Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Bread of Freedom

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity 26 July 2009

Mark 8:1-9 / Romans 6:19-23 / Genesis 2:7-17

Audio of sermon.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ever since the fall into sin, labor and bread go together. We all need our daily bread to live, and there’s no such thing as a free lunch. In the 60’s the term bread became synonymous with money, the means by which bread was acquired. Money implies work, but that same generation loathed work. The fall into sin brought the curse, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,” and then death, “till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The result of the curse is that we must toil and labor to put daily bread upon our tables. Each day is a struggle to survive – with the end result that we die. All our striving to feed ourselves and our families, to put a roof over our heads and clothing on our backs, all our striving to do the right thing, the moral thing, the good thing, leads to death. Life is short and then you die.

Notice how we call it a “fall” into sin? Almost makes it sound like an accident, doesn’t it? And of course, if it’s an accident, then we like to reason that “We didn’t mean to do it, it just kind of happened.” And that doesn’t sound quite so bad. However, honestly, man didn’t simply fall into sin, it was a choice. In fact it was man’s first free choice. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” That day is today. That day is tomorrow. That day is each and every day that you insist that you provide for yourself. That day is each and every day that you insist on determining for yourself what is good and what is evil. That day is each and every day that you insist on being god unto yourself.

In the beginning, God provided for man’s sustenance – all that he needed to support his body and his life. The fall into sin, the willful eating of that one forbidden food, the one free choice that man made of his own will in opposition to the will of God, to decide for himself what was good and what was evil, was a willful turning away from God. And from that day, and every day since, man has toiled and striven to provide for himself, physically and spiritually, daily bread – to the inevitable end, death. For the wages of sin is death – what you earn for your labor, what you earn for your striving, what you earn for your struggle, is death. From the very moment of conception we die a little more each and every day. It is what we have chosen freely. It is what we have earned.

Too much is made of human free will. There was no free will in the beginning, at least not in the way we commonly think of free will, for there was only God’s will. Man, made in God’s image, knew God’s will and shared God’s will. Man knew nothing other than God’s will. It was in the eating of that forbidden food, a sustenance that the LORD had not given man, a food that the LORD had commanded man not to eat of, it was in the eating of that forbidden food that man came to know something other than the will of God. And in his knowledge of good and evil, free will entered the picture – man no longer shared the will of God, but man knew something in opposition to God’s will – his own will. Dietrich Bonheoffer put it this way:

In knowing about good and evil, human beings understand themselves not within the reality of being defined by the origin [God], but from their own possibilities, namely, to be either good or evil. They now know themselves beside and outside of God, which means they now know nothing but themselves, and God not at all. For they can only know God by knowing God alone. The knowledge of good and evil is thus disunion with God. Human beings can know about good and evil only in opposition to God.

And so what seemed like freedom, turned out to be slavery. Man found himself knowing that he must do God’s will, and striving to do it, but without knowing any longer what God’s will actually was. And worse, man, exercising his own fallen will, began to call good evil and evil good. Man presented the members of his body as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness with the result that the fruit of his efforts, the fruit of his labor and toil, was still more lawlessness: man’s striving to produce bread on his own still leads only to death.

Bread is not supposed to bring death, but life – Bread is a staple for life, bread is good for you. The poorest people on the earth eat bread and drink water and survive. But man’s bread still brings only death, not life. For man does not live by bread alone but by every, but man lives by the Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. And God’s Word became flesh and made His dwelling here amongst us. As in the beginning God provided man’s daily bread, so again God would provide the only Bread that truly give life – Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, our Bread King, the daily Bread of our earthly lives and the Bread that gives life that never dies.

Jesus was the Second Adam. He was sent to labor and travail and to die. By the sweat of His brow and the stripes on His back He would produce the Bread of Life. He would eat the bread of our death so that He might provide us His bread that brings life. Jesus looked at that crowd and had compassion on them because they had been with him three days and had nothing to eat. That word compassion is telling – it literally means “to suffer together with”. Jesus didn’t simply feel pity for the 4,000 plus, but he suffered with them – He suffered their toil, their struggle, and their strife, and, ultimately, He suffered their hunger and their inability to produce life-giving bread. Jesus took the meager offering of bread that they could produce – seven loaves and a few small fish – and in a way hidden from the crowd provided them food enough that they were satisfied, with leftovers to spare.

But there’s still no such thing as a free lunch and the wages of sin is still death. Shortly after the miraculous feeding of the four thousand Jesus began to teach His disciples that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” The bread He provided them in the feeding of the four thousand was but a foretaste of the bread that He would die to provide them. Jesus, who knew no sin, was made to be sin for us. Even though He was innocent, sinless, holy, Jesus became our sin. He became our sin so that the wage of death would no longer be ours. He didn’t just take our sin upon Himself, He became our sin. And death was meted out to Him – PAID IN FULL. It is finished. You are free, truly free – free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of your life.

“When you were slaves to sin you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, [‘slaves of God’, see, I told you that free will was overrated] the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”

On the third day He provided hungry, fainting pilgrims bread in the desolate wilderness. On the third day our Bread King was raised from the dead to give us the Bread of Life which a man eats that he may never die. And that Bread of Life is His body, given for you, and His precious blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. This bread is not food enough to keep you alive in this body forever, it’s barely enough to keep you from fainting today; but this Bread will keep the life freely given you in Holy Baptism alive forever, and it is all you will ever need.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Foolishness of God’s Love

I tried something new today – I recorded my sermon on a digital recorder. So, here is my first attempt at posting an audio file of a sermon.

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Historic) – Luke 5:1-11; 1 Peter 3:8-15; 1 Kings 19:11-21 (Click link for audio)

God’s ways are not our ways. You, and I, all of us know that to be unequivocally true. But why? Are our ways always so wrong? Do we never do the right thing, the righteous thing, the virtuous thing? Of course we do. We build hospitals to heal the sick. We give food, clothing, and money to provide for the poor. Our young men and women lay down their lives to defend our freedoms and to secure freedoms for others. Of course, we also destroy infant lives, we better ourselves at the expense of others, and we tend to think more of ourselves than of anyone else. But why must God’s ways always be so very different from our ways? Why must God’s thoughts be so completely the opposite of our thoughts?

There is an answer to that question, and I think that you will agree that it is every bit as true as the fact that God’s ways are not our ways, even if you don’t find it very satisfying. The answer to the question “Why?” is, “Because He is God, and you are not.” That’s why.

We so want God to act in the ways in which we think that He should act. We so want God to be like us. It’s only human after all. But God is not like us; God is not a human creature. God created humanity in His image, not the other way around. So, who’s ways must be conformed to whom? Who’s thoughts must submit to whom?

The greatest obstacle to faith, and the greatest contributor to suffering, is pride. Pride is your idol, your god. An idol is anything that you put your fear, love, and trust in before God; an idol is anything that gets in between you and God. It’s a First Commandment thing: You shall have no other gods before me – not even yourself. It’s an Original Sin thing – man is not content to be created in the image of God, but man wants to be God himself. We want to determine what is wisdom and what is foolishness, what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil. But it is pride. It is arrogance. It is self-righteousness and self-centeredness and self-ISH-ness. And it is sin. And it brings death. And it is utterly, and truly foolishness.

Each of our lessons today speak to us of foolishness. For it is foolishness in the eyes of the world that God would speak to Elijah, not in a mighty wind, not in a jarring earthquake, and not in a blazing fire, but in a still, small voice – even a whisper.

Likewise, it is foolishness in the eyes of the world that you do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling but rather do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you, even love your enemies.

And so also was it foolishness in the eyes of the world, indeed foolishness in the weary eyes of Simon, James, and John, when Jesus told them to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets. And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.”

Foolishness. But the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom. God’s thoughts are not man’s thoughts, neither are man’s ways His ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than man’s ways and His thoughts than man’s thoughts.

Man’s pride separates him from God. The man who trusts in himself does not seek God – he is a fool. But God is merciful and just, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. He calls the fool to repentance and afflicts man’s pride to break it. Elijah feared for his life because he trusted only in himself and knew that he had not the strength in himself to survive. But in his self-despair, Elijah was receptive to God’s Word. God demonstrated to Elijah that He would act, not in ways that men find impressive – winds, earthquakes, and fire – but in His way, the way of His Word.

Simon, James, and John despaired at the failure of their own efforts to catch fish. But in their broken and weary desperation they were receptive to Jesus’ Word “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” By that Word alone they put to their boats and let down their nets, not expecting anything, but catching instead a great catch of fish.

Why are God’s ways and thoughts so different from ours? Because He is God and we are not – thanks be to God. In His grace and mercy, God loves us enough to crush us; God loves you enough to crush your pride, to beak your self-reliance, to destroy your self-righteousness. It is a good thing to be broken by the Lord – for He is powerful and willing to put you back together again, not as you were before, but as a new creation, restoring you once again to His image.

God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom. He does the unthinkable. He does what men would never do. He saves the best wine for last. He eats and drinks with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. He touches the unclean with no concern for Himself. And He lays down His own life for men who hate Him. Foolishness.

And so, thanks be to God, His ways and thoughts are not your ways and thoughts. He afflicts your ways and thoughts. He afflicts your pride, your reason, and your assumed wisdom. He breaks you, so that He can re-create you in the image of His Son.

Through the foolishness of the Gospel – the preaching of Christ crucified – a great catch of fish – you – is still brought into the boat – the Church. The message of the cross is foolishness and a stumbling block to the world; but to you, that cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Sin of the Father

While preparing for a Bible study and discussion of The Book of Job and the Problem of Suffering I was struck by these words from Gregory Schulz in his profound little book The Problem of Suffering – A Father’s Thoughts on the Suffering, Death, and Life of His Children:

There is nothing more terrifying than  seeing the wages of sin present in your own child. The terror lies in knowing (and I do mean “knowing” in the Hebrew sense of understanding by experience) that I as a father am the medium for the sin that brings my child’s death. […] “I certainly know how real my sin is.”

As a father, myself, who knows how real my own sin is, and that I am the medium for the sin that will bring my own children’s deaths, I am all the more amazed, saddened, and horrified that so many put off baptizing their children.

Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.