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Lenten Series (The Hard Sayings of Jesus)

Various

Rev. Alan Taylor

Epiphany 1, series A
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Thu, Jan 16, 2014 

Ash Wednesday St. John Galveston 2/13/02

The Hard Sayings of Jesus

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth”

Matthew 10:34

+ In Nomine Jesu +

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

There are a great number of paradoxes in the Scriptures, even as there are a great number of paradoxes in life.  A paradox, of course, is a seeming contradiction between two equally true statements. 

Perhaps the paradox in life that you and I are most familiar with is the one found within us, the contradiction of being at the same time a saint and a sinner.  You see, we who call ourselves Christians – are in fact, sinners.  We are children of Adam, born in sin, not able to do those things we should, would, could, and ought to do!  We cannot help ourselves out of the mire of our own condition.  Even our wisdom and strength fail us when it comes to coping with the sinful heart that we find to be so much a part of who were are.  As to this sinful condition, we are like all the rest of the world, possessing a heart that is only evil from our youth. 

And yet, and here is the paradox, we are at the same time Christ’s redeemed people!!  We are saved from the condemnation and the guilt of our sins for we are, in every sense of the word, forgiven.  The greatest and the most horrible of our depravity is taken away by Jesus, and the gulf, the huge chasm between us and God that our sin created has been bridged by the sublime power of Divine forgiveness. 

And so, you see, you and I are living contradictions.  A condition that leaves us not doubt struggling everyday of our lives, “for the good that would do we don’t do, but the very evil that we hate, this is what we do.” We would love to live in a world in which there are no paradoxes, but as long as there is sin and grace there will be people like you and me; sinners by right, and yet, saints by the grace of God. 

In Matthew 10 we find at least one half of another paradox in the words of our Lord.  In verse 34 of that chapter Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” Were Atilla the Hun to have said those words there would be no paradox here, but that savage warrior is not the author of them, rather they were spoken by Jesus, the “Prince of Peace,” who also said, “My peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you.” And thus the paradox.  If Jesus gives peace and if He is the Prince of Peace, as we know He is, how can He say, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword?”

The seeming contradiction in our Lord’s words is solved really in the proper division between the Law of God and the Gospel.  “There is a time for everything under the sun,” King Solomon wrote.  In terms of the Law of God and His Gospel there is a time to hear both.  There is time to hear the awful condemnation of God against sin and there is a time to hear the sweet consolation of sins forgiven.  To the person who is unrepentant, in other words, who either doesn’t believe they have committed sin, or who doesn’t sense any guilt or sorrow for their sin, there is not, nor should there be, any assurance of God’s grace or of His peace in their life.  To assure the hardened sinner of grace and peace is in effect to condemn him in the sin that he so denies - it is to rob him of the power of the word to cut through the masks of his life behind which he seeks to hide and to find refuge. 

In addressing sin the Word of God works like a sword, as the Apostle Paul writes, “sharper than any two-edged sword, it pierces as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” And having judged those thoughts and intentions the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit, literally robs the soul of peace.  No man who expects to live in his sin, to practice it, or even to deny it, will find peace in the God’s Word, but rather he will find there a sword.  “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”

And yet, and here is the paradox, while the Word of God is wielded as a sword, robbing the sinner of the peace that he hopes to find in the very midst of his sin, it also brings the crushed sinner Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace. 

Our soul, says Augustine, was created by and exists for God and is therefore never quiet till it rests in God. It is with a person’s soul as with Noah’s dove in the Great Flood. The dove, after it left the ark, found no rest for the sole of its foot in the world till it returned to the place from which it had come. So there is no sure rest for the fallen soul in the world till it returns to Him from whom it came.

You and I, as the living contradictions that we are, are called in this Lenten season to examine our hearts according to the Word of God, in other words, to examine our hearts with God’s Word as our guide.  Where we find petty anger, and resentment, and lust, and greed, and discontent, and fear, and worry, and the like, we will find too a certain lack of peace.  So it is that the Word of God has then worked its surgical strike in our hearts.

When that sword though has done its work, you, my friend, must flee to the only One in whom you will find peace.  Flee to His promise of grace and forgiveness.  Flee to this altar to receive Him and in His body and blood.  Flee to the other side of this paradox that we have before us tonight, to the Savior who says to you, “Peace of give unto you.  My peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give unto you….Let not your heart be troubled believe in God, believe also in Me.” In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

1st Mid-Week in Lent St. John Galveston 2/20/02

The Hard Sayings of Jesus

“A Camel Through the Eye of a Needle”

Mark 10:25

+ In Nomine Jesu +

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

Has there ever been a country, in the history of the world, whose people had what we have today?  I have studied a bit of history and I cannot think of a people who had the luxury, the convenience, the opportunities, the health-care, the science, as we do today.

We are the wealthy people of this world.  Even the poorest in our nation live at standards that many people in the world could only dream of.  We live in a world in which 62% of the people have never even used a telephone.  Most are living without freedom.  Most cannot worship in freedom. 

Yet, in our country, we don’t seem to be able to get enough.  The pop program “Who wants to be a Millionaire” captures millions of viewers all watching people guess their way to wealth.  Anna Nicole Smith, the embattled widow, confessed on a witness stand her outrage over the fact that her husband, while still living, was only permitted to spend $100,000 of his fortune on her at Christmastime.  We are the wealthy people of this world.

Some of the “Hard Sayings of Jesus” are hard for us precisely because they touch on a subject that is so close to home, and having done so, they create in our hearts certain concerns.  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Jesus said).” The saying is hard because, after all, you and I are the wealthy people of the world.  We are among the most blessed of all people in terms of material possessions.  Jesus’ words hit close to home and so they are hard words.  On the other hand, His words are hard because they seem to go against everything we have come to know and treasure about the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the free gift of forgiveness no matter a person’s status or his social standing. 

Are the rich condemned for their riches?  Are the rich destined for a life outside of the love of God by virtue of the fact that they are rich?  Is there greater virtue in poverty than there is in riches?  Jesus’ words spoken to the rich young man in Mark 10 answer those questions quite well for us.  If we could for moment, we need to take our focus off of the man’s riches though and put it on the condition of his heart, a condition made evident in the words of his mouth. 

The man’s heart is first revealed in the question that he asks Jesus.  “Teacher (he said), what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The question could have come from the heart of a man destitute of his own works seeking full pardon in the grace and mercy of Christ.  Jesus, however, knew that the question came from the heart of a self-righteous man seeking to justify himself before God.  What must I do to inherit eternal life?  Give me list Jesus, give me some guidance as the works I must do.

The condition of the man’s hearts is further revealed in the exchange that follows concerning the commandments of God.  Jesus says to him, “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.” The repentant sinner hears those commands and thinks to himself, “I have committed murder, for I have harbored anger in my heart against my neighbor.  I have committed adultery, for I have lusted after that which is not mine.  I have stolen, for I have failed to guard and to protect that which is my neighbors.” The repentant sinner hears the commands of God and by the Law working as mirror he sees his failings and he laments what he has done.

The rich ruler, however, heard the commandments and said, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Excuse me!!  How is that possible?  For “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Perhaps the man’s assessment of his heart, of his condition was a but a superficial one. 

Looking at the man, Jesus then went right to the heart of his sin.  He said, “one thing you lack; go and sell all that you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” With those words, the man’s face fell, and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property.  And Jesus, said, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! …It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Contrary to what the rich man thought he had in fact not kept all of the commandments of God, for he had fallen in the very first one – “thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” The man’s money was his god for it meant more to him than anything else in the whole world.  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

The rest of the disciples wondered, “who then can be saved?” To which Jesus said, and here is the key, “with men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” Salvation is not possible when left in the hands of men, for men will always choose something other than Christ.  But with God, all things are possible.  The salvation of the most hardened sinner is possible.  The salvation of the richest is possible, as is the salvation of the poorest.  The salvation of the mighty is possible, as is the salvation of the lowly and weak, for it all depends on God, not on men.  “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, and not of works lest any man should boast.”

