Sunday, March 28, 2010

What Do You See?

Palm Sunday
Sunday of the Passion
March 28, 2010
Luke 19:28-40

The whole multitude of His disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen.

On Palm Sunday the people were rejoicing and praising God because of the mighty works of God that they had seen.

If you saw mighty works of God wouldn’t you rejoice also? There are some who don’t believe in God and even if they saw the mighty works of God they wouldn’t rejoice and give Him praise. They’d harden their hearts. Or they’d explain away the mighty works. But they most certainly would not rejoice. Under no circumstance would they give praise to God.

There are some who would come to see that the God of the Bible, the God who has revealed Himself in Jesus, is the true God. And they would rejoice. They would praise Him as the only true God.

Why do we rejoice? Why do we give Him praise? Are we like the people in the Gospel reading in that we have seen the mighty works of God? Or are we unlike them in that we haven’t seen His mighty works? We rejoice as they did, so in that we are like them. As they did we give praise to God. But do we do so despite not having witnessed the mighty works of God? Is it along the lines of what Jesus said to Thomas, because you have seen, you believe—blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe?

Well, yes, it’s along those lines. But there’s something else going on here. We’re not just similar to those people on the first Palm Sunday in that we rejoice in God and give Him praise. It’s not just that we can’t say, Well, we haven’t witnessed the mighty works of God in the Person of Jesus as He walked the roads of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem, so we haven’t seen the mighty works of God in the way they did. What do we see? We know what they saw, the mighty works of God. How about us?

Isn’t one of the problems people have is that there are no mighty works of God to be seen today? There are natural disasters, predators who do heinous things to teenagers, an economy that limps along, wars and rumors of wars. If God is so great why doesn’t He do some of those mighty works so that we can rejoice in Him?

Yes, that’s a problem people have with God. And let me say that I can identify with them. I’d love to see God do some spectacular things in my life so that I’d have no doubt He’s the true God and I’m completely in His care forever. I’d love for Him to step in and remove the struggles from my life.

But is this problem people have, including us at times, a problem with God? Or is it rather a problem with us? It’s a problem we have because we know what we want to see from God and usually that’s not what He shows us. The problem really is with us, not God.

It’s safe to say that the mighty works of God that those people on Palm Sunday saw were not these details Luke recounts in the Gospel reading: He went up to Jerusalem —He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany — He sent two of His disciples — He told them to “go into the village where you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat” — they were to untie it and bring it Jesus — if anyone asked them why they were untying it they were to say that “the Lord has need of it” — they found it just as He had told them — and it all happened just as He told them — they brought it to Jesus — they threw their cloaks on the colt — and they set Jesus on it.

These aren’t mighty works. They’re simple things. The mighty works Jesus had been doing were the miracles, the healings, the raising people from the dead, the powerful preaching. But what would happen in only a few days? He would be delivered over. He would be beaten and crucified. There would be no rejoicing in or praising of God.

But could it be that the people were looking for the wrong thing? Or, maybe the right thing for the wrong reason. Perhaps the things Luke tells us about in the Gospel reading, that Jesus did on Palm Sunday, were the mighty works of God. It’s easy to miss them because they don’t seem mighty. They seem simple, almost ordinary. Jesus very well could have set it all up beforehand with the owner of the colt, so that there was nothing really spectacular in the owner saying what Jesus said He would say. And Him riding in on a donkey isn’t the most grand way to enter into a city.

The thing they really needed to see in order that they might rejoice and give praise to God was the thing they despaired of: Jesus being tormented and hanging on a cross. Jesus in weakness and saturated with the sin of the world.

What about you? What do you see? Do you see the mighty works of God in your life? Let me suggest that you do. Jesus’ words to Thomas—blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe—apply to you, but even though you haven’t stood before Him as Thomas did, and put your fingers in His hands and side as he did, you do see the mighty works of God. The reason you rejoice and praise God is because of what you see, not simply that you go through life holding out hope that in heaven you’ll finally be vindicated that it was all true after all.

The mighty works God does in your life are just like those He did when Jesus walked the roads of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. They’re just like them because they’re not always spectacular. In fact, most of the things were far from eye-catching. Most of them were mundane. Ordinary. Simple.

