Sunday, September 14, 2014

Holy Cross Day

Holy Cross Day – September 14th, 2014 – John 12:20-33

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          What do you expect to see?  When you look upon Christ Jesus, when you look at the Scriptures, what are your expectations?  This actually is one of the major themes of the Gospels – you have the famous passage in Matthew where Jesus, speaking of John the Baptist, asks, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  What were you guys expecting when you went to hear John, what did you want to see?  And this comes up all the time with Jesus – do you want to see the prophet, the teacher, the preacher, the healer, maybe the glorious leader who will drive out the Romans and restore earthly power to Israel?  And so, in our Gospel text for today, we shouldn’t be surprised when we hear: “Now, among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.  So these came to Phillip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’”  Greek converts, there in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, they want to see Jesus.  What are you hoping to see – and more importantly, what is Jesus going to show you?

          John 12 is a hinge chapter.  What we hear in this text from Jesus is His last public teaching before he is Crucified.  Once we get to chapter 13, we are in the upper room.  Chapters 13-17 are all conversations Jesus has with the disciples on Maundy Thursday, chapters 18-19 are our Lord’s Passion and death.  What we get in the Gospel lesson today is the last public teaching, the last public sermon Christ gives.  And these Greeks come, and they want to see Jesus.  And what does Jesus say?  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  You are going to see the Son of Man in His glory – He will be glorified.  But even then, oh crowd, oh Greeks, oh people, what do you expect that to be?  Palm Sunday was just a few verses earlier, that was pretty spectacular – the Son of Man being glorified is going to top that?  It’s going to top the feeding of the 5000, it’s going to top the wedding at Cana and casting out demons?  It’s going to be an amazing show!

          No, not quite.  It’s going to be His death.  “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  There’s the glory of Son of Man.  God Almighty, the very Word of God, becomes Man, takes on a human body, born of the Virgin Mary – and what is His glory?  To die.  To be buried.  Why?  Because He wants a harvest, a bountiful harvest, He wants to win salvation and redemption for the world – He wants win salvation for you – that is His glory, to redeem and restore you, and so He must die.  His glory is something beyond just this world with its pomp and circumstance and fleeting might – “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  No, the here and now – the things you folks want to see the Son of Man do – that’s not the important thing.  The Son of Man is paving the way for everlasting and eternal life, and He will do so by dying.

          Indeed, it’s even how you and I prepare for glory.  “If anyone serves Me, He must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also.  If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”  You know, we will talk all the time about how we strive to follow Jesus – and then talk about all the things we do.  You heard what following Jesus here means?  It means dying.  I remember, when I first got to college the WWJD bracelets – the What Would Jesus Do bracelets were popular, and my roommate Tim gave the best response.  What would Jesus do?  He’d go to the Cross.  He’d suffer and die.  And we too are commanded to… take up our cross and follow Him.  And you know what?  This isn’t exactly the glory most people are expecting.  Frankly, it’s not the glory *we* expect often enough.  Slog on through this life and suffer and serve and then die – where’s the glory now?  Where’s the power and might now?  When do I get to rub the noses of my enemies in it, when do I get to prove how great I am?

          You don’t.  Is that disturbing?  Intimidating?  It ought to be – it was to Christ.  “Now My soul is troubled.  And what shall I say?  Father, save Me from this hour?  But for this purpose I have come to this hour.  Father, glorify Your Name.”  It’s hardship, it’s frightening, it’s difficult – especially if your expectations are sunshine and daisies.  Especially if you’ve been told that if you just work hard and do your best, everything will work out.  Ain’t none of us here who worked harder than Jesus; our best doesn’t come close to His, and yet what did He face?  Precisely what He had to in order to win your salvation.  The voice thunders from heaven, there is confusion.  What’s going on, people don’t get it.  We just wanted to see this Jesus fellow!  You wanted to see Jesus – you picked the right time, then!  “Now is the judgment of the world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”  What ought you expect to see when you look at Jesus?  Christ Jesus lifted up from the earth, hanging on a cross.

          When you were crucified, it was the most public of executions.  The most humiliating.  You became a billboard.  Think about it – you drive to Enid and you pass all those billboards – and why?  So you’ll see them, read them, learn from them.  When Rome crucified people, they were hung by the side of the road, up in the air, like a billboard, for everyone to see.  This is what you get when you mess with Rome.  This is what you get when you fight our authority.  It’s death for everyone to see.  And that is the way that Christ dies, and even now, 2000 years later our own eyes are drawn to the Cross to behold this wonder – Christ the Crucified.  God Himself, forsaking His power, not calling legions of angels to His side to smite His foes, but God Himself suffering.  Dying.  Taking most fully His place with you who are born sinful in a sinful world, you who were born to die.

          What do you expect to see?  To the thinking of the world, this death on the Cross seems foolish and unwise.  Paul calls it a stumbling block, an offense to the pious Jews – it’s an offense even to the Muslims today – to say that God would let a holy prophet die.  The Koran denies the Cross – says that Christ didn’t die there, but rather some look-a-like died in His place while Jesus looked on and laughed.  A stumbling block.  Paul calls it folly to the Greeks.  What good is it to give up on this world, with all his vaunted pleasures?  Live it up now!  What did you expect to see?  More signs, more wisdom and earthly advice, the secrets to gain more wealth and power and prosperity?  Nope.  None of that.  Rather this.  God’s power and might and glory, all wrapped up there upon the Cross.

          Think about this.  Death was punishment.  It was the wages of sin.  It was the terrible consequence of sin that separated man from God, that ruined God’s creation.  Death was not the way things were supposed to be.  After the fall, we could not follow the living God because we died.  That’s one of the major refrains of Genesis – And he died.  And he died.  And he died.  Death is what happens to sinners.  We are born, we suffer, we toil, and we die.  And yet, God does not want you to be separated from Him.  He doesn’t want you cut off from Him… and so what does He do?  Man can no long live as I live?  Alright, I will become Man, I will be born – and you will follow Me.  Behold, I am born, I suffer, and I die.  And I rise.  And you will follow Me.

          Because Christ Jesus goes to the Cross, because He suffers there and dies, He destroys death.  Rips death apart.  That’s what Easter is – death is undone, death isn’t what it used to be.  Jesus dies, Jesus rises – that’s the new pattern.  We die, we’re going to rise – that’s now just the way it is.  “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”  Every single person, because of Christ, is going to be raised from the dead come the last day.  He will draw all people to Himself – some to the joys of salvation, some to judgment, but no, death is undone.  He will not abandon David to the grave, He will not leave His brothers and sisters in the ground… we will rise.  The old grey mare of death ain’t what she used to be, the sting of death is done away with. 

            But what does this mean for you?  How does this shape the way you see your own life?  The trials you face, the sorrow, the hardship?  Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people unto myself.”  Satan’s plan was simple.  Have people look anywhere and everywhere but at Christ the crucified.  Distractions, fears, torments, pleasures.  All of those.  But Christ Jesus breaks Satan’s power – He reshapes everything.  And more than that – Christ Jesus has taken you, and He has joined you unto Himself in the waters of Holy Baptism.  Do you not know that those of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death?  Receive the sign of the Cross upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you and one claimed by Christ the Crucified – and that is the reality of your life, of who you are.  You don’t belong to Satan.  You don’t belong to sin.  You don’t belong to the world.  You don’t belong to death.  Even as temptation and pleasures and passions and aches and pains tell you otherwise – you belong Christ.  He has claimed you.  And this is true not only for this hour on Sunday morning, but every moment of your life.  Christ has come, and now you follow Him, you can’t but help to – He has tied you unto Himself.

          What do you expect to see?  What our sinful flesh wanted to see isn’t important.  Through His Word and Spirit, God shows us something better, shows us what we need – and that is Christ and Him Crucified, lifted up upon the cross for our redemption and our rescue from sin, death, and the devil.  It is there, upon the Cross where everything happens, where you salvation is won.  Christ has suffered and died for you, so even the worst suffering and trials Satan throws your way, even death itself, now points you to Christ and His love for you.  God grant us His Holy Spirit so that we ever see Christ the Crucified for us!  In the Name of Christ the Crucified.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Trinity 12 Sermon

Trinity 12 – September 7th, 2014 - Mark 7:31-37

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
          So, what is Jesus’ job?  What does He do?  That is one of the great questions of history.  Many religions will call Jesus a prophet – that’s what the Muslims call Him.  Many people will call Him a great teacher – that’s the respect He’s generally accorded by many non-Christians around the world.  And these are both true.  Jesus is a prophet – He predicts the destruction of Jerusalem, He speaks to the last day– that is prophetic.  Last week we heard Him teach on self-righteousness and His desire to show mercy.  But neither of these titles, prophet, teacher, really hit to the heart of what Christ Jesus is all about.  No, our Lord is a healer, as we see in our lesson today.

          Then He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.  And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him.  The Decapolis was a gentile region, it was off far away from Jerusalem.  And note here what the people’s approach is to Jesus.  They don’t approach Him as a teacher, simply asking for wisdom.  They don’t approach Him like He’s merely a prophet and seek signs from Him.  No.  They bring a deaf mute, one who can’t hear, who can’t speak.  Now, bear in mind for a moment how horrid it would be to be a deaf mute 2000 years ago.  Today, we have an active deaf community.  There’s sign language – there’s an understanding that a mere disability like being deaf should be no hindrance to one participating fully in society.  Wasn’t like that in Jesus’ day.  To be deaf meant you could not hear, meant that people couldn’t communicate with you.  And only 10 percent of the population could read, so it’s not like people could simply write things out for you – even if you could read (and if you can’t hear, who would have taught you), most people couldn’t communicate with you that way.  And then you cannot speak – it’s not even as though you have lost your hearing but you still remember words, can still talk yourself – you would have been all but cut off from society.

          This is the person they bring to Jesus.  Behold this deaf mute, Jesus.  He’s in a sorry state.  Do something for Him.  We know who you are – you are the One who heals.  Heal Him.  And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.  This may actually be one of the most beautiful verses in all of scripture.  The poor guy probably doesn’t know what’s going on – he can’t hear, he can’t talk.  He’d be utterly confused.  It doesn’t even say that it was his friends that took him to Jesus, it may have simply been people saying, “Oh, look, it’s Jesus, quick, grab that deaf guy, maybe Jesus can do something for him.”  And Jesus pulls him aside, privately.  And Jesus puts His fingers in the guy’s ears – feel this, we are here to deal with your ears.  He spits, and then he grabs the guy’s tongue – see, we are here to deal with your tongue, with your ability to speak.  This is just such a wonderful demonstration of Christ’s personal care.  Our Lord deals with this man gently and lovingly, sees to it that he understands.

          And then our Lord heals him.  And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha”, that is “be opened.”  And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.  Again, the pantomime so the fellow could understand – ah, Jesus is looking to heaven and sighing a big sigh, He must be praying – and then – Jesus opens His mouth and speaks – and something wondrous happens.  The man hears.  The Word of Christ our Lord bores through the man’s deafness, and suddenly he can hear.  The Lord’s Word blasts through the block on this man’s tongue – freeing it, releasing it.  And the man can both hear and speak, and he is healed.

          Yes, indeed, our Lord is a great healer.  But why?  Why does our Lord come healing?  It’s not to garner praise and recognition – indeed, Jesus instructs them to not brag about the healing.  You see, there is a reason why Jesus is a healer – and that is because He is God Almighty, because He is the very Word of God Who created all things – and He has to heal things.  That’s who He is.  Consider this – why was that man deaf?  Ultimately, what was the reason that man was deaf?  He was a sinner in a sinful world, and in a sinful world things get broken, things don’t work right.  Bad stuff happens here.  And so, consider what Christ sees when He looks at this deaf man.  We would see someone who has gotten a rough break in life.  We would see something sad, maybe even tragic.  Christ sees sin messing with His world, with His creation.  And so, as the Word by Whom all things were made, He goes about fixing His creation.  He created the world, and when it gets messed up, by George He is going to fix it.  And how does He fix it?  Same way He made it – by the Word.  The Word of God goes forth, and suddenly there is something new.  First, there is deafness – which really isn’t a “thing”, but it’s a lack.  If you are deaf it means you cannot hear, it means the stuff that should be there to let you hear isn’t, or isn’t working.  First, there is a lack.  Then Christ speaks, and everything is full.  The exact same thing as what happened in Creation.  No light – Let there be light – oh look, there is light.  No hearing – be opened – oh look, there is hearing.  When we see Christ healing, when we see Christ restoring, we see Him doing the same thing that He has always done – create and preserve.

          But even then, we shouldn’t think of Christ’s healing as being limited just to things physical – for when our Lord made us, He made us to be both body and soul.  Indeed, calling Jesus a healer doesn’t always get the full picture, because when we think of healers we often think only of the Body – but Christ heals both body and soul – He saves us, He is our Savior.  Indeed – rather than just dealing with deafness, with the result of life in a sinful world, our Lord drives to the heart of the matter and deals with sin itself.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; Who, seeing that the world is plagued by sin, enters into that world, takes on a Human Body and becomes Man, so that He can handle sin, so that He can deal with it.  And He takes up sin, all sin, every sin, ours, your neighbor’s, everyone’s – and He carries it upon His shoulders to the Cross, and there upon the Cross He dies for it.  He swallows it up – that’s how Scripture describes it – does away with it.  Christ gets involved in the world to rescue it from the sin that has attacked and messed with it – sometimes in specific points like healing this deaf man, but ultimately in winning forgiveness for sins.

          So then, what does this mean for us?  Each and every one of us here is impacted by sin – and there’s many different ways we can talk about this, but let’s use the image of being deaf and mute.  Now, some of us have these actual physical issues – many of you have hearing aids, and even then, not so good.  Some [of us here] have speech impediments.  We see even in our own physical life the impacts of sin – and we look forward, as we say in the Creed, to the resurrection from the dead, when we are raised, when we are in perfected and glorified bodies – and we won’t need hearing aids anymore, we won’t have that blurred speech anymore.  There will be a restoration of Creation, our bodies recreated into what they should have been.

          But more than that, Christ our Lord is working healing, is working a new creation in us right now – and no, I’m not going to go all televangelist on you and call you down front and smack you upside the head and say, “Hey, you’re healed.”  No, I am talking here spiritually – Christ has already begun His work of recreation in you.  Spiritually, sin makes us deaf, sin makes us mute.  When we think according to sin, we don’t hear like we ought – we turn a deaf ear to the needs of our neighbor, we turn a deaf ear to their apologies and instead remain bound in anger.  When we think according to sin, we don’t speak like we ought – we do not speak words of love, we speak words of hatred and anger.  But Christ does not leave us in our sin, leave us in our spiritual deafness and muteness – rather this.  Just as He healed the deaf mute by His Word, so too Christ Jesus comes to us in His Word, and He says “I forgive you.”  And this really is the parallel, the connection we are supposed to make here.  Just as Christ heals the body, He also heals the soul through forgiveness – and if we all spoke Greek, this would be plain as day.  The word for “Be opened” is a word that deals with your mind being opened, with coming to understanding, with realizing, with thoughts through your thick skull.  When Christ speaks His Word, it sinks in, we are opened, we understand – we understand that we are sinners in need of forgiveness, we understand that He is our Savior who loves us.  When it the deaf man’s tongue is released – that is the same word for being forgiven.  Think on Matthew 18 – Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  The word for “released” and “loose” is the same word in Greek, exactly the same. We are forgiven by Christ’s Word, we are released from the bondage of sin, it isn’t tied to us anymore. We are set free, we are forgiven.

          This is what God has done for you, this is what Christ Jesus has won.  We are hounded by sin, we are hounded by the effects of sin.  Christ has dealt with it.  Our sin is paid for – behold, Christ has died.  Sin wrecks our bodies and we die – yet Christ has risen from the dead, and so we know that we shall too.  But this is not just a future promise, a future thing.  This very moment, Christ Jesus has forgiven you, He has opened your ears, opened your mind to His Word, so you can know God’s Will, can strive for it.  He has loosed you from sin, so you are free to love your neighbor, free to grow in love.  And when your sin pops up and gets in the way, as it does so often in this life, He forgives it, does away with it – says, “Here, take and eat, take and drink, receive my Body and Blood, the very medicine of immortality, the cure that gives Eternal life” – and receiving His Body and Blood we grow in love and faith – grow more and more like Him, until the day of the resurrection of the dead, when we will be like Him in full.  This is the love that Christ Jesus has shown, this is His healing that He is working upon you.  Now may Christ Jesus, who has begun this good work in you, keep and preserve you until He completes it upon the last day.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Gospel?

The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector always gives me a bit of mixed emotions.  On the one hand, it is my favorite of the parables.  It is the "Lutheran" Parable - it is Lutheranism in a nutshell.  It is "Salvation Unto Us Has Come" in parable form.  It's the first one I remember learning in Lutheran Day School - the simplest and most basic point of the Christian faith - we are forgiven by God on account of grace, not our works.

But on the other hand, it depresses me.  Why?  Because I see just how harshly it cuts across the grain of the church today (really, pretty much the church in all times, but hey, I live today).

The parable is such strong Gospel, but the problem is, we've become afraid of the Gospel.  We have to add caveats.  We want to add on extra stuff to keep us safe from the end - this man went down to his house justified.

But where were his obvious fruits of repentance!?
But where was his progress in sanctification!?
But how could the priest REALLY know he was sorry for his sins!?
But did he stop being a tax collector!?
But did he increase his giving to a tithe level!?

We are so afraid of the Gospel.  We are afraid of who might "accidentally" hear it when they aren't "supposed" to.  We want to see actions, we want to have something tangible to judge and compare (and line up our contempt) with... and the parable doesn't keep going - it doesn't leave us any latch to continue to judge or compare.  It just says that the tax collector is forgiven.

And the dude with all the works - he isn't.

The Gospel terrifies the Old Man because it leaves nothing for man, for the hearer to do.  It doesn't revolve around the hearer, it is not curved in upon man.  It simply forgives, freely, without any merit or worthiness in the one receiving.  And the Old Control Freak that would rather be God Himself is terrified of that.

But now, today - today is the day and age of the Old Adam.  The Liar has convinced us that in the face of the moral decline of society and the cultural abandonment of Christianity and the (re-)rise of militant Islam, the Gospel just won't cut it anymore.  We NEED to know who is good and who is bad and who is doing the stuff they are supposed to be doing - we need to know the villains of the piece... and the Gospel just gets rid of villains.  Shoot, it makes us love our enemies.

It makes us love those people destroying America, and possibly even ending up with them forgiven and with us for all eternity.

Eternity with a tax collector?  Surely you jest!  So let us thank God that we are not like all these crazy forces around us and talk about how we are growing and maturing and see all that we do, and did we not do great things in your name, Lord?

This man went down to his house justified rather than the other one.  God be merciful to me, the sinner!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Trinity 11 sermon

Trinity 11 – Luke 18 – August 31st, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

St. Bartholomew's Day Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Trinity 7 Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Sweet Sounding Lie

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

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

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

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

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

That sounds too sweet. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Trinity 6 Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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