John 8:31-36 Reformation Sunday (Observed)

The mere fact that we have a belly button reveals that we are connected to someone. We did not enter this world on our own. Our identities are initially determined by someone else. Most us probably know where that identity came from, in other words, we know our parents, were raised by them, and whether we like it or not we usually end up looking like them and sounding like them. But for those who do not know where they came from, like an orphan or one who was adopted, there is often this inner drive to find out where you came from, who you are. What is your identity?

 To have an identity is to be rooted. It is a human necessity. Since we had to come from somewhere and from someone, we have this need to know from whence we came so that we can deal with today and even begin to think about the future. Those who do not or cannot identify with anyone are called antisocial at best and psychopathic at worst.

Having an identity is so important. Why do you think soon-to-be-parents struggle through lists of names? What about if your identity has been stolen? Why is there such a feeling of violation if identity doesn’t matter?

Look, I think we can all admit that having an identity is important and necessary. But that doesn’t keep us from abusing or demeaning this reality. In the secular world your identity is boiled down to occupation, political party affiliation, or mere demographic data. By various identities, you are reduced to a unit of production or a unit of consumption. You don’t think so? Just think of how businesses no longer have Personnel Departments, they have Human Resource Departments. Because that is all you are, a human resource for the company, indistinguishable from a mechanical resource. You are identified as a unit of production to be used to sell something to all those units of consumption out there. Talk about psychopathic.

Even in the religious realm people like to have an identity. “I am Buddhist, I am an atheist, I am Jewish.” Within Christianity there all kinds of different identities; “I am a Catholic, I am a Lutheran, I am non-denominational.” And even those identifications can be misleading. How many people are baptized, and confirmed in the Lutheran Church and then soon after leave the church or go whoring after other heretical confessions, yet they still say that they are Lutheran? Maybe they haven’t darkened the door of a church for 20 years and have turned their back upon the Body of Christ, but, by God they identify themselves as Lutheran.  This is the kind of nonsense that Jesus addresses in our text this morning. Understanding your identity and where you came from and who belong to is at the center of the 8th chapter of John and at the center of the Reformation itself.

Jesus is making identifications and defining relationships. He is identifying who His disciples are and defining how they will relate to Him, and He to them. A disciple of the one true God is one who remains in the Word. Now to give you a better understanding of what that means in the Gospel of John, think of how the book starts. In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word is Jesus. Jesus is the walking talking Bible in the flesh. When a phrase like, “remain in the Word” is voiced, you might as well just say “remain in Jesus.” Well….wait a minute…Jesus does say that later in John 15. There and in John 6, He tells us that we remain in Him by having Him come to us and remain in us. He is the vine and we are the braches. Whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood will abide in Him and He in them, and have eternal life.

The other part of that opening statement Jesus makes, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” is also a self-reference. Again Jesus later in  John says that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. So let’s rephrase this whole statement; “If you abide in Me you are truly my disciples and you will know Me and I will set you free.”

Folks, your identity is in Christ. But the temptation to deny that identity is great. The Jews sought to identify themselves through Abraham. They could trace their genealogy back to him and they were circumcised, so in their minds, they were in like Flynn. They belonged to the house of promise, they were the sons of Abraham and Isaac, not sons of that half-brother slave Ishmael. They were sons of the house and were receivers of YHWH’s covenant of salvation. But our Lord Christ was sent first to the house of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and they perceived Him not. They drew their identity from their own mind and not from God. In reality, they enslaved themselves to themselves when Our Lord, all along, desired to free them from themselves by binding them to Himself.

 Sometimes you too are like the Jews here in the text. You seek to identity yourself. You would enslave yourself to things that you think are more important, like family, country, money, or the probably the biggest golden calf that is worshipped in our country, sports. You try to claim for yourself what was given by God. “This is my body, I can do what I want with it.” “This is my church and we do things this way.”

You want to create your own identity apart from our Lord, forgetting that it was our Lord who created and re-created you in His image and likeness. You desire to define your relationship with God. Your desire is to be like God, thinking that you know good and evil and judging everyone who does not fit into your parameters. You would enslave others to yourself but in reality all you do is enslave yourself to yourself. Stop it! Repent! This is not what you learned in Christ!

When you were baptized you became a true son and daughter of Abraham, for the same faith that Abraham was given, has been credited to you as well. Those who believe in the Son of God as Savior of the world and cling to the fruits of the cross are truly His disciples. At your baptism, the Lord placed His name upon you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You belong to Him. Your identity comes from Him. You do not belong to yourself, you belong to our Lord.

 And you remain or abide in Jesus because He freely gives Himself to you. Jesus enters into you through your ears via the Word that is read and proclaimed. He enters through your mouths and into your hearts. There is no closer communion with our Lord than in Holy Communion. By receiving the Son you receive the gifts of the Son and you are set free. You are free from the condemnation of the Law. You are free from the burden and guilt of sin. You are no longer slaves to it. Therefore, you are also free from paying the wages of sin which is death. Not even the tomb can enslave you. For our Lord Christ has defeated death and just like Christ, you too will be resurrected on the last day. The stone has been rolled away and the guards have been taken care of. The linen cloths that would bind you as Lazarus, have been set aside and folded neatly so that you walk out of the tomb as free as free can be.

All this freedom because our Lord freely gives it to you. There is complete and total freedom in being identified and defined by Christ. To search for something outside of Christ crucified is find enslavement. By your baptism, you belong to Him. Your identity is so wrapped up in Christ’s identity that the Father cannot even separate the two. For the Father looks at you cross-eyed. He sees the perfect, cruciform image of His Son upon you and you receive all the benefits that a son would receive. You are not a bunch of enslaved Ishmaels. You are Isaacs. You receive the full inheritance and are free because you are forgiven all of your sins; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.        

Sermon Luke 18:1-8 Proper 24C

Here is the proof text for the existence of prayer chains. The idea being that if you are persistent enough and if you can get some others praying with you, you can poke God awake and get Him off His butt and get Him to do something about the situation. After all this widow bothered and was even threatening to the judge, in order to get her way. I guess we should follow her example and wear God down with our constant prayers.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with persistent, intercessory prayer, or with prayer chains per se. What is wrong is to equate this parable of the widow with how we are to deal with God and pray to Him.

You see, Jesus has just given the disciples some pretty somber predictions. Now He is preparing them on how to endure the coming storm.

 Jesus uses this parable of a widow and an unrighteous judge as an argument from the lesser to the greater, this parable being the lesser.

It is the same rhetorical technique that Jesus uses when He offers the example of how a father is not going to give his hungry son a rock or a scorpion to eat. He will give him bread. And if an earthly, sinful father knows this, how much more will a loving, heavenly father provide? He will provide perfectly and abundantly.

The same kind of hyperbole is in this text. We have the worst possible judge imaginable. He fears neither man nor God. He is lazy, corrupt, and arrogant. Sounds like he would be a perfect fit for a courtroom controlled by the Mob.

 And speaking of Mob tactics, we see how this widow employs them. She is crying out for revenge. She wants that her enemies should get whacked. And if she doesn’t get her way, she is coming for the judge. Even this corrupt judge fears her. So, he decides to avenge her, without having heard the details of the case mind you, because he literally fears that she will give him a black eye. I know the English translation softens it a bit by saying, “so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” But literally the text says, “so that in not completing [her request], she might give me a black eye.” So even though the judge doesn’t fear God or man, he fears this widow and knows better than to go against the family.

 So again, this is the example we are to follow? This is what you base your prayer life on? Remember, this is the lesser part of the argument. Now hear the greater argument from our Lord, the judge of the unrighteous.

 Will not God avenge his elect, the ones crying out to Him day and night? The answer is no, He won’t. He will not avenge His elect or anyone else. He will die for them. He will forgive them. He will forgive your hostile threats and selfish cries. God has every right to declare justice against you and all of mankind, but instead He declares grace. He declares that you are forgiven.

Will He delay long over them? Yes, He will. He will delay so that all will come to know of His grace and mercy. I tell, our Lord would speedily give us what we deserve, EXCEPT the Son of Man has come.

When the Son of Man, Jesus, comes, the Father, the judge of the unrighteous, takes vengeance upon His righteous Son instead of you. Christ, who knew no sin became sin for you, so that you might become the righteousness of God. God avenges you by killing His Son! God takes your laziness, your corruption, your arrogance, and your threats and places them upon His Son and declares Him guilty and you free and clear! Wow! God seems to be even more corrupt than this judge. And thanks be to God that He is! This is the scandal of the Gospel. That though you were still sinners, Christ died for you.

So then the question is posed; will faith be found upon the earth? The answer is YES. Yes, because of Christ. Faith is found because the Lord gives it to us. And the faith He gives us has as its object Christ crucified. You were given that faith when you were baptized. When you were killed and resurrected with Christ. You no longer fear God’s Law, justice, and vengeance because Christ has taken it for you, and He in turn gives you His righteousness.

 And our Lord strengthens the faith you have received by giving you His very Body and Blood. Christ drank the cup of wrath, every, single drop. Now He offers you a cup of blessing. He drank unto judgment and death, now you drink unto freedom and eternal life.

 And so now, as one redeemed and cleansed you approach our Lord, not as a fist-wielding widow to a corrupt judge, but as dear children approaching their dear father. You are free to pray and petition your Father who loves you. And when you can’t even pray, His Holy Spirit prays on your behalf. For He is not a God who has to be poked and prodded and threatened to get off of His rear end and do something. When you are not persistent in prayer, He is persistent. When you pray and like Peter, James, and John, you fall asleep in Gethsemane; our Lord Christ is ever vigilant and prays for you. And He will always answer your prayers and you can know with certainty that He will always do what is best for you.

The relationship between you and God is not like a relationship between a lazy judge and an angry widow. Rather it is a one flesh union as a bridegroom and a bride. The bridegroom, Christ, always cares for, provides for, and glorifies His bride, the Church.

And folks, that means you! He will hear your prayers. He will answer your prayers. He will care for and provide for you in body and soul for better, for worse, in sickness and in health. He will never leave you nor forsake you. You sit at the right hand of the Father, in glory, with Christ and you have immediate and intimate access to Him. Access Him now and come to the Sacrament and have all your prayers answered, by receiving all that our Lord has to give you.  

Sermon Luke 17:11-19 Proper 23C

It seems kind of strange that we have this Gospel reading today. In another month it will be the Gospel reading for Thanksgiving. Talk about mixing up seasons! It’s kind of like when you go to Walmart now for Halloween decorations and you have to wade through the Christmas stuff to find anything.

But because this is the Thanksgiving Gospel reading, it is often held up as a mere object lesson. We tell this story to each other like we would to a child by saying, “See, Jesus always wants you to say thank you.” Now come on. If that is all this text is about then let’s pop in a Barney DVD and learn how to have good manners. There is far more to learn here than just learning to say thank you or even what it means to be thankful.

We set the scene with Jesus going into the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Hey, how about that? Incarnational language. God is in the midst of His creation. We do not worship a God who is afar off or at a distance. He is with us in the flesh.

Ten lepers are standing at a distance crying out for Jesus to mercy them. Yeah, you heard that correctly. In the Greek mercy is a verb. It is an action. “Jesus mercy me!” is the cry of the Gospels. And even though they are at a distance, Jesus hears them, sees them, and answers them. He comes to them in their uncleanliness and with a word makes them clean.

He tells the lepers to go to the priests at the Temple and present themselves for inspection so that they can be declared clean and rejoin society. Notice a couple of things here. First, Jesus makes the guys go to the priests. During the time of Jesus ministry, He might have gone round and round with the Pharisees and their teachings, but He never once criticized rites and ceremonies that went on at the Temple. Why is that? Well, He’s the one who set it all up in the first place. He is the one who commanded Israel to offer sacrifices at the Temple so that they would be cleansed from their sins and He also commanded lepers to present themselves to the priests so that they would be declared clean. Which leads to a second observation. In the Scriptures, cleanness is declared by someone other than yourself. Whether that means being declared clear of skin diseases or cleansed of your sins. Your salvation comes from outside of you.

