7 February 2010 - Epiphany 5 - Luke 5:1-11

Have you even been at an event or a gathering of some kind, where you were very uncomfortable, and would have preferred to leave, because you didn’t feel that you were fitting in with the other people who were there?

One time I was present at a funeral for a relative who had, shall we say, embraced a lifestyle that was very different from what I was used to. There were lots of black-leather-and-chains bikers there. And it made me feel that I didn’t want to be there.

I might feel the same way if I were invited to a white-tie formal banquet, where I would be associating with the rich and the famous, or with some of the high-profile power-brokers of our society. I don’t think I would know how to act around such people, and I would feel very much out of place.

But it goes in the other direction too. I remember one time when Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were invited to be the guests of one of our presidents, and they were served an “American” meal of tacos and refried beans.

From the news footage that I saw, it seemed that they didn’t quite know how to eat it. It was quite clear that they wished they were back in the dining hall at Buckingham Palace.

When we’re in socially awkward situations like this, we have the uncomfortable feeling that we are being watched by others - who are perhaps looking down on us in disapproval - and that our inability to live up to the social expectations of the occasion is being noticed and judged.

And so we have the desire to be removed from this awkwardness, and from this judgment.

In today’s text from St. Luke’s Gospel, St. Peter had a similar kind of experience in the presence of Jesus, when the Lord’s miracle regarding the catch of fish made its frightening impact on Peter:

“When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken...”

If you or I were in a similar situation to the one Peter was in, we would have a similar reaction. When he realized that he was in the presence of one who was holy and pure and righteous - in comparison to his own sinfulness and lack of holiness - he wanted to get out of there.

Basically, there are two possible scenarios in which we might say, or think about saying, something like what Peter said: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” There are two possible scenarios in which we, too, would be deeply aware of Jesus’ holiness, and be deeply uncomfortable about the fact that this holy person is where we are, watching us, and noticing us.

When you are in a situation in which you have more-or-less decided that you are going to do something that is immoral or unethical, you would be picking up from your conscience that what you are about to do is wrong - so that you should, at the very least, try to hide it from Jesus.

Of course, this is a ridiculous notion - that the omnipresent Lord can somehow be distracted away from the shameful things we do, so that he is not aware of them.

But I’m not talking about a rational thought process. I’m talking about the way in which our sinful nature warps and corrupts our thinking, so that we do in fact harbor such impossible notions.

The voice of your conscience is telling you in those moments of temptation that God will judge you for what you are contemplating. But this voice is competing with the impulse of your sinful flesh, which is simultaneously telling you and pushing you to go ahead and fulfill that selfish desire.

And so, in the midst of such inner struggles, you sometimes foolishly try to find a compromise between these two competing influences, that would, you imagine, allow you both to commit the sin, and to avoid God’s judgment against the sin.

And so you pretend in your own mind that it is possible, as it were, to tell Jesus to leave the room for a while - to turn away, to stop looking at you - so that your violation of God’s law will not be noticed.

You know that the specific sinful thing you are planning to do - you fill in the blank - is incompatible with the holiness of Jesus. It will make you feel uncomfortable to be around him as you do it.

Therefore, in your twisted desire to indulge your sin, but not to be judged and punished for this indulgence, you might, in effect, say: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” And then, in the self-deception that Jesus has departed, and is now not watching, you commit the sin, willfully and knowingly.

But at those times, Jesus did not actually depart from you. He stayed. He watched. And now he knows.

You did not trick him and deceive him. It didn’t work. You were not successful in your ridiculous attempt to hide your dark secrets from him, in the way that you were perhaps successful in hiding them from your relatives, your friends, or your pastor.

And now, after your transgression has been committed, your conscience is also still speaking to you. It is shouting out loud!

It is now telling you that, by what you have done - again, you fill in the blank - you have invited the judgment of the Lord upon yourself. You have provoked his just wrath and condemnation against you.

So, in hindsight you now regret your sin, and you are now remorseful over the fact that you did not previously listen to your conscience when you still had a chance to avoid the sin. Because you did what you knew was wrong, you are without excuse.

And so you are ashamed and uncomfortable to be in the Lord’s presence. You don’t want to experience his disapproval, or be reminded of how stupid you were.

In your deep regret over what you have done, you wish now that Jesus would, if possible, leave you alone. In your guilt you might say once again - but now for a different reason - “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

But once again, Jesus does not depart. He stays. But he does not stay in order to judge and condemn. He stays in order to forgive.

And he does forgive you, and comfort you by his reconciling grace. Jesus gently instructs you: “learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

And St. John the apostle - who really knew Jesus, and who knows what he is like, encourages you with these words:

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Jesus is the propitiation for your sins. He died on the cross for you.

You have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He rose again from the dead, to the right hand of the Father, where he intercedes for you.

And when Jesus pleads your case, before his own Divine Father, you will never lose out. You will always get another chance.

And so the Lord does not depart from you, even though you are a sinful man, or a sinful woman, or a sinful boy, or a sinful girl. When you are ashamed, and when you are acutely aware of your many weaknesses - knowing that you don’t deserve to be around Jesus, or to receive anything good from him - he stays anyway, just as he did with Peter.

And by the power of his Gospel, he justifies you. He cleanses you from all unrighteousness.

And he thereby changes you, so that you do now “fit in” with him and all his forgiven saints. He takes away your shame, and by his love makes you to feel comfortable, and at peace, in his presence.

And that’s not all. As with St. Peter, so also with you, he commissions you for the work in this world that he wants you to do in name:

“And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.”

Jesus does not call you to be an apostle, as he did on this day with Peter, Andrew, James, and John. He probably does not call you to be an ordinary minister or pastor either.

But he calls you to something - to whatever honorable and godly occupation he has designated for you - and he sends you out into the world to serve him and your fellow men in that occupation, according to his will. Think about that for a minute.

Not only is he not ashamed to be around you, but he is also not ashamed to have you go forth as his representative, and to do the work that he calls you to do in his name. And as you go, he goes with you.

He works through you. He helps you. He guides you, and shows you the way.

Those of you who are communicants in this congregation may feel uncomfortable today - because of your sins - as you contemplate your participation in the Lord’s Supper in a few minutes. You are aware of Jesus’ holiness, and you are also aware of all the wrong and shameful things you have done.

And so, in your conscience you may be tempted to refrain from communion today, and to say, in effect, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” There’s a part of you that is repelled by the holiness of Christ, because you know how unholy you are, in yourself.

But the Lord does not want to depart. He wants to stay with you. And he wants you to stay with him, and in repentance and faith to be healed and restored by his grace.

Come to him, therefore, because in his Word, and in his body and blood, he is coming to you. He is not ashamed of you, and so you no longer need to feel ashamed of yourself in his presence.

And as you come, come with this prayer - from the hymn we sang a short time ago - echoing in your mind and heart:

Breathe, oh, breathe Thy loving Spirit Into every troubled breast;
Let us all in Thee inherit, Let us find the promised rest.
Take away the love of sinning; Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith as its beginning, Set our hearts at liberty. Amen.

14 February 2010 - Transfiguration - Luke 9:28-36

“And behold, two men were talking with [Jesus], Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

It’s generally considered to be bad manners to listen in on the conversations of other people. But even so, most of us would probably welcome a chance to eavesdrop on the private conversations of important and powerful people, to find out their plans.

Journalists especially would love to be able to be “flies on the wall” in a room where secret meetings of the President’s cabinet or top-level advisors are taking place. We want to know about the intentions of powerful and important people, not only because of our general curiosity about such things, but because we sense that what such people are planning will affect us in some way.

In today’s text, three of the Lord’s disciples had an unequaled opportunity to eavesdrop on such a conversation - between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. First of all, Peter, James, and John were amazed and awe-struck that such a conversation was even taking place.

Moses and Elijah were long gone from this world. They now lived in heavenly glory, far removed from life on earth, with all of its suffering and worries.

The fact that they were now visibly present with Jesus, talking to him, gave these disciples a whole new perspective on Jesus. The transfiguration of Christ on this occasion, with a brilliant light shining forth from him and his clothing, also testified to the fact that Jesus was indeed divine.

Not long before this, Peter had declared that Jesus was “the Christ of God.” This was a confession of faith, worked in his mind and heart by the Holy Spirit through the power of Christ’s Word.

But now Peter and the others were seeing the evidence of this divine identity with their own eyes. In every way they now knew that Jesus was the Lord and Master of the universe - not only by faith, but also by sight.

And by sound. Because in addition to what they saw, they were able to listen in on the conversation that Jesus was having with Moses and Elijah about his plans.

How curious they must have been to hear what God’s Son was planning. He had certainly come to earth for a reason. What was that reason?

What was Jesus going to do about all the wickedness and injustice that afflicted the world, and that made life in this world such a trial for so many people? How would he prevent all the sad occurrences that bring discouragement to so many?

Would Jesus institute an unending time of happiness and goodness on earth with a wave of his hand? Or would he use an army of angels to impose his righteous will on the forces of wickedness?

We can imagine how glad the disciples would have been to be able to overhear what the Son of God intended to do next, now that he had arrived among them, as a part of the human race. What would he do to “take over” the world that he had entered, and to change it for the better?

But they were probably surprised to hear what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were actually talking about, as they discussed among themselves the divine plan for Jesus and for what was going to happen to him in the near future.

They were not talking about how Jesus would solidify his control over the world and take permanent charge of it. Instead, we are told this: “And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

In other words, Jesus was not going to remain in the form of earthly human existence that he had assumed. He was not planning to stay in this world, as a political and social liberator. He was going to leave.

But his impending “departure” - his death, and his resurrection and ascension - was not going to be an abandonment of his mission. It was going to be the fulfillment of what his mission had really always been.

Jesus had never intended to remain on the earth as a political and social liberator. His plan had always involved a temporary assumption of ordinary human existence, for the sake of fulfilling a different purpose, and accomplishing a different goal.

St. Paul explains what this genuine plan and purpose was, in his Epistle to the Philippians:

“Christ Jesus, ...though he was in the form of God, ...made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

“Therefore God has highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

God’s Son had not set aside the full enjoyment of his divine glory and power, and taken on the form of a servant, in order to bring about an earthly paradise for the temporal happiness of the inhabitants of the earth. He had come instead to draw people up to a higher life - to a life of everlasting fellowship with God.

Indeed, suffering and injustice would continue in this world. Jesus did not come for the purpose of bringing an end to that - at least not right away. When the time came for his departure, those things would still be there.

But when Jesus’ actual desire for the salvation of souls is fulfilled - in the hearts and minds of men - then people who still live in this world are able to face their natural suffering with supernatural courage. They are able to endure their temporal sadnesses with an eternal perspective, certain of the endless joy that lay beyond the sadness.

By his death and resurrection, Jesus has procured for us, and bestowed upon us, a righteousness that covers over and forgives our sins; that soothes our troubled conscience; and that fills us with the Spirit of God himself. Later in his Epistle, Paul talks about that too:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things..., in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, ...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

These are the kinds of things that Jesus was talking about with Moses and Elijah. He was not discussing with them his plans for staying on the earth, and politically conquering the world.

He was discussing with them his plans for departing, and for establishing a new world: a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness would dwell; where his elect would have an eternal dwelling place with their holy God; and where all the tears of human sadness would be wiped from every eye.

Jesus, in the heavenly glory that he has now assumed once again in his ascension, is probably still having such a conversation with Moses and Elijah. He is probably having such a conversation with all who have entered their rest, and who in heaven await the final consummation.

And, in the power and mystery of his Word and sacraments, Jesus is having such a conversation also with you. When the Scriptures are expounded and proclaimed, and when you listen to and meditate on their message, Jesus is still talking.

He is talking to you. And when you respond to what he says - with prayers of petition, praise, and thanksgiving that have been molded and shaped by his Word - you are joining in the conversation.

Through Isaiah the prophet, God had already described the kind of conversation that he wants to have with humanity: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

In this conversation, Jesus warns us that our lingering pride and selfishness, which disrupt our human relationships, will also disrupt our relationship with him. He tells us that our sins are an offense against God and God’s law.

But he also offers to us the forgiveness and restoration that are available to us on account of his “departure” - that is, his death on the cross.

In this continuing conversation, we then reply with words of repentance, and with a heartfelt yearning for the grace of God that we know we need. And Jesus then says to us that all is forgiven, and that God is at peace with us.

He also calls upon us to trust in him for all things, and to live as his disciples in this world - hostile though it may be toward him and the things he stands for. He assures us that on account of his “departure” - that is, his resurrection and ascension - he is now supernaturally with us - with all of us - always.

In this continuing conversation, we then reply with a confident plea for his help. Each of us says, in effect, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

And Jesus assures us: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

This is a conversation that some people on the outside of the fellowship of the church might think they would like to eavesdrop on. Those who do not know Christ - many of our friends and neighbors - are curious about God and the things of God.

They wonder what God is really like, or if it is possible to have a relationship with him. They are interested to find out what his plans are - for the world, and for them.

But they don’t need to look for opportunities surreptitiously to “listen in” on a private conversation that Jesus might be having with other people on these matters. Jesus wants them to be a part of the conversation too.

Through you, and through the message of faith that you speak to your friends and neighbors, Jesus invites them to join in the conversation with him that you, as a baptized child of God, are already a part of. Through you, he invites them to listen to what he wants to say also to them, through the Scriptures, and through the means of grace.

And through your encouragement to them, he invites them also to reply to what he will tell them, with words of repentance and hope; with words of faith and confidence.

Jesus wants them, and us, to call upon him - to talk to him in the church’s ongoing conversation with its Savior. And Jesus promises that he will hear us from heaven, and grant the requests that we make in his name, according to his will.

“And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Amen.

21 February 2010 - Lent 1 - Luke 4:1-13

A successful businessman will often look for opportunities to establish a partnership between his business and another business. A wise and savvy businessman will want that partnership to take shape in such a way that his own business gets the maximum benefit, while the other business assumes maximum risk.

Of course, the owners of the other business will usually not allow themselves to be drawn into that kind of imbalanced and lopsided relationship. They don’t want to be taken advantage of, or exploited, by a potential partner.

A partnership in which your side has all or most of the risk, and in which the other party has all or most of the benefit, is not the kind of partnership that you will knowingly enter into - if you are a sensible and smart businessman. But, in an area of life that is much more important than the realm of business and business partnerships, that is basically what you do all the time.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about the partnership that Satan is always trying to establish with your sinful nature.

He knows that there is a lot of affinity and compatibility between his goals and ultimate wishes, and the impulses and inclinations of that nature. And so he is always looking for an opportunity to establish a “partnership,” as it were, between himself and that nature - as it exists in each of us.

He always wants this partnership to be set up in such a way that we take all the risks, and incur all the liabilities, while he gets all the benefits. The ultimate benefit that he is working for, and plotting to achieve, is to gain possession of our souls. When that does happen, our loss is incalculable.

But unlike the usual circumstances in the ordinary business world, the devil is almost always able to find willing partners, who will in fact join forces with him, even on the basis of those extremely unfavorable terms.

In the foolishness and blindness of our sinfulness, we actually do cooperate in the destruction of our own spiritual life. We cooperate in the estrangement of our souls from God, and in the entrapment of our souls in the schemes of the devil.

But I say that Satan almost always finds willing partners in this effort, because there was one occasion - described in today’s text from St. Luke’s Gospel - when Satan was not able to establish that kind of lopsided partnership with someone.

In fact, he wasn’t able to establish any kind of relationship at all with this person. His proposals for such a “partnership” were rejected each time.

I am, of course, talking about Jesus, and the Satanic temptations that he successfully resisted in the wilderness. The devil did probe him, however, searching for a sinful nature - which he had always been able to find every other time, in every other person.

And if he had found such a nature in Jesus, he would have done what he always did. He would have attempted to entice that nature into a “partnership” of sorts, wherein it would be tricked into doing the devil’s bidding.

We see, first, that he tried to make a point of contact with something like that in Jesus on the basis of humanity’s universal need to satisfy bodily cravings. “The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’”

The desire to eat is not in itself wrong or sinful. The same can be said for other bodily impulses which were built into the human race by God for its survival, such as the attraction that a man and a woman have for each other.

But remember that the nature of man is now in a corrupted state. Because of our inherited sinfulness, our nature is now twisted in such a way that these natural desires have themselves been twisted and colored with the motives of idolatrous self-love.

In our old nature, we are now governed internally by the notion that we have the right to take whatever we want. We don’t need to conform our wishes to a higher, divine norm of propriety and decency, or to temper our personal desires with a loving consideration for the needs and rights of others.

That corrupted way of thinking is what Satan expected to see in Jesus. He was hoping that Jesus would follow the typical thought-process of fallen human nature: If I am hungry, and if I feel like eating; and if I can arrange things so that I am able to eat; then I should eat!

According to the old nature, Jesus wouldn’t be expected to take into consideration any other factors regarding the proposed action. The only issue would be whether he can get away with it, for the immediate fulfillment of his bodily cravings.

Satan wanted to be able to take advantage of that way of thinking - if he could find it in Jesus - and to get Jesus to misuse his powers in this way. But that was not the way of thinking that Satan did find in this person, because the sinful nature that inspires that way of thinking - in everyone else - was not there in this person.

But the devil didn’t give up. “And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’”

Here he was trying to connect with the love for power that infects fallen human nature. He remembered that the desire to “be like God” was the original enticement to sin, which he had used successfully against Eve in the garden of Eden. And it had worked many times since then too.

People like to have power over others - to set up their own little “kingdoms” - so that others can be used and exploited. But when a person has had some success in achieving that kind of power, and becomes drunk with it, Satan knows that this power then begins to destroy him, as he is consumed by it.

The devil expected to find this basic desire in Jesus also. And he expected to be able to manipulate it, so that it would lead to the undoing of Jesus.

But again, Jesus was not like everyone else. He didn’t respond to the devil’s offer of such power in the earth, as others would have. He rebuffed it.

But Satan was still not finished in his attempt to find a sinful nature somewhere inside of Jesus, which could be tricked into cooperating with the devil’s schemes for Jesus’ destruction.

“And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”’”

Here Jesus was tempted to test God - that is, to do something that would be “showing off,” and that wouldn’t serve any real purpose, other than to “dare” God to protect him. This would be a misuse of faith. It would transform faith into recklessness and presumption.

But Jesus didn’t fall for this either, as others would have. There was, quite simply, no sinful nature within Christ that the devil was able to connect with, and exploit, and manipulate. There was no potential “partner” for Satan in Jesus.

Jesus was different from all other people. He was different from you and me.

You and I are all too often drawn into the devil’s plans for our own spiritual destruction. He does successfully goad us into being willing participants in his scheme to distance us from God, and then finally to alienate us entirely from the Lord and his love.

That is what the devil is doing, every time he appeals to the prideful and lustful impulses of your sinful nature, and with flattery and trickery tries to get you to destroy yourself. In the self-serving “partnership” that he seeks always to establish with your sinful nature, he makes all kinds of promises that are calculated to match up with the corrupt desires of that nature.

That’s why it’s so easy for us to believe his promises. He tells us, in effect, that if we do what he wants us to do, we will get what we want to get. He tailors his promises to each one of us personally, in order to connect with the most noticeable vulnerability that he sees in each of us.

Maybe it’s in the area of our craving to satisfy our physical needs. Maybe it’s in the area of our desire to have power over others. Maybe it’s in the area of our desire to tempt God with foolhardy stunts.

But whatever weakness it is in each of us that he attempts to manipulate, with his promises, know this: All of the devil’s promises are really lies. He is, as Jesus warns us, a liar and the father of lies.

And he is lying to you when he attempts to establish a “partnership” with your sinful nature in this way. You will never benefit from this partnership. Nothing but harm ever comes to you from it - temporal and eternal harm.

But where can you go, at those times when your sinful nature is being enticed by the devil, and when you find that it is so hard to resist his efforts - indeed when you find that it is impossible to resist them in your own strength?

You can go to the one man who did successfully resist the devil in this world. In faith you can go to him who is the God-man - the eternal God in human flesh.

His successful resistence of the devil’s lies is not just an example that you should follow, since you don’t have the moral and spiritual strength, in yourself, to follow that example anyway. Instead, know that Jesus’ resistance against these enticements was something that he did for you, in your place, and for your benefit.

When the Gospel comes to you, it brings Christ to you, and it places you into Christ. Your baptism into Christ, and your partaking of Christ in his Holy Supper, unite you to Jesus, and to everything that Jesus did and does for your salvation.

And that means that your baptism and your participation in his Supper unite you to Jesus’ successful resistance of the devil’s temptations. In your reception of the means of grace, by faith, his success becomes your success.

His righteousness becomes your righteousness. His faithfulness to God, and to God’s will, becomes your faithfulness to God, and to God’s will.

When you trust in him, therefore, the devil fails in what he is trying to do to you. And the devil departs from you, as he departed from Jesus.

Your past failures to do as Christ did - that is, to resist temptation - are fully forgiven. And what Christ successfully did for you, is fully credited to you.

As you now live in Christ, and as you in faith abide in his Word, you have access to the instrument - the divine and powerful instrument - that Jesus himself used in his resistence to Satan. In the wilderness he didn’t draw simply on the power of his will, or on the strength of his reason - even though his will and reason were uncorrupted by sin.

What he did was to quote Scripture, directly and confidently. He threw Scripture at the devil, like a weapon. He fired it at him. And he won the battle.

And that, my friends, is what we are able to do - by faith in Christ, and under the protection and guidance of Christ - in all the temptations and satanic deceptions that we face. God has not abandoned us in our struggle.

He has forgiven us in Christ for our sins - for all the times when have allowed the devil to deceive us - and he has graciously covered us with the righteousness of Christ. And for the facing of all present and future challenges, he has equipped us with his certain and powerful Word.

In this way, the devil will fail in his attempts to establish a “partnership” with us, for his own destructive purposes. And Christ will succeed once again - for us, and in us - in resisting the lies of the enemy, and in saving us from sin forever. Amen.

28 February 2010 - Lent 2 - Luke 13:31-35

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”

Can you sense in these words the frustration that God feels, when he considers how often his love for his people is rebuffed? Can you sense God’s exasperation, at how often his will to save them from their sins is rejected?

These words were spoken by Jesus. Some commentators suppose that he is referring to his own previous visits to Jerusalem, at earlier points in his earthly ministry.

But I see here a much deeper and more grievous feeling of frustration and exasperation, than what would have been the result of a couple disappointing visits, over the time period of a couple years. This is, I believe, one of those times during the Lord’s earthly ministry when his divine nature manifested itself.

During the time of Jesus’ “humiliation” - as our catechism describes his life on earth - the divinity of Jesus usually remained hidden - in, with, and under his humanity. But there were times when that divine nature did show itself.

In this respect we readily think of things like his miracles, his raising of the dead, and his transfiguration. But here, the divine nature of Jesus is not revealing itself in such power and glory. It is revealing itself in anguish and sadness.

Think of that for a minute. God does not reveal himself in Christ only as the almighty Lord, and as the fearsome judge of the world - although he is those things too.

But he also reveals himself as a merciful and patient Father, whose heart breaks when his love, and his gracious desire to forgive and save humanity from its sin, is ignored. Or what is worse, when his love and grace are actively opposed.

And that is what the people of Jerusalem had done so many times over the centuries, when God sent his prophets to them - to call them to repentance, and to proclaim to them God’s desire for the restoration of their fellowship with him.

They didn’t just ignore this prophetic preaching. They persecuted, and sometimes killed, the prophets who were sent to them.

But God did not give up on them. In Christ - the Second Person of the Holy Trinity in human flesh - God himself came to them. He came, in all of his disappointment and sadness, to try one more time - in person - to call them to repentance, and to invite them to faith.

This is a side of God that we don’t often think about. But we should.

Because this is a side of God that is still very much a part of what God is thinking and feeling in his relationships with people today. This is a side of God that is still very much a part of what God is thinking and feeling in his relationship with you.

You can no doubt think of many examples of frustration and disappointment in your own human relationships. You might be tempted to look at the person sitting next to you as you consider these examples, because these frustrations and disappointments occur most often in the relationships we have with those who are closest to us - physically and emotionally.

Your expectations of spouse, children, or parents - which you consider to be perfectly reasonable and fair - are often not met. Your desire for mutual consideration and respect among the members of your family often goes unsatisfied.

But there are probably other people who also come to mind - people with whom you have had a falling out of some kind, and with whom you now want to be reconciled. But they are not willing. They ignore or rebuff all your overtures.

And maybe you can remember an earlier, more youthful time of your life, when you liked a certain girl, or a certain guy, and wanted that person to have the desire to go out with you. But everything you did to make yourself appealing to your love-interest, bore no romantic fruit.

Well, if you amplify and intensify these feelings and memories from your own human relationships, about a thousand percent, than maybe you can begin to imagine what it is like for God, in his relationships with us and other people.

And there is much more at stake in regard to God’s desire to be at peace with us, and to forgive us, and to embrace us as his children. The eternal destiny of our souls is at stake.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

In his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, St. Paul speaks of the day “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”

God is very much aware of these things. But are we?

Do we believe the testimony of St. Paul in the Scriptures? Do we believe what the faithful preachers and pastors of our day tell us now, on the basis of the Scriptures?

There is a mystery and a paradox in our Biblical doctrine of conversion and faith. In response to those who would, in a sense, take credit for their faith, and who would think that their natural will, by its own powers, is able to make a decision in favor of the Gospel, we would respond with the Bible’s teaching that saving faith is a gift of God, worked in us by the Holy Spirit.

As St. Paul says in First Corinthians, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

But in response to those who think that God’s grace toward them means that they will be saved and go to heaven regardless of whether or not they sincerely repent of their sins, trust in Christ, and desire to live in Christ, then we would respond with the Bible’s teaching that God does not coerce faith, or force people to love and serve him. What kind of faith and love would that be anyway?

We would remind people of what Jesus says in today’s text from St. Luke: “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”

Our excuses for not listening to God are manifold. Those who are young, and who want to pursue their youthful interests and adventures, often have the idea that they don’t need to be in any rush to get right with God. And besides, being “religious” is not cool.

They think, “I will have plenty of time to think about these things when I’m older.” But you don’t know that.

Your young life might be snuffed out in an instant: in the context of military service, or in an accident in sports or recreation, or in a car crash. You might not even make it home from church today.

And besides, having a true relationship with God by faith, and living with a clear conscience before the Lord, are blessings that God wants people of all ages to have. God’s Word, and the promises of divine guidance and protection that God’s Word brings us, make a difference for all people, regardless of how young or old they are.

Whatever moral or ethical challenges you are dealing with - whether they are the issues of young people or of old people - God’s Word and Spirit show you the way to the best choices, and they lead you to the right decisions.

But let’s not seem to be picking on young people. The excuses of older people are often just as baseless and foolish.

Sometimes the consciences of adults have been wounded by a lifetime of negligence of God’s Word, or by an uncountable number of mistakes and sins that have piled up, without any spiritual respite, over many years.

So, an older person might turn a deaf ear to God’s invitation and offer of forgiveness, with the thought, “It’s too late for me. I’m too far gone.” But no one is too far gone.

Where there’s life, there’s hope. Deathbed conversions are real - or at least they can be.

But if you “plan out” a life of sin, and then, as it were, “make an appointment” with God to repent and believe only on your deathbed - after you’ve had all your “fun” - you don’t have the foggiest idea what repentance and faith are.

You don’t really know what the word “fun” means either, if you think that “fun” is the antithesis to godliness. And you will likely be lost forever.

If you love sin now, the chances are that you will love sin then - even as you are leaving this world and hurling yourself into perdition. And as you die in such hypocrisy, God will mourn.

There is no reason to delay in taking God and his invitation seriously. If you have no faith, believe in him now, and be saved from your sins. If your faith is weak and distracted by many things in this world, then be renewed in your commitment to his truth, and to his loving authority in your life.

“For [the Lord] says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

Whatever your circumstance may be, the Lord is calling out to you today - as he called out to Jerusalem for generation after generation. Whether you are young or old; whether you are hardened in arrogant unbelief, or are in despair over a lifetime of failure and error; God, in his love, is reaching out to you with his Word.

God is speaking to you in his law, to crush your excuses for ignoring or opposing him. And God is speaking to you in his gospel - in the message of his Son’s life, death, and resurrection on your behalf - in order to lift you up into a life of true fellowship with him, and into a living hope for an eternity in his kingdom.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself - not counting their trespasses against them. In the means of grace here and now, God is still in Christ, reconciling you, personally, to himself.

In the preaching of his gospel, in the remembrance of baptism that occurs in confession and absolution, and in the bestowal of his body and blood that takes place in his Holy Supper, God is in Christ, not counting your sins against you.

Do not spurn his offer. Do not harden yourself against the inner working of his Spirit. Do not be like the people of Jerusalem, who broke God’s heart, and who destroyed themselves in unbelief, by refusing to receive what God wanted to give.

As St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” Amen.