“He told me everything I ever did…”

Text: John 4:4-42

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

How many people in the world know, or have known, everything (and I mean everything) about you? Maybe it’s your spouse or a friend or maybe even a child. But do they actually know everything? Do you want them to know everything? Or would you rather keep a few things under wraps so that no one else knows about them?

I think it is fair to say that we all have some things in our lives that we aren’t too proud of and would rather not let other people know about. Maybe a thought that ran through our head that was a little beyond what we would be comfortable telling other people about or maybe a word that we said to someone in private but really regret now and hope never comes up again or maybe some actions in our past that we’d like to just forget. Whatever it is, we’ve all got some kind of skeletons (big ones or small ones) in our closet that we don’t want people to find out about.

But why? Why don’t we want other people to know these things about us? What are we hiding from? The simplest answer, I think, is that we are worried what other people will think about is if they know who we really are. If they know what we did that one time or what we said or what kinds of things go through our heads they might not look at us the same way they did before, they might not love us the same way that they did before. If they knew who we really are they might not want to be with us anymore.

These kinds of thoughts must have been in the background for the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well in our Gospel reading today. She certainly has secrets that she is hiding. She has things that she does not want the world to know. That is why she comes to the well at the “sixth hour” which means around noon at the hottest point in the day. You only come to the well then if you are trying to avoid people.

Jesus shows us here though that there is nothing that is hidden from Him. Despite whatever efforts this woman might make to keep her past deeds a secret and whatever we try to do to keep our past a secret, Jesus knows what is going on. As they talk there at the well Jesus asks this woman to go and call her husband. There really is no reason to do this, nothing in the conversation to this point would necessitate getting another person involved, but Jesus has a point to make. “Go and call your husband.”

The woman is taken aback by what Jesus says. In this one little sentence He has gone and put His finger right on the sore spot that she is trying to cover up and hide. With this one request He has put her on the defensive. She has to throw up some walls to try and protect the secrets that she does not want out in public. “I have no husband,” she replies.

It’s not a lie, but it’s not quite true either. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;” Jesus says, “For you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” She has had five husbands in her life and right now she is with a man who is not her husband. We don’t know how she ended up going through husbands like this. They could have died or they could have divorced her. Women in those days couldn’t divorce their husbands, only husbands could divorce their wives, so it might not have even been her fault. We just don’t know. But we do know that she is currently with a man who is not her husband. Jesus’ words even leave the possibility open that this man is actually someone else’s husband, but maybe not. Either way, it is not a good situation and the woman is not proud of what she has done.

How does the woman respond? At first, she tries to deflect at first and change the topic. Understandably, she doesn’t want to talk about these aspects of her past with a stranger at the well. But that is not the end of the story. After the disciples come back to the well and see Jesus talking with this woman, she runs into town, leaving her water jar behind, and tells people (the same people she was trying to avoid by coming to the well at noon!) to come and see this man who told her everything that she ever did. “Could this be the Christ? The Messiah? The Saviour?”

This woman is taken aback that Jesus knew these kinds of things about her, but what is even more remarkable is that even though He knew all of this about her and knew the kind of baggage and history that she had, Jesus had spoken to her and offered her living water that would well up inside of her to life everlasting. Before this conversation at the well Jesus already knew everything about this woman and in spite of what He knew about her He revealed to her that He is the Christ, the one who is to come, the Saviour who will take away the sin of the world. Jesus looks at this woman knowing exactly who she is and exactly what she has done and out of love, mercy, and grace offers her the forgiveness of sins and living water welling up in her to eternal life. Jesus is not downplaying her past and the mistakes that she has made (instead, He drags them out into the open and calls attention to them), but still He loves her so deeply that He would offer this life giving water to her.

Christ Jesus knows everything about you too. Nothing you have done or will do is hidden from Him. He knows the number of the hairs on your head and He knows the things that you don’t want anyone else to know. He knows the things that you especially don’t want Him to know. And yet His love for you is so deep that He would go to the cross for you, die for you, rise for you, wash you in your baptism, and feed you with His own body and blood in communion. His love for you is so deep that He would forgive you even for those things that you don’t want anyone to know.

This is what Paul was talking about in our epistle reading today. In Romans 5 he says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still sinners, while we were caught up in sin and unable to save ourselves, Christ died for us in order to forgive each and every one of our sins. This forgiveness is a wonderful and beautiful thing. It sets us free from guilt and shame. It sets us free from trying to strive to make up for the wrong that we have done. It sets us free to live in peace and joy loving and serving our neighbour.

It is important to notice from this story though that this forgiveness that Jesus offers does not ignore sin, it does not pretend that sin never happened. That is not what forgiveness means. Forgiveness does not mean sweeping things under the rug and pretending that no one saw it. Forgiveness means Jesus confronting sin face to face, staring it in the eyes, and hearing Him say, “I forgive you.”

Jesus does not ignore the sinful life that the woman He meets at well is caught up in. He doesn’t say to her, “You’ve gone through a few husbands, that’s ok, divorce and adultery are no big deal.” He doesn’t say, “Don’t worry, who knows what’s right or wrong in the world these days anyway.” He doesn’t say, “The world has changed it’s not as big a deal as it used to be.” Jesus simply lays out the facts, “You have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.” Sin is sin.

Just like the woman at the well, Jesus doesn’t hid the fact that you have sinned. We might like to try to hide those kinds of things, but Jesus doesn’t hide them. Jesus also doesn’t make excuses for us or downplay what we have done to make us feel better. Instead, like it or not, Jesus brings your sin, your past, out into the light of day. He points out our sin so that we see it for what it is. We may not have had five husband or wives, but we are just as guilty as the woman at the well was. But nothing about that sin and nothing about that past changes His love for you. Into the brokenness, into the sinfulness, Jesus pours out His blood shed for you on the cross that covers all of your sins and leaves you clean and holy with His righteousness and holiness.

“Come see the man who told me everything I ever did (especially the bad stuff!)” the woman said to the people in town, “Though I am a poor miserable sinner He spoke the most gracious, loving words that I have ever heard! Could He be the Christ?!” Yes, He is the Christ, the Son of the living God and He has taken away the sin of the world. Repent, believe the Good News, Jesus Christ has died for you and taken away your sin and guilt. Believe in Him and rejoice, your guilt is taken away your sin is covered. In Jesus name. Amen.

Lifted Up For All to See

Text: John 3:1-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Look where you want to go!” That is what the driver instructor kept saying to me when I was learning to drive. At the time I wondered what she was talking about, it seems pretty straightforward to look where you want the car to go when you are driving. You want to go straight, look straight. You want to turn left, look left. But I learned one day a little while later what she really meant. I was driving with my dad in rural Alberta in the middle of January and, while trying to make a left turn, put the car into the deep, snow-filled ditch. I realized as the car was getting pulled out of the ditch that I had stared right at the ditch once I realized that I might hit it. Sure enough, the car went right where I was looking.

If you watch the show “Canada’s Worst Driver” you can see how this works too. They teach people to “look where they want to go,” but most of the drivers on the show don’t get it. They end up driving right into the obstacles that they are trying to avoid because their eyes become fixated on them.

Looking where you want to go is great advice for driving, it could save your life, but when it comes to our Christians faith Jesus has a very different idea about where we should be looking. Earlier in the service we spoke/sang the gradual: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, let us allow our eyes to become fixated on Him not looking anywhere else. Especially, let us fix our eyes on Jesus as He hangs dying on the cross because that is where we see our salvation.

In our Gospel reading today Jesus is talking with a man named Nicodemus who is a Pharisee. This whole conversation that Jesus has with Nicodemus in John 3 is really quite fascinating, but I’d like us to focus on something else that Jesus said while talking with Nicodemus. Just before the John 3:16 part Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life.”

In the Old Testament book of Numbers in chapter 21 we find the story that Jesus is talking about here where Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness. The people of Israel were on their way to the Promised Land that God was giving to them, but it was not a straight forward trip. Because the people were scared to enter the Promised Land and did not trust God, God made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years. As they wandered around in the wilderness the people often got frustrated with God because they did not have things the way that they wanted them. On this occasion, like many other occasions, the people complained that they did not have any food or water. The people complained against Moses, their leader, and against God. “Why had God brought them out here to die in the wilderness?” they wondered to themselves. Well, God had something in mind for these complaining and rebellious people. He sent snakes, poisonous ones, “fiery” ones, deadly ones, and whenever anyone got bit with one of these snakes they died. A lot of people died. Finally, after many snake bites and deaths the people realized that they had sinned by complaining against God like this and not trusting Him to provide for them so they asked Moses to pray for them and ask God to take the snakes away. But, kind of surprisingly I think, God did not take the snakes away. Instead, God gave Moses some instructions. Moses was to make a snake out of bronze and set it up high on a pole, whenever one the of the people of Israel was bitten by one of the snakes they could look at the snake on the pole and they would live.

One of the remarkable things about that story is that God uses the very thing that was terrifying the people and even killing them as the source of their salvation. Snakes were biting the people and killing them so God told Moses to put a snake on a pole for the people to look at and be saved. They didn’t need to look where they wanted to go or look away from the danger, but instead God had them look right into the eyes of the very thing that they wanted to be saved from and see their salvation.

And now, in our Gospel reading today, we are called to do the same. As He talks with Nicodemus, Jesus says that just as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness “so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Like the serpent that was lifted up in the wilderness to provide salvation to those who had been bitten and were dying, Jesus must be lifted up on the cross to provide salvation for us from sin and death. Jesus calls us to fix our eyes on Him, to look at Him lifted up on the cross, and see our salvation.

If we try to understand Jesus without the cross, if we try to ignore the ugliness of what happened there we will miss the point and understand Jesus entirely. The cross is everything. Looking where we want to go, fixing our gaze and our attention on something else, can’t save us. Positive thoughts can’t save us, generic faith that things will get better can’t save us, and distractions can’t save us. On Jesus dying on the cross can.

Nicodemus has seen many things from Jesus. He starts of his conversation with Jesus by saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God because no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Nicodemus and his friends have seen the things that Jesus can do. They have seen the miracles of Jesus, the healings, and they are impressed. Surely only someone with God on his side could do the kinds of things that they have seen Jesus do. But Nicodemus does not understand the cross, he just sees the “signs,” the miracles. He looks at Jesus and sees a teacher from God, not a Saviour, because he hasn’t seen the cross yet. But he will. Nicodemus will see Jesus lifted up. In fact, he will be one of the ones to care for the lifeless body of Jesus when they take Him down from the cross. Nicodemus will help bury Jesus. Then, and only then, will Nicodemus truly understand Jesus. Only when we look at the cross when Jesus suffers and see the lifeless body of Jesus laid in the tomb do we see who Jesus really is. Only when we look at Jesus hanging there and dying do we see our salvation.

Like the people of Israel in the wilderness we have been bitten by the serpent. Satan, the crafty serpent who led Adam and Eve into sin in the Garden of Eden, has bitten us too with his deadly poison of sin. We sin daily in thought, word, and deed. We do not love our neighbour as ourselves and we do not love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We don’t obey God’s commandments. Just like the people of Israel out there in the wilderness we grumble and complain against God when things don’t go our way. Like them we don’t trust God to provide the things that we need and we worry that our daily needs won’t be met. Because of this we are dying. That is a fact that no one can deny, we are all dying. People might argue about the sinful part and suggest that we are all generally good people who try our best, but no one can deny death. That is a reality for all of us. We can try to run from it, but we will never escape. We are born, we live, we die. That is the undeniable pattern for human life. But Jesus has interrupted this pattern.

Jesus invites us to look at Him suspended up high from a cross, bleeding, and dying and see our salvation. Like the serpent in the wilderness He invites us to look at the very thing that terrifies us, the very thing that we are trying at all costs to avoid, death itself, and be saved. Jesus invites us to stare death in the face on the cross and know that through His death we are set free from death. He invites us to look as His death and see our own death happening right there. He has taken our death for us so that our own death becomes nothing to fear, we fall asleep to this world and wake up in the glorious, life giving, out-stretched, nail marked hands of Jesus who is risen from the dead.

So let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, as He hangs on the cross dying. Because right there in His death we see our salvation. And when death comes around and rears its ugly head, whether it is our death or someone else’s, let’s fix our eyes on that cross and know that our Saviour bled and died for us so that we could live. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” and allowed Him to be lifted upon the cross and die for us so “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Amen.

The Devil Defeated for You

Text: Matthew 4:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

It doesn’t take an expert or a trained eye to see the difference between our Old Testament reading and our Gospel reading today. The difference between the two readings is pretty stark. First we have Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden being tempted by the devil who appears to them in the form of a serpent. He pokes and prods them into eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the one tree God said they could not eat from. “Did God really say that you couldn’t eat from that one? You know He is just trying to stop you from being smart, happy, and self-sufficient, right?” Of course, Adam and Eve fall for it, they eat the fruit, and, as they say, the rest is history. Here we are in a broken world of sin as a result.

Our Gospel, on the other hand, is a completely different story. Some of the characters are the same, or at least one of them is the same. The devil is back again, but not disguised as a serpent this time. He’s out there in the wilderness with Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh. Adam and Eve are long gone, they have died and rest in eternity waiting for the resurrection of the dead, but Jesus is there. The devil comes to Jesus with the same intentions that he had for Adam and Eve back in the day. He wants to trick, lie, and deceive and lead Jesus off the course that has been laid out for Him by the Father in Heaven. The devil tries and tries, three times to be precise, to deceive and tempt Jesus, but nothing works. Jesus will not be so easily deceived. After the third failed temptation Jesus commands the devil to “Be gone” and that devil has no choice but to flee with his tail between his legs.

If nothing else, these two readings side by side ought to show us that when it comes to dealing with temptations that we dare not trust ourselves. Instead we ought to trust only in Jesus. If we trust ourselves and try to deal with it ourselves we end up no better than Adam and Eve. Because they were deceived by the serpent and sinned we have inherited their inclination to sin. We are easily tempted and deceived. Instead we trust in Jesus, our Saviour, the conqueror, who battled in the wilderness with our enemy the devil and won. He gives us the victory over sin and death.

As we look deeper at this story of Jesus out in the wilderness struggling with the devil it would be tempting to think that the temptations that He faced out there have nothing to do with us. These temptations might seem to be kind of Jesus specific: turn this stone into bread, jump of the temple so angels catch you, bow down and worship the devil. But the writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us that “in every way [Jesus] has been tempted just as we are, yet remained without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus’ temptations are our temptations. There is no temptation that we face that Jesus has not faced and there is no temptation that Jesus faces which does not relate to us. He has been tempted just as we are tempted.

We might be tempted in less miraculous ways, but our temptations are the same. We aren’t tempted to turn stones into bread because we are not able to do that, but we are daily tempted to not trust in God to provide daily bread and instead worry about how we will provide bread and other necessities for ourselves. We might not be tempted to throw ourselves off of tall buildings so that God sends angels to catch us, but we are tempted to not trust God’s promises and maybe want to see some proof from God form time to time. And, we might not be tempted to bow down and worship the devil specifically, but we are constantly tempted to worship so many other things in the place of God. These temptations are our temptations and in the face of temptations like this we need the constant assurance that comes through faith in Jesus that He has defeated our enemy the devil for us.

But there is also something much deeper, much more sinister going on here in this gospel reading and in our own lives. This story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness happens immediately after Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River by John. You might be familiar with what happened there. Jesus comes up out of the water and the Holy Spirit comes down from heaven in the form of a dove and God the Father’s voice booms from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, my chosen one.”

Now look at the first two temptations in our Gospel reading today. In both of the first two the devil starts out by saying, “If you are the Son of God…” The devil heard God’s voice that day out at the Jordan River and now he is going to put Jesus to the test by calling his identity as the Son of God into question. It’s like he said to Jesus, “Are you really the Son of God? Did God really say that? Are you sure you heard Him right? If you are the Son of God turn these rocks into bread because that is something the Son of God should be able to do? If you are the Son of God jump off this temple because surely God would rescue the He beloved Son. Are you sure you are the Son of God?”

Like the other temptations, this is also a temptation that we face. We are tempted constantly by the devil to questions whether or not we are really God’s children. Just like Jesus, we were baptised and when we were baptised God called us His beloved children. We are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. But the devil goes to work on us and tries to make us doubt and question our identity as children of God. We might think of the devil most of the time as just trying to make us do bad stuff or break God’s commandments like the little red guy on our shoulder in a cartoon or something, but if we think that is all the devil does we are not giving him enough credit. What he really wants is to make us question who we are as the children of God and God’s love for us.

It starts out really simply, the devil tempts us into some kind of small simple sin. Something that doesn’t seem like such a big deal. It happens again and again and again every day. But then one day, out of nowhere, when we’ve done something that starts to make our conscience feel uncomfortable, he turns on us and says to us, “Did you really just do that? Christians don’t do stuff like that you know! God commanded you not to do that! He won’t love you anymore, He can’t forgive you for that! What have you done?!” You can bet that the devil did this to Adam and Eve after they sinned in the garden (why else do you think that they hid from God?), and he does it to us too.

If we try to fight this temptation to doubt God’s love for us and our identity as His children ourselves one of two things happens, either we decide that we don’t care anymore and we harden our hearts so that we don’t feel guilt anymore or we get lost in despair and lose hope altogether because we have fallen for the lies of the devil. Either way, the devil wins.

But the whole point of our gospel reading today is to show us that the devil does not win. He is a liar and a murder and he has been since the beginning, but this lying murdering devil is defeated. Out there in the wilderness we see Jesus defeat the devil for us, not simply showing us how to defeat him, but actually defeating Him for us. Jesus presents a third option for us, an option that is much better than hardening our hearts or giving up in despair: trust in Christ. He has won the victory.

The devil’s attacks on Jesus questioning His identity as the Son of God don’t stop after Jesus leaves the wilderness. These attacks will plague Him throughout His earthly ministry. The devil is relentless. Even as He hangs on the cross people will shout at Him, “If you are the Son of God come down from there, save yourself!” But in the face of these final temptations and accusations Jesus calls out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” He breathes His last and dies. And with His death He wins the victory over the devil, over temptation, over sin, and over death itself for us.

We have no reason to doubt God’s love for us or doubt our identity as God’s children because Jesus gave His life for us to make us God’s children and to break and hinder every temptation the devil can throw at us. We were baptised into Christ, we are God’s children now, and nothing, nothing not even the very worst that we can do, can take that away from us.

So when the devil comes poking around, when He throws your guilt and sin in your face and wants you to question whether or not God could love you, remember Jesus Christ crucified for you. Jesus Christ was victorious out there in the wilderness, was victorious on the cross, and rose victoriously from the dead for you. He baptised you and made you a child of God. The devil has no claim on you anymore. Don’t listen to him, listen to Jesus. In Jesus name. Amen.

Repentance

Text: Psalm 51:17

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

I had the opportunity one time to visit a prison. It was a women’s correctional facility in Edmonton. It was an eye opening experience. Talking to the women in that prison I very quickly began to realize that at least to a certain degree almost all of them realized that they had done something wrong, they were guilty. Really, this should not have been surprising. Every aspect of these women’s lives was a reminder of their guilt. When they woke up in the morning and were not in their own beds and homes it was a reminder. When they went and did their jobs in the prison rather than their regular jobs it was a reminder. When they ate supper with fellow inmates rather than their families it was a reminder. Everything around them pointed to their guilt. That guilt was everywhere.

You and I could learn something from those women in the prison, I think. You see we are often experts at blinding ourselves to our own guilt. We are well trained in the art of ignoring and not noticing the things that we do wrong. Like Adam and Eve we are very capable of passing blame to someone else (“It was the woman!” “It was the serpent!” etc.). We try very hard to make sure that guilt doesn’t stick to us.

There are times in our lives, however, when our façade of innocence starts to break down. There are times when, like those women in the prison, we can no longer deny that we have messed up big time. It could be hindsight that makes guilt a reality for us as we look back on what we did in the past and realize that it was not good or right or it might be something that we are doing in our lives right now, day by day, that we know should not be happening. Whatever it is, guilt catches up with us. Our consciences start to work overtime sometimes and we can’t run anymore from the fact that we are sinners.

The question then becomes, how do we deal with this guilt? How do we move past the guilt and shame that wear us down? How do we calm our troubled consciences?

When I visited the prison that day there was one woman who I remember very clearly. She was asked by the prison chaplain to talk to us about her time in prison and how it had impacted her spiritually. She had become a Christian during her stay there in prison and wanted to share with us how she was working through the guilt that she lived with because of what she had done. She started talking to us about repentance. I don’t remember everything that she said, but one thing that she said a few times was, “God loves us so much that He has given us repentance, something for us to do so that we can be His children again.”

It was heart breaking to listen to this poor woman talk to us about repentance because for her repentance was all about what she could do to make up for the wrong that she had done. She just kept saying, “I can do repentance… I can do repentance…” Here she was loaded down with guilt, staring that guilt in the face every day as she lived there in the prison, and the only way she knew how to deal with that guilt was by doing something. For her repentance was a task that needed to be completed, it was more work to do. Her pastor had let her down big time.

Repentance is not something for you to do. If it was you would never be finished doing it and you would never do it well enough. It is not a task for you to accomplish. It is not a checklist for you to follow. Repentance is nothing more and nothing less than contrition (guilt and sorrow over our sinfulness) and faith which clings to Jesus. That’s it, that’s all. Repentance is not something for you to do, repentance is all about Jesus.

Look at the very first line of the introit printed in your bulletin. These words are from Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken spirit and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” When David wrote these words he was in one of those situations where guilt catches up with us and consciences run wild. David coveted another man’s wife, had an affair with her, lied about it, and killed that man to cover it up. After all that David still didn’t really feel guilty (sinners like us are really good at dodging guilt!). But then the prophet Nathan came and confronted him with the Word of God which plainly calls all of these actions sin. In fact, David had directly violated 4 out of the 10 Commandments (coveting, adultery, lying, and murder). When David realized the extent of his sin he was distraught. He had fooled himself and convinced himself that he had done nothing wrong. He had fallen for his own lies. Now it was all catching up to him though. He had sinned, big time.

When this kind of guilt strikes it feels like the time to do something to make it better, but those words from our introit tell us everything we need to know: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken spirit and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” The sacrifice, the thing that God desires, is not our best efforts or our most generous gifts. What God desires are broken spirit and contrite hearts. Hearts that cling to Jesus.

When we come face to face with our guilt and with our sin. When we feel the crushing weight of the wrong that we have done and come to the terrible realization that there is nothing we can do about it we are in the midst of repentance already. This is contrition. This is sorrow over sin. All that remains is to trust in Christ and cling to Him for the forgiveness of our sins. There is nothing else that we need to do.

Christ has taken away all of your sins and put on you His perfect righteousness. He has died and risen again for all of your sins. The sins that plague you with guilt, the sins that lock you up in prison held captive by your conscience, the sins that make us feel totally unworthy to be called children of God, all of them have been taken away by Christ. There is nothing for you to do other than believe this good news. That’s it, that’s all.

That all seems so simple, but when guilt comes around and rears its ugly head we need all the reminders that we can get. This year during Lent we are going to review Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, the very basics of the Christian faith, because in the words of the catechism we find this reminder again and again. Luther makes it clear time and time again that it is not about what we do, but what Christ has done for us. Next week we will start with the Ten Commandments and then we’ll talk about the Apostles’ Creed after that and carry on through the rest of the catechism. In all of it we’ll have our eyes turned away from what we do and focused on Jesus.

As I wrote out this sermon this afternoon I prayed for that woman in the prison. I pray that she comes to know Jesus even better and realizes that He has already taken away all of her sin, there is nothing for her to do. This is also my prayer for all of us. When guilt and sin pile up and smack us in the face may we know Jesus, the Son of God, who died and rose again to save us. When sin and guilt overwhelm let us trust in Him, not in our works of repentance, because He is our rock and our salvation. In Jesus name, Amen.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Text: Matthew 17:1-9

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Just keep on going towards that little light. Maybe “going to the light” doesn’t seem like a good idea, but as I rode my bike through the darkness that is what I kept telling myself, just keep pedaling towards the light. I was riding through a tunnel, a mile long tunnel, near the border of Idaho and Montana. It was an abandoned railway line that had been converted into a fairly popular biking trail. The main attraction of this biking trail was the tunnel. There were many tunnels along the trail, but one of them stood out above and beyond the others. It was THE tunnel. The one mile long descent into darkness.

I’m not afraid of the dark or anything, but the darkness in that tunnel could be a little overwhelming. It was real darkness. Complete and total blackout. You couldn’t really even see the walls of the tunnel which were just a few feet on either side of you. You needed to have a light on your bike to ride in there, but all that did was stop other people from hitting you. A little bike light did not stand a chance against that kind of darkness. That darkness was all consuming. The dampness of the tunnel probably didn’t help, but it was almost like you could feel the darkness as you breathed it in. After just a few minutes in that tunnel I was ready to be done and make it out the other side, but it just kept going. All the way all along all you could see was this little speck of light at the end of the tunnel. That light was my hope, my goal, my joy, my salvation from that deep darkness. The light at the end of the tunnel.

Every time I read or think about the story of Jesus’ transfiguration that light at the end of the tunnel, that glimmering speck of hope on the horizon, comes to mind for me. The story of Jesus being transformed and shining forth in all His glory is like that speck of light at the end of the tunnel. As Jesus brings Peter, James, and John up on the mountain with Him and as we hear these words from them as eyewitnesses about what happened up there we are given our own, eternal, everlasting light at the end of the tunnel.

The disciples are about to set off on what is going to be a dark journey. They are going to follow Jesus to Jerusalem where He will “suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed” (Matthew 16:21). And Jesus tells the disciples that if they want to follow Him it will involve taking up their cross and following Him. The suffering He is about to endure will be real and they will suffer too if they follow Him faithfully. This is the nature of following Jesus.

But before they set off on that journey and descend into what is going to be some very think and profound darkness Jesus sets before their eyes this light. Peter, James, and John, the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, climb the mountain with Him and see Him in all His glory. This is their light in the darkness. This is the light at the end of the tunnel. This light can and will sustain them in the dark days to come.

It would be easy to underestimate what those disciples saw that day. We read this story and Matthew tells us all the details so quickly without much fanfare. Jesus was “transfigured,” he says, “His face shone like the sun and His clothes became white as light.” Suddenly then Moses and Elijah appear too and are standing there talking with Jesus. We know this story, we’ve heard it before so none of this surprises us. Matthew doesn’t give us any in depth details so maybe it doesn’t see like such a big deal, but what Jesus shows to Peter, James, and John on the mountain is truly remarkable.

I think that the best way to describe what happened and what the three disciples saw that day is heaven on earth. They saw Jesus in all of His glory, the way that we will see Him when He comes again with glory to judge both the living and the dead. The way we will see Him when we dwell with Him in eternal paradise. They saw the full blown divinity of Jesus, the fullness of His godliness. Not only that, but they saw two of the heroes of the faith, Moses and Elijah, great prophets of old, there with Jesus. They saw saints, men who had gone before them in the faith, now standing there with Jesus. This was heaven on earth.

That is why Peter comes up with the idea to stay there. “Lord, it is good that we are here!” he exclaims. Why would they ever leave? We can be hard on Peter and the other disciples sometimes when they just don’t get it right, but I think we can relate to them here. If we saw what they saw, if we were standing there looking at what heaven, eternity looks like would we want to leave either? I doubt it. But what they saw there saw only the light at the end of the tunnel. Once they had traveled through the darkness of the tunnel they would get to see the fullness of the light. They would see Him rise from the dead in the fullness of His glory. And with us they will see Him come again on clouds of glory to take us to our eternal home.

We travel through the darkness too and Jesus shows us this light as well. This week we start our own annual journey with Jesus to the cross in Lent. This is a darker time in our Christian year. We tone down the celebration a little bit and take some time to reflect on our own sinfulness that caused our Lord to go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of the elders, chief priest, and scribes. When we think about our own sin darkness is the best way to describe it. Our lives are darkness and our lives of darkness caused our Lord to bear the cross and die. But at the end of that darkness we have the light at the end of the tunnel, the light that we see on the mountain at the Transfiguration, the light of Christ risen from the dead. The light that the darkness cannot overcome.

Lent is not the only time we see the darkness though. There is plenty of darkness in our lives day by day. The well-known words of Psalm 23 come to mind: “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” We usually take those words to apply to times when we or people we love are dying, but it is talking about much more than that. It doesn’t say “when” we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but “even though.” We walk through the valley of the shadow of death right now. This world is the valley of the shadow of death. It is a dark place.

This darkness manifests itself in so many ways. Like that mile long tunnel it can feel like the darkness will never end. It can get so bad that it feels overwhelming and every breath we take feels heavy because of the darkness we see all around. Sometimes it’s the darkness of grief, of mourning, of pain and anguish. Other times it could be a darkness inside ourselves like depression, anxiety, and fear. It could be darkness from outside too, hurt and injury caused by others, neglect, lovelessness. The darkness is there all around us. The darkness is sin and the results of sin.

But again here Jesus shines His light into our darkness. On the mountain He shows us the light at the end of our tunnel of darkness, He shows us the glory of what our eternal life will look like and gives us a glimpse of heaven on earth. He lifts us up out of our valley of the shadow of death and shows us the eternity of life that He has won for us with His death. He is risen and we shall arise. The darkness of sin and death in this world cannot hold us.

And again, right here, today, as we speak, He gives us heaven on earth again. That is what Jesus is doing as we gather here today. This is heaven on earth, the light at the end of the tunnel. As we sang “This is the Feast” (words taken straight out of Revelation 5 which John heard sung by the hosts of heaven), as we sing “Holy Holy Holy” like the angels in Isaiah 6, as we come to the Lord’s table to be fed and nourished by Jesus, we get a glimpse of heaven on earth. It is happening right here around you. Jesus has opened heaven to us. What happens here on a Sunday morning is a little, tiny glimpse of eternity in the presence of Jesus. This is light at the end of the tunnel.

So take heart in the darkness wherever you may encounter it, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that light is Jesus. He shines in the darkness for you with forgiveness and new life beyond this darkness. The darkness has not and will not overcome Him and it will not overcome you either. Christ is risen and we shall rise. In Jesus name. Amen.

Love and Rights

Text: Matthew 5:38-48

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

One day when I was still in seminary I got a call from a retired pastor. He had some books that he wanted to give to me. As a student on a limited budget this was like Christmas come early. When book donations would come into the seminary the students would come pouring out of classrooms and library study spaces to descend on the pile of new (to us) books and take our picks. This time, the retired pastor called me directly. I would get first dibs on whatever he had. There was only one catch, I had to take all of his books. Once I had them I could do what I wanted with them (keep, donate, recycle, whatever), but I had to take all of them out of his apartment.

I ended up keeping quite a few of this pastor’s books. There was some really good stuff in there. Lots of theology books, some history books, and a set of Bible dictionaries that have all been useful for me. But one book was different and kind of special. It was a little red book. It had nothing to do with the Bible or theology at all, but I still kept it. I’ve had it now for a few years and I have never really read it, but it is still kind of special to me. It is a copy of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as it was first published back in 1982.

Here in this little red book the rights and freedoms that are guaranteed to us as Canadians are laid out in pretty plain English. It starts out: “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (a) freedom of religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression; (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and (d) freedom of association.” It’s not quite as catchy at the US version, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These kind of statements are part of the foundation of who we are in this country and they ensure that we are treated a certain way. We have rights, after all.

In our Gospel reading today Jesus kind of addresses how we understand our rights. Jesus does not deny that we have rights, but He call us to surrender some of our rights, to lay them down, as we live our lives as Christians following Him. Life as a Christian is not a life of rights, instead our lives as Christians are lives of serving the world around us as the salt of the earth. Listen to what Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

Jesus does not deny here that we have rights. In three different places in the Old Testament (in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy) you will find this phrase “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.” This was set out in the covenant that God made with the people of Israel. This is how justice would be administered. “Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” may sound extreme, but this put limits on justice and retribution. Retaliation could not be extreme and over-reactive. Punishments were to fit the crime. And, on the flip side of it, people had the right to justice. When damage was done the victim had a right to justice. Our legal system works the same way today.

Jesus does not deny these rights, but He challenges them (and us!). Do we need to exercise all of our rights? Is it in the best interest of our neighbour if we insist on our right to this, that, or something else? Or is it better if we surrender our rights, the things that we are entitled to, for the sake of our neighbour?

“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,” Jesus says.  Human nature and our sense of justice would tell us that we have a right to hit back (although maybe not physically) in a situation like this. An eye for an eye, after all. But Jesus calls on us here not to retaliate, but to make ourselves vulnerable to a second strike on the other cheek.

Jesus goes on with more examples. Someone wants your tunic (shirt), give him your cloak (coat) too. Someone is forcing you to go one mile, go two. Someone is begging, give him money. Someone wants to borrow from you, lend him money. The point in all of this is the same, however. By all rights we would not be required to do any of these things. We would be well within our rights to say no. But Jesus calls us to a life beyond our constitutionally enshrined rights and even our perceived rights of human nature. We are called to a life beyond rights, a life as Christians following Jesus.

All of this puts us in a tough spot. We are human beings living in the world that is not a particularly friendly place a lot of the time and in a country that gives us certain rights and protections against the world around us. If we let everyone walk all over us, the way that Jesus is talking about, our lives would seem pretty miserable. People would be hurting us and we would never respond to make it stop. So what is Jesus getting at here?

Jesus is not calling us to be the doormats of the world. We are not being called to always let the world do whatever it wants to us and never speak up or do anything about it. But we are being called to think about how we use the rights that we have. Are we using our rights, our freedoms, to serve our neighbour or to serve ourselves? If we strike back at the person who has hit us are we serving our neighbour or our self? The answer is pretty clear, I think. Jesus is calling us here to loosen our grip on the things of this world and understand that our time living here is an opportunity to love and serve our neighbour. This world is not eternal, it is corrupted by sin and is dying day by day just like you and me. And in this dying world, we, the salt of the earth, are called to love our neighbour as our self.

In Philippians chapter 2 St. Paul works towards this same point using the example of Jesus Himself:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselvesLet each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by 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.

 

This is a lofty calling. To consider others more significant than ourselves, to look out for the interests of others and not just our own interests. And yet, this is exactly what it means to love our neighbour as our self.

This is also what it means to forgive. Forgiving means not exacting punishment for the wrongs that have been done to us. Forgiving means not holding grudges because our rights and freedoms have been violated by someone else. Forgiving means loving our neighbour even though they have wronged us.

Again, Jesus sets the bar high here. So high we will always fail to reach it: “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” We know that we fail at this all the time, everyday. We fail, but this is exactly what God has done for us in Christ.

Though by every right we should be punished for our sins “eye for eye and tooth for tooth,” God has chosen to do the opposite. Psalm 103 says, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” In Christ and His death on the cross we have been forgiven in this way. God does not deal with us according to our sins or punished us the way we deserve to be punished for the wrongs that we have done. Instead, He forgives us through the innocent, holy blood of Jesus which was shed for us on Calvary. By all rights we are sinners deserving hell and yet God has gone and done the opposite. He has flung the gates of His Kingdom wide open to us.

Jesus sets us free from rights. We are free from sin and death, free to love one another, because what we deserved, what was rightfully ours, was poured out on Jesus. And now all God pours out on us is His love and forgiveness, His mercys that are new every morning, His gracious, unending, steadfast love towards us. And that will never stop. That will continue right on into eternity where we will live in the presence of our God forever. We don’t need to cling to this world and the rights it offers to us, instead we can freely love our neighbour for Jesus sake. Amen.

Lowering the Bar

Text: Matthew 5:21-37

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

In my short time as a parent I have already noticed a trend in my parenting. I’ve noticed that every once and a while Leah and I make a new rule for the kids, a new way that things are to be done, or new consequences for bad behaviour, but over time the “new rules” start to slide. Eventually, despite our best efforts and intentions, the rules end up getting loosened and the consequences lessen.

This reminds me of something that happened in the National Hockey League a number of years ago too. In 2005 the league decided that they would make a concerted effort to call all of the rules by the book. Penalties that had been overlooked previously would not be overlooked anymore. For hockey fans like me who like to see lots of goals and fast skating action this was good news. However, within a few years the rules started to slide again. Penalties weren’t being called at the same rate anymore and players were getting away will stuff all over the place.

Despite our best efforts in life this tends to happen. We set the bar high in our rules and expectations for ourselves and others, but before too long we start lowering the bar to make things more manageable. We lower the standards to make it easier for ourselves to meet those standards. This is, I think, just the reality of our human nature and how we respond to rules and expectations.

Jesus confronts this tendency of ours head on today in our gospel reading. Jesus isn’t particularly concerned about parents not sticking to their guns over rules around the house or the enforcement of penalties in professional hockey, but this tendency to loosen the rule does have the potential to cause problems in our lives and Christians following Jesus. The same temptation to lower the bar that we face in other areas of life also applies to our lives as Christians. We are tempted daily to lower the expectations that God places on us to make them more manageable and this is a problem. Jesus takes this problem on today by showing us how high the bar really is.

Jesus says, “You have heard it said to the people of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with His brother is liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” These are harsh sounding words of God’s Law from Jesus. He takes the 5th commandment about murder and shows us what that commandment really means. He doesn’t stop here either, in the rest of the text he keeps going through other commandments from God and shows us how we have lowered the bar for ourselves.

To understand these words from Jesus today we actually need to go back to something that Jesus just said in the verses leading up to our reading today. These words were actually from our gospel reading last week and lead right into what we heard today. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus is confronting here a temptation that might come up in our hearts and in the hearts of our fellow Christians to think that Jesus came into this world to take away God’s law and remove all meaning from God’s commandments. But, contrary to what we might think or feel, Jesus says He has not come to do that at all. Instead, Jesus insists that He has come to fulfill God’s Law and commandments, not abolish them. The Law of God still stands Jesus says, we cannot just lower the bar to make ourselves feel better or make our church seem more inclusive or to excuse our own bad behaviour. Jesus has not come to lower the bar of God’s law.

