Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Seed Is the Word, the Word Is for All

January 31, 2016

Think about the many people who were there when Jesus was hanging on the cross. Two of them were right next to Him. Several of them were below Him, the Roman soldiers overseeing the crucifixion. Some were bystanders. Some of the disciples were watching from a distance. His own mother was there, watching her Son die.

All of these people were witnessing something that was part of society in the Roman Empire at that time. And yet, they were witnessing something that was unlike anything else that had ever happened. They didn’t fully realize it at the time. What was going through the minds of the people who were there? One of the criminals being crucified with Jesus was beginning to see that Jesus wasn’t a criminal. He asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His Kingdom. One of the Roman soldiers ended up seeing in Jesus the Son of God.

The religious leaders saw in Jesus their enemy finally coming to a just end. They continued in their mockery of Him. Many of the soldiers saw Jesus as just another criminal, one who deserved crucifixion like all the rest. Some of the bystanders mocked Him, some realized there was something different about Him, some were there just to see a crucifixion.

Then there were the disciples. They should have known that this is what Jesus had chosen; that He knew this had been coming; that He was willingly laying down His life. Instead, as they watched Jesus die, they were seeing all their hopes die with Him. They were wondering how it had all gone so terribly wrong.

All of these people were seeing the same thing. They had different feelings about it and different reactions to it. None of them fully understood what was going on. But this one event changed the world regardless of what people believe about it. To grasp the crucifixion of Jesus as more than just an event in the past we must see it through the mind of one other person who was there, and that was Jesus Himself.

What was going through His mind as He was suffering and dying on the cross? He had indeed known it was all coming down to this. It was now here. What thoughts flowed through His mind now that He was actually on the cross, dying as He had known He would?

The Holy Spirit has inspired the Word of God to be written down for us and so we can know what Jesus was thinking at the moment when He was suffering and dying on the cross.

When one of the criminals beside Him was reviling Him, did Jesus think, “You deserve this. You have no idea that I’m suffering unjustly”? When the criminal who asked Him to remember him in His Kingdom, did Jesus say, “You’ve got a lot of nerve to request that of Me, I think I’ll leave you to your doom, which is what you deserve”?

Did Jesus return the reviling of the religious leaders upon them, telling them that they were the ones who deserved to be here whereas He deserved honor and worship? Did He condemn the soldier who now saw Him as the Son of God as a hypocrite? Did He shake His head at His disciples as they continued to not get it and finally give up hope in them since they were too dense to be faithful disciples?

Did Jesus, now that He was actually bearing the sin and the guilt of the world, finally see that it wasn’t worth it? That so many people willfully sinning, so many people seeking the things of the world over against the true God, were not deserving of such a sacrifice as to take away every single sin? Did Jesus begin revising His method and offer His sacrifice only for those who actually got it, who actually put their hope in Him no matter what?

Did Jesus recoil in horror at the action of His dear Heavenly Father who was now forsaking Him? Did He begin to descend into despair at the prospect that Satan appeared to be victorious? Was He seriously contemplating the very doable action of coming down from the cross as the religious leaders chided Him to do?
All of these were temptations. Satan had tempted Jesus before and Jesus retorted with the Scriptures. Jesus was being tempted on the cross to the extreme. But there was no wavering. We see Jesus going once again to the Scriptures in His time on the cross suffering. Every word He uttered was a trusting and confident prayer to His Father in heaven. Everything Jesus had been preparing for was now coming about, He was taking upon Himself every sin of every person of every time and place.

Nobody else there saw this. But He knew this was happening. The Holy Spirit has given us this clear proclamation that God Himself in the flesh was suffering so that we human beings would not suffer eternally. In His agony Jesus knew this. It was crystal clear. The salvation He was accomplishing was not for a few. It wasn’t only for certain people. It was not for those who followed Him or who were good, decent people. It was not for those who were poor or downtrodden. It wasn’t just for those who didn’t know better.

He was suffering and dying for every single person. We know clearly what was happening when Jesus was dying on the cross even though those who were there saw in a glass dimly. Many today see in the crucifixion nothing more than an event in the past. They don’t believe what was actually happening. If you were to think about how salvation would be accomplished you probably wouldn’t think of it being accomplished through suffering and death. But God knows that this is the only way.

In the Gospel reading Jesus says that a sower sowed his seed. When a seed is planted in the ground it is no longer seen. But there is something going on in the ground as that seed is nourished by nutrients and water. The seed is only temporary. Something happens to it and that something is that it dies. The seed is no longer a seed, it becomes a plant and grows and flourishes.

Jesus knew He was going to the cross to die. There’s no plant unless the seed dies. There’s no salvation unless Christ dies. Jesus is the Word made flesh. He says in the Gospel reading that the seed the sower sows is the Word of God. The very Word God sent to the world is His Son Jesus Christ. The Word made flesh suffered and died on the cross.

The Word made flesh was not garnering forgiveness and salvation for only some. This was the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world. The sower in the Gospel reading didn’t pick and choose which types of soil to sow the seed in. He sowed it in all types of soil. Every person is who God wants to save. Jesus died for everyone.

Jesus wasn’t disgusted with the fact that most everyone who was there as He was dying wasn’t understanding what He was doing. He was joyful that He was doing it for them. He was joyful that He was dying for us and every person.

The seed is the Word of God and the Word of God goes to everyone. We don’t need to determine who is ready for it or not. We don’t need to wonder if they are able to understand it or not. We don’t need to discount people who are hostile to God and His Word.

The Church is the place where the Gospel rings forth. The Church is the place where the Gospel forgives people. The Church is the place where the Gospel equips the people of God to go out into the world to tell people of the one who died on the cross for every single person. They may not get it. They may be hostile. They may despair. But they need the Gospel and so we the people of God bring them the Gospel.

Jesus has not set up salvation as a club that is only for some people. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Something happens to you in Baptism that is unseen. You die. When a seed dies, new life comes forth and flourishes. When you die in Baptism you are brought forth to new life and you flourish as you are nourished by the Gospel, hearing it and eating and drinking it.

Isn’t it amazing that when Jesus wants to show us what His Kingdom, His salvation, His grace is like He says it’s like a sower sowing seed? It doesn’t seem like much, and maybe that’s because it isn’t much. What happened to you is what happened to Jesus. You died in Baptism into His death and were raised in Baptism into His resurrection. You hear the Gospel, the proclamation of the suffering and death of Jesus for all of your sins. You eat the very body of Christ given into death and drink the very blood of Christ shed on the cross. The seed is the Word and the Word is for all people. As a seed dies and brings forth life, so Jesus died and brought forth life for all. It doesn’t seem like much, but then, that’s the point. Amen.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Kingdom of Heaven is like… a Transaction?

Commemoration of Timothy, Pastor and Confessor
January 1724 2016
Matthew 20:1–16
For a Lutheran, it just doesn’t seem right. Jesus tells a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven but it seems the opposite of what we’re constantly saying, salvation is by grace alone. The Kingdom of Heaven is supposed to be about a man who gives everything to those who are undeserving. It’s not supposed to be about someone making a contract with people, where they do the work and he pays them. The Kingdom of Heaven is supposed to be the opposite of a transaction.

But here it is, Jesus Himself giving us this parable in which He seems to be very unLutheran in telling us about God’s eternal Kingdom. What are we to make of this strange parable where the ones who work the whole day get exactly what they agreed to get and the ones who worked only an hour get the same amount as the first guys?

Well, the beauty of a Lutheran understanding of the Scriptures is that it is Lutheran precisely because it takes the words of God as what they are. Lutherans have no need to contort Scripture passages to fit into some sort of Lutheran box. The Scriptures are the Word of God and are the Word of God as a whole. It all fits together. It all interprets itself.

So Jesus isn’t saying here, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like you working and God giving you salvation in return.” What Jesus is doing is showing what the rest of Scripture teaches: the Kingdom of Heaven is given purely by grace. There is a transaction going on in the parable, but to equate that with how you get to heaven misses the point of the parable as well as the rest of Scripture.

What Jesus is inviting us to see here is the grace, the generosity, and even the craziness of what God does. When we see that we begin to see that the Kingdom of Heaven is unlike anything we would imagine. Certainly not anything we could work for or earn.

So what is Jesus doing with this transaction? He is making an assault on our natural tendency to want to earn God’s blessings. If you work hard, you should get more than the lazy bum. If you are a good person you deserve more than the person who doesn’t care much at all about others. But that those who were hired first grumbled when those hired last got exactly the same shows that we just don’t get this whole grace thing.

What does Jesus say to one of the guys who was grumbling? “Is your eye envious because I am generous?” As the people of God we prayed in the Introit, “You save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.” There is no room in the Kingdom of Heaven for earning salvation. Only humility; the recognition that we don’t deserve anything from God. He saves a humble people.

But God loves irony. And I suspect that’s one of the reasons He gave us this parable. It’s not always easy wading into the Scriptures. The Word of God is challenging. In showing us that we cannot earn salvation, that we cannot enter into a transaction with God in order to gain eternal life, God shows us in a twist of irony that His saving us comes about through a transaction.

It works this way. We have not loved God with our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We are born in sin and we continue right along in that sin. We despise the grace of God in our continued sinning. We deserve temporal and eternal punishment. But in His grace He doesn’t enter into a transaction with us. In His eternal grace and love He gives His Son. Jesus takes on the transaction.

He lived life without sin. He lived in compliance with God’s holy will. He had no guilt. This is what God demands and is what Jesus fulfilled. He did this for us. We could not do it, He did this in our place.

He also suffered in our place. He bore our sin, our guilt, our punishment. What we deserve is not reward, what we deserve is eternal damnation. Jesus bore that in our place. The great Transaction of God is that He poured out His wrath on His Son and gave to us full and free forgiveness.

The prayer we prayed in the Collect captures this perfectly and simply: “O Lord, graciously hear the prayers of Your people that we who justly suffer the consequence of our sin may be mercifully delivered by Your goodness to the glory of Your name.” It is all grace. It is all one-sided. He gives, we receive. He forgives, we are free. He loves, we are His children. He saves us, we are given the Kingdom of Heaven.

What the first workers failed to see is that the master who gave them opportunity to work was giving them what they wanted and what they needed. Instead, they looked beyond what they agreed to and desired more. If the master chooses to give to others as he wishes, they should be happy for them. Grace received does not begrudge grace given to others.

We who are given the Kingdom of Heaven, who are given full and free salvation, should see not drudgery in living as Christians, but opportunity. We should see not unfairness, but grace upon grace. If you are a Christian your whole life and there is someone who lives a life causing misery to others, but they repent and are saved toward the end of their life, should you not rejoice with the angels in heaven? Should you not rejoice that God has given you manifold blessings in saving you in the waters of Baptism and nurturing you and strengthening you in the Gospel proclamation and the receiving often of the Holy Sacrament?

Living as a Christian should not be drudgery but joy. Bearing the burden of the day and the scorching heat of being a Christian should not be seen as a negative but an amazing blessing. If you were not a Christian you would need to be saved. But being a Christian you have a blessed opportunity and calling to share the Good News of Christ with others so that they may share in the grace and the love and the craziness of a God who loves to give to those who don’t deserve it.

Don’t let your eye be haughty. Don’t be envious of others. Rejoice in what they are given by God, because it is the very same undeserved grace and mercy and crazy forgiveness you have been given. Don’t look around at what others have and wonder at the unfairness of it all. Look at the one who willingly and humbly made a transaction not for Himself but for you. Let your eye look time and time again to the place where your salvation was secured, on the mount of Calvary, where God the Father poured out His full wrath justly toward sinners but squarely upon His beloved Son.

Since He paid the price, you have been given the vaults of heaven. Since He paid the penalty, you have been given a new lease on life. There’s no hidden fees, no contractual obligations. It’s all grace. Now you can see life through the eyes of one who was at the back of the line being brought up to the front. New opportunities are everywhere.

He calls you to live in humbly serving others. Telling others of this good news that you have received which is also for them. Seeing that since you have been given the Kingdom of God, it is not drudgery but joy to serve God with your time, talents, and treasure. If it’s a drudgery you’re missing the point. If it’s a transaction, you’re missing the point.

But if it’s grace—if it’s Christ accomplishing all and you receiving all—well, then you have a parable that surprises you not because of its strangeness but its pure, unalloyed, and even crazy grace. Amen.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

There Is Only One

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Last Sunday After the Epiphany
January 17, 2016
Matthew 17:1–9
First, we must come to terms with which Jesus you are going to seek. The one Peter thought was great was the one shining brightly and gloriously. The one in holy conversation with the great prophets of old, Moses and Elijah. The one who took no small effort to bring them up a high mountain. The one who obviously wanted them to share in the splendor that is Jesus Christ; radiant, brilliant.

Yes, this is the Jesus Peter chose. There was only one Jesus for him, and it was not the one who had led them up the mountain. It was the one who was revealing Himself in His true glory now that He was on the mountain. This is the Jesus Peter wanted. It’s too bad the other apostles wouldn’t get to see it, but, Jesus, let’s hang out together here for, oh, forever, just us three with you and Moses and Elijah. It’s perfect. The Jesus who shows Himself for who He really is.

But Jesus tips His hand at the end. Don’t tell anyone about this until later. This was a glimpse. This wasn’t what was meant to be here in this life. So He brought them again down the mountain and He went back to being ordinary-looking Jesus. The Jesus who looked and talked like they did. Sure, He was still healing and preaching, but nothing could compare with that glorious sight on the mountain. That’s the Jesus Peter wanted.

Which would you rather have, the Jesus who is around you all the time, looking a lot like He’s part of the crowd, or the Jesus who will take you from the ordinariness of life and reveal Himself to you in all His splendor? Up on the mountain, there were no problems. Just magnificent Jesus with Moses and Elijah and brilliant radiance. Of course Peter wanted to stay.

But Jesus wasn’t transfigured to show us who He ‘really’ is. This was a glimpse. Jesus was transfigured for another reason, which we’ll get to in a moment. The Jesus we want is the Jesus we don’t need. The Jesus we need is the one we can become apathetic to. So when you come to terms with which Jesus you are going to seek, seek the one He shows you, not the one you think you want. When He shows you His glory, His transcendence, His majesty, don’t be deceived. He’s not showing you what you need. He’s showing you what eventually will be.

The only way you get the Jesus you think you want is the through the Jesus who went up another mountain, this time with no disciples. This time not in holy conversation with Moses and Elijah but in suffering punishment with two criminals. This time His clothing is not shining brightly in brilliant white, but tattered and torn, bloody and filthy. This time His face is not shining like the sun but is bruised and cut and bleeding. This time His Heavenly  Father is not speaking to everyone of His beloved Son but is forsaking His only Son. This time there is no one there to say, let’s stay here, this is the place to be, this is what we need. This time He is there on the mountain, alone, suffering not His own punishment, but ours. Not displaying glory and radiance as we would like, but grace and mercy and eternal love as we truly need.

If you seek Jesus, as Peter did, then don’t look in the wrong place. Jesus brought them back down the mountain and told them not to say anything until after He died and rose. This is the Jesus we need and so ought to seek. The one who went to the cross. There is only one Jesus and if you would like what He gives and does, don’t seek Him in ways He doesn’t come to you. He comes not in glory but in humility. The Jesus who is God in the flesh is the one who actually came in the flesh as a baby. The Jesus who is the glorious Lord displayed His greatest glory in speaking on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Let these words sink deep into your soul.

What does a magnificent display of glory do for you? But the forgiveness of Christ Himself from the cross does everything for you that you need. It erases your sins. It restores you to God the Father. It releases you from the judgment of the Law and the punishment you deserve. It assuages your guilt. On the Mount of Transfiguration God said, This is My beloved Son, listen to Him. What better words to listen than these words from the cross, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

This is the Jesus you ought to seek. And once you do you must come to terms with something else. There is only one Jesus and He is the one who came to save you in His death and resurrection. There is, then, only one person you ought to seek. There is only one person you ought to point others to. Once you see Jesus for who He is, you see that He is the only one that can give you what you truly need.

Matthew helps us see this when he tells us that on the mountain Jesus was transfigured and then joined by Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah were prophets who proclaimed Christ. They pointed people to the one who was to come and now, Matthew is showing us, He was here. They proclaimed that God would send the Savior, and now, Matthew is helping us see, He was here.

You see, there is only one. Moses wasn’t it. Elijah wasn’t it. David, Abraham, no other great patriarch, king, or prophet. Jesus. He is the only one. God enveloped Peter, James, and John in a cloud, and said, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.” Not to anyone else. Jesus alone. When the cloud lifted from them and they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. It is Christ who we need. It is Christ in whom there is salvation, no one else. God the Father sent Him and He is the one we need.

Peter had said that he thought it would be a good idea to make three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah. Nope, there is only one, and it Jesus. He alone went to the cross. He alone suffered for the sin of the world. He alone is the beloved Son of the Father. He alone is the one we are to listen to. He alone is the one we are to point people to. There is only one. There is only one Jesus and He is the one went to the cross. And there is only one God who is the Savior, the Triune God who has revealed Himself most fully and brilliantly in Jesus.

Don’t seek glorious displays from God. Don’t seek manifestations of power or splendor. Just look to the humble places He reveals Himself to you. It’s not high on a mountain, but in simple ways like the water in your Baptism. Like the ordinary words which come from the mouth of a pastor in pronouncing Absolution. Like the ordinary words that are proclaimed when the Gospel is proclaimed. Like ordinary bread and wine which Christ gives to you to give you His flesh and blood. There’s no display of glory or brilliance, just His body and His blood.

What He gives you to eat and drink is the body Mary carried in her womb and gave birth to. It is the body, to be sure, that was transfigured on the mountain. But most especially, it was the body transfigured into a bloody mess while it hung on the cross and which He gave over to His Father as the sacrifice for the sin of the world.

What He also gives you in His Holy Supper is His blood to drink. It is the very same blood that coursed through His veins as He was growing in His mother’s womb and that kept Him alive while He lived on this earth. But most especially, it was the blood He shed on the cross for the sin of the world.

There is only one way to salvation. It is Christ and Him crucified. There is only one thing you ultimately need, it is Christ. There is only one God and He has revealed Himself in His beloved Son, the one who went to the cross and gives you salvation in His doing so. Amen.