Monday, October 24, 2016

Rejection of Jesus is really rejection of our own sinfulness and need of a Savior. . .

Sermon for St. James of Jerusalem, preached on Sunday, October 23, 2016, at Grace Lutheran Church.

Today is one of those days when the mission of the Church is plain and clear.  Five boys are received into the Kingdom of God in the waters of baptism.  Three families have come with their children to receive the cleansing of water and the Word of God.  This is why we are here.  This is what the mission is.  This is why we lift our prayers, why we raise our voices in praise, and why we open our wallets to the offering plate. 

Now this may seem super impressive if you have only seen baptisms one at a time.  And it is.  But the miracle of the Kingdom is the same miracle for one or five and it is the same miracle you count on whether you are two or ninety two.  The miracle is this:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

On days like today it is especially great to be a pastor and it may just be that pastors become more impressive as five are welcomed into God's kingdom in one fell swoop.  But you may not know that pastors go home every day and face their families who know that this miracle did not happen because of the pastor but because of the mercy of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.  From a distance a pastor is impressive but his family knows he has feet of clay.  Noah faced his shame before his family,  Abraham had to face Sarah after Ishmael was conceived, and Moses put his staff behind the door when he sat down to eat with Zipporah, who knew all his flaws.

But not Jesus.  Jesus was not flawed.  He had no secrets to be found out that His family had to hide and He had no hidden sins for His enemies to gloat over.  He came in righteousness for sinners great and small, young and old, famous and anonymous.  His preaching and His life were perfectly synchronized on you, on Alexander, Collin, Declan, Westin and Watson, and on me.  His family did not get it.  The disciples who were supposed to be His friends did not understand Him or His kingdom – at least not right away.  But Jesus gave them no excuse to reject Him except their own unbelief, their own sins and shame, and their own weakness to death.  He came to meet us under the banner of the Law He kept perfectly for you and me, under the shadow of the cross where our sins would be paid in full, and in the shadowed darkness of a tomb where death would die once for all.

Jesus came without flaws for flawed people, the holy One for sinners.  In the end, our unbelief is less a rejection of Jesus than it is a refusal to admit our sin, to confess our failures, to repent of our wrongs.  The irony is that Jesus who had every right did not reject us, but we find excuses to reject Him and His mercy.
He put Himself in our place to death and rose to bestow on us a life none of us deserve.  We think we are rejecting Jesus but unbelief is simply a refusal to believe that we are sinners who need a Savior, unworthy who require mercy, and the dead who need to be raised to life.

Though we want to make unbelief the fault of Jesus, it is not caused by Him.  Christ cannot be blamed for the trouble we have believing in Him and receiving the precious gift of salvation.  The darkness is ours and with it all our fears.  But the miracle of it all is that Jesus came for that darkness, to shatter it with His light.   He came to meet our fears and bestow upon us the peace that passes understanding.

Unbelief is ultimately borne of weakness – the weakness that will say anything but God be merciful to me a sinner... the weakness that cannot save us but can certainly keep us from the Savior who can save us...  the weakness that insists upon credit for at least trying but finds it too hard to admit by grace, through faith, in Christ alone.  Unbelief is weakness but that weakness is strong enough to close us off from God's grace.

Once so long ago a people thought they knew Jesus but they knew little of Jesus and even less of themselves.  They rejected Jesus because they rejected their own need of a Savior.  They refused to believe in a God who had to come to them and put Himself in their place even to death on a cross and save them. 

Those who rejected Jesus were condemned not by Jesus but by their own unrepentance and the utter failure of their own good works to do them any good.  Greeks complained that Jesus made no sense.  Jews complained that Jesus did not do the mighty signs th   at would have made them believe.  The friends and family of Jesus complained that it was simply too much to believe that Jesus was God incarnate, God in flesh and blood – all except for Mary, of course, who heard the Word of God, pondered it in her heart, and believed that it would be as God had said.

Today we remember James.  James came around.  All the Word of the Lord Jesus spoke and the Spirit working in that Word broke down the barriers of His heart, convicting him of his sin and building faith to trust Christ alone.  James was a sinner redeemed by the blood of Christ and saved by grace. James lived no gilded life.  He met Paul and Peter in the midst of controversy in the Council of Jerusalem and tradition tells us he died a martyr's death.  The miracle of His life is the faith that the Spirit worked and the redemption that came as undeserved gift to a sinner who was unworthy of any of it.  But Jesus Christ came to save sinners.

Five boys met the Lord in the miracle of water and the Word.  They came with nothing in their hands and no righteousness to offer.  And Christ was pleased to meet them there where He has promised and to give them what they did not deserve.  Just as He came for you, working through the Word upon your ears to establish faith in your hearts, with the splash of baptismal water to make you clean and the taste of His flesh in the bread and His blood in the cup to feed you to eternal life. 

Sometimes things come into clearer focus.  Questions like why we are here?  What is the Church about?  What is our mission?  What do our tithes and offerings actually do?  Today it is all made a little clearer.  Today we leave behind our excuses, and lay down our protestations.  Christ did not come for the righteous but for sinners.  Not to be understood but to save.  Not to reward the good but to offer hope to the flawed, failed, and broken.  Not to get something from us but to give us what cannot be purchased, won, or earned.  Christ Jesus came to save sinners.  This was the scandal that Nazareth refused, the stumbling block for James, and the hill the Holy Spirit climbs before our hearts rejoice in this Gospel

Christ Jesus came to save sinners.  And where sinners confess their sins, trust in the healing power of His blood, refuse the temptation to unpack or explain the mystery, and meet Him upon the solid ground of His Word and Sacraments, Jesus is still there saving sinners from their sins, rescuing them from their death, and restoring them to the Father.  He comes for little boys in mother's arms and holding daddy's hands at the font.  He comes for pastors with feet of clay.  He comes for folks like you. 

James was once not so sure to make of Jesus.  But Jesus knew exactly what James needed.  Nazareth was sure - Jesus was a carpenter’s son and not the Son of God.  By the Holy Spirit James came to faith.  Today with James of old, the saints of every generation, the newest who join us at the font, we cry out to Jesus.  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.  Amen.

1 comment:

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Rejecting the Lord Jesus is indeed, as stated in the article, a rejection of our own sinfulness. It is also a form of pride when we turn our backs on the only way to salvation and walk our own way, joining the legions of the lost destined for damnation.