and invisible. And that includes the angels.

And just so we’re clear, angels are nothing like the cute, cuddly pictures we see on Hallmark cards. Isaiah didn’t run up and pinch the cherub’s cheeks and St. John would never have dreamed of giving a noogy to the seraphim. No, angels are not the romanticized beings we see on our grandm’s wall paintings. They’re a bit more like Jedi Knights or the elves and good wizards of Middle-Earth, or perhaps the Navy SEALs. In other words, they are bad-asses. They evoke a sense of fear and reverence, awe and holiness whenever they appear.

That’s why the first thing out of their mouths is almost always: “Do not be afraid.”
And the next thing is always some kind of message. After all, that’s their job. Angels waste no time talking about themselves. They have a message to deliver. Angels want no worship or attention focused on them, only that we hear the message.

Like Zechariah who heard the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth. Or Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds who heard the good news that a Jesus was born to save us from our sins.

And so, just like every other major or minor festival day of the church year, Michaelmas really isn’t a day to celebrate St. Michael just for St. Michael’s sake; it’s about Jesus. There’s a ranking. Michael and all angels understood that, Satan did not. Jesus is the Lord God of Sabaoth, the commander in chief of the heavenly armies. Jesus gives the orders and the angels do his bidding. That’s their job. They’ve no action apart from God’s bidding. God sends. The angels speak. Their task is simple: declare the gospel, and defend God’s people.

Sound familiar? It should. That’s our task as well. God sends and we speak. We’re his messengers sent to do his bidding. Declare his Gospel. Defend the faith. O Lord, open our lips and our mouths will declare your praise. Jesus is our captain and we are his foot soldiers. And our orders are simple: we preach Christ crucified.

We do not slay the dragon. Jesus has already done that for you. The devil may scowl fierce as he will; he may fool you into thinking you’re alone in the battle against him, that you’re not the messenger you promised to be at your ordination, that you’re better off like Elijah hiding in a cave or Moses stuttering away in fear, or that when God’s Word is declared nothing is happening. But he’s wrong, dead wrong. And besides all that, Satan is still an angel…and a liar…and he’s defeated.

Michael fought him and won because Jesus is the boy the devil had feared ever since the Garden of Eden.

We too fight – not against flesh and blood – but against the rulers and authorities of this present darkness. We fight against the devil’s cunning as he sends wave after wave of false teaching. We fight against the devil’s assault on marriage, human life, male and female, and a host of other battlefields. We fight against the devil’s insurgence in our pews and his attempt to capture the throne room of our hearts.

But this is St. Michael and All Angels day, not Satan's day...he has none. He's defeated. Michael, all angels, you his messengers and ministers, and all people triumph in Jesus, for he has triumphed for you. And that means you are never alone in the foxhole.

For… the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.

Satan is conquered. Our sin is defeated. Death is destroyed. And we’re victorious, just like Michael was…all because of Jesus.

And so the closer we are to Jesus, the closer we are to his angels. That’s what we sing every Sunday too, isn’t it…with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven…

You want to visit with angels? Go to the Lord’s Supper. Go to the scriptures. Hear the absolution. Receive the forgiveness of sins. Remember and live in your Baptism. For there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than a thousand who need no repentance.

Today we rejoice in God’s gift of angels. And we rejoice all the more in the message they bear that points us to Jesus. Today really is about Jesus, the one to whom all angels, all pastors, and all people look to as Lord, Savior, and Redeemer.

Do not be afraid. Behold I bring you good tidings of a great joy that will be for all people. For unto us is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his word,
    obeying the voice of his word!
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
    his ministers, who do his will!
Bless the Lord, all his works,
    in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
(Psalm 103:20-22)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Sermon for Pentecost 18: "In Jesus' Name"

+ Pentecost 18 – September 27th, 2015 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series B: Numbers 11; James 5:1-12; Mark 9:38-50

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

There’s no getting around it, Jesus’ words in Mark 9 are tough to hear. And if we’re honest, we might even admit that Jesus’ teaching here makes us uncomfortable. How true C.S. Lewis’s words ring when we hear readings like this:

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity” - C.S. Lewis (God in the Dock).

