Month: February, 2019

The Teacher

Seventh Sunday of Epiphany — Deacon Rex Watt

Genesis 45:3-15 / 1 Cor 15:21-26, 30-42 / Luke 6:27-38

 

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +  Amen.

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

Dear Saints of Redeemer.  We have been travelling with Jesus over the past several weeks from the time that the wise men came to offer their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child, to his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist where we heard the voice of God declare, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  We watched him turn water into wine; walk out of a crowd trying to kill him; heal many who were inflicted with infirmities; cast out demons; and provide a miraculous catch of fish.  Each of these Sunday’s readings manifested the divinity of Jesus in a material or physical way.  Last Sunday, and today, we see Jesus manifested as “The Teacher.”  Notice that I said, “The Teacher.”  It is conventional wisdom to consider Jesus as “a” teacher, maybe even a “good teacher” but certainly not “The Teacher.”  We heard from Pastor Wildermuth last week that Jesus taught with “unconventional wisdom.”  In our Gospel lesson for this week, we hear some more of that unconventional wisdom.  If Jesus is “The Teacher” then his words must trump the teachings of all others.  If Jesus is “The Teacher” then his words lay claim on my life, and your life.  If Jesus is “The Teacher” then it’s no longer what I think, but what he says.

We all have had teachers in our lives.  Some good, some not so good.  Some remembered, some you may want to forget.  What made a teacher good and remembered by you, or not so good in your mind, probably wasn’t what they taught, but how they taught; who they were.  After all, math is math.  History is (or should be!) history.  If I ask you to recall who your favorite teacher was when you were in school, I suspect it would be a teacher who took a special interest in you or was able to make a boring or difficult subject “come to life” for you.  Someone has said, “The mediocre teacher tells; the good teacher explains; the superior teacher demonstrates; but the great teacher inspires.” (William Ward, Progress Magazine, December 23, 1992)  No matter who we remember as a great teacher, they pale in comparison to Jesus.  Jesus is the greatest teacher who has ever taught.  When he opened his mouth, people listened.  They were, as Matthew said, “…astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Mt 7:28-29)

In our text for today, Jesus takes the heart of his teaching to an unexpectedly deeper level by commanding that his disciples love their enemies.  There is a lot of what we call “Law” in these verses.  There are several imperatives, commands to obey.  Love your enemies is one of them.  Conventional wisdom is that you hate your enemies.  You have heard the saying, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?”  Jesus here is turning that on its head.  And he tells us what love for an enemy looks like.  It is doing good to them, blessing them, and praying for them.    Later in Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus demonstrating this very teaching.  He is on the Cross, between two criminals, being scoffed at and ridiculed by those standing by and having his clothing being auctioned off by the roll of the dice when he says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”(Lk 23:34)  We see this teaching in practice in the early Church when Stephen is being stoned for his testimony about Jesus when in Acts 7 we read, “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’  And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’  And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (7:59-60)

Jesus goes on to tell us more about how this love gets worked out in life.  He tells his disciples, and us, that if anyone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other also.  I’ve heard someone say, “If someone strikes me on one cheek, I’ll let him strike me on the other…but I’ve only got two cheeks you know.  Third time’s the charm!”  I think that attitude misses the point here.  A slap on the cheek is a physical insult.  Insults are not life threatening.  We need to keep in mind the context in which we find these verses.  The reading today is part of a larger reading that began last week and is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain.  He said in verse 22-23, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”  If you are being hated, cursed at, abused or slapped because you bear the name of Christ, rejoice!  If those things are happening to you because you are being a jerk, face the music!

And it’s not just insults we are commanded to bear, but Jesus commands us to give.  When John the Baptist was asked by the crowds who came out to him to be baptized how they should then live, he told them “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none.”(Lk 3:11)  Notice Jesus takes it up a notch.  “…and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.”(vs 29)  The cloak was the outer garment, the tunic was the inner garment, closest to the skin: one’s undergarment!  Jesus wants us to give even if it means we give the clothes off our back.  All these commands demand something of us that we are not normally, or naturally, willing to do.

He goes on to give examples of what we are not supposed to do, which is exactly what we normally do.  We love those who love us.  We do good to those who do good to us.  We give, or lend, to those whom we know can give or give back with interest what we have given them.  Jesus says sinners (the unrighteous) do all that.  What benefit (and that word is actually “grace”) is that to you?  It’s not “grace” to do something because you know you are going to get the same, or more back!  Grace is an undeserved gift.  And that’s exactly what Jesus is telling us to do.  “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return…”(vs 35)  That’s grace. And that, dear Saints, is what God has done for you.

Your God, while you were yet enemies, sent his Son to die for you on the Cross of Calvary.  While you were yet enemies of God, desiring to follow the desires of your own heart, your Lord Jesus endured ridicule, insults, abuse, was hated by his own people, mocked, beaten (not just slapped), and stripped naked for you.  He endured the unimaginable pain of crucifixion for all your sins, my sins, and the sins of the whole world.  You know which sins those are.  I’m not going to stand here and point them out to you.  You can examine your own life according to the 10 Commandments, and if you are like me you fall on your knees and beg for God’s mercy.  And God is merciful.  His Son, Jesus not only died for your sins, but he was raised from the dead for your justification before God.  His resurrection proves that God has accepted his sacrifice for your sins.  Because Jesus lives, you also will live.  God has been merciful to you, and you, dear Saints, can be merciful just as your Father is merciful.

Jesus overthrows the conventional wisdom of human culture emphasizing the Father’s ways of love and mercy.  God is calling you today to practice self-sacrificing love.  Pray for guidance and patience as you put God’s ways into practice in your life.  The God of all mercy will hear your prayer.  He is ready to strengthen and forgive you.  As your teacher, Jesus does more than simply tell, he does more than just explain, he even goes further than demonstrating or even inspiring you…he does it for you.  You dear Saints can love, because he has loved you.  The Lord will lead you to love the ungrateful and the evil, just as he has loved and cared for you.  Amen.

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

Touched by Holiness

Epiphany 5C

February 10, 2019 / Pastor Dennis Wildermuth

Luke 5:1-11 & Isaiah 6:1-8  / “Touched by Holiness”

 

The human heart is a great battle ground between good and evil, between certain natural human inclinations, and the good that God intends for us.  Or in the words of the eldest brother, Dimitri, of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s great novel, The Brothers Karamazov: “The devil is fighting with God and the battlefield is the human heart.”

The only way that fight might be won begins with honesty about our condition, and today’s texts all suggest that we will see our human condition most clearly when it is set next to a vision of the justice and Holiness of God.

The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said that the Christian doctrine of sin was about the only self-evident doctrine we had.  Even if you don’t believe in Jesus, if you have any knowledge of human history over the past two millennia, you believe that we sin.  Human history is the history of sin.

We encounter sin and grace in all three lessons.  Young Isaiah is in the temple at worship.  He has a stunning vision.  It was as if the heavens opened and he saw the very throne of God.  “Holy, Holy, Holy,” sang the cherubim.  And Isaiah cried, “The choir was really on target today!”  No!  Isaiah declares, “Woe is me!  I am lost for I am a man of unclean lips.”  I’m a sinner!

Some years ago there was a popular TV show, Touched by an Angel.  It was a warm fuzzy show, but full of bad theology which usually resulted in me talking back to the TV in an angry tone.  I soon quit watching.  Each week when somebody was touched by an angel, did that person cry out in fear, “Woe is me!  I am lost for I am a person of unclean lips”?

In today’s Gospel Jesus and his disciples are out in a boat.  Jesus takes charge.  “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets,” He directs.  But they have already fished all night and caught nothing.  Besides, it is the wrong time of day to fish.  In bright sunlight the fish will see the thick rope nets.  Nevertheless they do it and the nets are full.  Recognizing that he is in the presence of divine holiness, Peter’s response is the same as Isaiah’s.  He falls to his knees and cries, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

It is hard to be honest about our sin because we are dishonest about the human condition.  We don’t know how to describe ourselves except through therapeutic categories.  We excuse ourselves, saying we are sick rather than sinful.  Or sin as an educational problem – we are racist because we don’t have proper understanding of other cultures.  Or our humanity is at fault: we are frail, vulnerable creatures who respond to our creatureliness in inappropriate ways.  There is some truth to all of that, but none of it gets to the heart of a specifically Christian view of sin, or that the remedy for sin lies not in us but in God.

Today’s Scripture demonstrates that our awareness of sin is a by-product of our being confronted by God.  When we say “sin” we’re not talking about occasional foibles and slipups.  We are saying that face-to-face with the awesome righteousness of God, the holiness of Jesus, we fall to our knees.  We have our noses rubbed in the great gap between who we are and who God is.  To be brought close to the One who is “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty.  The whole earth is full of his glory!” is to cry, “Woe is me for I am one of unclean lips and dwell amid a people of unclean lips.”  Or in the words of Peter: “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Luther said he would know nothing of his sin had not the Holy Spirit taught him.  The Holy Spirit taught Luther and teaches us today through the Word of God.  It is there that the law cuts through all our defenses and rationalizations to show us our sin – that we are full of sin all the time, to show us our lost condition, and all this in sharp contrast to God’s absolute holiness.  Scripture then points us to the remedy, and that remedy is not us trying harder, but rather is to be found in the cross of Christ.

Yes, it is true that we are unworthy, but God has done something marvelous about it.  No flaming angel has come with a burning coal to touch our lips.  God has instead sent his Only Begotten Son to bear that pain on his Cross.  And He has poured out the fire of His Holy Spirit upon us.  He has washed us in the waters of the baptismal font.  He has touched our lips with something better and probably less painful than a burning coal: the very body and blood of Christ Jesus.  We really are the children of God.  He has taken up a real and permanent residence in our lives.

Because we come to worship and into the presence of the Holy God as sinful people, part of our preparation for worship is to confess our sins and receive absolution or forgiveness.  We hear this lifesaving, freeing Gospel in the words of absolution spoken, and we see it in the sign of the cross that is made reminding us of Jesus’ sacrifice.

In Holy Communion this Gospel is individualized, coming personally and directly to each one of us in ways we can see and touch and taste.  Luther never tired of emphasizing the words, “for you” — “given and shed for you.”  These two words convey the Gospel, giving to every communicant the assurance – the guarantee – that God’s grace and gift is for them.

“Holy, holy, holy” are the opening words of the Sanctus, part of the communion we sing before we come to the table of the Lord.  At least we do if we are observing a liturgical rite.  These words remind us that when we come to the Sacrament we are coming into the presence of the holy, we are coming into the presence of God, and this God once rode into Jerusalem where in the flesh He died for the sins of the world.

Years ago I read about a young pastor who served briefly as a chaplain in a state prison.  He told of a father of a young man who had had received a lengthy prison sentence for his crimes.  The son was angry and embittered.  The boy’s father came each week to visit him, but the boy steadfastly refused to see him.  The chaplain was asked to intervene, to plead with the boy to see his father, but the young prisoner refused.

Despite his refusal, the boy’s father took off work every week, boarded a bus, and traveled across the state in the hope of seeing his son.  Each time it became the young chaplain’s difficult task to ask the son, “Do you want to see your dad?”  Then he had to bear word of the refusal to the waiting father.  The father would thank the chaplain and head toward the door for the bus trip back home.

One day, after telling the father once again that his son would not meet with him, the chaplain said, “No one would do what you are doing.  Your son is an embittered, defiant young man.  Give up.  Go back home and get on with your life.  No one would put up with this kind of rejection, week after week.”

“God has put up with it for centuries,” said the father, as he headed out.  The young chaplain literally fell to his knees at this vision of the righteousness of God.  Woe is me!  I am a sinful man whose lips and life are not worthy of the greatness of God.

One theologian (Karl Barth) declared that, “Only Christians sin.”  That is, non-Christians tend to view their sins as mistakes, slip-ups, small potatoes.  Christians come to sense sin as a huge gap between us and our loving, forgiving, seeking Savior.  Christians can confess – come completely clean before God only because of a prior confidence in a forgiving, gracious God.  Peter cried, “Depart from me, I am a sinful man!”  The good news is, God never does depart from us.

How long has it been since we have been afraid in worship, filled with the sense of awe that struck down the young Isaiah?  This Sunday in Epiphany may be just such a time.  All of today’s lessons depict persons being confronted by the holiness of the living and righteous God.  Paul speaks of his own lack of fitness to be a leader of the church   (I Cor 15:1-11), an assessment of himself brought on by his experience of the love of Christ.  Peter is brought to his knees in confession, and then there is the young Isaiah in the temple.

They all end the same as well.  Paul becomes an apostle, an ambassador of Christ.  Isaiah is called to be a prophet and when the Lord asks, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?”  Isaiah answers, “Here am I send me.”  In the Gospel lesson Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.”  And “they left everything and followed him.”  Note that this undeserved, gracious love, acceptance and forgiveness of God led and empowered Isaiah, Paul, Peter, and now us to lead lives of service to God, to simply surrender ourselves to God.

So where will we see him today.  Our Scriptures remind us that God does not send angels into this world to do his work, but oddly works through and with us.  He sends the once sinful, now purified Isaiah out into the world as a prophet, transforming his fear into boldness.  He goes with a Peter, who cowers in fear at Jesus’ feet and simply wants him to leave him alone.  But Jesus sees his beloved friend and will not leave him, not ever.  Even when Peter disowns him, Jesus never will.

 

He Speaks with Authority!

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – Deacon Rex Watt

Jer 1:4-10 (17-19) / Psa 71:1-6 (7-11) / 1 Cor 12:31b-13:13 / Luke 4:31-44

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

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

Dear Saints of Redeemer.  Once again we find Jesus in the synagogue.  This time he is up in Capernaum, a little NE of Nazareth his hometown and right on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Capernaum was a fishing village and an important Roman garrison, a military outpost.  It was also Simon Peter’s hometown, and the town in which Matthew collected taxes.  It had become Jesus’ base of operations since his baptism by John the Baptist.  If you remember last week, Jesus had been teaching in the synagogues throughout Galilee when he returned to his hometown only to be rejected by them.  So, he heads back to Capernaum and these folk “were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority” (vs 32).

This Sabbath we don’t get to hear what it is that Jesus is teaching, but we do get to see the power of his words.  For while he was teaching there was a man in the synagogue who was possessed with “the spirit of an unclean demon” and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha!  What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are – the Holy One of God” (vss 33-34).  This demon identifies Jesus with a messianic title: the Holy One of God.  There was a belief among the pagans of the ancient world that if one knew a god’s real name, then one could exercise some control over that deity.  By calling Jesus by this name, the demon was probably attempting to exercise control over Jesus.[1]  But look what happened!  “Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’” (vs 35).  The demon had no option but to obey the voice of the Holy One of God.  Jesus is the Stronger One who enters the house of the strong man and drives out demons with the finger of God.[2]

Just as Jesus’ words have power and authority over the unclean spirits, his word has power and authority in your life as well.  His word of Law points out your sins, and my sins even as we sit, here, in church.  While an evil spirit may not possess us, we are as unclean as they come because of our natural sinful condition.  Today, our Epistle reading points this out to us all too readily.  We don’t love as Scripture demands.  We are not always patient, or kind.  We envy others.  We boast, either about ourselves, or about the deal we got on some purchase.  We can be arrogant or rude at times, if not in actual practice, certainly in our thoughts.  If we don’t get our way we get irritable or resentful.  No, you and I don’t love as Scripture demands; but there is One who does.  There is One who has loved you from the foundation of the world and has demonstrated that love for you by sending His only Son to live the life you cannot live, to love as you cannot love, and to die so that you can live.

Jesus comes with his powerful Word pointing out who he is (last week’s lesson) and demonstrating to you this week, that he has authority over the spiritual realm; and as we will see, the physical realm.  With a word of rebuke, he casts out the spirit of the unclean demon, and the people were amazed saying to one another, “What is this word?” (vs 36).  This “word” is the Word of God in the flesh!  This word is the Word which, when spoken into your ears, creates faith in your heart.  This word is the Word that is attached to the waters of your baptism that brings you out of the kingdom of darkness and transfers you into the kingdom of light.

Jesus left the synagogue and entered Simon Peter’s house.  Peter’s mother-in-law lay ill with a high fever.  A high fever could be a prelude to something far worse given the state of medical care back in those days.  Notice again what Jesus does.  He rebukes the fever.  To rebuke is to speak against.  We don’t know what those words were, but Jesus spoke against the fever and the woman became well, well enough to get up and serve the guests in her house.  Word of that healing must have gotten out for when evening came, people from all over town brought to him “any who were sick with various diseases…and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them” (vs 40).

Dear Saints of Redeemer, Jesus is revealing himself to us today as the One who has authority over all things.  His authority over the demons, as demonstrated today, shows us that he rules over the spiritual kingdom.  His authority over sickness and disease, as demonstrated today, shows us that he rules over the physical kingdom.  Just as he said in the last chapter of Matthew, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt 28:18), so it has.  Jesus is in control!  That should bring you comfort in whatever trials and tribulations you may be going through.

“And when it was day” our text says, “he departed and went into a desolate place” (vs42).  Jesus must have been up all night ministering to those who were sick and demon possessed.  He had hoped to get away for some time alone, but the people sought him out.  They didn’t want him to leave.  Why would they?  They’ve never seen anything like this before.  Having Jesus around was better than Obamacare!  Everyone was getting cured.  They must have approached him with an offer they thought was too good to refuse…but he did!  He told them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (vs 43).

Jesus didn’t come to just cast out demons and heal people’s diseases and infirmities.  Being healed of disease or being freed from demon possession was only a temporary fix.  People would still die.  Even Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, would one day die again.  Jesus came to proclaim the Good News, the Gospel.  He came to be the Gospel!  For only the Gospel is the power of God for salvation.  All these miracles of healing and demon exorcisms were done to simply validate the authority of Christ’s preaching of the Good News.  Don’t get them confused!  The people of Nazareth, upon hearing the Good News only wanted to see miracles performed like they had heard were done in other towns.  The people of Capernaum, who heard the Good News, were focused on the miracles and wanted to work a deal to keep this miracle worker to themselves.  People in Jesus’ day, like ours, get focused on the wrong aspect of Jesus’ ministry.  He came to “proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (vs 18), as well as give sight to the blind and set at liberty those who are oppressed.

The Gospel, dear saints, is the message.  It is what “this” is all about.  What good is it if one gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  You can have perfect health, the perfect “10” body, the perfect job, great kids, great house, 10x the money Bill Gates has; but if you do not have the forgiveness of sins given to you in the Gospel, you have nothing!

Jesus came to proclaim the Good News, the euaggelion.  Jesus is the euaggelion, the Good News.  Paul said in Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel [euagelion], for it [the euagelion] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  Concerning this Gospel he also wrote to the Corinthians, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:1-4).

By God’s grace, dear saints, this gospel is the word I will preach to you.  It is my prayer, paraphrasing the words of the Apostle Paul, when I proclaim the testimony of God to you that I do not do it with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I want to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

It is Jesus who has all authority.  It is Jesus who speaks with authority.  His prophets, his apostles, his preachers down through the ages have simply proclaimed his Word.  You and I are beneficiaries of their proclamation.  We have heard the power of God; we have believed the Gospel; let us not be distracted by the trials and tribulations of life, or seek after temporal signs.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and perfector of our faith.  Amen.  So let it be.

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

 

[1] Robert A. Sorensen, “Luke”, Reformation Heritage Bible Commentary, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 2014, page 83.

[2] Gerhard Kittle, Editor, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol 2, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1964, page 626.