Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lenten Cultivation

Ash Wednesday
February 25, 2009
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

I don’t know about you, but if I were saving the world, and it had to be through suffering hell, I think I’d want to just get it over with. Not Jesus. He began His three year Ministry leading up to His suffering by enduring the temptation of Satan for forty days.

Some people show up here on Easter Sunday thinking that’s the important day to be here. They see no need to be here today, Ash Wednesday; or any other day, for that matter, except for Christmas, of course. They don’t understand why we need to go through a solemn period of Lent. But here we are. Contemplating our mortal state. That it is from dust we came and to dust we shall return.

We don’t have to do this, of course. But we may need it more than we realize. It’s not simply a matter of pondering what our Lord went through. It’s also a discipline. It’s a kind of training. Lenten practice is being cultivated into a Christian who thinks as Christ does, acts as Christ does, is as Christ is.

We’re not just Christians who know they’ve been saved, we are daily being formed into ones who are more and more like Christ. Jesus began His journey toward the cross with forty days in the wilderness—forty days of spiritual struggle. You wouldn’t think salvation could be accomplished in an area that’s desolate, where Jesus has nothing at hand for help, including food. It’s counter-intuitive that salvation could be accomplished in Almighty God struggling and suffering, dying and being buried. But these are the things Jesus did to bring about the very salvation we need.

You might not think that a solemn time of Lent would be significant in our Christian lives. It doesn’t seem to match the triumph of the joy of Easter. But it is in the practice of Lenten pondering of our Lord’s Passion that discipline is formed. It is in this subdued time we are cultivated by the Holy Spirit.

Our Lenten pondering will be on the very heart of the Gospel, five phrases in the second article of the Creed that describe the core message of the Bible that Jesus Christ suffered hell so that we wouldn’t have to.

I encourage you to ponder in these six weeks of Lent that what Jesus did in suffering, being crucified, dying, buried, and descending into hell, He did for you. For your salvation He became sin who knew no sin.

It’s only in what He has done for you that you have salvation. It’s only in His suffering hell in your place that you may live in the way He has called you to live in the Gospel reading. The practice of righteousness isn’t something you can just go out and do. You need to be formed. You need to be cultivated by the Holy Spirit. You need the discipline of Lent to live in the way God has called you to live.

If Jesus needed to go out into the wilderness for forty days in order to save us, how much more do we need a spiritual struggle to form us? Our default position seems to be to meet the minimum standard. I made it to church on the big days, Christmas and Easter—I’m good to go. Even for those of us who are here all the time, who make it to church every Sunday and even all the Lenten worship services—I’m really good to go.

But it’s not about that. It’s about being cultivated. It’s about seeing that your righteousness is in Christ. That you don’t do righteousness in order to gain favor with God. You gain righteousness because Jesus suffered hell in your place. Now why would you go and ruin that by seeking recognition for practicing righteousness? Why not live instead in the freedom Christ gives you to serve one another and love them unconditionally?

The Lenten cultivation is a microcosm of the Christian life. You think you’re going to walk away from this Lenten season and feel so much better about being a stronger Christian? Well, you might. But you might not. And whether you do or don’t it’s going to be hard. Cultivation is not an easy process. And it’s not quick. It takes a lifetime, but God is willing to invest the time in you.

He sent His Son to suffer hell for you. If He has done that, how much more will He give all things to you? How much more will He impute His righteousness to you? How much more will He form and cultivate you into a little Christ, that when others see you they will see Christ? Rejoice in every opportunity to be formed by Him. The harvest you reap is eternal. Amen.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Spend Some Time in the Wilderness

Matthew 4:1 says “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Luke 4:1 says “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.”

Mark isn’t so subtle. “The Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness.” [Mark 1:12]

What is all this business about being led by the Sprit and driven by the Sprit into the wilderness? Wasn’t being Baptized enough? Why did Jesus also need to be tempted by the devil?

Some people ask a similar question about Lent. Why do we need to do Lent? It’s a little too somber for some (some would even say depressing). Where’s the joy? Yes, we know Christ suffered and died, but He also rose. We live in the joy of the resurrection! Why go through the “wilderness,” the solemnity of Lent, when we know we have salvation?

