Friday, May 1, 2015

The Lord waits to be gracious to you. . .

Sermon for Sts. Philip and James the Less.

The Lord wants to be gracious to you.  Really???  That is not how it seems in a world so filled with wounds, worries, and whispers. We want to hide our sins thinking that they will go away but the Lord drags every darn on of them into the light. We want to live a good and easy life and the Lord calls us to the mess of service to our neighbor and sacrifice.  We want respect and affection but the Lord warns us the world is against us, tells lies about us, and will persecute us to death.  We want our best life now and enough of heaven to make sure that it is worth giving up our favorite sinful desire now but the Lord says trust Him.  So God wants to be gracious to you (Is. 30)?  That is the struggle we face every day – believing the Lord wants to be gracious.

His grace is found not in exalting us but in exalting Himself.  Now there seems a contrast.  It is like waiting for someone to remember to say thank you to us only to hear them thank everyone else and forget us.  The Lord exalts us by exalting Himself?  How does this work.  How indeed.  This text only makes sense in the light of Jesus.  Jesus is the one who is exalted – exalted on the cross like Moses raised up the bronze serpent so long ago.  Exalted in the humility of a life of service to the least, the lost, and the lonely.  Exalted in the death that gives us forgiveness and the life that bestows everlasting life.

Jesus is exalted all right but who wants to be exalted like Jesus or with Jesus?  None of us in our right minds.  In Christ we see what seems a dead end is a highway to heaven.  What seems defeat is eternal victory.  What seems empty promise is the one promise that can hold up our weak and fragile lives and hopes.  Christ is the mercy of God, exalted on the cross.  In Him we see the face of our gracious Father who seeks what is good and right and best for us.  Through Him we learn to trust in His Word and walk in His way.  God has heard the voice of Jesus and now you and I are declared holy and righteous.  He has hidden our life in Christ’s death and we see this mercy hidden in suffering.  He calls us to walk in it to everlasting life.

James, Son of Alphaeus, we know nothing of except his name. He is not the James of Acts, son of Clopas, “brother” of Jesus and later bishop of Jerusalem and the author of the Letter of James. James, son of Alphaeus, is called the lesser and as far as we know he lives up to his nickname.

Philip came from the same town as Peter and Andrew, Bethsaida in Galilee. Jesus called him directly, whereupon he sought out Nathanael and told him of the “one about whom Moses wrote” (John 1:45).  Like the others, Philip took a long time coming to realize who Jesus was. When crowds were hungry, Philip insisted that there was no way you could buy enough food to feed them.  But Jesus miraculously supplied the bread.  When Thomas had complained that they did not know where Jesus was going, Jesus said, “I am the way...If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6a, 7), Philip said, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). Enough! Jesus answered, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9a).  Philip gets it – believing God wills grace to us is an act of faith that is much more difficult than skepticism, doubt, unbelief, and bitter resignation.  Faith is the harder path.

When our eyes tell us one thing and our wounds bleed all over everything, faith insists that God wants to be gracious.  Only the Spirit can unveil Jesus so that we see Him, know Him, and follow where He leads. The way of unbelief is easier – you have only to deal with the reality your eyes see and the ways of a screwed up world.  Faith compels us to see the reality of the cross, the death that pays for our sins, and the life that is beyond all human knowing.  That is the struggle – when eyes see and lives seem in conflict with what God promises, we must choose in which way we will walk.  So, what will it be?  Resigned to bitterness, with the false comfort that sin is not so bad, and this life is enough?  Or repentance and forgiveness of those sins through Jesus raised up on the cross and the promise of a life so full and beyond this present moment, that we cannot even imagine it?  This is the struggle faith meets every day.  God wants to be gracious to you.  Cast off the burden of your sin, cast off the despair of your wounded heart, and cast off the victorious taunts of your enemies.  This will pass.  Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life.

As the Lord bids in Isaiah 30:  This is the way... walk in it.    Amen.

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