Dynamite! – Advent 4 2012 – Deuteronomy 18:15-19

23. December 2012
Advent 4 Rorate Coeli
Deuteronomy 18:15-19

Handling God’s Word is like playing with dynamite. It’s bound to blow up in your face. This scares many from even trying to read it. They’re not sure what will happen. Maybe they’ll cut the wrong wire? Maybe they’ll be too nervous and drop it? Maybe it’ll set off a chain reaction that will destroy everything they hold precious?

This might be a healthy fear. The Word is volatile and explosive.“We should fear and love God” began Luther. We should fear God. But we aren’t to fear His Word. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Prov. 9:10)  To fear God is to hear his word. “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word…”

What keeps you from cracking open the Scriptures once and a while? What keeps you away from church, the Divine Service, and the study of God’s Word? Are you scared what God has to say? Are you worried you might not get it? Are you intimidated by the sheer volume of speech contained in those sixty-six volumes? Or is it that your worried God might actually have something to say to you? I mean something specific for just you?

It happens and it is good. The Word devastates the proud and lifts up the beaten. It’s awesome stuff and intimidating at the same time. Even the preacher has difficulty writing a sermon. When he reads the appointed texts for the day and begins to handle the Word of Truth, he’s likely to get burned. It’s dangerous business. This preacher is just as vulnerable to the Word’s work as you are.

The Book of Deuteronomy is such a book. It records Moses’ sermon to the people shortly before they are to finally enter into the Promised Land. He recounts for them again their history and the commandments of God. Deutero means second and nomos means Law. Literally Deuteronomy is the the Law on repeat. He tells them again of their deliverance from Egypt, their refusal to enter the land God swore to give them, their creation of the Golden calf idol, and finally their wilderness wanderings. Now Moses preaches to them again what God delivered on tablets of stone, for liturgy, and for the neighbor.

It’s heavy duty stuff. God is not chaotic but precise. He commands the place of worship, the manner of worship, calendar, and tithes. And then God continues to command how to love your neighbor. He speaks of warfare, of the courts, of inheritance, of uncleanness, and providing for the needy. Attached to this commands are curses and blessings. Do this and you will live. Fail to do this and you are cursed.

It’s the commands of God that people fear most. No one likes being told what to do. And if the what is also true then we are cursed by guilt when we don’t do it. That’s probably why some keep their Bibles closed.  It’s easier to ignore God than take Him seriously. No one liked Moses. His people begged the Lord at Horeb on the day of assembly to get rid of him. It’s not that they hated Moses per se. They hated the Word that came from His mouth. They said, “Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.”

Avoiding God in His Word is nothing new. The people cowered in fear at the thought of God even opening His mouth again. But beginning with Moses and continuing through John the Baptist, the prophets kept coming at the people with this Word. They spoke only as they were given to speak for they were men under orders. In the name of the Lord they spoke. The people hated them for it. The word they spoke was harsh. It was the severe taskmaster. God was preserving them until they would go into the land they would inherit.

Moses was a minister of the Law, revealing sin and death. All throughout his giving of the Law in Deuteronomy Moses reminds the people that they have not kept the Law. They whined about the Amelikites. They grew impatient with God and made a idol golden calf. They complained about the food. Because of these transgressions, God gives the Law via Moses. He makes demands without the ability to meet them. He makes everyone guilty of death and subject to punishment.

Moses also reminds them that they are going into the promised land as a gift. It is given not out of righteousness or uprightness on their part but so that the LORD would confirm the word that He swore to our fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob (Deut 9:4-6). The LORD set his heart in love on [our] fathers. (Detu 10:15). This love is most evident in the promise of today’s reading. This new prophet will teach something other than Moses. He will not come bearing sin, wrath, and death. No, this prophet gives righteousness, grace, and life.

In the midst of Moses’s proclamation of commands, he gives this curious prophecy. The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen. This prophet is not like Moses, speaking from the fire on the mountain. The fear of the people of this sort of message is just. TheLORD said to Moses “They are right in what they have spoken.” This prophet will not come in the thunder of Moses, the laments of Jeremiah, or the “you brood of vipers!” of John the Baptist. He will come like Moses but will be given new words. This Word will be the final Word. It is to Him you shall listen and not Moses.

Moses had laid down the Law for priesthood, kingdom, and worship of God. And now he tells us of another who will come bearing a new priesthood (you!), another kingdom (the church!), another worship of God (the liturgy of the Sacrament), and another Word (the Gospel!) Everything of Moses and the Law is assumed into Christ and fulfilled by Him. Moses is foretelling the end of the prophets and the beginning of the Christ’s church. We will celebrate again His gracious arrival Monday night.

From Moses on, the preaching of the Holy Ten Commands is necessary. It remains God’s Word. By the Law all are humbled, devastated. The dynamite goes off. But the new Word of the infant Christ—the Gospel—raises up. It exalts the lowly. It gives life to the dead. This new Word put in the new prophet’s mouth is a good gift. Both the words spoken by Moses and Jesus are the Word of God. But the fruit of the former is only death and the latter is only life. Jesus demands nothing but He gives to you precisely what Moses demanded. Christ is the greatest prophet and His Word of the Gospel always wins against its opponent—the Law.

What you will find—if you open your Scriptures and read—is that a new Word of promise is echoed by Moses until John the Baptist. This not new to God but His mercy was from before the world began. This Word of Christ is also powerful, dynamite. It is explosive good news! In Jesus the hope of the nations is fulfilled. Jesus frees and consoles those who are frightened and broken.

This news must be known. Jesus must be heard. Our salvation begins not with any work of ours but with the hearing of the Word of life. The Law comes first to destroy the old Adam, reveal sin, and teach us we are incapable of saving ourselves. ““The Law brings wrath,” (Romans 4:15) and brings it so completely that the people not only do not do the Law but will not even hear it, for it kills them.” (Luther)

This is why some are scared of the Word of God. They don’t want to die. They don’t want to be humbled. The ugliness inside wants to stay hidden. Yet, it is necessary to be destroyed by the Law. We must learn our need for a savior. We must learn the truth so to receive the Jesus crucified for us.

Jesus is the Prophet long foretold. When the Holy Spirit is received by faith, then we are justified by Him without any work of our own, only by the gift of God. We experience peace and a good conscience toward God (Rom. 5:1) and joyfully and confidently we cry: “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). Now there is no more fear or flight from the face of the wrath of God; In Jesus there is childlike access to God through grace (Rom. 5:2–3).

The Word of God can scare us when it holds up the mirror to our sinful flesh. But this Word is overcome by the greater Word of Jesus. Times of refreshing are here. The prophets of old are silenced when the greatest Prophet comes. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Word. He received the curses for all our transgressions. By Him we receive every blessing God promised. That’s why Christmas is so special. In the precious Christ child nestled in Mary’s arms is the end of the Law and freedom in faith.  Powerful good news! Thanks be to God.

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Holy Pentecost (Whitsunday) ’12 – Acts 2:1-13

27. May 2012
Holy Pentecost (Whitsunday)
Acts 2:1-13

Today is the festival of the Holy Spirit, celebrating the gift of the Word,  when He established the church, and revealed to Himself to the world for courage, boldness, and joy. Pentecost has two preachers—Moses & Holy Spirit: 1) Moses. Mt. Sinai. Dismay and Terror. People begged Moses to stop speaking with God. They could not bear it. Moses is their go-between. Thunder & Lightning. Mountain smoking. God gave law for state and law for moral (10 Commands). This same Law holds today and still results in dismay, despair, eternal death. We need it for we are hardheaded, crude, insolent. We need the rod, fire, sword, gallows.

Pentecost—HOLY SPIRIT CHURCH. This is a kingdom of joy, courage, and certainty. It is a totally different message and voice. It does not cause fear as Sinai. It does not kill. it gives joy and boldness. It gave the disciples not terror but courage. Every disciple, filled with the Spirit, boldly takes on the world. They are no longer timid, weak—hearts with joy, eager to speak.

There are two preachers and two words. The proclamation of Moses terrified a whole nation. The proclamation of the Spirit emboldens Peter. Peter who was scared of Caiphas’ servant and denied the Lord. Peter who huddled terrified for fear of the Jews. Now Peter preaches against high priests and whole council of Jerusalem, and even speaks against Roman emperor. And all the Apostles do the same, like Peter.

There are two messages: the law of God and the gracious favor of God. Pentecost brings about a huge change. They have no fear, neither in heaven nor hell. There is a miraclous, divine transformation. They are courageous, bold, defiant, speaking against secular and spiritual alike. So also the whole host of apostles and disciples, 120 brave soldiers of the cross.

All the Apostles and disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit, began to preach. Not only that, they began speaking Greek to Greeks, Latin to Romans, Persian to Persians, Egyptian to Egyptians. Now the Gospel is given to all the earth in their native tongue.

The miracle is bigger than that. The content! Listen! New and wondrous message! Easter, Jesus of Nazareth, crucified as criminal, villain, traitor? mocked, spit upon, scorned, cursed, and killed? Who is He? The Lord of heaven and earth! The Son of God! WOW! Jesus of Nazareth, dragged out of the city seven weeks earlier, legally condemned, publicly executed, is now proclaimed Lord and God who rules the whole world.

This is the foundation of the church: poor and ignorant fisherman and offensive preaching of crucified Jesus. A horrible injustice was perpetrated against him. Those who crucified Him are enemies are enemies of God. Wrath and fury upon sinners. No previous precedent.

Imagine: defend person accused and condemned to death, left to rot in the grave seven weeks, and then condemn the whole government, spiritual and political, declare the man innocent, damn the judge rulers, and everyone else. the betrayers, criminals are not innocent before God and world, but are traitors against God, denied the Lord and God and crucified HIm! Daring and audacity!

“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:13-15).

All the disciples preached with the strength of a great army, later spreading this offensive and foolish preaching to the world. The crucified Jesus of Nazareth is the Lord of heaven and of earth.

Why didn’t chief priest, Pontius Pilate kill them right then? The New Testament and Kingdom of God, while seeming to have little power, has in fact almighty power that no one can resist.

The message: Proclaim Jesus of Nazareth, condemned and executed, is the LORD, of whom the prophets foretold. Whoever wishes to be rid of sins and to have eternal life, let him repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Insignificant, unimportant message and incompetent messengers.

So Christianity begins with nothing but powerless foolishness: For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

What is the source of this great power and might? The Word and the Holy Spirit. Witness Peter and all the rest. Look at the words and tongues they were given, as if they had been with Jesus a lifetime. Simple fishermen used by God to prove and reveal great wisdom. God preserved them and the church to this day, despite the seeming foolishness and ignorance of proclaiming the lowly, despised Jesus of Nazareth as God and Lord. Tongues of fire and native tongues confirmed God’s power on Pentecost.

Pentecost should always be on our mind. It is of no less importance to you, dear Christian, than Christmas or Easter. We should always thank God that through the Apostles and the work of the Holy Spirit, we have know this sermon. We know what Peter preached. Holy Spirit preserved. Beautiful festival and comforting, joyful sermon preserved and given. Neither devil nor opponent can destroy it.

Why full of joy? Because by God’s grace it has been given to us, so that we too may know the distinction between the two preachers and the two messages. We must distinguish between the message of the Law and the message of grace, the Lord Christ’s proper message. So the old Jewish Pentecost, given by the Law, is overcome by the new Pentecost, when the Gospel is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

So we can now distinguish between sorrow and joy, death and life. Mt. Sinai is full of sorrow, terror, despair and death. Now, in Jesus Christ, we have a joyful and precious message which fills our heart with joy and courage.

This work of drawing you away from the message of the Law unto the New Testament begins today. HOLY SPIRIT carries out His office and work as paraclete (comforter) and Spirit of truth. He filled the apostles and disciples with a sure and certain comfort, joyful courage, bold attitude, and total confidence.

Witness: Stephen. We need the same. We need the Spirit to create in us this sort of faith to speak boldly and confidently in a world hostile to Jesus. We need the message of the Spirit to remain content and disregard their slander. We need a courageous heart, to disregard the slander, persevere in the midst of offense, to continue this proclamation of Christ crucified.

Make no mistake, the world hates this message. It is not a nice, sweet message, easy to proclaim. Nor does the public accept it. It offends both high and mighty, thus we need the Spirit. It accuses all as traitors and murderers. It also forgives in the death of the sinless one, without anyone deserving it one lick. Therein true joy is found, as freedom in forgiveness is given as a gift.  Thanks be to God.

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Based on Luther’s sermon preached at the parish church in 1534.