The Feast of Saint Matthew

We would require sacrifice. Our heart’s desire is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We are very good at seeking out vengeance. And we’re willing to be a Matthew, a tax collector, a cheat, a liar, or a thief as long as we get a fat wallet or can stick it to the man. It’s the heart of each of us that is the problem.

“Why do you think evil in your hearts?”

And we are the ones that complain about a God that includes the less fortunate, the poor, the ones that dress differently than us, the ones that talk differently than us, the ones that we don’t like. And yet it is everyone of us that have fallen short of God’s desire. His image shattered and his likeness lost on a people that thrive on boasting, pride, covetousness, and all those things. We are a sick people.

Repent.

It won’t get any better for you on your own. You need a doctor. Rejoice with me, God has sent one to you and to me. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, if there were such a one. He did not come to yuck it up with the experts on prayer and keeping the law. Rather, he came to the sick… to you and to me. He comes to rip from your chest the heart that causes all your evil desires. He comes to give you a new heart, a right spirit. And with that clean heart, then he eats with you, rejoices with you, prepares you for the battle to come, and goes out into it with you.

He comes to the most unlikely—to the ones that don’t deserve it and makes us worthy, he comes to the sick to call us righteous. That he did at your baptism as he clothed you in the blood that he shed on the cross. That he does today as he gives you that body and blood again for your forgiveness and life. You see, the cross is his death, but your life. When he dies, he brings and end to the reign of boasting, of death, of graves, and sin. As a sacrifice, he shows his mercy… his long suffering love. For it is showered down on you today. Love calling your righteous, holy, and forgiven.

The Authority of True Love

We have the right to remain silent, but it will not help us, anything we have said, done, or thought can be used against us in the court of LAW. We have no right to an attorney present now or during any future questioning, but of course we cannot afford an attorney, anyway. O, what a burden the LAW is. Our so called rights we hold dear, that we claim are inalienable, mean nothing here… mean nothing now. Our God is staring us down, standing before us. “Let the hills hear what you have to say!” The LORD has lodged a charge against his people, he has a case against his Israel… his Church… his you.

JESUS of Nazareth, what have you to do with us??!

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Many of you were infants… some of you were teenagers, young adults, or full grown responsible types. “Not many of us were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” But how would that have helped us anyway? Who were we? We were poor in spirit (or rather lacked any spirit at all)! Day and night we mourned with all of creation from the pain of sin and the suffering that is all around us. And we were liars. We told the world that we could do it all ourselves and that we would do it all by love. But we had no love. We were like a clanging cymbal. We told our family and our friends that we were strong and that they could depend on us and our possessions… but we did not mention our God, not once did we give any credit to anyone else, let alone God! Our money, our influence, and our rights have made us thing we are powerful…authoritative… and then we lied even to ourselves.

We tell ourselves that we are powerful. We are influential and wise on our own. We boasted in ourselves and falsely built stability where there was none. God was not good enough for us. Oh what a burden he has become. Droughts here, flooding there, sickness here, disease there… he has stripped us of our rights. We deserve to be honored and loved, all the while forgetting to love and even what it means to love. We have the right to be given rain (when it’s needed), good crops, good health, and we should be showered with intelligence and with gifted children. After all we have claimed him as our God. What good is a God that cannot help us and defend our inalienable rights we have as men. We have the right to come before him when we want to… we have the right to receive his gifts when we feel we need them… and when we are happy and it is time to celebrate we might invite him when we remember to.

Repent. The Kingdom of Heaven is here. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God is not interested in burnt offerings, or sacrifices of a thousand rams. He is interested in you, his holy people. Humans have one right… it is the right to die. You have done enough on your own to deserve that one right… in your sin, you deserve death—for the wages of sin is death.

God has no current suit against the angels or the trees. The dogs and cats of the world have nothing to worry about. It’s his people, human beings, you — that he confronts concerning sin. But before you can answer, one man stands up. Even though you can afford no attorney, one stands in your place. One man stands before the mountains and before the face of the Heavenly Father and says unto the Lord, “O Father, you have picked your people up out of their and have placed them on dry ground. You have fed them and nourished them and guided them. In the darkness you have sent light—a bright Morning Star to guide their way and to teach them your path. I will pay for their rebellion. Upon the cross, I — the God Man Jesus — shed my blood and receive the death man deserves, I die for their transgressions.”

