Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pentecost Sermon

Pentecost Day - John 15 and 16 - May 23rd and 24th, 2015

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
What is the Holy Spirit's job? As today we are celebrating Pentecost, the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and the Church - what is the Holy Spirit's job? It's a simple question, isn't it - but it's also one to which I hear plenty of strange and bizarre answers. If you don't believe me, just turn on the TV. Folks will talk about the Spirit giving them extra special powers, or blame the Spirit for whatever ideas they come up with. It's almost as though whenever people want to claim something that isn't in the Bible, they pin that tale on the the Holy Spirit, making a donkey of Him. That's not what the Holy Spirit is about. Today, rather than just making up things to our twisted heart's delight, we will look at the Scriptures and listen to Jesus tell us what the Holy Spirit's job is - so that we might rejoice in the Spirit, and also learn not to be led astray. Listen to Christ Jesus.

"When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me." First things first - we get the Holy Spirit described here as a "Helper". That word there - Helper - is a hard one for us to get our minds around in English. Some translations will use the Name "Comforter" - or some of you might remember the translations that just say "Paraclete" - which is the Greek word there. So, what is a Paraclete, exactly how does the Spirit Help and Comfort us? In the ancient world, a paraclete was basically your defense lawyer. He was the person who would sit along side you and help you with your defense, who would comfort you when the accuser was going on and on - who would say to you, "Don't worry, we're going to get you out of this, and you will be declared not guilty." The Holy Spirit is your defense lawyer against the charges of sin and damnation that Satan, the Accuser, levels against you. The Holy Spirit is Perry Mason, is Bill Matlock, is whatever other awesome Defense lawyer you can think of. And His job is to bear witness (see, another legal term), to bear witness to you about Christ Jesus so that whenever Satan breathes his threats and murders against you, you would remember, "This case is in the bag - for I am declared innocent on account of the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, my Lord!" That is how He helps, that is how He comforts you - so that at all times you would remember that your salvation and life have been won by Christ Jesus and what He has done for you.

And here as well is an important check. Jesus says that the Spirit will bear witness about Jesus. Everything the Holy Spirit does, He does with the goal of preaching the Gospel. If it's not about Jesus, if it's not driving to the point of redemption and salvation - it's not the Holy Spirit. Whenever you hear people talk about the Spirit, but they don't get to Jesus winning forgiveness for you - you can know for a fact that they are off and wrong and lying, for as Jesus says of the Spirit, "When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me." Well, wait - it just said that the Spirit will speak about things that are to come - sure. And why? To glorify Christ. To guide you unto Christ Jesus Himself who is the way, the Truth, and the life. The Spirit will take what the Word of God Himself declares and by Christ's authority He will declare it to you. And what is to come? And He will come again with glory to judge (see, another legal term) the living and the dead - and guess what, in Christ Jesus you are the living - and when Jesus comes His kingdom will have no end, so don't sweat the small stuff going on now - you are forgiven by Christ Jesus and you belong to Him forever and there is nothing that Satan or this sinful world can do to stop that. Declaring this, that's the Holy Spirit's job.

And Jesus notes in our text for today that it is to our advantage that Jesus ascend and the Holy Spirit comes. Think on this for a second. Here we are in Herscher, Il. If the Church were basically just Jesus Himself, preaching wherever He happened to be - how often would He make it out this way? Would we all need to pack up and move to the middle east? No, this is to our advantage, for Christ Jesus has poured His Spirit out upon His Church, so that the Gospel is proclaimed not only by Christ, but in all places, in all tongues - so that we hear in our own langauge even today the Gospel of Christ (did you note that in Acts - as soon as the Holy Spirit comes upon the Apostles, what do they do? They preach Christ and Him Crucified - we cut off Peter's sermon - but it goes on to be all about Jesus). No longer will we have to go to Jerusalem, no longer will we have to search to find a prophet, follow Ezekiel off into exile, or even wait. No, the Spirit is poured upon the Church so that in every place Christ Jesus may be proclaimed and by the power of the Spirit people hear and believe - for the Spirit is truly the Giver of Life.

And Jesus gives us three more ways of understanding what the Spirit will do - again, using legal language. Jesus says, "And when [the Spirit] comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment." Convict - convict whom? Convict the world. The Holy Spirit is a great defense lawyer. Not only will He comfort you, but He will turn the tables on Satan and the world - that is how conclusively He will defend your case. Whatever the world, whatever sin and death say, the Holy Spirit will proclaim the truth, and then focus us upon the Gospel of Christ Jesus once again.

The Holy Spirit will convict the world "concerning sin, because they do not believe in me." This is a simple point. All sin, every single one, stems from disbelief - every sin is a breaking of the first commandment. That's why in the catechism lesson which we just heard, the meaning to the second commandment starts the same way the first meaning did - we should fear and love God so that.... And all sin, even the sin we get tempted towards and fall in to, all sin comes about because of disbelief, because of a lack of fear and love. And the Holy Spirit will point that out. When the world struts its stuff, the Holy Spirit will point out that it is not the stuff of God. And when we in our pride sin, the Holy Spirit will show us that sin - not to condemn us, but to check us, to draw us back and bring us to repentance. To keep us from going off on our own plan and assuming it must be good because golly-gee we're such great people - but rather letting Christ alone be our sure defense.

And the Holy Spirit will convict the world "concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father." The world, and even our own sinful flesh, will try to stir up doubts and fears - especially as Christ Jesus has ascended and we don't see Him walking around as such anymore. And so the Spirit will convict, He will declare convincingly the truth of righteousness. Christ Jesus is righteous. He has done everything needed for your salvation, He Himself has declared that it is Finished, and thus you are forgiven, and thus you have life everlasting, no ifs, ands, or buts. And over and against the threats and taunts of the world, the Spirit will preach Christ Jesus and Him Crucified - and in Him in have hope.

And the Holy Spirit will convict the world "concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged." And if the world still keeps ranting, if Satan still keeps hounding - then the Holy Spirit points to the end. Yes friends, judgment day is coming - but for you who are in Christ Jesus, baptized into His holy Name; you who have recieved the washing away of Your sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit - judgment day is a good day. It is the day when you are declared innocent. It is the day when you will be set free from this fallen world and walk out, free and resurrected unto life everlasting in the new heavens and the new earth. It is the day when the tables will be utterly turned upon Satan, and the Accuser who sought to accuse you and to bring about your defeat and punishment will himself see his own defeat and his own eternal punishment. On that day, the trials of this life will be over, and the freedom that you have in Christ Jesus - the life you have in Christ Jesus - you'll see it in full.

But we are not there yet. We are still in the midst of the difficulties we face in this life. And so it is right today to give thanks to God the Father almighty and to Jesus Christ, our Lord, for sending to us the Holy Spirit, who above all things makes us to understand the Word of God, makes us to see and know the salvation that Christ Jesus has for us - for if it were left to us, we wouldn't be able to do any of this. We would be up the creek without a paddle - but the Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Comforter, the Paraclete has come - and while the world rages around us, while our own sinful flesh rages within us, the Spirit of peace declares Christ's joyous salvation to us. Do not fear the judgment - for you are innocent and forgiven for Christ sake, and as He has risen, so too shall you live. Your dry bones will rise, and the Spirit will give you life everlasting; for you have been baptized and brought to repentance - you are forgiven, and the Holy Spirit has been given to you, to keep you focused upon Christ and His peace. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Friday, May 22, 2015

Never Surprised by Sin

As a Christian, we should never be surprised by sin.  Whatever tales, whoever falls - it should never surprise us.  Sadden us - sure.  Warn us - most definitely.  Make us ready to forgive and care for the hurting - it should go without saying (but sadly, because of our own sinful hearts we need reminding).

But really, nothing that happens, no story that comes down the pike should ever be surprising.  We have the Old Testament -- which is tale after tale of the people of God dropping the ball in horrendous ways.

Go read what Abraham does in Genesis 12 and following... not just the covenant stuff - the rest of it too.  Or 2nd Samuel for David.  After that - ain't nothing we hear about today surprising.

And we remain sinners in need of forgiveness.   