Yes, being salted with fire doesn’t sound very comfortable – though Jesus’ refining fire and preserving salt is good for us.

Jesus warning against temptation to sin and causing offense also makes us squirm a bit – divine amputation doesn’t sound like a very good church growth tactic – but then again, Jesus came as a real savior for real sinners like us. “I came for the sick, not the healthy,” he says. So that’s our message, not coddling sinners, but dishing out true consolation week after week in Jesus’ water, word, body and blood.

And then there’s John’s comment to Jesus: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

What do you do when the Gospel is proclaimed by someone outside the inner ring of the disciples – or outside of Redeemer, or the Lutheran Church? How should we respond when someone says or does something right in Jesus’ Name – and we weren’t the ones saying or doing it? Our first reaction is to go full-John and say, “Stop that; none of that now. Let me see some ID.”

We scoff at John’s foolishness. But, John’s words reveal that we’re no different. The old Adam in each of us is a drama king or queen that wants everything, everyone, at all times and in all places to be focused on ourselves.

And in doing so, we turn Christianity into our own twisted version of a high school lunchroom. The Lutherans are the music geeks. The Episcopalians are the popular, rich kids with the fancy cars. And the Evangelicals are trying really hard to get everyone to like them. In the end everyone is convinced they’re better, smarter, and cooler than the rest, and everyone else is just doing it wrong.

And, of course, when we do that, we always naturally put ourselves on the winning team. After all, the old Adam in each of us is a control freak. Goldilocks is our hero because we’re not happy or content unless everything is just right, and by that we mean – my way.

But the Christian faith is no popularity contest. And we’re not the center of it all. So, Jesus warns John and us…the Christian Church isn’t a rivalry of us vs. them, the insiders vs. the outsiders.

For the one who is not against us is for us.

Just to make the point clearer, let’s play a quick game of “who said it”, Martin Luther or someone else?

Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. Great quote. But it wasn’t Luther. It was a Methodist bishop named D.T. Niles

Or how about this one…Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the liturgy has disappeared and been replaced by some kind of religious entertainment. Great quote on the liturgy. Who said it? Luther? No. It was Pope Benedict XVI.

Still, Jesus words are tough to hear and understand:

For the one who is not against us is for us.

So, does this mean that false teaching is somehow OK and we should ignore it? By no means. Speak the truth in love. Correct the error. But also commend the good. And these days – with social and life issues like gender dysphoria, homosexual marriage, and selling human body parts – we may be surprised to find ourselves agreeing with other faithful Christians in places we never imagined.

And though Jesus’ words can be difficult understand, the Gospel he gives us, and the Gospel we proclaim to others, is remarkably simple.

Jesus died for you. Christ died for sinners…and we qualify.

Jesus saves you – not because you’re nerdy or cool, an insider or an outsider, or anything you have or haven’t done – but because God is gracious and merciful to us. It’s not our love for God that saves, but his love for us. It’s not even our faithfulness to God that saves us – but Jesus’ faithfulness for us, and in our place. Truth be told, we were all outsiders in need of rescue.

But that didn’t stop Jesus. He became the biggest outsider in the world for you. Jesus died alone, forsaken on the cross, with all our sins of control, pride, and selfishness nailed to the tree with him. Jesus, the self-less one, gave himself up in blessed humility for John, for you, for me, for all. Jesus the First One became last so that we can sit at the head of the table at the marriage supper of the Lamb. For though we were against him, Jesus is – and ever shall be – for us in the cross.

So, when you hear this Good News – that Christ came to dwell among sinners – from someone else or somewhere else, rejoice. Rejoice that fellow sinners are given the greatest honor of all – to speak forgiveness to you. Rejoice with Paul in Philippians 1, that Christ is proclaimed.

Jesus’ words to John also teach us that John, Peter, and the disciples aren’t the lord of the Church, any more than Luther, voters' meetings, or your pastor are lord of the Church. We’re not the captain of the ship. Jesus is the Bridegroom and we are his bride. Jesus is the Shepherd and we are His sheep. We belong to him. We are counted as insiders though we were all outsiders.

That’s what it means to be “in Jesus’ Name.” Think of adoption for a moment. All the parents’ legal rights and inheritance, even the family name, are given to the children. Everything they have belongs to the child. Every parent of adopted children I’ve met calls their adopted child my own – my son, my daughter. Why? Because they’re part of the family; they have the name. They belong to them.

What a beautiful picture of God’s grace. We’re all adopted by our heavenly Father. Our certificate was signed in blood by the cross of Jesus, and sealed with water and word in our Baptism. Your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. You’re family. You belong. You bear Jesus’ name.

And you receive his inheritance: the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world. You even have the best Sunday dinners around, here at the Lord’s Table where our heavenly Father feeds us with the flesh and blood of Jesus, sustaining our flesh and blood with his own for our forgiveness. Here is true comfort food for body and soul, rich in forgiveness. Here is Jesus’ consolation for our guilty consciences. Here in his body and blood, Jesus is always here for you.

For in Christ there are no insiders or outsiders, no cool kids or losers, only forgiven sinners, each and every one of us.

So, take heart. Do not be afraid. And be at peace with one another, for God is at peace with you.

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

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Don't Fear the Walking Dead

Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
Revelation 1:17-18

Fear. It can drive up gas prices, trigger an adrenaline rush, and it definitely sells, at least that’s what AMC is hoping for with its latest spin-off series, Fear the Walking Dead.

Being a fan of The Walking Dead graphic novels and its television adaptation, I tuned in. And once again, the pilot episode sucked me in. I enjoy well-told story no matter the genre. Especially when it has verisimilitude, an inner consistence of reality within that particular fictional world. It certainly makes it even more enjoyable to watch when the writing, actors, and plot carry you along the way a good suspense drama ought to.

One of the thoughts that has always kept my attention when watching the original series is the nagging question, how will they survive? Inevitably, this fictional story causes me to reflect upon reality. What does this show teach us about how we survive in life and death situations? What does it tell us about humanity? How do we survive? Christians, of course, have a comforting and trustworthy explanation for that question – one that is both story and history.
And while survival is certainly a theme in Fear the Walking Dead, I find myself pondering a new question: How do the characters in this story respond to fear?

Some are overwhelmed; others are skeptical. Some s help their neighbor; others make a power-grab or cause anarchy. Some are naïve and play the ostrich; others demonstrate courage, bravery, and self-sacrifice. Some are overcome by fear and grow loveless; while others overcome, or at least endure, fear with love for others.

Take away the zombies and insert a devastating earthquake and the results would be largely the same. Turns out this show can teach us a few things after all. But of course it’s for mature audiences and ought to be watched with discernment.

Fear reveals where we place our fear, love, and trust. Think of the disciples in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. The wind howled. The waves crested. The disciples were sore afraid. And Jesus was fast asleep. How did the disciples handle fear? They turned inward on themselves. Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing? Instead of being comforted by the fact that Jesus was asleep and not in a panic, they turned to worship their favorite gods in their time of distress.

We’re no different. We fear, love, and trust all things above God. We’re tempted to turn inward when afraid rather than outward to the cross. And just like the disciples, the Word that calms our fear will not come from inside of us. Rescue comes from the one who perfectly fears, loves, and trusts the Father. Jesus speaks a word and the wind and waves are hushed, a surfer’s nightmare and a fisherman’s dream. Of course, Jesus didn’t promise his disciples, then or now, that we would be free from trouble in this life; quite the contrary in fact. But he did promise to be with us always. And so he is.