Instead, Jesus sets the bar so high in our gospel reading today that it crushes us. Anyone who is angry with his brother or sister in Christ (fellow Christian) will be liable to judgement. Anyone who insults his or her fellow Christian by questioning their mental capacity and calling them an idiot or unintelligent will be subject to judgment. Anyone who calls another person a fool or questions their moral competence calling them a jerk will be subject to the fire of hell. The bar here is set so high that none of us, not even one of us, can even come close to claiming that we have met this standard. If you’re anything like me then all you have to do is put me behind the wheel of a car with some less than capable drivers around and you can very quickly see me get angry with my brother, insult his intelligence, and call him a jerk. And like that I am subject to judgment and the fire of hell. The bar is set high and the consequences or falling short are dreadful.

All of this would paint a pretty bleak picture of our lives as Christians. If being a Christian were simply about living up to the moral and ethical standards like this set by Jesus. It would seem pointless to try because we simply cannot do it. But we need to go back again to what Jesus said last week in our gospel reading: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus did not come to abolish the law, we see that in what He says today about our anger with our brother being the equivalent of murder and our words of frustration being just as bad along with the stuff about the other commandments, but He has come to fulfill the law. Jesus has fulfilled the law by His holy and perfect life and death and resurrection in our place. Having been arrested and treated shamefully at the hands of His own people and sent off to be crucified Jesus “was like a lamb led to the slaughter and a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 52:7) He did not grow angry with the people who treated Him like this, but instead pleaded with God for their forgiveness. And as He gave up His life of the cross His innocent and holy death paid for all of their sins of anger against Him and against their neighbour. His death paid for our sins of anger too. He fulfilled the law perfectly for us in His life and died perfectly for us on the cross and rose from the dead perfectly for us.

None of this lowers the bar. The law is not abolished, it is fulfilled. Jesus has fulfilled the law for us. Now as He calls us to be His disciples, to follow Him the way that those first disciples did, to learn from Him as they did on the hillside, He calls us to this same moral standard which is still too high for us. But now, with the law fulfilled for us by Jesus, we joyfully begin to do what He has commanded us to do. We fail, but we rest constantly on His fulfillment of the law for us.

Jesus goes on talking about this commandment and shows us how to begin loving our neighbour and turning away the anger in our sinful hearts. “If you are offering your gift at the temple,” Jesus says, “and remember that your brother has something against you leave your gift and go and be reconciled with your brother first.” In our context that would mean if you are coming to church, walking up those steps even, and remember that your brother or sister in Christ, your fellow believer, fellow Christian, is upset with you about something, you should go and straighten things out with them right away, even before coming to church to hear God’s Word and receive His gifts in the Sacraments. Jesus shows us here how loving our neighbour works in our church. We who have been reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus ought to be reconciled with one another. This should be our first priority. This is even more important that coming together to worship God. After we have been reconciled we can come together, worship, and receive the gifts of God.

Jesus goes on and shifts the conversation to conflicts outside of church, “Come to terms quickly with your accuser,” Jesus says. When anyone is accusing you of some wrong doing (even if they are taking you to court!) settle it with them quickly. Don’t let it linger. Don’t get hung up on details of who did what and don’t obsess with protecting yourself and your honor or integrity. Confess your sins to your friend or your neighbour or your relative, and seek his or her forgiveness. Settle the matter quickly without delay.

Again here Jesus does not lower the bar for us. The law of God is not abolished by Jesus, but it has been fulfilled by Jesus. Through His death Jesus has saved us from the law that crushes us and kills us, that sets such a high standard that we would never even come close to keeping it, but in saving us from this crushing law Jesus does not destroy the law. Instead, because He has carried the weight of the law for us and fulfilled the law, He gives us a new life of joyfully, freely, and lovingly beginning to live out God’s law in our lives. So love your neighbour, be reconciled with those who have something against you, confess your sins to your neighbour and be forgiven, because Christ has fulfilled the law for you. In Jesus name. Amen.

 

Salt of the Earth

Text: Matthew 5:13-20

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The world we live in seems to be getting more and more messed up all the time. You don’t have to look very far to see it either. On the TV, in the newspaper, on the internet, the evidence is everywhere. Immigration bans based on countries of origin, attacks on religious groups (like the mosque attack in Quebec), protests and counter protests, angry people venting on Facebook and other forms of social media, it’s everywhere. It’s not just the United States or Donald Trump either. It’s not even just North America. It’s everywhere. The world as a whole these days feels like it’s gone right off the deep end. Hatred and anger seem to be at unprecedented levels all over the place.

We might think that this is all new, that this kind of hatred and anger has never existed before because we think everything that happens in our lifetime is happening for the first time ever, but this really is nothing new. Hatred and anger have existed ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin. Their oldest son killed his younger brother out of jealousy. Hatred and anger existed in those days too.

In the last few days and weeks, though, hatred and anger seem to be bubbling up right in our faces. We can’t ignore it the way we’ve been able to ignore it before. This presents a question for us to wrestle with: how do we as Christians, as followers of Jesus, live in a world like this? How do we relate to the hatred and anger that we see all around us?

Thankfully for us, Jesus answers exactly those kind of questions in our Gospel reading today. We pick up this week where we left off last week with the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is sitting down on the hillside with His disciples gathered around and He is teaching them what it means to be His disciple. Last week in the Beatitudes He laid out the blessings that He brings (blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted, etc.) and today we hear Him describe what disciples are and what they do in the world. “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said, “but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?”

“You are the salt of the earth.” Believe it or not, that right there tells you pretty much everything that you need to know about how we live as Christians in this world. We are the salt of the earth. Now, we could get into all the different things that salt does and what that means for how we live as the salt of the earth. But all of that actually doesn’t really matter. There are two important things to take from this salt metaphor that Jesus is using. First of all, it means that we are different. We are different from the rest of the world around us. We are the salt of the earth. There is salt and then there is everything else. We are the salt. Secondly, it means that we are useful and beneficial for the world around us. Today we might not think of salt as beneficial all that often when we hear doctors and medical professionals talk about not eating too much salt, but salt has a purpose and a benefit. It preserves, it cleanses, and it provides flavour. Salt has its benefits. So when Jesus calls us the salt of the earth He is saying that we are different from the rest of the world and we are beneficial for that world.

I want to talk about that first part first, being different, because that is a significant challenge for us. Being different from the world around us is not exactly the most appealing idea sometimes. We don’t want to stand out or draw attention to ourselves especially when it is our faith that might be causing us to stand out. When our faith starts to feel like it is out of step with the world around us we very quickly begin to feel this urge or temptation to bury that faith, hide it away where no one can see it, so that we don’t seem different than everyone else. Rather than being different we want to blend in with the crowd, with the world around us. But when Jesus calls us the salt of the earth He is calling us something different than the world around us. Paul says the same thing in his letter to the Romans. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” As Christians we are not called to conform, to become one with the world, and follow the world wherever it leads. Instead we have been transformed by Jesus to be the salt of the earth, His disciples, His followers in a broken, sinful world. But our sinful nature does not want to be transformed. Our sinful nature would much rather conform to the sinful world in which we find ourselves.

But if we conform, if we cease to be different, the second part of being the salt of the earth is lost. If we are not different then we cease to be the salt of the earth and we cease to be of any benefit for the world around us. Jesus says, “If the salt has lost its taste how will the world’s saltiness be restored?” Who will salt the earth if the salt is not salty? Who will bring the benefits of Jesus to the world if we refuse to be different, to stand out, and to be transformed by Jesus? If we conform to this world of sin then we are of no benefit to this world. If we conform to this world of sin we are just more sinners walking in the darkness apart from the light and that is not who Jesus has made us to be.

Jesus has made us something different, something beneficial for the world. He has transformed us and changed us. He has made us into His people who are the salt of the earth. Look at what Jesus says about us, He says, “You ARE the salt of the world.” Jesus does not tell us that we need to become the salt, or that we should try to be the salt, He says you are the salt. He has already transformed us. He has given us this new identity.

Jesus is the real salt of the earth and on the cross He salted the world with His blood shed for us. He sprinkled us with His blood shed for us in the water of baptism to transform us to be the salt of the earth. He has poured out His love and forgiveness on us so that we would be changed by the love and forgiveness into people who likewise love and forgive. That is who we are in this sinful world. We are different and we are beneficial because we have been loved by Christ and covered with Christ and changed by Christ so that we love and forgive the world around us. That is who we are. That is who Jesus has made us to be. We are the salt of the earth.

If we conform to the world, if we refuse to be different, this benefit of who Christ has made us to be is lost. But if we are transformed, not by what we do but by what Jesus does, if we are changed by Jesus, we become the salt of the earth and through us Jesus brings His love and forgiveness to this fallen world. You are the salt of the earth. This is who you are and this is what Jesus is doing through you.

So how do we relate to the world around us? How do we respond to the hatred and anger that seem to be everywhere in the world? By being the salt of the earth. By loving our neighbour as our self. By loving our neighbour who might be a Muslim or maybe an atheist, who might support Donald Trump or hate Donald Trump, who might think we should stop taking refugees or wants us to take in more refugees. We are called simply to love our neighbour, no matter who they are, as our self. Plain and simple. We are the salt of the earth, this is how we benefit the world.

Us loving our neighbour as our self is not going to change things. It will not stop hatred and anger. Our love isn’t going to trump hatred. But it will proclaim the love of Jesus that caused Him to be born into this world that is full of hatred and anger and die on a cross at the hands of hateful and angry people just like us. It is this love that caused Jesus to die for us to forgive us for our hateful anger, for the times we hold a grudge, for the times we resent other people, for the times we murder or neighbour in our hearts with our hatred. This love, Jesus’s love, forgives us for all of our sins and all the wrong we have done. This love, Jesus’s love, changes things. It turns hearts away from sin and transforms sinful people into the salt of the earth. Salt that is different from the world and beneficial for the world. Ultimately, this love leads to life everlasting and the resurrection of the dead where hatred, anger, warfare, and violence have all passed away. The love of Jesus has done this and will bring it to completion on the last day.

As you see around you hatred and anger boil up all over the place consider who Christ has made you to be. Consider how we can love this world we live in and the other people in it. Consider Christ and His love for us. Consider His forgiveness for us. Transformed by that love and forgiveness we are the salt of the earth as we love and forgive those around us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Weary People of God

Text: Micah 6:1-8

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

A week and a half ago I was in Edmonton to talk to the students at the seminary there. I knew some of the students, but most of them I did not know very well. Even now I don’t know all of their names. But I discovered that I could very easily tell which of the students was in their first year at seminary and which of the students are in their second year at seminary.

First year students at the seminary have a kind of excited energy about them. Everything they are learning is new and exciting. Daily new opportunities are opening up for them and it is an exciting time. Second year students, on the other hand, have kind of seen it all before. Nothing seems quite so exciting any more. They’ve been there and done that. So, as I spoke with the students and looked around the room I could pick out the eager excited first year students and the somewhat downtrodden second year students pretty easily. One of the first year students smiled at me almost the whole time (3 hours) that I was lecturing. One of the second year students sat in the corner and hardly lifted his gaze off of his computer screen in front of him.

The energy of the first year students, on the one hand, and the kind of weariness of the second year students, on the other hand, is kind of like the difference between our Gospel reading and Old Testament reading today. Our Gospel reading today comes on the heels of our Gospel reading last week where Jesus called His first disciples: Peter, Andrew, James, and John. These guys are like first year students. They are eager and excited to follow Jesus. When Jesus says “Follow me” they leave everything behind and follow Him. Today in our reading they are sitting with Jesus on a mountain and listening to Him teach about what it means to follow Him. It’s the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ introduction to being a disciple.

Our Old Testament reading, on the other hand, is addressed to the people of Israel under very different circumstances. God is speaking to them through the prophet Micah. These people aren’t so energetic or enthusiastic. They have long since settled in to the idea of being the people of God. They are more like second year students who have been there and done that. God rescued them from the Egyptians and brought them through the Red Sea about 700 years ago. They’ve been living in the Promised Land for a long time now and things have grown kind of stale. These people are weary, they are tired, and they don’t have the energy to throw themselves into being the people of God any more.

Which one of these groups, the excited, energized, freshly called disciples of Jesus or the wearied and tired Old Testament people of Israel, do you think that we as a church best relate to? Are we energetic and enthusiastic or are we tired, weary, and a bit worn out? What do you think? I’d say we are probably more likely to be in that latter category, a little tired and a little weary.

The church everywhere is a little weary, I think. As our culture and world turns farther and farther away from God’s Word and from Christ we start to grow tired of holding on to Christ and God’s Word. As the world goes the opposite direction more and more the temptation grows to give up and give in. Going to church and hearing the Word starts to get tougher and tougher as less and less people come to church with us. Following Jesus and living the Christians life He has called us to live gets tougher and tougher as the world around us goes and does the opposite. We get weary and tired following Jesus and living like a Christian and some days we might be ready to give up.

For that reason, I’d like us to focus our attention this morning on our Old Testament reading directed to the weary people of God. There, in the words that the prophet Micah speaks to the people of God, we see God respond to the weariness. He says, “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you?” God puts the question to His weary people, what have I done to make you weary? Why do you feel so tired and burned out? Is it something I did?

Then God goes on to recount everything that He has done for them. “I brought you up out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from slavery,” God says. Then God reminds them of something else He had done for His people. A king named Balak who hired a wicked prophet named Balaam to curse the people of God, but God would only let Balaam bless the people. God stopped Balaam from cursing them. Then God mentions two places, Shittim and Gilgal. Both of these places are significant milestones of Israel’s journey as they finally enter the Promised Land. What has God done to weary these people? Nothing. Instead He has done everything necessary to save them.

For us we can add even more to the list of what God has done for us. We are the New Testament people of God living in the completed reality of God sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Saviour. What has God done? How has He wearied us? He sent His Son born in a manger to be our Saviour from sin. Christ healed diseases and performed miracles to show us His power over sin, death, and evil. He died on the cross to take away the sin of the world and He rose from the dead to give us life. What has God done to us that would make us weary? Nothing. Once again, God has done everything necessary to save us. God has not made us grow weary, we have grown weary all on our own.

After God kind of calls out the people for their weariness in following His Way the people have their turn to respond. That starts in verse 6 of our Old Testament reading. Having been called out for their weariness the people respond by going in the opposite direction. They aren’t going to be weary any more, they are going to do everything for God. If God wants burnt offerings they will make them. If God wants them to sacrifice thousands of rams they will do it. If God wants ten thousand rivers of oil they will give it. If God wants their first born child they will sacrifice him or her. Put simply, the people over react. In response to God’s rebuke they go too far. God hasn’t asked them to do any of those things (God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, but then provided a ram instead!) and God has not asked us to do those things either.

For us following Jesus, being a disciple, being a Christian, does not mean some life of great sacrifice in which we need to give God some kind of ridiculously large gift. Instead our life as Christians and followers of Jesus is laid out simply in the last verse of our Old Testament reading: “God has told you, O man, what is good: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”

Our life as the people of God means doing justice. That means caring for the needs of our neighbour, the people around us. It means ensuring that the needs of others are being taken care of. It means that the 7th commandment “You shall not steal,” means more than not taking stuff from other people. It also means making sure that our neighbour’s possessions and income and family are protected. Being the people of God means that we do not simply live for ourselves, we live for our neighbour. God does not need us to do great and wonderful things for Him, there is no need for massive sacrifices. God does not need our good works, our neighbour does.

Life as the people of God also means loving kindness. The word kindness there means more than what we might think of as kindness. This is not just random acts of kindness and doing nice things for people. What it really means is more like mercy, God’s mercy for sinful people like us. The people of God, you and me, are called to love mercy. God’s mercy for us that forgives our sins and God’s mercy that forgives our neighbour. We pray forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Loving mercy means loving God’s forgiveness for us and forgiving those around us.

Finally, life as the people of God means walking humbly with our God. Life as the people of God is not a proud life boasting in what we have done or accomplished. Even when we have done justice to our neighbour and loved kindness/mercy for our neighbour we walk humbly with God knowing that we remain sinners who have been forgiven only for the sake of the blood of Jesus. It’s like Jesus says in Luke 17, “when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” We walk humbly with our God when we confess that we are unworthy to walk with Him, but know that we are welcome there because of Christ and His death for us.

Our life walking with God and following Jesus can feel complicated. It can feel tiring and wearisome. But it is much simpler than we think. When it feels like we need to do everything we have this reminder that all God has called us to do is love our neighbour and walk humbly with Him in the forgiveness of Christ. When we feel weary and tired we have the reminder of what Christ has done for us giving up His life on the cross for us to accomplish our salvation. He is also the one who said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Following Jesus is not a burden too heavy for you to carry, it’s not a life of sacrifice to God, it is not a wearying task; it is living in the love of Jesus for us and for our neighbour. Let us, the people of God, no grow weary of doing good, of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God. In Jesus name, Amen.

Following Jesus

Text: Matthew 4:12-25

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Imagine someone you don’t know coming to your home or the place that you work and saying, “Follow me.” What are the odds that you would go with them? Pretty slim, right? In the world we live in you have to be pretty careful about things like that, who knows who this stranger might be. A stranger showing up and saying, “Follow me,” sounds like the start of a crime scene investigating kind of show where things aren’t going to end very well for the poor sap who follows along.

All this makes our gospel reading today even more remarkable. Jesus goes up from Judea in the southern part of what used to be the kingdom of Israel, the area where John had been baptising down at the Jordan, to Galilee in the north. And then one day as He is walking around the Sea of Galilee He sees Simon (who will be better known by the name Peter) and his brother Andrew. These two men, like many men in Galilee, were fisherman. They made their living out there on the sea (which is really a lake) hauling in fish. They were out fishing in the Sea of Galilee, tossing their net into the water and hauling it back in again, when Jesus came along and said “Follow me.” Remarkably, with very little introduction or explanation the two brothers immediately left their nets, gave up their profession, and followed Jesus.

If all that were not enough, it happens again. A little while later Jesus sees two more brothers, this time it is James and John the sons of Zebedee who are mending their nets after a long day of fishing. Jesus looks at them and says, “Follow me” and without much discussion or anything they immediately left their nets, their boat, and their own father in order to follow Jesus.

So why, why did they follow Jesus that day? Was it because they had such remarkable faith that they made the decision to leave everything behind and follow Jesus? Not exactly. Sure, these men had faith and that is why they followed, but it was not because they decided to go by their own free will. They went because Jesus called. They went because Jesus made them able to go. This story, like every other story in the Bible is all about Jesus. This is not a story about Peter and Andrew or James and John, though they are central figures, main characters in the action here, but really this is all about Jesus. Jesus calls and Jesus creates the answer in the hearts of these fishermen at the Sea of Galilee. Jesus causes them to leave behind their nets immediately and follow him.

We cannot, by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him or follow Him, but the Holy Spirit has called us through the gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, and kept us in the one true faith. We can’t chose to believe in Jesus and neither could Andrew and Peter or James and John. If it was up to them to make the decision they would still be sitting there with their nets. But the Holy Spirit has worked in our hearts and worked in their hearts back then so that they could get up and follow Jesus leaving everything they ever knew in life behind.

Peter and Andrew have met Jesus before, actually. Last week we heard about how John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Well Andrew, Peter’s brother, was one of the ones who was there to hear John say those words. He heard John say that Jesus was the Lamb of God and he went and found his brother Peter and shared the news with him too. “We have found the Messiah, the Christ,” Andrew told Peter. They went and spent the rest of that day with Jesus. It seems as if they went home after that, though. Even after they heard all of this good news about Jesus that He is the Messiah, the Saviour, the Lamb of God, they still go home and return to their fishing nets. But then Jesus comes to them again and He calls them to follow Him. They get up, leave their nets behind, and follow Him. The Holy Spirit created this faith in their hearts.

The Holy Spirit has worked this same faith in our hearts too. We haven’t been called like the disciples were to leave everything behind, but we have been called to faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit has created this faith in our hearts. We might not have left our livelihood and family behind to follow Jesus, but faith in Jesus does mean leaving some things behind.

Faith in Jesus means leaving sin behind. Following Jesus is never an excuse for sin. In our text today Jesus takes up the preaching of John the Baptist and says, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Repent, turn away from sin, Jesus says. Following Jesus, being a disciple of Jesus, means leaving sin behind. Believing in Jesus does not give us an excuse to keep on sinning. How are you doing at leaving sin behind? Probably not so great. The idea of leaving sin behind sounds great, it sounds simple, but our hearts are so trapped and tangled in sin that we don’t have a clue how to get ourselves out of it. Thankfully, the one we follow is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Though we remain tangled in sin He sets us free. Day by day He works in our hearts to leave sin behind so that we can follow Him.

Faith in Jesus also means leaving comfort behind. Jesus says that anyone who would come after Him or follow Him must take up his cross and follow. Following Jesus for us and for the disciples like Peter and Andrew means taking up the cross, it means suffering as Jesus suffered. Suffering is never something we seek, but it comes to us. Jesus never said following Him would make our lives on this earth simple or easy. Following Jesus means living a life of sacrifice loving the people around us with the love that we would normally reserve for ourselves. It might mean getting treated poorly because of what we believe. Following Jesus means taking up the cross and suffering. Suffering is something that our human nature is hardwired to avoid at all costs. We flee from suffering as quickly as we can. Look at how Peter and the other disciples will flee from suffering once Jesus gets arrested in Jerusalem. But thanks be to God that the one we follow has taken the suffering and shame of our sin for us and has promised us the comforts of heaven. Though we slip and fall in our lives of following Jesus under the cross, He has born the cross for us.

Following Jesus means leaving somethings behind, but it also means becoming something new. Jesus told Peter and Andrew that He would make them “Fishers of men.” They would go from catching fish for the supper tables of the people of Galilee to catching people to join in the marvelous banquet of heaven. As we follow Jesus we are these fishers of men, through us Jesus draws others to follow Him. When Andrew heard who from John that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world the first thing he did was go tell his brother Peter. In our lives as we follow Jesus struggling to leave sin behind and taking up the cross we become fishers of men. Through us Jesus calls more men and women to “Follow Him.”

This week when I was in Edmonton I visited Leah’s grandmother. She will be turning 97 this week. She lives in an assisted living seniors housing kind of place now, but she told me she is very happy there. Her reason why she was happy there isn’t exactly what you would expect though. She told me she is happy there because there are so many people to witness to there. There are so many people in that building who don’t believe in Jesus and she knows that the reason she is there is so that she can be a witness of Jesus in that place. It was remarkable to listen to her. How often would we think of a seniors housing place like that as a place where we can be fishers of men? How often do we think of the places we live or work or spend our time as places where we can share Jesus with those around us?

We have been called out of sin and out of comfort, out of ordinary life, into an extraordinary new life. A life where we struggle with sin and take suffering as it comes, but also a life where we gather other people into the kingdom of heaven with us as we all follow Jesus together. All of this is Jesus’ work. He is the one doing it. He is the one who gave us faith. He is the one who takes away our sin. He is the ultimate fisher of men. Thanks be to God that He works through us. In Jesus name. Amen.