Monday, March 23, 2015

One Little Word Can Fell Him

Isaiah 49:1-6 On the cover of the Isaiah commentary that I used in my studies for his sermon there is a picture of Jesus Christ dying upon a cross.  And that is exactly right.  Luther said that “From this 49th chapter to the end of Isaiah, there is nothing but Christ.”  And he was exactly right.  These verses that we have before us for our meditation speak of Christ.
Cyrus would be God’s anointed instrument to set Judah free from exile in Babylon.  The Israelites would do their part in carrying forth the worship and knowledge of the true God and especially the promise of a Savior to come. 
But the Servant of God who speaks-- and is spoken of-- in these final chapters of Isaiah’s book is none other than Jesus Christ who was stricken, smitten and afflicted for our transgressions and by whose wounds we are healed.
In the text for our meditation today we hear the incredible Good News that the saving work of Jesus Christ would not just be for the Jews but it would be for all people.  The Messiah says:  Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. 
            Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus would speak in the same, powerful way:  Truly, truly I say to you.  I tell you the truth.  Whoever hears my words and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life.  My word is truth. 
The Servant of God has something to say and he wants everyone near and far to listen to it!
These words are not just for God’s ancient people but for all people--for they speak of a salvation and deliverance that extends not just to a few, but to all who will hear and believe that the Lord has chosen a Savior who will be for all people.  God’s servant says:  The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. 
When John begins his Gospel he says that the one who was in the beginning, the one through whom all things were made, the one who was God-- became flesh and dwelt among us. 
A promise that had been made to Adam and Eve thousands of years earlier—that the Seed of a Woman would be the destruction of the devil--a promise that was renewed and expanded from one prophet to another; became flesh in the womb of his blessed virgin mother.
Isaiah had prophesied of this miraculous birth:  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call him Immanuel.  Isaiah promised more:  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light and those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.  And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, prince of Peace.
And so it was that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled as the Virgin Mary conceived a son with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took on human flesh and became part of humanity in Jesus of Nazareth. 
At the angel’s command Mary and Joseph named him Jesus because he is the God who saves us.  They called him Immanuel because he is the God who is with us.  And the angel choirs sang the birth song of the Prince of Peace.
700 years before these events of the very first Christmas, the Spirit of Christ who inspired all the Old Testament prophets, inspired the prophet Isaiah to give voice to the Messiah, God’s chosen servant and his very own son.  Jesus said about his Father:
He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away.  And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 
            All Jewish rabbis-- and many modern bible scholars-- reject the idea that this is the Messiah speaking because he is specifically called “Israel”.  But the nation of Israel cannot be the one spoken of here because they were not their own salvation to say nothing of their being the salvation of the Gentile nations.
No, this could only be the voice of the Messiah, the chosen Servant of God and the true Israel whose words are like a sharp sword. 
In Hebrews, the Bible says that the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.  And in Revelation Jesus is portrayed this way:  In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
It is this sword of the Spirit which is the word of God that comes forth from the mouth of the Messiah that provides our rescue with one little word.
And so what is that one little word?  Luther speaks of it in the third stanza of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”.  He writes:  Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us—we tremble not, we fear no ill—they shall not overpower us—this world’s prince may still, scowl fierce as he will—he can harm us none—he’s judged the deed is done—one little word can fell him. 
That one little word spoken by God’s own Son, his chosen servant is the word:  tetelestai.  Three words in English:  “It is finished”.  Tetelestai spoken by our crucified Savior who was pierced for our transgression and wounded for our iniquities and by whose stripes we are healed.
It is finished!  The most important word ever spoken for it tells of a ransom that has been paid to set us free from sin and death.  It tells of an atoning sacrifice that has been made, reconciling God and man.  It tells of a peace treaty that has been signed between us and God in the shed blood of his Son Jesus Christ. 
Tetelestai!  It is finished!  A shout of victory spoken by a holy man dying a criminal’s death, abandoned by friends, mocked by enemies, forsaken by God who just a few hours before had begged his Father that the cup of wrath would pass by him.  God’s Servant says:
“I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.” 
            In these words of the Messiah we have some of the deepest mysteries of our salvation.  Here we have the mystery of the incarnation that Jesus of Nazareth, God’s chosen servant, God in human flesh was like us in every way except sin. 
He grew tired and hungry and thirsty.  He sighed at the lack of faith of his disciples and wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus.  He was heartbroken over the rejection of his kinsman and said “Jerusalem, Jerusalem how I longed to gather you to myself but you were not willing.”
He begged his heavenly Father to not drink the cup of his wrath on the cross but submitted himself to his will.  And he cried out as he died “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.”
And yet, despite his sorrow over what sin and death has done to us, despite his yearning for a people who would in large measure reject him, despite his real fear at the horror of the cross and the wrath of his Father over our sins--he knew that he had become the source of eternal salvation to all who believe in him. 
And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him—for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength—“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
            God loved his ancient people, Israel.  He would raise up a deliverer in Cyrus to bring them home and restore their fortunes.  But God wanted to bless them with more than just a land and a temple and a city.  He wanted to bless them eternally with salvation and he wanted to do that for the world as well.
To do that God would need a different kind of deliver than a king who could win a military victory.  He would need a servant who would lay down his life for the world.  He would need his Son who would be holy and righteous in his sight.  He would need a sacrifice whose life and death would bring a world full of people back to God.
That is why Jesus Christ came into the world—to call God’s ancient people back to their rightful place in God’s family-- but also to be a light for the nations so that people throughout the world could also take their place in God’s family.
God wants the salvation he provided in his servant Son to reach the end of the earth.  That is why we give to the work of the church—so that all people might hear of God’s salvation.  That is why we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and share the reason for our hope with those in our community who have no hope.
The salvation that is for the world-- and the hope that is for our community-- is not found in some tract or in some long, dry theological treatise. 
Salvation for the world and hope for our community is found in one little word:  tetelestai.  It is finished.  One little word that speaks forgiveness and peace and hope to a world in need.
My God grant us the courage to speak that one little word that has changed our lives for time and eternity.  Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Son of Man Came to Serve and Give

Mark 10:35-45 The Son of Man will be rejected, condemned, tortured and crucified and then he will rise from the dead.  This was not the first time that Jesus had spoken those words.  He knew just exactly who he was:  the Son of God and promised Messiah.  He knew just exactly what he had come to do:  to suffer and die and rise again for the salvation of the world.
We hear that story so often that I think it loses some of its impact and power on us.  And so let’s just take a moment to reflect a bit more deeply on what Jesus was saying to his disciples.
God’s own Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took on our flesh to suffer and die so that we could be restored to our rightful place in God’s family.  He set his face towards Jerusalem knowing full well what would happen to him there.  He was rejected by those who should have been announcing his arrival and leading the people to their Savior.  Betrayal would come from those closest to him.  Those he should have been able to count on--abandoned him. 
The one true and living God of the universe in human flesh was spit upon, ridiculed and mocked, beaten so severely with a whipped laced with iron that most people did not survive it, and then nailed- hand and foot to a cross -where a crown of thorns was pressed upon his head, pouring blood down upon his face.  The last words he heard spoken to him were ones of contempt and mockery.
And in every moment of his passion there was nothing but love in his heart for you and me and everyone who abandoned him and misused him and mocked him.  With his dying breath he spoke words of mercy and forgiveness for every person who has ever lived.
This is what he came into the world to do.  This is what he accomplished.  This is what he promised the disciples before it every happened.  And what was their response to his words of love and sacrifice and humility?  What is our response to his sacrifice?  St. Mark writes:     
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?”  And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 
            Do you want to know the words to a prayer that never fails?  Do you want a prayer that is always answered in the affirmative?  “Thy will be done.”  That is the way that Jesus teaches his disciples to pray:  “Thy will be done.”
You will notice that the prayer of Jesus “Thy will be done” is very different indeed from the prayer of James and John which was:  “My will be done”.  And truth be told, the prayer of Jesus is very different indeed than the content of our prayers which too often is like theirs.
“Lord, here is what I want and this is when I want it.”  We may dress it up flowery language and pious sounding “god talk” but how often are our prayers like theirs?  “Lord, I want you to do whatever I say”?
That kind of prayer is the worst kind of idolatry because it fundamentally overturns who “God” is in our relationship with him.  Instead of being our Creator and our Father who give us what we need, when we need it, because he knows us and loves us, God becomes our servant who exists to serve us, giving us what we want when we want it because we demand it. 
And if you think that calling those kind of prayers “idolatry” is too hard a judgment, just look at what James and John ask for:  positions of glory and honor that elevate them above their brethren and place them next to the King.  
Jesus had just spoken of the mockery and shame and suffering and death he would suffer--and all they could think of was their own glory and honor and position.
“Pastor, my prayers aren’t like that!”  But what else are our prayers that ask for earthly ease when our Lord has plainly told us that his disciples must take up their cross and follow him and that the one who gains his life in this world will lose it in the world to come?  Like the disciples we must be reminded that future glory comes only through the cross. 

Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 
            They didn’t know what they were asking—but they should have known!  Jesus never hid from them just exactly what it meant to be his disciple and he doesn’t hide it from us.  He says:
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you on account of me!  Whoever does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  Take up your cross and follow me.  A servant is not above his master!  The first shall be last and the last first.  This is what Jesus says about our life as his people.
They didn’t know what they were asking because they didn’t understand that the path to glory--for Jesus and for them—would go through the cross.  Jesus would be rejected, suffer, die and rise again just like he promised and ascend to the glories of heaven.
And the journey to heaven would go the same way for James and John—one of them martyred and one of them exiled.  Their lives as disciples as Jesus Christ and their journey to the glories of heaven would go the way of the cross because that is the only way that journey can go—for them and for us.
Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 
            Martyrdom and exile.  That’s the way it was for James and John and that’s the way it is for all who follow Jesus as Lord and Savior.  All of us are called by Jesus to walk the way of the cross—to live and die as martyrs and exiles.
That does not necessarily mean that all of us will bare our neck to the sword like James did or that we will be exiled far from home as was his brother John.  But it does mean that we will daily die to sin and crucify our flesh.  It does mean that we will live our lives as exiles in this world, longing for our true, eternal home.  Now, please understand…
There is a glory to come.  There is an eternity in heaven to enjoy.  There is a glad resurrection to look forward to.  God has prepared that for us and gives it as a gift of his grace.  But glory is still in the future for us and until that day comes we are to follow Christ and lay down our lives in service and sacrifice for others rather than seeking honor for ourselves. 
When the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.  And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 
James and John may have been the ones who actually had enough nerve to ask Jesus for greatness and glory but all of them were thinking it.  It’s just another sad, ugly part of our fallen human flesh that we are not content to be last-- but demand to be first and yearn for glory.
But the child of God and disciple of Jesus Christ is no longer ruled by the flesh.  We are to be different than those in the world around us who care about fame and fortune and pride of place because we are different.  We have been changed forever by the humble man of the cross who did not count equality with God something to be held onto but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, dying for us—even death on a cross.  And so then…
Jesus not only forbids self-seeking and self-importance in the church, he says it even more strongly:  It shall not be so among you.  Instead, we count others better than ourselves.  We submit ourselves to one another and clothe ourselves in humility.  We are concerned for the interests of others and the strong serve the weak.  Jesus says: 
Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
            In that crowd of people walking up to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover there was one who was truly great.  He was not a brilliant scientist.  He had not forged an empire by the strength of a sword.  He did not possess the wealth of Solomon. 
He would ride into Jerusalem, not on mighty steed like a great general, but on a donkey with his feet almost dragging the ground.  He would kneel down before his pride-filled disciples who could only think of themselves and wash their feet.  He would allow his enemies to say all kinds of terrible lies about him.  He would be spit upon and beaten and ridiculed and die a criminals’ death.  And yet…
In God’s judgment Jesus is the greatest man who ever lived because he became a slave to all people by bearing our sin and ugliness upon himself and dying (in our place) the death that we deserve as the ransom price to set us free from sin and death. You see dear friends in Christ…
That is what true greatness is in God’s sight.  That is what true glory is. That is why our lives together as a congregation and our lives as individual Christians are distinctively different than the self-seeking, self-important values of the world. 
Christian husbands love their wives like Christ loved the church and Christian wives submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ and Christian children obey their parents not because we demand love and respect and obedience-- but because it is the way of Christ.  
Members of a Christian congregation are concerned for the weaker Christian in their midst and willing to sacrifice our preferences so that others are not harmed by our choices and we count others better than ourselves because it is the way of Christ.
And because we serve the one who became a slave to all people and a ransom for the many we have the same loving concern for the salvation of those around us as did our Lord, bearing witness to him in word and deed and giving generously for the sake of the Gospel so that others might have a place in God’s family.
May our lives of service be a true reflection of the Son of Man who came, not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for us all!  Amen.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lent 4b General Prayer

Gracious heavenly Father, we come to You in prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, trusting that You will hear and answer us for His sake:

We give You thanks and praise that You are the God who delivers and saves.  You have redeemed us from slavery to sin and death and set our feet on the way to the Promised Land of heaven by the lifting up of Your Son Jesus on the cross. 

Forgive us when we become impatient along the way and grumble and complain about Your provision.  Open our eyes to all of the blessings You have given us that has brought us this far on our journey.  Especially do we give You thanks for the gift of life granted to Adrian as he celebrates a birthday to Allan as he celebrates his 85th birthday.  Continue to grant them every good gift of body and soul.

Renew in us a love for the means of grace in Word and Sacrament that You have used to call us from death to life.  Grant that Your Word would always be faithfully preached and taught in every level of our church and school and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution.  Especially do we ask Your blessing upon all those who teach and learn in our school.

Because we know that all people are, by nature, children of wrath, empower the mission of Christ in this place so that we would courageously bear witness to those who do not know You that they might come to faith in Jesus and be saved.

Help us to live our lives in such a way that it would be clearly seen that our deeds are carried out in Your strength and by the guiding of Your Spirit and that we are gladly doing the good works You prepared for us to accomplish.

Heavenly Father, in the midst of a wilderness You abundantly provided for the needs of Your people, giving them food to eat and water to drink.  So in the same way graciously and generously provided for all our bodily needs.  Help, direct and encourage those who are seeking work, especially Jonathon.  Be with, bless and heal according to Your wise fatherly will all who are ill, especially Rick, Billie, Sallie, Sarah, Brittany, Pat and Sandra.  Sustain the faith of those for whom death draws near, especially Hollis.  We ask that you would be with the Logback family as they mourn Ron’s passing and as others in that family deal with illness and family struggles.  Assure them that You are with them and will help them.

Whatever else You see that we need; whatever serves our neighbor and brings glory to You and extends the kingdom of Your Son, grant to us dear Father in heaven for we ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen.