Sunday, March 29, 2009

Welcome to My World

Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 29, 2009
Mark 10:32-45

There’s a whole world right at your fingertips in the internet. You can know what’s going on almost anywhere in the world and about almost any subject. Added to this is a whole area on the internet where you can tell the world what you want it to know. Millions of people do this with their own blog. A blog is an online journal. You can write on things that are of interest to you, whether it’s knitting, philosophy, cars, birds, sports, your family, or about life in general. When you have your own blog there doesn’t have to be collaboration. It’s your blog, you can say what you want. Others don’t decide what you put on your blog.

If you write a book an editor will come along and make changes. If you make a movie you have to work with all kinds of people who have a say in the final production. At work we often have to collaborate with others on projects. But if you have a blog you get to decide what will go out to the world. A way some people emphasize this point when they start a blog is by introducing it with these words: “Welcome to my world.”

That’s what Jesus does in the Gospel reading for today. When He tells the disciples what will happen to Him He is saying, “Welcome to My world.” Actually, it’s not just His world He’s welcoming them to, it’s His religion. In telling them what will happen to Him, He is saying, “Welcome to My religion.”

There’s a lot of people who think nothing more of that than all the blogs out there—they’ll just go to a different one. That’s nice, Jesus, but I think I’ll just try another religion. I’ll even just do my own. You see it all the time. People will say, My religion is a mix of different religions and philosophies.

That’s what James and John were saying. Not to be left out in the cold, it’s what the other apostles were saying. They all were starting their own religion. They could have started their own blogs. “Welcome to my world” was really “Welcome to my religion.” That’s, really, what we all do. We take God, the Bible, Christianity, and we craft our own religion that suits just us. Then in the way we live and talk, we are saying, Welcome to my world; Welcome to my religion. If it’s not for you, you can start your own blog and do your own thing.

Jesus straight off says, Welcome to My world; Welcome to My religion. It’s a religion in which it’s about Me going to the cross. In which I will drink the cup of the wrath of God. In which I will be baptized with the sin of the world. This is My world. This is My religion. Welcome to it.

James and John have better ideas. Hey, that sounds great, Jesus, but we’d like some glory to go along with that suffering and death and resurrection. If it’s all going to work out for You in the end, we’d like to get in on the action. The other apostles have the same ideas, they just weren’t as quick to the punch as James and John. All twelve of them said to Jesus, That’s a nice world You’ve invited us to, there Jesus. But we have some ideas of our own—welcome to our world.

You see, we don’t we really need Your suffering, and being mocked, and dying, and rising from the grave. We’d like some glory, please. Will you take care of that for us? There’s a good God. Yes, welcome to our world. It’s all about us. Not really about You, Jesus. But you do have a nice blog, and we’ll check it out from time to time.

I don’t know about you, but I often treat the Bible the way I do some of the blogs I read. I only read a few, but I find that even with a few, I can’t keep up with them. I end up checking in to them once in a while. Since they’re just blogs, that’s not a big deal, but I find my Bible reading has a similar pattern. It’s not a blog, of course—it is God’s Words written down; Him saying, Welcome to My world; Welcome to My religion. But too often, I say, That’s nice; and treat it as I would a blog. I will check out what You have to say, of course, now and then.

But the way I live, I’m really saying, Welcome to MY world. Even, Welcome to my religion. How could the apostles take what Jesus was saying, which was all about Him, and turn it around to wanting it to be all about them? It’s because that’s who we are. We are by nature sinful. We’re in our own little world. And each of us wants to go around inviting others to our blog—welcome to MY world! You don’t have to stick around, but you’re welcome to.

But mostly, we’re not interested in making the case to others, but to God. We want to tell Him where it’s at. God, You’ve got a lot of good stuff on that blog of yours, but have you checked out mine? If you can get on board with my religion things will work out just great for me. As long as you don’t impose on me having to actually read and study Your Word on a daily and consistent basis; as long as I don’t have to suffer the embarrassment of sharing the Gospel with my non-Christian friends; as long as I can continue to keep telling white lies in order to keep the peace with my spouse; God, as long as you do as I say then You will be a great boon to my religion.

How about if, instead, we listen to Christ? We actually take His invitation and enter into His world? How about if, instead of just checking out His blog once in a while, we actually get into the Word of God and read, mark, learn, study, and inwardly digest it? How about if, when we come to those places in His Holy Word that are tough to come to terms with, we step back and listen? Take what we hear from Him and enter into the world He has welcomed us into. Take to heart His religion rather than the fantasy world we create for ourselves. Be in His world on His terms rather than ours.

What if we hear the Word of our Lord and, instead of thinking about how we can get in on the glory, we simply rest in what our Lord has given us? Simply rest in the peace that goes beyond our limited understanding. Be grateful for the eternal salvation He has brought about in His suffering, death, and resurrection. Flood our hearts and minds with thoughts not of glory or what we want but of the forgiveness He has washed us with in our Baptism. Rejoice in the lavish Feast of His Body and Blood He has prepared for us and the invitation “Welcome to My world.” Welcome to My Feast. Come to Me and receive Me; My Body and My Blood. My forgiveness and eternal salvation. Peace for all your woes, strength for all your trials.

Salvation from yourself and your world of sin that the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh keeps welcoming you into. Our sinful flesh is all too eager to rejoice in the invitation to be brought into a world that revolves around ourselves. It abhors the world Jesus invites us into, which is the world of His cross; a world of suffering and resurrection. That’s why He headed toward Jerusalem—to go the cross. That was His world. He went to the cross for the sin of the world.

When Jesus was on the cross, God was saying to the world: “Welcome to MY world.” This is how you get into heaven. This is how you obtain true and eternal glory. This is how you get what you really need. If you look to that one who was beaten and hanging on the cross, you will see God’s world; His religion; how He welcomes you into it. When you daily arise and recall that you are a Baptized child of God, you will see what the world of God is like—one in which He welcomes sinners and eats them. You will see that His world is the world of grace, inviting you into it, dining with you at His Table.

When your last hour comes, you may be at peace and rejoice, because the words of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to you when you enter into heaven will be, “Welcome to My world.” As you await that day, rejoice in the opportunity you have everyday to bring this Good News of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection to others, welcoming them not into your world, but His. Amen.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Life in Body and Soul

Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 22, 2009
John 3:14-21

You think we got problems in our country with our economic situation? Just be glad you weren’t wandering out in the wilderness for forty years. Think things are taking a downturn? Imagine if poisonous snakes came into your house and began biting you and you died.

We have problems. And what do we do when we have problems? We complain. We murmur against God. We ask Him why things are going south. Or we question His providence or His care of us.

That’s what the Israelites did. And that was four thousand years ago. Not much has changed.

But you know what else hasn’t changed? This: God loves the world. God loved the world in this way: He sent His only Son to die for everyone. He sent His only Son so that we may have everything we have.

Everything we have is from Him. The wealthy person may come to the point where they have so much that they think they don’t need God. The poor person who has almost nothing may come to the point where simply getting food is more important to them than God.

Either way, God is not first. In both cases God is supplanted by the things of this world.

God loved the world in this way, He gave His Son. Why did He give His Son? To give us life. Life in body and soul.

So often when life brings us through rough patches in body we lose sight of the blessings to the soul. So many times when we don’t have what we think we need, or even want, for this life we place the things we need for eternity to the side.

And we complain. We question. We search for answers outside of the Word of God and in the work of salvation in God’s only-begotten Son. We too often place our trust in the things of this world. Money. A stable job. Peace of mind. Health. These things aren’t bad. They’re good—they’re blessings from God. But we too often seek them in place of God.

God is our source of life in body and soul. We know that because He has given us His Son. He loved the world in this way, He gave us His very own Son so that we may have life now and forever.

This is why we pray as we do. This is what we prayed moments ago in the Collect: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, Your mercies are new every morning; and though we deserve only punishment, You receive us as Your children and provide for all our needs of body and soul.”