Because the Church’s life is patterned after Christ’s life. Just as we are united with Christ in Baptism, the life of the Church is bound up with the life of Christ.

Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness fasting and being tempted by Satan. He was out on His own trusting solely in His Heavenly Father for His physical and spiritual sustenance. Lent is a period of time of reflection and preparation. It is a forty day period of time in which we meditate on our unworthiness and God’s grace to us, though we are unworthy.

Jesus’ time in the wilderness was not a fun time. He wasn’t out there to have a grand old time. Jesus wasn’t living the high life when He was suffering for the sins of the world, but He had joy.

The writer of Hebrews (12:2) expresses this in his description of how Jesus approached His suffering: “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.” Thus, his exhortation to us as Christians can be an invitation—even driving us to it!—to spend some time in the “wilderness” of Lent:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” [Hebrews 12:1-2]

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Transfiguration Is Not About the Transfiguration

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Last Sunday after the Epiphany
February 22, 2009
Mark 9:2-9

Jesus was transfigured, but simply showing His glory wasn’t the reason He was. The Transfiguration would seem to be about the Transfiguration, but it’s not. If it were, Peter’s idea would have been a good one. Jesus probably would have told Peter, James, and John to pack, for they weren’t going to be coming back.

But no, the Transfiguration isn’t about the Transfiguration. It is about the Word. Peter, James, and John weren’t the only ones Jesus brought up onto the mountain. He invited Moses and Elijah also. Why is that? Moses and Elijah represent something. What they represent is the Word. At the time of the events of the New Testament the New Testament didn’t exist. The Bible was what we call the Old Testament. One of the ways the New Testament refers to the Old Testament as is the Law and the Prophets. The Law referred to the first five books—written by Moses—the Prophets the rest of the Old Testament, much of which are the prophetic books.

Paul speaks of the Word of God in the Epistle reading. God spoke creation into existence, He did it with His Word. God brought light out of darkness. How did He do that? By speaking—“Let light shine out of darkness.”

No, the Transfiguration isn’t really about the Transfiguration. It is about Baptism. What do you have in Baptism? You have water, of course. And you have the Word. The Word of God is connected with water to make Baptism. But what does this have to do with the Transfiguration? The same thing the Baptism of our Lord had to do with it. When Jesus was Baptized, what did God the Father say? “You are My beloved Son.” Now, here, on the Mount of Transfiguration, God the Father is saying: “This is My beloved Son.”

See, you and I can’t all be up there on the Mount of Transfiguration. For that matter, neither could Peter, James, and John. Or at least, they couldn’t stay. But they could be Baptized. And so can we. There’s a reason Jesus was Baptized. And there’s a reason He was transfigured. Jesus certainly didn’t do these things for Himself. He did them for us. That’s why He gives us Baptism. The glimpse of glory on the Mount of Transfiguration wasn’t only a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, but of ours as well—given to us in Baptism. If Peter, James, and John were amazed by what they saw on the mountain, they hadn’t seen anything yet. They would see Jesus face to face in eternal and full glory in heaven, and they would share in that glory. That’s what God gives us in Baptism.

So, no, the Transfiguration isn’t about the Transfiguration. It is about Holy Communion. If it seemed a stretch that the Transfiguration was about Baptism, though Jesus had not instituted it yet, at least He Himself had been Baptized already. But what about Communion? The Lord’s Supper was not even on the disciples’ radar. There was nothing up there on the mountain about bread and wine, or any meal, for that matter. How is the Transfiguration about Holy Communion?

Communion is what Jesus was doing on the Mount of Transfiguration. He was communing with Moses and Elijah. The disciples didn’t quite get that. They thought they should have a gala event, honoring these three men. It went right over their heads that they were actually communing with Jesus and the saints who had gone before them. This is what the Communion liturgy is getting at when it says, “therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name.” If you look around the altar rail when you commune you will see the other members of this congregation communing with you and you with them. Who you won’t see are Moses and Elijah. But they’re there, communing with you and you with them. You won’t see Peter and James and John. But they’ll be communing with you as well, and you with them.

The Transfiguration, is about the Transfiguration, of course. Of course, it’s about the Transfiguration. Jesus was transfigured before them so that they, and we, can see who it is that has come to bring salvation. He’s the God who is divine and radiant in His glory. He’s the God of Abraham and David and Moses and Elijah. He’s the God who spoke creation into existence with His Word and who was Baptized by John the Baptist. He’s the God who communes with His people and invites them to commune with Him. So, yes, the Transfiguration is about the Transfiguration.

But Jesus didn’t, after all, stay up there. He didn’t, when all was said and done, remain in His glorious transfigured state for very long. That’s because the Transfiguration, when you come down to it, wasn’t really about the Transfiguration. Jesus tells us what the Transfiguration is about when He is coming down the mountain. It’s about the cross. Everything, after all, is about the cross. Christ is about the cross. His Ministry was about the cross. Salvation is about the cross. The Transfiguration is about the cross.

Once again, we see Jesus telling people not to tell people about Him and about what they had seen! It’s seems very strange until you realize that who He is and what He does means nothing for us apart from the cross. That what people had seen didn’t help them one lick without Jesus ascending the hill of Calvary. Jesus didn’t pay for the sin of the world on the Mount of Transfiguration. But He did on Calvary. What Jesus accomplished on the cross is given to you in His Holy Word, delivered to you in your Baptism, and offered to you in Holy Communion.

The Transfiguration is all about you. It is about what God does for you, in Christ. In the Transfiguration we see why Christ came, what He came to do, how He accomplishes salvation. Seeing Moses and Elijah up on the mountain and Jesus in the middle of them, we see that Jesus is at the center. He is the key to the Scriptures. Hearing the voice of the Heavenly Father up on the mountain, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him,” we hear the call to make disciples of all nations, Baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Seeing our Lord bring Peter, James, and John into communion with Him and the saints triumphant, we rejoice in the invitation to us to commune with Him and the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

Peter, James, and John may have been wondering why they weren’t to tell anyone about what they had seen but we don’t have to wonder or keep quiet. Jesus said not to speak of it until after the resurrection. It’s now after. We tell others. We give to them the message of the cross, not platitudes. We give them Christ. It’s what we need, it’s what they need. It always goes back to the cross. As Paul said in the Epistle: “we proclaim not ourselves but Christ.” He was transfigured. He suffered. He rose. He gives you salvation. Amen.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Glass Cross

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 15, 2009
Mark 1:40-45

If you would please take the Bible that’s in your pew and look at it. Don’t open it up, just look at it. What do you see? You see the Bible. Now look at it as though you’re looking at it through glass. It looks the same, doesn’t it? But imagine if that glass you’re looking through is in the shape of a cross. The Bible still looks the same, only now you’re not just seeing the Bible, you’re also seeing the cross. Not only that, you’re also seeing the Bible through the cross. Now open up the Bible, to any page, it doesn’t matter. Every word in that Bible is the Word of God. Every sentence, every phrase, every narrative is God speaking to you what He wants you to know.

Don’t just look at every word, though. Don’t simply believe it’s the Word of God and read for what you can get out of it. See it for what it really is. Look at it through that glass cross. When you read the Word of God see the cross as you’re reading.

This is what Jesus was trying to get the man to see in the Gospel reading. He didn’t want the man to see Him as the one who would take away his leprosy. He wanted the man to look at Him through a glass cross. In the Old Testament reading Naaman wanted to be healed from his leprosy. Elisha wanted him to see that God would offer him so much more. Naaman could only see that, though, if he looked through a glass cross.

Elisha didn’t know the specific name Jesus, the specific person Jesus. Naaman didn’t know anymore than Elisha did. The leper in the Gospel reading was face to face with Jesus, the one Elisha believed in as the promised Savior. But the leper didn’t know Jesus. He was looking at a man who could heal him. He didn’t look at Jesus through a glass cross.

We don’t know what happened to this man later on. But we know what happened to Jesus. The cross. The cross is what happened to Jesus. What Jesus was doing with that man who wanted healing was all about the cross. Elisha’s directive to Naaman was all about the cross. Jesus knew these things. And we know these things, too. Because we have the Word of God, the Bible. And we have a glass cross to see the Bible through.

Nothing Jesus did makes sense without the cross. Or at least, it’s ultimately meaningless without the cross. Everything in the Bible is useless to us without the cross. If you look at the Bible through any lens other than the cross you will not see Jesus and what He does for you. You will see a lot of things. But none of them will have anything to do with Jesus’ work of salvation for you.

When you see things through the glass cross you will see things differently than if you’re looking to get your due from God. You will begin to see that all that appears not quite right in your world is swallowed up in the cross. If the lens through which you’re looking at the world and your life is your problems and unmet needs, then you will miss the cross. And when you miss the cross you miss the salvation Christ brings to you.

You might wonder how in the world you can take the story of Naaman and the story of the leper in the Gospel reading and see it as all about the cross. The cross isn’t mentioned. The cross hadn’t even happened yet in both cases. How could these men be expected to know that that’s why Jesus came? And you might even wonder what the cross has to do with your life, and your problems, and your needs. How does the cross help you feel better when you’re suffering severe illness like the men in our Scripture readings? How does the cross impact your life in your struggles at work or with your family? How does the cross help you out when you have some real needs—not just wants—when you’re struggling financially month to month, when you fear you’re on the chopping block at work?

Talk about the cross is one thing. Jesus dying on the cross is all nice and good. But life is another thing. Practical life stuff is real—how does the cross make this stuff better? How does it help you in your life? Naaman found out. The leper in the Gospel reading found out. You can find out, too. Because you have something. You have a glass cross. Hold it up. Look at that Bible. Look at the words on the page. See what God does for you through the cross. See that the healing of Naaman and the leper of the Gospel reading were stops along the way to the cross. They were little snippets of the salvation God brings to you in the cross.

Whatever it is you’re going through, stop worrying about it and put the cross up before your eyes. Whatever your struggles, quit blaming God and look at the cross. You want to know what He’s doing to help you? Look at the cross. That’s what He does. He sends His Son to suffer in a way that you could never quite understand or endure. He sends His Son to come into this world where there are some who can’t even be around others or everyone else would suffer from such a horrible condition. But Jesus doesn’t just heal. He touches. He’s not afraid of leprosy, or anything else you might come to Him with. He’ll touch you in your condition and take it upon Himself. In fact, He’ll take it to its death in His own death. That happened on the cross. Nowhere else. In no other way. The cross. Not by you straightening up and flying right. Not by you believing enough or suffering enough. Not by you being a stronger Christian than some that you know aren’t as strong.

The cross. There’s only one reason Christ came. There’s only one reason God sent His Son. The cross. If this is the way it is for God, then why are we looking at everything but? Why are we wondering why we suffer as we do, when Christ has given us the cross? When He shows us that suffering is swallowed up in His suffering? Why are we questioning God when we struggle; when we don’t understand how He works—when He gives us the cross? Is it really so hard to see that it’s all about the cross? That that’s what Jesus is always pointing people to? That it’s what He is always pointing us to? Is it really so hard?

Yes. It is. We know it. We know it’s hard. We know we can’t do it. The doubts creep in. Pain piles onto more pain. Temptations come harder and more frequently the stronger we become. Struggles never seem to go away, only change their circumstances. What we do through all of this is see ourselves in it all. We ask the questions. We wonder why. We lament that it doesn’t seem all that blessed to be a Christian.

And you know what God’s reaction to this is? He’s angry. He’s beside Himself that we don’t see it. There’s one thing there, but we miss it. We can spot everything else and miss the one thing. The cross. Why else did Jesus speak harshly to the man after healing him? Because it meant nothing without the cross. The man didn’t see that. He went on his merry way, rejoicing in his freedom, and forgetting about what Jesus had told him. Apart from the cross the man’s healing means nothing. Apart from the cross our lives are separated from Christ, ultimately eternally in hell.

Through the cross, though, through the cross, you have life. You have life in Christ. You have life eternal. You have life in which you know that everything is given by God to you for your good or used by God for your good. You don’t have to wonder—you know. You know because you have a glass cross to look through. You know because He didn’t leave the cross back there, on Calvary, two thousand years ago. You know because He brings the cross to you. Today. Every day. In your life. Eternally. He brings the cross to you in your Baptism. In Baptism you died with Christ so that you may rise with Him. He brings the cross to you in Absolution. In Confession and Absolution you are slain, your sinful flesh convicted and brought low so that you may be raised up to new life. He brings the cross to you in His Holy Supper. In His Holy Supper He invites you to come and feast on Him. Come thirsty. Come hungry. Come with your illness, your sin, your guilt. He brings to you the cross. His body hung on that cross. His blood was shed on that cross. He brings you that. Yes, Himself.

That’s what the cross is all about. It’s all about Him. That’s what we need. We need Him. Not just whatever He can do for us (which is anything). What He did on the cross. That’s what He gives you. That’s why He came. That’s what you always have. Look through that glass cross and see Jesus. See your salvation. Amen.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Vocation, Vocation, Vocation

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 8, 2009
Mark 1:29-39

The three most important words in real estate are location, location, location. If your real estate agent shows you a gorgeous house that’s in a dumpy neighborhood you might think twice about buying that house. On the other hand, you might be willing to live in a house you’re not crazy about because of the area you’ll be living in.

Buying a house isn’t the easiest thing in the world. There are a lot of factors involved, more than just the location. Your financial situation, the economy, your plans for the future—all these things play into your decision to buy a house and whether or not you can do it. At the same time, it’s not the hardest thing in the world either.

Living the Christian life is, though. We often wonder, don’t we, why it’s so hard to be a Christian? We seek guidance in how to live a God-pleasing life. We look for practical advice—specific things we can do to live in the way God wants us to live.

So as one might give this advice to someone buying a home: the three most important words are location, location, location, let me give you this advice: the three most important words in living as a Christian in this world are vocation, vocation, vocation.

What is vocation? Vocation is not a job, although your job may be your vocation. Vocation is not a theory, although it’s not as easy to pin down as the location of a house or a particular job. Vocation is not theological jargon intended to side-step so-called practical advice on how to live in a godly way, although it is rich in theology and ultimately deeper than notions such as, here are ten practical ways to love God more, or to be a better spouse.

Vocation is a calling. It is what God has called you to. Vocation is not just a job, it’s a way of life. It’s who you are because of Christ. Vocation is service. Vocation is living in such a way that you’re not living for yourself but for God. Where you are serving God by serving others.

It’s too easy to discount the simple and ordinary things people do. Often when people are doing simple and ordinary things they are doing the greatest things. Because they are doing what God has called them to do. There is nothing higher than that. It is vocation. When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, she got up and served them. This shows us that Jesus healed her. But it also shows us that He healed her in order for her to carry out her vocation. Her serving them was every bit as much much a holy work as was Jesus healing her.

Location is as important to Christianity as it is to real estate. God had called her to serve there, where she was. Jesus Himself healed her there, where she was at. Not every Christian is called to serve in a “spectacular” way. In fact, most Christians are called to serve in very simple and ordinary ways. But we should never think that just because they are simple and ordinary that they’re not important and not as faithful of ways of serving God as the ones that look spectacular. In getting up and serving Jesus and her family Peter’s mother-in-law was carrying out her vocation. This was a blessed sight in the eyes of God.

When you watch a sporting event, you want to watch the players play. There are other people on the playing field with the athletes, though—the refs. But you’re not there to watch the refs. You want to see the game. You want to watch the players play. If the refs are doing their job, you won’t notice them. When they blow a call, that’s when you notice them and begin yelling at the TV. But every once in a while, I actually like watching the refs. I enjoy watching them do what they do, which is their job. They do their job very well, and I love to see people doing what they do when they make an effort to do it well. This is vocation. When you do what God has called you to do. Refing a game is an example. Playing a game is another. Mopping the floor is one. These are not spectacular things, they’re ordinary things.

