Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday 2013

And the Holy Spirit even testifies to us, for after the saying: “‘This–the testament which I will testify to them after those days,’ says the Lord; ‘I will give my Law upon their heart, and upon their mind I will engrave them...and their sins and their lawlessness, no, I will no longer remember.’” And where there is forgiveness of these, no longer is there an offering concerning sin. Having been, then, brothers, we are bold into the entering of the holy place in the blood of Jesus, was made new to us, a not previously existing and living pathway through the veil, that is, His flesh, and a great Chief Priest upon the house of God, may we come forward with a genuine heart in fullness of faith, hearts sprinkled from consciences of evil, and bodies washed in pure water; may we hold firm the confession of the hope unwavering, for faithful is the One Who has promised; and may we consider others into urgings of (God’s) love and good works, and may we not abandon the gathering together of ourselves, just as the custom of some, but calling (them) alongside, and so much more as you see the approaching of the Day.   

Back in OT days, as people gave into temptation, they brought a sacrifice to God for their sin. Once a year, on Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, 1 sacrifice was made for all people’s sins. A lamb was killed in the place of God’s people. The chief priest entered the holy of holies to pour some of its blood on the mercy seat of the altar of God’s presence. The rest he sprinkled 7 times on the people.  

This was the way of the old testament, or old promise of God to reconcile His people to Himself by the forgiveness of their sins. But this old way forshadowed a new testament which would not have to be repeated for every sin, or even once a year. God had found a way to take a new Lamb, one even better than the spotless lamb of the Passover sacrifice, Who became a once-&-for-all offering for all your sins & lawless deeds, so that God would not remember them any more. This Lamb was Christ!

Sometimes you don’t really favor this way of reconciliation between you and God. It seems to easy. You begin to doubt a free gift to you of forgiveness is real. So your sinful flesh seeks to do this or avoid that as though you can somehow make yourself presentable to God. You can’t. You can never make yourself good enough to earn God’s love, since His standard is impossible for you: “be perfect”.

But don’t think that the way of reconciliation was easy. It may be free to you, but only because it was so costly to Jesus. He is the sacrificial Lamb Who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus gave up His body unto death for you on the +, and shed His blood for you at Calvary to forgive your sins. His flesh given to you replaces the old veil that separated the people from God’s presence. You now approach the Lord’s Table with confidence, knowing that no offering is needed for sin any longer!

Yet you still tend to think that God ought to love you despite all of this, because you consider yourself a pretty good-hearted person. You are no mean, nasty criminal. You care for your family and live life as a model citizen most of the time. You are good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like you, so why shouldn’t God? But you are lying to yourself. You aren’t holy like God Himself is holy.

So you are in need of cleansing. Just as the blood of the lamb sprinkled 7 times upon the Israelites cleansed them from your sin, you too have received a washing. Not one that has to be repeated like the one of Yom Kippur, but you have been washed with the pure water of your baptism. Your heart has been sprinkled clean from your old evil conscience. You can come forward today to partake of the Lord’s Supper with a genuine heart, one that is now full of faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Still, at times you wonder if you really need so much of God’s word in your life. “A worship service that exceeds an hour! That pastor must just like to hear himself talk.” You want to limit what you hear from Jesus because you think that the smallest bit of God’s word is plenty for you. How much of the same promises of God do you need to hear? Repent of limiting God’s word to you by your reluctant listening

For Jesus wants you to hear that He loves you over and over again. Would you tell your beloved spouse that they say “I love you” too much? So rejoice likewise that Jesus wants the words of His promised love to you to echo frequently in your ears, so much so that these words become your own confession of hope, opening your own mouth and the words of God’s gospel promise come out. For your neighbor needs the same encouragement of God’s love that you do, lest he/she stop gathering in church for worship. Your confession of God’s promise calls them back to worship alongside you!  


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lent 5

Whatever was to me a profit, these things are to be considered on account of the Christ, forfeited. But, on the contrary, also all things are to be considered to be forfeited, on account of the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, through Whom I suffer loss of all things, and consider them excrement, so that Christ I may profit, and let me be found in Him, not having my righteousness, the one of the Law, but the one through faith of Christ, the righteousness out of God, upon the faith, the knowledge of Him, and the power of His resurrection and the communion of His passion, taking the same form in His death, if somehow, let me come unto the resurrection, the one out of death. Not that already I have received, or already have been completed, yet I pursue, if even, let me receive, upon which also I was taken upon Christ. Brothers, I myself do not consider myself to have taken; and one thing: on the one hand I forget the things behind, on the other hand for (what is) ahead I reach out. According to the destination I pursue unto the award of the call from above of God in Christ Jesus.

Why would God want to let you into His heaven? There are two predominate schools of thought on this issue. The first, Paul encountered in Philippi, where law-focused Jewish members like Spike Lee insisted that everyone must “do the right thing” for God to consider you worthy of His kingdom. So to counter this, Paul offers a different point of view, one which looked at all the so called “right things” he did as nothing but, well, for lack of a better word: “excrement!”. Another righteousness was needed.

St. Paul urged them, and urges you to consider everything which you value in this world as something completely lost to you. Your own pride, your own supposed “goodness”, your own skills, talents and abilities are to be forfeited on account of Christ. For nothing you do contributes to your own goodness at all. You have a righteousness that is alien to yourself, one that comes from another world, the world to come. For you have been given the righteousness out of God, from above, given you through faith.

Now the first challenge you face with regard to this foreign righteousness is that you want somehow to be the one in charge of obtaining it. But you aren’t. Deep down you want to do something to get it, you think that you must at least reach out a little to take it, but you must understand that you are like Paul, not considering himself to have taken it. Instead, all the taking is done by Jesus Who takes us to Him.

The true righteousness is not taken from God, but given to you by God. You don’t actively take it. You passively receive it as a gift. The righteousness you have is by the faith of Christ Jesus, Who willingly took your sins as His Own on the and, so that in Him you would become the righteousness of God! This blessed trade Jesus made with you at Calvary, and delivered it to you the day of your baptism, your sins washed from you all the way to the tree of Golgotha, in exchange for Jesus holy righteousness.

The second problem you have concerning this gift of Jesus’ righteousness is that you are tempted to consider everything you already have as “good enough”. You seem “alright” at this juncture of your life, working hard, caring for your family, having made provisions for the future... Yet St. Paul reminds you that you are not to consider yourself as somebody who’s already received it all in this world.

No, the best is yet to come. Like the woman buried with a fork in her casket, because at every church dinner she was told to keep her fork for dessert, you have far surpassing things awaiting you. Oh, you have some knowledge of Christ your Savior now, but you know that you look forward to one day seeing Him face to face in heaven, as you behold His everlasting wounds which Thomas touched, as a permanent reminder to you that Jesus gave up everything for you, even His life unto death on the cross.

A third difficulty you face when it comes to Christ’s righteousness is that you are tempted to believe that you are complete already, and need nothing further from Jesus. This is simply not the case. You might feel self-satisfied with what a good Christian person you perceive yourself to be, but you remain in this world tainted by sin, corrupted thoroughly by your sinful flesh, in need of a drastic solution..

God alone can solve this problem by connecting you with the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Sinful you needs a participation in Jesus’ suffering and death, so that you can be raised by God to new life again. This fellowship with the death and resurrection of Jesus is given to you in a special communion of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus feeds you with His very body given in death, so that it become for you a feast of life eternal through the forgiveness of your sins, salvation for your soul!  

So your own righteous efforts placed behind you, you reach out in faith for your heavenly destination.



Sunday, March 3, 2013

Lent 3

For I don’t wish you to be unknowing, brothers, that all our fathers were below the cloud and all went through the sea, and all into Moses were baptized in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same Spiritual food, and all the same Spiritual drink they drank; for they drank out of a Spiritual Rock following, and the Rock was the Christ. But not in many of them was God pleased, for they were killed in the desert. And these types happened for us, into us not being passionate for evils, just as those ones were passionate. You, are not to be idolaters, just as some of them became, as it is written, “The people sat to eat and to drink, and stood to play.” And may we not fornicate, just as some of them fornicated, and fell one day 23,000. Nor may we test the Christ, just as some of them tested, and by the serpents they were destroyed. Nor do you complain, just as some of them complained, and were being destroyed by the destroying angel. And these types came upon them, and were written to warn us, into whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, the one thinking he stands, see that he not fall. Temptation has not overtaken you, if not humanity; but God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but will make, with the temptation, also the way out, for you to be able to endure.

When trying times come, there are some people who endure it, and others who cannot. When temptations come, some people resist, while others fall prey to the sin. This, of course, is because there are some with strong faith, others with weak faith, and still others who lack faith altogether. But our God cares for all people, regardless of their faith status. He proclaims both Law and Gospel for the benefit of all, just as He baptized the folks into Moses’ Law, then quenched their thirst with Christ.

Now, while God makes no distinctions between persons, we, sadly all-too-often do. You grow very impatient with particular sinners, especially those who don’t commit your favorite sins. “Don’t they see that they are headed to destruction?” you want to shout. You have a great desire to admonish them of the dangers of the path you see them on, and grow frustrated when they don’t heed your warning. You are tempted to write them off as a “lost cause” for repenting, and give up on them completely.

Praise God that He doesn’t have your impatience. God is patient with you, warning you again and again with His Law. He does this even though you often try to ignore His conviction of your own sins. But He persists, so that you will realize in the end that you have no power of your own to resist temptation but must rely on God to help. He does, with His Gospel, which forgives all your sinful thoughts, words feelings and actions, removing them from you by His grace, depositing them all on Jesus at the cross.

When you look inwardly at yourself, you fall prey to the temptation to think that you are a “strong Christian” and that you are able to overcome your own inclinations toward sinning. But the truth is, you can’t! That’s why Paul warns you not to think that you can stand on your own against the devil, the world, and your own sinful desires. If one of these doesn’t get you, the other two will, and you fall.

As you remember from last week, you stand, not on your own, but only on Christ Jesus. It is God who causes you to stand firm. For you are much like the fig tree in Jesus’ parable. The fig tree didn’t create itself. It doesn’t produce figs by it’s own efforts, just what God made it to be, a fig-producing tree. Likewise for you. You are given to bear your own fruits for God. You can’t do this yourself. God does it through you. He fertilizes you with His gospel Word and sacraments so you become fruitful.

When you find yourself in a predicament, falling prey to a particular sin, you often think that it is your responsibility to get yourself out. You couldn’t be more wrong. Yet you foolishly think that if you strive, struggle, and strain enough to overcome your sin, then God will be pleased with you. Nothing could be further from the truth. God knows you can’t resist all sins or overcome them by yourself.

So it is God Himself Who both provides your ability to resist temptation, and to find a way of escape when you fall into a sin. You are not your own life-guard. It is God Who rescues you from the unholy trinity. This rescue He first gave you at your baptism, where you were delivered from death and the devil and saved from sin by the washing of water with His Word. In addition, Jesus feeds you with Himself, just as He fed the Israelites in Moses day, with His body and blood for your forgiveness.

So whether you have strong or weak faith, your God remains faithful, ever-patient with you, having made you a new creation in Christ to stand firm and endure, always there for YOU to provide your escape.