Jesus Speaking Hard Truths
Sermon Series – Jesus on His Way to the Cross
February 24 and 25, 2018
Mark 8:27- 38
Dear Friends in Christ.
On these weekends in Lent, we see Jesus on his way to the cross. Last Sunday, we saw Jesus submitting to baptism by a mere mortal, we saw Him as the Son in whom his father in heaven was well pleased, we saw the Spirit casting him out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, we saw Jesus as both true God at the same time. Jesus Baptized as he begins his public ministry, Jesus tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin. Today we see Jesus speaking hard truths on his way to the cross.
Saying yes just once. It was Sunday, January 21, 2018, at approximately 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time when I said yes to Debi’s request to have a puppy. It had been nine years, seven months, and approximately 15 days since we had laid our last dog Kandi into her eternal rest. I had said “no we’re not going to have a puppy for nine a half years in a row. I had resisted the kind and gentle requests from Debi to think about it. She would talk about how cute and cuddly this puppy would be, I would think about cleaning up the messes and standing outside in bitter cold temperature coaxing her to go poop. She would mention the grandchildren squealing with delight and a fluffy puppy wagging her tail and sitting by the fireplace, I would mention veterinary bills and the monthly cost of replacing chewed up shoes and other treasures. But this afternoon was different, the Vikings were getting destroyed by the Eagles, our daughter Michelle was sending across the nation pictures of one cute little puppy named Gabby, our other daughter Heather was promising to watch over her whenever necessary, but after I had said no for nine and a half years in a row, Debi mentioned that little Morgan was crying her eyes out because Grandpa wouldn’t let Grandma have a puppy…. I said yes just once.
As Pastor Muther would say, I tell you all of that to tell you this. There are all kinds of hard truths that come along with saying yes just one time to a puppy. Saying yes just one time is easy, the road that lies ahead for properly training and caring for a puppy, not so much.
So also for anyone who would dare to say, “Yes, I will follow Jesus Christ.” Saying yes just one time is easy, the road that lies ahead for Christian disciples, not so much. …
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.
Hard Truth #1 – Divine love can’t be (sugar- coated). Up until this point in their life together as disciples of Jesus, the road had been full of signs and wonders. The preaching was strong, the crowds were enthused, and the miracles were amazing. Jesus had been driving out demons, cleansing lepers, and healing all kinds of sicknesses. The paralyzed were walking, the blind were seeing, dead people were sitting up and breathing, Jesus was walking on water, thousands of hungry people were getting fed in miraculous fashion. The kingdom of God was near, hopes were high, and the multitudes were getting ready for a kingdom of glory and power to come to their rescue!
Jesus starts the conversation in our text by asking who people were saying he was. The answers came back, John the Baptist come back to life, Elijah come back to life, one of the prophets come back to life. Jesus wonders who the disciples are thinking, and Peter speaks first, “You are the Christ.”
One great task had been accomplished. The disciples had been brought to the full realization that Jesus was divine, He was in fact the very Son of God, the promised Messiah. And now the hard work would begin. From this time forward, Jesus began to teach them that the Kingdom of God was exactly the opposite of what they were thinking. Instead of earthly glory there would unbearable brutality. Instead of military victory, there would be death by crucifixion. As was true in the Old Testament, it was true in the New – if there was going to be the forgiveness of sins, there would have to be the shedding of the blood. This good shepherd wasn’t just going to be making his flock lie down in green pastures and be leading them beside the still waters, he was going to be the sacrificial lamb himself led to the slaughter.
Hard truth #1 today is God’s love for us can’t be sugar coated. Jesus wasn’t one of these earthly kings that swatted down the opposition, he was going to be the one swatted down. He wasn’t going to be the leader of a government that punished evildoers, he was going to suffer in the place of evildoers. He wasn’t going to inflict the death penalty on the masses who deserved it, the plan was for him to have the death penalty pronounced and carried through on him. Life was going to get ugly in a hurry, as ugly as it could get, and Jesus needed those first disciples to understand that.
The same hard truths Christ would have us understand this morning. There are those who would sugarcoat God’s love in these days. They would suggest that God is love, that God loves everyone, and therefore at the end of all time, pretty much everybody is going to be alright. You can call that universalism or you can call that “in the end everybody’s going to be just fine because God is love” movement, but all of that comes crashing down when we hear Jesus teaching that the way of salvation is narrow with few on it, while the road of destruction is wide and traveled by the many…..or by the last verse of our text, “whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Hard Truth #2 – Human love can go wrong (in a hurry) Peter no doubt loved Jesus as much as anybody could love Jesus, but our text for today is proof positive that human love is frail at best and downright embarrassing at worst. One minute Peter is confessing Jesus as the Christ, in the next he is rebuking the Christ for carrying out the very mission for which he was born.
Go all the way back to The Garden of Eden. One hour Adam and Eve are in strong and perfect fellowship with God, no doubt they love their Maker with a strong love, and yet the next hour, they are listening and then persuaded by a talking snake to eat that which is forbidden, they are tasting what it feels like to be ashamed and coming up with excuses. Human love can go wrong in a hurry.
Go to the palace of King David. One night, David is loving God, he is as grateful as he can be for his position and his power, he is presiding over the people of God with honor and dignity, the next night he is summoning a beautiful and a married woman into his bedroom, he is falling into adultery, he is tasting how awful life can be when the devil himself gets ahold of you and you set your mind on the things of man. Human love can go wrong in a hurry.
Fix your eyes on this very communion rail, and see there rows and rows of white robed confirmands. They’re on their knees a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago, 20 years ago, 40 years ago, they are saying yes to following Jesus Christ, but a week later, a year later, dozens of years later, they have wandered, for many of them God is a distant and far away kind of a God, some aren’t even sure if there is a God anymore. Human love can go wrong in a hurry.
The Good News, of course, is that God’s love is for sure, it’s as steady as it can be, it is ours for the long run. God’s love has never wavered, it is the same yesterday, today, and into eternity. God’s love has been poured into our hearts in the waters of Baptism, it has been poured into our hearts in words of absolution, it has been poured into our hearts in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, it has been poured into our hearts again and again in the eating and the drinking of the Supper, and all of it for this purpose – that we would spend our days denying ourselves, picking up our crosses, and following Him wherever He would lead.
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross (daily) and follow me.
Hard Truth #3 – If you’re going to pick up your cross, you’re going to have to (put a few things down). Jesus said it this way to his first disciples, If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well;
That rang true for early Christians who suffered at the hands of Rome, and it rings true in these days as well. According to the Center for Study of New Religions, 90,000 Christians were killed for their believes this past year, one third by Islamic groups such as ISIS. The torture and the brutality, even the beheading of Christians is particularly prominent in countries such as Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, India, and Iraq. Christians numbered 1.5 million in Iraq in 2003, today the number is less than 300,000, and some suggest they will be completely eradicated in that country in the near future.
In our day, in our protected and safe little corners of the kingdom, the crosses we carry aren’t quite as obvious. But it is still true that whenever we suffer for saying and doing what is right, we are picking up our crosses.
And it is still true in every generation and in every locale that if your cross, you’re going to need to put a few things down. For young people, carrying your cross may mean saying no to the party crowd, saying no to sex outside of marriage if you’re going to say yes to Jesus Christ. For husbands, it means laying down your life as Christ laid down his life for his bride. For wives , it means forgiving that which is truly hard to let go. For married folks and single parents raising up kids, it may mean saying no to a crowded schedule so you can say yes to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, for retired folks, carrying a cross may mean saying no to certain purchases and lifestyles so that you can say yes to supporting the kingdom of God. For me, in this Lenten season, (it may not sound like much), carrying my cross may mean saying no to that extra hour of sleep in the morning so I can say yes to an hour of reading, treasuring, and holding onto Holy Scriptures and the promises I have learned from my mother’s knees.
Saying yes every day. The Good News is that Jesus Christ not only said yes to us on the cross, he not only said yes to us in the water of baptism, he says yes to us every day. Christ is, in fact, the yes, he is the amen to every one of God’s promises. Every day, he creates, he preserves, and he sustains us in a thousand and one ways or more. Daily and richly he forgives our sins. Daily and richly he sends his angels to watch over us, he leads us into the green pastures and beside the still waters, he follows us around with goodness and mercy.
The kingdom of God is like a man who understands that if he says yes to a puppy just once, it means he and his wife will be saying “yes, I could do that” every day for a long time to come. It’s like confirmation class students who understand that saying yes to following Jesus Christ on the Day of Confirmation is a lifetime commitment. It’s like a large church in a small town full of folks who go home on a snowy weekend in Lent first of all praising and thanking God for saying yes to them countless times and in amazingly generous fashion. They praise and thank God that he keeps on holding out salvation as a gift no matter how many times people slap it away. They go home determined never again to be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they go home rejoicing in their sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and they go home wondering what it is they need to be laying down these days so that they can be picking up their assigned crosses and following Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dangerous Distractions 2/21
Jesus, Judas, and Money
Matthew 26:1-5, 14-16 // 1 Timothy 6:6-10
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I am not fast. I’ve never been fast, and I am coming to the realization that I will never be fast. But that didn’t stop me from running and from joining Cross Country my senior year of college. I had never run competitively (and even when I was in Cross Country, it wasn’t what you would call competitive). I only beat one guy, now that I look on my records, Brian Valenti, except for one race when he must have been sick, so I came in last.
But, I remember the first race that I ran: it was in Ripon College in Ripon Wisconsin. We had trained for a month or more, and even though it was September, it was hot. 80, 85 degrees, with only a slight wind and lots of humidity. So I remember lining up with everyone else, looking down the line and thinking, “This is going to be a bad race.” And, it was.
It was hot. It was slow. There was just enough wind, that when you went around the cornfields, it could kick up the dust into your mouth, sapping your moisture. I remember at one point I was so far behind everyone else that the critters had started to come out again, and I almost stepped on a garter snake that was sunning itself before it skittered away into the cornfield. But what I remember the most was the humid, close, oppressive heat. Even if you ran, you couldn’t feel a breeze. It was just hot, and there was nothing to keep you from it.
Here’s the point: The heat was a distraction, a very real distraction, that was sapping my will to do what I knew needed to be done. It was a distraction that put pressure on me, luring – more than luring – pushing me to abandon my focus.
With that image in mind, we turn to our text. We don’t now much about Judas, but this we do know: he was one of the twelve. He wasn’t one of the 120 disciples that followed Jesus from town to town. He wasn’t one of the more than 500 people that would come out if they knew that Jesus was near. He wasn’t one of the thousands that came out if they hear Jesus was giving out bread or if they heard he was healing people. He was one of the twelve: one of the few that Jesus had called directly. After he had sent the 500 away, after he had taught the 120, Jesus would take the 12 further and give them special instruction, special time together.
Second, we know that Judas was the money keeper. He had a position of power and authority within the twelve. He was the one who would pay for the Passover expenses. He was the one who would give alms to the poor and pay the taxes.
Third, we know that Judas is the one who betrayed Jesus. There are many commentators and authors that could wonder about this, and we could too – what brought Judas to the point of betrayal? What pressure was on him? Was he psychotic? Was he a bad apple from the beginning? What happened here? But one author puts it this way: “We could guess and explain his actions, but this is what we know: betrayal and money often go together.”
Consider this: how man young men and women enter the business world with high ideals, with a moral compass, with the idea that they are going to do it right? And yet, as they enter the day to day, they find that there are opportunities for them: Stick to their guns, or get ahead. Be true to what they believe, or become one of the boys. Do what they know is right and stagnate, or look the other way, accept the promotion, and become more successful. And the sweet, sweet voice of power and influence start to put real pressure on them – who doesn’t want to feed their family and be more successful? – and they compromise their ideals for material gain, slowly but surely.
And you wonder, what kind of pressure was on Jesus and his disciples here? What kind of pressure would Judas have felt from the powers that be?
We see here in our text that the Sadducees are looking for a way to kill Jesus. Let’s remember who the Sadducees were: they were the ruling class of Jerusalem. They were the ones who had compromised with the Romans just enough to keep their status, some for personal reasons, but others so that they could have a say in protecting the Jewish people. They were the ones playing the teetering game of power, where they fought tooth and nail against the Roman system to maintain their Jewish identity, just so far as they didn’t go too far and upset the system. They were working within the structures of power to preserve the Jewish state. And Jesus was upsetting that.
You remember, Jesus calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers. These were the pastors of the day, the teachers and wise men of their towns, the ones that people would go to for counseling, for marriage advice, for preaching on Sundays, these were the ones who had in a way reinvented the Jewish faith so that it could survive their dispersion to the nations. But for their power without their repentance, Jesus calls out one of the most devout groups of his day to say, if your righteousness doesn’t far exceed that of the Pharisees, surely you will not enter the kingdom of God. He takes the pressure, takes the power structure of his day, and he upsets it; he turns it on its head.
The point is, that the Gospel, the kingdom of God, takes power dynamics and flips them on their head. One author, Tim Keller, calls this the ‘upside-down kingdom.’ “The world’s emphasis on power and recognition seems right-side-up and natural, while Jesus’s approach of service and sacrifice seems totally impossible and unnatural.”
“What Judas and those with him do not understand is that Jesus is indeed leading a revolution, but it is a different kind of revolution, and a much greater one than history has ever seen. What happens in the kingdom of this world is that revolutions basically keep the same old thing on top of the list… money and power and politics always stay at the top… But Jesus isn’t just putting a new set of people in power; he is bringing a totally different administration of reality – the kingdom of God” (188).
The kingdom of God turns power structures on their head. Let me give you an example, from one of the few places where I have experience, in premarital counseling. There’s a point when we turn to husbands to be and wives to be and talk about what wife-ing looks like, and what husbanding looks like. Usually, we start with the husband we go over the biblical language, that the man is the head of the household. He is the one who speaks for the household. He is the one with whom the buck stops…. And many times, the guy will get this look in his eye, “Yeah, I ‘m on top. You have to listen to what I say. When I want bacon, I get bacon. There will be no deviation.”
But it is, to be head of the household, like Christ – laying down his life for his bride, the Church. Headship is the privilege you have to be the first to lay down your life for your bride. Headship is the responsibility to be looking for every opportunity to serve the other. Headship is the calling to never rest until you have done everything that could be done, served in every way that service is needed, listened to every word that your wife is saying to you, and put every one of the needs of your family before your own, so that you might look like a picture of Christ laying down his life for his bride, the Church. Power turned upside-down. Power and influence used for service. To do what your family needs, not necessarily what they want, not what we want them to want, and not what we think they deserve, but to do what your family needs.
And to wives, it is your calling to first acknowledge and receive your man’s service, where he gets it right, and even when he gets hit wrong. Gratefully receive it, and then give it back to him. To do what your family needs, not necessarily what they want, not what we want them to want, and not what we think they deserve, but to do what your family needs.
Every piece of influence we have is a calling to serve. Every bit of power we have is the power to speak for those on the margins, those who are falling through the cracks. Every time that we have an opportunity, it is an opportunity to show that the powers of this world – the heat, the dust, the pressure that they put on – real though they might feel -- do not mean anything in the upside-down kingdom of God.
So, what influence do you have? We all have some. What power do you have? What do you control? These are all callings for us to serve, to do what a person needs, not necessarily what they want, not what we want them to want, and not what we think they deserve, but to do what a person needs.
The kingdom of God turns us around, topsy-turvy. The people of God do not seek power and influence, but when they come, they use them freely. The people of God do not seek honor, but when it comes, they use it freely. The people of God seek those on the margins, those in the shadows, the least of these, because the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men, because my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect, not in strength, not in honor, not in the cream of the crop rising to the top, but it is made perfect in your weakness.
Amen and Amen.
Jesus baptized and tempted
First in a series, “Jesus On The Way To Cross” 2/18
Genesis 22:1-18 // James 1:12-18 // Mark 1:9-15
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Dear Friends in Christ,
In the season of Lent and beyond, we are turning toward our Gospel readings and understanding the way that we are on the Road with Jesus, on the way to the cross, seeing Jesus in all of his hiddenness and in all of his glory, even as we travel the road to his death and resurrection.
We are seeing Jesus on the way. I don’t do as much traveling nowadays as I did before, but I remember the days when I hit the road pretty often. There are a few waypoints that I’ll always remember: mile marker 72 on Highway 41 near Allenton always marked the last miles home from Green Bay. The Horicon Marsh with its Great Blue Herons always marked halfway to Grandma and Grandpa Utech’s house, and Ames, Iowa marked halfway from my vicarage in Nebraska to Laura up in the Cities.
But what I remember the most today is the way that my little town of West Bend Wisconsin looked every time I left it. Every time I went to college, or to camp, or to Seminary school, every time I left my childhood home, I can see in my mind’s eye the route out of town, past the Public High school that I took swim lessons at, past the Egbert and Guido’s Citgo gas station, take a right at what’s now a roundabout, a left on county road P, and then you’ll be past the County fair Grounds before getting on the highway and off you go.
There was nostalgia even in the moment of leaving, of going off on a journey, and it makes every familiar thing have a newer meaning – perhaps not newer, but a deeper meaning.
This is the first Sunday in Lent, after Ash Wednesday. We push ashes on our head to remember our sin and our fate and the hope we have in Jesus alone. And this is the first Sunday IN Lent. Note that it is a Sunday IN Lent, not of Lent. It is meant to be a little Easter within a season of repentance. Today, we begin a journey, one that many of you have gone through many times, some of you none at all, a particularly and peculiarly Christian journey, six weeks of tracing the moments of Jesus on the way to the cross.
Today, we start at the beginning, with this really interesting beginning of the Gospel of Mark. After his introduction, we see Jesus splash onto the scene in two fascinating events. He is baptized, to fulfill all righteousness, revealing that he is the eternal son of the Father, the second person of the Trinity, revealing the glory of our God who is three in one and one in three, just try to wrap your mind around that, and then as he is led and directed by the spirit, he’s flung out into the wilderness immediately – cast out (that’s the same word used when he casts out demons) there by the will of the Holy Spirit – to be tempted by Satan. How could that happen? Why did that happen?
We see here side by side the height of his Godhood and the fullness of his manhood. We see here that he is absolutely divine and that he is completely human.
Jesus, the one in whom the Father is well-pleased, is tempted by Satan, by the accuser, whose desires are disordered and who seeks to disorder Jesus’s desires. Disordered. That’s a word I lift from a 4th Century kind of a guy, St. Augustine of Hippo. Sin isn’t just doing stuff wrong, even though that’s one way of saying it. Sin is desiring things – even good things – out of order, desiring a thing without caring about the consequences.
First, we turn to the Gospel reading and our Epistle reading. James tells us, Desiring gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown leads to death. This is a strong warning against desire, against sin, against the dis-ordering of what God has ordered and called good in its time.
What do we desire the most? I would imagine most of us desire good things. To be free from decline. To have the freedom to make our own choices. To have pleasure without consequence. To have a happy family. To live a life of consequence. Those are good desires.
But what does it mean to desire God above all things? In other words, for the Christian, what does it mean to have rightly ordered desires?
That's a good question. And, I’ll tell you, there’s no answer in our text. Or, at least Jesus doesn’t turn to us and look us in the eye and tell us straightaway. No, the answer is just like the answer to almost every big question in life; it is far more subtle; it is more simple, and because of that, it is more difficult to explain than it is to show.
Let me give you a silly, small example. My son Benjamin wakes up with disordered desires. He wants to eat breakfast without changing his clothes. He wants to play without changing his diaper. He wants to have his shoes on but doesn’t want to put on socks. And it is my task as a parent to order him rightly. To help him with his PJ’s so that we can change his diaper. To change his diaper so that we can put on clothes and socks. To put on clothes so that we can get on shoes. To get all ready so that we can go downstairs.
To have your desires rightly ordered means to have the purpose in mind. To know in the difficult days of raising your children that your every action isn’t supposed to keep them happy; it’s supposed to raise them up as men and women of God and that’s going to be difficult and frustrating at times. To find in the days when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, days when you don’t know the significance of your actions, that God’s calling is both far-reaching and immediate; he has a plan to form you into something that you are not now even as his calling is for you to serve whomever is immediately around you. To know that in days of declining health that your roost is ruled by the one who promises forgiveness of sins, resurrection from the dead, and life everlasting.
Second, we turn to the Gospel and the Old Testament reading. Jesus was tempted. Abraham was tested. Did you catch that difference in wording from the Old Testament to the Gospel? One was tempted but the other was tested. Is there a difference there? Why, yes, there is!
The first difference is that Jesus is being tempted by Satan and Abraham is being tested by God. But the real temptation we have – see what I did there? – the real temptation we have is to think that they are totally separable things. No, the second difference – and the one that matters – between tempting and testing is in the – and here’s that word again – it’s in the purpose.
Consider this. You see a man surrounded by boys. He’s yelling at them, telling them to get on the ground, telling them to run, telling them to do this over and over again. Is he a bully or is he a coach? The difference is in the purpose. The bully’s purpose is to humiliate you. The coach’s purpose is different. The coach isn’t there to humiliate you but to put you through the trials that shape you into a different person.
And, when we apply this at the cosmic scale, we find that these happen all at once. God is testing, and the devil is tempting. One is scheming for our failure, and the other is refining us by fire.
In all things, the devil would tempt you with the purpose that you fail, that you fall, that you are humiliated, that you are pushed down. In all things God would test you with the purpose that you would look at him, that you would order your desires correctly, that you would find comfort in his other worldly grace, that you would hold the good things and the bad things of life with open hands.
So, whom would you believe? How will you order your desires?
As we stand at the precipice, looking on at this familiar journey in Lent, we see Jesus on the way. We see him beginning the beginning of the end. We see that he is True God because his life is a sufficient ransom for all mankind. In him, our God is well-pleased to overcome death. He is True Man, tempted in every way that we are tempted, suffering and dying our death for us.
His way gets harder, not easier, from this point on. And even though his life ends in the death that the devil planned for him, it continues on into the empty tomb and the eternal purpose of his Father in heaven.
The kingdom of God is like a young man, often frustrated, often petty, often distracted. It’s easy for him to look down, it’s easy for him to wander. But the Spirit in his baptism has taken ahold of him and has made it a habit to lead him through testing, to remind him often of the eternal purpose that his God has for him, and to lift his eyes to the cross of his Savior.
Amen and Amen.
Luther: Awakening to the Glory of God
February 10 and 11, 2018
Sixth in a Series of Sermons – Luther: Awakening to the Glory of God
II Kings 2:1-12 / II Corinthians 3:12-1,4:1-6/ Mark 9:2-9
Dear Friends in Christ,
In this season of Epiphany, we have explored Luther’s awakening to the Gospel. In this sermon series, we have explored the big moments of Luther’s life and explored the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation- Faith Alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, Grace alone, and today the Glory of God alone.
In our devotional reading yesterday, Debi and I read a little story from one of our favorite Christian authors, Rich Bimler. Rich told of his daughter and her friend Sue who were writing “love notes” in connection with Valentines Day. They wrote to their Pastor, ““Dear Pastor, we really like you. We think you are neat. We love your sermons. We can’t wait until we’re old enough to understand them.”
Which reminds us of a line out of a scrap of paper found in Luther’s pocket as he breathed his last, “Know that no one can have indulged in the Holy Scriptures sufficiently, unless he has governed churches for a hundred years…” While it is true that on the one hand Luther had a way of stating truth unequivocally and with no room for compromise, it is also true that he saw himself as a life long student of Scripture, he often stated his willingness to be corrected by the clear testimony of Scripture, he in no way saw himself as having the final word on Biblical teachings.
In today’s sermon, I offer no fewer than seven snapshots of waking up to the glory of God and three Epiphany revelations.
Seven Snapshots of Waking up to the Glory of God
All seven snapshots are meant to help us wake up to one of the main controversies between Luther and the Church of his day – a controversy over how helpless we really are in our spiritual deadness and guilt. Are we justified before God by the grace of God plus our own good behavior, or grace alone? Are we saved through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross plus our own sacrificial living or in Christ alone? Do we receive the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ plus our own efforts, or by faith alone? Are we to be faithful both to the Scriptures and church tradition, or Scripture alone? And today, what does it mean to wake up to the simple truth that in all that we do, whether we eating or drinking or fasting, whether we are working or playing or resting, whether we are in the prime of life or in the declining years of life, it’s about God getting all of the glory all of the time!
Snapshot #1- What is there to be (afraid of?) Story of an elderly gentlemen named Ted on his deathbed 25 years ago. Ted was in his 80’s, his wife had died years before, no children, World War II veteran, a man’s man kind of a man, tougher than nails, hard of hearing. I visited him in the Hillcrest Nursing Home later in the evening, all was quiet, folks were sleeping. I asked him three times before he could actually hear my question, “Are you afraid of dying?” When he finally heard me, he grunted (and I have to clean up the language a bit), “mmmph, what the “heck” is there to be afraid of?
Over the years, God had drawn Ted close to him, beginning in the waters of Baptism, God had been sending his angels to guard over him in war time and in peace, the Lord’s Supper had nourished him, no doubt he had heard the words of page 5 and 15 liturgy hundreds of times, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, grant this Lord unto us all.” Which is another way of saying that as often as a sinner is saved by the grace of God alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, God gets every bit of glory there is to be gotten.
Snapshot #2 - “Why are you (crying?) Many of you know my mom through my stories about her. You know my opinion that she was about as kind and sweet and patient and grace-filled as a human being could be. She was as non scary of a person as I had ever met. When her loved ones were hurting, she was hurting. When loved ones stopped going to church, she worried herself sick and cried out into the darkness of night for God to have mercy on their souls. She was as easy to love as a human could be, and so as I sat at her bedside a few days before she died, she was sleeping. And so I held her hand and thought through life and death, you won’t be surprised to know I started crying. She opened her eyes and said, “Larry, why are you crying?” I said something like, “Why do you think, Mom?!
As was Ted, she was claimed by her Father in heaven as His child in the waters of Baptism, and over the years, God’s Spirit slowly but surely woke her up to the simple truth that as often as a sinner is saved by the grace of god alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, God gets every bit of glory there is to be gotten.
Snapshot #3 “That’s (enough)” Mom’s daily routines were as fixed on the reading and learning and marking and inwardly digesting of Scripture as they could be. I could go on and on and on, which is exactly what a hospice chaplain, her local pastor, and I were doing I were doing a few days before Mom passed away. We were going on and on and on with Bible readings, we were singing and praying world without end, until I noticed that Mom was very sleepy and perhaps just wanted to rest. And so I asked her if Pastor Daenzer and I should keep on reading and singing and praying or if that was enough for now. She mouthed the words, “that’s enough!”
In those days, as is the case with so many elderly and life long Christians, she just wanted to fall asleep and to wake up in the arms of her Savior. One of the final prayers we prayed included this sweet request, “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
Snapshot #4 - “Ja” As Martin Luther approached death at age 62 or so, his friends and colleagues knew that Luther’s death would soon be known all across Europe, and how he died was of much interest. In that day, for a person to die with all kinds of agony or restlessness would be a sign that the dead had gone not to his reward but to everlasting punishment. And so two of his friends shouted loudly one question for the historical record, “Reverend Father! Are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess to the doctrine which you have taught in his name?” They record that out of his mouth now came his last spoken word, a loud and distinct “Ja.” He then turned over onto his right side, slipped into a sleep, and 15 minutes later, took his final breath.
A snapshot of one more redeemed sinner being translated from the church militant to the church triumphant, going from living by grace to living in glory, and as always, God gets every bit of glory there is to be gotten.
Snapshot #5 – We find that while Luther’s last word spoken out loud was “Ja”, or to say it another way, “Amen, which is to say, yes, yes, this is most certainly true!” – his last written words may have been these, “We are (beggars), this is true.” Even though Luther had successfully challenged the spiritual and secular authorities of his day, even though Luther had successfully translated the Bible into the German language in less than a year, even though Luther had written and taught and thundered God’s Word in a way that literally changed the course of human history, he knew what we want to know again today, that salvation is a gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast.” “We are beggars, this is true.”
Snapshot #6 comes from our Old Testament lesson appointed for this Transfiguration Sunday, where the prophet Elisha sees his father in the faith Elijah taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire, and cries out “My father, my father, The chariots and horsemen of Israel.” Elisha had asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, but the answer came back – to paraphrase, “only God can grant that request.” In that day horses and chariots were emblems of a king’s strength, and so Elijah had been a spiritual warrior for the people of God. If Elisha hadn’t already been wakened to the amazing grace and the incomparable strength of Almighty God, not doubt this vision did just that.
Snapshot #7 - We fast forward from this vision to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah show up in their glorified bodies, where Jesus gives his inner circle a glimpse of his divine glory, and where we hear the voice of our Father in heaven declaring, “This is my beloved Son; (listen) to him”. Here on the mount of transfiguration, we find Peter not really knowing what to say, which as usual doesn’t keep him from blurting out the possibility of building shelters and prolonging the moment. We find the man Jesus shining forth in the glory of his divine nature, we find Moses and Elijah in conversation with Jesus helping to get him ready for death by crucifixion, we find our Father in heaven repeating his declaration made at the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, and we find ourselves with one more opportunity to think about what it means for us that God is always and in every circumstance of life to be getting 100% of the glory.
Three Epiphany Revelations
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who have been awakened to the realization that The glory of God is the goal of all (creation) Please repeat after me. They have heard from little on that the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork. They are learning again that when sun, moon, and stars shine, they are doing what they are created to do, they are giving glory to God. When farmers, nurses, factory workers, teachers, and custodians do well what farmers, nurses, factory workers, teachers, and custodians are supposed to do, they are giving glory to God. When corn stalks produce corn, when dogs bark, when cats chase down mice, when parents change babies diapers, when grandpas hand out cookies and ice cream, when law enforcement officers enforce laws, when politicians do politics in honest fashion, they are giving glory to God. The glory of God is in fact, the goal of all creation.
Secondly, the kingdom of God is like people who have been awakened to the reality that Here and now, we glory in the (cross of Christ). (Repeat after me.) The world imagines that true glory is to be found in earning, saving up, spending, and investing money, but the Church knows that true glory is to be found in Jesus Christ suffering under Pontius Pilate, and crucified until he was dead and buried. The world imagines that true glory is found in position, power, and popularity, but the Church knows that it is all about serving, sacrificing, and selflessness.
Finally, the kingdom of God is like a congregation of believers who have been awakened to the promise that in Christ, The best is (yet to come) (Repeat after me). The older and the wiser they get, the more they agree with Ted, “What the heck is there to be afraid of.” They agree with mom and others who pray that they can just fall asleep and wake up in the arms of Jesus. They see the work of missions and witnessing as the work of one group of beggars telling another group of beggars where they can find bread. They agree with Paul on death row who declared, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” And again, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” To God alone be glory both here and now, and into eternity.
Luther: Awakening to the Scriptures
Fifth in a series of six 2/4
Isaiah 40:21-31 // 1 Corinthians 9:16-27 // Mark 1:29-39
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today traces the themes of 1 Corinthians 9… hear these words, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” Our text thus far.
Dear friends in Christ,
We are nearing the end of the six-week season of Epiphany, the season after Christmas, named for the Greek word, epiphanos, which means “that which is revealed in the light. That which the light shines upon.
In this particular season of Epiphany, we’re seeing the light of the gospel shine upon Luther awakening him to the five solas of his faith. We’ve been seeing the big events of his life, as he knows salvation through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, by grace alone, and now today, revealed in Scripture alone.
Awakening to the heart language.Let me read to you a familiar verse, from the Gospel of John. Houtos gar, agapesen ho theos ton kosmon, hoste ton huion ton monogena edoken, hina pas ho pisteuon eis auton mei apolytai all’ echai zoan aionion.… that didn’t make sense, right? Those were the words of John 3:16, words that you know very well. But you didn’t understand. That’s because those words were in Greek. In order to understand the meaning behind the words, you have to have them translated for you, spoken in words you can grasp: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life.
When I was in college, I didn’t always want to become a pastor. There was a time where I thought and prayed seriously about being a missionary and Bible translator. I read books, I talked with recruiters, and I went to retreats, to do some soul-searching. Eventually, I concluded that the Lord was not leading me to Bible translation… yet… But there was one concept that struck a particular chord with me as I went through the orientation for Bible translation. Lutheran Bible Translator’s mission is to translate the Bible into the heart language of the people. The heart language of the people.
This means, the Bible should be translated into the language that the people laugh in, that they cry in, that they get angry in and that they think in. This is the language with which we need to tell them that Jesus loves them. In a way where there are no barriers, where there is no misunderstanding. The language of the heart. Their heart language.
We turn to Martin Luther. After leaving the Diet of Worms with his imperial protections revoked, Luther knew that it was only a matter of time before he was branded an outlaw, and the smart money of the time would have been on the Emperor sending assassins to ambush, attack, and kill him in short order.
But that’s not what happened. You see, Frederick the Wise, his ruler, arranged for some of Luther’s friends to kidnap him. They stood up his wagon. They took him and threw him on a horse, and after a terrifying night ride, they told him the whole story.
He spent the next year in the Castle Wartburg, under the name Junker George, Knight George. And there, in the Castle Wartburg, under this name, the whole world thinking him dead, his only books a Hebrew Bible and a copy of the Greek New Testament, he translated the New Testament into German.
1500 words a day for three months, doing something that hadn’t been done before, something that couldn’t have been done before. You see, they had only reclaimed the Greek New Testament in the years before Luther. Luther had to make up new words in German to complete his translation, and his translation literally changed the language, forming it into something it wasn’t before.
This was, without a doubt, the most lasting contribution that Luther made. Germans could read the word of God in their heart language. It’s so deeply held that it’s hard for us to imagine a world without the Scriptures in our language. It’s almost morally reprehensible to think of the Scriptures un-translated, or available in Latin, it’s that far into our DNA.
You see this in our Gospel reading – Jesus, the one who taught and acted with authority, is teaching and preaching and healing and casting out demons and retreating and praying and advancing and doing everything else that goes along with his teaching. Which leads us to lesson number one, that our Gospel is a Word from God that transforms every area of our life. It isn’t just an intellectual word, even though knowledge is a part of it. It isn’t just an emotional word, even though emotion will almost certainly come because of it. It isn’t just a physical word, even though God makes a habit of incarnating his greatest miracles. It isn’t just a reasonable word, even though in the deepest sense, the conscience and the natural world witness to it. It is a Word from God that transforms every area of our life, even as it forms us as one community under our God.
Our Scriptures give us a common language. The words of our Scriptures form us – and note that I used the word “us”…. That’s plural. The Scriptures form us. They give us a common language to laugh and to cry, to love and to hurt, and they give it not by blood, not by our interests, not by our likes or dislikes, but instead they bind us together by the experience of our God and the language we receive to describe that experience.
Point number two is that this Gospel, it transforms every area of our life as it turns our hearts toward our God. Listen to Isaiah…. How do you imagine he would have spoken this? Do you think he would have thundered it? Would he have said it with a gentle smile? You hear all of his rhetorical questions – Have you not seen? Have you not heard? You hear his evocative language. Our God is the one who sits above the circle of the earth. He makes princes to be like nothing. How comforting that would have been to Luther!
To be a Christian, to turn toward our God, to be formed by the Scriptures, it leads us inevitably to this point, the one that Isaiah makes, the one that we see in the life of Luther, and that’s this: our lives will go more differently than we’ve ever planned. Reality is far bigger and wilder than we could ever imagine. Our God is greater than we will ever know. And – not but – and the God who sits above the circle of the earth is the one who came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
Point number three is that this Gospel, it transforms every area of our life to turn our hearts toward our neighbor. Luther’s phrase as he was translating was “German nightingales can sing as sweetly as Roman finches.” That is to say, the Gospel can sound just as sweet in this language as in that. Or, to go a step further, the Gospel that we speak is a Gospel that we act, is a Gospel that we think, is a Gospel that we share. Paul says it even better. To the Jew I translate the Gospel into Jewish terms. To the Greek I translate it into Greek terms. To the weak I am as the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might save some.
Our God incarnates his Word in his people. He gives us his Word to form us in every way, and it has a lasting effect on us for the length of our days.
A few months ago, I shared with our high school youth on the tragic death in our congregation… taken too early… the family gathered around the hospital bed… And we took the Lord’s Supper. I’ll tell you this, that the Lord’s Supper means something all on its own. It offers life and forgiveness and salvation, for all who believe, as often as we would take it. And for the one who has faithfully taken it for year after year, it means something more. Every time you imagine eating the feast with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, it prepares you to find comfort there in the days of mourning and loneliness. Every time you find peace and strength in a regular way where God has promised to give you peace and strength, it prepares you to find peace and strength there when all other ground is shifting sand. Every time, you cry out to your God for strength, he absolutely hears your prayer, and – not but – and every time you do, it forms you by the Scriptures to look a little more closely and see a little better and listen a little closer and hear a little deeper, how your God in Jesus Christ loves you so.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young man who can be distracted by so many things. Life could take so many different turns. Still through it all the calm and caring voice of his Father in heaven calls out to him in the Scriptures. The storms of life blow on, but as he grows older, he learns to listen for the comfort in the midst of the storm, and for the cry of his neighbor in need. And the more he listens, the more he hears.
Amen and amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther