3 August 2008 - Pentecost 12 - Matthew 14:13-21

During the earthly ministry of Jesus, when he was in his state of “humiliation” - as our catechism describes it - Jesus took on the form of a servant, and lived as we live - with the exception, of course, of committing the sins we commit. But he did experience the things we experience in our human weakness: hunger and fatigue; grief and other emotions.

When John the Baptist was killed, this was troubling to Jesus. He wanted to get away from the crowds and spend some time in quiet reflection. As today’s text from St. Matthew’s Gospel tells us, “he a boat to a desolate place by himself.”

But the solitude and privacy that he wanted to have, even if for a short time, eluded him. The crowds found out where he was going, and they closed in on him. And yet, in spite of his sadness and fatigue, and in spite of his desire to be left alone for just a little while, Jesus had compassion on the people who had come to him, and he ministered to them.

But there was a limit to what Jesus was willing to do for the crowd, at least directly. As a foreshadowing perhaps of the kind of worldwide ministry which he would later entrust to the apostles, Jesus at a certain point stepped back from ministering to the people who were there. And he called upon the apostles to begin taking care of their needs.

“Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ But Jesus said, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘We have only five loaves here and two fish.’”

You give them something to eat.” Can you imagine the reaction of the apostles to that? They were being asked to do the impossible.

To be sure, the disciples had witnessed Jesus doing a lot of extraordinary things at different times in the past. Most recently, with this particular crowd, they had seen Jesus perform miraculous healings earlier that day.

But now, he was commanding them to implement a miracle no less dramatic than these other miracles. He was commanding them to satisfy the hunger of a huge crowd - literally thousands and thousands of people. And all they had was five loaves of bread and two fish.

A friend of mine recently got a promotion from being a maintenance worker at one apartment complex, to being the maintenance supervisor at another apartment complex. He was very experienced at this sort of work, and always did a good job. That’s no doubt why he was given this promotion.

This second complex, however, was very run-down. The manager told my friend to bring it up to the level of the previous complex - right away.

My friend and his crew did the best they could, but he also had to tell his new boss that it was impossible to do so much in so little time. He was ordered to do it anyway. When he failed, he was fired for insubordination.

My friend was frustrated almost beyond words. He had been asked to do the impossible, and as a result he ended up not having any job.

The apostles may have felt somewhat like this when Jesus asked them to do something that they knew they didn’t have the ability or resources to do. They might have felt that they were being set up for failure.

But then Jesus showed them how it could be done. “...he said, ‘Bring [the loaves and fish] here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied.”

Jesus made it possible for the apostles to do the impossible. He blessed the modest supply of food that they had, and by his divine blessing he caused that food to abound for all the people who were hungry.

Jesus did not directly feed the people that day. He was tired. It was the apostles who were sent out to take care of the crowd’s need for food.

Jesus was, of course, working behind the scenes. By the power of his Word he spoke a blessing over the loaves and fish which caused this food to multiply, and which made it possible for the apostles to do what he had commanded them to do.

But it was the apostles themselves who were going to be the point of contact with the people. It was they who would be distributing, with their own hands, the bread that the people received.

Jesus had said to the apostles, “you give them something to eat.” And in the miracle of divine grace that occurred that day, this is what they did.

At a later time, after his death and resurrection, Jesus also said this to his apostles: “As the Father has sent me, even so send I you.” Martin Luther comments on this divine commission as follows:

“With these words...he says: ... ‘I send be my messengers, conduct the same office as I have hitherto filled, namely: to preach the Word you have heard and received from me, an office through which people are delivered from sin and death...’ By means of this office the apostles and their successors are...given...such great authority and power as Christ, the Son of God, himself possessed...”

“Now in order to exercise and accomplish the end of this authority..., special power is required that is not human but divine. Therefore...he breathes on them and says: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’ namely, they are to know that such an office and work cannot be carried on in their own strength, but in his power through the Holy Spirit, who operates through their office and word; and it shall thus be the office of the Holy Spirit, who is given for this purpose by Christ, that although the message seems but weak, and nothing more than a weak breath out of the mouth of man, yet such power shall be exercised through it, that sin, God’s wrath, death, and hell must yield to it.” So far Luther.

Jesus is no longer visibly present in this world. He is no longer directly carrying out the work of preaching - of condemning and forgiving sin - as he did during the time of his earthly ministry. But that important work is still being carried out, in his divine name, and with his divine power.

The world is filled with spiritually-starving masses, who have not received the gifts of pardon and life that they need. Theirs is a consuming hunger of the soul, that only the Gospel of Christ - the Bread of Life from heaven - can satisfy.

But Jesus does not come down from his exalted glory, directly and visibly, to feed them with the heavenly manna they need. Instead, he says to the apostles, and to their successors in the Christian church, “you give them something to eat.”

Can a pastor today bring forth anything, from the flawed resources of his own personality, that can give true spiritual satisfaction to hungry souls? Can a pastor’s personal charisma, cleverness, intellect, or wittiness produce anything that will assuage people’s inner aching for an eternal hope?

Absolutely not! And yet, Jesus still says, through the divine call that he issues to the pastors of his church, “you give them something to eat.” What the apostles and pastors are to give to God’s people, however, is spiritual nourishment that Jesus himself provides.

Jesus is working behind the scenes, as it were, to make sure that the pastors of the church are supplied with what they need to have, so that they can pass on, to the people for whom they are responsible, the spiritual nourishment that they crave.

Pastors are supplied with the Word of God, in all of its power. The pastor’s call gives him the authorization to preach God’s Word publicly for the salvation of souls, and to administer the sacraments that Jesus has instituted for the well-being of his church.

