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Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

August 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Note: I am greatly indebted to Professor Jeffrey Gibbs’ commentary in the Concordia Commentary series Matthew 11:-20:34, as well as the recent summer course I attended taught by him.  All of the major ideas in this sermon I first came to understand through his teaching and even some of the language for this sermon was taken directly out of his commentary.  As always, I say all this to give proper credit where credit is due.

Also, the written sermon for this Sunday is much more along the lines of an earlier draft when compared to what was actually preached.  Looking back on the written page while posting this, the Gospel is far more clearly articulated in what was preached.  Other duties prevent me from going back and transcribing the audio of the sermon back onto the page.  The audio sermon is the better sermon.

 

Matthew 16:21-28

Augustana, 2011

Click here for mp3 audio  50 Sermon for Pent 11.mp3

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The sermon is based on the Gospel reading we just heard read.

The interaction that we hear this morning between Jesus and Peter follows immediately after the tremendous confession we heard from Peter last Sunday.  I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit through his servant Matthew intended us to see not only these events but to see the powerful contrast between Peter’s confession from last week and Peter’s denial of Jesus this week.  In between those two things though is something of utmost importance, Jesus first prediction of his suffering and death, what we often refer to as Jesus’s passion.  Peter confesses Jesus to be God’s Christ, the Messiah of God sent to restore the rule of God on earth, Jesus says, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.”  “Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.”  Our reading today picks up immediately after last week’s ended, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  Jesus was trying to explain to them what he had often alluded to before.  Back in chapter 9, the Pharisees had asked Jesus about his disciples not fasting, “And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. (9:15)  And twice Jesus had told the Pharisees that no sign would be given to them except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  (12:39-40; cf. 16:1-4)  But since Peter had just revealed to all the disciples that Jesus is God’s Christ, what Jesus had been speaking about only figuratively, he was now openly teaching to them.  It is as if he said, “I am God’s Christ.  It is the plan of God who sent me to go Jerusalem, to suffer and to die but on the third day be raised.”  Jesus is very clearly predicting his death in Jerusalem at the hands of the religious leaders there and he is very clearly indicating that this is God’s plan that he suffer and die, that the sin of powerful men and their rebellion against God’s Christ have its way even as he fulfills every aspect of God’s plan.  Later Jesus explains that he is giving his life as a ransom payment for many (20:28) but here it is still very clear that he is heading to the cross in Jerusalem.

And Peter’s response is the absolute mirror opposite of what it’s supposed to be in both meaning and intent.  Peter takes Jesus aside and starts rebuking Jesus and even proposing an alternate plan to the divine plan.  Not you Lord.  God forbid it!  It is as if he said, “Uh, Lord, don’t you know anything about the job description of Messiahs?  They don’t suffer and die in Jerusalem, they become king in Jerusalem.”  Peter rebuked Jesus.   By the way, I know in the past I’ve heard folks try to downplay this interaction between Peter and Jesus.  Peter didn’t really rebuke Jesus.  Jesus didn’t really call Peter the devil.  That’s wrong.  This is confrontation.  This is conflict and it’s so highly charged because Peter couldn’t be more wrong.  We get it wrong if we don’t see the intensity of this conflict because Peter is so very wrong about the mission of the Living God’s Christ.  Yes, Peter still believes that Jesus is God’s anointed One, the man who is uniquely God’s Son.  And if God’s Son, God’s own Christ is to go to Jerusalem, then he will go up in triumph and be received as God’s own Messiah.  God will not let his Christ suffer at the hands of the wicked rulers in Jerusalem.  “Far be it, Lord!”  In short, what Peter does is confess that Jesus is God’s Messiah and then speaks in a way that implies he knows more of God’s will than the Messiah himself.  We can’t really blame Peter from our perspective.  God’s plan doesn’t make any sense to us.  It’s shocking.  On the face of it, it’s truly absurd.  God sent his own Son on order to be rejected by the leaders of his chosen nation, Israel and with the intention that his own Son would suffer total defeat in the most shameful death imaginable, the cross of execution.  Not to be sure the cross is not mentioned here but it’s easy to see that for Peter, the two ideas of God’s Christ and Suffering Servant (Isa 53) simply don’t go together.  Peter is horrified that God would choose to work this way in the world.  If Jesus is God’s Christ, there is no suffering, there is victory in Jerusalem.  God’s way in the world should look like success not failure!

