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.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Expendable Me

One of the harshest truths of life in this world that we must face is that we are expendable.

Utterly expendable.   That our life is but a brief set of moments, and life under the sun will continue on after us.  That our works rare last, and as the generations pass, we will be forgotten.  Maybe we might be a name in a book that most people could care less about.

And we fight against this idea.  We like to pretend we are the heroes of grand struggles, that everything hinges upon us.

This is ego.

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I remember in the 90s when there was the big rise of the Church Growth Movement and such in the LCMS.  We were good at spotting the ego then - the preachers who thought that the church, that their congregation would rise or fall with them and what they did.  We decried the ego.

They said they had a plan for growth, and we shook our head.

They said that they had vital teaching that we needed to get on board with, and we search scriptures instead.

We instead clung to our first love - the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  We commended things into His hands and were content to be simple preachers pointing to Jesus.

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I don't know what it was.  Maybe it was President Obama getting elected and so many of us who had sheltered ourselves were shocked by what was public.  For me - it's old hat.  Caitlyn Jenner -- there were GLBT groups on campus when I was in college -- we all had heard "Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed.  It shouldn't have been surprising... but maybe the fact that folks would do their "thang" and we couldn't give them a dirty look and make them run away anymore scared folks.  I simply wondered why we expected the world and the worldly to respect us or care what we thought.

Maybe it was when President Harrison got elected, and we thought that it's time - it's time to fix things, to make things the way we want them to be.  We would build our great conservative, confessional church.  We would build ourselves into a force to be reckoned with politically.  We would stem the leaky tide of society... we.  We would do this.

Vanity of vanities.  All is vanity.

Was it fear?  Was it "hope"?

What made us forget that we are expendable?  What made us forget that we are here today and dust on the morrow?  What made us forget that our only hope for anything beyond vanity lies not in anything, any improvement or blessing (no matter how great they are) "under the sun" - but our help is in the Name of the Lord?  That... we are preparing to leave this life - that the mortal must put on immortality, the perishable the imperishable?

Because when you are simply looking at this life, Satan can lure you away.  For things under this world, you don't *need* Jesus.  Oh, He can be a rhetorical piece, He can be an example, a teacher, an expounder of traditional morals.  The same way the liberals can say that He was a hippie who believed in free health care and feeding the poor.  Under the Sun, we can spin the Jesus to our heart's content.

But if we look beyond this life - if we remember that short, short is this our earthly stay - then we need a different Jesus - the real Jesus, the Jesus shown in the Scriptures - the Lamb who has been slain.  Christ and Him Crucified for our resurrection.

Go read Luther on Ecclesiastes - do it.  It is a great reality check for every pastor - especially in this day and age when we have fallen prey to self-importance.

In this world, you are expendable.  In Christ and in Him alone do you have life everlasting.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How To Fight Evil

By now, you've seen it.  The stuff with Planned Parenthood and selling body parts and all that.  It's pretty nasty stuff.

So then - how do we respond?  Is now the time to engage politically, pass laws while the tide of revulsion is rising?  Is now the time to fight back - to do some new rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, except instead of it being about killing Johnny Reb it would be taking down abortion clinics?  Should we get our Conan on and get to the crushing of our enemies?

Whenever things go south in society, and I see the eagerness to fight, it saddens me a bit.  It seems like it would be satisfying - but is it what we are commanded to to by God as Christians?  Consider for a moment Romans 12:14-21:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

So then... what's your reaction to all this stuff with Planned Parenthood?  You want them to suffer?   Is it an opportunity to mix things up and let them lose some political clout?  Do you have the great plans of wisdom to make sure that they get their comeuppance?  Is this the excuse to take the political gloves off and let the fight get dirty, fight fire with fire, as it were? 

Do we try to overcome the world with the world's tools, or do we instead show love and care, crazy, stupid, non-self serving love to the world, over and over and over again, even when they so clearly don't deserve it?


And this is not me saying that there should be no political action or what have you.  No, laws can be fine and dandy.  But the fact is we've been fighting this abortion debate, like a fight, all my life.  Longer than I've been alive.  And it's brutal, and at best we put people on the defensive and make them dig in more.

Let's show some kindness to those who are wrong on this.  Because you know what - they are to be pitied.  They are living in denial.  They are taking something that is vile and spinning it and coating it so that it doesn't seem horrific.  And they will do one of two things - either dive further into self-denial because we jam the horror in their face... or we can help folks, help our culture come to grips with what is going on.

The rhetoric is there.  We've been told it's just a bit of tissue.  Tissue doesn't have organs.  We've been told it's just a woman doing with her body whatever she wills -- then what are they selling?  All the cold and clinical language, all the political posturing isn't going to change the reality of what is happening.




It's a baby.  With organs.  With a heart, and lungs, and liver, and kidneys.



And we could try to use this to drive home laws and force folks to behave... or we could be kind and gentle with them and be at their side in love as the reality of a harsh truth they don't want to face is shown.


Because then the abortion debate would take care of itself.  Very few people want to support killing babies.  People like babies, just like they like love.  "Lovewins"?  Well, people like it when babies win too. 

So - what is it going to be?  Will this be the time where we get our political licks in, get the satisfaction of smacking our enemies around -- or will this be the time we love our political enemies, show them that we are their neighbor, that there is love and mercy in Christ Jesus for all sins... and yes, we're talking about babies, about people here.  And even with the guilty, the "bad" - we are still talking about people.  People Christ Jesus loves, people for whom Christ Jesus died and rose again.  Wayward sheep He desires restored to the fold, not roasted on a spit.  That's the great truth, that's the Good that overcomes all evil, that delivers us from evil.

So, is this a time to confront evil with evil, or overcome evil with good?  I'd say the latter.
But just in case you want the new battle hymn and to crush your enemies, we already have one.



Tuesday, July 14, 2015

An Observation About Labels

Luther once noted that he didn't want translations changing all the time - it just confuses folks and makes it hard to understand things.

Today in the LCMS, we seem to be cycling through not translations, but labels.  Some organizations or groups seem like they are constantly rebranding themselves, coming out with the same, tired theology but under a new banner (meet the new boss, same as the old boss).  That's somewhat annoying, but at least they are doing it to themselves.

There's also be the trend where folks will label their opponents - tar them with an epithet... and it doesn't fit.  So toss out another one.  And when it fails to stick, out comes another one.

If you constantly have to change your own label to appear fresh and new - it's bad theology.

If you constantly have to change the label you call your opponent, you're either fishing for a straw man that works... or you're just wrong.

Labels are short cuts -- and if we don't know what we are short cutting to, they are pretty useless.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Pentecost 7

Pentecost 7 - July 11th and 12th - Mark 6:14-29

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
And here we get the death of John the Baptist. That's how we normally think of this passage - right? John's death. But you know what - the way the tale is told, it doesn't focus on John. It focuses on Herod. And you know what - that's a good thing for us. Frankly, for us in this room, our lives look more like Herod than John. Don't believe me -- which is more likely? That this month you'll have a great party with fantastic food, or you'll eat locusts til you get tossed into jail for preaching? Which is more likely - you'll become a wandering hermit, or have strange family issues to deal with? We have a lot in common with Herod, and so let us read this text and let Herod serve as a warning for us.
"For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Phillip's wife, for he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.' And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe." Now, if I just say "Herod" - we tend to think "bad, evil!" Partially that is because of this Herod's father - Herod the Great - he was the one who killed all the babies in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. This Herod in this text is his son - well, what should we make of him? He's a mixed bag. He does get caught up in some stupid stuff. First of all, he marries his sister-in-law. Just think for a moment what sort of family fighting this would bring, if one son basically steals his brother's wife. This would be dumb and would lead to all sorts of fireworks. And it's not as though this gal, Herodias, is a peach. She wants John killed. Dead. Now. So basically, Herod is a guy who was, shall we say not thinking with brain, and it got him in trouble. And John called him on it, told him to stop - but then Herod's wife gets all bent out of shape and complains so much to where Herod has to throw John in prison just to keep him safe.
Now - does any of this sound familiar? Granted, none of us in this room are Kings; we don't get to throw people in jail - but doing stupid stuff, spouses getting offended, whether it's the wife getting offended or the husband getting all huffy, doesn't that sound familiar? Nasty, bitter grudges and feuds? We see the same sort of folly going on in our own town, in our own lives. And at the start of the story - it's sort of calmed down. I mean, things are messed up, but Herod still listens to John - "When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly." So often we have this image of Herod angrily throwing John in the dungeon and letting him languish there - no, Herod's keeping him safe from Herodias' wrath; Herod goes down and listens to John preach. Herod's going to church as it were. Gladly. He's a mixed bag - Herod has a messy, messed up life, just like so many of us here have.
But then, for poor Herod, it really goes south. "But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias' daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests, and the king said to the girl, 'Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.' And he vowed to her, 'Whatever you ask me, I will give it to you, up to half of my kingdom.'" Alright folks - again, we aren't kings - but isn't this a familiar sort of thing? Again, men not thinking with their brains? Getting drunk and doing stupid things. Wanting to be boastful in front of their buddies. Dimes to donuts every single man in this room could share a story where he said to his friends, "hey, watch this" and it was something flat out dumb. Hopefully you mature and put a stop to that. Herod doesn't. He doesn't learn, he doesn't guard himself. Then his niece does a sultry little dance, and all the guests like it, so he decides to be a "big man" and give her something.
"And she went out and said to her mother, 'For what should I ask?' And she said, 'The head of John the Baptist.' And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, 'I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.' And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her." Well, suddenly Herod is caught. Ran his mouth, and it ran him into trouble. His wife tricks him up and traps him - and then, Herod sees all his boys around - he doesn't want to look bad in front of them. And he gives in. Off with John's head. It's sad - it would have been simple enough to say, "Well, I can't give you something illegal, so ask for a pony or something." But no, Herod's wanting to look like a big man, and trouble results.
This actually drives to what we talked about in our Catechism lesson today. The 4th Commandment is not just about listening to mommy and daddy - it's about order in society. Doing things the right way. We are supposed to listen to our father and mother because that's the right order - and mom and dad are supposed to be seeing that the house is run well. It's why we add in "and other authorities" in the meaning - we include the government as well. And here, Herod drops the ball. His job as King is to promote order. It's his job as a husband, even if he shouldn't have married the gal in the first place. Yet he fails, he wimps out, and worse wickedness comes in. He acts dishonorably and cowardly, and John pays for it with his life.
So then. What to make of all this? Well, I will ask to consider your own life. Let's consider the first trap Herod falls into. How often when it comes to making decisions, do you do what you *want* to do instead of what is right? It doesn't matter how good a looker Herodias was, he had no business marrying her. But instead of doing what is right, he does what he wants. And again, this is something each and every single one of us fell into this past week - it might not have been as technicolor bad or bold as Herod and Herodias - but sinning is at it's core putting your own wants and whims above what God has said is good for you. And you know what? Herod was dumb. Did any fellow in here sit and hear that story and think, "man, I wish my wife was like Herodias"? That's the thing; sin, all sin, even the pet sins we enjoy the most, are dumb. And we forget that some times, and we go along with the dumb.
The next big danger we see is Herod's fear of what people will think. When his niece says, "I want John's head" - Herod is in trouble. So what does he do? Does he put a stop to things? Does he say, "Okay, I've messed up, this has gone too far; it's time to stop"? No. He's worried about what people will think. This is one of the greatest dangers to Christian people in the Church. Let's be honest, how many of us in this room are utterly terrified of what people will say? I've never seen a small town where folks didn't gab, I've never been to a church where there hasn't been gossip. And what happens - when we run ourselves into places we shouldn't go, instead of putting a stop to things, instead of getting and asking for help, we get embarrassed, we clam up, we don't do what is right for fear of what folks might say. And things get worse. And we feel like we've got to pretend - how quickly will we put up the mask, and if we hear something about someone else... instead of going to help, up come the defense mechanisms and we pile on - "We'll I never, isn't that horrible" - as though our own family doesn't have stories that are even worse. I just spent a weekend with both my dad's side of the family and my mom's side too, and there's some humdingers around in there. But this is what Sin and Satan and temptation like to do - they like to lead us to bad places, and then isolate us, make us feel alone. Even in that room full of people - Herod felt isolated and trapped. Sin had him right where it wanted him.
So then, how do we handle sin? In this place - how do we deal with sin? First of all, we do not pretend sin doesn't happen. In our communion services, we all stand before God together and say that we are poor miserable sinners, and you know what - I believe you; I believe you when you say that, because I know I am one. Trinity Lutheran is not the place where the best of the best come - it is where sinners come to receive forgiveness - and if you say you have no sin, you deceive yourself, and the truth, that is JESUS CHRIST, who is the way, the truth, and the life, is not in you. Never try to play a holier than thou card in this place - that dog won't hunt. Or today's service - the service of prayer and preaching - it is designed with the intent that we all gather and learn, that we see more and more our own sin and understand our need for a Savior. Never whitewash your sin. Instead, face it, struggle against it; and when you fail, confess it.
Because really, it's not how we deal with sin that counts - it is how God Himself deals with sin. And how does God deal with sin? He crucifies it - He ties it to Christ Jesus and crucifies your sin upon the Cross. Is your sin big - it isn't bigger than Jesus on the Cross - and it is forgiven. How does God deal with sin - there's a reason this font is right here, front and center - What does such baptizing with water indicate - it indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. There, at the font, at your baptism, all your sins were drowned. There, at the font, at your baptism, you were put into Christ so that you live in His righteousness and in His purity. You were put into Christ so that you are never alone and isolated. You are not defined by your actions, by your sins - you are defined by Christ Jesus and His death, His actions which have won you forgiveness for all your sins. Don't let shame or fear drive you to forget that.
Because there was one nugget in the text that we should remember. It looks in this text that sin wins the day. But when Herod had asked about Jesus, what did some people say - "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead." Close - Jesus is not John raised from the dead -- but Jesus is the reason John will be raised from the dead, and He is the reason that you too will be raised from the dead - He is the reason your sin is forgiven, the reason why all your sins may be faced because not a one of them is bigger than Jesus. Herod's folly doesn't win - Christ wins, and Christ's victory is your victory. Dear friends - remember who you are in Christ - a forgiven child of God. Don't act as though your sins are bigger than Him, for He reigns in love for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Monday, July 6, 2015

Squeamish Christians

Imagine you walked into a surgeon's office, and the surgeon told you that he was squeamish about the sight of blood.  Would you want him doing your surgery?  Of course not - I don't want the guy who is going to be cutting on me to pass out at the sight of blood.

So what of Christians?  We work with the sick - people sick and dying because of sin. 

Yet... how often is the tendency to be squeamish regarding sin?  When a fellow Christian is hurt and suffering from sin - do we freak out?  Do we go "ewwww" -- or do we help them confront their sin, confess their sin, repent and struggle against their sin?  Do we say, "This is too bad, too gross, too messed up" - or do we proclaim Christ Jesus, who though their sin is strong is even stronger.

I've long said that a pastor cannot afford to be offended or put out by sin -- of course I can't.  My job is to forgive it -- not recoil away from the sinner.  We Christians are not goody-two-shoes.  We are forgiven sinners who deal with other sinners.  It's a dirty, messy life - and we can't be squeamish about it.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Sermon for July 4th Weekend

Mark 6:1-13 - 6th Sunday after Pentecost - July 4th/5th, 2015

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
One of the sad realities of our day and age, is that in our country respect for Christianity is currently on the wane. Being a Christian isn't as popular as it used to be 20 or 40 years ago - and in fact, in many circles today being a Christian is viewed as a bad thing. Now, for the younger folks among us, this is normal, but for the - I'm not going to call you elderly, I'll just say for the folks who have been around longer than me, this is a strange and shocking turn of events. But sad to say, it's actually the one that historically is typical - in fact, the Scriptures teach us of this opposition and warn of us it - especially our own Gospel lesson today. Listen again and hear how the reactions to Christ Jesus Himself start to wane.
"[Jesus] went away from there and came to His hometown, and His disciples followed Him. And on the Sabbath He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were astonished, saying, 'Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?' And they took offense at Him." Well, there you go. Think on that - Jesus returns to His hometown, and He preaches a humdinger of a sermon. And the people grouse. Not just people - people He's known all His life. People who would have no reason to think ill of Him or look down upon Him. And note - I'd contend that the questions they ask aren't to be viewed as just simple, honest questions. They are offended, they are put out. It's not just "I wonder where He learned this" - it's "Where does this carpenter get off feeding me this line of bull? Acting like he's so great - his brother owes me five bucks!" He is utterly rejected.
Think on that for a moment. Utterly rejected. This is one of the major themes of Mark's Gospel - Jesus' family thinks He crazy, the Scribes and the Pharisees complain, and even the folks He grew up with. Rejection. Dismissal. Disdain. They were offended - the Greek is Scandalized. They saw Him and said, "We want no part of it." Utter rejection. Now, ponder your own life for a moment. Have you long thought that being a Christian would mean that people in the world like you, or respect you, or even praise you? Those days are passing. The kids here, they will probably never know them. Instead, what we can and ought to expect is an increase in rejection - and increase in the times where if we confess what the Scriptures teach - whether it's what the Scriptures teach about the value of human life, or that sexuality is a gift to be given to your spouse - husband to wife and wife to husband, or even about sin and forgiveness - we can expect the world, we can expect more and more of our neighbors to reject it. This this the reality - it is politically correct to paint the white house in rainbow colors, but politically incorrect to put up a nativity. Well - way to preach a patriotic sermon there, Pastor Brown! Oh well, it's the sad reality - even as we confess and rejoice in what a blessing our country is to us, the folks in that country confess less and less that their blessings come from God, confess less and less their need for a Savior, much less that Christ Jesus is that Savior.
So then, how does Jesus react? To His rejection in the text, how does Jesus react? Is there anger? Does He whine and lament the good old days? No. He sees things Scripturally. "And Jesus said to them, 'A prophet is not without honor, except in His hometown and among His relatives and in His own household." In the good old days of the Old Testament, the same thing happened to the prophets and preachers. You don't see what is going on here people -- and the people miss out. "And He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief." Think on that. Jesus comes and says, "Today I am here with healing in my wings!" And most of the folks shrug their shoulders... a few sick folks take a flier and are healed... and still, no one believes. For the first time in the book Jesus is left alone - and by folks who should have believed. And Jesus marvels - He has that dumbstruck sort of look of wonderment. Even healing folks doesn't get a stir of interest. Again, this is just one of those things - unbelief is blindness. Whereas the believers would see and understand that this is the Messiah doing awesome things - the unbelievers just don't see it. Likewise, even today, we see and understand the blessings that we have are from God, we understand the dangers of sin, we know the power of forgiveness - but the unbelievers don't.
Again, what is Jesus' reaction? Anger? Punishment from above? No. "And He went about among the villages teaching." He goes elsewhere. He teaches elsewhere. You guys don't want Me here - have it your way. And so what of us here today, in America? Here I would quote Martin Luther and an admontion he gave to his own day and age: Let us remember our former misery, and the darkness in which we dwelt. Germany, I am sure, has never before heard so much of God’s word as it is hearing today; certainly we read nothing of it in history. If we let it just slip by without thanks and honor, I fear we shall suffer a still more dreadful darkness and plague. O my beloved Germans, buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there! For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been. It has been with the Jews, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing. Paul brought it to the Greeks; but again when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the Turk. Rome and the Latins also had it; but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the pope. And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year.” And he was right. And in our day we see great love for the Gospel in Africa, in Asia. Ten million Lutherans in Ethiopia. Astonishing... and in our own country, we seem not to care. So, what is our reaction to be? Anger? Shaking fists at the bad people who are ruining our nation? No. We let the past go. We pray for strength so that we ourselves would remain steadfast in the Word even while so many around us forsake it. We rejoice that the Gospel flourishes elsewhere. And if the world around us is filled with ingratitude and contempt, so be it.
Because, after all, ingratitude and contempt should not surprise us. Jesus then sends out the twelve disciples - and note what He warns them. "And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." If Jesus warns the twelve to expect rejection when they are healing the sick and casting out demons, what are we to expect when we all we have to offer is the forgiveness of sins to a culture that is more and more denying that anything is sinful? What is our response to be? The same thing it always has been - to preach Christ and Him Crucified for sinners, in season and out of season.
Luther made a distinction between what he called a theology of glory and a theology of the Cross. A theology of glory thinks that being a Christian should make everything better - more money, more wealth, fame and respect. That's been a popular theology in America - it's almost part of our very blood, where we expect that "good, Christian people" should do better than non-believers. But it's a false doctrine - it's a false misleading dream. God's way is the Cross. Christ Jesus wins us not earthly riches and power, but forgiveness and salvation and eternal life with the His death upon the Cross. And He tells us not to hop in our spiffy new Mercedes Benz and follow Him - take up *your* cross and follow Me. And so - will we see less power and might socially and politically in the days to come? Probably - but you know what? This will be for our good. If you do not believe me, believe St. Paul. "So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.'" Paul suffers, and when he wants relief, God says no. Why? Here's your lesson, your reminder Paul - My grace is sufficient for you. Paul, you don't need earthly power and success, you had enough of that in your Pharisee days and it went to your head. Paul, you need forgiveness. In fact, did you note what God says - His power is made "perfect" in weakness. And we miss it in English. Another Greek lesson for you - and this is vital - in Greek the word for "perfect" and "complete" and "finished" is all the same word. God's power is made... the same thing Jesus says from the cross when He dies - It is finished. It is finished, it is made perfect in Christ's own weakness, His own death. It's not about your best life now, It's not about worldly success or fame. It is that Christ Jesus has died for sinners. And thus Paul - Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." It's not about my strength, my fame, my repute - it's not even about whether or not my neighbor has a clue - it is about what Christ Jesus has done for me. "For when I am weak, then I am strong." Then I am strong because I rely solely upon Christ Jesus for my strength and salvation and not myself.
So then - does the world around us reject Christ? Is there a bit less pride in our country and its direction than there has been fourth of July's past? Indeed, are our bodies weaker and falling apart, do we have our own thorns of the flesh to deal with, are temptations swirling around us, is there rejection and dismay? Yeah. So what? None of that changes the fact that Christ Jesus still has died for you, He has risen for you, that He forgives you all your sin, indeed, that He gives you His own body and blood here today at this rail for the forgiveness of your sins. Indeed, in the face of all this decay, societal decay, moral decay, even the decay of our own bodies, we eat this Bread and Drink this cup and defiantly against the World proclaim the death of Christ Jesus until He comes again to bring us unto life everlasting. You, my dear friends, are called by God. You are the baptized; you belong to Him. Nothing we see in the world changes that. Are you looked down upon, made to feel small? So be it. Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

For your Consideration

"When the murder of John the Baptist was announced, that horrible crime, [Jesus] was silent, went away into the desert, fed the people, and did not make an issue of it, but only preached the Word and did His duty. Christian wisdom, therefore, means to commit oneself to the power of God and to turn one’s cause over to Him who judges justly. A Christian can indeed, by the office of the Word, judge sin, but he should not raise his hand against it unless he is compelled to do so by God or commanded by the Word. And so when you are alone and unable to set everything right and straight, commit your cause to Him who has more powers and who alone can do everything."

M. Luther, Luther's Works, Vol. 15 : Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Last Words of David, 2 Samuel 23:1-7, ed. J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Luther's Works (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1972). Ec 1:16.


.... as a note - Luther's lectures on Ecclesiastes are BRILLIANT!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why Are You So Afraid?

I hear it.  I read it.  I sense it. 

Fear.

I don't think I've ever seen in my lifetime such fear grip so many Christian folks in my own land.  Fear of what the world is coming to.  Fear of losing the culture war.  Fear that looks for the magical point in the past where society went wrong.

I've seen Gay marriage blamed on Abortion... wait... no, it's the hippies... wait, no, it's the pill.  If only we could fix this social ill then....  Then what?  The Culture War would still be lost... as it was in the Roaring Twenties, as it was in the Gay (other usage) 90s.  Just as it has been time and time again.  Just as it was in the time of the judges.

There is no quick fix.  The world is very evil.  Children forsake the ways of their fathers, hearts grow cold.

So.  Why are you so afraid?

It's actually the great question that Jesus asks of the Disciples in Mark 4.  The Disciples had seen the fallen state of the world - they saw it in giant waves and rushing winds (which frankly were much more immediately perilous to them than... what, Bob and Steve maybe possibly suing a church, or maybe losing our tax exemption.  I mean, neither of those involve drowning).  And they freaked out.

And Jesus takes care of things, and He asks them why they were so afraid.  Have you yet no faith?

When we see chaos and disorder, what do we turn to?  Do we start bailing water more quickly on the floundering society?  Do we craft better laws, thinking that we can thrive where the Pharisees fell?  Do we think that we will somehow be shrewder than the sons of this world (here's a hint - we need pithy and feel-good hashtags like "lovewins")?

Or do we look to Christ?  Do we see that in this boat, in this ark of the Church stands God Almighty Himself, the Ruler of wind and wave?  Do we see Christ the Crucified, who has declared that it is finished, that we are redeemed?  Do we see the Risen One, in Whom we know we will rise?

Or do we see fear, and our own vain efforts to cope the with the world, to make it more docile, more tame - to make the wild hordes ladies and gentlemen again (as though that would save any of them from death!)?

Why are we so afraid?

I'm reminded of Revelation 2, the letter to Ephesus, where Jesus says, " But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first."  What must we be doing to be doing the works of God?  Not winning elections, not winning a culture for Christ - we believe in the One whom God the Father sent.

Remember when we Lutherans were the church that focused on Justification?  When we thought that AC IV was the article upon which the Church stood or fell - not society?  Remember when we were bold and determined to know nothing among the world except Christ and Him Crucified and could boldly sing, "And take they our life, goods, fame, child or wife?  Though these all be gone, they yet have nothing won - the Kingdom ours remaineth."

And now we quiver because we might, MIGHT, lose a tax exemption down the road.  God be merciful to us in our weak faith and unbelief!


Come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Two Approaches to Friday

There are two responses to Friday's Supreme Court Ruling that I would like to discuss here on my blog.  Those two responses (which are both pretty good and worth your time and consideration) are as follows:

1.  President Harrison's Response (the LCMS response)
2.  Archbishop Tikhon of the Orthodox Church in America's Repsonse

Both of these responses are faithful responses.  It is good that most of the LCMS folks (who probably make up the majority of readers here) have probably come across President Harrison's post.  However, there is something about it that is lacking, which I think the OCA response compensates for.

President Harrison lays out very clearly the idea that things in this country could get worse.  The culture is becoming less friendly to Christianity, and as such, who knows what might come (the silver lining - if society does come down upon us, maybe that will be at least one area of privilege I won't have to hear about again).  However, I do think President Harrison's warning goes too dire too quickly and ends up playing up and upon our fears.

He quote Herman Sasse writing in Germany in 1932 about the realities of the need to obey God rather than men.  And that is true -- however, we aren't Germany in 1932 yet.  Not by a long shot.  We are not a Church dominated or dictated to by the state - our existence and finances are not run by the government.  We are not civil servants of a corrupt government.

And part of the reason why this sits poorly with me is simply that amongst my friends, introducing the "argumentum ad nazium" - the "you're like the nazis" argument ends up meaning you lose the debate.  It becomes the ad homimen attack of the last ditch effort.  When we start having people taken to camps - then we can talk.  But here - it's just seems a bit... early.  And frankly, playing the Nazi Germany card isn't going to give me comfort and peace... if anything it's going to make me nervous.

Which is why I really appreciated the OCA's response.  Just as a note, consider the following quote - the opening paragraph: "The recent ruling by the US Supreme Court on the legality of “same-sex marriages” has received much press coverage and has already caused some consternation about its implications and ramifications. But we Orthodox Christians must rest assured that the teaching of our Holy Church on the Mystery of Marriage remains the same as it has been for millennia."

Yes - strange things are afoot, but the Church is not moved.  The Church still remains.  Period.

And then everything else comes from there.  We remain steadfast in Christ and in the faith.  And we will continue to show love to our neighbor. 

Or, in other words, "Keep Calm and Carry On."

+ + + + + + + + +

I will admit, I love the latter approach.  President Harrison does a good job of marshaling the troops for the next round of political battle, of calling us to our kingdom of the left civil duties.  But... that's not the primary job of the Church.  It may be the duty of our Synod, the LCMS, which is primarily a left-hand business/money/legal sorting house... it may be the duty of our members... but it's not the primary job of the Church.

The Church's job is to proclaim Christ and Him crucified for sinners... in season and out of season.  And if it is out of season... so be it.  We proclaim peace.  We proclaim, "Do not fear, only believe."

It's okay.  The Church has been through plenty of stuff, much of it worse than what we see here in America right now.  In fact, the Church in other parts of the world has it much worse than we do.  And you know what - Christ's Church still stands.  It may get scary, but Jesus wins.  Period.

So... yeah, last Friday doesn't trump Good Friday.  It is still finished.  Satan is judged... and take they our life, goods, fame, child or wife; though these things all be gone, our victory has been won.  The kingdom ours remaineth.