After He healed Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus went out and healed a bunch of people. Jesus is doing what He had done in Peter’s home, healing. The people He is healing are also doing what they have been called to do, receive what Christ gives to them. We’d normally think of vocation as something we do, but God calls us to receive before we give. That’s what happened with Peter’s mother-in-law. She was unable to carry out her vocation until she had first received help from Christ.

The carrying out of our vocation as Christians is not just doing good works. It is receiving from Christ what He wants to give us so that we may then serve. This is what the people were doing. They were receiving from Christ. This is what Satan does not want to happen. He tries to prevent us from receiving from Christ. He was hard at work with his demons when they were getting in the way of Jesus healing the people. But since this is Jesus’ vocation He would have none that. He made clear that the demons were not to speak.

There’s a lot of healing going on in today’s Gospel reading. That’s, after all, Jesus’ vocation. He heals Peter’s mother-in-law, He heals all the people that come to Him, He goes out from there to other towns to heal people. We saw what happened when Peter’s mother-in-law was healed—she got right to work carrying out her vocation. We don’t hear what happened with all the crowds. Did some of them get right back to work, serving where God had called them to serve, carrying out their vocations? No doubt some of them did. Did some of them just go back home and never give it another thought that Jesus had called them also to Life? That is, eternal life, and were therefore free to serve others? No doubt there were these, too.

That’s the way it is with Christ. He calls you. He gives you life. He gives you to a place where you may serve. He calls you to carry out a vocation that is specific to you. Nobody can make you do it. God’s not going to bash you over the head if you’re too lazy to serve others. But He does call you. And with the call comes the reward. Think about this. If you reject His call, you are rejecting the reward. If you don’t want to go to heaven, you won’t. If you want to be eternally in hell, you will. God simply gives. He doesn’t force.

That’s what vocation is all about. It’s about your Lord carrying out His vocation of saving you. He heals in the ways we need the most. The Gospel reading speaks of fevers and diseases and demon-possessions. The healing Jesus brought to these people was a present manifestation of His healing of souls. He forgives your sin. He heals your sinful condition. His disciples brought the message that people were looking for Him. No wonder! But He moved on from there: “‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’ And He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” And He kept on going, all the way to the cross.

This is the way God works. He carries out His vocation—which is to save us. How He does it is often through very simple and ordinary ways. And it has everything to do with where He locates Himself. For three years, it was in the Person of Jesus Christ, walking the land to heal and teach and finally to suffer in the place of every person. This salvation is yours, where you’re at. Where you’re at is where He has located you. Where you’re located is where you serve, where you carry out your vocation. Don’t worry, He’ll never tire of His vocation of serving you, of giving you what you need in His Word and Sacraments. That’s where He locates Himself so that when you draw your last breath you will find that He has called you Home. Amen.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Never Count Him Out

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 1, 2009
Mark 1:21-28

Maybe he was getting a little too big for his britches. A little too full of himself. Who did he think he was, anyway? Why was it that everything he says goes? Why shouldn’t others also have a say in how things would go?

There were some who actually stood up to him. Some who told him what they thought of him. You don’t have a corner on God wants. We also want to have a say. So they told him. They would bring him down a notch. Maybe then he would see that it wasn’t all about him, but about them as well.

Moses had actually tried to get out of this gig when God first called him to it. If only Aaron and Miriam would have thought things through they would have realized that Moses had never wanted it to be about him. He wanted God to call somebody else. But when God calls a man God is the one calling the shots. You’re free to reject the call, of course. But, then, you’re rejecting God as well. He will find somebody else. He always does. And that’s really the reason why it’s never about the person He calls. He can always find somebody else. But when He calls you He’s the one at work. He’s the one doing the thing that’s being done.

Something Aaron and Miriam had forgotten. They accused Moses of it being about himself when really they were the ones wanting it to be about themselves. It’s hard to see who it’s really about when you’re concerned with it being about you. Moses finally got it. He tried to get out of God’s call at the beginning not because he didn’t want it to be about himself but because he did. He didn’t want to follow God’s call but go his own path.

Today’s Old Testament reading shows us that the greatest prophet of the Old Testament—Moses—has no greatness in and of himself but his greatness lies in pointing us to the Prophet par excellence, Jesus Christ. Why did God point to the greatness of Moses in the Old Testament? Because in looking at Moses you were seeing the representative of God—of, in fact, Jesus Christ. You weren’t supposed to listen to what Moses had to say, but what God was saying through Moses. When God called Moses to speak then you were to listen. That’s what God does, He calls people to speak so that you may hear Him, that is, God. You discount Moses, you discount God. Never count Him out, though. God will find a way to speak to you, even through a stammering Israelite like Moses.

Never count Him out. Even when He comes into a small town like Capernaum. Even when He makes His grand entrance to earth in a little town, and there, in a stable. Even when He’s then incognito for thirty years. Even when His grand Ministry is often carried out in small towns like Capernaum. Never count Him out, because He is the Prophet par excellence, the one God promised in the Old Testament reading. The one God Himself sent.

Moses showed up and told the people of God what God had to say. Jesus showed up, too. He went into that synagogue and spoke the Word of God. What did Satan think of all this? Well, he doesn’t like it when God is constantly getting His Word out. Through people, of all things. So Satan attacks those people. Moses was doing his job, bringing the Word of God to the people of God, and he was attacked by those people, his own brother and sister, no less. This is what Satan does. He tempts us. He gets us thinking that God wouldn’t work in the way He does. He should work in a way that conforms with our sensibilities.

This is what God does, though. He gets His Word out. Through people. Through His own Son, in fact. He is the the very Word itself. The Word made flesh. Never discount God. Even when He comes Himself. Even when He comes in His own way. As a man. Coming with His very own Word to give. The people were astonished at His words. How could a man from these parts have this kind of authority? How could He be speaking authoritatively, unlike the scribes who were professional teachers of the Word of God?

In fact, it seems that we’re often the ones who count Him out. Satan never does. That’s why he went after Moses. That’s why he went after Jesus in the wilderness. Failing there, he kept after Him, in this case a demon trying to put a stop to Jesus’ bringing God’s Word to the people of the synagogue. The demon even clearly says he knows who Jesus is. And then he even says it! There’s no discounting who Jesus is by Satan.

But there’s no returning the favor, either. Jesus not only counts out Satan, He brings him to his knees. If God will not allow His people to go against His chosen vessel, whether Moses or His Son, neither will Jesus allow Satan to be the one telling the world who Jesus is. Be silent! Come out of him! There is no way Satan could count out Jesus. No way. The demon came out of the man even as he was commanded to.

The people? They were still kind of dazed. What was going on? How did this man come to be able to do this stuff? In other words, they were still counting God out. Not quite sure what to make of Jesus; not quite sure if God really could work through an ordinary man. His fame spread, though. And no wonder. The things Jesus was doing were amazing. But His fame should not be confused with seeing that Jesus was indeed very God of very God and the Word made flesh. Crowds that thronged to Him during His Ministry were nowhere to be found in His suffering and death. Even here God was at work in Jesus and even then should not have been counted out, because it was in that very suffering and death the Word of God was most clearly brought to mankind.

If you wonder what to make of the Church that sends regular men to pastor congregations; what to think of the Church that Baptizes babies as well as those who haven’t long to live; what to make of the Church that centers its life around a meal that doesn’t offer much to eat but trusts that what is being partaken of is food of nothing less than immortality; what to make of God doing His work that He does through ordinary words—written on the pages of the Bible, proclaimed by those He calls, spoken to His people to forgive their sins… then take a look at Jesus. Don’t count Him out. If He wants to come to you in water and bread and wine and ordinary words, marvel if you will, but especially rejoice! Rejoice that as He sauntered into that synagogue in Capernaum, so He comes into this House here today, to do the very same thing: forgive you and bring you life. Amen.