Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sent to the House of Israel

Today is Reminiscere, "You Remember," Sunday in the life of Christ's Church. To hear the sermon preached at Trinity Lutheran Church at Layton, Utah based upon the Gospel for Invocavit, Matthew 15:21-28, "Sent to the House of Israel," click on this mp3 audio link provided.

The audio recording begins with the Old Testament reading, and includes the Hymn of the Day, LSB #615--"When in the Hour of Deepest Need." The sermon begins at 12:24. The audio continues through and concludes with the Prayer of the Church.

The preaching transcript follows below if you prefer to read along, or read instead.

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Dear people of God,

The house of Israel is the house of faith—or Jesus is a liar.

All this business of the end times being fulfilled in the Middle East is a distraction, deception, and delusion born of the father of lies, who shall here remain nameless in derision of this most damnable derelict.

Do not be deceived, dear people. You are in the House of Israel, you are of the House of Israel, for you have been baptized into the faith that defines Israel—you have been baptized into Christ Jesus.

And that is the lesson of our Gospel text today, the lesson of the blessed Canaanite woman and her daughter—both saved by faith, that is, saved by Jesus the Christ the Son of the living God.

We read:
TEXT: 21Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And 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.” 23But 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.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before [i.e. worshipped. She worshiped before] him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Matthew 15:21-28

This is worship, dear people of God. This is worship in the House of Israel—kneeling before the Lord and begging for His help; begging for His healing; begging for Him to cast away our demons; begging for Him to heal even our children.

When Jesus commends this woman’s faith and heals her daughter, He is declaring her and her child to be two of those lost sheep of the House of Israel to whom He was sent. And so He declares you to be of those lost sheep of the House of Israel to whom He was sent--sent to gather you together here in the House of Israel, that is, the house that struggles with, and at times against God as we struggle with and against His Word, His very promise for us.

The history of Israel is a history of those who strive, those who wrestle with and against God, as we heard in our Old Testament lesson today. The history of Israel is the history of struggling and wrestling with and against God, that is, of faith in Him and unfaith. And it is ultimately the history of The faithful One, Jesus the Christ—the one man Who was and is faithful unto death and receives the crown of life, that passage from Revelation 2:10 that is the confirmation passage that’s read to all of our confirmands here at Trinity.

The history of Israel, those who strive and wrestle with and against God is the history of one man, Jacob, as we again heard in our Old Testament lesson. But from Jacob comes the nation of Israel--a nation who struggles, who wrestles with and against God, the people of His holy Word and His promise. And ultimately the history of Israel, through Jacob that one called Israel; that nation in the middle east 2000+ years ago, that nation of Israel comes back to the one Man--Jesus the Christ, the true Israel.

What all of these have in common is the Word of God that is the promise of the Savior that abides with and even in them.

In Genesis 25 we hear of the birth of that one sinful man who would be called Israel:
This is the genealogy of Isaac, Abraham’s son. [Abraham to whom that promise was given and that promise sent with him into the promised land; that from his generations, from his sons would come the Son of God and the Son of Man, the Savior.] Abraham begot Isaac—[in his old age, if you recall]. 20 Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah as wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian. 21 Now Isaac pleaded with the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If all is well, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.
23 And the LORD said to her: “Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.”
24 So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. 25 And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
27 So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents. 28 And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

So Esau being the oldest one held the birthright of his father--that birthright of the promise from God, and he esteemed it not; he honored it not. He didn’t give a fig for it, in other words. And he sold his birthright for a pot of stew. He was weary, he was hungry from hunting and all he could think about was his stomach. Kind of reminds us of the temptation of Jesus we heard about last week, Who was hungry from forty days and nights in the wilderness without food and drink yet did not betray the promise that was placed upon Him and entrusted to Him as does Esau here.

Being hungry he entreats his brother to give him something to eat. And his brother Jacob, “the one who grasps the heel,” deals treacherously. He says, “Oh, I’ll feed you, Brother--if you give me your birthright.”

And so Esau says, “Look, I’m about to die. So what is this birthright to me?” And Jacob says, “Swear to me as of this day.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright [and gave it up—gave up the very promise of God given to him through his father.]

And as we continue we see that the mother of these children loved Jacob more. And to seal that birthright and hear that promise given from the lips of the father to whom it was given directly to that son, she tricks her own husband putting skins of goats on Isaac to cover his neck and hands to fool his father, whose eyesight was growing very dim.

And she gave him savory food and the bread, which she had prepared, [to mimic the game that Esau was out getting for his father. And so Jacob takes these things disguised as his brother, goes to him and says]: “My father.”

“Here I am. Who are you, my son?” [Isaac says. And Jacob says,] “I am Esau your firstborn; I have done just as you told me; please arise, sit and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” Genesis 27

And so by trickery, this promise of God; the promise of salvation; the promise of the Savior; the promise of the Israel to come is handed down to Jacob…on the surface through his own trickery.

Certainly Jacob reminds us of ourselves here, doesn’t he?--willing to trick, to fool our own brother, our own father, caring not for any neighbor, much less—all as long as we get what we want, what we deserve, right?

The history of Israel continues with Jacob [Genesis 32]. He arises one night, takes “his two wives, [as we heard in our Old Testament text today], his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crosse[s] over the ford of [the] Jabbok [River]. 23 He [takes] them, [sends] them over the brook, and [all that he has, and is] left alone; and a Man [capitalized “M”] wrestle[s] with him until the breaking of day. [That man--the pre-incarnate Christ--He wrestles with this man and] when He saw that He did not prevail against him, [that Man, that God-Man] touched the socket of [Jacob’s] hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. 26 And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.”

[And Jacob says,] “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”

The one whose hip socket has been put out, he will not let go. As if he’s in charge here! Boy, that Jacob sounds more and more like you and me, doesn’t he?

[And the Man says to Jacob], “What is your name?”


28 And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob. [That is, one who deals treacherously with his brother. But now you will be called the one who struggles, who wrestles with God and with men. Your name is “Israel,” [the God-Man says.]

And to this one is given the promise of the Savior.

Further on in Genesis 35, [God reminds him,] “Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. 11And God said unto [this Israel, formerly Jacob], I am God Almighty [in other words, “Not you, Jacob, I Am”]: be fruitful and multiply [because I Am God Almighty and say that it will be so]; [be] a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee[because I Am God Almighty and I have given it to thee], and kings shall come out of thy loins [even, as we know, the King of kings because I Am God Almighty said it would be so]; 12And the land which [this God Almighty] gave Abraham and Isaac, to [Israel He gave] it, and to [his] seed [singular! To his seed, that is the One, the God-Man Jesus Christ born of the Virgin Mary—that seed He promised way back in Genesis 3 that we heard about last week. That seed would come through him.

And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him.

“Where he talked with him,” this is the legacy of Israel. This is what we have inherited. This is what defines the House of Israel, the House of Faith. It is where God talks with His people; where He gives them His promise of salvation; where He dwells with them in the flesh now and forever.

The nation--that is, the family, the people of Israel are those who strive and wrestle with God in His holy Word. We would see it later on as that nation of Israel that springs from Jacob’s loins gets taken into slavery into Egypt –both to discipline them because of their unfaith, but also to protect and bless them from the famine that is in the land from which they come.

We see that nation of Israel then delivered from slavery in Egypt; delivered from the things of this world; the kings and princes of this world; all the finery and lusts of the flesh of this world. And we see them wandering in the wilderness for forty years, then, because of their unfaith; because of their complaint against God for taking them out of that land of slavery; their complaint against the manna. The bread of life sent from heaven to sustain them wasn’t good enough for them.

Wow! That is you and me.

And ultimately He delivered that people Israel into the Promised Land. This history of Israel through one man and his seed, through a nation in Old Testament times, and finally in Christ Jesus Himself is about a nation, a people of the Promise, a people of faith.

The Psalmist writes in that worship hymnal of the Israelites, “Do not put your trust in princes.” [Psalm 146:2-4] And yet that people of Israel often did that. And for that they were often disciplined and punished. But yet the Lord always strove with them by His holy Word. And after He would put out their hip from their sockets to weaken them when they were stubborn and wanted to do things their own way, then having done that and driven them to their knees He once again would give them that promise of salvation—that promise of salvation that took on flesh in the person of Jesus the Christ.

In the first chapter of John we see Jesus going out and gathering His disciples. And one of the first disciples, Nathanael, He sees “coming to him, and [says] of him [of this Nathanael], Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!—[no deception, no untruth, no unfaith.]

48Nathanael [says] unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answer[s] and sa[ys] unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. [Not within eyesight, surely. And Nathanael knew this. So he answer[s] and sa[ys] unto him, Rabbi, [teacher] thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. 50Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. 51And [Jesus said] unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

Does that sound familiar to you from Sunday School days? Jacob’s Ladder! That one who was first called Israel by God, this was his dream, angels of God ascending and descending from heaven to earth and back to heaven again. That’s what Jesus does. This ladder of which he dreamed, these angels ascending and descending were ascending and descending upon the place where God reveals Himself to man—where He strives with them with His Word to drive them to their knees with the Law that tells them they can’t do it alone no matter how hard they’re going to try. And then that lifts them up again and sends them on their way of faith, trusting in Him to deliver them--to redeem Israel, yes, redeem even Jesus, Who could have down from that cross Himself; Who wouldn’t have had to die, but yet submitted Himself to the will of His Father who wants all of us to be saved [1 Timothy 2:4].

He did the opposite of that first Israel. He cared more for His brother and died for him, rather than grasp that promise that was placed upon Him [Philippians 2:6]. He was glad to fulfill that promise for that first Israel, and for the nation of Israel, and for you and me.

Indeed in suffering death and condemnation--the damnation, the forsakenness of God--He was THE faithful One. He is THE faith, Who died and submitted Himself to the Father and trusted His Father to lift Him up out of the grave—that is, to redeem Him, the true Israel--along with the nation that bears His name out of all their troubles, which are indeed self inflicted, self generated, self desired.

Yes, Jesus is THE faithful One, Who is faithful unto death, was faithful unto death, who has received the crown of life and gives it to all those who are called to the house that He was sent to.

So, dear people of God, for you to be faithful unto death, for you to receive the crown of life you must die in Christ.

And die in Christ you do! Die in Christ you have! In Baptism, when that water as poured over your head with the blessed name of the One true God--Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit—you died with Christ and you were lifted up with Him into the heavenly realms as well [Ephesians 2:6].

And every single time you hear the Word of God that proceeds from, abides with, indeed even delivered you to the blessed font of living water in the first place; you have been brought into the House of Israel—that house to whom God, to whom Jesus has been sent.

Baptism is where you became a true Israelite in whom there is no guile--because Baptism is your Canaanite woman’s moment. Baptism is where Jesus—the One who was sent to the house of Israel was sent to you; where you and your children, like that Canaanite woman and her child receive His mercy, receive His forgiveness, receive His healing of every physical and spiritual disease unto eternal life-- in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Friday, March 2, 2012

Our Father, Who Art in Heaven and Thy Church

My father confessor once advised and encouraged me to be more specific about and focused upon preaching and teaching God the Father in my sermons and Bible studies.

Now there is great risk in this. There are a *lot* of Christians in our anti-authoritarian, feminist zeitgeist, who are just all right with Jesus (a rather large majority in my estimation). But that Father figure? Not so much. After all, He is the one who visited all the punishment of hell on His one and only beloved Son in whom He was supposedly well pleased. And fathers, along with the men born in their image, are the root of every evil in our day and age.

Why couldn’t our Father who art in heaven be a little more compassionate than our fathers here on earth? Shouldn't He be tolerant of the sin we might just happen to commit as we go about trying so hard to please Him, and love us enough to just fugettaboutit already without us begging Him for forgiveness every single Sunday--or whenever we might happen to find some free time to come to church and commune with His Son?

In restrospect, we lost a few families in which women were the "spiritual" halves and heads--as well as those whose situation prompted the advice--to other more tolerant churches and pastors because of my contemporary application of this salutary counsel to preach and teach the First Person of the Holy Trinity, Who is our God and the namesake of our congregation.

Sadly, Christian enthusiasts of the world like the aforementioned are to be found in great number even amongst our Lutheran churches. Certainly they will confess with us that where two or three are gathered in His name, there Jesus is with us. But for them this is a theoretical exercise accomplished by their gathering together as a body in the spirit of their hearts and bringing Him there, rather than by them being gathered by the Holy Spirit into His bodily presence. For them, the Son is with us spiritually in our hearts, but substantially He has left the building and given us a ministry almost totally defined by the activity of the spirit--whoever he may be. By this spirit Jesus lives in our hearts and we lift Him up and glorify Him with our worship, instead of worshiping the One who is Himself glorified in being lifted up on the cross and stooping down to us in the Divine Service of Word and Sacrament.

In other words, the real presence of Jesus—which they also will gladly confess with us--is located with His Church in the hearts of believers, rather than in His means of grace. The faith of the believers, rather than the Word of God, is the power by which Baptism saves and bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.

All the while Christ is in absentia, sitting in some far-away heaven at the right hand of the Father, Who is watching this whole thing unfold before His eyes and being entertained by us as He kicks back in His great recliner in the sky--probably smoking a cigar and summoning His female angels to fetch them some beer.

So calling for these folks to repent of the evil thoughts, sinful desires, lustful immorality, and boastful self-service that proceed from the hearts of men; and pointing them to a Father whom we can only approach on bended knee, confessing our sins and pleading His forgiveness for the sake of His Son in the ministry of His Church; is like telling a liberated feminist to obey his or her father, or honor marriage as one man being the head and caretaker of his wife and household.

Therefore, though many may find it offensive and head for a more "spiritual" climate, I submit that Lutheran pastors owe it to their people (including, and even especially those who may take offense), and the God Whom they serve, to bring the Father back into their churches where He belongs--with His Son who, together with the Holy Spirit lives and reigns *now* and forever on earth in His Church even as He is in heaven.