Saturday, May 16, 2015

7th Sunday of Easter sermon

7th Sunday of Easter (B) - John 17:11-17 - May 16th and 17th, 2015
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
What we hear in our Gospel lesson is part of John 17, a chapter that is known as Jesus's "High Priestly Prayer". John, in his Gospel, does something slightly different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. While those three tend to focus on the events of Maundy Thursday, John lets us know what Jesus talked about. He records the things Jesus said that night - and after He taught the disciples many things - including what we've heard the last few weeks, Jesus, in chapter 17 prays for the disciples, prays because basically their time as simple disciples is done and they will be apostles - apostles leading the church. When Jesus is done with this prayer, it's off to the Garden of Gethsemane and His crucifixion. So then, let us pay attention to this prayer which Jesus prays for His Church, prays even for us, for we are part of that same one, Holy, Christian, and Apostolic Church.
"Holy Father, keep them in Your Name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as we are one." Jesus here identifies one of the great problems that so often arises in the Church. A lack of unity. That uncomfortable situation where some folks want to go this way and others want that way and other people are saying no way - that whole mess. And Church history is chalk full of problems and chaos and struggles. Because frankly, that's what Satan wants to stir up, Satan wants a disunified church. Satan wants you to walk away from church angry and upset because you didn't get your way, or because someone else is doing something that you don't like, or because you heard how horrible the folks at some other church are. And why does Satan want you thinking that? Because when you are thinking about your anger, your upset feelings, when the obvious examples of disunity come to the foreground, what are you *not* thinking of any more? You aren't thinking of Jesus. You aren't thinking of forgiveness. You aren't thinking of the mercies of God shown to poor foolish sinners, whether that poor foolish sinner is the fellow next to you or is in fact you yourself. Satan wants you distracted, and there is no better distraction for Satan to use than to have you mad at church, mad at someone at church, or even mad at religion as a whole - because then your anger cuts you off from the place where God has said He would come to give you mercy and love and forgiveness.
So what is the solution to disunity? Go along to get along? Maybe come up with a program we can all get on board with? Or maybe a strong bishop, even a Pope to keep everyone in line? When I was up at the Pastors' conference they had a flier that was asking for possible solutions as to how to encourage unity in the district - because of course there isn't a lot of unity in the Northern Illinois District. We're centered in Chicago, and Chicago is the home of nasty politics, and the same thing spills out into the Church. And the temptation is always for us to try to come up with our own solutions. Not the point. Listen again to Jesus - "Holy Father, keep them in Your Name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are One." What is unity in the Church? What is the solution that Christ Jesus prays for right here? Not our actions, not our plans and programs, not our wants and whims. Holy Father - You keep the Church, You protect the Church and keep it safe... where? In Your Name. In Your Name. That's a weighted term, folks. We hear that idea of God's Name tossed around all the time in the Scriptures, and you know what that idea points to, drives to? It drives to the place where you yourself received the name of God, where God's Name was applied to you - right there, at the font, in Holy Baptism. In Baptism you were joined to God, His name was placed upon you, you were declared forgiven and part of His family. Christ Jesus is the Son of God - you are now by virtue of your Baptism also a child of God, a fellow heir - you have His Name applied to you. The Name of God is applied to you - you even get called "Christian" - little Christ.
The solution, the center of unity in the Church is right there - that font. At the font, whoever we are, whatever our differences, our unique wants and whims and talents and foibles - we are all unified, joined in the Name of God, made members of the same Body, the Body of Christ. Whatever our differences, we have this in common, this great unifying factor - we are sinners who are baptized and forgiven, and this truth trumps everything else in our lives. It's why we begin service with our Invocation - why that font is right there in the middle of the sanctuary. Because we come to this place, we approach God in His House not merely as individuals, but we come as the Baptized, we come "in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Whatever else is going on in the world, whatever baggage we have in our lives, or even with each other - right here we drop them, and we come before God remembering our baptism, and asking Him for the forgiveness of our sins - because that is the way we are unified.
Jesus continues: "While I was with them, I kept them in Your name, which You have given Me. I have guarded them." And how did Jesus do this? He taught, He preached... and what is to go on in the Church now? "But now I am coming to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your Word." How do we remain who were are in our Baptism, how do we remain focused upon Christ and the forgiveness He gives? We are kept safe when we are focused upon the life giving Word of God, the Gospel of Christ Jesus. That's what you need - God's Word. That's how the Holy Spirit works - He calls us by the Gospel - He enlightens us by His gifts, by Baptism, by preaching, by the proclamation of forgiveness, by His Holy Supper. You here - you don't need my opinion, and frankly I don't need yours. Everyone has opinions, and most of the time they stink, my own included. What we need is the clear, solid, Word of God, and that must always be our focus - otherwise we will spiral off into sin and vice and disunity and anger and hurt feelings and hatred. Otherwise sin will reign. It is only where the Gospel is proclaimed that forgiveness and life reign.
Our Lord continues: "...and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world." The world loves opinion. That's what talks shows are - that's what the news shows are. The world loves breaking us down into little camps and categories and groups - and then setting us against each other. And when you don't let that be your focus - when you do not let yourself be defined by the world's categories, but rather are identified by your Baptism, when you say "I am a sinner for whom Christ Jesus has died, and anyone I come across - that's simply what they are - another sinner, another one for whom Christ has died" - then the world will hate you. The world will rage against you. So be it. The world doesn't set the tune we dance to - it shall pass away -- but the Word of the Lord endureth forever. And that Word was attached to water and poured over you, baptizing you into Christ. That Word is joined to bread and wine so that Christ Jesus gives you His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith, to give you life and salvation itself even in the midst of this dog eat dog world.
"Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth." If we want unity, if we want to be united in the Truth, in Christ Jesus who is Himself the way, the truth, and the life - then we must be in the Word. We must place ourselves underneath the Word of God and always be learning, always be focused on letting ourselves be shaped by that Word. It's not an accident that the in the absolution I say that I am a called and ordained servant of... the Word. We are people of the Word - and whenever we neglect that, whenever we want the focus to shift to anything other than what God Himself has declared that we need, that's how we go astray. And so, God has declared that His Church is to be a place of His Word. We hear the Word, we speak the Word back and forth to each other in our liturgies, we come as the baptized, and even to cap it off - what does Jesus say? "And for their sake I consecrate Myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth." Jesus consecrates Himself - that is, He makes Himself holy, for our sake. Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven. He came down to go to the Cross, and He comes down again this day to this altar to give you His Holy Supper so that you would be forgiven, sanctified, made Holy as He is. Over and against the whims and wishes of the world and our sinful flesh, Christ Jesus comes to us, bringing us forgiveness, focusing us upon Himself. That is the point and joy of this place, that is why this place is a gift to us from God.
And so dear friends, know the love that Christ has for you, for He pulls all of you out of your own separate lives and ways, and here in this place He gathers you, unites you in one faith, one hope, one baptism - our hymns and prayers are joined as one, we pray "Our Father" to One and the same God - we are united together in Him as His forgiven children. And while the world will never understand this, while the world will never want this and will rage against this - we are the children of God. We have life in Christ's Name. He has said so in His Word, and He has given that Word to us, and so shall our song ever remain "Lord Jesus Christ, my God and Lord, my God and Lord, forsake me not, I trust Thy Word!" Thy Word is truth. Amen. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed).

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Funeral Sermon for Ludie Wadleigh

Ludie Wadleigh - Luke 24:44-53 - May 14th, 2015

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.
Avis, Steve and Sharon, friends and family of Ludie, our dear brother in Christ, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. I am not going to try to explain this morning what a blessing Ludie was to you or this community - you all know that far better than I do, anyway. You know that, and that is why we mourn. We here in this room have suffered a loss. This is a day we'd rather not have had been today. And yet, as St. Paul reminds us, we do not mourn as those without hope, as St. Peter reminds us we are gathered here today in a living hope, a living hope which we have through the resurrection from the dead of Christ Jesus our Lord and Ludie's Lord. And while we might have wanted this day to be later, it's fitting that it is today. Today is Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter - the day we hear in our Gospel text, where Christ ascended bodily to heaven. Listen again to what our Lord told His disciples and us just before He ascended.

"These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." When it comes to fulfilling the Law, to living perfectly, all of us in this room fall short. Paul says we fall short of the glory of God, and we are gathered here today because the wages of sin always lead to a day like this, a day like this for each of us. And then down to this world comes Christ Jesus, true God and true man - and in Him, everything in the Scriptures, every jot and tittle is fulfilled - fulfilled for you, fulfilled for Ludie. From all eternity, Christ Jesus saw His beloved Ludie, saw His baptized brother (just as He has seen you and I), and so knowing that Ludie would not be able to fulfill all things on His own, Christ Jesus was determined to come down and do all things for Ludie's sake, for your sake, to win Him and you life everlasting. You can open up to any part of the Gospels, and when you see Christ living, you see Him living for Ludie, fulfilling all righteousness for Ludie's sake - and for yours.

"Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead." Christ came to fulfill all things, all things for Ludie. I only knew a suffering Ludie - I never got to see the hale and chipper Ludie. Christ Jesus knew the sufferings Ludie would face, and so again, Christ Jesus came down and fulfilled all things. If His Ludie was going to suffer, then Christ Jesus Himself would suffer as well for Ludie's sake. If His Ludie was going to face death and die, then Christ Jesus Himself would suffer and die as well so that there would be no place, no thing in heaven or on earth that would separate Him from His Ludie. And Christ Jesus rises from the dead - and this is our hope, for because Christ Jesus has risen, so too will Ludie. The day is coming when there will be restoration, resurrection, new life given to Ludie, to us all - where all those baptized, where all believers in Christ will be gathered together in joy neverending.

And here is the wondrous thing this Ascension day. "While He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven." Christ Jesus is bodily in heaven, right now. Right now, this instant Ludie is with His Risen Lord and Savior -- in Acts we see the disciples staring into the sky after this, and the angels come and say, "Why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go." Right now, this moment, Ludie beholds what the disciples there longed to see. And when this Jesus comes back, when His Kingdom indeed comes and we are delivered from evil, Ludie will come back with Him, for He is at Christ's side, ever there to remain. Christ Jesus has won full remission of all of his sins, and all that remains now is the rest and peace of heaven until the Last Day comes when Ludie will stride out of this casket, when the words of Job will be true for Ludie and he and all the forgiven believers in Christ will behold our Lord and Savior face to face, with our own eyes.

And so my dear friends, you grieve, and you may continue to do so. That's life for us in this fallen world. But let your grief be tempered with the great and glorious truth that Christ Jesus has died and risen for the forgiveness of all of Ludie's sins, so now Ludie is there with the angels and archangels, He is part the company of heaven right now, redeemed and forgiven. And because Christ has fulfilled all things and risen, you will see Ludie again when Christ comes. All thanks be to God for the great and wondrous love He has shown to Ludie and to us in the redemption won by Christ Jesus and His glorious resurrection. Thus, with hope even on this day, we confess: "Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia) Amen."

You Don't Mess with the Promise

So I have been prepping a bible study on Esther, and simply in reading materials over, I am surprised at how... squeamish... how embarrassed some scholars seem to be with the resolution of the book.  The king gives the Jews permission to defend themselves against the folks who were planning on killing them, and instead the Jews slaughter a bunch of people.

And when looking at this section, I see a whole bunch of caveats, and discussions about how we are to love our neighbor and be nice, and so on and so forth -- almost a moral embarrassment over this.  And I'm sure it comes up many other times in the Old Testament whenever there is whole scale slaughter done by the Jewish folks.

You know what is missing in all this shy, embarrassed hand-wringing?  The Messiah.

Here's the lesson.  The Messiah is promised to come through the Jewish people; therefore you do not mess with the Jews.  An attempt to wipe out the Jewish folks in the Old Testament is not just something mean and cruel, it is an attempt to prevent the salvation of mankind by destroying the people from whom the Messiah would be raised.

And that gets punished.

You don't mess with the Promise.

Messing with the Promise is bad.

Maybe, instead of handwringing about how mean and cruel they were (although frankly, turn about is fair play in that situation... sort of poetic justice), perhaps we pastors ought to consider how we ourselves preach and teach Christ Jesus, lest we be the ones hindering the Gospel and attempting to rob people of their Messiah and replace Him with our false dreams of riches and wealth and power.

...

Huh.  Kind of hits a little bit closer to home that way.

Dear friends - never read the bible so that it makes you wring your hands about what someone else is doing.  Read it and see warnings meant for you... and then repent and with joy remember that God saw to it that even Satan himself could not stop Jesus from coming and dying and rising for you.

Monday, May 11, 2015

It is Scary

My eldest son has developed a quirk that is quickly becoming most annoying to me.  Over the past 3 or 4 weeks, this little three and a half year old dervish has taken to saying, "It's scary, it's too scary" whenever there is something that he doesn't like.

You want me to come on inside from playing in the garage?  It's scary, it's too scary!
You want me to get ready to go out to eat?  It's scary, it's too scary!
You want me to go to bed?  It's scary, it's too scary!

In otherwords, everything he doesn't like or immedaitely want to do is, by Victor's definition, scary.

This annoys me as a parent, as it doesn't really provide good information as to why precisely and exactly he is upset.  However, thinking theologically, seeing in my son an example of the old Adam... it makes perfect theological sense.

What is our reaction as sinful human beings to being told that we don't get to do what we want precisely when went want to do it?  What is our reaction to not getting or way, or realizing that we are not in control?  That's when we become scared.

The loss of control is utterly terrifying to our sinful flesh -- indeed, sin really is the story of man trying to wrest control away from God.  And so my son is right - when Daddy makes him do something he doesn't want to do, it is scary.  And yet... it's for his good, even though he doesn't see it or understand.

And then - here we are.  Christians, washed in the blood of Christ, redeemed and forgiven.  We know this.  We know that God loves us utterly and perfectly - and yet, how often when something doesn't go the way we would like, do we ourselves not pitch a fit.  Maybe it's a little bit more sophisticated and articulate a fit than the three year old throws... but still a fit.

Know that for what it is -- your old sinful flesh saying that it is scary. 

Over and against your flesh, Jesus Christ your Lord says to to "Do not be afraid... peace be with you."  He is the One in charge, and in spite of what our old sinful flesh cries out, that really is for our good. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Easter 6 Sermon

(The first sermon at Herscher -- if they stone me afterwards, it didn't go well)


Easter 6b - May 9th and 10th, 2015 - John 15:9-17

Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!) Amen
Dear friends in Christ, if we would understand what our Lord Jesus Christ is telling us today in our Gospel lesson, we first need to get one thing straight. We need to understand what “love” is in the Scriptures. You see, today in America, we don't use the term “love” the same way they did in Jesus' day. So often for us, love is an emotion, a feeling – we hear "love" and think butterflies in the stomach and maybe a romantic date. We hear “love” and think of all the sappy songs on the radio about how someone makes us feel. But that's not what Jesus is talking about today, not in the slightest. Love for Jesus is “agape” - that is, love is an act, an act of service simply for the benefit of another, simply for their sake. Do you want to know what sort of love Jesus is talking about today? It's fitting that it's Mother's Day weekend (gentlemen you did remember that it is Mother's day right – if not, quickly after church, run an errand... alright), it's fitting that it is Mother's Day because the sort of love that Jesus speaks of is the love of a parent for a child. It is the service given – and sometimes a rather disgusting service. There is nothing romantic about cleaning up a toddler's vomit at 3 in the morning – changing a diaper does not inspire the slow dance song at prom. And yet, out of love, that type of love that Jesus is talking about here, that's what a mom does. So with this idea of “love” in mind, let's dive into the text, shall we?

“As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you.” Jesus here sets the stage for everything going on. The first and greatest truth is this – You are loved by God. You are loved by Christ. And this is not a matter of what you have done – this isn't romantic love where you buy Jesus flowers and take Him out for a nice meal and hope for the best. Your relationship with God isn't playful flirtation – rather this. Just as the Father has loved Christ Jesus, His only begotten Son, from all eternity – so too you are loved by Christ Jesus. Even before creation, even before the Word of God called the universe into being, Christ Jesus, that very Word of God loved you. Before you even existed. In fact, that love was shown in the fact that He created you – as we confess in the catechism, I believe that God has made me. That's a sign of His love for you. So bear this in mind – we are going to hear in the next few verse about our actions – about what we are to do – but God's love for you is not conditional. Jesus is not saying, “if you do this, I will love you.” He is not saying, “You had better jump through hoops X, Y, and Z and then I will love you.” He is not saying, “If you didn't bring me flowers, a card, and some chocolate there will be literal hell to pay.” No, you are the beloved of Christ Jesus. He loves you, this is truth.

“Abide in My love.” Abide in My love – remain, live, stay in My love. When you go about your lives, remember first and foremost My love for you. Because the world is going to try to distract you. The world will tell you that you are unlovable and terrible and ugly and lousy. Not to Jesus. Abide, remain, stay and live in My love, which is from all time and for all eternity. And how do we remember this? “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in His love.” Oh, dear friends, this is one of those verses that can be twisted into a harsh and nasty club – and it's not meant to be. Think about that word “keep”. If I just say flat out “if you keep My commandments” - what do we as modern Americans think? We think “do”. We think, “ut-oh – here's the catch, here's the string attached. Jesus will love us, but only if we do things.” But that's not what “keep” means. When they made that old King James Version, which still sets the tone for so many translations – folks knew what a keep was. How many of you have heard the phrase, “a man's home is his castle and his keep”? That points to what a keep is – the keep is the safest, most secure part of the house – it's where you put, where you keep the most important things. That's a keep. Or perhaps, moms, you have a precious keepsake? That's a "keep" - something you cherish. So what is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying, I love you – and when you keep, that is when you cling to, when you cherish my commandments, that's when you will remember my love. And why? Those commandments – you'll see them, and remember them, and think how you have failed in them – because if we hold the commandments close, if we pay attention to them, if we examine our love that we show, we will see flaws and errors and faults. So be it. Cherish the commandments, and then remember that Jesus says, “I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.” Where as you and I fail daily and often, where as you and I struggle with sin – Christ does not. And in His great love for you, He shows perfect love. Jesus speaks these words first to the disciples on the evening of Maundy Thursday – you know what disciples, what this love is going to look like, what the Father commands? “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down His life for His friends.” That's what you are going to see in less than 24 hours as I hang on the tree – remember and focus and keep and cherish the truth that I have done My Father's will for you, for I love you.

Oh, Pastor, I don't know, you seem to be white washing this a bit – surely it's all about what I have to do for Jesus, not this Jesus for me stuff! Listen to Jesus - “These things I have spoken to you” - why? - “that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” So – is all this stuff that Jesus is saying to supposed to be the giant club to whack you over the head, or it is sweet, good news of your salvation? Which one of those is joy, which one of those gives full joy? This is good news for you. But pastor, it does go on to say, “You are my friends *IF* you do what I command you”! Now we get to the mystery, the wonder of Christian living. It does say that (although that “if” in modern English would be better translated as “when” or “whenever” - we show ourselves to be friends of Christ whenever we show the love He has commanded, this is true) – but listen to that verse and the next few together - “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide.” The focus, even here, isn't on what *you* do. It's what Jesus is doing. No, Jesus isn't going to treat you like a servant, to just go and run at His beck and call. No, you know what He is doing – He is laying down His life for you upon the Cross, He is rising from the tomb to ensure that you too will rise from the dead, He is giving you life everlasting. Jesus is giving this to you. He chose you – you did not chose Him but Jesus, out of His great love for you, love which He had for you e'er the worlds began to be, love which He has for you perfectly and purely without any thought of repayment or what He's going to get back, that perfect, caring, giving love – Jesus has chosen you. He has called you His friend, He has taken you up in the waters of Holy Baptism and called you by name, brought you into His family the Church, said that you are His, that you belong to Him, that Satan has no more claim on you and that even if you should die yet you will rise and live eternally.

He has chosen you, and so, you will live, and you will bear fruit. Not about you – it's about Him. Last week – He is the vine, you are the branches – when you are in Him, you're going to bear fruit. Just going to happen because of Him. Jesus pours His love into you with His good news of forgiveness, with His own Body and Blood in the Supper – and it's just going to fill you, and even your old sinful flesh won't be able to stop all of that love from flowing out through you. His love overwhelms you, and He has chosen and appointed you. That's the reality! Now, in this sinful world, we only see this in part, we see it imperfectly, we see it through the veil of the our sinful flesh – where those three a.m. Vomit cleanings are done with a bit of grumbling rather than pure joy and love, where a mother's love has to compete with a mother's wrath and anger on occasion. As we are sinners now, we only see this obscured, but the truth is you are Christ's saint, you are His holy one, and thus you will do Holy things because Jesus is Holy and He has declared you to be Holy and forgiven, He has died and risen for you and so you are holy and forgiven – and the day will come, that joyous last day, when we will see this in full with nothing getting in our way. That's why we pray “deliver us from evil”, that's why we pray, “come Lord Jesus”, that's why we sing “lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace” because we want to see the new creation, we want to see our own resurrection.

But, alas, we are not there yet. So Jesus gives us one more reminder. “These things I have commanded you, so that you will love one another.” You are still in the world, you still have your old sinful flesh – not the risen and perfect body yet. So you will need reminders. You will need the Law to grab your attention, to curb your sinful flesh, to show you your sin, to guide and direct you. But what's the goal with this? So that you love one another. Not to make Jesus love you (He loves you already), but so that you love one another – so that you remember what you were created to be – someone who loves their neighbor. And that's rough for us in a fallen world with fallen neighbors. But what do we remember? That in Christ Jesus we have the victory, that we have overcome the world, not by our works, not by what we have done or do or need to do – but we have victory in Christ because He shed His blood for us upon the Cross, because He declared “it is finished” and we are redeemed, because blood and water flowed from His side to this font, to this altar, and you are forgiven. This is His great love for you, love that He gives to you, love that never fails you. God grant that we remain and abide in His Word receiving His forgiveness, that in Christ Jesus and His love our joy may always be full! Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Checking in from Herscher

I know I've been quiet for a while, but that is because I am transitioning to serving at a new parish.  On May 3rd I will be installed as the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church of Herscher, Illinois.  A few notes with this:

1.  I will still be posting sermons, although they will be posted Saturday evenings, as there is a Saturday night service here (at 5 pm).

2.  I will be restarting (probably on the 11th of May) my weekly meditation on Monday mornings -- if you are interested in getting these, please send an e-mail to pastorbrown.trinity@comcast.net

3.  Um... maybe read my snark with a Chicago-style accent instead of an Okie accent?

Other than that, life continues.  We all remain sinners struggling with the common struggles and afflictions of life in a fallen world, but we face them knowing that nothing that we face is unexpected or surprising to Jesus, and that His forgiveness which He won for us still fully applies.

Excellent.  Now - to unpack.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

I Remain a Student

I found my old High School yearbooks as I was packing this week.  I got to looking at them and noted something.  My High School was small - my class had 65 and we were a large class.  This means that when I graduated, I knew everyone in my class, and most of the Juniors, quite a few of the Sophomores, and even a bunch of the Freshmen.

I had moved to that school as a Freshman - and being a young idiot, I had had some disdain for those younger than me.  The Junior High students across the street seemed like such stupid little idiots.  Four years later, I had outgrown my own stupidity, and many of them were friends.  (In fact, I just packed a nice piece of pottery that Karissa, a Junior, had made for me -- it's been in my kitchen every day of my life that I've had a kitchen of my own - that's sort of cool.)  It is the height of arrogance and foolishness to disdain someone simply because they haven't learned what you have learned yet.  In terms of my schooling, I'm glad I found that out.

+ + + + + + + + + +

When it comes to theology, I remain a student.  This is something I think more theologians would do well to remember - and I don't mean this to be the giant admonition that "you need to keep learning".  That should be obvious.

But how do you deal with that other person - that theologian, that neighboring pastor, that parishioner - who just doesn't get "it" - whatever it is.  Where there's just a point or aspect of theology where they want to make you facepalm - what do you do?

Do you disdain them -- like a Freshman Eric disdained the Junior High folks -- or do you remember that just as you are a student, learning, growing, and maturing - so too are they? 

You know what - let them grow.  Be patient with them as others have been (and indeed, ARE) patient with you - and let them grow.  Be their friends, their colleague, their pastor - confess the truth, and be patient. 

If they don't "get" everything right now - don't sweat it.  You know that you yourself are a student - doesn't that mean that you acknowledge that there are things which you yourself don't "get" yet?  So they are at a different point on the power curve.  So be it.  Show patience and love.  So they are arrogant and don't get what they don't know.  So be it.  Show patience and love and repent of your own arrogance.

Because in all things - it's not about me, or what I know, or how great I am.  I'm not the center of everything.  I didn't define Minden High School... and I certainly don't define the Christian Church.  Rather, I and you are redeemed sinners, slugging through life in this world.  Repent, slug on, aid others in their slugging, and with joy receive forgiveness from Christ the Crucified!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The School of Hard and Soft Knocks

So, now I'm basically done with being a Circuit Visitor.  My last Sunday in Oklahoma was this past one, and now it is on to Illinois, where I will be the new guy. 

It's been interesting here because my circuit was able to call four guys out of the Seminary - count them, four. And in two years.  And I got to help teach and advise.  And you know what that really boiled down to?

I got to tell stories of when I was stupid and messed up.  I got to say, "Oh, you don't want to do X -- I did that, and here's what happened, here's why that was wrong and a bad idea."  It was a passing on of experience - I took the hard knocks... here, listen.  This is a softer style of learning.

Of course, this is what almost all practical teaching is.  The theoretical teaching can tell you what is good and laudable -
practical says, "here's where the rubber meets the road."  And it's not just for a pastor to another pastor.

It's the father teaching his children about the dangers of the world.
It's the sergeant taking the Lieutenant under his wing.
It's the man who has failed warning others how they too might fail.
It's Augustine and Patrick's Confessions.
It's the Holy Spirit recording the faults and sins of the Fathers, so that we might learn from their example.

Part of being a mature Christian, confident in God's forgiveness and not trusting in your own works and merits, is the freedom, out of love for your neighbor, to warn them.  To warn them without fear of just what can go wrong when you mess up.

And that is a kind and loving thing.  That is something with a rich, Christian tradition.  And it is our duty - to warn folks from falling into error, and to point out to those trapped in guilt from similar errors that God is merciful - that He even has forgiven me, the chief of sinners, and thus there is forgiveness for you.

A fine Christian thing.