Sunday, August 25, 2013

Proper 16 Hebrews 12:4-24

Not yet until blood have you resisted to the sin you struggle (with). And you have completely-forgotten the One called alongside you, which to you, as sons, converses: "My son, do not take lightly the child-training from the Lord, nor grow weary from His correction; for the one the Lord loves, he child-trains, and He whips every son whom He receives." Into child-training you remain; as sons God deals with you... For you have not come to what may be touched and burned in fire and to blackness and darkness and whirlwind, and to trumpet blast and sound of spoken words, so that the ones hearing begged no longer to have the word given to them, for they could not bear the command: "Even if ever an animal touches the mountain, it is to be stoned." And so fearful was the sight, Moses said, "I am afraid and shaking." But you have come to Mt. Zion and the city of the living God, Jerusalem from heaven, and a myriad of angels gathered for a feast; and to a church of firstborns written in a book in heaven, and to God–Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made completely-perfect, and to a new testament mediator–of Jesus, and to a blood of sprinkling speaking greater than the one of Abel.   

"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times". The opening words of A Tale of Two Cities. We have a tale of 2 mountains. On 1–Sinai, it's the worst of times, the tablets of God's commandments, His condemning Law exacting punishment and retribution for sin. On the other–Zion, it's the best of times, the Temple of God's mercy, sacrifices for sin averting God's wrath. Which mountain is yours?

It's as though Monty Hall (or Wayne Brady) is pointing to two doors where Carrol Merril is standing. The one door is really wide, and seems to be the entrance to a great many treasures. The other is extremely narrow, and would seem to hold a very little. But the appearances are deceiving. The wide door is the way of the Law. Do this, don't do that, as you read the signs. The narrow way is the way of the Gospel. The sign there has no "do's" or "don't's". All it says there is "Done, Done and Done for you."

Like those in the Gospel for today, you want to point to yourself and choose the wide door. You want to claim that you drank in Jesus' presence, and were there when He was teaching, but none of this does you any good. You would like to list all you've done which entitles you to enter, but the door of this way to heaven always remains locked. You can't get in. All you can hear is Jesus' voice saying "Where are you from? I never knew you. Depart from me all you workers of evil!".

What gives? You tried to be a really good person so that Jesus would like you enough to let you into heaven. But you've forgotten your child-training from the Lord. You do your best, yet receive punishment. You strive to obey, but you get a spanking at the end of the day. You come to the Lord offering Him your finest efforts, only to get a whipping from His Law when He receives you. Then He tells you this is love...for you deserve much worse for your unholiness. You deserve stoning/death.

So you see, there is no possible way for you to enter through the wide door of "what you do" to merit life in God's kingdom. Nobody can enter that way. If you did get through that doorway, you'd find nothing but the Zonk of condemnation and everlasting death behind it. The only choice is the narrow door, but you find that it's too narrow for you to get through on your own. You try to contort yourself to be small enough to fit, but your sinfulness is a burden that is too great to go through the tiny entrance.

Which is why sinful, sin-burdened you has to go. He can't fit through the door, so he has to be killed. The Law of God which brings such fear and trembling puts sinful you to death. Old sin-burdened you is gone. But that's just where God wants you! For now the Lord Jesus is able to raise you up as His firstborn son in your baptism. Where you had been last in your sinfulness, now the washing of water and word has made you first in God's sight, born again to new life to enter the narrow door in Christ Jesus.

In Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, the Firstborn of all who are raised from the dead, you are now raised up. There is no longer only one Firstborn, but now many firstborns, which includes you. From all directions these firstborns enter the heavenly Jerusalem to recline at the table with God. You come this day to the Lord's Table to feast on His body given you, upon His blood shed for your salvation. This Holy Communion is a foretaste of the feast to come in the new Jerusalem above!

You've endured the "worst of times"--God's Law killing you. You now live in the best of times, entering through the narrow door--Christ Jesus Himself. For Jesus says, "I am the Door: if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved!" In Him, the Firstborn, you are raised. Thru Him you enter into eternal life.

