Monday, July 6, 2020

Rest for the Weary

Jesu Juva

St. Matthew 11:25-30                                                              

July 5, 2020

Proper 9A                                                                 

 Dear saints of our Savior~

          Are you weary?  Are you burdened?  Are you laboring beneath a heavy load?  Are you in need of rest?  I suspect a lot of us would answer those questions with a resounding “yes.”  That’s us.  We are weary and burdened, stressed-out and burned-out.  You know the symptoms—pushing hard but not getting the hoped-for results.  You can’t seem to muster your enthusiasm the way you used to.  Even the fun stuff in life just seems kind of ho-hum.  Been there, done that.

          Everyone feels that way sometimes; but did you know that the followers of Jesus are especially susceptible to burn-out?  It’s true.  Being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t give you a special immunity to burn-out.  Being a disciple of Jesus isn’t easy, but difficult.  As Jesus often said, “If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me.”  Christians are cross-bearers.  And all that cross-bearing can sometimes lead to deep weariness and burn-out.

          Now this might surprise you, but not all burn-out is bad.  There is a proper place for weariness in the Christian life.  In fact, part of the reason God gives us His Law and Commandments is to grind us down to nothing and drive us to despair of ourselves.  The Law of God is more than just nice rules to live by.  It does more than just “show” us our sin.  The Law magnifies our sin—amplifies it—causes us to cry out with St. Paul, “What a wretched man I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

          Are you with me so far?  The Law of God is good and wise; but part of the Law’s goodness and wisdom is that it burdens us and wearies us.  It works like this:  You know God wants His Law kept perfectly.  But you—you can’t keep the Law perfectly no matter how hard you try.  And the harder you try, the less of the Law you wind up keeping. 

          The passage we heard earlier from Romans 7 is a horribly accurate portrayal of the battle that rages every day in all who follow Jesus:  We have the desire to do what is good; but we can’t do it!  The good things that we want to do and should do—these aren’t the things we do.  Instead, it’s the bad things—the evil things—the sinful things we know we ought to avoid—these are the very things that we end up doing.  If that doesn’t lead to weariness and burnout and despair, I don’t know what does.

          So what do you do?  What do you do when the things you do are the very things you hate?  When you want to be loving, but anger comes spilling out?  When you want to be thankful, but resentment and jealousy are what you feel?  What do you do when you want to do good, but evil always worms its way into the picture?  You know you shouldn’t do that, but you do it anyway.  You know you really ought to do that, but you never quite get around to it.  What do you do?

          Some people—some Christians—essentially give up.  They’re weary of discouragement and failure.  They’re tired of trying harder, so they don’t try at all.  “I’ll just do my best and live my life as I please, and hope for the best.  I’ll try not to hurt anyone, mind my own business, be nice to animals.  I’ll recycle.  I’ll reduce my carbon footprint.  I’ll put a sign in my yard to signal my virtue to everyone.  But I’m just not going to worry about “do’s” I can’t do and “don’ts” I can’t stop doing.”  That’s where some people are at.

          But what do you do when the Law has its way with you—when you realize with Saint Paul that by nature nothing good lives in here?  You can give up.  You can pretend otherwise.  You can just aim to do your best (which will never be good enough).  Or, you can embrace the burnout and welcome the weariness, and, then, take it all to Jesus.

          Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me—that I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  Are you weary, burdened, and needing rest?  Come to Jesus.  Hear that invitation and take it to heart.  Jesus wants us to come to Him—wants your weariness and your wretchedness and your burn-out.  He wants you.  This is why He came.  This is why Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary.  This is why He still comes to us in the Word and sacraments.  He wants us to come to Him with our burdens and burn-outs and all the heavy lifting we try to do.  Jesus wants to give us rest.

          It seems so basic, doesn’t it—so simple, really?  Come to Jesus.  Trust Jesus.  Let Jesus shoulder your burdens.  And yet, we refuse to believe it, refuse to trust it, and choose to burden ourselves needlessly.  Jesus Christ bore your sins on the cross; why are you trying to bear them for yourself?  Jesus Christ bore the burden of your shame and guilt in His death; why are you still holding onto these things?  Beloved in the Lord, when Jesus says “Come to me,” He’s talking to sinners—poor, miserable, wretched, sinners—and not to good, pious, commandment-keepers.  He’s talking to me and you.