On Good Friday the disciples were afraid. But the cross is Jesus answer to their fears and ours. Does the Lord care that we are perishing? You bet He does. He cares enough to die for you and take all your fears and sins along with him. Our troubled hearts are hushed by his Word. Even death is shut up. The grave’s hungry jaws are thrust open by the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Jesus' cross is our safe-zone.

And when the disciples were huddled in a locked room for fear of the Jews, Jesus came among them and declared, Peace be with you. Weeping and fear may tarry for the night but resurrection joy comes in the morning. And that’s not just a good story; it’s history. Peace be with you.

You see, a good story, even a fictional one on television like Fear the Walking Dead, is always more than a story. Stories teach us about ourselves and the world we live in, and once in a while they’ll even tell us about another world where we’ll live without fear.
That’s what caught my eye in a recent episode (Not Fade Away). Surrounding the safe zone where the protagonists live, there’s a barbed wire fence, designed to keep people out as well as in. But on this particular fence were written words that are truly freeing: Rev. 21:4.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
This was no accident. Who put the verse there and why? I’ll probably never know. But I know this. We need not fear the walking dead, or even death itself. For these words give us hope that Jesus’ perfect love casts out all our fears. Fear ends at the foot of the cross.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Christian Guide to the Movies

From time to time folks have asked what kinds of questions run through my mind when watching, discussing, or writing about Christianity and movies. Usually I have a rough outline in my head, when presenting or discussing Christian themes in movies, literature, etc. After all, these questions could just as easily be applied to a variety of other creative mediums. And so the following list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it is beneficial as we declare and defend the Christian faith in the 21st century Areopagus.

  • Enjoy the movie on its own merits. For some this means appreciating the artistry, creativity, or style of cinematography, animation, or acting. For others it’s something like listening to Starlord’s Awesome Mix Volume 1 or an Oscar winning musical score, like that of John Williams or Howard Shore. Whatever it is, take some time to think and discuss various aspects of the movie such as the plot, story-arc, character development, conflict and resolution, main themes, or favorite parts of the movie. It’s engaging and lays groundwork for later when the discussion leads to particular Christian themes that may be in the movie.
  • A word of caution; be careful not to over analyze or examine the film so much that the joy of watching the movie is sucked up like a minion in an ice cream truck. The old literary maxim, “to dissect is to murder” applies just as well to movie discussions. It’s not that we shouldn’t discuss or analyze, but like a good steak, it ought not to be over cooked.
  • Every story (and movies are stories) comes from someone’s worldview. I’ve found that a discussion on diagnosing worldviews is also helpful. Worldview is the way we look at the world around us. “What is real? What is true? How do we know what is right and wrong?” These are worldview kinds of questions. And the award for best writer on this topic goes to James Sire. In his book, The Universe Next Door, he provides a thoughtful summary and commentary on some of the most common worldviews out there (e.g. Deism, Naturalism, Nihilism, etc.).
  • I also ask a lot of questions in order to unpack many of the things that I or others notice without just quickly saying it and moving on. Here are a few of the questions I commonly ask:
  • Were there any religious themes in the movie? If so, what did you notice? Was there anything specific like calling the Force in Star Wars a superstitious religion or was it more subtle, like The Shawshank Redemption?
  • How did any of these movie themes harmonize or parallel some teaching of the Christian faith? How are they different or opposing to our Christian/Biblical worldview?
  • Did you notice any specific Christian themes portrayed in the movie? Examples of common ones are: good vs. evil, slavery vs. freedom, redemption, rescue, sacrifice, hope, longing for a better world, a hero or heroine, death and resurrection, a portrayal of a sinful and broken world, value of human life, family, etc.
  • How would you describe these Christian themes? Were they implicit or explicit - obvious or more subtle?
  • In what way(s) was this movie similar to any story (or stories) in the Bible? How is it different?
  • Was there a clear Christ-figure? Why would this character qualify as a Christ-figure? Not every movie has a Christ figure, but many do. Think of Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Gandalf, or many of the superheroes in the latest surge of comic-book movies. A Christ figure is not meant to replace the person and work of Jesus. Rather, they may reflect some aspect of Jesus’ atoning work on our behalf. Some of the best stories (on film and in books) reflect the greatest story of all time, the Gospel.
  • How does this movie point us to the true story of the Gospel? Again, this is not meant to substitute solid teaching of the Gospel. The Christian story isn’t one more story in a long history of fairy tales and fictional works. Jesus’ death and resurrection is an historical event. Every movie, book, or song that has Christian themes in it has in some way, shape, or form borrowed from the real story of the Gospel. Not only is Jesus’ dying and rising a point in history; it is the point of history – and many a good film has given us a glimpse of this.
  • If you were discussing this movie with a friend, how might you move the conversation to the Gospel? Is there a window or bridge from this movie to some aspect of Christian doctrine? Many times there are, both by way of negative and positive examples. When talking about Baptism, for example, I often use the illustration of Andy writing his name on the foot of each of his toys to show how Christ marks us with His cross in Baptism and calls us his own child by name.  

 Hopefully this has been a helpful guide. And if you think of other questions or observations feel free and post in the comment section below. For now, that’s a wrap.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Wedding Sermon for Derek and Lindsay: "Jesus is Agape"

+ The Rite of Holy Matrimony +
Derek Griede and Lindsay Wilkholm
September 6th, 2015 - San Diego, CA
Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Corinthians 13

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

I have to admit; it’s a little surreal being in this church today with you both, doing a wedding in the very same place Natasha and I were married 10 years ago.

And on that particular day, the pastor that married us told us to remember three things, which he proceeded to tell us, of course. And you know what I remember? Only that he told us to remember three things.

But this day isn’t about me…

So I’m only going to tell you both to remember one thing.

It’s not your love that sustains your marriage; it’s Jesus’ love for you.

You see, Jesus doesn’t want you for a sunbeam; he wants you to live in his forgiveness, life, and salvation. You are the house; Jesus’ death and resurrection - his love - is your foundation. He is the Bridegroom who loves you unto death; and you along with all Christians, are his bride – pure, holy, and forgiven. And you are a family now; but he is the one, who in the words of Psalm 68: “God settles the solitary in a home.” You are not alone. You have each other. You have Ben. You have an amazing extended family. And most important of all, you have Christ – and above all, Christ has and holds you.

But just in case you enjoy the reception a little too much or today is a blur of joyous emotions, I’ll make it even easier for you guys. Simply remember this one word: agape. Love.

Agape is an unconditional love. Agape is God’s love for us in Jesus. Agape is pure gift. Agape is grace. Agape is Jesus sacrificing himself for us on the cross to make us his holy bride, spotless, without wrinkle or blemish or sin. Agape is what God says he is. And Agape is what Jesus fills the union of man and woman with as well.

After all, God’s Word declares…

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself her Savior… Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

And so as strange is it may sound, today isn’t really about you guys either, or at least not you guys alone by yourselves. Marriage isn’t about a love-buzz. It’s about Christ’s love for you.

Oh yes, you’re getting married…

You make vows, exchange rings, and the two become one flesh as our Lord commands and promises. These are no small promises and vows you make today.

But the promises that Jesus makes for the two of you in his dying and rising are even bigger.

Bigger than our… good days and bad days – days that are all apologies, our sickness and our health, our financial worries, mistakes, failures, selfishness, pride, frustration – yes, even bigger than our sin, and even bigger than our love. God’s love covers the multitude of our sins. And that’s especially true in marriage. You live together in Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

You see the thing about Agape is that it cannot be created or manufactured on our own. Agape love doesn’t just happen. Agape is given. And Jesus is the one who gives it freely for you and for all.

It’s Jesus’ love that sustains your marriage, not your own. So, Derek, you love Lindsay because Christ first loved you. And Lindsay, you love Derek because Christ first loved you.

For Jesus’ love for you is patient and kind. Jesus’ love for you does not envy or boast. Jesus’ love for you is not arrogant or rude. Jesus’ love for you does not insist on his own way. Jesus’ love for you bears all things and endures all things. Jesus’ love for you never ends.

In a way, that old Beatles song is right. All you need is love. All you need is Agape. All you need is Jesus’ love for you.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Vocation and Apologetics

As I was looking ahead on the calendar this morning for the upcoming Labor Day weekend, I found myself thinking about the doctrine of vocation. Granted, it’s a civil holiday. Nevertheless, it is one occasion where the secular realm calls us to remember on one day what Scripture calls us to remember every day, namely, the work and labor others have done or are doing on our behalf.

This is one of the many reasons why I enjoyed watching The Discovery Channel’s popular television show Dirty Jobs when it was on the air. The host, Mike Rowe, went around the country learning about and participating in the jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us, as the tag line or the show’s introduction went. Sounds like vocation to me. Thank the Lord for plumbers, garbage men, and street sweepers. Thank the Lord for toilet paper, the factories that make it, and the water filtration plants that treat it afterwards. Thank the Lord for his manifold masks through which he serves others and we serve him.

So, maybe it would be better if Christians thought of Labor Day as Vocation Day. Of course, every day is Vocation Day – whether we have a BBQ and a day off of school or not. Not a day goes by that we’re absent from vocation – God calls us into service in many stations of life each and every day. God has many masks behind which he hides himself to serve the neighbor.

Now, giving thanks to God for his gift of vocation is good, right, and salutary; and we do this whether it’s concerning our homes, churches, or the world we live in (think Luther’s three estates). But as we look forward to celebrating Labor Day, I think there is something more we could say about vocation and sharing the Gospel. Is it possible that Christian vocation could be an avenue for apologetics, or a defense of the Christian faith? I think so. And here’s a few reasons why.

We rejoice with the Psalmist that:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

But of course, God’s handiwork in creation is not limited to the skies above. We are the sheep of his hands. And God has given our hands to work, labor, and serve. Writers use words. Artists use paint, clay, and countless other mediums. Musicians use notes, voice, and instrument.

The handiwork of our hands can often point to the handwork of God. Consider how Bach often concluded his sacred works with the Latin phrase Soli Deo Gloria. To God be the Glory. Indeed. Consider how church architecture is capable of communicating by countless visual sermons as the Gospel is written in stone, stained-glass, and symbolism. Or consider the work of the imagination found in such brilliant writers as Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton, and countless others.

And these are just a few crystals of ice on top of a rather large and immeasurable iceberg that make up God’s gift of vocation, and serve as a witness to the God who himself labored, first in a carpenter’s workshop, and later upon the wooden beams of a cross, all for you. After all, that is the greatest vocation of all. Jesus’ work on Good Friday is the greatest of all labor days. This is Jesus’ chief vocation, his calling…to save you and the world from all that our sinful labors had wrought, and to deliver us to serve in the good works which he has prepared beforehand (Eph. 2:10) that we should walk in them. So, as we rest from our labors on Monday, we’re reminded of the Him who rested in the tomb for us so that we might find our eternal rest in him, even as we live and serve here below. His salvation, and our service to others – it’s all gift. 

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5)

Pentecost 14 Sermon: "Cleansed in Jesus"

+ Pentecost 14 – August 30th, 2015 +

Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series B, Proper 17: Deut. 4:1-2, 6-9; Eph. 6:10-20; Mark 7:14-23

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

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” so it’s said. Well if that’s the case, I imagine many of us – including my desk – are in a pig-pen of trouble.

Scripture is full of the language of clean and unclean. Even so, it sounds a bit strange to our ears.

Maybe we think of Mr. Clean and those scrubbing bubbles – after all, a shiny head must equal a shiny house.

Whatever it may be, we tend to think of cleaning as a procedure: take a shower, pick up our room, or change a diaper.

In Jesus’ day the Pharisees thought similarly. They set up rules and regulations to keep the OT laws to keep clean. They had turned God’s instructions – which were given to reveal their holiness - into a list of procedures which they claimed made them holy.

They didn’t understand that… Jesus came to make the unclean clean.
Hence all the hullaballoo about clean and unclean food in Mark 7.

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.

The disciples were confused. Maybe we are too.

After all, they knew their OT. Maybe you recall your Bible lessons from Catechism or Sunday school. God gave Israel the dietary laws of clean and unclean food. Leviticus 11 outlines it in Food Network detail. Mammals that chewed the cud and had cloven hooves were fine, but if they did only one or the other – no soup for you. So that meant no camel steaks, rabbit stew, or pig roasts. Seafood was fine provided it had scales – no shellfish. And those are just a few highlights.

What does this mean? No bacon, bratwurst, lobster, or many other tasty things we eat.
Why did God give Israel all these instructions on clean vs. unclean? Was he allergic to shellfish? Was it for disease prevention? No; it was simply this: Be holy, for I the Lord, your God, am holy.

You see, in the Biblical view of things, clean is synonymous with holiness. Holiness has to do with God setting something or someone apart. Consecrated or set aside. God’s giving of his holiness was not about procedure but proximity. The closer you were to the Tabernacle or Temple, the closer you were to God’s presence - the place where his glory dwelt. Once you were cleansed you could draw near to God safely. That’s what the tabernacle and all the sacrifices was about: making the way safe for unclean sinners to become clean and receive God’s holiness.

To be clean was to be set apart; chosen by God. It was about proximity to God’s holiness, not a procedure to earn his holiness. It was about being in the presence of God and being able to see, touch, taste, hear, and even smell his forgiveness.

So God called OT Israel a holy nation. Set apart by God from the other nations of the earth. Out of Egypt, into the Promised Land. Israel was holy, consecrated – for one purpose: to bring forth the Messiah in the fullness of time. Now that the Christ has come in the flesh the fast has ended. The feast is here. What was unclean is now clean.

And thankfully Mark gives us a helpful parenthetical commentary on the cleanliness controversy:
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?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
To be sure, Jesus is teaching something completely different. Jesus declared all foods clean. The Christ has come. Israel fulfilled its purpose. Jesus came to make the unclean clean. So enjoy your bacon covered scallops – or not. It’s not about what we eat or don’t eat that makes us unclean before God.

Rather, it’s what comes out of our heart that makes us unclean. That sinful, ravenous beast within each of us. That’s the problem. Out the sinful heart of each of us come evil thoughts. Ever have one? Speaking for myself I find myself amazed and yet disgusted all at once. I said that? I did that? My thoughts, words, and deeds – all of it unclean. No. Food isn’t the problem. Food can’t fix our unbelieving heart.

So what’s the answer? How do we get clean? A procedure? Eat this or that? No. Being cleansed before God isn’t a procedure; it’s about proximity. What will save us? Grace, not works. Gospel, not Law. The Words of Jesus, not the regulations of man.

Only Jesus can cleanse this sinful heart of mine, and yours. And he does. Just like he did for the leper in Mark 1: If you will, Lord, you can make me clean.
I will; be clean.

Jesus came to make the unclean clean.

And with Jesus comes God’s presence. His glory revealed in a suffering servant. His holiness hidden in humility for you.

Jesus does the truly outrageous thing. He – the clean one – cleanses us by taking into himself all our sin and uncleanness and brokenness. And he gets as close to you as the Word in your ears, as the water splashed over your head, as his body and blood that goes into our bodies. Jesus’ holiness and cleanliness from sin isn’t achieved, it is received.

And so we pray the words of Psalm 51: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

We sing those same words as we go to receive cleansing in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus gives us a food that truly does enter into us and make us holy. The bread is his body. The cup is his blood. Holy food that makes us holy people.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10)

Rejoice, Jesus came to make the unclean clean. And if the Son washes you clean, you are clean indeed.

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