Saturday, June 27, 2015

Little One, Arise!

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“Taking her by the hand [Jesus] said to her, ‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise’” (Mark 5:41).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
A pastor once prayed at the bedside of a little girl who was dying of leukemia. He boldly prayed for healing of the little girl’s weak and dying body. When he finished, the little girl asked, “I will be healed, won’t I, Pastor?”
The pastor paused for a moment and with confidence said, “Yes, you will. I promise you. You will be healed.”
Following the prayer and further conversation in the hospital room, the little girl’s father followed the pastor into the hallway and asked, “How you can be so sure, Pastor, that she’ll be healed when she’s so close to death? Is it wise to promise her something that may not happen?”
The pastor put his hand on the shoulder of the saddened and exhausted father and said gently, “Little Kerry will be healed, if not this side of heaven, then on the other side. What’s more,” the pastor said, “she has been healed. As the prophet Isaiah tells us of the Messiah, ‘By His wounds we are healed.’ Christ’s death and resurrection has healed us of our greatest infirmities—sin and death.” Those words, showing how healing in Christ transcends even death, brought the father some of the first hope he had heard in the three year ordeal of Kerry’s illness.
Just a few day later, as they stood at her graveside, Kerry’s father, with both tears and smile, said to his pastor, “My little girl is healed.”  
In today’s text, we find the story of another little girl who was sick and dying. Her father, Jairus, came looking for Jesus. As soon as he saw Him, he fell down at Jesus’ feet and begged for help: “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”
Jesus turned at once to go with the pleading father. Jairus’ faith impressed the Lord. Jairus was sure that Jesus could perform this miracle, if only Jesus would consent to come and lay His healing hands on his dying daughter. But before anything happened the father first would have his patience tested.
As Jesus walked through the crowd that pressed upon Him, a woman who had been suffering from an embarrassing medical condition for twelve long years reached out to touch Jesus’ cloak. She was immediately healed.
Despite the urgency of getting to Jairus’ little girl, Jesus took the time to reassure the woman that her faith had healed her. She was free from her suffering. And even more important, she was saved from her sins. By faith the woman had received both physical healing and spiritual salvation.
Imagine the thoughts swirling through Jairus’ head during all of this: “Come on, Jesus! Let’s get going! Valuable seconds are wasting away! This woman has been suffering for twelve years. Her case is not exactly a matter of life and death. You can heal her later. But my little girl is dying!”
While Jesus was still speaking to the woman, some messengers from Jairus’ house came: “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” they said. Jesus heard this message and it gave Him cause for concern. Jairus had shown that he trusted the Lord, but there was a great danger that this news would smother his faith. Fear is incompatible with faith. So, Jesus gave him a word to bolster his wavering confidence: “Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus’ command had its intended effect. The distraught father’s fragile faith survived.
Then Jesus turned away the entire crowd, including most of His disciples. Only Peter, James, and John were allowed to come along to Jairus’ house as witnesses. When they arrived, there was a great commotion. People were sobbing and wailing loudly. Jesus told the group of mourners that their demonstration was not necessary. “The child is not dead but sleeping,” He said.
Those are the words of a man that lives in the certainty of the resurrection, Jesus Christ, who conquers and binds death. They are comforting words for anyone who will believe them. But to those who do not believe, those words sound only like nonsense. The mourners turned to “laughers” at Jesus’ appraisal of the situation. Their derisive laughter shows a lack of understanding on their part, but it did not deter the Lord a bit. He cleared the room of the mourners. Only the girl’s parents and the three disciples were allowed to be present. Then Jesus grasped her hand and said, “Talitha cumi!” which means “Little girl, arise!” Immediately, she stood up and started to walk around. Life, health, and full strength returned to her once lifeless body. No trace of the disease that had caused her death remained. As if to confirm the miracle, Jesus told her parents to give her something to eat—a little breakfast after being aroused from the sleep of death.
Sleep—that’s an important word. Throughout the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter, Jesus used the metaphor of sleep to represent death. When He encountered the mourners at work, Jesus told them that the little girl is not dead but asleep. This does not mean she didn’t really die. Luke tells us, “her spirit returned,” which leaves no doubt that the girl truly had been dead. Jesus just planned to wake her back up to life. With His words, “Talitha cumi!” “Little girl, arise!” Jesus continued to liken the 12-year-old girl’s death to sleep. To Jesus, it was no more difficult to raise her from the dead, than it would be to rouse her from a night’s sleep by calling to her. “Rise and shine sleepyhead!”
Imagine that! With Jesus, there’s no need to fear death any more than you would be afraid to go to sleep at night. You can just close your eyes and trust that Jesus will wake you up when the time is right! It’s just like one of my favorite hymn verses: “Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed. Teach me to die that so I may rise glorious at the awe-full day” (LSB 883). Death, in the sight of Christ the Lord, is nothing but a sleep.
With that in mind, let us take the idea of sleep as a way of describing death and see how Jesus works among many of us today. For each of us face a number of “deaths” that call for awakenings.
Some of us may be “dying on the vine,” wasting away with little productivity. We may feel like life is leaving us behind and we’re worried that we’ll reach the end and that we’ll have nothing to show for all of our efforts.
We may be “dead tired,” feeling exhausted and burnt out. Ready to throw in the towel, just give up, and let someone else step in and take our place.
We may be “dead to the world,” unaware of our opportunities and challenges. So caught up in our own day-to-day affairs and our own wants and desires, we miss the many opportunities that we have to serve the kingdom of God.
We may be at a “dead-end,” detoured and stalled. Feeling that we’ll never be able to overcome the obstacles and hurdles that have been placed in our path.
We may be “dead in the water,” under attack and discouraged. It seems like the whole world has risen against us, and we’ve been left with absolutely no hope.
And we were all certainly “dead in our transgressions and sins,” following the ways of this world and its ruler, Satan. All of us have lived there at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following it desires and thoughts. But because of His rich love for us, God made us alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5). To each of us, Jesus says, Talitha cumi!” “Little one, arise!”
To those who feel they’re “dying on the vine,” Jesus says, “Little one, arise!” “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit… If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:5-8).
To those who feel “dead tired,” Jesus says, “Little one, arise!” “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).  
To those who feel “dead to the world,” Jesus says, “Little one, arise!” “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).
To those who feel at a “dead-end,” Jesus says, “Little one, arise!” “I have said these things to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
To those who feel “dead in the water,” Jesus says “Little one, arise! “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-29).
To those who are “dead in our trespasses and sins,” Jesus says, “Little one, arise!” “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17).
“Little one, arise!” What does it take for you to trust Jesus when He says that? Does He have to show you that He can raise a little one from the dead? He has. Or does He have to show you that He Himself is willing to die for you and rise for you to prove His power over every form of death? He has. Jesus has earned your trust.
So get up, little one! Rise and shine, sleepyhead! It’s time to get busy. Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60).
You are alive in Christ! Because Christ has risen, death no longer has any power over you. By the power of God’s Word, you have been awakened from the death of sin. You’ve been given new life in Jesus Christ to serve in His kingdom! To share the Good News of His forgiveness and grace until the day He returns.
On that great and glorious day, the Lord Himself will come down from heaven. With a loud command—perhaps, “Little one, arise!”—He will awaken all those who have fallen asleep, and we and the other dead in Christ shall rise to eternal life. We will be caught up together in the clouds and we will be with the Lord forever.
Therefore let us encourage one another with these words. Let us remember that in baptism our sin was put to death so that our new man could rise and live in righteousness and purity forever. Let us remember that in Christ’s hands death is no more than a sleep and that we shall live with Him forever. Let us tell others of God’s grace in Jesus Christ so that they may share our hope of the resurrection as well. Here is the Word that brings healing in the midst of sickness and suffering, Here is the Word that brings live in the midst of death: “Little one, arise! You are forgiven for all of your sins.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This Changes Everything (or Nothing)!

“This changes everything!” “This changes nothing!” Those are the two opposing views we’ve all heard in the news and social media regarding the recent Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. Many opponents of the decision warn of the potential ramifications: proponents will seek to drive Christians and Christian institutions out of education at all levels; they will press laws to force faithful Christians and individuals to violate consciences in work practices and many other ways. Those in the political and legal arena cite evidence of a seismic shift of the legislative and judicial process—laws are no longer just made by Congress, but by the courts as well; public opinion, individual preferences, and personal feelings are now the basis for judicial review rather than a clear reading of the words of the Constitution and a historic understanding of the founders’ intent.  On the other hand, many of those who favor the court’s decision dismiss such concerns as hyperbolic hysteria and knee-jerk paranoia. “You Christians are just over-reacting. We’re not taking anything away from you. You can still get married. It’s just that now everyone has the same rights and opportunities.”

So who is right? Does this change everything? Or, does it really have little effect upon you and me? I would submit that both views are correct (to a point), and both views are lacking, though perhaps not in the ways that might first come to mind. It will probably take decades for all of the ramifications to come to light, but I offer this observation for now.

First, there should be no doubt that the legalization of same-sex marriage will have an enormous effect upon people’s views of its morality—whether it is right or wrong. In general, there is an assumption if something is legal it must be right. This certainly happened with the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. In many people’s eyes, abortion was no longer seen as the killing of an unborn baby, but a legitimate choice, even a basic right that must be upheld at all costs. The most honest voices in the LGBT community will say as much: this decision is important to them not just because it brings tolerance of their lifestyle, but because it gives legitimacy to it.

But the Supreme Court decision changes nothing about our Christian faith. We believe there is a higher court and that Christ will be our final Judge. As Christians, we obey the government (Romans 13), but we recognize that our greatest allegiance is to God and His Word, and that in matters of conscience, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). We believe that God instituted marriage to be one man and one woman (Genesis 1, 2; Matthew 19:1-9; Mark 10:1-10). We believe that marriage is a picture of Christ’s sacrificial love for His bride the Church (Ephesians 5). We believe that the Church is a place of healing and forgiveness, restoration and mercy for all sinners. We believe and confess that we have not upheld the sanctity of marriage as we ought, and we must humbly repent and beg God’s forgiveness. We believe that true love for compels us to speak the truth so that all may know the forgiveness and love of Christ. We cannot celebrate that which God calls sin, for by so doing we leave people in their sin and apart from Christ. All of these are timeless tenets of our faith. God and His Word do not change with shifting public opinion.

So where does this all leave you and me? As Christians, we are called upon to do what we have always been called upon to do: living in this world but not being of this world. We continue to obey just laws and pray for our leaders. We affirm the human rights of all individuals and the inherent and equal value of all people. We recognize that we are all poor, miserable sinners who justly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment, yet the “blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all our sins” (1 John 1:7).

At the same time, we recognize that not everyone will accept God’s authority or grace. Our insistence to hold onto the full counsel of God’s Word will, as always, lead to rejection and ridicule, suffering and hatred in the days and years to come. Yet, even in the midst of persecution, our Bridegroom Jesus calls us to rejoice, saying, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12).

May God grant us each courage and steadfastness in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Discipleship: Learning and Living with Jesus

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“And [Jesus] awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to [the disciples], “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?’” (Mark 4:38-41).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
It had been a strenuous day! Jesus had taught a large crowd by the lake about the kingdom of God using a variety of parables. Not everyone understood, but later Jesus took His disciples aside and explained everything.
Now it is evening. The Lord is ready to be alone and away from the crowd. He is tired, but Jesus also knows there is someone desperately in need of His help on the other side of the lake. In the meantime, there is also an important lesson to be taught to His disciples. So Jesus says to them, “Let us go across to the other side” (Mark 4:35). Our text tells us, “They took Him with them in the boat,” suggesting that the boat and its sailing is their area of expertise. We know that at least four of the disciples—Peter and Andrew, James and John—are experienced fishermen. The boat could very well be Peter’s, the same boat Jesus had used that morning as a pulpit for His teaching. The Sea of Galilee is their home turf.
Jesus soon falls asleep in the stern of the boat with His head on a cushion. A great windstorm arises. That Jesus sleeps through the storm indicates two things about Him in His humanity: (1) He is tired and needs a break; and (2) He is completely confident and at ease because He knows and trusts His Father’s care.  
As the storm grows, the disciples surely first do everything they can to keep the boat safely under control. No sense bothering the Teacher, He’s tired. They have come through many storms before. They can do it again.
But this storm is more severe than most and it threatens them in spite of their experience as sailors. So they, just like we, when we finally realize that things are beyond our control, turn to Jesus. And just like we, the disciples blame Jesus for not helping them sooner. They even accuse Him of indifference to their plight: “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
What a terrible question! But a question that we, too, ask nonetheless. In essence, the same question to which the Lord was replying when He answered Job out of the whirlwind. But just as God would not and need not respond to Job’s questions, Jesus does not respond to His disciples’ accusation of indifference. They will soon learn just how much He cares, as He gives up Himself on the cross that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.
This storm is a simple problem for the Lord to remedy. He declares, “Peace!  Be still!” and immediately there is a great calm. Having addressed the immediate problem of the storm, Jesus addresses the more important issue—the storm going on inside His disciples. “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Jesus is right to be disappointed and even a little upset with His disciples. They have been with Him all day, hearing His teachings about the kingdom of God, witnessing His miracles, and seeing His acts of mercy. And yet, when the storm comes and threatens disaster, they come to Him only as a last resort.
The disciples are exhibiting a weak and defective faith. Jesus certainly expects more than that from them. They call Him Teacher, but they appear to have learned hardly anything from His teaching. It’s quite ironic, really! When Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves, the lifeless storm shows a greater recognition of His divine power than do His own chosen disciples. It goes to show the hardness of the human heart, the fact that the same Word that instantly stills a storm and calms the raging waves of the sea, often takes so long to work in the troubled hearts and minds of even Jesus’ closest followers.
But an even more sobering thought arises when you find out that our English translations of Jesus’ words just don’t do justice to the original Greek. They soften the language a bit, and dull the gravity of what He says to His disciples. Jesus doesn’t ask them “Why are you so afraid?” but rather exclaims, “What cowards you are!” And Jesus does not hurl this angry epithet at them because he is cranky at being awakened from a nap! Those closest students whom He had taken aside from the crowds to teach in private the things pertaining to the kingdom are demonstrating just what faithless cowards they really are.
And in the New Testament, being a coward is no small matter. In fact, the word is only used in this story of Jesus calming the sea, and in Revelation 21, where Jesus warns: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (v.8). It doesn’t sound like Jesus is trying to comfort His disciples any more, does it?
Now, having heard of the faithlessness of those in the boat with Jesus, it’s all too tempting to scoff at them. How could they be so foolish? How could they doubt? But beware, fellow disciples, you and I are not so far removed from them ourselves. In reality, our Lord also paints a picture of our own sinful nature. You, too, have thought yourself independent, but then fell into panic when you found yourself in difficult circumstances. You, also, have had times you wondered if the Lord cared when He didn’t answer your cries for help immediately. You, also, have turned to prayer only as a last resort.
And this is the lesson Jesus most wants His disciples to learn. You are not self-sufficient, even in small areas of your life. Not even in areas you consider to be your expertise. You, also, are a coward, one of little faith. You also have treated Jesus like your fallback plan. You, also, are a sinner in need of a Savior. But here’s the Good News: Jesus came to save people just like you.
So repent and believe! Repent of the spiritual cowardice and faithlessness that afflicts you. Confess that you have taken God’s providence and grace for granted. Confess that your faith, though you want it to be strong, falters at times, and that you worry not only about your daily bread, your health, and safety; but you also worry about the opinions of others. And then take comfort knowing that God has promised to forgive you all your sins for Jesus’ sake.
For Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples is not the end of the story. Yes, He calms the sea and saves them from the disaster that they fear. But then Jesus goes on to save them (and you) from an even greater disaster—God’s righteous wrath and the eternal torments of hell.  
Jesus lived the perfect life that you and I never will as His disciple. Never once did Jesus give in to the fear of man, but He feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things. Never once did His faith waver. Never once did He let the scorn of men or the suffering of His body derail Him from His mission of salvation. Even as He asked if it were possible to take away His cup of suffering, He submitted to His heavenly Father’s will all the way to the cross and the grave.   
On the cross, Jesus redeemed you with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. The anger and the wrath that you have deserved on account of your sin has been redeemed in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. There on Golgotha, Jesus took all your sins, and He suffered and died in your place. Your debt to God is paid. Christ’s righteousness is credited to you. God no longer deals with you according to His wrath, but now according to His mercy.
In Baptism, Jesus begins the process of making you His disciple. There, you were marked with the cross to indicate that you belong to Christ. Through His death and resurrection, Christ has redeemed you from death and given you eternal life. Your whole life, then, is marked by the cross and lived under the cross. This turns our picture of what it means to be a disciple completely on its head.
We all, quite understandably, long for some evidence of spiritual development, for some clear proof that we are on the right track. Nothing is more discouraging than failure, the sense that we are getting nowhere in our spiritual journey. But an honest examination will show that your discipleship has been a mixture of small victories and spectacular setbacks, two steps forward and three steps back. This is quite normal for sinful human beings living in a fallen world.
Spiritual progress—like God and His gifts—is often hidden, or at least comes in ways and places you would not expect. It certainly bears no resemblance to what passes as progress in the world. It is in many ways a kind of reverse progress. In our temporal lives, growing up involves a gradual shift from dependence to independence. But the opposite is true for you as you grow spiritually. As a disciple you become more and more dependent on Christ for everything in every situation. You do not depend upon Him just in the difficult times, but for every aspect of your life. Prayer is no longer seen as a last resort, but becomes a constant exercise of the faith that had been given to you.
As you mature in faith, you move away from pride in yourself and your own achievements to a gradual awareness of your spiritual failure and Christ’s work in you as you entrust yourself to Him. You move away from the conviction that you are self-sufficient to the repeated experience of spiritual bankruptcy. You move on from delight in your own power to the painful recognition of your spiritual weakness. You are brought from self-righteousness to the increasing awareness that you are a poor, miserable sinner and all your righteousness is as filthy rags.
Little by little He strips us down until we are left with nothing except our bare, fragile human soul, a soul that relies on Him utterly for its existence. He takes away everything we think we have, in order to gives us everything we need. Christ uses His Word and the circumstances of our life to teach us to live in His grace and to help us grow in our faith.
This is a two-pronged journey. On the one hand, it is a journey in which we live by the grace of God. God the Father reaches out to each of us in the very same way through His means of grace. Through Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit generates and maintains our faith. On the other hand, in our journey we live by faith in the grace of God. By faith you have access to God the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. By faith you again and again receive all the benefits that Jesus has won for you by His death on the cross. By faith you appropriate what is given to you at each particular stage of your discipleship.
This means that Christ accommodates Himself to you as you are and deals with you subjectively according to your personality, bringing out your true color. He engages with practical people practically, intellectual people intellectually, emotional people emotionally, imaginative people imaginatively, and so on. By faith you receive the Holy Spirit and rely on the Spirit to transform you in your personality and mentality, your behavior and your lifestyle, so that you, in your own unique way, mirror some of the fullness of Christ.
As a disciple who has access to God’s grace, you will use your faith to approach Him for help and to bring His help to others. You will exercise your faith by practicing your piety, whether it is by going to church or by saying grace before meals, by meditating on God’s Word or by praying, by examining yourself in the light of God’s Law or by confessing your sins.
Disciples are called to exercise their faith. Faith grows when it is used. As you call upon the Lord you learn to rely more on God’s provision for you at all times and in all places. You learn to rely on His righteousness and strength, rather than your own. As you pray, you receive what you need for your daily work. In your daily work you discover for what and for whom you need to pray. You learn that prayer is a discipline and gift to be enjoyed continually and regularly, not simply a last resort when you come to the end of your own resources.
All of this can make discipleship seem complicated. But being a disciple is quite simply learning and living with Jesus. It is the ordinary life of faith in which you receive Baptism, attend the Divine Service, partake of Christ’s body and blood, pray for yourself and others, resist temptation, and work with Jesus in your given location here on earth. But it is also a life where you fail miserably, doubt, see your sin in all of its ugliness, and learn from your mistakes. Above all, it is a life of contrition and repentance, a life filled with faith in these wonderful words of absolution Christ has for each of His penitent disciples: You are forgiven of all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Temporary Tent and the Heavenly House

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“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
My wife does not do camping in a tent. She has made that perfectly clear: “Why spend the night on a leaky air mattress in a hot, humid tent when I have a perfectly fine bed in an air-conditioned house?”  
To be honest, I can understand where she is coming from. It’s based upon previous experience. One year we went camping for the weekend near Yankton, SD. We borrowed a tent from some friends. The first night it rained 1 ½ inches. The floor of the tent sloshed up and down like a waterbed without baffles. The water found every pinhole in the bottom of the tent, each of which seemed to be strategically placed so as to soak every sleeping bag. The next night it rained over 2 inches in just a little over an hour. The lightning flashed often enough that we didn’t need a lantern to look for the leaks coming through the roof. Aimee and a couple of the kids spent the rest of the night in the car.
A few years later, we went camping at Chain of Lakes State Park in Indiana. We purchased a brand new tent, capable of comfortably housing all six of us. The weather was wonderful, we had a good time, and everything went fine until our last night there. I got up in the early morning to go to the restroom. The next thing I remember is waking up on the floor of the restroom in a pool of blood. I stumbled back over to the tent and asked Aimee if she could get me a towel. Even in her grogginess, it seemed rather early to be taking a morning shower, so she asked me why I needed a towel.  “I’m bleeding” I said. “I think someone must have hit me on the back of the head. Could you take a look?”
Needless to say, Aimee hasn’t stayed overnight in a tent since. I’ve done it a few times, but I always make sure that I don’t do it a park that is getting renovated with labor from state prison trustees. Camping can be fun. But the comfort of your own house is always much, much better than the tent. Tents are fine for temporary use, but houses are much better suited for permanent residence.
St. Paul expresses a similar opinion of our life now in the body: “We know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). The tent of which Paul speaks is this temporal body; the building from God is the resurrected body we will receive for eternity, redeemed, restored, and transformed by God Himself. In this tent we groan, and the source of our suffering goes far beyond rain and leaky air mattresses. Because of our sin, our bodies and lives face the afflictions of worry, trouble, disease, and death. Still, while we live in this tent, we rejoice amidst the groans because we believe that we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
This confuses the world to no end. It asks: If heaven is so great, why cling to life here so tenaciously? If the resurrected body is so wonderful, why suffer the indignities of this body any longer than is absolutely necessary? If you affirm that this is a world of sin and suffering and death, why do you Christians seek to preserve life in this world? Why do you speak out to protect the life of the unborn if they are born into a world so evil? For that matter, why especially do you fight to protect the life of the unborn child who is known to be disabled, who will have a lower quality of life and less of a defense against the assaults of this world? At the other end of life, why pursue treatment to extend life when the disease is terminal? Why continue to live when the suffering will only grow worse? Why not instead reduce suffering by pursuing euthanasia, or—as the world so euphemistically puts it—“death with dignity”? Why preserve the tent when the heavenly home awaits?
All of this perplexes the world, and so they seek to come up with an answer. But when the world answers on behalf of the Church, the world is always wrong. You see, the world believes that we seek to preserve life only because we’re afraid of disobeying God and that we seek to impose our narrow beliefs upon the world.
How ironic! Many of these people who fear Christians and accuse us of trying to legislate morality find it so easy to speak kindly of another religion that actively seeks to force its beliefs on all upon penalty of death. Not only that, the world insists that anyone who legitimately criticizes that religion must be silenced. But the world is wrong. We do not seek to preserve life because we wish to force the world into Christianity. We seek to preserve life because life is a gift from God. Every human being—born or unborn, vigorous or frail—is one created by God in His own image. Every human being—no matter what stage or state of life—is one for whom Christ died. Both the tent and the house are gifts from God.
As much as man would like to pretend otherwise, life didn’t just happen. As much as man desires otherwise, he can’t create life. He can’t restore it when it’s gone. All the money in the world can’t buy a new one. Therefore, this body and life are priceless. The house in heaven is priceless, too. It has been purchased solely by the holy precious blood of Jesus, and His innocent suffering and death.
Now, when you have a priceless gift, you don’t get rid of it, do you? No, you hold on to it for as long as you can—even if it becomes marred or tarnished, it remains a priceless gift. It has great value to you, if for no other reason than because of who it was that gave it to you in the first place.
I’m not telling you a secret when I say that sin has terribly marred this tent. You’ll groan. You’ll groan from disease, disability, physical and emotional pain. Sin will work to drive you to the point where some days you may hate that gift of life. You may regret that you were ever born, or pray for a speedy death. Like Job’s wife, Old Adam may even taunt you: “Just curse God and die.”
At such times, remember from God’s Word that it is not life that makes you miserable; it is sin and its consequences that bring misery. The devil seeks to destroy you and rob you of the gift of life. His fiery darts, however, do not make life less precious: it remains a gift of God.
When an unborn child is diagnosed with a physical or mental disability, the world recommends termination. The child is going to have a low quality of life, we are told, and shouldn’t have to suffer through it. Do you see what happens? The world blames life and the body for the problem, not the sin which seeks to afflict it. And it makes us curse the very gift of life. But the Lord declares that He is the one who forms us in the womb, and He declares that that child is one for whom Christ has died. Therefore, He has prepared both the tent and the house for that little one, according to His purposes. And no matter the troubles of this tent, He desires to deliver that little one through Holy Baptism to a perfect mansion for eternal life.
Likewise, when an adult is diagnosed with a terminal illness, the world argues that he should be able to end his life whenever he desires. “No one should have to become a burden to their family or to society,” it argues. Eventually, the suffering can grow so great that life is seen as the enemy and death becomes the friend. Once again, the world blames life, not the sin that brings suffering and seeks to destroy life, and then looks to death to help. But death is never a friend; death is an enemy, the last enemy to be destroyed, but an enemy, nevertheless.
In the case of both the unborn child and the terminally ill, we do well to remember that we are always God’s instruments. Sometimes, we are active instruments whom the Lord uses to serve others in need. Other times we are passive instruments whom the Lord uses to teach others to serve. The disabled and terminally ill are often passive instruments, but they remain God’s instruments all the same. You can be sure that God is still using them for His purposes and according to His good and gracious will even in suffering and death.
Dear friends, many of our departed brothers and sisters have given good testimony to family, friends, and medical staff as they sought to honor God’s gift of life in the midst of their suffering and last days. I’ve seen firsthand where some of you have given good witness of Jesus as you’ve prayed and read Scripture at the deathbed of your loved one. Such words and actions bear witness to this truth: life is a gift from God. Death is no friend. Death is the enemy, but it is the enemy that has been conquered by Christ. And because our sinful flesh cannot forever sustain God’s gift of life in this world, our Savior uses that last enemy to deliver us from this earthly tent to our home in heaven. But despite the sufferings and groans we experience now, life in this world remains the precious, priceless gift of God.
Don’t kid yourself! This is not an easy confession of faith to make. When it is given you to agonize about events that you have suffered, you will blame life—not the sin that afflicts it and you. When you must witness the suffering of loved ones, the devil will whisper the lie that death with dignity is far better. If it is given to you to care for someone with a disability, those special needs will completely reorder your life and rewrite the personal plans you had, and you will find it difficult to not be resentful of your loved one. You’ll find yourself jealous of your time and energy. In such circumstances, it will be next to impossible to recognize life as a gift when all the evidence seems to indicate otherwise. 
Yes, be sure: it will be hard for you to rejoice in the gift of this tent, this body and life, when you must groan to the depths of your being—and when all you see in the world is change and decay, suffering and death. It will be hard to believe in the heavenly home when all you see is the grave. This is why you walk by faith, not by sight. That is why, when it comes to the tent and the house, you close your eyes and you open your ears. You hear God’s Word, and it is there that you find your comfort and joy, because it’s there that you hear the faith in which you walk.
This is that faith: because man brought sin and death into the world and destroyed the tent, Jesus was born into this world of sin and death. He became flesh and dwelled—literally “tented”—among us. He took on the fragile, scourge-able, crucify-able tent of this body and life, humbled Himself, and was made man. The Son of God became flesh in order to die for you. He took every infirmity that afflicts your body and life, and bore it to the cross so that those may not curse and torment you forever. He bore every sin that would rob you of life and suffered God’s judgment for them—so that you might be forgiven your sins and delivered in God’s time from this tent of suffering to the eternal home of heaven.
Hearing that, you walk by faith. This suffering world is not God-forsaken; rather, God so loved the world that He came into the world to suffer, that the world might be saved through Him. Your Savior, who made you His by Baptism, still visits you by His Word and Supper, bringing you forgiveness and life in His body and blood, keeping you in the faith the resurrection of your own body unto life everlasting. The suffering of this world does not contradict God’s Word; rather, it confirms what God’s Word says about the effects and wages of sin. Those who suffer from disability or disease are not to be dismissed or destroyed. They are numbered among those for whom Christ died, and it is given to you and me to serve them. They are among the neighbors who are given you to love
And as for you, you live in this tent—and you groan. And you’ll fail to always appreciate this body and life as the precious gift of God that it is. But walking by faith, you know this: you are also among those for whom Christ died. For His sake, this tent of body and life are not the end, the heavenly home is yours. Take heart, dear Christians, and be of good courage in suffering and trials; your mortality and groans will be swallowed up by life everlasting. In view of God’s mercy, you are pleasing to Him. You are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Promise in the Midst of a Curse 2.0

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The evidence is overwhelming. It’s undeniable. You read it in the pages of history. You see it on the television news. You hear it in the voice of your neighbor.  You feel it in the very fiber of your being. There is something wrong, my friends! There is something wrong with this world! There is something wrong with this nation! There is something wrong with your neighbor! There is something wrong with me! And there is something wrong with you!
That something is sin—an awful, broken condition that goes all the way back to Adam and Eve and their fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. Sin. Not simply a “mistake” or “error.” No, what happened with Adam and Eve was lawlessness, rebellion, outright disobedience to God’s specific command. And their sin had enormous consequences for all of God’s perfect creation.  
That original sin brought misery on the entire human race, for there is no such thing as a “private sin.” Every sin has consequences that are suffered not just by the offender but by many others as well for generations to come. A famous Lutheran theologian (Gerhard, IV, 315) explained, “To be sure, we must not look upon the sin of our first parents and those sins which followed it as if they applied only to those people but affected us not at all, for ‘Adam later begot a son after his own image and likeness’ (Gen. 5:3). He began to beget the sort of children he himself was: stripped of the image of God; destitute of original righteousness; subject to sin, the wrath of God, death and damnation. Adam was, and all were all in him; Adam perished, and we all perished in him.”
And as goes man, the highest of God’s creatures, so goes all of creation, which also groans under the weight of sin’s wages—death, decay, and decadence—all waiting in eager expectation for the day of our redemption.
Our text, Genesis 3:8-15, picks up the account right after that first sin, and it shows us the devastating consequences—both personally and universally—of that first sin. Let’s take a closer look. “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” and the man his wife ran out and said, “Here we are! We’re sorry, God! We blew it! Please forgive us…”
No. That’s not the way it happened. “They hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God…” That’s what you do, too, isn’t it, when you sin? You hide. Don’t be surprised because you haven’t been to church in a while, or that you struggle to get out of bed on Sunday morning to get to worship services, or that other people don’t seem to want to go to church. They’re still hiding! You’re still hiding! We’re all still hiding! Deep down inside, we know of our sin and we don’t want to come to the light where it can be exposed. That feeling is called shame.
A feeling of shame is the first consequence Adam and Eve experience because of their sin. Their eyes are open to see the great evil they have done. They experience a sense of self-consciousness in one another’s presence where there had once been a perfect union and innocence. Seeing each other in a totally new way, they hastily sew together fig leaves to cover their nakedness from one another.
This shame becomes even more obvious when the Lord God comes into the garden looking for them. How do they respond when they heard the sound of His footsteps? “They hid themselves from the presence of God.” Here, surely, are symptoms of a frightfully serious condition: foolishly imagining they can hide their own transgression or protect themselves from punishment of the all-knowing, all-powerful, holy God. For what can be termed more horrible than to flee from God and to desire to be hidden from Him? That would be hell.
“Where are you?” the Lord asks. Of course, He already knows the answer. But His is a call of anxious love. God is moving to restore His fallen children to Himself. He wants Adam and Eve to realize the dangerous situation they have put themselves in. He is really asking, “Do you know where you are? Do you realize what has happened here?” At the same time, God’s words are also a call of stern justice. The Creator is demanding an answer from His rebellious creature. “What have you done that you should be hiding?” God is trying to give His creatures an opportunity to repent. To say, “Here I am. I confess. I blew it. Please forgive me.”
Instead, Adam answers, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” What Adam says is true… so far as it goes. Notice how it is shame at being naked rather than guilt because of his sin that moves Adam to hide. This reveals a consciousness of self as a being separated from God, which is new to the human experience. Adam is seeing God in a way that he has never seen Him before. He’s thinking thoughts he’s never had before. He’s experiencing emotions he’s never felt before. From this time on, fear and suspicion will mark man’s relationship to their Maker, rather than love and trust.
Adam’s response shows the ugly effects of sin. It is evasive and deceptive. It is also foolish! So thoroughly has sin deprived Adam of all discernment and good sense, the man feels it necessary to inform God that he is naked—God, who created him naked. By this, he betrays and condemns himself with his own mouth. This is always the case. Sinners accuse themselves by their excuses and betray themselves by their defense—especially before God.
In the same way the ungodly will condemn themselves at the Last Judgment, when the dark recesses of human hearts will be revealed and, as though in open books, the evil deeds of every single being will be read. All who attempt to cover themselves with their own righteousness will be cast into the fiery lake. Only those who cast themselves at God’s mercy for the sake of Christ will be saved.
Such is the nature of sin: unless God immediately provides a cure and calls the sinner back, he flees endlessly from God. And, by excusing his sin with lies, the sinner heaps sin upon sin until he arrives at blasphemy and despair, until finally the sinful person would rather accuse God than acknowledge his own sin.
But before you point your finger at Adam or wag your tongue at “those sinners out there,” take stock: You do the same thing. So do I. When push comes to shove, every son and daughter of Adam and Eve prefers to accuse God rather than acknowledge his or her sins before Him. And that is a dangerous stance to take. St. John warns: “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” But he adds: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8, 9).
God’s questions become more pointed as He seeks to bring the sin of these two trembling sinners out into the open. “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” Obviously, God knows what had happened. But He is giving the man an opportunity to repent.
Adam seeks to shift the blame: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Who says men can’t multi-task? In a single sentence, Adam manages to throw his own wife under the bus and blames God for his sin. Adam wants to still be regarded as pure and innocent. So well does he now know “good and evil,” he even dares to accuse the Lord God of being the sinner. There is no end to sinning once it has turned away from the Word.
Not surprisingly, the Lord sees no need to continue such a fruitless line of conversation. So He confronts Eve: “What is this you have done?” giving her the opportunity to take personal responsibility. But she attempts to shift the blame, too: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” And that’s been a pretty popular excuse ever since the fall: “The devil made me do it.” Of course, the devil never makes us sin; he just displays our options and packages them attractively.  
In Eve’s answer we note something else that must have been distressing to God. Both she and Adam are concentrating on the sinful deed of eating. God is more concerned about the sinful attitude. After all, sin does not begin with the hand but with the heart. Sin did not begin with a bite of forbidden fruit; it began with the desire to have something that God had not given to them.
Let this be a warning. Sin is just as deceptive in your life. You also sense the consequences of your sins more readily than the attitudes that produce the results. From your first parents, you, too, have learned to justify yourself and to blame others, even if that means disagreeing with the faithful God who has come to save you. You also have thought you know better what is good and what is evil for you than the holy Lord God does. You also have desired, perhaps demanded, something that God in His infinite wisdom has not seen fit to give you.
God turns to the serpent, allowing Adam and Eve to listen in. God wants them to hear this judgment and be comforted by the realization that God is the enemy of that being who inflicts so severe a wound on mankind. Here, grace and mercy begin to shine forth from the midst of the wrath which sin and disobedience aroused. Here, in the midst of the most serious threats the Father reveals His heart. Here is a promise in the midst of a curse: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15).
These words also show us another consequence of the fall into sin—enmity, the quality or state of being an enemy, a feeling of hostility or ill will. The enmity God speaks about is on three different levels. First, He tells Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” There had been friendship between Eve and Satan. She had believed him when he spoke. And if God had not intervened, Eve and all her descendants would have gone to live forever with this “friend” in hell. Fortunately, God promises to send a Savior who will defeat this old evil foe.
The enmity God announces is also going to extend further between Satan’s followers and those of Eve’s descendants who will share her opposition to the evil one and her trust in God’s grace. This hostility exists between God’s children and the unbelieving world down to this day. Perhaps you’ve never thought about it before, but what a blessing it is that you have learned to look upon Satan as your enemy! For though he is a deadly foe, the devil more dangerous as a “friend”!
This enmity will reach its climax in one of Eve’s descendants. God warns Satan: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” It is at this one descendant of Eve that Satan directs his most vicious enmity, realizing just how much was at stake. Herod seeks to kill the newborn King of the Jews. For forty days in the wilderness Satan tempts Jesus to forget His Father’s plan. And then, on that evil Friday that Christians call “Good,” Satan strikes his enemy’s heel with a ferocity that costs the Savior His life on the cross.
Yet Satan’s enmity will prove futile. Death will not hold this Holy One, the Seed of the woman. In rising again to life, Jesus will forever crush the head of the serpent. Just as it is through the woman that Satan brings sin and death into the world, so it is through the woman’s offspring that God will conquer sin, death, and Satan. St. Paul writes, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
Paradise will be restored in Jesus—the second Adam—who will fully obey the Law of the Creator, the Law the first Adam broke (Romans 5:18-21). Where Adam failed to protect his bride and then sought to shift the blame to her, Christ gives up Himself for His bride, the Church, “that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).
God is not a withholder. He gives you His very best. He sends His only begotten Son to redeem you. While you endure the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve—the shame, blame, and enmity—you can take comfort in the promise of a Savior and rejoice in the knowledge that the Seed of the woman has won God’s victory over sin, death, and the devil for you with His own death.
Jesus is “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). “Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:4-8).
On the tree of the cross, God gave salvation unto mankind that, whence death arose, then Life might rise again; and he who by a tree one overcame might likewise by a tree be overcome, through Christ, our Lord. There, uplifted high on tree at Calvary, the God-man gives you a promise in the midst of a curse: “It is finished.” You are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Into the Wilderness

"Christ in the Wilderness" by Ivan Kramskoy Click here to listen to this sermon. “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out ...