Are we not like Peter more often than not?  Is this not what we say even now as a hurricane bears down on people in New York City?  Is this not what we say when earthquakes ravaged Haiti?  Is this not what we say when a tsunami after Christmas Day a few years back washed away in one moment more people than all the US troops who died in the entire Vietnam War.  If we were running the show, it wouldn’t look like this.  No, if we had our say, God would reign in glory!  God would reign now in victory!  God would reign and there would be no hunger in Somalia for even the stones would turn to bread!  God would reign and there would be no illness or injury in world for his angels would tend to our every need lest our feet dash against a stone.  In fact, God would rule all the kingdoms of the world and none of God’s people would ever be oppressed by wicked and corrupt governments.  God would reign right now in victory and Jesus would not suffer and not die.  And Jesus says to Peter and to us, “you do not have in mind the things of God but the ways of men.”   Get behind me, Satan.  Just as Jesus had rejected a different plan offered him by Satan in the wilderness, Jesus rejects Peter’s and our alternate plan.  Jesus rejects the plan of Satan and follows God’s plan.

This tells us all we need to know about the nature of the world in which we live and the plan of God in Christ to reclaim the world and reign in it and over it in grace.  To be sure, the world is filled with violent men.  All, by nature, are violent and would seek to steal and destroy the rule of God.  Truly, God is King, and in Jesus his rule has been restored in the creation.  The mighty deeds and the authoritative, forgiving word of Jesus have demonstrated that full well.  In the unexpected ways of God, however, this same Jesus must yield to those who oppose him and suffer the unjust fate of vicarious suffering and death.  Only by doing so, according to God’s own plan, can God’s people, all people, and all creation be saved from sin and its henchman, death.  After dying, the Christ will be raised to eternal life, and this entire sequence can neither be changed nor interrupted.

These are the deep truths of God.  He does not work as we would have him work.  His ways are not our ways.  And so Jesus’ rebuke of Peter is in some ways a rebuke to us all who would have God work in the way we deem necessary.  Peter needs to learn what to means for him to follow after this Christ, not the one he had dreamed up, not the one he wanted.  To follow after this Christ, is to follow him to Jerusalem and into suffering and death but also resurrection.  This is the way of discipleship in the way of God’s Christ.  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Just as Jesus had very clearly taught that his mission was to go to the cross in Jerusalem, he very clearly taught that the mission for his disciples was to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow after him.  Again, this is not the way we would have it but it is the way given to us by the Lord’s Christ.  We have not in mind the things of God but the things of men.  Living inside of each of us is the dark conviction that lies in the phrase, “Put me in charge and I’ll make it right.”  That attitude has the potential to do untold damage to the cause and name of Christ.  It takes the form of ambition, something that we usually consider a good thing even in the church.  And it sprouts forth as criticism, competition, and one-upmanship.  Even quiet, prideful comparison with others that doesn’t do anything demeans a brother or sister.  Ambition, comparison, measurement and criticism are all the ways of men and not ways of denying oneself.

The way of Jesus, though, is humble obedience and total submission to the will of the Father.  The way of discipleship after Jesus is confessing the darkness within, the desire for power over others and to deny that power whenever it shows itself.

There is a great deal more that could be said about this passage.  I promise you that I’m not in love with the sound of my own voice but that there really is enough to explore here and a great deal we did not even get to.  But this is enough for today.  Amen.

Let us pray.  Lord Jesus we confess that you are the Christ of God and we thank You for being willing to suffer and die that we might be forgiven.  Blessed Savior, give us the will and strength to deny ourselves, take up the cross you and follow You to life eternal.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Sermon for Pentecost 10

August 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Matthew 16:13-19

Click here for mp3 audio 49 Sermon for Pent 10.mp3

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading we just heard.

For the past six Sundays we have listened as Jesus has described what the kingdom of heaven, the active reigning of heaven on earth looks like in parables.  And we have watched as Jesus worked three important miracles.  He fed five thousand men plus women and children with five loaves and two small fish, walked on water and got Peter out on the water too, and healed the daughter of a Canaanite woman with a word.  All of that was lead up to this question:  “Who do people say that I am?”

It’s a great question.  There are multiple answers.  Some say John the Baptist raised from the dead.  But Jesus isn’t John the Baptist.  Others say Elijah.  Some say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.  That’s a really interesting conclusion because Jesus is very much like Jeremiah.  We could have a whole Bible class looking at the connections between Jesus and Jeremiah and the prophetic role of Jesus.  But, no, Jesus is not Jeremiah.  That night back on the lake when Jesus walked out to the boat on the water the disciples themselves said that Jesus was the Son of God and they worshipped him.  That’s a pretty good indication of who Jesus is.  Just recently the Canaanite woman called Jesus, “Lord,” and “Son of David.”  We could have another whole Bible class on who had the better answer, the Canaanite woman or the disciples?  But even after the night on the lake and meeting the Canaanite woman, Jesus still wants to know who the people and who the disciples say that he is.  Up to this point Jesus isn’t satisfied with any of the answers he’s heard so far.  It’s a great question and there are multiple answers.