Before another can stand, before any other —even you— can speak, the voice from heaven declares, “Guilty! Guilty as charged!” And there before you all, that man Jesus, your attorney, your stand in, your sacrifice, your Savior makes you his brother and sister, as the nails dug into his hands and feet and the spear into his side. The blood and water ran down and filled the font—Jesus, claiming you as his brother… his sister… showing you what love really is. Showing the world how true authority is exercised. And so in that font he claimed you as his own and washed you there — stripping you of all your sins. He dried you off and gave you robes of noble birth. Christ calls you to his house (here), to nourish you and to feed you. He bids you come to his table to receive his life giving body and blood—the medicine of immortality.

You have the right to remain silent, but which of you can?? God drives you forward with his Word. He has given you his life, his Son, his everything. He lights your way and teaches you his path. He gives a perfect picture of a Love that bears all things, that does not boast, a love that is not arrogant or rude, a love that never ends. Rejoice and be glad, for Christ Jesus is your great reward and he calls you. He is faithful and he will do it.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev. Steven Thomas Cholak

Christmass Morning

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In the beginning was the Word and the Word created the heavens and the earth. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. Now the earth was formless and empty and darkness was over the surface of the deep. In the Word was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Genesis and John speak of beginnings (Genesis and John speak of the same things?), the beginning of man and the beginning of sin…of death…and of darkness. We learn of darkness that continues on in every person’s life…even the lives of you and me. As Adam and Eve took the fruit all men entered with Adam into sin and death and the darkness that is such a favorite of Satan. All men entered into sin, even the Psalmist reminds us, “in sin my mother conceived me.”

Can you comprehend this idea of darkness and sin? For the action of Adam and Eve that brought sin into the world…is just like darkness. If you walk into a room and turn off the light, does only the area of the room by the lamp get dark? No…the whole room falls under the vale of darkness. It is also the case with sin, the corruption and death and darkness that entered the world affected the whole world, all the world. The entire wonderful creation, all of its beauty, all of the paradise, everything was and is tainted. It was all darkened by sin, darkened in the shadow of death – stuck in the bondage of the devil…stuck in the darkness.

But it gets worse… Like unto the darkness of the ninth plague of Egypt that preceded the Exodus… John uses a word for darkness that means a darkness that most of us don’t quite get. It is a darkness that is heavy, that you can reach out and touch, pull on, and wrap yourself in. It is a tangible darkness… a darkness that has a punch. That’s your sin, my sin, the sin of the world is a weight that wraps us up and weighs us down— not like a blanket on a cold night, but like a lead apron you must wear to have an x-ray taken, like a ball and chain, like sickness and death that plops down upon you and sucks the life from you. At first it seems fun, but then…

Even we are not immune from the shackles of death, from this darkness. St. Paul reminds us that we are all sinful and fall short of the glory of God. That means us, that means darkness, that means eternal damnation and nothing we can conjure up can save us from it. It tricks us and deceives us…we think we know better than God. Even Adam thought he knew more than God…even the Israelites thought they knew more then God as they molded their golden calf.

Repent. The kingdom of God is with us. God never fails. He continued to assure his people of Christmass. He assures his people of his Word that is life and that life is the LIGHT of men. He assures his people of the light that would overcome, conquer, and stomp out the darkness. God’s people knew of Christmas. God gave a promise of a light, a light so bright that nothing would overtake it!

And the darkness did not and could not overcome the LIGHT. The darkness will never overcome it. From the very beginning, this Christ has been the light of the world and this Christ has been our light. And this Christ has become man. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. It was in familiar ways with familiar things that God came to his people and Christmas was no exception. Christ came as baby – with skin and bones and crying set of lungs. He came as human flesh and blood to be like us, to be for us and to be with us.

But how so for us? For us on on a cross for us. He came that man’s debt would be paid and the curse of sin would be removed. He came so that he would die on the cross of Calvary and would rise again to destroy darkness and its sting. So the manger, the beginning of Jesus ministry, always sits in the shadow of the cross. But from the cross forward there are no shadows. The valley of the shadow of death all comes undone there. The sun and the stars didn’t give their light, but Christ still shined through as he conquered your sin and made the world new again.

And so this is the fullness of time, Christ still comes to us for us in familiar ways. It is here in the font with water and with Word – in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, that we have been joined to the death—the cross of the Lamb of God— and to the resurrection of Christ and freed from the darkness. With ordinary Words preached and proclaimed into our ears…we are joined to the one who was nailed to the cross for our transgression, the one that said from that cross, “It is finished!” The darkness no longer has a hold on us. It is this death of Christ that makes us alive. Alive! With bread and wine he combines his Word to give you food and drink from heaven. He comes not to better himself, but to bring light to you and me. He comes as man because of his great love. He comes out of great love—for us! Here today we have Christ! Here today we have the forgiveness of our sins! Here today we can celebrate in the light that never fades.

Christ is the light that shines on as a beacon this Christmas. Christ shines on for us! Christ who was, who is, and who always, always will be! Rejoice! Merry Christmas! The LIGHT shines!

Stones for Abraham

What did you go out into the wilderness to see? What did you wake up early on a Sunday morning to see? Was it just a man or is it something more?

John was the first to leap for joy at the coming of the Christ. But the herald of Advent, its great messenger sent from above uses his voice to prepare you and to give you the advent you need. “But among you stands one you do not know,” he says. Among you God comes to dwell. The great I AM that created you and gave you all things comes to stand among you. But you don’t know him. Your path is not straight and there seems to be too much in your way. Christ is in your way or maybe it’s his bride—the church? Maybe the Ho, Ho, Ho of Santa Claus has removed what the Holy Spirit has worked to proclaim in the wilderness?

And so God sends you John and he sends you advent. He sends you four weeks of preparation, prayer, and repentance at the voice of the Prophet John. He is not the Christ. He isn’t even the prophet or Elijah (except he is)! He wants no attention of his own but instead wants you to see God Almighty —Jesus Christ—who stands among you. He will splash the water of the Jordan river and speak the Word of the Lord as he points you to this. one. man. He came to his own and his own did not know him… yet He stands here, not by virtue of your faith or your good works or your reputation, or your building, BUT —by virtue of His Word proclaimed and his sacraments administered. John is not worthy to untie his sandals and you to be called by his name and yet he comes to serve you with his life.

A brood of vipers then —gathered at the banks of the Jordan river—a brood of vipers now. Time does nothing to cleanse and change the human nature. We are sick in our sin and dead to God because of it.

Who warned you to flee the wrath to come?

How do you deal with your sin? How do you deal with your brothers and sisters when they sin against you? How do you deal with it when you sin against others…or even against someone you love??!! Do you try to reconcile yourself with some gods of your own liking? God is not mocked. Your sin, all of your sin, deserves punishment. You can’t justify it away with circumstance, logic theory, or memory loss. You are a sinner and nothing you can do about it can change it. And don’t begin to say to yourself that you are a Christian… that you have been a member of the Lutheran church for a month or two—or well, your whole life! God is able to make Lutherans out of the very stones in the parking lot. Every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. You can’t deal with your sin. It is too much for you. Stop trying. Stop telling yourself that you don’t need the Word of God, stop insisting that you can go a week without the holy communion… stop thinking that you can keep some sins from God and tell him only the ones for which you’ve worked out the plan! Stop reasoning that you don’t really need to hear absolution for that sin, that the one thats burning you up inside, doesn’t need the certainty of the Word preached to its context and circumstance.

Stop listening to Satan and the world tell you to forget this Christ since you don’t even know him. The message of the devil is that you will find the comfort of Christmas in your homes with family or in reindeer or in a jolly old elf or in red cheery coffee cups, but not in the Word of God and in our Lord’s holy Sacraments. The preaching of the Cross of Jesus and the celebrating of his sacraments gets in the way of the devil’s agenda.

Repent! The kingdom of God is near! The voice of one calling from the Jordan makes straight the way of the LORD. An Advent for you! The Word of God opened the lips of John the Baptizer as he stood in the Jordan’s water and drenched us in the Word of God. The Word of God comes here, too. The Holy Spirit calls you by name and leads you in a straight path…and so it is that every preacher since John has preached by the water… for in your Baptism the Old Adam in you by daily contrition and repentance is drowned and dies with all sins and evil desires, and a new man daily emerges from that water and rises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

And God keeps sending his Word to you. He will not allow the world to hide this great gift from you. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He came for broods of vipers. He only comes for sinners. You have to be a sinner to qualify. Thanks be to God that he sent his Son—that dying on the CROSS, all sin would be destroyed, the power of Satan unraveled, and the sting of death removed.

God gives you Advent, he gives you John, he gives you your pastors and he marks his Word upon you. Christ stands here among y’all and the voice of his Word shouts in this wilderness called life. And it shouts through Water, through called and ordained preachers, through bread and wine, that Christ died upon his cross and with his blood he paid the ransom that gives you life eternal. So Advent prepares you for this life eternal. Advent is the Word of God coming to you to make Jesus Christ known to you as you live in this busy life. Advent is God giving life and salvation to you.

The font is in a slightly different spot because of the Christmas tree…which I think is good because when you stumble into it, you remember that God has made you his child and an heir to the Heavenly kingdom. Water to remind you that you have been washed from your sins and made clean by the blood of the Lamb. An altar for you to see and know that God makes his dwelling with you. A pulpit to give you the assurance that God’s Word is not hidden but heard. The Holy Spirit knows that you need this Christ and gives you his body and blood in the bread and wine and there you have forgiveness. There is Christ. That is Christmas. God dwelling here for you, in you, to forgive you. Happy and Blessed Advent. God has made your way straight and given Jesus to you. He is yours, not just today, not just December 25, but always. He is not far from you, but always with you and you know him. And because of his love…you are forgiven.

A False and Misleading Dream

The sermon preached at Matins for the Higher Things Retreat: Law and Gospel at Faith Lutheran Church in Plano.

Grace, Mercy, and Peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.  None can remove sin’s poisoned dart… we only drive it deeper. While causing sin and wrath we elevate ourselves over others. The LAW is not a stepping stone or ladder to gain heaven. The LAW is but a mirror bright to bring the in bread sin to light. And sin does indeed lurk within our nature.

It does not want us to hallow God’s name, to pray, to give thanks, and call upon his name. Have you let Satan and the world and your flesh entice you to forget? Have you been plunged into the midst of a false and misleading dream?? Would someone tell you that you can by your works gain heaven??? And that someone might be you. Because your flesh can’t abstain, and you can’t walk away… sin holds its way unceasing in our deep corruption.

So it is that God reminds you, through Paul (the apostle), through Higher Things, through Faith Lutheran Church and each of the churches you call home… and your through your pastors, but especially, most seriously, through their preaching — the delivering to you as of first importance — Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scriptures that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to many witnesses.

So we sang, “Yet as the Law must be fulfilled or we must die despairing, Christ came and has God’s anger stilled, our human nature sharing. He has for us the Law obeyed and thus the Father’s vengeance stayed which over us impended.” And thus one has removed your poisoned dart. One has elevated you above himself. One has become your stepping stone and ladder to heaven. He is the Light of heaven and sin cannot lurk in his presence. This one is Jesus.

Christ has full atonement made and has brought you full salvation. It was by his dying on the cross of shame and the curse of man’s sin that he has made new again what death had languished in despair. It is by this work, this dying, this agony and bloody sweat, that you gain heaven. Believe the Word, faith clings to Jesus Christ alone, for it is a free gift of God that you this day are saved through that faith. It is a gift of Jesus, God’s own son, delivered to you on Holy Spirit wings. Out the sermon, in the ear, and perched and nested in your heart.

Rejoice, O sinner, for today the Father has been reconciled to you again. Today, Jesus speaks a clear and powerful Word to you and to His Father in heaven. This one, these ones, the lambs here gathered have been washed in the blood of the cross and they are good and new… saints and by that blood you are saved.

How can anyone get into heaven?

As Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. At first glance, you might think this is all about wealth, riches, bank accounts, real estate, and the like. And you would be wrong. Instead it is all about stripping us of our own gods and goddesses, the delights of our hearts, and pointing us again to the CROSS of Jesus.

How difficult it is for a man to enter the kingdom of God. Who, then could ever enter the Kingdom?! The rich young man had kept the commandments…right? Just like you and me, right? You are Christian, you come to church, you pray, you may even come running to Jesus in the delights of your successes, but you have a heart just like this young man. And what kind of heart is that??

The intention of man’s heart is evil.

Every heart has been since Adam’s fall. No matter how good you look, how great you work, and what bottom line you have in your bank account or portfolio, or even what ears you can bend by the water cooler, your heart is corrupt. It’s only an evil diet of filth continually. The problem isn’t your wealth or lack of it, it is the god that you have made yourself out to be.

This young man’s sin wasn’t that he was wealthy or that he was young or even that he was greedy. His sin was trust. Jesus explains: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” Not because riches are inherently sinful, but because those who have wealth see little need for a Savior. Wealth is an easy thing to trust in, and those who trust in wealth aren’t trusting in Christ. And so Jesus says, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”

Yes, the young man trusted in his wealth. But it may not be wealth for you or it may be wealth for you. It may be how you treat others or what you say about them or to them. Your bottom line might be how well you gossip or what you can steal from those who are vulnerable. You want to be able to trust in the things of your life, people, possessions, etc. We are very good at putting all sorts of things in our life in order to not have to trust in a Savior.

You’ve heard it said, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Jesus says, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The Law is a gift of God for you, but it isn’t something you can handle. It does one thing, it kills you. It leaves you sorrowful, it crushes your allegiances and unravels your trust. God’s law is meant to remove those things in life that can’t save you!

Have you kept the commandments? Really, have you had no other gods in your life? Have you called upon his name in every trouble? Have you remembered the sabbath day and held the preaching of God’s Word as sacred and strived to hear and learn it? Have you honored those in authority over you, loved them, honored them, served and obeyed them? Have you hurt your neighbor? Have you spoken well of him, built him up, defended him, and put the best construction on everything – explaining it all in the kindest way?? And what of your neighbor’s possessions and family…have you coveted, schemed, and enticed?

How difficult it is for a man to enter the kingdom of God! Repent!

The kingdom of God is at hand!

Jesus looked at the young rich ruler and loved him. He taught him using the full weight of the Law and yet there was sweet and full Gospel there for him. Jesus looks at you and loves you! Who can be saved? Well, with man it is impossible. You can’t ask: what must I do! Your faith asks, what has Christ done for me! Because with man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Camels can go through the tiniest of openings and you can be made new, clean, and holy in the working of faith in your heart.

And so unlike the rich young man and unlike us, Jesus picks up his Cross and goes all the way to death, emptying himself of the riches of heaven so that he could have you as his own.

But He is not finished. The Good Teacher now offers that cross to you. By His holy Law preached to you this day, He still warns and accuses of sin-not so that you walk away sorrowful, but so that you might repent and turn away from that which would destroy you. And by His holy Gospel, He gives you His cross. He takes away your sins-you need not suffer and die for them because He already has. He gives you His righteousness, giving you the credit and benefits of His perfect keeping of God’s Law. He makes you His family, members of His household. He marks you with His cross in Holy Baptism, that He might join you to His death. He gives you His body and blood as he bids you come to the table of his supper, that He might join you to His life.

You can’t. He can; and He does. Faithfully, again and again granting you forgiveness for your sins.

This is the Good News He has for us-that He has won salvation for us and gives it freely. And this is the message that He calls us to proclaim as a Church-continually, faithfully. At times, people will hear and walk away-even some such as the rich young ruler. We watch such go with sorrow, praying that they will return to the grace of God. And we continue to preach the same life-giving Gospel which our Lord proclaimed and fulfilled: You are sure of your salvation: Not because you can earn it, but because He has won it for you by His death and resurrection.

North Texas Giving Day

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Today is North Texas Giving Day… an opportunity to support various organizations from all around north Texas. Messiah Lutheran Classical Academy is part of the festivities. If you would like to support Lutheran classical education in Keller, Texas, follow the link HERE.

Ephphatha

The Deaf man lived in a different world, the sounds of the world, the speaking of praise and prayer…the speaking of buying and selling, living, and playing: all shut off, shut down, left out. But he may have not even thought himself disabled and unfortunate. He may have been comfortable with his life and his deafness. He could have adapted to his life, learned sign language, hung out with others like himself or he could have been miserable, and alone, and shunned OR both. Whatever his life, in his Deafness, It didn’t matter…his friends had heard about a miracle worker and they brought him to Jesus.

His ears stopped… Jesus opened them. His tongue stuck… Jesus loosed it.

Jesus healing the Deaf Man by Richard Caemmerer

Jesus healing the Deaf Man by Richard Caemmerer

But there is something more here. The Deaf man’s ears had been stopped from hearing the Word of God…and here and now, the first thing he hears is the Incarnate One speaking to him: directly to him, Ephphatha! That is “BE OPEN!” Like every last one of us, our ears, our hearts, stopped up from the Word of God. We downplay, ignore it, move it to the back burner, pay attention to it when it is convenient, but treat it like we feel it to be: an inconvenient necessity. What has your sin done to your ears and your hearts?

And where has this put our priorities? What has happened to our speech? Do we hang out with others like ourselves, have we made up a [sign] language to communicate what’s convenient rather than what is real and important? We’re privileged with the presidential campaigns in full swing but we don’t need help bringing to light the absurdity of our talk, our lifestyle, our concerns and worries: we’d rather talk about walls and fences between Canada and the USA, global warming and climate change, which movie is better, which sports team is going to win, than how to save the babies and how to uphold marriage.

