Sir, We Would Like to See Jesus

“Sir, We Would Like to See Jesus”
5th Sunday in Lent, Year B 3/22/2015
John 12:20-33, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 63:1

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

Well everyone, Lent is almost over. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, and Holy Week will soon be here. So, Lent is winding down. Or, is it winding up? “The days are coming!” says God in our Old Testament reading for today. Something big is about to happen. God said it in our first reading. Something big is going to happen, and it’s going to be different from what we had before.

God says that this is going to be a new covenant. The old covenant was the one that Israel had received from God through Moses on Mount Sinai. It worked well for a while, as long as everyone did what was required of them and followed all of the laws in the Old Testament. That didn’t last long though. I’m not sure if you recognize the general story, but after the Israelites left Egypt with Moses they came to Israel and set up their nation, which grew into first one then two kingdoms. Everything was great! Except it wasn’t. After generations of the people turning their back on God for pagan idols and generations of evil kings, God had simply had enough. He didn’t destroy the kingdoms; he simply stopped protecting these two tiny nations that were surrounded by large and powerful enemies.

Eventually both Israelite Kingdoms were torn down. The Northern Kingdom was conquered by Assyria and the Southern Kingdom was conquered by Babylon a generation or so later. Both kingdoms were gone, and it seemed like God was done in this world. The remaining Israelites and that survived were taken away to be slaves in a foreign land.

Think of it this way. It would be like if today ISIS invaded Minnesota, defeated the U.S. Army and burned St. Paul to the ground. After they killed men, women, and children indiscriminately and stole everything of value, they took anyone who was lucky enough to survive and took them away to be their slaves back in Syria. It was that kind of carnage and national trauma that the remaining Israelites that Jeremiah the Prophet was speaking to were going through. We talk about the movie “God’s Not Dead” that came out a few months ago. Well, to these Israelites God seemed like He was dead.

What could anyone say to a people that had gone through something like that? There was no more king to lead them. Jeremiah the Prophet was one of the only leaders left, and he was going into exile too. The only one who could speak anything into such a national tragedy was God Himself.

And what did God say? He said that soon everything would change. No, God was not going to simply return the things to the way that they were. Why would he? The old way didn’t work. People simply cannot follow God’s perfect law on their own. They needed a new way, a new covenant. They needed a covenant like what God said through Jeremiah in verse 34. They needed a way where all of the people can know God, not just a select few. They needed a way in which God can forgive their sins so that this sort of pain never has to happen again.

“The days are coming.” What is that though? How long is soon? It is like when you are a kid and you are on a road trip with the family. It is so incredibly boring in the car though, and ten minutes into an eight hour drive you moan “Are we there yet?” Has this ever happened to any of you? Or were you the parent driving and saying “no! We aren’t anywhere near where Grandma’s yet!”

Well, so it was for the Israelites. The Jews eventually came back from Babylon and formed a new country, but it was always under the thumb of some foreign power, whether it was Persia, Greece, or Rome. They never forgot the experience of the exile though, and they were still looking for that new covenant that God said was coming.

Then one day, right before the biggest holiday of the year, an itinerant rabbi named Jesus came to town. It was all the news. The whole city was excited about this guy. Who was he though? There was no denying that he was something special, since he had done many miracles. Was he a prophet? Or was he the messiah that they had long been waiting for since that day when Jeremiah said those words of God? What would he do?

There was only one way to see. They had to go and see this rabbi, this Jesus guy. There is a small detail that’s in our text though. You see, the people that came up to see Jesus were Greeks, not Jews. Jews and non-Jews did not associate with each other. Jews could not even enter the home of a non-Jew. Not only this, but the people in question here are Greeks! You see, the Jews and the Greeks did not get along well together at all. After Alexander the Great’s armies swept through the region a couple hundred years earlier, the Greeks formed the Seleucid Empire in the area and would not let the Jews worship God. They tried to make Jews become like the Greeks. They even took the Temple in Jerusalem and dedicated it to Zeus! This persecution initiated the Maccabean Revolt, where the Jews threw out their Greek rulers, purified the Temple and installed King Herod’s ancestors as the kings if Israel. It is this part of Jewish history that modern Jews are remembering when they celebrate Hannukah.

This is the history that the Greeks and Jews of Jesus’ time are still feeling, even though they are both under Roman rule. It’s for that reason that the Greeks didn’t come to Jesus directly. They felt like maybe they were not allowed to come. What did Philip do? He didn’t say “Go away, you unclean Gentile!” No, he brought them to Jesus.

Have you ever had a moment like Philip’s moment? Have you ever been in the position to introduce someone to Jesus? Or do you feel like that you maybe identify with someone else Are you like the Greeks? Do you feel like that you somehow you don’t deserve to come to Jesus? That there has been too much bad blood between you and God in the past, or between you and God’s people? Sometimes, unfortunately, that can happen in our broken world.

If that’s you, then remember that Jesus did see the Greeks that Philip brought to him. He told them that the Prince of the World, Satan, will be driven out! Jesus says that he will bring all peoples to himself. It won’t matter if you have been one of God’s people all of your life like the Jews or if you are new to God like the Greeks. Jesus doesn’t care. What he said in verse 26 is that “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” Jesus wants us to follow him, and he doesn’t care about our checkered pasts. He only wants followers. He doesn’t want any fans. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” so that the sins of God’s people can be remembered no more as God said through Jeremiah His prophet.

Let us pray. Lord Jesus, we want to see you. We are not worthy to come before you. We thank you that even though we are not, that you would still receive us as your followers in the new covenant that you promised your people so long ago through your servant Jeremiah the prophet, amen.

Repent and Believe the Good News!

“Repent and Believe the Good News!”
1st Sunday in Lent, Year B, 2/22/2015
1st Communion Sunday
Mark 1:9-15, 1 Corinthians 11:23-29

 

Good Morning Everyone! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

Well, welcome to Lent everyone. Some of you may be wondering what Lent even is, if you aren’t familiar with the Church year. Things seemed to be going pretty well. Christmas is over and we got to celebrate the story behind our frescoes, but then we had a funny service last Wednesday where we put ashes on people and everyone was all serious. What the heck is going on?

Well, this is what Lent is. Lent is the 40 days before Easter in which we remember Jesus on His way to the cross. During this time we take a moment to remember why we need Jesus and the cross, like we did with Ash Wednesday with the ashes. It’s also the reason that during Lent we don’t sing or say the joyful word Alleluia, which is Hebrew for “Praise the LORD.” Lent is a time of somberness and repentance.

In today’s Gospel reading however, we are looking at the start of Jesus’ journey to the cross. In our reading from Mark, Jesus comes out of the backwater town in Judea called Nazareth to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist, who was sent to prepare the way for Jesus.

Jesus gets baptized, and the Holy Spirit comes down from heaven like a dove, and the Father tells Jesus that He is pleased with Him. The Bible says though that immediately after this Jesus was sent out into the wilderness. Jesus didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to His mother Mary or His brother James. He was sent out right now!

The Bible here says that he was out in the wilderness for 40 days, the same amount of time that Lent lasts! But this wasn’t like a long trip to the Boundary Waters though. In Judea, going into the wilderness meant going out into the desert. Out in the desert there isn’t much of anything. It’s hot, it’s dry, and there isn’t much water, and Jesus doesn’t have any food either.. And Jesus was out there for 40 days straight with no one but Satan and wild animals to keep him company. The entire time he was out there he was getting more tired, more thirsty, and Satan’s temptations are looking more and more appealing. Not exactly the most fun camping trip ever!

The time that Jesus spent fasting and praying in the wilderness is the reason why many Christians will “give something up for Lent.” If you want to do that, that’s great! Fasting, even from things you like that aren’t “food,” like Facebook or video games, is a great way to remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Alternatively, instead of giving something up, some Christians will add something, like prayer, Bible reading, or giving to the poor. If you decide to do anything, however, make sure you do it for God, not to brag about it or do it so others will see you. If you brag about it, Jesus tells us three times in Matthew chapter 6 that the people that brag about it or do it just to be seen are hypocrites that have “received their reward in full” (Matthew 6: 2, 5, 16).

But why was he sent out into the wilderness though? He had just been baptized! And now Jesus is going out into the wilderness! But look at what happens when Jesus comes back. Jesus comes back from the wilderness more committed than ever to fulfilling His task that He knew that he had to do. Jesus comes back and finds that John is in prison, but as the Scriptures said, the time had come for him to start His ministry that would one day lead him to the cross.

Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of His work and ministry in the world. That’s why Mark’s Gospel starts with the baptism of Jesus unlike Matthew and Luke that start with the Christmas story or John’s Gospel that begins with creation.