So we prayed that. But how do we live it out? Do we wake up each new day rejoicing that our Heavenly Father’s mercies are new every morning? Or do we grudgingly go into the new day not looking forward to having to work hard, or deal with people that make it hard to be loving to them? Or do we think about all those things we don’t have? Or think about those things we wish were different?

The truth is, we think we deserve a life free from hardship. At least, we think this when we’re going through trials. It doesn’t occur to us in those times that our problems in life are due to sin. We don’t automatically acknowledge that we don’t deserve anything from God. That we in fact deserve only punishment. The last thing we probably think to acknowledge and rejoice in is that instead of punishment our Heavenly Father receives us as His children and provides for all our needs of body and soul.

We need help. That’s why God sent His Son. We need help not just in body but in soul. We need help to pray. The Collect helps us out here by concluding this way: “Grant that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience.”

Just because it doesn’t seem like you need God, doesn’t mean you don’t need Him. If you work hard and have gained much in this life because of it you can easily lose sight of where your blessings come from. Without God you have nothing, in body and soul. Just because you do a lot to provide for yourself doesn’t mean God is out of the picture. He is your Maker and Redeemer, without Him you have nothing.

If you don’t have much in this life you might conclude that God doesn’t provide for you, or at least not much. But rejoice that without much material goods in this life is abundant opportunity to rely on Him for all you need in body and soul.

He has given you life in body and soul. How do you know? He has given you His Son.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. The bronze snake had the form and appearance of the poisonous snakes, just as Jesus was revealed in the form of our sinful flesh. Just as the bronze snake had no poison, so Jesus was without sin. Just as whoever looked at the bronze snake remained alive, so also every sinner that has been poisoned by sin who looks up to Jesus, the one lifted up on the cross, will not perish but have eternal life.

The Israelites were saved in body and soul. Looking to the bronze snake their physical lives were spared, even as they were saved in their souls by the very same God who spared them. God loved them in this way: He gave His only Son to die for their sins. Jesus was lifted up on the cross for the world, including those Israelites. The bronze snake being lifted up pointed to that one who was lifted up in whom we have life in body and soul.

God loved the world in this way. He loves you in this way. He gave His Son. You have life in body and soul, now and forever. Amen.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jesus Preaches Jesus

Third Sunday in Lent
March 15, 2009
John 2:13-22

Every preacher points away from himself. He points to another. At least, every preacher worth his salt. Those who have taken it upon themselves to exalt themselves decided that importance as a preacher had been eclipsed by their importance as savior, or being divine, or something more important than being a mere preacher. We can readily think of examples of men who have done this. Jim Jones, Joseph Smith, David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite. There have been and will be others.

But there’s only one who preached Himself and was not a false teacher. Jesus is the only one who preaches Himself and we don’t say, Where do you get off proclaiming yourself? Every preacher is called to preach Christ. They simply follow in the footsteps of Jesus Himself. Jesus preaches Jesus. Not in the sense of Frank Sinatra, Jr., who performs his father’s songs in “Sinatra Sings Sinatra.”

Jesus preaches Himself in that it is His message He is proclaiming, and the message is also Himself. Preaching is giving people Jesus. When false prophets proclaim themselves they are giving people themselves as their hope. There’s one problem with this. There’s no hope in a Jim Jones or a David Koresh. There’s no hope in any man except the one Man, Jesus Christ.

We preach, because we have nothing to give but Christ. Jesus had Himself to give. That’s why His preaching wasn’t just preaching sermons like we have. He is the sermon. He is the proclamation. Jesus came out of the womb preaching. His cries and His coos in His mother’s arms weren’t His preaching. His very self, His being in the flesh, was His preaching. Jesus doing everything He did was His sermon.

When He comes into the temple, He comes in preaching. It’s not the sermon you generally expect to hear. Or, in this case, see. He doesn’t speak words; at least, not off the bat. But does He preach. Fastening a whip of cords. Driving people out. Pouring out the money. Overturning tables. That’s a sermon you’re not likely to forget. And even though it was action, with a few words, it was preaching—and preaching Himself, at that. Jesus is the Word. He is the Word made flesh. He is God who dwelt among us. He preaches Himself.

He came in preaching against the people there. The money, the sacrifices—the people were placing those things before God. Do we do the same thing? We need money or the church doors will close. We serve on our boards or help out around the church and that makes us feel good. It’s not about the money. This church doesn’t run on money, it is built on the foundation of Christ, which will not fail. Christ didn’t save you so you could feel good. You can’t take the Ten Commandments and go down the list, ticking them off: I haven’t taken the life of anyone unjustly, I haven’t had an actual physical affair, I haven’t actually stolen anything. God didn’t give His commandments so we could put check marks by them and feel good about ourselves, but so that we can live in the way He has called us to live. Not to live for ourselves but in joyful service to others.

It’s not about the money or the good things we do to make us feel good. It’s about Him. When He enters the temple, you find out what the temple is all about. It’s about Him. It’s about Christ and Him crucified. That’s why, when Jesus responds to the protests, His preaching is about that very thing that the Gospel is: Jesus’ death and resurrection. There’s no preaching without that. There’s no preaching if it’s not preaching Jesus. Anyone who is preaching anyone or anything else isn’t preaching what they are called to preach.

Because there is no hope in anything or anyone else. There is hope in Christ. That’s why He came. That’s why He had the audacity to point to Himself. You guys think it’s all about you? You think you have your racket going on here and you’re sitting pretty? You are making a mockery of My Father’s House. His House is not about you, it’s about Me. He has sent Me to save you. You’d rather line your pockets. You’d rather be comfortable in your religion than place all your hope in Me. You want to see a sign? It won’t be in material goods. It will be Me being destroyed on a cross and raised to even greater glory.

There’s your sign. There’s your hope. There’s your sermon. It’s the only one there is. If you ever here another kind you’re not listening to a Christian one. You’re listening to a preacher who would rather point you to himself than to Christ.

Jesus preaches Jesus, and so do we. Does it make any sense to preach anything or anyone else? Do we need Jesus less now that He’s no longer walking on the earth? Don’t we need Him the same? Isn’t that why, even as He came in the flesh for thirty years, He comes even now to us in Baptism and His Holy Supper?

Jesus knows exactly how to preach. We often think of Jesus as a great teacher. He was. But He didn’t come to show us how to live. How to be better people. Live more moral lives. He came to preach. Preach Himself. What this means is what Lutherans love to call Law and Gospel.

When Jesus preaches, He preaches the Law. The people had a good thing going for them. Their religion was working well for them. It was a very practical religion. Some were making good money, selling the animals necessary for the sacrifices. On the other hand the ones who bought the animals had the good feeling of knowing they were abiding by God’s religious codes. Everybody was happy because the sermon they were listening to was one that told them to feel good about themselves. That was their hope.

Jesus preaches to this. He attacks it. This is the Law. He doesn’t tell them to shape up. He drives them out. He pours out their self-righteousness. He overturns their lives. He shakes them up so that they can see that they’ve put a whole bunch of stuff in place of Him. He preaches to them. But not what they want to hear—what they need to hear.

If you want to hear a “practical” sermon, one that tells you how to live your life better, you can hear that anywhere. Other religions are based on that and even secular people can give you a lot of good principles for it. But Jesus knows that you’re sinful to your core so you need something from outside of you to live as God wills for you to live. That something is a someone. And that Someone is Jesus Christ. That’s why Jesus preaches Jesus. That’s why He storms into your life and starts breaking things apart, to make way for Himself. He’s who you need. He’s who He delivers to you. He’s who every sermon that is preached needs to be preaching.

This is the Gospel that He preaches. It is the most practical thing we can receive. The forgiveness of our sins. Reconciliation with God. New life with the opportunity to serve Him and others. Your life is a sermon. When you live and talk with others, you are bringing Christ to them. You receive Him and bring Him to others. You’re all different. You have different experiences, different lifestyles, different incomes. You reach people in different ways. But you’re hearing the same proclamation. You’re receiving the same Jesus who comes to you in the proclamation of the Word. The one who came to you in your Baptism. The one who brings you Himself in His Holy Supper.