The Lord knows our present reality. He knows that we are broken, sinful, stopped up. He knows that we’ve all made a mess out of things and the church is not immune. We make doctrine “convenient” talk while life is relegated to the “inconvenient” category and then fill the void of our deaf ears with life while ignoring doctrine.

We talk about gay marriage while our families fall to ruin and slowly our marriages fail.

We talk about abortion while our children are neglected.

We talk about whether a clerk should go to jail for her beliefs while ignoring our neighbor’s needs, the neighbors and coworkers we see everyday.

We would rather tolerate our neighbors, as though that is a virtue, instead of loving them.

Repent. The Kingdom of God has come to open you.

Not sent to heal, but Jesus was sent to preach. It is remarkable that everything that God does in his means of Grace – preaching, baptism, Lord’s Supper, Absolution, the Divine Service – engages your whole self. He gives you your body and all your senses and not only does he take care of them, but he uses them to assure your of your belonging. When you were first called the Holy Spirit washed you with water. Water combined with his Word and with his command, washed over you… in a similar way that Jesus took the Deaf man, he took you. Taken aside, out of the loud and boisterous crowd, the Deaf man has his one on one, face to face meeting with Jesus. And whereas he wasn’t sent to heal, he has COMPASSION. He compassion that moves him to get dirty…to get down in the trenches with the sinner, to lift us up out of our sin and carry us to safety.

And so it was that Jesus really did stick his fingers in the Deaf man’s ears. He groaned and he spat on the ground, he touched his tongue. But then he preached. Ephphatha! That is, “Be Open!” Be Open! Let your ears hear and let your lips be opened and your mouth declare the praises of God. Ephphatha!!

His Holy Spirit calls each of you to this place. Maybe a friend brought you, maybe it was your mom. You might have been comfortable in your sin. You might love your sin very much. You might hang out with people like you and you might have your own language of sin and death. You might be thinking of that right now and how inconvenient it is that you have to be here. And you might be miserable, alone, suffering, and shunned. And you might be both.

Whatever your life, Jesus has found you and brought you here that you might have your ears unstopped and your mouth loosed. He has brought your into his holy ark of the church to be a member of his holy bride. And like the Deaf man, he really does place his resurrected body into your mouth and his blood he pours down your throat. He has COMPASSION on you. Compassion for Jesus is his death and there is no greater love that a man can have for you.

Here is COMPASSION: Jesus dies on the cross of Calvary to win you back, to destroy death and the devil, and to unravel the sting of sin. He was raised for your justification, your reconciliation, for your life. You moved Jesus to action. Your sin and your mess and your deafness, and blindness, brought him to lay down his life and to pick it up again so that you would have life.

So this is where doctrine and life meet. This new testament is even more glorious than the Law’s work of condemnation. The ministry of reconciliation is this: Jesus has reconciled the Father to you, by the shedding of his blood. The New Testament is in the Blood. It undoes the old ministry because Life is in the Blood and He bestows that Life through it. This gives permanent glory. It makes a holy temples in your heart. The Israelites could not look at Moses’ face, but God has taken flesh that we might look Him in the eye, that He might abide with us, and that we would not be afraid to hear Him.

Be opened, O Christian, and be not afraid. He opens you not to destroy you, but to fill you with himself. Now you live in a different world! The sounds of God’s love, the speaking of his forgiveness and life in Jesus, and the living, playing, and joy of God’s kingdom are yours. Rejoice! Jesus spoke you open! He does all things well.

The Fourth Watch of the Night

Mark 6… In the very midst of life… do you know the life you have, governed by science and math. What is gravity to you or how much weight can the surface of the sea hold?? The snares of death surround you. Don’t they? This upward climb of life, all that you endure, do you feel the ground slipping under you? What happens when the world you think you know becomes a world of unknowns and looking out on the sea of life (like you have your whole adult career, you see what MUST be a ghost?) The air getting thin from time to time? How about the sorrows of loss and pain and sickness… and death. Are you lonely, depressed, or hurt? Are you mad or angry? The snares of death surround you. Not only that, the snares of the world, the snares of your flesh, and the snares of Satan’s wily tongue, they would press in on you from every side and finally in the midst of death’s dark vale the powers of hell overtake you.

Who will help you when they assail you? Where shall we for refuge go? In the midst of utter woe, when your sins oppress you, from where does your help come?

Have your sorrows and pain assaulted you for many years? Have you turned every which way and have never found comfort? Have you been pulling on the blanket only to never have it cover you in the cold long years of your life? Or rather, has your sin and sorrow come in the middle of the night, like a thief and in the innocence of your – minding your own business – assaulted you and left you for afraid and fearing a ghost walking on your water?

When faced with that question, we would exhaust our resources. It’s there that your flesh takes over again. Your reason, your own strength, right? How often in this world, in your fight, do you think your are doing the sailing? That you have all the answers or that the world has a teacher that you can find, to be your help. And that is exactly what you have done. You come here, and sail your boat past your God and around waters you think you’ve charted, but you ignore who he really is. And when you think you’ve lost, “Why trouble the teacher any further?”

Do you remember so long ago, the words… “The LORD keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore”? It was spoken at your baptism. It is sung in Psalm 121…to remind you, and not just that, it’s the Spirit telling you that Jesus won’t let you think you’ve troubled the Teacher or to think that you have been abandoned to sin’s oppression. He won’t let you sink into the snares of Satan and his dark stormy waters. It’s there that Jesus bids you into his arms again – to carry you up a different mountain. For your help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Repent – for the Kingdom of God has come to you. He overhears you, he perceives your thoughts, he speaks to you in your sorrow and pain and in the guilt of sin and despair. You have sailed around and about him. You have called him your Lord, but you have not called upon his name in every trouble, you have not prayed, nor given thanks. You’ve used him for your devices and when the going seemed convenient, you’ve used him, but what about when everything is over and sin and death crouch at the door?

It’s just then that Jesus reminds you, like he reminded the disciples, “It is I, do NOT be afraid.” They had sailed that sea so many times before, but the Lord had walked right through their dark night of sorrow and pain, right through the storms of their sins, and getting into the boat he bids them peace.

Do not fear, only believe! Do not fear, your sins are forgiven! I am the Help that comes from the Lord – I made heaven and earth and my Word performs. It performed when I called you out of darkness in the waters of your baptism and it performs today. I’m not a ghost like you presume, IT IS I, your Lord and teacher! I make all things well.

But why would Jesus do such a thing to his poor disciples? Why didn’t he meet them on the other side, or tell them to wait as he dismissed the crowds? Jesus came to those disciples, walking on the water…he came to strip them of their confidence in themselves. He came in the midst of earthly turmoil to point them to the calm of the kingdom of heaven. They heard their master’s voice…they heard what was sure and comfortable in the midst of the persecution of this fallen world, but distracted by the waves, distracted by their own confidence, when we revert back to our sinful ways, we sink. And that is what you fear. To sink…to drown…to die. Your conscience will confirm that the knife of the Law is above you and the stormy water of the Sea of Galilee is below you.

And that is why Jesus walks on the water. The Lord does not stay high above you and watch as you squirm in the waves of life, he comes all the way to the water and the waves. He knows that you will sink and drown, so he comes all the way to the place where you are and holds out his hand and calms you. There in the water he drowns holding you up. It is Jesus that dies when your sin should have killed you. It is Jesus that drowns in that water, hangs upon the tree of the cross – endures what you fear, suffers your death and walks out to you in the storms of your life.

His Spirit gives you faith to call him Lord. His Holy Spirit gives you his death and his life in your baptism. His Holy Spirit opens your ears to hear your Lord say to you, “Come!” “Come!” He says to each one of you, “Come to me you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest! For my yoke is easy and my burden is light and you will find rest for your souls!” Come! But that simple whisper still isn’t enough for your Lord… Christ reaches out his hand and he touches you! He catches you…His body – he puts upon your lips – and his blood he pours into your mouth. And there from his cross he strengthens your faith. And with Jesus, just like Peter and all the saints, you climb into the safety of his boat – which is the church! He is the Son of God, he encamps around you – walks on stormy water to find you, comforts you with his gentle whisper, and with his hands, his feet, and his side, his death delivers you from all your fears. And YOU are FORGIVEN!

Nicodemus, do you not know…

John 3:1-15

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

It’s not by blood…It isn’t the will of the flesh…It isn’t of the will of man, but it’s of God, that you are called heavenly heirs.  It isn’t by our own reason and strength that we call Jesus, Lord – but because we have been born of the Spirit.  Not presenting yourself once again in your mother’s womb (No!)– but passing through water combined by the command of God to the living Word of God.

Nicodemus – are you not a teacher of the children of Israel and yet you do not know that the Law does not lead to eternal life?

God’s holy law only points to that which is greater.  Moses and the prophets only direct us to the Son of Man lifted up.  And so just like Moses lifted up the serpent – the Great Serpent and deceiver of our souls is destroyed ONLY!! —by the Son of God, lifted up.  That he who first deceived by the tree of knowledge, would see his destruction by a NEW tree of life – Golgotha’s cross.

God lays down his life to redeem rebels who have forsaken Him.  For his own did not receive him.  AND…the world did not know him.  The world does not love him, and yet he loves them (He loves you).  This work of God is his love.  This is how he loves:  He dies the death we deserve, exhausts his own wrath, and satisfies justice.  And so we can rightly say God is LOVE.

And it’s this love that is the toughest thing to grasp!  It makes mad the children of men as they wag their tongues: Foolish are these Christians – stupid is this thing they call the Gospel!  For this gospel makes it sound like you don’t do a thing to inherit the Kingdom of God.  It makes it sound like you are passive receiver.  Nicodemus would agree.  Doesn’t a person enter the kingdom of God through the Law, through his own works as he pleases God by his doing?

Jesus says: no, a person must be born anew, from above.  God lavishes his love upon the sinner – from above sinners are made new.  Rebirth is it. Rebirth it has to be!  Holy rebirth – where the Holy Spirit gathers you up and places his mark upon you.  He bathes you in God’s eternal and powerful love.  The love that is so great and precise that he knows the intimate details of each person, even counting the hairs on their heads and their chins.  Not a generic love, the way some people love cats and chocolate – no a love of deliberate action.  A birth from above, o passive receiver, uniting us to the love of God in Christ Jesus.

And, this, the world hates. It’s not that the world misunderstands Jesus or you for that matter or me. The Gospel is clear. IN YOUR FACE clear. You are a passive receiver, saved by Grace —through faith in Jesus Christ and it isn’t your own work, it is the gift of God. You are his workmanship and the object of his love. It is that this infuriates the world. It is a stumbling block and foolishness and they hate it and they Him and they hate you for it.

Our God—this JESUS—deliberately laid down his life for a specific kind of person. Jesus comes only for sinners.  And so this birth of baptism makes children of God.  Baptism calls the lost and rescues the sinner.

Baptism shows the individual, specific, unique love God has for each of his children.  Your God has deliberately and specifically rescued and recreated you – turning what was doomed for demise (an eternal damnation) into heavenly heirs and children of God.

This Holy Trinity, of which we celebrate today, has rescued and recreated you in the waters of Baptism—naming you as his own.  We are no longer who we were.  We have been drawn into his death and resurrection, expelled from the womb to life eternal, born again of Water and the Spirit, renamed and reclaimed into the name of the Holy Trinity (The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit).  So also he continues to rescue and recreate you, today.  Your name has been called out and your heavenly Father lavishes his love here upon you.

Create in me a clean heart, we will sing.  Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.  He does just that.  He takes what was broken and shed upon the cross of Calvary and rescues and recreates us again.  Resting upon our altar – the God Man Jesus brings heavenly glory and calls you by name again.

The Word was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to us whom the Holy Spirit has showered the love of God upon – to us – The Children of God – born of water and the Spirit…we behold the glory of the cross.  We see the salvation prepared before the face of all people and we hold onto our King and our God.  Children of God, once again, COME, be guests at the Father’s table, with the Son as your Host with the unity of the Spirit.

**But you might be thinking that your sins are too much. You can’t come because you aren’t worthy of a King GodMan. Like Nicodemus who had to come to Jesus by night or Isaiah who shouted “Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips!” But you would be wrong about Jesus. He’s the one that brought you here. And just like the angel that carried a live coal to Isaiah’s lips, so also a live coal—the Living, Resurrected Lord will be carried to your lips…he bids you welcome and worth at his altar. Have your sins purged and the coal of Jesus’ sacrifice burn away your sin.**  Dine on his body.  Drink his blood.  Lift up the Cup of Peace.  Our God and King we see, as at the rail, here, on bended knee our hungry mouths from Him receive the food and drink of immortality. The victory is declared HERE…in this place…again today.  God’s love is lavished upon the children of God and you are renewed, recreated, and made whole and complete again. Your sins are forgiven.  ✞ In Jesus’ Name ✞

Soli Deo Gloria!