The Gospel and Sacraments that the pastor publicly administers do not come from the pastor - just as the abundant supply of loaves and fishes in today’s Gospel text did not come from the apostles, when they distributed this food to the crowd. These gifts come from Jesus.

But these gifts have been entrusted by Jesus to the ministers whom he has appointed, so that these ministers can, in turn, distribute them to those who are in need of them. It’s important for pastors to remember this, and it’s important for Christians in general to remember this too.

Pastors should never become puffed up with pride if the work of the ministry that they carry out at Christ’s command bears fruit. They were not the source of any of this success.

The spiritual food with which they fed their flock did not come from them, but it came from Christ. Christ is the one who instituted the ministry of preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, and he is the one who invests that ministry with his power.

A pastor would have nothing to say to a guilty conscience without the message of forgiveness that flows down from the cross of Christ, and that Christ has given the pastor to speak. A pastor would have nothing to give a Christian who seeks to be sacramentally nurtured and sustained in his faith, without the Supper that Christ himself ordained on the night in which he was betrayed, and that Christ wants his called ministers to offer to those who are properly prepared to receive it.

Christians in general should also remember the story of the feeding of the multitude from today’s Gospel. Jesus himself did not directly give the crowd their food on that occasion. He told his apostles to feed them.

To be sure, Jesus is the one who made it possible for the apostles to fulfill this task. In their own power, and with their own resources, they would not have been able to comply with the Lord’s command.

But when Jesus did miraculous provide for the wants of the people, the people still needed to go to the apostles in order to receive the food. Jesus himself was not directly passing out any food on that day.

We, too, according to God’s order and will, need to go to the church’s public ministers in order to partake of the public ministry of Word and Sacrament that Jesus has instituted for us. It is certainly true that all Christians have access to God’s Word in the Scriptures, and that they can and should comfort one another on the basis of God’s Word in their private interactions with each other.

But the public ministry of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments, are also necessary. And God’s call to our pastor to be our pastor is, among other things, God’s identification of our pastor as the man to whom we should go for the kind of public instruction and pastoral soul-care that he wants Christians to receive.

Through the call that he issued to the pastor by the voice of his body, the church, Christ has given to the pastor the right and duty to speak publicly on his behalf. And through the inspired Scriptures, Christ has given to the pastor the content of the message that is to be spoken.

None of these things flow personally from the pastor. But they are to be received from the pastor. Christ’s own authority stands behind the ministry of the pastor, just as Christ’s authority stood behind the apostles’ distribution of the loaves and fish.

That’s what’s going on when you humbly acknowledge your sins at the beginning of the service, and the pastor then says: “Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God to all of you. And in the stead, and by the command, of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

What the pastor says, he says by virtue of his office - to which Christ has called him - and not by virtue of any power to forgive sins that resides within him as a person. What he says, he says in the stead of Christ, and by the command of Christ.

It is Christ’s divine forgiveness that he is administering, not his own human forgiveness. Therefore you can believe the words that he speaks, and be comforted by them in your heart and soul, knowing that these words are addressed to you ultimately by your Savior himself.

Jesus is the one who forgives you. But the way in which Jesus forgives you is by sending a pastor to you, to convey to you this forgiveness and reconciliation in his name. Just as the apostles in today’s text conveyed to the people the bread that Jesus had miraculously provided for them.

In a few moments we will have a chance to experience this yet again in a very profound way, in the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar. Quoting Pastor Luther, the Formula of Concord describes the role of Christ, the role of Christ’s Word, and the role of Christ’s minister, in this Holy Supper:

“Luther says: ‘This command and institution of his have the power to accomplish this, that we do not distribute and receive simply bread and wine, but his body and blood, as his words indicate: “This is my body, this is my blood.” So it is not our work or speaking, but the command and ordinance of Christ that make the bread the body and the wine the blood, beginning with the first Lord’s Supper and continuing to the end of the world. And it is administered daily through our ministry or office.’”

Christ knows that you are hungry. He knows that you have sinned, and that in repentance you yearn to be fed with the sweet and filling message of pardon and peace that only he can provide.

But Christ is not going to come down from heaven to speak this message to you directly. That’s not his plan for bringing the Gospel to you, and to the world.

Instead, as the supreme Teacher of the church, he has graciously placed that message in the Holy Scriptures, to which Christians of all generations have continual access. And as the loving Lord of the church, he has called and authorized your pastor publicly and authoritatively to deliver that message to you, and in his name to feed you with the Bread of Life.

Your pastor is not going to give you anything that he did not himself receive from Christ - your Savior and his. But what your pastor did receive, he will give, in accordance with Christ’s loving will.

In reference to you, and to your need for this spiritual nourishment, Jesus has, in effect, told your pastor these words: “you give them something to eat.” Amen.

10 August 2008 - Pentecost 13 - Matthew 14:22-33

Last week we noted that during the time of his earthly ministry, Jesus took on the form of a servant, and lived as we live - except, of course, for the sins that we commit. In general this is true.

But there were times when our Lord’s divine glory and power did shine through, so that his disciples were able to get a glimpse of who he really was. The event recorded in today’s Gospel from St. Matthew was one of those times. We read:

“And in the fourth watch of the night [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’”

Over the years skeptics of various sorts have tried to figure out how to explain away this event. In the eighteenth century, the Rationalists claimed that the disciples were afraid because they didn’t understand what was really happening.

According to the Rationalists, Jesus was not doing anything miraculous, but he was simply walking on some stones near the shore, which were sticking up near the surface of the water. So, while it looked like he was walking on the water, this was not what he was actually doing.

The Liberals of the nineteenth century - and right up to the present time - say that this event never happened at all. It is, rather, a myth, which originated in the pious imagination of the early church, to illustrate the special status of Jesus, and the importance of believing in him.

