Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What Would Sanctification Look Like?

Why don't you talk more about sanctification?

Why don't you focus more on holy living?

Why don't you tell people more and more what they are supposed to do?

These are the sort of questions that I'll often run across, and I'll admit, they always strike me as sort of strange.  They are so active and aggressive.  They are focused on me and what I do rather than Christ and what He does (He is the one who Sanctifies - we are made to be holy).  Am I to tell you how to have better reason to boast? 

But it does get me thinking.  Do we know what the "sanctified" life would look like?  Think about this - how often in the Scriptures is the great and good example not what we'd expect.

It's not the rich who give proudly - it's the unnoticed widow with her mite.
It's not the official from Capernaum making bold demands - it's the humble Centurion.
It's not the servant who says what he does - it's the one who says he's unworthy and simply does as he was told.
It's not the one who does great and obvious works - it's the one who has love.

You know what Holy living looks like?  Things I don't notice.  Things that don't draw my attention.

Consider the fruits of the Spirit... how often are they noticed, how often do they draw you eye?  Folks being peaceful don't draw your attention - the guy shouting angrily does.  Folks exercising self-control don't draw your attention - the folk whooping and hollering do.

Call me cynical... but I don't wonder if some of these requests aren't trying to find ways in which the old sinful flesh can find "good" things to do that draw the attention back onto itself.  What can I do that I can focus on and see, and that way they'll say good things about me.

There is a famous prayer where we pray for a "quiet and peaceful" life... one that goes by without notice.  That's a good thing.

And you are forgiven in Christ.  That is what you have.  That is what He gives you.  It really is all good, it really is all holy already.

God grant that I would learn to see this more and more and notice myself less and less! 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Trinity 21

Trinity 21 – October 15th and 16th, 2016 – John 4:46-54

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
We don’t get the fullness of who Christ is and what He does. Our old sinful flesh just has a hard time comprehending this. But thankfully our lack doesn’t undercut Jesus. This is what we see in our text today. “So [Jesus] came again to Cana in Galilee, where He had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went down to Him and asked Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.” Jesus had been wandering around, He’s been in Jerusalem, Samaria, but now He’s back in Galilee. So this official from Capernaum hears that Jesus is back in the area, and he goes to Jesus and begs Him to come to his house and heal his son. Seems pretty good so far, doesn’t it? Except Jesus’ reply is sort of curt to this man. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Well, why would Jesus say that to this fellow? He obviously believes. . . I mean, he came to Jesus to ask for healing, he wants Jesus to come. Why would Jesus say that unless there are signs there won’t be belief?

Here is why. This fellow understands that Jesus is holy, that He has power – but he doesn’t get it. What does this official ask Jesus? Come, come and heal my son. I want to see you lay hands on him, I want to hear you cry out with a loud voice, I want You to heal him thusly. He’s still thinking of Jesus like He's some mere wonder worker. The thing is… does Jesus need to walk up to this boy to heal him? Nope. But the man is insistent – “The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’” We are wasting time with talking Jesus, when we should be walking. Let’s get a move on it, before my kid dies. Snap to it! What this fellow completely overlooks is that Jesus doesn’t need to go with him to heal the kid, Jesus can heal him right there. The guy doesn’t fully understand just how powerful Christ is, and so he tries to boss Jesus around. I hate to sound so critical of this guy, but while there is good, while it’s good that he knows to go to Jesus – he’s trying to micromanage Jesus, he’s selling Jesus short, and we need to be critical of things like this, we need to be wary of this sort of attitude, especially in ourselves.

One of the dangers in modern America is a tendency to almost quietly sell Jesus short, to undercut His power, and substitute our own. To think that He can’t do things that He says He does. We had an infant baptism here today/yesterday – yet many would deride this – it's no good unless they decide for themselves – oh, so God can't bring life and salvation unless I act? Kind of makes God out to be sort of powerless. Or there are those who deny that Christ's Body in Blood is really present in the Supper. “He's up in heaven, He can't be down here on the altar!” Or maybe we could stop telling the Word of God that He can't do what He says, hmmm? Or even think about what we hear about prayer. Oh, if you just say this prayer the right way God’s gonna give you all blessings that you desire. Am I in charge of God? Do I get to tell God, “You must bless me and in this way”? Do you see how over and over sinful man wants to tell God how to do His job, what He can and can't do? And this is where the man in our lesson errs. Please heal my son – great. You need to come down and heal him in this way – not so great.

Jesus said to him, ‘Go, your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” Now, I will praise this man. Jesus doesn’t give the man precisely what he asked, what he demanded. Jesus doesn’t go to Capernaum. He does something better. Jesus speaks a word of life. Go, your son will live. And hearing, the man believes – the man gets it. If Jesus says something, it’s going to be, it will be true. And so in faith, he heads home. His plans of dragging Jesus along with him are dashed – but as he walks home, he goes trusting in Christ Jesus and His Word. And that trust proves true – the servants come running to meet him – Your son lives. And what do you know – the son is healed at the very hour when Jesus said, “Go, your son will live.” “This was now the second sign that Jesus did when He had come from Judea to Galilee.” The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Who is this Jesus – well, let’s see, He speaks, and then there is life. Hmm, can we think of Someone who speaks, and then there is life, say life springing up from the ground? This is a God thing that Jesus does – this shows that He is God, that He is the Word of God by Whom all things were made. This is what Jesus does – He restores life. If you want to know who Jesus is, He is the God who gives life, and He gives it by His Word. What Jesus says, is. And this truth is revealed, is shown to us by this miracle – it is the proof of who Jesus is, it is His credentials. This Man Jesus is God come down to save us.

Now, what do we learn and take from this? Consider your own life, what you see. How many of you see your bodies not working like they used to? How many of you see signs of age and wear when you look in the mirror? Oh, as a society we try to hide that today, don’t we? But it’s there. Or how many of you, when you look at your lives see things broken – broken friendships, broken families, broken people, even yourself broken – just all those things that wear you down. Some of these tails of woe I know, some I don’t. You know some of mine, some you don’t. We all have them. We are sinful people living in a sinful world – nasty horrible stuff happens and we all get older and things start wearing down and dreams and plans don’t work out right. This is reality. How do we respond?

The world gives us a few answers. One answer the world gives is to simply ignore these problems, pretend they don’t exist. Oh, you could just go get drunk or high, that way you don’t have to face reality. Or, you could do what is more “socially acceptable” – live for stuff, whatever is the latest and greatest thingamabobber that pops up in an ad. The world offers many ways for us to pretend that the difficulties of life aren’t there – dab a little make-up on and you’re just as young as you used to be, get the spiffy car and you’ll feel footloose and fancy free, or just drink till you forget. And of course, these are all lies – none of it is real, none of it fixes the problem – but it seems appealing. It gives us something we think we can do, something we think we can control – when in reality these problems are often beyond us. Another answer the world gives is the simple dour answer. What you see is what you get. Everything is basically just cold math and random chance and that’s all there is, so smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. Scrap, fight, claw for whatever brief pleasure you can get, because that’s the best it is.

That's what the world can offer. But you know reality. You know what is going on. Sinners in a sinful world. It’s all sin and death attacking us. Change and decay in all around I see. Our bodies, they break and die. Our friendships, they can break and die. Hopes – they can break and die. But this isn’t just the way it is, this isn’t just nature, the random chance of the universe. We are fallen, we have sinned, and the life that we should have had is tainted and fallen and broken, and we of ourselves can’t make it right. We are less than we were created to be, that’s the reality of life in a fallen world, and if left to our own devices, all the toys, all the money, all the sex and drugs, all the ambition and power won’t change that fact.

But even as you see this, Jesus says to you, “Go, you will live.” This is Christ’s message to you, “Go with confidence and peace, face down anything you see in this life, for you will live.” When Christ Jesus goes to the Cross, He is facing down all this junk and trash we see in life, the stuff we don’t like to talk about. He goes to the Cross to fix the fall – and Jesus stares it down, takes it upon Himself, lets the world do it’s worst to Him, lets the world kill Him most cruelly – takes the wages of our sin upon Himself. Yet on the third day – He rises. He rises victoriously over sin, death, the world – all this junk tried to destroy Him and He just strides on out of the tomb. He is the Lord of Life, the God who creates with a Word, the God who forgives with a Word, the God who gives new life in Himself with a Word. And Jesus says to you a wondrous Word, especially when you are feeling the weight of this world upon you – Go, You will live.

Do you feel your own body turning against you? Go, you will live. You will live eternally, and even if you die here, you will live again, better in the resurrection than now, because Christ’s Word of life to you at your baptism will not be broken. Do you look around and see friendships broken, relationships destroyed? Go, you will live. You have been Baptized into Christ Jesus, made part of the Communion of Saints, brought into a family that after the resurrection of the dead on the last day will have no more problems, will not break, but will be united with Christ forever. Do you see things wrong in this world? Go, you will live. You will live eternally in the new heavens and the new earth where moth and rust do not destroy, where there is peace. Do you see your own sin, trying to drag you down? Go, you will live. Christ Jesus has forgiven you, and your sin is done away with, destroyed, and in the life of the world to come it will not be remembered any more. And this is not random, this is not mere chance. God has called you, planned for your salvation even before the Creation.

This is more than we expected, but God does more for us than we anticipate. This is His great love for you. Go, you will live. + In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Trinity 20 Sermon

Trinity 20 – October 8th and 9th, 2016 – Matthew 22:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
The people of Jesus' day, the Jewish folks, had always been looking towards a feast. Not just any feast, but the feast of salvation and victory and life and joy. It's how the Old Testament works. Adam and Eve fall by eating the wrong thing – but God in His mercy provides rescue, gives His children good things to eat. So yes, Adam would work the field and grow crops by the sweat of his brow, but one day – the feast would come. One day there'd be Eden restored – in fact, Eden surpassed – a feast beyond anything that mankind had ever seen.

In the meantime, the people of God would often get in trouble, but God would deliver them through food. When they were slaves, trapped in Egypt, God rescued them from the hand of Pharaoh – and how? While the Egyptians were hit by the 10th plague, the death of the first born, the Jewish people sat in their houses and had a hasty feast. There was the blood of the lamb on the door, and there was the Lamb – roasted quickly. And they had to eat not in comfort, but fully dressed with their staff in their hand because they were going to have to get up and go when Pharaoh finally let God's people go. A feast – but a hurried one, a meager one. It was the feast that they celebrated yearly in remembrance of God's deliverance – in fact, at the time of our Gospel lesson, Jesus in the temple during holy week, the week leading up to the Passover celebration. And so, there Jesus is, speaking to people looking forward to the Passover feast, but also the greater feast, the feast of all time in the Kingdom of God. To these folks, Jesus speaks this parable.

The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. There it is. This is the feast that we've all been waiting for. Not the mere passover meal of lamb and bread and bitter herbs, but God's Kingdom will be like unto a great feast, a royal feast – a King sparing no expense to throw a party for his son and bride. It won't just be the party of the year, or of the decade – it will be the party of all time! It's what we've all supposed to have been waiting for. The great and free and everlasting feast. And the call goes out – the feast is ready! And... crickets. Wah-wah-waaaa. The folks who know, the folks who should have been eagerly looking for this feast – nothing.

Again he sent other servants, saying, “Tell those who are invited, see, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” Maybe they just forgot. Maybe they forgot how wondrous this is going to be. It's not a cold-cut sandwich spread. It's not even that nice family chicken or lamb dinner. This is oxen and calves, the fatted ones even. It's the top of the top folks! Come! Come to the wedding feast and rejoice and celebrate and just have fun! But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. Nope. They wouldn't come. Some just blew the King off – doesn't that just sound like a bad idea, blowing the King off? But anyway, they blow him off, head back not to something better, not even to a different party... but back to the farm, back to the business. Sorry, King – I'd rather stare at the back end of my oxen plowing a field than eat yours; sorry King – I'd rather go build a table than sit and feast at yours. Those were just the foolish ones, but it gets worse. There are scoffers and mockers – folks who mock and manhandle the servants, even killing them. Well, you don't mess with the King. The King was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burnt their city. Could've had a feast – instead, your city in flames. Way to go. Bad choice.

But now, what is our king to do? Then he said to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” Alright, just head on out there, and whoever you come across, whatever they may be – invite them. Tell them of the feast. It doesn't matter whether they are rich or poor, popular or scorned – red or yellow or black or white – bring them all in. Let's pack this party and get it going. And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. Both bad and good. Doesn't matter, let's get the party going. So the servants pack them in, get them all seated, and we're ready to go. But there was one more problem.

But when the King came in to look at the wedding guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth – for many are called, but few are chosen. Well, that escalated quickly. Actually – not really. The custom at the time would be at a royal feast, the king would deck you out royally. Think of it like a themed kid's birthday party – where you walk in and they hand you themed hats – and you go to the party and you wear that little pointy paper hat because that's what we do at the party. Well, this guy's not wearing his wedding garment – he's too cool for school – he's too “good” to wear the royal robes the King gave him. You know what he is. He's a spoilsport. And he was speechless – it wasn't a mistake, it wasn't that he hadn't gotten one – just nope – I want to do my own thing, I don't want to be lame like you folks. And so out you go – no spoilsports at this party – and then the feast begins. Many had been called here, but only a few finally made it to the feast. So what of that – let's eat.

The folks standing in the Temple that day would have known what they were hearing. Jesus, in this parable sums up the history of the Old Testament. Over and over God reminds people of His great feast through His prophets – reminds them of the coming of the Messiah and Salvation. And over and over again the prophets are treated shamefully. Moses is constantly disobeyed and aggravated. The judges are routinely forgotten. Even Samuel, the greatest of the judges, gets put out to pasture and ignored by Saul. And then when God gives Israel an earthly King, as they so wanted, they reject the line of David, and there's rebellion. And then prophets come, and they preach, and they are mocked, beaten, rejected, dragged into exile... and finally, the city of Jerusalem is burned. And all the prophets had called out, “return to God, come and wait on His deliverance, wait on His feast.” Isaiah cried out, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Seek the Lord while He may be found.” Come, come to the feast – seek the Lord while He's here jumping up and down saying, “I'm over here, come to the feast.” And they didn't. And there was destruction.

There is reproof and warning here. Don't reject Me, Christ says, as your fathers rejected me and were destroyed. And yet, by the end of this very week, they will have seized Christ, and treated Him shamefully, and killed him. No more of this! We want to hear no more of this, we are going to do our own thing, we will dance to our own tune, and to hell with what God wants to give us! Oh well. To think that by pouting you would stop God's Kingdom from coming. To think you are going to prevent God almighty from doing what He wants to. Kill the Son – oh well, look at this, He is raised on the third day, and He ascended into Heaven, and when He comes back all the dead will be raised and there will be the everlasting feast of the Lamb, the feast of victory – and there's nothing you can do to stop it.

But in the mean time - “Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” Folks, it's not an accident that at the end of Matthew Jesus tells the disciples - “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, Baptizing them.” That was intentional. He did that on purpose. And here we are in the parable – the invitation has gone out throughout the world, even to strange and exotic places like Herscher. There is forgiveness and salvation in Christ Jesus – He has died and risen and your sins are forgiven. Because of him and in Him you will have everlasting life – simply believe. Come, be baptized into Christ, clothed in the robes of His royal righteousness. Have a foretaste of His feast – see that you are indeed forgiven, that you are joined to Christ – this is His Body, this is His Blood -shed for you for the remission of all of your sin.

Yet, there was one word of warning at the end of that parable. All of us here – we are here, we are worthy, we are chosen and elected – in Christ. In Holy Baptism. We come to this place with trust in the fact that Jesus is righteous and good – not trust in ourselves. And know what Satan will do. He'll try to get to us blow this feast off – to just go back to our business and stuff and ignore the feast. That's not good. Or, more insidiously, he'll try to stroke our ego, tell us that we are here because we're just that good – unlike those bad people over there. Nope – not the way this works. There's not a person in this town, in this county, in this world who shouldn't be in here. And all of us – here not on our own merits, but solely because of Christ. Remember that. See what he has done for you. Fight down your sin, fight down your pride. Confess it all, and rather receive the good things God gives you, because it is His joy to bring you gifts. Walk wisely – that is know your own sin and strive against it, but more importantly, know Christ Jesus who has richly defeated death and won forgiveness for your sin, so that you have everlasting life. Rejoice in the gifts He gives you, now and forever more – for you are called to the everlasting feast, and you are chosen in Christ for everlasting joy and life. You were chosen indeed, In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Trinity 19 Sermon

Trinity 19 – October 1st and 2nd, 2016 – Matthew 9:1-8

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

It was love, pure and simple. It was love that motivated these people to bring this paralyzed man to Jesus. These nameless people in the text – we don’t even know if they were family or friends – whoever they were – out of love and concern they bring this man who can no longer walk to Jesus. In our Gospel lesson today, we see an incredible story of love – love shown to a poor paralyzed man. But we also see a tale of how often God’s love isn’t desired by man, but rather how it is despised and rejected. So that is what we will do - let us compare our thoughts about love and about how to love with God’s Word, and see what we learn about God’s love for us.

And behold, some people brought to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven. When we hear this, we can think that there is something wrong. We can think that the solution doesn’t fit the cure. Your sins are forgiven? Jesus, the guy can’t walk! Who cares about his sin right now – heal him, make him walk! We can almost, if we dare admit it, get slightly annoyed with Jesus – oh, Jesus, just get to the point and heal the poor guy! You know what this means? It means that often our expectations of God’s love are wrong. We can think, “the chief problem here must be that the guy is disabled – so fix it.” But note something from the text. And when Jesus saw their faith – when Jesus sees the faith of these people, the faith of this paralyzed man – sees their heart – that’s when Jesus tells this poor man that his sins are forgiven.

Before this account, Matthew records many miracles – it seems almost routine. Jesus heals lots of folks of lots of things. Chapter 8 itself has a leper, the Centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and two demon possessed men. But this is the first time in Matthew that faith is mentioned with a healing. So maybe it’s not a case of Jesus missing the point, but Jesus hitting things spot on. Think about, for a moment, the times when things go badly in your life – when things go wrong. How often does that thought creep in – “maybe I did something to anger God – maybe this is my sin coming back to bite me”? How easily we can become burdened with guilt and shame! This was the case with this paralyzed fellow. The popular Jewish understanding what that if something bad happened to you, some tragedy, it was direcly your fault. In John, when they see a blind man, the disciples ask, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” So there you have this paralyzed man – and Christ sees his faith – sees the faith of the man’s friends – and our Lord speaks. Take heart – be enheartened – your sins are forgiven.

This is the sadness of our day and age. We so often only see things in terms of this life – how much we have, how good or poor our bodies are – we think with our stomachs and plan with our pocket books – and we so often miss the more important reality. This paralyzed man of faith didn’t have our weaknesses; he knew what was important. He was concerned that his sin condemned him, not just to a life stuck on a mat, but to an eternity of damnation and hell. And Christ speaks a word of forgiveness to him, and he is enheartened! Would that our approach be the same as this paralyzed man’s! Would that our faith, our desire for forgiveness dominate our lives, whatever comes down the pike, be it sickness or health, wealth or poverty, droughts or floods! But too often we don’t think this way, we let the cares and concerns of this life push the things of faith and eternal life to the back burner. We let ourselves be filled with worry about this world instead of simply trusting. So Christ says to you the same thing as he says to this paralyzed man. Take heart, your sins are forgiven. Take heart. Be encouraged – let nothing take your joy from you, for your sins are forgiven – and all these trials, all these troubles – they are temporary, they will pass away, but God’s love for you never passes away, the peace of forgiveness and the joy of Christ never pass away – for they are eternal, they are the things of eternal life. No tragedy, no trial of this life can overshadow this truth.

But Satan will try to overshadow this. When Jesus says these words, the scandalous thing wasn’t that He didn’t just out and out heal the guy, but rather that Jesus asserted that He could forgive sins. And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming. There was a good reason they said this. One of the things we can forget about sin is that sin is always against God. If someone sins and it hurts us, we complain about what they have done to us. You’ve sinned against me. Yes. . . but that’s not the main thing. The main thing is that sin, all sin, is against God. When David gets caught in his adultery and murder, he doesn’t say, “Boy, I sure sinned against Uriah by killing him – boy, I sure sinned against Bathsheba by dragging her into adultery.” He had, I suppose, but that’s not the angle David takes. Instead, he says, I have sinned against the LORD.” David then writes in Psalm 51 “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sightand then begs for a clean heart and a right spirit. Sin is always, first and foremost, against God. When your neighbor sins against you, that isn’t primarily a sin against you – but against God. When you sin against your neighbor, when you think poorly of them or speak ill of them or harm them in any way – that isn’t a sin primarily against your neighbor, but you are sinning against God – the God who told you to love that person. This is what those Scribes knew – sin is always against God – and this is why they are shocked by what Jesus says. Sin is against God – so therefore, only God can forgive sins. If Jesus were just a man, this would be most blasphemous!

And Jesus will respond to this. And Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – He then said to the paralytic – “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. Jesus knows what these scribes are thinking – of course He does, He is God with us, Emmanuel! Yes, Jesus can forgive sins, yes He has this authority. But how to show it, how to demonstrate it? Well, watch this. Hey guy, get up and go home. I am Christ Jesus, I have authority over the Body, I have authority over the soul as well. The healing here – the man being cured of his paralysis, is only done to show that the Spiritual healing which Christ proclaimed was real. Christ wants to prove that when He says sins are forgiven that He has the authority to do so.

Authority is a big, important word in Scripture, and in the New Testament authority is always tied to being able to forgive sins. And here is the thing – the idea that just confuses and shocks so many folks out there – Christ Jesus gives this authority to His Church in order that even to this day people might receive forgiveness here on earth and know that it is true and valid in heaven. For example, think about the Great Commission. Before Jesus sends out the Disciples to do their work, what does He say? All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Do you see how it works? Christ says, “I have authority to forgive sins, and now I am sending you out to go forgive sins. You have My authority now, you speak My Word and act in My Name – go baptize people for the forgiveness of sins in My Name. Authority to forgive sins. Or in John 20 – what does Jesus say to the disciples? Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. Even as the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.” Again – Jesus sends out the disciples, His Apostles – for that is what Apostle means – it means “sent one” – with a very specific mission – to exercise this authority to forgive sins.

And this is what God’s Church is to be about to this day. That’s why in the Nicene Creed we call it the Holy Christian and Apostolic Church – it’s the Church that does the same thing the Apostles did – shower out forgiveness upon people. And this is a marvel – that forgiveness is available. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. That’s what we do even to this day – we glorify the God who gives forgiveness. You see, this is the heart of God’s love for you. Not in the temporary things that fade away, but in the fact that He constantly provides you the forgiveness won for you upon the Cross by Christ Jesus so that you may be cared for, not merely for a day or two, not just until the next crisis, but that you may be cared for for all eternity! God’s love for you is focused upon the big picture, the long run, and He will focus your eyes upon His forgiveness and strengthen your faith so that you may stand and remain strong in the face of all trials in this life, large or small. His forgiveness is real, His love for you is real, and His Cross overshadows all things in your life. You are His, and nothing shall separate you from His love in Christ Jesus. Whatever came at you this week, whatever sins clawed at you again, whatever fears loom large in this week to come – take heart, my friends, your sins are forgiven. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Trinity 18 Sermon

Trinity 18 - September 24th and 25th - Matthew 22:34-46
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

One of the things that any sermon is supposed to do is to make each and every one of us in here take a good hard look at ourselves. Part of each sermon deals with looking long and hard at sin – and not just sin out there, not what other people do, but sin in here, my sin. That’s part of preaching. And it is important that we look at our sin so we don't become prideful, and in our pride and self-righteousness learn to hate Christ, as the Pharisees so often do. This is what we see this day in our Gospel lesson.
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees they gathered together. The Pharisees are worried. Jesus has just silenced some of His critics – the Sadducees – and now the Pharisees are fearful that our Lord will show them to be sinners in need of repentance and destroy their self-righteous delusions. So they will try to trap Him, discredit him – a pre-emptive strike!

And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Which is the greatest? Seems simple enough. But it’s a set up question. Depending on what Jesus chooses, people can complain. Whatever Jesus says, whatever He picks, people can complain and say that He doesn’t think some other commandment is important. We see this same tactic in politics – oh, you want to support good thing A, then you must hate good thing B!
But Jesus doesn’t play the game. Rather, hear His answer. And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. Jesus doesn’t just answer with a commandment – He also explains the commandment. What is the most important commandment – the First Commandment – and here is what it means. You are to love God – but with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. But then Jesus says another thing – oh yes, there is another command that is tied into this, tied into the first – you are to love your neighbor as yourself. That sums it all up. And so, Jesus leaves these Pharisees with nothing to complain about in His answer. There is nothing that this answer lacks.

Instead, the answer ought to make us think. All too often people can look at God’s Law, at His Commandments, and feel self-satisfied, as though they have done what God wishes them to do. Me, I’ve never killed anyone. I haven’t had an affair. Never been in court either to bear testimony. My entire life I’ve been Lutheran – so no false gods either. Right? Jesus says wrong. With all your heart. My heart is often torn. There are times when my heart isn’t in it – when I frankly don’t feel like singing the hymns – when I have to drag myself out of bed [from my afternoon nap/on Sunday morning]. And of course, there are times when my heart would like to do things that I definitely shouldn’t. With all your soul. There are times when I sit, and when I look, and I see that my soul can be rather black and bleak and mean. With all your mind. I’ve broken every commandment in my mind many-a-time; already this day we all have.

And then of course, Jesus keeps piling it on. Love your neighbor as yourself. So what does that mean? Who is more important in your life, you or the person next to you? Actually, not the person next to you, that might be family, a spouse, a child, where we with arrogant pride might say, “Oh yes, I love them so.” Who is more important in your life, you or the person three pews away – the one who never really talk to? Do you love them as you have loved yourself? Or let’s turn the screws even more. The person you don’t like – how have you loved them? What have you sacrificed of yourself for them? Because that’s the standard God sets. That’s what the Law demands – that you love, that you serve, that you give all that you are for the sake of your neighbor. Even the ones you don’t like.

Not a one of us here does that – and neither did any of those Pharisees. And so, they were left speechless. That’s what the Law does to us when we don't water it down. The Law is not our friend – it’s not our buddy that pats us on the back and tells us how wonderful we are. The Law kills. The Law looks at what we’ve done and shreds it – because it is harsh and strict and demanding. These Pharisees thought that they could live by the Law – and Jesus shows them that they can’t – that it is beyond their doing. And that's the Law's job. Whenever we become self-righteous or proud, whenever we look down on our neighbor instead of looking at them to serve them, God's Law smacks us with a clue-by-four. Listen to what God in His Law demands, and repent O sinner, for you too have fallen short of the Glory which God’s Law calls for.

Well, this would be a really depressing sermon if it ended here. Life under the Law is either delusional or depressing. But Jesus doesn’t simply leave things here. Now, think about this. For how long have the Pharisees been giving Jesus a hard time? Years. And at this very moment, they are testing Jesus, trying to toy with Him. How easy would it be for Jesus who has just demolished the Pharisees to just leave them – let them sit and stew for a while? But Jesus doesn’t. Here is what He does.

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls Him LORD saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet’?” If David calls Him Lord, how is He His Son? Now. Now while the Pharisees were gathered. Jesus doesn’t leave them stewing on the Law. What does He do? Jesus changes the focus of the discussion. The Law has done it’s work, now let’s get to the good stuff. Let’s talk about the Christ. And the Pharisees had a slight misunderstanding – or maybe not the full picture when it came to the Christ. They knew that the Christ would be the Son of David. In fact, they were looking for someone like David, who would rise up and be King, who would lead Israel to glory here on Earth. But the Christ would be more than some mere mortal. Even David knew that – see, David calls the Christ “my Lord”. If the Christ is just a man, David wouldn’t call the Christ my Lord.

Do you see what Jesus does? He is changing the way that these Pharisees are to think – He is redirecting, repenting their thoughts. You missed the point– not only about the Law, but about the Christ. You thought you would just get a man – but you will get One who is Man and Lord. You will get one who is both Man, son of David, and also True God, Emmanuel, God with us. And this leaves the Pharisees speechless. And it isn’t that they don’t know what He is saying, what Jesus is claiming. When Scripture says, And no one was able to answer Him a word it means they couldn’t talk back anymore. That they had no snappy, smart-alec answer. They couldn’t twist His words – rather they were forced to sit and think and ponder the Word of God.

Christ showed them Himself. This is who I am, oh Pharisees. I am true God and true Man – and do you know what? That Law that you love but that you can’t fulfill, I do. Christ fulfills the Law. Does Jesus love God with His whole heart and mind and soul? Yes! And does Jesus love His neighbor as Himself? What do we say in the Creed? Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. How’s that for loving your neighbor? How much does Jesus love His neighbor – He leaves heaven and becomes one of us. Look at these poor humans – I love them, in fact, I will take human flesh to Myself and become Man Myself. And when Jesus becomes Man, it is to go to the Cross – to suffer and die, to give all that He has for your sake – to literally value your life above His own. What we fail to do for our neighbor is precisely what Christ does for us. What we lack, Christ gives to us. You’ve heard the adage of someone jumping on a grenade – Jesus jumps on the Cross. When you see Christ on the Cross you see Jesus jumping in front of Satan, His arms out wide shouting, “You shall not have them, Satan.” That’s what Christ on the Cross means. That’s His love for you. That’s Him taking your punishment for your breaking the Law, and pleading to the Father to give you forgiveness and eternal life. That is His love for you.

And that is what Jesus’ focus is on – making people know and recognize His love for them. And He still does this for you today. As your sinful flesh loves to stray – He speaks His Word of Law to bring you humility. But He will not let your sinful attitudes get in the way of your knowing His love. Having spoken His Law, He speaks His Word of Life. Jesus turns our attention to Him; He makes us to repent, for Christ Jesus Himself comes here to us to show us His love. He is here in His Word – Jesus has seen to it that you hear His Word NOW, at this very Hour. And Jesus comes to you today in His own Body and Blood. Come, see the miracle that Christ indeed did come down from heaven to take on flesh, to suffer and die. Take and eat, take and drink, taste and see that the Lord is good. This is why Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” Here it is, and in His Supper nothing in lacking, and receiving the forgiveness and life He gives in His own Body and Blood you lack nothing. You are covered completely. This is what Christ does for you, this is His focus.

Just as our Lord went to these Pharisees, He comes to us today in His Church. And just like the Pharisees, when we fall into tomfoolery, when we shift our eyes off of Him and rather onto how “good” we think we are, He speaks His Law. And having spoken His Law, He speaks His Word of life to us; He in fact gives us His own life – and we are forgiven, we are redeemed. All praise to Christ for His steadfast love and mercy for us! In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Spirit of Gentleness

We live in a day and age of immediate blame.  There is a police shooting, and instantaneously there is a divide between those who say the cop is at fault and those who blame the fellow shot.  There is a bombing or a stabbing in a mall, and immediately the same political lines are toed.  There is report of something scandalous somewhere in the church, and the complaints and knee-jerk defense both flash across walls and pages and blogs.  And where do you stand on these issues?  Answer now, with the barest of information!  The decision is to be made in a second, as soon as the report comes in - or you yourself will be judged as lacking, a traitor, a sell-out, a dupe.

   But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.  6 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Consider the fruits of the Spirit (alas, so often displaced these days by "virtue" in a vain attempt to reassert our own strength, our own manliness).  How do the snap judgments play in with these?

Love: whom or what are you loving?  You are to love your neighbor.  That means both the black life and the blue life.  You are to have compassion even upon the terrorist or the errorist alike.  Yet are our snap judgments actions of love for them, or are they love of our own agendas, political opinions, theological institutions, etc?  Are they not in fact self love - where everything becomes a chance for "I told you so" posturing? 

Joy:  Joy?  In these sorts of discussions?  Ha! Our Lord said in John 16 "
So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you."  We have joy in Christ.  No matter how messed up the world is, Christ is Risen!  No failures of order (domestic or governmental), no tomfoolery in the Church will change that.  If Israel for centuries ignored the Passover and instead had asherahs in the temple, yet the Messiah still came, then certainly the mild strangeness of our days will not hinder our Lord's return!  And yet, where is the joy?  Instead of joy, how often do we run on fear and anger and disdain and rage?

Peace:  What use is peace in a time of outrage?  What use is peace when the answer is to put up a hashtag to show the appropriate and righteous anger (though it's the same one you used last time, and the sun has long since gone down)?  We do not appear to those in fear and say "Peace be with you" as our Risen Lord does - instead we are quick to tell people what they should fear.

Patience:  Do we let things play out?  Do we let the story unfold?  Do we let those who have been given by God the authority to handle and judge these things do their God given duty - or do we make our snap decisions and proclaim what should be done.  Fire or Exonerate, condemn, excommunicate and remove!  We who have no office to judge or condemn or to declare innocent and exonerate speak so quickly - running when not told to run, speaking in a manner outside what we were called to speak.  We forget what Luther says in the Large Catechism:
Therefore, to avoid this vice we should note that 265] no one is allowed publicly to judge and reprove his neighbor, although he may see him sin, unless he have a command to judge and to reprove. 266] For there is a great difference between these two things, judging sin and knowing sin. You may indeed know it, but you are not to judge it. I can indeed see and hear that my neighbor sins, but I have no command to report it to others. Now, if I rush in, judging and passing sentence, I fall into a sin which is greater than his.

But what of the other part of that Large Catechism, Brown!?  For does it not say:

All this has been said regarding secret sins. But where the sin is quite public so that the judge and everybody know it, you can without any sin avoid him and let him go, because he has brought himself into disgrace, and you may also publicly testify concerning him. For when a matter is public in the light of day, there can be no slandering or false judging or testifying; as, when we now reprove the Pope with his doctrine, which is publicly set forth in books and proclaimed in all the world. For where the sin is public, the reproof also must be public, that every one may learn to guard against it.

Yep, but the very next words are:

Thus we have now the sum and general understanding of this commandment, to wit, that no one do any injury with the tongue to his neighbor, whether friend or foe, nor speak evil of him, no matter whether it be true or false, unless it be done by commandment or for his reformation, but that every one employ his tongue and make it serve for the best of every one else, to cover up his neighbor's sins and infirmities, excuse them, palliate and garnish them with his own reputation. 286] The chief reason for this should be the one which Christ alleges in the Gospel, in which He comprehends all commandments respecting our neighbor, Matt. 7:12: Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.

Are you quick to speak so as to reform a person?  If not, let there be patience!  Would that we were patient and not so quick to condemn in our discussions, and rather have patient love! 

But they are wrong, and they harm me!  So be it - or do you not remember that "patient" is actually, literally "long suffering".  Better for me to suffer under my neighbor than to cause my neighbor to suffer.  This is the fruit of the Spirit Whom Christ gave forth from the Cross.

Kindness:  Are your words kind?  Are they full of collegiality?  If you need to admonish or reprove, is there kindness towards the very one you are reproving?  Are you doing so because you love them and thus treating them kindly, or do you fear them and what they represent, and want them destroyed?  Are you more worried about the power and politics involved, the greater agendas at play, than you about the person?  Who cares whether or not they are focused on power, politics, or agendas!?  We are called to love the neighbor, not our hobby horses.  Let power be the way of the world - we are of Christ - kindness is what wells up in us by the power of the Spirit, a power the world will never understand.  One need never be a "Jerk for Jesus" - otherwise one has missed the point.

Goodness: This is not moral rectitude.  This is not "See how right and good I am."  This is from agathos - good, useful.  Utility.  By the Spirit of God we are useful to our neighbor; we are an aid and a help to them, rather than a hindrance and a foil.   Our are actions for their benefit, for their good - for if we are full of goodness then we are a good for our neighbor.

Faithfulness:  This is not "I will demonstrate how orthodox I am" - be it politically or theologically or what have you.  Be faithful to your neighbor.  Break not faith with them!  Don't betray them!  Don't throw them under the bus - but be good and faithful to your neighbor.  For you realize that we are to love our neighbor, right?

Gentleness:  Meekness.  To act as though the other person, the person whom you are addressing or speaking about is of more importance than you yourself, is greater than you yourself.

Self Control:  Our Roman Catholic brother in the faith Herm Edwards sums this one up nicely:

And St. Paul goes on.  Let's not be conceited, jealous of the attention others get.  Let's not try to provoke others -- let's not try to stir the pot and get folks riled up and angry (for the anger of man most certainly does not produce the righteousness of God).

In fact, if you are bound to speak, compelled to speak on anything - if you are spiritual, then restore the erring in a spirit of gentleness.  Meekness.  They are more important than you.  Their life is more than your life.  Thus Christ on the Cross, who valued your life more than His own.

Are you made uncomfortable - so be it.  Show love nonetheless.
Are things you value being mocked or tarnished - so be it.  Show joy nonetheless.
Are things raging violently - so be it.  Show peace nonetheless.
Are things changing so quickly and frighteningly - so be it.  Show patience nonetheless.
Are they cruel and harsh to you - so be it.  Show kindness nonetheless.
Are they hurting and harming you - so be it.  Show goodness nonetheless.
Are they faithless and full of betrayal - so be it.  Show faithfulness nonetheless.
Are they arrogant and self-important - so be it.  Show gentleness nonetheless.
Are they stopping at nothing to have their way - so be it.  Control yourself nonetheless.

For they are not your head, they are not your lord, they are not your master.  You are not rooted or grounded in them.  They do not determine your life.  You are baptized, and Christ Jesus is your Lord and Master.  He has poured out His Spirit upon you, forgiven you and given you life.  That is truth - and no blurb across some screen can change that.

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

You are a new creation in Christ - don't let the craziness of the world make you forget that =o)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Clarence Outsen Funeral

Clarence Outsen – September 20th, 2016 – John 14:1-6

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Cindy, Sienna, Melinda, and Guyneth, friends and family of our beloved brother in Christ Clarence – Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Age and illness can do terrible things to us, and yet in the midst of these struggles, God still provides us with great and loving care. Clarence's life was an example of this. We here at Trinity only got to know him for a few short years, and even then, that was only when age and illness had already started to do a number on Clarence, when it was best for him to be over there at Harvest View. Of course, by the time I showed up here, even more of his spryness was gone, and in this past year Clarence would become more and more frail, and yet I myself would marvel and rejoice inside whenever I saw him, his cheerfulness, his smile, but also his dogged determination to come to Church, to hear preaching, to take the Lord's Supper even with hands that were more and more becoming unsteady. It was a wondrous and faithful and beautiful thing to see. And so even though we at Trinity only got to see him towards the end of his earthly days, even though we didn't get to know him in the days of his youth and strength, I would like to thank you, family, for letting him stay with us in Herscher for a time. And I think I can safely say that Harvest View was a place that God had prepared for Clarence, a safe place of support and care; and that God also prepared us at Trinity to be a home for Clarence for a time. It is a wondrous gift of God and His love.

Yet not nearly as wondrous as what our brother in Christ Clarence now sees. Listen, for Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” Clarence, at this moment, is with His Lord, Christ Jesus. At this moment Clarence dwells with Christ in joy and peace in Heaven, and when Christ comes again on the Last Day, Clarence will come with Him and be raised from the dead and on that day our joy will indeed be full. But right now, Clarence has it better than He had it a week ago, or a decade ago, or even 50 years ago. Even as so many of the trials and pains and hardships that are far too common in this sinful world clawed at him, Christ Jesus our Lord called Clarence to His own side, called him unto peace and joy.

Clarence sees this now, knows this now. Of course He does, for He knew His Savior Christ Jesus all his earthly days, walked by faith all his days. Clarence knew the One who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” - and thus Clarence knew the way to heaven and life everlasting; Clarence knew the truth of the forgiveness of sins that Christ Jesus had won for Him with His own death upon the Cross, and Clarence knew the life everlasting that Christ's resurrection had won for him. All this Clarence sees now – he sees his Redeemer now, which is a wondrous thing of which we can only imagine.

As for us here, we still walk by faith. The same good news of salvation in Christ Jesus that gave Clarence hope and joy in his days is the same message of salvation that is proclaimed to us. Because Christ Jesus has died and been raised, like Clarence your sins are forgiven for His sake, and you have life in His Name, so that even should, indeed even when this world does its worst to you, you too belong to Christ, just as Clarence does. You too have been baptized, washed clean of your sin and claimed by the Father. You too have heard the Gospel of Christ Jesus which gives Christ's own forgiveness and life to you. And this shapes how we see today, how we see the days to come.

Saint Paul reminds us, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.” Yes, we mourn. Of course we do – Clarence was a tangible gift from God to us. If even I can see that he was a such a gift towards the end of his life, I can barely imagine what sort of gift he must have been when he was full of vim and vigor. And yes, our mourning is a weight, it is a burden. But St. Paul reminds us that it is a light and momentary affliction, at least when we compare it to what is to come. For we have not lost Clarence – we know precisely where He is; Clarence is at home with the Lord. And we have not lost Clarence, for in Christ Jesus and His love for each of you, it is your home as well. While still here, you all have things on your plate, tasks given to you by God to do so that through you He may care for your neighbor, for you too are meant to be gifts from God unto your neighbors, even as Clarence was a gift to you. But until such time as Christ calls you home, be at peace. Rest secure in Christ, knowing that in Him you are forgiven, in Him you have life, and that our brother in Christ Clarence is well taken care of. God grant us that we would hear His Word and remain in the faith, even until we see Clarence again in the Presence of Christ Jesus our Lord. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Monday, September 19, 2016

What Drives the Church?

When my dad was first called to Trinity, Woodward (Oklahoma) a bit over 10 years ago, I had an easy time finding his place.  Come in to town from the main highway to the west, and when you got to the big former grocery store turned into random Evangelical Church, turn left. 

I can't remember the name of the grocery store church, but it had a big sign: "Changing a Culture for Christ."  My dad and I would chuckle at that - as though the point of the Church is to change a culture, or for that matter even to be focused on individual moral improvement!  He and I were pastors; we were preachers of the Gospel - not life coaches or counselors - if we did that, it was an alien work, a side thing, not the primary.  And even then, not as the world did these things.  We did not try to improve; rather God by His Word killed and made alive - killed with the law and enlivened with the Gospel.  Preachers were sent by God to proclaim the Word that people might obtain faith - where there is faith, works will follow.  Where folks abide in Christ, fruit will come - for indeed, apart from Him we can do nothing.  Sure, there may be some civil righteousness that comes from reason - but before God, that matters not.  While we were to praise civil righteousness, we were preachers - we were to be about the Word and Sacraments so as to deal with the eternal things.

Sin and Grace.  Law and Gospel.  Acknowledging that both would always be needed for in this life we would never obtain perfection.  Indeed, in this life all our works would be tainted with sin, yet approved by God solely on account of Christ.

Of course, that was back in the day.  That was before the rise of all the terrible social issues of the day, I am told.  Surely now the Church must be first and foremost a bulwark for morality and decency, now that such terrors have arisen!  That was before we had terrible liberal presidents and social agendas and the like!


Here's the thing.  I started college in 1995, Seminary in 2000.  We had all of this back then.  Tolerance was the talk on campus back in the 1990s - all the same sorts of PC stuff was going on there.  And when I was in the Sem, gay marriage was legalized in various states.  Nothing new under the sun.

And yet - even after and through that - there is my dad and I, over and against all that junk, sitting in the 2000s, determined to be centered on Christ Crucified for sinners, and letting the chips fall where the Holy Spirit wills. 

So I will ask.  What drives the church?  What drives your theology?  What gets you fired up?  Is it the thought that folks do not know the Gospel of Christ - that they are trapped in the chains of legalism and self-justification; or is it fixing society?  Better ethics and morality?  The primacy of Christianity in our Country?

Because, those are the old silly saws of American Protestantism - the balliwick of Schmucker and Welch and their ilk. 

Does the Gospel still drive the Church?  Does it still drive you?  Or do you need something naughty and salacious to get to fired up?

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ Crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jew and Greek, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

What drives the church?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Ready for another Blow Up

I know I don't blog much anymore.  Sometimes I miss it.  I enjoy writing, but frankly, meh.

So, there's another blow up in the Lutheran social media world.  Is it surprising or shocking?

...  Not really.  Megachurches will do megachurch things.   Folks who want attention will strive for attention.  The self-justifying will justify their own actions.

Have we not realized its the same thing?  And yet, so often we will want to match pride for pride, ego for ego.  "I'm right" will be answered with "No, I'm right."

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” - Luke 13:1-5

 Signs of the times, folks. Signs of the times always around us - always reminding not that we are more righteous (or less righteous) than others - but that we are sinners in a sinful world, and we ourselves should repent.  We should take heed lest we ourselves fall. 

God grant that we keep our eyes focused upon Jesus, even when there are so many more salacious things to talk about.

Trinity 17 Sermon

Trinity 17 – September 17th and 18th, 2016 – Luke 14:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Of all the healings that our Lord does, this one seems the most disturbing. It’s bothersome. There is just something about this healing that doesn’t sit right here. With the other that healings we see in Scripture, there’s rejoicing and merriment. They are in a setting of love and devotion – a Centurion pleading for his servant, a mother for her child, friends carrying a paralyzed man. And there’s even the rejoicing of the healed, the shouts of praise to God that go up even when He asks them to be quiet. But not with this healing. No, this one is different, it feels off. Listen again.

One Sabbath, when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him closely. I hope you can hear the tension in that verse. So there Jesus is, and He has been invited over to some important fellow’s house for the Sabbath meal – a meal that was to be a time of rest, of relaxation, of pondering God’s Word and God’s love for us. It should be Jesus in His element – He loves eating with people and teaching and preaching to them, proclaiming the love of God to them. He’ll even make the food if there’s no food there – that’s how much Jesus loves these teaching dinners. But that’s not what we see today. No, instead of people like Zaccheus or Mary hanging on His Words and paying attention to Him, we have the Pharisees watching Him closely. Observing Him. Looking to judge and critique and find something to complain about. Instead of eating with sinners who wish to see their Savior, Jesus is eating with the smug and self-righteous who want to find fault with Him. That would have to be slightly awkward to say the least.

And it gets more so. “And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.” And suddenly, there’s a sick man there, someone with a horrible, swelling disease. That “and behold” is Luke’s way of laying this on thick. There is no reason for this man to be there – he doesn’t belong. The Pharisees would never dine with his kind – it’s like walking into the Country Club and seeing a dirty, smelly bum. He doesn’t belong… but then, there he is. And note, Jesus doesn’t address the man first. Instead we hear, “And Jesus responded to the Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’” I know what you Pharisees are doing – you are just using this poor man and his misery to set a trap for Me. You’ll complain no matter what. If I heal, I break Sabbath; if I do nothing, what a pathetic, lousy healer I am. Think about how sick and twisted this is – people are setting a trap to complain about Jesus using a sick and suffering man as the bait. And Jesus calls the Pharisees on it – puts the ball into their court. So, Pharisees, you think you should sit in judgment of Me, you think you should tell Me what to do – alright, do it. Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? “But they remained silent.” They can’t say anything in response to Jesus. Their ham-fisted ploy has been exposed, and now they are in a no win situation.

Now, a confession. Whenever I read this text, I get really, really annoyed with the Pharisees, and I want Jesus to just lambaste them here – lay into them. Read them the riot act and peel the paint off of them. And that's a problem. See, just as the Pharisees were watching Jesus closely to complain about him, the temptation for me is to watch the Pharisees closely to complain about them. And then I can feel smug and secure because, I’m better than these wicked Pharisees. *I* would never do something like that – while I’m doing the exact same thing in my mind that they did. And I doubt I am alone in this. Now, maybe not everyone here gets agitated with folks in the Bible, but let me ask. How many of you spent some time this week looking at your neighbor with a critical eye – not to help them, not to care for them, but to be ready to complain, to pounce, to tear down, to destroy? The temptation for us is to fall into the rat race, to go all dog eat dog. Maybe it’s a co-worker who makes life harder for us, a neighbor who annoys us, that family member who’s a bit of a black sheep and an embarrassment. Whomever – there is that temptation to watch through a sneer and to look down upon them and just wait with baited breath for them to get their comeuppance.

And so back to the text, where Jesus turns around and just levels the Pharisees, right? Goes on a long spiel about how terrible they are! No. “Then He took him and healed him and sent him away.” The very first thing Jesus does is tend to that poor man with dropsy. You are hurt, you are in pain, you don’t even want to be here. Be healed. Go home. See your family and rejoice. Jesus’ first thought is compassion. But then, surely, He’ll turn and lay into the Pharisees and read them the riot act now! No. “And He said to them, ‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day will not immediately pull him out?’” How gentle. There’s no recrimination. Jesus doesn’t even mention their plotting and planning, their cruelty. He ignores that – and instead explains His actions. Fellas, you know that in an emergency, you act on the Sabbath. You rescue, you care for people. Now, if you will do that, how can God not care for His people, for those who are hurting? Yes, I will rescue people. That is how God shows love. Even as they plot against Him, even as they conspire to do Him harm, Christ Jesus points to His love for these Pharisees. “And they could not reply to these things.” And their plotting stops. It’s cut off in its tracks.
You realize this is the depiction of how Christ treats you? Consider. When you are deep in your sins, when you are feeling the aches and pains of guilt and remorse or swollen with pride – Jesus heals you. He forgives you. Doesn’t make a big deal of it – first things first, you are forgiven, now go your way. Head back to your home, rejoice, delight in forgiveness. Or even when there are those times where you are going stubbornly astray, when you are acting like the Pharisees, where you are doing that familiar, self-justifying sin that you do repeatedly, what does Christ do? He doesn’t seek to lambaste you – no, He will once again give yo His own love and His own mercy. He is gentle and lowly, and full of love.
Our text continues with Jesus demonstrating more love. “Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor…” Here’s the set up. Yes, Jesus is going to comment on what the Pharisees are doing, but did you hear the difference? The Pharisees, they were watching Him closely, looking for flaws and faults whereby to criticize him. Jesus, He just notices something. He’s there, but something just stands out, and then he’ll bring it to their attention for their own good. Do you get the difference there, how much more gentle Christ is? And so Jesus speaks. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.” So what – does Jesus suddenly turn into Miss Manners or Dear Abby? Is this just practical advice or party tips time? No, Jesus is making a point, and a familiar one. Do not seek your own glory, don’t elevate yourselves, avoid the temptation of pride. Jesus isn’t saying anything new – He had first had it spoken long ago in His Word through Solomon in Proverbs. No, Christ sees their actions, and he warns them against pride, because pride does bad things to you. It makes you focused on elevating yourself, stepping over and upon your neighbors, rather than being a servant who shows love and care. It makes you forget the lessons and truths that you learned from the Scriptures.

And Jesus ties this up with a nice little bow – “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exulted.” So what, is Jesus just going to end with a moral platitude, some finger wagging? No, not our Lord, full of compassion. He teaches with patience and gentleness. He reminds us that all of us, all sinful folks exalt themselves, strive to elevate themselves. We’ll even hear this verse and say, “Oh, well, maybe if I just act lowly, I’ll get exulted”. No, we sinners who have exulted ourselves will be laid low. The wages of sin is death. Simple as that. But there is one who humbles himself – and He who humbles Himself will be exulted. And that is what Christ Jesus did. There is Jesus – He is God, He is holy, He is righteous, He is above and beyond us. Yet what does He do? He humbles Himself to be born of a Virgin. He humbles Himself to hunger and thirst and to be beaten and mocked and scorned. He humbles Himself upon the Cross and dies. He takes up our humiliation, the humbling that we deserve for our false exultation. And then He is raised, and now He is exulted over all things. Jesus points us to Himself here again, He is proclaiming that He is the suffering servant who will save His people. But not just that. He is also the Master of the great feast, the master of the eternal wedding feast of the life of the world to come… and as He has been exulted, so too He looks to you, and He invites you to life everlasting, and He does not expect you to exalt yourself. He doesn’t expect you to earn a place of honor – in fact, He warns you against all those vainglorious attempts. Instead, He sees you in laid low by sin and temptation and death, and He reaches out His hand of love and forgiveness to you, and He says friend, move up higher, come, be with Me for all eternity.

Today’s text, dear friends, may sit odd. It’s not your typical healing – and it’s not meant to be. Today Christ reminds us of His gentle and kind love that He has for you… love that is not based on how great or wonderful you are, love that is not stopped even by your pride and disdain. No, Christ has humbled Himself, He has suffered and died and risen again, all so that you might be with Him in His exultation for all eternity. This is His great and gentle love for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +