Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holy Thursday Sermon (Luke 22:7-20)

(Here is a guest post at Gemutlichkeit by an anonymous brother vicar)

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit+
There is a well-known hymn and plantation song that asks a seemingly simple question. Were you there when they crucified my Lord? It sounds kind of like the beginning of the Holy Gospel for Maundy Thursday, And when the hour had come... The hour for what? For the Son of man to suffer and to die at the hands of sinful men. The hour when they crucified our LordWhen they nailed Him to a treeWhen they laid Him in the tomb. The hour had come for all of these things spoken of in that little song to be accomplished. And these things, the suffering the death the burial, these are the reason that Jesus earnestly desired, passionately and with all of His will, to share a meal with His disciples. To share that final Passover with them. For while His blood would mark the doorframes and lintels of many, Death would not pass over this firstborn Son of God. He knows He will face that cross. As He predicts His own betrayal in the verse following today’s Gospel, He says: The Son of Man goes as it has been determined— He goes to be that Passover Lamb. Determined… determined by the Father’s will; consented to willingly by the Son. “Go forth, my Son,” the Father saith, “and free men from their fear of death, from sin and condemnation.” He spoke to His beloved Son, “Tis time to have compassion. Then go, bright Jewel of my crown, and bring to man salvation; From sin and sorrow set him free, slay bitter death for him that he may live with Thee forever.” And The Son obeyed His Father’s will. “Yea, Father, yea, most willingly I do what Thou commandest; My will conforms to Thy decree: I do what Thou demandest.” Composed in the style of a Father-Son conversation, these hymns declare just what was determined: that Christ would accomplish our salvation and win the forgiveness of our sins on the cross. That is where it happened, where the good and gracious will of God was finally done. Where a Man kept the Word of God in its truth and purity and lived a holy life according to it. Where Jesus broke and hindered every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world and the sinful flesh. Where God’s name was hallowed and His kingdom came and where faith first kept a Man unto death. Salvation was accomplished and won on the cross outside of Jerusalem. On Calvary. On that green hill far away, a long, long time ago… So long ago.
Oh yea, were you there when they crucified your Lord? I don’t think you were. So what does it mean? Christians sometimes talk like that song. “Come to the foot of the cross!” they say. “Kneel at the foot of the cross!” “Just touch the foot of that cross!” But what do they mean? What does that even mean? Nothing, really. This piece of wood won’t save you. That piece of wood won’t save you. The phrase is meaningless. At best, it’s a poetic expression to trust in Jesus, to trust in that salvation accomplished and won on the cross… even though the cross isn’t here today. At worst, it’s a sentimentality. A gooey, drippy, emotional plea for pilgrimage. Either we should follow that advice and book a trip to Jerusalem and the churches that claim to have pieces of that “true cross” in Rome, Paris, Ghent, Venice, Brussels, Spain….. or we should at least make a mental pilgrimage in our minds to imagine and meditate…. maybe with the aid of movies and inspirational books.
But this is stuff of superstition and paganism, both of which are alive and well in the 21st century, in America, and even in the Bible Belt and Texas. Happy thoughts do not forgive sinners and make them right with God and each other, any more than pilgrimages to holy places make saints of pilgrims. Where is the comfort in remembering? Where is the comfort in a 2000-year-old historical event? It is distant. That cross is long gone. That hill is covered over and changed. There are no more screams or cries or laughter heard on that hill. And even if such sights and sounds fill the minds of pious Christians today, a child of seven can explain what sort of pilgrimage that is: Pretend.
Our ears are assaulted with this pretend Savior, in hymns, on TV and radio, with this Protestant talk of the cross, the old rugged cross, a tree on a green hill a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and even nothin’ but the blood of Jesus. But these songs sing of old-news. A cross is an antiquated torture device. It’s rugged in that it outlasts its victims, but crucifixion is outdated, inhumane and surely outlawed in the Geneva convention. The hill was never green… and the sweet-sounding word Calvary means Skull in Latin. The Hebrew word is more descriptive: Golgotha. Even blood, which can save lives, is useless if it remains in veins, poured on a rock or even prepared in a transfusion bag sitting outside Jerusalem in 30 A+D. Our sins are here. Our hardships are today. Our suffering and sadness, grief and shame and depression happen right now. They are present. They are real. They are not Pretend. We need a Savior today, not 2000 years ago.
Now consider that Negro Spiritual’s question honestly. It is a frightening one. Were you there? If not, how can you be certain of what Jesus accomplished and won? How can you reap the benefits? What good is it to you—how can you receive it? And even if you had been there, so what if you can remember? What matters is, does God remember? Were you there? Perhaps the hymn should sing, “No-o-o-o.” And no wonder it caused that poet to tremble.
Do not tremble. Do not be afraid. Jesus does not tell you to go to the foot of the cross. He does not sing you songs of green hills and city walls. He is not “a long time ago” or “far, far away.” Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread and in the same way also, He took the cup, and He instituted that Holy Supper we call the Sacrament of the Altar and Holy Communion. He speaks words to you now, today, and often: Take, eat and drinkThis is my body. This is my blood. It is given and shed for you

