Sunday, March 26, 2017

Why Did God Blind a Man from Birth?

Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 26, 2017

John 9:3
Why Did God Blind a Man from Birth?

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

Are handicapped people more damaged than you? It is awkward to ask this sensitive question, but this question still remains: are you more able than a disabled person?

Jesus’ disciples seemed to think so.

As He went along, He saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
JOHN 9:1-2 NIV 1984

They saw disability as punishment, a common view of the time. Yet Christ disagreed with the culture of that time and of today. For nothing has changed: the world still views disability as punishment, both for the child and the parents. This is the reason why so many in our allegedly civilized society support murdering babies if they show signs of disability. Nothing has changed, except that Christ has come and set us free with this Truth: all human life is precious, damaged or not.

But why did God allow this man to be damaged from birth? The man and his parents were sinners as all humans are from birth, but the blindness wasnt punishment for their many sins.

Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
JOHN 9:3 NIV 1984

God allowed this man to be blind for years, so that Jesus at this precise moment could heal him and show more evidence that He is the true Son of God. Perhaps this seems high-handed or even cruel to some. Maybe to you. Maybe to me. How could Jesus have prevented this man from having a full life, just to make a point?

If you look at the world and feel that the sum of life is a full life of career, family, and watching screens, then yes, you will see blind people as damaged and limited, never able to live a full life like you.

However, dear Christian, you trust that a full life is Jesus. Whether a Christian lives 10 minutes or 10 years, their life is full and good and undamaged because Jesus has died for them and had done His work in them.

3Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent Me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
JOHN 9:3-5 NIV 1984

Jesus is in the world and His works continues. He takes physically damaged people and physically able people into the hands of His servants and heals them both of their spiritual damage: their sin that loves themselves and hates Jesus. You are the evidence of His healing words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and “Take and eat, this is My body”. You are the evidence of His love because you are alive, body and soul.

Now He doesnt make miracle mud with His hands anymore; He calls on you, His living people, to use your hands to help and protect those who cant see or walk or talk like you. Serve them because Christ has served you.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be Served, but to Serve, and to Give His Life as a Ransom for Many. Amen.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Christ’s High Comfort Before His Lowly Death

The Feast of the Transfiguration
February 26, 2017

Matthew 17:1-9
Christs High Comfort Before His Lowly Death

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

Matthew leads into the account of the Transfiguration with a very specific dateline: “after six days.” Six days after what? Going back a bit further you read that it was six days after Peter's confession of Christ:

Jesus and His disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way He asked them, "Who do people say I am?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked, "But what about you? Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ. "
MARK 8:27-29

The most important question in the world is Jesus asking, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Peter confessed that he was a sinner and that Jesus is the Savior Christ, the One anointed by God, to die for our sin.

Now six days later Peter said to Jesus,

"Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
MARK 9:5-6

In the middle of this breathtaking scene, what does Peter do? He starts jabbering. Mark added that Peter was speechless due to terror. Luke added that Peter didn't realize what he was saying. Peter was interrupting the conversation that we wish we could eavesdrop: Jesus speaking with two of the greatest prophets of the Bible about His suffering and death.

Peters right about how good it was to be there, scared as he was. But like us, when confronted with things we dont understand, we often feel like we have to say something. And Peter says something.

But Jesus had not asked Peter to say anything. He just wanted him to use his ears and eyes. He never asked him to open his mouth. The words of Psalm 46 come quickly to mind.

Be still and know that I am God.
PSALM 46:10

And here was God standing in front of him. James and John and Peter were standing, well, cowering before God in illuminated flesh. As with all His miracles, Jesus did not make use of His divine glory to benefit Himself, but for the good of His people. And later the eyewitness testimony of these three men on a high mountain would bring added comfort to the holy Christian Church.

And this is why Jesus command to them wasnt strange when He ordered them to keep this to themselves until after His death and resurrection. He didnt want them spreading this visible proof around before His Passion. His glory wasnt why they would follow Him—it is His word, signed, sealed, and delivered.

He gave His word to come down from heaven; we didnt, but He did.
He gave His word to never to give advice to His heavenly Father; we do, but He didn’t.
He gave His word to suffer and die a lowly death to pay for our all of sinfulness; He did.
He gave His word to speak Truth to us; He still does.

All His promises comfort us when we are low, and they pull us back up to Him when we try to give God advice like Peter on the mount. Jesus is God's only Son and so we listen in fear and love as He speaks Truth to us: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and “Take and eat, this is My body; take and take and drink, this is My blood.”

For even the Son of Man did not come to be Served, but to Serve, and to Give His Life as a Ransom for Many. Amen.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Christ Turned the Other Cheek for You

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
February 19, 2017

Matthew 5:38-42
Christ Turned the Other Cheek for You

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

When Jesus teaches, sometimes His words are hard to understand, and sometimes they are a bit more clear to us. Todays section of Jesus sermon on the mount is one of the more challenging bits.

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

To help us understand Jesus better, remember His opening words, “You have heard that it was said.” Often Jesus began quotations from Moses or other Old Testament prophets with, “It is written.” But not here. Here He said, “You have heard that it was said.” Why the difference?

Perhaps it is because the people the words of the Bible out of their intended context. In Leviticus it is written,

Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death.

This law was not for vigilantes and those on a revenge kick. This law was for the government of the people of Israel from the time of Moses (1500 years before Christ) until Christ came. But these words intended for the civil authorities had been twisted into permission to get your own back when you felt wronged.

Jesus calls us to go above and beyond our grievances and to show mercy. This is what we tell our little ones, to turn the other cheek. Two kids are fighting and as adults we have no problem telling them to stop it. One kids always accuses the other of starting it and what do you say? I dont care who started it.

What we easily tell others, is painful for ourselves. Consider our heavenly Father as He watching His believers engaging in back-biting and gossip because they were wronged.

His Son says turn the other cheek. Is He being literal? Yes and more! We could easily try to twist His words so that we limit them to the literal items that Jesus mentions here: cheeks, shirts, coats, one mile. Someone asks us for three miles? Someone kicks you in the shin? Ha! Jesus didnt say anything about that. Wrong! Jesus is being more than literal here; He takes it all seriously.

Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

Here’s what Jesus is getting at. We Christians live in two kingdoms. We live in the secular or earthly world and we also belong to the kingdom of heaven. Christ is our King of kings and we belong to no other. We owe nothing to our parents, to our children, to our spouse, to our government, to our company, to anyone.

But according to the fact that we have bodies and property, we are also in the secular world. And here we do have obligations to our spouse, our parents, our children, the government, and so forth. As people who live in the secular world we are called to protect others. If an evil person tries to kidnap your kids, you should stop them, using force if you have to, though if you can, call the police.

But what if its just you? Most of the time the attack will be with words. What should you do? Dont strike back. Dont try and get an eye for an eye. If they insult your mother, dont insult theirs.

See the example of Christ Himself. When He was under trial through false accusations, someone hit Him in the face.

Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded. “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?”
JOHN 18:19-23

Jesus didnt strike back, but He did speak up and point out the sinfulness of this act. But then what did He do? He turned the other cheek, and indeed His whole body and went to the cross to die. He hung on the cross and gave up His precious body and life as the restitution demanded by His heavenly Father as the punishment for our sins. And Jesus cheek-turning, body-turning sacrifice forgives us for all of our revenge-seeking, hurtful words, and even for the violence we have committed against others. His blood sends all our sin far away, never to condemn us again. 

For even the Son of Man did not come to be Served, but to Serve, and to Give His Life as a Ransom for Many. Amen.

For a Great Commentary on This Text, Check out Ken Schurb on Issues, Etc.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Baptism Salts Us with Christ

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 5, 2017

Matthew 5:13
Baptism Salts Us with Christ

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

Today little Liam has become the salt of the earth. This means that today he is a believer through the blessed work of Christ.

With Liam in mind Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried.

With Liam in mind Jesus rose from the dead to proclaim the fact that He had paid for the sins of the world on His cross.

With Liam in mind Jesus sent out His apostles and pastors to preach this joyful fact into all the world, so that today in Davenport, Iowa, Liam Joseph Allen has received the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Even now Jesus speaks Liam’s name to His Father in heaven. Sitting at His Father’s right hand, Jesus continues the prayer He began in the Garden of Gethsemane for His first disciples, and then for you:

Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name, the name You gave Me, so that they may be one as we are one. . . . I protected them and kept them safe by that name You gave Me.
JOHN 17:11b-12a

We who are kept safe by the name of the true God, Jesus also calls salt.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

Salt is good. Just because we manage to take everything good that God gives to us and overdo it—politics (which is just a fancy name for living in peace with our neighbor), football, salt—doesnt make them bad. Salt is good. In the past many would have starved without their salted pork. Salt prevents starvation. And the right amount of salt makes food taste good. Salt prevents tastelessness.

Salt is good. Liam is good. You are good. Why good? Because Jesus made them good. He made you good. So He calls you salt.

To be clear even after coming to faith through water and the Word, we still are sinners and we prove it every day. We overdo things when we should be moderate. And when Jesus calls us to be bold, we are bland.

These days it doesnt take much to be bold. Simply call a spade a spade and youre in for trouble. If you correctly say that Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel is far superior to a wall of paint drips by Jackson Pollock, youre in for trouble.

Or marriage, marriage. Or a girl, a girl and a boy, a boy. Or a baby in the womb, a baby in the womb. And even though you werent wondering, if youre mostly doing your spade-calling on the internet, youre doing it wrong. Real salt work happens with real people when you can see the whites of their eyes.

Austin and Erin, you will continue to salt Liam as you tell the truth in your home about the world, about yourselves, and about Jesus Christ. The world is passing away, we are sinners, and Jesus is the Savior who had you in mind when He was willingly crucified, died, buried, rose again, and now sends His pastors to baptize fellow sinners.

He does this work. He makes us salt.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be Served, but to Serve, and to Give His Life as a Ransom for Many. Amen.

Beatitudes for Believers

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
January 29, 2017

Matthew 5:5
Beatitudes for Believers

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

This list of “blessed are such-and-so” are called the Beatitudes. And these Beatitudes might very well be the most-beloved section of Scripture by unbelievers.

At the recent inauguration they were read aloud. If a fictional television preacher needs a sermon text for an episode, they always preach on the Beatitudes. These words of Jesus don't offend as much as other parts of the Bible and so they are borrowed by the world when they need Jesus to say something.

Blessed are the gentle, for they will inherit the earth.

But they are only borrowing our Beatitudes, because Jesus here is blessing believers, His disciples.

When He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. Then He began to teach them

While they were likely those who doubted in the crowd, Jesus is speaking to His own people. This is why faithful preachers on Sunday morning preach to God’s people, not to unbelievers. This does not mean that the pastor necessarily preaches with jargon and technical phrases, because believers need both Law and Gospel, just as unbelievers do.

And so Jesus blesses His people, not the people of the world, who are slaves, mostly unknowingly, to the Devil. Note how blessed is used by Pastor Paul.

Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.
ROMANS 4:7-8

Paul is writing to believers, whose sins are covered and whose sin God will not count against them. And so this helps us see that the blessed promises of Jesus to His people are not a Do This And You Will Get That situation. He promises us that we already are blessed. So even though we are often proud and lose our temper, in Him we are already poor in spirit and gentle because our transgressions are forgiven by the blood and death of Christ Jesus. The Lord will never count our sins against us.

This is why the Virgin Mary is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not because she has some special internal holiness, created in and of herself, but because her Master is her Savior.

For He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed
LUKE 1:48

The Beatitudes do show us how humble and far away from blessedness we are. Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness? Our sinful flesh isn’t hungry—your flesh carried more about what to put on your breakfast table this morning than what is on offer on the Lord’s table. So Jesus drowned this cranky old flesh in Baptism, which loves to be cranky when its crankiness is pointed out.

But Jesus raised a new person to life inside of you who is blessed through Baptism also and on this spiritual resurrection you are blessed and saved and safe and secure in the kingdom of heaven even now. This is why the Beatitudes are some of the most beloved promises of Scripture treasured for the right reasons by believers.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be Served, but to Serve, and to Give His Life as a Ransom for Many. Amen.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Jesus Cast His Net and Pulled Out Some Ugly Fish

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 22, 2017

Matthew 4:17-20
Jesus Cast His Net and Pulled Out Some Ugly Fish

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

Fishing requires patience. For long periods of time you see no results and often go home empty-handed with nothing to show for the days work . . . this is also true when you are fishing for fish.

17From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” 18As He was walking along the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen. 19He told them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men!” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.
MATTHEW 4:17-20 NIV 1984

Jesus Himself fished and caught these men as He called these first disciples. And His call to them was to make them also fishers of men. As they would learn, their new calling would require patience.

They would still use nets, but these nets would not be made of rope. Instead they would cast out Gods Word. They would cast out these exact words, repeating the very words of Jesus:

Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!”

This preaching of Gods Word is saying that we are sinners. God says that we are and so we prove our sinfulness daily. Jesus calls you to forgive your enemies and pray mercy upon them. But instead of immediately saying, “Yes, Lord,” we curse them privately in our homes as we listen to the news.

But to us the kingdom of heaven has come near. Through His Word, Jesus is with us. And this real presence that He promises and gives is heaven here on earth. He has come to us in Holy Baptism and washed us clean with water and His promise.

But there are some churches that havent seen a baptism in a long time. Is the pastor to blame? The people of the congregation? Probably! We are sinners who are lazy. We always are tempted to ignore Jesuscall. But perhaps we might remember the work of the apostles. Or even of Our Lord.

Often they would have nothing to show for their efforts. Consider how many souls Jesus had at His crucifixion—what had been hundreds of followers, if not thousands, had dwindled to a handful. The Virgin Mary and the other faithful Marys, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, definitely the thief on the other cross, and perhaps St. John. According to the measurements employed by many in our own circles, Jesus was a failure as a pastor and fisher of men. Then 53 days after Jesus died and 50 days after He rose from the dead, He sent His Holy Spirit and through the sermons of those first Christian preachers, those apostles, over 3,000 souls were baptized into the name of Triune God.

This reminds that preachers are simply to cast out Gods Word: “Repent, the kingdom of heaven has come near!” This means that I am to preach how lazy we are and sinful we are and selfish we are. If we weren't all those wicked things and more, we wouldnt need to repent, we wouldnt need to turn away from sin and turn to Jesus. We are, and by the Word of Jesus, He comes near to us and we turn to Him for life.

In the life of Christian and their pastors, there are times for action and rebuke, especially those who are members of our congregation and call themselves believers. If we fail to ever sound a warning, we are unloving and cruel.

But above all, fishers of men must be patient. We cast out Jesuspromise of life to all who may hear. And sometimes the fish that the Holy Spirit catches up in His nets are ugly. Look at the disciples that Jesus caught. These were ugly men who abandoned Jesus with their doubt and lack of faith and then actually ran away from Him just before He was murdered by evil men.

Our nets caught the same souls. We are not fish that are appealing to the world, but Jesus is delighted to catch us and rejoices to come near to us.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be Served, but to Serve, and to Give His Life as a Ransom for Many. Amen.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Rabbi, Where Are You Staying?

Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 15, 2017

John 1:38
Rabbi, Where Are You Staying?

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

It can be easy to forget that some of Jesus disciples were not new to being disciples. Disciple means follower, and Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist before he began following Jesus. And when he switched to Jesus, it was what everyone had been waiting for: Andrew, Jesus, and John himself.

John was sent to point others onto the Messiah, and Jesus was this Messiah. Messiah means Anointed One, the One upon whom oil is poured—or in this astonishing case, the Holy Spirit. Jesus is this Anointed One, as John gladly confessed:

I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him. 33I would not have known Him, except that the One who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
JOHN 1:32-34

And so Andrew began to follow the Messiah, the Jesus who would wash away Andrew’s sinfulness. And Jesus would also become Andrew’s rabbi, his teacher. The relationship of teacher and student is one of questions and answers, and so Jesus and Andrew’s first conversation was just that:

38Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are You staying?”
39He replied, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw where He was staying, and spent that day with Him. It was about the tenth hour.
JOHN 1:38-39

It seemed so simple. Rabbi, where are You staying? The Greek word here can be staying or remaining or abiding or even enduring. But Andrew just meant where are You staying, where are You eating supper? But these ordinary questions predicted all of Jesusteaching to them. He would spend three years teaching Andrew and his brother Peter and the other ten disciples and many more just exactly where He could be found. I imagine a quiet smile on Jesusface as He answered Andrew as He looked ahead to their time of learning together.

It would not be all smiles. There were moments when Jesus had to rebuke His disciples for Andrews lack of faith, but yet in the end His teaching created in Andrew fear, love, and trust in the true God and His only Son that stayed with Andrew all the days of his life.

Every day, I pray that you like Andrew will ask Jesus, “Teacher, where are You staying?” And through His Scriptures, that is the Holy Bible, He says, “Come, and you will see.”

For even the Son of Man
did not come to be Served,
but to Serve,
and to Give His Life

as a Ransom for Many.