Truly we are among the wealthiest people in all the world, that of course, by God’s grace.  We are also a people most blessed, for while our wealth would not, and could not buy us God’s love and forgiveness, or eternal life, He has none the less given those gifts to us in the person of His Son.  He has done the impossible for us in our lives.  He has drawn our hearts from the things of the world and focused them on the Cross and the things of heaven.  He has bought us and made us His own, “not with gold and silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

2nd Mid-Week in Lent St. John Galveston 2/27/02

The Hard Sayings of Jesus

“Whatsoever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven”

Matthew 16:18

+ In Nomine Jesu +

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

“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’”

It is somewhat puzzling that such a wondrous gift of God should be so hard for us to receive, but it is none the less.  Perhaps the most difficult thing about these words of our Lord is that the power to forgive and to retain sins is placed into the hands of men.  Oh, to be sure the power is given to the Church, but the voice of forgiveness is to proceed from the mouth of frail men who hold the Office of binding and loosing. 

We are living in an age in which there has been a resurgence in spirituality.  While fewer than 50% of Americans attend church on a given Sunday, a number, by the way, that hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years, studies suggest that as many as 90% pray, if not daily, at least on some regular basis.  It is not uncommon today for a person to say that they believe in god.  What is somewhat less common though is to hear a person define what they believe about God based on the clear Word of Scripture.  We are living in an age in which there has been this resurgence in spirituality.  And yet, in this age of new found spirituality there is more of an emphasis on the mystical quality of faith than on the concrete things upon which faith is built.  In other words, faith today is internalized.  Whereas it was once said that “a person who has not the Church for his mother cannot have God for his Father,” it is now said that the church is unnecessary baggage in the spiritual pilgrimage of life. 

The Church’s power to forgive and retain sins, that power given directly by Jesus is at odds with the spirituality of today.  As was the case with some in Jesus’ day, many will ask, ‘who can forgive sins but God alone?’ With such question and in such climate, the word of forgiveness is relegated to the word of silence, for Jesus’ forgiveness today is expected to be known, not through the spoken word and through the elements of the Gospel, but through the inner voice. 

If only that voice were perfect in all that it speaks.  The inner voice though is, of course, corrupted by the sin that corrupted all of creation.  And so one person can sin and at will and never sense the slightest condemnation from within, while another person does very little in terms of gross outward sin, and yet, his conscience will not let him rest.  He confesses his sin day and night, and yet, day and night he lives with the haunting fear that his confession has been insufficient, either in that it has been incomplete, or in that it has not been accompanied with insufficient torment of the soul. 

Years ago I listened to a radio call in program in which a pastor was giving council to people.  I remember one lady calling in to express a haunting guilt from which she could not escape.  I don’t recall now what the source of the guilt was, but that is not really important.  What stuck with though was the pastor’s counsel.  The woman talked about the possibility of going to her pastor to confess her sin, and the radio preacher stopped her and said, ‘why would you want to do that?’ He suggested that she had forgiveness from God whether or not she talked to her pastor.

It is true, she did have that forgiveness from God, but her conscience wouldn’t believe it!  She needed to hear it from the mouth of another person!  She needed proclaimed to her, as from the open portal of heaven!  So it is that Jesus has put His words into the mouth of men that they might assure the penitent sinner of their forgiveness in the sight of God.  “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Those are the words of our Lord, by those words we believe that “when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, especially when they exclude manifest and impenitent sinners from the Christian congregation, and again, when they absolve those who repent of their sins and are willing to amend, this is as valid and certain, in heaven also, as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us Himself.”

Granted, this is all a bit awkward according to the spirituality of our day.  But this is the way of our Lord.  He creates and nurtures the faith that is on the inside by what is on the outside.  In this case, He uses men to proclaim what He gives and commands.  Please don’t reject the word of forgiveness because it proceeds from the mouth of frail, sinful men.  For the power of forgiveness is not dependent on the faith of the one pronouncing that forgiveness but on the promise of God.  The absolution of even a godless preacher is valid.  A pearl remains a pearl, even though it be in the hand of a thief.  God’s forgiveness remains His forgiveness even though it proceeds from the mouth of the one in need of forgiveness.

Here then is the great gift of God, the Keys of heaven given to the Church.  Upon the rock of it’s confession of Christ, the Church will exercise that wondrous power of loosing and retaining sins, and though the spirit of the age would stand against that power, not even the gates of hell will ever be able to prevail against it.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

3rd Mid-Week in Lent St. John Galveston 3/6/02

The Hard Sayings of Jesus

“He who does not hate his father and mother…cannot be My disciple”

Luke 14:26

+ In Nomine Jesu +

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

Hate is such a destructive force.  It is one of the carnal passions that the Scriptures so often speak against.  “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh….now the works of the flesh are evident, which are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, HATRED…of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” And again, the Apostle speaks of the destructive nature of hate in the spiritual realm, saying, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

Hate is such a destructive force, so much so that it can bring even the soul to perdition.  Hate brought down two of the largest buildings in the world, sending thousands of innocent people to their death, even while others stood in the streets and cheered their demise.  On a less grand scale hate destroys families, marriages, and friendships. 

Hate is indeed a destructive force.  It is little wonder then that when Jesus says, “He who does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, cannot be My disciple,” that we count His words as one of the many hard sayings of our Lord.  Can it be that our Lord truly wants us to hate other people?  Hasn’t He already called us in the 4th commandment to “honor our father and mother?” Hasn’t He taught us by His own life to love others, to do unto others as we would have others do unto us?  Hasn’t He, in fact, called us to love even our enemies and those who persecute us, those who revile us and who hate us?  Hasn’t He Himself loved even those who crucified Him?  Indeed, “He came unto His own and His own received Him not,” and yet, “the Father has laid on Him the iniquity of us all…and by His stripes we are healed.”

How then does Jesus set hatred of those nearest and dearest to us as a qualification for discipleship?  In answering the question there is somewhat of a danger of discounting or of softening the words of Jesus such that their intent is minimized, that, of course, we do not wish to do.  In short however, Jesus does not call us to hate anyone in the traditional sense of the word hate.  He doesn’t call us to live toward others with that which rises up out of our carnal nature.  Rather He uses the word hate here in a comparative sense.  The comparison being, our love for Him verses our love for all other things in the world, such that our love for father and mother, wife and children, sister and brother is to be as hatred when compared to our love for our God. 

Jesus’ call to discipleship, you see, begins with the issue of the first commandment.  When fire reigned down from Mt. Sinai God began to state His Laws for His people by saying, “you shall have no other gods before Me.” There is a bit of significance to that statement coming first among the ten.  And it wasn’t a suggestion either - it was a command.  Too often we think we have the commandments mastered, or in hand, when in fact, our stumbling is generally over the very first commandment.

To elaborate on the first commandment and to give it its due, Jesus says, “He who does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, cannot be My disciple.” Meaning nothing can come between you and your God!! If something else is first in your life, then God is, at best, second and that simply cannot be.  In comparison to your love for God all other loves are to be as hatred.

In that sense this hard saying of Jesus becomes a bit more understandable, but still no easier to fulfill.  How many of us have mastered the command to love God above all things?  How many us could, or would, put God first at all times, even above our fathers and mothers, our spouse, our children, our siblings?  How many of us have mastered the command to love God above all things?

And yet, here we are – the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, plodding along, yet so often failing miserably.  How does our Lord count us His disciples then, since we have not kept this first of His qualifications for discipleship?  Last Wednesday we considered Jesus’ words to the rich man who wanted to gain eternal life by what he did in his life – in others words, he wanted to buy eternal life.  Remember, Jesus said, to him, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” And when the disciples heard those words, they said, “who then can be saved?” Do you remember Jesus’ response?  “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Our Lord counts us his disciples by virtue of His own virtue.  Surely our love for our God often falls short of our love for others who are so close to us in life, and yet, Jesus has taken the good stand in our place.  He loved His mother Mary greatly, and yet, He loved His Father still more.  He loved Lazarus so much so that He stood and wept, He wailed at Lazarus death, and yet, He loved His Father still more.  John was the disciple that Jesus loved.  He took John with Him to the Mount of Transfiguration to see His glory and John was there with Him, reclining on His chest when Jesus took His last supper with the disciples, and yet, He loved His Father still more. 

Your fulfilling of the Law, my friends, is wrapped up in Jesus’ fulfilling of the Law.  What He did in life - He did for you, and what He did in death - He did for you.  “Oh, how great is the love of the Father toward us, that we should be called children of God.” How great is the love of the Father toward us that we should be able to call Him Father and to have such a Father to love.  We love because He first loved us, with a love so great that all other loves in our life would be counted as but hatred.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

4th Mid-Week in Lent St. John Galveston 3/13/02

The Hard Sayings of Jesus

“Lead Us Not Into Temptation”

Matthew 6:13

+ In Nomine Jesu +

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

In response to His disciple’s request Jesus taught them how to pray.  First, He taught them a couple of lessons about employing godly piety in prayer.  He said, “when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand a pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men.  Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” Prayer is not for a show of might, or of position, nor is it an evangelism tool.  Rather, prayer is for the “prayer closet,” to be offered up in humility to the God of all grace who hears and answers prayer.

Jesus addressed too the subject of vain repetition in prayer.  “when you are praying (He said), do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.”

“But you, when you pray, pray in this way….” And then Jesus proceeded to give them the perfect prayer, His prayer.  You and I are, of course, very familiar with that prayer.  We learned it even as a young child.  We have prayed it in worship and in our “prayer closets” over many years.  We have come to find peace even in the mere speaking of the words of the prayer.  We find joy in addressing God as Our Father, who is in heaven.  We long for the coming of His kingdom, both in the hearts of men and at the end of all time.  We struggle at times to live in God’s will, and yet, we in obedience pray that God’s will be done, knowing that His will is always good and right and perfect.  We humbly thank Him for our daily bread, knowing that all that we have is a gift of His kindness.  And perhaps most especially we thank Him for the forgiveness of our sins, and we ask Him to change us such that our forgiveness of others would flow from us as freely as His forgiveness flows to us. 

And then we come to the words of the prayer before us tonight, the seventh of the petitions that we ask of God.  “And lead us not into temptation.” The first notion that we must dispel is that God would in some way lead us into temptation resulting in our harm.  The Apostle James deals with that subject when he writes, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” God never tempts us to evil.  For sure, He allows various temptations to come into our lives, but always with our good in mind. 

When we pray in this petition, “lead us not into temptation,” we are really asking God for two things.  One, that He would take providential charge of our lives such that He would keep us out of situations in life in which our faith would not be able to endure.  And second, that if He allows temptations to come our way, that we may, in the end, prove victorious over them by the His power. 

Many are the times that God has kept us from situations in life that, because of the weakness of our faith, we would not be able to endure.  The disciples, for instance, were commanded to remain in Jerusalem after Jesus resurrection, until they had received power from on high.  That power, of course, came on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon them in the form of fire.  Not until they had received that blessing on the day of Pentecost would the disciples be able to withstand the rigors of proclaiming the Word of the Gospel and of leading the Church in faith.  Jesus then held them back because they weren’t ready for what was to come.  This our God has so faithfully done in our own lives in response to our ardent prayer, “lead us not into temptation.”

Other times God has allowed temptations to come into our lives, He has even allowed the temptation to become intense, so intense that we believe we will succumb to it, and yet, in the midst of that temptation He has strengthened us such that we endure the trial.  Again, remember Simon Peter, who in great anguish of soul, heard the rooster crow as he denied his Lord three times?  For Peter the temptation to despair grew intense.  In the midst of those dark nights of the soul, between Jesus’ death and His resurrection, Peter could have easily succumbed to the prince of darkness, he could have easily forsaken the forgiveness of Christ, that was intended for him.  Yet, by God’s grace, he stood strong in the faith.  Peter, Jesus said, “do you love Me more than these?” When Peter said, “Lord, you now that I love You,” then Jesus said, “feed My sheep.” Jesus allowed Peter to be tempted even to the brink of despair, and yet, in the end he was strengthened and even commissioned to serve.  These things too our God has so faithfully done for us in response to our ardent prayer, “lead us not into temptation.”

In this life we are assaulted from many directions by all sorts of temptations.  Some come from within, from that old sinful nature that clings to us this side of heaven – others come from the allure of the world, and still others come from the devil Himself.  Left to our own devices we would, without a doubt, be destined to defeat.  One, however, as gone before us, who understands our temptations, who has Himself been tempted in every way as we are, and yet, without sin.  In other words, my friends, Jesus knows all about what you endure in life.  He knows the emotional struggles, as well as the physical ones.  He knows the spiritual battles that await you everyday. 

And because He knows what so easily assails us, we implore Him to “lead us not into temptation.” And the One who has been there Himself, leads us through what would otherwise destroy us, leaving only that part of the temptation that will make us stronger.  “If I live longer, (wrote Martin Luther) I certainly want to write a book on temptations, for without these a man cannot appreciate Holy Scripture, faith, or the fear and love of God; nay, he who has never been in temptations cannot know what it means to have hope.” Of those temptations, our God leaves only that part that will make us stronger.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

5th Mid-Week in Lent St. John Galveston 2/20/02

The Hard Sayings of Jesus

“If you have faith as a mustard seed…”

Matthew 17:20

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Tonight is the last of the mid-week services in Lent, leaving only Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to conclude this series on the hard sayings of Jesus.  Tonight we have before us our Lord’s words in Matthew 17:20, “assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

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

What does it say about our faith if faith as small as a mustard seed can uproot and move mountains?  On the one hand Jesus’ words are an indictment of our weak faith, aren’t they?  The disciples couldn’t cast a demon out of a man because their faith was weak – “if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” The disciples though, those great paragons of faith, those that we look up to and admire for their faith, couldn’t do it, they couldn’t cast out the demon. 

Has anyone though ever literally moved a mountain by his faith?  I mean, in the history of the world has it ever been recorded that a man or women of faith said to mountain ‘move from here to there,’ and it moved?  Certainly there have been great feats of faith accomplished in the history of the world – rivers have been parted, whole nations have been defeated with but a handful of warriors, and walls of rock and stone have been toppled by the mere shout of the faithful.  But, has anyone ever literally moved a mountain by his faith? 

It would appear then that no one’s faith has ever been as great as even a mustard seed; not Abraham’s, not King David’s, not the Apostle Paul’s or even the Apostle Peter’s, whose confession of Jesus laid the foundation upon which the entire Church would be built. 

This tells us something about faith and its power in our lives.  While faith is always perfect, because it is after all the gift of God, faith is always placed into imperfect vessels, vessels of clay, Scripture says.  You and I never believe perfectly enough to say to a mountain ‘move from here to there.’ It is not that we don’t want to believe perfectly, we simply don’t, in many ways because we can’t.  We are at all times this confusing mixture of faith and unbelief, of confidence and worry, and of certainty and doubt.  We are, as the hymnist writes, “sorely tried, cast down…perplexed by fears on ev’ry hand.” Such are you and I, vessels of clay that are so easily broken. 

And yet, Jesus always calls us to look toward a stronger faith.  He always calls us to step out in faith, to trust in Him more and more each day.  We don’t live with weak faith, rejoicing that we can do no better, rather, we earnestly seek stronger faith, imploring our God in prayer to strengthen our faith, turning to His Word and His Sacraments as the source of that faith.  We, as one of the prayers of the Church says, “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Holy Scriptures,” so that by them we may grow in faith and in the hope of everlasting life.

So, on the one hand Jesus’ words to us tonight are an indictment of our weak faith.  They are words that move us to yearn for more faith, to ask in humble submission, “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.” On the other hand though, Jesus’ words to us tonight remind us of the great power of faith, assuring us that even faith that is smaller than a mustard seed is sufficient to do great things in the kingdom of God.  His words remind us too that it is the smallest of faith that reaches out to take hold of the grace and blessings of His Cross, finding salvation in Him and in Him alone. 

While it is true that cannot think of an instance in history in which a person, by faith, uprooted and moved a mountain, we can, none the less think of many people who have gone before us in the faith, who have now joined the celestial choir, singing with angels and archangels the praises of the God who saved them from their sin.  Our brothers and sisters are among the faithful, as are our mothers and fathers, our spouses, and friends.  Having been transferred from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant they now reap the reward of the faith that they clung to in this earthly life.

In that respect, we can thank God tonight that when we stand before Him on the last day, when we are judged with the living and dead, He will not ask us how many mountains we moved by the power of our faith.  Instead, He will receive even the weakest in faith, those who didn’t uproot and move mountains, and yet who found solace in life in simply being able to cry out day by day saying, Kyrie Elieson – Lord, have mercy.  Lord, do not let my sins condemn me, but wash me, as with the blood of the lamb.  Make my sins that are as scarlet to be as white as snow.  Separate them from me as far as the East is from the West.  Hide them in Your sinlessness and in Your holy wounds.  “I believe Lord, help thou my unbelief,” and though my faith is smaller than a mustard seed, be pleased to receive that which you have given and that which you have nurtured in my life.  If a mountain were an obstacle to my salvation, to my spending eternity with you, Lord, I know that you would move that mountain, for nothing is impossible for You.

What does it say about our faith if faith as small as a mustard seed can uproot and move mountains?  On the one hand, it says that our faith can always grow stronger than it is.  On the other hand, it says that even the weakest faith is powerful to save.  Thanks be to God.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Maundy Thursday St. John Galveston 2/28/02

The Hard Sayings of Jesus

“This Is My Body”

I Corinthians 11:24

+ In Nomine Jesu +

As we continue this series on the Hard Sayings of Jesus we have before us tonight the word’s of our Lord recorded by the three evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke and repeated by the Apostle Paul.  “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

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

It is, of course, somewhat remarkable that these words - this is My body - should be included among the Hard Sayings of Jesus, that they should be included among sayings such as “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven,” or “he who does not hate his father and mother, brother and sister, and his own life cannot be My disciple.” After all these particular words of Jesus certainly are not “hard” because they are unclear – THIS IS MY BODY, Jesus says.  Nor are they “hard” because they are derived from the Law of God, commanding us to do something that we lack the will and power to do, or that we are so often lax in doing.  Rather, they are “hard” simply because men often lack simple trust and faith to receive the gifts and the blessings of Jesus in all their many and varied forms.

As is His way, Jesus touches you with His grace in so many different ways.  In your baptisms, for instance, your sins were washed away and you were made a child of God, not because you chose Him, not because you reasoned faith to be the sensible thing, not because you chose life over death, but because He chose you.  Weighed down with sins, any single one of which carried the power to condemn your soul to hell, Jesus lifted those sins from you carrying them in His own body to the Cross.  For those sins He bled and died, in order that His Father’s wrath would be absorbed in Him and not in you.  And that blessing of forgiveness, purchased and won for you on that Cross, He first gave to you in the water of your baptism.  You came, perhaps cooing or even wailing, as children are apt to do, and He used simple elements, a frail preacher, and faithful parents, and with the washing of water He was pleased to call you His own dear son or daughter, for there He transferred you from the kingdom of darkness into His everlasting kingdom - there He said, “I have bought you with a price, behold you are mine.”

It would be enough, of course, for Jesus to distribute His grace to you only in that water of baptism, but, as is His way, He touches you with His grace in so many different ways.  I’m not suggesting that His grace is to be found where people are often deluded to believe that it can be found – in the quiet of a forest, for instance, or in the gentle lapping sound of waves on the beach – but His grace is to be found where He has most clearly placed it, namely, in the Word of Scripture, for it is that Word that testifies of Him.  “In the beginning was the Word, writes St. John, and the Word was with God and the Word was God….And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full GRACE and truth.” “For by GRACE you are saved through faith, writes the Apostle Paul, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God and not of works lest any man should boast.” Grace is an indispensable element of God’s Word, such that, where His Word is found, there is the grace of God in Christ Jesus. 

Would not baptism and the Word be enough to demonstrate God’s love for you and to create and sustain faith in you?  Certainly they would, but Jesus has chosen to give you His grace in an even more magnificent way.  Actually, because we are so apt to forget the past and to doubt that which enters our heart through the ear, in other words, because we are so apt to doubt God’s spoken Word, He has given us His grace in His own person, in His very body and blood. 

Given this bread, you are not given bread only, for Jesus says, THIS IS MY BODY.  It is not a hard saying, it is a marvelous saying.  Heaven and earth come together here as Jesus breaches time and space in order to come to you, bringing you forgiveness and life.  While you can and do, from time to time doubt the forgiveness of Christ spoken to you through His Word, here in this most holy meal you are handed, you are fed that forgiveness.  Are you a forgiven child of God?  What have you received here, in the very body of Jesus, but forgiveness? 

Johann Gerhard, in his reflections on the mystery of the Lord’s Supper, writes, “behold, in this holy supper, more than a paradise; for here the soul of the creature is spiritually fed with the flesh of his almighty Creator.  The conscience is cleansed from all its guilty stains in the blood of the Son of God.  The members of Christ, their spiritual head, are nourished with His own body; the believing soul feasts itself at a divine and heavenly banquet.  The holy flesh of God, which the angelic hosts adore in the unity of the divine nature, before which archangels bow in lowly reverence, and before which the principalities and powers of heaven tremble and stand in awe, is become the spiritual nourishment of our souls.  Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad, but still more let the believing soul exult and sing for joy, to whom God gives such an unspeakable gift!”

THIS IS MY BODY, says Jesus.  His words are not “hard,” rather, they are marvelous.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Good Friday St. John Galveston 2/29/02

The Hard Sayings of Jesus

“Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

+ In Nomine Jesu +

In some ways we don’t expect words like this to come from the mouth of our Savior, and yet, they do, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” At first we wonder if Jesus had a temporary lapse in memory - has He forgotten what He is on that Cross for?  Is He delirious?  Is He perhaps scared?

It would be wrong, of course, to suggest that Jesus was not truly forsaken by His Father as He hung from the Cross, for He was in every sense forsaken.  The Father turned His back on His own Son because His Son had become sin.  How could the Father even look at Him when, as Scripture says, “His eyes are too pure to behold evil?”

It would be wrong to suggest that Jesus was not truly forsaken by His Father – He was - so that clinging to Him and His righteousness you will never be forsaken by God.  But His words from the Cross serve another purpose too, namely to point us to another part of Scripture. 

In Jesus’ day the Psalms were not numbered.  Chapter and verse numbers came into being only when movable type was invented around the time of the Reformation.  As we do with songs and hymns, a Psalm was known by the its first line. 

As He hung from the Cross Jesus was not having a moment of last minute regret or doubt, rather He was pointing us to Psalm 22, where the first line reads, “My God, My God why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

Psalm 22 is a Psalm of King David, and yet as we read it we understand that it is Messianic in nature, meaning it is descriptive of the Messiah’s suffering and death. 

6.  But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.

7.  All who seek Me mock Me; they hurl insults, shaking their head:

8.  He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue Him.  Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him.

9.  Yet you brought Me out of the womb; you made Me trust in you even at My mother’s breast.

10.  From birth I was cast upon You; from my mother’s womb You have been My God.

11.  Do no be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

12.  Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle Me.

13.  Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against Me.

14.  I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint.  My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within Me.

15.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue sticks to the roof of My mouth; You lay Me in the dust of death.

16.  Dogs have surrounded Me; a band of evil men has encircled Me, they have pierced My hands and feet.

17.  I can count all My bones; people stare and gloat over Me.

18.  They divide My garments among them and cast lots for My clothing. 

Do you see Jesus – His suffering, Passion and death?  This is a Psalm written by God through King David, of the afflicted One, Jesus, who atones for sin by His innocent suffering and death.  God telling the story of the Savior, hundreds of years before it happens.

It is a durge, a sad psalm with hope.

I challenge you to read this Psalm sometime this weekend, before Easter Sunday morning, in order to see what God has done for you in His Son.  Jesus gave you a clue, if you will, He said this outloud for your sake, so that you could read what He was thinking in that awful moment of His death.

This afflicted One, was forsaken and smitten and stricken as the Sacrifice for your sin.  It is finished, means just that!  It is finished!  You are forgiven, you are saved, you are free!  Salvation is complete!  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +





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