I’ve been meaning to post sermons more frequently. But I’ve been doing the opposite of that. I’ve been doing a more blended style of preaching lately. Part manuscript, part outline. I think it has made for better sermons. But it makes them unsuitable for posting. Sunday however, was pretty straightforward manuscript preaching. So, here it is.
Jesus is in Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles. The people celebrate the harvest, living in tents. God commanded it in Exodus, and over the centuries as the Jews were scattered to various other places, it became a symbol of not only their nation, but of gathering together. The harvest was gathered, so also God had promised to gather his people from all nations, and bring them back to their home. That’s how it was seen. The High Priest, Caiaphas would prophecy about Jesus – that his death would be not only for the nation, but also for the Jews that had been scattered, that all might be gathered into one. Jesus will die for the sins of the whole world, and all those who look to him will be the people of God, gathered from all nations into His heavenly kingdom. That’s not what Caiaphas meant. He had political and nationalistic goals in mind. But God used even Caiaphas’ unbelief to show his power.
At the festival, Jesus is teaching in the temple. And there are many who believe in him we are told. Of course, it doesn’t seem like this is a supportive crowd in our Gospel reading. But it was, originally. Until Jesus started speaking the truth of God’s word to them. Until they heard from him that he was to be their savior from sin.
The Jews were very religious. They loved God. In the abstract. God out there. God who spoke once upon a time, and will return some day that likely isn’t now. That’s the god they wanted. But Jesus, speaking the truth of God’s word to them – God with a face, that was too much. And his words were too great a scandal. They couldn’t wrap their heads around Jesus being the one to do the saving. Jesus tells them “If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Comforting words, we would say. But they didn’t like that. They weren’t slaves. They were already free. They were righteous, not counted with the sinners. Abraham was their Father – this guy obviously didn’t know what he was talking about.
And that’s where the reading picks up. Jesus has been trying to bring them forgiveness, life and salvation. But they didn’t want it brought to them, because they assumed they already had it. Salvation now has a face, and it is not theirs. Hearing that Jesus is the one to bring them salvation is too much for them. Before it is all over, they are picking up stones to kill him.
And Jesus is hiding himself from them. That is not just a quick escape – not just Jesus blending into the crowd and comically getting past their confused looks. It is Jesus hiding himself from those who would not hear his word. It is a judgment against them.
We now come to Passiontide – the time of the Passion. Next week we will hear the Passion account according to Saint Matthew. During Holy Week we hear from Mark on Tuesday, Luke on Wednesday, and then John’s account on Good Friday. The cross draws ever nearer. The cross is the salvation of all those who believe. Not the hunks of wood themselves. Those are certainly all lost. Little slivers gathered as relics throughout the world are certainly fraudulent. And even if they weren’t, looking at them earns us nothing, because God has not put his word of promise in a sliver of wood. He has put a word of promise in the Word that proclaims his son’s death. He has placed his promised of salvation in the water, at offers that salvation to you in his body and blood.
But there is also a word of judgment as we approach these most holy things. Today, we are reminded how very easy it is to abandon the pure word of God and go after our own ideas. How easy it is to love God in the abstract, but to bristle, and speak blaspheme against him, to reject those whom he sends to us with that word.
It’s not enough just to be a member of a church. The people were all faithful members. We’re told these were the ones who believed in Jesus. Until he spoke, and they didn’t believe anymore. Now, those same people are under condemnation for carrying out the will of their father the devil.
We need to be careful that we don’t ever think that the word “church” is a guarantee of faithfulness, any more than the word “Lutheran” or “synod” or even “Wyoming District”. God instituted the church. Those who believed in him are the ones whom he spoke to in the Gospel reading. And yet, they choose to reject the word he brings to them. They rebel against the idea that our works earn nothing, and he is the one to save. They refused to admit that Jesus must be the savior, so they pick up stones to stone him. And that’s when Jesus is hidden from them.
We prayed today that we would be preserved in body and soul. That’s pretty much what we pray for at the end of the Lord’s Prayer. Deliver us from evil. What does this mean? We pray in this petition, in summary, that God would rescue us from every evil of body and soul possession and reputation… ” That’s our prayer, because it’s so easy to turn away from the Word of God, to abandon his Holy Church, even while our names are listed as members. Today’s Gospel reading is a warning against any complacency, any sort of self-assurance of our own holiness. These were the people God himself had chosen to be his. They were descended from Abraham. He called them out of Egypt and gave them a land of promise. And yet they are the ones trying to snuff out the Word of God. They are rejecting that word, and so they are separating themselves from God. And if God was willing to do that when his own rejected him, we can not think that, as ingrafted branches from among the nations, that we have any more claim to God than they did. They rejected him, and so were rejected by him.
They turned to their own work, their own bloodline, their own heritage, their own service and their own faithfulness. But in doing that, they turned away from Christ himself. And that is the blaspheme that can not be forgiven. .The blaspheme against the Holy Spirit that Jesus says will absolutely condemn. Rejecting the gift God gives – forgiveness given through the water and spirit. Forgiveness through the word of absolution spoken over you. Forgiveness given through the body and blood Jesus offers – his own body and blood. Those things are offered here. Not because this ground is holier than that ground, or this building is somehow more special than another. But because this place is set apart for those things. And the church of Jesus – the gathering of his people – happens here. The Word of Jesus is spoken here. The cross, the sacrifice, your redemption is spoken here, given to you in that Word of Jesus. The body and the blood are given here for you.
Let us not reject the salvation God has promised by our own idolatries. By our own indifference. But let us hold fast to that promise, that for Jesus sake, we are received into God’s kingdom – a kingdom not of this world. For Jesus sake. Amen.