Saturday, April 19, 2014

Loving the Lectionary

I love this time of year in Church - and I'm sure I'm not alone.  Holy Week, although tiring, has such a wonderful slew of services - you could have services every day!

So.  Why do I love them?  What is it about these services that is so great and astonishing?  Is it the pomp and circumstance?  The finery and the color changes.  The fact that this is the time when one can get his high Church on?

Well - I'm in Oklahoma.  We dimmed some candles last night - and Maundy Thursday we used the service of Corporate Confession.  It wasn't overly fancy -- and I'd still love the services if they were more fancy or less fancy.  The amount of gravy isn't what makes this a great time - it's the meat... the READINGS.

Think about it.  Palm Sunday - eh, let's have two Gospel readings, and one of them, eh, let's have it be two chapters long.  4 Passions - let's read them all over the course of the week.  The Suffering Servant, let's read that.  Psalm 22 - bring it on!

And tonight, there is the Easter Vigil.  New fire - that's neat... but the readings, that's where it's at.  The Word of God proclaiming the triumph of Christ against sin and death - over and over and over.  Seeing that the fulfillment of the ages is Christ the Crucified Rising triumphantly. 

If you have the chance, go swing by a vigil - hear the Word.  It's a great thing.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday, 2014 – The Passion according to John, the 7th Petition

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          But deliver us from evil.  This you have just heard your Lord do when you heard His passion.  When we talk about “evil”, we aren’t speaking about anything abstract, we aren’t speaking against just some vague idea in some sort of mamby-pamby way.  No, we have the Scriptures, we been given by the Spirit the ability to see things as they are, we will call a thing what it is.  There is evil.  Sin is evil.  This fallen world is full of evil.  Death is evil.  None of it is right, none of it is good anymore.  The good that I want to do I do not do, the wickedness that I do not want to do I do – who will save me from the body of death, who will save me as all of creation groans as in travail, with earthquakes and tempests and lightnings - literally the world is tearing itself apart – that evil, who will save, who will deliver us from that evil?

          Christ Jesus rises from prayer, and evil comes to seek Him.  Betrayed by His friend, set to be handed over to wicked kings and spineless judges who will heed not the law but their own ambitions and an angry mob.  Evil comes for Christ Jesus, and so that we would be delivered from it, He faces it.  Whom do you seek, Evil, do you seek Jesus of Nazareth?  Well, I AM He… and evil recoils.  He must tell them again – I am He, I am Jesus of Nazareth, I have come to be handed over to evil, “so if you seek Me, let these men go.”  Let these men be delivered from evil – for I, Christ Jesus will give Evil more than it can handle.  No Peter, put down your sword – I am not going to consign you to a life of violent evil – I will drink this cup of woe and wickedness down to the dregs, and you will be delivered from evil.

          And Christ goes.  He is taken away, bound by the tyranny of evil men.  And even before His sacrifice for His friends begins in earnest – His friends deny Him.  Peter, in the courtyard, I swear that I don’t know the man.  John hanging silent in the shadows, watching but saying nothing – the others have run for the hills, run for their lives.  They didn’t quite think that Jesus really would get them out of this.  So much doubt and fear around Him, and yet onward He presses.  The fears and failures of the disciples don’t dissuade Him – indeed, your failings don’t cause Him a moment’s pause. That is why He is there.  He knows you are weak, He knows that you cannot fend off evil, and so He will be strong for you.  And His strength is shown as He goes unto His passion.

          Various muckety-mucks of the Jews examine Him – not to seek the truth, but to assert their own power and control.  Again, thus is evil in the world.  Adam was created to tend and serve, Eve to be a helper – yet since the fall we have been striving more and more to show who is boss, who is in charge, our lives are endless shows of dominance and control.  The soldier smacks Christ – is that how you answer the High Priest?  Yet, the irony is this – Christ Jesus is the Great High Priest, the One who will offer up the true sacrifice to thoroughly deliver people from Evil.  And He lets it be.  He will deliver you from evil, and so He is slapped.

          Then it is on to Pilate.  Pilate is so concerned about making friends and influencing people – what does the mob think, what will Caesar think (if you let Him go, you are no friend of Caesar).  Maybe this Christ will give Pilate influence – so you are a King?  Oh, Your kingdom is not of this world… then I guess you can’t help me and I really can’t help you.  There is a mob out there, and they want blood – better Your blood than mine, Jesus.  And the wonder – Jesus agrees.  Yes, I will be crucified, I will be delivered unto Evil so that even you, Pontius Pilate, you who quips “what is truth” may be delivered from evil by the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life Himself!