Our baptisms are the same way. St. Paul says that in our baptisms we are crucified with Christ to belong to Him (Romans 6:6) and St. Peter says that we are all priests chosen to declare God’s work in us (1 Peter 2:9). So just like Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on Earth, our own baptisms, whether they happened last week or a week after we were born, they are the beginning of our own ministries as well.

Already in our lives we have been doing ministry to spread the Good News, even since our baptisms. However, like I mentioned earlier Lent is a time of remembering Jesus’ journey to the cross. Later in Lent we will come to Maundy Thursday, when the first Holy Communion happened. It makes sense then that during Lent we are celebrating the faith milestone of First Communion for some of our children.

Some of our kids have been working over the last few weeks with Pastor Ed, learning about Holy Communion. Because of that, I think it’s a good idea for all of us to take a look at what Communion means, especially since us as a church, especially those of us that are parents, are the ones that are responsible for showing the children the way they should go, as our Lay Shepherd reading from Proverbs today said (Proverbs 6:22). And to show anyone the way to go, we need to know ourselves.

St. Paul in our first reading today talks a lot about the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  The first part sounds pretty familiar. Those are what we call the Words of Institution, the words that Jesus said on that night. We also see them in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In these words Jesus Himself tells us what this Sacrament means. In it Jesus says that the bread is His body; that the cup of wine is his blood. An internet meme that I saw once, called “Things Jesus Never Said” talked about this. In it Jesus was holding the bread and said “This is sort of like my body.” The point is that Jesus tells us that this really is His body and blood, and because of that Communion is really big deal that deserves our reverence and respect.

In those words Jesus also said that His body and blood are “given for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Martin Luther wrote about this in his Small Catechism that these words of Jesus along with eating and drinking really do work the forgiveness of sins just as Jesus said if you believe what Jesus said.

Like I said a moment ago, Holy Communion really is Jesus’ body and blood. Because of that, St. Paul in the second half of our first reading sets down some rules. First, he says that everyone needs to receive Communion in a worthy manner. What does a “worthy manner” mean though? We certainly don’t have anything that we can bring before God that could make us worthy. The only thing that we can bring to God is a repentant heart that forgives others and believes in what Jesus said, “given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.”

The second thing that St. Paul says is that those that receive Holy Communion need to examine themselves before they receive it. That’s why we do Confession and Forgiveness during the service every time we have Communion. It’s also the reason that we give First Communion classes to the kids before they can have Communion, so that they can do this discerning and examining that St. Paul talks about. They actually have it pretty good; I had to wait until after I was confirmed when I was 15 before I could receive Communion.

It is important to do both of these things, receiving Communion worthily and examining yourself before Communion. St. Paul said it was so important that he left a warning to those who don’t. To those who receive Communion without examining yourself and discerning the Body and Blood he says that they “eat and drink judgment on themselves.”

The last thing that Jesus said in the Words of Institution was “do this in remembrance of me.” The last thing that Jesus does for us in Communion is to help us remember him, that is to strengthen our faith. And like I’ve been saying all along, remembering Jesus to strengthen our faith is what Lent is all about anyways. That’s why I am so glad that we get to celebrate First Communion with our children here.

St. Paul said in our reading too that “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:26). As you take Communion today, whether it is for the first time or for the thousandth time, remember that by taking Communion, you are taking part of something that God’s people have been doing for centuries- participating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. You are doing something in which Christ does something amazing for us, strengthening our faith and forgiving our sins so that we can go out and be God’s people in the world that proclaim the same thing that Jesus did when he came out of the wilderness: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Let us pray. Lord, on this first Sunday in Lent help us to remember the sacrifice that you gave for us on the cross. Help us to always remember what you have done for us and send your Holy Spirit to us so that we can proclaim the good news of your death and resurrection to those around us and to show them that the Kingdom of God truly is near. Be with all of us as we take part in your Body and Blood today, and help us show the way of faith for the children of our congregation who will be taking Communion for the first time today. Amen.

All Are Welcome – Not A Fan Series

All Are Welcome
2nd Wednesday in Lent, 03/-4/2015
Week 2 of “Not a Fan”
1 Timothy 1:12-16, Luke 14:15-24

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ!

Welcome back to Not a Fan, everyone! To those of you who may not know, this Lent we are following the book Not a Fan. The author, Kyle Idleman is the teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, which is a really big megachurch. Anyways, last week Pastor Mary Ellen talked to us about the initial question that Kyle raises to us: Are we fans of Christ or are we followers of Christ? The difference is huge, because a fan is noncommittal, but a follower is “all in.”

