Friday, March 24, 2017

Lent 4 Sermon

Lent 4 – March 24th and 25th, 2017 – John 6:1-15

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
I want to start at the end of our Gospel Text. “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” This text, the famous feeding of the 5000 thousand, ends with Jesus high-tailing it out of there because the mob wants to lay hands on Him and drag Him off to be king. How's that for a day? It had been a normal enough day for Jesus – a great crowd had gathered while He was preaching, and as usual Jesus decides He'll teach His disciples a bit. Okay Philip, how are we going to feed these folks? It's just a check up, a chance to see if the disciples are paying attention, know what is going on. John notes, “He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.” This is the standard Jewish way of teaching – you present your students a problem that you know how to solve, but you evaluate how they would solve the problem. And they've got no clue. Andrew brings up the boy who has the two fish, the five loaves (really they're the size of dinner rolls, probably), and Jesus prays and give thanks and there's food for everyone and 12 baskets left over – an awesome miracle, a great sign! And the response? Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.

Think of all the things that could have been learned by the crowd. You've probably heard many of them in sermons – there's the fact that Jesus is true God who provides food, there's the miracle, there's the play off of Psalm 23 because Jesus made His people lay down in green pastures and fed them, there's the faith of the boy, there's the fact that Jesus knows what He's doing – this text is almost hard to preach upon because there's so much that we could focus on. Jesus is intentionally teaching with a miracle, it's rich. And yet – what gets learned? The crowd figures it should go and take Jesus and make Him King. By force. Here they see Jesus do an act of great power, of great kindness, of great generosity – and the reaction of the people is to try to twist His arm and tell Him what He should do and when He should do it.
Alright folks, time for today's hard question. It's not hard in the sense that we don't know what the answer is, mind you. We're just not going to like it. Today's hard question is this: How often do we act precisely like that crowd? Here we are in God's Church – we are the baptized, we know God's love and salvation – and yet how often instead of simply trusting in God to give us what is good, do we want, do we wish that we could just make Jesus do what we want Him to? How often do we wish that there were strings that we could pull with God so He would give us the early blessings we wanted right when we wanted them? Because that is the heart of every temptation – to place ourselves over God and to try to get God to dance to our tune. And even seeing His kindness, His goodness, so often our response will be to try to shake God down for more and more, for something else.

It's because we do not understand the word “our”. Jesus is our King. In fact, that's the folly of the crowd – Jesus was already their King – it's just that they wanted His kingship to be on their terms. Just like we often want God to be our God but on our terms. That word “our” is a possessive – it denotes either ownership or belonging. And the problem for the crowd was they wanted to own Jesus, the problem for us is so often we want to own Jesus, to have Him do what we want when we want it. But that's not what we should mean when we say that Jesus is our King. It's not that Jesus belongs to us – it is that we belong to Him.

So often we will confuse belonging with ownership – and when we do, everything goes sideways. With so many things. If we say, “This is my church” meaning that I own it and it had better do what I want – that's when things go sideways. Badly. If we say, “This is my church” meaning that I belong here, that I am fed upon the Word here, that I serve my neighbors here – then that's great. If someone says, “You're my spouse” thinking that this means they get to boss them around – things go badly. If “You're my spouse” means that I am called by God to love, serve, and care for this person – that I belong to them – things go smoothly. They are my friends, so they had better do what I want – bad. They are my friends, so I will help them out and love them – good. All across our lives, whenever we start wanting to be in control, that's when things go bad, that's when fights happen and things break. God gives us relationships not to Lord it over others, but to shape and direct our service – every relationship you are in is a relationship of service. Even me as a parent – I have authority over my kids (in theory), and that isn't to make them serve me but so that I can serve them. And really sin has at its core a desire to have control – it's the lie that a relationship should be about how you rule and make others do what you want, not how you serve. That's how Adam and Eve were tripped up in the Garden – they thought being like God meant they'd get to be in control.

Over and against that, Jesus shows us what it truly means to say that He is our King. “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” No, Jesus will be our King, but that means He is going to do what is best for us, whether or not we like it, whether or not it is easier or better for Him. First, Jesus gave the crowd what they needed for their body, not what they wanted. They need food – alright, I'll give them their daily bread (more on that this Wednesday night), but when they wanted more, when they wanted a life of luxury on easy street with Jesus being the goose that lays them the golden eggs – no. That's not good for them. So He doesn't give that to them. Likewise, dear friends – Jesus is a good King for you, and He gives you your daily bread, He gives you what you need. Not necessarily what you want. He gives you what is good for you, so that you learn to remember that you are not everyone else's master, but their friend, their servant, someone who knows them in order to care for them. And in this, Jesus is wise. I've got a big enough ego as it is; I can't imagine what it would be if I were filthy rich on top of it. And as for you – think of the things you want, that you might idly daydream about. Now think of what sort of jerk you'd be tempted become if you actually got it. Oh yeah, if I got that beach house – I'd stay there and be no good to anyone. Our King gives us what really is good for us – and He is wiser than we are.

But we aren't just talking about stuff here. If you want to know what it means that Jesus is our King, ponder this. The crowd was going to make Him King by force – they were willing to go and fight and die for Him. They'd suffer to get Him on the throne – they'd go battle the Romans and stab them and kill them and then Jesus would reign after they shed their blood... do you get how backwards that is? Our King – He chooses to suffer and die for our sake, to give us life. Our King will not wear a golden crown, but He'll take up a crown of thorns. Our King won't shed any blood but His own, and He will shed that as the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

This is the thing. We major in minors. We get caught up in the fleeting, temporary things. The crowds worried about filling their bellies; Christ is focused upon seeing that they get eternal life. We worry about comfort and extra luxuries – Jesus is focused on dealing with Sin and Death for us. And even we here who know better, we can get so caught up in the temporary, the temporal, the earthly – yet Christ Jesus is your King, and that means that He is the King who is for you. When you are distracted – He's not. When you follow your sin down some rabbit trail, He stays upon the true path of righteousness, and He does what is righteous for you. He goes boldly to the Cross for you, He wins you life and salvation, He gives you what you need, what is actually good for you, not only now, but He also gives you eternal life. Because He is your King – and He knows that as Your King His job is to do all things for you good.

That's what Jesus teaches us. Philip gets asked the question so He can learn how far Jesus' care for folks extends. Then Jesus runs from the crowd for their own good – teaching them and us what is good and right. And Jesus teaches us this in our own lives, as by His Word and Spirit we learn to fight against our sin that would seek to control everything, as by His Word and Spirit we begin to see more and more that He is always our King, the King who is for us. He even feeds us today to forgive and teach us His love. God grant that He make us to know this more and more now, so that we live here by faith until we see His goodness for us perfectly for all eternity. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Lent 3 Sermon

Lent 3 – Luke 11:14-28 – March 18th and 19th, 2017

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Excuses in this world are a dime a dozen, especially when it comes to the things of God. This is just part of our sinful, fallen nature. We like to come up with excuses, with seemingly reasonable arguments for why we should ignore the Word of God and just go on doing what we’ve been doing – where we can find an excuse to ignore Christ Jesus, to push His death and resurrection into a corner – treat as though it’s only something that shapes our afterlife and not our very lives and being now.

Excuses are nothing new. We see one in our Gospel text today. “Now [Jesus] was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.’” What these people are doing right here is making an excuse. They want their normal lives to continue without any ripples – and seeing the Messiah come, seeing the kingdom of darkness overthrown causes ripples, causes a change in a person’s life. And so they make an excuse – eh, not really from God – He’s just using demonic powers. Now, yes, we know that this is a silly argument, but, put yourself in the shoes of someone back in that day. They weren’t skeptics like us – they knew, rightly, that demonic powers were very real. And so, the suggestion that Christ might be casting out demons by demons is almost reasonable – you had tales and stories of all sorts of people who would invoke the spirits to their will – so the idea of one guy using a big demon to beat up on a little demon – not so strange in those days. 
But Jesus knows that it is just an excuse – and He cuts right though it. Three things. First, there is the idea of a House Divided. Satan isn’t dumb – he’s not going to fight against himself, and this is a fighting against, a beating down of the demonic. Second, Jesus points out that many folks in Israel at this time are casting out demons in Jesus’ Name. This happens – two chapters earlier in Luke the disciples had been sort of freaked out by this – there’s some guy we don’t know casting out demons in Your Name, Jesus! If the sons of Israel are casting out demons in Jesus’ name – any accusation you make against Him rolls downhill on to them – is that the argument you want to make, people? And third, and this is the important one – “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” This is a Messianic statement – this is bold. This is Christ saying, “I’m the Messiah, and I am here to reign and rule, my Kingdom of redemption and forgiveness is here – and are you really going to be opposing that – because that is a horrible thing to oppose.” And so Jesus lays bare what He is doing – He is the stronger man who comes into this world to beat down Satan and wrest fallen creation back from him, wrest you and I from the kingdom of Satan and bring us to the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and His holiness.

Indeed, my friends, this is what Christ accomplished for us in our Baptism – it is what He does to us today through His Word, through His Supper. He comes and brings forgiveness and life and showers it upon us – calls us out of darkness, calls us away from our sins unto a life of love and care. And yet, the excuses still come. And not just from rank and gross unbelievers, not just from the people who have never heard, not just from the people who have been taught lies from their youth – but even from among us, from the Christians who should know better. We make excuses. Need I go over them now? We don’t have the time, for the list is far too long for one sermon. But you know them, at least you know the ones that tempt you. And the thing is – every excuse we make will sort of sound reasonable and okay – until we examine it under the light of the Word of God, and it crumbles. But here is the thing – Satan is going to try to tempt you to minimize the role, minimize the time you spend in Church hearing God’s Word preached, minimize the times when you receive Christ’s Supper, minimize the time you spend studying and pondering the Word of God. And why?

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.’” This may be one of the more chilling things that Jesus says. But think about it for a moment. Take the person who has always been an unbeliever, who’s never been a Christian. When they are up to no good, at least they're honest about it – at least they admit that they are just out for themselves, that they are just looking out for number one. But what happens to the person who knows better, who knew what is good and right… and then ends up ignoring it and falling away? They’ll be just as wicked and self-centered as the other guy, but what do you hear from them? “Oh, how dare you, I’m a good person!” Won’t even admit their wickedness – and that is being truly depraved. It’s one thing to do bad because you are foolish and think its fun – it’s another thing entirely to do things that are bad and then say that you’re a good little Christian. The worst, the most obstinate people are the ones who used to be faithful, who were put in order… but then stopped paying attention, and just started to go along with the flow of this world, and slipped and slid and became worse and worse while pretending and assuming that everything was just fine. This is what Christ is warning us against here – this is a warning to us today. It is possible for us Christians, for the we who believe, to stumble and fall away into vice and shame and even all the way into utter unbelief, where on the last day we could be those crying Lord, Lord, and who hear, “Depart from Me, I do not know you.” This is a warning against letting our own complacency and self-confidence lead to an utter fall.

So, how is this to be avoided? We hear at the very end of our lesson. “As He said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’ But He said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!’” Now, dear friends in Christ – you need to hear our Lord’s Word’s rightly. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. We hear that Word “keep” and suddenly the works righteous preachers are off to the races – oh, you’ve got to do this and that and if you drink or smoke or use playing cards you’re just kicked off the holy bus. Not the point – in fact – not even the right idea. I don’t like going into Greek in the sermon too often – that’s what Bible study, where I have my nice big white board, is for. However – the Word here is “Phulassontes” – which means “guards”, or keeps safe, or protects. The idea here isn’t one of going and doing a giant checklist, but of clinging to the Word, paying attention to it. This is not a call to action, but a call to attention – that we are to be hearers of the Word – those who hear the Word of God and believe it, who continually hear it and remain in it – as opposed to those who hear it, and then end up making excuses and ignoring it and falling off into all sorts of wickedness.

And lest you think I am just making stuff up – that keep doesn’t mean to simply protect and listen to the Word, let me ask you a two questions that all of you over the age of 13 should have down pat. What is the 3rd Commandment? Remember the Sabbath day by KEEPING it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Do you see how that works? As Christians we are to hear the Word, we are to treat it as valuable and continually pay attention to it – we are to protect and safeguard our time in the Word. That’s what this is about. And why is this to be our attitude? “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Because it is in hearing the Word of God, in hearing the Gospel of Christ Jesus, in hearing of His battle against Satan, His victory by His death upon the Cross and the Resurrection, that Satan is defeated in our lives. The Word of God gives to us what it says, what it proclaims – and so when the Word of God proclaims Christ’s victory and forgiveness, it drives Satan away from us and forgives us our sins. Moreover, with the Word of God there is always the Holy Spirit – wherever the Word of God is being proclaimed, there the Holy Spirit is – and when the Word of God enters through your ears, the Holy Spirit enters there as well. And what does that mean? It means you are not left like that empty house, simply waiting to be consumed by wickedness – it means that you are a filled house, filled by God – indeed that you are God’s own temple. Do you see how this works – the way to avoid the fall into self-righteousness is to hear the Word of God. You hear the Word of God which cuts across your excuses and casts them down. You hear the Word of God which pricks your conscience and drives you to confess your sins. And then most wonderfully, you hear the Word of God which brings you Christ Jesus and gives the life and salvation He gives to you – and then you are full, then you are safe, then you are rescued out of Satan’s Kingdom and rejoice knowing that you are in the Kingdom of Christ.

And so dear friends, be wary of the appealing excuses to avoid the Word of God that Satan will throw your way – for the old evil foe knows that while he is stronger than you and can overpower you, he cannot overpower Christ and His Word. As such the devil will try to convince you to separate yourself from Christ and His Word. Instead, keep His Word, hold fast to it, safeguard it in your life – for in the Word you are given Christ Jesus, the source of life and salvation. Christ has defeated Satan, and by the continual and constant and repeated proclamation of His Word and by the His holy Supper, He beats down and defeats Satan in your own life. God make us to be partakers in His victory. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lent 2 Sermon

Lent 2 – March 11th and 12th, 2017 – Matthew 15:21-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
One of the great myths of society today is that we as a people have advanced, have evolved, have become better over the course of time – that we in our ever expanding wisdom know so much more than our pathetic forefathers did. This is the myth of the modern world, that we are modern, that we are improving more and more and ever better and better. As a theologian and a historian, I'd say that we are no better morally than our grandfathers or our ancestors of 500 years ago, or even the folks 2000 years ago. I’m not going to say that we are getting worse all the time either – rather this. Sinful fallen people remain sinful fallen people, and the temptations we have faced since the days of Adam and Eve are the same ones which we face today.

That is why we can understand the dangers shown in our Gospel text today; that is why the same lessons apply to us. Two contrasting approaches to life are shown to us today in this text. On the one hand we see people living life according to the world’s standards, judging by what the world sees as appropriate, good, and right – and on the other hand we see a person who lives by faith, trusting that God will do what is good, right, and salutary. These are the two options in the text, and they are the same two options that we ourselves see, that we struggle with to this day. Do we live thinking like the world, accommodating our sins, or do we instead in faith determinedly cling to Christ?

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus had been having a go around with the Pharisees and the Scribes prior to our reading – the Pharisees who thought that they were better than others because they kept their unique customs and traditions, the Scribes who would honor God with their lips but despise Him in their hearts. And Jesus seemingly takes a break from having to deal with the Scribes and Pharisees, and He heads north to the coast – to a foreign land. His disciples follow Jesus to this neighboring country, and then we have this most amazing pair of examples laid out for us.

And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” A Canaanite woman? Behold how the gospel has spread! Even in this foreign land, this woman has heard the Word of God proclaimed! She knows who Jesus is. And did you hear her – she calls Him Lord, she acknowledges Him as God. She calls Him Son of David – she acknowledges Him as the promised Messiah, David’s Greater Son – even though she is a foreigner. Think on that – Son of David – even though she is not a Jew, even though she has no pipe dreams of a Jewish kingdom. In fact, an earthly Jewish kingdom would probably be bad for her, as the Canaanite people were viewed as little more than dogs by the Jews in Christ’s day. But she has heard, and by that Word she was brought to faith, and in faith she calls out for mercy.

Dear friends, there is nothing more beautiful, more wondrous than a person in faith calling out to God for mercy. She gets it – she understands – she knows her need for the Savior, and she knows who that Savior is. This is the happy ending, the happy conclusion, the happy faith that we pray that would be given to all people throughout the world. But as always, sin can get in the way. And we see this come up. Note what Jesus does at first – But He did not answer her a word. At first Jesus doesn’t say anything. Now, at this point, many preachers, many more fine than me, will begin looking at this text as focusing on the need for a patient faith, for us to remember that God works on His own time table and not ours – that faith trusts that Christ will act in our best interests when He deems it best for us. All of this is true. We see this truth demonstrated often – we see it in the 10 lepers who head towards town and only as they are walking are they healed. We see it again and again in the Scriptures – faith waits upon God, even when it seems God is silent. But with this text, there is an interesting twist – when Jesus is silent, we hear the disciples fail.

And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” They came and begged. . . they begged. Send her away. Get rid of her – she is annoying us. Two prayers are set forth before Christ – one by this foreign woman who calls out for mercy, the other the haughty prayers of the disciples to do away with this woman. Mercy versus contempt. This prayer of the disciples is vile and gross and wicked and evil. Whereas they should have been rejoicing, whereas they should have glorified God that even amongst the people of Tyre and Sidon, the ancient enemies of Israel, their Lord and Master was acknowledged and believed in, they don’t. And they fail. Instead of praying for mercy, instead of praise, they show forth hatred and disdain. And it wasn’t even as though she was complaining about something small and petty – none of her dresses fit right anymore or too much grey in her hair. No, it’s a demon. She wants help against a demon. Still, the disciples would turn her away. They would rather let a demon run rampant then have this poor woman aided.

Why? Why did the disciples show such disdain? The reason is simple. Instead of thinking like Christians, instead of viewing things in terms of faith, they were thinking like typical people of the world, and following the world they fail. If you were born and raised a Jew at that time period, you would be born and raised to view Canaanites, and especially Canaanite women with utter contempt. The disciples were thinking like people of the world, not as people of faith. Just like we often think like people of the world and not as people of faith. Just like we so often put people into boxes, caterogize them and write them off – whether it's race or politics or identity or income – we can be so tempted to simply hate folks in order to feel better about ourselves. Choose your side and hate the other guy. And it's lousy. Actually, it's more than lousy – it's flat out evil and wicked.

Our Lord wants to contrast the difference between the hate of the world and the life of faith – He wants to show the disciples and us today how radically different the life of faith is from the attitudes of the world. And so, He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Note – He answered the disciples. Fine, you disciples wish to think you are high and mighty – so be it. See, alright, is this the type of God you want? Cold and haughty to others? Then since you think she’s beneath me, you deal with her. But the woman persists. But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And He answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” There, another answer of harshness, this time to the woman, almost like one kid at school picking on another to fit in – is that what you wanted disciples? And a cruel response at that – Jesus basically called her a female dog, you know what He called her. Is that the type of God you wish for, o Disciples?

But this woman, this faithful, faithful woman, she knows and recognizes the One True God as He is. Our God is not a God of our petty hatreds but a God of steadfast love and mercy. She knows that He will show mercy. She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Yes, Lord. What powerful words of faith. Yes, I agree. Yes, Lord, what you have said is true. I am a dog, I am worthy of nothing, nothing of which I ask of you. There is no good in me that I should have rights to demand anything of You. But you are the Master, and I know that when I hang around Your table crumbs will fall to me, and I will be satisfied by Your generosity. You are the God of undying love, and You will show love even to unworthy me. And Jesus confirms for us that this is the right answer, that this woman demonstrates our faith, for He answers her saying, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Jesus recognizes and commends her faith – and puts the disciples to shame.

This lent, we are focused once again on Repentance, for repentance is the life of faith. Repentance beats down everything that would distract us from Christ’s Mercy. This woman’s repentance was clear – she was not focused on the prejudices of the world, for the Canaanites were no fans of the Jews – she was not focused on her pride, but rather in faith she confessed her sin and lack, her unworthiness. Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. Faith turned away from all these things and turned her to Christ alone, faith sought from Him mercy and salvation apart from any works she might do. And Christ delivers. Even over and against the powers of a demon, Christ delivers. Of course Christ will cast out this demon, He is here to wreck havoc and chaos amongst Satan’s kingdom. This is the battle He wages all this Lent, this is the battle that reaches its climax on Good Friday. And throughout this season we are called to repentance – the Word turns our eyes away from our sinful and selfish desires, from our hatreds and petty squabbles and makes us to see with the repentant eyes of faith, to behold our Lord win us freedom from our sin. When we look in faith, we will with repentant hearts confess our sins and call out to Christ for mercy, and then we will behold nothing but Christ, we will be as Paul, determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – for Christ is merciful, and He is determined to give you the gifts of life and salvation which He wins for you by His death upon the Cross. And this He does for you without fail. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Lent 1 Sermon

Lent 1 – March 4th and 5th, 2017 – Matthew 4:1-11

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
The Wilderness. We don't hear that word like people in the first Century did. We're Americans, and part of our myths and legends are romanticizing the Wilderness. Lewis and Clark are our heroes – we have Westerns – go west young man, head on out there and tame a rugged land. That's what we tend to think of when we think of wilderness – just a place that we haven't tamed with civilization yet – give us a few years and there will be paved roads with a gas station on every corner.

That's not what folks in Jesus' day thought of when they thought of the wilderness. The wilderness was that desert area beyond the Jordan, and if you went there, you went there to die. You weren't going to be building, you weren't going to be enjoying things – you went there to die. There would be thirst and hunger and danger from wild animals. The wilderness was the place of dying. And the Jewish people of Jesus' day knew that all the more – the children of Israel had spent 40 years in the wilderness because of their disobedience, 40 years where all the adults who refused to enter the promised land died, 40 years where they were sustained only by miracles – manna from heaven, water from a rock, clothing that miraculously didn't wear out. The wilderness is death, the wilderness is punishment for sin.

Jesus goes to the wilderness to face down death, to take up the punishment for sin. That is what verse one of our text is driving at. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Then – immediately after His baptism, immediately after Jesus is joined to us by being baptized in the Jordan – He goes out the wrong way. Instead of heading west back towards Judea, He heads east, across the Jordan, off to the Wilderness. Of course He does. Just as your baptism joined you to Christ, where you receive all of His righteousness, His life, His love – so to Christ's baptism joined Him to you – and He took up all your sin, all your wretchedness. The wages of sin is death. The disobedient were left to linger in the wilderness. And so, led by the Spirit, taking up your sin, Jesus heads to the wilderness. He takes your place, the place of all the Israelites, the place of all of humanity. And Jesus goes to that place of shame and suffering and danger and defeat – and he goes to be tempted by the devil.

Being tempted by the devil is the story of human history. Of course we can say that biblically – an option for the old testament reading today is Genesis 3, the fall, the temptation by Satan. Indeed, throughout the scriptures, every sin plays off of temptation somehow. But more than that – on every page of every history book, in the events of our own lives, temptation is there, always there. The urge, the desire to do that which is wrong – the desire say no to God when He tells us to love God, love our neighbor. The temptation to do what we want, to listen to our flesh, to say “to hell with everyone else, I'm doing what I think is best for me” neither realizing nor caring that this attitude is in fact walking the road to hell yourself. That's temptation. And you will be tempted this week. This day. You probably have temptations of thought kicking around you right now. This is what life after the fall has become for us – constantly hounded by sin, weakened and beaten down by a harsh world, by bodies that fail us.

And this is where Christ comes. When we confess in the Creed that Jesus “was made man” this is what we are talking about – not simply that He took on a human body – but He was made man, made like we are, with a body that had our frailties, living not the life of some sort of superman, but stepping right into the middle of the same sort of mess that we are in. And so, for us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven and stepped right into the wilderness of our sin and death and jumped smack dab into the middle of temptation. But wait, there's more. “And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry.” Jesus doesn't prepare for the temptation like an athlete getting ready for a marathon – He doesn't carefully balance carbs and proteins and check His electrolyte levels. No – He fasts. Fasting in the Scriptures is the demonstration of sorrow over sin and death. And Jesus takes up our sin, and He is sorrowful, He fasts, He prays. That's His reaction to sin, to our sin. And then, when He is weak, weaker than most of us can imagine – only then do the temptations start.

“And the tempter came and said, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.'” You're the Son of God, you don't deserve this! Why, You've got power Jesus! Go on, feed Yourself. So my friends, what's the temptation here? What's so bad, so wrong about this? To understand, listen to Jesus's response. “It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.'” On the one level this is a statement about trust in God – that we rely upon God to provide for us, we don't run around trusting in ourselves. Moreover, it reminds us that our hungers, our wants and desires don't determine what is right and wrong, but God and His Word do. But in reality, it's so much more wondrous than that. Jesus isn't in that wilderness for His own good. He was led there by the Spirit for your salvation – and the only way You will live isn't by filling your belly – you can do that all the days of your life and you'll still die. Fasting isn't the problem. No, the only way you will live, will have eternal and everlasting life is by the Word of God taking on Human flesh and defeating Satan for you and dying for you and rising for you. Jesus has not come to satisfy Himself – He has come to make satisfaction for sin and win you Salvation. The warrior doesn't fight to make himself comfortable, He fights to slay the giant. And part of Jesus's victory is going through this Wilderness without grumbling, without complaint, without focusing on what His belly wants.

Satan attacks again. “Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him upon the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, 'If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command His angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear your up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”'” Why be in the wilderness fighting against sin and death Jesus – You could just take the holy land, the holy city by storm. You're the Son of God – these folks should be going gaga over You – tell you what – here we are at the temple, all the religious types are here – toss Yourself off, the angels will come, there will be laud and praise and glory. That's the way a God should be treated, isn't it? Yet Jesus says, “Again, it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Yes, simply this means don't go about tempting God. “If you really loved me you'd catch me from falling, you'd buy me a pony” - that doesn't fly with God. But more than that – don't put God to the test. The very first temptation in Eden was “you will be like God.” No Satan, you don't get to tell me what it's like to be God, how God should act, how God should be treated. I'm not overly interested in glory or praise right now – being God is this: winning for fallen man salvation – something you'd never understand. Now, get that weak-sauce glory temptation out of here.

And now Satan knows that Jesus is here, and that Jesus is here to fight. So Satan sues for peace, tries to reach a bargain. “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, 'All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me.'” They are mine, Jesus – they are fast bound in Satan's chains, captive to sin and death – that was the price of sin. But we don't need to fight – You can have them, do with them what you wish – You can love Your neighbor to Your heart's content – just leave some room for me. Do it my way – let me be your God – cause that's what Satan's always wanted. To be like God. Satan tempted us with what he himself wanted. And Jesus will have none of it. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.'” And Jesus does it. Even weakened, He doesn't bend, He doesn't break, He doesn't give into sin. And He will go forth through the Gospel and fight and beat down Satan, He will go to win you your salvation.

Of course, if we treat the temptation of our Lord as just a past event, as just a prelude to Lent, we miss the point. Jesus was tempted immediately after He was baptized, immediately after He joined Himself to you in your baptism. This is a reality right now – this is Hebrews: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Jesus sympathizes, when you feel something He feels it too – because He is joined to you, you are part of His own Body. He is tempted as you are, for when you are tempted in reality Satan is tempting Christ again. And while you and I might give into temptation, Christ Jesus never does. When we fail, Christ immediately takes up that failure and says, “I've crucified it – fear not, you are still My own.” And when we stand – well, in reality it is Christ our Lord who stands in us and for us and through us. This is the truth, the reality of you who are as a Baptized child of God, this is what Paul is talking about when he says in Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

My friends, this Lent as we see Christ beat down sin and Satan, as we see Him tangle with death – this isn't just stuff in the past. This is the reality of your life, who you are – for you are with Christ and He is with you. You are baptized, washed in water and the Word – you are never merely a desert, for Christ is with you, and He has given you the living water, and wells of water spring up from within you. Satan will tempt you, he will distraction you with wants and passions and pleasures, he will try to tell you what your life really ought to be like, he will try to make you think you ought to be God. But it is all rubbish – you have more already that anything Satan could peddle. You are bound to Christ, you are an heir already of the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life. We will watch and wonder again this Lent as He wins the Victory over sin and death and the devil – but this victory is already yours. You are baptized into Christ. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Quiquagesima Sermon

Quinquagesima – February 25th and 26th, 2017 – Luke 18:31-43

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Our Gospel lesson is one of contrasts. On the one hand, you have the disciples, bold, brash, and just so sure they knew that following Christ would bring earthly power and glory. And thus, when Christ addresses them, tells them that He will suffer, they don’t get it. On the other hand, there is that blind, suffering beggar on the road to Jericho, and although he is blind, in Christ Jesus he sees nothing but the merciful Son of David who has come to have pity and aid the poor, feeble, and lost. It is a fascinating contrast – so let us examine it in detail, and then consider how it applies to us, especially as we approach the season of Lent.