We don’t agree with either of these ideas. In our baptism, God has given us a faith in a divine-human Savior who is certainly capable of doing something like this.

And in the Holy Scriptures, God has given us a reliable apostolic testimony to the fact that our Savior did in fact walk on the water on that night, so many years ago.

Jesus, according to his human nature, as the son of Mary and our brother according to the flesh, was and is a part of creation. But Jesus according to his divine nature, as the eternal Son of God, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, was and is the maker and preserver of creation.

As we confess in the Nicene Creed, “By him all things were made.” The miracle of our Lord’s walking on water reminds us of this.

He had supreme power over creation, and could make the laws of nature bend to his will whenever he wanted them to. It was also important for the twelve disciples to be reminded of this.

When the time would come for Jesus to be arrested surreptitiously in the middle of the night, to be tried unjustly on trumped up charges, and to be executed at the hands of the pagan Romans, Jesus would want his disciples to know that the reason why these things were happening was not because he was incapable of preventing them.

If Jesus was not willing to allow himself to be treated in this way, he wouldn’t have been. As he said on another occasion: “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”

A man who could walk on water could also have walked out of the sham trial that he was put through, and he could have walked away from the cross of Calvary. But he didn’t.

And that’s because the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. As the almighty God in human flesh - as the Good Shepherd from heaven - he willingly and lovingly laid down his life for the sheep.

Notice, though, that it was not only Jesus who was doing something extraordinary in today’s account. Jesus was not the only person who walked on water that night. Listen again to what St. Matthew tells us:

“And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.”

Walking on water - a feat that defied the laws of physics - was done not only by Jesus, but also by Peter.

In today’s Gospel, the act of walking on water was therefore more than a testimony to the ability of God’s Son in the flesh to do the impossible. It was also a testimony to the ability of Peter - or of any of us - likewise to do the impossible, if and when Jesus would call us to do it.

Later on in his Gospel, Matthew recounts these comments by Jesus:

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

With God all things are possible. God himself was walking on the water, in the person of Jesus Christ. And with God right there, speaking to Peter, and calling Peter out onto the water, it became possible for Peter to heed this invitation, and to walk on the water himself.

But there’s something else that’s even more impossible, by any human estimation, than walking on water. Again, the disciples asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved? And Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

A sinner, whose heart is set against God, and who is antagonistic toward God, cannot transform himself, by a decision of his own will, into a godly believer.

Jesus does say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” But no one is able to come to him, by his own power. With man this is impossible.

But... but, with God, all things are possible. We acknowledge this in our Catechism:

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; just as He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

If you think that Peter walking on water was a great miracle, then how would you describe the miracle of your own faith? That is a much greater wonder than Peter’s momentary defiance of the laws of physics.

You have been sinful from the time of your conception: cut off from God by nature; disobeying God’s law by nature; a captive of sin and death by nature. But Jesus changed you. He gave you a new nature, as only God can do.

God alone is the creator of all things, and only God can recreate us. In Christ, that is exactly what God has done.

His life-giving Spirit has called us by the Gospel. And in that call, he has bestowed on us the ability and the willingness to heed his voice.

God’s call comes to us in a deeply profound way in our baptism. In our baptism the power of God’s Word suppresses the old Adam - that part of us that hates God and runs away from God.

And in our baptism God’s Word also miraculously calls us forth to believe and live in Christ. As St. Paul reminds us in his epistle to the Romans:

“We were buried...with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Our walking by faith in the newness of God’s life is a more marvelous experience than physically walking on water would ever be. Hearing the invitation of Christ to come to him for forgiveness, and joyfully heeding that invitation, is a more thrilling experience than an invitation to walk on water would ever be.

Notice, however, that Peter’s experience of walking on water was not without some problems:

“when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”

When Peter began to take note of the wind, and to start paying attention to the stormy waves crashing in around his feet - so that he took his eyes off of Christ - he began to sink. He became afraid.

He became afraid of the threatening elements that surrounded him. And he became afraid that Jesus would not keep him steady and safe in the midst of those threats.

That’s what so often happens to us in the midst of the turmoil and trials of this life. In times of weakness, we again begin to notice all the forces of sin and evil that are arrayed against Christ, and against us, in this world.

Those forces of sin and evil are, of course, always there. At those times when our faith is firmly focused on Jesus, and when our ears and hearts are attuned to the powerful voice of his comforting word, we don’t pay all that much attention to these forces. We are assured at such times that we are safe, under the protection of God.

But at those times when we begin to falter in our faith; when our own sinfulness asserts itself strongly from within us; and when we succumb to the devil’s temptations in one way or another, then, like Peter, we are afraid. Sometimes we are very afraid.

And as we get caught in a whirlpool of destruction and discouragement, and pay less and less attention to what Jesus says, he begins to seem very distant from us. We become increasingly aware of our weakness and vulnerability. And we start to sink.

Maybe some of us today are at such a point, in our life of faith. We can remember a time when the Word of Christ was very dear to us, and when we boldly and enthusiastically believed everything that Jesus said to us. But now we’ve begun to sink down - down to something dark and scary.

We fear that we might perish. The saving grace of God seems to be slipping away from us, and we seem to be slipping away from the power and protection of Christ.

But if that’s what is going on - and to the extent that it is going on in all of us - do not be afraid! Jesus has not abandoned you. And he will not let you slip away under the violent waves that are crashing in around you.

As with Peter on the sea, your Lord is stretching out his hand to you, and taking hold of you. And as with Peter, he is doing this immediately, at this very moment, without any delay, and without requiring anything from you as a precondition.

There is not a microsecond of time between your need for Christ, and Christ’s offering of himself to you, to help you and to save you.

St. Paul tells us in today’s lesson from the Epistle to the Romans: “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Your faith would not have anything to cling to, if you were not able to hear the voice of Christ. But Christ makes sure that you can indeed hear his voice: even over all the distracting noises of this world, and even in the midst of all the storms that may be raging in your troubled conscience.

His word cuts through all that static, and comes to you with all of its power to save, to forgive, and to lift you up out of the crashing waves of human fear and uncertainty. His word comes to you like an outstretched hand, so that your faith can wrap itself around that word and cling to that word.

His word seeks you out, and takes hold of you, and pulls you to the safety of God’s heavenly protection. Jesus is preaching his word to you right now, and he is reaching his hand out to you right now. Through the apostle Paul he says:

“...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ ... For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

In Christ you are justified. God has declared you to be “not guilty,” has forgiven your sins, and has reconciled you to himself by the death and resurrection of his Son.

In Christ you are saved. You have been rescued from the clutches of the devil. You have been set free from the dominion of sin and death. You have been pulled out of the water, and placed safely in the boat.

Believe the word of Christ, my friends. Believe it with the faith that God himself gives you. And as you believe these wonderful things - these miraculous things - walk miraculously, not literally on water, but in the newness of the life that Christ gives you. Amen.

17 August 2008 - Pentecost 14 - Matthew 15:21-28

We think of Jesus as a Savior who loves us and accepts us, and who takes a very personal interest in each one of us. And we think of him as a Savior who treats everyone in this way - without the prejudices and bigotries that so often taint us, and the way we feel about and treat others.

It might surprise us, therefore, to hear what we hear in today’s Gospel account from St. Matthew. Jesus seems to be treating the woman who approached him in an uncaring and unkind manner - not as we would expect from our loving and compassionate Savior. We read:

“And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’ But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’”

“He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.’”

What are we to make of this? Well, first of all, Jesus explains why he hesitated to involve himself in this woman’s problem. He told her: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” What we see here is his recognition of his unique calling, at this time in his life. Our calling, or our vocation, is the duty or set of duties that God has entrusted to us, for a specific period of time, and within certain parameters. We are often tempted to overstep the lines of our vocation, and in so doing not to pay adequate attention to what God has actually called us to do.

Jesus shows here that he was not prepared to do that. During the time of our Lord’s earthly ministry, while he was living under the law of God in the form of a servant, certain parameters were established for his work.

Jesus was a Jew. In fact, he was the most thoroughly Jewish person who had ever lived. He embodied, in his person and work, the fulfillment of all the dreams and hopes of all the faithful men and women of Israel, in all preceding generations.

He was the true teacher and spokesman for God, toward whom Moses and all the prophets in Hebrew history had pointed. He was the true Lamb of God, toward whom all of the sacrificial lambs of Hebrew history had pointed.

He was the true King of God’s people, toward whom David and all of his royal progeny in Hebrew history had pointed. Jesus was, quite simply, the apex and the culmination of all of Hebrew history.

Everything that had gone before was a preparation for him. All that had transpired among God’s Old Testament people, beginning with the call to Abraham, and running on through centuries and centuries of prophets, priests, and kings, now found its true meaning and ultimate purpose in him.

This was the context in which those who knew Jesus according to the flesh did in fact know him. He walked the earth, and preached to the crowds, and performed his miracles, and did everything that he did, precisely as Israel’s Messiah: the true successor of Moses, the great high priest, and the ultimate royal son of David.

Before his death and resurrection, Jesus did not have a calling from his heavenly Father to be anything else, or to do anything else. He was not to be distracted from the pathway that the Hebrew Scriptures had laid out for him to follow.

This doesn’t mean that he had no concern for those who were not a part of Israel. He also knew that the time would come when God’s call on his life would in fact bring him into regular contact with all the nations of the earth.

But that time had not yet come. That was not yet his calling. And this, my friends, is the point he made to the Canaanite woman in today’s text. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Jesus was not pleased that this woman’s daughter was possessed by a demon. He was not happy to think about how the whole Canaanite nation was under the domination of the devil - the “ruler of this world” - in any number of ways.

And someday he was going to do something about that. But not yet.

Some of us are no doubt troubled also by the comments that Jesus made in this text concerning Gentiles as the equivalent of dogs, to whom a father will not throw his children’s bread. This seemingly disparaging remark would suggest that the benefits of Jesus’ ministry were intended exclusively for the people of Israel - the children of God - and not for the Canaanites or any other un-chosen nation.

In keeping with what we have said about the Lord’s limited vocation during the time of his earthly ministry, this is a partially correct conclusion. But let’s not take too much offense at his use of the word “dogs” to describe the non-Jewish peoples.

First, he uses the diminutive form of the word, which we could more precisely translate as “little dogs” or “puppies.” The image that would be conjured up in his listeners’ minds would not be the kind of mean and threatening dogs that everyone would be afraid to have cross their path.

Instead, their thoughts would be directed to cute little yappy dogs - the kind that we wouldn’t mind having around the house, and that we might in fact be tempted to feed from the table.

And the analogy from the animal world that he uses to describe his own people wasn’t really much of a compliment to them either. Not only does he call them “sheep” - animals well-known for their nonchalant approach toward life and their lack of intelligence - but he calls them “lost sheep.”

As sheep who are lost, they are less astute than even sheep would ordinarily be expected to be. Even with their lack of intelligence, most sheep usually do at least know how to stay in the flock where they belong.

The people of Israel at this time in history, by contrast, don’t know where they belong. They have wandered away from God, their true shepherd, even though he has tried over and over again - for generation after generation - to lead them and their ancestors in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

One of the tasks that Jesus was fulfilling during his earthly ministry was to call this nation to repentance, and to a renewed faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And he certainly had enough work to do in that respect, in the three years that elapsed between his baptism and his crucifixion.

Of course, we can’t fail to notice that in the end, Jesus did decide to help the woman in today’s story. She was a Canaanite - a descendant of the endemic enemies of Jesus’ human ancestors. She certainly was not one of his “parishioners,” as it were.

But even so, in his compassion he finally did address her need, and by his power brought deliverance to her daughter. In mercy he “stretched the rules,” we might say, for her sake.

“She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”

We mentioned Christ’s crucifixion a minute ago. His crucifixion - and the resurrection that followed - were pivotal events in his earthly life. In dying he destroyed the power of death, and in rising again on the third day he opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

His preaching and miracle-working ministry were not intended for everyone in every nation. These pastoral activities were directed to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

But, the atoning sacrifice that Jesus offered on the cross, at the end of his earthly ministry, was offered not only for the sins of Israel, but for the sins of the whole world.

As Jesus died, his forgiving and redeeming love embraced all nations: Israelites and Canaanites, Europeans and Asians, Africans and Americans. In that time of agony, as he bore the weight of all human sin on behalf of all humanity, he was beginning the fulfillment of this pledge and promise:

“‘Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”

The death of Christ on the cross brought to an end the specific and limited vocation that God the Father had given him for the time of his earthly ministry. And the death of Christ on the cross ushered in the beginning of a new vocation - a vocation that has all the peoples of the world in view.

The resurrected and ascended Lord will now never bypass a Gentile simply because she is a Gentile. In his Word and sacraments, to which he has mystically united himself, and which he has entrusted to his disciples, he now makes himself available to everyone.

He fulfills his new vocation through the instrumentality of his church, and the ministers of his church, as he sends them - as he sends us - to people like the Canaanite woman.

Previously, under his former calling, he had said this to the Canaanite woman: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Now, under his new calling, he says this to his disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

All nations are now the “lost sheep” that Jesus seeks. All nations are now “little dogs” to which he is willing to give the children’s bread.

St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Colossians: “Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.” That’s an important point for us to remember.

Those of us who are of non-Jewish, Gentile ancestry need to realize that if Jesus had had the occasion to meet any of us during the time of his earthly ministry, it is very unlikely that he would have been willing to have anything to do with us.

He certainly would not have been willing to take us into the circle of his disciples.

If you want to have the assurance that Jesus does in fact want to be a part of your life now, and to embrace you with his saving grace now, you should not consider him and your relationship with him “according to the flesh.”

You should not imagine yourself sentimentally to be transported back in time to the days when Jesus was walking the earth. If you could somehow do that, and transport yourself back in time, the Christ you would find would be the Christ that the Canaanite woman found.

Instead, the focus of your faith needs to be on Christ as he comes to you mystically in the means of grace: the Gospel as it is preached in our midst here and now, and the sacraments as they are administered to us here and now.

Jesus promised his disciples that he would be with them always, even to the end of the age, as they would bring his Word and sacraments to the nations. That’s a promise to which the Canaanite woman could later cling. That’s a promise to which we can cling.

The Biblical testimony of everything that Jesus said and did, as recorded in the Four Gospels, is certainly intended for us, and for the strengthening of our faith. But this testimony is mediated to us through the mission and ministry of God’s church today.

It is channeled to us, and to all Gentiles, through the great commission - that is, the resurrected Lord’s sending of his disciples to all nations, with the promise of his abiding presence with them as they go, and as they teach his Word.

Without the great commission, we, as Gentiles, would not have access to this Biblical testimony. Without the Word and Sacrament of Christ that are brought to all nations at his command, we would not have access to Jesus.

So, we do not get connected to Christ by imagining that we were with him back in the days of his earthly life. We were not with him. As Gentiles, we could not have been with him.

We get connected to Christ by meeting him where he comes to us here and now - in his living Gospel, bringing God’s pardon and God’s peace.

When the message of Christ crucified is proclaimed now among all nations, we do not, in that proclamation, hear Jesus mutter that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. That limitation no longer applies to the calling under which he now operates.

Instead, we hear him say boldly and loudly that when he is lifted up on the cross - and when the message of the cross is lifted up before men - he will draw all people to himself. He will draw the Canaanite woman, and those like her. He will draw you. Amen.

24 August 2008 - Pentecost 15 - Matthew 16:13-20

If someone has “primacy,” this means that he is the first in something. Our friends in the Catholic Church often emphasize their belief in the “primacy” of St. Peter, meaning a primacy of honor, and a primacy of rank or authority.

We also recognize the “primacy” of St. Peter - although what we recognize is a different kind of primacy. St. Peter’s primacy among the apostles is the chronological primacy of his confession of faith. He was the first apostle to confess that Jesus is the divine-human Messiah, as we heard in today’s Gospel.

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

The fourth-century church Father St. Ambrose observes that in today’s Gospel, Peter “exercised his primacy, that is, the primacy of confession, not of honor; the primacy of belief, not of rank. ... Faith, then, is the foundation of the Church, for it was not said of Peter’s flesh, but of his faith, that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ But his confession of faith conquered hell.”

The word “church,” in the Greek language, does not mean a building, but it means an assembly of people, who have been “called out.” The church of Jesus Christ is, therefore, a gathering of people who have been called out from the world of sin and death, and who have been called together into a new fellowship with God.

In his conversation with Peter, Jesus does, however, use the imagery of the construction of a building when he describes how Peter’s confession of faith will have an impact on the existence of the Christian church. He says, “on this rock I will build my church.”

We all remember the parable that Jesus told on another occasion, in which he pointed out that a house that is built on sand will not survive a storm, while a house that is built on solid rock will. The public confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, is, says Jesus, the firm and stable bedrock on which his church will be built.

We might wonder how that can be. How can mere words be the stable foundation for anything?

Well, think of the government of the United States. In theory at least, the Constitution is the foundation of our government.

The American system of government is built on words - the words of the Constitution - and not on the personal power of kings and royal dynasties. And, so far, the government of our country - based on these words - has survived for about 220 years.

But the words that Peter uttered in today’s Gospel have more power than the words of James Madison, or of any of the founding fathers who were present at the constitutional convention. Peter’s confession of faith was revealed to him by God himself:

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

The words were spoken by Peter. They were spoken as an expression of the faith of his heart. But these words, and the faith that they express, did not originate in Peter. Peter’s faith, and Peter’s confession of his faith, were gifts from his heavenly Father.

God’s Word has the power to kill and to make alive. God’s Word made Peter alive in faith - filled with the living Spirit of the living God. And this living faith bubbled over into a declaration of who Jesus is, and what Jesus would do.

We know that at the time, Peter did not fully understand the whole meaning of everything he was saying. That’s O.K.

He had time to learn, even as God is always bringing us to a deeper understanding of his Gospel through the ongoing ministry of Word and Sacrament that he brings to us.

But what Peter said, in spite of his limited grasp of his own words, was profoundly and eternally true. His confession of Jesus as the Christ, or as the Messiah, was a confession of Jesus as the greatest of prophets, the greatest of kings, and, most important of all, as the greatest of priests.

Jesus, as the great Messianic high priest, would offer himself as the perfect atoning sacrifice for human sin. He was and is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

He was and is the suffering servant, who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; who was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.

Jesus died that we might live. He put himself in our place, under the judgment of God’s law, so that by faith we can now be put in his place, and be covered by his righteousness.

This is what it means to be the Christ. And Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah - as prophet, king, and priest - was bigger than Peter himself. Peter, with all of his impetuousness and other personal flaws, could never in his person be the foundation for anything. But Peter’s confession of faith could be.

His confession of faith was divine and eternal, because the source of this confession was divine and eternal. Peter’s confession of faith was divine and eternal, because the Savior whom his confession acknowledged and worshiped was divine and eternal.

In this world the church of Jesus Christ is hidden - in, with, and under the human weakness of its members. We cannot see the church in the way God sees it.

But the church is not a figment of anyone’s imagination. It is real. The church is a mystical and spiritual body. It is a supernatural reality, and not merely an earthly, human institution.

And it is constituted and preserved by a supernatural force - by the force of God’s own Word. As the Psalmist declares: “the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.”

The church that Jesus would build on this rock of Peter’s confession would therefore withstand all attacks that the evil one might launch against it. The church that Jesus would build on this rock of confession would endure, and be ultimately victorious, in the spiritual warfare that it would wage against the forces of hellish darkness.

In regard to Christ’s pledge and promise, “On this rock I will build my church,” and “the gates of hell will not prevail against it,” Philip Melanchthon reminds us that “With this consolation, the godly also in our own times sustain themselves, and know that there will be remnants of the church and of the true ministry remaining, even if empires fall.”

When this truth of Jesus is declared to you, today, Jesus, the master builder, is still doing his work. He is still building his church.

He is still consoling you, so that you can be sustained in your hope that the church of Jesus Christ, to which you belong by faith, will endure forever. It will endure even when the empires of our age are falling.

It doesn’t really matter who it is who tells you that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. It doesn’t have to be Peter, or one of the apostles.

It doesn’t have to be a bishop or a pastor. St. Paul reminds us that the Gospel itself “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

God’s truth has the power within itself to save you, and to build you into the church of your Savior, regardless of who speaks it. The truth of Jesus Christ, when it is proclaimed and believed, is able to pick you up out of the mire of sin and death, and to transport you to the joyous fellowship of God’s saints.

Do you want to know where Jesus is building his church today, so that you can be united to this church, and to the Savior around whom the church gathers?

I certainly hope that you do. But make sure you know where to look, and what to look for.

The Scriptures do not tell us to look for large crowds as the best evidence that Jesus is at work. Sometimes in history, the true church and true Gospel of Christ have drawn large numbers. But at other times in history, they have not.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus was surrounded by the largest crowds at that time when his message and mission were least understood. Thousands flocked to him when they thought that he would be their “bread king,” providing a free lunch every day, and chasing the Romans out of Palestine for good measure too.

And Jesus was surrounded by the smallest number of people at that time in his earthly life when his true Messianic purpose was most clearly evident, in his suffering on the cross. His “congregation” at that pivotal time was very small, comprised of his dear mother, Mary Magdalene and one other woman, the apostle John, and a new convert - the penitent thief dying beside him.

If you’re tempted to look to numbers alone as the evidence that Jesus is building his church somewhere, remember this warning:

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide, and the way is easy, that leads to destruction. And those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow, and the way is hard, that leads to life. And those who find it are few.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives you the reliable guidance you need to be able to find his church - and to find him as the builder of his church. You can be confident that Jesus is drawing people out of the world, and to himself, whenever and wherever Peter’s confession of faith is proclaimed and expounded: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Where you hear the public proclamation of these words, together with everything that necessarily flows from these words into the fullness of the Gospel, you can be assured that this is a place where your Savior is at work, building his church. And you can be assured that in such a place, Jesus can and will build you into his church.

When the divinely-revealed truth of Jesus Christ is confessed among men, God himself is there to call you to repentance. When this divinely-revealed truth is confessed among men, God himself is there to impress upon your heart that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God.

And when you are gathered into the assembly of God’s people by this Gospel, and are thereby provided with the covering of Christ’s righteousness, you will be safe from the attacks of the devil on your conscience.

In spite of the lies he tells you, and in spite of how he tries to lure you out from the place of God’s protection, you are forgiven. You are a part of Christ’s church.

Also, when you as a member of the church do your part, with God’s strength, in storming the devil’s own stronghold - by bringing the saving testimony of Christ to those who have not yet believed in him - you can know that God will bless these efforts.

His word does not return to him empty, but it shall accomplish that which he purposes, and shall succeed in the thing for which he sent it.

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Amen.

31 August 2008 - Pentecost 16 - Matthew 16:21-28

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” What did Peter say to prompt that?

Remember from the Gospel reading last week that at an earlier point in this same conversation, Jesus had commended Peter for his confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus had told Peter then that his Father in heaven, and not flesh and blood, had revealed this to him.

But now, just a few minutes later, Peter is given the most severe rebuke imaginable. And a completely different supernatural personage is now identified as being the inspiration behind his thoughts and words.

What had he said? Well, in response to the Lord’s description of the suffering, death, and resurrection that awaited him in Jerusalem, Peter had said this: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

Our translation does not render Peter’s words as precisely as it could. Where Peter is quoted as saying, “Far be it from you, Lord,” a more literal rendering of the Greek would actually go something like this: “Merciful to you, Lord.” That is, “may God be merciful to you, Lord, and prevent these things from happening.”

The term used here is the same term that is used in the epistle to the Hebrews, where God is quoted to say: “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” But Peter’s concept of the mark of God’s mercy in a person’s life is different from what the epistle to the Hebrews tells us.

It is not the forgiveness of our sins that shows the presence of God’s mercy with us. In Peter’s mind, God’s mercy is evident when we survive and prevail in this world.

Peter’s assumptions about what God’s people can expect in this life were closer to Mr. Spock’s Vulcan greeting from the old Star Trek TV show: “Live long and prosper.” When Jesus indicated that, as far as his earthly life was concerned, he would not survive and prevail, and that he would not live long and prosper, Peter immediately responded with an invocation of God’s mercy and protection upon him.

And it was this invocation of God’s mercy, to prevent painful and distressing things from happening to Jesus, that Jesus then identified as having come from Satan. And he warned Peter that under Satan’s subtle and hidden influence, he was setting his mind on the things of man, and not on the things of God.

Peter’s sin was not that he was an irreligious man. Atheism was virtually unheard of back then. Peter’s problem was not that he didn’t believe in God. His problem was that he believed wrongly about God.

He projected up onto God, and into God’s mind, the wishes and aspirations of sinful man - the desire to survive and prevail, to live long and prosper. He simply assumed that what he would want for himself - and for Jesus - is what God would want for them.

But whenever you assume anything about God - apart from his Word, and apart from what he has actually revealed about himself and his will - you are putting yourself in grave spiritual danger. You are treading into the domain of Satanic deception.

Satan doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to get people to deny the existence of God. He knows that even unregenerated people have the natural knowledge of God’s existence embedded in their conscience - even though unregenerated people know virtually nothing about the God whose existence they intuitively acknowledge.

But Satan has had quite a bit of success over the centuries in getting people, like Peter, to believe things about God that are not true.

Peter believed in a God whose purpose was to protect Jesus from all physical and emotional harm. But such a God simply doesn’t exist. In his rebuke of Peter - and as a warning to the other disciples, and also to each of us - Jesus went on to say this:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?”

If you are a religious person who believes in the existence of God, and who even believes in the mercy of God, this is not a guarantee that you are a Christian, destined for eternal life.

Peter was gravely mistaken at this point in his life about what the proof of God’s mercy in someone’s life would be. The false belief to which he then held earned him the sharp rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!”

But what would Jesus say to us today, if he were to appear bodily among us, and talk to us directly? Might he say the same thing to us?

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Maybe he would.

If you, like Peter, believe that the evidence of God’s mercy in your life can be seen when you survive and prevail in various earthly situations, this is going to have an effect on the decisions you make every day. If the most important thing to you is that you would live long and prosper in this world, this will have a direct impact on how you live, on how you treat people, and on how you establish your priorities.

Jesus says that the one who would come after him and be his disciple must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow him. A Christian is therefore called to live in a way that follows the example of Christ, and that emulates Christ’s commitment to fulfilling the vocation that his Father in heaven had given him, come what may.

Of course, we have not been called to lay down our lives to atone for the sins of the world. That was the unique calling of Jesus as humanity’s Redeemer.

But we have been called to be willing to lay down our lives as a testimony to our faith in our crucified Savior, if the circumstances of life in this world would demand it. If a persecutor with a weapon in his hand would say, “renounce your faith or die,” we know what we would have to do.

No one is immortal as far as our bodily life is concerned. A Christian knows this. He knows that he will have to die someday anyway. But in his faith, and resurrection hope, a Christian is not afraid to die.

Therefore a Christian is not willing to do whatever it takes, to extend his earthly existence for a few more years, if that would mean denying his Savior, or violating the moral standards by which his Savior wants him to live.

But even if we here in America are not required to make the supreme sacrifice as followers of Christ, we are required to deny ourselves in every other way short of that, as we go forth each day into a sinful world that hates Christ and everything he stands for.

Every day we are faced with decisions - some of them small, and some of them momentous - in which we have the opportunity to give expression to what it is that we really believe in. The way that we act in each instance will be a testimony to what we think about the role of God in our lives, and about our role in God’s kingdom.

What is your calling from God? To serve, and preserve, yourself? No.