This week, we get to learn about how we move from being a fan to being a follower. The title of the sermon for tonight is “All Are Welcome.” I really am sorry for that. “All Are Welcome” really is an overused phrase by churches. How many of you have seen a sign on a church that says “All are welcome?” It kind of is a loaded question, isn’t it? Does it “All are Welcome” as long as you look like us, or dress like us, or accept the same view of the Bible like we do. Churches are notorious for overusing this phrase, but we are hardly the only ones. How often do you get an invitation for a credit card in the mail that says “You are pre-approved! Just return this exclusive offer that thousands of other people got back to us and you will have the best credit card ever!” Then when you actually fill it out, you get denied or you get slammed with a high interest rate because your credit score is too low. So the next time you hear about a special offer for “anyone,” you may think twice, or at least look carefully at the fine print.

What about Jesus though? What does Jesus mean when He says “all are welcome?” Is there some sort of catch? What is the fine print?
Our Gospel reading for today sheds some light on this. In our reading, Jesus is telling a story in the form of a parable while he was eating dinner at the house of a Pharisee. Remember in Jesus’ time a Pharisee was an expert on the Jewish Law and the Old Testament, so he was a smart guy, but the Pharisees often opposed Jesus.

Anyways, about the story. In Jesus’ story, a man throws a great banquet. In the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, a feast or banquet is used to compare to what will happen at the fulfillment of all things. Theologians call this the “eschatological feast.” That’s my ten dollar word for the night, “eschatological.” The people Jesus ate with realized this, because at the beginning of our reading some anonymous guest piped up: “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” This makes sense to us, doesn’t it? There is something inherently intimate about sharing a meal together, whether that is a family dinner or a date. Something about eating together brings people together. The same thing happens with the Kingdom of God. Eating at God’s table has the same effect.

The host of the dinner in Jesus story has a guest list that he puts out. These are the people that the host wants to throw his party with. However, these people seem to be too busy to take him up on the offer. Since he needs to have people at this banquet, he tells his servants to start rounding people up off the street. Who does he find? He finds the sick, the lame, and the disabled. These people were the undesirables. In the Old Testament Book of Leviticus chapter 21, the one that no one likes to read, God tells Moses that priests cannot be disabled in any way. These priests were the ones who offered sacrifices to God in the Temple, that is, the people who would be eating with God. So what Jesus is saying here in the parable is that the ones that God is bringing to the party are the undesirable ones. The people who were excluded from the party before are now the ones that are invited.

In our first reading Saint Paul talks about these “undesirables” that were invited to the banquet. In our first reading for today, Saint Paul says that he was not a good person. Paul, by his own admission, was a bad man. He was a blasphemer against God, a persecutor of God’s people, and he was a violent person. He said that he was the “worst sinner.” Yet God still chose him to serve. To Jesus it did not matter that Paul was a bad person. Heck he was evil! As far as undesirable for church people went, Paul was at the top of the list of people to avoid. But Jesus still loved him and turned him into an apostle that would carry the Gospel across the whole Roman Empire and sent the Holy Spirit to inspire him to write a good chunk of the New Testament! If Jesus could love a person like Paul, don’t you think that Jesus would be able to love you too?

In the story of the banquet told, however, there are two types of people. There are people who like the host enough to be on friendly terms with him, but when it came down to it, they were too busy with life to have anything to do with him. That sounds a lot like the fans that we have been talking about during this series, doesn’t it?

The other category I think sounds a lot like the followers that Pastor Kyle is talking about. There is something special about them. Not only are they full of the “undesirables,” the people that you may think don’t deserve to be there, but they couldn’t come on their own. Jesus says that the host told them to bring them in. The host tells his servants to compel them to be there. There is something special about that. The undesirables didn’t crash the party. They didn’t decide to come there on their own. They were brought in. Sorry to everyone that thought they could decide on their own to follow Jesus! You can’t! It’s not up to you! Like the undesirables in the parable, we are blind and lame! We can’t get there on our own. Even if we chose to go, it wouldn’t mean anything. The only way to get in is by the authority of the host and to follow him in. The guests that were originally invited could have been led in too, but their stubbornness left them out.

Martin Luther taught the church about this in the Small Catechism, which if you don’t know is one of the documents that says what the Lutheran Church believes. In his explanation of the third section of the Apostle’s Creed, the part about the Holy Spirit, he wrote: “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” It’s not about what we do or decide that makes us a follower; it’s what God decides and does.