Just like today. He takes water, something you and I make use of every day, and does the mighty work of saving you and forgiving you all of your sins. He takes bread and wine, things you can get at any store, and brings about the mighty work of giving you in that bread and wine His body and blood.

What do you see? Do you see these things? Well, no, in that you can’t see your sins being forgiven. You can’t see yourself being united with Christ in Baptism. You can’t actually see the body and blood of Christ in His Holy Supper. But when you witness a Baptism, you see the mighty works of God, it just looks like an ordinary thing, much like Jesus sending His disciples to get a colt. When you witness and participate in Holy Communion you see the mighty works of God, it just looks like a very simple meal, much like Jesus having a colt brought to Him and His disciples putting their cloaks on it.

What do you see? As you enter into this Holy Week, do you see God as far removed, or do you see the God who comes to you in this place, at this altar, from this pulpit, at this font? Do you see the God who does mighty works through ordinary things like words and water and bread and wine? Do you see what those people back then saw? Yes, you do, because that’s what God shows you. That’s how He does His mighty works.

Jesus Himself is the preeminent mighty work of God. Jesus in the flesh, walking those roads of ancient provinces and cities. Jesus, sitting on a donkey entering one of those cities. Jesus, turning His cheek to be struck one more time. Offering up prayers of forgiveness for His persecutors. Jesus humbly and in weakness enduring the scorn of sinners and suffering for their guilt and sin. This is the Mighty Work of God, Jesus in the flesh, suffering for the sin of the world on the cross.

This is what you see. The world will not see it. Your sinful flesh will try to blind the eyes of your faith so that you can’t see it. You will constantly be tempted to look elsewhere so that you can see something more spectacular. Something God would really do! But you will never see it. You will look in vain.

It is only in Christ that you will see the mighty works of God. Only in Him you will rejoice and give praise to God. This Holy Week, look nowhere else. Look no further than this altar where He gives you His Body and Blood. Look no further than this pulpit where He forgives your sins in the proclamation of His Gospel. Look no further than the font where you were brought into the eternal Kingdom of the God who does mighty works. It is only in these things you will see who the God is who does mighty works. Who takes simple things and does mighty things. Eternal things. Forgiving you, loving you, saving you.

What do you see? Christ. Now as in a mirror dimly, then face to face. Amen.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Only God I Know

Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 21, 2010
Luke 20:9-20

The only God I know is surrounded by the smell and noise and droppings of animals in a dank cave. Held in the arms of a loving mother and father in a humble setting just outside a little town known as Bethlehem. The only God I know is surrounded by wealthy men who bow before Him. Even though He’s a baby and makes only cooing and gurgling sounds, not knowing who is giving Him gifts and honor.

The only God I know is the one hanging out with the religious leaders in the temple asking them questions. The only God I know is the one who went to school and went down to the creek with His friends and ate dinner with His family.

The only God I know is the one who should have been Baptizing sinners left and right but instead commanded that He Himself should be Baptized. The only God I know is the God who is one and yet revealed in three Persons. Standing in the Jordan with water flowing down His face and God the Holy Spirit alighting on Him as a dove. Eyes lifted to heaven where His Heavenly Father speaks the words that He is the One.

The only God. He’s the only God I know. I know because God the Father has told me so. Because the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and no one else. The one who healed many and also took the time to heal just one. The only God I know is the one who didn’t gather an army but some fishermen and a few other guys, including one who didn’t turn out the way you’d expect him to when God is calling the shots.

But this is the only God I know. The one who is willing even to call Judas. The one who took time out, who needed time, to pray to His Heavenly Father. This is the God I know. The one who was, who needed to be, ministered to by angels. God. Needing angels. Needing help, needing strength.

This is the God I know. He’s the only God I know because He’s the only God who hasn’t remained ‘up there’, or wherever else a god might be, but has come down to me.

No, I haven’t seen Him. I didn’t see Him as the apostles and many others did while He walked the earth. But He’s the God I know. He’s the only one I know. And I know just as they did. I know Him as the God who is a man and became a man in order to come to us, human beings who need a God, who need a Savior.