Not was given, is given for you. It is His New Covenant, literally His New Testament: His last will and testament given in anticipation of His death that He might bequeath to you the only thing He possesses: The Body and Blood of God. With them you receive all the benefits and possessions of God: True holiness and righteousness, true peace and comfort, true life and salvation, which is the forgiveness of sins. It is that forgiveness of sins accomplished and won by Christ Jesus in His death on the cross; But here it is delivered.
He Himself said, He would not eat or drink of it with them until it was fulfilled, completed and finished in the Kingdom of God. On the cross He fulfilled it, completed it, crying out, “it is finished.” But where does He give it? Where does He shed it? Where does He share this fulfilled kingdom with us? First in Emmaus with those two disciples, revealing Himself in the breaking of the bread. Now, today and for you, here this very hour in His Sacrament.
Here the blessings of Christ, of our Crucified Lord Jesus are delivered and distributed. How is it that we are Christians—those dwelling in Christ? Because He dwells in us by entering through our mouths and into our hearts, just as He has soaked into us in Baptism and taken up residence in us through His Word in our ears. The Lord’s Supper is the beating heart of the Christian Church and Her life, for in this Sacrament we receive Christ most intimately for our forgiveness, peace, life and salvation. He surrounds this gift with all of His others: that He truly is given when we hear His voice in His Word, when His apostolic ministers speak His Word to us, “I forgive you all your sins.” When He claimed us for His family Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the flood of Baptism, banishing Sin and Satan and pouring out the Holy Spirit in their place. Our God is not pretend. Our Savior is not “long ago” or “far away,” a myth or a happy thought or a nice song. He who accomplished and won our salvation, forgiveness of sins and the remedy for shame and sadness on the cross is not abstract and imaginary. He delivers. Tonight again, He earnestly desires that you eat this supper with Him, that you receive Him as He has promised to be given for you: In His Holy Body and His Precious Blood. Here we have something far greater than a Seder or a happy thought. Here we taste the true Passover Lamb, roasted to perfection on the cross. His blood is spread on the doorframes of our bodies, poured into our mouths, and Death passes us over. God isn’t found today on a cross or in a fond memory. He delivers. After all, Lambs are meant to be eaten.
So by all means, meditate on Christ’s Passion as we have done for the past six weeks. Live everyaspect of your life in remembrance of Him. But if you want salvation. If you have sinned and need forgiveness. If you are weighed down by shame and sorrow, depressed and weary. If you were notthere, fear not, because Jesus comes to you. Don’t go to His cross. Go to His Altar. Go to His Supper, for your salvation awaits you there.
+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit+

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lord Jesus, Think of Me

Pastor Johnson and I on "Lord Jesus, Think on me (LSB 610)" at Spanish Service at St. Paul.

"Lead us not into Temptation"

(painting: El Greco. The Agony in the Garden. c.1595. Oil on canvas. Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH)

"And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Lk. 22:44).

On Jesus final night with his disciples, he did what they often did.  He took them to the Mount of Olives to pray.  Late this evening, in the cold dark Jerusalem night this is where Jesus wanted to be – kneeling in prayer with his beloved disciples.  On this dark night, they did not just pray any prayer, but the prayer that their Lord had given them to pray, “Our Father…who art in heaven…lead us not into temptation.”

As Jesus prayed, the plot to arrest him had already been schemed and hatched.  The Roman soldiers had been sent out from the barracks.  As Jesus prayed, “lead us not into temptation” – the soldiers and chief priests were being led out to put an end to Jesus.  To find this religious trouble maker, who was hanging out with prostitutes and notorious sinners.  This night, as Jesus prayed, the soldiers marched toward him in military formation.  Their swords were ready and glistened under the moonlight.  The metal clanked against their strong armor as they marched. 

Jesus said to Peter as they knelt, "Peter, My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…stay here and pray with me.”  And here, they prayed, “Our Father…lead us not into temptation.”  Even Jesus, needed help with temptation and fear, for he knew what was coming.  He knew the chief priests were scheming to kill him.  He knew Judas had already betrayed him.  And he knew the soldiers with their swords were marching straight toward him. 

