Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Insecurity is the Enemy of Theology

Assertion:  Insecurity is the Enemy of Theology.

So, what do I mean by saying this.  Consider the parish pastor, going out to preach, to teach, to do theology.  And let us say that in the moment, he is driven by insecurity.  What happens?  That fear, that insecurity colors and shapes the way anything theological is done.  Let's ponder some hypothetical examples.

If he is insecure in his support, or finances, or worried that the congregation is going to cut his salary, kick him out if he doesn't toe their own lines - the temptation is going to be to give in and wuss out (which I'll assume here is bad theology), or he might just, in an effort to try to bolster his flagging security, dig in his heels even more, and by George I'll show them and preach a rip roaring sermon against their sacred cow... which can lead to a sermon on how Lazarus and the Rich Man shows us and demonstrates that the bad issue of the day (insert here: lay deacons, syncretism, not wanting their pastor's bad chanting to drive the service, etc) is utterly wrong.  In either case, the theology is bad.  It's not driven by what the Scriptures say, but by the baggage our fears leads us to bring to the Scriptures.

Or let's say that there is a pastor who is insecure in terms of whether or not a position is socially popular.  On the one hand, they could cave to social pressure.  On the other, they could overreact against that social pressure... and then everything gets shaded to stand against that social pressure.  That's how you get sermons on the Lost Sheep that either say, "This means we must welcome the (insert socially dis-privileged group de jour) and support them in their struggle" or "This means that (insert same socially dis-privileged group de jour) is ruining our country and leading the tender sheep of our youth astray."  Both sort of miss the point... you know, that there is joy over repentance and you yourself ought be repenting rather than bragging about your righteousness.

You see, when we are insecure, we feel the need to act.  Our old sinful flesh's solution is to try to do something to make ourselves comfortable.  We will fall into fight or flight.  We'll either fight the source of our insecurity tooth and nail (and often foolishly), or we'll fly away from any semblance of something that might cause the discomfort, and go through ridiculous hoops to make those causing discomfort never want to discomfort us again!

Neither of those makes for good theology.

Especially Lutheran Theology.  Lutheran theology is grounded in security.

Consider.  The Law shows me the sin.  The Law is good and wise.  I am a sinner.  If I say I have no sin, I deceive myself and the truth is not in me.  The Gospel is that Christ has died for me.  He has risen for me.  On account of Him, I have forgiveness, life, and salvation.  This is most certainly true.

See there.  Nothing insecure there.  Just straight up statement of truth.

Because that's what our theology is.  While it may speak to the controversy of the day, it isn't driven by it.  Nor does it become obsessed with it.  Rather, good theology desires to remain secure - that is centered on Christ Jesus and His Word.

Everything else comes and goes.  The great scandal of one day, which caused such insecurity and consternation, is a back burner issue a generation later and becomes a matter to explain in the footnotes in the history books a generation there after.  And yet, Christ and His Word remain.  A safe, secure point in the midst of the intellectual and social storms of the world.

Drop your axes, preachers!  They need not be sharpened.  You are the speakers of peace; Christ has returned the swords you draw in your insecurity unto their sheathes.  You are plowers now, attentive to the Word of God.

"Preach you the Word and plant it home/ to people who like it or like it not./ The Word that shall endure and stand/ when flow'rs and men shall be forgot." 

Dare I say that will endure when your insecurity of the day is forgot.

You are in Christ.  You are secure, no matter what the world tells you.

+ + + + + + + + +

I'm serious about this.  I am.  Here's a little observation from Saturday Night Bible Study this past week on 1 John 3.  Consider the following:

"16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?"

Now, here's the options, and there are two laid out here.  On the one hand, we love like Christ, and in so doing we die.  We lay down our lives for our neighbor.  On the other hand, we hate, we "close our heart."

Actually, the Greek is we close our "guts" - our splagchna.  It's the same word that gets used for compassion - when Jesus has compassion upon the crowd it's the verb for "guts" -- He gutted, His guts were wrenched.  You can, if you want, run things via hate - that is, on the basis of fear and insecurity and whom you need to fight against.  The only thing is... well, that closes your guts.  Think on that.

Closes your guts.  Obstructs your bowels.

You know what that does?  It kills you.  Really, really painfully.  And you are full of it, and you die.

See, here's the reality.  You're going to die.  Either way, loving your neighbor or not - you are going to die.  You can die in Christ, secure in His love and showing forth that love, proclaiming the Word with joy... or you can die without security, insecurely fighting and scrambling and trying your best to make the danger go away, thinking that if you just hate the right people you can give yourself a bit of a longer or better life.  And you still die.  Painfully.  Uncomfortably.  And full of it.

's the truth.  Embrace it.  You're going to die.

Oh well.  Christ died.  He rose.  For You.  And thus though you die, yet you will rise and live forever, and no one, no insecurity can take this joy from you.

This is most certainly true.

See.  Isn't that better?  Isn't that security freeing (for freedom you have been set free!)?  Insecurity is the enemy of theology.  That's okay - Christ is insecurity's enemy.  Look to Him; Christ and His mercy triumphs over insecurity.  Even yours.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Trinity Sunday Sermon

Trinity Sunday – May 21st and 22nd, 2016 – John 3:1-17 and Isaiah 6:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
“Now, there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night...” The beginning of our Gospel lesson, dear friends, ought to give us pause. And I say this especially because we are in John's Gospel today, and John brings in some unique details, has a unique approach in telling the Gospel of Christ Jesus. And today, we get the famous John 3 passage, and we can want to jump right to the end, to John 3:16 since we've all got that verse memorized, but let's just pause and think about this. Nicodemus comes by night. Doesn't that seem fishy to you? Off to you? I mean, as a Pastor I get that there are some questions you might want to ask that are personal and not in front of everyone else – but Nicodemus isn't asking a question. Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God.” There's nothing scandalous there, nothing you'd need to wait for nighttime to bring up. But John is making a very specific point about Jesus, a point about Nicodemus here. On Christmas day, the Gospel reading is John 1, in which reading we hear of Jesus, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

On Trinity Sunday we start the teaching time of the Church year, and here we get lesson 1. Just who is God, what is He like? Who is this Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that we worship? We can talk a lot about Him, we can confess (as we do in the Athanasian Creed... at length) that there is one God but three persons, and that each person is God and yet there are not three Gods but One God. Yes, it's confusing and complicated and we can't fully wrap our minds around the Trinity; of course not, do you think the inner workings and existence of God Almighty is going to fit in our tiny skulls? We aren't called to “understand” the Trinity, but we confess it. But this Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – what's He like? What's His attitude towards people? I mean, especially as we are sinful men, as we mess up in spades. Sinners don't expect to do well in the hands of an angry God. I mean, take Isaiah – he is just minding his own business in the temple one day, and he looks up and then, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple.” Suddenly He sees God filling the place – and there's angels, there's “Holy, Holy, Holy” - the place is shaking, it's filled with smoke. And Isaiah sees all this, and he has a quite logical reaction. I'm dead. I'm dead meat, I am toast. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah expects to die! Right there, Isaiah expects to die. The whole face melting thing from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark – that's what Isaiah is expecting. Yet that's not what happens. The angel brings a coal from the altar, burning with fire, burning bright and giving off light, and places it upon Isaiah's lips and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” God doesn't smite Isaiah – instead, He forgives him.

Okay, but that's Isaiah, and he's a prophet and all. If there's someone who'd get an exception to the mean angry God wanting to smite everyone, surely it would be Isaiah. So let's come back to our Gospel. There's Nicodemus. And who is Nicodemus? He's a Pharisee. Think on all the problems the Pharisees cause for Jesus. Strike 1. And he's a ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus is a leader, a member of the Sanhedrin, and the angry mob that he was supposed to be leading is going to end up calling for Jesus to be crucified. Strike 2. And finally, he comes by night. This is a bold and mighty strike 3. In that giant battle between Light and Darkness, Good and Evil, God and Sin... Nicodemus is clearly stuck right there on the wrong side. Night time is the time when you do wickedness. And it's clear as the conversation goes on that Nicodemus isn't getting stuff, that his thoughts are off. So, of course, Jesus looks to his disciples and says, “Call Me down some fire and brimstone from heaven to smoke this joker”... wait. No, that's not actually what happens.

Jesus talks to Nicodemus. Patiently. I mean, it's not a great conversation for Jesus. Every time Jesus says something, Nicodemus messes up. Jesus speaks to being born again, getting to see the Kingdom of God (see – something that would require light, not darkness). That's a great thing – hey, there's new birth, being born again, born from on high (because “again” and “from on high” are the same word in Greek), and you'll get to see the Kingdom of God. And Nicodemus' response? Wicked. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Wicked. That's an old testament pagan answer, that's one that would make a Babylonian blush. And, yet again, Jesus shows patience.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, He cannot enter the kingdom of God.” No, actually I'm pointing to Baptism here, Nicodemus. And yes, Jesus here talks about the Father and the Spirit – it's all happily Trinitarian. Just as baptism is – In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But Jesus goes on to tell Nicodemus that Nicodemus is in a bad spot here. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'” Listen, you are thinking earthly, sinful thoughts, here. You're down in the muck – I'm trying to give you heaven. I am going to bring you out of this fallen life in the world where you live for a bit and chase after vain pleasures and then you die – and instead I'm going to give you eternal life, I'm going to give you the Spirit of God once again, the same Spirit who breathed in to Adam's nostrils the breath of the life. This is good for you, Nicodemus.

And then Nicodemus just brings more sass. “How can these things be?” Yeah right, Jesus! Just how in tarnation do You think You're going to pull that one off? Three times Nicodemus speaks, three times he speaks disdain and wickedness. That's three strikes again, surely You'll punch him out now, Jesus, right? Nope. More patience. Maybe a little bit of exasperation on Jesus' part - “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” Come on, Nicodemus, everything in the Old Testament drives to this. This is Genesis 3 stuff – I'm here to bruise Satan's head and restore mankind. I've come down from heaven to do this. Or Moses – think on the bronze serpent – see Me and live! That's the point, that's the goal, that's the game plan.

Then we get, finally, to the famous verse – John 3:16 (and I'm going to include verse 17). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” Think about this. This verse, about God's great love, love that takes Jesus to the Cross and kills Him so that you get to live, isn't said in the context of people doing stuff for Jesus. Jesus isn't looking at the disciples when He says this. It's not a matter of “well, you guys are trying so hard, so I guess I can die for you.” He says it to Nicodemus, he says it to a rude, crude, dirty old man who ignores the Scriptures when it's his job to teach the Scriptures. Nicodemus is pond scum... and yet, Jesus, with patience and kindness, tells Nicodemus that God's sacrificial love is for him. And just to make sure we don't get confused – the Son wasn't sent into the world to condemn it. The world is doing a perfect fine job condemning and destroying itself thank you very much – no, Jesus comes to save.

So, who is this Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit? He is the God that loves you and comes to save you. That's lesson number 1. Really, it is. To save you, not because of what you do, not because of what you can bring to the table, but because that's who He is. Who is our God – our God is the One who says, “Oh, good night, man has sinned and is going to die. Guess I better become man and die and rise for their sake to save them.” This is why John in his first epistle will spell it out again – God is love. Seriously. Really. Really really, no bones about it. This is lesson one. This is why the preschoolers sang “Jesus loves me” over and over this past year. Because that's the point, and everything that happens in this place revolves around God's love for you. Period.

You realize, it is precisely the fact that God thoroughly loves us that lets us examine ourselves and confront our sin. If you think that God is mean and evil, you hide stuff. You do it at night, thinking that way you're away from the light. And off and alone and isolated, you sin, you do stupid stuff that only ends up hurting you and causing pain to yourself and others, because all sin is stupid and bad. This Trinity season we'll have plenty of lessons that examine how and why all sorts of sins are stupid and bad. You know what – God doesn't want you stuck in those sins. He doesn't want you stuck in darkness, stuck in the desires and passions of the flesh. That's why Christ Jesus came – and not to smite you for those sins... He came as the Light of the World, to remove and banish that darkness. He came bringing baptism, to take you who were flesh and to give you His Holy Spirit, to create a new heart within you. You think Isaiah got something when he got a burning coal from the altar – from this altar today you get the Light of Light incarnate's own Body and Blood. All your sins, even the scary, nasty ones, even the ones that you still struggle against, have been forgiven by Christ the Crucified. Go now, depart not in fear and dread, but in peace. God loves you, an d He is with you, and He is with you always, even until the life of the world to come. Who is the Triune God? He is love, love come down to you to rescue you from sin and darkness. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Pentecost Sermon

Pentecost – May 14th and 15th – Acts 2 and John 14
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit +

Dear friends in Christ, a joyous and happy Pentecost to you. Pentecost, 50 full days after the Passover, Pentecost, the 50th day after Easter, Pentecost – that joyous day where we remember the disciples stepping boldly into the temple and preaching Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins to so many that needed to hear His Gospel. That is what we think of first when we think of Pentecost, isn’t it? The preaching of Christ? Is that what we think of when we speak of Pentecost? Or do our thoughts focus on the Holy Spirit off in a vacuum? Pentecost is sometimes thought of as the Holy Spirit’s day – the day where we finally focus on the Spirit – and the Spirit’s phenomenal acts of power and might. Behold the tongues of flame, behold the speaking in tongues, behold the boldness!

To what point, my dear friends? Why does the Holy Spirit appear as tongues of fire, why does He grant for this day the ability to the Apostles to speak in tongues? Was it simply a demonstration of the Spirit’s power? Was it a matter of the Holy Spirit wishing to remind us that He is here and active? “I'm over here guys, don't forget Me”? Peter tells us the answer by quoting the prophet Joel – God will pour out His Spirit so that people will prophesy, and there will be visions, and wonders – and all for one reason. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the Name of the LORD shall be saved. This is what Peter tells us. And immediately after quoting Joel, telling the people in the temple what they are seeing – this is what Peter preaches. Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.”

7 Weeks ago, Peter had been hiding in a locked room for fear of the Jews. Now, on Pentecost, He and the other Apostles stride boldly into the temple, filled with the Spirit, and they proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ. The miracle, the wonder of Pentecost isn’t the tongues of flame. The amazing thing isn’t that the Spirit grants the Apostles the ability to speak in tongues – but rather that by the working of the Spirit they speak at all. Gone is the fear of 7 weeks ago, gone is the confusion and bewilderment of the Apostles at the Ascension as they stood dumbfounded staring up into the sky – and rather the Spirit has come, and now they boldly preach Christ and Him Crucified for our Salvation.

That is the miracle of Pentecost, dear friends. The tongues of flame are neat, but they simply bear witness to the fact that these men have been anointed by God for this task. The speaking in tongues, that is simply so more people can hear and understand. The key thing, the important thing, that which the Holy Spirit has continued to do through all the ages since that first Pentecost is that the Gospel of Christ Jesus is proclaimed. This is what the Spirit does – He points to Christ, for it is in Christ Jesus that we have life and forgiveness and salvation, and there is no other name under heaven or on earth by which we are to be saved. That is how the Spirit is the giver of Life – He gives out Christ Jesus and Christ’s life.

The miracle and wonder of Pentecost, the true miracle and wonder, continues to this day, in every time and place where Christ the Crucified is proclaimed. We know and we see that the Holy Spirit was active on Pentecost. Do you think He is any less active today? Do you think that the Holy Spirit has taken a breather? Saint Paul teaches us that no man may say Jesus is Lord, that no one may confess Christ Jesus, except by the Holy Spirit. Does that not continue on to this day? Is not the Word of God preached here in this place even to us unworthy sinners? Do we not marvel that God deigns to come to us and give us forgiveness? And moreover, do not you yourselves speak of Christ Jesus and what He has done for you, what He has done for the whole world, to your family, your friends, your neighbors? Behold God’s Spirit at work for you and through you!

Sometimes when we look at Pentecost we can become whimsical. Oh, if only we had what the Apostles had. Sometimes when we look at Pentecost we become depressed and ashamed. I don’t see the Spirit at work in us like that, what’s wrong we us? Here's the thing though - when we think like that, we are looking at the wrong thing. Do you wish to know if the Holy Spirit is indeed active today in the Church? What then, should you look for? Not the speaking of tongues, not fires and flames and other such stuff. Look for the preaching of Christ! Is Christ proclaimed for the salvation of sinners? Hear what Jesus says concerning the Spirit and what He will do. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; My Peace I give to you. That’s our standard – that’s how we are to look at and judge the Church. Jesus tells us what the Spirit will do. Is Christ taught? Yes indeed. Do we remember that which Christ has said? Yes indeed. Do we receive peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace that comes from the forgiveness of sins, does the peace of the Lord come to be with you always? Yes indeed. Then we know that the Holy Spirit is indeed active here, and active for us. The Holy Spirit is active in His Church, for the Spirit is the One who calls by the Gospel and enlightens and sanctifies and keeps people in the one, true faith.

Dear friends, we are the Church of Pentecost. We are the Spirit’s own Church. And our focus is not upon trying to make the Holy Spirit bring forth tongues of flame again – our focus is not upon seeing how we can do neat things like speak in tongues again. If the Holy Spirit wants you to speak in tongues, you will, and if He doesn’t, nothing you do will make Him let you speak in tongues, so don’t worry about it at all. That’s not what Pentecost was about. Pentecost was about the preaching of God’s Word spreading to every tongue – even strange tongues like Median or Lybian – or even eventually to the strangest language of them all – our own English language. Flames and tongues do not make the Church – rather we are the Church for we preach the same message and indeed, we benefit ourselves from the same message that was proclaimed by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles on that first Pentecost.

In the Creed we confess that we believe in one Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. We even call one of our creeds the Apostles’ Creed. When we say these things, we are making a claim – we are claiming that we hold to the same things that were preached on Pentecost, that we teach the same things that were taught, that the same Spirit who saw Christ proclaimed on Pentecost sees that Christ is proclaimed in our midst this very day. Towards the end of Acts 2, Luke describes for us what those who believed at Pentecost did. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Is this not the same thing that we do to this day here in this house? Do we not week in and week out gather together for fellowship in the Word of God, hearing His teaching? I know we call that room there the parish hall or the fellowship hall – but it is here, in the Sanctuary where Biblical Fellowship takes place. Fellowship isn’t Christian social time (not that there’s anything wrong with some good social time, mind you) – but it is where two or three are gathered together in the Name of Jesus, where we are gathered together into one people to Hear God’s Word and receive His forgiveness. We here with our fellow Christians confess our sins and receive forgiveness. We here with our fellow Christians devote ourselves not to the ramblings and personal opinions of some quack who happens to be our Pastor, but to the teaching of the Apostles, to the Word of God, to what Scripture teaches us. It is here in the Sanctuary that we devote ourselves to the breaking of Bread – that is our Lord’s own Supper, where He took bread and broke it and gave it to the Disciples. It is here in the Sanctuary that we devote ourselves to “the prayers” – that we gather together and pray all the prayers in the liturgy of the Church that we Christians have prayed for centuries, some even since the day of Pentecost word for word.

Just as the message of Christ crucified for sinners was proclaimed on Pentecost, it is proclaimed here today. And just as people on Pentecost heard and by the power of the Spirit believed, so too we hear the Word today and the Holy Spirit makes us to believe. We have our sins forgiven again and again here in God’s Church, we grow from the preaching of the Word, we receive forgiveness and strength from our Lord’s Holy Supper, we live out our lives as the Baptized, daily dying to sin and rising to Christ – and why? Because the Holy Spirit is active, because the Holy Spirit is active among us, because the Holy Spirit breathes life into us by the Word of God, and we rejoicing believe in the promises of Life and Salvation given to us in Christ Jesus. Indeed, by the Spirit of God we confess this same Jesus, we add our own voices to the great throng of saints who have gone before us – we join in the chorus of Angels and Archangels, and glorify God Almighty for the Redemption He sent us in His Son Christ Jesus. As Peter says, “The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the LORD our God calls to Himself.” As Peter says, this is for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit - Amen.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Easter 7 sermon

Easter 7 – John 15 and 16 – May 7th and 8th, 2016

Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia – Amen
This world can be a kick in the teeth. Actually, that's often soft selling it. If we listened to Jesus, if we believed Him when He warned us about hardship in this life, we would not only say that this world can be, but we would be expecting the world to kick us in the teeth, repeatedly. Well, how's that for a cheery start to a sermon? “My dear Christian friends, expect your life to stink on ice”. Pastor Brown, that's not the positive message we want to hear; that's not the sort of stuff that's going to sell well down at the Christian bookstore. Oh well. Because really, in this Easter Season, as we move towards Pentecost, what we hear from Jesus is warning after warning about how life in this world is going to be hard. We get the climax of that in our Gospel lesson today - “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”

Now, let's talk about this for a bit historically. In the Roman Empire, there was no freedom of religion as we think of it today. In Rome, there were religions that were legal and religions that weren't – and if you practiced one of those illegal religions, you were viewed as an enemy of the state, a corrupter of society. You were liable to be punished. Now, Judaism was a legal religion. Rome respected it because of its antiquity – and at first the early Christians were considered a variation of Judaism... hence, legal. But what happens within in the first few decades? The Christians are put out of the synagogues. They are legally no longer Jews (especially not once they start preaching to those gentiles, oy vey!). Which means they are open to persecution. Which means when Nero takes the throne in the 60s and he wants to blame someone for all the social unrest – there you go Christians, enjoy the lions in the coliseum. When Jesus says you'll be put out of the synagogue – that is Jesus telling the disciples that from Rome's perspective, it will be open season on them. And even more than that. They'll be killed. Of the 12 disciples in that room, only 1 of them dies of natural causes. That would be John, the fellow who writes this Gospel, and he dies in exile. All the others, they get killed off. Quite often gruesomely. By folks who think they are doing God a favor in slaughtering them. How's that for a nice, chipper message for us this day? Why? Why such a downer Jesus?

I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” And again, “But I have said these things to you that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” Jesus knows what is coming. He's hours away from His own crucifixion when He says this, and He knows how lousy that's going to be. He knows fear; He's going to sweat blood in Gethsemane come this night. And He knows what Satan is about. Satan will use the world to try to scare the dickens out of the disciples, to have them flee and abandon the faith. And so Jesus is giving them a heads up – bad stuff is coming, be prepared. It's an utterly refreshing honesty. Jesus isn't some dentist who says, “this won't hurt a bit” before he inflicts utterly excruciating pain upon you – He's straight forward and honest. That way the disciples can be prepared.

In fact, Jesus knows they won't be prepared by their own power. Jesus knows that they'll all be running away while He gets arrested. He knows fear and terror are going to run wild in their lives. And so He says something of great importance at the start of our text. “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.” Here Jesus is pointing forward to Pentecost, to the coming of the Holy Spirit. And note what the Holy Spirit, the Helper, will do. He will bear witness about Christ Jesus. He will bear witness about Christ the Crucified. He will bear witness about that same Jesus who is handed over to the Romans, beaten, whipped, and Crucified. He will bear witness to that same Christ Jesus who cries out to forgive folks from that Cross. He will bear witness to that Christ Jesus who declares, “It is finished.” He will bear witness to that same Christ Jesus who rises from the dead and shows up to the disciples in the midst of their terror and says, “Peace be with you.” And the Spirit will do this, even when they are being kicked out of the synagogues, even when people think they are doing a service to God in killing them. At all turns the Spirit will point to the Truth, to Christ Jesus Himself who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Spirit will bear witness to the truth of Christ's victory, of the salvation Christ wins, of the eternal life He brings, even as the world kills them. Even as the worst falls upon the disciples, the Spirit will say, “Behold Christ – the worst fell upon Him, and it was for your sake that it did. He died, yet He rose. So do you. Peace be with you.”

But now, what of you? What of you, living here, showing up here this fine day in Herscher, Illinois? As much as we complain about persecution, it's not really as likely to hit us as it hit the Apostles. Indeed, there are plenty of places, especially in Africa or the Middle East where Christians are killed daily – I'm sure some will be killed today. But what of us in the middle of America? When Jesus paints a rather dour picture of life for the Apostles, indeed, for the Church, He notes, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” Jesus' honesty, His constant reminders that we ought not be surprised when the world hates us, a theme that is echoed often throughout the entirety of the Scriptures, is designed so that we know, that we see and understand what happens in this world. As Christians, we know that we are sinners living in a sinful world. We know that sin is rebellion against God, is a hatred of God. Thus, we of all people shouldn't be surprised in the least when things in this world go badly, especially when they go badly to us. Luther once said something along the lines of, “We should not be surprised when some misfortune befalls us; rather if ten misfortunes ten times worse hit us ten times every hour it wouldn't even be a tenth of what we deserve.” We get just how badly sin has messed up the world, and we should know and expect sin to mess with us.

But what happens? What are our expectations? There is this nasty expectation that we have as American Christians where we think and expect that everything should go our way, that if we are just nice little Christian boys and girls that God will pat us on the head and give us blessings (by which we mean stuff) out the wazoo. This is what American Christianity sells – it's what you find in the bookstores, on the radio. Even the fire the brimstone preachers want us to get our act together so that God will bless us instead of smiting us. Everything revolves around us doing good so that then we can make God do good stuff to us. We are taught to be spiritual capitalists – invest a bit of time with God and get a giant yield.

The problem is... it's all a lie. It's not taught by the Spirit of Truth. Jesus – Jesus spends His time warning us that this world will kick us in the teeth. “But what if we're really really good, don't we deserve something then?” Well, you ain't as good as Jesus, and in this world even He got crucified. And here's what happens, here is what is so diabolical about all this prosperity junk – Jesus warns us so that we won't fall away, so that we won't be surprised when the lousy comes. Indeed, He sends His Spirit to see us through the lousy times that inevitably will come. But how often, how many folks do you yourselves know who have fallen away from the faith because they had false expectations, because they thought that being a Christian meant life would be easier... more stuff, nicer family, happier life, better job, well behaved kids who never touched the drugs, so on and so forth... and then it wasn't, and then they get angry at God, at the Church, at everything, and run away? Do you see, my dear friends, what Satan is trying to do? Satan wants to sell you a bill of goods, sell you stuff God never promised, so that you get angry and despair.

Instead of this, Christ gives us His forgiveness and life and salvation, so that we actually stand defiant against Satan and the world, even as they do their worst. We don't sell platitudes here, our songs are not sentimental pap like you get on the radio. No, what did we open with today? “When through fiery trials your pathway will lie, My grace, all sufficient, will be your supply.” Alright world, bring it on! Or how we'll close - “Jesus lives! The victory's won! Death no longer can appall me.” “Jesus lives! And now is death but the gate of life immortal. This shall calm my trembling breath when I pass its gloomy portal. Faith shall cry, as fails each sense; Jesus is my confidence.” Do you hear the defiance, the boldness – not in ourselves, but in Christ Jesus and the victory that He has won? The world can do nothing to you, death can do nothing to you, for Christ is risen and His is the victory over all these things.

In fact, here is the truth. We here have nothing to fear from death. We've all already died. That's what baptism is – it is your death. You have died already – “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” Your sinful nature has been drowned and destroyed, and you have been given new life, eternal life, in Christ. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” You've been joined to Christ in your baptism, you've been given the Holy Spirit, you have life in Him. And now we live learning to see and understand that our sin is forgiven, learning to beat down, to daily drown our own sinful flesh so that Christ's love would flow forth freely, enduring our time of labor and trial until for Christ's sake we are raised to life everlasting, raised to share in Christ's victory forever. You are baptized! You are forgiven! You are fed upon Christ Jesus Himself, joined to Him never to be parted from Him!

All around you, the world rants and rages. It makes false promises to lure you away from Christ, and threatens to kill you if you don't comply. And you know what – this is nothing new. You're going to face the same junk the faithful in all ages have faced. But with you, at your side in all this, is Christ Jesus your crucified and risen Lord, who has claimed you in the waters of Baptism, who has given you the Holy Spirit, indeed, who has declared and made your body to be the temple of the Spirit. Jesus knows Satan's game plan – and He's beat it. And Jesus tells you what Satan's tricks are so that you are not knocked off balance or too upset; He sends His Spirit to draw your eyes again to Himself. The Spirit bears witness to Christ, what He has done for us – and that same Spirit bears witness through us to Christ's Victory. Satan cannot win, for Christ is ours. Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia +

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ascension Observed Sermon

Ascension Observed – April 30th and May 1st, 2016 – Luke 24

Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia! Amen.
The Ascension of our Lord is one of those Christian Holidays that sadly in this country has become vastly overlooked. Today, no one thinks about the importance of the Ascension – we are still coming off of our Easter high, and we are maybe looking forward to Pentecost. The Ascension of our Lord seems as but a small speed bump on the way. It wasn’t always that way. Ascension is properly this coming Thursday (40 days after Easter) – and back in the day you’d get as many people showing up on that day as you might for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. It’s a holiday that's mentioned in the Creed – Who ascended into heaven and sits at the right Hand of the Father, from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. That’s a lot of the Creed for this day. And the Ascension hymns – today during communion we'll sing “A Hymn of Glory Let us Sing” – one of the great hymns of Christian History. Though we seem to have abandoned it today, in the past there was an incredible focus on the Ascension.

So why? Why was this day considered so important? You sang the answer – On Christ’s Ascension I now build the hopes of my Ascension. The idea, the importance, is that the Ascension is the proof that all that Christ has done, all that He has accomplished is good, is complete. See, He’s ascended into heaven – at this moment Christ Jesus, true God and True Man – note that, still True Man – dwells in heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, on the day of Ascension, strides through the gates of heaven. As He, as that True Man, is in heaven now, we men, we folks here, know and have the proof that we will be brought through those same gates of heaven on account of Christ. Christ Jesus, our Brother, has won us salvation – in Him Mankind is reconciled to God. See, He's ascended – He wasn't just whistling Dixie when He said, “It is Finished.” That’s the importance of this day, and it spills out in what Christ teaches the Apostles in our text.

Then He said to them, “These are My Words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” The Old Testament constantly and continually shows two things – it shows the devastating results of sin, and it points to the Savior who would rescue us from that sin. The consequence of sin is all over in the Old Testament – from Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, slavery, wars, exiles, affairs, murder – and all the pain and anguish caused thereby. The Old Testament constantly shows how the world is evil and wicked, and how even those who fear and worship God fall into vice, are abused in this world, are in need of rescue. But whenever there is a focus on these things going poorly, God gives a promise as well. The Messiah will come. He will save. He will crush the Serpent’s head, He will reign forever. The Messiah will come and He will win salvation for His people, He will be their righteousness and their God. That is what is pointed to, that is the promise. And what does Christ say? Everything must be fulfilled – everything in the Old Testament that spoke to what Christ would do, from Genesis to Malachi – all of it needed to be done. Jesus is not going to leave the job half done – Jesus isn’t going to give things a good start and then leave it up to us to finish the rest. It must be fulfilled – otherwise Jesus still has more work to do, more things to accomplish.

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” And it has been done, it has been accomplished. Christ has suffered, and Christ has risen. The work, the things needed for salvation, everything that is required, everything that pertains to Salvation – accomplished. Completed. Done. And the proof, the evidence of this While He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. Nothing more remains for Christ to do in order to accomplish salvation – the sins of the world have been paid for. Every sin, everything you’ve done, every lingering bit of guilt you have – Christ has paid for that already. Every sin you’ve suffered, every thing that someone has done to you, every hurt that you’ve received – Christ has paid for that already. Done. This is the reality that we see confirmed when we consider our Lord’s Ascension. There is no sin that Christ has not dealt with. Full forgiveness has been won – and there’s nothing more left for Christ to do regarding sin, regarding salvation. It is finished.

This can be hard to believe, sometimes, can it not? This is the way in which Satan attacks us, Satan tries to beat us down. Do you feel lingering guilt for your sin? Do the sins of your past loom large? That’s Satan working on you – trying to tell you that your sin is too big, that it still lingers on, that it’s not done away with. But Christ has ascended – and that means your sin is taken care of. You are forgiven. Do you feel lingering grudges and hatreds? Do the wrongs of the past that you have suffer loom large? Again – that’s Satan working on you. That is Satan trying to tell you that what you suffer isn’t taken up by Christ’s suffering, that what others have done towards you is unforgivable. Yet Christ has ascended – and so there is no reason for us to bear any grudge towards anyone for anything – all sin is covered. Everything that Christ was to do – it is fulfilled. This is the idea of objective justification – that because Christ has died and risen again all sin of all time has been paid for – there remains no punishment for it. We need not live in fear of our sin – for Christ has saved us. We need not live in fear of what others have done or will do to us – for Christ has saved us. We need not hold on to hatreds – for Christ has died, even for those people who have wronged us. He has died for them, even if they don’t know, even if they don’t care. It is all fulfilled – see Christ has ascended. Nothing remains, no stone unturned, no sin left uncovered. Christ has done it all and He has done it well. Period. And whenever Satan tweaks us, as He so loves to do, we are to flee to Christ, we are to see and remember what He has accomplished, so that we have peace, so that we live in confidence of our forgiveness, our victory in Christ.

And it is not merely a victory just for us. Christ won this victory for all, and He would have all come to faith in Him, would have us all be in Him. How are they brought to faith? Same way we are. This faith, this growth in the Christian faith, comes by the Word – the Word of repentance and the Word of forgiveness. We who are of the Christian faith – we need this Word preached to us. We need to repent – for we still daily sin, do we not? We still daily let the sins of others affect us, and we use their sin as an excuse or reason not to show love, and so we become even more vile and wretched than them, do we not? When Christ’s Word brings us to repentance – when He pulls us away from our selfish desires, when He cools the heat of our anger and closes the book on our grudges – we see what truly remains – that Christ has won forgiveness, and that Christ’s forgiveness is the highest reality in our lives. This is why we, we ourselves, need repentance and forgiveness preached to us. And seeing this, knowing this need for repentance and knowing the freeing beauty of forgiveness is what prepares us for service to others in this world.

Christ’s victory, Christ’s forgiveness isn’t just our prize, it is that which He won for all – and when we see it, when we know it – then we are able to speak it, to share it, to proclaim it to the people we know in our own lives. Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name to all nations. There is no great mystery to how this is done, how this happens. God works through His Word – His Word upon the lips and tongues of His people – not only Pastors – heaven forbid that Christ’s cross be spoken only in this place by me – but mothers and fathers teaching their children – that is God placing His Word upon His people’s lips. Friends telling their friends – that is God at work. Neighbors to neighbor – again, God at work. When you know, when you are focused upon what Christ has done for you, when you see what a benefit it is to you – then you are ready to speak, then Christ has prepared you and given you what is needed. The Word that you speak is not your own Word – it’s Christ’s Word, the Word that He has given to you, implanted in you, baptized you into, the Word that you have learned, have studied, have grown in, have had placed upon your tongue in His Holy Supper. You merely say what you yourself have received – and the Holy Spirit will work when and where He pleases. And this is where we are at – we are those people who strive to grow in knowledge of God’s Word, grow in understanding repentance and forgiveness, and then God will use us to speak it to others. When we understand the depth of our own sin, how it traps and messes with us – we will have compassion upon our neighbor who is trapped in sin – and more importantly, in knowing how Christ has freed us, we will be able to proclaim to them to their freedom in Christ as well. And we can do this confidently – because we know that Christ has done everything, that all is accomplished – when we speak we speak with confidence – Everything is accomplished by Christ – we simply understand what that means more and more, and we speak so that others might understand more and more as well. We speak, hoping that they too will stride through the gates of heaven with us, all following our ascended Lord.

So thus today, as we celebrate the Ascension, we truly celebrate the security of the Christian faith – the fact that Christ Jesus has done all that is required for our salvation and the salvation of mankind – that we live in that salvation confidently – that Christ will draw our eyes off of sin and unto Himself. The fact that this salvation is for all people, and that Christ will be with us when we share this saving truth with others. This is the hope that is shown on this Ascension day – the hope that is ours every day until the Christ who rose to heaven descends on the Last Day to call forth all believers to His side for all eternity. God, keep us in the faith and give us and our neighbors growth in the same faith until that day. Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia! Amen.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Easter 5 Sermon

Easter 5 – John 16:5-15

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
This passage of John is part of what our Lord taught the Disciples in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, on the night when He was betrayed. Jesus knew that His earthly ministry was coming to a close. Soon would be His death and resurrection, and soon would be His ascension. And our Lord says this – “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper would not come to you.” Christ tells us that the Holy Spirit is going to come, something we see on Pentecost, something that lasts to this day. So then, why is this an advantage? Why is this better than just having Jesus walk around and preach? Why? Because there is a change – because the disciples are going to be apostles – because they are going from mere students who follow Christ to those who go and preach and proclaim Christ, sent out into all the world. The Church would not just stay there in Judea, but Christ will send the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit would work through the Word of God proclaimed by these Apostles, proclaimed by those who follow in their work and teaching until the Church would spread to all nations, even to us today. There would be a shift – it would no longer be that disciples gathered together to only one place to hear Jesus, but that the Risen and Ascended Lord would send His Workers all over the world, and all over the world people would be gathered in to Churches, just like this one, and people would hear the Word of the Lord preached, would receive the True Body and Blood of Christ for their forgiveness, and in this way, Christ would be with us always, even unto the end of the age. Christ is going to spread His Church – He is going to make it be universal, throughout the whole of creation, and He does that by ascending and then giving the Holy Spirit, the Helper, to see that the Church grows through the proclamation of the Word in all lands, to see that congregations are established around God’s Word and Sacraments. This is the advantage – that we don’t have to find the one spot in all the world, the one town or temple where Jesus happens to be – but that He will come to us wherever we are gathered together around His Word, His Font, His Supper.

This dear friends, is the work of the Holy Spirit. By the Gospel, by the Word, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and provides every congregation with everything that they need. Right now, we here in this place have the Holy Spirit – He is here doing His job of focusing us on Christ and causing us to grow in faith. Everything we need for life and salvation is right here – everything that makes a Church a Church is right here – even right now in little old Herscher. This is the gift of the Spirit, this is the advantage the Helper brings.

But it is important for us, dear friends, to give heed to the words which Christ Jesus speaks to us this day – because in this Gospel lesson He tells us precisely what the Spirit will do in this place, what His job is. You see, many people make claims on the Holy Spirit, many people shuffle off their foolishness and crackpot ideas and schemes onto the Holy Spirit. Some people use the Holy Spirit as though He is some sort of trump card – I’m gonna do this cause the Holy Spirit told me to! That’s not what Jesus says the Holy Spirit’s job is. Listen to Christ Jesus, who sends us His Spirit – “And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” The Spirit will come and “convict” the world. What does that mean? It means to speak to, to speak about. When the Holy Spirit is present, there is always the Word of God, and not the Word of God talking about abstract dreams and visions and powers and might – but the Word of God speaking directly, with conviction, about sin and righteousness and judgment – the Holy Spirit is there and makes the Word of God hit home. Makes the Word of God hit you right here in the chest. When you hear the word “convict” it means speaking the Word of God decisively, to drive it home.
The Spirit will use the Word of God to convict us, to hit home concerning sin. “Concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me.” God’s Word speaks bluntly and decisively about sin – and all sin is ultimately an ignoring of God’s Word, of refusing to follow, refusing to believe what God has said. The Holy Spirit’s job is to make it so that we see and know this when we hear the God’s Word of Law preached to us. And this is true – sin is always about unbelief. Think back to lesson 1 of the Catechism – what is the First Commandment? You shall have no other gods. . . Thou Shalt have no other gods before Me. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. If we did this – if we feared God above all things, if our highest respect was upon Him at all times, we would not sin. But sometimes we fear other things more – we fear what our family and friends might say, we fear not being in control, we fear not having our way – and we sin. If we loved God above all things, we would never sin – but we can love ourselves more, love money more, love the respect we get, love popularity and praise more – and we sin. If we trusted God above all things, we would never sin – but we put our trust in our own strength, in our own power, in our own plans – and we sin. Sin always happens whenever we fear, love, or trust something above God. And the Holy Spirit speaks about this with conviction – we might want to dance around our sin, to play it off as not that bad, it’s not that terrible, oh, I was nice over here, surely that makes up for that little bad there. And the Holy Spirit hits us over the head with the Law – no, your sin is vile and it is against God. Every sin, even the ones you like to poo-poo and treat as inconsequential – it is sin against God. Repent. That is what the Spirit does – and if you ever hear someone downplaying their sin, minimizing sin, saying that sin is okay – they aren’t speaking the Word of God and the Holy Spirit is not there. He convicts the world concerning sin.

Our Lord also tells us that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” The world has many messed up ideas about what is righteous, about what is good. And then Christ came – and when you looked at Christ, you saw conclusively what righteousness is, what it looks like. And even then, the world hated this righteousness. They hated Christ’s righteousness so much that they crucified Him – but even in that, even in going to the Cross Christ showed us what righteousness is. He went to the cross to win forgiveness – to see that we sinners receive mercy and forgiveness and eternal life from God. That is righteousness – He does what is right in saving you, even at the cost of His own life. And now we live in the time of Christ’s Church, we live as those who await His Second Coming – and in the meantime, the Holy Spirit will use the Word of God to speak directly and with conviction towards Christ’s righteousness. We do not physically see Christ right now, but the Holy Spirit holds the Gospel before our eyes and says, “See the righteousness of Christ Jesus, righteousness that He showers upon you and gives to you.” The Holy Spirit speaks with conviction the Gospel, the Good News that Christ Jesus is the spotless lamb who has died for us and risen for us. The Holy Spirit declares that Christ is giving us His own righteousness through His Word of forgiveness, through Baptism, through His Supper. The Spirit is the One Who focuses us upon this, Who opens our minds to understand this, Who opens our hearts to believe. And so, we know that whenever one doesn’t point to Christ as the Savior, whenever anyone points to what we must do to win God’s love, what we must give to earn our salvation – we know that they are not speaking with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit speaks concerning Christ’s righteousness, the righteousness by which we have life.

And finally, our Lord tells us that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” Christ Jesus has won the victory over the world, over the devil, over the powers of evil. But right now, we don’t always see that. We look around and see wickedness and vileness and evil. We see Christians persecuted, we see Christians mocked. And we ask ourselves – why doesn’t Jesus just hurry up and come back? The Apostles and the Early Church, they asked themselves that. Luther wanted Christ to return quickly. We do ourselves! Thy Kingdom Come. Come, Lord Jesus! That is the prayer of the Church. And why does Christ delay – I can’t answer fully. It’s good that He does – If Christ had returned in Luther’s day none of us would be here, so we know that God’s love for us had some part in His delay, that He’s waited for us to be brought to faith. How long – that’s in His hands – we trust in Him and pray as He has commanded us. But in this meantime until His second coming, we see the world, and it can be easy to become depressed. We see dog eat dog to get ahead, and we can wonder if our suffering is worth it. And the world continually calls out to us, offers us vain, fleeting promises. And we are tempted. And at those times, the Holt Spirit comes and uses the Word of God to speak to us directly and with conviction this truth – that the ruler of this world is judged. The Holy Spirit points us to the true victory that we have in Christ, the eternal victory. This is why Luther has us sing in A Mighty Fortress “This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will – he can harm us none – he’s judged, the deed is done. One little word can fell him.” Or even our sermon hymn, as I can’t just have us sing A Mighty Fortress every Sunday – verse 7 – “To me He said 'Stay close to Me, I am your rock and castle. Your ransom I myself will be; for you I strive and wrestle. For I am yours and you are mine, and where I am you may remain; the Foe shall not divide us.” Pay attention to what we will sing in a few moments – if you're too bashful to sing, at least open up the hymnal and read along. This Hymn is all about what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit takes the Word of God and makes us to see the victory we have in Christ – even now, even in spite of the world. This is the job of the Holy Spirit.

And so yes, my dear friends, the Holy Spirit is active today, He is the Helper we need today – but He doesn't work necessarily with flash and spectacle. Not necessarily with wonder and awe. No, the Spirit uses the Word of God to speak decisively and with conviction that which we need. The Spirit with boldness proclaims the Law, so that we repent of our sin, all of our sin. The Spirit with boldness proclaims the Gospel, the righteousness of Christ, so that we might cling to Christ alone. And the Spirit with boldness proclaims Christ’s victory over the world, that we might live in confidence and joy. We are part of the Christ’s Church, spread through the world, yet united to our Lord through the working of the Holy Spirit. Let us now then see the fullness of this, and join in with our brothers and sisters in all times and in all places, with angels and archangels even – in our Lord’s most Holy Supper. Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Easter 3 Sermon

Easter 3 – April 9th and 10th, 2016 – John 10:(10)11-16

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
I am going to go back one verse earlier than our Gospel lesson – I could go back more because John 10 begins with this discussion on sheep and the Good Shepherd, but let’s content ourselves with just one. John 10:10 reads as follows: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The old thief, the old wolf has been hounding us since the garden. Satan has been stealing and snatching and killing and destroying since then. And God will not let that stand. God is not content to simply let Satan mess with you, not content to let Satan snatch you away from His Kingdom, not content to let Satan lead you into destructive sin and vice, not content to merely let you die. And so, Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd comes. And why? So that you may have life, so that you may have it abundantly.

And then we get to our Gospel text. How are you to have life? How are you to be rescued from Satan who would do you such harm? “I Am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” What an odd thing. What a strange thing. And of course it is strange, it is the mystery of the ages. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. To our cold and calculating human mind, this verse seems strange. Think about it – plenty of you have livestock, and of course you want to protect them… but are you really going to die protecting them? Not accidentally, but on purpose? If the pack of coyotes comes, are you willingly going to let them chew and gnaw on you so that that old grey mare of yours gets to live? Defend, protect what is ours, we get that. But literally to lay down your life for…sheep? According to cold, hard logic, that makes no sense.

It made no sense to Satan on Good Friday either. There was Christ Jesus upon the Cross, laying down His life. When He could have come down, when He could have run away. That is what Satan had been used to since the fall – “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and flees, and the wolf snatches and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” That’s your description of the history of the world since the fall. Satan entered the garden, and Adam suddenly stopped caring for Eve – It’s her fault God, it’s the woman You gave me who messed this up. Adam cared little for her, take her instead of me. Cain would ask, “am I my brother’s keeper”? I care nothing for him, God, and why should I? And on and on through the Old Testament we could go – we see examples of selfishness and disdain of the neighbor over and over and over. We see it all over, even in the New Testament, whenever we see someone other than Christ. And to be honest, we see it in ourselves. None of us here has to think too hard to think about the times we have been selfish, where we have cared more about ourselves than our neighbors, when we have let someone else suffer rather than suffering in their place. It ain’t my problem, why should I bother? Or even closer – drop the ball for your family this week, let a friend twist and hang? Let someone else do the hard work while you went off and did something else? That's what sinful folks end up doing – we pass the buck. And so Satan was used to jumping in, stealing us away from one another, scattering us, killing our friendships and loves and relationships, while we would run in terror. Satan was used to us men fleeing at his approach. We all like sheep have gone astray.

And then, there is Christ. He doesn’t flee. He doesn’t run away. He doesn’t let Himself be scattered. He does not stray. Instead, when the wolf comes He steps forward and says, “Here you go, wolf, take a big giant bite out of Me.” And He lays down His life. He suffers and dies. Why? Because He wants you to live, to have life abundantly. See, the lie, the myth that sinful man believes is that if he can just keep running, he can outrun sin and death and the devil. That we can be selfish and duck and dodge and keep getting our own, keep running away from every responsibility we face. Let Satan gobble that sheep over there, and he won’t be hungry anymore, and then I can get away and get on with my life. There’s an old joke – “two guys stumble across an angry bear in the woods, and the one guy starts to tie his shoes tightly. Why are you doing that, you aren’t going to out run the bear? I don’t have to out run the bear, I just have to out run you.” That’s how we think – these tough times might get them, but as long as I get through it, it will be fine. We can be callous and cutthroat to survive in the short term – but we forget the simple truth. Satan is relentless. Sin doesn’t stop. The wicked world never stops whirling, and what goes around is coming around again. Run away, seek to save and serve yourself, and it gets you no where. You still end up the same as everyone else. You know what there is? Dead. You run the rat race for riches – you still can’t take it with you. He who dies with the most toys, still dies. Because Satan is relentless, and if left to ourselves, well, as Luther's old hymn puts it, with might of ours could naught be done – soon were our loss effected.

But then Christ comes, and He lays down His life for the sheep. Instead of running, instead of hoping that the wolf will snack on the neighbor so that He could maybe make it until tomorrow (when the wolf will just be back for more) – Christ Jesus goes to the cross – and there on the cross He gives death a meal that it can’t swallow. He gives Satan more than He can chew on. Jesus lays down His life, and then, He rises again on the third day. Death is destroyed, Satan is wrecked. And you now have life – not a life where you simply scramble and hope to survive just a bit longer than your neighbor – but life, life abundantly. Life that lasts through all eternity. Even if Satan still scowls fiercely, even if your flesh and the world grouse and complain – you know the truth. That Christ Jesus has died for you, that He has risen for you, and that in Him you have life. And Satan can’t change that fact. There is nothing that Satan can do that will stop the fact that on the last day you will rise again. There is nothing the world can do to change the fact that Christ Jesus has died for you and that you are His and that He loves you. The Good Shepherd is your Shepherd, and He has laid down His life for you.

“I Am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the Sheep.” You know who this Good Shepherd is, for you are His own. You belong to Him, and you know, you know that He has laid down His life for you. He has claimed you as His own through the preaching of the Gospel – the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith – that faith which clings to Christ Jesus who has laid down His life for you. This is the heart of the Christian faith, the heart of how you relate to God. Christ Jesus has laid down His life for you – and it worked. You are His, you are forgiven, and He even accomplishes His good through you among your neighbors. This is true. This is real.

And Christ continues, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one Shepherd.” Now this is where for too many preachers, the bait and switch comes in. This is where suddenly all the nice stuff about Jesus goes away and you get the lecture about what you need to do. Alright, go find those other sheep, people, go, work, work, work! We could even do a guilt trip – Jesus was so nice for you, can't you just do this for Him? But there's one major problem with that. Is that what Jesus said? No. Jesus said, “I must bring them.” What Jesus speaks here isn’t a command – it isn’t marching orders, it isn’t finger wagging. Rather, it is a promise of what He will do. He will gather His Sheep by the power of His voice, the power of His Word. The Church will continue. Now, humanly speaking, this may happen through us. I've baptized plenty of folks, but is that *me* - Eric Brown growing the Church, or is that Jesus gathering His own sheep? You speak the Gospel to a friend and they believe and are comforted – but is that *you* growing the Church, or is that Christ speaking through you to accomplish what He wills? You see, this passage isn’t meant to be a burden, it isn’t about “you need to do more” – and if someone beats you over the head with this, they are off. No, it is a promise – that just as you have been called by the Gospel, so too others will be. Perhaps even through God working through you – either way, it’s God at work, God in action, to Him alone be the glory. Christ Jesus will gather His sheep, and there will be one flock, and we will all together be under Christ. For He is our Good Shepherd, and He indeed gathers His sheep and brings them peace.

And so, my dear Christians friends, we know and have seen that Christ’s Words are true. He has laid down His life for the sheep, and He has taken it up again. In Christ Jesus, you do have life and life abundantly, for He has called and gathered you into His flock, and His voice still rings out to you this day, saying peace be with you, forgiving your sins, giving you life. He's the Good Shepherd; that's what He does, that's what He died and rose in order to win and give to you. This is the joy and triumph of Easter, this is the Victory that is yours in Christ, and it shall be yours forever, for you belong to Christ. Amen. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The 8th Commandment and Logs

The Eighth Commandment.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
What does this mean?--Answer.
We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.

" A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye." - Luke 6:40-43

Here I am going to set forth just a few thoughts on whom you ought to criticize and how.  This is especially portaining to theological critiques - especially as in our social media days, the critiques come flying fast and furious.

Here's my approach.  It's not a popular one.  I know I've annoyed plenty of folks with it.  But here is an explanation and an apology there of.

When it comes to talking, I try (and often fail) to take the 8th commandment seriously - meaning I think, when discussing someone and their failings, or even their erroneous points of view, it is laid upon us to "speak well of him and put the best construction on everything."  This doesn't mean saying that what is wrong is right, but rather:

A - let's be really slow to vilify, and
B - let's see where a person is right as well.  Instead of just smacking them for error, at least lets see that they are somewhat close to the kingdom =o)

And I do this because I operate on a simple assumption - I am just as flawed at that person whose theology I want to skewer, and I can fall into not merely the same sort of error, but even greater.  And if I see a speck in their eye, but I don't see the equivalent log in my own eye... then I'm not seeing clearly.

If you can't see a way that you yourself would collapse into a error that would be like-unto or mirror the error that you are criticizing... don't comment.  Rather, search yourself, lest you too fall into temptation, for sin likes crouching at your door.

Because I find, when I bear in mind my own weaknesses - it's easier to deal with people.  It's easier to bear with them patiently, because I've already borne up under much worse and much longer in myself (your speck has nothing on my log).  In fact, it's when I have disdain that I become haughty and arrogant and dismissive.

So - there's the goal.  The standard I see as set by Scripture and the Confessions.  To be quick to hear and slow to speak, slow to gab.  Knowing that my anger produceth not the righteousness of God.

And how is that person's error like my own ... for then I can say, "Yeah, I know that temptation.  I've carried it long and hard -- and here's why it is bad."

God grant that He hold me and use me as His servant, unworthy though I indeed am!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Easter 2 Sermon

Easter 2 – John 20:19-31 – April 2nd and 3rd, 2016

Christ is Risen – He is Risen, Indeed, Alleluia – Amen
Peace. This is the Word, the first Word that Christ speaks to the disciples after His resurrection, the Word that is the most important Word in the History of the World. Peace – Shalom – everything is fixed and fine and perfect and it is finished and it's all good again – Peace. In fact, Peace to you. Okay, I suppose we should back up and start at the beginning of the text. “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for the fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.'” So there they are, Easter evening. Everything that we heard last week had happened already – Mary Magdalene had told them that Jesus had risen. We hear in Matthew's Gospel that the angels told the other gals that the disciples were supposed to head on up in Galilee to meet Jesus, and yet what do we see?

The disciples are hiding in a locked room. Hiding and afraid. Hadn't they heard? Don't they know what is going on? Well... yeah, they had heard. But they also know what else they had heard and seen. They had heard and seen the soldiers bust into the garden of Gethsemane! They had heard and seen the mob shout, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” John had even stood there and watched Jesus die. And that evening, at that moment, in the minds of the disciples, the reality of the potential dangers of soldiers or an angry mob coming for them seemed to be a bit bigger, a bit of a higher priority than some “vauge rumors” of a resurrection, especially when given by those, those, those women.

Jesus, as always, shows great and utter patience. And He shows up in that room where the disciples are locked in. Locks don't bother Him – He is Christ Jesus, God Himself risen from the dead – He will go where He pleases now, thank you very much, and no door that the disciples or you or I lock is going to stop Him any. And there He stands in front of His disciples, and what do you think He sees? Does He see pathetic, fearful men who don't listen? Does He see doubt and disbelief and anxiety? Does He see disobedient disciples who need to be admonished, yelled at, whipped into shape? In a word, does He see failures? Because that'd be one way to describe, one way to look at the disciples right there. The lousy friends who ran away, who abandoned Him. The feet He had washed Thursday Night had run away pretty quickly. If Jesus had laid into them, ripped them a new one, not a one of them would have been able to defend themselves against His accusations.

But when Jesus looks out across that room and sees the disciples, He doesn't see failures. He doesn't see disobedient or foolish disciples. Of course not – all their failure, all their disobedience, all the folly – Jesus Christ Himself took that up upon His own shoulders on Good Friday and crucified it. And so Jesus sees rightly – He sees simply forgiven and redeemed men, and so Jesus speaks the great truth, a truth greater and more wondrous than their failures. He proclaims His victory. Peace be with you. Peace. Everything is right, everything is good, everything is set up for eternity, and just as I have risen from the dead, you folks will rise and will live forever. You want the proof - “When Jesus had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.” Do you think it's scary out there, disciples? Are you worried about what they might do to you? Well, they might – fellas, they did it to Me. See, check out the nail marks, check out the spear wound – eh? Doesn't stop Me from rising. Pretty cool, eh? It is only when Jesus has shown them that He has indeed come through the worst the world can throw at Him, that the disciples then relax and rejoice and celebrate.

And then Jesus does something wonderful. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” Yep, this peace is real. This peace that I am proclaiming is the highest truth in the world. And you know what – just as I was sent to speak it to you, I'm going to send you disciples out, and you're going to proclaim that same peace to the whole world – there will be a big old Christian and Apostolic Church (because the Greek word for “sent” is Apostle), and the whole job of that Church will be to proclaim the peace of Christ Jesus. And He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” In fact, I'm am giving you My Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of life, and you are going to go and proclaim forgiveness to the world!

Now here's where we need to be careful, my friends – because we can misunderstand that last verse. I like the way the old King James translated it - Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. It's not “if” in the sense as though I as a pastor in the Church get to sit and pause and look you up and down and say, “Well, I think I'll forgive you today... but not you, bwahahahahaha!” It's not a human ego and power trip. Rather Jesus is saying something wonderful; He says (as I translate it) - “Should you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven them; should you bind anyone, they have already bound themselves.” You apostles are going to go speak a word of truth, declare the forgiveness of sins because of My death and resurrection, and people are going to be forgiven. Now, will some shrug it off, deny it? Well, they've already bound themselves, they've decided to hang on to their sins – you'll get to tell them, “hey, you're hanging on to sin here” - but the point, the goal, the great thing is that Jesus has in fact died for the sins of the whole world. The point, apostles, is to forgive sins.

As a test case of this, our text continues. Now, Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord.” So far, so good, Apostles! Go and tell! Great! But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into His side, I will never believe.” Well... how's that reaction to the first sermon the Apostles preach? And here's the test – here's where the rubber meets the road. What do the rest of the Apostles see when they look at Thomas? You know, the one we like to call “Doubting Thomas”? Do they deride him? Do they cast him out away from themselves – away with you, doubter! We really only need ten apostles anyway – that's a nice round number! Do they view Thomas according to his failings, his doubting, his sin? Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Nope. No rejection, no casting him out, no getting rid of him. Yeah, yeah, yeah, ya doubt, well, come along Thomas. And so Thomas is with them the following Sunday (because the way the Jewish folks counted time, you included the day you were on). And then we hear this: Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” There they are – all 11 of them together this time, and the doors are again locked. Were they just placating Thomas, locking the doors for his sake, or maybe the week had gotten to the rest of the disciples too, and they were scared. Either way – doesn't matter. Jesus shows up and does His Risen Savior thing – Peace be with you. See, that's the point, still, Peace.

But wait, even peace for Thomas? Even peace for stubborn, defiant, doubting Thomas? Well... yeah. Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” There's no lecture, no finger wagging. In fact, Thomas is invited to let his finger do a bit of wiggling and wagging. If you want to go poke and prod, feel free. Let's get rid of that no-faith that you've got and give you faith. Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and My God.” Yep. There's faith. Good. That was the point, the goal. And you know what Thomas – you're going to be preaching to people, people who don't get this finger poking chance. Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Yep – there we here get mentioned in today's text – Jesus isn't going to leave you out. His peace is for you. You are blessed in Him. His Word, His preaching is for you – [T]hese are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name. There's the program. Jesus has died for the sins of the world, and He has risen, and you get told about it so that you get to have life. Instead of clinging to sin and fear, you are given faith to cling to Christ and His Peace. Peace be with you!

My dear friends in Christ – this is the truth, the truth that is proclaimed in this service week in and week out, that we proclaim to each other during the week, the truth we were baptized into, the truth we sink our teeth into and wrap our lips around in the Supper – that Christ Jesus has won forgiveness for our sins and the sins of the whole world. And we are given, as Christ's Church, the duty to sound forth the clarion call of forgiveness to the world. And we do this without judgment, without condemnation – Jesus took that all up. If someone chooses to be stubborn and cling to their sin – alright, suit yourself – but we'll still be here proclaiming forgiveness. Because that's the truth, the reality. Sin is forgiven. Death is undone. And no pouting, no disbelieving spoil sport out there gets to change that truth, that reality. And as for you here – yeah, Satan and Sin and the World are still going to try to terrify you. And sometimes they will, for in this life, you will se e some pain, some fear, some doubt, some sorrow. But you know what – over there in that window, that picture of the Risen Christ, there's Jesus, standing in the posture of blessing – and if you look, you'll see the nail mark in His hand – that hand held up blessing you – nail mark right there. Yeah – pain, fear, doubt, sorrow – He's already seen it all, and it did its worst to Him, and He rose – and He, the Risen Christ, is the one who blesses you, who says peace to you. And that's the reality – and come the Last Day when He comes again, His peace will finally be the only thing you'll see, even unto all eternity. This is most certainly true. And why? Well, you know the answer – Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, alleluia. Amen.