Jesus preaches Jesus. You have Him now and forever. Amen.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Salvation from the Grave

Lenten Worship
March-April, 2009
Mark 15:42-47

The center of the Gospel is found in the phrases of the Creed that we are considering this Lent: “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell.” Tonight our focus is on “and was buried.”

Jesus is unique. There is no one else like Him. If you compare anyone to Him you will see that there is no comparison. And yet, when it comes to being laid to rest, you can’t point to Jesus and say, “Here is one more example of His uniqueness, He wasn’t buried. He is God and therefore would not suffer the humility of being buried.” There are actually two people who weren’t buried—Enoch and Elijah.

But not Jesus. He was buried. He was laid to rest like all people who have died normally are. Thus we confess in the Apostles’ Creed that He suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried. But we confess this not only because the Scriptures say He was; not only because it simply is true; we confess it because His burial, while in one sense is the same as everyone else’s, is in another sense unlike everyone else’s. It’s plain why He was buried—He died. The question is, What does it mean for us?

The normal course for humans is to be buried after they die. There are numerous accounts of the saints of the Old Testament dying and being buried. Often it will say that they were gathered to their fathers. But these passages are almost said in passing. The fact is, we spend a lot more time talking about and thinking about life than we do about burial. When a loved one has died we will visit their grave, but we spend much more time going over the memories we have of them while they were with us. It’s the same with Jesus. We don’t spend much time thinking about His burial and what Him being buried means for us.

In His case, as with everything Jesus did, it has everything to do with our salvation. Though we don’t think about it much, burial is a very important part of life. Obviously, it’s not always able to happen. If someone is incinerated in a fire or missing there’s no opportunity to be buried. But throughout the ages, burial has been a common custom for laying a person to rest. There’s a finality about that. As we hear the words spoken over the body at the burial site, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we are very aware of our own mortality. Our Lord created us from the dust and to dust we return.

Our Lord, on the other hand, was not created from the dust. Our Lord, in fact, was not created at all—He is God; begotten of the Father. Yet, He chose to humble Himself to become a man, and a mortal one at that. That’s why you have the amazing thing of the eternal God dying on the cross. And then you have the amazing thing that He is buried. It’s strange to think of God as being buried. And yet, there He is, laid to rest in a tomb.

On the one hand we see the harsh reality of death—Mark tells us plainly that Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ corpse to the tomb. On the other hand we see the honor that we give to a body. Our bodies were created, after all, by God. In the case of Jesus, His body wasn’t created, but He took on human flesh which was honored even in His death.

It wasn’t just honor, though, that brought Jesus to the tomb. It was salvation, salvation from the grave. God gives you salvation from the grave. The grave is not your final resting place. Just as God saves you from sin and hell, He saves you from the grave. You will rest in the grave but not remain there.

How He gives you salvation from the grave is by giving you salvation from His grave. After He died He continued His work for us. Even in the grave He was working salvation for you. By being laid to rest, He consecrated the grave. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” We are saddened at the graves of our loved ones. But for those who died in Christ we also may rejoice at the grave. That is because in Christ the grave does not separate us from God but unites us with Him in glory.

Jesus died, but death could not hold Him. He was buried, but the grave could not hold Him. We sang that in our office hymn: “By the vault whose dark abode, Held in vain the rising God.” Our Psalm for this evening predicts this: “For you will not abandon My soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” (Psalm 16:10) Our bodies will decay in the grave, but not Jesus’ body. Paul proclaims this truth in Acts 13: “He whom God raised up did not see corruption.” The suffering had now ceased. Jesus bore the sin of the world, the guilt before God of every person, the punishment of all, in His suffering and death. Now was the rest. Now was the sanctifying of the grave, preparing the way for you to enter that sleep of death, in which your body will decay in the grave, but be raised up on the Last Day just as Christ’s was on the Third Day.

Centuries before, the prophecy of Isaiah was made of this and now had come to pass: “And they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth.” In the grave He was now through with suffering. He had died, to be sure, but He had accomplished salvation on the cross. In the grave He was preparing the grave for us so that we may not fear it but look forward to it when our Lord deems it time to call us home.

Jesus did not fear the grave. We don’t need to fear it any more than laying down to sleep. The grave was not beneath our Lord. It pleased Him to sanctify the grave so that we may rejoice in the day our Lord calls us to eternal rest. We will enter the grave, but not remain. Our rest and joy will be in heaven. Amen.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Plain Speaking

Second Sunday in Lent
March 8, 2009
Mark 8:27-38

I want to be clear. Dialogue can be beneficial. Having a conversation with someone can be good. But in religion there’s sometimes the kind of dialogue going on that falls under this definition: “an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue, esp. a political or religious issue, with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement.” The spirit of our age says that is what we ought to be doing. But while we should converse with people on religion, it should not be at the cost of compromising the truth of Scripture in order to get along or be in agreement.

The truth of Scripture doesn’t leave room for other points of view. It doesn’t coexist with beliefs of other religions. The truth of Scripture is clear. It’s not open to just any interpretation. It’s stated plainly and the choice is to believe it or reject it.

We all have difficulty with the Scriptures. There are parts that are tough to understand. There are also parts we understand well enough but don’t like what we hear. Mark Twain said, “Many people are bothered by those passages in Scripture which they cannot understand; but as for me, I always noticed that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand.”

This is what is going on with Peter and the other disciples in today’s Gospel reading. There’s a lot of misunderstanding going on with a lot of people. Jesus must be John the Baptist raised from the dead, or Elijah who has come back, or one of the other prophets. But not Peter. Not the disciples. They knew who He was. He was the Christ. The Messiah. The Savior God had sent. They understood exactly what Jesus was telling them about what it meant that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

And that’s where they began having trouble. That’s where they took issue with the Scripture. Where Peter was compelled even to rebuke Jesus, the very Messiah. It wasn’t because they didn’t understand, like so many people of the age. It was because they did. Jesus? Suffer and die? The Messiah? Be beaten and brought down? The Savior God had sent? Have to rise from the grave, meaning that His life would have to come to an end? There’s no way that’s who the Messiah is. That can’t be how God is going to bring about salvation.

But Jesus is clear. He spoke it plainly to them. And Peter is likewise clear. He will not allow it happen. He will not let God do it His way. Because He has his mind set on the things of men, not the things of God.

Peter doesn’t engage in dialogue with Jesus. He doesn’t try to talk Him out of it. He doesn’t ask Him how it is so. He rebukes Jesus. Peter is not interested in diplomacy, he’s intent on what he knows is right. And aren’t we that way also? Even if we may be a little more soft-spoken than Peter was. Even if we don’t always go for the jugular like Peter at times did. Our prayers often are not conversations with God, but laundry lists of what God should do for us. Because we have our minds set on the things of men, not of God.

Jesus is clear. In the water that is connected with His Word, you have Baptism. Not a symbol. Not a ritual. Not a rite of passage. Baptism. New life. A drowning. A union with the crucified Christ, a union with the resurrected Lord. A washing away of your sins. He’s clear. But do you still feel lacking? Do you say, God, where is a miracle when I need one? Why aren’t you taking away the cancer that has infected my mother? Why aren’t you giving me a clear sign as to if I should stay in my current job, risking getting laid off, or quit and take another job, not knowing how stable that will be?

Why are you turning your energies toward all of these things you don’t want to happen when you already know what has happened? You have been Baptized! You are a child of the living God! While you were an enemy of God He reconciled you to Himself. The flow of your life will fluctuate, but you will always be Baptized. Jesus is clear on that. He made a promise to you in your Baptism, and He keeps His promises.

He is clear. In the bread and wine of His Holy Supper, you are given His Body and Blood. You’re not given a reminder of Jesus’ body dying on the cross and His blood being poured out in His suffering. Holy Communion is no mere ritual. It is the Lord’s Supper! You think the Lord is going to invite you to His meal and offer you simply bread and wine? He’s a God who gives! He gives you the whole lot! Not a symbol, His very self. His Body—the very body that hung on the cross. His Blood—the very blood poured out on the cross. He’s clear on that.

But do you say, I’m so glad for this reminder of His love for me? Do you look for something more real in your life? Some physical way of Him touching your life, instead of looking to, and hungering for, His very Supper, His Holy Meal He gives to you?

It’s time to admit that our problem is not so much that we don’t understand, but that we do. And that’s why we’re having the problem. We hear what God is saying, but we don’t want it His way. We’d much rather wade around in dialogue. It sure would be nice if God would provide more spectacular means of forgiving us, helping us, caring for us, than in some water and some bread and wine. It’d be nice if we had something more to go on than a God who is taken out by a bunch of religious leaders and won’t stand up against some Roman soldiers. Be nice to have a God who isn’t so darn clear that it’s all about the cross, and not about us and how we feel, or what we want, or how moral we are, what good people we’ve been being.

Wouldn’t it be nice not to have deny ourselves and take up our cross? Nice not to have to lose our lives as we’d like them to be for the sake of suffering on account of Jesus? Nice not to have to be in the position where we’re made to feel funny for being a Christian, putting Christ before ourselves and feelings? A relief to have enough money to have peace of mind rather than rely solely on Jesus whether we have enough money or not?

Yes, Jesus is all too clear. He’s not interested in dialogue. When met with opposition He doesn’t hold hands with His disciples and sing Kumbaya with them, He rebukes them right back. He gets in their face and tells them what’s what. Maybe that’s what we need—a God who gets in our face. Who speaks plainly, all too clearly. This is My body, this is My blood. You are Baptized. I will suffer and die on the cross. I will rise from the grave. I will save you from your sins—and this is how I’ll do it.

And He did. He did when we were sinners. When we were His enemies. He Baptizes us when we need it. He feeds us with His Body and Blood when we’re helpless and hurting and entrenched in our sins. He can’t be any clearer on that. He saves you because you need it and because He because He loves you unconditionally. Set your mind on the things of God and you will find your dialoguing with others turning into sharing with them what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ. You will find your life enriched not simply with the things of men but with the things of God: forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amen.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Prayer, Meditation, Temptation

First Sunday in Lent
March 1, 2009
Mark 1:9-15

Before you reject me as a heretic, hear me out. Or rather, I should say, hear the Word of God out.

Satan is your teacher. You grow in your faith because this is so. You are able to carry out your call to discipleship because you are taught by Satan.

Luther had a knack for saying things that seem over the top, and this is an example. But if you examine the way the Scriptures speak, you will see that his “over-the-top” statements often are nothing else than driving home what those very Scriptures teach.

I invite you, then, to hear the Word of the Lord. It wasn’t Satan who hoodwinked Jesus into that desert to be tempted by him. It was the Holy Spirit who drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. This is so important for us but we probably don’t realize how much. God wanted Jesus to enter into the struggle of temptation by Satan.

What exactly did God have in mind? Jesus is Baptized, something He didn’t need for Himself. He does this for us. It is God’s anointing Him for His Ministry and as the Savior. What this Ministry is we find out immediately upon His coming out of the water. He is driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit to enter into spiritual warfare with Satan.

Notice He doesn’t “fight back,” so to speak. He uses a weapon, the Word of God. But His battle with Satan is not one in which He is interested in fighting fire with fire. Jesus knows that He will defeat Satan. But more importantly He knows He will do it at the cross. He knows He will defeat Satan by suffering, not by beating Satan down.

While Matthew and Luke tell us exactly those portions of the Word of God Jesus used to respond to Satan’s temptation, Mark doesn’t mention them. But he does tell us what the Word of God was that was spoken to Him right before His temptation in the wilderness. The Father said to Him: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” This is the Word of God that carried Jesus through the temptation in the wilderness.

Because what this is all about is humility. It’s all about receiving. It’s not about glory or power. Satan tempts with those things. God provides for us what we need. Satan places doubt in our minds that God is holding out on us. But this is why Satan is in the mix in your spiritual life. Why he, in fact, is your teacher.

Luther knew a little something about spiritual struggle. Having had been a monk, he had experienced a tradition of spiritual formation which was designed to capture the experience of ecstasy and illumination through union with the glorified Lord Jesus. To reach this goal, a monk ascended in stages, from earth to heaven, from the humanity of Jesus to His divinity. He would read aloud to himself a passage from the Scriptures to stir up emotions, move to heartfelt prayer, and culminate in mental meditation on heavenly things, in the hopes of gaining spiritual illumination.

John Kleinig, a Lutheran professor says this about Luther:
In contrast to this rather manipulative method, Luther proposed an evangelical pattern of spirituality as reception rather than self-promotion. This involved three things: prayer, meditation, and temptation. All three revolved around ongoing, faithful attention to God’s word. The order of the list is significant, for unlike the traditional pattern of devotion, the study of theology begins and ends here on earth. These three terms describe the life of faith as a cycle that begins with prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit, concentrates on the reception of the Holy Spirit through meditation on God’s word, and results in spiritual attack. This in turn leads a person back to further prayer and intensified meditation. Luther, therefore, did not envisage the spiritual life in active terms as a process of self-development but in passive terms as a process of reception from the Triune God. In it self-sufficient individuals became beggars before God.

Satan obviously seeks our destruction. It is not in his enticement or condemnation of us that he is our teacher. Rather, it is his attack upon us. It is actually more, it is an attack on God and His Word. This is what he did to Jesus in the wilderness. It is in temptation that we actually experience the love of God. Otherwise it’s just theoretical knowledge. Or an emotional possession. As long as we are operating by our thoughts or feelings the devil contently sits by. But as soon as we dig into the Word of God the devil mounts severe opposition, stirring up misunderstanding, contradiction, and persecution. This is, as they say, where the rubber hits the road. It’s why Jesus was driven out into the wilderness to be attacked by Satan. It’s why we struggle in our Christian lives.

What does this mean? It means that when God Baptizes you He then drives you out into the wilderness of struggle and temptation, of being attacked by Satan. He does this because when He gives you new life He then sustains you in it and forms you into one who is in union with Christ.

It means that your only hope in temptation is not in coming to terms with it or understanding it or avoiding it but rather prayer and meditation. This will produce more temptation, but it will strengthen you. Dig into the Word of God. Pray the Holy Spirit to guide you. Pray the Holy Spirit to guard you in temptation and drive you further into God’s Word when the struggle is intense. Jesus is God, and yet He didn’t go it alone in the wilderness. Yes, He was alone, but He held on to the Word. He stuck it right back in Satan’s face. He humbly received the serving action of the angels to help Him in His time of trial.

Never think that God has left you in the lurch. As much as Satan will come after you—and he will—God will all the more give you the strength you need. Never underestimate how He does it—through His Word, in your Baptism, in His Holy Supper. The more you seek refuge in these the more you will be attacked, and the more God will strengthen you. Each time you are deterred, tempted—the weakness of the Word of God, the confusion of the Word of God, the unreliability of the Word of God—remind Satan that you are Baptized. You are the beloved son or daughter of God. Rush here to receive the Sacrament, you need the Body and Blood of Christ. Flee to the Word of God.

You will sin. Satan will make you wonder if you are worthy of God’s love. You will experience troubles. The devil will get you to question God’s power and His care for you. But the very weakness of God’s Word is its strength. In it the Holy Spirit will descend upon you and anoint you with His mercy and love. He will drive you back into the wilderness of temptation where He will send His angels to guard you and you will be strengthened. You will see more and more that your life is bound up with Christ; that there is no true joy and solace apart from Him and His Word, Him and your Baptism, Him and His Body and Blood He feeds you with. You will see, and rejoice, that you will be beaten down but always remain in His eternal care. Amen.