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.

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What’s Love Got To Do With It? Ephesians 5

Every marriage is about a name.  Whether you choose to hyphenate it, or keep your old one, or take up his or hers.  When no suitable helpmate was found for Adam, God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep and when he was asleep took a rib from his side, having closed up the place with flesh – God took the rib and made it into a woman and gave her to the man.  At LAST, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh… she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man. (That’s what all you guys said at your wedding, right?)

And yet it is the sin of Adam that everyone has inherited…coursing through the whole human race. The problem is we aren’t comfortable with the word LOVE… and therefore can’t begin to be comfortable with obey or submit.  You have to be accountable to someone else and that isn’t the way we want it.  We have to be connected to someone else??!  Our god is our belly and our life is narrated by our passions.  And the problem with that is that our passions, our bellies, always leave us alone and worse yet, dead in our sin.

What’s love to the world?  What’s love to you?  Forget about submitting and obeying and listening…  What is love?  Tina Turner thought it was a second hand emotion.  The world talks about falling into and out of love, but it misses the whole point. Don’t confuse love with the wicked passions of your belly.  Don’t be tempted by the world to think that love is a passing feeling that resides in some warm fuzzy you feel in your heart.  No!  We have other names for those feelings.  Those feelings are real – ALBEIT fleeting, but real and they are not LOVE.  Love has to do with neighbor and with God.  Love has to do with looking away from your navel and looking up at the world around you – and the persons around you.

And yet… and yet… we will not do it.  There is need all around us and even us who work at the church headquarters are belly watchers.  And with all this belly watching going on, how will we learn to LOVE?  How can we love the Lord our God with all our heart when it is lent out as a second hand emotion or even a first hand one?  How can we learn to submit or even take the time to figure out what that is if we can’t stop thinking about our own passions and lusts?

Repent.

God loves a wedding feast!  “Go bright jewel of my crown!  It is time to have compassion, he says.  Bring to all salvation, from sin and sorrow set them free!!  Slay bitter death for them that they may live with you forever!”  OH, this is a mystery, Paul says… This is a profound mystery about Christ and his church.  Want to know what LOVE is?  Look to Jesus Christ alone.  For the Son of God became incarnate and was born of the Virgin Mary to shed his blood for your forgiveness and peace.  Therefore the MAN, Jesus Christ, left his Father in heaven and came for you and me.  Dying upon the CROSS of Calvary he holds fast to the church, his bride, for there they have become one flesh.

What is LOVE?  To die for your beloved.  To lay down your passions and your heart and all the fuzzy feelings to give the other your everything.  What’s love look like?  The Cross alone.  That Cross of Jesus is our life… for it is there that Christ loves us.  “At last, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh… she shall be called CHURCH and they shall be called Christians for they were taken out Christ.

In Jesus+ Name.  Amen.

Rev. Steven Cholak

LCMS International Center (January 23, AD 2014)

His Blood makes Christianity Messy

Flock_of_sheepA good and gracious shepherd, and it doesn’t matter what kind of sheep.  The Shepherd has come to tend his flock… and so it does matter what kind of flock!  Skinny, injured, weak sheep – even ones that have strayed – YES!  But the fat ones, the strong ones, they will just not do.  He’ll leave the 99 and search for the one, but all the hearty, righteous sheep… forget it, they will eat justice.  I guess there could be wolves in sheep’s clothing or at least mean, nasty, down and dirty sheep – sheep that sin, sheep full of doubt and lies, those are the sheep that have wondering, lustful eyes – the ones that aren’t so sure about this whole thing at all.

Is this Jesus a good Shepherd?  Am I one of his sheep?  Have I done enough?  Have I tried hard enough?  Can he really shepherd me?  Is his love enough for my sin?  And not just me – what about this flock??  Are we weak sheep?  Strong sheep?  Fat and strong sheep he will destroy.  He only comes for the lowly and weak.  Every sheep, even every little lamb, comes with doubt.  The devil only encourages it, cultivates it.  You are the ones that think this whole thing could just be a bit over rated!

Sheep in the world.  To say it is a bit easier than to live it, to do it, but you really have not understood.  You have not been in the world and not of it.  You have engaged in a tug of war with the world, with your surroundings, with doubt and fear, because the world is real and you live in it.  Your enemies (the devil, the world, the sinful nature) pull you along.  They pull at your desires and squeeze your emotions.  They promise you what you want.

Who is it that keeps at arms length the thick darkness and the day of clouds?  The evil temptation and the evil desires and pleasures of your heart?  WHO??  Not you – no not one of you!  You had thought maybe you were a strong sheep!  There is no temptation that has seized you that is not common to man.

The Good Shepherd did not come to save the righteous – but to lay down his life for you.  A person who is well has no need of a physician, but you, God perfects his glory in your weakness.  Everything out there is real.  Repeat: EVERYTHING OUT THERE IS REAL.  Satan would use it all to water your doubt and despair – just waiting for the crop to come to harvest.  You are stuck in the world with all its dark clouds, but Jesus seeks you out so that you are not “of the world” any longer.  Sorry to break it to you, but there isn’t a strong or fat sheep, not even a chubby lamb, reading this post.  Jesus is your shepherd (the shepherd of the weak and sinful) and on this day of clouds and the thick darkness of sin and trouble, Jesus has come in search of you.

So, to find you, he became a scronny and weak little lamb.  He laid down his life to pay the ransom for you.  The whole weight of the darkness and even every sin slaughtered him.  Like the lambs, so many lambs sacrificed before, Jesus was sacrificed.  But UNLIKE any other time before, this time God became part of his creation and not just a something of creation.  God became a man – the Man: the Son of Mary.  So Mary had a little Lamb and he had come to the world, entered in it, to die the cross of sacrifice and shame in order  that he would be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world – your sin.  IN order to be the Good Shepherd that crushes the wolf’s head and lays down his life for the flock – for the ONE, even for you.

He has sought you, brought you to the inn of his church, bound up your wounds, washed your sins away, strengthened your weaknesses and beckons you lie down in green pastures and beside still waters.

Even as the storms rage and spite out there, Jesus leads you, calls you by name, and calls you his own.  You know him: A good and gracious Shepherd… and it doesn’t matter who you are!  Jesus has come as your Good Shepherd.  The Lamb who died and now lives again has done a good work this day.  Your soul is restored and even now he blesses you, forgives your sins, and goes forth this day into the world with you.  The Good Shepherd isn’t a hired hand, and even now you know him for he has rescued you.

Love

We always seem to get this one wrong. For some reason the world wants love to be a feeling or something that we do in bed. If that is the case, then we can fall into love or out of love. Of course that isn’t what the Bible says about love. It isn’t how God is. He doesn’t fall in love with us and he can never fall out of love with us. He is love and loves us by giving us his only Son.

Jesus said, “No greater love hath a man than that he lay down his life for his friends.” That is the very essence of God’s love for you. God has done just that. First, when the time was perfect, when you and I were condemned under the law, God took on human flesh. The Son of God became our brother… with a beating heart and eyelids and hands. He skin tented with us, choosing to humble himself even then to the point of death on a cross. And upon the cross of Calvary he shed his blood and died to have you forever. It was his death that undid death and killed Satan’s nasty plans. He’s judged and the deed is done.

You are alive and forgiven and free. For God has loved you, and the Son has made you free. Thus Jesus knows what love is. He gives his love again to you and showers you with himself…changing you. In his death he makes you cruciform like him. He makes you a little Christ… a little lover. We can’t love without him. But with him we lay down our lives for our neighbor. He loves even you. If there were only one… he would have still done it, taken on death and loved you just the same. He’s yours forever.

Back to the Cross

Pastor David Petersen preached a great sermon last Sunday on Matthew 15.  You can check it out here.  Right in the middle of the sermon he said, “Everything goes back to the cross and the Holy communion brings the cross back to us.”  Our whole theology is the cross of Christ and it is Christ who brings that cross – His cross – back to us each week in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Not only do we hear about it and read it, but we actually participate in it.  In a way that effects our reality, Christ continues as the I AM in creation.  Not only is His finger in creation, but His finger continues to be part of creation.  God became a man that he might bring life and salvation to you.  He continues to be a man and continues to come into our midst, dwelling with His people in the Sacrament of the Altar, in the preaching of His Word, and in the forgiving of sins.