Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lent 2 Midweek

“Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:21-22).

On Sunday, we heard about the Canaanite mother who got on her knees.  And pleaded with Jesus to help her.  Her daughter was sick – possessed by the devil.  And Jesus did help her.  the woman was content to be a dog, eating the crumbs that fell from her masters table.  That was a feast was more than enough for her and her daughter.    

In today’s text we have another mother who gets on her knees.  She wants her sons to sit at Jesus right and left hand in his kingdom.  She wants her sons to have some glory.  To have a place of honor.  And isn't that what all mothers want for their children?  To make sure that the future of their children is secure and comfortable. 

But she doesn’t really know what she is asking.  For Jesus place of glory is not comfortable.  His place of glory is not off in the clouds somewhere.  Jesus place of glory is hanging upon the cross – writhing in pain. 

That is why he asks “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”  It is Jesus who drinks sour wine – vinegar – at His death.  It is Jesus who drinks the cup of the father’s wrath down to the very dregs.

A wrath that would obliterate the universe in destruction if He Himself did not consume it – and vanquish the anger of God against sinners.  This is the only reason the sun can shine in the morning, the only reason that your dinner tastes good, and birds sing in your backyard.  Because Jesus dies for the sins of the world.

The mother of James and John is not totally wrong in advocating for her sons.   She just doesn’t understand that his kingdom is not of this world.  His throne is not of gold but of wood soaked in blood.  His crown not of diamonds but of sharp thorns.

The mother of James and John just didn’t know what she was asking for.  James would have his head cut off and John would be stabbed to death.  And so it is that when we pray for our children.  Success, security, money, a decent job, getting them out of your basement - that’s all fine and good.  But it all pales in comparison with faith in Christ.  This is what we ought to pray for when it comes to our children.
We should pray that our children would live in poverty and misery rather than wander from the church or live in unrepentant sin.  For these things can destroy faith.  And therefore damn.  What then should we do?

The mother of James and John was not wrong in asking that her sons be with Jesus in his kingdom.  But Jesus kingdom is a kingdom of the cross.  Jesus takes her sons – the disciples - James and John aside and tells them what his kingdom looks like.  “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This mothers prayers were answered only because her often arrogant sons were adopted to become holy saints of God.  They toiled, had bitter lives and bitter deaths.  But they remained faithful to God and poured themselves out as a sacrifice to others.  They gave up their lives and therefore kept them. 

It is Jesus who teaches us that “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  James and John were released from this vale of tears and ushered into the City of God – so that they sons of men might become sons of God.

That is why St. Paul preaches that we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

You too are loved by God.  And nothing will separate you from his love.  Tonight you have proof that your mothers prayers for you have been answered.  He has bourne your sins and carried your sorrows.  You are His.  Contrary to our own thoughts and experience, God knows what is best for you. 

This evening we have the privilege of getting on our knees and receiving the crumbs that fall from our master’s table.  Your mothers prayers for you are fulfilled tonight in your hearing.  The body and blood of Christ given and shed for you.  In the words of Jesus in the book of Revelation  “Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.”  And then indeed we and our own children will sit with Christ in His Kingdom which never ends.  In Jesus name.  Amen.    

Monday, February 25, 2013

Homily for Lent 2

And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28)

This morning we encounter a woman who is beside herself with grief.  Her daughter is possessed by a demon.  Now when you hear about someone being possessed by a demon in the Scriptures don’t automatically think about the movie the exorcist, don’t think of Rosemary’s baby, the omen or some other goofy Hollywood movie.  Demon possession isn’t like that. 

No, for this woman, her daughter was possessed by the devil.  Perhaps the daughter swore and cursed at her parents.  Is that not demonic possession?  Perhaps the daughter simply rejected faith in God and gave up on public worship.  Is that not demonic possession?  Perhaps the daughter had given up on prayer altogether.  Whatever it was, she was not possessed by the love of God, but chose to be possessed by the evil one. 

In our own lives, we ought not make the mistake of thinking of the devil, as some guy with horns, and black cape.  

Demonic possession is a husband who drinks himself stupid and verbally abuses his wife.  Demonic possession is a son who has rejected his baptism, and no longer worships God and receives his gifts – of his body and blood.  Demonic possession is to give up faith in Christ, to go the way of the world, the easy way that is.   

This Cannanite woman – this mother is commendable.  She gets her knees dirty, falls on her knees, and cries out to Jesus, interceding for her daughter.  She said Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. 

By the way these are the words of our liturgy together – these are the words of our worship every time we gather.  “Have mercy on me by daughter is oppressed by a demon.”  You’d expect Jesus to run to her, grab her, and comfort her.  Do whatever he can.  But our text simply says that he did not answer her a word.  He ignored her it seems.  At this point the woman is making a real scene and she is probably annoying the heck out of the disciples.  Then Jesus says to the woman “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  Jesus shrugs her off.  This woman is a Canaanite, an enemy of the Jews, a friend by no means.  A descendent of Ham, the wicked son of Noah.

The woman however runs after Jesus again and drops on her knees.  Our text says that she worships him.  And calls out again loudly “Lord, help me!”  Then Jesus really seems to let her have it.  He says to her “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it do the dogs.”  This is not like saying she is a cute puppy or something or something like that.  This would seem to be an insult of the worst sort.  He is calling her a dog.  Most modern hearers would no doubt be profoundly offended by this.  This is not politically correct.  It just does not seem to be right. 

But the fascinating thing is that the woman does not deny it.  On her knees, she looks at Jesus lovingly and says “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” 

Jesus is floored.  He is blown away by, saying “O woman, great is your faith!  Then let it be done.”  The  woman’s daughter was healed instantly – right there and then.  This poor woman had won the wrestling match with God.  

When God seems to be silent, she cried out louder, knowing that he heard her voice.  When Jesus, in her own experience seems to be saying, “no” she kept praying, and prayed even harder.  When he seems to turn away from her and perhaps even insult her, she persisted in her faith.  She did not deny the things Jesus said.  “Yes Lord, I am a dog.  I am a poor miserable sinner.  But I know that what they say about you is true.  I believe that you are God.  I know that you are merciful.  And yes, I am a poor miserable sinner.  But I have heard that you have come for the likes of me and my broken family.” 

There is much we can learn from this text this morning.  The woman did not trust in her own experience, she did not take no for an answer.  She stubbornly persisted in her faith.  When Jesus was silent, she cried out louder.  When Jesus seems to be saying no, she said yes.  This is the nature of faith.  Faith persists, faith endures.  This woman was delighted to consider herself a dog at the Master’s table.  She was delighted to be a sheep of her Shepherd.  She knew that even dogs receive the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.

Jesus is amazed at this woman’s faith, because of her stubbornness.  She refuses to believe that Jesus will withhold his love and his healing.  She knows that God must act.  She believes that God does work all things together for good.  And she plants her knees in the dust and cries out Lord have mercy!  This woman has caught Jesus in his own words.  She has caught the Son of God, has latched herself on to him and refuses to let him go until He helps her.  She refuses to let Jesus go, until her daughter is healed. 

This mother is not a quitter, she doesn’t throw her hands up, saying better luck next time.  And by the way, she doesn’t say well my daughter has turned 18 it’s not really my business anymore.  No this tenacious Mother grabs a fist full of God’s promises and throws them right in his face.  She has caught Jesus in his own words, and she knows that He cannot break his promises.  He must act and act he does.  Yes, faith holds God accountable for his promises. 

This takes us to our Old Testament reading for the day, Jacob wrestles with the angel of the Lord at the river Jabbok.  Make no mistake about this.  It is the pre-incarnate Christ.  It is the Lord – God Himself -  who wrestles with Jacob.  Yes, this is Jacob, Son of Isaac.  And here God picks a wrestling match in the middle of the night.  And it lasts all the way til the break of the morning sun.  God and Jacob exchange blows, and grapple all night.  At one point Jacob grabs hold of the Lord – and cries out – I won’t let you go until you bless me.  Then God dislocates Jacob’s hip, and blesses him – Jacob’s sins are forgiven. 

The last thing we see of Jacob is that he goes limping off into the sunset – to enter the Promised Land – just as the sun breaks across the horizon. 

Yes, these are strange texts today.  But they teach us a lot about faith.  The Christian life in many ways takes the shape and form of a bloody, and violent fight.  The Christian life, like the Cananite woman and Jacob, is about blood, sweat, and tears.  It’s not picturesque, it’s not neat and tidy, it’s messy.  And so is the Christian life.  God is not experienced as always merciful.  He often seems to ignore us.  He often seems to be saying no.  God often appears to be our enemy, who wrestles with us, like he did with Jacob.  But know this.  God does not wrestle with his enemies.  He only wrestles with his friends.  All father’s who love their children wrestle with their little ones.  Make them believe they are losing and at the last minute, they let themselves be pinned down. 

And so it is with God, he only wrestles with the children whom he loves.  For he Himself lets himself be pinned to a cross, that your prayers would never be ignored.  Jesus is possessed by your sin that he might be your savior.  He lets himself be possessed with all the evil in the world, that your children might come to church and be possessed with the love of God and His kindness.  He is afflicted that you would be healed.  He is killed that you might be made alive.  He is raised that you would be called the winner. 

Like Jacob, you too bear the scars of the Christian life.  Your wrestling match has not been an easy one.  You too limp along, like Jacob, into your sunset years.  But don’t forget about God’s love for you.  Don’t give up so easily.  Don’t give into despair so quickly.  Even though God seems to give you one continuous “No,” just know that he has prepared a glorious final “Yes” for everything you have ever hoped for.  Like Jacob, you leave here with a blessing from God.  He is pleased with you.  He delights in you.  You are the apple of his eye.  He forgives you your sins.

Be bold in your faith.  Demand that your prayers be answered.  Pray for your children who have wandered away from the church.  Pray for your marriage.  Pray that God would raise your child from the dead.  Pray for something stupid – like winning the lottery.  But more than anything pray that God would bless you.  Refuse to let him go – put yourself into his hands.  He is your good shepherd and you are his sheep.  He loves you. 

And pray.  Jesus says whatever you ask in my name I will give you.  And he will.  In Jesus name.  Amen.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lent 1 Midweek Homily

(Jan Bruegel Jonah and the Whale 1600)

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:39-40).

To the Church of God at St. Paul Lutheran Church – called to be saints – grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sometimes, just like unbelievers, we seek signs of God’s goodness in success, wealth, and health.  Joel Osteen has seven million listeners a week.  He preaches a message of success, self-fulfillment, and empowerment.  Your dreams will all come true if you follow the right path.  All you have to do is obey God, follow these steps and pray hard enough.  His book titled “your best life” has sold millions of copies.

Martin Luther warned of this sort of preaching.  He called it a ‘theology of glory’ rather than a ‘theology of the cross.’  The Pharisees and unbelievers who rejected Christ were looking for the same thing.  They were looking for success, good health, and wealth.  They wanted a real savior, one who would help them achieve their dreams and make life better – more prosperous.

There is a little theologian in all of us who thinks that God should reward us for our spirituality.  We think God should drop us a little success, some good luck, get rid of our problems, no doubt more money.  And why?  Because we’re good people.  We deserve it.  We go to church, surely we can butter God up a bit and he should throw us a bone once and a while. 

When the scribes and Pharisses approach Jesus in tonight’s reading they demand a sign.  And so do we.  Like us, they were not that interested in a bleeding, suffering, dying God on a cross.  They wanted a life-coach or inspirational speaker to make them feel better, feel more fulfilled.  They wanted more control over their enemies and more control over their own lives.  From God they wanted a sign – they wanted proof – that he was who he said he was.

What sort of proof are you looking for?  Why are you so discontent?  What sign are you looking for from God?           

Jesus answers us “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth.

Jonah was thrown overboard into the sea.  Jesus was thrown overboard into the depth of the earth.  Jonah was spit out on the third day from the belly of the whale.  Jesus was spit up on the third day from the bowls of the earth.  Fresh from the grave, Jesus appeared to his disciples, not preaching fire and brimstone, but speaking of his love for sinners.  He showed his disciples his pierced hands and feet.  He showed his pierced side, which flowed with baptismal water and life-giving blood. 

Stop looking for glory, stop fantasizing about success.  Your best life is in Christ and in Christ alone.  Leave behind your hopes of glory and pick up your cross and follow him.  God is not what we expect.  Jesus is the farthest thing we would expect from a Savior.  He was weak, He didn’t defend himself, he was lonely.  He’s not the Savior we expect but he is the man we need.  He was picked on, made fun of, and beaten up.  Why?  Because he loved God His Father and trusted in him.  Why should we expect our lives to be different than his.  

And yet he sacrificed Himself for us.  He believed perfectly.  And gives us everything that He has, which we so desperately need.  His holiness, His obedience, His loveliness.

Live your lives as ones who have been redeemed.  Your time in the belly of the whale will be rather short too.  Your humiliation someday will turn to glory.  And someday you too will be transferred through the holy cross to the realms of glory.  But await your time with patience and trust, humble yourself, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.

If you are seeking a sign.  Forget about the vanities of this world which will all soon pass.  And seek His sign written in the blood of His last will and testament.  This is my body given for you.  This is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  Come receive the sure and certain sign and pledge of God’s love.  Here is proof that God will never leave you or forsake you.  Proof that you are His and He is yours.  In Jesus name.