Monday, October 30, 2017

Reformation Sunday Sermon: "The Word Does Everything"

+ Reformation Sunday – October 29th, 2017 +
Revelation 14:6-7; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

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

In a sermon Martin Luther preached in Lent of 1522, he had this to say about the Reformation: I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept [cf. Mark 4:26–29], or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.”[1]

The Word did everything.

Luther spoke God’s word in the pulpit and pub; taught God’s Word in classroom and catechism; sang God’s Word in hymns and liturgy; illustrated God’s Word in the visual sermons of sacred art; translated God’s Word into language that people could read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.

But in all of this, Luther was a servant of the Word, like John the Baptist, Luther wanted to man’s work to decrease, and for Christ crucified to increase. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

This Word, God’s Word of Good News – Christ crucified and risen for you – did everything.
And 500 years later, it still does.

In our preschool, music academy, and Sunday School; in the Bible studies, choirs, and Christian fellowship; some sing, teach, learn, or ring bells; others herd children, prepare food, or invite friends; some plant, others water, but God gives the growth.

As it was in the Castle Church in Wittenberg, so it is at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Huntington Beach: God’s Word does everything.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples…

God’s Word is our life. For man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your Faith in Christ is born of God’s Word. Your faith is fed by God’s Word. You’re sustained by God’s Word.

To be Jesus’ disciple is to be connected to his Word, to abide in the Word of him who is the Word made flesh; to hear Jesus’ Word and to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it; to receive the Word made flesh weekly in his body and blood; to live in Jesus’ Word given to us at Baptism by daily dying to sin in repentance and rising again in Christ’s forgiving Word of absolution. And apart from God’s Word, our faith dies.

Imagine if we treated our daily eating habits like we do our hearing and reading of God’s Word: “I don’t want to eat today, I’m too tired. I ate last week, I don’t need to go and eat this week. I’m just so busy, I can’t seem to find time to eat.”

When it comes to food for the body, there is wisdom in moderation; it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Not so with the daily bread of God’s Word. God’s Word isn’t meant to be read and heard in moderation. You can never receive, read, and hear too much of God’s Word and Sacraments. There’s no such thing as receive God’s forgiving, healing, saving, undeserved, grace and mercy too many times. We can’t hear enough the Good News all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and you are justified by his grace as a gift in Christ Jesus.

For as our bodies waste away without nutrition, and as a branch withers and dies apart from the vine, so too, our faith is starved and dead apart from God’s Word. But where Jesus’ Word abides, here in your Baptism, here in his body and blood for you, here in the forgiveness of sins proclaimed and given freely for you, you abide in Jesus’ Word.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

And yet, like Luther, we are not free; rather, we find ourselves captive to sin and death; and yet, continually try to free ourselves by something we say, do, think, or feel.

For Jesus reveals the truth that, “Whoever commits sin is a slave to sin.”

Are we slaves? That sounds rather harsh. But…what does God’s Word say? Do we fear, love, and trust in Him above all things? Do we call upon God’s name in every trouble; do we perfectly pray, praise, and give thanks? Do we gladly hear and learn God’s Word? Do we honor father, mother, and other temporal authorities? Do we help our neighbor in every need? Do we keep marriage pure and encourage others to do the same? Do we help our neighbor protect his property? Do we defend the reputation of others by putting the best construction on everything? Do we desire what doesn’t belong to us? Are we content with what we have?
No, truth is we are slaves to sin, just as Israel was enslaved in Egypt. We’re born enslaved, captive to Sin and Death. And we cannot free ourselves.  
Luther discovered that as well. Luther knew his sin. But he only saw Jesus as the righteous judge and taskmaster, not a righteous savior. And so, he sought comfort in every word of the Papal playbook: relics, prayers to saints, pilgrimage to Rome, endless torment. And yet, he found no word of comfort, only commands; no Gospel, only Law; no freedom, only tighter chains.
Thankfully, by God’s grace, Martin Luther discovered another Word of God in God’s own Word, Good News that had been long forgotten. Truth that had been buried in the pages of history, under piles of relics and stacks of indulgences. Luther found a Word that sets us free from the demands and punishments of the Law, from God’s wrath and judgment, and from sin, death, and hell forever. Luther found an eternal Gospel.
For we hold that man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 
This Word, God’s Word of Good News – Christ crucified and risen for you – did everything for Luther. And today, 500 years later, God’s Word does everything for you too.

By the Word Jesus created the heavens and the earth, calmed the wind and sea, and made the paralytic man walk again.

By his Word Jesus opened the deaf man’s ears, raised Lazarus from the dead, and he died and rise again, just as he said.

By his Word Jesus washes away our sin, clothes us in Christ, adopts us as his children, places his name upon us, buries us in his death and raises us in his resurrection, and saves us in Baptism.

By his Word Jesus forgives, absolves, and pardons all our sins freely, by grace through faith in Christ crucified for you.

By his Word Jesus gives us his body and blood in bread and wine to eat and drink forgiveness, life, and salvation.

By his Word Jesus declares righteous, holy, and without any stain of sin.

By his Word Jesus sends you as free, baptized Christians out into your vocations where you declare God’s Word of Good News and free grace in Christ to your family, friends, and neighbors.

Jesus took up our Sin and our Death and nailed it all to His cross. The Son became the slave so that the slave might become the son. And if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. By his Word Jesus sets you free, just as he did for Martin Luther 500 years ago.

That’s the Word of God that Luther preached, taught, and rejoiced in.

And so do we.

Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word, we pray and sing.
For this Word, this Good News – JESUS CRUCIFIED FOR YOU – does everything today and always.

A blessed Reformation Sunday to each of you...

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

[1] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 51: Sermons I. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 51, p. 77). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Sermon for Pentecost 20: "Rendered to God"

+ 20th Sunday after Pentecost – October 22nd, 2017 +
Series A: Isaiah 45:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 1; Matthew 22:15-22
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

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

Just about everyone knows that if you want to have a polite conversation at dinner, over coffee, or with your neighbors, you don’t bring up politics. Apparently, the Pharisees they didn’t get that memo. They had no interest in polite conversation.

They saw the Palm Sunday crowds; heard “Hosannas” echoing in the streets of Jerusalem. Great crowds followed this teacher all over Judea to see his miracles and hear his teaching.
How ironic that all this happens during the Passover; Israel celebrates God’s redemption while the Pharisees reject God’s Redeemer.

The Pharisees had heard enough of Jesus’ teaching and parables. They had seen eating and drinking with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes too many times. Jesus had to go.
But how do you turn the crowds against Jesus? Pull out one of the oldest tricks in the political play-book. Ask Jesus a “gotcha!” question. Have him spell potato, show you Russia from his front porch, or explain what a Berliner really is.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.

That’s how the game works. It’s a trap! A lose/lose situation. Get Jesus to say something that could be used against him. Draw him into a debate on religion, politics, and taxes. And once he does, his approval rating and followers will vanish.

And just to make things fun, the Pharisees invited their political and religious enemies, the Herodians to their staged press conference at the temple. Now, the Herodians and the Pharisees weren’t exactly BFFs. The Pharisees despised the Herodians for their allegiance to Herod, a puppet of Rome and for their alliance with the Sadducees, who oversaw the temple and priesthood. And the Sadducees and Pharisees got along about as well as USC and UCLA fans at a rivalry game. But they agreed on this: Jesus had to go. So, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

 “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 

We’re not fooled. And neither is Jesus. Earlier in the Gospels, the Pharisees accused Jesus of having a demon and being allied with Satan. Solomon warns us about this in Proverbs 29:5: “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.”  This is nothing more than another one of the Pharisees debate tactics: flood your opponent with flattery to disarm them, then move to attack.

Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

It’s the perfect lose/lose, gotcha question. If Jesus answers, “No, it isn’t lawful to pay taxes to Caesar”, the political Herodians can go after Jesus for being a traitor and a religious nutcase. And if Jesus answers, “Yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar”, then Jesus is a blasphemer for supporting the Roman and a traitor to his people.