“And taking the twelve, He said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem…’” Look, see, behold – pay attention, disciples, we are going up to Jerusalem. Our Lord is telling the disciples that the pinnacle, the focus, the thrust of what He has come to do is approaching – this is that “behold” word, this is that word announcing that something big and important is coming – and it’s going to happen in, where else but Jerusalem. The disciples should be keyed in, they should be intensely focused upon Christ’s words right now. But there is a problem. What does our Lord say is going to happen in Jerusalem? “…and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.” Is this anyone’s idea of a good time? No – and it didn’t seem like a good time to the disciples. Indeed, if we are going to be mocked and shamefully treated somewhere, don’t we just have a tendency to… avoid going? That’s the same type of thoughts the disciples had – that is foolish, that would be terrible. But did you note what Jesus said – “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” This is something divine, this is something that these students of the Old Testament should have known was coming. If Christ is the Messiah, then Satan must bruise His heel – if Christ is the Messiah, then Isaiah 53 and the Man of Sorrows must happen, then Psalm 22 and its nastiness has to happen. And how bad must it get according to the prophets? “And after flogging Him, they will kill Him.” Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to die… that in just a short time He will be killed by the Gentiles, that the Romans will put Him to death. This is why He came, to suffer and die. And yet, Christ also tells them good news – “and on the third day He will rise.” Yes, according to the prophets the world will do its worst to the Messiah, but He will rise victoriously on the third day. This is what we will be seeing all this Lententide, seeing all this Easter.

But the Disciples, they don’t see. Not yet. “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” They don’t understand, not yet. They refuse to let these sorts of thoughts even cross their mind. They won’t understand until Easter, until they behold the Risen Christ, that’s when it all will sink in – but at this moment – it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit their expectations. You don’t follow a leader just to go watch Him die – you follow a leader you think is going to win, and win the way you want him to win. You follow a leader who will crush your enemies, who will bring earthly pomp and power and glory. And this tale of earthly defeat, earthly suffering, it simply makes no sense to them, it’s not what they want.

Now for the contrast. There is a blind beggar on the road to Jericho, a town Christ must pass through in order to reach Jerusalem. This is a man who knows suffering, who knows earthly defeat. He has no visions of power and glory because he has no vision at all. He is lowly, he is in the mire, he is downtrodden. And he hears a crowd going by, so he asks what’s up with the crowd – he knows what sort of traffic his road gets, and it’s too high today. “They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’” Christ is coming, and so this man knows what to do. “And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” He doesn’t cry for power, he doesn’t cry out seeking to have more stuff than his neighbor or the power to rule over them, to humiliate them… he simply wants mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, get me out of this terrible place I am stuck. And what happens? “And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent.” Oh, just be quiet you blind, worthless beggar! We don’t want you interrupting us – we’re here to watch this Jesus, surely He has come for the good people like us! They were in front, but they did not see. “But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” He continues his calls for mercy, he doesn’t let the disdain of the crowd dissuade him – he calls out for mercy to Christ.

And what happens? “And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to Him.” This is actually a wonderful teaching moment – Jesus stops right in front of those very people who admonished the beggar to be silent, and He tells them to bring the beggar up. That person you disdained … now serve him, bring him up to me, lead him so he knows where I am. “And when he came near, He asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’” So Jesus asks this person what sort of mercy he is seeking. Lord, let me recover my sight. The Greek word there is “anablepso” – that I would see again. And here’s what’s beautiful about this – this man hopes for restoration, for things to be made right by Christ. There was another restoration word earlier in the text – the word for “rise again” is “anastesetai” – again rise. That “ana” at the beginning, it’s the Greek version of“re” – like “re” in resurrection, “re” in restoration. Jesus had told the Disciples there would be restoration, that He would rise again – it goes over their heads. But this blind man, he knows that the Son of David has come to restore fallen creation – the blind man knows the impact of the fall, knows his lack, the corruption of his eyes, and he longs for God to restore him, to make him see again. And God does. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” Recover, restoration – the Son of David does in part there for that blind man what He will do for all creation – fix it, make it right again. He pauses on His way to Jerusalem where His death and resurrection will pave the way for the restoration of all things, and He gives a little restoration, a little foretaste on the way. This blind man, his faith, faith in Jesus, has made him well, has “saved him” in the Greek. His eyes will be restored not just for the rest of his days on earth until he dies, but even when those eyes that now can see are closed by death, because of Christ Jesus, they will be opened again – the resurrection will recover everyone’s sight. I won’t need my contacts any more – Christ will fix it all. And this is what He is on His way to Jerusalem to do – to fix creation by taking up the wages of sin and paying it Himself with His own death, by bursting the bonds of death by rising on the third day.

So now, let us consider this passage and how it applies to us. Two options, two ways of viewing Christ are set before us. On the one hand, there is disdain of suffering, there is the desire that Jesus be our meal ticket, our buddy who gives us our best life now and earthly victory and glory. This is spiritual blindness. On the other hand, there is the knowledge of your own lack, of your own need, of your own wretchedness, and from that point of humility and repentance, then you can see who Christ Jesus is, the One who comes to restore fallen man, to give Him life again. Dear friends, there is a reason Lent is known as a penitential season, a reason why it’s a time where we focus on the gift of repentance. Satan wants us to focus on living big now, having worldly power and glory – he wants the cares of this life to rob us of the Word, as we heard last week. He wants us thinking like the disciples had been, where the idea of suffering and being restored and forgiven are far, far from us – where we view God as a guy who simply helps out us good people because we are smart enough to follow Him. That’s not the Christian faith. The Christian faith is this: while we were yet sinners, Christ Jesus died for us. That while there was nothing good in us, Christ Jesus shows us love by laying down His life for us, by rising for us, by forgiving us and giving us new life in Him. This is our hope – and as we enter Lent this Wednesday, that is what our focus will be. Repentance, being turned away from the desires of the flesh for power and glory, and being focused upon Christ for His mercy, for His love to us.

Therefore, I ask you my friends, what blinds you to Christ? What temptations lure you away from Him? Is it ego, where you like to think highly of yourself? Is it pride, where you hate to admit your failings? Is it bitterness, where you would rather focus on how you have been wronged than repent of your own sins? Is it greed, where your desire for the pleasures of this life shape how you see everything? Is it resentment, where jealousy of your neighbor hardens you? It probably is for you as it is for me all of these, and many others beside. We each have some that especially stand out in us. These temptations distract us, try to draw our eyes off of Christ. Fight against them, beat them down – and know this – that while you are weak and lowly, indeed, whether you like this fact or not, Christ Jesus has had mercy upon you, and in His great love for you and in His desire to restore you, to free you from sin and death, He has suffered and died for you, He has risen for you, He has washed you in water and the Word, and He gives you His own Body and Blood to forgive you again, to be the proof that just has He has died and risen so shall you. This is His love for you.

