Sunday, February 27, 2011

February 27, 2011 - Sexagesima - St. Luke 8:4-15

Jesus says that the seed sown is the Word of God. Seed is sown into the dirt. That means...wait a minute! Did Jesus just call us dirt? Well, that's what we are. God took some dirt and made Adam. When we die we turn back into dust, dirt. So yeah, we're dirt. But think about it. Where do you put a seed when you want it to grow? Into the dirt. Just so the Lord sows His seed, His Word into us that it may grow up and bear fruit. And look at how He sows! This is the same generous Lord who last week paid everyone the same no matter how long they worked. Now He's sowing seed everywhere, flinging it all over the place. Sending His Word around the world. Sometimes it's snatched away or doesn't have root or gets choked off. But sometimes it grows in good soil and produces a big harvest. It doesn't matter. He just keeps sowing. What matters is what Isaiah says: The Word of the Lord goes forth and does what it says, it saves sinners and bears fruit in their lives.

The Word of God goes forth. In the flesh. To get planted in the dirt. Jesus comes, the Son of God, the Word of God, made flesh. To be planted in the ground at His death and to rise again to give the world life. When the Father sent the Son, the Word into this world, He did what the Father sent Him to do: save sinners by His death on the cross. Jesus said once that unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground, it can never grow. But now our Lord has been planted by His death into the earth and by His resurrection He brings forth the fruit of forgiveness and life which are given to the whole world through the Word that delivers them. Once again we see the generosity of this Lord who doesn't spare His only begotten Son but gives Him up for us all, for the whole world!

When He is risen, and before He ascends to the Father, Jesus ordains His preachers to take His Word to the ends of the earth. By the preaching of the Gospel ever since, the Lord has been sowing His Word all over the place. More generosity. Doesn't matter where or when, the Lord's Word is going forth. Around the the world. Wherever there are sinners. But not all received it. The Word was preached to rescue sinners from sin and death. But sometimes the devil snatches it away. Sometimes the troubles of this life cause faith to wither. Sometimes just all the stuff this world gives us to worry about chokes off that faith the Word implanted. The Word of God is not magic. It can be resisted and rejected. There's a warning for us there. There's a warning to repent of despising that Word. Of letting the devil have it. Or letting the troubles of this life wither your faith or paying so much attention to the riches and cares of this world that faith and trust in Christ are choked off. Notice when Jesus speaks this parable, He isn't talking about the unbelievers. He's talking about those who have heard and believed but for one reason or another have given up on God's Word! Beware! Satan wants to snatch God's Word from you. The temptations your sinful flesh faces will try to wither you faith into nothing. The cares and riches of this life will choke off your faith.

But we have God's promise that His Word does what it says. And in the good soil it produces fruit. What's the good soil? A noble and good heart? Well that's a heart that's been prepared to receive this Word by the rich waters of Holy Baptism. It's a heart that's been tilled and plowed by the Law which drives us to repentance and prepares us to receive the seed of the Gospel that grows in us producing fruits. Here's more of Jesus getting our eyes off of ourselves and teaching us that religion isn't about us but about Him. It's HIS Word. HIS seed. When the Word of God bears fruit in us, that is the Spirit's work. Not ours. To bear fruit is the work of God's Word in us. The seed planted in you is the Savior who was planted in the grave and rose again now planted in you for salvation and life. And what is that fruit? It's the fruit of faith that trusts in Jesus and knows that for His sake all of our sins are forgiven. It's the fruit of good works which does whatever needs to be done, not to impress God, but for those around us who need our love and help and encouragement and support. In short, the seed of God's Word in us grows up in us in a life that looks to Jesus for all things and serves our neighbor in every way.