But oh how we love to take this task upon ourselves. You have heard the comment or maybe even made it yourself, “Well, I’m a pretty good person overall. Sure I have some faults, but I do my best and I know God see that the good outweighs the bad.” Repent of such thinking. Repent of such arrogance, that you think you can stand before God and bargain with Him and in turn, declare yourself clean and worthy. Get over yourself!

Look at the text. ALL the lepers were cleansed. Even the ones who did not come back. This foreshadows Christ’s death which forgives all the sins of all mankind, whether they acknowledge it or not. Christ did not die for just a few who would believe, ALL sins were atoned for. From the speck in your brother’s eye to the plank in your own eye. Christ cleansed all 10 lepers. The cleansing was not dependent upon their coming back and giving thanks. They cried out for mercy to the one who can show them mercy and cleanse them. Don’t come down too hard on the 9 who did not come back. After all, they did just what Jesus told them to do.

But we can also learn what the Christian life is like by seeing how this Samaritan responds, for his actions mirror our own. Recognizing that he has been cleansed, the text says that he returns to Jesus glorifying God and falling at Jesus’ feet. Now an interesting word here, that word, ‘returned’. It is also the same word translated as repentance. Listen to this translation: “One from them, beholding that he was cured, repented with a great cry glorifying God.” It seems as though repentance is what glorifies God. Listen again: “He repented with a great cry glorifying God.”

Dear brothers and sisters, glorifying God is receiving what God has to give to us. Glorifying God is repenting of your sins and receiving the absolution that you are forgiven all of your sins. In Greek, repentance literally means to turn or return. This is who we are as Christians. We are constantly being returned to the Lord. Of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, the first one sets the stage; “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

And just so we are clear here, returning to the Lord, or repenting is not some hurdle you have to jump in order to get on God’s good side. As we know from the Scriptures and from the Confessions that repentance is also the Lord’s work upon us. Repentance has two parts. The first is contrition, sorrow over the sins you have committed, the confession of sins. Even the world gets this part. When someone does something wrong they fall all over themselves confessing their sins and try to make up for the wrong they have committed.

But what is unique to Christianity is the second part of repentance that makes it a work of God, and that is faith. Contrition and faith are the two parts of repentance. In other words, confession and absolution. For us, the confession of sins is not the big thing, it is the anticipation of the absolution. Only the Christian can look to the absolution, to the forgiveness of sins, to find comfort and relief. The world will rely on their own efforts to try to make amends, but it is the Christian who looks to the saving work of Christ. His life and death have paid for our sins and we participate in that forgiveness by faith. Faith is always receptive.

Go back to our Samaritan friend here. He is on his face eucharisting Jesus. Eucharist is the word for thanksgiving. Like this man, we come to the Eucharist, to Holy Communion, and are at the feet of Jesus. Jesus asks where the other 9 are. Not necessarily to condemn them somehow, but because His desire is that all people be saved and feast at His supper which is how God is glorified. Our Lord desires to say to all mankind what He says here to this Samaritan, “Rise up or resurrect, your faith has saved you.” Folks that what the Holy Supper does! That is why we have this connection in our text between eucharisting Jesus and hearing the words, ‘rise up, your faith has saved you.’ You feed upon the fruits of the cross. You feed upon the Body and Blood of Jesus and it gives you forgiveness. It resurrects you….each….and….every….time. Faith receives what the Lord has to give and it therefore saves you and resurrects you.

This whole narrative is a snapshot of salvation. Like the lepers you were once far off and our Lord sought you out and with His Water and His Word cleansed you. You are declared clean, you are forgiven. And as Christians, you turn or return to the Lord daily by confessing your sins and receiving His absolution. You kneel at His feet in the Holy Supper eucharisting Him, which entails bodily receiving Him, and therefore receiving forgiveness, eternal life and salvation. In the Sacrament of the Altar you are resurrected. Your faith strengthened. Not strengthened so that you can go out wield faith like some kind of instrument or weapon, remember faith is receptive. Rather, your faith is strengthened so that you can return like this leper and receive even more of God’s grace. Returning time and time and time again, until the end of time. To receive God’s grace by faith is how remain in the faith. To receive God’s grace by faith is to receive Jesus Himself, who on your behalf, glorifies the Father. So receive and be forgiven. Receive and be resurrected.