Saturday, August 29, 2015

14th Sunday after Pentecost

14th Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 7:14-23 - August 29th and 30th

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Dear friends in Christ, what we heard today in our Gospel lesson is a continuation of our confrontation from last week's Gospel. If you will remember, some of the Pharisees and scribes decided to complain to Jesus about how Jesus didn't make His disciples wash their hands according to the tradition of the Elders. You see, the pious Jewish custom was that if you didn't wash your hands after being out and about amongst the "sinners" - then you were defiled. The only problem - God didn't teach this. God didn't command this. It was just stuff made up by man - and Jesus just lays into the Scribes and Pharisees over this. But that was last week - and this week, Jesus picks up and continues the same thread. So, give ear to what Jesus speaks to us here today.

"[Jesus] called the people to Him again and said to them, 'Hear Me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.'" Now, did you note what Jesus does here? He shifts His focus. He's not directly addressing or correcting the Scribes and Pharisees - He's addressing the crowd. And why? Because it would have been the crowds who had been browbeat for generations by this made up, pious garbage. It would have been the crowds who would have been taught for years that because of not jumping through other peoples' hoops well enough, that they were lousy people, that they were defiled and not fit for polite, Jewish society. The same thing goes on enough today. How often are people looked down upon by the "good Christians" because of their clothes, their looks, their jobs, the fact that they aren't rich enough, aren't good enough, come from the wrong family - all that same sort of junk. The scribes and the Pharisees were the upper crust - and they could look down their noses at folks with the best -- so crowds -- don't worry. When it comes to being good, when it comes to right and wrong... it's not your situation in life, or where you work, or what your wallet looks like -- rather -- what comes out of you -- rather - that's the problem to watch out for.

Now - none of this should be surprising to any of us here. While we nice little Lutherans can easily run with our own Pharisacial love of "niceness" that God hasn't commanded - we have been taught well enough to know that this is wrong. We love the parables of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, or the Good Samaritan. We know that the cultural ideals of wealth and power and such aren't necessarily what God demands. However - the disciples - they haven't quite gotten it yet. "And when He had entered the house and left the people, His disciples asked Him about the parable." Okay, Jesus - we heard what You said to the crowd - but You weren't quite serious about it? Right? I mean... external defiling is sort of a big thing - it's sort of how we little Jewish boys know how to rank each other, how we know who is safe to play with and whom we wouldn't want to be caught dead with in public. That's just how Jewish culture operated. Remember how Nicodemus the Pharisee came to Jesus at night - wouldn't want to be caught with Jesus - wasn't sure of Jesus' rank on the made-up-righteousness pole. What Jesus says was so counter-cultural that the disciples couldn't believe their ears.

And so, Jesus gets a bit blunt. "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" Now, this translation is a bit ironic for me - because the translators clearly wanted to be delicate with it. They wanted Jesus to seem nice and polite and proper - even when He's just in this very passage spoken against artificial social customs about looking nice. They wanted to spare our delicate ears. That phrase "is expelled" in Greek is actually "eis ton aphedrona exporeuetai" - literally "into the latrine is pushed out." I guess today instead of latrine we'd say toilet. The text isn't ambiguous or delicate. Yes indeed, Jesus, right here, is giving the parable of the poop. Oh no, cover the kiddos' ears! Shock and horror. No - our kids know this. Every parent has had to tell their kids not to play with poop - and why? Because it's dirty, it's nasty, it's icky. And that's the point that Jesus makes -- you know that meal you had for dinner? It looked good, it smelled good before you ate it. So - what is it after you've gotten done with it? How does it look after your morning constitutional? Whereas before you ate it, before it entered you it was lovely - when you are done with it it certainly doesn't smell like roses anymore. In fact, you want to get it as far away from yourself as possible - push it into the latrine and let it flow down the gutter - hurry up and flush the toilet. Before you - good. After you - horrid - and it doesn't matter one bit if you ritually washed your hands before you ate. That's the point.

Now, Mark does give one quick caveat before we move back to the main point of the parable - "Thus He declared all foods clean". Mark does point out that the Jewish dietary laws fade away with Christ. All the food laws were designed to separate the Jews from the world - not to make them "better" but so as to remind the world that God would send a Savior, would send the Messiah. Once the Messiah is here - you don't need those things that made you distinct, and you certainly don't need traditional handwashings. But that's not the main thrust of the text. Rather, Jesus continues and makes things plain and straight forward. "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

Well. That's quite a list there, isn't it. And guess what. We're going to ponder it now. And it isn't going to be comfortable, it's going to be messy and stinky, because with this list Jesus is attempting to demolish any sort of self-righteousness that we have built up about ourselves, any sense of self-righteousness that we think we have. Ready - let's start. First on the list - evil thoughts. Right then and there - bam. Do you look good, have you done all the right things? Well, no, you haven't, but even if you are deluding yourself into thinking that you have - you've still thought evil. You've still hoped that someone would get theirs. Even when you bite your tongue, you've thought the words. Even if you didn't give them a piece of your mind, it was still there, on your mind. Inside you. You might have disciplined your actions (which is good) - but your thoughts were still wicked.
And what sort of thoughts? Where do they lead? Sexual immorality. You know, flowing from impure desires. Wandering eyes. Lust. Or theft - that comes from your heart - it starts with a desire for more, to take, to have what is not yours, to have what God has specifically not given to you. Murder - that flows from out of you - out of your hatred and disdain. But you say you haven't killed - do I need to break out Matthew 5, where if you have insulted or are angry with your brother you are guilty of murder? Or the Small Catechism, where if you fail to support your neighbor's body and life - where if you are passive towards someone because you are mad at them and just leave them alone then you have in fact broken the 5th commandment? And the list goes on. Adultery - whosoever looketh upon a woman with lust hath committed adultery with her in his heart. Coveting - to desire something that is not yours, to focus upon it, to make it an idol. The first commandment and the 9th and 10th are bookends - they both deal with idolatry - for our wants and desires demand our worship and obedience. Deceit - oooo, just not being fully honest. Yeah - that's evil. Sensuality - being focused on whatever feels good rather than what is right - making sure you enjoy things and are well liked rather than doing what God has said -- that's evil. Envy... we don't talk often about envy as being one of the most wicked things around - it's not as bold or "juicy" to gossip about as an affair - but if you are envious of someone, do you think to show them good, Christian love? No. That's evil. Then slander - oh, how quickly we can gossip! Pride - how quickly our minds will elevate ourselves. And to sum all of this up - foolishness. Unthinkingness Our minds are great gifts to us given by God, tools to used in service to our neighbor, and yet, how often are our minds thinking against our neighbor! How often must we discipline ourselves so we don't do what our mind first wants! These thoughts - that's what defiles a person - and guess what you are according to your old sinful flesh? Defiled. You know what your thoughts are according to your sinful nature? Well, the best thing that could happen to them would be to flush them down the toilet.

Do you hear how blunt Jesus is being here? I mean, He's not pulling any punches with this - this is up and in your face - this is Jesus literally rubbing our nose in it. Why? Well, when it comes to life and salvation, there are only two options. The first option, the false and wrong one, is we think we save ourselves - and what deludes us into thinking this is we start comparing our actions to other people's actions. Things we can see - I didn't do what that fellow over there did, so I *must* be better than him. Then we fall into the great comparison game and try to work ourselves up the ladder to God, thinking that we will make ourselves acceptable to Him by our own works and holiness, and that is evil. That is death. That is the way to be flushed eternally to hell. The other option, the right option - life and salvation come by the forgiveness that Jesus gives... and yes, we in this room need forgiveness. We have sinned against God in not just word and deed, but in thought. Indeed, even if our neighbors look at us and say that we are good, decent people - doesn't matter. We know our thoughts. And when we pause to consider them - we see how wretched they are, and we see our need for forgiveness.

And the wonder - Christ gives you this forgiveness, for He is perfect and righteous. His mind doesn't have any of those evil thoughts. Seriously - Jesus has never had a single nasty thought about you; never once has He wanted to see you get what was coming to you. Indeed, to stop, to prevent what was coming to you, He, though He was perfect in not only Word and deed, but also thought - He goes to the cross for you. That's where His mind is - as we hear in Philippians, Paul says this is what is on Jesus' mind. Jesus "emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." That's where His mind is. Upon you and your salvation. It is even why on the night when He was betrayed, even as His death was immenent - His thoughts were upon you. Take and eat, take and drink, given and shed for you. Whereas from our minds and hearts come defilement, from Christ comes forgiveness, life, and salvation. Oh give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His thoughts are good, good for you, and His mercy for you endures forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Bit of Luther on Preaching

Since discussions about preaching are making the rounds, I was reading through stuff Luther wrote about preaching.  Here's some snippets that I found.

"What do you suppose would happen if we did not rebuke noblemen and other people? You might perhaps send them home to the devil, bedecked with flowers. Nevertheless, they boast that they are good evangelicals. What are we do to in the circumstances? Should we cease preaching and let them go to the Devil? It would not be surprising if I threw the keys at the Lord's feet and said: Lord, do Your own preaching. No doubt You are able to do it better; for we have preached to them, but they will not listen to us. But God wants us to stand fast in our calling and office, to administer them, and to give rebukes. For He wants to rule His Church throughout preachers, through the external Word and Sacraments, just as He rules the world through burgomasters, kings, princes, and lords, and punishes the wicked with the sword. In reality, He would not need the executioner and government, as Romans 13 says; for He could punish wicked rogues Himself much better. So God wants to use us too for the office of rebuking in the church... and if this were not God's ordinance an institution, I would not want to preach a sermon as long as I live." - a sermon from 1538 on John 3:16-17, dealing with the antinomian controversies of his day.  What Luther Says 3561

"There are two hindrances to the Gospel.  The first is the teaching of false doctrine, driving into consciences the Law and works.  And the second is a trick of the devil.  When he finds that he cannot subvert the faith by directly denying the Gospel, he sneaks in from the rear, raises useless questions, and gets men to contend about them and meanwhile forget the chief thing.  He gets them to contend about dead saints and departed souls; where they abide, whether they sleep, and the like.  One question follows another in endless succession... People gape with open mouths at these things and lose the chief things.  A man does not need much wit to gain popular applause; let him but preach new and strange things, and people will say that he is more learned than others.  They come in droves, with eyes and ears and mouth wide open.  So nothing is said about faith and love, for people consider this as commonplace as daily bread.  All have heard and know enough about this, and it is irksome to hear the same thing forever" - A sermon from 1524 on 1 Tim 1:3-11 -- What Luther Says 3565

"The porter here is the preacher who rightly teaches the Law--shows that the Law exists and must reveal to us our helplessness; that the works of the Law do not help us, and yet they are insistent. He then opens to the shepherd, that is, to Christ the Lord, and lets him alone feed the sheep. For the office of the Law is at an end; it has accomplished its mission of revealing to the heart its sins until it is completely humbled. Then Christ comes and makes a lamb out of the sheep--feeds it with his Gospel and directs it how to regain cheer for the heart so hopelessly troubled and crushed by the Law.
10. The lamb then hears Christ's voice and follows it. It has the choicest of pastures, and knows the voice of the shepherd. But the voice of a stranger it never hears and never follows. Just as soon as one preaches to it about works, it is worried and its heart cannot receive the teaching with joy. It knows very well that nothing is accomplished by means of works; for one may do as much as he will, still he carries a heavy spirit and he thinks he has not done enough, nor done rightly. But when the Gospel comes--the voice of the shepherd--it says: God gave to the world his only Son, that all who believe on him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Then is the heart happy; it feeds upon these words and finds them good. The lamb has found its satisfying pasture; it wants none other. Yea, when it is given other pasture, it flees from it and will not feed therein. This pasture always attracts the sheep, and the sheep also find it. God says in the prophecy of Isaiah: "So shall my Word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish all in the things whereto, I sent it" (Is 55:11)."  - Sermon on John 10:1-10 - sermons of Martin Luther volume 3

"When the pope was ruling throughout Christendom, the world truly had a fine government.  The pope's preachers were held in honor, and folk could not through enough to all the monks and clerics.... and yet, not a one of them said anything about Christ and the true comfort of consciences... But now, when Christ is preached, I will stir up, through the devil, all bishops, princes, and loards, yea, and your own parish too, that they may become more hostile to you than to any other man on earth.  And this is exactly what the world is bound to do... We should, therefore, not be surprised if all the world is hostile to us when we preach Christ; for we really deserve its hostility.  Do you not hear that the world wants neither to see nor to hear Him and is the deadly enemy of all who want to speak of Him?" - on John 15:18 - WLS 3585

"The teachers of old have said that in all his sermons a preacher should watch these four points: vices as opposed to virtues, punishments as opposed to rewards.  This would have been good advice if they had retained Christ.  For the Law deals with these four points: with vices or sins against the Law, with virtue according to the Law, with punishments for sins according to the Law, and with rewards for virtue according to the Law.  But this teaching does not make Christians.  It is a teaching of the Law which does not lead to perfection.  With this teaching of the Law we must combine the Gospel of grace.  Only then do we succeed in making a man a perfect Christian." - Luther on Genesis 17:10-11 - WLS 3602

"If you preach faith, people become lax, want to do no good, serve and help no one.  But if you do not preach faith, hearts become frightened and dejected and establish one idolatrous practice after another.  Do as you please; nothing seems to help.  Yet faith in Christ should and must be preached, no matter what happens.  I would much rather hear people say of me that I preach too sweetly and that my sermon hinders people in doing good works (although it does NOT do so) than not preach faith in Christ at all; for then there would be no help for timid, frightened consciences.
I see and experience this:  Here is a man who is lax and lazy, who falsely boasts of faith and says that the relies on the grace and mercy of God and that these will not doubt help him even though he clings to sins.  But as soon as death comes to him, it appears that he has never really grasped and believed the grace and mercy of God.  Therefore one will have enough to do to cheer and comfort him, even though he has not practiced any particular idolatry.  But when the message of faith has been extinguished and the heart is completely swamped by sadness, there is neither counsel nor help.  Say something about grace to such a heart and it will answer: You preach much to me about grace and mercy; but if you felt what I feel, you would speak differently.  So a frightened, inconsolable heart goes on.  I have heard people speak like this when I tried to comfort them.  Therefore I should like to have the message of faith in Christ not forgotten but generally known.  It is so sweet a message, full of sheer joy, comfort, mercy, and grace.  I must confess that I myself have not yet full grasped it.  We shall have to let it happen that some of our people turn the message into an occasion for security and presumption; but others, the work-righteous, slander us on this account and say that we make people lazy and thus keep them from reaching perfection.  Christ Himself had to hear that He was a friend of publicans and sinners, that He broke the Sabbath, etc.  We shall not fare any better." - 1534 on Acts 1:1-11 - WLS 3603



Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost

13th Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 7:1-13 - August 22nd and 23rd

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
This is one of those texts where so often people will use it to go off on a tirade against "tradition". "See here - tradition is bad, so what you've been doing is bad, and instead, you need to do this new, awesome thing that I'm telling you to do." But here's the problem with that. Our Gospel text is not anti-tradition - it's not setting up a tradition versus novelty argument. The distinction in the text is a contrast between the commandments of God - note that, of God - and the tradition of men. It's not old versus new - it's God's Word versus the stupid thoughts of men, be they old traditional thoughts of men or shiny new and stupid thoughts of men. Let us look at the Word of God today, and see what it says about us and for us.

So, the Pharisees and Scribes see that the disciples weren't washing their hands before they eat. Now this isn't them suddenly becoming like mothers around the world complaining about their kids being messy at the dinner table. As Mark notes, "For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders." Washing your hands in a certain, ritual way was the custom. This wasn't about hygiene, it was we are Jewish people and this is the way we do it. It was a tradition of the elders - that is from the elders, established by the elders. And the Pharisees and Scribes complain - "And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, 'Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?'" Now understand precisely what they are doing with this question. This is not a simple "why" question. This isn't the Pharisees saying, "Oh, surely there's a good reason, can you tell us why?" This is a stronger, accusatory question - more along the lines of being asked, "and just why". Of course, they aren't really attacking the disciples. Where do your disciples get off not washing their hands? Come on Jesus, You claim to be a teacher, but Your disciples don't even have the basics of "good Jewish culture" down. Because if you were a Pharisee, if you wanted to be a "good" Jew, you'd make sure you follow the customs to a T. And if Your disciples don't, Jesus, You must be a pretty lousy teacher. Harrumph.

This is why Jesus's response is so harsh and curt. "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" Hypocrites. Vain - that is empty and worthless worship. Ouch. And to put the fine point on it - "You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men." Did you see it - the contrast? It's not "tradition versus this new thing Jesus is doing" - it's Man's tradition versus what God has said. God says X, but you put more value on Y - and not only that, but you pretend that by doing Y you become a good little Jew and get closer to God.

And then Jesus gives an example. "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition. For Moses said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' But you say, 'If a man tells his father or mother - Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban (that is, given to God) - then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father and mother, thus making void the Word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do." Now, this is a tradition of man that happily has fallen away - but Jesus is describing something really wretched here. "Honor" your father and mother isn't just about respect - Honor was never merely respect in the ancient world - it also included support. When your mom and dad get too old to work, guess what kids - it's your job, given to you by God, to take care of them. And sometimes, that is annoying - so what they developed was a pious looking work around. You could declare Corban - basically you could make a big offering to the Church and say to your siblings, "Well, my share of taking care of mom and dad has been given to God instead - have fun with them." And then you wash your hands of your parents and let your siblings handle those messy things, all while the recently bribed church smiles and says you're a good little boy. Ain't that a racket? It's utterly horrific - and yet, because of the traditions that they had developed - oh, this is surely good and wonderful. They had invented and developed a custom that not only ignored God's Word and had nothing to do with it - but actually contradicted it. Yuck.

So then - how does this text apply to us here today? First of all, my dear friends, don't use this text as an excuse to condemn "tradition". Tradition, in and of itself, is not bad - as long as the tradition is a thing of God. We have a tradition of teaching our kids the 4th Commandment. I'm sure that when Jesus said in the text, "Honor your father and your mother" that this was not the first time you ever heard that. Or another example - in 1st Corinthians 11 St. Paul says, " For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." That word "delivered" is literally "traditioned" in the Greek - it's just not that way in English because "traditioned" sounds odd to us. But here's a great thing - received from God and passed on, made tradition - a good tradition of God.
This leads to the second point. When looking at any tradition or custom, the key thing is where the tradition comes from - is it just something *we've* come up with, or is it God's Word? If it's something from God we *must* follow it. If it's just something we've come up with - well, if it points to Christ and God's Word, we can do it... or we can get rid of it. And if it goes against God's Word we need to get rid of it. Our customs, our traditions are not equal to the Word of God. The things we do around here - by in large they are perfectly fine - but even then we can't let them become idols. We have freedom to do many things - but we dare not let how we have chosen to use our freedom in the past become a new and false god that we serve. We as a congregation are not bound to our past or how we've always done it. We are bound to the Word of God. That is to be our focus - and here's what Satan likes to do. He likes to try to twist even how we approach church and turn it into something horrible. Remember the example Jesus used - the Pharisees had deluded themselves into thinking they were serving God with their Corban, when in fact they were ignoring God and His Word. And so this is just something to always bear in mind when looking at or considering what we do here together - how does this mesh with God's Word and serve the proclamation of the Gospel - that's how we judge and evaluate what we do - not on whether we like it nor upon how long we've done it.

But this isn't just something we should be wary of together as a congregation. This is one where you need to look at yourself, your own actions. How many things are there that you or I just do, assuming that we are good and righteous because its something good little old me does -- but we haven't really thought lately if it is in fact a good thing, if it is in accordance with God's Word. Nothing is worse than a bad, nasty habit that you've deluded yourself into thinking is a good habit. That's hypocrisy, and the Devil loves encouraging our hypocrisy. And so in reality this text is a call out to each of us to check our habits, to check our customs, to make sure that what we are doing is in fact in line with God's Word rather than just assuming that it is all good and fine - because those assumptions get us in trouble.

Here's the thing. We live by the Word of God. We don't live by our own plans, by our own works, whether they are actually righteous or just made up junk. We live by the Word of God. And that Word of God will lay us bare, will show us our sin, show us the times when we've been hypocrites ourselves. Yet that Word of God will show us Christ Jesus and His faithfulness. At no point ever does Christ follow some vain tradition of Men - rather Christ Jesus, the Word of God Himself, does all that God promised in His Word that He would do. You want someone who follows the commandments of God - look to Christ, for He is perfect. You want someone who truly honors His Father - look to Christ, for He does not follow His own will, but He does what His Father wills - and that is He goes to the cross and suffers and dies for you. Over and over, this is what His Word points out - our Old Testament lesson proclaims it - "In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind will exult in the Holy One of Israel." Christ is the Holy One of Israel who makes us to hear His Word, makes us to see His love, makes us to rejoice and exult in His salvation. He loves us and washes us clean in water and the Word, presenting us to Himself "in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing." This is the love of Christ for you - proclaimed in His Word. Dear friends, pay attention to His Word, not the distractions thrown forth by men. Amen.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Law of the Instrument

There is a concept called the Law of the Instrument.  You've heard of this idea in the phrase - "If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail."  Simply put, if you have one "tool" - be it a physical tool, skill, mental approach -- you want to funnel everything through that tool.  Every problem is to be solved that way.

I'm a theologian.  My "tool" is the Word of God.  You could even say I have two tools: Law and Gospel.  Most often, amongst theologians, the debate revolves and centers around how Law and Gospel are used, applied, etc.  Of course there's a debate today about how to preach the Law; of course there's debates about how to apply the Gospel... that's what Theologians ALWAYS do.  Just like good chefs will constantly discuss technique and ingredients (and sometimes disagree).

Yet, what we pastors must remember is this: not everything we come across is first and foremost a theological problem.

Really. 

No, I mean, really.  Sometimes, with some problems - you don't need to dive right into proclaiming the Law or the Gospel.  There's something else that needs to be done first.

For example, let us say you get the call at two in the morning that the Johnson house is on fire.  Little Billy was playing with matches.  And you get there, and the fire is spreading.  While theologians might debate as to whether Billy should get some Law (dude, what were you thinking playing with matches) or get some law (clearly he knows he's done wrong, he's freaking out - let's tell him he's forgiven)... um... you know, the house - it's burning.  Maybe we should, you know... put it out first.  Maybe the big problem isn't the spiritual component or aspect of what happened, but rather the immediate physical problem.  Like the house on fire.

Because - you know, with all sincerity, sometimes the immediate physical problems need to be addressed first.  Consider Matthew 25:34-40 - "Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  

Every single one of this topics is an immediate, physical need.  It wasn't excoriate the broken and hungry fellow for his wasteful living that brought financial ruin, nor was it validating his life style choice.  It was tending to the immediate, physical need.




You know - maybe we don't need to rush to condemn (or for the few hypothetical liberal readers I have - maybe we don't need to rush to loudly accept and attempt to validate).  Maybe when we come across the broken and hurting, the tired and hungry, the poor, the really messed up -- maybe we ought to see that they get physical care first.  





Theology is reflective - it's best when there is time to contemplate.  Let the immediate needs be the immediate needs -- and let the theological examination come when things have stabilized and settled down - when the fire is put out, when the bleeding is stopped.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost

12th Sunday after Pentecost - John 6:51-69 - August 15th and 16th, 2015

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh." What a fantastic statement! I mean, you cannot get any more Good-Newsy than that. Jesus here points to the Cross - your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, ate a bread of death, and they died - but I am the true bread from heaven, the true bread of life - and in fact, I myself came down from heaven, became Man, took on flesh - and why? So that I might go to the cross and die so that you can live. What a fantastic statement! This is one of those wondrous statements of God's great love for us - It's John 3:16 good - for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life! Great stuff.

And yet - what happens? "The Jews disputed among themselves, saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'" They miss the point. Now, it would be understandable if we today missed the point - we aren't Jews waiting for the Messiah to appear. Sadly, we aren't as grounded and familiar with the Old Testament as they were. Jesus is using Messianic language all over the place - He is using the Old Testament imagery of salvation - and instead, they are hung up, still, after three Sunday's worth of Gospel readings, on their bellies. If you are focused on acquiring the things of this world, then Spiritual things, the wondrous things of God will pass you by. They weren't asking the right question - rather than pondering salvation, they were pondering eating. But Jesus takes their question and runs with it. "Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink." Do you see what He does? Now, we have the benefit of hindsight - we can see the connections here to the Lord's Supper. O.K. grumblers, in fact, I will give you My Body and Blood - take and eat, take and drink for the forgiveness of your sins. What is the benefit of such eating and drinking - forgiveness, life, and salvation, for wherever there is forgiveness, there is life and salvation. "Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever." Well fantastic, Pastor - so why don't you just stop the sermon now, we'll go have the supper, and we call it good and all get out of church early!

Well, not quite. Because in our text, they didn't think this was fantastic. "When many of His disciples heard it, they said, 'This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?'" Did you catch it? This isn't the crowd that grumbles. This isn't the Pharisees or the Scribes who typically didn't like Jesus. This is "many of His disciples." These are the pro-Jesus folks. And we don't quite get their complaint. To say something is a "Hard Saying" would probably be akin to saying, "He's full of it" today. "Who can listen to it" is basically saying, "Who cares?" Jesus, you're full of it - why should we even bother listening to another Word You say? And these are many, a lot,of His disciples! These are folks who have seen Him cast out demons, they may even be some who cast out demons in His name! And yet now - eh, sounds wonky to me Jesus, I think You're full of it.

Jesus gives reply. "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail." If you are freaking out over simple things, like death and resurrection, or Holy Communion, what would be your reaction if you saw the clouds part and the Son of Man ascend? Are you so stuck thinking about your everyday fleshy, bodily lives here and now that you can't even ponder or think about the places and times where the Divine comes and interacts with this world? There is a Spiritual truth here - "The Words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." This is creation language - this is God working upon the world to create by His Word - you will be recreated, forgiven, restored! That's the point of why I'm here. And God has to be the One who does this - "This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father." Of course not - the Father is the One who creates everything. You can't be created unless the Father creates you - likewise, you can't have faith unless the Father gives you faith by the working of the Word and Spirit. This is the small catechism on the Apostles' Creed stuff right here - basics of the faith.

And yet we hear: "After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him." Oh. Think on that. Many of the disciples turned back. Many good folks who were attending church said "forget this, I'm outta here." They decided they had no use for what Jesus was giving. Here is Jesus offering life and salvation, Jesus promising resurrection, Jesus saying that the Divine takes on human flesh and blood and comes to be with you. Jesus saying that since the blood is the life, He will give you His own blood to give you life. And yet - nah, that's not how we want it. That's not what we are interested in. See ya, Jesus, we're outta here.

To the eyes of the world, this is a crushing defeat for Jesus. That word "many" in Greek means "the masses", it means most. People up and leave. This would be the point where if, God forbid, it happened here we'd be in full panic mode. Call the district, call the reconcilers, run after them and by hook or by crook get them back - if they want a dog and pony show we've got members with horses, round 'em up! If they want flesh instead of Spirit and life, well, let's break out the flesh! But that's not what Jesus does. Instead, Jesus turns to the 12 disciples, and He says, "Do you want to go away as well?" Are you going to leave too? Think on how sad a question that is, how heart-wrenching. Is everyone going to leave, now? Because, even if they did - you know what Jesus would do? Be the bread of heaven who comes down to give His flesh for the life of the world. He'd do exactly what He does on the Mount of Olives come Maundy Thursday night when even the remaining 11 flee in terror and do in fact go away. Jesus goes to the cross. He's determined to go there. That's the will of His Father, and that's what He's going to do.

Then Simon Peter gives an answer, an answer so beautiful that we'll sometimes sing them in Church. Alleluia, Lord, to whom shall we go - You have the Words of eternal life. Alleluia, alleluia. Well, Jesus, You have eternal life, You bring eternal life. It would be drastically stupid for us to go anywhere else - so we will listen to You. Jesus, when You say, "I forgive you," we will be forgiven. Jesus, when You say, "Peace be with you" we will receive peace. Jesus, when You say, "take and eat, take and drink" we will for the remission of our sin. Because we can't get that anywhere else than where You come to give it to us. If we want eternal life, we need to be where Your Word is, and there alone. You are the Holy One of God.

It's sad to say that today, in America, we are playing out John 6. John 6 begins with the feeding of the 5000 - and our country has received almost miraculous blessings. The wealth we have is astonishing. Food, medicine, technology - utterly amazing. And yet, what's been the trend for the past 50, 60 years? Numbers at churches across the board are declining. Even as God gives us an abundance of stuff, people run around after more and more of it, ignoring Christ and His Word. And even entire church bodies panic, and they falter. My dad was raised ALC - 50 years ago they weren't too bad - but today I can't go to the old family church back in Toledo, they've swallowed the liberal kool-aid, and instead of being focused on Christ, it's pleasing people and telling them what they want to hear in the vain hopes that they won't run away. Whole demonimations fall into utter tomfoolery that their grandfathers would have been ashamed of. And even in our LCMS, even in our own congregations - families fall away, there's too many other things going on, too busy, too tired, too this or too that. And what is to be our reaction, us here remaining? Shall we panic? Freak out?
No - Lord, to whom shall we go, You have the Words of Eternal life. Even as the world around us forgets Christ Jesus - here is eternal life. I mean, think on this, think on the wonder. God Himself is present in this place - we all know it. That's why we are here. Think on it - Jesus Christ Himself will come down to us and give us His own Body and Blood to eat and drink, right here, right now. We don't have to guess when and where - it's scheduled! It's so utterly easy. For our worship, we don't need rare perfumes and incense, we don't need saffron. Just the Word. Water. Bread and Wine - things that would have been household staples. Because Jesus, the Bread of Life, comes to us where we are, here in this world full of sin that surrounds us and tempts, and in this midst of this world of death, He gives us forgiveness and life.

My dear friends in Christ - do not be surprised when the world around you falls away, even when friends and family fall away. It's not about you or what you've done - the folks in the text fell away and walked away even from Jesus Himself. Rather this - in spite of this, in the face of this, remember the great and wondrous truth that Jesus Christ Himself is present for you here, and He gives you Eternal Life through His Word - be that His Word read from the lectern, the Word sung back and forth at each other in our liturgy and hymns, the Word tied to water in Holy Baptism, or yes, even the Word tied to Bread and Wine so that in this Supper Jesus gives us His true Body and Blood. The Bread of Life comes down from heaven and gives us life. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Wisdom from and for the Dying

Last Sunday's Gospel in the three year series was John 6:35-51.  That afternoon I was doing a service at the local nursing home, and in that room were 14 old folks - folks for whom death is not some distant thought or some abstraction.  No, Death was the looming reality.

So, there I am, preaching John 6:35-51 to these folks, and I noted something.  10 times in that text Jesus points to life or rising again.  10 times.  And you know what - that's what the folks in the text who were arguing with Jesus, the folks who were dismissing Him could care less.  Who cares about this end of life stuff - we want bread now! 

There's a lot of ways someone could preach that text.  There's a lot of angles one could take - but when you are preaching to the dying, its obvious.  They don't need health and wealth.  They don't need moral finger wagging.  They need Jesus, the Bread of Life, who forgives sins.  They need the resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come.

Pastors - look at your sermon last week.  Could you preach it to the dying?  Or would it be full of stuff that the dying could care less about?

Because you know what your congregation is, even the "healthy" folks sitting in the pews?  Dying.  Poor, miserable sinners doomed to die.  And while you might think your stories are really important, or your pet political issue, or your wonderful wisdom... well... that's not as important for those who are dying and need Life - Christ Jesus, who is Himself the Way, the Truth, and even the Life.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

11th Sunday after Pentecost

11th Sunday after Pentecost - John 6:35-51 - August 8th and 9th

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Another Sunday in John, another round of problems. To refresh your memory - this section of John's Gospel happens the day after the feeding of the 5000, and a bunch of those who were fed come up to Jesus, and Jesus has a conversation with them. Last week, Jesus called them on their greed, their desire for control, their desire for an "on demand" sort of Jesus where when they said Jump He would ask how high. And so last week Jesus taught and focused upon how God provides material blessings as He sees fit, but more importantly, God provides for eternal salvation. And it should be great, right? No - there is another problem, one we see arise this week. Pride. Ego. Let's see how this plays out.

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I say to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe." Now, you might have missed it, but there was a change from last week. Last week folks were clamoring for a sign - show us a sign. That's how manna in the wilderness first got brought up. And Jesus finally says that He Himself is the bread of life... BUT you have seen ME and yet do not believe. Not you've seen the signs and don't believe - you've seen Me and don't believe. What's more important - a sign, or what the sign points to? If I'm driving home one night, and I see the sign that says "turn here for Herscher" I don't stop the car and say, "Honey, I'm home." The sign is good, it means I'm almost there - but it's not the destination. Likewise, with Jesus - all the miracles and such that He did - these were signs pointing out who He was, what He would do for the salvation of mankind - but they aren't interested.

Now, for us in the Church - this is one of the great frustrations - that folks don't get it. That even though they have heard, even though they know, they don't believe. And scripturally speaking, the Old Testament was clear on what this is - it's idoltry. It's following false gods. That line about seeing but not getting it - that's Old Testament idol talk. The way the prophets loved to describe the idols was "seeing they do not see; hearing they do not hear." Think about an idol - it's got eyes, it's got ears -- but it doesn't really see or hear. And the folks bound up in idols of their own creation - they no longer see the things of God, they don't hear the Word of God. This is why Jesus so often says, "He who has ears, let him hear." It's a call away from idolatry.

And there Jesus is, and He sees a whole heap of idolatry, and for a moment He speaks to us - He speaks to the believers with comfort. It's depressing being around folks who don't believe, who just don't get the faith. So listen to the comfort Jesus speaks to Himself, to you. "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day." Do you hear it? Even as He is being rejected and despised by folks who should believe, folks He has done miracles for - Jesus puts things in perspective. Even though there is rejection - the Father's plan of salvation will not be thwarted. I'm not going to lose any that are Mine. Those who will believe will come around in their proper time. In fact, He plays off of an Old Testament example - "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks upon the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." There was a great story from the time in the wilderness about people seeing and then living. The fiery serpents came and bit Israel - then Moses put the snake on a pole, if they looked upon it they were healed, otherwise they died. Yeah, some died - but many lived. Likewise - yes, some do not believe - so be it. My Father will give life to many through My death and resurrection, and so I will be content there.

And do you see how this is a comfort to us as well? We are stuck in life, in time - we don't see the end, how things work out. God does - and guess what - it's all going to work out well. It's all going to come out in the wash - and come the last day the confusion, the sorrow we face now - that won't be there. Everyone whom the Father has given to Christ will be there. It will be good - God is in control.

But before we get to the Last Day, we will face some rough sailing here in this sinful world. And that's what Jesus runs into. So the Jews grumbled about Him because He said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." They said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say 'I have come down from heaven'?" Well, here's your problem. Pride and ego kick in. When Jesus says, "Everything hinges on Me, it's about Me and what *I* do for you" - that's when people grumble. Well, who are You, Jesus, what makes You so important? Because, in these folks' minds, it's not Jesus who is important -- they themselves are the important ones. They didn't want a focus upon Jesus, they wanted a focus upon their own desires, upon what they thought they needed, what they thought was good. They preferred a good meal on earthly bread to all this chit-chat about bread from heaven. After all, they assumed that they were just as good as Jesus, and if He isn't going to bring home the goods, what good is He?

Now, here is where we must pause, because while we may not be as outwardly and obviously coarse as these folks are, let me ask the question. Christ Jesus has just said that everything, when it boils down to it, is about about Jesus Himself and the salvation He brings. And yet, how often, in this very place, in God's own house - do our discussions, our plans, and especially our complaints have very little to do with Jesus? With the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified? Is our discussion centered upon what best declares Christ... or is there another little word that often takes the foreground? *I*? I think. I like this. I don't like that. I wish we would do this... and why? Because it points to Christ, Because it confesses the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done... or because *I* like it, or *I* don't like it? Now, do bear in mind, this is not me giving direct commentary on any specific thing or event - I haven't been here long enough, I don't know the history well enough - so I'm going to have to have you folks examine yourselves, because you know yourselves. How often are complaints and grumblings, or even ideas and dreams, not centered around proclaiming Christ, but rather our own wants, whims, and desires? It's something I know I have to constantly watch out for myself, that I have to guard against. We are taught and trained by the world from a young age to judge everything by how it suits our own taste - that's how we shop, that's how we vote, that's how we eat. What's in it for me; what do I like. But that's not the focus here - it's not about what any of us like - It's about Christ Jesus, Christ Jesus who knows what we need. And just as the folks in the text didn't need another belly full of bread, in spite of what we will tell ourselves, we don't really need to have our wide-eyed dreams for this congregation met or to have our every quibble fixed according to our specification - that's all incidental, that's not the truly important thing. We need the forgiveness won by Christ's death and resurrection. We need the promise of the resurrection of the body, the life of the world to come.

And so Jesus responds to the grumblers, responds to us in our grumbling. He says, "Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to the Me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him. And I will raise Him up on the last day." Again, it's not about what you do, your wants, your whims - God will call His people to Christ, God will call His people here to His House. And it is here where we will be taught by God, taught by His Word, taught to be focused ever more upon Christ. Here we will be taught that right now, this moment, in Christ we have eternal life. Jesus continues and says, "I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, He will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh." To be honest - it would be a lot easier to preach this part of the text if we had communion today. Bread of heaven works really well as a theme when I can point to the Supper that we will have in just a few moments - it kind of hits a fullness there. And frankly, we really probably should have the Supper every time we get together on a weekend here - but the point of this text isn't me being able to wag a finger about every Sunday communion - if any of you want to know I can tell the history of how we went from communion every Sunday to where we foolishly stopped - but that's for another time. The focus here is not the folly of history, but rather the truth of what Christ Jesus does for you.

This is the thing - Jesus keeps His focus upon the real problem. We have a sin and death problem - and so Jesus comes down to be the bread of life. The real bread of life. The first time bread is mentioned in the Scriptures - it's the lousy substitute that Adam gets to eat after the fall. No more fruit from the garden; now Adam having sinned gets to work the fields by the sweat of His brow and then eat bread. Our earthly bread, it's the bread of death. You can have a slice of wonder bread every day of your life, and you will still end up dead. Even manna, the best earthly bread ever - still dead. And so Jesus comes down as the bread from heaven, the living bread, the bread of life. Bread was a consequence and punishment for sin -- and so Jesus Himself comes down from heaven to take up upon Himself all the consequence and punishment for sin. By faith, that gift we have received from God working through the Word and the Holy Spirit, we have been called and drawn to Christ, and we trust Him, we receive the Bread of Life - we are baptized into Him, we hear Him proclaimed, and even feed on Him - and thus we have everlasting life now - even though we should die, yet we shall live (that's a few chapters down the line). Why? Because it's not about our wants, our whim, our ego. Jesus is far better than we are - whereas we are sinners who deserve to die - He is the living bread from Heaven who goes unto death so that we have life in Him - all praise to Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. In the Name of the Father...

Monday, August 3, 2015

Weekly Meditation - August 3rd

Greetings in the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord!

Yesterday's Epistle was Ephesians 4:1-16, and in particular let's consider verses 15 and 16, which read, "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."

I hear that phrase "speaking the truth in love" quite often.  It often gets used to be guide or check on how we talk to other people - tell other folks the truth, but tell it too them in a loving way, a kind way.  And, I suppose, that is good advice.  I know it's advice that I've given on more than one occasion.  However - that's not the point of these verses.

So often when we think of "truth" or "love" we think of our opinions and our gentleness in expression those opinions.  Remember that Jesus says that He is the Truth.  Remember that we are taught that God is love.  And consider the verse again.  It's not just speaking the truth in love, but with the result, with the goal that we grow into, that we move towards Christ our Head - so that we are joined together in Him.

When Paul brings up speaking the truth in love here, he's not really talking about proper debating techniques or what have you - he is talking about proclaiming Christ's forgiveness and love - that our response to folks is not to seek our own way or our own whims - but rather to be grounded on Christ and His forgiveness Consider verse 14 - "so that we may no long be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Over and against all these things - the truth of the cross of Christ Jesus and His love for you remains.

This week, who knows what you will hear, what things will try to shake you?  There will be things - there are always things.  However, here is the solid rock, the way in which we as Christians are knit together.  Christ Jesus has died for your sins and risen so that you will rise as well.  Period.  This is Truth.  This is Love.  And this is where we dwell, shelter, live, and grow.

Have a great week in Him!

Pastor Brown

Saturday, August 1, 2015

10th Sunday after Pentecost

August 1/2nd - 10th Sunday after Pentecost - John 6:21-35

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
John's Gospel works a bit differently. John wishes to show us the opposition that Jesus faces, senseless stubborn opposition. John shows Jesus performing miracle after miracle – he calls them “signs” - and these signs point to and demonstrate that He is the promised Messiah. And yet, folks are still stubborn, still complain, still want more, still miss the point. And then Jesus begins to confront them. The next three Sundays we will be studying this confrontation, and in hearing Jesus' words, we will see how Satan will try to attack our faith in Jesus, but also what Jesus wants us to remember. So, let us dive in.

After the feeding of the 5000, people go searching for Jesus, and they finally hunt Him down in Capernaum. And when they ask Him when He got here, Jesus answers saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Truly, truly – Amen, Amen. Right away, Jesus levels a devastating accusation. You've missed the point. You aren't here for Me because you recognize Me as the Messiah, as the Savior from sin. You're here because you want stuff. Your bellies were satisfied, and you want more and more. And, in spite of what you might hear from preachers on the TV with their “name it and claim it” theology, this is a bad thing. Greed, for the lack of a better word is bad. Always wanting more and more, is bad. And it's especially bad if you co-opt God into your greed, if you think that if you just pray enough, or put enough in the offering plate, or share the right thing on Facebook that God will just bless you. This is a horrid part of American theology, the prosperity Gospel – where if you just smile big enough and think positive thoughts God will bless you with truckloads of stuff. Think for a moment what that turns God into – do we really think God is so stingy and cruel that He'd make you jump through hoops before providing for you? Is our God some sort of pagan deity where we have to placate him before the crops will grow or some such trash? By no means! God is a not a crazy and cruel Daddy Warbucks in the sky – rather He gives us our daily bread as we need and as He sees fit. And yet... those lousy American-greed thoughts creep in sometimes, don't they? I've been a good little boy – shouldn't I have more? I've been a good Christian – maybe a nice bonus to the bank account is in line? Or if I just get this job, if this crop just comes in, I promise I'll come to church more, even bible study? They miss the point. God is not to be bribed – He gives good things for this life as He knows is best.

But the thing is – **this** life is not the key, and that is what we forget. Jesus continues, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.” So, are you going to run around after bread, after the Almighty dollar? Bigger this, bigger that? Where's that get you in a Century? Come 2115, we're all dead. Well, maybe one or two of the infants in here might still be around – but basically, all of us, out at that Cemetery south of town. And all the cash in the world wouldn't do us a hill of beans good out there. If we are looking only at our life now we are forgetting the big elephant in the room – we are mortal. We die, and as for stuff, you can't take it with you. Jesus is saying, “Why are you chasing after Me for more bread – you had that yesterday and you're hungry again! Why go for the temporary, when I offer the eternal?”

And the folks' interest is piqued. “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” There's the question. Alright, Jesus – how do we shift from the temporal stuff to the eternal stuff? We know the ways of this world – you work hard, you scratch, you claw to get ahead. You make connections and network, which is why we hunted you down in Capernaum, Jesus. So, how do we work the game to get eternal life? And Jesus' response is the hinge upon which the whole Gospel of John rests – it sets up everything else that follows. Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” That's it. Simple, short, sweet. What work are you to do – we'll, it's not really work. It's not a great task, a mighty labor. You sit back and trust Jesus. You believe in Him, you let Him do the heavy lifting, and He will give you life everlasting.

And here's the rub – people hate that. Our own sinful flesh hates that. Why? Because if it's about trusting Jesus to do everything, it means we are not in control. And our sinful flesh hates that. We know how it goes. The old adage is if you want something done right, do it yourself. Let me be in charge, and I'll dot the “i's” and cross the “t's”. I'm sure each of you can think of something where you don't get to be in control and it drives you nuts – a spouse driving instead of you, preparing a meal, having to wait on doctors for surgeries, when your kids plan out something and it's not the way you want them to. Lots of stuff – we want things to be under our control – and then here comes Jesus saying, “It's not under your control – you just trust Me.” And it can rankle.

And it rankled the folks there. “Then what sign do You do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” Alright, bub, just why in tarnation should we trust you? Your signs that You have shown, Your healings, the water to wine, walking on water – all these things – blah. Even the feeding – pshaw – that was one day. Our fathers got manna for fourty years! Step it up, Jesus – bring us the goods, because we aren't impressed yet.

Alright – bible history time. So, it's interesting that they mention their fathers in the wilderness. Why did the children of Israel have to eat manna for 40 long years? It wasn't because Moses got lost and wouldn't ask directions to the promised land – it was because God had them on the border, ready to take over the promised land... and their fathers grumbled. Their fathers didn't believe. God said that He would give them the land – and the spies came back and complained about how strong the armies were (all except Joshua and Caleb who said that God was going to give them some primo land) – and they refused to enter the Promised Land. Nope – we don't trust you God. We don't believe that you will work a victory for us there as you said you would. So God sent them out in the desert. And they got to eat their manna for 40 years, every single adult of them... until they died. All of them (except Joshua and Caleb). Yeah, that's where their desire for control and lack of trust in God got them – dead in the wilderness, never getting to the promised land. And that's what you come back at Jesus with?

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then this sounds good at first (although they grumble about it – we'll hear about that next week) – and Jesus caps it off - “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” Your fathers hungered in the desert – they thirsted in the desert (in fact, it was anger at their griping about thirst that tripped Moses up). But Jesus says, "I am better – I will bring you life everlasting. I bring life to the world – I bring resurrection from the dead. Believe in Me."

So then – what shall we take away from this text today? At first glance, it seems so easy. Jesus does all the work; we believe – and even that we know is a gift from God. Jesus is active; we are passive – how could it get any easier? It is a simple thing – but it cuts across the grain of our sinful nature. We are called to be receptive – to receive from God His gifts, both temporal and eternal, in God's own time – and that's not what our sinful flesh likes. Think of all the times you've been antsy, when you've been impatient, when you haven't liked how someone else was doing something they were supposed to be doing and it bugged you – even though what they were doing was okay. These are all ways in which Satan and our sinful flesh stir up discontentment. And it has negative consequences in our own lives with each other – how often are our arguments and disagreements with even friends and family really caused by this desire to always be in control and doing something? Not only is this something to watch out for when it comes to dealing with your friends and family, it's something to remember and watch out for when it comes to your faith and how you view God. It can be really easy to let grumblings and complaints about God and His timing start to attack your faith. While Jesus serves us, He is not a serving boy for us to order around; He remains in control, and in spite of what our flesh would tell us, that is a good thing for us.

Consider what is going on right now. Here we are at Church – we have been called here together by God to receive the gifts of life and salvation that Jesus has won for us. Even in that last sentence, did you note how things work? Jesus is the One who is active – He wins life and salvation by His death and resurrection. We are passive, we receive this forgiveness, this salvation. And that's how the service operates – it's a giant pattern training us to receive God's gifts. We enter the Church – and the first thing we do is confess our sins and then hear that Jesus has died for us, and we receive forgiveness, receive absolution. And then we give thanks, we sing, we praise... and then we sit down, we are quiet, and we listen to the Word of God. Passive – receptive. And it's a wondrous thing – Jesus gives us His Word that proclaims what He has done for us. Then there's the sermon – and again, I don't make you get up and do jumping jacks for Jesus or something like that – you hear the truth that Christ Jesus has died and risen for you. You sit and receive. Or the other great highlight of the service – we come before the altar of God and Christ Jesus, the very Bread of Life comes to us and we receive His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sin. This is the pattern, the shape – we are called by God away from all the business out there in the world where we want to run the show, and rather to pause and receive from Him His good gifts. Which is good.

Jesus is in control. And He is in control of things for you. It's not about what you do. Jesus provides for you, both body and soul, both now and forever. Jesus really is in control – and when sin or our flesh or Satan would drive us to forget that, He gives us His life and salvation again. It is a great and mighty thing He does for you, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

8th Sunday after Pentecost

July 18th and 19th - 8th Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 6:30-44

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
I think sometimes we don't really understand how insidious sin is. So often we think of sin just in terms of things that are big and bad - naughty actions, bad deeds. That's not the full picture. Sin is pervasive, it infests us. It taints and corrupts what we do, like an illness that is still there even if you don't have symptoms boiling over. Luther described sin very elegantly as being "incurvatus se" - being curved in on yourself rather than focused on your neighbor. And in today's Gospel lesson is the feeding of the 5000, but Mark does something very neat with it - he gives a lesson not just of Jesus doing a miracle, but Jesus dealing with that subtle, pervasive sin. Let's go dive into the account.

"The apostles returned to Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught." It's a very subtle thing. Did you note who did the stuff, who ran the verbs? The apostles tell Jesus all that *they* had done and taught. Oh listen Jesus, I cast out a demon here, and then I got one over there, oh, and I preached an awesome sermon in that place - I, I, I. Me, me, me. It wasn't "Your Word is powerful, Jesus! Your Word cast out demons, how great Thou Art" - it's how great I am. Boy, Jesus, you could build a really good church upon me, because I'm awesome, listen to everything I did. And so Jesus will teach the Apostles a lesson. He says to them, "'Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.' For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure to even eat." Oh yes, you, you, you. You must tired. Let's give you a break. And off they go - but just like our lives so often, you try to take a break but work and problems just keep following after you.

"And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw that they were going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them." And here's where the rub is going to kick in. The disciples we going to get a reward break. It's just so hard being so wonderful all the time, we need a break. And even as they go off - oh, look, there's a crowd. 5000 men. Lots of folks. And you can almost imagine the crestfallen sigh of the disciples. Ugh. More stuff to do. Sigh. But here we get a great truth. That's not Jesus's response: "When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion upon them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things." Jesus is not curved in upon Himself, His primary concern is not how things will impact Him - but rather His focus is simply and completely upon the neighbor. When He sees the crowd, He doesn't think, "Oh drat, break time is over". He doesn't grumble. He doesn't complain. He teaches. He loves and serves the neighbor They need the teaching, they need to be instructed - they are like sheep, they need a shepherd, I better get to work shepherding.

But alas, the disciples are not quite as chipper. In fact, they are kind of grumbly. "And when it grew late, His disciples came to Him and said, 'This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat." Alright Jesus, let's call it off. You're talking on and on too long -- well, I was going to say service can't go longer than an hour, but for them it was it can't go past dinner time. Let's wrap it up, they've gotten enough - we want our rest time that we have earned.

And this is where Jesus sets the hook. "But He answered them, 'You give them something to eat.'" Oh, yes, that's right. It's all about what you disciples do, how you did such great things and did such awesome teaching - in fact, you want to cut off My teaching and get on to your own stuff. Alright - so since you guys are so awesome - you feed them. If it's about you and what you've done - you fix things, you take care of them. So there's the problem, the challenge tossed out to the disciples. Here's the situation - how will you fix it. And the disciples fail, miserably. "And they said to Him, 'Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?'" What - are we supposed to blow our savings on a giant Casey's run? Is that what you are wanting Jesus? Two hundred denarii is basically $20,000 - should we go and see what sort of meal we can cater for four bucks a plate? What do you want *us* to do?

And they miss the point. The point isn't about you and what you yourselves can do, oh disciples - the point is Jesus. And He said to them, 'How many loaves do you have? Go and see.' Go scrounge something. And they don't get much - 5 loaves -- don't think a full loaf of bread, think five dinner rolls. Don't think of 2 big trout, think 2 cans of tuna fish. Not much - but don't worry, we still won't need the Denarii, we won't need a Casey's run. "Then He commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking up the five loaves and the two fish He looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And He divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied." Do you see what Jesus is doing? He is teaching the disciples the way things really work. It's not about what you did, disciples. You were simply distributing the blessings I provided. And did you note that Jesus looks up to heaven - this is a heavenly thing, a spiritual thing, a holy thing. It's not about what you do disciples, the focus, the center must always remain upon what God does, how God shows love to people, even if that love is shown or handed out through you. Always focused upon God and what God does.

Do you see now the background undercurrent of sin in this text? Think on the first commandment - You shall have no other gods. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. At the beginning of the text, who were the disciples fearing - that is, who did they they had all the power and oomph. They thought they themselves had it. We cast out demons! Who were they loving? Themselves. We were great teachers! Who were they trusting? Themselves - look at what we did. And to all the world, what they did was great - they cast out demons, they preached. And yet - they were full of sin. Why? Because their focus was upon themselves. This is what Jesus was talking about when in the sermon on the Mount He says, "On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me you, you workers of lawlessness.'" Did you hear it again? We. Over and over. We, we, we - all the way home, to where they are standing before God and they point to their own works. And Jesus will call them workers of lawlessness - If you brag about what you've done, then you don't understand the Law of God. The Law shows that you are sinful, that you are corrupt, and yet you are still going to point to your own actions before God almighty come the judgment? You can go we, we, we all the way to your home in hell. That's what your works will get you.

It's not about what you do. And this isn't me telling you to just kick back and relax - no, go love and serve your neighbor - focus on them and not yourself. But it's not about you and what you do. If there is to be any hope, any real lasting hope for sinners like you and I, sinners who can twist and turn everything back onto ourselves - it must be about what Christ does. In our Gospel lesson - it's Jesus who truly teaches, it's Jesus who truly cares for the folks in the wilderness, it's Jesus who gives them food to sustain their lives. All on Jesus. And our Epistle is great for this as well - we passed over the famous Ephesians 2 verse on this - "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." No boasting, there's no place for that. Rather, everything depends, is built upon, has as its foundation as we just sang, Jesus Christ our Lord. Listen: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility." Now, immediately in the text, Paul is speaking about the big, glaring divide of his day - Jew versus gentile - as nasty a feud as you could find.

But we can apply it here, today, now. Do you, o Christian, struggle with sin and pushy away God? Are you, O Christian, struggling with your neighbor? Hmmm... if only there was a place where we would be brought before God in the Blood of Jesus Christ, maybe a rail where He would call us so that we receive the Blood that brings us safely before the throne of God. If only there was a place where could be gathered together around Jesus's Body that breaks down the sin and hostility that destroys us, and instead of being focused on our own selfish and hurtful desires, we could be united in a common-union in Christ's Body and Blood. And it would be especially neat if when we approached this place, we walked by something that shows that God indeed knows us, that He has called us by name, so we approach with confidence not in ourselves but in God and His love for us and at His bidding. Are you seeing the ties to the Lord's Supper, the ties to Baptism? And the Lord's Supper isn't about us and what we have done - who receives this sacrament worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin." It's not about what you do - you personal piety, your preparation - that's good, but that's not the center, the focus. It is that Christ has given His body for you, it is that Christ has shed His blood for you upon the Cross, and thus in Him your sin is forgiven, defeated, and destroyed. Everything centers on Christ.

And know what your sinful flesh will do. It will try to shift the focus back onto yourself, back onto what you have done. And your sinful flesh will love to try to focus on the best and kindest things you do. It's a trap, a trap to lure you away from Christ. Rather, let us confess with Isaiah that all our righteous deeds are but like filthy rags, and look to Christ Jesus who has washed us in His blood, and though our sins were as scarlet, we are white as snow in Him. To God alone be the glory for the great love and mercy He has show to us with His death and resurrection, even now and forever and ever. Amen.