The only God I know is the God who is that God, is that Savior. Because though He didn’t come to me the other day where I was working, He has come to me in my life and still does. The only God I know is the God who came to me in my Baptism. He knows all about Baptism, He Himself was Baptized. He knows all about what we need because He needed it too.

The only God I know is the God who needed what we do because He chose not just to come to us but to take our place. That’s how I know He’s the only God. What other God can you point to and say, I know He’s God because He actually saved me? He actually did what was needed in order to save me?

There is no other God. Ask anyone who has any other god what their god does to save them. They will show you in their response that their god cannot be truly God because he doesn’t do everything needed to save sinners.

The only God I know does. The only God I know is the one hanging on the cross. Bloodied and beaten. Stricken and smitten. Flesh ripped open, head dug into by piercing thorns. The only God I know was bleeding from torture, from punishment designed for criminals. But the only God I know suffered not as a gesture of enduring harsh pain and agony. The only God I know was stricken by God Himself. Forsaken by the Father. His righteous wrath poured out on Him.

The only God I know is the one who has done it all. Other gods will show you the way. They will teach and affirm and exhort and help and encourage and many many good worthwhile things. But none of those things are what the only God there is would really do. The true God would never just show the way. The only God there is must be the way.

The only God I know is the Way. He is the Truth and the Life. The only God I know points the way and then shows that He is indeed, Himself, the Way. The only God is compassion and help and guidance and all those wonderful things we need. But the only God I know doesn’t just point or help. He does. He is. He is the only God. He Himself saves us.

The only God I know doesn’t play games. He doesn’t tell us He loves us just so we’ll feel better. He slams us into the wall of the Ten Commandments. Think you need help? No, you need salvation. Think you need to improve? You need perfection.

These are things you can’t do. He can. He’s the only God. He’s the only one who does them. He’s the only God I know and the only God I need.

He’s not the only God I know because I was raised in a Christian home and have been in His House for worship most every Sunday of my life. He’s the only God I know because He’s the only one who has called me into eternal life, actually bringing me into it. Not just inviting me or showing me the way. Saving me. Doing what is needed to save me.

Some of you here are like me, you’ve always known Him because you were raised knowing Him. Some of you came to know Him later on in life. But no matter who you are or how long you’ve known Him, you can know Him as the only God you know. He’s the only God and when He is your God He’s the only God you know.

Because He’s the only God He’s a stumbling block. When I’m at my wit’s end, how does the God lying in a manger in a stable help me out? When I’m caught in the cross fire of my warring relatives, how does a little boy shooting the theological breeze help me restore the peace with my loved ones?

How, really, does an All-Powerful, eternal, omniscient God help me when He’s hanging helplessly on a cross? How is it comforting and strengthening that the only God is weak and dying and finally ends up dying on the cross?

When you want tangible evidence that He’s with you, that He’s your God, that He is powerful and loving to save you, to help you, to comfort and strengthen you, what kind of God is it who says that He’s the one who was a baby, who called a bunch of guys that even He had a hard time getting through to, who meekly stood before His oppressors, who even now stands in glory with scars on His hands, His feet, and His side?

Read the Gospel reading again. His people will keep questioning Him. They’ll keep throwing everything they have at Him. They’ll abuse Him, use Him, and throw Him under the bus. But He’s the only God we know. He’s the only God and is therefore true to Himself. He will never give up on us. He’ll keep coming back at us with love and compassion and mercy. He’ll keep coming to us in His only-begotten Son in the flesh—in our Baptism, in the pronouncement of His Holy Absolution, in His Holy Supper.

The only God we know is the one who is found in a piece of bread and a sip of wine. The only God we need is the one who happily is speaking when His servant pronounces to us that in His stead and by His command all our sins are forgiven in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The only God who can help us and save us is the one who has when He came to us, forgave us, joined us to Himself in our Baptism.

The only God we know is the one we won’t simply know when we are face to face with Him in His glory in heaven. The only God we know is the one we know now. Out of the humble context of a stable and long journeys on dusty roads and sticking with dense apostles and walking the path to the cross the only God we know comes into the humble circumstances of our lives, using ordinary water and words and bread and wine to give us the only thing we truly need: Himself. The only God we know. The God who is not simply the only true God but the only God we know. Amen.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

More Than Enough

Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 14, 2010
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough…

With God it’s never just enough. There’s always more than enough. He doesn’t give to us only so that we can just get by. He doesn’t invite us to pick and choose from His blessings but to receive all the vaults of His glory and gifts.

Maybe it’s only when we come to our senses that we begin to see that more than enough is better than what we have. Maybe it’s only when we’ve hit rock bottom that we come to realize that a little from God is manifold wealth compared to what we have on our own.

The son who wanted more than he could ever dream of lost it all. The funny thing is he had already had more than he could ever imagine, he just didn’t realize it. On his own he lost it all and now saw that he had nothing.

With nothing he also saw that his father’s servants had more than enough. They in fact had it made compared to him. They in fact had it better than he had ever realized they had when he was living in the palatial estate of his father.

He no longer deserved to live as a son but he’d have it made as a servant. It’s amazing how differently you understand things when you see them from a different perspective. Maybe God knows what He’s talking about when He tells us we have nothing without Him. We just don’t see it until we see it from a different perspective.

So let’s try seeing it from a different perspective. Let’s look at our lives through the eyes of that young brat, um, I mean the young son of the fabulously wealthy father.

He decided that enough was enough and needed to strike out on his own. If anything, his pop was holding him back. He needed adventure. Thrills. Freedom.

He didn’t need his dad. He needed his money though, so Dad, just give me my inheritance and I’ll be on my way. I want what’s mine, so just give it to me early and I’ll be out of your hair.

What this young punk walked away with was a lot of money that you and I would say, that guy’s got it made. He has more than he’ll ever need. He’s set for the rest of his life. People may wonder, how much was it? It doesn’t matter. It was more than this young punk knew what to do with. How many times have we heard of fabulously wealthy people who ended up losing it all because they couldn’t control their money and their desires?

So when this young dude lost it all he realized not only how much he had had when he was living with pop, but how much his father’s servants had living with pop. Now this young man had perspective. Now he had wisdom. Now he had come to his senses. He realized what his father had realized all along: that he was nothing without his father. That doesn’t mean that his father was going to keep him holed up in his mansion his whole life. It meant that his father would provide for him for all that he needed. He would raise him, care for him, love him.

But this also meant he would let him go if his son wanted to be let go. It’s only when the boy was out on his own that he realized he needed his father. Even if his father would now be his master, and he his father’s servant. He’d still have it made. He’d be living in the lap of luxury because he would be benefitting from his father’s generous portions to all who were part of the estate, family and servants alike.

There’s another perspective we should see also, and that is the father’s perspective in the first place. He knew what his young son didn’t know. He knew that his son had more than he could ever hope for or imagine but took it for granted. But he didn’t force it upon his son. He simply gave it to him and let him go if that was his desire.

The father’s love is so great that it never forces itself upon someone else. Even someone he loves so deeply as his own son. This is the true and abiding love the father has for his son. It doesn’t keep tabs. It is not only fabulously wealthy but manifestly generous. The father is merciful to his son, welcoming him back in a heartbeat. He won’t have any of his son’s talk of being a servant. He’s his son. All that he has he gives to his son.

It’s at this point that one lesson has been learned. It was learned the hard way, but it was learned. But it’s at this very point that the very same lesson is not learned by another person. He’s also a son. The older son of the father can’t get his head around what just happened. He’s having a hard time subduing his bitterness.

I’ve been here all along. I’ve toiled and slaved. I’ve been faithful to you and have given you my best, and this pathetic excuse for a brother runs off to throw away all your hard-earned money. And what does he get for it? A huge party! He gets off scot-free. He’s back in the household as if he’d never left. He’s back as if he were the one who gave you the best years of his young life when in fact he hardly did any work around here at all. It’s me who should be getting the glory.

Sadly, it’s the older brother who doesn’t see at all who is father is, what he, as his father’s son, has. He does not see things from the perspective of his younger brother because he hasn’t seen the other side. He sees only himself and what he brings to the table rather than the love and wealth his father lavishes on him. What does his father say to him? “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” The younger brother finally realized that his father’s servants had more than enough and now their father was trying to exhort his older son to see that, Son, all that is mine is yours.

But what did the older brother want? A goat. He wanted a party. He wanted his father to treat him to some nice gestures of reward for the hard work and labor he had provided for his father. But nope, nothing. The younger brother gets it all. And for what? For blowing all his dad’s money on fun and adventure. The younger brother realized that even the servants had more than enough whereas the older brother can’t even see that he already has more than he could ever imagine or hope for. He doesn’t see that a little party for him and his friends doesn’t compare to all that His father has provided him.

He doesn’t see that his father is not content to give just enough. Or not even just more than enough. It has to be everything. He gives it all. All that is mine is yours.

And if you and I haven’t yet seen the way God sees us from His perspective then take one more look. We haven’t talked about Him yet, but He’s there in the Gospel reading. He’s the one telling the parable. Jesus embodies the words the father speaks in the parable: “all that is Mine is yours.” What is God the Father’s is His own Son. And He gives Him to us. The Father gives His own Son so that we may have more than just enough. More than even just more than enough. More than we could ever imagine. More than we could ever hope for. More than we could ask for and certainly more than we deserve.

The incomparable love God has for His Son is love that shines through even when He gives His own Son over; Jesus becoming destitute; wallowing in the slop of our sin and guilt; hitting rock bottom, weighted down with the punishment we deserve; suffering on the cross so that we may enjoy the palatial estates of heaven for eternity.

You are with God the Father forever. You are His sons and daughters. All that He has is yours. What He gives you is never just enough. It’s always more than enough. All that is His is yours. Now you know what Jesus means when He says, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Amen.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Face Suffering with Humility

Third Sunday in Lent
Perpetua and Felicitas, Martyrs
March 7, 2010
Luke 13:1-9

When is a bad thing a good thing? The answer is when God gets involved. We should give thanks that He does. Because that’s the complaint, isn’t it? That’s the question we all have, isn’t it? Where is God? Why doesn’t He get involved when the horrifying earthquake hits Haiti or Chile? Why does He allow me to suffer when I do? Why is He not preventing the cancer from spreading in my body? Why has He allowed my child to be taken away from me rather than to be able to live a long and fulfilling life?

We often stand speechless before terrifying natural disasters that claim life and a peaceful comfortable life. We often wonder what God is telling us or where He is at all when we endure suffering in our personal lives.

We look at suffering, whether it is that of others or what we ourselves endure, as a bad thing. And that’s not entirely wrong. When God created the universe there was no suffering. There was no sin, no evil. But the Fall into sin changed all that. From the Fall proceeded more sin, death, and suffering. Suffering isn’t supposed to be part of this world and we know it. But neither is our sin. And yet we continue to sin.

This is the point Jesus wishes to make. We come to the question of suffering from an arrogant standpoint. Why should we have to suffer? But Jesus takes an entirely different approach. His approach to suffering is humility. We should not question why we suffer so much as we should marvel that though we deserve worse God spares us from it. We should not question God in the midst of suffering so much as we should humble ourselves before Him and thank Him for His mercy to us.

Because Jesus doesn’t do the kind of thing where if you suffer it’s because, frankly, you deserve it. No, that’s what we do. If that person we don’t like goes through the mill, well, he got what was coming to him. Or we pity the person who is a good person because no one deserves to suffer in the way they have.

All of this is arrogance. Nowhere in here is humility and a realization that we don’t even deserve to be here being able to talk about this stuff. We simply deserve hell. By rights we should be eternally separated from God Almighty.

Our Lord, however, has abiding humility. He steps aside from His glory to make known to us our plight. He calls us to repentance. He warns us so that we do not in fact end up in hell forever.

Hell doesn’t seem as real to us as people who are murdered in their place of worship and their blood mixed with their sacrifices. Eternal damnation doesn’t appear as relevant as a tower falling on people who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Being separated from God doesn’t seem as pressing a matter as a powerful earthquake that strikes a third world country and causes untold devastation and agony. Never being in the eternal glory of heaven seems a distant concern when we’re facing the news that the cancer is progressing rapidly and that nothing can be done but wait.

The problem isn’t really that we’re arrogant. We don’t stroll into this discussion, and into our facing of suffering, with an arrogant mindset. No, the problem is that we are simply turned in on ourselves. The problem is that our sinful nature is so tightly wrapped around our lives that we can’t see things any other way than the way we do; which is that we have to know why this is happening to us. Why it has to happen to all those poor innocent people in those third world countries. This is arrogance even though we don’t intend it to be so. It is arrogance simply because it is not humility.

Our first reaction is not to repent. Who are we kidding, our second reaction isn’t even to repent. Do we even ever come to the point where in our suffering or in observing that of others that we simply repent? That we see that there is far worse for us to be concerned about than anything we endure in this life? That there is a far greater concern we have than anything we face here on earth?

Repentance puts a whole new perspective on suffering. It allows us to face suffering with humility. Repentance and humility in no way make enduring suffering easier. They certainly don’t minimize suffering.

What they do is help us see suffering the way God does. What they do is help us face suffering the way God does.

And what is that way? It is the way of seeing Christ in the midst of suffering. It is the way of looking to Jesus and His suffering on the cross. It is the way in which we see that humility is the only way to truly endure suffering because then you are not consumed with yourself but rather what God would have for you. Rather than questioning and wondering and agonizing, to be at peace knowing that God can do much more for you and through you through suffering than if you breezed through life with no thought of Him or the glory He has prepared for you eternally.

In humility we see suffering through new eyes. Instead of wondering where God is we see Him more clearly than ever. Instead of questioning His love and care we know more powerfully than ever that His love and care are never greater than when we are suffering. Your physical eyes will never see this. They will only see pain and turmoil and plainly a God who is not powerful or loving enough to keep you from suffering. Your sinful flesh will never see this because it will only see itself and how you deserve better from God than the suffering you endure.

But that is why Jesus faces suffering with humility and calls upon us to do so. It is only in humility that we can see Him in suffering. He is who we need to see. He is our only hope in suffering. It is only in looking to the cross that we can see our need for repentance when we are at our weakest. When we are most in pain and despondent. Why do we think we are going through anything we don’t deserve? Why are we so arrogant as to think that God does not care or doesn’t understand? Jesus endured suffering on the cross beyond what we can imagine or even describe.

It wasn’t simply physical pain and torture He endured. He suffered what we deserve. Our sins were laid on Him. He was inflicted with our guilt. He was hit with the holy wrath against sinners. He suffered in our place. Nothing compares with that. No suffering. No love. No thing can come between that kind of love and us. Not suffering. Not our sin. Not our guilt. Not even our arrogance at continuing to question God when we face suffering.

So face it with humility. Tell Him what you feel, there’s nothing that says you have to hold it all in. But be humble. Accept that He’s God and you’re not. Thank Him that He’s God and you’re not. Thank Him that when it comes to suffering He knows quite a bit more about it than you do because He endured quite a bit more of it than you could ever imagine.

Then ask Him to get you through. You know you can’t. He knows you can’t either. That’s why He sent His Son. That’s why Christ went to the cross. That’s why you are Baptized. You may suffer, but you are forever Baptized. Forever God’s own child and heir. Forever His son or daughter. Forever in His care. It’s why you partake of the Body of Christ that was delivered up on the cross. Why you drink of the Blood of Christ that was shed on the cross for the forgiveness of all of your sins. Why in true joy you can daily repent and receive the eternal Absolution of all of your sins. Why even in suffering you can give thanks that God would love you in such a way as not to let you breeze through life where you would be content with yourself and your easy life and your sinful flesh. Why in suffering you have the opportunity to see what He sees: yourself, a sinner who needs to repent and yet emerges stronger through the trials.

Just think about what tremendous help you can be to others who are facing suffering only with their own arrogance and sin and guilt and questioning of God. Just think about what opportunities you have to rejoice when you see that God has blessings that are so far beyond comparison to any suffering you endure. Just think of what you see in suffering that you otherwise would not have seen: that Christ has gone before you to endure what you can never imagine, that He goes with you as you face the trials and struggles of life, and goes beyond what you can see to have prepared a place for you in the eternal peace and joy of heaven. Amen.