          There also is the flogging, the mocking, the crown of thorns.  The cross laid upon His shoulder as His already wrecked Body is paraded towards His execution.  His people reject Him – We have no king but Caesar – nothing more blasphemous or evil could be spoken by a Jew, for God is their King.  Jesus is delivered to that evil; He takes up even their blasphemy.  All evil, it all comes swirling upon Him.

          And He is crucified.  Adam and Eve, when they sinned knew that they were naked, and they were ashamed, and they hid.  There is Christ, not hiding behind bushes or trees, but hung naked and exposed upon a tree, nailed to it – behold His shame, see Him, mock Him, wag your head at Him – let all the evil come at Him, let His clothes be gambled away.  So be it – He is there to deliver people from evil – and even in the midst of His suffering, He pauses to deliver His mother. John, behold your mother.  Care for her – do not let the evil of poverty or starvation take hold of her when I have died.  Even as evil is heaped upon Him, He delivers others.  As the other Gospel writers note, even as woe and wrath is piled upon Him, He delivers from evil.  You, O repentant Criminal, today you will be with Me in paradise, for I deliver you from evil.  Father, forgive these who are mocking Me, for I deliver them from evil. 

And one other little blip of evil.  I thirst – and what do they give Him?  Sour wine.  The very One who turned water into wine at Cana so that there would be joy and celebration and life now meets His death with vinegar.  Let even wine which was given to gladden the hearts of men be rather sour and bitter and joyless– let all the evil of the world of all times and of all places come flowing upon Him there upon that Cross.  And it comes, all the evil, and it is laid upon Him, and He cries out “It is finished”.  All evil, all of it, there upon Christ.  And He dies.

He dies, and Evil is finished.  It is spent upon Christ.  There is no wickedness, no vice, no shame that can ever happen that is not tied to Christ upon the cross.  The sin you did today – Christ has tied that sin unto Himself upon the Cross.  The shame you feel from something long ago – Christ has tied that shame unto Himself the Cross.  The wickedness that you suffer from, that people do unto you – that has been tied to Christ upon the Cross.  Even your own death – tied to Christ upon the Cross.  And all of it – it is Finished.  You are delivered from Evil.

“It is finished.  And He bowed His Head and gave up His Spirit…But One of the Soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”  Christ Jesus takes up all the evil in the world… and then what does He do?  He gives out His Spirit, He pours out blood and water.  Your evil is taken away, you are delivered from Evil – but you are not left empty.  Christ Jesus’ Word and Spirit come to you, giving you faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation.  The water which poured from Christ’s side has washed you clean, been placed upon you to mark you One delivered from evil, redeemed by the Crucified.  This is true, this is reality.  And should evil still sniff around you, should your sins mock you and threaten you with punishment, should you suffer rejection, indeed, even if death itself should hound you – take and eat, take and drink, this is My blood, shed for you for the remission of sin.  Evil is finished and you are delivered.  Even death is destroyed – this we shall see on the third day. 

But deliver us from evil.  We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in Heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.  Christ Jesus has walked through the valley of sorrow, the valley of the shadow of death, and you are indeed delivered by Him from evil.  It is finished, now and forever more.  Amen.  In the name of Christ the Crucified +  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Best Four Days

Four Days.  Four Days in a row I will have church.  And they are the best four days of the year.

Tonight - Maundy Thursday.  Now, try as some might to turn this into the finger wagging night of moralism (oh, look, a new commandment... see things are new and different in the Church -- as though we have not always been told to love our neighbor), it's still the service where you get to talk about the Supper.  Given and Shed for you.  Awesome.

Friday - Good Friday.  The Passion.  It is Finished, hear Him cry.  Gotta love seeing Christ defeat sin and death by taking sin upon Himself and dying.  Ain't what I do - look at Christ.  Awesome.

Easter Vigil - yeah, let's have a service with tons of readings about deliverance - how God is wonderful and good to us and always has been.

Easter.  Death, go get bent.  Jesus lives, and so shall we.

What better days are there?  What is more wondrous than this?

And it's all about Christ Jesus and what He does for us.  We decrease that He may increase and give us blessing after blessing after blessing.  Just total awesomeness.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Odd Timing of Being a Pastor

One of the strange things about being a Pastor is that quite often the Church year shifts slightly. Here we are, it is the middle of Holy Week - thoughts would normally be strong upon the Passion... but I've got Maundy Thursday and Good Friday finished.  Those are done - and there is Easter to prep.

