Thursday, April 06, 2023

The Meal for Betrayers (Maundy Thursday)

[Below you'll find the message presented during Maundy Thursday worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, as well as live stream video of the service. Be sure to attend Good Friday worship tomorrow if you're able to do so.]

Matthew 26:17-30
Holy Communion, the sacrament Jesus instituted on the night before His crucifixion, is reserved for only one kind of person, and one kind of person only.

Holy Communion is for betrayers of God, those whose basic orientation in life is away from God, the giver of life, and toward an eternity of sin, death, damnation, isolation, and regret.

Holy Communion is God’s Word to sinners.

Only sinners can approach this table.

Jesus tells us so in this evening’s Gospel lesson. He does so while having the Passover meal with the twelve we now know as apostles, the sent ones.

Truly I tell you,” Jesus says to all of them, including Judas, “one of you will betray me.” (Matthew 26:21)

Then He tells them again, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me [and that would have been all twelve of the men at the table] will betray me.” (Matthew 26:23)

None of the twelve believe in what Jesus tells them.

Each in turn asks Him, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22)

Judas seeks extra assurance, addressing Jesus as Rabbi or Teacher, rather than as Lord: “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” (Matthew 26:25) To which Jesus says, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:26)

The question asked by each man says two things.

The first thing it says is that they don’t trust Jesus’ Word. They were grown-up men who had stuck with Jesus for several years. They were certain they wouldn’t betray him now.

The second thing it says is that down deep, they all know themselves to be betrayers of God the Son. Only Judas would sell Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver. But most of the men around that table would scatter in fear at the moment of Jesus’ arrest. The boldest of the group, Peter, would go to the temple environs to watch Jesus’ trial, but would deny any association with Jesus three times. They all–every single one of them–who eat the Passover meal with Jesus that night will betray Jesus. That’s what betrayers do. It’s what sinners do.

Betrayers have inherited this disposition to look out for themselves with no thought of God or others. Adam displayed it when, immediately after falling into sin, he blamed God and Eve, the woman he had described as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” (Genesis 2:22) “The woman you put here with me,” he tells God,”—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Genesis 3:12) Eve was maybe a little better. She, at least, didn’t try to pin the blame on God. When God confronted her for her part in the fall, she told God, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:13)

You and I are no different.

The truth is the last thing any of us wants to do is love God or love others.

We prefer worshiping at the altar of self and preserving our own skins rather than taking the chance of loving God or loving for others, for there is always risk in love.

We recoil at the Word of God when it tells us: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

The psalmist tells us that, “The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:2-3)

We are betrayers of the God we know in Jesus.

But to the betrayers who sat around Him at the Last Supper, as well as to we betrayers who gather in this sanctuary tonight, Jesus has another Word.

He gives it to all who gather in the name of the triune God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to all who realize they are betrayers in need of the Messiah Who has come to save us from sin and all its deadly, fatal consequences.

Jesus says of the bread and the wine on our table: “Take and eat; this is my body” and “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28)

Jesus meets our betrayal with His new covenant or new testament, His promise, to make the filthy clean.

He, as one teacher puts it, gives us His body and takes on Himself our old bodies of sin even as we are betraying Him.

And so, each time we receive Christ’s body and blood, a miracle occurs. We who, by our nature and our actions, betray our God, are forgiven and made new.

Through the years as a pastor presiding over the sacrament, I have encountered people who refused to take the bread and the wine because they didn’t believe.

I’ve always respected that. It shows an integrity that some church-goers would do well to emulate.

The Small Catechism tells us that people are “truly worthy and well prepared who believe [Jesus’] words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’”

If we’re willing to trust the promise of those words from Jesus, we should, by all means, come to the table and receive Christ’s body and blood.

Nothing will more certainly build saving faith in Christ within us, no matter the depths of our betrayal or the breadth of our sins, than receiving the sacrament whenever it is offered.

Holy Communion is Jesus’ Gospel Word of promise and life for sinners!

All of which is why I’ve been deeply troubled by another group of people I’ve encountered through the years: Those who refuse the sacrament because they don’t feel they’re good enough, or holy enough, or repentant enough.

During His Last Supper with the twelve, do you notice what Jesus does immediately after He tells Judas that he, like the other eleven, is going to betray Him?

He doesn’t spend a moment condemning, excoriating, or ragging on the twelve.

He doesn’t rage against their sins or give vent to resentment.

Jesus knows that He’s going to the cross to take the condemnation for sin each of us deserves, whether Judas sells Him out, or Peter denies knowing Him, or the others melt into the streets of Jerusalem, or we sin against God, or not.

Jesus has a mission and no amount of human disloyalty, sin, or betrayal will turn Him away from it. Referring to His crucifixion, Jesus says elsewhere, “I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!” (Luke 12:50)

Instead of speaking words of condemnation, Jesus immediately shifts to giving His antidote for our sin, His gift to we betrayers.

Jesus gives to us who are born dead and condemned for our sin, Himself, His body and His blood.

As Jesus says in another place, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) We are the sin-sick and we are the dying that  Jesus has come to save!

Friends in Christ, this feast of Christ’s very life given to us to eat and drink, isn’t for the perfect.

It’s for those of you who know the depths of your betrayal of your Lord and who know of your need of Him.

In another place, Jesus tells us a truth that I fear we don’t take literally enough. “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus says, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” (John 6:53-56)

So, on this Maundy Thursday, as Jesus gives us His Word–His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine–, however much you and I may have betrayed our Lord in the past week, two days, half hour, we are right where we belong: At the table of our Lord. Amen

Monday, April 03, 2023


[Below you'll find the text of yesterday's Palm Sunday sermon as well as live stream video of both worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

John 12:12-19
When it comes to disasters, natural or humanly-made, it has been an eventful week.

Tornadoes and high winds ripped through many parts of the country, including our own area, leaving some dead and many homes damaged or destroyed.

A mass shooting at a Nashville school resulted in six people being murdered, including three children.

Putin’s war on Ukraine rages on.

We gather on this Palm Sunday morning, palm fronds before us, and call out to Jesus, “Hosanna!,” which means, “Save us!”

Our cry is understandable. We need to be saved.

But the problem is that all too often, our reading of what we need to be saved from is fixed on the symptoms, rather than on the deeper issue from which all of us need to be saved.

The real issue–the deeper problem–from which we need saving is stated by the apostle John in a verse where he describes two things Christian disciples know. “We know,” John writes, “that we are children of God [that is, we have been claimed by Christ in Baptism and we have been brought to faith by the proclamation of the Gospel Word about Jesus and so, know that we are are children of God], and [we know] that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19)

That second statement–”the whole world [or the whole cosmos] is under the control of the evil one,” the devil, may surprise some people.

Of course, the God we meet in Jesus Christ is in ultimate control of the universe. Even when Jesus went to the cross, He was in control of the moment and circumstances by which that would happen.

Of course, God created the cosmos and has died and risen to take it back and set it free of sin and death.

Of course, evil has already been defeated by Jesus Christ.

But until the day when the risen and ascended Jesus returns, the devil and the sin into which he lured our first parents (and lures us) and into which you and I are born, will have the upper hand in this fallen creation. This is why in his hymn, A Mighty Fortress, reminds us that on earth, the devil has no equal and that Jesus Christ has come to be our Champion Who fights for us and saves us from the devil.

Nonetheless, this world is now under the devil’s control. This is why the devil was able to offer Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” if Jesus would bow down and worship the devil. (Matthew 4:8-9)

Right now, this world and we ourselves are born in bondage to sin, incapable of freeing ourselves. Even baptized believers in Jesus Christ will continue to wrestle with the sinfulness that fills us and is around us until the day we die to this world.

This is the deeper problem from which all of us need to be saved. Human beings, first created in the image of God, have been decimated, our identities, personalities, and desires completely infected and controlled by, sin and the death to which it inevitably leads. That includes you and me. All of us.

If we are going to be saved from our real problem of sin and death, the half measures you and I might try will never do the job.

We may find ways to mitigate or lessen the impact of inclement weather.

We may find the proper formulation of public policies and private actions that decrease the numbers of gun killings in our country.

We may find a way to get Putin out of Ukraine.

I pray that all of these things will happen.

And the human race actually has a decent track record when it comes to solving what I would call secondary problems like these. Polio and COVID-19 were conquered. Hilter, Mussolini, and Tojo were defeated. In little more than one-hundred years, human beings have learned to fly, light up cities, farm with incredible efficiency, and even land on the moon.

But even when God answers our prayers for protection from the weather, safety for our kids, and Putin’s removal from Ukraine, as I believe will happen, the fundamental human problem will not have been solved. No human effort ever could solve our basic human problem.

The day after these issues and others like them are resolved, the ratio of human birth to death will still be 1:1.

New outbreaks of chaos will occur.

And we will continue to run up against the intractable reality of sin and death.

All our human efforts toward saving ourselves amount to little more than putting lipstick on a pig or spraying Febreeze in a garbage dump! The pig will still be a pig and garbage will still stink.

Our continuing impulse will be to worship ourselves or things in the creation–money, power, comfort, success, sex–rather than to worship God Himself. We’ll still want to break free of any accountability to God, parents, spouses, families, friends, church, government, community, country. We’ll still dislike others who rub us the wrong way to the point of murder, whether in fact, speech, or thought. We’ll still commit adultery, whether physically or in our minds. We’ll tear others down, still covet what others have.

Our biggest problem is us.

My biggest problem is me.

Your biggest problem is you.

The crowd that greets Jesus on the first Palm Sunday five days before His crucifixion seems not to have any notion that what they most need saving from is their own sin and the death it brings.

Many know about, some actually saw, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

Most know of the miracles Jesus has performed.

They sense Jesus is some sort of conquering king.

Maybe, they figure, Jesus can save them from paying taxes to the Romans, from poverty, from the authority of foreign overlords.

These kinds of things are all they have in mind–it’s often all we have in mind–when shouting, “Hosanna! Jesus, save us!”

It’s no surprise then, that many of those celebrating in today’s Gospel lesson will, in a few days, disappointed that Jesus hasn’t “saved” them as they want to be saved, call for Jesus’ crucifixion.

Just like the Palm Sunday crowd, we want a king who will do exactly what we want him (or her) to do for us and not be critical of the sins we like doing.

We want kings who will save us from what we think we need saving from and leave our favorite sins alone.

We want kings who don’t call us to go to the cross with Him so that we can be saved from our old selves, so that our old selves can die on Jesus’ cross, allowing the new self to rise.

But Jesus will not be a king on our terms.

He won’t save us from little things and leave us dead in our sin, separated from God forever.

So, Jesus comes to you again this morning.

He comes to you in His Word and in the bread and in the wine.

He comes to save you.

He invades this sanctuary the way He once invaded Jerusalem, the King of all kings, come to claim all that has been lost to Him through sin.

He comes to save you from condemnation for your sin.

He comes to save you from your love of sin.

He comes to save you from death and the dominion of the devil.

He will say shortly after the events recorded in our Gospel lesson today: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” (John 12:31)

The devil and sin and death have no power over those who, by the power and at the prompting of the Gospel Word about Jesus delivered to us by the Holy Spirit, turn from sin and turn to Christ, the Saving One!

As we cry our Hosannas to Jesus today, He takes all our sins upon Himself. He walks in here among us as He once walked into Jerusalem and He takes all your sins–all our sins–on Himself.

And then He goes to the cross, taking the cross we deserve and the death we deserve so that sin and death have no power over us any longer!

Sin and death have no power over you at all! Not even just a little bit! Jesus Christ died and rose to make you righteous, free of sin, clean. And when Jesus says you are clean, you are clean, fit for life with God now and for all eternity!

Jesus saves us from ourselves, moving us from the darkness and futility that marks our path on even the best and healthiest and most joyful days in this world this world can offer. And He promises that we will be with Him in the perfection of the new heaven and the new earth!

Friends, Jesus hears your cries of Hosanna–”Lord, save me!”–even when you yourself don’t fully understand what it is you need to be saved from.

Because of what He did for you on the cross, when He said, “It is finished,” I can tell you, as He commissioned His whole Church to proclaim, “Your sins are forgiven.” (John 7:48)

Your old self has been crucified and is being crucified each day as you walk with Jesus.

All your sins are forgiven, conquered by Jesus on the cross, His victory confirmed by His resurrection.

Jesus has come to us once more today to answer your prayers to be saved.

He assures you that you are saved.

You are forgiven.

You are His.

As you take refuge in Him, know that you are saved now and eternally.