Thursday, March 23, 2017

Two Sermons from Our Seminarian, Coleman Geraci. . .

I am sorry that a glitch with the graphic I choose kept these from posting.  These are two Thursday sermons from the beginning of Lent preached by Sem. Coleman Geraci. . .   Sorry they are late. . .

Hebrews 4:14-16 + Matthew 4:1-11

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

You might think preaching on the temptation of our Lord would be easy. Looking at the text in Greek we could comment on the interpretation of certain phrases and word uses, not to mention the connection with Old Testament verses cited in each temptation –could build a nice sermon around those nuances and relationships.

Or perhaps make the sermon about Christian piety. How should we react when faced with temptation? Seems pretty clear. Don't be controlled by your appetites. Don’t let the Word of God get perverted and used wrongly i.e. don’t tempt God. And don’t worship anything other than God, something we know from the Catechism. 

Perhaps, the sermon could be set against the background of the Small Catechism, especially in regards to the First, Second, and Third Commandments as well as the First, Third and Sixth petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. This would couple nicely with our Lenten Devotional from this year.

Now, none of those things are bad, and in fact I would encourage you to go back and read this text while considering those parts of the Small Catechism. Considering the richness of the text in the original language is also a wonderful task – as Luther believed, “If you lose the original language, you lose the Gospel.” There is nothing wrong with doing all these things. But to preach a sermon in these formats leaves one huge hanging question: What about Jesus? More specifically, what does this text tell us about Jesus for you?

Today’s account begins directly following the baptism of Our Lord, an event that cannot be overlooked as the background for the temptation.  The Holy Spirit has descended on Jesus. The voice from heaven declares, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” This word of the Lord and this anointing by the Spirit are the last things Jesus is given before being led out to the wilderness.

Then the tempter arrives. The stage is set for the cosmic showdown, with everything of us hanging in the balance. This is the Jesus who has just identified himself with sinners through His baptism, who has been declared the beloved Son of God, going to meet Satan – the accuser, the enemy from the Garden – on his ground.  How it goes with Jesus is how it will go with us.

And Satan knows where to go. “You’re the Son of God? You’re the one in whom God delights? You are His Servant? Let’s put that to the test. I know you’re hungry. You’ve been out here forty days and nights. Look, as the Son of God, you can do miracles. You have that power. Here, command these stones to become bread. Feed yourself.“ But Jesus responds. “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”  Bread is good, but it is not the ultimate thing. Miracles are good, but they are not the ultimate thing. The ultimate thing is “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Satan moves on, upping the ante. “So you’re the Son of God, and you trust God, and you trust every word from His mouth. What about these words? For did He not say, “He will command his angels concerning you,’ And “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone?” Why don’t you get your Father to do something for you? Have Him use His power to show you how much He loves you?” But again Jesus responds, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

 Satan continues, “Fine, you’re the Son of God, you trust your Father, you won’t let the Scriptures be twisted against you. But what about this: “I control all these kingdoms, all these glories, all these people, and I will give them to you.  You don’t have to do anything else, just fall down and worship me.  You don't have to suffer for them; you can avoid giving yourself up for them, especially those bits from the prophet about being “pierced for transgressions, crushed for iniquities,” and “with his wounds we are healed.” Just worship me. It’s an easy trade, you worship me, and I will give them to you.”

Satan knows what type of Son, Servant, Jesus will be. He has tempted Jesus to misuse his own power, but failed. Satan tested Jesus relationship’ with His Father, to force His Father to misuse his power, but failed. But now, now the temptation has come concerning Jesus’ power for us. Satan knows the suffering Servant who is Jesus, who will go to suffer to bring back those under Satan’s control to the Father. Everything hangs on this temptation. So much so that Satan appears again later in the words of Peter trying to get Jesus not to go to suffer and die. So much so that even on the Cross, the temptation echoes from the people, “If you are the Son of God, come down from Cross.”

How often do we fall to this same trap? How often do we turn from the suffering way of the Cross, to the Cross less way of Satan? How often do we shirk the Jesus who tells us to pick up our cross and follow Him? How often do we not want to love our neighbor, much less our enemy, or pray for those who persecute us? How often do we give in to temptation? But Jesus doesn’t.

Jesus doesn't give in. Jesus tells Satan, “Be gone Satan! For it is written you shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” In the same way He tells Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are hindrance for me. For you are not setting you mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” And in the same way, on the Cross, He carries out to fulfillment the name placed on Him at His Baptism, the Son of God, the Servant of God, in perfect righteousness and obedience. He carries this out to its fullest, by staying on the Cross  - by staying there for you.

What hangs on Jesus in His temptation is the temptation for Jesus to be another Messiah. To be only a miracle worker; to be only one who shows power; to be a political or social Messiah; to be a Messiah other than the beloved Son of God. But Jesus says no to this temptation. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, that came to seek and save the lost, that came to give His life a ransom for many,  that came to suffer and die. He carries on as the beloved Son of God, doing the Father’s will -perfectly righteous in His obedience to His Father, tempted in everyway, yet without sin. He was obedient, to the point of death, even to death on a Cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on Him the Name that is above every name.  