Good Friday yet to preach, but the bulletins for Easter need to get done.  Sermon draft for Easter is written.  And those are where my thoughts are this morning.  Wednesday of Passion Week means make sure Easter Sunday is set up and in order.

Just an odd quirk.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lent 5

Lent 5 – John 8 – April 6th, 2014

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

          As a pastor who talks to other pastors, I hear about all sorts of complaints about the Church and its preachers.  “You know, churches today are just too mean.”  You are of your father the devil.  “We should be more understanding of the world and the lifestyles people want to lead.  We shouldn’t be so judgmental.”  And your will is to do your father’s [that is the Devil’s] desires. “Who are you to tell me what is right or wrong, I can do as I please!” He was a murderer from the beginning and has nothing to do with the truth.  “Well, that might have been how they did things back in Jesus’ day, but things are just too different today.” There is no truth in him.  “I don’t know why you say we are sinners, we are pretty good people after all.” When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  One of the burdens we face today, dear friends, is the simple fact that this world, at least as we know it in America, is becoming more obviously and openly opposed to Christ and His Church.  In reality, this is the way it has always been, but we see it more now.  Instead of silently rejecting, the rejection is open and bold – and we panic.  We think, “What will we do – we have to do something.”  This is nothing new. In the 50s the big catch word was “relevant” – we have to make the church relevant to the people, in other words, whatever we think people want.  And there have been other things – the 60s and 70s gave us the folk masses set to acoustic guitar, in the 80s there was the big push to make the Church and worship more exciting, in the 90s the big focus was on trying to meet “felt needs”, a few years ago everything was “extreme”, now you see pastors running around with Hispter glasses trying to draw folks in that way.  In a few years there will be some other gimmick.  People aren’t coming – *we* have to do something. 

          There is a simple truth that we in our vanity, in our salesmanship mentality have forgotten in the US – people don’t reject the Gospel because it isn’t relevant, or it doesn’t hit their felt needs.  The problem isn’t that we don’t package the Gospel rightly – it’s something much simpler than that. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.  People are terrified of the truth.  This is what we see in our Gospel lesson.  Jesus is discussing things with the Pharisees, and He has just told them that He is the Messiah who comes to bring truth, that the Truth will set them free from sin.  Just prior to our text, our Lord said “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . . .  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  And the Pharisees don’t want any of that. They are angered by that idea.  And Christ calls them on it.  Why do they not understand?  Why do not they not care?  It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word.  This is the simple fact – that sinful folk do not like to hear God’s Word.  The Pharisees didn’t like it in the text – they even plan to stone Jesus.  People don’t like it today, either.

          Why?  Why don’t people like hearing God’s Word?  A lot of it has to do with the Law.  God’s Law is an unpleasant thing.  You want an example of God’s Law being unpleasant – look at our Old Testament lesson.  Hear what God commands Abraham to do – Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering. . . .  That’s a statement of Law right there.  Isaac is going to die.  And he deserves death.  Abraham can’t argue against it – Abraham knows that he himself hasn’t done anything to earn this child –Abraham was old, so was Sarah, they shouldn’t have even ever gotten Isaac, and if God wants Isaac back… well, Abraham can’t gainsay God here.  If God wants Isaac dead, well, that’s the wages of sin.

          That’s hard.  That is hard to bear – that is a harsh truth.  We don’t like the truth.  Think about how much work and effort people will put into justifying themselves, into escaping the blame for something – and even when there is no punishment, even when admitting that you’ve done wrong only might mean that someone doesn’t think as well of you for a few days.  We will duck and dance – it’s not my fault.  Oh, how we will dance and dodge.  And what about when something doesn’t go right in our life - We will get angry and rail – how can you do this to me God!  I don’t deserve this.  Eh, that’s not true.  Your toil in this life is nothing – you deserve death.  That’s what the truth is, that what God says in His Word.  That’s what gets the Pharisees so steamed at Jesus.

          Abraham trusted the Lord, though; Abraham knew that God’s Word was more than just a word of Law – but also a word of Gospel, a word of mercy.  That’s why he’s bold to take Isaac, that’s why he tells the servants who stay behind that they both will come back down the mount – Abraham trusts in God’s mercy – God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice.  And we see that God does do so – a ram is given to take Isaac’s place.  Imagine the joy that Abraham would have had at being stopped, at looking up and seeing the ram and knowing that his Isaac would live.  This is the joy that Christ speaks of in the Gospel – Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day.  He saw it and was glad.  Of course Abraham rejoiced – because God would spare Abraham’s son Isaac at the cost of His own Son, Christ Jesus.  This is the heart of the Gospel – not that there are no consequences to sin, not that our sin doesn’t matter or doesn’t deserve death – but rather this – Christ Jesus has come and has born up the weight of sin in our place, that He suffers and dies for us upon the Cross, that with His death and resurrection He sets us free from sin.  This is the great and wondrous word of the Gospel – this is what the Gospel truly is – that you are forgiven by God not on account of your works, not on account of your effort, but on account of the precious death and resurrection of Christ Jesus your Lord.

          And yet – the Pharisees in the text are still angry, still reject Christ after he explains this.  People today still reject it.  Why?  Because the Gospel truth is this – that Jesus is our Savior.  The Gospel makes sense only if we know and believe the Law.  Jesus doesn’t get rid of the Law, He fulfills it to be our Savior.  If Jesus is our Savior – it means that we need to be saved, it means that we lack, that we sin, that we aren’t good enough, that we aren’t perfectly fine as we are, that we always can and ought to do better.  You can’t preach the Gospel without preaching the Law first – because the two go hand in hand.  And that is why so many people reject the Gospel – they reject the truth of the Law – and so they reject the truth of the Gospel as well.  When do the Pharisees want to stone Jesus – not just when He says that they are sinners, but when He reveals to them who He is – Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.  The Gospel is that God gets involved in your life, that God is the one who saves you – and that involvement of God is something that man according to his sinful nature fears – that he runs away from, just like Adam and Eve in the garden after the fall.

          So what do we make of all of this?  We see that all too many people don’t like the truth of God’s Word.  They don’t like the Law rightly preached – calling their sin what it is – sin, and pointing out that it is wrong and deserves punishment – temporal and eternal punishment as we confessed together a few moments ago.  They don’t like the Gospel either – the truth that God and God alone is our Savior, without any worth or merit in us.  First, we need remember that this applies to us as well.  It is not just people out there who do not like God’s truth – your own sinful flesh will rebel against it – your own pride that still clings to you will rebel against it.  That is why we have a focus on repentance, that is why we are to daily drown our old Adam and instead be focused upon Christ.  That is why we are to come here and hear preaching, hear absolution, receive Christ’s Body and Blood for our forgiveness and the strengthening of our faith – so that we ourselves don’t fall away.

          But also this.  We are tempted, especially in this day and age, to soft sell God’s truth.  To try and make it more appealing to sinful man, to accommodate and cater to people – thinking that if we just get them in the door, eventually, eventually they will learn.  We are tempted to put what we think people want to hear over what God says. Then, they won’t be mad at us, or think ill of us.  But dear friends – that is not the way.  Consider you yourself – you were brought to faith and you have been kept in that faith by what – by God’s Word rightly preached and rightly taught.  That’s the same thing the people who don’t believe right now need – the same thing your family and friends need as well.  The truth is that they are in need of God’s love – and that God richly loves them and offers them salvation and forgiveness.  Speak them the Word, over and over again, even if they don’t like it.  That doesn’t mean be a jerk about it, but be honest and truthful, even when the truth is difficult and hard to hear.  That’s what Christ does here – even when the Pharisees certainly don’t like it.  And He speaks over and over again – and some never like it – but because our Lord preaches again and again – some do end up believing.  Because the Apostles preach God’s Word in its truth, some do end up believing.  Because faithful Christians, Pastors, parents, friends spoke God’s Word in truth and purity to you, you believe.  And we are part of that chain now – now we are called to speak God’s Word rightly, so that the people we know might know what God’s truth is, so that the Holy Spirit might work, not through the plans we dream up, but that the Spirit might work through the Word which He places upon our lips.

          Your sinful flesh rebels against Christ – but thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit has given you the gift of faith.  He has worked faith in you, made you to have life in Christ.  You now know and hear God’s truth, you see Christ for you and rejoice, just as Abraham, just as all the faithful have.  God keep us ever focused upon Christ and His great love for us.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lent 4 Sermon

Lent 4 – John 6:1-15 – March 30th, 2014

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          The fourth week of Lent is known sometimes known as “refreshment Sunday”.  It’s a week where we ease up a bit on the intensity of our self-examination and penance in Lent – where we take a slight breather.  If we wanted to be really prim and proper, and if we actually had them – we’d have the pink, the rose colored altar cloths on the altar, just like the 3rd week of Advent.  It is the final rest stop, the final breather before Lent takes us through its intense push towards Golgotha, towards Good Friday.  This is a relaxing, refreshing day.  And so, our Gospel text is the feeding of the 5000.  It’s a familiar text, a great text, a refreshing text.  So, let us look at the text, and see what we learn about how God refreshes us.

          After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberius.   And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick.  Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples.  So that is the setting.  People following Christ, people wishing to hear His Word, listening to Him, all gathered.  They’ve been there all day.  They are tired.  They are worn out.  They are hungry.  Imagine yourself there.  If I go over 15 minutes on the sermon, how many of your eyelids get heavy?  Now imagine a sermon that lasted all day.  By the end of our hour here, how many of you are sore from sitting in the pew for that long?  Now imagine 12 hours walking after Jesus, or at best sitting on the ground looking up hill.  We can imagine how sore and tired those people must have been.

          But we also see and understand how tired we ourselves are.  It is hard to be a Christian, isn’t it?  It is tiring work.  All around us we see people taking the easy way, the wide path that leads to hell.  We see people backbite and stab each other – but we strive to show respect as instructed in the 4th Commandment.  We see everyone else simply look out for themselves, but we strive to support our neighbor in his bodily needs, as instructed in the 5th Commandment.  We see people jump from person to person in pursuit of pleasure, but we strive to be faithful, to show love to our spouses even when that can be quite difficult, as instructed in the 6th Commandment.  We see people get ahead by hook or by crook – but we strive to do things honestly, as instructed in the 7th Commandment.  We see people attack and speak cruelly of others, but we strive to defend them, speak well of them, put the best construction on everything, as instructed in the 8th Commandment.  And all this we do – while trying not to covet, while trying not to look over the fence and see what our neighbor has and think, “Boy, they’ve got it so good.”  Dear friends, I would suggest that our lives as Christians are more wearying than simply sitting, more painful than the hunger after a day without food.  The Christian life is hard – God sets a high standard for us and we strive to do His Will – we strive – it is hard work, hard and tiring work.

          Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Phillip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”  He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.  Phillip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a boy here who has five barely loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”  We strive to do God’s will – and it’s hard, and oftentimes we stumble.  Look at poor Phillip.  Jesus lays out the Commandments to him – ah – how are we to care for these people’s bodies and lives, Phillip?  And Phillip draws a complete blank.  Um, I don’t know Jesus, I hadn’t really thought about it.  Phillip falls flat on his face.  And Andrew, well, he’s a little bit better.  Uh, here’s what we have Jesus – but it won’t do any good.  Do you hear the despair, the resignation in Andrew’s voice?  Well, it can’t get done.  The life of a disciple was hard, and Phillip and Andrew, with this task before them, fail.

          Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  How often at the end of the day, when thinking back on something from the day, do you look at it and think, “I messed that up royally.  I completely blew it”?  One of the most amusing things in the catechism is what Luther writes after the evening prayer – “Then go to sleep at once and in good cheer.”  I find that hard to do quite often.  The folly, the wickedness I have done this day gnaws at me, and the burdens of the morrow hang in front of me.  It’s hard, seeing your sin.  It’s hard when you have something in front of you, and afterwards you realize you handled it completely poorly.  Often times we don’t handle the challenges in our life the right way.  We stay silent when we should speak up and defend our neighbor – or we speak up and gossip when we should stay silent.  We work and work when we should be paying attention to the Word – or we see our neighbor, the stranger in need, and we sit back and lift nary a finger.  We look with disdain upon the blessings we have and look with lust at what our neighbor has.  And then we kick ourselves.  I knew better than that!  We see our lives for what they are – chances to do good where we do wickedness instead – chances to show the love of God where we simply show our own hate and indifference.  Sometimes, we even despair, like Andrew here.  Oh well, what good it is – no matter what I do I will mess up.  We are beaten and broken down quite often.

          Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”  Now there was much grass in the place.  So the men sat down, about 5000 in number.  Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated.  So also the fish, as much as they wanted.  And when they had eaten their fill, He told His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”  So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barely loaves, left by those who had eaten.  It’s not a problem for Jesus.  Phillip – he doesn’t know what to do.  Andrew – eh, what good are these few loaves, these two fish.  It’s not a problem for Jesus.  He takes care of things.  He sees that people need to be fed – and so He feeds them.  He sees that Phillip and Andrew cannot, so He does for them.  It’s not a problem for Jesus.

          This is what we are to remember in our lives as well.  It’s not a problem for Jesus.  Do you see your own sin – does it weigh heavily upon you?  It’s not a problem for Jesus.  He stretches His arms out upon the Cross and says, “Let me take that for you.”  Your sin isn’t your own any more – Christ Jesus has taken it from you.  The burden of it – He has taken it.  Yes, your sin is great.  It’s horrible and wicked.  There are probably things you are still kicking yourself for from long ago.  Christ died for that sin, and He has taken it from you.  It’s not a problem for Jesus.  Flee to Him for refuge, confess your sin, and He is faithful and just, and will cleanse you from all, all your unrighteousness – even the big, dark, scary skeleton in the closet ones.  That is why He calls you to His house, week after week – to give you forgiveness – so that you know that the flaws and follies of the past week are done away with – put to death upon the Cross.  So that you receive His forgiveness and the confidence in His love that comes from forgiveness.

          It’s not a problem for Jesus.  This is what we are to remember when we think about the things that will come – the challenges that we will face, the seemingly insurmountable difficulties that will come.  It’s not a problem for Jesus.  He has claimed us in the waters of Baptism, He has joined Himself to us, we are His now.  Do you see and understand what this means?  You’ve sung since you were little.  Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.  It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  The Holy Spirit has made you His dwelling place – do you see what that means? Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  It’s not a problem for God.  He knows our lack, better than we do, in fact – and He is the one who provides us strength.  Consider what God gives to us in the supper.  This meal isn’t just symbolic play time – it’s not just us sitting back wistfully and thinking about good old Jesus.  Christ supports and sustains us in this life – He strengthens our weak, tired bodies with His own Holy Body and precious Blood.  In this sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given.  We are forgiven.  We are given life – life for today, life for tomorrow – Christ’s own strength to thrive.  All these things in our life that cause us consternation – they aren’t problems for Jesus.

          Jesus looked upon the 5000 with compassion and fed them.  Likewise, Christ looks upon you with compassion, and He takes up your burden and gives you His forgiveness.  “Hence all fear and sadness!  For the Lord of gladness, Jesus enters in. . . .  Thou art still my purest pleasure, Jesus, priceless treasure.”  In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lent 3 Sermon

Luke 11:14-28 – Lent 3 – March 23rd, 2014
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

          No one likes to feel helpless.  Most of the time, when I come across hurts and agonies and frustration, it’s over something that is beyond our control.  We like to be footloose and fancy free, not bound by fears or worrying about events that seem to be spiraling along without our say.  And as such, you aren’t going to like what I’m going to say here.  You are helpless.  That’s what Jesus shows us today.  Hear His Words:  When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe.  Do you hear the description?  The strong man is Satan, is the Devil, is Beelzebub, the prince of this world.  And he is armed, fully armed – ready for battle at a moment’s notice.  And do you hear what Satan is doing?  He is guarding his goods, keeping them for himself.

          In the garden Satan slithered in to God’s Kingdom, and by his wiles and deceit, the serpent stole God’s most prized possession.  He allured Adam and Eve into sinning.  And then something happened.  Adam and Eve realized that they were caught.  That they were trapped.  That things weren’t like what they were before.  Satan had claimed them as his own, and Satan has claimed their children, their descendants as his own as well.

          This means you.  In this life, Satan has bound you, has tied to you all the trappings of sin.  By sin we have been corrupted, and we are now spoiled.  Temptations cling to you everywhere you go.  Every part of your body now moves to all sorts of wickedness and evil.  Mouths that were made to praise God speak wickedness about the neighbor.  Eyes made to see the beauty of God’s creation look on others with lust, and jealousy, and envy.  Hands given to aid the neighbor instead work his harm, break and hinder, hurt and wound.  And against this, we of ourselves are helpless.  You know the words of the hymn – With might of ours can naught be done – soon were our loss effected.  Adam and Eve took of the fruit, and our loss was effected, it was done.  And Satan smiled in the garden, smirked with diabolical glee.  He smirked over Adam, and he smirked over you, for he knew that you would be powerless against him.  And so Satan stood, the ill-gotten prince of this world, usurping what was rightfully God’s.

          With might of ours can naught be done – soon were our loss effected.  But for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected.  Hear again the Words of Christ Jesus our Lord.  When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own place, his goods are safe; but when one Stronger than he attacks him and over comes him, He takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoils.  Satan was confident.  Satan was sure of his own strength.  His hold upon mankind was sure – no man was there who could defeat him.  This was Satan’s armor, his confidence.  But then, in the fullness of time, the Father sent His Son, Christ Jesus, into the world to take on human flesh, being born of the Virgin Mary.  And was made Man.  This is what we say in the creed.  And then suddenly, there was something Satan least expected – a Man who was outside of his control, who wasn’t his possession, who was not bound to sin.  And indeed, Satan tried to ensnare this one – tempted Him in the desert – but Christ would not bow to Satan.  And instead, our Lord fought.  All over Christ Jesus brought wreck and ruin to Satan’s kingdom.  Behold, a mute.  Satan has bound him, broken him for his own pleasure.  Christ heals him.  And Satan and his entire kingdom shudder at this, for they know that the Stronger Man is here, for this is no mere man, but this is True God and True Man.  For us fights the valiant one.  This doesn’t just mean that Jesus fights on our behalf, but rather that Jesus fights in order to win us.  Jesus takes on the strong man to steal his goods, to take us away from that serpent, to undo his theft in the garden.

          And this is done, finally, upon the Cross.  These opening salvos of Christ’s war upon the devil, these healings, these miracles – these were simply to let us humans know what was going on.  But it is there upon the cross that the mighty battle will take place.  It is there upon the Cross that the fray will be fully entered, as our Lord takes on Satan’s greatest strength – death.  And our Lord tangles with death, and our Lord emerges victorious – winning for us freedom from Satan and giving us salvation.

          And so many don’t get this; they don’t understand.  He casts out demons by Beelzebul.  People see what Christ does for them, and they call it wickedness.  They mock the Lord of Life by saying that He is a servant of Beelzebul, the lord of the flies, the master of the maggots of decay.  That’s what Beelzebul means.  Even today this happens.  Christ is put forth not as Savior, but simply a man who was kind and now lies rotted away in his grave.  This is what liberal so-called theology gives us.  And yet others miss the point.  Others, to test Him, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven.  Signs there have been aplenty.  Even signs from heaven, as we saw at His Baptism.  And yet, some still resist.  Some would rather just watch a good show and be entertained than believe.  Some would rather sit and say, “Go on, give us another one” than rejoice in the forgiveness of their sin.  We get this today as well.  Which sells more – a book that talks about the wonders of forgiveness, or a book that tells you how you can get more blessings out of God, how you can demand for yourself new signs of heaven right into your pocket book?  Now, does all of this doubt and unbelief mean that Christ didn’t do His job?  Does it mean that He somehow messed up, didn’t quite get it right?  No, our Lord explains this in our text.

          When an unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.  And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order.  Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there.  Oh, make no doubt about it – Christ has done His work.  He has driven out Satan.  He has even put our house in order.  But what happens?  Some people end up being a very welcoming place for Satan.  Some people put at naught what Christ has done.  This is what Paul warns of us in the Epistle.  Freed from Satan, some choose to forsake Christ and return to their life of sin.  It happens, and it isn’t God’s fault.

          So what do we do?  What do we say now?  We see this danger, and it is a danger for us.  Paul warns us that we are to flee these sins.  We all still feel those strings Satan has tied to us, we all feel those temptations that the devil has tailor-made for us.  But listen again to what Jesus says of the cast out evil spirit – it passes through waterless places seeking rest.  Here is your hope.  You aren’t a waterless place.  Rather, you are very wet, for you have been washed in the waters of Baptism.  You have been drowned in the font, soaked in Christ’s righteousness.  Remember your Catechism!  What does such baptizing with water indicate?  It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by DAILY contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  Baptism isn’t just an event of your past – rather, it is where you live.  Your life is lived from the font.  Your life is one of repentance.  Yes, daily my sinful desires are beaten down by the strength of God, daily I struggle against them, and daily I return to God for forgiveness.

          You see dear friends, Christ came not just to simply forgive you and walk away.  He’s not like some tent preacher who shows up, gets everyone fired up and saved, and walks off into the sunset never to be seen again.  Christ understands.  Christ understands that while you are yet in this flesh, until you undergo the resurrection of the body, Satan, though defeated, will still have his dirty fingers stirring the pot of your lives.  And so Christ Jesus doesn’t leave you.  He joins Himself to you in Baptism.  Unites Himself to you – and not just a long time ago when you were Baptized – but daily He comes to you. He comes to you in His Word, His Word of forgiveness that re-bolsters you against Satan.  He fills you with His Word over and over again.  He comes to you in His Supper – He gives Himself to you, His very own Body and Blood.  And why?  So that when Satan comes snooping around your door, he doesn’t find you empty, but rather sees you filled with the Lord of Life Himself.  You receive Christ in the Supper, and Satan flees in terror back into the waterless places of the world, for Christ is the Stronger Man whom he cannot resist.  You are the Stronger man’s own, and He is your strength and shield, and He defends you.  Remain steadfast in His Word, faithfully receive His Supper, so that you might not abandon him and be overcome.  Daily and often we need Christ to fill us, to return us to our Baptismal life, and daily and often He does this, He shapes and forgives and fills us again through His Church’s preaching of His Word and Administration of His Sacraments.

          Dear friends in Christ, you of yourself are helpless.  There are things in this life you can’t control.  That’s just the way it is.  But here is what also is true.  Jesus isn’t helpless.  Christ our Lord scatters the forces of Satan, and His feet march tirelessly to the Cross to win us forgiveness.  And Christ is tireless yet today – for He tirelessly comes to you and brings His forgiveness to you daily, so that you might rely solely upon His strength and shelter under His wings.  He is the Stronger Man, and He shall prevail over the hosts of hell for all eternity.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Just a Bit of Grammar Repeating...

Let us consider a word... say, "Justification".  The basic idea behind it is "just" or righteous, good, correct.  If you take "just" and add different ends to it, you get different words.  Add an "ly" and you get an adverb.  But when you add that "ification" to something - it means being made _____.  You know, like a FACTory makes something - same Latin idea.  Justification mean being made just.

So, we get that Christ is our Justification.  That He is the one who Justifies and is the Justifier (that -if- group of letter is related to making something).

Now... likewise, if we are talking about "Sanctification" we are then talking about how we have been made Holy.

Now, if we have been made holy, are there effects?  Sure!  But do my actions make me holy?

It's simple folks - the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified me (oh, it's that -if- again!).

Let God take the credit for things.  Really.  Including your sanctification and your justification.  Just like we confess in the Small Catechism.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Do Not Taunt Happy Fun Law!

As long as I remain in this flesh, I remain a sinner.


That's the reality.  It doesn't matter how good I am, how much great advice I take, how much better I am now than I was back then.

I am a sinner.  I am a man of sinful lips who dwell among sinners.  Even if I'm nicer than them, this truth remains.  I am a sinner.

And yes, while I do delight in God's Law - I am yet a sinner.  (Thanks be to God that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!)

Too many people forget this.  Too many people fall into the old Pharisaical trap - they water down the law into a doable checklist - they point to their own accomplishments and build their own self-esteem.  The treat the law as that good advice for moral living - a way to make their neighbors just as good and moral as they themselves are (well, SOME of their neighbors at least... many can't obtain THEIR level of holiness).

And thus, the Law is preached not as God's Law in its full sternness - instead it is treated like it is a Happy Fun Law.

Do not taunt happy fun law - because it's still the Law, however you want to try to water it down.  God is not mocked.  And the Law condemns.

Your "advice" kills people.  And yeah, they probably needed to be killed... the Law of God is good and necessary.  Daily the old, sinful flesh needs be drowned.

But we need life - we need the Gospel.  We need Christ Crucified and Christ risen for us!  If we are left with merely happy fun law... we are left dead.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lent 2 Sermon

Lent 2 – Matthew 15:21-28 – March 16th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

          Why?  Why did the disciples show such disdain?  The reason is simple.  Instead of thinking like Christians, instead of viewing things in terms of faith, they were thinking like typical people of the world and following the world, they fail.  If you were born and raised a Jew at that time period, you would be born and raised to view Canaanites, and especially Canaanite women with utter contempt.  The disciples thought like people of the world, not as people of faith.  They failed.  I read this verse, and I am disgusted.  Then I think, and I am disgusted with myself as well.

          Do you think that we in Modern America are immune to our prejudices?  Do you think that we haven’t been taught to despise people on the basis of their race or nationality or color, or even gender?  Oh sure, we could point to the points where we here were the victims of it – we can go back to 1917 – back then in WWI the German churches around here weren’t too popular – but I would wager when it comes to bias, when it comes to hatred and anger – every one of us can give just as good as we get.  And who we hate can change.  What if I had showed up here 30 years ago in the middle of the cold war with a thick Russian accent – what would you have thought then?  Or if I were middle eastern today? Or what if Pastor Brown had shown up and he was actually. . . Brown.  And there are other things – how quick we can be to despise the poor or someone who just doesn’t “look” right, or if they have struggled with addiction, or if we hear that someone had done some jail time, or even if they come from “that” family.  Whatever it is, it seems the capacity of fallen man to show disdain and hatred is limitless. We too often can write people off just as quickly as the disciples do – and it’s wrong and vile.  We play the world’s games, we think along the way the people in the world do – and in so doing we fall in to great sin and hatred and vice and shame.

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

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

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