Sermons

RSS Feed

Not to Destroy, But to Fulfill

Matthew 5:17-26
Trinity 6

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets,” Jesus says.  Now why would the people think that in the first place?  Where would they get the idea that Jesus might be teaching something against the Law or the Prophets?  Well, consider how different Jesus was from the legalistic religious leaders of His day.  He ate with tax collectors and sinners.  He healed on the Sabbath.  He touched the unclean and diseased.  He preached repentance and forgiveness, the lovingkindness and mercy of God.  He was a bit of a radical.  And so some may have drawn the false conclusion that He was casting aside the Old Testament and giving them something altogether different.

    In order to dispel any such notion, Jesus says, “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”  He wasn’t undoing and trashing the Law and the Prophets; rather, He was bringing them to their perfect expression and realization in Himself.  Everything written in the Old Testament comes to its pinnacle and culmination in Jesus.null

    That’s why He goes on to say, “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”  Anyone who says that the ten commandments no longer apply to today’s contemporary world, that traditional definitions of marriage and morality can be discarded, that times have changed and church teaching has to change with them–those who say such things, even under the guise of love and tolerance and inclusiveness, are acting against Christ.  He didn’t come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.

    And this applies not only to others out there, but also to us in here.  We know well the temptation to brush aside God’s Law, to think to ourselves, “Even though this is wrong, even though it breaks a commandment, I can go ahead and do it anyway because God will forgive me.”  We in effect destroy God’s Law when we misuse His grace in that way, as an excuse to live however we please.

    St. Paul addresses this in the Epistle.  “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?  Certainly not!  How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”  God’s forgiveness is not a  license to sin, it’s freedom from sin.  It’s the taking away of sin.  Why would we want to embrace again the very things which once condemned us to hell?  Since the old Adam still hangs around our neck, tempting us to think lightly of sin, the Law is still in force in this fallen world.  Not one jot or tittle will pass away from it till all is fulfilled at Christ’s return.  The commandments still apply to every single one of us, calling us to repent.

    However, just because that is so, we shouldn’t fall into the opposite error and think that we can gain eternal life by our keeping of the Law, or by simply changing our ways.  For listen to what Jesus also says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”  It’s not just that you have to do your best and try your hardest, and God will accept that.  It’s that you’ve got to do even better than those who dedicated their whole lives to keeping God’s Law down to the finest detail, otherwise you can forget about eternal life.  Not even the Pharisees, not even today’s strictest monks make it on their own steam.  It is written in James 2, “Whoever keeps the whole Law and yet fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”  And who among us has failed only in one point to begin with?

    God isn’t simply after good outward behavior, He seeks inward righteousness.  And so Jesus speaks of the 5th Commandment in the Gospel reading; it’s not simply that you shouldn’t murder–like the Orlando night club shooter, or the Instanbul airport terrorists–but if you speak angry words or harbor ill thoughts or desire payback, you’re being like shooters and terrorists in your hearts; it’s all rebellion and a breaking of God’s Law.  And it’s not only what we shouldn’t do but what we should do, too–seeking reconciliation with those who have wronged us, or those whom we have wronged, as far as that is possible, as far as it depends on us.

    All of this was beyond the self-serving religion of the Pharisees, whom Jesus called “whitewashed tombs,” outwardly clean and pure, but inwardly full of uncleanness and dead men’s bones.  This is what all human righteousness is: A good looking and attractive exterior that covers nothing but rotting, stinking death on the inside.  Can you do any better than the scribes and the Pharisees?  Then you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  That’s the judgment of the Law.

    The central purpose of the Law, then, is not to save us but to drive us to Christ, our only hope and our only Help.  For only in Jesus do we receive an inward righteousness before God, the righteousness of faith, where we despair of our own goodness and instead rely on Christ alone.  We prayed it in the Introit, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped.”  Only in Jesus is there deliverance from the judgment of the Law.  For only Jesus has kept the Law without fault or failing.  Again He said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but to fulfill (them).”  And all of this Jesus did for you and in your place.  Through faith in Him, His righteousness is counted as yours.

    It is written in Hebrews, “He was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin.”  Not only did Jesus not do the things that the commandments forbid, He also did do everything the commandments demand.  Not only did He not murder or steal or have impure thoughts, but He also perfectly loved His Father in heaven and His neighbor on earth, showing compassion, healing, doing good and teaching the truth to all.  Our Lord lived a holy life as our representative and our substitute, so that our unholy lives would be redeemed.

    And Jesus also fulfilled the Law by completing all of the old ceremonial requirements regarding the Sabbath and the sacrifices and so forth.  Through His holy death and His rest in the tomb, Jesus Himself became your eternal Sabbath rest; and so He says, “Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  “I will release from the crushing weight of the Law; I give you the peace of being reconciled with God.”  And by His once-for-all, final sacrifice as the Lamb of God, Jesus cleansed you from your sin and purified you.  All the Old Testament Jewish rules and regulations found their goal in Jesus, who put that all to an end in His crucified body, that the Law might no longer condemn you.  You’ve been put right with God again.  That’s what Jesus was saying on the cross, “It is finished.”  It is accomplished, completed, perfected, fulfilled.  All has been done, as Romans 10 declares, “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”  Our Lord is now risen from the dead to give you new life and a sure hope.

    That new life, that sure hope is entirely yours in holy baptism.  For St. Paul says in the Epistle that by water and the Word you were buried with Christ and raised with Him to a new life.  His death counts as your death.  The hellish judgment he experienced counts for you too.  It’s all done and behind you.  Living in Christ, taking refuge under His wings, you are holy to Him; you are protected and kept safe from the power of sin and Satan and from death itself.

    That’s how the words of Jesus which seemed to be impossible are now, in fact, true in Him:  “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”  By faith in Christ, your righteousness does exceed that of the Pharisees, for it has been given to you freely by God’s grace.  You have the perfect righteousness of Jesus as your own.  The Father has declared you to be righteous in His sight.  He didn’t just demand that you straighten out your life, He gave you a whole new life, the life of Jesus that is full and complete and perfect and everlasting.  Through Christ you will enter the kingdom of heaven.  In fact you have already entered it by faith.  For you are in Christ, the King of heaven.

    Our Lord has brought you through the Red Sea of baptism, out of the house of bondage.  Your old selves were crucified with Christ, that you should no longer be slaves to sin.  Therefore, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  For just as you have been united with Him in His death, you will surely also be united with Him in the resurrection of the body when He comes again.  To Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit be all worship, honor, glory, and praise, now and forever.  Amen.

As a Little Child

Concordia Catechetical Academy Symposium–"Keeping Our Children in the Faith"
Thursday, June 16, 2016
 
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit
 
In the kingdoms of this world, privilege usually comes with age–you can drive, or order a glass of wine at a restaurant, or get a specialized job when you’re old enough, when you’ve met all the necessary standards and requirements.  But in the kingdom of God privilege comes with youth.  What is necessary is that you’re young enough, before you can even begin to point to any personal merits and accomplishments or try to justify your behavior.  “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
 
This is something that our sinful nature despises.  Of course, we like the imagery of little children; we’re not so harsh as those disciples, of course.  What we don’t like, what we rebuke, in fact, is the idea that our resume and the entrance application that we’ve worked up isn’t what gains us acceptance into the kingdom.  Our flesh still wants to believe that our own credentials and the status that we’ve earned must play at least some part in making us suitable to come to the Lord.  But Jesus is greatly displeased at this thinking.  Repent of it.null
 
Hear what Jesus is saying with His words, “Let the little children come to Me.”  It’s not that they’re innocent–parents of little ones know that well enough.  It’s not even that they’ll believe pretty much whatever you tell them.  To be as a little child, indeed as a nursing infant, is to be completely dependent on the care and providing of another, to be utterly helpless apart from the Lord, to have nothing to give and everything to receive from Him.  For Jesus has everything to give.  “He took them up in His arms and blessed them.”  “To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (Is 53:1)” but to such little ones, even to those whom the world considers foolish and weak.
 
This also is how the fruit of the womb is a reward and a gift that is not to be hindered or despised.  God helps us to be as little children by giving us little children to teach raise and to learn from–to see the faith again through their eyes.  For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
 
Some have wondered why it is that we baptize infants before teaching them but teach adult catechumens before baptizing them.  There is no pretense in an infant at the font; there may be with an adult.  We catechize those who are older first, in part, to make sure that they’re young enough, that they receive the kingdom of God and the Word of God as if they were a little child.  So it is that this Gospel reading is used at a baptism regardless of whether it is an infant or an adult who is being baptized.
 
This is also why we all are urged to return to our baptism daily.  That exhortation is nothing else than a call to go back to being little again before the Lord, to humble yourself before Him that He may lift you up in His arms and bless you with His mercy and life.  To repent is to be turned from your self-indulgence and your self-justifying pride and to be brought to Christ so that He may be all in all for you.  It is as John the Baptizer said, “He must increase, I must decrease.”  In decreasing like that, John was declared by Jesus to be the greatest, for Christ was everything for Him.
 
It is only in becoming small that one becomes great in the kingdom of heaven.  In fact it is only by becoming nothing, dying to ourselves that we truly live.  God has chosen the things which are not, Scripture says, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should boast in His presence (1 Cor. 1:27-29).  It is out of the barrenness of Sarah’s flesh, and Abraham who was as good as dead, that God brought forth life and carried on the promise.  
 
The little children of God’s kingdom are those who have been born again by God’s doing, from above, by water and the Spirit. 
Martin Luther famously said in the Large Catechism, “I am a doctor and preacher, yes, as learned and experienced as all those may be who have such presumption and security; yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism, and every morning, and whenever I have time, I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Psalms, etc. And I must still read and study daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and am glad so to remain.”
 
Keeping our children in the faith, then, has to do with helping them to remain children in the faith.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  No matter how much one grows in the faith, this beginning of humility and reverence for the Lord can never be left behind, or there is no growth at all.  When we’re always going back to the beginning, we’re always going back to our dependency on the Lord who made the beginning, and who is the beginning and the ending, the Alpha and the Omega.  He alone is the one who does the keeping, as we say in the Benediction.
 
For Jesus is the One who made Himself small for you–not only when He was a little child in the arms of His mother–He even made Himself nothing, humbling Himself to the point of death on a cross to redeem you as His own.  Depending entirely on His Father, entrusting His spirit into the Father’s hands, He was fully confident that He would be vindicated in the resurrection.  Now the Son is taken up to the Father’s right hand where He lives to intercede for you.  In Him who is in the bosom of the Father, God blesses you and keeps you.
 
It has been observed that when we near the ending of our lives, there is a similarity to the beginning of our lives, when we need to be cared for, when we become more dependent on others.  That feels like a curse, and it certainly is a result of the fall.  But in Christ, who tasted death for us, even this is redeemed.  The Lord teaches us here once again to become as little children, not grasping for control of our own lives, but entrusting ourselves into His hands, like an infant at the baptismal font.  In death we are entirely as little children in the Lord’s strong arms, awaiting the blessing of the resurrection of the body.
 
Jesus prayed, “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.  Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in your sight” (Matthew 11:25-26).  So then, little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).  As newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the Word that you may grow thereby, now that you have tasted that the Lord is gracious (1 Peter 2:2-3).
 
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

Rest for Your Souls

Matthew 11:25-30

 
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
 
For all of the leisure time we have in our modern era, for all the hours we spend engaged with our various screens and technologies, it’s amazing how often people complain about being tired and worn out.  It may not only be a physical weariness of difficult or tedious work, but a mental exhaustion, too, information overload.  As the warm weather finally arrives, people are eager to get away from it all and take a trip or a vacation, decompress and recharge.  Of course, as enjoyable as a getaway can be, most people realize they need a vacation after their vacation before they will actually feel rested and refreshed.  We keep seeking after things that will de-stress and rejuvenate us and give us peace, but we never quite seem to get all the way there. 
 
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about the rest that He gives to those who are tired and burdened.  He is not talking simply about outward, temporary relaxation bur rather inward, lasting restoration and peace, rest for your souls.  So today, we will be seeking first to identify what it is that makes our souls so weary, and then second, to discover where and how we may obtain this rest which Jesus is speaking about, the true rest which continues forever.
 
What is it that exhausts our souls?  For some it is very simply the stress of fulfilling their many responsibilities in life and all the things you have to deal with as a parent and a spouse and a worker and a volunteer and a caretaker.  The anxiety that comes from doing everything that needs to be done can cause more than just bodily tiredness, it can drain a person's spirit.  For others, it is struggling to live up to the expectations and social pressures of family members or friends that makes them inwardly worn out.  They never feel like they quite measure up.  For many, burdens of the soul can be caused by bodily troubles and sicknesses, which wear a person down mentally and can raise the nagging question, "Why is this happening to me?"  And for still others, spiritual weariness comes from the fact that they've been dragging around a load of guilt with them for years and sometimes even decades.  Some failure or something they deeply regret having done won't leave them alone but seems to hang on to them like a ball and chain.null
 
But in the most ultimate and truest sense, the thing that makes our souls "weary and burdened" is the all-encompassing demands laid on us by God's Law.  Now at first we might think that we can handle God's commands.  "Don't murder.  Don't steal.  Don't commit adultery.  Honor your parents.  Remember the Sabbath Day."  Those aren't always easy, but with a little effort we can usually pull that weight.  But then we learn that there's more to it than that.  "Don't murder" also means that we should help our neighbor in all his physical needs, even to the point of loving our enemies.  "Don't commit adultery" also means that we should constantly honor and love our spouse.  "Don't steal" also means that we should help others to improve and protect their possessions.  That’s a lot heavier load.  And then we discover that we can also break God's commandments in our hearts.  Lust is adultery.  Anger is murder.  Greed is stealing.  Now, it takes all of our might just to drag that burden an inch.  And that's not even the end of it.  We're stopped dead in our tracks, drained of all our strength when God says in His Word, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."  And, "You, therefore, must be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."
 
God's Law is like a gigantic boulder to which we are chained.  And He says, "Pull it!  If you want to get to heaven on your own steam, you must drag it all the way there."  And not one of us can.  Our fallenness burdens our conscience and makes life an exhausting spiritual struggle. 
 
So where do we find rest?  The kind of rest we are speaking about is not to be found in a vacation trip or a six-pack or in any other earthly pleasure.  No, in the Gospel Jesus tells us where real, lasting rest is to be found by saying, "Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."  Notice the gift language there.  No purchase necessary.  “I will give you rest.” To those who are weighed down by the burden of anxiety or stress, Jesus says, "Here, let me carry it."  To those who've been dragging around a load of guilt Jesus says, "Here, let me pull it."  To those who've been worn down and worn out by the demands of God's Law Jesus says, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
 
A yoke, of course, is a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals, like horses or oxen, are joined together for plowing.  So it might seem a bit odd at first that Jesus would invite us to come to Him for rest and then say, "Take my yoke upon you," as if it was not rest He was offering but hard labor.  However, that is clearly not Jesus' intent.  What He is saying rather is, "Stop your exhausting and futile efforts to pull that load alone.  Hook up with me; let me do it."
 
One of the parts of a yoke is a piece called an evener.  This evener can be adjusted so that the stronger of the two animals pulls the heaviest portion of the load.  Well, in our case, the evener is adjusted all the way so that we pull the whole load through Christ and by His strength alone.  For only He has the power to move it.  Only He has the power to fulfill the Law of God and to overcome sin.  We are yoked together with Christ by faith, so that His work counts as our own.  He does all the pulling and we get all the credit.  By His grace Christ joins Himself to us in such a way that His righteousness is our righteousness before God the Father.  Jesus bears the yoke of the cross, and so do we.  But He bears the full burden of it; He’s the One carrying the load.  Christ walks beside us day by day in this world and dwells in us by His holy words and sacraments, that He may live His life through us, a life of faith and love that is well-pleasing to the heavenly Father.
 
You see, Jesus' purpose in coming to this earth was to do for us what we had to do but could not do.  Having taken on Himself our human nature, He, the Son of God, began to live a holy life for us.  He overcame temptation.  He loved and gave of Himself for others.  He fulfilled all the requirements of God's Law.  And then He submitted Himself to a cruel and torturous death in our place in obedience to His heavenly Father.  He dragged the weight of the entire world's sin up the Mount of Calvary.  There He was crucified.  Our sins were paid for that day, nevermore to accuse us, nevermore to burden our souls.  Jesus became weak so that we would be made strong.  He became weary to the point of death so that we would have rest and life.  And now that He has conquered death by His glorious resurrection from the grave, we are made certain that this rest He gives is real and this life He bestows is everlasting.
 
Jesus' invitation to each of you today, then, is to renew your faith in Him, the faith by which you are yoked together with Him.  For when He says, "Come to me," and "Take my yoke upon you," that is the same as His saying, "Believe in me.  Place your confidence in what I've done to save you.  Let your heart take refuge in Me.  Trust in me to help pull you through the struggles of this life."  You were yoked together with Christ already in your baptism, where He said to you, "I have called you by name; you are mine.  I will never leave you or forsake you."  Jesus is walking with you even today, every step of the way, through the high points and the low points, through the good and the bad, so that regardless of your circumstances, you may have His restfulness and His peace in your souls, that peace which passes all understanding.  Christ gives you rest along the way by speaking into your ears His comforting words of absolution.  And He offers you refreshment by placing into your mouths His holy body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, to strengthen you with His real presence, His very life.  
 
That is why the day of the divine service is rightly called the Sabbath Day, the day of rest.  For it is especially in the liturgy that Christ gives you true spiritual rest and recreation.  It is here that the Holy Spirit uses His instruments of life to re-create you and renew you in the image of Christ.  Our Lord will finally lead you from here to the eternal re-creation–the new creation–and to the unending rest and peace and joy which is being prepared for you in heaven.
 
Of course, to the world, this may all seem foolish, even childish.  But remember what Jesus said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babies. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.”  The so-called smart people of this world keep searching for rest in places it cannot be truly found–in the idols of things and people and false spirituality.  Only those who are weak and lowly find real rest in Christ, for He is the One who is gentle and lowly in heart, who comforts the afflicted, who declares sinners to be righteous, who gives rest to the weary and life to the dead.  
 
To conclude, Revelation 14 speaks of heaven and hell in terms of rest.  Of unbelievers, it says this:  "The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night."  But of believers, yoked together with Christ, it says this:  "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth.  Blessed indeed, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors."
 
God grant, then, that you who are weary will heed Jesus' invitation and come to Him with trusting hearts.  For He gives you the rest of your life–both in this world and in the one to come.
 
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Have No Fear, Little Flock

John 10: 11-18, 27-30

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    “They’re all just a bunch of sheep.”  You’ve heard people use that phrase before.  It’s not meant to be a compliment.  It carries with it the idea of blind allegiance and ignorant loyalty to a person or a cause or an institution.  And I suppose that’s how the world often thinks of Christians and the church–that we’re all just a bunch of people mindlessly holding to the faith, not thinking for ourselves, following a Messiah with some foolish herd mentality.  

    Jesus does refer to you as His sheep, but of course not in the way the world does.  It’s actually quite a good thing in the end that you’re a bunch of sheep in His flock.  What are we to learn from this image that God uses throughout the Scriptures?  There are several points of comparison, but the main point is our total spiritual helplessness and therefore our complete dependence on Christ our Shepherd.  Sheep are not particularly well-suited for survival when left to themselves.  They can’t run fast to flee from a predator. They have no powerful jaws or claws to fight off an attacker.  They’re basically an easy meal for whatever bear or wolf might want to ravage the flock.

    And that’s how it is with us.  The devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  The grave opens its jaws wide and lunges at us to drag us to the depths.  And sin, like a beast from within, constantly tries to fight its way out and gain dominance in our lives.  And were we left to our own devices, those spiritual enemies would easily win the day and destroy us and leave our bones for the scavenging vultures.  And all the more so because of what the Scriptures say, “We all like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way.”  We’ve seen those TV shows featuring the harsh realities of nature and what happens to animals that stray from the herd out in the wild.  That’s exactly how it is with us who stray from God, thinking we can live independently from Him, doing things our own way, according to our own rules.  We wander from the flock.  Little do we realize that in our pride we’re entirely defenseless.  And the predator attacks, and the jugular is pierced, and the evil one would drag our carcass away.  null

    But today’s Gospel is not primarily about the sheep but about the Shepherd.  He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, even the foolish, sinful sheep who stray.  Jesus is a Good Shepherd in the way of David before Him.  You may remember when David was applying before King Saul for the job of taking on the Philistine warrior Goliath, the number one thing David put on his resumé was his experience as a shepherd:

    David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it. Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.” Moreover David said, “The LORD, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!” [1 Sam. 17.34-37]

    Jesus, the Son of David, protects us sheep from sin and death and the Goliath Satan by facing them head on for us.  He stands in between us and the predators to shield and shelter us.  He opens up His own body to their slashing and onslaughts to take them down and keep us safe.  

    In this way Jesus is not like a hireling.  The hireling runs away from the fight because he doesn’t truly care about the sheep.  He’s just there to earn a buck.  He doesn’t own the sheep.  It’s not his loss if the flock is scattered a bit.  At the end of the day, he’s going to save his own skin.  But Jesus truly cares about you.  He’s not using you for His own ends, just to dump you somewhere down the line.  You belong to Him.  He wants to have you with Himself for all eternity.  And so He defends you as His own treasured possession.  He puts His own life on the line for you, even to the point of the cross.   Like David, He grabs hold of sin and death by the scruff of the neck, and He drags those predators down into the pit.  They kill Him, and then suppose that with the Shepherd dead, the sheep would be theirs. But in attacking Him, they walked into a trap.  It was beyond their comprehension that the Shepherd could live again, arising from the dead and leaving them behind, crushed and defeated in the pit forever.  They bit into a man and found God.  Seizing their Victim, they themselves became the prey.  As David beat back the lion and the bear with his knife and club, so great David’s greater Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, has turned the wood of the cross into a mighty weapon by which those wolves that threatened us, Satan and death, are slain and crushed.

    Always remember, then, that Jesus alone is your Good Shepherd, your Good Pastor and Bishop.  For He alone is the One to whom you belong as His flock.  As the Epistle said, “For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  All of us who bear the title of “pastor” are simply undershepherds of the Chief Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.  All trust is to be placed in Him alone.  For in every undershepherd there is a hireling called the old Adam, the sinful nature.  No sure source of confidence there, whether it's your local pastor or the Pope himself.  Our only confidence is in Christ to whom the sheep belong.

    And notice how it is that we know Jesus: through His Word.  Sheep don’t have particularly good vision, but they do have good hearing.  Jesus said, “My sheep listen to My voice and they follow Me.”  Usually when we think of herders dealing with animals, we have in mind something like ranchers who drive their animals and push them to go where they want them to go from behind, forcing them to stay in a tight bunch–lots of yelling and dogs barking and that sort of thing. But here Jesus says, “My sheep follow Me.” Jesus is out in front. The sheep stay together and follow because they recognize His voice, His voice of mercy and forgiveness in the Gospel. There’s no force and coercion involved here, but the gentle invitation of Jesus’ Word. Do you see the difference? We’re not just nameless cattle to our Lord. We are beloved sheep whom He calls each by name. Jesus says, “I know My sheep; and My sheep know Me.” You follow Him, for you love and trust in Him. You stake your life on Him. For You know His voice and you listen to it; it’s unlike any other out there in the world. Your ears perk up at the sound of it. Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you fear no evil; for He is with you. Even if you can’t see Him, if you can hear Him, you know it will be alright; you know it’s safe. You’re in His care. He restores your soul. He leads you beside still and gentle waters to drink of His Spirit in the Word and in Holy Baptism. He prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies, the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, which draws us into communion with Himself and with His Father; for Jesus and the Father are one. It is for all of these reasons and more that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. It is for all of these reasons and more that we follow Him.

    We dare not forget, of course, that following Him means that we are given to live as He lived, too, in this world. We heard about this in the Epistle, that Christ left us an example, that you should follow in His steps. Being a sheep of the Good Shepherd’s flock means living a different kind of life, walking the path of the cross. When Jesus suffered, He did not threaten but forgave. So also, it is not for you to seek revenge on your enemies but to do them good. When Jesus was reviled and mocked, He did not revile in return. So also, it is not for you to return evil for evil, but to pray for those who make life difficult for you. As Jesus did, so you also, commit yourselves to God the Father who judges justly. Trust that all these matters are in His righteous hands.

    For we heard in the Old Testament reading that Jesus Himself will come for the weak and the injured and the broken and the sick.  You can probably find yourself somewhere in that group.  None of us is untouched by bodily weakness, or damaged psyches, or challenging family situations, or disappointments or  overwhelming obligations, or nagging addictions and compulsions and lusts.  You are not alone.  All we like sheep have gone astray and are weak, wounded, damaged and frail.  But Jesus says, “I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out and gather them and feed them in rich pasture.   I will bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick.”  “By His wounds we are healed.”

    And finally don’t forget that the way our Good Shepherd saved us sheep was by becoming one of us, the Lamb who was slain.  It is written in Revelation 7, “The Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. . .  They shall neither hunger any more nor thirst any more . . .  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  

    So let me say it again:  You’re all a bunch of sheep.  But in this case that’s a good and wonderful thing.  Because you’re the sheep of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who listen to His voice and who follow Him to the eternal life that He alone gives.  His promise stands sure:  nothing, nothing at all can snatch you out of His good and merciful hands.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

I'm Not Spiritual, I'm Religious

Easter 1
John 20:19-31 (Ezek 37:1-14, 1 John 5:4-10)
 
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit
 
It’s become a very fashionable cliche’ for people to say nowadays, “I’m not religious; I’m spiritual.”  It’s a way of talking that seems open-minded and non-rigid while still embracing the idea of faith and the divine.  But in truth, I think what is often meant is, “I want to deal with God on my own terms and in my own way, and so I’ll treat my faith like a buffet line at a cafeteria, and take only what I want and what appeals to me.”  St. Augustine once said, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel and reject what you don’t, it’s not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”  All of this is in the same category as those who say they don’t believe in organized religion.  While it’s true that religious institutions populated with fallen human beings are often going to be a mess, the rejection of any sort of organized religion is in actuality a rejection of any sort of tangible, concrete, real world, real life faith that involves real people.  In the end it’s a rejection of Christianity which is all about God in the flesh.  It’s an incarnate faith in the One who came to redeem human beings and all creation through His bodily death and bodily resurrection.  That’s not just some free-floating spirituality; that’s real doctrine, real people, real, organized, congregation-type religion. 
 
What our sinful nature wants is a generic, easily managed belief system of self-fulfillment.  We like being “spiritual” because it sounds pious, but in fact, being “spiritual” often means taking the body out of the equation in favor of some sort of divine energy within.  The sinful nature loves this because then you can claim to have faith while your bodily life is involved in unfaithfulness: gluttony or overdrinking with the mouth, lusting after others or viewing pornography with the eyes, taking part in ungodly gossip or crude joking with the mouth and ears, physical laziness in carrying out your real-world, organized, ordinary vocations that serve the neighbor. 
 
It’s no coincidence, then, that our “spiritual, but not religious” culture grows more and more sexually immoral, as if one’s bodily behavior or one’s created gender is disconnected from one’s faith in the God who Himself made our bodies.  A purely spiritual faith doesn’t necessarily concern itself with chastity, or for that matter with visiting “orphans and widows in their affliction” and keeping oneself “unstained from the world” as James 1:27 describes it.  But in fact St. James calls the doing of those things “religion that is pure and undefiled before God.”  
 
Focusing only on the soul and “being spiritual” is to miss the whole point of what the human spirit was created to do: namely, to animate one particular human body, to dwell in human flesh, to live in the perfect glory that God meant for us when He made man and breathed life into his physical body.  There are those who think that the ultimate spiritual occurrence would be to have an out of body experience.  But there is actually a term for an out of body experience, the separation of the spirit from the body–it’s called “death.”  And the Bible refers to that as a curse, and our enemy.
 
To be truly alive is to be like Jesus after the resurrection.  For on that first Easter evening, the disciples were locked in a room in fear.  And who came to visit them?  Not a ghost. Not a spirit.  Not an idea in their heads or feelings in their hearts.  Rather it was Jesus, the incarnate God, the bodily resurrected Son, who came to them. He did not come bearing a socially-acceptable, safe, and self-serving spirituality. Rather He came bearing His body, standing in the flesh among them, and He said to them: “Peace be with you.”null
 
This is exactly what they needed to hear out loud in the midst of their fears and guilt and uncertainty about the future as they huddled behind locked doors.  And it’s exactly what we need to hear, too.  Jesus is saying, “Do not be afraid; I took away all your sins and failures in my death on the cross.  I have conquered the grave for you; it has no power over you any longer.  I have reconciled you to the Father.  All is well.  Let not your hearts be troubled.  Peace be with you.”
 
This peace of God comes bodily. It is not an abstract idea, but a fleshly reality in Jesus, the Prince of Peace and the Source of Peace.  Having given the apostles this gift, Jesus goes on to give them the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” And even here, the Spirit is not given to the apostles spiritually, but rather bodily. For notice how it says that the Lord “breathed on them.” He ordained them in this physical way, just as Jesus touched the sick and sinners to heal and release them.  The apostles would later pass on this authority to forgive sins to other men, not through silent prayer, not through mystical divine energy rituals, but through the physical laying on of hands with the words of God.
 
Here’s another way of putting it and thinking about it:  Jesus did not come to make the world more spiritual, but rather to restore and renew and glorify its tangible, concrete createdness.  In a very real sense our bodies right now are only shadows of what they were created to be.  The way the Bible speaks of it, what we look forward to as Christians is not so much us going to some spiritual existence in heaven, but heaven coming to earth, God coming to dwell with His resurrected people in a renewed creation freed from the curse.
 
So when St. Thomas the doubter was present the next Sunday, our Lord Jesus did not offer Him a mystical vision, positive energy, or an aura: rather He offered St. Thomas His very fleshly body, and His wounds, given physically for him to see and touch. Thomas did not look within for a spiritual experience with his eyes closed, but rather stuck his finger into the Lord’s hand and side. And Thomas confessed: “My Lord and my God!” He did not believe in Jesus the ghost or Jesus the literary character. He believed in Jesus: the Son of God, the Son of Man, who took flesh in order to die, who died in order to rise, who rose in order that we too might rise, and do so bodily.
 
There was another son of man from we heard about in the OT reading who had an encounter in the Spirit of the Lord that was anything but a “spiritual” experience. For Ezekiel saw a field of bones. And when the prophet preached the Word to these bones, the breath, that is, the spirit, entered them. But the result was not spiritual, but physical: “I will lay sinews upon you,” says the Lord, “and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live…. And there was a rattling and the bones came together.” And then came sinews and flesh and skin. And when the breath, that is, the spirit entered the flesh, the flesh came to life: “an exceedingly great army.”  The Lord did not speak through Ezekiel promising a vague spirituality, but something starkly physical: “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves…. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, O My people. And I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live.” (Ezekiel 37)
 
How remarkable this Word is, this promise fulfilled before the doubting eyes of Thomas, whose hands touched the reality, whose eyes saw physically.  Thomas himself would go on to baptize, preach, and administer Holy Communion in the flesh until his dying day.
 
Anyone who would try to “spiritualize” Jesus is attempting to tame Him, control Him, and reduce Him to a moralizing, milquetoast guru, instead of submitting to the Almighty One who conquered death by dying, and who physically rose from the tomb so that we too might rise.
So let me say it once more:  Christianity is not about generic spirituality, but about Jesus: His body and His blood, the water that flowed from His side, and the touch of His nail-scarred, forgiving hands. This is very Good News for you, and part of the good news is that you experience this Gospel physically, through your bodily senses–from your Holy Baptism which you experienced in the flesh through feeling the water and the sound waves of the words; from the preached Law and Gospel and Holy Absolution, receiving by faith that which comes by hearing with your ears; and from Holy Communion, the flesh and blood of Jesus eaten with the mouth by flesh and blood sinners, for forgiveness, life, and salvation.
 
“For everyone,” says John in the epistle, “who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is He who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ.”
 
Fellow believers, fellow religious Christians, our Lord does not compare us to phantoms that run on positive thoughts, but rather to “newborn babies” who “desire the pure milk of the Word.” For Jesus is risen from the dead, and He stood on His feet in the midst of the disciples and said with His mouth words that ring true still today, “Peace be with you.”   This is how we now can confess with our mouths: “I believe in… the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  For Jesus has come in the flesh to join us to Himself and to make us to be members of His risen body.  May we all confess the same thing about this incarnate One that Thomas did, “My Lord and my God!”
 
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit
 
 (With thanks to the Rev. Larry Beane for much of the above.)

4 Brief Meditations on the St. John Passion

John 18:1-27

    The contrast between Peter and Jesus couldn’t be more stark.  Peter had talked big about his faithfulness and devotion to Jesus.  He had flailed around with his sword in the garden, as if he were Jesus’ personal bodyguard.  But now he is suddenly a coward.  Now that Jesus is captured, he is fearful even of a little servant girl suggesting that he is Jesus’ disciple.  Peter is afraid of what might happen to him.  He is afraid to suffer.

    And so are we.  We’re in love with the idea of faithfulness. We look up to the martyrs of the church and believe that we too would rather die than deny Jesus.  But we deny Him in so many little ways, when we fail to speak or act because that might associate us with Jesus in a negative light.  We’re afraid of what might happen to our reputation or our income or our life if we’re stereotyped as one of “those” Christians.  We don’t want to suffer for the name of Jesus.  null

    But Jesus is most willing to suffer for us.  He doesn’t hide from those who come to arrest him.  Rather, Jesus goes forth boldly to meet His captors, fully prepared to drink the cup of judgment given Him by His Father.  Jesus is not like Adam, who hid among the trees in fear.  In this garden Jesus meets his enemies head on, so that we who are the children of Adam may go free.  For this man Jesus is the great I AM, the eternal God revealed in the burning bush to Moses.  His name causes His enemies to draw back and fall to the ground.  For all who do not call on His name in faith will fall to their own destruction.

    Peter would later not deny but confess the name of Jesus boldly on Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  In the end Peter would die courageously for the name of Christ.  God grant us His Holy Spirit that we too may confess the name of Jesus with full confidence in Him.  Let us take to heart Jesus’ words, “Be faithful even unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

John 18:28-40

    The Jewish leaders do not want to enter Pilate’s Praetorium, especially during this time of the Passover, lest they be defiled by being in a Gentile building.  But they are already defiled within by their sinful motives and desires.  So also, we are all too often concerned about outward righteousness and appearances, when the Lord looks at the heart and desires the inward righteousness of faith.  To be undefiled is to confess your sins for what they are and to trust in Him who is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleannullse us from all unrighteousness.  

    Jesus stands before Pilate.  Pilate received His authority from God.  And now God in the flesh humbles Himself to be placed under this authority.  The Judge of all men is being judged by a man.  Judgment should be based on truth, but the only thing Pilate can say is “What is truth?”  All fallen human beings are liars, the Psalm says.  But Jesus is Himself the truth.  He is reality.  He is the way things are, the truth of God’s mercy shown to those who have not deserved it.

    Pilate finds Jesus innocent, no fault in Him at all.  But the crowds don’t want Jesus, they want Barabbas.  The violent robber goes free so that Jesus might rob us of our sin by being violently executed.  The one who took life lives; the One who gives life dies.  This is God’s good and gracious will, that Christ should die in the place of sinners.  Jesus goes to death in our place, so that we might live forever in His place, in His kingdom, which is not of this world.  Pilate’s plan to release Jesus fails.  The Passover Lamb will be sacrificed by the Father to take away the sin of the world.

John 19:1-22

    People will sometimes blame their failings on the fact that “they’re only human.”  However, the problem since the fall of Adam is not that we are human but that we are less than human.  Our sin has dehumanized us, turning us in on ourselves rather than outward in love toward God and others.  Beastly thoughts and words and actions often proceed from us.  Survival instincts dominate. So it is written, “Man is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:12).  

    And we don’t like anyone drawing this to our attention, either.  Better if they can be ignored or shut up.  This is the behavior of those who are less than men.  It is the behavior of the chief priests and the officers when they see Jesus.  He is a threat to their territory and domain.  And so they growl  for His crucifixion.  null

    But before they can cry out their desires, Pontius Pilate speaks words that were more true than he realized.  He presents a bloodied and beaten Jesus and says, “Behold the Man!”  Here is the One who is truly and fully human, who is not degraded and corrupted by His own sin.  Here is the only real Man, who lays down His life for fallen creatures like you to raise you up as the people of God, His own beloved bride, His Church.  He willingly allows Himself to be treated inhumanely to rescue you, to restore your humanity, to give you to share in His life and His glory.  By His wounds you are healed and forgiven.

    Behold the One who wears thorns on His head as a crown, to redeem you from the curse on the ground which you were created out of.  Behold the Ram whose horns are caught in the thorny thicket of sin, who is offered up in the place of you Isaacs as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Behold the woman’s Seed who is crucified at Golgotha, the place of a Skull, whose cross is driven like Jael’s tent peg into the skull, whose pierced feet crush Satan’s head and defeat the power of death.

    This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.  The chief priests don’t like this inscription that Pilate placed over Jesus’ head, and they ask him to change it.  But the earthly authority whom God has established proclaims the truth.  “What I have written, I have written.”  Jesus truly is the King of the Jews, that is, the King of all those who are the true children of Abraham.  He reigns in mercy over His baptized ones, over all you who believe in His promises, and who are credited with His righteousness by grace alone.

John 19:23-42

    It is Friday, the sixth day of the week.  It is the day not only of man’s creation in the beginning, but now also of His redemption and re-creation.  For here is the new Adam who is put into the deep sleep of death, that the new Eve might be created from His side.  The sacramental water and blood that flow from His pierced heart are most certainly what gives the church her life.  “We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:30).

    The new Adam bears the shame and the nakedness of our sin, which the fig leaves of our denial and excuses cannot hide.  Jesus is exposed and laid bare on the tree of the cross.  As the first Adam and Eve were clothed with the skins of sacrificed animals, so we who are tnullheir children are covered with the seamless garment of Christ, as it is written, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).  His bloody death covers our shame and atones for our sin.  

    In the sweat of His face, Jesus cries out “I thirst!”  He who is the fountain of life is parched like the dusty ground.  His tongue sticks to the roof of His mouth (Psalm 22:15).  He is given sour wine, vinegar for His thirst (Psalm 69:21).  Our Lord endures this scornful gesture that we might hunger and thirst for His righteousness and drink deeply of the Living Water that He gives and so be honored with Him in His resurrection.

    Jesus is buried in a garden, an indication of the greater Eden to come.  For in Christ paradise is restored and all creation is made new.  The work has now been completed.  “It is finished,” Jesus said.  The Sabbath is at hand.  “And God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.”  “And God saw everything that He had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Not a Bread King, the Bread of Life

Lent 4
 
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
 
Today’s Gospel concludes by saying that the people tried to take Jesus by force to make Him king.  They had finally found the leader they were looking for from among all candidates that were out there.  Politics and theology were running close together in the people’s minds.  Jesus had developed quite a following through His teaching and His healing.  Now, by feeding the 5000 in this miraculous way, Jesus was the instant frontrunner to lead the people.  While some seemed to understand who Jesus really was when they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world,”–referring to the Messiah Moses had prophesied–most seemed to be more interested in the power and the miracles.  They followed Jesus not for salvation, not for forgiveness of their sins, not for reconciliation with God, but rather for free food and health care.  Here’s a guy who could really help my economic circumstances, and my medical needs, and maybe do something about those foreign Roman occupiers, too.  This is about as close as they could get to an election.  The people had spoken.
 
Now at this point, Jesus would be the envy of every politician running for office.  His poll numbers were strong, and He had proven he could deliver on his promises.  Church politicians would be thrilled with Jesus, too.  Jesus really seems to have hit upon a successful evangelism program; just look at the crowds!  (Of course, by the end of this chapter, after Jesus had talked about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, He went from having thousands of followers to only a dozen.  But that’s another sermon.)null
 
Just because the majority speaks, it doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily right–whether it’s the 99% or the 51%.  The notion of a democratic republic wasn’t handed down from heaven as the way to run states or countries.  To paraphrase Winston Churchill, democracy is a lousy form of government; it just happens to be the best one available in this fallen world, since power (which inevitably corrupts) supposedly doesn’t get concentrated in the hands of a few.  But majority votes are sometimes not too far from mob rule, as we are seeing in North Africa and the Middle East, where majority rule has meant the persecution of Christians; or in this country where majority votes have meant the normalization of sexual perversity.  So also with the majority in today’s Gospel–other agendas were at work that didn’t belong to Jesus, political agendas that weren’t the Father’s design for His Messiah king. 
 
That’s why Jesus goes to the mountain all alone and shuns the voice of the people.  For Jesus understands that while presidents and prime ministers are elected by the people, kings are not.  The king is who he is by virtue of his birth, by virtue of his person–regardless of the voice of the people.  
 
There is a temptation offered here to Jesus that is not unlike what the devil had offered earlier when he took Jesus up on the mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  “All these I will give you,” the devil said.  But to attain such glory would require a deal with the devil, which our Lord Jesus would never do.  His kingdom is not of this world, it is from above.  And His kingship is not subject to the will of the people but the will of the Father.
 
Jesus was all alone on the mountain, which is the way I’m sure Moses felt in the Old Testament reading as the people grumbled against him.  When they were in Egypt, they groaned against their yoke of slavery.  And once liberated, they groaned against the burden of freedom.  And this is right after God saved the children of Israel by opening the Red Sea to them as an evacuation route, and drowning the army of their enemy.  With very short memories, they now tell Moses they would rather be back in Egypt–note just how fickle public opinion can be!  If the Israelites could vote, Moses would surely have been recalled. 
 
And yet, God does not oust Moses.  The Lord alone is the deciding vote.  He gives the people that which they don’t deserve; in spite of themselves He rains bread from heaven upon them, manna, literally giving them their “daily bread.”  Of course, the children of Israel would later complain even against this generosity of God.  They wished they had more variety in their free meals and not the same old manna every day.
 
Likewise in the Gospel, our Lord Jesus provides miraculous bread for the 5000, even for these people who did not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.  For God gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people.  He send rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous, that we may learn to receive His undeserved gifts with thanksgiving.  
 
And again notice here how this calls to mind the wilderness temptation of Jesus.  Back then, Jesus would not turn the stones into bread to feed Himself, in faithfulness to His heavenly Father.  But now, perhaps very near the same spot where He had earlier been tempted, Jesus does use His power to produce bread, not for Himself but for others in their need.  Jesus is focused not on Himself but on others in the way of love.
 
And this is where we often fall short.  We must confess that we get turned in on ourselves and have sometimes grumbled and complained against God for the way He’s provided for us or hasn’t come through for us as we wanted.  We want God to fit our agenda, and when He doesn’t, we become disappointed or upset.  Too often we let the voice of the majority affect our desires more than the voice of Jesus, the only divine voice of His Word.  It’s the opinion of our peers that drives us, a desire to fit in and keep up with the world, to have the approval of those who are considered important.  We are by nature people pleasers rather than God pleasers.  For this we must repent. 
 
And so must the church at large, which is constantly facing the temptation of watering down its confession and practices to make itself more amenable to the world–with market driven megachurches and success driven preachers.  We must ever be reminded that Jesus is Lord, not public opinion or financial pressures or human votes.
 
And we must also be reminded that God is still at work in the midst of all these things, turning even evil for the good.  Even the rebel will of the majority becomes an instrument of the will of God, both for judging and for saving.  Sometimes the worst judgment that can befall a people or a country is for the majority to get its way and suffer by its own doing.  And our salvation also came through the rebel will of the majority.  You recall that when Pontius Pilate placed Jesus and Barabbas before the people, and asked them which one they wanted him to release, there was something of an election.  They shouted for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be crucified.  And the murderer was set free while the Lord of life was sentenced to death.  Though this was a grave injustice humanly speaking, yet it was precisely how divine justice would be carried out.  For Jesus had come to take the place of us sinners, to bear the judgment for sins He did not commit, so that we would be forgiven.  And so the voice of the majority was indeed the voice of God the Father Himself, speaking through the people saying, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”  It was the will of God that His Son die for the people in spite of themselves.  Because of that sacrificial love of God, we Barabbases are released from sin and death.  We are now children of God in Him who is the Son of God.
 
When politics and theology become indistinguishable, people die.  In the Gospel, the people were going to take Jesus by force to make Him king.  And in the end the crowds did just that when they forced Him to the throne of the cross, where He was crowned with thorns.  That is where Jesus is lifted up and exalted in all His royal love for us.  It is from the cross that we hear the true voice of God which trumps all other voices:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”  
 
Jesus said in John 6, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this Bread, he will live forever.  And the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”  Jesus is our Manna, given over to the cross for the life of the world, given out to you in Sacrament of the Altar.  
 
Thanks be to God for this, that our Lord does not give in to the mobs to become an earthly king.  For His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom to which you belong in baptism.  Jesus is more than a bread King; He is your Redeemer King, the very Bread of Life Himself.  Thanks be to God that His mercy overcomes our sin.  For in spite of our grumbling, our Lord also gives us that which we don’t deserve.  Not only does He give us our daily bread and the things we need to support this body and life, He also gives us the bread of immortality, His own flesh and blood.  Again, Jesus said later in John 6, “I am the Bread of Life.  He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. . .  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”  We have our own greater miracle from Christ right here in divine service: the Bread which is His body multiplying His forgiveness to you so abundantly that it never runs out.  Those who eat here are filled and satisfied with the goodness and mercy of the Lord.
 
Let us, then, come continually to where we may truly hear the voice of God–not in majority votes, but in Christ’s Word, in His sacraments, in His preached Gospel.  Let us gladly hear and learn the words of Jesus, for they are the words of eternal life.
 
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
 
(Some of the above was adapted from a sermon by the Rev. Larry Beane.)

Posts