          Come to me . . . and I will give you rest.  That, my friends, is a promise from the Savior—an unconditional promise with no ifs, ands, buts or asterisks.  So take it to heart.  All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus, who died and rose from the dead.  His Word is sure and certain.  You’re not walking alone when you come to Jesus.  “Take my yoke upon you,” He says.  He’s bound Himself to you with that yoke of His.  You and Jesus—you’re like a couple of oxen yoked together, pulling a plow.  And that yoke of His is not two tons of commandments.  No, His yoke is easy, and His burden is light because He bears the burden for you.  Jesus shoulders the heavy load, and you just walk along like a little kid tagging along with your older, bigger brother.  Jesus carries the load as the two of you walk together. 

          Come to Jesus, for He is gentle and lowly in heart.  He isn’t an overbearing, demanding deity requiring sacrifices.  He’s the Savior, the Shepherd, the Redeemer of the world.  He’s not that interested in what you can do for Him.  His interest is in you.  He wants you.  He wants you to come to Him with your burdens, with your cares, with your sorrows, your brokenness, your burnout, your anger, your lost-ness, your doubting, your sins.  He wants it all.  Everything that you carry around every day.  He wants it all beneath the yoke of His cross where your every burden was carried by Him.

          Come to Jesus in His Word.  Hear what He has to say to you.  The wise and learned—they don’t get it.  But listen like a child, trusting and believing what the Lord says.  Come to Jesus in the power of your baptism.  You can draw upon that power every day—power to own up to your sin, confess it, and receive the cleansing of His absolution.  Come to Jesus at this altar where Jesus wants to refresh you with His holy Supper for the forgiveness of sins.  Here you will find faith to follow Jesus and to fervently love one another.  Jesus says, “Come to me,” and you can’t come any closer to Him than when you receive Him in His body and His blood.

          Weariness and burnout are not the end of the story for you, for me, for all the people of God.  For we have been delivered.  We have been rescued from this body of death—by the body of Jesus given into death for us, raised from the tomb for us, and now reigning at the right hand of the Father—for us.  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

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

Monday, June 29, 2020

Focus on the Family


Jesu Juva
St. Matthew 10:34-42                                                               
June 28, 2020
Proper 8A                                        

Dear saints of Our Savior~
          I love my wife.  I love my son.  I love my daughter.  I love my mom and my step-dad.  I love my sisters and my sisters-in-law and my brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews.  I love them all—my family.  But I’m not expressing anything unusual here.  I mean, you love your family too, don’t you?  Love for family is as normal as fireworks on the fourth of July.  It’s God who gives us our family.  Family is God’s gift to you; and you are God’s gift to your family.
          Today Jesus puts the focus on the family.  Family is the foundation of human life.  Our families teach us.  Our families protect us.  Family is the sacred space where children are conceived and raised.  The second table of the Law begins with God’s gift of family:  Honor your father and your mother.  Luther goes so far as to write in his Large Catechism that “God has exalted the estate of parents above all others; indeed, He has appointed [parents] to be His representatives on earth.”
          Perhaps this is why Jesus’ words in today’s Holy Gospel sound so outrageous.  Today Jesus describes our family members as enemies!  “Do not think I have come to bring peace on earth,” Jesus said.  “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword . . . to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”  There’s a radical statement for you.  The Christian church teaches the beauty and value of family.  But the church’s Founder—He says, “The members of your own family—well, they just might be your enemies.”
          And that statement might just be hyperbole.  Jesus did that sometimes—exaggerated to make an important point—made an extreme statement so that He could highlight an important truth.  It’s like the time when Jesus said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.”  That’s hyperbole.  Jesus isn’t advocating self-mutilation; but He is saying that it’s better to go through life one-handed than to spend eternity in hell. 
          There’s at least a little hyperbole in today’s focus on the family.  After all, Jesus certainly did not come with the express purpose of turning family members against one another.  Jesus came to save His people from their sins.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  Jesus came to give us life that lasts forever.  But sometimes the result of Jesus’ work in our lives—the net effect—can be conflict in the family.  Sometimes the new life that Jesus gives is in direct conflict with the family life we’ve all come to know.  And division sometimes results.  This is why Jesus went on to clarify:  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
          Peace among family members is a good thing.  In fact, Jesus desires that there be peace and harmony in every family.  But that peace can never be achieved by turning away from Jesus and His Word.  But too often that’s the kind of peace we aim for.  We aim merely to “keep the peace” among family members.  And we do it by setting aside Jesus and His will for our family members.  But this kind of peace is really no peace at all.  It’s a declaration of war against God.  It’s a sham peace that puts a shiny veneer over the sins of the family.  Let me give you some examples . . . .
          Peace in the family is just a sham when we see family members headed for divorce, but we don’t do a thing to bring help and healing to that marriage because that’s none of our business (and we have to keep the peace).  Peace in the family is just a sham when parents don’t help their children make God-pleasing choices when it comes to relationships and movies and music—when parents refuse to say “no” because they want to avoid conflict and “keep the peace” and be a friend instead of a parent.  Peace in the family is just a sham when grandpa (a widower) decides to move in together with his new lady friend without getting married—and no one says a thing in order to keep “peace” in the family.  Peace in the family is a sham when the use of porn is tolerated in the family—because confronting the sin might lead to conflict (and we have to keep the peace at all costs).
          Beloved in the Lord, this kind of peace isn’t just a sham; it’s a shame.  And it can be a damning shame.  When we fear confronting a family member more than we fear Almighty God—when our desire to avoid conflict is greater than our desire to speak up for the well-being of a family member—when we settle for being peace-keepers instead of being peace-makers—we are sinning.  Peace-makers also have to be risk-takers.  Making the kind of peace that pleases God necessarily involves risk—risking conflict, risking hard feelings, and risking rejection.  But by refusing the risk—by refusing to speak the truth in love we are sinning against our family.  We are sinning against God who is the Giver of families.  It’s a sham.  It’s a shame.  It’s a refusal to take up our cross and follow Jesus.
          Nowhere do we need Jesus more than when it comes to our own flesh and blood.  And this is precisely why Jesus Himself took our human flesh and blood.  This is why He joined our human family as the Son of Mary.  When you keep quiet to avoid conflict and confrontation, remember Jesus who spoke up and walked headlong into conflict and confrontation and crucifixion.  When you don’t want to take the risk to rescue a family member, remember how Jesus risked everything to rescue you—how He took up His cross so that He might bring forgiveness of sins to every member of your family—so that He might give your family a peace that is real and grounded in truth.  You simply need to repent of loving family more than Jesus—of treating family members as gods instead of gifts.
          We all fail our families everyday.  There’s probably not a day that goes by that we don’t sin against the members of our families.  And no one sees our sins in a more up-close-and-personal way than the members of our families.  Jesus wants your family to enjoy the genuine peace that He earned by the shedding of His blood.  For all the times we have failed our family members, there stands Jesus who was forsaken by His heavenly Father as He hung from the cross.  For all the times we have feared or loved our family more than we have feared and loved God, there stands Jesus who was unafraid to love you by carrying His cross and enduring the shame, the scorn, the nails.
          Jesus endured it all because He loves you and He wants you in His family forever and ever.  Your baptism was the moment of your adoption into the Savior’s family.  There you received His forgiveness for your sins, all His good for all your bad, His life instead of the death you deserve. 
          The Savior who made you a member of His family, has also given you your earthly family.  And we don’t love our family any less by loving Jesus more.  In fact, the deeper our love for God, the deeper our love for our children, our parents, and our spouses will be.  Our love for our family members goes off the rails into idolatry not when we love them too much, but when we love them too little.  For how can love be true love when it’s working against the God who is love? 
          Our job as family members is not to keep the peace, but to live in the peace that Jesus died and rose to secure for every family.  Living in that peace begins here in the Divine Service.  It’s only as we ourselves each receive the forgiveness of Christ that we can then take that forgiveness home and share it with our families throughout the week. 
          Families that enjoy the genuine peace of Jesus will still have conflicts.  But those family feuds are followed by repentance and forgiveness for Jesus’ sake.  Jesus teaches us not to ignore sin, but to confess it and receive His sure and certain forgiveness.  The peace of Christ is not cheap.  Don’t settle for fake imitations.  Your family matters too much to settle for anything less.
          I love my wife and my kids.  I love my parents, my siblings and my in-laws and outlaws.  I love them all.  But by the grace of God, I love Jesus even more.  I think you love Him more too.  Why?  Because He first loved us—because He gave Himself for us—because He took up His cross for us. 
          In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Confessing Christ from the Housetops