But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?

Jesus knows their wicked hearts. The Pharisees’ spiritual bankruptcy is exposed. They claimed to have kept and followed God’s Law, but broke it failing to love God and neighbor (22:37–40). They were more concerned about the lawfulness of the temple tax than they were with God’s justice, mercy, and faithfulness. They were full of malice, not mercy.

Jesus calls them out on it. “You hypocrites”.

Jesus’ words expose the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and ours. Yes, we too are hypocrites. We thank God we’re not like other sinners, and yet we’re spiritually bankrupt. We claim to follow God’s Law, yet fail to love God and our neighbor perfectly. We spend far more time concerned with political debates and our earthly desires than God’s justice, mercy, and faithfulness. We are full of malice, not mercy.

Although, maybe the Pharisees were on to something. After all, it’s easier to spend our days arguing about taxes or politics, or anything other than repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name, isn’t it?

So, Jesus turns the tables on the us and the Pharisees.

Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.  And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”  They said, “Caesar's.”

There’s the answer. The coin bears the image and likeness of Caesar. It belongs to him. “Therefore,” Jesus says, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's.”

Not exactly the answer the Pharisees were expecting. After all, Caesar was ungodly. Caesar expected people to worship him as divine. And yet, St. Paul writes that the governing authorities are God’s ministers, servants of God’s left-hand authority in the earthly realm. They’re given to punish wickedness and reward good. And so, Paul writes in Romans 13, we pay taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due; give honor to whom honor is due, and respect to whom respect is due.
We see a picture of this in today’s Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah. God used a pagan Persian, Cyrus, to return His people to the land so that in fulness of time His anointed Son could be born in Bethlehem of Judea to save the world. You see, God will use any Caesar we throw at him to accomplish his saving you in Jesus’ death and resurrection, even if it means being crucified under Pontius Pilate for you.
That is where this story leads us, to the cross. It’s not really about the legality of the temple tax or the things of Caesar, though we are to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. And yet, Caesar, Pilate, or any other ruler would have no authority if it weren’t granted to him from above. And that leads us back to the main issue at hand:
Render to God the things that are God’s. We know what Caesar wants. But what about the things of God? What does this mean? What does God want?
He doesn’t want your denarius. He wants you. You bear his image and likeness, or at least we did when Adam and Eve were first formed of dirt and rib. In the image of God, he created them…male and female he created them. So too, he creates you and loves you. He wants you, your undivided heart, soul, mind, and strength. He wants us to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. He wants your faith in him as King, Redeemer, and Savior. But the Pharisees were so preoccupied with politics and power that they neglected the important things: God’s mercy and forgiveness. Same is true for us.
What does God want from us? To love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And while we may be able to render to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, we are unable to render to God the things of God.
But there is one who has perfectly rendered to God the things of God, and he did it for you with his perfect life lived for you and laid down for you.
The denarius that the Pharisees and Herodians showed Jesus bore the image of Caesar on it. But, Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:2). 
In his birth, life, death, and resurrection, Jesus rendered to God what was God’s: our humanity, to restore the image of God to our flesh. He rendered to God the things that are God’s. And He did it “not with gold or silver,” not with the coin of Caesar, but with His holy and precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death at the hands of the Pharisees and the Herodians and the Roman government, all of whom served as God’s instrument to reclaim a fallen cosmos from sin and death.

On the cross, Jesus throws the treasury of God’s mercy wide open for you. For while we were still hypocrites, Pharisees, and sinners, Christ died for us. Although we are unable to render anything to God, Jesus renders himself to the Father to reconcile us to him by his cross.
In Holy Baptism, God places his image and inscription on you. You belong to him. You are a new creation. In this world, you render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. But you don’t belong to Caesar. You belong to Christ, joined to him in his death and resurrection.

Here in the temple of bread and wine, Jesus renders to his own body and blood in the bread and wine given and shed for you for your forgiveness.

Through his Word and Absolution, Jesus gives his saving death to you, that you may be his own and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. You are rendered to God in Christ crucified. This is most certainly true.

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

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