Wednesday, February 25, 2009
“What’s your motivation?” This can often be a joke, teasing about out-of-touch actors that make bizarre choices in their portrayals. But this evening it is no joke. It is at the heart of Jesus’ words for you. In this question: “What’s your motivation?” we might hear hurting, crushing, damning Law, or we might hear soothing, healing, saving Gospel.
“What’s your motivation?” Many Pharisees were motivated by public opinion. Do I look good? What will people think? I need to stand in the right place, say the right words, and perform the right actions to win public favor that I am a good and religious man. Their works were not necessarily done out of love and compassion, but done for keeping up appearances.
“What’s your motivation?” Or think of an organization such as the Boy Scouts, who have a slogan to “Do a good turn daily.” Yes, all sorts of wonderful blessings can come from millions of youth doing good for others, but is it motivated by a rule, or out of loving thanks to our Savior?
The holy season of Lent, for centuries, has been a time of fasting, giving alms to those in need, and increased devotion and prayer. But as our Father in heaven looks at us, even if He witnesses such good and holy behavior, He is asking: “What’s your motivation?” You see, it makes all the difference in the world!
If you abstain from meat or eat smaller meals as a way to train your body in joyful thanks to the Lord who has redeemed you, it is a good thing. However, if you do it hoping to be noticed and applauded, or you think that God will see your effort and cut you some slack, then you join the ranks of the scribes and Pharisees. “What’s your motivation?”
If you increase your charitable giving for a better tax return, or choose your donations to be placed only for things that will last and not simply on the day to day bills of the church, school, or other organization, and you really would prefer a nice brass tag to let everyone know that you bought it, you are treading on thin ice. Yet, if you are humbly moved by our compassionate King, who gave up everything for you and shed His blood and died for you, so that now you truly want to help anyone you can, it is a beautiful expression of faith. “What’s your motivation?”
If your prayers are long and wordy, just because you think God will like them more, you have another thing coming! But if you are asking Him as dear children as their dear Father, and are speaking in faith, our loving God hears you! “What’s your motivation?”
Did you come forward for ashes this evening simply because you did not want people to think wrongly of you, or you wanted to show how religious you are? Or did you refrain from coming because you thought the others were being ridiculous and showy? In either case, you received them for the wrong reason. Or did you come forward, knowing that you are a poor, miserable sinner, who deserves nothing good from God, and will someday return to the dust and ashes that we are? “What’s your motivation?”
The problem is, we all suffer from wrong motivations. Whether pride, or advantage, we often desire to benefit from our works. We want credit. We want a good grade in God’s book.
Dear friends in Christ, it doesn’t matter how good you seem to other people, you will never be perfect. Your motives will constantly fail to be pure and holy. There is no hope, even if we were all to change our clothes and put on sackcloth, and sit in ashes like the people of Nineveh.
But tonight our Lord has Good News for you. He does not leave you to despair in sackcloth and ashes. He does not leave you to your own devices. He does not leave you to rot in a pool of mistaken self-congratulations.
Jesus sinners doth receive! Our precious Savior has come down from the Transfiguration mount and gone up to Jerusalem. There, His perfect motivation to save the world was brought to fulfillment. There, His perfect motivation to pour out His love from His Five Holy Wounds was completed. There, it is finished!
And now, He continues His saving work. Now is the day of salvation! Our merciful Jesus with perfect motives has redeemed you on His cross. And now He delivers that redemption!
He has delivered salvation to you in the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism. Tonight, by the mark of the ash, He reminds you of that continuing, lasting effect of Baptism, that He cleanses you of your flawed motives and failed intentions. He purges all guilt and blame with the powerful flood of the font.
Your sin is confessed. Your forehead bears an ashen cross to remind you of your mortality and the cleansing of Christ. And yet, not because of your actions or words…or even motivation, but because of Jesus’ Words and deeds, you are saved! You are released from your sin. You are unshackled from death. You are freed from the devil.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord Jesus is laying up treasures for you in heaven – right now! He is building you up in hearing His Gospel, delivering salvation. And in a matter of moments, our Eucharistic Lord will enter your bodies, as He places His Body and Blood in your mouths. In His perfect, self-less, loving motive, Jesus prepares that place for you even as He prepares you for that place!
At the funerals of those who depart in the faith we pray: “As You have nourished our bodies with the holy body and blood of Your Son, raise our bodies from the dead and seat us with You at Your heavenly banquet.” Our Transfigured Lord Jesus transforms us as well, when we receive His Flesh and Blood. He prepares us for the day when we will be transfigured to enter His heavenly courts and feast with Him without end.
Yes, dear friends in Christ, our Savior takes you from being a heap of dusty ashes to a transfigured, glorified reflection of Him. And He does so with His own perfect, holy, godly motivation. Even in the midst of sorrow over sin, rejoice. Rejoice that He has perfect motives, and that He loves you, has mercy on you, and lays up treasure in heaven for you!
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
If you have ever watched The Biggest Loser, one of the bits of information you may have gleaned is this: skipping meals does NOT help weight loss. Long-term fasting is not going to make you healthy. Changing which foods, or the serving size can make a difference, but skipping meals altogether actually has the opposite of its desired outcome.
Our spiritual life also can be harmed by “skipping meals.” If we slip out of the habit of weekly coming to be fed in the Divine Service, our faith’s health suffers. Coming to church once or twice a month is like skipping a couple meals each day. It wreaks havoc on our systems, and actually harms us.
As Lutherans, we do not believe the non-biblical saying: “Once saved, always saved.” There is a true danger of faith starving and drying up…dying a slow death until a supposed Christian is actually an unbeliever. It is a frightening and deadly reality that avoiding church may reach the point of killing faith and damning to hell.
This danger to faith is greatly strengthened when one skips services. The danger increases when we do not take advantage of attending Bible Class or Sunday School to be fed His Word even more. The danger takes hold when we start believing the excuses we make for “despising preaching and His Word.”
Lent provides a great opportunity for every one of us. During this holy season, we are given great opportunities to be nourished by the Lord. He bids us come to hear and be fed in the Sunday Divine Services. He builds us up on Wednesday evenings with His Word in Vespers. He keeps calling us to study His Scriptures together. He encourages us to exercise our faith in increasing our giving to the poor and those in need. And He encourages us in brief, thought-filled fasting, to train our bodies and keep us focused on His Holy Gifts.
As we enter these sacred days, if you decide to fast for your body, remember not to let your soul fast as well! Don’t refuse to feed on His Holy Word! Don’t cut down on how much or how often you are eating from the Lord’s Table! Increase the portions for your nourishment! Come to the Supper Table to hear our Father speak, and to feast on the life-giving Lamb.
In spiritual terms, this will actually cause you to exercise and grow in strength – not through your own strength, but through the Gospel; through the loving mercy of God, as He showers His mercy and grace on you through these same, nourishing Gifts!
Yes, cutting calories can be so extreme that it is unhealthy. So don’t abstain; come to the Table. Our Savior will lead you to “eat right” so that He might make you right with the Father. And here your health will be nourished, “steadfast in the true faith, unto life everlasting.”
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Monday, February 16, 2009
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The woman was very sick. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law couldn’t have gotten up to serve Jesus if she wanted to. The effects of sin in her life and in this world had a grip on her, and there she lay, too ill to have attended the synagogue from which Jesus and the disciples had just come.
Saint Peter places his urgent request before Jesus. “Please, Lord, heal her.” And he does just that. Yet our Lord gives us a picture to remember as He records this story for all time. Saint Mark likely heard this true story many times throughout his days aiding Saint Peter. And Simon Peter used a word with deep meaning as he recounted this miracle. He does not merely say, “Jesus healed her,” or leave it at, “the fever left her,” but he adds: “Jesus… took her by the hand and lifted her up” “Lifted up!” The very same word used by Saint Mark in chapter 16 to say that Jesus is raised! The angel’s words can be translated: “He has been lifted up; He is not here!” [Rev. Erik Rottmann’s translation.]
With this miraculous healing, our dear Savior gives a picture of raising us from the dead! The mother-in-law was as good as dead, lying there, weak, limp and helpless. But our Great Physician enters the home, speaks His Word, and raises her up to a new life in Him.
There you are. Helpless. Hopeless. In a day and age of modern medicine, there are still enemies of your health that rob you of your strength, and sometimes even your lives! Sometimes these enemies are not even physical. Emotional and spiritual enemies lie in wait, attempting to drive a wedge between you and Jesus; wanting that fever to increase until you are boiling in complete and hopeless unbelief.
Dear friends in Christ, the fever still wants to consume you. For some, the fever increases as you point fingers and blame others, claiming that you’d be healthier if only you were able to have this item or that desire. Perhaps your fever rises as you slip back into your shell, not wanting to be friendly even to the people you see in church on Sunday. For some, the fever burns away as you talk about others behind their backs, or even entertain harsh thoughts about those around you. For others, the fever burns as you ignore or ridicule organizations like scouts, 4 H, or various service clubs. The devil, the world, and your own sinful self keep feeding that fever, until you can be delirious with illness, unable to get up and serve the Lord.
The fever started from the moment that you were a single cell in the safety of your mother’s body. It continued as you were lifted up out of your mother’s womb, but remained in the grasp of sin, death, and the devil. Indeed, you were unable to serve the Lord, conceived and born in sin! And then it happened!
No one may even have realized just how sick you were. They might not have fully understood
the gravity of your situation. But your limp, sin-filled, feverish body was carried to the Holy Font, where our dear Lord Jesus took you by the hand, washed you with water and His Word, and lifted you up!
In this miracle, our Savior worked forgiveness of sins, rescued you from death and the devil, and gave eternal salvation to you. He raised you up! He lifted you up and gives you the sure and certain hope of the resurrection! Saint Peter’s mother-in-law was given a new lease on life when Jesus lifted her up. You were given not only a new lease on this life, but the joy of starting your new life, as a new creature – eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord!
And we look forward to this new life’s fulfillment – its completion. As your body lies in its grave, appearing to the world as if you are helpless and hopeless, you know better. Just as Christ Jesus was lifted up on the cross, and then lifted up out of death, so He will lift you up. Because He has lifted you up in Holy Baptism, He looks forward to lifting you up from the dust of the earth, that you may live with Him, body and soul, eternally!
But what about now? What does this mean for our day to day lives? Jesus has broken the fever and lifted you up. But the devil doesn’t give up without a fight. You daily face struggles, temptations, sin, and illnesses that make life rough. So did Peter’s mother-in-law. She didn’t suddenly have a perfect body that never got sick again. She eventually died. You too. Our Savior doesn’t promise a life free from sickness and pain, no matter what any TV preacher might tell you. Quite the contrary; Jesus says there will be suffering. But He is there, bearing that burden for you!
Our Lord Jesus Christ has suffered and died for you. He is risen, for you! And now He bears all your burdens, including this nasty fever, for you.
Daily, like every man, woman, and child on earth, you have times that you don’t want Him there to bear those burdens. You’d just as soon have an absent Jesus, to go along with the vacant pews. But the same Savior who came and washed you in that font, and lifted you up to new life, keeps on coming for you. He takes you by the hand, and raises you to be with Him. And He is thrilled to have you join Him forever.
Just as He is thrilled to have Keith join Him forever. He lifted Keith up in Holy Baptism. He lifted Keith up as He took him to Himself this week. And He joyfully looks forward to lifting Him up forever, body and soul in heaven.
Be comforted, dear friends in Christ! Our Epiphany Lord keeps on revealing Himself as our God Incarnate. He shows Himself as our only hope; our only Physician; our only Savior. He uses you to lift up many others. And He delights in lifting you up!
[Thanks to the Rev. Erik Rottmann for his translation of “lifted up,” and for some intriguing thoughts that worked into this sermon.]
Sunday, February 8, 2009
On the other hand are communities such as ours. Lanesville is a town in which many students decide not to leave for college, and look for employment close to home. And yet, you don't even have to be in a small town. I have friends and family members in Peoria that never ventured beyond their hometown for schooling or career opportunities.
Two uncles on my mom's side of the family moved an hour from home. One uncle on my dad's side now lives in Florida. Other than that, everyone else is still there. We are the second furthest from the family. (It took my sister years to forgive us for moving so far away.)
While there have been many joys over the years of being in Chicago and later in southern Indiana, there are also frustrations. Special occasions, holidays, and awards often are not shared because of the distance or other commitments.
In the end, I guess it can often be chalked up to a sacrifice of living in the ministry. Still, it doesn't make it easier when feeling isolated.