So if this is the strength and power of the Word of God, why aren't there more people sitting in these pews? Why are there those who used to come but now we haven't seen them in so long? Why is it that Someone receives instruction in the Word and is eager to be a part of the church and not long after they drift away? The Lord has laid it out for us. That's just what happens to His Word and faith. The devil, the sinful nature, the world. The fact is, there are lots of things out there that drag us away from church and Christ's Word. People get mad at God. Don't have time. Find something better to do. But He tells us this parable to warn us. To teach us to look to Him to fulfill the promise of keeping us in His Word. That's always what we need: His Word. Brothers and sisters in Christ, how can I persuade you that you need the Lord's Word? I can't. But the Word of God does its work, even this very parable. May this very parable of our Lord do what He promises, that is, turn you away from ever despising God's Word deliver to you the key to the mysteries of God's kingdom. And that means faith and trust in Christ.

Jesus told His disciples that to them was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God. That's what His Word is all about. Delivering salvation and forgiveness to us and preserving us against all that would steal, wither, or choke off that faith. That means watered with the nourishing water of Baptism and fed with the holy food of Christ's body and blood. You here today, you who are a part of Christ's church by the Lord's generosity—you have the implanted Word which is saves you. So here we are, a week and a half from Ash Wednesday and Lent and prepared by our Lord to receive His Word and to have it live and grow in us unto eternal life. And that means that you're not just any kind of dirt but holy and sanctified dirt! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

February 20, 2011 - Septuagesima - St. Matthew 20:1-16

Lent is coming up. And the danger in Lent is that somehow it always becomes about us. What we're giving up and how much sorrow we can have over our sins. So, because there is such a danger of making Lent into a season of “Me,” the Church Calendar gives us three weeks of Pre-Lent in which the Gospel readings teach us to repent of making religion about US and see that everything is about Christ and what He does. When you boil it all down, those are the only two religions. Either it's a religion about you and what you do for God or religion is about God and what He does for you. This is the point of the parable of the workers in vineyard today. So let us hear it and learn repentance which turns from making everything about us to faith in Christ which trusts in the Lord's generous grace!

The You and Me religion is the religion of the first workers. At the beginning of the day, they haggle over how much they're going to make. At the end of the day, they complain because those who worked less are making the same as they did. It's all about them. This was the religion of the Pharisees. They believed that how you stood before God was based upon how well you kept the Law. Keep the Law and you'll be acceptable to God. And they judged others who didn't or couldn't keep the commandments as well as they did. There's our warning! The temptation is very great to be a Pharisee in God's kingdom and assume that we are going to get what we deserve and that others should get what they deserve. But in the end, if they want to live by the Law, they'll die by the Law. They'll get exactly what they've got coming. If your attitude toward God is that He OWES you, then He'll be sure to give you exactly what you're owed! And that will be the judgment and condemnation of the Law, the payment of a denarius. If a person wants to be a part of Christ's church just because they think there's something in it for them, they'll get their reward here and now and that will be it!

But what about those who don't work all day? Who are hired at different times? They all receive a day's wage too. They didn't earn that. It is the generosity of the vineyard owner who decides to give them the same wage no matter how long they worked. They aren't comparing what they did with what others did. They just rejoice to have been shown this generosity. This is the religion that is of God's grace. When the Father sent His Son into this world, it wasn't for those who earned God's love. It was for those who have not worked like they should. Those who have not loved God. Those who have not loved their neighbor. For them, Christ bore the heat of the day on the cross. For them He suffered many things so that in the end, we would be treated like Jesus. Given glory and honor and the title of children of God. In fact, this is the religion the Lord is all about: giving us not what we deserve and making us like His own Son. To have this faith is not to worry about what you do or how much you'll get. It's just to rejoice that we are given such a gift in Jesus Christ.

Now the temptation of that “me” religion in the life of the church is make the things we do in the church about us. There are many who join churches to gain some advantage. There are preachers who are preachers because they think there is big money in it. And there is. And that's their reward. And on the Last Day the Lord will say, “Well, you got your money and earthly fame and glory. That's what you wanted. Now away from Me into hell.” If religion and the church are about ME, then there is simply no salvation there. No blessing from the Lord. For those who want to make religion about themselves, they have their pay. They get what they deserve: the condemnation of the Law. You want to live by how well you keep the Law, then you will get paid by how well you keep the law.