Your calling is to serve others, in the work that God has given you to perform, and in the relationships that God has established for you. And you are to carry out your work, and conduct yourself in your relationships, according to the immutable moral code that God has revealed in the Ten Commandments.

There are certain things that someone who has taken up his cross as a follower of Christ will not do, but that a person who lives for the purpose of surviving and prevailing in this world will do. A Christian who follows the example of Jesus in the choices that he makes may indeed suffer as a result, while those who do not follow that example may prosper, as far as earthly prosperity is concerned.

But some things are more important than worldly success and material rewards. A Christian knows that.

Of course, Christians who have taken up their cross to follow Christ in this world do sometimes prosper and succeed too. But this is because of God’s providential love, which often overrides the desire of the devil to destroy us.

A Christian who is governed by the Word of God does not have the option of trying to achieve success and prosperity by following the corrupted methods of the corrupted world: deceptions and dishonesty, betrayals, negligence of other moral duties, greed and selfishness.

If he tries to press a “mute” button on the voice of his conscience, and goes down that path anyway, he will lose too much. From the perspective of eternity, he will lose, and forfeit, everything.

Jesus warns: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” Jesus is not speaking here only to atheists and agnostics and mockers of religion.

He is also speaking to religious people like Peter, who in today’s text had invoked God’s intervention to keep Jesus from experiencing suffering and death - as if things like that could not possibly be a part of God’s will.

The Lord’s warning is addressed to people of all times and places, who presume to invent a religion for themselves that does not require the bearing of a cross in this sinful world, but that accommodates itself to the norms and standards of this sinful world.

This is not the religion of the Savior who tells us: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

It is easy for people with a certain agenda to persuade themselves that God is giving them special permission to do what his Law usually forbids. Or we can think that God might be looking the other way when we make decisions, and pursue courses of action, that violate the standards he has actually given us for how we should treat people.

But God does not give you such loopholes for your ethical behavior. As far as God’s demands on you are concerned, it doesn’t matter that most people in the world violate his morality in how they act.

You are called to live as he tells you to live, even if you are the only one doing so.

We can indeed be thankful when we are blessed with material prosperity and other comforts and joys of this life. But let us make sure that this prosperity has come because of the overriding goodness and mercy of God, who blesses us in our faithful pursuit of the calling he has given us in spite of the world’s opposition.

Let us make sure that our prosperity has not come because we have compromised our beliefs and values, and have laid the cross of divine truth that we were carrying by the side of the road, and moved on without it.

Jesus gives another ultimate warning to those who set their minds on the things of man and not on the things of God, and who live for the sake of surviving and prevailing, and not for the sake of serving. He says: “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”

If you have not taken up your cross to follow Christ in humility, but are instead following your own ambitions and pride, you will still die. Life in this world does not last forever for anybody.

And you will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. The one you had refused to know as Lord and as example you will someday know anyway. But you will know him as judge.

Those who have not known Christ or his ways in life, will, in death, stand before the Lord’s throne of judgment, without the righteousness of Christ covering them and their sins. Their sins will therefore be exposed for all to see.

As they stand there in shame, they will be reminded of every underhanded and cruel act they ever committed, in their pursuit of worldly power and wealth. Every person they stepped on, on their way up the ladder of success, will rise up to accuse them.

Every lie that was ever spoken, to gain an unfair advantage over others, will echo back with condemning clarity. Every spouse, child, and parent who was neglected and ignored, so that the love of money could be pursued instead, will stand there as witnesses to the many sins of omission that were also committed in the condemned person’s ultimately purposeless life.

But if that’s not the fate you want, it doesn’t have to be. If that’s not the way you want to live now, you don’t have to.

In repentance, and in faith, you can take up your cross, and follow Christ. If you have laid down that cross, in the misguided pursuit of worldly success, you can take that cross up again, right here, right now.

Jesus is holding it out to you, and offering to place it once again on your shoulders, as he forgives you for all the mistakes and missteps of the past.

In his Holy Absolution, as he speaks his words of pardon to you through the lips of his called servant, he washes away all your sins, and creates in you a clean heart. And simultaneously he renews to you the calling that he has given you, to deny yourself, and come after him.

The communicants who will approach the Lord’s table in a few minutes will likewise be offered the pardon and cleansing of their Savior in that Holy Supper. And as they rise up from that sacramental encounter with Christ, they will do so with the cross of God’s truth having been gently laid upon them once again.

It doesn’t matter how many times in the past you have picked up, and then dropped, the cross of Christ. For as long as you live, Jesus always gives you another chance to pick it up, and follow him once again. Jesus will always forgive, and will always let you start over again, in his strength.

And as a final thought, realize this too: as God’s authoritative Word dwells within you and governs you - as it suppresses temptation and bolsters you in your weakness - you are already a part of Christ’s kingdom.

We confess in the Small Catechism that “The kingdom of God comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.”

That, I think, is what Jesus is alluding to when he says: “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” The followers of Christ do not have to wait for judgment day to see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

He comes now, hidden in his Word and Sacrament. You see him now, by faith, as he unites himself to you, pardons you, and renews you in your calling to be his own special people in this hostile world.

You may have arrived here today assuming that the place for a person to find his life - his meaning and purpose - is in the successes and achievements that are accomplished in this world. But this is not where life is found.

The life of God is found, and is enjoyed forever, not in the successes of this world, but in the cross of Jesus. The life of God is experienced here and now, day by day, in the calling that Jesus has given us: a calling in which we are to serve others and deny ourselves; a calling in which we are to take up our cross, and come after him.

Jesus, I my cross have taken, All to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition, All I’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition! God and heaven are still my own. Amen.