Jesus is not a politician and he’s not talking a public interest poll.  He turns his question to the disciples.  Who do ya’ll say that I am.  That’s actually how the Greek reads, that’s a plural you.  “But ya’ll.  Who do ya’ll say that I am?  And Simon Peter replied…”  Now it’s not fair that you know this passage so well because if you didn’t know the passage and you had been reading along in Matthew’s Gospel and all you knew about Peter up to this point was what you had previously read, what would you be expecting?  Well, we would be expecting Peter to get the answer wrong.  Peter was the double doubter back on the lake that night and now he’s about to answer Jesus’ question.  “And Simon Peter replied… you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!”  Peter gets it right but he doesn’t get it right all on his own.   “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!”  Jesus says, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”  There are two things that are important about this little Bible verse and the second most important is this: that no one can truly say who Jesus really is apart from God the Father revealing this knowledge to them.  The most important thing is this:  Jesus is the Christ.  Jesus is God’s Christ.

I said that most of you are probably familiar enough with not only this passage but the rest of the Bible and basic theology to be saying right now in your head, this is the part where the preacher launches into the whole, Jesus is the Old Testament fulfillment of God’s promises part of the sermon.  All of God’s old covenant promises find their “Yes” in Jesus.  And you’d be right, except that this morning I want to do that a little differently.

On your way to church this morning what did you see?  Any car accidents?  Maybe not but you know people not only have them, sometimes they can be so dangerous that people die in them.  It’s very tragic.  I’m reminded of this more and more by these “In Memory of” stickers some people are putting on the back windows of their cars.  Injury or death in car accidents is just one example of the brokenness of our world.  You probably didn’t see any accidents on the way to church because there are far fewer cars on the road at 8:30 to 9:30 on Sunday mornings than there are at any other morning.  The lack of cars on the road on Sunday morning is evidence of the power of sin and rebellion against God and His Word in our world.   Maybe you stopped on the way in this morning to visit the grave of one of your loved ones either here or at another cemetery.  Or maybe you’re planning to do that after church.  Many people visit cemeteries on Sundays.  But we were not created for death.  There was no cemetery in the Garden of Eden.  Death is the ultimate example of everything that is wrong with our world of the brokenness of it.  Our world is so broken, so twisted some even call death good, they call it relief.  Death is not good, it is our enemy.  It is the punishment from God for sin.

Oh, how our world is corrupted.  Whole peoples are starving and their leaders won’t allow the food sent by the international community to be sent in.  Young people burn down buildings just to watch them burn.  Entire nations forbid the practice of Christianity publicly.  Peoples rise up against other peoples because of the color of skin or the religion they follow and hate them and try to kill as many of them as possible.  And politicians prey on that hatred and the fears it generates not to take care of the problems but to stay in office, to stay in power over others.  Even the earth itself generates hurricanes and heat waves, blizzards and super storms, earthquakes and tsunamis.  Even our relationships are polluted with selfishness. The marriage between Adam and Eve we have turned into an entire culture of hook up, shack up and break up, with whomsoever we please.  And we sometimes wonder why were so unhappy.  Would that God would come back and straighten all this mess out.  Would that God would rend the heavens and come down.  Would that God would make good on his promises to bless all the peoples of the earth through his chosen Israel.  Would that God would come and dwell with his people and be their God and that there would be no more crying and no more pain, and no more super storms and no more scorching heat and no more starving people and no more political instability because there would be no need for politicians.   And no more death.  No more death.  Would that God would come and rescue us from all these things that terrify us and imprison us and kill us and restore that which he originally intended for us.

And the Good News is, of course, that there is One who came.  Prophesied long ago, he was of the house and lineage of David, king of ancient Israel.  His birth and his infancy were protected by God.  His true identity is not in doubt.  There was a genuine prophet of God Most High who came before him to announce his arrival.  When he arrived, he was tempted in the wilderness by Satan for forty days and did not give in.  He came preaching that the rule of God in heaven was now restored on earth and he proved it by healing countless people of their illness, some of them even incurable, lepers and people born blind and others who had been sick for years and years.  And he cast out demons too.  He worked against the rule of Satan in this world and freed many people from demonic possession.  And when he taught, he spoke as though he were God himself.  He had power over nature.  He could still storms and walk on water.  And he raised the dead.  The crowds that had gathered at the little girl’s house had laughed at him when he said she was just sleeping.  But he had gone in and touched her hand and the girl arose.  Jesus has power over death itself.  The one whom God the Father sent, came to make everything that was wrong in this world right, heal the sick and even destroy the power of death.  Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one of God, sent to restore the kingdom of heaven on earth, sent to destroy even the power of death.