On the other hand, the sinners who know they have nothing going for them but the generosity of the Master have many great gifts. Their Baptism forgives their sins no matter what they've done or how much they've worked. The gift of Jesus' Body and Blood are theirs as a gift for the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Where these gifts are, it's not about You and Me. It's about Jesus. It's about the Master's generosity which gives out these gifts to all His people. With such a faith, people can work and do and not worry about what they'll get. What reward the Lord has for them. His gifts give them each what they need: the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. What joy that we don't have to worry about nickeling and diming our good works. Have we done enough? Have we worked enough hours? In fact, this religion of the Lord's generosity is true freedom: for we can work and do what we need to to do for others with no thought of what we're earning or trying to calculate what we're owed. For all that we receive from our Lord is a generous gift!

Two religions. The religion of the guys who worked all day and though they should get more than the others. It's all about them. Then there's the religion of the Master's generosity that doesn't pay what we earn but makes us equal to Jesus. One is the religion of the Law. Of trying to work your way to God. Of making everything about you. The other is the religion of grace. The Christian faith. The religion of Jesus being the Savior of sinners. Thanks be to God for this parable which rescues us from the religion of the Pharisees and trying to get more than others and brings us into the church of Christ where we receive more than we could ever have hoped for by His grace and generosity! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February 16, 2011 - Wednesday of Transfiguration - Exodus 3:1-14

The Transfiguration is not the first time that Moses spoke with the Lord on a mountain! When Moses was hiding from the Egyptians, the Lord appeared to Him in the burning bush. The bush burned but it didn't burn up. It wasn't consumed. Can you imagine? I suppose we would turn aside and check out such a sight too! Now, nearly 1500 years later, Jesus stands atop the mountain shining in His glory and talking to Moses and Elijah. In both instances, Jesus' transfiguration and the burning bush, we have the answers to two questions: Who is God and what exactly is He doing?

Consider the burning bush. It burns and yet it doesn't burn up. This is more than just a fancy billboard to get Moses' attention! The burning bush is a foreshadowing of Christ. In the bush that burns but doesn't burn up, we have a picture of what the Christ will be like: true God and true man in one person. The divine fire that burns but does not consume the bush points to the way in which the Divine nature will be united to a human nature in Christ without destroying it. Here is the picture of the God who saves us: True God and true man. The mystery of the incarnation, of God becoming a man, is that He can do that without turning His human nature into cinders. Here is the mystery and the miracle: God in the flesh, on this earth. In Jesus' transfiguration we see the same thing clearly: the glory of the Son of God shines forth in the man Jesus for that Jesus is both God and man. There's no mistaking who this is. This Jesus is God. This God is a man. But for what purpose is He here? Are we all in trouble? What's He up to?

The Lord speaks to Moses from the burning bush that He will lead His people out of slavery in Egypt through Moses. The Lord is about to rescue His people form their enemies. After the burning bush, Moses goes back to Egypt and not too long after, the Lord sends His plagues upon Egypt until finally they throw the Israelites out and the Lord defeats His enemies. After He comes down from the mountain of Transfiguration, Jesus begins to tell His disciples (more than once!) that He is going to Jerusalem to suffer, to die and to rise the third day. After the burning bush, the Lord saves the Children of Israel. And this points ahead to Jesus, who after the Transfiguration goes to the cross to save all people. The Lord brings His people out of slavery in Egypt. In Christ, He brings all of us out of our slavery to the devil and sin, rescuing us from the evil one's kingdom and bringing us to His own promised land. So what is God up to? Why is He here on earth? To save! To rescue! To bring forgiveness, life and salvation! The Transfiguration of Jesus is the sign that Jesus is know going to be heading in the direction of our salvation. To Jerusalem. To Pilate. To Calvary. To the tomb and out of the tomb! The Lord is here. The Transfiguration leaves no doubt that this is indeed the Lord. And He's here to save us.

Of course, it is the Lord's power that inflicts the plagues of judgment upon Pharaoh, but it is Moses whom the Lord uses as His messenger. Just so it is Jesus alone who can suffer for the sins of the world, but it is through His chosen apostles and pastors after them that this Good News is preached and delivered. As Moses brought the people through the Red Sea, so our pastors baptize us, by God's Word bringing us from death to life. As Moses and the children of Israel at the manna in the wilderness, now we feast upon the Bread of Life, Jesus's own Body and Blood which don't run out and give us not just life but eternal life. In Moses' time, the Lord was faithful not just in delivering His people from Egypt but also in seeing them safely to the Promised Land. Just so our Lord who has died and risen makes sure we receive that salvation and by His Word and Sacraments carries us to eternal life.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord reminds us who God is and what He does. He is true God and true man who saves us from our sins. The Transfiguration, prefigured by the burning bush, reminds us that when it comes to our faith and religion, it's eyes and ears and faith off of ourselves and on our Lord who is the One who does all things for us. Moses wondered at the burning bush but it turned out to be the beginning of the Lord's salvation of Israel. The disciples wondered at their Lord shining in glory on the mountain but it turned out to be the beginning of our Lord's way to Jerusalem for the salvation of sinners. Now our Lord brings us to His holy mountain, Mt. Zion, His holy church, here to receive Him by His Word and to see a glimpse of what we shall be in the glory of everlasting life. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

February 13, 2011 - The Transfiguration of Our Lord - St. Matthew 17:1-9

It is a constant temptation that we make religion into something all about ourselves. We begin to measure and calculate religion as to “what I get out of it.” Does it make me feel good? Am I living a good enough life? Do I really love the Lord enough? Do I have enough faith? Can I prove to others that I am growing in holiness? Do I tell enough people about Jesus? Does God love me because I try hard to be a good person? Me, me, me! When we lose interest in church because we don't seem to get something out of it, because it doesn't strike an emotional chord, or because we just think it's boring, we have made religion and faith about us instead of what it really is about: Jesus. That is why we have the Transfiguration today. Today we see Jesus shining in all His glory to remind us that it's all about Him. Who He is. What He has done for us. Eyes off of ourselves and onto Jesus today. Ears turned from listening to our sinful nature to hearing Jesus' Word. Mouths turned from complaining and grumbling or talking about ourselves to confessing Christ and His Word!

When Jesus is transfigured, He talks with Moses and Elijah. Moses the giver of the Law and Elijah one of the great prophets. The Law and the Prophets. Moses and Elijah point to the Scriptures which pointed ahead to the coming Savior. To see Jesus with Moses and Elijah means that He is the One who fulfills the Word, who fulfills the Scriptures. And He will fulfill them by going all the way to the Jerusalem and the suffering and death of the cross. Here, on the mountain, Jesus is strengthened in His purpose to go and do the work of saving sinners. It's all in the balance. If Jesus doesn't go to Jerusalem, we're doomed. If He doesn't go to suffer and die, we have no hope. We can't hope in ourselves. Our hope and trust must be in the Son of God. If He doesn't fulfill what He came to do, there is nothing for us but to remain in our sins. But Jesus is strengthened for His mission. He is reminded once again by the Father's Voice that He has come to do the will of the Father. It will be hard. It will kill Him. He will suffer much. But He does it because He loves and obeys the Father. And He does it to rescue you from sin and death and a religion that is all about you.

When the Voice of the Father speaks it says, “Hear Him!” Peter, ever the example of the kind of religion we like to have wants to stay there with the bright and shiny Jesus and the prophets of old. “Lord, let us make some shelters, tabernacles, booths for you guys.” Peter wants to stay there. He wants to be where God's glory is shining and evident and easy to see. Peter doesn't want the dead God on a cross, He wants the bright and glorious one. So it is with so many Christians who worship by trying to have some feeling and somehow touch or experience God's “glory.” In many churches, worship is carefully crafted to bring about a deep and powerful emotional experience and response. And again, we see that in doing that, we've made religion about us. Peter has made this about Him. What he will do for Jesus. But the Father corrects all that with these words: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” Hear Him because our faith, our religion isn't about our emotions but about Jesus and His Word. His saving Word that gives us life.

And what does Jesus say? The Father says to listen to Him and the very next words out of Jesus' mouth are to the frightened disciples saying, “Do not be afraid!” You've just seen the glory of God Himself shining in Jesus Christ and glaring from the cloud. That's enough to scare poor, miserable sinners. So don't be afraid. When we make religion about ourselves, we're constantly trying to find a way to make ourselves feel good. But when faith is centered in Christ, His Word says, “Don't be afraid.” There is true comfort because it is the Lord who says it. He is the One who brings true peace to us by the forgiveness of sins that He accomplished for us on Calvary. This “don't be afraid” extends to the font where the Word and water rescue us from death and the devil. It is heard in the Absolution which tells us not to be afraid of our sins. It is spoken with the Words of Institution so that we don't fear death because Jesus' Body and Blood overcome death. That is our religion! That is our faith! What Christ has done and what He delivers to us by His comforting Word. Here it is no longer about what we can do and how we live and how we feel. It is about the promises of God Himself to be our God and defend us from all evil even unto eternal life. The big deal isn't that we can feel good about Jesus but that Jesus saves us from sin, death, devil, hell and all things that are against us!

Now, after they come down from the mountain, Jesus tells His disciples not to tell anyone what they've seen until after He's been raised from the dead. After that, Peter tells us that because He was an eyewitness of the glory of Christ, the Word He preaches is sure. To hear St. Peter preach is to hear Christ. To hear our called and ordained pastors preach is to hear Christ. The Transfiguration of Jesus means, now that He has been raised from the dead, that the Word that is preached has all of God Himself standing behind it to make it so. Peter's words in His epistle remind us that the Word we hear preached is not made up (like the world thinks!) But Jesus was seen by eyewitnesses and they have passed down His Word faithfully since, especially as it's confirmed and kept for us in the Bible. Those two things always go together. The preaching and the Scriptures. The preachers must always preach what is in the Scriptures and the Scriptures serve to show us whether what is preached is a religion about us—bad!--or the faith of Christ, which delivers His salvation faithfully. Hear Him means hear Jesus. And that's what the Bible is all about. And that's what the Word preached and taught in His church delivers to us.

When Jesus speaks to them, the disciples look up and see Jesus only. What a picture of our faith! Jesus only. The Transfiguration is written down for us to rescue us from a religion that is all about ourselves to to turn our hearts in faith to “see Jesus only.” Only in Him do we have the truest comfort and the voice of God Himself telling us not to be afraid. With such a Savior who is God and man, we have the unshakable promise that now, in Christ, we too are God's beloved sons. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

February 9, 2011 - Wednesday of Epiphany 5 - Genesis 18:20-33

We need to learn to pray like Abraham! The Lord planned on wiping Sodom and Gomorrah off the map and so Abraham pleads for his nephew Lot who lives there. Will you destroy the city if there are 50 righteous? No, it will be spared. Destroy it if there's 45? Nope. 30? No. 20? Nope. Just ten? Still no. It's like Abraham is bargaining at a car lot or something! But look at what's going on! Abraham in faith trusts that the Lord won't destroy the righteous with the wicked. So even if it means letting the whole evil city survive for the sake of Lot and his family, Abraham asks that. We need to learn to pray like Abraham! For one thing, we're so quick to pray and ask for something from the Lord and then give up when it doesn't seem our prayer is answered! See how Abraham presses God and why? He tells Him: You are the righteous Judge. You can't kill the righteous with the wicked. So we need to grab hold of God's promises in Christ and drum them in His ears with no fear, beseeching Him, pleading with Him, interceding for others based on what He has done for us in His Son.

Now here's the thing. God DOES destroy the righteous with the wicked. But He doesn't do it at Sodom. He does it on Calvary. Who is more righteous than the Son of God? Who is more innocent and holy than Jesus? And yet, who is more evil and wicked than that Lamb who is covered in our sins? When The Son of God dies for us on the cross, there is the judgment of God on the righteous and the wicked together. Christ is perfect and holy and yet He's covered with our sins and is guilty of them there. That is our salvation. That God does not deal with us WE deserve but deals with Christ as we deserve. When the Lord came to Sodom, He rescued Lot from that evil city. But when His Son comes to earth, the Lord allows His Son to be taken by wicked men and tortured and killed for the sake of the whole world. Always the Lord constantly rescues His people but when it came to the rescue of His own Son, He gave Him up into death as our sacrifice.

But Jesus rose from the dead. His righteousness overcame our sin and death and the grave were left behind on Easter. Now the Bible tells us that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father always INTERCEDING for us. What is interceding? It means doing what Abraham did: praying for the Lord to spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous. Jesus is righteous and has accomplished our salvation so He prays to the Father: “For my sake, spare them, Father and forgive their sins.” Think about it. We do all kinds of things every day that ought to rouse God's anger and have Him throw us into eternal judgment. But you are baptized. You are righteous with the righteousness of Jesus. When we sin, if the Father were ever to say, “I'm going to wipe that one out,” the Son intercedes, “No, Father. For my sake. Because I paid that price. Because I am righteous and have taken their sins away. You can't.” Jesus speaks to the Father even more boldly than Abraham for standing behind His prayers is all He did as the Father commanded to save us from our sins! Know this: because Jesus goes to bat for you, the Father will never destroy you along with the wicked. Your sins are taken care of and they can't cause God's judgment and punishment against you ever. As long as Jesus intercedes for us before the Father, our sins can never cause our doom.

There's something in there for us to learn too then for our neighbor's sake. Just as Jesus told His disciples not to go pulling up the weeds and so damage the wheat, and just as Abraham prayed even for wicked Sodom for Lot's sake, so we can learn to pray the Lord to spare those who are evil around us for the sake of His holy ones. Every day the Lord puts up with us for the sake of His Son even though we thoughtlessly sin against Him and others. So we ought to learn to pray for those who sin against us and trouble us. When we see the people around us sinning our first reaction ought to be Abraham's: Spare them, Lord, for the sake of the righteous. Since your Son has died for them too, don't hold their sins against them. Rather rescue them from their sins too and bring or keep them safely in your holy church. It is tempting to be offended at others and pray that they will just go away or leave us alone. It is much harder but more godly to throw the Lord's promises in His ear to have mercy upon them for Jesus' sake just as He has had mercy on us!

So what happened to Sodom? Well, I don't think there WERE ten righteous people there, ten people who trusted in God's promises. But the Lord was faithful. He led Lot and his family away from Sodom before He blasted it into ashes, never to be seen again. It's a reminder there WILL come a day when the Lord condemns and punishes those who oppose Him, who love wickedness more than righteousness and who persecute His holy church. Jesus says that day will come when the holy angels will gather up the weeds and burn them. But until that day, we live in the mercy of Jesus and we pray for the wicked as Abraham did, for the sake of the righteous. Always remember that your Lord stands before the Father, ever pleading for you, ever protecting you from judgment and wrath. And by His Word and gifts He will continue to keep you in the faith and remind you that He pleads for you and that for His sake the Father is always pleased with you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

February 6, 2011 - The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany - St. Matthew 13:24-43

There's an old saying that goes “Whenever the Lord builds a church, the devil builds a chapel next door.” That means that wherever God's Word is preached, the devil will be right there with a false word. Jesus tells us this in the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Christ has planted His people all over the world through His Word and the devil is right there to plant false believers, his evil children. Just look around. Look at all the religions out there. Surrounding the Christian church are Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and pagans and atheists (almost like their own religion!) and so many more, many of whom actively persecute and attack Christ's church. But then if you look at Christianity, you see so many denomiations: Lutherans and Roman Catholics and Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Pentecsostals, Non-denominationals and on and on. And you could pick any one of those groups and see that they are further subdivided. Just think of all the churches claiming the name Lutheran: the ELCA, LCMS, ELS, WELS, and tons more. The world is full of religions and denominations all clamoring for attention, most thinking they're right and others are wrong. It's a huge mess that could easily lead one to throw up their hands in despair and say, “Why bother!” And that's exactly what the devil wants you to do. He wants you to see all these different churches and religions and figure they're probably just all the same and it's not worth worrying about.

But if that were true, Jesus wouldn't have told us this parable! Just think. Farmers are always looking for the next best fertilizer that will help the crops grow while cutting down the number of weeds that grow up. Weeds are bad. They mess up the crops. They can ruin the harvest. So they try to prevent them. But here comes the devil sowing weeds to ruin the Lord's kingdom if He can. But He can't. Jesus tells us this parable to rescue us from despair. He wants us to be aware that where His Word is preached, it will be surrounded by false teachers and false religions and false believers, the children of the devil. The true sons of the kingdom, Christians, are sown by the Lord Himself who has shed His blood for sinners. Jesus knows that left to ourselves we'd just be confused and give it all up. So He comes to save us from our sins and make us His own people. You were sown in His field, made a part of His church when you were baptized. There you were planted as a son of Christ's kingdom and made His own. Now the Lord teaches us this parable to rescue us form the devil's lies and the danger of the weeds around us that want us to trust in something other than Jesus Christ.

St. Paul says to the Corinthians who had all kinds of divisions and splits in their church, that there MUST be divisions so that we can tell right from wrong, those who have God's Word and those who don't. So how do you identify the Christian church? How do you tell which is the wheat and what are the weeds? Simply apply this test: Jesus sent His apostles out to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name. Is the preaching of a church about Christ dying and rising for sinners? Or is it focused on something else. Does the teaching of the church point us to Christ or to ourselves. Are Christ's gifts of Baptism, Absolution and Holy Communion the big deal or is it something else? Is God's Word of Law and Gospel properly distinguished and proclaimed? Or is the Bible made into whatever people want it to be? The center of the Christian faith is Christ crucified for sinners and sinners justified through faith in Jesus Christ. If He is not the center, if His gifts aren't faithfully given, then whatever is going on is the devil's work. It is the enemy sowing bad weeds.

Jesus tells us this parable so we don't get all worked up over these devil weeds all around us, so that we don't look at our little church and despair that we're surrounded by false teaching in the world. But He also tells us the parable so that we don't become some kinds of zealots trying to go and purge the world of what is false. “Master, do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?” “No! You'll pull up the wheat too. Let the angels sort it out on the last day.” Muslims do this. They think they have to physically destroy those who will not convert. The church of Jesus has no such command. Rather we are to bear patiently with confessing the faith in this world and life until the Lord takes care of it on the Last Day. On the other hand, we are not to ignore that there WILL be a Last Day. The world loves to skip along, saying that all religions are the same, all faiths lead to the same place. We confess, from Jesus' own teaching, that on the Last Day, those who denied Him and taught their false religions and denied His Word will be taken away and removed from being around God's holy flock. So on the one hand, don't think it's your job to take down the enemy weeds. On the other hand, don't deny that there will come a day when those enemies will be taken care of.

So how then do we live? How SHOULD we react to these weeds all around us, to false teaching and all these denominations and religions. We should pray like Abraham. He knew His nephew Lot would be doomed if the Lord destroyed Sodom so He prayed the Lord to spare that wicked city even if He only found a few righteous living in it. Rather than rejoice in the destruction that the Lord was going to bring on Sodom, Abraham kept praying that the Lord wouldn't do it for even a few righteous people. We can look around the world and hope that the Lord will destroy those places where wicked and false religions run rampant but then what would happen to our brothers and sisters in Christ? We should pray for those places that the Lord would preserve His church and keep it from being torn apart, either by the enemy or by over zealous Christians. In short, as Christians, the Lord would have us praying for this world, putting up with those around us who hate us, and having our trust and hope in the Lord to make all things right when He comes again, and to preserve us in the true and pure faith until that Day. That's also what His parable is teaching us: to trust not in our own ability to get rid of evil but that He will do it while granting us grace to distinguish the false from the true.

Christ died and rose for sinners and sent His preachers into the world to deliver that Good News. Wherever that Good News is preached you can be sure the devil will be running alongside to try to establish some teaching that takes people away from Christ and His salvation. Jesus tells us this parable of the weeds and the wheat to protect us from the despair the devil would try to bring by confusing everything and ruining what Christ has done. He teaches us so that we might identify His true church and Word which rescue us from the devil. He teaches us so that we long for the Last Day when He removes all things which are against us and establishes His kingdom of righteousness and peace forever. You, dear Christians, are the sons of the kingdom. And when our Lord comes again, He promises to take away all of your enemies and you will shine like the sun in the kingdom of your Father forever. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

February 2, 2011 - The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord - St. Luke 2:22-40

If you're anything like me, if you don't have to do something, you won't. Oh, sometimes we'll go out of our way but more often we'll take advantage of the fact that we're not required to do something. No sense doing it if we don't have to. Our selfishness often overcomes the desire to go above and beyond. Jesus, however, does exactly the opposite. When He DOESN'T have to do something, He does it for our sake. On the day He is presented in the Temple, Mary offers the sacrifices of the firstborn that the Law of Moses requires. The Law of Moses says that you have to redeem the firstborn; the firstborn is the Lord's but He graciously allows you to “buy back” your child for the life of a couple of turtledoves. But Jesus isn't under the Law. He made the Law. He gave the Law. He is perfect and sinless. The Law doesn't apply to Him. So why is He presented in the Temple? Because He came to do what He didn't have to do: whatever the Law says. Unlike us, who if we don't have to do it, usually don't. Jesus, who didn't have to do it, does it for our sakes.

But not only does Jesus do what He doesn't have to do, in doing so He's doing what we don't do. See, we ARE obligated by the Law. It demands of us that we love God more than anything else and that we love and serve our neighbor with no thought for ourselves. It's not just that you and I would not do something we didn't have to. We also don't do what we're SUPPOSED to do. We are born thinking our life is our own to do with as we please. If it pleases us, then we do it, with no thought for God's Name and glory or the cares of the people around us. We live our lives as if we are God and our the people around us are put here to serve and worship us. Idolatry. Adultery. Stealing. Trash-talking. We've got all the commandments. But we all know they only apply in certain times and when it's to our advantage. Otherwise we can quietly ignore them and do what we want. Our sin is that we don't do what we are commanded to do. Our salvation is that Christ does what He doesn't have to.

This festival today is all about seeing Jesus under the Law for our sakes. The reason Jesus came in the flesh is, as the book of Hebrews says, so that He could face death as we do and by that death He could destroy the devil whose power is death. Our salvation depends on Jesus putting Himself under the Law. He doesn't need to keep the Law. He hasn't broken it. But we have. The Law condemns us to death because we are born turned in on ourselves and we are haters of God and neighbor. So Jesus comes to fulfill the Law. To do what we couldn't do and have it count for us. In His life, He does what the Law commands Him to do: be circumcised, be presented and redeemed in the temple, to love His Father above all things. To love His neighbor as Himself. Jesus' whole life is one big work of doing what the Law commands. And His death too is the fulfillment of the Law. The Law's punishment is God's wrath and condemnation, so that's what Jesus faces on Calvary. The judgment of our sins. In His life, He did what we were SUPPOSED to do, lived how we are SUPPOSED to live. And in His death He was punished with the punishment WE were supposed to get. The cross is Jesus keeping the Law most of all: loving and obeying His Father above all things, even the pain of death; and loving His neighbor as Himself, even more than Himself by giving HIS life in exchange for ours. His resurrection then proves that He has done this saving work completely and once and for all. There's no question: Jesus has kept the Law and paid the price for our sins.

And that is the Blessed Exchange. Jesus trading with us. Jesus doing what He doesn't have to do because we don't do what we do have to do. Jesus keeping the Law because we didn't keep the Law. Jesus dying because we deserve death. By being united with Jesus in Baptism, His doing what He did becomes ours and we know that our sin has become His. That's the Blessed Exchange. His life for ours. His righteousness for our sin. His holiness for our transgressions. And in forgiving our sins and dwelling in us by His Body and Blood, our Savior Himself makes a Presentation. As He was presented in the Temple, so He presents us before the Father as pure and spotless and holy. By coming in the flesh and putting Himself under the Law, Jesus purifies and redeems your flesh and rescues you from the curse of the Law. Because He is presented in the temple as if He were under the Law, He presents you to the Father, free from the curse of the Law. This holy festival today reminds us of this Blessed Exchange in which Jesus, by trading places with us, gives us the highest place along with Him before the Father. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.