Jesu Juva

St. Matt. 10:21-33                                                                    

June 21, 2020

Proper 7A                    

Dear saints of Our Savior,

          Jesus said, “Whoever confesses me before men, I also will confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  To put it plainly, everything hinges on who you confess.  Your confession counts.  It matters more than you know.

          But what does it mean, exactly, to confess Jesus?  The Greek verb literally means “to say the same thing.”  It means to say what has been said to you.  Let’s try it!  Let’s do a literal exercise in confessing.  Whatever I say to you, I want you to say back to me.  You echo what you hear from me.  Let’s start with something simple:  toy boat. . .  Now say “toy boat” three times in a row . . . .

How about this:  Shy Shelly says she shall sew sheets . . .

And finally, a bit of a challenge:  Lesser leather never weathered wetter weather better . . .

          How did that go for you?  Were you able to say back to me what I first said to you?  What you were saying, of course, were tongue twisters.  But what you were literally doing was confessing.  To confess is to say the same thing.  Now, for some reason, in our usage of that word, there’s often a negative connotation.  Things that get “confessed” are usually bad things: sin, guilt, and other bad behaviors are what tend to get confessed these days.  (That’s probably why today’s English translation went with “acknowledges” instead of “confesses.”)  But in the Bible, “to confess” is a neutral verb.  You can confess what is good and holy just as easily as you can confess what is bad and profane.

          So, to confess Jesus before men is simply to speak and say what Jesus has already spoken and said to us.  You confess Jesus Christ every time you echo, repeat, and profess the teachings of Jesus (as when we confessed the Nicene Creed a few minutes ago).  If Jesus says that all who believe and are baptized will be saved, then we confess that—we echo and repeat that.  If Jesus says that He alone is the way, the truth, and the life—that no one comes to the Father except through Him—then we confess that.  What Jesus has said; so say we.

          In today’s Holy Gospel Jesus was sending out the Twelve on their first missionary journey.  Jesus was sending them up to the rooftops so as to give

maximum publicity to His teachings.  What Jesus had been teaching the Twelve up to that point in private, they were now to preach and proclaim in public.  They were to go out “confessing” Jesus before people—teaching others what Jesus had already taught them.  And here the disciples are an example for us and for all Christians.  Christians confess Christ!  That’s what we do.  To our children, to our neighbors, to colleagues and friends—we are called to confess Christ.  And this confessing we do joyfully, faithfully, and willingly.  Why?  Because we want others to share in this same confession.  We want other people to know and receive the blessings that come to all who confess Christ.

          Sounds easy, right?  Wrong.  Confessing Jesus and His Word is never easy.  Down through the centuries countless Christian have been martyred and massacred for the simple crime of confessing Christ.  In today’s Old Testament reading the prophet Jeremiah simply sought to faithfully confess God’s Word to His people.  And for that “faith crime” Jeremiah found himself on the receiving end of a sixth century BC Twitter mob:  Denounce him!  Let us denounce him, say all my close friends, waiting for my fall.  With “close friends” like that, who needs enemies?  And don’t forget what Jesus plainly told the Twelve as He sent them out to confess Him before men:  You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But he who endures to the end will be saved.  And with that, suddenly, confessing Christ from the housetops doesn’t sound quite so appealing.

          What do you do?  What do you do when faithfully confessing Christ and His Word immediately puts you at odds with family, friends and neighbors?  Now more than ever, confessing Christ in the wrong place before the wrong people will put a target on your back.  What do you say when God’s gift of natural marriage is rejected in favor same-sex marriage which is unnatural?  When florists and bakers are hounded and hassled for courageously confessing Christ rather than going along with the mob?  What do you say when God’s gift of bodily identity—when God’s gift of maleness and femaleness—is rejected in favor of a self-chosen gender identity?  Or what about the man and woman who are living together, but doing so while rejecting the blessing and benefit of marriage?  What about when God’s gift of life in the womb is being massacred daily by Planned Parenthood—especially when most of the little lives they brutally end are black lives.  Do they matter?  Jesus says they do.  Are you ready to speak up and confess a better way, a better choice, a loving alternative?  Are you ready to confess Christ?

          It’s easy to say nothing.  It’s easy to do nothing.  It’s easy just to keep your head down and your mouth shut.  It’s easier still to go along with the crowd—to take a knee and raise a fist.  But there’s really no courage in that.  It requires no faith to do that.  People will applaud you if you do that.  But confessing Christ and His Word?  That takes courage.  That requires faith.  And it will not earn you a round of applause or a standing ovation.  People—perhaps a whole mob—will denounce you.

          This isn’t about politics.  We’re all free to demonstrate peacefully for justice and other causes we care about deeply.  But as you fall in step with the multitude, just make sure you know what you are confessing.  Your confession matters today and eternally.  And bear in mind that a movement which tolerates the beheading statues today will condone the beheading of people tomorrow.  To paraphrase the German poet Heinrich Heine, the burning of buildings and the burning of books will eventually lead to the burning of people.  Kyrie eleison. 

          But Jesus—He will never denounce you.  He will never disown you.  In fact, He will confess you before His Father in heaven.  For every disciple who dares to confess Christ from the housetops—for you who seek to faithfully bear witness to the teachings and love of Jesus—to you who aim to speak the truth in love, Jesus says:  Do not be afraid.  In fact, in today’s Holy Gospel He says it three times:  Have no fear of them. . . . Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. . . . Fear not for you are of more value than a multitude of sparrows and even the hairs of your head are numbered. 

          The fear that quiets us—the fear that keeps us from confessing Christ and His Word—Jesus wants us to leave that fear behind.  Trust Him.  Follow Him in faith.  What you hear whispered from the pages of your Bible, proclaim from the housetops.  Because—come hell or high water or the end of western civilization as we know it—your body and soul are in the safe-keeping of Jesus the Christ.  If He knows when a single sparrow falls to the ground—if He knows the number of hairs on your head—then He also knows just the help you need.  For you, He suffered at the hands of a ruthless mob.  For you, He was denounced and put to death.

          The wages of sin is death.  It’s true.  But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  He was killed on Good Friday—nailed to a cross.  But by that death your sin was done away with.  By that death He destroyed death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.  And that free gift of salvation is offered to all people—to every son and daughter of Adam.  All are invited; none are excluded.  The forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting—that’s God’s free gift for you and for all who believe. 

          But some people—perhaps someone in your life—they may only come to know and receive that gift because you cared enough to speak up—because you cared enough leave the basement behind and head up to the rooftop to speak the truth in love.  Christ Jesus died to save sinners, of whom we are the worst.  We are not perfect, but we are forgiven in Jesus, and that makes all the difference.  That’s the good news that we are privileged to proclaim from the rooftops—to neighbors, family, colleagues, and friends.  God has reconciled the world to Himself in Jesus.

          That’s what we call the gospel.  God Himself has proclaimed it from the top of Mount Calvary.  God Himself has proclaimed it from the empty tomb of the resurrected Jesus.  God still proclaims it today from this pulpit, from that font, and from this altar.  His loving care for you reaches into eternity.  That’s what He Himself is confessing today—loud and clear—for all to hear.

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