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Goodbye Sermon at Old Zion, Dec. 30, 2007

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Good-Bye Sermon to Old Zion Lutheran Church on the Sunday after Christmas, 2007 “Till We Meet Again”

Isaiah 63:7-9 Psalm 148 Hebrews 2:10-18 Matthew 2:13-23 

Often change occurs in the margins and slowly goes to the center. The powerful from many different angles will not tolerate the Gospel, because it requires us to let God be God, while we ourselves have to be human beings, who have to keep on keeping on in dealing with our human condition. So we continue to pray, “Cast out our sin, [dear Lord], and enter in. Be born in us today”(from O Little Town of Bethlehem).    

Thus after fleeing to Egypt, Joseph comes back to Nazareth, a city which has nothing notable about it and far away from Jerusalem. The Gospel also became powerful in the boondocks of Wittenberg, Germany, far away from Rome and the powerful papacy there. Had Luther ministered in Rome, he would have been burned at the stake faster than you can say Jack Robinson, or perhaps, Savonarola, because he was burned in Florence in 1498.    

And if any of you want to take the Gospel seriously, then do not think it won’t require suffering. What does Jesus say? “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” There is no room for the Gospel, the same way that there is no room for Mary and Joseph at the inn.    

But the Gospel invites you into the truth of Jesus Christ and to set that truth above your own interest. Like Winston Churchill, I can only promise you blood, sweat, toil, and tears, but then people will look back at you and say, “This was your finest hour!”    

All your suffering gets translated into a richer and deeper quality of love, quality of existence, and quality of relationships. You won’t be living a two dimensional, superficial life, but you will be bone of Christ’s bone, and flesh of Christ’s flesh. You will have the body and blood of Christ, and be called into the very ministry of Christ, and your own life-story will be a continuation of the passion story of Christ. And let me tell you, you would not exchange that for anything, because you start living right out of the strength of God.    

For Christmas Eve we preached Immanuel, meaning by Christ that God is with us. In Christ God emptied himself and became one of us, weak and vulnerable. So the next thing we hear is that the God-with-us has to flee for his life. The kings of the earth come to do homage to the Christ-child, but the Idumite king Herod, could see only a threat to his reign and he ordered all the infants to be massacred up to two years of age, for security reasons. He wanted no rival for his paltry throne.    

So like the people of God, their king had to go into exile, had to go down into Egypt, to let the authorities cool off. We have the old Joseph, the one who was sold down the river into Egyptian slavery. For those Hebrews Pharaoh was a tyrant, to whom Moses said, “Let my people go!” Mary’s Joseph listened to his dreams just like the Joseph of old. He had to flee the tyrant Herod of Judea, and then come back after he died.     

To give you an idea of what Herod was like, in history we read that he had some of the most beloved leaders of the Jews killed, just like Benazir Bhutto was just now killed,  and he ordered that one member of each family be killed, so that when he died, the whole country would be mourning. He loved self-deception.    

If Caesar does homage to Christ, then there is a start. Also when there are checks and balances on power, then there are shades of gray and all of them do not have to be quite so dark. “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” – are the famous words of Lord Acton. Everyone needs power, but when it is absolute and unchecked, it inevitably corrupts. Napoleon, the self proclaimed emperor, invaded Russia with 600,000 troops and returned with 40,000. He wasted 560,000 soldiers! With a tyrant such as Herod and many another earthly ruler, Caesar and Christ become like night and day. Hundreds of thousands of early Christians became martyrs because they refused to worship the emperor Caesar.    

Thus to protect the Christ, Joseph had to go to Nazareth, the boondocks. It was a place to hide in open sight. There was nothing notable about the town. It did not even have a rabbi. Nathaniel said to Philip, “Jesus of Nazareth? What good has ever come out of Nazareth?” Joseph was smart. He found a good hiding place.    

Matthew plays with the Hebrew word, “Nazorean” in the last sentence of our gospel lesson, saying, “He shall be called a Nazorean.” It can mean that he came from Nazareth, but then it calls a Nazarite to mind, one who is set apart and consecrated to the Lord. They did not cut their hair and vowed never to drink alcohol. We know, however, that Jesus drank wine. Thirdly, the Hebrew sounds like “the holy one.” Thus it also brings to mind, “He shall be called the Holy One of Israel.” Last, it resembles the Hebrew word for “branch.” Thus we say, “Yes, he is the righteous Branch,” the Son of Righteousness, mentioned by the Prophet Isaiah. So Jesus of Nazareth is more than a Nazarite. He is the holy One of Israel, the righteous Branch, the Son of Righteousness, the Christ, and it is either the Christ or Caesar, if Caesar is a tyrant without checks and balances.    

Of course, I could put all this more plainly and speak about our president and our country. But I will not do that, other than to say, unless you place Christ over our country and unless you honor the cross over the flag, and your Christian fervor outstrips your patriotism, even your love for the Phillies and Eagles, your Christianity is in danger. Do not get all bothered about having Christ in Christmas, if you do not have Christ first in your life.    

Let me say goodbye with a distinction between the theology of the cross and the theology of glory. Don’t figure that this congregation or you yourself can succeed by what you have going for you. Then you are really placing your confidence in your own strength and effort, in what you can do. That is the theology of glory.    

Don’t count on your own strength or health, or the money you have in the bank, or this beautiful sanctuary, or your history or tradition, or anything else that might count as glory. What the Gospel requires of us is far more demanding and usually we do not turn to God until all the things we have relied on ourselves have failed us.    

Luther says that we must utterly despair of our own ability, before we are ready to receive the grace of God (from the Heidelberg Disputation). The explanation of the third article of the creed says the same thing in other words: “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.” Even in Alcoholics Anonymous they realize that a strength far greater than themselves, the demon of the bottle, has taken hold of them. They then believe that only by God, however they understand him, can they be rescued. There are social forces more powerful than any of our strengths that this church is up against. So we have to look up from the cross and fix our eyes on Jesus and realize that it is only by grace that this ministry can continue; yes, under the cross.     

When you are at the point of having to close your doors, rejoice and be glad, because now grace can flood you and overwhelm you, and you will be a church under the cross. Forget the glory churches and the glory church of old that Old Zion may have been. That time is past. We can be historical and we can also be history.    

Just face the cross and that shall be glory for you and glory for me. It is in the cross of Christ I glory and there is no other way, but through Christ, through the cross, because it’s Christ crucified, and then Christ raised, raised from the dead, and from our crosses, all of us in his body will be raised with him. Amen.

The German Portion

In German I am going to speak about Christian humility and how it overcomes prejudices, and far from being exclusive, it reconciles races, classes, sexes, in a way that Germans are called by Christ to do after World War II. Almost ten million people died in World War I and fifty-five million died in World War II. You will find many German names among the inner-city ministers, who are at work against prejudice and are ministers of reconciliation: Les Schulz, Heidi Neumeier, John Heinemeier, – and Peter Krey, as Luther would say humorously: if I am allowed to mix my mouse dirt with honest pepper. I am not worthy to be in that number. Basically, I’m going to hit prejudice in my German.

Wir Deutschen, die von Christus berufen werden, wollen leidenschaftlich menschlich werden, ohne Vorurteile gegen Schwarze, Frauen, Arme Leute, Obdachlose, Schwule, oder Ausländer zu haben. Wir haben alle gesündigt und wir alle sind zu kurz gekommen gegen die Herrlichkeit Gottes. Daher sind wir alle Bettler für die Gnade Gottes. Das waren die letzte Worte Luthers: „Wir sind alle Bettler, das ist wahr!“ (Luther’s last words were: „We are all beggars, this is true!“)    

Wenn wir für unsere Armen hier in der Grosstadt wie Bettler seufzten und bitten, damit Gottes Gnade all diese Niedergeschlagene Leute aufhebt, dann wird Gott uns erhören. Das Wort, „aufheben“ hat natürlich drei verschiedene Bedeutungen: dass die Gnade sie aufhebt, d.h., dass sie erhöht werden, hoch gehoben, und mit einem besseren Leben weiter kommen; zweitens, das ihr alter Adam und Ewa aufgehoben, d.h., das es mit ihnen aus ist, damit sie neue Menschen in Christus werden; damit sie, drittens, gerettet werden, denn aufgehoben bedeutet auch, dass sie nicht vergehen, sondern in Gottes Barmherzigkeit bleiben. Ja, wir flehen, wir bitten, wie Bettler, beten wir Gott an, damit alle Sünder hier aufgehoben werden, und dabei, durch das Kreuz Jesu Christi, werden wir auch aufgehoben, wahre Menschen, die durch Gottes Gnade, Vergebung, Segen, und Christi Heil all unsere lieben Nachbaren, Nächsten, und Mitmenschen, wie auch immer sie sind, dieselben Gaben verleihen. Denn in Gnade verdecken wir die Sünden anderer mit unserer Gerechtigkeit, und flehen Got wie Bettler für Vergebung, als ob wir gesündigt hätten. Dann, ohne Selbst-Gerechtigkeit, haben wir die Sonne der Gerechtigkeit in uns, Jesus Christus, der Versöhner aller Menschen miteinander und aller Menschen mit Gott den lieben Vater. Amen.


Written by peterkrey

January 3, 2008 at 7:30 pm

Posted in Selected Sermons

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