Hymns for today from LSB:
#772   In Holy Conversation (only found in LSB - copyrighted)
#510  A Multitude Comes from the East and the West
#505  Triune God be Thou our Stay

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Proper 15 Epistle

In faith Abraham offered Isaac, being tested, and the only begotten he offered, the one having received promises, to whom it was spoken that in Isaac your seed will be called, considering that even out of dead ones God was able to raise, from which him also in a parable he received...And these all having been witnesses through the faith did not receive the promise; God, concerning us, a better thing He foresaw, in order that not apart from us they be perfectly-completed. For this reason also we, being enveloped in so large a cloud of witnesses, may we lay aside all impediments and the constricting sin, through perseverance we run the contest before us, we fix our gaze unto the Beginner and Completer of the faith–Jesus, Who on behalf of the joy He was devoted to, endured a cross, a disgrace he despised, and on the right of the throne of God He has been seated. For you consider the One enduring such a hostility by the sinners into Himself, in order that your souls not become weary (or) give out.    

A rookie ball player is called up to the majors, taking his first at bat. He is baptized by fire. A young marine is deployed into a war theater, facing his first tastes of battle. He is baptized by fire. A newbie volunteer fire-fighter responds to her very first call. She is baptized by fire, but hopefully not literally. Being baptized by fire is not an easy thing. It's dangerous, dreadful and sometimes deadly. You don't want to be baptized by fire, if you can help it. But one person couldn't help it. His name was Jesus!

You see, Jesus' baptism was quite different from yours. Oh, it looked similar when Jesus was in the Jordan river with John. But your baptisms was to wash your sins off of you. Jesus' wasn't. His was a baptism by fire. Fire is a symbol in the bible of God's judgment. Where you and I are cleansed from our unrighteousness in baptism, Jesus wasn't. Quite the opposite. Jesus came to embrace sin and death. Jesus was so devoted to the joy of your salvation that He willingly endured the cross for you.

Not just for you, but for everyone. Jesus endured His baptism by fire at the cross for all people of all times and; places. Your Savior received God's fiery judgment against your sins nailed to Himself, and also Abraham's sins Christ bore in His body on the tree. All the guilt, shame, and; disgrace of every single sin of mankind Jesus became at Calvary. It wasn't a shame Jesus liked. He despised it. Yet He was willing to endure it for your sake, and for the  whole world. He's baptized by fire, for you.

With such an awesome thing that Jesus was willing to do for you and all people, you'd think everyone would look to Him with awe and wonder. But people don't. Sometimes you don't. You consider Jesus on Sunday, then He's out of your mind by Tuesday. Or sometimes even by the time you get to the church parking lot. Your consideration for Jesus and what He does for you is often lacking.

Abraham, by faith, considered God's promises, trusting beyond all logic as God told Him to kill his only son Isaac, through whose line the Savior Jesus was promised. Abraham would have done it, trusting that God who gives life could restore it to Isaac in resurrection. You are given to consider God and His promises in the same way. You are to consider Jesus who took Isaac's place in death, and your place as well on the cross. You consider the only-begotten Son of God baptized by fire for you.

With such a great cloud of faith-filled witnesses in the bible, you ought to be just as faith-focused as they were. But often you aren't. Your gaze drifts away from Jesus who bore your sins on the cross, and instead you find your eyes fixed on your favorite sinful habits. You gossip, waste money, indulge your whims and act selfishly until your sins become impediments to your Christian walk, ensnaring you.

Yet Jesus remains there for you, at the right hand of God's throne. This is not a location, but a power. God's mighty right hand comes down to wash you in your baptism, to mark you with the sign of the cross in Holy Absolution, and to feed you with His body and blood at Communion. Jesus, by the power of His Spirit re-fixes your gaze to Himself, and where He promises to be for you in His Word and in His sacraments. For there Jesus promises to be to forgive you, save you, and give you life forever.

So when life's race becomes rough making you feel you are being baptized by fire, there is no reason for you to despair or grow weary. For your Savior has already been baptized by fire in your place at the cross. For in Christ Jesus there you are perfectly completed. Your faith in Christ a gift He both authors and finishes for you, keeping you in the true faith unto your life everlasting. He likewise does everything by His grace for you, announcing it from the cross, "It is finished!" to you, Abraham, and all.