So that leaves us with what kind of guest are you tonight to Jesus’ eschatological feast. Ha! I used it again. Are you the fan that is friendly to Jesus but really can’t be bothered when He asks you something? Or are you one of the undesirable ones; one of the people that realizes that you don’t deserve to be at the table with Jesus, but follows him in anyways, praising God that you had the opportunity to do be at the feast too?

Pray with me. Lord, you are the host of the great eschatological feast. We know that we are not worthy to be invited. We know that we are the undesirable ones. Thank you for inviting us to you table God, and enable us, O Lord, to accept the offer to come to the feast that you have prepared. Help us to keep the demands of this life from crowding out Your love for us. Holy Spirit, lead us into the feast; we know that we cannot enter it ourselves. This we pray in your Holy name, our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

The Lord is Coming

Given to the Soldiers of the Minnesota Army National Guard by Seminarian Scott at drill

The Lord is Coming
Pastor Scott Adkins
2nd Sunday in Advent B, 12/7/2014
Mark 1:1-8

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ!

In case you didn’t know, we are now in the second week of the time of the year called Advent, which is the month before Christmas. During Advent, we as the Church take a moment both to remember how Christ came into the world and how Jesus said that he would come back again. So Advent is a time of anticipation.

But that makes sense. This sense of anticipation is brimming around everywhere, isn’t it? Thanksgiving wasn’t even over before people started crowding the stores for Black Friday, the Christmas decorations are going up, and  we are waiting for Christmas Eve with baited breath it seems, for that special few days with family, friends food, that new Xbox game that you wanted and a good beer.

However, the darker side of that anticipation sometimes rears itself too. What if Christmas means that you spend the holiday alone? Or if buying presents is not possible for you or your family this year, or at least bulges your credit card uncomfortably?

Our Scripture reading for today has something to speak into all of this. In our reading from the beginning of the oldest Gospel, we get to literally hear some “good news”- that’s something we don’t get to hear very often, now is it?

The good news, oddly enough, is about waiting. The prophets from the Old Testament tell us that the way of the Lord is being prepared. John the Baptist, the final prophet that baptizes Jesus, tells the people that Jesus is coming. And he doesn’t mince words either. Here is John, highly respected by the community, and he says that this next guy is so great that he is unworthy to untie his shoes.

That same message is true for us today. We are told in Scripture by Jesus himself that He is coming soon, just like those Jews at the river with John heard. So what do we do about it?

The main thing that we can do is “prepare the way for the Lord” just as the Old Testament Prophets said. We don’t do this by cleaning up and rolling out the red carpet though, we do this by what John preached: repent and be baptized!

By repenting of our sins and going through the sacrament of Holy Baptism we prepare a place for God’s Holy Spirit to live within each of us, allowing us to be together with Jesus in the Body of Christ until Jesus does return himself. By this way we get to belong to Christ and he says to each of us, “You are mine.”

Whether Christmas anticipation is a good thing to be cherished or something to simply struggle through, we all have something real and exciting to look forward to. We get to look out for the coming of the Son of God, and this is what Christmas anticipation is all about.

Amen.

 

Faith and Family Wednesdays

St John’s Lutheran Church in Stacy, MN presents Faith and Family Wednesdays.

Worship starts at 6:00PM. The service moves into an evening of learning, fellowship and projects.

All ages are invited and it is entirely free of charge.

We have learning opportunities for children age 4 (potty trained) up to 12 years old in Faithweavers and teenagers in Lutheran Confirmation classes. Also many guest speakers and projects for adults and kids who choose not to participate in either Faithweavers or Confirmation.

*Childcare for younger children may be provided depending on demand. 
We hope to see you there.
View below to see our previous Faith and Family services –

But What Belongs to God?

Pastor Scott Adkins
10/19/2014
Isaiah 45:1-7, Matthew 22:15-22

Good Morning Everyone! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ!

Well, Jesus was certainly in a pickle for this one. Jesus’ old debating “buddies,” the Pharisees, came back to him to ask him yet another question intended to trap him up and get him into trouble. However, this time, the Pharisees brought along some friends of their own. They brought along a different group of Jews, called the Herodians. The Herodians were Jews that were supporters of the reign of Herod, the Roman puppet-king of Judea. The Pharisees, if you remember, were Jews that emphasized obedience to the Law of Moses found in the books Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They also did not care for Roman rule. Jesus was in a no win situation here. If he said yes, pay your taxes, he would anger the Pharisees and those who opposed Roman rule. If he said no, don’t pay taxes, he would anger the Romans and their supporters. In the famous words of Star Wars’ Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!”

Jesus has quite the answer to get out of their trap, though. He asks for a coin and simply asks whose image is on it. When they reply that it has Caesar’s image, Jesus says to give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to give to God what belongs to God.

The trouble is, the Caesars of the world were not and still aren’t always stand up guys. Tiberius Caesar was by no means a God-fearing man. He claimed himself to be a god, like the other Roman emperors. The inscription on the coin that Jesus held probably said “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus,” with a Roman god or goddess on the reverse. Looking at the coin itself was a reminder of Roman idolatry to the observant Jews. How can they give their allegiance to a man who consistently and unapologetically does what is contrary to our faith and breaks God’s law?

Well, our first lesson for the day talks about this. In our reading from Isaiah, God calls King Cyrus of Persia his “anointed.” If you remember what I said in my other sermons, guess what Hebrew word “anointed” is? You guessed it, it is “messiah!” In the Greek Old Testament Bibles that the early Christians of St. Paul’s time used, the word used here is “kristos,” or Christ!

Don’t get me wrong, I am not comparing King Cyrus to Jesus. All I am saying is that God chose Cyrus to be the king, that he was “anointed” by God to do that. God does say in verse four that He summoned Cyrus by name and gave him honor and strength, even though he did not acknowledge God. In our reading, God says that he is choosing Cyrus “for the sake of Jacob my servant.” He did this for the benefit of his people, Israel. King Cyrus liberated the Jews from their exile in Babylon and gave the order to rebuild the God’s temple in Jerusalem. The idea here is that even though the ruler may not be a Christian, he is chosen by God for the benefit of His people, as long as the ruler does not forbid what God commands us to do. In such cases, St. Peter said in Acts chapter five verse 29 “We must obey God rather than any human authority!” (NLT).

Caesar’s reign was similar to Cyrus in some ways. While definitely not Jewish at all, Caesar’s Roman Empire provided the relative peace, common languages and infrastructure of that enabled Christianity to flourish from Jerusalem to all over the Roman Empire and beyond. This is why in Romans chapter thirteen St. Paul says to submit to the authorities and pay taxes, because they provide order and justice to society and therefore are servants of God.

It’s because of this that Jesus tells us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Even though the government may not be Christian, we still need to obey the authorities, because, as God said to Jeremiah the prophet in Jeremiah chapter twenty-nine verse seven, “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” It is clear that we need to submit to the authorities and seek the common good for the country and community, but there are two questions that I see from what Jesus said. What belongs to Caesar, and what belongs to God?

Well, let’s talk about Caesar first. St. Paul tells us in Romans thirteen verse six to pay our taxes, and in our Gospel reading Jesus told us to pay taxes because the money has his image on it. But is there anything else that is Caesar’s? We know that we need to seek the good of the country, and to obey the authorities. I think in order to do this, we need to be responsible citizens, especially since here in America we choose who our “Caesars” are. Only by being involved citizens who vote, pay taxes, and take our part in the common good and defense of our country can we really “seek the peace and prosperity of our city.” Being an apathetic citizen and not voting or participating in civic life is not “giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

With the discussion over the denarius, Jesus shared what belonged to Caesar. But he never specifically explained the second part of his answer to his opponents. All He said was “Give to God what belongs to God.” Well what in the blazes does this even mean?

Jesus doesn’t tell us specifically here, so we’ll take a look at what he said about the denarius. Why did Jesus say that the denarius belonged to Caesar? Remember, he pointed out two things. The image on the coin was Caesar’s, and so was the inscription. What do we have that has a similar image and inscription of God on it?

The answer is: us. Remember from the beginning of the Bible at creation in Genesis chapter one verse 27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them. Male and female he created them.” We are each created by God in His image. We also have God’s inscription on us. St. Paul said in Romans chapter two verse 15 that all people, believers or not, have God’s Law written on their hearts. This is God’s inscription.

Unlike our Caesars, who want our money, time, and possibly our military service, God wants all of us. Jesus quoted parts of the Law of Moses found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy when he summed up the Ten Commandments right after he spoke with the Pharisees and the Herodians in our Gospel reading for today starting in verse 37. He said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

This is definitely a tall order. God demands all of us completely; heart, soul, and mind. Since we bear his image, God wants what belongs to him, just like Caesar. The problem is, none of us can completely give everything we are over to God nor can we love our neighbors perfectly. Even if we seem to be and try to be sincere, we always hold something back. “Ok God, you win! I believe in you and trust in Jesus! I give it all to you! Except this little piece of my life. That I keep for myself.” Maybe that little piece is your job, your family, certain relationships, a hobby, your secular reputation, a “favorite sin” that you seem to do over and over, or yes, even your money. Try as we might, we can never “give to God what belongs to God.”

Well folks, this sounds rather depressing. We have a debt to God that we can never pay because of our sinful nature. However, there is a bright spot. Has anyone here ever had to owe the IRS any money? Don’t raise your hands! If you have, you know that Uncle Sam always gets his due. Just like Uncle Sam, God is just as tenacious at pursuing us, but for a different reason than the IRS. While the IRS goes after what you have, God goes after what you are. Unsatisfied with what you are, God wants to change you with the Holy Spirit, to make you into something new and good through Jesus. He looks at that debt that you can never pay up, and marks it “paid in full” through the blood of Jesus. Nothing you can do, think, or choose can make that happen, only trust in Jesus can pay that debt off. Because of that gift, we are able to belong fully to God as His most precious possessions, ones that He will cling to. Remember that. You are precious to God.

Jesus told the Jews that tried to corner him to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to give to God what is God’s. We may not like or agree with our Caesars, but we still need to give them their due, even if our Caesar doesn’t believe. However, it is that second part of what Jesus said that is much more difficult to do. “Give to God what is God’s” God created us in His image, so we ourselves belong to Him, but we can never give God His due on our own. Only through the price paid by Jesus are we able to fully belong to God in the Holy Spirit, and He will hold on to us as His precious possessions.

Let us pray. Lord, thank you for setting up worldly authorities to keep order in the world. They are not perfect, but they carry out your will. Lord give them your guidance and wisdom to govern justly. Lord thank you for sending your Holy Spirit after us so we can be your people, and for giving us faith in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross and paid the price for us to fully belong to you. Amen.

In Christ Alone

Intern Pastor Scott Adkins
Holy Cross Day A, 9/14/14
1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 3:13-18, Numbers 21: 7-9

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Hello everyone! It is great to be here with all of you on this Holy Cross Sunday, a day where we take a break from the Pentecost Season to reflect on the cross, and what it has meant for us and what it cost for Jesus.

In our first reading for the day, St. Paul said that the message of cross was “foolishness” to those that are “perishing.” That is, those that do not have life in Christ. To human understanding, what Christ did makes absolutely no sense. So I ask you instead. Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?

While we think about that, I heard a story about our predicament from Peanuts, when Charlie Brown went to see Lucy for her “psychiatric advice” for five cents.

Lucy said to Charlie Brown, “Discouraged again, eh, Charlie Brown?” “You know what your whole trouble is? The whole trouble with you is that you’re you!” Charlie asks, “Well, what in the world can I do about that?” Lucy answers, “I don’t pretend to be able to give advice…I merely point out the trouble!” Lucy speaks up, “You know what the whole trouble with you is, Charlie Brown?” Charlie answers, “No, and I don’t want to know! Leave me alone!” He walks away. Lucy shouts after him, “The whole trouble with you is you won’t listen to what the whole trouble with you is!”

As funny as Charlie Brown and Lucy can be, however, it is true for us. The problem is not what our sin is; how much we lie, cheat, lust, or steal. The problem is us. The problem is the sin itself that is ingrained within us at the deepest levels. In order for us to understand the work of the cross we have to understand ourselves and our sinful nature.

In his letter to the Church in Rome St. Paul reminded us (Romans 3:12) that in multiple places in Scripture (Psalm 14:3, 53:3, Ecclesiastes 7:20) we are told that everyone is a sinner. Everyone is guilty; there is no one who is good on their own. It’s a huge problem that all people have. The question is, how do we solve it?

The problem with us human beings is, that we want to solve our problems ourselves. The prideful streak in our sinful human nature says to us that we need to take care of all of our problems. After all, a real responsible adult cleans up their messes and fulfills their responsibilities. We can’t take away our sins, so what do we do instead? We try to make sure that the scale of good deeds vs bad deeds stays in our favor. How often have you heard something like that? “I suppose I’m a good person. I give to charity and I haven’t killed anyone.” We hope that will be enough for God when we stand before him one day. This is the “wisdom of the world” that St. Paul is talking about.

However, that doesn’t work with God. In the Old Testament the Prophet Isaiah says that our good deeds are like “filthy rags” before God. The good deeds that we are trying to rely on, our own human acts, mean nothing, and our sins are still there. There is no way for us to handle it on our own. The “wisdom of this world,” our determination that we must take care of the problem of sin on our own, does nothing for us. Heck, we can’t even choose to believe in God or Jesus! He even has to send the Holy Spirit to take care of that for us!

Like St. Paul said, no one is exempt from this. From the youngest baby to the Mother Theresa’s of the world, all of us are sinful enough to

warrant God’s judgment and both the heavenly and earthly consequences for our actions. Don’t believe me? Look at the baby? Has any parent here seen a young child, the most innocent of human life, throw a temper tantrum or not listen to the rules that Mom or Dad has set for them? Yeah, even babies are sinful too.

Thankfully for us, however, God does not leave high and dry. Jesus tells Nicodemus, the high ranking Jewish Pharisee that he is talking to in our Gospel lesson for today what God’s plan is. He says Jesus brings up a familiar story to Nicodemus, a rabbi who studied the Old Testament. He brings up a story about Moses, about how God saved the Israelites during their disobedience and sinfulness.

The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. (Numbers 21:7-9)

This was the story that Jesus was referring to. Yes, it, may seem a little weird, but it’s Israel’s history. In fact, it is because of this story that the symbol of the medical profession is a snake wrapped around a pole. In this story though,  Jesus is comparing himself to the snake and the Israelites to the people of his day. The Israelites, like the Jews ad Romans of the first century A.D., were disobedient to God. Even the Pharisees, those that were most devoted to following God’s Law, were only interested in the letter of the Law, not what God really wanted.

What happened in this story is what Jesus is really interested in. He tells Nicodemus that he, like the snake, must be lifted up for all to see. The result is that all who see the Lamb of God on the cross and believe will live, just like all of the Israelites who saw the snake being lifted up on Moses’s pole.

This is God’s solution to our problem. In the scale that we were thinking about earlier, this is God tipping it in our favor when we never could. This solution is that God sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

If you think about it, God’s solution to the problem of sin makes absolutely no sense to our human understanding. Think about it. In a world preoccupied with selfish gain, whose ultimate desire is for each person to save themselves, what sense does it make to save someone else at the cost of their own lives? It doesn’t make sense at all. We admire it. That is why when people risk their lives to save others we honor them with awards and medals. But when God does it for us? That sounds like foolishness to our human wisdom.

The irony is that it is not foolish. It works. That is how God destroyed the “wisdom of the wise.” He destroyed it on the cross. That what St. Paul means by “we preach Christ crucified.” We preach to the world that you cannot make up for your evil on your own. We preach Jesus Christ died for your sins. And when that seems like a laughable prospect, we show that it worked. That Jesus did create us into something new. Even though we are still sinners, Just like Pastor Ed told us a few weeks ago, we are “Simul Iustus et Peccator” Simultaneously a saint and a sinner. Even though we have life in Christ, we still are sinners. Because of that, in the words of Martin Luther, our namesake Reformer, “we have to drown the Old Adam, that is, our sinful selves, in the waters of our baptism daily.” The problem is, as one of my seminary professors once told me, that Old Adam is a heck of a swimmer!

This reality, of Jesus Christ being crucified and lifted up on a cross for all to see to put that Old Adam to death really seems like something foolish of Jesus to do. But however, the fact that it worked according to God’s will proves what St. Paul said, that the foolishness of God surpasses the wisdom of man. This fact is a stumbling block to all of those who don’t yet believe. As St. Paul said, it is a “stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.” The Jews couldn’t accept that God would save us on a cross personally like the snake that their ancestors saw, and the Gentiles could not believe God’s logic, so they called it foolishness. But to those who believe, both Jew and Gentile, we recognize it as the power of God which saves us from all sin and evil in the world and in ourselves.

The lifting of Jesus Christ on the pole of the cross is what saved us. In that act of sacrifice for us, God proved His love for us and took up all of the sin, all of the evil in the world that we can never erase on our own into himself and destroyed it forever. God did all of this without us even asking him to or expecting anything in return. None of it had anything to do with us and what we did or what we chose or what we decided. It was all up to Christ, who chose to love us by choosing the cross. Praise be to God for that Holy Cross that Christ chose for us. Amen.