Jesus, God’s Christ has come to reign and to restore the kingdom of heaven on earth.  I said before that the people who have a hard time believing that Jesus could do these miracles don’t misunderstand the miracles.  They misunderstand Jesus, the Christ of God.  Jesus is not just God’s Son.  Jesus is not just a good man.  He is not just a descendent of the house of David of Israel.  He is not just a prophet or miracle worker.  Jesus is God’s Christ, his promised anointed one sent to restore his ruling on the earth.  He ruled during his earthly ministry in powerful ways.  He will come again to bring the Father’s plan to its consummation.  Jesus is God’s Christ.

The kingdom of God Jesus came to restore is not a typical earthly kingdom.  Matthew makes a point to tell us that Jesus was way up north in Caesarea Phillippi, some 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, in other words, they were about as far away from Jerusalem as they ever were.  Jesus kingdom is not centered in Jerusalem.  Jesus’ kingdom, at least for now, is an unusual kingdom marked chiefly by the forgiveness of sins.  That doesn’t look like much to some folks but it means that what is done here on earth is already done before the throne of God in heaven.  God’s Christ was enthroned at the cross in weakness and shame.  But it will not always be.  For he will come again with greatness and all the glory of heaven.

Jesus is God’s Christ.  This is Peter’s confession and I pray it is yours too.  Amen.

Please pray with me.  Grant us grace, heavenly Father, that we like Peter may confess Jesus to be your Christ and so remain steadfast on the unshakable rock of our salvation.  We pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Sermon for Pentecost 9

August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Note:  This sermon ended somewhat differently when I preached it in the pulpit.  Fair warning.

Matthew 15:21-28

August 14, 2011

Click here for mp3 audio 48 Sermon for Pent 9

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

This is now the third Sunday of miracles.  Miracles prove that Jesus is the Son of God, truly divine but we run the risk of misunderstanding this miraculous healing today if we treat it as just another miracle.  Jesus performs this miracle in a particular place for a particular woman and I’m not confident it’s entirely clear to us today what’s going on.

So, if the details matter this much, let’s get a handle on some of the details as we get started this morning.  The first verse, verse 21, “And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.” There’s one important thing I want to make sure you understand about this woman.  She’s from the region around Tyre and Sidon on the northwest sea coast up above Galilee and this land has never been dominated by Israel.  She’s a Canaanite woman.  The Canaanites were the people in the OT the Israelites were supposed to have wiped out because of their idolatrous worship.  This is from Deuteronomy chapter 20, the Lord is speaking, “but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded, 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.” (Dt 20:17–18)  This isn’t ethnic cleansing, this is God’s divine judgment.  The Canaanites were the folks who practiced child sacrifice in the worship of Molech among other terrible things.  The point I’m trying to make is that this Canaanite woman is the absolute last person on earth we would expect to not just believe but have great faith in Jesus, the Son of David.  Remember last week when Jesus chided the disciples for their little faith?  This woman is an example of great faith in Jesus Christ.

She says some remarkable things in faith. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.”  She speaks to Jesus like a believing Israelite, like a disciple of Jesus!  She asks Jesus to heal her daughter because she is oppressed by a demon.  She knew she could not battle that enemy on her own.  And she knew none of her Canaanite gods could help her either.  She needed Jesus.  That is the content of this woman’s great faith.  The reading continues, “But he did not answer her a word.”  Silence.  Rejection.  Exclusion.

And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” Now I think the best way to read this is that the disciples wanted Jesus to get rid of this unclean Gentile woman by giving her what she wants.  Then when Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” it makes sense.  Dr. Gibbs in his commentary puts the question nicely, “Do the disciples think it’s really the business of Israel’s Messiah to get rid of every annoying Gentile woman who comes to him for help?”

I think we Christians often fundamentally misunderstand this idea that Jesus was sent to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel and in doing so, we underestimate the great grace by which we have been included in God’s plan of salvation.  This woman talks like an Israelite and a disciple; she calls Jesus “Lord” and “Son of David.”  These titles are keys to the identity of Jesus.  In a very important sense, Jesus has been sent only as Israel’s Messiah.  I’m going to pause for a second and let that sink in.  Maybe I should say it again.  In a very important sense, Jesus has been sent only as Israel’s Messiah.  Now, of course that Jesus is Israel’s Savior has implications for the rest of the human race and all of creation but this verse makes it perfectly clear that the biblical doctrine of Israel’s selection by God as his own people must be taken very seriously.  Jesus is as Matthew described him in the opening lines of the Gospel, “Christ,” that is Messiah, right, Son of David, Son of Abraham.”  Jesus is not just some wandering miracle worker.  This is important.  We have to get this right before Jesus starts talking to the woman because she accepts without question that Jesus is sent to save Israel, not her, at least not at first.

So the woman kneels, that is, she pays homage to Jesus, she worships him, saying, “Lord, help me.”  And this starts the back and forth with Jesus.  Jesus answered: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Now, if Jesus’ words to the disciples seemed a little harsh before, they are worse now.  “It is not right,” he says.  It is not good, it is not in accordance with God’s plan.  This woman should not get what belongs, by right, to Israel.  It’s like we prayed today in the collect, “we are undeserving.”  Jesus wants to know if this Canaanite woman really knows who he is or is what she saying just words.

The woman speaks and shows her faith.  “Yes, Lord! You are absolutely right! It would be bad indeed to try to deny or contradict God’s plan to save his ancient people Israel.  You are Israel’s Messiah, and the bread you give belongs to the children.  I agree and believe, and I don’t want the children’s bread, because when the children eat, the crumbs fall on the floor and belong to the dogs.  And the crumbs are enough for me and my daughter.  We need nothing more than the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.”  She understands; she agrees.  She believes both in Jesus’ mission to Israel’s lost sheep and in Jesus’ abundance, which also provides for the dogs who are under their master’s table.  The woman speaks and shows true faith.

I think there is something very powerful in comparing and contrasting the last two Sunday’s miracles.  The disciples, especially Peter has so little faith, but in the end they worshipped Jesus and said to him, “Truly you are the Son of God.”  The woman kneels, that is, worships Jesus.  It’s the same Greek word.  Granted, not everyone who kneels is worshipping, but kneeling is the posture of worship.  It is the posture of the beggar.  She cries out with the beggar’s cry, “Lord, help me.”  Are we beggars?  Leaving aside the whole ethnically Jewish thing, which I don’t think any of us are, do we ask of God as though we are here undeservingly?  Because I don’t think we do. I think we too often compare ourselves to others like the Pharisee and the publican in the temple and we thank God we are not like that guy and worse we try to deal with God as though we deserve what we get from him, at least more deserving that that guy over there.  We are beggars.  This is true.

Our liturgy reinforces this for us if we would but listen to it.  We start by invoking God’s name here not our own.  In short order, we confess we are “poor, miserable sinners” in need of forgiveness, deserving of temporal and eternal punishment.  Penny Schrum told me that we once had a visitor some time ago who said something to the effect of “I’m never coming back here.  I’m not a poor, miserable sinner.”  I think he was saying something in all honesty about what he thought of himself and ironically, about how we often act toward one another.  I don’t think we truly see ourselves as poor, miserable sinner or, if we do, we don’t see ourselves as having been forgiven for very long after the absolution comes out of the pastor’s mouth.

Do we see ourselves as fellow beggars, as fellow poor, miserable sinners in need of God’s forgiveness and redemption really happy for the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table?  If we’re honest, we see ourselves individually as beggars and together as fellow beggars far less often than we probably care to admit.  We forget all that God has done for us in Christ.  We forget he washes us in baptism, clothes us with his righteousness, and invites us to come and eat at the table he has prepared.  We get frustrated with one another.  We forget that the person we are frustrated with is another fellow beggar for whom Christ came to sponsor into the kingdom of God.  We forget too easily that we are beggars among fellow beggars.

But look what happened for this poor woman when she acknowledged where she really stood with the Lord.  She knew that she was undeserving in every way to ask of anything of Jesus.  She knew her only hope was to beg for mercy from Jesus, humbly.   And Jesus commended the greatness of her faith.  Jesus saw that this woman knew no one else could help her the way he could.  That’s faith.

Great was her faith.  She knew who Jesus is: “Lord” and “Son of David.”  And she knew that she didn’t deserve anything from Jesus.  Great faith isn’t what we often think it is.  It certainly isn’t measured against the faith of others.  Great faith is confidence in the God of Israel, the One who sent Jesus to restore the rule of God on the earth, the One who includes us by grace through faith.  Amen.

Lord, we are truly undeserving of any of your great blessings and yet You give us great and abundant mercy.  Help us always to live confidently in your blessings and as those who are nothing but given to.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord,  Amen.

The peace of God keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Paying attention to language

August 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Pastors are especially prone to misunderstand language and of all people, we should be paying closer attention to it.  The Gospel comes through means and the first means of the Word of God is language itself.

So as an example, after I posted Sunday’s sermon, the following popped up.

“This is your 131st post. Dope! This post has 2,109 words.”

I’m highlighting the word “dope” here.  The first two times I read the note from my blog site, I thought I was being chastised, and worse, by a computer.

But no.  I then realized in addition to 1.) ignorant person; and 2.) slang for illegal drugs, “dope” can mean “not just cool but really, really cool.”

If it took me that long to realize what the pop-up was trying to do, that is, congratulate me, maybe I’m not nearly so dope as I think I am.

I’m reminded of a Christmas Eve sermon I heard in 1992, the year I started seminary.  My wife and my two younger brothers and I were in church that night and it was a lovely service.  Except that the title of the sermon and the catch phrase of the preacher was “Rock the Cradle of Love.”

Now to anyone who came of age in the 1980s, “Rock the Cradle of Love” is not a great title for a sermon but rather a rockin’ song by Billy Idol.  Just google it.  Needless to say we weren’t the most pious people in the church that evening.

We’ve got to pay attention to how language is used.  It’s important.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Pentecost 8

August 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Note: I have been asked to contribute sermons to the archive at  Göttinger Predigten, a sermon depository originally conceived by Professor Ulrich Nembach who teaches homiletics at the University of Göttingen, Germany.  I was asked by the editors to become a member of the community of authors for an additional year.  An earlier version of this sermon exists in that forum.

Matthew 14:22-33

Click here for mp3 audio 47 Sermon for Pent 8

 

Matthew 14:22-33 [ESV, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

 

Grace and  peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading for today, Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on the water.  Last week, of course, Jesus fed the five thousand and this miracle follows fast on the heels of that one.  We learned last week that Jesus who heals and feeds multitudes in the Galilean wilderness is the God of Israel who fed and cared for Israel in wilderness of Sinai.  This week there is a further revealing of Jesus’ identity in power and yet he also shows his compassion in his desire to rescue the doubting and the foolish.  Jesus is truly the Son of God.

I want to spend just a minute connecting our reading this morning with last Sunday’s reading.  The very first word here, “Immediately,” helps us do that.  Jesus heard that his cousin John the Baptist had been executed by Herod, perhaps he had even heard the whole story about Salome dancing and Herod promising her anything and Herod’s wife coaching her to ask for the head of John on a platter.  Jesus is deeply moved by the death of his cousin.  He had attempted to get away for a bit and pray but the crowds had followed him.  And when he saw them, he had compassion on them and healed them.  After Jesus fed the multitudes, he “made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.”

There are really two things I want to note here.  The first is this: I definitely see this tendency among Christians today for a sort of “Don’t worry, be happy,” kind of attitude.  And that’s not always bad but it can be bad when it’s imposed on others who are hurting.  Look at how Jesus reacted to the news of his cousin’s execution.  It was not a speech about the greatness of God and how the Father will work all things to his glory.  No, Jesus withdrew to be by himself and pray.  Jesus was grieving.  I think we can learn something from this example of our Lord.  Being hurt is terrible.  Watching others, others we love hurting, can be harder.  When people we love have lost a job or a relationship, or lost a loved one, it’s okay to be encouraging.  What is not okay is be so encouraging as to dismiss their pain and their grief.  Our favorite psalm is Psalm 23.  “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of death, Thou art with me.”  God doesn’t pull us up out of the valley.  He doesn’t tell us the equivalent of “Don’t worry be happy.”  He remains with us; he walks with us.  To be with and remain with a friend or a family member in their grief is doing God’s work.  Being empathetic is hard and it can expose our greatest fears and take us far outside our comfort zone.  But as I said it’s a godly thing to be there for that person.  Grief simply takes time.  Grief is a process not a program.  The task of the Christian is to be faithful not necessarily “happy” all the time.

The second note I want to make is far more subtle.  Dr. Jeff Gibbs in his Matthew commentary is the one who brought this to my attention and I thought it so profound I should bring it to yours but I also thought so subtle it could be easily overlooked.  After supper, where is Jesus and where are the disciples?  The disciples are far off shore, even though they’re rowing into the wind and Jesus is far away from them and separated from them by a few miles of water.  At the beginning of this story, Jesus is far away and the disciples are laboring under their own power.  By the end of the story, God has come near and they worship him.  God comes near.

“When evening came, [Jesus] was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.”  What is the disciples’ reaction to seeing this figure walking toward them on the lake?  Amazing!  ‘Tis good Lord that you are here.  Nothing can stop us now!  No, none of that.  Look at the text, verse 26.  “But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.”   Professor Gibbs points out their three-part reaction.  It was pure terror, they had a sort of anti-confession, “It’s a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.  Whatever’s going on this is bad news.  But then look at Jesus 3-part response to the disciples.  “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  Jesus immediately matches their reaction perfectly.  Because they are terrified, Jesus calms them down with, “Take heart.”  Because of their anti-confession, “It is a ghost,” he says, “it is I.”  Because of their fear, he says, “Stop being afraid.”  Jesus matched their need perfectly and immediately, and he has come near to them to do it.  This is nothing other than Good News.

I want to spend a couple minutes on the miracle itself.  And maybe we should have done this last week too.  We just don’t have time to do everything in one sermon.  But I know that there are some people who even identify themselves as Christians who have a hard time with the miracles and whether they really happened just as the Evangelists record them.  If you find yourself struggling with whether Jesus really performed these miracles, I think your problem is less to do with the miracles and more to do with Jesus.  That is I think your problem is whether you accept that Jesus is who he is claiming to be.  Last week Jesus fed multitudes in the wilderness just as Yahweh fed the Israelites in the wilderness.  This week Jesus walks on water just as Job (9:8) and the prophet Habakkuk (3:15) tell us that Yahweh trampled the sea and just as God led the Israelites through the Red Sea on dry land.  All the powers of the God of the Old Testament have become incarnate in God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.  Granted, if you think Jesus is just a nice wandering preacher who ran afoul of the Jewish and Roman rulers of his day and was executed for his efforts, then it makes perfect sense that you have problems with the miracle accounts.  Of course, you’re also not a Christian because to be a Christian is to believe in the one whom God the Father sent, his Son, Jesus.  The Gospel writers and Matthew in particular take great pains to show us precisely who Jesus is but telling us who Jesus says he is.  Not only has God now come near to be with his people as he did at the time of the Exodus, even Jesus’s own words harken us back to it.  “It is I,” sounds quite a bit like Yahweh’s words to Moses from the burning bush, “I am who I am.”  Jesus’ ability to walk on the water is truly divine.  The natural conclusion is, Jesus is the Son of God.  And that should be all that we need.

This should be all that we need but often it isn’t.  See how Peter reacts?  Not in faith, but in doubt and with a test for God.  “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.”  What will it take for Peter to believe in Jesus?  Apparently it will take walking on the water out to meet him.  Peter’s failure was a double failure.  He doubted not once but twice, first in the boat and then while out on the water.  He doubted whether it was really Jesus and then doubted whether Jesus could do what he said he would do for him.  Was there ever a man less deserving of rescue than Peter?  Peter should have taken Jesus at his word the first time and he should have believed Jesus the second time as well.  But Peter is not the example for us, rather our focus should be on Jesus.

What there ever a Master more patient and gracious than Jesus?  Immediately he comes to meet the needs of his disciples.  Immediately he reaches out and rescues Peter.  Jesus even reaches out in power to all who call upon him in their need—even those who have created the fatal situation of their need!  Jesus is not only the awesome Son of God Most High.  Jesus is not only all powerful and Master of the created universe.  Jesus divine purpose is to come near to those who were far off and rescue those who call out to him in their need.  The disciples are not our heroes, Peter certainly isn’t.  Jesus is.

True faith in God is seeing who he is, seeing that he has come near, and seeing how he has rescued you, seeing no reason to ever have doubted that Jesus would act on your behalf.  If the disciples are to be an example of anything for us this morning it is only after Jesus and Peter have climbed into the boat with them.  “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”  True faith in Jesus is worshipping him for all that he has done.

The purpose of faith in Jesus is not learning to be happy in all circumstances.  It is rather learning to cry out to Jesus in our need.  It is not learning to fend for ourselves or to step out in faith but rather learning to see that Jesus has come near to us.  The purpose of a life in Christ is to look to Jesus in the midst of our problems and doubts and know that he has come near and provides for our needs.  What Jesus says to the disciples this morning, he says to you, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  He is reaching out to rescue you and steady you.  Amen.

Lord, Jesus my Rescuer, when the storms of life threaten to drown me, assure me of Your loving presence and protecting care.  Amen.

 

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Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

August 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Matthew 14:13-21

Listen here — 46 Sermon for Pent 7.mp3

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

We should note a couple of things as we get started this morning.  First of all, some context.  The first line in the Gospel reading says, “when Jesus heard this…”  Matthew is talking about when Jesus heard the news that John the Baptist had been executed by Herod.  That’s how chapter 14 starts by telling the story of Salome dancing and Herodias conspiring with her daughter to ask for John the Baptist’s head on a platter.  Remember John the Baptist was not just a religious figure, he was Jesus’ cousin and it grieved Jesus deeply when this happened.

When Jesus heard about this, then, he withdrew from the area where he had been teaching by boat in order to be by himself.  Basically, he cut the corner across the top of the lake to a place over on the northeast shore.  But the crowds followed him.

The next verse, verse 14 is really the key to understanding this whole passage.  “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”  “He had compassion” on the crowd.  This word translated here as compassion, in other translations, pity, this is a big word, an important word, a Gospel word, a kingdom of heaven kind of word.  The Greek word here is splanknidzomai.  It means Jesus was moved in his splankna, his guts.  We might say something like, “his heart went out to them.”  But it’s really more earthly than that, Jesus was moved in his guts, by the sight of the crowd.  This is not just pity, but divine pity.  Jesus saw the state of the people in the crowds that followed them.  He saw that they were sick and needing healing.  Maybe he was even reflecting on the nature of the leaders and governmental rulers they had like Herod who would rule in such arbitrary and capricious ways without regard for the people God had put in their care.  Maybe he could see how they hungered and thirsted for righteousness and desired for the kingdom of heaven to come completely and fully even already.  The Gospel writers don’t often give us a glimpse into the inner workings of Jesus but in this instance they do.

And Jesus was moved to compassion for the crowds and so he stopped mourning over the loss of his cousin and went to work.  It’s not wrong to mourn, I’m not saying that.  In fact, we should take great comfort in this picture of Jesus mourning the death of John the Baptist.  Jesus does not expect us to walk around all happy faced all the time despite what you see from TV preachers and what you might read in the “so called” Christian bookstores.  Jesus doesn’t put a burden on us to be happy in the face of sadness but merely to remember that he carries our burdens and mourns with us.  I think we often run the risk of over-spiritualizing.  We over-spiritualize the faith, Jesus, church, life.  We Lutherans have two tendencies, we can get all caught up in our heads about the faith but we also have a great corrective to this, the church supper.  The church supper can be a great corrective to over-spiritualizing.  Because I think we tend to get caught up in thinking about how Jesus is concerned with the state of our souls and sin and how much we pray and that kind of thing and we run the risk of thinking that Jesus isn’t too worried about our physical needs.  Notice that when Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them, he didn’t start teaching.  Now I’m not saying that would have been inappropriate, it certainly would have.  But Jesus is concerned with the people’s physical bodies and not just illness but a day’s hunger.  We are too often guilty of dividing up soul from body and thinking Jesus cares only for the soul.  All of this talk you sometimes hear from Christians about the body just being a shell.  You know the kind of talk I’m talking about.  We hear it at funerals a lot.  That’s not Christian talk.  That’s something else.  Actually that’s an ancient Greek religion that piggybacked on Christianity for a while called Gnosticism.  It’s a corruption of Christian teaching about the body.  Jesus cared about the physical needs of people.  He healed.  He fed.

And so moved to great compassion for the crowds, Jesus begins to heal them.  This is the setup for the great miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.  I’m already at page three and I haven’t even really talked about the miracle.  I guess it’s because I’m not hung up about whether Jesus can do miracles or not.  Jesus is true God and true man.  He has divine power to feed not just five thousand, but seven billion and more.  So I think it best to read the miracle as having happened just as Matthew records it.  Five small barley loaves and two small fish, a pretty good supper for a couple of folks that turned into a pretty good supper for five thousand men plus women and children.

They’re up in the Galilean wilderness along the lakeshore.  People did not pack a bag lunch to follow Jesus.  Ever notice how if you take someone to the hospital you forget to eat?  Same deal here.  And it came supper time and there was no cafeteria open.

The disciples notice the predicament they’re in and ask Jesus to send the crowd away.  And the next line is difficult to make sense of because we certainly don’t expect it.  Unexpectedly and forcefully, Jesus challenged the disciples to provide food for this vast crowd.  I think, the only way to understand this verse is to see in it the failure of the disciples to look to Jesus to provide.  I’ll admit, it’s a difficult verse.  The disciples don’t have anything to feed the crowds with but they do have the Messiah of God with them, he who fed Israel in the wilderness, and he who promised Israel to come and eat as we read today in Isaiah.  What is the takeaway?  Jesus is compassionate and powerful.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  Whenever you have doubts about God’s power to supply your needs, whether physical or spiritual, recall this miracle. Jesus is compassionate.  He knows your weakness and he provides not just for your spiritual needs but for your bodily needs as well.  We need but to ask him.

But there is one other major theme in this passage that I cannot pass up mentioning.  Matthew describes Jesus actions here, “and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.”  Jesus took, gave thanks, broke and gave.  Those verbs should be quite familiar to you.  They are the same verbs used to describe how Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples.  Now I am not saying that Jesus is celebrating the Eucharist in the wilderness here.  However, I am saying that Jesus feeding the five thousand is connected to the Eucharist, and in that way all our eating at our own tables is really an extension of the Lord’s table.  This is why it is so important for Christians to give thanks at the table even if that table be in a restaurant.  What a bold confession of faith that this food which we are about to eat has come from God’s divine provision.  I have been thumping on about how God provides for our earthly needs.  He does this not just when we turn to him in prayer but each day at each meal as he gives us our daily bread.  Amen.

Heavenly Father, thank You for abundantly answering my prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Amen.

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