And that Name, the name of the beloved Son, He has given that Name to you in your baptism. As he fully gave himself in obedience to that Father, sinless, righteous, He gives Himself fully to you. He gives that body and blood shed on that Cross. And He gives it to you again today, even after we have failed the temptations in our life –in spite of our failures at the temptations in our life. He does this for you. And He does this for you that you may live as the beloved sons and daughters of God; as those whom He has won from Satan’s dominion. That you would draw near to the throne of grace, with confidence, that you would receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 13 + Luke 18:31-43

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today’s gospel reading is conflicting in nature. It's as if those who decided the pericope, the slice, for the Gospel reading wanted to force us into bind, forcing us to ask the question, who is this Jesus?

The opening portion of the Gospel sounds all too familiar. In fact, though we don't use the words of Jesus explicitly, we confess this first portion of the text every week in the Creed. “Crucified under Pontius Pilate. Suffered died and was buried. On the third day rose from the dead.” Reading of Jesus’ prediction about Himself today seems almost a foregone conclusion. I guess I could just forget about that portion and focus on the latter portion of the reading, maybe to make my job easy. We aren’t like the disciples here. We understand all of these things. These sayings are not hidden from us. We grasp what He is saying.

And it’s always easy to pick on the disciples. It seems account after account from the Gospels, the disciples are just not getting it. They seem never to understand what Jesus is doing or saying. But we, unlike the disciples at that moment, have the advantage of looking at this text from this side of the Resurrection. What the disciples didn’t understand, didn't grasp back then, well, of course, we do. We comprehend what Jesus is saying and doing, don’t we?

From this scene of Jesus’ prediction about His own suffering, death, and resurrection, we are then brought along to a blind man who won’t stop calling out for Jesus. Even as the crowds try to silence him, he becomes all the more insistent. “Son of David, HAVE MERCY ON ME.” And, maybe to surprise of everyone, Jesus gives in to the man’s insistence. Jesus asks “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man wants to receive his sight. So, Jesus heals him, but accredits the man’s faith for doing so. Interestingly enough though, the Greek here does not say that the man’s faith has made him well but in fact literally says, “Your faith has saved you.”

So which Jesus is it? Is it the Jesus who is going to be handed over to the Gentiles, shamefully treated, spit upon, mocked, and then killed and on the third day rise? Is it the Jesus whose words are incomprehensible, even hidden from His disciples? Or is it the Jesus who stops His movement to Jerusalem to heal this blind man? Is it the Jesus who puts on hold what He is to fulfill from the Prophets, what is written about Him, in order to fulfill the desire of this man?  Which Jesus is it?


This Jesus is both the one who heals the physical ills in the blind man but is also the one who gives himself over to physical abuse even to death. This is the Jesus who mercifully looks up on those who trust him, who mercifully answers to this man’s faith. But this is also the Jesus who is beyond comprehension; whose sayings trouble us, challenge us, convict us. The conflict is not in Jesus, but in our disposition toward him. We are often certainly the disciples who are puzzled and unable to grasp what Jesus says. “Love my neighbor? Love my enemy? Pray for those who persecute me?” But, by His mercy, we are also the blind man who has faith in His Word for salvation.

We are the disciples that hear the words of Savior and stumble, this is most certainly true. But we are simultaneously the ones whom He has granted faith in order to carry out His Words. We are the disciples who may not fully comprehend Jesus, but we are the ones to whom He gives Himself fully. Week in and week out, amidst the struggles of this life –our struggles to live out our vocation as baptized saints – He is still here giving Himself fully to us – His Word of forgiveness; His Body and Blood.

We are called to follow him, even when we don’t grasp what He is doing –especially when we don’t grasp what He is doing. We are called to carry out our lives in accordance to His Word. Even when His Word is tough. And as tough as His Word is, His Word does not change nor make any room for excuse. But His Word that does not change is also the promise that does not change. You are baptized. You are His own.

And as His own, as ones to whom He has given faith, we are to love as He has loved us  -to love as Paul describes to us in 1 Corinthians. We are to be patient, kind; not boasting; not being arrogant or insisting in our own way; not rejoicing in wrong doing but rejoicing in the truth. We bear all things, believe all things; hope all things; endure all things. But we don’t do this alone. We do it as the saints, together; as the ones called, gathered, and enlightened by His Holy Spirit.

This calling is the calling put upon you. This is the faith given to you. This is the gift to you. This calling, this faith, this gift is all Jesus – all of Jesus for you. The one given into death who rises from dead, for you; the one who heals the blind and forgives sins – for you. The one who puts His name upon you, gives you His Holy Spirit that you might have hope; that you might have faith; that you might love.

These gifts are His gifts which He gives to you as He gives Himself into your ears by His Word and your mouth by His body and blood. But the gift does not stop there – He gives that you might give to others. Jesus is the gift to you through His Word that you might love your neighbor; that you might live in the incomprehensible love He has given you.

Which Jesus is it? It is the Lord and Savior Jesus – the Jesus who gives of Himself incomprehensibly, yet fully for you.  Amen.

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