Sunday, August 31, 2014

Trinity 11 sermon

Trinity 11 – Luke 18 – August 31st, 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          Today we tend to have a false, shallow understanding of sin.  A simplistic view.  Today, when we think of sin, we tend to think first and foremost of big, flashy sins that are open and obvious to everyone.  We think of the vices as being the big, dangerous sins.  Murder.  Adultery.  Theft.  The big, obvious things, the things that would make the cops come and arrest you.  And over and against vice, we will pit virtue – being kind, being generous, so on and so forth – keep your nose clean.  And we treat the main question as to whether or not you will follow virtue or vice – there’s the distinction, that’s what defines you.  Virtue or vice, good or bad, naughty or nice.  The only thing is, that’s not the way the Scriptures really speak of sin.  Sin is something much more pervasive, something much more dangerous, something mere human virtue is powerless against.  And to illustrate this point, Christ Jesus our Lord tells the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, which we will consider today.

          “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”  And here is the occasion for the parable.  Jesus sees the self-righteous treat others with contempt.  Jesus sees those who follow virtue, who are virtuous, show scorn upon those less virtuous than themselves, than those who follow the “vices”.  Already the comparison game begins, already the I’m better than him game is afoot – and the worst, the dangerous part is, they were probably right.  From an worldly perspective, on the scale of virtue and vice, they probably were better than the folks upon whom they had contempt.  But does that really matter?  Is that really important?  Let us listen to Jesus. 

          “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.”  This is a fantastic set up by Jesus.  The two men in question in this parable – they are both in the temple.  They both claim to know God, to trust and worship Him.  They are both in temple, they are both praying, they both are paying some attention to the Word of God.  But the Pharisee and the tax collector had a different way of reading, a different goal in hearing the Word and approaching God.  “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’”  There stands the Pharisee.  The paragon of Virtue.  And if we are to understand this parable, we must accept and believe this Pharisee at face value.  He IS a really good guy. And the list of bad, naughty things that he doesn’t engage in – it’s good not to engage in those.  Extortion is bad – I’m from Chicago, my grandpa lived in Calumet City 2 miles from where Al Capone set up his suburbian shop – extortion is bad.  Being unjust is bad.  Giving people the shaft, cheating them, treating them poorly – that’s bad.  Having affairs, sleeping around.  That’s bad, that’s the path of heartbreak and nasty disease.  This Pharisee has read the Scriptures and by golly he has paid attention to the warnings and he has strived to pay heed!  And more than that – he is a good fellow.  He is a practioner of virtue.  He fasts twice a week – that was the good, pious custom.  Fast on Monday and Thursday, if you want to be really, really good.  And he did.  And tithes – oh, never let it be said that a pastor ever speaks against tithing.  And he tithes – 10%, off the top, before taxes, before anything else.  With no one checking up on him, without someone looking at his books and saying, “You made this much and you only gave that, you cheapskate?”  Nope, a virtuous man.  Everything he says is true… learned even from the Good Book itself.

          But, he missed the point.  All the vices he avoided, all the virtues he embodied, those are… nice.  They are taught in the Scriptures.  But they aren’t the main point.  For that, one needs hear the tax collector.  “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”  Where are these guys praying again?  It’s not just that two men were standing the park one day and decided to pray.  It’s not that there was some sort of pray-off challenge thrown down on the school yard or something like that.  They are in the temple.  The Temple.  What is the Temple?  It is the place where the sacrifices to atone for sin took place.  The whole center of Jewish worship was always the tabernacle and then the Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, the Altar.  Yom Kippur – the day of atonement.  Passover – where by the blood of the Lamb God makes death pass us over and instead gives us life, even though we deserve death.  While the Scriptures do tell us, do teach us about virtue and vice, give us examples enough, that isn’t their point.  The point is this – God is merciful to sinners, sinners like this tax collector.

          You know, we don’t know anything about the open, outward, public life of this tax collector.  In general, tax collectors were thought to be lousy and were hated.  This one – we don’t know.  Maybe he was harsh, maybe he was kind.  Maybe he tithed or even gave more than the Pharisee.  Mayhaps he was faithful to his wife, kind to the neighborhood children.  Or maybe not.  We don’t know.  And frankly, for the point Jesus wants to make, we don’t need to know.  The point is not about how openly and outwardly virtuous a person is, it’s not about who looks good and who looks bad.  Jesus is not Santa Claus – the book of Life doesn’t separate you out into naughty and nice.  No, the reality that this tax collector sees first is that he is a sinner.  Period.  He’s not going to hide behind his virtue.  He’s not going to claim that he’s not like other men.  No, he is a sinner, and even his righteous deeds are but as filthy rags, nothing where with to impress God almighty.  And so how does this wretch, this man who sees his sin dare to come to the Temple?  Because the Scripture teach that God is merciful, and he believes.

          Sin isn’t just doing bad stuff.  Sin is not just vice.  Sin is a state of rebellion against God, that constant pull away from Him that we all experience.  It isn’t just that there are a few, select deeds that are “bad” and that if we do those then we are sinners.  No, we are sinful, everything is tinged and tainted with sin, in all that we do we are sinners.  And part of that sin is that we like to set up hedges against God, we like to hide behind our “virtue” or the fact that we are better than others.  We will even create new virtues, new vices, to show how good we are.  “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t dance – these are the good Christian things.  And if you’re a good Christian, why, of course, you’ll do X, Y, and Z – you’ll vote for this party and take that ice bucket challenge but only give money to this charity and not that one… and so on and so forth.  And, of course, remember, if you give more money here, surely God will bless you financially in your life, so open up the check books more” – my smile isn’t big enough to say that line properly. 

          No.  We know all that is false.  We know that is bunk and coarse.  We’re good little Lutherans – we’ve been trained to bow our heads when we pray, just like the tax collector.  But some of that is the problem too.  We can think that we are good little Lutherans – we know, they don’t, see how much better we are.  Always, the sinful flesh loves to separate, loves to pull itself out of the writhing mass of humanity and say, “See, I am better, I am wiser, I know more than they do!”  And we must fight against that, dear friends.  We aren’t better than anyone.  Our confession from the beginning of service rings true – I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever – EVER – that is ALWAYS, Constantly… ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.  Deserved.  Temporal punishment.  God – my week could be ten times worse than it was, and I’d have no ground to complain.  Frankly, I deserve hell.  Eternal punishment, and if I’m not getting that, I’ve go no room to complain.

          And yet, how quickly do we wander off from that confession?  How quickly do we stop thinking like that?  How often in the course of the week do we lament how things aren’t far, or how so-and-so just isn’t pulling her weight and if only he did things better like me?  Does it even have to wait for the service to be over, or have you had thoughts like that since confession this morning?  Happens to me often enough.  And Luther sums this all up as temptation – Lead us not into temptation.  What does this mean?  God tempts no one.  We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into… into what?  False belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.  The greatest shame, the greatest vice isn’t anything anyone can see.  It is false belief, the worship of yourself, self idolatry, the idea that you bring anything to the table, anything to your relationship with God, the idea that God owes you because you are better than your neighbor.  And this is something the world around us constantly hammers us with, constantly butters us up with, and we listen.

          No, you are a sinner.  Plain and simple.  Sinful, through and through.  This is the truth, a truth that if it were all we saw, we would be left in utter despair.  That’s why the world strives so hard to pretend their sin doesn’t exist, or that we are better “them”.  If you only see your sin, you despair, so the nice sounding lies continue.  But there is a greater truth, a more wondrous truth.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  For God shows His love for us in this, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Though you were dead in your trespasses, it is by grace you have been saved through faith, a gift, freely given, apart from your works.  Your works add nothing to it.  Because it is upon the Cross where Christ Jesus, God Himself, wins you forgiveness.  There is the true Temple, the True Altar, the True Sacrifice where God is merciful to you, the sinner.  Where God takes your sin away and blots it out, where God pours upon you life and forgiveness as blood and water flow from His pierced side – water that flows to this font today, blood shed for you for the remission of your sins and placed upon your lips in His Supper today.  This is the great truth – the tax collector prayed wisely – God is merciful to sinners.

          What defines you before God, dear friends, is not a list of your virtues and vices.  God doesn’t need your virtuous living – you neighbor benefits from it, but before God, it accounts for nothing.  No, before Him you remain this – a sinner, a sinner who is covered by the blood of Christ and redeemed by Him, one of His holy saints.  Be on guard against any thought, any false pride that would make you define yourself or think of yourself differently.  Rather – cling to Christ Jesus, for He is faithful and just to cleanse you from all your iniquity.  This is truth.  Amen.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

St. Bartholomew's Day Sermon

St. Bartholomew’s Day – August 24th, 2014 – John 1:43-51

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          So, today is St. Bartholomew’s day, and if I were to ask, “Alright, tell me what the Apostle Bartholomew ended up doing, where he preached, where he taught” – I doubt many in this room could answer.  I myself had to look it up.  When it comes to the Apostles – he’s not really one of the big ones, the famous ones.  We really don’t know much about him.  We know he was called by two names – Bartholomew and Nathanael.  He was a friend of Phillip.  And according to the legends, he heads north and east, preaching in Arminea, and then even heading all the way over to India.  And as for his death – well, he was reported to be martyred most horrifically, being flayed alive.  Hence you will see artwork with Bartholomew holding his own skin – and he is also the patron saint of tanners.  So why today, then?  I mean, if we were observing a day for Paul or for Peter there would be many great tales that we could tell, that we could learn from.  But why today, this day for this Apostle who is, really, relatively obscure?

          We like to judge people by their works.  We like to assign people a place in the holy and spiritual pecking order on the basis of what they have done.  It can be almost like the college football polls – which Christian is number 1, which one is moving up in the ranks?  I’m sure this fall will lead to discussions of whether OU or OSU is better, even though the answer should be obvious to everyone.  While that can be fun and games, that’s not how we are supposed to be approaching our lives as Christians, as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Our job is not to try to point out that I’m better than him or she’s better than her or what have you – for we are all alike sinners forgiven by God, called out of darkness into His marvelous light.  And here today we see the call of Bartholomew, the call of Nathanael.  And this reminds us that our standing, our place with God is not based upon what we have done, nor upon the fame that our works bring – but rather upon His love for us.

          So, let’s look at our text.  “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee.  He found Phillip and said to him, ‘Follow Me.” Now Phillip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  Phillip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  There was a switch there in the text, a simple, common, egotistical switch there in the text.  Jesus finds Phillip – all the credit goes to Jesus… but then what does Phillip say?  “We have found”.  Did you see it – Phillip shifts the focus, Phillip takes the credit.  Instead of saying, “The Messiah came to me” Phillip talks about himself, what he found.  I figured it out, Nathanael, I got the right answer!  And this helps to explain Nathanael’s answer – “Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’”  Your answer, what you think you’ve done – it sounds stupid.  And this actually is funny – we are used to Jesus of Nazareth – we give Nazareth honor.  Back then, it had no honor.  It was the back of beyond.  And Nathanael is skeptical.  But Phillip leans upon Nathanael, and he comes along, and then we hear this: “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’”  Well look here, an Israelite who doesn’t let the wool get pulled over his eyes, who will speak his mind, who will say something sounds like bunk when it sounds like bunk.

          And Nathanael remains skeptical.  “Nathanael said to Him, ‘How do you know me?’”  Now, that’s sort of a saucy reply.  That “how” is a word of doubt – when Sarah hears that she is going to have a kid at 90 she asks, “how”.  Yeah, just how do you think you know me, pal?  We ain’t never met and you don’t know me from Adam.  “Jesus answered him, ‘Before Phillip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’  Nathanael answered Him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!’”  Actually, Nathanael, I do know you, and I know Adam, for I created you both.  I am well aware of who you are, even more aware of you than you are yourself.  And Nathanael is quick on the uptake; he’s read his scriptures, he knows what this means.  The Son of God.  The King of Israel.  Two great confessions of faith.

          And Jesus responds:  Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe?  You will see greater things than these.”  And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  It’s good that you know who I am, Nathanael, but do you know what I have come to do?  I’ve come to do something much more important than merely show that I am the Son of God, the King of Israel – I have come to open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers, I have come to win redemption and forgiveness and eternal life with My own death and resurrection.  And you, Nathanael, you will see these things, and I will use you to proclaim these things both near and far… very, very far away. 

          Because that is the point – Christ Jesus and what He is going to accomplish.  The question, dear friends, ought never be about which of us in the greatest, or who is better than who.  That misses the point.  The point is this – that Christ Jesus, God Himself, becomes man and comes to us.  He has beheld you, seen you, and He comes to you, calls out to you, speaks His Word of life to you, so that you would receive the forgiveness of sins.  The Christian faith and life isn’t a contest, it isn’t a matter of acquiring bragging rights, but rather it is receiving from God the blessings He has won with His death and resurrection – it is being called out of darkness into His marvelous light – it is being baptized into Him and receiving His very Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

          And then there is Nathanael – Saint Bartholomew.  And it’s fitting this day to remember him, not because of what *he* did – but rather because of what Christ Jesus did through Him.  Through His servant Bartholomew, Christ Jesus took the message, the good news of salvation, and spread it to many places, many tongues.  And this was without great fanfare, without great aplomb.  It’s funny, because the Apostles we know more about, most of the time we know about them because of stories where they messed up, where they didn’t get the right answer and Jesus had to correct them.  But Bartholomew, he just goes quietly about the work that God has given him, that God works up in and through him – without the praise, without attention.  He lives the life God gives him, and many people benefit.

          Now then, let’s consider ourselves.  I think it’s safe to say that most of us here are not famous.  Most people even 50 miles from here wouldn’t know us from Adam, and certainly not out of state.  And as for a lasting legacy – well, I don’t think we’re going to have biographies written about us, school kids won’t learn our names in the centuries to come.  And that, contrary to what American culture says with its love of fame, is perfectly fine.  Here you have Bartholomew, an Apostle – and God puts him to work in relative obscurity.  And here you are, a simple Christian.  And what does God do with you?  He puts you to work here, in a small town, in a wheat field.  No fame.  Very little renown, very little recognition.  And here, Christ Jesus makes you to be the servant He would have you be.  He gives you your family, and puts you to work loving them.  He gives you simple (and maybe annoying) neighbors, and puts you to work loving them.  He feeds you upon His Word, and then you simply share and speak that same Word with others – others in your family, your neighbors, your brothers and sisters here at church – and we live and grow and receive forgiveness together.  And while it does not bring about fame and glory that the world would recognize – it is a great thing.  It is heaven itself being opened, it is the Cross proclaimed, it is forgiveness.  It is life and love and compassion – things far, far greater than worldly fame.

          Because that is what Christ Jesus teaches us.  He does not crave worldly fame or power.  Look at how He brings Himself to you and you to Him.  Baptism – uses just plain water and attaches the world of God.  We don’t even need to use fancy French bottled water, any water will do.  Or the Supper.  Simple bread and wine, and the Word of God is added, and we receive Christ Jesus’ true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins.  It doesn’t have to be fancy bread, it doesn’t have to be a $100 bottle of wine.  Fame and expense isn’t the point – given and shed for YOU for the remission of your sins - that is the point.  Christ comes to you, and He sees that His Word, His life, His forgiveness comes to you, without any crazy hoops to jump through, without any worldly standards to meet.  No, Jesus comes to you.  Just as He came to Bartholomew – just as He came to those who heard Bartholomew preach.  You are redeemed and forgiven by Christ not because of what you have done for Him, but because of His great love and mercy for you.  All praise and glory be to Christ Jesus alone.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Trinity 7 Sermon

Trinity 7, August 3, 2014 – Mark 8:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          Again.  This is a word we ought to associate with these miraculous feedings.  Again.  “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat…”  Didn’t we just have this situation?  Wasn’t it back in Lent where the Gospel reading was the feeding of the 5000 from John?  Yep.  And here today, we have a feeding… again.  And you know what – it’s appropriate, because if you look at Mark 6 you will see the feeding of the 5000 – this is Jesus feeing people in chapter 8… again.
          When you look at the Scriptures, things are often repetitive.  They happen over and over and over again.  Once again this week in our Gospel we see a great crowd gathered with nothing to eat.  People running off in their excitement about that miracle worker Jesus who had just healed a deaf man (again), but this time right on their door step.  And I suppose we can understand the people doing this, I mean, they would have been excited, this would have been new and thrilling, we can get that.  But think about Jesus’ disciples for a moment.  Jesus sees the crowd, and He announces that He wants to feed them, and then what do we hear from the disciples?  “And His disciples answered Him, ‘How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place?’”  Really?  Really disciples – just two chapters ago you saw Him turn the five loaves and 2 fish into enough food for well over 5000 people, and you ask that question?  I mean, I could see if folks in the crowd would think it, but you’ve been with Jesus all this time?  How come you haven’t gotten it yet?

          Now to be fair, to the Jewish mindset, seeing wasn’t believing – it was seeing two or three times that was believing.  Everything had to be proved by two or three witnesses, so maybe that has something to do with it – but still, wouldn’t we expect the disciples of all people to know what is going to happen?  That Jesus will break bread and feed the people there?  And yet, for some reason, it just hasn’t set in yet – and the same questioning, the same dumb doubting of Christ’s power kicks in.  Of course, to be fair, the entire Scriptures are really a history of people falling into the same traps multiple times, over and over again.  Abraham passes off Sarah as his sister and not his wife, twice.  The Israelites grumble about water, twice – in fact the second time upsets Moses so much that he smacks the rock instead of just speaking to it like God had said.  Last week in bible study (at Zion) starting 1st Samuel, we saw a husband with two wives (Elkanah, and his wives Peninnah and Hannah) – and what happens?  The wife who has kids torments Hannah who has none – just like Leah and Rachel.  The book of Judges – over and over the people forget God and get themselves into trouble.  The prophets – they all lament Israel and Judah falling into idol worship and worse.  Over and over, people falling into the same sins, over and over again.

          But, of course, let’s be honest.  The Scriptures are a brutally honest book, and they don’t hide warts.  What if there was a book of the Scriptures based upon your life, or what if you were reading “1st Eric” – how long would it take before you put your face in your hand and said, “I can’t believe he’s doing that… again!”  Because that is the vile nature of sin.  It is repetitive, it is pervasive.  It is habitual, and bad habits are hard to break, and they don’t like to stay broken.  And sadly, when we look back upon our lives – whether it’s the end of the day, or thinking back upon the last week because the preacher is carrying on, or an anniversary, or even on the death bed with regrets flying in front of us, over and over, so often it was the same old stupid things, the same weaknesses, the same faults, the same sins.  Over and over again.

          “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, He called His disciples to Him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat.  And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.  And some of them have come from far away.’”  So what is Jesus’ response when He sees the crowd show up again?  Disdain?  Mockery?  I can’t believe these people came to listen to me unprepared again?  Nope.  None of that.  He has compassion.  There is no belittling, no complaining about the crowd.  No, these people are with me, I have compassion upon them.  The Greek there means that His guts were wrenched – I feel what they feel, I have compassion because I am with them and they are with Me.

          This is the reality of what it means when we confess that Jesus Christ is both true God and true Man.  This is what Christmas means, this is what the incarnation means.  Jesus has compassion – Jesus came down from heaven, took on a body like yours, like mine, and He experienced life in this world.  All the sorts of things that impact us – whether it is hunger and being faint, as in this text – or being mocked, or hurting, or mourning, being forsaken by friends.  All of those things, He experienced, He has compassion.  And the beautiful difference – whereas as we will use the things that happen to us to justify our bad behavior – eh, I yelled, but I had had a bad day – not so Christ.  With Him, always perfect love.  Even to us.  Even to the disciples who just utterly drop the ball and can’t even guess that He is going to feed the crowd.  Instead, Jesus just does what He needs to do to show care and compassion – And He directed the crowd to sit down on the ground.  And He took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, He broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before the crowd.  And they had a few small fish.  And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them.  And they ate and were satisfied.  And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.  There is no berating, no handwringing.  Just another miraculous feeding – here you go, take this bread that I have blessed and be filled.

          And here we are in this congregation.  Gathered once again.  The same liturgy.  Hymns we’ve sung before.  Readings we’ve heard before.  All of this, appropriate.  Because we here are what we’ve been, poor miserable sinners who struggle with the same sort of junk we’ve been struggling with for the past month, for the past year, for decades, for our entire life.  And yet, here is the wonder – week in, week out, again and again, Christ Jesus has compassion upon you.  He doesn’t get sick of you, He doesn’t get tired of you.  Once again, over and over, He speaks His Word of forgiveness to you.  Once again, He takes a flawed disciple and bread is broken, and it is given to you – take and eat, this is My Body, given for you, take and drink, this is My Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  Without fail, the forgiveness and mercy and life that Christ Jesus won for you upon the Cross is given to you here in this place.

          Why?  Because you are the Baptized.  Because in your Baptism, you were joined to Christ Jesus – that was the Epistle last week – you have been baptized into Christ Jesus.  And what precisely does that mean?  In terms of our Gospel lesson – “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days.”  That’s you – you’ve been with Jesus, baptized into His death, and of course joined with a resurrection like His.  He cannot but have compassion upon you, for He loves you as He loves Himself.  And He knows your limitations, knows the war that sin wages upon you, He knows how sin plays upon you and messes with you – but over and over again He comes to you here in this place and says to you that you are no longer, in fact, a slave to sin, but you are bound to Him, that you are a slave to righteousness, that you are forgiven.  Your baptism, the forgiveness of your sins, that you are bound to Christ, a slave to righteousness and now sanctified and given eternal life – these are the realities that Christ sees and remembers at all times – and so, when we are worn and weak and weary, He will give them to us again – He will preach them again, He will place forgiveness upon our lips by giving us His own Body and Blood again and again and again.  Because He has compassion upon you; because you are His and He will not let you go on your way faint from sin, but always, always forgiven.

          “And He sent them away.”  Off they went – back to their lives, but having been cared for by Christ, and indeed, still under His continual care.  Likewise, you will be sent from here – depart in peace, the Lord lift His countenance upon you, and give you peace.  Sent back to your life out there, your homes, your jobs, your family, maybe sent on vacation. Sent back to face the same difficulties and struggles – but sent in peace, as God’s own baptized children, washed and forgiven.  Sent, but ready to be welcomed here again next week, to be fed and forgiven again.  Because Christ Jesus never becomes bored of forgiving you – it is His delight and joy and purpose of the Church.  God be with you all this week, and God see you safely here again next when God will feed you through Seminarian Fischaber.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Sweet Sounding Lie

I saw a clickhole gif thing on explaining divorce using gifs from Orange is the New Black (it was not good enough to merit a link - links here are not based on grace), but the text of it got me thinking.  To sum, it was the parents explaining why they got divorced, and basically it could be summed up as:

24 years is a long time to love each other... but don't worry, we still love you.

Literally - 24 years is a long time to love someone.  We still love you.

So... what happens when the kid turns 24?  What if the job isn't there and she wants to move back home?  Sorry kid, 24 years is really too long to love someone?  Or do you get until 26 if you are a child?

It was so utterly... whitewashed, so utterly dishonest.  People do not get divorces because they don't "love" each other (well, they do, they choose not to serve and care for each other - which is what love actually is) - people don't get divorced merely because the "feeling" is gone.

That sounds too sweet. 

People get divorced because of hatred and anger and infidelity and betrayal and violence.

That's not 24 years is a long time to love someone.  That's I'm selfish, I'm greedy, I'm stupid, I'm jealous, I just don't care.

Reading that piece, it was utterly emblematic of what we do with sin and its impacts. We try to spin it with a sweet sounding lie.

It's not selfishness - we just don't love each other.  Easy come, easy go.
It's not death - it's passing on.
It's not disdain - it's I'm too busy.

We could go on -- all trying to beat around the bush and not deal with sin.

Sin is sin.  And it is nasty and horrible, no matter how we poorly try to cover it.  And here is the thing - Satan loves the poor covers.  Why?  Because if you aren't a sinner, you don't think you need Christ.

You don't need Christ to deal with the sweet sounding lie -- after all, He came for sinners, and you're just a sweet smelling rose in such a hard world.

No.  You are a sinner.  See it.  And then see Christ Jesus.  He has died for that sin, and it is no more, and He gives you life.  Not one of denial - but one of forgiveness, one where you face down temptation instead of willy-nilly rolling along in denial. 

Be honest about your sin - for you have an honest Savior.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Trinity 6 Sermon

Trinity 6 – June 27th, 2014 – Matthew 5:17-26

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
          As Christians, as those who pay attention to our Lord’s Words, we ought to pay attention to that which He commands.  That’s not an earth shattering statement – all of us here know that we ought to try to behave, strive to show love to our neighbor.  And yet, what is the reality?  So often, we just don’t even bother.  And more than that, we justify our bad behavior – we start playing fast and loose with the Word of God – we ignore it, we twist it to serve our ends, rather than learning to love and serve God and neighbor.  Jesus will not let that stand.  And our Lord Jesus today teaches and demonstrates the two major errors, the two major ways in which a Christian can ignore, can twist God’s Word of Law in a harmful way.

          First, our Lord says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  God in His Word has told us many things about how we are to live, what we are to do, how we are to behave.  He has given us the 10 Commandments, and there’s a very good reason why even 3500 years after Moses we still sit down with our children and teach them the Commandments to this day.  God’s desire that we lead decent lives has not changed.  However – that doesn’t mean that Christians aren’t tempted to. . . pretend that the Law doesn’t really matter any more.  Note what Christ warns against – Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  There is the temptation amongst Christians to. . . relax God’s Law.  To shrug off what He has commandment, to just. . . ignore the Word of God where it becomes uncomfortable.  This is the classic “liberal” error when it comes to God’s Word – to just ignore what you don’t like.  A place where this is obvious today comes up with the 6th Commandment.  A lot of discussions in a lot of places on Homosexuality relax, to use Christ’s Word, what God has said about Homosexuality.  A lot of places are relaxing on the issue of premarital sex.  There is a whole facet, a whole wing of the Christian Church that is systematically chipping away at Scriptural ideas of morality.

          However, this is not just a time for me to lambaste all those liberal Churches out there.  They might do this openly and publicly, but consider in your own life the times where you yourself are tempted to. . . relax God’s Law.  God says, “Love your enemy” – but we can… not apply that to this particular enemy who has us really upset right now.  Or how often do we ignore or forget that we are to be patient and kind and rather justify and defend our anger because *they* were just messing things up.  The temptation remains for us to cut ourselves some slack when it comes to right and wrong – and that is dangerous, because when we do that, it’s not just a small thing, it’s going directly against the wishes and will of God.  Thus, as Christians, we are to be on our guard against ignoring the parts of God’s Word that we don’t like.

          There is another error that Christ warns us against – and this is the opposite error of what we just discussed.  Our Lord says, “You have heard it said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.’”  Our Lord here is attacking the Conservative, legalistic error.  The Pharisees were by in large rather conservative folks – and the big danger that they had was while they took Scripture seriously, they didn’t see its fullness, they didn’t understand and apply it to themselves, and so they became smug.  They would hear the 5th Commandment and say, “Well, I haven’t murdered anyone, therefore I’m doing all right.”  And they became legalists, they became focused on how they DID the Law so well.  The thing was – they really hadn’t.  In their arrogance they assumed that they were righteous, when in reality their righteousness was lacking.  Note what Christ does here – He ties murder to anger.  Anger leads to murder, and so if God tells us not to murder, clearly He would want us to avoid the anger which could lead us to murder.  And this is clear from the Scriptures.  Consider the first murder – Cain slaying Abel.  Before Cain murders Abel, God says to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?”  Be wary of anger and where it leads.  Jesus isn’t teaching anything new – He’s teaching what had been taught from the beginning – but the problem was that when too many folks looked at God’s commandments, instead seeing God’s Law as showing them their sin, showing them what they needed to struggle against – too many folks simply viewed God’s instructions as a mere checklist.  And pride and arrogance crept in.  In fact, they would add extra things to their checklists that weren’t in Scripture, like a good Jew would wash his hands a certain way.  Does this not happen today?  Are there not churches out there that have this same pride and arrogance with how they keep the Law, are there not churches out there that add their own little rules and say, “you aren’t a good Christian if you smoke, or if you drink, or if you do this or that”?  Rather than focusing on what the Scriptures say, people can go off on their own smug self-righteous ego trips, pointing out how good they are.

          But again, this is a danger for us today.  We here strive to take God’s Word and His Law seriously.  And the danger is that we can assume that we know what we need to know – we hear the commandment and we think we’ve got it down – but we forget to think about the implications of the commandment.  This is one of the beauties of the Catechism.  Luther would keep us from falling into this trap – because in the explanation he states not only what we are to avoid, but what the commandment implies what we are to do.  Take the 5th Commandment.  We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.”  If we aren’t to kill, then we aren’t to harm, and if we aren’t to harm, then that implies that we are to help.  In every physical need.

          When it all boils down, the danger is that we misuse God’s Word, especially when it comes to the Law.  We can act as though God’s Law doesn’t matter and flat out ignore what God says; or we can become prideful in how we are good Christians, and stop thinking, stop mediating on God’s Word, and become unrepentant and arrogant.  But the truth is this – God’s Law is deep, it is profound, and whenever we hear a commandment from God, we should search ourselves to find out how we fall short of that commandment – for each of us has sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, and there is not one who is righteous, no, not one.  Whenever you hear a command of God, it should be obvious to you that you haven’t done it like you ought - and if you don’t think that, then you aren’t reading God’s Word rightly, you aren’t listening.  Our Lord says, “Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  That’s the standard, that’s always the standard of God’s Law.  We dare not relax it, we dare not ignore it.

          And we, dear friends, are by no means perfect.  That should be obvious to all of us.  And the consequences of the Law still hold – the wages of sin is death.  What Christ says here is true – Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  In and of ourselves, our righteousness is never that high.  Whenever we hear God’s Law, we see our lack and our need to repent – every time.  However, we also hear something else in God’s Word – our Lord speaks and says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  There is One who is truly righteous, whose righteousness has exceeded that of any of us, who lived the perfect life, doing all that was pleasing in His father’s eyes, and that is Christ Jesus our Lord.  And what Jesus does is that when He goes to the Cross, He is making a trade.  There at the Cross, Christ Jesus takes up all of your sin, all of your lack of righteousness, and there He receives it’s wages in full and dies – but He does this so that in exchange for your sin, He can give to you all of His Righteousness.  Consider this – you are Baptized, you are joined to Christ.  Your sins have been washed away from you, and Christ has given you His righteousness.  When God sees you, He sees Christ.  Every good, every wonder that Christ has done, that’s what God beholds when He sees you.  When God looks at you, He sees the life of Christ Jesus – and it shouldn’t be a surprise that it is this way.  What happens when we commune – we receive Christ, we receive His Body and Blood, His very life, so that our sins are forgiven, removed from us, and so that we are filled with all that He is.  We see and understand the depths and the wonders of Christ’s forgiveness for us, His great love for us – that He has indeed made us to be righteous – a righteousness that we will finally see in full on the last day.  May we see this ever more fully as well!

          And so dear friends, I warn you not to ignore God’s Law, but rather I encourage you to examine yourself in light of God’s Law – knowing that the light of God’s Law will shine on many-a-nasty spot.  But when you see these flaws and errors, in humility and faith repent of them, for God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  When we see our sins, we learn to not trust in ourselves (which can only lead to disaster), but rather to cling to Christ Jesus, who in great joy and gladness freely gives to us His forgiveness.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Self-Congratulatory Christianity

This is what I am wearied of.  I am wearied of Self-Congratulatory Christianity.

I am wearied of all the talk about my growth, my progress, how I get to love and do X, Y, and Z.

It's all self congratulations.  It's all how great I am.  It's all how healthy my faith is.  How great my "walk" is.

And then I read this:

Matthew 9:10-13: 
And as Jesus[a] reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

See how good I am... see how I am making the most of my Jesus opportunities, see how healthy I am and how I'm becoming healthier day by day!

See how little I need Jesus -- congratulate me on how little I need Him anymore.  Congratulate how I don't need Him to come to me, a poor miserable sinner -- now I can give myself to Him, I grow closer and closer to Him all the time by my improvement and growth and my wisdom.

Jesus calls sinners.  Why would I congratulate myself on forgetting this fact?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I Love the Law

I love the Law.  I do.  I love how relentless it is, how deep it is.  I love how its perfection just blows apart any attempts or thoughts I might have at self-righteousness.  And I think of this especially every year as the 6th Sunday after Trinity approaches, and we get Matthew 5:17-26 as the Gospel lesson.

My sinful flesh loves to think it's pretty good.  After all, I've tended to make pretty good choices in my life.  I've been well disciplined and have exercised much moral restraint - certainly moreso than is typical of my generation.  Ah, see my wisdom!  See my goodness!  See my devotion to God and my progress!

Or so my flesh, my pride, my ego whisper in my ear.  And oh, how I could feel so good about it!

And then the Holy Spirit wields His Law, and that perfect Law takes that pride, that arrogance, and blow it apart and it kills it.

So you haven't killed - been angry ever?  BOOM!
So, you've never had an affair or fornicated - ever lusted?  BOOM!
So you're truthful - ever grandstanded?  - BOOM!

On and on it goes.

This is the wonderful thing about the Lutheran approach to the Law.  We don't reduce it to a check list.  We don't treat it as a mere guide - it's not merely some sage advice to help us be healthy, wealthy, and wise.  It's not just there to make sure we make good choices in life.

Think on the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism - not merely a list of do nots, but do's... and full, and continuing, and unrelenting.  And if we are not to be workers of lawlessness - if we let the Law hit us with its full force, we see that we FAIL.  We are sinful.  We are left to echo Peter - Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!  No thoughts of how good or obedient we've been, no protests about how we've made at least decent choices.  We are sinners.

As we sang on Sunday: "The Law reveals the guilt of sin and makes us conscience stricken."   

And I love this - because my old sinful flesh NEEDS to be killed, it needs to be drowned daily by contrition and repentance.  And why?  Thusly the song continues: "But then the Gospel enters in the sinful soul to quicken.  Come to the Cross, trust Christ and live; the Law no peace can ever give, no comfort and no blessing."

I need Christ.  Satan, the world, my flesh - they seek me to forget Christ, to take comfort in myself, my "strength", my "goodness".  And it's all lies - but the Law of God bursts through those lies, destroys them - and then I am left with Christ and Him alone - and Christ saves me.

I love the Law, I rejoice in it - because it drives me to Christ.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sermon - Trinity 5

Trinity 5 – July 20th, 2014 – Luke 5:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          There are times when I will read a text, and thoughts of all the lousy, horrible ways people will treat that text and preach on it go flashing through my mind.  I read the Gospel text for today, and thoughts of some preacher droning on excitedly about how God’s gonna give you a great catch of fish in your own life if you just do X, Y, and Z zip through my head – as though that’s even the point of the text.  I doubt we can look to this text to be the “Christian Guide to Growing Your Business” when the last verse is “they left everything and followed Him.”  If anything, it’s about how your business isn’t the most important thing, even if you are making ginormous catches of fish.  If you’ve grown up in America, you’ve been surrounded by a culture that gives you all sorts of expectations about wealth and power and what success means – and it’s always more and more and more.  Bigger and newer and better.  We aren’t taught that here in this text.  Rather, let’s pay close attention to the text, and see what is going on.

          “On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on Him to hear the Word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and He saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.  Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, He asked Him to put out a little from the land.  And He sat down and taught the people from the boat.”  The set up here is completely practical.  You’ve got a large crowd wanting to hear Jesus preach – well, how are you going to accomplish that?  Unless Jesus wants to be shouting at the top of His lungs all day, you need to do something.  So what do you do?  You bring them up on the shore – where you have that downward slope to the lake creating a little amphitheater – plus if you go out on the water you get a nice acoustic advantage – and so Jesus drafts Peter.  Let me borrow your boat.  And out they go, and Jesus teaches.

          “And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’”  Alright – the sermon is done.  Wer’e about to go home!  Right?  Wait… fish… work?  Now?  Peter is confused – “Master, we toiled all night and we took nothing!”  And Peter is possibly cranky.  He’d been up all night, and it had been a lousy night, they hadn’t caught anything.  And now this Fellow who had drafted his boat and made him listen to a long sermon when he was already tired tells him to fish now… in the day light, when the fish – if there actually are any in this stinking lake – are all going to be much lower, and all you’ll catch are a bunch of weeds, so we’ll have to clean the nets again and it will be an utter waste.  Jesus tells Peter to do something which to all the world seems utter foolishness.  But Peter continues, “But at Your Word I will let down the nets.”  And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.  They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  And they came and filled both the boats so that they began to sink.  Christ’s foolish plan pays off.  It’s a humongous catch – one cast of the net topping what you would get for two boats in a full, busy good night.  The other boat has to hurry on out there, they are swimming in fish – almost literally, as in if they don’t hurry to shore the boats are going to sink.

          So – what ought Peter’s reaction be to this?  Should he give loud praises to God for God’s abundance?  Or maybe he ought to try and offer Jesus a job – you know, You’re pretty good at this finding the shoals of fish gig.  We could make a killing with You.  Or should Peter just marvel at how wondrous this is – isn’t that the nice pious thing we are supposed to do?  Sigh and say, “Oh, wasn’t that nice”?  That’s not Peter’s reaction.  “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’”  There’s Peter’s reaction.  When the enormity of what is going on sits in – when he doesn’t have to scramble to just keep the boat afloat, what does Peter do?  He confesses his sin.  He confesses his sin and asks Jesus to leave, to go and never come back.  He confesses that Jesus is Lord – this is God here in your boat, this is the Messiah… and sinners are not worthy to be next to the Messiah.  Sinners are not worthy to be in God’s presence – there is no worth or merit in Peter, nothing that God would want or should want with him.  So… just go… go before my sin gets me killed.  Let me at least live, let me just get back to the normal, everyday life at hand with nights of frustration and empty nets.  Do not smite me, a sinful man.

          What Peter says here is wise, wiser than most of our reactions would have been.  There is power and might in that boat, power and might in Christ Jesus – and you don’t mess with it.  We teach our kids not to play with matches – you certainly don’t play with them around a gas station!  Things could go boom – and right there, in that boat, is God Almighty – and you don’t play around with God, you don’t treat Him all casual.  You don’t mess with that – you don’t gamble with God – know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and when to run.  Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.  That is fantastic earthly, human wisdom there on Peter’s part.  But Jesus has something else in mind.  “And Jesus said to him, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’  And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.”  I’ve got something else in store for you, Peter – oh, and you too James and John.  You are going to be disciples, you are going to be My students and servants, and I will use you to catch men.

          So what now?  Shall I go then into the 5 practical things you here can do to catch men?  The 7 simple steps – here’s when you let down those Gospel Nets to make sure you just pack ‘em in!  Oh, there is so much clap trap out there that misses the point, the object of the lesson.  First Corinthians nails what the point is – “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”  You know what the point of the Gospel lesson is?  What God does, what Jesus does looks and seems stupid.  Apart from faith, Jesus looks like the world’s biggest idiot.  He does.  Fish in the middle of the day – dumb.  Look, you’ve got the secret to fishing, but instead of making money hand over fist – walk away.  Dumb.  Seriously, Jesus, spend two weeks fishing and finance Your preaching for years – not what He does.  You know what that would be like – “Oh look, it’s a gusher – eh, I’ll not pump that well, I’ll just walk away.”  By worldly standards, that is dumb.  And using Peter – calling James and John to be disciples?  Dumb.  Now, don’t get me wrong – Peter, James, and John aren’t idiots – you don’t run your own business if you are stupid.  But if you were going to start the new religious revolution – why not get some well respected Pharisees to be your disciples, or some people who are already popular?  Instead, fishermen from Galilee. Jesus, you could have picked better disciples – these were weak.

          This is what Paul calls the foolishness of God.  In fact, this is what you see from Jesus constantly.  Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.  Don’t worry about what you eat or what you will wear.  Behold, I am sending you out like lambs among lions.  And then to tick off the leaders, to remain silent before Pilate when falsely accused – to the world, rank stupidity.  And it leads to what the world thinks is the dumbest, most foolish thing in the world – the Cross.  “For the Word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing” – thus the wagging tongues at the crucifixion!  “He saved others; He cannot save Himself!”  It seems utter folly.

          And the utter folly seems to continue in Christ’s Church to this very day.  What do we see when we look around?  A small church that’s smaller than it was a decade ago, in [a wheat field that stopped being a town 100 years ago/ a rural community that is shrinking], with a preacher whose got a speech impediment and a lisp.  Well there’s a crackerjack idea!  And if we think like the world, like the mighty and haughty – this right now seems like a silly thing.  Nothing new with that.  What does Paul write to Corinth – “For consider your calling, brothers; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”  But that worldly standard misses the point.  “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Do we see, do we realize what happens here?  Christ Jesus died upon the cross, He rose again, He atoned for the sins of the world.  And what happens right here in this place?  The power of God is exercised for you, you who are being saved, right now, this instant.  This font, right here – the baptisms that take place here overthrow the powers of Hell, cast Satan out.  The world out there doesn’t get that – but it is the power of God for salvation, for your salvation.  A simple liturgy, a short sermon – Lord have mercy – I forgive you – peace be with you – and what happens?  The fall itself is undone, and you are no longer merely sinners doomed to death, but you are forgiven and given life, life everlasting, you will rise again even if you die because of Christ.  The world doesn’t get that.  Or the Supper, Holy Communion.  What does the world see – nothing but a bit of bread and wine and a pastor doing some hand waving mumbo jumbo.  Yet what is it – it is Christ Jesus Himself giving you His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins, for the strengthening of your faith, so that when you rise to eternal life on the last day you will reign with Christ forever when all the stuff of this world is turned to ash and forgotten about.  Because Christ Jesus will not depart from you, o sinner.  Instead, He comes to you today in His Word, and with that Word of the Cross He forgives sinners and makes them to live, to see and have a life beyond what the world blabbers about – this is the wisdom of God – to save you, here, now to catch us men and women for eternal life.  And if the world doesn’t get it – oh well.  The world never has.

          We get a wonderful truth taught and shown and given to us in our Gospel lesson, dear friends.  It’s not a promise of earthly wealth or power – it’s not the secret for more prestige, whether personal or for this congregation.  It’s a truth that the world just cannot fathom.  Though you are a sinner and deserve nothing good from God, God in His Wisdom has sent Christ Jesus to the Cross, so that He can forgive you, come to you in His Word, and bring you, forgiven and resurrected, to be with Him for all eternity.  This foolishness of God – where by He takes poor miserable sinners like us  and makes us to reign eternally with Him – it is for your good and benefit.  God grant us faith to see this and cling to Christ ever more!  Amen.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Commissioning of Jennifer Griffith, Deaconess

Commissioning of Jennifer Griffith, Deaconess – July 13th, 2014 – Mt. 25:31-46

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          To be a Christian is to be a servant.  Indeed, to be a human being means you were created by God to serve – Adam was created and placed in the garden to tend the garden, to care for it, to serve.  Eve was created as a helpmeet, to help and rightly serve Adam.  There is a reason why Paul begins almost every letter talking about how he is a bondservant of Christ.  It is who he is – it is who you are by virtue of your baptism.  When Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment, He says that it is to love God, but that a second one is like unto it – a second one is so tied up completely with loving God that you cannot mention loving God without mentioning it – love your neighbor.  Serve your neighbor.  Care for your neighbor.  And just incase we weren’t taking Jesus seriously, did you note how He describes the end, the final judgment?  “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me.”  Your service to God isn’t defined by some abstract thoughts, or how you feel about God – it is defined, shaped, shown precisely by your service to your neighbor.

          And of course, after the fall, that service to the neighbor is rather messed up.  Sin, your own sinful flesh, cries out for you to serve not your neighbor, but yourself.  And let’s face it, there are just some people we tend not to like, and we don’t want to serve them.  We want to turn the cold shoulder, be cold, be uncaring, insist on our own way to their detriment, shake our heads at them.  Use how mean they are as an excuse to be mean and cold and callous to them!   Or sometimes it’s just indifference, we can’t be bothered.  We are too important, we are too “busy” with things that really don’t *need* to be done but provide a nice sounding excuse.  Or sinful flesh calls out for us to look out for number 1.  You are Christians, you know you are to fight against those sorts of selfish desires.

          To help and aid the members of this congregation fight against their sinfulness and to help and aid the members of this congregation in their own works of love and service to each other and the community, St. John’s, Covington, has called Jennifer Griffith to be her deaconess.  Know what this is, what this means.  Deaconess Jennifer is not here simply and merely to do stuff for you.  While she is a servant – for that is what “deaconess” means, and while she will serve, her service doesn’t mean you here don’t have to serve anymore.  Consider it this way – if someone were to walk up to you and say, “Well, I don’t need to pray – we’ve got that Pastor Griffith fellow to pray – he can just do it.  I don’t need to study God’s Word – that there bearded fellow can just read the Word and I’ll go fishing instead” – if someone said that to you, that wouldn’t fly.  Likewise, you are not going to get to say, “I don’t need to serve the congregation – we’ve got Deaconess Jennifer for that – I don’t have to serve the community – the Deaconess does that for me.”  That’s not what a Deaconess is or what a Deaconess is for.

          All Christians are given the task of serving others.  You have been given by God various vocations, various callings.  Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, neighbors, friends, workers, bosses, teachers, students.  Members of this congregation, part of this community.  You all have many hats to wear – and that can be a tiring, wearying thing.  We all know that.  St. John’s has called Deaconess Jennifer so that her members will grow and learn to wear those hats, juggle those duties better, learn to love and serve their neighbors better.  And your old sinful flesh will often… dislike that.  If I can give a simple example by way of analogy.  When I was in college I worked in the Athletic Department at OU as a writing tutor, and Bob Stoops was the newly hired coach.  And I worked in the evenings, and the players would come in after practice, and there were times they were a bit miffed at what Coach Stoops had just put them through in practice.  But it made them better football players.  When I’d look at their papers and make them rewrite this sentence or rethink that section, they’d be miffed at me (at which point I was kind of glad for that 300 pounder to be worn out by practice), but it made them better writers.  Likewise – Deaconess Jennifer has been called here not to “do” this congregation’s service, not to “do” the service you all are supposed to be doing – but to coordinate, to train, to encourage you in your service – and even to get on your case a bit if needed.  She is here for your good, for your blessing, to help you do better the things God has given you to do.  Remember that.  Show her the love and respect that is her due, and remember that when she asks you to do things, suggests things for you to do – that’s her job, and it is for your good.

          Likewise, Deaconess Jennifer – remember why you are here.  You are here to help and serve the members of St. John’s grow in love and kindness.  And there will be times that will be difficult – when your requests and encouragement don’t meet with the responses you are hoping for.  When this or that seems to stagnate, or when it would seem to be quicker and easier for you to just skip them and do things yourself.  You are here to help them serve and grow in service, not to be their replacement or substitute.  Strive to help them to see and know all the boundless opportunities God gives them to love and serve their neighbors, so that that they find joys in serving in ways of which they have no inkling of now – that is why you are here – to help guide and teach them the joys of love and service.  Even when they frustrate you.

          Now, with what I have just said, things may seem, daunting.  Ugh, this preacher just said that the Deaconess is gonna make us work.  Ugh, this preacher said that this congregation’s gonna make me work!  The reality is this – life in this fallen world is hard – that is what sin does.  It makes things hard.  And sin isolates us – Adam and Eve were created by God to work together, to serve together – but as soon as sin comes in, there’s finger pointing and hatred and isolation.  Sin looks precisely like someone being hungry, but given no food, naked but not clothed, sick or in prison and not visited… hurt and wounded and not cared for… sorrowing and not comforted… needing to learn but not taught… wanting to serve but left out.  Isolated, alone.  And our sinful flesh will try to deceive us, try to tell us that is a good thing to be on our own, to have our way – but it’s not.  I, as the Circuit Visitor, am pleased beyond the ability to say that St. John’s has called Deaconess Jennifer – because this will be good for this congregation, good for her/you.  You will have such encouragement to fight against that inertia of sin, you will get to see growth in people you love and care for – you all together will learn to see past the selfish and hateful lies of Satan more and more.  This is a blessing, a blessing I wish more congregations would realize and take advantage of – but our old sinful flesh can be stubborn and lazy and cantankerous.  And your old sinful flesh will act up in the years to come, that’s just the reality of life in a fallen world.

          Over and against that, in the midst of when things are hard and difficult, remember who you are.  You are the baptized children of God.  You are those who are washed and redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb.  Christ Jesus has died for you and all your sins are forgiven, they are no more.  Even as they rear their ugly head, Christ has already defeated them.  You are His – you’re the sheep.  He has claimed you as His own already, your life has already been consecrated unto Him, your hands already move at the impulse of His love.  This is the truth – You are forgiven, you are God’s Child, you are redeemed.  And you will hear this truth preached week in and week out by Pastor Griffith from this pulpit, you will sing out this truth week in and week out in the liturgy and hymns here, you will taste this forgiveness from this very altar.  And now, with your Deaconess, during the rest of the week, the fruits of that forgiveness will flow.  The Holy Spirit who has given you faith, who has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the faith – the same Spirit by whom you confess that Jesus is Lord has given you gifts and talents and skills, and He will work through you all together, deaconess and congregation, to bring those forth more and more.

          My dear friends in Christ – this is a joyous day.  God is going to work in you and through you goodness and mercy that none of us here can predict or see, the Spirit will use you as His instrument, making you servants.  In this, Deaconess Jennifer will be your aid, your guide – rejoice in this, and when those moments when it seems hard arise, return here to this place, hear Christ Crucified and Him preached and proclaimed to you and for you, be refreshed by forgiveness.  Christ Jesus who died and rose to give you life everlasting has in his great love for St. John’s and for Deaconess Jennifer brought you together to enrich your lives now, to enrich this congregation, to enrich this community.  All thanks be to God for His great and underserved love towards us, His unworthy servants!  In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit +