Sunday, December 17, 2023

Why Are You Here?

 Matthew 11:2-10

Now when John in prison heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples, and said to Him, "Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?" And Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me."

And as these were going away, Jesus began to speak to the multitudes about John, "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' palaces. But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, 'BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER BEFORE YOUR FACE, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.'"

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent 12/17/23

Why are You Here?

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Some questions are repeated, in the Bible. In Ephesians, two years ago, we confronted the question "Why are you here?". Here it is again, this time in the Gospel of Matthew, from the lips of Jesus.

Our Gospel lesson this morning revolves around two questions – the question of John to Jesus – Are you the Coming One, or shall we look for someone else?, and the question of Jesus about John, What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? What did you go out to see? Both of them are questions that we could consider – one of them we must consider. The question about John, though, is not as significant to us unless we translate it into our modern age, and place our congregation and its mission here in the place of the prophet John. When we do that, we change the question of Jesus into the theme of our sermon this morning, Why are you here?

First, however, is the question John asked of Jesus. Are you the Coming One or shall we look for someone else? That is the question that rings through the ages in one form or another – What do you think of Jesus Christ? Is He God, or simply a good man? Is He really and fully human, or does it just seem that way? Is Jesus Savior, or is He Judge? Is He the Center of your existence, or simply an embellishment to it? Do you believe in the Jesus of the Bible or the modern, politically correct, socially sensitive, humanistic Jesus? Was Jesus the One, or are you still looking for someone else?

It sounds silly, doesn't it? The question seems out of place here in a Lutheran Congregation. Unfortunately, it is not. It is never out of place. The devil is at work all of the time, trying to get us to imagine a "Jesus Christ" other than the One who existed and who died for us, and then to believe in that Jesus. In the days of Jesus, the people who were waiting for the Messiah were often waiting for someone else. When they met the Messiah, they didn't want to believe that this humble man was the One. They wanted someone else.

Their problem was just the same as many today have. They had come to look for the One they wanted, not the One actually promised or the One who came. Today, many people want another Jesus. They want the "heck of a nice guy" Jesus who takes everyone just the way they are, and asks for nothing, expects no changes, overlooks anything and everything. Or, perhaps, they want the Ecumenical Jesus, the one who doesn't care if we know Him, who measures us by our public niceness to others, and who is pleased if people simply learn to pay lip service to the existence of a deity of one sort or another. Others have a Jesus in mind who changes His opinions as frequently as they do, and always agrees with them. Doctrine, morality, history – these people believe that they are all in flux because these people are not willing to commit themselves to anything, and their Jesus is just like them.

Jesus gave John the answer: look at the Jesus who IS, and know Him. Jesus told John's disciples to look at what they saw and heard in Him. Jesus mentioned in specific the things which He had done, that the Messiah was going to do, according to the prophets. Then Jesus said, And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me. In other words, blessed is the one who believes in the Messiah who has actually come – who does not stumble over the real Jesus or who does not have another Jesus, a preferable Jesus, in mind. Jesus told John to face the reality that was reported – for us, that is the Jesus of the Bible, with the values, morality, and doctrines of the Bible. We cannot have Jesus if we reject Him and what He taught just because it feels good, or because someone we love has already rejected Him, and we don't want to face an uncomfortable truth about their spiritual life.

Which leads quite naturally to the questions of Jesus for the crowd. He asked them why they had come – pointing to John rather than Himself, but asking them if they were about reality – the man that was out in the wilderness or about some fantasy – something not real. But when Jesus pointed to John, He was actually pointing to Himself. John was His messenger. The conclusions they drew about John would also shape the conclusions they drew about Jesus.

So, why are you here? Did you come here to confront holy mysteries and deal with Jesus as He is, or did you come here for some other purpose, with another agenda in mind? Did you come for heavenly food or a symbolic meal? Did you come to be shaped and instructed, or just to feel good? Why are you here?

If you see this congregation as here for you, rather than you here for everyone else, you are not here for Jesus. If you see a worship service as simply a place one can go to feel good, you are not seeing reality. If you see the messenger of Christ as simply opinionated and peculiar, or even as a nice guy and easy to listen to, and do not listen to, and inwardly digest the Word preached and if you accept or reject the message you hear proclaimed out of hand, without examining what is taught and preached in the Word, you have not come to see Jesus. If you have come expecting something like a fast-food place where you can get your religion served up hot and fresh and just the way you like it, you have not come to see Jesus. You want the nearest Burger King.

This is an assembly of Christ's holy people. He has gathered His holy priesthood together here. We have come here by His invitation, to eat of His body and drink of His blood in this holy Meal before us, and to hear His holy Word.

We are to expect to be refreshed and strengthened. He has promised it to us, and we believe His promises. He has promised that our sins are forgiven and we already possess eternal life on account of what He has accomplished on the cross. He has promised that those who remain faithful will rise from their graves in glory unto everlasting life and joy.

He has not promised, however, that being here or living this life as His servant will feel good, please our intellect, or appeal to any part of us that may be included in the description "our sinful flesh." His doctrines may not appeal to you – but if they are His, drawn clearly from His holy Word, then they are also ours to keep and to believe and to confess. He has also called us to serve Him in good times and in difficult times.

God may ask you to stand firm in the face of persecution. If you have come to see Jesus, then you will. It won't be fun, but it will be what you will want to do if it is what God lays before you. Or enduring illness. Or facing certain death. Or patiently confessing Christ, or some truth about Him drawn from His Word, before those who will not accept it, and who will not accept you if you do not change – oftentimes people whom you respect and from whom you covet approval. In each of these circumstances, we can see the pain, the pressure, the difficulty, but we cannot imagine the blessings and we cannot see what God is at work accomplishing through our faithfulness. But it doesn't matter. He is God, and we are "poor miserable sinners" who have been redeemed and saved by Him.

We often cannot imagine what difference it would make if we did what we ought not to do, or if we surrendered some piece of the truth, seemingly inconsequential, in order to achieve some goal or maintain some imagined good. We have not been asked to imagine. We have been asked to be faithful. And that is the course of the Christian who has come here to see the Jesus who is. Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. We do it His way, and we trust His Word because it is His, and we are His. He is God, after all, and we are not.

Jesus asked them what they went out to see when they went out after John. Of course, the only thing they really could see was that which was there – the prophet of God. Even if they denied that he was the prophet, that was still all that was out there for them to see. Even when people deny the truth, or want God and their religion on their own terms, there is still only one God and one true faith – and only one salvation. If they come with any other agenda than God's agenda, they come in vain, without purpose and without success.

God has called you to His Word, and to His Supper, and into His family. He has forgiven you all of your sins for Jesus' sake and set His great love on you. He has called you to know Him and His Word. He has called you to serve Him by loving one another, and by faithfully living in the light of His great love day by day, in whatever circumstance you find yourself right now.

He has not called you to understand every detail or enjoy every moment. He has not called you to feel good or be happy. It is okay if you do, it is wonderful if you can, but it is not part of the promise – at least not for life in this world. He has promised us sorrow, pain, and the hatred and persecution of the world in this life. And He has given us His Word and the Sacraments – and each other – for strength and comfort and encouragement as we stand faithful by His power and through His grace.

So, why are you here? All that is here is the mystery of God's love in Jesus Christ, the purity of the Word, the refreshment of the Sacrament, and the fellowship of the saints. In it and through it all God gives us forgiveness and resurrection and eternal life for the sake of Jesus Christ. If you have come here for anything else, you will be disappointed. But if you have come for the false, let us show you the true Jesus, and let us show you the true mysteries – the wonders of God and of God's love for you.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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