Jesus was not only tempted during his forty days in the desert wilderness.  He was tempted during his entire earthly ministry to give up and not go through with what he was sent to do.  And here in the garden, the temptations reach their climax.  He knew that he would be whipped and beaten – scourged and hung up on a cross to die.  Though Jesus is fully God, here, we see him as fully man, utterly overwhelmed and terrified as any man could ever be. 

From our own experience, we know the anticipation of getting a tooth pulled.  Or we know the anticipation of waiting for a painful surgery to take place.  We know the anxiety of a public speaking event.  The anticipation is usually often far worse than the event itself.  Now, try to imagine the anticipation of taking the penalty for all the sins of humanity.  Imagine the weight of all sinful crimes being laid upon your own body.  It is simply inconceivable. 

Jesus, kneeling in prayer, was fully aware of each coming lash of the whip.  He was aware of every thorn and every nail that he would bear.  As Jesus was awaiting his arrest, he was already suffering for the sins of the world.  As he prayed, he was fighting all the temptations of the world, the devil, and his own flesh to give up on the mission.  The devil, stalking him like a roaring lion, was tempting him to quit while he was ahead.  He was shooting out all his venomous arrows, saying, “Go back and be a carpenter, tone it down a little with your religious talk, Jesus, and just live a quiet life for yourself.  Do what’s best for you.  Let your disciples suffer for their own sins – they don’t deserve your help.  You don’t need to do this.  The price is too heavy to bear…just give up.”  Although Jesus heard that serpent tempting him in the garden, he did not accept the sweet sounding offer – nor did he even entertain the offer - he knew it was rotten to the core.
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  The Passion and suffering of Christ, here, praying in the Garden has well begun.

As dark and foreboding as this night seems, the glimmer of Easter morning flickers in the distance.  For this is the night that Jesus goes to battle for us.  Every temptation hurled at Jesus is cut down with the sword of faith – a faith that trusts and loves the heavenly Father above all else.
Like Jesus, we are all tempted during this earthly life.  And these temptations certainly come, one after the other.  The tempter Satan whispers also to us – to despair – to give up – to go on sinning.  He tempts us to disrespect or neglect our parents.  He tempts us to neglect the spiritual needs of our spouse.  He tempts us to be lazy at work.  We are tempted to be angry at others.  We are tempted to withhold our forgiveness from those who don’t deserve it.  Satan prowls about tempting us to neglect prayer, neglect worship, and neglect study of God’s word.  He tempts us to think that we do not need the church.  We are tempted to think that we are fine, without the help of God.
The great difference between Jesus and us is this.  Though we are both tempted, He and us both, only He, and not us, rejected all the temptations lobbed at him.  Only He gives us the power to cut down these temptations and win the victory.  For where we fail and give in to temptation, he will not.  When our patience fails, his patience wins out.  When we neglect prayer he prays without sleeping for us.  When we become lazy at work or in our vocation, he works tirelessly in His work to love us without measure.  When we say, “yes” to the tempter He says “No…get behind me Satan.”  When our faith is weak he makes us strong.
As death marched toward Jesus as he prayed, in the garden - He prayed that you be led out of temptation by being led unto him.  For your victory over temptation lies with Jesus, and Jesus alone.  He is your victory.  The victory ‘all for you.’  Given for you and shed for you.  Tears for you, blood and sweat for you, body and blood for you.  Great joy for you.        
Before the ending of the day, Jesus will be handed over to be crucified.  But this evening, in the coming light of Easter, the tempters power has been cut down and Satan has eaten the dust of death.  Not only have we been led out of temptation, but we have been led into the beaming light of the cross – where we stand as victors and champions under the crimson banner of Christ’s name.  No temptation and no threat can stand in our way.  The flickering light of Easter morning is just around the corner.  And the good news will be proclaimed for us all.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.           

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I Will Confess My Transgressions Unto The Lord

In Psalm 32 King David, prays, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Often times when we think of David from the Bible, we think of a mighty King - one of the great Fathers of our faith – a mighty warrior who defeated Goliath – a true man of God – a righteous King.  He was all these things, warrior, poet, musician.  He left us with the lovely Psalms.  If there ever was a man who was in good shape with transgressions, it looks as though David was the one.

We may think of Michelangelo’s masterpiece Renaissance statue of David.  Michelangelo’s statue shows David in noble contemplation.  He is sculpted in perfect form -strong legs and full chest.  He shows off his chiseled abdominals.  You can even see veins bulging from his perfect and strong biceps.

His figure pulses with power and wisdom.  He is an icon of strength and beauty.  Over his left shoulder hangs his sling – the sling that he used to battle that hideous villain Goliath.  Here is somebody who’s got it together.  He is a leader.  A man of strength.  A man of God.  A real spiritual type.
However, in the Psalm we prayed, which was written by David, we receive a different figure than Michelangelo’s great sculpture.  We don’t see David as a mighty warrior who has it all together.  We don’t see his ripped biceps and his righteous noble warrior pose.  We see him lying down, face down buried, and groaning.  Beside being a legendary warrior, he was also a legendary transgressor.  As He lays down in His royal palace, among fine linen sheets, and all the luxuries of this world, He suffers the poverty of spiritual bankruptcy, and egregious sin.  He cries out to God for forgiveness.

That towering statue does not look so towering after all.  That warrior king David is reduced to a twisting, squirming, anxious sinner.  And a poor miserable one at that.  Beaten down by his own transgressions, his muscles do not bulge, and his noble face – his perfect facial features drop away – now bearing the expression of shame.
For all that stature and wisdom, that mighty warrior was unable to war against his own flesh.  Though he battled and killed the greatest warrior in the land, he was unable to resist the mere sight of a naked woman.  He took the lovely Bathsheba into his bed and sinned against her sexually.  To cover up his mess he ordered that her husband be murdered so that he might take her as his own.

And now he had blood on his own hands.  With David, this evening we sang with him in his confession, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.”  Left alone with our sin, like David, our trespasses make our own strength dry up.  We groan over our anxiety and lack of trust in his care.  It is our own trespasses that separate from God and the loving relationship he wants to have with us.  Sin get in the way every time.

David needed his sin forgiven.  He was guilty in a web of adultery, deceit, and murder.  And he needed that forgiveness not just once, but every day.  The strongest of men, and the strongest of women need forgiveness.  Though Michangelo’s statue of David, may be somewhat misleading in regards to His shameful run in with sin, it also contains a great deal of truth.  David stands upright because Christ forgave his trespasses.  He asked and he received.  For he rejoiced in these words, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

He stands before God in heaven and all the angels, and before all of us as a blessed man- and a righteous one, because his sins were forgiven.  He stands as a warrior because all his trespasses were hurled into the depths of the sea.  He is noble and strong because he stands in the wisdom and strength of Jesus Christ.

Ultimately it was Jesus who hurled the final death blow to Goliath.  For by going to the cross, he struck down all the powers of evil.  Jesus has us rise from our knees and brings us to our feet, to grow in wisdom and stature, and favor with God and man.  Like David, we are so very blessed because our transgressions are all forgiven.  He turns are groaning into shouts of joy.  He turns our silence in singing.
As St. Paul asks in Romans, “Who will bring any charge against us?”  No one can.  Like David, we have confessed our transgressions and the Lord forgive us.  He makes us stand tall and bold like warrior kings – like Michangelo’s David – to stand as conquerors – and righteous ones – shaped and chiseled into the likeness of Christ.   

And in the coming celebration of Easter, we do not have to groan anymore.  For as Christ is raised we are sculpted into glorious saints in whom he delights.      

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jesus Prays for You

"Forgive us our trespasses."  This we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.  Prayer sometimes does not come easy for us.  We like to watch tv, play video games, and watch sports.  There are so many other thing we would rather do, than pray.  But, what a blessing to make time for it – for the benefits of prayer are endless.

Over the last several weeks we have been looking at the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that Jesus himself has given us.  He invites us into His prayer, so that we may know who He is and what He is doing in our lives. As we get tired or lazy in prayer – there is one who never fails.  Jesus Christ prays for us.  He prays for this school.  He prays for his whole church on earth.  But most importantly He prays for every one of you.  This morning, before you awoke Jesus was busy praying for you.  Your name is on His heart and on His lips.  He calls you by name.  And he prays for you by name.

Now imagine how comforting it is when a friend or family member looks you deeply in the eye and says, “I am praying for you.”  That is a wonderful blessing to know that others love you and care for you.  And they take the time to pause during the day, to pray to God just for you.  And how wonderful it is that we are able to pray with each other today – gathered together in the house of the Lord.  For your comfort and your health – and your joy. 

Now, just try to imagine the Son of God praying for you.  This is not just any Son.  The Son who commands the winds and the skies – the eternal Son of God who laid the earth’s foundation.  Who set the Sun and the Moon and the stars in place.  He is the one who prays for you.  The Lord who made you in the womb of your mother, who knit your body together.  He makes it is life’s work to live all for you – to pray all for you.  If he created the heavens and earth, how much will he do for you?  You, whom he calls son and daughter, and brother and sister?  His prayers for you will keep you safe in all trouble.  For in those prayers, in the Lord’s Prayer, is the power of God himself.    

When Jesus was praying at the Mount of Olives on that dark, dark night, before his arrest – He prayed for us.  Though sweating blood and crying tears He prayed.  As he was waiting to be arrested, and ridiculed - there he was - praying for his whole church – thinking and remembering us all.  Even when He was being led to the cross He prayed.  When he was suffering hell itself on the cross, He loved us all – even asking the heavenly Father to forgive His own murderers, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”       
Even while we are sleeping he prays for us.  When we are neglecting prayer – He guards us and our homes with the Words of His prayer.

Today we concentrate on these words of the Lord’s Prayer “Forgive us our trespasses.”  Ever wonder why Jesus would pray to be forgiven?  Why would the one who had no sin, ask to be forgiven?  Why does he want to pray for that?  He is the Holy One – the Holy of Holies – the righteous Son of God.  What need does he have for forgiveness? 

Just as we are never alone in our prayer, we are also never alone when we are tempted and find ourselves in deep sin and misery.  The Holy One is so very holy because he identifies with his whole creation.  He identifies Himself with us, who are often lost and confused.  He prays with us for forgiveness, because he desires to bear our sin – taking all of our shame – all of our sin – He makes it all his.  We are not alone in prayer and we are not alone with our sin.  He makes it all His business.  He makes all of our lives His life’s work. 

His work is all complete – and this coming Easter we will celebrate with all the voices, bells, and trumpets we can find.  He has done all things well for you – for He rose from the dead and destroyed all the powers of sin, death, and the devil.  Now, forgiveness pours out in abundance from Jesus.

Through the Lord’s Prayer we know exactly what the Lord is doing for you.  He is bringing you to the heavenly Father, as one with whom he is perfectly pleased.  His will is that you believe in Him and let his love have its way with you.  He wants to free you from all your worries and comfort you with His forgiveness.
And when we take hold of this gift and cling to it, Jesus calls us back into our daily lives to forgive others as He has forgiven us.  This is the power of forgiveness – to make all things brand new.  In this newness of life we can love as he has loved, and do as He has done.  And now, together, what we all do very best, is forgive.  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  In the name of Jesus.    

Paul Gerhardt - A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth

1. A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,
        The guilt of all men bearing;
        And laden with the sins of earth,
        None else the burden sharing!
        Goes patient on, grow weak and faint,
        To slaughter led without complaint,
        That spotless life to offer;
        Bears shame and stripes, and wounds and death,
        Anguish and mockery, and saith,
        "Willing all this I suffer."

        2. This Lamb is Christ, the soul's great Friend,
        The Lamb of God, our Savior;
        Him God the Father chose to send
        To gain for us His favor.
        "Go forth, My Son," the Father saith,
        "And free men from the fear of death,
        From guilt and condemnation.
        The wrath and stripes are hard to bear,
        But by Thy Passion men shall share
        The fruit of Thy salvation."

        3. "Yea, Father, yea, most willingly
        I'll bear what Thou commandest;
        My will conforms to Thy decree,
        I do what Thou demandest."
        O wondrous Love, what hast Thou done!
        The Father offers up His Son!
        The Son, content, descendeth!
        O Love, how strong Thou art to save!
        Thou beddest Him within the grave
        Whose word the mountains rendeth.

        4. From morn till eve my theme shall be
        Thy mercy's wondrous measure;
        To sacrifice myself for Thee
        Shall be my aim and pleasure.
        My stream of life shall ever be
        A current flowing ceaselessly,
        Thy constant praise outpouring.
        I'll treasure in my memory,
        O Lord, all Thou hast done for me,
        Thy gracious love adoring.

        5. Of death I am no more afraid,
        New life from Thee is flowing;
        Thy cross affords me cooling shade
        When noonday's sun is glowing.
        When by my grief I am opprest,
        On Thee my weary soul shall rest
        Serenely as on pillows.
        Thou art my Anchor when by woe
        My bark is driven to and fro
        On trouble's surging billows.

        6. And when Thy glory I shall see
        And taste Thy kingdom's pleasure,
        Thy blood my royal robe shall be,
        My joy beyond all measure.
        When I appear before Thy throne,
        Thy righteousness shall be my crown,-
        With these I need not hide me.
        And there, in garments richly wrought
        As Thine own bride, I shall be brought
        To stand in joy beside Thee.

        A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth
        Paul Gerhardt, 1648
        Lutheran Hymnal 142

Lead us not into Temptation

(Salvador Dali "Temptation of St. Anthony" 1946.  Musées Royaux des Beaux - Arts de Belgique, Brussels)

"Pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Lk. 22:40).

Tonight we pray “Lead us not into temptation.”  This was the prayer of Jesus on the eve of Maundy Thursday.  As He knelt on the Mount of Olives among the disciples He urged them on saying, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

This is the night our Lord was arrested and tried.  Before the ending of the day our Lord would be betrayed by Judas, and denied three times by Peter.  He would be mocked and struck on his face before the council.  Our Lord knew where he was going on the eve of this Maundy Thursday.  He knew all the prophecies; he would be stripped, beaten, and lifted up off the ground.  Hands and feet would be pierced for our transgressions.

Our Lord kneels down in the dust with disciples and prays, “Lead us not into temptation.”  “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”  Just hours earlier Jesus had stood among the disciples in the upper room for their last Passover Supper together.  He wrapped a towel around his waist, and knelt down to wash the feet of his disciples. He took his hands that that created and fashioned the cosmos, and now unfastened sandals.  He washed dusty and grimy feet, drying them with his towel. The disciples, embarrassed as they were, remembered His words, “I came not to be served but to serve you and to give my life as a ransom for many.”   

When the hour had come to eat, Jesus sat among his disciples at the table.  In loving affection He said “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 

He took the bread, and when he had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said “Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you.  This do in remembrance of me.  In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Later that night as Jesus knelt and prayed for the disciples, “Lead us not into temptation.”  For He knew that they would scatter.  Judas would betray him, Peter would shrivel up into fear and deny him.  The rest of the disciples would live out their lives quarreling with one another.  As our Lord prayed in the Garden he knew our chances too.  He saw us denying our Lord.  He saw us gossiping and striking down the reputation of another.  He saw us bored or indifferent to worship and the scriptures. 

He has seen us tempted.  And he has surely seen us cave to temptations, one after the next.  He has seen us neglect family or friends, as we blame it on stress or busyness.  He has seen us abandon prayer, as he stayed up all night praying, sweating and bleeding in anxious agony – praying for us all – as he waited to be arrested and crucified.

For us disciples, who scatter, He prepares for us a supper.  And before feeding us He washes us.  He arms us with Holy Baptism to wage war against the tempters and powers of this world.  He leads us beside those still waters, washes away all sin, and restores ours souls.  He prepares for us a table in the presence of earthly temptations and leads us to Himself.  He who was tempted, but never succumbed to temptation, He has made for us a way.    

For those of you, receiving the Lord’s Supper for the first time – this is where you come when you need comfort.  It is where you come when you feel spiritually numb and weak – or when you feel nothing at all.  This supper is where you come when you feel spiritually awake.  This is where you come when are lonely.  This is where you come scared, or nervous.  It is where you come when you are joyful and thankful.  This supper is where you come when you are tempted, whether you are young or old.  This Lord’s Supper is where we go when we succumb to our temptations and our molested and struck down by the dark powers of this world.  It is for us when we are shamed or embarrassed. 

It is this food and this drink that makes you well.  For the common phrase, “You are what you eat” takes new meaning here.  You eat and drink the true body of Christ, the Word made flesh in the Virgin Mary – the body that hung on the cross – and that body risen from the grave.  The Lord delivers you through all temptations by having you partake of his body – to partake of his innocence and claim it all for yourself.  It is all for you.  What you consume, what you eat and drink is what you become.  That life in the body - and life in the blood is the holy life of Christ given and shed for you.  What is his is yours.  For he lives, and you live in Him.  And He loves you without measure.      

Now all the devils, tempters, and powers of this world cannot threaten you.  Even your own sins will not stop his love.  He is the good shepherd, the good meat and drink, who leads us not into temptation, but leads us into the ways of righteousness.  He leads us to the altar – leads us to himself – yes, leads us into heaven itself. 
But for now on your earthly travels – for today and for tomorrow – this is all you need for the whole journey.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.          

Why do Christians Gather?

Why do Christians gather to worship?  Christians gather in cities, the rich neighborhoods and the ghettos.  They gather in the suburbs.  They gather in rural country churches across our nation.  They even gather in prisons.

Across the entire world Christians gather.  In India Christians gather outside for worship in yellow, red, and purple dresses.  In China, it is estimated the close to 100 million gather to worship throughout the week, many still in private house churches.   

Our church here at St. Paul began when German immigrants began to gather at the Maywood Town Hall in 1874 – just down the street.  And here we are, 135 years later.  We may look very different, dress different, and talk different than those Germans.  But here we all are – still coming to the same place. 

Why do Christians keep gathering?  Year after year?  Is it for the music?  Is it just for coffee hour?  Is it just the instant coffee, donuts, and Danish?  Is it just to see dear friends – or network with others?

If we wanted the best music, surely, many great options are out there.  If we came here only for music, we may find a better venue with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  They have the finest instruments, the best repertoire - the best, most talented conductor.  Or if we are looking for our favorite rock band, there are few places better than the House of Blues downtown Chicago.  Where else can you pound a burger, drink a beer, and hear your favorite band!?   

If we wanted the best coffee, I am sorry to inform, that Starbucks may have left us all behind on that front.  They have lattes and mochas, cappuccinos and espressos.  Our instant Maxwell House here, unfortunately, just cannot compete.  If we are here for social networking, Rotary club or lions club may very well be more effective.  There, you don’t have to wait for a long worship service to end, you can just move ahead with the meeting.

Why do we gather for worship?  What keeps us coming back?  If it is not just the music, or the coffee, or the friends, what is it?  What makes all this different?  Why is what we do here so special?  What do we get here than we do not receive elsewhere?  Why have faithful Christians at this congregation continued to rise up early and come here. 

We gather  because we know that things are not all how they should be.  Too much has gone wrong.  Things are not all alright.  In one way or another, help is needed. There is too much depression in the family.  There has been too much crying.  Too many dark nights.  Too much loneliness.  In too many areas of life we have come up short.  We have disappointed others and we have disappointed ourselves.   
There is something that the finest music cannot accomplish for us.  There is something needed that our favorite rock band will not grant us.  There is something that the grandest coffee hour, or trip to Starbucks cannot give us.  There is something we need that the Lions club or elk lodge cannot deliver to us.

None of these things or places can forgive us our sins.  Only one man can do that.  And he chooses to do it in His church.  “Father, forgive us for our sins.”  This is the one thing needful.  The Germans who met 130 years ago at the Maywood townhall met for this reason.  This is why Christians throughout the world come out, even in the face of persecution to worship.  It is not just for music, or coffee, or friendship.  The come to meet the risen Lord, fresh from the grave.  They come to worship because they need Jesus.  They need forgiveness.  They need the crucified and resurrected Christ.          

It never ceases to amaze me that God continues to speak that word of forgiveness, every time our ears are open to it.  The greatest surprise in Christian worship is forgiveness.  The greatest source of joy is that when Christians ask for forgiveness, they receive that which they ask for, without exception.  Ask and you shall receive, our Lord says.  Time after time, He speaks it again and again.  “I forgive you, I love you.” 
God makes the unaccepted, acceptable to him through the forgiveness freely offered in Jesus Christ.  We can never move beyond the joys of the forgiveness of sins.  It is the heart and center of worship.  To ask for forgiveness gives God the highest praise for this is what He wants to hear.  And this is why He came in the first place.  When we pray “Forgive us our trespasses” this is the finest chorus and grandest symphony orchestra.  This simple petition – this desire to receive from God is how he loves to be honored and worship.  At this petition all the angels in heaven rejoice.  
Christians gather to worship because they need Christ and his gifts.  We need Christ.  The object of our devotion is Christ.  And our desire it to have what he freely gives.  Here, he is given and shed “for you.”  Here, he locates himself in a spoken Word that does everything it is set out to do.  He locates himself in bread and wine, eaten and drunk right here, for the forgiveness of sins.    

As Christians, we can never tire from receiving forgiveness.  We have constant need for it.  For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation.  Here there is true freedom and true comfort.  And this is why we all keep coming back.  And thank God, He is always here to meet us.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.        

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Forgive us Our Trespasses

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us"

When we pray to our Father in Heaven we pray ‘give us this day our daily bread.’  And in the very same breath we pray “forgive us our trespasses” – that is “forgive us our sins.”  Like food and drink, like shelter and safety, forgiveness is our need.  A need of both body and soul.      

There is no higher form of worship than to pray this simple petition, “Forgive us.”  But we do not live in a world that treasures this gift and takes hold of it.  We live in a culture of “positive thinking,” where asking the Lord for forgiveness simply does not really resonate anymore.  Asking anybody for anything is just not very dignified.  I am independent – independent minded and free thinking.  I want to focus on the good, not all that bad stuff – not all that sin.

Spiritually, we often prefer to be professional do-it yourselfers.  We much prefer a 10 ten step program to be a new and better you.  We are looking for the ‘best life now’ and the secret of happiness.  The world says, “you just need to forgive yourself first.”  You need to do whats right for you!  Do what you like.  You need to put yourself first.  If it feels good do it.        

We live in a culture that chooses to self-medicate for their sins, rather than medicate with the mediation of Jesus Christ.    We are often concerned more about self esteem than being redeemed in the merit of Christ.   

Many churches, even Lutheran ones have gotten rid of confession and absolution at the beginning of the service, because it is deemed an “emotional downer” for worship.  It has been replaced with worship styles that focus more on emotional zest and staying positive about ourselves.  You just got to be upbeat!

‘Can’t we just praise God and get on with the good stuff!’  I am not really a poor, miserable sinner.  I’m just not that bad.  Let’s get over that medieval stuff and get with the times.  I just can’t believe that I deserve death and condemnation.  “I just can’t believe in a god like that.”  The Pharisee in all of us rises up to plead his case.  Thank God I am not like them.          

No matter how pious and godly the community is around us, we cannot be free from the trials and temptations that come.  Even among the gathered saints – on this side of heaven – life is a dense web of trespasses.  Trespasses against us and trespasses against others - little hostilities and petty fights.  Bound up in a web of un-reconciled family problems, or having a dislike for someone at the workplace.  The little grudges and protests in our lives pile up to make a pretty ugly mess.  A mess of sin that brings on death. 
It was King David who cried “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all the day.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Ps. 32:3-4).  David shows us that carrying around sin is exhausting.  It weighs down upon the soul, and mind.  It presses down into our bodies, into our very bones.  It makes us anxious and tired.   

We cannot self-medicate our lives with ‘positive thinking’ and new age popular spirituality.  We have real sin that requires a real savior.  We had a real sickness that requires a real anditote.  We have a condition that requires a true physician. 

Our Lord takes our sin very seriously.  And we should take it seriously.  For God himself is grieved in his heart, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem” and “Adam, where are you?”  He is saddened by the break in that blissful relationship that He desires with us all.  And what a passion he has to get us back.  
For each and every sin was placed on the sinless one.  Every trespass laid upon the one who never transgressed anyone.  The one who loved the whole world, loved the Father perfectly…asking that “His will be done.”  And Christ willed to step into our place and take that punishment and condemnation that we had rightfully deserved.  He steps in as the true doctor of body and soul.  The physician of mercy who bandages up every open wound.

In his prayer, He prays with us and for us, “Forgive us our sins,” though he knew no sin.  He steps down from heaven into our prayer and identifies with all the brokenness and pain in this world.  He looks up to the Father, suffering with all creation, and pleads with us “Forgive us our trespasses.”

When he breaks out from the grave on Easter morning, He says, “Peace be with you.”  Look at these wounds.  I have surely done it for you.  “Now go in peace and forgive others as I have forgiven you.”  This is the work that God loves to do – forgive sin.               

We can never get bored with this.  There is no lovelier way to give God glory that to say, “forgive us Father.”  This is how we praise God with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Asking for forgiveness and receiving it is the highest form of worship on earth.  God delights in hearing this petition, for he has more joy in heaven over one person who turns and pleads, “forgive us” than over all the righteous saints in heaven or earth.”  For the sacrifices of God – that which he truly loves is a “broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.” 

We give God the greatest praise and highest glory by confessing our sins before God and the whole company of heaven.  Here, the angels rejoice and the Holy Spirit descends upon our households.  The Son intercedes from the cross and the Father speaks, “You are mine with whom I am well pleased.”

‘I forgive you,’ He says.  ‘Forgive others as I have forgiven you.’  This is that Word which breaks out and is loosed upon the whole world.  Asking for forgiveness and receiving it here in our midst, trusting, that that Word is from God himself.  This is what breaks the power of death.  This is what makes us children of light and holy people.  Forgiveness is what binds us to those sitting next to us. 

Forgiveness causes wars to cease and makes peace.  In marriage between husband and wife there is nothing more romantic than “I forgive you.”  When Christ’s speaks to His church and forgives Her for all her sins, there are no words under heaven more wonderful than these, “I forgive you…for all your sins.” 

In this Gospel Word heaven is merged with earth – the dead are raised from their graves – and all those longing for peace have it in abundance.  Here is the greatest of daily bread – forgiveness – a gift that gives us all we need in our daily life.  Here, we have every good thing, and nothing is lacking.  This, is your ‘best life now.’  This is your happiness.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.