As St. Paul says in the Epistle – “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” In this life we will struggle against sin, sin will always try to dominate our view – will try to obscure Christ’s love for us – but the time is coming, dear friends, when we will see this clearly, when we see our Lord face to face. Until then, we struggle, we fight against our sin – not just for the sake of some egotistical self-improvement, but so that we might learn of our need for Christ, so that we might be better focused upon Him. Behold, your Lord goes forth to battle against Satan and forces of evil to win you salvation and restoration – all thanks be to God that His Son has come to win us our freedom. God grant to each of us a blessed Lent, that we might once again be given opportunity to see our Lord’s love for us again. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the world. Amen.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sexagesima Sunday

Sexagesima – Luke 8:4-15 – February 18th and 19th, 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Today's Parable, what we normally call the Parable of the Sower, may very well be the first parable Jesus tells. Not only in Luke, but in Matthew and Mark as well, it starts a whole slew of parables, where Jesus starts speaking in figurative language, giving verbal object lessons. And people are routinely confused and have no idea what in the world Jesus is talking about. We even hear that in our text today – the disciples end up asking Jesus what the parable meant – they couldn't figure it out. So when we approach this parable, or in fact any parable, we ought to approach them humbly and make sure we are paying attention to what Jesus actually says, lest we springboard off of the parable into some wretched interpretation of our own devising – because I've heard some really horrible takes upon this parable. But, my friends, consider yourself fortunate, for the meaning of the parable is right in front of your face.

He said in a parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew a hundredfold.” As He said these things, He called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” So we get the image – a sower sows, the seed falls in four different types of soils with four different results. So then, what does this mean?

Jesus gives an answer – “Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes the word away from their heart so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in times of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

Alright – so there's the parable and its meaning. Now what? Now what do we do with it? I have heard some wretched, terrible directions that folks have jumped off from this parable. I heard one preacher say, “Well, clearly this means that we need to focus our time spent on outreach in finding people who are good soil and make sure we focus our efforts there.” Well, there's a couple of problems with that, aren't there? First of all – in the parable, the seed goes everywhere. In fact, that's one of the things that is most wild about this parable on the start. The sower apparently doesn't know what he is doing. You wouldn't sow the thorn bed, or the rocky, un-tilled soil, and most certainly not the highway. Seed is too expensive for that. In fact, I'm always surprised that more farmers don't have a conniption-fit when they hear this parable thinking of the expense and waste that is going on. Second of all – how am I supposed to tell how someone is going to react to the Word of God? Am I God? Do I get to see into the hearts of man? If I were going to limit whom I spoke the Gospel to, well, I certainly wouldn't have spoken it to St. Paul. He was killing Christians – if anyone looked to be tied to the highway it would be Paul... and yet, Jesus in His wisdom comes to Paul on the highway to Damascus, asks why Paul is persecuting Him, and then soon Paul is an Apostle. Seems rather fruitful to me. We can't identify who is or isn't good soil.

So a lot of times, when dealing with this parable – we preachers will focus on how the Word of God should be spoken to all, proclaimed to all people, irregardless of whether or not we think they deserve to hear it. And this is an approach that is valid, that has merit. I've taken this approach before, and if someday I notice that y'all are being stingy with the Gospel, disdainful of your neighbor and hestitant to tell them of Christ Jesus and what He has done, I'll probably emphasize this idea a bit more in that sermon. But that's not the main point. The main point of this parable isn't how you need to get on out there and start telling people about Jesus. I mean, that's a good thing to do – but it's not the point. I mean, I know we call this the parable of the Sower, but did you notice something? Jesus, in His explanation, never talks about the sower, never says who the sower is. He never makes an emphasis on the act of sowing, either. In fact, just like last week, we mis-labelled the parable. The focus isn't the sower – listen to Jesus again. Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God. This is the parable of the Seed.

This isn't a parable about what you or I do. It is a parable about the Word of God and what the Word of God does. And here's where we can again miss the point slightly. So often when we hear “the Word of God” we jump to thinking about the Bible as a book, as an entity. And that's right, but there's a better, a fuller understanding of this idea – and it's one that is right in front of your face. It's one that has been sitting in front of you, and it sits in front of you almost half the year. Pastor Brown storytime – this week just wasn't a good week for writing for me. Last weekend was busy, so come Monday I was tired, I didn't have the same creative spring in my step. Didn't even get the sermon drafted until Wednesday (which normally makes me rather cranky). At any rate, Monday morning I'm in here prepping for pre-school chapel, thoughts about this sermon going around the back of my mind. And I looked at the pulpit. And I saw the parament, the cloth that hangs here. And you know what – it's the best explanation of this parable that I've ever seen. Right in the middle you've got a stylized Chi-Rho – which is an ancient symbol for Christ. It's the first two letters of Christ in Greek – yet this Chi-Rho is specifically shaped like the cross. And what is springing forth from Christ? Seed. And that seed hits the ground, and there's water and the Word, and then there's growing, fruitful grain.

When Jesus says “the Seed is the Word of God” you realize that Jesus is talking about Himself, right? That Jesus is the Word of God – the whole “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” thing from John? This parable is about Christ Jesus, the Word of God. And Christ comes into this world, and He spreads His love everywhere, for God so loved the world, all of it, even the folks who couldn't care less. That's what Christ does. And Christ Jesus says to you, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Does that remind you of a few weeks ago, up on the mount of Transfiguration, where the voice of the Father boomed from the cloud - “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased, listen to Him.” We're supposed to be listening to Jesus, paying attention to what He says, what He does – come let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, let us be determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified. Pay attention to Jesus!

So what in your life would try to make you stop paying attention to Jesus? Well, the Devil is out there, and Satan likes to just silence the Word, to stop any talk of Christ. “The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes the word away from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” That's one way – get treaded underfoot and battered and bruised in the world and just stop – I don't even want to hear it. Separated from the Word. Or there's what happens with the rocky soil. They hear the Word with joy, but “these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” No root, no water – and then there's times of testing, of just hardship, and folks can pack it up then. Jesus isn't my magical get out of jail free card, forget this. That was never the point, there was no root, no depth. Or there's the thorns - “as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” Too many things to do, so many blessings to use, so much money and wealth and all that – and there's no time for Church, there are other priorities – and they don't grow up, don't mature.

That's how Satan is going to attack you. Whether it's a bald faced attack, or trying to grind you down, or distract you. Over and over his playbook is to get you to ignore the Word, to ignore Jesus. So where does that leave you? As for that in the good soil, they are those who, HEARING the word, hold it fast – He who has ears to hear, let him hear. It is rough out there in the world. It is. It's a nasty, mean, spiteful place where we can get caught up and hung up in all sorts of things, especially when our impatient desires that want immediate satisfaction kick in and make us act the fools. Over and against that, we are given to hear Christ, to listen to Him, to hear again and again what He has done for us.

And here's the beautiful thing. Jesus never stops coming to you. Whatever your week was like – Christ Jesus who died for you still loves you, still has His forgiveness proclaimed in His House. The same love still get scattered all over the place, even if we've been a bit hard or rocky or thorny. Nope – over and over – Christ the Crucified is cast like seed from this pulpit, and we are watered in Baptism and fed in the Supper so that we might have strong roots and grow well and be prepared to stand in the face of this life – that from us would spring Christ and His love as well. Christ is always coming to you so that you would hear Him, receive His love, be comforted in the midst of your struggles with the world, and made to endure in Him. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Septuagesima Sunday

Septuagesima – February 11th and 12th, 2017 – Matthew 20

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
In our Gospel text we are presented two ways of viewing our relationship to God. There are two ways of understanding how we relate to God, each with drastically different results. Do we relate to God on the basis of our works or on the basis of His grace, freely given? Now – some of you may be thinking that I may have run myself into a bit of a sticky wicket with this introduction – because we know as good Lutherans at we are saved by Grace through faith – sola gratia... and yet, the Gospel text was laborers in the vineyard. Laborers. Workers. Um... okay, how in the wide wide world of sports is a story about workers really going to be about grace? Let's dig in and see, shall we?

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them out into his vineyard.” I don't know, Pastor – sounds like things are all about works. See, the Kingdom is like workers working in the vineyard. Not so fast, my friend! First of all, the Kingdom is like the master – if you want to understand things the master is the focus – but keep that in your pocket for later. But also, let's consider these laborers. This isn't the story of an industrious and plucky kid who applied for job after job and finally got one, then worked his way up from the mail room. These workers are dejected. Unemployed. The day dawns and they've got nothing to do. No means of income. Moreover, they are just workers. Unskilled labor. They'd be in a word desperate, desperate for anything. And up walks the master, and he sees them. They're not farmers, they probably don't know the first thing about tending grapes, which actually is a rather technical and specific sort of farm work. So they'd have to be shown the basics and kept watch over, here's how you harvest the grapes off without killing the plant. And yet, the master gives them a job, a job they probably aren't qualified for. And then, he makes them a great offer. A whole denarius. That is a good wage for a skilled worker. These are folks who would be thrilled to get minimum wage, who'd probably work for less; the master gives them Union standard. It's a good deal – they agree – the word in Greek for agree here is “symphony” - these workers are singing like birds because it's a great deal for them.

Our text continues. “And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. Going out about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same.” Now note this – the master isn't necessarily looking for more workers – he doesn't need more labor. The vineyard is taken care of – so he's off to the market to do his shopping or what have you, and he comes across some poor stiffs standing around starving, and out of great compassion, go on, you guys go to the vineyard and I'll pay you what's right. And they go – no contract, no dedicated amount – just glad to get anything. And same at the sixth hour and the ninth, he keeps giving more people jobs, jobs he doesn't need to give out. And the climax of this is the 11th hour – “And about the 11th hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.'” One hour left in the working day – and here's some more wretched folks. Hungry wretches. Eh, even you, even though you'll not even get a full hour in because it will take time to get to the vineyard, and then the foreman will have to find something for you to do – you guys head there too. He's giving everyone a job – this is no way to run a business! This is charity.

And the master's stupid, foolish business sense continues. “And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call up the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' And when those hired about the 11th hour came, each of them received a denarius.” Do you see? This is utter gift. Alright – you've been here not even a full hour, here's a full day's pay. They don't deserve this; this is utter gift! Of course, that's the point. The Master is always about giving gifts, giving gifts freely, sight unseen. The Master sees folks in need, and he will use his vineyard not for his benefit and profit, but to take care of and provide for these people in need. What love! What generosity! What gift! Why, we all should sing hymns – symphonies should ring out at this love and generosity!

However – there's a change coming. Remember the laborers we first saw? As the Sun was rising, there they were, desperate, without any hope – and the master gives them hope and purpose and a job and a good wage – a cushy deal beyond their imaging. Well, as they come up to get their pay... “Now, when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.'” They grumbled. You've made us the same as these folks who came last! Well, let me ask the question. Aren't you the same? Aren't you both folks who woke up this morning unemployed without any idea of how you were going to put bread on the table? Aren't you both unskilled workers who don't have any leverage to bargain with? Aren't you both folks who were called happily into the vineyard, who went rejoicing? You ARE equal – and the master has treated you all equally.

But they aren't thinking about the master anymore. They aren't thinking about what he has said, what he has offered, what he has promised them. Nope, they are thinking about their works, what they've done. And so the master jumps in. “But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?'” You've got no grounds to complain! I've been above board with you, and in fact I've been generous to you. I've given you a good wage – you thought it was great earlier. “But we've born the heat of the day!” Yeah, well, you're equal to the other workers still, because it was really hot in the market place too, and unlike them, you knew that you'd be able to eat tonight. Might want to cut them some slack and be happy for them and happy for yourself, because you've done really well, far better than you had expected this morning. Take what is given, and rejoice.

So – how are you going to look at your day, oh laborer? Are you going to rejoice in the generosity of the master, are you going to enjoy and receive the gifts with thanksgiving, or are you going to grouse? Are you going to view things through a lens of “works” and think about what you deserve and get all angry and upset, forgetting the fact that you didn't deserve a single thing this morning when you walked into that marketplace? How it's going to be – grace or works?

How's it going to be, O Christian? Are you going to view your relationship to God on the basis of His grace or on the basis of your works? Your sinful flesh will stupidly, foolishly try to tell you it ought to be about works. Your pride and ego will focus on all that you've done, how much you've done – especially how much more you've done than that person over there – and man, doesn't God owe it to you, doesn't He just owe you blessings and you should never have any troubles... and then, you'll just be miserable and angry and upset and you'll grumble at God. And its stupid grumbling – because you know what your wages are, what you deserve? The wages of sin is death, buddy. You want that wage to be paid – then instead of focusing on some false, pollyanna tale of how much you've done for God, you sinner, you should probably cut out all the talk about works out and instead simply pause and think about all the good things that He gives you freely because of who He is.

That's what Jesus teaches us here – that all that we have is really a gift from God. And more than that, we should learn to view all this in terms of gift, rather than being tempted by our flesh to think of it in terms of what we've earned. Consider the prayer that Jesus taught us. We don't pray, “pay us our daily bread” - it is, “give us our daily bread.” It's gift. Even if you work for it, it's still gift, because your body, your talents, your abilities are all gifts from God. And they are good gifts to have – ask anyone who's getting up there in age or who's become disabled what a great gift the ability to work is. So there's no room for boasting – all the physical blessings in our lives are gifts, and gifts we didn't earn, gifts freely given by God. Likewise, we continue in the Lord's prayer, “forGIVE us our trespasses, as we forGIVE those who trespass against us.” Did you hear the “give” there? Forgiveness is always a gift – you can't earn forgiveness, if you've “earned” it's not forgiveness. Forgiveness is something that is given, freely. That's just part and parcel of the word. And Christ would have us see and learn that everything in our life is to be centered around the blessings He gives, the blessings of body and soul. Your stuff is gift, your sins are forgiven and you are gifted Christ's own righteousness – and likewise you give these gifts to your neighbor.

Everything centers around God's gifts. Will the day often be hard and harsh – filled with scorching heat? Sure – but you face those days not in doubt, not in fear as to whether or not God likes you, or if He is punishing you, or whether you've done enough to earn His love – nor with looking at your neighbor and grumbling about how easy he has it. No – you face this heat knowing that you've been drenched in the cooling waters of baptism, knowing that you are joined to Christ – that you are bound to Him for life everlasting, no matter what hardships come your way. You know where you daily bread is coming from – indeed Christ gives you the Bread of Eternal Life itself in His Supper. It's all gift to you – and when we see things this way, when His Word silences our sinful flesh, we then see the wondrous love that He freely gives to us. The Master calls us into His kingdom, not because of what we do for Him, but simply because He delights in giving good things to us. It really is all about His grace, not our works. And that is a thing of joy. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Transfiguration Sermon

Transfiguration – February 4th and 5th, 2017 -

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
We can be so busy. It seems as though we always have something to do, somewhere to go, full calendars, schedules packed. In fact, it seems as though work dominates our life, our identity. When you meet someone, you generally get asked, “So, what do you do?” We define ourselves by our action. Now, this isn’t a completely bad thing – work is good, being productive is good. As Christians we are called to show love to our neighbor, and that means doing things for our neighbor. We have been given the various vocations in our life by God – so indeed, going and working is a good thing… but what we must remember is that it is not the only thing, or even the most important thing. Our life, our existence, when it boils down to it, isn’t defined by our work, by what we do. We are defined by Christ Jesus and what He does, by the fact that we have been Baptized into His Name and redeemed by His Blood shed upon the Cross. What truly shapes you and me is the fact that we are those who have received salvation from Christ through the gift of faith which He gave and worked in us through His Word.

We can forget this. And when I say “we”, I’m not talking about the crass person who basically stops believing or even just stops going to church . No, I am referring to us here today – we who would be diligent and sincere Christians, who would be faithful – we can let our desire for busyness overshadow the simple reception of God’s gifts that truly shapes and defines our lives and faith. We get an example of this trap in our Gospel lesson. “And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him.” This is what we call the transfiguration – where the figure, the appearance of Christ Jesus is transformed – where the Light of the World begins to shine forth with His own light. What this is, dear friends, is a picture of the life of the world to come. What are things going to be like for eternity? Well, Christ Jesus, shining forth perfection from His own Body, and the people of God gathered around Him and His Word. We see a picture of salvation, of eternal life – this is Jesus revealing Himself as God almighty, perfect and holy – the Savior whom Moses and Elijah and all the patriarchs and prophets foretold, the God whom they worship. Really awesome and profound stuff.

And Peter understands that this is a wondrous thing – “Lord, it is good that we are here.” Great observation – it is good, it is a wondrous thing – to see the glory of the Lord be revealed – this is what every pious Jew in the world had been waiting to see. Peter’s words here even inspire hymns – Tis good Lord to be here – great hymn! But, there is a problem. Peter doesn’t just stop there, Peter isn’t content simply to be there, to behold Christ in His glory, to listen to Jesus and Moses and Elijah chatting back and forth. Nope, like so many of us, Peter starts worrying about getting to work. “If You wish, I will make three tents here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter doesn’t want to just sit and listen, Peter wants to get to work. And what Peter suggests is very reasonable – they were around Sukkoth – the festival of booths where the Children of Israel would basically go camp out in order to remember their time in the wilderness – so Peter asks a very reasonable thing – shall I fix up a couple of tents so Moses and Elijah can observe this festival with us? There’s only one problem – by offering to work, by wanting to snap to it and get to work, what would Peter miss? Oh, yeah Jesus, You are shining forth in glory, and Moses and Elijah are there with you… um, how about I go over there and pitch a few tents. Jesus, Moses, Elijah… I could listen to their conversation… nah, I’ll go get some work done. When Christ Jesus is talking, when Moses and the Prophets are there speaking to and about Christ, that’s not the time to go get the chores done!

But the point here is not that Peter is lousy, but we are so much better. We’re just as bad. Here we are, gathered together in Trinity, gathered around the Word of God, we heard from Exodus, written by Moses, we heard the Spirit Inspired words of Peter recorded for us in His epistle, we heard the Gospel of Christ Jesus – yet I’m willing to bet that every one of us has had our thoughts drift off this morning onto worrying about getting something or other done. And this isn’t Pastor Brown picking on you either, I’ll catch myself at least a dozen times a service worrying about what comes next, do I have this or that set up; I’ll let you in on a secret – when I mess up what I’m supposed to say or read, it’s normally because I’m worried about something else to come in the service. We can get so focused on doing stuff that simply coming here, being here, simply hearing the Word of God can be so hard for us. Americans are a hyper-active people, we value hard work, that is what we train ourselves to do… and sadly, we don’t really train ourselves to be simple hearers of the Word, not as much.

Well, Peter doesn’t get to build his tents. “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.’” The Father cuts Peter off. It’s not about putting up a tent, Peter. It’s not about what you are going to do for Jesus – it’s about Jesus and what He does for you. Jesus is the One who pleases the Father by living the perfect life, by going to the Cross, by wining salvation for all mankind. Likewise, dear friends, whenever we want the focus in Church to shift on to what we do, how wonderful we are – we need to pause and listen to Christ, listen to His Word, hear what He has to say to us.

Now, hearing the voice of the Father utterly freaks out the disciples. “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.” And you would be too. Why? Because as much as we like to hide behind our works, as much as we like to tell ourselves that we are good people and focus on all the nice things we do… not all of our works are good. In fact, when it boils down to it, none of them are, not really. All are tainted with sin. We are sinners through and through, and everything, even the nicest, most wonderful thing you’ve ever done – tainted with sin. Not one of us is perfect, not one of us is righteous – Peter, James, and John know that. And there is the voice of the Father, there is the presence of God Almighty – and sinners in the presence of God die. Get blotted out. Bad things. And so they hit the deck – and you know what, if the voice of the Father suddenly thundered forth in here, we all would be hitting the deck too. Sinners do not stand brashly in the presence of God almighty.

We do not stand, but there is One who stands for us. “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’” Beautiful, absolutely beautiful and profound. Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, the One whom pleases the Father comes to you, and He touches you, He joins Himself to you in the Waters of Baptism, gives Himself to You in His Holy Supper and says to you, “Rise, have no fear.” This is forgiveness talk. This is last day, the trumpet of God sounding forth and the Lord calling us forth from our graves saying, “Rise, have no fear” sort of talk. Of our own strength, we cannot stand before the Father… and so the Father says listen to Jesus. And what does Jesus say, what do we hear our Lord proclaim to us – the same thing we always hear from Him whenever we stop running around like chickens with our heads cut off, worrying about getting this or that done. We hear Christ say, “You are forgiven. I have done it all for you, I have even faced down death, and I have risen. Now, you too rise, you too live, you too have life everlasting that the world and death and sin cannot take away from you.”

“And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” The Christian life isn’t defined by what you do, by what you give. Do you do things – well, sure, of course, Christ Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, we’re gonna end up bearing good fruit. When its time to work, let us strive to work well. But that’s not the heart, that’s not the center, that’s not what defines you as a Christian. Rather this – Christ Jesus comes to you through His Word, physically touches you in Baptism, in His Supper, calls you away from sin, away from vain delight in your own action, and fixes your eyes upon Himself, so that you might pause, that you might be still and know the Lord, Christ Jesus; that you might know and see that because of Him your sin is forgiven, that because of Him Hell and death are overthrown and have no more hold upon you, that because of Him and His righteousness you are rescued from Satan. This is what He does to you in your life through His Word, this is what He makes you to see and understand and remember once again whenever He pulls you away from the troubles and burdens and busyness of the world here in His Church. And here He always speaks to you, for you are His beloved for whom He died and rose again – Your sin is forgiven, rise and have no fear. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +